Lanisen returns to the camp after maybe an hour, shivering and not looking anybody in the face. He returns to the fire and picks up the centaur’s massive wool cloak, glancing around briefly for its owner before he resumes his seat and wraps himself in it, hunching over his knees.
Megren is off at the side of camp, running drills with a Faun who looks like he’s not providing a lot more help than a straw target would, albeit the help has a lot more flair and drama. When she sees Lanisen reentering camp, she calls halt and thanks the Faun, wiping her brow and heading toward the fire.
Lanisen is distracted and subdued, and doesn’t notice her until she is quite close. “Hey,” he greets her, straightening, but averts his eyes and seems oddly wrong-footed.
Megren hops the log he’s sitting on. “Do I need to go hunt her down?”
Lanisen asks blankly, “What?”
Megren says, “You look off-kilter.”
Lanisen shakes his head. “No, it’s, it’s all right, I’m all right.”
Megren looks skeptical, but she simply says, “So I decided.”
Lanisen glances at her in confusion.
Megren says, “No Unicorn or Centaur. If I’ve gotta fight a magical Narnian creature, I’m definitely going with Faun.”
Lanisen says, “Oh!” and laughs, looking down. He tugs the immense cloak around himself more closely.
Megren says, “You know I would /gladly/ go give her a piece of my mind.”
Lanisen lowers his head. “Please don’t,” he says in a lower voice that won’t carry. “Please don’t, it’s– she didn’t…”
Megren puts her arm around his shoulders and ducks her head to try and get eye contact. “Hey.”
Lanisen stiffens up just a little under her arm in a way that he hasn’t for months, and turns his face slightly away. “It’s all right, please, it’s all right.”
Megren says, “Hey, whoa, what happened, what happened?”
Lanisen says, “Nothing, it, we talked, we just talked, I’m okay, I’m just– tryin’ to, to think through some things.”
Megren looks very unsure about what to do with this. “Can I help you think?” she tries.
Lanisen shakes his head, a small hesitant motion, and doesn’t look up at her. “I’m all right,” he says again softly. “I’ll be, I’ll be all right, I only need to…”
Megren says, “I’ll find some tea.”
Lanisen says, “You don’t gotta, you don’t gotta…”
Megren is already getting up. “Could use a drink anyway.”
Lanisen draws a breath, but doesn’t protest further. He watches her go, then exhales and folds forward, putting his elbows on his knees and lacing his hands behind his neck.
Megren returns after not too long with two steaming cups, apparently having found another group at another campfire with the same idea. She switches them into one hand and sinks down beside him, extending a hand to rub his back.
Lanisen tenses up again but doesn’t pull away. He seems to be having a hard time looking at Megren.
Megren offers, “Found tea.”
Megren says, “Is there, how can I help?”
Lanisen says, “I need– I need some time, is all, please.”
Megren hesitates and then concludes, “You.. want me to go?”
Lanisen says, “Not if– Only if you want to, I only meant– please… don’t– try to fix it right now, don’t make me talk about it.”
Megren settles a little, relieved. “Here,” she says, extending the hand with the two cups. “Take your tea.”
Lanisen does so, carefully and with both hands. He holds it without drinking and looks at the fire, his face distant and a little lost.
Megren watches him.
Lanisen realizes after a little while that she is looking at him. He lowers his head and sips cautiously at his tea, making a small appreciative noise.
Megren says, “You don’t have to drink it if you don’t want it.”
Lanisen says, “No, it’s good.”
Megren stops talking and goes back to watching.
Lanisen stays quiet, holding onto the tea, his eyes flicking from the fire to the people milling about the campsite. His posture is closed off and guarded, and there’s a sort of miserable shame in his face.
Megren says after a long quiet, “Did she… did she hurt you?”
Lanisen says, “No.”
Megren asks, “Did she make you think something was your fault?”
Lanisen says, “No, no.” He shifts and looks at her again, though his eyes skitter quickly away. “She didn’t, she didn’t do anything.”
Megren says, “Look, you’re,” she sounds a little upset with concern. “You’re looking at me like after Darius, it’s, she must’ve done something.”
Lanisen protests, distressed, “I’m not.” Incongruously, he adds, “I’m sorry.”
Megren says, “You don’t have to, just is there, there must be something I can do?”
Lanisen shakes his head slightly. “She–” He pauses. “She told me– There were some things I didn’t like to learn, and she asked me some questions I didn’t like to answer, but it wasn’t– they weren’t things she shouldn’t’ve told me, or questions she shouldn’t’ve asked. It’s all right, it will be, I’m only– I don’t know how to look at it right now.”
Megren says, “Well I don’t know what it was but you’re a good person and I love you, and I can find you a whole list of people who’ll back me up on it, whatever things you learned or answered.”
Lanisen shudders and rubs his hands over his face. His eyes shift briefly to the tent.
Megren glances that way.
Lanisen exhales and sets his tea down. He folds his arms on top of his knees and buries his face wearily in them.
Megren reaches for his shoulder to tug him gently toward her. “Stop, that can’t be helping.”
Lanisen stiffens up again. He ducks his head, half resisting, then all at once he gives up and sags against her, exhausted.
Megren gathers him up into a hug.”You’re good,” she says again, “And kind, and clever, and funny, and thoughtful, and hard-working, and dedicated…”
Lanisen says, “Please–”
Megren stops talking, just holds him, resting her head on his shoulder.
Lanisen shivers again and stills, relaxing by degrees. He finally drops his head to rest on hers, squirming until he has an arm free to wrap around her in return.
Megren allows this, still not saying anything in case it’s really not helping.
Lanisen seems to be comforted in the silence.
Megren rubs his back and squeezes his shoulder. “Have you got your stone in your jacket?”
Lanisen nods. He straightens and digs it out, leaning forward to set it just inside the firepit.
Megren asks, “Does your shoulder hurt?”
Lanisen says, “It’s all right.”
Megren gives him a concerned look.
Lanisen doesn’t say anything else.
Megren leaves her arm around his shoulders.
Lanisen reaches behind them after a little while and tugs the excess of the enormous cloak nearer, offering it to Megren.
Megren drapes it over her own shoulders, dropping her arm from his and then returning it from under the cloak.
Lanisen says in explanation, not quite looking at her, “A, a centaur, he loaned me it. I don’t see him, though.”
Megren says, “I was trying to decide between Centaur and very small Giant.”
Lanisen says, “They practically are Giants.”
