The Beach near Sted Cair
This stretch of beach is quiet, largely abandoned except for the occasional shorebird. Perfectly clear blue water surges up in rhythmic waves to meet the smooth shore, fine golden sand studded with seashells. The water is gentle and fairly shallow for some distance out, though a darkening in the color suggests an abrupt drop-off of the ground below the surface. The beach is sheltered by a series of towering sea-stacks to the southeast and by the the peninsula to the north, on which the castle of Cair Paravel sits with all its windows glittering in the sun. The beach gets progressively rockier to the south, where smooth sand gives way gradually to tide pools and boulders.
A sandy little-trodden path leads southwest up the slope to the main road, and the beach is clear all the way to the castle to the north.
Megren walks docilely between the knight and the kennel-keep as they approach the beach, squinting a little into the low morning sun, but when the ocean comes into reasonable distance she drops the clasp of her hands from behind her back and picks up her pace, running up to the littoral and chasing along the tide, not unlike a happy dog.
Darrin smiles widely as Megren runs towards the waterline, following along behind her more sedately.
Lanisen draws in a glad breath and takes a moment to look. He follows behind them both, stopping to inspect any interesting shells and rocks that present themselves and taking a detour to peer into a tide pool.
Megren screeches a peal of laughter when the tide gets the better of her.
Darrin pauses before he makes it to the water, leaning against a large rock to tug off his boots.
Lanisen startles a bit at the screech, glancing quickly toward where Megren is, then grins and kicks off his shoes and stockings before he goes to join her.
Megren hops backward several steps. “It’s cold, it’s cold.”
Darrin rolls up his trousers and spreads his toes in the sand. He heads forward, standing just where the sand turns damp and waiting for the waves to lap at his feet.
Megren gives him a look like he’s going to regret it.
Lanisen isn’t quite as brave and stays back a little, digging his toes into the cool dry sand with a look of bliss on his face.
Darrin glances at Megren and holds his breath as the water approaches his toes. He bites the inside of his lip and toughs it out until a particularly strong wave washes all the way up to his ankles and then he yelps and leaps back. “Cold, yep, that’s cold, ah-huh.”
Lanisen hoots with laughter from a safe distance.
Megren grins, clasping her hands behind her back again, but in a cheeky, smug way this time. She dances out of the way of another gutsy shore defying wave. “I think it’s coming in,” she laughs.
Darrin shakes his feet free of seawater as he backs away, nose wrinkled. “Whatever gave you /that/ idea?” he asks sweetly.
Lanisen pads up farther away from the water, wincing a little when he steps on a sharp seashell. He bends down to extricate it from the sand.
Megren leans over so her body is almost perpendicular to her legs and walks along the sand shrewdly. “What kind of creatures live here do you think?”
Darrin nears the water again and dips a toe in it, wincing. “Sea creatures.”
Megren looks up without straightening in order to give him a punishing look. “Right but what /kind/? Crabs do you think?”
Lanisen inspects his find with interest. He sits down to comb through the sand more thoroughly.
Darrin snickers and then straightens, wandering over to her. “I would think so. If we could find a tidal pool we would get a better idea.”
Megren says, “Yes, find me one.”
Darrin squints at her and casts an incredulous look at Lanisen.
Lanisen has found a PURPLE shell and is oblivious.
Megren smiles expectantly.
Darrin sighs petulantly at this abandonment. He wanders towards some promising looking rocky outcrops, his disconsolate air ruined by the fact that he ducks his chin and looks back at Megren with a small smile on his face.
Megren trails not too far behind and returns the smile with an utterly unconcealed impudent grin.
Lanisen glances up to see where they’re going and gets up to trail along, tucking his treasures into his pockets.
Darrin shimmies up and over the rocks, bare toes and fingers seeking fingerholds, climbing until he reaches a flat(ish) space on top. He plants his fists on his hips and looks around from this vantage point.
Megren hesitates half a moment, rotating her ankle, and then climbs up after him.
Lanisen paces back and forth at the base of the rocks, looking for a path he can easily scale, then gives up and wanders back along the edge of the sand.
Megren turns to look for him over her shoulder. She screws up her face.
Darrin has already slipped and slid off towards a small cleft in the rocks that looks promising, though isn’t clearly visible from where he stood.
Lanisen doesn’t seem particularly bothered. He meanders back toward the water.
