Yay! I started messing with TWB! (as if I need another project lol) I just wanted to see if you sort of like where I'm going here. And yes, some of the names are still Redwall, but they'll be changed eventually. I don't have much, the first 11 pages or so, but I'll update it as I go.
So without further ado, here it is :D (Expect characters (especially RW originals) to have different personalities.)
Chapter 1 The Magician Returns Edit
Soft footsteps stirred the sunlit morning silence. Their owner’s gold coat shone radiantly in the light as she walked down the steps of a sizeable dwelling. The rough logs brushed against her unshod paws, but her attention was focused past the stone fountain that graced the front of the home.
She whistled a clear note, long and loud enough to be mistaken for a bird.
The morning and town remained still for a few moments, before a gray shadow swept around the corner of a house, and clopping thuds became audible. A lanky young horse slid to a stop a few feet from the golden mouse, black mane flying everywhere.
“You’re up already?”
“I have to be, father caught me sneaking out just before the party. He’s taken up watching me closely all evening.”
The horse took a bite of grass from the front lawn, rolling her eyes. “You know, sometimes I think your aversion to fun is disturbing.”
The mouse shrugged, walking down the steps “I hate crowds. Now can I get a ride?”
“You know, it’s a bit early for me .. I might just lay down for a bit .. five more minutes ..”
“Dancer!” The mouse’s tone was complaining.
Dancer snorted. “You know the answer Sally.”
Sally laughed, and clambered onto her taller friend’s back. As the horse trotted away from the village, she stated, “Anyway, you know I need a break once in a while. From .. everything.”
“And for some reason your definition of ‘break’ includes sharp, dangerous objects.”
“Yes well. Etiquette doesn’t suit me.”
Dancer dropped out of her lope and into a walk as they crested a hill and entered a thicket. She stopped, and Sally slid off, untangling the navy fabric from around her legs. “And neither do dresses.”
She walked a little deeper into the thicket, pulling a thick pole from the underbrush.
“Can I just finish my breakfast while you have at it?”
“Go ahead .. I’ll just need a ride back.”
Dancer flicked her long, black tail. “Well, call for me. I need grass, and the stuff it the woods is thin and nasty. I’ll be down near Evenglade.”
Sally rolled her black eyes, though they sparkled. “Fine. We wouldn’t want you to suffer from starvation.”
“Exactly.” Dancer’s brown eyes twinkled in return, as she trotted off.
Sally watched her with something akin to bemusement, before gripping her thick staff tighter and walking deeper into the woods.
This was a sort of training area, one she’d created herself.
Sally was proud of it .. it was impressive, seeing as the only inspiration was from folk-tales and history books. The only outlets of adventure available.
She paused momentarily, before starting to run down one of the multiple paths. Her dress flapped irritatingly around her legs, but she kept on, short hair flying behind her and catching momentarily around branches and twigs.
The first obstacle was a fallen log; Sally used the pole to propel herself over it. She landed on the other side with a thud, and vaulted forward again. Here large boulders and trees blocked the path, and she slid under branches, dodging others, while weaving between the rocks.
A few good swings of the trusty staff cleared the rest of the path, and Sally ran through a small meadow, paws tearing through the thick grasses.
She let out a sudden squeak as dress, paws, and grass tangled together, and she collapsed in a heap.
Sally groaned, before rolling onto her back, panting slightly. Spirals of white cloud raced across the sky, and as she watched them, she laughed breathlessly.
“Stupid meadow. Woodlands yes, meadows, no. Ha. Dancer would never agree with me.”
The morning was slowly growing warm, and Sally remained in the deep grasses for a few moments, watching the clouds. Cirrus, it seemed .. it was safe to assume it wouldn’t rain.
As she sat up, a strange chill slid down her back, making her shudder. The meadow seemed .. off, somehow.
Or maybe it was just the gust of wind that teased the grasses.
No. It was more than that.
A shadow stood in the trees. An upright, dark, and most definitely not Dancer shadow.
Sally scrambled to her paws, grabbing her staff. The creature standing in the trees moved toward her.
It was sinewy, ebony black with large, silky ears. A fox. He towered over Sally, pale, orangey eyes glimmering in the light, and he drew a long knife.
A cold wash of fear made the young mouse tremble and take a step back. “Wh .. what do you want? Who are you?”
He met her gaze for a split second, before he lunged, knife leading the way.
Sally dodged to the side, and she felt the rush of air across her cheek. She was forced to drop into a crouch as her attacker recovered almost instantly and slashed at her again.
All her senses where alive, more awake then they’d been in a long time. She threw herself away from the fox, whipping the pole around to face him. He moved like water, ducking agilely out of the pole’s trajectory.
The next second sharp pain exploded in Sally’s shoulder, and she slid back a few steps from the blow. The mouse clenched her teeth together, surprised with herself that she hadn’t screamed.
Sally ducked away, turning and bolting. Her feet tore through the grass in desperation, knowing he wouldn’t be far behind .. she could hear him, though in comparison with her, he was silent. Too silent.
And far too fast.
A heavy paw grabbed her shoulder, shoving her forward. Her chin slammed into the ground moments later, though the grass acted as a bit of a cushion.
“Dancer!” Sally’s cry was too muffled to be effective.
She jerked herself onto her side, to see the black fox staring at her with emotionless eyes. “So you are the one. Interesting.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about!” Sally tried to scramble backwards, but the fox slammed his booted footpaw on her torso, and her words turned into a choking cry.
“No.” His dark voice was flat. “And you never will.”
He reached down in one swift movement, grabbing her right paw and yanking it so hard there was a jolting sensation in her wrist. The fur swirled oddly across her palm, making the vague shape of a feather.
“But you were the one.”
“Let me … go!” Sally choked out the words, barely able to breath in.
The fox never blinked as he sheathed his knife, drawing the curved sword at his side. “No.”
A hiss split the air, and Sally gasped in a breath as her attacker stumbled back with a short yelp. She forced her eyes open, to see him gripping an arrow shaft that protruded from his side.
He staggered back, growling low in his throat as another arrow sank into his left shoulder. Sally dragged herself in the opposite direction of the black fox, but fell back into the grass with a cry as she tried putting weight on her right paw.
She struggled upright again, just in time to see her would-be killer stagger off into the woods. Sally slowly sat up, careful to support herself with her left paw.
Aside from the patches of flattened grass, the meadow looked the same as it always did. But where had those arrows come from? Who had shot them?
“Hello?” Sally stood shakily. “Is anyone there?”
Only morning birdsong answered her.
A few minutes passed, but nothing changed. Then Dancer walked out of the woods, a little grass hanging from her mouth. “Oh there you are ... wait, is that blood?”
The horse hurried over to her, sniffing her all over. “It is .. you’re hurt! What happened? Who did this? What’s going on? Do you feel dizzy? What’ll we tell your parents?”
“I .. don’t know ..” Sally was in a daze .. she felt as though she couldn’t tear her gaze from the trees where the black fox had vanished.
“Dancer, have you seen any foxes lately?”
“What? No, just that vixen selling wares … a couple years ago I think. Why? Wait, a fox did this?”
To Sally’s discomfort, the horse nuzzled the wound across her shoulder. “Ahh! Don’t touch it!”
Dancer drew back instantly. “We’ve got to get you back to Aryah before you bleed to death! Get on my back.”
“I can’t.” Sally protested. “I think my wrist is dislocated.”
Honestly, the whole thing felt like a hazy nightmare. She realized she sounded far too calm.
What in the heavens had just happened?
“Well can you walk?” Dancer cut into her thoughts.
Sally nodded absently. “I think so.”
She laid her good paw on Dancer’s shoulder, blood from the cut running down to her elbow and dripping onto the ground.
As she limped from the meadow, she couldn’t help but look back.
The one what? What could possibly make her a target for such an attack? She barely left Evenglade … how could she really be that special? And why was the fox looking for her feather-mark?
What was going on?
Sally wanted to look for the one who’d defended her .. whoever they were, but Dancer wasn’t having it. The horse was nudging her in the direction of the village, and Sally’s thoughts were too muddled to think straight.
She stumbled along, casting plenty of glances behind her .. the fox was badly wounded .. he couldn’t follow them, could he?
