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Wounds have I sixteen, is slit my byrnie,
dim grows my sight, I see no longer:
to my heart did hew, venom-hardened,
Angantýr’s sword slashing sharply.
Shall fair ladies never learn that I,
from blows me shielding, backward turned me;
nor shall ever Ingibiorg taunt me,
in Sigtúna sitting,that from sword-blows I fled.
Unwilling nowise,from women’s converse,
from their sweet songs I with Soti fared,
hastened to join the host to eastward, went the last time forth from friends so dear.
Led me the white-browed liege’s daughter
to the outmost end of Agnafit
Is borne out thus that back I would not
wend from this war: so the wise maid said.
From Ingibiorg—came ill-hap swiftly—
I fared forth, then,on fated day:
a lasting sorrow to the lady,this,
since not e’er after each other we’ll see.
To have and to hold I had five manors;
on that land to live misliked me, though. Now, robbed of life,I lie here,spent,
by the sword wounded,on Sáms-isle’s shore.
(Hialmar's Death Song; Old Norse Poem)
(NOTE: This Fanficition will include some violent and Gory scenes. Reader digression is advised.)
Although spring had already begun a few days ago, it had not yet set in, evidently shown by blanket of snow in some areas. Now that the cold, bitter winter had died down, the time of war had returned once more. Hares; young and old, registered to join the army.
The landscape was seemingly barren, to a naked eye. However, if one where to look closer, they would be able to spot out a ripple in the distance. The ripple was an army camp, set up by Southern Army Hares. The camp was next to a river, which was convenient, seeing that the company had marched quite a distance. Gathered around a campfire, some played cards and drank, others slept, while others wrote letter home. A rather gloomy atmosphere lingered in the camp; there would be war soon.
Camouflaged against barren white tents and snow, a cloaked figure floated through the camp, it's pace quick and rapid. No one seemed to notice the creature, nor the bundle it clung to in it's paws. The head swiveled around a few times, the beast worried about something. A few hares averted their eyes to the veiled figure, but their attention wasn't kept for long. It was most likely a lost hare wife, carrying some vittles home for supper.
Captain Balthor, however, had a keen eye, and immedietly was suspicious of the lonesome creature. Sipping some Nettle beer, he turned over to a soldier sitting close to him.
"Hey, Proctor!" He nudged the young hare, then pointing to the cloaked beast. "Y'know who's that?"
"N-no, Cap'n." Proctor answered slowly. "Looks awfully suspicious, don't it?"
Balthor nodded, as he began to rise up. "Your right, laddie. Best t'see what the blasted thing is, eh?"
The Captain strode up confidently to the Creature, sizing it up considerably. Looking straight at it, he directed his attention to the veiled figure in front of him.
"Wot's y'buisness here, eh, eh? Y'got anywhere to be?"
The creature took a step back, not expecting this type of attention at all.
"I'm sorry, Sir. I'm a bit lost, you see. Would you please tell me where the nearest village is? I'm looking for a place to say." It affirmed softly. Balthor raised an eyebrow, but decided to help the creature. It did look lost, and didn't look much like a spy, at least.
"Head south until y'spot a big ol' pine. Then, turn west, an' you'll stumble upon The West Forest Village. Peaceful, calm place, the West Forest Village is. Hares are nice an' friendly, vittles warm an' tasty. Should fill y'needs, I suppose."
The Veiled creature bowed down, showing it's gratitude. "Many Thanks, Sire. May Fate be kind." And with that, the creature began to move south, in hope of the West Forest Village.
"Sussana, would you please open the door f'me? I do so believe some beast is there, y'know."
An old, bone thin Hare Wife responded to the call, her face molded in scorn and annoyance. "Yewdore, Y'lazy, picked frog! Do I gotta do every flippin' thing for yeh, Wot!?" Rushing from the kitchen to the front door, Sussana carefully brushed her plain dress, before answering to the loud knocks. Slowly opening the door, she found no one standing there, that is, until she looked down.
The rich, warm eyes of a badger babe stared at her intently. It neither cried not yelled, instead, simply looking at the Hare wife. Sussana was in utter disbelief. What sort of creature would just simply leave a babe in front of another beast's doorstep?
Sussana quickly grabbed ahold of the babe, shutting the door firmly behind her.
"Yewdore! Yewdore! Come here right this moment!" She yelled, as she ran over to the dormitory. The lank male hare came in, his whiskers twitching a bit. "Hell's teeth, Sussana! Can't ye lower ye voice a bit?"
Instead of giving back a smart reply, she motioned for her husband to sit next to her. Yewdore's eyes widened in amazement, when he saw the precious bundle.
"By Me Aunt's blue stripped pinny, Sussana! A Badger Babe? Wherever did you find it?"
"I found it in front of our door." Answered the Harewife, as she cradled the, now sleeping, badger babe. "I didn't see any adult with it, so I suppose it be an orphan. Poor dear, all alone. What should we do with it, Yewdore?"
"We keep it, of course!" The Hare lept up with joy. "What other options do we have?"
Sussana smiled slightly, petting the babe as it yawned. "What shall we name it? I suppose it be a maid, so It ought to be a maid name." She paused for a bit. "I always liked the name Daisy."
Yewdore shook his head, obviously having a better idea than his unoriginal wife. "These are times of war, Sussana! Badgers are tough nuts; or so I read in a book. It'd be best we give this lassie a warlike name! Somethin' bold and strong, but feminine, in a way."
"And what sort of name would that be?"
"Hm..." Inquired Yewdore, stroking his chin, before he came up with an acceptable name for the badger babe.
"Eulalia. It means 'Victory', in the language of old."
Book 1: The Ascent
"The fettered beast was then transported to some suitably lonely and desolate place. The chain was tied to a boulder and a sword was placed in the wolf’s jaws to hold them open. As he howled wildly and ceaselessly, a foamy river called “Expectation” (Old Norse Ván) flowed from his drooling mouth. And there, in that sordid state, he remained – until Ragnarok."
(Received from [])
Eight seasons have passed, since the arrival of the Badger Babe, known as Eulalia. Tranquility had been kept in the Western Forest Village for yet another eight seasons, and no beast seemed very interested in the war, aside from small talk and gossip. No male hare had to sign up for the army from the village, and no one intended from going.
It was the middle of a pleasant autumn morning. The trees had been sporting their colors for quite a while now, and their branches where slumping under the weight of russet apples. Adults were working in the fields, elders were recalling their younger years, while Leverets were preparing for the upcoming Harvest Festival. However, among the stillness of the West Forest Village, a certain striped beast was pulling a large sack of flour behind her. A few Adults allowed themselves to smile at the silly sight, one even approaching the little Badger.
“Hello Little one. Do you need any help?”
“Um...Um...No thank you, sir.” Eulalia answered awkwardly. She quickly tried to escape the adult, suddenly becoming fascinated in the bag of flour. She lumbered on with her task, while Leverets pointed and laughed; not having care in the world.
Eulalia Stuck her tongue out at them rebeliously, trying to make them stop, and then proceded to her task. As she travelled the long journey to her own Cottage, she overheard comments from nearby leverets, taking advantage of Eulalia’s strange appearance.
“Hehehe! My pop says that Striped dog issa Badger! Silly thing, ain’t it?”
“Striped Dog, hahahohoha! Good name, Fran!”
“Look’it ‘er! She’s so short and pudgy! She’d never win the upcoming race!”
Although she tried hard to ignore them, the comments were biting away at her. However, she persevered, and ignored them. Seeing that the Badger didn’t respond, the one named Fran saw an opportunity. She whispered to the smaller hare next to her, making her voice audible to the Badger. “She doesn’t belong in the Village. She’s not even a Hare.”
Suddenly, Eulalia decided to take matters upon her own paw. She was upon them, her face red with fury. How dare they make fun of her, and poke at her strange appearance? She had as much right to live in the Village as they did. Furious, she poked the supposed ring-leader, Fran, ready to give them a smart lecture.
“Shut your trap, missie! Unlike you, I’m actually trying to get some work done, While you and yore liddle gang be watching me from afar!”
Fran looked shocked, completely foreign to the fact that the striped dog could even speak back to her. Luckily, her little brother had taken the reigns, and had decided to talk back to the Badger in the same tone as she had spoken to his sister.. Although he was just as old as Eulalia, he was shorter than an average leveret, and he still insisted to speak in the common Dibbun speech.
“Dun talk to my sissa like dat! Meanie-Head!” He then stuck his tongue out at Eulalia, trying to mimic her habits. “You’m be a bad un’! Imma gunna...Imma gunna hit’cha!”
When the Leveret had been speaking, Eulalia had swiftly slapped in the cheek. A light red mark appeared where she hit him, and the Leveret was in pain. Biting his lip, he swelled his chest, trying to size up his opponent. “I challenge yah t’the festivil contests! Whoevah winz da most, issa better, an’ getsa Marmel’s Appa Pie! Dial?” He asked, extending his paw for a pawshake.
“Deal.” Answered Eulalia, shaking his paw Firmly.
“Eulalia, how could ya hit such a frail leveret such as Dolph! I thought I taught ya t’do the opposite thing, gel!”
Upon hearing the news that her Foster Daughter hit a young babe, Sussana couldn't help but be ashamed. Didn’t she raise Eulalia to be kind, docile, the complete opposite of this type of behavior? And to think that She planned on beating Dolph in a race...Unthinkable!
“I’m very disappointed in you! Wot d’ya got to say for y’self?”
“They deserved it.” Eulalia mumbled under her breath. Frankly, she felt little to no guilt about challenging that little runt to a contest. It was him and his sisters who tormented her regularly, from spreading rumors, to blaming that she was the one who ate the big plum cake. In her mind, her actions were merely justice.
“Go To the dormitory! You will not come out until you learn better!” She paused a bit, before adding, “And no scones f’you!”
As the badger trudged into the the dormitory, she felt that her foster mother was being more ignorant than usual. Had it not come to her mind, that it was the hares that were doing to wrong? “Why do I always have to be the one in trouble?” She called out, only for silence to respond.
In the distance, she could hear her foster father object to his wife’s reasoning. “Now now, Sussana. No need to get hasty, y’know. Calm down and make some tucker. ‘lalia only did so to mind that rascal Dolph.”
“I’ll mind you if you don’t shut y’trap!” Was Sussana’s reply.
Although she was melancholy on the situation, Eulalia chose not to procrastinate; she did have a deal to win the events at the festival, didn’t she? Even Sussana couldn’t stop that. With that, Eulalia began running around in circles; a very strenuous form of exercise, in the little Badger’s mind.
Evening had just begun to form in the West Forest Village. Eulalia had been training the whole time; lifting chairs, lifting books, running around some more, throwing supplies at a target, and some more. All in all, she was tired. Hopping into her designated cot, she began imagining what would happen when she won. That little Dolph would be bawling his eyes out, his sister perfectly humiliated. On the other hand, Sussana and Yewdore would be cheering loudly, and Eulalia’s head would be crowned in a circlet of roses and daisies. But the best part would be Old Marmel’s pie. Old Marmel was an ancient female rabbit; the oldest thing in the village. She was bone thin, with a film over her eyes, and almost no teeth left in her gums. Contrary to her ghastly appearance, she made the most delicious apple pie one would ever taste. Eulalia licked lips at the thought.
Surprised by the sudden knock on the front door, Eulalia scrambled up from her cot, over to the keyhole in the dormitory door. Widening her eye, she took a look to see what the knock on the front door was about.
Sussana Quickly made her way to the front door, brushing any dirt off her dress, as always. She then proceeded to open the door, only to gasp in horror. Eulalia’s vision was blocked, so she didn’t know what her foster mother saw. Sussana cried, “Yewdore! Come here this instant!”
It was a hare, the thing that Sussana dragged into the cottage. Eulalia herself gasped at his horrid appearance. He was sickly thin and malnourished, evident in his hollow cheeks and reed-thing hind legs. He was missing an entire ear; the thing having been ripped off his scalp. Area’s where bandaged poorly, some falling off to reveal open, unkept wounds. His Right leg was heavily bandaged.
Yewdore joined his wife in short time, helping her carry the dying soldier to a nearby mattress. When he was finally set down, the young soldier managed to give a nod of a head, wincing almost immediately.
“Ughh...Th..Thanks. I can...I can die easy know…” He said hoarsely. Sussana bit a lip, as Yewdore inspected his uniform closely, speaking to the soldier in a soft, gentle tone.
“You come from the 18th Regiment of the South Army, Son? My Cousin, Balthor. You know him.”
“Ol’...Bal...thor? S-sorry. Dead. Head was...blown off…”
Sussana hurried over to the soldier’s aid, washing his wounds, and feeding him bits and pieces. The Soldier nodded in gratitude. “Thanks...Thanks Marm. M’names...Proc...proctor…Four...Fourteenth Regiment..."
She nodded, signalling to be silent. While she was attending to his wounds, the bandages on his right leg fell off. Sussana winced, as did Eulalia, who had to stuff her paw in her mouth, to prevent a scream. The thing was cut to the bone, yellow and red mixing to make a putrid color. “Best...not to waste...waste...food…” Proctor Croaked, "On a dying....heap...no?" Sussana began trembling, grief overcoming the old harewife. So this was the true face of war...
Yewdore silently went to the side, Sussana joining him when she finished cleaning Proctor up. The two were silent, allowing the soldier to pass away peacefully. However, Proctor refused to die so soon. He had much more to say.
“The King...The King! N...North King! C...Came! Kill! He...He killed...killed everyone...I...I was lucky….I made it out….Everyone’s...Everyone’s dead…” Sussana stifled a sob, Yewdore holding her paw.
Just as Proctor was about to pass, he managed to whisper a small piece of information. He felt that he owed these two elders; they gave him a nice place to die. A warning; it was the best he could do.
“The King’s...Eyes….Red as….Red as Blood...his eyes….”
He then allowed his vision to blur. He coughed, exhaled, and died. Yewdore shook his head, murmuring, "War ain't glorious, as y'can see by this Proctor lad. I only wish all those bucks who left where still here. That King ain't one to mess with."
Sussana nodded, clenching her paws into a fist. "Blood an' fur, may the North King be cast away to Hellgates!"
This was the last thing Eulalia heard. She rolled up into a ball, her back against a wall. She couldn't get that soldier out of her head. His last words...Eyes like blood...What could it mean? She shivered. "I'm glad Papa isn't in th'war." She mumbled, before drifting off to sleep.
Her sleep was, at first shallow, but then, grew deeper and deeper; like a beast drowning in calm waters…
Eulalia awoke suddenly, her head clouded and ringing with pain. Rubbing her head, she inspected her surroundings, not sure where she was at all. The ground was bleak and hard, powdered in a bit of snow. The Tree’s where painfully thin, their bare branches clattering in the sharp cold breeze. The Badger Maid ran over to one of the trees, huddling against them, her teeth chattering. She hadn’t experienced such cold weather in seasons. She swore she was last in her room; how could she have got here?
The dark shadow on the tree made the Badger’s fur stand on end. She tried making herself stand up... but she couldn’t...Why? Why of all places? Why couldn’t she move? In vain, she grabbed a hold of the tree, trying to pry herself off. Alas, she was rooted to the place. The cold breath blew at her fur, causing the badger maid she cough. The shadow grew larger...and Larger.
The breathe in her throat was becoming more scarce; she couldn’t bring herself to breathe...what could she do...what could she do?!
The sudden noise caused the badger maid to curl up tighter. Her heart hammered against her chest. The shadow became larger, and larger, and larger….Until it leapt suddenly at the Badger Maid with a terrifying skreech!
Eulalia awoke in a cold sweat. Her heart was still pounding, and she was on the verge of tears. She didn’t want to exit the warm, safe haven of her cot, but she forced herself out. The sun had already risen up into the sky, although it was not visible through the bleak, grey clouds. The badger maid shook her face, trying to rid her eyes of sleep.
Her eyes drifted over to a small chair in the corner of the room. Sussana or Yewdore Must’ve come into her room. On the chair, lay a spoon, and a bowl of porridge. Eulalia curiously trotted to the bowl, her stomach faintly rumbling. She quickly snatched her breakfast, and returned to her comfortable cot, where she proceeded to eat. She made made face while eating the porridge; it was cold, and lacked a spoonful of honey. Nevertheless, she still continued to eat.
Just as she was about to analyze her dream from last night, a light knock was heard from the door. A gentle, yet stern voice was heard.
“Lalie? Y’wake? Can I come in, eh?”
Eulalia immediately recognized the Voice’s owner as her foster father’s; Yewdore. Lazily, she trudged over to the door. Opening it slowly, the old hare walked into the dormitory, a cheerful expression present.
“Good Morn’, Gel! Didja eat y’breakfast? Good, ain’t it? I made it m’self.”
“It was...Scrumptious…” She answered with a weak smile. Beaming, Yewdore strode over to his foster daughter, patting her head. However, his voice then descended to a whisper barely audible. Leaning close, he disclosed what he had to say.
“Alright. Listen. Listen Well. Sussana’s out o’the jolly hut, y’know. Vegetables, she says, from the Southern River Village.” He took a deep breath before continuing. “Wot I’m tryin’ t’say ‘ere, is that if y’say sorry to that lad Dolph, y’free. Free to go where y’please.”
Eulalia crossed her arms. She didn’t want to say sorry to the blighter who insulted her. However, the more she thought about it, the more she reconsidered. She couldn’t train the majority of her life in a stuffy dormitory; she was a Badger! She deserved to be free. Also, just because she said sorry didn’t necessarily mean she was sorry.
“Do I have t’say ‘sorry’, to his sissers?”
Yewdore raised an eyebrow. “Did you slap ‘em as well?” She shook her head. “Then y’don’t gotta say ‘sorry’ to ‘em.”
The Day was unusually chilly, for an Autumn afternoon. One factor was that the sun was completely blotted out by thick, oily grey clouds. A sort of gloom hung in the air. Northern winds occasionally blew to and fro, causing the badger made to wince. She had thrown a blanket over her shoulders, to protect herself from the frosty air. Yewdore sported a thin scarf, the cold seemingly not bothering him. The two made small talk on the way.
“So, Lalie. Y’plannin’ on beatin’ Dolph in the race?”
