Megren stands next to the bar at which the stable mounts are customarily tied during grooming. She appears to be in the final stages of rubbing Swiftly down. By the bright color of her cheeks, she and the horse have been for a ride outdoors in the autumn cold.
Lanisen hurries into the stable, on a mission. He glances up and down the stable alley, brightens, and makes his way toward Swiftly. He circles the horse, giving him a wide berth, and says, “Hey!” when he gets to Meg’s side. He’s pretty near to bouncing.
Megren lifts her brows inquisitively at his mysterious pep, but there is a grin on her face that betrays how pleased she is to find him so, regardless of explanation. “Hey,” she returns in kind, very obviously withholding inquiry on purpose.
Lanisen asks unnecessarily, “Whatcha doin’?”
Megren exchanges a look with Swiftly.
Lanisen shifts, wrinkling up his nose in an impatient, self-chastising little grimace. “Are you almost done, are you busy after?” he asks.
Megren grins and gives Swiftly a pat on the withers. She moves to untie him from the bar, giving him a thorough rub on the nose as she does. “Well I /did/ have an appointment with Tiny after this.”
Lanisen says, half-wheedling, “It won’t take long!”
Megren giggles. “I’m sure Tiny can wait.”
Lanisen says, “Okay, all right!” He gestures at Swiftly. “Can I help? What can I do?”
Megren gestures with her head toward the tack room as she starts to pull Swiftly away toward his stall. “Go see if there are any good treats left to be had.”
Lanisen hurries that direction immediately and returns a minute later with a carrot.
Megren has got Swiftly put away by this time, and she gestures with her head for Lanisen to give the horse his reward.
Lanisen holds the carrot toward her at first, but doesn’t quibble. He lets Swiftly lip it off his palm, gives the horse a few quick friendly pets on the nose and neck, then wipes his hands on his shirt and looks at Megren expectantly.
Megren clasps her hands behind her back, equally expectant.
Lanisen says, “All right, come on, come on.” He reaches out and grabs her hand and drags her with him to the door.
Megren laughs, surprised, and hurries after him.
The lowest level of the noble’s tower is a broad, round chamber, fairly dark, but lit by sconces on the walls and a row of small, arching windows high near the ceiling. To the north, three windows look out onto the pastures at ground level, though it is difficult to see much in detail; to the east, a single wider window offers a glimpse of the comings and goings in the inner ward. Wide steps curve up around a pillar in the center of the room, leading up to the servants’ floor, and an archway to the southwest leads down a long, dim corridor toward the kitchen.
Sunk into the ground around the chamber’s central pillar is an enormous reservoir, filled with enough clean, clear water to fill all the bath-tubs in the castle, and then some. In the morning, the sunlight from the east window reflects off the surface of the water and fills the chamber with dancing light.
Lanisen leads her through both wards, into the nobles’ tower and down the steps from the staff quarters. “There,” he says in satisfaction once they have reached the reservoir chamber. The sunlight slanting through the new window on the east side of the chamber is particularly bright, glinting off the water and sending spidery reflections dancing on the walls and ceiling.
Megren’s brows lift. “That’s … a very nice spiderweb?”
Lanisen gives her a baffled look. “Never mind the cobwebs,” he says. “Look, look!” He reaches down and drags his hand through the water, tipping his head back to look at the reflections.
Megren looks up. “Oh. Oh!” she looks over at him. “But what had you down here?”
Lanisen shrugs a little, his eyes skittering away from her. “I come here sometimes. It’s quiet, usually, except at mealtimes when folk are comin’ through.” He gestures vaguely at the passage to the kitchen.
Megren eyes him uncertainly, but eventually nods. “Then, thank you for bringing me,” she says softly.
Lanisen looks pleased. “It don’t last long,” he says, glancing at the window. “Just– a quarter hour, half hour, I s’pose, in the mornings, and then the sun’s too high. And now that new window’s clearer. It’s pretty, I wanted you to see.”
Megren grins, “It is pretty. I’d like to see what Tiny thought of it.”
Lanisen looks doubtful.
Megren sticks her tongue out.
Lanisen flicks the water from his hands at her.
Megren looks appalled by his lack of decorum and bats his hand away.
Lanisen asks, “Where’d you go with Swiftly today?”
Megren sits near the water and plays her hand in it, watching the walls to see what it does to the light there. “Just up to the ridge.”
Lanisen settles on the floor nearish to her, where he can easily see her face. “Was it cold?”
Megren says, “Yeah, getting there.” She lifts her hands to feel her fingers against her cheeks, but both her face and hands have warmed from the running. “It was nice though. Some mornings — hm. Well. Can I wake you and bring you some morning?”
Lanisen says, “I might slow you down.”
Megren says, “Take Maestro, or I can put you on the back of Swiftly.”
Lanisen pauses. “Sounds nice,” he admits.
Megren says, “Or, there’s a place I can show you it here, but it’s not quite the same.”
