Behind the Waterfall
Lanisen has brought a book with him to the cave, one that looks new and unfamiliar. He’s sitting with his back to the cave wall, facing the waterfall but far enough away that the splashes can’t reach, and he has a handful of small sour cherries sitting on a handkerchief next to him as he reads.
Megren comes up along the path, slowing when he comes in sight.
Lanisen doesn’t hear her approach over the noise of the waterfall, but he glances up toward the waterfall when he finishes the page and halts in the middle of turning to the next when he catches sight of her. He watches her uneasily.
Megren hesitates at his uneasiness. “Am I disturbing you?” She asks, without coming any nearer.
Lanisen says, “Um,” and closes his book. “Um, no, of course not.” He seems to have a hard time looking at her directly. “Is somethin’–?”
Megren comes and sits beside him. “What are you reading?”
Lanisen says, “Um– it’s– there was a bookseller in Narnia, it’s got good pictures with the, with the stories…” He thumbs at the pages. “Um, I got it for Tristran.”
Megren lifts her brows, eyes on the book. “Oh, he reads already.”
Lanisen says, “No– um, he knows his letters, he said, but I don’t think he’s– I don’t think he’s properly readin’ yet. I told him I’d find him somethin’ with good pictures.”
Megren says, “Better then I was at the same age, anyway.”
Lanisen glances at her at this, sidelong and skittering, and he lifts his shoulders. “‘S different– different circumstances, is all.”
Megren says, “Yeah. Still, I guess it’s something to see how much circumstances will change a thing.”
Lanisen runs his thumb along the stacked pages. “I guess.”
Megren pushes her mouth to the side.
Lanisen shifts and glances at her again indirectly at the silence. “It’s gotten, it’s hot out,” he offers a little desperately after a second.
Megren looks a little startled by this assertion. “Oh. Um, yes.”
Lanisen nods a couple times and shuts his eyes briefly. He rubs at his wrists, then consciously separates his hands.
Megren says, “Um–”
Lanisen’s head turns toward her slightly, instantly attentive, though he doesn’t quite look at her.
Megren says, “Um, the council in Narnia asked if we’d send a few of us over.”
Lanisen says, “Oh.”
Megren says, “I thought you might be good for it. Since you know people all over now, and you’ve stayed in the castle, and — I think, I think they all liked you; at least, it seemed like you talked with King Edmund quite a lot–”
Lanisen goes still and confused. He looks at her directly for a moment, questioning.
Megren says, “It’s, um, I guess there’s a Terebinthian fellow who wants the throne and they just, you know, want to remind him they’ve got other people here for them, so we didn’t want to send only knights or soldiers, we wanted a mix, and so Lady Avery’s going, and Sir Darrin and maybe Sir Chal, and Haft, and Deonyc, and me.” Her eyes fall on the book. “Obviously there’s no obligation, only, you did seem like a good fit. You’ve got a kind of knack for Narnia.”
Lanisen hesitates, working through this. “Is that–” he starts, and stops. “You, do you–”
Megren lets him figure out how to finish.
Lanisen stops again. He catches his lower lip between his teeth for a moment, and asks without looking up, “Do you… want me to go?”
Megren says, “Um.” She pauses, off kilter. “Yes? If you — I don’t really want whether I want you to go or not to be the thing that decides it for you.”
Lanisen takes a deep breath. “I mean– is it going to be…”
Megren says, “It’s, um, I think it’s up to you and me, how awkward it is.”
Lanisen hesitates. He finally nods, not entirely satisfied.
Megren says, “Um, we’re leaving in two days, so, you’ve got about one to decide. Sorry, I know it’s not ideal.”
Lanisen says, “Oh! Oh, um– all right.” His forehead furrows and he probes in an absent testing way at his ankle with his fingers. “How… how long?”
Megren says, “No idea. It depends on this Duke fellow, I suppose. Could be a week, could be several months.”
Lanisen nods slowly. “Um, and– what, what’re we doin’ exactly?”
Megren says, “Mostly just being there. The Duke brought a larger retinue than seemed quite peaceful but he’s not actively making threats, so they want to make it clear that’s not going to work on them, if it was his intent.”
Lanisen pulls his chin back, startled, and looks at her. He narrows one eye, and pauses, and says, “…All right. I see.”
Megren watches him uncertainly.
Lanisen says, “Um–” and runs his hands through his hair. “Who– who all? You said you, and Sir Darrin, and– Lady Avery? And Haft and some others?”
Megren says, “Deonyc and maybe Sir Chal. That’s everyone.”
Lanisen hesitates, and then nods. “I need to– I need to talk to Danall,” he says. “Um– see if Mara can fill in again.”
Megren says, “It — we’re not expecting a fight, but it could come to one.”
Lanisen hesitates again. “But you’re not– you’re not takin’ a bunch of fighting folk.”
Megren says, “Yeah. We’re not expecting it, and we’re not going for it. It’s just — it’s not a perfectly stable situation we’re going into.”
Lanisen pauses. “All right.”
Megren lifts her brows, uncertain of the meaning here.
Lanisen rubs the side of his face. “I need to– can I, can I think about it, for tonight?”
Megren says, “Oh. Yeah, yes, of course.”
Lanisen says, “All right, I’ll– I’ll talk to Danall and Mara and–” He nods.
Megren says, “Good. Good, all right.”
Lanisen nods again. He glances at her again, a little bit searching.
Megren says, “Thanks for thinking about it.”
Lanisen says, ducking his head, “Thanks for– for thinkin’ of me.”
Megren says, “Yeah of — of course, of course.”
Lanisen taps the top of his knee uncertainly. “How–” he starts, and clears his throat. “How are you?”
Megren says, “Oh, um–”
Lanisen draws a breath and looks away, rubbing his elbow. “Sorry.”
Megren says, “Um, no, that’s all right.”
Lanisen doesn’t press.
Megren says, “I’m fine.”
Lanisen says, “Good.”
Megren asks, “… You?”
Lanisen says, “I’m, I’m good.”
Megren says, “You weren’t at the festival.”
Lanisen says, “Too many– too many people.”
Megren says, “Oh.”
Lanisen doesn’t say anything else.
Megren says, “Well, I guess I have some packing to do.”
Lanisen says, shifting, “Right, yeah. Thanks for…”
Megren says, “I’ll see you in the morning. I’ll bring food.”
Lanisen says, “All– all right.”
Megren says, “Let me know if you decide before then.”
Lanisen says, “I will.”
Megren crosses her arms. “All right. Well, then… See you.”
Lanisen nods, getting to his feet to see her out.