full disclosure

Lanisen is puttering around the kennels in the early morning. Everything is Very Clean and there is a plate of muffins on the table that look like they were just in the oven very recently.

Megren knocks three times on the door before pushing it open and peeking in.

Lanisen calls out happily, “Hello! Good morning! There’s muffins, did you eat yet?” Next to the plate muffins on the table is a jar of water with the azalea and the two sprigs of tree blossoms, most of the petals gone by now but still green.

Megren mumbles something incoherent but vaguely in the negative and plunks down at the table to lay her hand on her hands. “Morning,” she says with a ruefully sleepy smile.

Lanisen says, “I heard you were back but I didn’t reckon I’d see you until later. Ain’t you tired yet?”

Megren lifts her head, “Bouncing off walls.”

Lanisen asks, “What?”

Megren looks around with mock disorientation. “Am I not?”

Lanisen laughs aloud. He stoops and pulls the kettle off the fire, wrapping its handle in a rag to save his hands, and carries it over to the table, where the teapot is already waiting. “Shall I give you a while to wake up?”

Megren shakes her head and waves him toward her for a hug hello.

Lanisen says, “Oh, oh–” He sets the kettle down first and goes to her happily, wrapping his arms around her shoulders. “I’m glad you’re back!”

Megren says, “Sorry, you were sleeping last night.”

Lanisen says, “Aw, I’d’ve woke up for you!”

Megren says, “And been sleeping at feeding time? The dogs would never have forgiven me.”

Lanisen says, “Oh, they’d’ve woken me.”

Megren says, “Well, I’m here now.”

Lanisen grins and reaches over to pour the water into the teapot, and the room shortly smells like mint. “So? How are you? How was Coghill?”

Megren says, “Didn’t you get my letters? Just dreadful.”

Lanisen chortles and sits down across from her, reaching over to take a muffin. He pushes the plate closer to her. “How was the trip, then?”

Megren wrinkles her nose and says in an honester tone, “Home? Not the best. We went swimming the day before only it was too cold for it so the next day was a headache the whole day.”

Lanisen’s eyebrows go up and he reassesses her tired state with this new information. “You comin’ down with somethin’?”

Megren pulls her tea toward her. “No, I don’t think so. Just made for a long day. Tell me what happened here.”

Lanisen says, “Oh, you know. Excitement, mayhem.” He glances around the mostly empty kennel. “They’re out coursin’, I don’t reckon they’ll be back until late.”

Megren says, “Yes, I noticed I’m not even a tiny bit mauled for coming to greet you.”

Lanisen suggests, “You want I should go get some pups?”

Megren says, “Obviously.”

Lanisen says, “After you’ve eaten.”

Megren makes a whiny face.

Lanisen grins unapologetically.

Megren pulls a muffin toward her from the plate.

Lanisen breaks apart his own muffin and begins to eat pieces of it, more to keep her company than anything else, it seems. “What was the best part?”

Megren shakes her head. “You kept secrets from me.”

Lanisen says indignantly, “What? I did not!”

Megren says, “Yes, you said ‘I found something and I won’t tell you what it is.”

Lanisen exclaims, “Oh! Ohh.” He grins big and promises, “I’ll show you as soon as you’ve eaten.”

Megren replies imperiously, “Then that’s when you’ll get stories.”

Lanisen lets out a huffy scoff. “That’s just poor time-usin’,” he declares.

Megren says, “Should’ve thought of that before you got all sneaky.”

Lanisen protests, “It’s not, I’m not, I just don’t want to spoil it, is all!”

Megren says, “Feels pretty sneaky.”

Lanisen says, “Well, finish eatin’ and I’ll show you!”

Megren picks at her muffin with ponderous slowness.

Lanisen gives her a despairing look.

Megren says, “You’re the one that made me eat.”

Lanisen says, “Take your time.”

Megren pokes a hole in the top of the muffin with her finger.

Lanisen puts his chin in his hand.

Megren flicks the crumbs off her finger at his face.

Lanisen says, “And to think I missed you.”

Megren says, “You didn’t.”

Lanisen shrugs.

Megren says, “See, that’s more what I expected. Total indifference.”

Lanisen grins. Patiently.

Megren flicks a little more muffin at him.

Lanisen huffs and says, “I /just/ swept in here!”

Megren looks around, “It does look particularly clean.”

Lanisen says, tilting his chin up smugly, “Thank you.”

Megren observes, “Kirb must be having his friend by?”

Lanisen scoffs. “Catch Kirb cleanin’.”

Megren says, “Maybe you had a bout of pity for her poor eyes.”

Lanisen says, “Maybe I would, if he ever brought her here. Which he ain’t.”

Megren pushes up her lips with false pity, but she does sweep the crumbs off the table into her hand.

Lanisen, seeing this, says, “I was kiddin’, it’s not a big deal. The hounds’ll clean that up in about two seconds when they get back.”

Megren narrows her eyes at him, then shrugs and shakes her hand off over the floor.

Lanisen says, “‘S more the gravel and dirt they track in I don’t like havin’ underfoot.”

Megren says, “You and Haft.”

Lanisen asks, “What?”

Megren says, “Everything’s gotta be clean.”

Lanisen points out, “There’s two dozen dogs runnin’ around here, it gets pretty awful pretty fast if you don’t keep up on it.”

Megren lifts her brows, unimpressed, as she pops the last of the muffin into her mouth.

Lanisen scrambles to his feet immediately. “Okay okay come on!”

Megren dawdles.

Lanisen walks backwards toward the steps to the loft, exaggeratedly slow.

Megren squints one eye calculatingly.

Lanisen starts up the stairs.

Megren visibly thinks about dodging around him, but decides better of it and moves to follow him up.

Lanisen says generously, “You can go first if you want.”

Megren pokes him in the side several times to get him out of her way.

Lanisen yelps and flails to defend himself. He slips down one step in the scramble and clutches at Megren’s poking hand to catch his balance.

Megren catches his forearm firmly, grabbing his other elbow with her other hand at the same time so that he has a firm base to balance on.

Lanisen huffs out a breath of relief. “I almost died,” he announces, not sounding very bothered.

Megren pokes him one more time for good measure.

Lanisen exclaims, “You!” and pokes her BACK.

Megren squeals merrily and races up the rest of the stairs.

Lanisen follows behind her, not quite as quickly but still close on her heels. “All right,” he says, forgetting the poking once he is upstairs. “Come over to the window, it’s…” He crosses to the far end of the loft and kneels next to the open window, peering out and down.

Megren lets him take the lead, switching roles and following close herself. She presses her hand on his good shoulder to see over it.

