You stand in a clearing nestled close to the mountains and surrounded by
thick brush and tangle. Scattered around the clearing in the shade of the
mountain are several stone houses with carefully-thatched roofs. They
are a fair size, though most consist of only one room, but they look snug
and dry. Most are lit brightly as their occupants go about their daily
routines, but some are dark and look like they might have been abandoned.
Cassandra is outside in the back, beating an old rug. Langin is sitting in the shade, sipping some ale. He mutters to the girl, “I don’t think you are hitting it that hard, Cassie.”
Lanisen slips around the corner of the house from the front, not quite sneaking, but certainly hoping not to be heard. He stops just on the edge of what might be called the back yard, nervous and hesitant, not announcing himself.
Cassandra glares at her father and begins to hit the rug harder, “That hard enough for you, Dad?” Langin grunts, “I don’t need your sass, girl.”
Lanisen moistens his lips. He takes a deep breath and steps toward his father, clearing his throat.
Cassandra stiffens as Lanisen emerges, freezing in her rug hitting. Langin startles a bit as he hears a noise close to him, “Whose there?”
Lanisen’s eyes dart to Cassandra, and he looks for a second like he’s just realizing he’s made a terrible mistake. He rallies and straightens, then says softly, in a controlled voice that only shakes a little, “Sorry, it’s– it’s Lanisen, Dad.”
Cassandra slips behind the rug, hidden but still able to hear things. The man stiffens, turning his head away, “What do you want?”
Lanisen takes another deep breath, lacing his fingers tightly together. “I, um. I wondered if–if I might talk to you, sir.”
Langin shifts in his stool, crossing his arm. He turns his head to look in Lanisen’s direction, his sightless eyes trying to pinpoint Lanisen’s face, “Fine. Talk.” His voice isn’t inviting whatsoever.
Lanisen swallows, glancing again in Cassandra’s direction and shifting his weight. “I…” He falters, then starts again. “I wanted to say I’m… I’m sorry for everything– for all the ways my actions have hurt this family.” There is a deliberate, careful quality to his words that suggests they were chosen a long time ago. “I wasn’t thinkin’ about anybody but myself, back then, and– and I know I caused a lot of harm, and… I want to… if I can make it right somehow?”
Langin lets out a dry laugh, “You want to make it right, boy?”
Lanisen stiffens at the term, but he swallows and bows his head. “Yes, sir.”
Langin stands to his feet, looming toward Lanisen, “Then leave and never show your face around here again. I’ll have you arrested the next time I hear you.” His voice goes low, “And stay away from my daughter. I don’t want you corrupting her, traitor.”
Lanisen flinches back minutely, but he stands his ground as Langin speaks. He looks down at the ground and nods a little once his father has finished, his jaw clenched tight and his face going through the small contortions that mean pain. “I’ll leave,” he says unsteadily. “I’m sorry.” He turns to do so, but stops a few steps away. “I’m–I’m not a traitor, not anymore. The king, he’s– I’ve been pardoned.”
Langin laughs harshly, “So you are a liar, now?” At this, Cassandra comes out from behind the rug, brandishing her rug beater, “Dad, he is telling the truth. He is a squire for Sir Colin, a knight of Anvard.”
Lanisen shakes his head at her, giving her a pleading, warning look, too late. He looks back at their father for his reaction, hope and dread all mixed up in his expression.
Langin turns to Cassandra, “Stay out of this, Cassie. This is between Lanisen and me.” Unfortunately for both men, Cassandra is Cassandra, “No, this is between all of us. I am /sick/ of how you are treating Lanisen! He is a good brother and a good son!”
Lanisen says, “Cass, please don’t, please stop–”
Langin growls, “Hush, Cassandra.” The girl’s eyes narrow and she yells, “I’m done with this family!” With that, she throws the rug beater on the ground, picks her skirt and runs as fast as she can towards the woods.
Lanisen’s face goes slack with horrified guilt. He brings his hands up slowly to cover his face for a moment. “Oh, lion…”
Langin obviously doesn’t see Lanisen’s reaction nor utter a word for a long time. He slowly turns to Lanisen, his voice hard though there might be a slight tremble, “I wish you had been killed by the king.” He fumbles for his walking stick, “Get.off.my.land.”
Lanisen is too stunned to react. He stares at his father blankly as if he’s not sure what he heard.
Since Lanisen is quiet and thinking that he left, Langin lets out a breath, rubbing his mouth, “What have I done…” He slowly makes his way into the house, slamming the door behind him.
Lanisen doesn’t move for a long time. His eyes are unfocused. At last, he sways a little where he stands and seems to remember himself. He blinks several times and walks woodenly back the way he came.
You stand on a ridge coming down from the mountains, trees and forests grow
thick around you there is a rutted path seeming to start here, leading both
east and west. Along the trail to the east it seems a bit more traveled and
wider, to the west it narrows and winds deeper into the trees. Trees press in
tight and underbrush grows thick.
You can go east or west along the path.
Lanisen has followed the trail to the very foot of the mountains, as far north as it is possible to go without leaving Archenland altogether. He is not on the trail, but several yards away from it, partially hidden by the underbrush where he sits. He is hunched over his updrawn knees, his head tucked down and his hands clasped over the back of his neck, gasping with ragged, hollow sobs.
Cassandra comes crashing through the brush, muttering to herself. As she stumbles for the umpteenth time, she falls to the ground and lets loose a string of curses, mostly likely picked up from the tavern patrons.
