Beddigan and his companions had followed the icy beast, Silkelline, through the Losley Deadwoods for quite some time before they finally found themselves on the shores of the Lost Lake. Despite having seen the colourful lake before, Beddigan joined in with the amazed whispers of his companions as they took in the sight of the great lake, ringed by towering evergreens, and shimmering with vibrant colours, like an iridescent rainbow. They had been so entranced by the mystical wonder of the lake, that they hadn’t even noticed Silkelline slip back into its translucent form, and disappear back into the woods the way they had come.Finding themselves alone on the far shore of the lake from where he thought the sorceress’ cottage was, Beddigan turned to face William and Ragnon.
“It seems this is as far as the beast was willing to escort us. If we head around the right side of the lake, we should come to the sorceress’ cottage before dawn.” Ragnon’s brow furrowed as his eyes scanned across the lake.
“But there isn’t any cottage.” He said uncertainly. Beddigan gave the Wolf a small smile and patted him on the shoulder,
“Not one you can see yet, that is.” Ragnon’s eyes rounded in awe for a moment and then he shook his head.
“I don’t know why I keep being surprised. After those creatures in the woods, nothing should shock me!” Beddigan chuckled and gestured for his friends to follow him as he began walking along the right-hand curve of the lake. The terrain around the lake varied, and the way they were taking rose up in a jagged path which met up with the edge of the forest. Soon they were back walking in the trees along the steep cliff’s edge. William grumbled, peering through the darkness of the woods.
“Something feels… wrong.” Beddigan frowned and stopped, looking up at the Bear.
“What do you mean?” The Bear pointed at a broken, leaning tree a few yards away, shaped like a giant tuning fork.
“We have passed this tree before.” Beddigan frowned, and Ragnon spoke up with a chuckle,
“I don’t like this place any more than the rest of you, but surely there is more than one broken tree in these woods, William.” The Bear growled in response at Ragnon,
“I am telling you that we have passed this tree before. Don’t patronize me, Wolf.” Beddigan stepped between his friends.
“Okay, everyone just take a step back. William has a point, Ragnon. These aren’t woods like any other you have been in before. They say the paths arrange themselves according to the sorceress’ whims. If she doesn’t want to be found, then we will never see the other side of the lake.” Ragnon gulped,
“What are we to do then?” the Wolf asked. Beddigan sighed, scrubbing his paws over his face.
“Well, we wait, I guess. I am certain the sorceress knows we are here, otherwise Silkelline wouldn’t have lead us to the Lake’s edge.”
“Perhaps we should return to the Lake’s shore. Maybe we were meant to wait there for another escort.” William said. Beddigan nodded in agreement and the three of them made the careful climb back down the rocky terrain and out of the forest onto the shoreline.
As if from thin air, Clottie appeared at the Lake’s edge. Beddigan ran forward towards his sister, grateful to see her looking solid and not smoky like the false version of her he had seen in the woods before. Gathering her into a hug, he held onto her tightly.
“Annalose and Ardra, it is so good to see you, sister!” he breathed, letting her go. She grinned and patted his cheek,
“It’s good to see you as well, brother. I was not expecting you! You can imagine my surprise when Lady Lisanne sent me out to greet you.” Beddigan hesitated a moment, the smile falling from his face. Her smile faded as his did and she frowned, looking past him to his companions. “What.. what are you all doing here?” she asked. Beddigan clasped her paw in his own.
“We seek the sorceress’ help. We have nowhere left to turn, Clottie. Both Illensdar and Mormant’s armies are hunting us, and Katheyra is no longer a safe place.” Before Clottie could say anything a figure clad in a robe of shifting, floating smoke appeared next to them. The hood that hid the figure’s face drifted back of its own volition, revealing the sorceress’ face. Her burnt orange fur shimmered in the moonlight,
“You are a fool if you think this is a safe place for you, either.” Ragnon stumbled back a step,
“You all have to stop popping out of thin air like that! You’ll give me a heart attack.” Clottie giggled, stepping past Beddigan and pulling Ragnon into a quick hug.
“It is good to see you are well, Wolf.” She said in a soft voice. Beddigan couldn’t hear what the Wolf said in reply but Clottie was soon giggling again. Ignoring them, he turned his attention back to the sorceress.
“While we acknowledge that the Losley Deadwoods are very dangerous and have a most powerful master, at least we know we are not hunted by our enemy here.” The sorceress fixed him in her gaze and the silence stretched between them.
