The Lupine Saga 41

“One, two, three, four! Four of you! Fine, I’ll deal with this once we are back in Rising. For now, you all stay with Var. Fine mess you’re in, all of you! Babysitters, that’s what my men are being reduced to!” Darius stormed off, leaving the four boys with Var and the surrounding crowd of soldiers.

That morning, Darius had every basket, every supply case, and every cart checked from top to bottom. It was only a matter of time before Va’il, Kelin, and Pete were discovered. Though captured, in a sense, they each knew to keep quiet when being interrogated by Darius. Darius, for his part, didn’t particularly know what to do with any of the stowaways. He decided to place them all with Var and attend to the kids later, assuming that he would remember. Personally, he didn’t think he would be able to think about them at all for the next few days, considering the important mission ahead of them. All the thought he could muster in regards to them was that he hoped nothing terrible would befall them once they entered the dangerous territory ahead.

Var turned out to be a better caretaker than the boys were expecting. Var had met Va’il before, and the two shared a look of recognition. Var didn’t mention that to Darius, and simply accepted the boys into his care without a word. By noon, the expedition was ready to leave Dindalnor, which they did as quickly as possible. Darius wasted no time in continuing his mission.

“It’s been a while,” Va’il said as they walked.

“Yes boy, sure has. Hard to forget you,” Var replied.

“He is quite strange, right, that makes him stick in your mind whether or not you want him to,” Zeick said while laughing, though he was the only one.

“Ignoring the fool, mind an introduction, Va’il?” Kelin looked up at the creature who was more than a few heads taller than him.

“Ah, Var,” Va’il said, “he walked me home a few years ago, you remember, back when we had visited Lake Tershi, when we were all in the same class. Met Mum for just a second, but she said that she thought the world was coming to an end when he knocked. He isn’t carrying it now, but he has a spear so large, just enormous. Course, I still don’t know why that alone would mean he’s the one that the commander wants looking after us. Var, does your commander look down on you or something, to have to deal with kids like us, after all?”

“You’re all quite forthright, just about right for your age,” Var said. “Commander has a good amount of respect for me, methinks, it’s because of my duties in the city that he chose me for this. I’m commissioned to watch another certain person, who happens to be around your age as well. So I have experience, you’d say.” Var laughed as the boys looked at him with doubtful eyes.

“A certain person? Nobility?” Kelin asked.

“Yes, a noble,” Var said.

“A child, at that. Younger, older than us?” Kelin asked.

“She’s a little bit older, but not by much, I suppose I can tell that much,” Var replied after some thought.

“‘She,’ so you watch a girl?” Kelin kept pressing Var for answers, who realized he shouldn’t be answering these questions. But he did anyways.

“Yes, been watching a noble’s daughter for three years now. But why does that interest you common folk so much?” Var asked, puzzled.

“Common?” Kelin and Zeick exclaimed in unison.

“We aren’t common!” Kelin said. “Sure, Va’il is, but we’re noble children! This even happened those years ago at Lake Tershi, being told by a certain high-noble girl that none of ‘us commoners’ had seen her, for our protection even. Since when have I ever been a commoner? Must I be insulted for a second time in my life?” Kelin spoke with a touch of dignity and arrogance, both of which seemed real to Var. Va’il laughed to himself.

“My apologies, I’m not too familiar with other children of all the nobles, forgive me,” Var said. The large bearan stopped walking and bent down on one knee. The sight was too much for Kelin, who started to laugh.

“No no, forgive me, I don’t mean to make a fuss over it, I’m just getting you worked up. You should get up, be dignified. I may be a noble, but it doesn’t mean much to me. You haven’t insulted me, unlike the high-noble I just mentioned. I was forgotten, and then called a commoner, by someone I had met before. Your comments are purely innocent.” Kelin smiled at the bearan, who stood to his full size again, and returned the smile. They kept walking, just barely keeping up with the rest of the procession.

“No offense taken,” Var said, “by either of us, then. Really, the day-to-day suffering I endure at the hands of the noble child I watch had given me quite a bit of patience with children. She’s impulsive, whimsical, and bored; therefore, my job is not easy. This excursion has been a vacation, compared to watching a high-noble’s child.” Var spoke without considering the words he spoke.

