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 falls in near the group with the wassail bowl as they progress through the ward.
Perth produces a somewhat battered holly crown and places it jauntily on Megren’s head. She wrinkles her nose.
Lanisen sticks his head out of the kennel door to watch the festive commotion.
Haft grins at Perth. “Well done!”
Megren says, “I suppose I’ve done something to deserve this.”
“I take it that’s not a book on true tactics, is it?” Reina asks Haft. As Lanisen’s head emerges, she lifts a hand, offering the man a small wave and a polite nod before turning to her friend. “Did you see Emma’s betrothal ring?” she murmurs to the girl, laughing and giving Perth a thumbs up indeed at his addition to Megren’s outfit.
Myles laughs heartily as he catches sight of Megren’s crown. “Going to lead the party, are you?”
Megren crosses her arms in mock offense, the wreath falling over one ear. “How old do I look? Leading’s a job for Reina, I should think.”
Reina grins. “I’ll wear the crazy crown, why not! I’m still young enough to get away with it.”
Haft says, “It…thought it was a book on true tactics. I think it reads better as a parody.”
Megren lifts a finger. “Oh, no, the crown I’m keeping to hang in a place of honor. The leading, /that’s/ on you.”
Haft says, “I trust she will not get lost, having grown up in town.”
Myles and the group from the kitchen near the gates. “Or forget the tune,” he adds.
Lanisen grins faintly, the good cheer catching. He is distracted briefly by a hound attempting to make its escape through the half-open door, and steps outside entirely, shutting the door behind him.
Reina grins over at Megren. “well, all right then!” she says. “Follow me! And don’t forget the bowl,” she adds with a cheeky grin. “Where are we starting then? Andale?”
Myles says, “The first house we come to ought to do.”
Megren looks pleased by this response. She looks up at the sound of commotion at the kennel and moves off to pull Lanisen into the crowd.
A guard calls, “I’m game for both at once!”
Lanisen guesses Megren’s intention before she even gets to him and shakes his head in protest, holding up his hands.
“You sure you’re capable of walking and singing at the same time?” Haft calls back.
Megren reaches for his wrist in one hand and slips her other arm around his shoulder to speak quietly with him.
Megren mumbles “Please come? I won’t coerce you into any socializing for a whole fortnight.”, to Lanisen.
Megren mumbles “Please come? I … coerce … into … socializing for … whole fortnight.”, to Lanisen.
Myles calls, “Can you?” back at Haft as he follows Reina out of the castle. He grins over his shoulder and then launches into a well-known song to get the group warmed up.
Lanisen grimaces, caught in the uncomfortable place between bailing and guilt. He murmurs back a weak protest.
Lanisen mumbles “It’s cold and there’s so many people…”, to Megren.
Lanisen mumbles “… … and there’s … … people…”, to Megren.
Megren pushes her mouth to the side like she’s debating how hard to push.
Lanisen urges her, “Go on, I’ll see you after.”
Megren gives him a pitiful look.
Lanisen makes a face at her, then glances after the general departure, visibly debating.
Megren tugs gently on his wrist one more time.
Haft glances sidelong at Myles before lifting his voice as well.
Reina grins and begins making her way out, lifting her own clear, young voice in song. “Here we come a-wassailing, the jolliest we’ve been…”
Lanisen screws up his face and heaves a breath, then says rather grudgingly, “Let me get my coat.”
Megren claps her hands in delight.
Lanisen slips inside briefly and returns with coat and scarf and gloves, buttoning as he goes.
Andale; Eastern Archenland
You stand before a row of cottages, with thatched roofs and solid looking, white-washed walls. There is a community garden behind the cottages and beyond the last cottage is a firepit surrounded by benches. Often on fine evenings, story tellers and singers gather here. The families who live here mostly serve at Anvard or in the shops of Andale.
A path to the northwest leads out to Andale, and is well traveled by those on their way to and from the well, or the castle, or the shops.
A large group of from the castle–nobles, servants, knights, guards, and many others–can be heard singing as they approach the settlement, all in a clump.
“Here we come a-wassailing, the jolliest we’ve been, oh here we come a-wandering, so fair to be seen!”
Megren links her arm in Lanisen’s as they depart into town, pulling the crown off her own head and placing it on his, though she at least lets him stay on the outskirts of the group rather than pulling him right into the middle.
Myles steps forward and knocks on the door of the first house they come upon, singing a request for something to eat or drink loudly enough for those inside to hear.
