Megren knocks on the kennel door in the late evening and slips inside before there is an answer. Outside a new rain taps a gentle rhythm.
Lanisen is sitting in one of the chairs in front of the fireplace, a large puppy sprawled out snoozing in his lap. Both he and the pup look up alertly when the door opens, and he makes a small movement as if to get up.
Megren shuts the door quietly behind her. “Hey,” she says. “Did you eat?’ She lifts something wrapped in cloth. “I brought bread.”
Lanisen answers, “Hey,” and settles back into his chair, petting the pup’s head in an attempt to calm it down. It doesn’t work: the puppy scrambles to the floor and runs to say hello to Megren with a clumsy galloping gait. Lanisen gets up to follow, stretching his shoulders and straightening his shirt. “I ate. How was cubes?”
Megren lays the bread on the table. “Good. Short — Haft had a shift to get to.”
Lanisen nods, yawning, and sits down, folding his arms in front of him on the table and slouching over them.
Megren kneels to give the puppy the affection it so ardently desires, but her attention is mostly on Lanisen. “Got the dogs all fed?”
Lanisen says, “Oh, yeah. They eat fast.”
Megren grins. She lifts the pup to her chest so she can stand up and take a chair at the table. “Hey, are you all right?”
Lanisen asks, “What? Oh, yeah. I’m sorry.”
Megren rubs the puppy’s head in an attempt to get it to calm down. “Hm? No, you don’t have to be.”
Lanisen says, “Oh. All right.” He yawns again and folds over the tabletop, pillowing the side of his head on his arms.
Megren squints an eye. “Want me to let you get some sleep?”
Lanisen takes a deep breath and sits back up, rubbing the side of his face. “No, sorry, I’m just dozy.”
Megren says, “You can if you want. You just seemed a little out of sorts earlier and I didn’t want to leave you.”
Lanisen squints one eye back at her, regretful. “I’m sorry for worryin’ you.”
Megren makes a punishing face at him.
Lanisen says, “Ugh,” and rubs his eyes again. “Sor– ugh.”
Megren wrinkles her nose to signifies forgiveness and sets the puppy on the table to explore. “It’s all right.”
Lanisen reaches out to the puppy to try to entice it over, but it is too interested in all the smells clinging to the table to pay any attention at all.
Megren pushes the bread toward him. “Sourdough.”
Lanisen mms and tears off a bit of the crunchy crust. He eats for a moment, keeping a pensive eye on the puppy as it gleefully explores the forbidden terrain, then asks, “Is Haft mad?”
Megren shakes her head. “I don’t think so. Not like he doesn’t skip out on cubes for work all the time, anyway.”
Lanisen is silent.
Megren pushes her mouth to the side and tilts her head.
Lanisen rubs the side of his face and shakes his head slightly, looking back at the bread.
Megren asks, “Should I not have asked?”
Lanisen sits back, glancing at her quickly. “It was nice to ask.”
Megren says, “I’ll stop asking, though, if you’d rather.”
Lanisen winces. He reaches out to the puppy as it finally gets tired of the table and trots over for more petting. “I’m tryin’,” he says after a small pause.
Megren says, “Yeah, I know.”
Lanisen says, “I don’t, I don’t like bein’ up there, is all.”
Megren pushes her mouth to the side regretfully.
Lanisen ducks his head, lifting the puppy down to his lap. He glances anxiously at Megren.
Megren says, “I’m sorry.”
Lanisen says, “If I can’t say it you can’t either.”
Megren says, “No, mine’s a different kind.”
Lanisen frowns as if he’s trying to make sense of this. “Hm.”
Megren says, “I’m sorry because I wish it were easier, you’re sorry because you think you’re at fault.”
Lanisen watches the puppy circle twice on his lap and flop, really too big to fit comfortably but unbothered. His lips twist a little and he looks pained, like there’s a bad taste in his mouth. He sighs.
Megren stands up and picks up her chair to bring it around so she’s sitting next to him. “Do you want to talk about it, or drop it?”
Lanisen says, shifting slightly, “I dunno what there is to talk about.”
Megren wrinkles her nose. “Want me to list what there is to talk about, or want to drop it?”