“You watch the female child of a high-noble who is just a little older than us, Var?” Kelin asked. His tone was flat.

“Um, yes, that’s correct,” Var replied, though he was becoming very worried.

“I see.” Kelin didn’t speak about the matter again. The conversation he had with Var didn’t register with Va’il in the least, since Va’il had no understanding whatsoever about nobility. Pete and Zeick hadn’t paid much attention to it, but neither of them would have realized the important part of the conversation at all. Kelin did not reveal to any of his cohorts or Var that only a few of the nobility in Rising were of the highest class, about a dozen families in total. Among them, there weren’t too many young children. Kelin had met most of those children in the past. He opened a book he had kept with him, opened to the middle, and started reading. No one could hear him whisper “Melonscone” under his breath, behind the pages of the book. Nor could anyone realize he was smiling and laughing to himself at the irony of it all.

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The Lupine Saga 40

Most of the soldiers were quiet now. They had either turned in for the night, or fallen asleep in their chairs. A few though had stayed awake. Four of them, each sitting with a different waitress, were still enjoying their surroundings.

“You boys, pleasure time is over. Time for some work!” Darius commanded the men in a stern tone. The four looked at Darius, a hint of contempt in their faces. One asked if they had to.

“Get up and repay these fine people for their company. Get me a basket of apples, one of the reserves. We shall pay with fruit, then you can enjoy more leisure time, I promise,” Darius said with a twinkle in his eye. The group seemed to sober up at the words, and quickly got to their work. The four of them walked out the door.

“They seem to be having fun,” one of the waitresses said to Darius.

“I hope they haven’t been too rude,” Darius said while averting his eyes from the woman’s revealing outfit. She wasn’t much younger than his own wife, he noticed, which made her older than most of the soldiers there.

“Well, they are just boys, fun to tease,” she said while laughing heartily. The other girls were also about the same age or a little younger. On average, though, they were older than his soldiers were. Darius chuckled to himself at the thought, but at the same time realized just how effective their age made them at swindling money from his men. He felt that such skills deserved whatever tips they ended up with. He continued conversing with the hosts until the four soldiers returned carrying a single large basket that required all four of them to carry. They were all human, thus too weak to carry it alone.

“Sir, apples, at your request!” One of the human soldiers spoke, bowed to Darius, and then was led back to a table by one of the waitresses, as were the other three.

“Splendid, really. Shall we have a taste?” Darius stood up and the bartender followed. Darius, though wobbly, walked over to the basket. It was nearly as tall as he was, and three or four feet in diameter. Darius put his arms up on one side of the lid.

“Can you get the other side?” Darius asked the bartender. The man went to the other side. They slowly pushed up on the lid. The basket rumbled, and both men jumped back. “What was that?”

“Sir, you didn’t mention anything about your apples rumbling.” The bartender laughed. Darius though, was concerned.

“That’s really odd. Try again.” Darius walked back over to the basket, with slight concern that he wanted to overlook. The alcohol was telling him to ignore the issue and just move ahead with what he was doing. He and the bartender pushed up on the lid; this time it popped off. The basket shook from side to side.

Darius stood back, and the bartender had no joke this time. The shaking didn’t stop until the basket fell over. Out rolled a few apples, mostly whole, and a few that were only cores.

“What the…” Darius sobered up quite quickly at that point. Out behind the apples rolled another odd object. It rolled a few feet, and then stretched out on its back. It was a boy with a cat’s tail. Zeick had arrived.

“Wow, a tavern,” the unfazed Zeick said. “I suppose all of you are drinking.”

“And you are?” Darius had put a firm arm on Zeick’s shoulder. Zeick looked up at the man and smiled, but he did not speak.

“I didn’t realize you were in that kind of business as well,” the bartender said. It couldn’t be told whether he was serious or joking.

“No, no! A stowaway, I’m assuming, right boy?” Darius looked down at the smiling child who wouldn’t respond. “Are you going to speak or not?”

“No, because I might say something I shouldn’t,” Zeick said honestly.

“But you just did,” Darius said.

Zeick remained silent after that. Darius walked upstairs with Zeick in tow. He entered the third room from the left of the stairs, without knocking. Inside was a normal room, with one very massive occupant sleeping on a bed.

