dredging


Loft
Lancelyn Green — Middle Archenland


Lanisen has climbed the haystacks again and is tucked away with a roll of bread and meat from the morning market and a book. There are about four cats lounging strategically in the puddles of afternoon sunlight from the window.

Colin climbs up the ladder part way and sticks his head over the edge. He looks like he’s been outside, there’s leaves and twigs and probably mud as well. “Hey, question.”

Lanisen glances down at him over the pages of his book and gives Colin a long look. “If it’s about baths, the answer is yeah you definitely need one.”

Colin grabs a handful of hay and chucks it at him.

Lanisen is way out of range and just snickers. “What?” he asks.

Colin drums his fingers on the floor. “I was bored and going through the woods and wondering….”

Lanisen suggests, “How much stuff it would take to turn your hair into a bird’s nest?”

Colin shoots him a glare.

Lanisen holds up his hands, grinning.

Colin points at him. “You. Are. Ornery.”

Lanisen says, “You’re mistaken. I’m Lanisen.”

Colin’s hand slaps his forehead and he starts to slide down the ladder with a groan. “I give up.”

Lanisen laughs out loud. He slips a piece of straw between his book’s pages, stretches, and begins to make his way down from his perch. “What’s up?”

Colin hangs onto the ladder, halting his descent. “I….was kind of hoping to find the old hideout and do some exploring…if that was all right with you.”

Lanisen asks, “What old hideout?”

Colin amends, “The underground river cave thing.”

Lanisen’s smile slips. “…Ah.”
Lanisen says, “That hideout.”

Colin swallows. “Yeah…that one.” he pauses, then grunts, “Sorry, I shouldn’t have asked. I’ll find some other way to amuse myself.”

Lanisen says, “No, it’s fine, I mean– I don’t care. It’s not that exciting is all.”

Colin drums his fingers on the ladder this time. “Think that ‘Aaron’ fellow knows where it is?”

Lanisen says, “…Why would that Aaron fellow know where it is?”

Colin shrugs. “I dunno….”

Lanisen says, “Ain’t that easy to find if you don’t know where to look. And Myrd didn’t tell too many people.”

Colin says, “Loc showed me but it was so long ago I can’t find it. Walked around and around. That’s probably a good thing…means Aaron or any other fishy characters won’t find it.”

Lanisen says, “You’re wantin’ me to show you.”

Colin glances at him. “Maybe….you don’t have to if you don’t want to though. I mean it.”

Lanisen shrugs, looking at the ground. “Ain’t a big deal,” he says. “You prob’ly oughta know how to find it, in case somebody starts usin’ it again.”

Colin watches Lanisen’s face closely. “You okay with this?”

Lanisen wipes his palms on his trousers. “Yeah,” he says. “Yeah, it’s okay.”

Colin nods his head. “Okay. I appreciate this.”

Lanisen shrugs and gestures at the ladder.

Colin climbs down to the ground and makes room for him to come down.

Lanisen follows him down. He reaches the ground, rubs the back of his neck, and nods toward the barn door and the road beyond.


Thick Strand of Pines
Middle Archenland


At the base of a ravine, a strand of trees grows close together. They are not orderly, but twisted around each other, and the bark clinging to their trunks is dark of hue. This section of the forest appears to be far more ancient than the rest, and once here it is impossible to discern the road leading out. The thickness of the trees, grown wild with lack of tending, prevent all but the dimmest light from filtering through the gloom. Tracks of some large cat, or perhaps a wolf, show that this area is not entirely deserted.


Lanisen leads him down the road and into the forest some distance, then stops at a point where the trees grow taller and older. “You know where you’re at?”

Colin falls in step beside him, watching their surroundings as they go to make sure they aren’t followed. He looks at Lanisen and nods. “This is where I was earlier today.”

Lanisen says, “Good. Yeah.” He glances around the area, paranoid and careful, then gestures to the southwest. “Those boulders there.”


At the Mouth of a Chasm
Middle Archenland


Three rough-hewn stones lie on the ground. They appear to have fallen haphazardly, unless one knows precisely what to look for. These rocks conceal what appears to be a small, rounded hole carved out of the earth. Through this passage, a slight incline leads downward into the darkness. The footing is treacherous here, and nothing but a few, thorny bushes could possibly grow in the rocky soil. From somewhere down below, there is the faintest sound of trickling water. The rough fissure opening into the ground is wide enough to easily pass through at first, but by the time the pathway becomes difficult to make out, it has already started to narrow. To the northeast, it might just be possible to go back up the hill and onto the path.


