overstepping


Inner Ward
Castle Anvard


Megren comes out of the infirmary, leaning on her cane a little extra.

Lanisen returns through the inner gate and makes his way toward the infirmary just as she does so. He picks up his pace and offers her his arm once he is near enough.

Megren says, “Hey.” She glances at his arm and hesitates, then puts her hand on it. “Got some valerian.”

Lanisen says, “Yum.”

Megren says, “It does smell.”

Lanisen advises, “Drink it real fast and chase it with somethin’ tasty.”

Megren says, “Hmm.”

Lanisen asks, “What else did they say?”

Megren says, “Keep it elevated. Take the willow bark closer to bed.”

Lanisen says, “Mm.” He pauses. “Where’re we goin’?”

Megren says, “I guess somewhere to sit.”

Lanisen asks, “Pasture, kennel? Outer ward someplace?”

Megren says, “Bench in the market if you don’t mind my foot pointing at you.”

Lanisen says, “Yeah, all right.”

Megren starts that way.

Lanisen follows along, supporting as much as she’ll let him.


Northern Market
Castle Anvard


Megren releases a breath when they reach the bench and sinks onto it.

Lanisen settles comfortably at the other end, leaving ample room for her to stretch out her leg. He leans back against the wall behind them and pulls up one knee, watching the pretzel stall set up for the day.

Megren leans her shoulder against the wall. “What’ve you got today?”

Lanisen loops his arms around his knee. “Mm. Commands with the pups, got some pens to scrub out. Need to mop while they’re out today, it’s gettin’ disgraceful.”

Megren says, “Exciting.”

Lanisen says, “It’s not everybody can keep up with this life.”

Megren says, “Not me.”

Lanisen grins. “What about you?”

Megren says, “Finish one of the books you brought down, I think.”

Lanisen asks, “Which one?”

Megren says, “The one about kinds of swords.”

Lanisen asks, “Is it interesting?”

Megren says, “I think it is. It talks about the different sorts of grips for certain blades and how they change how you hold what’s otherwise the same sword. Bells and baskets versus gloves. That sort of thing.”

Lanisen says, frowning a little, “Oh, huh.”

Megren says, “It’s not for everyone.”

Lanisen says, “There’s so much I don’t know and ain’t even thought about knowin’.”

Megren says, “Oh. Yeah. I know what you mean.”

Lanisen blows out a breath. “What else d’you want to do?”

Megren says, “Well, mostly that. I have to sit all day, so.”

Lanisen says, “You don’t gotta sit in the same spot all day, though.”

Megren says, “Well, lunch. Dinner. This.”

Lanisen says, “Hmm, all right.”

Megren reminds him, “I’m not dying.”

Lanisen agrees, “So you keep sayin’.”

Megren says, “You keep fussing.”

Lanisen says, “I’m not fussin’.”

Megren says, “Okay.”

Lanisen says, “Just if there’s anything, just say the word.”

Megren says, “I will.”

Lanisen looks like he doesn’t entirely trust this assertion, but he nods.

Megren says, “Lanisen.”

Lanisen says guiltily, “What.”

Megren says, “I can take care of myself, and that includes knowing when to ask for help.”

Lanisen says, “Sorry.”

Megren pushes her mouth to the side. “It’s, it’s fine, just, I promise, I can take care of myself.”

Lanisen says, “I know you can.”

Megren says, “Okay.”

Lanisen fusses absently at a ragged bit of his sleeve, then offers uncertainly, “You want me to leave you alone for a while?”

Megren says, “No.”

Lanisen says, “All right.” He worries at an exposed thread until he’s succeeded in working it free of the fabric entirely, then brushes it off onto the ground and sits on his hands.

Megren says, “If you need to get your work done, I’ll be right, though.”

Lanisen says, “No, that’s, there’s the whole day.”

Megren says, “Okay.”

Lanisen darts a quick glance at her after a minute, then shifts and ventures, “Looks like she’s about set up, her with the ginger candies.”

Megren asks, “How’s that for chasing valerian?”

Lanisen lifts his shoulders. “Worth a try.”

Megren agrees, “All right.”

Lanisen gets to his feet, seeming relieved to have something to do, and sets off across the ward to get the candies.

Megren adjusts her position and waits for him.

