Lanisen is sitting on the floor in front of the fire, one leg tucked under, entertaining four pups of the same litter. Their mother lounges with her back against Lanisen’s leg, watching with her tongue lolling out. There is a bowl of daffodils on the table, yellow and white.
Megren knocks three times in a habitual kind of way before opening the door without invitation and slipping inside. “Daffodils!” she admires.
Lanisen glances up as she enters, his face lighting up. “Hey! Yes!” he agrees. “Market this mornin’, there was a lady sellin’ ’em in these great bunches. She had tulips too but these smelled nicer.”
Megren asks, “Are they safe to have near the dogs?”
Lanisen wrinkles his nose at her. “They’re on the table.”
Megren nods, accepting this easily enough as she slips into a chair. “I wonder if I could get away with putting some in the window by my bunk.”
Lanisen says, “Why not?”
Megren says, “Sometimes you get someone who doesn’t like a smell.”
Lanisen looks disapproving.
Megren wrinkles her nose at him. “Don’t make that face, that’s how barracks living works.”
Lanisen says generously, “You can come smell these ones as long as they last.”
Megren says, “Magnanimous.”
Lanisen says, “That’s me.”
Megren drops her eyes to the pile of small dogs swarming around the other squire. “Actually, I came to let you know–”
Lanisen checks his hair preemptively.
Megren looks momentarily confused, and then she lights up with a grin. “Ah, you know already, then.”
Lanisen smooths back a flyaway with exaggerated dignity.
Megren tucks in her lower lip under her teeth in an attempt to hide her delight at the rippling success of her teasing. She nods. “A little better.”
Lanisen says regretfully, “It’s prob’ly pretty hopeless.”
Megren says, “Maybe if you cut it.”
Lanisen makes a face.
Megren asks, “What? Why not?”
Lanisen says, “Well. You wouldn’t have anything to tease about.”
Megren lifts her brows and cants her head to the side in concession.
Lanisen says, “Anyway. Let me know?”
Megren says, “Oh. Yeah.” She nods. “Um, I’m, Sir Darrin’s headed off to Coghill for a few days and he wants me to come along. Not more than a week, I think, so no one has to cover for him too long.”
Lanisen says, “Oh.” He pauses. “All right.”
Megren screws up her mouth. “Is that–” she glances at the ceiling looking like she feels foolish. “It’s not very long, but do you mind writing me anyway?”
Lanisen’s pause is a little more uncertain this time, and he studies her face. “Um,” he says, and shakes his head slightly. “‘Course, yeah, if you want. Is it– is everything all right?”
Megren says, “Yeah. Just, last time– I know there’s nothing to worry about, and I know even if there was you could take care of yourself, but — well, it’s not going to hurt, right? Writing.”
Lanisen sits back, his face going briefly slack with startled comprehension. “Oh,” he says again. “It’s– oh.”
Megren shakes her head. “I’m sorry, I know it’s– I’ll get better about it, I promise.”
Lanisen says, shaking his head quickly, “No, that’s, it’s all right, um.” He glances up at her again, his face all a complicated mess of worry and a sort of flustered gratitude. “Um,” he says again, like he can’t quite find the right thing to say, then shifts pups off his lap and gets to his feet to offer it in a hug instead.
Megren’s brows lift as she comprehends his intent, and she rises to meet him and return the hug, wrapping one arm around his shoulders in a protective kind of way. “I /will/ get better about it,” she reaffirms.
Lanisen hugs tightly before he steps back, his face still troubled. “Don’t– don’t worry on my account,” he says anxiously. “I’ll be fine, it’s– I’ve, I learned.”
Megren makes a face at the word “learned”. “No, I, I know you’ll be fine and I don’t mean to make something bigger of it. I just — it would help, that’s all.”
Lanisen says, “I’ll write.”
Megren nods, offering him a small quirk of a smile. “Thank you.”
Lanisen nods in return, mirroring her expression. He backs toward the hearth and sits down, glancing at the window, where it has begun to cloud over. “What’s in Coghill?”
Megren says, “Um–” She hesitates, and then goes to sit beside him. “Well, his house, for one.”
Lanisen says, “Oh!” and laughs, ducking his head. “There’s that.”