Megren says, “Practically. Did you see the one at breakfast?”
Megren says, “I’d estimate he ate three times as much as me, and you’ve seen me eat.”
Lanisen lifts his eyebrows, glancing at her and then around for a centaur to size up. “Only three times?”
Megren makes a face at him.
Lanisen grins, looking down.
Megren shoves him gently in the side of the head, hand ruffling his hair. “You are in dire need of a trim.”
Lanisen touches his hair, making a face. “You /just/ cut it,” he accuses.
Megren says, “Months ago.”
Lanisen asks, “Was it?”
Megren says, “You’re all shaggy.”
Lanisen pushes his mouth to the side. “Shaggy’s bad?” he guesses.
Megren says, “I bet somebody’s got scissors around here.”
Lanisen looks mildly alarmed. “It’s fine until we get home, surely?”
Megren says, “I mean, I don’t think it’s going to grow legs and eat you.”
Lanisen says, “I was worried.”
Megren says, “I could tell.”
Lanisen runs a hand through his hair. “Is it so bad?”
Megren lifts a shoulder.
Lanisen says, “I dunno what that means.”
Megren says, “If I got a pair of scissors and you let me, I’d cut it.”
Lanisen makes a face.
Megren lifts her shoulder again.
Lanisen says, “Nobody’s prob’ly got any scissors anyway.”
Megren makes to get up and ask.
Lanisen says hastily, “No, don’t, it’s fine!”
Megren sits back down and makes a face at him.
Lanisen and Megren are sitting at the fire closest to their tent, wrapped up in a shockingly large wool cloak. Lanisen looks relieved about something.
Megren pushes all his hair forward so that it falls over his eyes.
Lanisen complains good-naturedly, “Whyy do you do this,” and pushes it off his forehead.
Darrin eventually disentangles himself from a serious discussion with Lord Peridan and a few other nobles from the Narnian court, emerging from Peridan’s tent. He pulls his cloak tighter about him as he moves out into the cool air and makes his way to Lanisen and Megren, dropping onto a stump beside them.
Megren does it again. “Evening, Sir,” she says in a tone which belies the cruelty of her actions.
Lanisen glances up at Darrin, lifting his eyebrows. He averts his eyes almost immediately, lowering his head, and his face flushes slightly in the firelight.
Darrin, on the verge of returning Megren’s greeting, pauses with his mouth open at Lanisen’s expression. “What? Have I got something on my face?” He touches the scruff of a few days old beard he’s sporting from not shaving while camping, self-conscious.
Megren jests, “Don’t look any funnier than usual,” but she gives Lanisen a concerned look that indicates she has some level of context for his expression.
Lanisen says, “No, sir, sorry.” He straightens a little and adjusts his expression to be more normal, but he can’t seem to look at Darrin for much more than a half-second at a time, and his face is still flushed.
Megren gives Darrin a “no idea” expression.
Darrin sticks his tongue out at Megren and eyes Lanisen with some concern. After a momentary pause, he says, “All right, what’d I put my foot in now?”
Lanisen rubs the side of his face. “Did you eat yet, either of you?” he asks, instead of answering.
Megren says, “I could eat.”
Darrin says, “Yeah, a few hours ago, but I’m sure I could manage a snack.”
Lanisen squirms out from underneath the cloak and makes his escape.
Megren lifts her brows helplessly at the knight.
Darrin gives Megren an even more lost expression and bundles himself further into his cloak to follow Lanisen.
Megren lets him have his try.
Lanisen picks his way through the camp, aiming for the kitchen area. His shoulders are hunched up against the cold and he doesn’t look anybody else in the face as he passes them.
Darrin half-jogs to catch up. “What’d you have in mind?”
Lanisen startles and ducks his head, pushing his hands into his pockets. “There’s, there’s prob’ly stew or somethin’.”
Darrin agrees, “Prob’ly. I can help carry.”
Lanisen says, “I can, I can get it, sir, it’s all right.”
Darrin insists, “I want to help. There’s three of us, and you only have two hands.”
Lanisen says, “I wasn’t gonna eat, I’m not hungry.”
Darrin sighs, running his fingers through his hair and then reaches out to rest a hand lightly on Lanisen’s forearm, trying to move slowly enough that Lanisen sees the touch coming. “Seriously, Lanisen, are you all right?”
Lanisen goes still. His eyes settle briefly on Darrin’s hand, then he darts a glance around the busy camp. “I’m all right, sir.”
Darrin wrinkles his nose and gives him an unconvinced look.
Lanisen says unhappily, still not looking at him directly, “Sir, please.”
Darrin pulls his hand away immediately. “All right. Sorry. But I’m here if you want to talk.”
Lanisen says, “Yes, sir.”
Darrin takes a step back, scrubbing his hand through his hair and down to rub at the back of his neck.
Lanisen hesitates, then begins toward the food again.
Darrin goes back to his seat by the fire and Megren, his mouth pinched.
Megren lifts her brows at him inquiringly.
Darrin shakes his head slightly. “Did he talk to you about what’s on his mind?”
Megren says, “He talked to Jana and it was ‘fine’ but she asked some things he didn’t want to answer and he learned some things he didn’t want to learn. That’s all I could get.”
Darrin’s frowns and slumps. “I ran across her this morning,” he confesses. “Told her a little about where Lanisen’s gotten his scars, when she asked. That’s probably my fault, then.”
Megren’s brows draw together, and she glances over toward where Lanisen has gone. “Oh.” She frowns. “You’d probably better — he’s not looking anyone in the eye, it’s, I’ve never quite seen him like it.”
Darrin says something unfit for polite company under his breath and rubs his face.
Megren reaches over to rest her hand on his back, “He said it was fine?” she offers, not sounding especially confident in the assertion.
Darrin says, “I thought it would be fine, it’s more than I should have said but little more than I would’ve said to anybody else, but he’s certainly not acting fine.”
Megren says, “I don’t know if it’s to do with you. I don’t know what he means about learning things he didn’t want. Maybe something to do with Darius, but then I don’t know why he would say it was fine if it wasn’t.”
Lanisen returns with the food after a moment, thick heavy stew with venison and potatoes and fresney, with bread for dipping. He hesitates a little distance away, close enough to catch a bit of what they’re saying, then shuts his eyes briefly and joins them again, setting the stew down in front of them.
Megren closes her mouth when he gets nearer. “You didn’t get any for you?” She asks.
