It is early Spring in the year 1153. The Territories are beginning to thaw and its denizens look to resume their regular lives as Winter looses its grasp. Yet there is a particular energy in the air, felt by everymouse—particularly by the Guard. Midnight's rebellion is fresh in everymouse's mind. The Guard's number has been depleted, first by the war, then by this rebellion. Can the Guard continue to protect the Territories as they have?
Walmond is nervous as well. After years in the field with his old patrol, he knows that he'll be tasked to lead a new set of guardmice. Still, his bags are packed; he is as ready as he ever will be. As he climbs the stairs to the Matriarch's office, he cannot help but smile, remembering how uneasy he felt before his first briefing as a patrol leader. He notices the wear from countless paw steps on the stone stairs. Too bad, he would have liked to replace those during the Winter. Now, greater duty calls. He knocks on Gwendolyn's door and enters when she tells him to come in.
Gwendolyn briefs him: he'll be heading to the eastern Scent Border with Morgan, a capable outdoorsmouse. Gwen wants him to work alongside Morgan to scout the Scent Border before the Guard can bring the Scent barrels out east and begin retreating the Border. In fact, Morgan has performed this mission for the last two years and would be capable of doing so again on her own, but Gwen wants Walmond to work with Morgan to bring her out of her shell. Spending so much time working alone has made Morgan a bit wild, and the Guard needs every mouse that it has.
Morgan isn't nervous at all. Rumor has is it that she'll be heading back out to the Eastern Scent Border for her usual springtime reconnaissance there, but as she enters Gwendolyn's office, unease sets in. A greyfur in a brown cloak stands next to the Matriarch. Surely, Gwendolyn wouldn't saddle her with another mouse after her exemplary performance these last two years. Last time she even completed the mission through hail. Hail! But it gets worse: Walmond isn't just joining her for this mission, she's becoming part of his patrol!
Sensing the tension in the room, Walmond excuses himself. Morgan asks Gwen why this is happening. The Matriarch smiles, but it's the kind of smile that belies mixed emotion. Gwnedolyn explains: the Guard (and even the Territories) need Morgan. They need Morgan not just for scouting and the like, but also to lead. The knot in Morgan's stomach gets worse, but Gwendolyn quickly reassures the blackfur. Morgan doesn't have to lead until she's ready, but her potential will be wasted if Morgan hides in the wilds and never learns the skills she will need.
With that, the patrol heads out from the Lockhaven gates and sets out along the route recommended by Gwendolyn towards Calogero. The going is easy enough, yet there is a palpable sense of awkwardness in the patrol. In an effort to demonstrate to Morgan that he has no overbearing agenda, Walmond lets her lead the way. The journey is very quiet.
Two days later, the pair arrive at Calogero. Ivan is stationed at the outpost and has his sailboat there as well. Quoting the oath of every Guardmouse, Walmond talks Ivan into lending his boat to the patrol so that they might cross Darkwater Bay to access the Scent Border. Reluctantly, Ivan agrees. After a quick whispered exchange on their walk toward the boat, Walmond and Morgan discover that neither knows how to sail very well. Fortunately, the weather is clear and the seas are still. The patrol traverses the bay and finishes their trek to reach the Scent Border.
Not more than a day into their task of scouting the Border, Walmond's eyes snap open as he wakes from his sleep. He knows that something is wrong. He knows that bad weather is coming, yet he looks to check anyway. Maybe, just maybe, this first mission with his new patrolmate will be free of such complications. Still, he knows that such hope is pointless, and a quick peek out of the lean-to that he and Morgan have pitched only confirms this. Heavy, dark clouds hang in the sky to the northwest, and they will certainly catch the patrol before the Sun sets. They obscure the horizon beyond. Walmond and Morgan quickly break camp and look to make as much progress along the Scent Border as possible before the storm arrives.
The blizzard hits hard. Biting winds threaten to blow the guardmice off of their route, whipping their cloaks violently. Heavy snow makes passage challenging at best. It is the last gasp of Winter, furious that she must wait another year to once again hold the Territories in her greedy clutches. At first, the patrol makes little headway; the storm seems implacable.
But do not fret, fair reader! For even in the face of such adversity, our heroes show their mettle. Morgan smiles. Last year, it was hail that attempted—unsuccessfully—to block her path. A blizzard like this is nothing by comparison. Walmond closes his eyes briefly against the driving wind and snow. He can clearly envision a stone arch in Lockhaven. In many ways, this arch is like countless others in the great citadel that the Guard call home, yet carved above it in simple script are the words "It matters not what you fight, but what you fight for." He is fortified by his duty and knows that this troublesome squall will not get the best of him. The patrol pushes on resolutely into the storm.
