Beddigan yawned and stretched his arms above his head, shifting his hips and legs to give them a stretch as well. They had been below deck on the Fillsner’s Muse for the better part of two days, as they made their way slowly back to the established shipping route from their detour to the Ranier Islands, and then shifted east to make their way to San Vincent’s Port.
Periodically, one of the Captain Linley’s crew would come down and knock on the door to the little supply room that he, Shianne, Clottie, Ragnon, and William had been sharing, to give them an update on their progress across the Lorring Sea. Despite the close quarters, none of them complained about anything, all just happy to be on their way to a safe place; and very grateful for the captain’s assistance.
Beddigan noticed the rest of his companions fighting yawns and was unsurprised, as none of them had gotten much sleep lately. It made sense to stay below decks in a supply room and not in one of the cabins, in the event that they were approached or boarded by military from Mormant or Illensdar. As unlikely as that was, it still needed to be considered carefully, as they were certain the military’s would be most eager to get them back after their dramatic escape. Beddigan knew it; felt it deep in his gut, that both armies would be ferocious in their efforts to recapture their high-profile escapees. He didn’t like being in this position any more than the rest of them, but he and William had at least been through this before.
Ragnon was the only one of their lot that seemed more excited than fearful to make landfall in Katheyra. The Wolf had been dreaming of arriving in The Republic for so long that it was understandable that his excitement would out-weigh the concern that the hunt had spread across the sea already.
Though Clottie had also never visited Katheyra before, she was far too nervous, for all their sakes, to find any joy in their impending arrival in a new land. Shianne was anxious to get back to paying work, and likely also to put some distance between herself and the rest of them, and William was worried about what this hunt would mean for them all.
A soft knock at the door caught the entire group’s attention, before is opened a crack and Captain Linley’s voice drifted through.
“We’ll be docking and beginning to unload in just a few moments. Best get prepared to disembark, mates. Word has come to us that guards are searching each vessel, so we best sneak you out in the hustle and bustle of unloading our cargo.” Beddigan felt a queasy clutch of unease in his stomach as he donned his cloak.
“Yes, captain.” He replied for them all. They set about gathering the last of their things, each pulling up the heavy cloaks to shield their faces. They were all clad in nondescript clothing, fitting for travellers of any kind coming to Katheyra.
As they made their way out of the small room to wait at the stairs leading up to the deck, they felt the ship slow, rock, and then halt with a small bump as the crew tied them off to the dock. Captain Linley appeared at the top of the stairs, flashing them a reassuring smile.
“Dock’s not too busy!” the little Badger whispered excitedly, orange lamplight flickering over his face from the lantern he held. “Come now, come on! Cloak’s pulled high up, mates. Best of luck!” Beddigan gestured for William to precede him up the stairs. One by one they filed up onto the deck, heading swiftly for the gangway. Beddigan stopped for a moment and clasped Captain Linley’s paw.
“I owe you one for this, my friend.” He said, giving the Badger’s paw a squeeze. Linley let out a small cackling laugh, his eyes twinkling in the night,
“I am sure we will work together again before too long. Stay safe, Beddigan.” Beddigan nodded, tugged his hood up a little higher, and quickly made his way down the gangway, catching up to the group as they flowed between the various crew members on the dock, unloading ship’s cargo.
As they made their way up the path towards the Sea Traveller’s Gate, Beddigan swallow a gulp of relief as he saw the steady flow of travellers moving through the city’s outer wall and into the West Quadrant of the city; no guards checking papers as he had feared.
They came to a halt as the crush of people condensed into a narrower line to fit through the gate. They inched forward, and Beddigan’s anxiety began to grow.
“William!” he whispered, urgently. The Bear turned back towards him expectantly. “Can you see what the holdup is? The line was moving much faster when we first approached.” The Bear turned back, shifting forward, and Beddigan waited. Suddenly, the Bear stooped lower.
“Heads down everyone!” William growled n a low voice. “Guards approach on the left.” Beddigan sucked in a sharp breath and hunched down, turning his head to the right as two sets of armed guards stomped past, en route to the docks. Traffic through the gate picked up then, as the throngs of people moved quickly into the city, and before long, the group of them were huddled in an alley near the Council House, dragging in deeply relieved breaths.
