"Cockleburr is here now," said the hedgehog as he entered. "And I am hungry. Sorry I overslept, I was dead tired and needed it." He saw Grundlink with the two foxes. He came over and sat down beside his friend rat. "Are you going to introduce me to your friends?" he said, as he waited for breakfast.
Azroel nicked a chair beside his brother and sat down in it, scratching his head.
“Friends? We don’t consider ourselves friends of yours just yet…only fellow vermin who happen to know each other’s names.”
Grundlink raised a finger to point them out, but Azem swallowed his buttered potato and raised a palm to stop the rat.
“We can introduce ourselves just fine. You need your breakfast, Grundlink, especially after what you endured yesterday. Eat up; you’ve got a long journey ahead.”
His attempt was instantly interrupted by Arries the wildcat appearing and bravely presenting her speech, renouncing her villainous ways and now promising to work to become a creature of peace…of sorts. Never to ‘pillage, plunder or slaughter’ ever again, and in the process, effectively disbanding the horde. Permanently.
This brought mixed feelings of hope and confusion to the horde, or what remained of it. As soon as Arries left, ascended the staircase back into her bedroom, murmurs spread around the Inn. Azroel and Azem sensed their trepidation combined with enthusiasm, yet left it to the others to forge their own paths in life from thenceforth. For the fox brothers, their course – whether for good or for ill – had already been decided.
“Ain’t that a marvel!” Azem praised the bold honorable choice regarding the disbanding of the horde. He turned back to Cockleburr and introduced himself, as did Azroel. The formality was sealed with a shake of paws.
“If it’s not too much to ask, we desire to join you in your travel to Redwall Abbey. It may be an enormous risk, considering that we’re foxes, but we are taking nonetheless. Without risk, how do you know reward?”
Azroel nodded in affirmation of his brother’s words. “The war against Argrav Kelnris is Mossflower’s biggest news and juiciest gossip. We have no greater need in ourselves than to lend our bodies and our blades in the defense of Redwall as best we can.”
Grundlink grinned and took a knife to butter his biscuits. “They’re sincere, Cockleburr. I say we let ‘em join us, though I’d rather th’ vote be unanimous between th’ two o’ us. I wouldn’t do it withou’ your consent’ firs’.”
“We are greatly skilled in armed combat,” Azroel pressed further. “Grundlink, the two of us couldn’t help but notice your…ah, ‘diversified’ application of Soresu against Kradilus during the skirmish. Never has that technique been seen in the Forest or anywhere else in the world. In contrast, Kradilus is – or was – the horde’s uncontested Djem-So user, but now that he’s gone and taken Rugthort and Kullek with him…well, the horde no longer exists. Our preference is, get this, the archaic obsolete fencing-adapted Form II, Makashi. Yeah, we dare to use that Form, and not ashamed to admit it! We’d be a boon to Redwall’s war against Kelnris, that’s a promise.” Azroel threw his head back to drain his cognac and said no more.
Azem took over, eating the last of his buttered potato and wiping his fingers cleanly on a napkin. “Aye, and we’re likewise unafraid to stand up and vouch for ourselves should Redwall raise suspicion and distrust against us. Foxes get a bad reputation in these parts, no doubt of that.
“Regardless, we await your decision, Cockleburr.”
Grundlink shot Cockleburr an encouraging fanged smile. “All down t’ ye, my woodlander brother. Think wisely!”
Cockleburr was listening while he was eating his breakfast, and he was ravenous! He had some potatoes and some biscuits and gravy.
He was eyeing the foxes and thinking back to the time when he found himself trusting Grundlink. The ferret Fernleaf had a paw in that. The disbanding of the horde worked to their advantage. He wouldn't rush into anything and would use his breakfast as an excuse to think. Form II, Makashi. Very few did that anymore, and it was a surprise to him that the foxes used it.
He finished eating and lazily twirled his mace Spiketail. The fact Grundlink trusted them was a point in their favor.
"What do I say?" he said at last. "I say let them come with us. We shall see what they can do. We have a ferret there who would love to talk with them. And any allies against Kelnris will be welcome."
The squirrelmaid walked over to the table again. Most of the other patrons had left by now.
