Chapter Four: The Message
“Bend yer backs, slaves!” Ripscar the rat snarled, glaring at the five beasts that had chosen to assist the crewbeasts forage for supplies. He looked up from the slaves when another rat, a short male missing an ear, scurried up.
“What d’yer want, Frudle?” Ripscar questioned, sneering at the smaller beast.
“Cap’n Hookfang wants ter talk to yer, Rip. ‘e said somethin’ about scoutin’ up toward that big ol’ mountain.” Frudle replied, scratching at his ear stub with a grimy claw. “An’ ‘e tol’ me ter watch th’ slaves fer ye.”
Ripscar nodded. “Right. Keep yer eye on’em, Frudle.” He snarled, then marched off toward the camp, leaving Frudle and the other handful of crewbeasts to the slaves. He walked up upon Ragar Hookfang, who was sitting around a fire with three other members of the crew.
“Frudle said ye wanted ter see me, Cap’n?” Ripscar asked, eying the three beasts sitting with him: two weasel brothers, Gungro and Trudd, and a vixen named Curla.
“Yes, I did.” Replied Hookfang, standing up. “I’d like you to take these three and scout up ahead, towards the mountain. Arm yourselves well. We don’t know this country like we know the seas. If you see any beast, capture them. However, if they resist too strongly, kill them. Understand?”
Ripscar nodded and saluted. “When d’ye want us ter leave, Cap’n?”
“At dawn.” The corsair replied. With that, he swept off toward the ship, leaving Ripscar to discuss the next mornings mission with the vixen and the two weasels.
The sun rose slowly the next morning, lighting up the sky in a beautiful array of pastel colors. Sadly, this beauty was ignored by the crew of the Wavelash, who were still gathering supplies, and setting about to fixing minor damages the ship had taken at sea. Ripscar was already prepared, armed with his curved sword and another dagger he had found in the ships armory. The weasels had chosen a spear and dagger each, and Curla had found herself a javelin.
Ragar looked each beast up and down. “Travel swiftly, and remember, only slay those who resist.” He reminded them. Then, with a wave of his paw, he dismissed them.
Ripscar, wearing his signature sneer, turned and marched off, the others following in his wake.
Hartshire hadn’t stopped running until night fell on the day he relieved Dewberry. He had slept soundly under the cover of a large dune, and that morning, had woken up refreshed. Stretching his paws, he stood up and retrieved the light haversack he had brought with him. Removing a canteen from the sack, he took a few sips, and ate a few bites of an apple scone he had pinched from under the cooks nose. After eating his small meal, he set off again, this time at a slower lope.
He swept up the coast, eyes peeled for any signs of activity. By the time afternoon arrived, with the sun beating down from its high place in the sky, Hartshire spotted movement. Four moved in the distance. The male hare ducked and veered to the side, using every dune and sand hill to hide himself. His paw strayed close to the small dagger he carried in his belt. It didn’t take long for the hare to get close enough to here them.
“Wot does Cap’n Hookfang t’ink we’re gonna find out ‘ere in this fate fersakin’ desert?” Complained Trudd.
“This ain’t no desert, ye idjit. It’s the coast.” His brother retorted.
Trudd snorted. “S’wide an’ big enough ter be a desert.”
“Will the two o’ yer shut yer snouts? Save yer energy fer marching!” Snarled Curla, who was usually a quiet vixen.
Hartshire licked his lips, dropping his ears lest they show over the top of the sand hill her crouched by. He could tell by their accents that they were vermin types, most likely the pirates Dewberry had spotted. Drawing his dagger, the hare waited a second longer, judging the distance of the beasts by the shuffling noise of the sand beneath their paws. When the moment came, Hartshire leapt up, slaying the beast closest to him with a slash of his dagger.
Trudd’s eyes widened with shock before he fell to the sand, never to rise again. Gungro and Curla lashed at the hare with their own weapons, while Ripscar circled to the side, his sword drawn.
Hartshire leapt forward, his clenched free paw striking Curla twice in the jaw before the vixen could blink. He moved clear of a slash from Ripscar’s sword, and ducked a blow from Gungro’s spear. The two vermin rushed the hare, and he tripped Gungro neatly, though this time he didn’t escape Ripscar’s blow. The sword grazed down the hares side, cutting him fairly shallowly.
Hartshire snarled, lashing out with his dagger. Ripscar blocked the blow, but couldn’t dodge the Runner’s paw, which came with lightning speed and struck the slave driver between the eyes. Ripscar fell unconscious as Gungro rose from his own stunned state. Hartshire acted swiftly, knocking the spear from the weasel’s paws and shoving him down again. He pointed his dagger at the weasel, growling, and ignoring his own wound.
“You’re from a corsair crew, wot?” Hartshire asked.
Gungro nodded dumbly, cowed by the skill of the warrior hare. “A-aye, sir.”
“How many of ye are there?” The hare questioned, pointing his dagger at the hapless crew beast.
“T-here’s ten score o’ beasts in t’e crew o’ Cap’n Hookfang, sir.”
Hartshire nodded. “Now get up, wot. I suggest ye run as fast as your paws c’n jolly well carry you. You go back t’your captain wots-his-name, and you tell’im that he c’n try to take Salamandastron if he wants to, but he won’t succeed. Now get running!”
Gungro needed no second bidding. He scrambled to his paws and ran, sand flying up in clouds in his wake.
Hartshire looked coldly at the vermin that lay in the sand. One dead, two stunned. He twitched his whiskers, turning on his heel to start his run back to his mountain.