Lanisen rides through the gates at a walk, Tohol trailing along tiredly beside him. It’s evening, late enough that the sun is down but early enough that the sky is still quite light. They aim for the stables and water.
Megren comes walking out of the stables at the same time as he approaches them and her whole face lights up.
Lanisen takes a moment to notice, just as tired as Tohol. When he does, he straightens and rouses, his face lighting to match hers.
Megren hurries to close the distance, slowing when she needs Maestro so she doesn’t spook him. “Get down, get down so I can hug you!”
Lanisen says, “Yes, yes, I’m, just a second–” His dismount is awkward and very careful, and he lands lightly on his right foot without putting much weight on his left. “All right, come here already.”
Megren envelops him.
Lanisen droops onto her and hugs tightly. “Oh, I’ve /missed/ you.”
Megren kisses the side of his head and says, “No leaving the castle grounds for 3 months minimum, except when escorted by a knight revenue including at least one woman.”
Lanisen squints at her.
Megren squeezes him tightly again.
Lanisen says, “Mmph, mm, all right, but why?”
Megren says, “Because I missed you, cheese-for-brains.”
Lanisen mumbles, “/You’ve/ got cheese for brains.”
Megren takes Maestro’s reins to lead him in for a scrub down. “Tell me what happened to your foot.”
Lanisen says, reaching out to put a hand on Maestro’s saddle to lean on. “Um, we were crossin’ the ford, and there was a rock, and it was slippery, and I fell.”
Megren asks,”Is it still hurting?”
Lanisen wrinkles up his nose. “I can walk on it. I’m not supposed to overdo it, or apparently it might turn putrescent and fall off. Have you ever met a Marsh-Wiggle?”
Megren snorts. “No? Haft told me a little about them once though.”
Lanisen says, “Well,” and nods several times significantly.
Megren ties Maestro’s halter to the grooming bar and begins unsaddling him. “Have you got it wrapped at least?”
Lanisen is guiltily silent for a second. “Had to get my boot on,” he says reasonably.
Megren gives him a disapproving look.
Lanisen says, “I haven’t stood on it, I been careful!”
Megren says, “You’re standing right now.”
Lanisen says, “Yes, but–”
Megren says, “/And/ you rode with it.”
Lanisen says, “That’s not like /walkin’/ on it, though!”
Megren points him to a crate without further room for protest.
Lanisen goes meekly, limping. “So what’ve I missed, then?”
Megren says, “Kitchen fire.”
Lanisen says, “Oh no! Anybody hurt?”
Megren says, “No raisin bread left in the whole kingdom.”
Lanisen pushes his mouth to the side and squints at her. “No fire?” he guesses.
Megren picks up the scrub brush. “What gave me away?”
Lanisen lets out a gusty breath.
Megren sets Maestro up and begins working on his coat. “Tell me everything.”
Lanisen says, “I dunno where to start.”
Megren says, “First day.”
Lanisen asks, “First day there, or first day in Narnia?”
Megren squints an eye and decides, “There.”
Lanisen says, “Um…” He pauses, and rubs his palms on his knees. “Went to the guard tower and waited around for Jana. Walked with her on her patrol.”
Lanisen says, “She invited me down for a drink after. That’s… that’s about it.”
Megren says, “You never drink.”
Lanisen lifts his shoulders, avoiding her eyes.
Megren processes this without pressing further.
Lanisen wipes his palms on his knees again. “Um– it was, it was mostly just more of the same, after that. I stood on some of her watches with her, got to see Tristran a few times… wandered lots. A couple people asked after you.”
Megren asks, “You said you thought he was all right?”
Lanisen hesitates, then nods. “He seems… He doesn’t seem like he expects to be… hurt. He doesn’t seem afraid of– of anything, really.”
Megren says, “Good. That’s how being 6 should be.”
Lanisen says, “Yes.”
Megren says, “Do you think he’ll ever come here?”
Lanisen draws a breath. “I hope so, someday,” he answers. “He didn’t know about pretzels!”
Megren lifts her brows, “What does that mean? What about them?”
Lanisen says, “He’s never heard of ’em before! He didn’t /believe/ me when I said they were /delicious/!”
Megren looks disbelieving.
Lanisen says, “/I know/!”
Megren says, “Well, looks like I’m off to Narnia tomorrow.”
Lanisen says, “I’m comin’ with you, and I’m stealin’ the whole pretzel cart to take with us.”
Megren says, “That feels like a proportionate reaction, yes.”
Lanisen draws a deep breath. “I don’t want to wait until Autumn, I want to go back now,” he confesses.
Megren’s expression turns serious. She presses her mouth to the side and asks, “Do you think you might?”