Lanisen says, “Shh, shh, she’s sittin’…” A few feet below, perched on the lintel above the kennel door, is the improbably tidy mud-and-twig construction of a bird’s nest. There is a robin snuggled down in it, only her pale gray back visible.

Megren draws in a breath.

Lanisen glances at her and grins, delighted. He looks back out and explains under his breath, “She’s got… there were three eggs last I saw, but she’s been sittin’ on ’em most all the time the last few days.” Below, the robin turns her head to peer up at them with one sharp black eye, showing a flash of blue and red feathers, but she doesn’t seem particularly alarmed. She stays on her nest.

Megren says, “She’s lovely.”

Lanisen grins again, satisfied, and sits back. “That’s what I was wantin’ to show you.”

Megren asks, “Is this the first year she’s nested here?”

Lanisen says, “First year I’ve seen her.”

Megren says, “Maybe she’ll stay and guard your window.”

Lanisen says agreeably, “All right.” He peeks out again and pushes his mouth to the side. “I just hope it doesn’t rain too hard before they’re fledged.”

Megren says, “She’ll have picked a safe spot for them.”

Lanisen says, “Yeah.” He shifts to sit with his back to the wall. “All right, your turn,” he says brightly.

Megren stays with her elbows on the sill to watch. “Hmm.”

Lanisen leans his head back against the wall, comfortably patient.

Megren says, “Well, we found you a waterfall.”

Lanisen asks, interested, “Did you? What’s it like?”

Megren says, “You’ll have to come.”

Lanisen makes a face.

Megren smiles.

Lanisen asks, “What else?”

Megren says, “Well, the trees.”

Lanisen asks, “Yeah? Bloomin’?”

Megren nods. “The cherries and crabapples especially and the pears were dropping flowers.”

Lanisen grins at this, nodding. “The crab-apple in the pasture was smellin’ real good all on its own; I can imagine what a whole host of ’em would be like.”

Megren says, “We’ll go next year.”

Lanisen agrees, “All right.”

Megren says, “What else…. oh, that herd of unicorns passing through on their way south, of course.”

Lanisen glances at her to be sure, and then snorts.

Megren grins unrepentantly.

Lanisen rolls his eyes, grinning fondly at the same time.

Megren taps her lip performatively. “Now what is it I’m forgetting…”

Lanisen narrows his eyes at her.

Megren says, “Hmmmmm.”

Lanisen says, “What are you playin’ at.”

Megren lifts her brows. “Ah!”

Lanisen side-eyes her.

Megren reaches into her tunic and pulls out a small wrapped package, a little bigger than her longest finger. “Presents.”

Lanisen looks startled, then he laughs and covers his face. “I don’t have anything for you,” he says sheepishly.

Megren says, “Of course not; you didn’t go anywhere!”

Lanisen says, “Well. True.”

Megren thrusts it toward him. “Well? Take it!”

Lanisen says humbly, “Sorry, sorry.” He reaches out for it.

Megren places the package in his hands. Inside he will find a single new chime to hang with his others, a rough but adequately carved trio of greyhounds chasing each other around the bottom.

Lanisen unwraps it cautiously. He sets aside the paper, a slight smile lifting the corners of his mouth and then growing until he’s all dimples. He turns it in his hands and laughs under his breath in sheer delight, glancing at Megren. “Did you–?”

Megren says, “That was the best I could get on short notice for what I could afford.”

Lanisen says with feeling, “I love it.”

Megren’s face lights with a smile. “Really?”

Lanisen asks, “Want to help me put it up?”

Megren nods, pushing off the sill. “Sure, of course.”

Lanisen grins and gets to his feet, carefully holding the chime.

Megren trips along down the stairs to pull down the old set.

Lanisen trails along after her, still turning the chime in his hand to look interestedly at the carvings and risking a fall for the second time.

Megren has to stand on her tiptoes to pull the chime off the hook, bracing her other hand on the doorframe. Even so it takes a couple half-jumps to dislodge it.

Lanisen stays out of the way while she’s jumping, then steps up once she has gotten the chime down.

Megren holds out the chime to him, letting the hook dangle from two fingers.
the question marks indicate funtion as well as amount of space

Lanisen holds the new chime up to the rest to compare string length and considers, then carefully ties the new so that it hangs a little lower than the rest.

Megren announces, “Stunning.”

Lanisen looks pleased. “Think so?”

Megren admits, “Might be I’m biased.”

Lanisen grins. He glances up at the nail and says, “Let me get a crate…”

Meren asks, “What, you don’t like me jumping around?”

Lanisen says, “I figured it might be easier, is all. Do you want one?”

Megren makes a face likes she’s determined to die on the metaphorical rock of him choosing a stool for selfish reasons.

Lanisen raises his hands. “If you’re wantin’ to jump…”

Megren says defeatedly, “You’ll only blame me when I fall.”

Lanisen says, “Wellll.”

Megren looks piteous.

Lanisen pats her shoulder and says, “I’ll get a crate.”

Megren sings sweetly, “Thank you.”

Lanisen heads off to fetch one, muttering to himself.

Megren waits patiently.

Lanisen returns with a sturdy crate of the sort used to haul apples or potatoes or jugs of milk. He flips it deftly upside down and places it on the ground before Megren with a flourishy bow.

Megren squints up her face and then puts her hands out for balance and delicately steps up onto the crate.

Lanisen laughs and steps back.

Megren lifts the chime and hangs it with a great deal more ease than before.

Lanisen says approvingly, “Looks nice.”

Megren places her hands in her hips to survey her work and then nods with her own approval.

Lanisen reaches up to set the new chime swaying. It clinks with the others pleasantly.

Megren wrinkles her nose and steps down off the crate.

Lanisen bends and picks up the crate, carrying it toward the door. “What have you got today?” he asks over his shoulder.

Megren says, “Sir Darrin said I could have it off, except seeing to our travel things and the horses.”

Lanisen says, “Oh, good. Have a day to rest up.”

Megren says, “You?”

Lanisen shrugs. “Nothin’ terrible today. I imagine I’ll have some washin’ up to do when the hounds get back, muddy as it is.”

Megren says, “When you just cleaned?”

Lanisen says defensively, “Well, I left the mopping.”

Megren mms skeptically.

Lanisen asks, “D’you want to go somewhere or do somethin’, or do you want to just sit around and have a quiet day?”

Megren says, “Yes.”

Lanisen snorts.

Megren says, “How about if we fetch some food and skip out to the pasture?”

Lanisen agrees easily, “Sure! I’ll show you where the rabbits are.”

Megren says, “Oh! Yes.”

Lanisen asks, “You want me to fetch the food and I’ll meet you out there, or are you wantin’ a say in what we get from Ren?”

Megren says, “Sure, I’ll check with Amon on what he needs from me today and then meet you.”

