Author Topic: Interlude: The Fox With No Name  (Read 818 times)

Opal

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Interlude: The Fox With No Name
« on: October 24, 2013, 07:23:18 PM »
Something about the streets of Carrigul felt comforting to Pyracantha. The back streets and the snug alleys felt almost cozy despite the grime, their sagging and poorly constructed walls sheltering her. The mountains had been far too open, too vulnerable. A beast felt safe to breathe here. Well, safe other than the fact that this was Carrigul, at least.

As they turned the corner, Pyracantha spied a young fox not much older than Ruta, his matted fur sucked back against his ribs, digging through a heap of rubbish dumped carelessly into the street. He started at their sudden presence, and briefly he held her gaze—Pyracantha recognized the confusion, mistrust, hatred, hunger, pleading, rejection; a storm of sense and emotion swirling in twin amber pools—before darting away on all fours.

~

It was a cold night, one of the coldest the village of Twilling had known in quite some time. The amber glow of fires danced merrily in the windows of each cottage and home; fragrant woodsmoke floated from every chimney.

She didn't want to bother anyone, but it really was very cold, and her only blanket was now so threadbare that it did little to quell the chill. Those fires looked so inviting and warm...

At the first two homes she received no response, and the third only awarded her with a growl and a slammed door. She approached the fourth with determination and purpose. The door creaked open and a plump squirrel surveyed the small fox before her, peeping up at her from under a tatty blanket with round amber eyes.

“Oh bless my stars, it's just you,” the squirrel said. “I thought maybe we were bein' robbed! Oh, but then, I guess, why would a robber knock? Er, anyway, come on in, dear. You'll catch your death of cold!”

Relief and warmth flooded through the little vixen as she shuffled inside. She sniffed at the air, the delicious smell of stew and bread setting her mouth to water. She had only a moment to look for the source of the smell before a wall of russet blocked her vision. She looked up to see a surly male squirrel glaring down at her.

“No,” he said simply but firmly to the other squirrel.

“Merk, please, it's only little Mote, and it's so cold.”

“That's how it starts, dear. You give these urchins an inch and pretty soon you've got to open your whole home to them. They'll just take and take because it's all they know how to do. You hear that?” he added to the vixen. “I didn't get this cottage because I sat around on my tail. I
worked for it.”

“Oh, Merk, please, we inherited this cottage from your father,” his wife said. “Poor little Mote's got nowhere to go.”

Merk looked flustered, but only momentarily. “Well,
he worked hard and he taught me to as well! This urchin's parents never were around to teach her hard work, so she'll never learn. Not my fault. Turn her out, Myrna.”

All too soon, the cold pressed in on the tiny vixen once more and she ambled on to the next house. Myrna had at least been kind enough to slip a loaf of nut bread under her blanket while Merk wasn't looking. And Merk himself had been charitable, too, in a way. The vixen smiled as she inspected the fine gold pocket watch she'd slipped out of the pocket of his waistcoat. That sort of finery was wasted on such an ox-headed lummox anyway, and she needed to eat.


~

Zander led them to a dingy inn well off the beaten path. They all took turns bathing the grime of their travel in the mountains off, then Zander and Flax went to acquire food, leaving Ruta and Pyracantha alone. The mole snuggled up to Pyracantha on one of the beds, yawning.

The vixen smiled. “Ruta?”

“Yes, Miz Poiracanthur?”

“Do you think you'll ever return home?”

The mole blinked her button eyes. “Well, Oi do gurtly miss moi brother, Baga. Oi would like to get him away from there, but no'm, Oi don't think Oi will.”

“Were your parents...did they ever...”

She couldn't finish her sentence, but the mole knew what she meant, and nodded the smallest of nods. “They'm did, sometimes, if'n they were angry or we did something wrong. Oi don't know why they'm ever chose to live in ee mountains. It's too rough a life. It makes even ee nicest beasts tough, just like ee cold turns ee water into ice.”

Pyracantha stroked the mole's velvety head. “You're a wise little creature, Ruta. I think the other moles would benefit from having you around, personally, but I understand why you don't want to go back. I don't know how a parent could ever strike a child. Not that I'm an expert on parenting, personally. Did I ever tell you I had no parents, Ruta?”

The mole sat up on the bed, her interest piqued. “You'm never had no parents?”