“Var! Var! Wake up!” Darius shook the massive bearan, who slowly woke with a snarl and a yawn.

“What are you needing? Sleep,” Var mumbled.

“Var, wake up!” Darius said in the form of a command.

“Yessir, sleep no more.” Var opened his eyes and slowly focused on the people inside his room. “Oh, sorry sir. Didn’t realize you were Darius.”

“That’s alright. Var, I’ve got a bit of a problem now. We got a stowaway, I think, from Rising. This boy here was in our supplies. But I don’t know who he is.”

“Oh, yessir, that’s a problem.” Var nodded his head. “What shall you do with him?”

“That’s why I’m here, asking for you, Var,” Darius said.

“Me? Why’s that, sir?” Var put his hand behind his head and scratched a couple times.

“Aren’t you a personal bodyguard for another child, about his age? Are you any good with kids?” Darius asked, hoping that Var would understand what he was implying.

“Oh, the little misses, yes. Only away from her cause this mission was so important. Ma’am objected, but royal guard orders are important. The miss is a bit older, I think, and I don’t know if I’m any good with her or not. Only obey her whims, that’s all. And keep her safe, though she isn’t one to need it, being as she’s too hard to pin down at all. Suppose she could be stopped by someone with bad intentions, but she’s fast, even though she’s pretty. In fact, I do think she’d be quite good at getting away. But I have to guard her, play with her, being there and all.” Var got out of the bed and stood tall, though his knees were still bent so that he wouldn’t hit his head on the ceiling.

“I’m not sure I understood all that, but anyways, you take care of a kid in Rising, so for now I want you to watch over this boy.” Darius, though stumped by Var’s small speech, still had his main points in mind.

“Certainly, provided that he can be entertained by me.” Var looked at Zeick, who seemed to be awestruck at the bearan’s giant frame. Var reached down and patted Zeick’s head with two fingers. Zeick froze in place, fearing that he may be toppled at any moment.

“You don’t need to entertain him, just watch him. Don’t let him out of your sight. We’re going to have to take him with us on the rest of the mission,” Darius said while sighing again.

“No transportation back to Rising?” Var asked.

“No. We need every last transport available for the mission. He can go back in a cart, I suppose, but before that there is nothing I’m willing to sacrifice. Not only that, but I want to make sure as to whether he is alone or not. I’ll be searching tomorrow, hopefully he will say something by then,” Darius said. Zeick looked down and decided to keep quiet.

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The Lupine Saga 39

The fourth and fifth days of travel were miserable ones for Darius. Farrow’s terrain was very different from the green lands of Rising. Farrow was filled with bushes, small trees, and long grasses. Brown was more abundant than green, as Farrow was generally dry. However, the weather the past few days had been rainy, making the muddy roads difficult to traverse. Darius had the rhinos march in front, which helped smooth the path. Even though the rain made travel more difficult, Darius extended the time that they were to march. They rose earlier, and slept later. As a result, they reached the city of Dindalnor at the end of the fifth day, which was an unexpected surprise and relief in many different ways.

“Sir! Dindalnor’s governor sends his greetings,” the scout said while riding alongside Darius.

“Excellent. Was he willing to make accommodations?” Darius asked.

“Sir! He said that the taverns are empty in anticipation. The famous wine of the Dindal’s awaits your arrival!”

“Even better. Exchange horses with a fresher one, from the hares in the light company, then ride back and tell the governor we appreciate his consideration. Once he has acknowledged, go into the city and start preparing for our arrival. I haven’t been to Dindal before, so I will leave it to you to make the appropriate arrangements with the residents. The men will probably be too exhausted to make much trouble, so go ahead and let the tavern master’s know it’s alright to keep the drinks flowing. We’re early anyways; we can afford to spend a few more hours in town tomorrow.”

“Acknowledged. But sir, wouldn’t it be best to head to Tendal as quickly as possible?”

“We wouldn’t arrive at any different time, based on the schedule we have. I’m taking resting time into account. Whether we waited or not, we would still arrive in the morning of the eighth day. I’d rather let the men rest after pushing them the last couple days. Now get to it!”

The scout rode to the back of the procession, and was soon seen riding ahead and off into the distance towards Dindalnor.

#

“Sit and have a taste, Captain,” an eager soldier said.

