Making Plans - Part III

Lord Avery had already had two mazer’s full of mead, yet his nerves were still wound tight, like a new sapling tied in a knot, threatening to work loose and swing violently about smacking all who were nearby. The badger who was morosely glaring at the map before them was not much better, every now and then striking the table in heated frustration, and constantly pacing on his wide girth. Lady Avery’s slender paw was resting on Brian’s shoulder, her words soft-spoken, and soothing, but ultimately, could not remove the stain that Calephas had left upon them.

His boys were off to one side of the bar, still rubbing down the slender shafts of fir that had been collected. Their small rasps were more than adequate to add the proper notches, and to make the indentations necessary for the fletching. They were not discouraged by the fact that several of the scouts that they had grown up with were now dead. Rather, they appeared emboldened to try and help all those that they lived in this forest with. Though Brian did not know which would take his place and watch over the Glen, he knew in his heart that they would be good stewards, either of them.

Yet, his knuckles hardened, the flesh beneath his fur whitening with strain as the horrid images that Calephas had implanted rose once more to the surface. That beast who only bore the semblance of a man wanted to use Brian’s progeny for his sexual amusement, debasing their bodies in whatever fashion he chose, before throttling the life from them, and discarding their useless flesh in some faeces-infested gutter. That very notion burned Avery’s heart, and made him wish nothing more than to see the Baron’s privates skewered and cooked, among other even less wholesome mutilations.

Yet, as he listened to the soothing words his wife murmured into his short, round ears, he knew that his mind out to be elsewhere, and not on devising more interesting and painful tortures for the dog of a man locked in their redwood cell. Leaning back, he ran a single paw up into her cheek fur, disturbing the grey of her ruff, his dark eyes meeting hers, and sharing an instant of untamed fear. And then, sighing, he said softly, “I love you, Angela.”

Her short muzzle broke into a gentle smile, and she pressed her two large teeth against the side of his head, planting a kiss upon his own ruff. She then blinked in sweet but reassuring delight. Though, with a bit of mischief about her, she replied, “I’ll think about it.”

Lord Avery laughed then, finding the tension in his body relaxing somewhat, as he turned back and gave her a kiss of her own, his nose twitching at her lovely scent. There was a tinge to it that was pleasantly familiar. With a bit of chagrin, he realized that she was beginning to come into season. He blinked in surprise as he recognized this fact, appearing almost embarrassed as he sat there facing her.

She caught the look and nodded, knowing precisely what he’d realized. Setting a single claw upon his nose, she tapped it in admonishment. “After Nasoj’s troops have been beaten, dear.”

Angus peered up at them curiously, but said nothing, his own nose quite capable of telling him all that he’d needed to know. Instead, he set his dark orbs back on the map of the Valley that was stretched out before them on the table. Leaning forward, he rubbed the white diamond on his forehead, pretending to be lost in his own thought, despite the fact that the Baron had rendered him too incensed to keep focussed.

“Well, I think we should really try to work out a plan of action,” Lord Avery suddenly interjected, his voice filled with new purpose. Angus did not mention he had a very good idea what that purpose might be. In fact, he found it quite amusing, something that he would have to confront his friend about over a good mazer of mead one day, many months from now.

Several of the other Glenners began to approach their table, setting down the work they’d been doing. Most were busy repairing broken weapons, piecing together new shirts of mail, sewing cloth garments to help protect them from the chill season, or lying down with their muzzle in their arms to catch a bit of sleep between patrol shifts. In one corner, Walter looked up briefly, but then returned to stitching appliqué heraldry of the Glen into various tunics and coats. She’d insisted that they allow her that vocation while they kept her cooped up in these travertine caves away from her home and her looms. Avery knew that she did not blame him for this, and so had not argued, but allowed the tailor to pursue her own agenda when she was not needed elsewhere.

Alldis came up behind Brian from the other side, and crossed his long arms, the thick black nails of his three fingered hand tapping his elbows. “Well, what exactly did you have in mind? You said the Baron was not very forthcoming. Aside from that relay station, of course.”

Angus shook his head and hit the table again with his thick fist. The table shook with the force of the blow, and the mazer set before Lord Avery nearly toppled, if it were not for the squirrel’s swift paw. “He gave us numbers of troops, and as they were, we could never hope to match them. Presumably the Metamorians have dispatched a good number of them by now, but we can’t depend on that.”

