grasping at straws

Abandoned House
Lanisen and Cassandra’s childhood home
Western Archenland

Cassandra is sitting along side of Lanton’s burial marker, her head in her hands.

Lanisen makes his way up the path to the house, his satchel over his shoulder. He slows and stops before he reaches the corner of the house, at an angle where he can see into the back. He watches her silently from this distance but seems hesitant to intrude.

Cassandra moves to where she is laying in her back and staring into the sky. She speaks, “Some family you have, Lanton.”

Lanisen can’t hear from where he is standing. He watches another moment, then lowers his head and turns away to enter the house.

Cassandra freezes at the sound of a door opening, shooting up. She looks ready to bolt.

Lanisen stays inside for some time.

Cassandra lets out a breath, laying back down, “Hearing things, Cassie. It is nothing.”

Lanisen leaves the house after a few minutes, shutting the door behind him. He pauses once he is around the corner of the house, looking back at Cassandra.

Cassandra pops up again as she hears the door. Her eyes widen in shock as she sees Lanisen.

Lanisen looks down and away. He lifts his shoulders in a shrug.

Cassandra watches him, waiting to see what he does.

Lanisen rubs his elbow. He looks back at her after a moment, just briefly, then begins hesitantly to cross the overgrown garden to join her.

Cassandra tenses but remains sitting. She watches him a bit uneasily.

Lanisen asks, gesturing at the ground near her, “Can I…?”

Cassandra sighs, “Why, Lanisen. Why are you here?”

Lanisen shrugs again.

Cassandra mutters, “I’m not worth it.”

Lanisen doesn’t respond. He glances at her again, then sits down gingerly and stretches his bad leg out in front of him.

Cassandra lays back down in the grass and closes her eyes. She crosses her arm across her eyes.

Lanisen watches her, then looks away. He pulls up a strand of dead grass and begins to fold the browning stem in neat one-inch sections.

Cassandra moves her arm a bit to peer at him with one eye.

Lanisen just sits there, playing aimlessly with the grass.

Cassandra breaks the silence, “You should go home.”

Lanisen doesn’t answer.

Cassandra snorts, going quiet once again.

Lanisen finally asks, “How’s your cough?”

Cassandra shrugs, answering him with one her coughs.

Lanisen lets out a breath. He gestures at the house after a moment. “Brought you some things.”

Cassandra doesn’t look at him, “Again, why?”

Lanisen says, “Why not?”

Cassandra finally pulls herself upright and stares at him, “Oh, I don’t know. Maybe because it is called aiding and abetting. Maybe cause I don’t deserve it.”

Lanisen stares right back, but doesn’t answer.

Cassandra stands to her feet, looking agitated. She kicks the nearest rock.

Lanisen shifts and tenses. He watches the rock tumble away, and looks back to her.

Cassandra doesn’t look at him, “What do you want?”

Lanisen takes a moment. “I want… for you to come home. I want you to be safe and well.”

Cassandra looks at him, “I can’t.”

Lanisen says nothing.

Cassandra turns away, staring off into the trees.

Lanisen looks down at his hands and at the folded piece of grass. “Why do you want to make my mistakes?”

Cassandra doesn’t turn back, “I don’t but I did.”

Lanisen asks, “You think you’re so far gone you can’t go back?”

Cassandra says, “Yes.”

Lanisen says, “Codswallop.”

Cassandra turns back to him, “What?”

Lanisen asks, “You think you’re the biggest threat this kingdom’s ever faced? You think there’s somethin’ special about you, you’re past savin’? Lion, Cass! Get over yourself!”

Cassandra blinks at this sudden burst of emotion.

Lanisen bows his head. “You could… you could do some good,” he says, quieter. “You could tell ’em what you know, what you seen, what the letters said, you could help ’em catch whoever it was that scared you. Or you could keep on with this, this… starvin’ yourself, hidin’ out, gettin’ yourself good and desperate. You /ain’t/ made my mistakes yet, Cass, but you’re on that road, you mark me.”

Cassandra sinks to the ground, clutching her head.

Lanisen says, pleading, “Come /home/, please, Cassie.”

Cassandra doesn’t answer.

Lanisen says nothing further. He looks away and twists the dead grass miserably in his fingers.

Cassandra looks up at him, looking a tad desperate, “Why…why don’t we run away? To Narnia…Or to those other islands.”

Lanisen looks at her. “‘Cause… we got a life here. We got friends, responsibilities. Your inn, that’s comin’.” He pauses. “There’s a little black kitten at the castle needs somebody to mouse for, I was gonna bring it to you.”

