In which there is conversation around the fire
Courtyard of the Bird and Baby
============================================================================== Lush greenery surrounds you, visible as far as the eye can see. To your west, a sprawling building awaits. The sign hanging from the eaves depicts a massive eagle (what else), holding the ends of a piece of cloth in its talons. A young baby rests safely within. This must mean that you have arrived at the Bird and Baby Inn. A small pond lies directly before the inn, and it must be skirted to reach the door itself. Travelers from all over Archenland mill about in small, tightly knit groups, discussing the perils of the road or, better yet, their next meal. Something is being cooked inside, and the delicious aroma wafts outside to tickle your nostrils. Just nearby, an ostler stands ready to tend to the weary horses of traveling patrons. ==============================================================================
You can go: Knot Garden <N>, To the Inn’s Stables <S>, Enter the Tavern <NW>, To the Old Inn Road <W>
Haft kneels in the courtyard adjusting his satchel.
Megren emerges from the inn, her pack slung over her shoulder and her travel clothes on.
Haft straightens up, putting his satchel on his back. “You ready? Several miles to cover today.”
Megren shifts her pack. “I’m ready. Looks like the weather should suit us.”
Haft says, “Yeah, not much fog. Won’t misplace you. Well, off we go then.”
In the Archenland Forest
The Archenland forest spreads out in all directions here. The trees are quite dense, shading the ground underneath them almost entirely. The forest floor is littered by bracken, stones, and fallen branches, but it is quite passable. A tranquil atmosphere reigns all around, the stillness broken now and again by the chirping of birds and the rustling of other woodland animals.
The ground begins to rise a little to the west.
You can go: North <N>, East <E>, South <S>, West <W>
Haft and Megren walk out of town and through the forest toward Chesterton, taking occasional stops to rest along the way. As the sun begins to sink in the west, they enter a small clearing.
Megren takes an experimental step off the path, looking up at the canopy and sky as she does so. “Might be a good place to set camp,” she says.
Haft looks around. “Tired so soon?” he asks with a small twitch of the lips.
Megren raises her brows at him. “Please! But you don’t want to show up with circles under your eyes.”
Haft says, “Well I’ve earned one or two of ’em, but no, I’m ready to stop as well, and this is as good a place as any.” He unslings his pack and proceeds to gather some wood with an eye toward making a fire.
Megren finds a good place to prepare the pit, clearing the ground nearby of dry matter and gathering up what stones she can find to help contain the fire. Having done this much pretty efficiently, she sits to dig out the earth a little while Haft finishes finding fuel.
Haft returns shortly with several large, dry branches, setting them down in a pile for Megren to arrange to her liking, then heads off briefly again, returning with kindling.
Megren sets up a neat tent of firewood, and stuffs Haft’s kindling underneath, rolling one of the pieces of bark so that it will create a tunnel of air to help the fire catch the logs. She pulls out her flint and strikes it a few times until the kindling catches to her liking.
Haft unrolls a couple of blankets for his bed, shuffling the contents of the satchel around and removing a few of them before placing it at the head for use as a pillow.
Megren uses a stick to nudge things in the pit around a little, then finally leans back on her heels, satisfied.
Haft takes some hardtack from his pouch, then begins to gnaw at it. “So, you cook anything much in the woods when you’re hunting?”
Megren pulls some bulb vegetables out of her pack and spares a little water to prepare them with. “Sometimes. Depends how late we find camp.”
Haft asks, “Any favorite recipes?”
Megren says, “Sometimes da would sneak chocolate shavings into his pack and we’d make hot chocolate in the mornings to tempt ourselves awake.”
Haft says, “Sounds like it would work. My mother used to do the same thing with me at home, but with bacon.”
Megren says, “It’s the cold that keeps me under the covers.”
Haft nods. “We’ll need to keep the fire up throughout the night. Reckon I got enough wood for that though.”
Megren nods. “It should keep up. Do we need to keep watch? Father and I didn’t usually camp so close to the road.”
Haft frowns. “That would have been a good question to ask back in Coghill. I don’t know if the region’s prone to banditry. I’d normally say no, but you’re right, that fire’s sending out quite enough light to attract anyone just passing by. Seems foolish to risk not watching when it’s only one night.”
Megren nods. “Not as if we aren’t used to long nights, anyway.”
Haft says, “Nope. Though the view’s not as good from here, though the sounds are an interesting change.”
