stars and stoats and secret philosophies


Knights’ Practice Room
Castle Anvard


Megren steps away from a target, sword lowering. She wipes quite a sheen from her brow with the back of her arm, panting, and heads over to a bench, where she has laid aside a waterskin and a small towel.

Lanisen hesitates halfway through the doorway, assessing the people who are around and training, then slips through to join his friend. “Meg,” he calls quietly when he’s on that side of the room.

Megren looks up, already reaching for the towel. “Mm? Oh! Lanisen.” She mops at her face and then drapes it around her neck, looking a little surprised. “I hope you’re not looking for a spar, because I’ll lose just at this moment.”

Lanisen looks interested. “Is that the secret to beatin’ you?”

Megren drinks from her water and wipes her brow again. “I mean, one of them.”

Lanisen asks, “What are the other ones?”

Megren says, “Be better than me’s a good one.”
Megren says, “Almost never fails.”

Lanisen pushes his mouth to the side sulkily. His eyes shift to the target. “Are you done for the night?”

Megren asks, “Meant to be anyway, yeah. What’d you need?”

Lanisen says, “Nothin’, I just wondered if you fancied a walk. It’s cooled down real nice and the sky’s clearer than it’s been.”

Megren asks, “Sure, I’d be up for it. Around the castle, or?”

Lanisen says, “The pasture, or outside the gates, maybe?”

Megren asks, “Not too dark?”

Lanisen glances at her and shifts his weight. “It’s– it’s a good kind of dark, it’s all right.”

Megren agrees, “Okay. Might be a bit smelly, unless you don’t mind waiting for me to do a change.”

Lanisen says, “I’ll wait, if you want. There’s no rush.”

Megren looks waffly for a bit, and then hops on her toes and starts walking toward the door. “I’ll just be a minute.”

Lanisen says, “Meet you in the ward?”

Megren turns to walk backward and respond. “Sure, yeah, that’s good.”

Lanisen nods agreeably and follows her out, more slowly.


Outer Ward
Castle Anvard


Lanisen sits patiently on his crate outside the kennels, just outside the pool of lamplight from the window, a thick, heavy blanket folded up in his lap. He watches the guards on the walls while he waits.

Megren comes traipsing down the steps a little while later, in her town dress and noticeably cleaner, though she still carries her waterskin. “All right,” she announces breathlessly.

Lanisen gets to his feet. “D’you want to go to the pasture or out?” he asks.

Megren admits, “I’ve hardly been out since the festival. I don’t mind the pasture, though, if you prefer it.”

Lanisen pauses. “If… not, not down the road too far, tonight, maybe?”

Megren says, “Sure, yeah, of course.”

Lanisen nods. He lifts the blanket a little. “I figured we could find a good place to look at the stars, if you want. We ain’t been out since we read that book.”

Megren says, “Yeah? Yeah, good, all right. Hmmm.”
Megren taps her lip, thinking about the best place to go.

Lanisen leaves this to her, shifting the blanket into a tighter roll for easier carrying.

Megren says, “The hill outside the castle then? It’s not got too many trees and it’s not /real/ far off the road.”

Lanisen agrees, “Sure, if you like.” He squints up one eye. “I’m not very sure what hill you mean, you might have to lead.”


Lower Slopes of Stormness Head
Eastern Archenland


This is a wide meadow on the southern slopes of Stormness Head, littered with gray boulders that glitter with mica. It is open and grassy, shaped like a bowl, with small white mountain flowers sprinkled indiscriminately throughout. The dense pine forest that covers the mountainside higher up shelters the area from the worst of the north wind. The path passes through to the west, climbing into the trees, and descends to the east.

From this height most of Archenland can be seen. The town of Andale is a little distance to the east, and rich green forest extends for miles to the south, with the thin grey-gold line of the Calormene desert beyond. To the west are lower fields, golden with wheat, then forests again, very far away. The view of the base of the mountain is blocked by a low ridge that rises on the southwest side of the bowl.


Megren leads him out of the castle and then, when they’ve reached the road, she veers off to the north, over the ridge that rises before the mountain really gets properly going.

Lanisen follows, clutching the blanket. He’s properly out of breath by the time they reach the top.