Cassandra shakes her head, trembling now. She places her hands over her ears.

Lanisen scoots closer to her and reaches out to gently take her hands in his, though he doesn’t say anything right away.

Cassandra lets him take it.

Lanisen says quietly after a moment, “There’s nothin’ you done you can’t come back from.”

Cassandra shakes her head, “I poisoned the only noble who would fight for me. I can’t….I can’t…”

Lanisen says, “I broke his nose.”

Cassandra looks up at him, “What?”

Lanisen lifts his shoulder. “You know how it’s crooked a little bit?”

Cassandra nods.

Lanisen says, “Yep.” He lets out a little breath through his nose. “We didn’t start out so good.”

Cassandra asks, “But did you almost kill him?”

Lanisen says, “He came closer to killin’ me.”

Cassandra’s eyes widen.

Lanisen tips his head back to show the long white scar under his chin.

Cassandra asks, “You got that from him?”

Lanisen says, “He didn’t mean to do it. I was fightin’.”

Cassandra rubs her face, looking more and more unsure.

Lanisen looks instantly remorseful, as if realizing this was maybe not the best story to tell right at this moment. “Point is, it’s– we got past that. He’ll understand, I know he will.”

Cassandra says quietly, “And if he doesn’t? What if he gives up? Everyone else does.”

Lanisen says, “Then–” He pauses, and looks down at the grass, accordion-folded in his hand. “We’ll figure somethin’ else out.”

Cassandra stands up and begins to pace.

Lanisen stays where he is and keeps quiet, giving her space.

Cassandra rakes her hair. “I want to speak with him.”

Lanisen nods.

Cassandra points, “Here. Just him and you. I want to hear it from him.”

Lanisen asks, “Here?”

Cassandra points to the house. “Right there.”

Lanisen says, shaking his head a little, “He’s got– he’s, there’s stuff in Anvard he’s got to see to, he’s– Ara’s there, and his family, he can’t just…”

Cassandra crosses her arms, “I can’t go back until I know for sure.”

Lanisen asks, “What is there for you here?”

Cassandra looks at him, dead in the eye, “A chance to escape.”

Lanisen exhales. “You wouldn’t get any farther here than you would there, if it came down to that,” he says wearily. “Winter’s on its way, the passes’ll be closin’.”

Cassandra gets that little stubborn look, “I can manage if it comes to that.”

Lanisen says nothing, but he gives her a disbelieving look.

Cassandra shakes her head.

Lanisen says, “There’s a pass out of Anvard too. And the port.”

Cassandra stares at him, “The closer I am to Anvard, the closer I am to the cells. I can dodge out here better.”

Lanisen says, “The closer you are to hot meals and an infirmary.”

Cassandra shakes her head again.

Lanisen breathes in, then releases it. “I’m not leavin’ you here.”

Cassandra gives him a look, “It’s called sending a letter.”

Lanisen looks at her, then nods. “You’ll stay? Until he gets here?”

Cassandra nods once, “I will, providing there are no tricks.”

Lanisen looks halfway annoyed. “You know you could beat me in a fight, most likely.”

Cassandra snorts, “Not you.”

Lanisen squints at her.

Cassandra sighs, “I meant, if he brings a whole mess of guards to come arrest me, then I’m leaving.”

Lanisen raises one wry eyebrow at this, but says nothing.

Cassandra meets his gaze, “I still don’t quite trust it.”

Lanisen lets out a small breath through his nose. “I’ll write the letter.”

Cassandra’s eyes narrow, “What are you going to say exactly?”

Lanisen shrugs. “Tell him I found you, where we’re at. I brought him here once, he’ll know where to come without me sayin’ exactly.”

Cassandra chews on her lip, looking unsure.

Lanisen says, “Ask him to come, tell him not to bring anybody else. You can read it and sign it before I send it, if you like.”

Cassandra nods, “I would like that.”

Lanisen says, “All right.” He takes a breath. “I been stayin’ at the inn. You mind if I camp out here, until…?”

Cassandra looks almost relieved but she turns to hide it by shrugging, “Only if you want.”

Lanisen relaxes, and his face breaks into a tired grin. “All right,” he says. “I’m gonna go into town, get my things, get some supplies.”

Cassandra nods, “Okay. I’ll…I’ll stay here.”

Lanisen asks, “You want anything from town?”

Cassandra shakes her head, “No.”

Lanisen says, “All right. I’ll be back soon.”

Cassandra nods, watching him leave. She makes her way into the house and begins to set it up for two people to live.

Lanisen follows the path back the way he came, limping quickly in the fading daylight.

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