Swearing under his breath as his boot sunk ankle deep in a puddle of thick, sticky mud, Beddigan sighed and reached down to grab a hold of his calf. He wrenched his boot free of the muck and stumbled back, hitting hard against the trunk of a tree, wincing at the loud thump and the shock of pain. Crouching down low he listened carefully for the sounds of someone approaching to investigate what the sound was. His heart raced as he strained to hear the sound of boots clumping through the damp underbrush of the forest, over the roaring of the wind and the torrential rain falling through the canopy of tree leaves.
Satisfied that he was out of earshot of the perimeter guards, he breathed a sigh of relief and continued trekking through the woods as carefully as he could. He sighed with relief when he reached the cluster of sticks, mud, and leaves that he had fashioned into a makeshift shelter. Quickly checking for signs that anyone had stumbled upon it, he was pleased to find the markers he had placed through the surrounding bush untouched. Tucking his cloak under him, he sat in the shelter, grateful to be out of the rain.
He had been back in the woods surrounding Fort Alline for several days, each day creeping close and circling the fort, taking note of guard changes, patrol times, and anything else that may help him infiltrate the prison and save his friend.
He had sent a bird with a message for Shianne from the Illensdar side of the border before crossing through the secret tunnel to begin the stakeout. She had given him a list of the Ale Houses in Strille she had arranged to collect messages for her, and hoped that she would receive it and join him back in Fort Alline. He had his eye on a few different guards who seemed like good choices for his plan, but Shianne could surely ferret out some information to help pick the one most suited.
The finer details of the plan were hard to sort out with such little information. The only thing he could think of was to somehow convince the guards monitoring the gates in and out of the Fort that they needed to transfer the prisoner back to Strille. Though, something of that magnitude would likely not come from some random patrol soldier, he didn’t know how else to make it work. What other reason could a guard have for removing the prisoner from the Fort? he thought, for what felt like the millionth time. The grim reality he felt in his gut was that they would end up fighting their way out. William and I against a hundred Wolves? Piece of cake, he thought grimly.
The cracking of sticks under boots broke his train of thought as panic shot through him. Rolling up into a crouch his placed a paw on the hilt of his sword and waited. Listening intently, he strained to hear the enemies approach, but heard nothing. Creeping out of the shelter Beddigan shielded his eyes from the rain, and surveyed the woods, looking for the source of the sound, but saw nothing. He crouched low again and waited.
“It’s a pretty good, albeit crude perimeter you’ve got here, Beddy. You’d have caught a stupid wolf trying to sneak up on your for sure.” Beddigan sighed with relief again, identifying Shianne’s voice, and stood, turning to face her. He gathered her into his arms with naked relief.
“You got my message. Thank Annalose and Ardra for that.” he murmured. She shoved him away playfully,
“Yes, yes. You need me. I know.” she said waving her hand dismissively and moving past him to take a seat in his makeshift shelter. She patted the damp ground next to her. “Now come, sit. Tell me what you have figured out and what you need.”
Beddigan obliged and told her about his trip home, the sorceress, the magical solution, and his sister turned apprentice. Shianne breathed out a carefully controlled sigh when he had finished his story. “A fox sorceress with great power and beasts at her call, yet she lives in the Losley Deadwoods instead of working to liberate her people?” Beddigan felt a chill run down his spine at the cold fury in Shianne’s voice. Shaking her head as if to rid it of her thoughts, she made a frustrated sound, “Bah! That is a problem for another day.” Beddigan nodded, still eyeing her warily.
“So I have been surveying the perimeter guards, figuring they are the most easily captured and stowed while I assume their face, and have a few candidates they seem like good fits, but I don’t know how much these soldiers can do once inside the Fort. I need to find out if a perimeter guard will raise suspicion once inside.” Beddigan scrubbed his paws over his face, groaning with frustration. “I only have one dose of the powder so I must use it wisely.” He watched Shianne’s amber eyes as they studied him for a long moment. She stood then, ducking out of the cover and back into the rain.
“You stay here and rest. I will return after nightfall.” Beddigan wanted to ask questions but Shianne didn’t give him a chance, slipping out between the trees and disappearing from his sight. He dug through his pack for a hunk of dark brown bread and firm orange cheese that he had wrapped up for a mid-afternoon meal, and then propped his pack up behind him so that he could recline while he ate. He stared out at the rain still falling heavily while he chewed his food and waited for her return.
