Reunion

In which we meet Haft’s family


In the Archenland Forest

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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.

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You can go: North <N>, East <E>, South <S>, West <W>

Haft sits by the fire a little after dawn as the forest birds begin their chipper and the sun peeks through eastern trees.  After a moment he adds a branch to keep it going.

Megren stirs as the birds grow louder. She sits up with a yawn, a usually well-tamed cowlick apparent at the back of her head.

Haft doesn’t bother to hide a grin.  “Sleep well, Megpie?”

Megren pulls up her blanket to keep her arms and shoulders warm and squints a groggy eye at him. “Mhm,” she manages.

Haft says, “Good.  We had a couple visitors this morning, just before the sun came up.  Deer and a fox.”

Megren makes a regretful face, rubbing the back of her head to fix her hair. “You could have woke me.”

Haft smiles. “Well, I could have, but I reckon you’ve seen one or two before.  Besides, you plainly needed your beauty sleep.” He lifts the top of his own hair with a hand to indicate her cowlick.

Megren wrinkles her nose and shuffles her hand through her hair a few more times to try and control it.

Haft asks, “Well, you got anything you want to heat up before we go?”  He rises and begins rolling up his blankets and reordering his satchel.

Megren spares a little water into her hand to finish taming her hair, shivering at the cold of it. “I wish.”

Haft gives her a commiserating glance.  “Warm meal at the inn tonight.”

Megren reluctantly gets out from under the blanket so that she can roll it up. “I guess it’ll be hot by this afternoon anyway,” she says hopefully.

Haft says, “Warmer than this anyhow.  Getting up’s always the worst bit of camping…specially if there’s nothing hot ta welcome you.  We’ll see if we can’t make preparations for some hot chocolate or something for the trip back.”

Megren nods, shouldering her pack.

Haft moves to the fire, stirring it until the embers are well out.  He watches them rather longer than needed, a someber expression coming over his face.  Then he takes up his own satchel and proceeds to join Megren.  “You ready?”

Megren watches sympathetically, kicking some dirt over the fire when he’s done. “I am if you are.”

Haft says, “Not really.  Let’s go.”

Megren hesitates, then nods. “Fair enough.” She readjusts her pack and starts walking.

After several hours of walking, the pair reach the town of Chesterton around midday.  Haft looks around as they near it.  “I’d almost forgotten how big it is.”

Megren is somewhere halfway between bouncing excitement and self-checked concern for her companion. “I wonder how many people live here.”

Near the outskirts of town, Chesterton is a loose scattering of houses and other buildings.  A large man piles enormous wheels of cheese into a wagon, and a couple of children kick a leather ball back and forth across the road.

Megren gets distracted from Haft’s side with watching the children, and when one who has been kicked off to the sidelines greets her, she begins inquiring about the rules.

Haft tilts his head, listening to Megren and the child but watching the game.

The rules of the game appear to be quite complicated, and the child invites Megren to learn by joining, which is enough to remind her that she is not, in fact, here just for the pleasure of making the acquaintance of anyone she happens upon. She glances up at Haft, “Sorry–” and gives the child a similarly regretful look.

Haft shrugs, apparently in no hurry.  “No, it’s all right.  Let’s learn.”

Megren wrinkles her nose at him uncertainly.

Haft says, “Go on.  Maybe we can challenge the knights when we get back.”

Megren hesitates, then grins, and jumps into the game, picking up on the laws of it quickly as, though complicated, the gist is pretty clear: modify the rules so that you are the winning team as often as possible.

Haft doesn’t actually join in, watching from the sidelines, though he occasionally shouts out his own suggestions for rules.  “Redheads only get half points!”

Megren spares enough time to stick her tongue out at Haft.

Haft calls out, “Same goes for cheeky guardswomen!”

The ball somehow ends up bouncing directly for Haft’s chest.

Haft catches it in both hands, then rolls it in the direction of a smaller, fair-haired boy, who kicks it to his teammate.

Megren takes this opportunity to gracefully step out of the game so that Haft’s rules don’t cause the team that has so kindly accepted her to lose.

Haft’s hands rest on the straps of his satchel.  “Shall we continue?”

Megren nods. “Sorry,” she says again, a little breathlessly and not at all looking it.

Haft starts walking.  “Well, the house is a few streets up, and down one to the right. He’s a carpenter.  Pretty good location.  I helped them move in just after they were married.  He’d just ended his time as a journeyman.

Megren clasps her hands behind her back. “Is it very large? I wonder if they didn’t have to move on, if they’ve had several children. Though they may just as easily have expanded it in that case, I suppose.”

Haft frowns, thinking.  “Was a reasonable size.  Not big, but he’d been saving a long time and I’d put some of my own down to help too. Shoulda been room for a couple of little ones, no problem.” He pauses.  “I’m concerned they mighta had to move on ’cause of…/repercussions/ from my reputation.  Can’t have helped the business much.”

Megren blinks. “Haft… you don’t have a reputation.”

Haft looks at her, openly skeptical.  “You base that assumption on…what?”

Megren says, “On, um, you being the only one who thinks you did anything wrong.”

