Making Plans - Part I
fter what felt like an eternity, Charles finally struggled up from the bounds of an unwanted sleep, his body sore, and resentful at his attempts to rise. Blinking into bleary half-formed surroundings, the rat struggled against the confining bag that held him fast, pushing the cloth away, but aching at every motion. The greatest pain was across his back, which felt as if a spike had been driven into the flesh, and sewed in place. Yet, there was one balm, a pleasant surcease from his stultified blackness, that smiling face of his dulcet lady; the last thing he could remember seeing.
And then, when his feverish images began to coalesce into something coherent, he realized that the image he saw was not that of Lady Kimberly, but of that opossum who he had saved from the bridge. The bridge? Yes, the one that he and the Glenners had gone to destroy. What had happened to it? He had lain over Baerle, and then, terrible agony had filled him, and then nothing. Where was he?
Suddenly, the blackness was sucked from his eyes as he bolted upright from the convulsing phantasms of his unconscious self. Blinking wide, he stared at a small room shorn from the rock, with braziers lining the walls and casting the place in a friendly glow. Looking down at his paws before him, he saw that he was lying in a bed, covered by thick quilts. Over his chest were bandages wrapped tightly around his ribs. He reached up to gingerly press against them, and grimaced, a dull throbbing pain resounding through him.
Obviously, Charles realised that he was back at Glen Avery, but what had happened? He turned to climb from the bed, but the pain in his spine sent him falling back onto the pillow in a terrible exhaustion. His tongue lolled from his mouth as he panted, the heat of even trying to move that much draining him completely. The falling timbers must have injured him more than he’d realized; he was probably lucky to still be alive in fact. But what about the others? Surely they did not go unscathed in that bridge’s angry fall.
His question was answered a moment later, at least in part, when he heard a shifting behind him, a creak of old wood, much like a chair. Charles put one elbow beneath him, and with a grunt and a heavy breath, he rolled over onto his side, and peered over his pillows at the figure behind him. Slouched over in one of Lars’ chairs from the brewery, was the grey-furred opossum whose face he’d seen in his dreams. Baerle was reluctantly sleeping, her narrow snout resting on one of her small paws, the long white claws slicing through her muzzle fur and whiskers. Most of the white powder still clung to her in patches, and there were splinters of wood still imbedded in her fur from after the bridge’s collapse.
Charles could not help but afford a small smile. She’d been watching over him as he lay here ever since he’d been brought back, not even taking the time to refresh herself. His chest felt a bit lighter at that, despite how uncertain she had made him feel the previous day. He could almost feel that impromptu kiss on his muzzle, and he had to suppress a chuckle, as his ribs groaned at the thought of it. He wondered idly why she had played with him during that voyage, but found no immediate answer that made sense to him. However, he did not have much time to ponder such matters, before the opossum stirred, her long white tail gripping the chair leg tightly. Yawning, she stretched her arms out wide, and blinked drowsiness from her eyes. She then saw that the rat was awake and watching her, a small smile crisscrossing his whiskered muzzle, and so returned the expression, her dimpled cheeks casting a glow upon her face that the braziers could not match. “Ah, you’re awake,” she said, her voice smooth. “We were wondering if you were ever going to recover.”
Charles nodded, and then leaned back on his pillows. “What happened? How badly was I hurt?”
“You broke four ribs,” she said reproachfully. “You almost died on the way back to the Glen, you know.” Her voice was slightly accusing, as if his injuries were entirely his fault.
“Four?” Charles murmured, pressing his fingers up against the white bandages, and wincing. He kept running them along the shape of his chest though, but could feel no twisted bones, or bones in places they shouldn’t be.
“Burris used his magic to mend them, but they’re still weak, so you are going to have to stay here for a while,” Baerle said, bringing the chair around to the side of the bed so that they could talk without the rat straining himself.
“I’ve never had four before,” Charles murmured, as if proud of his injuries. Baerle scowled at him as he said that, and swatted one of his round ears with a paw.
“Don’t you think about it.”
“Think about what?” Charles asked innocently, even as he tried to sit up, holding his paws up before his face to ward off any more swats.
