Sorry this is a day late, I meant to publish it in time for Christmas, but here it is, my gift to all of my amazing friends and fellow fanwarriors here on Redwall Wiki. Love you guys! <3 I hope that you had an amazing Christmas, and even if you don't celebrate the birth of our savior, hope you had a good day (Snoggletog, Winter Feast, Hanukkah, Stinky Sock Day, whatever you celebrate) and pray that 2018 will be a wonderful year for everyone! ^^
Anyway, as a gift to you all, I decided to publish the first chapter of a fanfic I started a while ago. I'm so sorry I don't have any more DoR yet, I'm actually working on rewriting that. So hopefully we'll see that in the next year. But for now, here is the beginning of a new, swashbuckling Southswardian adventure. Hope you enjoy!! Please comment and have a great 2018!!! ^.^
Chapter 1 - Accusation
Autumn sunshine filtered through the brightly colored leaves, making red and orange patterns overhead and all across the ground. A breeze fluttered the foliage, causing a small whirlwind of fiery leaves to blow across the path.
“Oh, I know I’ve said this so many times today, but isn’t it just perfectly beautiful?” sighed the young ottermaid serenely as she and her companion walked through the peaceful woods.
“Oh, not as beautiful as some things I’ve seen in this forest.” said the other otter with a mischievous raise of his eyebrows.
“Oh really?” she looked around. “What could be more beautiful than this?”
“Hmm.” he seemed to be thinking, until his gaze landed on her golden fur, shining in the sunlight. His blue eyes twinkled as he turned to her in pretend surprise. “Oh look, there’s one! The one and only most beautiful thing in all of Southsward, standing right beside me!” He staggered as if in shock.
“Oh, Flinn!” she tried to roll her eyes at him, but only succeeded in laughing along with him. “You rascal!” Reaching down, the maiden pulled his rudder-like tail playfully.
In return, Flinn pretended she had pulled harder than she really had and fell over backwards into the damp leaves, long limbs flailing.
“Ahh!” he buried himself in leaves, then reached up to her, pretending to be weighed down by them. “Help me up, Olivia!”
She laughed, but reached a paw down to him, only to be pulled down on top of him with an indignant little shriek from her and a laugh of triumph from him.
“I’m not helping you up again, you rogue!” Olivia pulled herself back up, brushing leaves off her pale pink dress.
Flinn, after a momentary pouty-face, gave up and leaped to his feet nimbly, shaking leaves everywhere.
“Where’s me hat?” he looked around, until she brought it out from behind her back, plopping it over his face with a smile.
“Yore gettin’ better at stealing, ain’t ye?” Flinn straightened his cap and the long red feather in it.
“As if that’s something to be proud of.” answered Olivia. “You’re the one who taught me how, you’re still much better at it than I ever will be.”
“Oh, I try to refrain from swipin’ stuff now.” shrugged the tall, lithe otter. “Uncle Riordan wanted me t’try an’ make as little trouble as I can while he’s away. I try, but I just can’t help m’self. Seems like it’s what I’m best at.” He gave a sort of exasperated sighing laugh, kicking the leaves.
Olivia knew how hard it was for the energetic young otter to keep out of trouble. “Don’t worry, Flinn, you’re good at plenty of other things!” she said comfortingly as they continued their stroll. “Swordfighting, archery… You’re the best archer in the whole land!”
“Oh, not really.” Flinn shrugged off the compliment, which he had heard too many times to count. “My uncle’s probably better than me. I can’t really help being good at it, anyway, being a Streambattle.” he laughed.
“I wonder, can your uncle hit a leaf in the very center as it’s falling?” smiled Olivia, prompting him to bring out his bow. She loved watching him demonstrate his breathtaking skills. “Can you, even?”
“Can I?!” Flinn stopped, pulling his longbow off his back and stringing it. He never went anywhere unarmed, and he was well armed, not only with his bow, but a short sword and dagger on either side.
“Where have you been all your life?” he winked at her, then before she could respond, he had an arrow nocked and aimed. A second later, there was a thunk as it zipped into the trunk of a tree ahead of them.
Flinn dashed ahead, pulling the crimson-fletched shaft out of the bark and holding up the bright yellow leaf impaled by it.
