Shianne awoke with a start, sending herself careening over the side of the narrow cot she had been given to sleep on in her makeshift cell. She landed with none of her usual grace, but instead in a heap on the cold, hard-packed dirt floor with a bone-jarring thud. She snarled and pushed herself up into a sitting position, groaning at what would surely become more bruised muscles by morning.
It was dark, and aside from the rhythmic breathing of the other two prisoners, each in their own little cubicle made of wood and irons bars, all was quiet. Night still then, she thought, rubbing her paws over her face in an effort to scrub away the weariness. It had been several days since she had been drug down the stairs into the cellar below the Inn, where Commander Rollstad had set up his makeshift prison. She had been relieved to find that he hadn’t killed the councilmen and councilwoman that had been abducted, but disappointed to find that former Council Elder Elgress was not among those captured. There was a slight chance that the Former Council Elder still remained free and had taken off somewhere on his own, but it seemed most likely that he had simply been killed because of his influence in Katheyra. To Shianne’s cynical mind, it made sense that the Wolves had had the elderly Badger removed from his rooms in the Council House and secluded somewhere off-site, to make the Badger’s assassination easier. After all, it was difficult to murder someone in a governing office. She should know having done that job more than once.
Standing, she stretched her aching muscles. They were being fed, but only enough to keep them alive, and most days the food was so terrible she could barely stomach it. The result was exactly what Commander Rollstad wanted: she was weak, of both mind and body, which made even thoughts of escape next to impossible.
She fought through the weariness and sat on the edge of her bed; a slow descent to spare the burning muscles in her legs as much grief as she could. She had to get out of this cell. She had to continue to try and keep the Wolves at bay as best she could. I need to loose a dagger into that Warbler’s Cursed Wolf’s heart, she thought, paws clenching into fists at the thought of Commander Rollstad running the great free Republic of Katheyra. And the thoughts of what he and those like him would do to the Badgers… she was haunted with memories of what the Wolves ruling her home country of Reene had done to her and her family when she was young. She couldn’t allow that subjugation to come to another people; another country. The Wolves had to be stopped at any cost. Even the cost of her own life.
Picking up the heel of a piece of bread she had tossed aside, she blew the dirt from it and chewed it slowly, willing herself to swallow the nearly mouldy food. She needed her strength for what was to come. Curling up on her side on the cot, she stared into the dark and started to plan not only her escape, but the demise of Commander Rollstad.
The next morning when the guards entered the cellar to bring the prisoner’s their breakfast, Shianne was ready. One guard stayed at the top of the stairs and held the door open to let some light spill in, while the other carried a tray with small bowls of some sort of hot cereal. Shianne lay still on her cot, her back to the view of the guard. She had shallowed her breathing, like she had been taught to do as a child, to avoid detection by the Wolves who were both police and oppressor in her village. To be caught by them was to be subject to their whims, and as a young girl, those whims could be very violent and damaging.
She hadn’t responded to any of the other prisoner’s inquiries or comments either that morning, lying quietly in wait. Once the guard had handed a bowl of grey mush and a mug of lukewarm water through the bars of the cages to the other prisoners, he rattled her cage door.
“Ey! Savage! Time for your breakfast.” The Wolf snarled. Shianne didn’t move a muscle, remaining perfectly still. The Wolf growled with frustration. “You too stupid to wake up and know you’re hungry? Come get your bowl, Welp!” She remained still and fought the urge to smile when councilman Lerke played his part,
“I think she might be sick.” The Badger said hesitantly. “She hasn’t moved or spoke at all this day.” The Wolf snarled and set the tray down on a low wood table with a clatter. And Shianne heard the triumphant sound of a key ring being loosed from a belt. She heard the door creak open and the heavy-booted stalking of the Wolf towards her. And just as he was about to place a paw on her shoulder to roll her onto her back and check on her, she sprang up, using his arm for leverage and swung herself around his neck. She relieved him of his knife and held it to the guard’s throat as he yelped. Walking him forward out of the cell, she met three other guards as they swarmed down the stairs.
“I see Commander Rollstad, now, or your comrade dies.” She growled. The soldiers hesitated then, and she could tell they were weighing how their commanding officer would react to a threat such as this. “NOW!” she shrieked, and one guard fled up the stairs. The moments were tense while they waited.
Finally, Commander Rollstad appeared at the top of the stairs. He descended slowly, paws clasped behind his back and a bemused look on his face.
“My, my, you are a thing of beauty, Shianne.” He said as he moved towards her. “Even with the fur.” He added, grinning toothily at her. “So violent. So dangerous! It’s a shame we can’t work together again.” She snarled and dug the knife into the soldier’s throat causing the Wolf to sputter.
“I want to be released immediately or this soldier loses his ability to breathe.” She hissed. Commander Rollstad laughed then, a harsh sound in the dim light of the cellar-prison.
“The life of one guard is worth very little to me; very little to our army. We can’t simply let Death’s Whisper walk free for such a small price.” Frustrated Shianne dropped the knife and shoved the solider away. He gasped a moment and then rounded on her with hard, fury-filled eyes, but Commander Rollstad ordered him to be still and he did just that.
“How’s your son for a price for my release?” she shot back at him. His eyebrows shot up for a brief moment, belying his interest and Shianne felt a grin stretch across her face. “He must be very important to you, for you to even consider that trade.” Fixing her in his gaze for a time, he finally offered his arm to her, a gesture that was a sign of trust as much as anything, and Shianne gingerly took it, forcing her stomach to remain calm, though even the briefest touch from the Wolf made it roil with disgust. The guards stepped aside as he led her up the stairs.