Lanisen asks, “Show me what?”
Megren wiggles her brows enticingly.
Lanisen makes vague grumbly noises and pulls up his knees.
Megren says, “Aw, don’t look at me so.”
Lanisen sticks out his lower lip at her and pushes up his eyebrows sadly.
Megren says, “Tarva’s tail,” and leans forward to push him in the side of the head. “You learn that face from Vira’s brood?”
Lanisen sways to the side and snorts. “/Please/.” He pauses a beat and says, “Meggie’s litter, four years ago.”
Megren giggles. “You and Sir Darrin could have competitions, see who makes the other wilt in sympathy first.”
Lanisen says loftily, “I have no sympathy.”
Megren’s brows lift. “/You/.”
Lanisen says, “Not a smidge.”
Megren says, “Well, you /are/ frighteningly inexpressive when you’re not furrowing your brows for personal gain.”
Lanisen nods blithely. “Not a soul in the world can tell what /I’m/ thinkin’,” he declares.
Megren tilts her head. “I can’t argue there.”
Lanisen snickers under his breath.
Megren says, “Well then, you should feel no hesitation in agreeing to the challenge.”
Lanisen says, “I might laugh, though.”
Megren covers her mouth with her fingers.
Lanisen says, lacing his fingers primly on top of his knees, “I would be /terribly/ embarrassed if I lost because I laughed.”
Megren says, “But no one would know, since you’re so hard to read.”
Lanisen says, “/True/.”
Megren nods. “So then I’ll set it up.”
Lanisen makes a face and gives her a sidelong you-got-me sort of look. “Best not.”
Megren lifts her brows in mock disappointment. “What?”
Lanisen ignores this.
Megren says, “I’ll ask him, see what he thinks.”
Lanisen says, “Don’t you dare.”
Megren asks, “What? Why?”
Lanisen scowls at her /very fiercely/, except that he is also smiling.
Megren says, “I’m asking him.”
Lanisen says, “You are the worst.”
Megren says, “You love me.”
Lanisen says, “Even so!”
Megren lifts her shoulders, uncaring — as The Worst are wont to be.
Lanisen glances up at the ceiling again, and at the shrinking sliver of sunlight that still spills directly into the chamber. He sighs, half regret and half satisfaction, and leans his head back against the wall behind him.
Megren moves to go sit beside him. “This is a good hiding place.”
Lanisen mms. “It’s really not,” he adds after a moment. “It’s quiet now, but folk come through all the time from the kitchen carryin’ meals and laundry and such, ‘specially now it’s colder. Or every time somebody wants a bath drawn.”
Megren makes a thoughtful noise. “Does anybody know you come down here?”
Lanisen asks, “What d’you mean?”
Megren says, “When you want to get away, and you come down here, does anybody know you do that?”
Lanisen says, “Oh.” He shrugs a little, uncomfortable. “It’s not… it ain’t– secret.”
Megren says, “Half the time I go to mine, Sir Darrin comes and finds me.”
Lanisen asks, “Do you like him to find you?”
Megren glances at him, something like surprise flickering across her face. “Oh. Well… no. I mean — yes. I don’t mind. But it doesn’t make for a very effective secret place.”
Lanisen says, “I suppose.”
Megren pulls her knee up to her chest and hugs it. “Now I can come find you when you’re hiding out. Unless you’ve got others.”
Lanisen says, “This ain’t a good place to hide out.”
Megren says, “So you do have others.”
Lanisen shrugs and picks at a worn spot on his sleeve. “I don’t– not really /a/ place, I just… go where I think it’s likely to be quiet, if I want to, to be by myself.”
Megren inclines her head. “You’re good at it.”
Lanisen says, “Ah, heh. Thanks.”
Megren rubs her knee. “How’s Cass?”
Lanisen takes a deep breath and shifts. “Havin’ Toby is helpin’, I think.”
Megren says, “Good. That’s good to hear.”
Lanisen says, “Yeah.” He is quiet for a moment, dithering and fidgeting, and finally says in a low voice, “I ain’t– talked to Sir Colin for well on a fortnight now.”
Megren is quiet for a long moment. Finally she asks, “Arael?”
Lanisen shifts and looks down. “Yeah, that’s– and his family’s here too, he’s been busy.”
Megren says, “I meant — you’re friends with her, right? Have you talked to her?”
Lanisen says, “Oh.” He rubs his wrists absently. “Yeah, um. A bit. Not about–”
Megren nods. “I only wonder –” she glances at him. “Well, I don’t know. I wonder. She must have thoughts.”
Lanisen shifts and shakes his head. “I can’t– I won’t ask her to get involved in…”
Megren says, “Yeah. No, I think that’s right. I just thought perhaps it might have come up.”
Lanisen says, “I don’t know.”
Megren asks, “Do you — how do you feel?”
Lanisen covers his face and rubs his eyes. “I don’t… I don’t know, I–” He drops his hands and stares at the wall opposite, now gone dark. “I guess– just /waitin’/, you know, it’s… I dunno.”
