real talk

Carmichael Village Square
Western Archenland

You stand in the center of a quaint little country village, nestled in the foothills of the Western Mountains. There are a few shops surrounding the square, including Isfar’s blacksmith shop to the east, which is ringing with the sound of iron-on-iron. To the southwest is a small tavern, which smells of good home-cooked food. There is a traveller’s shelter to the northwest with a sign over the door that reads “Carmichael Lodge”. There is also a shop to the northeast, and two others, to the southeast and to the west, respectively. In the midst of the square stands a a stone well.

The main road heads south toward the settlement, a collection of humble, neatly-kept homes to the southwest of the main town.

Lanisen leaves the lodge, heading for the tavern. He looks a bit worn out, but in good spirits.

Loc plods through the square looking tired and covered in dust.

Lanisen, catching sight of him, raises a hand in greeting.

Loc grins and heads over, nodding, “Hey. Headin’ to the tavern?”

Lanisen says, “Yeah, I figure. You?”

Loc nods. “Yeah. Hoping for a bowl of warm soup and some ale… or something. Long day.” He turns his neck and there’s a definitive crack.

Lanisen recoils a little at the noise, grimacing in sympathetic disgust. “Yeah?”

Loc says, “Things always get a little crazy around the time of collection. The hewers got backlogged with the stones and they’re behind. And some of the carts haven’t been repaired, so they’re not at the quota yet… so we’ve all been working fast–and that can lead to mistakes… and–I’m probably gonna bore ya goin’ on like this, sorry.”

Lanisen grins faintly. “I don’t mind. Come on, I’ll buy you an ale.”

Loc lights up, “That sounds great.”

Lanisen leads the way into the tavern.

Fischer’s Tavern

Lanisen collects a couple of mugs from Fischer and carries them to a table near the back, glancing back at Loc. He takes a seat and slides one of the mugs across the table.

Loc waits for Lanisen to collect the drinks and follows him to the table. He gratefully accpets the mug and drinks deeply. He rolls his shoulders and slouches, finally looking like he’s unwinding. “Thanks.” He says genuinely.

Lanisen takes a sip of his own and shakes his head dismissively. “How are they?” he asks. “The mines?”

Loc says, “Well… it depends. At first I spent a lotta time outside, ‘cuz… ya know, puttin’ someone like me near the shiny things wasn’t a good idea at first.–And they needed to bulk me up. I’d chop word, repair cards, haul away the extra rock. The sorta hard labor stuff. Then I got ta know Chief, and he took an interest in me. When he felt he could trust me, he had me sortin’ and learning how to identify the different rocks and stuff–and learnin’ how to swing a pick axe. It’s a lot harder then it looks.” He laughs. “It’s long and makes you tired… but it isn’t bad. You need to get used to the tunnels tho. It’s like eternal night down there.”

Lanisen raises his eyebrows briefly, drinking again. “Sounds like fun,” he remarks.

Loc hehs and takes a drink, “Yeah…” He tries to sound enthusiastic. “It… isn’t so bad once you adjust… but at first, it’s–unnervin’. I had some fits. They told me that it was ‘cuz I was a man and not a dwarf, and that men ain’t bred for minin’.” He smirks and lowers his voice, leaning forward, “They’re very particular. Not a very popular crowd with most human folk here. There’s an odd sorta tension. I personally think both folk spend a lotta time lookin’ down their noses at the other, ‘cuz I find the town folk and the miners ta be decent sorts, just… different manners and interests.”

Lanisen blinks at him. “Fits? /You/?”

Loc sucks in a breath and looks at his drink, “The temperature’s funny down there. You’d think it’d be cold and all, but it can actually get quite warm, especially in the winter. That wasn’t so bad, but not nowin’ the time and bein’ away from the sun for hours on end… there ain’t much light, and if your lantern or torch goes out, ya can’t see a ruddy thing.” He looks up at Lanisen. “It’s quiet too, when no one’s working. That sort of quiet that can make your ears pound–if that makes any sense. And when you’re eyes are open but all you see is black–well… your mind plays tricks on ya. That… and the air gets a bit thick sometimes. With that and the dark, sometimes you feel like the walls are closin’ in.”
Loc takes a drink, “It’s different than the other caves… we’ve been in.”