“Thank you, I’ve been looking forward to this,” Darius said to the subordinate.

“Sir, it sure was nice of the governor to arrange this accommodation for us,” the eager soldier said.

“Well, he is quite an eccentric person. Too eccentric for me, though. I’m glad to be here relaxing instead. He would have kept talking if I didn’t say I had to make tomorrow’s arrangements,” Darius said while taking a drink from the wineglass in front of him.

Darius was talking with a human soldier from the ranks, a young man, much like the rest of the troops. They were in a tavern with fifty other men, all drinking and having a rowdy time. Four women and a man were serving drinks and food to the soldiers, and two people were behind the counter pouring the drinks and preparing the food.

Darius took a sip of the famous wine that made Dindalnor so famous. It was sweet and mild, tasted like vanilla and berries, and had a fruity aftertaste. Paired with the sugar cookies that the waitresses were handing out, it was a welcome relief to the weary travelers. Darius didn’t particularly care for cookies with his wine, which was quite normal, but somehow the Dindal’s wine went well with sweets. He decided that instant to refrain from more than a couple glasses, for fear of what the morning would feel like.

He sat at the bar, observing the men behind it as they poured drinks and talked with the soldiers. He laughed and turned around. The tables held four people at each, except for a couple of tables where a bearan and rhinos had decided to sit. Three were at each of those tables. He marveled at the chairs especially, which didn’t look like they could take the weight of a rhinos.

“That’s because we reinforce them very specially. They may look like wood, but there is much more to that chair than meets the eye,” the bartender suddenly said.

“I didn’t particularly…” Darius tried to reply.

“Sir, just hold on a second. I see a hundred people a day, at least. You can’t fool me. I get ninety-nine questions a day, and many of them are the same question, made by people with the same puzzled look on your face,” the bartender said.

“I give up. Far be it from me to argue with the man who knows how to converse with anyone. Not my profession,” Darius said with a laugh.

“A most wise person, you are. I assume in some authority, from the way you hold yourself?” the bartender asked while simultaneously trying to flatter Darius.

“Again, you’re right. I’m the commander of this rowdy bunch, actually,” Darius said while sipping from his glass.

“Really? That rowdy bunch, you mean?” The bartender pointed towards a table.

“Yeah, that’s them.” Darius shook his head. The four soldiers sitting at the table were being served in turn by a waitress. As she went around to each of them, the person who was just served a drink slid his chair back and a bit to the side. The waitress obviously knew each man was staring at her from behind, yet she kept serving drinks in the same manner.

“Well, a bit better than our usual patrons. At least they are keeping their hands to themselves.” The bartender laughed. “And besides, she’s going to milk your soldiers for every tip they can muster.”

“This group remembers that I’m still in the area. I bet you anything that the rest are making far more noise. Gambling, alcohol, and women are the same three weaknesses that all men, especially soldiers, have.” Darius calmly looked on as the room full of red-faced men rumbled with the sound of casual talk. Darius also partook in speaking with the bartender, who proved to be a welcome companion for the night.

After a while, and a few glasses of wine too many, Darius asked the bartender a question.

“So how much profit is our little stay making you?” Darius asked, somewhat under the influence of the wine.

“Ah, profit. Are you sure you want an answer?” the bartender asked.

“Don’t hold back on me. We brought ourselves a coffer of coins or three, the king thought it best to make sure we had enough in case our provisions proved insufficient. He doesn’t mind letting the soldiers rest a night. It’s a long way, still a couple more days,” Darius said with a sigh.

“Where are you going?” The bartender washed a glass as he asked.

“Just to, no, wait. Sorry, I’d rather not discuss that. No changing the subject, anyways, profit?”

“Well, the governor asked we reduce our prices out of respect. But I’ve enjoyed this conversation. I’ll go a step further. The girls keep their tips, and as for the regular items, I’m going to give it all to you, on the house,” the bartender replied.

“You’ll do no such thing!” Darius tried standing up in outrage, but his legs told him that it was better to stay sitting. “Enjoyable or not, I won’t stand for taking things for free like a freeloader!”

“Really sir, it’s fine. My largest cost is the staff, and from what I’ve seen tonight, they made out quite well. And they enjoyed it. Serving a well-disciplined troop is much more rewarding than the casual drunk. The wine barely costs a thing, to locals. It’s only a night’s worth, and it’s only this inn. Please, I must insist.” The bartender set down one glass then picked up another.

