Outer Ward
Castle Anvard

The outer ward of Castle Anvard is a busy, bustling place, with market stalls and the smithy, stables, and kennels lining the outer walls. There are stairs leading to the gate towers on the northern and southern corners of the outer curtain. To the east are the outer gatehouse and the road leading into the realm of Archenland, and to the west another gate leads to the the inner ward and the main keep of Anvard.

The snow has been mostly cleared out of the center of the ward and gathered into several waist-deep piles up against the walls. A large bonfire of fragrant wood, kept burning bright and hot at all hours of the day and night, occupies the open space. Festive greenery hangs all around, amid the icicles.

Myles leads his horse, saddled and geared for the hunt, out of the stable. His squire comes behind him, leading his own horse. Both are dressed warmly, and Myles calls out some high-spirited jest over his shoulder as they approach the bonfire.

Arael walks in beside Lord Sten, very well bundled up. Her cheeks are rosy and her expression is animated as she replies to him.

Aravis leads a dark grey hunting horse from the stables, dressed lightly enough to ride swiftly but still stay warm. A red scarf is draped over her shoulders and over the lower half of her face.

Lune stands near the bonfire with a group of his attendants, dressed warmly for the hunt. He seems in high spirits, chatting with everybody, and his loud, booming laugh rings out frequently.

Lanisen follows Arael and Sten, walking behind and slightly to the right.

Deonyc stands off to the side, where he can still appreciate some of the warmth.

Dalia slips out of the inner ward, warmly dressed.

Myles, as he nears the fire, pulls his horse to a stop and bows low to the King and those of his superiors who are gathered near. Rase follows suit.

Barret stands by Haft near the fire, wrapped up warm but still grateful for the warmth of the flames.

Aravis leads her horse towards the fire, giving the knight and squire a berth before coming to a stop herself. She also bows to the King before standing straight and proud. Every once in a while, she sneaks a glance around, as if looking for a face but trying not to be at all obvious about it.

Lune begins to make his way to where his sturdy chestnut hunting horse is waiting for him, clapping shoulders as he goes. “Guardsman Haft, Guardsman Barret; Sir Myles! A fine day, a fine day, couldst not ask a better.” He beams at Aravis, giving the straps and buckles of his horse’s tack a brief but thorough check before he mounts.

Haft’s eyes are drawn to Aravis for a moment, and he glances around the ward as well, to note who has not yet arrived.

Cor comes through the inner gates at a full run, then pulls up short as soon as he enters the ward, straightening first his back, then his crown, and striding into the crowd with a false princely ease, like he isn’t utterly out of breath.

Sten draws near to the fire, joining the crowd. He bows towards King Lune, but, with a brief glance towards Lanisen, stops outside of the most busy part of the crowd. He smiles as the young prince runs up, though his attention is studiously on Arael and their conversation.

Haft watches Cor with an indulgent look no doubt shared by others in the crowd.

Darrin joins the crowd from the stables, leading his palomino palfrey. He pauses to scan those gathered, a faint smile touching his lips and growing, and then clucks his tongue lightly and leads Dawn towards the King and the other hunters.

Aravis, noticing the guard’s eyes on her, is giving him a haughty look and misses Cor’s entrance. A moment later, she sees the prince and pointedly turns towards her horse, stroking its neck.

Megren follows shortly after Sir Darrin with her own horse, head bent deferentially to acknowledge all the nobles without troubling them into having to acknowledge her with individual curtsies.

Arael glances around with bright interest as stops beside Lord Sten. She curtsies deeply, then adjusts to make room for Lanisen beside her.

Lanisen keeps quiet, his eyes shifting between the many faces present, bowing in tandem with Arael. His eyes rest briefly on Sir Darrin as he joins the hunting party, then search out Megren behind him.

Cor crosses his arms when he catches sight of Aravis and grins breathlessly. He ambles over toward the gathering group made up largely of common folk who intend to hunt out a yule log, though not before seeking out a glimpse of his father — not a difficult endeavor.

Deonyc pauses for a while, and then walks over to stand next to Haft, he inclines his head in greeting.

Haft nods back. “Good day.”

Lune settles into his saddle, his keen eyes glancing over the hunting party, with an especial knowing twinkle for Cor. “Is all then in readiness?” he asks to the company at large.