“Right in the middle!” Flinn grinned, handing the ripped leaf to Olivia and dropping his arrow back in the quiver at his side.
Olivia inspected the leaf. Sure enough, it was split almost exactly down the middle vein. “I will never know how you do that.” the pretty ottermaid shook her head.
“Practice.” shrugged Flinn modestly.
“Oh, it’s much more than just practice.” said a voice behind them.
Out of a tree dropped a squirrelmaid, a few seasons younger than both otters, but a close friend nonetheless. “It’s in your blood, Flinn.”
“Scarlett!” cried Olivia, looking a little embarrassed. “Were you spying on us?”
“Maybe, maybe not.” grinned Scarlett, flicking her bushy tail mischievously. “Why, you got a secret, lovebirds?”
Olivia blushed, but Flinn intervened. “Nah, have you?” He slung his bow on his back, grinning at her. “Why would we hide anything from you?”
Scarlett laughed, but a second later turned more serious. “Anyway, I came to tell you that Prince Ivan wants to see you. Immediately.”
“Who, me?” Flinn pointed at himself.
“What did you do now?” groaned Olivia. “I thought you were supposed to stay out of trouble!”
“Aye, Flinn, though he does wish for you to come also.” Scarlett answered, nodding to Olivia.
“What does ole bossybrush want now?” Flinn asked as the trio headed in the direction of home.
The squirrelmaid burst out laughing. “Better not let my uncle hear you calling him that! Great seasons, he’d explode!” she sighed. “I’m not sure, but it sounded serious. We’d better hurry, now, he’ll be extra cross if we’re late.”
“Race ye?” Flinn grinned at both of them.
“On it!” Knowing even she couldn’t outrun the long-limbed otter in a fair race, Scarlett picked up the edge of her dress and took off across the meadow that separated the castle from the forest.
“Hey! False start!” yelled Flinn, only to find that even Olivia had already followed the squirrelprincess.
“Unfair!” he dashed away, quickly overtaking the golden otter.
“You’re unfair!” panted Scarlett as she ran harder.
Flinn soon caught up to her, even having the cheek to turn and run backwards, still staying far in front of the two maidens.
Olivia had already stopped and stood catching her breath, but Scarlett kept coming.
“C’mon, slowpokes!” laughed the young otter as Scarlett tripped on a stone and went flying.
“Oh, Scarlett, you’ve stained your dress again.” sighed Olivia as she helped her friend up.
Scarlett wiped carelessly at the large brown stain on her skirt, only succeeding in smearing it more. “Whatever. I have plenty of dresses.”
“And not one of them is stain-free.” Olivia raised her eyes to the blue sky, as if expecting to find the answer to this calamity up amongst the sparse clouds.
Castle Floret was huge and beautiful, the heart of Southsward. Its creamy stone walls rose as if reaching for the sky, the towers topped with conical, red-tiled roofs. The home of the squirrelking and his royal family sat atop a huge cliffside, with bare, steep hillsides below. The only way up were the incredibly long, rocky stairs on one side of the hill. This was a bit of a nuisance sometimes, but it made the castle much easier to defend, and gave anybeast a good workout.
The trio at last made it up the stairs, hurrying into the castle, where they were escorted by a grim-faced otterguard to the throne room.
“What’s up, Eduardin, mate?” Flinn grinned at the guard, who returned his friendly greeting with a long face.
“You’ll see.” sighed Eduardin, adding under his breath something like, ‘You’ve done it this time, Streambattle…”
Flinn bowed politely to Prince Ivan, who sat slumped on the throne with an un-princely scowl on his features. “You wanted to see me, sir?”
He didn’t like the Squirrelprince much, viewing him as an immature, bratty adult, and he was sure he wasn’t the only one with this opinion.
At the right paw of Ivan stood a tall, attractive weasel, Flinn’s least favorite creature in the castle. Maybe in the whole world. Though charming and friendly, there was something the otter didn’t like about Ferris. Maybe it was just the fact that the adviser was a weasel. Flinn’s uncle Riordan had always taught him that such creatures could not be trusted. He gave a polite nod to Ivan’s adviser, however. No point in being rude in such an obviously serious situation.
