Cooking Lessons

In which there is food and angst

Kitchen

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You stand in the busy kitchen of Anvard. There is a large hearth with a blazing fire. Over the fire there is an iron pot hanging on the hearth hook.

There is one long table, stacked with bowls and platters and pitchers, used for preparation and serving. There is a large door into the Inner Ward to the north and a set of swinging, double doors leading to the Great Hall. To the east is the Servant’s Hall, and a door in the center of the south wall leads out to the Kitchen Yard. -=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=

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You can go: Inner Ward <N>, Servants’ Hall <E>, Kitchen Yard <S>, Great Hall <NW>

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

Haft sits by the fire where he’s just finishing roasting up some meat.

Megren comes into the kitchen, Owin trailing behind her.

Haft glances up.  “Hey there. Didn’t say you were bringing company.”

Megren gestures to the other guard with her head. “Turns out nobody in this castle knows how to make a stew.” She grins at Owin, who looks uncertain exactly how he ended up here. “I told this one he could watch, as long as it was all right with you.”

Haft looks awkward.  “Yeah, fine,” he says gruffly.  I made extra anyway.”  He removes the meat from the fire, and gets about the business of cutting it and serving it onto a couple of plates.

Megren pulls a couple of stools up to the prep table and perches on top of one, tucking one leg under her.

Haft sets the plates on the table.  “Have at it.”

Megren cuts the venison apart into small, equally sized pieces, examining it. She pulls the rabbit meat from the bone with a little effort, using her knife and fork together. Owin digs in without examination or discrimination.

Haft crosses his arms and waits for Megren to pass judgment, not offering an excuse for the slightly burnt rabbit.

Megren chews her thumbnail as she examines the meat. “Well, no one’s going to die from it,” she says.

Haft nods in satisfaction.  “My point exactly.”

Megren taps her lip and says to Owin, “So, with the rabbit, if you want to do it whole like this, boiling’s the easiest way to cook it through without burning. All you need is a pail and a stick and a couple hours, even if you only have a cookfire instead of a kitchen. If you’re not boiling, though, you want to only do the saddle or the torso– um, the middle part, I mean– because otherwise it’s not fatty enough and it burns too easy.”

Haft leans next to the fire, listening but looking unimpressed.

Megren squints an eye at Owin, who doesn’t seem to have absorbed much of this. She gets up and trips down to the other side of the kitchen to talk to one of the late night servants. After a little conversation, the servant disappears and returns with a few brown paper parcels, which she hands to Megren, who returns to the men.

Haft eyes the parcels.  “I suppose you mean to start right now?”

Megren puts the packages on the table. “This one’s venison. This one’s coney. This one’s quail.” She nods at Haft. “Get a bucket?”

Haft cocks a brow.  “More buckets?  You’re not planning another fire I hope?”

Megren makes a face at him. “It’s for boiling.”

Haft lifts his hands innocently.  “Well, in that case.”  He crosses the kitchen and returns with a bucket.  “You want this filled, I guess?”

Megren nods, talking to Owin as Haft goes. “You always want to get moving water, even though you’re boiling it. If it’s still, it’s probably not good. Best check is if animals are drinking it. But you can collect rainwater or melt snow, and if it’s muddy at all sometimes you can dig a hole. That’s gonna make for muddy water, but if you strain it through your shirt or another cloth, it won’t be too bad. Water’s more important than meat, so if you can’t find very much then don’t waste it boiling meat.”

Haft steps out to the ward, returning once he’s filled the bucket and hefting it onto the table.

Haft catches the end of what Megren’s saying.  “You’re teaching woodcraft too?  Thought this was just cooking.”

