At the beginning of the Great River
You stand at the head of the Great River of Narnia, where it flows from the Caldron Pool and begins its southeastern journey toward the sea. Here, the river is fairly shallow and small, and looks pretty easy to cross. As it happens, you also stand at the edge of Lantern Waste, which lies to the east. The trees crowd the riverbank more closely in that direction, but the going doesn’t appear to be that difficult. To the west, you can see Cauldron Pool’s clear waters twinkling in the sunshine, and hear the roar of the waterfall as it crashes over the western cliffs.
Sunlight filters through the trees this afternoon in the Waste, turning everything green and gold. Pheeobe, taking a moment from her patrol, stops to listen to the waterfall and admire the scene. Her ear twitch at every sound and (for once) she isn’t humming.
Lanisen follows the path west along the riverbank, his footsteps crunching softly over occasional dead vegetation.
Pheeobe’s ears flick at the sound of incoming steps. She calls out, “Hello?” and walks through the shallow stream to the other side, supposing it may be an animal passing through.
Lanisen pauses, calling in return, “Hello?” He moves on toward the sound of splashing and circles a juniper shrub, coming into sight. “Hey, Pheeobe,” he says, smiling in recognition.
Pheeobe smiles, tail wagging. She makes her way back over, “Hello, Lanisen. I thought you might be a deer. You walk so softly. Good skill to have.”
Lanisen says, laughing in surprise, “A deer, huh?”
Pheeobe shrugs, “Well…maybe not that quiet.” She laughs back.
Lanisen says, “Thank goodness. I wouldn’t like to get jumped on, I think.”
Pheeobe grins, “No, I am sure that wouldn’t have been very good and I would have felt horrible!”
Lanisen pffs. “You wouldn’t’ve hurt me.”
Pheeobe laughs, “You don’t think I could take you?”
Lanisen tilts his head and narrows one eye at her speculatively, laughing. “Ahh… I’m, I’m pretty sure you could.”
Pheeobe shakes her head, “Nah….” She whispers, “Don’t tell anyone but I am much more of a lover than a fighter.”
Lanisen says, “Oh /really/ now?”
Pheeobe nods, “Oh yes.” She sits, “But don’t tell anyone.” Grinning she asks, “How is your day going?”
Lanisen says, ducking his head, “Very well, thank you. Spent the mornin’ gathering with Panacea.”
Pheeobe smiles, “Anything interesting?”
Lanisen says, “Oh, lots of mint, lots of yarrow. Spent about an hour diggin’ up dandelion roots.”
Pheeobe smiles, listening closely while wrapping her tail around herself. “Do you make stew with the roots?”
Lanisen says, “No, it’s… ahh, it’s good for sour stomachs, I think she said?”
Pheeobe grimaces, “Well….I am glad there is something to do about that.” She shakes her head, “I saw one of my siblings get sick once from eating bad meat and it was disgusting.”
Lanisen asks, “Only once?”
Pheeobe nods, “We have pretty good stomachs as wolves I suppose.”
Lanisen says thoughtfully, “Huh.”
Lucky for the rabbit Ayla is apparently stalking, the small she-wolf is entirely distracted by Lanisen and Pheeobe’s presence. Allowing the morsel to hop annother day, she turns her head toward both. Padding to the water, she dips her nose into the cool liquid to drink before edging carefully away and settling on her haunches near, but not too near the conversing two.
Pheeobe smiles at Ayla and greets her, “Hello, Ayla. Hunting?”
The tip of Ayla’s tail twitches and she chuffs a welcome to Pheeobe and Lanisen both. “Was a little hungry,” she admits. “It’s all right, though. That one was a bit scrawny anyway.”
Pheeobe tilts her head, “There is food in the den that is free to you.” She glances at Lanisen.
Lanisen grins a quick greeting to Ayla, keeping his distance.
“I know,” Ayla says, sounding a little confused. Her ears droop a bit as she looks to Pheeobe. “But hunting is fun. It’s a challenge. It passes time. Don’t you think so?”
Pheeobe shrugs, “I agree it is a challenge. I like only killing enough to eat but it is always so sad.”
Lanisen tilts his head slightly, listening curiously.