Colin skids down the ravine, following him closely.

Lanisen picks his steps carefully and doesn’t lose his footing. He leads Colin closer to the boulders, glancing back at him to see if he sees it yet.

Colin tilts his head at the sound of the trickling water. When he spots the fissure, he nods. “Remember this now.”

Lanisen nods, circling the boulders. “There used to be a ladder,” he says, peering down into the darkness. “Ah. Yeah.” The ladder is still there, rickety and dangerous-looking.

Colin eyes the ladder skeptically. “Was it like that before?”

Lanisen shrugs, reaching out to rattle it experimentally. “More or less.” He looks a little doubtful, though. “You got rope?”

Colin nods, pulling off his pack and removing a coil of rope, which he hands to Lanisen.

Lanisen knots the rope expertly and loops a long section around one of the boulders. He tugs to make sure it’s secure, then nods. “This’ll do.” He steps onto the ladder and begins cautiously climbing down into the darkness.

Colin watches him go down and makes sure he’s secure before following very cautiously, testing each step as he goes down.


The Underground Riverbank
Middle Archenland


The banks of this swollen river are rank and smell decidedly foul. The waters are as black as obsidian in the dim light, and the river appears to flow down from a bubbling stream issuing from a cleft in the rock. Countless little eddies and currents swirl in their courses. It is partially due to the
water’s work that this room of earth has been hollowed out, but judging by the broken trowels, picks, and other implements stuck in the fetid mud, the construction is not entirely natural.

Strange marks have been carved into the earthen walls, just where several twisted roots hang down from the ceiling. It is impossible to make out their content in the gloom.


Lanisen grimaces at the first breath of foul air and has to take a minute with his hands braced on his knees. “It don’t half reek down here,” he mutters. “I forgot.”

Colin turns to look at him quizzically and takes a nice breathful in the process. “Ugh….stale.”

Lanisen straightens, digging around in his pack for a candle. “Just one of this place’s many charms.”

Colin makes a face. “How did you stand it?”

Lanisen lights the candle and raises it high, peering into the darkness toward the river. A little boat is visible on the shore and he lets out an amazed snort. “Still here,” he says. “I figured it’d be swept away by now, those heavy rains we had last summer.” He eyes the boat resentfully.

Colin chuckles under his breath. “Must be sturdy then.” He says hopefully, clapping Lanisen reassuringly on the shoulder.

Lanisen says, “Must be.” He moves to untie it, making a face at the slime that transfers to his hands from the rope.

Colin eyes it before reaching out to help him. “What is that.”

Lanisen says, “Rope?”

Colin says, “No, the sticky stuff.”

Lanisen says, “Oh.” He holds his hands up to the candle, peering at the black stains. “Mildew, prob’ly. It’s damp down here.”

Colin looks a little relieved as he grabs the rope and helps him. “Wanna get in first?”

Lanisen shrugs. He gives the far shore a long look, then steps carefully into the coracle, which shifts and moves beneath him. He nearly loses the candle and clutches at the sides of the boat. “Never did like this part,” he says, trying to laugh.

Colin makes his way into the boat as smoothly as possible, which unfortunately is about as smooth as an earthquake. He freezes until they steady and he takes the oar. “You take care of the candle.” He advises.

Lanisen nods. His face is pale in the wan light, and he glances again toward the shore, but he holds the candle steady in both hands.


Across the River
Middle Archenland


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.


Colin precariously guides them to the other side and hops out, slipping on the shore and getting one leg pretty thoroughly soaked before he can hold on to the boat for Lanisen to get out. He looks around all over the place and shakes his head in wonder.

Lanisen climbs out more slowly, clutching the candle. He glances up and down the shore before he pulls the boat up to rest on the riverbank.

Colin slips on the mud and nearly plants on his backside but just barely manages to catch himself. “Nice place.” He comments.

Lanisen doesn’t answer. He climbs the bank to where it is less muddy and approaches a little pile of driftwood that looks like it was at one point a second boat. He nudges it with his toe.

Colin makes his way to Lanisen and glances down at the wood. “Significant?”

Lanisen shrugs. “I made it,” he says. “Patched it together from a buncha other wrecks. It didn’t work too well, leaky as a rusty bucket, but it got me across a couple times.”

Colin looks at it and nods. “Nice. How come you couldn’t use the one we just did?”

Lanisen says, “It was on the wrong side of the river.”

Colin ahs. “Gotcha.” He lifts his head and looks around once more. “Which way from here?

