Fighting Blind

In which Haft and Cantil discuss a variation on Blind Man’s Bluff, Megren introduces Haft to a horse, and there is mention of the gardens and the late queen

Inner Ward of Anvard

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You stand in the Inner Ward of Anvard. The ground is hard-packed earth, and it is open to the sky above. Wonderful aromas come wafting out from the Kitchen to the south, near the well. Huge, impressive, intricately carved doors lead to the Great Hall. Staff hurry about, in and out of their quarters, serving the Great Hall and the Council Chamber. A quieter corridor to the northeast leads to the library and schoolroom. Noble lords and ladies also pass through, walking towards their quarters seeing to other business. A guarded gatehouse to the east stands between the inner and outer wards. Two stairways line the curtain wall, climbing to the upper reaches of the castle. -=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=-=

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You can go: Council Chamber <N>, Northeast Hallway <NE>, Inner Gatehouse <E>, Kitchen <S>, Great Hall <SW>, Staff Quarters <W>, Infirmary <NW>, Southern Stairwell <US>, Northern Stairwell <UN>

Contents: A son of adam in coghill livery (Cantil) and Well.

Cantil stands at the kitchen door, eying the heavy spring rain pouring down into the inner ward. He makes a face, then prepares to sprint across the ward to the servant’s quarters through the deluge.

Haft comes out of the Southern Stairwell, hood pulled up over his head.  He scans the ward for a moment before spotting the boy.  He lifts his voice.  “Cantil!”

Cantil takes off, holding his hand over his face and dodging puddles. At the sound of his own name, he turns, squinting through the rain.

Haft laughs at the bad timing, then waves his hand.  “Over here, lad!”

Cantil gives the much-closer tower a longing look, then changes his course to hurry toward Haft.

Haft ducks back into the shelter of the tower, waiting for Cantil to join him.  “Sorry, didn’t mean for you to get wetter.  Needed to tell you something.”

Cantil is quite damp by now, and looks about as pleased with this state as a cat would be. He tries to brush some of the water that hasn’t soaked into his shirt and flings it off his hands with a distasteful motion. “Yessir?”

Haft grimaces.  “I wanted to let you know I won’t be able to continue practicing swordsmanship with you for a few weeks.  I’ll be leaving the castle for a bit.”

Cantil says, “Oh, with Megren. I know.”

Haft raises his brows a little.  “Oh, you’ve spoken.  Yes, we’ll be visiting Coghill and Chesterton.  I didn’t want you looking for a lesson and not know where I’d gone.  That’s all.”

Cantil asks, “When is it you’re leaving?”

Haft says, “Tomorrow, I expect.”

Cantil eyes the rain. “Good luck.”

Haft glances at the sky, then shrugs.  “A little water never hurt anyone.  We can postpone a day if it’s too heavy.”

Cantil asks, “How long will you be in Chesterton?”

Haft says, “Not sure.  Two to three weeks I expect.  Depends how things go in Coghill as well.”

Cantil’s eyes glint with interest. “Megren said you’re going there to catch an outlaw,” he says.

Haft smiles faintly.  “Did she?  What else did she say?”

Cantil pauses. “Nothing, really.”

Haft says, “Well, I wouldn’t mind catching him and that’s a fact.  Man caused more than enough grief.  But I don’t hold out much hope we’ll find him there.”

Cantil asks, “What did he do? Is he a bandit?”

Haft considers, but can’t seem to think of any reason to withhold the information.  “Did you hear about the fire in the village?”

Cantil frowns a little, then widens his eyes. “What, did he set it?”

Haft says, “Seems that way, yes.  It was his house, and he disappeared.  He said he had plans to visit family in Coghill, so Megren and I will be asking there when we pass through.”

Cantil purses his lips on one side. “Who’s his family?”

Haft says, “He didn’t say.  We don’t know anything solid about him really.  That’s the trouble.  He talked a lot, but he never said anything.”

Cantil asks, “What’s his name?”

Haft says, “Aaron.”

Cantil thinks for a moment, then shakes his head. “I don’t know that name.”

Haft says, “No.  No one else seems to either, from what I can make out.”

Cantil says, “It figures, that there’s an outlaw in Coghill while I’m stuck here.”

