To Severstone and Beyond

If war was coming to Seylonne, her people would not be found unprepared.

Madeleine found something disquieting about seeing the craftsmen forging weapons where once they had forged mostly tools. The walls of the city, which had been allowed to fall into neglect were now being vigorously repaired, and she had seen men moving artillery through the street. However, the threat had not truly become real to her until her brother had been selected for Alpha Remus’ levy. Although he had only been gone for two days, Madeleine, her sisters, and her parents had begun to despair as the security that had for so long been acquainted with was stripped away by the uncertainties and terror of probable war.

However, Madeleine’s mother, the Abbess of the Church of the Creator in Seylonne, Mother Superior Joanna of Haversham had a plan. Joanna had met with Merchants Guild of Seylonne, and with their knowledge, calculated the cost of the war on trade in the Crescent Lands, and from there she wrote three copies of a letter illustrating the adverse effects of these costs to their Lycan lords and ladies. Hopefully, these letters would be useful in encouraging the Alpha Tora and Alpha Fostina to find a less harmful method of resolving their conflict. The first of these letters was to be delivered to Alpha Remus, for it would be improper for his subjects to petition his liege without his sanction. If his permission were granted, the next letter would be delivered to his liege lady, Alpha Fostina. If she then permitted her subject’s subject to deliver a letter to her enemy, the last letter would be sent to Alpha Tora. All that remained was to find a messenger to deliver those letters.

Madeleine herself was the obvious choice. She had long chafed under the propriety expected of the daughter of the Abbess, and of all her sisters, she had been the most unruly. Nonetheless she was still trusted, and her love of the wilds had made her the most well equipped of her sisters to carry her mother's words beyond the walls of the city. Indeed, Madeleine had met Alpha Tora and many of his officers delivering such messages on several prior occasions. Although this would be her first time leaving the province, Madeleine was confident in her ability to succeed in this mission, and she was eager to do what she could to save her brother from the horrors of the battlefield.

So it was that Madeleine rode through the North Gate atop her noble steed, a mare palfrey by the name of Ursala while her sumpter horse by the name of Felix followed, bearing most of their supplies. Sheathed at her hip was her arming sword by the name of Swordy, a straight blade about two and half feet in length from point to pommel that was silvered at one edge for cutting Lycans and steel at the other for other targets. Madeleine also carried a pack of small javelins and a day pack. Although she found it uncomfortable, Madeleine wore a steel breastplate and steel barbute over a gambeson and arming cap. Being so heavily equipped on the road was quite useful for deterring ruffians from mischief who would otherwise be quick to pick on a lone woman.

The road from Seylonne to the Inner Kingdom was well traveled by merchants, nobles, and riders, and even peasants moving their produce to the city markets. Some of the folks Madeleine passed seemed to be enjoying the beautiful day, but most seemed rather anxious, no doubt coming to terms with the coming war. Thankfully nobody gave her a hard time, and Madeleine passed through the several villages along the road without incident. Despite her own worries, Madeleine found herself smiling as she rode through meadows, pastures, and forests. The rest of her family preferred life in the city, but Madeleine found the countryside to be where she truly felt alive.

At about midafternoon, Madeleine stopped at a stream to refill her canteen and let Felix and Ursala drink up. She enjoyed looking after her horses and was thankful that they were so well behaved. Although both of them had been neutered, Madeleine liked to think of Felix and Ursala as a couple. Truly such a romance had never before been realized. Then again, that lack of fertility was probably the reason they got along so well. Oh well, real life was rarely as romantic as the stories would lead one to believe. But a girl could dream…

Soon they were back on the road. Several miles later, Madeleine came upon a fork in the road, with the path continuing toward the Inner Kingdom flanked by two tollbooths. Madeleine had been to this fork many times in the past, and she was immediately recognized by the woman at the booth between the forks.

“Madeleine! Come to hunt?” the guardswoman at said booth called out to her, glancing toward the trail into the nearby forest. The booths at the fork served several purposes. The first was to collect fares of people traveling out of the province to the Inner Kingdom or vice versa (the roads didn’t maintain themselves after all). The second was to collect fares for people desiring to hunt in Alpha Remus’ forest. Remus also likely desired to get eyes on those who were coming and going into his territory as well. A nearby watchtower gave the guards a wider view of the area in case trouble was on its way. One path at the fork led to the forest, as mentioned above while the main road continued to the Inner Kingdom. A third path led to Severstone Keep, the primary place of residence of Alpha Remus, his family, and most of his pack.

“Is this a good time for hunting?” Madeleine inquired, riding up to Shevaun (the woman in the booth). Although Shevaun was a Lycan, and indeed she was the youngest daughter of Alpha Remus, the two women recognized kindred spirits in one another, as both were the black sheep of their respective families. A month prior, they had gone hunting together for the first time and had a great time.

“I would say so,” Shevaun replied. “With all of the men gone, there won’t be anyone to get in our way.”

“I’d love to, but I am afraid I am on business,” Madeleine sighed.

“Shame. Going to my father’s place?”

“I am, although with your father’s blessing, I will be traveling to the Inner Kingdom from there.”

“So I will be getting your coin either way,” Shevaun smirked.

“I suppose so,” Madeleine smiled. She started to turn toward the path to Severstone when Shevaun shouted, “Wait!”

When Madeleine stopped and shot the Lycan a questioning look, Shevaun continued, “I just thought you should know that my father led a battalion of men through here to the Inner Kingdom this morning. You will not find him at home.”

“Oh shoot, really,” Madeleine frowned. She had been planning on setting up camp for the night near the safety of Severstone keep, but if Remus wasn’t there, it would probably be a waste to go there. Madeleine glanced anxiously at the lowering sun. She didn’t know the roads to the Inner Kingdom from experience as she had never gone out further than this station before. With the help of a Seylonne merchant who had traveled the road before, she had planned out safe camping spots and watering holes. None of the camping spots she had mapped out were within three hours of the station, and it was dangerous to ride at night.

“It might be worthwhile to see my father’s steward though,” Shevaun added, perhaps sensing Madeleine’s anxiety.

“Good idea!” Madeleine replied, eager to keep to her plan. “Will I see you tomorrow?”

“Probably, I do not have anywhere else I am supposed to be, unless you want to go hunting…”

“Alas!” Madeleine smiled. I’ll see you then!”

With that, Madeleine urged Ursala and Felix onward, for real this time, on the path to Severstone Keep. It seemed things were moving more quickly than her mother had planned, but for now Madeleine would stick to her routes and schedule. Hopefully her mission would not be too derailed by this development…

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