Megren pushes open the kennel door, eyes trained on the ground for loose dogs.
Lanisen is kneeling on the floor near the back of the room, running his hands over Nia’s neck and ears. Most of the hounds are milling about near him and a vaguely unsettled atmosphere hangs in the room. He looks up quickly when the door opens and is halfway to his feet before Megren is even visible around the door. He exhales and settles back down.
Megren shuts the door behind her, mouth forming a small frown as she takes in the room. “Everything all right?”
Lanisen says, “Um–” His eyes dart past her to the door and the windows. “Yeah. Yes. I think so.”
Megren glances over her shoulder at the window.
Lanisen says, “Nathen was here.”
Megren’s brows lift. “Why?”
Lanisen shakes his head slightly. “He had– um, he had food? That he thought was maybe poisoned?” He straightens, angry and shaken, and looks down at Nia. “He reckoned he’d give the dogs some and find out.”
Lanisen smooths his hand over Nia’s head very gently and says, coldly furious, “He reckoned she’d do.”
Megren runs a hand through her hair. “I’ll have Sir Darrin or Sir Chal talk to him. Want me to go fetch someone about it now?”
Lanisen shakes his head slightly. “He’s– I think he’s gone down to the beach, he said somethin’ about seagulls when I wouldn’t let him use the dogs.”
Megren’s shoulders drop and she sighs, rolling her eyes a little. “You think he was serious, yeah?”
Lanisen asks, “About the seagulls? About the dogs, about the poison?”
Megren says, “Yeah. All of them. The seagulls first though. I’ll go after him if you think so.”
Lanisen says, “I don’t know, I think maybe.” He lets out a short breath and runs one hand through his hair, getting to his feet and pacing to the window to look out. “I– he said he didn’t think it very likely that it was poisoned, but he wanted to be sure.”
Megren says, “I suspect he was looking for a bit of mischief. Did he give a reason for thinking it might be?”
Lanisen says, “Um– Haft, he said Haft thought it might be. Did Haft tell him to come here?” This last seems rhetorical, and he peers out the window up at the walls.
Megren says, “That seems unlikely.”
Lanisen paces away from the window, angry and white-lipped. “He wasn’t gonna /ask/, he wasn’t gonna /listen/ when I said no, he, he tried to /scare/ me into lettin’ him have his way, he’s– I don’t want him in here if Danall ain’t here, maybe he doesn’t think he has to listen to me but he’ll listen to Danall–”
Megren asks, “Do you want me to mention it to Lord Dar?”
Lanisen is given pause by this. He looks back at Megren, momentarily indecisive and anxious, then his eyes shift to the hounds. He shuts his mouth and nods. “Please.”
Megren nods. “Yeah, all right. Haft was sounding concerned too, I’ll talk to him first, make sure I’ve got a full idea of it.”
Lanisen blows out a breath, rubbing the back of his neck. “Thanks. Thank you.”
Megren says, “Yeah, of course.”
Lanisen bends over to rub Tohol’s ears and bump foreheads with the big dog. “He was–” he starts, then grimaces, his nostrils flaring. “It wouldn’t’ve done any good, there’s, they’re too different, hounds and people, there’s stuff hounds can eat that would make people sick as anything, and– and ordinary, perfectly fine and safe people-food that– What if he’d had /grapes/ and I wasn’t here, or– what if it was pups without their manners yet…”
Megren mollifies, “You were here, and it wasn’t.”
Lanisen drops to the ground and stretches his legs out in front of him, letting Tohol flop and lounge heavily across his lap. He rubs one hand over his face wearily. “I should get a ruddy lock on that door.”
Megren says in a light but empathetic voice, “Somehow I think you’d get complaints.”
Lanisen sighs through his nose, looking down at Tohol. “At least they’re good at followin’ orders.”
Megren says, “You could use another pair of hands if you wanted to start looking for one.”
Lanisen glances up at her questioningly.
Megren says, “You’d have to ask Danall and Lord Dar, but I bet they’d allow it.”
Lanisen says, “Oh.” He looks down at Tohol again, who is now flopped absurdly on his back with all four paws in the air, his tail flipping and his tongue hanging out. “I guess, yeah.”
Megren says, “I bet you could find a good kid who’d be glad for it.”
