Avery is sitting on a bench close to the fountain. She is in quiet conversation with Haft, pointing to some flowers beside the bench.
Megren walks alongside Linor and a cart that is chockful of treats.
Haft glances at the flowers. “Alacanthas, I believe.”
Linor stops the tray near the benches and goes over to Lady Avery and gives a small bow. “Good afternoon My Lady. Would you like some tea or wine?”
Avery hmms thoughtfully, nodding. When she hears the other voice, she turns slightly and smiles. “Ah, Linor, hello. I would love some wine, thank you.”
Linor goes over to the cart and pours a glass and hands it to Avery. “You’re Welcome, M’lady.”
Megren sits on the adjacent bench. “Alacanthas is the flower?”
Haft says, “Yes. Grows mostly here along the coast, I believe. Never saw any round Barfield.”
Avery takes the wine and sips it. “It’s very beautiful.”
Megren nods. “It is.”
Linor goes over and smells it. “I’ve seen it on the beaches before, but I never knew it had a name.
Haft says, “Yes.”
Avery tips her head. “Do we have that flower in Archenland? I don’t think I’ve seen it…”
Megren says, “Me either, though I know the forest flowers better than the beaches.”
Haft shakes his head. “It’s uniquely Narnian, so far as I know.
Linor pulls a candied fig from her pouch and eats it.
Linor exclaims, “There are a lot of things that are uniquely Narnian!”
Megren laughs. “I don’t think anyone can contradict you there.”
Avery laughs lightly. “Yes, that’s true.”
Haft quirks a brow.
Linor looks at Haft. “Well aren’t there things that are uniqualy Archenlandish that I would have never heard of?”
Haft says, “No doubt.”
Megren says, “Not like here, though. No other place has Intelligent Beasts and trees that move and people who look human until you see they’ve got the bodies of horses.”
Linor laughs “I always find it so funny when human say that centars look mostly human. From my point of view they look rather horselike! Though they are rather wiser than man or horse generally speaking.”
Avery hides a smile behind her goblet of wine as she listens.
Megren wrinkles her nose, grinning. “That’s fair.”
Haft says, “And rather larger than men, in any event.”
Linor exclaims, “And much much larger than mink!”
Megren says, “So you can see why it might seem like rather a lot then.”
Avery finishes off her wine and stands. She sets the empty goblet on the cart and says, “Thank you for the wine, Linor. And Dame Megren, too.”
Megren says, “Oh,” she nods, standing to bow. “Yes, of course.”
Linor gives a little bow as well. “You’re welcome!”
Avery dips her head. “If you all will excuse me, there are a few things I’d like to see to before dinner.”
Haft glances at the lady, but taking note of the term “all”, does not inquire whether he should follow.
Megren says, “We’ll see you at dinner.”
Linor exclaims, “Have a good evening, M’lady!””
Avery smiles. “Have a good afternoon.” She steps away from the group and walks down the path.
Megren sits again, pulling her legs up under her on the bench. She releases a breath, glancing sidelong at Haft.
Linor bows to Megren and Haft. “I’ll leave the tea out if you want some, but I’d best be back to the kitchen myself.
Haft takes a seat on an adjacent bench once Avery departs. “That was one of the least interesting council meetings I’ve ever had the misfortune to sit through. I didn’t think Narnians could make any topic that dull.”
Megren says, “Oh — yes, thank you. I’ll bring it back to the kitchen when we’re done.”
Haft says, “Thank you Linor.”
Megren pulls in her lower lip and stays the course, despite the topic having, by nature, little to be said about it. “Maybe the next one will be better.”
Haft answers, “Maybe. I don’t hold out much hope for it.”
Megren rubs her knee.
Haft says, “Seems to me that the choosing of a new king…or queen…or kings and queens…oughta be more’n combing through records and debating policies. It’s all very…”
Megren says, “You’d almost like to hunt for one. Form some kind of perfect contest or something.”
Haft says, “Almost. I mean…it’s not my lookout. What do I know of choosing kings? I’ve served two fine ones who were born to the role with no debate, but…Narnia is such a storied land. It seems like there ought to be a story in the finding of its next king, not just…consensus.”