Megren pulls the vegetables off the fire and splits the food between them. “You hunted in Narnia, right? What did you do with your nights?”
Haft makes a face. “Same thing I did at my house mostly. Sat and stared into the fire thinking ugly thoughts until it was time to go to sleep.”
Megren says, “Did you never enjoy Narnia, then?” She interrupts her own question, “You said you liked the Stone Table.””
Haft says, “I…liked cubes. Didn’t play it here before. Seems to have made its way to Archenland in the years since the border opened up. I’d go down to the tavern sometimes and manage to get in on a game–especially if the folks playin’ didn’t know me.”
Megren asks, “Why do you suppose you liked that?”
Haft shrugs. “Was a game. Was different. That’s all.”
Megren nods, finishing her meal and pulling up her knees to rest her chin on them. “Did you travel all over?”
Haft says, “Fair bit, at least at first. Took a while to get my bearings, figure out where it was safe to go, and where people would mostly leave me alone. Weren’t many proper places for men to live when I first went there, to be honest. Hadn’t been any in the country for a hundred years, had there? And I soon found out there was still a lot of nasty stuff lurking up northward. Eventually settled in Barfield. That’s near the center of the country.”
Megren asks, “What’s that like, Barfield?”
Haft says, “Little town north of Beruna. That’s where they fought that big battle fifteen years ago that defeated the Witch. Pretty quiet up around Barfield, which suited me. Bit farther than I might have liked from good hunting areas, so there was always a lot of walking involved and I spent a good deal of time away from the place when I was working.”
Megren says, “Did you just hunt for yourself? I’ve heard many of the Beasts there don’t put much stock in coins.”
Haft shakes his head. “Beasts don’t need as much as a man. An Otter can dig a hole in a bank and set up house, and fish from the river and be happy and content…though I’ve had a peek inside one or two critter’s homes and a couple of them put my own place to shame what with all the bric-a-brac they’d collected. But there’s places you can sell meat and pelts. And all the taverns were willing ta take coin.
Megren lifts her brows, looking intrigued. “They go in taverns?”
Haft says, “What, the beasts? Yeah, sure. You’d see a Faun playin’ cubes with a badger often enough, or a Beaver ordering some blackberry tea.”
Haft says, “The Fauns–most of ’em–live south of the Ford of Beruna. Abrielle thinks she might like to visit Narnia after she’s wed, and I told her to visit there. Bergdale it’s called.”
Megren says, “I saw one Faun after the battle.”
Haft asks, “Yeah?”
Megren makes an affirmative noise. “One of their majesties advisers. Tumnus, he was called.”
Haft says, “Yes, I’ve heard that name. Special friend of Queen Lucy’s, I believe.”
Megren makes an affirmative noise. “He wasn’t in the battle I don’t think. He came down after to help some of the wounded.”
Haft asks, “What’d you think of him?”
Megren says, “Well, I didn’t really get to speak to him. Too busy helping with other things, I guess, and they left so quickly.”
Haft says, “I meant just seeing a faun really. I’m guessing you’d never seen one before.”
Megren’s brows lift. “Oh. Oh, well, mhm, it was.” She tilts her head. “He looked like a person with goat legs.”
Haft smirks. “Well he is a person Meg. He just ain’t a Son of Adam.”
Megren squints an eye peevishly at him for his pedantics.
Haft asks, “Get to talk to any of the Narnians?”
Megren says, “A few of them. There was one Leopard with the loveliest coat I’ve ever seen.”
Haft says, “The Cats were a boon in the battle and no mistake.”
Megren nods, falling a bit quiet.
Haft notes the silence. “You all right?”
Megren looks up from the fire at him. “Hm? Oh. I was just thinking of the night before the Narnians came. It was good for us they did.” She pulls a small smile. “Though I know his majesty and the knights and lords would prevailed in the end. There were hardly any real injuries that first night.” She rests her chin on her knees again. “But that was because we managed to keep the doors shut that long.”
Haft tilts his head very slightly. “What makes you say they would have prevailed?”
Megren says, “Well, Prince Rabadash expected to surprise us, didn’t he? Came as quite a shock to him when he arrived to archers already on the wall. Though I heard rumor some of the lords feared he would call for reinforcements if we did not defeat him quickly. In either case, we would have lost far more good men than we did.”
Haft nods solemnly. “I’d have been worried with those numbers, myself. But there were things about this fight the Emperor had well in hand already. Hard for us who can’t see the whole plan.”
