William leaned against the exterior of the shuttered general store in Doucent and waited as the hazy dusk sky darkened to night. Slowly, Bears began to trickle into the village from the industrial park, covered in soot, looking exhausted. They paid him no mind as they made their way to their homes, or to the one lit up building in the shopping square — the Ale House.
Finally, Dorwan approached, offering him a barely perceptible nod of his head, before opening the door and leading him inside. William helped gather some food and ale from the small kitchen. They settled in at the table with roughly made sandwiches, and began to eat.
Once Dorwan had finished a full glass of ale and enough sandwiches to take the edge off, he leaned back in his chair and met William’s eyes.
“I’m sorry about your boy.” The Bear said. William swallowed a lump of pain that instantly formed in his throat at the mention of his lost son, and nodded his thanks. He and Elenya had spent the afternoon walking around their land and she had showed him the grave and simple stone where she had buried their son. Alone. They had talked no more about it, or about the changes their homeland had been going through, and instead found solace in one another as only a man and wife can.
He had left Elenya sleeping in their marriage bed, and spent the late afternoon and dusk hours surveying the village in its entirety, as well as this new community farm where his daughter Ellie had been working. He had been so tempted to approach her, when he picked out her silhouette from the other youths toiling in the fields, but the Wolves in military garb patrolling the farm had him slinking away into the trees instead.
“Thanks.” He responded gruffly. “Now tell me what in the name of Annalose and Ardra has happened here.” He snarled. Dorwan’s eyes fell sadly and he sipped his ale.
“Not sure where to begin.” The older Bear grunted. William sighed.
“Start with this community farm.” Dorwan’s face twisted then from sadness and exhaustion to anger.
“Not everyone fell in line as the Monarch began to make new laws with the assistance of the Wolves. Many resisted this union — resisted working directly with any other country, least of all the Wolves. But their armies came too quickly, and soon we had an entire military police force to contend with the dissenters. Those who stood up were taken down. “It seemed that simple, at least at first it did.”
William set down the sandwich he had been nibbling on as the ache of rage filled his stomach and turned the food into a firm ball. He nodded for Dorwan to continue.
“The new laws came down and suddenly children were required to offer labour to the Monarch to assist in the war effort, and everyone’s tithes were raised. If you couldn’t afford the tithes, your farm was taken in the name of the Monarch and converted into a community garden where you were then expected to work for the good of us all.” Dorwan said sourly. “Next they closed all unnecessary shops and required all able-bodied Bears to work for the Monarch as well. I remember thinking we were being conscripted as soldiers.” The old Bear laughed then, a hollow, joyless sound, as he shook his head wearily. “If only.”
“So that’s how you ended up working in that industrial area.” William said, taking a sip of the bitter ale. Dorwan nodded.
“Wasn’t given a choice, like the rest of the men from the village. There is one of these war machine factories on each of the great islands. We were lucky in a sense that this one was built so close to our village, so those who had families could at least stay close by. Most have to travel and stay in abysmal work-camps right there in the thick of the smoke.”
William shook his head both in anger and sadness.
“How… how could this have happened?” he asked, though he already knew the answer, having worked directly for the Wolves, to his own shame.
“Our people have been sold out to the Wolves, and if the Wolves know anything, it is how to dominate and control a people.”
William pushed his chair back from the table and began to pace.
“These war machines… they change things.” He said, thinking of Beddigan and the army of Rams and Lions he had brought back with him. Will it be enough? he thought.
“They only accelerate a war that the Mice and Badgers could never win. The Wolves have been slowly taking over the rule of Katheyra for months now.” William met the eyes of the old Bear.
“That is not all they have to contend with.” Dorwan’s eyes flew wide. William sat back down at the table. “For the sake of these lands, and all our independence, I set off with a band of adventurers… to the north.” Dorwan dropped the sandwich he had been holding with a gasp.
“North…?” he breathed. William went on to explain the abridged version of the events that had taken place after he, Beddigan, and Ragnon had left over the Snowcap Mountains with Lady Lisanne’s magical help. “By now, an army of creatures that have never before been seen in these lands will be in Illensdar, ready to take on Mormant.” He finished.
“Illensdar.” Dorwan breathed, gulping some ale as he tried to absorb this new information. A sparkle of hope in the old Bear’s eyes that quickly vanished. “The first batch of war machines was set to take the capital of Illensdar in just a couple of days.” William felt a pang of anxiety then, as he thought of his dear friend Beddigan, meeting one of those… things on the battle field.
He sucked in a breath,
“As I said… they change things.”
They sat in silence for a few moments before Dorwan reached across the table and clasped his paw.
“On behalf of us all… thank you, for trying to help. You didn’t even know that Sinerrah would be in this situation and you still ventured out to help all of us in these lands. You are a very unique Bear, William.” William nodded brusquely.
“Despite these war machines, and what has happened to our people, I wouldn’t lose all hope just yet, Dorwan.” William said with a ghost of a smile. “Beddigan T. Mouze is not to be underestimated. If he and this army he has brought with him can stop the Wolves, he will.” Dorwan gave him a hesitant nod and picked up his sandwich.
“In the meantime,” William continued, “We have much work to do here at home, to set things right in our own lands. The war will wage on be we must fight or own war here.” Dorwan gulped and coughed on a piece of sandwich swallowed too quickly.
“You can’t mean a rebellion, William. Weren’t you listening to what happened to the dissenters?” William stood and clasped his paws behind his back, pacing slowing around the small interior of the shop.
“No.” he said simply. “No, I do not mean a rebellion, Dorwan.” The older Bear eyed him with a mix of curiosity and fear.
“Then what?” the old Bear growled. William turned to face his friend, feeling the feral smile stretch his mouth.
“First, we will kill the Monarch. And then I will take his place.”
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