reaching & falling

At the Base of the Watchtower
Lantern Waste
Northwestern Narnia

The Northern Wood is a dense and varied woodland. It consists primarily of oak and white pine trees, with a variety of other groves growing here and there. Some of the thicker trunks bear black, ribbed scars from some ancient fire, which might help to explain the large natural clearing that has formed here. The trees thin out to buckthorn and gorse bush about a large tower built of rough-hewn stone. The tower is in good repair, and stretches high enough to clear the tree canopy, presumably affording a good view from all approaches.

Jana walks toward the tower from somewhere northish. She is removing a wrap as she walks, as the day is growing more comfortable.

Lanisen is sitting on a stump near the line where the new forest meets the older forest. More visibly, a big bay gelding stands placidly, his tail whisking at flies.

Jana stops and frowns.

Lanisen doesn’t notice immediately, his head bent over a book, but the massive black wolfhound at his feet that sits up and raises its ears as Jana nears gets his attention. He glances up.

Jana’s eyes shift from the horse to the moving dog, and then the young man with the dog. “Ah.”

Lanisen keeps still while she makes this observation, watchful and still slightly hunched over his book. He straightens when she acknowledges him and gets to his feet.

Jana says, “Reckoned maybe you’d decided not to come.”

Lanisen says, “I’m later than I meant to be, I’m sorry.”

Jana lifts her shoulders in a half-hearted dismissal. “Have you eaten?”

Lanisen says, “Earlier I did, yeah.”

Jana says, “All right, then.”

Lanisen rubs his wrists, then lets his hand drop to rest on the wolfhound’s neck. “You been keepin’ well?” he asks.

Jana asks, “Reckon well enough.” Her eyes shift to the tower. “You stayin’ here?”

Lanisen says, “Um,” and shifts his weight. “I was, I was gonna stay over– south of the pool.”

Jana says, “Oh.”

Lanisen hesitates uncertainly, trying to gauge the meaning of this.

Jana acknowledges, “Easier for the horse.”

Lanisen says, “It’s, it’s out of the way, I reckoned.”

Jana says, “Ain’t nobody argue with that.”

Lanisen hesitates again, then nods.

Jana looks at the tower again. “I got to check in.”

Lanisen says, “Right, ‘course, yeah.”

Jana says, “You can walk patrol with me if you figure out something to do with the pets.”

Lanisen shifts, blushing as he glances between the horse and the hound. “Tohol’s trained,” he says, a little defensively. “He won’t bother anybody.”

Jana gives the horse a skeptical look.

Lanisen asks, nodding to the horse, “Can I leave Maestro here?”

Jana asks, “I guess?”

Lanisen gives her a careful weighing look to see what this means.

Jana says, “Ain’t nobody likely to steal it or what have you.”

Lanisen says, “All right.”

Jana goes inside without further ceremony.

Lanisen, while she is in, hobbles the horse and sets up a line. When she comes out again, Maestro is unloaded and grazing contentedly.

Jana watches the horse with her shrewd, ambiguous gaze for a moment from the doorway of the tower before emerging.

Lanisen piles up his belongings in a small unobtrusive heap and bunches up a blanket to rub Maestro’s back where the saddle sat.

Jana says, “You can stick those inside. There’s storage underneath.”

Lanisen glances up from his task. “Underneath?” he repeats, confused.

Jana says, “Trapdoor sort of thing.”

Lanisen says, “Oh.” He finishes with the rubdown, brief and brisk but thorough, before he crosses to retrieve his belongings.

Jana waits for him in the doorway.

Lanisen has to break it into two trips, with the saddle. He carries the first half to the door and looks at her.

Jana leans down and picks up the saddle, then goes inside to unlatch the trapdoor and climb down the ladder.

Lanisen says, embarrassed, “I can, I’ll come back for it.”

Jana says, “I reckoned, yeah.”

Lanisen ducks his head and doesn’t argue.

Jana says, “Here, toss it down.”

Lanisen pushes his mouth to the side and reserves one bag, but tosses the rest down obediently.

Jana stuffs it away in an easy to reach spot and climbs back up.

Lanisen looks around the tower with interest as she does so.

