In the warm afternoon sun near the bank of the River Moss an odd group lay about. A rat, a weasel, and strangely enough, a white hare. While this would seem like a sight to behold for most beasts, to them it seemed completely normal. The two vermin stood throwing knives and shooting arrows at a nearby oak as the hare was paying close attention to an incomplete map.
“Hah, right in the middle o’ the leaf! Told ye I was a better shot.” Said the rat
“What? That merely glanced past it, Yew jus’ keep to your arrows Durb.” Remarked the weasel as he began to aim for his own attempt at hitting the tree. “Now watch me, I’ll snip the leaf right off the branch.”
As he pulled back for the throw he overbalanced and fell upon the hare, almost ripping the map in half with his blade.
“Agh! Vous l'avez arraché le droit le long des montagnes!” Shouted the hare as he pulled out another parchment.
“Sorry ‘bout that Jak, but ye still have the map to make another with.” Stated the weasel as he threw the knife, slicing the leaf cleanly off the branch. “Told ye I could do it.”
“This map was straight from the library of Castle Florlet, Corbus. The king wouldn’t be happy to find out that one of his gifts to us has been ripped in half.” Exclaimed Jak as he began to re-draw the map from the torn one.
“Why Do ye even ‘ave that out. We’re in the north now. It’s useless up ‘ere.” Said Durb
“It’s a map of the east and I wanted to see if this river leads to the eastern coast.”
“Well jus’ get up in a tree an’ look. The ones here are tall and you should be able t’ see for miles ahead. Well stay down here and make sure nobeast tries to knock ye down.”
Jak did not argue this point as it seemed to be a good idea in his mind. He climbed up the nearest tree with a spyglass and his maps as he began to chart the area. Durb, one who was seldom true to his word, merely sat down in the shade and began to sip a flagon he always kept on his person.
“He’ll be up there for hours. I’m jus’ gonna take a wee nap, I doubt anythin’ll happen to ‘im.” He said as he quickly began to dose off. However Corbus stayed at the trunk of the tree Jak climbed up as he began to replace the bandages over his eye. He had gotten the injury a season ago but had never found anything permanent to cover it. While he was putting the last touches on it he heard something rustling in the bushes nearby. He began to reach for the scimitar at his side but was stopped by a sharp blow to the back of his head. As he fell to the ground
Up in the treetops Jak was surveying the land, looking over its bends and bumps with his spyglass.
“There seems to be a small island in the middle of the river up ahead. Seems we have a new destination,” Jak then folded up his spyglass and descended from the tree only to find Durb and Corbus missing.
“Where have they gone? I would expect Durb to wander but where has Corbus gone.” He looked to the ground to find Corbus’s satchel, “He would never leave this, something wrong.” The strange hare then went off into the forest looking for his two companions.
Shortly after Corbus woke as he became submerged in water and being dragged along. He looked frantically around to find out where he was to see a large muscular otter pulling him along. He tried to pull his paw from the otter’s grasp and swim for air only to receive a quick slap from its rudder; this left him dazed for a few moments as he was hauled onto a dark shore in some kind of cave. Before he could fully regain his breath one of the otters noticed he had awoken and swiftly grappled him by the neck.
“Where is your camp, vermin?!”
“What are you talking about, we have only just arrived in this land?” said Corbus dazedly
“Aye and ye took yore chances with it! All you vermin are the same take what ye want no matter how.” Snarled the otter, he was about to punch Corbus until a female otter behind him grabbed his arm.
“Have ye considered that he might not be part of that band?” she asked
“Ye have a point there, but how do we know he isn’t just lying?”
Corbus overheard this and began to think of a good reason as they conversed over his fate. He thought of showing them the Akila tattoo, but then remembered his father had never wanted him to have a normal Akila one. He had long planned to make a special one for his children but never got around to it, and as such he never got one. He began to think of other signs when he remembered that Durb was the average Akila, and as such wore a tattoo. Unfortunately he was across the room, and still out cold. He looked to his captors to see that they were still arguing. He whispered at one off to the side that was merely observing the argument.
“Hey, you, think ye can rouse my friend over there?”