Lanisen says, “I’ll meet you in a few minutes, then.”

Megren says, “Great.”

Lanisen salutes and heads for the door, stopping to get his satchel.

Megren followed after him, splitting ways and during into the stables.

Lanisen is gone for some time, but he passes through the stable about fifteen minutes later, stopping to grab a saddle blanket for sitting on.

Megren is waiting just outside the pasture door, landed up against the wall. She pushes off when he emerges. “Hey.”

Lanisen answers, with self-satisfied cheerfulness, “Hey.”

Megren asks, “Waterfall?”

Lanisen says, “Sounds good.”

Megren holds her hands out. “Can I take something?”

Lanisen says, “Mm, the blanket, if you want.”

Megren reaches to take it.

Lanisen shifts his hold on things until the blanket is free for her to take, then begins toward the cave path, less encumbered.

Megren loops it over her shoulder to follow.

Lanisen follows the path into the cave, glancing around as he enters. It’s beginning to be mossy in places with the warmer weather, and glints of refracted sunlight dance on the ceiling. He picks his way lightly through the chamber to a space far enough back that the waterfall is not deafening and the splashing doesn’t make puddles on the ground.

Megren checks to be sure the ground is not too damp before laying out the blanket with a flourish. “Perfect.”

Lanisen kneels to set out the food, a light luncheon sort of meal that doesn’t have to be eaten in any particular hurry. There’s crusty new bread braided and folded up with garlic and white cheese and savory herbs, unmistakably Ren’s work, as well as a small pot of preserved peaches. The waterskins appear to be filled with just water, but it tastes of mint and lemon balm from the kitchen garden.

Megren makes a satisfied noise. “Ren.”

Lanisen says, “Baker among bakers.”

Megren agrees, “The noblest profession.”

Lanisen mms contentedly, taking one of the herbed breads and breaking it in half. A little curl of steam rises from the warm center, and melted cheese oozes out in a most satisfactory manner.

Megren rips off a section for herself and sighs contentedly.

Lanisen folds his legs under him cross-wise and angles himself to where he can watch the waterfall and see Megren easily at the same time. “Get much sleep last night?”

Megren leans her head back against the cavern walls. “Uhh, enough for now.”

Lanisen says, “‘S good. Sometimes it’s hard to sleep if you been on the road all day.”

Megren closes her eyes, “I could sleep for a day.”

Lanisen says, “Well, you got the day. I’ll help Amon if you’re wantin’ to sleep.”

Megren says without opening her eyes, “No, I want to talk.”

Lanisen says, “Well, if you change your mind.”

Megren nods restfully.

Lanisen scoots back to lean against the cave wall, stretching his legs out in front of him. He tears off chunks of the bread to eat, peacefully quiet.

Megren rests her hands on her knees and falls quiet.

Lanisen asks a good while later, still working on his bread, “You ever get those dreams where you know how to fly, and you always knew how to fly, and it seems like the simplest thing in the world?”

Megren opens her eyes and lolls her head from side to side.

Lanisen doesn’t say anything else, either done with the thought or waiting to see what this means.

Megren says, “Floating, sometimes.”

Lanisen mms.

Megren asks, “Do you have to flap your arms?”

Lanisen pauses to consider this. “It’s more like… mm, like swimming. Swimming up.”

Megren says, “Hmm.”

Lanisen shrugs and takes another bite of his bread. “Dunno what made me think of it.”

Megren says, “Mine’s more like, I can go maybe head level or sometimes more, but I don’t have a lot of control over it and sometimes I touch down like… like a kite, I suppose.”

Lanisen hmms thoughtfully.

Megren says, “Gliding, I guess it is.”

Lanisen says, “It sounds nice.”

Megren says, “Yours too.”

Lanisen says, “I wonder why we get dreams.”

Megren says, “Da says it’s figuring out what you’re worried over.”

Lanisen’s forehead creases a little at this, but he doesn’t say anything.

Megren glances at him

Lanisen shrugs.

Megren says, “I bet Sir Tyren’s got an entertaining theory.”

Lanisen ducks his head and tries not to laugh and fails.

Megren wrinkles up her nose at him.

Lanisen rubs the side of his face and shakes his head. “You’re prob’ly right.”

Megren muses, “Maybe I’ll ask Sir Darrin what he thinks.”

Lanisen raises his eyebrows.

Megren returns the expression.

Lanisen asks, “He gonna have an entertaining explanation?”

Megren lifts her shoulders. “Won’t know until we ask, will we?”

Lanisen says, “Let me know what he says.”

Megren says, “What will you trade for the information?”

Lanisen squints at her.

Megren says, “Me traipsing around asking questions of all these people, surely you should have to do something, too.”

Lanisen says, “You make it sound so rough.”

Megren says, “Yes.”

Lanisen says, “I’ll continue fetchin’ food from Ren, how’s that.”

Megren pouts. “Devious.”

Lanisen shrugs and looks down modestly.

Megren sighs. “Fiiine.”

Lanisen grins and takes a long drink of water.

Megren says, “Hey, when do you think you’ll have to clean up?”

Lanisen says, “Hmm? I dunno. Couple, three hours, prob’ly.”

Megren makes a face.

Lanisen asks, “Why?”

Megren says, “Thought we could run up around the mountain and see if we couldn’t see over the edge with that waterfall.”

Lanisen says, “Oh, hmm.” He peers out at the sky consideringly. “Hmm. Kirb owes me a favor.”

Megren lifts her brows and gives him an open-mouthed expectant half-grin.

Lanisen stops and squints at her suspiciously. “You sure you want to go climbin’ mountains today instead of restin’?”

Megren shoves him lightly. “Who likes resting, anyway.”

Lanisen says, “You might, after you’ve worn yourself out today and have to get up tomorrow.”

Megren squints thoughtfully. “That doesn’t /sound/ like me.”

Lanisen raises his eyes to the ceiling.

Megren opens her mouth, offended. “What’s that for?”

Lanisen shakes his head despairingly. “If you want to climb a mountain I’ll go with you.”

Megren taps her knee with the side of her fist. “/Yes/.”

Lanisen says, “But only if you promise you’ll say if you get tired.”

Megren says, “I never get tired.”

Lanisen makes an mm-hmm noise like this exactly validates his worry.

Megren fishes out a peach. “Pack all this up and go, then?”

Lanisen lifts his shoulders. “May as well. I need to run back and talk to Kirb, first.”

Megren says, “Sure. I’ll take care of Dawn’s tack while you do that.”

Lanisen asks, “You /sure/ you want to do this?”

Megren squints at him.

Lanisen shrugs.

Megren says, “Yes.”

Lanisen says, starting to put things back in his satchel, “All right. Here’s hopin’ Kirb ain’t hid himself away someplace.”

