Dawn was nearing, thin streaks of light sneaking to get past the hills. They shone like gold streaks of ribbon on the landscape, when glittering with the morning dew. Even the sky itself, wishing to make the day wondrous, was arranged with an array of violets, blues, and whites. Yet the sun would not let the flower of its light bloom for another half hour. And it was lucky, for it would have seen events which would bring about great sorrow and pain.
Nisac stood outside his tent, having been there all night waiting. His eyes scanned the distance for his hope of a speedy victory. Those hopes came to rest upon a black shadow, coming closer and closer with each wing flap. The great bird, a carrion crow, one of many who would follow the Great Red Army, landed on a perch next to Nisac’s tent. Approaching, Nisac stroked the crow’s neck feathers.
Now nobeast other than Agrim knew a particular talent the Lord Bloodfur had. It was believed by those who had survived in the Land of Ice and Snow, namely the servants and slaves, that Nisac had made a pact with his “father” at the start of his campaign. In exchange for the gift of telepathy, Nisac would forfeit himself should he ever fall to an equal. But none had come close to matching the dread lord in combat.
With his fiery gaze, he peered into the crows mind. Searching through the catacombs of its brain, he finally found the source of his desire. Ahh! So that’s what his enemies were up to. Now they were foolish, thinking they could outmaneuver Nisac Bloodfur! With moles, yet!
Hoarsely giggling to himself, he shooed the crow off, rewarding it with the usual days worth of scavenging time. It flew off, the early morning rays painting iridescent blues and purples on its feathers. Now all was ready. Finding Agrim hunched over in the corner of the tent, Nisac gave the aged seer a light kick to the haunches, which considering the strength in Nisac’s body, sent Agrim tumbling forward with a start. Instinctively kowtowing to his master, he kept his snout on the ground, not daring to look up unless permitted.
“Master. I am yours to command. What is it you wish of me?” he groveled subserviently. Bringing a claw under the fox’s chin, Nisac brought them eye to eye with each other. He gestured for Agrim to come with him. Where they were going was irrelevant to the clairvoyant fox. Going through the flaps of the tent, they passed the flanking guards who were bound to stand at the entrance.
Going all around the camp, Nisac searched for Bluntclaw, who would be particularly useful in what he had planned. Finding his quarry snuggled up by the fire, Nisac nodded to Agrim. Cautiously, the grey fox poked the captain into consciousness. And not too hastily he moved, for Bluntclaw always slept with his sword close by. It was a paw’s length away from slicing Agrim’s head off. Knocking the sword out with a swift kick, Nisac disarmed his commander, gesturing for him to stand to attention. Doing so, Bluntclaw soon had Agrim’s stick waved in his face.
“Captain, your master wishes to know which of your soldiers is the most adept with a knife. Take us to him hastily.”
Inwardly fuming at his embarrassment, the albino fox led them through the sleeping ranks, finally stopping in front of what was always considered a very ordinary soldier in the ranks. Knowing the training the army went through, Bluntclaw removed the sword from where it was, then gave the rat a good kick. Just as anticipated, the rat reached for his sword, ready to slice his enemy into pieces. But he felt the point of his sword on his neck.
“Stay where ye are, rat. Lord Nisac wishes te bandy a few words wi’ ye,” Bluntclaw said condescendingly.
“I’ll listen. Just get me sword away from me neck, Cap’n.” the rat stated, carrying a hint of impudence in his voice. Merely removing the edge, Bluntclaw took a small step back. But the rat was far from listening. Sooner than anybeast could blink, the rat brought out a knife from the back of his belt, brandishing it fiercely. With deftly swiftness, the rat’s blade slashed through the captain’s paw, leaving a sizeable laceration across the palm.
Dropping the sword, Bluntclaw dropped to his knees, wincing at the mark on his hand.
Again, the wolf had chosen to break his silence. Even Bluntclaw, who was writhing with pain, stopped to hear his leader speak. Hearing Nisac’s voice, the rat stood to attention. Walking around him, the wolf snatched the knife from the soldier’s paw. Examining the weapon, he noticed it had seen service elsewhere. Standing in front of the rat again, Nisac looked him up and down.