Megren looks back ahead of her to find the knight has disappeared. She frowns.
Darrin climbs down a couple of rocks and then kneels next to what is, in fact, a very tiny pool. In studying it, he seems to have forgotten that he was supposed to be leading someone else to said pool.
Megren screws up her face and decides to just head up the rest of the way to where he was and look for him from up there. She turns a few times before her eyes catch on him around a spire of rock. “Ah!” she says, and begings to scramble down.
Darrin looks up as he hears her approach. “Found you a little one, Fritter,” he calls.
Megren draws in an excited breath and hurries the rest of the way around a needle of rock. “Show me, show me.”
Lanisen evidently decides to try his luck with the water. He bends to roll up his pants past his ankles and ventures cautiously toward the waterline.
Darrin waves at her from his perch down a couple of feet in between the rocks.
Megren shuffles down next to Sir Darrin, hidden between some rock spires within a tide pool.
Darrin shifts so he’s sitting with his legs to the side. “Is that a starfish?” he asks, pointing.
Lanisen is standing at the very edge of the water, waiting for the next wave to roll in. He’s barefoot despite the chill of the air and the water, and two different pairs of boots are abandoned in the sand further up.
Megren moves over to where he is pointing. “There’s a whole around the side!” she says, totally distracted from the crab she’d meant to seek out.
A daughter of eve wearing a jeweled crown rides her horse over the beach from the north, seemingly in no great hurry, accompanied by a Leopard and a Lynx.
Darrin looks mightly tempted to stick his hand in to touch them, but he refrains, barely.
Lanisen raises his hand to shade his eyes, squinting to see who is coming. He begins to make his way down the beach toward the rocks concealing his companions.
Megren makes a warning face at the knight.
Darrin says, “What? I didn’t actually /do/ it.”
Megren asks, “Not yet. Wait.” She looks up at him accusingly. “Where’s the crab?”
Darrin shrugs innocently, raising both eyebrows.
Susan, seeing the man looking toward her, waves a hand in a general greeting, still some distance away.
Lanisen glances back toward the rocks uncertainly, but returns the wave. He bends to pick up his shoes.
Megren squints at him suspiciously. “If you get pinched because you put it in a pocket, I am pretty sure there is a clause somewhere that says that is /not/ within my duties to care for as a squire.”
Darrin snickers, moving his hand to reveal the tiny crab somewhat trapped between his hand and his leg.
Susan urges her horse into a run, apparently for the fun of it, as her escorts pick up their own pace, loping beside her.
Megren’s face lights up and she squats to greet the crab. “Hello, little fella!”
Lanisen backs closer to the rocks, well out of the way of the rider and her escorts, still holding his shoes and slightly apprehensive. “Um,” he calls toward Megren and Darrin.
Darrin grins widely as he watches Megren. He cocks his head at the call and the sound of hooves and paws running on sand. “Was that Lanisen?”
Susan reins her horse in as her party nears Lanisen. “Good day,” she says with a smile.
Megren looks up and frowns, expression growing concerned. She rises and moves to climb back over the seastack.
Darrin follows, climbing away from the pool and then poking his head over the last bit of rock rather than climbing it right away. “Eh?” he calls down to Lanisen.
Lanisen shifts his weight, his eyes widening as the woman comes near enough for him to put two and two together. He shuts his mouth and swallows a couple of times, then bows deeply.
Susan nods her head in acknowledgment. “A fine day for wading, if a bit brisk.” She looks over to where Sir Darrin has just appeared. “And with friends. Or are you crabbing for supper?”
Megren pops up beside the knight. Her brows lift when she sees the crown on the newcomer’s head.
Susan laughs, covering her mouth as the group emerge like gophers from burrows.
Darrin beams when he sees who it is with Lanisen. He scrambles up and then vaults the last spire of rock, landing in the sand with a soft whump. His trousers are rolled up past his ankles and his bare feet coated with sand. He bows. “Queen Susan! Good morning!”
Susan looks surprised, but studies the man man for a moment before breaking into another smile. “Sir Darrin? Goodness, it has been a long time since I saw you at tournament. Wert wearing boots then.”
Lanisen breathes out, relieved by Darrin’s evident familiarity with the queen. He backs up another step and rubs his elbow, his attention shifting briefly to the lynx and leopard at her side.