Haft hmms.  “And if you were stuck there, as a squire, what would you do first, to address the issue?

Cantil gives him a narrow-eyed sidelong look, suspicious of the question. “Keep my eyes and ears open, of course,” he says. “And tell milord anything odd I hear or see.”

Haft says, “So…just what you’re doing here then?  After all, we have no evidence he ever left.  Could be hiding out in the forest or up near the pass.”

Cantil gives this due consideration. He fingers his livery thoughtfully.

Haft asks, “That was not a suggestion to go wandering the forest alone looking for him.  I do assume you’re cleverer than that?”

Cantil grins faintly. “Now you see why I wish I was home.”

Haft furrows his brows.  “Not sure I follow.”

Cantil points out, “He lived here, right? So people know him here, so he won’t be out and about where he might be recognized. But he might in Coghill.”

Haft says, “Ah.  Yes, I do see your dilemma.”

Cantil adds, “Anyway, I could walk through Coghill’s woods blindfolded. I don’t know my way around here.”

Haft asks, “Practiced that, have you?  Walking around blindfolded?”

Cantil says, “There’s an idea.”

Haft narrows his eyes at Cantil, as though assessing him.  “Ever tried it with a sword?”

Cantil pauses, eying him. “That’s an idea too,” he says. “Sounds likely to end with somebody impaled, but it is an idea.”

Haft chuckles. “Not sure I’d bring it to the Practice Room, but it was a game when I was a boy.  Started out as a normal game of Blind Man’s Bluff, be we all wanted to be knights or guardsmen, so we got creative.  Next thing you knew, the blind man had a long wooden stick or sword he could whack at people.  But that ended mostly in him swinging wildly and clubbing someone too hard.  So then we tried giving the bluffers swords to defend themselves, and it sort of went from there.  We’d tie bits of nuts, shells, anything that would rattle, to the swords, and there was one version where we’d play the blind man against one opponent with a noisy sword, and see what he could do about it.  Usually not much, so then we tried blindfolding both and putting rattles on both.  Now that was interesting.”

Cantil looks increasingly dubious as this narrative progresses. “You must’ve had an interesting childhood.”

Haft snorts.  “I did.  Didn’t Megren tell you?  I slew every last dragon in Andale as a boy.  You’ve got to practice if you want to accomplish feats like that.  In all seriousness though, it’s no bad thing to learn to use your ears as well as your eyes.  May not serve you much in practice combat, where you face one man and the start of the match is expected, but if you’re alone in the woods and someone tries to spring at you?  Or if you’re on a battlefield.  Good to use your ears.”

Cantil says, “That I’ll concede, but you’ll forgive me if I don’t go wandering through the woods with a blindfold on and a sword out.”

Haft laughs.  “If you do you deserve to be jumped at.”

Cantil says, “I think that would be the least of my worries.”

Haft asks, “That’s probably true.  How has your practice been going?”

Cantil shrugs a little. “Fine, I suppose. It’s odd practicing where there’s other people.”

Haft asks, “How do you practice in Coghill?”

Cantil says, “Lord Dar makes sure there’s always some targets a little ways from the manor and I go and smack ’em a bit whenever I have time.”

Haft nods.  “Make sure when you go back you strike them with the good forms you’ve been taught, whether from me or others.  Otherwise you’ll lose what you’ve learned here.  And spend some time punching too.  Build your muscle up.  It is possible to have technique but the strength to back it up.”

Cantil says, “I will. I have been.” He pauses. “What’s in Chesterton? I didn’t ask.”

Haft takes a deep breath, then releases it.  “My sister, I hope.”

Cantil hesitates. “Oh, I see,” he says, neutral and not pressing.

“I haven’t seen her in several years,” Haft explains. “My letter to her went unanswered, so it may be she’s moved elsewhere.  We’re going to find out.”

Cantil chews his lip. “I hope you find her,” he offers.

Haft asks, “Thanks.  You got any brothers or sisters?”

Cantil shakes his head. “It’s just me and Dad.”

Haft asks, “Ah.  Is your father a knight?”

Cantil blinks. “A knight? No, he’s a cobbler.”

Haft blinks in turn.  “How’d you become a squire?”

Cantil rubs the back of his neck. “Long story.”

