You stand in the entrance of the Lancelyn Green stables. Every so often you hear a neigh or whinny from one of the stable residents. Rows of stalls line the path ahead. Some are empty, others are occupied by horses. At the far northern end after a second row of stalls is a large door open to the paddocks. In the middle of the stalls is an area where stable hands attend to the grooming and shoeing needs of the horses. To the right of this area is a ladder leading up to the loft. To the east is a door leading to the Feeding Area and to the west is a door to the Tack Room.
A bucket and fresh hay are provided in each stall for the horse. There is a soft crunch as you walk across the hard packed dirt floor scattered with hay. A young man with coppery hair and bright green eyes is preparing a nearby stall for a new resident. This looks like a fine place to keep your horse.
Colin dismounts outside the stable and leads Coalblack inside.
Lanisen is sitting inside the stable on a haybale, watching the road. There is a ball in his left hand, which he is alternately squeezing and tossing up and down, working absently on strength and dexterity while he waits. When Colin comes into view, he pockets the ball and stands slowly.
Colin speaks with one of the stable hands who takes Coalblack after Colin pulls his supplies from the horse’s saddle. As he turns, his eyes fall on Lanisen and he just stands there a minute, his eyes looking him over.
Lanisen bows and straightens again. His eyes dart from Colin to the door to the floor to Colin again, but he is otherwise still. He looks torn between guilt and defiance.
Only weariness shows on Colin’s face, which is otherwise void of emotion. “I’m alone.”
Lanisen’s eyes flit to the door, and he nods.
Colin shoulders his pack and has his bedroll and a sack under his arm. “I brought extra supplies…” He looks Lanisen over again. “You all right?”
Lanisen says, “Yeah, I’m– we’re both fine.” He pauses, darts another apprehensive look at Colin’s face. “Um– Cassie’s caught cold but it’s nothin’ too awful.”
Colin just nods. “Where is she? Did you leave her in Carmichael?”
Lanisen says, “No, no. She’s at the camp, she was sleepin’, I didn’t want to miss you if you were comin’ so I–”
Colin says, “All right.” He pauses, watching Lanisen. “Ready to take me to her?”
Lanisen swallows and shifts, his breathing beginnng to quicken with anxiety. He starts several times to speak, and finally manages to ask, “What… do you mean to do with her, sir?”
Colin watches Lanisen. “I mean to speak to her.”
Lanisen takes a deep breath, and another. He shuts his eyes and nods. “You– before– I need to tell you–”
Colin shifts his bundle to his other arm and he nods. “All right.”
Lanisen tries to find the right words, then exhales and gives it up. “She’ll– it’s, it’s all a mess but there’s things that– are important, that I dunno if she’ll think are important.” He works both his hands, rubs his palms on his shirt, and turns without any more explanation toward the door.
Colin gives Lanisen a confused look. “What do you mean?” He moves to follow him.
Lanisen shakes his head and steps onto the path to leave town.
In the Archenland Forest
A mountain forest surrounds you on every side. Gazing over the trees to the north and south, you see the snowcaps rising, though you can still continue a bit further before the foothills impede your progress. The wide valley you stand in runs east and west between them, a gently rolling, hilly place, covered mostly with grass and the rare flower.
Lanisen walks in silence with Colin for some time. A little ways into the forest, he slows and stops. “Wait here?” he asks.
Colin sets his pack and bundles under the tree, just nodding in silence.
Lanisen disappears into the trees, heading toward where he left Cassandra.
Cassandra is at the campsite, packing up the meager belongings the two have. Her moves are automatic and her face is devoid of all emotion.
Lanisen is hardy silent as he moves through the brush, and the uneven sound of his steps identifies him long before he says, “Cassie?”
Cassandra looks up at him, “Where were you?”
Lanisen says, “I went into the town, wanted to check if Colin’s been through.” He pauses, apprehensive. “He’s here.”
Cassandra freezes, terror briefly crossing through her expression before going blank. “‘lright.”
Lanisen says, pleading, “It’s okay, it’s okay, he’s alone, he didn’t bring anybody. Just like you said, just like you wanted.”
Cassandra nods once, “‘kay.” She waits for him to lead her.
Lanisen asks, “Can I get him, bring him here?”
Cassandra shrugs, “Whatever he wants.”
Lanisen hesitates anxiously, watching her.
Colin waits patiently under the tree, his eyes darting through the forest at every movement.
