There is a gray, dusty smell to this space. It is not large: five steps long and four steps wide with a low ceiling. The walls are built of irregular stone blocks, and there are empty shelves fixed to them at intervals. Sounds seem muffled, and there is a smothering, velvet quality to the darkness.
Lanisen is lying motionless on the floor with his face to the door. The bowl of water is empty, but he seems to have not been able to eat the bread.
Darius’s footsteps are quick as he enters the cottage. Moments later the trapdoor swings open and Darius makes his way down the ladder. Upon reaching the floor, he turns and sees his captive lying on the floor. “Thirsty one… aren’t you,” he mutters, eyes falling on the empty water bowl.
Lanisen’s eyes blink blearily open. He raises his head to look at Darius, then lowers it again and closes his eyes.
Darius looks the man over, grin forming rapidly. “And how are you doing, friend?”
Lanisen doesn’t respond. His breathing picks up slightly.
Darius crouches, putting his arms on his knees. “Nothin’, eh?” He grins. “That emptiness finally starting to settle in? ”
Lanisen tenses as Darius comes nearer. His face creases up, but he keeps his eyes tightly closed. There is a thin sheen of sweat on his forehead, and his skin is slightly flushed.
Darius eyes the man, clicking his tongue and shaking his head. “You don’t look so good,” he remarks, standing once more.
Lanisen makes no answer to this.
Darius watches him for a few more moments, the grin slowly fading and one of his fists balling up. “You really are the scum of the land, you know that?” His voice is dark and dripping with malice.
Lanisen’s breath shudders at the change in his captor’s tone. He opens his eyes, as if he can’t quite help it.
Darius’s fist begins to shake as a scowl twists his features. “You’re gonna rot in here! You know that?!” His eyes scream hatred and voice shakes with passion. “Emptiness and hopelessness will be your only compan–” His jaw clenches, cutting of whatever else he was going to say.
Lanisen flinches, squeezing his eyes shut again to try to give himself some distance. He breathes heavily.
Darius releases a breath, slowly easing up and muttering something to himself.
Darius mumbles “You deserve everything that is … … …”, to Darius.
Lanisen trembles. He doesn’t respond for a moment. “Why’re you– why’re you doin’ this?”
Darius’s face twists in disgust. “You really don’t know, do you?”
Lanisen swallows. He opens his eyes again, watching Darius.
Darius waves a hand at him and turns back to the ladder, beginning his climb back up.
Lanisen watches him ascend. He tugs at his bonds, the action as futile now as when he was first tied, then releases a shuddering breath and lets himself fall back.
Upstairs> Darrin sort of bursts through the door just after Megren does (and narrowly avoids getting smacked in the face with it), his lack of caution clearly the result of her lack of caution. He looks around – not wildly, exactly, but certainly with quick scanning movements, until he sees that they are alone. Then he draws in a breath through clenched teeth.
Upstairs> Megren looks lost for a moment, clearly not having expected the room to be so empty.
Upstairs> Darrin takes one look at the suspicious rug with more blood on it, and then he rakes his left hand through his hair violently and turns and grabs Megren by the shoulders. He avoids shaking her, but narrowly. “Do not EVER do that again, Squire,” he says in a dangerously low tone.
Upstairs> Megren’s gaze follow his, but she’s stopped before she can investigate further. She speaks with her eyes still on the rug. “With respect, Sir, perhaps this conversation can wait for another time?”
Upstairs> Darrin scowls, and doesn’t let go of her shoulders. “Listen to me. We don’t know if Aaron is acting alone. We don’t know if he has accomplices. We don’t KNOW what we may be walking into.” He grits his teeth and takes a breath and lets go her shoulder to grip her chin in his left hand. “You /cannot/ help Lanisen if you get yourself killed or injured, Megren. To rush in here like that is not only foolish and unprofessional, it is /beneath/ you, and beneath your training. I did not sign up to take on a fresh recruit of a squire, do you understand me? You are a guardswoman and a squire. Act like it.”
Upstairs> Megren closes her mouth abruptly and clasps her hands behind her back. She doesn’t pull away but she tilts her head a little, as his hand allows, in a kind of deferential way. “Instructions, then, please, Sir.”