The room Jana has gone into is dark and mostly filled with barrels and tools, alongside a few dusty items of weaponry and armor. Lanisen stands in an almost unadorned room, save for a standard bearing the emblem of Narnia at the bottom of a set of circular stairs.

Lanisen rubs his elbow and asks as she ascends, “Does the guard live here, mostly?”

Jana says, “Yeah, some of them.”

Lanisen says, “‘S nice.”

Jana says, “Got walls.”

Lanisen grins and looks down, stepping toward the door. “How’s it been, guardin’?” he asks. “Are things still…?”

Jana lets him go out first. “Turns out a king’s only one man. Two men in this case. What giants’re left ain’t tell small things apart so they ain’t noticed. Reckon that’s about as good as we could’ve hoped. Lucky that prince can’t leave his house, though.”

Lanisen lets out a small snort in agreement, absently rubbing his shoulder. “And… what you were writin’ about?”

Jana lifts a shoulder. “Them wolves are always going on about something. Ain’t any worse than might have been expected. They liked to reckon they were in charge before we ain’t had anybody.”

Lanisen nods. “I heard about that, a little bit.”

Jana looks at him, a little surprised.

Lanisen says, “Um– I asked Sir Darrin.”

Jana says, “Oh, the knight.”

Lanisen says, “He’s not bad.”

Jana gets a dismissive expression.

Lanisen says, “He’s not. He’s a friend.”

Jana says, “Ain’t the keenest blade on the rack.”

Lanisen pulls his chin back, then presses his lips together.

Jana says, “Ain’t called him bad.”

Lanisen says, “That’s somethin’.” He reaches down as Tohol rejoins them and scritches under the hound’s chin. He doesn’t have to reach down very far.

Jana eyes the dog with something like apprehension.

Lanisen is obviously comfortable in and comforted by the dog’s close proximity, and takes a moment to notice that Jana is not. He blinks at her.

Jana’s lips press together, her attention primarily on her patrol.

Lanisen offers, “He’s, he’s gentle. Danall, I work for him, he’s got two kids, little kids, he’s good with them.”

Jana says, “Who’s that.”

Lanisen says, “Tohol, I mean. This fellow. You don’t need to worry about him, he’s gentle.”

Jana says, “Oh.”

Lanisen doesn’t seem to know what to do with this response. He walks along in silence, his fingers still buried in Tohol’s fur.

Jana says, “Ain’t got a lot of them here.”

Lanisen asks, “No?”

Jana says, “The ones that ain’t talk.”

Lanisen pauses. “Is it a problem?”

Jana says, “Ain’t reckon any of them care.”

Lanisen relaxes.

Jana says, “So you got a dog and a horse, then.”

Lanisen rubs the side of his face, uncomfortable. “Tohol’s not mine, really. Maestro’s– sort of–”

Jana says, “Ain’t got to apologize for doing well for yourself.”

Lanisen glances at her.

Jana doesn’t push it one way or another.

Lanisen rubs his elbow. “Sir Colin arranged for me to be able to ride Maestro whenever I needed to when I was workin’ for him,” he says matter-of-factly.

Jana says, “What’s it mean that you’re riding him now, then.”

Lanisen lifts his shoulders and doesn’t answer right away. “Means we parted on good terms, more or less.”

Jana says, “Who do you work for now then.”

Lanisen says, “Just– Just the castle.”

Jana asks, “The king?”

Lanisen says, “Makes it sound more important than it is.”

Jana says, “You do work for the king, then.”

Lanisen wrinkles up his nose, half-laughing. “I’m a castle servant,” he says. “About as low-rankin’ as you can get, if you reckon things that way. The king’s steward pays Danall who pays me, that’s…”

Jana says, “Ah.”

Lanisen shrugs.

Jana asks, “So you carry food around and pinch candles?”

Lanisen says, “No, I work with the hounds.”

Jana looks at his dog likes she’s not sure what that would consist of.

Lanisen says, “I clean up after ’em, feed ’em. Look after the pups, train ’em to course when they’re big enough. Patch ’em up when they need it.”

Jana says, “You want a goat to watch.”

Lanisen looks thoughtful.

Jana snorts softly.

Lanisen grins. After a pause, he asks, “How’d you end up with a goat, anyway?”

Jana frowns, glancing at him. She’s quiet for a while before she says, “Decent source of income.”

