Across the River
The spray rising up from the waters of the tributary obscures the far bank until one is actually standing upon its uneven ground. Great slabs of stone are scattered pell-mell along the rise leading to a vast, natural chamber enclosed by walls of rock. Jagged stalactites dangle in eerie formations from the far distant ceiling, and what scant illumination there is reflects up off the waters and casts shadows on the walls.
To cross back over the river here looks to be dangerous, to put it mildly. The skeletal wrecks of several small, wooden boats tossed on the shore serve as a grim warning. Up ahead, the path divides, both forks leading further downward.
Jana sits repairing a skirt, one leg stuck out straight forward and the other curled under her.
Lanisen stands in the entrance to the storeroom, hanging back. He watches Jana sew for a moment, apprehensive and guilty. He hesitates, then steps out into the main chamber, trying to look nonchalant and unconcerned.
Jana looks up at the sound of his entrance. Her eyes widen and a curse escapes her lips. “You-” she lets loose another string of curses, “Where have you been?””
Lanisen’s expression is completely befuddled. He gestures back to the storeroom wordlessly, eyeing Jana as if questioning her sanity.
Jana rises and stalks over to him, her gait a little uneven. She holds him by the collar and presses him against the wall. “Do you have any idea the trouble we went to looking for you?”
Lanisen lowers his head and cringes back against the wall, stammering, “N-no?” He glances around the chamber nervously. “Where’d you… what happened?”
Jana slaps him. “Don’t talk back to me.”
Lanisen gasps, turning his face away, and shuts up.
Jana shoves him to the ground. “Stay there until Myrd comes back.”
Lanisen sits hard and dares to scoot a little away from Jana.
Jana scowls at him and huffs away, plunking down against another wall and glaring at him over her sewing.
Lanisen pulls his knees up to his chest, rests his arms on his knees, and rests his chin on his arms. He’s silent for a good long while before asking tentatively, “So where’d you go?”
Jana chucks a loose stone of good size in his direction.
Lanisen lurches to one side to avoid the rock, ducking his head behind his arm. He swallows and shuts up.
Jana says, “I don’t think you understand just what an idiot you’ve been. Boss saved your life, and you go about la-de-da like you got rights or something. Well you don’t. You owe him now.”
Lanisen shifts, twisting a loose thread around his fingers. “I know that…” He glances up at Jana pleadingly. “But I couldn’t help what I said! I don’t even remember saying it! And… I don’t know…”
Jana says, “You’re still smart-mouthed enough to question him taking you in the first place. Think you’re at a place in your life where you can be confident enough to question Myrd’s decisions? Not even Zan does that.”
Lanisen rubs the side of his chin gingerly, covering a discolored bruise. “Didn’t mean that… ‘s just… it’s all my fault, seems like, only it’s… not.”
Jana asks, “It’s not? How’s that exactly?”
Lanisen asks “Got any thoughts on what I coulda done different?”
Jana says, “Yeah. Told Myrd first thing you saw Colin, for one.”
Lanisen groans and ducks his face into one elbow. “Since then?” he asks, muffled.
Jana says, “Owned up to your mistake when he called you on it, for second.”
Myrd stalks into the cavern, attempting to brush right past them.
Jana shuts up when he shows up and sulks.
Lanisen raises his head enough to glance at Jana and catches sight of Myrd. He shifts again and draws into himself, carefully not looking directly at the other man.
Myrd ignores them both as he sits down in the far corner. He scowls deeply, pulls out his knife, and begins carving.
Jana scowls impressively when Lanisen is not only not scolded, but not even acknowledged. She folds her arms crossly.
Lanisen does nothing to draw attention to himself. He huddles against the wall silently.
Myrd says, “You’re welcome, Darlin’.”
Jana gives him a long string of choice words that display just how grateful she is.
Zan yawns impressively (a mite overdone, actually) as he wakes up from a nap. “Whatchyall yappin’ bout?” When he looks up and sees Lanisen, he scowls. “I thought we was rid of the moron.”
Myrd snorts. “Forgot one.” He adds the word she’s clearly thinking of. He scowls at Zan. “When’d we decide you were making the decisons?”
