Beddigan stared out the window of the carriage at the countryside rolling by. It was beginning to look much less like desert tundra, and much more like the rolling plains of his homeland; the landscape dotted with farms of wheat and barley, and vegetable patches as large as he had ever seen. Next to him on the bench seat was William, taking up a great deal of the space, with Ragnon sitting across from the Bear. This left their new companions, Serina, Mage of the Pantherlands, to sit directly across from him.
After the momentary weirdness at Serina’s home, where he had found himself revealing much more than he intended to the Feline, he hadn’t felt any other sense of unease, and she had actually turned out to be a quite gracious host. They had rested for several hours at her place after their talk, and then ate richly at an establishment devoted to variety of food service, with lists of items that could be ordered, unlike anything the trio of companions had ever seen. Serina had informed them that the place was called a restaurant and that they were very popular in the Empire.
They had been travelling by carriage for two days and nights, stopping at Inns in villages along the way to sleep comfortably in soft beds with heavy blankets. Today, Serina had told them, they would reach the Capital city of Coronam and would be introduced to the Lord Regent, steward of all Feline lands and more in this part of the world, the great leader of the Empire. Using a form of magic that Beddigan and his companions were unfamiliar with, she had sent word to the Capital ahead of their arrival.
“Ahh,” Serina murmured softly, breaking the silence, “We are almost to the city limits. It won’t be long now, new friends!” Beddigan’s head snapped up to look at her, confusion furrowing his brow.
“How can you know that? There is no window for you to see out. And the window I’ve been staring out of has not changed from the view of acres of farmland that I have been seeing for many hours.” Serina laughed in that vibrant, silky way that she had first announced her arrival in the Oceanside village.
“I see with much more than my eyes, dear Beddigan.” Ragnon offered him a grin from across the seat,
“She’s a Mage, mate. Far as I can tell that it like a top-shelf sorcerer.” Serina laughed again. It occurred to Beddigan that not only did she not address Ragnon’s statement, but in all the time they had spent with her, she had given them no indication of the nature of her power, nor the scope. And for some reason, he had not asked. A queer feeling fluttered in his stomach as she met his eyes and he saw a knowing glint in them.
“Since we’ve still a bit of time, my lady, perhaps now would be a good time to ask you about how this magic that does come to your people manifests.” He hesitated a moment against a feeling that he should just go back to looking out the window, but then continued. “It only seems fair, considering we told you nearly everything about our lands, and the magics found there.” Serina’s eyes glittered with amusement. She reached across the carraige and patted his knee with a smirk.
“Ahh, very good, Beddigan, most impressive! You’ve broken the thrall, and in such a short time. Magic does indeed come easily to your people.” Beddigan looked at her and his companions with confusion.
“What thrall? And what magic? I have never shown any talent for it.” He asked, his eyes darting around the cabin to find only looks of bewilderment on his friend’s faces.
William began to growl,
“She’s been manipulating us with her power!” Realization flooded Beddigan as he remembered the peculiar feelings of trust and compulsion to speak when they had first spent time with the Mage. It had happened curiously often throughout the days they had spent with her, but the feeling never stuck long enough for him to analyze it further. He looked back into Serina’s eyes, searchingly.
“I needed your cooperation and honesty to be easy, so I used a compulsion spell on you to tell me about your land and not withhold anything. And then to test your resiliency to magic, I have touched you all with the thrall here and there over the past few days.” William’s growl cut through again, but she held up her paw to cease the Bear’s anger. “Fear not, dear Bear, I would not harm you in any way. And we do not use compulsion spells lightly, here in the Empire.”
Ragnon made a small, frustrated noise.
“I didn’t feel but a thing!” the Wolf complained. Serina laughed again,
“I get the sense you would have if the thrall had lasted a day or so longer.” Beddigan crossed his arms over his chest and fixed her with a disapproving look.
“I don’t much care for being magically manipulated, Mage. We would have told you what you wanted to know without the thrall.” Serina shrugged,
“I couldn’t have known that. I made the decision I made and I stand by it.” The carriage pulled to a stop and Beddigan was suddenly aware that they were now within a bustling city. “Now, we haven’t any more time to discuss this anyway, so let’s just put it behind us and allow me to introduce you to the Empire of the Lions, my dear friends.” The Panther swung open the door and stepped out of the carriage. Beddigan nodded to his companions to indicate he felt their discomfort, but this was, after all, what they has come all this way for. Beddigan heard William grumble as they got out of the carriage,
“Not friends.” And stifled a small laugh at the Bear, whose temperament had only continued to worsen. And then Beddigan was too distracted by the immensity and beauty of the city that sprawled around them. The city was built up in tiered rings around a hill, and the carriage had brought them up through it all to its flattened peak, where a sprawling palace sat. The city stretched around them and out towards the horizon. He could still make out the distant farmlands they had passed through, though from how deep inland they had come, he could not tell from which direction they had entered the city, or where the Bintack Oceania lay.