“So, what’s the plan then?” Clottie asked, nervously wringing her hands in front of her. Beddigan looked to her,
“We need to find a room for at least a night so that we can strategize, but by the looks of the increased guard presence, I’d say we don’t want to stay in the city for very long.” William pushed off from the wall he was leaning on,
“I will go to the South Quadrant and find a suitable establishment for us.” Shianne snorted, and Beddigan winced as William turned to growl at her. She snorted again,
“I’m not scared of you, Bear.” She said in a deceptively sweet voice. “It would be foolish for you to go, you know, being that you are one of the escaped prisoners.” She continued. She paced a couple more steps and then turned back to face them. “I will secure you a room in the North Quadrant, near the inner ring. I will bring you back the key, and then I’m afraid you lot are on your own.” Beddigan frowned,
“Wouldn’t it be better to get a room in the South Quadrant? The North is fairly quiet and wealthy… we will look out of place and we do not want to stand out.” Shianne giggled and moved past them towards the mouth of the alley,
“Better to be under their nose than under their foot, Beddy.” She called back before disappearing out into the dark street. Beddigan sighed, and shrugged at his companions, settling in against the wall to wait.
As he shut and locked the door behind him, Beddigan let out a deep sigh. Clottie flopped down on the bed with an exhausted groan.
“I don’t think I have ever been this tired.” She moaned. Ragnon chuckled,
“Well haven’t you just lived a privileged life.” Beddigan stifled a chuckle as Clottie sat up and crossed her arms over her chest, glaring at the Wolf.
“And just what is that supposed to mean?” she snarled. Ragnon held up his paws in a plaintive gesture.
“Ahh, nothing, my sweet. I meant only that this level of exhaustion is nothing compared to a lifetime of running.” Clottie harrumphed and got up from the bed, stalking into the adjoining lavatory. Beddigan said a silent thank you to the absent Shianne for getting them a room with an attached bath. They all stunk of days of sea travel.
The Wrasslin’ Warthog was a modest, but tidy Inn just outside the inner wall of the North Quadrant. It was late and the common room had been nearly deserted, but for a couple of Badgers, both deep in their cups, slumped against the bar. There hadn’t even been anyone manning the front counter when they entered the Inn, giving them free leave to climb the stairs in privacy and slip into their room unnoticed. Or at least that is what Beddigan had thought until a hard knock rattled the door in its frame.
William drew his daggers and let out a low growl. Beddigan crept towards the door, and Ragnon froze in place. The door to the lavatory stayed closed, but Beddigan was sure Clottie had heard the knock as he had heard her squeak as it startled her. Keeping the chain on the door, Beddigan opened it a crack, not daring to peer out.
“Yes? Who’s there?” he asked, keeping his voice low and even, hand on the hilt of his sword.
“Yer friend said you’d needa eat so I’ve thrown some a what’s left from the day togetha for you and yer friends there. Settin’ it down just outsida door now.” A voice slurred, followed by some clumsy thunks of trays being set down in the hallway. Beddigan peered out to see one of the drunk Badgers from the bar waddling away, one paw on the wall to keep himself upright. Must be the barkeep, Beddigan thought as he unchained the door and quickly moved the trays inside, setting them on the small table that sat below the window on the opposite wall.
William made a frustrated sound as he sheathed his daggers.
“That woman is a menace!” The Bear growled. The door to the lavatory creeped open and Clottie eased out, back into the main part of the room.
“It was awfully nice of her to see to it that we would be fed.” His sister said with a pointed look at William. William growled at her,
“And just like her to tell us nothing of it! She lives to be a thorn in my paw.” Beddigan stepped between his friend and his sister.
“Yes, yes I think we can all agree that Shianne is both sweet and cruel. And also baffling. We need not discuss it any longer. Come, let’s eat so we can all clean up and get some rest. The sun will be up far sooner than any of us would like and we still need to make a plan.”
They each took generous helpings of the cold meats and breads, and spicy fruit tarts that had been piled onto the trays for them. They took turns eating from a thick crockery bowl filled with a vegetable and barley soup that helped chase away the weariness. After filling their bellies, they took turns washing up in the bath, lounging and dozing as they waited for each of their turns.
Clottie crawled into the bed immediately after eating, having already washed up, and Beddigan had taken up a space next to her, sitting with his back against the headboard. It was little wide enough for two, but she had insisted that they share it.
