Beddigan leaned back against the cold, damp bricks of one of the buildings that lined the alley. He was shivering beneath his cloak and warmest travel clothes. He had forgotten how stormy and damp this part of the world could be. Despite his hood pulled high, the wind still managed to sluice in through the darkness and cut coldly against his face, ruffling his fur.
He had stopped only to rest a moment, needing to slip through to the western side of the capital city of Strille, where the palace loomed and the prison camps were located. He could hardly believe the amount of expansion the city had seen since he had last been in it. At least quadruple the size, it had grown far beyond its original walls. This was a boon Beddigan had not expected, making it much easier to sneak through the city.
They had a arrive in the deepest, darkest part of the night. Truly it was early morning, but still much before the hustle and bustle would begin. Captain Linley had a load of trade goods and remained docked in the port until dawn when the goods could be unloaded and he could restock with a load to take to Sinnerah. Beddigan had used the darkness to slip through the usually iron-fisted port and into the trees that lined the long road that lead to Strille.
Typical of the wolves to sit their capital city not on the shores like many other countries, but just far enough away from the port to be a nuisance; designed for security, not for travellers as the wolves welcomed almost none but their own. Illensdar had originally had its capital along the northern shores, but it had been taken and burned by the wolves early in the war, never to be rebuilt. The modern Capital sat inland to be a more defensible position, due to necessity, and the area where the original capital had been was now a national park and historical site named the Bay of Elendie after the Queen.
Despite the nearly empty road, with the exception of a guard near the port and another near the city, Beddigan had crept through the trees the entire way, the rain plinking repeatedly on the hood of his cloak, giving him a headache. Mud had sloshed thickly around his boots, and he had stopped at the edge of the city and used leaves to scrape off as much as he could. He looked down at the mucky mess reaching up to the top of his boots and swallowed the frustration he felt.
Tucking his cloak tightly around him he moved swiftly to the mouth of the alley and peered around. He had seen a few guards but it seemed like patrols in the city outside of the wall were few. Maybe patrols are few throughout the whole city, Beddigan thought as he crept from shadow to shadow, moving closer to the looming city wall, and west through the labyrinth of cluttered cobblestone streets. A gate came into view where two guards stood. He could see by the light of a hanging lamp that two archers stood atop the wall as well, surveying the city before them. Or not, Beddigan thought with a grimace, backtracking a ways to ensure he wouldn’t be seen. Soon it wasn’t just the wall that loomed over him, but the peaks and turrets of the Great Palace rose up as well, towering over the lower houses and buildings. He moved quickly and quietly, noticing an increase of guards the nearer to the palace and the long, deep expanse of high fenced prison camp behind it he got. The western edge of the city came into view and he quickly ducked into the trees of the thick forest that bordered Strille to catch his breath.
He huddled and watched from the trees, counting guards, and the time between walking patrols as best he could in the gloomy, rainy weather.
As the sky began to lighten, Beddigan turned and crept deeper into the forest, settling in a clearing far enough from the city that he felt as safe as one could feel in Wolf territory. He could do nothing in the daylight so he unrolled his tent from his pack and slipped inside of it for a brief respite from the rain. He had a snack of hard crispy bread and jam, and a handful of nuts and then laid down to rest. After telling himself for the umpteenth time that it was highly unlikely any soldiers would be patrolling the woods with Illensdar’s border so far from the capital, he drifted to sleep.
The afternoon was spent alternating between light sleep and excessive worrying about William’s health and fate. It was tremendous pressure to have to liberate his best friend from the army that had plagued his people, taken his mother and father from him, and would stop at nothing to destroy him if they knew he still lived. And beyond that, he felt the shame of his betrayal weighing heavy on his shoulders at the possibility of returning to his home. He fought to keep those thoughts at bay and lost, losing hours of the day to them.
Finally evening crept in and saved Beddigan from himself. He rose, and went about methodically cleaning up his camp, leaving as little trace as possible just to be on the safe side. He then crept through the woods to a small stream he had passed the night before and drank deeply, as well as quickly washed what he could with the freezing water. He affixed the small orange crystals to his gauntlets and activated them, wishing he had tested them on the voyage over in the safety of Captain Linley’s crew. He crept across the road leading west quietly once night had fallen and crept through the trees, giving a wide birth to the prison camp which bordered it. He was surprised at first to find the high fence unguarded, at least to the naked eye. But then considering how far the city was from any enemies, it was very unlikely anyone would try to break into the camp. Beddigan filed this information away in his mind and continued to creep around the perimeter of the camp, coming out on the northern side, far from the palace walls.