Zan says, “I’d be glad ta take over if’n ya ain’ feelin up ta the task, pretty boy. I just wants to know why the moron ain’ dead in a ditch somewheres.”
Myrd sneers, “Because the moron got himself noticed by his high and mightyness’s nephew. That’s why. You got a suggestion for disposing of the remains without them turning up and bringing us all sorts of questions we don’t want to answer, I’m all ears. Otherwise, you can shut up.”
Zan says, “Easy. Bury ’em.”
Jana’s mood looks somewhat lifted by the argument before her.
Lanisen keeps his eyes lowered, pale and frightened.
Myrd says, “Naw. Good hound’d sniff that out in no time.”
Zan exclaims, “So bury ’em DEEPER!”
Myrd snorts. “Now why didn’t I think of that. Sure am glad you got the brains in this outfit, Zan.”
Jana smirks haughtily.
Zan says, “You know I always follow yer plans an’ whatnot, Myrd, but I’m startin’ ta wonder if yous got anythin’ twixt yer ears but those fancy words o’ yers.”
Myrd’s hand clenches onto his dagger’s hilt. He rises, clearly in no mood for this. “Reckon getting into the castle unnoticed ain’t exactly a feat. Reckon finding out exactly what they know so your ugly face stays out of his high and mightiness’s dungeons don’t take much eather. Ain’t like those fancy words’ve kept you out of scrapes a time or two. Oh, wait. They have. Best not forget that.”
Zan exclaims, “But you know where evrythin’ went wrong, pretty boy? Was when /you/ decided to let these idjits tag ‘long. We was doin’ perfectly fine, but now we got them screwin’ up ev’rythin! An’ now yer tellin’ me we can’ kill ’em ’cause some knight saw the moron? Heck, kill the knight too!”
Myrd crosses his arms. “Seems to me I ain’t the only one who passed up the chance to kill a knight. You want to explain again how fancy boy ended up getting away with just a scratch, Zan? Or how he knew about our last hideout because he saw
Lanisen apparently deems it in his best interest to keep quiet. He keeps his eyes on the ground, except for a quick longing glance at the other side of the river.
Zan exclaims, “You honestly ‘spect me ta be able ta kill a knight all by meself? You sure couldn’. If ya think I didn’ finish the job /you/ gave me, why donchya go take ‘im down yerself! Show us all how much better’n us you are!”
Myrd’s eyes harden. “Maybe I’ll just do that.”
Jana blinks, and frowns, her eyes moving between the two men.
Lanisen, startled, glances up at Myrd, then across to Jana.
Zan scoffs. “Oh, there’ll be a body alrigh’. An I don’ think it’ll be the knight’s. You’n me ain’ trained like them an you know it!”
Myrd scowls deeply. “You ain’t, that’s about the size of it, I reckon.”
Jana shares the glance with Lanisen, her frown deepening. She straightens grimly.
Zan exclaims, “Maybe the size o’ yer ego!”
Zan says, “Heh, I bet yeh can’t even take that knight that was kicked out.”
Myrd snorts. “Good thing you’ve got those muscles, since there sure ain’t anything rattling around inside your skull.” With this, he hands Zan his dagger and strides towards the boat.
Jana rises, alarmed.
Zan sneers. “I’ll make sure ta toss yer body inta the river.”
Jana calls out, “Myrd!”
Myrd drags the boat towards the water’s edge. “While I’m gone, think you can manage to deal with the boy? Since you’re such a genius at figuring things.”
Lanisen blanches and scrambles to his feet, looking between Myrd and Zan.
Jana ignores her ankle and slips to Myrd’s side urgently.
Jana mumbles “You ain’t this … … … … … … get … killed.”, to Myrd.
Myrd shrugs her off.
Jana stands firm, jaw jutted stubbornly.
Zan’s sneer deepens. “Aww, ain’ that jus’ sweet. Yer lady’s tryin ta talk you outta it, pretty boy. Even she’s got ‘nough brains ta know you’ll get yerself stuffed.”
