whispering trees and chatty badgers


The Splintered Axe Tavern
Southeastern Narnia


Megren sits at a table in the tavern, the low light of a deep forest morning enhanced by a lamp on her table, eating a breakfast of savory porridge and tea.

Lanisen ventures out, pausing first in the doorway to the inn to glance over the room. He crosses to join Megren and sits across from her, still looking around the room curiously.

Megren says in a low voice, “There’s a Badger by the fireplace.”

Lanisen answers, equally soft but delighted, “I /know/.”

Megren grins and wrinkles her nose, a little pink faced.

Lanisen says, “He’s readin’ his letters! What do you s’pose they’re about?”

Megren says, “I’m sure /I/ don’t know a Badger’s business. Go ask him.”

Lanisen turns red and hides his mouth with his folded hands, glancing furtively at the Badger. “I will not!”

Megren grins hugely. “I dare you.”

Lanisen turns a darker red and hisses, “Shhh, he’s gonna hear you!”

Megren gets up and approaches the Badger. “Excuse me, Friend Badger? I wondered if you might like to join us for breakfast.”

Lanisen’s mouth drops open in absolutely horrified astonishment, but he quickly schools his features.

The Badger looks up. “Sorry?”

Megren pushes her hair behind her ear. “Um, my friend and I,” she gestures vaguely toward where Lanisen sits, “I ordered a full pot of tea and we’re not liable to drink it all between the two of us.”

Lanisen looks like if apologies had faces.

The Badger glances at Lanisen and then back to Megren. “Can’t say I’ve ever taken my tea with a Son of Adam and a Daughter of Eve before. Suppose now’s as good a time as any — only I’d best finish my reading first, if you don’t mind. First I’ve heard from my cousin these many weeks, and the goings on in Brockhaven are all a flutter by the sound of it. She’s gone and taken a mate, do you know.”

Lanisen says hastily, “Sorry to disturb you, sir.”

The Badger chortles. “Nonsense! I shall have something to write back.”

Lanisen says, “Oh! Oh, er, good, then?” He glances at Megren a little helplessly.

Megren’s already present grin grows larger. “Yes, finish your reading, of course. Perhaps there’ll be biscuits by then.” She gives him a sort of temporary-farewell bob and returns to Lanisen.

Lanisen exhales a little as the Badger’s attention returns to his correspondence. He gives Megren a wry look and announces, getting up, “I’m going to get some breakfast.”

Megren plunks back down into her chair. “See about some toast?”

Lanisen says, “Yeah, all right,” and goes, glancing again toward the Badger.

Megren scrapes up the last of her porridge and takes a sip of tea.

Lanisen is back again after a moment, carrying a plate of toast for Megren and a bowl of hot oatmeal smelling of apples and cinnamon for himself. “The tables,” he says thoughtfully, sitting back down.

Megren mms? over her cup.

Lanisen says, “They’re all– some of ’em are taller and some of ’em don’t have chairs. I wouldn’t’ve– it makes sense, I mean, but I wouldn’t’ve thought of it.”

Megren says, “That was me with the stables last night.”

Lanisen says, “Ha, hmm, yeah.”

Megren reflects, “It’s hardly further than Coghill.”

Lanisen says, “But it’s so different, it’s…”

Megren says, “Yeah.”

Lanisen says, “I wonder why it’s–”

Megren’s eyes track a dryad through the room from the kitchen to the out-of-doors.

Lanisen turns slightly to see what she’s looking at, and looks back at Megren quickly, eyes wide.

Megren widens her eyes as if to say she’s got no real response to give.

Lanisen covers his face with both hands, overwhelmed and a little giddy.

Megren says in a low voice, “Her hair looked like it was made of willow?”

Lanisen shakes his head slightly and repeats, “Willow.”

Megren watches the door like she’s hope the nymph might come back.

Lanisen asks, leaning forward a little, “Why /aren’t/ there any talking animals in Archenland, or dryads or fauns or– why’s it so… It’s not so different, is it? Why’s it so…”

Megren lifts her shoulders. “The winter, I suppose.”

Lanisen says, “But–”

Megren says, “Ask one of them, why don’t you.”

Lanisen pushes his mouth to the side.

Megren widens her eyes helplessly again.

Lanisen hmms, and because there is nowhere else to conveniently pursue the question, begins on his oatmeal.

Megren sits back with her tea.

Lanisen asks, “Did you sleep all right last night?”

Megren says, “Once I got to it.”

Lanisen winces sympathetically.

Megren says, “You must have dropped right off? This is the first I’ve seen you since we got in.”

Lanisen admits, “I was really tired.”

Megren asks, “How’s your shoulder?”

Lanisen shrugs in a what-can-you-do sort of way. “It’s all right. It was fine once I got my stone heated up last night.”