The north-western portion of the city was definitely the slums, he decided as he moved through the dirty, wet streets in the moonlight; silently thanking all of the gods that it wasn’t raining any longer. It was on the early side and flickering amber light filtered through the shutters of ratty homes, little more than tents and tarps with a few boards nailed together for stability. The streets held the occasional grouping of wolves in torn and tattered clothing, and he saw more than a few shoving, growling fights as he neared a cluster of building towards the southern wall. Music filtered through the cool night air and raucous laughter indicated that the buildings were ale houses and common rooms. He saw a sign for an Inn that was too dirty to read but had a barely visible stencil of a lion’s head. It hung precariously on one hinge, the other rusted and broken. For a fleeting moment he wished wistfully for a bed, even if the buildings and rooms were decrepit. And a mug of ale. Or warm cider, he thought dreamily, feeling his mouth fill with saliva at the thought. He shook his head and shoved those yearnings away, slinking into an alley behind the buildings.
He leaned back against the brick and let out a frustrated sigh. He couldn’t let anyone, even thieves and thugs know he was a mouse, yet he needed information about the prison camp. He fiddled with his coin purse, eyeing a group of wolves loitering near the mouth of the alley from beneath the showy hood of his cloak. Coin went a long way in the slums, no matter the city. He moved towards them slowly, being careful to step softly as not to alert them before he was ready to make a proposition. He was about to clear his throat and make his appearance known when something sharp dug into the small of his back, and an arm wound around his head, covering his mouth. and then everything faded to black.
Beddigan awoke with a start, sputtering as he registered the cold water that had been splashed in his face. Startled he blinked hard as his vision swam. A slight, dark figure stood with its back to him. The last thing he remembered was being in the alley, getting ready to approach a group of wolves for information. He peered around the room, surprised to find it was not a cell. He was also relieved and surprised to find he was unbound and laying on a bed. A soft piece of cloth flew through the air and he reached up to snag it.
“Dry yourself off, you foolish, foolish mouse.” a familiar voice rang out. Beddigan rubbed the cloth over his face and blinked at the figure, who had turned to face him. His brow knit together in confusion,
“Shianne?” he murmured the question, his mind racing. Sleeping crystal, he deducted with a grimace. What in this Warbler’s Cursed world is she doing in Mormant? he thought, as she sidled across the room and perched on the edge of the bed next to him.
“Who else would stop you when you were about to do an incredibly stupid thing?” she said, one eyebrow cocked up as she snatched the towel from him and used it to dab the places of wet fur he had missed. Beddigan frowned,
“It isn’t like I have a lot of choices.” he muttered. Shianne let out an exasperated sigh.
“You’re here after William then, I take it.” she said, standing and moving across the room to place the damp towel into a wicker basket in the corner. Beddigan stood, stretching his sore limbs.
“Yes, is that why you are here too?” he asked, looking around the room. There were two doorways leading off to shadowy rooms. They appeared to be in a multi-level building as outside the dark window he could see streetlamps below. He could also see the inward curve of the inner city wall, placing them far from the slums. Shianne’s laughter rang out,
“Of course not! He is a nice enough bear, Beddigan, but him and I are hardly friends. And as you know, I wouldn’t even risk a prison camp break for a friend. Or family.” she said pointedly, eyes narrowing at him from across the room. Beddigan made a frustrated sound in response but said nothing. Shianne sighed again, “How could you be so stupid as to come here? These wolves will kill you if they find you out.” Beddigan met her eyes, his mouth set in a firm line.
“Don’t you think I know that?” he snarled, pacing around the room. “This isn’t about me though, Shianne, this is about William. He needs my help and I owe him greatly.” Shianne snorted and Beddigan glared at her. “He saved my life. You know all too well what that means.” Shianne shook her head at him,
“You are too soft.” she snapped. Beddigan shrugged and sat down on the bed.
“I am what I am, Shianne.” She made a frustrated sound and stalked through one of the doorways into another room. Beddigan sighed and dropped his head into his hands.
“Here.” Shianne said curtly, upon returning to the room. She handed him two bundles of cloth, one filled with bread, cheese, and apples, and the other full of cloth. Beddigan looked up at her questioningly and she waved her hand dismissively, walking out of the room again. “Eat. And then change your clothes.”
