Stretching out on the softly cushioned bench, Beddigan tried to focus on the warmth of the sun on his fur, the soft gurgling of the nearby fountain, the gentle rustle of the breeze winding its way through the potted plants surrounding him on the terrace. But try as he might, his mind kept returning to the matter so close at hand: war with the Wolves.
After his companions had left Haven through the portal in Karrinah’s library the day before, he had been in a daze, unable to rest or relax, despite the Queen of the Deer’s best efforts. They had spent a short time on a covered patio together, quietly watching the sun set. But his mind had been elsewhere and Karrinah had picked up on that quickly, and had adjourned for her private rooms shortly after the sun dipped below the horizon.
After spending another hour or two lost in thought, watching as the twilight faded into night and the stars began to blink into existence, Beddigan had adjourned to his own room for another fitful night of sleep.
Karrinah had been curiously absent when he had gone down to the dining room for breakfast. He had asked the maid who poured him his morning tea where their leader was, and the maid had simply mumbled ‘busy’ and scurried off. He had taken his time eating, savoring the sweet tarts and rich roasted vegetables.
After he had finished eating, he had taken a walk, wandering through the City of Light, and then around the palace grounds before settling in on the sun-drenched bench, in hopes of catching a bit of a nap.
Sitting up he yawned and stretched, turning his face up to the warm sun and breathing out a deep breath. He was anxious to get underway — to get home to his friends. Knowing he would be leaving aboard the Mage-run ship to Ehl-Indrah the next morning, made sitting around alone for an entire day seem impossible. He felt a small pang of annoyance that Serina has insisted on leaving shortly after Shianne, Ragnon, and William had stepped through the portal. At least she would have been able to keep him company if she had agreed to travel with him to Ehl-Indrah.
He couldn’t blame Karrinah for busying herself with other things either though, both because as a ruler she would obviously have things to do that did not involve him, but also because he had been so preoccupied — and if he was being honest with himself a bit cold and distant — the night before.
“Enjoying your morning, dear Beddigan?” the soft, harmonic voice startled him, and his eyes popped open to find Karrinah leaning against a pillar at the edge of the terrace, one long, graceful white leg crossed over the other. Her robes today were a shimmering iridescent blue that deepened to aquamarine, and shimmered periwinkle in the light when she moved. Her antlers were wound with silver and blue cloth, and long, dangling silver earrings hung past her shoulders.
Standing hastily Beddigan smoothed his doublet, feeling woefully underdressed.
“Ahh, my Queen. You look even lovelier today than you usually do.” She smiled at him and strode across the terrace to meet him. Paw and hoof met and for a moment and they were both struck by the intensity of being so close. After a beat of heady silence, Karrinah took a small step backward and he released her hooves.
“Thank you.” She murmured, and Beddigan felt as if he could stare into the deep, dark pools of her eyes forever. She cleared her throat and turned away to pluck a dead leaf from a nearby plant and Beddigan took a couple of deep breaths to clear his head. “You seem to be feeling a bit better today…” she murmured, her back still to him.
“Yes, though I didn’t sleep as well as I had hoped, I do feel more rested today.” He said as she turned back to him and moved to sit on the bench. He sat down beside her. “I apologize for being… distant last night. It was such a long journey to get here, I can hardly believe I have succeeded and will be headed back with an army tomorrow. I’m afraid I’m a bit caught up in it.”
Karrinah laughed then and he felt his heart thunder in his chest at the sweet, melodic sound.
“Do not worry yourself with it, dear Beddigan. I understand that you have much on your mind. I took no offence.” Beddigan smiled at her.
“So then you weren’t avoiding me this morning?” Karrinah laughed again and for a moment, he forgot everything that was to come, and was truly happy in that moment, sitting on that bench with the beautiful leader of the Deer.
Karrinah swatted him playfully,
“Of course not, you silly Mouse!” she chuckled. They sat together for a few moments in comfortable silence. “All right,” Karrinah said, standing and smoothing her robes, “You have only the rest of today left here in Haven. How would you like to spend it?” she asked. Beddigan stood, standing very close to her and gently tucked one of her slender arms in to the crook of his own.
“With you.” He said simply.
Morning came too quickly, once again, and Beddigan groaned when the knock at the door to signal the morning meal was prepared and waiting, woke him.
“Thank you.” He called before slumping back in the bed, staring up at the polished white stone ceiling of his room. His mind, still hazy with sleep, drifted back to the day before, and the wonderful time he had spent with Karrinah. They had spent much of the day in her library, discussing the history of each of their lands. They had dined together at a restaurant in the City, and took a leisurely walk around the palace gardens before they had parted ways for the night.
His eyes drifted around the room and settled on his full pack, and the neatly folded clothing stacked atop it. And reality came rushing back.