“This much is true.” She conceded softly. “Though for how long that will remain true…” her voice trailed off as she turned away to face the lake. In a few quick swishing gestures of her arms, a sparkling trail of light appeared a few inches above the lake’s surface. On the other side of the lake, the cottage was now visible at the end of the trail. “Clottie, lead them to the cottage. I will wait there for you.” The Fox said, disappearing before Clottie could answer. William leaned down to inspect the trail.
“This will hold us?” he asked, looking to Clottie for an answer. Beddigan watched his sister stride forward, stepping up onto the band of light, and holding her hand out to help William up upon it.
“As long as Lady Lisanne’s wishes for it to hold, it will hold.” Ragnon followed William up onto the makeshift bridge and Beddigan brought up the rear, marvelling at the magic as they walked across the brightly coloured water to the cottage.
Once they reached the opposite shores of the lake, the glittering bridge disappeared, leaving no trace that it had been there at all except that they were all now standing across the lake from where they had begun. Clottie lead them into the cottage and they all took seats on wooden chairs that had arranged around the hearth.
Lady Lisanne sat in a high-backed, red fabric covered chair nearest the fire. She had her claws steepled beneath her chin as she gazed across the room directly into Beddigan’s eyes.
“Why have you come here? Surely you do not expect me to shelter you from two countries armies.” Beddigan took a steadying breath, unnerved by the sorceress’s stare.
“To put it in the simplest of terms, we didn’t know where else to go. You were, quite literally, the only option we could think of.” Beddigan watched as one of the Fox’s eyebrows arched and he rushed to continue his explanation. “Not that we don’t value you, of course.” He babbled hastily. He stopped and took another breath, noting Clottie’s pained expression. “What I mean to say,” he said in a firm, even tone, “Is that you helped me with something of great importance in the past and I had hoped you would be again willing to assist me,” he paused a moment to gesture to William and Ragnon. “And my friends.” Lady Lisanne regarded him for a moment, before her gaze drifted to William, and then settled on Ragnon.
“Young Rollstad, I presume.” She said in her smooth, silky voice. Ragnon inclined his head in an almost imperceptible nod. “There is quite the promise of fortune for your return.” Ragnon sunk down a bit in his chair and muttered,
“I reckon that be true, miss.” The Fox narrowed her eyes at the Wolf for a moment, and then a smile graced her face, and Beddigan was suddenly aware of just how beautiful the sorceress was.
“You needn’t fear that I would hand your over to that monster, Ragnon. There is much to fear in these woods, but being traded to Wolves is not one of those things.” Ragnon let out a relieved sigh, but still shifted uneasily in his chair. Lady Lisanne’s gaze shifted back to William.
“William Bearhelm. You managed to convince them that you were dead once. Why not simply do that again?” The Bear regarded the sorceress carefully, paws braced on his thighs. He met her eyes with solemnity.
“I no longer wish to run.” And then, he sighed uncharacteristically and Beddigan saw truth and sadness on his friends face, a break from his usual stoicism. “As well, I wish to see my family. I miss my wife and my children.” Lady Lisanne nodded her head in acknowledgement.
“Good reasons. Alas, the Wolves and Mice would not be likely to fall for your schemes again, anyways.” Beddigan nodded this time, as her eyes swept back to him. “So, what is it you would like from me then?” she asked him. Beddigan fidgeted in his chair. He hadn’t got this far in the plan. The trip had been too hasty; too quickly for him to figure out exactly what he wanted, or expected from the sorceress. Having no time to discern details, he let the words just fall out of his mouth,
“We need safety and refuge, by any means.” He said, mildly annoyed at the pleading tone that came out of his mouth. “We know not how you could assist with this, my Lady, but we know of your awesome power, and figured that if anyone could help us, it would be you.” Lady Lisanne stared at him a moment, and Beddigan felt his gut clench when she stood. Without a word, she drifted out of the room, leaving the rest of them sitting by the hearth.
Beddigan met Clottie’s eyes and opened his mouth to speak, but she shook her head; a small movement to indicate he should wait. After a few moments, Lady Lisanne re-entered the room carrying a small cloth bag. Taking her seat again, she tossed the bag to Beddigan. He caught it easily and settled it in his lap, a questioning look on his face. Pulling the drawstring closure loose he peered inside. Coiled in the bag were three long strands of gold with small amethyst crystals set about an inch apart. He looked up at the sorceress, puzzled.