Haft stares at her as though she’s struck him.  He opens his mouth several times as if to reply, then presses it into a hard line.  Clearly angry, he bites out, “I need a moment,” before striding quickly away and turning down a street ahead to the left.

Megren frowns at his back, but gives him his space, finding a spot of shade to sit in and prop her elbows on her knees as she watches foot traffic.

It takes more than an hour for Haft to return to wherever he’s gone off to.  When he approaches Megren again, he appears collected.  He squats down next to the spot she’s sitting.  “Hey.”

Megren sits with her chin in her hand, drawing circles in the dirt with a stick. She gives Haft half a smile, not looking fully committed to it.

“I’m sorry I stormed off like that,” he says quietly.  “I…maybe you and I should have that talk, sometime.  But not today.  Not when I’m about to have to explain the whole mess to Brigid.  I’m just…I’m not that strong.”

Megren takes a breath and releases it, a little bit of frustration seeping into her usually cheerful face. She glances up at the sky to estimate the time, not directly addressing anything he’s just said. “Do you want to try for tonight, or get some rest and try in the morning?”

Haft takes a breath of his own.  “Tonight.  I couldn’t sleep anyway.”  He stands up, and extends a hand to help her.

Megren takes the hand, inhaling and releasing another breath before dusting herself off in order to go.

Haft leads them up the road and past several side streets.  The buildings start to grow closer together and a number of small shops pepper the neighborhood.  To the right they pass a girl selling books and ahead are a couple of vendors selling meat pies and roasted meat.

Megren walks alongside of him, decidedly less easy to distract now, although her eyes do seem to take in every detail.

After awhile they turn down a road.  “Was about a quarter mile on from here.  Good location for someone starting out.”

Megren nods silently, her eyes flicking over the buildings.

About a quarter of a mile on Haft stops.  “There,” he says, indicating a building that is apparently both house and shop.  He eyes the colorful garden along one side.  “Looks like Brigid’s green thumb anyway.”

Megren observes, “It’s pretty.”

As they get closer, Haft shakes his head a little, observing the sign above the shop that clearly depicts a large red boot.  “They’ve gone.  This is a cobbler’s place.”

Megren doesn’t look discouraged. “Let’s go in. They may know where she moved to.”

Haft nods, stepping up to the door and holding it open for Megren.

Megren glances at him before stepping inside.

Haft steps in after Megren, and the proprietor looks up from the bench where he works.  “Good day Miss!  Sir.  Can I help you?”

Megren asks, “Yes, hello. We were wondering if you knew the previous owner of this house by any chance?”

Abrielle is editing a program or file and might not respond quickly.

Abrielle is editing a program or file and might not respond quickly.

The man tugs on his chin.  “Jorgen?  Yeah, sure I know him.  You looking for him?”

Haft says, “We were wondering where he and his wife might have moved to.”

Megren asks, “And,” she glances at Haft, “Brigid? That would be his wife’s name?”

Haft nods.  “Yes.”

The man nods.  “Yeah, that’s right.  Real nice folks.  Sold us this place when his business got bigger and he was able to afford something nearer the center of town.”  He gives directions and then smiles.  “Sure you don’t need any new shoes?”

Megren screws up her mouth apologetically. “Sorry.”

Haft looks down at his own boots–less polished than usual but clearly not in need of replacement.  “Afraid not, friend.  Thank you for the information though.”  He turns and heads from the shop, holding the door for Megren again.

Megren calls, “Thank you!” as she slips back out-of-doors.

Haft glances at her.  “Don’t you dare say ‘I told you so.’

Megren shakes her head. “Only, I figured maybe that was why she hadn’t replied.”

Haft says, “No, I meant…well yeah, that too, now that you mention it.”  He takes a breath.  “Shall we?””

Megren makes an affirmative noise.

They follow the directions the cobbler gave them and before long enter a somewhat nicer part of Chesterton.  Haft looks around before spotting the sign that identifies a carpenter’s shop.  He pauses drumming his fingers against the left strap of his satchel.

Megren glances at him. “You want to go in alone?”

Haft considers.  “You came along to support me.  Guess, uh, I might as well let you, if you’re willin’.”

Megren says, “Of course.”

Haft nods and shrugs his pack into a different position on his shoulders, then steps forward to rap on the door of the shop.

A male voice from inside calls out, “We’re open!”

Haft lifts the latch and opens the door, going in before Megren.

Megren follows in behind, shutting the door neatly behind them.

A trim man with short brown hair straightens from where he has been working with a mallet and chisel on a piece of wood clamped to a workbench.  He smiles at the presumed customers.  “Well, and how can I help you fine folks?  Looking for cabinetry, a chest, a chair?  I can do any custom work you…” He trails off as Haft’s face fully registers.  “You.”

Haft speaks steadily, though there’s a slight shaking in the hand fingering his belt buckle.  “Hullo Jorgen.”

Megren hangs back near the door, though she offers the man a bright, if subdued sort of smile.

Jorgen seems to barely register Megren’s presence.  “You–” He looks down at the mallet as if seriously considering whether he might hurl it at Haft. “Where the /blazes/ have you been?”

Megren takes a protective step nearer Haft.

Haft notes Megren’s movement out of the corner of his eye, but doesn’t look overly worried by the idea that the slimmer man will bring the tool into play.  “Narnia,” he sighs.

