The dim light of the common room was hazy with the smoke of Ganyon, a popular smoking commodity among the mice. The leaves and berries of the Ganyon bush, which ran rampant in the rolling hills surrounding Shillingdell, were dried and then rolled up in thin parchment to be smoked. Still, despite the murkiness of the room, it was alive with the sounds of laughter and conversation. The ale was flowing freely and Beddigan was delighted to see so many of his people in one place; especially since they looked so happy. And chief among the jubilant crowd was his little sister Clottie, not so little any more, drinking, smoking, and laughing with the rest of the townspeople.
As he and Clottie had caught up that afternoon, he had become increasingly worried for his people. The town was as she had asserted; half-empty, and falling into disrepair. Raids from the wolves were rare now as there was little left for them to take from Shillingdell, but the danger was ever present. Many families had moved further inland, and north towards the capital; putting as much space as they could between themselves and the border, and Beddigan couldn’t blame them for that. Clottie had painted such a bleak picture that he had been astonished when she had brought him to the only standing common room left in their little village and he had been met with these raucous, bawdy happenings that alleviated his fears. Despite it being a hard life, and a dangerous one, the people who had chose to remain in his village could still find light, happiness, and humour in their evenings.
Beddigan watched as Clottie flitted from table to table, the life of the party, joking and laughing with friends and acquaintances. This was the Clottie he had anticipated, not the angry, long-suffering wife-type he had encountered earlier that day. She even seemed to get along with Edwin, though that was surely the drink and smoke on both parts. He couldn’t help but grin when Clottie finally made her way back to his table, tucked in a far corner of the room as he preferred, and plunked down in her chair. She grinned at him,
“Drink up, brother! Today is a day to celebrate.” Beddigan gave her a cross look,
“Clottie, hush with the brother stuff. We talked about this.” She rolled her eyes and waved her hand dismissively,
“It’s fine, Beddigan! These louts won’t likely remember a thing in the morning anyhow.” He sighed and finished his ale, signalling for the barmaid to bring him another.
“Humor me.” he said dryly to Clottie who rolled her eyes again, taking a long, deep drag from the pipe before offering it to him. He shook his head and she shrugged, letting out a puff of the pungent smoke. They hung around until the night had grown late and the crowd had thinned out. Edwin looped his arm around Beddigan’s shoulder as they ambled down the road towards his family home.
“You know, Beddy, I’ve been awful nice to keep your secret.” he slurred into Beddigan’s ear. Beddigan stiffened, but kept moving.
“And I thank you for that.” he replied cautiously. Clottie looped and arm around Edwin’s waist as Beddigan gingerly shifted free of the drunken mouse’s arm. Edwin made a rude noise,
“Can’t do nothing with thanks, Beddy.” he slurred again. Clottie shot Edwin an annoyed look as they headed down the path leading to their cottage.
“Edwin…” she said in a warning tone. He shifted out of her grasp and staggered ahead a few steps turning around to face them, swaying in the cool night air.
“Don’t talk to me like that, girl.” he snarled at her. Beddigan stepped smoothly between his sister and the drunken brute. He kept a tight leash on the anger that flared up at Edwin’s tone towards his sister, knowing that fighting with a drunken fool would serve no other purpose than to feel satisfaction. And it would likely lead to bigger troubles down the road. He held up his paws in a plaintive gesture,
“Now, now, let’s everyone just calm down.” he soothed. “I’m sure she didn’t mean anything by it.” Beddigan assured Edwin as they all started moving towards the cottage again.
By the time they were settled in the cottage’s living room on the soft cushions by the hearth, and Beddigan had started a fire to chase the chill from the room and provide some light, Clottie was fast asleep. Edwin watched him as he took a seat next to his sister, the mouse’s drunken eyes flickering with malcontent. Beddigan sighed, shrugging out of his cape and wrapping it around his sleeping sister.
“What do you want?” he asked softly, meeting Edwin’s eyes. A malicious grin tilted up the corners of Edwin’s mouth.
