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King Kerad's eyes were fixed on his mate, Jallegur. "Are ye sure tis a female?" he asked.
Jallegur glared at him. "For the last and final time, yes!"
Kerad's eyes blazed. "How dare ye talk to the King like that! And what use to me and all the Marlfoxes is a babe, a female one? It, I mean she, is mere filth to my eyes! A male is more useful, we can rule properly. But no. Here comes a female, a firstborn as well! Filth!"
Jallegur rolled her eyes. "No, Kerad. You are wrong. Not filth. Silth!"
Kerad narrowed his eyes. "What rubbish are ye talking now?"
Jallegur sighed. "Have you not learned your lessons, oh wise king?" She said scornfully. "Silth, third queen of Marlfoxes. When she was young, the name meant nothing. Now Silth means cunning and beautiful, as Queen Silth was both. But do not expect me to give your uneducated mind any more teaching."
Kerad bared his teeth. "Alright, Silth it is. But speak to me once more like that and I will personally ensure you and that whelp have a long, slow death."
Chapter 1: Princess Silth
Silth went up to Captain Rellugan and smiled sweetly. "'Ello Cap'n Wellugan," she said in her toddler voice,"me vewwy sowwy, bud you 'ave dust onna shield!" Then she hit him on his legs.
"Go back to your palanquin, spoilt brat," growled Rellugan. "You're supposed to stay in that stinky portable tent of yours."
Silth perked up. "'Ow dare ee say dat to a pwincess!" She said. "It not stink, it have perfume innit. You big lump. Betcha don't know what perfume is!" She stalked off to find someone else to bother.
"Pwincess cummin' frew!" She shouted. Most of the Marlfoxes ignored her. Ummingada, the oldest Marlfox, stooped over and picked Silth up.
"Ah, so this is Silth, third queen of the Marlfoxes. I remember Nananook, your grandma, very well. She was the first Marlfox queen. Happy and carefree, I was, until your father Kellundor came."
Silth stared at her. "I not fird queen!" She said. "I be Silth, fifteenth pwincess an' will be sixteenth queen!"
Ummingada sighed. "You do not know how old I am, little Silth," she said. "And sometimes I get confused."
Silth gave a little shriek and wriggled out of Ummingada's grasp, now terrified of her. Once she was gone, Ummingada chuckled. "Silly little cub," she said to herself. "Can she still not tell the difference between reality and a joke?"
"Silth!" Silth turned and looked at her father.
"Wot is it, Dadda?" She asked.
"I've heard you slapped Captain Rellugan. You are an insolent little brat, Silth. Just because you are a princess doesn't mean you can go hit people!"
Silth grinned cheekily. "Den dat mean I can stay in my pawanqwin," she said.
"YOU WERE SUPPOSED TO STAY IN THE PALANQUIN, WHELP!" Roared Kerad, instantly frightening Silth into silence. "Now go to your stinking palanquin AND STAY THERE!"
Chapter 2: Crown Princess
Jallegur gazed up at the ceiling of her tent. "Where... healer? Burning... so hot...You're disappearing, Ummingada. Where... healer..."
Ummingada's ears pricked up. "Healer Terana is here, oh queen," she said. As soon as Terana saw Jallegur, she flinched.
"'Tis the dreaded Nightshade poison," she said. "There is no cure, and it slowly kills the one that has been poisoned. It is made from every poisonous plant in Mossflower. Who could have poisoned you, oh great queen?"
Suddenly Jallegur sat up and glared at Terana. "No-one but you, healer," she said. "You cook the food, it's the..." Jallegur slumped.
"Shhhhh, oh queen, shhhh. I will give you a sleeping potion. It will help you to sleep. Ummingada, perhaps you should go now, and take over my duties as cook." Terana gave the potion to Jallegur. Jallegur gave one jerk, then tumbled off the bed. Terana danced around the tent for a minute, then scurried off to find Silth. "Princess," she said, acting as if alarmed, "your mother is dead!"
Silth grabbed the Mourning Mask from Terana."Oi!" She said. "After all I've done for you..."
Silth grinned then examined the mask. Its carved features were all sad, and even the false wooden ears drooped. She put it on and spun around. "There, how do I look?" She said.
Terana smiled. "A wonder how such a sad princess can dance around the tent," she replied.