Megren says, “If it takes you too long I’ll just start in on Swiftly’s things.”

Lanisen gets to his feet and slings the satchel over his shoulder. “I’ll be quick.”

Megren stands as well. “Don’t make promises you can’t keep.”

Lanisen grins, gathering up the blanket to carry back.

Megren reaches for the blanket. “Here, I’m going in the tack room anyway.”

Lanisen hands it over. “That works.” He begins toward the cave entrance.

Megren skips past him once they get out to the pasture.

Lanisen follows behind. Once they are inside the stable, he waves and continues on out to the ward.

Megren disappears into the tack room.

Lanisen isn’t gone too long before he returns: apparently Kirb wasn’t too difficult to persuade.

Megren is in Dawn’s stall when he returns, double checking her hooves.

Lanisen checks the tack room first, then wanders until he finds her.

Megren says, “Hey,” without looking up when she hears him. She makes a tching noise.

Lanisen leans his arms on the top of the stall door. “Hey.”

Megren says, “I’ve just got to duck in and tell Amon she needs her shoe changed.”

Lanisen asks, “Want me to tell him while you finish?”

Megren says, “If you don’t mind.”

Lanisen nods agreeably and heads back the way he came to find Amon.

Megren shows up in the aisle a little while later.

Lanisen is walking back to meet her by then, and tilts his head toward the door.

Megren nods, skipping that way.

Lanisen trails after her, grinning slightly at the skipping.

Megren says, “Now what’s out strategy here… Try to follow the river, or find the best path to the left and follow the ledge?”

Lanisen says apologetically, “I never been up so high, you’re gonna have to pick.”

Megren screws her mouth up. “Run a risk of having to backtrack either way.”

Lanisen asks, “Which one sounds more fun?”

Megren laughs. “Hm. The water, right?”

Lanisen lifts his shoulders.

Megren says, “What are you good for?”

Lanisen pushes his mouth to the side, frowning slightly, then shrugs again. “Guess we’ll find out.”

Megren clasps her hand behind her back, “Finding bunnies, I suppose.”

Lanisen says, “I try.”

Megren says, “Seems so.”

Lanisen says, “C’mon, pick one.”

Megren says, “You hot?”

Lanisen squints at her. “Not particularly?”

Megren says, “Along the ledge, then. We’ll do the river in a hotter day if the ledge doesn’t work out.”

Lanisen says, “Ledge sounds good to me.”

Megren nods. “Me too.”

Lanisen says, “Lead the way, brave squire.”

Megren asks, “Is that you or me?”

Lanisen says, “Gooo.”

Megren grins and does a little dance out around him to lead the way.

Lanisen snorts and follows after her, grinning. He shifts the satchel on his shoulder. “You said you and Kairyn went before?”

Megren says, “Sort of. Not quite asking the river, though, so we didn’t get to the fall.”

Lanisen asks, “Which way did you go?”

Megren says, “Well, we started out by the bridge and then sort of…. veered.”

Lanisen asks, “What made you stop?”

Megren says, “Slippery.”

Lanisen frowns. “Oh, hmm.”

Megren says, “It’s drier out just now. And we did get pretty close. It was steep, too, where we were.”

Lanisen hmms again. He gives Perth a quick grin of greeting as they near the gates.

Megren taps Perth’s shoulder with her fist.

Lanisen falls into a comfortable silence as they go, walking beside Megren but following her lead.

Megren hums as they pass under a blossoming apple tree and tugs a branch so that a few blooms shower down.

Lanisen takes a step sideways, squinching up his face good-naturedly. He carefully removes a petal from where it lodges in his fringe, and just as carefully drops it on top of Megren’s head.

Megren looks cross eyed upward.

Lanisen snickers.

Megren doesn’t move to pull it out. “How’re you liking that hair anyway?”

Lanisen ruffles it with his fingers. “It’s good! It’s cooler, real nice now it’s warmin’ up.” He pauses. “Likes to cowlick in the mornings somethin’ awful, but nothin’ a little water don’t fix.”

Megren wrinkles her nose affably. “Mine too.”

Lanisen says cheerfully, “I know, I seen yours.”

Megren gives him a good shove.

Lanisen staggers and veers away, chortling. “It’s good, it’s a good cowlick! I love your cowlick!”

Megren makes a punishingly skeptical face.

Lanisen straightens his shirt primly. “Anyway, you shouldn’t push.”

Megren says, “No?”

Lanisen says, “Mm-mmn.”

Megren says, “Well.”

Lanisen keeps an eye on her, ready to dance out of the way of the next push.

Megren clasps her hands behind her back.

Lanisen narrows one eye suspiciously.

Megren gives him her most beatific smile.

Lanisen says, “Hmm.”

Megren opens her mouth. “What’s ‘hmm’ for?”

Lanisen says, “Nothin’.”

Megren says, “Didn’t sound like nothing.”

Lanisen says, “I dunno what it sounded like then.”

Megren hmms imitatively.

Lanisen says, “Hmm.”

Megren says, “See?”

Lanisen lifts his hands defensively. As they near another blooming some-kind-of-tree, he takes a running jump to swat at a higher branch, with a very satisfactory petal-shower result.

Megren lifts her face and spreads her arms, smiling.

Lanisen grins big to see this, walking backward for several steps. He’s got unnoticed petals in his hair.

Megren grins, “Your hair’s full of petals.”

Lanisen ducks his head and ruffles his hair again until most of them are gone. “Worse things to be full of!”

Megren says, “Definitely.”

Lanisen turns around to walk normally again, trying halfheartedly to put his hair back to rights. “What’s your favorite sort of tree?”

Megren makes a thoughtful noise.

Lanisen asks, “Do you like the flower kind, or the kind with needles and cones, or the kind with just leaves, or some other kind I don’t know anything about?”

Megren says, “Definitely the one you don’t know anything about.”

Lanisen says, “Ah, that one.”

Megren says, “I like them all. You have to tell me for what purpose.”

Lanisen says, “For lookin’ at.”

Megren asks, “What time of year?”

Lanisen says, “What? I dunno, any time.”

Megren shakes her head. “Too hard.”

Lanisen pouts.

Megren says, “I like choke cherry and regular cherry and pear this time of year. And forsythia, except that’s more between a tree and a bush? Oh, magnolia. Willow and hawthorn in summer, and mountain ash, and hagberry, and peach. And plum.” She takes a breath. “Autumn… Apple. Aspen. And obviously larch and fir and beech any time.”

Lanisen laughs under his breath, looking a little staggered. “Obviously.”

Megren says, “I told you to give specifics.”

Lanisen says, “Why would I, when I can get the whole list this way.”

