I have our orders from Gwendolyn. She has ordered us to repour a stretch of the Scent Border that I know all too well, near the ruins of Ferndale. She has also asked me to make contact with a Guard Captain in Barkstone named Volker to help him organize the Guard’s efforts against the Destroyer. I decided to combine both missions by taking the route through Barkstone to reach the Scent Border.
Near Barkstone we encountered some bandits spinning a tale about “protecting the roads” in the middle of shaking down a merchant. They said that with the Guard’s recent troubles, they wanted to keep the road safe, and that required contributions from merchants. I pointed to the Guard’s example, how we keep the roads clear and accept only what is freely given to support us. They tried to pay us off, and it came to a fight when they saw that they couldn’t. We defeated them, though I felt that savagery rising again in me in the midst of the battle. It might have gone badly for me, had the rest of my patrol not been there to save me. I told them that they should take the road we had just cleared back to Lockhaven and there see what they can do for the Guard, if they are so keen to protect the roads. I think our example reminded them of something they had forgotten. I think they really will go to Lockhaven, though whether or not they’re cut out for the Guard remains to be seen. At least their ambitions can be pointed in a useful direction there, I hope.
I don’t think Beagan likes me very much. He seems very suspicious overall, but he seems to be particularly suspicious of me. He must have asked around about me in Lockhaven then, and if he did he no doubt heard about my father. Ah, that must be it, then — he thinks I’m a traitor. And those bandits lurking outside of Barkstone more than likely had some sort of connection to the Axe. What Beagan calls my leniency must look like conspiracy to him. Punishment is a poor way to change the way a mouse thinks and feels. Punish a mouse and you strengthen his animosity and bitterness. Bandits like these have merely forgotten what every mouse is capable of. They’ve given in to their bitterness and despair. It’s up to us as Guardmice to remind them of what they’ve forgotten.
Volker had plans to raise an army against the Destroyer. Such an effort would cost hundreds or even thousands of lives. I told him of the Sacred Horns. He didn’t seem to think much of the plan, but he granted that allowing a single patrol to pursue that lead might be worthwhile while he takes the time to raise an army. That makes it a race. If we can retrieve the Horns before Volker has raised his army, we might be able to drive off the Destroyer before it comes to a battle that will cost thousands of lives even if we manage to win.
I don’t want to be the sort of leader who makes such decisions for others, though, so I took it to the rest of the patrol. I think they all had different reasons, but they did end up agreeing with me. I was proud of that moment.
So we’re in Barkstone for the moment, preparing to venture back out into the wilderness. We’ll pour the Scent first to ensure that the Border is secure behind us, but then we’ll be crossing it. It will be the first time I’ve returned to Ferndale since its fall. I must find my mother and retrieve her horn. While I’m there, I intend to give her a proper burial.
Brienne seems stalwart and reliable, but I think Clove is still sizing me up. She seems to be getting along well with Beagan, though whether that means good or ill for me I’m not yet entirely sure.
On Volker’s suggestion I spoke to a prisoner being held in Barkstone, a former captain in Midnight’s army. He says he knows of tunnels through Darkheather that reach beneath Ferndale. Those would be the tunnels ruled by Fin the Brutal. They say the weasels abandoned Darkheather at the end of the war, but who can say for sure what is true down there in the dark? I suspect this mouse is leading us into a trap, so I have insisted that he come with us, so that he can share in whatever grisly fate he intends for us. I’m sure that decision did little to quell Beagan’s suspicions. So be it. He is a tenderpaw, and tenderpaws must learn that the world is a more complex place than they once thought.
I arranged a training exercise for my patrol — two teams, each tasked with painting each side of a newt a different color. They did well. That’s good. I’ll have to pick a more challenging target next. Are they ready for a snake, perhaps? More importantly, are they ready for weasels?