Chapter 2

Sleeping is something to be enjoyed. Why the others could not realise this, Ryalto could not fathom. But they seemed determined to have him join them from his slumber.
"Mmhm, Go away..." Ryalto laid under his bed roll, curled into a tight ball next to the fire. Chuckling, Brenei continues stirring the pot he has set up over it.

Tara taps Ryalto once again with her quarterstaff, this time with a bit a force. "Either you get up now, or I will eat your breakfast."

"Eat it, and you two will share a fate worse than death." Ryalto curls tighter into a ball, and blinks his now eyes open at the blaring morning sun. Just too bright, the sun at this time of day.

Brenei takes the spoon out of the pot, sniffing at the porridge oats inside with a smile. "And just what fate would that be?"

"Me complaining every halfstep till lunch." Ryalto tosses the bed roll away from the fire as he sits up, stretching and reaching into his pack. "Figures that you would be a morning person. I seem to attract great evil."

Tara sticks her tongue out at Ryalto. "I am not evil, foul cretin."

"Children, such language... And morning people are not evil." Brenei tastes the oats, then stirs the pot's contents once more. "You have any sweetener in there?"

Ryalto tosses the rabbit a small brown bag, and takes out a smaller black bag. Taking a small pill out, he swallows it and then places the bag back in his pack. Seeing Brenei stare at him, he scratches the fur behind his left ear while explaining. "I sometimes get headaches. That was powder of willow bark, which helps sooth them."

Brenei smirks as he adds some of the brown powder in the bag into the oats."Ah, Lotcyon medicine, will wonders ne'er cease? Those any good for other aches? Only I slept on my tail wrong last night..."

"Yep. But I don't take more than one every few hours." Ryalto takes the the black bag out and the pair exchange bags. As Brenei takes one of the white pills, he toses the black bag back to Ryalto, who puts both back in his pack.

"I never knew you got headaches," Tara says as she sits down next to Ryalto, two flasks of water in her hands. She hands one to Ryalto, and then continues. "And you're supposed to take those with water and after eating."

"Since we will be eating soon, that doesn't matter. And I haven't needed to drink one down since I was six." Ryalto takes a swig from the flask, then grins as he hands the flask back to Tara. "Thanks for the water, though."

Reaching for a flask beside him, Brenei takes a swig as well. He then looks over to the two kits and raises an eyebrow. "I just realised that we have been traveling together for two days now and I haven't a clue just what your ages are."

Tara smiles, picking the rejected bed roll up and setting it next to Ryalto's pack. "I'm 13, and Ryalto's 12. How old did you think we were?"

"Oh, 14 or 15, from how well you two handeled yourselves back there. I myself have 19 years, but I spent too much of that time on my father's orchards. Great place to practice my archery, but my father had an inate sense that I should be doing something better. Not that he wasn't proud to have a son in the Order, mind." Brenei takes the three bowls sat next to him and spoons equal servings into each before handing two to the kits. "We should arrive in Gandrol's Ford today by early afternoon. I will need to see a healer for some of these pills; I don't want to take yours, Ryalto. Did you two have anything in particular you wanted to see?"

Taking a bite of the oats, Tara grins back to Brenei. "Mmm, this is good! Better porridge than my mother makes. Yes, I wanted to see the river temple."

Ryalto eats his porridge while waiting for Tara to finish talking. "Not particularly, though I would like to spend the night in one of the inns."

"Tired of sleeping rough?" Tara elbows Ryalto lightly in the ribs, which he retaliates by flicking a small speck of oats at her.

Brenei smiles, cheared up by the two kits' playful rivalry. "Not a problem with that, I had planned on staying at an inn myself. I trust you two can explore the temple on your own while I visit the healer? Good. Finish up, and we'll leave as soon as we pack up camp."