Darrin thanks Lanisen, but doesn’t touch his. “I’m sorry, Lanisen,” he says regretfully. “I talked to Ja- Adara this morning and she asked about you, and I really should have asked you before I said anything, but I didn’t think.”
Lanisen goes still again. His eyes dart between Darrin and Megren, and past them as somebody passes on their own business. He rubs his elbow and takes a step backward, as if he’d prefer to remove himself from this situation.
Megren stands up. “Here, I’ll go so you can talk.”
Darrin says, “It’s fine, it’s – if Lanisen doesn’t want to talk about it, that’s his choice.”
Lanisen swallows, frowning briefly. He doesn’t look at either of them, but after a moment of working up to it, he requests softly, “Please don’t tell anybody else, sir.”
Darrin says, “I swear.”
Megren hesitates, unsure if she should still go.
Lanisen nods quickly. He moistens his lips and asks, still not looking up, visibly dreading the answer, “Are there– are there other people you’ve told, sir?”
Darrin looks confused. “No? I mean, it’s all common knowledge back home, everything that’s happened lately has been pretty – pretty public, Lanisen.”
Lanisen pulls his lips between his teeth. “You told her I get dreams, sir.”
Darrin says, “Oh.” He frowns, an expression that seems mostly self-directed, pausing to review his conversation in his head.
Megren crosses her arms over her stomach.
Lanisen says, “You told her I’m still–”
Darrin looks ill at Lanisen’s broken off statement. “I absolutely said too much, and for that I am terribly, terribly sorry, but I most definitely did not tell her anything with the intent of proving you to be still hurt by what had happened. Lion’s sake, Lanisen, I told her you insisted we come here. I told her you fought in the battle. She said you used to be sniveling! Sniveling! You’re the bravest, most selfless man I know, Lanisen.”
Lanisen looks just as sick. He swallows several times and finally nods slightly, still not looking at them. There’s something in the concession that suggests he just wants to get out of the conversation.
Darrin says again, “I’m sorry, Lanisen.”
Megren finally makes the choice to close the space between them and fold Lanisen into an embrace.
Darrin gets to his feet. “Don’t go, either of you, I need to turn in anyways, so.” He leaves his stew where Lanisen left it.
Lanisen nods quickly to Darrin, his eyes flicking up for a second to communicate that the apology is heard and accepted. He doesn’t seem to know what to do with the hug.
Megren steps back a little at Darrin’s words, so that she can see his face. “You’re, are you going?”
Darrin motions at his tent. “Yeah, I’m, just going to bed.”
Lanisen draws a breath. “I’m sorry,” he says. “It’s not such a big thing, it’s not a– sir, I’m sorry.”
Megren tucks her hair behind her ear looking like she feels out of place.
Darrin stops and gives Lanisen a look. “Don’t be daft, Lanisen,” he says, his voice softer. “There’s nothing for you to apologize for.”
Lanisen lowers his head and studies Darrin anxiously.
Darrin exhales and turns around at that look, coming over and wrapping Lanisen in a hug too.
Lanisen’s face goes briefly wary, but he exhales, his shoulders dropping with relief. He brings up an arm hesitantly to return the hug.
Darrin says, his voice a little muffled, “You know the dreams are nothing to be ashamed about, right? I still have dreams about the battle, and Lion, that’s nothing like what you’ve been through.”
Megren rubs her upper arm.
Lanisen tenses up slightly at this.
Darrin pulls away, squeezing him once more before he lets go. “Sorry, sorry.”
Lanisen asks, “What all did she… what, what did she tell you?”
Megren frowns and looks at Sir Darrin
Darrin says, “Just, something to make me dislike Myrd more, and then we talked about how you said you would take care of her son if need be. Why she’s still with Myrd at all. Little bit about people telling her she’s a bad mother for being on the guard and not just being a mother.” He rolls his eyes.
Lanisen rubs his elbow.
Megren takes a breath and goes and sits down.
Darrin sort of… hovers where he stands, looking still on edge.
Lanisen looks like he’s found the answer he was looking for somewhere in Darrin’s non-answer, and he looks very tired. He crosses both arms over his stomach and nods.
Megren asks, “Are you all right?”
Darrin gives him a searching look at the nod. His expression is concerned, but not pitying. He glances at Megren when she speaks.
Lanisen says, “I’m all right.”
Megren asks, “Do you want to sit and have tea and a hug?”
Lanisen says, “I think I might– I might walk a bit.”
Megren asks, “By yourself?”
Lanisen says, “I won’t go far.”
Darrin says quietly, “I really do need sleep.” He looks it, too, after that session with Peridan, dark circles under his eyes.
Lanisen looks at him, realizing, and bows quickly. “‘Course, yeah. I’m sorry, sir.”
Darrin gives him a pointed look at the apology, his lips quirking.
Megren shifts, but she nods. “Sleep well, then.”
Lanisen draws back, out of his way, and looks down.
Darrin says, “Thanks. Good night, you two.”
Megren says to Darrin, “Hang on, wait.” She hesitates, glancing between them, and then goes and gives Lanisen a hug. “Be safe. Don’t forget your stone,” before stepping back and turning to Sir Darrin. “I’ll walk you there.”
Lanisen nods silently. He crouches to retrieve his stone from the firepit.
Darrin pauses, nodding to Megren.
Megren jogs a couple steps to walk with him. “Sorry,” she says, to apologize for making him wait when he looks as tired as he does.
Lanisen watches them go. He releases a long breath and ducks his head, turning away to follow the path into the woods.
Darrin offers her a tired smile and a shrug.
Megren walks him to the tent before saying, “Hey, I,” She rocks on her heels, glancing at the camp and tapping the inside of her fist against her leg, then looks back at him. “I love you,” she reminds him, fist still awkwardly bumping her outer thigh.
Darrin glances at her with surprise. He ducks his head, reaching out to cover her shifting fist with his hand and squeeze. “Love you too,” he says softly.
Megren nods once, almost businesslike. “All right,” she says. “Then, that was, that was all. Get some, go to sleep.”
Darrin’s lip curves up on one side. “Yes, ma’am,” he says, letting go of her hand.
Megren’s hand follows his for a moment before dropping again. She turns back toward the fire, tucking her hair behind her ear and glancing past it to see if Lanisen is still in sight.
Lanisen has vanished between the trees to the east.
Darrin watches her for a moment before he lifts the flap and ducks into the tent.
