Ser Chrisfer and Lancyn

Fiction by Pen . . . . . not real, made up, purely intended for entertainment


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The trouble with being perfectly warm when you woke, Lancyn thought, was that you knew things could only go downhill from there. He really, really did not want to leave this cocoon of blankets and warm companion to go outside into the white pre-dawn and make porage.

Perhaps five more minutes...

Something prodded him in the ribs. "Hey, kid. Rise and shine."

Lancyn grumbled, and snuggled hopefully.

"Yeah, yeah, it's cold out there. But we can't stay here all day. I gotta pee. And you have to toughen up. Tender southerner."

Opening one eye to the somewhat disconcerting sight of Ser Chrisfer's face all of three inches from his own, Lancyn scowled. It wasn't that he was tender, it was that this was outrageous, this chill, this benighted snow! He would have explained, but Ser Chris escaped from his clutches, sat up, hauled on his surcoat and a pair of gloves, and extracted his legs from the blankets in order to don his boots.

"How many layers are you wearing, kid? Well, no matter, whatever they are, you need more. Take the top ones off—stay under the blankets then, you big softie—and put these on, then put the rest on top. Come on, lazy lummox, time to get going!" With an encouraging slap in the general area of Lancyn's backside, Ser Chris slid out of the shelter. Lancyn could hear whistling, and growled something quite rude as he struggled out of his surcoat.

* * *

It wasn't quite as bad, riding with more layers between his skin and the snowy air. But he hoped very much they'd find an inn tonight. Somewhere he could unsaddle the horses without freezing his fingers to the stirrups. Couldn't get the straps undone with mitts on.

* * *

"Now, this looks like a good place to spend the night, don't you think?" Ser Chris sounded remarkably pleased with himself.

Indeed, he had reason. They were approaching a house, a large house, two levels in the centre, and with single-storey 'arms' coming forward on either side to enclose a broad courtyard. There was light at several windows, but no-one to be seen. Lancyn was startled to notice that the snow in the courtyard had been shaped into many small protuberances, and one rather tall one, giving the impression that a flock of plump white ducks was being chased by a very fat, um, something. Each little duck had a small carrot for a beak. And pebble eyes. The big lump had—huh. A hat.

He was about to comment on this peculiar arrangement, but Ser Chris announced: "Stable!" and steered his little party to the left.

The stable was warm from a brazier and the heat of the quartered beasts. They stalled their horses efficiently and left a bemused stable-boy with instructions to make sure the hard-working travel horses received extra rations, before heading to the main entrance.

Ser Chris pushed at the large door, which opened easily. They walked into a generous hallway, with a staircase opposite and doors on either side. It did not look like an inn. And an inn, besides, would have had bustle, and someone to ask their names and assign them rooms and offer them hot punch and take their order for supper. This... looked like somebody's home.

"Er, ought we to be—" Lancyn began, but Ser Chris winked at him, put a hand to his mouth, and let out a shattering bellow.

"Hey, ladies!"

Lancyn gaped at him, horrified. An instant later, feminine shrieks and clattering emanated from different points in the house. In a swirl of noise and brightly-coloured garments, dozens of females in assorted sizes emerged through doorways and down stairs, and converged on Ser Chrisfer with cries of excitement.

The dozens resolved into five, once Lancyn had got over the shock and two female servants had retreated to the kitchen. A stout and cheerful matron, two pretty young women in green and blue, a girl perhaps a little younger than himself, and a dark-haired child who demanded to be lifted up, and whose smile was a perfect match for Chrisfer's own.

In fact, a little sister.

* * *

Although Lancyn vowed to be revenged for the near heart failure he told himself he had experienced when his knight strode into this house and shouted for ladies, he had to admit it was a pleasant place to be. Chrisfer's family was noisy and full of life, which was only to be expected, really. His mother, Bevelyn ("Call me Bev") scolded her son roundly and with patent adoration for not notifying her that he would be visiting, then turned to welcome Lancyn with a matriarchal hug, and required one of the girls—Katya, the one in blue—to find him somewhere to wash and change out of his snowy clothes, while another sister went in search of servants and clean sheets for the guest bedrooms.

Little Talia refused to be parted from her big brother until he had to put her down in order to remove his cloak and surcoat, at which point it was discovered that she had tied his braided hair to the hanging chain inside his cloak so effectively that one or the other would have to be cut off. Lancyn was delighted, and transmitted his approval surreptitiously to the little minx, who grinned shamelessly at him and scampered out of her enraged brother's reach.

"It's high time you had your hair cut in any case, young man," said Bevelyn, severely. "And stop that cursing. You'll teach Emmy and Talia all the foul words their big sisters haven't already taught them. Emmy, fetch my best scissors. Really, Chris, these ribbons! What are you thinking?"

