This is a fanfiction. It is not considered canon nor is it policy or guideline. Dedicated to Reep the Warrior, SaynaSLuke, LordTBT, and Brian Jacques, my favorite author. We'll miss you, BJ.
Lord Snowstripe picked up his scrolls and headed into the Great Hall. If there was anything he had inherited from his father, Russano the Wise, it was his ability to tell a tale. He remembered when he was very young, his father would tell everyone the tales of Lord Brocktree and Boar the Fighter. But now he was the Ruler of Salamandastron, and it was his turn. As he sat down in the huge badger armchair, he noticed that his sister, Lady Melanius, had already gathered everyone into the room. Clearing his throat, he began: "Thank you. Now the story I have prepared for you took place long ago, before my father, Russano, ruled this mountain, and-" He was interrupted my little baby Brindine. "Are there vermin in this story, Mista Snowstripe?" She asked. He answered quickly. "Well, of course there are, little Brindine. Now-" He was interrupted again by Brigadier Fowlshot. "Is there any scoff in this story? 'Cuz I'm flippin' hungry!" The badger lord was confused for a moment, but then remembered that the hare had not eaten lunch today. "Well, I suppose there is. Anyway,-" he was interrupted yet again by Galloper Swiftscut. "Is the Long Patrol in this one, M'Lud?" He asked. Not wanting to waste any more time, he quickly answered. "No for it was not founded yet. Now all the questions will be answered if you let me tell the story. And if not, save them for later. Now, this took place before Brocktree, and even before Lord Stonepaw. This is a tale of youth, despite it's age, and is a tale of alliances. Now it goes something like this.........."
Book One: The Fleet
Chapter One"Slow down now, Gorse." Ceteruler warned her.The badgermaid gave him a flash of annoyance. The two walked into the mountain. She dropped her quiver for her lances, spears, and javelins on the floor. Although her father often did worry too much about her, she knew he only meant it for the best. After all, he did have a right to worry about her, as he did a right to everyone in the mountain of Salamandastron, being its Badger Lord. As she was about to find her good friend Patchpaw, her father caught up with her. “I’m sorry for worrying about you so much back there, but I feel a need to after all, I am your father. Do you understand?” Gorse quickly nodded her head. “Now, how about we see your mother? I believe she’s in the kitchen helping Aunt Berchy. Come on, now.” Gorse’s mother, Clea, was a very pretty badger. She liked to think that she looked a bit like her. As they walked in the many corridors, they were soon stopped by Starbright. He was a seasoned hare, having been in the mountain’s forces for countless seasons. “M’Lud, we just finished our patrol of the outer perimeter. I’ve relieved some of our sentries, put up new ones, and just organized another patrol of the inner perimeter.” he said briskly. “Good job, Starbright. Tell them I’ll join their patrol in just a moment.” The hare marched off smartly with his blackthorn stick. As Gorse and her father continued down the hallways of the mountain, they finally reached the kitchens. Sure enough, Clea was there, washing a bowl. “Gorse! It’s so good to see you! And your father too! My entire family is here, and I’m here working in the kitchens. I’m afraid washing these bowls will have to wait, I do hope Berchy will understand.” she said with a worried look on her face. Although she couldn’t help herself but admire her mother’s humble nature, Gorse thought that sometimes her mother forgot that she was the Badger Lady of Salamandastron.
While her mother and father were talking, Gorse sneaked off out of the kitchen to find her friend Patchpaw. He was a lean, young hare, and was unusually white with black patches. As she rounded a corner, she bumped into Buckeye, the best archer at Salamandastron. He was huge, and very friendly, except when it came to vermin. With vermin, Buckeye was merciless. “Well, hello there, Buckeye. Have you seen Patchpaw anywhere?” she asked. “Yes,” he replied, “yes I have. He’s in the fireplace room, in an armchair, shining his dirk. Could you tell him to cut it out? With all that bally squeakin’ he’s doin’, nobody can be at peace. If I told him, he’d find a way to talk back. Why you’re friends with that cheeky little varmint, I don’t know.” “Oh, I see. I’ll get him to stop right away. Thank you, Buckeye.” she said quickly, trying to get away from the conversation. She ran off, into the fireplace room, where she learned about all the dreadful squeaking. As she walked to Patchpaw’s armchair, he looked up, smiling, completely oblivious to the annoyance he caused. “Well, hello there, Gorse m’gel, I barely noticed you came in. As you can see, I’m tryin’ to get the bally dust of me fine dirk.” he said happily. “Patchpaw, you fool,” Gorse said sternly, “are you completely unaware of the disturbance you’ve caused?! Stop shining your blade this instant!!” “I’m hurt, Gorse,” said the hare. “you know bally well that whenever I’m focusin’ on somethin’, I can’t notice anythin’ else until I’ve finished the task! I’ll put it away this time, but just don’t expect any presents any time soon!” After a while of silence, the two burst into laughter. “And to think we were mad at eachother!” Patchpaw said through chuckles. “Oh, I’m sorry for getting so rash with you, but I can’t believe you didn’t even know you were an annoyance!” Gorse laughed as she pulled her friend’s ears. Yes, this was the life, your friends close, enemies far away, and a sunny day to enjoy.
Spathar looked out at the mountain through his telescope. He was the proud leader of The Fleet of the Claw. Although it only consisted of three ships, the Claw, the Talon, and the Fang, he conquered many lands with these three ships. And whenever he set his eye on something, he would kill anyone, and do anything to get it. And now he had set his eye on this mountain. His father had told him about it, calling it the Mountain of the Fire Lizard. He was no fool, he knew many tactics on conquering, and he could pick out anybeast that would most likely rebel or stab him in the back. But he knew which of them to give the axe and which not to. His father had told him that these were things only wildcats like him could do. He hated his father. He didn’t always, it’s just that when his mother died, his father left him and married again. And he had a half-brother from that marriage, Mortspear his father named him. Now, Mortspear would inherit his castle and his father’s empire when the time came. But Spathar would make his own empire, get his own fortress, and when the time came, would destroy his father’s puny empire. He had picked two other beasts to captain the two other ships in his fleet besides the Claw: the stoat Corsayr, who would do anything asked of him, captaining the Talon and the former corsair fox Mace, whom he had spared after killing the fox’s captain and entire crew. He captained the Fang. But knowledge of rebels was not important now. What was was food. The rations the crews had collected were growing old, and the weasels, stoats, ferrets, rats, and foxes that made up his crew made for poor fishingbeasts. Grekk the ermine was the leader of the fishing party, and he and the group had only caught a few mussels and a dying shark with the net. Spathar walked up to the ermine, who at the moment was struggling to open a clam. He pulled Grekk away from the group. “Any luck, Grekk?” he said in a mocking voice. The thick-headed ermine couldn’t understand the reddish-brown wildcat’s tone. “Uh, no sir. Those bumbling fools I work with couldn’t catch a fish if it jumped into their paws.” Spathar pulled him close and dug his claws into the ermine’s shoulder. “Listen here, Grekk,” he whispered. “Who’s in charge of the fishing?” Grekk tried to answer, but the pain was too much. Spathar didn’t wait for an answer. “You, of course. Now you’re responsible for them right? And when they bring that net up with nothing in it, you’re responsible for it, right? You better catch something to feed us all, or I’ll cast you down there in that net, myself.” He released the ermine and Grekk started to breathe again. He limped back to the group.
Spathar, pleased with himself, decided to talk to Gramver, an old searat who had been corsairing long before the wildcat was even born. Although he was wise, the rat was a tad too sympathetic, and was often suggesting taking enemies prisoner. He also was taking care of Ripfang, the little brat who always was annoying the crew. From what he heard, Ripfang was Gramver’s grandson, and the old rat couldn’t help but adopt the tiny babe when its parent’s died. “Why hello, master Spathar, lovely day today, isn’t it?” the elderly rat had a jolly tone, as he usually did. “I suppose so, Gramver, but I’ve got a question for you.” the wildcat answered. “Well then ask away, me friend.” He didn’t like his crew calling him friend, but it was the first time anyone called him that. “Well, if I was to conquer this mountain, what tactic do you suppose I would use?” he asked. “Well,” the old rat answered, “I would send out a third of my forces to find a way into the mountain, and then, when they found a way, send a member of that group to tell me. From there I would go with the rest of the crew to conquer it.”
If the rat was to say more, he wouldn’t have a chance to, because Spathar had lost interest and the little brat Ripfang had come wailing to his grandfather. “Grampa, grampa, I was watching the big beasts work, an’ they yelled at me, an’ I fell down! Waaaaah!” “Well, come with me liddle un, an’ I’ll give those big bullies a piece o’ my mind!” He picked up the bawling ratbabe and walked off with it. All alone he listened to the distant crashing waves, until they were interrupted by grunting and wheezing on the port side of the Claw. He looked that direction and saw that Grekk and all of the fishing party were hauling up the net, which was almost bursting with shrimp. Ah, shrimp! That was something he had not tasted since he was very young in the dining hall of his father’s castle. It would taste good on his dry tongue. He saw them lumber over into the center of the deck, and just stand there. “Well what are waiting for?” he growled. “Empty it out!” As the tons of shrimp poured down onto the deck, he called for his captains. They both knew what to do. They both grabbed pawfuls of shrimp, and walked away. He did the same, except for he grabbed two times the amount his captains grabbed. Sorting his shrimp into a pile, he turned around and noticed that all of his crew was standing around and waiting for his word. One unfortunate weasel tripped and fell inches away from the pile. Spathar, although knowing what happened, unsheathed his longsword and whipped the poor weasel with the flat of his blade, sending it whimpering into the mass of corsairs. “You may eat!” His crew dove into the pile, gorging themselves. The smallest were trampled, and the biggest ate their fill.