“Something sufficient to keep me occupied so that my mouth doesn’t run away with me.” he said, grinning in the flickering light of the fire. Beddigan loosened a bag of coins from his belt and tossed it to Edwin, who misjudged it in his drunken state and took the bag straight to the chest with a heavy thud. He let out a sharp breath and glared at Beddigan before loosening the drawstring and sifting through the coins. Beddigan clenched his paws into angry fists as the mouse took little care not to wake his sister.
“This will suffice. For now. But I expect another installment by months end.” Edwin sneered, climbing to his feet and swaying before staggering across the room to the door that had lead to his parents old bedroom, slamming it with a force that made the whole house shake. Clottie sat up with a start.
“What?” Clottie said, casting a confused look around the room. Beddigan glowered at the door. Recognition dawned in her eyes, and then they softened. “Well at least I don’t have to sleep with him tonight. He snores.” she said with a small smile, in an attempt to lighten the mood. Beddigan frowned at her.
“You don’t have to marry him. I can take care of you.” he said softly. Clottie waved her hand dismissively.
“Now is not the time for that discussion. Come on, let’s get some sleep.” she said, standing and offering him her paw. He let her help him and they moved down the hall to the other two small bedrooms, both with a single pallet on the floor, just as when they were younger.
“This isn’t over.” he murmured. Clottie nodded and slipped into her room, shutting the door behind her, leaving Beddigan standing in the darkened doorway of his childhood bedroom.
Beddigan awoke to the smell of warm spices wafting through the house. He rolled off of his sleeping mat and stretched, wincing at the ache in his back. He had been spoiled with proper beds and fairly good mattresses in Katheyra. He had nearly forgotten that they were not the norm in this part of the world. He slipped out into the hallways and followed the spicy smells to find Clottie in the kitchen, stirring a bubbling cast iron pot over the stove. He remembered when his father had come home with the bag of crystals, the first he had ever seen, when he was just a boy. He had heard stories of them, but in the small village of Shillingdell, magic of any sort was scarce. Light crystals and fire crystals had changed their very way of life. Though, to this day, he remained partial to flickering wood fires. Fire crystals made indoor plumbing, instantly hot water, and cooking stoves possible. He smiled as Clottie turned and grinned at him, gesturing to the table where the heavy brown crockery bowls his mother had prized sat.
“Grab a bowl. I made spiced porridge, just like mama used to.” Beddigan felt his stomach growl and happily grabbed the bowls, holding them out while his sister ladled the thick, syrupy cereal into them. She turned off the stove and joined him at the table, bringing a pot of tea and two small teacups over. Beddigan looked pointedly at the two empty chairs tucked against the table.
“No Edwin this morning?” he asked, not even bothering to hide the happiness and relief in his voice. His dislike of the mouse had only grown overnight. Clottie blew on a spoonful of porridge to cool it.
“He said we needed some supplies and his friend from town was taking a wagon to Yroebrage so he hitched a ride. He won’t be home until near month end.” Beddigan nodded, hiding his grimace at the mouse taking his coin and blowing it in the city without telling his sister by taking a bite of the porridge. Memories flooded back, and he felt like a child again, sitting in the familiar kitchen eating his mama’s spiced porridge. They ate in silence for a while until Beddigan set down his spoon.
“I know I just got here but I am going to have to be on my way to the capital very soon.” Clottie frowned at him.
“You still haven’t told me what you are doing here, Beddigan.” she said, scraping the last of the porridge from her bowl. “Surely you didn’t come all this way after such time just to see me.” she added sourly. Beddigan felt shame wash through him but shook it off. I need to stay focused, he thought, strengthening his resolve. He met his sisters eyes,
“My dearest friend, and one I owe my life to has been taken captive.” he said softly. “By the wolves.” he added. Clottie’s spoon dropped from her paw, clattering to the table top. Beddigan winced at the harsh sound disrupting the quiet morning. “He is being held in Fort Alline.” Clottie stared at him, mouth hanging open in awe. After just a moment spoke,
“But why would they hold him in Fort Alline? Prisoners are usually held in–” she gasped, “But you said they didn’t know you lived!” she stood up from the table, her paw flying to her mouth. She gave him a furious look, slamming her little fist down on the table top. “And you came here?” she hissed. “You fool!” Beddigan stood and grasped his sister’s shoulders across the table.
