A Noble Lie (The Story of Tornsnout the King of Firstone tribe–open to all)

(This is open to everybeast. Hopefully, if there is any trouble, you will tell me. I am glad to edit. Please enjoy, and remember–Vermin may not be good, but they do not have to be evil.)

The winter season was a time of darkness and peace in the North. Few vermin braved the freezing winds and snows. Instead, they huddled around fires against the deadly cold. Fear and desperation makes allies of the bitterest enemies, and the ferrets, rats, and foxes from rival bands sat together, talking as friends, waiting until the ice melted to continue their bloody wars. This was the time for making friendships and seeking companions. Now, however, it was the time for losing friends, thought Tornsnout as he looked outside his small cave. All of his allies were gone, leaving him and his tribe behind.

Spring advanced, and the ice that bound tribes and bands together melted away in the sunlight. Already, grass and moss turned green and alive. Tornsnout sighed, his eyes half-closed, before turning to his tribe.

“The squirrels and mice and badgers will be coming out of their warm homes soon. I’m willing to bet they grew fatter since last spring. And we are weaker!” Tornsnout grabbed one of the fools closest to him by the neck, shaking him.

“Z-zir? Viz iz not our fault!” A weasel stepped up, defending his friend.

“I know.” the ferret gasps, air returned to him as Tornsnout stalks away. “But, ever since you made me your king, I have thought long of what we need.”

“Vat? Vat do ve need?” a ferret called Hissu asked. He had been loyal, and Tornsnout found a chuckle escaping his lips.

“We need a home. We are not slavers or bandits. Most of you have never even seen blood that didn’t come from one of your own! It may be no fault of yours, but one more season like this, and I will be king over a tribe of skeletons. How many remember Terrek? I remember. We buried him outside this very cave last winter!” Tornsnout took a breath, looking down at his paws. “I remember Ferneyes. She was the prettiest weaselmaid. Then, winter came. Now, she is gone. Covered by blankets, somewhere in this cave. And the “goodbeasts” cry when one of theirs is made a slave?”

“Tornsnout, you hav been a good king, and you say good tings vell. Ve all remember young Ferneyes. I vatched her birt. Ve are all angry. But, da ones sout ov here are strong.” Old One, his body so tortured by the seasons that few knew if he was a ferret or a weasel, spoke, his paw touching Tornsnout’s cloak.

“The old one is right, Tornsnout. Before you became king, and before your father’s father was king, we had a home in the south, but got thrown out. Surely, you remember this from our songs! I taught them to you.” a short weasel, Broketail, said.

“Our ancestors were weak. They refused to take slaves or to fight. You, Broketail, follow that example.” Tornsnout snarled. “There is no time for honor and mercy. A season, a season more, and all of us will die. Our songs speak of hundreds of weasels and ferrets leaving the place called Mossflower, before the first of my ancestors came into power. Now, there are but fifty of us.”

“Our young ones die. Other tribes call us cowards and fools! Even their slaves pity us. If we go south, all of us, we can take back what once belonged to us. Our ancestors once ruled that place as its Noble Guardians! Let us have a home, and our title back!”

Tornsnout spoke the last words with his rusted sword drawn. It reflected some of the sunlight into the cave, casting fifty starved faces into light. Most of them cheered. Only Old One and Broketail covered their eyes.

“Ever since he became king a season ago, he wanted to do this. His father told us to watch over him and teach him of peace before he died. Do you think we failed?” Broketail asked Old One.

“No. It iz not vat ve failed, it iz vat he iz right. Ve hid in de Nortlands too long. Ve are dying out because ve are not slavers or killers.” Old One coughed, blood spattering over his tattered clothing. “Ve need Tornsnout, friend. But, ve must vetch vat he does not do harm.”

And thus, it was. Tornsnout gathered the Firstone tribe, and lead them south, towards the forests and rivers of Mossflower, returning them to the place of their ancestors.


“Hey, it iz pretty!” Hissu bounced around the camp. He had been looking into the river, prodding the sleepy Old One, and even set his own tail on fire once that morning. The others blamed his good health, for with his health, his playful energy returned. “Here iz wonderful!”

“Yes, yes it is!” Tornsnout patted him on the back, smiling. At last, his tribe had life, he thought as he looked up at the blue sky. A blue so different from the grays of the skies in the North. It seemed strange, however, that no warriors opposed them, and no fortress greeted them. Only the woods, green and dark, rose around the Firstone tribe. Tornsnout could not believe their luck. After so many stories of Mossflower’s woodlander warriors, the Firstone were safe and for once, growing in number.

Tornsnout grinned as he watched a young ferret trying to grab Hissu’s tail as they ran around the camp. Strong, healthy, with a beautiful smile and piercing green eyes--what more could his tribe need as proof of his great leadership?

“King Tornsnout! Vey captured a pair of woodlanders!” In an instant, his hopes for peace were dashed. The woodlanders were here, after all. It was time to defend their claim to the land.


The first to be interrogated was a shrew. She struggled and spat at the weasels holding her down as Tornsnout looked on.