Upstairs> Darrin lets her go. “It will be some time before the rest of the knights catch us up. Until then, we need to be doubly cautious. We need to watch each other’s backs. That means no sprinting off without me.”
Upstairs> Megren works her lips, simply nodding, her eyes impatiently on the rug.
Upstairs> Darrin continues to frown, particularly at the fact she’s not even looking at him, but he lets out a sigh and gestures at the rug. He kneels next to it to look it over himself.
Upstairs> Megren moves to kneel beside him. She takes an unsteady breath as her fingers brush dried blood, and, perhaps despite better judgement given the lecture she’s just received, pushes the rug aside without asking.
Upstairs> Darrin’s hand goes to his sword when this reveals a trap door in the floor. He looks up at Megren. “All right,” he says, his tone more calm than he probably feels. “You open it, and I’ll get ready to drop in, and then you follow.”
Upstairs> Megren nods, meeting his eyes again as she takes a preparatory breath and then opens the door.
Upstairs> Darrin draws his sword and descends.
Lanisen is still, laying half-curled on his side, facing the ladder. His hands are behind his back, and his eyes are closed. There is blood matted into his hair at his right temple, streaked and smeared across his forehead. His face is dirty and flushed and gleams with sweat. Next to him is a bowl that seems to have held water, but is now empty, and a stale hunk of uneaten bread next to that.
Megren drops down after Sir Darrin.
Darrin descends cautiously, right hand holding up the lantern he lit before they descended, left gripping his sword. It only takes him a moment to catch sight of Lanisen, and he casts one quick glance about the cellar to be sure they are alone, and then he’s moving swiftly to Lanisen’s and sheathing his sword as he does so. He swears again when he kneels next to Lanisen and has a better view of the matted blood and Lanisen’s flushed skin.
Megren follows as quickly after him as his pacing will allow, leaving the trapdoor open above them to allow better warning and easier escape if anyone approaches, either from inside, or from within the cellar. Her breath catches audibly in her throat as she sees the other squire, and she is already pulling her water flask from her hip as she starts to kneel at the other side of him.
Megren mumbles “Please … … … /please/ … something.”, to Megren.
Lanisen is very thoroughly bound. His hands are tied behind his back at the wrists, and his legs at the ankles, and the two are fixed together by a short length of rope that prevents him from straightening his legs or relieving the strain on his shoulders. He begins to rouse, shifting in discomfort from the light.
Darrin opens the pouch at his waist and draws a small dagger from it (more of a letter opener really), which he uses to cut the ropes on Lanisen’s wrists and ankles. “It’s all right, Lanisen,” he says soothingly, when the other man starts to rouse. “You’re all right now. Help is here.”
Megren wets her handkerchief and then hands the skin to the knight. “Help him drink,” she says, already dabbing on the head wound gingerly to see how bad it is.
Lanisen’s eyes begin to blink open, squinting from the light. He seems to be having trouble focusing.
Megren eases his head onto her thigh as gently as possible, cupping his chin in an attempt to help him focus, and hopefully to help him swallow once Sir Darrin has the waterskin ready for him. “Hi. Hey. It’s– hey. We’re here. I’m sorry, I’m so sorry.”
Darrin drops the dagger to the ground instead of putting it back so he can uncap the water skin more quickly. He holds it to Lanisen’s lips.
Lanisen’s breathing begins to quicken at the hand on his chin. When the waterskin touches his lips, he jerks his head away in panic.
Lanisen mumbles “No more, no no please no more–“, to Lanisen.
Lanisen mumbles “… … … no … … …”, to Lanisen.
Megren looks up at Sir Darrin sharply.
Darrin pulls back immediately and gets a small frown on his face. He touches Lanisen’s shoulder gently. “Lanisen, it’s all right, it’s Megren and Darrin, okay? You need to drink something. It’s just water, I promise.” The words get a little more desperate sounding as he goes on – clearly Darrin is hoping he can get through to Lanisen without actually forcing anything else on him.
Megren holds her hand out for the water. “Here. Check him for other injuries.”
Lanisen subsides as the waterskin is drawn away, though the hand on his shoulder makes him flinch. He blinks several times, struggling to focus. He stares at Darrin, confused, and rolls his head to look up at Megren.
