In the Great Woods
You find yourself in the deep, vibrant forest that makes up the Great Woods of Narnia. All around you, trees and vines and bushes grow in great abundance, their leafy branches serving to block out a good deal of the sunlight that would trickle down from above. There are very few clear paths here upon which to walk, but at least you sense no real danger from the trees here. They seem to regard you with a detached curiosity, allowing you to pass by without impediment.
Lanisen makes his way slowly through the woods with his horse and hound, on foot despite the horse. He’s leaning heavily on its neck, walking with an odd lopsided limp, and his face is pale and beaded out with sweat.
Caileana weaves through the trees on quiet paws, lifting her head to scent the air just before she notices Lanisen and his creatures.
Lanisen keeps moving, barely putting any weight at all on his left leg. His jaw is clenched and he keeps his eyes on the ground, selecting his steps with care.
Caileana pauses when she catches sight of Lanisen, studying him with her head cocked to the side. Then she moves forward towards him, a twig snapping underpaw.
Tohol sees Caileana before Lanisen does, and immediately breaks into deafening bays, snarling to fill in the gaps. He plants himself between Lanisen and the Wolf and makes every indication that he’s down to fight.
Lanisen startles at the baying and missteps. He doesn’t make any noise, but his whole face screws up and he looks for a second like he might actually pass out.
Caileana draws back in surprise at the baying of the dog, her hackles raising and lips parting on a silent snarl instinctively. Her gaze flicks to the dog’s master for guidance, only to see Lanisen look pale and pained. She blinks, then pulls herself to her full and considerable height, letting out a low growl that’s fiercer than anything the dog has yet let out. “Down, dog,” she snarls.
Tohol’s ears lift at the familiar command from an unfamiliar voice, but he only pauses his snarling for a moment.
Lanisen’s eyes fix on Caileana with recognition and understanding, and he says, “Tohol, Tohol, to me, to me, come on, leave it!” Tohol licks his lips nervously and backs to him, still snarling. The horse side-steps, made anxious by all the growling going on, and Lanisen grabs the reins hastily.
Caileana snorts and stops growling abruptly when the dog doesn’t get the hint. She doesn’t really relax her stance when the dog moves closer to Lanisen, eying it warily, but she does wrinkle her muzzle up with an expression that’s somewhere between patronizing and exasperated.
Lanisen says to Caileana, “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, he’s not–” When Tohol snarls again, he lets go the reins to soothe the dog. “Hey, hey, it’s okay, it’s okay, look here, look at me, come on, settle down. Settle down.” The snarling mostly subsides.
Caileana decides it’s best not to come any closer and sits down. “I didn’t mean to startle it,” she says, somewhat apologetic. She watches this soothing of the dog with detached curiosity.
Lanisen says again, “I’m sorry, I’m so sorry, he’s not normally–” He swallows and exhales a little shakily, reaching up to steady himself on the horse’s neck. “I’m sorry, can you… tell me where the inn is? I’m, I think I’m lost.”
Caileana observes, “And injured, from the look of it.”
Lanisen says, “I stepped wrong, crossin’ the ford, and now I’m–” He looks at the saddle, wearily rueful. “I can’t get up.”
Caileana looks at the saddle on the horse’s back with a thoughtful frown, and then back to Lanisen. “Can I help somehow?”
Lanisen says, “Tell me where the inn is?”
Caileana points her nose in the right direction. “Southeast of here,” she says.
Lanisen looks where she’s pointing, significantly more east than where he was going before, and exhales quietly. He looks back at her and ducks his head. “Thank you.”
Caileana says, “Sure. I’d offer to walk you there, but I’m not sure your dog would like it.”
Lanisen hesitates, looking between her and Tohol, then only nods. The horse lowers his head to whuffle at a patch of plantain, putting Lanisen off-balance again. He stiffens up as his left foot touches the ground. “Is there,” he says, and pauses to swallow, sweating and pale around the mouth. “Do you know of a, a… a rock, or– is there a tree down somewhere near, there’s gotta be– I just need a, a step up.”
Caileana says, “There’s some fallen trees closer to the river, but that’s out of your way.”
Lanisen asks, “Is it near?”
Caileana says, “Ehhh,” in a way that makes it clear it’s not, really.
Lanisen wipes at his forehead and shuts his eyes for a moment. “Is it, is it nearer than the inn?”
Caileana gives Lanisen an assessing glance, up and down, and then stands and moves a couple paces closer. She glances at Tohol cautiously. “I can probably provide enough of a step up, if you want.”
Lanisen opens his eyes and looks back at her, just as assessing and a little wary. He swallows. “I don’t– I’m afraid I’ll hurt you.”
Caileana squints. “You look lighter than the deer I drag around.”
Lanisen asks, “Do the deer step on your back?”
Caileana says, “I carry them over my back.”
Lanisen looks unsure. He takes a deep breath. “I’m, I’m afraid I’ll kick you, or something.”
Caileana says dryly, “I don’t bite unless provoked.” Her lips pull away from her teeth in a small grin and then she shakes her head. “But seriously. I think it’d be fine. You look like you’re not gonna make it to the inn in the state you’re in.”
Lanisen says, “I’m not afraid of you bitin’ me, I’m afraid of steppin’ wrong and breakin’ your back.”
Caileana just looks at him for several moments longer than is really polite. Finally she sighs loudly in exasperation. “Fine. Wait here. I’ll see if there’s any rocks or trees close enough to do you some good.”
Lanisen draws a shaky breath and murmurs, “Thank you.”
Caileana inclines her head and pads away into the underbrush.