Jorgen lays his tools aside and answers sarcastically, “Yeah, I figured /that much/.”

Megren frowns a little.

Haft sighs.  “You got the parcels then?”

Jorgen nods, still looking angry.  “We got it.  The couple that owns the old house kept passing them on to us, even after we moved.  Lions and trees, every couple of months.”  He scowls.  “I didn’t need your help to provide for my own family, Haft.”

“If I thought you couldn’t, I wouldn’t have let you marry her,” Haft replies evenly.  “But I had no way of knowing how your business would be affected if stories about what I did spread.  I’d not have either of you in want because of me.”

Megren tucks her hair behind her ear.

Jorgen throws up a hand.  “‘What you did’?  What /did/ you do?  No letters for months, and Brigid was getting frantic, and we finally got a response, all short and official-looking, that said you’d gone off without leave and no one knew where and we should stop writing.  And that’s it.  Brigid cried for weeks.”

Megren crosses her arms over her stomach, her frown shifting from defensive to sad.

Haft glances around the shop as though looking for signs of his sister.  He looks slightly relieved at the sight of a pitcher full of dried flowers on a table.  “Where is Brigid?  She all right?”

Jorgen says, “She’s fine, just out at the market–her and the children.”

Haft asks, “How-How many?”

“Three,” Jorgen says, a little shortly.  He looks Megren over.  “And this?  She’s too old to be your daughter, begging your pardon Miss.”

Megren smiles at him, “I’d hope I looked a little more than fourteen. I’m Megren, part of the castle guard. I’m very glad to finally meet you… though I’m afraid Haft has built up my expectations rather high, he’s pined that much for the time to see you and your wife again.”

Jorgen says, “Pleased to meet you.  As for him,” He gives Haft a hard look. “If he’d been pining so much, he’s had years upon years to do something about it.”

Haft sighs.  “It’s not that simple.  The whole thing–and I did try to write you a letter about it, to tell you I wanted to come, just lately.  And I explained everything.  But if that cobbler’s been passing on things to you, I’m guessing that he neglected to deliver this.”

Megren tilts her head in some concession. “Perhaps you and your wife may have time one of these coming evenings to hear the tale and jduge for yourself?”

Jorgen runs a hand through his hair.  “Yeah, I reckon we’d better.  Might as well do it tonight.  Brigid won’t rest till she’s seen you.  She’ll be home any time and ready to start supper.  We aren’t ‘in want’ as you put it,” he says, with less of an edge than before.  “We got plenty for friends–or family.”

Megren says, “I can help get supper started, if it would make things easier.”

Jorgen shrugs.  “Ask Brigid when she comes in.  The kitchen’s her domain”  He gives Haft another sharp look.  “I’d still like to know what happened–in as few words as possible–before you go telling about it to her and the children.”  He points to a couple of chairs, apparently for sale.  “Take a seat while I close up.”  He steps outside for a moment, apparently to gather in a couple of items displayed outdoors and to flip the sign to “Closed”.

Haft takes one of the indicated seats, glancing at Megren.

Megren looks as if her inclination is to assist the man, but she sits obediently, folding her hands up in her lap not unlike the manner she had spoken of with disdain the night previous.

Haft makes a small attempt at levity.  “At least he didn’t hit me with the mallet.”

Megren says, “Your head appears to be entirely whole.”

Haft says, “Yeah, but we’re not past the hard part yet.”

Jorgen returns with an armful of items that he sets carefully on benches or against the wall.  He straightens up and looks at Haft, taking his own place on a bench.  “Let’s have it.”

Megren tucks her feet behind the leg of the chair she is sitting in.

Haft takes a deep breath, nodding.  “The long and short of it is that I lost the crown prince.”  His voice is perfectly steady, for all that he’s fidgeting with the strap of the satchel at his feet.

Jorgen’s eyes widen.  “Ya did what?”

Megren wrinkles her nose with displeasure at this phrasing.

Haft says, “I–you said you wanted the short version?  Short version is that I was on guard that night, and Lord Bar came for the infant prince, and I didn’t stop him cause I didn’t know he was in disgrace.  And then everything got really busy and confused at Anvard, and I thought I’d been exiled, only I wasn’t, and I guess everybody just thought I’d run off from my duty, and I didn’t find out different till I /broke/ that supposed exile to fight at the battle when Prince Rabadash attacked last year.”  He pauses.  “And…now I’m on the guard again,” he adds, a bit lamely.”

Megren adds, “And it’s all sorted, and he’s got time off just as soon as he could to come out here.”

Jorgen’s eyes don’t get any smaller at this summary.  “Why-why’d you think you’d been–” He stops as the door to the shop opens and a blonde woman in her mid-thirties enters with a girl of about seven at her heels.  She’s distracted by something the little girl is saying and doesn’t immediately notice the guests.  Jorgen rises, offering Haft a small, reassuring nod, and goes to his wife, taking her laden basket.  “Brigid, love, we’ve got, uh, company.”

Megren rises as well.

Haft stands, swallowing as he sees his sister for the first time in fifteen years.