Dalia observes the gathering for a short while more, before bowing to the Prince and and to his majesty, Aravis and others in rank above her as she nears the gathering.

Myles and Rase mount up as well, following the King’s lead.

Aravis mounts as the others do. She looks for Cor one more time and allows a grin.

Cor’s grin broadens at his father’s look, and then he scampers off, fully lost to sight in the yule-log crowd.

Darrin swings into his saddle and follows the King’s glance over the hunting party. “I believe so, Sire.”

Megren saddles up as soon as her knight does, adjusting her quiver at her back once she is settled in. She catches sight of Lanisen and wrinkles her nose at him.

Sten looks around at the Yule Log crowd and then towards King Lune. “It appears so, your Majesty!” he replies.

Haft glances at Barret.
Haft mumbles “… Prince … … … with … … …”, to Barret.

Barret mumbles something incomprehensible to Haft.

Lune seems to agree. He nudges his horse into motion and paces the space between the two parties. “Return to the castle by sunset, no later; our festivites begin this night!” He draws his sword for a broad, cheerful salute to both parties. “Be safe; be well; may the Emperor smile on both our quests!”

Haft offers a grin and a wave in return.

Deonyc smiles and waves as well.

Arael clasps her hands and rocks forward onto her toes in excitement.

Lanisen grins back at Megren, raising his eyebrows briefly in a ‘here goes’ sort of way.

Dalia waves to Megren and the hunting party.

Sten waves back in a combination of acknowledgement and well-wishing before turning towards the group of log hunters, smiling broadly. “A fine group we have! Where shall we begin, friends?”

“Near the stand of firs?” Haft offers.

Cor lingers at the back of the group of log hunters, standing on his toes to see past some of the taller of them.

Aravis waits for the hunters to move out, chin high and almost managing to conceal how eager she is to be off.

Deonyc nods in agreement to Haft, “We can pass by some of the clearings, it would be a loop of sorts.”

Lune turns back to the hunting party and signals the attendant with the horn. It winds, a bright, glad sound, and Lune wheels his horse toward the gates.

Myles grins broadly at the King’s instructions and urges his horse after him. Rase follows along.

Aravis follows after, fairly close behind the King.

Darrin nudges his mare after the King.

Haft cups his hands around his mouth and calls after, “Bring us back a prize, milords!”

Cor’s eyes pick out his father, Aravis, and Darrin from the crowd of nobles and a twinge of doubt crosses his face before he returns his attention to the present crowd. His eyes land on Lanisen, and he picks his way toward the hound-keeper.

Megren keeps close beside Sir Darrin, and a little behind.

Arael turns to face the rest of the group, asking as she does so, “What sort of tree will we look for?”

Sten folds his hands behind his back, smiling at Prince Cor.

Lanisen quickly bows to Cor, offering a small, genuine grin.

Arael curtsies as Lanisen’s movement draws her attention to the Prince’s approach.

Dalia stands by Arael, glancing to her at her question, then following suit, bowing to the Prince.

Cor gives the women near him a short, embarrassed nod.

Haft approaches, answering Arael. “Birch, Oak, Ash…something large enough to burn for days.” He bow to Cor. “Pleased that you’ll be joining us, Your Highness.”

Arael nods in answer. “We always burned ash for luck in Carmichael.”

Lanisen glances at Arael and nods in agreement.

Sten nods. “Then an ash we shall find! Who shall lead us?”

Haft says, “Wisdom first, milord.””

Lanisen squints at Haft.

Cor’s eyes shift to figure out who’s addressed him now, and he nods to Haft. He rubs the top of his head where the back of his circlet rests when it seems everyone’s attention is focused on Lord Sten.

Sten laughs, a deep, comfortable sort of laugh. “Then we’ve still to pick! But not I, perhaps; I fear our loop would become a meandering path that would take us well after dusk, should I try to guide us.”

Arael giggles and glances around the group, considering.

Cor sinks a little behind Lanisen, casting around for a suitable candidate with a half hopeful, half apprehensive expression.

Lanisen rubs his elbow and glances at Cor.

Dalia shifts from one foot the other, waiting.

Haft glances at the boy trying to hide behind Lanisen. “Your Highness? Do you know the way to the firs?”