“Why? Does he know somethin’?” asked the otter
“Aye, jus’ look at his shoulder, just wake him up.”
The otter went over to Durb, thinking no harm could come from some fat rat. “Wake up, we ‘ave some questions for ye.”
Durb slowly rose, rubbing his head as he did so, “Ugh, what’d I miss?” The otter then grabbed his arm and looked at the Akila-Maki tattoo on it, recognizing it instantly.
“Skipper, these are Maki, from the west, not the ones that kidnapped Streambud.”
Skipper rushed over to Durb and looked at the tattoo. “Aye they’re Maki alright, so we must continue the search.”
“Does that mean ye’ll release us?” asked Corbus
The Skipper looked over at them and thought it over for a second. Then came to a decision
“Ye may have caused us no harm, but I know you Maki, and yore just as bad as any other vermin. And if we jus’ let ye go then ye’ll only cause harm to others.”
Corbus was beginning to see where this was going and noticed that his paws were still tightly bound. As he began to try and cut them against a nearby rock Durb began to plead for mercy.
“Ye can’t jus’ kill us because ye think we’re bad. I’m tellin’ ye we gave up our corsair ways seasons ago! Spare us an’ we’ll help ye!”
“Nay, ye vermin are all the same, lie, cheat, steal, an’ kill is all yore good for!” Without a second thought he kicked them both into the river before any of the other otters could intervine. Corbus hit the water with a resounding smack, releasing the tight bonds that surrounded his eye. Letting blood flow freely from it, reddening the water as he descended into the river, his dear companion only feet away from him. As he hit the hard stone at the bottom of the river he began to untie his bonds and free himself before the cold waters of death took him. As he broke the final strand that held him hostage he swam to Durb, whom was struggling in the ropes that bound him. Corbus grabbed him by the shoulder and began to pull him through the stream until he reached the shore, coughing and spitting out water as he tried to gain a breath.
“What d’ ye think that was all about?” he asked Durb after regaining his composure
“I don’t know. But I’m sure if they find us waitin’ out ‘ere they’ll take no time in throwing us back in.” He responded, trying to get water out of his ear.
“I think I understand him a bit though, it seems li…”
“Ye understand ‘im throwin’ us in the water t’ die!” he shouted without a second thought
“It sounded like he’s had a loved one captured. Anybeast would do the same if they were in his position.”
“Aye, ye have a point there Corbus. But let’s get out o’ here. I think they can deal with it themselves.”
As they started to search for Jak and get on their way Corbus began to talk more about the captured young one.
“But what if they don’t? I can’t imagine being a slave. And I’ve seen what they do to them; terrible work with little food and the only reward they get for a good job is a whip across the back.”
“Like I said, Corbus, they’ll find ‘er. I mean, did ye see the weapons and the size of them?”
“Aye, good point; But there was just one thing I heard that makes the difference.” He sad, looking at the Akila-Maki tattoo on Durb as he did so
“An’ what’s that?”
“He said to us “You’re just like any other vermin” and for that he tried to kill us without reason.”
“Yah, that’s because we are vermin! We don’t ‘ave the best reputation, with Jak we usually get by after he explains. But without him we are just another pair of vermin. As far as they know we could kill them and steal everything they own. Heh, guess we should thank Jak fer takin’ us in.” He said as if it were common sense
“I don’t want to be known as “just another vermin” as you say. I remember when we were Akila, and when we raided villages for food, and gold. I didn’t think twice about those I killed then, it was just second nature to me. But now I think about it, and I can’t remember why I did it, just that I did. Durb, I don’t want to be treated as such the rest of my life. I want to make up for what I have done and who I have hurt. These otters have had their young stolen by vermin who are just like I was, bloodthirsty and without guilt or regret. I want to help them.”
“Well then, let’s go lookin’ fer her, If we had a flippin’ clue where she was!”
Before Corbus could respond somebeast came running through the bushes. Corbus and Durb instinctively went to where their weapons would have been, only to find them missing. They then readied themselves for battle.
“Merci! You’re here” said Jak
“Jak, good t’ see ye again mate. Corbus has somethin’ ta tell ye”
“What is it, Mon Amie?”
