The night had crept up on the town, shadowing it and enveloping it all in hues of navy blue and violet. However, the city was not sleeping. Lights shone through windows and open doorways, casting a watery glow through the mist-enshrouded streets. At the Hell's Gate Tavern, business was thriving. The air inside was thick with the fumes of tobacco and the stench of grog and rum. A continual humming of conversation flowed as freely as the liquor sold, mingling with the sounds of somebeast scraping away on a violin and the loud, angry voice of a big brutish weasel who didn't think he needed to pay for his grog.
Seated at a circular table in a secluded part of the room several beasts sat. They swilled their grog slowly, their eyes were riveted on the speaker who was a lean individual dressed in dark clothing and a motheaten cloak. He took a swallow of the foamy ale set before him and gesticulated with a paw. His voice came in rich, low tones, spoken in an unhurried way.
"Aye, gennelbeasts. Merum's got a tale fer ye. A tale the likes ye've never heard before, so listen close. It's a long tale and twas passed down to me by my father who learned it from his father and his father's father before him. His grandfather, they say, learned it from a dying sailor in his young days. It is a strange tale, to be sure, and twill take time in the tellin'. Be sure to save many a pretty penny, for ye'll want a drink in the nights to come, methinks..."
Chapter One: The Sealark
The inhabitants of the Madasan Isles were not used to visitors and they were definitely not expecting royalty. The day was balmy and cloudless and a thick perfume rose from the many exotic flowers that covered the island.
That was the name, painted in flowing gold cursive along the side of the sleek mahogany-hued vessel that dropped anchor in the small bay off the coast of Madas, the largest of the three isles. The crew were a motley lot; ferrets, weasels, stoats, rats and foxes. As soon as they landed, longboats were dropped into the water and ten beasts swarmed aboard each of the three.
At the prow of the first boat stood a tall and regal-looking beast. He was a great silver-backed fisher. His eyes were almond-shaped and slanted upward at the corners and colored a deep black, gleaming with intelligence. He wore a black tabard with silver imbellishments at the shoulders, neck and hem. Around his neck hung a silver chain, on which hung a much-polished emerald. It flashed and glittered in the tropical sun. Around his shoulders, he wore a rich blue cloak, the neck trimmed in the fur of some unfortunate beast.
The fisher half closed his eyes against the glare of the sun reflecting off the white-sand beach. He leapt agilely into the aquamarine waters as they neared shore. Gathering his cloak about him, he waited for the rest of the shore party to disembark. The crewbeasts jumped from their boats and dragged them onto the sands, out of reach of the waves.
- "Do yer suppose there's any living creature on this island, 'Ighness? Looks to be too good an isle to not be inhabited by somebeast."
The fisher turned to the rat addressing him. There was a distant look in his eyes.
- "I would suppose, Magnir. Take several beasts and see if you can find provisions and supplies, then get my ship repaired. I want a full search of this island tomorrow."
The rat threw a smart salute.
- "Aye, yer Majesty!"
It was midday and the fisher sat upon velvet cushions in his tent, picking at a heavy fruit and honey salad while he watched the crew setting to work on the repairs of his ship. An otter slave waved a palm frond to cool his face. He lay back and closed his eyes languidly, his mind travelling far away, back to his homeland as he drifted into slumber. He smiled in his sleep as he thought of his revenge...
Magnir and his four crewbeasts trekked through the deep jungle. They were still looking for food and had found several likely-looking plants on the island, but they couldn't tell what was edible and what was not. The ferret Greentooth scratched an ear.
- "Dey looks good enuff ter me. I kinder likes der look of dose liddle plump berries. Yer tink dey's poisonous?"
A shifty-eyed rat nodded somberly.
- "We shudd just test 'em out on yew, Greeny. If'n yew falls over an' dies, then we don't eat 'em, see."
Yungi the stoat lent his opinion on the matter.
- "Aye! Ol' Greeny kin be taste tester!"
Magnir walked over to them. "We can't afford ter waste any o' yer useless lives, so I don' want nobeast eatin' nuthin' 'less I says so! I'm cap'n of this patrol, so lissen up or else." A surly-looking fox jutted his lip out at Magnir.
- "Who made yer the boss, Magnir? I'll do wot I wants an' a skinny little rat like yew ain't stoppin' me!"
He reached up and plucked a ripe yellow fruit and bit into it. The juice dribbled down his chin and he licked his lips, reaching for another.
The big fox staggered and fell back with a strangled gurgle. Greentooth looked into the fox's staring eyes, gasping.
- "H-he's dead! We're all gonna die!"
The ferret fled, smashing through vegetation in his mad dash. Magnir heard a whistling noise as an arrow sped past, burying itself in a tree with a solid thock!
- "Everybeast down! Down I say! Can't yer see we're under attack, yer droolin' idjits!" screeched Magnir, as he dropped on all fours.
A rat let out an anguished scream as an arrow found him and the rest of the foraging party threw themselves to the ground, covering their heads with their paws. Suddenly, the air was filled with yips and yells as dark forms hurtled into the midst of the group.
The foraging party woke with throbbing headaches to the sound of rattles and drums. Magnir opened his eyes slowly and groaned.
- "W-wot 'appened?"
A skinny form dropped from a tree in front of him, shaking a rattle in his face.
- "You shushnow! Shushnow, rat! Girr, ratter be awaked, girr!"
The creature appeared to be a squirrel, though Magnir could not be sure, it was covered from head to tail in dark mud and leaves. Several others gathered around him, jibbering excitedly.