“Of course!” shouted Eulalia joyfully. “I’ll give him a taste of what it feels like to be humiliated!”
The two quickly reached their destination. It was a stout hut, similar to Eulalia and Yewdore’s, but slightly larger. They had a somewhat messy garden in the back, and flowers decorated the house’s perimeter. The Badger Maid sighed with longing; she always tried to convince Sussana to plant flowers around the house.
In the front of the house, two hares were racing, a younger one, most presumably Dolph, and a larger, older one, most presumably his father. Both Hares were smiling, and ,maybe, even having fun. Yewdore stepped forward, motioning the squirming Badger Maid with him.
“Ahem hem! G’day, Chaps! Allen, good day t’you as well! I must say, is that a new handkerchief your sporting. Lookin’ good their, wot!” The Hare known as Allen stopped running. He looked up at the elderly hare, his smile still present. “An’ G’day to y’too, Yewdore, ol’ bucko!” He ran up to Yewdore, hitting him in the shoulder good naturedly. Eulalia glared at Dolph the whole while. Both were still enemies. At least that wasn’t going to change.
Yewdore cleared his throat before speaking. “Anyways, Friend, you may ‘ave heard of a little Badger maid, given’ yore lad a good whack…”
Allen Chuckled. “Oh, yes, I have! Say, If Dolph is ever misbehaven’, I’ll be sure to call the gel over, wot wot!”
It was her cue. Eulalia waddled in front of Yewdore; directly looking at Dolph. Taking a deep breath, she recited her apology.
“Dolph Raithi Aurbernt, I am deeply sorry and remorseful, for hitting you oh so hard in the face. You see, I was merely enraged by the fact that you and your sisters, Fran and Janine, were shrieking so happily at my pathetic misery. In fact, perhaps what I did really was justice in it’s purest form. However, I acted rashly and childish, since i am, in all truth, nothing but a mere child. Don’t you understand, Dolph Raithi Aurbernt? Although we be dibbuns, we are not allowed to act as we truly are. When you think about, us beats are nothing but hideous, when we strip down out mask and eloquent speeches, as such.” Eulalia took a deep breath before continuing. “It’s funny, isn’t it? But I must continue. I see your face has healed quite considerably, Dolph Raithi Aurbernt. I meant to put a bit more force into it, but I thought of the consequences, of course. Do not think, just because i show empathy, that I’ve backed out of the race. Oh no, oh no. Not at all. In fact, I’ve been training quite strenuously. I’ll see your ugly face, after I’ve won. Do not get your hopes up...Dolph Raithi Aurbernt.”
Yewdore raised an eyebrow. “That was quite some speech, Lalie. Do you think it is satisfactory, Dolph Raith-...Dolph?”
The levert sneered at the badger maid, obviously not impressed. However, he was in front of his father. He needed to act cordial, for now, that is. He reached out his paw to Eulalia, who shook it with great gusto. She seemed pleased with herself. Rolling his eyes, the Hare sped off to some unknown location.
Allen laughed at the antics of his son. “Hoho! Good show, I say! Anyhoo, I’m going to the tavern to get a drink. Join me, If y’like.” He then left the scene, strolling over to the nearest tavern.
Yewdore looked over at Eulalia, the badgermaid unsure whether to go or not to go. Her foster father shrugged, his whiskers drooping a bit. Finally, she nodded, allowing the two to go. She could use a bit of hot apple cider. Who wouldn’t, in this gloomy weather?
The Lucky Rosy tavern was bustling with action, most every table filled by either hare or drink. A warm, oily light filled the building, and a cheerful fire was going, lighting up the action and events. Waitresses hurried around, filling and taking orders.
Eulalia sniffed the air, the pleasant smell of food pleasing her immensely. She immediately forgot all ehr misery at the time, instead following Yewdore to whatever table he chose.
The elderly hare smiled when he found Allen and another Hare at a table, two seats already pulled out. Yewdore sat down next to them, Eulalia quickly doing the same. The other hare, who was even older than Yewdore, grinned. “Y’got a little gel, Yewdore? Looks a bit odd, I say.”
“Don’t say that in front of ‘er, Shermy,” was Yewdore’s response. He leaned over to him, whispering loud enough for Eulalia to hear. “She may whack ya.”
Allen erupted into laughter, spilling a bit of his beverage. “Good show, I say! Anyhoo, I recommend tryin’ the Buttercup Beer. Ain’t nothin’ better than it!” He motioned his cup towards Yewdore, who nodded approvingly. Eulalia wrinkled her nose at the sickly sweet scent.
“Have y’ever tried that ‘Tober Ale the Youngn’s be sippin’?” Asked Shermy, his voice tinged with disgust. “I’ve definitely tried it. Me ol’ lad, Horrace, told me to have a bit.” He pointed to a separate table, three meters away from Eulalia’s seat. Young Hares sipped foaming tankards, some probably drunk from the stuff. “Silly Lads, I say.”
Allen decided to change the subject. “Y’hear about the massacre of the Eighteenth regiment? Brings chills down me spine.”
Eulalia was suddenly interested in the subject. She had heard little about the war between the hares, and she yearned for information. Yewdore sighed sadly, shaking his head slowly. “Aye. Awful thing. May fate be kind to the rest of the lads. Tis a death wish, war.”
“Wot I told Horrace! Bally Blighter ignored me!” Answered Shermy, Drinking his Beer angrily.
Finally, Yewdore and Eulalia’s drinks arrived. The Badger Maid eagerly reached for her apple cider, feeling giddy already. Yewdore swigged a bit of the Buttercup beer, nodding. “That North King...He seems more powerful than ever, don’t ya think? Somethin’ bout red eyes, I hear.”
“Tis the Bloodwrath!” Whispered Allen, his eyes wide. “Beast who possess it has the strength o’ten hundred winters! Eyes red as the blood o’ ten hundred hares!” He pointed to his eye, a sudden silence hanging over the table. Eulalia felt a chill run up her spine, remembering what the dying hare said.
“The King’s...Eyes….Red as….Red as Blood...his eyes….”
Shermy shrugged nonchalantly. “Name’s Peregrin, I believe. Best not to run into the bulk, I say. Th’ monster can stay in his winter wonderland, if he’d like, wot!...How long have we been fightin’? I forgot meself…”
“I believe...Nine seasons ago? Winter o’ the Hare’s fur, I believe it was.”
Allen nodded sagely. “Good memory, Ol’ sport. Bloody war we’re fightin’.”
After a while, the conversation strayed to other topics Eulalia didn’t understand...Shrew Tribe...Tree Flyer Drey...Holt Ranpike...The Badger Maid drained her cup of cider rather quickly, instead choosing to hide some candied chestnuts in the pockets of her apron. After Allen and Yewdore finished drinking, the two hares stood up.
Yewdore yawned. “Well, twas nice havin’ a drink an’ such. Good day!” He called, dragging his Foster Daughter behind him; a trail of candied chestnuts being formed as well.
Allen also said his farewells, saying he had to go to his wife and children. Shermy nodded lazily, guzzling the last of his beer. His eyes widened at the sight of the beer flagons on the table.
“How will I ever be able to drink this all?”
Meanwhile, a waitress threw a small parchment onto the table. Shermy quickly grabbed it, reading the crumpled paper with shaking paws.
“How will I ever be able to pay this all?!”
In the Lands of the North, Winter had already begun to grasp the landscape, her chilling breath blowing the leaves and branches of trees to and fro. Ice had just begun forming at the mouth of streams and lakes, while Winter’s lulling fingers sprinkled snowflakes ever so slowly. Though the landscape seemed barren, and didn’t seem to harvest life, a strange blue line was visible, slowly making it’s way across the horizon.
The Wolf Company swiftly made their way through the familiar terrain; it was home for them, at least. Each Snowflake was nostalgic, the sharp, cold scent familiar to them as a newborn to the scent of his mother. The Company was primarily made of hares, although some vermin were also able to be seen. Each one donning a blue and silver uniform, they marched in three single file lines, chests wide with pride, all singing in unison, their voices echoing through the bleak landscape.
Northern Blood runs swift and deep
Battles to fight Before I sleep.
Although my blood is strewn with pride
The Great North King is by my side
Hark the River and Hark the Snow,
Together we march, Together we go
We fight through night, we fight through day
Our Battered courage shall not ever fray
Iron Life and Iron Death
Lady fate don’t take my breath
My little lad my Little Lass
Aren’t waiting for a bloodied cutlass
Hark the River and Hark the Snow,
Together we march, Together we go
We fight through night, we fight through day
Our Battered courage shall not ever fray!
The Hare’s eyes scanned the near frozen river which opposed him. Although it was narrow and shallow, he didn’t like how it looked. The River had a casing of thin ice; much too risky. Some Beast could drown, if they were stupid enough. However, the Hare cared for his soldiers as if they were family. He couldn’t risk a single beast’s life. Life was far too precious.
He thought of his own family. Though his wife had passed seasons ago, his little daughter remained. ‘Nay’, he thought. ‘I can’t let fate take me yet.’ There was so much more to be done. And this war…Though he was rather large for a hare, and had fought many battles, the idea of bloodshed coming near his homeland shot fear into his mind.
“Lord Peregrin!” Rang a loud, deep voice. The Hare slowly turned his head, to see who his speaker was. It was a large, burly stoat, donning a captain’s uniform, and a lethal looking battle-axe. The Hare allowed himself to smile at the sight of his old friend, before listening to what he had to say.
“...Did I interrupt you by any chance?” Asked the stoat, worry audible in his voice.
Peregrin shook his head. “No Cor. I was just thinking of home. Please continue.”
“Alright. Well…” Cor Began, his voice suddenly weak, “...I just wanted to comment on the...attack a few days ago…” The Stoat captain looked over at his King, who simply nodded. He continued. “Are you feelin’ alright? The Bloodwrath started to kick in, and I was worried for ya, y’know...Just wanted to check.”
“I’m quite fine, thank you, Cor.” Was the King’s answer. He even smiled at his friend. “Fear not; once at home, I’ll have time to fully recover.”
Cor nodded, satisfied to know that his king was alright. After saluting, he walked over to a fox and a hare, who were fooling around with some knives, and scolded them harshly.
Peregrin sighed, drifting back to reality. He hadn’t intended his bloodwrath to take control over him, but alas, it had. He couldn’t let anyone see him like that. Especially not his daughter…
He shook his head. Good riddance anyway! Those southern scum deserved what they got, trying to take over his Northern domain. Justice is what they got. Pure, Divine Justice.
A middle aged hare soldier trotted towards Peregrin, placing a bony paw on his shoulder. “Calm y’self, King! Sit down, drink a bit of brae wine, sing a tune! Don’t jus stan’ there by y’self, now!”
The Hare King nodded, finding himself in reality at last. “Aye, sorry ‘bout that. Save me a bit o’Elderberry Wine, Turnket!”
“Brulda, Brulda! Papa’s commin’ ‘ome!”
The eager voice echoed, bouncing off the bleak, stone walls. The room was empty; devoid of much decoration, other than a desk, a chair, and bookshelves. The only know occupancy of the room was an old harewife, along with two female dibbuns; a hare and a stoat.
The Harewife nodded, her face scrunched up into a crinkled smile. “Yes yes, Johanna. King Peregrin is at last commin’ back. Hope he didn’t get into much battles; tis a dreadful thing; war.”
The little haremaid ran up next to her playmate, a stoatmaid. The Stoatmaid raised a paw, her face also sprawled into a wide grin.
“Isa my papa commin’ too?”
Brulda rolled her eyes, starting to dust a shelf of old documents and volumes. “Yes yes, Haze. Cor is commin’ too. Now shoo! Shoo! Play somewhere else! I must finish my dusting!”
The two maids giggled to themselves, before relieving Brulda of their presences. The harewife shook her head. “Children these days…”
“Let’s go to’the throne room! I’ll be da princess, and you can be the Queen!”
“Aww, Haze! Why do you always gotta be da princess?”
“Cuz Yore really a princess, Johanna!” Before Johanna could argue about the game, Haze ran right past her, already sticking her tongue out. Huffing, the little haremaid sprinted next to the stoatmaid, eager to show her friend that she was just as good as her. The two restless friends sped off towards the throne room, like two bright comets, in their gloomy night sky.
“Didja hear ‘bout the battle?”
“Eh? Battle at the Northern River Crossin’?”
“E’yup. Twas a big victory, I hear.”
“I can’t wait until his lordship arrives! I ‘ope there's some sorta feast, y’know!”
“Gosh darn it! I’m ‘ungry now!”
“Howhah! Me two, Matey!”
The two dibbuns were unaccustomed to the loud din audible in the throne room. Both Haze and Johanna were used to the somber silence, occasionally cut by Brulda’s scolding. However, this time, Hares young and old had gathered to welcome the Wolf Company from it’s long journey. Mostly the nobles gathered; little to no peasants were to be seen.
“I can’t see anythin’!” Protested Haze, jumping up and down.
“Mebbe ‘cause your a shortie!” Replied Johanna, with a slight giggle.
“Shuddup! -Wait, i think they commin’!” The Stoatmaid grabbed johanna’s paws, Both of them darting up the stairs from which they came up from, looking over the railing in order to get a better view.
Suddenly, the deafening roar of trumpets filled the hollow chatter in the throne room. Immediately, the hares which occupied the space seperated into two parallel lines, their backs stiff and straight. The two dibbuns who spectated from their safe viewpoint where curious to see what was going on.
“Johanna, I think they’re commin’!”
The hairmaid nodded enthusiastically. “Aye!...Look ‘ere!” She pointed down, her eyes sparkling. “They’re commin’! They’re commin’!”
Almost immediately, strode in two creatures; a hare, and a stoat, they’re capes fluttering behind them like flags. The silence was heavy in the room; not one soul daring to break it. Lord Peregrin at last defied it, his voice bouncing off the stone walls.
“Victory for the Highlands!”
The crowd echoed his words with pride.
“Victory for the Highlands!”
“My people,” The King began, facing the crowd. “The war has taken turn; Fate looks fondly upon us today! The Wolf Company had once again proven itself, against the Southerners!” This was met with a loud cheer from the crowd; who were at once proud of their northern heritage.
King Peregrin was not done, however.
“Though we pride ourselves for this victory, we must not forget the words our Fathers have told us. Alas, we have not come to win battles; we have come to win wars! Have you forgotten the words of the great king, my father, Old Lord Gyreth? Has he not shown you that we must not concern ourselves with such small manners? For Old Lord Gyreth’s troubles, we have named this Country the Northland, after your father's, yourselves, and your sons.” He raised his voice, escalating from a call to a shout.
“We must stride into battle, with our Northern heads fastened onto our Northern Shoulders, as our Fathers have done! As our sons shall do! We clash our Northern steel, strewn with Northern Pride! For this reason, we must not feel shame! We must never feel shame; we are the bringers of justice! And for that….” Lord Peregrin paused for a bit, his eyes sweeping the awe-struck crowd.
“Our Fathers, yourselves, and your sons fight with Northern Steel!”
The assembly erupted into joyous thanks. Peregrin raised his long greatsword, a beautiful thing; fashioned from cold steel. Cor also raised his weapon of choice; a long sword. Together, along with every single hare in the room, shouted the time-honored war cry.
“To the Dark Forest!”
After giving the speech, Peregrin could feel his eyelids drooping. His sleepless nights have come to haunt him once more. Shaking his head, he turned his head over to his companion; Cor. The Stoat was munching on an apple, oblivious to sleep. Peregrin tapped Cor’s shoulder, feeling a need to speak with another beast, in order to escape the embrace of rest.
“Hehe! Gotcha, Pops!”
Cor had a puzzled expression, as he glanced at the lump on his leg. However, his eyebrows raised when he found the identity of the lump.
“So y’did, Haze m’dear!” He roared, messing up his daughter’s head fur.
The little stoatmaid’s smile widened. “Didja miss me? Huh? Huh? Was there alotta blood? Didha bring me backa hawk skull? Didja miss me? Didja bring me a ruby dagger? Didja miss me?”
“Alright, Alright, lassie! One question at a time!” Grabbing his daughter’s paw, he allowed himself to be led of to wherever his daughter desired. A grin creeped up on Peregrin’s face, watching the silly sight...Now that he thought about it; he had to welcome his daughter as well.
Roaming the halls, the King at last made it to his study. The familiar scent of old parchments and ink welcomed him like a forgotten friend as he opened the door.
“Welcome home, Lord-”
Brulda quickly cuffed the little haremaid, her face blushing in embarrassment. However, the king didn’t seem to notice this, instead bending down to his daughter’s height.
“Good Afternoon, Johanna. Did you behave when I was gone?” Johanna nodded proudly, her eyes sparkling. “Aye! I wassa th’best at behavin’!”
“Incorrect, sire! The rogue stole two whole baskets of apple and pears, along with her little friend! She then proceeded to draw on the world map!” This time, it was Johanna’s turn to blush.
“Johanna, is this true?” was the King’s only reply.
The haremaid shuffled her foot paws, glancing down. “Um..um...mebbe?”
An awkward silence held the pieces of the room together. Not one soul spoke; Johanna too scared, Brulda too reserved, and the King having nothing to say.
‘Lord Peregrin!” Shouted a noble from outside the room. The king rose; attending to, perhaps, a more urgent matter.
“You can tell me about this later, alright, my dear?”
Johanna nodded miserably, Brulda only shaking her head in disappointment.
“Y’see, back in my day, babes like you actually had mannerisms, y’know? T’sa shame, I say! T’sa shame a lovely lass like you’s gotta be so…”
“Spunky?” Johanna suggested, shrinking back a bit.
“Hm, Spunky. I like it. It’s, it’s got a lot of spunk! Yes, I like it!”
Today was a special day, in the eyes of Tolv Arrowspur, chieftain of the powerful Arrowspur clan. At last, the hog clan was receiving the recognition they deserved; an alliance! Not just any alliance, but an alliance with the great Northern Hare Kingdom!
Acca Arrowspur, Tolv’s wife, reached over to her husband, her voice dripping with it’s usual impatience.
“‘Ey, is that Hare commin’ or not?!”
Tolv chuckled. “Patience, m’dear.”
