It took all night and a good chunk of the morning before they arrived in the City of Light. There was a direct carriage route connecting the major cities throughout the Empire and Haven that Beddigan and his companions had missed on their journey north, due to them having angled towards the Bintack Oceania in an effort to gain some respite from the burning heat of the sun. The trip was much faster this way, especially by carriage, but they were still all very glad to be dine travelling and in the City of Light for a couple of days rest.
Their royal coach had approached the city centre, and the palace that squatted down low in the centre of the valley, and they were met by Torin and his brothers. The left the coach behind and followed the Deer down into the basin where the lush gardens overtook carved stone to be the centre healing spot of Haven. And when they walked through the courtyards, Beddigan felt a rush of excitement as he recognized that they were being led directly to the intricately carved marble patio that served as throne room for Karrinah. His breath caught in his throat as they approached her, nestled among the dangling bunches of pink and purple flowers, draped over her simple stone chair, a thick, leather-bound book in her lap. She looked up and he saw sparkling light in the deep pools of her black eyes as she met his own and a smile spread across her face. Her great antlers were decorated with spun golden strands, with tiny glinting shards of green jewels woven into them, and her robes were a spinning, intricate pattern of earthly metal tones; gold, copper, silver.
He stopped near to her, completely oblivious to his companions and bowed deeply. She held out a hoof for him and he took it, bringing it to his mouth and kissing it softly.
“My lady.” He murmured. She grinned as he stepped back and she stepped forward to greet them all.
“It is wonderful to see you all again. And you Serina!” she said pulling the Panther into a close hug. “It has been far too long, my dear friend.” Serina returned the hug,
“It has been too long, indeed, Karrinah.” Serina stepped aside to let Karrinah greet the rest of their group, coming at last to Shianne who she had not yet met. Beddigan moved to the Fox’s side.
“This is my dear friend, Shianne, a Fox of Reene. She joined us not long ago from back home.” He said, introducing the two females. Karrinah nodded to Shianne who nodded back, both eying each other curiously.
Karrinah clasped her hooves together and smiled at them all, and Beddigan felt his heart jump again at the warmth of her smile.
“Come! Let us eat and catch up. There is much I wish to know of how your quest has fared.” She looped her arm in Beddigan’s and he felt another rush of excitement at her touch.
The Queen of the Deer folk led them to the familiar dining room and they took seats around the marble table. Serving girls brought dish after dish of food and jug after jug of juice and wine; boiling water and little sachets of herbs for tea. The group was hungry after their lengthy journey and ate and drank deeply before any conversation began. Beddigan was the one to break the silence, meeting Karrinah’s eyes over the table. They had taken seats directly opposite one another, each at a head end of the table.
“I’ve done it, Karrinah. I’ve convinced the Lions and the Rams to help us. We are going to stop the Wolves from their cruelty once and for all.” He said with a fierce smile. Karrinah’s eyes went wide, as she sipped from her steaming, fragrant cup of tea.
“The Empire has agreed? I won’t lie to you Beddigan. I’m shocked.”
Serina cocked her head to the side and spoke,
“And why is that?” The Panther purred, setting her spoon down. Karrinah turned to her friend.
“I meant no offense, I just didn’t think the Empire had desires of getting involved in war again after such a long history of it prior to this blessed era of peace.” The Queen of the Deer paused a moment. “And if I am being entirely truthful, it worries me a bit about awakening some desire in the Felines, and Lions especially, that could lead to an upset of our peaceful way of life here.” Beddigan felt a twist in his gut.
“My lady, I’m sorry to have worried you with this, but it is of the utmost importance that we have the help of the Empire.” He said softly. She nodded her head to him,
“Yes, of course, Beddigan. Merely a worry of mine is all.” She said dismissively. Serina spoke then, looking at the Queen of the Deer over the rim of her own steaming cup of tea.
“If it helps, I can assure you that the Empire values what Haven brings to the balance of our lands, and has shown no desire to upset that balance.”
Beddigan thought then of the Lions desire to conquer outside of its lands; and its true reason for assisting them. It was something he should tell Karrinah, despite the anxiety it would cause her, for it was knowledge that a ruler should have. But that was something for a private moment between them, so he made a mental note to address her with it later that evening, when they were alone. The conversation shifted then, and Karrinah asked,
“And you have found a way to breach the barrier formed by the oath?” Beddigan smiled at her, chewing a delicious, spicy tart of some type before answering.
“We have, by way of the Dragons.” Karrinah’s fork fell from her hoof, clattering down onto her plate.
“The Dragons…?” she murmured. “You’ve seen them?” she asked breathlessly. Beddigan nodded.
“I went in search of them just a few days ago, and managed to find my way to them, high up into the Olgrinn peaks. Part was luck of course, and I found myself in a most precarious situation before I even knew it!” he began. He told the story then of finding himself in the Dragon’s nest, surrounded by yearlings and babies, and being nearly eaten by the young Prince Lisenfer. And then he told of his illuminating conversation with the King of the Dragons. Despite having heard the story already, his companions listened with interest and Karrinah sat breathlessly enraptured with the tale.