“Hmm, nevertheless, I won’t be settled unless I compensate in some way. Fine, no money shall be exchanged. Instead, name what you will, and I will give it to you. New clothes, furniture, the use of a fine mason or carpenter. Name something useful, that you desire.” Darius hit his fist on the bar, signifying that he was absolute in his desire.

“Like I said, it’s really fine… oh! Wait, yes there is! It’s not worth much on its own, but I can make an excellent profit using it. Yes, I think that will work just fine. I have heard, dear commander, that Rising has particularly good apples. I should love to have a few, for pies and ciders and whatnot.”

“It is done! Apples, an excellent compensation! Why, I’ve got a large stock with me already, part of our provisions. If you’re going to reduce the cost of our meals anyways, a basket or two of apples is nothing!” Darius laughed while muttering the fruit’s name to himself a few times. He then turned in his seat and looked towards the tables of soldiers.

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The Lupine Saga 38

Darius looked back to take one last look at the city of Rising before the journey. It would only be a few weeks, but he still felt pained at leaving his beloved city. Nevertheless, he knew it was in the best interest of the city if he personally commanded the defensive troops that were soon to arrive at Tendal.

The report from the first scout had prompted Fidel to action. Tendal had extremely powerful walls, and the maroon had only attacked the walls a few times, never breaking through. They came in only few numbers sometimes, and other times came with legions of attackers. But they never attacked so much that the walls were harmed. The attacks had subsided for a few days when the scout arrived. Fidel, upon hearing about the lack of food, the constant fear, and the impending doom, decided to send out more troops than originally planned. Darius was instructed to do what it takes to secure the city of Tendal from harm.

He wasn’t sure how he was to fight an immortal enemy, or what real assistance he would be able to provide. There were transports to take in refugees; however he knew that Rising wasn’t large enough to accommodate two moderately sized cities worth of people. With those thoughts weighing heavily on his mind, he set off towards the east.

The entourage that accompanied him was quite large. This particular expedition was going to be the largest of all that were to be sent to Tendal. There were hundreds of soldiers, months of supplies, and many empty carriages. It would take eight days to reach Tendal.

The first day was over quickly. Travelling east, Darius wanted to reach the city of Monal as quickly as possible, and it appeared that they would be able to rest there the next day.

The second day saw them arriving at Monal, a small but happy city that bustled with trade. The soldiers caused a ruckus that night. Only one day of travel and they were already feeling anxious, which they were more than happy to relieve in the local taverns. Darius thought that the most amazing thing of all was that the city had enough open inns and willing citizens to house the men for the night.

Day three was important. In half a day’s time, they had reached the town of Nopass, which guarded the tunnel through the mountain. The eastern border of Rising was a mountain range, and the only way to pass the range was to go through the tunnel that had been dug through one of the mountains, or go far to the north or south, either to the forests near Lake Tershi, or to the river in the south.

They didn’t stop when Nopass was reached. Nopass was more like a fort than a town, and the commanding officer was familiar with Darius. He was very disappointed when Darius was unable to sit for a strong drink with him, but Darius promised him that he would personally come again when things settled and enjoy a bottle of the finest whiskey with him.

The pass through the mountain was quite long, as the tunnel went through one of the larger mountains. Normally it would take a day to get through, but Darius knew he didn’t have that kind of time. He sent a couple riders ahead of the procession, lighting the candle-torches as they went. They quickly went to their work of riding to a candle-torch placed on the side of the tunnel, removing its cap, and blowing on it once to light it. Darius watched as he saw a set of lights appear far down the tunnel. When the riders returned, he knew that the procession was close to the end.

Once they reached the end of the tunnel, Darius halted the procession. It was already late into the night, and staying in the tunnel would provide cover for the night. However, there was another important reason to stay in the tunnel, one of great importance to Darius. Once they left the tunnel, they would no longer be in the nation of Rising.

#

Among the many supplies that had been brought on the journey, there were large baskets of fruit. These baskets were enormous, and pulled in carts that bovines and swine personally pulled. They were so large to accommodate the soldiers, who may become malnourished without proper nutrition, and to distribute to the people of Tendal. Being fruit, it was expected that they wouldn’t make the journey back, so there was a great effort to make sure the soldiers got some before having to make the return journey, which was sure to exhaust them even more.