“Enough! What are you doing in our territory?” he asked.

“Your territory? We shrews have been living near this river for as long as I remember, you witless weasel! It’s our land! If I didn’t have my paws tied, I’d…” As she took a breath to continue, Tornsnout hit her over the head. She passed out in an instant.

“So, I may be right  after all. Maybe honor and mercy cannot be our ways.” he bent down to look at the shrew maid. She was quite pretty, he noted. “Perhaps the other prisoner will talk more sensibly. It would be a shame to have to kill her.”

His tribe lived along this river for almost a full two months now, and already, he felt his heart tied to this place. Their dibbuns were healthy, their old ones did not die, and starvation did not rear its ugly head once. If he must kill, he will, thought Tornsnout as he made his way for the other tent. The death of a few woodlanders whose ancestors exiled his, was a price he was willing to pay for the wonders his tribe now held.


“Who are you?” Tornsnout asked. He had trouble identifying the woodlander, the poor beast was bound so well. The others must have thought this one more dangerous then the shrew, he decided.

Fergus didn't know what had gone wrong.  He and the shrewmaid were out walking, collecting stones along the river–Eileen was angry with him, and he had hoped a gift would have brought her around more quickly--when they had walked right into the path of a group of vermin. Weasels, mostly, with a few ferrets. They had been so suprised that he and the lass hadn't gotten in more than a few punches before being well and truly captured.

He didn't like it.  Being bound up in such a way, surrounded by such hostile glares actually terrified him. What was worse that he could recognize the accents. Not like his, but familiar none-the-less. These vermin were from up north. Far North. The Northern vermin always seemed to be a little tougher, a little more cruel when it came to their victims than the Southern ones.  Reverting back to his younger days, he wished Eileen were here to get him out of this mess. But another part of him pleaded with fate to keep her away, far away, from this. He was protective of her, sure, even though she would have been the better of them to deal with this sort of situation.

When the one his captives reffered to as 'King' arrived in the tent, the squirrel had been madly fidgeting, not trying to escape as much as simply trying to get more comfortable.  Fergus stopped and lay motionless for a moment, staring up at the Ferret, his blue eyes wide and guilty, much like a small dibbun who'd been caught with his paw in the jam, and then answered with out thinking.  "Fergus Kelley. Where's Catkin?"

As fate would have it, while Fergus and the pretty shrewmaid were busy being captured, Eileen Kelley, former Militia member, traveler, and keeper of Fergus, had been walking along the banks of the river, cooling off after a spat with her younger brother.  It was all very silly things, too, these arguments. But the tension of traveling so far from home had gotten to them, and they started sniping at one another. Thank goodness it wasn't in Woodlander, or they'd've been kicked out of the Shrew's camp with boxed ears, the both of them.

Letting her feet take her along, she thought back on the argument, until she spotted a track mark. From her regiment days, she could tell it was vermin, Stoat or Ferret, and fresh. Her paw went to the hilt of her dagger, and she looked carefully about. Nothing lurking close by that she could see... probably just a grubby little rover, much like herself right now. But still, instinct told her to follow the trail, check things out.

Carelessly pushing her hair out of her eyes, she followed, until a commotion up ahead caught her attention: a very large camp was in a mild uproar. Following the noise now, she came to the outer fringe of a vermin encampment just in time to see something squirmy being carted into a tent. That something had a shock of dark hair and was wearing a kilt: Her brother.

“Thank you for being…good.” Tornsnout  nodded to the prisoner. The squirrel showed some respect, at least.

“If Catkin is the shrew we captured with you, I had to calm her. She is asleep. I am Tornsnout.” he leaned down, looking into Fergus’ eyes.

“So, Fergus.” Tornsnout smiled then, showing off his sharp, yellowed teeth. “Now that I satisfied you, I want to know some things of you and your sort. Before you answer, consider this: the shrewmaid told me all I need to hear, to kill you swiftly. Do not give me an answer that will make it a slow death.”

Some part of him wondered at the cruelty he was willing to show to protect his tribe, but Tornsnout spoke the truth. If the Firstone could keep themselves hidden for two months, they could hide for seasons. Maybe, the death of these two would save him and his tribe from the woodlanders’ wrath. His spirit, Tornsnout was certain, used to the horrors of the North, would lend him strength if he had to torture and kill. And, no amount of pleading would sway him, he decided. Even if the squirrel seemed friendly, and a bit too young…No, warriors cannot be judged by age.

“What is my tribe facing? Whatever you hide from me, I will discover with torture. So, tell me now, while your skin is still on your bones.”


The passage of Firstone did not go unnoticed among the tribes and bands of the vermin. A small group of bandits quietly watched as they left the North. They were lead by Sonnis. He was, as many vermin are, a murderer and a thief, forged out of madness and cruelty of the frozen Northlands. Stories of his enemies found dead or worse turned into myths to frighten even the hardest vermin. He was a monster.