Megren begins to unwrap the coney parcel. “They go together. Not if you’re cooking here for your mates, but you’ve got to eat when you’re in the forest.” She demonstrates some quick, simple preparations to make the rabbit more tender and to be sure it cooks more thoroughly. “I can’t show you how to skin it since it’s already mostly prepared, but maybe Haft can some time.” She dumps the lot into the pot. “That’s got to cook all evening if you’ve just got a makeshift fire. Maybe an hour in here. It’s easy to dump some potatoes and rosemary in halfway through, though you’ll have to stick with what’s on hand in the forest.” She pulls a few herbs down from where they are hung from the ceiling. “This one’s fresney, and this one’s yarrow. They’re both good for eating, but yarrow looks like water hemlock, and you don’t want that, so if you’re not sure, don’t even try. Closes up your throat before anyone can help you. The nice thing about boiling is you can throw just about anything in there that isn’t poison and it’ll coo

cook all right. May not be anything to place before the king, but you can swallow it.”

Haft looks doubtful.  “May not be anything to place before me either if you don’t get some salt in there.”

Megren squints at him. “That’s… already on it. If you don’t eat it right away, you have to put salt on for preservation.”

Haft shrugs.  “So this ain’t fresh  All right, go on.”

Megren gives him an uncertain look and says to Owin, “By right away I mean… same day.”

Megren says, “If it’s wrapped in these kitchens, it’s going to be at least a day old.”

Haft nods and gestures for her to continue.

Megren puts the fresney and yarrow away and takes down some rosemary and sage for the pot. Then she unwraps the venison. “If you’re in the forest and you don’t think there’ll any bear problems, venison makes a good jerky. But we won’t do that today, since we’ve got a kitchen. This meat’s been aged for us. If you’re out and you need to eat it right away, you can age it by hanging it in the wind for about a half hour. There’s better ways, like what the kitchen has, but you’re probably not going to use those.”

Haft listens, expression mild.

Megren says, “You don’t have to cook venison so much, and it doesn’t need very much flavor, because it has quite a bit already. You can’t do it whole, like the rabbit, obviously, and different parts cook different. This one’s a shoulder, so we braise it.” She unhooks a pan from the ceiling and begins to prepare it. “If you can take a pan out with you camping, it’s second useful to a pail. Braising’s easy– it’s just simmering the meat in a little covered liquid until it comes off with a fork. You can put some leaves or vegetables in toward the end, or you can put the cooked meat in a soup.””

Haft asks, “What kind of leaves?”

Megren says, “Like fresney or rosemary. Um, larch if it’s winter and you’re desperate, though juniper tea is a little better if you can find it.”

Haft frowns.  “To drink or to add to the pot?”

Megren says, “Oh, to drink. Venison and rabbit both have enough flavor you can eat them plain for taste, but you get tired after a while if you can’t get any green things.”

Haft nods.  “Right.  Carry on.”

Megren places the prepared pan on the fire. “The quail’s the easiest. You can just put it on a stick and roast it. We’re going to clean this one out and stuff it, though.” She gives the servant a questioning look and the other woman indicates where she can find some bread.

Haft looks a little more interested. “Stuff it?”

Megren nods, moving to exchange a few words with the woman and returning with a few carrots and mushrooms. She cuts a mushroom in half and begins explaining to Owin how to recognize the vein pattern on the inside in order to identify whether the mushroom is poisonous. The explanation is complex, and a quick learner would probably not follow it, let alone Owin.

Haft gives Megren a pointed look behind Owin’s back.  “Might be best to practice identifying some of those with Megren before you try cooking anything.  Better yet, let the grocer find ’em for you.”

Megren nods. “I don’t recommend going for mushrooms until you’re confident about it.”

Haft snorts.  “Yep.”

Dar comes walking into the kitchen from the ward.

Megren displays the appropriate method of deboning and cleaning the quail, forming a ball of the excess meat and adding the sliced mushrooms and carrots to it, along with a few herbs. She wraps the bird back around the stuffing, pointing out the width of the overlap point, and then she ties it with string. “Then it’s roasting like normal, only a little longer. And our venison should be done.”

Haft stands leaning against the fireplace, watching Megren’s instruction with more interest now.

Dar enters the kitchen with a quill in one hand and a long roll of parchment in the other. He has apparently been triple-checking the inventory. He draws up short at the sight of Megren’s cooking lesson in progress. His eyebrow jerks up so sharply that it nearly leaves his face altogether.

