The following morning, after another fitful night of sleep, Beddigan found himself lingering outside of the throne room with Ragnon at his side. They had been given breakfast in their rooms by another silent female Ram, who did little more than drop off the food trays, nod, and pick them up a bit later. Shortly after she had left with the refuse from breakfast, a pair of guards came to retrieve them for their fore-mentioned meeting with the King.
They had been waiting outside the throne room doors for quite some time when the guards finally opened the heavy doors and let them into the dimly lit, acrid-smelling room. This time, on the raised dais sat the King, and to his left sat the old Ram, Ollin. The chair to right sat empty.
Out of habit, both her and Ragnon bowed, despite there being no call to do so, as they reached the end of the red carpet. The King only gently inclined his head in acknowledgment of their gesture. After a few moments of silence, the young King spoke.
“I have consulted with the Old King, and we are inclined to give both you and the Empire the resources that you need for this war.” Confusion furrowed Beddigan’s brow followed quickly by the realization that Ollin was, in fact, the Old King. “There is one thing I would like to know though, before you return to the Empire with news of our cooperation.” Beddigan nodded eagerly.
“Yes, absolutely. Anything you would like to know.” He could barely contain the joy inside of him at the Rams agreement to help with the war effort. They were not easy people to read, and he really hadn’t a clue when they had walked into the throne room whether or not the Rams were interested in helping them.
The young Ram fixed him with that quiet, endless stare for a moment before he spoke,
“What is it that the Lions will be getting in return for their assistance.” Beddigan felt a pang in his gut then. He hadn’t explicitly told the Lord Regent of the Empire that he wouldn’t speak of their proposed arrangement regarding magic and sorcery, but at the same time he didn’t really feel it his place to say anything. As the silence stretched the King’s eyes narrowed a bit at him. “Do not take me for a fool, Mouse. The Lion’s do nothing without a benefit for themselves.” Beddigan squirmed under the watchful gaze of King’s, both young and old.
“We have discussed the differences in our lands versus your own… with special concerns to sorcery and magic.” He began hesitantly. This brought the subtle arching of the bushy eyebrows of the old King, the most expression the old Ram’s face ever had upon it. The young King waited for him to continue, and when he didn’t he spoke again.
“The Felines have magic already.” The King said matter-of-factly. Beddigan nodded and continued.
“They do, this is true, but not nearly to the extent of our homelands and our peoples.” Ragnon interjected then,
“I haven’t seen any Mages in your fair city. Do your people have the skill of sorcery?” the Wolf asked and Beddigan felt the instense need to conk him on the head. He didn’t think the Rams would appreciate such an intrusive question and from the way they both turned sharply to glare at Ragnon, he was likely right. Ollin spoke after a stretch of silence.
“At one time, legend has it that the skill of sorcery ran deeply in our people. But in the hands of a ruler, magic is unfair and leads to corruption. So the common people took their power back and since that time, any that show talent for sorcery are killed while they are still too young to cause us harm.” Beddigan couldn’t hold back his horrified gasp. Ragnon too made a sound of surprise and horror. The young King eyed them carefully.
“You think us cruel. But we have our reasons for abiding by the laws of our society, the same that you do for yours.” Beddigan struggled to nod his acknowledgment, and then the King continued and said something Beddigan did not expect. “We don’t all feel this is necessary anymore, but we have nearly snuffed the potential for sorcery from our bloodlines. It has been long since we had to end the life of one child with magic ability.” Beddigan felt his gut twist again as he began to sense what was coming.
“In what way will you be helping the Lion’s with their magic? What could you offer them that is above what they already have?” Ollin asked then, genuine curiosity shining through his gravelly voice. Beddigan briefly ran through the history of magic in their homelands, and explained of how little they actually knew about what the Lynx were capable of, or how that power could be transferred to another. He explained in an effort to instill that much of what he had discussed with the Lion’s was conjecture; mere theories of what they may be able to provide, and that that had been enough for the Lord Regent to offer up his soldiers.