William, having gathered a rough blanket from the small bureau near the bed stretched out on the floor, using his pack as a pillow. The Bear was wheezing and snoring loudly before Ragnon emerged from the bath. The Wolf peered around the room, gaze settling on the one upholstered chair, and slouched down into it, propping his legs up on a chair from the table. Just before the Wolf could extinguish the lamp on the small table next to him, Beddigan tossed him the thick, scratchy blanket from the bed and wished him a good night’s rest.
Staring out at the night sky, Beddigan sighed, frustrated that sleep was eluding him. His companions snoozed peacefully as he stared out at the stars, thinking about what their next move should be. Wrapping an arm around his sister, he tugged her close, his worry for her safety paramount. Closing his eyes, he listened to her soft breathing and let it lull him to sleep.
Morning came swiftly, sunshine filtering through the thin curtains and waking Beddigan early. The rest of the group was still sleeping soundly, so Beddigan took great care not to wake them as he slipped into the lavatory to take care of his morning business.
Donning his cloak, pulling the hood up high, he slipped out of the room, locking the door behind him. It was still quite early and he wanted to take advantage of the quietness of the streets at this hour to do some reconnaissance; see what word of them had spread to The Republic.
As he slipped out of the still silent Inn, he peered around the mostly empty streets, bathed in early morning light. He headed for the gate to the inner circle of the city and was pleased to see the guard station unmanned. He moved at a moderate pace, not wanting to attract too much attention by rushing, and crossed the cities centre, making his way to the South Quarter, the roughest area of the city and the most likely area to have wanted posters up for potential bounty hunters.
The increased guard presence in San Vincent’s Port did not bode well for them, not just because it meant the city, and perhaps the whole country was on alert for something, but because it would mean that if they were the ‘something’ being searched for, that the Council of Elders was working in at least some way with the countries of Mormant and Illensdar. Beddigan shivered despite the warmth of the sun at the thought of The Republic, which had always been a safe place for anyone despite their heritage and past, may be succumbing to the power of the West.
As he moved through the dark streets, with the taller buildings still blocking out most of the sun, Beddigan became aware that there was much more movement here in the South Quarter than in the city’s Inner Circle. Well it is a bit later, he told himself as he cut down an alley towards a small square which was surrounded by ale houses on all four sides, a common haunt for miscreants and bounty-hunters alike.
He emerged into the quiet, dim square, unsurprised to find it deserted as the ale houses wouldn’t open until midday, and made his way to the centre where the city’s largest Wanted board sat. The boards were posted in every quadrant of the city, and in most towns throughout the land. Being a freely governed country, Katheyra enforced its laws in this equitable manner, both pursuing criminals through its internal army and utilizing the vast number of bounty-hunters in the land.
Beddigan didn’t even need to reach the board before he saw that it was plastered with wanted posters sighting huge amounts of gold for the safe capture of Ragnon Rollstad, William Bearhelm, and Beddigan T. Mouze.
His mouth dried up as he turned back the way he had come, needing to get back to the room before the city fully woke-up, to let his companions know the state of affairs. If the Wanted board in the South quadrant had these posters, then they all did.
Where will we be safe? Beddigan wondered as he rushed back into the Inner Circle on his way to the North quadrant. As he approached the gate he saw two guards, one on either side of the opening in the wall. Changing course, he veered west, mind racing. Think, Beddigan! Come on old boy, how are you going to get out of the city? He thought as he moved swiftly through the circle, keeping his head low. And then he saw it, glowing in the morning sunshine, the Council House rising up from its gardens near the road to the West Gate.
Slipping into the gardens, he shimmied along the wall and around the back of the building, ducking below the windows of the first floor. Looking up he counted the windows of the brick building until he found the one that he sought, and then he started to climb. It was a risk, but a necessary one. Pulling himself up onto the ledge of the window he tapped on it lightly, hoping to get the attention of the one inside, but not those in the other nearby rooms. He peered inside and felt his heart soar with relief as he recognized the old Badger laying in the bed, snoring, eyes closed in restful sleep. He knocked a bit harder, and was relieved to see the old Badger’s eyes pop open.
He hung on for an agonizing amount of time as the Badger slowly got out of the bed and hobbled to the window. Squinting, the Badger pushed the window open an inch.
“Who’s there?” the Badger squawked. Beddigan wore a puzzled expression as he responded,
“Council Elder Elgress, it’s me, Beddigan. Beddigan T. Mouze, sir.” The little Badger’s eyes rounded with surprise as he shoved the window up to allow Beddigan into the room.