Megren checks the venison, which isn’t quite finished. She indicates to Owin why, and then spits the quail and places the spit in the hook. “You’ll have to find a couple of sling-shaped sticks to prop the spit in over a regular fire, obviously. They get steadier if you put rocks around them.”

Haft says, “How do you know when the quail’s done through?  I’ve never made a stuffed one.”

Megren nods, “You turn it over the direct flame until it’s brown on all sides and then–” she catches sight of Lord Dar. “Oh–” She bows hastily.

Dar quietly clears his throat to announce his presence. He addresses Megren. “Ought we see to reassigning you? Your skills are apparently wasted in your present position.” His mouth twitches very faintly.

Haft turns at the sound.  His eyes widen slightly and he bows.

Megren shifts, “Uh– I was just…. Brosie said it was all right–”

Dar looks amused for only the briefest instant before his features resume their ordinary attitude of lugubriousness. “It is for the head cook to say how the kitchen is used. If Brosie offers no objection–”

Haft glances between the two.

Megren startles and remembers to check the venison again, which is finished this time. “I just thought it’d be good for folks to know a few basics.”

Dar’s eyebrow raises again. “I see. A laudable project. Have there been shortages in the kitchens which I am unaware of?”

Megren shakes her head, “No, no– um, the opposite, even. Just,” she glances at Haft, not wanting to reveal anything he doesn’t want revealed.

Haft says, “Actually, I think she’s paying me back for inspiring her to learn her letters.  Told her I could cook just fine, but she didn’t seem to believe me.”

Haft says, “Don’t know how poor Owin got involved.”

Dar has followed Megren’s glance, though his attention returns to her at Haft’s comment, perhaps more keenly this time.

Megren gives Owin a grin, before saying, “Are you hungry, Sir? It’s not Brosie’s food, but–” she shrugs. “That’s why you’re here, isn’t it? Or… late night stocks?”

Haft looks to Dar for his response.

Dar taps the parchment. “A matter of accurate inventory. Brosie will tell you that I seldom eat when there is work to be completed.” His mouth turns very slightly upward at the corners. “On this occasion, however, an exception might be made–” He crosses off one unit of venison from his list.

Megren wrinkles her nose and uncovers the braised venison, to which she’s added some leeks while the quail was being prepared. She moves the quail to indirect heat. The venison looks competent, but as Megren has said, not as skilled as the kitchen cooks’ work.

Haft sniffs.  “Smells good.”

Dar makes no observation as to the condition of the meal. His interest is subtle (couched by his normal laconic nature), but it is nonetheless present.

Megren gestures Owin over to take a look at the rabbit, which is about half-finished. “Oh–” she says, looking to Haft. “Right, about the quail. You brown it, and then you move it to indirect heat for about a half hour. It shouldn’t have any pink.”

Haft asks, “And that’s long enough to soften up the stuffing and all?”

Megren nods. “Small bird. In the kitchen you can oil it, but you probably wouldn’t have it while you’re out.”

Dar takes a rather different view of the matter. “It ought to be possible to calculate by the weight of the bird and the distance from the flames the precise length of time necessary to achieve the proper temperature–”

Haft gapes a little.  “Ah…should it?”

Megren tilts her head and nods, tucking her hair behind her ear. “I suppose maybe Brosie’s got thoughts on that. I only know what my father taught me.”

Dar runs a hand through his hair. “Ah–experience can be an excellent tutor. That bird before us seems to speak for itself. It was merely a thought.”

Haft purses his lips.  “I think if the bird had more experience, might not have gotten itself cooked, to be honest, milord.”

Dar blinks at this observation. “Er–quite.”

Megren giggles, not able to cover her mouth, as she’s presently wiping her hands.

Owin cracks a small smile.

Dar coughs, certainly not to cover a laugh of his own, being far too austere for that.

Megren gets rather a big grin at the cough, and she cuts up the venison and dishes it out for each of them while they wait on the other meats.