Megren sinks down beside the fire and gathers up the huge Centaur cloak into her lap, leaning forward and dropping her head onto it.
Megren sits back up after a while and eats the forgotten soup Lanisen brought them. She hesitates, and then goes ahead and eats Darrin’s too so that it doesn’t go to waste, and then she washes the dishes and puts them away and returns to her spot at the fire, pulling the cloak up over her head this time so that she looks like a dark ghost.
Lanisen returns when nearly an hour has passed, his nose nipped red. He aims for the tent, but pauses and turns to join Megren instead, once he’s sure it’s her.
Megren is actually asleep by the time he returns, hunched over crossed arms and head bowed forward.
Lanisen sits down next to her and looks at her for a moment, then reaches out and gently shakes her shoulder. “Meg?” he asks quietly. “You wanna move to the tent?”
Megren stirs, blinking at him. “Oh, you’re back,” she says, sounding relieved. She lifts an arm to open up the cloak for him to duck in. “Good.”
Lanisen says, “You should, you should go to bed, come on.” He gets back to his feet, offering her a hand.
Megren shakes her head. “Mm-mm. I want to sit with you for a little bit first. –Oh,” She looks foggily off toward one of the other campfires. “There’s, I was going to tell you, somebody’s got hot chocolate.”
Lanisen asks, “You want me to bring you some?”
Megren says, “No, it’s for you,” She reaches up to point at his cold-reddened face. “Your nose.”
Lanisen rubs his nose. He sits down next to her again, ducking into the cloak’s shelter just so she won’t leave it open.
Megren sags against his shoulder. “Are you better?” she asks.
Lanisen says, “I’m all right.” He shifts so he can wrap an arm around her shoulders and releases a long breath. “I’m sorry.”
Megren makes a dismissive sound. “I’m sorry.”
Lanisen says, “You got, there’s nothin’.”
Megren says, “Should’ve fixed it for you.”
Lanisen says, shaking his head, “How, you couldn’t’ve, you couldn’t’ve.”
Megren says, “Still would’ve liked to’ve.”
Lanisen rests his cheek on top of her head.
Megren says again, “I’m sorry.”
Lanisen says softly, “Don’t.”
Megren stops talking, still a little limp with sleepiness.
Lanisen brings up his other arm to wrap around her as well.
Megren adjusts her head not unlike a pet.
Lanisen exhales softly and settles in, watching the fire.
Megren’s breathing evens out, but it steadies rather than slows, in the way of someone slowly and a little reluctantly waking up.
Lanisen, at the same time, seems to be drifting off.
Megren doesn’t move.
Lanisen doesn’t either, and in another moment he is definitely asleep.
Megren shifts a little so that he’s less likely to get a kink in his neck.
Lanisen stirs and rouses and resettles.
Megren allows for this, watching the fire tiredly if no longer sleepily.
Lanisen yawns, evidently not asleep any longer.
Megren says, “Oh, sorry.”
Lanisen hms? “You wanna go to bed?”
Megren says, “I think I woke you up.”
Lanisen says, “Nah.”
Megren says, “All right.”
Lanisen yawns again, exhausted.
Megren says, “Here, I’ll walk you to bed.”
Lanisen says, evidently reluctant to get up and leave the warmth, “I don’t want to wake Sir Darrin.”
Megren asks, “Want hot chocolate?’
Lanisen says, “…Maybe.”
Megren shifts to extract herself. “Wait here.”
Lanisen says, getting up, “What, you wait.”
Megren makes a face at him. “I already got up.”
Lanisen says, “Well, now we’re both up.”
Megren presses downward on his good shoulder.
Lanisen looks unfazed.
Megren presses a little harder.
Lanisen ducks out from under her hand.
Megren pouts her lips.
Lanisen says, starting toward the cocoa, “Your face’ll get stuck like that.”
Megren plunks down heavily.
Lanisen grins and ducks his head, picking his way across the camp.
Megren pulls the whole huge cloak around her.
Lanisen performs the necessary negotiations for cocoa and returns with two mugs, topped with frothy whipped cream.
Megren is lying sleepily on the log by this time, wrapped up like a chrysalis.
Lanisen sits down in front of her on the ground, offering up the cocoa.
Megren sits up and slips down next to him before taking it, careful not to let the cloak touch the ground.
Lanisen says, “I’ll clean it before I take it back.”
Megren unwraps it part way so that she can extend one end to him.
Lanisen hums gratefully and scoots in, wrapping it around himself.
Megren nestles in close, bending her knees up and holding her hot chocolate near her face in both hands. Her first sips earned her a noseful of cream.
Lanisen snickers. He drinks more carefully to avoid the same fate.
Megren wrinkles her nose and extends her tongue to try to lick it off.
Lanisen offers her his handkerchief.
Megren seems to think she has it well in hand. She does not.
Lanisen retracts the handkerchief and watches to see how matters progress. He takes another solemn drink of cocoa.
Megren’s tongue is of the usual variety, not able to reach her own nose.
Lanisen does his very best to keep a straight face, but he finally snorts with laughter, closing his eyes.
Megren finally gives up and and wipes her face with the heel of her hand, then licks it off from there.
Lanisen squirms to a more comfortable position, drawing up his knees. He rests his cocoa on top of them and shuts his eyes again for a moment.
Megren rests the corner of her head lightly against his.
Lanisen stirs and leans against her. He sighs.
Megren asks, “All right?
Lanisen says, “Yeah.”
Megren asks, “Still don’t want to talk about it?”
Lanisen rubs the side of his face, glancing around the camp. He shrugs, not looking at Megren. “It’s not,” he begins, then lets out a small frustrated breath. “It, it gave me a turn, is all.”
Megren says again, “All right.”
Lanisen’s frustration seems to be directed inward. He stares at his cocoa, his head lowered and his shoulders hunched.
Megren kisses his temple.
Lanisen swallows hard.
Megren says, “I’m sorry.”
Lanisen doesn’t say anything for a moment. His eyes flicker anxiously toward the tent. “I should’ve–” he starts. “It was a bad time, he’s so tired, I should’ve, should’ve waited. I bet it’ll look silly in the morning anyway.”
Megren says, “He’ll be all right. He shouldn’t’ve said, and it’s good you told him.”
Lanisen pulls his lips between his teeth. “Is he mad?” he asks in a lower voice that will not carry to the tent.
Megren makes a face at him. “Don’t know what he’s got to be mad over. Did he seem mad to you?”