Megren says, “That’s just the pretty ones.”

Lanisen says, “What else you got?”

Megren says, “Good for bows, good for kindling, good for long burning, good for furniture, good for shelter…”

Lanisen laughs out loud, tilting his head back. “All right. Now we know. Meg likes trees. Is there a tree you don’t like?”

Megren says, “There’s an oak south of da’s hut that drops sap all over?”

Lanisen says, “Sap.”

Megren lifts her shoulders. “It’s sticky. You ever tried to wash that out of your hair?”

Lanisen says, “I can’t say I have.”

Megren says, “I don’t recommend it.”

Lanisen says, “Noted. If I ever get sap in my hair I’ll just immediately concede the battle and leave it there for life.”

Megren makes a disgusted face.

Lanisen snickers.

Megren veers off the path. “Here, this way.”

Lanisen follows after her, peering ahead.

Megren glances at him. “You’ll tell me if you’re having trouble?”

Lanisen assures her, “I will.”

Megren nods, and returns her eyes forward. “What’s yours?”

Lanisen asks, “My what? Oh. Tree?”

Megren skitters down a short incline. “Yeah.”

Lanisen gives this some thought. “There’s a tree in Carmichael, I think it’s pretty old. It’s got… it’s a leaf tree, not needly, but it’s got branches that sort of…” He uses his hands to describe a swoop from a midlevel to a lower level. “Really thick branches, and really low. In the summer when it’s all leafed out you can get in close to the trunk and watch people from inside and they’ll never know you’re there.”

Megren says, “Sure you want to be a knight and not a spy?”

Lanisen says, “Ahh, heh.” He focuses on walking.

Megren glances at him. “It sounds nice.”

Lanisen glances at her and nods. “I always used to hide there when we went to town,” he adds after a moment. “Mum got wise after, mm, the second time, but I still went there anyway.”

Megren’s brows draw together, but she just nods.

Lanisen asks, “What?”

Megren asks, “What were you hiding from?”

Lanisen says, “What? I dunno. I was little, I liked havin’ secret hidey spots. Didn’t you?”

Megren screws up her mouth thoughtfully. “I guess.”

Lanisen says, “Hmm.”

Megren wrinkles her nose and “hmms” mockingly back.

Lanisen makes a face at her. He focuses on walking, starting to get a little out of breath.

Megren slows up a bit. “Almost to the edge.”

Lanisen nods, looking ahead. “We’re /both/ gonna be tired by the end of this, you know.”

Megren says, “It’s like you don’t know me at all.”

Lanisen gives her a look.

Megren smiles.

Lanisen shakes his head and trudges on, only stopping when he gets to the edge.

Megren peers down over the edge, one hand hanging onto a tree trunk in case. Below, the town of Andale falls away off to the east and, nearer, Anvard rises before the ranging forest, all bright greens speckled with spring pinks and whites.

Lanisen takes a deep breath, nodding a couple of times.

Megren glances at him. “Even better than the parapet.”

Lanisen asks, “Is this where you like to watch the fog?”

Megren nods. “One of the spots.”

Lanisen is quietly appreciative, taking his time in looking at everything. “Who’s that, d’you s’pose?” he asks, pointing at the small indistinct figure of a guard on the northern wall walk.

Megren squints. “Not Haft.”

Lanisen shades his eyes and agrees.

Megren says, “It’s Gearn or Owin, probably. Equally distractable like that.”

Lanisen asks, squinting harder, “Are they distracted?”

Megren says, “Keeps leaning on the wall.”

Lanisen says, “Maybe they’re tired. Maybe they’ve got a sore knee.”

Megren says, “Oh, Magda, then.”

Lanisen looks suspicious. “The whole guard standing around all day and Magda’s the only one with a sore knee?”

Megren says, “Or Haft, but he wouldn’t stop for it.” She screws up her mouth. “Actually, Magda probably wouldn’t either. Regan, maybe.”

Lanisen asks, “Which one’s Regan?”

Megren says, “Tall and slouchy.”

Lanisen frowns. “Light hair?”

Megren says, “That’s the one.”

Lanisen says, “Oh.” He pauses. “He’s been on the guard a long time, yeah?”

Megren says, “Ten years, I think? Not a whole lot older than you, though; he started like Reina.”

Lanisen asks, “Do a lot of ’em start like that?”

Megren waves a hand as if to indicate “what’s a lot?”. “Some like that, a lot like Haft, some like me.”

Lanisen asks, “How did Haft start?”

Megren says, “Family business.”

Lanisen says, “Oh.”

Megren says, “There are kind of a lot that start like Reina, all considering, but not everyone ends up thinking it’s for them.”

Lanisen says, “Makes sense.”

Megren says, “Regan is pretty good for all Haft probably has to say about the slouching. He makes people feel in control, if that makes sense.”

Lanisen tilts his head at this.

Megren says, “I mean… he’s… unassuming. Kind of, you know how tall people can look a bit awkward?”

Lanisen asks, “He uses that?”

Megren nods, “I can’t tell how on purpose it is.”

Lanisen hmms thoughtfully.

Megren lifts her shoulders. “Anyway he’s good on top of all that.”

Lanisen nods, watching the tiny figure on the walls. He shifts and glances at Megren, then glances up the ledge.

Megren nods, and starts to move on.

Lanisen follows after her, picking his steps carefully and keeping a respectful eye on the drop to his left.

Megren also chooses her steps more carefully than usual, possibly to his benefit.

Lanisen doesn’t have too much trouble keeping up, though he saves all his breath for walking.

Megren stops at the edge of a tiny trickling steam that, unfortunately, appears to be the cause of a rather difficult-to-hop ravine.

Lanisen draws up short behind her. “Hmm.”

Megren pushes her mouth to the side. “What do you think?”

Lanisen chews the inside of his lip. “Maybe it’s narrower up higher?” he suggests doubtfully.

Megren squints an eye. “Could be…”

Lanisen asks, “What do you think?”

Megren says, “Depends if it’s glacial or a spring probably?”

Lanisen says, “Right, of course.”

Megren says, “We can try. Or,” she turns and looks it at the view. Their path has curved in such a way that most of what can be seen is just the forest now, and the road passing through it between town and the castle. “We can try it again another day and enjoy the view we’ve got?”

Lanisen says, “It’s your day, you choose.”

Megren asks, “My day?”

Lanisen says, “Mm-hmm!”

Megren says, “Why?”

Lanisen says, “‘Cause I said so.”

Megren says, “I could say it’s your day.”

Lanisen says, “No, I already called it. Tomorrow’s up for grabs, though.”

Megren screws up her face punishingly at him.

Lanisen grins cheekily at her. “So?”

Megren turns a circle and finally says decisively, “Here.”