Megren asks, “You okay?”

Lanisen announces, “I’m near to perishing.” He stands for a moment and puts his hands on his knees, then unfolds the blanket and starts spreading it out over the grass.

Megren wrinkles her nose. “Sorry.”

Lanisen gets the blanket reasonably straight and plops down on it, folding his legs under him. It’s a large, thick blanket, rough but not terribly scratchy, dense enough to provide a barrier between them and the dewy grass.

Megren immediately lies back on it, placing her hands behind her head.

Lanisen tilts his head back to look at the stars.

Megren says, “Almost see the Boundless.”

Lanisen asks, “The what, now?”

Megren glances at him, “The, the ship, I told you about it. It’s better in fall.” She points out the outline, near the horizon.

Lanisen asks, “That’s its name, the Boundless?”

Megren says, “Yeah, mhm.”

Lanisen asks, “Does it have a story with it?”

Megren screws up her face at him punishingly.

Lanisen says, “What, it wasn’t in the book!”

Megren says, “I /told/ you about it.”

Lanisen says, “You didn’t either.”

Megren flings her arm indiscriminately, letting the back of her hand thwap in him the chest. “Yes, I did. And you said ‘we gotta go somewhere in fall so we can see it real good’.”

Lanisen oomphs in surprised protest. “You didn’t, you said it was a constellation you knew, but you didn’t tell me any story!”

Megren blows out a skeptical breath.

Lanisen says, “You didn’t, though.”

Megren says, “Why would I tell you about it and not tell you the whole thing.”

Lanisen says, “I don’t have any idea.”

Megren says, “Exactly.”

Lanisen sulks.

Megren says, “Anyway, since you forgot, I’ll tell you again, if you like.”

Lanisen objects, “I /didn’t/ forget.”

Megren says, “Well, if you won’t admit to it, I shan’t tell you.”

Lanisen whines, “What.”

Megren lifts her shoulders, giving him a smug look.

Lanisen says, “You can pretend I forgot if you want.”

Megren says, “Only if you pretend and convince me.”

Lanisen says, in greatly overwrought tones, “This is a matter of /honor/.”

Megren says, “Indeed, you mean to besmirch mine as a storyteller.”

Lanisen insists, “You didn’t /tell/ it!”

Megren exclaims, “That’s exactly what you’re trying to insinuate, yes!”

Lanisen hmphs and shifts his legs out in front of him. “I don’t think I’m /insinuating/ anything!”

Megren says, “People will start saying I don’t tell stories.”

Lanisen says, “Well, I won’t tell. Unless you won’t tell it after all.”

Megren shoots him a look. “Such guile.”

Lanisen grins beatifically at her.

Megren says, “Some kind of friend.”

Lanisen says, “You love me.”

Megren says, “Only a little.”

Lanisen huffs indignantly.

Megren looks satisfied.

Lanisen wheedles, “Are you gonna tell the story or what?”

Megren says, “Oh, right, right, the story,” as if there were any chance she had forgotten.

Lanisen pulls up his knees and hugs them expectantly.

Megren replaces her hands behind her head. “It’s pretty short, really. The sailors were looking for the edge of the world, and they got there and sailed right off and landed in the sky. And now they keep trying to get back.”

Lanisen hmms softly. “That’s not very cheerful,” he remarks after a moment.

Megren sucks her teeth. “Well,” she says moderatingly. “They get back at the end of the world.”

Lanisen lifts his eyebrows briefly. “They’ve a long time to wait.”

Megren says, “Maybe.”

Lanisen glances at her.

Megren glances back at him. “I mean, I don’t know.”

Lanisen hmms again, studying the points of light that make up the Boundless. “I wonder if that could happen,” he says thoughtfully. “Just– fall out of the world one day.”

Megren says, “I dunno. My da made it up, I think. Part of it’s something different in the books.”

Lanisen doesn’t seem to think this matters much. “Do you think they’re in another world, tryin’ to get back, or– someplace in between, not in any world?”

Megren asks, “Da said they’re in the stars. Is that a world?”

Lanisen says, “I dunno. Maybe.”

Megren says, “Yeah.”

