stepping back

Cair Paravel
Eastern Narnia

Lanisen sits on his bunk, his satchel open, clothing freshly retrieved from the launderer but not yet folded heaped beside him. Another pile, this one made of supplies like dried meat and fruit, some hard bread and other foodstuffs that will keep on the road, is next to it. He’s methodically folding and tucking away each of these in their turn, packing.

Haft enters in his uniform, apparently freshly off duty. He does a double-take as he notices Lanisen packing. “Where are you off to?”

Lanisen glances up as the door opens, then looks down again to neatly fold and roll a brown shirt. “Lantern Waste,” he answers. “It’s gettin’ toward autumn.”

Haft asks, “So?”

Lanisen says, “I said I’d be back in the autumn.”

Haft asks, “Back where?”

Lanisen says, “Lantern Waste.”

Haft says, “Right. You’ve got some arrangement with the trees, then.”

Lanisen looks up, frowning.

Haft says, “Well, you ain’t said who it is you’ve promised in Lantern Waste.”

Lanisen says, “A friend, and her little boy. Jana and Tristran.”

Haft asks, “Ah. Yer not going home to Anvard then? Later, I mean?”

Lanisen hesitates, focused on carefully rolling a pair of socks into a small bundle. “I’m meanin’ to stay in Narnia.”

Haft frowns, then stares at a spot somewhere to the left of Lanisen. “I’m sorry to hear it.”

Lanisen looks up, confused.

Haft says, “I always found it hard to be away from home. Maybe it’s different fer you.”

Lanisen lifts his shoulders, looking down again. “Home ain’t a place, it’s people.”

Haft takes a seat on his bunk and starts pulling off his boots. “Where’d you find better people than Anvard?”

Lanisen rubs a hand over his face, exhausted, and reaches for the next shirt. “There’s good people to be found anywhere, I reckon,” he says after a moment, but doesn’t look up.

Haft says, “I suppose.”

Lanisen reaches for another pair of socks. “Stormsbreath’s said he’ll take me on,” he says rather abruptly after a moment, referring to the centaur healer who works in the infirmary. “When I’m in Lantern Waste I’m meant to go talk to somebody called Panacea.”

Haft asks, “So…yer friend’s in Lantern Waste, but yer gonna work here?”

Lanisen nods.

Haft says, “Seems sideways. Not that I don’t approve of you having something lined up.”

Lanisen shrugs. “I’ll be there part of the time and here the rest.”

Haft asks, “You told Danall yet?”

Lanisen says, “I sent a letter, yeah.”

Haft says, “Dogs’ll miss you, I guess.”

Lanisen’s hands still for a moment and he closes his eyes briefly. “Yeah,” he murmurs.

Haft says, “Sorry. It’s important, what yer doin’, I reckon.”

Lanisen’s shoulders bow and he makes no reply.

Haft asks, “How old’s the boy?”

Lanisen says, “Six or seven, I reckon. Smart.”

Haft smiles faintly. “Yeah?”

Lanisen says, “Yeah. Likes knights,” he adds after a moment.

Haft laughs. “All seven-year-old boys like knights.”

Lanisen grins, but it doesn’t quite reach his eyes.

Haft asks, “Not you?”

Lanisen asks, “Sorry?”

Haft asks, “You didn’t want to be a knight when you were a boy?”

Lanisen says, “I don’t know. I don’t remember.”

Haft says, “Oh. I guess that’s what most of the lads in Andale played at. I reckoned everyone did.”

Lanisen says, “We didn’t live very near to town, I just had, I just had my brother.”

Haft asks, “Oh? How much older?”

Lanisen says, “Four, four years.”

Haft says, “That’s close. Never had any brothers. Was ten years older’n my sister.”

Lanisen nods.

Haft asks, “When you leavin’?”

Lanisen says, “Once I’ve finished packin’.”

Haft asks, “Today?”

Lanisen nods.

Haft says, “Well…” He takes a deep breath, rises, and reaches out a hand. “Lion keep you.”

Lanisen looks surprised. He hesitates, then gets to his feet to take Haft’s hand, ducking his head. “Thanks,” he murmurs. “You too.”

Haft meets the other man’s gaze, nods, then releases Lanisen’s hand and goes back to folding his uniform.

Lanisen says, “Can you–” He hesitates.

Haft turns back with a questioning look.

Lanisen says, “Can you give somethin’ to Dame Megren or Sir Darrin for me?”

Haft frowns. “Somethin’ you can’t give ’em herself?”

Lanisen says, “Please.”

Haft tilts his head. “All right.”

Lanisen turns around and picks up a letter from the table beside his bunk. He hesitates for a moment, holding it in his hand, then almost reluctantly holds it out to Haft.

Haft takes the letter. “They do know you’re going?”

Lanisen says, without quite looking at Haft, “Everything’s in the letter.”

Haft’s mouth tightens at this, but his only response is, “They’ll get it.”

Lanisen keeps his head down. “Thank you,” he whispers miserably.

Haft nods again, more stiffly.

Lanisen sits back down. He rubs at his wrists and looks at the few things left to pack.

Haft lays the letter carefully among his possessions, then sits down to inspect his sword.

Lanisen reaches to fold the last few articles of clothing, going quiet. He looks exhausted, and he seems to have lost weight since coming to Cair Paravel.