TARANTARA! Both princess and healer jumped at the sound of the trumpets. "Better huwwy," muttered Silth, "da funeral of my pore dear darling mudder will begin soon. Ah, such a tewwible fate, being killed off by da dweaded Nightshade poison. Oh, what howwible sort of beast would want to poison my dear mudder, da gweat Queen Jallegur?"
Behind her, Terana sniggered. "What a horrible beast indeed!"
Chapter 3: Queen Jallegur's Funeral
Heads bowed, all the Marlfoxes crowded in front of a makeshift stage. Kerad, Silth and Terana were standing on the stage, all wearing Mourning Masks. Silth couldn't resist tittering beneath her mask. King Kerad motioned to the captains and they all roared out "SILENCE!"
Kerad stepped forward. "Queen Jallegur was a wise and beautiful queen," he said. "She died of reasons that could have been avoided. She would have forgiven the one who did it, so fair was she. Silth!"
Now Silth stepped forward. Two Marlfoxes, by the names of Dargon and Farriern, whispered to each other, "Everyone knows she did it. Look, she is shaking."
Silth had sharp ears, and glared at the crowd before beginning her speech. "I am shaken wif gwief."
"More like with laughter," muttered Dargon.
Silth stopped again. This time she caught Dargon. "Take him away!" She barked at Captain Torrag. He obeyed, and Dargon was lead screaming away from the crowd. She stared impassively after him. "As I was saying, I am shaken wif gwief. My father is wight. She was da faiwest of all da Marlfox queens. She will fowever linger in our hearts an' minds."
The crowd mumured, "She will forever linger in my heart and mind."
Terana stepped forwards. "She was poisoned by the dreaded Nightshade poison, concocted by the lowest of beasts. I am the best of healers, but even I couldn't save her! Beware! Beware! Any of us could be next!"
Ummingada, pushing the cart that held the body of Jallegur, huffed and puffed all the way up to the stage. Then all the Marlfoxes bowed, and sang:
Queen Jallegur was the greatest of all,
She was beautiful, graceful and tall,
Brought down by the most poi-son-ous.
Made by one most trea-son-ous!
So she is not here todaaaaay!
To guide us to the right waaaaay!
May a similar death come to the culprrrit!
This curse to the killer is now wrrrit!
Silth thought the song was absolutely pointless, because Jallegur wasn't hearing it, and anyway, she would be the wisest, most graceful, beautiful queen of all Marlfoxes! She had a devious plan to make her dreams come true.
Kerad snapped at Rellugan. "Get that Seer for me, now! This place is now accursed for us Marlfoxes. A queen has died here. Where is he? You are slow!" Rellugan trembled. Kerad had seemed fearful after Jallegur's funeral. He dashed off, and returned with a grizzled, old Marlfox, Ummingada's son.
Kerad dismissed Rellugan then grabbed the Seer. "What is your name? Tell me what you see, now!"
The old Marlfox was stronger than he looked, and forced Kerad to the ground. "I am een no 'urry," he said in a curious accent. "My name ees Samdogh, wi' an aich oon ee end. Theey say that ye are parrranoid, seence ye queen dieded. Ye will nae die if'n ye no' stay 'ere. In fact, I can seeee wheere ee arre deestined ter goooo. Ye will trrravel Souuutheassst to a grrreat lake. Trrravel Southeast, always Soooouuutheast, a few paaaaces out an' ye will die. Yeees, ye prob'ly cannot oonderstand me, but leave herrrrre, or we shall all dieeeeee!" Kerad's eyes were drooping. Samdogh took such a long time to say things, unlike Ummingada.
He turned to Samdogh. "Hooooow, I mean how, many of the peasant Marlfoxes will make it through?"
"Eeeh, most of 'em will be drrrrownded, but no' in the grrrreat lake. Theeey will drrrown in a swamp, but thoooose will be thoose afraid to crrross overrr. Go firrrrst, and goooo overrr quickly, so that ye will no' be drrrrownded. Bewarrrrrre, the killerrrr of ye queen will no' be afraid. But ye will dieeee o' natural causes, soooo there is no' muuuuch cause ter worrrrry."
Kerad scowled at the Seer. Then he turned to Ummingada. "Spread the word around; we are leaving now!"