“Going back out to fight. You are in no condition to leave this room until those ribs heal.” Charles wondered if she’d used the same routine on her father while he was still alive.
“But I’m very useful, and it really isn’t that bad,” Matthias grunted as he shifted back onto his elbows.
Baerle snorted indignantly, her tail lashing about behind her. “Men! Anson said almost the exact same thing, and all he did was break a leg. You can’t even sit up and you think you are ready to go out fighting again. You’d be dead in five minutes if you tried. You are staying in this bed until I say you can leave.”
Charles groaned, and laid back down on the pillow, panting once again. He hated to admit it, but she was right, he was in no shape to help his friends in whatever was to happen next. Nodding slowly, he sighed, and then acquiesced, “You’re right, I ought to recover more before I go back out. But I am going to go back out, and soon. I just need to get used to the pain first. I’ll be fine after that.”
Baerle put a finger to his chest, as he tried to rise again, and he gasped, collapsing back on the bed, his dark eyes wide from the sudden pain that had flooded him. “Oh, is that all you have to do?” she asked archly, her eyes imperious, yet there was something else behind them that the rat could not yet identify.
“I said you were right,” Matthias spluttered, gasping once more for breath, each inhalation causing a new round of stars to flash inside of his head. Closing his yes, he rolled into the pillow, welcoming blackness into his mind. Then, with a sudden lance of fear, he pushed the darkness away, forcing his eyelids to come open, gazing out past his furry snout towards the opossum who sat watching him. Forcing his breath down, he repeated, “I said you were right.”
“Good,” she said sternly, before uncrossing her arms and leaning forward, her face taking on that mischievous girlish aspect, like the one she’d bore just after kissing him. “Now, what would you like to talk about? Is there anything you’d like me to do for you? I used to give my father massages when he was sore, if you are interested.”
The thought of asking her to give him a massage almost caused him to splutter in embarrassment. Instead, all he managed was a dry cough, hacking for a moment or two until he’d caught his breath again, chest stinging on all sides. “No, thank you. I would like to know what happened after the bridge fell. Did everyone make it out all right?”
She looked at him curiously, reaching a paw out to straighten the fur atop his head. Charles was too sore to protest. “Not everyone made it okay,” she said pointedly, but then added, “but everyone made it. Anson’s leg was broken, but he thinks he’s fine. Lady Avery is making sure he gets his rest. A few of Angus’s men have cuts and bruises, but otherwise, we managed remarkably well. We even have Baron Calephas for a prisoner!”
Charles blinked several times, trying to sit up in surprise, until his chest convinced him that was an unwise move. Baerle continued to stroke her claws across his head between his saucer-shaped ears, and he had to admit it was very comforting. He thought of the times that Lady Kimberly had done the same for him while they were lying out underneath the summer sun in one of the Keep’s gardens. He hoped that she was all right, but even the thought of her filled him with worry.
However, it was short-lived, as the news that Baerle brought was great indeed. “Truly? That is a major coup then. How did we mange that?”
The opossum shrugged as she leaned close to him, her scent filling his nostrils. Was it just his imagination, or did her odour seem entirely too receptive? Shaking such distracting thoughts from his mind, he listened to her voice instead. “I’m not sure exactly how, I’ve been watching over you since you managed to hurt yourself, but I do know that his own sergeants turned traitor on him.”
“What’s being done with him?”
“Lord Avery and Angus are interrogating him I believe. You know how intimidating Angus can be sometimes.” After Charles gave a mild chuckle that did not end in a hacking spasm of coughs, Baerle went on, “His sergeants gave us their weapons, and so are unarmed for now, but otherwise I think they are free to come and go as they please. They’re both big men though. It would take four of you to make one of them, I think!”
“I’ve seen Northerner’s before, they are gigantic,” Charles agreed.
“They’re helping our men make new weapons right now, I think. At least that is what Amelia told me when she came in with fresh linens for you a few hours back.”
Charles studied her, his own face quizzical. “Fresh linens? Why would I need those?”
Baerle laughed spritely at that, and cocked her head to one side. “You’ve been bedridden for almost a day now. You can’t very well use your chamber pot lying down can you?”
