All the holt were assembled in front of Boxthorn , who in turn was in front of his hut. The Skipper had on a royal blue robe. In his hand he held a ceremonial javelin, inlaid with designs and messages that only the Skipper could decipher. His paw went up, silencing the throng. Then the command rang out loud and clear.
“Bring forth he who is to lead us!”
Parting, the crowd revealed Haeclim, flanked by two sturdy otters carrying javelins. They marched slowly towards Boxthorn, who stood stoic and unmoving, like a war hero’s marble statue. Thoughts were racing at the speed of light in Haeclim’s mind.
“How can I lead these dear creatures? I’m not even grown! This is for someone with more experience and wisdom.” When he was close enough, his dad whispered in his ear, “You‘ll do fine, son. Just remember what you‘ve learned. You‘ve got great things in store for ya.”
Feeling more at ease, the son raised his head high with confidence. Holding the javelin out to him, the Skipper spoke out in a clear, loud voice the oath that he had pledged so many seasons ago.
“Haeclim Whitestripe, do you swear that you will lead with kindness instead of cruelty? To serve the needs of others rather than add to them? To safeguard the old and the helpless? And should your enemies be at your mercy, to give them quarter though they deserve the sword?”
“I swear this on my life and my honor!
Handing the javelin to his son, Boxthorn proclaimed in a proud voice.
“Then let it be known that Holt Montis has a new leader: the Skipper of the badger’s stripe! Skipper Whitestripe!” And with that, a grand cheer rang out from the throng.
“Long live Skipper Whitestripe!”
Holding up his paws, Haeclim hushed the crowd.
“Friends, this deeply honored I am. I’d rather this go to some other beast, but seein’ as how I was chosen, I’m goin’ ta’ put me best footpaw forward. I know I won’t be as good as me dad, but let’s pray that seasons and fate be good to us while you are in my care. But for now, let’s celebrate!” One final cheer went up, and then the feast began!
What a feast it was! All manner of salads, pies, bakes, puddings, and other assorted delicacies were there. To quench the thirst, there was damson cordial, dandelion wine, and strawberry fizz for the young ‘uns. It was a favorite to them because of the bubbles that tickled their noses. The main dish however was in the steaming cauldron: shrimp n’ hotroot soup.
The spicy dish was considered a major favorite among otters. It was usually made up of river or pond shrimp, leeks, onions, bulrush, garlic, horseradish, and the fiery spice hotroot. It’s said that the soup could never be to hot for an otter. The saying was correct. One of the youngsters had swiped a shaker of hotroot from the table and was making it rain on his portion. One of his friends saw what he was doing, and wanted to have an extra few shakes too.
However, the former wasn’t in the mood to share. What a row that broke out between the two! The crowd was forced to part, giving them a large circular space, so they wouldn’t receive a blow or get tripped by the fighter’s tails.
“Cummon, Brookback! You ‘ad more ‘n enough!”
“Greedy-guts, gimme that shaker!”
Boxthorn nudged his son on the shoulder. “Well,” he said, “here’s your first test, Skipper. Go to it.“ Haeclim rushed into the fray and, with his huge paws, picked the pair up by their heads as if they were rag dolls. Even though their skulls were in Skipper’s grasp, they were still throwing punches and kicking up a storm.
“’Ere now, mates! What’s the fuss about?” he inquired in a calm, but firm voice. The explanations, or rather insults, came on either side of him like waves crashing onto off-shore rocks.
“I was just having a little extra hotroot, when slobber-chops over there came an’ tried to grab the shaker right out o’ me paws.”
“He’s fibbin‘. ‘A little extra hotroot,’ he says. No such thing, Skipper. The shaker must be half empty. Look for yourself, sir.”
He eyed the pair until they were hushed, and blushing down to their tail-tips with shame. “You two should be ashamed o’ yourselves. You river otters, not sea vermin, remember that. But I will grant you both one thing: You want to fight, you’ll do it fairly. Clear a circle!”
In a trice the circle was made in the dust with the otters’ rudder-like tails. As the small dust clouds settled, Haeclim escorted the two contestants into the ring. Motioning to his dad to come close, they held whispered conversation. A good deal of nodding and confirming went between them. One final nod was exchanged, and the former leader stepped into the center of the circle. He called for silence in a loud, proclaiming voice. He had obviously been chosen as the referee.
“Attend me, good otters! These are the rules! There will be no dirt throwing, biting, clawing, clenching, tail tripping, or dirty fightin’ of any kind! Only punches are to be exchanged! Contestants!” He motioned for the two young otters to come together.
“Shake paws, and come out fighting,” was all he said. Were they vermin, the match might have started there, with all manner of scratching and biting. But being good creatures by nature and nurture, they did as they were told. Parting to their respective spaces, they awaited the signal. Raising his paw above his head, Boxthorn shouted one word.
With that, the two quarreling pups came at each other with gusto. The first blow went to Oakrudder, the one who asked for the shaker, landing Brookback a swift punch on the cheek. But as he received the punch, Brookback brought his clenched right paw up, connecting it with his opponent’s stomach. With pain stamped on his face, Oakrudder stood there with his paws on his aching belly.
Brookback had recovered and was about to give Oakrudder a final blow to the chin. But as he came in, his opponent saw the footpaws and realized he had to move. Bobbing to the right, Oakrudder straightened up and landed Brookback a right to the jaw. Brookback landed on all fours, and with exhaustion, Oakrudder toppled over. Both of them were breathing hard, and both were massaging their bruises. The fight was over in a matter of seconds. Knowing that neither would try for another blow, Haeclim stepped between them.
“Had enough you two?” he asked them. Their response came in confident and resigned unison.
Satisfied with their response, the burly otter sent them off to get their contusions mended. Turning around, Haeclim went back to enjoying the festivities.
He made it to the tables in time to serve himself a heaping helping of shrimp n’ hotroot soup. Once he sat down on an old oak stump, he received many a pat on the back from his friends and relatives in the holt. They thought that the idea was a sound one. Once he could shoo them off, Boxthorn took a seat to talk privately to his son.
“That’s just what those two needed, m’boy,” he stated restfully. “I had trouble with them before this. The pair are bosom companions. Really they are! But as soon as food comes between ‘em, they turn on each other like march hares at a betrothal feast.”
“Well,” replied his son, who was half done with his massive bowl of soup, “I think that I finally knocked it out of them. No, wait!” he said with a start. A sudden smile practically leapt across his wide face.
“What’s so amusing?” inquired his dad.
“I stand corrected. They knocked it out of each other.” Both of them had convulsions of suppressed laughter. Everybeast who went by, seeing them so, knew that the new Skipper, as young as he was, would be a great leader.