A few beasts were moving around the town now, and they stopped to cast odd glances at her. Some looked a little worried, but none did anything. Dancer grumbled under her breath. “See, if you didn’t constantly get scraped up all the time, someone might actually notice when you’re in trouble.”
“It doesn’t matter ..” Sally stammered. All she could think of was the fox leaping out of the shadow of a building and stabbing her.
She made it home however, and Dancer stomped a hoof on the porch, a sound that reverberated through the whole house.
Her little brother opened the door, wild red hair spiking everywhere as usual. “What’s .. goin’ on?”
He looked half awake.
“Brome, Sally almost died!” Dancer was prone to dramatics, though it wasn’t far from the truth.
“Oh.” Brome wasn’t unduly concerned, but someone else was.
There was a flash of red fur, and a short mouse slid to a stop beside Sally, grabbing her. “You almost died? What happen this time? Did you fall out of a tree again?”
“Rose .. I’m alright ..”
“No you’re not, you’re bleeding!”
Sally sighed and fell silent as her sister dragged her into the house, where her mother joined them, fussing. Sally gave up trying to understand the two, as they were talking over one another.
Her father stood from his spot at the table, concern in his eyes, but also irritation. “Are you alright? Are any bones broken this time?”
“I’ll be fine ..” Sally insisted. Her family did a good job of interrupting her.
“You need those wounds cleaned.” Her mother tried leading her up the stairs.
Her father sighed. “I don’t really want to know, but what was it this time?”
“Did ya fall down a hill? With losta rocks .. sharp rocks?” Brome decided to ask, opportunely.
Dancer opened her mouth to speak, before asking, “What really did happen? You said there was a fox?”
“A fox!” Sally’s father looked alert. “Where is the fox?”
“No!” Sally suddenly snapped a little. She shook her head, suppressing a shiver. “There is no fox. Brome’s right. I just tripped and took a nasty fall.”
“Uhh ..” Dancer began, but Sally kicked her in a sideways fashion.
Thankfully, her father looked exasperated instead of noticing. “See why I tell you not to leave Evenglade? You’re a child. And more importantly, you should be spending your time learning something useful, instead of traipsing about injuring yourself constantly.”
Sally’s black eyes snapped momentarily, before she averted her gaze. Seconds later, her mother and Rose dragged her up the stairs to the second floor, intent on fussing.
Sally found herself in bed, wrist back in joint and dully aching. Her mother had sent Rose off to get some water, but mostly to remove her from the premises so she could successfully finish bandaging her older daughter’s wounds.
Neither said a word for a few moments, before the older, russet furred mouse shook her head. “You didn’t get this from a rock.”
“I didn’t run into anything else.” Sally lied. “Maybe a log.”
“Hum.” Her mother said, hazel eyes knowing. “You were playing with my kitchen knives again, weren’t you?”
“No.” Sally began, before thinking, and slowly letting a guilty look cross her features. “Maybe a little.”
“Kitchen knives are made for the kitchen my love. Do leave them be .. I hope you learned a lesson from this.”
“Perhaps, but it was more on how a seemingly safe place is really dangerous.” Sally thought, but only replied with. “Yes mother, I did.”
“Good.” Her mother tied the bandage, before looking at her fondly and kissing the top of her head. “The sooner you learn to stay away from the dangers of this world, the happier you will be. Now I’m off to supervise that sister and brother of yours; get some rest.
As the older mouse left, Sally frowned deeply, before drawing her covers up to her chin and staring about the room in silence.
It was hard to avoid danger when someone wanted to kill you for no reason.
Sally was kept under a watchful eye for the next few days, and honestly, she didn’t complain. Every dark shadow and unexplained noise instantly made her expect to see the black fox standing behind her, knife poised to strike. She didn’t make a move to leave the cottage for at least two days, only leaving when her mother forced her to go put fresh bedding in the stables.
Almost reluctantly she walked the short distance to the building for the two horses of Evenglade. Still, she wanted to see Dancer.
Sally laid a paw on the door, peering into the dim interior. “Dancer? Lightningflash?”
She felt as though the fox would jump out at her, and flinched as there was a rustle, accompanied by Dancer as the horse leapt at her instead. “You’re up again! Great! I was worried.”
“I’m ok.” Was all Sally put into words.
She gave her friend a quick hug, before walking into the airy building. It had two sides with a hall between them, and walls far shorter than the roof framing this. Some of the windows were open for sunlight, others weren’t.
“Out grazing.” Dancer looked mischievous, or perhaps she was trying to be uplifting. “I’m glad room service is here.”
“Yea.” Sally sighed.
Dancer teased. “It could be worse.”
“I suppose.” Sally got the shovel and the barrow, stopping by Dancer’s side of the stable and started scooping out the old straw. Horses had an affinity for straw, but it was a pain to change when it got musty.
Her wrist and shoulder were much better, allowing her to heft the heavy piles of straw into the barrow. Cleaning out just one side of the stable took forever. Dancer used her tail as a duster for where chaff remained, cleaning the entire floor.
With a sigh of resignation, Sally dragged the shovel across the hall to Lightning’s room, making a nasty scraping sound. Still, she didn’t lift it.
When the floor was clean of straw, a few barrow loads later, Dancer set about using her now mussed tail to dust everything. “Ugg, dad doesn’t dust much, does he?”
“Not in the least ..” Sally broke off with a sneeze.
Dancer wrinkled her nose suddenly, complaining, “Don’t do that, now I’ve got …”
She sneezed as well, bringing a back hoof down in a spasmodic stomp. It smashed through the floor with a loud crunch, and also the thud of her hoof hitting the dirt.
Dancer neighed in shock, yanking her foot free with a shower of splinters. She blinked at the hole, as did Sally. “Sally, dad’s not going to like this ..”
The mouse nodded. “I guess we’ll have to fix it. I’ll get the mallet and a plank.”
“Wait, there’s something in here.” Dancer was peering into the opening she’d made.
Sally joined her, slowly kneeling on the floor and reaching down into the long, narrow compartment. She carefully withdrew an item wrapped in thick oilcloth, stained from the dirt it had rested upon.
Sally’s heart skipped a beat. She could barely believe her guess as to what this was.
Dancer snorted impatiently, and Sally undid the string that kept the cloth in place. She unfolded it from around the object, and she gaped at what it was.
A sword lay in her paws. A long-hilted, heavy-bladed broadsword, it’s leather-wrapped hilt adorned with light sapphires. Sally slowly hefted it, mesmerized by the way the light danced off the blade. The sharp, only slightly rusted blade.
“What .. how is that in here?”
Sally heard Dancer, but she didn’t reply. She slowly stood, holding the blade out in front of her. It was heavy, but a slow grin spread across her features as she gently swung the sword through the air.
It made a pleasant swish, and Sally did her best to copy a stance she’d seen in a book.
Nothing had ever felt more right in her paws.
“Um, Sally?” Dancer broke through her thoughts. “Do you know why there’s a sword under my dad’s floor?”
“I have no clue.”
Sally didn’t take her gaze from the weapon as she tried out several different stances.
Dancer snorted. “Your dad will never let you keep that.”
The mouse looked up at this, a glitter in her eyes. Then she looked downcast. “No, he won’t.”
She smiled suddenly. “Which is why he won’t ever know about it.”
“That’s not a good idea ..” Dancer advised.
“But this sword is special.” Sally protested. “I know it is. And father would just sell it to some merchant .. I can’t let that happen.”
She traced the word on the hilt, engraved in the overlaid gold. “Sayna. I wonder what it means.”
“It sounds like a name.” Dancer observed. “You’re probably right.” Sally wrapped the sword back in its protective cloth reluctantly. “Where should I hide this?”
Dancer snorted. “We should fix the floor first.”
Sally gave the floor a dull look, before nodding and setting the sword down. “Right, I’ll find some boards.”
She walked out of the stable and around the back, where there was a pile of discarded things. Among it were some old planks, and she picked up one, instantly getting a few splinters in her paw. Sally winced, but carried the board back into the stable.
She pried the broken piece of floor up and set the replacement over the oblong hole. A thick layer of straw over everything hid the fact anything had been broken.
