unpacking correspondence

At the Base of the Watchtower
Lantern Waste
Northern Narnia

Jana comes out of the tower with a mildly disquisitive expression.

Lanisen follows the east path, ducking low-hanging branches, and steps out into the clearing around the front of the tower. He’s got his sleeves rolled up in concession to the sunny warmth of the day, not hiding his scars for once.

Jana calls out to him.

Lanisen glances up. He grins in greeting and picks up his pace.

Jana waves a piece of parchment at him. “Lovisa said this came today.”

Lanisen follows the path of the parchment curiously. “What is it?”

Jana hands it to him and lifts her shoulders. “Got that girl’s name on it.”

Lanisen starts to ask, and then looks. “Oh!” he says, realizing. “Oh, thanks.” He turns partially away to open it.

Jana stands a polite distance back, but watches curiously.

Lanisen unfolds the letter and scans it eagerly. Much of the letter is met with an unguarded grin, but about halfway through he shifts his weight, the smile slipping. It doesn’t entirely disappear, but he looks a little worn and distant when he straightens and folds up the paper. “Thanks,” he says, turning back toward Jana.

Jana frowns. “What is it?”

Lanisen says, “Oh, it’s from Meg.”

Jana gets a Look like this isn’t what she was asking and she thinks he knows it.

Lanisen shrugs, his eyes cutting away.

Jana scowls.

Lanisen says, “I don’t know how to– I don’t know. It’s fine.”

Jana says, “You got a tired look to you.”

Lanisen shrugs again, dismissive.

Jana exhales disagreeably. “All right, well, I got tower watch.”

Lanisen glances at her guiltily and asks, “Do you want company?”

Jana says, “If you want.”

Lanisen nods, folding away the letter.

Jana heads back in.

Battlements of the Northern Watchtower

Lanisen follows her up the stairs, staying quiet. He draws a deep pleased breath at the top, apparently still not over the view.

Jana glances at him contemplatively. After a moment, she picks up the alarm bell, careful not to ring it, and pulls herself up onto the crenel, legs dangling over the forest.

Lanisen looks startled. He ducks his head and smiles.

Jana glances over her shoulder at him to see if she’s in his way and catches the smile. An expression of confusion and mild irritation crosses her features.

Lanisen approaches a gap between crenels and considers the height. He puts his hands on it to try to boost himself up, then makes a face and backs away, rubbing his shoulder.

Jana gestures with her head without actually looking away from the forest again. “There’s a stool for the short guards.”

Lanisen asks, “You callin’ me short?”

Jana says, “If you like.”

Lanisen says, appalled but smiling, “If I /like/?”

Jana says, “Yeah.”

Lanisen huffs, but he turns to get the stool. With its help he maneuvers himself onto the merlon, turning himself sideways to wedge himself into the gap. He carefully doesn’t look down until he’s settled.

Jana blows out a breath.

Lanisen exhales, not quite relaxing. “It’s quite a ways up, isn’t it.”

Jana says, “I reckon.”

Lanisen goes quiet, gradually untensing enough to return his attention to the view. “Meg sits like this all the time,” he remarks. “I dunno how.”

Jana asks, “What, wedged up like you are?”

Lanisen says, “Yeah. Or like you are.”

Jana says, “Mine ain’t bad. Yours looks like a crick in the neck.”

Lanisen says, “Yours looks like you might fall if the wind gets to blowin’.”

Jana looks skeptical and unimpressed by this supposition.

Lanisen says, “You might, I dunno!”

Jana says, “Why would you sit on a tower if it was so windy you could be knocked off.”

Lanisen says, “Maybe it gets windy real sudden.”

Jana’s brows draw together with harsh skepticism.

Lanisen says, “I’m jokin’.”

Jana says, “Oh.”

Lanisen glances across at her and half-grins. “Sorry.”

Jana says, “Ain’t nothing.”

Lanisen says, “All right.”

Jana says, “So she sits on ledges, huh.”

Lanisen says, “Sometimes.”

Jana says, “Hm.”

Lanisen shrugs.

Jana says, “Well, that’s an easy fix, I reckon there’s plenty girls we can find you as do that.”