Lanisen doesn’t take long with the purchase. He heads back, awkwardly avoiding looking at Megren until he’s near enough to converse. He lifts the little bag in demonstration of his success and tosses it to her.

Megren wrinkles her nose when she sees he’s not looking at her. “I think you’re supposed to bow when you present it,” she says as she catches the bag.

Lanisen says, “Oh, is that how it works.”

Megren says, “I’m pretty sure.”

Lanisen says, “I’ll remember next time.”

Megren extends the bag at arm’s length toward him for him to try again.

Lanisen takes the bag, bemused, then says, “Many thanks,” and helps himself to a candy.

Megren opens her mouth in mock offense.

Lanisen hands it back graciously.

Megren says slowly and patiently, “Boooow…”

Lanisen sticks out his tongue and plops back down on the bench.

Megren shakes her head disapprovingly.

Lanisen leans back against the wall and closes his eyes, heaving a breath.

Megren says, “Thank you.”

Lanisen says, “Welcome,” without opening his eyes.

Megren hmms suspiciously. “How did /you/ sleep last night?”

Lanisen asks, “Hmm?”

Megren says, “Look like you might drop off.”

Lanisen admits, “I could.”

Megren says, “I’ll sit with the dogs for a bit if you want to go back to the kennel.

Lanisen says, “No, it’s, I’m not gonna, I just got the after-breakfast sleepies, is all.”

Megren says, “The after-breakfast sleepies.”

Lanisen says, “What? That’s real.”

Megren hmmms.

Lanisen asks, “Don’t you ever? You wake up and you get your breakfast and then you’re fallin’ asleep in your porridge?”

Megren says, “If I’m not getting enough sleep.”

Lanisen pushes his mouth to the side.

Megren ruffles his hair.

Lanisen blinks twice and makes a flat resigned line with his lips. He doesn’t even bother trying to put it right.

Megren surveys her work. “Looks good.”

Lanisen sighs through his nose.

Megren says, “It does!”

Lanisen reaches up to see what she’s done.

Megren says, “It always looks good now.”

Lanisen shakes it out, rather like a dog trying to get water out of its fur.

Megren says, “That looks good, too.”

Lanisen gives her a long-suffering look and then sticks out his tongue again.

Megren sticks out her tongue back.

Lanisen asks, “You want to keep me company while I mop?”

Megren says, “Sure, I can.”

Lanisen gestures toward the kennels. “Kirb just went in, they’ll be off soon.”

Megren reaches for her cane to push herself up.

Lanisen says, “They’re not off /yet/, we can wait.”

Megren leans back again.

Lanisen adds, “It’ll be loud in there until they go.”

Megren says, “I’m waiting, I’m waiting.”

Lanisen says, “Maybe I’ll do the windows today too.”

Megren says, “I could do the windows.”

Lanisen asks, “Tryin’ to steal my chores now?”

Megren says, “That’s right.”

Lanisen says, “I knew it.”

Megren shrugs, “Like to see you do anything about it.”

Lanisen lifts his shoulders, watching the kennel door. It’s noisy enough inside to be heard from their seat across the ward.

Megren asks, “How is it your ears still work?”

Lanisen grins and answers, “Cotton.” His eyes shift to the gate, where Danall is standing with his horse, and he thumps the bench with one hand. “I’m gonna go help Kirb see ’em off, I’ll be back in a minute.”

Megren says, “All right.”

Lanisen sets across the ward at a jog, glancing to Danall again. He makes a slight detour to speak to a man whose wagon is stopped in the most direct path between the kennel door and the outer gates, then disappears inside the kennels as the man begins to move his wagon.

Megren settles to people watch while he goes about his work.

Lanisen emerges again from the kennel in about five minutes, followed by Kirb. The hounds follow after at a brisk trot, ears up and eyes bright, and begin a general stream toward Danall at the gates. Lanisen and Kirb flank them on either side, heading off the few who get distracted by horses or chickens or people in the market. Danall winds the horn and leads them out, and shortly the busy market seems almost quiet.

Megren hugs the knee of her good leg, leaning her chin on it to watch.

Lanisen stands with Kirb at the gates for a moment, watching the hounds down the path, then nods, thumps Kirb on the shoulder, and turns back to rejoin Megren.

Megren asks, “All sorted?”

