Twin Oaks Lodge
Megren enters the inn lobby, disheveled from training.
Lanisen is fussing about with the fire, trying to stoke it up so that the tea kettle heats faster. He looks slightly shaken. When Megren enters, he glances up and straightens quickly. “Oh,” he says. “I– oh. I thought you were sleepin’ still.”
Megren shakes her head. “Sir Darrin said footwork every morning while we’re here.” She rolls her eyes, but not too grumpily. “He’s gotten real invested all of the sudden.”
Lanisen says, “Oh, haa, er.”
Megren asks, “Where’ve you been off to?”
Lanisen shakes his head. “No– nowhere.”
Megren pauses, her eyes flicking over him and taking in his countenance now that she’s had a moment to catch her breath. “Something happened?”
Lanisen says, “Um.” He rubs his elbow and takes a slightly shaky breath, gesturing outside without quite looking at Megren. “Jana, Jana was here.”
Megren’s brows lift and she starts for the door. “What, just now?”
Lanisen says, “Half hour, I guess. She’s, she’s gone.”
Megren looks like she’d like to go after the woman anyway, but she hangs back a moment and then goes to his side instead. “What happened? You’re all right?”
Lanisen nods quickly to reassure her. “Yeah, it’s– um… It’s fine, I’m fine. I don’t know, it was fine.”
Megren frowns skeptically.
Lanisen rubs the side of his face. “She– um, she’s invited us to her house.”
Megren’s frown deepens, this time in confusion. “What do you mean invited? For what reason?”
Lanisen says, a little helplessly, “It’s– she said the guard all goes there sometimes for a drink.”
Megren squints an eye, but says, “Do… you want to go?”
Lanisen says, “No.”
Megren nods. “Do you want to have some tea and sit?”
Lanisen says, ducking his head, “Yes, please.”
Megren goes to ask after some leaves.
Lanisen returns to poking at the fire.
Megren comes back to him with leaves and cups. “Here or your room?”
Lanisen says, “Either, either’s fine, I don’t–” He glances toward Dochus. “Maybe my room.”
Megren says, “Sure. I’ll go put these in there then.”
Lanisen checks the kettle and seems satisfied. He swings it off the fire and lifts it off the hook, straightening to follow her.
Megren sets up the cups on his side table and good up cross legged on the bed to wait for him to pour.
Lanisen gets the tea brewing and plops on the floor where he can easily see her. He picks at a worn spot on his sleeve. “Um,” he says. “She’s, she’s on the guard here, did you know?”
Megren says, “Sir Darrin said, yeah.”
Lanisen nods. He pauses. “She said… um, if we wanted to visit the watchtower, that’d, that’d be fine.”
Megren asks again, “Do you want to?”
Lanisen hesitates. He folds his arms over his middle. “Myrd wouldn’t be there,” he says, and lifts his shoulders.
Megren agrees, “That’s a thing.”
Lanisen says, “I don’t think it’s…” He stops. “I don’t think there’s any, any danger.”
Megren says, “You don’t have to want to go though.”
Lanisen says, “Well.” He stops again, frowning.
Megren hesitates, and then says, “You… /can/ want to go.”
Lanisen doesn’t say anything for a moment, frowning unfocused at the floor. Finally he rubs both hands over his face and gets up to pour the tea. “I don’t know; I don’t know; it’s all… it’s /complicated/, I don’t know how to…”
Megren says, “Well, we aren’t going anywhere. You have time.”
Lanisen hands her a cup and sits down next to her on the bed, still frowning. “I think I’d like to,” he says finally, like a question. “Maybe.”
Megren asks, “You want us to go with you?”
Lanisen glances at her. He pauses. “If it’s, if you don’t want to, I don’t want to… to ask you…”
Megren says, “I will, if you want me there. I’m sure Sir Darrin would too.”
Lanisen hesitates, then admits, “I’d feel better.”
Megren says, “Then we will. If you want to go.”
Lanisen nods, curling his hands around his mug. “Maybe in a couple days.”
Megren says, “Agreed.”
Lanisen glances at her sidelong, a little apprehensively. “What do you think?”
Megren scoots so she can lean back against the wall at the end of the bed. “I… think I’m surprised you want to go? And I’m… wondering what she said that made you think it was worth considering.”
Lanisen draws his legs up and sits cross-legged, looking down at his tea. He opens his mouth and lifts his shoulders. “It wasn’t… anything she said, she didn’t really… I don’t know.” He runs a hand through his hair, holding it back on one side while he thinks. “I guess it’s… she’s… she’s made somethin’ for herself here and…”
Megren is quiet for a moment, and then she guesses, “You want to make sense of what it means to ‘make something for yourself’ after?”