Lanisen’s fingers tighten around the handle of his mug. He goes still and very pale, right down to his lips, and stares at his ale without really seeing it. After a sick pause, he swallows and nods.

Loc observes Lanisen, and his fingers tighten around his handle. For a moment there’s a flash of anger. It fades and his gaze becomes sympathetic. “Never thought I’d be so… frightened in a space like that.” He pauses, then says quietly, “And you always gotta be wary of the tunnels. I’ve seen cave ins–helped dig a few out and redo the supports. Once, one gave way and we were caught for a few hours. Wasn’t even very far from the surface–but I couldn’t go down for weeks after.”

Lanisen doesn’t look up or move, even to breathe. After a moment he shifts, drawing a quick shuddery breath, and says very quietly, “Okay.”

Loc coughs a little and tries to lighten things, “But the dwarfs know what they’re doin’ and most of it’s safe.” He coughs again. “They actually got a nice little hub down there. Some work areas and livin’ quarters n’ stuff. They’re trying to get a way ta make a hot spring off the main livin’ area, but that’s all highly contested. Some say if it ain’t a natural one, it ain’t worth makin’, others say they should try to make it more like home–and if they can make it, it’ll only show how much like their Narnian counterparts they really are.”

Lanisen relaxes his death-grip on the mug’s handle with a conscious effort. He swallows a few times, tugs at his collar with a shaky hand, and says, “Hot springs, huh?”

Loc nods. “Gotta admit, after a long day a swingin’ a pick axe and haulin’ rocks, a nice soak in a hot spring–even if it isn’t ‘real’ or natural or whatever they call it–would feel mighty good.”
Loc grins wryly, keeping is voice down, “Might make the men a little less grubby too.”

Lanisen laughs weakly. “Sounds nice,” he agrees.

Loc makes a face, “Much better than luggin’ water from the well ta the house for a bath.–Takes forever. And even if you heat it… ya never get a hot bath.”

Lanisen says, “Not unless it’s the time of year where a hot bath isn’t what you’re wantin’.”

Loc laughs a little and nods, “Yeah.”

Lanisen takes a gulp of ale, accidentally sloshing some over the lip of the mug. He wipes his mouth and sets down the mug hastily, turning red on top of his lingering pallor.

Loc flags a wench and grabs a napkin, giving a nod of thanks to her. When she leaves, he hands the cloth over to Lanisen. He keeps his voice low, “Ya gonna be okay?”

Lanisen uses the napkin to wipe up the puddle of ale on the table. “I’m fine, I’m fine, yeah.”

Loc doesn’t look convinced, but lets it slide. He takes another sip of his ale. “So… you travelin’ with Coli–Sir Colin now? All the time, I mean…”

Lanisen takes another long, steadying drink of ale, more careful with the mug this time. He nods, shrugs, and nods again. “So far.”

Loc takes another drink, falling quiet for the time being.

Lanisen says, “I keep waitin’ for him to send me back to Anvard, but so far…” He shrugs.

Loc glances up, “How long were ya at Anvard?”

Lanisen says, “This whole time, savin’ the last month or so.” He pauses, reconsiders. “And the time I came here, with Lord Dar. That was… what, three years ago?” He shakes his head, drinking deeply again. “It’s /weird/ bein’ out. Walkin’ around like a normal person. Sir Colin let me have a knife, even.”

Loc hehs softly and nods, “I remember the first time they gave me a dagger ta keep–and my bow back… Wanted ta spend days on end at the range. I was so out of practice… That trip ta Lancelyn Green was the first time I’d been back since that whole mess.–And my first trip without some official kinda escort.–It was nice.”

Lanisen says, “Yeah. Yeah, I reckon.” He downs the rest of his ale and stares consideringly into the bottom of the empty mug.

Loc says under his breath, “Battin’ a hundred tanight.” He takes a swig.

Lanisen asks, “What?”

Loc shakes his head, “Feel kinda like I keep tripping over my own feet.–‘Cept with words.”
Loc snorts, “Here I thought I was so good with ’em.”

Lanisen says, “What are you talking about?”

Loc glances at Lanisen and then rubs his eyes. “Nothin’. Sorry. I ain’t thinkin’ straight.”

