Ragnon shifted his weight from foot to foot, feeling awkward and wary about being trapped in his father’s office; alone with a Wolf he hated most, had betrayed, and who he had not seen in many turnings. He had known this moment was coming for quite some time, but he was not prepared for the palpable tension, and the sick, twisting feeling in his gut.
“So, are you well then?” Commander Rollstad asked, pushing off from where he had been leaning against his desk and taking a few steps toward him.
Ragnon skittered back a few steps.
“Well enough.” He said flatly. The Commander made a frustrated sound.
“You don’t have to fear me, Ragnon. I’m your father, not an enemy.” The older Wolf growled.
Ragnon arched an eyebrow and crossed his arms over his chest.
“You could’ve fooled me.”
Rollstad looked into his eyes then and he felt his belly slosh at the naked anger in his father’s eyes.
“Oh, I can be an enemy, Ragnon. I don’t want to be, but I can be. If you make me.” Rollstad growled again, closing the space between them until he was within arm’s reach of him. “I wouldn’t have put the time and effort, and coin into having you returned to me just to harm you.” Ragnon met his father’s eyes and was wary of the softness now found there. “And I sure as hell wouldn’t have let your filthy Fox friend leave with her hide still intact if I were truly your enemy.”
Ragnon glared at his father for a moment before consciously relaxing his posture. He left out a soft breath. I need him to think I believe him. Play the part old boy, play the part, he thought as he did his best to inject softness into his eyes to match his fathers.
“Aye, that much is true then.” He said noncommittally.
Rollstad tucked and arm around his shoulders then and he suppressed a shudder, allowing his father to lead him to a small cluster of chairs by the flickering fireplace. He took a seat and for a moment, let himself relish the warmth of the flame on his chilled fur. He allowed himself to think of good things; of Beddigan and Clottie, of Haven, and of a steaming bowl of stew with a tall glass of ale. He gave himself just a couple of moments to feel those feelings, before pulling himself back to the moment and the dangerous Wolf who was now sitting across from him.
The silence they were sitting in was anything but companionable, so Ragnon cleared his throat.
“So, uh, what’s new?” he asked, wincing a bit internally at how awkward and stilted the question sounded. He felt a strange flutter at the small smile that curved the Commander’s mouth; a shadow of a memory of when he was just a boy, the last time he could remember seeing his father smile.
“Surely you know of our great successes in this time of war. We have finally made an alliance with the Bears of Sinerrah, and the tide has turned. We had sought to conquer Katheyra first, and then turn our efforts to Illensdar to finally put those Mice to heel.” The older Wolf said, causing Ragnon to frown, unable to hide his worry. “Oh, come now, Ragnon, don’t be too upset. With the help of the Bears we have taken Illensdar’s capital, for the first time in all of these years of warring with the Mice. We’ve done it. This entire land will soon be ours.” Ragnon tried to force a smile, tried to summon up the will to act pleased, but he couldn’t. Yroebrage has fallen, he thought miserably, staring into the fire. What has become of Beddigan and the army then? He thought. He glanced at the Commander out of the corner of his eye. Clearly his father didn’t know of the army that had come down from the north. Maybe he’s wrong… maybe Yroebrage still stands, he thought hopefully.
“I imagine the King is quite pleased with you then.” Was all he could think to say in response to his father’s news.
Another ghost of a smile flashed across the Commander’s face.
“Indeed.” The older Wolf murmured. “This is part of the reason I chose now to have you returned to me.”
Ragnon gave his father an odd look. The Commander chuckled, “I could have had you returned to me at any time.” The Wolf said arrogantly. “But now, our family is on the cusp of making history. You can finally be forgiven by our people for your… defection.” His father’s voice dripped with venom on that last word. “We can work together as we take this land for the glory of the Wolves!” his father finished, voice rising with a ferocity that caused Ragnon to shift back in his chair, because every millimeter of distance between him and his father mattered at that moment.
When Ragnon said nothing, his father sighed.
“I know that you have… grown fond of some of these… lesser species.” The Commander stood and paced in front of the fire, his paws clasped behind his back, and Ragnon had another flash of a childhood memory. When his father has first been promoted to Commander, he had paced in front of the fireplace in their family home, muttering to himself plans of destroying the Mice, now that he had the power to command the army. The memory chilled him but he stayed put in his chair, not wanting to get closer to father despite wanting to be nearer to the fireplace.
“I am not an unreasonable Wolf.” His father continued. Ragnon rolled his eyes as his Father paced away. “I can arrange for some… liberties for your… friends.” Ragnon felt anger twist his stomach into knots. He squashed it down and forced a pleasant expression onto his face.
“That is most kind of you, father.” He said flatly, unable to completely erase the sarcasm from his voice. The Commander suddenly quit pacing and strode over to his chair, grabbing two pawfuls of his tunic and wrenching him up from his sitting position.