Cassandra just waits for Lanisen to make a move.
Lanisen finally turns away. He returns to where Colin is waiting, and tips his head toward the campsite, invisible through the trees. “She’s this way.”
Colin grabs his bundle and follows him, remaining silent.
Lanisen leads him back to Cassandra. His shoulders are hunched, and he doesn’t look at either of them.
Cassandra waits for the two men to come back. Her eyes flick up as they approach, displaying emptyiness. Her face still has lingering bruises and she goes to pull on her non exist braid before just jamming her hands in her pockets. She curtsies.
Colin sets his gear down, his eyes flicking over her and taking in her appearance. “You all right, Cass?” he finally asks, his voice quiet.
Cassandra begins to cough, ignoring the question, “I’m turning myself into you, sir.” She yanks her dagger out of her sheath and tosses it him. It lands in front of Colin’s feet, blade sunk into the ground.
Lanisen hovers behind Colin, silent and watchful. He tenses up at the dagger-toss.
Colin watches the dagger land. He rubs the back of his neck and crouches down to undo one of his bundles, rolling out a blanket and tossing it towards her. He opens the other bundle to reveal food. “Have you both eaten?” He asks.
Cassandra blinks at this, standing still.
Lanisen doesn’t answer. He looks at Cassandra.
Colin pulls out a skin. “Ara sent broth, meat, bread, cheese. There’s also some tea. Let’s heat a meal and talk, all right? It’s going to be late before we know it.”
Cassandra nods once, “Yes, sir.” Her voice is toneless and flat. She moves out of the way, allowing Colin to decide if he wants to cook his own meal or not.
Lanisen wordlessly goes to his own pack and adds their stores to the food: late apples and dried fruit, a loaf of bread and a small block of cheese from the morning market.
Colin pulls other gear from his pack and begins to heat the broth in a small pot. Slicing the bread and cheese, he puts a slice of cheese between two slices of bread and toasts them in a small pan, one at a time with a bit of the salted meat heating beside it. When the cheese is melted and bread warm, he hands the first to Cass with a mug of steaming broth and the next goes to Lanisen before he prepares his own.
Cassandra thanks him for the food though it doesn’t get eaten. She remains standing, watching him.
Lanisen also doesn’t eat, though he does what he can to help Colin prepare the meal. He finally sits, white-faced and anxious, darting looks at each of them.
Colin looks at her. “Cass…eat while it’s warm. Please. Lanny, you too.”
Cassandra sits down, eating the food but doesn’t seem to be quite enjoying it.
Colin looks satisfied that she’s eating and he goes into the trees to bring a bit more wood. He stokes up the fire and adds to it before he starts in on his own meal. He eats in silence for a bit before he finally says, “Cass…”
Cassandra sets the bowl down and just waits.
Colin says quietly, “Tell me what happened?” He just holds the mug of broth in his hands, turning it around and around as if he doesn’t know what to do with it.”
Cassandra nods once. When she begins, her tone is still flat though she does manage to look into Colin’s eyes. “Two months ago, I found a note in my room saying that Lanisen would be safe if I joined the accomplice. I had to impress them by stealing from Vinri. I decided to frame Maire as well because she was there at the time.”
Lanisen takes a few distracted sips of broth, but forgets about it a moment later.
Colin’s eyebrows climb a bit higher. He nods wordlessly.
Cassandra says, “When Vinri did not report the crime, they got impatient, told me they weren’t impressed. I couldn’t let them get away so…” She pauses briefly before just stating, “I thought poisoning the King’s nephew and framing Maire for it would show them that I meant business.” ”
Colin’s eyes drop and he looks at the mug in his hands. “Go on.”
Cassandra says, “And it worked. I was in. They asked me to pass letters to Darius so I did. I had to get them to trust me so I could eventually meet up with them and kill them. But then Darius insulted me and I lost my temper. I knocked out the guard, tried to kill him.” She turns slightly away, her eyes slightly darker, “When I awoken from unconscious with him gone, I ran.”
Colin closes his eyes briefly before he looks at her, searching her face. “What poison was used?”
Cassandra meets his gaze before glancing down, “Foxglove taken from Kairyn’s unlocked drawer. For what it was worth, I only used enough to make you sick, not kill you.”
Colin is quiet a long time. The mug just keeps turning in his hands. Eventually he sets it aside and moves to stoke the fire, adding another log. “Who is the accomplice?”
