In the Archenland Forest
You stand at the edge of the Archenland Forest, where it begins to give way to the Archenland Plains to the west. The trees here are widely spaced, though to the north you can see rather more of them, shading the grassy turf. To your south and east, you see the low mountain range that separates you from the Southern Desert.
Colin leads Lanisen through the forest for several hours, taking them far away from the hideout, and the town of Lancelyn Green. When he finds a spot that looks sheltered enough under the trees, he motions for Lanisen to sit underneath one of them. Looking around, he takes a visual inventory of the area.
Lanisen sits obediently where Colin indicates. His expression is almost hollow, shock-blank, and he looks resigned to whatever is in store for him.
Colin takes a few minutes to make a small, makeshift camp. It doesn’t involve much, and he doesn’t disturb the area very much. When he’s finished, he pulls some dry bread out of his back and offers half to the lad.
Lanisen takes the bread, but makes no move to actually eat it just yet. He turns it over in his hands, staring at it absently.
Colin leaves him be for a little while, picking his own tree and quietly chewing a mouthful of bread. He closes his eyes and leans his head back against the tree trunk, lost in thought for a few moments.
Lanisen stirs eventually and begins slowly to eat the bread, making it last. When it’s gone, he says, without looking at Colin, “Said you wanted revenge.”
Colin opens one eye and looks at him without turning his head. “I said that, yes.”
Lanisen presses, “But you don’t. You just said that to try an’ get me to take you to the rest.” He pauses and brushes crumbs off his hands. “What is it you do want, ‘xactly?”
Colin squints his eye as he thinks for a minute. “I wasn’t lying when I said I wanted revenge.”
Lanisen hugs his updrawn knees. “But not against the king,” he guesses.
Colin says, “Maybe,” in a rather vague tone.
Lanisen frowns, studying him silently for a moment. “What do you want?” he finally asks.
Colin draws a knee up and rests his elbow on said knee, turning to look at Lanisen. “I want the killing to stop,” he says hardly.
Lanisen looks away, focusing on his hands. “How’re you plannin’ on doing that, then?” he asks in a lower voice.
Colin snorts quietly. “Do you think it’d be wise for me to tell you that?”
Colin speaks with mild sarcasm.
Lanisen flushes slightly. “What’s comin’ next?” he clarifies. “Not asking you to tell me all the bits ‘n’ pieces of your clever plan.”
Colin turns and leans his head back against the tree. “What comes next is your full cooperation,” he says evenly.
Lanisen shifts a bit. “Yeah, figured it’d be somethin’ like that,” he mutters, and glances around the area as if considering the most efficient escape route.
Colin keeps an eye on him. “Ready to talk?”
Colin grabs a nearby stick and absently starts to peel it with his knife. “What’s your leader’s /real/ name? And where can he be found? Is he with the others?”
Lanisen swallows, his freckles standing out on his pale face. His eyes dart around the area, looking between the trees and up in the branches, and he doesn’t answer.
Colin tosses him the waterskin to help him get the frog out of his throat.
Lanisen fumbles the waterskin and quickly scrambles to pick it up. He resumes his previous position, clutching the container like a lifeline, though he doesn’t drink. “He changes his name every day,” he says finally. “Don’t know that the one I know him as is right. An’… he’s in the dungeons at Anvard, far as I know.”
Colin’s eyebrow arches in surprise and a strange expression crosses his face. “Is he now? How’d he manage to get himself caught?”
Lanisen shrugs, not meeting Colin’s eyes. “Wasn’t there. Didn’t see it. It was when the king’s hunt came through, with all those knights and fancy folk.”
Colin rubs his chin, keeping his face expressionless. “I see. And what name do you know him by?”
Lanisen is silent so long that it begins to look like he’ll refuse to answer. He clutches the waterskin, checking and re-checking the area for listeners, then finally responds very quietly, “‘S Myrd.” His face is chalky white, and his hands have begun to shake.
