Oh, The Places You'll Go

Winter, Like a Wolf

Notes: Post-Autumn 1152/A Return to Honor.

They stand at the edge of the topmost turret of Lockhaven, the harsh wind whipping their cloaks about them so that they crack like thunder. Saxon grumbles under his breath and tries to clasp the folds of red under his arms, taming them. Kenzie does not need to look at him to know it is a fruitless task, and his whiskers tremble with suppressed amusement at the irritated mutterings streaming from his fellow Guard.

He stares out into the Mouse Territories, tracing the lines of the safepaths with a well-practised eye. The fallen leaves piled in friendly drifts make it hard to discern landmarks, but Kenzie has walked these paths these many seasons, could walk them blindfolded, and he marks them off, one by one.

"Hard times are coming, friend," he says, after a long silence.

"Hard times have been and will be again. We fight. It is what we do." Saxon throws up his paws in exasperation and draws his sword, using it to pin his cloak to the rough-hewn stone.

Kenzie's whiskers do not tremble this time. "We cannot fight winter, Saxon. We cannot take it apart with our swords and our staves. We can work with it, minimize our losses, but it will be harder this year; Midnight has seen to that." He grips the turret with his paws, claws scraping into the stone as if they can find true anchor there. The wind rises again, whipping his cloak sharp across his cheek before he can bar it. It stings.

"I told you to choose a sword this time," says Saxon, "But no, you would only take a staff. Wood cannot tame rock, Kenzie."

"Aye, and mouse cannot tame winter."

Saxon leans forward, nose twitching as he sniffs the air. "Snow is coming," he says. He places a paw over Kenzie's. "We fight. It is a different kind of fighting, that much is true, but we fight. Do we curl into little balls like the tree-rats and sleep and sleep and hope that we will wake to see the first leaf? No. We rise every day and we wage war against the cold and the dark and the barren land and we do not let it overcome us."

Kenzie looks down at the redfurred paw resting on his. He thinks that if all the strength and fire in Saxon was in every mouse then winter would, indeed, be nothing to fear. It matters not what we fight, he reminds himself, but what we fight for. What would happen to the Territories if the Guard Mice of Lockhaven fell to Winter?

"There will be casualties. The young, the old, the lame and sick…" He tries not to think of Rand and the leg that will never work again.

"It is war, Kenzie. There are always casualties."

"But you believe we'll win."

"I do." Saxon's paw tightens on Kenzie's and is then gone, the sharp wind ruffling Kenzie's fur and causing his paw to feel bitterly cold.

Kenzie releases his grip on the tower and steps back, pulling his purple cloak about him. Saxon tries to pull his sword out from the rock, but it is a trickier task than he seems to have considered and he half-tumbles backwards to the loud rip of fabric. Kenzie steps to the side, catching and steadying him before he falls.

"Winter must be cowering, knowing you are on our side, Sax," he says, whiskers once more a-tremble.

Saxon twists under Kenzie's arm to glare at him, but there is no heat in it. Perhaps the coming winter has leached that, too.

"Trust me, friend," says Saxon, gripping the hilt of his sword once more, this time pulling it with success. "It will not be this winter that defeats us."

"What will it be?" Kenzie wants to ask, and the question is urgent enough to set his fur on end. But he swallows down the words and instead, his tone studiedly casual, says, "You should mend your cloak while there is still light to sew by. It's almost gone." He lifts his head to see the bruised yellow sky high, high above the skeleton-bare trees. A flake the size of a dinner plate lazily dances down to the ground and Kenzie shivers. "Let us go in. I'll thread the needle, I know how your paws tremble."

"You lie!" Saxon chases Kenzie down the twisting stone steps and for a little while at least Kenzie can forget what is to come.

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