The sound of a pebble skittering across the hard-packed earth caused Beddigan’s eyes to pop open. Though still dark where he was laying, below an outcropping of rocks at the foot of the coastal mountains, the sun was starting to peek out over the horizon above. Next to him, a still slumbering Ragnon and William didn’t so much as budge at the sound, and for a second Beddigan thought that maybe he had imagined it. But then another shallow sound, like a footfall, but more muffled, caused his hand to fly to the hilt of his sword as he rolled up into a crouch.
Surveying the narrow expanse of path that lead into a stand of trees and brush, he tried to spot what he had heard, but found nothing but what should be there; shrubs, tall thin-stalked weeds, and a few sparse trees stretching up in the dimly lit sky. He crept away from his sleeping companions, pausing only a moment to look back at them and wonder if he should wake them, before continuing on into the shaded woods.
He had crept less than a few feet into the trees before he felt it, the presence of someone behind him. Before he could whirl around to face his attacker something hit him square in the middle of his back, pitching him forward onto the hard, dusty ground. His sword clattered free of his hand as he felt the pressure of someone kneeling on his back. Struggling to loose himself from his attacker he bucked and heaved against the weight, scrambling in the dirt, heedless of the scratches that it left on his paws.
The weight shifted off of his back and Beddigan scrambled to his feet, lunging for his sword. When he turned back to brace for another onslaught from his attacker his jaw hung open a moment as he recognized the slight form, clad all in black: Shianne.
“Are you trying to give me a heart attack?!” He snarled at her. She flashed him a quick but fierce smile.
“If I don’t keep you on your toes, who will, Beddy?” Shianne said sweetly. “Besides,” she continued, “Thanks to you and your stupid friend, the Bear, my identity has been compromised.” Beddigan nearly dropped his sword, hurrying to sheath it.
“What do you mean?” he asked, cautiously, noting the erratic gleam in Shianne’s eyes. She was leaning with her back on a tree, methodically tossed a dagger into the air, catching it with ease before launching it up again, which was both impressive and disconcerting.
“The Mormant military knows that I aided in your escape of the Bear. And the Illensdar military knows I aided in your escape from their prison. They have also been made aware that I am one in the same as Death’s Whisper.” Her voice held a queer, dangerous edge that had Beddigan nervously looking around for cover, should things turn bad. “I don’t know how they learned the last bit,” Shianne said, hollowly. Catching the dagger in mid-air she turned and drove it hard into a tree trunk, with a frustrated snarl. “But when I find out who is responsible, nothing will remain of them.” Yanking the dagger back out of the tree trunk, Beddigan heard her whisper, “Nothing.” once more before turning back to face him.
“I can promise you it wasn’t me; likely wasn’t any of us. I don’t know when we would have had the time for starters. We have been running nonstop since landing in San Vincent’s Port. I also don’t know what good it would have done any of us to rat you out…” Beddigan said, talking to himself more than her as she started at him with a big grin and hollow looking eyes. She nodded along absently until he was finished.
“So, what’s the plan then? You did a good job hiding your tracks but someone as skilled as me, and you can bet Mormant has a few of those, will find them eventually.” Beddigan felt the clutch of queasiness in his belly as the thought of being tailed and captured; especially now that they had a reasonable plan for escape. Captain Marlog had agreed to transport them across The Lorring Sea, and said he that would take care of getting them to a reasonably safe port in Reene. Beddigan wasn’t entirely sure he could trust the Wolf, but he was all out of options. The three of them had agreed it was their best bet and had made their way to the little-known-of trail that lead through the coastal mountains to the abandoned sea port of Se-Hille.
Beddigan sighed and ran over the details of the path through the mountains that Ragnon had told him about, and of Captain Marlog’s agreeance to help with sea transport, as he led Shianne back to the campsite. William and Ragnon were still asleep so they lingered just out of earshot.
“Okay, I’m with you so far, but once we are at sea, where could we possibly go? Surely you don’t expect the Bears to shelter us.” Shianne said with a pointed look at a sleeping William. Beddigan shook his head slowly, carefully running through the words in his mind, in an attempt to find the right ones to explain the rest of the plan to Shianne. Best just get this out. She isn’t going to like it no matter how I phrase it. Beddigan thought, with a nervous gulp.