Megren grins and pats her leg to try and tempt a puppy to come investigate her. “He just hasn’t taken any real time off since last summer, so it seemed like a good time.”
Lanisen raises his eyebrows briefly in surprise at this. “Oof,” he remarks.
Megren lifts her shoulders. “Knights,” she says dismissively.
Lanisen agrees, laughing, “Knights.” He looks down at his hands.
Megren lifts her brows. “You all right?”
Lanisen says, “Huh? Yeah.”
Megren drops her hand, giving up on the puppy. She eyes him, but nods. “I talked with one of the apprentices that specializes with swords.”
Lanisen asks, “Yeah?”
Megren says, “They’re going to try mocking up a three finger grip. Not even a charge for the first go. Said it sounded like an interesting challenge and if you liked what they came up with then we could figure out payment on finding the right balance from there.”
Lanisen says, “Oh, that’s– I– I forgot about that.”
Megren says quickly, “If you don’t like it — he said it might not work, you don’t have to like it.”
Lanisen’s forehead creases up and he catches his lower lip between his teeth. “It’s– um, no, I– I thought about it, after you said, but it’s– Keepin’, keepin’ hold of it’s one thing but–” He moves his right arm back and forth, testing his range of motion. “I don’t think I could–”
Megren says, “If it’s a rapier you don’t need a whole lot of movement. There’s only one parry I can think of that you’ll have a hard time with. Not that I’m much at rapier, but I’m pretty sure.”
Lanisen nods and looks down, but still seems worried.
Megren hesitates and then says, “You want me to tell him not to bother?”
Lanisen says, “I don’t– um…” He sits back and rubs a hand over his face, rueful and embarrassed. “Sorry, I’m not– No, it’s– I’m sorry.”
Megren shakes her head. “No, it’s fine. I probably should have checked with you again first.”
Lanisen says, “No, it’s, um.” He rubs his face again, sitting forward over his knees. “I don’t want it to, to not work, you know? I prob’ly would’ve just… left it forgotten.”
Megren says, “Oh.” She pauses. “They seemed pretty hopeful,” she offers.
Lanisen hesitates, then nods.
Megren sways to bump shoulders with him.
Lanisen finds a small, quick grin at this, swaying away and back to return the bump.
Megren says, “In the market, huh? Any other flowers or just the daffodils?”
Lanisen says, “She just had bundles of daffodils and some tulips, is all. I didn’t look for any others.”
Megren asks, “What color? The tulips.”
Lanisen says, “I dunno. Pink, mostly. She’ll prob’ly be back tomorrow.”
Megren says, “Hm, pink.”
Lanisen says, “I think there were some red ones too.”
Megren says, “I was hoping yellow. Or purple.”
Lanisen says, “Maybe she’ll have some tomorrow and then you can make a castle colors bouquet.”
Megren wrinkles her nose as if the idea didn’t tickle her, though it clearly does.
Lanisen grins unapologetically.
Megren runs her hand over her face. “Ahhh, I have to do horses and practice before dinner.”
Lanisen offers, “You want help with the horses?”
Megren says, “I definitely do.”
Lanisen says, “Let me get my boots.” He gets to his feet, brushing a stray piece of hair out of his face, and heads toward the door.
Megren makes a face at the back of his head. “You either need to tie your hair up higher or cut it.”
Lanisen gives her an exasperated look, bending to put on his boots. “I’m no good at cuttin’ my hair.”
Megren says, “I can tell; it keeps getting in your eyes.”
Lanisen says, “Maybe I’ll put it up fancy like Lady Paige, how about that.”
Megren says, “Yes. That’s way better than my suggestion.”
Lanisen snickers, stomping his heels back in his boots before he does the laces.
Megren says, “I’ll cut it for you before I leave if you like. Been doing my own a while now.”
Lanisen pauses briefly, then lifts his shoulders in an indifferent shrug. “If it’s botherin’ you that much.”
Megren says, “It’s not bothering me, just you keep pushing it out of your eyes.”
Lanisen straightens and pushes it behind his ear, pausing mid-movement to stare at his hand accusingly. “I don’t know when I’m doing it.”
Megren says, “Well, let me know. If you want it.”
