Young Galerush sat in a well-built otter boat. The otter paddled through the water. Water splashed all over. Galerush became rather wet, but it didn't seem to bother him. Paddling faster and faster, Galerush shouted, "Ahoy there, Rivergaaaaaaalllllleee!"
"Galerush! What are you doing?" It was Spraydeep, the stern-faced otter warrior of the tribe of Rivergale.
Looking rather ashamed, Galerush admitted, "Just...playing."
"The son of Boldwave should not be playing around in boats!" Spraydeep said rather irately.
Galerush reluctantly stepped out of the boat. Later that evening, he spoke to Boldwave and Whitegale, his mother and father.
"Spraydeep says I shouldn't be playing in the boats."
"Galerush, I think you'll grow up to be good at working boats."
"Galerush, I believe in you.
Whitegale patted his back. "Galerush, you'll grow up to be a fine otter."
Boldwave and Whitegale were also mighty warriors, but not half as stern as Spraydeep. "Don't mind Spraydeep, he's a goodbeast at heart," said Boldwave.
"I remember when you told me that story of how the Tribe of Rivergale fought off a great vermin band. You were in that battle, weren't you?" asked Galerush.
"Indeed I was," said Boldwave. "And your mother was too."
"I didn't know that."
"Your mother is very skilled with a sling, and I was skilled with a javelin. We fought off a vermin horde many seasons ago."
Galerush was amazed. "I didn't know that!"
"Spraydeep was in that battle too. Now, Spraydeep fought a bit different from the rest of us. Spraydeep was skilled in archery."
An otter and a squirrel stepped through Mossflower Woods, both in their late middle seasons. They were wanderers and travelers, going wherever their heart took them. Each of them had fought vermin with their slings. Now they marched happily onward, with their hawk friend Strikefeather.
"Ready for a jolly tune, Rachella?" the otter Rutarc quipped, twiddling his small flute.
"My voice isn't all that pretty," she replied, "But I'll sing anyway."
"Little Bee, Little Bee,
Little Bee, Little Bee,
Humming through the forest,
You don't sting me,
Make some tasty honey,
Buzzy buzzy bee,
In your black and yellow sweater,
One two three!
Little Bee, Little Bee,
Make some tasty honey
For this otter and me!"
"That's a great song!" the hawk screeched. "Your voice isn't bad."
Suddenly Rutarc was uneasy. "I think I can sense vermin! They're coming from the Northlands!"
Then the three friends saw the vermin. Forty weasels, foxes, stoats, and rats were marching up a hill."
"I don't think they saw us," Rachela whispered. "It would be foolish to fight them since we are outnumbered."
Rutarc agreed and the the two slipped out of sight. Suddnely a tall ferret saw the hawk flying over the river. "Look there, Morrun Bowbeast, a hawk!"
The ferret called Morrun Bowbeast fitted an arrow to the bowstring. It struck the hawk's wing. Strikefeather splashed into the river, wounded. Suddenly a stone struck the ferret in the nose.
"Yaaacchhh!" The ferret screamed.
Another slingstone let fly, hitting an unfortunate rat. None of the surprised vermin knew where the stones were coming from.
From behind the tree, Rachella whispered, "Keep the stones coming. We have to help Strikefeather."
"Hang on Strikefeather!" Rutarc shouted.
The Long Patrol was marching down Salamandastron. Colonel Buckilon Blueton was leading the young hares in a song.
"Oh, listen laddie bucks,
And lassies to m'tale
I'll tell you of of Sereant Shoreworthy
And the battle with the fox Terrorale
Shoreworthy's hares were marchin'
When Terrorale's vermin set on,
Seregeant Shoreworthy was confident
And said, "Foul vermin, yor gone!"
Shoreworthy grabbed an apple pie,
And broke four of Terrorale's teeth,
Then the vermin ran away,
And the Sergeant made himself a wreath,
Shoreworthy said, "Me laddies,
There's never a day off,
So let's march fifteen miles,
And have some more scoff!"
The Badger lord Crimtregg the Valiant smiled. "Why don't you march fifteen miles? Then you'd actually need to eat!" Many hares laughed at the joke. Then Crimtregg got on with business. "Fleetshore, you have wandered off five times now. I do not want to punish you, but you must learn."
