Beddigan grimaced, tipping over his sodden boot, watching the clumps of icy slush pour out onto the cave floor. The once-sparkling golden strand of amethyst crystal shards that gave him magical surefootedness, was marred and dimmed with dirty snow. The grimace turned into a scowl as he noted the deeply scarred marks of the heavy journey on his formerly pristine mahogany boots. It had been far too long since he had given them a proper cleaning; to buff out the scratches and restore the leather to its rich shine. But now was not the time or place to indulge in such things.
The journey through the Snowcap Mountains had been beyond difficult thus far; definitely the hardest adventure he had ever been on. He could easily see how few had ever even attempted this trek in the past, and why the mountains were referred to as uncrossable. He was certain that without Lady Lisanne’s magical trinkets, neither himself, nor William or Ragnon would have made it up over the craggy bluffs, through the intense snow storms, and down to the far side of the range. Even now, weeks after departing from the village of Andullin, they were just now breaking free from the frozen crags and peaks of the mountains, and descending towards the unknown lands that lay beyond them.
A burst of orange light caught Beddigan’s attention and his scowl disappeared as he turned to see his companions, his friends, setting a fire crystal to light to heat up what was almost the last of the dried soup that they had brought for their journey. Food was running out and they all desperately needed to get to the bottom of the mountains and out of the frigid cold. As important and dangerous as this journey was, he couldn’t ask for better company.
Sliding his foot back into his wet boot he made his way over to the Bear and Wolf huddled in the warmth of the magic flames. The heat warmed his fur and he let out a contented sigh as William passed him a mug filled with aromatic onion soup.
“Thank Annalose and Ardra for crystals, eh mates?” Ragnon said with a toothy grin, accepting his mug of soup from William as well. Beddigan nodded,
“We definitely wouldn’t have made it through the mountains without them.” Beddigan sunk down cross-legged by the fire and stared into the artificial flames for a moment, holding his mug close to his nose, the rich, earthy vegetable aroma tickling his whiskers.
“We are nearly out of food.” William’s deep voice rumbled to his left. Beddigan met the Bear’s eyes.
“From what I could tell when I went scouting ahead, we are only about a half days’ journey from where we should be able to get a sense of how close the next village is. Hard to tell through the mist, but I definitely saw trees like those found in the foothills of the Katheyra side of the mountains, so we may be able to forage a bit once we get down there.” William stared at him a moment and then nodded slowly.
Beddigan turned away from William when Ragnon set his mug down, with a hefty thunk against the stone floor of the cave. Tucking his knees up under his chest the Wolf regarded his companions through the flames.
“Am I the only one that’s a bit nervous of what we may find down there? What if nothing is like it is back home? How do we even know there is food here that we can eat?” Beddigan considered the Wolf’s questions. He too had been considering these things since the adventure began.
“We don’t know what we will find, but I do have faith that Lady Lisanne would not send us here just to die. This journey is too important. Finding allies to fight the Wolves is too vital a task for her not to have considered things like food and shelter for us.” William grunted.
“You have more faith in the witch than I do.” Beddigan turned his gaze to the Bear. “For all we know she knows nothing of what we may encounter here. And even if we have no problems with food or shelter, what if we encounter something far worse than the Wolves and alert it to our presence to the South? We have just as much chance as to bring ruin home as we do assistance.” Beddigan blew out a sigh, as he too had also shared in the worries that William spoke of.
The cave was silent for a long time before Ragnon spoke,
“Speaking from experience, I know that the Wolves are a threat to every way of life that is not their own. If Katheyra falls to them, you can bet Illensdar and Sinnerah will follow suit.” Beddigan listened to the silence in the cave as William absorbed the meaning and the threat behind the Wolf’s words.
“Sinnerah has long held up its agreement with the Wolves to aid them in matters of war, in turn to remain a sovereign nation.” The Bear’s words held a cold, measured fury that sent chills down Beddigan’s spine. “You mean to say, that after many turnings, the Wolves would turn their backs on us and seek to conquer us? Have they no honour?” Ragnon let out a short bark of laughter, which lead to a low growl from William.