Before answering, Ivan motioned for his niece and Olivia to take their seats at his left, which they did obediently.
“Aye,” Ivan pulled himself up in the throne, sitting up straighter now and attempting to look authoritative and commanding. “Now listen up.”
That was when Flinn noticed the prince was not wearing the crown.
When King Peter had left nearly a moon ago, he had left behind his crown, in case anything happened to him on his journey to help the Long Patrol of Salamandastron defend the northern shores of Mossflower against vermin armies from the Land of Ice and Snow.
“This morning I could not find my crown.” Ivan continued. “Would you… happen to know anything about where it has gone?”
His scowl grew even deeper as Flinn, looking a bit bored, pulled over the nearest chair and sat down in it, flinging one arm carelessly over the back of it. “Sorry, sir, I ain’t seen it since it was on yore head yesterday.” he replied. “It never mentioned anything t’me about where it was goin’ off to. Maybe t’visit its family?” he couldn’t resist adding the last part with a straight face.
Scarlett clapped a paw over her mouth, but her laughter showed through her violet eyes.
Olivia didn’t laugh, beginning to look nervous.
Ivan’s expression grew even more fierce, like he was about to explode, but Ferris placed a paw gently on his shoulder, as if that was the only thing that could keep the prince together.
“Then perhaps, young Streambattle,” the weasel said, his eyebrows shooting up in mock surprise. “You wouldn’t care to explain why this crown was found to be in your possession?”
Flinn’s carefree smile faded as Eduardin, standing nearby, revealed the supposedly missing crown.
“I’m sorry, Flinn,” the otterguard frowned. “But this was found in your room while searching the castle.”
Flinn shook his head. “So you think I stole it, don’t ye?”
“Of course you did!” cried Ivan accusingly. “It’s just the sort of thing you would do, you scoundrel!”
“While I won’t deny that I can be a bit of a scoundrel sometimes,” said Flinn, “I assure you that I wouldn’t go an’ steal yore silly ole crown. Why would I want it? I don’t even steal anymore, to be honest.” he shrugged.
“You dare to use the word honest, you troublemaker?” Ivan fumed at him. “I’ve seen how much you steal! I practically watched you grow up, and all your life, you have been nothing but trouble! You steal, lie, you disobey orders, you disrespect me and try to make a fool of me!”
“It doesn’t take much to succeed at the last bit.” Flinn said unwisely.
“THIS is what I’m talking about!” yelled Prince Ivan, losing his temper despite his adviser’s attempts to calm him.
“Always talking back, showing me less respect than a stone, this is the last straw! You can’t just steal my crown and get away with it! You’re going to spend the next few days cooling your paws in the dungeons! That should wipe the smile off your face, you rapscallion!” His face was quite red by now, and Ferris raised his eyes to the ceiling, unable to stop the prince’s torrent of furious words.
“Now wait just a minute, mate.” Flinn rose, his expression uncharacteristically serious. “You can’t just accuse me of stealin’ th’ crown an’ then throw me in th’ dungeon! You don’t got actual proof that it was me.”
“Isn’t finding it in your quarters enough proof?” said Ferris. “I think it is. Unless, of course, you can prove your innocence.” He gave him an expectant look.
Flinn remained calm outwardly, but his mind raced.
“Olivia and Princess Scarlett can vouch for me.” he motioned to the maidens. “They are my closest friends.”
“Miss Olivia, Princess Scarlett,” Ferris turned to them. “Can you tell me where Flinn was last night? Were you with him?”
“Of course we were!” claimed Scarlett, unfortunately at the same time as the ottermaid admitted quietly, “No. We didn’t see him after supper.”
The princess glared at her friend, and Ferris gave the squirrelmaid a reproving look. “Don’t lie about it, your highness. It won’t help anything.”
“Of course they weren’t with me last night,” explained Flinn. “I was out in the woods, practicing my archery. I prefer to be alone sometimes.”
“Unfortunately, seeing as you cannot prove your innocence,” said Ferris, as if in regret, “It looks like we are finished here.”
“And you’re going to the dungeon!” cut in Ivan.
“Ivan, your highness, don’t you think that’s a bit harsh?” asked Ferris, with that arch of his eyebrows which was starting to get on Flinn’s nerves.