“Oh,” Charles said, flushing once more in embarrassment. He gingerly lifted his sheets with one paw, and peered down, which only caused the opossum to laugh again.
“Don’t worry, I cleaned it up. I’ve had to do it for my father for years now as well.”
The rat flushed even more, his whiskers standing out to their tips. She’d cleaned him up, which meant she’d touched him down there. Nobody had ever touched him down there in years, not even Lady Kimberly! He wished he hadn’t asked about the sheets now, as he would have been perfectly happy remaining ignorant of the entire affair. At the very least, Charles could console himself that this was nothing special for her, she’d done it for her father after all. Yet, for some reason, he felt she derived a secret amount of delight from taking care of him like this, and he could not understand why.
So, he turned the conversation back in directions that he felt were less compromising for him. “Why do you need to build more weapons, I thought you had plenty here.”
“We did,” she said, her face taking on the serious note once more. “But Nasoj’s forces swept down on us so fast, we weren’t able to stockpile them in sufficient numbers. We have enough swords and daggers, but many of our longer bows were broken.”
“So you are trying to repair them?” Charles asked, though for some reason, he doubted that, as he was vaguely aware the difficult process involved in shaping a bow.
“No, silly, we are using the pieces for what we can. The snapped strings make wonderful garrottes, very good for taking out sentries.”
“What do they want to use all this for? We’ve taken out the supply line, so now what can we do?”
Baerle leaned forward again and tapped a claw on his pink nose. “You can stay in bed and rest,” she said pointedly, pressing that claw down, making the rat’s whiskers twitch uncomfortably. “As for the others, I think that Lord Avery wants to help save Metamor. I think they’re going to attack Nasoj’s forces from the rear as soon as they can force Baron Calephas to talk.”
Charles’s eyes raised, and he found himself trying to rise once more, the pain in his chest filling him again, but he did his best to ignore it. “If we are going to help Metamor, I have to be there, it’s my home!”
But, once again the opossum simply pressed her claws into his ribs, and with a grunt, he fell back onto the pillow, breathing heavily. She waited several moments, shaking her head at him. With her watching over him like this, he knew that he was not likely to join in the fight until she thought he was ready. Yet, despite that, there was sympathy in her eyes this time. “You’ll be no good to us when we do go, not like this. You’d delay us at every turn, and where would we be then, hmm?”
Charles closed his eyes, even as he continued to catch his breath. Finally, after the agony had left his bones, returning to that dull throbbing that was bearable, he answered her in despairing tones. “But Metamor is my home!”
“Then why did you come here to fight with us?” The question struck the rat as more curious than anything else.
“Because of Garigan, my student. I promised him that as soon as he reached a certain point in his training, he could return to Glen Avery freely. When we found out that the Keep was under attack, he insisted on coming to save his home, but I knew that if he tried to make it, he would be caught and killed. So I insisted that I go with him, and so here I am.”
“And your human friends?”
“They wanted to come along as well.”
She nodded then, and leaned back in her chair, tail swinging back and forth, rubbing at the polished wood. Finally, she bent down and retrieved something from the floor at the rat’s bedside. Matthias watched with keen interest, hoping sourly that food was in his near future. He hated having to be waited on like this, but much to his chagrin, Baerle was right, he couldn’t do practically anything for himself in his condition.
Yet, what she lifted was not anything edible, but the thick black cloth of his Sondeckis robe. She turned it over in her palms, the white of her paw fur brighter in contrast. Finally, she managed to draw the heraldry to the top, the folds of the robe making the white sword appear bent, and the red palm crooked, almost like a paw. “You were all wearing robes like these when we found you, except that Garigan’s was green. What does this mean? I’ve never seen anything like it before.”
With a sullen pang of irony, he realized that Nasoj’s attack had forced the issue. He could no longer hide who he was. The bloody kangaroo was going to have his way after all because of this. Somehow, that only made him despise his former friend all the more. However, he could only hope that the marsupial met an unfortunate end during the attack, as his neck was not here for the rat to sink his claws into.