Megren follows after him a little more carefully. She is wearing squire’s clothing, and still has her own boots on.
Both Cats sit, studying the companions and looking alert, but otherwise agreeable.
Darrin says, “So it has.” His grin turns cheeky. “It would be quite the shame to be wearing boots on such a day, on such a beach. Nearly a crime.” He nods decisively, then glances at his companions. “Ah, forgive me. May I introduce my squire, Megren, and my friend, Lanisen,” he gestures at each in turn.
Susan inclines her head politely to each. “Well met, friends.” She looks back to Darrin. “But surely my lord hast not chosen a near criminal as squire?”
Lanisen bows again when he is named, glancing at Megren.
Megren bows, her lips turning upward at the quip. “I’ll trust you to judge that, your majesty.”
Darrin looks at his squire with some befuddlement, until his eyes land on her boots. He gasps and staggers backwards, clutching his chest. “Megren! How could you!
Susan says, “La, but who am I to judge another’s squire? It should be akin to Lord Darrin evaluating the fitness of my ladies-in-waiting.”
Megren makes an apologetic face at the knight. “It’s cold?”
Darrin tsks at this petty excuse.
Susan asks, “For my part then, if I am to dismount and greet you properly, must I also remove my boots so as not to incriminate myself?”
Darrin tucks his hands behind his back and smiles up at Susan. “That would only be polite,” he says lightly.
Megren tucks her hair behind her ear and wrinkles her nose sympathetically but helplessly at the queen.
Lanisen curls his bare toes into the sand uncertainly.
Susan’s lips part in mild surprise, but she dismounts and bends down, somewhat awkwardly, to unfasten a series of small buttons running down the outside of each boot before pulling them off and setting them aside. “There. I fear the effect is not so pleasant through my stockings, but hopefully I have avoided prosecution. My younger brother would be quite cross should he be required to bring me to trial.”
Darrin, looking extremely amused and self-satisfied, steps forward to offer Susan his arm while she removes her boots.
Susan does not miss his look as she straightens up, arm laced through his. Her gaze wanders over Megren. “And how did you acquire such a miscreant as squire, then? I do not recall seeing her at the tournament, and I do not think my memory should strain to recall her.”
Megren looks rather pleased to see the queen play along. She bows at being acknowledged again, though she lets Sir Darrin answer.
Darrin says, “Ah, she is rather a more recent addition than that, I’m afraid. I had to steal her away from the Anvard guards for the good of our order, and it took some persuading.”
Megren nods to confirm this statement.
Lanisen dimples up at this summary of his friend’s career.
Susan asks, “Indeed? And whom did you have to persuade? The order, the guards, or the squire?”
Darrin looks to Megren at this one, with his characteristic arched brow. “The squire, mostly, if I’m not mistaken.”
Megren screws up her mouth but doesn’t say otherwise.
Susan says, “I see. Well, it is fortunate for you that she agreed, and bodes well for her career that she should take the time to carefully consider your offer.”
Megren smiles and dips her head in a small bow of thanks. “That’s kind, your majesty.”
Darrin bounces lightly on his toes. “Quite so.”
Susan says, “Well, I find myself curious as to what has inspired this sudden embassy from Archenland. I trust you bear no dire tidings, as you have been so easily distracted by our seashore. Or perhaps that is why your estimable squire found it necessary to retain her boots. Perhaps she meant to steer you back onto the path of your errand once you went astray.”
Darrin rubs the back of his neck with his left hand. “It is more a sightseeing trip than aught else, really. No bad news to speak of.”
Lanisen keeps quiet, but looks slightly guilty at this.
Megren taps the toe of her boot against the ground. “It’s something we’d been talking of quite some time, and Sir Darrin was kind enough to take us.”
Susan asks, “That sounds quite fine. What shall you see whilst you are here then?”
Darrin says, “We thought we’d go west and see the Stone Table and Lantern Waste once we’ve toured Sted Cair.”
Megren says, “I’ve been looking very forward to see the castle building, myself.” She turns to look northward at the relatively small shape on the peninsula. “I wondered how greatly it differed.”
Susan glances back over her shoulder at her home. “I always think of the Cair as carved ivory set against lapiz on the one side and emerald on the other. Whereas Anvard is carnelian with emerald all about.” She considers. “And Tashbaan is topaz in a sea of gold.”
