Lanisen is kneeling on the floor in the corner of the room where he usually sleeps, his satchel open in front of him. It looks full and packed neatly, and he is wrapping his bottles up for the trip.

Megren knocks on the door and starts to come up without waiting for an answer.

Lanisen straightens, glancing toward the stairs. “Hey,” he calls.

Megren lifts a bowl. “Brought some oats with blueberries in.”

Lanisen mms approvingly, getting to his feet. He’s dressed for the road and looks more or less ready to set off, if tired. “Honey too?”

Megren says, “Ren cooked it into the oats.”

Lanisen says, “Oh, hm!”

Megren holds it out for him. “Here, try.”

Lanisen says, “Thanks.” He takes the bowl and a bite, turning in place to check the area for forgotten things.

Megren asks, “Got socks?”

Lanisen says, “Got socks.” He rubs the back of his head. “Feel like I’m forgettin’ somethin’, but it ain’t socks.”

Megren says, “Waterskin.”

Lanisen points to where it is sitting next to his pack.

Megren says, “Toothbrush.”

Lanisen says, “Got it.”

Megren says, “Food for the road.”

Lanisen says, “I’ve got– um, a bag of nuts and some dried meat.”

Megren clicks her tongue. “Get some bread from Ren and put some tea leaves in a bag in case you have to camp out.”

Lanisen says, “Tea, bread, all right.”

Megren asks, “Still missing something?”

Lanisen rubs his eyes. “Yeah, prob’ly. It’s all right, I got everything important. If there’s somethin’ else I can pick it up in Lancelyn Green.”

Megren hmmms.

Lanisen sits down on a row of blanket-covered crates to eat, holding the bowl away from Tohol.

Megren settles cross-legged on the ground next to him. “Taking Maestro?”

Lanisen says, “No, it’s… no. I’m takin’ this fellow,” he adds, nodding at Tohol.

Megren asks, “Not Nia?”

Lanisen shakes his head. “‘S a long way for her to walk. Her hip’s been botherin’ her.”

Megren asks, “What about your hip?”

Lanisen wrinkles his nose at her.

Megren lifts her shoulders.

Lanisen says, “I think it’ll be all right. I’ve got my stuff for it if not.”

Megren says, “All right.”

Lanisen sets to eating, yawning occasionally.

Megren asks, “You’re sure you don’t want anyone to go with you?”

Lanisen shakes his head slightly.

Megren nods.

Lanisen sets his empty bowl aside and reaches out to rub Tohol’s ears. Big as the hound is, their heads are at a level. “What d’you think, hm? You want to go for a long walk?”

Megren scoots back to lean against the wall.

Tohol is as attentive as any hound ever was to the words “go” and “walk” used in the right order. His ears perk up and his tongue lolls out and he lets out one loud BOOF. Somebody downstairs yammers an answer.

Lanisen gets to his feet, stretching, and goes to check his pack one more time.

Megren asks, “Should I fetch you some bread?”

Lanisen says, “Oh, bread. No, that’s all right, I’ll go.”

Megren screws up her face.

Lanisen squints at her. “What?”

Megren says, “You’ve got tea to pack.”

Lanisen says, “It won’t take long.”

Megren says, “Only if I get to troop after you.”

Lanisen says, “Well, if you insist.”

Megren smiles smugly.

Lanisen makes his way toward the stairs. “What tea should I take?”

Megren says, “I like black because I take it in the morning to warm up.”

Lanisen says, descending, “Black it is, then.”

Megren follows. “You’re gonna be warm enough at night?”

Lanisen says, “I got a blanket.”

Megren makes a face but agrees, “Okay.”

Lanisen says, “I’m thinkin’ I’ll sleep in the stable in Lancelyn Green tonight and– then I’ll figure somethin’ out for the next day.”

Megren asks, “The stable’s better than the inn?”

Lanisen makes a face and shrugs uncomfortably. “I don’t like stayin’ at the inn.”

Megren nods, not seeming to need to inquire.

Lanisen reaches down the tin of black tea and shakes it, then casts about for a smaller, travelable container.

Megren asks, “Got a piece of paper you can fold it into?”

Lanisen asks, “Won’t it spill out?”

Megren says, “You have to — here, find me a piece, I’ll show you.”

Lanisen does so obligingly and hands it over, hovering with an interested frown to see what she does with it.

Megren makes a few neat tears in the parchment and then folds them in a kind of spiral fashion, making a relatively secure sort of hexagonal container. “Best if you’ve got a bit of string to secure it, but it should hopefully hold without I think?”