Megren nods quietly. “Even Prince Cor has a story, and he’s born to it, too.”
Haft asks, “Aye. Something like that. I guess that’s what I’m thinking of. But then, maybe that’s not what the Lion wants. He wants them to choose, doesn’t he?”
Megren says, “That’s what he said. He didn’t say how. Maybe someone’s got the story and we don’t know because we aren’t looking for it.”
Haft looks interested. “Got the story?”
Megren asks, “I mean, maybe there’s someone going through all the right trials right now, learning all the things they’ve got to know to be a good ruler, only, they don’t know it, and we don’t know it, because neither of us is looking in quite the right direction to see. What would have made our king look to a fisherman’s son?”
Haft says, “If King Lune had been passing by?” He grins. “Probably the fact that Cor looks just like his brother.””
Megren’s lips curve and she cants her head. “Well,” she concedes.
Haft says, “Also by the fact that Prince Corin would have boxed the fisherman’s ears before mending a net.”
Megren says, “As a toddler.”
Haft says, “Well, possibly. Since neither of us knew Prince Corin as a toddler, we cannot confirm that.”
Megren says, “Fair.”
Haft says, “I wonder how he’s doing.”
Megren says, “His majesty said a little in the last correspondence. Still outstripping most of the castle at fencing. I think Prince Corin still misses Queen Susan; it seems like he’s gotten quieter than he was, and it sounds like he still is.”
Haft says, “It was Prince Corin I was referring to. I was worried about him before we left.”
Megren says, “Oh.” She nods.
Haft says, “Not that I’m not pleased to hear that Cor is doing well at fencing, of course.”
Megren’s lips curve a little again and she says, “You’re usually asking about Prince Cor.”
Haft’s mouth tightens slightly. “I won’t apologize for that.”
Megren says, “Nor is anyone asking you to.”
Haft thinks on this a moment, then nods. “I spent a good fourteen years asking after Prince Corin. I’m not sure I ever told you.”
Megren says, “No. But it sounds like you.”
Haft says, “I suppose. Was about the only thing could get me out of Barfield. I’d go to Sted Cair for word of him. They get word soonest of Archen affairs. Once he was made squire to King Edmund I went more often. Saw him sometimes.”
Megren nods quietly.
Haft starts, “It was–” but he cuts the thought short. “Anyway, it’s been hard on him.”
Megren says, “I think he’s — I think he’s doing better, some. That’s how I read it, anyway. But I don’t imagine it won’t have changed him.”
Haft says, “No…” He takes a deep breath and releases it. “What else did His Majesty say?””
Megren says, “Deonyc’s on gardening duty.”
Haft makes an effort to hide a smile, but after a brief struggle drops his head and gives in to ill-stifled guffaws.
Megren’s lips curve despite herself.
Haft gasps for air. “I’m-I’m not rejoicing in his punishment. It’s the thought of what old Sadie’s probably putting him through. That’s where the Captain usually sends the folks who need straightening out.”
Megren nods. “That’s how Reina started there, I think.”
Haft says, “Right. So is Deonyc coming back eventually, do you think? To full duty, I mean.”
Megren says, “Depends on whether he demonstrates an understanding of what it means to be a guard, I suppose.”
Haft asks, “Like demonstrating appropriate humility and not insulting one’s hosts?”
Megren says, “That’s definitely a part of being a guard, yes.”
Haft says, “I mean, it’s not the essence, but…well, pertinent in this case.” He makes a face.”
Megren says, “Yes. I’d hoped — well. Captain Garian will sort it, I imagine.”
Haft asks, “What did you hope?”
Megren says, “I don’t know. None of this has quite worked out as I’d hoped.”
Haft says, “We’ve done what we set out to do. Shown our support. The Duke doesn’t seem to have done anything untoward. As for Deonyc, no one could foresee that he would refuse to apologize once an offense was made. And we’re not exactly wanting without him.””
Megren says, “I suppose.”