“I am trying to be kind to you and you are making it very difficult with your insolence.” He snarled, spittle flickering onto Ragnon’s face. His father let him go shoving him back down into his chair. “You are not too old to be disciplined, pup.” His father added, stalking away from the sitting area to his desk.
Get it together, play the part, Ragnon thought to himself, pushing down the fear and anger he felt, as he pushed up from the chair, straightened his tunic, and followed his father to the more business-side of the room.
“I’m sorry, father.” He said simply but with as much sincerity as he could muster.
Rollstad sat down in the big overstuffed chair behind the desk and sighed.
“It’s alright, Ragnon. We have been apart for a long time. This relationship will take some adjusting.” Ragnon nodded and sat in one of the plainer chairs.
After a few beats of silence, Ragnon cleared his throat.
“It’s uh, getting late and it was a tough journey here.” He ventured, “When will we be returning to the house?” he asked. His father looked up at him with surprised eyes.
“No one has been to the house in years. I often forget I still own it. I live here now.” Ragnon felt hopelessness wash over him at this revelation. It would not be easy for him to escape or for his friends to eventually rescue him from this fortress. All the more reason to play along, he thought.
“GUARD!” his father bellowed, and he winced a bit at the harsh tone of his father’s yelling voice. He remembered that too from his days of being a child. One of the burgundy-sashed guards entered the room in a hurry. Rollstad looked to the man as he stopped just behind Ragnon’s chair.
“Please take my son to the room we have prepared for him.” Then his father met his eyes again. “The kitchen has saved you food from the evening meal and it will be brought up once you are settled.”
And with that dismissal he stood, nodded to the Commander, and followed the guard out of the office. They climbed two flights of stone stairs, to an unadorned hallway with a number of heavy wood doors. The guard lead him wordlessly to a door midway down the hall, and pulled out a heavy key ring. Unlocking and pushing the door open, he said in a low voice,
“Go in.” Ragnon hesitated at the threshold for a moment, peering into the barely lit room. One hasty look at the guard’s flat expression and he was walking into the chilly room, relieved to see a small oil lamp had been lit and a stack of firewood sat near the hearth. The door shut behind him and he heard the tell-tale click of a lock being turned.
“Expected that,” he muttered to himself, and set about making a fire to ward of the night’s chill.
Shianne stretched her legs out under the small table, tucked up in the corner of the common room of the Racing Rabbit Inn. She’d returned to the Inn after her encounter with Commander Rollstad, miserable for having to leave Ragnon behind with that monster. They’d had little choice though, and she knew that now that this part was settled, and her wrist was free from that cursed cuff, she could begin plotting a way to free the Wolf from his newly acquired bonds.
A desire to take the pulse of the populace, or at least eavesdrop on a few conversations to see what the rhetoric travelling down from the Mormant Military officials was, she had pulled her hood up and chosen the shadowy corner of the room. Her stomach growled and she sighed inwardly as the single serving girl drifted from table to table, never quite making it to her own. In another time or place she would have easily snagged the young Wolf’s attention, but on this cold, drizzly night, so fresh from being in the Wolves clutches, in the heart of their capital city, she thought better of calling any undue attention to herself.
Ignoring her stomach, she focused on the two Wolves wearing standard issue military garb, stiff, heavy grey and navy with brass buttons. The matching uniform hats were sitting on the wood table top, soaked from the storm outside. She perked her ears up under her hood and listened, trying to parse out what the two soldiers were saying to one another between heavy gulps of ale.
“Took long enough.” One of the Wolves grumbled, his speech slurring a bit from drink. “Wouldn’ta lost a brother if those Warbler’s Cursed Bears had towed the line a few turnings earlier.” Shianne frowned. The Bears? she wondered, listening for the other soldier to respond to his friend. When he just slurped ale she bit back and annoyed grunt.
After several minutes he finally spoke up,
“Ya gotta hand it to them Bears though. Clever beasts. Turned the tide of a war centuries old.” Shianne listened intently. So the Bears have joined up with the Wolves, hmm, she thought. I wonder what happened to William.
Her attention shifted back to the two Wolves as the first one slammed his beer stein down on the table top hard enough to make the two hats jump.
“Yeah, yeah, they’re so smart. Bastards. They could’ve done this turnings ago! Saved us all a lot of grief.”
Done what, exactly? Shianne thought, feeling her belly clench. When the other soldier simply grunted and went back to drinking his ale, she got up and slipped out of the common room. She needed to find out exactly what the Bears had done that had shifted the tide of the war. How is Katheyra fairing if the Wolves are focused on Illensdar? She thought, climbing the stairs to her room, suddenly bone-weary and exhausted. She felt a glimmer of hope as she shut the door to her room and stripped off her soaking we cloak and boots.
“Well, Beddigan will have a nice surprise for Mormant’s military.” She said aloud, chuckling to herself. “There may yet be hope for us all.”
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