Myrd shoves Jana aside, none too gently, before he rounds on Zan, his fists clenched.
Jana turns on Zan. “You are an imbecile.”
Zan towers over Jana. “Yeh pickin a fight with me, woman?”
Jana moves lithely around him so that it is he who is closest to the river and not she. “What exactly are we gonna do without a leader? And we ain’t got a way to cross the river now, neither!”
Zan says, “‘We’? Listen, woman, there ain’ no ‘we’ here. Not no more. Only reason I put up with you was ’cause Myrd said to.”
Jana says, “Ain’t much you can do about it, seeing as we got no boat. Maybe one of us can’t take you, but I figure me and the boy’ve got a pretty good chance if we team together.”
Lanisen stays where he is. He darts a glance at Jana at this, desperate and hopeful.
Zan says, “An’ you really think that’ll help ya get ‘cross the river? Don’ make me laugh, woman.”
Jana says, “Maybe not, but it’ll keep you from killing me.”
Zan says, “Well then maybe ya shouldn’ be makin’ me mad.”
Jana’s eys flicker to Lanisen to see if he’ll be any help at all in all this.
Zan sneers one last time at her before turning and going over to one of the wrecked boats.
Jana watches him warily.
Zan starts searching around the cave for whatever tools he can find that might help fix up one of the boats.
Jana scowls wretchedly and goes to help him.
Zan scowls back at her, but doesn’t refuse her help at this point.
Jana pulls out a fairly non-warped piece of wood and drags it over to a generally intact boat skeleton.
Lanisen crosses to the riverbank and begins picking up pieces of wood that aren’t too terribly soaked or rotted, tossing them in a pile. He keeps a wary eye on the other two.
Zan surveys the area. He VERY grudgingly shouts, “Woman, you got any o’ that makeup stuff o’ yers?”
Jana blinks at him and narrows one eye. “Yes…why.”
Zan asks, “Got anythin’ that could fill them holes? Keep out the water?”
Jana frowns and goes to her satchel, rummaging through it and pulling out bottles of varying size and shape.
Lanisen pauses to watch, obviously doubtful that Jana’s magical bag’s skills stretch that far.
Zan waits impatiently, tapping his foot and hovering, but not saying anything.
Jana shoves most of her bottles aside, pulling out a few and examining them. Finally, she shakes her head.
Zan lets loose a long string of swears. “Them won’t float ‘less we caulk up them holes. Dunno much ’bout ships, but I know that much.”
Lanisen says, “Clay.”
Jana asks, “Don’t know what-” She blinks and looks at Lanisen. “What?”
Zan asks, “You got clay, then?”
Jana says, “I don’t.”
Lanisen shifts from one foot to the other, obviously not having intended to speak. “Um… some of the dirt in /there/,” he nods toward the chamber to the northeast, blocked off by rocks, “is kinda clay-ish…”
Jana asks, “Kind of clayish? What does that even mean? it’s the same general color or something?”
Lanisen shrugs, his eyes darting between them. “It’s… sticky and thick. You can… you can make things out of it and they stay put together. That kind of clayish.”
Zan glances in that direction. “You really reckon it’ll work, boy?”
Lanisen moistens his lips. “Might work long enough to get us from one side to the other. If we had it. Which we don’t.” He hesitates, then presses on, babbling a little desperately. “Maybe if we could heat it, make it hard– Wonder if a candle would work for that, or if we’d need something hotter…”
Jana says, “Hotter. Lot hotter.”
Zan says, “We ain’ lackin fer wood ’round here. We kin build a big ol’ fire. Easy.”
Jana says, “And die of the smoke. Oh that’d be real fine.”
Zan scowls at her.
Lanisen says, trying desperately to be useful, “No, there’s– the air’s movin’, cause of the river, we could have a fire.”
Zan says, “Go see if you can find any more o’ that stuff, boy.”
Lanisen seems glad enough to escape further downstream.
Zan prods one of the boat skeletons. “This one looks the best,” he declares.
Jana inclines her head, abandoning the satchel. She picks up a few pieces of wood and holds them up to the boat, trying to figure how to fit them.