Cassandra looks down at her hands, “I don’t know. I had requested to meet up before I left. Never got a response back.”
Colin runs a hand through his hair and absently adds one more log before sitting back. “Why didn’t you tell me?”
Cassandra looks back up at him, “You were in Narnia, Sir.”
Colin returns her look. “I came back from Narnia… you were supposed to send me word if anything happened.” He looks very unhappy for a moment and he shakes his head, rubbing his eyes. “There’s nothing to be done about it now.”
Cassandra nods once, looking at her hands.
Colin sighs. “And Darius…g’lion. Cass…” He starts to say something, then he stops, then starts again, unsure of how to continue.
Cassandra just waits.
Colin sets his mug near the fire to warm it a little, watching the dancing flames. “I’m sorry.” He finally says to her.
Cassandra jerks her face up at this, her voice sounding startled, “What?”
Colin repeats himself, his eyes flicking to her face. “I’m sorry. I encouraged your anger towards him and that was far more damaging than I could have imagined. It was wrong of me to use you so.”
Cassandra blinks before shaking her head, “That’s life, sir. I knew what I was getting into.”
Colin makes a skeptical noise. Running a hand through his hair, he begins to ask more questions. “Do you have any of the letters from the accomplice? How did they get them to you? Were they all left in your room?”
Cassandra shakes her head, “I burned them, though I made notes of them and hid them in a castle’s storeroom. The first letter was in my room which meant she could get to me and Lanisen. We then had a drop off point on the beach.”
Colin nods, frowning as he listens.
Cassandra shrugs, “It’s all for naught, now.”
Colin is silent as he thinks.
Cassandra just stares at her hands, waiting.
Lanisen keeps quiet. He’s still holding the mug of broth in his hands, but it has gone cold by now.
Colin asks her, “Do you have any other proof that this person communicated with you?”
Cassandra shakes her head, “The only other person who knows would be Darius.”
Colin says, “He already told Peridan you delivered letters to him… we’ll see how he responds when asked further.”
Cassandra is quiet yet again.
Colin runs a hand through his hair once more as he thinks. “Well… we’ll head home tomorrow. I’ll fight for you, Cass, and do everything I can to keep you out of the dungeons and under my supervision.” He pauses, stirring the fire absently. “Don’t betray me again.” He instructs with a quiet, sober voice.
Cassandra closes her eyes as he begins to speak. However, when he finishes, her eyes open and her mouth drops in shock. She is unable to speak.
Lanisen’s eyes shift anxiously to Cassandra at this.
Colin thinks out loud. “Likely you will spend some time locked up while I bring this before the council and my uncle. I will try to get them to agree to me being in charge of you. We will discuss restitution for Maire, as well as what kind of work you will be doing. You will work hard, Cass, but you will be under my protection if I have any say.” He looks at her with a shrewd expression.
Cassandra is finally able to form words, “But why?”
Colin’s eyes meet hers. “Why? Do you think that I care for you so little that betraying me would make a difference? I’m not giving up on you. /Either/ of you.”
Cassandra doesn’t seem to be understanding this. She just ducks her head.
Lanisen glances at Colin at this, but he too ducks his head, drawing into himself. He looks back at Cassandra, anxious.
Colin says “Are you agreeable to this arrangement, Cass?”
Cassandra just stares at him, still looking very confused, “Yes sir.”
Colin moves to his pile and begins to unroll his bedroll. “Will you still be here in the morning?”
Cassandra nods, “Yes, sir.”
Colin nods. “All right. I’m going to go back into Lancelyn Green and get us a few more supplies.” He looks at Lanisen. “Stay with her, All right?”
Lanisen says, “Yes, sir.”
Cassandra’s eyes flick to Colin before she rakes her hair.
Colin secures his cloak, grabs his money pouch to secure on his belt, and moves through the trees, glancing back over his shoulder.
Lanisen stays where he is, fidgeting with a pine-cone he picked up who knows where, and tries not to watch Colin leave.
Cassandra just still looks in shock.
Lanisen sneaks a glance at her after a moment, but doesn’t break the silence.
Cassandra glances at Lanisen, her mouth slightly agape, “What is going on?”
Lanisen lifts his shoulders slightly in answer. He doesn’t look terribly surprised, but he does look relieved.
Cassandra just rubs her shoulders, looking bewildered.
Lanisen asks after a while, “You all right?”
Cassandra just shakes her head.