Haft doesn’t look up. “You should leave in the morning, have a couple good meals.”

Lanisen says, “Sooner’s… sooner’s prob’ly better.”

Haft says, “Then stop by the kitchen and get that Weasel-thing to give you something for the road. You’re thin as a rail.”

Lanisen says, “I got, I got food.”

Haft says, “All right.”

Lanisen finishes his packing. He sits with the satchel by his side and the empty waterskin in his hands for a moment, looking at nothing in particular.

Haft stares doggedly at his sword, apparently having nothing more to offer.

Lanisen draws a deep breath and stands up. He straightens his bed and slings his satchel over his shoulder, then picks up his waterskin. He looks back at Haft, hesitates, then ducks his head and slips out.

Upper Corridor
Cair Paravel

Megren trudges up the stairs and emerges into the second floor corridor.

Lanisen’s satchel is heavy and packed, slung over his shoulder, and his empty waterskin is in his hand. He closes the door softly behind him and turns to leave the corridor. He slows and halts when Megren comes into view, momentarily frozen, then quickly lowers his eyes and his head.

Megren stops where she stands. Her eyes flicker.

Lanisen doesn’t say anything, and can’t seem to look at her directly, but after a moment he bows.

Megren’s eyes tear up.

Lanisen swallows a couple times, and finally whispers, “Please.”

Megren quickly swipes her hand under her eye. “Um, are you, are you going?”

Lanisen doesn’t answer. He looks wretchedly exhausted and afraid, but he finally darts a glance at her to see if she’s going to stop him.

Megren asks very softly, “Because of me?”

Lanisen whispers, “Please let me go.”

Megren pulls in her lips and hesitates for a long moment. Finally, she says, “N-no.”

Lanisen goes still.

Megren says, “N-no, I love you and I don’t know why you keep thinking the right thing is to leave me, but, I, if it’s about me, then it’s not the right thing, and you have to know that.”

Lanisen rubs his wrists, not looking up. He does not look well: he’s lost weight over the last weeks, and there are tired shadows under his eyes. He doesn’t seem to know how to answer.

Megren takes a breath, and then steps out of his way, dropping her eyes to the ground.

Lanisen doesn’t move for a moment, watching from the corner of his eye.

When he doesn’t move, Megren says without looking up, “I’m sorry I’ve been a poor friend.”

Lanisen shifts his weight and shakes his head mutely.

Megren looks up at him when he still doesn’t say anything or move.

Lanisen shakes his head again, his face twisting desperately. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” he manages. “I can’t–”

Megren asks, “Can I just — Can I hug you before you go?”

Lanisen draws a breath and swallows, then nods.

Megren hesitates, but then folds him into a hug.

Lanisen is quiveringly still. There’s a moment where he’s tense and unreactive, but he breathes out and softens deliberately, and finally curls an arm tentatively around her in return.

Megren’s tear falls onto his shoulder and she lifts her hand to prevent it from happening again, not stepping out of the embrace. “Sorry, I’m sorry.”

Lanisen shakes his head quickly, whispering, “It’s all right, it’s all right– here–” He pulls a clean handkerchief from his pocket and offers it to her.

Megren takes it and says again, “I’m sorry–”

Lanisen says unhappily, “Don’t be; don’t be.”

Megren’s embrace around him tightens a little.

Lanisen relaxes a little more. He brings his other arm up to encircle her the rest of the way, running a hand over her back.

Megren draws a long, uncertain breath.

Lanisen closes his eyes.

Megren finally draws back, swiping at her face again and pulling in her lips. She extends his handkerchief toward him.

Lanisen says, “Keep it; it’s all right.”

Megren crumples the handkerchief in her hand possessively and nods, swallowing.

Lanisen adjusts his satchel and clutches the strap with both hands. He doesn’t seem to know where to look.

Megren asks, “Are you — are you going to Jana?”

Lanisen nods.

Megren asks, “Are you planning to come back?”

Lanisen says, “Before it– starts snowin’ bad.”

Megren pushes her mouth to the side and nods slowly, several times.

Lanisen avoids her eyes.

Megren says, “Then — I hope it’s, I hope it’s good.”

Lanisen nods. After a moment, he murmurs, “Thank you.”

Megren wipes at her face again and folds her arms over her stomach. “Um, then, I don’t want to make you arrive at the inn after dark, I guess.”

Lanisen nods again and shifts his weight.

Megren presses her lips together and pushes her hair behind her ear. “I’ll miss you.”

Lanisen looks at her uncertainly.

Megren pushes her mouth to the side as she tries to keep her face under control.

Lanisen rubs at his wrists and averts his eyes. His forehead furrows.

Megren hesitates, and then nods, and steps out of his way again.

Lanisen says, “I left– I left a letter with Haft.”

Megren’s lips press together again, her jaw tight and her eyes carefully not spilling over.

Lanisen looks at her again, dry-eyed by contrast, frowning slightly as he studies her face, like he’s looking at somebody he hasn’t seen before. He looks a little disoriented. He finally takes a hesitant step toward the door.

Megren draws into herself and steps more fully out of his way.

Lanisen pauses at the door, his hand on the latch. Then he opens the door and steps through.

Megren hesitates, and then goes into the barracks, arms still crossed over her stomach.


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