At that moment, the king opened the assembly door, his armor and cape still on. Without saying a word, he joined the assembly, made up of his own Generals and Nobles, along with the Arrowspur clan. A maid quickly set a beaker of mint tea, and a few apple scones. “Let’s make this quick and painless. How many of you are there, and your current location?” Asked Peregrin solemnly, his paws folded.
Tolv smiled good naturedly, tasting a scone experimentally. “Us Arrowspurs...Hm...I’d say around a good ‘hundred, in total. We’re mainly rovers, our villages change from time to time. Currently, we’re staying near the entrance to th’forest.”
“‘undred ain’t much, though…” Muttered a noble. He was immediately silenced by the king’s cold glare.
“A Hundred is a nice amount...Though how many women and children? I don’t expect them to fight, of course.”
“Us Arrowspurs be warriors!” Bellowed Acca, brandishing her tomahawk. “Females fight as well as males, children learn to fight at young age! We all warriors!” This response was met with a cheer from the other Hedgehogs which were present.
“Hoy! Silence there!” Shouted Tolv, returning to his calm demeanor. “What my wife is trying to say, is that both men and women fight alongside each other. We have around twenty young’ns, however.
Stroking his chin, The King raised an eyebrow. “Hmph, I see. However, I know not how your loyalties lie…”
Another hare among the crowd continued. “I agree. What proof d’you have that you’ll stay true to us?”
Tolv winked at the hares, his old mind formulating some type of idea. “Say this; we make a surprise attack on the southerners. Your highness’ll come as well, of course. If we do well, you can still test our loyalty. If we don’t see fit, well, y’can have me head to mount on y’pedestal.”
King Peregrin narrowed his eyes. These hedgehogs had something up his sleeve, he knew it. However, He knew that soon enough, these Arrowspurs would be the pawns in his intricate game of war. He smiled.
However, if it makes it all the way across the board, a pawn can turn into a king...
Dolph awoke to the strained noise of bickering early in the day. He groaned, tossing to the other side of his cot, trying to escape the deafening voice in vain. However, this was of no avail; when Fran and Janine argued, there was no stopping the haremaids.
Sleep; the one stranger Dolph allowed to enter. It comforted him in his darkest moments, and healed all his wounds. However, as much as he wanted to drift into the lazy bliss, he couldn’t help but overhear bits and pieces of the argument.
“.....The War…..General Balthor…..The Northlands….”
Immediately, Dolph shot up from his cot, worry coated on his eyes, as he called out hoarsely, “What about Father?!”
The two haremaids swivelled their heads, eyeing their younger brother. Fran sighed. “Nothin’, Dolph. None o’ya beeswax. Go to sleep.”
“No!” He cried out indignantly. “No! What’s happenin’!”
“Shuddup!” Whispered Janine frantically. “Mother an’ Father might overhear! Shhh! Y’loud mouths, don’t you have an sense left in y’brain, eh, eh?”
Dolph wasn’t impressed with this show of power. So what if his sisters had authority of him. “Tell me! I wone take no as an’ ansah! Tell me now!” He interrupted impatiently.
“No! I don’t want to!”
“C’mon! Just Tell me!” To this, Fran sighed. He brother was becomming annoying; what a pest.
“Fine, blabbermouth. But don’t tell no-un!”
Dolph grinned ear to ear. He knew he won. If there was anything satisfactory to the male hare babe, it was the feeling of victory.
“Alright. Lissen up, Shrimp,” Disclosed Fran. “Y’know how that massacre happened a few days ago? Well, turns out a lotta hares died. A lotta hares. Not a lot of hares. A lotta hares. Anyhoo, due to the loss of all those ‘uns, t’sonly reasonable that some other replace ‘em, y’know.”
Dolph nodded slowly, wide eyed, as he continued listening.
“As I was sayin’, the council o’ th’Southern Hares decided to force to hares to join the thing. Word is, is that the North be gainin’ allies, Dartspikes, I think they were called. Closest to allies we have, is Holt Ranpike, an’ th’Shrew Village-”
“Wait Wait! Wos’the council?!” Shouted Janine, her mind boggled. Fran narrowed her eyes at the harebabe, as she shushed her.
“Shhhh! Well, I guess you don’t know; Ain’t much word o’the gatherin’s. Southern Country is divided into four places, usn’s be on the lower left, y’know. Each section’s got a representative, to represent us at th’council. Our representative is Ezra Woodsorrel. Hares got a good heart, missin’ a bit of brains though.”
“Anyway, like I was sayin’, Ezra’s been given up too little hares t’the army, so th’rest o’the council is pressin’ ‘im to hand over some more hares….Hares all over our place ‘ave been taken…’ave been trainin’...Mother and Father are worried that Father’ll be taken away…” Fran suddenly stopped talking, the feeling of despair thick in the room.
Dolph shook his head. “Noh, Noh! Shuddup! Papa isn goin’ no-wher! Okie, Okie?! Ee’s stayin!” The harebabe calmed down a bit, before continuing. “T’day’s th;big day! Imma gonna train! Beat dat Stripe dog!”
Stalking away miserably, Dolph felt a tear trickled down his cheek…
Why, of all hares? Why his Father?
The crowd gathered along the field was tense, yet alive with the spirit of good village beasts. Tents and stalls have been built; harewives occupying them, trying to sell others their food or threadwork. On the other side, the shouting of old Marmel the Rabbit could be heard, as she screamed at a miserable costumer.
“How dare ya bargain with me? Didja Bargain with ya mum?! Didja bargain with ya grandmum?!”
“Didja bargain with ya aunt? Didja bargain with ya sis? Didja bargain with ya wife?!” “I’m not even mar-”
“Didja bargain with ya gel?! No! No! S’don’t bargain with me, y’bloody snot filled cross eyed filthy swine excuse for a rabbit! Now get out my sight, y’crack headed indespicable hitch hiker!”
Eulalia looked confidently around the battleground; at least, it was a battleground to the young badger babe. The echos of Marmel’s cry where very reminiscent, a few folks laughing still. However, she had no time for such foolishness. No; today was a big day. Today, of all days; today, she would triumph! She would show that blasted Dolph what she was made of!
“...Now remember, Eulalia. It’s alright to lose. Please don’t humiliate Dolph again, please. Y’don’t know how angry Lalor gets….Blast that hare wife...Anyway, I’m not giving you any luck. You're an utter disgrace. In fact, I don’t even know why you're doin’ this! I thought y’was a gel?”
“It’s my revenge!”
Sussana gave Eulalia a sharp cuff. “Revenge my behind! Your goin’ straight to y’room, y’here, missie?!”
The badgermaid nodded, her heart pounding. “Aye...Ooooh, Look! The doofus is commin’!”
However, the babe which entered was not the arrogant Dolph Eulalia loved to hate; it was a slouching, red eyed doppelganger of the harebabe, a melancholy twin, perhaps. However, the same hate driven glare which he pointed to the badger, was identical to Dolph’s. Eulalia stuck her tongue out, as she heard a loud noise call her attention.
All eyes turned to face a plump harewife, standing on a wooden platform, holding a ladle and pan. Her face creased into a smile, as her voice projected through the open air.
“Greetings, young’ns an’ elders! As y’know, t’day is our harvest festival! Let’s begin, shall we?” She cleared her throat, and then proceded to open a scroll.
“First, we have the youngster’s events. First, the race, o’course. Then the three legged race, th’archery contest, th’tree climbin’ contest, th’rope tuggin’ contest. We got th’bigg’un part as well. We ‘ave a pie contest, a vege’ble contest, a drinking contest…”
Some of the older hares laughed, obviously excited.
“...an’ the eating event! Now, Racers! Gather next to the platform!”
A mass of babes and dibbuns came running forth, including Dolph and Eulalia. Spitting on her paws, the badgermaid rubbed them together, preparing herself for the event. After all these days of preparation...after all her training...now was the time to prove herself. She glanced over at her adversary, a smug look on her face.
The Harebabe’s expression was dark; like a miserable storm cload. Knitting his brows, he made his way to the starting line. He tried to think about the race; His training, Marmel’s Pie, Eulalia’s defeat...But the looming thought that his father would be leaving him, forever, came flooding back.
However, there was little to no time left for thinking. Dolph strode over to the starting line, his chin held up high. In the distance, he could hear the cheering of his sisters.
“Go Dolph! Go Dolph! Y’can do it!”
“Keep a stiff upper lip, m’lord!”
“I said ‘Keep a stiff upper lip, m’lord!’”
The Harebabe ignored the cheering; instead choosing to stick his tounge out at Eulalia.
The Badgermaid did so as well.
The loud, clear voice of the plump harewife filled the air, as she was about to begin the race. Harebabes formed a straigt line, standing right behind the starting line. Eulalia could hear her heart hammer in her chest. Today was the day…
“On your marks….”
Dolph bit his lip. The race...The race...He had to win this race! If he didn’t, he would be humiliated. His father...what would his father think about him…
The last of the harebabes stopped squirming. For a moment, the air was peaceful, calm, trainquil. However, a cold gust of wind hit Eulalia from the side, making the Badgermaid flinch.
Everybeast swivelled their heads to see who had spoken out of turn. Harewives began to shake, harebabes began to bawl, while elders shook their heads sadly at the melancholy omen. Dolph gasped, tears threatening to spill.
The scrawny, malnourished looking hare grasped at a piece of barkcloth parchment. His legs were shaking; he had little to no clothing to shield himself from the unforgiving winds.
A young hare screamed out from the crowd, her cry of despair heart-wrenching.
“No! No! Not my son! Please!”
‘What’s going on?’ thought Eulalia, her mind puzzled. Why was everybeast so sad? Her mind couldn’t comprehend what was going on; the Hare wife, Dolph’s actions…
The Dying soldier…
Shivering wildly, the hare messenger raised his parchment high, his voice booming. It was he would had to deliver the news.
“Hares of the Western Forest Village!” He began. The Field was silent as a dead beast as he spoke. “By Command of Ezra Woodsorrel, all Male beasts above the age of thirteen seasons listed; You are to enlist in the Southern Hare Army; you are to come with me immediately! Is this clear?”
Eulalia winced at the silence; the silence as cold as the skin of a dead beast. It reminded her of the dying soldier. How silent the house was after he died. For some strange reasons, her heart suddenly felt like it was about to burst.
The Messenger then called out the names of all the eligible hares; each name met with either a sob or a scream. Sussana and Yewdore let out a sigh of relief, after Yewdore’s name had passed.
However; one such beast wasn’t as lucky.
“Allen Frax Aurbernt!”
“No!” Screamed Dolph, Tears flying from his face. “No! Don’t take my Papa! No!” He fell down to his knees, the salty water streaming down like waterfalls. Each sob the harebabe let out tore at his heart and soul; each tear burned and scarred his delicate features. Each hoarse cry hit him like the howling winds of the North.
Allen turned his head to face his son. His smile was like a candle; warm and comforting. Dolph’s cry waned down, but the tears just wouldn’t stop. Stooping down, Allen embraced his son; for possibly the last time. He comforted his son, as he did so many times in the past. He bandaged his wounds; but this wound he could never repair.
The Father gave his star a gift.
“Courage, my star.”
And then he left, bidding his wife and daughters farewell.
“Courage, my star.”
Those words was the child’s one comfort, in his dark realm. Even the hiding sun couldn’t comfort Dolph. No one can comfort a child like a father…
“I just can’t stop crying...no matter how much I try…”
The leveret finally allowed the lump in his throat to rise; causing more tears to flow. Courage, how could he ever face it, if he was always crying? Had his father’s words gone to waste?
That smile; the candle smile. Dolph remembered it.
He wish he could’ve seen it once more.
“Hello, anybeast home?”
A figure shifted in the darkness; unaccustomed to the interior. A few crashing noises were heard, as the beast attempted to make it’s way around. Inferring it was his sister or mother, Dolph didn’t move a muscle; overcome with grief.
“...I’m sorry Dolph…”
The Harebabe looked up, his eyes shiny with not only tears, but surprise. His heart wrenched when he realized the identity of the guest.
The Badgermaid didn’t reply, her eyes clouded with a linked emotion. Making her way silently, she sat next to Dolph. A rival may be a rival. But a rival is also a beast. Finally, Eulalia managed to grasp the words she intended to say.
“...I’m sorry Dolph…”
Dolph wiped a threatening tear with his paw, his voice shaking. “How d’you know? Y’got a mum an papa…”
Eulalia closed her brown eyes. “Aye...but They aren’t me real mum an’ papa...Sussana tells me I was...left to….” Eulalia couldn’t bare to think of civilization's greatest fear.
“So y’don have a papa?”
“...I don’ ‘ave a papa too…”
Eulalia held her friend’s paw, as the two babes cried and spoke. They spoke of family. They spoke of love.
They spoke of friendship.
From that day on, Eulalia and Dolph became the best of friends.
The blissful singing of a nearby creek, along with the sweet and clear trill of birdsong, all contributed to the serene spring backset. Impatient, spring had thrust itself into the land; evident by the lush blooming of plant life. Flowers threw back their petals, each trying to outdo the other, while Trees nursed young fruit. Grasses ticked the footpaws of travelers, and even dull stones seemed to enjoy the unexpected warmth.
Eleven years had passed, like autumn leaves, like snowstorms, like insects, like flower petals. The Babes have grown, the elders have departed, while others still hung onto life greedily. The West Forest Village had suffered through last year’s brutal spring, and relished the warmth they had received just now. Hares, young and old, stooped down in order to plant the seeds, which would bear food in the next oncoming seasons.
A grizzled hare wife wiped her brow with a dotted handkerchief, her paws clutching a small basket full of seeds. Her eyes swept over the landscape of workers, searching for that one individual.
“Eulalia? Where are you?”
The badgermaid came running toward her guardian, a two small pouches held in both her paws. Sussana smiled at the image of her adopted daughter; it seemed just like yesterday that Eulalia was a dibbun. However, time had molded her into a proper and exceptional young maiden.
At last the badgermaid had reached her foster mother, panting heavily. She handed one of the small pouches over to her, shaking her head in disbelief.
“You wouldn’t believe it! I couldn’t find the winter squash seeds; y’now! Then Yewdore came, an’ told me he gave it t’Marmel, th’old coot. Anyways, she told me she gave them to Lalor! So then I made it over to Dolph’s place, talked to good ‘ol Lalor. She lost the seed! An’ then, I ‘ad to dig through the cupboard. You won’t believe how crammed that cupboard was!”
At this point, Sussana had to crack a smile at the antics of her daughter.
“...And then finally, I found’em! Hidden by some leverets in some tall grasses!” After concluding her tale, the Badgermaid watched proudly as her foster mother examined the seeds. She couldn’t help but feel a bit of smugness; after all that work she did.
“Y’did a lot of work, I can say that…” The Harewife sighed before continuing. “But there’s one problem….”
Eulalia’s eyes widened in horror. “This ain’t winter squash...It’s summer squash…”
Eulalia burst into a fit of rage inside; biting her lip in annoyance. However, she tried her best to hide it, instead reaching for the pouch of summer squash. “Let me put ‘em back, an’ get the winter-”
“Now, now, Eulalia,” Clucked Sussana disapprovingly, “I can still jolly well plant ‘em, but bring back the winter squash, now, wont’cha?”
Eulalia groaned, her response laced with annoyance. “Fine.” She then left the toiling harewife, chiding herself silently.
Another harewife next to Sussana chucked. “Y’make your gel work to much, wot!”
Sussana rolled her eyes. “That way, she won’t end up like your gel!”
“So tell me, Shermy. What’s your opinion on the Alliance?”
The elderly hare raised an eyebrow, sipping a bit of elderberry wine before continuing. “Hm, ‘Olt Ranpike? Don’t have much concern, t’be fair. Their h’otters; good warriors, doncha know.”
Yewdore nodded, reading a scrap of parchment, which announced the news. Leaning back on his chair, his eyes skimmed the paper, seeing if there was any other piece of information he missed.
“Moles, mice, an’squirrels aren’t commin’, though…” Shermy laughed at his friend’s expression of worry.
“Bah! Squirrels are savages, moles just don’t like talkin’, an’ mice got their own settlement. Arrogant wenches; y’know what they said?”
“No, Shermy. I don’t.”
“When Balthor asked if they would like an’ alliance, they-” The Elderly hare cut himself off, noticing Yewdore’s sudden reminiscence. He poured some more wine for himself, letting the silence in Yewdore’s household to linger even longer.
Eulalia stood at the doorway like a massive oak, her face twisted into some unholy image. However, her voice was perfectly calm as she spoke.
“Hello there, gentlemen. Please tell me, have you seen the Winter Squash seeds by any chance?”
Shermy laughed out loud. “Lalie, y’already took it!” Eulalia looked puzzled, until Yewdore explained gently.
“Marmel had it, didn’t she? You thought it was summer squash, but you took it anyway, at least, that’s what I heard. “ He smiled with amusement, remembering the shouting of his foster daughter.
Eulalia’s eyes widened, as if she was about to be dealt with by reality once more.
“So you mean...I left it at Lalor’s?”
Both hares nodded solemnly. However, their serious demeanor was instantly broken, as Eulalia fled the scene.
Yewdore shook his head. “That daughter of mine….”
However, Shermy took no notice of the comment, instead continuing what he had said earlier.
“...So y’know ‘ow the mice primarily live in Noonvale, right? Well, Balthor...I can say his name, right?”
Yewdore nodded, drinking his wine slowly.
“Anyway, Balthor asked if the mice would help ‘im. Y’know what they said?! No! Straight off no! Said they wouldn’t busy themselves’ with Hare-like matters! The Blighters! The Rooks! The Cross eyed snot filled excuse of a rat!”
“Wherever did you hear that?” Asked Yewdore, taken aback by Shermy’s language.
“I think I ‘eard it from Marmel or somethin’. Well, Closest Drey we ‘ave near is Tree Flyers. Don’t know what t’think. Their leader isn’t to keen on workin’ with ‘ares, and rumor is that Moles are startin’ to join the Northerners.”
“Aye,” Added Yewdore, folding his paws, “But I think the ‘olt is good enough, doncha know? They’re h’otters! Strong sea dogs. Specially their leader…”
Shermy nodded. “Aye. Huge hound, that ‘un. But don’t dismiss those hogs. Tough un’s. Prove deadly in battle; their quills…” Shermy stopped mid sentence, suddenly overcome by greif.