This done, Sally picked up the wrapped sword again, asking, “But where should I put this? I can’t leave it with my pole, it’d rust.”
“I don’t know .. smuggle it into your room?”
Sally raised a skeptical eyebrow.
“Ok, ok, I get the point.”
Dancer flicked an ear. “The stable loft?”
Sally looked upward at the rickety old loft, but nodded slowly. “I suppose it’ll do .. for now.”
The constant clink of a hammer and chisel filled the air, mingling with the faint sound of the sea. On a ponderous cliff sat a half-constructed building, where many creatures were milling about.
A young mouse walked among them, the glint of silver chains around his neck and paws. He was carrying a load of bricks, brown eyes downcast.
His filthy, bare paws stirred the dust of the construction site, and he looked up at the mighty keep, already built. How much longer until the walls were finished?
It was a question that always nagged at the back of his mind. Until the walls were finished, he would live. When they stood whole …
He shook his head, stumbling over his own paws and almost falling on his face. He recovered, and continued on.
Live. That’s all that matters .. just live. You will live, even if the others die. He deposited his load of stones where the wall was being built, taking note of how much stood finished. He always did.
“Get moving!” A loud voice broke into his reverie, causing him to jump into a run the next second, lest the lash of a whip follow.
His bare, callused paws skidded through the dust as he ran to unload more bricks from a nearby cart. The filthy horse that was hitched to it turned his head to look at him. “Holding up?”
“As well as always.” The mouse nodded, stacking bricks into his arms.
“Stop daydreaming .. you don’t need more lashes.”
The mouse flicked an ear in acknowledgement, muttering, “I know.”
He ducked his head, hurrying back to the wall. Over and over, he performed the same task.
By the time the sun was high in the heavens, his every muscle burned painfully. Today was hotter than usual, and he hadn’t had a drink since the night before. His arms were starting to tremble slightly, and he felt as though his tongue would stick to the back of his parched throat with every breath he took.
“Survive. That’s all you need to do. You’ve done it before. Just survive.”
The mouse hefted another load of rock from the wagon, lifting it to his chest as he reached for a piece to add to it. At that moment, another slave fell into him, throwing him off balance.
The large rocks slipped out of his grasp, most falling harmlessly to the wagon, but one slammed down onto his outstretched paw.
There was a reverberating crunch throughout the limb, and the mouse gritted his teeth, barely holding back his scream. Desperately, he clawed to heavy stone off his paw, clutching it to his chest and biting back his whimpers.
“Hey! You again? Get a move on!” The slave driver’s voice barked almost as loud as the crack of his whip.
The mouse staggered, gasping as the lash caught his shoulder. He grabbed at the fallen stone, but his injured paw wouldn’t move.
The slave driver grabbed him by the paw, evoking a strangled cry of agony. “Well well. I wondered when you’d finally give out, mouse.”
“No!” He shrieked. “I can work! I can!”
“Then prove it.” The slave driver sneered. “Pick up that rock.”
The mouse yanked away from his tormentor’s grasp, staggering back to the cart, where the filthy horse watched with horror on his face. Despite his paw, the mouse fought to lift the rock, mostly with his good limb. He got it a few feet off the cart, before it slipped out of his weak grasp and smashed down upon the injury once more.
Finally, he screamed. The slave driver yanked the rock away, sneering, “Amusing, but you’re done. Hisk, take over for me.”
“No! I can work! I’m not finished! I can …”
“Shut up mouse.” The slaver yanked hard on the chains about his paws, evoking another cry.
“No … no … no! I will not die .. no!”
“Please … please no ..” His shocked pleas went unanswered, and unheard.
I had until the walls were finished!
His mind was screaming in horror at his inevitable fate. This wasn’t how it was supposed to happen!
He staggered as the slaver threw him into an enclosure built against the wall of the keep. His legs caught on their chains, and he fell to the dust in a heap. There was an echoing slam as the door shut, leaving him in dim light of the final holding place of worthless, broken slaves.
He didn’t try to get up, just remained still, staring blankly at his crushed paw. Why? Why now?
“I can still work …” He muttered, miserably taking note of how almost every finger hung at an odd angle, and his palm looked flatter than normal.
“I said that too.” A lonely, empty voice echoed in the dimness, and for the first time, he noticed the larger creature laying against the wall. Its words were ended with a broken cough.
“Sick?” He asked.
The creature nodded. “I’d come great you, but everything’s fuzzy right now. The fever doesn’t like me moving. I’m Kaylar, by the way. You?”
“Tynek.” The mouse answered flatly. “What are they planning for us?”
“No clue.” Kaylar rasped.
Tynek slowly curled up into a ball where he was, muttering, “It’s not like it matters. Nothing matters anymore.”
“You want me to do .. what?” Sally stared at her father in disbelief.
He sighed. “Sally, I expected you to be overjoyed. Aren’t you the one who’s always wanting to travel? Your arm doesn’t still hurt, does it?” “Well, no …”
“Then you should be more than happy. I’m busy here, harvest is well under way and with all the trade coming in from our neighbors, I simply can’t leave. Neither can your mother, she has to keep track of the trades. Summerglen expects a shipment of grain within the week. You’re sixteen, it’s time you started helping run the family business.”
Sally pressed her paws together beneath the table, muttering, “You want me and Dancer to take a cartful of barely to Summerglen?”
“Is that too much to ask?” Her father sounded stern. “I want you to take Rose along too, she can record the transaction. You’ve been to Summerglen Sally, it’s a day’s journey and you can stay at the inn; I’ll see you have the funds.”
Sally wilted under her father’s stare, sighing, “Fine, I’ll go.”
He frowned. “What’s bothering you? The highlands have had peace for many years. As long as you stay on the road, nothing will happen.”
“Have you ever thought father … that this peace can only last so long?”
For a moment, the only sound was the soft rustle of the study’s curtains and the mid-morning birdsong from outside.
“What?” The red and silver haired mouse truly looked confused. “There has been peace since before my grandfather’s time. Has something happened?”
Her black eyes met his pale brown ones, before she looked away. “No.”
“Then there’s no reason you shouldn’t go. In fact I expected you to be excited .. you’ve been asking to ride with me since you were a kit, why should that change just because you’re going with your sister and friend?”
“No reason.” Sally’s voice remained quiet.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about!”
“No. And you never will.”
She held back a shiver.
“If something really is wrong, I’d hope you’d tell me. You’re not acting like yourself. What are you afraid of, you can tell me.”
Sally hurriedly shook her head. “No, I’ve just never left Evenglade by myself.”
Her father sighed. “You aren’t by yourself. And if you’re so concerned, ask that friend of yours, Gruvan, if he’ll accompany you. Now if there’s nothing else, I must see how our inventory’s coming along. You leave in the morning.”
He stood, walking from the study, long cloak sweeping behind his with an audible swish.
Sally stared out the window, expecting the black fox to appear in it, but nothing moved aside from the jewel-toned birds in the trees around the house.
She slowly stood, pushing her chair back as she did so. She automatically jumped as there was a rustling, but relaxed as her little brother crawled out from behind a pile of books, dust clinging to his blue tunic and a cobweb hanging limply from one side of his whiskers. “You’re going to Summerglen? By yourself> With Rose and Dancer and Gruvan? I want to come!”
“No, you don’t.” Sayna shuddered involuntarily, not wanting to think of what the black fox could do to a small mouse like Brome. “It’s safer if you stay here.”
“Aaawww you sound just like father.”
“I do not sound like father!” Sally snapped, before realizing she actually did.
“Uggh .. Brome, just leave it be. You’re not coming, both father and mother would say no.”
“But if you let me hide under the grain sacks …” Brome looked conniving, to say the least.
“No!” Sally exclaimed. “Do you want to get me in the most trouble I’ve ever been in? Besides it’s not …. Just no. You better not try it or I’ll tell father you were spying. And your plan.”
Brome groused for a minute, before muttering, “Wanna come see Gruvan.”
Sally scowled. “Why don’t you not?”
“I’ll tell mum you’re being mean! You’re the oldest, you have’ta be nice ta me.”
Sally sighed deeply, rubbing her forehead. “Fine. Just don’t you dare complain about not coming with us the entire time.”