Some days later, the sun rises in a clear sky, illuminating a glittering coat of fresh snow. Morgan pops her head above the surface, then shakes it to remove the tiny pile of snow that rests between her dark-furred ears. A second later, Walmond does the same. According to their map, they are almost done with their mission. The South Sea lies only a couple of days away. They were only pushed from the Border a couple brief times during the blizzard, despite its ferocity.
However, as the day wears on, they encounter another obstacle. The area along the southern edge of the Scent Border has burned all the way to the sea. Without the grass, the border will be exposed, making the prospect of scouting the Border (and later pouring the Scent there) more dangerous. There is also the option of scouting along the edges of the burned area to find a new path for the Border.
While the two consider their options, Morgan reaches down to pick up a pawful of soil. The soot from the burn still lingers in the dirt, and as she looks down at her own ebon coat and an idea dawns upon her. Without warning (and much to her patrol leader's surprise), she takes a great pawful of soot and smears it into the greyfur's coat. After Walmond's initial shock wears off, she explains that they can camouflage themselves to blend in with the charred soil. Carefully, the two make their way along the now blackened Scent Border to the Sea and from there to Wolfpointe to deliver their report.
Gwendolyn has sent Brand, Walmond's friend, to Wolfpointe to coordinate the effort along the Scent Border. The mission hasn't proved terribly taxing, but he's still a welcoming sight. The friends embrace warmly. Brand thanks the patrol for their report, but he's troubled by the burn area that they found. He lets Walmond and Morgan in on his concerns. Though it would be ideal to lay the Scent over the existing Border, doing so would put those mice in the open. However, finding a new place to pour the Border carries it's own difficulties. He only has so many barrels of Scent and the patrols here on the Border are also needed elsewhere. Time is not their ally. He tells Walmond and Morgan that he will think on the best course and will have their next mission ready in a couple days or so.
In the mean time, the patrol find themselves free to enjoy Wolfpointe. The village doesn't have much to offer, due to its remote nature, but Walmond is glad to be home. He would rather spend time with his friend, but Brand's duties keep him busy. Therefore, he suggests that he and Morgan visit the village tavern. Hazel the Barmouse, the proprietress there, is delighted to see them, particularly Walmond. She brings them both a steaming bowl of grass seed soup and takes to cleaning the particular portions of the tavern within earshot of the two. Walmond asks Morgan about her previous missions on the Border, and the two set about filling their bellies and swapping stories from their time in the Guard.
That evening, Morgan explores the village, hoping to find a Sciencemouse that had accompanied the barrels of Scent on their way to Wolfpointe. Sure enough, she runs into Peter the Sciencemouse. Though the sciencemouse won't divulge any of the Sprucetuck secrets regarding the formula of the Scent, he happily discusses many of the other processes undertaken by Sprucetuck in maintaining the Scent Borders. The two talk late into the night.
The next day, Walmond walks to the small marketplace in town. The blizzard has left heaps of fresh snow on the ground and it will take some time for them to melt, In the meantime, snowshoes would be quite useful. Amidst the seemingly endless grasslands of the eastern Territories, Wolfpointe is known for it's products made of woven grass. Sure enough he spots a young merchant selling snowshoes, but he is flabbergasted by the price. Perhaps this youngster is blind enough to not notice that he is a member of Guard? He plays at idly rubbing the hem of his cloak as he begins to barter. Surely, his status as a local serving the community should warrant a discount? The merchant doesn't budge and neither does his quoted price. After spending more time than he would like haggling, Walmond finally arrives at a reasonable deal, he throws the proper coinage to the merchant, grabs the snowshoes, and storms off. Kids these days.
As be passes the baker, something catches his eye, and he backs up a couple steps to glance down the alley. Curled against the back wall of the establishment lies Morgan, sleeping, basking in the warmth of the oven. Walmond shakes his head in bemused exasperation. Kids these days, indeed.
Still, the mission with Morgan went well, and there is promise for their partnership in the future. The possibility for friendship is open as well. Gwendolyn was right to put her faith in him; he'll mold the young blackfur in the guardmouse that the Territories need.
The future looks bright as Winter fades away.