Haft pokes at the venison a little before taking a bite and chewing thoughtfully.

Dar attends to the small slice of meat before him. He leans in to observe the color at the center, then raises a small piece to his nose to determine the spices Megren has used, and finally, with perfect court manners, helps himself to a bite, dabbing once at the his mouth with a square of linen. He gives a single nod in approval.

Megren makes a skeptical face at him.

Haft swallows the meat.  “Tastes good.”  He glances at Owin, who nods.

Megren points her fork at him. “Now you, too, can make unburnt food.”

Dar responds to Megren by raising an eyebrow in his habitual gesture. He has another bite raised to his mouth when she speaks again, and he actually looks amused, if only for a second. “You presume–“, he says wryly.

Haft scowls.  “The venison I made was not burnt.  It was perfectly good.”

Megren tilts her head in a conciliatory fashion.

Dar states, “I can, if required, produce a passable roast. By the book and lacking in imagination, granted–”

Haft says, “Well, something a little fancier’s a treat, I’ll admit.  I’m curious to try the quail.”

Megren widens her eyes scandalously at Lord Dar. “One ahead of your brother, then.” She squints an eye at Haft and scoots off her stool to check on the bird.

Dar hehs. “I shall refrain from passing that along to him. I have had, I admit, a few additional years to further my education that he has not, and I read rather more widely–” This is said in the dry tone that passes for humor with him.

Haft gestures toward Lord Dar.  “There you have it Megren, another use for reading.  You’ll be able to pick up more information on cooking.”

Megren gives Lord Dar a look as she pulls the bird off the fire and places it on the plate. “You think he’s not the one defaming his own cooking? I’m skeptical, myself.”

Dar cants his head. “And why should he wish to do that?”

Haft says, “Probably so no one will ask him to cook.”

Dar coughs again. “Hardly–ah–likely to happen.”

“True,” Haft admits.

Megren gives Haft a grin as she cuts up the quail, which indeed does seem pretty well prepared. “I don’t know. He talks like that.”

“No doubt he will dazzle us all with his hidden cooking skills someday,” Haft says dryly.

Dar sniffs in appreciation as the quail is produced. He answers with some acerbity, “Sir Darrin has many hidden depths. However, I would imagine, that he gave a precise statement of his abilities in this case.”

Megren parcels the quail out, the kind of grin that says she’s having a joke with herself on her face.

Haft straightens slightly at Dar’s tone.

Dar thanks her for his portion with perfect politeness.

Haft says, “Thanks Megren,” accepting his own plate.

Megren gathers her feet up under her. “I promised the rabbit to Lila for helping us in here.”

Dar observes, “Generous and fair.”

Haft’s lips twitch.  “You could have given her mine.”

Megren says, “You just feel free to do that for her some time, Haft.”

Haft ignores the comment and takes an experimental bite of the quail.

Dar’s mouth twitches very distinctly at this. He is soon finished with the entirety of his portion of quail. “Speaking of my brother–I ought to go find him. He wished my advice about a suitable horse.”

Megren tucks her hair behind her ear and slips off the chair to bow to him. “Oh, good night, Sir. Thanks for joining us.”

Haft bows.  “Pleasant evening, my lord.”

Dar inclines his head to them both. “An enjoyable meal with enjoyable company. I cannot ask for more.”

Owin bows.

Megren tucks her hair behind her ear again and smiles her thanks for the compliment.

Haft stands stiffly.

Dar walks into the Inner Ward.

Haft looks after Dar.  “Advice about a horse?  Thought Sir Darrin had settled on…Gambol, was it?”

Megren sits on the stool again, leaning her chin on her hand. “Just until he can get back to Coghill and choose a regular one.”

Haft says, “Ah, right.”  He finishes off the last of the quail.  “That was quite good.  A definite improvement over an ordinary bird…or a nice change, at any rate.”

Megren lifts a shoulder. “Next time you’re on your own, you can have a change then, if you want it.”

Haft asks, “Could, if I trust the mushrooms…there anything else you can use instead?”