The young King listened intently as he spoke, and when he finished, Beddigan saw a keen shrewdness in the Ram’s eyes.
“I believe you are being truthful with us, Mouse. However, there is more. You wear it on your face, as does your Wolf friend.” Beddigan stifled a sigh. It wasn’t the first time that his inherently honest nature betrayed that he was holding back. It could be a real occupational hazard for him. And in this time, he thought he owed it to the Rams to let them know the whole truth, even though he had been tempted to conceal it.
“You have noticed these crystals that hang from my belt?” he said, gesturing to the cluster of brightly coloured crystals dangling by his hip. Both King’s nodded. Beddigan fingered them and unclasped the darkest red one. Activating it, he put it to the floor, and watched as it transformed and grew into flames that gave heat but did not scorch or burn the stone of the floor, or catch the edges of the carpet on fire. “In our lands we have relatively easy access to these crystals, that anyone can use, no talent of sorcery necessary. We have then for light, heat, artificial flame. Water; they can be used to irrigate fields. We have crystals for many mundane tasks and rarer ones for things like transporting long distances in a single step. Disguise, shielding.” He watched carefully as interest flickered in the dark eyes of the Rams.
Picking the crystal up, he reattached it to the string it hung upon.
“The Islands that the Lynx inhabit are rumoured to have crystals of immense power, but they are nearly impossible to get to.” Beddigan continued. “The Lion’s wish to explore them while in our lands, after the threat of the Wolves has been dealt with. And we have agreed to help them as we are two of only a handful that have been to the Ranier Islands before.” The Rams nodded then, much more eagerly than Beddigan had seen them do before. Ollin spoke,
“We would wish to see these lands as well and explore how these crystals could be integrated into our society.” Beddigan stifled a groan. He had known that this was where the conversation was headed but still he felt the pressure of having to deliver on this to another group of people. He forced a smile and nodded.
“Yes, of course.” He murmured. The young King gestured for the guards that stood at the back of the room to approach. He then stood and stepped down from the dais, handing Beddigan a sealed envelope with the Rams head insignia in the wax seal.
“You will return to the Empire and you will give this letter to the Lord Regent. A ship awaits to return you to their lands. We will offer our assistance in the form of troops and stewardship in their absence, the details of which are contained within the letter.” Beddigan nodded, tucking the letter into his vest pocket. “And you,” The young King said, meeting Beddigan’s eyes, “Will assist us in acquiring crystals from your homelands.” Beddigan swallowed the lump that formed in his throat and nodded. The King nodded once, and Ollin as well nodded, a signal for them to leave.
The guards then lead them from the throne room with little ceremony. They were ushered through the palace and out into the city, winding their way down the crescent shaped tiers to the marina, where they had arrived just the day before. The guards left them without a word as they waited for the Mages of the Lion’s ship to lower the gangway to allow them to board. Ragnon met Beddigan’s eyes and he saw wariness written all over the Wolf’s face.
“You have promised much to many, Beddigan. Have you any idea if you can fulfill these promises?” Beddigan looked away, out at the water and sighed deeply.
“I’ll just have to find a way.” He said solemnly, before looking back to meet Ragnon’s eyes. “We need them, and I will do anything at all in my power to save Katheyra and finally free our lands from the stranglehold of Mormant.” Ragnon nodded then, his expression softening. He clasped a paw on Beddigan’s shoulder reassuringly.
“I know, friend.” But what remained unsaid between them, Beddigan already knew too well; they could be inviting an enemy into their lands far greater than the Wolves; the Lion’s. If he could not provide them, and now the Rams as well with the payment of sorcery and crystals, what would become of him, his friends, and his country? He shuddered and suppressed those thoughts.
The gangway was lowered and they were escorted up to the ship’s deck by way of two young Jaguar Mages. He smiled at Ragnon,
“Now let’s hope that William has made some progress with this Dragon-oath predicament.”
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