“Horace…” Yewdore whispered. Shermy nodded glumly. The two hares shared the second moment of silence that day. ~*~*~ ‘I can’t believe I messed up!”
This sentence was played on repeat in Eulalia’s brain. She was disappointed with herself; to think she mixed up summer and winter squash! Would she ever prove herself to Sussana? That she wasn’t a nuisance; that she could handle herself.
Jogging over to her destination, Eulalia made it to the household of Lalor. She remembered the house from her childhood; big house, bigger than hers, with a flowers planted alongside as well. However, the old cottage had lost it’s cheer over the past few years; the atmosphere abruptly transforming into a depressing cousin.
A tall, lanky male hare strode over to Eulalia, his face smug with satisfaction. “Did you just so happen to forget a little something; Eulalia?”
The Badgermaid was in shock. “The Squash seeds? Where where they?”
“Truth be told; These aren’t your old seeds. Mother decided to give you a bit; she’s sorry for you, know?”
Eulalia gently took the small pouch, with the precious cargo inside. “Tell old Lalor thanks. Really, thank you. i wouldn’t be here, if it weren’t for you.” shook her friend’s paw, causing much Anguish, to Dolph, at least.
“Alright, Alright ol’ gel.” He coaxed, nursing his paw back to health. “Me ‘ol Mum’s workin’ on the big garden too, plus I ‘ave to help a bit.” He muttered that last bit, imagining himself in a worn out apron, scolding a badgermaid to get squash seeds.
The Badger snickered. “Anyway, care to join me?” Raising his chin considerably, taking in friend’s paw.
“But of course, Lady Eulalia.” And the two beasts walked together, pretending to be aristocrats and what not. As the two friends walked, they also spoke of various occurrences, obviously trying to avoid the topic of war.
“So tell me,” Began Eulalia,”How are your sisters?”
“Oh, Fran and Janine? Frans got a fellow, and Janine...Well Janine is just Janine. Tryin’ new things.”
The badgermaid snickered. “Never boring when Janine’s your sister, huh?”
Dolph shrugged. “She get’s in trouble a lot of the time, but It’s too be expected….Hey, what’s going over there?”
The two beasts looked over to where Dolph was pointing. Nevertheless, a crowd of hares gathered together. Curiosity apparent, the hare and badger both approached the crowd, trying to see what had captured their attention. As the two friends tried to catch a glimpse, a buzz of noise lingered.
“Aye, One year earlier, I hear.”
“Blasted Woodsorrel! I swear, us Dillworthys should’ve become representatives!”
“It’d be th’bally same! Whoahahohahoha!”
At last, Eulalia managed to get a glimpse of what the big hullabaloo was all about, after a great deal of pushing and shoving. As she skimmed through the parchment, her eyes flared up.
“Eulalia! Eulalia! Get out there! Smph...Oh, sorry, sire. My bad...Eulalia! What’s goin’ on!”
However, the badgermaid ignored her friend’s urgent protests, instead glancing at the parchment once more, before squeezing out of the squirming body of hares. Brushing her apron, the badgermaid’s eyes gleamed as she disclosed her newfound knowledge.
“The council meetin’! It’s gettin’ held in three days!”
Dolph shook his head, wonderstruck. “Three days?! Good gracious, so soon? We ought to tell mother!”
The Badgermaid nodded in pure agreement.
The room was dark. Moss grew in large amounts on the stone walls, and little to no furniture decorated the room. large cracks crisscrossed the moist stone floor, and the air reeked of filth and disease. A small metal tray was tossed in the corner, abandoned and shunned, as the prisoner was. Huddled against the frigid stone walls, a pathetic figure lay.
The figure may have once been lovely, but malnourishment and back breaking labor tore at the creature’s build. Once healthy, the beast’s cheeks were hollow, yearning a meal, it’s eyes dull as it’s stone cage. It’s fur was grimy and thin, and in desperate need of a bath.
It’s eyes were fixed on the wooden door. If that door was ever opened, light would flood through, blinding the prisoner. However, what was life, when it was filled with torture such as this?
“Better to be blind, then stay in this rotten place.”
Light flooded the prisoner’s room just after saying those words. Wincing, the weasel wife narrowed her eyes, glaring at the huge hare before her. She knew what he wanted. The weasel wife spat at his feet, for it was he who imprisoned her.
The hare didn’t flinch in the slightest, keeping his stoic demeanor. The prisoner winced once more as she heard him speak; this was the first time she had heard such a loud voice in seasons.
“Let’s get this over with, shall we? Where were you, Nineteen seasons ago?”
The weasel wife spat once more. “Ha! As if I’ll tell you, Rabbit!”
The hare’s eyes narrowed, “Your family is dead; you're a disgrace to the kingdom; the least you could do is redeem yourself.”
“Why would I want to redeem myself? I’ve done nothing wrong!” Answered the prisoner, smiling smugly. “It was just a few babes; no more,no less. Why are you so concerned, your highness?” Her voice dripped with venom, obviously trying to annoy Peregrin.
However, the hare wasn’t hindered whatsoever. Instead, he leaned forward a bit, a ghost of a smile on his lips.
“My dear, dear prisoner. What am I going to do with you?”
What an entity he was! For who else soars the great skies with such grace and regality? Who else, but the Kestrel?
These thought were played over and over again in the mind of the male kestrel. He enjoyed his return to the skies, after travelling with those land beasts. He missed the caress of the wind, and felt a sense of nostalgia over take him, as he soared with the winds.
However, he was beginning to feel tired. The Kestrel hadn’t flown in a while, due to a fractured wing, which had imprisoned him on the earth. Fatigue was beginning to overcome the bird.
Ever so slowly, the Kestrel slowly floated down to a nearby ledge. His sharp talons dug into the stone structure, taking a quick look around his new perch.
From what he could see, it was some sort of fortress. It’s dark, stone walls made the exterior; a vast contrast from it’s bright background. Tall Spires stretched into the heavens, and balconies set with weapons and armor protruded from the murky walls.
...Land Creatures, He thought smugly. Thinking they’re superior, with their stone nests and such-
The Kestrel’s thoughts were halted by the cry of pain. He froze, unsure of what to do. he had Heard the cry no doubt. However, was it friend or foe?
Curiosity tempted the bird. However, he finally gave in. So what if it was a foe beast? He was a bird; He could simply fly away.
After resting a for a bit, the Kestrel took off flying. From the audacity of the sound, he could tell the sound came from behind his perch, a bit lower than where he was originally perching. A quick list of possibilities played in the bird’s mind. It could very well just be a beast, with a bruised toe. However, the kestrel began to question this possibility. The cry was so heart wrenching, tearing at his very heart.
Once again he heard the noise. However, he didn’t flinch; accustomed to the shrill sound. Finally, he made his to the back of the fortress. landing near a window, he peered through it; wondering what had been making this racket.
The bird hadn’t seen a dungeon in seasons; he had forgotten what the term even meant. Shock ran through his spine. As a bird, he had never experienced imprisonment. Just the idea of not being free shocked him. How could a free beast; born free, ever be locked away in such idleness?
He looked closer, inspecting the room. It was dark and moist; the occasional sound of water drops bouncing off the walls. Murkiness blossomed in the area like a flower, and moss grew in abundance on the walls. Placed in the corner, some sort of creature lay huddled like a rag doll. The Kestrel peered in closer, trying to get a better picture of this ‘dungeon’.
“Whatcha lookin’ at, Pretty burd?”
The Kestrel was taken by surprise, completely unsuspecting. He stared fiercely at the speaker. it was a weasel, presumably female from it’s high pitch voice. Her fur was grimy, and hung loosely from her frail figure. She grinned slyly while nursing her paw, which was bleeding. The Bird was repulsed by the putrid stench of the dungeon.
“What are you lookin’ at, Stoat?” He answered mockingly, purposely messing up her species. The Weaselwife snarled.
“What yore tounge, burdy. Whatcha want, an’ why are ya here?”
The Kestrel poofed up his feathers, trying to look more important. “Well, unlike you, I’m free as a bird. I’m not chained up. Th’names Aderyc.”
The weaselwife sneered, her eyes nothing more than slits. “Vaska….Pleasure t’meet cha.”
Aderyc’s eyes twinkled. He obviously saw how much the prisoner disliked him now. But he couldn’t help but tease her. She was held back by chains, and he was free as air. Their differences held no bounds.
“Well anyway, I ought to go…” Called out Aderyc clearly, already adjusting his wings for flight. However, the weasel wife couldn’t contain herself; she was missing out on an opportunity for escape!
The Kestrel’s head swiveled around, a puzzled expression present. “What is it?”
The Weasel wife bit her lip, as she gave an explanation. “Er...Listen Bur-...Aderyc. If ya help me, I’ll try ta help ya...if I can….”
Aderyc tossed his heads, narrowing his eyes.
“It won’t be f’free, y’know…”
“I know I know!” Vaska spat. ,” Alright, lissen ere. I wantcha to give me th’key. Ts’in this big ‘ol room, blue an’silver. Gots lotsa maps. A a nice brass key is on’is desk. Simple enough?”
The Kestrel nodded. “Aye. I’ll get it to yeh.”
It was Vaska’s turn to narrow her eyebrow. “Whatcha want in return?”
Aderyc had already flown off, distracted by his current task.
“Nice shot, Jo-jo!”
Although the sky was as bleak as the surrounding stone walls, the orchard of the castle was rather pleasant. Little flowers sprouted from the springy earth, and trees where already starting to blossom.
Princess Johanna and her Bodyguard, Haze, where both ignoring the displeasing sky; instead focusing on the former’s archery lessons. The first arrow had lodged itself neatly in the soft grey bark of a young willow. Haze grinned, obviously proud of her friend’s shot.
Johanna shrugged, blushing in embarrassment. “Oh, Haze...it wasn’t that good of a shot…”
The stoatmaid began jumping up and down. “Not that good of a shot?! Lemme tell ye, I can’t shoot for nothin’!”
The haremaid’s blushing intensified. “Well, that’s because yore a spearmaid…Shh...is that a kestrel I spy?”
Haze looked over to where her friend’s finger pointed too. A small bird, perhaps an undersized hawk, flew gracefully through the air. A malicious plan ran through the stoat’s mind, as she slyly grabbed her friend’s bow. Johanna looked over at Haze, her eyes wide.
She then proceeded to swipe the weapon from her friend’s paws, her face stern and her voice reprimanding.
“What in Hellgates has gotten into you? Shooting some poor bird, what’s gotten into your mind?!”
The stoatmaid shrugged, not really having an explanation. “I dunno. Somethin’ just made me do so. Plus, I was hungry.” She successfully managed to change the subject from her friend’s comical expression.
“Oh, you poor beast!” Bellowed Johanna in mock horror. “How shall we ever feed you?”
Haze grinned widley. “I dunno. Isa Brulda a’makin’ somethin’?” Her friend shrugged. “C’mon, Jo-jo. Let’s go t’ol’ Brulda. Mebbe the fat rabbit’s got somethin’ nice!”
Johanna smiled in return. “Aye! I’m beginning to be a bit hungry meself!”
The two beasts began walking. Multiple subjects ran past the two friends, until a single statement was made.
Johanna stopped walking. Her face suddenly drooped sadly. “Oh...The war...well…”
The stoatmaid patted the princess’s shoulder. “Well now, sorry t’disapoint ye. Y’don’t have to talk bout it…” Her friend shook her head, straightening her back.
“Nah...It’s alright, Haze. It’s just that...It’s just that father is getting more and more grim about it. I’ve heard it’s getting bloodier every season...More and more hares are joining the meetings...Even I’m getting involved in it.”
Haze frowned. “Doncha have a say in this? And how come I’m not in these here meetins’? I’m yore body guard!”
“It’s not that…” Johanna murmured. “It’s just that...I’m the heir to the throne. If this war continues and father...dies...Then I’ll have to take is place.”
Haze halted her speach for the ump-teenth time this day. “Ain’t cha gonna get married? Isn’t a king gonna be in the meetins’?”
“Oh...oh!” Johanna gasped, the sharp pang of reality hitting her. “I didn’t think’o that…” She covered her face in her paws, the realization too strong for her to handle. Her friend kneeled alongside with her, taking her paw gently while whispering soothing words.
“There there young’n. It’ll be alright. Mebbe he’s a nice lad…”
The hare stared at the stoat, her eyes cloudy. What innocence and youth she once possessed had now been swept away by the cold northern winds of war.
“Hoi, Yore Lordship!” Called out a grizzled old hare. “Y’commin’?”
A huge hare answered to the calling. His deep voice rang out, unusually gruff and halfhearted. “Aye. I’m commin’.”
A Stoat came running over to the hare’s side, a bit more jovial than the latter. Dressed in shining armor and a flowing cape, he threw his paw over the hare’s shoulder, a broad smile plastered on his face.
“Ye exited, Peregrin?”
The Hare frowned. “No, Cor. I’m not. I’m tired. I’m frustrated. I just want to go to sleep…”
Cor shrugged as the two strode into the map room. “Well, that’s th’life of a King...sorry to ‘ear so.”
The Map room was large. There was no other way of describing it. It measured a good few meters wide and long, with a huge oval shaped window in the front of the room. A long table, strewn with maps faced the window, while maps of both land and sea covered the walls. A few hares, vermin, and even hedgehogs stood, awaiting the King’s words.
Stiffly, Peregrin walked over to a wide map, slightly wrinkled at the edges, with tea stains dotting the surface. It was a pale yellow, but held exquisite detail; every hill, valley, river, and stream was marked with amazing precision, and drawn with a careful paw. The map unveiled both the northern and southern kingdoms. Every village was marked with a either a red or blue dot; the blue being northern villages, the southern being marked with red.
A young rat captain raised his paw before speaking nervously. “Um sire-” He was silenced with a single glare from Peregrin. He wanted to leave as soon as possible.
When each living creature was silent, the King unveiled his plans.
“Listen. This war has been around for too many seasons. I say we divide and conquer. We’ll sweep over the border, and attack villages close to the border.” He traced a paw near a bold line, running horizontally on the map. He pointed to small red dots near it, indicating the villages. He was rewarded with multiple nods. The King Continued.
“However, there is one village which get’s in our way. We conquer that one, and we win.” He then pointed to a rather small red dot, in between two large rivers. One of the hedgehogs gasped.
“Aye. This village is in between both the Great Lieux and the Great Fluke rivers. They control almost all trade, and are deadly on the rivers. They are easily the greatest threat. If we get this village, then both the Lieux and Fluke are under our full control.” He paused for a bit before continuing. “I want Cor’s division to go out. Take a map, if you must. Depart when you’re ready.”
He then looked around the assembly. He then turned away from the creatures, his voice low and clear.
“Destroy it. Make sure there are no survivors.”
“Dolph! Stop eatin’ the flamin’ bread!”
“You ain’t the boss ‘o me, sis!”
Although the two hares had reached adulthood, their merriment had never waned. Running around, Fran and Dolph chased each other, their laughter loud and clear. Clutching a slice of bread, Dolph couldn’t run properly, unheard laughter rumbling in his chest. Finally, he was forced to sit down, his merriment overtaking him.
“Whoohohohahahoha! I’ll never give it t’you, Fran!”
The female hare grinned, trying to pry the slice from her brother’s fingers. “Heh Heh! Give it, y’glutton!”
“Get it y’self!’ He called back, breaking into a sudden sprint. Smiling, he looked over his shoulder, pleased to see his Older sister still content of catching him. It reminded him of his younger years…
Sussana rolled her eyes at the havoc of the two fully grown hares. “...Fran! Fran, ya listening? Dolph, you too, y’rouge! Come on over ‘ere! Didja hear me?!” The two hares stopped in their tracks, facing the cranky hairwife.
Finally being noticed, Sussana unleashed all her energy upon the two siblings, expressing her emotions to the fullest.
“Huh! T’shame that Lalor didn’t ‘ave any nice kids! However, Stop at once, y’deliquets! Y’should be ashamed of y’self? Didja here me? Ashamed!” Sussana’s voice suddenly peaked to a hoarse scream. “Shoudn’cha be a’packin’? We ‘ave a long journey ahead, and you two are a-runnin’ to who knows where? Are y’sorry for ye actions?!”
Fran rolled her eyes. “Yes, Ms. Sussana.” Dolph nodded, feeling his ears slightly turn red.
The hare wide sighed. “Alright then. I s’pose It’s not that big of a deal now...Just get packin’, alright now? We have a bit of walkin’ ahead of us.” And with that, Sussana speedily fled the scene.
“Alright, alright. It’s best I get packin’ meself. Like the old hag says; we gots a long journey.” Said Fran begrudgingly. Dolph smirked, for some reasons overjoyed his sister wasn’t experiencing any joy. Perhaps it was simply the side effect of this strange connection known as siblings.
“I might as well check on Eulalia too. She’s not one to get up early and get crackin’, doncha know?”
“Course I know!” Fran shouted, messing up her Dolph’s head fur, much to his protest. “I gotsa brother!” Suddenly stopping, she winked roguishly at her brother, before turning around, and leaving him all by himself.
The male hare felt a sudden air of loneliness around him. Ever since his father had left him, of course he’s felt lonely. However, now DOlph began to recognize the melancholy force. Sighing, He relinquished the urge to just stand there, and slowly strode towards Eulalia’s cottage.
Knock Knock! “Hoi! Come in! Don’t be shy, now!”
Cracking open the door, Dolph was surprised to see the Badgermaid already fully packed and dressed. She donned a lilac, loose dress, along with a broad belt, which Dolph guessed belonged to Yewdore. A huge haversack was slung over one of her wide shoulders, and an expression of triumph played on her face. Dolph looked at himself in dismay. All he had was a plain brown vest, his usual belt, and a blue bandana around his neck. He wasn’t even done packing!
“Uh….Good mornin’, Eulalia!”
Eulalia smirked, happy to see she bested her friend for once. “You done packin’ or somethin’?” To this Dolph blushed in embarrassment. He didn’t even start.
“Uh...uh...I’ll see ye soon!” In a flurry, the young hare sped off, seeing to his own duties.
