As they approached the walled city, Beddigan felt the fur on the back of his neck rise in anticipation of what they might find. The journey through the dense forest near the base of the mountains and then through the sparser, sandier country had been eerie. Back home they would have surely come across something or someone in the woods between cities or villages, but they had not seen a single living creature; nor a single cabin or camp. They had discovered some fruit trees with familiar apples and pears and had eaten their filling as they made their way towards the ever-towering wall of the city.
The wall had looked enormous from their vantage point on that final cliff part-way up the mountain, but it truly was a feet of building like none the trio had ever seen. Now, lingering in the last stand of leafy trees before the short expanse of hard-packed dirt leading to the city, all three adventurers were in awe of the massive scope of it.
Crouching low, Beddigan turned to William,
“First impressions?” he asked the Bear, gaze drifting back to the wall and the open-air gate that gave them a glimpse into the interior of the city, which appeared bustling with activity. William grunted low in his throat,
“No visible guards at the gate. None along the wall from what I can see from down here. No sentry towers. Either they are the dominant species in this land or they are part of a larger empire, to not need such security.” Beddigan nodded, having noticed these things himself. Ragnon cleared his throat,
“That is, unless they have security in a way we can’t see. And what does that symbol carved into the wall above the gate mean? I’ve never seen anything like it.” Beddigan’s gaze travelled up to the deeply carved insignia; a shape like a rounded edge diamond with what looked almost like tree branches, one on either side, stretching out in a claw like pattern. It was stained a deep indigo and flecks of something embedded into the stone caught the sunlight and glittered. Something about the design nipped at the edge of Beddigan’s mind – seeming familiar in some way. But he couldn’t put his paw on it.
“I know you’re right Ragnon, that hidden dangers could be just a few steps away, but I don’t feel that at all from this place. And regardless, we need supplies, so we have little choice in the matter.” Both Bear and Wolf stood up alongside him as he stepped out of the stand of trees and started towards the gate. “And as for the symbol…” he said, voice trailing off for a moment as he regarded it again. “Something about it seems familiar, but I just can’t place it, my friends.”
After a moment more of lingering, Ragnon made a frustrated sound,
“Well alright then, no use waiting here anymore. Let us go meet whatever lies beyond the wall, and hopefully get some food!” Beddigan chuckled at the Wolf as they closed the gap between the trees and the gate, but felt his smile fade as he caught a glimpse of William, hand at the ready to unsheathe his sword at a moment’s notice.
Sighing, he strode across the hard-packed dirt, allowing Ragnon and William to fall just behind him as they approached the gate. Slowing slightly as they neared, alert to any danger that may befall them, Beddigan was surprised when it appeared there was no guards on the interior of the gate as well. He didn’t have time consider what that may mean about these people, because as soon as he stepped through the gate and into the outskirts of a bustling market square his jaw dropped open and his feet froze.
Those who inhabited this part of the land were tall, slender and graceful-looking male and female forms, draped in vibrant swatches of a silky, shimmering fabric. The males had what looked to be tree branches, much like those on the insignia carved into the outer wall, growing from their heads.
“Are those horns?!” he heard Ragnon whisper at his side. It occurred to him then that as strange as these creatures looked to them, they must look just as odd, if not more so as they were three entirely different species themselves. And just then, a small group of males who had been laughing and bartering at a booth for fabrics and woven tapestries noticed their arrival and moved to join them where they stood clustered by the gate. Beddigan reached a paw back to place on William’s arm to quiet the low growl the Bear was emitting.
“Be calm, my friend. They don’t appear to be armed.” He murmured, before returning his attention to the new comers. One stepped up to them, leaving the other two a few steps behind. They regarded each other curiously for a moment.
“Do you speak the common tongue?” the creature said, in a lilting accent that was as beautiful as it was unnerving. Beddigan cleared his throat, pleased that they could at least understand each other.
“We do.” He said clearly, before extending his paw. “My name is Beddigan T. Mouze, and these are my friends and travelling companions, William Bearhelm and Ragnon Rollstad.” After regarding Beddigan’s paw for a moment, the creature gently pressed one of his hooves against it, clearly unsure of the custom.
“I am called Torin am Megnarr. These are my brothers, Ali am Megnarr and Vorite am Megnarr. Wherever did you come from? I have not seen those of your likeness before…” Beddigan nodded to the two brothers behind the creature he spoke to,
“We have come through the mountains from the lands on the other side. Tell me, Torin am Megnarr, what is the name of this place. And, uh… what do you call yourselves?” The creature’s eyes widened, deepening the glistening pools of almond shaped black.
“Beyond the icy peaks of the southern wall…” he murmured, his voice taking on a cadence of wonder. “We did not think it possible to travel through them.” Beddigan nodded.
“Neither did we, but it is a desperate time for our peoples, so it required desperate measures.” The creature cocked its head, looking as if it was about to question that statement, but then thought better of it.
“How rude of me, you must all be very tired from your journey. Please allow us to escort you to the Centre. You should meet with our leader.” And with that the three creatures turned and started to walk away. Beddigan stood for a moment, confused at the abrupt change in the conversation but quickly shook free of it and followed.
As they wound their way through city streets and market squares not unlike those of the cities in their lands back home, Beddigan noticed that they were cause for much distraction among these creatures, for whom he had no name. He tried to ignore the growing discomfort of having multiple pairs of eyes on him at all times as they made their way deeper into the city.
Jumping a little as the touch of William’s paw on his forearm, Beddigan shot his friend a look of annoyance. The Bear looked very concerned.
