A Bear by the Fire

In which there is an offer of friendship

Off-duty Mess

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img5275This is the place where off duty soldiers and sailors can relax and eat. There is a small cookfire and hearth and a few tables set up nearby. On one wall is a dart board, and on a small table in the corner there is a chess set. Someone has left a pile of parchment with sketches of his fellow knights on another table. This is a comfortable, casual room. -=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=

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You can go: Out to the Northern Stairwell <S>

Contents: A daughter of eve with short, copper hair (Megren).

Haft sits with his boots propped up near the fire, arms folded across his chest.

Megren saunters into the mess and settles on the ground next to the fire, stretching her legs out in front of her and leaning back on her elbows.

Haft glances at her.  “How do you make that comfortable?”

Megren asks, “…Lying down?”

Haft says, “More the pressing on the elbows.  Seems like it’d pinch after a bit.”

Megren says, “Oh.” She shrugs. “I guess then you move.”

Haft asks, “I guess so.  Just off duty?”

Megren says, “Just saw Sir Colin off.”

Haft looks mildly interested.  “Him and Lanisen both?”

Megren says, “Yeah. Gonna be quiet around here.”

Haft snorts.  “Oh aye, because Lanisen’s one of the chattiest people I know.”

Megren glances at him. “I guess.”

“Well,” Haft amends, “maybe he’s chattier with other folk.  Safe journey to them, anyway.  They say how long they’d be gone?”

Megren says, “A couple fortnights I think. It depends on how long it takes Sir Colin’s fiancee to prepare to be a lady.”

Haft asks, “Prepare to be a lady?”

Megren says, “Yep.”

Haft says, “Sorry, don’t think I follow.”

Megren tilts her head. “Well… she’ll be a lady when she marries Sir Colin and… she has to know how.”

Haft looks surprised.  “The maiden in question is common born?”

Megren says, “…Right.”

Haft says, “Well, that’s unexpected.”

Megren says, “Oh, not really. Sir Colin’s been making eyes at her a long time, from what everyone says.”

“I meant unexpected for the king’s nephew,” Haft explains.  “But good for them, if she’s an admirable woman.”

Megren giggles.

Haft narrows his eyes.  “Why is that funny?”

Megren says, “You’re doing that thing again.”

Haft asks, “What thing?”

Megren says, “The… the qualifying sort of thing. If she’s admirable. Like she wouldn’t be.”

Haft tilts his head slightly.  “And you’re doing your own thing.”

Megren lifts her brows at him.

Haft growls, though without much heat, “The one where you judge my words without really knowing what I mean by them.”

Megren frowns reflectively. “Sorry, didn’t mean it to seem like that. I just think it’s a funny way to talk.”

Haft frowns in his turn, steepling his fingers under his chin and staring into the fireplace.  “Is it?  I can’t remember anymore.”

Megren props herself up a little higher on her elbows. “What’s funny or how to talk?”

Haft shakes his head at both choices.  “If I used to talk like that.  There was a time I took people at face value.  Reckon I don’t anymore.”

Megren ohs.

Haft he turns to her.  “But you do, yes?”

Megren tilts her head. “I guess so.”

Haft says, “That’s endearing Megren, and I hope you’ll forgive me if I say it’s also naive.  I hope you never have to pay for it.”

Megren grins at him, and observes without malice, “That’s condescending.”

Haft s lips twitch.  “It is.  Well, I ain’t gonna say sorry.”

Megren sits the rest of the way up, slipping one leg underneath her and wrapping her arms around the other. She takes a breath as if to say something, then releases it instead.

Haft asks, “You remind me of myself as a new recruit, a little.  Does that terrify you?”

Megren gives him a small frown, “I feel like you’d like it to.”

Haft grunts.  “It should if you think you’d turn out a cantankerous old bear.  But I don’t reckon that’s your lot.”

Megren says, “I don’t think so either.”

Haft says, “Well there you are.  It’s a good time in your life–was in mine–enjoy it.”

Megren glances at the ceiling. After a moment, she says, “I’m sorry.”

Haft turns to her.  “For what?”

Megren tilts her head, looking into the fire rather than at him. “That you consider anyone ending up like you a terrifying thought. And you have to call the past a good time instead of the present.”

Haft looks like he doesn’t know how to answer this and it takes him a long time to find the words.  “I’m…not who I thought I’d be when I started out.  Not who I was twenty years ago, or fifteen.  Not who I wanted to be.  I’ve done a lot over the years I’m not proud of, and I’m trying to do better now, but it’s hard to remember that man.”

Megren gives him a blithe smile. “Well, I’ll tell you the cure for that is lots of darts, lots of drink, and lots of friends.”

Haft’s smiles is sadder.  “‘Friends?’  Be careful which old bear you offer your hand to Megren.  Even Talking Beasts aren’t tame.”

Megren mms. “I’d love to hear you say a thing like that to the High King Peter.” Her eyes flash with humor. “But anyway, I’m not sure where you’re getting tame from. I’m sure I didn’t say it. Isn’t tame halfway between predictable and…” she takes a moment to think how to express it, “Obedient? Who wants obedient friends?”

Haft shakes his head.  “I just mean you’re liable to get hurt.  There’s plenty you don’t know about me, and once you do, you might not be quite so keen.”