Eulalia tried to contain her smug grin, but even she couldn’t contain her pride. Shaking her head fur, she could feel the common feeling of adventure; the call of the wild, she called it. Securing her haversack over her shoulders, The badgermaid flung the wooden door of her cottage open with newfound strength, feeling the sun on her face. Making her way in long strides, the Badger noticed her foster father and mother conversing amongst themselves, pointing frantically at a crumpled piece of parchment. Looking over their shoulder, the Badgermaid surprised them both with her exceedingly loud voice.
“What’cha lookin’ at?”
“Gah!” Screeched Yewdore, jumping back a good distance due to shock. “Oh, It’s only you, Lalie. Don’t scare yore ol’ pop like that, alright!” Brushing off some dust off his tunic, The old hare resumed looking at the paper, his wife looking at him with a tinge of annoyance.
Yewdore sighed, obviously tired. “An’ what is it now, m’dear?”
Sussana bit her lip, her voice impatient. “Listen Yewdore. Half o’the blinkin’ Village isn’t even packed! Wot y’gonna do! We gotta depart by noon!”
“Half o’the blinkin’ village isn’t even commin’, Sussana.”
“Oh…” was all that the embarrassed Harewife was able to utter. Eulalia just stood back. unsure what to do in this type of situation. Slowly, she managed to make it out of the uncomfortable situation. Slumping under the shade of a nearby oak, the badgermaid slowly drifted off into sleep. She had been packing all night, deciding whether to bring a kitchen knife or not, and other actions of the sort.
“Eulalia, Arise! We’re leaving!”
“Already?!” Cried out the badgermaid, scrambling to join the others.
Evening had just reached the travelling group, It’s warm colors flooding the forest in which the creatures traversed. Many a hare was relieved that the evening had arrived at last, the idea of getting a chance to rest their weary legs refreshing.
Yewdore tried to suppress a yawn, his eyes weary. He was unsure whether or not to rest in this woodland, or perhaps travel to a nearby town. Dropping his eyes downward, he skimmed over the map. So far-
“Watcha want, hare?!”
“Gah!” Screeched Yewdore, jumping back the second time that day. Straightening himself, the old hare looked at the creature before him, curious to see the owner of the abrupt question.
It was a shrew; a short one, to be precise, but weren’t all shrews short for that matter? He donned a smart green headband, along with a loose grey tunic and a white cord around his waist. A handsome dirk was in the shrew’s paw, which caught the attention of Eulalia, who immediately joined her foster father.
“Well now.” Began Yewdore calmly, “Me an’ my village where travellin’ t’South Jaw meetin’ area. A big council is gonna take place there, an’ me and a few others are goin’ there, ‘cause this sorta thing only happens once an’ a while...an’-”
“And t’see some nice dresses!” Shouted out a haremaid from the distance, who was wearing a rather ugly dress.
“And t’see some nice dresses.” Finished Yewdore, feeling surprisingly proud. However, the shrew did not seem convinced.
“I like your dirk,” said little Janine, wide-eyed. “It looks like something a great shrew warrior would wield.” Dolph nodded, obviously pleased in his little sister’s remark.
The shrew felt flattered, in truth. However, his solemn demeanor stayed, as he continued to speak to the Old hare in front of him. “Y’Northerners?”
“Now lissen, Chap. Why would a group of lonesome gypsies like us be Northerners? We’re not donning fur caps an’ beer bottles, are we?”
Narrowing his eyes, the shrew pointed his dirk at Yewdore, his vocie dripping with venom. “Mebbe. I need some real proof, rabbit. If y’don’t...that fur’ll make an excellent fur cap f’me.”
Yewdore was at his wits end. What solid proof did he even have? Beasts other than hares were always confused, whether a hare was northern or southern, especially shrews, who were quick to argue. If he didn’t answer fast...he then wondered how many followers this shrew had.
“He’s a southerner, Shrew. Get your paws off him!”
If the badgermaid hadn’t intervened, perhaps the woodland dirt wouldn’t have been peppered with blood. Turning his head swiftly, the Shrew’s eyes widened when seeing the massive beast. A badger...a creature of legends! A single strike and the shrew would be no more…
“Alright, alright! Who are you now, Stripe dog?!”
Eulalia stepped forward, her face dark and grim. “We are southerners. Let us pass, shrew.” She answered gruffly. “If you don’t…”
The shrew, however, did not cower yet. “What makes y’so sure?”
“I’m sure you have family. You wouldn’t want them to end up hurt, wouldn’t you?”
“Now now, leave mah family outa this!”
By the time Eulalia stood in front of her adversary, the Shrew could see the maid was much larger, much greater, and much taller than he was. Impressed by this show of brawn, the shrew stowed away his dirk. “Hm...I like y’type. M’names Log-a-log. You and ya hares seem tired, ain’t cha?”
Yewdore nodded. “Famished.” Log-a-log rolled his eyes. “Shut up, foggy. Come over t’me village. I’ll let cha rest an’ such. Leave then, tho.” He then looked at Eulalia. “M’kay?”
The Badgermaid nodded, patting her growling stomach. “Aye, sounds favorable, I guess.”
Eulalia hadn’t expected the shrew village to be so...large, for lack of better alternatives. Shrews of all ages scuttled around the village, which was in between two wide rivers. Each shrew bowed their heads respectively when Log-a-log made way for the hare travellers. As the group walked towards a massive hut, a tiny shrew maid ran over to Log-a-log, a flower crown on her headfur.
“Whos dat rabbit, pops?”
Log-a-log patted the little shrewmaid, looking proudly at the travellers. “This is me daughter, Daisy. Don’t lay a finger on’er, m’kay?!” With that, Daisy ran away, giggling happily. Janine followed suite, wondering if she could be friends with the shrew maid.
Dolph dared to speak out to Log-a-log. “So where will all us chaps be sleepin’?”
“On th’ground.” Called Log-a-log nonchalantly. Yewdore nodded, showing his agreement.
“Well,” answered Sussana gingerly, “I’ll be preparrin’ th’beds for th’young’ns.” She then began unpacking her huge haversack, placing blankets on the soft grass. A few younger travelers immediately plopped onto the blanket, causing an outburst from Sussana.
“Dinners at th’smaller hut; with th’purple flou’ers. Make sure to ask nicely, tho’.” Uninterested with his newfound ‘friends’, Log-a-log bound for the hut he was describing, whistling some unknown tune.
First, he was flying. Looking down, Dolph felt a nauseous feeling overwhelm his stomach. He had always had a dreadful fear of heights…
Then he was falling. The male hare could feel the wind rushing against his fur, though he felt no fear.
Next he saw a figure...two figures in fact. Both huge beasts, fighting with swords. He stepped forward. Looking down, he saw that blood stained the ground he walked upon. It was then that fear began to course through his body.
Finally, he saw a faint shimmer of gold in the sky, before he blacked out.
First, there was darkness.
And then came the blood.
Sword in paw, Eulalia thrusted the point into a dark figure, also wielding what appeared to be a sword. A stream of blood poured out from where she protruded the figure. First, the blood was a stream, but then it became the sea. She was drowning. She could feel the weight of the blood on her shoulders, as it tried to push the badger into it’s grave.
However, then the blood disappeared, and Eulalia found herself wearing her favorite dress; the lilac dress. She was in a lush forest that reminded her of her home forest, except thicker and much more plentiful in wildlife. In the corner of her vision, she saw a faint shimmer of gold in the sky.
So she ran towards it. She made it, But then she blacked out.
Eulalia awoke earlier than usual. Usually, she would sleep until Sussana came, but today was different. She had a dream. not only that, but her environment was...different. Different Birdsong filled her ears, and different sunlight filled her eyes. Rising up gently, as to not disturb the others, she rolled up her blanket, and stuffed it into her near full haversack. Placing it in the near shade of a pear tree, she decided to treat herself to some breakfast.
Her dream troubled her immensely. She often didn’t have too many dreams, and those she had she forgot almost instantly. Her mind wandered, however, to her childhood. A dream she had…
No. More than a dream. A nightmare.
“Ey, Stripe Dog! Y’gonna get some vittles?!” bellowed a plump shrew wife, standing in front of a food stand.
Shaking her head, the badgermaid wiped her groggy eyes with a paw, before answering. “A bowl o’porridge, please! Do add some honey in their! A pear o’two, scones, an’ a beaker o’Strawberry Cordial!” Much to her amusement, she heard the shrew wife groan to herself, causing Eulalia to giggle.
Taking a seat at the stand, she was surprised to see how fast her demand was brought to her. Scrumptious porridge...with honey...fresh pears, delectable scones, and of course, a good beaker of cold, refreshing, and sweet strawberry cordial. Picking up her spoon daintily, she began to devour her breakfast. The shrew wife raised an eyebrow, amazed at how a beast could eat that much.
“You’ve got the stomach o’ten hares, m’gel!” Said the impressed shrew wife. Finishing the last drop of strawberry cordial, Eulalia grinned victoriously.
Just as she was about to leave, Eulalia noticed a familiar face. The grumpy expression, the green headband, and the “warrior like” dirk, accompanied by a smaller version of the beast, with a flower crown just starting to wilt.
“Good Mornin’, Log-a-Log!” Cried the shrew wife, already starting to prepare a breakfast for the shrew Chieftain. Sitting down gruffly, he began polishing his dirk with a rag, seemingly from pure boredom. His daughter, Daisy, on the other hand ran up to Eulalia, her eyes brighter than ever.
“is it ‘rue y’killed a thousand an; wun rattas?!”
Eulalia made a face. “Is it true that Janine told y’that?!” Daisy nodded gleefully to that question, signifying that Eulalia was correct. “i should’ve known…”
“here y’go!” The shrew wife interrupted, pilling some more food onto the table. A few slices of bread, a wedge of cheese, and a flagon of october ale. Clearly for log-a-log. Some scones with strawberry preserve and mint tea was given to Daisy. Feeling unwelcomed all of a sudden, the Badger ever so slowly rose up from her seat, seeking evacuation.
“‘ey, siddown, Stripes! I wanna talk t’ya!”
Impatient, Eulalia sat down as she was told to. “What do you want…” She paused, before adding snappishly, “...mouse!”
Log-a-log made an unsatisfied face. “R’lly now? Is that th’best y’can do?! I’m disappointed in ye.”
“Well, is ‘Stripes’ the best you can do?!” This earned a faint snicker from Daisy, who was already indulging into her breakfast.
Log-a-log took a deep breath before starting. “Lissen. I dunno how t’tell ya, but by th’looks o’things, methinsk your the strongest beast I e’er laid eyes on. Pity yore a lassie, though-”
Eulalia sneered. “Is that all you have to say?! That you pity me because I’m a maid?! What does that have t’do with anythin’?! I could easily stamp y’to th’ground, Shre!”
“Wot I’m tellin’ ye, is that I respect ye! Calm ye stripes, now lassie!”
“You respect me because you think I’m strong? For you know, I could be weak!”
Log-a-log cocked an eyebrow. “So yore tellin’ me, that yore a weaklin’?”
The badgermaid finally noticed what she had just said. Humiliated, she snapped back, “No!...But still, why didja really come? Didja really come just t’say a compliment?”
The shrew took a long drink of his ale before answering. “Hm...Well, me an’ some others looked at cha journey. It ain’t fast on foot, and me an’ th’others...well, we think y’folks are some really straight’rabbits.”
“Hares.” Eulalia corrected.
“Hares, rabbits, h’otters, same thing! What we’re tyin’na so ‘ere is get’cha across t’the South Jaw! Whattdya say...Stripe dog?”
Eulalia stroked her chin slowly, considering the offer. “Hm...Why don’t y’tell that t’Yewdore. I don’t make th’orders ‘round here….wait, in what manner gettin’ across?”
Log-a-log took a final drink of his ale, before setting it down with a satisfying clunk!
“Log boats, ‘coarse!” shouted Daisy, her face smeared with strawberry preserve.
“Ugh...I hate water!” Holding his stomach, Dolph fervently hoped he could survive this journey. Who’s idea was it to even travel on boat? Sitting in his designated log boat with some hares and shrews, he noticed the oar which he was holding…
“Sir? Sir...Mister Shrew Sir? If you ‘ave a second-”
“M’names Fulkry. It’sa forbidden name in at least one shrew village.”
“S’lovely, Mister Fulkry. Are we...really going to be goin’ in this here boat?!”
“Heh heh! O’course!” Fulkry announced proudly. “Th’river Fluke be goin’ swift this day, in’the direction y’want too!”
Dolph’s eyes widened in horror. “How fast are we travellin’?!”
“...Oh, ho! Fast, matey? I think y’just angered th’river with that statement. Fast? Oh, you’ll see soon what ‘fast’ means, mate!”
Turning his head, he saw Eulalia not to far off, speaking to some shrew. Looking to the left, he saw Janine dragging her paw across the surface of the river. Looking to the right, he saw Fran yawn. None of them seemed daunted at all by the idea of going on a river. Paws shaking, he gripped the oar with all his might.
“‘Ey! Cut th’rope, will ya?”
“No! Please, No-”
Dolph’s blood curdling scream filled the air as the log boats raced through the current of the River Fluke. Immediately shrews and hares alike plunged their oars into the water, and began rowing the logboats with the huge force of an army. Eulalia especially enjoyed this; the roaring water splashing all over the boat, the newfound energy found, and the overall feel of adventure…
“Dolph! Start’ rowin’!” The badgermaid screamed over the din of a free river. “An’ stop yore yellin’!”
To her amusement, the hare’s face was a pale shade of green, on of his paw holding his stomach, the other trying hard to row with the others. Smirking, the badger resumed rowing with the others. She could see the enjoyment on the shrews’ faces. They controlled the rivers, but lived on the rivers as well. Racing forward, the logboats passed trees, rocks, and other landmarks as fast as lightning. Fulkry was right that the current was with them. Dolph definitely felt it. Looking over to the shrew next to him, he asked miserably, “When is this boat stoppin’?”
The shrew chuckled. “Heh, just a bit more, rabbit!”
“I’m a hare!” He screamed, ignoring the fact his stomach was aching. Grabbing his oar with both paws, he paddled with the others with as much force as he could; He needed to get off this boat soon!
Log-a-log, who was watching the young hare while he was rowing grinned slightly in amusement. “Well, looks like we’ll be there quicker than w’thought!”
Relieving himself at long last, Dolph fell flat on the ground, trying to catch his breath. Eulalia, who stood directly above him, smirked at her exasperated friend.
“Wasn’t that fun?”
Slowly rising, the male hare narrowed his, holding his stomach once more. “Shut up, Eulalia! Those were the worst moments of my life there! Y’know I ‘ave sea sickness!”
Interrupting the two abruptly, Yewdore announced, “Ahem! Well, thankee t’the shrews! If it we’rent for ye, we would’ve missed the bally conference! An’ nobeasts wants that...right?!”
Log-a-log rolled his eyes, his shrews pulling the logboats out of the water. “Ah, twas nothin’. If y’need ‘elp, jus ask!”
“I’d like to thank the shrews once more-”
“Yewdore! Let’s git on! South Jaw isn’t far now! Say goodbye, an’ lets go!” Sussana yelled, already wearing her haversack.
Blushing a bit, Yewdore shook Log-a-log’s paw with gusto, before picking up his own haversack, and joining the already leaving party of hares.
Log-a-log sighed. “Ah, gla they’re gone! Such a hassle!”
Fulkry laughed, watching the party leave. “Ha! The river fluke’s fast...Best thing I’ve e’er ‘eard!”
A brisk trot was all it took to make it to the Southern Jaw’s gate. It was a looming piece of architecture; built and fortified with metal and a smattering of strong wood. Iron bars criss-crossed over the gate, and a long wall of bricks grew from both of it’s sides. A hare guard stood at the gate, his posture perfectly straight.
Stepping forward, Yewdore put on his most somber expression. Sussana bit her lip while he spoke.
“We’re from th’West Forest Village, represented by Ezra Woodsorrel. Me an’ half o’my village have come t’spectate th’council.”
Taking out a long, worn parchment, the guard’s eyes scanned the paper, finally looking up after a few seconds. “Yewdore of the Western Forest Village, correct?” Yewdore nodded solemnly.
“H’open the gates!”
The gate screeched open after a burlier hare had come and opened them with effort. Wincing, Eulalia’s eyes widened in wonder as she witnessed what lay beyond the gate. Stepping forward, Dolph looked at her with amazement. So this was the place where councils were held, where officials spoke, and where war was stopped.
Yewdore smiled, pleased to see the enthusiasm present. “Aye. Welcome t’South Jaw!”
Cor stared proudly at his ship, The Golem. It was the stoat’s pride and joy. After seasons of trying to convince Peregrin to allow the ship to be built, the king finally gave into his friend’s protest. And so, The Golem was built.
Although not as big as it’s name suggested, the Golem did look impressive, amongst the thin, leisurely boats which lay. Looking at his companion, he pointed to the ship, his eyes gleaming like a dibbun.
“Well, is this is’er, Tolv!”
The Arrowspur chieftain acknowledged the vessel. He had seen better in his time, but it was best not to anger the stoat general. “Aye, t’sa beauty, she is!”
“Oh, I’ve been told, mucker!” Exclaimed Cor, almost about to throw an arm around his new fellow, though stopping immediately. Gazing at some servants loading cargo of food and supplies, he sighed, admiring his ship once more.
Tolv was growing slightly impatient. “When are we leavin’? My Tribe is gettin’sluggish…”
Cor shook his head, still smiling. “Well, Mate. First, those beasties y’see gotta ‘elp load th’Golem. She mebbe small, compared t’other boats, but I like ‘er just fine.” The Hedgehog was slowly becoming more and more tired of hearing about The Golem, and how superior she was. Seeking a way to clear his mind, Tolv started to walk away from the Stoat, his tone groggy, as if he was in dire need of a good nap.
“Well, y’can call if ye’need anythin-”
“General!” Cried out an old Harewife, her voice surprisingly shrill. “We’ve ‘innished the loadin’! She’s all set, f’travel!”
“Ha-Har! That’s Me Golem! Y’commin’, Tolv?”
Rubbing his eyes, Tolv turned around, plastering a smile onto his face. “Why wouldn’t I...mate?!” The sounded funny, coming out of the hedgehog’s mouth. However, he seemed confident in his newfound vocabulary, eager to show how he could match his stoat superior.
