Beddigan strode up the thoroughfare until he reached the main gate into the Fort. He tensed reflexively when he saw the two armed Wolves standing as sentry guards. Holding in a breath, he reminded himself that he was wearing the face of a wolf and had no reason to be nervous. Forcing his feet to keep moving forward, he nodded to the guards who both saluted him, before stepping through the open wooden gate and into a throng of soldiers.
The crowds parted and soldiers saluted as he walked in. He tried to be subtle as he looked around the interior of the fort to try and reconcile what he was seeing with what he had seen on the outside; trying to determine which way would lead to the outdoor prison camps. It was hard not to be obvious in his searching, so he followed his gut and headed west, fairly sure that would lead him where he needed to go. Following two other Wolves through a smaller interior gate, he found himself in a large mess hall. He winced inwardly as he knew that the real Captain Hendsby always left the Fort to eat breakfast with his family. He told himself that he wasn’t getting any speculative looks, and worked his way across the hall to another interior gate. It took far too long to wind his way through the crowds of hungry soldiers, leaving him frustrated and nervous about the amount of time that had already been eaten up on his disguise. He tipped his head, and nodded greeting to several other officers with similar stripes and bolts on their jackets who greeted him by name.
Slipping through the gate he caught the eye of an officer with the exact same indications of rank on his jacket who waved him over. He bit back a snarl of frustration as he made his way over to the other Captain.
“Good breakfast with the wife, Hendsby?” the Wolf asked. Beddigan nodded, unsure of what to say. He didn’t know anything about this Wolf or how he would react to a question like that. From what he could tell it was just general morning small talk. A joke? A stiff nod? He didn’t know what to add so he just left it at the nod. The other wolf cleared his throat and started down the hallway. Beddigan held in a sigh and fell into step beside his enemy.
His heart leapt as they stepped through another interior gate and he felt the rush of cool air on his face. The wide hallway had big, open air windows out to the prison yard, and a wood door at the far end that stood open to reveal a guard-post with open gate to the yard and a small office area. He silently thanked his chattering Captain friend who had lead him right where he needed to be. He turned and braced his arms against the wall by one of the big open windows and surveyed the yard, searching for the form of a bear amongst the prisoners. He felt a pang of dismay when he realized there were several bears among the prisoners, all dressed in beige prison-garb, and most facing away from the compound; indistinguishable from each other from such a distance.
“… to no surprise!” his companion finished with a howl of laughter, thumping his back. Beddigan cursed himself for not paying more attention as the fellow Captain’s laughter dissolved, and was replaced with a wary, and bit concerned look.
“Something wrong, Hendsby?” the Wolf asked. Beddigan’s mind raced, piecing together a plan. He needed to give this Wolf a satisfying answer, as well as he needed to get this Wolf to leave him alone so he could search for William.
“Word has it that the Mouse has been spotted but has alluded our apprehension.” he said, his words stuttering a little as he heard the deep growl of his unfamiliar voice. The other Wolf frowned and said,
“Best put more guard’s on the prison camp then.” Beddigan groaned inwardly. Well, that had the exact opposite effect that I wanted, he thought, mind racing to come up with a solution to this problem he had just created.
“Yes, I will take care of diverting some guards to give us extra manpower here.” he said quickly, hoping he didn’t sound as hasty as he felt. An idea sparkled to life in his mind and he continued, “There are three Wolves who claim to have had eyes on the Mouse. They will be waiting in the mess hall shortly after first bell. They should be interviewed.” The other Captain nodded.
“All right. I will speak with them and come back and report while you recruit some soldiers to help us fortify the prison camp. Best get at least four more for that Bear. He grows sourer every day.” Beddigan nodded and watched the other Captain leave. Slipping out into the prison camp he made his way across the hard-packed ground, glancing around to see if he could find William. The camp’s yard was large and prisoners were spread out, most with free rein. A few were chained to tall poles. His heart broke as he laid eyes on many Mice, who were in various stages of frail, bruised, and beaten.
Focus! he urged himself as he headed towards the far end of the large, curved yard. He was all too aware that the time was ticking down on his borrowed face and he had yet to find his friend. He hurried past groups of prisoners who eyed him warily, and ignored guards who were spread out evenly around the perimeter. He moved with a sureness in his gait that he hoped would stifle any questions the guards may have to his presence.