Lanisen asks, “What?”

Jana lifts her brows.

Lanisen closes his mouth and shifts, looking away.

Jana says, “Ain’t any use to get hung up, that’s all.”

Lanisen says, “I know that.”

Jana says, “Just seems like you’re hanging a bit.”

Lanisen says, “I don’t–” He swings his legs over the inside of the wall.

Jana frowns mildly, not pressing him to stay or continue the topic.

Lanisen stays where he is, his hands on the top of the wall on either side of him, as if he’s thinking about hopping down to leave but hasn’t decided yet. He presses his lips together and swallows, then asks without looking up from the tower floor, “Did you…? Did you ever have to–”

Jana frowns, unsure what he’s asking.

Lanisen rubs the side of his face and shakes his head.

Jana turns and pushes herself off the ledge. She moves to stand beside him. “I reckon changing countries ain’t the worst start.”

Lanisen says, “That’s not– that’s not why I’m here.”

Jana says, “I know.”

Lanisen doesn’t look up.

Jana says, “It wouldn’t bother me if a little you were.”

Lanisen draws a shaky breath.

Jana hesitates, then reaches over and pats his shoulder awkwardly.

Lanisen lets out the breath again in a surprised gust of unvoiced laughter. He straightens a little where he sits and gives her a grateful look sidelong before he rubs his hands over his face.

Jana says, “Don’t pine about it if you can help it. It ain’t help either of you.”

Lanisen says, “I know that, I /know/ that.”

Jana asks, “How come do you reckon you’re caught, then?”

Lanisen rolls his sleeves down and folds his arms over his stomach.

Jana watches him.

Lanisen says finally, without looking up, “I don’t know, I don’t know; I’d rather not be.”

Jana says, “If you need to stay here longer’n you planned, I ain’t bothered about it.”

Lanisen says again, shaking his head insistently, “That’s not why I’m here, it’s not why I’m here, I didn’t want to bring it here.”

Jana says, “I ain’t bothered, that’s all. You’re doing me a good turn; I can do the same.”

Lanisen hunches forward and finally nods.

Jana asks, “Does she know?”

Lanisen says, “I don’t know.”

Jana asks, “Have you told her?”

Lanisen hesitates.

Jana lifts her brows.

Lanisen finally settles on, “Not– not really. Sort of.”

Jana sucks her teeth.

Lanisen says, “I don’t know.”

Jana asks, “You reckon it’s helping you to keep it in?”

Lanisen looks up at her at this, bewildered. “What… difference could it possibly make?” he asks slowly. “What good could it do, what– what would be the /point/, it would just–”

Jana shuffles a hand through her hair.

Lanisen says, “It’s– it couldn’t, it couldn’t do any good, and it would do a great deal of hurt, and it’s– I won’t, I won’t do that to them, they’re my friends.”

Jana says, “If she’s worth half your pining, she’ll have picked up on something’s off.”

Lanisen pulls his lips between his teeth. He nods.

Jana says, “That ain’t hurting?”

Lanisen’s shoulders drop. “No, that’s not– please, it’s, it’s– I don’t know how to say, only it’s not ruined now but if I tell her it will be, with both of them, and I can’t–”

Jana looks unconvinced, but she doesn’t press.

Lanisen doesn’t say anything else.

Jana asks, “Are you reckoning to go on like this forever, then?”

Lanisen says, “What’re you sayin’?”

Jana says, “I’m asking if you reckon you can and should and will pretend it’s secret forever.”

Lanisen says, “What’re you sayin’ I ought to do instead.”

Jana lifts her shoulders.

Lanisen nods, as if this is answer enough.

Jana says, “It ain’t nice knowing someone’s pining after you and won’t say so you can’t tell them no proper.”

Lanisen says, “But it’s– I’m already, I already know what she’d say, I’m not wantin’, I don’t have any– I’m just… tryin’ to put it away.”

Jana sucks the inside of her lip, mulling.

Lanisen rubs at his wrists. “I don’t know.”

Jana says, “I got thoughts, if you want them. Ain’t know if they’ll be of use.”