Beddigan woke with a start, blinking hard against the pitch darkness. He breathed a sigh of relief when he realized that Shianne had returned and had shaken him awake. He also noted that the wind had died down and the rain had slowed to a trickle. Sitting up, he blinked rapidly to help his eyes adjust until he could make out Shainne’s form sitting next to him in the shelter.
“I am glad to have found you resting because you won’t be getting any more sleep this night.” she said softly. “Just before first light, the head of the prison guard leaves the Fort to visit his wife and child for breakfast at their home. He will be your target. It won’t be easy though, as their home is near the Fort and far from the perimeter. You will have a very small window once he leaves the home to snatch him, assume his identity, and find your way to his office within the Fort by the first bell of morning. I can’t help you with where it is, because I have no clue, but I do know you will need to swap uniform jackets with him so that you have the correct bolts and stripes to signify his rank. From there, it is up to you. I will take care of hiding his body once you have assumed his identity, and then it is just you out there, so you better make sure you are thinking and moving quickly.” Beddigan nodded his agreement, feeling a sparkling of glee in his stomach that he now had a firm plan to rescue William. “You will have only one shot at this, Beddigan.” Shianne said, gripping his paw. “And the very last thing you want is to shift back to a mouse while in the Wolves den.” Beddigan squeezed her paw back,
“Thank you Shianne. You have saved him. Truly you have.” She shook free of his paw and grunted,
“Don’t thank me yet, mouse. Wait until you are both free and then consider how to repay me.” she said with a fierce smile. Beddigan grinned back at her and leaned back, settling in to wait until it was time to move into position, and launch the plan that would liberate his friend from the wolves grasp.
A pang of anxiety shot through Beddigan as he crept along the damp brick wall, inching towards the end of the alley, to give him a view of the little house his target was currently inside of. He was wearing the Wolves army uniform that Shianne had given him, but his cloak was different than the typical one worn with it, so he was doing his best to stay completely out of sight.
Shianne had taken off before him, giving him directions to the house, and telling him to wait for her at the mouth of the alley. He watched a figure approaching from down the street and gripped the hilt of his sword automatically. He breathed out a sigh of relief when Shianne tugged her cloak’s hood back just enough to show him her face.
“Are you ready?” she asked him, settling with her back against the alley wall beside him. Beddigan gave her a look he hoped looked more confident than he felt and said,
“As ready as I’ll ever be.” Before anything else could be said, the door to the house opened. A Wolf of similar height to him stepped out into the drizzle, pulling the door behind him shut, and tugging his cloak hood up to shield against the rain. The Wolf moved towards them, across the street, angling to turn up the main thoroughfare leading to the Fort’s main gate. Ensuring his cloak’s hood was tugged up to shield his face, he palmed the container of blue power in his pocket and made his approach.
“Captain Hendsby?” he called, feeling his heart beat quicken as the wolf stopped and turned towards him. Closing the gap between them with a couple of long strides he quickly pulled the box out, lifting the lid and blowing the powder into the startled Wolf’s face. He barely had time to shove the little wooden box back into his pocket before he had to loop his arms around the heavy Wolf’s body to keep him from sinking to the ground. He grunted as he pulled the Wolf’s limp form into the alley where Shainne waited, saying a silent prayer to Annalose and Ardra that there hadn’t been any other wolves about to serve as witnesses.
“Quickly!” Shianne urged as Beddigan began stripping of the Wolf’s jacket along with his own and switching them. Pulling the other box of powder out he hesitated a moment, looking down at the knocked out Wolf’s face. Pulling his mind into focus he blew the powder into his enemies face. He stumbled backwards with a gasp as the tingling began in his face. It felt like the pins and needles from sitting on a limb too long except way more intense. After a few moments the sensation ebbed and he straightened, and saw Shianne’s eyes go round as she looked up at him from where she was crouched next to the Wolf.
“Now that is just eerie.” she said with a snicker. “Now go!” she urged, dragging the wolves body down the alley. Beddigan nodded at her and turned to leave the alley. His steps faltered at the edge of the street when he caught his reflection in a puddle. He swallowed the lump of unbidden anger that settled in his throat, and urged his feet to move forward.
To be continued…
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