“And presumably Nasoj is there,” Alldis finished for him, lifting that hoof-like hand to tap at his slender snout. “It could be a lie of course, I would hardly expect honesty from a man of his habits, but what if it is true?”

A small voice pipped up, though the speaker was obviously nervous, “He is a powerful mage. If we tried to attack him, he could scatter us to the winds, milords.”

Angus grunted as his eyes trailed to the white ermine who had been sharpening his mein gauche against a whetstone. Fellen had been under the boot-heel of the thankfully late Lord Loriod, and so had trouble escaping the subservient habits that the fat man had instilled in him. And it had not just been through force of arms either that he’d had his spirit ground to dust, but also through the geas of magic. It was little wonder that he feared Nasoj so.

Berchem however shook his head, even as he continued to dust some of the white powder from his fur. He’d just recently returned from a patrol of the region, but had found not even a single Lutin skulking about in the thick snow. “An arrow can kill any man, if they do not see it coming,” he said simply, his voice carrying with it the weight of the many years he’d been an archer.

“If he comes out into the open,” Fellen countered, his tail whipping from side to side in his nervous tension.

“Well, that is all well and good, but it doesn’t help us too terribly much,” Lord Avery pointed out, spreading his paws before him as he rose from his seat. Angela stood close to his side, her paw still resting upon his shoulder, even as her long, bushy tail mingled with his own. “We have to decide what to do. I believe at least one thing that Calephas said. If Metamor falls, then so will the rest of us.”

“I’m afraid he is right about that,” Alldis muttered sourly.

“He is,” Brian continued. “If Metamor falls, so do we. That is why I believe that Nasoj has centred his forces on the Keep. We should find token resistance throughout the rest of the Valley, because the great bulk of their forces are here,” he tapped the castle which occupied near the very centre of the pass between the mountains. “We’ve destroyed their supply line, and we’ll have taken that relay station soon, but I do not believe that it will hurt them at all anymore.”

“Why not?” Berchem asked, sounding mildly upset about that. It was not hard to imagine why, as he’d led the expedition into the chasm to destroy the Northern bridge, as well as the one that had travelled down the road to determine whether Calephas had been telling the truth about the relay station. Much to their dismay, the Baron had been honest, giving them one more task to perform before they could help Metamor.

“Because there are at least a hundred men in his service, mercenaries most likely. I have grave doubts that they would have signed on if the siege had been intended to last more than a few days. It has been four since the battle has started, so they must feel victory is soon to come.”

Angus glanced at the map thoughtfully, studying the lay of the land, and the thick of the forest that surrounded Metamor’s northern borders. He could see Glen Avery in one corner, secluded, with only Barnhardt’s estate a two hour walk to the South. He pursed his lips thoughtfully, rubbing his nose absently with one claw. “Has our envoy to Lord Barnhardt returned yet?”

Alldis shook his head, the great set of antlers threatening to dislodge the paltry chandelier that swung absently from the timbered roof. “No, that party hasn’t returned yet. They should sometime soon though. If the newt has troops left, I cannot imagine him refusing to join them in any scheme we may devise.”

Lord Avery nodded, and considered. “I can hardly imagine him refusing to help either, despite our grievances.”

Angus’s brow furrowed at that. “He won’t come join the fight, so you needn’t worry about that.”

“Of course he won’t join the fight himself, he’s a newt. He’s probably having his wife soak him in a tub of warm water just so the weather doesn’t kill him. I won’t blame him for that–“ Lord Avery cut his diatribe short, lest he begin to blame his Southern neighbour for the various disputes they’d had over the years.

“In any event,” Alldis spoke, “let us assume that he sends his troops to join us. We obviously have to make some sort of attack against Nasoj’s troops. From what side though, and by what path?”

“Well,” Berchem mused as he drew closer. “Their wagons were moving down along the main road, and they do have that one station just a short distance South of the Glen along the road. There may be more groups stationed along the road that Calephas didn’t tell us about. But we should have little trouble in sacking them unless they are as heavily garrisoned as the Dike.”