He went about preparing for the day with brisk efficiency, washing lightly with the crystal warmed water in the small adjoining bathing room, and dressing in his thickest, sturdiest clothing. He slipped into his freshly polished boots and carried his bag with him down to the dining room.
It was still quite early, but he knew he would be leaving very soon. The carriage ride to the coast would take a couple of hours, and then the trip across the Bintack Oceania a couple more.
Karrinah sat at one end of the table, draped in white and silver robes, sipping tea from a delicate china cup. He took a seat next to her and nodded his thanks to the serving maid who set a plate before him, along with flatware and his own steaming cup of tea.
“Did you sleep well?” Karrinah asked him over the rim of her cup. Beddigan smiled and nodded.
“After such a wonderful day, how could I not?” he replied, eyes sparkling as he met hers. She grinned,
“I enjoyed myself as well. Though I fear I did not sleep very well at all.” She said, as she began selecting food from the dishes and trays. Beddigan followed suit and began to fill his plate.
“No?” he asked, before devouring a minced fruit tart. She shook her head and he felt his heart sink at the sadness that was now reflected in the deep, black pools of her eyes.
“I am worried for your safety. For the safety of everyone, truly, but especially your own.” She cast her eyes down to her plate. “I have grown quite fond of you, Beddigan. I cannot bear the thought of losing you now.” Beddigan set down his fork and reached a paw up to cup Karrinah’s cheek.
“Now, now, none of that.” He tutted softly. “I have faced worse and lived to tell the tale, my dearest Karrinah.” She met his eyes and he watched as they softened, a hint of a smile dancing across the line of her mouth.
They ate in mostly silence, and before long, Torin entered the dining room, bowing deeply.
“The carriage is here, my Queen.” He said, addressing Karrinah directly. Beddigan stood from the table, snagging one last bite of fruit, and then gathered his pack from where he had set it by the entrance arch.
“I guess it’s time to leave then.” He said with a reassuring smile at Karrinah, whose somber expression had returned.
Torin lead them through the terrace gardens to the front of the palace where a carriage awaited him. The driver took his pack and stowed it, before opening the door for him. Torin gave him a curt nod, and left him there with just Karrinah. A moment passed with them just staring at one another, before she stepped forward and clasped his paws with her hooves.
“Go with light, my dear Beddigan.” She murmured softly. Gently, he separated his paws from her hooves and pulled her into an embrace, something they had not done before. She clasped him close for a long moment, before he pushed back gently cupping her face with his paws.
“You have not seen the last of me, my Queen.” He said softly, leaning up to nuzzle her cheek. And with that he turned and climbed into the carriage. The driver shut the door and mounted up. He craned his neck as the carriage climbed out of the shallow valley, so that he could watch Karrinah until the very last moment, when she slipped out of sight.
The trip across the Bintack Oceania on the Mage-run ship to Ehl-Indrah had been just as pleasant the last one. It has also gone quickly, with his mind ping-ponging from Karrinah, to the war that was to come, to his friends back home, wondering how they were faring. He had no shortage of things to keep his mind busy. When they had docked in K’naall, he had immediately been ushered to the Keep by a couple of gruff, mostly silent Ram soldiers.
He had only been waiting in the small antechamber for a few moments when Serina breezed in, her dark purple Mage robes shimmering in the flickering candlelight of the dimly lit room.
“Ahh, there you are! We are nearly ready to go. The other Mages and I have made all the amulets — no small feat, I’ll add — and the troops are assembling at the western road. We’ll find the Lord Regent there as well.” She said excitedly, tugging him out into the palace corridors.
“That’s great.” Beddigan said, allowing himself to be lead. “Will the King of the Rams be joining us on the front as well?” he asked. Serina waved her hand dismissively.
“No, no. They’ve agreed it will be best if he remains here and works with the Arch-Mage to coordinate governance of the Allied lands while the Lord Regent is away.” Beddigan nodded again as they made their way out of the Keep and began winding their way through the small city.
“Ahh yes, before I forget.” Serina said suddenly, dropping his arm and rustling through the deep pockets of her robe. She pulled out a simple grey stone in a gold setting. “This is your amulet. I set it as a pin, with a magical clasp so that it can be removed from clothing and not dangle on a chain which could be a hazard in war.” She leaned forward and slipped the sharp pin through his doublet. A small flash of blue light solidified its connection to the material. She patted it gently. “There! It won’t come off now unless you say Demen li miccum.” Another flash of blue light followed her words and she showed him how to unclasp the amulet, before she reattached it to his doublet.
“Demen li miccum.” Beddigan said, and watched as the blue light flashed. “Remarkable.” He breathed, as he unclasped and reattached the amulet once again. Serina flashed him a grin,
“I know, I’m brilliant!”