"Do you need anything? It is a little while from Redwall from here, and all this drama probably made you later than before. If you don't mind me asking, what is so important there?" She inquired gathering the finished plates and cutlery. "It seems like the likes of you would be going off, having adventures, not going to the peaceful Abbey."
Grundlink happily handed over his empty plate and silverware to Arries, but as he took his mug of October Ale, the rat shook his head and tapped his tail on the table almost indignantly.
“Have ye not been listenin’ t’ what my friend an’ I have been sayin’ over the past 24 hours? Mossflower is in th’ midst o’ a terrifyin’ war, darling miss Arries. Th’ wildcat Argrav Kelnris has threatened Redwall, an’ is continuin t’ do so, even as we sit here an’ speak. Our idle chatter does nothin’ unless we initiate actions t’ back them up. Cockleburr, myself, an’ these two foxes are goin’ there whether ye like or not. They need help, as much as they can get. Kelnris won’t give up until th’ Abbey is his, and we’ll not sit passively by an’ let him take it without a fight. Argue if ye wish; it’ll get ye nowhere. If ye have somethin’ t’ say t’ oppose our actions, then might as well just stay. Don’t come cryin’ t’ us if that war comes t’ your door.”
He suddenly stood up, placing his ale back on the table and turning himself in the direction of the stairs to the upper floor.
“Speakin’ of which, excuse me, please. Don’t drink from my cup!” He warned Cockleburr, giving him a teasing wink.
Seeing none attempting to stop him, Grundlink ascended the stairs up to the room of the wildcat. He knocked, and hearing the invitation to enter, he did so, finding the wildcat awake and gathering her belongings together.
Grundlink untied his weapons from his belt and laid them aside against the wall, meaning no harm to her. When she drew a dagger on him, the rat lifted up his palms to emphasize his unspoken statement.
“Madame Arries, leader o’ th’ Horde o’ Sinom th’ Fierce. I’ve come bearin’ an invitation, a plea for help. Mossflower is at war. Argrav Kelnris, a wildcat just like ye, threatens t’ dominate Redwall Abbey, an’ they’ve sent out many cries for aid and reinforcements. Yesternoon, my hedgehog friend revealed t’ me that the legendary hero Martin th’ Warrior had chosen his Champion in this dark time: Fernleaf the Hermit, once known as Zagreb th’ Assassin. He is a ferret, but Martin’s choice is solid word. Fernleaf is being trained by th’ one o’ whom I spoke last night, Jared Sandeye. Tinarandel th’ Dawn-Bringer himself.
Yet, even with these revalations that have tipped th’ scales o’ th’ conflict back in Redwall’s favor, their side still remains desperate. Th’ numbers o’ true warriors still remain few.”
Arries sheathed her dagger and relaxed, now open to listening. Grundlink dropped his palms, but stretched one out for her to possibly take.
“That is where we come t’ my invitation, madame. Ye are a proud an’ mighty warrior. Your combat prowess is unlike any I’ve ever seen from your species. Ye’d be an enormous aid in th’ fight agains’ Argrav. Your foxes, Azem an’ Azroel, who were loyal to your horde before its disbandin’, are also travelin’ with me. I cannot imagine how grateful they’d be if their former leader stood by their side, sword and dagger drawn, t’ lead them, inspire them, give them courage just as ye did in th’ horde.
Please, Arries. Do it for Azem an’ Azroel. Do it for your squirrelmaid friend. Do it for th’ Inn. Do it for your warriors. Above all, do it for yourself.”
Now he’d placed his other paw on her shoulder, his eyes desperate and pleading.
“This is your chance…t’ finally do some good….t’ finally make a difference in th’ world.”
The squirrelmaid's eyes widened, but before she could say anything, Grundlink was already out the door. "Oh! I hadn't meant it like that… in all the commotion here, I had forgotten about the attack. That is a wise and noble cause!" She turned to the others at the table, "Well, if you need any supplies, whether food or weapons, tell me. I would like to help."