Lanisen glances at her alertly.

Jana says, “Ain’t go thieving your bread when you’ve got the castle’s eyes on you, and there was a baby needed feeding.”

Lanisen ahhs softly. “Smart,” he remarks after a moment.

Jana says, “Not really. Had to cart him around with me to sell the butter, even in the cold.”

Lanisen says, “Still.”

Jana makes a dismissive noise.

Lanisen says, “It’s…” He pauses to think of the word, making a vague gesture with one hand. “It’s resourceful, it’s…”

Jana says, “It was what I had to do.”

Lanisen says, “Yeah.”

Jana lifts a shoulder.

Lanisen goes quiet, tilting his head back to look up into the trees.

Jana lets the silence rule.

Lanisen asks, “How’s Tristran?”

Jana says, “Running around the woods making best friends with whatever animal comes his way.”

Lanisen lifts his eyebrows and grins at this. “That so?”

Jana says, “He likes them, somehow.”

Lanisen thinks this is /adorable/ and it shows on his face.

Jana lifts her shoulders.

Lanisen says, “I brought–” He glances back toward the tower. “I brought you some things, both of you.”

Jana says, “Oh.” A pause. “You didn’t have to.”

Lanisen says, “No, it’s–”

Jana says, “I haven’t got anything for you.”

Lanisen turns slightly red. “No, that’s– that’s all right, that’s all right. You let me come.”

Jana says, “I ain’t rule the country.”

Lanisen glances at her but doesn’t answer this.

Jana is silent for a long moment, pushing out her lips in a pouty self-disliking manner, and then acknowledges, “You’re doing me a kindness.”

Lanisen shrugs. “‘S no hardship.”

Jana says, “Ain’t believe that.”

Lanisen squints up one eye amiably and shrugs again. “All right.”

Jana frowns and then says, “Well, thank you, anyway.”

Lanisen says, “You ain’t even seen it yet.”

Jana scowls a bit.

Lanisen says, “Might be I brought you socks with itchin’ powder in ’em.”

Jana says, “Weren’t thanking you for that.”

Lanisen says cheerfully, “You’d be daft to.”

Jana rolls her eyes lightheartedly.

Lanisen’s attention is caught by a rustling in the trees that sounds too structured and voicelike to be wind. He tracks the sound keenly until it fades.

Jana says, “Bird.”

Lanisen asks, “Yeah?”

Jana says, “Yeah.”

Lanisen asks, “How long did it take you to get used to it?”

Jana asks, “The talking ones you mean?”

Lanisen makes an expansive gesture. “The– the trees, the water, the /all/ of it.”

Jana says, “Oh, them things don’t talk at me very much.”

Lanisen says, “Oh.”

Jana says, “They just like to bother at you, most of them.”

Lanisen blinks.

Jana says, “If you ain’t react much they stop.”

Lanisen says, “Oh,” again. He seems slightly crestfallen.

Jana looks at him and frowns. “Just keep reacting if you want to keep seeing them.”

Lanisen says, “No, I– I reckoned. Thanks.”

Jana shuts up.

Lanisen asks, “You don’t like ’em?”

Jana shrugs.

Lanisen’s mouth twists a little regretfully and he looks away.

Jana says, “Ain’t ever really gonna be my country.”

Lanisen glances at her.

Jana shrugs again.

Lanisen asks, “You’d go back to Archenland, then?”

Jana says, “Ain’t really my country either anymore.”

Lanisen’s forehead knits and he turns his eyes to the path ahead. “I’m sorry,” he says after a moment.

Jana says, “It’s what it is.”

Lanisen says, “I s’pose.”

Jana falls silent again.

Lanisen asks, “What about Tristran?”

Jana says, “Reckon that’s up to him.”

Lanisen nods.

Jana says, “He’s settled here better’n his ma and pa.”

Lanisen nods again. He’s quiet for the space of several steps, then asks haltingly, “What’s– what did you tell Myrd?”

Jana says, “Ain’t said nothing yet.”

Lanisen asks, “He don’t know I’m here?”

Jana says, “I didn’t neither.”

Lanisen says, “No, I mean–” He pauses. “Did he, did he know I was comin’?”

Jana says, “No.”

Lanisen draws and releases a deep breath. He nods. “Thank you.”