Sten glances at Prince Cor and bows a little. “Prince Cor, why don’t we walk together, and perhaps together we can avoid getting lost past the time the King said!”

Haft says, “An admirable suggestion.”

Cor says, “Uh.” He glances over those assembled, then nods hesitantly. “Yes… oh, yes, of course, if you like.” He gives Lanisen a half regretful look and parts from his side to approach the nobleman. “So… the fir copse first, then?””

Sten nods, glancing at Lanisen and gesturing an invitation to join them before focusing on the prince again. “So it appears!”

Dalia gives a small encouraging smile as the Prince glances over those assembled.

Lanisen looks uncertain, but he moves forward to stand at Sten’s side, ducking his head.

Sten makes sure everyone is ready and begins to meander towards the forest, slow enough that both the youngest and oldest can easily keep pace.


A Stand of Fir Trees

You find yourself in a stand of fir trees, surrounded by the heady scent of the evergreens. Each tree here bristles with short, sharp, green needles. Here and there, in the trees and on the ground you can see cylindrical cones, green or brown in color. A carpet of fallen needles covers the ground, muffling the sounds of your footsteps. The wind whispers softly through the branches above you, creating a pleasant song.

Arael falls behind near Dalia as they make their way through the forest. She converses pleasantly with her, though she keeps her eyes mainly on the trees, searching for one that will suit.

Haft walks along, not saying much. Where Arael’s eyes are looking upward, his are on the forest floor, alert to animal tracks.

Sten spends the walk talking with Prince Cor and Lanisen, as well as the occasional child who thinks they are going far too slow. He laughs almost as much as he speaks.

Lanisen keeps close to Sten’s side, pausing occasionally to consider a tree with ridged bark.

Cor asks after the names for various trees, and when given them, asks after how one may make such an identification. He does not seem to absorb most of the information he is given.

Dalia coverses with Arael, a smile on her face. She glances around taking in the forrst with delight and appreciation, with quick glances to make sure she does not loose sight of the company. ”

Haft listens to Cor’s questions, as he’s walking near the front of the group. “Almost there.”

Arael points one tree out and asks Dalia, “What of that one, right there? Too tall, do you think?”

Dalia glances in the direcion and hmms, “A bit thin, perhaps?”

Lanisen glances back toward Arael and Dalia and tilts his head back to consider the tree.

Sten looks towards it as well and hmms consideringly. “Too young, perhaps. Another year, and it will be a fine log then.”

Arael gives the tree another look and nods in agreement. “Aye, looks so.”

Cor traverses out a little ways from the group, just within sight. He calls, “Ash has the grey trunk you said?”

Lanisen trails after him, looking ahead to see what has caught the prince’s interest.

Sten looks over, then follows a little ways behind Lanisen.

Haft says, “Like ashes in a fireplace.”

Cor stands below a tree about four times his height, looking up into its branches.

Arael steps around a large mound of snow and follows quickly after the others.

Lanisen comes up next to Cor, craning his neck to look at the tree. He reaches out to touch the ridges in its bark, then glances back to Sten with his eyebrows raised.

Dalia follows right behind Arael, stepping accidentally into a drift a little bit, before regaining her footing.

Haft walks over. “Thick enough.”

Cor asks, “Is it the right sort?”

Sten examines the tree and nods thoughtfully. His gaze seems mostly to sit on all the snow on the branches.

Arael re-adjusts her cloak as she reaches the tree’s base. “Aye, that’s an ash.”

Cor’s gaze follows Sten’s and he frowns. “The snow?”

Haft says, “Gonna drench us when we fell it, if we’re not careful.”

Sten nods solemnly, then reaches up and grabs a low branch, shaking it. The snow promptly falls onto both of them.

Cor’s face draws blank with surprise.

Haft laughs, covering his mouth quickly to stifle the sound at the sight of the prince and the nobleman dusted in white. He himself has stepped clear just as Sten reached up.

Lanisen’s mouth opens. He dances quickly backward, wheezing with laughter.

Sten chuckles. “I think this tree will do nicely. Unless there’s another?” He brushes the snow off his shoulders.

Arael squeals and ducks to cover her face, then laughs.