Lanisen says, “String I’ve got… here.” He reaches down a spool of sturdy twine from a shelf and unwinds a bit, glancing at her to see how much she wants.

Megren says, “Enough to go crosswise I think.”

Lanisen pulls out his knife and cuts the string, then hands it over.

Megren loops it around once, places her finger on the middle, then does another loop and ties it shut.

Lanisen says appreciatively, “Huh!”

Megren says, “It’s not perfect, but if you stick it somewhere safe it should be all right.”

Lanisen says, “I’ll do that.”

Megren says, “Good man.”

Lanisen asks, “Bread?”

Megren says, “Bread.”

Lanisen nods and heads for the kitchen. The errand doesn’t take long, and when they leave Lanisen has a small loaf of the particularly crusty, hearty kind wrapped up in cloth for the journey.

Megren crosses her arms over her chest as they move back into the outer ward. “Do you have to go?”

Lanisen falters a little bit at this, glancing at her.

Megren wrinkles her nose. “I’m going to miss you.”

Lanisen says, “Oh.” He looks down at the bread. “I don’t– I don’t think I’ll prob’ly be gone long.”

Megren asks, “Will you write and let me know how it’s going?”

Lanisen says, “I’ll– yeah, if it’s, if I can.”

Megren says, “Sure, yeah, of course.”

Lanisen lets out a long breath.

Megren asks, “Will you be all right?”

Lanisen confesses, “I don’t want to go.”

Megren steps forward and embraces him, kissing the side of his head almost like a mother with a child.

Lanisen glances around the ward a little self-consciously. He ducks his head and wraps an arm around her in return.

Megren pulls back. “You don’t have to,” she reminds him.

Lanisen says, “I’m all packed.”

Megren says, “Yeah. I think you should.”

Lanisen nods, silent and unhappy.

Megren says, “If you get there and it doesn’t feel right you can turn back and that’s okay.”

Lanisen nods again, looking at the ground. “I’ll miss you,” he says after a pause.

Megren says, “I’ll be your imaginary friend if you like.”

Lanisen says, “Haa,” and, “Thanks.”

Megren says, “I mean it. If you need somebody, just, pretend I’m there. I bet you know me well enough to make up all my answers.”

Lanisen half-grins, reaching for the kennel door.

Megren steps out of his way. “You’ll leave if you feel like you’d best?”

Lanisen nods.

Megren says, “Okay.”

Lanisen steps inside and rubs the side of his face, looking around one more time for anything he might have forgotten.

Megren asks, “Got food for Tohol?”

Lanisen says, “Yeah, yeah. We’ll get, we’ll get somethin’ fresh in Lancelyn Green.”

Megren asks, “All your clothes?”

Lanisen says, “Yeah.”

Megren says, “Sounds like you’re about ready.”

Lanisen nods, still slightly unsatisfied. He looks down at his satchel, then exhales and says, “No, I’m not.” He bends and picks it up, slinging it over his left shoulder.

Megren folds her arms over her stomach and watches him.

Lanisen grabs a sturdy walking-stick from where it is leaning against the wall next to the door and clicks his tongue at Tohol.

Megren’s brows lift and she says suddenly, “Your shoulder stone?”

Lanisen says, “Oh!” He pats his pockets and turns in a circle, then crosses the room and grabs it from the shelf above the fireplace.

Megren’s shoulders loosen a little.

Lanisen says under his breath, “Okay…” He exhales again and looks at Megren.

Megren asks, “Walk you out the gate?”

Lanisen nods gratefully.

Megren moves to open the door for him.

Lanisen pats the side of his leg to call Tohol along, and steps out into the ward.

Megren slips out after him.

Lanisen shuts the door behind them and begins for the gate, Tohol trotting amiably along beside him with his tongue hanging out.

Megren walks him all the way through the gate before embracing him again.

Lanisen hugs tightly back and doesn’t let go for a moment. He finally draws back and looks at her. “I’ll write every day I’m on the road,” he says. “And… every other day at least for the rest of the days.”

Megren says, “Good. If you can.”

Lanisen says, “I will.” He takes a backward step, and then turns to go.

Megren takes a breath. “I love you,” she reminds him. “And so does Danall and Dalia, and half the kitchen and a whole mess of hounds.”

Lanisen turns back, grinning a little painfully. “Love you too,” he answers. “See you in… a week or two.”

Megren says, “Okay.”

Lanisen nods again, several times. He takes a deep breath and makes his way out of the castle.

Megren releases a breath, watching him go.


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