Slowly walking onto the ship, he was surprised to see how spotless the deck was; how shiny the mast was; how crisp and white the sail was. Wide eyed, he turned to Cor. “I’ve ne’er seen anythin’ like ‘er!”
Cor grinned, not afraid to show his teeth. “I told ‘ya!” He then turned away from Tolv, instead making his way toward the front of the ship. Winking at the hedgehog, he looked over to the ground, able to make out the figure of his daughter waving excitedly. He waved back to her, before finally standing straight, ready to give his command.
“Alright! Let’s get this o’er with! Lett’er go!”
Tolv could feel his stomach lurch as the vessel was set into motion. It began moving slowly, the Golem, but as the steersbeast began to grasp the motion of steering, the ship’s speed increased gradually.
The Hedgehog chieftain was always a land dweller; He lived on the earth for most of his life, and hardly stepped aboard a ship without second thought. Regretting his decision, he looked over to Cor, who was still standing firmly on the deck, a bright grin still on his face. The stoat general resembled a deliriously happy dibbun.
“Hm? Ah, Tolv, me mate! Y’enjoyin’ the fresh wat’r in ya spikes?”
“Ugh….’Ow long till we get there?!”
“Shut yore whimperin’!” Screamed Acca, Tolv’s warrior-like wife. The Chieftain groaned; he had forgotten Acca would be hear. Looking over to her, he noticed his wife was already set for the raid. She was equipped head to foot paw; Daggers, a bow and arrows, a sword, a club.
“Acca! M’darlin’, yore ‘ere?!”
“Course I am! Wouldn’t miss this raid for th’world!”
“Oh...Hm? Why? Why are y’so exited t’kill?”
“Cos those ‘uns…” Acca looked at her husband sternly, her eyes reflecting a murky, dark thunder storm, “...doncha know?! Y’know wot they did?!”
“Stow th’chatter, mates.” Answered a young rat named Orffle, who pointed to General Cor. “Cor’s worried. Lookit those storm clouds ‘up h’ead.” Orffle pointed skyward, worry obvious in his tone. The once cerulean blue sky was surrounded by the oily grey clouds; bad luck indeed.
Tolv nodded sagely. “Aye. Bad weather is indeed a’commin’...’Ow long ‘til we make it though?”
Orffle began to cackle, amussed by Tolv’s question.
“Hehe! Y’ll ‘no when we come!”
Uncertain of his motifs, Aderyc supposed that he ought to go get the key for the prisoner.
The Kestrel thought the conversation over a few times. A weasel had commanded the bird to go get a key, for their very own use. Perhaps this was a trap. Cocking his head, Aderyc pondered whether or not it was a good idea.
“What?! What?!” the kestrel screeched, noticing the fat arrow lodged in the tree in which he was perching. Looking downward, his eyes widened in fright.
It was the stoatmaid!
Her eyes were glittering, her mouth pulled into some monstrous grin. In her paws where a bow and arrow, pointing at the bird.Filled with terror and fright, Aderyc scrambled up in the air, his wings flapping panically. Dodging a nearby tree, he zipped through the cold wind, watching the predator with a careful eye. Letting loose yet another arrow, Aderyc could feel the fear crawling up his wings.
“Come back ‘ere, Pretty boy!” The stoat screamed, once again aiming an arrow at the Kestrel. Once again, she missed, due to the dazed flying which the bird unleashed. Gritting her teeth, she held her stance, fitting another arrow into her bow. The bird was her rival; the bird was her proof!
Swooping to the side, Aderyc Managed to find sanctuary from the utter nightmare. The flying arrows; the malicious vermin...It was all too real.
Sliding to the side, the kestrel finally found a suitable perch. it was on the great stone fortress, the same fortress where he met Vaska the Weasel Prisoner. In the corner of his eye, he saw that one of the windows was open, presumably to let a cold breeze in. Fluttering over, he finally let out a long awaited sigh of relief. he was safe. Looking around, he admired the rustic, neat arrangement of the room. Although it was cold and grim, the little fire in the corner cheered the room up immensely. However, it wasn’t the fire which impressed the Ketrel the most; it was the wall which he was directly facing. the wall was covered with keys; Keys to rooms, Keys to the gate, Keys to the Prison…
That was it! Keys to the Prison! The Kestrel’s mind set to work immediately.
Evening had passed since The Golem had left The Northlands. Although he didn’t want to admit it; Tolv Arrowspur was beginning to enjoy the feel of travelling the great river Fleux. He was surprised to see how wide and long the actual river was, and spent a good time peering off into the clear, calm waters.
Orffle the rat had spent quete some time next to Tolv; educating him in seafaring and that sort of talk. The Hedgehog was impressed with the young rat’s knowledge. He was even starting to appreciate Orffle’s company.
“Ah, Orffle me matey...I wouldn’t mind tradin’ me wife for a ship...tis a nice life...bein’ a sailor.”
However, Orrfle wasn't listening. instead, he was throwing on some leather armor and stowing a few daggers in his belt. “It ain’t all fun an’ games, mate. We’re near the village...real near, I ment. best you start strappin’ up.”
Facing the rat, the hedgehog let out a long sigh. “Oh, that time already? I was starting to like the cruise...But I do suppose I wasn’t sent t’enjoy somthin’...Tell me, how big is th’village?”
“I hear it’s big. Real big.” Orffle Explained, polishing a lethal looking dirk. “We came ‘ere cos it’s big. If we take it down, then dats a point t’ward Ol’ Lord peregrin. An’ dats a good thing.”
Tolv raised an eyebrow. “You do seem t’like yore king, now.”
The rat grinned. “O’course! Peregrin is like a’pop t’us! Me mother tells me ‘twas ‘ee who gave us vermin a chance. We o’course rewarded ‘im with our power. He doesn’t look down on us like those...those...Southern Scum!”
Cor’s voice echoes through the Golem, his tone Confident. “Alright, muckers! We’re close t’the village! Stow all noise, an’ halt th’ ship!”
With a lurching halt, The Golem stopped dead in it’s tracks. After a few moments, however, it started up once more, this time much more slowly and silently. Flowing into a nearby marshy patch a good distance away from the village, The vessel halted once more, this time for good. Tolv Examined his surroundings; The Water had turned a rather greenish color; not a very pleasant sight. Plant life seemed abundant in these parts, and water plants seemed to seek shelter in this part of the River. It was rather obvious the event of a flood had caused the marsh to be formed. Cor Hopped out, already set with his longsword and armor. He signalled for some hares and vermin to come out, and cover the ship with plantlife and green. They were the ones to stay behind and defend the ship; if needed.
Brandishing a huge club and a dirk, Tolv joined his Wife, who had decided to donn warpaint for the occasion, Silently, they led their tribe from the ship onto the strip of land which Cor had been standing on. The stoat general looked Grimly at the soldiers who have left the ship. He signaled silence, and then pointed north. Everybeast nodded. The message was clear.
They first started marching...then sprinting. Nobeast paid attention to each other; no Beast realizing the sudden darkness of the sky. All they noticed was the pale white dot in the distant horizon...until it was getting closer. Cor narrowed his eyes, already drawing out his weapon. He saw it now. It was huge. It was the Shrew Village.
It was to be destroyed.
They began moving faster; adrenaline pulsing through their veins. Tolv could hear his heart pound through his chest. Orffle could feel the thrill of battle coursing through his body. As they travelled, Cor stopped abruptly. The shrew Village was in plain sight now. He could see the life forms moving about. He could see what Peregrin saw.
Thrusting his sword Skyward, The Northern battle cry ripped from the stoat’s throat as his forces charged.
“To The Dark Forest!”
Dolph had been gazing at the window for some time. He winced a bit from the bright sunlight protruding from the deep purple clouds of dawn. Glancing down, he watched his quill swoop and glide over the parchment, resembling the honorable oak which stood before his eyes outside the window. He then began on the little tent-shops; some rectangular, others having a more curved exterior.
The hare had always found peace in sketching. It always had a sort of air of tranquility surrounding it, as if It could calm even the most dark of hearts. He followed up, eying the clouds which were beginning to recede. He regretted not bringing any paint with him. He would have to deal with a black and white picture.
“Good Mornin’, Dolph!”
Instantly turning around, The hare laughed nervously. “Good mornin’ t’ya to, Janine. Whatcha doin’ this early?”
The younger of the two siblings gazed quizzically at the picture Dolph had been drawing. “I dunno. Whatcha you doin’ this early?”
“I was just drawin’ a landscape…” Shyly, he raised his parchment up for Janine to see. Her eyes shined brightly.
“Gee!” She whispered in wonder. “That’sa really good ‘un! Didja really draw it?!”
Dolph was feeling rather proud at that moment. “Ahem...Well, I suppose I did.”
Suddenly invigorated, Janine dashed upstairs, perhaps going there to fetch something.
Dolph sighed, taking a moment to admire his stay. While the group had been searching through the South Jaw to find an in; they stumbled upon a rather large, wooden building, belonging to a homely looking Watervole family. Exhausted; the group rented about 3 rooms; each with three beds. Some slept double, while others simply took to the ground. Eulalia volunteered to sleep in a comfortable-looking chair in the reception room.
Dolph himself had slept on the floor. His back had ached for a good while now; the pain slowly receding. He woke up a good few hours before the others had officially; taking the time to perhaps rest. He looked at his surroundings. It was a homely place, the inn. The actul building was made of wood along with a stone base. Many tables had been set in the reception room, along with three or more chairs surrounding them. Perfect for those visiting others. Multiple pictures were hung on the walls, as if to bring some sort of amiable atmosphere to the inn. The Watervole family had already risen, and acknowledged Dolph’s existence. They had brought him breakfast, which he had devoured in an instant, returning immediately to his sketch.
He looked over his shoulder, seeing his Older Sister being dragged along by Janine. Fran was still in her nightgown, obviously not pleased to be dragged out of bed. Rubbing her eyes, she groaned, trying to adjust to the sunlight. “What is it, Janine? I wanna go back t’bed now...Oh Dolph! How Lovely!”
The young male hare blushed, unaccustomed to being praised for his art. Fran looked at it approvingly, grabbing the parchment and comparing it to the scenic overview depicted outside the window.
“Hm...S’a good picture, as i said before. I say y’keep it, for a gift or somethin’. Say for Mother…”
Janine nodded enthusiastically. “Or for Papa!”
Dolph smiled at his two sisters, gingerly taking the picture back and placing it on a nearby table. “Thank ye. I’ll give it t’mother or father, if any of ‘em are ever down a notch or somethin’...It’s mainly just a memoir f’me...but I do suppose I could give it t’them..” He then looked down, having a need to recollect his thoughts. Shrugging, Both sisters headed back upstairs, seeing if there was still time for a quick nap.
Eulalia couldn’t believe she was so far from home. She had awakened later than the rest, awaken from a stern slap from her foster mother across the face. She stil fealt rather fatigued. After eating a brisk breakfast at the inn, The group had paid their sum and set off for the the hall in which the meeting would be held.
Little talk could be heard from the actual group, though the South Jaw was bustling with life. Eulalia noticed how the majority were hares, with a bit of other species peppered in there. Regardless, action was everywhere. Merchants and stalls lined the gravel paths, each trying to persuade the buyers to buy more than they actually need. A robbery was taking place, and overall talking filled everybeast’s ears. It seemed as if there was a lot to talk about, which there was.
The meeting area was the most radiant building Eulalia had ever seen. Smooth, polished stone made the exterior of the building, and glittering glass took the form of windows. The building was tall; massive, in fact. The badger heard the whimsical whispering of the younger travelers, each dazed by the colossal, powerful beauty of the meeting area.
It seemed as if every single eye opened the moment the group from the West Forest Village entered the huge gathering. In the center of the large hall was a long, rectangular table, obviously meant for conference. Around the table where steps; sitting areas for a potential crowd. Light flooded from the crystal windows on the undescribable number of hares. It was as if every single hare in the South had come to attend.
Eulalia could feel nauseous build up in her stomach. She felt as if every single hare attending was watching her; setting her aside. However, she shook this off. She was a badger; the most noble of beasts. She strode with her group as they finally found an empty section of seating in the far back. As they climbed under the strict command of Yewdore, each hare’s head turned over to catch sight of Eulalia; to see the famed badger. She simply stood, waiting to be seated. In the end, she ended up sandwiched in between Janine and Fran. Fran seemed rather bored, as if she wanted to leave. Janine looked as if she could jump straight from her seat. The trio remained silent, until a parade of important looking figures made their way toward the rectangular table.
Her eyes flickered in recognition. The tall, lanky hare which sat in the far right side of the table, it was Ezra Woodsorrel. He looked unkempt; his jacket was wrinkled and half opened, and his fur was tousled all over his head. He looked miserable. Eulalia suddenly felt ashamed.
All eyes were on the pair of otters who had joined the four leaders of the South. The Male Otter seemed friendly enough; He wore a simple blue tunic and a shell necklace. He held no sort of visible weapon and sat down with a warm smile. The Female Otter, on the other hand, was exactly the opposite. Instead of a tunic, she clad a full set of armor, shimmering like it was washed recently. When she took off her fearsome horned helmet, a large X-shaped scar decorated her right cheek. She held a menacing battle axe, her eyes cold as she sat next to her fellow otter. The room fell silent.
The Meeting Begun.
A plump, frazzled hare in a smart green hat with a white feather spoke first. “Skipper Loccan, What are your stands on the war? What are you doing about it?”
The Young Skipper replied calmly, his smile gone. “My Wife Marge is training our army extensively. We’re preparing for an attack of any sort.”
“From which side?” Asked the Plump hare, known as Grellor Thistledown, Representative of the southern part of the South.
“From any side!” Cried out the Armored Otter.
The hares look disgruntled, Gellor Thistledown looking disappointed. However, the North Representative looked hopeful, as he questioned, “What are your stands on th’Northerners Attackin’, Hm?”
Loccan shrugged. “Might ‘appen soon. Dunno if th’King realizes us as a threat, though. Their rather unpredictable, in me opinion. First peace, then a massacre. Perhaps another massacre, followed by a long stream of battle...then a sudden halt. Y’know what i mean, Sir Uriel Swiftback.”
The hare considered this before speaking again. “The North wants full control. If case you’ve forgotten, when The Northern Monarchy was busy beatin’ the life out each other, Usn’s took advantage by Attackin’ a good piece of land an’ takin’ it. Though this was once, th’North was outraged...an’ King Gyreth signalled a long string of attacks. Seasons later, we declared War...If th’hares are taken, shouldn't the otters be too? Otters are minorities, aren’t they, to the Northerners?”
The armored otter looked enraged from this notion, shooting up from her seat like an arrow. “What makes ya think you don’t look down on us? I’ll kill ya with me axe in a second, Hare!”
Loccan glared at her. “Marge, dear.” The otter known as Marge sat down immedietly, red rushing to her face. The Skipper then took his turn to speak. “We otters are strong, in case y’didn’t hear Commander Marge Ranpike. We could ‘andle a few attack…’Ow large is th’Northerner’s army?”
Ezra Woodsorrel snorted, “Wot kinda question is ‘that? ‘Course a ‘ingdom full o’Soldiers!” Uriel Swiftback glared at the messy hare, before giving a much more polite answer towards the two otters. “If our scouts say so c’rectly, then I say ‘round 15,000 soldiers…”
Grellor looked over at the colossal crowd behind him, observing how tentatively they were listening. Turning back, the old hare adopted a casual tone. “We didn’ come ‘ere t’discuss how many soldiers the northerners ‘ave, eh? We came t’talk ‘bout plans. First course o’Action?” Uriel stood from his seat suddenly. “I say we attack! We’re in prime time to attack, an’ they won’t expect an attack so swiftly, eh? Eh?”
The East Representative, Prich Braebuck shook his head. “T’may work. But our army is rather tired at th’moment. Not enough power, not enough rest. We’d be easily outmatched, s’pecially with our army ready t’fall dead snorin’.”
“Perhaps a Nautical expedition?”
“Are y’out of y’mind, Lord Woodsorrel?! Isn’t it obvious th’Northerners control the waves?”
Marge rolled her eyes. “Don’ f’get ‘bout th’shrews and h’otters, mates. Squirrels’ll ‘elp as well, if ye be lookin’ for numbers.”
“An’ we ain’t.” Murmured Gellor, instead turning the attention to a rather large map which faced the crowd and table. It was newly made, one could assume from the fresh parchment it was made on. Vibrant colors leaped from the map, and heavy lines served as the main border between the North and South.
“Lissen up!” Gellor Thistledown cried, pointing to the map. He was still sitting, unlike Uriel, who was still standing, his eyes as wide as plates. The plump Southern representative managed a small grin at his comrade. “Our best bet is an attack on th’ground, agreed?”
“Agreed.” All three remaining hares showed their approval of the notion. Skipper Loccan and Marge simply stood back, feeling they had no right to speak with the hares.
“”eres me notion, buckoes. Lissen well, now. We send a few companies out there t’attack the northerners. Should wear ‘em down, ya know. After their seemingly tired, we send a bigger company...perhaps a division over to attack ‘em. We send ‘em over to th’west, where their flanked by large groves o’wood an’ such. Then we attack. Ezra Woodsorrel’ll lead a surprise attack through th’forrest towards the back o’the army. If anythin’, we’ll send some naval reinforcements through th’Fluke...Mayhaps the Shrews.”
Marge snorted. “Shrews? H’everbeast knows that ‘Olt Ranpike rules the waters!” This comment was largely ignored, however.
“I must say, Thistledown,” Prich remarked. “S’a good plan. Y’got a bit ‘o brain in yore ol’ skull! Now, I do Think th’attack through the woods is a jolly good resort. Th’ western forests be especially dense, right Ezra?”
Ezra Woodsorrel shook his head furiously, as if trying to wake himself up from a comfortable map. “What was th’question again?...Oh, Sorry Chaps. Yes, our woods are...rather compact, so t’say. No-hare knows our woods like ourselves, doncha know.” “Your going t’need some reinforcements from both sides o’th’river.” Skipper loccan Intervened. “Best we get t’a place where there aren’t any tributaries. There, th’shrews can take on side o’ th’river, while Ranpike can take th’other side. That way, If th’Northerners Want t’get away, they won’t.”
