You stand in the heart of Andale where most of the folk who support Anvard live. Young children play here on nice days, skipping rope, or shooting marbles, and older ones can be seen reading scrolls. Adults hurry through on their way from home to where their business takes them. A well with a stone wall sits on the western edge of the road.
The road here widens and splits to run toward the shops to the east, North Andale to the north and the Crossroad to the south. Short paths lead to the two settlements here; Het Noorden to the northwest, and Zuiden to the southeast.
Lanisen stands by the well, drinking in huge gulps from the bucket. He pauses and splashes water on his face and neck, then wipes his mouth with his sleeve and sets the bucket back down.
Armel comes cautiosly out from his home, on crutches. He shrinks back as he sees a stranger but works up enough courage to approach.
Lanisen appears to be completely at his ease. He plops down in the shade of the well and glances up as Armel approaches. He nods politely, no hint of recognition, and looks away as if bored.
Armel keeps his distance, looking a little curious. “Good day.”
Lanisen glances back to him and gives a vague smile. “‘Lo. Hot, isn’t it?”
Armel nods. “Healer said I should get fresh air though.”
Lanisen mms. “They always say somethin’ to that effect,” he says agreeably. “Healers and mothers, all of ’em swear by it. Think it’s prob’ly just to get us out of their hair, really. What happened?” he asks, nodding to the crutches.
Armel looks suspicious. “I’d rather not go through all the details. But you do know about the bandits, right? Lets just say I came across them at the wrong time.”
Lanisen looks at Armel with new interest, startled. “Bandits?” he asks, lowering his voice a shade.
Armel nods. “You mean you don’t know about them? I thought it was the talk of the countryside.”
Lanisen flaps one hand impatiently. “‘Course I /know/ about them. Everybody knows about them. You /met/ them, you say?”
Armel starts to look annoyed, perhaps the heat mixed with having to tell the tale again. “Twice, though I’m sure you won’t believe me.”
Lanisen definitely believes him. “No, that’s, no– What… did they attack you?”
Armel says, “Aye. Second time I was kidnapped. I barely escaped with my life. But I shouldn’t really talk about it. You might be one of them for all I know.”
Lanisen’s forehead furrows. “You’ve… /twice/?” He blows a long breath up, sending the hair over his forehead flapping. “And they didn’t… you know…”
Armel looks intently. “Trust me, they came very close. I thank the Lion every day for my life. I hope you never meet them. They’re monsters, not men.”
Lanisen says, “That’s…” He focuses for a moment on Armel’s nose, but quickly looks down, shuddering slightly. “Did you… um, did you see them?”
Armel says, “Not without cloaks or disguises.”
Lanisen nods. He hesitates, then straightens. “My friend Ben,” he says, leaning forward impulsively, “He says they never take off their hoods. Wanna know why?”
Armel says, “Obviously not to be seen.”
Lanisen lowers his voice. “‘S more than that.” He pauses for dramatic effect. “It’s ’cause they /don’t have faces/.”
Armel laughs, until he covers his face. “Right, ghosts, eh? Listen, they have faces, how else could they wear disguises?
Lanisen shakes his head, looking completely serious. “No, no… they haven’t got any skin or eyes or noses or anything! Just skulls. Blank skulls.” He nods slowly and adds, “Ben /saw/ them.”
Armel adds with a smirk, “And. . .how old is Ben?”
Lanisen says defensively, “Summer older’n me!”
Armel nods in feign belief. “And he lived to tell about it? Ha! I’ve seen there hands, caught glimpses of eyes, a lady’s hair. They’re men like you and me.”
Lanisen looks completely crestfallen. “But he said…”
Armel says, “Don’t believe everything you hear. I could be one of them for all you know.”
Lanisen says logically, “If you were a bandit, you wouldn’t be out here in the middle of the day. They die if they go into the sunlight.”
Armel nods. He glances at his dagger. “You never know. I’ve met them in sunlight, right in those woods. That is, unless I’m one of them.”
Lanisen points out, “It’s shady in the woods, ain’t it?”