But, he was also no fool. He sent only spies, at first, that tracked across the vast expanse of the Northlands, looking for the easy prey that the Firstone became by leaving the defenses of their caves. One of these, Tirk the rat, had returned with news…


“Graytail, vis iz ztupid.Ve are not here to kill vose woodlanderz.” Hissu struggled to cut the stubborn root into the kettle his sister cooked over.

“Yes, but do vey care?” Graytail asked, dumping a load of firewood nearby, wiping her paws on a torn, old apron. “Tornsnout might be right. Vey did throw our ancestors out of vis place.”

“True, vat. Zay, vy iz it I alvayz cook and you alvayz fetch wood?” he dodged as Graytail threw a stick at him.

“Because ve last time I cooked anything for us, ve nearly died. Did you hear something?” her dagger was out in a flash, as she looked around.

“You worry too much, zizter.”


“The Firstone went further south, my lord. We do not know why.” the rat bowed to his master.
“Because they know something we don’t. They’ve been a quiet bunch for many seasons. Maybe, this is their move. I heard once they think they’re high and mighty. Probably’ll die. I get to see a bloodbath, and my friends get loot.” Sonnis glared down. “Unless anybeast has another plan?”
“No, my lord! I’ll track the Firstone to their graves, if you only ask!”
“I assure you, Tirk, it will only be to your grave that you will track them.” the brown-furred rat only had a moment to think about what his master said, before a knife sliced across his neck.
“I don’t ask anything of my friends.” as Tirk drowned in his own blood, the fox watched, a smile on his face. “Too bad you’re not my friend any more.”


“Zizter, it could be more woodlanderz!” Hissu hid behind the larger ferret, though he still followed her as she patrolled the camp.

“A moment ago, you said it vas nothing. Such a coward.” Graytail hissed.

The Four Avengers were walking down an old path through Mossflower. They had only discovered it that morning, and they had no idea where it went. Galvin Greenfield had intellectually argued that it was not wise to walk an unknown path. But, when a vote was taken, Loki Flashpaw's theory that, being a path, the path must go somewhere won the day.

"I can not believe this," Galvin muttered, "you decide to go down a path because it is a path? What is the logic in that? Now we are lost."

"We aren’t lost yet Galvin," Bronzestripe said, "as long as we stay on they path, we can follow it back."

"Yes, but it was half a days walk here," Galvin replied, looking at the sun's position to make sure, "it will be night before we get back to main road. Probably longer if we keep walking."

Suddenly, Aislin called down to her companions from above, "I see the River Moss!" She had a habit of jumping from tree to tree while the rest of the Avengers walked below. It made her great help as a scout; her sight range was greatly increased.

"See Galvin," Loki piped up, "we aren’t lost at all, we found the River Moss!"

"Fine," Galvin said, "we are not lost, but we were not really trying to get to the river either." He pushed his glasses farther up on the ridge of his nose. They had slipped during the hours of walking. Aislin dropped from a tree into the wet grass beneath, joining her companions.

"We should rest and have lunch soon," Aislin said, "we have been walking all day."

"I'm with the lady!" Loki yelled, "I'm starving!"

"You always are," Galvin muttered, checking the edge of their chosen camp area for fire wood. “I don’t know about you guys,” he said, “but I like a hot meal over a cold one any day.”

“Hey, everybody,” Loki suddenly said, “there are tracks over here, two kinds. I don’t know what beasts they are, but I bet Galvin does!” The other three Avengers came to look at Loki's discovery, Galvin checking closely to see what species they were.

"The older set of tracks are from a ferret, and the second, which seem to follow the first," Galvin paused a second, peering over his glasses to see better up close, "are from a squirrel."

"Why would a squirrel want to follow a ferret?" Bronzestripe asked, "it doesn't make any sense." He drew his blade as if the ferret was still there and threatening him.

"Well, for the same reason we would," Aislin said, "to find out what he's up to. I've never met a ferret that didn't have a weapon and planned to use it. Though I suppose there could be one somewhere."

"Come on," Bronzestripe said as he set out along the tracks, leaving some very big paw prints of his own, "we need to make sure the squirrel is safe."

"Right," Aislin nodded as she drew her bow, ready to set an arrow to its string at a second's notice. She and Loki followed their giant friend, Loki with a knife in paw. The two walked shoulder to shoulder, knowing that together was safer than alone. Galvin hung back, loading his crossbow.

"I do hope we don't have to fight," Galvon muttered, "this was day was just getting better."

******

It didn't take long for the Four Avengers to reach the Firstone tribe's home, retracing Eileen's pawsteps. Bronzestripe was the first to come out of the trees, almost tripping on Eileen. He managed to stop himself just before he fell, which would have been quite painful, if not fatal, for the squirrel. He quickly crouched down next to her, knowing that his massive size and golden armor made him easily noticeable. "What are you doing so near to these vermin miss?" Bronzestripe asked Eileen in a low voice, "have they captured somebeast you know?" The other three avengers appeared from the brush, weapons in paw. The quickly realized what was going on and flattened themselves to the ground, knowing that detection could be their end.