Megren sucks in her lower lip, attempting a watery smile. Her handkerchief already bloody, she wets her sleeve to start cleaning his face. “Your hair looks terrible,” she chokes out.
Darrin hands the waterskin over wordlessly and starts looking Lanisen over for further wounds, doing as much of this as he can without actually touching Lanisen. He eyes Lanisen’s wrists and then digs around till he finds his own handkerchief, holding out his hand for the waterskin again.
Lanisen keeps a wondering, glassy-eyed stare on Megren, as if looking away will make her vanish. “Y’always say that,” he slurs in response.
Megren laughs with desperate relief. “I mean it,” she affirms. She sniffs with careful control. “Can you talk? Can I ask you some questions?”
Darrin sort of dabs at Lanisen’s rubbed raw wrists once he’s nabbed the waterskin from Megren and wetted his handkerchief. He makes a face at the general ineffectiveness of that treatment, and scans Lanisen’s body once more.
Darrin mumbles “… doesn’t seem … have … that’s broken, … least.”, to Megren.
Megren’s eyes flick up to the knight when he speaks to her, and she nods calculatingly.
Lanisen’s shoulders lift very slightly. “‘Try,” he rasps. He pulls his hands away from Darrin’s handkerchief, his eyes darting down to see what he is doing.
Megren gives up on cleaning his face, afraid to touch the bruising, cradling his head for now instead. “Where’s Aaron?”
Darrin stops touching Lanisen completely, and he looks up towards the door and rocks back on his heels till he’s squatting, looking antsy at the idea of staying put where they could be so easily trapped.
Lanisen’s throat works and he shifts, beginning to be agitated. “Just– was just, was here…” He tries to sit up.
Megren looks up again. “Sir–”
Darrin pushes himself to his feet. “Let me do a quick scan for him and make sure he’s not anywhere near. Then we need to get Lanisen out of here before he comes back.” He heads for the ladder.
Megren turns back to Lanisen as the knight gets up. “Where are you hurt?”
Lanisen mumbles, a hand on his stomach as he tries to sit up, “Where ain’t–” He takes a quick breath.
Darrin disappears through the trapdoor and is gone for a few minutes.
Megren places her hand behind his back, not stopping him from sitting up, but ready to catch him if he’s not actually able. “Can you ride, do you think?”
Lanisen doesn’t answer right away, just trying to breathe. His arms cross over his stomach. “Ride–”
Megren says, “If you hang on to me or Sir Darrin, maybe? We have to get you out of here.”
Lanisen swallows several times, then nods.
Megren picks up the water again. “Will you drink something? It’s mine. I promise it’s clean.”
Darrin drops back down, sliding down with his feet on the outsides of the ladder rather than stepping on the rungs like a normal person. His hand grips the hilt of his sword as he steps back over to Megren and Lanisen and crouches down. “I don’t see him, but I don’t really want to linger, either.”
Lanisen startles badly at Darrin’s entrance, scrambling back until he hits the wall.
Megren jumps up to follow after him, “It’s Sir Darrin, it’s Sir Darrin!”
Darrin moves his hand away from his sword and steps back from Lanisen in an effort to make himself look more nonthreatening. “Just Darrin, Lanisen,” he says gently. Then he shakes his head and mutters something to himself.
Darrin mumbles “… am … to … … man thrown in the deepest, … of … … for this.”, to Darrin.
Lanisen’s hands come up to the sides of his face. He nods several times and breathes out. “Sorry, ‘m sorry…”
Megren looks over her shoulder worriedly at the knight and slips her arms around the other squire to hug him, barely touching him in fear of exacerbating his injuries. “It’s fine. It’s Sir Darrin and me here, it’s just us, but we have to get out of here, all right? We’re going to get out of here, the three of us, together.”
Darrin moves forward again and says, with some emotion, “Don’t apologize, my friend.”
Lanisen nods again, shaking. He lets his forehead drop to rest on Megren’s shoulder for a moment.
Megren rests her chin against the back of his head.
Darrin drops a hand to Megren’s other shoulder and says nothing, though he does look over his shoulder and shift on his feet.
Lanisen pulls away finally and braces himself for a second before pushing himself to his feet. He staggers and puts his hand on the wall, hunched where he stands.