Lanisen says, “Seems so.”

Megren says, “How do you keep them from running all over everything?”

Lanisen sits down and pushes his mouth to the side. “Part of it’s they’re trained to go to Danall, part of it’s they’re more interested in gettin’ outside.”

Megren says, “Still, pretty sure they’d take the market by storm if it was me doing the job.”

Lanisen snorts. “Maybe, if they thought you’d let ’em.”

Megren seems to think it evident they would.

Lanisen grins. “You’re loads better with horses than I am with dogs,” he remarks.

Megren makes a skeptical noise. “I can make friends with horses and exercise them, but once it gets to anything complicated I’m sort of rubbish.”

Lanisen says, “Well. I can feed ’em sugar, and I can figure out a saddle and bridle if I gotta, and most of the time I can even stay sittin’ in the saddle, long as the horse don’t decide to go too fast.”

Megren says, “See, practically the same.”

Lanisen snorts. “Anyway,” he says. “Coast is clear.”

Megren reaches for her cane again. “Nia’s still left, I guess?”

Lanisen says, “Nia, the pups, couple others.”

Megren pushes herself up. “Mm, puppies.”

Lanisen agrees, “Puppies.” He offers her his arm.

Megren takes it in defeat.

Lanisen lets her take the lead and set the pace.

Megren walks at about a normal pace, which is to say, a little slow for her if not walking backward.

Lanisen asks, “You want me to run and get one of your books?”

Megren says, “I’m window cleaning.”

Lanisen says, “Not if I beat you to it.”

Megren says, “Why would you take that from me?”

Lanisen grins, reaching forward to open the kennel door.


Kennels
Castle Anvard


Megren slips past him and surveys the room, looking for the appropriate tools to have a go at the windows.

Lanisen is mysterious and only goes for the mop bucket.

Megren follows him, positing that other cleaning supplies must be stored in the same locale.

Lanisen says, “Keep your foot up.”

Megren says, “After I clean the windows.”

Lanisen says, “No-oo, you can clean the bottom part if you gotta while you’re sittin’.”

Megren frowns, but she starts dragging a chair over. “Bring me the rag, then.”

Lanisen says, “I ain’t even got the water yet.”

Megren says, “Fine, water, then rag.”

Lanisen says, “Yes ma’am.” He lifts the empty pail and goes for the door.

Megren drags a second chair while he’s gone and sits on one with her foot propped onto the other.

Lanisen staggers in with the pail several minutes later, sloshing with every step. He drops it heavily just inside the door, straightening with a pained grimace. He takes a minute, rubbing his shoulder, then heads back toward the cupboard under the steps for the rest of the cleaning supplies.

Megren frowns at his back.

Lanisen returns with a block of soap and a rag in one hand and the mop in the other. He’s a little white around the mouth.

Megren says, “Hang on.”

Lanisen pauses mid-step.

Megren says, “Sit with me for a little?”

Lanisen pauses another beat, but he leans the mop up against the wall and sets the soap and rag down on the table. “All right.”

Megren leans her shoulder against the wall. “We should go back to the tide pools once I’m cleared for going that far.”

Lanisen says, “Bet they’re pretty in the summer too.” He reaches down a dish from the shelf before he sits.

Megren says, “Yeah, we stopped through them before I tripped.”

Lanisen asks, “Yeah?” He pulls out his knife and picks up the soap block and begins shaving off soap into the dish.

Megren says, “There’s all sorts of things living.”

Lanisen asks, “What kinds of things?”

Megren says, “Plants and starfish and shellfish and things.”

Lanisen agrees, “Let’s go in a couple weeks.”

Megren says, “Celebration of training again.”

Lanisen says, “Celebration of havin’ gotten through your first injury as a squire.” He pauses. “Did you ever get hurt growin’ up? Break an arm or somethin’?”

Megren shakes her head. “Sprained my wrist once, but not like this; it barely even hurt for very long.”

Lanisen says, “First injury as a person, then.”

Megren wrinkles her nose.
Megren says, “What about that hit I took from Darius?”

Lanisen says, “There was that.”

Megren says, “I’ve had training stuff before.”

Lanisen says, “Not that kept you from trainin’, though, not for very long.”

Megren agrees, “Not for very long.”