The wildcat sheathed her dagger. Grundlink was very convincing. She smiled, but shook her head, "That is very awful, and I agree. But as you said, you need true heroes. I am not one. I may be good with blade and claw, but what makes a hero comes from within. No doubt the men you speak of are of the very best, willing to do anything for a noble cause such as that. And no doubt that this is very important, for Martin appears! If I were to accompany you, I would just be in the way. Unless you are creating an army, I would be of no use. As you have seen, I can't control a small horde of chickenthieves! I'm afraid I cannot accompany you. Although, if you need a sword, I assure you there is but one that can best my blade."
She took her long sword from its green leather sheath. Its metal was a sharp, polished silver. Its edges and base had a blueish tint to it. The pale green leather hilt just completed the work of art. She bowed, holding the blade out for Grundlink to inspect.
"As for the foxes, I'm sure they will accompany you, I could recommend no better. They were the most honest and hardworking of the lot. The only reason they weren't commanding is for... reputable reasons."
Grundlink felt his heart sink deep into his chest at Arries’ refusal to join him and his company to bring their arms to the defense of Redwall. His hybrid-colored ears drooped in slight sadness, and his tail, once swaying back and forth in the air hopefully, now flopped on the floor in defeat.
“But ye’d be such a powerful warrior an’ reliable leader on Redwall’s front lines…However, if that is your choice, I won’t argue th’ point.”
He stared at the decorative blade offered to him by the wildcat. A sudden feeling in his gut, an explosion of inspiration in his mind, a moment of foresight and precognition in his soul…urged him to take the blade. Without a second’s hesitation, Grundlink grasped the sword by the handle, his tail rising again to also accept the sheath.
“Do ye truly want this, Arries? I promise I shall put it to its best use, in fightin’ for Redwall or otherwise. Ye can count me t’ care for it, an’ ensure its mint condition. If there is only one who can best its power, then I believe ye. Nonetheless, my proposal still stands, should ye in time choose t’ accept it. What I wish for now is t’ prevent th’ war from comin’ t’ your doors – the Inn itself, I mean. T’ imagine what horrors migh’ be committed here if Kelnris ever gains dominion…it makes me shudder.”
Grundlink sheathed the mighty wildcat’s blade and swiftly tied it to his tunic belt. His tail passed him his own weapons, also sealing them in place. Turning on his heels, the rat started for the door, only to stop abruptly in the doorway between it and the hallway. Not looking over his shoulder, he said carefully,
“Madame Arries…it’s been an honor. Truly. I hope our paths do cross again someday. In th’ meantime, farewell.”
And he disappeared before Arries could bat an eye or open her mouth to reply.
Arries was just about to speak when he left. She stood there for a moment, then went rigid. Her breaths shorted and became panicked. She rushed to the wall, pressing a hidden panel and a part of the wall slide away. She ran down the narrow stairs it was hiding. The wall slid shut behind her as she raced down into a poorly-lit room. She abruptly sat on the dusty floor, clutching her chest and head. Her green-grey eyes wide, her body quivering. Flashes of memories overcoming her vision. The yells. The banging. The screams. The blood. The bodies.
"I've seen war. I hope I shall never see it again." She whispered, voice shaking.
OOC: I was thinking: Arries the wildcat is around 18, while the squirrel is early-20s. Also, Arries the wildcat wants to help, but has panic attacks every time she hears 'war' or sees bodies. An aftermath of her past, which she should overcome with help, over time.
While Grundlink had been unsuccessfully appealing to Arries, convincing her to join their defensive cause to no avail, Azem and Azroel, her most trusted foxes, were finishing up their breakfast and packing food and supplies for the long trek to Redwall. They passed a chocolate brownie to Cockleburr and loaded their knapsacks with chilled fruit juice and wine. Their ears twitched at Grundlink descending and retaking his seat, defeated. Grundlink accepted his brownie and bit into it, musing while chewing.
“I wanted t’ convince Arries t’ fight wit’ us, fight for us. But she is no warrior, in her words, never a fighter. That bein’ said, I did get this.” He patted the handle of the unique sword tied to his tunic. “I promised I’ll put it t’ good use. It’ll be much needed in Redwall’s defense. Still…she could’ve been a powerful defender. Now that is no longer possible.”
The foxes exchanged sighs. “Guess it’s just us four, then.” Azroel groaned, and his brother nodded in agreement. “Two foxes, a rat, and a hedgehog. Not exactly a heroic bunch, are we? Hardly stuff of legends.”