Silth rolled her eyes as Bredun, a Marlfox that had spent some time in the Highlands, prattled on about how beautiful Silth was, and constantly hinting that the Highlands were beautiful too. "Ooh, ye're a pretty beastie. Ach! Yer tail is droopin', we cannae ha' that naow, can we?" Silth glared frostily at him, and decided to try talk like a grown-up.
"Oh, who cares if my tail is drooping off the side of the palanquin!" She exclaimed. "And anyway, if you want to survive the oncoming swamp(this was to the bearers), you'd better go quickly. Look, I do believe that's it!"
There was a pleasant clearing, and Kerad ordered everyone to stop. Rellugan picked up a stone and threw it towards the clearing. There was a faint plop and the stone was sucked into the swamp. Silth rolled her eyes again as Bredun started chattering again. "Yar! 'Tis a swamp, 'tis a swamp! We cannae get acrooss it, we'd sink instantly!" Silth smacked him on the paw.
"Stupid!" She shouted. "You go quickly, you're safe quicker. Get that in your head, Bredun. And I will draw the curtains near my head, I have no wish to get swamp mud ruining my looks. Oh, go away, Bredun, get me Terana instead. And stay away, you filthy peasant!"
Soon Terana was at Silth's side. "What is it, oh princess?" she said. "You are the second best-looking Marlfox I know," said Silth. "Naturally, you are the first, oh princess," said Terana fawningly.
"Correct. And may I ask you, what is your secret to your beauty?" Terana smiled.
"Oh, you are too kind, princess," she said politely, but her mind was whirling with thoughts. I will give her the secret, she thought, but while she is putting it around her snout, I will grab it back, then tip the contents down her throat. Short live the Crown Princess!
She pulled back the curtains, then gave a bottle to Silth. "I rub it in all over," she said, her voice barely above a whisper. "Oh! Here comes the swamp!" Silth smiled, and resumed her normal talking voice.
"You 'ave been a vewwy gweat fwend," she said, "but I think I know wot treasures you have planned for me, Terana." She placed a paw on Terana's back in a half embrace. "Long live da Cwown Pwincess, Terana." Then she pushed Terana so she slipped in the mud. With a smothered yell and an unseen struggle, Terana, assistant of Silth and murderer of Queen Jallegur, sank below the mud, never to be seen again.
Kerad's eyes blazed as Samdogh stared at the swamp. "Seer! Tell me who and how many drowned!" Samdogh seemed in no hurry to answer. Then he opened his mouth and started to chant.
"Those too slow were those who died,
But one who you hold dear has something to hide,
One fox, ever so cunning and strong,
Did a deed so terrible and wrong,
Be brave, oh king, fear no more,
An old friend's curse shall even the score,
Though you'll be long dead by then,
One day, you'll see all of your kind again."
Samdogh shook himself. He did not seem to be aware of the verse he had just uttered. "Coooount your numberrs, oh king, ye shoouuld be able ter do so noooww. Aah, a terrrrible fate, to be drownded by a swaaaamp. Drownded, tha's where theeey weeent. Once you and those nooooot afrrraid were overrrrr, theeey kneeew that they had to do it. I caaaan saaay no more, I know not else abooouuut theeee subject. I shaaall leeaave now, oh king."
Kerad pulled him back down. "Wait, tell me the verse you said before!" Samdogh snorted.
"I knoooow not of a verrrrse," he said. "Theey do saay that you are paranoid, yooooouuu know. I must goooo, Mother neeeeds me." With something twixt a laugh and a snort, Samdogh left.
Chapter 5:Fibs of a Princess
Kerad eyed his daughter warily. "So, Silth, what do you know about the disappearance of our healer, Terana?" Silth felt her conscience tearing away at her, but what Kerad didn't know couldn't harm him.
"She-she was next to me, an', an' suddenly she slipped! I could do nuffink, and she, she sank!" Kerad frowned. "And what of Bredun?" Silth sniggered silently. Her new assistant had done a good job then.
"I know nuffink of Bredun," she said. "I sent him away. Perhaps he sank himself?" Kerad scoffed. "His body was found lying in some bushes. It was the worst attempt to cover up a body in the world."