Armel says, “Then we walked right through town.”
Armel slowly comes closer, a shifty look on his face.
Lanisen looks as if someone killed his favorite puppy. “In the sunlight? But Ben said…”
Armel hisses, “He lied, . . . What is your name?
Lanisen looks startled by the change in Armel’s demeanor. “Uh,” he replies, gulping. “Cal.”
Armel raises an eyebrow. “Cal? Well Cal. Suppose you tell me what you’re doing in town, you look like a mountain man.” He smirks.
Armel walks a little closer, confidently.
Lanisen blinks. “Mountain man? No, I live in the village at Lancelyn Green…” He pauses, glances up at Armel, and moves his hand away from where it might be stepped on (by foot or crutch). “Parents sent me here… both the men who died were my age.” He ducks his head at this, unable to look Armel in the eye.
Armel says, “Who were they? Names.”
Lanisen says, “Talem and Mira.” He eyes Armel. “What’s it to you?”
Armel leans over the stranger. “No, no.” He hisses, “The men who died!”
Lanisen straightens a bit against the well, leaning away from Armel and looking uncomfortable at the invasion of his space. “Don’t know,” he answers. “One of ’em was Lord Barron’s squire, but I don’t know who the other one was.”
Armel lifts both his eyebrows. “B-Brynn?! He’s dead?” He swollows, taking one step back, gripping tightly to the crutches. He spits. “So they finished him off after all.” A tear begins to form.
Lanisen stands quickly, startled by Armel’s reaction. He reaches one hand forward as if to steady the other man. “You… are you…?”
Armel steps back again. “Alright?” he says, near a whisper, than continues. “OF COURSE I’M NOT /ALRIGHT/! Those dogs killed my friend!”
Lanisen steps back, glancing quickly around the fairly quiet area. “I’m… I’m so…”
“Sorry, right? Cut it out. You never knew him, obviously. You don’t know me either, so how can you really be sorry for me?” He narrows his eyes at the man, as if blaming him for the murder. “Idiot.”
Lanisen flinches. He swallows and shifts his weight. “Can I– Do you need help gettin’ home?”
Armel spits, “I can manage.”
Lanisen just nods.
Armel swollows. “/I/m sorry. I know it’s not your fault. I would like to go home myself though.” He looks at the ground as his tears hit it.
Myrd comes walking up the road from the crossroad.
Lanisen’s expression clears and he nods a bit. “I understand… of course… can I, you know, bring you anything? Soup?”
Armel shakes his head. “I’m fine. I have pleanty of food.”
Lanisen shifts his weight, still unsettled. “‘K…” His eyes shift to Myrd across the square, and he freezes up briefly.
Armel nods. “I could use a drink of water though.”
Lanisen stands immediately aside from the well. “‘Course.”
Lanisen glances at Armel’s crutches, grimaces, and draws the bucket up himself. He hands it to the painter, half-full, and slips his hand deftly into the other man’s pocket when Armel is distracted.
Armel leans against the well while he drinks. He hands it back to the stranger. “Thank you. . .” He glances back to his house. “Now, please, excuse me.” He turns and begins “walking” back home.
Lanisen nods, subtly dropping the man’s money pouch into his own pocket. “‘Course, yeah.”
Myrd approaches the crossroads. He stays out of sight when he sees Lanisen and the artist, and he almost looks approving.
Armel ignores the young man’s last words as he leaves the square. He only glimpses the other man coming in.
Lanisen watches the painter walk away, then turns around to face Myrd.
Myrd for once doesn’t appear to be scowling as deeply as usual. In fact, he might almost appear to be in what would pass for a good mood with him.
Lanisen glances over his shoulder to ensure that Armel is out of sight, then pulls out the painter’s money pouch and hands it over to Myrd without a word.
Myrd snorts. “Not half bad, boy.”
Lanisen doesn’t look at Myrd, and the glow that would usually follow the words of praise is entirely absent. “What’d you find out?”
Myrd scowls. “Ain’t smart to talk about it right in the town square, you idiot. Besides which, reckon I’ve earned a little something for all my work today.”