Lanisen keeps working on the soap, a little clumsy, but cutting away from himself so he won’t accidentally slice himself.

Megren says, “I could do that.”

Lanisen starts to protest, but lifts his shoulders and hands it over.

Megren says, “Finally, something to do.”

Lanisen says, “I offered to get your book.”

Megren says, “That’s not something to do.”

Lanisen says, “My mistake.”

Megren posits, “I could clean armor.”

Lanisen says, “Sounds like fun.” He leans back in his chair and rubs his shoulder.

Megren asks, “Want your stone?”

Lanisen says, “No, it’s too warm.” He drops his hand.

Megren asks, “Should I rub it for you?”

Lanisen says, “It’s okay, it’s just twingin’ for a minute.”

Megren says, “You can do half a bucket you know.”

Lanisen says, “I know.”

Megren asks, “How much of this soap do you need?”

Lanisen says, “Oh. Not much, just–” He makes a small circle with his thumb and forefinger, about the size of a tablespoon. “Maybe about that much.”

Megren keeps shaving.

Lanisen gets up and goes to the hearth to make a very small fire while she does this.

Megren’s eyes follow him.

Lanisen gets the blaze going and goes back to the pail. He dips out a little water into a small saucepan, checks what Megren has done, nods to signify that it’s enough, and dumps it into the saucepan with the water. He sets it to heat over the fire.

Megren asks, “What’s that do?”

Lanisen glances at her. “You gotta melt the soap,” he explains. “Otherwise your moppin’-water’s just got a bunch of soap flakes in it.”

Megren says, “How come you don’t just use vinegar?”

Lanisen says, “‘Cause the dogs don’t like it, and lye soap works better.”

Megren says, “Huh.”

Lanisen keeps an eye on the pot, swishing the water around until the soap dissolves. It doesn’t take long.

Megren rubs a smudge in the table with her thumb.

Lanisen puts out the fire and carries the pot to the pail. He dumps the soap-water into the rest of the water and dunks the mop, then carries it to the far end of the room to begin.

Megren asks, “What do you want me to use on the windows?”

Lanisen asks innocently, “Oh, you’re wantin’ to do the windows?”

Megren threatens, “I will leave.”

Lanisen says, “Okayyyy.” He sets the mop aside and goes back to the cupboard, and brings a bottle of strong-smelling vinegar for her. “They don’t look too bad,” he says, eyeing the windows critically. “You shouldn’t need soap for ’em. Sometimes they’re all over nose-prints.”

Megren accepts the vinegar. “Thank you.”

Lanisen says, “No standin’.”

Megren spreads her hands and gestures to indicate her seated body.

Lanisen looks satisfied. He returns to the mopping.

Megren turns to start on the windows.

Lanisen works quietly, coming back every few minutes to re-dunk the mop. He disappears into Danall’s room to mop there, leaving the door open. It’s a fairly Spartan chamber and doesn’t look much lived-in, but there are rugs on the stone floor and a small fireplace in the south wall visible from the table where Megren is sitting, and the room is well lit by sunshine from the outer ward.

Megren cleans the windows. Seated.

Lanisen mops the other room and can be heard opening the window. A pleasant breeze moves through the kennel.

Megren’s work is fairly quickly done since she’s not allowed to stand. She folds her arms on the table and rests her head in her elbow boredly.

Lanisen gathers up the rugs from both rooms and sets them by the door to shake out later, then finishes mopping the front room. It’s a fairly quick process, and the room smells clean when he finally sets the mop aside and plops back down at the table.

Megren tracks him with her eyes without lifting her head, not unlike a bored dog.

Lanisen puts his arms on the table and his head on his arms to match her.

Megren asks, “What now?”

Lanisen says, “I dunno. Need to shake out the rugs and get some fresh coinroyal yet. What do you want to do?”

Megren asks, “What’s the coinroyal for?”

Lanisen says, “Smells nice. Fleas don’t like it. I stick it under the rugs.”

Megren says, “Oh. I always used cloves.”

Lanisen says, “Cloves’re nice. Coinroyal’s cheaper though.”

Megren say, “Yeah, I didn’t know.”

Lanisen adds, gesturing at the open door to the other room, “Danall said he don’t mind if you use it, so it’s yours if you want.”

Megren says, “No, I’ll stay in the guest servants.”