“Not for a thief like him!” stormed the squirrelprince. “Just a few days, at least! That should teach the insolent rogue a lesson!”
“Well, alright.” Ferris appeared to give in. Turning to the otter, he held out a paw. “Now hand over your weapons, come quietly, and make it easier on yourself.” he said with calm authority.
Flinn glanced around, his heart rate quickening.
Scarlett sat stone faced, Olivia beside her fighting back tears and looking imploringly at him.
“If you want my weapons, take them.” he said at last, voice low and carrying a hint of menace. Catching something in the weasel’s eye, Flinn whirled around suddenly, stopping the otterguard who had walked up silently behind him.
“Sorry, mate.” Flinn apologized as he shoved his chair toward the otter so he stumbled into it.
“I was afraid we would have to do this the hard way.” sighed Ferris condescendingly behind him, grabbing his arms before he could make another move.
The weasel’s grip was strong, but Flinn, after many seasons using a longbow, was as well, not to mention quick. The lithe otter wrenched his arms out of the adviser’s grasp, turning and drawing his sword.
“Aye, that seems to be your favorite way.” replied Flinn with a carefree yet dangerous tone of voice. Alert and prepared, he backed swiftly in the direction of the door.
“Any paw what comes near me gets hurt.” he warned. At a short whistle from Ferris, the double doors flew open to reveal nearly a score of uniformed vermin, armed with spears and swords, blocking the way. Flinn pointed his short sword in their direction, looking around for another way out.
There was only one.
“Sorry, but I really can’t stick around for this nonsense.” he said as he dashed over to the window.
“I’m afraid you’ll have to, young sir.” Ferris stood in his way, sword drawn. Their weapons met with a clash.
“I ain’t got th’ time, as much as I’d like to.” grunted Flinn as he deflected the weasel’s next blow, twisting his opponent’s sword around as he moved swiftly around him in one slick move. He stamped on the adviser’s tail as he whirled around, swinging at him again, but the athletic otter dodged, striking a fierce blow at his footpaws. Ferris jumped to avoid the blade, but as he did so, Flinn’s left paw shot out, holding a dagger, and stabbed at the weasel’s unprotected swordpaw. Ferris dropped his weapon with a snarl of pain, and Flinn, sheathing both his blades, leaped up onto the wide windowsill.
Spotting the sobbing ottermaid across the room, he caught her eye and gave her a reassuring wink. Ferris, ignoring the pain, reached for his sword on the floor.
Flinn saw the movement, and without any further hesitation, blew a kiss to the golden ottermaid, as if there was nobeast else in the room but them.
“I’ll be back, my fair Olivia!”
With that, the lithe young otter leaped out of the window, Ferris’s sword missing his rudder by less than a pawswidth.
“Get him!” screeched Ivan in alarm, jumping up from the throne, where he had sat watching the whole thing. “Don’t let him get away!”
The squirrelprince rushed to the window, just in time to see a slight splash in the moat a couple of stories down.
“Get down there and catch him! Now!” Ferris ordered his vermin guards.
They obeyed right away, dashing and stumbling their way down to the base of the castle.
Flinn climbed out of the moat, shaking water out of his sleek fur. He was glad the window of the throne room wasn’t as high as it could have been. The moat was only so deep, and went only around the half of the castle not surrounded by cliff. He gave a glance up at the window far above, where he could briefly see the face of Prince Ivan glaring down at him. Checking his weapons to be sure they were all still there, the otter looked for his escape route.
Knowing the stairs would take much too long, Flinn took a shortcut by merely skidding down the bare hill.
Hearing shouts up above, the otter paused to glance behind him. The vermin guards were out now, and looking over the edge of the hill.
“Better watch yore curious snouts.” Flinn muttered, swiftly loading his longbow and firing a couple of arrows up over the heads of the vermin. With yells of alarm, they ducked. They knew his skill with the bow.
Slinging his bow back where he carried it, Flinn continued down the hill, picking up speed as he went.
Sssthunk! An arrow pierced the dirt at his heels, followed by a few more. Unable to stop now, Flinn practically flew down the hill, until, losing his balance as another arrow missed his leg closely, he tumbled down and began to roll. Unprepared for the sudden change in pace, he yelped as his arms and legs flailed around uncontrollably, smacking on a few rocks.
