More than any other part of the castle, the Great Hall gives the impression of age and enduring strength. It is a long, rectangular room, spacious enough to accommodate several long tables on feast days, with high walls built of massive blocks of red stone and two rows of matching pillars to support the arching roof. There is an enormous fireplace in the middle of the southwest wall, directly across from the intricately carved double doors that lead out into the inner ward. A wicker screen blocks the door to the kitchen in the southeast wall from sight. Six tall, narrow windows on the northeast wall let in a fair amount of sunlight in the morning and early afternoon, but decorative iron sconces that hang at functional intervals along each wall provide most of the hall’s illumination.
At the far northwest end of the hall, three steps lead up to the dais, where the high table sits beneath the banners of the noble houses: Coghill’s eagle, Carmichael’s stag, Chesterton’s dragon, Lancelyn Green’s horse, Neiklot’s tree, and the crown and mountains of Anvard’s standard.
Lanisen slips through the door at a relatively quiet time of the day, pausing just inside the door to wipe his feet and take the measure of the people present.
Sareen sits by the heart with a steaming mug beside her. She is working some kind of cloth with a hook.
Lanisen makes his way to the long table, dipping his head those whom he passes and bowing to those whose rank requires it. He takes a portion of roasted vegetables, his manner almost furtive, as if he’s waiting to be told it’s not for him, then withdraws toward the fire to eat and warm up.
Sareen glances up from her embroidery. “You still haven’t been by.”
Lanisen turns quickly to face her. “I have,” he asserts, ducking his head slightly in greeting. “It’s, I didn’t see– You were out.”
Sareen clucks her tongue. “You help the revelers find this behemoth?” She gestures to the Yule log.
Lanisen shakes his head slightly. “Prince Cor found it.”
Sareen eyes it. “Looks to be a good choice. You didn’t go out?”
Lanisen says, “No, I went out.”
Sareen stabs at the cloth with the hook. “So you did help.”
Lanisen hesitates. “Um. Prince Cor found it.”
Sareen asks, “But you still went. Did you enjoy yourself?”
Lanisen says, “Yes, ma’am.” He glances at the tree and grins faintly. “It was nice.”
Sareen says, “Good. I always tell myself I’ll go, and then I don’t. Old bones, don’t like the cold as much as they used. Especially cold feet.” She stretches her slippered toes toward the hearth.
Lanisen nods politely and then ventures, “‘S too bad Yule don’t fall in the summertime.”
Sareen looks at Lanisen askance. “If you feel the need to chop down a blessed great tree to burn in the middle of summer…”
Lanisen opens his mouth a little in protest, then shifts and ducks his head with a small sheepish grin to concede this foolishness.
Sareen says, “Unless you want the Great Hall to feel like a Calormene summer…probably best that be avoided.”
Lanisen asks, “Is it hot in summer there?”
Sareen pulls another stitch through. “How should I know?”
Lanisen stumbles a little at this, confused, and mumbles a polite apology.
Sareen smirks. “My parents came from Calormen. I was raised here. And yes, I hear it’s quite hot.”
Lanisen says, “Oh.” He pauses awkwardly, then says again, “Sorry, I didn’t mean to…”
Sareen looks up. “Didn’t mean to what?”
Lanisen says, “Assume, I guess.”
Sareen shrugs. “It doesn’t bother me. It did when I was a girl. It’s why some people call me Sadie. Less foreign. But I’m an Archenlander born, if not bred.”
Lanisen gives her a look that is slightly curious, but chooses not to ask. Instead, he gestures at the floor near her chair and asks, “D’you mind if I sit?”
Sareen says, “Was wondering why you were just looming there.”
Lanisen says humbly, “Sorry,” and lowers himself to sit near the hearth, his back to the blaze. He settles his bowl on his knee and rubs at his right shoulder.
Sareen asks, “So, where are you from, originally?”
Lanisen says, “West, little north and east of Carmichael.”
Sareen asks, “Was it hot there in summer?”
Lanisen shakes his head. “No, ma’am, not terribly, not usually. It’s up a ways in the mountains.”
