You find yourself on a small wooded path running northward through a thin
vein of woodlands. The trees here are tall, their crowns thick enough that
only the occasional dappled patch of sunlight makes its way to the forest
floor here. Nonetheless, the stretch of woods here is not terribly deep,
interrupted to the north by the major road leading around to Carmichael
proper. From here you can just make out both forest edges, but the
underbrush to the north still affords a sense of wilderness here.
There is a fallen log by the wayside of the path, and a still smaller path
veers off to the west toward a stream in the distance. To the south, the
path leaves the woods for the garden.
Lanisen breaks off the main path, leaving it for a hidden trail through the trees. He picks his way toward a fallen log half-hidden in the grass with casual familiarity and sits down, stretching out his bad leg.
Colin slides his bow into the leather quiver on his back and sets the bundle of rabbits they procured down, pausing to stretch his back muscles.
Lanisen asks, “How’s Ara comin’ along?”
Colin grins a little at the mention of her. “Doing pretty well I think. She’s starting to pick up reading faster.
Lanisen asks, “Yeah? That sounds good?”
Colin nods, brushing a few odds and ends off one end of the log and having a seat himself. “I think it’s encouraging when something that can be so frustrating begins to click a little.”
Lanisen says, “Yeah. Definitely.” He pauses, rubbing his knee absently. “D’you think… I mean, I was wonderin’ how much longer we’d be here?”
Colin asks, “Need to be getting back?”
Lanisen asks, “Me? No! Sorry, just… wonderin’, is all.”
Colin replies, “I’ll let you know when I know myself.”
Lanisen says, “Yeah, all right.” He pauses for a moment, then says rather abruptly, “Hey, um.” He turns a little red. “Just… so you don’t hear it somewhere else, I… um, I kinda hit Loc the other day.”
Colin doesn’t say anything for a moment, but his eyebrow shifts upwards slightly.
Lanisen goes a deeper red and won’t look directly at Colin.
Colin rubs his face, hiding the twitching of the corner of his mouth. “Did you now?”
Lanisen mumbles, “Just said that, didn’t I?”
Colin says, “Just makin’ sure you weren’t pulling my leg.”
Lanisen somehow manages to look annoyed and guilty at the same time.
Colin does a splendid job of maintaining a straight face. “So…how did that happen? Did you just decide you wanted to hit someone and he was the best option, or did he do something?”
Lanisen straightens at this, his face going grim. “He… decided to take Cassie off by herself and tell her stuff about that… that summer. Stuff she didn’t need to know.”
Colin’s amusement fades and both of his eyebrows shoot up. “He did what?”
Lanisen says, “Yeah.”
Colin does not look amused at all. “Do you think hitting him got the message through or does he need another visit?”
Lanisen pauses. “I don’t know,” he admits. “I thought– we had a bit of a chat before, when he started hangin’ around her, and I figured that would be enough, but…”
Colin’s frown deepens. “Has he approached her since the incident?”
Lanisen says, “I dunno. It’s a small town and I ain’t about to tell her who she can and can’t talk to, it’s just… I dunno. I like Loc all right, I do, but I /don’t/ want him around my sister. It’s… he ain’t… /well/. I don’t mean he’s crazy or anything, just he’s… I don’t know what I’m tryin’ to say.”
Colin says, “He’s far too old to safely be her friend.”
Colin says, “Plus, there’s a hinge loose somewhere in there. Myrd or Zan knocked something loose at some point.”
Lanisen frowns at this. “No, that’s not– /age/ ain’t what concerns me, if it’s only friends. It’s just… he told her that stuff, and she came to me, and she was shook up. I don’t even know what all he told her, exactly, but I can guess.”
Colin’s brow furrows. “Not exactly things she needs to be hearing.”
Lanisen says firmly, “No. No, it’s–” But he stops abruptly there, and doesn’t finish what he was going to say.
Colin tries again. “Her knowing what exactly you were involved with?”
Lanisen says, “No, I don’t mind that–” He stops. “No, I /do/ mind that, I don’t want her to know, but she’s… I mean, I left, and… She has a right to know, I reckon. But Loc, he just told her stuff to scare and shock her, and she don’t hardly /know/ him!”
Colin nods. “It was out of line and he overstepped his bounds. He shouldn’t go around talking to anyone like that.”
Lanisen says, “Yeah.” He shifts. “Um. Anyway. That’s why I hit him.”
Colin’s response is quick. “Good for you.”
Lanisen asks, just to be sure, “You’re not mad or anything?”
Colin snorts a little. “He does it again and I’ll hold him for you.”
Lanisen gives a quick, relieved grin. “I didn’t think you would be but I was a little afraid you might. And I didn’t much fancy the idea of apologizin’ for something I’m not even a little bit sorry for.”
