Before the Gates of Anvard
A flat green space at the foot of the mountains opens here, sheltered by the slopes of the northern mountains. Stormness Head looms high to the northeast, its peak nearly always in clouds, and the double-headed peak of Mount Pire rises over the trees to the northwest. A steep ridge like the side of a bowl curves around from the northwest to the east, and the ground descends into dense forest to the south.
At the center of the clear area is a small turreted castle, facing east. Its weathered walls are built of large blocks of red granite that glitter faintly in the sunlight, and elegantly functional ironwork graces the front gates and portcullis. A stone cobbled road wide enough to easily facilitate the passage of carts and carriages crosses over the broad green lawns from the castle gates, disappearing into the trees to the east.
Megren walks out of the castle in her hunting dress, a basket slung over her arm.
Darrin walks towards the castle with Lanisen, his strides loose and a satisfied look on his face.
Lanisen walks beside and half a step behind Darrin, sweating and a little out of breath in the hot sunshine. He keeps his eyes on the road and looks like he is having a hard time keeping a broad smile off his face.
Megren’s expression goes from cheerfully distracted to surprised and confused when she sees them together, and coming from town. She lifts an arm to signal herself to them.
Darrin looks up at the movement and grins, lifting a hand to wave back at Megren. His left hand touches the satchel at his side reflexively.
Lanisen glances at Darrin, then looks ahead to see who he is waving at. He clears his throat and sticks his hands in his pockets, extra-casual.
Megren jogs forward a few steps to catch up with them. “When did you two start popping off to the tavern together before dinner?”
Darrin glances at Lanisen and clears his throat. “Well…”
Lanisen pulls his lips between his teeth and shifts his weight, glancing back at Darrin.
Megren glances back over her shoulder. “You finished your business already?” She asks Sir Darrin. “I thought you had the whole day full.”
Darrin says smoothly, “Events went better than hoped.”
Megren screws up her whole face at this nebulous response, and glances at Lanisen.
Lanisen scratches his forehead and avoids her eyes. He is trying /really hard/ not to smile but his dimples keep betraying him.
Megren looks even more baffled by this.
Darrin looks at Lanisen, pursing his lips in thought, then turns back to Megren. “Are you going somewhere, Fritter?”
Megren says, “Um, I was just,” she lifts her basket. “Um, picking berries?” She raises her brows. “Did you — I can, I don’t have to, do you need me?””
Darrin asks, “Did you want to get a drink with us?” He looks to Lanisen for his approval of the question.
Megren asks, “What?”
Lanisen glances at Darrin at this, and then to Megren to see what she will say. He keeps quiet.
Darrin says, “We weren’t at the tavern, but we /could/ be.” He grins faintly.
Megren glances between them again. “I — well, sure I won’t, I won’t say no.” She looks at Lanisen again. “Where were you?”
Lanisen says evasively, “With him.”
Megren looks uncharacteristically bewildered.
Darrin gives a slightly maniacal grin and takes Megren’s arm. “Suffice to say, it’s a surprise. Come /on/.” He winks at Lanisen.
Lanisen’s grin splits. He catches his lower lip between his teeth and ducks his head, stepping back to follow them.
Megren allows the knight to pull her along. “Oh,” she says, as if that explains everything.
Darrin snickers softly.
Lanisen falls into step behind them.
Megren glances at Lanisen again, apparently thinking she’s more likely to glean clues off of him.
Lanisen grins at her beatifically.
Megren pulls a face at him.
The Narrow Gate Hall
The Hall of the Narrow Gate is brightly lit by a large chandelier, and by torches on the walls. A bar runs along the length of the south wall. Behind the bar stands Dranken, the Barman, polishing a glass. The wall behind him holds several bottles, and racks of glasses. There is also a menu offering drinks and food. The north wall is dominated by a cheerful stone fireplace.
The rest of the room is filled with tables and stools, in little clusters all over the scuffed wooden floor. An arch leads to the Anteroom to the south.
Darrin picks a four-person table and leads the group towards it.
