Here is a valley that is broad and green and sunny, but sheltered. The rocky ridge of the northern mountains surrounds the area in a wide, impassable curve from east to west, while the high red walls of castle Anvard close off the southern mouth of the valley. There is no way to leave the valley without passing through the castle or scaling the sheer face of the ridge.
Stone walls fitted with wide wooden gates divide the valley into three separate pastures of lush grass and wildflowers. These are occupied by the castle’s cattle and horses, and a fair number of sheep share space with them. Accessible to each pasture is a long, narrow lake of clear dark water on the north side of the valley, fed from above by a rushing mountain stream. The dark entrance to a cave is visible behind it, and a broad path leads to it from the easternmost pasture.
Haft leans against one of the walls, watching some sheep who huddle together in their woolly winter coats.
Lanisen pushes the heavy door open a crack, slips out, and puts his back to it to shut it again. He breathes deeply of the crisp air, sagging a little in what looks like tired relief, then takes a quick step to the side when he realizes he is not alone. “I, I’m sorry,” he mumbles, and reaches for the latch to leave the way he came.
Haft looks up at the words, not having heard Lanisen’s entry. “You needn’t go,” he says.
Lanisen glances at him sidelong, hesitating.
Haft says, “You live here too.” He tries for a little levity. “Besides, the way I see it, you’ve got me cornered between the castle and a cliff.””
Lanisen’s eyes flit to the wall behind Haft, but he looks bewildered.
Haft makes a dismissive gesture with his hand. “Never mind. Megren doesn’t get my jokes either. I just realized how long it’s been since I’d come out here. I used to think the sheep were funny, when I was a lad. Still do.”
Lanisen shifts slightly, a little of the tension leaving his posture, and turns his head to look out at the pasture. “Reckon you didn’t work close with ’em, then,” he ventures.
Haft tips his head to one side. “No, not particularly. You?”
Lanisen says, “My da kept sheep.”
Haft says, “Oh? I take it you weren’t amused by them.”
Lanisen ducks his head and offers a small smile. “Mostly they just smell real bad, once you’re up close,” he says apologetically.
Haft allows a corner of his mouth to twitch upward. “Don’t smell too grand from right here, so I reckon that’s so.”
Lanisen nods. He shifts his weight again and looks down briefly, a little awkward. “Um,” he says. “Thanks for– for bein’ on hand, the other day.”
Haft clasps his hands on the top of the stone wall. “That’s what I’m here for.”
Lanisen nods slightly, ducking his head. “Even so.”
Haft says, “I’m sorry if you thought I wasn’t taking you seriously. I didn’t mean it to seem that way. It’s my job to ask questions before acting, you see.”
Lanisen says, “No, I– I understand.”
Haft nods. “Good. How are you…uh…you doing all right? It must be a hard week, with the arrest, and your sister being moved.
Lanisen crosses an arm over his middle and rubs his elbow self-consciously. “It’s, I’m doin’ all right, thanks for askin’.”
Haft asks, “Sure. Sir Darrin says you and he are looking after her kitten?”
Lanisen glances at Haft in some surprise, but he nods. “‘S right. He’s, um, he’s shut up in my room right now.”
Haft says, “Good. Feel free to kidnap the little menace in the barracks sometime. I’m sure she’d enjoy playing with him.”
Lanisen asks, “Tiny?”
Haft says, “That’s the one.”
Lanisen cracks a small smile. “She’s so bad?”
Haft pulls a scowl. “She likes to curl up on my pillow when I’m not there.” He purses his lips. “Which does serve to keep it warm once she
‘s dislodged, I suppose.”
Lanisen’s grin widens, his eyes crinkling up. He looks down briefly, then confides, “Toby cried like anything the first night, but come mornin’ he was all snugged up under my chin.”
Haft winces sympathetically for a moment, then says, “That’s good. He doesn’t mewl in your room? I mean, obviously you can’t take him to the kennels, but…
Lanisen says, “No, he did– er, he does– I dunno what it is he’s wantin’ half the time.”
Haft says, “Probably his own way, which could cover a wide variety of choices at any given moment.” He pulls his scarf more tightly around him.”
Lanisen says, “Seems likely.”
Haft says, “Though ‘food’ is probably high on the list.” He turns away from the wall. “It’s chilly out here. I think I’ll head in. A quiet afternoon to you.””
Lanisen ducks his head and moves aside quickly. “Afternoon.”
Haft passes Lanisen and heads into the stables.