Haft says, “If you think we need more guards, I’m sure His Majesty would be willing to send another. One or two more would not raise brows if they came. For my part, keeping an eye on Lady Avery is no challenge.”
Megren says, “I don’t think we need more guards. Lady Avery doesn’t really need guarding — it was a reason to give the Narnians a larger contingent of support without bringing in a whole pile of knights.”
Haft says, “You may say she doesn’t need guarding. I’m still waiting for a letter from her mother to Sir Darrin insisting she be chaperoned by armed guards at all times. I’m just getting ahead of the request.”
Megren makes a noncomittal noise.
Haft grins. “In all seriousness, she’s a good excuse, and a good sport about it.
Megren says, “She is a good sport about most things, I think.”
Haft says, “True enough. I expect she’ll be a good match for Commander Peridan.”
Megren says, “I don’t know him so well, but I imagine so.”
Haft says, “He can be…” he considers “…a bit stiff. I don’t think he means to be, but he takes his duties seriously.””
Megren says, “I can respect that. His duties are serious.”
Haft says, “Aye, but I occasionally think he forgets to exhale. She’ll be good for that. Not that I know him so very well myself. Just my perception.”
Megren rubs one thumb with the other. “It makes sense. She seems very happy.”
Haft smiles fondly. “She does.”
Megren says, “I think she likes Narnia, too.”
Haft says, “Seems to. And she’s the sort that can make friends wherever she goes.”
Megren says, “She can, yeah.”
Haft says, “I confess, I don’t much like leaving her here when everything’s still uncertain. Suppose that’s the worrier in me.”
Megren says, “I don’t imagine we’ll be leaving for a while yet. At least until they’ve chosen someone. Maybe longer. She can handle herself, though, if she wanted to stay with the rest of us gone.”
Haft asks, “‘Handle herself’?”
Megren says, “I don’t think she’d choose to stay if she couldn’t find a way to be happy and useful in it.”
Haft says, “Ah. I suppose.”
Megren rubs her knee and reaches for the wine to pour a glass.
Megren looks up.
Haft says, “Just thinkin’. If we’re gonna be here till the next monarch is chosen, odds are we’ll miss Christmas.”
Megren says, “Oh.” She takes a breath and nods. “It’s starting to look that way.”
Haft says, “Well, can’t be helped.”
Megren takes a drink of the wine.
Haft asks, “Any good?”
Megren pours him a glass and hands it over.
Haft takes a sip. “Not bad.”
Megren asks, “Are you angry with me over Sir Darrin?”
Haft stiffens. He lowers the glass. “Not nearly so angry as I am with him.”
Megren releases a breath and pushes her mouth to the side, cupping her glass with both hands.
Haft asks, “He had a duty to protect your reputation. Haft says he didn’t…fancy you when he first asked you to squire?”
Megren says, “No.”
Haft says, “Good, because there’s no rules in place that allow a guardsman to call out a knight.”
Megren presses her lips together regretfully and tilts her head. “Neither of us pursued the other while I was his squire,” she informs him.
Haft says, “Yet you still managed to figure out you were both drawn to each other. I assume you discussed it.”
Megren says, “I would have been more uncomfortable had we not.”
Haft asks, “It didn’t occur to him that if he had to go and…it didn’t occur to him that perhaps it would be more appropriate to turn your training over to someone else?”
Megren says, “We talked about it. We didn’t think anything was going to come of it, and it seemed just as likely to make gossip, for what might be nothing.”
Haft looks incredulous. “You don’t think it’s going to cause gossip now?”
Megren presses her lips together and pushes her mouth to the side.
Haft asks, “So you just kept quiet and hoped that you’d…grow apart?”
Megren squints an eye. “That’s… not how I would describe it, no.”
Haft says, “But you thought nothing was going to come of it.”
Megren says, “He told me he was interested and I said no, and he said that was fine and he would work through it, and I could choose another knight if I wanted, and I said I didn’t think that was necessary.”
Haft raises a brow. “You said no?”
Megren says, “I was… not…um, in, in love. At the time.””
Haft says, “Oh? /Oh/.” He reaches to flatten down his hair where it’s starting to grow longer than usual at the nape of his neck. “That sounds unconfortable.””