Jana asks, “Yeah?”

Lanisen asks, “Is there anything I should–?”

Jana waits for him to finish.

Lanisen hesitates. “Do you want him to– should I stay…”

Jana says, “You got a pardon, yeah? You do what you want. Free man.”

Lanisen frowns.

Jana says, “That’s what I want.”

Lanisen says, “Will it be– will it make things hard for you, if he knows I’m here.”

Jana says, “Ain’t think trying to hide it is going to make things easy, specially if he finds out anyway.”
Jana says, “I’m weary of hidin’.”

Lanisen nods. He chews the inside of his lip absently. “I don’t want to–” he begins. “I’m– I’m a stranger here, Jana, I don’t want to… I don’t want to jump in and, and do things that are gonna affect your life without your say-so. What’s… what do you want me to do?”

Jana frowns, and her voice takes on a little bit of uncharacteristic helplessness. “I ain’t know. I ain’t never — I don’t know what’s good.”

Lanisen glances at her. He pulls his lips between his teeth and studies the ground, his forehead furrowed. “You want I should stay out of his way until you know?” he offers.

Jana says, “Sure, I reckon. That’s what everyone else does, anyway.”

Lanisen glances at her again, questioning.

Jana shrugs.

Lanisen asks, “He’s not– he’s not changed, then?”

Jana says, “I dunno what’s changed.”

Lanisen rubs the side of his face and exhales.

Jana says, “He’s good with Tristran.”

Lanisen asks, “Yeah?”

Jana nods.

Lanisen says, “That’s– that’s good.” It’s almost a question.

Jana says, “I reckon.”

Lanisen asks, “And you?”

Jana says, “Changed or good with Tristran.”

Lanisen says, “Is he– is he good with you.”

Jana says, “Oh.”

Lanisen glances at her, and then down at the path in front of them.

Jana says, “It’s fine.”

Lanisen says, “All right.”

Jana slips her hands into the pockets of her skirts and walks in silence.

Lanisen follows alongside, looking up into the trees again.

Jana says after a long silence. “So you keep the dogs.”

Lanisen glances at her. “Yeah.”

Jana says, “Mm.”

Lanisen glances at her again, inquisitive.

Jana continues walking.

Lanisen drops his hand to Tohol’s neck again when the hound lopes back to walk with them.

Jana is walking through the woods alongside a young Archenlandish man. A dumb dog lopes in and out of the trees ahead of them.

Lanisen walks with Jana, reaching out to stroke the hound’s neck whenever it comes near enough.

Caileana pads through the trees, sniffing periodically.

Jana says to the man, “Wolf.”

Lanisen glances up alertly. “Tohol,” he calls, and signals the hound to heel before he’s even found the Wolf.

Caileana’s ears swivel up alertly at the call.

Jana’s eyes narrow and then she judges, “Caileana.”

Lanisen says, lighting up, “Oh!” He finally finds the wolf and grins broadly in her direction.

Caileana flashes her fangs in a grin, though her nose twitches. She pads towards the pair.

Jana says, “Hello.”

Lanisen strokes a soothing hand over Tohol’s back when the hound lets out a long low grumble. “Hi!”

Caileana nods. “Hello, you two.” She glances at the dog with disinterest.

Jana clears her throat. “Seen anything to report?”

Lanisen glances between them curiously. “I thought you lived in the Great Woods,” he says.

Caileana shakes her head at Adara. “Nope, just out on a hunt.” She looks at Lanisen. “Oh, I’m Ulfden actually, here in the Waste. I was just visiting Winterden in the Great Woods.”

Lanisen says, “Ohh!”

Jana stands around.

Caileana says, “I thought you went back to Archenland?”

Lanisen says, “I did, I’m back visitin’.”

Caileana ahs, nodding. “Welcome back, then.”

Lanisen dimples up, glancing at Jana briefly. “Thanks!”

Caileana glances between the humans, and then her gaze lands on the dog again.

Lanisen says, “This is, sorry, this is Tohol. He don’t talk.”

Jana says, “We’re on patrol.”

Caileana wrinkles her muzzle with disdain. To Adara she says, “I thought you might be. Anything interesting?”

