A large ship was bobbing slowly on the water of the seas. It was crewed by cats, feral cats mostly. They worked about the deck, talking in low voices. There was barely a breath of wind in the sky, their leader would not be happy about that. One group of cats stood on the starboard side of the ship. One of them, a cat by the name of Rathi, was complaining.
"Bah, I don't know why were stuck on this stupid voyage. A army of expert fighters like us, stuck on this blasted boat!", he grumbled.
The cat beside him held a paw to his lips. "Shh! If our leader hears you saying things like that, he'll say its mutiny!"
However, the cat continued. "Whats the difference? Our "mighty leader" is snoring the day away in his bunk! Meanwhile, we've been out here working out tails off to get him to where he wants ta' go!"
The cat in front of him looked like he was about to say something but stopped. His eyes were wide with fear and focused on something behind Rathi. He gave a visible gulp and gave feeble singles to stop his friend.
"Who does he think he is?", continued Rathi, not noticing his friends warnings in his rage. "A ghost, that's what he is. And I aint' serving no ghost!"
"Oh I assure you, I am no ghost. I'll prove it to you since you don't seem convinced."
There was a whoosh of a axe, and the slain Rathi fell to the deck. The other cats stared in horror at the figure who had killed him.
He was a wildcat, wearing a armored breastplate and gauntlets. He wore a chain mail face mask, which he constantly sucked air through. In one paw he loosely held the single bladed war axe, the edge gleaming red with fresh blood. He raised the axe for all to see.
"Behold! I am no ghost, I am Riggu Felis! I shall prove it to any cat who does not believe this. I shall prove it by the blade of my axe!"
He turned and prowled back toward his cabin, calling over his shoulder as he went.
"Keep us on course for Green Isle! Oh, and someone toss that thing overboard."
The large ship plowed slowly on, with a terrified crew and one less feral cat now floating in the waves.
Book one, The calm before the storm
The sun shone brightly down on Green Isle. The place's rivers flowed on, the streams leaping and giggling in the joy of spring. A bird flew by occasionally, along the striking sight of an osprey diving for its meal.
Near the north side of the island was Holt Summerdell. It was practically a otter paradise, a fresh river full of shrimp, gardens, terraces and a orchard for a continuing supply of food. A huge cave with a dormitory, cellar and countless other passageways and caverns. It also featured a small field, at the moment filled with battling otters.
They were training, one group, led by Officer Kolun Galedeep, were training in the use of spears. These weren't usual stabbing weapons as they featured a single edged blade at the top. They were specially made for otters of the Green Clan Regiment. The newer recruits of the army, proudly dressed in their dark green tunics, were practicing on straw filled dummys.
A light furred otter, dressed in a brown jacket and black belt, strode toward the trainees. Hanging from the belt was a simple curved cutlass. He placed a paw on the hilt as he greeted Kolun.
"Morning messmate! How goes the training?"
The big otter sighed as he leaned on his own gigantic spear. "It goes Sam, but slowly," he admitted. "See that one there? He just fell on top of the dummy and nearly broke his spear!" His next remark was directed at the unfortunate recruit. "Ahoy, ye' fumbling solder! Do you know how far some otters have to walk to get the wood and steal for that weapon? That spear could save your life so take good care of it!"
The young otter, looking very embarrassed, muttered an apology and went back to his training.
Sam laughed, "Oh give the young ones a break you ol' windbag. I remember when I used my spear that way. I was a nightmare to the regiment till I finally got the hang of it." He glanced over at a group practicing archery and slinging then waved a paw at Kolun. "I think I'll help out those working with the ranged weapons. Talk to ye' later!"
As Sam approached the group he overheard their conversation. They were bragging about their various feats of slinging and archery.
"Well, once I spotted a gull trying to take off with a otter babe. So, I notched a shaft to my string and let fly! It hit the blighter right on the beak and bounced off. The bird was so surprised he dropped the babe and stared at me with its head to one side, like it couldn't understand what was happening. I grabbed the dibbun, kicked the bird to the ground, and dashed off back home!"
"Aye, that's true enough. I saw it me' self."
The Otters turned as one and bowed in embarrassment to Sam.
"Captain Sam Shellhound sir!" they exclaimed together.
Sam laughed, "At ease," he said. Sam was renowned for his skill with the bow. It was said that he was as skilled as Grath Longfletch and Inbar Trueflight. He grabbed a longbow from the weapon rack and notched a arrow to it. He explained the basics of a longbow to the recruits as he did.