Lanisen reaches up self-consciously to keep the holly crown from slipping over one eye, making a face at Megren. He stays quiet, but the rest of the group is noisy enough with their singing that this barely makes a difference.
Deonyc opens the door and sings in response, asking for some coin.
Megren grips happily at him, seeming to take great joy in his new countenance.
Reina giggles, arm in arm with Sarah as they sing out the refrain, clear and happy with the others. “Love and joy come to you, and to you your wassail too, and a glad yule to all yours, and a happy new year, and to all yours a happy new year!”
One of the nobles in the group steps forward and presents him with a few coins.
Deonyc gives the noble and the wassailers, food and drink while singing.
Megren’s voice, for all her prancing about and harping on Lanisen, is nearing on shy, not too soft, but only because so many other voices are raised around it.
Myles helps pass around the offered food, asking, “Will you come along and join us?” as he does so.
Deonyc nods, “I think I will.” He latches the door and joins the others.
Myles claps the man on the back and follows the group on toward the next house, starting on the second verse.
Reina joins in with the second verse, bouncing slightly on the balls of her feet.
The door opens wide to reveal Dalia’s father in the doorway, and behind him several members of the family.
One of the castle children is nudged forward by her own father to accept whatever treat the family has ready for the wassailers.
Lanisen cranes his neck to see whose house they have come to.
“We are not daily beggars, that beg from door to door, but we are neighbors’ children, whom you have seen before!”
The Family inside replies the next verse in song, all smiles and cheery faces.
A small child whines and tugs at his mother’s sleeve. She already has her arms full with his younger sister and shakes her head in the negative.
Haft steps over and after a word with the mother, takes the boy up on his shoulders.
“Love and joy come to you,” the people sing, some softly, others heartily.
Megren mumbles “I think that’s Dalia’s family?”, to Lanisen.
Megren mumbles “… think … … family?”, to Lanisen.
The girl who approached the door before holds out her hand, offering the requested coin with a proud smile.
Lanisen mumbles “Is it really?”, to Megren.
Lanisen mumbles “… … really?”, to Megren.
Megren mumbles “Think so. I’ve seen them in passing; never been properly introduced.”, to Lanisen.
Megren mumbles “… so. I’ve seen them in … never … properly introduced.”, to Lanisen.
Reina rubs her hands together, blowing into them, but smiling as she continues singing her heart out beside her friend.
Dalia comes to the door smiling, and bends to take the coin from from the child. She places a cookie in her hand instead. Her sister and other members of the family, step outside to offer the wassailers cookies and hot drinks.
Myles takes one of the offered cookies and bids the family to bundle up and join them as they continue singing through the rest of the town and back to the castle.
Reina accepts a mug of hot something–cider, maybe–as well as a cookie and grins as she leads the way back toward town. “Aye! Do join!”
Lanisen is shivery by now and accepts the cup he is given gratefully, wrapping his gloved hands around it. He gives Dalia a quick grin of greeting when she comes into sight.
The door of cottage ten bursts open, spilling children out into the night like marbles from a jar. Then crowd around Reina, all talking at once. “You’re doing it wrong,” the girl sighs, laughing and scooping up her youngest, toddling sibling.
Megren wraps her scarf around Lanisen’s ears and head when she notices him shivering, accepting her own cup with one hand.
Haft hands a cookie up to the boy before accepting a hot drink himself.
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.
“Reina!” Dayehn, Reina’s sister, around six by the looks of it whispers without really whispering at all. “Look, Reina! Look at all the food! Are you sure I’m not dead?” “Shhh,” Reina says, blushing. “You’re not dead,” she says out of the corner of her mouth. “Hush now, let us find out what is happening.”
Haft hoists the child off his shoulders once they enter the hall. The boy squeals and runs off to peer at the contents of the table.
Myles rubs his hands together vigorously and heads toward the hearth as the group makes it back to the castle.
Dalia’s Siblings eyes grow wide as they enter the great hall. The youngest tugs on her sleeve to get her to bend down, whispering a question something along the lines “You really work here?”
Haft removes hit muffler and cloak in the warmth of the room, draping them over a convenient bench.
Lanisen is shivering in earnest by the time they get back, despite the extra head-wrapping. He seems slightly distracted on the way back, from the crossroads on.
Megren’s arm slips around Lanisen’s waist at about that place, her hand on his opposite arm, presumably to help keep it warm.
Megren mumbles “The yule-log’s warm, and there’s safe folk milling about and food, or we can go back to the kennel if you need to.”, to Lanisen.