Lanisen is slightly taken aback by her expression, some of his visible excitement to see her fading. He blinks a couple of times and looks down at Tohol, curling his fingers in the big hound’s fur.

Jana says, “There was a bird.”

Caileana barks a small laugh. “Thrilling,” she says dryly.

Lanisen grins on one side of his face, but he still seems a little deflated. “What’re you up to?” he asks Caileana.

Caileana says, “Foxes are back in rampant numbers, now it’s spring. Thought I’d decimate their population a bit.”

Lanisen says, “Oh.”

Jana clears her throat. “Guess we better be on.”

Caileana steps out of their way obligingly. “Sure, of course. How long are you back for, Lanisen?”

Lanisen says, “Um–” and glances at Jana. “A few, a few weeks, at least, I think.”

Caileana dips her head. “Well, sure I’ll see you about, then.”

Lanisen says, “Yes! Yeah, sure, prob’ly.”

Jana says, “We’ll be about.”

Caileana nods again.

Lanisen nods in return, glancing between them. He keeps his hand on Tohol’s back: the hound has stopped his growling but is standing alert and guarded.

Jana starts walking.

Caileana eyes the dog warily as he passes her with Lanisen, not seeming afraid or curious but more watchful.

Lanisen slows and stops as Tohol halts and presses back against his legs, refusing to go nearer to the Wolf. “It’s okay, it’s okay,” he murmurs urgently. “She’s not gonna hurt us, it’s okay.”

Jana seems to trust everyone’s got whatever irrational feelings they may be experiencing well in hand and will be catching up shortly.

Caileana sniffs to herself, the noise subtly doubtful of Lanisen’s statement. She turns and disappears into the brush in the opposite direction when it becomes clear the dog isn’t going to pass her so she can be on her way.

Tohol tucks his tail between his legs and presses his head against Lanisen’s stomach, shivering and refusing to budge. Lanisen makes an upset noise and kneels down to comfort the dog.

Jana figures out shes not getting followed after a couple of steps and waits, then comes back to rejoin the dog and the son of Adam.

Lanisen takes a moment to sooth the hound, who is trying very hard to hide his entire self against Lanisen despite his size. “He’s never met a Talking Beast before,” he explains to Jana as she returns. “Or a wolf.”

Jana frowns. “There’s lots of them here; is he going to get on?”

Lanisen looks uncertain. He looks after where Caileana has disappeared and moistens his lips.

Jana sucks her teeth. “He could stay by us, but that’s gonna put you in Myrd’s path quicker than I reckon you want. Don’t suppose he’s happy tied to a tree all day in your cave place.”

Lanisen agrees, distracted, “No…” He rubs Tohol’s ears and looks up at Jana, bewildered and questioning.

Jana says, “Hmm.”

Lanisen says, “She didn’t– she didn’t like him.”

Jana says, “Ain’t everybody cares for pets.”

Lanisen says, “But–”

Jana says, “I ain’t sure if it’ll be usual. They ain’t like that to the goat.” She shrugs. “Could just be Caileana.”

Lanisen says, “She didn’t like him because he don’t talk.”

Jana says, “Reckon that and some of the wolves aint like dogs.”

Lanisen pulls his chin back in slightly hurt surprise.

Jana says, “Ain’t nothing to do about it but let your dog keep on without bothering.”

Lanisen presses his lips together. He doesn’t say anything for a moment, then murmurs, “All it’d take to get him over it is one friendly talkin’ wolf. Just one.”

Jana says, “Good luck there.”

Lanisen looks confused and incredulous and angry, all at once. He stares down at Tohol, then shakes his head and gets to his feet. “Come on, good dog, come on.”

Jana says, “Ain’t bother yourself too much over it if you can; that’s just wolves.”

Lanisen doesn’t answer.

Jana falls quiet, glancing at him occasionally with what would look like concern in another individual.

Lanisen keeps his hand on Tohol’s neck and watches the ground in front of them, his forehead furrowed.

Jana offers, “There’s folks’ll like him.”

Lanisen glances up at her and half-smiles.

Jana walks on in silence. Their path eventually starts to wind back south.

Lanisen follows along with her, content to keep quiet.

Jana sniffs as they near the tower again. “Well.”

Lanisen steps back and away, rubbing his elbow. “Well,” he agrees.

