Beddigan drew back the square of royal blue velvet that served as a curtain inside of the plush carriage and peered out into the dismally grey daylight. It had been raining nonstop since they had left Strille four days prior.
“Will you quit that?” Shianne snapped at him, slapping his arm down from where it had held the curtain. He frowned at her,
“I am sick of this carriage, Shianne! I just want to be outside for more than a few minutes.” he griped, leaning back into the pink, plush seat. Shianne rolled her eyes at him,
“Don’t sulk, Beddigan, or I may boot you out at the next stop.” Her voice held a warning edge, but Beddigan would not be cowed.
“Good. I’d be better for it.” he grumbled, moving to pull back the small piece of drapery again. Shianne lunged across the seat and grasped his wrist tightly, her claws digging in,
“Touch that curtain again, mouse, and I’ll make good on my threat. Do you want them do find you out?” she snarled. “I have spent a great deal of money, and more importantly, my time trying to keep you hidden these last few days and this is the thanks I get?” She let his wrist go and threw her paws up in a frustrated display. “Fine.” she snarled, crossing her arms and turning away from him. “Insolent mouse.” Beddigan rubbed his wrist gingerly, and eyed her from his place just a few feet from her.
“I’m sorry.” he muttered sheepishly. “You know I appreciate it, I’m just not used to being cooped up like this. It’s driving me crazy!” Shianne sighed, and uncrossed her arms, leaning down to rustle through her bag. She withdrew a deck of battered, stained playing cards. Beddigan’s eyes brightened as she slipped them from their protective box and started to shuffle them. A hint of a smile graced her mouth,
“We’ll arrive at our drop point in just a few hours. Until then, fancy a game of Rinokee?” Beddigan nodded eagerly, shifting to face her on the bench and scooting back as far as he could against the latched door so that they had room to play.
“I haven’t played Rinokee in many turnings! Remember when we used to play it every time we saw each other?” Shianne grinned,
“I do. Remember, you taught me to play.” Beddigan nodded with a smile. “And now, of course, I am better at it than you.” Shianne added with a mocking tilt of her head. Beddigan’s brow furrowed,
“If I recall correctly, which I am sure I do, I nearly always win, so I guess we’ll just have to see about that.” The next few hours were filled with laughter and game after game of Rinokee. Beddigan swept up the remains of their final game and maneuvered the cards back into their box.
“I’m surprised you can leave it at a tie, three games each. My how you have changed, Beddigan.” Shianne said with a knowing grin. Beddigan shrugged,
“For all I know you were cheating the whole time anyways, you rotten trickster.” he said narrowing his eyes at her. She cackled in response,
“I will never admit to that and you know it.” Beddigan cocked an eyebrow at her,
“I am fairly sure you had a few Warbler’s up your sleeves, as usual.” Shianne winked at him and started to say something when three solid knocks sounded against the front wall of the carriage; a signal from their driver that they were moments from arriving at their drop point.
Beddigan felt the levity in the carriage evaporate as Shianne’s grin disappeared and she quickly stuffed the cards back into her bag. He pulled the hood of his cloak up high and activated the crystals in his gauntlets. The carriage rolled to a stop and they slipped out into the cloudy light of midday. Beddigan stood off to the side, surveying the thickly forested boundaries of the main road that lead from Strille all the way across the country to Fort Alline. The trees had shifted along the way from the thick, bushy evergreens near the coast to the high-branched, leafy trees of his home. The impact of being so close to Illensdar’s border set his stomach aflutter. He reached out and gingerly touched the damp, white bark of the tree closest to him and felt a shiver of excitement. He hadn’t realized how sorely he had missed this part of the world.
The creak of the carriage wheels slogging through the mud and gravel on the road broke his reverie and he turned back to find Shianne eyeing him curiously. A knowing light dawned in her eyes.
“I feel it too.” she murmured, gesturing for him to follow her into the trees. They moved quickly and quietly through the trees in unison, with Shianne leading. After a while Beddigan asked,
“How much further?” Shianne tossed him a mildly annoyed look over her shoulder,
“Far.” Beddigan swallowed a groan and continued to slog through the damp undergrowth of the forest.
Finally, Shianne signaled for him to stop. He leaned against a thick tree trunk and breathed deeply a moment, relishing the feel of the cool air entering his lungs. He closed his eyes a moment, resting as his tired leg muscles throbbed. When he opened his eyes, Shianne was gone. He blinked a few times at the spot she had been and crept forward?