Lanisen shrugs again, a little squirmily. “I guess I hadn’t… thought of it that far, but maybe, sure.”
Megren sways to bump shoulders with him.
Lanisen is quiet for a little bit. He finally shifts and says, “I dunno, it’s… I’m curious, is all, I guess.”
Megren accepts, “All right.”
Lanisen says reflectively, “She didn’t know me.”
Megren reaches up to scruff the top of his head. “It’s because your hair looks so nice.”
Lanisen ducks his head and swats half-heartedly at her hand.
Megren says more reasonably, “I don’t imagine she can have expected you.”
Lanisen says, “No, I’m just thinkin’… She didn’t know me until she heard my name–” He pauses and blushes. “Part of my name, I mean, I been, I been tellin’ people Lan.” He pauses again. “If she didn’t know me there’s no reason Myrd should, though.”
Megren says, “Oh.”
Lanisen glances at her.
Megren asks, “Um, what are you thinking to do with that assumption?”
Lanisen squints at her. “Breathe easier?”
Megren relaxes and nods.
Lanisen asks, bewildered, “What were you thinkin’?”
Megren says, “I don’t know, I wasn’t sure why you were thinking on it.”
Lanisen says, “It was odd, is all.”
Megren nods quietly.
Lanisen lifts his shoulders. “I asked her not to tell him I’m here,” he says after a moment.
Megren asks, “She agreed?”
Lanisen says, “Sort of, um, she said… she said she wasn’t gonna mention it but she wouldn’t lie to him if he asked. I guess that’s…”
Megren asks, “Do you believe her?”
Lanisen confesses, “I don’t know.”
Megren nods. She considers it for a moment and then says, “Giving an exception like that seems like a good sign?”
Lanisen rubs the side of his face. “Yeah, I think so.”
Megren rubs her knee. “If… you want to reconcile with her, then… I, of course I support you. But, just, be careful.”
Lanisen hesitates. “I don’t know what I want, but I will be.”
Lanisen pauses. “King Edmund, he said…”
Megren pulls her knees up to her chest to listen.
Lanisen says, “He was sayin’– if it’s, we should if we can.”
Megren lifts her brows. “Should… reconcile?”
Lanisen says, “Yeah.”
Megren asks, “Does he know about the, the, um, the cave, and the, and everything?”
Lanisen says, “No, I– no.”
Megren pushes her mouth to the side. “I won’t call myself as wise as a king.”
Lanisen guesses, “You don’t think it’s…”
Megren says, “I don’t know. I’ve been trying to think about, how would I think of them if I didn’t know you, but it’s, that’s not easy.”
Lanisen says, shifting, “Sorry.”
Megren looks at him. “What have you to be sorry about?”
Lanisen says, “I don’t– er? Sorry, um, it sounded bad and like my fault.”
Megren asks, “It’s never your fault people did wrong things to you.”
Lanisen shifts. “No, I– I know.”
Megren drops her head to his shoulder.
Lanisen leans against her so they are sort of propping each other up. He rests his cheek on the top of her head. “I’m sorry for worryin’ you, anyway,” he offers.
Megren says, “It’s all right, I like worrying.”
Lanisen is quiet for a little while, then says, “You and Sir Darrin’ll like to see the watchtower, anyway, I’m sure.”
Megren nods. “I would, anyway, and I’ll bet on him too.”
Lanisen nods. He shifts. “There was– um, there were a couple of Eagles earlier. One of ’em was on the guard, too, he said.”
Megren asks, “Yeah?”
Lanisen squints. “Skar, Skar something?”
Megren says, “Sounds dashing. Or nefarious?”
Lanisen grins. “He seemed a pretty serious sort of person, really.”
Megren says, “Oh. Hm.”
Lanisen says, “Maybe he’s different with people he knows, though.”
Megren asks, “Did you like him?”
Lanisen lifts his shoulders. “I didn’t really talk with him much,” he says. “The other Eagle was chattier, and then Jana was there.”
Megren says, “Oh.”
Lanisen glances at her.
Megren asks, “What did he think of Jana?”
Lanisen says, “Um, I think they’re partners. On the guard.”
Megren says, “Oh.”
Lanisen asks, “What do you keep saying “oh” for?”
Megren says, “What? I don’t know. You keep telling me new things.”
Lanisen says, “I see.”