Jana says, “You want something to eat or anything.”

Lanisen says, “Oh,” and glances at her a little anxiously. “I don’t want to– I don’t want to be a bother.”

Jana says, “Hang on a minute; I’ll get your things.”

Lanisen says, “I can, I can–” and follows after her.

Jana lifts the hatch and descends the ladder quickly.

Lanisen hovers awkwardly.

Jana tosses his things up onto the floor and goes back down a third time to ascend with a few neatly packed rations — biscuits, dried meat, and a packed and waxed wheel of goat cheese. “This should set you up for a bit anyway,” she posits.

Lanisen looks confused and rather anxious to be gifted food. “Oh! Oh, wow. You don’t– you don’t have to– Um. Thank you.”

Jana shrugs.

Lanisen says, “Um,” and kneels to dig through his pack. “I brought…”

Jana takes a step back and looks at the ground while he digs.

Lanisen has to dig for a moment, as he has packed very well, but he sits back on his heels with several paper-wrapped packages and a little canvas bag. “Here, these are…” He pauses, looking at the packages. “Yeah, that one’s yours, and that one’s for Tristran, and the rest are yours too.”

Jana says, “What, from who.”

Lanisen looks up at her blankly. “From me?”

Jana asks, “What for?”

Lanisen says, “For– For sayin’ hello? I dunno.”

Jana says, “Oh. Well. Thanks.”

Lanisen offers a small grin, ducking his head, and replies, nodding at the food, “Thank /you/.”

Jana says, “Ain’t nothing.”

Lanisen makes a small noise of disagreement. He offers her the packages.

Jana takes them hesitantly, and a little awkwardly since there are a number of them.

Lanisen waits anxiously for her to open them.

Jana takes a moment to realize this is what he is waiting for, and then says, “Oh,” and wrestles all but one under her arm so that she has hands to unwrap with.

Lanisen says, “You can, you can set ’em down…”

Jana does so, a bit precariously, and steps back with her hands out as if expecting them all to tumble. When they don’t, she straightens to finish with the one partially opened one.

It’s a set of cubes, but a particularly pretty one, painted to look like curling vines grow over all the corners between the colored faces.

Jana’s brows lift. “Oh.”

Lanisen says, shifting awkwardly, “Um, Glora said you might like to have more games. For your– for playin’ with the guard.”

Jana asks, “No, it’s — Glora?”

Lanisen says, “Oh, didn’t she–? She’s at Anvard, she came a few months ago, during the winter.”

Jana says, “Oh. Well, it’s — she’s right, yeah. Thank you.”

Lanisen nods again, looking relieved.

Jana asks, “Did you want me to open them all now?”

Lanisen says, “If, if you want to. You don’t have to.”

Jana says, “There’s a mess of them.”

Lanisen says, “There’s not /that/ many.”

Jana frowns and slips the cubes into a skirt pocket to wrestle forward the next one.

Lanisen says, watching her expression keenly, “You can wait if you want, I don’t mind.”

Jana appears to interpret this as an observation of her struggle balancing the packages. “I got it.”

Lanisen says, “No, I mean…”

Jana gets the next package open.

Lanisen bites his lip but subsides. The next two packages, the ones that aren’t for Tristran, are a rather haphazard collection of Archenlandish gifts: a pretty carved comb, and a sturdy dark brown teapot painted with roses, a packet of spiced Calormene tea, some fragrant molded soaps. They are packed carefully, with the breakables wrapped in cloth.

Jana frowns.

Lanisen’s face falls.

Jana says, “Thank you.”

Lanisen pulls his lips between his teeth uncertainly. “Welcome,” he answers, with a quick dismissive shake of his head.

Jana says, “They’re nice.”

Lanisen’s eyes flick to her face.

Jana says, “I usually make my own soap.”

Lanisen says, “Oh.”

Jana clears her throat. “Did you, what did you want for it?”

Lanisen says, startled, “Wh– no, no, I brought ’em for you.”

Jana says, “Right–”

Lanisen avoids her eyes, going red. “They’re, I brought ’em for gifts, they’re not–” He pauses. “You don’t– if you don’t like ’em, you don’t– it’s fine.”

Jana says, “Um, no–”

Lanisen rubs his wrists, glancing at her again.