“We were captured by a Clan of otters who’s young one had been captured by vermin. I think we should help.”
Jak thought this over for a moment then spoke to Corbus in an understanding tone. “I understand them, and I understand you. We all have dark patches in our past we want to make right. Some are darker than others, and I will gladly help you clear your name.”
“Thank ye, my friend.”
“Well I guess goin’ with ye is better than the otters getting a hold of me again. I’m comin’ wit’ ye. But as I said, we don’t know where she is.”
Jak then took out one of his maps and pointed to a spot on it. “When I was looking for you I spotted a couple of vermin looking for wood. I marked the spot they were at and noted where they said their camp was. I figured they were the ones that had captured you, I was going to go to the otter clan you were at to get help.”
“Well it’s high time I make amends. Let’s get going.”
They strode through the brush of northern Mossflower, searching for any signs of the vermin band. Slowly, but surely, they began to see the signs, a chopped tree, picked plants, and the ever-present stink of the vermin. These were all good signs, but they were very spread out and had no way of showing in what direction they were. But, as the shadows grew longer there was a tell-tale smoke of a fire not too far away. They slowed their pace as they began to hear the voices of the vermin.
"Good pickin's here. Don't think I've eaten this well in seasons." said a rather skinny rat as he plunged into a sparrow
"Well don't git too comfy, those otters'll be after us faster'n ye can say deal" said the apparent leader, a one-legged weasel
"We shouldn't 'ave kidnapped that liddle brat, she's been nothin' but trouble since we captured 'er."
The weasel smacked the rat on the back of the head "We can't do anything about that now. We may as well bring 'er along now."
The rat massaged the back of his head, mentally insulting his superior as he returned to his drink. Corbus surveyed the camp until he noticed a small otter tied to a log only feet away from a visibly vigilant ferret appearing to nurse his bandaged arm. One of the vermin eating at the campfire tossed the half-eaten remains of a trout in her direction by accident, forgetting it and returning to other foods. She half-heartedly tried to crawl towards the fish, only to be dealt a swift kick in the chest from the guard.
"Ye ain't gettin' food ye miscreant, not after wot yer brother did to me arm. Dirty liddle cheat, he deserved t' die."
The ottermaid curled back, crying to herself as the ferret ate the trout himself. Durb looked at the scene with shame as he spoke silently to Corbus.
"I'm ashamed to be of their ilk." He turned to look at Corbus only to see Jak. He looked around until he noticed a dark shape approaching the vile guard. The vigilant ferret was not alert enough as he was pulled back, never to arise again. He then saw the shape approach Streambud as her restraints were undone and she ran silently towards Durb and Jak. As she arrived to meet them Jak calmed her down as she almost ran from Durb.
"Don't worry manquer, we're here to help. Where's the one who released you?"
"He said he needed say goodbye, then he ran off."
She could say no more before an inevitable sound came from the camp.
"Ye dirty liddle scum!"
The vermin all stood up, weapons at the ready, as Corbus walked into the light, his scimitar at his side.
"What'd ye call us?" asked the leader
"I called ye what ye are, scum, villains, criminals, spreaders of evil and defenders of your own unjust actions, may ye arrive at the Hellgates with naught but shame!"
Before the vermin could react Corbus whipped out his sword, slashing the nearest vermin, cutting off his arm seemingly without a ounce of effort. A scrawny rat attempted to stab Corbus with his sharp knife, only to have it deflected by Corbus's buckler and was quickly struck in the middle with the flat of his blade. Corbus swung around and dealt him another blow in the head with his buckler as he neatly decapitated him. The rest of the vermin stood in fear as a few of them began to turn away. But their leader grabbed them by the scuff of their neck and threw them at Corbus. Before the could pull out their weapons they were dispatched by several slashes from his blade. The leader attempted to run himself, only to charge straight into Jak, who pushed him back.