“The Wolves care of nothing but domination and rule. I’m surprised at you, William! You should know by the way they crossed you that they are not above such things.” Beddigan winced, knowing how much the time William had spent as a mercenary for the Wolves, only to be back-stabbed and hunted until he had faked his own death, still bothered the Bear.
After a few more beats of silence, William’s growling ceased.
“Sinnerah will not fall easily to Mormant. Much blood will be spilled.” Beddigan knew that truth to his core. He interjected,
“Which is why we need to be successful on this quest! The last thing any of our lands need is more bloodshed. We need to finally tip the scales back against the Wolves. They have been barely held at bay by my people for generations. Reene fell long ago, but if we can find help; if we can get a counter-army together, we may be able to free the Reenal people. Give Shianne her home back. Save your wife and children, William, from a war they cannot win against the Wolves. Give you your freedom back, Ragnon! Real, true freedom. No running, or hiding. Peace. An alliance of peaceful nations.” Beddigan finished dreamily, his gaze drifting back to the flickering crystal flames.
None spoke after that, and before long, they were all huddled up and drifting off, their heads on their packs, using them as pillows. Beddigan watched the shadows on the flames flicker on the ceiling of the cave and imagined what it would be like to live in real and true peace.
Dawn comes all too quickly, Beddigan thought, rubbing the sleep from his eyes. The mouth of the cave showed a cold and misty morning, as he and his companions gathered their things to begin their daily trek through the mountains. I really hope we can make it the rest of the way down today and out of this Warbler’s Cursed snow, he thought as they stepped out into the frigid air.
Several hours of silent trekking through the snow lead them over a small, but sharp peak, making them all grateful for the crystal shards wrapped around their boots. They were finally headed down the mountainside at a fairly steep rate. All at once they popped down below the cloud of icy mist that hung like a halo around the peaks, skidding to a stop on a ledge that looked out over the land below.
Beddigan’s breath caught in his throat and he heard a gasp escape Ragnon as they took in the sight before them. Evergreen forests stretched out not far below them, giving way in the distance to sparser, sandier grounds. Like a beacon of hope on the horizon, a curved wall of sand-coloured stone. Even from this distance, Beddigan could tell that the city’s wall must be enormous, much larger than anything he had seen before. Stretching to the west, the shimmer and sparkle of what must be the sea above the landbridge, and to the east, more forest reached beyond sight.
Beddigan turned back, grinning up at his companions as he began to pick his way down the slope.
“It seems we know exactly where we should be headed, friends.” Ragnon responded with a toothy grin of his own, trotting down the muddy path.
“I have never been so happy to see mud!” the Wolf cackled. William brought up the rear looking solemn. Beddigan let Ragnon ease past ahead of him and turned to William,
“Are you not happy that we may have actual warm beds to sleep in soon?” William was quiet a moment before he met Beddigan’s eyes.
“What if we do not find comfort, but instead hostility from these strangers?” His soft voice betrayed his concern and Beddigan reached out to grip the Bear’s forearm reassuringly.
“I do not think that Lady Lisanne would send us here just to be captured or put to death. Come now, William! The journey has been long already and I am more than ready to begin the part of it that matters.” William made an uncertain sound, eyes drifting up to stare at the city wall in the distance. Beddigan smiled at the Bear reassuringly. “Think of Elenya and the kids.” William shot him a look of what started as frustration but dissolved into acceptance.
“We must find help to battle the Wolves back before it’s too late.” He said resolutely, as if that alone was enough to strengthen his resolve. Beddigan nodded and patted the Bear’s arm.
“Come along then, old friend. Let us catch up to the only Wolf we can trust.” And with that they continued down the muddy path and into the forest at its foothills, each of them feeling a mixture of excitement and fear for that the rest of the journey would hold.
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