Jana says, “I like them.”

Lanisen asks, “You do?”

Jana says, “They’re nice. I don’t get a lot of presents.”

Lanisen says, “I know you like pretty things, is all.”

Jana runs her thumb absently over the comb and nods. She indicates the still wrapped package for Tristran. “What’s in here?”

Lanisen says, “You can open it, if you like. Or, or he can, I dunno what’s best, it’s just a–”

Jana says, “Reckoned I’d let him open it.”

Lanisen nods. “It’s a little cart,” he says. “It’s, there’s a horse and a little person that goes with it, and blocks that go in the cart. That’s not– he ain’t too old for that, is he?”

Jana sucks the inside of her lip.

Lanisen says, dismayed, “Oh.”

Jana says, “It’s… very thoughtful.” She pauses. “Myrd usually makes his toys.”

Lanisen hesitates, realization showing in his face. “I see.”

Jana says, “He’s, he likes carving.”

Lanisen’s mouth twists. He looks down and nods.

Jana says, “Sorry. I’ll — I could run it past him.”

Lanisen glances at her. “If it’s– I don’t want to make trouble.”

Jana says, “Yeah, I know.”

Lanisen’s eyes dart to the open door and he rubs his wrists absently again. “What– what’ll you tell him?”

Jana lifts a shoulder.

Lanisen nods, looking down. He rubs his elbow and seems to draw into himself slightly, unconsciously defensive.

Jana says, “Ain’t give it to him if you rather not bother with it.”

Lanisen says, “No, it’s–” He swallows. “I want, I want him to have it, I brought it…”

Jana says, “Hm.”

Lanisen says, “Sorry, I’m sorry, it’s– Do what, what you think is best, please. If you want me to keep it out of sight, I’ll do that; if you, if you need to tell Myrd, that’s…” He stops, but nods a couple of times.

Jana says, “I’ll put it in my cellar and think on it.”

Lanisen asks, “He won’t find it before you’re ready?”

Jana says, “He don’t go down there much. It’s my place.”

Lanisen says, “All right.”

Jana says, “Thank you.”

Lanisen nods.

Jana looks at the things in her hands.

Lanisen chews his lower lip and doesn’t seem to know where to look.

Jana says, “Well. Come have a drink if you like.”

Lanisen glances at her, rather apprehensive.

Jana says, “Or ain’t, if you don’t.”

Lanisen says, “No, I only…” He moistens his lips. “Myrd, is Myrd there?”

Jana says, “Not in my cellar.”

Lanisen says, “Oh– oh.”

Jana waits.

Lanisen says, “Um–” and rubs his elbow. “Um, sure, that’s, that sounds nice.”

Jana says, “All right.” She gestures with her head and rearranges the gifts for better carrying.”

Lanisen asks, gesturing to her load, “Can I…?”

Jana hands him the teapot.

Lanisen takes it and follows after her.

Root Cellar

The walls and floor of this shallow room are earthen, supported in a few locations by wooden beams. Barrels are stacked all along one side of the room. An adjacent wall features a worktable, equipped with spoons and funnels for wine-making as well as a lamp. Against the other walls are stacked supplies: sugars, cooking staples, and dried winter store mostly, but a large wooden crate and an unmarked trunk also stand there. Some bushel baskets have been buried in the ground and covered in straw to keep fruit and vegetables fresh and away from frost. The room is cool and smells distinctly of alcohol. The only exit is a ladder leading up to a trap door.

Jana takes the short trip back to her house and goes to the trap door, lifting it and shifting the gifts into one arm to descend.

Lanisen hesitates outside the trap door and shifts from foot to foot.

Jana looks up from halfway down.

Lanisen ducks his head and follows her, though he’s gone slightly pale around the mouth.

Jana takes a few moments to light a lantern and put the things he’s given her away.

Lanisen leaves the door open and doesn’t descend all the way, reluctant to leave the little square of daylight. His eyes dart around the cellar, lingering in corners.

Jana’s lamp lights the small room pretty well, though there are certainly dark spaces between the barrels. The cellar is relatively no-nonsense, but everything is neatly arranged, so that it has a vaguely attractive and even home feel anyway. There are a pair of rather beautifully carved stools by the workbench, and she pulls these out for the two of them before going to choose a bottle to open.