“True enough, so it sounds like our forces should follow the road South, though not actually be on it. That sounds reasonable to me. We’ll also need to take that watchtower as efficiently as possible, so that they can’t warn their brethren at the Keep. I suggest a small team of archers and fliers, Burris can help with that. Yet, what should we do once we near the castle itself?” Lord Avery asked.

“Well, I suppose we would have to see depending on where the troops are placed,” the skunk replied, rather stumped. If only they had more information about Nasoj’s troop placement at the Keep, they might be able to plan properly, the Lord of the Glen bemoaned to himself. He could see that wistful look on the face of all of his brethren here, each one wishing that they just knew a little bit more about what was going on.

“Another good question,” Alldis then mused, tapping his muzzle again with one thick hoofed finger. “How many of our men are we going to take to Metamor, and how many stay behind to guard the Glen?”

At this, Lady Avery sucked in her breath, though her paw was firm and unshaking on Brian’s shoulder. The grey squirrels regarded each other for a moment, before Lord Avery turned back to the rest around the table. His voice was certain and stern, though the edges had been rounded smooth, betraying his concern for his people. “We will leave only a dozen men to protect all those here who cannot fight. The children will be taken below to the lower caves, and kept hidden down there until we return. The men will wait in the brewery here, and defend it should the Lutins discover it. If four days pass, and those who remain behind do not receive word from us, then I want you all to leave this place and head for the mountains to the West.”

There were a few about the room who began to object to that, but Lord Avery waved them silent with one paw. “I know, I do not like to think of abandoning our home to those monsters, but we may have no choice. If you do not hear from us in four days, we will either be dead or captured. I do not want to see the same happen to my children, be they of my blood or not. Angela will lead you into the Dragon Mountains, and from there you will hide as best you can, and keep living, and hope that one day, you’ll be strong enough to push the Lutins back out of our home.”

Angus snorted. “I’m surprised Nasoj chose this time to invade. The entire continent is girding itself for war, at least ever since the Patriarch died. At least that’s what I hear from Metamor. Even if Nasoj wins, he’ll ride right down into the Midlands, and find seasoned troops waiting for him.”

Lord Avery nodded at that, breathing deep, his heart soft after ordering such a terrible thing. Yet, he could feel the warm touch of his beloved wife, and he knew that she would be strong enough to carry on and raise their sons to fight for the Glen, even if they could not live there. “So I want to take every other available fighter down to Metamor. I wish that Matthias could come, as he is far more familiar with the area than any of us, but we’d kill him if we tried to bring him. It takes about five hours to reach Metamor from here via carriage. I want to be there by midday tomorrow with as many troops as we can muster. We will wait until midnight to hear from Barnhardt, but then I’m afraid we will have no choice but to strike out on our own.”

“We’ll have at least sixty men,” Angus said, running his large black claws through the thick of his cheek fur. “If you want to include some of our new recruits who haven’t finished their training yet, then we have just over eighty.”

“Yes, bring every paw that we have,” Lord Avery said, spreading his own across the map. He was about to continue, when there was a pounding from the barricade at the main entrance to the brewery. It was the familiar three taps, then a pause, followed by two slower ones. They each let their breath exhale, though swords were drawn and held tightly, the fresh leather crinkling under their callused grip as the guards opened the door to the outside.

A small cadre of Glenners poured into the warmth, shaking snow from their cloaks and their fur. The wind whistled through the aperture, and gusts of snow blew inward, sprinkling the roan horse who stood watch with speckled white. Their eyes turned to the lead figure, another buck whose set of antlers was only slightly less dramatic than Alldis’s own. Hearts leapt in delight at the sight of the proprietor of Glen Avery’s only Inn, returned safely from his mission to the South.

“Jurmas!” Brian Avery called out, over the din of the crowd. “Please be bringing good news, for we sorely need it at this hour.”

Jurmas shoved the thick coat from his shoulders, wrapping his arms about his chest, the thick green tunic underneath damp from the snow. His wife, a slender doe who had been helping Mrs Levins in the kitchens, rushed to greet him, holding his chilled body to her warmth. The buck smiled and gently kissed her, whispering words of assurance and delight, before turning to his Lord. “We’ve come back from Barnhardt’s land as fast as we could. He’s agreed to put his men into the field under our joint banner. He dickered about it enough though, I had to remind him just who was invading Metamor at least three times. Sometimes, I think the water is sloshing around in his head, and not the other way around.”