“Ye were a searat when ye was brought into mah service, rat?”
“Aye aye, sir!”
“Under who’s command did ye serve ‘afore me?”
“Captain Bluefang, on the Winter’s Bite, sir!”
“Ahhhhhhhh,” sighed the wolf, his breath seeming to chill even the warmth around them. “Ah recollect such a battle. Cap’n Bluefang! Such a brilliant fighter. He’d have been a great soldier in mah force if he hadn’t decided to be so… resistant.” Nisac’s smile showed again, the halls of his mind filled with the memory of Bluefang’s bloodcurdling screams, howls, and curses. Needing to shake off “happy memories”, Nisac turned his attention back to the rat before him. To the sheer surprise of all present, the wolf put his arm around the rat’s shoulders, sauntering off towards his tent, which loomed at the edge of the camp. “Ah have a proposition for ye, searat,” were the last words Agrim and Bluntclaw heard as Nisac brought his ‘guest’ through the tent’s entrance.
Elsewhere, unaware of their enemies’ tactics, Haeclim and Narsissa were arranging matters with the mole they had met in their younger years. Finding his colony took the greater part of the early morning, stumbling for up to nearly four hours in the dark woods. But eventually they stumbled on the area with great relief.
The elderly creature they had been looking for, who was in his late middle-age seasons, was as good as moles come: rustic, down-to-earth, and born with the sense of logic only moles possess.
“Ho urrrr! It’m bees a roight old pleasure t’elp ye owt, Maister ‘Aeclim. Y’oum were a grand young’un when ye’n Mistress Narsissa stumbled ’pon ’ere a few seas’ns back. If’n yurr pa bees neck-deep inee moire, then coont on Oi t’do moi part. Stand on moi tunn’l! So the ‘ole ‘olt needs shelter from theym verminct toipes? ‘Tis done immedgitely.”
Shaking the mole’s digging claws heartily, Haeclim was overabounding with joy for their success.
“Oh thank ye, Mister Loamnose! When this is all over, I’ll have Lobdog make you the biggest Deeper'n'Ever Turnip'n'Tater'n'Beetroot Pie” - a popular dish among moles - “you ever saw!” Shuffling his footpaws in embarrassment, Loamnose tugged his snout, a customary thing moles do to show gratitude. Narsissa, however, was still deeply concentrated on her home’s safety. Tugging Haeclim’s tunic, she brought him back to the harsh reality that still laid ahead of them: getting all the holt to safety. Nodding to the moles in quick thanks, the pair of otters sped back to Holt Montis, hoping by all that was good there was still time to save their beloved home.
Standing outside the perimeter of the holt, Boxthorn was mobilizing the small band of otters needed to spot any incoming scouts or forerunners to the army. The force was armed with their customary light armory of weapons: a sling, a bag of stones tied to their belts, and a good-size throwing javelin. Their eyes ever forward, and their minds remembering what was coming, the patrol attempted to note every detail they saw moving in the woods, never sure of when the enemy would show up at their doorstep. Pacing by, Boxthorn patted their backs comfortingly.
“Easy, lads. We want the enemy to know we’re ready for them, not frightened like a leveret punished for giving himself ‘early tea time’,” he said, commanding the respect of each of them.
That single response unearthed a lot of memories, both good and evil, Boxthorn had inside of him. He thought back on the days when he was Skipper. He was young, reckless, always ready for a good fight. But when he met Holly… ah! How things changed! He felt a paw on his shoulder, and knew immediately it was his wife, just by the touch. She looked into his eyes, like long-time couples will when they see their spouse thinking about the old days.
“It was better then, my love. I miss them too,” she sighed.
Blinking his eyes, unhappily putting his eyes back into the present, Boxthorn rose and went to arm himself for the battle to come. All was coming together, and the threads of destinies were inexorably tangled.