Lanisen swallows a couple of times, then descends the last couple of rungs. He stops at the bottom of the ladder rather than cross to the stools.

Jana glances back at him. She frowns, turning back to the bottle she is opening, and once she’s opened it, she grabs the seat of a stool to drag it over closer to the ladder, placing the open bottle on top of it while she fetches the other and a pair of cups.

Lanisen takes and releases a deep silent breath while she is occupied. He looks at the bottle and then after Jana.

Jana returns with stool and cups. She pours the first one and extends it to him.

Lanisen hesitates only very briefly before he takes the cup. He climbs up gingerly to sit on the stool, glancing back up the ladder and around the cellar again. He’s gone dark-eyed and pale, though in the dim light this might not be immediately evident.

Jana watches him shrewdly, perching on her own stool with one foot on the cross bar (a pair of otters’ clasped hands). “Ain’t got to have a drink with me if you don’t want one.”

Lanisen looks down at the wine in his hands and back up to her quickly, wrong-footed and vulnerable and somehow apologetic about it. He raises the cup to his lips, but his hand is shaking so badly that the wine nearly sloshes over the sides when he takes a small careful sip.

Jana frowns. “I ain’t making you.”

Lanisen lowers the cup and takes a small shuddering breath. “Sorry, I’m sorry,” he manages without looking at her. “I just, I just–”

Jana reaches out to take the cup back.

Lanisen doesn’t object. He twists his hands together and rubs distractedly at the scars on his wrists, as if he could wipe them out or erase a phantom sensation.

Jana sets the cups on the workbench and corks the bottle. “How about I help you get set up,” she says, a bit flatly.

Lanisen asks, “What?”

Jana says, “Your camp.”

Lanisen says, “My– my camp, right–”

Jana says, “You ain’t want a drink; maybe you want to set it up.”

Lanisen’s eyes dart briefly around the room again. He swallows a couple times and moistens his lips. “Set it up–”

Jana lifts her brows.

Lanisen seems not quite able to find a response. “Um–”

Jana takes a breath and releases it, going to blow out the lamp.

Lanisen takes a small quick breath when the light goes out. He sits very still, breathing too quickly.

Jana says, “You got to get up if you’re going back.”

Lanisen nods tightly without looking at her. He can’t seem to move.

Jana pushes him gently but firmly in the back and, when he’s up off the stool a little from this, pulls back where it belongs.

Lanisen cringes, his shoulders hunching up, and stumbles forward. He stands for a moment, disoriented and frozen up, then focuses on the sunlight and reaches for the ladder to climb out.

Jana stands back with her arms crossed, watching.

Lanisen makes it to the top and backs several steps away from the trapdoor, blinking as his eyes adjust. He breathes out shakily and raises both hands to the sides of his head.

Jana climbs up after him and sits on the edge of the hole.

Lanisen rubs a hand over his mouth shakily and turns half away from her, looking toward the house, and then toward the tower where he left Tohol. “I’m– I’m sorry, I’m sorry–”

Jana also looks toward the house, and pulls herself up the rest of the way out of the cellar, closing the door behind her. “You can sorry later, if that’s what you’re looking to do. Best get to your horse and things.”

Lanisen stands for a moment and sways from one foot to the other, still half-frozen and resistant. He finally swallows and nods, ducking his head, and moves unsteadily across the clearing toward the tower.

Jana hangs back enough to walk behind him, watching him with a keen, narrow gaze.

At the Base of the Watchtower
Lantern Waste
Northwestern Narnia

Lanisen is trembly and quiet as he fetches Tohol and Maestro from the tower, and he keeps his head down to avoid having to look at Jana. He doesn’t mount the horse, evidently preferring to keep one hand on Tohol’s neck.

Jana sucks her teeth. “Want I should let you go on alone then.”

Lanisen says, “Um–” He turns half toward her, though he can’t quite look at her. “Um– You’ve got– I’m sure you’ve got–”

Jana says, “Yeah, all right. I’ll go then.”

Lanisen winds Maestro’s lead in his hands distractedly and nods.

Jana doesn’t scowl until she’s already turned away back toward home.

Lanisen’s eyes track after her and shift toward the house. He strokes Tohol’s back absently and turns to go.


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