“Well, I suppose I did, because otherwise, where did I come from? Er, not that you're of age to get into all the details of where kits come from, but anyway. All I knew was that I grew up in a village called Twilling. It was southwest of Yew, and not nearly as big or militaristic. Urgan's fang, but I hadn't even given it much thought, I just. Seeing the poor kits everywhere here reminded me. Zander said there is a fanatic cult here, led by his mate, and they frequently...well, you know. Beasts are disappearing. Of course, no one stops to consider that a lot of them have families. I just hope they at least were with their parents long enough to know their names. I wasn't as lucky.”

“You'm mean you'm not be named Poiracanthur?”

“Of course not,” the vixen snorted. “What parents would name their child Pyracantha Dewhurst? No, I have no idea if I ever even had a name. The beasts around Twilling started calling me Mote, because I guess they thought of me as something small and inconsequential, here one day and gone the next. It wasn't too long before I decided that that wouldn't do at all. I took Pyracantha from the name of a plant otherwise known as firethorn. I thought it suited the persona I had adopted by then. And Dewhurst, hah,” the vixen tittered at the memory, sitting up, “Dewhurst was the abso-bally-lutely most ridiculous hare ever seen in Twilling, or probably all of Mossflower.” The vixen's ears instinctively shot ramrod straight. She curled her lip over her upper front teeth and took on the persona of the hare, much to Ruta's amusement.

“Rich, foppish, couldn't stand even the sight of dirt or of the little gang of street kits I'd formed. Which meant that obviously I did whatever I could to keep his life...interesting.” She did not go into detail of the horrible pranks she used to pull on the stuck-up hare. Ruta was already impish enough as it was. She didn't need any ideas.

“Anyway, he was so outlandish, and I guess his name just sort of...grew on me. So I stole it. He had riches aplenty, but his name was deplorably undervalued. A name as brilliant as Dewhurst needs to be famous. And I wanted to make it so. I wanted to see more of Mossflower, to get out of Twilling, to have a future. And so, when I was old enough, the Dewhurst Players were born.”

“Your acting troupe?”

“Yes.”

“Were all your'm friends in it?”

Pyracantha smiled. “Mostly.”

~

“Hestia, be a dear and make sure everyone has a setting. I am not serving pie until you're all seated!”

Pyracantha, now barely out of kithood, directed the half a dozen youngsters of varying ages around the dining table. She smiled patiently at their antics, all the while sneaking glances at the door of the cottage. They should have plenty of time before the family returned; they were usually at the market for hours. They had pilfered several pies and scones from the pantry, as well as some strawberry cordial. Hestia was a stoat around her age. She busied herself with scooping up her younger brother, Rafferty, and plunking the wriggling stoat into a chair.

“Gimme food!” Rafferty cried impatiently.

“In a moment,” said Hestia. “It took long enough to get those paws clean. Perus, Juli, Wimble, sit! Wimbleglen Maridonio Pfeffers, don't make me tell you again!”

The smallest member of the gang, a tiny rat, heeded the warning in the stoat's tone and took his seat next to the twin weasels, Perus and Juliandra.

Pyracantha giggled in spite of herself. Hestia had always been better at playing the role of the stern parent.

“Thanks, Hess,” she murmured.

“Don't mention it,” the stoat replied.

With the youngsters seated finally, the young fox began to serve them all some pie and scones. They tucked in ravenously, and Pyracantha watched her little family proudly before devouring the meal before her. Usually they pilfered their meals and went off to eat them elsewhere, but once again it was winter, and cold, and meals were getting fewer and farther between. Little Wimble and Rafferty were much too young to be out in that weather.

“I dunno how you do it, Pyra,” said Hestia, patting at her stomach, “but you always pick the houses with the best grub.”

“It's luck, honestly,” Pyracantha said modestly. It wasn't really, and she had to watch a house carefully for weeks before they could even consider when the best time was for raiding the pantry.

“Nah, you're pretty great,” said Hestia, punching her arm lightly, “isn't she, lads and lass?”

“Yay, Pyra!” came the concerted reply.

“Quiet, all of you!” Pyracantha hissed.

The fox stood, gripping the table edge tightly, her eyes wide and ears perked. She thought she'd heard a noise from the front door, but it couldn't be. They hadn't been gone nearly as long as usual. But there it was again, the creak of the door opening, then the thud of pawsteps.

“We need to move, quietly! Out the backdoor!” Pyracantha hissed again.