At last he hit the grass at the bottom of the hill with a thump. Holding back a moan of pain, Flinn jumped up, his bruises soon nearly forgotten as an arrow grazed past his head.
There was nowhere to hide here, nothing but open grass. Gritting his teeth in frustration at his helplessness, the otter took off across the meadow, arrows thudding behind him.
Realizing he was out out of their range of fire, the guards followed, which quickly turned chaotic as they bumped into one another and sent each other rolling and tumbling painfully down the incredibly steep hill.
Flinn left them far behind as he crossed the green meadows, making his way into the forest.
Finally, somewhere to hide.
Having spent a lot of time in the woods all his life, Flinn knew this area well. He also knew he could not run much longer. His breath was coming in short, ragged gasps.
Pausing to catch his breath only a few seconds, the young otter quickly covered his recent tracks the best he could in such a short time, and scrambled into a tall oak tree.
A few otterlengths up the trunk, the main limbs met in such a way that they made a sort of crown, like a large bird’s nest right in the middle of the tree. Here, as he had many times during games of hide-and-seek with his friends, Flinn sat in the dried leaves that filled the little hollow, breathing heavily. He stopped as he heard the guards coming.
Crashing through the underbrush, they made a noise that could have been heard from the other side of Southsward, Flinn thought with a smile. He held his breath back as they came closer, daring to breathe only in small, silent bursts, his chest heaving and nearly bursting with the need to gasp for air.
“Which way’d ‘e go?” he heard a voice ask.
“Well, look for ‘is tracks.” answered another in an irritated tone. “He’s gotta be round ‘ere somewhere. He can’t run forever.”
“I think ‘e went this way!” came another reply.
“No, those’re my tracks, bumblebrain!” yet another snarled. “I looked around, but can’t find where he ran off to. He musta hid his tracks too well.”
They argued a bit more, until deciding their quarry had escaped completely and heading back toward the castle.
Flinn gave a satisfied smile as soon as they were gone, letting himself catch his breath finally. Neither Ivan nor Ferris would be too happy with that lot when they returned without their prisoner. Now that the chase was over, the realization of his situation hit Flinn like a fallen tree.
He couldn’t go back to Castle Floret.
He’d be in even more trouble for running away, and he absolutely detested the idea of sitting in the dungeon until King Peter returned to make everything right again. That would never do.
Scarlett held her breath as she pressed her body against the wall, ears cocked.
After Flinn’s daring leap out the window, Olivia had fled from the room crying, and Scarlett followed her angrily, ordered out by Ivan. The squirrel princess had spent some time comforting her friend, telling her that Flinn was as fine as always and would come back soon, and everything would be right again. Olivia agreed halfheartedly, and Scarlett left her to calm down.
The squirrelmaid was more angry than worried at the moment.
Throw Flinn in the dungeon?
The very idea was ridiculous enough to make one laugh, if it hadn’t just almost happened for real. Now it just made Scarlett very angry with her uncle.
She was confused at the same time, however. Flinn hadn’t actually stolen the crown, had he?
As much of a rogue as he was, the young otter would not steal an item of such importance. So who had framed him for the crime, and why?
She had her suspicions.
Now, as she stood listening, her ear to the side door leading into the throne room, her suspicion deepened.
Ferris and Ivan were alone in the room by this time, having just received the maddening news that Flinn had escaped the grasp of the vermin guards. The squirrelprince was throwing quite a fit, and his adviser attempted to soothe him with promises that they would catch the rogue soon enough.
“We’ll get a better search party out there, this evening if you like, and we’ll catch him in no time.” came the smooth voice of the weasel.
“He’s slipperier than an oiled eel!” raged Ivan. “They’ll never catch him!”
“Oh, never say never.” replied Ferris. “And anyway, at least we’ve got the little nuisance out of the way. Even if we don’t catch him, he won’t come back, so you’ll never have to deal with him again.”
“Oh, he’ll come back!” grumped Ivan, settling down a little. “I know the feelings he has for that ottermaid. He’ll be back sooner or later for her.”