“Shianne?” he called softly, all too aware that he had no idea where the was, or how close to Fort Alline they were. He peered around trees and opened his mouth to call out for her again, when he heard a heavy thud from nearby. He ducked low, huddling behind a bush, silently cursing the brightly coloured cape and clothing he was wearing. Shianne appeared a few moment later and he popped up from behind the bush.
“What the hell was that?” he snarled. Shianne frowned at him,
“Ranger patrolling the woods. I took care of it.” Beddigan frowned,
“Won’t they notice he’s missing?” Shianne grinned at him,
“Oh Beddigan, there you go assuming I killed him.” she tutted. Beddigan knew better than to ask any more questions so he shut his mouth and followed her as they continued through the woods.
Before long Shianne was holding up her fist again. He stopped beside her and looked where she pointed with the other arm. They had been heading up a shallow slope for some time, and he followed her paw to what seemed to be the crest of the hill.
“Just beyond the rise is the outskirts of Fort Alline. Like Strille, it has grown beyond its wall. I have made arrangements for us to stay in a vacant room of a former client but we must wait for nightfall, so get comfortable.” Beddigan nodded and followed suit as Shianne sat down on the forest floor, cape tucked under her to ward off the dampness and back against a tree trunk.
As the sky darkened from daylight to dusk, Beddigan’s thoughts drifted to his dear friend, and what horrors he must be enduring in the prison camp. His only comfort was that as a prison being held as a lure for him, William would likely remain relatively unharmed. Of course, the flip side to that was the dread that his enemies knew that he had faked his death all those turnings ago. One problem at a time, he told himself grimly, turning his thoughts back to the bear he was gearing up to rescue.
Despite the long trip across Mormant with Shianne, he still didn’t have a clue how he could save his friend. Shianne knew little about the Fort’s day to day runnings, and was certain that it was next to impossible to jail-break William. Beddigan remained optimistic, knowing that against all odds, Illensdar had fought, pushed back, and out-smarted the wolves many times before. There was a way, he just had to find it.
Once dusk had faded to night, the rain seemed to pick up again and Beddigan huddled under the hood of his cape, shivering in the chilly darkness. Shianne took his paw and helped him up, holding on to lead him through the woods. They tread carefully, edging closer to the outskirts of the fort. Amber lights broke through the trees and they stepped out onto a dark pathway that skirted the buildings at the Fort’s edge. Much smaller than Strille, the great walls of the fort loomed over the squat buildings that made up the outskirts. Beddigan felt a shot of panic as he realized the walls of the Fort were patrolled and they were standing out in the open. He skittered across the pathway and into the shadows of a dark building. Too close for comfort, he thought as Shianne followed him in the alley. She sped past him and he followed, being careful to keep his footfalls quiet as they slipped from shadow to shadow until they reached a quiet doorway not far from where they had exited the forest.
“Keep your hood up high.” Shianne hissed before she rapped on the door with a set of short taps. After a moment the door swung inward and they were ushered in from the cold rain into a warm, dimly lit room. Beddigan tried to control the urge of panic that washed over him as his eyes settled on the wolves face. He was not a soldier, or at least he didn’t look like one. Thankful for the hood that shielded his face, he stood aside as Shianne deftly step in front of him and slid her own hood down to greet the wolf.
“Ah, Jaqueen. Thank you for providing this shelter for me and my friend.” she said smoothly. Beddigan noticed the wolf peering over her at him and fought the urge to take a step back.
“Yes well, the coin we have agreed upon is more than enough.” the wolf growled. Shianne nodded and unhooked several bags of coins, handing them to the wolf. She then handed him a different larger bag. He frowned at her but took it. He peered inside and his eyebrows shot up,
“Consider it a bonus for your… discretion.” she said delicately. The wolf looked at her for a long moment, then to him. Beddigan’s gut tightened, but he stayed still until the wolf nodded and left the room. Shianne pulled the wooden bar down to lock the door from the inside and Beddigan let out a shaky breath, pulling his hood down to hang at his back.
“What did you give him?” he asked, once his breathing had returned to normal. Shianne smiled at him slyly,
“You know I can’t tell you everything, Beddigan.” He frowned, but let it go. He was used to Shianne needing and keeping her secrets. They went about settling in for the night. The room was bare aside from two stained, but dry sleeping mats, each shoved into a corner, a large crate that served as a table with two small stools, and a basin filled with water. Thankfully the water looked clean enough, so they both drank deeply and refilled their water skins. Shianne pulled out a heating crystal from her bag and dropped it into the water. Steam promptly rose from the water and she pulled two small pewter cup from her bag, dunking them in to fill them and then adding small sachets of herbs to them. Then she dunked two clothes in, handing on to him to wash up.