Unfortunately for Sally, Brome only held his silence until they’d left the kitchen and were out of their mother’s earshot. Then he started wedeling again.
“But, it’s just for two days! Please? It would be so fun, and if I sold some grain it might prove to father that I’m old enough to help!”
“But, you and Rose get to go! What so special about Rose, she doesn’t even like traveling!”
“No.” “But I could help you make deals! I’m good at convincing creatures!”
“Well you’re good at convincing me you’re a menace.”
“So is that a yes?”
Brome’s voice droned on and on as the crossed the town square, but Sally was more concerned with the black fox suddenly appearing. Her eyes darted in every direction, and her paw itched to hold the sword she’d hidden in the stable loft.
“…. Let me try?”
“No … what?”
Brome glared at her. “I said, you’re just as bad as father, why won’t you let me try?”
“Because you’re too young.” Sally sighed. “But someday, we’ll all be delivering grain and haggling on prices.”
“You really think so?” Brome looked excited.
Sally smiled ever so faintly. “I know so. Then you can come with me and Rose as much as you like.”
He looked considerably happier, before his face fell again and he returned to his grumpy look. “But it’s so far away.”
Sally shrugged, stopping in front of a pleasant little cottage, before walking up the steps and knocking on the door. No one answered, and she tried again, but to no avail.
With a sigh, she walked down the steps and around the back of the home, Brome tagging along.
Sure enough, a tan and dusty brown mouse was weeding the large garden plot that took up most of the immediate yard. He looked up, waving, “Hey Sally, Brome! Dad’s off in the fields, sorry I didn’t hear you.”
“It’s fine.” Sally leaned against the brick fence surrounding the garden. “I’ve got a favor to ask you.”
“Why yes Sally, I’ve been wonderful, not at all worried at why you’ve been hiding in your house for the last two weeks. Oh good Gruvan, I was worried you were worried. Oh no Sally, I didn’t think for once anything absolutely horrible had happened when Brome basically said your entire arm was ripped off.”
Sally sighed, glaring at Brome. “You exaggerated again, didn’t you.”
He whistled nonchalantly. “Maybe …”
“Ack. No Gruvan, I’m completely fine. I’m sorry you were worried. But I really would like to ask a favor.” Gruvan laughed, shaking his head. “Ask it then.”
“Father’s sending Rose, Dancer and I to deliver grain to Summerglen. I was wondering if you could come too?”
He looked dubious. “Maybe .. when are you leaving?”
“Tomorrow morning, early. We won’t be back until the night after.”
Gruvan frowned. “Oh. Well, I promised dad I’d help him in the fields tomorrow. We’ve been doing that since the early harvest started, I help him one day, and work in the garden the next .. sorry Sally.”
“Sally’s scared of something.” Brome piped up. “She doesn’t wanna go alone, with just Dancer and Rose.”
“I am not!” Sally responded indignantly.
Gruvan looked somewhat concerned. “What? Are you really?”
“No.” Sally’s voice returned to its normal sound. “I’m not scared of anything. Thanks for listening Gruvan, at the latest, I’ll see you when I get back.”
She grabbed Brome by the tunic and dragged him with her, waving farewell. Gruvan waved a little confusedly, before returning to his weeding. Sally stopped near the front of her friend’s cottage, giving Brome a dark look. “I am not scared.”
“You know, I could go with you, if you’re afraid.”
The voice was a smooth sound, and Brome slowly backed away a few steps and Sally slowly turned her head to glared at the creature standing on the porch of the neighboring cottage.
He was tall for a mouse, making him just as tall as Sally. However his fur was striking black, with a white chin and chest. The smiled that curled across his face made her sneer. “As if I would dream of asking you to do anything for me.”
“But you could. After all, you might need the protection of someone who actually can, not that garden-loving buffoon over there.”
Sally’s black eyes glimmered wildly, and she showed her teeth. “Shut up Roderick, I’d punch you again sooner.”
She got the mental image of the black fox attacking, and shoving Roderick between her and the wickedly curved knife the assassin carried. For some reason, a rather demented smile crossed her face.
She shook herself, shoving that feeling away. That was taking it a little too far.
Roderick shrugged. “Have it your way. But you can always ask me to reconsider my offer.”
“In your dreams. I’ll protect myself just fine.” Sally snarled, grabbing Brome’s paw and dragging him with her. “Come on Brome, we’re leaving.”
She stalked away from Roderick’s cottage, across the town square, and to her own home, spending the walk in stony silence.
She only released Brome’s paw once she entered her own decoratively fenced yard, and then she stormed up the steps and into the house. Brome followed silently.
The golden mouse walked into the front room, pausing as she saw Rose siting in one of the chairs, stitching away at what to Sally, appeared to be a heap of cloth. Her sister looked up, frowning and asking in her soft voice, “What is it? Roderick again?”
“Of course.” Sally snarled. “Sometimes I’d like to … arge.”
“Mother says to ignore him.” Rose said, very properly. “Did you hit him again?”
“I should have.”
Rose shook her head. “Roderick’s family is very influential. We have to treat him decently as his father maintains as much land as ours .. I know he’s insufferable, but do consider the impact of your actions, Sally.”
“You’re not my mother Rose, I’ll hit him again if it comes down to it. And I won’t ever be sorry.”
“That’s what I’m afraid of.” Rose frowned. “But what if that would harm father’s business? Think about that for a while.”
Sally glowered for a moment, before groaning, “How are you younger than me?”
Rose laughed her tinkling laugh. “You are immature sometimes.”
Sally huffed as Brome spoke up. “Rose, let me go with you!”
“To Summerglen?” Rose shook her head. “Sorry, but father wouldn’t approve.”
“Father never approves.” Sally grumbled, already in a bad mood.
“Oh, that is not true.” Rose scolded. “He only wants the best for us.”
Sally rolled her eyes. “That’s easy for the favorite to say.”
“Sally, please. If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.” Rose took a stitch into her project.
Sally glared for a moment, before hooding her eyes and turning away. “And you wonder why I’m so quiet. Ha.”
She stomped into the empty kitchen and dug about in the cupboards, finding a loaf of bread and breaking a piece off. She slumped into a chair beside the table, stormily munching on her bread, showering crumbs upon the white cloth.
In the silence of the kitchen, her anger faded away, but so did her bravado. The fury in her eyes morphed into quiet, flat black.
Here she was safe, alone, and she didn’t have to worry about her metaphorical masks falling off.
But she had to leave this place tomorrow.
And out there? Anything could happen.
Chapter 2 (to be determined) Edit
It was barely light out when Sally awoke. Or, more realistically, when her mother woke her. She crawled out of bed, keeping her eyes hooded as she pulled on her clothing. A long cloak was draped across one of the chairs in the room, and Sally pulled it on, buttoning it around her throat.
She stumbled down the first story, where the smell of cooking food greeted her. As she walked into the kitchen, her mother smiled. “Up at last I see. Do you like the cloak?”
Sally nodded, but then raised an eyebrow. “You seem to have known about this for a while if you had time to make new clothes.”
The older mouse laughed. “If you must know, I’ve been talking your father into this since last fall. It’s time you and Rose started helping us more .. the demand for our grain is only increasing. We need more paws.”
“Oh.” Sally sat down at the table, and her mother looked oddly at her.
“You’re not pleased?”
Sally shook her head. “No .. I mean, yes I am .. it’s nothing.”
At that moment, her father walked in, Rose close behind him. He sat down at the table as well, giving Sally a nod. “Good, you’re up. The cart is loaded and Dancer is having breakfast.”
“And it’s time we did the same.” Her mother put a plate of biscuits on the table, followed by a bowl of apples. She sat down, and her husband folded his paws together, coughing at Sally as she reached for the food.
She quickly withdrew her paw and her father nodded, reciting the morning prayer he always did, with a few small changes pertaining to the situation.
“Lord Ignasa, we thank you for this meal, and please watch over us as we go about our day … especially my daughters as they set off on their journey. Protect us from all evil.”
He looked up, and Sally quickly grabbed a biscuit, biting into it. Rose rolled her eyes. “Really Sally, can’t you wait to be served?”
Sally sighed. “Really Rose, can’t I just get my own food? It’s just the four of us.”