“My eyes aren’t what they used to be, Beddigan. You took quite a risk coming here!” Elgress said, grasping Beddigan’s forearm and drawing him into the room. Beddigan shut the window behind him.
“I didn’t have much choice, what with all the wanted posters out there for my immediate arrest.” Elgress nodded, moving slowly to sit on the edge of the bed.
“You are in quite a dangerous situation, my lad.” The Badger said woefully. Beddigan groaned softly,
“Don’t I know it.” He muttered. Elgress sighed,
“I can’t do much to help you, Beddigan. I am no longer head of the Council. In fact, if there hadn’t been such an uproar with my retirement, someone new would have been settled in these rooms by now and you could have found yourself captured! Foolish boy.” Beddigan smiled at the elderly Badger.
“I hadn’t heard of a new Council Elder appointed so I took a chance. It paid off, it seems.” Elgress made a sputtering sound.
“Didn’t you hear me boy?! I am no longer the Council Elder. I have no power to help you in this situation; no power to stop what has been placed in motion.” Beddigan felt his gut clench at the Badger’s words.
“What exactly do you mean by that?” he asked. The Badger sighed.
“I’m sure you have heard who has replaced me as the interim Council Elder?” Beddigan nodded,
“Councilman Björn, right?” Elgress bobbed his head in a nod.
“And he’s favoured to win the election as well, for some Warbler’s Cursed reason.” The Badger spat, anger twisting his face. “That Bear has fallen in line with the Mormant government, which is why you see those Wanted posters plastered on every available board in the city. And after everything that happened with Councilman Anders! He ought to know better than to fall in with those Wolves.” Beddigan felt his heart sink.
“But…” he protested, feeling queasy and angry all at once. “The Republic has long kept itself separate in the world from the monarchies. You are a free people and this is a free country. How can the Council agree to these things? It goes against everything Katheyra stands for!” Elgress made a frustrated sound.
“You don’t need to tell me that, boy. Björn can be very persuasive. Mormant offers much in the way of power and coin, and many are easily swayed by the Wolves promises. A strong and impartial leader is needed for Katheyra to remain as it has for all these turnings, and I fear the Bear is not that. No, he is not that at all.” The anger had faded from Elgress’s voice and now it held only sadness. Beddigan felt his heart go out to his friend, but he needed to focus on the issue at hand.
“I need a way out of the city, for me and two companions.” He said softly. The elderly Badger looked up to meet his eyes,
“Ragnon Rollstad and William Bearhelm then?” Beddigan nodded. Elgress’ face fell.
“So it is true then. You are running with the Commander’s son. You freed him from prison in Illensdar. Beddigan, you invite much trouble into your life.” Beddigan sighed, knowing all too well exactly how much trouble he was in. Elgress stood from the bed and moved across the room to him, reaching up to pat Beddigan’s cheek. “My boy, you are one of the good ones.” With a soft chuckle, the Badger waddled over to a desk and pulled open a drawer, rummaging through some papers. Turning back to Beddigan he handed him a small envelope, and a three blue ribbons wrapped around gold pins.
“Take this envelope to the vegetable cart near the road to the East Gate. Fellow by the name of Gillian, can’t miss him, he’s only got one eye. Pin these to your cloak’s to get through the gate’s without scrutiny from the guards. You only have until midday, then the colour of the ribbons will change and you will be found out. Go quickly.” Elgress said, clasping Beddigan’s paw between his own and squeezing it. “Be safe, my lad.”
Beddigan nodded, stowing the extra pins and envelope in his cloak’s inner pocket as he climbed out of the window, down the side of the building, and out to the street. Mid-morning activity filled the Inner Circle as he moved to the North quadrant, holding his breath as he passed through the gate with only a nod from the guards. He reached the Inn and raced up the stairs, nearly barreling down another guest. He quickly unlocked the door to the room and rushed inside.
“Gather your things. We must go immediately.” He barked to his companions who were all lounging in various states of comfort in the room. Fixing his sister in his gaze he continued, “Clottie, we are hunted men. It is no longer safe for you to be with us.” He said urgently. Clottie stood from the bed and nodded, a mask of worry on her youthful face,
“I need to get back to the woods anyways, though I hate the thought of leaving you.” She said, pulling Beddigan into a tight hug. He returned the hug and then released her.