“And how then do you break the barrier?” she asked. Serina spoke then.
“I’ve been given knowledge from the King of the Dragons of how to create a counter-spell binding talisman, that will allow anyone wearing it to breach the barrier. He will not bring it down fully, which is to the benefit of our lands and those south of us.” Karrinah nodded and let out a carefully measured breath.
“I am most glad to hear that. With what I have heard of these Wolves you have to contend with, I should not like them to find their way north once you have put a stop to their tyranny in your homelands.” Beddigan nodded.
“I was relieved as well at the King of the Dragons suggestion. I made it very clear that I did not want to put these lands in danger. I think that was what appealed to him most and persuaded him to help us. For if the Wolves were allowed to continue their domination back home, they would surely look north eventually.”
The table sat silently, picking at their food until they were finished and the serving maids came to clear the table.
“You must all be very tired,” Karrinah said, standing from the table. “Please allow Torin to show you to your guest rooms and rest. We will come together again for the evening meal.” They all nodded to her and she drifted away down a corridor. Beddigan felt an urge to follow her but sensed she needed some time to digest all that had just been revealed. So, he went to a guest room and laid down with the intent to sleep. But his mind was stuck; trapped on the lovely creature who was Queen of the Deer.
Beddigan had not rested well at all, despite their long journey through the night to reach Haven. He was preoccupied and anxious about the what was to come. They had come so far, and reached their goal, but now came the hard part. Many would die in the coming weeks and months of war. And then he had only the shaky promise of providing crystals and knowledge of magic to the people of these lands, with only the base belief that they would not use it against him or his people somewhere down the line. He had tossed and turned and slept little snippets of time until it was close to dinner and he had left his guest room in search of a private moment with Karrinah.
He found her just as she was making her way to the dining room, and his breath caught in his throat at the flowing aquamarine robe she had draped over her tall, graceful frame. She looped her delicate arm through his while he was still awestruck by her beauty and lead him to the table, where his friends already sat.
Even now, as he chewed a bite of vegetable tart with a tangy herb sauce, his eyes lingered on the Queen of the Deer. Talk around the table was lively and everyone else looked fairly rested; none seemed to notice his quiet until a lull brought Karrinah’s eyes to his own.
“What is bothering you, dear Beddigan?” she asked, sipping warm, spiced cider from a long-stemmed glass. Momentarily snapped out of his reverie he set his fork down.
“My apologies, I’m not much of a dinner guest tonight, my lady.” He said softly. Blowing out a deep sigh, he leaned back in his chair. “I am simply lost in thought of what the next few weeks will be like. We achieved our goal, we have the troops we need to fight off the Wolves, but this battle… it won’t be pretty. Many will lose their lives.” The table sat silent for a few moments, with only the sounds of eating and drinking, before Ragnon spoke up,
“Come now, Beddigan. I understand your feelings but we all knew what we were getting into when we started this whole lofty quest. Some will have to die so’s that the many can be free. That be the nature of war.” Beddigan nodded to the Wolf.
“I know that, Ragnon, I really do. I just struggle to reconcile these truths within myself at times like these. Really everyone, it is none of your concern. We should be focusing on more pressing matters.” He said, turning to Shianne. “Like how soon your paw will be lost if we don’t get you and Ragnon to Commander Rollstad.” He felt Karinnah’s eyes linger on him for a moment longer, but focused his attention on Shianne.
“We don’t have long, I’m afraid. Unless we can find a way to get back in just a day or two, I think the paw is all but lost.” She said softly. “I’m really going to miss holding two daggers.” She added with a sardonic laugh. Beddigan chuckled, though everyone else remained uncomfortably silent.
“I wouldn’t get so attached to that idea just yet, Shianne. I’ve been thinking and I have a plan that just might save your paw.” The Fox met his eyes and he saw a glimmer of hope in them.
“Do tell, Beddy, do tell.” She murmured. Reaching into his pocket his fished out the necklace with the contact gem that Lady Lisanne had given him right before they had left for the Snowcap Mountains; before this journey had begun. He looked to Serina, who sat just across and to the left of the Queen from him.
“This gem allows me to contact my sister. It’s a one-shot deal so we have been saving it. But if we can get in touch with her, perhaps she can make another portal, like the one Shianne came through, and then Shianne can take Ragnon with her to allow them some time to resolve this cuff situation.” Serina clapped her paws together excitedly.
“That is brilliant, just brilliant, Beddigan! Yes, I can see it working already.” The Panther crooned excitedly. Beddigan held up a paw in an effort to stop and calm the Feline.
“It is only an idea, I don’t know if it will work as it did before. But it is our only option as I see it, so I suggest we try it, and the sooner the better. Perhaps as soon as we all finish eating.” He punctuated the last bit by picking up his fork and taking a few more bites off of his still half full plate.