The hare looked up and mumbled, "Don't like the mountain. I want to go to the sea."
"There is a time for exploring, Fleetshore, but it is not when we have to send a score of hares looking for you."
"I'm sorry. It won't happen again, sir."
Galerush was fishing that afternoon. It was a day like any other day-until he caught sight of something other than a fish. The young otter brought the wet mass onto the shore and looked at it closer. It was a large hawk, feathers sodden and a broken arrow embedded in its wing. "Poor bird," Galerush murmured. "Who could have done something like this?"
Just then the bird spit out water and opened its eyes. The bird looked dazed and exhausted. "Kraaahh! You look like my friend Rutarc, but you're smaller. Where is this place?"
"We will help you. Just rest for now. What is your name?"
"Well, Strikefeather, there arrow has been shot in your wing, and you look dazed, but I don't think you've broken anything. Who did this to you?"
"Vermin did this!" the hawk screeched angrily. "Weasels, foxes, stoats, and rats. They saw me flying over the water and a ferret shot me with an arrow. I do not know what they have done with my friends."
"I will be your friend,Strikefeather. You are a noble bird."
Rallan Barbfang was the cruel leader of the twoscore vermin. He was fierce and greedy, even with his own horde. Disobedience or desertion meant torture. The fear of Rallan was so great that none dared to disobey him. Morrun Bowbeast was the only creature in the horde that Rallan did not use and abuse. In fact, Rallan had a respect for Morrun, as the two of them were both ferrets.
"Morrun, that was a strong arrow you shot at that hawk!" the ferret leader laughed villianously.
"We got that bird's friends captured easily. Although they put up quite a fight for two beasts."
The brave otter and squirrel had been captured. Grimly they tried loosening their bonds, but it did no good. "Wonder where Strikefeather is now?" Rachela whispered.
"Hope he's better off than us," the otter grunted.
"I'm not just going to let those vermin hold us here! We need to get out...somehow," Rachela replied.
Strikefeather's wing was healing well. Galerush was amazed at the bird's quick recovery. "What a strong bird Strikefeather is! I thought he wouldn't make it through the night the first time I saw him, but soon he'll be able to fly again," Streamwillow, the otter healer exclaimed.
"Strikefeather has become a good friend," Galerush replied. "I wonder where he came from."
Strikefeather had recovered sufficiently enough to speak more. "I was traveling along with my good friends, Rachela and Rutarc, and otter and a squirrel. They had found me when they were journeying up through the Northern Mountains. Back then, I was a restless young bird, always jumping out of the nest before I looked. I had fallen from my nest and dislocated my wing. They healed me and became my best friends. From then on, I knew I wanted to follow them. They taught me so much."
"You are a true friend, Strikefeather," said Galerush. "Where are your friends now?"
"If they're still alive, they've been captured by vermin," the hawk screeched angrily. "They fought like fearsome warriors, but they were so heavily outnumbered, they didn't stand a chance."
"We must rescue them!" Galerush exclaimed. "But what can we do?"
"I have an idea," the hawk replied.
Rachela and Rutarc were tied to a tree. Night had fallen, and the vermin camp was quiet. Many times the two captives had attempted to cut through their bonds, but were unable to. "This rope is numbing my paws," Rutarc murmured. "But that's the least of our worries. Who knows what the vermin will do to us."
Suddenly, the two heard pawsteps, and two figures came advancing toward them. "Vermin, I'll bet," Rachela mumbled. The larger of the two creatures came crouching towards the captives and flashed a knife.
Even though he was bound to the tree, Rutarc's courage did not desert him. "You stinkin' coward!" he yelled. "Can't you see we can't defend ourselves!"
The creature merely placed a claw to his mouth and slashed through the bonds that held the two friends to the tree. "Quiet, and not a sound," he whispered. "If you haven't already roused suspicion, get away as fast as you can."
Rachela and Rutarc understood, but they were still unsure of what was happening. The two creatures led them silently to a hideout in the forest. After that, they spoke to Rachela and Rutarc... after removing their disguises.