The white vixen walked slowly along the path close to the woods on one side with knees bent slightly her mind on high alert in the land of Mossflower that was still unknown to her. Nova had been tracking the Firstone tribe ever since they left the Northlands having left her own group after a particularly bloody battle with their main foes. Needless to say she wasn’t happy about traveling such a long distance but it was better that she went alone, she didn’t even trust her own kind let alone other vermin. Nova had heard about the woodlanders from parchments raided from their foes and she was uncertain whether they were trustworthy or not, not mattering if they were weak or strong everyone seemed like a foe to her.

Nova froze spotting three shadows ahead of her down the path and as a natural reaction she leapt into the bushes and moved forward on all fours until she could see better but by that time the four creatures had entered the woods as well. Nova scanned through the vegetation and easily spotted marks and prints left by the badger. Nova went onto her foot claws and crouched low as she followed the tracks stopping abruptly as she saw a flash of gold suddenly crouch low to the ground. Nova waited and watched and was slightly startled as not two but three more beasts came through the woods and hit the ground by the badger who appeared to be next to a squirrel that had already been there. Nova computed what she had seen, a badger, two squirrels, and two mice then she looked at the large vermin camp that seemed to have the attention of the woodlanders. Not the best odds all things considered.
Nova kept crouched down and craned her neck forward and up to keep an eye on everything in front of her while her ears kept open for anything coming behind her.

"But ye can't kill me," Fergus blurted out. "Me Mum's expectin' grandbabies from me, an' Olwen Kelley is a fair dangerous lady, ye ken?" He knew it was the wrong thing to say probably, but he'd never been in a situation yet were his mouth didn't run away with him. He was only glad he wasn't so scared that he reverted back to Gaelic. That surely would have gotten him flayed. Fergus started to squirm again, and hopefully it looked like it was just thoughtless, nervous squirming, which it wasn't. He'd been the captive in his childhood games more than enough to figure out how to slip out of ropes. Now if only he could do it and have a chance at survival. So far, he'd just squirmed in a circle in the dirt and hopelessly stained his shirt.

"Aye, she is. An' there's another reason ye can't kill me, too, sir," Fergus looked up at Tornsnout with a small, helplessly charming smile that always worked with the maids. "I'm just a traveler in these parts, ye ken? I'm from up north, like yer fine self. "


Eileen had been in the process of ducking away from the two vermin when the Avengers came upon her. It startled her quite a bit, and then it got her annoyed. Just who did they think they were anyway? She glared at the badger, her dagger drawn in one paw, a large rock in the other. She wasn't pleased about nearly being squished, and she disliked his impractical wardrobe choice. It probably wasn't the smartest thing to do, given that he could dispatch her with a singe swipe of a paw–he was huge and here she was, hardly taller than a shrew-- she immediately cut into him with a soft, heavily accented reprimand. "Shut yer mouth, ye great shiny lump'o'puddenhead! An get down fer goodness's sake! Ye want me chance o'spyin tae be ruined by all yer noise?" Satisfied, she added, "An' it aint miss tae ye. It s Captain." She hadn't been Captain Kelly in a full season, but the title and training was something of a comfort, something she could fall back on in situations like this. "Now, if ye'll please hush, I'm gonnae try an sneak in, because fer sure ye've blown all chances o' waitin' til the right moment."

__

Hissu and Greytail were not the only ones to hear the commotion; a slight, small Ferret, not quite an adult yet but not a dibbun anymore, had heard the sounds of ferns rustling and a twig cracking as Bronzestripe had come upon Eileen. He drew the little dagger he used to clean fish and sidled up to Greytail. "Yew hear that?"

"Sneaking isn't my style," Bronzestripe growled, his eyes turning a bit red, "and I call no beast captain." Aislin, seeing the red tint in her friends eyes, grabbed his shoulder.

"Stop Bronzestripe," Aislin said firmly but quietly, "she is right, stealth is necessary at the moment."

"I think they heard us," Galvon hissed, "that ferret looked up here!" He knew it was probably Bronzestripe the ferret heard, but he didn't want to make the badger any madder.

"We should split up," Loki whispered, "Bronze, Lin, Galv, I don't mean to insult but none of you are very stealthy. You guys should hide deeper in the woods while we take a look around." By we he meant himself and Eileen. Bronzestripe, who's temper started to go down, nodded.

"Come on," he said to Galvin and Aislin. All three crept back further into the trees the way they came, only bothering to stand up when the could see the vermin camp no longer.

"What is that?" Galvin asked suddenly.

"Where? What did you see?" Bronzestripe asked, his sword ready.

"I'm not sure," Galvin murmured, "it looked like some kind of white beast. Over that way." He pointed with paw towards where Nova was.

"OK," Bronzestripe said, "I'll go towards the thing from the front. Galv, you'll circle left. Lin, you'll circle right." He walked slowly toward Nova, his sword ready to swing in case it was an enemy. Aislin, an arrow on her string, came from the right (Nova's left.) Galvin, his wrench held high in his shaking paws, came from the left (Nova's right.)