Megren rises when he does and lifts his arm to put it over her shoulders. She nods toward the steps to indicate that that is the direction they should take.
Darrin sort of…hovers behind them. He moves to Megren’s other side and glances at her face.
Darrin mumbles “… help him … … guard … …”, to Megren.
Megren nods to him.
Lanisen moves toward the steps, his breathing becoming wheezy with pain. His free arm curls around his stomach.
Darrin moves ahead of them so he can open the door.
Megren places one arm around his back and uses the other to brace the hand at his stomach. She starts moving at his pace, but stops abruptly. “This isn’t going to work,” she says. She hesitates, and then leans down and scoops his legs out from under him, carrying him like a parent might a sleepy, if very large, child.
Lanisen makes a wordless noise of surprise and protest. His head lolls to the side dizzily.
Darrin exits first and then stands to the side just outside the door.
Megren adjusts him, attempting both to make him more comfortable and a little more manageable, and then trudges heavily up the steps.
Lanisen breathes quickly, squeezing his eyes shut, but he keeps still and tries not to be a difficult burden. “I can–I can walk, Meg, you don’t, you don’t gotta–”
Megren gets him up the steps anyway. She lifts her chin at Sir Darrin as she eases Lanisen back down. “Can you get the horses?”
Lanisen hunches over again as his feet settle on the ground, favoring his stomach.
Megren pushes her mouth to the side.
Darrin nods and moves off, remembering to whistle for Nia as he does so. The hound perks up her ears and then bounds towards Lanisen as Darrin untethers Dragondawn and Swiftly and leads them back towards Lanisen and Megren.
Lanisen’s eyes go wide. “Nia?” he asks disbelievingly, reaching down to rub her ears as she finds him.
Megren scrubs her hand over mouth.
Darrin lets fall Dragondawn’s tether and the horse stays put where she’s left, which is more noticeable for the fact that Gambol would never in a million years have been so well-trained. He leads Swiftly a little nearer and makes to hold the rouncey steady. “Megren’s idea,” he tells Lanisen. “Thought she would help us find you.”
Lanisen’s face is covered in hound kisses, and when Nia drops back to four paws, his eyes are quite damp.
Megren says regretfully, “We have to go, we have to go.”
Lanisen nods, sniffing, and limps on toward the horses, keeping his free hand on Nia’s neck. “Where is this?”
Darrin suggest, “You mount first, Meg, and I’ll hand him up to you, sound good?”
Megren replies as she follows Sir Darrin’s instruction. “Um, it’s, we’re not too far from Lancelyn Green.”
Lanisen sways slightly as he is left standing alone. He rubs his eyes and curls his arm back around his stomach.
Darrin wraps one arm around Lanisen’s shoulders and guides him closer to Swiftly. “Can you get one foot in the stirrup, Lanisen?” he asks, glancing between Lanisen and the horse calculatingly.
Megren pulls her foot out of the stirrup to allow this.
Lanisen swallows, looking at the horse, and shuffles forward to make the attempt. He reaches upward to take hold of the saddle and winces, withdrawing his bad arm. It takes him three tries, but he gets his foot in the stirrup.
Darrin moves his arm off Lanisen’s shoulder and grips his hips with both hands, careful to avoid squeezing his stomach. He lifts Lanisen the rest of the way to the saddle.
Lanisen groans even so and is half-sobbing by the time he makes it up, hunching over the horse’s neck.
Megren grabs under Lanisen’s arm as soon as he gets high enough and helps lift him. She hands him the water. “See if you can drink it?” she asks as she resettles, taking the reins back up with one hand and putting the other around his waist to keep him steady.
Darrin’s lips thin and he mutters something to Lanisen, patting Lanisen’s thigh when he gets settled before going off to unclip Dragondawn’s lead, lift Nia into the bag she’s been occupying, and mount up himself.
Darrin mumbles “Forgive me.”, to Lanisen.
Darrin mumbles something incomprehensible to Lanisen.
Lanisen takes the water, though he doesn’t drink yet. He tries to settle his breathing and shakes his head slightly at Darrin, dismissive and apologetic in his turn.
Megren nods to Sir Darrin that she is ready when he is. She glances over her shoulder for Aaron.
Darrin rides with one hand on the hilt of his sword and the reins in his other, scanning the countryside warily.