“Company?  Why didn’t you warn me earlier, Jorg?”  She turns from he husband with a smile, but gives a small gasp upon seeing her brother.

Haft’s voice is hoarse.  “Brigid…”

Brigid presses her hands to her mouth, then hurls herself forward into Haft, who looks slightly surprised but wraps his arms around her instinctively.

Megren’s face breaks into a huge grin.

Brigid sobs.  “I didn’t know if you were dead!  Only Jorgen said you weren’t, because of the money.”

Haft presses his sister to his chest, rare tears on his own face.  “I’m sorry Brig…I’m sorry.”

Megren goes to talk to the little girl, to give Haft and Brigid some privacy both from herself and from them for the moment… though she is not particularly effective in distracting her.

The child stares at Haft and her mother, not really listening to Megren.  She tugs on her father’s arm, but he just puts his arm around her, staring at his wife and brother-in-law, so she wriggles free and turns back to Megren.  “Why is Mama crying?”

Megren says, “Oh, I guess she’s the best person to answer that, but not just now. Sometimes you need a little while to sort out the answer to that kind of question. Do you know what I mean? Sometimes I feel sad and happy and lots of other things all at once.”

The little girl frowns as though this doesn’t make any sense to her.  “Sometimes I’m hungry and want to play outside at the same time,” she offers.

Megren nods. “Kind of like that. I’m Megren. What’s your name?”

“Calla,” the child says, giving her mother another nervous glance before looking back at Megren.  “You have pretty hair.”

Megren breaks into one of her easy smiles. “Thank you. I like yours. Did you fix it yourself?”

Calla smiles back, touching one of the braids holding her fair hair back from her face.  “Mama did it.  I can braid,”  she adds quickly, “but it always look better when Mama does it.”

Jorgen turns to his daughter.  “Calla, where are the boys?”

Calla says, “They wanted to play bootball at Royd’s house.”  She sticks out her lower lip.  “I wanted to go too, only Mama said it was too far and I had to help at the market.”

Brigid breaks away from her brother, who has finished giving her the same brief story he told her husband.  “Yes, and they should be here soon.”  She wipes her eyes.  “I should put dinner on.”

Megren rises, “I can help, if you need.”

Brigid steps toward Megren.  “I’m sorry.  How terribly rude of me.  I’m Brigid and this is our daughter Calla.”  Her brow furrows as if trying to figure out what Megren’s relationship to her brother might be, but gives up.  “And you are?”

Megren takes Brigid’s hand in both of her. “It’s so lovely to meet you. I’m called Megren. I’m one of the guards in Haft’s unit at the castle.”

“My friend,” Haft adds.  “Offered to accompany when my letter to you went astray.”

Megren pushes her mouth off to one side. “I hope you don’t consider me an intrusion.”

Brigid smiles.  “An intrusion?  Not at all.  How very kind of you to travel with him.  You’re most welcome.  And you’re welcome in the kitchen, too, if you wouldn’t rather rest.  Calla, why don’t you…” She finally notices that her daughter is staring at Haft.

“Think we might have another introduction to make,” says Jorgen.

Megren nods agreement to helping in the kitchen, but steps out of the way at Jorgen’s words, so that Haft and Calla may more easily become acquainted.

Brigid shakes her head, clearly flustered.  She takes her daughter’s hand and leads her toward her brother.  “Calla, this is your uncle Haft.”

Calla blinks in surprise.  “I have an uncle?”

Haft’s face falls a little, then he offers a weak smile.  “Just one, I’m afraid.”

Calla chews on her lip.  “Oh.” She looks unsure of what to do about this.  “Mama, you needed help in the kitchen?”

Brigid nods.  “Let’s all go through.  Uncle Haft and your father can sit at the table while we prepare supper.”

Brigid leads the way through a door in the back of the shop that connects it to the living area.

Megren waits for the rest of the family to make it through before following herself.

They enter a room with a fireplace for heating meals.  There are two comfortable chairs for Jorgen and Brigid to sit in the evenings, and assorted stools and chests that can be used as benches.  Jorgen sets the basket on the table on one side of the room, and Brigid sends Calla out to fill a bucket with water in order to wash vegetables.  Jorgen and Haft take their places in the two chairs.

Megren helps Brigid prepare vegetables, along with the rest of the meal. The scattershot nature of her domestic skills is a little more apparent in this more traditional setting, although what she lacks in experience she makes up for in cheer.

Jorgen addresses Haft, “So we’d heard about Lord Bar here, of course.  But no one said anything about a guard being involved.”

Brigid frowns a little, clearly not wanting to push the subject.

Haft leans back in the chair.  “Yeah, about that.  Remember when you two moved here?”

Jorgen nods, “Was the last time we ever saw you.”

Megren takes on as much of the task as she has skill to manage, so that Brigid can participate in the conversation more fully.

Brigid says to Megren, though she’s clearly audible to the rest of the room, “He was sick for weeks.  It was awful.  And the whole time he was longing to be back with the guard.  I was afraid Jorgen was gonna have to tie him to the bed.”

Haft looks skeptical.  “That’s…not precisely how I remember it.”

Megren giggles, passing a knife. “And yet, as long as I’ve known him it’s been the same for Chesterton. Seems he’s never pleased.”