At the end of the procession, there were several carts full of baskets. The soldiers that had been pulling them had moved more towards the tunnel’s exit, where everyone else had gathered to drink the night away. No one was in the vicinity of the carts.

One of the baskets started to shake. It shook quite a bit, and almost fell over at one point. But it managed to stay upright. The lid suddenly came off and fell to the ground. No one was around to notice.

A head arrived where the lid had been. White hair, furry ears, and a penchant for trouble; it was Va’il.

“No one’s here; it’s safe,” Va’il said.

A basket next to Va’il’s started to shake. In another cart, two baskets also shook. One did fall over. Three lids fell off, in one way or another. From the two upright ones came the heads of Pete and Kelin. Crawling slowly out of the one that had fallen was Zeick, who looked like quite a mess.

“So, where are we?” Zeick asked while straightening his hair. Va’il looked up and around, then shrugged his shoulders.

“We’re underneath a mountain,” Pete said with an apple in hand.

“But which?” Zeick asked.

“The only real path out of Rising,” Kelin said, “or, the only tunnel. It’s the tunnel to Farrow, to the east.”

“Ah, okay.” Zeick went back to patting his hair down.

“Farrow? What’s that?” Va’il asked.

“Just another nation,” Kelin said. “It’s not really a nation like ours, because it’s just an alliance of several large cities, each one governed and ruled independently, which is why we are allowed to go visit them. Some of the cities trust Rising more than the other cities in the nation, so trips like this aren’t uncommon.”

“Oh. So another nation. I wonder what the cities look like,” Va’il said.

“Wait a second,” Pete said, “that doesn’t seem right. What about the soldiers, the weapons, the empty carts? It seems like more than just a trip! There was all that commotion when they were preparing to leave as well. That made it easy to sneak in, but still, what is all this about?” A very worried Pete asked all the important questions.

“Whatever, it’s fun, right? We will find out the point later. Besides, don’t you want to see the outside, learn more about it? There are cities and nations and other stuff outside of Rising!” Va’il said, full of excitement.

“Why did I let you talk me into this? You too Zeick, you’re supposed to be sensible!” Pete said.

“Come on, it’s fine. I haven’t been outside of Rising before either. Sometimes it’s okay to just run off and see the world,” Zeick replied.

“My mother is going to be worried to death,” Pete said. His words echoed the thoughts that everyone was having.

“Well, it’ll be fine when we get back, I’m sure,” Va’il said, trying to be encouraging. He felt the worst of the bunch, after leaving a single-sentenced note for Mai’ou then running off. The boys were missing school, their families didn’t know where they were, and they didn’t know where they were going.

“‘It looks exciting, let’s tag along!’ I should know not to trust those words anymore,” Pete said in between sighs, “but it’s my own fault. I kind-of wanted to go anyways. Blaming Va’il isn’t going to fix the situation.”

“Exactly, besides, we aren’t even in a situation yet!” Va’il spoke ominous words with a casual manner.

“Yeah. I’m sure we will get to see something amazing, wonderful, definitely. I hope I can get a souvenir,” said Zeick, who was starting to get as excited as Va’il.

“Do you hear something?” Kelin said while staring at the end of the tunnel. “Footsteps! Hide!”

The boys scrambled back into the baskets from which they had arrived. However, Zeick’s was still on the ground. He started to push it up, but before he could, he heard the footsteps come even closer. He took a risk and hid inside the basket, pulling its lid closed behind him.

“Must have been the wind,” a bovine soldier said.

“Your hearing has always been pretty bad,” a swine soldier said.

“Oh, that’s what it was, that basket fell. Let’s take that one,” the bovine said.

“Okay. One should do it; it won’t be used till the rest run out anyways. But captain said that we ate too much today. You got that side?” the swine asked.

“Yeah. Lift on three. Three!” the bovine said, and then lifted with all his might.

“This one is kind of light,” the swine said.

“Eh, it’s fine. You’re imagining things.” The bovine lowered his side of the basket, since he was taller.

“At least my hearing still works,” the swine said while keeping pace with the bovine.