"The longbow is the bow with the most range. It is also the most difficult to pull. When you use it you have to pull back hard and glance along the shaft. You have to aim fast because the longer you wait the more strain on your arm. The more strain that is on your arm the more it will shake, thus harder to hit. So, pull back, take careful aim, account for the wind and, release!"
The arrow gave a whoosh as it sped like lighting through the air. It hit the target dead center with a resounding thunk!.
A murmur of approval went up from the recruits.
Sam handed the bow to one and said, "Here, try it."
He spent the rest of the afternoon instructing them in the bow. As the sun began to set all the otters heard a voice.
"Well, what do we have here? A army of rouges and ruffians?"
Every otter bowed as one exclaiming, "Hail the high Queen Ruhlain!"
The otter smiled and shook her head. She wore a sea green kilt and Steel breastplate. The center of it seemed to have a gold star radiating from it She also wore a gold coronet, set with a large green emerald. "Peace otters," she said. "Sam, I would like to speak to you."
The young otter nodded to the trainees and bounded over to the Ruhlain. "Yes, marm'?" he asked.
"First off," she began, "you can stop calling me marm'. Your Leatho's brother and my personal guard so it's Tiria Wildlough to you. Secondly, I want you to take a patrol around the cost. Brantalis Skyfurrow said he spotted a ship heading this way on his last journey. Take as many as the Arrow Star can hold and still move swiftly. Make sure their well armed and ready for action. I'll leave the choice to you." She spoke quietly as not to be overheard by others.
Sam nodded giving a quick salute. "Right Tiria," he said. "I'll get a crew and do a bit of scouting. I'll report straight back. Is there any other information on the ship?"
The queen glanced about and whispered even lower, "Brantalis said he thought he could spot cats. He even said something about one with a mask."
A shiver ran up Sam's spine. "Don't worry Tiria," he whispered placing a paw on her shoulder. "It will be alright. We'll see whats to be seen and report straight back."
"Thank you Sam," said Tiria with a sigh of relief. "I'm confident in you."
Sam winked then set off to gather his crew.
The sun rose slowly in the sky, tinging the early morning fog crimson orange, as the Arrow Star swung out of a river.
It was a beautiful craft, painted a dark red with gold trim. Its name was painted in gold along the starboard side. It had a small mast and sail in the center and two oars, one on ether side.
Sam, ever so slightly, tilted the tiller to port. The boat responded just the way he wanted it to. He had spent almost two seasons working on that boat. He and his brother, Leatho Shellhound, had labored hour after hour to carve, nail and make the small craft water tight. Now it held six otters, its maximum weight without slowing down much. It could hold almost ten, if you squashed them in the right way. But this was a lightweight patrol.
Each otter was armed with a longbow. He had handed these out before they left, making sure they had full quivers on their backs. Each also carried a sling and stone pouch as a backup weapon. Besides that they were left to their own devices to chose weapons. Most had taken a short blade or dagger, most deciding to try a cutlass like Sam.
As they rounded Green Isle's northern point, a young otter named Rivershell Streamdiver, whispered a question to Sam.
"Excuse my asking Mr. Shellhound," he began. "But what if we run into that ship. We cant take on a ship full of cats ourselves!"
Sam placed a paw on the young ones shoulder. "Don't worry mate," he said. "If we sight the rascals we turn the Arrow Star around and head for home. Were a scouting party, the bows are if we get in a jam and can't get back. But don't worry your head about that. Focus on that fog."
They continued on in silence, fearing to speak. The tension was growing but none of them could explain why. Sam ran his paw across his bowstring, twanging it slightly to make sure it was secure. The fur on his neck rose. He felt something, what was it?
Suddenly a huge plume of water exploded around them, shattering the mornings stillness. The otters gave a cry as they gripped the sides of the boat. Sam drew his sword just as he saw a twisting form vanish beneath the waves.
"Sea serpent!" cried Sam.
"More than one cap'n!" shouted Rivershell as he fitted a arrow to his bowstring. The young otter sighted a shape under the water and let fly. The arrow hissed under the waves and vanished. They were rewarded by a writhing shape and dark red blood spreading outwards.
Suddenly another shape exploded from the port side, there were three of them! Sam slashed out, his blade barely piercing the tough scales. They were to far away.
"Fire arrows mates!" commanded Sam. He let out his war cry as he fitted a shaft to his string. "Eeeeeyeeee! Give em' slings and swords, Shelllhouuuund!"
The water was full of them now, slamming their heads against the boat and rising out of the water to strike. Each time they did this, they were greeted swiftly by a swarm of arrows and battle cry's.
Sam fired an arrow from his bow and saw it pierce a serpents eye. The creature stiffened, then fell limply into the water, never to rise again.