Haft quirks a brow at Megren, but doesn’t contradict her.  “I stayed put.  Didn’t like it, but I did it.  And that’s what caused part of the problem.  I didn’t know the Chancellor had been dismissed.  I went back on duty as soon as I got back, and by then it was old news, so no one thought to mention it.”  He sighs.  “So when he wanted to take the boy I didn’t know he was in disgrace.  I would have handled it differently.”

Jorgen looks at him in confusion.  “But then why would you have thought you were exiled?  If this man was Chancellor and all, and you were just following orders?”

Haft says, “Cause I wasn’t.  Not strictly speaking.  Was supposed to be the king and queen only who were allowed to pass that night.  And I ignored that.  So when the boy disappeared there were a lot of nasty things being said:  treachery, dereliction of duty.  I was told not to leave the castle.  And we had to wait till the king’s ship came back–without the prince.  That was an awful time.”

Brigid looks at her brother with concern.  “No one who knew you would ever accuse you of treachery.  What were they thinking?”

Haft runs a hand through his hair.  “Lotta talk goes around the barracks when people are worried and frustrated Brig.  In the end I wasn’t charged with anything.”

Jorgen asks, “But then how did you end up in Narnia?”

Calla’s head swivels to her uncle.  “You lived in Narnia?  Where the animals talk?”

Haft blinks, momentarily distracted.  “Yeah, that’s right.  It’s, uh…a fascinating place.”

Calla’s eyes are big.  “Will you tell me all about it?  How long were you there?  Did you have any talking animals for friends?”

“Keep stirring that pot,” Brigid admonishes her daughter.  “Your uncle will tell you all about that when your brothers are here.”

Calla pouts.  “They’re late.”

Jorgen gives his daughter a look, and she gives her attention to stirring the stew.

Haft continues.  “There was a misunderstanding.  My Captain had been in a debriefing about the incident with the king, and he came into the mess in a foul mood.  Took one look at me and told me to get out.” He rests his head in his hands for a minute.

Brigid understands at once, a wooden spoon frozen in midair.  “You thought he meant the country?  You great oaf!”

Haft lowers his hands.  “I–”

At that moment, there is a noise from the front room, followed by the slamming open of the door to reveal two boys, one tall and skinny with brown hair and the other, with ash blond hair, looking a bit small for his age.  Both are plainly out of breath and the taller one has bits of dried grass sticking out of his hair.

Brigid turns, putting her hands on her hips.  “Where have you been?  You are both late.”

The older boy looks around the room in mild surprise, not recognizing the guests.  Then he jerks his thumb over his shoulder.  “We got separated.  Twig ended up near the edge of town and it took me ages to find him.”

Megren stays quiet through most of the story, letting it go on without interruption. She watches the boys with engaged interest when they arrive, however.

The blond boy stays slightly behind his brother, but scowls up at him at this assessment.  “You told me to run off so you could talk to Valen.  I stuck together with the others like you said.”  He glances between the two strangers, apparently reluctant, but finally points at Megren.  “You played bootball with us.”

Megren tilts her head and then her brows lift. “Ah, yes, you were there, weren’t you? So that’s what it’s called.”

The smaller boy nods, having reached the limits of his courage.

His brother looks between the visitors again.  “Mother, new neighbors?”

Calla steps forward quickly, eager to share something her brothers don’t know.  She looks every inch a miniature version of her mother.  “That” she says, pointing, “is our Uncle Haft.  And this is Megren.  She’s a guard.”

The older boy looks up with pleased interest.  “Uncle Haft?  Really?  Mother used to talk about you all the time.  Father says you were a guard at the castle.”

Haft rubs the back of his neck.  “Yes, uh, I was.  I am.”

Jorgen frowns at his elder son.  “Ven, what happened to your hair?”

Ven fingers his hair, coming away with a piece of grass.  “Oh, just a wrestling match with Valen.” He grins.  “I won.”

Brigid ladles stew into several bowls and sets out a basket of bread with a warming stone inside.  “I think we’re ready.  Thank you for the help Megren.”

Megren helps her set the table. “Of course.”

Haft and Jergen rise and after a little shuffling everyone finds a seat at the table.  “Ven?” Haft asks.  “After our father?”

Ven smiles broadly, nodding.  “Mother says Grandpa Haven was a guard too.”

Haft says, “That’s right.  And his father before him.”  He breaks a piece of bread, looking at the smaller boy with slight confusion.  “And…Twig, was it?””

The blond boy speaks up.  “It’s Ash.  Everyone calls me Twig.”  He peers at his brother as if this is entirely Ven’s fault.

Megren says commiseratingly, “Haft calls me pie.”

Twig frowns.  “Pie?”

Megren lifts a shoulder, as if she finds it quite inexplicable.

Haft says, “Cause we were comparing each other to Narnian animals and–was it Sir Tyren?–said she might be a magpie.”

Megren says, “That’s what he says, only another of the knights calls me fritter, so I think it has more to do with my reminding them all of baked goods.”

“There’s a fellow in the market sells real good apple fritters,” says Ven.

Haft just shakes his head.  “Ash.”  His eyes sparkle.  “Leave it to a carpenter to name his son after a piece of wood.”