Lanisen frowns.

Megren closes her eyes.

Lanisen pauses, then asks, “Why’s that?”

Megren says, “Better.”

Lanisen asks, “What makes it better?”

Megren says, “If every time someone in the barracks got hurt they stayed in Danall’s room, he’d have no home.”

Lanisen says, “You know this ain’t Danall’s home, right? He lives in the town with his wife and kids.”

Megren rolls her eyes, “Well, whatever.”

Lanisen says, “Anyway, we ain’t talkin’ about every time, just this time.”

Megren says, “I’m not staying in his room, Lanisen.”

Lanisen’s eyes shift unhappily to the open door.

Megren releases a breath. “I don’t– please, I already feel stupid enough as it is, please stop making a big deal out of it.”

Lanisen says, “It’s– I’m, I’m not, I thought it might–”

Megren says, “I know you’re trying to be nice, I know.”

Lanisen sits back. He doesn’t say anything for a minute. “Sorry.”

Megren runs her hand over her face. “It’s fine, it’s, I’m sorry, I know you’re being nice.”

Lanisen says, “No, it’s–” He stops and gestures at the rugs piled by the door without looking directly at her. “I should, I’m gonna do the rugs real quick, d’you need anything?”

Megren drops her eyes to the table. “No, it’s, go ahead, I’m, I’ll be fine.”

Lanisen checks to be sure there’s fresh water in the table pitcher anyway, then gets up and bundles all the rugs out the door. He can be heard through the window a little ways away shaking out and meticulously brushing down every rug.

Megren lays her head back down onto her elbows.

Lanisen returns after a few minutes and drops the rugs just inside the door, straightening and rubbing his shoulder. “All right,” he says, and then hesitates, as if there’s more to say but he hasn’t entirely thought through how to say it yet.

Megren lifts her head, her hands also lifting so that her mouth is hidden. “You want help with the coinroyal?”

Lanisen says, “Just– no, let me– I need, I need to say somethin’, please, just–”

Megren rubs her forehead and nods.

Lanisen seems to lose his resolve at this. He rubs his elbow and stands silent, his eyes on the floor. He finally draws a breath and says, “You– do so much for people, it’s, you spend so much time–” He falters for a second. “Now it’s– why’re you, why’re you so determined not to let people help you? You’ve– I’ve offered, Dalia’s offered, Danall’s offered, I’d lay good odds others’ve offered to find you a comfortable spot too, but you’re– insistin’ on the guest quarters? Why won’t you let people help you for once instead of, instead of the other way around?”

Megren says, “There’s help that you need, and there’s making a something bigger than it is. I let people take care of me when I had the concussion.”

Lanisen counters, still not quite looking at her, “There’s help you don’t need but is nice anyway and you could let your friends do for you ’cause they’re your friends and they /want/ to.”

Megren’s lips turn downward. “Fine.”

Lanisen looks at her, startled and uncertain.

Megren rubs her forehead and reaches for her cane to get up. “I’m gonna –” she releases a breath, “I just remembered, Perth and I were going to read, um, there was a chapter we were going to read together. I’ll — I mean, you can move my stuff wherever you want it, I’ll, I’ll see you later tonight.”

Lanisen’s mouth opens a little and his face wipes slack with frightened regret. “I’m, I’m sorry, it’s, never mind, I shouldn’t’ve said it, I’m sorry.”

Megren looks at the door rather than at him. “It’s fine, it’s, you’re, I’m not leaving you, I know it’s, I’m not being Sir Colin, or, or if I am then, you can… be mad at me it’s not your fault, I just, give me a half an hour, okay? You can give me a half an hour.”

Lanisen says, “I’m sorry; yes, yes, any, whatever you want.” He draws a breath and crosses his arms over his stomach, then drops them again. “Should– d’you, the stairs, do you want help?”

Megren says, “I won’t use the stairs.”

Lanisen says, “Oh.”

Megren reaches for her cane to get up and make for the door.

Lanisen hesitates, then ducks his head and moves for the door to open it for her.

Megren murmurs a thank you.

Lanisen nods quickly, eyes down.

Megren cups her hand around his upper arm in a conciliatorily grateful gesture and slips outside.

Lanisen draws a breath before she is entirely away as if to call after her, but exhales shakily and lets it be.


