Peering through the trees towards the village of Windermere, Beddigan breathed a sigh of relief. He could see the cottage that he and William had been staying in, back before William had been captured and Beddigan had chased after his friend across the Lorring Sea. From where he stood in the woods that skirted the village, nearest to the base of Mt. Lileen, it looked as if the hunt hadn’t spread as far south as this yet.
The trip south from Tolsdale had been grueling, taking nearly three times as long as it normally would. Wanted posters of them plastered every village and township they crossed through, making it impossible to arrange a carriage, and making it much safer to stay in the woods at night instead of village lodgings. They had chosen a zig-zag route heading south, in an effort to mask their tracks a bit, in the case that someone were to catch on to who they were. They travelled mostly at night and stayed as far from the main roads as they could. Every third village or so, either he or William would go in to buy a bit of food for the group, never risking sending Ragnon in, as Wolves were so rare in Katheyra he would surely be scrutinized in a way that a mouse and bear would not. It had been a long, arduous journey, but now at least temporary safety sat just a few steps away.
Beddigan turned and moved swiftly back through the bush to where William and Ragnon remained, cleaning up the last of their camp.
“I didn’t look around too much but it seems pretty quiet and the cottage looks untouched from this end. I think we’ll be okay to rest up a day or two while we regroup.” He noted the relief, naked on both Bear and Wolf’s face, before he turned to lead them to the cottage.
Lingering for a moment at the edge of the woods, Beddigan peered around for signs of danger one last time before scampering to the building’s side wall. He crept forward and peered around to the front of the cottage and the small market square that sat beyond, and was pleased to see it empty. It was still quite early in the day, and Windermere was a sleepy little town that wouldn’t start to bustle until closer to midday. He beckoned for his companions to join him as he rounded the corner and moved to the front door, loosening the key from his belt.
A flash of fear raced through him as he approached the door to find it sitting ajar. Crouching low and shoving the key into his pocket he peered inside. It was dark in the cottage, the windows still shuttered from the last time he had left it. William and Ragnon were now close behind him, both tense at finding the cottage unsecure.
Slowly, Beddigan put his paw to the door and pushed it inward. Having seen no signs of anyone inside, he was relieved for a moment that whoever had broken into the cottage was long gone. But then, in the dim light that filtered through the shutters, the fear came railing back as his gaze drifted over the completely trashed main living area of the cottage. The furniture was broken, cushions torn apart, wood cracked and glass shattered. Broken crockery from bowls and plates littered the counters in the small kitchen. Through the open door to the bedroom he could see the desk torn apart, papers strewn everywhere. The mattress had been heaved up off of the bed and lay askew against the wall.
As Beddigan crept around the rooms surveying the damage, Ragnon stood against the wall near the door looking frightened. William growled from behind him,
“It is not safe here. We must go.” Beddigan nodded, casting one last dismayed look around the rooms. They carefully slipped out of the cottage, leaving the door ajar as they had found it.
Once they were back in the woods, Beddigan let out a frustrated snarl. He paced back and forth, mind racing. What are we to do? Where can we go? He thought. William laid a heavy paw on his shoulder to stop him from his incessant pacing.
“I think one of us should go see the village elder.” The Bear said. “We know someone ransacked the cottage, but we do not know that village has turned on us, or if those who search for us linger here. We need more information to plan our next move.” Beddigan turned on William with a snarl,
“What move, William? What plan could we possibly make? Nowhere is safe. Danger lingers in all corners of the land.” William brought his other paw up to Beddigan’s other shoulder, holding him still. With a gaze much softer than he expected from the Bear, Beddigan met his old friend’s eyes.
“We will figure something out, Beddigan. We always do.” William said evenly. Beddigan took a shaky breath, trying to clear some of the stress out of his chest. He nodded slowly to William.
“I will go into the village and see what I can find out. You two head back to the campsite and I will meet you after I have gathered some more information.” William nodded and Beddigan pulled his cloak up high to hide his face, before turning back towards the village and stepping out of the cover of the trees.
He crept through the streets, knowing exactly which direction to head in. The sun was high enough now to glint off of the brightly covered rooves of the cottages, and shutters were beginning to be opened. He approached a squat house near the village centre, and slipped through the gate into the fenced back yard. He moved to the back door and rapped on it gently. The door opened and Beddigan met the eyes of the village elder; a Badger of many turnings, whose eyes rounded in shock. Before any words could be exchanged, the Badger grasped his forearm and hauled him inside.
“You risk much coming back here, Beddigan!” The old Badger scolded, tugging the curtains of the cottage closed. Beddigan drew back his hood and sighed,
“I had hoped to find some safety here. Your people have always had such kindness for William and I.” The old Badger made a mournful sound.
“We are past the time when our kindness could be any help to you.” Sitting on a little stool near the table, the Badger sighed deeply. “As we sit here, on such a beautiful morning, free of the plight of the dragon – twice now by your paw, the Three-Headed Rabbit Inn sits with full rooms of Mormant military and bounty-hunters alike.” Beddigan felt his heartbeat quicken and the hairs on the nape of neck stand up, thinking of an entire guesthouse filled with hunters. “We were powerless to resist it. I beg you forgive my people, Beddigan. We cannot go against the capital. We haven’t the strength.” Beddigan nodded absently, mind drifting away, desperately searching for an answer to this most dangerous situation.
Unable to focus, and feeling the haste of knowing that many that wanted his head were so close and likely just waking for breakfast, he bid the village elder a quick adieu and set off for the woods at a brisk pace. Circling around the village in the trees, giving an especially wide berth around where the Inn sat, he finally made it back to William and Ragnon.