Twig ducks his head, uncertain as to whether a joke is being made at his expense.

Megren looks suspiciously intrigued. “I’ll have to go and look into that,” she says to Ven.

Jorgen slaps Haft on the arm in mock reprimand.  “He’s not having a go at your name, Ash.  He’s just sore because he was named after a piece of wood.”

Haft spreads his hands.  “Not necessarily.”

Brigid smiles.  “You told me the other boys used to tease you mercilessly.”

Megren says, “What’s there to be sore about that, anyway? Got to be named something.”

Haft shakes his head.  “I ain’t sore about it.  It’s a good, sturdy name, and so’s Ash, and so’s Ven.”  He notes that his niece has pause with her spoon halfway to her mouth, apparently awaiting his proclamation.  “And Calla’s as pretty a name as I’ve ever heard.  In fact it reminds me, we brought some things for you.”

“Presents!” Ven says excitedly.

Brigid gives him a firm look.  “After supper.”

Megren straightens in her chair, looking as if she might bounce, were she standing.

“Do they come all the way from Narnia, Uncle Haft?” Calla asks.

Haft shakes his head.  “No, I’m afraid not.”

Ven spits out, “You went to Narnia?”

“Uh, yes,” Haft says, “but I didn’t really have a chance to bring anything back with me when we were called to the battle–”

Ven nearly shouts, “Battle?  You mean Anvard?  You were at the battle?”

Jorgen frowns.  “Ven, don’t interrupt your uncle.  And finish your dinner.”

Megren smiles, though her eyes betray a little bit of inner conflict at the child’s excitement.

Twig is silent, inhaling his meal as quickly as he can, but staring wide-eyed at Haft.

Haft glances at Megren.  “Yes, we were both there.  Megren was with the archers.  I was on the battlefield with the Narnians.”

Ven cries, “That’s great!  Are you a great warrior?  Did you kill a bunch of Calormenes?”

Calla wrinkles her nose at Ven.  “I’m eating.”

Haft hesitates, glancing between Megren and his niece.  “We…did what needed to be done.  To keep our home safe.”

Ven says, “Yes, but how many did you kill?”

Haft frowns, though his voice is not unkind.  “I think you should finish your stew.”

Ven looks a little disappointed, but starts shoveling food into his mouth again, with barely more grace than his younger brother.

Megren says, “The best warriors are measured by the lives they save.”

Twig finally speaks up.  “Did you save any lives, Uncle Haft?”

Megren’s genuine smile reappears at this.

Haft pauses in his eating.  “I…would like to think so.”  His eyes look distant for a moment.  “In any case, the coming of the Narnian army in combination with the fine work of the Anvard archers and soldiers certainly resulted in a quicker end to the battle, and that spared many who might have fallen in a prolonged conflict.”

Megren supplies, “Probably hundreds of lives.”

Twig’s mouth opens in an ‘o’ of awe, and even Ven looks mollified by this answer.

Calla looks back and forth from Megren to Haft.  “You’re both heroes,” she says brightly.

Haft smiles faintly.

Megren says with pride, “You should have seen the king, and the princes, and all the knights. It was–” she pauses reflectively. “–I’d like someday to be half as wise and courageous and merciful as they were.”

Ven looks surprised.  “The king fought too?  Doesn’t he just…I dunno, tell the knights and soldiers what to do?”

Megren asks, “I shouldn’t like to fight for a king who sends his soldiers into a battle he was too afraid to enter himself, should you?”

Ven finishes the last of his stew.  “I never really thought about it.”

Haft says, “King Lune led the charge out of the gates, before he even knew the Narnians were on the way.  He’s a great man.”

Twig finishes at almost the same time as his brother.  “We’ll do the dishes,” he volunteers.

Megren says, “And Prince Cor rode all through the night to fetch the Narnians and save us, not even knowing yet who his father was.”

Ven ignores his brother’s tug on his sleeve, trying to get him to help clean up.  “Is Prince Cor a warrior too?  He’s just a couple years older’n me, right?  I heard his brother went off to be a page in Narnia.”

Megren says, “I suppose Prince Cor will go squiring soon enough himself. He’s more a peaceful sort than his brother from what I’ve seen.”

Haft shakes his head.  “Not a warrior, no.  He hadn’t had any training in that.  His brother has some skills.”

Twig pulls his sister’s bowl from the table to clean almost before she’s had a chance to put her spoon down.

Haft looks thoughtful at Megren’s comment, but simply nods.

Brigid and Jorgen finish their respective meals, content to let their children ask questions.

Calla asks, “Are there lots of pretty ladies at Anvard?”

Haft offers a small smile.  “None as pretty as you.”

Calla giggles.

Ven rises to help his brother with the rest of the dishes, finally cottoning on to the idea that the sonner they finish the sooner gifts will be handed out.

Megren says, “I think you and Prince Corin’d get on, Ven.”

Ven smiles as he takes her bowl.  “Yeah?”

Megren says, “He’s very fond of feats of strength.”

“Like wrestling and boxing?” Ven asks.

Megren says, “Exactly so.”

Twig snatches the dish from his distracted brother.