Lanisen says, “There’s, there’s different kinds of mad.”
Megren squints at him.
Lanisen lowers his head and says, “I don’t know, I’m sorry.”
Megren says, “I feel pretty confident telling you he’s not mad.”
Lanisen says, “All right.”
Megren asks again, “Why would he be mad?”
Lanisen says, “I don’t know.” He props up his forehead on one hand, staring at the mug resting on his knees. “He didn’t, he didn’t do anything wrong, really, it just– I didn’t know what to do with it and it… I wish, I wish I’d waited, I really do.”
Megren says, “Well, it’s past now, anyway.”
Lanisen says, “Yeah.”
Megren says, “He’s not mad.”
Megren says, “I’m sorry she found out.”
Lanisen makes a face briefly and shrugs, dismissive. He draws into himself slightly.
Megren reaches her arm around his back.
Lanisen says, “I might’ve told her eventually anyway.”
Megren says, “It was yours to tell.”
Lanisen says, “It’s not even– So I get bad dreams. Don’t everybody get bad dreams sometimes?” He rubs his eyes wearily.
Megren says, “I’d suspect so, yeah.”
Lanisen says, “So why’s it even…”
Megren says, “I don’t think everyone gets them from real things. I mean — not, not the way you do. It doesn’t feel nice to know that people know you’re still thinking about those things.”
Megren says, “I get — I’ve had dreams I don’t want to tell, but they don’t wake me, so people don’t notice them, and I don’t have to. It’s not the same.”
Lanisen looks at her at this, worried and assessing.
Megren says, “I’m just saying, I think everybody gets them, but not everybody has to tell them.”
Lanisen sets his mug aside and folds his arms on top of his knees.
Megren says again, “I’m sorry.”
Lanisen repeats, “It’ll seem silly in the morning.”
Megren accepts, “Could be.”
Lanisen buries his face in his arms.
Megren rests her cheek against the back of his head and kisses his temple again, rocking him gently.
Lanisen says finally, in a colorless voice, “She told him about the, about the cave, I think.”
Megren pauses, and then says, “Oh.”
Lanisen says, “She might not have. I think she did.”
Megren says, “That bit about more reasons to dislike Myrd, you mean.”
Megren asks, “Did she say anything about it?”
Lanisen says, “She said she told him what Myrd did.”
Megren asks, “You think she might have meant something else?”
Lanisen says, “Maybe, I– She might’ve been talkin’ more general, I dunno.”
Megren says, “Is it something you don’t want him to know?”
Lanisen doesn’t answer, but it’s a difficult silence. He keeps his eyes down, staring at his knees, and his forehead is knit.
Megren smooths the hair at the back of his head. “You could ask him what she said. I’m sure he’d tell you if you made it clear it was important.”
Lanisen says, “I don’t… I don’t want to belabor it.”
Megren says, “If it’ll make it easier on you to know…”
Lanisen says, “I dunno.”
Megren asks, “Are you worried he’ll think poorly of you?”
Lanisen says, “I don’t…” He rubs his hands over his face. “No, that’s– I don’t know, I don’t know.”
Megren asks, “Are you still a little mad at him for saying, and afraid if you talk about it you’ll get madder?”
Lanisen says, “No… I mean–” He pauses. “Sort, sort of, but that’s… I don’t know, it’s all…”
Megren is quiet, letting him take a moment to sort through it.
Lanisen pulls his lips between his teeth, folding his hands at the nape of his neck. “I’m all sort of…” he starts haltingly. “I don’t, I don’t know, it’s…” He stops. “I feel like I’m naked and everybody’s got knives.”
Megren sets down her cup so that she can put both arms around him and pull him gently toward her.
Lanisen’s shoulders hunch up slightly, but he unfolds a little and goes without resisting.
Megren holds him tight. “I love you,” she reminds him.
Lanisen shuts his eyes and nods. “I love you too.”
Megren says, “You’re good and strong.”
Lanisen doesn’t say anything to this.
Megren says, “You’re brave and smart.”
Lanisen says, “Meg, please…”
Megren pulls back, just enough to look into his face, “What do you want me to do?”
Lanisen says, “Nothing, it’s not– you don’t have to do anything, it’s…” His face winces up and he tries to explain. “I’m, I’m, I’m /not/ all those things, or if I am I’m not right /now/ and you sayin’ it like I am makes it– It doesn’t…”
Megren says, “Well.” She considers this. “All right. Then for now how about if I be those things for you, and you be whatever you need to be in the meantime.”
Lanisen rests his head on his arms, his face turned toward Megren. “I don’t know what that means, but it sounds nice.”
Megren runs her hand over back. “For starters, I promise no knives from me, and to keep as many knives off you as I can help, even if it means having a talk with Sir Darrin so you don’t have to.”
Lanisen turns his face to hide in his arms, smiling but embarrassed.
Megren dances her fingers idly across his back. “Secondly, I get charge of all hot chocolate runs for the next fortnight at least.”
Lanisen objects, “You didn’t say anything about hot chocolate.”
Megren says, “Sorry, it’s part of the deal and you already agreed.”
Lanisen says, “I said it sounds nice.”
Megren says, “Basically the same.”
Lanisen snorts and hides his face again briefly. He turns his head back to look at her, heavy-eyed.
Megren asks, “Time for sleep?”
Lanisen concedes, “It’s pretty late.”
Megren asks, “Will you tell me if there’s something I can do to mend things?”
Lanisen nods. He swallows, a little painful wrinkle forming between his eyebrows.
Megren asks, “Are you all right?”
Lanisen exhales. “I want to go hide with my dogs,” he confesses.
Megren asks, “Want me to woof and start licking things?”
Lanisen shuts his eyes and snorts. “/Please/ do not.”
Megren wuffs, quietly right now, but in a manner which threatens more disruptive behavior shortly.
Lanisen groans out loud, laughing, “Dooon’t.”
Megren licks her hand and then wipes it on him.
Lanisen says, “/Oh/!” and leans away, cringing and laughing and pushing her hand away from him. “You are twelve!”
Megren says, “Just giving you what you asked for.”
Lanisen says, “No, no, I’m /fairly/ certain that that’s the opposite of what I asked for.”
Megren says ominously, “You mean because they mostly drool?”
Lanisen scrambles out from under the cloak and to his feet.
Megren grins hugely, quite self satisfied.
Lanisen announces with conviction, “You’re the /worst/.”
