In the Northern Woods
The dense and varied woodland of the Northern Wood has been broken up a little here, and a real glimpse of the sky is finally visible. The oak and white pine trees still dominate the area, but a small plot of land has been cleared for a sort of garden-meadow. A goat stands in a pen near the edge of the clearing, and a deep well has been dug there as well, walled up so that no one will stumble in. Set back into the trees and brush, where it would be almost hidden if it did not have the goat pen to mark it, is a small cottage-like house. Because of the thick undergrowth, it’s rather hard to see any distinct paths leading out of the clearing.
Lanisen approaches the house. He hesitates, seems to change his mind, and ducks back behind the treeline. He doesn’t go far.
A relatively well hidden trapdoor opens near the goat pen, and Jana emerges from it.
Lanisen startles back, drawing further out of sight. He watches, his eyes darting between Jana and the cottage, then seems to come to a decision. He steps out of the cover of the trees.
Jana is halfway to the house when she sees the figure emerging from the treeline. She stands there for a moment, just seeming to absorb the reality of his presence, and then moves to close the distance between them.
Lanisen hangs back and doesn’t approach any more than he already has. He draws his hands out of his pockets and lets them hang empty and nonthreatening by his sides.
Jana waves him off into the treeline.
Lanisen’s eyes shift alertly past her to the house. He steps back the way he came obediently.
Jana meets him there.
Lanisen puts his hands back in his pockets, his shoulders hunching up against the cold. “Hi.”
Jana says, “What happened, did you need something?”
Lanisen says, “Oh, um–” He shakes his head. “No, it’s– we’re, we’re leavin’ tomorrow or the day after, I guess, I didn’t want to go without sayin’.”
Jana says, “Oh.” She mulls this over, then says, “Thank you.”
Lanisen says, “I wanted to–” He hesitates, and his eyes dart toward the house. “Can I– can I write? Will it make trouble?”
Jana frowns, eyes narrowing in thought. “Reckon if you sent them care of the tower, that shouldn’t cause any bother.”
Lanisen rubs a hand over his mouth, but nods. “Are you– will you be all right?”
Jana says, “I got things pretty sorted.”
Lanisen says, “So I’m sendin’ letters to the tower.”
Lanisen looks unsatisfied.
Jana says, “There’s fights you fight and fights you ain’t.
Lanisen shifts his weight. “It shouldn’t, it shouldn’t have to be…”
Jana says, “I got things more sorted now than I have since before I met you, I reckon.”
Lanisen says, “All right.”
Jana says, “Ain’t nothing you can do.”
Lanisen folds his arms over his stomach.
Jana offers, “I got a wine cellar.”
Lanisen looks confused.
Jana says, “It’s nice. Last year I did plum wine and apple wine.”
Lanisen shifts. “Yeah?”
Jana says, “And sometimes they let me go patrol out on the moors, me and another guard. Them trips is usually a full fortnight, and I’m the main one that does it; I’m their expert, now Drune’s gone.”
Lanisen nods, his expression shifting with interest.
Jana says, “So.”
Lanisen looks at her, and his eyes cut away. “So,” he says. “I’m sendin’ letters to the tower instead of direct to you.”
Jana says, “Tower’s pretty direct.”
Lanisen says nothing.
Jana says, “Do what you want.”
Lanisen says, “No, I–” He looks at her unhappily. “I’ll send ’em to the tower, of course I will, I only–”
Jana says again, “Ain’t nothing you can do.”
Lanisen says, “I know.” He rubs his elbow and scuffs at a pine-cone with his toe. “I’m sorry.”
Jana says, “It ain’t always bad.”
Lanisen lifts his eyebrows.
Jana sighs. “Listen, that friend of mine.”
Lanisen pauses. “The, the woman from Calormen?”
Jana says, “She ran here out of slavery, that’s how she got tangled up with things in the moors, she reckoned it was a way out.”
Jana says, “She was smart, and–” she takes a breath. “Smart, and strong, and good at most things, and she rose up to the top before, before she was even 20, far as I can reckon it.”
Lanisen asks, “The top, the top of…”
Jana says, “I don’t know, the Maeta-thing was some kind of queen or something and they were rivals.”
Lanisen looks rather out of his depth here, but he nods.
Jana says, “Anyway, she said, she got all that power, and then she was just a slave to keeping it instead.”
Lanisen says, “I see.”
Jana says, “That’s how come she came here.”
Lanisen listens attentively, frowning.
Jana says, “She reckoned it was better to be a slave to someone that gave her what she needed and asked her to do things she didn’t usually hate.”
Lanisen’s frown deepens, and he looks half alarmed.
Lanisen rubs the side of his face, troubled and avoiding her eyes. “Can I write to Tristran too?” he asks after a moment.
Jana nods. “How do you want I should tell him who you are?”
