“C’mon, old gel, wake up now!” the old hare called, lightly rapping on the door to Rosamord’s room. The younger hare grunted, sitting up and rubbing her eyes. “Wot do ye want, ol’ boy?” she complained, wiggling her ears slightly.
“Your first mission is t’day, y’know!” the older hare answered, smiling lightly. “Don’t tell me ye’ve forgotten, Rosa!”
The young hare blinked her eyes, and then jumped up. “I’ll be out in a tick, sah!” she called, pulling on a pale brown tunic. “My first mission, then.” She said to herself as the sound of the other hare’s pawsteps receded. She strapped an old, tightly woven belt around her waist, and stuck a slim, sheathed, dagger-like dirk through that. Then, she fastened an old seashell necklace around her neck. Smiling slightly, the pretty hare left her room and headed left, down a flight of stairs, and into the mess hall of Salamandastron. The sounds of chattering hares hit her ears like thunder, and the smile on Rosamord’s face grew in size.
The eyes of the big Badger Lord met hers moments later. “Finally up, are you Rosa?” he said, his deep voice calm and inviting.
“Yes, sah! I overslept, sah!” Rosamord answered, throwing a light salute.
“And sleeping you were!” said the older hare that had woken her.
“Oh, hush yeself, Figwort!” Rosa answered. “I was up more’n ‘alf the night!” she said, taking a seat next to him and her Badger Lord.
“Are ye losin’ your nerve, Rosa?” a younger hare called across the table.
Rosamord rolled her eyes. “Be quiet, Banton!” she hissed, wagging her ears in his direction.
The Badger Lord, Thornwyte, laughed quietly. “Alright, alright! Let the poor beast eat, will you?” he said, his loud voice reaching the ears of every hare in the mess hall.
Rosamord nodded curtly at the hares that were watching her. Then, the haremaid sat down and tucked into the food before her with a will.
“Well, she has a ‘ealthy appetite, don’t she?” An old female hare named Sagepaw commented to Figwort.
“Yes she does, Sagepaw.” The old boxing hare answered the lady hare.
Rosamord continued eating as though neither of them had spoken. “I say, m’lord Thornwyte, d’you mind runnin’ my mission by me again? Just to refresh my memory, o’ course.” She asked, looking at the massive badger seated at the head of the table.
Lord Thornwyte obliged. “As you know, you’re auntie Petunia had a rather precious item stolen from her a few days ago. The poor lady hare was weeping over it. She said it’d been in her family for generations. ‘Tis a necklace that she says belonged to an ancestor of yours; a lady hare named Mistpaw Wavebuck. Petunia’s on in her seasons, and she said she wanted you to get the necklace back from the stoat that took it.” The Badger Lord nodded at the haremaid as he spoke.
Rosa nodded her pretty head, wiggling her long ears. “Poor auntie Petunia. I’m more than willing to get the necklace for her. It’s why I accepted the mission, wot! Family has t’look out for family.”
“You’ll head out as soon as you’ve finished your breakfast.” The Badger Lord rumbled out after swallowing a mouthful of mint tea.
Rosa nodded and looked down at her plate briefly before eating the rest of her breakfast, contemplating the mission her Badger Lord, and her auntie, was sending her out on.
Taking a deep breath, the haremaid left the mountain fortress of Salamandastron, her paw resting on the hilt of the dirk strapped around her middle. After inhaling another lungful of air, and wiggling her ears while doing so, Rosa set off at a breakneck speed, kicking up clouds of sand as she ran across the shores to the woodlands beyond.
Being the hare that she was, it took little more than half the day for Rosa to nearly reach the woodlands. Now that she knew she could, the haremaid slowed her pace to a trot, her paw never leaving the hilt of her blade. Though she was a maid of only fifteen seasons, vigorous training with the older fighting hares had turned Rosa into a skilled battler. She had experience with a number of weapons, but the slender-bladed dirk was the one she preferred. “Bloomin’ hot day, ain’t it, wot?” Rosa muttered to herself as she entered the woodlands. The haremaid stopped walking, looking about the woodland floor, searching for tracks that the stoat might have left. Catching a glimpse of a broken branch, Rosa approached the shrub with a look of satisfaction. She inspected it, sniffed warily, and nodded.