"Fight like a warrior, or die like the coward you are" said Jak mercilessly
The weasel picked up his weapon, a short spear, and charged at Corbus. He responded by flicking his sword in a quick circle, cutting the shaft of the spear in half. Before the weasel could react he was put to an end as Corbus plunged his blade through his middle. As Jak, Durb, and Streambud raced out to Corbus he fell to the ground, a smile creeping across his face.
"I feel as if the rest of my life was a lie. Like it doesn't matter now that I know better."
"Well ye deserve t' forget it. That was the most amazing thing I've ever seen." Said Durb
"Aye, thank ye for saving me. Now can we please get back to me father?"
Corbus took a deep breath before picking himself off the ground, dusting himself off.
"Alright Missy, let's find yer dad."
As they walked to the clan's home Corbus continuously spoke of his mood.
"I haven't felt like this since me youth. I feel as if all I've done me life has just been wiped away, a clean slate. And I am in control of what will be written on it this time. I feel like, well, bliss. Just complete ease has taken me."
As they arrived at the island Corbus realized he had no idea where the entrance to the clan was. He had swum out of it and not taken mark of where the entrance was, thinking of other things as he left.
"Can ye tell me where the entrance is? I remember swimming" Asked Corbus to Streambud
"Oh that's just the entrance dad uses when there are vermin in the area. We have a much nicer way in if ye follow me." She said with a smile
As they neared a small opening in the rock Corbus was tackled by a large otter who brought a knife to his throat.
"I thought I killed ye, vermin. Ye have made the mistake of comin' back!" Before the skipper could finish him off his daughter laid a paw on his arm. He looked to see its owner to come to see his daughter, slightly thin and bruised but otherwise safe. He swept her up in his arms as he laid a big kiss on her cheek.
"Oh me sweet little flower yore back!"
"C'mon dad, they didn't save me just for you t' kill me with yore hug." she said jokingly
The Skipper looked to Corbus, Durb and Jak in complete surprise "They saved ye?"
"Aye, not your average vermin I guess. That one there took 'em all out all by himself. Showed no mercy" said Streambud, pointing to Corbus
"Did he then. Well I hope ye can accept my apology for what I did earlier. I mistook ye for something ye weren't" Said the Skipper, offering his paw
Corbus shook it, graciously accepting the apology "I understand, we were deserving of it for a long time. I just hope that changes now."
"I'm sure ye've more than made up for it now. My name is Skipper Trajan, I hope you'll join us for a bit of a feast, you deserve it for what you've done for our clan."
Durb clapped his paw over Corbus's mouth before he could answer "There's a time for to act humbly and there's a time to eat. That time is now. We'll gladly join ye."
The family of Streambud rejoiced with her return and a feast was on the minds of all. Though some gave strange looks to her rescuers as they sat down at the table next to Trajan. But all harsh feelings were laid to rest as the cauldrons of Hotroot soup were laid out. As the various fish, fruits, and a couple of pastries were laid out for them all to enjoy. Durb nearly dove in as the kits looked on in awe, some of them attempting to eat as much as the chubby rat did, only to be scolded by their mothers for bad manners. About half way through the feast the wife of Trajan approached Corbus with a small bag.
"We noticed ye lost yore eye. Have ye found a good patch yet?"
Corbus, having grown used to the loss of his eye, had almost forgotten about it during the feast. "Well I had one a season ago, but it was rather shabby an' fell apart one day. I've been using bandages ever since, why?"
"Well Trajan saw it and thought you'd like this" She pulled a good sized eye patch from the pouch. It was good bark cloth but had a very hard surface. "We put a seashell inside to make it hard and sturdy. These are kept around in case of the odd mishap, though we hope we may never have to break them out." Corbus turned it around in his paw as he noticed a small pattern sewn into it. It was that of a leaf made with green thread
"What's this pattern here?" he asked, pointing to it
"This is a common symbol we otters use in all sorts of things. Good luck, marking our homes, I know a crew of sea otters that use it as a flag even. But most woodlanders will recognize it, and hopefully not attack you on sight. Maybe even help ye out if yore in need." As soon as she left Corbus strapped on the eye patch and found it to be a good fit.
The next day the Clan of Trajan bid farewell to Corbus, Durb and Jak as they went on their way, to their next adventure.