Dalia chuckles, watching as the snow dusts the others.

Haft says, “This one is tall and broad. It’ll do just fine. And sunset’s coming soon.”

Cor pulls off his circlet and shakes out his hair.

A couple of men from the village step forward with axes.

Dalia says, “It’s a lovely tree. Well done, Your Highness. Well done, everyone.”

Sten backs away from the tree, making sure everyone is well clear before they start cutting it down.

Arael straightens again and lowers her hood to shake the snow off of it. She steps back out of the way of the axe-bearers and looks back up at the tree. “Aye,” she says in agreement.

Lanisen returns, keeping an eye on Sten. He glances toward the men with axes, and steps quickly to the side to be out of their way as they begin the work of felling the tree.

The cutters take to the tree with a will, snow falling loose from higher branches as they get farther along. Haft and others relieve each other, taking turns. Haft looks up as he starts to weary. “You want a go, Your Highness?”

Cor moves back to stand with Lanisen again, now he’s done with the whole leading business. He looks hesitant at the guard’s offer, but then steps forward with his hand out to accept the axe.

Haft places the axe in Cor’s hand, then steps back to give him room.

Lanisen keeps back with Sten, rubbing his shoulder absently as he watches.

Arael takes out a drinking skin of mulled cider which she has brought with her and passes it around to those chopping down the tree when they take their turns at resting.

Haft takes a mouthful gratefully. “Many thanks, Mistress.”

Cor’s eyes skitter to the other axe-bearers to try to discern how he’s meant to hold and best use the tool.

Haft notes Cor’s hesitation and steps forward. “This hand in front of the other,” he explains. “Swing down into the opening, then up to take a nock out. You see?”

Cor nods with concentration, looking around again to make sure there is no one to be hurt by his swing once Haft backs away.

Sten exclaims, “You’ve almost gotten it, friends! Just a few swings yet!”

Lanisen watches the top of the tree warily.

Arael remains at ease, chatting with the other bystanders in the group, but she keeps herself facing the tree all the same.

Cor tries to follow Haft’s instructions. His efforts are not particularly well rewarded, but it’s a contribution nevertheless.

One of the more experienced woodcutters eyes the tree, then directs the prince to step away as he and his fellow concentrate the last of their efforts on a specific spot, priming the tree to fall in the direction, and gesturing the crowd away from the area.

Cor hurries out of the way.

Arael walks backward out of the way, peeking over her shoulder to make sure that she doesn’t trip over anything. She shoots an excited grin at Lanisen as she goes.

Haft relieves Cor of the axe and returns it to his owner. “Well done, Your Highness.”

Sten follows Arael as she clears the area.

Lanisen grins back, half excitement and half apprehension, and watches so he doesn’t miss when the tree begins to fall.

Dalia grins, watching the tree.

Following several axe blows, a loud /crack/ followed by a creaking sound is heard. The cutters step clear as the enormous ash begins its downward journey and lands with a resounding crash amidst a flurry of powder.

Cor hastens back a few more steps, though he is already well out of the way.

Haft crosses his arms in pleased satisfaction.

Lanisen’s face winces up a little as it falls, then lets out a slightly awed breath once it is down.

Arael watches, unblinking, as the tree falls, then claps her hands together, smiling broadly.

Sten calls out his thanks to the cutters, smiling broadly.

The axe-bearers continue their work with a will, chopping off the larger branches but leaving stubs near the trunk long enough for carrying.

When the most troublesome branches have cleared away, the crowd moves in to shoulder the trunk.

Sten encourages some of the children who can’t help with the log itself to carry the branches that would be good normal fuel for their homes.

A couple of mothers take up the smallest of the children, resting them on their hips for the march back.

Lanisen follows along, taking up some ash branches as well.

Arael, being too short to be much help at carrying off the tree, helps make sure that no speedy little ones get under the tree-bearers’ feet.

Cor takes up the tree near the tip, where his smaller strength can be of some use.

Haft begins to absently hum an old carol as they walk, and before long it’s been picked up by the bearers next to him. He colors slightly, but continues as the music spreads.

Sten, joining in the carrying, doesn’t bother with just humming. He sings instead, in a solid, if not excellent, baritone. He keeps it up, followed by another, as they head back to the castle.