There was a short silence as the weasel hesitated. “Well then, that will give us a better chance of catching him, won’t it? Now calm yourself and let’s get a search party together, your highness.”
Footsteps came in the direction of the door, and Scarlett took to her paws quietly down the hall.
She had heard enough for now, anyway.
Flinn hesitated before knocking on the door. It was very early morning, and he was not sure that the inhabitants of the house were up yet.
He had spent a surprisingly comfortable night in his oak tree, staying so long in it that he had fallen asleep without meaning to, and not woken until the morning.
A loud grumbling complaint from his stomach reminded him why he was here, and he knocked. He waited a minute, with no reply, and tried again, louder.
Finally there came a deep grunt of something like, “Burr! Oi’m a-comen’!” and a moment later the door was unlatched and swung open to reveal a stout mole, still in his nightshirt and blinking in the morning light.
His small eyes popped open in surprise as he saw who it was. “Burr! Flinn, wot be you’m doen’ at such ee toime o’day? Coom ee in, matey!”
The young otter closed the door behind him as he entered.
“Hurr, just droppen’ boi.” he answered in his usual carefree manner, replying in molespeech, which he was quite fluent in. “What bee you’m doin’ in ee noightclothers, Murfee? Bain’t you’m all up an’ about boi darwn?”
“Hurr, you’m ee funny feller, maister Flinn.” chuckled the mole, returning his teasing tone. “Sit ee daown an’ break ee farst with us’ns. Tread on moi tunnel if’n you’m doan’t look loike ee most starvated young otter oi ever seen.”
Flinn took a seat gratefully, holding his rumbling stomach with a mournful expression. “Blow me down, how did you know my stomach is emptier’n an abandoned mine? Aye, I ain’t eaten a thing since yesterday afternoon, ‘ceptin’ a few pitiful crabapples I found on my way here.”
“Furnny!” Murfee called into a back room of the little house. “Get ee oop outta bed! We’m got ee starvatin’ otter out yurr!”
“What do ee think oi bee doen’?” came the yelled reply. “Oi hurrd et, oi bee cummen’! Get ee breakfarst started, you’m lazybeaster!”
Murfee grimaced in mock despair, an expression which looked very comical on a mole.
“She’m never leave oi alone, always makin’ oi do all ee wurk.” he pretended to complain, but his dark eyes laughed. He went into the kitchen and began to get a meal together, not yet having bothered to change out of his nightclothes.
Soon his wife came out into the kitchen, and the breakfast-making went much faster. Furnny Urthdug was unanimously the best cook in the whole village, and everyone’s favorite molewife. Flinn’s mouth watered uncontrollably whenever he thought of eating a meal created by her kind paws, as it was now.
As the mole couple made breakfast together, Flinn told them of whatever amusing incidents had happened in Castle Floret of late, causing Murfee to double over in hearty laughter, until his wife reminded him with a firm tap of her ladle that he was supposed to be helping her. As he finished relating a tale of how Prince Ivan had slipped and fallen down the stairs but thought no one had seen, Furnny placed a platter of warm scones on the table next to him.
“Eat up naow, maister Flinn.” she smiled, patting his shoulder. “You’m must be farmished. Naow tell us wot ee bee doen’ over yurr so early in ee mornen’.”
Flinn sat up, gratefully cramming a scone into his mouth and burning his tongue a little. He grunted through his bite.
“Let ee young’un finish ee food furst.” said Murfee, plopping down in a chair and diving on the scones himself.
Flinn nodded, a second later his bite nearly flying out of his mouth as a small furry ball collided into him, jumping up on his lap with a delighted cry of, “Hurr! Flinn’s yurr! Gudd mornen, zurr!”
The otter gulped down his lump of scone quickly in surprise, nearly choking on the size of it. “Well, if it ain’t Nan, the best liddle flower-picker in all o’ Southsward. How you doin’, matey?” he ruffled the little molemaid’s headfur fondly.
All the little ones in the village adored Flinn, and Nan was no exception. Flinn would often spend hours playing with them, and the other villagers laughed to see the tall otter acting as if he was one of them again.
“Lukk at ee flowerers oi picked yesterday!” said Nan in excitement, dropping off his lap and pointing at the vase of dandelions, ferns, and other autumn greenery that adorned the table.