“You can use a portal to get back then?” he asked her. She shook her head and pulled a dull grey crystal from a pocket in her dress.
“The Losley Deadwoods are impervious to all magics but those touched by Lady Lisanne’s sorcery. She gave me this variation on a portal crystal to make my return. It should take me to the shores of the Lost Lake.” Beddigan nodded as Clottie turned to Ragnon, clasping his paw.
“Please be safe. And take care of yourself. You are still healing.” She said softly. Both Beddigan and William averted their eyes as Ragnon chuckled and pulled Clottie into an embrace.
“Don’t look so worried, my lady. We will see each other again.” He murmured before letting her go. “That’s a promise.” The Wolf added with a wink. Clottie blushed and turned to William. He gave her a stiff half-bow, which she returned.
“Travel safely, William. And keep an eye on that brother of mine.” Clottie said, tossing Beddigan a cheeky smile. Beddigan rolled his eyes at his sister as she activated the crystal and a shimmering loop appeared in front of her. With a final wave she stepped through and the portal snapped shut behind her, leaving the unsettling lack of her presence in the room.
Shoving the feelings of worry and loss for his sister away, Beddigan raced around the room gathering the last of their things. They pulled their cloaks up, all pinned with the special ribbons, and made their way out of the Inn and into the sunny streets.
Beddigan felt the collectively released breath of his companions as they passed into the Inner Circle with nothing more than a nod from the guards, and he lead them to the road to the East Gate. He easily spotted the vegetable cart and the small, one-eyed badger who could only be Gillian. He approached quickly, catching the vegetable seller between customers.
“Well, well, aren’t you a mysterious looking lot!” the Badger squawked. Beddigan cringed. He fished the envelope from his cloak’s inner pocket and handed it to the badger.
“Former Council Elder Elgress advised me to give you this.” He said quietly. The badger took the envelope with a hard look at the three of them, his one-eyed gaze lingering on the ribbons pinned to the breast of their cloaks. He pulled a short card out, red it quickly, and then slipped it back into the envelope handing it back to Beddigan. He beckoned for Beddigan to lean in closer.
“Two block towards the East Gate, take a right down the alley.” He handed Beddigan a key that he had un-looped from his belt. “You will come to an orange door, go in and wait for me. I will be there before midday.” The Badger turned away to help a Badger sow that had approached with a woven basket to do her daily shopping.
Following the Badger’s directions, they quickly found the wide orange door in an alley and let themselves inside. It was a garage of sorts, and a similar cart to the one the Badger had been using to hawk his wares sat empty.
“And now I guess we wait?” Ragnon asked, uncertainty in his voice. Beddigan took the lull in their escape to fill them in on the Wanted posters and what he had learned from Elgress. William growled in response to finding out Katheyra was becoming an unwelcome place to hide.
“Allowing the Wolves to hunt us here in unconscionable.” William snarled. Ragnon nodded in agreement with the Bear.
“I know that the Mormant armies have been trying to get a foothold in Katheyra for many turnings. Annalose and Ardra, if this is it…” the Wolf trailed off, looking very scared. Beddigan nodded in agreement with them both and settled in, sitting on the floor, to wait for their would-be rescuer.
They didn’t have to wait long for the Badger to show up. He was astride a horse many times larger than him, pulling the filled vegetable cart behind it. He quickly set about fastening the horse to the empty cart. Then, tossing a few burlap bags to each of them, he asked that they fill them with the vegetables from the first cart. As the bags were filled, the Badger took great care in lining the bags up along the perimeter of the cart, padding a few extra rows at the front and back, before he instructed them all to climb into the empty centre.
“Now it won’t be comfortable, but it should get you out of the city, no problem. I can get you as far as Tolsdale. I set up there on the outskirts of the village for afternoon selling. Then you’re on your own.” Beddigan nodded and settled in, squished against William and Ragnon. The little Badger offered them a brief nod of encouragement and drew a thick burlap cover over them.
Beddigan winced as the cart bumped and jostled as it made its way to the East gate. His gut clenched as he heard the Badger exchange pleasantries with the guards, and nearly panicked when he felt the edge of the cover lifting. He stifled his sigh of relief when he realized it was only Gillian showing the vegetable sacks to the guards. As the cart trundled onto the bumpy path leading east of San Vincent’s Port, Beddigan set about planning how the three of them would make it south to Windermere.
To be Continued…
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