Lanisen shrugs. “There’s not much else. There’s a kind of… storeroom, that way.” He gestures west.

Colin nods and starts snooping around, full of curiosity.

Lanisen stays put. Something about the pile of rocks to the northeast has caught his attention, and he can’t seem to look away.

Colin makes his way back over to Lanisen’s side. Watching him, he finally asks, “What is it?”

Lanisen pulls a shuddering breath and fumbles the candle. He scrambles for it, but it hisses out in the mud.

Colin stands there as suddenly everything does dark. “There aren’t monsters or anything down here are there…?” he asks calmly as he starts feeling around in his pack for another dry candle.

Lanisen is breathing heavily, as if he’s just been running for a long way, but this seems to strike him as funny.

Colin hms. If his expression could be seen he would appear quite thoughtful. Listening to Lanisen’s breathing, he keeps talking calmly and reassuringly to try to keep him from having a panic attack. “Don’t worry, I have another candle in here. Just going by feel. So this is what it’d be like to be blind…what is this..oh hey, found my dagger. No worries though, it’s sheathed, I’ve learned my lesson about that one. Gonna have a nice scar on my palm. Rumor has it women love those. Ok, found candle. Looking for flint…there’s the dagger again. What the—-I think this used to be an apple. Gross. Not a flint. Erm…last weeks socks….flint! Hang on, we’ll have light in just one…-” a scraping noise as he strikes the flint–” …hm ok two—” another scrape and the little candle springs to life, illuminating a triumphant expression. “Eureka!” He says with a grin.

Lanisen is pale and shaking, but he bends to get the second candle and relight it from Colin’s.

Colin closes his pack and reaches up to squeeze Lanisen’s shoulder. “All right?” he asks, concern on his face.

Lanisen ducks away, holding up his hands to ask for space. “I need,” he says, not looking directly at Colin, “a minute, I need a minute.”

Colin nods, letting his hand drop and giving Lanisen the space he needs. “Need to head back?” he offers anxiously, before uttering something else unintelligable.
Colin mumbles “Why did I do this … him….”, to Colin.

Lanisen’s eyes skitter to the pile of stones again and quickly away. He tugs at his collar, backing toward the river. “I don’t–I’m not sure, I–I’m sorry–”

Colin motions towards the boat. “C’mon, it’s okay. I’ll get you back. I’m really sorry about this, Lanny.” He says, his voice wracked with guilt.

Lanisen shakes his head quickly. “It’s–it’s not– I didn’t know this would, I didn’t know, sir, I’m sorry–”

Colin shakes his head. “Nope don’t apologize, I shoulda known better. Come on.” He has the boat on the water, ready to go. “Get in, I’ll get you out of here.”

Lanisen takes a deep, deliberate breath, trying to ground himself, and picks his way very carefully down the bank. The candle in his hand is shaking, but he doesn’t seem to notice the dripping wax.

Colin holds the boat steady until Lanisen is settled inside, then climbs in as carefully as possible. Grabbing the oar, he shoves them off and heads in the direction of the other shore.

Lanisen stays quiet as they go, hunched over his knees.

Colin lurches forward a bit when he propels the boat into the other bank. Climbing out, he doesn’t seem to care that he gets himself wet once more, this time almost to the hip as he hangs on to the boat to drag it onto the ground.

Lanisen clambers out after him clumsily.


The Underground Riverbank
Middle Archenland


Colin makes sure the coracle is securely tied before scrambling up the riverbank toward fresh air.


At the Mouth of a Chasm
Middle Archenland


Lanisen, once out in the sunlight and fresh air, fairly crumbles with relief. He sinks down with his back to a boulder and covers his face, shuddering silently and uncontrollably.

Colin watches him anxiously and watches the area and eventually ends up sitting on the ground beside him. “I’m real sorry about that….I should have known better.”

Lanisen lets out a short laugh that isn’t really a laugh and shakes his head. “How would you have known, I didn’t even know, how were you s’posed to know.”

Colin rubs his forehead and runs his hands through his hair, making it quite mussed. “I just plain should have known bringing you back to this region would cause you all sorts of bad feelings and trouble.” he declares.

Lanisen raises his head to look at Colin. He looks pale and tired, but his breathing is starting to settle. “Ain’t your fault, sir.”

Colin releases a sigh and doesn’t answer.

Lanisen’s candle finally burns down to his hand. He gasps and drops the stub with a startled oath, sucking ruefully at the burn, and puts it out with his other hand.

Colin digs in his pack and pulls out the ointment he’s been using on his hand and hands it to Lanisen.