Megren tilts her head. “Onions, leeks…”

Haft nods.  “You learned to cook from your father?

Megren clasps her forearms on the table. “Mhm. About half in the forest and half in the house. He has a taste for cheese and bread, though, so a little more in the forest, at least when we had the money for it.”

Haft nods.  “Those’re the things a hunter can’t get too easily.  Or cider or ale, unless you press or make your own.”

Megren says, “Not too practical, anyway. We had a strong cider he liked for winters sometimes.”

Haft asks, “Who made that?”

Megren says, “There’s a woman in town. She comes to the outer ward sometimes.”

Haft says, “Got a name?  I might have to try her wares.”

Megren lifts her brows, “Oh, of course, sure. Sheta’s the name. About your age, blonde, white at the temples. Sometimes her husband comes, Arn.”

Haft asks, “I’ll keep an eye out.  So, is that the lesson done for tonight?”

Megren says, “Mhm. We’ll do vegetables better sometime, but we’d be better to wait until summer, so we’re not taking what little the kitchen’s got from the solarium.”

Haft says, “Yeah, don’t imagine Brosie would appreciate that.”  He pauses.  “So, how’s your letters coming?””

Owin looks back and forth from Haft to Megren.

Megren glances at Owin and tilts her head a little shyly. “I don’t know. I can do my name.”

Haft says, “Really?  You’ll have to show me tomorrow.”

Megren wrinkles her nose at this suggestion.

Haft says, “What?  We all start at the beginning.  Mind you, Owin and I have it easy.  We have fewer letters in our names.”

Owin looks confused.  “I can’t write either, so doesn’t matter really…”

Megren clasps Owin’s hand over the table. “Thank the Lion, an ally.”

Haft huffs.  “What’s that supposed to mean?  I thought you wanted to learn.  I certainly didn’t make you.”

Megren says, “Just sometimes seems like everybody already knows how but me and Prince Cor. And he’s learning by bounds, from what everyone says.”

Haft smiles.  “Is he?  That’s grand.”

Megren lifts her shoulders. “That’s what they say.”

Haft says, “I ain’t seen him much, to be honest, these past few weeks.  He been down to the kennels often, with Lanisen away?  You said you were helping down there.”

Megren shakes her head. “I heard he’s sitting in on the meetings with Prince Roshan. I guess he’s probably pretty busy with it.”

Haft makes a face.  “Well that sounds just delightful.”

Megren says, “Not as good as puppies, that’s for sure.”

Haft shakes his head.  “That reminds me, my time’s almost up with that book.  I have to finish my copying and return it in the next day or two or the librarian will have my hide, shiny shoes or no.”

Megren asks, “You want me to return it for you so you don’t get caught by anyone with their nose in the air?”

Owin stares blankly.

Haft tilts his head.  “I can think of at least three reasons why that is a very poor idea.”

Megren lifts her brows. “List, please.”

Haft ticks his points off on his fingers. “First: If you go in and return that book, you might encounter the, ah…nasally elevated prince.  No doubt he’ll have fits when he discovers that in this country, women can not only serve in the guard, but read.  Second:  Sending you in in order to avoid him is the coward’s way out.  I’m many things, but not that.  And Third, and most important: If you return with the book, she’ll rake me over the coals for having let another soul touch it.  She’s far more terrifying than Prince Roshan.

Megren makes a face at him. “It’s not cowardly, and Lady Aravis reads. I’ll give you the last one, though.”

Haft says, “Ah, yes, I saw her reading on the well once.”

Megren says, “You see.”

Haft opens his mouth to ask a question, then glances at Owin and closes it again.

Megren tilts her head at him. “Something on your mind?”

Haft says, “Nothing that can’t keep.”

Owin appears to be oblivious to Haft’s unease, but yawns broadly and scratches his side.  “I liked the food, Megren.  You’ll have to show me more about those mushrooms sometime.”

Megren tilts her head. “Sure, Owin. So long as you promise not to go hunting on your own any time soon,” she grins.