Beddigan was about to make a sarcastic reply when his eyes travelled up the stretch of rough dirt road to the veritable sea of soldiers at its end, and he forgot all about it. Standing in ranks, both Rams and Felines of all types, Beddigan was awestruck by how many soldiers there were crowded around the edge of the city.
He spotted the Lord Regent perched atop a handsome, white horse, to the right of the amassed soldiers. He noticed then that handful military in different, more opulent regalia than the foot soldiers, both Rams and Felines, also sat atop horses just behind the Lord Regent. A pair of saddled and bridled horses, both with deep chestnut colouring, were waiting next to the Lion.
“Ahh, there they are!” the Lord Regent bellowed with a brilliant grin, his dark red mane rustling in the wind. Beddigan and Serina continued winding their way through the troops until they were directly in front of the leader of the Allied lands.
“My liege, this is…” Beddigan said, turning to look back at the mass of soldiers. He cleared his throat. “I cannot begin to thank you enough for your assistance.” The Lord Regent’s laugh boomed,
“Save thanking me for when we squash these Wolves down and make it so they will never be a threat in your lands again.” Beddigan felt an uneasy shift in his gut but nodded and left the statement alone. Serina mounted up on one of the chestnut horses and beckoned at him.
“Come along Beddigan, we can’t have you plodding along behind us.” She tittered, gesturing at the other horse. Beddigan nodded, hurrying to mount up and secure his pack to the saddle.
The Lord Regent took the lead and kicked his horse into a walk, starting down the rough road through the forest. Serina and Beddigan took up behind him and the rest of the mounted and foot soldiers fell in behind them.
They rode in silence for hours, until the sun started its descent towards the horizon. The Lord Regent pulled up when they reached the sign for caution that the Rams had placed at the barrier.
Serina murmured softly, “I can’t see anything at all. Without the sign…” her voice trailed off. The Lord Regent lifted an arm in the air, a signal to someone behind them, and a young, Tiger foot soldier approached them.
“Thank you for your service.” Was all the Lord Regent said to the youth before he stepped up to the invisible line on the road, and then strode through. Beddigan barely had time to hold his breath before he could happily see the flash of blue light, and the Tiger standing among the trees a short distance down the road, a look of deep relief plastered across his face.
“You’ve done well.” The Lion murmured to Serina, before kicking his horse through the barrier. Another flash of blue light, and then it was done. “Come now, move out!” The Lord Regent called back to them, and Beddigan urged his horse forward. The flash of blue light as he crested the invisible border was paired with the familiar sensation of pushing through warm taffy that he had felt each time he had breached the borders of the Losley Deadwoods.
As they rode through the forest, the sky above grew dimmer, fading into twilight. Beddigan began to recognize the flora native to Illensdar, and knew they were now in his home country. He knew of the rough road that lead northwest of the capital, Yroebrage, into the woods where many had disappeared in search of the rest of the land mass. He was not surprised as the road grew rough and more overgrown beneath this horse’s hooves.
The trees grew more sparsely as they approached the edge of the woods. An eerie orange light on the horizon met them as they worked out of the trees and up a gentle slope.
“But the sun…” Serina murmured, looking back over her shoulder at the last touches of the sunset. A gasp from the Lord Regent who had stopped his horse atop the hill made Beddigan urge his horse forward.
And there, from the top of the gentle slope he could see the source of the orange glow: Yroebrage burned in the distance.
A moment of being awestruck was followed swiftly with rage as Beddigan swore beneath his breath.
“The Wolves have done that which they have struggled to achieve for many turnings; they have breached our borders. My capital burns.” His voice was choked, his eyes wet from anger and sorrow. The Lord Regent turned to him with angry eyes.
“I’m sorry, Beddigan. We will meet them in battle and drive them home. And then burn their capital to the ground!” the Lion roared. Serina made a frustrated sound, and both he and the Lion turned to look at her.
“Listen.” She hissed. “Look.” It was then that Beddigan noticed an unnerving sound. A sort of groaning echo that rolled across the fields, accompanied by thumps that made the ground shake. Their horses whinnied nervously.
There, in the distance, something moved; huge, towering half as high as the city walls, it moved with staccato, heavy steps, tearing a chunk of the stone wall down as if it were paper.
“What in the gods name is that?” The Lord Regent breathed. The machine climbed up the wall, leaving crumbling stone in its wake and Beddigan felt his heart plummet.
“That is… well it’s shaped like a Bear. The Bears are great builders, crafters. Little is known of the extent — aside from the massive bridges connecting the three islands of their homeland…” his voice trailed off as he watched awestruck and terrified. With a gulp he said sadly, “Sinerrah has joined the war against us.”
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