Megren makes a face at him.
Megren smiles, seeing that. “So, we’ll go to the tower, then?”
Lanisen pauses, and then nods decisively.
Megren says, “I think, I think if you’re really up for it, it’s a good plan. It’s safe, and we’ll meet interesting people and see an interesting place.”
Lanisen says, “Yeah, that’s– yeah. I think so. I’d rather… even without Myrd, I’d rather that than go to her house just yet, I think.”
Lanisen says, “Oh, there’s a, um, a garden or somethin’, south. They said it’s worth seein’.”
Megren says, “Sir Darrin’ll like that.”
Lanisen says, “Think there’ll be flowers, this late in the year?”
Megren says, “Well, I wouldn’t’ve thought it of the royal garden.”
Lanisen perks up. “Maybe there’ll be dryads.”
Megren says, “Maybe. Did they say there were?”
Lanisen says, “Well. No. But there might be!”
Megren says, “Maybe.”
Lanisen tilts his head at her.
Megren lifts her shoulders. “How should I know?”
Lanisen remembers, “You didn’t like the dryads where we camped.”
Megren screws up her face. “Well, I wouldn’t, I wouldn’t say that.”
Lanisen cants his head questioningly.
Megren screws up her face again.
Lanisen guesses, “Too much strangeness?”
Megren says, “I don’t know. I walked into the aspens and then suddenly I couldn’t find the way I’d come. And then there was one of them on you without even telling us.”
Lanisen frowns. “It wasn’t, it wasn’t /on/ me.”
Megren says, “Well, it seemed like it was.”
Lanisen says, “Well–” He pauses, frowning again. “You mean the, the leaves?”
Lanisen says, “But there were, we all had leaves on us, it didn’t seem like…” He squints. “Um– I don’t think it /was/ the leaves, I think it was usin’ the leaves to show us where it was.”
Megren lifts her shoulders.
Lanisen says, “Anyway it didn’t /feel/ like…” He trails off, discomfited, and crosses an arm over his middle.
Megren says, “I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have said.”
Lanisen says, “No, it’s…” He pauses, an odd look on his face. “There’s, there’s a lot to learn here, isn’t there.”
Megren says, “I suppose so.”
Lanisen says, reflecting, “Maybe it thought we knew.”
Megren says, “I think — I think it was just, I think it was playing, like when I leave bells on Haft’s things. Only I know all the rules when I do that to one of the guards or they do it to me, and I, I don’t know how trees work.” She sounds perhaps a little more disturbed by the last statement than it generally calls for, though given her childhood it is perhaps no surprise.
Lanisen says, “Yeah. Yeah, exactly. It couldn’t’ve known we didn’t know how dryads…”
Megren says, “Only, I wouldn’t pull a prank on someone without teaching them the rules first, giving them easy ones until they seem to have caught on.”
Lanisen shifts. “I don’t think it meant any harm, I really don’t.”
Megren says, “Maybe not.”
Lanisen asks, “What could it have done to us, anyway?”
Megren says, “I don’t know, I don’t know.”
Lanisen hmms. He glances at Megren. “I’m sorry it spooked you.”
Megren says, “I wish you wouldn’t press it.”
Lanisen looks slightly taken aback. “Sorry.”
Megren looks vaguely annoyed, and also probably annoyed at being annoyed. “It’s fine,” she dismisses.
Lanisen looks down at his hands.
Megren looks at the ceiling. “Sorry.”
Lanisen says, “No, it’s– I’m sorry. You’ve, you’ve got a good sense about these things and I ought to listen.”
Megren says, “No, I didn’t say because I didn’t know.”
Lanisen says, “Oh.”
Megren says again, “Sorry.”
Lanisen shakes his head, quickly and apologetically.
Megren says, “So, a garden?”
Lanisen lifts his shoulders. He’s relieved and it shows. “Um– south, she said. I dunno how far.”
Megren says, “We’ll go when Sir Darrin’s next free.”
Lanisen says, “Yeah, all right.”
Darrin knocks politely on the door to the space Lanisen has chosen.
The low murmur of conversation from behind the door pauses, and Lanisen calls, “Yeah?”
Darrin calls a cheerful, “Morning!” through the door.
Megren can be heard snorting. “Come /in/,” she instructs.
Lanisen hops off the bed and crosses to open the door, standing aside so Darrin can enter. “Mornin’, sir.”
Darrin grins at him as he comes in. He looks mildly disheveled, curls awry, perhaps like he’s been out for a morning jog.