Uriel Snorted. “That’s all Fine an’ Dandy. Only Grellor Fancies th’Army t’be on our side. Only one nautical unit needed, otter. Now, What makes ya think that th’Northern Division is gunna be a big one, Thistledown?”
The Plump hare freezed in his seat, realizing he hadn’t thought about that. He calmed down relatively quickly then, formulating an answer. “Well, Swiftback, I’ll be sendin’ me scouts an’ speis. T’sa relatively age honored strategy, so t’say.”
“What makes ya think th’Northerners aren’t spyin’?” Prich Braebuck piped up.
“I say we kill every hare who isn’t notified who we see. Whenever some chap comes over, we ask ‘im his bally name. if it ain’t recognized, we slash ‘im!”
“Wise words, Woodsorrel!” Uriel mocked. “What ‘appens when it’s a poor harewife tryin’ t’get some vittles for ‘er family? We slash ‘er?”
The room exploded in argument amongst the four hares. The onlookers looked at each other nervously, not sure who was saying what and what was being said. Each protest sparked another, and out burst another. After a few moments, the room was deafening, each one trying to outdo the other.
“Silence, ye fools!”
It was as silent as a cemetery. All eyes were on the Armored Otter, who was standing square on her footpaws, looking at the hares with a disgusted look in her eye.
“Lookit yeh!” She called out, adopting a harsh, loud tone of voice. “I should be ashamed I’ve come t’sit with such barbarians! T’sit in such civil manner...Is that notion gone? Where is your civility, so-called ‘leaders’. Where is your mannerisms? Show them t’me! Show ‘em!” Not one beast said a word. Marge Ranpike wore a face of triumph, like she had just experienced a victorious battle.
“Let us converse in peace. We speak of war, yet our purpose is peace. We strive for babes to walk safely on the land. We strive for two hares to converse amiably.” She then sat down, signalling the end of her point.
Prich raised any eyebrow. “Skipper Loccan. Back t’what we where sayin’...The alliance?”
Uriel Nodded, Staring harshly at the pair of Holt Ranpike otters. “Aye. Spit it out already, will ya? If y’do, Th’armys won’t be combined, though th’leaders will collaborate, as expected.”
Loccan smiled. “I have thought about this for a while now. I’ve discussed with others, an’ we’ve come to a consensus.”
He then stood up, Marge following suite. He looked back, and graciously bowed his head before giving his final answer.
“I’m sorry, But the decision is final. No. We will not become allies, for the time being.”
Marge sneered. “Can’t trust a beast these seasons…”
And thus, the two otters left the gathering hall. Marge carefully placed her helmet on her head before departing, not even thinking of looking back. Loccan sighed as he left, leaving the hares to themselves. Now was not the time. Now where the seasons of blood. Now where the seasons of war.
Most hares had left the meeting after the failed alliance. Though the four leaders continued to speak, the onlookers slowly began to trickle out, feeling an urge to return home.
Yewdore sighed, as he led his flabbergasted village away from the large meeting hall, shaking his head disapprovingly. He had urged his fellow hares to stay longer, wanting to show the four leaders how supportive he was of their cause. “Twas a disaster, twas.” He murmured, not feeling supportive in the slightest.
Eulalia found it necessary to intervene in her foster father’s lament. “Why did we have t’get out so soon?”
“T’isn’t nice to watch somethin’ bad ‘appen to another one, isn’t it?” Sussana snapped, feeling a bit more angry than her husband.
“Where are we going to stay, though? I had a quick look around, y’know, an’ every bloomin’ inn is taken!” Shouted a male hare who was a part of the Western Caravan.
Yewdore seemed to cheer up a bit. “Well, I suppose we could stay with th’shrews we where with earlier. They seem rather gracious….tell ‘em a bit o’what happened.” Every hare agreed with this decision, knowing that there was time until the evening.
The trek towards the Shrew Village was a silent one. After stocking up on supplies from the various shops, the group made their way out of the South Jaw, and once again following the path of the River Fluke. Luckily for them, Sussana had an excellent memory, though they did have to occasionally peer at the map. Eulalia turned toward Dolph as they were walking, wiping her brow with a paw. “Sad t’see the alliance turned up, eh?”
Dolph nodded, staring intently forward. “Aye. Didja see th’one Skipper called Marge? A real warrior, she is.”
The Badgermaid caught her breath, looking up at the sky. She knew today was a bad day, a bad for the southern land. For some reason her heart sank; perhaps it was the receding hope, perhaps it was that she couldn’t do anything. Perhaps it was because of how Gruff the Otter was...The Otter who seemed to chat casually with battles and sit serenely in the midst of war.
“I had a dream-” However, before Eulalia could continue, A shrill scream erupted from nowhere. The group stopped dead in their tracks, much to Yewdore’s annoyance, who only walked faster.
“What if some beast is in trouble, chaps?! Get a move on, will ye?”
They moved faster and faster, trying to keep up with the eccentric pace of the old hare in front of them. Eulalia coud feel her heart hammer. She could see some strange dark cloud billow straight ahead. How odd...it wasn’t raining, she thought. Only until she took a whiff of the air that she could pick up a slight trace...a slight trace of what may have caused the cloud.
“Yewdore! There’s a fire!”
However, her foster father was nowhere to be seen. He had ran straight out of the group’s eyesight. Knowing that danger was straight ahead, Eulalia pushed her way out of the group, going as swiftly as her footpaws could take her. SHe bit her lips, looking behind her to see the group slowly and slowly receding. She had to find her father...She had to warn of what was ahead.
“Eulalia! Slow Down!”
This time, Eulalia couldn’t hear what was being said. She was so intent on finding the source of the cloud, the source of the fire. She had found her Father standing alone near the banks of the FLuke river. She ran up to him, a bit of sweat on her brow, breathing deeply from all the running she had done.
“Yewdore, I think there maybe a-” Once again, she was cut off. But not by a scream.
But by a memory, not to far away. An old journal entry, burned by a fireplace.
Yewdore gulped. “Aye. I know.”
It was the shrew village. Or perhaps, what was the shrew village. Eulalia could feel her throat go dry and tears welling up in her eyes. It was ruined; burned to a crisp. What was once a lovely shrew village, known to warm anybeast’s heart.
It was gone. All stolen, all destroyed by the Rage of the North. Bodies were strewn everywhere, some with only an arrow or slash, some too overwhelming for Eulalia to even comprehend. Buildings burnt with the very fire which cooked a child’s breakfast...Perhaps the most haunting was the body of the Shrew Wife who served Eulalia’s breakfast. Perhaps the most haunting was the bodies of the young shrew babes; poised so tranquilly as if they were asleep.
Perhaps the most haunting was the Little Shrew Maid, her body shaking with each sob. Perhaps the most haunting was the flower crown on her head, still fresh amongst the burnt bodies of her loved ones.
She looked up, wondering if the death angel had come for her already. She gulped, trying her best to stop crying…
The Fire...The Murder...The Blood...The Sword…
Her vision clouded, as fat tears made their way down the young shrew’s face. She couldn’t stop looking; looking at the dead body of her father. She wanted to wake him up. She wanted him to wake up and tell her it was just a dream.
Her father wouldn’t be waking up, though.
“Daisy…” The Shrew couldn’t make herself turn around, her heart to heavy.
She felt herself being swept up in an embrace. At first she didn’t recognize who the best was. However, she didn’t resist the gesture, instead shaking from unshed tears.
Eulalia slowly set Daisy down, the badger looking sadly at the shrew before her. She seemed so radiant before they had left. Her eyes seemed to glisten like jewels before they left. Now they were as dull as stones. The Badgermaid knew why.
“What Happened?” Eulalia could feel her paw twitch, trying hard to focus on the speaker. She then turned around, only to be greeted by little Janine; tears welling up in her eyes. She shook her head, the haremaid dashing to her Older Sister. Eulalia wished she could run away as well.
“W...Well,” Daisy stuttered, feeling a hole present in her body. She felt like a part of her was missing...She wanted to run away. “Mama told me t’run...t’hide with th’others….I...I was...I wassa lost...I saw Papa...he pushed me away and screamed...and yelled go.”
“Then...Then…” The Shrewmaid was sobbing once more, her words intertwined with her weeping. Eulalia had to wince. “...I hid with th’others...Big Weasel didn’t find me...Papa!” The Shrewmaid’s body was shaking from her weeps, fat tears rolling off her cheeks, each of her cries tearing at her heart.
Eulalia let Daisy weep; it was the one way the child could seek vengeance...seek revenge. It pained the Badger how she could do nothing...How the village was burned to crisps and How babes didn’t get a chance to dream.
She slowly stood up, her head turned away from Daisy. The shrewmaid wept on, recalling the horror which she had witnessed. “Papa was covered,....was covered in red sticky water!”
“Papa won’t wake up!”
The Badgermaid went over to a dead figure, a huge, grotesque gash running down his chest. Fresh blood oozed from the wound, staining the once handsome shrew’s fur red. It was Log-a-Log; for only he would have the courage to take such a wound to the heart. He was still wearing his green bandana. Gently untying it, Eulalia pressed the fabric on her paw. It was clean, surprisingly. No speck of blood had made it there. She then turned to Daisy; the Shrew not daring look up, her chest bobbing up and down, synchronizing with her cry.
“Daisy.” With a shiver, the badgermaid slowly removed the flower crown off the shrewmaid’s head. Eulalia then took the green cloth she had taken from the father, and wrapped it around the daughter’s head carefully. “Promise me you’ll be a good leader. For Papa.”
The shrewmaid looked up a bit, her eyes lines with fresh tears. Her response was nothing more than a mere whisper, looking down at the flowercrown which had been taken away from her.
“For Mama...Papa...Lily...Rosie….Buttercup…Poppy...” Daisy went on, whispering the names of her family.
Yewdore inspected the village, his eyes widened and whiskers quivering slightly. “By my hat...Lookit this place?! Are there any survivors?” Looking around, the old hare cursed silently. He saw little to no shrew life present, save for young Daisy. “Hellgates! Each an’ every one of ye! Look around! Scout the area!”
Each and every hare dispersed, scouring the burnt area to see if there were any remnants of what the village originally represented. Dolph could feel a clear liquid trickled down his face. He could feel his throat go dry as he witnessed a familiar strip of land. The land he had once slept on...now ruined. No amount of water could ever moisten the dry soil.
A bit of wood had fallen onto the area; Debris from a burnt building of some sort. Stooping down, the male hare, latched onto the wood, heaving it up with as much force as he could muster. Luckily for him, it was a rather light board, Dolph managing to move it over without much effort.
“Y’lookin’ for refuges, eh?”
Dolph spun around, surprised to see the shrew behind him. Stepping back a bit, his breath got caught in his throat, as he tried to question his vision.
“Are there more of you? What happened...I know there was an invasion...but who?”
The Shrew shook his head, wiping a bit of sweat and blood off his forehead. “Twas the Vermin an’ Hogs. General Cor an’ the Arrowspurs, methinks. More of us are gathered at th’cave. Twas the only safe zone...crammed with shrews. Unbearable...Y’got a leader o’some sort?”
Dolph nodded grimly. “Aye. Shall I take him t’ye?”
The shrew only peered skyward; watching the somber clouds slowly recede from sight. He sighed, not daring to look at the earth. Though it was solid reminder of what was to come, the Shrew still held onto a bit of hope. Hope of a better life. Alas, Summer was near.
Yewdore looked around critically at the cave, his eyes pondering on how such honorable beasts could bear to live in such conditions. The Space was cramped, the Air Holes where tight, Beasts were a plenty, and food was meagre. He had to admit the cave was in a clever spot; right behind a good patch of trees and shrubbery as well as not being too far from the River Fluke.
There were around fifteen shrews who survived; Including young Daisy and the Shrew Dolph had met. All looked hungry, and stared longingly at the sack Sussana carried. The survivors were also in need of a bath.
Pacing back and forth, Yewdore asked, “What exactly happened? We need a whole story, doncha know.”
A gamey female was the one who retold what had happened. She wiped her face with her apron, and then spoke. “Twas a normal day in th’place. Log-a-log was trainin’ some reqruits, an’ we where all ready ta have a meal. Then th’sky turned black, an’ the vermin came first. Log-a-log wasn’t scared; said t’was only an invasion t’strike fear. Me mother told me ta hide with me brother....Then th’hogs came. Was Madness...Their numbers grew an’ grew, an’ more an’ more beasts slowly trickled in from all places. Soon, they outnumbered us...I saw me ol’ brother an’ mother die. We all hurried t’hide; some not as quick as us, an’ they didn’t make it t’the cave. They hided nearby, though I s’pect they where killed off or mebbe lost. Some of us died in ‘ere as well; A few went t’the back, and th’back collapsed on ‘em...Liddle Daisy came runnin’ out once she thought they where gone...We thinks she’s good as dead.”
Eulalia stepped forward, speaking in a hushed tone. “Daisy’s alive...She’s mournin’ her family.”
The Shrew who Dolph had met gasped. “Log-a-log...dead? Well, I ne’er…’ Every beast present fell silent, Memories flooding back to them of the shrew Chieftain.
“Should we go bury the lost. Ts’only right we pay ‘em back.” Dolph suggested, holding Janine’s paw. Even the little hare was becoming misty eyed. Dolph then realized that this was the first time Janine had seen war.
This was the first time he had seen war.
A good few hours had passed, and the stars had once again risen to reclaim the sky. Both Hare and Shrew worked hard to bury the deceased; cleaning the wounds and covering their bodies with whatever fabric was near. Each grave was marked with a slab of wood; the name of the dead written on the marker with ink. Flowers were then placed in front of the grave. Daisy placed a flower for each of her sisters respective to their names. The young shrew maid placed a daisy on Log-a-log’s grave, a few tears shed on the ground in which her father lay.
Yewdore sighed, stepping back to honor the rows of markers. It was indeed a somber sight. The stars had just arrived; each white speck glittering like a tear. Even the moon had arrived to honor the fallen.
Fran gulped, her voice quivering slightly. “It’s best we...send ‘em off with a song, huh? I dunno ‘bout y’shrews, but us Hares always sing at a beast;s grave.” She looked over at the surviving shrews, looking to see if they approved. The oldest of the survivors nodded slightly but surely.
“Y’know th’song ‘Flowers by th’hut’, right?” This question was met with multiple nods and agreements. Taking a deep breath, Fran began singing in a slow, hushed tone. Soon, others had joined in.
Flowers by the ol’ worn hut
Blossom in the early spring
And with that I know your journey is hard
Though I hope you’ll find you believe
I know you yearn for the Autumn morn
Let your pain slowly leave With that I promise I’ll remember you and close my heart with a seam
Your Laugh, your smile, your everyday walk
Why did you leave us like this? And though You think us strong, to cope with this loss Truly you’ve let the earth remiss
Remember the sunny days that you lived Your memory will not ever wane
And with love, and tears, and thoughts, and hope
I hope that I’ll see you again
Night had already settled into the Village, The Opalescent moon gazed from above; providing a stream of light onto the gathered creatures. Yewdore looked around, realizing that the darkness had already spread. He turned to one fo the older shrews, his voice softer than usual.
“Is it alright that y’chaps let us stay with ye for one more night? We ‘ave vittles an’ blankets, if y’need any.”
There was a unanimous agreement. “Aye.” Agreed the older shrew. “If theres anythin’ we all need, t’sa bit ‘o rest.”
Everybeast settled into the grass in order to try and fall asleep. However, Eulalia couldn’t find sleep at the moment. She was still haunted by the little shrewmaid crying when she first entered the burned village. Daisy was sound asleep; her father’s green bandana still wrapped onto her head. Slowly, The badgermaid rose. A quick look around wouldn’t cause any harm.
Every stall; building; area; Burnt. The hares and shrews were lucky to have a small patch of grass remaining. Even the grounds where scorched; much to the dismay of future farmers. Nevertheless, the Badgermaid continued her short trek around the once densely populated village.
Spotting a Hare nearby, Eulalia dashed to see who it was. To her surprise, It was Dolph, gazing at the stars. She ran up next to him, already initiating a conversation.
“Why are you up so late, Dolph? Aren’t you a bit tired?”
Dolph raised an eyebrow, his voice but a whisper in order to prevent waking up another beast. “I should ask you th’same thing...What an awful thing th’shrews had t’live by. I couldn’t imagine livin’ through that.”
“Dolph, we live in times of war. We’re goin’ t’have to face it sooner or later...Say. Earlier, I had this strange dream. I was fightin’ some beast, an’ then I saw this light an’ blacked out.”
The Hare’s eyes widened. “A light? Now that I recall, I had a similar dream. I saw a light, then blacked out…”
The two friends then remained silent for the remainder of the night, pondering their strange dreams. Was it a sign of Destiny? Both beasts were baffled, though chose not to speak, Instead focusing on the present moment, and not to much on what was to come.
It had been a long day. Peregrin could feel the effects take a toll on him already, though he knew that he still had business to attend too. Snatching a quill, he then examined a nearby map. The village he ordered to be destroyed should have been annihilated by now...The entire south should have been annihilated by now!
Frustrated, the King flung the piece of paper away, though it only managed to slowly drift onto the ground. He shook his head, placing a paw to his weary brow. Something was troubling the King’s mind.
“Brulda!” He called out sharply. “Fetch me my daughter!”
The old Harewife, who had been arranging a few volumes on a nearby shelf, immediately jumped. She wasn’t expecting a direct order from her lord at this time. “Yes, m’lord? Princess Johanna?”
“Yes. It’s about time I discussed with her.”
Bowing sharply, the old hare maid rushed off to find the young heir to the Northern Kingdom, leaving Peregrin alone for a moment.
Much to the King's amazement, Brulda returned sooner than he had expected, with young Johanna trailing close behind. Squinting, the elder hare noticed a tight cloth wrapped around his daughter’s paw, a portion stained red. Of course she was roughhousing; but was she really that immature?
“Brulda, you may leave now.”
The Hare wife nodded sharply, her voice brisk and alert. “Thank you, m’lord.” And she left, leaving the small family alone for a moment.
“Johanna,” Peregrin began, his eyes narrowing. “Sit down. Explain your wound.”