Lanisen stands quietly and tries not to move much. He strokes Tohol’s head absently.
Caileana isn’t gone a terribly long time before she reappears, from a more southerly direction than she left.
Tohol starts barking again, like he can’t even help it, until Lanisen hushes him.
Caileana ignores the dog. “There’s a boulder that seems about the right size just that way,” she says, gesturing with her nose.
Lanisen breathes out in relief. “Thank you.”
Caileana nods, stepping aside so he and the dog can give her a wide berth if they so choose.
Lanisen just takes what he judges to be the quickest route. Tohol stays glued to his heels and lifts his lip at Caileana as they pass by.
Caileana snort-laughs at the dog. She follows once she judges to have left enough distance between them for Tohol’s comfort.
Lanisen finds the boulder and leads the horse to stand by it. He runs into trouble here, as he can’t just step up. He moistens his lips, grips the saddle, and does an awkward sort of assisted hop to get himself up onto the boulder.
Caileana stops herself from walking closer to help and instead keeps her distance, waiting to be sure he gets actually on the horse all right.
Lanisen gets himself standing. He hesitates, strategizing, then guides the horse a little closer and leans forward over the saddle. He boosts himself up with his hands and squirms until he’s got both legs where they’re meant to be. The horse is remarkably patient through this whole graceless process, which would be funny except for the occasional strained, hurt noise.
Caileana asks, “All right?”
Lanisen takes a minute to answer. “Yes,” he says finally, and fits his right foot into the stirrup.
Caileana nods a bit, watching him.
Lanisen gathers up the reins. “Southeast?” he asks to confirm.
Caileana says, “Right, just that way,” motioning again.
Lanisen nods tightly. “Thanks,” he says again. He takes a deep breath, then clicks his tongue to the horse and starts off.
Caileana says, “Sure.” She takes a couple of steps back and sits down to watch him go.
Lanisen hasn’t gone very far before he’s bowed over in the saddle. He doesn’t look back, though, and in a moment he and the horse and the hound are all out of sight in the trees.
Caileana sighs to herself, very softly, once the human is completely out of sight. She gets up and follows him, moving completely silently.
Lanisen takes it very slow and has to stop frequently, but he makes better progress once his horse finds the main track.
Caileana hangs back far enough that she’s not likely to be noticed.
Lanisen finally reaches the inn. He dismounts outside, carefully and awkwardly, and loops the reins around the post provided before turning and surveying the distance between him and the door.
Caileana pauses in the shadows of the trees.
Lanisen looks at the hound, and looks back at the door. He calls Tohol to him and braces one hand on his back. They make it a little ways like this, but Tohol does not seem to have been trained for this kind of work. He catches sight of a squirrel and refuses to move any further, until the squirrel goes skittering around the trunk of the tree and he goes bounding after it, baying excitedly.
Caileana observes until it’s clear that Lanisen’s solution is not working. She rolls her eyes heavenwards as the dog runs off. “Need a shoulder?” she calls, padding out of the trees and towards Lanisen.
Lanisen is swaying slightly where he stands like a stork on one foot, his arms out for balance. His shoulders hunch up a little bit in surprise and he looks behind him toward Caileana. He swallows, and says, lowering his head, “Please.”
Caileana moves beside him where the dog was a few moments ago, looking up at his face calmly.
Lanisen hesitates, not looking at her directly. “Thank you; I’m sorry; thank you,” he says again, and then his unsteady stance makes up his mind for him and he rests a hand on her back, up near her shoulders where it will be easier for her to bear the weight.
Caileana says, “It’s all right; I don’t mind. I thought you still looked pretty unsteady.”
Lanisen swallows a couple times, measuring the distance still to go with his eyes, and says, “All right.” He takes a deep breath and counts, and on ‘three’ takes a step forward, half hopping and half leaning on Caileana. He stops, and pants, and counts again and steps again.
Caileana moves as he does and stands still when he stops.
Lanisen continues in this way all the way to the door, alternately apologizing and thanking her the entire way. He straightens and grabs onto the doorframe.
Caileana is laughing under her breath at him by the second or third apology and thanks. She winces though, when a particular step causes him to wobble and hiss in pain. At the door, she waits for him grab hold before pawing at the doorknob and the nosing the door open.
Lanisen gasps out, “Thank you,” again, and gets himself inside. Then there are more people, and a sturdy dwarf matron comes to help him to a chair, and a satyr clops out to see to the horse.
Caileana stays out of the way of the bustling, eventually making her way around the inn’s patrons to speak with the Dwarf in charge of the place, with whom she seems to have at least a passing familiarity.
Lanisen, though visibly relieved to be off his feet, sits with his shoulders hunched. He shakes his head with a quick nervous smile when somebody offers to get a healer, and only asks if anybody knows where he can buy a walking stick.
Caileana appears to be discussing Lanisen, if the way she nods back towards him is any indication, and she and the innkeep come to some sort of agreement before Caileana offers her a grin and is on her way.
Niffum approaches Lanisen with a concerned air as Caileana makes her way to the door.
Lanisen says, as she passes, “Caileana– if I can do anything for you…”
Caileana glances over her shoulder at him. “It’s the least I could do,” she says, dismissive, offering him a faint smile.
Lanisen says, one more time, “Thank you.”
Caileana says, “You’re welcome.”
Lanisen’s attention is drawn away by a Chipmunk telling him importantly that he has a walking stick, /such/ a good one, made out of oak wood by the dryad herself, but that it’s far too small for Lanisen to use.
Caileana slips out the door.