Lanisen says, “Prob’ly so.”
Megren says, “Is Kirb even around anymore?”
Lanisen says, “A bit. He’s been workin’ in the town some.”
Megren asks, “Doing what?”
Lanisen says, “He’s been workin’ for his betrothed’s da a bit, I think, I dunno what he’s doin’.”
Megren nods. “Guess he’s hoping to move to that?”
Lanisen says, “Prob’ly, yeah. Danall would know.”
Megren says, “More reason to find another then.”
Lanisen nods, his eyes still on Tohol. “You’re prob’ly right.”
Megren says, “It’d make things easier on you.”
Lanisen says, “I guess so.”
Megren asks, “You don’t want anyone?”
Lanisen rubs the side of his face. “I dunno, I– no, I do, I just– can’t think about it right this minute.”
Megren nods quietly, moving to sit.
Lanisen lowers his hand and looks at it, spreading his fingers. It’s shaking slightly, and he drops it to resume petting Tohol.
Megren observes, this, and silently gets up to set the kettle on.
Lanisen scoots back so he can put his back against the wall. Tohol rolls to his feet and trots amiably after, and shortly Maisie joins them, and Kite.
Megren rustles around for some biscuits or something else to go with the tea.
Lanisen, once he realizes what she’s doing, says, “There’s some plums on the shelf, um– there might be a scone left.”
Megren finds the bowl and pulls it down to set it on the table.
Lanisen exhales as one hound after another finds a place to curl up on or near him.
Megren brings him a cup of tea and a plum when it’s ready.
Lanisen extracts his arms and reaches out gratefully to take it, murmuring thanks.
Megren pours herself a cup and sits in a chair, holding the tea in both hands and blowing on it gently. “Tell me a good thing that happened today.”
Lanisen says, “I got to see Megren.”
Megren sticks out her tongue.
Lanisen grins, a little lopsided.
Megren says, “That doesn’t count.”
Lanisen says, “I don’t see why it shouldn’t.”
Megren says, “That happens every day, or near enough.”
Lanisen lifts his shoulders.
Megren says, “Something I don’t know.”
Lanisen considers, looking down at Nia as she adds herself to the pile. “I dunno. I woke up early so I went and walked around outside and watched the sun come up. It was good.”
Megren asks, “Where’d you go?”
Lanisen says, “Out the gates, off the road.”
Megren asks, “The forest?”
Lanisen says, “No, no, not that far. Just outside the castle, before the trees.”
Megren says, “That sounds nice.”
Lanisen says, patting Tohol fondly, “Took this fellow. He ended about sixty grasshoppers, pretty sure.”
Megren says, “Charming.”
Lanisen lifts his shoulders. He takes a cautious sip of tea.
Megren says, “Well, I stayed on Swiftly’s back so I’ll call that a win.”
Lanisen raises his eyebrows, grinning a little over the mug. “Yeah? Quintains again today?”
Megren says, “Yeah, twice a week right now.”
Lanisen says, “I’m sorry.”
Megren says, “Swiftly too, I suspect.”
Lanisen says, “Poor fellow.”
Megren says, “He only wants to play.”
Lanisen grins again, a little more life in it this time. “I know how that goes.”
Megren says, “I choose all my friends the same, that way.”
Lanisen says, “That explains a lot.”
Megren says, “Suppose so.”
Lanisen takes another drink and reaches out to nudge Kite and Sorrel, who are tussling mildly, with his toe.
Megren slips off her chair to sit on the ground.
Lanisen glances across at her. He heaves a sigh and looks down.
Megren asks, “You all right?”
Lanisen nods, not looking up. He brushes dog fur off his shirt and confesses, “I hit him.”
Mggren’s brows lift. “Nathen?”
Lanisen says, “He touched my shoulder and I–” He makes a swatting motion to demonstrate. “He’s not, he’s not hurt, I don’t think, it was just his arm, but it wasn’t– I didn’t think about it, I didn’t… mean to do it.”
Megren asks, “Was he upset?”
Lanisen says, “I dunno. He left.”
Megren makes a small sucking sound with her lips.
Lanisen rubs the side of his face. “…I can’t be a knight,” he murmurs.
Megren frowns. She is quiet for a moment, and then she says, “It takes time.”