Ayla is quiet after Pheeobe’s words, ducking her head in apparent thought. “I think we should respect what we kill and never do it merely to kill. I, too, only hunt when I am hungry.” She does not speak to whether or not she finds it sad to hunt, but averts her eyes toward the water, something a touch melancholic shading her demeanor before she rises to her feet and shakes herself as if to rid the shadow of whatever it was. “You are well, Lanisen, Son of Adam?” she queries, wagging her tail a bit while clearly teasing him slightly with the lengthy title.
Lanisen closes his mouth and dimples up, evidently recognizing the teasing. “Very well, Ayla of Ulfden,” he answers gravely.
Pheeobe shrugs and looks to Lanisen.
Yelping her amusement, Ayla relaxes on the ground, resting her muzzle on her front paws after folding the tips primly as if to proclaim her princess status in the wolf world. Of course, pack royalty she is not.
Pheeobe grins at the pair and in opposition flops onto the ground.
Lanisen asks, “Have you got a title? I feel like I ought to be able to make it longer.”
“Goodness, no,” Ayla laughs. “But you’re right, it’s awfully short in comparison to yours. I suppose I could be Ayla, Recluse of Ulfden though,” she allows, teeth flashing in a brief, wolfy grin.
Pheeobe smiles at Ayla.
Lanisen says, “Well, that title you’re in danger of losin’, I’m sure.”
“I’ll just have to be certain to disappear for a few weeks here and there then,” Ayla opines with another grin, curling her tail around one of her back legs. “I’m sure you’ll think of something suitable, Lanisen, Son of Adam.” Chuckling to herself, she winks over at Pheeobe. “Pheeobe, Tree Climber of Ulfden,” she teases.
Lanisen shakes his head at this.
Pheeobe laughs, “You start calling me that and Nevarre with kill me.”
Lanisen asks, “Nevarre’s the alpha?”
The splash of a fish in the nearby water summons Ayla’s eyes in that direction, even as she, too, shakes her head. “How you even get up them is beyond me,” she states. “Though I should think getting down is even harder.”
Pheeobe nods, “He is.”
Lanisen considers the sunshine and the cool breeze, then toes off his shoes and sits down on the edge of the river, rolling up his pant legs.
Pheeobe sits along the water and starts humming.
Shifting on the ground, Ayla watches both of them before inching a little closer to the water herself, stopping a foot or so back from where the others are sitting and pushing herself onto her haunches. Lifting a paw, she licks at the pad of her foot, eyeing the river. “Do you swim, too?” she asks, glancing to Pheeobe.
Pheeobe smiles, “I have been known to.”
Pheeobe gets up and shakes out her fur. “I had better actually be going.”
Lifting her head from where she has been gazing contemplatively at the water, Ayla looks over to Pheeobe, wuffing softly at her. “Keep safe,” she comments quietly. “I will see you soon.” Because Ayla’s reactions are typically slow when coming out of reverie, her response is aimed at Pheeobe’s tail. “Hmmm,” she murmurs, glancing in the direction of the lamp post, then back at the water, her eyes tracking the leaping of another fish, silvery scales glinting in the sunlight.
Lanisen asks, after Pheeobe has gone, “Do you?”
“Swim?” Ayla asks, shaking her head even before the word is out of her mouth. “If I did not have to drink, I would be happy never to go near water. It does not hold pleasant memories for me.” After a moment of silence, she tacks on, “Though it can be pretty at times. Do you swim?”
Lanisen says, “Not well, and not very often.” He goes quiet and glances at her, slightly inquiring with his silence, but doesn’t press.
Ayla lets the silence stretch for a moment, her stillness calm and pensive. Then, after a while, “My mother drowned in the river,” she says. “There was a terrible storm, and the bank was too slippery. She hid me near a heavy log I could hold to, but she had nothing like that, so…” Her ears droop as she eeyes thhe water. “I found her the next morning, then Ulfden found me.” Another beat. “Sometimes I hate the river for that.”
Lanisen draws a deep breath and nods, his forehead furrowing. “I’m sorry,” he says softly.
“Thank you,” Ayla says simply. “Death is a part of life. I went through a year where I could barely wake in the morning, but I am past that now. I will always miss her, but she gave her life for mine. I can repay her by living it well. I don’t think it will ever stop being sad, but it doesn’t hurt so much to speak of her anymore.” Her ears flick forward and she eyes the river. “Even if I’ll probably never fully overcome my fear of water. Or storms for that matter, but one day at a time. I am certain even the Kings and Queens feared things at one point.”