Colin glances at him with an expression that might be sympathetic, but it’s hard to tell. He falls quiet for a few minutes to let him pull himself together before asking the next, tougher question. “What is next in your plans? Do you have someone else as your next target?”
Lanisen says quickly, “No!” He pauses, then adds, “It’s not… not like that.” He swallows and looks pleadingly at Colin. “We didn’t mean to /kill/ anybody.”
Colin raises an eyebrow. “Just accidentally hit Berke hard enough on the head to kill him later?” he asks dryly.
Lanisen looks away and hunches his shoulders a bit in a way that looks like a shrug. “He… he meant to knock him out… that’s all.”
Colin frowns. “Probably should be more careful next time,” he says darkly. “But that’s right… there isn’t going to be one. Is there?” he looks at Lanisen in a rather forboding way.
Lanisen shakes his head.
Colin takes the waterskin from ‘Cal’ for his own quick swig. “What other jobs is your group responsible for?”
Lanisen shakes his head, uncomprehending. “Jobs?”
Colin spells it out more clearly. “You’re the ones who robbed and killed Berke and one of yours killed Brynn. What else are you responsible for?”
Lanisen’s forehead furrows and he shakes his head. “Um… I don’t…” He rubs his neck, picking absently at the dried blood. “Little things,” he finally answers. “Probably nothing you’d have heard about… he, uh, wanted to lay low. Stay out of notice.”
Colin says, “Certainly did a fine job of that.”
Lanisen curls his arms over his stomach, his knees up and shoulders hunched. He waits for Colin to continue.
Colin draws both knees up, his back still to the tree. “I need to ask you what the other bandits are like.”
Lanisen moistens his lips. “Uhm, well. They all have noses. And eyes. And most of the facial features they were born with an’ all that.” He lifts one side of his mouth, looking nervously at Colin.
Colin slaps a palm to his forehead. “Try again.” he says evenly.
Lanisen flinches and pulls his knees closer to his chest. “What do you mean, about them?” he asks to buy time.
Colin sighs. “Who is the strongest? The smartest? What are their weaknesses? Who’s arrogant? And so on and and so forth.”
Lanisen blanches but recovers quickly, waving a hand dismissively. “Told you I don’t know him that well. He was around for a couple of weeks, but then he disappeared. Dunno what he was doing.”
Colin gives him a look. “You all keep good track of each other.”
Lanisen says, “I don’t hear everything.”
Colin takes another stick and starts peeling the bark with his knife. “Is he the one who was with you that time?”
Lanisen shifts again. “Yes,” he finally answers, and glances around the area assessingly again.
Colin asks, “Why was he treating you that way?”
Lanisen swallows, but all he says is, “Did somethin’ stupid.”
Colin’s eyebrows raise skeptically. “Must have been something very stupid for someone to beat you up like that.”
Colin hms noncommittally. “What is your hiding place like?”
Lanisen eyes him sharply. “Thought you said you’d seen it.”
Colin returns the look. “I’m certainly not stupid enough to follow you inside.”
Lanisen shrugs belligerently.
Colin shifts, changing his position on the hard ground. “Well?” He asks a moment later.
Lanisen sets his jaw, again sneaking a glance to the trees and bushes ringing the clearing. “Wet,” he says after a minute, deliberately vague. “Dark.”
Colin looks briefly annoyed at the vague description. “More detail.” He says brusquely.
Lanisen shrugs again. “It’s… a sorta cave, ‘s all. Big hole in the ground.”
Colin looks intrigued. “An underground cave?”
Lanisen shoots him a slightly exasperated look. “Never heard of any other kind.”
Colin returns glare for glare and doesn’t bother to respond.
Lanisen looks away, fairly cowed by the look. Not cowed enough to elaborate, though.
Colin presses him regardless. “How many are in your group?” If he repeats himself at all, it is most likely to watch for consistency, and he tries to be as subtle as possible.
Lanisen starts, “Fo–“, pauses, and glances at Colin rather guiltily, obviously trying to remember what he said before.