Owin grins.  “Sounds about right.  I’m dead on my feet though.  I’ll see you in the morning?”

Megren says, “Yeah, I will.”

Owin bobs his head and walks out of the kitchens.

Haft watches him go.  “You sure teaching him about mushrooms is a good idea?”

Megren says, “He said he won’t look. And better knowing something than nothing. We’ll keep at it, him and I, til he’s got it figured.”

Haft says, “Yeah, that’s right, I guess.”

Megren points at him. “Same for you, if you don’t know how already. They aren’t simple like berries.”

Haft raises his hands in protest.  “I’m the one who said he should go to the grocer.  Cause that’s what I do.  I may’ve earned my living as a hunter, but I wasn’t raised by one.  First thing you learn in Narnia anyway is not to stick strange things in your mouth.  Lots of curious plants there, cause maladies you don’t see in Archenland.”

Haft says, “Ok, maybe not the first thing you learn…but you get the point.”

Megren nods acceptance of this. “Just checking.”

Haft says, “And you’re right that a stew’s the best way to make sure the meat’s cooked proper.  Sometimes just kept one heated where I lived in Barfield, added to it as I caught game or found vegetables.”

Megren nods. “We’ve done that before, a couple winters.”

Haft glances around, noticing their corner of the kitchen is more or less quiet now.  “I was wanting to ask, have you encountered the Lady Aravis much?”

Megren says, “Oh. She tilts her head. “I haven’t been introduced or anything, just seen her around.””

Haft nods.  He lifts his hand to stroke his beard.

Megren says, “Prince Cor’s about the sweetest kid I’ve seen, and he likes her, though.”

Haft breaks into another small smile at the mention of Cor.  “That is a very high recommendation, yes.”  He chuckles.  “I’ve only spoken to her once, myself.  IT was an experience.”

Megren asks, “Yeah?”

Haft says, “Hmm.  About like meeting Prince Roshan, but she wasn’t nearly so polite about it.””

Megren grins, “Well, you do come off a little gruff at the front.”

Haft snorts.  “That is a very diplomatic way of putting it, Megren.  Actually, I was quite rudely staring at her, and she called me on it.  Was before my hearing with the king.  I was still wearing the clothes I’d worn through the battle, and I can’t have looked altogether respectable.”

Megren concedes, “Not everyone is as flattered by staring as others of us.”

Haft arcs a brow.  “If you want me to stare at you all day, I’m afraid you’ll have to find an admirer whose pay is not dependent on keeping his eyes on the throng.

Megren says, “Or, I start making trouble.”

Haft says, “Yes, well then I just have to stare at you until the Captain incarcerates you for disorderly conduct.”

Megren clicks her tongue. “That doesn’t sound so good for me.”

Haft says, “And yet you do persist in making trouble constantly.”

Megren says, “I can’t help it. I’m a reprobate.”

Haft adopts a gruff, superior tone.  “I sincerely doubt, young lady, that you know the meaning of the word.”

Megren says, “I’ll take what backhanded compliments I can get.”

Haft says, “That’s the spirit.”

Megren hesitates. “What else did you learn in Narnia?”

Haft’s face falls.  “Else?  Besides what?”

Megren says, “Besides hunting. Sorry, you don’t have to talk about it if you don’t want to.”

Haft sighs, folding his arms.  He stares at the stone floor for a long time.  “Learned how to be the worst version of myself,” he says quietly.  “Learned to hate myself and everyone around me.  Let my temper fly as it would, was rude and spiteful to my neighbors.  Learned to be alone, and figured it would never change.”

Megren extends her hand to rest it on his forearm.

Haft looks at her, pained.  “Why didn’t I change it Meg?  I could have.  I didn’t have to be that man.”

Megren says, “I’m sorry, Haft.”

Haft moves his other arm to place his hand over hers.  “Thanks.”

Megren says, “You’re not your worst self now.”