Lanisen shifts, turning his head toward her without quite looking at her. “I’m listenin’.”

Jana says, “Already knowing what she would say ain’t the same as letting her say it. I reckon Loc knew what I would say and not letting me say it let him go on and so when it did come about, there weren’t no repairing what was left.” She pauses, frowning, and her eyes shift left, away from him. “I loved him, I did. With — I mean I /loved/ him, first person I ever loved as an adult, and Tristran’s got four years yet before he beats him out as the longest. But I ain’t loved him the way he wanted, and he wouldn’t let me tell him so, cause that let him keep wanting it.” She glances at him. “It comes out, it always does. I just reckon it’s better if you choose when, instead of letting it happen to you.” She pauses, then lifts a shoulder. “Or else, you let her go, stay here, or away somewhere, I reckon that’s a way of choosing, too, if you want it.””

Lanisen stays still and quiet, listening without looking up. “You think if I tell her it’ll– I’ll be able to put it away.”

Jana pushes her mouth to the side and amends, “I think you might.”

Lanisen says, “What if it ruins everything.”

Jana draws a breath through her nose. “Well, I ain’t know how it is,” she hedges.

Lanisen says, “I don’t– I don’t even know how I’d tell her.”

Jana says, “Mm.”

Lanisen says, “I don’t think– I don’t know what good it would do, is all, it’s– if I tell her she’s gonna… she’ll want to make it better, but it’s not, it’s not something she /can/, so she’ll just be unhappy, and I don’t want that.”

Jana mulls this over for a good moment, and then says, “How if you told her that.”

Lanisen shakes his head.

Jana glances at him again.

Lanisen says, “It’s not, it’s not– anytime somebody’s… If there’s somebody hurtin’, she wants to fix it, it’s just… who she is. She’ll want to fix it, and it’s, she can’t.”

Jana gets a look like she’s trying not to be judgmental and is pretty significantly failing.

Lanisen glances at her and looks quickly away.

Jana concludes, “So, you ain’t allowed to be unhappy, because she don’t like it when people are.”

Lanisen says, “What, that’s– no, that’s not what I mean.”

Jana says, “It’s what you said.”

Lanisen rubs both hands over his face. “I’m unhappy,” he says finally, plainly. “If I tell her, I’ll be unhappy /and/ she’ll be unhappy, with no clear way to makin’ it better. I don’t see much point in it.”

Jana says dismissively, “Your life.”

Lanisen pulls his lips between his teeth and doesn’t answer.

Jana leaves it be.

Lanisen sighs and leans his forehead on the crenel. “I’m sorry.”

Jana says, “Ain’t got to be sorry to me.”

Lanisen shrugs.

Jana lets her eyes rove over the trees.

Lanisen says bleakly, “Maybe I’ll stay after all.”

Jana says, “If you like.”

Lanisen half-smiles. “No,” he says finally. “I can’t.”

Jana glances at him.

Lanisen glances back. “I don’t know a trade, nothin’ other’n hounds, I couldn’t support myself.”

Jana says, “Ah. Eh. You can have the goat if you want it.”

Lanisen snorts, ducking his head.

Jana says, “Trades are easy if you got a brain, which you do.”

Lanisen glances at her skeptically.

Jana shrugs. “Narnians ain’t picky like Archenland folk.”

Lanisen considers this. “What sorts of things do folk do around here, then?”

Jana says, “Mm, most of them just look after themselves. There’s business in food if you want it — fish or honey or eggs or milk or bread, but that takes better skills. Might be you could do a garden, I reckon, or jams, lots of people like jams. Or there’s work on the guard; that’ll get you food and a bed. Candlemaking, carpentry.””

Lanisen goes quiet, frowning a little in thought, and seems now to be considering it more seriously.

Jana lets him consider in peace.

Lanisen finally shifts and shakes his head.

Jana says, “Well, you got someone to help you settle if you choose it.”

Lanisen glances at her again, slightly surprised. “Thank you,” he says after a little pause.

Jana nods once.

Lanisen rubs his hands on his knees and nods a couple times. “Maybe someday.”