Colin’s eyebrow raises slightly and he almost looks victorious. “I see.” He comments.
Lanisen looks briefly alarmed, but the expression is quickly hidden.
Colin draws four lines in the ground. “Five including yourself?” He asks.
Lanisen watches, then turns away, looking rather miserable. Coincidentally, the direction his glance has turned is the most likely escape route. Irrelevant. “‘S right,” he says reluctantly.
Colin draws another line in the dirt. “And where is each one of them?”
Lanisen darts a glance at Colin at this, and it’s obvious that he’s been expecting this question and trying to figure out how to handle it since the beginning. He shifts and closes his mouth.
Colin gives him a look that is outwardly unthreatening, but something sinister lies underneath. Whether this is a real glimpse into the former knight’s nature or just darn good acting on his part is unclear. “I asked, where is each and every one of them.” He repeats carefully.
Lanisen begins to breathe quickly, unsettled. “Carmichael,” he blurts. Too easily.
Colin uh huhs. “You sure about that?”
Lanisen nods jerkily. “‘S right.”
Colin just sits there, waiting.
Lanisen focuses on the ground about halfway between him and the edge of the clearing, keeping Colin in his peripheral vision. He doesn’t offer anything further.
Colin tries another tactic. “Who is the most arrogant?”
Lanisen relaxes visibly. “Zan,” he replies after a short hesitation.
Colin asks, “What is his weakness?”
Lanisen glances at Colin, shaking his head slightly to indicate he has no idea. “I… wouldn’t want to fight him. He’s big an’ pretty mean.”
Colin asks, “Is he the biggest of the group?”
Lanisen pauses. “Real big,” he says. “Bigger’n you by ’bout this tall,” he measures out about eight inches with his hands, “and real strong. Like a big ol’ ugly ox. You don’t want to mess with him.”
Colin snorts derisively. “Intimidation doesn’t work with me. Impressive try though.” He says dryly.
Lanisen shrugs and mutters, almost innocently, “Well, he /is/.”
Colin says, “I’ll keep that in mind.”
Lanisen shrugs again, giving the clearing yet another once-over.
Colin asks, “I take it your friend Myrd is the brains of the group?”
Lanisen says noncommittally, “Guess so.”
Colin gives him another look. “Elaborate.”
Lanisen says, his tone bordering on insolence, “/I/ don’t know how he thinks.”
Colin picks up a nice, prickly pine cone and tosses it up and down in his hand. “How about you tell me what you DO know about him?”
Lanisen seems to clam up a bit at this. “Don’t know much,” he evades after a moment.
The well aimed pine-cone smacks into Lanisen’s shoulder. Someone has a good arm. “Try again.” He says evenly.
Lanisen doesn’t make a sound, but he lurches several feet from where he was sitting, curling his knees up to protect his vitals. His hand flies to his shoulder before he figures out how /very/ deadly the projectile was, and the look he gives Colin is a mix of startled fright, embarrassment, and reproach.
Colin raises an eyebrow, his expression bordering on malicious glee. “Oh, I’m sorry, did I get you?”
Lanisen’s ears flush bright red with humiliation. He stands, apparently to return to his seat, but in the space of time used to take a step, sends a sharp glance both to Colin and to the dark forest in the opposite direction. Abruptly, he wheels and is sprinting off into the night.
Colin takes a split second to realize what’s happening. His training and instincts kick into overdrive, sending him to his feet. He hits the ground running, in hot pursuit of the bandit-boy.
Lanisen is actually fairly fast, all things considered. At a full out sprint, of course, there is very little time for stealth, and he can be heard crashing through branches and bracken, startling random critters. It’s not very long before he’s panting and beginning to slow.
Colin has the advantage of training added to the fact that he’s been running around these woods for months. His lean muscles bring him fairly close to the boy, through the bushes and to the point of where he’s very nearly breathing down his neck. He doesn’t push himself harder, and just keeps running behind him, waiting for him to tire enough to be brought down.