Lanisen looks at Loc’s mug and raises one eyebrow. “Well, you can’t blame the ale,” he says dryly.

Loc shakes his head, giving a dismissive gesture. “No. The ale’s fine. It’s just the day and the rushin’ ‘n all that business. That’s all. When I get tired, sometimes I just… get a little fuzzy.”

Lanisen says, “It’s fine, you’re fine. You don’t gotta apologize.”

Loc opens his mouth and then snaps it shut, and then takes a drink. He grunts as he sets the mug down, apparently at a loss for words.

Lanisen gives his mug a long look, then flags down Fischer and asks for another.

Loc asks, “You ever get out into Andale when you’re at the castle?”

Lanisen scoffs at Loc, thanking the barkeep as he sets down the mug. “I never went outside the gates until just last month.”

Loc says ‘oh’, taking another drink. “So what’d they have ya doin’?”

Lanisen says, “Lookin’ after the hounds, runnin’ errands for the master of hunt. Did some of the trainin’ after the first year.”

Loc says, “Sounds kinda nice.”

Lanisen says, “Yeah. It weren’t too bad.” He takes a drink.

Loc opens his mouth, then closes it. He settles for another drink.

Lanisen admits, “I kinda miss it. Not really, you understand, not to where I’d rather go back than travel with Colin. Just. Kinda.”

Loc swirls the contents of his mug, looking down. “It’s… stable. It’s… familiar. And despite maybe not bein’ what ye’d have picked… it’s what you know. It’s got a routine and has kinda become normal. It’s not… the open road or even freedom. But… it’s like home, even if it isn’t home. Something like that maybe?”

Lanisen says, “Um.” He takes a long drink of ale and sets the mug down again, watching the liquid slosh. “I was thinkin’ more on how hounds’re a lot… frien’lier than people, whole lot easier to, to… you don’t gotta guess on what they’re thinkin’ cause it’s all over their faces, they don’t care what you mighta maybe did as long as you got dinner, y’know?”

Loc looks up at Lanisen and nods. He says quietly, “Yeah.” He pauses, then says, “Dwarfs can be a crusty lot… but… they ain’t as bad as most folk here say.–They’ve been more ‘cceptin’ me than most the folk I know, even before I was sentenced.”

Lanisen nods enthusiastically. “That’s what I mean, ‘s what I mean, yeah.”

Loc gives a half smile and finishes his glass, flagging a wench for another. He says quietly, “Yeah…”

Lanisen hastily finishes off his mug so as to save the girl a trip and asks for another as well.

Loc says, “Still… it’s nice when you find people who do understand… or are more forgiving.–The road is nice. And I miss it sometimes.”

Lanisen says, “Bet they’d let you take a trip. If you asked. You asked?”

Loc accepts the mug with a nod of thanks, “I suppose I could ask–and the dwarfs might even let me go… but…” He drops his voice and inclines his head ever so faintly toward a man in a corner booth across the bar, “See that guy in the dark red tunic? He’s kinda like the keeper. Still sorta watches me and reports ta the important folk what I do when I ain’t with the dwarfs. Nearly had a hissy fit when they let me go ta Lancelyn Green. Was only allowed that ‘cuz I had a couple a the miners.” He makes a face. “Don’t think him or most folk here’ll ever really trust me if I go off on a trip alone.”

Lanisen blinks at the man, forgetting to be subtle with his staring. “That ain’t right,” he protests. “You ain’t, you ain’t done any more’n me, why’re you still…”

Loc hehs softly, and gives the man a look. There’s a momentary struggle of wills when their gazes meet, and Loc finally looks away, drinking deeply. He says quietly, “I’m older–and I maimed a man–scarred up his pretty, petitely delicate face. Held him hostage. Sure I was ‘under orders’–but that don’t excuse it. I spied for a man I hated. And I ran like the rest of them when there were people dead. Technically, I done plenty not ta be trusted.–They all know the trouble we caused here, and while I know a man can change, even I can’t entirely blame ’em fer hard feelings.”
Loc says, “S’its why I like dwarfs. They have a more fergivin’ memory so long as you work hard ta show you ain’t like that no more.”

Lanisen doesn’t seem to know what to say to this. He looks away unhappily and drinks again. “You might could still ask.”