“Clottie, calm yourself.” he urged quietly. She took a shaky breath and he continued. “I know it was a risk, but I need help to rescue William, and I couldn’t bear the thought of being back here in Illensdar and not seeing you.” His sister shook free of his grip and started gathering the dishes from the table with angry sweeps of her arms.
“And just who do you suppose will help you? You’re dead, remember.” she snarled, shooting him and angry look as she placed the bowls into the wash basin. Beddigan shrugged,
“I haven’t figured out that part yet.” he said non-committally. Clottie put a paw on her hip and eyed him skeptically,
“It had been a long time, Beddigan. I doubt many will remember what you look like.” she hedged. Beddigan shook his head,
“I can’t take the risk.” Clottie glared at him,
“You still haven’t told me why you can’t go to the Sapphire Brigade for help.” Beddigan shook his head again,
“And I don’t plan to. Listen Clottie, I need to find a way to rescue my friend. I don’t have any answers, but I’d welcome any help that you could give me.” She crossed her thin arms over her chest and narrowed her eyes at him.
“I know nothing of how to free prisoners, especially from fortified prison camps.” Beddigan sighed and sat back down in his chair. “Nor do I know anyone in our little village who would have any idea how to go about such things.” Beddigan nodded, resting his chin in his paw. “However, I do know of someone who could possibly help.” she said hesitantly. Beddigan’s head shot up from its resting place to meet her eyes. He found his sister nervously tugging at her apron, looking reluctant.
“Go on…” he said anxiously, his brow furrowing. Clottie’s eyes darted nervously around the room,
“Well, you see, there is this… sorceress. A very powerful sorceress, at that.” she said softly, flitting around the kitchen, avoiding his eyes. “She had done a great deal for some people in our village, and the surrounding villages too.” she rushed on. “A few think she is the reason the raids have stopped.” Beddigan eyed his sister critically.
“Okay…” he said, “And we could go see this sorceress?” Clottie met his eyes for a brief moment and he reeled back in his chair at the naked fear they held.
“We can.” she hedged. Beddigan let out a frustrated sigh.
“Out with it, Clottie.” he snapped. She sighed and came to sit at the table again. She reached across the table and gripped his paws in her own.
“Dealing with her is not without risks.” she said softly. Beddigan snorted,
“I am fine with risks.” Clottie nodded,
“I figured as much or I wouldn’t have brought her up. But…” she trailed off. Beddigan made another frustrated sound.
“But what?” Clottie sighed and released his paws.
“It is a dangerous trip.” she said slowly. Beddigan frowned in confusion. And then it struck him.
“No…” he whispered. Clottie sighed and nodded. Beddigan propped his elbows on the table and let his face sink to his paws, letting out a frustrated growl.
“It figures this quest would lead me there.” he muttered. He looked up at his sister and sighed again. “Well, I guess that settles it then.” he stood from the table, hefting his pack from the spot where it sat near the door. “I’m off to the Losley Deadwoods in search of this sorceress.” Clottie jumped up from the table.
“You are not going alone.” she said firmly, untying her apron and tossing it over the back of a chair. Beddigan shook his head, holding up his hand in a firm gesture.
“Don’t even start with me, Clottie. You are not coming with me. It is far too dangerous.” he said, his voice tight with emotion. Clottie rolled her eyes and waved at him dismissively.
“You don’t even know where to go. I do.” she replied, just as firmly, gathering food from cupboards and placing boxes of crackers and cloth wrapped cheese into a woven bag. “What? You plan to just wander around the most dangerous forest in the land and just hope to bump into a very powerful sorceress?” she scoffed. “No. I am definitely coming with you. I’ll have my bag packed in two shakes!” she said brightly, patting his cheek before disappearing down the hall. Beddigan eyed the front door of the cottage a moment, briefly entertaining the idea that he could leave now without her, but he knew she would follow, which would be even more dangerous for her. He sighed and plunked back down on the chair by the table, letting out a long-suffering sigh.
“Well, this should be fun.” he murmured.
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