Haft, in his turn, decides not to press.  “Right.  Well, I’m sure you do a fine job of it.”

Cantil gives him a sidelong look and a small, rather wry smile. “Thanks.”

Haft asks, “What do you like best about it?”

Cantil pauses, giving this some thought. “I like… Helping people who need it matters to Lord Dar, and I like that I can help him do that.”

Haft nods.  “That’s good.”

Cantil shrugs a bit. “Well,” he says, glancing into the ward. “I ought to get in while it’s let up a bit. Good luck in Chesterton.”

Haft says, “Thanks.  Try to keep dry.”  With that, he turns and strides out of the tower toward the gatehouse.”

Later that day…

Stable

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The stables of Anvard are not large, but they are well-ordered and tidy. The wide alley runs parallel to the outside wall, with generously sized box stalls on either side. Many hold permanent residents, with the horse’s name on a wooden sign above the stall door, but several stand empty to receive visitors. The hard-packed dirt floor is kept well swept, and the stalls are clean, but there is a pervading smell of horse and hay that is not entirely unpleasant.

There is a small paddock on the northeast end of the stable, and the far southwest end is devoted to tack storage and maintenance. A door in the west wall, kept closed most of the time, leads to the smithy.

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You can go: Blacksmith <W>, Outer Ward <N>

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

Megren’s bright head can be seen inside one of the stalls, made brighter as it is set off by the coat of a blue roan. The main room of the stable is otherwise very nearly empty of humans. One stable hand grooms a horse in a far stall, and Amon is presumably somewhere about, probably in the tack room. Someone who managed to near the orange and blue pair without their noticing might catch Megren chattering at the horse.

Haft enters the stable with a large bag of oats over one shoulder and a smallish boy trailing along after him.  He sets down the bag and the lad gives a grin and a wave before running off.  Haft prepares to turn and leave the room when he notices Megren’s hair and walks closer.

Megren can be seen, on closer view, feeding the horse an apple and stroking its nose.

Megren mumbles “… you have … promise … … … and not … … I’ve come, or … … … Darrin … … … …”, to Megren.

Haft asks, “Spoiling the horses, Meg?”

Megren jumps, and turns. The horse, for his part, doesn’t seem nearly so easily disturbed, and he leans to the ground to finish the apple she’s dropped.

Haft clucks his tongue.  “I see he’s disposing of the evidence.”

Megren squints an eye guiltily and strokes the horse’s neck with her fingers. “He’s allowed to have one a day,” she says in her own defense.

Haft asks, “And how many has he had so far?”

Megren lifts her chin, mouth tellingly shut.

Haft snorts explosively through his nose, as if restraining a laugh, but poorly.  “Well, I’m sure I don’t know enough about horses to say anything about it one way or another.”

Megren wrinkles her nose affectionately at the horse, ducking half-heartedly away as he lifts his head and noses her right in the face. “Anyway, got to make up for the next fortnight or so that he doesn’t get anything from me.”

Haft asks, “That does seem reasonable, yes.  He got a name?”

Megren’s brows lift. “Oh! Sorry, right, of course.” She gestures between them in introduction. “Haft, this is Phantom. Phantom, Haft.” Phantom seems more interested in investigating whether her hands or clothes have further treats hidden in their depths than in the potential new friend.

Haft folds his arms across his chest.  “Am I supposed to bow, or will a nod suffice?”

Megren giggles at the horse’s impudence, pushing him gently off. “I think he prefers nose-pats. Intimate fellow.”

Haft gives a long-suffering sigh.  “If I must.”  He proceeds to rub the horse’s nose.

Megren steps back to make this easier. Her eyes flicker over the horse as she strokes its neck.

Haft asks, “So whose is he?”

Megren tilts her head. “Mm? Oh, um, he’s one of the castle mounts. Like Gambol– for when a spare is needed. They’re sort of opposite, other than that, though. I get a feeling about the worst rider in Archenland could get on Phantom and he’d go where he was supposed to without complaining.”

Haft asks, “They thinking of him for Prince Cor?  Or…well, I’ve heard conflicting tales on that.  Knows how to keep his seat, doesn’t he?”

Megren looks a little surprised, and she glances at Phantom with a new light. “I guess they might, mightn’t they?”