Lanisen is definitely slowing, too underfed and untrained for a distance runner. He wheezes for breath, pushing himself on out of sheer desperation, and risks a glance over his shoulder. The results are predictable: he catches his foot on an unseen log and goes sprawling, hitting the ground hard.
Colin is caught off guard. His foot hits the log and he uses it to push off the ground and jump away to avoid running right over the kid. When he lands, his feet slide on some dead leaves and he hits the ground with a grunt. This would most likely give Lanisen a good head start.
Lanisen pushes himself up, only sparing Colin one panicked glance before he takes off again in another direction.
Colin can be heard cursing before he gets to his feet and takes off after the boy again.
Lanisen takes advantage of the slight lead he has over Colin and ducks beneath a juniper bush’s low-hanging branches. Not a particularly original hide-out, but on a dark night it might do the trick.
Colin can be heard running through the trees.
Lanisen hunkers down, covering his mouth with one hand to stifle the sound of his breathing.
Colin becomes silent and stops dead. He takes a couple great gulps of air and holds his breath, trying to listen for any sound. He doesn’t move.
Lanisen is thoroughly winded and is having an extremely difficult time breathing silently, but he does his best.
Colin turns his head, catching a few quiet sounds. He begins to step towards the sounds, moving as silently as he can. He keeps to the shadows, using them to conceal his movements.
Lanisen shifts position to relieve the pressure on his bruised side. The motion is very slight, but it sends a few pebbles tumbling down the slope.
The sound is just enough to alert Colin to the boy’s location. He bides his time and is patient and slow with his movements, which aids his subtlety. The chances of Lanisen spotting him are very slim.
Lanisen begins to relax, the few audible sounds of his breathing seeming to come slower.
Colin silently and slowly rounds a tree. He keeps his back pressed to the bark and he stays low in a somewhat crouch. People are less likely to look lower. He sees the outline of Lanisen in the dark and he pauses, holding his breath and biding his time.
Lanisen takes a deep breath and swallows, beginning to edge backward deeper into the bush.
Colin drops to the ground in a lower crouch and inches towards Lanisen, still keeping to the shadows. When he gets close enough he moves slightly faster in the crouch position, then suddenly is on his feet and running full speed for the boy. He tackles him with some force.
Lanisen doesn’t even have time to cry out before the breath is forced out of his lungs.
Colin has some of his own breath knocked from his lungs. He wraps both of his wiry arms around Lanisen and just lays on top of him to hold him down while he catches his breath.
Lanisen can’t seem to draw enough breath to form intelligible words, but he manages a wheezing, wounded groan.
Colin pulls himself up onto his knees, one on the ground and one in Lanisen’s back. He’s wheezing too hard to speak very loudly. “Do I need to tie you to a tree?” He rasps.
Lanisen doesn’t move for a minute, just trying to breath. He finally shakes his head, or tries to.
Colin gets to his feet and hauls Lanisen up by his collar. “Try that again and I won’t use rope.”
Lanisen gets his feet under him almost immediately, yanking at his collar. He musters the air to wheeze, “What’s /that/ s’posed to mean?”
Colin yanks him by the collar and shoves him ahead of him roughly. “Take it as you will.” He says darkly.
Lanisen fights him, bracing his feet and doing everything he can to impede Progress. This isn’t much, but it /is/ a long walk back.
Colin gives him a hard SHOVE, in no mood to be patient.
Lanisen stumbles, then stops as abruptly as he can, attempting to ram his shoulders into Colin’s chest in retaliation.
Colin brings his knee up into the back of Lanisen’s knees, knocking him to the ground. “Try that again.” He dares.
Lanisen gasps and crashes to his hands and knees. He recovers for a moment before he stands again, and finally lets out a breath and quietly walks where he’s directed, more or less.
Colin is right behind him to prod/shove him along as necessary.
Lanisen makes his way back to the clearing, disheveled and exhausted, the slice on his throat re-opened and oozing ugly globs of blood.