Lanisen hesitates again, then shrugs and says, “Sure.”
Megren gestures to the door he is standing in front of with her head.
Lanisen says, “Yeah, yeah, yeah,” and opens the door to head out.
Megren follows, “Or just grow it so it actually pulls back properly.”
Lanisen says, “What, it pulls back.”
Megren eyes his present ponytail pointedly.
Lanisen grumbles, “Oh, for–” He takes out the tie and shakes out his hair, running his fingers through to try to get it orderlyish, then puts it back again, neater. His left hand does most of the work with the tie, and once he’s finished he rubs his right shoulder as if it was not an entirely comfortable process.
Megren pushes her mouth to the side. “What and it hurts your shoulder too?”
Lanisen makes a put-upon face. “Not all the time!”
Megren looks dissatisfied.
Lanisen says defensively, “When I cut it short myself it looks bad.”
Megren says, “That’s decided, then.”
Lanisen rubs the back of his neck. “Well, all right.”
Megren says, “I promised Sir Gavin darts tonight, but I’ll come by after if it’s not too late.”
Lanisen says, “You don’t have to, if you’re tired.”
Megren says, “What, you don’t want me falling asleep scissors in hand?”
Lanisen snorts and ducks his head, reaching to push the stable door open.
Megren slips past him through the opening and heads toward Onyx’s stall. “You want Dawn or Swiftly?”
Lanisen says, “Either, I don’t care.”
Megren says. “Dawn’s less likely to get in your way trying to play with you.”
Lanisen says, “Ha, all right. I’ll start with Dawn and then I’ll play with Swiftly when it’s his turn, how’s that sound.”
Megren says, “Sounds like efficiency to me.”
Lanisen grins, breaking off for a moment to say hello to Maestro.
Megren stops to check with Amon that all the horses have been exercised already before tying Onyx off at the grooming station and going to fetch Dawn.
Lanisen follows a little ways behind, keeping his distance from Onyx, and steps up to offer to take Dawn.
Megren hands off Dawn’s lead and goes to fetch brushes.
Lanisen leads Dawn to stand a little ways down from Onyx and ties her there, taking a moment to stroke her neck and nose before Meg returns.
Dawn whickers amicably at her handler. Megren reappears and hands over the second set of tools. “She should be pretty easy. I gave her a thorough one yesterday and Amon gave her a run today but she hasn’t been ridden.”
Lanisen takes the tools, nodding. He fits the curry comb strap over his left hand and sets the others aside before he begins.
Megren gets started on Onyx’s long mane and tail. The horse ignores her.
Lanisen works quietly, occasionally glancing up if somebody passes by, half-searching.
Megren is a little slow, as Onyx seems to know how much time he is allotted for rub down and isn’t liable to let his groom slack, added mane maintenance or no.
Lanisen ventures after a little while, “Cass’s only got a couple months left.”
Megren asks, “What do you think?”
Lanisen focuses on a spot of dried mud clumped to Dawn’s flank. “I dunno. We’ll see, I guess.”
Megren offers, “She hasn’t caused a stir.”
Lanisen agrees, “No.” He looks like he’s about to say something else, but pulls his lips between his teeth and stays quiet.
Megren straightens to peer over Onyx’s flank at him.
Lanisen glances at her, then down again. “Um. I dunno what she’s… plannin’ to do, once she’s free to do what she likes again. If she wants to stay on here or, or leave, find somethin’ else to do.”
Megren says, “Ohh.”
Lanisen lifts his shoulders. “We’ll see, I guess.”
Megren says, “What are you hoping?”
Lanisen doesn’t respond for a moment. “That she… lets herself have friends,” he finally answers. “Wherever she goes.”
Megren watches him another moment, then nods and returns her eyes to her task. “Yeah.”
Lanisen says, “Anyway it’s a couple months, still.”
Megren asks, “Have you talked about it at all?”
Lanisen says, “No.” He sets the curry comb aside and takes up the soft brush. “I don’t want to– to spook her.”
Megren pushes her mouth to the side as she finishes Onyx’s second flank. “Hm.”
Lanisen says, “Sometimes it’s– I say things, but she takes them the wrong way and it’s– she shuts down.”