Silth was interested to find out how her assistant had disposed of him. Kerad answered her question before she asked. "he was killed by poison, perhaps by the Nightshade Poison," he said. "But why am I telling you this? I have no idea, it was the suggestion of a crazy old Marlfox called Samdogh. You have no need to know anything more."
"But Dadda, how do you know that he was killed by poison? Did he-?" The instant she said those words, she knew she had probed too far.
She flinched as Kerad leapt up and yelled "Get out! You hear me? We are not going into the subject of your mother! Go away!" Silth jumped up and ran out of the tent, to find her assistant.
Vulpar crouched by his campfire. Unscrewing a small bottle, he tipped the contents into the fire. A small, cloaked figure was coming closer. The figure was undoubtly Silth, no other Marlfox besides himself was that size.
Silth crouched down next to Vulpar. "You, Vulpar, are the thickest Marlfox I have ever known. You did not hide Bredun well enough!"
Vulpar rolled his eyes. "All that matters is that we cannot have been suspected," he said, closing his eyes. "To them, we are only babes. What do they care about us?"
"I'll tell you, smartsnout. Gwaret, the father of Kerad, murdered his father before he could talk. We can talk, we're even old enough to talk like our elders and betters, or whatever they call themselves. They know we are perfectly capable of killing somebody!"
Chapter 6: Five Seasons Later
Silth stood on a small hill and took a head count of the Marlfoxes."All hundred and two, Father." Kerad yawned. The Marlfoxes had been travelling South-East for five seasons and they were getting a little rebellious.
Sometimes even Vulpar refused to do what Silth said. "Father, it cannot be far now, we have travelled far. Perhaps... Gwarrh!" A freshly caught fish had latched on to her footpaw.
"Owowowowow! Get it off, get it off!" She yelled. She should have checked whether the fish had been dead or not. Kerad lazily drew a knife from his belt and threw it, aiming for the fish. His aim was true, and almost immediately the fish let go of Silth.
Vulpar ran up the hill. "Milord, Milady! I can see a lake! We shall have to cross it!" Both Kerad and Silth rolled their eyes. "We're not stupid, Vulpar," growled Kerad. "And if I remember correctly, that old wreck Samdogh said I would have to cross a lake."
At that very moment Samdogh came hobbling up the hill. "I can see a laaake, oh king," he said.
"We heard," snapped Silth. "And I suppose we have to cross it?"
Samdogh grinned. "Of courrrrse, prrrincess, us Marrrlfoxes cannot be wanderrring nomads, my visionsss have told me a small kingdom is hiddeen in the laaake, owned by witlesss rrats. You should conquer it, oh king, although your dayys end by thaat laake, hoow long I cannot saaay."
Kerad glared at Samdogh. "Well, don't just stand there! You and Vulpar and your old fossil of a mother will tell the rest that we are moving. Go away!"
Kerad was in a bad temper all the way to the lake. Seven of the Marlfoxes had gotten so rebellious that they had hung themselves, leaving only notes that said, 'This is pointless. I think we're mad, because we're going to hang ourselves. No offence to you or anything, King Kerad, but we felt like breaking some rules. We all suppose you're going to kill us, so we're going to do it by ourselves. Goodbye, Marlpad, Anchard, Greysand, Verdun, Prydok, Zaltor and Lausharm.'
"What a waste of a good life," grumbled Kerad. "Of course I wasn't going to kill them. Our kind is dying, so we can't afford to lose lives. Oh well, no use crying over spilt ale."
Silth sniggered. Oh well, she thought, if he's going to die by the lake, then perhaps I will be queen sooner than I thought.
Chapter 7: The Battle
Captain Lallan gasped as they neared the lake. "Master, we cannot cross it! It is full of pike. They will rip us to pieces in seconds!"
Kerad lazed around on his stretcher. "Oh? Well, stupid, I wonder what our boats are for then. Weights, I suppose?"
Lallan lowered his eyes. "We do not have enough boats for that, Milord. We cannot carry them all." Silth perfomed her favourite action- sniggering. "What a dumbo you are," she said. "If we can't do it at once, then we do it with twice. Get that into your thick head, no-brain."
"Right away Milord, Milady. Proceeding to take the Marlfoxes across." As he marched away, Lallan felt two pairs of royal eyes glaring at his back.
A scream ripped the air. "What's going on?" roared Kerad. Rellugan jumped from the Captain's boat to the royal boat.