Colin says, “I know that feeling. Never fear…I know you don’t go running around flying off the handle for no good reason.”
Lanisen says, “Heh. Thanks.”
Colin asks, “How’ve things been otherwise?”
Lanisen doesn’t answer this right away. He looks at his knees and picks off a bit of a twig that caught on his trousers who knows where. “Good days and bad,” he finally says, noncommittal.
Colin nods a little, not pushing for details.
Lanisen is silent for a moment, concentrating on breaking the twig into a number of little pieces. “Sir–” he begins, then doesn’t seem to know how to go on.
Colin gives him an encouraging nod.
Lanisen takes a deep breath. His hands are shaking slightly. “I need… to tell you something, but I…” He closes his eyes for a second and shakes his head.
Colin tries to not look too concerned. “You can just spit it out…it doesn’t have to sound pretty.”
Lanisen shakes his head again, with intent this time. “It’s not… no.” He gets up suddenly and paces, never directly facing Colin. “I don’t… know how to tell you, and–and I don’t know if I /should/, even, this is… It’s all /wrong/!” His face is twisted with distress.
Colin drops all pretense. “Lanisen…”
Lanisen looks at him directly at this, meeting his eyes. “It’s not me, it isn’t anything… I /wish/ it was, that would… it’d be easier. /Lion/…” He swallows and turns away, raising his hands to the sides of his head, and takes a couple of deep breaths.
Colin leans forward. “Hey, it’s all right. You can tell me.”
Lanisen drops his hands and shudders. “Please… this is really hard, please just…” He blows out a long breath and says quietly, “Okay.”
Colin nods his head a little, the edges of his eyes crinkling with worry at this point.
Lanisen turns around to face Colin. His face is very pale, but he has a determined look and seems to have settled with himself what to do. “Okay,” he says again, his voice carefully steady. “I been sittin’ on this for… a while, now. I’m not… I wasn’t sure what to do, and I’m still not, but I can’t handle this by myself. Um.” He pauses, and looks quickly up to meet Colin’s eyes, pleading, then bows his head. “I need… I hope you can forgive me for what I’m about to ask. I… I need my friend, right now, I need you to be my friend and somebody I can trust and who knows what to do, and not… /Sir/ Colin.”
Colin meets his look and nods firmly. “Done. Sir Colin isn’t here right now. Think he’s still lost in the woods.” He makes a weak attempt at humor. Drawing a breath, he nods once more and looks as prepared as can be.
Lanisen lets out a breath, wretchedly grateful. He nods, and takes a minute to sort out his thoughts. “It’s about Cassie. And– she doesn’t… want me to tell you. She’ll be furious if she finds out and it might–” But he stops there, swallowing hard.
Colin prods gently. “What is it, Lanisen? She doesn’t have to find out.”
Lanisen gives him a miserable look. He turns away and begins to pace again, rubbing his hands over his face. At last, he draws a much-worn piece of paper out of his pocket. It looks as though it has been folded and unfolded and refolded many times, and it is beginning to look worn at the corners. He hesitates for a long moment, holding it in both hands, his face full of pain and dread and indecision. “Here,” he says finally, and holds the ragged thing out to Colin.
Colin reaches out his hand to take the paper from him, holding it a moment before he opens it and looks at it’s contents.
On the paper is written what seems to be a directory or list. In the right hand column are names of townsfolk, or occupations in lieu of names. In the left is a low number corresponding to each name, or a list of small, easily overlooked items.
Colin raises an eyebrow, appearing thoroughly confused as he looks it over. “What is this, Lanisen?”
Lanisen’s jaw is clenched tight as he watches Colin read the list, and he is struggling to keep his composure. “It’s a list,” he says softly. “It’s… stuff she’s stolen, and from who.” He swallows hard and shakes his head slightly. “She… she /told/ me, she lifted my wallet without me noticing so much as a twitch and handed it back to me, she told me everything. I asked her to make this list.”
Colin ahs as understanding dawns and he quietly re-reads the list again.
Lanisen returns to the log and sits down. He rests his elbows on his knees and stares at the ground, his shoulders slumped.
Colin lets out a whew sound. “When did she tell you?”
Lanisen says quietly, not looking up, “Couple weeks ago.”
Colin nods a little and sighs heavily, running a hand through his hair.
Lanisen says in the same low voice, toneless with despair, “I don’t know what to do.”
Colin asks him, “Did she say anything about stopping?”
Lanisen says, “Yeah. She said she would.”
Colin asks him another question, “What do you /want/ to do?”