Ven says, “I like those things, too.  Only Pa says they gotta be by agreement, and not cause I’m sore at someone.”

Megren nods. “That’s so.”

Haft looks at his brother-in-law approvingly.

Calla doesn’t look like she understands any of this.  She rises and helps Twig with the drying.

Ven asks Megren, “So, you been a guard long?  Do you have to spar with the men?  Is that hard?”

Megren says, “I’ve been a guard about two years now, and yeah, we spar. It’s called bouting, with a sword. It’s a little hard for me, since I was trained with a bow and a dagger before I started at the castle, but I’m getting better.”

Haft says, “Captain Garian speaks very highly of her.”

Megren smiles at the praise.

“And how long have you been a guard, Uncle Haft?” Ven asks.

Haft says, “I joined when I was seventeen, served thirteen years before I went to Narnia.  Been back about a year now.  So around fourteen years.”

Ven asks, “Why’d you leave?  If I were a guard and lived in a castle, I’d want to stay there.”

Brigid clears her throat at her brother’s uncomfortable look.  “I’ll explain it to you later.  Calla and Twig have finished.  Why don’t you pull up some stools around the fire and see what your uncle has brought for you?”

The children scamper to arrange themselves, and Haft and Jorgen graciously offer the women the more comfortable chairs, taking a chest and a stool for themselves.

Megren squints an eye at Haft for the unnecessity of this, but she sits where directed, bringing her pack around with her as well.

Haft shrugs at Megren and pulls his satchel to him, opening it and pulling out a couple of burlap-wrapped packages, which he hands to his sister.

Megren, for her part, pulls out three small pouches.

Haft says, “Lily bulbs from the Anvard gardens.  The gardener said you can plant ’em right away and they’ll do fine.”

Brigid smiles.  “To go with my own lily,” she says, looking at her daughter.

Haft says, “Yeah, only I don’t think these are callas, but, well, they’ll be pretty.”

Megren extends a pouch. “And these are snowdrops from the mountains… though I don’t know how well they’ll fare.”

Brigid says, “They’re wonderful, Haft.  How lovely to have something from the castle garden.”  He eyes brighten again at Megren’s offering.  “Thank you.  I don’t know much about growing snowdrops, but I’ll ask the couple who bought our old home.  His wife’s a dab hand with plants.”

Haft says, “We saw their garden.”

Haft proceeds to pull out a parcel that he’s wrapped in brown paper and presents this to his sister as well.  She opens it to reveal a small gathering of dried flowers tied with a sky blue silk ribbon.

Haft says, “It’s the ribbon that’s the real gift, but the woman who sold it to me tied it up like that, so I thought you might like ’em.  Was hard to figure out how to carry them without ’em getting all crushed.”

Calla leans closer to see the ribbon.  “It’ll look so pretty on you Mama!”

Brigid smiles.  “I shall feel as fine as any lady in Chesterton.”

Pleased by his niece’s reaction as much as his sister’s, Haft pulls another small paper parcel from his pack.  “Something for you, princess,” he says, offering it to Calla.

Calla almost squeals in delight as she bounces over to take the package, but she sits down and unwraps it very carefully, revealing two more ribbons, one in teal and the other in forest green.  “For me?”

Haft nods.

Calla jumps up, holding out the green ribbon to her uncle and clutching the other one close.  “Will you tie it in my hair?”

Haft smiles.  “Course.”  The child turns around and he fastens the silk in a bow at the joining of her plaits before carefully removing the yellow linen one that held it prior and handing it to her.  “There.  Every bit as pretty as any lady I’ve seen.”

Megren quietly enjoys the happy little scene.

Calla touches her fingers to the ribbon in her hair, smiling happily before resuming her seat.

Ven taps his fingers idly on his thigh, obviously not very interested in the exchange of flowers and ribbons.

Haft glances to his friend.  “I think Megren’s collected some things for you as well.”

Megren nods and waves for all the children to come near. “All three of you,” she says, extending the second pouch now.

Ven, Twig and Calla hop off their respective stools and gather to sit in front of Megren.

Megren hands one pouch to Ven to open and the other to Twig.

Megren pulls a third pouch from her satchel to hand to Calla.

The children open the bags and Calla offers another small squeal.  Ven looks pleased and Twig looks up at Megren with undisguised adoration.

“Well, don’t keep us in suspense,” Jorgen says.

Twig smiles.  “It’s candied ginger.  Thank you, ma’am.”  The other children echo their thanks.

Brigid speaks up.  “Only one apiece tonight.  You want them to last.”

Twig nods solemnly.

Ven upends his pouch, spilling several stones onto his palm.  He examines them with interest, then looks to Megren for explanation.

Megren says, “Those are the kind of stone Anvard castle is made of.”

Ven holds one up and looks at it closely.  “It’s kind of red.”  He holds his palm out to the others for examination.

Megren nods. “Red granite, it’s called.”

Ven scratches at a piece experimentally with his fingernail.  “It’s strong.”

Megren says, “It glitters if you get the light to hit it right.”

The children feel the need to test this immediately and each holds out a stone toward the fire.  “Yeah, I see it,” says Twig.

Calla returns to her place at Megren’s feet and looks down into her pouch.  “These are wonderful.  They’re-they’re…I don’t know what they are,” she admits, looking no less pleased for that.