Megren pushes her mouth to the side and lifts a shoulder. “It’s — there’s been worse.”
Haft asks, “With Sir Darrin? Or with me and Lanisen and other people unfortunate enough to enjoy your company?”
Megren looks a little taken aback. “What? — not, not you.”
Haft says, “We’ve had one or two awkward moments, but thank you for that.”
Megren starts, “I meant–” she pauses, and then shuts her mouth and readjusts her hands over her cup.
Haft leans forward. “What did you mean?”
Megren takes a breath and releases it. “I don’t… know if it’s right to say.”
Haft asks, “Then don’t say it. When did you change your mind?”
Megren says, “Last autumn, I guess.”
Haft asks, “How long had you been living with his admission?”
Megren says, “…About a year, I guess.”
Haft presses his lips together and shakes his head.
Megren says, “I was the one who said I didn’t need another knight.”
Haft lets out derisive huff through his nostrils. “It wasn’t your responsibility. He could have insisted. He could have transferred you and not said a word about why till you’d won your spurs. He should have done.”
Megren allows, “Maybe.”
Haft leans back and folds his arms. “Do you actually understand what’s bothering me Meg?”
Megren purses her lips a little. “If it’s what bothered me for the last two and a half years, it’s probably something along the lines of, would I ever have gotten half so far with anyone else as my knight, or would I have been better dedicated and better qualified, or any number of questions as to the legitimacy of my skills or work.”
Haft says, “That’s about the measure of it. Would you have been a knight at all, or still a guard, if he hadn’t /noticed/ you? There’ll be people as say that.”
Megren inclines her head.
Haft asks, “How will you answer?”
Megren says, “By serving his majesty and the people of Archenland as well as I can, for whatever length my life may have.”
Haft considers this a moment, then nods mutely.
Megren says, “However other people may think of them, I took my oaths very seriously. His majesty and the other knights assessed me before I was allowed to take them. It was not only Sir Darrin who spoke toward my character when asked.” She pauses and frowns. “I — those are the things I tell myself. Regardless, it does not change the fact that I am a knight, and I hold the responsibilities of a knight, and whatever the past may be, that is the future I have to live up to.””
Haft replies, “It’s you who’ll have to live with it Meg.” Concern is evident in his voice.
Megren says solemnly, “I know.”
Megren pauses, and then says, “I have shown a pattern of taking on responsibilities that were not mine to take on, to the disservice of myself and my friends, and I have to learn to change that. This is only the most public example.”
Haft says, “That’s what worries me.”
Megren says, “Which part.”
Haft looks at her out of the side of his eye. “Your penchant for adopting causes ought to be the more concerning, but I’m worried about the public nature of the revelation. You two mean to wed?”
Megren says, “Eventually, I think so. Not soon. Not until I’m really a knight in my own right.”
Haft asks, “In what sense are you not a knight?”
Megren says, “I haven’t settled into having authority, or established myself as having earned the role.”
Haft presses his lips together.
Megren says, “We decided to talk to his majesty and our parents, and Lanisen already knew because I told him when it first started but otherwise we were meaning to keep it quiet until it was reasonable to really think about.”
Haft’s eyes widen. “His Majesty knows?”
Megren rubs her upper lip and nods. “We were planning to tell him and then we got sent here, so it was, we didn’t want to keep secrets from him so we had to… say right before we left.”
Haft asks, “…and?”
Megren takes a breath and releases it. “He said it didn’t change his estimation of me, but he wished Sir Darrin would have come to him right away.”
Haft nods slowly.
Megren shakes her head a little and watches the glass in her hand.
Haft asks, “And Sir Darrin’s family?”
Megren says, “They… were glad for him.”
Haft asks, “Glad for him? Were they glad for you?”
Megren says, “Um, yes, I think so. He went to talk to them alone, so they could feel open to talk about it if they were upset.”
Haft asks, “But they treated you decently?”
Megren says, “I haven’t seen them since he told them.”
Haft says, “Oh. Well…if it doesn’t go well, you can talk to me, if you need to.”