Megren mumbles “The yule-log’s warm, … … … folk milling about and food, … … … … … … … kennel if … … …”, to Lanisen.
Haft turns his head slightly toward Lanisen and Megren, sensing something is amiss, but also that she’s got it in hand.
Lanisen shakes his head slightly.
Lanisen mumbles “I’m all right, I’m all right.”, to Megren.
Lanisen mumbles “… … right, … … …”, to Megren.
Megren nods trustingly.
Dalia nods in the affirmative to her sibling, before looking for Lanisen in the crowd.
Myles takes off his cloak as he gets warmer.
Lanisen searches for a quiet place to sit, and aims for a space a comfortable distance away from the press of the feasting table. He does not remove his coat.
Megren goes to fetch a tray for carrying hot food and drink to bring back to Lanisen’s secluded spot.
Reina waves her own siblings off into the feasting and fun, making her way toward the door of the hall as she does so. Sarah is off serving with the other kitchen girls. Before she can make an unnoticed exit, however, someone else slips in through the door. Finding herself face to face with the figure, Reina can’t help but glance up. Eyes widen and a squeal bursts from her upon a name. “GIDEON!” Flinging herself forward, she’s wrapped up in the arms of a lad who can only be her older brother. But since everyone she knows is busy anyway, this rather exhuberant lack of decorum probably isn’t going to be noticed by many.
Megren skirts Reina’s various siblings, lifting the tray so it won’t get bumped, and a big grin crosses her face at the girl’s reunion with her brother.
Dalia makes her way over toward Reina, her sister following along behind.
Lanisen sits with his back to the wall, his eyes shifting to try to keep tabs on every small group of people.
“Nobody told me you were coming back for yule!” Reina is gushing, holding tight to the lad who is grinning a lopsided, clearly triumphant grin. “It was supposed to be a surpise. Happy yule, Rei.” Laughing, Reina can only hug him. “I have missed you. So much,” she murmurs. As she spies Dalia approaching, she waves the girl over. “Dalia! Come meet my brother, Gideon. Gideon, this is Dalia.” Stepping back from the embrace, she attaches herself to the taller lad’s arm, smiling fit to contest the sun for brightness.
Myles goes to get a mug of hot cider from the feasting area, but then takes the mug away from the tables instead of sitting down to eat just yet.
Dalia smiles, grinning Reina’s pleasure. “A pleasure to meet you.”
Megren skirts a few more groups to sit with Lanisen. There is a cider and a hot chocolate on her tray, as well as one of almost every kind of food.
Lanisen looks at the food, briefly surprised to see it there, then gives Megren a small, wryly grateful smile.
Haft serves himself and returns to the bench where he’d left his bench. Finding it shoved aside to make room for others, he takes it and his scarf and finds an out of the way spot in the shadow of an arch in which to lean and eat.
Megren sits with him and turns both handles of the drinks toward him so he has to choose, then picks her favorite treat off the tray to indulge in.
Lanisen glances at her, as if to try to ascertain which she’d rather have, then chooses the cider.
Haft frowns after a minute and stares up at the arch above him, then looks back out at the room at large and gets a curious expression on his face.
Myles resumes his spot by the fire and surveys those gathered away from the tables. After a few sips, he lowers his cup and calls out, “How about a game, then?”
Megren taps Lanisen’s arm. “Ooh, game?”
Lanisen glances toward Myles as he calls out, but shakes his head slightly to Megren. “You go, I’m all right.”
Megren nods. “Sure?”
Lanisen nods quickly, giving her an encouraging look.
Megren nods again. “We’ll make room if you decide to join later.” She leaves the heap of food with him, though she does pick up the hot chocolate and a saffron bun to bring with her.
A touch to Reina’s shoulder, and Gideon’s gesturing with his head, a querying brow lifted. Looking a bit relieved, the girl just nods. Not bothering to nod to anyone but Haft and Dalia, she takes her brother’s arm and is promptly whisked from the hall, leaving the little ones to play games of their own.
Haft looks out from his archway doubtfully.
Megren sees Haft looking their way and waves him over.
Haft feigns a grimace and straightens up, wandering toward the group.
Myles turns to look where Megren is looking and lifts his cup in approval when he sees Haft heading their way.
Lanisen works on his cider, half watching the game party form.
Haft asks, “What sort of game did you have in mind?”