Only one beast did not lunge into the pile. It was the marten Patcheye. He knew he would get hurt if he ate first. he knew that there always would be a little food left for him to eat. He knew that at any moment, he could rebel against his leader. But he didn’t. because he was no fool, and he knew that he would face death for attempting to kill his leader, and it would be much easier to sit back and do what he was told. It may not have been pleasant work he did, but it had it’s benefits. As his captains were about to return to their ships, Spathar called to them. Neither wanting to get on his bad side, the fox and the stoat scurried over to hear what their leader had to say. As they reached their leader, the wildcat spoke. “Alright, you two. I’ve got a plan.” the wildcat lied. he knew that the plan he got actually came from Gramver, but he was sure the old searat wouldn’t care. “The plan only for now, involves you, Corsayr. but Mace, you’ll need to hear this too. Corsayr, I want you to take the Talon and attack the mountain as a cover. The beasts inside the mountain wouldn’t come outside to fight you, because you’ll be too small a group. While you’re attacking the mountain, try to find a way inside, like a secret door or whatever. Take everybeast on the Talon and two others with you. Those two beasts can be from either the Claw or the Fang. I want you to go tonight. Take nine days rations with you, sixteen at the most. Pick one beast to give word to me once you’ve made or found an opening. From there the Fang and the Claw will come help you get inside and take the mountain. But until then, you’re in charge of the crew you take. Think you can handle that, Corsayr?” “Yes, master.” said the thin stoat. “You can count on me!”
As the sun’s light started to weaken, Gorse and Patchpaw headed for the Great Hall. As usual, Clea and Ceteruler were there, as was Starbright and Sweedle, his wife. Gorse took a seat across from her mother, to the right of her father. Patchpaw took a seat by Starbright, who didn’t say anything, but you could tell that he would much have the young hare sit somewhere else. As the harenurse Elda and her assistant Daphne aided the elders into their seats, Aunt Berchy peeked over the corner. whenever the head cook would do that, they all would know she was ready with the food. Patchpaw impatiently waited for the food to arrive. As he was a hare, and a young one at that, he could barely stop himself from running off and raiding the pantry. Starbright and the older, more venerable hares were calm and collected, and couldn’t stand watching Patchpaw as he squirmed and bounced in his chair. As he began to, for the third time, get up and straighten out the cushion on his chair, he immediately sat back down as the familiar rolling sound of the food carts came into the Great Hall. The carts full of tarts, soups, salads, trifles, mushrooms, pies, and all kinds of cordials, ciders, and ales were almost too much for Patchpaw and his appetite. The cooks placed food on the long oak table. First, starting with “The Lord’s End”, or the end that Gorse, Ceteruler, and Clea were on, then individually serving the members of the mountain’s forces and the elders, and finally, the cooks placed food on their designated seats. When everyone was finished serving and filling their mugs and glasses, Ceteruler stood up and said in his loud, booming voice: “Good evening, everyone. I hope you’re all hungry, because there is plenty more in our pantry where this came from. We can thank our foraging parties for that. As we all know, today is a very special day. Tonight there will be a full moon, and that will mean the eighteenth season of my time as Badger Lord will have officially begun!”Gorse couldn't believe that her father had been Badger Lord of Salamandastron for that long. When she was born, her father had only been ruling the mountain for six seasons. Now she was fourteen seasons, and all the elder hares of the mountain were saying that she was growing more and more like her mother every day. She served herself some cucumber salad and a cup of raspberry cordial. As she ate, she noticed Patchpaw challenging Buckeye to a trifle eating contest while gulping down a large mug of Black Ale. After Buckeye told him he could eat more trifle in an hour than he could eat in a lifetime, the young hare turned around and challenged Ceteruler to the same contest.
Never, in her lifetime, had anyone ever challenged her father, Lord Ceteruler the Just, for anything, let alone a trifle eating contest. Gorse couldn’t even imagine her father doing something so ridiculous. She sipped her glass, waiting for her father’s response. To her surprise, he accepted! As both contestants filled their bowls with the dessert, Starbright took a few more bowls and placed them next to Patchpaw, and Clea did the same by Ceteruler. Buckeye jumped up onto the table, almost knocking over somebeast’s plate stacked with turnovers and pasties. In a loud, announcing voice, Buckeye acted as if he was a referee in a boxing match. “Welcome, everybeast!” the huge hare boomed, “Two champion scoffers, one young and one old, have come to clash today as we have a new question: who will rule the mountain as Head Scoffer of Salamandastron? On this side of th’ table, we have the young caketopper walloper Patchpaw the Challenger! And on this other side of this flippin’ long table,-” Buckeye almost tripped over a bowl of cucumber salad and knocked a mug of Black Ale off the table. “Oof! Watch where you put your bally scoff n’ drink, wot wot! Anywho, on this side of th’ table, we got the Badger Lord of Salamandastron, Ceteruler the Scoffer! He is the present Head Scoffer at this ol’ joint, but will he last? That’s the question we’re gonna get answered at this contest! Now here are the rules o’ this contest: One, you may not distract one another durin’ the contest. There are no restarts, who wins wins. An’ the score is not as determined by the number o’ bowls you finish, but how much was in the bowl an’ it’s size. Then we count the number o’ bowls you finish. And, you cannot start another bowl o’ trifle until you’ve finished the prior bowl. And no hittin’ the flippin’ referee with a bowl o’ trifle!” Gorse turnedand saw what he was talking about: Patchpaw was aiming a good-sized bowl of the dessert at the huge hare. “Alright, ready on both sides?” Buckeye asked. “Ready, set, scoff!”
Patchpaw dove into his bowl, attacking it with two spoons at once. Ceteruler took a huge spoon normally used for serving, and scooped up trifle, spoonful after spoonful. Before she could even notice, Patchpaw was on his fourth bowl and Ceteruler was on his third and one-fourth. AS Ceteruler soon grabbed a spoon that Gorse hadn’t used and continued digging into the dessert with the large spoon and small spoon. As he finally finished the third bowl Clea handed him a large bowl worth at least two bowls. Patchpaw added his fourth bowl to his pile only to be stopped by Buckeye, who, while biting into tart, stopped him through a full mouth, saying: “Uh uh uh, there’th sthill trifle in that bowl!” As Patchpaw quickly tried to finish the little that was left in the fourth bowl, Ceteruler scooped up a mouthful with the larger spoon, finishing his fourth bowl in a gulp. He placed it in his pile as Patchpaw illegally attempted to start two bowls at the same time. But once again was foiled by Buckeye, who snatched a took his spoon and started eating it himself. As Gorse looked at her friend’s frustration at losing his chance at victory, she realized she would never be found doing anything like what her best friend and her father were doing right now. Just thinking about it made her sick. As she was about to take a drink from her glass, she realized it was empty. After returning from refilling the glass with cordial she asked her mother what the score was, knowing her father couldn’t tell her while constantly eating trifle. “It’s nine to eleven now, but your father is just about done with this bowl. Oh, now he’s done.” Clea said to her daughter as she gave Ceteruler another bowl while taking his finished bowl.
Ceteruler quickly wolfed down almost a fourth of the bowl he just got as Patchpaw got his twelfth. He started eating it quickly but Gorse noticed he seemed to be getting a bit dizzy and didn’t look well. He almost fell over off his chair and Ceteruler suddenly finished his tenth and was moving on to his eleventh. She was looking at her father when she heard a thump. Patchpaw fell onto the floor and Ceteruler, seeing his chance, wolfed down his eleventh bowl and started his twelfth. Patchpaw suddenly came to and scrambled back onto his chair and continued eating his twelfth bowl but Ceteruler was almost done already. Patchpaw ceased using spoons altogether and started to eat with his mouth only. Ceteruler turned his bowl upside-down and started scooping the dessert into his mouth. In a few moments, Ceteruler was on his thirteenth bowl. Patchpaw kept on scrambling and was almost done when he moaned “I give up! I’m gonna die to all this flippin’ scoff in my stomach! Ooooh..” Ceteruler, victorious, swiftly finished the thirteenth bowl and leaned back in his chair. Buckeye walked over and congratulated him. “And Ceteruler earns the title of Head Scoffer of Salamandastron once again!” Gorse walked over and hugged her father. She turned and saw Patchpaw having to be carried away to bed. Ceteruler triumphantly called after him, saying, “You see? This is what happens when little ones eat too much dessert!”
The two other beasts Corsayr took with him were Werefo the weasel archer and Grimtooth the ferret. Both were from the Fang. Mace would not have easily parted with the two if Spathar hadn’t told him he could take two beasts with. As the Talon moved out towards the Mountain of the Fire Lizard, a rat spoke up. “Why do we have t’go to th’ mountain by ourselves? It would be much easier if th’ rest came too. And why did Spathar leave you in charge?” Corsayr recognized this voice right away as Chibbo’s. The river rat was always wanting answers, most of them none of his beeswax. But that didn’t stop him from asking. This time Corsayr would give him answers. “Well, Chibbo,” the stoat captain said sarcastically, “We have t’go to th’ mountain by ourselves ‘cause th’ enemy would know how many we ‘ave in all. And as to why Spathar left me in charge is ‘cause I’m the captain o’ this ship, I’m his most trustworthy crewmember an’ until Spathar gets here, I’m in charge o’ this lot. Unnerstand, rat?” The river rat was still angry about having to do all the extra work of getting to the mountain, but he didn’t ask any more questions.