The harsh shutting of a door made the foursome jump in their seats and begin darting around searching for the source. Azem and Azroel recognized it without a doubt. They excused themselves and hurried upstairs to their wildcat leader’s room, removing the loose panel and climbing down to their General’s side in her safe area. Normally, they’d have genuflected before doing so, but she was clearly in no mood or position to be worshipped. So, they simply crouched down and each placed a soothing paw on her shoulders, in total silence, for a few long minutes…before Azem built up the courage to break it.
“Hey, it’s us, your favorite foxes. We’re here for you. Come here. You don’t need to be afraid anymore. We’ve got you. Come on.”
The boys wrapped their tender loving arms around the wildcat comfortingly. Azroel planted a tender fond kiss on her forehead while Azem rubbed her back soothingly.
“You made the most brilliant choice today, miss.” Azroel praised her in a gentle whisper. “That must have been a terrifying thing to do, breaking up the horde. But Azzy and I are proud you did it. You have become stronger than anybeast ever imagined you to be. You’ve made us stronger, too. Although we plan to accompany the rat and hedgehog to Redwall Abbey, we will keep you in our hearts and minds. Our blades are drawn in your name, and we charge into battle for the memory of the great wildcat who first inspired us to be fighters and warriors. We love you, Arries.”
When Arries looked up at the brothers in surprise, she had tears in her eyes. Of remorse, regret, guilt, and hopelessness. But they assured her that if she needed to cry, she may do so. It’d make her feel better, heal her broken heart and spirit. Better to let the emotions fall instead of letting them poison her from the inside. Each boy pecked her softly on the cheek and made sure to stay with their leader during her emotional episode, an arm around her waist and back, and their other fingers stroking the fur of her face the way she loved it.
“Go ahead, dear Arries. Don’t be afraid. We’re right here, you’re safe with us. It’s all right…everything’s all right.”
OOC: Annoying fangirl shriek echoes throughout a house in a different universe…
Arries the wildcat raised her head, tears still dripping through her fur. She grinned weakly, rubbing her eyes with a paw. They opened to see, not the other Arries, but the two handsome and ever-so-loyal foxes. A deep red blush started up her neck, hidden by her ginger fur. Paws trembling as she carefully pushed the other paws away.
"T-thank you. Shouldn't you be helping Grundlink? He needs your help more than this crying infant.." She half-heartedly joked. She shakily stood, almost falling twice. Her legs got firmer as she brushed the non-existing dust off her light armor. "Redwall will be very lucky, having you two defending them!" Her voice steadying. She had learned to quickly recover from her episodes, but never had someone other than Arries been there...
Her squirrel counter-part quickly came back up from her cellar, hearing the bang. When she saw that the two foxes weren't present, she relaxed. She scurried to the table, placing her parcels down and placing them in bags.
"You'll have to forgive her. We were both young when out families were murdered, and she has found it hard to cope. Anyhow, she should be better now. So you will take the road down to Redwall, huh? I suggest you make a quick detour on the way. I know a very good beast, a healer, who can help you. She lives in a den, on a very short path that comes off the road. She is an expert in herbs and medicines."
Azem and Azroel planted one last loving kiss on Arries' face, then released her and withdrew. They listened to their leader's words, and reluctantly had to agree. But they wouldn't budge just yet.
"We're not leaving you till you're OK," Azem assured her. "Until you have the strength to stand up again. Somebeast's got to take care of you."
But the wildcat was firm and insistent. So Azroel stood up and reascended the stairs up to the Inn. Azem barely moved, running his fingers tenderly through Arries's beautiful flowing golden hair as she stood up and cleaned the dust from off her armor. Azroel hesitated, torn between staying and waiting for him, and returning to the dining room to where Grundlink and Cockleburr awaited. After several minutes in which nothing changed, he decided on the latter. He traveled back to the table by his friends and sat down.
"I think my brother's become rather smitten with Arries," Azroel half-joked, half-surmised. "Though she'll always be more like a sister to me. What's got my brother suddenly captivated is beyond my reasoning, but it's not hard to see why in Arries. She could melt the heart of the toughest wildcat in Mossflower, perhaps even Argrav Kelnris, I reckon. Regardless, I'm not leaving till Azzy comes back. What's our course of action?"