Megren lifts her brows. “Where have you been?”
Lanisen bows and returns to the bed, plopping down next to Megren.
Darrin settles down on the floor, pushing his hair off his forehead and looking up at them. “Oh, I went for a run, and then got distracted by a young Unicorn called Marmor. Pleasant fellow.”
Megren looks at Lanisen. “Just got distracted by a Unicorn is all.”
Lanisen says, “Happens to all of us from time to time.”
Darrin nods sagely.
Megren asks, “Want to see a garden?”
Lanisen glances at Darrin.
Darrin gives her an incredulous look. “Of /course/,”
Lanisen says, “Apparently there’s one a little ways south of here.”
Darrin looks, predictably, intrigued.
Megren asks, “Want to go?”
Darrin nods eagerly.
Megren grins and comments to Lanisen, “I told you.”
Lanisen confesses, “I don’t know how to get there.”
Megren says, “Well, south.”
Darrin says, “I don’t remember a garden to the south.”
Lanisen says, “She didn’t say how far, though.”
Megre asks, “Did she say what side of the river?”
Lanisen shakes his head.
Megren says, “I would think she’d say if it was the other side.”
Lanisen says a little doubtfully, “I guess.”
Darrin says gleefully, “Sounds like an excuse to wander about.”
Megren says, “What a downer.”
Lanisen says, “Or we can ask directions.”
Darrin says, “Pfffffffffft.”
Megren says, “I suppose Dochus probably knows.”
Lanisen lifts his shoulders at Darrin. “Maybe I’ll ask directions, and then you two can blunder about for the afternoon.”
Darrin clasps a hand to his chest, affronted. “And go without you? Perish the thought!”
Megren says, “If it lets us blunder, anyway.”
Lanisen hmms thoughtfully at this.
Darrin looks between them.
Megren says, “Let’s blunder while he’s asking and then he’ll have to find us and tell us the way from there.”
Darrin looks at Lanisen for his opinion.
Lanisen pushes his mouth to the side.
Lanisen suggests, “How about I ask but you two don’t listen, and we all blunder until we’re tired of blundering, and then we’ll go.”
Megren asks of Darrin, “Why’s he always so /practical/ all the time.”
Darrin says, “Somebody’s got to keep us in line, I /suppose/.”
Lanisen says, “Well. I am the oldest.”
Megren screws up her whole face.
Darrin squints at him and huffs.
Lanisen lifts his shoulders beatifically.
Megren says, “I guess Lanisen’s da for the rest of the trip then.”
Darrin looks like that comparison slightly traumatizes him.
Lanisen says, “Mmhmm, none of your sass, else it’s naptime for you, young miss.”
Megren says, “I hate naptime.”
Darrin makes a face.
Megren says, “All right da, go ask already.”
Lanisen gets obligingly to his feet and goes, grumbling in a da sort of way the whole way.
Darrin stands as well, shaking his head vigorously.
Megren says, “Your head’ll get stuck doing that if you aren’t careful.”
Darrin sticks out his tongue.
Megren sticks hers out back.
Lanisen returns after a few moments, looking smugly full of knowledge. “Ready?” he asks brightly.
Darrin nods, giving Lanisen the side eye at his Smug Look.
Megren hops up. “Time to get lost, then.”
Lanisen picks up his scarf and winds it around his neck.
Darrin holds open the door.
Megren skips out past him, taking the time to grab her cloak but neglecting whatever else Lanisen might lecture her about later.
Lanisen follows after them.
Darrin says, “So, a southerly direction, then.”
Megren says, “Right! Dochus told me there’s an enormous Beaver’s Dam. Maybe we’ll see it.”
Lanisen says, “Don’t get us /too/ lost.”
Darrin grins at Megren and then gives Lanisen a disappointed look.
Megren closes her eyes and spins and then points directly at the inn, her eyes still closed. “That way.”
Darrin says dryly, “Fritter, that’s the inn.”
Megren uncovers her eyes and makes a face.
Lanisen starts down the path, heading south.
Megren sags and follows unwillingly.
Darrin stage-whispers, “I thought I was supposed to be the responsible one.”
Lanisen turns around so he can walk backward and make faces at them.
Megren snorts disbelievingly. “It was obviously me.”
Darrin makes a noise of grudging agreement.
Lanisen trips, staggers a little bit, and turns around so he can walk the right way, straightening his jacket in an exaggeratedly flustered sort of way.
Megren cracks up laughing.
Darrin giggles under his breath and calls out, “Rocks, gotta watch out for those rocks, I say.”