Grimtooth acted as best he could to be friendly towards his temporary boss, but anybeast with half a brain could tell he was just trying to get on the good side of the stoat captain. “So,” the ferret said, “how’s it been goin’ for you, cap’n?” The stoat, although not being very smart, knew what this was about. “Oh, come off it, Grimtooth. You know very well there’s only one reason I brought you along. That’s t’be my messenger. You serve no other purpose here besides that. So stop trying to get me to favor you, silvertongue!” The ferret was silenced, and did not speak for a long time afterwards.
As Spathar and the rest of The Fleet of the Claw patiently waited for a member of the attack party to return, the sun began to set. Soon, they found themselves sleeping until the sun rose again. As Spathar got up to watch the sun rise He soon learned that the wind was picking up. He could tell through the waves. Suddenly, something shook the entire boat. From what he saw, the Fang was hit too. Gramver, who was on deck guard duty that morning, was briskly asked what that was by the reddish-brown wildcat. “Aye, Master, From the way the boat rocked it appears we was hit from underneath.” the old rat replied. “Mace, did you feel that as well?” the wildcat continued to ask. “Yes, Master. Just as Gramver said, we’ve been hit from underneath.” Spathar heard a whole load of yelling down below the deck. As he went below to investigate, he learned that water had bursted inside the ship. Suddenly, they were hit again. The hole where the water was rushing in was being hastily covered in tar as the crewmembers were all flown in different directions. The wildcat fell over. As he struggled to his feet, Spathar noticed something rush by the Claw as the Fang was hit again. Then it hit him. He froze in horror. What was hitting their ships was no shark or sea serpent. What was terrorizing them was The Shadow of the Deep, a huge fish that was half pike, half eel. No one knew how long it had been around the sea, but what they did know was that you almost no chance of survival once it set it’s cold, unblinking, yellow eyes on your ship.
Thinking fast, the wildcat ordered all beasts who were sleeping to be woken up and help the beasts trying to patch up the holes The Shadow had made. Gramver decided to tie the sails up because in this wind, it would make everything harder. As he was almost done, The Shadow hit the ship again. Gramver almost fell, but the old rat still clung on to the mast. The Shadow hit the Fang, pushing into the Claw. Gramver fell off, hitting his head on the way. As he fell into the water, Spathar began to hear a terrible wailing. Obviously from the brat Ripfang. “Grampa, grampa, you fell down! Waaaaaahhh!” the ratbabe wailed. Just then, The Shadow slammed itself into the Claw, sending the little rat into the water, hitting his head on a piece of debris and starting to float away on it.
The wildcat needed a big beast, like himself, to help him kill the Shadow, before it destroyed the rest of The Fleet. He found that in Patcheye, the pine marten. “Quick, Patcheye, take this rope and tie it around the beast’s jaws.” the wildcat ordered. Patcheye did as he was told, but with great caution. As the beast jumped up and dragged a gray rat off the boat, Patcheye warily threw the rope around The Shadow’s mouth tightening it. Then quickly scrambling to tie it to the Claw’s mast, he believed it was secure. Just as he was about to motion for his wildcat leader to come and help him, the beast threw it’s head to the side, cracking the mast and throwing the pine marten up into the air, causing him to hit his head on the mast and fall into the water. Just as The Shadow was about to dive back into the water, Spathar lunged at it. With one skillful swing of his longsword, he beheaded the beast. And thus ended the life of The Shadow of the Deep.
When Gorse woke up, her first thought was to see how her friend Patchpaw was doing. The young hare was probably moaning from all the trifle he ate the night before. As she walked to his bedroom, she gently knocked on the door. No response. She didn’t exactly expect one, considering Patchpaw’s mouth was probably still swallowing all the trifle. So, she walked in and slammed her paw on the wooden frame of his bed, knocking him off of it. He woke up, confused. “Gorse, m’gel, what are you doin’ here, an’ this flippin’ early in th’ morn!?” he yawned. “I’m here to get you up and about so that you lose all the weight you put on last night. And the sun’s been up for hours now, so don’t say it’s too early in the morning!” the badgermaid replied. “Now come on, I’ve made up some exercises to help you.”
The two friends walked down the hallways into Gorse’s room. It was much bigger than Patchpaw’s, and would provide more room for the exercises. “Alright now, Patchpaw. stand here in the middle of the room.” Gorse ordered. “Alright, Gorse. Now, what do I do now?” the black-patched hare asked. “Oh, just run in place for now, Patchpaw.” she answered. “Runnin’ in place? I could this all day.” Patchpaw remarked. Suddenly, a stone flew past the hare’s head. It was thrown by Gorse, who was at the moment brandishing a slingshot. “You may be able to run in place all day, but can you do while dodging stones?” said the badgermaid. “Now, faster! Faster!” continued Gorse as she shot a barrage of stones at Patchpaw. The hare started to dodge the stones while getting hit with a few every few minutes.
After a few hours of that exercise, they moved on to a new one.This involved the hare pedalling on a contraption the badgermaid had made from a wheelbarrow wheel, a cut wooden plank, and a rope. This exercise worked mainly with the young hare’s legs and paws. After an hour, Patchpaw was exhausted. “Gorse,” he wheezed. “Can we move on to another exercise? ‘Cause this one’s too hard!” “Oh don’t worry, Patchpaw. This is the second exercise in my three-step program. Get up and I’ll show you where the third one is. Come on, now.”
As the two friends walked through the corridors of Salamandastron Patchpaw broke the silence. “So what is this exercise anyway, Gorse m’gel?” The badgermaid glanced behind her to ensure Patchpaw wasn’t too far behind her before answering. “Oh, I thought there was nothing that could help you lose the weight you gained last night like good old manual labor. You’ll be helping in the kitchens.” “Helpin’ in th’ kitchens? I can do that any ol’ day!” the young hare scoffed. Gorse chuckled. Patchpaw thought he would be helping Aunt Berchy prepare the meal for tonight and maybe snatch a few hot scones whilst doing so. Oh no, he wouldn’t be doing that at all. He’d be lucky if he even got close to the scones. He would be rolling up the barrels of drink that they had made in the cellar, carrying huge cheese blocks from the pantry, and plopping giant mounds of dough on Aunt Berchy’s counter.
As the two friends entered the kitchens, Aunt Berchy came to them and almost immediately began giving orders as to how many barrels of each drink was needed tonight. Before long, as Gorse was chopping onions for the Garden Salad, she heard the distant grunts and wheezes from Patchpaw as he struggled to bring up six barrels of Black Ale at the same time. “Come on, put your back into it! She heard Pinekin the Cellar Keeper call. She snickered as she dumped the squarely-chopped onions into the salad and mixed them all together using two wooden spoons.
Finally, after two days, the Talon arrived on the shore. Corsayr gave orders to start campfires at once. Considering it was already evening, they would need the warmth and the light to help them see when the crew was unloading supplies. The campfires were very bright, and although they were clearly visible through the dark night, the stoat didn’t worry at all. Spathar had told him not to worry about the element of surprise, because the plan was for the inhabitants of the mountain to think that this was all of their forces, and that Corsayr was their leader. His crew was quickly setting up camp, also making a small meal of cheese and mussels, and mushrooms.
The moon was high in the sky as the crew of the Talon finished unloading the ship. Corsayr assigned Gevvy the rat, Werefo the weasel, and Redeye the stoat guard duty. Since it was the middle of the night, the stoat captain didn’t think to assign a second group of guards. Tired, and very pleased with the progress the group made, Corsayr returned to the captain’s cabin for the night.
Werefo was not pleased. It wasn’t the cold that was bothering the weasel, nor was it being assigned guard duty for the rest of the night, it was no respect he got. Before Spathar and his followers made The Fleet of the Claw, he was the captain of the Talon. Every beast under his command was happy following him, and they were forever loyal. Of course, the ship wasn’t called the Talon then. It was called the Tideripper. That was, until Spathar and the Claw came and killed almost all of his crew. What was left was spread throughout the Fleet. He hated Spathar. He also hated Redeye and Gevvy. They were the only beasts on the Talon that were originally from his crew. When they had a new leader, the two didn’t even seem to notice. Where was their loyalty?! They were perfectly fine taking orders from Corsayr and Spathar. And he couldn’t order them around anymore, because he was their equal. Oh, but he would get those two backstabbers back all right, and Spathar too. He was fully aware that Spathar knew that he was planning against him. He also knew that eventually his leader would pick him off. While Redeye and Gevvy were joking amongst themselves, he was planning. Planning his revenge. For now, he would have to lay low and take orders without question. It would be very hard for the former weasel captain, but it be much better in the long run. As the first glimpses of the sunrise started to appear, he leaned back and smiled to himself. Someday, he would be the leader of The Fleet of the Claw!
