Whiptail and Simu kept up a steady trot north-east.
“There’s nowhere for us to hide!” Whiptail complained.
“Don’t worry matey, I know a place. Jus’ a liddle more.”
“What is this Salamandastron, anyway?”
Simu stopped running. “Yew never heard o’ Salamandastron? Well, consider yerself lucky. It’s th’ scourge of all corsairs evr’ywhere. It’s ruled by big badgers and fightin’ hares. Only one creature’s ever conquered it, but it wasn’t fer too long. They say it’s filled with treasure ‘n such, but I never lissen to such things. Ye want to know more, wait ‘til we reach th’ Cooper Den.”
“Ah, I tell ya, matey, tis good t’be home!”
Whiptail looked around. All he saw were pines and boulders. Simu winked at him. “Aye, it ain’t easy t’see, I know. Hey, pick away that moss, would ya?”
Whiptail did as he was bid. He was surprised to see a small wooden latch. He opened it, only to find a long narrow tunnel filled with cobwebs.
“Well come on dozypaws, let’s git goin’.”
The entrance was only large enough to crawl through. Whiptail found it humid and oppressive. Simu came through first and helped him in.
It was a simple burrow dug by moles in ancient times. The wooden furniture was coated in dust. Simu checked the cupboards and pulled out preserved oatcakes and watercasks.
“Here we go. Pull up a chair, now. It ain’t no ice cream an’ wine, but it’s somethin’. Mmrf.. crnch… pffech! Ah! This is harder than oak! Ptew!”
Whiptail’s paw covered the stoat’s mouth. “Shh. Someone’s coming.”
An elderly ferret carrying a lantern and dagger emerged from the backchambers. He pointed menacingly at Whiptail. “You! Rat! Keep your paws where I can see them!”
Simu hugged the old one with such enthusiasm that he lifted the ferret off the floor.
“Uncle! Hahahahaaa! Ye haven’t aged a day!”
The ferret stared at Whiptail, almost transfixed. Simu ran to the backchambers. “Mama! Papa! Yer son’s back!”
Rat stared at ferret. Gradually, each took a seat.
“You don’t seem like you belong here,” Whiptail remarked.
“No, I am not a Cooper. I knew Simu’s father well. I often looked after him.”
"Speakin’ o’ which, where are they?” asked Simu as he returned much less energetically.
“Tis a sad tale, young un’. Couple seasons back, those mountain hares found them fishing at the coast, and chased them off. Oh don’t fret, they got away. But I’ve been here alone ever since, preparing.”
“Preparing for what?”
For war, young rat. I intend to rid that mountain of its Badger Lord. But I can’t do it alone. I need your help.”
The ferret held out his paw to Whiptail. “What do you say?” Under normal circumstances, Whiptail would have slaughtered the old one. But he noted the look of worry and fear on Simu’s face. Whiptail grasped the elder’s paw and shook.
“Right. Get plenty of sleep- your training begins at dawn.”
“I need no training.”
Oh, but you will. You think we can just walk up that mountain and slay willy-nilly? Oh, no. It will take much preparation.” At this, he left. Whiptail chewed on an oatcake bad temperedly.
“Stuck-up relic. Never even told me his name!” Grumbled Whiptail. Simu turned to him and sipped at his beaker.