Lanisen shakes his head. “I don’t… I don’t know.” He sniffs and swipes hastily at his nose. “I’m… This /scares/ me, I’m ruddy terrified she’s gonna end up–”
Colin’s tone is firm. “She won’t. We won’t allow it. She’s got people who care about her who are going to do everything they can to make sure she doesn’t go down that path.”
Lanisen says, “She ain’t really the sort to listen.”
Colin says something under his breath.
Colin mumbles “… tyin’ down, ain’t there…”, to Colin.
Lanisen raises his head quickly to look at Colin, startled and half-fearful. His eyes are red, and his face is white and blotchy.
Colin, when realizing Lanisen overheard him, raises a hand in a reassuring motion. “I’m kidding.”
Lanisen releases a shaky breath. “Well, don’t,” he says shortly.
Colin amends, “Sorry.”
Lanisen nods, looking down again.
Colin asks, “Did she say why she did it?”
Lanisen seems to sag. He stares at his hands, working his bad fingers absently. “My mum, she’s a spinner,” he says, in a low voice without any expression. “After I… Once word got back around here what I’d been doin’, she… lost some customers, I guess. A lot of customers. Cass said things were tight, so she…”
Colin’s shoulders drop down slightly. “Oh no…”
Lanisen takes a moment. “And then… she figured out she was good at it, I guess, and that she could get away with it.”
Colin nods a little. “Got caught up in the thrill.”
Lanisen says bleakly, “She’s my sister.”
Colin says, “She’s not going to end up where you did, Lanny.”
Lanisen says, “There’s nothin’ I wouldn’t do to keep that from happening.”
Colin nods his head. “I know. And I’m right beside you.”
Lanisen says quietly, “Thank you.”
Colin looks at him and says, “Thank you for telling me.”
Lanisen is silent for a moment. “I… said we might should talk to you, last time I saw her,” he says, looking at his hands. “She ran away. I haven’t been able to talk to her since. If she finds out I /did/ talk to you…” He pulls a shuddering breath. “I don’t want to lose her, Colin.”
Colin runs his hand through his hair again. “I’ll do everything in my power to make sure that doesn’t happen. If we can’t tell her, we can’t tell her. You do need to be prepared for some backlash if we do end up having to reveal but…we’ll take this one step at a time, and do everything we can.”
Lanisen nods, not looking up. “Thank you,” he says again. “Thank you for listenin’.”
Colin says, “Always. Anytime.”
Lanisen closes his eyes, sagging with the relief of it. “I’m… /tired/,” he realizes, bewildered. “I’m really, really /tired/.”
Colin puts his arm across Lanisen’s back in a brotherly gesture. “You’re not on your own in this…I’ve got your back. And if you feel it might help to bring Ara in on the situation, that might be a possibility in the future.”
Lanisen nods, not opening his eyes. Uncharacteristically, he does not tense up or pull away.
Colin says, “It’s going to be okay, Lanisen….after some frustration and hard work we’re going to get everyone through this.”
Lanisen nods, rubbing his eyes, wearily accepting this unfounded promise.
Colin asks, “What can I do to help?”
Lanisen drops his hand and opens his eyes, thinking about this. “I don’t know,” he admits. “But right now I really want a drink.”
Colin says, “I can definitely help with that.”
Lanisen’s mouth twitches into the ghost of a grin. “Knew you wouldn’t let me down.”
Colin returns the grin and gets to his feet, retrieving the rabbits and holding out a hand to help Lanisen up.
Lanisen accepts the aid gratefully, clasping Colin’s forearm. He brushes off his clothes, glancing around the clearing. “Okay.”
Colin hangs onto the rabbits with one hand and leads the way back towards town.
Cassandra is sweeping the floor, gripping the handle a bit tight. She seems to be in a foul mood.
Colin enters the tavern and leaves his cloak on the hook with pack underneath it, leading Lanisen towards the counter.
Lanisen trails after Colin without really paying attention to his surroundings. He looks really, /really/ tired, with the shadowed, bloodshot eyes that go with a couple nights of not sleeping.
Cassandra looks up as the door, apprehension on her expression. Upon seeing who it is, her face goes white. Her grip tightens as she quickly looks to the floor. She begins to nonchalantly move toward the back room, letting Fischer wait on the two men.
Colin notices her behind the counter and calls out with a friendly tone. “Evening, Cassie! How’s business?”
Lanisen startles and looks up, half hopeful and half dreading.
Cassandra stops her backward walk. She gives Colin a long look before releasing her grip on her broom handle. Acting like nothing is wrong, she answers in a smile, “You should ask Fischer that, I just work here.” Her movements are a bit forced but she maintains a pleasant demeanor.
Colin chuckles, appearing as if all is normal. “How are you today?” He takes a seat at the counter, folding his hands in front of himself.