******

"OK cap'in," Loki threw Eileen a cocky salute, "I'm going in." Without further notice, he began darting off silently around the vermin camp, dodging from tree to tree. He was nearly imposable to see in the shadow, his black fur and clothing blending right in. After he was sure the patrol was far enough away, he began creeping into the camp, ducking behind tents as vermin walked past. "That looks like the bosses tent," Loki thought as he looked at the largest one, fit for a king. Well, a tribal king. He flattened himself to one of the back poles, getting ready to barge into Tornsnout's quarters.

Tornsnout did not know what to make of things. As vermin, he understood threats helped in taking information from unwilling beasts. Yet, this one seemed too stupid to understand the ferret was only doing what is necessary. It was not as if Firstone did not have a few of its members captured and even tortured by other tribes. The idea was, you spilled your guts, or the other beast will do it for you. Even a dibbun could understand that.

Not to mention, the squirrel had to be lying about being a traveler.

“Look, Fergus. If you tell me about Mossflower, I will let you go. If you don’t, I will kill you, or worse. Now, you made it clear you want to live. So, tell me what I want to know, and I will spare your life. Alright?” the ferret felt silly. Explaining such things to a woodlander, a creature much more familiar with war than any of the Firstone tribe. Surely, they took captives to learn about their enemies!

Truly, he was too soft. He would have to hurt Fergus a bit, to show the squirrel he meant business, if the foolish creature did not answer.


“Vat do you tink he is doing in dere?” Old One asked Broketail as the two sat near one of the food stores. The bowls and jars contained little, but somebeast still had to guard them.

“I hope nothing cruel. He thinks a true leader has a heart of stone. What he does not see is that mercy and honor have as much place as survival and service among us. He will lose nothing by being a peaceful king like his father.”

“His faver? His faver vas a different beast. Strong, but afraid, like his faver before him. Tornsnout is not afraid. He is angry at de voodlanders.” the ancient beast chuckled, tail curling around his friend’s.

“I know. I am afraid my songs are to blame. We caution every dibbun not to call the rabbits, badgers, and other such friends, for fear they will cause our young ones harm. But, what if we made a monster of Tornsnout by teaching him to hate the woodlanders?” Broketail shivered. “I do not wish to see our tribe lowered by this. We may be vermin, but we were once nobles.”

“Wiv hope, my friend, ve may yet see Mossflower become home wivout blood spilled. But, I vould that if blood is spilled, it be voodlander and not Firstone.”  Old One closed his eyes, leaning against a barrel, snoring away in a moment’s time.

“Yes, Old One. I would that be, as well.” the weasel pried his tail away from the ancient’s, and stood up, careful not to wake the tribe’s oldest member.

“Hmm…and what might those three be doing?” Broketail watched as Hissu, Graytail, and a young one crept up at a bush.


“Hissu, you go and tell the overs. Vey need to know there’s somving here.” Graytail looked down at the young one by her side. “You and me, ve vill stay here and make sure nobeast is here to hurt ve tribe.”

Hissu was about to protest, waved his paws in the air, jumping in place, but decided against it. He ran among the tents and bedding bags, prodding here and there, whispering, quietly gathering the fighters of Firstone who were not protecting Tornsnout as he interrogated his prisoner.

As Graytail watched, a weasel, Broketail, ran after Hissu, asking something she could barely hear.

“Ve know somebeast is there. Come out, or else!” Graytail  turned back to the edge of the camp, and stepped forward cautiously. She did not know where the sound came from, exactly, or even if the one making it crept away, but she could not take the chance. If these were woodlanders, she wanted her brother out of the way, and a good warrior by her side. Failing that, she wanted her brother gone on another errand, so as to not see her die.

The soft ferret did not need another reason to cry at night.

Fergus sighed and stopped wiggling all together; the ropes had started to come loose. His tone had gone pleading and slightly frustrated. "But I'm not from here. Me sister an' me are travelers, from th' north borders of Mossflower. We're goin' tae th' Southsward. All's I know of this place is that it's verra green an' verra peaceful." Fergus sighed. "I'm from th' North, do ye not recognize me brogue?"


The Ferret, Korr, nodded to Greytail quietly. She was better at this; he would follow her lead. Gripping his dagger nervously, he called, "Yeah, come out of vere, intruder!"

__

Eileen, the 'intruder' took that as her cue to leave. She had be starting after the black mouse with something a kin to astonishment. He was cocky, but at least he was good at sneaking.

When the Ferrets started to holler, letting her know they knew she was there, she slipped away, and then up the nearest tree bordering the camp. It was a tall, thick elm, and it's branches touched a hornbeam. She shot into it, the dagger clenched in her teeth, soon arriving at the place where Fergus had been taken. Of course, it was the chieftain's tent. Wonderful. With a soft sigh, she glanced down at the camp. Creatures were being roused and warned that prowlers were about. With a groan, she leapt down and sidled up to Loki. One small, strong paw gripped his shoulder and she leaned into murmur to him, "Oi. Boyo…we're gonnae need a distraction, aye? Somethin' tae draw them away while I git me brother an' the lass out of there..."