“Etiquette,” Her father stated solemnly, “Is a thing to be practiced at all occasions. Especially when representing the family business.”
“He’s right my love.” Her mother paused in breaking a biscuit in half. “Manners and patience are a virtue one should learn well.”
Sally sighed again, falling silent and munching on her breakfast sleepily.
Rose smiled suddenly, breaking the silence. “Father, I’m glad you view me as old enough to do this .. I won’t let you down.”
His normal stern look melted away, and he smiled fondly. “I know you won’t dear.”
He looked to Sally, still congenial. “And I trust you won’t either. Look out for Rose.”
“Of course I will, father.” Sally felt a little trickle of pride, and her eyes sparkled happily.
“I’m not completely helpless ..” Rose pouted.
Her father tweaked one of her braids. “I’m just taking precasions sweetheart. After all, Sally has a way of confronting trouble, should you run into any. Which is why she’s in charge of this trip.”
Sally stopped chewing, blinking rapidly and speaking with her mouth full. “I’m what?”
“Please Sally, manners.” Her mother scolded.
Sally swallowed, almost choking, before she downed her glass of milk. “Ahge .. sorry. I’m actually in charge?”
“Don’t make me rethink it.” Her father looked droll. “But yes. Rose will be the spokesbeast, but you will make the final decision on prices, and if any trouble should arise, any at all, you are to keep Rose and Dancer safe. And by that I mean get them away from danger. Can I trust you to do that?”
Sally nodded. “I’ll protect them with my life.”
Her father chuckled good naturedly. “Don’t be over dramatic, I wouldn’t send you if I feared your lives would be threatened. Just keep an eye on things.”
“I’ll make sure we get home safe dad.” Sally stood quickly, cape flowing around her legs. “You can count on me. I’m going to see Dancer.” She ran out of the kitchen, and outside, where her gray friend stood eating grass between the stables and the cottage, already hitched to the loaded cart. “Morning Dancer!”
The horse looked up, munching on a large mouthful of the lawn. “Mmmph … Hey Sally. You two about ready?”
“Yea, I’ve just got to grab something.”
She hurried to the stable, opening the door and slipping into the dim interior. As she made her way to the loft’s ladder, her bravery began to drain away .. slightly. Her father actually believed she could do this, and put her in charge!
She couldn’t back down now and admit she’d lied about her former injuries. Besides, the fox had been shot .. he was badly hurt.
He’s dead by now, he was shot twice. And deeply .. he’ll have bled out. Besides, the arrow to his side would have hit some organs .. right?
She was just paranoid. Sally gripped the ladder and climbed up it, scrambling into the splintery old loft. The sword was still there, wrapped in its dirty oil-cloth and nearly covered with musty hay. She pulled it out, slipping it into the back of her belt, where it was hidden by her cloak.
Whether or not the fox was dead, Sally wanted to be ready if by some chance he appeared.
As she stepped onto the floor, there was a movement behind her, and she wheeled around, to see Lightningflash getting to his feet with a yawn. “Ho hum .. Sally? You’re up early.”
He shook straw chaff from his flaxen mane. “But now I remember, you’re off to sell grain with my little girl. That’s right .. that is right, isn’t it?”
Sally nodded. Lightningflash looked pleased with himself. “I knew today was special. Now you look after that filly of mine, see? She’s too scatter-brained to do it herself sometimes. But what am I saying, you and Dancer are best friends, you know her mannerisms. Now, what time is it? Did I sleep in again?”
Sally nodded. “You did, I think.”
“Getting old is such a pain in the back … no, it really is. I think I’ll have a nice roll if you don’t mind. Tell your father I’ll take him to the fields soon.”
The swaybacked palomino walked by her and out the door, head down and mouth open in a yawn. Sally let out a sigh of relief that Lightingflash hadn’t bothered to ask why she was there in the first place.
She hurried out into the morning, and to Dancer. Rose was coming out of the house, their parents behind her. Sally absently patted Dancer’s shoulder as the three walked up to them. Her father lifted Rose into the driver’s seat as her mother handed Sally a covered basket. “This is enough food to get you to Summerdale, plus snacks between meals. And carrots for Dancer.”
The horse perked her ears forward, grinning, “Thanks ma’am!” The russet mouse smiled. “Well, you are pulling the cart dear.”
Sally put the basket into the cart under the driver’s seat, before she hugged her mother. “Thanks mum.”
“Of course love. Now you remember to eat, drink plenty of water, and sleep, no staying up all night. And don’t talk to shady characters. And don’t you go picking fights, or playing with knives, see?”
“I won’t mum.” Sally promised, taking a step back as her father walked over to her. He handed her a satchel.
“That’s money for the inn and food, don’t spend it all in one place.”
Sally nodded and he laid a paw on her shoulder. “Good. Then you’d best be off .. Ignasa go with you.”
She smiled, giving him a quick hug. “Thanks dad.”
Sally climbed into the driver’s seat, and Dancer stopped eating grass, taking a step forward. She started walking, and Rose waved. “I love you! We’ll be back soon! We’ll make lots of money for you father!”
He laughed and waved along with Aryah. Sally joined in the farewell, before turning her attention to the road ahead.
Evenglade was waking up, already, creatures were up and about. Rose had to wave to everyone; Sally didn’t bother. However she did return the wave of a dusky brown mouse on his way to the fields.
Dancer pulled the cart through the gateway of trees that marked the entrance to their town, and as she always did, Rose reached up to brush her paw through the trailing leaves.
Sally leaned against the back of the driver’s seat, breathing a deep breath of morning air and letting it out with a deep sigh.
Rose turned the green leaf she’d plucked from the archway over in her paws, before tucking it into one of her braids, explaining. “A bit of home.”
Sally rolled her eyes, but chuckled a little at the same time.
“Oh, what’s so funny?”
“You.” Sally put her paws above her head, leaning back and looking at the clouds. “I would never associate sticking bits of woodland into my hair with home.”
Rose nudged her sister. “Oh, you’re so unpoetic.”
“As I remember, I’m the one who writes poems. Your argument is invalid.”
Dancer craned her neck around, asking, “Hey, speaking of songs, let’s sing one together!”
Sally made a face, but Rose, of course, was congenial. “Ok, what should we sing?” “The Woodland Maiden!” Rose exclaimed, “I’ll start out .. Oh there was once a maiden ..”
“Can someone else pick for once?” Sally interrupted.
Rose sighed. “Sally, I’d love to let you, but all your songs are so depressing!”
Sally gave her sister a sideways glance. “Come on, I found a new one that’s beautiful. And depressing is beautiful.”
“I’d like to hear.” Dancer put in.
Rose slumped down in her seat. “Oh fine. What is it about this time?”
“Once in a day when our land was gold,
We were ruled by a family of kings.
Noble the children of settlers bold,
Who tamed the wild woods and springs.”
Sally kept looking at the sky as she sang in her clear, if not a little flat voice. Dancer picked up her feet to the tune, moving a little faster.
“The northland’s lost snowflakes in residence south,
Driven back by their land’s icy blast,
Dispossessed outcasts who molded a land,
Far better than what they had left.”
Even Rose was listening in interest, which led Sally to sing even louder.
“They grew in knowledge, in wealth and in strength,
No one could compare their fame,
But as with time’s turning their honesty failed,
They cast aside the healing flame.”
“Who are ‘they’ exactly?” Rose had to interrupt.
Sally gave her an unimpressed look, sighing, “I don’t know Rose, can we not just appreciate the song’s beauty and not pick it apart?”
“Obviously, ‘they’ are the northland’s lost snowflakes. Meaning they came from around here probably, and migrated to the middle realms.” Dancer interjected.
Sally blinked. “You actually assessed that correctly. And interestingly, according to further verses of the song, the kingdom was overthrown and king and queen slain. But their infant son was saved and raised in his ancestor’s home, the northlands.”
“See?” Rose crossed her arms. “Depressing.”
Sally shook her head. “Actually, not so much. Listen to this and tell me what you think.”
She began singing again.
“So the southern child with his roots in the north,
Roamed winter’s frozen tears.
Overthrown king with a crown but no throne,
He’ll wait though all of his years.
Look to his children, the hawk and the star,
Whom the leaf and the flower’ll unite.