They cleaned themselves off and laid their clothes out to dry over a makeshift clothes line Shianne had made from a couple of nails and a piece of twine. After they drank their tea, they turned the light crystal embedded in the wall down and each settled on their respective mats, huddled under the blankets they had brought with them.
“Shainne?” Beddigan murmured softly.
“Yes, Beddigan?” she answered. Beddigan sighed.
“Now that we’re here, what are we going to do?” Shianne was silent for a long moment.
“I don’t know.” Was her only answer. Beddigan sighed again and rolled over, wishing for sleep he wasn’t sure would come.
Beddigan awoke with a start. It took him a few moments to realize where he was. He blinked in the dim light of the room and realized Shianne was crouched next to him and had shaken him awake. She stood and watched him with a skeptical eye as he sat up, yawning and rubbing sleep from his eyes.
“About time you woke, sleeping beauty. I’ve been shaking you for a bit now.” Beddigan grimaced, remembering his fitful night of sleep.
“Sorry. I had a rough night. I don’t think I’ll ever sleep well in wolf country.” he muttered. Shianne chuckled, and handed him a steaming cup of tea,
“That is probably a good thing.” Beddigan shrugged and sipped the savory liquid, letting the calmness that came with the herb blend wash over him. After a couple of moments he realized that Shianne was still staring at him.
“What?” he asked, setting his teacup down. She had an odd look on her face that he couldn’t quite place. She took a deep breath, blowing it out as a long sigh.
“Do you want the good news or the bad news?” she asked him. He stiffened on the sleeping mat.
“Both.” He answered flatly. Shianne sighed again, taking a seat on one of the stools.
“The good news is, no one knows you are here. Our masquerade has worked it seems.” Beddigan nodded, feeling a moment of mild relief.
“And the bad news?” he asked, feeling a pit grow in his stomach. She met his eyes then and he saw something he was not used to seeing reflected in their amber depths; sorrow.
“I left early this morning and did as much reconnaissance as I could, called in some favours. Asked things I could have been killed for asking.” She paused to take a sip from her own cup of tea. “Well, I mean they could have tried to kill me.” she said with a crooked smile. Beddigan made an exasperated sound,
“Yes, yes, you are very tough. Now please continue.” he said through clenched teeth.” She frowned at him for a moment and then continued, saying the words he dreaded,
“There is absolutely no way that you or I, or even the both of us can free your friend.” she finished, her voice taking on a sad, soft cadence. Beddigan sighed and scrubbed his paws over his face.
“You were right.” he mumbled, “That is bad news.” Shianne stood and walked over, sitting on his mat next to him, placing a paw on his shoulder.
“I’m sorry, Beddigan. I don’t know how else to help you.” she said softly. They sat in silence for a long while. This can’t be it, Beddigan thought. This can’t be the end. He stood stiffly and began to roll up his blanket.
“You have done much for me, Shianne, and I thank you greatly, but I cannot accept this answer. There must be a way to save William, and I will not stop until I find it.” he said with an edge of ferocity in his voice. Shianne stood and crossed her arms, leaning back against the wall.
“What do you plan to do?” she asked. “You can’t simply fight your way in, Beddigan. You would never survive it.” He continued to pack up his bag.
“I know that, and I don’t plan on testing that theory either. But I believe there is a way. And I will find it.” Shianne made a frustrated sound.
“How? How do you expect to find a way into a fortress that is just waiting for you to show up?” Beddigan stood and turned to face her, eyes steely with determination.
“I don’t know, Shianne. But what I do know is that my people have out-smarted these wolves before and we will again.” Shianne’s eyebrows arched up, and Beddigan caught it, his mouth curving up in a half smile. “Yes, that’s right. I am going home.” Shianne blew out a deep breath.
“Is that wise, Beddigan? If I recall correctly, you didn’t just fake you death and run across the world to avoid the reach of Mormant…” Beddigan shrugged,
“Wise or not, I have little choice in the matter. There is a way to free William, I am sure of that, but I will need help. And who better to ask than those that have won battles like this before?” His bag was now fully packed and he slung it over his shoulder. Shianne pushed away from the wall and embraced him,
“Annalose and Ardra be with you, Beddigan.” she murmured softly into his ear. He nodded and pulled his hood up to shield his face. And with that, he set out into the drizzly daylight and off for Illensdar’s border.
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