Lanisen doesn’t answer. He ducks his head to hide his face.
Megren shuffles, reaching up to put her cup on the table and then picks her way through the dogs to settle into the pile.
Lanisen shifts a little to the side to make room, still not quite looking at her.
Megren shifts down under the dogs. She is quiet for a long moment.
Lanisen, when Tohol gets up off his lap to say hello to Megren, draws up his knees and loops his arms around them.
Megren says finally, “I think…”
Lanisen turns his head a little to listen.
Megren starts as if correcting herself already, “I mean, it’s, it /is/ important, the things you do, the, the decisions you make in the moment, it’s, it definitely is. But also it’s, being a knight, the way I figure it — you’re going to make mistakes, everyone is. Sir Tyren and Sir Darrin and Sir Chal, and, even, even the King, sometimes, all of us. You can’t, you can’t not. But that’s, um, I guess that’s where I figure you really get to see what a knight is, what he does after the mistake, you know?”
Lanisen says nothing. Finally he nods, just slightly, keeping his eyes down.
Megren says again, “It all takes time.”
Lanisen puts his face in his hands. “I’m sorry,” he says finally, softly.
Megren looks at him. “What are you sorry to me for?”
Lanisen says wretchedly, “I don’t know, I don’t know, only I don’t like how this day’s gone and–”
Megren lifts her arm around his shoulder and pulls him to lean toward her, squeezing his shoulder with her hand and kissing the top of his head.
Lanisen’s shoulders hunch up and he shuts his eyes.
Megren runs her hand up and down his shoulder. “There’ll be more days.”
Lanisen says, “I wish I knew how– how not to… get like that.”
Megren makes a quiet thoughtful noise.
Lanisen says, “I was, I was scared, he tried to scare me and I was scared and I don’t know how to… not do that.”
Megren is quiet for a moment, and then she says, “Well, you’ve got to feel in control, right?”
Lanisen looks at her blankly.
Megren asks, “That’s what feeling scared is right, not feeling in control?”
Lanisen says, “I guess, maybe. Yeah.”
Megren concludes, “So, maybe, how do we do that.”
Lanisen says, shaking his head slightly, “I don’t, I don’t know, if that’s all there is to it today should’ve, should’ve been fine, it’s– I was here, the hounds were here, there’s, I was safe, it should’ve been fine.”
Megren says, “Right, but that’s what I mean, right, you’ve got to — it’s not about changing what is, because what is is fine. It’s about figuring out what’s making the feeling and changing that.”
Lanisen says, “How do you even…”
Megren says, “I don’t know yet, but I’m going to solve it.”
Lanisen pushes his mouth to the side, glancing at her worriedly.
Megren glances back at him and nods confidently.
Lanisen looks down again. He unfolds his body as Nia tries to climb into his lap and trails his fingers through her wispy fur when she’s settled.
Megren asks, “For now, what will you do about Nathen?”
Lanisen stiffens up slightly, but he exhales and says, not looking up, “I guess I’d better go to him and apologize.”
Megren asks, “What will you apologize for?”
Lanisen says, “Well, for smackin’ him?”
Megren says, “Yeah.”
Megren says, “You don’t have to be sorry for the rest though.”
Lanisen says, “I ain’t, I’m mad.”
Megren says, “Do you feel like you can apologize for the one thing and be mad at the same time?”
Lanisen says, “Not– not really, I need to… I don’t know.”
Megren asks, “Well, I guess start with why are you mad, then.”
Lanisen says, “He meant to hurt the dogs! He wouldn’t listen!”
Megren nods quietly.
Lanisen says, “He wouldn’t, he wouldn’t– ” He lets out a frustrated breath.
Megren lets him sort it out aloud.
Lanisen thinks for a moment, and then says, “He acted like… like as if I were just somethin’ to get past. Like if I couldn’t stop him I didn’t matter.”
Megren says, “Okay,” like she thinks this statement is getting more toward a useable thought process.
Lanisen says, “I don’t, I don’t know what you’re askin’.”
Megren says, “What you’re not sorry for is mattering. Right, you struck him because he wouldn’t hear you, and you’re sorry for the striking, but you don’t have to be sorry for being real and knowing what you’re talking about and having authority.”
