Chapter Six: The Battle Begins
Not long after Gungro returned had Ragar Hookfang rallied all the vermin loyal to him. More creatures had joined him since he had landed the Wavelash on the coast. A ragtag band of ferrets had been found by a group of Ragar’s trackers, as well as a few motley rats. They had increased his numbers to two hundred and twenty creatures, not including the dead Trudd and the galley slaves. He had left five of his crew to guard the ship and the slaves, and had then set out on the march to Salamandastron.
It was well after dark, and Ragar was not far away from the mountain. He was sitting around a fire with a few of his most loyal crewmembers, discussing the battle to come. “I want the crew split into three groups. Two will march up to the sides of the mountain, and a third directly at the center.” He growled, cold eyes scanning the faces of the four vermin before him.
His eyes fell upon a small, dark rat. “You, Grimehide, will lead one section. Ragtail, you will lead the second, and Dergis will lead the third.” He looked toward the fourth crewmember, a lean stoat named Mugga. “Now you will take ten archers. I want you to stay in the fringes of the woodlands, off to the side. Pick off as many of those hares as you can.” The fox chuckled dryly. “Honest warfare never got any pirate anywhere.” There was a round of “aye cap’n’s” from the assembled creatures, and Ragar sent them away to join the rest of the crew. Tomorrow they would reach the mountain, and the battle for Salamandastron would begin.
Early the next morning, Kurva trotted from his room in the hare barracks to the mess hall. He was greeted by the sounds of the other early risers, who sat at table sharing piping hot scones, warm honeyed oatmeal, fresh breads of all kinds, and beakers of cordial. Though not all was peaceful in the hall.
“Ah told ye once, an’ ah’ll tell thee agin, yuir nae fightin’ in tae war tah coom.” Growled an angry voice. Kurva recognized the voice as belonging to Gorran MacHeath, a Northern mountain hare who had journeyed to Salamandastron when he was no more than a leveret. As far as Kurva knew, it had been because both his parents had died, and Gorran hadn’t been willing to stay in a place that held such grief for him.
“An’ I’ll tell you again, y’blasted ol’ mountain walloper!” Snapped a female voice. This was Gorran’s wife, Auna MacHeath. “I will be fighting in the jolly ol’ battle, whether ye like it or not!”
“Och! Whit is it wi’ ye faemales tha’ make ye want tae disobey yuir husbands?” Gorran asked, throwing up his paws in frustration. “Think o’ our wee liddle bairns, Isabeau an’ Tannel? Whit will ‘appen tae them iffen they lose their mammy?”
“And wot will happen if they lose you?” Auna snapped in reply, paws on hips. “I’m a member of the blinkin’ Long Patrol, same as you, Gorran. I can fight just as well as any chap, an’ so can all o’ the ol’ gels in the bally Patrol, wot.”
“I’m afraid she’s right, sah.” Piped up Northpaw, a senior member of the Long Patrol. “I know you’re worried about her, ol’ boy, but Auna is as skilled with a blade as any buck in the Long Patrol, wot.”
Kurva silently walked to the mess hall table, seating himself by a few of the older hares. He glanced sideways at the quarreling couple as Gorran heaved a sigh.
“A'right, mah love, ye win. But don’ expect me tae let ye oot o’ mah sight on tae battlefield, do ye ken? If yuir tae do battle wi’ yon vermin, than ah’ll be fightin’ along side thee.”
Auna chuckled, planting a kiss on her husband’s cheek. “I knew ye’d see it my way, m’dear.” She chuckled and swished past him. “Now c’mon before these blighters eat all the good tucker first, wot!”
By then, many young hares were filing into the mess hall, all gathering where the list of those who would be fighting was posted. One particularly excited recruit gave out a whoop and leapt into the air when he spied his name upon the list. A hare sitting across from Kurva chuckled.
“That’s young Baggscut. He’s green be’ind the ears, but deadly with a sling in his paw, wot. I’m not surprised he’s on the list.” He said, smiling in the direction of the young hares.
Kurva nodded slightly, watching the younger hares as he munched on a hot scone. “Not all of’em look happy. I s’pose they weren’t on the list…” He murmured, catching sight of a few frowning hares that stood scuffing their footpaws on the floor. One maid in particular looked as though she were about to burst into tears.
Rising from the table, Kurva marched up to the maid, lifting her chin with his paw. “Now, wot’s all this? D’ye want it to rain, missy?” He asked gently.
Sniffling, the haremaid shook her head. “N-no, sah… It’s just that… M-my name wasn’t on t-the blinkin’ ol’ l-list, boohoo!” She placed her face in her paws, sobbing.
Kurva flung his paw about her shoulders and led her to the mess table. Grabbing a cloth napkin from the table, he handed it to the maid, who promptly blew her nose. “C’mon, missy, sit down an’ dry yore eyes. Tell me, wot’s yore name?”
“Mirlow, sah.” She answered, sniffing and wiping her eyes on the napkin she’d been given.
Elrig, the hare that had spoken to Kurva earlier was nodding sympathetically. “I know tis ‘ard seein’ that ye aren’t on the list, m’dear. But just think, we’ll need hares on th’mountain that can defend from the inside, wot. You can ‘elp greatly with that.”
Mirlow cheered almost immediately at that, a smile forming her lips. “Really, sah?”
Elrig chuckled. “O’ course. Now dry your eyes an’-” He was cut off before he could finish. A young male runner burst into mess hall, breathing heavily.
“Vermin, wot! All o’ the blighters are marchin’ on our front door! Saw’em coming o’er the sand dunes an’ ran as fast as I could!” He panted.
Two of the hares rose from the table and sped off to alert Lady Marcella, who had been served breakfast in her chambers. It was time. The battle was about to begin!