Colin gives him a good shove back to where he was sitting before he tried to make his escape.
Lanisen stumbles, but keeps his footing. He stands a moment, then sinks down wordlessly.
Colin picks up his pack. In jerky, abrupt movements he pulls a kerchief from the depths. Picking up his nearly empty waterskin, he pours the contents on the cloth and marches over to Lanisen.
Lanisen watches warily, taking note of the other’s body language and flinching when Colin approaches him. He turns his face away and raises one arm to defend himself.
Colin knocks the hand aside in exhasperation. “Calm down, I’m not going to kill you.” He snaps, then proceeds to tend clumsily to Lanisen’s rather ugly neck wound.
Lanisen jerks back from the handkerchief, his head hitting the tree-trunk behind him. His shoulders hunch up nearly to his ears, his face screwing up with dread, and he turns his head from side to side to avoid Colin’s ministrations.
Colin puts one hand on the back of Lanisen’s neck and partway on his shoulder to hold him still. “Calm down.”
Lanisen goes rigidly still, cringing further down and squeezing his eyes shut. He closes his mouth and swallows, moistens his lips. His breathing is ragged with panic. “It hurts,” he manages.
Colin says shortly, “Hold still and I’ll be done soon.” He continues to do his best, which isn’t much. After a minute he speaks again, his tone slightly softer. “Didn’t mean for you to get cut…”
Lanisen is surprised enough by this to open his eyes and look searchingly at Colin. The cloth comes into contact with the wound and he hisses sharply, his whole body jerking.
Colin says, “Sorry.”
Lanisen keeps still, his fingers clenched tight around the vegetation near the tree’s base. He doesn’t relax, exactly, but as Colin continues to work and doesn’t hurt him any more than necessary, some of the immediate terror seems to leave him. “What’re you gonna do?” he asks finally.
Colin glances at him, and steps back to rinse the cloth out with the remaining water from the waterskin. “With you?”
Lanisen uncoils a little as the man withdraws and feels at his neck, exploring the cleaned wound gingerly. He shrugs, not meeting Colin’s eyes.
Colin sighs heavily and remains standing for a bit longer. He doesn’t answer.
Lanisen lowers his hand, his eyes darting up to Colin. “You gonna take me back to Myrd?”
Colin snorts. “And let him know I know your numbers and location and Emperor only knows what else? I just as soon slit your throat as well as mine right here and now.”
Lanisen just shrugs. “He’d hafta let you in, if you know that much,” he says matter-of-factly. “What’s he gonna do?”
Colin glances at the lad, his expression revealing nothing.
Lanisen scrubs the heel of one hand into his temple. “What’re you gonna do?” he asks again, sounding weary and beyond caring.
Colin shakes his head and sits down, his back pressing against a tree.
Lanisen watches him. “Please tell me?” he asks quietly after a moment. “Rather not stay up all night wonderin’ if it’s gonna be the king or Myrd who slits my throat. Or you. S’pose it doesn’t matter all that much in the end, but still.”
Colin snorts. “I’m not going to slit your throat. I’m not that cruel.” He says, sounding borderline offended at the suggestion. “I’m also not letting Myrd get at you.”
Lanisen says, “So, the king, then. They chop off your head there or hang you?”
Colin shoots him a look. “We don’t make a habit of either.” He says harshly. “The king is a just man and will give you a fair trial.
Lanisen picks absently at a bloodstained rip in the knee of his trousers, watching Colin from the corner of his eye. The words “fair trial” don’t seem to be any sort of relief.
Colin closes his eyes to near slits, his way of closing down the conversation.
Lanisen draws up his knees, looping his arms tightly around them and resting his chin on top. After an hour or so, he sort of unfolds. His arms loosen and his knees fall to the side, and he sags limply against the tree in sleep. His pale, bruised face looks very young in the firelight.
Colin watches him until he falls asleep, then quietly picks up a stick and starts peeling the bark away with his knife, not quite ready to sleep yet.