Lanisen rubs the side of his face. “Prob’ly not. I got duties here. And I missed you.”
Megren says, “I’ll, I’ll, if you want to, I’ll help you.”
Lanisen glances at her uncertainly.
Megren says again, “If that’s, if it’s what you want.”
Lanisen asks, “Did you– are you goin’ to Narnia after all?”
Megren says, “Not any time soon, I don’t think so.”
Lanisen says, “Oh.”
Megren says, “You should do what you feel called to.”
Lanisen glances at her, and then looks down. “I don’t know.” He shifts, reaching out to rub Tohol’s ears. “I think I won’t take this fellow again, whatever I do.”
Megren looks at Tohol, surprised.
Lanisen says quickly, “He was good, he was a good dog. He behaved himself. It was just–” He pushes his mouth to the side and rubs the hound’s neck. “It was confusing for him, I think, all the Talking Beasts.”
Megren says, “Oh. I guess I hadn’t thought of that.”
Lanisen says regretfully, “I should’ve.” He smooths a hand over Tohol’s head. “He was gonna fight a Wolf for me, though. After I got hurt. Caileana found us, did you meet her? And I was hurtin’ and couldn’t get back on Maestro and I couldn’t remember the way to the Inn, and then there she was, and Tohol was gonna take her on if she so much as looked at me funny.”
Megren asks, “Did she, did she look at you funny?”
Lanisen snorts. “No, she helped me find a downed tree so I could get back in the saddle, and then she gave me directions to the Inn, and then she followed us there to make sure we arrived safely.”
Megren says, “Oh. Good.”
Lanisen nods. “And when I got there, everybody was so kind. I was–” He wrinkles up his nose and rubs the back of his neck. “Um– wanderin’ around tryin’ to find the way with my foot hurt, it was– I got to thinkin’ who else might be about, you know, and– but it was fine? It was more than fine, it– I don’t know.”
Megren hesitates, then nods.
Lanisen says, “Anyway.”
Megren says again, “Well, good.”
Lanisen draws a deep breath. “So. What did I miss?”
Megren’s eyes drop down to the horse’s side, “Um, nothing really /interesting/ has happened here, just the usual squabbles and trysts and all of that.”
Lanisen asks, “Yeah?”
Lanisen hesitates, then says, “Well. Good, I suppose?”
Megren nods again. “Mostly when I helping the guards or servants it’s just speculation about Narnia or inquiring after you. Pretty boring.”
Lanisen snorts and looks down. He looks back up at her after a second, his head tilted and one eye narrowed, his mouth almost forming the beginning of a question.
Megren switches brushes.
Lanisen waits and then looks down at his hands, twirling a piece of straw between his fingers. “Your letter?” he asks finally, without looking up.
Megren colors, her lips curving a little, and she nods a couple of times without looking up.
Lanisen goes still, waiting.
Megren glances up, waiting for a stable hand to pass out of hearing distance before saying, “Um, he, he told his parents and they weren’t mad.” Her tone indicates that she still finds this a little bit of a surprise.
Lanisen closes his mouth, and swallows, and says, “Well, why would they be?”
Megren’s eyes flicker away from his face, her expression faltering a little. She scrubs a hand through her hair and says less enthusiastically, “I don’t know, lots of reasons. You know them all as well as me.”
Lanisen says, “They’re none of ’em good enough reasons, they’re…” He falters here himself, and draws a breath. “Anybody who’d– who’d look at those instead of you and decide they’re more important is an idiot.” All this is said without looking up from the straw.
Megren responds by not looking up from the horse, “Thanks.”
Lanisen glances up at her briefly, then focuses on tying the straw very carefully into a knot. “I’m happy for you,” he says softly after a moment.
Megren pushes her mouth to the side.
Lanisen’s straw breaks despite his care, and he drops it, brushing off his hands. He folds his arms on his knees and turns his face up toward her, though he watches the horse rather than her.
Megren finishes the scrub down in quietude.
Lanisen doesn’t break it.
Megren gives the horse a few good words and a treat and walks him over to his stall. When she returns, she says, “You’re probably tired?”
Lanisen says, “A little.”
Megren says “Go into the infirmary so Adrian can look at you and I’ll get something set up. You want your room or the kennel?”
Lanisen says, “Um,” and rubs his forehead. “The– the kennel.”
Megren nods. “Do you need help getting to the infirmary?”
Lanisen gets to his feet and picks up a walking stick from the pile of his belongings before he begins picking up satchels and blankets. “Nah, I’ll make it. I’ll just drop this stuff off first.”
Megren takes up about half of it.