“They’re beautiful!” Flinn praised the neatly arranged bouquet as if it was truly the most amazing thing he had ever seen. “You should rearrange the entire woodlands! Imagine how much more beautiful they would be then!” he laughed.
“Hurr, thankee, zurr.” Nan mumbled in thanks to the compliment, shyly hiding her face in a scone. Flinn enjoyed the early breakfast with the Urthdug family, joking and laughing, until there were heavy footsteps outside the door.
At the sound of the loud, quick knocking, Murfee sat up, calling, “Coom ee in!”
The door was flung open, and in stomped a heavily built bankvole, who, judging by his breathing, messy headfur, and crooked clothing, had just woken up not too long ago and run all the way there.
“Murfee! Sorry t’ h‘interrupt yore breakfast, mate, but yew ‘ave got t’ see this!” Waving a piece of parchment above his head, he stopped short as he noticed Flinn at the table.
“Flinn! What’re ye doin’ ‘ere, so h’early in th’ mornin’?”
Flinn gave a sigh, munching at his fifth scone. “Why does everybeast keep askin’ me that? I’m eatin’ breakfast at th’ best place in Southsward, obv’sly.”
“Wot brings ee yurr, Delto zurr?” asked Murfee, glancing at the paper he held. “Wot do ee gotten thurr?”
Delto flopped into a nearby chair, running a rough paw through his dark headfur. The muscular vole was the blacksmith of Monument Village, and quite the spreader of news and gossip.
“H’I’m ‘fraid it h’ain’t good news, mate.” he gave a nod to Flinn. “H’it’s about ye, young Streambattle.” The vole slammed his paper down on the table where they could all see it.
Furnny gasped as she read it, while Murfee grunted in surprise and Flinn’s eyebrows furrowed. It was a poster, reading in large, simple lettering, “Flinn Streambattle, for stealing, defying the current ruler, and various other crimes, is hereby declared an outlaw and is to be captured on sight and brought immediately to Castle Floret to be dealt with by Prince Ivan. A reward will be given to the beast who captures him.”
“Gurt seasings!” exclaimed Furnny at last, breaking the shocked silence that had filled the room for a few minutes. “Flinn, wot bee ee meaning of this yurr eenouncerment?”
“What ‘ave ye done this time?” asked Delto. “Stealin’ h’again? ‘Ow is it bad ‘nough t’ make ye a h’outlaw this time?”
The Urthdug family and the blacksmith all looked at their friend questioningly.
Flinn looked down at the paper, his face strangely serious.
“So it’s come down to this.” he said quietly. “I was afraid Ferris might do something like this.” He set down his scone, suddenly having lost his appetite.
“Just yesterday, I was accused of stealing the crown from Prince Ivan.” he explained. “But I promise I didn’t steal nothin’, not this time.”
Murfee put a kindly digging claw on his young friend’s shoulder. “Doan’t ee worry, maister, us’ns know you’m wuddn’t steal ee crown. Whoi wudd ee want ee silly thing h’anyway?” He gave a gruff, halfhearted laugh.
“Wot bee you’m goin’ t’ do naow?” asked Furnny in concern.
Delto crumpled the parchment into a ball with one crush of his strong paw, throwing it behind him. “Huh, th’ nerve o’ Prince Ivan, thinkin’ we’d turn h’our friend h’over fer a bloomin’ reward. H’I knows that’s wot ‘e was thinkin’ when ‘e ‘ad them posters set up h’all round th’ village.”
“I suppose I should go an’ give meself up.” Flinn began to rise from his chair.
“Nay, maister, you’m bain’t doen’ nuthin’ of ee sort whoile oi bee yurr!” exclaimed Furnny, pushing him firmly back into his seat. “You’m’ll stay yurr at moi house, until ee mess can be fixered up!”
“No, marm, if I stay here, they’ll only find me an’ you’ll all get in trouble for helpin’ me.” insisted Flinn.
“But you’m can’t just go an’ give up, Flinn zurr!” Nan clambered onto his lap, looking at him with sad brown eyes. “They’m moight put ee in ee drudgeon an’ oi won’t get to play with ee furr ee long, long toime! Seasings an’ seasings!”