Passing her off to a soldier he said, “Allow her a room to clean and rest and a proper meal. Return her clothing. Have her brought to me when she no longer stinks of prison.” And then with another long look at her he added, “And watch her very closely.
Despite the Wolf soldier that lingered just outside of the small bathroom inside the room she had been given and insisted that the door remain ajar, Shianne thoroughly enjoyed her shower. And once dressed in her own clothing, she ate deeply of fresh hot cereal with spices and fruit, much better than the bland, gluey gruel that had been given to her as a prisoner. Then she prepared for her meeting with Commander Rollstad.
She was led to him by three heavily armed soldiers; to the same section of the common room where she had found the Commander before, and found Rollstad sitting at a table with a sheaf of papers in front of him. He looked up and smiled at her, in a way that made Shianne think it was genuine, which unnerved her.
“Ah, much better then now, hmmm Shianne?” he asked, not giving her time to answer. “I do apologize for locking you up in such a fashion; you know I have always valued our working relationship.” Shianne held back a barbed response and nodded curtly, sitting in a chair opposite the Wolf. When Shianne remained silent he continued. “As much as I want the location of my son, I fear you know too much to be set free, my dear. You are more dangerous to us now than ever. And I am no fool to that.” Shianne met his gaze.
“They why did you let me out of prison?” she asked flatly. The Commander stood then and began to pace, arms clasped behind his back.
“I am reluctant to trust you, but I also know that no one else will have the ability to deliver my son to me as you do. This is your brilliance, Shianne, that you care not for any others more than yourself.” Shianne watched the Wolf pace. “Oh, sure, you make cursory attempts to help these Badgers in a futile resistance to our eventual takeover of Katheyra, but only a short time ago you were giving up the location of your rescuer; your dearest friend Beddigan T. Mouze. You bartered his life in one breath and rescued him and my son in another.” Shianne ignored the anger and disgust at herself that began to swirl up from her belly. “Some think you unpredictable but that is entirely wrong. You are absolutely predictable in the sense that you are a mercenary in all parts of your life. Even when you try not to be, you put your livelihood above all else.”
Sitting back down the Commander pulled a long, narrow wooden box from a bag sitting on a nearby chair, and set it on the table. “Now then,” he said, ignoring the box, “Where is my son?” he asked. She pulled her eyes from the box and met the Commander’s.
“He is being sheltered by a friend… in the Losley Deadwoods.” Commander Rollstad’s eyebrows shot up.
“Well,” he said “that is not unexpected.” Shianne held in the smile that threatened to spread across her face. She knew that he would have thought Ragnon somewhere on that continent as the news of the massacre in the Reene village near the Deadwoods likely had spread to him.
“I can retrieve him for you.” She said boldly, swallowing the lie so that it appeared as truth to the discerning Wolf across the table from her. Rollstad drummed his fingers on the table and looked at her. He said nothing until he finally reached for the wooden box and pushed it across the table to her.
“Open it.” He said simply. Warily, she gently opened the lid and peered inside. Laying on a bed of soft black fabric was a length of hammered gold with an array of coloured crystals embedded in it. She was about to lift it out to look at it when Commander Rollstad tutted, “Ah, ah, you must be very careful with it Shianne. It is a binding cuff.” He stood again and moved around the table, dragging a chair right up close next to her. She resisted the urge to shudder at his nearness. He lifted the box from her hands. “I suspected that Ragnon was in the Losley Deadwoods, and you’ve just confirmed it. And yes, I do wish you to retrieve him for me. And this cuff… this cuff is my insurance that you will do just that.” Shianne felt a pit yawn wide in her stomach.
“You can’t mean…” she started and Commander Rollstad grinned at her, eyes sparkling with a depth of evil that made her skin crawl beneath her fur.
“Yes, I can mean.” He said simply, lifting the strip of gold from the box. “You will go to the Losley Deadwoods, and you will retrieve my son and bring him to me alive. And you will do so within four weeks from this day; this hour. You will take this cuff as a sign of your commitment to me and this quest. Or you can return to your prison cell with your Badger friends.” Shianne gulped, but didn’t hesitate. She held her arm out, glaring at the Wolf steadfastly.
“I agree to your terms.” Commander Rollstad laughed then.
“You haven’t even heard the terms yet, my dear! So impetuous!” he said with a sneer. “If you fail, the cuff will relieve you of your paw.” Shianne swallowed the lump that immediately formed in her throat but nodded briskly. She had seen something similar before and knew of the consequences of failing on such an agreement. She watched as the Wolf laid the cold hard, flat strip of gold and crystals against her wrist and in an instant, it had snapped into a cuff around it. Commander Rollstad stood and offered her an arm to stand. She ignored it and stood herself. “You can gather your weapons and personal effects at the front counter on your way out. You are dismissed, Shianne.” She moved numbly towards the front of the Inn. “Oh, and you may want to find another one of those crystals you used to disguise that hideous fur of yours.” Commander Rollstad called after her, chuckling. “There is no end of people who seek their revenge on the infamous Death’s Whisper.” Shianne held in the anger, let it grow and breed deep inside of herself as she armed up and stalked out of the Inn.
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