"Why...you two are otters!" Rachela was surprised. "You looked for all the world like a couple of weasels, disguised like that. You're like that otter we hear in the old stories, the Mask."
"That's our plan," a pretty young otter named Streamsglide explained. "We snuck into the vermin camp a few days ago and we were assigned just what the new recruits get- lots of guard duty. My name is Streamsglide and this is Galerush."
"This hideout is pretty secluded. I'm pretty sure the vermin won't find it, but there's always that danger...
The ferret captain Zanwyt was surprised when the gray rat came rushing up to him. "Captain Zandwyt, the prisoners have escaped!"
"So they have," the silver ferret replied. "Grayfang, where are the two weasels you assigned to guard duty?"
"They're gone too," Grayfang gasped. "They fled, probably, not wishing to face the anger of Jekfang the Ruthless!"
Even the tall ferret trembled slightly at the mention of the vermin leader. Jekfang the Ruthless deserved his name. The fox gave orders to kill on sight whenever he suspected an enemy or a deserter. Many a rat or stoat that tried to run from the golden fox's harsh leadership had been slain by Jekfang's own blade...or shot by an arrow from Morrun Bowbeast, Jekfang's second in command. Zanwyt disapproved of the fox's method of leadership, but even he dared not speak up. The ferret's mind went back to Grayfang's remark.
"How do you know they fled, Grayfang? It's likely that they helped the prisoners escape!"
That night, the three captains of Jekfang the Ruthless stood before their tyrannical leader. The fox was seething with rage. "So, Zanwyt, Icefang, Junyan, the captives escape nearly as soon as they are captured. They made fools of us! My orders are for each of you to gather your hordebeasts and track those prisoners down. Each party is to be going in a seperate direction.
Junyan, who was a rather dull-minded weasel, spoke up. "Well, okay, but the prisoners escaped, and that's nothing to celebrate!"
The weasel screeched as the irate fox stepped on his tail. "You brainless creature! When I said the word party, I meant a group. Go assemble the ranks and catch them, now!"
Zanwyt and the fox Icefang were considerably more intelligent than the rest of the horde. They wisely held their tongue and began to gather the vermin under their command.
Junyan continued to ask questions. "Well, why are we organizing patrols to find four beasts?"
"Don't you see?" the fox screeched. "An otter and a squirrel would take refuge with others of their kind. We'll use them as a lesson to show that no one can get away from Jekfang the Ruthless!"
The weasel trembled and hastily ran off to organize a patrol.
The two travelers, Rachela and Rutarc, had made considerable ground from the place they were captured. Along with the two "weasels" they had returned to the otter camp. A loud screech came from the sky. Several otters jumped back in surprise, but Rachela and Rutarc knew who it was immediately. "Strykfeather, it's so good to see you again!" Rachela exclaimed.
"I thought I wouldn't see you again," Strykfeather said. "One of the vermin shot me with an arrow. It was only because of an alert young otter that I am still here."
"The news we bring is bad, unfortunately," Rutarc commented. "We were captured by vermin and tied to a tree. We were also helped out by the otters. No doubt they will go after us, and I fear for your safety."
Spraydeep snorted at this remark. "We otters fear no vermin. We'll fight them and stop them in their tracks!"
Boldwave was more practical. "We otters are formidable fighters, but you're right, Rutarc. Some of the otters here are very young and upset by war and fighting. It is they whom I fear for."
Galerush could not help being indignant. "You're not talking about me, are you? I'm not helpless! I can fight!"
Boldwave patted his son's shoulder. "No, we're not talking about you. You're a very brave otter and a clever one too."
"Regardless of who can fight, we need a plan," said Whitegale. "Do you have any ideas?"
It was Rachela who came up with the plan...
Jekfang the Ruthless had never seen the stoat healer before. Ravvy was a recluse, living alone in the woods and very rarely appearing to vermin leaders...unless she saw something of vital importance.
"The visions tell me something of great importance to thee, Jekfang," she said. "I have been told that your camp must..."
The healer Ravvy was interrupted by the stoat who rushed into camp. "Jekfang! Jekfang!" he yelled.
"What happened?" Jekfang the Ruthless asked, regardless of not being addressed in a more proper title.
The stoat began..."I've never seen anything like it.