By the time every beast was awake, work had already begun on attacking the mountain. As they were ordered, the vermin crew did not put their full force into the barrages of arrows and stones that they flung at the mountain. Chibbo was in charge of the morning attack, then it would be passed onto Ferntooth the ferret, then Redeye. Today, Corsayr, Grimtooth, and Halfear would take a quick walk around the mountain and see if there are any obvious openings into it. Corsayr doubted there would be. He yawned as he took a pawful of berries from his other paw and stuffed them in his mouth. The stoat captain had to admit, though, that these days he would be spending trying to find a way inside the mountain was a relief. Spathar wasn’t around screaming orders at him, and the fox Mace wouldn’t be competing with him for Spathar’s favor, and if he succeeded in this task, surely he would be the wildcat ruler’s favor.
Gevvy was assigning the foraging parties. He assigned Crowtail the ferret, Redeye, Ferntooth, Werefo, and himself to go into the small woods near the mountain for food. Werefo saw his chance. He could finally rid himself of those two backstabbing worms once and for all. As the group wandered through the bushes, Werefo spied a huge, muscular, blackbird. He quickly told Gevvy that the group should split up and that he, Redeye, and himself should get the blackbird. “Don’t worry about gettin’ in trouble.” the weasel archer said, “If we get the blackbird, then we’ll get all the credit. If anythin’, we might even get promoted!” Gevvy, being the fool he was, agreed. “Alright then,” Werefo continued, “You know that extra rope we keep handy if our rope ladder leadin’ up to our sails breaks? Well, we can throw that around the bird. Then, once you’ve pulled it close, I’ll stick it wi’ one of my arrows. Unnerstand?” Gevvy nodded quickly, telling Redeye to get the rope. After a few minutes, Redeye returned with the rope. The stoat handed it to Gevvy who threw it over his shoulder. Werefo quickly led them back to where he first spotted the huge blackbird. “Wow, that’s a big un!” Redeye commented. “Wait a minute, but how are we goner get the rope around it?” Gevvy realized. “We’ll never be able to throw it that high.” “Thank you for noticing, Gevvy. I suppose you’ll just have to climb that tree to do so.” Werefo replied. Werefo watched as Gevvy and Redeye scrambled up the tree and onto one of its limbs. The blackbird fluttered its wings and looked their direction, but did not notice the rat and the stoat up in the tree. The blackbird was just about to fly away when the rope was thrown around it. Werefo selected a shaft from his quiver and set it to his bow. Gevvy and Redeye drew it in, but the bird’s muscular build was dragging them towards the end of the limb. Werefo lifted his arrow in perfect alignment to the huge blackbird, but hesitated purposely. Gevvy and Redeye were now being pulled into the air. Redeye, being taller and heavier than Gevvy couldn’t hold on for very long. In a matter of seconds, the stoat fell to the ground. The bird was now lifting Gevvy into his cruel claws. The rat screamed and tried to kick away, lowering the blackbird to the ground slightly. Gevvy, in his struggle to free himself, accidently slipped his paws free from the rope, and soon, he too, fell to the ground with a sickening thud. The blackbird, now without anything to weigh itself down, started to take flight. Werefo, acting solely on instinct, drew back his bowstring as far as he could, and fired directly for the huge blackbird’s chest. It fell to the ground, dead. “Well, that takes care of two of me enemies and a promotion.” the weasel archer thought to himself.
Spathar watched as the crew of the Claw and the Fang worked on repairs. Grekk and some others worked on repairing the mast, talking all the while."Boy, will I miss Gramver." the ermine said sadly. "I remember when we would be doin' important, serious work, an' he would be hummin' while he worked." a gray rat replied. "He was such a jolly feller." A ferret returned to the group with a pawful of wood. "Now, now." he said as he placed the wood down on the floor."Gramver wouldn't want us t'be grievin' over 'im like we are. I'm sure, wherever 'e is, 'e's probably makin' beasts laugh." This cheered the group up quite a bit,and they continued working while talking about their old friend. Spathar didn't much like it when beats would be happy, as he thought this change the amount of work they got done. But he was also amazed, as he did not know that many beasts were friends with the old searat. Just as the wildcat was about to return to his quarters, Mace stopped him. "Sir, we have blocked the hole in the side of the Fang and they are almost done sewing back up the torn sails." the fox captain reported. "Good. And how many are dead from the two ships?" Spathar replied. "Well, sir," Mace answered, "We've got Grimeye the ferret, brother of Grimtooth, dead. As well as the ratbabe Ripfang, The pine marten Patcheye, Jangon the stoat, and as we all know Gramver." "So five. And one of them is a babe. Very well. Dismissed." Spathar said. After Mace left, the wildcat walked into his quarters. It was larger than Mace and Corsayr's quarter's combined. It had a large bed, perfectly made, a large armchair, which the wildcat took with him when he left his father's castle, a lantern hanging in the center of the room, a bedside table, a shelf for his longsword, and a clear glass window on the wall across from the door. He also had spread out on a table a large assortment of daggers.
He sat down and checked each one, flicking the dust off each blade with a claw. As he did so, he thought about his future, as King of The Mountain of the Fire Lizard. Just the mention of his name struck fear into the hearts of all who ever made the terrible mistake to oppose him. And maybe someday, he would have children of his own, to ensure himself an heir. He just imagined it, little wildcats running around, with the blood of the great King Spathar running in their veins. And maybe, after the mountain was conquered, he would head north, pillaging and conquering until he would reach the Northlands, where his old father reigned, and where Mortspear lived as the Crown Prince. Oh, he wouldn't show mercy to them just because they were his kin. He would kill his father, then his father's wife, then, finally, Mortspear. How he hated him. He couldn't wait to kill him. He wanted to cut him up as slowly as possible. Bit by bit, he would kill Mortspear.
But that would happen later. Now he needed to focus on the mountain. It had a ruler. What beast it was, would be known later. It also must have had a fighting force of some sort. He didn't know how many it numbered either. There was a lot that he did not know. What he did know, however, was that he could not send all of his forces and conquer the mountain that way. He would not be respected that way. He had to challenge their leader, whatever it was, to a duel. Then, if he was losing the battle, he would have his finest archer at the ready to shoot the leader either in the neck or chest. This would not kill them though, but stun them for a few moments. A few moments was all he would need. While the enemy's leader was stunned, he would stab it in the chest. As it would fall. He would have a group sling stones at it, to ensure it had died. And, the enemy was trapped in the mountain, so there was no possible way for them to escape nor call for help. His plan was foolproof!
The hares inside the mountain were very aware that they were being attacked. They set up sentries, stocked up food, and even had archers and slingbeasts fight back. Amberlon was one of them. He was a young hare, and quite lean. He was holding a spear at the moment, and the vermin outside were not much of a danger to him or any others. Things were very quiet until Ceteruler came outside onto the balcony. He was followed closely by Clea, and following them was Buckeye. Ceteruler was holding a sling, as was Clea. Buckeye, who always kept his quiver and bow with him, set an arrow to the string and fired at a rat. He was rewarded by a screech in the distance. "Well, that took care of the ol' blighter, wot wot! Now, we can just shoot down the entire army from a safe distance." he said through chuckles. And soon they were all doing just that. The four beasts made an amusing game of trying to strike down the most vermin. Gorse and Patchpaw watched from the crack between the two doors. Though they were young, the badgermaid and the hare thought that being at fourteen seasons old, they could stand to watch their elders knock down some vermin. Ceteruler sent a stoat tumbling backwards with a well-aimed stone to the gut.
Werefo found it difficult not to aim to kill. From the time he took his first steps, he was taught to kill. It was instinct for him to aim for the heart. Corsayr came over to the group. "Well, lazybones, get killin' somethin'!!" he barked. "But cap'n, you said we don't aim t' kill!" Chibbo said. "I know what I said, an' now I'm tellin' you to kill somebeast! We need t' at least look like we knows what we're doin'!" Werefo couldn't believe it. He could put his archery skills to the test! He took aim at a huge hare with a bow much like his. The hare moved just as he let his arrow fly. He missed by a meter. "Werefo!" his stoat captain yelled. "I thought you said you were an archer! You missed th' hare! Make yerself useful an' get one o' th' bigger beasts. Get one o' the badgers, or you can jus' forget about that promotion!" Werefo looked at the two badgers. They were both standing side by side, taking down members of his group every few moments.He took aim for the female one, the one on the left. He realized that this was a bigbeast, and would need a bit more than an arrow to take it down. He searched in his little pouch he kept with him, taking out a jar of liquid poison. He smeared it all over the tip of one of his arrows.He set the shaft to his bowstring. Squinting, he brought his head close to the nock. He brought the arrow back as far as he could, and let fly.
Gorse and Patchpaw watched as Clea sent another stone down onto the head of a rat. The hare and the badgermaid watched the an arrow fly up from the ground. Then there was a piercing cry. Clea fell to the ground, an arrow in her chest. Gorse let out a yell and ran through the doors, grabbing a lance from her quiver. Patchpaw grabbed her paw just as she was about to through it at the weasel who shot the arrow. "Slow down, Gorse m'gel, your mother's gonna be needin' you now more than you need to kill that pore ol' weasel." Ceteruler grabbed Clea's shoulders as Buckeye grabbed her legs and Amberlon pushed open the door. The words began to ring in Gorse's ears just as they were ringing throughout the mountain. "Clea's been shot! Lady Clea's been shot!"