Dalia makes her way towards those gathering for games
Myles grins as he looks around the little group. “What do you say to charades? Can you act as well as you can sing?”
Haft narrows his eyes. “I think I owe you another spar.”
Myles sips more of his cider, looking pleased with himself.
Megren says, “That wouldn’t speak very well to some of our acting.”
Myles laughs. “Even better.”
Haft scowls at Megren.
Dalia grins blushingly. “It sounds very fun though I’m not sure I’m very good.”
Megren says, “I usually find when I’m not that’s half the fun just there.”
Myles opens his mouth to answer, and then inclines his head in Megren’s direction when she speaks first. “I think the same.” He looks around the group again. “Are we agreed, then?”
Megren asks, “Charades. Teams?”
Myles suggests, “Shall we each pick a number, and the closest two are teams?”
Haft says, “Between one and ten? Done.”
Megren nods. “Got mine.”
Myles grins and looks at Dalia. “Ready?”
Myles says, “Eight.”
Megren says, “Three.”
Haft says, “Six”
Dalia says, “Seven”
Megren exclaims, “Haft, with me!”
Myles tells Haft and Megren, “A shame how terribly you’ll lose. Do you care to act first, or guess first?”
Megren says, “Ohh, I’ll have a guess.”
Haft says, “Unless you’d like to concede defeat at once.”
Myles laughs. “A moment for our strategy, then.” He gestures for Dalia to step a few paces away from the others with him.
Dalia moves a few paces away grinning with nervous excitement
Megren seats herself and makes good work of her saffron-bun as she waits.
Haft sits next to Megren.
Myles confers with his teammate in a hushed voice.
Myles mumbles “What … … we pick?”, to Dalia.
Dalia whispers something to Myles
Myles nods is agreement and asks another question.
Myles mumbles “… … care to … … first … or … …”, to Dalia.
Dalia mumbles something incomprehensible to Myles.
Myles grins. “Right, then.” He turns to face Megren and Haft, and holds up two fingers so that they can see.
Megren asks, “Two words?”
Megren says, “Wait, no, it’s bowyer.”
Megren says, “V? Valley.”
Lanisen waits for the game to be underway, then quietly gets up and slips out of the hall.
Myles shakes his head quickly and taps the two fingers against his forearm.
Someone knocks softly at the door and waits there as if it were a house.
Lanisen is asleep on the floor behind the curved wall he has built. He has piled up several rugs to cushion the hard floor and heaped several rough blankets over the top of his makeshift bed, lessening the warm nook’s resemblance to a nest not at all. At the knock he blinks quickly awake and sits up in watchful, bleary confusion.
A few dogs wake and cross around the barrier to investigate, wuffling at the door. One of the friendlier ones barks but they don’t seem alarmed. There’s a long moment before the person chooses to enter, and more commotion as the dogs greet her.
Lanisen draws a quick, deep breath and gets to his feet, standing uneasily in his nightclothes and bare feet for a moment before he peers around the barrier.
Megren is standing in a mess of dogs, trying to stumble through them toward the other side of the barrier. She carries a skin, as for wine, in one hand.
Lanisen lets out the breath, his shoulders dropping in relief. He rubs his elbow and makes a tongue-clicking noise to call the dogs away, beginning to shiver in the cold room.
Megren says, “Sorry, sorry.”
Lanisen says, a little sleep-blurred now that the initial fright is past, “‘S fine, it’s fine.” He rubs the back of his neck and tips his head toward the firelit nook in invitation.
Megren moves that way, holding the skin out to him. It is warm.
Lanisen reaches automatically for the skin, frowning down at it in confusion. He steps aside so that she can enter ahead of him. “What’s this?”
Megren finds the hearth and plunks down on it. “Just some leftover wassail because it needs drunk.”
Lanisen lowers himself to sit on the pile of rugs and blankets, sniffing and then sipping cautiously. “Thanks.”
Megren scoots so she can lean up against the hearth wall. “Did I wake you?”
Lanisen lifts his shoulders vaguely. “‘S all right, I slept a long time already.” He tugs at one of the blankets he was using and pulls it around his shoulders, carefully covering his feet. He bundles up a second into a rough roll and offers it to Megren.
Megren reaches for it. “All right?”
Lanisen says as he passes it over, “Yeah, it’s fine, I got two others.”
Megren says, “I mean, are you? You left pretty early.”
Lanisen says, “Oh.” His eyes cut to the side, a little guiltily. “Sorry, yeah. I was, I was tired, is all.”