Look their tales of triumphs and woes,
Friend, always for freedom do fight.”
Sally looked up. “So, what do you think?”
“Depressing.” Rose crossed her arms. “Can’t we sing nicer songs?”
“But doesn’t it sound like a prophecy?” Sally argued. “Somewhere, in these northlands, is a prince without a kingdom, just waiting for his children to avenge him and reclaim it.”
Rose sighed. “Or it’s ancient and he died hundreds of years ago.”
Sally grinned cheekily. “No who’s being depressing?”
“Haha, very funny.” Rose huffed.
Sally sighed, looking up at the sky. “I wish we could find a real prophecy.”
Rose shook her head. “Father says they aren’t real. Just figments of senile imagination.”
“Yes well.” Sally didn’t look at her sister. “Father isn’t nessicarily right about everything.” “Why would you say that? Father is wise …”
“Of course he is, I never said he wasn’t.” Sally interrupted Rose. “But no one is completely correct about everything, are they?”
Rose looked hurt. “You really shouldn’t judge creatures like you know everything about them.”
“You two!” Dancer interrupted. “Let’s not start fighting before we get a mile from Evenglade, deal?”
Sally rolled her eyes. “Oh fine.”
Silence fell over the three friends, though nothing was completely quiet in the northern forests. Birds twittered in the trees, Dancer’s hooves made heavy thuds on the dirt path, and Sally shooed a buzzing insect away from her face.
Her fur was warming in the sun, but the morning air still did its best to bite through her cloak. Rose hummed happily, and Dancer trotted in time to the tune, her flowing black tail arching gracefully.
Hours passed in this manner, and Sally fell to reading on of the books she’d packed for the trip. Rose fell to stitching whatever her current project was. When the sun was high overhead, Dancer stopped in a clearing beside the road. “Lunch anyone?”
Sally looked up, but Rose beat her two it. “I think that’s a fine idea.”
Her sister sighed, biting back the fact she was supposed to be in charge, and nodding. She slid from the driver’s seat, leaving her book on it, and unhitched Dancer while Rose got out their basket of food.
The horse shook herself as she got free of the traces, and she ran forward, crow-hopping a little. “Ahhhh .. so nice to be free again.”
Rose fussed over spreading a cloth on the ground, and while she did so, Sally slipped the sword from her belt and under some grain sacks in the cart, though still within easy reach of the driver’s seat.
“Sally? Are you coming to eat?” Rose was sitting on the cloth and Dancer was beside her on the grass, eyeing the now uncovered basket.
Sally walked around the cart, sitting between her sister and the horse. The meal of bread, cheese, and apples was simple, but tasty. Although neither Rose nor Sally got much of the apples.
Half an hour later they were preparing to leave; Rose was packing the food, and Sally was once again hitching Dancer to the cart. The horse paused in her gazing to quietly ask, “You brought the sword?”
Sally blinked, before shrugging. “It’s just a precaution.”
“Anything .. I don’t know.” Sally lied. “We are going to be spending the night miles from home, and should anything happen, I have to be able to protect you and Rose.” Dancer looked suspicious, before tossing her head. “Rose will freak if she sees it.”
“Which is why she won’t.” Sally gave her friend a pointed look. “Unless something horrible and unlikely happens, she’ll never know about it.”
Dancer frowned before rolling her eyes. “Alright, I guess.”
She fell back to grazing, and Sally pulled the last buckle of her harness into place. She climbed up on the driver’s seat beside Rose, who was reading a map. “So, from what I can tell, we’ll reach Summerglade an hour before dusk.”
“Where are we now?” Sally asked.
“In the middle of nowhere, we’re miles from everything.” Rose studied the map closer. “We should reach a crossroads soon, where we need to turn right.”
Dancer started moving again, and Sally studied the green canopy above them as it rustled in a breeze that had sprung up sometime during the journey. Silence once again blanketed the travelers, broken only by Rose’s humming and Dancer’s thudding steps.
Sally slowly sat up, a frown on her face as she listened for an element of the forest quiet that she realized she couldn’t hear .. chirping birds and buzzing insects. The only sound not made by her companions was the wind teasing through the treetops.
“Isn’t it unusually quiet?” Sally asked suddenly.
Rose stopped humming and stitching, and listened. She frowned. “You’re right .. odd.”
Dancer flicked her ears. “But wasn’t there birdsong and all that while we ate?”
Sally met Rose’s gaze questioningly, to find her sister’s eyes held the same confusion. She shook her head. “Honestly, I can’t remember.”
A slow chill crept down Sally’s spine, but Rose tried to brush away her unease. “A storm must be coming; maybe all the animals have gone into hiding.”
“I’d rather not have father’s grain get caught in a storm you know.” Sally gave Rose a look.
“Well, maybe .. they’re just all .. tired ..” Rose commented feebly.
Dancer looked behind herself. “All at the same time?”
Rose sighed. “I’m just trying to rationalize the reason; who knows, maybe birds don’t like … the trees around here or something.”
Sally and Dancer exchanged a glance, and as Rose picked up her sewing again, she paused, squinting a little as she peered down the road. “Hey, I think I see another traveler.”
Both Sally and Dancer looked in the direction she pointed. A figure was walking ahead of them, but the creature was far enough away nothing could be discerned about it.
After a few moments, it vanished from view thanks to the foliage. Sally could not deny the sinking feeling in her stomach.
But it couldn’t possibly be the black fox, whom Sally knew had to be both mentally deranged and dead. He was shot twice! And then there was all that stupidity about ‘the one’. No, it was just another traveler. A random, harmless traveler.
It’s ok Sally. Nothing bad will happen, nothing at all. Tonight, you’ll be safe and warm in the Summerglade inn. Two nights from now, you’ll be safe and warm in your own bed. No foxes will try to kill you; you’ll sell all the grain and make father proud. Yes. Yes you will.
Sally blinked as she felt Rose shaking her. “Are you alright? You’re staring into the distance all panicky .. is something wrong?”
“Nothing .. just realizing I’m sort of homesick.”
“Wow, already? Who was it who’s always wanted to leave?” Rose teased.
“Eheheh .. yea.” Sally laughed nervously. “I just have to get over the jitters.”
The silence from the woodlands continued, and as the minutes passed, it only got more oppressive. Sally struggled with herself as the hairs on the back of her neck started to stand on end.
It’s not the fox, you’re just a paranoid wreck!
Sally tried to tell herself it over and over, but she was having a hard time keeping from hyperventilating slightly. Dancer kept flicking her ears back and giving her friend quick looks … each time, Sally did her best to smile, though she couldn’t help feel it looked fake.
Each time, Dancer raised an eyebrow, before shaking her head and returning her gaze to the road.
At least ten minutes passed in the manner, and the figure walking ahead of them had seemingly vanished for good. Still, Sally’s fear did not dissipate.
They were passing through a part of the road where the forest was trying to reclaim it, and Dancer was forced to slow down to avoid seedling trees and large, fallen branches.
Suddenly, Sally heard a slight snap from above them. She jerked her head up, in time to see a shadow plummet from the branch, one that landed in the back of the cart.
Both Sally and Rose let out an exclamation of shock, and Dancer half reared at the jolting from her load. Sally felt her heart freeze .. it was him.
She felt as though she was rooted to the spot as Rose gasped, “What are you doing?”
The fox looked at Sally, his sharp orange eyes digging into her very being. Finally, he spoke. “I must say I’m surprised to find you so close to one of the others.”
“Does he know you?” Rose gasped. Sally couldn’t muster a reply.
“Oh, she didn’t tell on me? More the fool for it, I’d say. I did find it odd your parents would send you far away unattended after I nearly killed her.”
“What?” Rose half screamed. “Kill her? What?”
The black fox took a step forward, drawing his cutlass. “Shall I demonstrate with you?”
Something in Sally’s brain turned on at the sight of Rose under such a threat. She jolted forward, almost diving over the back of the driver’s seat and grasping the hilt of the hidden sword. She drew it out with a shredding sound, and the oilcloth fell away as she brought it up to deflect the foxes blow, nearly cutting Rose in the process.
The fox raised an eyebrow. “Most interesting little mouse. But it won’t save you.”