Werefo had gotten a promotion all right. He was named Chief Hunting Supervisor for the rest of the time they would be alone at this mountain. Grimclaw went over and congratulated him. "Good job, there, Werefo. Things'll be goin' pretty smooth for you now." he said while gnawing on a wing of the blackbird. "Yep, Grimclaw, things sure will be, but I ain't entirely satisfied yet." the weasel answered. At this the ferret was confused, as was intended by Werefo. "Wait, what do yer mean?" he asked, but the weasel was already gone.
Corsayr and Swiftfang the searat were looking for some way inside the mountain. They were putting there paws on the rock, pushing, as if trying to push open a secret door. Corsayr, for the sixteent time, growled in frustration. There had to be some way inside that mountain, and if he didn't find it, Spathar would have his hide. He coudn't even imagine what everybeast would hink of him and what they would do. Spathar would probably demote him, and maybe drag him along under the ship for a few days. Then he would lose his hide. He shuddered at the thought. "Hey, cap'n! Look at these pretty rocks!" Swiftfang said. Turning, he decided to let loose all his anger on the hapless searat. Smacking him with the flat of his blade, he started yelling at him. "What do yew think Spathar asked us to come here for, to give him pretty lil' rocks? Oh, maybe we should put some daisies in a flowerpot, and bake 'im a cake while were at it! He sent us here to find some way inside o' that mountain, an' he'll have all our hides if'n we don't!" he roared, and whipped Swiftfang some more.
All the while Werefo made more arrows, watching the scene unfold in the distance. He then took some of the feathers from the blackbird and set them into the little notches on the opposite end of the shaft. "Hehe, this'll work good for some of those rabbits in that mountain." he chuckled to himself. Someday one of those arrows of his while be right in the chest of Spathar! He could see it now, right when Spathar would need his skills most, that's when he would betray him. Then he'd get his old ship back, and everybeast who used to work for the wildcat lord would be his to command. But he would have to be patient, for that moment may not come for a very long time. But when it did, he wouldn't be any crewbeast anymore!
Clea lay in her bed, still with an arrowhead in her chest. She was struggling to breathe, and Ceteruler, Gorse, Buckeye, and Starbright were all there at the foot of the bed.
"It's all my fault," Ceteruler sobbed, "if I hadn't let her out there to fight, she wouldn't be here. She would still be fine."
Aunt Berchy came in. "I've done everything I can. I was able to get the shaft out of her, but the head was a different matter. It went deep in there, and I'm afraid that even if I did pull it out, I would injure her heart. I'm sorry." With that, the old harewife left the room, sobbing into a handkerchief.
"It wasn't your fault, M'lord. She did what she wanted to do. You couldn't have stopped her. Why, if my Sweedle was aware that you were going to fight, and I was too, she would be grabbin' a spear and goin' out to fight herself, wot wot!" "Thank you, Starbright, old friend." Ceteruler said gratefully. just at that moment, Clea came to. "Gorse, come here,please..." she gasped. the young badgermaid walked to her mother's side. "I'm here mother." she said. "My Gorse. My pretty Gorse. You're growing more and more beautiful by the day. I'm sorry that I won't be able to see you grow up." she rasped. Clea grasped her daughter's paws. "No, no, no, mother. don't say such things. You'll get better. I promise!" she said as a tear ran down her face. "I'm sorry, Gorse.Don't cry, you'll ruin your pretty face. Ceteruler, could you come here too?" she said rather quietly. "Clea, please, stay with me. How will I live without you? I need you." he begged. "I'm sorry, dear. I'll be waiting for you at Dark Forest. Take care of Gorse for me. Ensure no harm will come to her. Can you promise me that?" she asked hoarsely. "Yes, Clea. Yes I can." he answered through tears. "Good. Patchpaw? Patchpaw come in please." Patchpaw, who had been guarding the door, came in. "You called, M'lady?" he said. "Take care of Gorse. Watch over her. Protect her. Can you promise me this?" she asked the young hare. "Yes I can, M'lady. you n count on me!" he answered. "Thank you. I feel better going to Dark Forest knowing that my daughter is safe. I love you, Ceteruler. You are my one and only. I love you, Gorse. I want you to remember that." With that, she took a final breath, and ceased forevermore.
"No! No! Mother! Please! Noooo!" Gorse screamed. Ceteruler grabbed her and held her tight. "I'm sorry Gorse, I'm sorry." Tears ran down his cheeks as well.
Her funeral was a quiet one. Everybeast wept at the loss of their Badger Lady. Gorse held tight to her father, and Sweedle, Starbright, and Buckeye were next to her. As was tradition, Gorse held the season's flower, for summer the rose, and held it in her paws until she laid it upon her mother's chest. Clea was in her prettiest white gown, the same one she wore when she married Ceteruler. After everybeast said their final goodbyes, they took her coffin away for preparation for burial.
"Father, what's Dark Forest like? I mean, is it scary or calm or what?" Gorse asked. Ceteruler looked down at his daughter, wiping away a tear.
"I don't know, Gorse. I've never been there. But everybeast you ever came to know and love will be there by the time you get there, and you can all talk about things and see your ancestors. And you all can wait for your sons and daughters to come there too. I suppose it is a happy place, but you'll have to wait until you get there to find out. I'll be there, waiting for you, as will your mother, and all your family."
Although he was usually one to cheer beasts up, even Patchpaw felt as though he would not feel happy again for a while. But, knowing him, he would be back to normal at the first mention of food.
Oh, c'mon now, Gorse. You gotta eat something, or you'll never get taller, and I will, and then where will we be? A tall hare and a tiny badger, that's where we'll be." he said confidently.
"Patchpaw, you should know very well that maids, especially the daughters of the one who died, shouldn't eat anything until the next day. It's a time-honored tradition."
"True, true, Gorse m'gel, but it only said they couldn't eat any meals. This ain't a meal, this is a just a snack!" he said through bites of a tart.
"Very well." Gorse said rolling her eyes. She filled a glass with raspberry cordial and took a plate and filled it with summer salad. After eating, she felt quite better.
"Don't ya see, Gorse m'gel?" Patchpaw said happily. "Scoff fixes everythin' in the book! You got a problem, you can bet your flippin' tail that scoff'll fix it!"
After a while, Buckeye, Starbright and Ceteruler left the room. Patchpaw, knowing for sure wht would cheer Gorse up, alerted her.
"Gorse, come one now, we could listen in on your ol' pater's conversation!" he said. Gorse shook her head. "But Patchpaw, last time we did that, my mother got killed." Patchpaw still pulled her paw. "Yes, but that wasn't your fault. It as that blinkin weasel blighter! Some nerve, aimin' an arrow at our Badger Lady. Anywho, it won't be the same without you, Gorse. Come on!"
As they walked down the familiar corridors, they heard talking in a small room. It was Ceteruler's planning room. When there were beasts talking in there, they knew that there was business to attend to, things that nobeast wants to talk about, but must.
"I don't know about this, Patchpaw. We could get in deep trouble. Let's just go." Gorse said quietly.
Patchpaw was squinting through the keyhole, trying to see the beasts inside the room. "Oh, come off it, Gorse. We've done it before, an' I suppose we can do it again."
Putting their ears to the door, they listened in.
"It may not be pleasant to think about, but i must be.We may have to go to war!" The beast who said this sounded like Starbright.
"Yes, and if we must fight,then we will!" said another voice. This seemed to be Buckeye.
"Agreed." said a deeper voice, evidently from a larger beast. This had to be Ceteruler.
"Yes, but the forces in the mountain just aren't large enough. And of course, the elders will want to fight, but we can't have them fighting!" said Starbright. "We only have a force of about fifty, excluding us and the elders."
"What about with us and the elders?" Buckeye asked.
"That's not the point!" said Starbright, who by now would not even begin to think of having the elders fight. "The point is that we cannot wage war nor chase off that vermin army outside alone. We don't even know what they number."
"Then what do you suppose we do?" Ceteruler asked.
I suppose we go out and look for help." Starbright answered.
"Well, who will we send?"
Starbright answered briskly. "Buckeye and I could go. Or Amberlon and Cassius."
Ceteruler shot that idea down instantly. "You and Buckeye are my best fighters. I can't send you off. And Amberlon and Cassius are perfectly content with being guards. They wouldn't dream of leaving this place."
"Even if you do go, where would you go?" the badger continued.
"Clea said she came from a place known as Mossflower Wood. It's east of here, and a little west. We could send them there." Starbright answered.
"That still brings up the bally question, who's gonna go?" Buckeye continued.
Just as that question was asked,Patchpaw pushed open the door. He did it so fast, Gorse couldn't stop him.
"We could go! Me an' Gorse could go to Mossflower Wood!"
Ceteruler got up, surprised that they were listening to their conversation. "Wait a minute, how did you two know we were talking about that? Were you listening to us?" he asked in a suspicious tone.
"Well, yes, we were. Patchpaw wanted to, so I came along." Gorse answered meekly.
"Gorse! You should know better than to spy on your elders!" Ceteruler scolded.
"Never mind that, M'lud! They're perfect!" Starbright said joyously.
"We are?" Gorse said puzzled.
"How so?" Ceteruler asked.
"Well M'lud, they're young, an' they're small. They won't be seen easily, an' they're much faster than us. They could sprint right there if'n the need be." the seasoned hare answered.