Loc takes a drink thoughtfully, “True.–Dwarfs got plenty a hands… after the tribute’s prepared. Would be nice to travel… but where’d I go?”

Lanisen says, “I dunno. Chesterton. Coghill. Narnia, if that’s your thing.”

Loc’s expression darkens at the mention of Narnia but he quickly shakes it off. “Coghill might be neat. Never been there.–Chesterton.” He flashes an almost devious grin, “Aw man… home. I ain’t been there since…” His smile fades and he almost loos troubled. He takes a deep drink. “Well. Long time.”

Lanisen says, “Forgot you was from Chesterton.”

Loc nods, “Not sure I’d be too welcome there… Got more than a few… folk who don’t like me in the Lower town.”

Lanisen says, “So go someplace else then.” He takes a deep drink.

Loc looks thoughtful as he drinks, “Maybe… Even campin’ in the woods fer a few days. It’d be nice.”

Lanisen says, “Yeah. An’ I bet they quit watchin’ you so close when they see you go and come back and not do anything funny in the meantime.”

Loc smirks a bit, “That’d be nice.–They’d still try ta blame sumthin’ on me. Hens ain’t layin’ right–storm clouds blew in.” He laughs.

Lanisen snorts. “Folk ain’t /that/ super, super, whatsit.”

Loc grins, “Superstitious.”

Lanisen gestures expansively at Loc. “Stitious. Thing.”

Loc chuckles softly as he takes a drink.

Lanisen finishes off his ale and leans back in his chair.

Loc polishes off the rest of the drink and leans back, looking content. “Maybe I’ll eve visit Andale.”

Lanisen says, “Now you’re talkin’.”

Loc says, “It’s a nice place. And I haven’t seen it in almost four years. I wonder what’s changed.”

Lanisen says, “Couldn’…couldn’ tell you.”

Loc shrugs, “Maybe they’ll let ya in town when you go back.”

Lanisen says fervently, “/Lion/ I hope so.” He leans forward and confesses, “T’be hones’ I’m scared to death Colin’s gonna get sick o’ me and send me back. Scared t’death, can’t stomach the idea.”

Loc smiles a little, “I don’t think Colin’ll ever get sick a ya. Yer a good sort and pleasant company. I think if he’d get tired a ya, it’d have happened already. He likes you.”

Lanisen scrubs his hands over his flushed face. “‘M /useful/ is why,” he mumbles. “Happens when ‘m not useful anymore?”

Loc says, “You’ll always be useful at somethin’ Lanny. Even just keepin’ company. I think he likes havin’ you around ta talk to. I wouldn’t worry about it.”

Lanisen stares at Loc glassily and shakes his head several times, trying to get words in order. “‘M not, ‘mnot, I’m, we, we went to the cave, the /cave/, you know the cave, an’ I… /lost/ it, you should’ve seen me.” He drops his forehead to the table-top.

Loc frowns deeply. He reaches over and gently places his hand on Lanisen’s shoulder. His voice is gentle and quiet, “Hey. No one would blame ya fer that.–It’s natural. Totally natural ta do that.”
Loc says, “Anyone would do that in the same place.”

Lanisen starts and lurches away from the hand on his shoulder. His chair nearly tips, but he grabs at the table and saves his balance, then covers his face with his hands. “Don’ do that, don’t, don’t do that…”

Loc retracts his hand and grunts softly, “Sorry.” He catches the glance of a few patrons, shifting awkwardly. The man in the dark red tunic’s gaze bores into him. Loc coughs and says, “Sorry fer a lotta things….”

Lanisen drops his hands and gives Loc a long look. “You don’t, y’don’t gotta,” he says finally. “Please, y’don’t– You done right by me, I’m, I owe /you/.”

Loc shifts and looks uncomfortable. He shakes his head and says mildly, “Ye been drinkin’ too much Lanny.”

Lanisen blinks a few times, giving this due consideration. “Migh’ve done,” he concedes. “‘S still true.”

Loc shakes his head, “You don’t owe me anything.” He coughs and shifts again.

Lanisen laughs silently. “You’re all righ’, Loc,” he says after a moment.

Loc looks at Lanisen curiously, “Huh?”

Lanisen repeats, “You’re all right. Y’re… one of the good ones.” He glances at the man in the red tunic and makes a dismissive gesture with one hand. “‘N he can go stuff it.”