Lanisen says, “Yes, I’m sure they did.” He draws a deep breath, still watching the water with a distant frown, and pulls his lips between his teeth for a moment. “The rivers, it’s– the force gets away from ’em, sometimes. Stuff like snowmelt, or storms.”
“It just… flooded,” Ayla says, creeping up beside Lanisen while still keeping enough room for a wolf to stand length-wise between them. “And it got very loud. And everything was water. Water everywhere, the sky, the river, it was like trying to breathe water.” Canting her head, she eyes a fish flitting through the liquid depths. “Funny how it can give and take life equally. That type of pondering I may leave for the centaurs though,” she laughs. “A bit too deep for me to fathom.”
Lanisen nods again. “At least–” he begins, and hesitates.
“You can say it,” Ayla says, settling on her front once more. “It’s all right.” Her tone is reassuring, her eyes filled with curiosity.
Lanisen takes another minute to choose his words, moistening his lips. “At least they– at least they brought you… closure,” he says finally. “It’s all they could do, I suppose, but at least they made it so you don’t have to… be wonderin’.”
“Do you mean,” Ayla asks carefully, “that at least I know she’s gone? Or that… That at least Ulfden could help me? Either way, you are right. Not knowing would have been a hundred times worse. Because there would have always been hope, and I think hope dying probably hurts just as much as losing someone dear.”
Lanisen hesitates. “Yes,” he answers finally. “Sort of.” He rubs a hand over his face, flustered, evidently out of his depth. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m not tryin’ to– to make little of your loss or make it any less horrible than it was. What I mean is–” He stops. “Your– your mum, after she got swept away, somebody brought her back?”
“No,” Ayla says gently. “You aren’t making little of anything. She got caught on a big fallen tree. I found her. She wasn’t brought back, but I’m certain Ulfden would have brought her back to me had I not been able to find her. And that would have mattered quite a lot.” Falling silent, she closes her eyes pensively before commenting, “I think I was lucky. I knew. And I got to see her. Touch her. Say goodbye, even if she could no longer respond. I think it is, actually, worse for those who can’t get that closure.”
Lanisen pauses, and then lowers his head, murmuring, “Forgive me, I misunderstood.”
“No forgiveness needed, Lanisen, Son of Adam,” Ayla says, her voice lilting a gentle tease. “You are kind to speak of it with me.” Looking down into the water, she creeps closer to drink, careful not to lean too far out. “Do you have family in Narnia?” she queries when she has lifted her head.
Lanisen says, “No, no family.”
“We do not see many a Son of Adam or Daughter of Eve in Lantern Waste. Animals are much more of the norm. Why are you here, if I may ask? It is good that you are, but curious to me also,” Ayla remarks.
Lanisen says, “I’ve got friends here; I said I’d come.”
“It is good to have friends in Narnia,” Ayla comments. “We have fun here.” A beat, then, “Well, the others do. I am not one for the larger merrymaking crowds, but you may like them. Have you had jolly dances with the fauns and nymphs yet?”
Lanisen says, “Ahhh…” and laughs a little. “Um, I watched one, last spring?”
“Rather boisterous, aren’t they?” Ayla asks.
Lanisen considers. “Not so much as all that. I was afraid of messin’ it up, mostly.”
“Well, I’ll come with you next time,” Ayla says. “Then I’ll mess it up while you dance. Ever seen a wolf try to dance? I promise you, you’ll feel much more secure when I prove I have eight feet instead of four.”
Lanisen grins, ducking his head.
“It’s not funny.” Ayla’s voice is deadpan, but her tail is wagging in lazy circles, marking her amusement. “It’s really rather sad.”
Lanisen says, “‘Course, yeah. I’m sure it is.”
“Lanisen, Son of Adam, you are amused,” Ayla laments with quiet laughter in her tone. “This goes no further than this spot. People may suspect wolves of being rather poor dancers, but we must be able to maintain our graceful and majestic reputations! We can’t do that if it gets out that one of us has eight feet and no sense of rhythm.”
Lanisen says, “Your secret’s safe with me.”
“Very good,” Ayla says before pushing herself to her feet. “I am going to keep quiet vigil by the lamp post for a bit. Would you care to come and sit with me?”
Lanisen hesitates, catching his lower lip between his teeth and giving her a brief, keen look. “All right.”
Wagging her tail, Ayla wastes no time in trotting off, letting Lanisen follow or not as he wishes.
Lanisen gets to his feet and rolls his pant legs back down before putting on his shoes and following.