"I can't send my Gorse away! I've already lost my wife, and I won't lose my daughter!"Ceteruler said quickly.
Buckeye stepped in. "M'lud, if ye ask me, I think they'll be safer out there than in here. And besides, if this mountain does fall, they can come back someday and get it back! They may be our future, M'lud, but they won't have a bally future if they get taken out here!"
Ceteruler sighed. "I suppose so."
"Then it's settled. They'll be goin' off t' Mossflower Woods!" Starbright said a bit louder than they should have been.
"I'll tell everybeast at dinner." Ceteruler said a walked off.
Gorse couldn't believe it. It was just yesterday that her mother died, and now she was going to be journeying to a place she had never even seen before. Her mother would be proud!
Spathar and the crew of the Claw and Fang were now getting impatient, as being able to take one attack could mean taking another one very soon. They were not very well prepared if any more corsairs came around and tried to take the two ships. If this did happen, the Talon was certainly not the best ship of the three in the fleet, with it barely coming second after the Claw being the fastest and lightest. It was also a very pretty ship for it's size. The Fang was the worst quality, barely being able to catch up with the other two at times. It was a terrible thing to think about, but then again, being smarter, Spathar could recruit them into his horde. He decided to head into his quarters and take a nap, seeing as though it seemed to be a very slow day.
Mace was exhausted. He had already been yelled at by Spathar thrice today, and bad leg was hurting again. Since the attack on the ships by the Shadow, he had been limping everywhere because he was smacked on his leg by some debris. He did all of this for his wife and two daughters, he promised Spathar that if he worked as the captain on one of the three ships, the wildcat warlord must assure him no harm would come to his family. And he had been doing Spathar's dirty work ever since. He limped over to the steersrat of the Fang, Chudrigg. "There been any poblems, Chudriig?" he asked with half a mouth of air, causing him to gasp out the words.
"Nope, Cap'n, no problems. I would mind that ferret Scroose. He's been givin' everybeast the evil eye. I was afraid 'e might bite me head off if'n I looked at 'im wrong." he replied, pointing behind the fox.
Mace turned around and glanced at the ferret. "Scroose? The bosun? What's he doin' scaring the crew of my ship? An' what's he doin' off his post?" The fox then limped over there as fast he could, but not trying to look a fool.
"Scroose! What in the name of Vulpuz are you doin'?!" he yelled. After being yelled at twice today, it did his heart good to be yelling at another beast for a change. "Get back t' your post! Yer supposed to be shapenin' the blades in th' armory! Get below deck!"
The ferret blinked at his captain. His right paw, which had been lost long ago, had been replaced with an iron hook. He raised it and wiped some grime from it onto his torn blue vest. After a while, he spoke.
"I ain't takin' orders from you no more, Mace. For longer than anybeast can remember, foxes an' wildcats 'ave been our leaders. They've always been regarded as one o' the most smart beasts. But ferrets an' weasels an' rats can be smart too. Have any o' these ships ever had a ferret or a rat bein' the captain?"
Mace swallowed and replied, trying to sound smart. "Well, Corsayr's a stoat, an' he;s a captain. So what do you say to that?"
The ferret laughed almost as if the fox had just told a joke, causing the fox captain to swallow again. "Ah, Corsayr? 'E ain't no captain. 'E's a puppet. Jus' like yer startin' t' become. Ye can't deny it, Mace. You was yelled at by Spathar twice today, an' you didn't even stand up f' yerself. Back a long time ago, if a beast treated ya like dirt, you would 'ave their hide as a cloak. But now, yer old an' gray. Ye don't even respect yerself anymore. I'm younger, smarter, faster, an' I don't take orders from nobeast but meself. I'm gonna take this 'ere ship, Mace. an' you won't be stoppin' me."
Mace was offended, but he tried to keep cool. "Get off my deck. Get off my railing. Get back below deck, where scum like you belong." he growled.
Scroose was not scared and mockingly pretended to be. "Oh, I'll get back below deck alright," the ferret said as he climbed down the ladder leading to the armory. "but when ya die, you can be as sure as 'Ellgates that I'm gonna be laughin' in your face. Then I'll be salin' away as cap'n o' this here ship, with all yer crew, yer teasure, an' yer dignity." With that, the ferret disappeared.
Mace spun around swiftly, although it hurt his leg to do so. He wasn't going to let some yellow-bellied worm come and take his ship. Not while he was alive.
It should have been a quiet day at Salamandastron, but it wasn't. Many had forgotten that it was only yesterday that their Badger Lady had died. Everybeast woke up early, had a quick breakfast, and began helping Gorse and Patchpaw prepare for their journey. The two companions were loving all this attention, with the males shaking paws, the babes begging to be taken along, and females weeping, hugging and kissing. Sweedle and her friend Octa were bawling their eyes out, while the harebabes Thibble, Tiffany, Jod, Swinn, and the twins Longarrow and Hurdleframe followed the badgermaid and the young hare all around, pretending to be big and strong like their elders.
"Don't you worry about us, mista Patchpaw an' miz Gorz. We'll keep them vermin busy while you getsum help!" Thibble said, brandishing a stick.
"Yeah!" Longarrow and Hurdleframe both said together. The two were trying to climb on each other's shoulders in an attempt to be as tall as Gorse and Patchpaw.
"Well now I feel safe." Gorse said jokingly, elbowing patchpaw lightly to get him to play along."
Patchpaw winked at his friend. "I do too. Does a chap's heart good t' know he's leavin' his ol' home well protected."
"We're warriors!" Swinn exclaimed. Tiffany, being the youngest of the group, and not even able to walk, crawled over to Gorse. "Are you really gonna get us some goodbeasts t' help us miz Gorz? I mean, what if the vermints getya an' take the mountain?"
Gorse did not think of that. It surprised her that such a young hare had such a dark question.
She was saved by Patchpaw. "Don't think like that, young 'un. Leave all the worryin' to us. After all, we're warriors too. We can handle anythin' those cheeky blighters throw our way."
Gorse would have liked to think that was the truth, but it was not. Gorse was dead shot with her spears, but she had never killed a beast with them. She had never even killed an ant before. That time when she aimed a spear to kill that weasel archer would have, if Patchpaw hadn't stopped her, been the first time she killed somebeast.
Just then, the pretty young harenurse assistant Daphne came in. "Oh there you are," she said to the six babes before them. "I've been looking all over for you. You really should tell me before you leave the nursery. Me and Elda have been worried sick. Some of us thought you had left the mountain. You could get lost or even hurt in all this crowd." she scolded them, and had them follow her off to bed. Patchpaw looked like he was about to fall head over tail. He had been quite attracted to the young nurse for the past few seasons, although she was about four or five seasons older than him. Gorse just rolled her eyes and walked away.
A few hours later, a bit before lunch, Gorse and Patchpaw were just about to leave. Patchpaw had gotten his dirk back from Boffo, the mountain's blacksmith, and the father of Daphne. "There you go, you bally ol' nuisance, the blades, sharpened, shined, and ready to be used. That is, if you ever get the chance to use it." he said and walked away. Sweedle and Starbright both presented them with bags: a haversack filled with foodand a canteen for Patchpaw, who had prior snuck some raspberry cordial into a flask and said it was extra "water", and Gorse's quiver with newly-made spears, javelins, and lances, and a haversack with mats and a tent was given to her.
"I don't think it was best to give our food to Patchpaw though." Gorse whispered jokingly in Starbright's ear. "He'll have eaten it all by nightfall."
"I heard that!" Patchpaw said while tightening hid snakeskin belt and putting his dirk in it's hilt.
Next, Ceteruler issued them both a ash stave and a dark gray cloak. "The dark gray will make you less of a target if you're followed. The best color for night traveling is dark blue, but all of that has been used to make blankets." he said.
Buckeye came forward and whispered in Gorse's ear. "Keep the tip of the Mole's tail to your left, and keep the moon on your right, and you should be in Mossflower in no time. No remember, Mossflower's a great big uncharted woodland, so you best have one of you sleep with one of your eyes open, just in case some evil vermin try to ambush you." he said.
Ceteruler came forward once more. "I want you to stay safe now, Gorse. If I lost you, I don't know what I'd do."Patchpaw tried to cease his Lord's worrying. "Oh, don't worry, Ceteruler ol' thing, I'll keep Gorse safe. An' if I don't, then my name isn't Patchpaw Feldric Wilfrand Cinnabar!" he said. Gorse was quite worried for Patchpaw now, as nobeast, not even his best friends and companions Buckeye and Starbright ever referred to Ceteruler as "old thing".
Although everybeast knew that Patchpaw should've gotten a proper talking out, Ceteruler shooed away the thought and nodded his head. "Both keep each other safe, for your sake and Salamandastron's."
The group then set off through the tunnels leading up to the secret entrance. There were two great iron bars that were put up in their designated slots to keep the giant hidden doors sealed shut. It would've taken a score of hares to simply lift it. They say that they were forged by Bluestripe the Wild and that he placed them there himself. Some say that Ceteruler was Bluestripe's descendant. Ceteruler lifted them both out of their slots with ease, one on each shoulder. After placing them both down, the four hares Amberlon, Cassius, Elmdale, and Phaello pushed the doors open, while Starbright, Buckeye, Sweedle, and Daphne stood guard with spears. Sweedle leaned her spear on her shoulder, while taking out a kerchief to wipe the tears from her eyes.