Megren gives Dranken a look and a shrug of her shoulders as they pass.
Lanisen hesitates just briefly outside the door to the tavern. He takes a breath and squares his shoulders and follows them in.
Darrin asks, “What would you two like?”
Megren says, “No, I can get it — I’m the squire.”
Lanisen raises his hand and says, “Also a squire. Sit down, I’ll do the runnin’.”
Megren sits obediently, making another face.
Darrin, looking put out, sits down. “Wine for me.”
Megren says, “I’ll take whatever.”
Lanisen squints appraisingly at Megren and goes. He returns after a moment with Darrin’s wine and ale for Megren.
Megren offers him a smile of thanks on his return.
Darrin says, “Thank you.”
Lanisen drops into a chair and folds his arms on the table in front of him, glancing at Darrin.
Megren says, “If the surprise was Dranken’s ale, I’m underwhelmed.”
Darrin looks back at him. “Nothing for you?”
Lanisen says, “No, I’m– I’m fine.”
Darrin raises and lowers one shoulder. “All right.” He turns back to Megren. “Nope, that’s not the surprise,” he says, unable to keep from smirking.
Megren hmms a low tone. “Are we all taking off to Narnia?”
Lanisen grins and ducks his head.
Darrin shakes his head mysteriously and takes a sip of wine. “Though,” he admits after a pause, “we did consider the possibility, as I recall.”
Megren lifts her brows and frowns at Lanisen. “I thought I was supposed to ask him about that.”
Lanisen looks like this has gotten away from him a little bit. “I didn’t, that’s not–”
Darrin looks confused. He arches a brow.
Megren glances between them, also confused now.
Lanisen says, flustered, “That’s– that’s somethin’ else, sorry. Sorry, sir,” he adds, glancing at Darrin.
Darrin says, “Oh. Well, okay.”
Darrin gives Megren a look that probably means he’s going to inquire about this later.
Lanisen winces apologetically at Megren.
Megren squints an eye.
Darrin says, “Anyways! We’ve been doing some research.”
Megren says, “Not turnips again.”
Lanisen blinks and mouths, “Turnips?”
Darrin chokes on his wine.
Megren says, “Turnips. Sir Darrin can’t get enough of them.”
Lanisen says, “Oh.”
Darrin shakes his head vigorously and puts his flagon down. “Don’t listen to a word she says, Lanisen. A prank went wrong, that one. I’ll tell you about it another time.”
Megren says, “I’d argue it went right.”
Lanisen scratches his nose.
Darrin winces. “Debatable.”
Megren lifts her shoulders, undisturbed. “So you were researching. Not turnips.”
Lanisen keeps quiet, glancing at Darrin again.
Darrin sets his satchel on the table. “Not turnips. Lullabies.” He looks at Lanisen.
Megren’s brows draw together.
Lanisen’s eyes shift to Megren, eager and apprehensive all at once.
Darrin pulls out a sheet of paper with lyrics written on it and slides it across the table to Megren.
Megren glances at his face cautiously and then pushes her cup aside with the back of her hand, lifting the page slightly off the table to read it. Her lips move with the words, painfully slow, but it is not very long before her free hand lifts to cover her mouth.
Lanisen holds his breath, watching Megren anxiously. He darts a glance at Darrin and looks back at her.
Darrin bites his bottom lip as he watches.
Megren takes in a long, slightly wet, breath through her nose. Finally she says, bewildered, “Where did you–? I, I looked, I looked–”
Lanisen glances at Darrin.
Darrin says, “Well there was a lot of time spent in the library, but that didn’t really get us anywhere, and then Lanisen suggested we be more proactive, so we went to see your father, to see if you had anyone else in the family who might remember the song. He pointed us to your great-aunt, and here we are.”
Lanisen asks, “Is it all right, are you all right?”
Megren has pulled in her lower lip and rested the heel of her hand against her forehead by the time Lanisen asks this, effectively hiding her expression, her eyes still on the parchment. “No, it’s, thank you, it’s, thank you.”