Lanisen takes it wordlessly and smears a bit on the reddened skin.

Colin takes it back when he’s done and stashes it in his pack.

Lanisen is silent for a long while, staring at his knees. He flexes his fingers, still shaking, then releases a sigh. “Sir–” he says finally, haltingly. He closes his eyes briefly. “Listen, I’m– If you want me to go back to Anvard, I’ll… I mean, I’m. It’s fine.”

Colin shakes his head. “I don’t want you to go back to Anvard unless you want to, Lanisen. I need to be less careless in my thinking, especially while we are here. I didn’t mean for so much of the past to be rubbed in your face like I suspect it has.”

Lanisen repeats again, a little helplessly, “I didn’t know it would–”

Colin nods. “That’s all right. I mean it.”

Lanisen nods. He rubs both hands over his face and goes miserably quiet.

Colin releases a sigh. “Do you know what caused it? In the cave? Was it just being back or?”

Lanisen’s shoulders hunch a little. “I don’t know.”

Colin just nods, not much better for having asked.

Lanisen doesn’t volunteer more. He stares at his knees, radiating shame.

Colin gently nudges him with his elbow. “Hey. It’s okay, Lanisen. Stop beating yourself up.”

Lanisen swallows. “You can go back down, if you want,” he says after a pause, indicating the rope still tied around the boulder. “You didn’t get to look around very long. I don’t mind, I’ll wait.”

Colin shrugs and gets to his feet. “Come on, let’s go back. I’ll come back later.”

Lanisen nods. He gets up and very carefully unties the knot in the rope. He hauls it up from the hole, coiling it as it goes. “Thanks,” he says at last, staring at the rope in his hands. “For gettin’ me out of there.”

Colin nods. “Anytime.” As they start to walk, he hesitantly asks, “What did you see in the pile of rocks? You stared at them for quite a while.”

Lanisen slows, weaving the end of the rope carefully through the loops, probably guaranteeing that it will be a hopeless tangle somewhere down the road. He opens his mouth, hesitates, then answers softly, “A wall.”

Colin tilts his head quizzically. “What kind of wall? What’s the significance?”

Lanisen shifts and looks at Colin, confused and uncertain. “I–what?”

Colin shrugs his shoulders helplessly. “What’s the wall? The cave wall?”

Lanisen says, even more confused and beginning to be distressed again, “The rocks? They’re a wall, the rocks are.”

Colin says, “So they’re blocking something.”

Lanisen can’t speak for a moment. He nods jerkily.

Colin watches Lanisen, trying to puzzle through this. Suddenly his face blanches and his eyes go wide in horror. “Did he….Lanisen. No…What did Myrd do.”

Lanisen takes a step back. “I– uh–”

Colin keeps looking back at the cave and Lanisen, jerking his thumb in the general direction. “No, did he? He did, didn’t he.” He says, completely aghast. “Did Myrd wall you in in that place?”

Lanisen can’t answer. After a long pause, he swallows and nods once.

Colin stares at him for a long moment. “Oh….Lion.” is all he can manage.

Lanisen rubs his wrists, shaking again. “It–it sounds pretty bad and it wasn’t really,” he manages to say. “They gave me food and water mostly and I knew they weren’t gonna leave me in there. Just I got– I got sick, about a week in, and everything was kind of–” He waves a hand vaguely. “And–thats when I thought maybe I was gonna–”

Colin states, “Why.”

Lanisen says evasively, not looking at Colin, “I was a dumb kid who did dumb stuff.”

Colin asks, “What’d you do that Myrd deemed worthy of nearly killing you for?”

Lanisen doesn’t answer. He stares at his hands.

Colin says, “Lanisen….”

Lanisen shifts, agitated, but stays stubbornly silent.

Colin, equally stubborn, crosses his arms. “Might as well answer or I’ll go find out from him myself.”

Lanisen says, “Sir. Please.”

Colin lets his hands drop to his side.

Lanisen takes a shaky breath. “It ain’t important. Please leave it be.”

Colin raises his hands in apparent surrender and starts leading the way back.

Lanisen follows silently.


Loft
Lancelyn Green — Middle Archenland


Colin, having stayed silent in the wake of his horrible discovery, collapses on his bedroll once they arrive.

Lanisen goes straight for his bedroll as well, curling up on his side, still shivering intermittently. He doesn’t close his eyes, and from the look of things it’s not likely he’ll get any sleep tonight.

Colin just lays there, staring at the ceiling wakefully.


Lanisen is dozing fitfully, his face tense and pinched.