Lanisen announces, “It did that on purpose.”
Megren says, “Just as you say, o fearless leader.”
Darrin muses, “I don’t /think/ the rocks are animate.”
Megren punches him in the arm. “Da says they are!”
Lanisen stops once the path from the inn ends at the main road and waits for Megren and Darrin to decide which way to wander.
Megren closes her eyes and spins again. This time she’s just pointing directly at Darrin.
Darrin looks tempted to bite her finger, but he settles for pointing back at her and waiting for her to open her eyes.
Megren does so, and makes a face, batting at his hand. “We need a better method,” she concludes.
Darrin says, “We could follow Lanisen till we get where we want, and then go the opposite direction?”
Lanisen pushes his mouth to the side.
Megren says, “That’s clever.”
Darrin looks somewhat smug.
Lanisen asks, longsuffering, “Am I meant to be goin’ in the right direction now, then, or…?”
Megren say, “Ah.”
Megren pulls a clean handkerchief from her pocket. She folds it and heads toward Lanisen with the handkerchief uplifted. “I know what we’ll do.”
Lanisen shies backward a little bit in surprise, squinting.
Megren pushes her mouth aside and tucks the handkerchief away. “Here, I’ll cover your eyes with my hands and you can lead us.”
Darrin looks at Lanisen, and then back to Megren, somewhat skeptical.
Lanisen says, “It’s, it’s all right, sorry, I wasn’t expectin’ it.”
Megren tilts her head, and then accedes and ties the handkerchief lightly around his eyes. It is a little see-through — enough for light patterns, and she hasn’t done any checking at all for gaps, so that there is a good big one around the arch of his nose, through which he can see his feet and the ground immediately around them.
Lanisen reaches up to touch the handkerchief, running his fingertips lightly over the fold and the knot. This done, he reaches out for Megren.
Megren gives him her hand.
Darrin comes up on Lanisen’s opposite side.
Lanisen’s grip on her hand is just a little tighter than would be exactly casual. He turns his head slightly as Darrin joins them. “I suppose you’re going to get us lost now?”
Megren says, “No, you’re leading, silly.”
Darrin says, “I believe the idea is that you’re going to be getting us lost, Lanisen.”
Lanisen’s pause is distinctly doubtful, but he lifts his shoulders and starts east.
Megren follows gleefully, tugging him occasionally to keep him from running into trees or briar.
Darrin keeps pace, occasionally herding Lanisen away from obstacles on his side.
Lanisen cheats a little bit, perhaps unintentionally, tilting his head up so he has a better view of the path ahead.
Megren doesn’t bother him for this, but she does stop him once and spin him a few times.
Lanisen says, “Oh, stars, steady on.” He stumbles and raises his arms into a sort of defensive boxer’s position until she’s finished. He stands still for a moment to get his bearings, listing slightly.
Megren stops in in the right direction but doesn’t tell him so.
Lanisen tilts his head back, his head turning from side to side. After a moment’s hesitation, he begins forward again.
Darrin attempts not to snicker.
Megren keeps up with the pulling him away from rocks and rivers and what not.
Lanisen’s steps become more sure as the dizziness wears off.
Megren turns him around backward.
Darrin gives Megren a puzzled look.
Lanisen stops, confused.
Megren says, “You’re too good at this, it’s time to walk backward.”
Lanisen protests, “I’ll fall!”
Megren says, “I have you.”
Lanisen says, “I’ll fall /on you/!”
Megren looks at Sir Darrin. “He doesn’t trust me,” she whines.
Darrin says, “Between the two of us, I think we can manage to keep you from falling, Lanisen.”
Lanisen makes a grumbling whining sort of noise and begins tentatively stepping backward.
Megren guides him gently, but by this time they are very near the garden.
Lanisen stumbles more frequently going this direction and needs the support.
Darrin hesitates when Lanisen’s backward steps take them to the edge of a shallow stream flowing south toward the Great River. He looks east, across the stream, and frowns faintly.
Megren catches the look and furrows her brows at him, forgetting to pay quite enough attention to Lanisen’s movement.
Lanisen asks, “I hear water?” A stone turns under his foot and he bumps into Megren.
Megren says, “Whoops!” and grabs him to steady him. “Sorry.”
Darrin warns Lanisen, “You’re gonna get a bit wet if we continue this direction.” He pauses, then addresses Megren, “I…might be wrong but I swear the old Witch’s castle is this direction.”
Lanisen says, a little unsure, “It’s… across a stream.”