Gorse and Patchpaw stood at the entrance, ready to leave for Mossflower. Ceteruler hugged her and kissed her forehead tears coming to his almond-shaped eyes. Daphne came forward and kissed Patchpaw on the cheek, causing the lean hare to blush. The two friends then headed out eastward bound. Gorse and Patchpaw both looked back at the mountain they had been calling home for fourteen seasons. This would be the first time Gorse would be leaving it ever, and she whispered to herself a promise, a promise that she would return here someday, no matter what. Then she and her trusted friend Patchpaw set out eastward talking all the while.
As all of this was happening, Grimtooth the ferret walked out of the camp. Corsayr had berated him for burning the fish they had caught to almost a black skeleton, even though he didn't think it was really his fault. After all, Corsayr had already distracted him by calling him an idiot who was all mouth and no brains, and by the time the stoat captain was done, the fish had been burnt to a crisp. So he was yelled at again and ordered to get a new fish for him to eat.
The ferret tripped on a stone in his path, and fell face flat into the sand. He cursed under his breath and looked angrily at the stone he tripped on. He looked ahead and was about to get up when he say two figures in the distance and watched what seemed to be two doors close. He was no fool, he could put two and two together. Those two figures had left the mountain through some secret passageway which was just closing. He ran back to camp an went straight to Corsayr.
The stoat was still in no good mood. "Where's my fish, numbskull?!" he spat.
The ferret was almost out of breath and spoke. "I saw two beasts in the distance. They was leavin' this here mountain, Cap'n. I also saw two big doors close. I think they was covered in somethin' to make 'em blend in with the sand. I can take ya there, I think I know exactly where they are." he gasped.
"Then show me, idiot!" the angry stoat ordered. Grimtooth ran over to where he presumed the secret door was. He felt quite embarrassed groping around in the sand. However, once he found where the doors were, he brushed away the sand with his paws, revealing a two great stone doors.
"See, Cap'n? See? I told ya it's here." he said proudly. His proud face disappeared as soon as he heard what his captain said next.
"Alrighty then. Now you got t' get over to th' rest o' the fleet and tell 'em!" he said in a crude tone. Grimtooth gulped as he walked out to the sea and started to swim forward out into the cold, blue, water towards the Claw.
Book Two: The Journey
Spathar, on board the Claw, was etching his name in the wooden rail as he stared at the deep blue water of the sea. As his claws dug into the wood, he noticed a tuna fish swimming near the surface. He bent closer to the water, licking his lips as he did so. Tuna seemed delicious right now. The meat would be nice and warm after he killed it. He leaned farther and farther, trying to get his claws within stabbing reach. Spathar suddenly lost balance and fell into the water. He had never liked the water, for he never learned to swim very well, so he soon realized he was sinking as a gray and white figure in the distance came closer and closer to him. Soon realizing it was a shark, he struggled to get back to the surface. His lungs felt like they were to burst. The shark was going to eat him! It came so close to his face, he could see its hundreds of chipped, broken, loose, yellowing, yet still sharp as steel, teeth. Much to the wildcat's shock and horror, it spoke! Spoke as if it always had and always would.
"Beware the Just.... for it will destroy you..." it moaned, ad Spathar screamed, letting loose all air he had left in his lungs. He kicked and screamed until he reached the surface.
"Shark!! Shark!!" he screeched, and was pulled back aboard by a stoat named Thegg nd Grekk the ermine.
"But master, there ain't no shark!" Thegg said as he threw a towel over the reddish-brown wildcat's shoulders. Grekk turned and looked over the side of the Claw with a spear. He nodded his head in agreement.
"Thegg's right, master. There be no shark anywheres!" Spathar, still shaking, looked over the side as well. After seeing the truth, and that he embarassed himself in front of his whole crew, he yelled at the top of his lungs.
"I knew that, idiot! I was testing to see if you were stupid enough to believe it! Sharks never come this close to the coast!" With that, he stormed off into his quarters.
After their leader had entered his quarters, Thegg turned to Grekk.
"Strange. Spathar's never shown that he's afeared o' sharks! Maybe he's losin' his marbles." the stoat whispered.
Grekk was astonished that his friend had the courage to say such a thing. "Ye better watch yer tongue matey, or ye'll lose it! Mayhaps he has lost his marbles - but he can still throw a knife as well as any. He woulda skinned ye alive fer sayin' such things."
The two then went their separate ways, getting back to work. Some of the crew still mumbled amongst themselves, wondering if their leader who had gotten them so far truly was insane.
Spathar looked wildly around at the room. He dug his claws into his blankets. He jumped up at the sight of a fly.
"You cannot hide from what you know....." a voice said ominously. A huge, dark creature, supposedly a badger, appeared in front of him.
"Get away from me!!!" he screeched, and darted towards the door, but the huge beast stopped him.
"Your doom is inevitable, Spathar. Your end draws near......." it continued. Spathar looked wildly across the room. The creature suddenly became more clear. It was definitely a badger, with blood-red eyes, and a blue stripe across his face.
The wildcat spotted a dagger on a table. Leaping towards it, he grabbed it, and lunged at the badger, yet just as he was about to plunge the blade into the beast's chest, it disappeared into thin air, causing him to crash into the wall.
Grekk and Thegg, who had heard the commotion, came sprinting into the room.
"What happened, master?" Thegg asked, but he was gripped by the ear in Spathar's terrible claws and the wildcat pulled down hard.
"Ow, ow, ow, ow, ow!!!!!!!! What did I say?! What did I say?!?!" he screamed, and Grekk released his companion from the wildcat's grip.
"What 'appened in here, master? Did ye git attacked?" Grekk said, as Thegg bawled his eyes out, nursing his now bleeding ear.
"Of course I didn't get attacked, you idiots!!!!! I was just practicing my fighting skills and crashed into the wall!!!" he yelled at the top of his lungs.
The two then ran out of the room, as if they were being chased by a land shark.
Spathar then covered his eyes, as if he was seeing a hideous creature. Uncovering them, he realized nothing was there. He breathed a sigh of relief. He then began talking to himself.
"Too cowardly to even face me, eh? Hah! Take that, stripedog! You'll never defeat me!! I'm Spathar the Warlord! Lord of Land and Sea!! I've killed many badgers before this one at the mountain, and it certainly won't be the last! I'll take that mountain, I'll take everything I want, from Dark Forest to Hellgates!! You hear me?! I'll take that mountain!!!!!!!!" And with that, he collapsed onto his bed, and slept.
In the late afternoon, a small dot appeared in the sea. That dot became a speck, and this speck became a spot,and this spot became a shape, and this shape became a figure, and this figure became a ferret.
Grekk and the fishing party recognized this as Grimtooth, and the group pulled him aboard. He was shaking, and he said his paws were cramped, and that he had big, important news for Spathar.
Grekk, knowing how angry Spathar might be, cautiously rapped on the door to his wildcat master's quarters.
"Uh, master, Grimtooth here has swum all th' way from th' mountain t' tell ye somethin' really important. I think ye'll like it!"
Spathar, who really did not want to get up, groaned a reply in a very condescending tone.
"If it's really so important, he can tell me himself."
Grimtooth, was was still shaking slightly, stepped forward. "We found a way into the mountain." he said.
Spathar jumped from the sheets, unlocked the door, and took out a bottle of elderberry wine from under his bed. He set it out upon the table as the ferret came in.
"Please, sit down." the wildcat said, and motioned to a chair. Grimtooth sat down as Spathar began to pour some of the wine into a glass.
"Elderberry wine?" he asked. Grimtooth knew that when Spathar offered something, he didn't take kindly to it being declined, so he accepted. The wildcat poured some into another glass and slid it towards the ferret.
"So, let's get down to business. You've got the mountain at your mercy, and you now have it opened. I'll have us set sail tomorrow for shore." Spathar said as Grimtooth took a sip from his glass.
The ferret ever so gently placed it back down on the table and slid it back towards the wildcat warlord. Spathar then in turn refilled it almost to the top, even though that was not what Grimtooth meant, and it was barely unfilled.
"Well, it's not exactly like that. The mountain's got a few hundred rabbits in there, an' they sure know how to fight. They've taken out a good chunk of our forces, and we've killed a female stripedog. And, all I said was we know the way into the mountain, not that we have it opened. It can only be opened from the inside. We're gonna be needin' yer help, master, 'cuz after all, you only sent about fifty or so of us, an' we're down to about threescore now. An'....." he didn't get to finish. Spathar picked Grimtooth up by the scruff of his neck, and threw him back down into the chair.
"Well, what?!" the wildcat demanded.
"Nothin', nothin'. Grimtooth stuttered.
"So Corsayr wants some help? From what I've heard from you, he's gotten a little bit cocky since he left. What do you say we drop by and tell him what we think, hmm?" Spathar asked the ferret, but he wasn't really asking Grimtooth, more himself. By the time three days had passed, he would be one step closer to his final goal: the mountain!
Patchpaw and Gorse had walked for two days now, and needed rest. They stopped at this grassy area, with a gigantic woodland in the far distance, and set up their tent, and started a fire. They cooked some of the carrots and celery they had packed, along with some wild onions, to make a vegetable stew.
"I'll call it Hare's Pawspring Stew!" Patchpaw proclaimed.
