Beddigan felt a wave of relief when the carriage rolled up in front of the palace, in Coronam, the Capital city of the Empire of the Lions; an already familiar sight in an unfamiliar world. He shook Ragnon awake,
“We’re back at the palace.” He said to the bleary-eyed Wolf. It had been a long-feeling and stressful trip, bot to and from Ehl-Indrah, crammed into a very short time, and they were both exhausted. This entire Adventure had been wearying in a way he had scarcely felt before. He was eager to see if William had found any success in contacting anyone back home. News of how Katheyra fared in their absence was desperately needed; it was beginning to gnaw at him as much as it did the Bear. Even Ragnon was showing concern for what the Wolves had been able to accomplish in their absence, and he feared for Clottie’s safety, despite her being in the Losley Deadwoods. He also hoped the Bear had found some luck in finding a way to break this oath with the Dragons.
They made their way up the wide, brilliantly white flagstone steps, flanked by two Lion guards in their red regalia. When Serina met them just inside the main palace doors, Beddigan felt a bit of relief. He had been certain he would be brought before the Lord Regent straight away, and he was too tired to think straight enough for that conversation. The sun was dipping low on the horizon, and he needed a solid meal and a night of rest before he tackled whatever new issues had arisen.
“Welcome home, gentleman, welcome home!” the Panther said, clasping her paws together excitedly. “How did you fair on your journey?” she asked, falling into step beside Beddigan, and looping an arm through his.
“We got what we needed.” He told Serina and she grinned, a flash of sharp White teeth against silken black fur.
“Wonderful! Well, you may meet with the Lord Regent in the morning, but for now, why not get cleaned up in your rooms and come to the great hall for a bit of supper with dear William and I. You two look exhausted!” Beddigan offered her a wry smile as two Pages appeared to escort he and Ragnon to their rooms.
“You read my mind.” He said flippantly, and saw amusement in her eyes. She patted his cheek,
“Why, no I did not, my dear Mouse. I read your face.” She laughed then. “Ta! See you soon!” she called to them as she flounced away down the corridor.
“Sir.” The young Lion Page said, clearing his throat to get Beddigan’s attention. Beddigan turned to the Page and let him lead him to his rooms. He sat quietly on the edge of his bed while the Page brought a basin of warm water and set it on a table in the dark room. “Sir,” the young Lion said hesitantly, “Shall I light a lamp for you?” Beddigan looked up and smiled and shook his head.
“No, thank you. I can do that. I just want to enjoy the dark a moment. Thank you very much.” The Page nodded and left, shutting the heavy wood door behind him. Beddigan flopped back on the bed with a groan. Riding in a small carriage for so many hours was never easy on the body, but he was definitely starting to feel his age these days.
“Why don’t I get that lamp for you.” The voice startled him, as light bloomed in the lamp closest to the door. Beddigan rolled off the bed, unsheathing his sword.
“What trick of magic is this?” he snarled, as a figure clad all in black stepped from the shadows of the corner of the room, into the flickering amber of the lamplight. His sword dropped with a clatter to the stone floor as he caught sight of the shock of coppery fur. “Shianne?” he whispered. “How?” She grinned at him then and stepped forward, picking up his sword and handing it to him.
“That bit is quite a long story, Beddy.” She replied with a small smile. Sheathing his sword, he took a step back and squinted at her.
“Is it really you?” he asked again, unable to keep the hint of anger from his voice. He didn’t trust the Mages of this land any more than he would trust a Lynx sorcerer. She laughed then,
“Yes, you paranoid Mouse! What have these Felines done to my trusting friend?” she cackled. Beddigan felt the tension ease off as she pulled him into a hug.
“Annalose and Ardra, Shianne! How is it you find yourself here? What’s happened back home? Is Clottie okay?” Shianne chuckled again, squeezing him before letting go.
“So many questions. Aye, I understand that. I have fair few of them for you as well, though I have learned quite a lot from the Bear.” She turned and opened the door.
“Quick, wash up now and let’s get down to supper. I would rather not repeat myself any more than I have already. I swear, between the Bear and that Panther, I have damn near talked my tongue off in the last day.” Beddigan nodded in agreement, and took to quickly washing with the soft towel and now barely warm water the Page had brought.