Lanisen starts considering prospective places to sit.

Megren points out a good solid outcropping of walk and goes to perch on the edge of it without waiting for his opinion.

Lanisen follows after her, unslinging his satchel from his shoulder. “I went back for pies,” he announces.

Megren exclaims, “What!”

Lanisen says, “They were makin’ pies, I got some. Rhubarb and strawberry.”

Megren says, “Squire among squires.”

Lanisen bows.

Megren holds out a hand and wiggles her fingers impatiently.

Lanisen says, “Yeah, yeah.” He sits down next to Megren and pulls out not two, but four small hand-pies. One is a little cracked and sticky, but the rest are whole, and they were wrapped well enough that the mess is minimal.

Megren says, “Here, give me the broken one.”

Lanisen says, “What, no.”

Megren says, “Yes! Gotta eat it first.”

Lanisen says, “I’ll eat it first, then. You have these ones.”

Megren screws up her face again, but accepts the pies.

Lanisen slurps a bit of pink goo off his thumb and pulls his feet up to sit cross-legged.

Megren takes a relishing bite and sighs with satisfaction.

Lanisen digs through the satchel for the waterskin and takes a deep drink. “What else you want to do today?” he asks, capping it.

Megren glances at him.

Lanisen glances at her after a pause. He takes a small breath and shifts, looking quickly away.

Megren watches him for another second and then seems to take meaning from this and turns her gaze out to the forest, lifting a knee to lean her forearm on.

Lanisen rubs a hand over his mouth, his head bowed.

Megren screws up her mouth. “How did Tiny behave?”

Lanisen says, distracted, “I– I only saw her a few times while you were gone, she was, she must’ve stuck around the barracks.”

Megren says, “Sounds right.”

Lanisen nods. He picks up the broken pie, and then he puts it back down again.

Megren reaches to squeeze his shoulder. “It’s okay.”

Lanisen goes still. He draws a breath and moistens his lips and says, “It’s, I don’t know how to– to…”

Megren drops her hand to her lap and lets him finish his thought.

Lanisen says, “I told, I told Colin some.”

Megren says, “Okay.”

Lanisen says, “He…” He stops there.

Megren reaches over and squeezes his wrist gently.

Lanisen exhales and shuts his eyes tightly for a second. “Please don’t go anywhere?”

Megren says, “I’m not going anywhere.”

Lanisen nods several times. He turns his hand palm up and squeezes her hand.

Megren gives him a small smile.

Lanisen says, “There’s a… Lancelyn Green, there’s a cave. We stayed there for a few months.”

Megren nods.

Lanisen says, “It’s big, it’s… there’s a river that runs through it, it’s… damp, muddy. There’s a smell. The roof’s got those…” He raises his hand and dangles his fingers. “Like rock’s dripping down, you know?”

Megren squints. “Hm? Rocks dripping?”

Lanisen says, “Yeah, like, like icicles, but rock?”

Megren says, “I didn’t know they could do that.”

Lanisen says, “I only ever seen it there and the cave in Carmichael. They were real big there, though.”

Megren says, “You can show me when we go in Carmichael.”

Lanisen says, “Maybe.”

Megren says, “Anyway.”

Lanisen says, “Um.” He pauses for a moment. “Um. I– I met Colin before he caught me, I dunno if I…”

Megren says, “Before he tried to make friends you mean?”

Lanisen says, “He didn’t know I was… we talked, a couple times, he was– he was stayin’ in the woods near the town, I ran into him a couple times foraging. He figured I was just a runaway, I let him think so.”

Megren says, “Was he pretending to be outcast?”

Lanisen says, “Yeah.”

Megren nods.

Lanisen lifts his shoulders. “I was curious, he was– he tried to /feed/ me, both times, I wasn’t gonna argue. I didn’t let on– He didn’t know, I didn’t tell him /anything/, but it–” He stops, and he takes a breath. “Myrd, Myrd caught me talkin’ with him.”

Megren’s face softens with understanding, and then her brows draw together.

Lanisen says, “Um–” He swallows, and he seems to hit a block.

Megren shakes her head and repeats, “You don’t have to say.”

Lanisen pushes the heel of his hand into his temple. “It shouldn’t be– It was so long ago, I don’t even know why it’s…”

Megren shifts to fold her arms around him. “You don’t have to say; I’m sorry; you don’t have to.”

Lanisen doesn’t answer. He shuts his eyes for a long moment and finally takes a deep breath. “There’s… In the cave in Lancelyn Green, there’s this little– this little space dug out, I dunno what it was for, there’s… there’s a tunnel you have to sort of crawl through, and then there’s, um…”

Megren draws back and listens quietly, eyes flicking over his face.

Lanisen hesitates and finally shakes his head helplessly and says, “Um, a, a /space/, you can– you can stand up in it if you duck a little bit and there’s– two people, three people can fit if you squeeze, I guess, it–” He stops again, stuck.

Megren draws a breath and nods once. “I can, I can picture it,” she assures him.

Lanisen doesn’t say anything else for a moment, taking careful deliberate breaths and visibly debating.

Megren watches him apprehensively.

Lanisen finally says, half asking and half stating, “You won’t leave.”

Megren says, “I promise.”

Lanisen takes a deep breath. He rubs his hand across his mouth and swallows. “He was– he was so mad, I thought– He was talkin’ about traitors, how death was too good for ’em and I was tryin’ to explain but he wouldn’t, he wouldn’t listen, he–”

Megren asks, “Myrd?”

Lanisen says, “Myrd, yeah. He– put me in that, that space, and he–” He stops again, and his voice is careful and even and matter-of-fact when he finally continues. “He filled in the tunnel behind me.”

Megren’s eyes widen and then narrow, as if she thinks she didn’t hear right. “What?”

Lanisen looks at her unhappily.

Megren asks, “How, how, how long? How did you get out? This was — he didn’t–? Why aren’t you–” She closes her mouth and chooses one. “How did you get out?”

Lanisen shifts, crossing his arms over his stomach and hunching forward slightly. He shakes his head a little. “I’m not– I don’t remember. I think Jana must have gotten me out.”

Megren reaches her arm around his back again, pulling him close.

Lanisen’s shoulders hunch up, but he leans toward her.

Megren kisses the top of his head and wraps her other arm around him.

Lanisen reaches up to return the embrace as best as he can from the angle, but he’s tense, as if he’s waiting for something unpleasant to follow.

Megren takes a breath and releases it, not letting him go. “I’m sorry; I’m sorry.”

Lanisen only shakes his head, a tight, urgent motion, and squeezes her arm in an attempt at reassurance.

Megren suddenly connects, “– the shepherd’s cave–”

Lanisen says, “It’s, it’s dark.”