Megren says, “I suppose so.”
Haft glances up from the fire. “You disagree?”
Megren pulls a blank kind of face. “…No? I just don’t know. I’ve never spoken to him to ask what exactly it is he does and doesn’t have planned.”
Haft grunts. “Guess I’ve spent more time shouting at him than anything, if I’m honest. But sometimes when you look back you can kind of see what happened and why.”
Megren looks a little confused.
Haft raises his brows. “What?”
Megren asks, “…Shouting at the Emperor Across the Sea?”
Haft bobs his head in the affirmative. “Mmhmm. Off and on for about fourteen years.”
Megren looks more confused.
Haft says, “I just mean being angry and not understanding why he did things. Venting aloud.”
Megren says uncertainly, “Oh.”
Haft sighs, idly throwing a twig in the fire. “I didn’t say I liked the Stone Table Meg. I said you should see it.”
Megren looks surprised. “You didn’t like it?”
Haft picks up another twig and starts breaking it into pieces without really thinking about it. “I told you it was a quiet place. I went there a lot. But it wasn’t quiet I was looking for. It was peace, and I didn’t find it. It’s right by Bergdale, south of Beruna. Not so far from my old place. And I’d go there sometimes, just hoping not to feel all…I don’t know…shattered inside, I guess. And nothing changed.”
Megren drops her knees, her hands resting in her lap. She is quiet for a while, watching him. Finally she says, “And now?”
Haft says, “Now? I think I’d like it better now. I don’t ever mean to go back to Narnia, but if I did, I’d go there. I’d like to see it again.”
Megren releases a weighted breath, and nods quietly.
Haft smiles weakly. “That’s not really what you meant, is it?”
Megren returns the smile with a soft one of her own. “I think it answers that too, though.”
Haft nods. “Yeah. Yeah, I think so. It’s not always…” he trails off. “But it’s better, mostly.”
Megren lifts one knee back up to rest her cheek against.
Haft watches the fire for a few moments. “So what do you like best about games like cubes?”
Megren says, “It’s a reason to be in someone else’s presence. People feel more comfortable talking to each other if they’ve got a reason to be there.”
“I have never noticed,” Haft observes, “that you have any problem talking to anyone on any subject, with or without cubes.”
Megren grins, looking like she finds this to be a high compliment. “Still, I get the best hidden sides of you in games, don’t you think? Or, imagine not knowing of Sir Darrin’s sleepwalking adventures in the house of his aunt. I don’t suppose we’d have heard of that any other way.”
Haft snorts good-naturedly. “‘Best sides’? You learned I get bad nightmares, that the Stone Table is an interesting place, and…oh yeah, that I’m not so bad a dancer as one might assume.”
Megren inclines her head. “And that you don’t fall in love very easily, nor see it as compatible with your life. That you prefer to be thought of as uninteresting… all kinds of things.
Haft makes a face. “Doesn’t sound altogether appealing when you put those three together. But tell me, do you think love is compatible with your life as a guard?”
Megren says, “I don’t think it sounds unappealing. Falling in love easily may mean falling out of it just the same.” She tilts her head thoughtfully. “No… I don’t think it’s incompatible.” She squints at the fire. “I mean, isn’t that what love is?” Her brow furrows, this statement doesn’t make full sense, even to her. “I don’t know. I didn’t see my mother and my father together, so I guess I don’t have a close experience of it.”
“I did,” Haft says quietly. “It was hard for them. Good, but hard. Father was away a lot, and you know what the hours are like. He worked real hard at tryin’ ta be there for us when he was home, but you could see he was dead on his feet sometimes. Even so, a guardsman could manage it, with effort. I’m not so sure about a guardswoman, to be honest.”
Megren looks like she’s not sure what to do with this statement. She leans over to place another log on the fire, adjusting it until it is in a satisfactory position to catch, then finally says, “I guess it’s all philosophy until it happens, anyway.”
Haft says, “I just mean…children. When they’re little, they need their mother in a way they don’t need their father right off. If I fell for a gal, which ain’t likely at my age, I could still be a guard. You’d have to choose.”
Megren’s slow responses and tired expression seem to indicate she finds this logic wearying, though she doesn’t give much indication of buying into it. She pokes at the fire. She opens her mouth to reply, and then closes it again.
Haft frowns. “I’m irritating you again. I’m not trying to.”