They ate quietly for the next bit and when everyone was finished with the savory and sweet courses, they adjourned to Karrinah’s library. Serina spent a great deal of time inspecting the large black gem as they all took seats around the low stone table that sat in the centre of the room. When she was finished with her preliminary exam, she handed the necklace back to Beddigan.
“So, you just smash it?” she asked. Beddigan shrugged.
“So I was told. I have never seen or used anything quite like this before.” Picking up the gem, he looked around at his friends. “Ready?” he asked, gripping it by the back and holding it above the stone table. A chorus of nods was all the acknowledgment that he needed, and he slammed the gem face-down against the table. He had expected a shattering sound, like that of glass, and for shards of gemstone to scatter out from the explosive force, but instead the gem vanished, leaving the empty gold setting behind.
A heartbeat of time passed and then a shimmering oval, similar to that of a portal but much smaller appeared a few feet in front of Beddigan’s face. In it, Lady Lisanne’s face appeared.
“I wondered how long after Shianne left it would take you to use the gem.” She said, a half smile adorning her mouth. Beddigan was momentarily irritated, but ignored the feeling.
“We have much to report and a request to make, but I have no idea how long this type of communication lasts so I’ll be brief.” He said, taking a steadying breath. “We’ve done it. We have secured the forces we need to fight back the Wolves and save our lands. We will be heading out, marching south into Illensdar in just a few days.” He paused to give the sorceress time to react, but all her got was a firm nod in response, so he continued on. “Shianne though, I fear, is nearly out of time to save her paw. We are wondering if it’s possible to do as you did before with Clottie, and have the Mage here contact you by mind so that you may get a picture of this place to open a portal to. We can send Shianne and Ragnon threw now and they can try and make it to Rollstad before the term is up on the cuff.”
Lady Lisanne smiled in response,
“Step aside and there will be no need for mind contact, for I will be able to see the room your are in.” Beddigan stepped aside hastily so that the sorceress could see Karrinah’s library. “Gather your things, Shianne, Ragnon, and say your goodbyes. I will open the portal in ten minutes time, and will only be able to hold it for a few moments.” And with that the oval of light snapped shut leaving a momentary shimmering distortion in the air before fading away completely.
“Well, that is that then. I will send a maid to fetch your things.” Karrinah said with a gentle clasp of her hooves, before she slipped out of the room to give the group a few moments alone together to say goodbye.
“Can’t say I’m looking forward to seeing dear old dad again, but to save your paw, it’ll be worth it.” Ragnon said with a scowl that morphed into a half smile. Shianne looped her arm around the Wolf’s shoulders and tucked him close with a brilliant laugh.
“Don’t worry, my friend. I won’t let him have you any longer than is necessary.” Beddigan smiled at his friends.
“Best of luck to you, and we’ll see you soon then.” He murmured. Shianne pushed away from Ragnon and threw her arms around him.
“We don’t need luck, Beddy. And neither do you.” She breathed into his ear, giving him a firm squeeze. She stepped back and Ragnon stepped forward. They embraced quickly and Beddigan offered the Wolf another reassuring smile,
“I have no doubt in Shianne’s ability… but if you somehow find yourself trapped with the Wolves, rest assured you have myself and William ready to extract you as soon as we get back.” It was then that Beddigan noticed William was nowhere to be seen. He had been quiet all through dinner. “Now where did that Bear get off to?” he said, and his companions shrugged in response.
The door to the library opened and Karrinah entered, followed by two maids carrying Shianne and Ragnon’s bags. His friends stepped forward to take them, thanking the Deer who bowed quickly and left. Karrinah embraced each of them with a few quiet words, but Beddigan was too distracted by William’s absence to pay attention to what was being said.
Serina held up a time piece,
“Should be any minute now.” The Panther said brightly. Beddigan felt William’s presence before the Bear even entered the room. His eyes lingered on the bags he carried. A pang of dismay clenched in his gut as the Bear approached him, with worry and sadness in his eyes.
“Beddigan…” his friend started. Beddigan held up a paw and forced a smile, nodding.
“No need to explain, my friend. You must go, and in fact, we must have you go, for we need to know where Sinerrah stands in this war. The sooner the better.” He quickly embraced his friend. “No need to worry about me. I’ll be fine.” He added with a smile, just as the shimmering portal appeared in the centre of the room.
Shianne stepped forward first, flashing them all a quick grin.
“Ta-ta now folks!” she said brightly, before stepping through the portal. Ragnon gave them all a nod and toothy grin,
“Don’t have too much fun without me!” he said before disappearing into the shimmering oval. William gave them all one last look, a curt nod, and then disappeared with the portal snapping shut immediately behind him.
The three of them stood there quietly for a moment as the weight of the day settled down upon them.
“Marvelous, just marvelous.” Serina murmured, inspecting the air where the portal had been. Karrinah approached him and slipped her graceful arm into the crook of his own.
“Come now, Beddigan. Let us adjourn to the patio for a bit of fresh air before sleep. Tomorrow will be a big day and you need rest.” Beddigan nodded absentmindedly and allowed himself to be lead away, his mind far away with his friends in the Losley Deadwoods.
To be continued…
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