“Are you sure it is a smart choice to follow them blindly into the heart of their city, Beddigan? They could be leading us to our very death and here we are just trotting along behind them!” Before Beddigan could answer Torin spoke,
“You need not fear us, William Bearhelm, we are a peaceful people. We do no harm and no harm comes to us.” Beddigan whirled around, almost tripping over Ragnon who had been curiously silent through the whole trip. William had barely whispered to him yet these creatures heard it as clear as if he had shouted it. William cleared his throat.
“Forgive me.” Was all the Bear could muster in response. Beddigan had been so distracted by all of the eyes on them as they travelled along behind their escorts that he didn’t even realize how far they had come. They had been travelling down a gentle slope and down several wide low steps that were carved into the streets, and now they had apparently reached this Centre that Torin had spoken of.
It looked as if all streets from the city met in this central spot, and it was easy now for Beddigan to see that the grade of decline had been much greater than it had felt, as they were in what was akin to a shallow valley but in the heart of a city. Stone pathways butted up against tall, lush green grass and the tinkling of freshwater springs, gurgling and bubbling was all around them. And there in the middle of it all, an open air, white stone palace, shining elegantly as rays of sunshine bounced off of it. The insignia from the outer wall adorned everything from grand pillars to inlaid pools of stone, ranging in bright colours, much like that of the clothing he had seen brightly covering the people in the bustling market.
Torin lead them down into the bottom of the basin where the palace sat and through several courtyards, filled with lush flowers sprouting from pots and overwhelming the warm air with their heady scents. Moving into the shady interior of the castle, Torin gestured to a row of intricately carved stone benches.
“Please, sit and rest a moment while I see if our leader is available to meet our most special guests.” Beddigan nodded as Torin and his brothers disappeared down a corridor. Taking a seat on the bench, Beddigan took a moment to really look around and take in the intricate beauty of the palace. It was truly a work of art, sculpted from shining stone and made into a living place. Ragnon took a seat on the bench next to him and he looked at the Wolf’s face, happy to see none of the concern that still adorned William’s.
“It’s quite something, isn’t it?” Beddigan said. The Wolf grinned,
“That it is, that it is. One thing does trouble me though.” The Wolf said looking thoughtful. Beddigan’s brow furrowed,
“And what’s that?” he asked. Ragnon stretched and groaned as his joints popped and released the tension that had ramped up during this leg of the journey.
“How can there be such a society, where they are unarmed, with no visible security?” Beddigan thought a moment about that fact, as he agreed with the Wolf that it was quite alien to the world in which all three of them had lived their entire lives.
“Perhaps they have no enemies, because no other species exist beyond here. It would explain why we didn’t come across anyone or anything in the forest, and for all we know, this place is the only populated place North of our homes.” Ragnon nodded,
“You see, that’s what I was thinking too, but then why would Lady Lisanne send us to find help from a species with no use for weapons? What could would a peaceful people be against a war with the Wolves?” Beddigan chewed on that thought for a moment. He makes a good point, he thought, just as he heard the telltale clip-clop of the creature’s hooves on the stone floors. Torin emerged from the corridor, alone this time, having departed from his brothers in his brief absence. He gestured for them to follow him,
“Come along now, travellers. She Who Is All That We Are will see you now.” Beddigan was puzzled by this designation, but followed, with Ragnon and William close behind. They wound through several corridors before coming to a beautifully detailed arch that lead to an open air patio, lined with gurgling fountains of marble veined a deep indigo on white. At the end of the length of stone was a female with completely white fur, draped in golden silk robes, sitting in a simple stone chair. She stood gracefully as they approached and bowed deeply to them when they came to a stop a few steps away from her. Settling back down into her chair she regarded them a moment.
“Those who come from beyond the southern wall.” She murmured, her voice a silken caress floating on the breeze. “Welcome to the City of Light in the land of Haven. I am called Karrinah am Namee, and I am leader to the Deer.” Beddigan’s mouth worked as he tried to absorb both country name and species name while in the presence of such a beautiful creature. Though she appeared female in every aspect, she had the horns of a male, which confused him greatly, as he had assumed that the horns designated gender among these people from what he had seen as they moved through the city. Unlike the darker coloured horns that Torin and his brother had, hers were solid white and adorned with shimmering jeweled ribbons of various colours. It occurred to him then, as well, that she had not seen one of these Deer with completely white fur either as they had moved through the city.
“I am Beddigan T. Mouze, of the country of Illensdar. You would call my people Mice.” He breathed. William stepped up and bowed stiffly,
“I am William Bearhelm of the country Sinnerah. You would call us Bears as a people.” Karrinah nodded gracefully, her eyes turning to Ragnon. The Wolf cleared his throat,
“I’m uh.. you can call me Ragnon. Ragnon Rollstad, of the country Mormant. I am a Wolf.” She nodded to him and then turned her attention back to Beddigan.
“Tell me, Beddigan of the Mice, what brings strangers to our land?” Beddigan took a moment to think about the best way to answer that question. Finally, he spoke,
“War, my lady. We have come in search of help for our native lands in uniting against a force of great power and great evil.” Karrinah regarded him a moment and then stood. She moved gracefully to his side, and took hold of his forearm.
“The journey has been long. Come, let us get you fed and bathed; rested. Then I should like to know more of this war, though I am sure you have already concluded that we cannot help you.” Beddigan nodded and allowed himself to be lead away by the mysterious ruler of this new land where peace both existed and was the very way of life.
To be continued…
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