Lanisen grins faintly, listening with evident pleasure, but doesn’t join in.

Arael does join, with enthusiasm.

Outer Ward
Castle Anvard

Singing can be heard growing closer as the bearers of the yule log carry their prize up to the castle gates and into the ward.

Lune and most of the rest of the hunting party are milling about the bonfire with the sort of jovial satisfaction that follows a successful hunt.

Lune turns toward the gate at the sound of singing, and his face creases up with a broad smile. He steps forward, spreading his arms in welcome, searching out Cor in the crowd.

Darrin turns at the singing, also with a smile on his face.

Aravis looks towards the party of yule hunters, frowning in a puzzled sort of way at the song.

Cor, not knowing the lyrics sung, does not quite join in, though he picks up on the tune after a bit and makes a go at humming along. When the hunting party comes in sight he abandons his post at the tree to run up and meet with them.

Haft’s lips twitch at the boy’s eagerness.

Myles grins as he makes out the song and calls the next line back to the singers.

Lanisen follows the party through the gates, a little behind the great tree. His face is open and happy, though he’s showing a slight limp.

Lune laughs out loud with pleasure, catching Cor around the shoulders for a rough, warm bear-hug, then surveys the log they have brought back with obvious satisfaction. “Well done, well done! Ahh, this will do nicely.”

Cor looks to be in some odd place between pleased and embarrassed by the show of affection. His gaze seeks out Aravis and he grins when he sees she is there and apparently unhurt.

Aravis watches Cor and the King, then smiles back when Cor grins at her.

Arael walks near Lanisen, being tugged along by two small children whose hands she is holding.

Sten is supporting the tree near the middle, caroling loudly with the rest. He wraps up as they near the ward to call out a hail toward the hunting party.

Lune releases Cor and goes to take up a post on the tree as well. Several other bystanders come as well to relieve those who have carried the log thus far.

Dalia follows along after Arael helping some mothers by shepherding several children and keeping them on the path.

Lanisen carries his armload of wood to the bonfire and drops on the pile of fuel, rubbing his shoulder and looking around for Megren and Darrin.

Aravis strides over to Cor when his father is done hugging. “Well, how was it?”

Megren goes to meet with Lanisen. “Well?”

Darrin slips away in the commotion.

Lanisen’s face lights. “Hey!” he answers, dropping his hand from his shoulder and giving her a critical look. “We, um, have slain a mighty tree; your turn.”

Lune and the others carry the tree through the inner gate and on toward the great hall.

Cor extends a finger toward the great tree. “What do you call that?”

Megren pushes her mouth to the side. “Far mightier than our wee boar, I’d have to say.”

Myles follows after the King, jostling and laughing with the log-hunters as he puts his shoulder to the burden.

Sten likewise helps carry it into the great hall.

Aravis looks at their catch and says, “I suppose it’s a tree. We saw a number of them, though that does seem like a particularly nice one.”

Cor corrects, “An /ash/ tree.”

Haft, not yet tired, continues through the gatehouse with the rest of the bearers.

Aravis gives it another once-over as it is born through the gates. “For the trunk color, I suppose? When did you learn that?”

Cor crosses his arms. “Lord Sten. I think it’s because of how good it is for burning.” He puts emphasis on this last part to punctuate what an excellent pick this /particular/ tree is.

Lanisen laughs under his breath, rubbing his elbow. He glances around at the rest of the people who went on the hunt. “It went well, then?”

Megren nods. “Pretty clean, I think. I’ve never been on that kind before, so I don’t know how it usually goes.”

Lanisen nods. “Nobody hurt?” he asks, just to check.

Aravis keeps her expression unimpressed. “Ash doesn’t burn, it’s what comes /after/ something’s been burned. Why would you name it for that?”

Megren glances back to the hunting crowd, and her brows draw together when she sees some of them departed, but she says brightly, “All limbs accounted for.”

Lanisen says, “Well. That’s good.” He glances after the tree, dimples up and pulls his lips between his teeth as if he thinks it’s probably a horrible thing that he’s about to say, then says it anyway. “Can’t say the same for us…”

Megren’s brows lift in surprise and concern before understanding dawns on her and she barks a laugh.