Drat all this green? Nova thought as she cursed to herself in her mind. Out of all the colors she had to be the one color that didn’t match with anything except maybe pink but were there any pink plants… Noooo, they had to all be green. Nova started to growl unknowingly and caught herself in the act, clamping down her jaw with frustration as she observed the flanking maneuver being pulled on her but she knew running from a bow was practically a death wish especially when it was in the paws of a squirrel. Nova stood up a little but stayed in a crouching stance rising high enough that she could glare straight at Bronzestripe not even bothering to draw her broadsword as her claws curled and uncurled with each breath.

All this commotion was causing quite a stir for a local vermin looking for a job. This creature was quietly observing from the sidelines, away from the chance of discovery. This killer, this assassin, was Stephen O'Malley. Top hit man for a recently disbanded mob. Out of a job, home, and money, this group could solve his problems.
Unfortunately, for him anyways, a group of woodlanders has interupted his introduction to the group. O'Malley was smart. He was gonna wait til said party attacked and how this band could fair from southern justice. Just because these vermin were northerners, the worst of the worst could be found here as well. Stephen would show that, but not now. Now he would watch and observe.

“Perhaps you are telling the truth…still, cutting off an ear might help you remember something more important than Mosslower’s color and disposition.” Tornsnout brought the knife closer to Fergus’ head, measuring the woodlander’s ear…

“Sir! Hissu reports there’s more intruders!” Broketail staggered into the tent, ignoring everything as he nearly bowled his king over.

“Peaceful, was it?” Tornsnout put the knife to the squirrel’s neck. “Ach! What good are you dead? Get up, and let us see if we can talk with whoever is out there.”

Tornsnout and Broketail untied the prisoner, careful not to damage the ropes. As they did so, they noticed a pair of shadows at the back entrance of the tent. The ferret king brought the knife up to Fergus, as he spoke:

“Is that you, Hissu? Graytail?”

“Tornsnout…that can’t be them.” Broketail urgently whispered,  paw going to his hip, where an ancient dirk sat in its weathered scabbard.

“Shh…let’s see if there are any more.” Tornsnout whispered back.


“Mizz, mizz! Vake up!” Hissu shook the tied-up shrewmaid.

“My head…eh? What do you want, ferret?” in an instant, she was back to her angry self, headache forgotten. With a quick snap of her teeth, she bit into the fat ferret’s nose.

“Eeeeech! Mizz! Led gdo!” Hissu whimpered. “I vanna dalk adout da odders! I vanna free you!”

Catkin spat out the vermin’s snout. Hissu clapped his paws over his bleeding nose, tears welling up.

“ Eech! Mizz shrewmaid! There iz more beaztz at ve camp! Vat do vey vant?” he asked.

“How should I know, ferret? Untie me, and I will try talking to them!” she yelled at him.

“Vell, I dunno…”

Catkin soon found her paws free. Then, she kicked the ferret’s legs from under him, and with a wicked crack from her paws, left Hissu to sleep off a bruise to the head.

Catkin snuk out of the tent. Scores of vermin ran around, grabbing up weapons or searching. None of them proved smart enough to look behind their own king’s tent, though, she decided. Two woodlanders hid there. One, a squirrel Catkin recognized as Fergus’ sister, and the other, a mouse she never laid eyes on.

She slid the distance between the tents with ease, and though her dress acquired even more stains from the fresh grasses and bits of vermin food, Catkin was glad to be with goodbeasts.

“Hey, Ellen, was it? Thank you for coming! These vermin are a lot of trouble, but stupid, eh?” she whispered to Eillen

“A-ha!” the tent-flap flew up, nearly cut away by a large knife. An older weasel, and a cloaked ferret stood within, weapons drawn, a squirrel between them.

“We may not be very good at looking, miss…Catkin, but three beasts hiding next to our king’s tent are not that hard to find.” Broketail snarled.

“Indeed. You are outnumbered here, woodlanders. Surrender, and tell us what we need to know. Or…Well, Fergus here may never have those grandbabes his mother desires.” the ferret king’s knife hovered over Fergus’ neck, close enough to brush through the fur.

“Zir! I’m zorry! The prizoner ezcaped!” Hissu chose that moment to appear, his shirt covered in blood that was still dripping from his nose, and a paw over his head. “She iz dangerouz!”


“Everybeazt to ve king’z tent! Vey got ve intruderz!” a yell reached Graytail.

“That’s Hissu, ve best vermin cook! Vay to catch vat ve couldn‘t! Come on, Korr!” the ferret dragged her ‘protector’ along with her, to see what new woodlanders came to the camp.


From outside the camp, it looked as if every vermin deserted their post, except for an old, decrepit creature lying next to a barrel. All of the ferrets and weasels headed for the larger, more ornate tent, weapons drawn.

(Shorty :P)

"Hey look," Galvin said as he pointed at Nova with his wrench, "it's a white fox!" The three Avengers drew in closer, making sure that the vixen had nowhere to run.

"Who are you," Bronzestripe demanded, pointing his blade at Nova's face, "what are you doing following us?"