Lanisen takes a seat at the stool next to Colin, subdued. He sneaks another glance at Cassandra.
Cassandra nods, “I’m fine, yourself.” She still doesn’t move closer to the men and seems to be avoiding Lanisen’s eye contact.
Colin gives a conversational nod. “Doing all right, thanks. We just got back from hunting.”
Lanisen nods confirmation of this. He looks down at the countertop.
Cassandra asks, “Catch anything?”
Colin answers, “We bagged a few rabbits, they’ll make for a nice stew. Say, do you and your folks want a couple for tonight? Between us and Ara’s family we can only eat so many, and they’re best when fresh.”
Lanisen glances quickly at Colin.
Cassandra’s eyebrow shoots up and she becomes a bit suspicious, “What’s the catch?”
Colin looks confused. “…There’s no catch.” a momentary pause, then he continues. “Seriously. No catch, I do this a lot.”
Lanisen murmurs, “He does.”
Cassandra’s eyes finally flick to Lanisen and there is a brief expression of guilt. She then turns to Colin and smiles at him, though it doesn’t quite reach her eyes, “Thank you. I’m sure mum will be glad to have the rabbits.”
Colin nods his head, relaxing. “Good, glad to hear it.”
Lanisen asks tentatively, “How’re you doin’? I haven’t seen you for a couple days.”
Cassandra startles a bit when Lanisen speaks, “Fine. I’m fine, just been busy.” She doesn’t quite look at him, “Well I best get this floor swept.” She turns her back on them, content to sweep in silence as Fischer takes their order.
Colin looks at Fischer a moment, then raises both eyebrows. “Two very strong ales please, Fischer.”
Lanisen’s expression flickers with hurt as she turns away, but he only turns back to lean his elbows on the counter.
Cassandra still keeps her back to them, subtly turning to blend into the surroundings.
Colin accepts the ales and pushes one towards Lanisen.
Lanisen takes it without a word and drinks deeply.
Colin picks up his tankard and drinks a good chug of it before setting it on the counter.
Cassandra turns just to see her brother inhale his drink. Something snaps in her face as she marches over to him, “Lion, Lanisen. Slow down!” She firmly pulls his arm down, trying to get him to set down his tankard. Her expression is a mixture of anger, concern, and annoyance.
Lanisen jumps and chokes, and ale sloshes over the lip of the tankard as Cassandra jostles him. He wipes his mouth with his sleeve and stares at her, bewildered.
Colin also appears quite startled, looking between them with confusion.
Cassandra sighs, walking to grab a rag for him. She mutters to herself before shaking her head, beginning to sound like more of herself, “At least, space it out.” As she hands him a rag.
Cassandra mumbles “… already … … … … at home…”, to Cassandra.
Lanisen looks even more lost. He stares at her, and at his ale, and gives Colin a helpless look.
Lanisen mumbles “What did I do?”, to Colin.
Lanisen mumbles “What … … …”, to Colin.
Colin gives Lanisen a confused glance and replies quietly.
Colin mumbles “I have no idea….”, to Lanisen.
Colin mumbles “… … no idea….”, to Lanisen.
Cassandra gives them both a look, “You both need to learn to whisper better.” Her old self is in full swing. “Just slow down in drinking your ale, will you?”
Lanisen pulls into himself, on uncertain ground here. “I’m sorry.”
Colin looks somewhat chastised himself but he doesn’t back down. He laughs a little in an attempt to bring some ease to the tension. “Perhaps next time not shouting it while a man is drinking would be wise, inhaling a mouthful of ale is quite an unpleasant experience.”
Cassandra responds with, “It is also unpleasant experience to be around such a person who inhales his ale.” She walks back to where she dropped the broom. “I need to go to the store room.” And with that, she disappears into the back.
Colin’s grin fades as his attempts fall completely flat. He releases a sigh and runs a hand through his hair.
Lanisen doesn’t touch his ale again.
Colin pushes his away. “Let’s head back to the lodge…”
Lanisen nods acquiescence and slides off his seat mutely.
Colin retrieves his pack and cloak as they head out the door in silence.
The wood plank walls of the inn room are neatly whitewashed, and the floor
between the door and bed is covered in a tidy rug. The low bed is wide
enough for two people to sleep comfortably, if need be. Opposite the door
there is a window with a low table, upon which is a bowl, and a pitcher of
A single door leads out into the hallway.
Lanisen, once they reach their room in the inn, drops onto his bed without even bothering to take off his coat.
Colin sets his things down and drops to his bed, sitting there with his elbows on his knees for a long time.
Lanisen lies staring at the ceiling, one knee up. He is silent for a long time, massaging his hurt shoulder, then heaves a sigh and rolls onto his side.