Lanisen goes peacefully quiet, his head tilted toward the sky. He sits back to prop himself on his hands.

Megren says, “What’s one you know, not in the book.”

Lanisen sits forward again, wincing slightly and stretching out his bad shoulder. “I don’t know any good ones like that,” he confesses.

Megren says, “A bad one, then.”

Lanisen says, “Um– there’s… those five, they look like a kettle?”

Megren asks, “Yeah?”

Lanisen says, “And… there’s a hammer, and– oh, oh, um.” He shifts and twists around to get his bearings. “Um… that line, there, there’s three, six, seven sort of curving?”

Megren turns her head to see it.

Lanisen says proudly, “That’s our stoat.”

Megren asks, “…Our stoat?”

Lanisen says, “Yep. There was, um, one year a stoat kept gettin’ in with the chickens, or that’s what mum figured, only there wasn’t ever any… mmm, they just disappeared. And nobody ever caught the stoat. So, that’s the stoat.”

Megren laughs. “I like that.'”

Lanisen admits, “That was Lanton, he came up with it. Mum came out, said ain’t you caught it yet, and he said we saw it but it went and disappeared over the west hill and she couldn’t figure out what the rest of us were laughin’ at.”

Megren laughs. “Your poor mum.”

Lanisen agrees, laughing, “She had her hands full.”

Megren asks, “What ever happened about the chickens?”

Lanisen squints. “I don’t remember. I think they just stopped disappearing and we left it at that.”

Megren says, “Hm.”

Lanisen says, “I dunno, I was… ten, maybe. It was all a big adventure for me.”

Megren says, “Probably did just go back to the sky.”

Lanisen agrees, “Prob’ly.”

Megren asks, “My favorite when I was ten was the Fork. It’s, you know the Hammer?”

Lanisen asks, already looking, “Yeah?”

Megren points out a part of the Hammer constellation. “Right there.”

Lanisen tips his head on one side. “Oh! I see it!”

Megren says, “That’s from when some giants were fighting about what jam to have on rye, and one of them got so frustrated he just threw it.”

Lanisen laughs out loud, swaying back where he sits. “And there it stuck.”

Megren says, “That’s right.”
Megren says, “Still my favorite, I guess.”

Lanisen says, “That’s a good one! Does the story say what they did put on their rye?”

Megren says, “Well they were fighting about blueberry or pear, but the end always changes. Sometimes they settle for eggs, or cranberry, or ham. Never blueberry or pear, though.”

Lanisen says approvingly, “Eggs.”

Megren says, “Or a pickled thing.”

Lanisen says, “No.”

Megren says, “Definitely yes.”

Lanisen says, “Oh! Did I tell you, I remembered something.”

Megren says, “What did you remember.”

Lanisen says, “You know Eston? He was talkin’ ages ago about this stuff he likes on pork pie, he said it’s made from onions but it’s sour and pickled. I never had it, but one of the carts had it the other day and it looked like the stuff that was in that jar. Do you think it was onions?’

Megren asks, “That the giants settled on?”

Lanisen says, “No, that you ate, you goose.”

Megren asks, “Ate when?”

Lanisen says, “That time, with the cubes. The pickled thing. You brought blackberries too. And ginger tea.”

Megren asks, “Oh, oh, oh. I was supposed to guess that?”

Lanisen says, “/I/ don’t know. Do you think it was, though?”

Megren says, “Maybe. Maybe, yeah. But, with other things, too.”

Lanisen hmms and wrinkles up his nose.

Megren says, “I dunno.”

Lanisen says very seriously, “I’m glad you didn’t die of it.”

Megren says, “Please. I am hardly so fragile.”

Lanisen says, “It might have been pickled sea monster. You might’ve gotten gills.”

Megren says, “That would have been useful.”

Lanisen has to concede this.

Megren releases a contented breath.

Lanisen is quiet for a long time, watching the stars and the breeze in the grass. “Fog’s comin’ up,” he says finally, looking down the slope toward the castle.

Megren looks down. “Hmm.”

Lanisen rests his arms on top of his knees and his chin on top of his arms. “S’pose there’s fog-people in Narnia?”