Even so, he still had to answer her question. Taking a deep breath, and thankfully not descending into a coughing fit for having done so, he began, “I’m not surprised. That is the symbol of the mage clan that we four belong to. Well, we aren’t officially members as such, and my elders do not even know of our ferret. But that tells others who we are and what we can do.”
“You are a mage?” she asked, her voice trembling slightly.
“Not like Burris, or most of the magicians you’ve seen certainly. I can’t cast any spells in the normal sense of the word. We have a power born within us that lets us use physical force in ways that ordinary men cannot, and most mages cannot. That’s how we were able to break the foundation of the bridge, because we are stronger than we appear, far stronger.”
She traced her claws over the sword, and around the hand. “How can Garigan be a member if your elders don’t know about him?”
Charles fumbled with his words for a moment. “Well, he isn’t technically. When I was here last April, I saw that he had the power in him, and so I took him back with me to Metamor to train him to master it, instead of the other way around.”
“His power controlled him?” Baerle asked, her voice mostly curious now, seeking.
“Yes, our power feeds on our emotions. Ask any of his friends here about how he was acting before he left for Metamor last April. He was surly, grouchy, and very combative. You’ve seen how he is now.”
Baerle shook her head, “Only a little while watching him in the bar. I didn’t come to Glen Avery until last June after all.”
Charles nodded as he laid against his pillow. “I remember you mentioning that before. Anyway, had I not trained him, his power might possibly have killed him. It won’t do that now, he’s learned enough to keep it under control.”
She continued to fold the cloak in her paws, running her paws across the dark fabric, feeling the rough edges of the seam. “Will you be going back to Metamor after?”
“After what?” Charles asked.
“After all this is over, and you’ve recovered I mean. Will you take Garigan back to Metamor with you?”
“I would like to, yes,” Charles admitted. The truth of the matter was, he’d never even thought that far ahead. Now that they were in Glen Avery, he had no hold on the ferret, and if he should decide to stay, how could the rat compel him otherwise? Reluctantly, he added, with a painful sigh, “But, that is his decision.”
“What of your human friends? Were they both women before?”
Charles did his best not to laugh. “No, they haven’t been touched by the curse yet. I imagine they’ll stay only as long as they have to, unless the curse takes them. I wonder if that wouldn’t be such a bad thing after all.” His voice trailed off as he considered what that could mean. With three black Sondeckis, there would be little to fear from the Kankoran at least. He could even give back the Sondeshike simply to appease Misha, as it would do Rickkter little good.
Even so, he felt slightly ashamed at that line of reasoning. Misha was his friend, somebody he cared deeply about. And he had betrayed a trust in keeping that Sondeshike. Yet, the great unknown was whether he could trust Rickkter far enough to let him have the weapon back. He did not know for certain, but he was afraid that he could not.
“And you are going back to the Keep once this over?” she asked finally, her voice rather distant, though Charles could not quite tell why.
“Of course, that is my home.”
She nodded absently, gently stroking his head fur with one claw. It was much like Lady Kimberly did while they were laying together, he thought. Even so, Baerle sudden withdrawal did strike the rat as unpleasant, and so he scooted up a bit under the covers and offered her a pleasant smile. “Were you an archer before you came to the Glen?”
She nodded, turning her muzzle to one side, considering the sconce along the rough hewn stone wall. The light it cast made dizzying shadows along the contours of the cave, always flickering and shifting about him as if they were spinning about. “After Nasoj’s forces destroyed Mycransburg, I took up the bow. I was only twelve at the time, and hadn’t changed yet. Most of the boys my age had been killed in the raze, and as many of the older men who’d survived were now women, they let me practise with them. The bow was the only weapon I was really any good at.”
“Have you had much chance to use it?”
“More now that I’m here at the Glen than before, but yes, I’ve killed my fair share of Lutins. They like to raid our farms you know. Mycransburg is still too poorly defended, even after all these years. I remember the days when I would play with one of the ard’Kapler boys out in the rolling fields with the cattle, doing our best not to step in the pies. He was older than me by eight years I think, but he was a midget, and hated being around his family. He went off to Metamor a year or two before the attack to become a mage I think.”
Charles grimaced, his breath sucking in warmly. “Wessex,” he murmured, remembering the dead child’s eyes, haunting grey embers that flared with maleficent light.