Megren says, “They’re shells. They wash up on the beach from animals that live in the sea. Some of them get holes in them and you can make a necklace.”

Calla frowns.  “From fish?”

Megren shakes her head. “The ocean has all kinds of animals rivers don’t have. I don’t know rightly how to explain these… they’re kind of slimy things, like slugs. The ocean cleans up the shells when the animals die, and they land on the beach all smooth.”

Calla wrinkles her nose at the mention of slimy things, but finding the shells to be clean and dry says, “They’re pretty.  Thank you.”

Haft says, “Those are for the three of you to divide and share among yourselves, so you’ll have a bit of Anvard with you, where your mother and uncle grew up.”

He opens his satchel again, withdrawing a jug of cider.  “Andale’s finest” he says, presenting it to Jorgen who gives a large smile in thanks.

“And I’ve got something for you two lads as well,” Haft says, producing the two wooden swords that have somehow gone unnoticed in a corner.

Ven leaps to his feet, grinning broadly, and takes one of the swords from his uncle.  “These are great!  I’ve never had one like this.  I mean…” he looks at his father a little apologetically.  “It’s bigger than the ones Father’s made for us.”

Jorgen waves the apology away.  “You’re allowed to enjoy it.”

Megren grins, sharing in the boy’s excitement.

Haft grunts.  “It’s probably bigger cause it’s what they sell at the blacksmith’s in Anvard, and what the knights and guards practice with.”  He glances at Twig’s stature–not too openly–and adds, “You may need to practice with lighter ones a bit longer if you find these too heavy after a while.”

Twig accepts the second sword, looking a little doubtful, and almost drops it while watching his brother, who’s swinging his around a bit.

“They’re for outside,” Haft clarifies.

Ven lowers the sword at once, still smiling.  “Thanks, Uncle.”

Megren giggles. “We can show you a few forms tomorrow, if you want.”

Twig bobs his head toward Haft politely, still looking uncertain.

Ven nearly bounces.  “That would be great.  Won’t that be great, Twig?”

Twig, wide-eyed, just nods again.

Calla watches her brothers, rising.  “Do I get to try?”

Megren looks at Brigid for answer to Calla’s question.

Brigid nods her approval.

Twig offers his sister his sword, which she hefts with both hands.  “It’s heavy!”

Megren grins

“A real sword is heavy,” Haft explains.  “So practice swords need to be heavy too.”

Calla says, “Well, I want to learn forms tomorrow too.”  She lowers the sword and returns it to her brother, covering a yawn.

Haft smiles faintly.  “Someone’s getting tired.”

Calla shakes her head.  “No.  It’s just…going to the market is hard work.”

Megren jests, “Haft was talking about himself. He’s had a long day walking.”

Haft snorts at Megren as Twig bites his lip to hide a smile.

Jorgen rises.  “It’s been a long day for everybody.  I think the children would be well-served by an early rest tonight.”

Ven sticks out his lower lip in the manner of a much younger boy, but doesn’t gainsay his father.

Calla’s fair brows draw together.  “But what about Uncle Haft?  We just met him.  Is he going away again?”

“He’ll be here tomorrow,” Jorgen reassures.  He looks to his brother-in-law.  “You two have a place to sleep tonight?”

Haft says, “We were planning to stay at an inn, if you can recommend a good one.”

Brigid glances at her husband.

Jorgen shakes his head.  “Don’t be stupid.  You’re family.  You’ll stay here.”

Haft fidgets.  “We don’t want to put you out…”

Jorgen rolls his eyes heavenward.  “We’ll make up a pallet for your friend here by the fire, and you can sleep in the front shop till we open.”  He looks to Megren.  “That work, Miss?”

Megren says, “If it’s no trouble.”

Brigid smiles.  “It isn’t.  Children, get ready for bed now. Your father and I will be in in a moment to say goodnight.”

Calla smiles at Megren again, then fingers the ribbon in her hair once more before throwing her arms around her uncle’s waist, saying.  “I’m glad I have an uncle,” and heading through a door at the back of the room to prepare for bed.

Haft looks startled but pleased, looking after his niece.

The boys smile at their uncle and nod politely to Megren before following their sister.

Haft rises from his place.  “Let me help you with that bedding Jorgen.”

Brigid walks over to her brother.  Her eyes are a little too bright as she kisses him on the cheek.  “It’s good to have you back.”  She smiles at Megren and then heads after her children.

Megren returns the various good nights, and helps Haft and Jorgen with the bedding.

Once everything is arranged to his satisfaction, Jorgen turns to Megren.  “Thank you for accompanying my brother-in-law.  It’s a long road from Anvard.”

Megren says, “Oh, it was no trouble. A sort of adventure for my part, really, and it seemed like he could use the companionship.”

Haft shifts his weight, looking a little awkward.

Jorgen nods, not commenting on Megren’s evaluation, but squeezes Haft’s shoulder as if he can guess precisely how trying it would have been to make the journey alone.  “We’ll see you in the morning.  Goodnight.”

“Night,” Haft murmurs at Jorgen’s departing back before giving Megren a grateful look and turning to head into the storefront.

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