Sareen says, “Seems like a lot of Archenland is in the mountains. My parents always said how different it was. That so much of Calormen was flat.”
Lanisen offers, “Lancelyn Green’s flat.”
Sareen asks, “Oh?”
Lanisen says, “It’s–” He makes a vague gesture with one hand to indicate an expanse. “Fields? Lots of wheat and such.”
Sareen asks, “Oh. A farming community?”
Lanisen mms to confirm. “It’s pretty country. I like mountains better, though.”
Sareen asks, “You like it here in Anvard?”
Lanisen glances around the hall, pulling his lips between his teeth. “It’s home,” he answers. “You?”
Sareen smiles. “Yes. Yes, it’s home.”
Lanisen glances up at her and offers a small lopsided smile, something of tentative camaraderie in the expression.
Sareen continues with her embroidery. “Do you have a hobby, or other skills, besides working with the hounds?”
Lanisen is caught off guard by this question. “Um–”
Sareen says, “My mother taught my to embroider in the Calormene fashion. I didn’t like it when I was younger. I wanted to dress like all the other girls. I appreciate the lessons now.”
Lanisen’s eyes rest on her work, and he nods.
Sareen asks, “So, do you…I don’t know, play an instrument or carve small pieces of wood into herons or write poetry or raise hedgehogs or anything?”
Lanisen repeats, “/Hedgehogs/?”
Sareen says, “Hedgehogs. They’re wonderful in the garden. They eat slugs, snails, insects…”
Lanisen asks, “Do you keep ’em in the tower?”
Sareen says, “No, but I’ve thought about it. Now you see, if you raised hedgehogs, there’d be my bug problem, solved.”
Lanisen pulls his knees up, setting his uneaten food aside. “I’ll keep that in mind.”
Sareen asks, “Aren’t you hungry?”
Lanisen says, “Oh.” He glances at his picked-at bowl. “My eyes were too big for my stomach, I guess. I’ll save it for later.”
Sareen says, “That happens sometimes. I suppose you can give leftover meat to the dogs.”
Lanisen says, “Oh, they’ll eat about anything.”
Sareen says, “Very good. I like dogs. Agreeable beasts.”
Lanisen says loyally, “The very best.”
Sareen says, “You have a favorite, I expect.”
Lanisen nods slightly guilty confirmation.
Sareen says, “Well, go on then. I won’t tell the others.”
Lanisen’s mouth twists up on one side. “Um, she’s called Nia. She’s quite old, she hasn’t gone on any of the hunts since… a couple years after I came to the castle, but she’s very sweet.”
Sareen says, “Nothing like an old dame for a little tea and sympathy.”
Lanisen laughs under his breath and looks down.
Sareen squints at her work. “Looks more like a hedgehog than a flower,” she observes, picking out the last few stitches.
Lanisen says seriously, “Easy to get the two mixed up.”
Sareen says, “Depends on the flower. But I was trying for a lily.”
Lanisen scratches his nose.
Sareen smiles. “‘He who speaks not when he might otherwise have given offense wins for himself the companionship of his fellows without enmity,'” she quotes.
Lanisen looks caught between consternation and laughter. He squints at her apologetically, his eyes glinting.
Sareen says, “One of my father’s favored quotes. I believe the Archish variation would be something to the effect of “If a lily looks like a hedgehog, it is probably best to say nothing.” She smiles at Lanisen openly.
Lanisen points out, “I can’t even see it, I dunno what it looks like.”
Sareen turns the cloth and holds it up for examination.
Lanisen tilts his head to consider it first from one angle, then the other. “Depends on your perspective?” he suggests.
Sareen draws the fabric back. “Perhaps.” She rises from her chair with a creak of wood. “Well, I think it’s time I retire to my quarters. A pleasure to speak with you, Lanisen.”
Lanisen gets quickly to his feet as well, wincing slightly, and dips his head to her. “You too. Thanks for lettin’ me join you.”
Sareen nods and shuffles out of the hall.