“We must go, immediately. The Inn is filled with military and hunters. If we hurry, maybe we can get enough distance between us and this Warbler’s Cursed place to offer a modicum of safety.” Ragnon made a soft, woeful sound, and both Beddigan and William turned to face the Wolf.
“Where could we possibly go that will be out of reach of Mormant? We’re all out of options, Beddigan.” Beddigan stopped for a moment, letting the question hang in the air between them. With a frustrated snarl he slammed his fist into a tree trunk hard enough to crack the wood.
“Honestly, Ragnon, I don’t know where we’ll go. All I know is that we can’t stay here. We’ll head west as it is less populated and we will be less likely to run into hordes of people looking for us. From there, I haven’t even a shadow of an idea. Maybe Sinnerah could shelter us for a while. Maybe we need to go back to Illensdar or Mormant to hide in plain sight. Maybe we will find some miracle of a place to hide between here and the coast. I can’t see the future, but I do know that I will not give up and sit here waiting to be tossed back into a cell.” Beddigan paused a minute to take a couple of deep breaths, trying to rein in his anger. “You can absolutely stay here and get caught and go home to your father and whatever punishment awaits you, but William and I are leaving. Now. We have to take this chance. It is all that we have.” A few beats of silence followed, and then Ragnon spoke, hoisting his pack over his shoulder.
“I said it before and I’ll say it again: I won’t go back there.” Beddigan nodded to the Wolf and beckoned for his companions to follow him.
They set off at a brisk pace heading first north towards Mt. Lileen, and then angling southwest, through the thinning stands of trees and hard-packed, sun-baked dirt that made up the desert-like regions of Southern Katheyra. They came to a small, unmarked village after a day of walking and stocked up on as much food and water as they could, before setting back out to walk through the ever cooling dusty, evening air.
When the moon was high above them, they finally stopped and set up a meagre camp in a small stand of trees. Though it was cold, the area had too sparse of vegetation to hide the flickering light of a fire, so they couldn’t risk it. They huddled together, wrapped in as many layers as they could.
Too chilled to sleep, Beddigan listened to the deep breaths of his companions. He could tell William was sleeping by the Bear’s wheezing snores, but had no idea if Ragnon rested as well, until the Wolf said dryly.
“You know, this area of Katheyra is called the deadlands for a reason, Beddigan.” The Wolf’s teeth chattering in the cold night air. Beddigan choked on a chuckle.
“Oh you’ll live.” He said in a soft voice. It was quiet for a few heartbeats and then Ragnon spoke again.
“I studied Katheyra for years, planning my liberation from Mormant and escape from my family’s clutches. I know much of the country that few do. The deadlands have almost no inhabitants, but for good reason. Nothing grows here, and the only port town was abandoned many turnings ago.” Beddigan listened as Ragnon continued. “While we could hide out for a bit of time, eventually we would run out of food and fresh water.” Beddigan considered the Wolf’s words carefully.
“You think I lead us out here to die?” Beddigan said softly. Ragnon chuckled.
“No, I think you lead us out here with the short term goal of putting some distance between us and our would-be captors, and for that I applaud you.” Beddigan bobbed his head in agreement. He really hadn’t thought much of the decision through, he had just known that they needed to get going before they had wolves at their heels. “Luckily for you,” Ragnon continued, “I think I may have come up with a plan to save us.” Beddigan sat up straighter, accidently jostling William who growled in his sleep.
“Do tell.” He said cautiously to the Wolf. Ragnon shifted a bit in the huddle until he was facing Beddigan. The Wolf offered him a toothy-grin,
“We know of one place that we definitely will not find wolves.” Ragnon said, with a sly smile. “And that place also happens to have the most powerful sorceress in the lands, and one of the cutest mice I’ve ever met is her apprentice.” Beddigan felt a spike of excitement; he hadn’t even considered the Losley Deadwoods an option, but Ragnon was right; the wolves were not welcome in the woods and he had contacts there. Whether the sorceress would help them remained to be seen but this was an option that would not be expected by Mormant or Illensdar’s armies. His mind started to turn over the details of the plan.
“We need passage across the Lorring Sea.” He murmured, squelching the rush of nausea that he felt at thinking of enduring more sea travel. “Which means we need a port from which to travel, a ship to travel on, and someone willing to take us.” He continued. “Not to mention that we have no safe port in the west at all.” Ragnon was quiet a moment.
“Captain Linley may be open to helping us again. He seems quite fond of you. And I know of a route to the coast-a very dangerous route, through the desert and the coastal mountains to the abandoned port town of Se-Hille, were we able to arrange a pick up. As for making landfall in the west… I’ve no ideas for that one.” Beddigan shook his head.
“It can’t be Linley. One, I’m out of favours with him, at least for a while. And two, I’ve no way to get ahold of him. But,” he continued, his hand moving to the crystals that hung at his belt, “I do have a way of contacting someone else, though whether or not he will be interested in helping us…” Beddigan gave the Wolf an unsure smile as he stood carefully from the huddle and stepped away, running his fingers over the crystals until he found the one he needed. It was a long shot, but if this worked, they may have the next piece of the puzzle of their escape sorted out.
Grasping the crystal and slipping it into the spot on his leather gauntlet he tapped it until is shone an eerie blue light. Suddenly a voice filtered through the desert quiet, and Beddigan felt his heartbeat quicken.
“Why, Beddigan T. Mouze, I was beginning to wonder if I’d ever hear from you again.” Captain Marlog’s voice held a cadence of humor and intrigue.
“I’ll get right to the point, Captain. I have a proposition for you.” He said softly, directing his voice at the crystal. A rich, silky laugh filtered through to him in return.
“I’ll bet you do. Do tell, Beddigan, do tell.”
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