Haft says, “Has he been taking any riding lessons?  I don’t rightly know.  Seems he’s with the tutors a lot, and out and about now and then.  Must be a lot to absorb all at once.”

Megren unhooks a comb from where she’s hung it earlier on the wall, and begins on Phantom’s mane. “I don’t know. Sometimes I see him in the kennels, but otherwise he’s sort of hard to come by, between the tutors and Lady Aravis and whatever trouble Prince Corin’s getting him into.” She looks up from her work. “I have to admit I’d been hoping for the chance to get to make his acquaintance better.”

Haft exclaims, “Corin’s an interesting lad.  I was at Sted Cair when Rabadash visited, you know.  Saw Corin swipe an apple from the table and secret it under his tunic.  The king’s son! As though he couldn’t have had an apple if he’d wanted.”

Megren laughs. “I like him. I have plans for us to be great friends now that he is back from Narnia.”

Haft says, “You and Sir Darrin and Corin could do a lot of damage, and that’s certain.  Just don’t go giving Gearn any ideas…or corrupting Cor, mind you.”

Megren runs her fingers through the mane, careful not to tug. “Corrupting? No, no.”

Haft looks amused, and thoroughly unconvinced.

Megren says, “Cultivating.”

Haft asks, “Are you likening our crown prince to a flower?”

Megren says, “If you like.”

Haft says, “Only if you can think of a flower strong enough to be our future monarch.”

Megren taps her lip absently, then looks at the finger and wrinkles her nose a touch at the horsey smell. She points it at Haft. “Chamomile.”

Haft gives her a blank look.  “Chamomile.”

Megren mms. “Pure. Unflappable. Wholesome yet humble. Smells nice.”

Haft asks, “‘Smells nice’?”

Megren asks, “What, you think royalty smells bad, then?”

Haft makes a face.  “Don’t know.  I didn’t get close enough to Rabadash to get a whiff.  But our royals, no.”

Megren nods sensibly. “Chamomile.”

Haft asks, “Right…oh, that reminds me, I still gotta see about that cutting.  You know any of the gardeners?”

Megren exchanges a thoughtful look with Phantom. “Mmm… Sef. He does the kitchen garden, but he helps in the solarium over winters, so he probably has some pretty things on hand. Spends his free time in the servant’s hall or with Merken out in the ward. They’re pretty good friends, I think.”

Haft nods.  “Ain’t been up there much since I got back.  The gardens.”

Megren says, “Did you used to go a lot? I always sort of saw them as…” she lifts a shoulder. “Meant for romancing nobles and Adrian’s helpers.” She grins. “And Lord Tyre, I guess.”

Haft says, “Yeah, they are.  But…” He hesitates. “They’re opposite the…nursery.  I used to have watch up there pretty regular.”

Megren’s mouth forms a sort of “O”, and she nods. “I see.”

Haft says, “She…the queen loved the gardens so.  I wish you’d known her Meg.  She’d have loved you.”

Megren tilts her head, hand running absently up and down Phantom’s neck. “Did you know her very well, then?”

Haft says, “‘Well’?  Just as well as any guard who watches and keeps quiet and pays attention.  I mean, it’s different than watch on the walls and the gatehouses, when you’re assigned to guard the nobles or the royal family.  It’s your job to stand there and blend in while they go about their lives.  You can’t help seeing what they’re like.  But she always had a kind word for me, for everyone.  King Lune’s the same.”

Megren nods.

Haft lets out a heavy sigh.  “I’ll find Sef and see what he can do.  You’re mostly packed?  I got ribbons and sweets and I’m going into town in a bit for some cider.”

Megren says, “Oh.” She gives Phantom’s nose a final pat and moves toward the door. “That reminds me, Cantil mentioned seashells, and I thought I’d collect some for your nephews or nieces.”

Haft says, “Oh.  Uh, yeah, that’d be good.  None of those out in Chesterton.  Thanks.”

Haft gives Phantom’s nose a parting pat and turns to head toward the door.

Megren calls, “Good luck with Sef!” She ducks away from the horse as it nudges her again, then rescinds her reticence and gives Phantom a peck between the eyes and a grin. As the grin fades, she touches the top of her head, and then her hand moves swiftly to tuck her hair behind her ear, and she’s off toward to tack room to put away the brush.

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