Megren nods, “Sure, I understand.”
Lanisen leans back against the straw-bale wall cautiously, testing to be sure it will hold his weight, then draws the blanket more closely around himself and curls up against it. “How was it after I left?”
Megren says, “Good. Fun. We did charades, did you see?”
Lanisen says, “I think I saw the start of it.” He takes another drink of wassail.
Megren nods. “Did you have a good time?”
Lanisen says, “Mm. Was nice.”
Megren nods decisively. “Good. Then I’m glad I dragged you out.”
Lanisen sees the trap too late and makes a sleepy grumbling noise.
Megren grins and bops his nose. “Where’s my holly?”
Lanisen squints up his eyes and hunches his shoulders in protest. “Mm, it’s…” He stops to think, rubbing his eyes. “Table, it’s on the table.”
Megren gets up and just manages to stay upright through the obstacle course of dogs on her way to the table.
Lanisen leans forward to watch, and his expression quickly shifts to concerned lines. “Meg? You okay?”
Megren comes back and plunks down next to him, placing the crown on her head. “I’m good,” she announces.
Lanisen studies her for another worried minute before the dots connect. “/Ohh/,” he says, and laughs under his breath.
Megren makes a face at him.
Lanisen sways sideways to put his head affectionately on her shoulder for a second. “I thought you were sick or somethin’, sorry.”
Megren screws up her face, “What, I’m fine.”
Lanisen says, “Mmhmm.”
Megren pokes him in the side of the head. “This is the thanks I get for bringing you wassail.”
Lanisen squints up his eyes again and pushes her hand away.
Megren asks, “What’s all that squinting for. Shall I go?”
Lanisen says, “You try not squintin’ when somebody keeps pokin’ your face.”
Megren slowly brings her finger to the middle of her brow ridge, her eyes crossing as they follow it but not squinting. “Hm.”
Lanisen very helpfully pokes her in the nose.
Megren balks backward. “Ah!”
Lanisen nearly falls over with giggles. “I told you, I /told/ you!”
Megren says, “What? That’s not fair, I wasn’t expecting it.”
Lanisen raises his eyebrows at her.
Megren says, “Here, go again.” She sits forward expectantly.
Lanisen says, “But now you’re expecting it.”
Megren says, “Right so it’s fair.” She waves a hand to hurry him along. “Have a go, then.”
Lanisen makes an unimpressed face, but obligingly boops her nose.
Megren balks again, just as startled as before, if not more.
Lanisen bursts out with laughter, folding over helplessly.
Megren gives him a shove.
Lanisen topples, still giggling.
Megren says, “You did that on purpose.”
Lanisen says, “You /told/ me to!”
Megren says, “It’s — yes, but–”
Lanisen pulls himself to sit back up, well pleased with the results of the experiment.
Megren says again, “You did that on purpose.”
Lanisen says, “How’m I meant to have done that??”
Megren says, “I don’t — you, I don’t know, you’re the one that did it!”
Lanisen says, “Well, you started it.”
Megren says, “One of mine was on the head, I’m sure of it.”
Lanisen pokes her in the side of the head experimentally.
Megren startles away.
Lanisen loses it again, breathless and red-faced with laughter.
Megren bats at him punishingly.
Lanisen raises both his hands to defend himself, still chortling.
Megren gives up and resorts to crossing her arms and looking self-pitying.
Lanisen takes several deep breaths and finally manages to subside. He wipes at his eyes and glances at her sidelong, pulling his lips between his teeth.
Megren shoves him once more for good measure.
Lanisen flops over dramatically with the shove.
Megren sounds immediately apologetic, like she has accidentally injured him. “Sorry!”
Lanisen says, “I’m slain.”
Megren says, “No, I’m sorry, I’m sorry, are you all right?”
Lanisen rolls over and squints at her.
Megren looks immediately relieved.
Lanisen pushes himself up again, resituating his blanket, and leans back against the wall.
Megren drops her head on his shoulder, already seeming to have forgotten both her offense and her worry.
Lanisen humms contentedly and pulls up his knees, leaning on her in return. He seems entirely relaxed.
Megren drops off into sleep almost at once.
Lanisen blinks down at her once he realizes this, surprised but not displeased. He draws and releases a deep breath, equally sleepy, and takes a few moments to cap the wassail, spread out the third blanket over them both, and beckon a couple of the nearer hounds to join the sleepy pile. Then he leans back and shuts his eyes, and within ten minutes is breathing slowly and regularly as well.