Loc flushes deeply and coughs, shaking his head. He mutters quietly, “Now I /know/ ya had too much.” He glances at the man in the dark red tunic. “But yes. He can.” He scowls at the man and begins to make a gesture–stopping himself before he causes trouble.

Lanisen rubs his eyes with one hand. “I better get,” he says wearily.

Loc stands and says, “I think I better get too. ‘fore I decide ta get too bold and make a scene.” He chuckles softly, “Good sharin’ a drink with ya Lanny. Hope we can do that again ‘fore you leave.”

Lanisen stands up. He sways a little and leans heavily on the table. “Yeah,” he says. “Yeah, ‘d like that.”

Loc grins a little. “Need a hand or you got it?”

Lanisen waves him off.

Loc nods, “All right then.” He gives a small salute. “Good evenin’ ta ya and the lord.”

Lanisen says, confused, “Who?”

Loc says, “Colin.”
Loc asks, “You sure you’ll be all right?”

Lanisen says, “Oh.” He waves a hand. “Colin ain’t a lord. Colin’s a sir.”

Loc ahs and shrugs, “Whatever he is. Good eve ta him too.” He laughs.

Lanisen says, “Sure. I’ll tell’im.”

Loc chuckles as he heads for the door.

Common Room
Western Archenland

This is an enormous low-ceilinged dark room that has to be at least twenty yards long. In and around supporting posts, there are dozens of cots scattered about, a few of them occupied by other sleeping travellers. The room is too dim to make out the identities of those around you here, but from the snoring it appears everyone is snoozing comfortably.

There is a door to the east leading out.

Lanisen returns to the common room sometime after dark. He makes his unsteady way through the hostel and stumbles over a cot.

Colin startles from sleep and sits up quickly as his cot is tripped over.

Lanisen stays on hands and knees for a minute, bewildered. He gets to his feet again and promptly loses his balance in the dark and has to flail a bit.

Colin rubs his eyes. “Who’s that?” He says, sounding slightly perturbed.

Lanisen mumbles, “S’ry… s’ry…” He pitches forward over an empty cot.

Colin squints in the darkness. “Lanny?”

Lanisen waves vaguely.

Colin reaches out and pokes at him. “What’s wrong with you?”

Lanisen curls up like a pill-bug in protest. “Cudditout.”

Colin eyes his shadowy form in the dark and says, “You’re drunk.”

Lanisen says, “Noo.”

Colin yawns, long and hard as he flops back onto his cot. “What’s the occasion?”

Lanisen says, “‘M not, ‘mnot…”

Colin reaches behind his head for his pillow and whaps Lanisen with it.

Lanisen, startled, makes a scramble to get away and ends up falling off his cot.

Colin snickers to himself and makes himself comfortable.

Lanisen tries to get up, then decides the floor is all right.

Colin helpfully throws the pillow at him. “You’re going to regret that in the morning.”

Lanisen curls his knees to his stomach defensively and mumbles, “‘Mnot drunk, didn’ even have that much.”

Colin says, “Drunk or not, sleepin’ on the floor is a bad idea.”

Lanisen, with a supreme effort, hauls himself up and flops on the cot.

Colin snatches his pillow back from him and turns on his side.

Lanisen curls up on his side. “‘Re you gonna send me back t’Anvar’?” he asks in a mumble after a minute.

Colin lifts his head. “Huh? Why?”

Lanisen’s forehead furrows. “Don’ have any more hideouts t’tell you about.”

Colin says, “That’s not why I brought you. Not sending you back.”

Lanisen says, “Can’t figh’. Get scared of holes. Bad at talkin’ t’people.” He closes his eyes, still frowning. “You oughta send me back.”

Colin sits up, looking at him. “No I oughtn’t. You’re my best friend so unless you want to go back, you’re staying.”

Lanisen tries to find a comfortable position on the hard cot. “You got, you got real question’ble taste in friens, sir.”

Colin hits him with the pillow again for good measure. “Actually I think I finally got some things right. Go to sleep. You probably won’t remember this in the morning.”

Lanisen’s shoulders hunch up, but he’s already mostly asleep.

Colin chuckles to himself and settles in once more.


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