Megren asks, “What, like, river people but fog?”

Lanisen shrugs. “Why not?”

Megren says, “Sounds terrifying.”

Lanisen says, “No more terrifying than river people!”

Megren sucks her teeth skeptically.

Lanisen says, “Or tree people, on a dark night, if you’re lost.”

Megren says, “Hmmm.”

Lanisen says, “Maybe it wouldn’t be. Maybe they would just tell you the way.”

Megren says, “Maybe.”

Lanisen goes quiet again.

Megren asks, “Should we go back?”

Lanisen stirs and glances at her. “Do you want to? We can. You’ve prob’ly got an early morning tomorrow, huh?”

Megren says, “I guess.”

Lanisen tilts his head at her. “What’s that mean?”

Megren says, “Don’t want to sleep.”

Lanisen asks, “Why not?”

Megren says, “Not tired.”

Lanisen says, “That’s fair.”

Megren says, “Fog, though.”

Lanisen says, “It’s not thick. It’s mostly just in the ditches, it looks like. Anyway, we could find the castle even if it were.”

Megren says, “Okay.”

Lanisen finally shifts to lay back on the blanket, squirming a little until he is comfortable. He puts his left arm under his head and rests his right across his stomach.

Megren asks, “Are there good spots like this in Carmichael?”

Lanisen asks, “You mean up high?”

Megren says, “For seeing things.”

Lanisen pauses. “Out in the pasture, where it’s wide open, I guess.”

Megren mms.

Lanisen asks, “What about you, did you have places like this when you were little?”

Megren says, “There’s lots of good spots in the mountains.”

Lanisen asks, “Tell me your favorite?”

Megren says, “There are… all sorts of little lakes, if you know where to look. There’s one good ridge, it’s sort of skinny, you can see all over the forest.”

Lanisen asks, “Where’s it at?”

Megren says, “Um, uh, you sort of, go through the forest to, there’s this stand of pines, and then you can take a deer path up into the foothils, and then there’s a cleft, and you can go up through it and sort of wind around and you get back out onto the edge and edge along a little ways until you can get to a sort of plateau place.”

Lanisen laughs under his breath. “I see.”

Megren grins. “You asked.”

Lanisen says ruefully, “I did ask.”

Megren screws up her face and assesses him. “Hmm.”

Lanisen squints at her. “What.”

Megren says, “I think you could make it. If we camped down below the night before so you were starting fresh.”

Lanisen says, “Oh.” He pauses, then lifts his shoulders. “Maybe? I mean–” He pauses again. “If you think I could I’m, I’m willin’ to give it a go?”

Megren says, “Yeah. Some time. I guess we’d want to take 3 days aside for it, just in case.”

Lanisen says, “All right.”

Megren says, “All right.”

Lanisen draws a deep breath and lets it out again, closing his eyes for a minute.

Megren glances at him.

Lanisen doesn’t open his eyes again for a little while, but he seems to be alert rather than sleepy.

Megren asks, “What are you thinking?”

Lanisen breathes deeply again. “‘M not. Just listenin’.”

Megren accuses, “You’re secretly philosophical.”

Lanisen cracks open one eye to squint at her. “No, you.”

Megren says, “Maybe a little.”

Lanisen complains, “What does that even mean.”

Megren says, “You got all kinds of secret philosophies.”

Lanisen says, “Sure.”

Megren says, “See.”

Lanisen says, “I think there’s an owl over there.” He points vaguely up the mountain, into the trees.

Megren closes her eyes and listens obediently.
Megren says after a moment, “Eagle-owl.”

Lanisen draws in a breath and says, “There’s two of ’em, listen.”

Megren says, “Yeah, it’s a male and a female, I think.”

Lanisen asks, “How can you tell?”

Megren says, “It’s, the way they’re calling, you know–”
Megren imitates the calls quietly.

Lanisen listens, frowning in a way that is not quite skeptical but definitely incomprehending.

Megren says, “I think so anyway.”

Lanisen listens a little longer, then asks, keeping his voice low, “D’you think Talking owls hoot to talk to each other from a long way away?”

Megren asks, “Seems better than calling, right?”