******

Loki nearly jumped out of his fur in surprise as the tent was cut open from inside. He spun around to face the ferret king and his minions. "Fine, what do you want to know?" Loki asked, "how many days are in a year? The eating habits of mountain hares?" Despite the dangour, Loki was still a joker. But, as he spoke, his eyes were roaming for something and anything. He needed to get his companions to see what was happening.

Eileen's dagger was drawn and she nearly sliced the tip of Catkin's nose off when the shrew maid sneaked up to them. But before she could, the tent flap went up, and she whirled on the group.  At once, she was relieved to see Fergus alive, and terrified that she might witness his last moments at the paws of this ferret.

Fergus himself looked a bit dirty and battered, and terrified, but otherwise fine. He was smiling crookedly at her until the knife was at his neck. Then the smile dropped from his face and he tipped his chin up to avoid the chilly scraping of the blade through his fur. He did take the time to note the sudden appearance of the black-furred, strangely clad mouse with his sister, though. Typical of Eileen's single mindedness and way around males, though, she seemed to be ignoring him.

For a moment, Eileen wasn't Captain Kelley, but simply a lass in a scary situation. Her mouth went soft and her eyes wide, and one hand reached out as if to stop it all from happening.

Then, quick as it came, it was gone, and the chilly military bearing came back to her. Her back was rigid, her eyes cool and impassive as she met the Ferret's stare.  In Gaelic, she asked Fergus, "<you alright?="" did="" he="" harm="" you?="">"

Quickly, not daring to move his head for fear of the blade,  Fergus answered, "<aye, i'm="" fine,="" now="" start="" talkin'="" common="" or="" he'll="" skin="" me.="">"

She did, still gripping her dagger tightly, but with the point aimed toward the ground. Not exactly a surrender, but showing a willingness to talk. "Let me brother go. He's harmless an' oblivious, an' prob'y don't ken what ye want." And because she knew that he wouldn't just let Fergus go, no matter how sensible it seemed, she stepped forward and did something stupid. Eileen's training went against the very idea of  this, of  what shew as going to do. But Fergus was too young to die, and she'd be dead before she'd stop protecting him. She swallowed her fear and pushed a curl from her eyes. She could do this. She knew what she was doing. For the most part, anyway. "Let me brother go unharmed, wit' th' others, an' I'll stay in their place. Aye?"</aye,></you>

OOC: I hope this is alright.

BIC:
Nova’s claws continued to clench and unclenched as she growled lightly at Bronzestripe her frustration and anger getting the better part of her mind and voice “Following you, you??? Why would I follow you beasts? I’ve been following those Firstone lopheads since they left the Northlands and you think I’m following you? Ack… enough of this, get away, leave me alone you stripe dog and take your friends with you!”
Nova shivered with built up rage and howled none to silently sending the sound echoing through the woods.

Tornsnout saw the concern in the squirrel’s eyes, and noted her resemblance to Fergus in an instant. They talked in a language snippets of which he could understand. Obviously not from Mossflower. This changed things, though not by much.

“Fergus, I understand this squirrelmaid cares for you.” the knife came away. “But, she does not understand that she is my prisoner as much as you.”

It was true. Most of the tribe was gathered at the tent, surrounding the small group of woodlanders. Only a few had weapons, but all looked angry or afraid. Especially a certain ferret.

“Yez! You lizten! Ve kill you all!” Hissu growled, looking daggers at Catkin.

“Hissu? Please. I am Tornsnout, the king of Firstone tribe. We come from far away, though this is our home. Those that live here today are the descendants of those that exiled my tribe north many seasons ago.” the ferret king nodded to Catkin, the shrew maid mumbling something dark under her breath. “I understand there will be war. Vermin and woodlanders are not known to share land, and the few vermin tribes who go this far south have nothing but stories of woodlander arrows and swords.”

“Even if you are not from here, you must know something. Or, you can convince miss shrew there to tell us about the Mossflower‘s might.” Tornsnout pointed to the shrewmaid, his paw clenching into a fist. “Once you do that, I will release those of you I can.”

“What Tornsnout means is that we all have a voice in this. It is our survival, as a tribe and as beasts, after all. And, if we so choose, we will keep some of you, or even all of you, prisoner until we know we are safe from Mossflower‘s armies.” Broketail finished for the ferret king as the leader retreated inside the tent, taking Fergus with him.

“Please, if you have any allies, tell them to go away, or join you in capture. We are not murderers, but if pressed, any of us will spill your blood before our own.” Broketail said, stepping forward to extend his paw to a squirrelmaid brave enough to stand in front of his king. “Your friends will be treated fairly. Come with me inside the tent-home of Tornsnout.”

A howl echoed across the camp, traveling far among the trees, even as the weasels and ferrets of Firstone encircled their new prisoners to take them in.

“A friend of yourz?” Hissu angrily scratched his snout, wincing. “You had better put down all your veaponz. Don’t vant heroez, and you von‘t eiver–I can cut up heroez fast!”


“Vould you look at him? Such a strolling player!” Graytail laughed as she pointed out Hissu to Korr. “Strong, kind, if a bit cowardly. He’d never hurt anybeast. Someday, he vill be a good ferret vith family, I hope.”