Megren replies, “No, yeah, I know what you mean.”
Lanisen nods and goes quiet, focusing on brushing Dawn thoroughly.
Megren finally finishes with Onyx and goes to fetch him his treat.
Lanisen starts on Dawn’s mane, still slower than Megren.
Megren brings two sugar lumps, setting one on the work table for Lanisen when he’s ready for it. “All right enough for you, spoiled fellow,” she reprimands Onyx as the horse noses at her hand and then bumps her with his snout for the other.
Lanisen says, “Thanks,” as she passes, still picking gingerly at the snarls in Dawn’s mane.
Megren says, “You don’t have to do her mane too closely, it’s just Onyx’s tangles bad if you don’t.”
Lanisen asks, “Hers doesn’t?”
Megren pats the big black horse’s neck. “Not like this old peacock anyway.”
Lanisen accepts this and lowers the comb, using his fingers to get the worst out instead.
Megren unties Onyx and had another small disagreement with him before ultimately taking him out the door to pasture. Before she does, she calls, “Swiftly’s out still, I’m going to run and fetch him.”
Lanisen says, “Yeah, all right.” He lets Dawn snuffle up the sugar from his palm and unties her to follow.
Megren unclips Onyx’s lead and lets him trot off, then shades her eyes to find Swiftly.
Lanisen waits for Onyx to be off before he steps through the pasture gate and looses Dawn.
Megren’s eyes catch Swiftly just as the horse realizes there are People.
Lanisen says, unnecessarily, “There he is,” and steps back to be out of the way.
Megren grins and stumbles backward as the horse slows just enough to bump into her without running her over. He whickers and bumps her shoulder several times before going to investigate her companion.
Lanisen says, “Oh boy, um, hi.”
Megren says, “Told you.”
Lanisen stumbles a little, then raises his hands to Swiftly’s face and neck, laughing. “Swear they grow twice as big when they’re feelin’ dancy.”
Megren grins happily. “Swiftly’s enormous that way.”
Lanisen staggers again and says ruefully, “Yes he is.”
Megren slips a halter over the horses face with a little difficulty and clips the lead to it. “Come on, you goof.”
Lanisen steps back, rubbing his elbow.
Megren pats Swiftly’s nose. “You too.”
Lanisen complains, “What.”
Megren gives him a winning smile.
Lanisen sticks out his tongue and falls into step on the other side of Swiftly.
Megren makes the same face back.
Lanisen ignores her with dignity.
Megren seems to find this all the more encouraging. She leads the buckskin up to the grooming station and attempts to tie him there while he in turn attempts to divert her attention towards play.
Lanisen makes an attempt to distract him, clicking his teeth from the other side.
Lanisen’s efforts meet with relative success, and Megren ducks away to grab the comb while she can.
Lanisen scritches under Swiftly’s chin while she does this. “Is he gonna be better behaved or worse if he gets a treat now?”
Megren says, “Nothing sugary.”
Lanisen asks, “What should I get?”
Megren says, “If there’s mash.”
Lanisen says, “I’ll go see.” He heads down the stable’s alley toward the feed.
Megren rubs her hand over the horse’s neck to let him know she’s about to start and begins her work with the curry comb.
Lanisen returns after a few moments with a bucket that looks promisingly heavy. He shakes it enticingly at Swiftly and hooks it up where he can get at it.
Swiftly is torn for a few moments between eliciting affection from the humans and eating the treat, but he eventually opts for serving his stomach.
Lanisen grins and pets the shoulder not being combed while Swiftly eats.
Megren says, “I think you should bring it up, if you can find the opportunity. She should know it matters to you, what she does.”
Lanisen’s grin slips. “Yeah,” he says after a minute. “I know, I will if it’s– if I can.”
Megren flicks her gaze to him and nods once. “Yeah. That’s all you can do.”
Lanisen is quiet for another minute. “It’s just if, if I ask what she’s plannin’ to do, if I ask if she’s plannin’ to leave, she’ll figure I want her to leave and shut me out, and– and if I say I want her to stay she’ll, she /will/, but she’ll hate it because she’s doin’ it for me not herself, it’s– I dunno what to do.”
Megren says, “Why don’t you just ask, ‘what are you thinking for when you’re done’?”