Grundlink gestured to the squirrelmaid gratefully. "She claims t' know o' a beast who specializes in healing, herbs an' medicines; apparently lives in a den just off th' road t' Redwall. Should we check her out?"
Azroel shrugged nonchalantly. "Whatever you like. Azzy and I will gladly tag along."
Grundlink turned back to the squirrelmaid curiously. "I need a name, miss. Whom are we looking an' asking for? An' how do ye know this creature an' are sure she is trustworthy?"
Arries the squirrel quickly finished stuffing the parcels in. "Her name's Starlight, a fox. Just after Arries was born, a shaman, or rather, a crazybeast visited the wildcat family. Since my family was as if related by blood, my parents and parents-parents were present. My Mum said the poor soul looked starved t'death, and was clothed in raven claws and feathers. My Pa said no one could tell what beast it was. It kept chanting and waving its arms about. Before my grandparents drew their weapons, it spoke clearly.
'One with black fur is born. Stars held in her eyes. Alone in birth, alone it must not stay. Surrounds the eyes of night, only red is seen.'
It died, then and there. Everyone was scared."
Arries paused to button up the bag and handed it to Cockleburr. "The Emperor wildcat quickly sent out search parties, not knowing what to look for, what to expect. Nothing the Shaman had said made any sense, but everyone was afraid."
She shook her head, moving a chair to sit on by the table. "I had found her, a season or more later. I went swimming in a river, and got caught in the current. Before Arries could help, I was too far downstream. I woke up a day later, bandages on my head, in an unfamilar den. She healed me and sent me on my way. I never told any of my family this, for she was scarce a season younger than me, And I didn't know how much they wanted her. How is she trustworthy? Anyone then would have killed or captured me on sight back then. I bear the mark of the Emporer. "
Arries parted her fur on her cheek to reviel a burn mark the shape of one large and two smaller eyes.
"They would know who I was. She was kind, helped me, saved my fur more than once ever since." The squirrel quickly got up, putting the chair back hurriedly, and grabbed any extra supplies and stuffed them in bags.
"She is good. I should not be wasting your time any longer. You are probably late already. I will see if I can get Arries to join you. And if you wish, get you more weapons."
Arries the wildcat softly grabbed Azem's paw, taking it off her. She smiled a soft, genuine smile.
"Please Azem, follow your brother. He needs you more than I do. Redwall needs you more. I cannot help them, but you can. Let your inner warrior shine. You and I both know it's in there. Same with your brother."
She looked into his kind, soft eyes. It took all her mental discipline not to break down again, "Please. You can help them and save them. Be apart of the legend that will surely come after this."
She let go of his paw and softly pushed him towards the staircase.
Azem was greatly reluctant to leave Arries in her unstable frame of mind. As she took his paw and held it in her own, the softness of her fur remained on the nerves of his fingers. She smiled that soft genuine smile, and he felt a crimson blush creep up on his cheeks as their eyes met. He barely had a moment to physicaly react before he felt himself being pulled to his feet and pushed gently towards the stairs.
"Arries, no, please! I won't leave you, not in this state! I'm only trying to help! Please let Azroel and me take care of you!"
But the wildcat had already left him at the top of the stairs on the threshold to the bedroom, taking her paws off and stepping backwards nervously. Azem felt his mind whirl with a gamut of conflicting thoughts, then finally turned around and faced her, lifting her chin to look into those beautiful feline eyes…one last time.
"I can't think of the best way to say this, so I'll just come right out and say it. I've always thought that you have the cutest and most adorable smile ever, for a cat. I just had to get that off my chest; take it as you wish. It doesn't mean anything deep or serious, just a compliment. Judge me if you wish. Either way, it's been an honor serving under you. May we meet again, and until then, Azroel and me draw our blades and fight for you, Arries."
Azem let her go and matched her smile gracefully. Bowing one final time, he turned on his heel and left the room, never looking back and returning to the main dining area. He toom a seat beside his brother and listened to the latter half of the squirrelmaid's story. Azroel looked to him in concern, but thought better of making any kind of joke upon seeing the crestfallen expression on his face. Neither of them were in any real mood of humor of any sort.