One or two hours later


The kennel is as clean as it’s ever been. The rugs are all replaced, with herbs peeking out from underneath. There are new bunches of coinroyal, lemon balm, and catnip hanging from the ceiling, and a new jar of flowers on the table. Danall’s door is closed.

Megren gives the door a triple knock and slips inside before hearing an answer.

The room is empty, but after a small pause Lanisen can be heard crossing the room upstairs and descending the steps. He opens the door, the wooden chimes clinking, and hesitates there.

Megren says, “I’m sorry.”

Lanisen comes down the last step, opening the door wider. “No, you– I’m sorry, I shouldn’t’ve, I’m sorry.”

Megren says, “You’re trying to help.”

Lanisen says, “Doin’ a poor job of it.”

Megren cants her head and lifts a shoulder, the effect dismissive.

Lanisen stays where he is. His eyes skitter away from her and settle on the floor.

Megren blows out a breath and moves to close the distance between them. “Can I hug you?”

Lanisen steps forward to meet her in answer.

Megren folds him in her free arm, takes a moment to balance, and then folds the other arm around him too.

Lanisen wraps both arms around her in return once it is clear he won’t knock her off balance by doing so.

Megren says in an apologetic voice, “This is a disproportionate amount of drama for what amounts to stepping in a hole.”

Lanisen huffs out an unvoiced laugh, not pulling away yet.

Megren says, “It looks nice in here.”

Lanisen straightens and draws back, glancing around. “Thanks.”

Megren says, “I like the lemon balm.”

Lanisen says, “Found a patch in the pasture.”

Megren says, “One of my favorite smells.”

Lanisen asks, “Really?”

Megren concedes, “Well, I have a lot of them.”

Lanisen says, “I’ll show you where the patch is sometime.”

Megren says, “Thanks.”

Lanisen rubs his elbow and goes quiet.

Megren releases a breath through her nose.

Lanisen’s eyes settle on the cane. “Do you want to sit?”

Megren sighs, “Yeah. On the hearth, though.”

Lanisen says, “Yeah, all right.” He starts that way.

Megren follows a little slowly.

Lanisen asks, “Do you want a fire?”

Megren says, “That sounds nice.”

Lanisen rolls up his sleeves obligingly and gets to it.

Megren leans her back against the wall beside the fireplace and closes her eyes exhaustedly.

Lanisen gets it going, just a little one, and scoots back to mirror her on the other side. “I didn’t do anything with your things,” he says finally.

Megren says without opening her eyes, “Just put them where you want them.”

Lanisen doesn’t answer.

Megren says, “I’ll be fine.”

Lanisen says, “I’ll move ’em to the guest quarters if you want.”

Megren says, “Thank you.”

Lanisen asks, “Is that what you want me to do?”

Megren sighs, eyelids flicking open. “Do you think I’ve been wanting something else and just hoping you’ll press so I can concede and look a martyr?”

Lanisen looks down. He pauses, then gets to his feet. “I’ll go get it sorted.”

Megren says, “I’m not trying to fight.”

Lanisen says, “I know, it’s fine.”

Megren makes a regretful face.

Lanisen says, “I’ll be back in a minute.”

Megren says, “Okay.”

Lanisen goes. He’s gone rather longer than a minute.

Megren drifts into a tired sleep sometime after Nia comes to settle on her lap.

Lanisen returns after fifteen or twenty minutes. He stops guiltily in the doorway, then ducks his head and tries to sneak through to the stairs.

Megren sleeps through this.

Lanisen disappears upstairs for several minutes, then slips back down quietly with a book, holding the chimes to keep them from clinking. He hesitates at the bottom of the stairs, looking at Megren’s unelevated foot.

Megren sleeps on.

Lanisen exhales through his nose and goes to the table. He sits down with his back to Megren and opens his book.

Megren shifts uncomfortably after a little while.

Lanisen turns a page.

Megren extracts her hand from Nia and reaches up to rub her eyes. “Sorry, I fell asleep,” she says.

Lanisen glances up and sits back, rubbing his neck. “Don’t worry about it.”

Nia, dissatisfied with her chair’s short nap, gets up and pads over to Lanisen.

Megren asks, “Reading?”

Lanisen moves over the bookmark and closes the book, reaching down to rub Nia’s ears. “Yeah.”