Lanisen says, “I wonder if there’s things different hoots mean, and if they mean the same for talking owls and the regular sort, or if talking owls have got their own sort of code.” He stops to consider. “What if a talking owl sends out the hoot that means ‘Come at once to the big tree’ and nobody who shows up knows how to talk.”

Megren says, “Secret philosopher.”

Lanisen swats at her.

Megren swats back!

Lanisen complains, “Owww!” and opens up his eyes to better defend himself from any further swatting.

Megren seems to consider it even.

Lanisen settles back and shuts his eyes again after a suspicious minute.

Megren says, “You won’t see them fly out if you have your eyes closed.”

Lanisen opens his eyes again. “They’re gonna fly out?”

Megren says, “That /is/ what they’re known to do at night.”

Lanisen sits up, folding his legs and staring up into the star-speckled sky eagerly.

Megren points off toward a small stand of trees. “I think one of them’s there; I’m not sure about the other.”

Haft walks up from the direction of Andale, his feet falling lightly on the grass.

Megren is lying on her back next to Lanisen on a rough blanket, hands behind her head. “If you see bats, I’d watch those.”

Lanisen glances toward her at this and starts to ask, but stops and tenses, listening intently.

Haft stops at the sound of a voice, not expecting anyone.

Megren sees his movement and explains, “That’s what they’ll go for, or mice.”

Lanisen raises a hand, shaking his head a little. “Some– someone’s coming…”

Haft lifts his voice. “Hello?”

Megren sits up and turns to look at the dark figure. “Hey, hello!” she calls, just loudly enough for the other person to hear. “It’s Meg,” she tries.

Haft says, “Meg? It’s Haft.” He starts walking toward her voice, then catches sight of the two by moonlight. “What on earth are you doing up here in the dark?”

Lanisen exhales a little shakily and lets his shoulders drop.

Megren says, “Could ask the same.”

Haft pauses, then throws out, “Cogitating.”

Lanisen pauses a beat and then asks, “Is that Haft or Sir Tyren?”

Megren snorts and covers her mouth.

Haft says, “Sir Tyren would reflect more moonlight.”

Lanisen squints.

Megren elbows Lanisen and whispers loudly, “Cause of the armor.”

Haft coughs.

Lanisen says, “Right, the armor.”

Megren says, “We were just picking out constellations. Want to sit with us? There’s a couple of owls close.”

Haft says, “Seems to be the night for stargazing. I was just doing the same with Abrielle.”

Megren asks, “Have you a good secret spot?”

Lanisen shifts to make room for Haft on the rough blanket.

Haft says, “Can’t say that it’s secret. We were just at the beach.”

Megren says, “That’s a good one.”

Haft says, “Hmm. Abrielle makes up her own constellations.”

Lanisen mumbles “So does Meg.”, to Lanisen.
Lanisen mumbles “… does Meg.”, to Lanisen.

Megren elbows Lanisen again, harder this time. “Lanisen’s got one.”

Haft takes a seat. “Does he?”

Lanisen says, “Owww.”

Megren says, “Mhm.”

Haft asks, “Do I have to guess?”

Lanisen points to a line of stars along the southern horizon. “Stoat.”

Haft says, “I would’ve figured you’d have the Hound.” He eyes the starts in question. “Yeah, I could see that though. Better than Abrielle’s””

Megren asks, “What are Abrielle’s?”

Haft points westward. “The Ball of Yarn.”

Lanisen tilts his head to the side.

Megren asks, “What’s it’s story?”

Haft shrugs. “I don’t know. We got diverting into a conversation about darning socks. What about the Stoat? It got a story?”

Lanisen says, “Um, it’s– when, when I was a kid there was a stoat that kept gettin’ in with my mum’s chickens and we couldn’t find it so we said that was it.”

Haft asks, “And you turned it into a constellation?”

Lanisen shifts and says, “My, my brother did, yeah.”

Haft says, “Remind me not to cross yer brother.”

Megren scratches the back of her head and then points. “That one’s a ship.”

Lanisen is quiet.

Haft asks, “A ship? Not The Ship?”

Megren says, “Hm? It’s called The Boundless.”

Lanisen hugs his updrawn knees loosely and turns away from the stoat to seek out the Boundless again.