Lanisen glances at her and drops his eyes to the puppy. “What is it you’re wantin’ to talk about?” he asks after a small hesitation.
Megren says, “It seems like a whole lot of feelings you’re having about just saying no to a game.”
Lanisen says, “It’s, I’m, I’m not.”
Megren’s brows lifts and draw together like she’s trying not to be doubtful.
Lanisen says, “I’m /not/, it’s not–” He exhales, frustrated. “I don’t know, I don’t know, I don’t like–”
Megren closes her mouth to let him finish.
Lanisen is silent for a minute, floundering. He finally rubs his hands over his face and mumbles, “I didn’t mean to make him mad.”
Megren says, “He’s not mad. And if he is mad, then he can get over himself, because that’s an inappropriate reaction to the situation.”
Lanisen doesn’t answer.
Megren pushes on to the next thing rather than press this point. “You’re still uncomfortable there?”
Lanisen sighs rather than answer. He shifts the puppy against his chest and gets to his feet, turning away from Megren to get the kettle from the shelf.
Megren’s shoulders drop.
Lanisen lets the puppy down and goes about filling the kettle and waking up the fire enough to heat the water. His shoulders are tense and slightly hunched, waiting.
Megren finally says, “I wish I could fix it.”
Lanisen, crouched by the hearth, goes briefly still. His shoulders slump and he bows his head, then he carefully swings the kettle over the fire and straightens, turning to face her.
Megren tilts her head regretfully, though it’s not clear whether her regret is over his immediate reaction or the situation in general.
Lanisen looks away. He brushes something off his shirt and crosses to sit with her again while the water heats.
Megren says, “I’ll stop asking.”
Lanisen looks at his hands. He draws a breath to say something, hesitates, and folds his arms on the tabletop again. “I’m sorry.”
Megren slips her arm around his shoulders and squeezes gently.
Lanisen swallows and shuts his eyes briefly. His shoulders melt.
Megren pulls him in for a full hug.
Lanisen unfolds and twists to return it, another silent apology in his posture.
Megren hugs him tight as if to tell him it’s okay.
Lanisen draws back after a moment, rubbing the heel of his hand along one browbone.
Megren lets him pull away, dropping her hands to her laps.
Lanisen exhales softly. He drags his hand down his face and drops it to the table.
Megren says, “I love you and I’m glad you’re here.”
Lanisen lifts one corner of his mouth. “You too.”
Megren wrinkles her nose and squints up her eyes.
Lanisen stretches his arms out in front of him, then plants his elbows on the table and cups his hands around his neck. “I am sorry, about the mess.”
Megren lifts her shoulders. “You’re forgiven,” she says.
Lanisen drops his eyes.
Megren shoves him in the side of the head, more mussing his hair than anything else.
Lanisen leans back and carefully straightens it again.
Megren wrinkles her nose again.
Lanisen smiles faintly and looks down again, slouching where he sits. He rubs his forehead again like it’s aching, then gets to his feet and shuffles back to the hearth to make tea. “Did–” He pauses. “Was the game all right? Haft didn’t ask Darrin…?”
Megren’s lashes flick up against her lids as she gives a quick, relieved roll of her eyes. “He took my advice for once. Sir Darrin reprimanded him earlier so I think he was feeling a bit shy of his bad side.”
Lanisen raises his eyebrows at this. “Sir Darrin did?”
Megren says, “Oh, he’d said something unkind about the Calormene prince. Sir Darrin told him it wasn’t fit to press at a grievance that had been seen to.”
Lanisen pushes up his lower lip and tips his head to the side in concession. “Mm.”
Megren says, “It was — I’m glad he said something, it was the right thing to say.”
Megren draws a breath and releases it, her shoulders dropping a little with the release.
Lanisen glances back at her.
Megren leans her cheek in her hand, looking reflective and a little sleepy.
Lanisen turns back to his task. A moment later, he stands and carries the teapot to the table, the steam rising from the spout smelling of chamomile.
Megren says, “Thanks for changing the topic, by the way.”
Lanisen glances at her uncertainly.
Megren says, “Sometimes Haft doesn’t know when to let things drop.”