Darrin sips at his wine and glances between Megren and Lanisen.
Lanisen swallows and glances at Darrin. He scoots his chair a little closer to Megren, partially shielding her from view from the rest of the relatively quiet tavern, and reaches out to put his hand on her near shoulder.
Megren sucks in another quiet breath.
Darrin muses, “It would have been so much simpler to find if we’d thought of asking around first.”
Megren shakes her head a little bit, possibly trying to get him to stop talking. She brushes her eye with the back of her hand.
Lanisen doesn’t say anything. He glances at Darrin again, then lowers his eyes to study the grain of the wood table.
Darrin goes back to drinking his wine and surreptitiously watching her.
Megren takes a breath, her shoulders expanding and contracting with it. After a silence, she admits, “I, I looked for it.”
Lanisen says, “It wasn’t in the library at all, I think.”
Darrin shakes his head. “Certainly not that we could find.”
Megren finally clicks with something and her eyes flick up to the knight, “My, my aunt?”
Darrin nods to her.
Megren asks, “My — who?”
Lanisen offers, “Mistress Liss? She was nice.”
Megren asks, “My, my grandmother’s sister? You found where she lives?”
Darrin says, “It’s not far, just outside of Andale.”
Lanisen nods, folding his arms on the table.
Megren says, “I haven’t seen her since, since… she and my da haven’t even, even talked since my grandmother’s funeral.”
Darrin says, “We could show you where her farm is, if you want.”
Lanisen says, “She asked after you.”
Megren runs the heel of her hand over her eye again, looking overwhelmed. “Um–”
Lanisen adds hastily, “We don’t– there’s no rush.”
Darrin seconds this quietly.
Megren moves her hand under her nose, over her mouth again. “A whole farm? Are there, there must have, there’s kids and things?”
Lanisen glances at Darrin to answer this.
Darrin says, “She lives with her oldest and their family, as far as I could tell.”
Megren says, “I didn’t even know she was… I didn’t even know she was alive.”
Lanisen’s mouth opens slightly at this and he glances at Darrin again, worried.
Darrin says wryly,”I got the impression that death would be soundly beaten back if it came for her. She has two great-grandbabies to spoil, you see.”
Megren’s eyes flick to his face again, her brows lifting. “/Great/-grandbabies?”
Darrin says, “Yep.”
Lanisen ventures, “One of ’em’s new-new and the other’s a little older. Babblin’. A boy and a girl, the girl’s older.”
Megren asks, “She said I could see them?”
Darrin looks at Lanisen. “If you want to.”
Lanisen lifts his shoulders a little.
Megren drops the paper now, so that she hide her mouth and swipe at her eyes at the same time. She lets out a little self-mocking laugh and says an oath under her breath, sniffing as she tries to pull herself together.
Lanisen asks, “Do you want to go somewhere else, are you all right?”
Darrin looks concerned.
Megren says, “I, maybe — I mean, I mean, yes, yes, I’m, I’m fine, and also, um, maybe, yes, maybe I’d, I’d like to go somewhere.”
Lanisen asks, “Back to the castle, do you want to… just walk?”
Megren says, “Um,” she lifts the heel of her palm to dab at the corner of her eye again, “Um, maybe, just the, the beach or something.” Her eyes flick around the mostly absent pre-supper tavern patrons, and she quips, laughing wetly at herself again, “Watch me try to intimidate these people out of a fight ever again.””
Lanisen says, “No, no, nobody’s payin’ attention, it’s all right.”
Darrin says, “Nah, you could pull it off.” He pulls a handkerchief from his pocket and offers it across the table to her.
Megren’s hand closes over the handkerchief in his fingers, her other hand finding the piece of parchment, which she glances down at again almost as if she had forgotten it and is discovering it a second time, before she rises and tucks it hastily but carefully away.
Lanisen gets up at the same time, again positioning himself to block her from view a little, and glances around the room.
Darrin gets up, falling a step behind Lanisen and Megren. He catches Dranken’s attention with a wave of his hand and a complicated gesture – head tilt to their table and a hand pointed at himself – and the tavernkeep nods.