Megren asks, “You’d say if it wasn’t?”

Lanisen says, “Yeah, yeah. It’s fine.”

Megren looks disbelieving.

Lanisen says, “It’s not– I’m not gonna let it…” He presses his lips together in mild frustration.

Megren says, “We could have waited a day to leave. That wouldn’t have ruined anything.”

Lanisen says, “I know.”

Megren says, “If I don’t think you’ll speak up I’ll have to guess.”

Lanisen says, “I will, I will if it’s bad.”

Megren screws up her mouth.

Lanisen says, “I don’t want–” He pauses. “It’s, it’s not in charge of me.”

Megren releases a breath.

Lanisen watches her uncertainly.

Megren looks toward the window. “It’s not raining now, anyway,” she says.

Lanisen agrees, “No.”

Megren says, “Sir Darrin and I went out last night after it stopped and it was still all drippy.”

Lanisen says, “It kinda feels like it might again today.”

Megren asks, “But your shoulder’s improved?”

Lanisen nods.

Megren asks, “Are you thinking you’d like to stay at the inn a good while, or explore?”

Lanisen says, “I dunno. Both. Either. What do you want to do?”

Megren says, “Well, Sir Darrin and I were talking of seeing the Stone Table and the Unicorns.”

Lanisen straightens a little bit. He nods thoughtfully. “The Stone Table, that’s… about… it’s not far, is it? About from Anvard to Lancelyn Green?”

Megren shakes her head. “I don’t know. He said the Unicorns were a few days and the Table was between.”

Lanisen says, “On the map it didn’t, it didn’t look far. Maybe I’m off my reckoning, though.”

Megren asks, “What I’m wondering is — can, are you able to camp, do you think? With the weather?”

Lanisen says, “I can do it.”

Megren says, “It’s not worth it if you’ll be hurting the whole time.”

Lanisen says, “I can– I’ve got, I’ve got my stones, I’ve got willow bark, it’s– I can do it, it’s, it’s worth it to me.”

Megren screws up her mouth, looking like she doesn’t trust this.

Lanisen asks a little helplessly, “What are you wantin’ me to say?”

Megren confesses, “I don’t know. You said you were fine yesterday and I was wishing we’d put it off a day by the end of it.”

Lanisen looks startled, and then guilty.

Megren pushes her mouth to the side. “It’s– it’s up to you.”

Lanisen’s forehead knits. He looks unhappily at the bowl in front of him and says nothing.

The Badger sidles up toward the table. “Suppose that tea’s quite cold by now, is it?”

Lanisen shifts and glances up. The worry and self-reproach wipes in a second from his face in favor of a quick smile, and he reaches out to check the pot with the back of his hand. “Seems hot to me!”

The Badger pulls himself up onto a stool to join them and reaches toward the pot. “Pass it here then. What business brings the two of you to the Great Woods? Hergel tells me you’re out of Archenland.”

Lanisen slides it over obligingly, glancing at Megren. “Just visitin’,” he answers. “Been wantin’ to for a long time.”

Megren nods. “We’d been talking on it near on a year.”

Lanisen has to think about this for a moment, but he agrees with some surprise.

The Badger pours a cup and reaches toward the plate of biscuits Hergel has discretely slipped onto the table sometime in the midst of their conversation. “They all live in cities down there, that’s what my nephew says. You live in the city?”

Lanisen says, “The, the castle, both of us, but there’s a town not far.”

The Badger makes a chuffing, impressed sound. “The castle, hmph. My brother’s father-in-law works at Cair Paravel.” He takes a sip of his tea. “Ah. Forgive me. Name’s Honeydrowse.”

Lanisen answers, “Lanisen. ‘S a pleasure.” He glances at Megren.

Megren sips her tea. “I’m called Meg.”

Honeydrowse rumbles over his tea. “Strange names. Well, very good to meet you both, I’m sure. Will you stay here in the woods, then?”

Lanisen hesitates, evidently not sure how to answer this. He looks to Megren again and answers, “A couple days at least, I think?”

Megren says, “We’re thinking to see the castle at least, maybe go north, too.”

Honeydrowse dunks his biscuit in his tea and crunches it noisily. “Right, that’s right, you said you were out of Anvard. Friends of their majesties, I suppose. The castle keeps good hospitality, that’s as my brother says.”

Lanisen looks rather alarmed by this assumption and looks to Megren for help.

Megren flashes a grin. “I’ve never met any of them. Our companion’s a knight though; he was here during that tournament a few years back.”

Lanisen nods relieved confirmation of this.

Honeydrowse harrumphs. “Well, you’ll have to make their acquaintance. Fine Sons of Adam and Daughters of Eve, each of them, so my brother says.”

Lanisen says, “‘S what we hear in Archenland, too.”