Dawn is barely lightening the sky when Colin ascends the ladder, inhaling a bit of breakfast from the tavern as he does so. He nearly loses his grip but manages to arrive safely and fairly quietly.

Lanisen is restless enough that the smallest sound brings him out of his slumber with a start. His hand flies to the dagger next to his bedroll.

Colin silently holds out bacon, bread and coffee as an alternative to being flayed alive.

Lanisen slumps back, relieved and irritated. He rolls onto his back and rubs his eyes.

Colin keeps holding the food out, waiting.

Lanisen sits up and accepts the offering with an ungracious grunt.

Colin doesn’t appear to be to put out. “Pack up when you finish.” He instructs.

Lanisen grunts again, working his bleary way through the coffee. The words take at least half the cup to register, and after a very long delay, he asks, “We leavin’?”

Colin nods.

Lanisen has to drink the rest of the cup before it occurs to him to ask, “Where we goin’?”

Colin says, “We’re going to Carmichael.”

Lanisen says, “Oh.” He munches his bacon in silence.

Colin glances at him. “That sound okay to you?”

Lanisen says, “Yeah, sure, yeah. Sounds fine.”

Colin slows in his packing and looks at him.

Lanisen blinks at him. “What?”

Colin’s tone is mild. “Don’t want to see Ara?”

Lanisen says, “What? No, I said it sounds fine. Really.”

Colin says, “Okay.” and returns to his packing.

Lanisen finishes his breakfast and stares blearily at his pack. He stretches, opens his eyes as wide as possible, then starts dropping things in his bag in no particular order, without getting out of his bedroll.

Colin forces himself through his own tiredness to gather up his own belongings.

Lanisen closes the pack, having put everything he owns except for his bedroll and his boots inside. He sits blinking for a minute, stupid with exhaustion, and lays back down again, pulling the blanket over his head.

Colin asks, “Need some more time to sleep?”

Lanisen makes an indistinct noise from under the blanket.

Colin’s mouth quirks in a half smile as he finishes his pack and settles with his back against some hay bales. One of the cats comes over to keep him company and he eventually begins to doze himself.

Lanisen sleeps most of the morning, and it’s only the noise of a stallion having a loud argument with another stallion on the floor below that wakes him. He rubs his eyes and stares at the ceiling.

Colin has fallen solidly asleep over by the hay, slumping over slightly. He’s surrounded by a cat or three, pressed up against him for warmth.
In the daylight, it’s clear Colin’s clothing and boots are quite the worse for wear from the trek the day before. There’s quite a lot of mud and smudges, even some in his hair and on his face that wasn’t there when they returned the night before.

Lanisen lays without moving for a long time, watching dust motes in the sunlight coming through the cracks in the roof. At last he sits up, runs a hand through his hair in a half-hearted attempt to make it presentable, and rolls his blanket for travel. He yawns cavernously, sits down, and finally gets a good look at Colin. He frowns.

Colin mmphles when a cat rubs against his face. He bats the furball away and slides completely to the ground with a groan.

Lanisen says, “You went back.”

Colin’s eye opens a slit. “Eh?”

Lanisen says, “You’re filthy. You went back.”

Colin grunts in response and forces himself into a sitting position.

Lanisen says, “At night? By yourself?”

Colin runs a hand through his hair for his morning combing and reaches for his pack. “Guess so. I didn’t see anyone else, at least.”

Lanisen says, “You idiot.”

Colin blinks several times and looks over at him dumbfoundedly. “Scuse you?”

Lanisen says, “It ain’t safe down there! What if you got hurt, nobody knows where you’re at, not even me, what if that rotten ladder cracked, what if that boat sprang a leak and you’re stranded?”

Colin tries to dismiss his concern. “That dank river is pretty low, I could have made it across.”

Lanisen says, “You’re an idiot.”

Colin shoulders his pack. “Thanks.”

Lanisen mutters, hefting his own pack, “Yeah, you’re welcome.”

Colin rolls his eyes and makes his way down the ladder to down below, where he instructs two stable hands to tack up the horses.


Stables
Lancelyn Green — Middle Archenland


Lanisen follows, rumpled and disreputable-looking and crabby to boot.

Colin takes Coalblack’s reins when he is finished and leads him out of the stables, not looking much better himself.


Outside the Stables
Lancelyn Green — Middle Archenland


Colin swings into the saddle and gathers the reins, looking back at Lanisen to wait for him.

Lanisen climbs up into Maestro’s saddle and settles himself, then nods when he’s ready.

Colin nods in return and leads the way through town.

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