"Well now, what's the problem here?" Alanna asked the maids before her tartly. The entirety of the Swoop's household was in an uproar preparing for a visit from the king. You would think they would all be used to Jon coming by now, Alanna thought, but it's nothing but chaos and panic every time. She had wanted to be out riding Darkmoon this morning, not mediating petty grievances between scullery maids.

"It's the dishes, mum. There 'en't enough of 'em," replied a maid quickly. Her sleeves were rolled up and she stood with her hands on her hips, her wet fingers dripping sudsy trails over her apron. The other maids shifted anxiously, avoiding direct eye contact with their noble employer.

"Excuse me?" Alanna asked. "What do you mean there's not enough dishes?"

The maid gestured at the wash tub in front of her, to the sparkling clean china neatly stacked on the side. "I got out the place settins an' washed 'em up, just like I alwas do afore guests come, but we're missin' pieces mi'lady."

Alanna frowned. "How many missing pieces are we talking about exactly?"

The servants quickly muttered amongst themselves, then a new maid stepped forward. "Three cups, nine plates, six bowls, seven goblets, and a substantial amount of the flatware, mi'lady," she said in a soft voice.

Alanna's jaw dropped.

Before she could even ask the maid cut in quickly, "This set is always kept under lock and key when not in use, and we haven't had important visitors for months. Someone must have been picking the lock and taking bits and pieces."

"Oh. Oh!" Suddenly Alanna understood the reason for the maids' uncomfortable confrontation.

"Yes, exactly. None of us go in Master Alan's room, not since what happened to Alyce," the maid gestured at a terrified looking brunette in the back. "If you'll go in there and gather the dishes we'll do the rest, mi'lady. We can use another set, but this is the finest one."

Alanna sighed. "No, no. I'll go. I'm so sorry, I had no idea this was happening." The scullery maid made a "tch!" sound Alanna knew meant "a proper lady would always know the state of the kitchen". The maid that had stepped forward to speak for the group gave the older maid at the tub a disapproving glare, then smiled at Alanna. "I'll come with you mi'lady, I can wait at the door with a tray to stack the china on once you gather it." Alanna smiled gratefully back at her.

The door to Alan's room creaked open slowly, and the light from the hallway spilled into the dank and dark cavern, making the two women's shadows seem impossibly large and commanding. Alanna waved her hand and the candles inside the room were instantaneously alight, although the flickering flames did nothing to make the room less foreboding. It looked (and smelled) like the the den of an unusually talented artistic bear.

It was mid-morning, but as usual Alan's drapes were drawn tightly shut, with only the smallest slivers of sunlight able to penetrate from the cracks. The floor was completely covered with clothes, books, papers, shoes, and random sketching supplies. Everything was marked by charcoal foot prints. Alan's bed was rumpled and unmade, with a pile of clothes taking up the majority of the space. The rest of it was occupied by books, which spilled from the bed onto the surrounding floor. Along one edge of the room were a line of bowls filled with water and random tidbits, for the castle's many cats, which Alan was fond of. The sill of the window was filled with tanks, which housed all manner of slimy scaly creatures, glowering at the intruders from their murky lairs. Alanna was relieved to note that the expensive viol and lyre that she and George had purchased for Alan was safely tucked away from the worst of the disaster on top of his bookcase. She was much less pleased to note that the bookcase seemed to be holding everything except books, including haphazard stacks of her very fine (and now very filthy) china.

Alanna sighed deeply, then with a last apprehensive look at the maid, she waded into the morass.

"This is-oh! Well I can't - oh gods! No, I'm alright, I'm alright, it's just very -SHIT!" Alanna stumbled and skidded over the precarious pile of possessions coating the floor, clutching at the wall for balance until she finally got to the bookcase. She sighed in relief at having made it this far without either falling or knocking anything important over. I am going to have to kill that boy, she thought. She had known his room wasn't anything approaching pristine, especially not since the maids quit cleaning it following the ugly incident with Alyce, but she had no idea it was this bad.

"Mi'lady? Are you alright?" the maid at the door called. It wasn't a large room, but somehow the mess made it feel like a labyrinth. One could easily imagine getting lost in here, two feet from the door but completely unable to see it through the dense jungle of easels and woodworking tools.

Alanna began to quickly grab the sticky stacks of dishes, setting them gently on the tray the maid had given her. "I'm fine, I'll just gather the dishes up and we'll be on our way."

She was almost through with the plates, and was just reaching to the back of the shelf for an errant spoon when a large and hairy spider dropped onto her hand.

Alanna shrieked, slamming her hand against the top of the shelf in her panic. The whole bookcase swayed, and items from the top showered down on Alanna as she danced in place, shaking her hand frantically as though she could fling off the memory of the way it felt when the thing's tickling legs brushed her skin.

"I'm ok!" Alanna called back before the maid could ask, "I just got startled is all. Almost done!" She shook out her hand a few more times for good measure then, wincing and trembling all the while, she darted her hand back to the spoon, whipping it out of the dark crevice at a speed that could probably have broken records.

"Ugh, oh gods," Alanna said, still shuddering. At least that's done with. She glanced over the things that had fallen down during her arachnid induced hysterics. Mostly they appeared to be more sketches and art supplies, the scraps of parchment and the charcoal blending in to the piles already on the floor. Alanna was tempted just to leave it all there, doubting that Alan would even notice, but she couldn't very well scold him for not picking up after himself if she wasn't willing to do the same. Ah, the joys of being a parent, Alanna mused as she bent down to gather up the sketches she knocked over.

Suddenly she froze, staring open mouthed at the drawing on top of the pile. "Oh!" she exclaimed, her face reddening as she realized what she was looking at.

"Mi'lady?" the maid asked, peering into the room concernedly. "What's wrong? Do you need help?"