Lanisen says, “Oh. Heh.” He sets their mugs carefully on either side of the pot, not looking at her, and finally lifts his shoulders. “It didn’t– seem like it would be, um, comfortable. To talk about.”
Megren says, “Sir Darrin’s a bit… defensive about it? And that makes me want to defend him. But it’s also, it’s his, um, I don’t want to speak for him either.”
Lanisen says, “I meant, I meant for you.”
Megren hedges, “Well, he wasn’t asking about me.”
Lanisen glances at her, and then down. He doesn’t press.
Megren reaches forward for the pot and cups.
Lanisen asks, “Do you want sugar?”
Megren says, “No, thank you.”
Lanisen asks, “You feelin’ all right?”
Megren lifts her brows and wrinkles her nose. “What, because I don’t want sugar?”
Lanisen says, “You always want sugar. If there’s sweet things to be had you know about them before anybody else.”
Megren makes a face at him. “Not /always/.”
Lanisen mms doubtfully.
Megren says, “Sugar in chamomile?”
Megren pushes his cup back across the table to him. “I’m fine.”
Lanisen accepts his cup and hunches over it, breathing the steam. He rubs his temple again and rests his forehead in his hand.
Megren asks, “Do you have a headache?”
Lanisen drops his hand. “It’s fine, it’s not bad.”
Megren pushes her mouth to the side.
Lanisen blows on the top of his tea and dares a sip.
Megren muses, “I should ask Sir Miles how long it took him to become a knight.”
Lanisen glances at her.
Megren says, “I don’t think it’s the same with nobles.”
Lanisen asks with some surprise, “It takes longer for commoners?”
Megren says, “Well, it’s — I don’t know, Sir Miles might not be the right one to ask either. I mean, Sir Darrin was expected to be a knight since he was a child, so it’s not reallly the same.”
Lanisen says, frowning slightly, “Hm. How long did it take him?”
Megren says, “He’s been a knight since he was nineteen I think. Or eighteen, maybe. He was a squire for five or six years but you don’t see knights a lot younger than that, so I don’t really know what that means.”
Lanisen considers this. “I dunno how long Sir Colin’s been one,” he says after a moment, a little apologetically.
Megren says, “Like I said…. I don’t know if the nobles are a great example.”
Lanisen hmms, still mulling. “I don’t know a lot of knights.”
Megren says, “I’ll ask Sir Chal.”
Lanisen nods. “Or, what’s his name who’s always with Sir Tyren, he’s common-born, ain’t he?”
Megren nods. “Sir Quent. Sir Gavin, too.”
Lanisen nods again. He rests his temple in his hand and takes a drink of his tea. “Did Sir Darrin say somethin’ about how long it’ll take you, or…?”
Megren shakes her head, her eyes drifting to his temple. “It’s different for everyone. And it could be never. Do you need to sleep?”
Lanisen says, “Mm. Yeah.” He lifts his mug slightly. “It’s a process.” He pauses and says with certainty, “It won’t be never.”
Megren says, “It could be.” She asks again, “Do you need to sleep?”
Lanisen lifts his mug again.
Megren says, “All right.”
Lanisen says again, “It won’t be never.”
Megren says, “I just mean… I need to be prepared that it could be. I don’t mean I think it will, just… it could.”
Lanisen looks at her again, surprised and troubled. After a moment, he nods and looks away, taking another drink.
Megren says, “It’s been a year.”
Lanisen frowns. “That’s– that’s no time at all, though,” he says. “Didn’t you say Sir Darrin was a squire for five or six?”
Megren says, “Yeah, because who ever heard of a fourteen year old knight?”
Lanisen makes a face, mildly exasperated. He looks down at his tea. “I’m sorry you’re discouraged,” he offers after a small pause.
Megren shakes her head. “I don’t…” She takes a breath and releases it. “We had guessed a year at the shortest,” she explains. “It’s — it’s not that I’m discouraged, exactly, it’s just that here’s the year and we’re not talking about it and now there’s no new thing to look toward.”
Lanisen listens quietly. “Did… have you talked to him about it?” he asks after a moment. “I mean if, if nothing else you could find out what it is he wants you to have down before you’re knighted.”