Baerle nodded, turning to face him, muzzle cracking in a dimpled smile, her eyes brightening. “Yes, that is him. Do you know him?”
“I did,” Charles said, looking to that face, so innocent, despite all the pain that surely she’d had to face. He could not help but feel a great compassion for her. “I’m sorry, Baerle, but he’s dead.”
Her eyes faded then, dark embers dwindling into ash. “Oh,” she said, leaning back in the chair, her paws settling in her lap negligently. “I’m sorry to hear that.”
“Not as sorry as I am to have to tell you this. I wish I could give better news to you,” Charles reached out a paw from under the quilts and laid it atop of hers, gripping them in a comforting touch. She returned the gesture, holding onto his paw, as if it were a sacred treasure, an heirloom that had been passed on from a dying elder
“I’d rather know,” she said softly, her eyes meeting his again. There was a subtle warmth to them that they shared in that moment of rapport. “How did he die?”
Charles sucked in his breath, unsure of how to respond. In all truth, he did not know who had killed the young mage, only that it had been a most horrific death, most likely caused by another mage. To make one undead was not easy, and there would have to be an investigation of it when Nasoj was finally stopped, if he was at all. Sighing, he said the only thing that he could, “He was one of the first casualties of Nasoj’s invasion. I helped put him to rest before coming here. I’m sure he is somewhere far better now.” He did not mention that the boy had been a well known agnostic at the Keep, as he did not know to what faith Baerle subscribed.
She nodded solemnly, her gaze descending step by step into a melancholy that was tearing at Charles’s heart. There was such a vivacious spirit in her, and the rat could not bear to see it quenched at the loss of an old friend. He’d lost too many himself. Reaching his paw even further, he gently stroked it along her arm, offering her his smile yet again. “Baerle, it is all right, please don’t cry.”
She held onto his paw tighter, shaking her head. “I’m not crying!” she declared, though her eyes were wet. “I’m not crying,” she added, though with less conviction than before.
Charles leaned over slightly, his chest groaning in protest. His other arm came around and he gently pressed a claw beneath her muzzle, raising her eyes to met his. “Yes you are,” he said, though he did his best to keep a certain amount of levity in his voice.
And it proved enough, for her eyes brimmed then as she laughed, her body shaking, and her visage bright once more. She patted Charles on the head with one paw as she tightly held the other. Then, not feeling that was enough, she leaned over his bedside and wrapped his chest in a gentle hug. It did hurt slightly, but not enough for him to object. As she drew back up, she pressed her muzzle to his, and kissed him quickly.
“Thank you, Charles,” she said, before she laughed again. Charles’s expression was once more that of shock, as his nose scrunched up, in disbelief that they’d kissed. “You look really cute like that, you know.”
He grunted, and then lay back on the pillow. He felt his stomach growl at him again, as well as another unpleasant sensation a bit lower on his anatomy. Grimacing, he patted the top of the quilts for emphasis, “Is there anything I can get to eat here? I haven’t eaten in days I think.”
She chuckled again, and rose from his bedside, her long white tail circling one of the chair legs. “Of course, I’ll go bring something back in a bit. You just rest there, and we can talk more when I get back, all right?”
He smiled and nodded, watching her leave out through the doorway at one end of the room. When he heard the soft click of the latch, he breathed a sigh of relief, and tossed back the coverlets. Aside from the bandage wrapped over his chest, he was completely naked, but it was not something that embarrassed him as much as it used too. Peering over the edge of the mattress, he could see where his clothes had been piled, and the black chamber pot at one corner.
He grinned at that, and began to draw himself up into a sitting position. It took quite a bit of energy, and by the time he had his legs dangling over the end of the bed, he was panting again, and holding onto the sheets to keep from falling back down. With a ginger push, he slowly slipped his feet to the cold ground, letting his paws feel the stone beneath them. He kept his arms pressed against the bed for support, as he did not think he could stand otherwise.
Then, kneeling over the chamber pot, he took care of one pressing concern. It felt good knowing that he would not have to worry about Baerle cleaning him again!
|Talk to me!|