“Aye, they want to put me in the dungeon, mate.” Flinn’s smile returned momentarily at the molemaid’s mispronunciation of the word. “But I can’t get me friends in trouble.”
“But what h’if’n ye didn’t stay h’in th’ village?” Delto brightened up at his idea. “Ye could ‘ide out h’in th’ forest! H’it’s h’only ‘til we gets yore name cleared, ‘owever we does that. We’d bring ye food. I h’ain’t lettin’ ye sit h’in the dungeon, mate!” He banged the table with a fist in earnest.
Before Flinn could reply, the door slammed open as a spiky-furred shrew burst in, waving a paper like the one Delto had brought and yelling, “Murfee! Furnny! Ye’ve gotta ‘ave a look at this! It’s-” he stopped as he saw Flinn.
“Oh! Flinn, yore already here! What’re- did ye see this?!” He was so excited, he could barely get the correct words out.
“Aye, Miller.” Flinn answered, rising from his seat. “I saw. Delto, I can’t just run away.”
Miller, seeing the plate of scones, grabbed one, stuffing it into his mouth ferociously. “Whadjer do now, Flinn?!” he asked through his mouthful. Miller was still a young shrew, though several seasons older than Flinn, and he was known as very excitable. Today was no exception.
“Ye swiped sumpin, didn’t ye? Good glory, Furnny, these scones is good. You musta done somethin’ awful bad t’ get in this much trouble, mate! What’re ye doin’ here? Yore gonna get caught! We gotta get ye outta here! Wot’s this ‘bout runnin’ away? Good idea! Ye’ll hide in th’ forest! C’mon, Flinn, ye gotta hurry!” He at last paused to breathe, which was rather hard to do when chattering nonstop with his mouth stuffed full.
“Woah, mate, there no need t’ hurry so much.” said Flinn. “Take it easy.”
“No, ye gotta hurry!” insisted Miller immediately. “There’s vermin guards in th’ village, lookin’ fer ye, or anyone who knows where ye are!”
Pulling off the satchel he always wore at his side, Miller dumped the remaining scones into it, crumbs and all. He slung it onto Flinn, grabbing the otter’s paw and pulling him in the direction of the door.
Flinn barely had the time to clap on his cap, before, slightly bewildered, he was pulled out the door by the shrew.
“Miller, what d’ye think yore doin’?” asked Flinn sharply, pulling his paw out of his friend’s grasp. “I ain’t runnin’ away!”
“Please, mate, you don’t have much of a choice!” Miller pleaded anxiously. “They’ll put ya in the dungeon if’n they catches ya, an’ ya won’t be able t’ help us from there! For yore sake and the sake of everyone in Monument Village, please come!” He tugged at the otter’s slender paw.
“We needs ya, Flinn!” his eyes sparkled with unshed tears in his desperation. “We all do! Yore the hero’a th’ village!”
Flinn swung his head around as a shout rang out across the village square.
“There he is! Flinn Streambattle, stop in the name of Squirrelprince Ivan!”
A small party of mingled otterguards and vermin were running in his direction, armor clinking and weapons unsheathed.
Flinn was torn inside.
Give in and go to the dungeon for who knew how long, or run away to return later and help Southsward? The thought flashed through his mind of what Olivia and Scarlett would say about it. Scarlett would run away with him, obviously, but Olivia…
No, it would break her heart to see him in the dungeon.
Realizing he had to make his choice in the next few seconds, the young otter turned to his shrew friend.
“Come on, Miller. You’ll get into trouble for helping me.”
“No, I’ll buy ya time.” the stout shrew insisted. He slapped his friend firmly on the shoulder with a grim smile. “Take care, matey.” Then he turned and ran bravely straight into the guards, knocking the front rat down with an unexpected ringing blow to the chin.
“Thanks, mate.” said Flinn quietly, as he turned reluctantly and ran.
“Don’t let him get away!” shouted a weasel, before receiving a punch to the head from Miller’s strong fists.
Chaos ensued as Delto leapt upon the guards, yelling fiercely and followed by a somewhat more timid Murfee carrying a heavy staff.
Tearing himself away, Flinn forced himself not to look back as he dashed into the thick forest of Southsward.