Lanisen manages the rest, murmuring thanks, and aims for the kennel.
Megren goes ahead of him, unloading her stack at the top of the stairs and then descending to take his.
Lanisen makes it about halfway up the steps in this time. He hands over about half of the rest gratefully and follows her up.
Megren says, “Go to the infirmary.”
Lanisen drops his last bag and says, “Hang on, presents first.”
Megren scrubs a hand through her hair and hesitates, then sits.
Lanisen drops to his knees and rummages through the biggest bag. “Pretty sure I put everything in here… oh,” he says, and withdraws a small glass jar full of pale wildflower honey from where it is wrapped carefully in his scarf. “This is from Honeydrowse, it’s, they’re known for it, I guess, the Badgers. Explains the name.”
Megren’s lips curve up on one side.
Lanisen adds, “He says hello, and that his kits are obliged for the ginger candies, and that they all want to come and visit.”
Megren asks, “Did you say they could?”
Lanisen says, “Of course, what do you take me for.”
Megren says, “Good.”
Lanisen’s mouth curves up on one side. He digs a little further, makes a small satisfied noise, and hands over what seems at first to just be a bundle of handkerchiefs, but has an odd weight to it.
Megren watches this suspiciously.
Lanisen says, “You’re supposed to open it.”
Inside is a little stone carving. It seems to be obsidian or something similar, dark but translucent, but there are tiny flaws or inclusions in the stone that catch the light and flash it back silver. The carving is of a ship, sailing through a bed of clouds.
Megren turns the ship about, fascinated.
Lanisen says, “It’s– there’s a Dwarf in the Shuddering Wood, his name’s Brickledurn, he makes ’em. He’s the crankiest person you ever met, until he sees you like his work. He had a whole bunch, different constellations. Um– I don’t know if it’s the Boundless, or the other one that Haft talked about, or the one that Wintermoor talked about, or if they’re all the same, but–”
Megren’s brows lift and her eyes shine a little at the suggestion that it might represent her favorite constellation. She takes a moment to collect herself enough to say, “It’s beautiful.”
Lanisen peeks at her sidelong and half-smiles.
Megren says, “Thank you.”
Lanisen nods quickly. “I missed you,” he says again, not quite looking at her.
Megren’s nose creases at the corners and she pushes her mouth to the side, nodding. “I missed you too.”
Lanisen nods a couple times, glancing at her briefly before his eyes skitter away. “I should,” he says, and gestures toward the door.
Megren nods again, and again says, “Thank you.”
Lanisen says, “You’re, you’re welcome.”
Megren says, “Go have your foot looked at.”
Lanisen nods and gets up, making his way carefully down the stairs.
Megren tucks her hair behind her ear and carefully sets the gifts aside to go about setting up his things.
Lanisen returns after about half an hour. He leans his walking stick on the wall next to the door and limps over to open the shutters all the way to try to catch a breeze, then sits down with his dogs.
Megren is just coming down the stairs as he sits down. She hesitates when she sees he’s already there.
Lanisen glances up, surprised. “Oh, sorry,” he says. “I didn’t realize– I thought you’d gone.”
Megren says, “Just finished.”
Lanisen says, “Finished– oh.” He turns red. “Um. Thank you.”
Megren says, “No problem. I would have done it earlier if I’d known you were coming today. What’d they say about your foot?”
Lanisen shrugs. “He wrapped it up again, and scolded me a little bit, and said to put it in cold water and take willow bark if it hurts.”
Lanisen says, “It’s, it’s fine, anyway.”
Megren asks, “He said so?”
Lanisen says, “He said it’d be fine if I behave myself, which I will.”
Megren says, “All right.”
Lanisen nods and looks down.He turns his sleeve down carefully to cover his wrist and frowns distantly, his mouth open to say something he doesn’t seem to have decided on yet.
Megren asks, “Did you need to sleep?”
Lanisen asks, “What? No, no…”
Megren says, “Oh, all right.”
Lanisen asks, “Do you–? I don’t mean to keep you, if…”
Megren says, “Um, no. I can stay.”
Lanisen glances at her anxiously, but nods. He extricates himself from the hounds and gets up to his feet again, crossing to the cold hearth and then looking a little lost when he gets there. “Um,” he says finally, and turns halfway back toward her.
Megren asks, “You want tea?”
Lanisen says, distracted, “It’s too hot, I was just…” He makes a vague gesture that doesn’t seem to really mean anything and rubs the back of his neck. “Um,” he says, and hesitates. Without meeting her eyes, he offers a little shakily, “Do you want to… talk?”
Megren’s brows draw together. She crosses to the hearth and sits down there, setting the gifts beside her. “Sure, Lanisen.”