“Our part of the world is not old, Beddigan, at least not in terms of the world itself.” Lady Lisanne said, not looking at any of them, but into the flickering flames of the fire. “And the countries of this part of the world, they are small in the larger scheme of things.” Beddigan inclined his head in a nod to show he was listening, wondering where this was going. “We have expanded as much as we can in this place, and wars among us have kept that expansion on a small scale. The Mice cannot develop the western part of their country, or afford the ships to sail north due to the war on their Eastern front. Mormant’s subjugation of Reene stopped all progress my people were making in heading south and west, and as of yet, the Wolves seem content to fight and war to capture all of this part of the world, before attempting to expand beyond it. Katheyra has sat free for ages, landlocked by the Snowcap Mountains to the north and the desserts to the south, but they are now on the path to the destruction of The Republic. Sinnerah has shown no interest in conquering or expanding its presence in the world, content to aid the Wolves in their quest to keep them at bay.” She finished, her eyes darting to William with a look of disapproval. “And the Ranier Islands stand as a mist-shrouded mystery to nearly all in our lands. Tell me Beddigan, what do you know of the Lynx and Dragons?” Beddigan stared at the sorceress for a moment before speaking.
“I know that the Dragons and the Dragon-Born are old, much older than the rest of us. I know that they were the ones to gift magic to our peoples a great many turnings ago. I know the Lynx walk among us in secret; wearing disguises.” Lady Lisanne nodded. Beddigan frowned, setting the bag on a small table beside his chair. “Forgive me, my Lady, but what does this have to do with our plight?” The Fox smiled then, though her eyes held sadness.
“Tell me Beddigan, have you not wondered what lies beyond the Trelill Sea? What stretches north beyond the snow-capped mountains? Have you not wondered where the Dragons live?” Beddigan felt a pit yawn wide in his stomach.
“Yes, of course I have wondered from time to time, but there is no way to see that part of the world, or whatever lies beyond what we know. Our ships have never returned from any voyages into the Trelill Sea. Long ago, my people went north of Illensdar but never returned. The desserts to the south of Katheya are too long and too dry to voyage through, and nothing could live down there.” Could it? Beddigan thought as he recognized the look of sparkling knowledge in Lady Lisanne’s eyes.
The sorceress stood, clasping her paws behind her back and pacing in front of the fire.
“There was a time, a long stretch of time when seeking refuge in these woods would have been possible, by my hand. But now… war is coming.” William growled in response,
“War is already here! War has been raging for turnings and turnings.” Lady Lisanne regarded the Bear a moment and then continued her pacing.
“A bigger war. A more dangerous war. The Wolves have their foot in Katheyra now, and it won’t be long before it falls to Mormant, as Reene did many turnings ago. These woods will not remain safe. Even now the Wolves have access to power they never have had before; power that is threatening to me and those that live here in the Losley Deadwoods with me.” Beddigan felt the pit in his stomach widen as Lady Lisanne turned to face him. With sad eyes, she spoke again, “You cannot stay here, Beddigan. I won’t invite an army into my home.”
Beddigan felt as if a crushing weight had settled on his chest. With a deep breath he stood from his chair.
“I understand, my Lady. Thank you for your time.” The Sorceress’ eyes dropped down to the bag he had completely forgotten about on the table next to his chair.
“Just because I cannot shelter you, does not mean that I cannot help you. Please Beddigan, sit.” Picking up the bag, Beddigan sat back down in his chair as she continued. “You were right when you said that coming to these woods was your only option. The rest of this part of the world is hunting you. There is nowhere that remains safe.” Ragnon made a soft, melancholy sound.
“We’re doomed.” He moaned, slumping down in his chair. Lady Lisanne cocked her head at him.
“Not as of yet, Wolf.” She said with a small, half smile. “You have but one option, and with this option, I can help. You must leave this land.” Beddigan’s eyes rounded in shock, his paw gripping the bag of odd jewelry tightly.
“Leave the land…” he heard William whisper next to him. Shaking his head, he looked back to the sorceress,
“You can’t mean…” he started to say but her brilliant smile answered his question before he could finish it.
“Yes, I mean exactly that. You must leave and you cannot leave by ship. There is only one way that you can go, and it will be a most dangerous journey. You must go north of the Snowcap Mountains, and what is in that bag will help you.” Clottie gasped and Beddigan felt his stomach churn. William growled,
“This will take me further from my family. We cannot run forever!” Ragnon jumped up from his chair,
“Maybe it doesn’t have to be forever though. Eventually they will quit looking for us and then we can return home, and live nice quiet lives.” William rounded on the Wolf, snarling,
“We shouldn’t have to run.” Lady Lisanne’s voice boomed in response, magically projected loudly enough to rattle the windows in the frames.