Turning back to the palace he admired the glowing, golden domes atop soaring towers and walls of a rough looking yellow stone. Ragnon came around the carriage to stand next to him, he too taking in the massive scope and beauty of the palace before them.
“Seems like being a Lion is the way to be.” The Wolf drawled. Beddigan nodded as William joined them. The Bear said nothing. Serina had stepped towards the low flight of wide stairs to speak with two uniformed guards, and Beddigan took the moment to really look at the two lions that stood on guard at the steps. They had massive manes of dark, red-orange fur, and a deep golden yellow fur covering the rest of them. They wore brilliantly red sleeveless doublets that flared out and fell to mid-thigh, decorated with gold insignias, and then heavy brown boots. No tights or breeches of any kind. Interesting choice, Beddigan mused to himself as Serina waved them forward.
They followed the graceful Panther up the stairs, nodding politely to the stoic guards at they passed, and crossed an immense flagstone courtyard. Two more guards flanked a set of heavy double doors and moved to open them as they approached. Inside the palace people scurried past in a flurry of activity. Beddigan noticed as they would their way through great corridors and vaulted rooms, that only guards wore the emblazoned red outfits. Everyone else was dressed in simple tunics, the females often sporting an apron and fabric hat, and breeches. It was hard to tell from garb the difference between a scullery maid and a lady in waiting, though he supposed it didn’t matter much for him to know the difference anyhow.
They finally reached a hall that ended in another pair of heavy double doors flanked by guards. A simple wooded bench sat along the wall near the doors and and Serina gestured to it.
“Wait here a moment, my dear friends, and I will let the Lord Regent know of our arrival.” Serina approached and spoke quietly to one of the guards who nodded and opened his side of the door a sliver to allow her to slip inside.
Beddigan turned to his friend and offered a reassuring smile, as both William and Ragnon looked tense.
“This is what we have come all this way for, friends. May Annalose and Ardra smile upon us and allow the Lions to lend us the aid we need.” Ragnon and William both nodded stiffly. After a moment William spoke softly, his voice a great, low rumble in the echoing hall,
“I worry for Elenya and the children.” His voice was low, barely above a whisper. “I don’t like not knowing what is happening back home.” Beddigan patted the Bear’s back. How long have you been holding that in, old friend? He thought.
“I know, old friend. I worry for Clottie too, and for all of Katheyra. Hopefully our return will be swift and with it we will bring an army the Wolves cannot match!” William offered him a small smile and nodded.
The large door creaked open at the end of the corridor and Serina stepped out and beckoned them forth. They were lead into a room lit brightly with golden lamplight, a thick, red carpet stretching from the doors to the far end of the chamber, where on a raised chunk of the same yellow stone the building was made from, sat a throne worthy of an emperor. Ornately hewn from gold and adorned with jewels, with overlays of soft silk cushions, it truly was a chair fit for a king. As the approached, with Serina at the lead, the figure sitting in the throne became clearer, until they were standing just a few feet from the Lion, draped in a red and white robe. His mane was streaked with white and his paws adorned with jewels.
Serina bowed low, and the trio followed suit swiftly.
“My Lord, these are the strangers who have come from the lands below the Southern Wall. May I introduce, Beddigan T. Mouze of Illensdar. William Bearhelm of Sinnerah. And Ragnon Rollstad of Mormant.” The Lord Regent inclined his head slightly to each of them. Serina turned to face them, “And this, my new friends, is the Steward of the united lands, the Lord Regent of the Empire of the Lions.” Beddigan met the Lion’s eyes and smiled,
“I cannot thank you enough for seeing us so swiftly, my Lord.” He said, taking the title that Serina had addressed the Lion with. “We are in great need of assistance to battle the war our lands sit on the cusp of.” The great Lion looked down at them for a long moment before he spoke.
“Serina has relayed all to me of the troubles in your lands, and you have my deepest sympathies. War is hard on all, especially the land itself.” Beddigan nodded and the Lord Regent continued. “And to ask for assistance in a war is to bring war to a people, and should not be asked lightly.” Beddigan started to speak, but the Lord Regent held up a paw to stop him. “We have much to discuss, Beddigan, but for now, what I would like you to tell me about is these crystals that I see dangling from your belt, and the powers that they contain.” Beddigan started to speak again, to protest the relevancy of discussing the crystals right then, but a look from the Lord Regent caused his mouth to shut of a will not his own. “And with your answer, we will decide here and now, if we will continue this discussion further, so choose your words carefully.”
Beddigan swallowed the lump that immediately formed in his throat and began to explain how sorcery worked in their homelands and how crystals were used, to the Lion who quite possibly held the fate of his home in his enormous paw.
To be Continued…
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