Megren says, “Tell me.”

Haft’s face creases, and his eyes flicker with pain at the unexpected request, so simply put.  For an instant he looks as though he’s on the brink of revealing something, but then the moment passes.  “Not tonight, Megren.  Don’t ask me tonight.”

Megren clicks her tongue, as if what she has to say next is a loss to him. “Friends it is, then.”

Haft exhales, shaking his head at her.  “For tonight.”  He leans forward in his chair, bringing his elbows to rest on his knees.  “You’re wrong, you know, if you think I don’t believe the present is good.  Every watch I see the sun set or the stars rise over Anvard is a miracle to me, a blessing I thought I’d lost forever.  It’s…complicated now, but I value it more than I used.”

Megren says, “I’m glad to hear that.”

Haft asks, “What’s your favorite part of the position?”

Megren tilts her head, reflectively half-focusing on a section of wall some ways behind him. “Favorite? I don’t know. Probably…knowing that I’m helping people that maybe wouldn’t have the help if I weren’t there. But there’s so much that’s good about it. You get to meet all sorts of people, and get to know the knights and some of the other lords and ladies, live in a castle. And me, I get to know my father’s comfortable and I get to use the things he taught me, and to learn new things, too. I don’t know, all of it, very nearly. What about you?”

Haft says, “Same I guess.  Serving others.  Protecting them so they can get on with doing whatever it is they’re doing.  People with their own dreams or concerns, whether small or grand.  If I can be watchful so they don’t have to, that’s what I want to do, even if they never notice me.  And, well, there’s pride too.”

Megren says, “Oh. I suppose so.”

Haft says, “I don’t just mean pride in wearing the livery.  There’s that too.  I mean pride in serving a house that’s worth serving.  My father told me when I was a lad that there was a difference between good soldiers and great soldiers.  The good soldiers report on time, do their watch, take home their pay at the end of a hard day’s work, and they’ve done honorably in doing so…”

Megren raises her brows, waiting for the second boot to fall.

Haft says, “But a great soldier also loves the people he serves, both small and great.  And he loves them whether they’re particularly deserving of it or not.  Well, that’s easier said than done sometimes, and goodness knows I ain’t perfect at it, but I’ve never had any trouble loving the Royal House of Anvard.  A king who’ll fight a fire alongside his guards.  A queen who was the most gracious of ladies while she lived.  The king’s good father before him.  They’ve always made it so easy…Can you imagine serving in the House of the Tisroc?””

Megren grins, “Well, if that Prince’s reaction to seeing me in livery was any indication, there wouldn’t be any chance of that.”

Haft raises his brows.  “Oh, you’ve met our…guest?”

Megren mhms. “Very polite, for someone so offended.”

Haft snorts.  “Terribly polite, for someone throwing me out of a room I was already occupying.  Cept for when he referred to me as ‘rabble’.  That wasn’t so polite, but then I don’t imagine he meant me to hear it.  Me personally, I feel for the fellow who has to follow him all over the place.

Megren says, “Oh, I bet he has all kinds of private laughs.”

Haft looks thoughtful.  “So he didn’t like you in livery.  I’d dearly love to see one of our best swordswomen lesson him…if he can handle a blade.  Seems like he might be more the scholarly type.  What do you think?”

Megren taps her chin with her finger. “Oh, I’m sure he’s got the basics, if he’s anything like our lords. But I can’t imagine it would do more than rankle him, to have him beaten by someone he didn’t approve of, even if he stooped to agree to it in the first place. Finer folk have turned off through that kind of teaching, and certainly Prince Rabadash didn’t show the sort of humility needed. Anyway, I don’t mind. I know I’m fit for the job and that’s enough for me.”

Haft says, “Oh, I don’t think for one second he’d actually accept the challenge.  Just rather liked the image, is all.”

Megren takes a log from the rack and thrusts it into the dying fire. “How much longer do you suppose he’ll stay?”

Haft says, “No idea.  What do you discuss in this situation?  Assurances there won’t be another attack?  And what’s an assurance from Calormen worth anyway, when they’ve already played falsely?  But I guess that’s what the king and the nobles know how to figure out: how to keep it from happening again.  But how long that sort of thing takes…well, it’s never happened in all the time I was here.  Be happy to see the back of him though.  Can’t get in the library to look at the swordfighting books without getting all twitchy.”

Megren asks, “Why don’t you ask the bookkeeper to let you take one into the barracks for a few days?”

“Hmm, might do,” Haft responds.  “Don’t really like asking, valuable as they are.  Bring it back to the barracks and it could get damaged.  End up with bells tied to the spine.”

Megren grins unchecked. “That might be an improvement.”

Haft scowls.  “Ain’t right, meddling with a comrade’s weapon, or his weaponry books.  You just watch yourself.”

Megren nods seriously. “That I’ll be sure to do.”

Haft rises from his chair, offering a hand to help her up.  “Well, since we’re friends, let’s see if we can’t go find Gearn and talk him into a round of cubes.”

Megren looks quite pleased by these words, and she accepts his hand. “Sounds like my kind of way to spend an evening.”

Haft pulls her to her feet and leads her out into the hall.

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