Megren says, “Sir Darrin said Queen Susan was quite charming.”

Honeydrowse chews his biscuit thoughtfully. “Sir Darrin. I think I remember him. Hair like a mop.”

Lanisen coughs at this and takes a hasty sip of tea, glancing covertly toward the door to the inn to see if there’s any chance Darrin overheard this.

Megren grins hugely. “Sounds probably right. He’d have been a bit young, I suppose.”

Lanisen asks, “When was that?”

Megren says, “I think when he was 18, or 17, something around there?”

Lanisen thinks. “I kind of remember that,” he says. “Or not Sir Darrin exactly but– there were a lot of people that went, weren’t there?”

Megren says, “Yeah, I think so. Prince Rabadash was there.”

Lanisen lifts his eyebrows meaningfully at this.

Honeydrowse taps a claw on the table. “That’s right, the Calormene Prince and half the court of Anvard, here to woo our high Queen.”

Lanisen considers this for a moment, his forehead furrowing, but all he says is, “She must be a very good queen.”

Honeydrowse chortles. “The best you could ask for, next to her good sister, I should say.”

Lanisen grins at this assessment, glancing at Megren.

Megren says, “That’s just what we think of our King and Princes, too. I should like to meet yours, only I suspect I’d end up rather tongue-tied.”

Lanisen makes a wry sort of face to say that he agrees, but this is an understatement on his part. “Do you live nearby?” he asks Honeydrowse. “Or are you travelin’ too?”

Honeydrowse shakes his great Badger head. “Oh no, not really. I leave in the east part of the Great Woods. You couldn’t make it there and back in a day.” He pauses, considering them. “Well, perhaps the two of you might be a little sprightlier, but it’s a good distance one way or another. I come out here to see Hergel some days — known me since I was a cub, Hergel. Not to mention,” he lowers his voice to a hushed, confidential tone. “The little ones are always asking after her scones.”

Lanisen asks, his eyes darting briefly up and to the right, “That’d be near Bergdale?”

Megren glances between them, content to let Lanisen lead the conversation.

Honeydrowse slaps the table lightly. “You know your Narnian geography, eh! Closer to Bergdale than here, that’s right. Though it’s a bit of a trip that way as well. About half a day or a little less, I’d call it.” He points a claw at Lanisen and informs him matter-of-factly, “That’s where to get the best /butter/ for your scones.”

Lanisen dimples up, pleased to be right. “I’ll remember it, sir.”

Honeydrowse agrees, “See that you do.”

Lanisen asks, “How old are your childr– cubs?”

Honeydrowse puffs up. “Two of them fittin’ to look for their own burrows and trades and three little ones still helping with the cooking and chores.”

Lanisen grins. “You must be proud.”

The Badger chuffs agreeably and drains his tea. “Though, I must say, there’ll be complaints if I don’t leave soon with a bagful of these scone and some tea leaves besides. Forgive an old Badger for not staying to lunch, will you?”

Lanisen sits back. “Oh, ‘course. Thanks for sittin’, ‘s good to meet you.”

Megren says, “Oh, wait, here–” she reaches into her pocket and pulls out some ginger candies wrapped in parchment paper, counting out seven. “Here, take them to the little ones and the rest, from Archenland.”

Lanisen looks surprised, and then charmed and not surprised at all.

Honeydrowse pulls one toward his nose and sniffs. “Hmmm. These will set my tales aright, I think. Thank you, Daughter of Eve.” He nods to Lanisen. “Son of Adam. Safe travels to you both.” With that, he stows away the candies and shuffles off toward Hergel’s bar.

Lanisen sits back in his chair and breathes out.

Megren pulls up her legs and crosses them under her on the chair. “See?”

Lanisen allows, “That wasn’t bad.”

Megren agrees, “No.”

Lanisen asks, “How long should we stay here, do you think?”

Megren looks at the window. “Maybe we ought to travel on the clear days.”

Lanisen pauses. He lowers his eyes and accepts this compromise with a small nod.

Megren says, “If you want to stay another night, here, though, I certainly don’t mind.”

Lanisen looks down at the table and says, “I don’t want to be a poor travelin’ companion.”

Megren says, “Pretty sure traveling on clear days is the pleasantest choice for all involved.”

Lanisen says, “That’s so.” He takes and releases a deep breath. “Whatever you and Sir Darrin are thinkin’ is best is fine.”

Megren pushes her mouth to the side, considering him.

Lanisen glances back at her.

Megren says, “You’re having a good time?”

Lanisen lifts his eyebrows and nods.

Megren says, “All right.”

Lanisen asks, “Are you?”

Megren pulls in her lips and nods.

Lanisen dimples up again, his eyes glinting.

Megren says, “We walked out last night, after you went to bed.”

Lanisen asks, “Yeah?”