Jana says, “All right.”

Lanisen asks, “How long’s your watch?”

Jana says, “Til Skarlieth comes.”

Lanisen nods.

Jana’s eyes slip to where he’s stowed the letter away.

Lanisen glances at her.

Jana closes her lips politely.

Lanisen doesn’t offer the letter.

Jana doesn’t ask.

Lanisen shifts back to sit as he was in the crenel, glancing down the outside of the tower.

Jana asks finally, “What’d she say that got you in a knot?”

Lanisen’s hand goes to the pocket where he has stowed away the letter. He lifts his shoulders. “Just that… she was missin’ me, and that she wanted to talk to me, prob’ly about Sir Darrin.”

Jana narrows an eye.

Lanisen looks at her.

Jana says, “Ain’t she his squire.”

Lanisen says, “No, it’s– she was, she’s a knight now.”

Jana gets another of her judgmental expressions. “Ah.”

Lanisen shifts and looks vaguely upset. “No, it wasn’t like that, it wasn’t– They weren’t courtin’ when she was a squire.”

Jana sucks her teeth. “Ain’t said nothing.”

Lanisen pauses, and then mumbles, “Your face did.”

Jana says, “Ain’t reckon mine’ll be the last.”

Lanisen looks more upset at this. “She earned it, she earned her title.”

Jana asks, “And now she’s writing you to tell you — what exactly?”

Lanisen says, “I just said.”

Jana narrows her eyes.

Lanisen says, “We talk about– about things, usually, and she said she’s wantin’ to talk to me about somethin’, and it’s probably Sir Darrin.”

Jana says, “She wrote to say she wants to tell you something.”

Lanisen says, “She didn’t want to put it in a letter.”

Jana catches her own expression and her face goes blank instead of judgmental this time.

Lanisen says, “I don’t know what you’re thinkin’ but you’re wrong.”

Jana asks, “What sort of thing that you ain’t ashamed of ain’t you want to put in a letter?”

Lanisen says, “You thinkin’ that is exactly why she’s keepin’ it quiet.”

Jana says, “Ah, right.”

Lanisen exhales wearily. “Stop, please, stop. They done nothin’ they shouldn’t’ve.”

Jana says, “I ain’t get it; that’s all.”

Lanisen asks, “What is there to get?”

Jana lifts her shoulders, closed-lipped.

Lanisen pinches the bridge of his nose.

Jana says, “Sorry. Guess I ain’t got to.”

Lanisen doesn’t look entirely satisfied, but he nods and looks down.

Jana says, “So what are you gonna say to her.”

Lanisen says, “I don’t know. I don’t even know for sure that that’s what she wants to talk about.”

Jana says, “So is she asking you to come home, then.”

Lanisen says, “No, it’s– I’d planned to be home soon.”

Jana says, “Oh. Oh.”

Lanisen says, “Not– not /very/ soon, but. I thought I’d go in the next couple weeks.”

Jana says, “All right.”

Lanisen nods a couple times.

Jana says, “But you’re reckoning on coming back again sometime.”

Lanisen says, “In the fall, I thought. Before the passes get bad.”

Jana gets a fleeting mean expression, which is followed by a very reasonable. “All right.”

Lanisen pulls his chin back, startled and wary. “Unless it’s– if you’d rather I didn’t…”

Jana says, “No, that’s good.”

Lanisen studies her uneasily.

Jana says, “If you gotta come earlier, ain’t bother me.”

Lanisen asks, “What?”

Jana says, “Cause of all that.”

Lanisen says, “Oh.”

Jana says, “Just if you gotta.”

Lanisen nods.

Jana lifts her chin to indicate a shadow in the sky.

Lanisen looks, and scoots off the merlon.

Jana says, “Sorry to have put a flea in your collar.”

Lanisen says, “It was already there.”

Jana says, “Well.”

Lanisen shrugs and puts his hands in his pockets.

Jana says, “Thanks for sticking around whether you liked my advice or not.”

Lanisen shrugs again, and nods.

Jana lifts the hatch and drops down.

Lanisen follows her, glancing out over the walls again.


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