Lanisen hunches up his shoulders and snickers, well pleased by her reaction. He begins to follow the general migration of people to the great hall.

The crowd makes its way slowly through the inner gatehouse and the inner ward, past the castle inhabitants who stayed behind but are now gathered to watch the Yule log be brought in.

Great Hall
Castle Anvard

Edana looks down at Kaie and whispers words of caution as he nods. She then returns to her conversation with a woman standing by her side, obviously admiring the Great Hall.

Cor follows along with the general movement of the crowd as he replies. “Well, I don’t know why it’s any worse a reason than for the color.”

The King and the two hunting parties make their way into the great hall, where smaller logs have been set up to prop the Yule log on. A couple of servants who have been standing by direct the group into place.

Haft glances over his shoulder at Megren, wondering what she finds so funny.

Aravis frowns at him, but then watches as they set it up. “It /is/ impressive,” she allows.

Dalia follows in along with the group from the tree cutting.

Megren trails after Lanisen. “It’s good and big,” she admires.

Edana stops talking to the woman and stands on her tiptoes to watch the action by the fire before pulling her son into her arms.

Lanisen says, “You should’ve seen it come down, it was somethin’.” He draws and releases a deep breath, relieved by the relative warmth of the hall.

Once the tree is resting in place, the waiting servants begin to sprinkle it with fragrant-smelling wine as the hunting parties spread out and take their places around the hall.

Megren’s eyes flick across the hall as they enter it, and her lips pull thoughtfully to the right.

Elriya, who came down into the inner ward to watch the Yule log go past, follows the group into the hall and seeks out her family amount those gathered.

Lanisen watches with interest, glancing at Megren to share the fascination. He catches the strange look and tips his head to one side.
Lanisen mumbles, “‘Smatter?”, to Megren.
Lanisen mumbles something incomprehensible to Megren.

Edana follows along with the group, child on her hip.

Dalia makes her way over to Edana. “Hello again.”

Megren shakes her head to indicate an answer of ‘nothing really’ before replying.
Megren mumbles “I think I’d better seek out Sir Darrin.”, to Lanisen.
Megren mumbles “I … … better seek … … Darrin.”, to Lanisen.

Haft steps back from the tree and goes to join Megren and Lanisen.

As King Lune takes his place atop the royal dais, the servants finish arranging the log, then stand in readiness

Edana looks over to Dalia as she comes up. “Hello!” Kaie lifts his head and bunches up his cheeks in a smile and gives her a small wave. “Have you been enjoying the holidays?”

Lanisen glances briefly around the hall with new understanding. He nods and murmurs in return.
Lanisen mumbles, “I’ll see you later?”, to Megren.
Lanisen mumbles, “… see … …”, to Megren.

Megren nods, a brief smile appearing to affirm the gesture. She claps a hand on Haft’s upper arm as they cross paths. “Old bones not tired out yet?”

Haft answers drily, “They have yet to snap from exertion. And you? Not gored I see.”

Cor steps out of the way as people gather to prepare and light the log. “And you? There’ll be something good to feast on, I hope.”

Megren asks, “Not as yet, anyway. I’m just set to see where Sir Darrin’s gone off to. Unless you saw?”

Haft shakes his head. “Didn’t notice. You’ll be back?”

Aravis smiles, head held proudly. “Of course. You should have seen it, it was magnificent. And your father is a very good shot.”

Dalia waves to Kaie. “Very well, thank you. And you?”

Megren says, “I expect so, unless tragedy should befall.”

Cor asks, “Well, what other kind of shot should he be?”

Lanisen circles the tree, finding a place to stand that is out of the way.

Edana smiles. “Very much! I love the winter time.” Kaie giggles when

Dalia waves back at him and hides in Edana’s hair.

Haft says, “Well, hurry off then. You won’t want me keeping Lanisen company too long.”

Megren says, “Please, I expect he’ll be leading a rousing folk ballad before too long.”

Aravis crosses her arms. “I haven’t been hunting with him before, how was I to know?” She’s too eager to be distracted by argument for long, however. “But he and Sir Myles both did especially well, even when the boar charged us.”

The King surveys the hall and the people in it, then raises his cup to the room.