Lanisen says, “Wait, please, it’s–” He stops and closes his eyes briefly. “Would it… would it make it better if we talked, or– or would it be worse.”
Megren takes a breath and releases it. She mulls the question over and finally says, “I don’t think it’s fair to ask me that when I don’t know.” She pauses and the offers, “But it usually makes me feel better.”
Lanisen doesn’t sit down. He stays where he is, keeping a careful distance, and keeps his eyes down as well. He moistens his lips and finally says quietly, “It’s… what we haven’t been talking about.”
Lanisen says, “I don’t– I don’t want to make it worse, but I don’t know what’s the best way to…” He stops and draws a shaky breath. “I think I made it worse, I’m sorry.”
Megren asks, “Do you want to sit down?”
Lanisen hesitates, then lowers his head and crosses to sit with her on the hearth. He sits a little apart even so, careful of her space.
Megren pushes her mouth to the side and gathers her hands in her lap.
Lanisen looks at his hands and swallows. “You know, don’t you?” he says, more a statement than a question.
Megren lifts her shoulders. “I, maybe? I don’t — I don’t really want to be responsible for guessing.”
Lanisen swallows. He’s quiet for a long, difficult moment before he finally says, low and matter-of-fact, “I love you.”
Megren pulls in her lips.
Lanisen draws a breath and shifts, still carefully apart. “You don’t– you don’t have to say anything, I’m not– I’m not asking for anything. I know you can’t… I know you can’t.”
Megren tucks her hair behind her ear and says after a moment, “What kind of love?”
Lanisen shuts his eyes and covers his face.
Megren hesitantly puts her hand on his back.
Lanisen flinches slightly, and then goes very still. He draws a deep, careful breath.
Megren leans back against the hearth without removing her hand.
Lanisen lowers his hands from his face and folds his arms on his knees, hunched over them. “I’m tryin’ to– I’m putting it away,” he says finally.
Megren licks her lips and sighs, drawing her knee up to her.
Lanisen says, “That’s all it is, that’s all it’s… that’s all it’s been. I didn’t want to say.”
Megren draws in a breath and then tries to clarify again, “Like the, like the kissing kind of–? Or, or different?”
Lanisen breathes out and closes his eyes again. “Yes,” he says quietly. “Yes, both.”
Megren sucks in an uncomfortable breath.
Lanisen goes still again, then gets to his feet, reaching for his stick. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry; this wasn’t–”
Megren stands up also. “No, um, I think we can — I think we should talk it out.”
Lanisen takes a couple steps toward the door and stops. He swallows, then finally nods.
Megren asks, “Sit down?”
Lanisen hesitates, then returns reluctantly.
Megren waits until he sits to sit beside him.
Lanisen shifts, glancing at her from the corner of his eye uncertainly.
Megren blows out another breath.
Lanisen says wretchedly, “I didn’t want to say.”
Megren looks rather pink as she says, “I… don’t want to kiss you.”
Lanisen says, “I know; I know.”
Megren says, “But I do love you.”
Lanisen draws a deep breath and nods without looking at her.
Megren says, “A lot, a whole, a whole lot. I always want you around, and I always want you fulfilled and happy, and I would defend you with my life. And I, and I guess there’s a lot of people I would say the second two for, but it’s, I really want it for you, it’s, I actively feel it, it’s not just a passive philosophy. I love you differently from anyone else.” she pauses and then clarifies, “But I, I just don’t want to, I don’t want to kiss you is all.”
Lanisen pulls his lips between his teeth.
Megren’s ears and face stay pink and she scrubs at her brows. “I’m, I’m sorry, I’m really not, this is not something I’m good at.”
Lanisen says, “You don’t have to, you don’t– it’s all right.”
Megren screws up her mouth unhappily.
Lanisen rubs a hand over his face tiredly. “I know it’s not–”
Megren asks, “How long?”
Lanisen rubs a hand over his mouth. “I don’t know.”
Megren says, “But it’s not going away.”
Lanisen says, “I’m, I’m workin’ at it, it’s fine, it’ll be fine.”
Megren gets a vaguely skeptical and unhappy look.
Lanisen draws a deep breath. “I’m sorry.”
Megren says, “I don’t suppose it’s fair for you to have to be sorry about it.”
Lanisen says nothing.
Megren says after a moment, “What can I do?”
Lanisen shakes his head. After a small pause, he asks quietly, “Have I ruined it?”
Megren says, “I just want to know how to make it easier.”
Lanisen shakes his head again slightly. “Don’t– don’t hate me?”
Megren says, “No, no, I don’t.”
Lanisen says, “All right.”