Megren asks, “Night, too?”

Lanisen says, “Night isn’t…” He blows out a breath. “If, as long as there’s fresh air or light, I’m, I’m usually all right. There’s almost always light at night, some sort.”

Megren runs her hand over his shoulder several times.

Lanisen doesn’t say anything else. He pulls back after a moment to study her face, anxious and assessing.

Megren says, “I’m here.”

Lanisen asks, “Are you, are you all right?”

Megren’s brows draw together, but she nods once.

Lanisen asks, a little shakily, “Would you say, if you weren’t?”

Megren says, “Lanisen, I’m not going anywhere, I promise.”

Lanisen says, “I’m sorry.”

Megren shakes her head, brows drawing together again. “No, what are you sorry for?”

Lanisen says, “You, you said.”

Megren says, “I think you’re due a few meager assurances.”

Lanisen rubs his hand over his face.

Megren says again, “I’m sorry.”

Lanisen says, “Thank you, that– it’s… I’m, I’m glad I told you.”

Megren closes her mouth and nods, letting a beat fall before she says, “Good; I’m, then I’m glad, too.”

Lanisen glances at her face again, checking again, but the anxious tension seems to be leaving him.

Megren asks, “In the– in the tomb?”

Lanisen draws a careful breath. “Yes.”

Megren asks, “Did Darius know?

Lanisen says, “I don’t… He couldn’t’ve, there’s no way, I never–”

Megren nods quietly.

Lanisen shakes his head again and says, “He couldn’t’ve.”

Megren says, “If you say not, then I believe you.”

Lanisen nods. He looks at his hands, absently rubbing his fingers and thumbs together.

Megren rubs her hand over his back again. “Thank you for telling me.”

Lanisen says softly, “I’m sorry for makin’ a muchness of it.”

Megren wrinkles her nose. “‘Making a muchness’.”

Lanisen looks embarrassed. “You know what I mean.”

Megren ruffles his hair.

Lanisen ducks his head in half-protest.

Megren says, serious again, “You can always tell me anything.”

Lanisen lets out a short breath and raises his eyebrows. “I don’t think I have anything harder to tell you.”

Megren widens her eyes to belie her relief as a sense of humor. “Well, good.”

Lanisen lowers his head again and says quietly, “Thank you.”

Megren assures him, “It’s what any good friend would do.”

Lanisen says, “Maybe.”

Megren presses, “It is.”

Lanisen glances at her sidelong and makes a wry face. “Sometimes I think maybe you don’t know how good a friend you are.”

Megren squints an eye at him. “You’re saying you wouldn’t want me to tell you things?”

Lanisen frowns at her. “No, ‘course not, I mean– not everybody is as good to talk to as you are.”

Megren hmms skeptically.

Lanisen insists, “I mean it.”

Megren relents. “Thank you.”

Lanisen takes a deep breath. He rubs his palms on his knees and unfolds his legs, then picks up the broken pie, though he doesn’t eat yet.

Megren looks back out over the forest to give him some privacy.

Lanisen picks at the pie crust.

Megren glances at him again, then back out. “I’m really glad we’re friends,” she muses.

Lanisen puts his elbows on his knees and glances at her sidelong.

Megren lifts a shoulder.

Lanisen nods, looking down at his hands. “Me too.”

Megren blows out a breath.

Lanisen says, “I should– um…”

Megren looks at him again.

Lanisen says, “It, it’s–” He straightens a little, and then slouches again, and he starts to speak several times. “Um, it’s, I think, it sounds worse than it was, the, the way I said it, I should– He didn’t fill it /all/ up, the, the tunnel, he left a gap, and, and Jana was there on the other side a lot of the time so I had company, it’s– that’s, that’s all.”

Megren frowns. She is quiet a moment, and then takes a breath and asks, “How long?”

Lanisen rubs his knees. “I don’t– I’m not sure, there wasn’t– It was dark.”

Megren asks, “More than a day?”

Lanisen hesitates, though not with uncertainty. “Yes.”

Megren hesitates, and then asks, “…More than a week?”

Lanisen opens his mouth, and then shakes his head slightly. “I don’t know.”

Megren rubs the back of her hand under her nose and nods quietly.

Lanisen exhales softly, his shoulders sagging a little.

Megren says, “Did she give you food?”

Lanisen says, “Yeah.”

Megren nods.

Lanisen says, “And, and water.”

Megren rubs her cheek.

Lanisen glances at her, chewing on his lower lip. “You’re not sayin’ somethin’,” he notes, a little anxiously.

Megren says, “No, I’m… just…” she takes a breath. “I can’t even picture the sort of person who would sit outside and not try to dig you out, let alone the sort who would do it in the first place.”

Lanisen says, “She couldn’t, Myrd would’ve… She, she couldn’t’ve.”

Megren pushes her mouth to the side.

Lanisen rubs the side of his face.

Megren says, “You think she took care of you, then?”

Lanisen says, “It was– it was complicated.”

Megren nods.

Lanisen says nothing for a moment. “She gave me river water to drink,” he admits finally.

Megren says, “It was bad?”

Lanisen takes a breath and nods.

Megren says, “Lanisen.”

Lanisen says, “I was, I was so thirsty, I wouldn’t’ve drunk it.”

Megren says, “No, I, of course, I know.”

Lanisen laces his fingers together and nods.

Megren says, “You have some kind of constitution.”

Lanisen is thrown by this. “What?”

Megren says, “How many poisons have you even survived by now?”

Lanisen says, “It, it wasn’t a poison, it was just…”

Megren says, “Just poisonous.”

Lanisen makes no answer to this.

Megren says, “Well.”

Lanisen glances at her.

Megren says, “Thanks for sticking it out.”

Lanisen lets out a small breath of unvoiced laughter.

Megren squints an eye at him ruefully.

Lanisen blows out another, longer breath and rubs both hands over his face. “This was s’posed to be an easy day.”

Megren sways to bump him. “Sorry.”

Lanisen says, “No, it’s– you’re the one who spent all day travellin’ yesterday.”

Megren says, “Sitting now, aren’t I?”

Lanisen says, “Yeah, but.”

Megren says, “I’m all right.”

Lanisen nods and subsides.

Megren says, “I’m glad you told me.”

Lanisen is quiet. “I never meant to tell anybody,” he says after a little pause. “Feels weird.”

Megren says, “What you, you didn’t tell Sir Colin?”

Lanisen lifts his shoulders. “I didn’t really… /mean/ to.”

Megren says, “But he knows?”

Lanisen says, “Some of it.”

Megren release a burdened breath.

Lanisen says, “He was–” He hesitates. “Really angry.”

Megren nods a bit absently, either not absorbing this or not connecting the significance.