“Where did you get a sword?” Rose gaped. “What is this?”
Sally couldn’t waste energy on a reply as, with a sudden flick of his wrist, the fox sent her tumbling backwards, off the driver’s seat and onto the hard ground. Dancer jolted out of her shocked state and did what was most natural .. she bolted.
Sally coughed miserably and she inhaled dust from the cart wheels that narrowly missed her head. The fox had jumped from the cart and now he towered over her, just as before. She tried to drag herself backwards, but again, he planted a boot on her stomach, pressing downward.
“Too bad little mouse. I could almost admire your resolve, but your family is slated for death. I’ll finish what the Greeneyes started.”
Sally choked on the dusty air as the fox lifted his foot a little, before stomping down again, and again. He moved to continue, but he never got the chance.
The thunder of hooves rang out as a horse burst from the foliage, it’s cloaked rider brandishing a drawn and loaded bow. The whistle of the arrow spilt the air, ending with a solid thud in Sally’s attacker’s ribcage.
The black fox growled in anger and pain as the horse head butted him, sending him falling to the ground. Sally could only watch in amazement as the horse reared, but the fox threw up a paw, and a forcefield of green covered him, deflecting the blows.
The strange rider leapt to the ground, drawing the staff across his back. He stumbled a little as he ran forward, swinging the stick at the forcefield. It shattered as a flash of blue ran down the staff and the newcomer brought it’s strange weapon against the fox.
Sally’s tormentor flew backwards a few paces with a yelp of agony, and he dragged himself onto his paws, staggering away as fast as he could. The horse moved to give chase, but the fox vanished before their eyes with a flash.
The horse stamped a hoof. “A cloaking spell .. typical of him.”
Sally stared at the horse and his cloaked rider in amazement, before she remembered to breathe again and started hacking violently. In a few seconds, the rider was kneeling beside her, lifting her head. By its voice she guessed it was an older male. “Are you alright? I should have been here sooner .. does anything hurt?”
“E ..” Sally began, but her voice would not work. “Everything ..”
“I did think it might.” He sighed, holding both his paws out flat above her. “Ignasa, grant me your healing for this creature, as you have given her a great destiny. May I be your servant in dark times.”
A faint blue glow spread across his palms, and he placed them against her torso. The blue seeped into her fur, and Sally felt her pain drain away. Her benefactor lifted her head once again. “That should relieve the pain you’re in. You will need to take it easy for the next week however.”
Sally coughed a little, asking, “Who .. are you? Was that … was that magic?”
He shook his head. “Magic? I wouldn’t say so. The power and miracles of our Lord Ignasa, yes. And as for me, I am Groddil.”
He removed his hood, revealing silky gray ears and fur, and stunning yellow eyes. Sally stared him. “You’re a fox too?”
“I am, but I am not here to hurt you. Contrary, I am sent to be your guardian.”
Sally sat up gingerly. “My guardian?”
Groddil nodded. “As Ferran is sent to kill you, yes.”
“Ferran is the black fox?”
The paint horse snorted. “More of a demon than a fox if you ask me.”
Groddil sighed. “And this is Stargazer. Can you stand? We must find the other two.”
Sally suddenly made the realization that Dancer, Rose, and the cart were long gone. They had however, left a gaping hole in the foliage where they had veered from the road.
With a wince, Sally dragged herself onto her feet, stumbling forward a little. Groddil grabbed her arm. “Hold on a bit, we’ll find them together.”
He led her over to Stargazer. “You’ll never catch them on foot.”
Something resonated in Sally’s mind about her mother telling her not to talk to shady characters, but fear for her friends won out over that sound advice. As the fox helped her into Stargazer’s saddle, she made the sudden realization he wasn’t short as she had initially thought. His back seemed twisted, keeping him somewhat bent over, and he limped.
She noticed he had seen her surprise, but he said nothing as he handed her the fallen sword. Sally held on tightly as Stargazer knelt down, and Groddil climbed on behind her with a slight, almost unnoticeable wince.
Stargazer stood once more, and started down the path of destruction Dancer and the cart had left.
Sally said nothing for a good while, and the silence was, in her mind, uncomfortable. However, every backwards glance she gave the fox was met by a sincere, but rather forced smile. She got the idea he wasn’t used to smiling.
Tynek laid in a heap on the dirt floor of his prison, slowly waking up. A day had passed without interaction from the guards, or anyone else, and the sun was rising once more.
The patch of skin on his wrist that had been worn raw by shackles had turn deep purple-black, and his paw was swollen grotesquely. As he opened his mouth, he realized how dry it was .. and how hot he felt.
“Uuugggh ..” His moan was a horrible, rasping sound.
There was a rustle from nearby, and a figure loomed over him. “They brought us water .. I saved some for you.”
Tynek blinked up a Kaylar. “Why ..?”
“Because why not?” The otter smiled a little, before coughing. He pushed a bowl of murky water within Tynek’s reach, and the mouse rolled onto his good arm, pushing himself just far enough of the ground to plunge his muzzle into the liquid.
He drank desperately, each swallow of the tepid water bringing relief to his parched throat. It was gone far too soon.
Tynek let himself collapse to the dirt again, groaning a little. “My head …”
“You have a fever.” Kaylar rasped as he lay down nearby. “My advice is to sleep every moment that you can .. it’s doing me a world of good.”
Tynek blinked at him, muttering, “Where are you from?”
Kaylar looked confused. “What?”
“We’re going to die anyway. I just wondered. I’m from the northeast coasts.”
“Oh.” Kaylar coughed. “I’m from the southern reach of the highlands. Lived in a little holt named Willowglen with my family.”
He pulled his ragged sleeve up, revealing a silver tattoo on his shoulder. “I’d just been made a warrior when they took me.”
Tynek fell silent momentarily. “I wish I could remember freedom. But it’s so hazy now. I almost remember my father .. a Bloodwrather, my grandmother always said.”
His companion pricked his ears forward. “A Bloodwrather? Did you inherit it?”
“Not that I’ve seen.” Tynek rolled onto his back. “I wish every day that I had. Then I would be free of this place .. I’d be free ..”
His voice broke a little, before he narrowed his eyes with a deep sigh. “But it looks as though I’ll be free soon enough as it is.”
Kaylar continued to look at him with a sorrow-filled gaze, before he too looked down in silence.
Time crawled by as the sun crept upwards in the heavens, the only sounds the clink of hammer and chisel, the crack of whips, and the cries of seagulls.
Shadows distorted and changed throughout the day; every time Tynek opened his eyes in a feverish nightmare, they had moved. Finally, as the sun began its descent, one of the slavers approached their enclosure.
Tynek watched with half open eyes as the creature opened the door, stepping in and giving the two a look of silent distain. He dropped a dry loaf of bread and a jug onto the floor, before stepping out and locking the gate behind him.
Kaylar rolled over, muttering, “What ..”
He shook himself, blinking at the food. “They’re feeding us?”
Tynek tried to get up, but even his whole limbs wouldn’t obey his wishes. Kaylar winced at his feeble movements and got the loaf and jug, crawling to his side. He broke the bread in half, lifting his companion’s head.
“Here, can you eat?”
Tynek met the otter’s brown gaze with confusion, muttering, “Why .. are you helping me?”
“Because it’s the right thing to do.” Kaylar brought his arm up to his mouth and coughed into it. “Just because I’m trapped here doesn’t mean I shouldn’t help another. In fact, I believe the opposite is true .. we should stick together.”
Tynek weekly took the food and ate as best he could, though it was dry and his head hurt trying to chew it. Kaylar helped him drink, before falling to his own meal and eating ravenously. Halfway through, he looked up at his companion and asked, “Why are they feeding us?”
“Don’t know.” Tynek groaned a little as he closed his eyes again. “Aren’t they going to kill us?”
“I thought that too.” Kaylar leaned against the wall. “However, I think they would have done it already if they planned to. They wouldn’t .. heal us .. would they?”
Tynek didn’t open his eyes. “Never. In all the years I’ve been here, once a slave is like us, they’re dead. Unless … he has other plans.”
“Such as?” Kaylar sounded confused.
Tynek slowly turned his head to look at the otter. “How long have you been here?”