"No!" Alanna called back hastily, shoving the picture back on top of the pile. Quickly she snatched the rest of the sketches up and dumped them back on the shelf they came from. "Everything's fine, I'm coming now." Feeling bolder Alanna kicked a path through the debris to the door, and passed the tray to the maid. She turned back, and scanned the room again. Her gaze lingered on the bookcase for a moment, then she shook her head. She clapped her hands, extinguishing the candles all at once, and shut the door.

Inside the room a small sliver of light fought to get past the drapes, extending the meager beam across the top shelf of the bookshelf, where on top of a pile of charcoal sketches lay a detailed drawing of two boys. The sketch was from the perspective of one of them, looking down his bare chest at the cute and cheerful lad on his knees, eyes smiling while his mouth was busy taking in the first boy's cock. The drawing radiated joy, young love, and playfulness in every sweet detail, from the cheeky glint in the kneeling boy's eye to the white knuckled grip the other boy had on top of his lover's head. The only thing marring the perfection of the piece was the slightly smeared charcoal fingerprint Alanna had left behind.

Many hours later a dirty and happy Alan trooped in to the family room where Alanna was curled up with a book. He flung a pair of well worn saddlebags to the ground and grinned at her, arms outstretched.

"Hello Mother, did you miss me?"

"Of course," Alanna replied drily, leaning into his hug, and returning his grip with her own. "It's so wonderful that you get the summer off from the page program, it's a pity you refuse to spend it with us." She smiled so that he would know she was only teasing. Really it was lovely that Alan had made friends with the other pages, even good enough friends to be invited to their homes. She had worried being older than the other boys would make it hard for her son to fit in, despite how many times Neal had assured her Alan would be fine.

"Well, I'm exhausted, I'm going to head to bed," Alan said, reaching for his bags.

Alanna put a hand up. "Wait a minute. I need to tell you, I was in your room today-"

"What? Why?" Alan's tone was sharp and indignant, and he crossed his arms angrily in front of him.

"Well Alan, if you steal plates from the kitchen and refuse to return any to be washed you put others in the position of having to go to look for them," Alanna replied crossly. "Look, it's your room, you're too old for me to make you clean it. But you absolutely cannot have dirty dishes lying around, they will attract pests. And you need to at least clear a path so you can get around without damaging your clothes or ruining your nice drawings." Alanna recognized the mullish expression on Alan's face; it was very similar to the one she frequently saw staring back at her in the mirror. She regarded Alan seriously. "If nothing else, do it for your animals. It's not fair, nor is it safe, to make your pets live like that. How would you feel if something fell on Jackal and hurt her?" She had named one of his favorite cats, hoping it would nudge him into actually doing something.

"You're right, I'm sorry Ma," Alan replied, hanging his head sheepishly. "I'll go pick up a bit, right now."

Alanna smiled. Her son may have been slovenly and prone to stealing dishware, but he had always had a sweet heart underneath the playful exterior.

"Before you go I just wanted to tell you that while I was collecting dishes off your bookshelves I accidentally knocked over some of your sketches. I put them back the best I could, but I couldn't tell if they were organized in any particular way before. So I'm sorry if I ruined your system."

Alan shrugged. "No, it's fine, don't worry about it." He slung his saddlebags back over his shoulder and turned to leave again. Alanna picked up her book, flipping back to where she had left off.

Just as Alan crossed the threshold of the door he froze. He whipped around to face his mother.

"Did you say the sketches on the bookshelf?" Alan asked, eyes wide.

Alanna looked up from her book. "Yes?"

Alan's face turned a vibrant red, and he licked his lips. "Did you, I mean, when you…was there any, um, well, look," He gulped, and tried again, "Uh, the thing is Ma, there are these guys, uh, these pages who like to mess with me, so they play a lot of weird pranks and stuff, on me, and they sometimes put weird things in with my stuff and I don't notice right away, so if you saw anything weird or something like that it probably wasn't mine and you shouldn't think… it wasn't mine…" Alan didn't so much stop talking as run out of air.

Alanna cocked an eyebrow at him. "Alright."

"Alright what?" Alan asked defensively.

"I didn't see anything I would describe as 'weird', but I'll keep that in mind," Alanna said evenly, returning her gaze to her book. Out of the corner of her eye she could see Alan's shoulders droop in relief. He started to leave again.

"Alan," Alanna called after him, "You know, there is nothing you could do to make your father or I stop loving you."

Alan looked back, and opened his mouth as though he were going to speak, but nothing came out. After a moment he shut it, shook his head, then squeaked out, "I'm going to go clean my room."

Alanna nodded and smiled at him, waiting until she could hear his footsteps retreat down the hall before allowing the disappointment to wash over her.

Maybe next time, she told herself. She heard a sudden crash, and the unmistakable sound of Alan cursing his belongings, and she smiled as she turned a new page in her book.

Author's Note:

I hope it's obvious at the end that's Alanna is disappointed Alan didn't feel comfortable being honest yet, and not because he's interested in men.

Alanna is little more subdued than usual. I was thinking about it, writing this, and I feel like she would be kind of out of her element in the kitchen, and more likely to be pushed around by the staff. Maude would usually handle these things, or George, but they're both busy with other stuff, so Alanna got stuck. I think she would feel off her game, and that would embolden the staff. So anywho, if you were reading this and thinking, "That's pretty forward for a maid to say," it's not an accident. There is a reason, although you might not agree with my reason, of course )

And to be clear, Alanna just knew that since Alan was making up obvious lies he wasn't ready to talk to her about it yet, so she did the good mom thing and pretended to believe him, so he could feel comfortable and talk to her when he's ready. I think most mothers are willing to pretend to be a little stupid if it'll make their kid feel safe.