Lanisen says, “What do you mean?”
Jana says, “You want I should say ‘your uncle’, or something?”
Lanisen blinks. “Oh.”
Jana says, “Ain’t really care to say, ‘that man as run around with your mum ‘n dad doing crime’.”
Lanisen says, “No, I– I guess not.” He rubs the back of his neck. “Um– whatever’s, whatever you like.”
Jana scowls contemplatively. “You want cousin or uncle.”
Lanisen seems a little overwhelmed, though not unpleasantly. “Either’s, either’s fine. Friend’s fine too.”
Jana looks like she doesn’t find this option very practical.
Lanisen says, “Uncle, then, I guess.”
Jana says, “All right.”
Lanisen says reflectively, “Never been anybody’s uncle before.”
Jana says, “Uh, you’re welcome.”
Lanisen scuffs the ground with his toe again and laughs silently. He takes and releases a deep breath.
Jana says, “So you’re going home now there ain’t any kings and queens to entertain you.”
Lanisen shifts. “Goin’ with the prince,” he says. “I dunno what comes next.”
Jana says, “Don’t reckon anyone does.”
Lanisen nods. He studies her and asks after a small pause, “How’re you doin’ with it?”
Jana says, “They weren’t close to me. The next ones won’t be either, I reckon. We’ll see what happens in between.”
Lanisen nods, looking down. He chafes his upper arms to warm up.
Jana says, “Hang on.”
Lanisen glances at her.
Jana holds up her hand to indicate he should stay, then hurries over to her cellar.
Lanisen shifts uncertainly. He looks toward the house again, but stays where he is.
Jana reemerges before very long, carrying a glass bottle.
Lanisen shifts again, startled and almost anxious.
Jana returns to him and extends the bottle. “Here. It’s got honey.”
Lanisen says, “You don’t– you don’t have to–”
Jana says, “No, it’s, take it.”
Lanisen hesitates, but does so, glancing up at her to be sure. “Honey, huh?”
Jana says, “Apple, a little, and ginger, but mostly it’s honey.”
Lanisen looks at the wine thoughtfully, then looks back at Jana. “Thank you.”
Jana says, “Yeah. It’s–” she shrugs. “It’s– you’re welcome.”
Lanisen says, “If there’s ever, if I can ever…” He stops. “Um, a letter to the castle’ll find me, or find somebody who knows how to find me.”
Jana says, “I’ll write you back.”
Jana pauses. “… Thanks.”
Lanisen says, “Yeah. You too.”
Jana says, “I reckon I’m glad you came up here.”
Lanisen lights up a little at this. “I’m glad too,” he answers.
Lanisen says, glancing toward the house, “I’m, I’m glad you’ve…”
Jana says, “Thanks.”
Lanisen nods. He hesitates, as if there’s something unsaid that he hasn’t thought of yet, then nods again and takes a step back.
Jana says, “Thanks for saying bye.”
Lanisen says, “‘Course, yeah.” He pauses. “Be well, yeah? Be safe.”
Jana says, “Yeah, all right, since you said.”
Jana says, “You and that girl?”
Lanisen looks at her, slightly wary.
Jana says, “Just ain’t let her have better charge of your heart than you got.”
Lanisen rubs the side of his face and doesn’t answer.
Jana says, “It’s only gonna hurt.”
Lanisen avoids her eyes.
Jana says, “Sorry if I’m overstepping. Just reckon I’ve seen it enough I’d rather not see it on the people I like.”
Lanisen says, “I don’t know what’s… I don’t know.”
Jana lets him stutter.
Lanisen looks down. He doesn’t say anything else.
Jana says, “Well if you ever want to talk about it, might be nice to have a person as don’t know them.”
Lanisen asks, “That you offering?”
Jana nods once.
Lanisen shifts. “Thanks.”
Jana says, “Ain’t nothing.”
Lanisen shrugs, glancing at her again. He doesn’t meet her eyes for very long.
Jana frowns, then offers, “Ain’t something to be ashamed of.”
Lanisen pushes his mouth to the side, his shoulders hunching up, and eyes the ground.
Jana squints and then offers, “You want I should hug you or something.”
Lanisen’s face lightens a little with humor. He rocks back on his heels.
Jana frowns, unsure what to do with this.
Lanisen exhales and shakes his head slightly, dismissive. “It’s not, it’s not such a… Don’t worry about me.”
Jana says, “Don’t reckon I could convince you to do the same.”
Lanisen pauses. “No,” he admits.
Jana says, “Well, anyway.”
Lanisen says, “Well.”
Jana says, “Safe trip, then.”
Lanisen says, “Thanks.”
Jana says, “Yeah.”
Lanisen nods. He hesitates, then begins back the way he came.
Jana watches him go before turning back to her house.