Kaylar coughed raggedly for a little, before sighing, “I don’t even know anymore. Maybe a year.”
“Then you wouldn’t know.” Tynek muttered. “He’ll make sport out of us .. see how long we can hold our own against some monster or a bunch of his soldiers.”
“You mean Daskar, right?”
Tynek groaned, raising his good paw to his forehead and letting his claws slide through his matted hair. “Yes. I hadn’t heard, but if his brother has come to visit, the tyrant always puts on some sort of show for him.”
Kaylar’s expression showed he understood. “So we’re to be the entertainment.”
“It’s all I could possibly guess. Though we’re pretty torn up to be much fun to watch .. I don’t know anymore.” He rolled onto his side, facing away from Kaylar. “Just let me sleep while I still can.”
Tynek could feel the otter’s gaze digging into his back, but he didn’t offer any more conversation. After a few moments, his reality faded away into sleep.
“How far could they have possibly gone?” Sally asked her strange new companions.
The fox’s horse had been taking them along the path of destruction Dancer had made for what seemed forever. Several times the horse had crossed a cleared patch of forest, and they had to pick up her trail on the other side.
Now, from her tracks, she was wandering aimlessly. No longer running, the cart did not cause such a path to follow in.
Stargazer tossed his head. “This one has unwarranted stamina, I’ll give her that. Beyond the bounds of most.”
Groddil said nothing, he just nodded.
Every so often, Sally tried to look at the sky to determine which direction they were going, but most of the time the tree tops blocked out the sun.
The sinking feeling in the pit of her stomach told her that Dancer was lost, going in circles, and had gotten them lost too. So much for ‘go straight to Summerglen’. They’d be lucky to get there by tomorrow night, and Sally couldn’t imagine the creature who was supposed to be buying their grain being in a good mood.
She cupped her paws around her mouth, calling, “Dancer! Rose! Where are you!”
Several birds flew from their perches in nearby trees, but there was no answer.
She cast a glance back at Groddil, but he was staring in a completely different direction from the tracks. “Stargazer, go this way.”
He pointed off into the forest, and without question, the horse did what he said. Sally felt apprehension grow as they left her friends’ trail. “Wait, why aren’t we following them?”
“They’re going in circles. It’ll take forever to catch them at this rate.”
“Uhhh ..” Sally looked oddly at Groddil. “Do you mean you’re giving up? If so, can you please let me down, I’ve got to find them.”
The fox shook his head. “You can’t walk on your own for long. We will find them. Together.”
His voice was firm, and he narrowed his eyes. “Before Ferran does.”
Sally stared at him. “You shot him .. that’s three times he’s been shot now! Why isn’t he dead yet?”
Stargazer paused in looking where he was going to give Sally an incredulous stare. “You don’t know a thing about Necromancers, do you?”
“You mean dark magicians?” Sally looked from the horse to the fox sitting behind her. “He’s one of them …..”
“Yes, you saw his power. At least, a small portion of it. I would have to give him an instantly fatal wound to end him .. and honestly, I’m not sure an arrow could kill him.” Groddil didn’t meet her gaze.
Sally shook her head. “He’s after my sister? Why? What is going on?”
Groddil sighed deeply. “You .. were ill-prepared for this to say the least. Your father should have told you all of this but … I see I will have to.”
“What?” Sally couldn’t comprehend what he could possibly mean.
Stargazer interrupted. “I hear them.”
Sally and Groddil fell silent, listening. Sure enough, the sound of soft sobbing rang through the woodlands. Stargazer hurried in the direction it came from, and soon enough, they came across the cart and its occupants.
Dancer lay on the ground, disregarding the traces, and panted heavily. Rose had her face buried in her paws and kept rubbing tears from her cheeks.
Stargazer shook his head, muttering, “Good thing we’re here.”
Sally leaned forward, calling, “Rose! Dancer! Are you ok?”
Both of them jerked their heads up, staring. And they kept staring, in absolute shock.
Stargazer used this moment to kneel, allowing both of his riders to dismount. As he stood up, Rose leapt off of the cart and ran to Sally, hugging her tightly.
“Ahhhh …” Sally couldn’t help but cry out as pain lanced through her ribs. “Don’t hug me .. please ..”
Rose let go, crying. “I thought I’d never see you again! I thought … I thought …”
She couldn’t finish her sentence, and tears rolled down her cheeks. “I thought you were gone forever.”
“I’m fine .. sort of. Thanks to them.” Sally pointed at Groddil and Stargazer.
To Sally’s dismay, Rose didn’t stop crying. “Rose .. it’s ok. I’m fine .. you don’t have to cry about it anymore.”
“Yes I do!” Rose disagreed. “You could have …”
“Died?” Sally finished. “But I didn’t. No one did .. it’s ok.”
Rose sniffled a little, but she nodded, doing her best to rub her tears away. There was a creaking jingle as Dancer stood, and for the first time, Sally noticed the blood oozing from the shallow gashes along her friend’s sides.
“Dancer! What happened?”
The filly shook her head. “I don’t know .. I just had to run .. I couldn’t stop .. I don’t know why!”
She seemed rather distraught at this. “That fox .. I was terrified .. but I left you Sally, I … I left you.”
Dancer hung her head so low her long mane brushed the ground. “It was like I couldn’t think.”
Sally walked the short distance between them and patted the horse’s neck. “It’s ok. Nothing bad happened.”
“This time!” Dancer protested. “But what about next time? I feel awful .. I’m so sorry Sally!”
Sally sighed. “It’s fine.”
Dancer shook her head as if to contradict that, but as she looked up, she seemed to notice Groddil and Stargazer for the first time. “Wait, who are they?”
Rose had stopped crying enough to silently stare at the two with wide eyes. Sally met the silver fox’s yellow gaze for a second, before stating, “They saved my life. They were the ones who drove Ferran .. I mean the black fox .. away.”
Groddil nodded, but didn’t make a move to speak. He looked .. almost shy, even if Sally had a hard time believing that was truly what she discerned in his demeanor.
Stargazer stretched one leg out in front of him, planting the hoof on the ground and bowing his head. “I am Stargazer, this is Groddil. We’re glad to be of service.”
Rose blinked multiple times, and Dancer looked just as surprised. “How ..? Did you just happen upon us?”
“No.” Groddil stated matter-of-factly. “We’ve been watching you for a long time.”
Stargazer gave him an exasperated look, before sighing, “Not because we wish to harm you in any way. My friend does not have a way with words; we aren’t stalking you, we’re guarding you.”
Both Dancer and Rose stared at the two blankly, before Rose tugged on Sally’s sleeve, voice scared. “Sally, I think this is was mother meant by shady characters.”
“A lot less shady than Ferran.” Sally countered, though she didn’t outright disagree.
Groddil seemed to realize his mistake and did his best to mend it. “If we wanted to kill you, we wouldn’t have saved the girl. We’re on your side.”
Neither Dancer or Rose looked terribly convinced, or comforted. Stargazer sighed heavily. For some reason, Sally felt amusement grow within her, and her uncertainties began to melt away.
Groddil looked frustrated. “It’s a complicated situation to explain, suffice it to say we mean you no harm. The opposite, really.”
Sally felt an honest smile cross her face. “I think I trust him. At least for now.”
Rose frowned nervously. “I don’t think father and mother would approve …”
“I know they wouldn’t.” Groddil tried to reassure her in his own, non-reassuring way. “But they would want you back alive and in one piece, which is why I’m here; to see they do.”
Rose looked pale, but Sally nodded. “We should get back to the road.”
“Please, not yet.” Rose rubbed her arms. “I need a rest .. I was scared out of my mind!”
Dancer sounded a bit sarcastic. “I’m the one who’s bleeding.”
Rose seemed to notice this for the first time. “Oh! What happened?”
“I ran through a forest and almost wrecked your dad’s cart .. Ahhh! Don’t touch it!” Rose had laid a paw on one of the deeper gashes running down Dancer’s flank.
The small mouse gulped. "You look awful .. I'll treat you .. let me get my supplies!"
She ran to the back of the cart, digging through it.
Groddil cleared his throat. “If I may .. perhaps you all need a few hours rest. We will keep watch to see you are safe from whatever may come.”