Lanisen goes quiet again. He sets the mug of broth aside and loops his arms around his knees.
Cassandra is more talking to herself, “Why is he doing this? I don’t understand.”
Lanisen doesn’t answer.
Cassandra begins to play with her nails, “Is it a trick?”
Lanisen says, “No.”
Cassandra just goes quiet.
Lanisen keeps his silence. He shuts his eyes, absently rubbing his temple.
Colin eventually returns, walking through the forest. As the light is rapidly fading, he is carrying a lit lantern and another bundle of supplies.
Cassandra gets a slightly hunted look as she hears the noise before taking a breath.
Lanisen drops his hand and opens his eyes.
Colin calls out as he approaches. “It’s just me.”
Cassandra settles down a bit, still watching him with a pensive expression.
Colin tosses the bundle on his pile. “More food. Help yourselves.”
Lanisen watches, but doesn’t move or answer. The blank expression on his face is not sullen, just tired.
Cassandra thanks him but doesn’t move to get the food.
Colin sighs, preparing his bedroll. “Why so glum, Lanny?” He asks pointedly.
Lanisen shifts and blinks a few times, focusing. “Sir?”
Colin asks, “You all right?”
Cassandra remains quiet not looking at either one of them.
Lanisen rubs his eyes. “‘Mfine, sorry.”
Colin says, “If you say so. Arael said to tell you both she can’t wait to see us all come home.”
Cassandra’s eyes flick again, that confused expression on her face.
Lanisen nods distantly. He scoots back to lean against a tree.
Colin lets the silence fall.
Cassandra begins one of her coughing fits to break the silence.
Colin moves to stoke up the fire. “I have more blankets.” He begins to boil some water to make some tea.
Lanisen focuses on the blankets in question with an effort. He gets up and goes to unpack them, carrying a particularly heavy one toward Cassandra’s area.
Cassandra rises. “It’s fine. I’m fine.”
Colin brings her a mug of tea. “We’re going to fix that cough. Bundle up.”
There is a brief moment of panic as he approaches though Cass doesn’t fight him. She accepts the tea, sniffing it, before taking a sip.
Lanisen dumps it on top of her bedroll and twitches out the corners to let it lay on top. This done, he stands for a moment, looking lost, as if he forgot what he was doing, then picks his way back over to his tree.
After passing the mug to Cass, Colin takes one of the extra blankets and makes sure it ends up on Lanisen’s pile of stuff. He finishes his mothering for the moment and stretches out on his bedroll, laying on his stomach to stare into the flames of the fire.
Cassandra curls up with her tea and the blankets. She keeps Colin in her line of vision.
Lanisen is having difficulty keeping his eyes open, but every time he starts to doze off he shifts position, blinks hard, and refocuses, checking Cassandra and the fire.
Colin looks at Cass from across the fire. Eventually he speaks up, his voice low. “It’s going to be all right, Cassie. We’re gonna get you home and get this sorted.”
Cassandra nods wordlessly. She still doesn’t quite take her eyes off of him.
Lanisen’s head drops to his chest.
Colin continues watching her in silence.
Cassandra looks away from him, taking a sip of her tea.
Colin says, “Get some sleep when you can.”
Cassandra nods again, settling down. She doesn’t close her eyes though, instead just staring at the scattered stars.
Colin gets up occasionally to add wood to the fire to keep everyone warm.
Lanisen raises his head, unwilling to let himself check out. He pulls deep breaths of the chilly air, rubs his face, then gets to his feet, chafing his arms.
Colin glances over at Lanisen. “Get some sleep. I’ll take a watch.”
Lanisen pauses for a moment, exhausted and obstinate about it.
Cassandra tosses her blankets off, raising to her feet. She makes her way over to him, muttering.
Cassandra mumbles “I ain’t going anywhere.”, to Lanisen.
Cassandra mumbles “… ain’t … anywhere.”, to Lanisen.
Colin pulls back, letting Cass handle his stubborn squire.
Lanisen focuses on her face. He gives her a long, searching look, then exhales and goes to his bedroll.
Colin looks at Cass and gives her a little nod before he goes to sit by the fire again.
Cassandra turns on her heel and goes to her bedroll. She gathers up everything and plods it down beside Lanisen’s roll.
Lanisen crawls under his blankets and wraps them tightly around himself, turning so his back is to the fire’s warmth.
Cassandra settles herself, leaning her back against a tree.
Colin stays where he is long into the night, keeping the fire going.