Megren says, “Thank you.”
Haft asks, “And your father?”
Megren presses her lips together and tilts her head, lips turning downward. “Um–”
Dalia pages, “I’d offer to help but …” to you.
Haft asks, “He didn’t approve?”
Dalia pages, “I don’t know if you’d feel about me reading the logs uncleaned” to you.
Megren says, “He doesn’t… know. We — they needed us here, and there wasn’t time, and we… had to choose the King or my father.”
Haft says, “Oh.”
Megren tucks her hair behind her ear.
Megren says, “I don’t… know when I’ll get the chance to tell him.”
Haft lets out another puff of air. “You worrying what he’ll say?”
Megren says, “He’s my /father/ and I want him to /know/.”
Haft says, “And it’s not the kind of thing you can say in a letter. I’m sorry.”
Megren snorts softly. “He doesn’t read.”
Haft looks chagrined. “I forgot.”
Megren pushes her lips upward regretfully. “It’s easy to do.”
Haft asks, “Do you think he ever wishes he could, since you’ve learned?”
Megren says, “He likes it when I read to him.”
Haft asks, “What do you read?”
Megren squints an eye and grins a little, despite herself. “My own letters, sometimes.”
Haft says, “Oh, nothing intelligible then.”
Megren screws up her face at him.
Haft’s lips twitch.
Megren says, “I think he doesn’t figure there’s much use in learning when it gives him an excuse to call me over any time he needs something read.”
Haft says, “Louder than I imagined, yer pa.”
Megren rolls her eyes.
Haft says, “Or you have the hearing of a hound. An advantage to having ears that stick out.”
Megren feels her ears.
Haft says, “Like an Elephant’s.”
Megren says, “They’re normal ears.”
Haft relents. “They’re very nice ears.”
Megren asks, “…What constitutes a nice ear?”
Haft asks, “Well having a poor ear means you’re tone deaf, doesn’t it?”
Megren says, “I suppose.”
Haft says, “There, you see? It’s common knowledge you’re deaf as a post.”
Megren says, “Wait I thought you said I had nice ears.”
Haft says, “And you’re hearing things too yet.”
Megren screws up her face.
Haft emphasizes every word. “Do you need me to speak up?”
Megren says, “Hilarious.”
Haft says, “I confess, I do not know what makes a fine ear.”
Megren says, “Probably being like mine is a good start.”
Haft says, “Probably. Unless one is an Elephant. In which case ears like yours might be rather a blight.”
Megren says, “That’s a fair caveat.”
Haft says, “I try to be fair.”
Megren twists her mouth into a smile.
Haft asks, “What are you on to next?”
Megren says, “I… suppose I have to write Lanisen.”
Haft asks, “Have to?”
Megren takes a breath and releases it.
Haft says, “Has he written to you yet? Seems he only just left.”
Megren says, “He asked me to write.”
Haft says, “Well. I don’t reckon you’re required to do everything a person asks of you.
But if you want to keep the friendship, I guess you’d better have a go at it.”
Megren takes a breath. “Yeah.”
Haft asks, “Should I leave you to it then?”
Megren asks, “Yeah, I suppose.” She rises and begins to clean up the cart to bring it back to the kitchen. “Don’t be angry at Sir Darrin too long, if you can help it?”
Haft’s jaw tenses and he rises from the bench. “That might take a while.”
Megren pushes her mouth to the side regretfully and keeps her eyes on the cart. “All right,” she concedes. She takes a breath and looks up at him. “It’s still — we told the people we thought needed to know, but it’s not meant to be out yet.”
Haft asks, “I won’t discuss the matter with anyone else. Sir Darrin is aware you’ve told me?”
Haft says, “Right.” He indicates the cart. “I can take that.”
Megren hesitates, and then nods. “All right.”
Haft says, “It’s not exactly a hardship. Can’t go to the kitchens without them offering you a cookie or better. I’ll bring you back one if offered.”
Megren says, “Thanks.”
Haft claps her on the shoulder, squeezes once, and wheels the cart toward the kitchen.
Megren pushes her mouth to the side and watches him go.