Lanisen says, “You make it sound so easy.”
Megren wrinkles her nose. “I know it’s not.”
Lanisen rubs between Swiftly’s ears, watching the horse make quick work of the mash. “Got a couple months yet,” he says again.
Megren nods again. “Yeah. The right time will come.”
Lanisen shifts. “How long d’you reckon you’ll be in Coghill?” he asks to change the subject.
Megren ducks to focus on Swiftly’s lower side, “Oh. Um, three days at least, but I think closer to a week. Not more, that’s all he’s got duties covered for.”
Lanisen says, “Bet it’s nice this time of year.”
Megren says, “Yeah. The cherry trees.”
Lanisen asks, “Are there lots?”
Megren asks, “What? You’ve been, haven’t you?”
Lanisen says, “Not in spring. And I wasn’t really lookin’ at trees.”
Megren straightens, still running the comb along Swiftly’s side. “Most of the manor orchard, and scattered throughout the settlement, and one big one at the inn.”
Lanisen says, “I never been to the manor.”
Megren says, “We’ll have to go, sometime.”
Lanisen says, “Yeah, all right. Doesn’t sound so ambitious as Narnia.”
Megren agrees, “Little steps.”
Lanisen asks, “You gonna be busy the whole time there or are you gonna have time to enjoy the cherry trees?”
Megren says, “We’re mostly going for that. It’s his favorite time of year, I think.”
Lanisen laughs. “Got it. Well, good.”
Megren wrinkles her nose and disappears behind Swiftly’s neck again.
Lanisen asks, “How often should I write?”
Megren says, “Every two hours.”
Lanisen snorts out loud.
Megren says, “Hm? Very well, every hour.”
Lanisen looks at the ceiling.
Megren says in more serious tones, “Just, however often. What you feel like. I know it’s a silly request, anyway.”
Lanisen looks at Swiftly’s neck, his face half hidden. “I don’t mind.”
Megren watches him, “Well, then, every two hours and no complaining.”
Lanisen snorts again. “Every night, I will,” he offers after a small pause.
Megren smiles softly. “Good.”
Lanisen says, “I prob’ly– unless you’re gone lots longer’n you’re thinkin’, I prob’ly won’t even go out the gates while you’re away.”
Megren says, “No — no, you can.”
Lanisen is thrown for a moment. “No, no, that’s not– I just mean, I prob’ly won’t.”
Megren pushes her mouth to the side, but she nods again. “All right. You better have stories to tell in your letters anyway.”
Lanisen says, “Dear Megren, hope you are well, today one of the hounds lost his supper on the rug.”
Megren grins. “Thrilling.”
Lanisen says modestly, “‘S not everybody who can handle this life.”
Megren says, “You do have a grace about you.”
Lanisen says, “I try, I try.”
Megren says, “Well, you’d never know.”
Lanisen grins again. “Write back if you’ve got time, yeah?”
Megren makes a skeptical noise. “Cherry trees take a lot of watching.”
Lanisen says, “Well.”
Megren says, “I’ll see what I can do.”
Lanisen says, “With stories.”
Megren says, “Dear Lanisen, today I counted 48 falling blossoms. I thought it would be 49, but then it wasn’t. Truly, my heart has never raced so.”
Lanisen snickers. “It’s going to be a very boring week with you gone.”
Megren says, “I’m sure the dogs will get sick without my help.”
Lanisen says, “Hmm.”
Megren says, “Haft’ll be here.”
Lanisen says, “Heh.”
Megren says, “See what new teas they’ve got in the infirmary.”
Lanisen says, “Can’t wait.”
Megren says, “Onyx’ll still need grooming.”
Lanisen gives her a skeptical, apprehensive look that is not an outright refusal but is still very, very doubtful.
Megren says, “Tiny’ll need boots to leave her traces in.”
Lanisen says, “Oh, she’s got plenty boots.”
Megren says, “She’s always open to more.”
Lanisen says, “Sweet of her.”
Megren says, “She’s very accepting.” She pats Swiftly’s side. “Well, that’s you done.” She lifts her brows at Lanisen regretfully. “Thanks for the help. I’ve got to run off to practice, once he’s put away.”