Crawling across the hot sand, Beddigan groaned as his muscles twitched and strained. Clawing himself towards a small pool of shade beneath a massive tree, he hissed with pleasure as he reached shelter from the hot sun.
Two hard days of over-land travel had lead them from Shillingdell along the northern border of the Losley Deadwoods, to the rocky east coast. They had moved as quickly as possible, but after only a short night’s rest, both he and Ragnon had still been worse for wear.
Calling in yet another favour, Shianne had secured them anonymous passage below deck on a small charter boat, headed for the western most island of Sinnerah. The voyage had been rough for all, but worst for he and Ragnon, who didn’t have the muscle strength to brace themselves against the choppy rocking of the boat.
The group had come to agreement with the captain of the vessel that there was no place that they could dock and disembark with any measure of safety, knowing the word of their escape would have spread to Mormant’s allies. They had no way of making it back to Katheyra, so their only option was to seek refuge on the sparsely populated and mountainous centre island of William’s homeland. The captain had been kind enough to take them within sight of the narrow strip of northern coastline, sheltered from the rest of the island by soaring cliffs of rock, and far from the massive bridges that stretched out either way, connecting the island nation. The water was rough around the northern point, and the captain was unable to take them in very close. Clottie had attempted to take them via portal to the beach, but they had been too far out for her eyes to judge the distance properly, and instead she had deposited them all, sputtering, into the cool water of the Lorring Sea, several leagues out from the beach.
Beddigan rolled and pushed until his back was against the bark of the tree and looked out across the beach at his companions. William, a great swimmer, had made it to the beach first, and was now assessing the wall of rock for a way up off of the beach. Shianne was growling, shaking her fur in an attempt to clear some of the water out, casting withering glances at Clottie, who was wringing her hands nervously and casting apologetic glances at everyone. Ragnon had collapsed as soon as he had hit the beach, and lay groaning in the damp sand as the water licked up his prone frame.
Well, we’re all still alive, Beddigan thought with a touch of bemusement, as Clottie stumbled through the sand towards him. She settled down on the in the shade with an appreciative groan and he struggled to loop his arm around her shoulders.
“You did good, sis.” He said softly, trying to hide the wince he felt as he tightened his arm around her in a little squeeze. She looked at him, eyes fretful,
“I dumped us all into the ocean!” she whimpered. Beddigan chuckled softly, trying to ignore the ache in his ribs.
“Well I can’t speak for the rest of you, but Ragnon and I needed a bath anyhow.” Clottie rolled her eyes, and then shot a furtive glance at the still muttering and cursing Shianne.
“I don’t think she’s very happy with me.” Beddigan chuckled again,
“Without your help we would never have made it off of that continent. You know it, she knows it.” He said, indicating Shianne, “We all know it, Clottie. You are the hero here.” Clottie forced a smile and gave him a small nod. Beddigan nodded his head toward Ragnon’s still limp form by the water’s edge. “Now, could you be a doll and drag the Wolf out of the sunshine? He needs the shade as much as any of us do.” Clottie nodded again, and scurried off across the sand. He watched with a wry grin as Clottie struggled to drag Ragnon to a spot of shade pooling below a nearby tree.
His attention turned to William who was lingering a few feet away, watching both Shianne and Ragnon with sharp eyes. Beddigan cleared his throat to get the Bear’s attention. William met his eyes and trudged over.
“Any luck finding us a way up those cliffs?” he asked his friend. William was still frowning at Ragnon, who was now slumped against Clottie, them both sitting beneath the shade of the tree.
“You trust the Wolf with your sister?” the Bear asked, a queer tone in his deep, rumbling voice. Beddigan looked back over at the pair and felt a pang of brotherly over-protectiveness at the sight of Ragnon’s paw resting on Clottie’s leg, as he looked up at her with his trademark toothy grin. Shaking it off, he turned back to William,
“That I do. Now, about these cliffs?” he said, trying to keep his tone even. William stared for a few more beats at the couple and then turned away, gesturing down the curve in the beach.
“Down around the bend is a climbing path of sorts. It won’t be easy, but it is passable. And after that… error that dropped us in the sea, I’d prefer a physical climb to a portal that may lodge us in the cliff’s face.” Beddigan frowned,
“While I agree, you could be a little nicer about it. She was trying to help, and she has already helped us a great deal.” William glared at him. Beddigan made a frustrated sound. “I’d have been hung without her help. Annalose and Ardra, William! If she hadn’t agreed to become apprentice to that sorceress, you’d still be in that prison camp.” William’s glare melted away and he nodded with an apologetic look towards Clottie.
“Aye, you’re right about that. My apologies, Beddigan. It has been very hard to be around that Wolf.” Beddigan nodded, holding his paw out for William to help him up. The Bear grasped it and hauled him up to his feet, looping a steadying arm around his waist.
“I appreciate your tolerance, friend.” Beddigan said, suppressing a hiss of pain. “Now how about you show me this climbing path?” he asked the Bear with a small smile.
Shianne met them on the beach as they headed towards the path, around the curved, jagged wall of rock. She still wore a scowl but was no longer murmuring threats and curses under her breath.
“All done being grumpy?” Beddigan asked her with a teasing smile. She narrowed her eyes and growled,
“I am not above cutting you.” Beddigan chuckled and held up his paws in a plaintive gesture.
“Alright, alright. Come along and see the path that William had found up the bluffs then.” He gestured for her to follow.
“Anything to get away from those lovebirds.” She muttered, and Beddigan shot her a sharp look, fighting the urge to spin around and stomp back around the rocks to tear his sister away from the Wolf. Seeing her teasing grin, he scowled and turned back to William, who was looking up the cracked rock face.
Ridding his mind of all thoughts of Ragnon and Clottie, he stared up at the toothy crack that ascended up the high cliffs of rock. He could see clear signs that it had been used as a pathway before, though as William had said, not an easy one. There were some hand-holds in the rock, but far too much sheer cliff-face for his liking. With some rope though, and the help of the able-bodied for himself, and most of all for the still badly beaten Ragnon, they should be able to make it.
“As much as I’d like to get up these cliffs as soon as possible, and in the daylight, I think it probably best we wait until night fall.” He said to his companions. Shainne nodded,
“Always best to move in the cover of night.” William nodded as well,
“Yes. And less the chance of a navy ship spotting us from far out.” He said with a look out at the empty, sparkling blue sea. Beddigan nodded his agreement, and they all turned back to make their way to the few trees and patches of shade that remained on the other side of the cliff face.
They found places to sit and wait for the sun to descend, Shianne taking to sharpening her daggers, while Ragnon dozed against his sister’s shoulder. Beddigan couldn’t help but watch them very closely, with growing concern, as they waited for nightfall.
To be continued…
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