He met Shianne in the hallway and they made their way to the Great Hall, collecting a fairly stunned Ragnon along the way. The Wolf was just as surprised as he had been to see Shianne, and along with his exhaustion, had fallen back to his silent, watchful nature. Beddigan made a mental note to take him aside and talk to him later, to make sure that he was okay.
As they walked into the Great Hall, they were met with the usual roar of soldiers and palace folk eating at the great, long tables. The Lord Regent’s table was nearly empty this time though, less a few Mages. Must be away from the city, Beddigan thought as they wound their way to a far table that had a mostly free end, near the roaring fireplace. Beddigan grinned as he met William’s eyes and the Bear stood, offering him a curt node in return. The Bear stood and stepped towards him and they shared a quick embrace.
“Welcome back, old friend.” William said, before taking his seat. Beddigan nodded to him and took a seat on the opposite side of the table. Shianne sat next to him, and Ragnon next to William, with Serina at the end of the table. He nodded his head towards Shianne while looking at the Panther,
“I can only think that you played some part in this, unless she somehow followed us through the mountains.” He said with a grin. Shianne snorted,
“Your instincts are correct, Beddy. I wouldn’t be caught dead trying to traverse that mountain range, even with Lady Lisanne’s tricks.” Serina smiled,
“That reminds me, I am dying to know of these tricks. Though that matter can wait for another time. Please, tell us how things went in Ehl-Indrah.” Beddigan hesitated a moment, but then decided that Serina could be trusted enough to give her this information before the Lord Regent himself heard it. He launched into a recap of his and Ragnbon’s then, as servers brought trays of food and mugs of ale to the table. When he was finished, he added,
“At some point, I would love to pick your brain about the Rams, Serina. They seem to have some odd customs.” He said with a sip of ale. Serina chuckled wryly.
“That’s putting in lightly. All in good time, Beddigan.”
Shianne set her ale mug down, turning to face Beddigan.
“So, we have the support of the Empire and the Rams then. What’s left before we can assemble our army and head home? Things are not good back in Katheyra, Beddigan. It won’t be long before we have another subjugation like that of Reene on our hands. Without us, there will be no war, only domination.” Beddigan picked at the food on his plate for a moment, before meeting William’s eyes across the table.
“Any luck with the Dagon’s oath?” he asked, though he was pretty sure he knew the answer was no. Had William or Serina found a way around the oath, he was sure they would have lead with that exciting news. But perhaps they had at least an inkling. William shook his head, casting his eyes down to the table.
“I tried — and failed — to find anything at all in their histories of magic and of the lands that could help us. There is nothing but a vague mention that an oath was made that erected a barrier of magic. There are no details about what the oath was, is, or what kind of magic the barrier is made of.” Beddigan made a frustrated sound, but then nodded sympathetically to William.
“It was not an easy thing we asked of you, my friend.” Serina chimed in then,
“Especially since all that time ago when the oath was actually made, we had only an oral tradition of history. We didn’t start writing our history down for much time after that, and surely some was lost along the way.” Beddigan sighed and took a bite from a hunk of nutty, brown bread, chewing it thoughtfully. He looked to Serina,
“And the Arch Mage wouldn’t have any information on this that maybe isn’t privy to the rest of the Mages?” he asked. Serina frowned.
“I don’t think so.” She said uncertainly. “I don’t know what he would gain from hiding that information from us.” Ragnon snorted then and everyone looked to him, as it was pretty much the first sound he had made since they sat down at the table. Beddigan noted he looked much more like himself now that he had eaten some, and drunk a great deal of ale.
“I don’t trust that Arch Mage as far as I could shove him.” He said sourly. Serina shot him an annoyed look.
“Hold your tongue, Wolf. He is very powerful and has eyes and ears everywhere.” Ragnon shrugged and drunk more of his ale. “Besides,” Serina continued, “He has never done anything to test my trust of him.” Beddigan nodded to her but thought that maybe she just didn’t know that he had. He got the same feeling about the Arch Mage as Ragnon did. Shianne spoke then, derailing that train of thought.
“What of the Lord Regent? Perhaps there is some royal history that is unavailable to the public because of the sensitive nature of the information? Surely to keep his lands united he would not want this barrier broken by one of the allied nations.” Beddigan frowned, thinking of the Lord Regent’s desire to head east into the Trelill Sea, to find more nations to add to the alliance.