Grundlink tapped his claws on the table as Arries the squirrelmaid concluded her curious (and strangely fortunate) tale of the mysterious beast named Starlight. He could barely form an opinion of it.
"A powerful tale ye related, miss Arries. I admire your bravery an' courage t' tell it, as difficult as it must be for ye. What I want t' know is this: how can ye be sure this Starlight will trust us? In what way or sayin' what words we ought t' tell or show her that we are friends o' yours? What do we do, exactly? Don't want t' mean any harm, only show that we only require her services an' aid? Ideas?"
He looked to the foxes for inspiration or suggestions, but both shrugged regretfully. Grundlink sighed and turned to Cockleburr, but his mouth was full of food. He looked back at Arries and took her paws tenderly in his own.
"Come now, miss Arries. There has t' been somethin', some talisman or a weapon or even a scrap o' paper, anythin' at all. Cast your memory as far back is it can possibly go. Help us out here. We just can't leave without a determined destination, an' if this Starlight lass get suspicious, she could kill us on sight without askin' questions! We are not o' th' Emperor, so what do we do?"
The wildcat paused. What the fox had said confused her, but she still felt something. It was soft, fuzzy. Arries sighed, shaking her head clear, the bright blush that had been growing by the second receded. Her breathing got deeper and steadier. The exercises she had been taught, so long ago, kicked in. She must control her emotions.
Even so, the skin around her ears were a light pink.
Arries the squirrel shook her head hard. "There is nothing I have nor need. She will trust you even if you just say I sent you. It was not that I bore the mark so she helped me, but that she is the kindest and helpful beast you would ever meet. She helps everybeast that needs help, even if all she gets back for payment is hate. "
She stood up, and pushed her chair in. "I'm afraid that is all I can do for help. I would ask to accompany you, if not for the fact my sister needs my assist-" She was cut off by a paw covering her mouth.
"You will do of no such thing! If it is just for me you stay, then I will go!" Arries the wildcat announced. She removed her paw and tightened her belt, now carrying her second-best sword. She had just come out her room to hear Arries, and she would not have that! "No arguments! Now, if you are done listening to this beast prattle on, we best be going! If we set a fast pace, we can get to the foxes' den by mid-afternoon! "
The mention of the name Starlight brought surprise smiles to the faces of Azem and Azroel. Starlight, a name more special to them than anybeast in the Inn or Horde knew. But before they said anything out loud, the fox brothers turned towards each other and held a whispered conference.
"Should we tell them?" Azroel asked, concerned.
"How much do they know, Arries, I mean, and her squirrelmaid sister? If we tell the truth about knowing her, our relation, it could put her in danger."
"The Horde's gone now, Azro." His younger twin brother Azem comforted him. "Gone and dead. We can trust Grundlink and Cockleburr. Arries and her sister both want to come with us. Those who remain at the Inn can take care of it. This place is in capable paws. It's okay, we can give them the truth. We joined the Horde for her, and nobeast else."
"Everything we've ever done since we joined the Horde was for her," Azroel agreed. "Nothing more or less."
Azem smiled longingly. "Looks like we're going home, then."
Azem matched his smile, his eyes shining fondly. "Aye, Azzy. Home to our girl Starlight."
The foxes turned back to their company. Azem acted as spokesbeast for himself and his brother.
"We know exactly where Starlight lives. The sooner we leave, the better. My bro and I know all the shortcuts."
"Ye know who she is, then?" Grundlink leaned forwards to them, looking brightly hopeful.
"Aye!" Azem affirmed proudly. He shared a heartwarming smile with Azroel, then proudly announced.
"It's where we live, too. Starlight is our sister."
Now genuinely interested, Grundlink leaned in further. The foxes happily elaborated.
"Starlight is the reason why we joined the Horde," Azroel explained, refilling his tankard from a jug of cognac. "We're not exactly a poor family, but not quite rich, either. We're also orphans: our parents were killed many seasons ago when Simon's Empire fell. Every fund we acquired, every coin and treasure went to her. No matter how busy my brother and I became while serving Arries, we always kept Starlight at the forefront of our minds and hearts. She mattered the world to us and still does. Let's get going as soon as possible. Azzy and I are longing to at last go home, the doorstep of which we've not stepped on for a month and a half. We miss our sweetheart girl Starly."