Megren cants her head to indicate this isn’t a perfect assessment of the conversation. “I just… you’re making a lot of assumptions I don’t think need be made. Maybe I’d argue if it were a more pressing matter to either of us… if I thought you were in love and were going to keep apart from her because of it but… that’s not the case. And even if it was, it would be a conversation for the two people caught in it, rather than one of those people and his or her fellow guard.”
Haft opens his mouth, then closes it again, pursing his lips. Finally he nods. “Yeah, I guess that last bit’s so. Wonder now if I didn’t butt my nose in too far with Abrielle and Adrian. But, well, you’re your own woman and I think you know your mind.” He pauses. “It’s a wonderful thing though. I hope you find it, if it’s something you want.”
Megren squints playfully at him. “How do you know? You said the last time you were in love you were seven.”
Haft points a twig at her. “You were not listening. I know what love looks like. I saw my parents.”
Megren gives him a skeptical sort of look.
Haft chews the inside of his cheek, thinking. “What’s love, Meg?”
Megren laughs. “Well. Let me tell you.”
Haft’s lips twitch. “That wasn’t an opening for you to be pert! I wanted your opinion on the matter. But yes, do tell.”
Megren absently rubs one thumb over the other in her lap. “In my life, what I’ve seen of love is,” she tilts her head. “Well. I suppose there’s a few kinds. Of course, there’s a king’s kind of love, that selfless kind that means you abandon thought of the consequences to yourself in favor of the good of another. But for personal love– there’s the kind where you just feel so comfortable with the other person, as if they understand your deepest heart, or, if they don’t understand it, they accept it in a kind of way. Like there’s nothing about you that needs hiding from them, and like your words only need filtering for the sake of clarity, not because you are building a perception of yourself to them. And then there’s another, a sort of feeling, like, an admiration for the very existence of another person. Their very presence lightens your heart. When they say things, they say things you’d never think, and yet you feel them to be true.” She pauses, then nods. “Yeah.” She looks at him. “I guess you mean romantic love though.” She squints. “I don’t know it as well. I guess you hope it’s both those things, and also that your lives align. I mean, that you have the same, I don’t know, the same hopes for the world. The same kinds of ambitions and duties.” She glances up at the sky. “That’s a rather droll way to look at it. I’m sure there’s more.”
Haft listens quietly at Megren’s descriptions. “Those’re good explanations…not sure I’ve thought about the admiration one before. Can you give an example?”
Megren says, “Oh.” She tucks a piece of hair back out of her eyes, and the poor light of the fire makes it difficult to tell whether she hasn’t gone a bit pink in the face. A very little hesitation leads her to, “Well, is it not the sort of love you hold for the King and Prince Cor?”
Haft looks startled, then pensive. “That obvious, huh?”
Megren smiles and lifts a shoulder.
Haft says, “Well, can’t say I’ve spoken enough to the prince to comment on whether he says things like that, that you just know are true. The king definitely does. But yeah, it makes me glad they share this world with us.”
Megren nods. “I don’t suppose it’s always just exactly like that, anyway.”
Haft says, “No. Not exactly. What you said about a king’s kind of love though, I don’t think it’s limited to kings.”
Megren pulls her knees back up to hug them, shifting a little closer to the fire. “Well, no. I figured that was the best example of it, though.”
Haft says, “I think it’s part of what my father meant when he talked about a guard loving the people he protects. I guess there’s others too. Knights. Healers who brave a battlefield to care for the wounded.”
Megren says, “A lot of people are that way in battle.”
Haft nods. “I think Eston said it was one of his friends who saved him when he was injured. I doubt the man had any more skill with weaponry than Eston did, though I can’t be certain.”
Megren says, “There’s Lanisen, too.”
Haft’s brow furrows. “Lanisen?”
Megren pulls her gaze away from the fire to look at him. “You didn’t know? I don’t think he’s much of an archer. But he volunteered to go up on the wall with us all the same, and was near dead in the first minutes because of it.”
Haft runs a hand over his beard. “Think I knew part of that. He said he was unconscious most of the battle. Not sure I knew whether he was a volunteer or whether he had any skill with a bow.”
Megren pauses before saying, “That’s not exactly what I meant, though. There’s giving of yourself when everything’s a mess, and then there’s doing it when everything’s calm, and they’re two different kinds of sacrifices.”
Haft frowns. “Not sure I follow.”