“What makes you say that?” he asked and Shianne snorted, reclining in her chair and crossing her arms over her chest.
“To stay unified, the Lions have to stay in power. To give those allied lands the opportunity to head to another land and resettle their sovereign nations and claim full rule of their own? It may be a tempting offer to some.” She held up a paw, sensing that Serina was about to protest. “Now, I understand that this is a peaceful unification. But you can’t pretend to believe that there are no dissenters in any of the other Feline lands. If the barrier were able to be broken, or circumvented, it could invite a new war into these lands, which is not something the Lord Regent would want.” Beddigan considered Shianne’s words. Serina was already shaking her head again.
“No. I mean, I get your train of thought, Shianne, but I am certain that the Lord Regent does not know how to break the barrier.” Beddigan nodded,
“I have to agree with her, Shianne, as the Lord Regent wishes to help us with this war, and if he knew how to break the oath he wouldn’t have made that a condition we needed to satisfy for their assistance.” Shianne narrowed her eyes at him.
“And that doesn’t bother you? That a very powerful nation with a history of conquering wants access to our piece of the world, that they currently do not have?” Beddigan shook his head.
“William and I, and likely Ragnon too, all had the same thought at the beginning, but once you meet the Lord Regent, I think your perception of him will change. He is nothing like the rulers we have come across before. The reason the Empire works so well at allying these lands peacefully, is that the Lion at its helm is truly in search of unification and peace.” Shianne stared at him for a moment and Beddigan knew she didn’t believe a word of what he was saying. But she nodded anyways.
“Besides,” Ragnon interjected, his speech a little slurred from all the ale he had drunk. “They don’t be coming to help us against the Wolves out of complete altruism, which would be entirely untrustworthy.” The Wolf said, setting his ale mug down so hard that the contents sloshed over the rim, staining the wood of the table a darker brown in the flickering light of the hearth. “They want crystals and Beddigan has agreed to give them access to them. The Rams too!” Shianne rounded so sharply on Beddigan, he nearly dropped his mug.
“You what?” she hissed. Beddigan shrugged,
“We had to offer something as compensation for their assistance, and it was something they were greatly intrigued by upon seeing. They have no access to such things here and the magic veins run shallowly in this land. It could be a great help to the people here, to their daily lives.” He said, trying to justify something he knew Shianne would never agree was a good idea. William made a sound.
“That is not all. You must tell her the whole truth, Beddigan.” The Bear growled and Beddigan groaned, hesitating.
“We also offered… to help them breach the mists. They search a way of travelling east, into the Trelill Sea, in search of other nations.” Shianne exploded up from the table, upsetting her chair so much so that it fell to the floor with a clatter.
“You would do this, after everything that happened in our lands with the Wolves? To my people?” she hissed. “You are a fool, Beddigan T. Mouze. A fool.” Beddigan leapt up from his chair, slamming his paws town on the table hard enough to make the silverware jump.
“What was I to do, Shianne? I was sent here to bring an army home, and by Annalose and Ardra, I will bring that army home. You can’t get something for nothing. You of all people should know that.” Shianne made a disgusted sound.
“And what of these nations that lie across the Trelill Sea that you so easily condemn? How will you live with that choice, Beddigan?” He made a frustrated sound, in response.
“I don’t know and I don’t care, Shianne. I have one purpose right now. One goal. And I will see that goal to the end and deal with the consequences after.” Serina stood then, and gently lifted Shianne’s chair back to its rightful place.
“Now, now let us all calm down just a bit. There is still much to discuss, but let us just set this topic aside for a later date. We still have a huge problem to solve before we can do anything with armies or crystals.” Both Beddigan and Shianne reluctantly took their seats. “Now then,” Serina continued, “How do we go about figuring a way through or around this oath and barrier?” she asked the table. Everyone was silent in response.
Finally, Beddigan spoke,
“Well, since we can rule out finding any information of it here, we’ve really only one option.” He said softly. William grunted,
“You can’t mean…” the Bear said. And Ragnon groaned.
“Beddigan, no…” Shianne looked puzzled at her companions remarks.
“What? What is this option?” she asked. Serina sighed and grossed her graceful arms over her chest.
“The Mouse has decided to go see the Dragons.”
To be continued…
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