Lanisen doesn’t say anything else.

Megren glances at him and then clarifies uncertainly, “With Myrd and Jana.”

Lanisen says, “Yeah.”

Megren says, “Okay.”

Lanisen rubs the back of his neck.

Megren’s brow furrows. “Did something else happen?”

Lanisen says, “Not–” He shifts and rubs his hand over his mouth. “It, he didn’t– he was really angry.”

Megren looks confused.

Lanisen says, “I don’t know, I’m sorry, it’s– sorry.”

Megren asks, “Did he do something when he was angry?”
Megren connects something, “Did he leave you?”

Lanisen takes a breath. “No, he– he didn’t /go/ anywhere, he just–”

Megren tucks her hair behind her ear.

Lanisen says, “He sort of, he… went away? He started shuttin’ me out, sayin’ things about how he’d have killed Myrd, he started… keepin’ secrets, makin’ plans and bein’ cagey about ’em, he, I was scared.” He pauses. “When he went to Narnia, after, after Aaron, I thought…”

Megren pushes her lips together.

Lanisen rubs his hands over his face. “I don’t know.”

Megren sighs.

Lanisen glances at her quickly. “Sorry, it’s not– I’m not, I’m not worried about him now.”

Megren says, “Okay.”

Lanisen asks again, “Are you all right?”

Megren asks, “Me?”

Lanisen says, “You went quiet.”

Megren says, “Just processing.”

Lanisen says, “Oh.”

Megren glances at him. “Sorry.” She pauses, then confesses, “It’s kind of a lot.”

Lanisen sits back a little. “I’m sorry.”

Megren says, “No, you shouldn’t be. I’m, I’m really glad to know.”

Lanisen hesitates, as if he’s about to say something, but doesn’t.

Megren lifts her brows promptingly at him.

Lanisen shakes his head slightly. “What can I– Let’s talk about something else? Or, or, we don’t have to talk?”

Megren nods. “Sure. How’s Kirb’s gal?”

Lanisen says, “Um, fine, I think. We don’t, we don’t really talk much.”

Megren taps her knee. “Did you get to leave the castle at all while I was gone?”

Lanisen pauses, a little guiltily. “I didn’t have– there wasn’t any reason.”

Megren spreads her hands to indicate the view sprawling out before them.

Lanisen says, “Yeah, I know.”

Megren says, “Ah well.”

Lanisen says, “I wasn’t, I wasn’t /not/ going out, I just didn’t have anything.”

Megren says, “Yeah, I know.”

Lanisen pulls his lips between his teeth and nods.

Megren ventures, “Sir Darrin thinks you would make for a great knight.”

Lanisen darts a quick startled look at her. “You–?”

Megren squints an eye, a hint of a cringe in her expression. “Was that–?”

Lanisen says, “Um,” and shakes his head a little, as if to reorient himself. “Um– how– What?”

Megren says, “I just mentioned you’d thought about it. He didn’t seem surprised.”

Lanisen says, “Oh.”

Megren says, “I’m sorry, I, it came up.”

Lanisen says, “No, it’s, it’s all right, it’s only–” He takes a breath. “I wouldn’t’ve, I wouldn’t’ve asked you not to tell him, only, maybe– don’t, don’t tell anybody else?” He glances at her, apologetic.

Megren says, “Of course, yeah. If you want.”

Lanisen says, “I’m sorry.”

Megren shakes her head, absolving him.

Lanisen says, “I’m, it’s only it’s– hard to even, even think about, I can’t–”

Megren says, “I just wanted you know it’s not hard for other people to imagine.”

Lanisen says, “Thanks.”

Megren says, “Sorry.”

Lanisen says, “No, it’s, it’s all right.”

Megren says, “The only thing I can think that getting knighted could be improved by is getting knighted with you.”

Lanisen makes the sort of face that means he’s touched. “Meg, you’re miles and miles ahead of me.”

Megren lifts a shoulder. “I don’t know about miles and miles, but anyway, I’d wait.”

Lanisen looks distressed. “Meg…”

Megren makes a face at him. “Don’t look like that. I’d wait if it seemed reasonable.”

Lanisen reaches out and puts an arm around her shoulders, squeezing tightly. “If you’re ready to be knighted, don’t, don’t wait on me,” he says seriously. “There’s so much good you’re meant to be doin’, don’t hold yourself back for my sake.”

Megren squints an eye. “Well I don’t know how I’m supposed to argue when you say things like that.”

Lanisen lifts his shoulders.

Megren releases a breath and says to the vista, “Coming up on a year.”

Lanisen drops his eyes, counting back, and raises his eyebrows silently.

Megren says, “About a month yet, I think.”

Lanisen tilts his head at her. “How’s it feel?”

Megren says, “Just… like life, I guess.”

Lanisen hmms softly and nods.

Megren says, “I saw Haft on my way into the barracks last night and he said “how much has changed in the two years since the prince returned” and I couldn’t help but think… yes, but, how much is just the same, too.”

Lanisen is quiet at this, a heavy sort of quiet.

Megren glances at him. “He was speaking of after the battle, not before.”

Lanisen says, “I reckoned, yeah.”

Megren picks up his hand and holds it in both of hers.

Lanisen shifts and glances at her, then squeezes her hand and looks back out over the trees. “We’re friends, that’s new since then.”

Megren says, “I’m glad for that.”

Lanisen says, “Me too.” He glances at her again. “I dunno where I’d be without you. Said it before, prob’ly say it again.”

Megren sways to nudge him with her elbow and then rests the side of her head on his shoulder. She’s dropped his hand by now. “I’d be… I don’t know. Not a squire, maybe.”

Lanisen squints at her.

Megren lifts her head to glance at him. “Maybe. I wasn’t close with the other squires, and half Sir Darrin getting to know me was in the kennel.”

Lanisen says, “I bet you’d’ve still found your way to where you are now.”

Megren says, “Could be.”

Lanisen mms, sounding very certain.

Megren says, “Well, I’m glad, anyway.”

Lanisen says, “Yeah.”

Megren releases a breath.

Lanisen asks, “Stay a while or go home?”

Megren says, “I suppose we’d better head back.”

Lanisen nods, a little regretful. He returns to where they were sitting and wraps up the extra pie, stashing it in his satchel.

Megren hangs the waterskin off her belt and waits for him to be ready.

Lanisen slings the satchel over his shoulder and glances around the area for anything either of them might have dropped or left behind.

Megren asks, “Good?”

Lanisen says, “Yeah, I think so.”

Megren says, “Me too.”

Lanisen nods and pauses to look out over the ridge again. “All right.”

Megren glances that way as well before she slowly makes the trek back home.

Lanisen keeps close behind.


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