Megren asks, “Are we meant to turn– oh.” She pauses, and then untied his blindfold. “Like this?”
Lanisen asks, “Have we been comin’ east?”
Darrin purses his lips and looks at Lanisen when he’s unblindfolded.
Megren nods, pointing through the canopy to where the light of the sun come toward them.
Lanisen brushes his hair down absently where the blindfold has mussed it. “East across a stream, and then east a little more,” he says doubtfully.
Darrin looks a little confused, but willing to trust Lanisen’s directions.
Megren looks at Sir Darrin and lifts her shoulders.
Lanisen glances between them, hesitant. “Is that…”
Darrin doesn’t say anything, possibly waiting for Lanisen to finish his question.
Lanisen asks, “Is it, should we go back? Is it safe?”
Darrin shrugs. “We could easily go back if the ruins come into view. I might be misremembering where they are too. We do seem to be following the directions you got, Lanisen.”
Megren says, “I can’t see why Dochus would have given wrong ones.”
Lanisen pauses, then nods and begins looking for an easy place to cross the stream.
Megren trails after him.
Darrin nods in agreement with Megren.
Lanisen finds a likely place where the stream seems narrow enough to hop. He hesitates on the bank, making apprehensive faces.
Megren takes the first leap.
Darrin takes a few steps back so he has momentum before he hops it.
Lanisen paces back and forth, looks up and down the stream for a better place, then makes a face again and jumps. He makes it, but wobbles on the other bank, windmilling.
Megren catches his elbow.
Lanisen grabs on and steadies himself. “Let’s find a bridge on the way back,” he requests, out of breath.
Megren nods. “Sure. Bet we can.”
Darrin looks more doubtful.
Lanisen gestures east and continues on.
Megren follows after him.
Darrin seems a little more alert as they move on.
Lanisen doesn’t venture far ahead and glances frequently at his companions to be sure everything is still all right.
Megren also glances frequently at Sir Darrin, since he seems to know the area.
Darrin doesn’t make any objections as they move.
Outside the Gardens
In the base of the valley rests a stretch of muted evergreens and grey stone. It seems orderly, as if recently tended to. Around the outskirts of the garden is a low wall, a few bushes peering over the top, and an opening forms a gate nearby. Leading in is a path made of the same type of stone, given color by moss growing between each rock.
There is a solemn sort of feel in the air, despite the openness and the lush color. Bird song, while still present, is softer, a little melancholy and nostalgic. A careful breeze makes evergreen needles shiver.
Lanisen keeps going, but slows and hesitates when low gray stone walls come into view.
Darrin wrinkles his nose, straightening to try and see over the wall.
Megren glances at Sir Darrin again. “Is it–?”
Lanisen eyes the way forward uncertainly.
Megren says, “It looks… it does look manicured.”
Darrin says, “Doesn’t look like ruins.”
Lanisen says doubtfully, “It kinda looks like ruins.”
Megren asks, “It’s not where they are then?”
Megren nods at Lanisen.
Darrin wrinkles his nose. He doesn’t look as uncomfortable as he expected, just confused.
Lanisen asks, “Should we keep goin’, then, or turn around?”
Megren steps out ahead of the other two in an investigatory manner, creeping around the low wall to see inside.
Darrin follows Megren, after a pause.
Lanisen isn’t about to be left behind.
Mossy footstones and stretches of grass mingle over this minimalistic garden, accented mainly by gatherings of shrubs. Most are dotted with red hawthorn berries, and a couple are large enough to provide shade, should the rest-seeker be willing to avoid thorns; if not, worn rocks offer a place to sit. Every so often along the outer wall, a white pine sapling stands sentry.
The mossy stone path splits into three shortly after coming through the opening to the west. Two narrow paths lead to either side, cumulating in small loops around a couple young evergreen trees. Leading up the low rise to the east, and deeper into the garden, is the widest path. It passes beneath the boughs of two oaks and meets a wide flight of stairs. To the west, a larger opening leads out to Lantern Waste.
Megren pauses in the entryway, tilting her head.
Darrin looks around, admiring the simplicity of the garden, even faded as it is this time of year.
Lanisen follows them, his shoulders dropping in some relief that it is in fact the garden. He studies the stone walls and structures, however, and looks at Darrin.
Megren says, “I think it /is/ the castle.”
Darrin looks at Megren questioningly and then studies the garden more acutely.
Megren walks over to one of the sitting stones. “See, look at this, it looks like a wall stone.”
Lanisen rubs his upper arm, turning in place to take in the structure. “They broke it and made it a garden.”