Lanisen’s head snaps up and he goes abruptly silent, staring toward the road with redrimmed eyes. He sets his jaw and quickly, silently scrambles away, tucking himself into a better hiding place and covering his mouth to stifle the sound of his unsteady breathing.
Cassandra picks up herself up, dusting off her dress. She looks around, throwing her hands up in the air, “Great, now I’m lost. Nice going, Cassandra. You’re real /clever/.” She kicks at the nearest thing which happens to be a rock.
Lanisen’s face crumples at this, but he tries to pull himself together for her sake. He wipes his face dry, takes and releases several deep, shuddering breaths–but his eyes are still streaming, and his face twists as the attempt collapses. He shakes his head from side to side, begging anybody who might possibly be listening in a broken, unvoiced whisper that wouldn’t carry two feet, “Please, I can’t I can’t I can’t…”
Cassandra freezes as she hears a noise but is unable to see anything in the twilight, “Who’s there?” She grabs the nearest weapon which happens to be the rock she kicked, “I’m not afraid of you so you better come out.”
Lanisen’s jaw clenches again. He stares straight ahead, focusing fiercely, and gives himself a count of three. “It’s Lanisen,” he says, loud enough to reach her. “It’s all right. Just follow the path, it goes straight back to town.” His voice is admirably level.
Cassandra blinks, dropping the rock. “Lanny?” Her voice is quiet. “You…you alright?”
Lanisen takes a second to answer. “I’m all right,” he answers, his voice still carefully controlled. “Go on, it’s gettin’ dark. Just stay on the path, you’re fine.”
Cassandra places a hand on her hips, “Not without you.”
Lanisen says, “I’ll be along here presently. Please just go.”
Cassandra shakes her head, “No. I’m tired of people just shooing me away.” She looks around, and upon finding a nice boulder, she plops down on it with a face of ‘try and move me.’
Lanisen goes silent, still tucked away out of sight in the underbrush.
Cassandra beings to pick at her nails, looking like she could sit here all night. However, as the night noises start, she jumps a bit, clutching her arms around her and looking a bit nervously into the night.
Lanisen pulls a trembling breath and begs, far less controlled, “Please go, I promise I won’t be long.”
Cassandra glares in the direction that the voice is coming from, “The last time you told me that, it was hours and my perfectly good Walnut muffins got cold.”
Lanisen says nothing to this. He pulls his knees up.
After awhile, “I hate him.”
Lanisen’s face crumples. He bows his head, breathing very carefully.
Cassandra goes quiet as well, bobbing her foot up and down. She will look around every so often, generally if there is a snap or a odd noise.
Lanisen tucks his head into the shelter of his arms again, and if his sobs are silent this time, they are no less forceful.
If Cassandra hears the sobs, she doesn’t make any indication. She still just sits there, allowing Lanisen all the times he needs.
Lanisen doesn’t look to be winding up anytime soon. He makes absolutely no sound.
Cassandra stands up and fumbles her way into the darkness, muttering to herself as she gets hit with various branches and twigs. Finally finding her target, she kneels down next to her brother and embraces him in a hug.
Lanisen pleads stuffily as she approaches, “No no no, please go, please go–” He hunches away from her embrace, still trying to contain it all himself—and then all at once gives up. He sobs out loud, the horrible ugly sound of somebody who doesn’t really know how to cry.
Cassandra just hugs him, stroking his arm sisterly.
Lanisen cries for a long time, shaking like he’s been caught in the coldest part of winter, but at last it runs its course. His breathing begins to settle and he begins to try to put himself back to rights.
Cassandra looks around for something to give him but all she has is her apron that she was still wearing from work. She takes it off and hands it to him.
Lanisen shakes his head, already having made good use of his sleeves. “‘S all right,” he mumbles.
Cassandra shrugs. “Okay.”
Lanisen’s face, what little of it can be seen in the darkness, is tired and dull. He sniffs, then abruptly gets to his feet.
Cassandra gets knocked back from the movement. She looks up at him with an slightly annoyed expression as she stands up, wiping her hands on her dress.
Lanisen mumbles, abashed, “Sorry.” He offers her his arm without looking directly at her.
Cassandra grabs his arm more out of curtsey than because she actually needs help. “What are you thinking?”
Lanisen says, “Tryin’ not to.” He rubs his other hand wearily over his face, his forehead knitting. “C’mon, let’s get back.”
Cassandra doesn’t say anything as she lets him led her back.
Lanisen moves sluggishly, exhausted. His limp is worse than usual, and he stumbles occasionally.
You stand along a wide trail that connects Carmichael proper to the north
with the settlement area to the west. The sun beats down on you from far
overhead and the wind rustles the bushes. A trail runs east into the
Lanisen stops where the path to the settlement branches off from the main road.
Though she acts nonchalant, Cassandra seems to have her grip tight on his arm as if she is trying to help him not stumble.
Lanisen mumbles, his head ducked, “Thanks.” He seems ashamed, and horribly tired.
Cassandra shrugs, “No thanks needed.” She eyes him, “You going to go get some rest?”
Lanisen nods wordlessly.
Cassandra nods once, “Good.”
Lanisen’s gaze drifts down the path toward their parents’ house for a moment, then he looks away. “See you ’round.”
Cassandra says, “I better.”
Lanisen nods vaguely. He turns away and continues up the road to the town square, weaving a little as he walks.
Cassandra waits from him to get far away and then follows him to make sure he goes straight to the room.
Lanisen pauses outside the inn and looks up at the window of his room to make sure it’s dark, then vanishes inside.
Cassandra lingers outside for a bit, looking a mixture of half angry and worried. She then makes her way home.