Haft takes a deep breath.  “No.  I’m not.  But I’m not my best self either.  It’s like trying to reconcile two different people.  The man I was fourteen years ago, he was strong and kind and knew exactly what he wanted and saw his life laid out before him.  The man I became isn’t anyone I ever wanted to be.  Now I’ve got that chance I never thought I’d have, but it’s hard to cast off the ugliness I cultivated for so long all at once.  That’s cost me once already, and you saw how it was the other night at the inn.  I was barely containing my temper when you arrived.  And I’ve seen too much and changed too much…I don’t think I can be that same man again…I’m just not sure what the new one looks like.”

Megren tilts her head. “Quiet. Proud, and convicted. Dedicated. Funnier than he lets on. A little cheeky, and hoping no one notices.”

Haft considers her words, then nods.  “Yeah, that sounds about right.  I hope so, anyway.”

Megren offers him a smile.

Haft smiles back.  “Cheeky?”

Megren says, “I see all.”

Haft says, “Really?  I think you might have missed out a bit on the cheekiness.”

Megren peaks her brows. “Oh?”

Haft says, “Oh yes.  I almost got myself into a lot of hot water with Commander Peridan because of it.”

Megren says, “I believe that. You’ve got a tongue on you, when you like.”

Haft says, “Yeah, I do.  Not sure where that came from really.  Don’t think I had it as a younger man…or at least, I knew how to keep what I was thinking to myself, especially in front of my superiors.  Guess it’s the caustic wit I picked up over the years showing through.  But you’d have thought I’d have had the common sense to keep my mouth shut when I was still awaiting my hearing with the king.  I was lucky Peridan was astute enough to give me a dressing down before I really went too far.””

Megren mms.

“With Peridan,” Haft continues, “it was more that I’d been out of the service so long–being away from other Men so long–that I’d forgotten the behavior expected from a soldier.  Now…it’s more a matter of knowing a commanding officer’s personality and what he’ll find funny or appropriate.  I understand Captain Garian a little better, for example, than I do Lord Dar.  Think I may have danced a little near the edge tonight, and I should mind that.”

Megren lifts her hand to her lips. “Maybe… I think Lord Dar has a secret humor, though.”

Haft says, “Well, I presume so, or he wouldn’t have related the story of Lady Pamina…assuming he didn’t create it of whole cloth.  But you see, he is a lord, and I am not.  If his sense of humor offends me, no one cares.  If my sense of humor offends him, I can find myself on mess duty for a week, and just think how miserable you’ll all be then.”

Megren nods. “I know. It’s not the same with lords.”

Haft eyes her shrewdly.  “You’re witty yourself.  How do you manage?”

Megren lifts her shoulders.

Haft forces a pout.  It doesn’t look very natural on his face.  “Keeping your secrets?

Megren giggles at his face. “I don’t know! I’m not even sure I do manage.”

Haft says, “Well, I see I shall have to make a study of you and the way you behave around your superiors.  Subtly, preferably when they are looking at you and you are looking at me.”

Megren says, “That sounds… real pleasant for me.”

Haft asks, “Depends…how are you at keeping a straight face while someone is waggling his eyebrows and otherwise pulling faces?”

Megren wrinkles her nose at him.

Haft says, “I suppose we’ll find out then.”

Megren sighs laboriously.

Haft smiles. “Your life is terribly hard.”

Megren smacks him lightly on the arm.

Haft chuckles.  “You also need more time practicing with your dance partner in the practice room.  That was a pathetic punch.”

Megren gives him a good one.

Haft grunts.  “Ow. Well, that was better anyway.  Perhaps your dancing is not completely hopeless.”

Megren grins at him. “Thanks.”

Haft says, “You know, you’re not the first person in the last fourteen years to try to get me to dance.  I’ll have to tell you about that some time.”

Megren squints an eye. “Another time, though. It’s late.”

Haft nods.  “I did learn a few other things in Narnia. Another time.  You need help cleaning up here?”

Megren says, “If you don’t mind helping.”

Haft says, “Not at all.”  He takes the used plates and utensils and begins to scrub them with a soapy rag.

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