His complaints were not unexpected, as was the buck’s habit. Alldis regarded him dismissively, though his own narrow muzzle was breaking into a cervine grin at the news. Avery hoped that the two bucks had gotten over their animosity from the embarrassing rut this last Autumn, but instincts were hard to dismiss. All he needed was another waft of Angela’s luscious scent to remind him of how powerful it could be.

“How many men does Lord Barnhardt plan to send?” Angus asked finally, even as he leaned his large form across the table.

“Not nearly as many as we hoped,” Jurmas groused as he continued to rub his arm fur free of the damp snow. “The Lutins had sent a small force to strike them down before moving onto the Keep. But he can send at least a hundred men, thirty archers and three times as many foot-soldiers. He only wishes to know where he should send them.”

“Thank you Jurmas, we’ll discuss that now. I’ll send another group to inform him once we’ve reached a decision,” Lord Avery smiled at the Innkeeper, one of the first he’d given that evening that had been purely genuine, and certainly the first since interrogating that foul Baron.

“Of course, my Lord,” Jurmas acknowledged, bowing gracefully, his antlers sweeping out before him, nearly catching on the edge of a nearby table. When he straightened, he looked about, his light voice turning sour, “Now, where can I get some warm food and drink into my stomach. I’ve been walking through the snow all day after all, and having to deal with stubborn newts!”

His wife led him to the counter, where Lars was already bringing him some of his mead, and a plate of Mrs. Levins’ stew, free of any offending meat of course. Jurmas continued to lament his travails privately to his wife around mouthfuls of potato, while Lord Avery and the rest returned once more to their map.

“There, I think,” Alldis said, tapping a cluster of hills just South of the Lake near Barnhardt’s estate. “It will take us at least four hours to reach there on foot. We can wipe out the relay post quickly enough, and then continue on down to wait for reinforcements there, as it is relatively secluded and a good distance from the main road.”

Angus nodded in agreement. “I can have our men keep those hills secure until Barnhardt’s men arrive. It probably is the best place. If we send a group to meet with Barnhardt now, and leave ourselves within the hour, we will probably only be waiting an hour or two before we can push on further South to Metamor.”

“In the night no less,” Lord Avery said, rubbing his chin thoughtfully. “That will be awfully hard on those of us without fur.”

“True,” the badger mused. “I recommend we keep what humans we have here at the Glen, excepting Charles’s friends should they decide to come. From what I’ve heard them say, I think we want them there at our front.”

“Good, send somebody to fetch them and Garigan. What humans we have stay here in the brewery. Angus, I leave the choice of any others for this place’s defence up to you.”

“What about the Baron?” Angus asked, his voice full of disgust.

Avery’s dark eyes narrowed. Those orbs strayed to two small squirrels who were watching the conference with barely veiled curiosity, even as they continued to work on fashioning the bits of wood into arrows with their rasps. He then looked back the badger, the malice held within them plain and clear. “Set a guard upon him, but if something happens to the prisoner, I don’t care.”

The others around the table nodded, sharing the sentiment wholeheartedly.

Baron Calephas was wretchedly cold. Night had long since fallen on the Glen, and inside his wooden cell, all pretensions of warmth had fled, leaving him shivering in the thick wool that he’d worn when venturing to the Bridge. At the very least they had left him his clothes, otherwise he would probably have died from the chill by now. As it was, he was hard pressed to believe that he would not die anyway under the lack of care the Glenners provided.

He had heard the muffled sounds of footfalls, a great number of them passing him by. Certainly, Lord Avery had set his men on their expedition to Metamor by now. If he was to follow through with his hastily conceived plan, he’d have to act swiftly. And so, he waited, pacing in his cell, working up a particular need – as well as keeping his body warm – and talked to his jailer.

The guard outside the door was a rather robust wolf morph, though his belly could have benefited from less alcohol. He also did his best to ignore Calephas’s barbs, though the Baron could hear him growl under his breath into the chill wind. This sign only emboldened the master of Arabarb, and so he decided to describe in detail how he had seduced this one page boy back in his father’s manor. It had been his very first, and he gushed with voracious detail about the event, and how the boy had cried against his bonds at the climax.