Megren adjusts her foot, grimacing. “What are you reading?”

Lanisen looks at the book. “It’s, somebody wrote it who was a slave in Calormen.”

Megren says, “Oh. What’s it about?”

Lanisen says, “About bein’ a slave in Calormen.”

Megren says, “Oh.” She pauses. “I didn’t know there were books like that.”

Lanisen says, “There’s a couple in the library.” He looks back at the book. “It doesn’t say his name, isn’t that strange? There’s no author’s name and it doesn’t say in the book.”

Megren asks, “Did he stop being a slave?”

Lanisen says, “Yeah. I looked at the end, he went with his master to Terebinthia or someplace and then he snuck onto a ship that was goin’ to Narnia.”

Megren says, “Maybe that’s why.”

Lanisen says, “I guess so.”

Megren asks, “You talked to Nasrin again, I guess?”

Lanisen says, “Yeah. Couple weeks ago.”

Megren asks, “She still wants to?”

Lanisen says, “I don’t know.”

Megren nods. She fishes around in her pocket, pulling out the ginger candies and then digging in again.

Lanisen asks, “How’s your foot feelin’?”

Megren says, “It’s,” she pulls out the willow bark and lifts it indicatively.

Lanisen reaches for the water pitcher and pours a cup. He carries it over to her. “You want me to get some water to soak it?”

Megren says, “All right.”

Lanisen goes. He’s not gone more than five minutes, and comes back lugging the bucket from the morning, about half full of cold water from the reservoir.

Megren has moved to a chair by the time he returns, and drunk the cup of water and put the ginger and willow bark back away.

Lanisen sets the bucket at her feet and backs away, rubbing his shoulder.

Megren says, “Your shoulder, I forgot.”

Lanisen says, “No, it’s fine. I used the other hand except to open the door.”

Megren screws up her mouth, but accepts this.

Lanisen sits back down and folds his arms on the table.

Megren asks, “Are you mad at me?”

Lanisen shakes his head. “Are you?” he asks after a small pause.

Megren takes a moment to think about this. “No. A little bit.”

Lanisen looks at the tabletop, his shoulders hunching up.

Megren says, “I won’t keep being.”

Lanisen says, “I’m sorry.”

Megren says again, “You’re trying to help.”

Lanisen doesn’t answer.

Megren says, “I’m not trying to be a bad friend.”

Lanisen says, “You’re not; you’re not.”

Megren looks skeptical.

Lanisen looks distressed. “It, it’s my fault, I don’t– I never– I don’t know what to, how to help and I’m, everything’s comin’ out wrong but it’s my fault, it’s not yours, I’m sorry, I’m really sorry.”

Megren’s lips pout, thoughtfully and unhappily. “Thank you. I don’t want you to have to feel sorry.”

Lanisen avoids her eyes.

Megren says, “I know that doesn’t matter.”

Lanisen rubs his temple with the heel of one hand and drops his hands to his lap, his shoulders slumping wearily.

Megren says, “I’m sorry.”

Lanisen shakes his head. “It’s not, it’s not your fault, I’m just–”

Megren says, “It’s nobody’s fault or everybody’s.”

Lanisen’s forehead creases.

Megren says, “Don’t be any sorrier than you have to and I’ll do the same.”

Lanisen is silent and bewildered, but he eventually nods.

Megren is quiet for a little bit and then she says, “Yesterday you said about a book with star stories.”

Lanisen pauses. “Yeah.”

Megren says, “You said we could look for it?”

Lanisen says, “Yeah, sure.”

Megren says, “Okay.”

Lanisen asks, “You want to go now?”

Megren says, “I don’t want to be here when the dogs get back. I know you probably have to; it’s okay.”

Lanisen says, “Well, let’s go and find the book, at least.”

Megren says, “All right.”

Lanisen gets up.

Megren starts to put her shoe back on.

Lanisen stands by patiently, petting Nia’s head while her tail thumps against one of the table legs.

Megren reaches for her cane and stands up. “Okay.”

Lanisen doesn’t exactly offer an arm, but he is alert and attentive and the suggestion is there anyway.

Megren obligingly leans her hand on his upper arm.

Lanisen relaxes, noticeably relieved to be of use, and begins toward the door.

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