The banter continued, however Va’il couldn’t hear it any longer. The couple had walked off while carrying the basket that Zeick was hiding in. The remaining trio quickly got out and consulted each other as to what they should do, but they couldn’t think of anything. If they tried to rescue Zeick, they would be discovered, thus defeating the purpose of saving him. They could only hope that Zeick wouldn’t be discovered too quickly.

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The Lupine Saga 37

The room, still spinning from the erratic and quickly spoken explanation, was silent. King Fidel posed a question that most everyone was wondering.

“I did recall some of that; however, I forgot, how do they move? More importantly, why?” Fidel asked.

“Quite a good question,” Diren said. There was obvious excitement in his voice. “Every grain of dirt and sand is attached to another by impossibly tiny cords, like spider silk. I do wish I could see one for myself. Record keeping for forgotten history has been giving me far too many desires, these past five years. I do relish the additional duties. As to the why of your question, I do not know.”

“Diren, please, that’s quite enough.” Darius put his hand on the hare’s shoulder. The constant speaking stopped. The years spent researching things that history had forgotten had put a spark in the hare’s eyes that seemed to want to spill out. Yet he contained himself.

“Then, we need to decide on a plan. I’m open to suggestions. This will not be easy.” Fidel spoke to everyone in attendance, the wisest, richest, and most important people in the nation.

After hearing various suggestions, the assembly agreed to use advisor Jin’s plan, which was to send a regiment of soldiers loaded with supplies and carrying additional transports to Tendal. Of course, as the only advisor left from the former king’s reign, his suggestions weren’t ever rejected, though he rarely spoke up or was seen. He had served as regent for the short while after the death of Fidel’s father, so his authority was, in practice, the same as Fidel’s was.

The expedition would take almost three weeks before they returned, during which time a series of scouts would ride to Tendal and back, reporting to the king what happened on a daily basis. Due to travel time, the first scout would return in about a week. During that week, they could only hope that Tendal remained standing. By that time the expedition would be ready to leave.

Fidel wasn’t pleased with what he had decided on, but lacking a better understanding of the situation, he had no choice. He certainly couldn’t send a large force all at once, for it might have already been too late. He couldn’t delay either, or Rising may find itself soon overwhelmed. He was questioning what to do, but decided that he would make the more important decisions when the scout returned.

Fidel dismissed the court. All the people in the room relaxed and slowly made their way out. Some talked and associated, now that the formalities had been dispensed with. Fidel, for his part, slowly stood up. Aoi went to his side, ready to assist him in any way. He motioned his hand to her, signaling that he didn’t want her to touch him. She kept her distance as Fidel stood. The vigor he had displayed while making decisions had left him, and the tired look that Aoi was accustomed to seeing was again on his face. He took a couple steps by himself. He walked behind the throne, towards the doors behind him. However, after another step, he lost his strength. Aoi was quickly at his side, supporting him. They were behind the throne, so she assumed that no one would notice. Instead of being unnoticeable in her assistance, something she had perfected over the last few years, she used much of her might to help Fidel. He couldn’t resist that help, for at that moment he was truly unable to accept any less assistance.

There was only one person who stared at King Fidel as he and Aoi went through their routine. From her vantage point high in the gallery, she was able to observe something she had not seen before. She had been, in the past, extremely jealous of the attention that Aoi seemed to receive from Fidel. She had murmured, cursed, and spoken-ill of the woman she viewed as simply a distasteful trophy from another kingdom. Today, however, a strong realization appeared in her mind. Fidel was not simply being touched or purposely holding onto Aoi. Jane Melonscone realized that something might be wrong with Fidel. It worried and relieved her. When Fidel finally walked through the doors and retired to his room, Jane quickly left the castle grounds. She was going to find out what could possibly be wrong.

#

“I’m sure some of you recognize me, and as for the rest of you, let me introduce myself. My name is Sensei, and I shall be your teacher for the rest of the year. Welcome to your new class.”

The class of thirty erupted in cheers, laughter, and applause. More than half of the class had been a student of Sensei’s before. And, with their new class arrangement, the students were in a class with many old friends.