Azem stood up and approached the wildcat and squirrel sisters. "Why are you coming with us? It's not necessary. Someone has to manage the Inn. Some of our brothers might stay, but they can't take care of this place on their own. All the cleaning, the inventories, the maintenance, the cooking and drinking, the whatever stuff! You can't abandon this place; we can take care of ourselves, you know it! Azro and I are - er, were - the Horde's best Makashi wielders! Grundlink uses the most extraordinary variations of Soresu ever seen in this world, and Cockleburr can switch styles on a whim! We'll be just fine."
He bent down and kissed the squirrelmaid's paw affectionately and then took the wildcat's face in his paws, stroking her fur with her thumbs.
"Stay here with your sister. She and the other vermin need you. Don't worry about us. We're going to the legendary Redwall Abbey! Please, for your own sake, Arries, remain here and wait for us. If, when, after the war ends…we'll come back here. I'll come back for you, Arries...I promise."
(OOC:familar shriek sounds… )
BIC: Arries the squirrel shook her head, "It's fine. I have mostly everything in good order, and the beasts who are helping now know enough to keep this place functioning for weeks, if need be. Besides, it can't hurt to have experts on Djem-So and Makashi with you. Just let me grab something." She smiled, and quickly rushed into the kitchen.
Arries the wildcat lifted her eyebrows at the two foxes.
"While she is busy, would you mind telling me why I hadn't known about your relationship with that cursed beast? I'll assume my sister had known, but-" she was interrupted by the squirrelmaid coming back, with her satchel and sword.
"I've informed the workers about my leave, and the extra they will get. Let us hurry. We mustn't waste daylight!" She grinned, gripping her satchel strap.
Azem and Azroel repeated the evil word bitterly. As he stood up and nearly knocked over his tankard of cognac, Azroel's paw almost flew to the hilt of his saber, but Azem seized his brother's wrist at the last second, showing that they did not wish to harm the wildcat. He took his other paw from Arries' face, cleared his throat innocently, and with his brother, looked her steadfastly in the eyes once again.
"Our younger sister is not cursed. She is in fact the gentlest, sweetest, and smartest vixen you'll ever meet. Think of her what you may, Arries, but I expect you to leave whatever judgments you form here at the Inn. You'll understand when we get there. What Starly lacks in physical strength and combat knowledge, she makes up for in mental wit and her spiritual connections to the essences of nature and life. We may not have been the leaders of your Horde, Arries, but I declare here and now that you shall never speak ill of our sweetheart sister ever again!"
Azroel took several deep breaths and composed himself. "That is exactly the reason why we never told you. Our blood relation and our statements concerning it speak for themselves. We couldn't risk putting her in any danger. We never told you from the beginning when we first joined the Horde, just so we could ensure her protection. Rugthort, Kullek, Kradilus, and Ragclaw - even they knew nothing! We just wanted to protect our beloved dear sister!"
The saving grace from further argument possibly devolving into hostility came from the squirrelmaid shutting up her wildcat counterpart. Both foxes and Grundlink - who had felt no need to interject - breathed giant signs of relief.
"All right," Azem decided. "Let's get going. If we move now, we'll get there in time for tea."
Azroel chuckled heartily. "Starly always hates when we're late for tea. Always."
Arries the squirrel nodded and grinned. Her counterpart just sighed.
"When I said cursed, I meant no ill will. Why, the most mighty badgers are cursed, yet are they evil? I think not." She strode out of the Inn. Arries the squirrel just sighed.
"She means it. I suspect she greatly admires Starlight, for many reasons. But there is no disputing that Star is completely normal. Just looking at her gorgous eyes almost hypnotize me. Anyway, we best follow her. " She smiled cheekly, "I've been late to tea before. Not an experiance I wish to repeat." She quickly scurried after her sister.
Cockleburr had finished his breakfast and stood up. "I understand what you mean. I should know. Bloodwrath is both a blessing and a curse, a curse I would rather do without. But what is is what must be if we are to defeat a foe who would destroy all."
He looked to all. "Are we ready to go, or do we have more talking to do?"