“Are ye lookin’ fer somethin’, miss?” A voice nearby asked.
Tensing, the haremaid looked about. “Wot wot? Show y’self, ye blighter! An’ pray you aren’t a stoat!” Rosa said, gripping her dirk handle tightly.
A tall squirrel seemed to materialize out of nowhere. With her head cocked to one side, she inquired, “Blighter? I don’t think I’ve ever bin called that.”
“Oh, erm…Sorry ‘bout that, mate. Ye startled me a tad, ye know.” The haremaid said with a smile. “By the by, my name’s Rosamord, but ye can call me Rosa.”
The squirrelmaid nodded. “I’m Saffro. ‘Tis nice to meet ye, Rosa. But why are ye out here all by yer lonesome?”
“It’s a long story, actually. Y’see, my auntie got something stolen from ‘er and I’m looking for the villain who took it. I aim to steal it back from’em.”
Saffro nodded, her brush waving from side to side. “Well, ‘tis nearly nigh’fall. Why don’t ye come back to the drey of my tribe, and you can have supper wi’ us.”
Rosa nodded enthusiastically. “That sounds capital, wot! Lead the way, Saffro!”
The drey of Saffro was a very spaced out collection off huts, walkways, and platforms that had been constructed in the treetops. Rosa, not being a climber like the squirrelmaid Saffro, had to have a rope thrown to her so she could shinny up into the drey.
“Whoo! What a climb, wot!” Rosa breathed as she plopped down on a short, wide log that served as a chair. Saffro chuckled as a few squirrels approached.
“You’ve brought us a long-ears.” One commented dryly, his nose twitching.
“I’m a hare.” Rosa replied curtly, her ears standing straight up. Saffro looked at the older squirrel. “Please be kind to her, Pine-eye. She’s on a mission.” The squirrel, Pine-eye, rolled his eyes, and was about to make another comment when a ladle struck his bushy tail.
“Keep yer comments to yerself, Pine-eye. Ye’ve no reason to be rude!” The squirrel lady that was speaking was his wife, Treeflower. Pine-eye, humbled by his wife, muttered a light apology.
“It’s quite alright, sah. No harm done, don’cha know.” Rosa flashed the squirrel a smile as he shuffled off.
“Try not to mind him. He’s more rough mannered, y’know.” Treeflower said fondly, chuckling to herself. Rosa was about to say something when a tiny squirrel babe trundled up to her. The little babes eyes were as round as saucers. “Well, ‘ello little chapess! How’re ye?” Rosa said kindly to the little squirrel.
“Hullo. My name be’s Frunn. Wot’s yer name?” Asked the wide-eyed babe. Picking the tiny squirrelmaid up and sitting her on her lap, the haremaid chuckled. “I’m Rosa, an’ it’s nice to meet ye, Frunn.” She said smiling.
Frunn giggled, before looking up. “There be’s my momma!” She exclaimed, pointing at a pretty squirrel that was approaching.
“Frunn, what on earth are ye doing? Ye aren’t bothering that young maid, are you?” The squirrel lady fussed.
“She was actin’ jus’ fine.” Treeflower piped up, the tip of her brush twitching. “Anyway, Thrina, isn’t it time you and I started cookin’? Saffro and Rosa’ll watch Frunn while you and I get started on the vittles.”
Dawn’s light poured over the woodlands in a beautiful combination of pink, pale purple, and soft orange. It was at this time that the haremaid Rosa awoke from her contented slumber. Sitting up and stretching her paws, Rosa stood, waggling her long ears. “I ‘spose ‘tis time I left, wot.” She muttered to herself. Rising from the makeshift bed of cloth and moss, the haremaid padded quietly over to the dreys exit, where the rope she had climbed up lay coiled.
“Leavin’ so soon?” The unmistakable voice of the squirrelmaid Saffro sounded close by. Rosa looked over at the climber, wrinkling her nose. “I’ve a mission to complete, wot. I’m very sorry I couldn’t’ve stayed longer, ye know.” She said.