Sam felt Rivershell at his back, still firing arrows. "Runnin' out of room sir," he grunted. "Any ideas?"
The captain loosed his own shaft. "Not to many," he admitted. "We need to get the sail up. There's a southern wind and these serpents seem to be turning us around. If we get lucky, we can loose the sail and shoot out of this snake pit like a rock from a sling."
Rivershell nodded. "Right sir," he said. "You take the mast, we'll cover you."
Sam did as he was bid, as he got into position, still with his arrows at the ready, he found a second to muse. He had just taken an order form the youngest otter on the boat. It was funny how the heat of battle changed things.
His thoughts were cut short as a otter screamed. A serpent had buried its fangs into her side. The otter stabbed away with a dagger like a mad-beast but to no avail. The otter closest to her tried to help, but was to late. The serpent drew back and started to plunge into the water.
Sam loosed his shaft at the same time Rivershell did. Both arrows flew true, both landing in the creatures skull. The serpent was dead before it hit the water.
Sam felt the wind, saw the current and loosed the sail.
They shout past the serpents like an arrow. As they passed the wounded otter, Rivershell grabbed her paws and pulled her on board. He grimaced as he inspected the wound. "Sam," he said quietly. "I mean, cap'n, this is bad. We need to get her back to Holt Summerdell.
Sam shook his head. "Its to far mate, best take patch her up as best we can and head for shore. I know of a unused Holt nearby, we can camp there and see if she makes it to the morning."
Rivershell held back a sob of rage as he bandaged the wound. "Sir, I don't understand. If she has to die, why not against real foes? Those were just mindless fish defending their territory. Why does she have to risk death from that?"
Sam shook his head. "I don't know, I really don't know." He gazed around at the silent crew. He was neglecting his duty as captain. "Any other wounds or injury's? Good. You two Riverdogs to the oars. You, Currentstone, help Rivershell take care of this one. I'll man the tiller. To your posts otters!"
He gave a sigh, this wasn't turning out as expected. Not at all.
Five otters huddled inside the holt. It was decently sized, with plenty of moss padded nooks for sleeping. The wounded otter, who's name was Jewel, lay in one of them. Currentstone and Rivershell we're taking turns looking after her, but there wasn't much more to be done.
Sam set outside at the entrance, his bow held tightly in his paws and a arrow notched. Rivershell slipped outside and sat beside him. There was a long silence as the watched the moon as it began to sink and the morning sun appear. it was only when the first fringe of light appeared that Sam spoke.
"I'm sorry mate," he apologized. "I should have payed closer attention. If I had been we wouldn't have plowed right into that swarm of serpents."
"Don't blame yourself," the young otter replied. "The serpents are always moving around, there's no way to know when their gonna' pop up."
Sam gave a exhausted smile. "Thanks mate, hows Jewel?"
"About the same. We've stopped the bleeding, but if we don't get her to a healer soon, we're gonna' lose her."
Sam stood up and stretched. "Right then. Lets round up our mates and-" he stopped suddenly. "Wait, look. Is that a ship?"
Both we're silent as they strained to make out the vague shape. Finally, Rivershell said, "Aye, looks like it. We have to remember our mission. Let the Riverdog brothers take Jewel in the Arrow Star and take her to Holt Yiconk. The Otters there are strange but their excellent healers. You, Current and I will check out that ship on foot."
Within a few minuets the Arrow Star was headed toward the holt. Sam and his two companions began the trek toward the ship.
"Double time otters!" shouted Sam.
The ship was easily visible now that the morning mist had cleared away. It was massive, with three masts sticking up over the hills that now his the hull from view. There was also a flag, which only became visible once they got closer. It wasn't until they we're almost to the ship when they could make out its design, a pair of axes and a masked wildcat.
Sam could sense his companions tense at the sight. "Easy otters," he said in a low voice. "They may just be trying to scare us, lets get closer."
They swiftly climbed the hill and flopped down on their bellies to remain undetected. All of theme nearly stopped breathing at the sight before them.
Cats were unloading barrels off the ship, presumably supplies. Others we're handing out weapons and armor. The shocking thing we're their numbers. Sam had expected a few scores at most, but what he saw hear was at least a hundred.
"We need to report back to the Queen," Sam whispered.
As they began to creep back, Currentstone stopped.
"Wait, look!" he said.
Five cats we're coming along the shoreline, dragging a family of otters by the ropes around their necks. Their we're two fully grown otters, a otter roughly sixteen seasons old and two dubbins.
"Lets get a closer look," Sam said quietly and silently crept down the hill.