Megren picks up her hot chocolate and sips nonchalantly. “You love me,” she dismisses.
Lanisen says, “Well. Yeah.” He wraps his arms around himself, already shivering.
Megren picks up his empty cup and hands him the cloak.
Lanisen folds the cloak in half to keep it from dragging on the ground. He looks around for the centaur again, frowning.
Megren suggests, “Find him in the morning?”
Lanisen says, “I guess… I only hope he don’t want it in the night.”
Megren says, “It’s pretty late.”
Lanisen says, “Pretty /cold/.”
Megren says, “If you leave it out, it’ll get dewy.”
Lanisen says, “I suppose so.”
Megren says, “Could leave a note, if you like.”
Lanisen rubs his chin. “I’ll… clean it and find him in the morning,” he decides.
Lanisen hesitates, looking at the tent. He seems on the verge of saying something, but holds back.
Megren sees this and narrows one eye thoughtfully, then just goes for it. “You look like you’re wanting to say something.”
Lanisen starts slightly. “Um,” he says, glancing around the camp. He lowers his voice and his eyes. “I’m– worried I might dream tonight.”
Megren absorbs this with a serious, considering expression. After a moment, she asks, “Does it help if the going to sleep is pleasant and not a lot of time left sitting up thinking?”
Lanisen squints uncertainly. “I don’t know?”
Megren says confidently. “We’ll try it.”
Lanisen rubs his neck. “…All right?”
Megren says, “Go settle in, I’ll clean these first.”
Lanisen eyes the cups in her hand as if considering his odds.
Megren darts away.
Lanisen complains, “Hey!”
Lanisen says, “Ugh,” under his breath. He folds the cloak more neatly, which is a chore in and of itself.
Megren eventually returns. “I said settle in,” she lectures.
Lanisen says, “I gotta get this sorted first.”
Megren says, “Here, we’ll do it like bedsheets.”
Lanisen willingly hands over two corners. “Thanks.”
Megren gets that done in short order, now they’ve four hands.
Lanisen looks pleased with the tidy bundle the cloak has folded into. He sets it carefully inside the tent.
Megren bundles into her bedroll, careful to step around Sir Darrin and not wake him.
Lanisen follows, carefully picking his way past them both to his spot in the back.
Megren waits until he’s settled in to whisper, “Now tell me a story.”
Lanisen blinks. “A story?”
Megren nods, a brushing sound coming from the scrub of her cheek against her bedroll.
Lanisen says, “Um. What kind of story?”
Megren says, “A happy one, if you can’t manage funny.”
Lanisen says, “…You know I’ve just forgotten every story I ever heard, right?”
Megren grins. “Make up a constellation story.”
Lanisen says, “Which constellation?”
Megren says, “The… stoat.”
Lanisen says, “I already told you the stoat story, though.”
Megren says, “The Sickle.”
Lanisen squints. “I don’t know any stories about that one.”
Megren says, “I said make up.”
Lanisen says, “Um… a farmer was out cuttin’ his wheat and a Talkin’ Rabbit said boo and he was so surprised he threw the sickle in the air but the wind caught it so it wouldn’t fall down on him or the Rabbit and put it in the sky.”
Megren snickers, probably the harder for having to be quiet about it.
Lanisen squints an eye at this response, suspicious but gratified. “All right, your turn.”
Megren asks, “What do I do?”
Lanisen says, “Ummm, the Hammer.”
Megren scooches to lie on her back. “Hmmm. Well, once there was a physician.”
Lanisen pillows his head on his elbow and lies on his side to face her. “A physician with a hammer?”
Megren says, “Well, it was the kind you use on knees, you see.”
Megren says, “You know, the little knobby ones.”
Lanisen asks, “Those are for knees?”
Megren says, “Right, yeah, and then your leg bounces.”
Lanisen looks bewildered and vaguely alarmed.
Megren says, “It’s, they do it to, I don’t know exactly, they do it sometimes, specially with the knights.”
Lanisen says, “Well. I’m definitely not gonna be a knight, then, if they hit your knees with hammers.”
Megren screws up her face, “It’s not, its sort of, it’s not like a big metal hammer.”
Lanisen doesn’t look very reassured.
Megren asks, “Do you see any knights walking around with crushed knees?”
Lanisen says, “Well, no.”
Megren says practically, “So.”
Lanisen says, “It still sounds like it would hurt!”
Megren shushes him.
Lanisen whispers, half sitting up to see if Darrin was disturbed, “Sorry.”
Megren says, “So, anyway, there was a physician.”
Lanisen says, “Right, yes, the physician.”
Megren says, “The kind with a hammer.”
Lanisen says, “The kind with a hammer.”
Megren says, “Yep.”
Lanisen pauses expectantly.
Megren says, “That’s all I’ve got.”
Lanisen says, “Oh! Oh.”
Megren snorts. “What are you oh-ing.”
Lanisen says, “What, nothing.”
Megren says, “You said ‘oh, oh’.”
Lanisen says, “I didn’t know that was the end.”
Megren says, “Well, it wasn’t, but then you got all on about how doctors don’t have hammers and I lost the rest.”
Lanisen says mournfully, “Oh.”
Megren says, “You finish it.”
Lanisen says, “I don’t /want/ to.”
Megren says, ‘Your fault for making your story so short.’
Lanisen says, “Yours was shorter.”
Megren says, “Yeah because yours didn’t give me time to think.”
Lanisen pushes his mouth to the side.
Megren says, “All right. So the physician had a call.”
Lanisen /beams/ at her.
Megren shoves his face as she talks. “The call was very far, farther than he’d ever gone, but the messenger said it was quite urgent, so he packed up all his things and found a horse and sped straight way out of Andale, out of the forest, past the castle, beyond the cemetery, and right into the pass itself.”
Lanisen makes a ‘mmf’ sort of noise, but he rolls over onto his front and pillows his head on his arms to listen.
Megren says, “Now, it was deep into the middle of winter, and the snow was falling very fast, so that the physician could hardly see, even so far as the ground beneath his horses hooves. Soon he had to dismount, for fear of directing his horse right over the cliff.”
Lanisen remarks, “I wouldn’t like to take that pass in a blizzard.”
Megren says, “No, and his progress got very slow indeed, but in his mind he remembered the urgent words of the sparrow who had brought him the message, and her pleading expression, and he kept on.”
Lanisen makes a small sympathetic grimace.