Megren says, “You’re not talking to him because he asked you not to?”
Lanisen says, “No, no, nothin’ like–” He stops, reconsiders. “He ain’t– he ain’t sent for me, or sent a message or orders or anything, it’s– Ara says he ain’t mad but it’s– I don’t know what to do.”
Megren rests her hands on her knees. “Well… if it were me you had a falling out with, would you wait for me to send for you?”
Lanisen says unhappily, “That’s different.”
Megren asks, “Why?”
Lanisen says, “Because it’s– because it /is/!”
Megren says, “Well, it’s your situation. You’re the only one who can say whether it is or it isn’t.”
Lanisen goes worried and silent, picking at the raised scars on his wrists.
Megren says, “I’m not saying you’re wrong, I’m just wondering if you shouldn’t at least know why you’re right.”
Lanisen glances at her and looks away. He takes a minute to figure out his thoughts, then says, “‘Cause– he’s my friend but he’s my lord too, and he gave me an order and I didn’t, I went against it, and– and I’d do the same again, I would.”
Megren pushes her mouth to the side, contemplatively silent.
Lanisen weaves his fingers together and adds, slowly, as if he’s thinking the words out loud, “And I… don’t know where that leaves… where I stand, ’cause of that, and he ain’t sayin’. I don’t know.”
Megren pushes her lips upward and finally says, “I don’t know either.”
Lanisen is quiet for a moment, watching the window that looks out onto the inner ward with a little troubled furrow between his eyebrows. “I was thinkin’– the other night, I couldn’t sleep–” He pauses. “I was… when he left, when he went off to Narnia– What I did, was that, was it the same?”
Megren tilts her head thoughtfully. “I don’t know. It seems different from my side — your mission’s clearer to me and I know you talked to him about it directly before, because you had to have for him to say no. But I’m… I’m not in it. I don’t think it’s for me to say.”
Lanisen doesn’t seem surprised by her answer, but his head bows.
Megren places her hand on his. “You’ve got out of harder places.”
Lanisen doesn’t answer, but his mouth quirks briefly into a bitter little twist.
Megren’s hand tightens around his. “I mean it. It’s not going to be like this forever.”
Lanisen says, “You’re prob’ly right.”
Megren tilts her head to get a better look at his face, her eyes flickering over it.
Lanisen shifts and glances at her. He finds a small, sort of hopeful smile for her.
Megren smiles back and then lays her head on his shoulder. “In the meantime, there are hot pretzels, and salted cheese, hot mint tea, dogs that love you whatever you may say or do, walks out in the forest, morning reflections of light on the ceiling…”
Lanisen relaxes a little bit and tips his head to rest on top of hers, his smile becoming more real. “Ivy leaves turnin’ colors,” he offers. “Kittens who want to fight everything.”
Megren says, “Cubes and pickled things.”
Lanisen wrinkles up his nose and squints his eyes.
Megren says, “Forgetting to pack your salt.”
Lanisen snorts out loud involuntarily.
Megren asks, “What else.”
Lanisen says, “I dunno, are we goin’ for good things or awful things, I’ve lost track.”
Megren says, “What those aren’t good?”
Lanisen says decidedly, “Those are both awful.”
Megren says, “/You’re/ awful.”
Lanisen looks both affronted and offended. He huffs.
Megren lifts her head. “Well?”
Lanisen considers for a minute. “There’s frost on the windows in the morning,” he says. “And bread that’s still hot from the oven.”
Megren mms. “And grass that sparkles when the sun comes up, and maybe trees with their trunks in ice soon.”
Lanisen grins faintly, pleased by this notion. “You ever seen a waterfall froze over?”
Megren nods. “Little ones. One time a pretty big one.”
Lanisen mms happily. “One time it froze and rained at the same time, maybe… I dunno, ten years, fifteen years ago. I was pretty little. We had these great big icicles hangin’ down off the eaves for weeks.”
Megren wrinkles her nose, not unhappily. “Sounds cold.”
Lanisen says, “Well, yeah. It was pretty, though.”
Megren says, “Your house in Carmichael?”
Lanisen humms confirmation.
Megren nods thoughtfully. She is quiet for a moment and then says suddenly, “There’s honeycakes.”
Lanisen says, “I still ain’t tried those.”
Megren gets up suddenly and holds out her hand to him. “Well, /that’s/ got to be fixed.”
Lanisen lets out a little breath of laughter and begins to get to his feet, taking her hand.
Megren tugs him up and starts immediately for the stairwell. “Hurry up, I bet there are still hot ones.”
Lanisen pulls his arm free so that he can ascend the steps slower, saying laughingly, “Steady on.”
Megren turns to walk backwards so she can better match his pace.
Lanisen reaches the top of the stairs, grimacing in annoyance at his pace, and straightens, glancing at her.
Megren gestures with her head and skips out into the ward, expecting him to follow.