Megren says, “The trees are — have you, have you gone out yet?”

Lanisen says, “No, not yet, I only just got up.”

Megren says, “They’re, they… here.” She gets up and reaches for his wrist. “I’ll show you.”

Lanisen gets up to follow her, curious.

Megren tugs him right out the door and a little ways into the trees.

Lanisen follows her, tilting his head up to look into the trees.

Megren stops and then hushes him.

Lanisen hushes obligingly.

At first, it’s not clear what they are listening for, but when the already low wind dies down, an odd thing happens — the sound of it doesn’t die.

Lanisen takes a moment to realize, but his eyes widen and he looks at Megren when he does, his mouth opening.

Megren gets a huge, open-mouthed grin.

Lanisen covers his mouth with both hands. “Are they–”

Megren says, “Not sure. I think maybe they move, too.”

Lanisen breathes out, thoroughly delighted. “I want to stay, can we stay?”

Megren grins again.

Lanisen covers his mouth again and shakes his head.

Megren says, “I want to go out, but if I’m right, I have a feeling it’s especially easy to get lost.”

Lanisen agrees, “I don’t think I would want to go out without somebody who knows the woods. Or a really good map.”

Megren says, “I don’t mind all that, but only so long as you all don’t mind me disappearing for three days, too.”

Lanisen wrinkles up his nose. “If you’re going disappearing, I want to go too!”

Megren says, “Well, I suspect we’ll all get to do it a bit when we try to get north of here.”

Lanisen agrees, “Shouldn’t wonder.”

Megren says happily, “How unfortunate.”

Lanisen grins. He tilts his head back to look up in the whispering branches again. “Are they all, do you think? Or only some?”

Megren tilts her head, listening. “I don’t know… Could be all of them can even if all of them aren’t just now.”

Lanisen shivers and rubs the back of his neck, awed.

Megren grins.

Lanisen asks, “How far’s the river?”

Megren says, “I don’t know. Sir Darrin and I only went a little farther than this. Want to go look for it?”

Lanisen says, “How about we look for a better map first.”

Megren asks, “Where’s your sense of adventure?”

Lanisen makes a face at her.

Megren pouts at him.

Lanisen lifts his hands. “Fine, then. Lead the way!”

Megren claps happily. “Oh, we should tell Hergel so she can let Sir Darrin know when he comes down.”

Lanisen says, “Maybe she’ll have a map.”

Megren says, “Maybe! Or a general direction, anyway.”

Lanisen says, “Oh, I know that. It’s straight north.”

Megren says, “Oh, /well/, then.”

Lanisen spreads his hands, laughingly defensive.

Megren tugs his wrist back toward the inn. “Come on. Maybe Sir Darrin will be up.”

Lanisen says, “All right, all right!” and follows her.

Megren slips back inside, but Hergel seems to have found some task that needs doing, because she is not out front.

Lanisen says, “Hm.”

Megren wanders up to the counter and leans over it to see through to the back if she can.

Lanisen asks, “Is she back there? Should we wait?”

Megren pulls back again and lifts her shoulders.

Lanisen suggests, “We could leave a note.”

Megren says, “Good idea.” She pauses. “… Got any paper?”

Lanisen says, “Upstairs I do,” and turns toward the door to the inn.

Megren waits against the counter for a little bit, tapping the toe of her boot idly against the ground, and then her eyes narrow and her mouth turns up, and her nose wrinkles, and she disappears outside.

Lanisen returns after a moment with paper and charcoal. He stands at a loss for a moment, peers back the way he came, and then goes to check outside.

Megren is skittering from tree to tree, picking up fallen branches — the longer the better. She has one which is a good deal taller than her.

Lanisen scratches his head and follows after more slowly.

Megren straightens at the sound of him coming and turns, sticks twisting askew in her arms.

Lanisen asks, “What are you doin’, exactly?”

Megren struggles to straighten out the branches. “I thought we could set them up outside his room so it looks like the trees moved in there.”

Lanisen raises his eyebrows and looks /delighted/ by this idea. He reaches to take a couple of the more dangerously askew branches.

Megren loosens her grip a bit to let him.

Lanisen takes a moment to get them stable. “More?”

Megren pauses thoughtfully and then says, “Here,” and starts stacking the rest of her load on him.

Lanisen looks mildly alarmed but shifts to accommodate.

Megren piles the rest of the branches on him so that she’s free to gather more.

Lanisen mmphs and hangs on and stands very still so he doesn’t lose anything.

Megren gathers another similarly sized bundle and hobbles back toward the inn.

Lanisen totters after her, mostly managing to hang on to everything.

Megren opens the door for him with her foot.

Lanisen sticks his head in first, then hurries through so Hergel doesn’t see what they’re up to.

Megren tumbles up the steps.

Lanisen is close behind.

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