The younger hare blushed sheepishly as she did as she was told. “Well, me an’ Haze were doin’ archery practice, an’ one of th’ arrows went a bit ‘f target, y’see.”
The old king sighed. He reached over to a bottle resting on a table near his seat, pouring the contents into a crystal glass. He motioned a second glass towards his daughter, seeing that the glass’s capacity was rather small. “Elderberry?” She shook her head, shrinking back from the stench.
He took a sip before beginning. “I’m glad t’see that yore active an’ fightin’. A queen has got t’hold ‘er grounds. Just...don’t you think yore a bit to preoccupied with this? Yore gonna be a wife soon; a queen. Shouldn’t y’be readin’ and studyin’?”
“I know that, Father...I haven’t had time-”
“You haven’t had time because yore playin’ with arrows! Put ‘em down, and begin yore studies. I will not have a fool for a queen.”
Johanna sighed, trying her best to hide her wound within the folds of her dress. Disappointed, she inquired, “Have y’called me t’speak of my...marriage?”
“You think yore young...you think y’still have youth in yore bones.” Peregrin set aside his drink, his eyes cold and clear, like a frosty eve. “I’d be more at ease if you’d be cleanin’ with th’maids! Even that could result in valuable skills. See Brulda?”
“Please father, don’t go off topic.”
“Very well then, if yore so wise. The point is yore set t’be married. Wed. You aught to find some young buck before long. I’ve found a few volunteers-”
She cringed at the sentence, toying with the bandage. Accidentally nudging the skin underneath it, she opened the wound, a flood of red liquid already making it’s way to the thin cloth. She winced in pain, her father noticing immediately.
“An’ this is why you don’t play with arrows. Do I make myself clear?” Peregrin took a final swig of his glass, setting the thing down on a table.
“Now. Your marriage.”
“And with which principality are we joining with again?” Johanna couldn't help but ask with a tinge of sarcasm. She was less than thrilled to finally be speaking of the dreaded topic. “Perhaps with a Southerner-”
“No!” Peregrin roared, striking the table nearby with his fist. “I will not have my daughter marry some low level scum! I will not stoop to that point of humility!”
Johanna grimaced, used to this sort of behavior. “Then who?”
Calming his nerves, Peregrin grabbed for another glass of wine, drinking the contents in a single gulp. “You’re gettin’ married to an elite young buck in our own Country. We can’t risk having a king who isn’t loyal to his country. National pride is key here! A fellow who is skilled in the arts of war, in case that I don’t end this war.”
“Your marrying me to one of your generals?-”
“Your highness!” A raspy voice erupted from the halls outside the chamber. Rising, Peregrin had yet to say a word, when Brulda,who was in awful shape, croaked, “....A Hawk! A h’eagle!”
Johanna couldn’t help but take note of the bloody stains on the servant's fur. Though they were for some cause of concern, any maid in the Northern Hare Kingdom could see that the tears weren't deep enough to be of some colossal bird of prey, such as a Hawk or Eagle.
The King seemed to sense this as well, though he drew his prized great sword to his side. “Your Wounds don’t agree with you. This bird very well may be a spy. Best to rid ourselves of its feathered coat.”
“Wait!” The Young hare maid intervened. If she were to ever be a Queen, she’d have to make difficult decisions, like the one at hand. “ISn’t it….unwise to do away with a perfectly good creature?”
Her father was skeptical. “Your point?”
She drew in a deep breath before look squarely at him. “My point is….is that if it’s a spy, can’t you….get a smidge of information? Then do away with it? Interrogation?”
The hare maid could sense the faint outlines of a grin make it’s way along the course features of Peregrin’s face. “Maybe a Queendom will suit yeh?” Turning away sharply, he walked out of the door, with Brulda trailing close behind.
When Johanna was sure her father had gone, she snatched the unused glass and the wine her father had been drinking from. Pouring the stuff out until it was at the brink of the glass, she raised it high, careful not to spill any on her dress.
“To the Dark Forest.” She whispered, as she guided the drink to her lips.
Peregrin had been hoping that the alleged Bird of Prey had actually been one. It had been a while since he gazed at such a bird; full of raw, untamed power and strength. He was proud that a bird as powerful as a hawk was embedded onto the Northern Kingdom’s Flag. Perhaps it was pride for his home. Or Perhaps it was a challenge.
Nevertheless, Strong General Cor had the prisoner by the scruff of the neck. To the King’s surprise, it hung limp.
“I assume you haven’t Killed the beast, General Cordjuryn, Formerly of the Juskadari Clan?”
Cor shook his head, trying to keep cool under the increasing pressure. “”No, My King. The Kestrel has struggled, and is weak.”
Inching closer and closer towards the Kestrel, he swiftly seized it by the neck, not really intimidated by the know writhing bird in his grasp.
The Kestrel attempted to rake his talons on the newcomer’s face, though the hare dodged in the knick of time, moving his head out of the way. Frustrated, he vainly flapped his wings, though it did him little good.
Cooly, Peregrinn asked, “Where are you from.”
The Kestrel snapped, “None of yer business, Rabbit!”
The King responded with squeezing the Bird’s neck even tighter. The Kestrel found himself gasping for breath now. “What is your name? I demand to know.”
“N...Not tellin’!” The Hare reached for his Greatsword that moment, his patience running. He could see the fear in the Kestrel’s eyes, when it saw the massive sword. One slash…
“What is your name?”
“Aderyc! Aderyc! Oh, Oh pl-please yore ‘ighness! Spare me! Oh, Spare me!”
Pleased with the result, Peregrin tossed the pile of feathers on the ground, pinning the poor bird underneath his boot. He reached his afrm out to grab ahold of a spear, Cor giving it to him within seconds. He did not flinch. He knew what was about to happen.
“I’ll enjoy having a Kestrel in my court!”
Aderyc Winced, the scream not coming out of his throat.
Pleased with his work, the hare king handed over the spear to a young recruit. A hedgehog, who was new to war. He promptly erupted into tears, with an older recruit comforting the young one.
Grabbing the Kestrel, The King Raised it above it’s head. It was evident that the Kestrel would never fly again. Both wings were crushed.
“I will not tolerate intruders of any sort! If you see any, Bring me their heads on a platter! I will do the honor, and dispose of this vile intruder to the Dungeons.”
As he walked out, he spoke to the bird one final time. “Plenty of babes in the kingdom would’ve gladly picked their teeth with your bones….Bird.”
Though Aderyc was in great pain, he shot the King a hateful, malicious, powerful gaze, as he closed his eyes to rest for a while. He would heal soon, with time and luck.
The sky was an ominous grey that evening, though little to no one seemed to pay any attention. After days and weeks of plentiful sun, the skies had turned cloudy all of the sudden.
Old Marmel was the only beast in the entire West Forest Village who wasn't rambling about the war. In fact, she seemed oblivious to the concept of war in general. Whether she forgot it existed was out of the picture; the entire village was abuzz about it.
"Marmel, do you think about the war?"
Eulalia raised an eyebrow. She had volunteered to help Marmel plant a few tubers in preparation for a possible famine of some sort. The badger was curious about the lonesome Rabbit, who was so similar to her hare relatives, yet so different. One of these differences was about the war. "Doesn't the war affect you in any way?"
Marmel wiped her dirty paws on her apron, before beginning to prepare a certain seed for plantation. "Not really. I'm no hare. This isn't me war, lassie."
The Badger maiden was becoming impatient. "Yet y'live in a hare village! If this place burns, you burn!"
The old rabbit was still unfazed. "Aye, but I'm a rabbit. I c'n run."
Eulalia sneered. "Coward."
Marmel didn't seem fazed at all. "S'it a grave offence, that I jus' wanna live?"
"What about th'others?" Eulalia replied, also grabbing a seed for planting. "The others, who also deserve t'live as long as ya? Haven't ya lived long enough?"
"Y'can never live long enough." Marmel claimed, facing the badger and eyeing her sternly. They both turned around and did their work silently, neither of them wishing to bring anything up. Covering seeds simultaneously with dirt, the work load had eventually been depleted to only a few grains of seeds left to be taken care up.
The elderly rabbit seemed content with all the work done today, setting the remaining seeds aside. "Go along now. There's no more work left t'be done...Shoo, Shoo! Off with ye!"
Without Marmel knowing, Eulalia had already sneaked off somewhere else. As Marmel grabbed the remaining seeds back to her home, she began thinking of what was to come first in this world; rain, or sun?
Eulalia raced home immediately. She had been thinking about this for the last few weeks, ever since the war conference at the South Jaw. No, a bit later than that. Ever since the destruction of the shrew village. Or was it even before those two events? Since the start of the war. Whenever it began, there was certainty fate was calling the young creature to her destiny.
When the badger opened the door of the home she had known for so long, the scent of apple cider hit her in the face. Sussana was sitting down at the table, looking into her own glass of apple cider sadly. Eulalia walked foreward. "Sussana-"
The old Harewife looked up, her eyes tinged with tears. "I knew this day would come eventually, Eulalia. Sit down." She said gravely. Unsure, her foster daughter cautiously sat down at the table, directly across from her foster mother. Sussana handed her a glass of apple cider, the Badger taking it with care.
"I want to join the war efforts." Eulalia began.
Sussana already cut her off. "Why?"
Eulalia grimaced, unsure whether or not her plea would reach the harewife. "I want to help hares...No, I want t'help everybeast. I can't stand seein' life bein' wasted every season. I want t'help it end."
"And how would ya end it, gel?" The hare cried out. "Yore a lass; a young lass to be exact. Yore delicate, and in no shape t'help in th'army! Even bein' a nurse...t'dangerous!"
"Mother, I'm a bagder. Th'opposite of Frail, in case y'didn't notice. I can carry heavy objects, I can run, I'm healthy, I c'n read a map and such. I can cook! I can mend wounds! An'.-" However, Eulalia stopped there, knowing that Sussana would never approve.
The harewife still wouldn't listen. "Yore not a hare. They wound't trust a badger."
"I was raised in a Hare village! Yewdore c'n come an' prove I was raised her!"
However, despite any attempt, Sussana remained stubborn. "I can't trust ya. Yore a young'n t'me. Let alone a lass." Taking a small sip of the apple cider, she set it down, noticing that Eulalia hadn't even touched hers. "Somethin' th'matter? Y'love apple cider. Drank it in gallons when you where a dibbun."
Eulalia looked down at her beverage, not saying a word. She loved apple cider when she was a dibbun. She still adored it to this day. Her mother always made the best in the village. It was never sickly sweet, but instead richer, laced with spices of all sorts in order to make the brew. Not to mention, it was always hot; just the way Eulalia liked it. Whenever the badgermaid felt down, Sussana would brew some apple cider and hand it to her. The sweet aroma would always make Eulalia feel better, making her drink the entire cup with satisfaction. She would always feel a bit better. The sad fact was, however was that she still adored it to this day. She was supposed to grow up, to drink more grown up beverages, like buttercup beer and such. However, she always stuck with plain old Apple Cider.
The Badgermaid faced her foster mother once more. "Why did you make Apple Cider today?"
Sussana smiled. "Because it's cold outside lass. Nothin' like good ol' Apple Cider t'warm yore belly an' heart."
Reluctantly, Eulalia picked up the cup, drinking the contents slowly, but setting it down soon after. "Please, mother... Y'see other lasses out there, mendin' wounds an' such. Why can't ya let me?"
"Yore me only daughter, Lalie. How can I let ye be murdered before me eyes?"
Once again, the room became silent.
The door swung open suddenly, Yewdore standing in the door's center. The old hare seemed tired, bags starting to form under his eyes. Wearily, he headed over to the table in which his wife and foster daughter where sitting in, slumping into his chair almost immediately.
Sussana cleared her voice, sharply asking, "Yewdore? Where have ye been?"
"Hmm...Oh? Where 'ive been? Workin'...plantin' crops an' th'such...flippin' squash seeds...couldn't find 'em."
Eulalia didn't waste any chances. "Father, I wanna join the army."
Sussana shook her paw in the air, as if trying to dismiss the badgermaid's suggestion. "Don't listen t'er, Yewdore! She doesn't know what she's up t'doin'!"
Leaning in towards the table, Yewdore eyed Eulalia for a while, as if assesing the strength she could possibly have. After a while, he then turned his gaze at Sussana. "I dunno. She seems capable."
The harewife could barely belive what she had heard. "Nonsense! What are ya thinkin'?"
Yewdore explained. "She's a badger, ol' gel. Stripe dog, tough one. She could do well in a mili'try situation. Liftin' sacks, flingin' stones, the likes."
"Don'cha remember Proctor?! The poor lad, it could happen to our daughter!"
He remained persistant. Yewdore turned around to face Eulalia this time, eyeing her intensley. His eyes where sparkling, but not with happiness. Rather, there was sorrow present in those eyes. "Eulalia, you wanna do this?"
Before the Badgermaid could respond, Sussana shot up from her seat like an arrow. "Yewdore, are ye daft? Yore sendin' yore only daughter t'the slaughterhouse!"
"She deserves a chance, Sussana! Let the maid make h'own choices f'once!"
"If y'love her, let 'er live. War ain't no place for a maid! Remember Balfour-"
"Balfour was no frail maid...and neither is Eulalia; 'ee was th'bravest hare I e'er met!" Yewdore snapped.
"She'll simply die!"
"I didn't name 'er 'Eulalia' for nothin'! Let th'gel fight."
The two beligerent hares had no choice but to turn their heads and face their foster daughter. The Badgermaid looked at them with a puzzled gaze, unsure whether or not this was what she wanted to hear or not. The quite was thick, like a humid mist that lingered in the air.
She sighed, before finally cutting the silence was a meek reply, not wanting to cause to much of a stir between her peers. "...I'll think about it...on second thought...-"
Sussana reached out to grab Eulalia, but the badger had already shifted from her seat. "Eulalia, come back!"
However, the Badgermaid didn't respond, instead choosing to run away from the situation, more flustered and confused than she was previously.
For the hours that remained, Eulalia stay put in the dormitory. Laying awake in her cot, she stared wide-eyed at the ceiling, noticing the cracks that had recently laced the surface. A bit of sand would rain down from time to time, but nothing to drastic.
She remembered a time when that ceiling was sealed shut; with hardly a grain dropping downwards. She shook her head in disbelief. "I've spent my entire life here- I've spend my entire life watchin' the ceiling chip away. Will my life chip away as well, I If I stay? Should I go...but just for the change?"
Eulalia suddenly sat up, rocking the cot due to the shift in position. "No!" She answered herself, her voice surprisingly loud. "I can't leave! What about Sussana and Yewdore?"
Whatever reason the badgermaid could think of, she could easily contradict herself as well, coming up with an even better, hear-wrenching counter. She stood up, pacing around the room, with a flurry of ideas in the air.
Perhaps Sussana was right. Would the southern army hares; beasts so bent on defeating the north they would easily question a babe of spying, really accept a badger? What was the point of a badger fighting in a hares' war? Didn't those nomads do something else? Would they think her a traitor, only joining on getting information?
Either way, it was becoming later and later by the moment, she had to get some sleep one way or another. Flopping into her cot once more, the badgermaid gazed fervently once more at the cracked ceiling. She wondered if all ceilings where cracked, one way or another, or if they could become repaired, someway, somehow.
Turning her head slightly, she caught a glimpse of a speck of rain falling from the smoldering sky from a nearby window in the room. In a blink the clicking of droplets turned into pattering, which then gradually ascended to a torrent of rainfall cleansing what was a war-torn country. Eulalia couldn't remember when was the last time such a rainfall had occurred, though was instantly washed away with the sparkling pellets being thrown onto the curling grass.
Her vision became blurred, before falling into the familiar embrace of sleep, the one beast who could comfort the badger no matter what.
She was in the place she dreaded most. The place that haunted her night and night again, had come to torment her once more. Only this time, the fire was more vivid, and the corpses more alive than ever.
She was in the shrew village. But the badgermaid couldn't move.
Grunting, the badgermaid pulled herself from the stump of a tree, seeking to aid her comrades. Each time she attempted to stand, her muscles burned and screamed, stretching and writhing. Every time she moved her footpaws, they remained latched on, each bone on her legs pulling apart as if they would simply fall apart. The pain was unbearable. Her heart thumped in her chest, the blood moving down and then up again. Her head throbbed pain, and tears welled in her eyes, while the badger gritted her teeth to escape. How weak she was!
The fire was more real than anything else. The incomming heat was sweltering, as the flame only grew and grew, eating and destroying cottages and life itself without a second thought. It swirled and illuminated the faces of the dead horrifically.
Skin plastered onto bones, eyes wide open, and slashes as deep as chasm. The stench of blood was thick and grotesque, overwhelming in both vision and smell. Dark copper streaks decorated the scene with precision, making sure no corner was untouched by the paws of death. It seemed like the badgermaid herself was on the brink of death.
"Let me go!" She shreaked, only pulling herself away harder and harder, pain searing through her arms, her eyes bloodshot, and her fur matted with sweat and ash. "Let me go!" She screamed only louder and louder. Was a thousand souls destined to die before her eyes? Was she supposed to be a mere spectator in this bloodbath? Tears streamed down her cheeks as Eulalia became more and more desperate. "Please! Please! Let me-let me go!"
In the midst of the chaos, a small, dark shadow loomed towards Eulalia. The figure was smaller than the rest of the carcasses, descending slowly in the heat of the flames. Eulalia was overcome with fear, her paws shaking violently. "Let me go! Please! I beg of you! I beg of you! Please!"
But then the shadow was in front of her. Pulling out a large sword from out of the ground, the shadow lunged forward, targeting the screaming maid's heart.
Before Eulalia blacked out, she swore she saw a hare in front of her.
The Badgermaid awoke once more in a cold sweat, having rolled around so violently in her sleep that she had fallen out of her cot. Rubbing her head, she stood up, only to notice the streams of light that poured out of her window. Normally she would wake up with her parents at the crack of dawn, hoping to make the most of their day. However, this time Eulalia has awaken at high noon, with the sun shining its brightest. Sadly, Eulalia wasn't ready for the new day. Still a bit damp from the excessive sweat, she rose, only to hear a conversation going on outside her window.
To her delight, it turned out to be Dolph's two sisters; Fran and Janine. Waving at them