Haft says, “No, I mean…there’s a constellation called the Ship. Just there.”

Megren says, “Oh. Sir Darrin never told me.”

Lanisen asks, “What’s its story?”

Haft thinks. “It’s been a long time. Something about a group of lost sailors who were in a storm…yes, that’s it. The winds and rains lasted more than a week, and it was only by the grace of Aslan that they didn’t founder through it all.”

Megren hmms thoughtfully.

Lanisen glances at Megren.

Haft says, “After the storm had passed, they realized most of their stores had been washed overboard or spoiled with the seawater. They thought to set sail back to the last island they had passed.”
Haft says, “But when they took their bearings they realized they were farther from the nearest known port than their provisions would allow. But they had heard rumors of islands further east.”
Haft says, “Some of the men despaired, but the Captain urged them to take heart. They took counsel amongst themselves and decided they would sail east as long as they might, for they still had a supply of fresh water that might last many days, and a fair eastern wind. They decided they would hope for a place to make landfall, or, if not, that they might be brought safe to Aslan’s Country beyond the edge of the world.”

Megren glances at Lanisen.

Haft says, “As the story goes, they made no landfall, neither did they reach Aslan’s Country, but as they neared the end of their endurance, they found the GReat Lion in the midst of them on the deck.”
Haft says, “He told them that they were not to reach Aslan’s Country, for that journey over the sea was for another. And so for their courage and hope he transformed them and numbered them among the brethren of the Stars. And there we shall see them guiding other sailors until the world fails.”
Haft says, “That is as my mother told it, anyway.”

Lanisen shifts, frowning thoughtfully. “It’s a little bit like yours,” he says, looking at Megren. “The bones of it, anyway.”

Haft asks, “Yours?”

Megren says, “The, The Boundless, it’s um, they sailed over the edge of the world and landed in the sky, and now they’re trying to find their way back, and they, like yours a bit, they’re meant to find it, right there at the end of things.”

Haft chuckles. “I like it. Although…so they’re just going to find it when it’s all gone?”

Megren lifts her shoulders. “I think maybe they’re meant to help it along, or something. Come back for whatever’s after. I’ll have to ask my da. I’d thought he made it up; Sir Darrin didn’t recognize it, nor Lanisen.”

Haft says, “So…is the Boundless something he made up too? I’ve not heard of it, but I hardly know them all.”

Megren says, “Well, I thought so, but it sounds enough like yours maybe they come from the same story.”

Haft says, “It does.”

Megren says, “You don’t have one about a Fork, I suppose.”

Haft says, “A fork? No.”

Lanisen snickers under his breath. He folds his legs under him comfortably and rubs his hands together to warm them against the dewy night chill.

Megren says, “Whew.”

Haft asks, “Do I want to know?”

Megren says, “Lanisen, you tell it this time.”

Lanisen says, “Nah, nah, it’s yours, I might tell it wrong.”

Megren looks back to Haft, and points out a cluster of stars, some of which make up the traditional Hammer constellation. “Some giants were arguing about whether pear or blueberry went better on rye.”

Haft says, “I’d think meat would, but do continue.”

Megren says, “Well, one of them got so angry, he threw his fork, and there it lies.”

Lanisen rubs his shoulder and grins, evidently unbothered to hear the story twice in one night.

Megren glances at Lanisen, noting the way he kneads his shoulder. “Should we head back?”

Lanisen drops his hand and sighs. “It’s gettin’ late.”

Megren nods. “I /do/ have more practice in the morning,” she says regretfully.

Haft says, “You two go on. I’ve got the night off. Think I’ll stay up here a bit more.”

Lanisen begins to get to his feet. “Leave you the blanket?” he offers.

Haft looks down. “Yeah, sure. I’ll carry it back.”

Megren pushes herself up as well. “Good to see you around, Haft.”

Haft says, “Get some rest.”

Lanisen stretches out his right shoulder. “G’night, Haft.”

Megren moves off toward the castle.

Haft says, “Night.”

Megren turns to walk backward a few steps and call, “Night!”

Lanisen follows after Megren, kneading at his shoulder and still stretching his arm.

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