“No, we aren’t planning on going to Sinnerah. We understand that there aren’t many options available to us, so we need to head for The Losley Deadwoods, and consult with the sorceress. The hope is that she will have some way to help us.” Shianne stared at him, wide-eyed.
“You think to ask her for help again? And what makes you think she will assist you? Just because your sister is her apprentice? Have you forgotten that she took your sister as collateral for your last request for help?” Shianne began to pace, her voice rising with each question. Out of the corner of his eye, Beddigan saw Ragnon stir awake. Shianne continued to pepper him with questions. “And you choose to trust Captain Marlog? I know he is estranged from his homeland, Beddigan, but he is still a Wolf! What makes you think he won’t just deliver you to Mormant as a peace-offering? And even if he does follow through, where do you expect to make landfall in the West? You can’t be thinking…” her words died as she whirled around to face him, the pieces clicking together in her mind. Beddigan steeled himself and squelched the need to wince openly. The hurt in her eyes made his stomach turn, but he knew he had to tell her; to say the words she already knew.
“Captain Marlog knows of a fairly safe harbour… in Reene.” Shianne just shook her head, mouth hanging slightly agape, not uttering a sound. Beddigan was grateful when Ragnon sidled up next to him, stretching exaggeratedly.
“Well, well, look who found us! A pleasure to see you again, Miss Shianne.” Ragnon said with a toothy-grin. Beddigan couldn’t hide his cringe as he watched Shianne turn her gaze to the Wolf, who clearly couldn’t read the situation. Shianne closed her mouth slowly, and nodded her head stiffly to Ragnon.
“Please excuse me a moment, gentlemen.” She said, her bottom jaw quivering in a way that clearly enraged her. She turned and slipped into the woods and Beddigan hesitated, unsure if he should follow her or not. Ragnon slung an arm around Beddigan’s shoulders.
“Let her go, mate. Ladies need their alone time every now and then.” Beddigan shot Ragnon and annoyed look.
“She just found out that her only hope other than a life of solo running from hunters, after having an identity and a career of many turnings dissolve entirely just from helping us, is to join us and have to face going home.” Ragnon stared at him blankly for a moment as Beddigan shook off the Wolf’s arm and strode past him towards William, who was now awake and tidying the campsite quietly.
“Wait just a minute…” Ragnon said from behind him. Then he heard the Wolf gasp softly. “She’s a vixen.” Beddigan felt a pang as he remembered the day he had first spotted her in the prison; young and afraid, bright orange fur grimy from days of being unable to care for it or herself. He turned to face Ragnon, who was rooted to place in shock. “I never put two and two together…” the Wolf murmured. “With her fur dark like that, I didn’t realize…” his voice trailed off.
“I didn’t offer up the information either, so don’t be too hard on yourself.” Beddigan said, moving to pat Ragnon on the shoulder. “Help William pack up the camp, then? I am going to go check on her and then we should get going if we are going to make it through the pass during the daylight and make our rendezvous with Captain Marlog.” Ragnon nodded.
Beddigan found Shianne a short ways into the stand of trees, sitting slumped over on a rock, face buried in her paws. She didn’t look up, but she must have heard him approach because he heard her speak, voice muffled,
“I don’t think I can go back, Beddigan.” He moved to her side, crouching next to the rock and tucked an arm around her.
“You won’t be alone, Shianne. I’ll be with you, and we won’t be there long.” She nodded absently, lifting her head to look into his eyes. She had been crying which was alarming. He hadn’t seen her cry since she was just a kit. “I won’t let anything bad happen to you.” He was surprised when she started giggling and stood up. He let his arm fall from around her and stood next to her while she chuckled.
“Oh Beddy,” she said, her voice taking on that queer edge again, and the erratic look returning to glimmer in her eyes. “I don’t fear for myself. I fear I will slaughter every Wolf in the country.” She patted his cheek and strode away, leaving him feeling sick and worried.
To be continued…
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