Lanisen frowns a little and shakes his head. “No, it was, I hit him ’cause I didn’t want him touchin’ me.”
Megren’s lips pull downward a bit and she squints an eye thoughtfully. After a moment she says, “Well, you’ve never struck me.”
Lanisen says, “You’re– You’ve never, I’ve never thought you were gonna hurt me.”
Megren asks, “Why did you think he was going to hurt you?”
Lanisen says, “‘Cause I was in his way, because he–”
Megren says, “You’re allowed to react to that; you’re allowed to assert your presence. You don’t have to be sorry for reacting, that’s what I’m saying. Just the kind of reacting it was.”
Lanisen looks dissatisfied, but he nods.
Megren screws up her face at his expression.
Lanisen says, “It’s–” He lets out a short frustrated breath. “If it’s, if I’m not meant to be sorry for reacting, why– I don’t, I don’t know what I should have done instead, I’m thinkin’ over it in my head and it was… I don’t know, I don’t know, only I didn’t mean to hurt him and I don’t think I did but I was…”
Megren releases a breath. “I wasn’t there,” she says in an apologetic tone.
Lanisen glances at her quickly. “I’m sorry,” he says, remorseful. “I know, I’m sorry, I don’t mean to– I’m, I’m thinkin’ out loud, I guess.”
Megren says, “All right. Keep thinking.”
Lanisen says, “I hit a wall, I think.”
Megren asks, “What’s that mean?”
Lanisen says, “I’m– I don’t know, I mean.”
Megren makes a thoughtful noise.
Lanisen says, “I dunno what I should’ve done. What would you have done?”
Megren says, “I don’t know; I wasn’t there. Probably, probably moved in his way and kept in his way and joked at him until he forgot what he was meaning to do. That’s usually the sort of thing I try for, anyway.”
Lanisen lifts one side of his mouth wryly and looks down.
Megren says, “I’ve had to catch a few wrists or put a firm arm around a few shoulders, though. Sometimes you do.”
Lanisen looks down and nods.
Megren says, “You get a hang of it. Perth’s good at it, and Sir Darrin usually. Nobody get it perfect every time.”
Lanisen is silent.
Megren glances at him.
Lanisen shakes his head a little, dismissive. He rubs his forehead wearily.
Megren lifts a hand and smooths the hair on the back on his head.
Lanisen asks, “What should I have done?”
Megren says, “You have to — I wasn’t there, and you have to, everyone has their own way about it. With me it’s jokes and bets and trying to find common ground. Perth talks quiet and reasonable and he’s big and that’s enough it seems like. Sir Darrin, he does the joking like me sometimes, but I’ve seen him scold, too. Sometimes people take to scolding better than trying to make friends. Magda’s no-nonsense, always.”
Lanisen rubs his eyes.
Megren says, “Owin usually just stands there quiet until the person’s run out of things to say. Sometimes it works. I don’t know — you, you’re clever, I think you’ll find you’ve got your own way about it. if you’re having a hard time, you might try lightening things, anyway. It helps me from letting myself get angry, if it doesn’t do anything else.”
Lanisen says, “I don’t– I’m not a guard, I’m not a knight, I don’t– I only, what was it I was s’posed to do to stop him touchin’ me?”
Megren says, “I wasn’t there, Lanisen.”
Lanisen bows his head and nods. “I’ll apologize to him,” he says finally.
Megren says, “All right.”
Lanisen leaves it there, petting Nia’s back absently.
Megren says after a moment, “I should go seek out Lord Dar.”
Lanisen glances at her, looking halfway to withdrawing his request. He nods after a small hesitation and lowers his eyes.
Megren asks, “You mind if I talk to Haft and Sir Darrin first?”
Lanisen says, “No, that’s, that’s fine. Thank you.”
Megren pushes herself up, slowly, so that the dogs have time to get out of her way.
Lanisen gently shifts Nia to the side so he can get up as well.
Megren picks up her teacup and eyes the liquid inside. “You can finish it if you want.”
Lanisen lets out a small breath of laughter and smiles wryly at the floor. “Thanks.”
Megren sets it back down. “I’ll be back in in the morning if I can’t get an hour tonight.”
Lanisen says, “All right. Thank you.”
Megren says, “Yeah, of course. See you.”
Lanisen echoes, “See you.”