Megren asks, “Do you want me to– should I not hug you?”
Lanisen doesn’t seem to know how to answer this at all. He draws an unhappy breath.
Megren pushes her lips together.
Lanisen says, “I don’t know what’s–”
Megren says, “I just want to make it easier.”
Lanisen shakes his head helplessly. “I don’t–”
Megren screws up her mouth.
Lanisen covers up his face again and sort of folds in on himself.
Megren hesitates, and then puts her hand on his back again.
Lanisen shivers and stills. His hands slide around to lace behind his head, his elbows on his knees. “I don’t know if–” He draws an unsteady breath. “It, it– it feels like accepting something that isn’t– something that’s gonna… disappear soon. Not just, not just hugs, I mean– all of it.”
Megren frowns and says slowly, trying to work out his meaning, “I’m only going to act differently if it helps you to get past it. Otherwise there’s nothing in my life that’s likely to change our friendship.”
Lanisen looks at her unhappily.
Megren promises, “Really.”
Lanisen exhales and lowers his head again, tired and pained.
Megren runs her hand quietly over his shoulders.
Lanisen says, “You eat with me almost every night, we go on, on long walks and rides and campin’ trips alone, you sleep here sometimes, that’s not– you can’t tell me that won’t change.”
Megren pushes her lips upwards. “Well,” she says thoughtfully. “No, I don’t expect most of it to? Not while we’re both in the castle. And it’s you that’s got the regular commitment to leave right now.”
Lanisen asks, straightening, “/How/ would it not? When you’re married, when you’ve got somebody to go home to, how could that not change?”
Megren says, “We’ve both got work, and lives, and I don’t expect him to leave his friends for me, and if he expects that from me, then we’ve pretty severely misunderstood each other.”
Lanisen shudders again, an oddly still full-bodied tremor of the sort that comes from stress or fear, and puts his face in his hands again. “I don’t… want to kiss you, not really, not– not like–” he says finally. “I just want to– I want to eat supper with you, and bring you lunch when you’re on shift, and I want to keep bein’ your quiet place, and have tea and cocoa and long talks, and– if I find somethin’ new and beautiful, I want to share it with you, and I want to fall asleep knowin’ you’re nearby, and–” He draws a ragged-edged breath. “/Some/ of that is gonna go away, it’s– it just /is/, that’s what happens when…”
Megren sucks at the inside of her lip. “I’m not Sir Colin, or Kirby.”
Lanisen closes his mouth and swallows.
Megren says, “You and I have never really lived lives going very much in the same direction, and that hasn’t gotten in the way whenever we were in the same places so far.”
Lanisen says, “That’s not…”
Megren argues, “You just left the country for over a month.”
Lanisen pauses, stung. “I don’t know what I’m meant to say to that.”
Megren says, “You can’t, you can’t expect somebody to just stay in the same place forever just for you. I didn’t ask you to.”
Lanisen goes very still. He doesn’t answer for a moment, then says quietly without looking up, “I’m not askin’ you to. I’m sayin’ it’s not reasonable for me to ask those things, or for you to say that nothing’s gonna change.”
Megren looks upset, and a little angry.
Lanisen shuts his eyes. “I’m sorry, I don’t– I’m sorry.”
Megren says, “You won’t –” she makes a frustrated noise. “Just, just once, I wish I felt like you believed anything I said.”
Lanisen’s shoulders hunch up slightly and he stares at his hands.
Megren says, “Listen, I’m not–” she pauses. “I, I am mad, but I — I’ll get over it. I just, I’ve told you this so many times, I’m not changing, and you’re not changing, and maybe some circumstances are going to change, yes, but /we/ don’t have to change unless you choose for us to. I haven’t chosen that, and I’m not planning to choose that, and I don’t, I don’t really appreciate being told I don’t understand my own behavior.”
Lanisen doesn’t respond for a moment. He finally nods.
Megren takes a breath. “So,” she pauses. “So, I’m going to go be mad for a little bit, and you can, you can sleep or think, or whatever, whatever you need to do, and then tomorrow if you want to talk about it again, then, all right, or otherwise we can do what you say you’ve been wanting and just, be normal people again.”
Lanisen nods again quickly, his expression twisting up a little. “I’m sorry,” he whispers.
Megren nods sharply once, and gets up. “I know.” She draws a breath. “I’ll see you tomorrow.”
Lanisen says, “All right.”
Megren hesitates and says, “Thank you for the gifts. I’m glad you’re home.”
Lanisen nods again, not looking up. He seems to be trying to keep it together until she’s left.
Lanisen stays where he is for a long while, then grabs his walking stick and limps out across the ward to the cool dark pasture.