"Keeps it off my face," Chris said, and pouted determinedly.

"Well, it isn't very knightly," she told him sternly. "What do you think, Lancyn?"

"It's strategic, ma'am," Lance replied without hesitation. "The bad men see ribbons, and they see beard, and they don't know which to believe. Ser Chris prefers to confuse them into submission. Cleaning swords is hard work, you see."

"Brat! Traitor!" said Chrisfer, outraged. "You shall sleep in the stable! Oh, go on, take them out. Tally can have them."

"Reward for a job well done," murmured Lancyn.

* * *

It was a little overwhelming, this house, with five women and Ser Chrisfer in it. There were, it turned out, two other men besides—Kennet, Bevelyn's husband (but not Chrisfer's father), and Verik, who was married to Melisen, or rather, to Melly, as she insisted on being known. And a tall, hesitant young man called Brig always seemed to be about the place. He was courting Katya, and Ser Chris subjected him to intense and somewhat hostile scrutiny for the duration of their visit.

In truth, then, equal numbers, with himself and his knight included. But the ladies seemed to make a great deal more noise than the men, Chrisfer excepted, obviously. They were always chattering, and laughing, and busy with something that involved a great deal of discussion. Lancyn had not lived in a house with women since... since mama died. Long time ago. And she'd been ill for so long before that. Perhaps when Tessy had been at home, there'd been something like this? But he couldn't remember it.

Bevelyn, whom he found it difficult to address familiarly as Bev, plainly felt that he needed a mother, and had sorted through his few possessions, tutting over his inadequate darning and bearing the mended garments away for proper treatment. She required him and Chrisfer both to pay proper tribute at the dining table, looking quite wounded if either of them refused a third helping on the grounds of being likely to burst. She trimmed Lancyn's hair, approving the plain leather thong he used to bind it back during the day. Ser Chris kept evading her scissors, claiming that he had not yet decided what to do about his hair, now his little sister was in possession of his ribbons.

"Perhaps I'll just shave it all off," he told her. "That'd be easy-care."

Bev looked horrified.

"I'd wait until summer, if I were you," Lancyn felt as horrified as Bevelyn looked, but it would be as well not to admit to it. Ser Chris was perfectly capable of shaving his head out of sheer perversity, best not give him cause. "After all, layers. It's cold out there."

Chris eyed him narrowly, but appeared at dinner that evening with his head mercifully unshaven. With his hair, in fact, loose and silky round his face. He looked very knightly. Lancyn was pleased, but since the women of the house all voiced their approval loudly, he thought he need not say so.

* * *

They stayed for the Midwinter Feast, of course, and were duly stuffed until they groaned. Lancyn had managed to get into the village on the previous day, escorting Emmy to the butchery wagon, and purchased some little tokens as Midwinter gifts for his host family. Small orange fruits with - hah! - ribbons pinned to them. He would have to keep the ribbons away from Chrisfer.

The vendor said they were naranjas, sweet and juicy, and agreed, somewhat reluctantly, to a small discount.

The naranjas were well received, and Tally claimed the ribbons from her papa and from Verik. Lancyn was startled to find he had been supplied with assorted knitted objects by Chrisfer's ladies: a cowl, a hat with ear-flaps, a muffler, and a pair of gloves (one each from Emmy and Talia), all much nicer than what had been issued him from Tower stores. They were always knitting, they had several sheep, Bev explained, and his gifts were spares, there not having been time to create anything specially for him. He was pleased and grateful, and Ser Chris assured him benevolently that the vivid naranja-coloured muffler would make it easier to spot him if he fell into any snowdrifts. Ser Chris had bargained an orange ribbon out of one of his sisters, and was currently wearing it round his wrist, but promising to tie his long hair back with it during the day.

Ser Chris had gifted him a throwing knife, plain, beautifully balanced. And was very happy with the box of glazed nuts, candied fruit and sugar fancies he received in return. They didn't often have the chance of candies, on the road, and Lancyn knew his knight adored them, so this box, bought with Joel's connivance, had been stowed at the bottom of his pack for several days.

Last Midwinter had been pleasant, a fair contrast to his years in service with Master Perel with no pretence at friendship or family feeling between them. Last Midwinter, Lancyn and Ser Chris had been in the Tower at Rittenhold, working hard on weaponsdrill and statutes, and feasting with the other elite in residence. This year, in the midst of a real family, was what Midwinter feast ought to be.

And, when Ser Chris whispered to him that night that on the morrow the two of them would set off in pursuit of their quest, Lancyn was glad of that, too.


On to the next story: Scene, with Chestnuts


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