“Shut up, you sick bastard,” the wolf snarled then, banging his sword point against the bars of the iron door.

Calephas laughed at that. “Oh, I assure you I’m no bastard, I was born legitimately from my father’s loins. Though, I did have a few half-brothers. In fact, the youngest was quite handsome. I remember his eighth birthday, I showed him a lovely present, though he wasn’t quite as eager as I’d hoped. Eight times for being eight years old, I thought it a fair gift. Would you care to hear about it?”

“I said shut up!” the wolf barked, his eyes gone red with disgust.

However, the Baron went right ahead and began to tell the story, omitting not a single detail, describing the boys cries as he made each thrust, noted the way the knots were tied that held him secure to the bed, and remarked on how long the sobs continued even after he’d finished and let the boy recover from the Baron’s exuberance. Throughout the tale, the wolf only growled louder, though he set his back firmly to the door, doing his best not to give Calephas any pleasure.

The Baron however, took every opportunity he could to find pleasure, as it was necessary. Stepping close to the iron door, he peered out into the dark of night, and though he could only see the vague outlines of the wolf’s form, it was enough. “My, I must say, your children must be quite lovely. After all, you’re a delightful specimen. I certainly wouldn’t mind taking one of your boys to bed and exploring further.”

As he said this, he uncinched the belt at his waist, and let his trousers fall to the floor, exposing his legs and genitalia to the cold wind. The wolf turned about and snarled at him from between the bars as he’d hoped, crying out for him to be quiet. Yet, what he found was a warm stream of the Baron’s piss splashing across his muzzle, and spilling down his nose.

Spluttering with rage, the lupine guard jammed the keys into the lock, hefting his sword in his other paw. Calephas slammed his shoulder into the door, throwing it outwards against the enraged wolf, smacking it into his head. Kicking his pants to one side, he jumped out into the bitter snow, and dived onto his jailer.

The wolf tried to bring the sword around, startled at the ferocity of the sudden attack. His muzzle was bleeding profusely from the nose and mouth, as one of his long canines had been broken loose and was lying in the scarlet snow. Yet the Baron was faster, snatching the dagger at the wolf’s hip, and plunging it into the thick mail covering his chest. Crimson stickiness spread from the wound, and the Glenner gaped in horror, the sword falling limply from his paw. He coughed a few more moments, glaring at the Baron with hate in his eyes, before he finally lay still and lifeless.

Baron Garadan Calephas retrieved his trousers, and pulled them back up over his legs, tying them tight. Returning to the dead wolf, he scanned about the Glen to see if there were any others about. Though his eyes were not very good, he did not hear any tocsin raised, so assumed that he had yet to be discovered. With quick fingers, he undid the straps holding the mail in place, and soon had the wolf stripped of his armour. The shirt was ruined, drenched in blood as it was, and so Calephas cut it away. The breeches though were just large enough to fit him, despite his lack of a tail.

With the extra warmth around his legs, Calephas set to slicing his enemies bowels open. Years living in Arabarb had taught him to contain his stomach, as he’d had to do this to many different animals. With precision, he sliced the layer of fat from the skin, and began to squeeze it between his fingers. It was warm, but would not be for much longer.

Grimacing, the Baron began to wipe the fatty mucus across his woolen shirt, rubbing it hard and deep, letting the oil sink into the material. It smelled acrid, but he cared not, reaching into the stomach cavity for even more once he had finished with the first scooping. By the time he had completely coated his shirt in the muck, the snow had begun to cover the body.

Certain that his warmth was assured, he unfastened the wolf’s buckler, and placed it around his own waist. He then wiped the dagger off in the snow and sheathed it at his side. He considered the sword, and after a moment’s thought, left it behind. If the Glenners tracked him, it would be of no use to him anyway. Brushing a bit of the snow from his oiled shoulders, he set off at a quick trot, heading North through the woods. He could not be thankful enough for taking the time to thoroughly memorize the maps of this region.

As he left the environs of Glen Avery, picking an easy trail through the snow, he turned his mind back to the guard. With a bit of whimsy, he wondered whether the lupine had even had any children.

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