The classroom had windows on one side, so that the students could look out over the hill upon which the school was situated. In the back corner of the classroom, with two of them sitting next to the window, and another two at their sides, was a very happy group of four. On the opposite side of the room sat a black-feathered avian girl, who couldn’t stop staring at the group of four. In the middle of the classroom and towards the front was a group of five. A human, swine, avian, hare, and bovine all made up the fearsome-looking group.

Harnes felt excited, anxious, and sick all at the same time. Her heart was beating with anticipation at the rest of the year. She didn’t know whether she should be happy or sad, so for now she settled on excited. She stared in wonder at each boy in turn. Sitting at the seat furthest back, by the window, was Va’il. In front of him was Pete, and on Va’il’s right was Kelin. Sitting in front of Kelin, at Pete’s side, was Zeick. Kelin was two seats away from Harnes. There was a deeri boy next to Kelin, and an empty seat separated Harnes from the deeri boy.

She looked at each boy closely, to try and judge just how much trouble each one was capable of. First was Pete. Pete was a rotund swine, which wasn’t uncommon for swine. He had pink skin and a magnificent snout for a nose. He didn’t wear shoes, as he had hooves, and his hands had deep black nails on each of his five short fingers. Barring his hands, to say he looked exactly like an upright pig who could talk and wear clothes would be an accurate assessment. Pete always wore stiff tops of cotton or linen and loose pants, in usually solid colors. Today he wore wool pants dyed blue and a white cotton tunic. Harnes knew Pete was generally mild and calm, but far too willing to go along with other’s ideas. Still, he only warranted one feather’s worth of worry for the year.

Then there was Kelin. Long red hair, sharp teeth, sharp ears, and sharp eyes. A normal lupus, for the most part, once his color was accounted for. He wore both bright and dull colors in whatever way he decided on for the day. Today he wore long green robes and black trousers. His cloth boots were expensive looking, as they were covered with blue silk. Being a lupus, he was worrisome to begin with. Taking into account the fact he was a noble lupus gave Harnes additional reason for worry. And his penchant for doing things his own way whenever he decided further upped the feather count Harnes was keeping. As she began counting the feathers on her arm to make sure she wouldn’t end up with patches missing by the end of the year, Kelin brought out a book and started reading. Harnes then remembered the most important thing, and stopped counting feathers. Ten, for the year, should be just about right, she decided. She had been expecting more, but had almost forgotten Kelin’s overwhelming disinterest in many, many things.

Zeick was someone that Harnes had no estimate for. She remembered that three years ago he was human. But for some reason, he was now half-felis. He had a few pointed teeth and a slightly angled face that could easily be mistaken for human. But the very long tail protruding from his back proved that he was a half. It was a golden tail with a white tip. It would swing every which way at random, which proved mesmerizing at times. All she could tell about Zeick was that he seemed nice, for he was smiling. But she couldn’t decide as to whether he was trouble or not. She decided that he was worth a feather or two, simply for being partially felis and for being the fourth member of the previously three-boy group. He wore yellow and orange, making him look somewhat like an alley cat. She could imagine him with felis ears, and wondered why he had human ears instead.

The fourth and youngest of the group was Va’il. He was a half, of both human and lupus descent. He had long ears covered in white fur that seemed to reflect light like a diamond. His eyes were round, soft, and silver in color. He had a nose that was slightly thinner than a human’s was, but far more sensitive. He had a few teeth that were pointed, but weren’t visible unless he purposely showed them. His lips were full, unlike the thin lips that most lupus had, which helped to hide his teeth. The hair on his head was white and pointed in various directions. Like Kelin, he had a set of claws on each hand. From time to time, he would rest his head on his palms. He would always lean on his right hand. When he sometimes leaned on his left, he would drop it after a short while and move to his right. Harnes assumed that he liked to look out the window, which always happened to be on his left. His appearance was calming and serene to most onlookers, even if it was odd. He never seemed to pay attention to what he wore. He didn’t seem to care if his clothes were cheap, expensive, cotton, silk, brocade, or wool. Some days he would arrive in red and orange, and on others he would wear brown and black. Though his appearance was serene to Harnes, who especially loved his white hair, his penchant for being involved whenever something went wrong rated him high on the missing feather count. In the past few weeks she had already worried out two feathers over Va’il, and she was quite happy that no more had worked their way out. She looked down at her arm again.

“Do I have fifty feathers on this arm?”

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