Megren’s voice registers surprise. “It’s… peaceful.”
Darrin hums in agreement. “What a lovely idea.”
Lanisen hesitates by the entrance for a moment, slightly guarded, then begins to move deeper into the garden to explore.
Megren moves out of his way so that he can take the lead, though she strays toward one of the hawthorns with interest.
Darrin ambles after them.
Lanisen wanders the paths, paying equal attention to the trees and other plants and to the remnants of the stone castle.
Megren says, “Sorry, Jana, Jana did this, then?”
Lanisen nods, still looking around. “I think so. That’s what she said, and the Eagle.”
Megren glances at Sir Darrin to see his take on this.
Darrin asks, “Think the Northern Guard did it, then?”
Lanisen lifts one shoulder. “She’s part of the guard,” he says absently.
Megren says, “It… seems out of profile.”
Lanisen keeps moving and looking about, but he pushes his mouth to the side at this, absently disagreeing.
Darrin glances at Megren. “For Jana?” he confirms.
Megren says, “Yeah.”
Darrin says, dubiously, “I don’t know, given her civic engagement at present.”
Lanisen says distantly, looking down the garden path. “She always liked pretty things.”
Megren tilts her head and concedes, “Oh.”
Darrin asks, “Should we see what’s up the stairs?”
Lanisen nods, turning that way.
Megren says, “Yeah, all right.”
On the Slope
There is more stone here, softened by moss and evened by walkers. Dark green bushes rise up from intentional gaps, laden with bright red berries. With no trees to block the view, the sky stretches unbroken overhead, and you can see most of the valley from here: the patterns of paths in the entrance below, a well further east, and a form of rocks, almost like a short tower, nearby. Broad steps lead down the slope.
A little ways off, there is an opening in the low wall. Two thick wrought-iron bolts flank the opening, as firm as if they were part of the landscape itself.
Darrin wanders towards the pile of rocks resembling a tower.
Lanisen follows him, looking ahead.
Megren moves toward the well.
Lanisen stops to inspect the hawthorns, but moves to catch up with Megren before she gets too far ahead.
Darrin peers up at the rocks and then looks over his shoulder. He heads for Lanisen and Megren when he realizes he is alone.
There is something central to this garden, and not simply due to its placement directly between the two larger hills. The cobblestones become fewer and fewer, until meandering tendrils of morning glories engulf them completely, having brought you to its goal. Long grass shifts around your feet, hints of foxgloves and lupines peeking out though the green.
In the center of the grassy clearing grows a young apple tree. A wide well rests beneath the branches, made from simply carved stone. Upon the edge sit a bucket and a ladle, low enough for even a small Beast to quench their thirst. The grass looks especially long and soft at the base of the apple tree, and birds hop from twig to twig, fluting out fragments of songs.
The low wall has several gaps here and there, leading to other segments of the garden.
Megren lifts her face to consider the apple tree, which, while nearly leafless, is still heavy-laden with pink apples. She trudges up the slope and leans on the edge of the well, looking upward.
Lanisen follows her, looking up with interest and curiosity at the apples. “How does it–?” he wonders aloud.
Megren says, “It happens sometimes with the late ones.”
Lanisen says, “We’ve had frosts, though.”
Darrin draws closer to the water, tilting his head at the soft, almost voice-like sounds coming from it.
Megren says, “Well, they may not taste good.”
Darrin sits down beside the well.
Lanisen reaches up to touch one of the apples, then withdraws his hand and studies the tree for signs of speaking.
Megren peers into the well.
The well giggles.
Lanisen looks around toward Megren, startled.
Darrin sucks in a surprised breath.
Megren pulls back abruptly.
Lanisen circles around, hurrying to the other side of the well so he can look in too.
Darrin tries, tentatively, “Hello?”
A watery face emerges from the depths and stares at Lanisen.
Lanisen’s mouth opens with surprise and undisguised delight. “Hello!”
Megren takes a tentative step back forward and peers in.
Darrin grins hugely.
The face disappears under the water.
Lanisen looks crestfallen.
Darrin says, “Oh,” disappointed.
Megren peers in again to see what they are disappointed about.
Lanisen says mournfully, “She went away.”
There is a great fountain of water.
Darrin laughs. “I don’t think she did.”
A figure sits on the ledge inside the well now, her giggles echoing around the cavity.
Lanisen stumbles slightly in his haste to get back, then stands gasping and dripping, and grinning as if getting drenched with icy water on a cold day is the best thing that has ever happened to him.