"Sir, a Marlfox dragged his paw along the water, and he was pulled into the waters!" Kerad scowled, he was still in a bad mood.
"So? As long as... Aaargh!" Somehow, pike had gotten into the Captain's boat, and was tipping it over.
"Help!" Screamed the Captains. "Someone save us!"
If they had not panicked so much, they may have survived, but one by one, they disappeared into the reddening waters. "Kerad counted off his claws. "That's Lallan, Perid, Shengle, Tygan, Nyven, Dustfur, Marlfire and two others gone. Rellugan, you are now my second-in-command."
Gloggle the Spear-rat gazed out to the lake. Was he imagining things? Surely there couldn't be boats in the lake?
"Glabble," he called, "Can you see boats? Surely not!" But Glabble looked terrified. Three boats had already arrived on the shore, and the Marlfoxes had already armed themselves. Next to Glabble, there was an "Oomph!" and a unwary Shield-rat crumpled.
"Attack!" Yelled Gloggle. "Attack! Attack! Attack!" All the rats swarmed ont the shores. Spear-rats, Sword-rats, Bow-rats, Dagger-rats, Sling-rats, Shield-rats, Trident-rats and the rest of the water rats bristled with their weapons.
Bargund, the chieftain of the water-rats, yelled out to his 100 or so rats.
"Shield-rats, at the front! At the front, I said, Yargle, not the back! Spear-rats, behind those thick shieldbearers! Sword-rats, Dagger-rats, and Trident-rats! You spread out, never mind the ranks. The rest o' you, get onto higher ground and aim at 'em!"
Silth was excited. This would be her first real battle! Leaping out of the royal boat, she grabbed a bow from a fallen rat. She had practised before. She sighted on a Bow-rat.
She let go of the taut bowstring and the rat fell and rolled down the hill.
She called her small victory to the rats. "Yahaaaaar! Stupid rats, I once heard a rabbit say that 'tis not the quantity that counts, 'tis the quality! Yahaaaaar! She let go her bowstring again and a Sling-rat fell. She had once composed a little song about war, even though she had never been in one before. She sang it quietly to herself.
"Oh little rats, go and hide,
I have the best on my side.
You are common, aye, and low,
You will all fall by my bow.
In your boots you'll all shake,
Oh, and your great fortress I will take.
Oh little rats, go and hide,
I have the best on my side."
She smiled as another Sling-rat tumbled down the hill.
Chapter 8: Castle Marl
Bargund was frightened. Already half of his rats had been killed by a force slightly smaller than their own. On the positive side, about fifty of the Marlfoxes had been killed, about ten mortally wounded, and three, frightened out of their wits, had jumped into the pike-infested lake. But no-one on either side, besides the King and a young archer fox, possibly his daughter, was in any state to continue. He called out to the King.
"King? Hah! A king of nothing but around two score foxes, and no kingdom!" (His estimating was particulary horrible.)
King Kerad spat back at Bargund. "What? How do you say that? Know that I, King Kerad, has taken this land."
Bargund yelled back, "Yeah? Well, you'll have to kill me first!" A rat archer that had hidden fired an arrow at Kerad,andd scored a hit.
Kerad flinched, then gave a nasty smile. "This kingdom is destined for the Marlfoxes. And so I will." Silth took aim and fired.
Silth knelt by her father's bed. "Oh, I'm so sorry!" She wept, "I d-didn't know t-the arrows were all poisoned! And now, only me an' you an' Vulpar are l-left! I'm s-so sorry! She was truly sad this time, although it was also mixed with inside happiness.
I must be strong, she thought, If he dies, I will be Queen. Though.... She spoke her last few thoughts aloud, "when I am Queen there will be no-one left to rule!"
"Of course there will be someone to rule, Silth," said Kerad. His voice was commanding, yet quiet. "The water-rats. They will be yours to command. I have left them to their life, life is short, and if you are of royal blood, sweet. Remember to know that the lives of others are not as luxurious as yours, yet they may still be happy. Know the value of life. But overall, treat them how you will. I am dying, Silth, and you shall mourn my loss. One day we shall meet again. I feel the power of speech leaving me..."
Silth gazed, shocked, at the unmoving body of her father. She murmured quietly to herself, "Silth, Queen of Marlfoxes."