After devouring the food, Beddigan picked through the cloth bundle and changed into the familiar grey breeches and dark blue doublet that was the Mormant military uniform. Shianne returned to the room once he was dressed.
“Thank you.” he ventured, considering asking where she had gotten the clothes but then realizing he really didn’t want the answer. She nodded curtly, eyeing his boots critically.
“You will need to change into the black boots in your pack. Your cloak will still stand out but from what I can tell it won’t matter much with those crystals sewn into it and those crystals on your gauntlets.” she said matter-of-factly. Beddigan frowned at her. He was about to snarl at her for going through his things, but thought better of it. Instead he asked,
“Shianne, what are you doing here?” Her eyes flickered away from his and she busied herself gathering up his damp, discarded clothes.
“Working.” she said flatly. “You know me. A job is a job.” Beddigan scowled at her.
“After all they’ve done to you… to your people, you would still work for them?” He asked with disbelief. Shianne grinned at him ferally,
“You’d be surprised how many of them want others of them killed. I take what pleasure I can in that.” He felt an involuntary shiver creep up his spine at the malice in her voice as it took on that queer, sing-song quality. He let it lie at that and leaned back against the headboard of the bed.
“So,” Shianne said, moving across the room to perch on the bed next to him, “What brilliant plan have you come up with to loose your Sinerrahan friend?” she asked, a hint of a smile gracing her mouth. Beddigan sighed,
“I uh, don’t really have one. I was going to approach some wolves in the slums for information when some little brat used a dirty trick to put me to sleep.” he said, eyeing her from the side. She giggled and elbowed him in the side,
“Some thanks for saving your life!” she cackled, “Those wolves would have torn your to pieces just for your coin, let alone if they were to knock your hood loose and see you were a mouse.” Her voice took on a hard edge. “Strille is not like other cities, Beddigan.” she warned. Beddigan watched her face and sighed,
“Then I have lost before I’ve even begun.” he said sadly, dropping his head into his hands. Shianne rubbed his back in slow, soft circles.
“There, there Beddigan. All is not lost.” she murmured. Beddigan rose his head from his hands and looked at her with bleak eyes.
“How so?” he asked, his voice bitter. “If I can’t get information or a wolf accomplice, I’ve no hope of rescuing William from the Palace prison camp.” Shianne patted his cheek softly.
“Well then it is awfully lucky for you that the bear isn’t being held there.” Beddigan sat up sharply,
“What?! Where is he? You know this for sure?” he asked intently. Shianne nodded, standing from the bed to pace the room.
“Indeed. He, along with a few others were taken to the camps at Fort Alline shortly after he arrived.” Beddigan’s head was spinning, his mind racing. He leapt up from the bed,
“Fort Alline? Why would they move him like that?” he asked, adding, “How do you know this?” Shianne chuckled, fetching an apple from a bowl that sat on the table and taking a crispy bite from its shiny red exterior.
“I know everything, Beddigan.” she said arrogantly with a dismissive wave of her paw. “And I believe he was taken there as a lure. For you.” The last words slammed into him hard and he doubled over, as his stomach lurched. After a few moments of gasping he managed to drag in a couple of shaky breaths.
“They know? How?” he whispered, his voice hoarse. Shianne’s eyes flickered away from his as she turned to stare out the window.
“I don’t know.” she said flatly. Beddigan stood, having regained his breathing.
“I thought you knew everything?” he questioned. Shainne grunted,
“I guess I don’t.” she said softly. Beddigan felt his insides tug at that, intuition urging him to prod further but he could tell by her voice and demeanor that he should leave it alone. For now. He shifted focus,
“Okay. Fort Alline. I can work with that. Maybe even get reinforcements from Illensdar, Annalose and Ardra willing.” he murmured aloud, not really talking to Shianne. Her chuckle broke through his concentration,
“Perhaps.” she murmured in response. “You best be careful in travelling there though. The main roads are heavily patrolled. And the Fort itself is crawling with soldiers, all of which will be on high alert looking for you.” Beddigan made a frustrated sound.
“Out of the frying pan and into the fire, I guess then.” he mumbled. Shianne moved towards him, laying her hand on his shoulder.
“I’ll help where I can.” she murmured. “Now, take the bed and get some rest. We leave in a few hours before the dawn rotation of the guards. Beddigan cocked an eyebrow, sitting back down on the bed.
“We?” he questioned. Shianne nodded with a small smile,
“You’d never make it to Fort Alline without me.” And with that she disappeared into one of the adjoining rooms and shut the door with a firm click.
To be continued..
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