Lanisen looks toward the castle, his forehead furrowed a little.
Darrin ponders the comparisons, nodding slightly.
Megren glances at Sir Darrin like she’s hoping he’ll have a better idea what this means than her, and also like she’s hoping it’s not too obvious she’s not totally sure what to do with this.
Susan catches Megren’s look. “Perhaps you could better judge for yourself from a closer vantage point. Wilt enjoy our hospitality, I hope?”
Lanisen’s eyes widen slightly. He glances at Darrin and Megren.
Megren’s brows lift and she looks even more unsure how to answer now, though somewhat delighted this time.
Darrin says, “Well, we had been staying at the inn, but I’ve certainly no objection if Megren and Lanisen don’t.”
Megren says quickly, “I don’t.”
Susan releases his arm and claps her hands together. “Wonderful. I shall return and see that everything is set in readiness for your arrival. Please, enjoy our tidal pools as long as you like. I shall tell the gatekeeper to watch for you.” She reaches to pull on a boot, then bends to fasten the buttons.
Lanisen’s mouth opens and shuts. He swallows.
Darrin glances at Lanisen before refocusing his attention on Susan. He smiles. “Thank you, Your Majesty.”
Megren clasps her hands behind her back and bounces on the balls of her feet a little, sucking in her lips to hide a huge grin. “Yes, that’s– thank you!”
Lanisen echoes, ducking his head, “Thank you, your majesty.”
Susan straightens. “You are most welcome. Mind you, my hospitality comes at a steep price. I shall expect full accounts of the doings at Anvard. It has been too long since last I visited.”
Darrin says, “It would be my pleasure.”
Megren pauses and then risks a jibe, “Sir Darrin is excellent at full accounts.”
Susan remounts her horse. “Is he? I fear he must prove himself. I warn you, my royal brothers and sister are most discriminating when it comes to tales told at our table. Your Lord Darrin must show himself equal to the task.”
Darrin can be seen to stick his tongue out at his squire before he says, with marginal more seriousness, “I do love a challenge.”
Megren grins a bit smugly at the knight’s reaction to this.
Lanisen glances sidelong at Darrin and Megren and ducks his head, half-grinning.
Susan smiles, then turns her horse toward home, looking back over her shoulder. “Supper is at six,” she says before riding off.
Megren bows before the queen retreats, still looking a bit giddy.
Lanisen bows in tandem, still clutching his shoes.
Darrin waves as Susan goes.
Megren turns to Sir Darrin as the queen retreats. She is unabashedly bouncing now.
Lanisen sits down to put his shoes back on.
Darrin flops down next to Lanisen and says, “Well, you’ll get to see the castle up close, Fritter.”
Megren makes a squeaky noise.
Darrin wipes sand off his feet. “Are you going to be all right with this, Lanisen?” he asks softly.
Lanisen says, “I don’t think she– did, did she? I don’t think she meant me.”
Megren squints an eye. “I’m very sure she meant you.”
Darrin says, “Of course she did.”
Lanisen pauses, a little bit lost. “Oh.”
Darrin says, “And had she not, I would have refused.”
Megren lifts her brows at Lanisen and smiles as she might had she defeated him in a great trial of rhetoric.
Lanisen bends to roll his pant legs back down.
Darrin tugs his boots back on and his trousers back down before he stands.
Megren bounces on her toes again. “We’ll get to see if they have boxes on the walls for the Mouse and Skunk and Badger guards!”
Lanisen glances up as Darrin stands and gets to his feet as well.
Darrin grins at her.
Darrin motions towards the inn. “Shall we?”
Megren says, “I’ll meet you at lunch? I want to see if there are more crabs.”
Darrin says, “Sure.”
Lanisen hesitates, glancing between them.
Megren looks to Lanisen. “Up to you.”
Lanisen hesitates another moment, then says, gesturing slightly toward the inn, “I think I’m gonna sleep a bit, maybe.”
Megren’s mouth screws up a little, but she gives a small nod.
Darrin says, “Well, I want to check on the horses and then I’ll see about lunch.”
Lanisen nods, rubbing his elbow.
Megren says, “An hour or two, then.”
Darrin says, “Lovely.”
Lanisen nods assent.
Megren squints at Lanisen in an assessing way.
Darrin starts towards the inn.
Lanisen glances back at Megren, then follows after Darrin.