“Well, I’m coming with ye. And don’t start arguing! Here, you carry this ‘aversack, an’ I’ll carry this’n.” As she spoke, Saffro tossed Rosa a haversack that was heavy with food. Catching the haversack, the haremaid slung it over her shoulder. “Right, then. I ‘spose we best be off. After you, wot!”
It had only been a few hours, and the maids had made great progress. It hadn’t taken them long to pick up a trail of footprints. “The rotter can’t be far now, wot! An’ soon, he’ll learn not to steal from hares.” Rosa muttered to herself, her ears wiggling furiously. She quickened her pace with Saffro on her heals.
“Tell me, Rosa, d’ye plan in killin’ the vermin when we find’im?” The squirrel asked cautiously, looking at the haremaid out of the corner of her eye.
Rosa breathed deeply through her nose, pawing the hilt of her dirk. “I’ve ne’er killed anybeast, Saffro. The only thing I plans t’do is take back the necklace. But if push come t’shove, I’ll wallop the villain, and kill him if’n I need to, wot.”
Saffro nodded. “I’ve ne’er killed anybeast before, either, Rosa. I hope I ne’er ‘ave to.” “I hope ye never ‘ave to either, Saffro. Hopefully ye won’t, but if ‘tis the path of a warrior ye want to follow, killin’ is unavoidable.” The haremaid told Saffro.
“The hares on that mountain really taught ye right, Rosa. Ye sound wise when ye get serious.” Saffro said with a chuckle.
“To bad I don’t get ser’ous very often, wot!” Rosa answered, laughing.
Saffro laughed as well, her brushy tail waving from side to side as the two of them continued on the trail.
Just before nightfall, Rosa stopped in her tracks, holding her paw to her mouth in a gesture of silence. Saffro nodded at the haremaid.
“Be very quiet, wot. Jus’ up a head, I believe the vermin are campin’. It won’t take us long t’reach them, an’ when we do, I want ye to climb the nearest tree, wot. If I wiggle both my ears, come out an’ help me. Here, ye can take my dirk. Don’t argue, Saffro. I’m a hare. I can fight with or without a weapon in my paw!”
Biting her lip, the squirrelmaid nodded, and together, she and the haremaid started walking again. After only a few minutes, the sounds of talking vermin reached both their ears.
“Dis is a fine jool, Grall. It shows ‘ow much ye t’ink o’ yer mate.” A female voice cackled.
A male voice replied, “Yarr! Twas easy t’steal it off’n that stoopid ould long-ears!”
Giving Saffro a nod, Rosa whispered, “Go on, chap, and get climbin’!”
Saffro obeyed, the dirk clenched in her paw. Without looking back, the natural born climber shot off like an arrow up the nearest tree.
Putting on a brave face, Rosa sauntered into the vermin camp, her eyes falling upon two stoats. “Well, good evenin’ to ye, wot! Looks like ye’ve got a super fire goin’.” Rosa smiled foolishly as she spoke, blinking her pretty eyes.
The male stoat, Grall, narrowed his eyes at the haremaid. “Wot’re ye doin’, waltzing in ter our camp, long-ears?” He spat, growling.
“Oh shuddup, Grall. Mind yer manners! We’ve got a posh rabbet in our sights.” Said the female stoat, Fralga, bowing mockingly to Rosa.
The haremaid, looking completely oblivious, smiled brightly. “Thank ye, chapess. I say, that’s a fine lookin’ necklace ye ‘ave there.” Rosa observed, eyes falling on the necklace about Fralga’s neck.
The piece of jewelry wasn’t grand, but it was pretty. It was a thin chain set with small green stones at even intervals. Fralga reached up and brushed a grubby claw over the piece of jewelry. “Yes. Grall traded a rabbet like yersel’ fer it.” The stoat said, lying through her yellow fangs.
“Right-o. Well, I’m here to get it back.” Rosa told the female stoat, causing her mate to jump up, hissing.