Megren leans the side of her head against her hand, mouth tugging to the right, and then she nods concedingly. “We haven’t talked about it in a long time.”
Lanisen’s gaze skitters across the tabletop with some thought, but he doesn’t voice it, and he doesn’t press.
Megren catches this, but she lets quiet fall rather than push him to speak.
Lanisen sighs and takes another drink of chamomile. “Let me know what he says when you talk to him?” he asks.
Megren asks, “You want me to ask about you?”
Lanisen lifts his head. “What?”
Megren says, “I could ask what you would need to do.”
Lanisen draws a breath, sitting back from the table, and rubs the back of his neck.
Megren’s brows lift and draw together.
Lanisen finally says, “Don’t– don’t worry about me right now, just, just figure out what’s next for you.”
Megren says, “It’s not going to disadvantage me to ask.”
Lanisen doesn’t say anything for a moment, thinking. “If it’s–”
Megren says immediately, “I’ll ask.”
Lanisen’s shoulders drop slightly and he looks away.
Megren tries to parse the meaning of this reaction.
Lanisen picks up his tea again and drinks, then sets his cup down and squeezes the bridge of his nose between two fingers.
Megren stands up. “Okay. Go to bed. The tea won’t mind.”
Lanisen looks briefly confused, then gets it. He makes a small dissatisfied grimace, considers the tea left in his cup, then gets a little stiffly to his feet.
Megren moves to help him.
Lanisen squints at her. “I’m goin’.”
Megren says, “I’m making sure.”
Lanisen asks, “Where else am I gonna go?”
Megren says, “I don’t know; you’re ornery.”
Lanisen says, “I’m not.” He begins toward the stairs, uncharacteristically leaving the dishes for tomorrow.
Megren’s brow creases, and she starts to follow him. “Can I bring you a warm cloth or something?”
Lanisen asks blankly, “A what?”
Megren asks, “For your head?”
Lanisen says, “Oh.” He frowns slightly, puzzled, and dismisses it. “No, it’s fine, I’m just tired.”
Megren takes a concerned breath, but she lets him go, turning to tidy up instead.
Lanisen stops halfway up once he realizes what she’s up to and comes back down. “No, it’s all right, I’ll get these, you can, you can just leave ’em.”
Megren says, “Goooo.”
Lanisen says, “Noooo.”
Megren says, “I won’t clean it. Go.”
Lanisen squints at her suspiciously.
Megren makes like she’s going to push him up.
Lanisen tries to back up the steps and fails. He sits down very suddenly with a surprised look on his face.
Megren also looks surprised, and then still more concerned than before. She moves to his side and lifts her hands to feel his head.
Lanisen gets back to his feet, brushing his shirt straight and looking rueful. He startles back slightly from her hands. “I’m not sick, I’m not, sorry, I’m just tired.”
Megren asks, “Why are you so tired?”
Lanisen says, “Last night was bad.”
Megren asks, “Nightmares?”
Lanisen draws a breath. “Um– not, not particularly.” He pauses. “A little bit.”
Megren asks, “Your shoulder?”
Lanisen says, “A, a little bit.”
Megren’s brows draw together uncertainly. “What happened?”
Lanisen says, “Nothin’ happened, I just– one thing and another I didn’t sleep. It wasn’t any one thing, it was just a bad night.”
Megren frowns, but she says, “Okay.” A pause, and then, “Can I do something to make tonight easier?”
Lanisen rubs his head again, his forehead creasing. “I drank tea…”
Megren says, “I can sit with you until you sleep?”
Lanisen says, “No, that’s, you don’t have to.”
Megren pushes her mouth to the side.
Lanisen blinks several times, heavy-eyed, and gestures up the stairs. “Okay, I’m gonna…”
Megren says, “All right. Sleep good.”
Lanisen says, “Thanks. You too.” He turns and starts up again, climbing the steps slowly.
Megren moves to pick up what’s left of the bread she brought while he goes.
Lanisen pauses to make sure she’s not going after the dishes after all, then disappears into the loft.
Megren waits until he’s been up there for a few minutes and then Very Quietly cleans everything else up.
Lanisen is silent upstairs, and probably oblivious.
Megren departs once she’s sure everything is in order.