Megren sort of falters, waiting for the knight to catch up close to them.
Lanisen waits quietly.
Darrin takes a couple of longer strides and catches up a moment later.
At the bottom of the slope, the beach spreads, a mixture of sand and gravel. Seagulls scream overhead, and small crabs scuttle about between pools and bits of driftwood. There are a few larger rocks as well, slowly being eroded by wind and water. The Eastern Ocean seems to go on forever, the gray green waves stretching out to the horizon.
A path leads up the slope to the west toward the Beach Road.
Megren gets out just far enough onto the beach road to where no one is around, near a thicket of blackberries. She hovers with a kind of self-conscious uncertainty for a moment, there in the middle of the empty road and surrounded mostly by thorns, and then goes a little further down where she can find a good boulder to pull herself up onto, the berries not far but the sea now fully in sight.
Lanisen trails after her, keeping close but following her lead, and clambers up to join her.
Darrin follows, his hands in his pockets. He circles to the other side of the boulder as Lanisen settles and climbs up.
Megren sets her elbows on her knees and runs her hands over her face, releasing a breath.
Lanisen glances at her, and then out toward the tide pools. He folds his arms on his knees, sitting slouched.
Darrin fidgets until he settles with one leg stretched out to the side, hanging off the boulder, and the other tucked under him. He glances at Megren, looking apologetic.
Megren glances up between them, just in time to catch Sir Darrin’s expression. “Sorry, I’m, I probably should be asking to, to think alone on it, or something, only I don’t really, I don’t really want to be alone.”
Lanisen nods, glancing at her again. He squirms until he finds a more comfortable part of the rock to sit on, and settles in.
Darrin smiles softly at her. “I don’t mind. I just didn’t realize you hadn’t seen her or heard about her in so long, is all.”
Megren releases another breath through her nose.
Lanisen nods to agree with Darrin. “Just say if you need anything, yeah?” he asks quietly.
Darrin bites his lip.
Megren seems to feel that she has to explain, “I’ve just been going around like me and my da was all there was.”
Lanisen’s forehead furrows a little. He glances at Darrin.
Darrin nods, waiting for her to go on.
Megren doesn’t really seem to have anything else to say.
Lanisen scoots a little nearer to Megren and stays quiet.
Darrin sighs and nods.
Megren glances at Sir Darrin again, hearing the sound. “Sorry,” she apologizes again. “You– I’m not…” she cuts off and just says, “Thank you,” again.
Darrin leans over so he can bump shoulders with her, nearly sliding sideways off his semi-precarious perch on the boulder as he does so.
Megren gives a small appreciative giggle at the position this puts him in, momentarily slipping out of her larger thoughts.
Lanisen straightens up in case a domino collision is imminent.
Darrin manages to halt his slide. He straightens, clearing his throat loudly, and immediately assumes an expression of nonchalance.
Megren’s lips curve upward and she ducks her head, flicking her gaze at her lap and then out to sea rather than toward either of her companions.
Darrin folds his legs in a steadier position and puts his hands in his lap, shaking his head at himself.
Lanisen bites his lip, still grinning. His eyes shift to Megren, and he looks down at his hands.
Megren finally says, “So you both –” she takes a breath. “So, you just, –that had to have been a lot of work?”
Darrin shrugs. “It was kind of a fun project.”
Lanisen says, “Anyway, it’s cooler in the library.”
Megren says, “I looked in the library; it’s not in the library.”
Darrin says, “We figured that out. Eventually.”
Lanisen says, “‘S why we had to go find your aunt.”
Megren says, sounding overwhelmedly baffled, “Why?”
Darrin looks confused by the question and looks to Lanisen for help.
Lanisen gives Darrin a betrayed, baffled look and spreads his hands.
Megren sits back and looks away from the sea to Sir Darrin when neither of them answer.
Darrin asks, “Uh, what do you mean why?”
Megren says, “I don’t, I don’t, you didn’t have to.”