“Say, you there, mouse! Vat ARE ve eating habits of mountain hares?” she asked the black-furred fellow as she and several others surrounded him.


“Sir, please! The other scouts! They won’t know where we are going! They will be exhausted! They...” the young fox found Sonnis’ paw around his neck.

“My friend, they’re of no importance! Blood! Now that’s important! We start tomorrow, and if they come to an empty campsite, I hope they know enough to track us down.” Sonnis laughed as he threw the young one away to land in a heap at the entrance of his tent. “The Firstone tribe, with their songs and stupid customs will die off, and not a month too soon! A real vermin dies before he takes one look at fancy titles and honors, right, friends?”

Loki had an audience, maybe not a very big one, but he loved attention no matter how he got it. "Well hares eat almost everything," Loki began, "and lots of it! A few seasons ago they came to Redwall, that's the abbey where I live ya know, and they cleared out the orchard better than any of the dibbuns ever could!"

"Excuse me sir," Loki spoke to Hissu over the heads of those around him, "but I will be able to tell you the strength of the woodlanders! I don't know for sure, but I'll do the best I can!" Loki had feeling this beast was afriend of the king. "Most of the woodlanders live separated, staying in villages, little towns, and alone," Loki said, "they are not united enough to form a strong fighting force. The main forces in Mossflower are Redwall and Salamandastron. Redwall has almost a thousand beasts, though no more than about twohundred have ever held a weapon." Though it may have seemed like Loki was giving important info away, he was certain that Tornsnout, seeming to desire peace, wouldn't attack first. Also, with the number in the tribe, he doughted the Firstone could take on any of the groups he listed. "Then there is Salamandastron," Loki continued, "not to many hares there, not much more than twohundred or so, but their training is amazing and they are led by the great badger lord Silver Stripe. I may joke about the hares, but I was on the business end of one of their pikes I wouldn't be laughing! Lastly, there are a few hundred otters and shrews, led by Log-a-Log Fatch and the Skipper. They aren't experts but the still put up a fight." He ended, having named all the notable forces in Mossflower he could think of. "I hope you don't have to fight," Loki said sadly, "it won't go well. You'll have to get the woodlanders to accept you as peaceful beasts."

******

Galvin lost his nerve when Nova started to howl. "It must be calling its friends!" he yelled, "shoot it Aislin! Shoot it!" He pointed a shaking paw at the white vixen.

"Quite Galvin," Aislin said much more calmly, "we don't need to shoot her."

Bronzestripe did not like being called stripedog. A pink tint started to appear in his eyes as the bloodwrath started to take controle of him. "Why are you following them," Bronzestripe growled, "are you with them?"

((( OOC: Having a slight editing issue. Please excuse the mess, and if possible, follow what I laid out in reply 15 as canon, since Master Whitedeath's post could not have been made to Tornsnout, who just slipped out of earshot in my last post. Sorry for the inconvenience!)))

Korr smirked a little in Hissu's direction. "He is trying to be brave. De little treemouse does not look pleased with him, though…" He trailed of when the howling cry echoed around the camp, and had to repress a shiver.  He glanced at Greytail nervously. "Vere are stories of dese woods being haunted..."


Eileen was indeed unhappy with Hissu. He was, of course, the smallest part of a very large and complicated problem. She and her brother and this loudmouth little mouse next to her were captured.  Stubborn as she was, she hated to admit defeat. And right now, they were in fact defeated.  But, she and Fergus and Catkin would be in relative safety, if her instincts could be trusted. This chieftain was sensible, it seemed. He could be talked to. And she could respect that.

Glancing from Broketail to Hissu and back again in the silence following the strange, ghostly howl, she sheathed her dagger. It would be the closest she came to relinquishing it. Then, because she was an honorable beast, and because she saw perhaps a little challenge in Broketail's request--and she'd never turned down a challenge-- she took his paw and shook it. Her paw was calloused and stronger than a maid's should be, and she squeezed a little, showing off her strength to him in the way military beasts and males were wont to do. "Aye, I'll go in that great big tent. But I'll keep me dagger, if that's fair. "

__

Fergus was, as Fergus did best, being slightly difficult. He was nervous, though, and couldn't help fidget and squirm and pace. He let himself be led back to the tent, but then dug his heels in when they reached the threshold and turning to watch Eileen. "She's takin' her sweet ould time, inn'she?" He jumped a little trying to see over the heads of the milling vermin.  "Oi! Oi! Aye, ye in' th' fancy liddle hat!" he called to a particularly tall weasel. "C'mon, help a lad oot and scoot tae th' side, will ye? I'm tryin' tae see if me sister's gonnae flap her gums all day or if she's gonnae hurry her tail up!" The last part was loud enough for her to hear, and she turned her head and scowled at him.

Mumbling under her breath, she shook her head. 'Me appologies fer Fergus, there," she told Broketail, sighing in a very tired way. She'd been putting up with his antics for all his life, after all.

(I edited my post so Loki was talking to Hissu.)

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