His heart leapt and then sank as he caught sight of a tall pole near the furthest corner of the camp, with a large bear chained to it. He new instantly that this Bear was William, even before he was close enough to make out the features of the Bear’s face. Two guards stood just out of reach of the chain. William eyed him and growled, but made no move to get up from where he sat. He approached the guards, putting as much authority into his step and voice as he could.
“Unchain him.” he said simply. The guards exchanged a look that Beddigan didn’t like. One spoke up,
“With all due respect, Captain, with the amount of us he has injured, I don’t think it is in our best interest to have him roam free.” Beddigan snarled in frustration, and let it out.
“I don’t have time for your backtalk, soldier!” he growled, “Unchain him and then go check on the west perimeter. We have had word of an escape attempt. I will be taking the bear with me.” The soldier nodded quickly and stepped tentatively towards William, using a key on a ring attacked to his uniform jacket’s belt to unlock the chains at the bear’s paws. He scurried back as William growled and the two soldier’s took off in the opposite direction.
“You should have listened to your soldiers.” William growled, struggling to his feet, and rubbing the sticky red patch of fur where the cuffs had scraped his wrists. Beddigan leaned forward,
“Come on.” he said, beckoning for the bear to follow him. He turned back to see William standing exactly where he was before, glaring at him. He stepped back and leaned in closer, “William it’s me, Beddigan!” he whispered. The Bear stared at him for a moment.
“Don’t matter what you say, Wolf, I won’t be going anywhere with you.” Beddigan groaned and scrubbed his paws over his face.
“We don’t have time for this!” he said, blowing out an angry breath. The Bear crossed his thickly muscled arms across his chest.
“Well don’t let me keep you.” he said flatly, still glaring at Beddigan. Nerves firing, Beddigan leaned close again,
“You wife’s name is Elenya. Your son, Erikkson, is sick. Shianne helped save your life! We’ve been to the Ranier Island, for Annalose and Ardra’s sake!” Beddigan rattled out. “Please, William.” he begged, “I am here to rescue you, but we don’t have much time.” The Bear gave him a long hard look and for a moment, Beddigan was sure his friend was going to unfold his arms and tackle the wolf that he appeared to be.
To his immense relief, Beddigan watched as the bear unfolded his arms and nodded brusquely,
“Lead on.” Turning on his heel, Beddigan moved quickly toward the wall of the compound, hoping to keep them out of sight as long as he could. They raced into the guard room, and Beddigan skidded to a stop when he found it empty. He turned to William and opened his mouth to speak when he saw the look of shock on the bear’s face.
“What?” he asked, bringing his paws up to touch his face, And then he felt it, his whiskers and nose were shifting back to their original form.
“Beddigan?” William gasped in disbelief. With a strangled grunt, Beddigan growled,
“Of course, I’m Beddigan. Who else would be rescuing you?!” William started to answer but Beddigan held up his paw to signal for his friend to be silent. “I will explain everything. Later. Now, we need to get out of this Fort. And fast.” He flung the door open that lead to the mess hall. He cursed his fast tongue from before when he had told the other Captain to wait for the soldiers to interview in the mess hall. He was relieved to see only a few wolves left in the big hall, none of which looked up from their plates of food. It had cleared out as the first bell of duty was close to ringing, and even the other Captain was not back to the room yet to wait for the soldiers he needed to interview.
Pulling up the hood of his cloak hastily, Beddigan gestured for William to follow him and they started making their way across the large room. He caught the eyes of a few wolves on them as they passed, and was relieved when none of them approached to ask what he was doing. Luckily his rank displayed on his jacket was enough for them to keep their mouths shut about him transferring a prisoner in such a manner. But for how long? he wondered, as they approached the gate on the far side of the room that would lead them to the main hall and then into the village surrounding the Fort.
Pulling open the gate, Beddigan felt relief wash over him again as his eyes fell on a nearly empty hall leading to the still open main gate of the Fort. And then the first bell of duty rang. “Quickly!” Beddigan whispered to William and took off at a run, as wolves started to file into the main hall from adjoining doors, en route to their posts. He was passively aware of wolves shouting at him as he shoved them out of the way and burst forth out onto the slick, muddy road.
“Stop them!” someone cried from up on the wall, “It’s the mouse!” Beddigan crouched down to tug two daggers from his boots. He handed them to William with a grin,
“Time to fight our way out!” he said, as he took off, dashing down the lane with William and a throng of Wolves at his heels.
To be continued…
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