Megren says, “Finally, he pulled into a little valley with a stream. The weather only seemed to worsen as he got more north. He stopped to give his horse a little rest, and to make a fire, for create his hands would be useless by the time he arrived.”
Lanisen asks, “The one south of the inn?”
Megren says, “The very one.”
Lanisen says reflectively, “He should’ve gone to the inn.”
Megren says practically, “Well you see he didn’t know.”
Lanisen ohs and hmms.
Megren says, “So he stopped in the valley and found shelter there, and after a great deal of trying, he managed a fire. But the blizzard never let up, and so after a little while he thought, well, I’d better keep on, then.”
Lanisen pushes his mouth to the side. “Is this gonna end badly?” he asks, half-accusing.
Megren asks, “What sort of a story teller do you think I am?”
Lanisen says, “I’m sure I don’t know.”
Megren says, “Then I suppose you’ll have to be patient, won’t you?”
Lanisen makes a pitiful noise.
Megren closes her mouth and lifts her brows sternly.
Lanisen closes his mouth penitently.
Megren narrows her eyes.
Lanisen makes a pleading puppy face.
Megren shoves her hand in his face again.
Lanisen gets the giggles and ducks his head to hide his face in his arms.
Megren grins, and shushes him, which makes her giggle.
Lanisen keeps his face hidden for a minute, until he is more or less under control, then peeks up at her again.
Megren’s giggling starts up all over again.
Lanisen says, “Shh-h-h-h,” propping himself up a bit to see if Darrin’s showing any signs of stirring.
Megren turns to see Sir Darrin tucking his face down under his blanket, not quite awake but dangerously close. She tugs his blanket up to cover his now exposed neck and turns to Lanisen with a ‘whoops’ sort of expression.
Lanisen makes a guilty grimace.
Megren ducks down deeper into her bedroll like she expects the knight to wake up and blame Lanisen.
Lanisen solves this hypothetical by pulling his covers up over his head.
Lanisen seems to decide it’s warmer under the blanket and leaves it over his head, but opens up a little space in front of his face so he can breathe and see Megren.
Megren sticks her tongue out at him.
Lanisen disappears under the blanket again, the lump that is his curled up body shaking with silent laughter.
Megren grins big.
Lanisen says, muffled, “You gotta finish the story.”
Megren says, “I forget where I was.”
Lanisen says, “He made a fire and then went on.”
Megren yawns. “Right.”
Lanisen uncovers his face again expectantly.
Megren says, “Right, so… Right. So he decided to press on, and he descended into the forest. And the sparrow had said to follow the mountains, so he followed them as best he could until he came upon a cave low in the foothills.”
Lanisen squints up one eye, trying to follow this geography. “Winterden’s a cave in the foothills,” he comments helpfully.
Megren says, “Just so.”
Lanisen asks, “Was it Winterden?”
Megren puts on a punishing expression.
Lanisen says meekly, “Sorry, sorry.”
Megren says, “You aren’t.”
Lanisen looks /very/ sorry.
Megren says, “Go to sleep; you can have the rest tomorrow when you’re more polite.”
Lanisen protests, “I’m always polite!”
Megren says, “Name one time.”
Lanisen says, “I won’t say another word, I promise!”
Megren says, “That sounds boring.”
Lanisen wheedles, “Pleeease.”
Megren says, “Well, it was a Wolf. But I haven’t told you the strangest thing. It was spring.”
Lanisen looks startled. “Oh,” he says, realizing. “Ohh.”
Megren nods ominously, the sobriety of the gesture only slightly ruined by the rustle of her hair against her arm and blanket.
Lanisen looks like he has several questions, but mindful of his promise, he keeps quiet.
Megren says, “The physician came upon the Wolf den and asked, ‘tell me, where can I find the creature who is so ailing that a Sparrow came to me even in the midst of this late spring snow?’ and the Wolves replied, ‘here, come, we will show you, but we do not know if there is anything that can be done.”
Lanisen listens silently, curling his hands around his neck to warm them.
Megren says, “I suppose you know what he found when they brought him to the one who was ailing.”
Lanisen shifts a little, making a wincing face. “I’ve a couple ideas, I guess.”
Megren says, “All right, then. Let’s hear the best one.”
Lanisen makes another unhappy face. “No, tell me what it is so I can stop thinkin’ it.”
Megren says, “It was a stone dwarf.”
Lanisen’s face falls. “You said this wouldn’t end badly,” he reminds her.
Megren says, “I said what kind of storyteller do you think I am.”
Lanisen looks slightly distressed, but he asks, “So how’s the hammer come into it, then?”
Megren says, “I’m coming to that.”
Megren says, “The physician had heard strange tales from the north, but not believed them. And even now, he could not quite. ‘It’s a very good likeness,’ he said, ‘but what about my patient?'”
Lanisen rubs along his lips with his fingertips, his forehead pulling down. His eyes go distracted and unfocused, and he looks distantly upset.
Megren says, “This is your patient,” the Wolves told him. “Have you not heard the tales?’
‘I have heard them, Indeed, many humans have fled into Archenland because of the rumors.’ the physician said. ‘But I did not believe.’ and he reached out to touch the Dwarf, and lo, the stone Dwarf moved.”
Lanisen’s eyes refocus on Megren, startled and suspicious.
Megren says, “You see, as the physician bent over the Dwarf, his kit fell open from the bag slung over his shoulder, and all his tools tumbled out, including, what do you think?”
Lanisen says, “Well, the hammer, I suppose, but–”
Megren plunges on, “The Wolves were amazed. ‘How have you achieved this feat?’ they wondered aloud. Truly, the physician knew not. But the Dwarf knelt to help him pick up his tools, and the Dwarf’s hand closed upon a small, wooden physician’s hammer. ‘Why,’ said the Dwarf, ‘this is Narnian-made. Are you a fellow Narnian, good sir?'”
Lanisen shifts and rests his head on his elbow, puzzled and interested.
Megren says, “‘No,’ said the physician, “But my father’s father’s father was, and my tools are handed down from him.’
‘How marvelous,” said the Dwarf. “That such a tool should last so long. It is not of the kind which usually would.’
‘Even so,’ said the doctor. ‘I cannot understand how it is you are no longer stone.’
‘Nor I,’ said the Dwarf. ‘But there is another. Perhaps your touch is as magic as this curse.’
And so the physician followed the Dwarf through the still raging storm north to the river, where he came upon a stone Wren.”