"Good luck," Gorse replied sarcastically. "it's not as if anybeast would want another vegetable stew recipe."
"Maybe they do," he said back, "you don't know what they want."
"We don't even know who "they" is, and we don't know who's out there, what they want, why they want it, and if they'd ever want to help us." she slumped down on the grass she was sitting on, and Patchpaw seemed lost in thought for a moment, then spoke.
"Looks like somebeast needs to put on a happy face..." he said. Gorse rolled her eyes.
"Patchpaw, that's not gonna help." he tried to stop him.
"It'll help, and you know it, Gorsey. Now, if you'll let me sing..." he took a breath and burst into a fast-paced song.
"Oh, once there was a hare named Bleakery Doo,
He was a sad ol' hare,
he made gloomy faces so so much,
that you saw them everywhere.
'Till one day, he per chance made
a depressin' face that day,
an' 'lo an' behold, see it bright as day,
his face, why, it got stuck that way!
Liggery dee, liggery doo,
fa la la la laaaaa,
Jus' wait 'till the beast seein' this
is his ol' ma!
He grew sadder an' sadder everyday,
For he knew that fate ignored 'is plight.
He'd look so blue as the sky,
day by day, an' night by night!
He grew so down,
he hunched hisself, an' called out in distress,
'If my face could normal agin,
I'd only eat small salads, nothin' less!'
Liggery dee, liggery doo,
fa la la la laaaaa,
just wait 'till the beast seein' this,
is his ol' pa!
'Oh, no more cakes, an' no more trifles,
an' no more sweet Black Ale,
I'll eat lettuce, an' cabbage, an' taters too,
not to mention good ol' kale!'
'I wont budge in line, I'll wait my turn,
'till everybeast is fed,
an' I'll leave everythin' to my ma an' sisters
when I've gone an' become dead!'
Liggery dee, liggery doo,
fa la la la laaaaa,
just wait 'till the beasts seein' this,
are his ma an' pa!
So remember, young'uns,
If y' make a face,
so bad y' end up like this sad ol' hare,
Don't say I didn't warn ya, 'cuz I did, of this poor state of affairs!"
After Patchpaw finished, Gorse cheered up. She never truly had been happy since Clea died, or at least in the sense she had before. Now she was happy, but a different kind of happy, one of not the naive young badgermaid picking daisies for the elder's room, but one of a confident, brave, yet still young, only daughter of a Badger Lord. She remembered the words her father, Ceteruler, had said to her when she asked about how he did what was right:
"Gorse, I do what I do day by day, night by night, not by fifty seasons at a time. As ruler of this mountain, it is my duty to protect the wounded and frail, and fight against those who are abusing peaceful beasts. In order to do that, I must do what I believe is right, and allows the least bloodshed. Even though I am a badger, and subject to Bloodwrath, I am against bloodshed. Every time a beast dies because of my poor decisions, I feel deeply saddened. All of my ancestors have had to deal with this. My earliest ancestor to record, one named Bluestripe the Wild, had a severe form of Bloodwrath. Yet, he controlled it and defeated his long-time enemy, a wildcat whose name, fortunately, has been long forgotten. Since the wildcat's defeat, this mountain has belonged to the Brock family line, and all badgers and hares for that matter. Though Bluestripe has long passed, he lives on through us, his descendants. I have come to rule this mountain. It is my birthright. Someday, you will come to rule this mountain and make choices for the good of all. I trust you will make the right decisions."
After remembering this, there was a long silence, which was inevitably broken by Patchpaw. "Well, we best be gettin' off t' beddie-by. Wouldn't wan t' miss a whole flamin' night's sleep, eh?"
"I suppose you're right, but I think we best eat the stew you made and douse the fire."
"Oh, corks! Forgot! The stew must be boilin' by now!" Patchpaw checked the stew. The onions had collapsed under the heat, turning into mush in a skin, but the carrots had it off worse: they melted to orange mush. One would think Patchpaw would dump the revolting mixture, but he did not; he started drinking straight from the cauldron. However, when one tries to drink something that is boiling, there are consequences, very painful and nerve-numbing consequences.
Gorse could not help but stifle a giggle. Taking out some cool spring water from a flask, she handed it to the panicking young hare. There was a sizzling sound coming from his mouth as he dumped it upon his head and face.
"Aaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhhh...." the young hare's relief was obvious.
"Now, how'th about weh douse teh feyer?" he asked.
"Patchpaw you fool, your tongue's puffed up!" Gorse snickered.
"It haths?! It haths!!!" Patchpaw was now on the verge of tears.
"There there. Maybe it'll get better by morning. Let's just get some sleep."
Patchpaw seemed to cry himself to sleep, much to Gorse's annoyance. Then, just as she appeared to finally fall into dreams, she heard a strange scratching sound, and suddenly, their tent was torn from them.
Patchpaw was immediately woken, he reached for his dirk, but it fell from his belt. Gorse screamed as she saw them: crows, at least fifty of them. Shrieking, screeching, and clawing, the birds tore apart their tent. Gorse lurched for her spear-bag, and grabbed a lance as a crow knocked it out of the way. One was upon her, and she thrust upward, and the weight of the black bird alone almost crushed her. Luckily, she rolled out of the way, and Patchpaw jumped up and got the bird holding her spear-bag in a headlock, it came crashing to the ground, and Patchpaw killed it with an expertly aimed spear to the neck. He tossed it to Gorse, who swung it around her back, taking out a javelin and throwing it at a crow's chest. However, it dodged, and instead got the javelin in the foot, it shrieked in pain, and Gorse took out a lance, jumped up to it's height, and slashed at it's throat. It was killed instantly.
Patchpaw, recovering his dirk, leaped on top of a crow, stabbing it's shoulder, causing the bird to throw him off, and he landed on the ground with a thud. He appeared unconscious, and Gorse tried to stab at a crow with her javelin, but it blocked the move almost perfectly, snapping the weapon in half. She reached for a spear, but it was too late, The crow raked her face with it's talons, and she screamed in agony. Falling on her back, she was sure she sprained something as she tried to regain her balance. She grunted, as her eyes began to cloud red as they had when Clea was murdered. She roared, and grabbed at the crow, and with strength and brutality that surprised even her, she snapped it's neck like a twig.
More crows were swarming in. Their weight and attacks were too much for her to bear. She was trying to defend both her own body and Patchpaw's, who she wasn't even sure was alive. Just as the night sky and moon was enveloped in black feathers, she heard a shriek come from the distance.
"G'wan, you! Leave 'em alone!!" a cloaked figure, wielding a staff with fire on both ends, spun it expertly and charged at the vicious birds. They scattered, and disappeared into the night sky. Gorse's eyes rolled inside her skull, and she fell unconscious.
"There, there. You're safe now. Don't move too much. Y' might open your wounds up again." said a voice as Gorse opened her eyes to a dizzy world.
"Hmm?" she responded. Gorse turned her head, getting her eyes in the exact direction of the bright morning sun. She grunted in pain.
"Alright, y' might want t' cover yer eyes fer a bit." Gorse responded by cupping her paws and placing them over her eyes. A few moments later, she removed them and remembered something of great importance.
"Where's Patchpaw? Where is he?!" she inquired, getting up and throwing the blankets off her body. She was in a grassy meadow still, but atop a hill, beside a two logs and a cabin.
"Y' mean th' rabbbit? Oh, I let 'im stay in my house 'till y' woke up. 'E's got a lump on 'is head, an' he had 'is tongue all swelled up. I gave 'im some medicine fer that, an' I think it should be better now." he took off his hood, revealing a musteline face.
"Th' name's Patcheye, or it was. I think I like th' name Cato better. It sounds more friendly. Besides, I only got th' name Patcheye 'cos me father was named that! I once was a member o' Spathar's vermin crew, 'till The Shadow o' the Deep threw me o'erboard. I floated t' shore, an' usin' the wreckage, I built me cabin. Since, I been livin' a life o' peace an' harmony. I decided t' 'elp you th' usin' only way I knew how t' chase crows away: fire." the pine marten extended a paw, and Gorse accepted it.
"Anyhow, most of yer stuff was destroyed by th' birds, but I salvaged yer staves, most o' th' vittles, an' this here shiny tickler." he lifted the weapon into view, and Gorse recognized it as Patchpaw's dirk.
"That's my friend's dirk, I believe he'd like it back." although the marten seemed friendly, he could not be too sure about trusting him.
"I'll give it back t' 'im once 'e's out o' that food coma. Speakin' o' which, I'll bet yer 'ungry." he took out a loaf of bread and broke off a piece for her. "It 'taint much, but it's all i could really find from the wreckage o'me ship 'at wasn't entirely. I wish I could do more t' 'elp ye, but I can't."
Gorse spoke now. "But you see, your former shipmates are attacking my home. Patchpaw and I are traveling to this place called Mossflower Wood, where we might find somebeasts to help us. Do you know how far we are from there?"
"Oh, about a two days walk. There's some big mighty bird livin' in some big ol' pine tree who eats anyone an' anythin' who crosses 'is path. So best git in t' hidin' if'n ye sees a big bird-shaped creature flyin' th' skies." Tha's all I c'n really tell ye."
"Well, thank you anyway, Cato. I'll get Patchpaw." Gorse replied.
After retrieving her companion, the two set off, once more to Mossflower Wood.