“Yew ain’t getting’ it back, long-ears. Tis me mates!” Grall snarled, his paw treading close to the rusted blade he had strapped in his belt.
That was when Rosa struck. Lunging forward quicker than greased lightning, the haremaid lashed out with one of her footpaws, neatly catching the male stoat in the stomach. A whoosh of air rushed from Grall’s lungs as he was kicked backward by the fighting haremaid. Fralga, seeing her mate being struck, let out a hiss of rage and dashed forward, aiming a slash at Rosa’s face with her dirty, sharp claws.
Rosa ducked, swinging up with her left paw clenched. The punch caught Fralga under her jaw and sent her backward, where she fell in a senseless heap. Grall was just about to rise when Rosa slammed her right paw down on his head, hitting him right between the ears.
“Whoo! What a scuffle, Rosa!” Called Saffro from the tree she had climbed.
Rosa, who was in the middle of unclasping her ancestor’s necklace from the neck of the unconscious female stoat, nodded her head. “Tell your tribe about it when ye get back to’em. I’m sure it’ll entertain Frunn an’ her little friends.” Said Rosa as she clasped Mistpaw Wavebuck’s necklace about her own neck. After giving the two vermin a few more taps to make sure they stayed in the dark, Rosa turned to see Saffro holding the dirk in her paws. Rosa approached the squirrel. “C’mon, mate, let’s get goin’. I still have to get back to Salamandastron.” Grinning, Rosa looped her paw about Saffro’s, and together they started off, back toward their own homes.
Rosa reached her mountain home of Salamandastron only three days later. Slung over her shoulder was the now almost empty haversack Saffro had given her. Tucked into her belt rested her dirk, which she had put back after Saffro had returned it.
“Hey up there! Open that bloomin’ door an’ let a famished maid in!” Rosa called loudly, waving one paw over head.
“Hello down there! State your name an’ your business, wot!” A female voice called down.
“Oh! Willowbell, open up, ye cad! I know it’s you! An’ I bet that blighter, Banton, is there with ye!”
“You’re right, old gel! And ye still haven’t stated your name an’ business!” The young hare called to Rosa. “Ye rotter! Oh, bother it all; my name is Rosamord Tanscut Hillworthy! I’ve just returned from wallopin’ vermin! And I’m famished! Now let me in b’fore I clop ye!”
Hardly able to breath through their laughter, Willowbell and Banton opened the large doors with the help of a few other willing hares. Rosa walked in through the hallway and into the mess hall, and was greeted by her old aunt Petunia and Badger Lord Thornwyte.
“Oh! My necklace! Ye’ve returned it, Rosamord!” Cried Petunia, who was one of the very few that called the haremaid by her full first name. Removing the necklace, the haremaid handed it to her auntie. “I soundly clouted the blighters who took it from ye, marm. They won’t bother any hare again.” Rosa said, nodding her head and wiggling her ears.
“You returned without injury, as well, Rosa. It was a mission well accomplished.” Lord Thornwyte told the maid, nodding his head approvingly. “And I heard you yelling out there. Are ye hungry?”
“I’m bloomin’ flippin’ starvin’, sah!” Rosa answered, clapping a paw to her brow dramatically for effect.
Sniggering, Willowbell and Banton dodged past her. “Well, hurry up, then! Before the good scoff is eaten, wot!” Banton called as he lollopped to the long mess table.
Rosa was about to run after them when Petunia and Lord Thornwyte put their paws around her shoulders.
“Come on, Rosa. You can sit next to me and your aunt and tell us all about your mission while you eat.” Rumbled the Badger Lord as he led the young haremaid to the mess table.
After seating herself, and filling her plate with as much food as it could hold, Rosa began to tell her story, all the while munching on hot scones, spring salad, oat farls, and drinking down gulps of cold mint tea. “Well hrmff scrunff munch, ye see, on my journey humff mmfnch, I met up with a squirrel named Saffro…” And, with Thornwyte, Petunia, and many of the other hares listening, Rosa slowly recounted the events of the last few days, telling of Saffro and her drey, and, with a few added details, of how she fought a horde of vermin to retrieve her auntie’s necklace.