Lanisen pushes his mouth to the side.
Darrin says, “No? But we wanted to.”
Megren blows out a breath.
Lanisen asks, “Is it, is it all right? That we did?”
Megren says, “Yeah, it’s, of course, it’s, I just, I don’t know how to–” she retreats to the same overwhelmed statement she’s already repeated once. “I couldn’t even find it.”
Darrin says, “We bounced ideas about where to look for it off each other, and that helped a lot.”
Megren releases another long unanchored breath.
Darrin studies her and falls quiet again.
Megren says, “I don’t know how to say thank you.”
Lanisen shifts and shakes his head a little.
Darrin lifts a brow and gives a half smile. “Um, that works just fine. And you didn’t even really need to say that, even.”
Megren says, “No, it’s, it was a lot of work, and it was, it was more, more, it was maybe, maybe the most personal thing you could have even done, and I don’t really know how to, to even, how to even respond to that.”
Lanisen looks like he isn’t sure what to think of this.
Darrin sneaks a glance at Lanisen and then rubs at the back of his neck. “Really, the only thing I was hoping for was that you would like knowing the lyrics again, so. That’s all.”
Megren pushes her mouth to the side, the corner tugging downward a little, and she nods mutely.
Lanisen watches Megren’s face, and he pulls his lips between his teeth, looking worried and a little guilty.
Darrin drops his hands back into his lap and looks between Megren and Lanisen.
Megren finally glances at Lanisen and, catching his expression, pulls her chin back, blinking and looking guilty herself. “It’s, I /am/ glad to know them, I am,” she assures him.
Lanisen says, “No, sorry, I’m– I was just thinkin’ we shouldn’t’ve, we shouldn’t’ve sprung it on you like that, maybe.”
Megren’s lips close, and she seems to search for an encouraging response to this.
Lanisen says, “It’s–” His eyes shift past her to Darrin and he hesitates uncertainly. “Um, we didn’t know about– about you not knowin’ about your aunt. I’m sorry.”
Darrin says, “Yeah.”
Megren asks, “She asked about me though?”
Lanisen glances at Darrin again. “Yeah, she– she asked what you’d been doin’, how we knew you, and she said she was glad you were gettin’ along all right.”
Megren asks, “And she said I could come by?”
Lanisen glances at Darrin briefly. “Yeah,” he says, raising his eyebrows. “If you want to, yeah, she said.”
Darrin says, “I think she would like that. The little ones definitely would.”
Megren says, “The — yeah.” She blows out a breath. “Cousins,” she reflects aloud, a little bewildered.
Lanisen bites his lip. The corners of his mouth lift hopefully.
Darrin reaches over and ruffles her hair, adding, “Itty bitty redheaded ones.”
Megren’s brows lift high and hopeful, “Red hair?” she repeats, looking into his face for a joke.
Darrin mm-hmms sincerely.
Lanisen says, “She says her mum had it too, the red hair.”
Megren looks overwhelmed all over again.
Lanisen’s face falls and he looks to Darrin anxiously.
Darrin says, “You’re overthinking it, Fritter.” He hops off the boulder, wincing as feeling comes back into his too-long folded legs. “Sleep on it, maybe, and I bet it won’t seem like so much.”
Megren nods hastily, sucking in her lips and looking grateful for some concrete instruction. She moves as if to scoot off the boulder as well.
Lanisen drops down after Darrin. He straightens his shirt and steps back to wait for Megren.
Megren pushes off and sniffs once, schooling her features and tapping the place where she’s tucked the parchment self-consciously.
Lanisen pauses. “We don’t have to go back yet, if you don’t want,” he offers.
Megren says, “No, it’s, I’m ready.”
Darrin nods slightly. “If you’re sure.”
Megren says, “I’m ready, I’m ready.”
Darrin says, “Okay.” He glances at Lanisen, and then turns back towards the castle.
Lanisen waits for Megren to go first.
Megren follows the knight quietly but gratefully.
Lanisen falls into step beside and a little behind her.