“That is exactly what I am getting at.” She snarled. Suddenly everyone else in the room sat back down weakly in their chairs, remembering who they were dealing with. The sorceress took a deep, calming breath, and addressed William.
“Were this just about you and Beddigan, and Ragnon, I would not be inclined to help as easily. You have each in your own way made the bed that you now lie in, and I don’t like getting involved in the politics of your respective countries. But this is much bigger than you, or me, or any one of us.” She paced by the fire, paws clasped behind her back again. “The Wolves have gotten out of control and there is little anyone can do to stop them. At the best, Illensdar can hold them at bay from their own borders, but once Katheyra falls, all will be lost. We cannot sit idly by and let them conquer everyone. I know all too well how that story ends.” She finished bitterly. Turning to face Beddigan she snatched the bag from him and pulled one of the long golden strands out, letting it twirl from her claws, the amethyst crystals catching the light of the fire. “Wrap one of these around one of your boots and you will have sure-footedness enough to climb the iciest peaks. We know not of anyone who has ventured north of the Snowcap Mountains, but I do have some idea of what lies north of our piece of the world.” Beddigan’s mouth was dry as he listened. “I believe you will find help, for all of us, in the reaches beyond. We must stop the Wolves before it is too late, or we shall all lose our homes.”
Silence stretched out in the room as Lady Lisanne dropped the string of crystal shards back into the bag and handed it to Beddigan. He attached the bag to his belt and stood. Clearing his throat, he felt the nausea in his gut begin to clear.
“I will do this, for the good of us all, but I will not ask my friends to join me. Would you not consider allowing them to stay here in the Woods while I make this journey?” he asked the sorceress. She looked at him a long moment.
“I will shelter them, if this is what you wish.” She replied simply. William snarled from behind them,
“Do not presume to decide my fate for me.” Stepping up next to Beddigan, the Bear laid a giant paw on his friend’s shoulder. “I will accompany you on this journey not only for your sake, but for the sake of my family.” Beddigan searched the Bear’s eyes for a moment and saw only grim determination reflected in them. He nodded to his friend, grateful for his offer.
Ragnon stood up from his chair and sauntered across the room to where Clottie was standing, wringing her hands nervously. He threw an arm around her shoulder and offered her a toothy grin.
“I guess we’re going to have to wait a little longer to spend any time together, love.” Beddigan looked at Ragnom, shocked.
“You’re coming?” he asked, incredulously, as Clottie pulled the Wolf into a hug. Ragnon chuckled, hugging Clottie back and then letting her go as she crossed the room to pull Beddigan into a hug.
“I can’t be letting you two have all the fun then, can I?” the Wolf said with a grin. Beddigan hugged his sister tightly.
“I’ll be back. You stay safe while we’re gone.” Clottie nodded soggily at him, tears spilling down her cheeks as they parted their hug. Lady Lisanne swept her arm in a generous oval and the shimmering light of a portal appeared. Through it they could see the cold, snow-covered roofs of a small village in the foothills of the mountains. Beddigan passed out the jeweled strings of gold to his companions and they attached them to their boots.
“This is Andullin, northernmost village of Katheyra. You will find warm clothes if you need them and food to last you for a good part of your journey. Go now, and be well.” Beddigan nodded. William nodded to both the sorceress and Clottie before stepping through the portal. Ragnon winked at Clottie and bounded through after the Bear. Beddigan squeezed Clottie’s paw one last time, then turned to the sorceress.
“Thank you, my Lady.” He said softly. Slipping a necklace off over her head she handed it to Beddigan. He held it by the pendent, a large black gemstone sat in a simple gold plating. “Take this. Should you need to speak to me, smash the gem. Only use it if necessary.” She warned. Beddigan nodded, and slipped it into his pocket. Smiling at Clottie despite the intense fear that stabbed into his gut, he stepped through the portal and found himself standing in knee deep snow a few yards from the village. The wind whipped around them and for a moment Beddigan was very dizzy. Bending over, he braced his paws on his knees before standing up and looking around to see where they were.
The mountains loomed high above them, and below he could see Katheyra stretching as far as the eye could see. They were about a third of the ways up into the foothills, much higher than he had even been before. Turning back to his companions he offered them a small smile.
“Up, up and away it is then, I guess.” He said, striding past them, through the deep snow, towards the village and the trail they could see moving higher into the mountains beyond it. As they trudged towards the village, Beddigan tossed a glance over his shoulder at the sunrise bathing Katheyra in tones of pink and gold. And with that, he said goodbye to the land he had called home for a great many turnings, and forged ahead into the unknown.
© Copyright 2016. All Rights Reserved.