Lanisen’s mouth curves up at the corners.
Megren says, “His touch did nothing. He looked at the Dwarf in despair, and the Dwarf said, ‘then what else did you do?’, and the physician remembered the bag. He emptied it at the Wren’s feet, and eventually discovered that the healing item was the very hammer the Dwarf had remarked upon. The Wren came to life.”
Lanisen pulls the blanket closer around himself and dimples up, relieved.
Megren says, “Now, the storm never let up, but the physician and the Dwarf kept hearing rumors of stone Narnians, so they ran across Narnia, aiding Dryads and Rabbits and Deer and Eagles and Centaurs alike, and wondering at the cause of it, and worrying about the summer harvest with such a long winter.”
Lanisen pauses. “You’re makin’ this up?” he asks, just checking.
Megren gives him a mysterious teasing look.
Lanisen pushes his mouth to the side and settles in to hear the rest.
Megren says, “It was when they had swung back around south near the pass when they were finally pursued.”
Lanisen nods, not entirely surprised, but looks apprehensive.
Megren says, “The air grew colder, the blizzard worse. The physician remembered the rumors of Narnian humans running to Archenland, from some terrible threat, and the Dwarf confirmed, he had heard such rumors, too.”
Lanisen rubs the side of his face and studies Megren speculatively.
Megren says, “The physician did not wish to stop his work, but the witch was closing in. Upon each healing, closer came the shrill voice, the sharp hooves, and it was when he was healing a Wolf that he first saw the evil wand.”
Lanisen lets out a small breath.
Megren says, “At the Dwarf’s urging, the physician fled over the pass, not stopping even for his horse. He could hear the bells of the sleigh closing in behind him.”
Lanisen asks, “He made it? He made it back to Archenland?”
Megren presses on, “Her shrieking voice called behind him shaking the mountain, and when he looked over his shoulder, he saw her lifted wand. He clung to his bag in fear, stumbling as he ran.”
Megren says, “As she called her wicked spell, the physician reached into his bag. Above the new-built snow shook with the sound. She pointed her wand, and she turned him stone.”
Lanisen exhales softly, disappointed.
Megren says, “Upon the awful sound of her voice, the snow shifted and fell between them, closing the pass, and so it was that the witch never saw what happened next.”
Lanisen raises his eyebrows hopefully.
Megren says, “In the final moments, the physician had reached into his bag and pulled out the hammer, and as the witch pointed her wand, he had dropped it.”
Megren says, “As on the very first day, the hammer fell, and struck his foot, and the physician returned to life. But as he reached to retrieve it, the mountain shook with the avalanche, and the hammer fell from the cliff out of his reach.”
Lanisen says, “Oh no.”
Megren says, “The physician searched after the hammer, and after a reentry into Narnia for many years, but he never found either, and eventually he met with the humans who had fled the land, and they told him how the witch had hunted them, and that he must have been the very last human to stay there.”
Lanisen asks, “Did anybody ever find it?”
Megren says, “No, but a Centaur back in Narnia who had once spent a night as a stone statue did notice a new constellation in the sky. And though the witch wished to secure her borders from any human trespassers by wiping out the country south of her, she was never able to cross the pass that had been blocked by her own storm. Though the physician could restore no more statues, his flight had preserved thousands of lives.”
Lanisen hmms quietly. “Is it a true story?”
Megren shakes her head.
Lanisen nods. He’s quiet for a moment, then says, “It’s a /good/ story.”
Megren wrinkles her nose.
Lanisen says, “Thank you for the tellin’ of it.”
Megren nods, yawning.
Lanisen is quiet for a moment. “Your…” He pauses. “It’s different, the way you talked when you were tellin’ it. Where’d you learn?”
Megren nestles her face into her arm. “It’s how da tells stories.”
Lanisen hmms softly, mirroring her. “It’s nice,” he says. “It sounds… it sounds written down, it sounds real.”
Megren says, “It’s kind of a trick. It gives you better time to think.”
Lanisen lifts his eyebrows, grinning. “Oh, I see.”
Megren grins back, eyes drifting shut for a moment.
Lanisen, seeing this, goes quiet.
Megren asks, “What’s the best constellation story?”
Megren asks, “What’s your favorite?”
Lanisen says, “I don’t know many.”
Megren says, “That’s all right.”
Lanisen pauses. “There was a Calormene boy I knew in Chesterton a long time ago, he had a story about the Salamander, but I don’t remember it all.”
Megren says, “Chesterton?”
Lanisen says, “It was– um, after I left home, I was in Chesterton most of that summer. There was a girl who taught me how to pick pockets, her name was… it was Nila. I wonder what became of her.”
Megren says, “Oh.”
Lanisen says, “The Salamander was… it had come up from the deep part of the ground where it lived because it wasn’t– there wasn’t enough… I don’t know, I don’t remember this part, I think the fire in its home was goin’ out and it was cold and lonely, so it came up to the top.”
Megren says, “Oh, that’s sad.”
Lanisen says, “Yeah, but it didn’t know how to go about life up top, it couldn’t find anywhere that was, um, rich enough?” He pauses. “I’m not tellin’ it well, he told it real well.”
Megren says, “Maybe Mistress Sareen knows it.”
Lanisen says, “Maybe so.”
Megren’s eyes drift closed again. “How did it get in the sky?”
Lanisen says, “I don’t remember that part. I think it was…” He pauses and frowns. “There was… a magician or a warrior or somebody who took it out of the world, because it couldn’t be killed. It was, sorry, that’s a part missing, it’d been takin’ things to make its hoard so it could live, it took all the gold out of the desert and all the sparkle off the river and all the warmth out of the sunshine and the fires so they had to wear their coats in the summer. It couldn’t– I dunno, I think I’m tellin’ it wrong, I think prob’ly people were scared and the person who got rid of it was a hero. I just remember bein’ sorry for it.”
Megren says, “Oh.”
Lanisen says, “It couldn’t, it couldn’t help what it needed to live.”
Megren says, “Yeah.”
Lanisen says, “Anyway.”
Megren says, “It sounds like a good story. The good sad kind, I mean.”
Lanisen says, “It’s been a long time since I heard it in full.”
Megren nods, the movement small with sleepiness.
Lanisen goes quiet again to not interfere with the sleepiness.
Megren drifts off rather quickly with nothing to hold her attention.
Lanisen stays still and quiet, listening to the sounds of his friends’ breathing.