Megren says, “Well, in battle, or in an emergency, you’re sort of hot. You do things you wouldn’t do normally. It almost isn’t a choice. Not to say I blame anyone who doesn’t choose it, but whatever you do in battle, that comes more from instinct. His Majesty puts others before himself every day. I don’t remember what things were like when Prince Cor disappeared, but I do remember that when the Queen died, he didn’t sacrifice the good of his people to mourn her. It must have been very terrible for him, but he didn’t let the kingdom suffer neglect for it.”
Haft’s face falls a little. It takes him a moment before he replies, “And you mean Lanisen stepping forward when he wasn’t in the midst of battle displayed that kind of courage?”
Megren lifts her brows. “Hm? Oh, I don’t know what I mean. Just saying my thoughts out loud, I guess.” She reflects, “No, I think that was probably the other kind. Being a squire though, maybe that’s the kingly kind. I guess we’ll see.”
Haft says, “Yes, that’ll be interesting. Guess he’ll be a knight someday.”
Megren says, “I don’t know what his plans are.”
Haft says, “Be a change from working with hounds. That’s certain.”
Megren says, “I suppose. I think he used to help Sir Colin off and on.”
Haft says, “They pretty good friends then? Seems I saw a lot of them together just after the battle, before Sir Colin went away.”
Megren says, “I think so. Seems as if Lanisen knows Sir Colin’s betrothed pretty well.”
Haft says, “Wonder what she’ll be like. That’ll be more of a change than Lanisen becoming a squire, having to suddenly fit into court.”
Megren props her chin on her knees. “She was here in the great hall during the battle, but I never met her.”
Haft narrows his eyes like he’s trying to remember. “There was a woman up in the barracks when they were being used as a sick room. She was with Sir Colin when Lanisen was there. Think that mighta been her. Pretty, with copper hair.
Megren asks, “What, red like mine?”
Haft says, “Little darker. Auburn.”
Megren says, “That’s not what copper looks like.”
Haft says, “Depends if it’s new made or not. Old copper’s darker. New copper’s more like your color.” He scowls. “Don’t you dare go telling Sir Colin’s new bride that I said she had hair like a washbasin.”
Megren still gives him a skeptical look for this description. “I’ve seen washbasins.”
Haft says, “All right, not the best example. But old copper coins, some of them get kinda dark.”
Megren says, “I guess.”
Haft raises his hands. “It’s auburn! I surrender. It’s auburn.”
Megren grins at him. “That might be her. I heard it was dark.”
Haft picks up a long stick, poking at the embers a bit to no particular purpose. “How do you think you’d take to it? If you suddenly had to act like a lady and all?”
Megren squints at the fire as she considers this. “Well, I suppose I’d have a lot more to learn. I was never very fond of sitting quiet or taking my tea in tiny sips.”
Haft’s lips twitch. “Or dancing?”
A log collapses and a flurry of sparks rise up from the campfire.
Megren points a finger at him. “That one I’m fond of. It’s just that I’ve never been properly taught.”
Haft asks, “What, not even by your father? Doesn’t he know any country dances?”
Megren tilts her head either way. “Oh, he probably knows a few, but most of them are full of changing partners, and anyway, that’s not how you’re meant to learn them, alone in your house.”
Haft says, “Well no…but it’s a sight better than learning ’em for the first time when you’re opposite a pretty girl. In my case.”
Megren says, “Really? I’d think that would be the best way.”
Haft says, “Why?”
Megren lays the side of her head on her knees. “Well, it gives you something in common. You make bonds when you are learning or teaching.”
Haft says, “Huh. Yeah, I’ll grant you that. Still, it’s no harm to be the teacher.”
Megren giggles. “I suppose. Somebody’s got to be the learner, though. I don’t mind if it’s me, most of the time.”
Haft smiles. “No harm in being the student either. Some of my best times in the guard were when I would learn a new thing to do with a sword. Honestly I think I went in thinking I knew everything already. Figured out I didn’t pretty quick. Once I got over the wounded pride, was a fine time for me.”
Megren says, “You see.”
Haft says, “Yeah.” He yawns. “And I see that if we don’t turn in soon I’ll be nodding into the fire. You want to watch first or second? I can stay up a bit yet.””
Megren says, “You sleep. I’m not yet tired.”
Haft says, “Thanks.” He stands up and dusts himself off before kneeling to stretch out on his makeshift bed with the top blanket pulled to his chin. “You wake me when you start to get drowsy, all right?””
Megren says, “Mm. I will.”