Cor’s brow furrows up. “Charged?” He gives her a more thorough look-over, but seems to decide she’s as well as he’d first assumed. “Well, it sounds like you hardly had any part in it,” he concludes triumphantly, but his voice falls off as his father calls attention.

Elriya makes her way over to stand beside Lord Shar and Lord Dar. She greets them warmly, then turns to face King Lune.

Aravis is about to reply, a very superior sort of expression on her face, when the King distracts her.

Myles joins some of the other knights who are gathered in one corner and waits for the King to speak.

Dalia turns and waits for the King to speak.

King Lune waits for the hall to grow quiet and then says, in a booming voice that is loud enough for all to hear, “You have claimed your prizes this day, friends, and now I bid you enjoy them well. To your joy this Yuletide, and to your warmth and good health in the New Year!” He drinks from the cup, and at this signal, one of the servants hands off a firebrand to a young girl, seven or eight years old, who waits near the hearth. She takes it very carefully and, turning, touches it to the remnants of last year’s Yule log that lie in the hearth. The log catches the flame, and slowly it spreads to the end of the new log.

Megren gives Haft another tap on the arm and slips outside before the festivities quite work themselves up.

Cor’s face lights up with delight at the ceremony.

Aravis smiles, glancing Cor’s way.

Myles raises his own mug of ale, which someone has handed him, and with a “Hear!” drinks to the same.

Elriya applauds the ceremony warmly.

Dalia claps and cheers

Lanisen finds a place to sit where he can watch the log burn. He rubs his shoulder and yawns.

Haft follows Lanisen and sits down. “Does the cold make it worse?” he asks.

Lanisen sits up straighter, dropping his hand. “Um. It’s–” He doesn’t seem to know where to look, and finally shrugs.

Haft stiffens and looks decidedly anywhere else. “Sorry.”

Lanisen ducks his head slightly. “No, it’s– sorry.”

Cor sits watching the flames and cheerfully bickering with Aravis over what makes for the best hearty meal in this sort of situation.

Myles sets to enjoying the drink and good company.

Haft rises and goes to where the table is spread with good things to eat. He takes up a mug of cider and wanders closer to the fire.

Lanisen looks down at his knees.

Cor and Aravis eventually split off from the crowd to carry on their conversation in quieter climes.

Myles eventually breaks away from the group and makes is way over toward the fire as well. “How goes the day, Haft?” he greets.

Haft turns with a small bow. “Enjoyable, Sir. The children enjoyed it and it was good to see Prince Cor take a hand finding and felling the tree.”

Lanisen sits quietly, watching the yule log burn and the people mill about. He shifts after a moment and looks up toward the dais, at the coats of arms hanging behind the high table. His eyes rest on the Neiklot banner briefly before he looks hastily away.

Myles grins. “Ah, indeed.” He sips his ale. “I believe I saw a Yule log brought down for the first time when I was near his age. A fine sight.”

Haft says, “That old? I can’t even remember the first time. Musta ridden out on my da’s shoulders.”

Myles nods. “The place I lived before I came here was too far off from anywhere to have something so grand.” He looks toward Haft. “Did you grow up here in the castle, then?”

Haft says, “Nearly. My father was a guardsman. Our house was in the village.”

Myles says, “Ahh, very nearly, then. That must have been something.”

Haft says, “Aye. I was wide-eyed about everything, then. I remember thinking the tree we were felling was the size of the northen giants of legend.”

Lanisen finally gets a little stiffly to his feet, grimacing in discomfort. He rubs his right hand and glances around the hall, then begins for the door.

Myles laughs heartily. “I think I thought the oddest part was that so many people would spend all day and that much trouble for a spot of fun. Your memory is a better story, to be sure.”

Haft snorts. “Spot of fun? It’ll burn all week.”

Myles says, “Well, yes, but I’d never seen anyone cut down a whole tree at once for that before.”

The hewn trunk of an ash tree lies across the hall here, propped up on several smaller logs with its base resting on the hearth and its crown pointing toward the doorway. It is three or four times the height of a man in length and half a man’s height across. Its thick, deeply ridged grey bark remains intact, and though its branches have mostly been lopped off, enough remain that it can be lifted and carried. The hearth end has been lit aflame and is burning slowly and steadily, giving off pleasant warmth and a mild, sweet-smelling fragrance.

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