The youngsters did as bidden and kept quiet, realizing the severity of the situation. They hadn't gotten halfway across the room when the dining room door burst open and in walked the last beast Pyracantha would've wanted to catch them in the act.

“Vermin!” Merk roared.

“Merk, it's okay, they were just hungry, and we have plenty of...”

The squirrel back-pawed his wife in the mouth. “Hold your tongue, Myrna. I knew you lot were stealing from all of us, and now I have proof. When the town council hears of this, you'll be gone for sure.”

“So what if we steal food? Would you want us to starve?” Pyracantha sneered.

“Don't,” Hestia warned, grabbing her arm, but the fox shook her off and planted herself squarely in front of Merk.

“If you need a beast to blame, I'll take the blame. But don't you dare harm my family,” the fox said. “I was just doing trying to take care of them, and you certainly have more than enough to spare. Can't you understand that?”

Her snout exploded with pain and blood. Merk drew back his fist again. “Oh, you'll take the blame all right, but not until I'm done with you.”

Merk punched her in the stomach, and she dropped to her knees, wheezing and spitting blood from her gushing nose. Myrna and Hestia both yelled for him to stop, and before Hestia could stop him, little Rafferty darted forward.

“Leave her alone!” he cried, before sinking his sharp little teeth into Merk's thigh.

The squirrel shrieked in pain. He grabbed the little stoat by the scruff of his neck and yanked him free, then hurled him as hard as he could from him. Rafferty's head cracked loudly against the wall, and he collapsed. He did not stir. Hestia screamed and ran to his side.

It felt as though the floor beneath Pyracantha's paws had given way, and she was falling. She was barely aware of the actions of her own body anymore. A carving knife from the table was in her paws. Then, somehow she was on top of Merk, and the knife flashed in and out of his chest. Blood was everywhere, in her nose, on her paws.

Then she was up and her mouth was shouting something at Myrna. Maybe it was gibberish. Whatever it was, it was enough to make the squirrel flee as though there were demons at her tail.

She looked back at Merk's body and dropped the knife in horror, as though seeing it for the first time.
I'm a murderer. No, he attacked you first. He...he killed... No, I'm as good as a murderer. Who's going to believe me over his wife?

“Hestia.” She walked over to the stoat, sobbing brokenly over her brother's body. “Hestia, we have to leave. They'll kill us all.”

The stoat could barely bring herself to nod, her face buried into Rafferty's fur.

“Where we goin'?” Wimble asked.

Pyracantha knelt down and kissed the rat's forehead. “To see the world, Wimble. Remember what I talked about? Remember the Dewhurst Players?”

Wimble nodded.

“Well, it's time to make the dream come true, and to let the rest of Mossflower see us.”

“Are we ever comin' back?” asked Perus.

“We can't,” said the fox. “And it's sad, I know, but just think of all the new places we'll see.”

“Is Raffy okay?” asked Juliandra.

Pyracantha had no response, but from their crestfallen expressions, it seemed no words were needed. Rafferty was not the first loss they had suffered, as hunger and illness were always nipping at their heels. But if Pyracantha had anything to say for it, he would be the last. If Merk had been right about one thing, it was that they were old enough to earn their keep. The Dewhurst Players would provide a service for their meals. It would be hard work, but Pyracantha was more determined than ever to show that she was up to the task. Enough of skulking in the shadows, begging for scraps.

It was time to be seen.


~

Weary from their travels, Pyracantha and Ruta slept deeply. It was dark when Pyracantha woke. Ruta still snored on the bed. The vixen looked around for any sign that Flax and Zander had appeared, but there was none.

Concerned, the vixen dressed and left the room. She asked the innkeeper where they'd gone, and he shrugged, saying they'd talked about going to a tavern just down the road hours ago. She followed his instructions and came to the ramshackle place, but it looked like it was closed. Pyracantha forced the door open with a hearty shove, and stepped into the blackness, her eyes adjusting. She made out the form of Flax slumped over a table, unconscious, and hurried to him.

A searing pain erupted at the back of her head, and her body pitched forward onto the sticky, grimy tavern floor. She tried to roll over, her body only sluggishly obeying, and just caught a glimpse of Zander standing over her before blackness took over her vision.

Traitor... her mind bleated sadly.

She gave in to the darkness, defeated.
"I've got a plan so cunning you could put a tail on it and call it a weasel." - Blackadder the Third