Darrin pushes wet hair off his forehead and points at the naiad, grinning. “I like her,” he announces.
The naiad laughs at him delighted and open-mouthed.
Megren squints one eye and rings out her hair. “Hello,” she says.
Lanisen comes closer, more cautiously this time, and peers down into the well.
The naiad waves at him, kicking her feet, which splash outward and reform.
Megren asks Lanisen, “Do they talk?”
Lanisen turns a little red, glancing down at the naiad. “Don’t ask me, ask her!’
Darrin tells the naiad, “I’m Darrin.”
The well walls echo. “Hello!” The naiad pops up higher, leaning on the edge of the well in a mirror of Darrin.
Megren looks from Lanisen to the naiad and back.
Lanisen is already shivering, but he leans on the edge of the well next to Megren and asks, “What’s your name?”
Darrin looks at the naiad expectantly.
The naiad rushes to face Lanisen, staring intently into his face again.
Lanisen flinches back slightly, but holds his ground and looks back, equally interested.
The naiad’s face shimmers, and then forms Lanisen’s face for just the briefest moment before shimmering back into its own form.
Lanisen blinks. He looks like he’s not sure whether to be fascinated or unsettled or flattered.
Darrin oohs, most certainly impressed.
Megren’s brows lift. She narrows her eyes for a moment and then inquires, “Cann… you do me?”
The naiad blurs toward her and stares into her face, then pulls the same trick, managing to hold it slightly longer, but with the nose a little wrong.
Lanisen grins broadly and laughs, disbelieving.
The naiad giggles, echoing his laughter.
Megren looks at Sir Darrin, seemingly pleased by this display.
Darrin compliments, “That’s very clever.”
Lanisen asks again, “What’s your name?”
The naiad shakes her head, dropping down so that just her face peeks up from behind the wall of the well, as if she were shy, although this is unabashedly playacting.
Lanisen pulls his lips between his teeth, amused, and offers, “I’m Lanisen.”
Darrin chuckles, then tilts his head, studying the way the water moves around the naiad thoughtfully.
Megren says, “I’m Megren.”
The naiad makes a musical bubbling noise that might be a name. She grins like she knows it’s maddeningly unrecognizable.
Lanisen leans over the side of the well, listening eagerly. “Say that again?” he requests.
She says it again. It’s also maddeningly unpronounceable.
Lanisen tries to repeat it back anyway.
Darrin says, “Yeah, that’s beautiful – I’m afraid I’d only butcher it.”
The naiad quite literally cracks up, laughing at Lanisen. She splashes apart, falling down into the water, and then fountains back up. When she’s recovered, she leans on the wall and faces him with a huge grin, saying in a bubbly, but completely understandable voice, “Say it again.”
Lanisen blushes red. “What do people call you who aren’t naiads?” he asks instead.
Megren covers her mouth.
Darrin grins faintly.
The naiad says, “Kala.”
Lanisen ducks his head, relieved and grinning ruefully, and says, “Hello, Kala.”
Darrin pipes up, “Nice to meet you.”
The naiad giggles and bobs in something that might be imitative of a curtsey.
Megren uncertainly curtsies back.
Lanisen bows in return, though it’s a laughing, shabby sort of bow. “Pleased to meet you.”
Kala lengthens an arm and plucks an apple with it, presenting the apple to Lanisen.
Lanisen says, surprised, “Thank you.” He glances over his shoulder at the tree and asks a little anxiously, “They don’t mind?”
Kala shakes her head.
Megren looks up at the tree thoughtfully.
Lanisen nods, relieved, and says again, but this time to both Kala and the tree, “Thank you.”
The tree appears to be just a tree.
Darrin giggles when the tree makes no response.
Kala splashes him.
Megren wonders, “Do you only live here, or can you go out to the river and the pool?”
Kala turns to stare at Megren with a tilted head, and then she looks west toward the little stream they crossed for a rather lengthy moment, and then suddenly she splashes down into the well leaving only a few calm, expanding ripples.
Lanisen holds his breath.
Megren watches the water for a moment, hesitates, and then turns west. “I think–” she says.
Darrin looks west towards the stream.
Lanisen asks, “Is she gone?”
Megren says “No, it’s,” she glances at Sir Darrin and then hurries back west, down toward the stream.
Darrin, looking excited, hurries to follow.
Lanisen looks back at the well, then jogs to catch up with them.
Ahead of them, the faint sound of taunting laughter and their names called in a bubbly, singsongy voice can be heard.