Two days now he had been tracking them. And last night, he was certain that the campfire ahead of him was theirs. Only a few hours ahead of him, he would definately catch up with the kits at Gandrol's Ford. And this knight of the Order as well... Why did the name Toral sound so familiar? He knew not this Brenei, but that was probably because of his long absence from Heather's Peak. After returning the kits, he would have to head straight there. L'thal finished rolling up his bed roll and straped it under his shoulder bag. With a solid pull, he easily hefted the large bag onto his back and started down the trail.

Toral, that name was so familiar. Obviously not a skunk, his name was wrong for that... Toral! "Great mearciful gods above..." L'thal stops next to a large oak and leans against it. "Toral... May your name live on in honor." Bowing his head, L'thal says a short prayer before continuing again along the path.
This war was taking too many good people from the world.

Steping out of the forest, the two racoon kits and Brenei stop atop the cliff edge and look out upon a long field before tall citadel walls with a set of towering spires, a gate between them. A thick, winding river mends its way across the valley floor and through into the city, tall, elegant bridges visible above the walls from their height. Along the river's northern bank, a breath takingly arched pyramid shaped tower streatches above the city's sky, dwarfing all the other buildings in it's height, light construction, and guilded adornment.

"Gandrol's Ford, city of the east. Home of the Healers Guild, and only a few days travel from Heather's Peak." Brenei smiles at Tara. "And that large tower-"

"Is the river temple. I know, I've been here before." Ryalto's eyes wander from the city towards the north-eastern horizon.

Raising his eyebrows in surprise, Brenei shifts the pack on his back a bit and looks at Ryalto. "Oh? And here I thought you raccoons tend to stay at home and let the fox bring you the world."

"We do, most of us. But my father had business here, and he brought me along. That was a few years ago."

Tara smiles but continues watching the central tower. "I remember that, you brought me back one of those amber bracelets. I remember mom telling me that Uncle Bret took you along for some other reason too. Hey! I bet that's when you first started taking those pills."

"Now that I think about it, you're right. I did start taking the pills after that trip." Smiling, Ryalto looks down the cliff looking at the path to the city. "We'd better get moving. The temple guards might not let us in after dark, and the sun will be setting in a four hours."

"Very practical thinking, young one. Let us go then!" Brenei turns back to the path and continues to fallow it's winding way down to a set of stairs carved into the cliff. The two kits follow him, using their quarterstaffs to keep from falling.

The guards scowled as L'thal approached. Their armor glinting the falling sun's rays towards him, L'thal sighed inwardly as he stoped a few feet away from the tallest guard, staring intently into the metal helmet's raised visor.

The guard steped forward and rested his hand on his sword, scanning L'thal for any threat. His eyes stop at the badge, and then he looks L'thal straight in the eyes. "What be your business in Ford?"

"I have been charged with returning two kits to their family. They were only a few hours ahead of me, and should have been in the presence of one of my fellow knights."

The guard frowns. "Aye, those three... Are you saying that a member of the Order, who I personaly know, has abducted those kits?"

"No. The kits have ran away from home, and their parents have asked me to help retrieve them." Standing passively, L'thal eases his bag softly to one side and taking a small note out if it. Handing the note to the guard, he adds, "I believe this better explains the knight's postion in this."

Taking the note, the guard quickly reads it and then hands it back. "So that's why the rabbit was so mellow... You may enter, Knight. But be warned that your race is not well liked among the streets of Gandrol's Ford at this time. Be careful."

"Thank you. And I will. Did Brenei say where he was heading?"

"Nay, but when one walks through these gates looking as though they decided to roll down the Colds, they tend to head to the Healers first."

"Thank you, again." With a short bow, L'thal steps forward and enters the city, heading towards the largest tower in sight.

"Come on already! Jump in, the water's nice and warm!" Tara beams from a large pool of water, treading in it to keep her head above the calm deep.

Ryalto sighs, now striped down to a small pair of shorts and standing with arms crossed a few feet from the pool's edge. "That's easy for you to say! You don't have fur that goes black the second water touches it."

"Hey, don't blame me for your fur colouring. Come on!"

Sighing again, Ryalto walks up to the edge of the pool, sticking one clawed paw down towards it. Then grinning at Tara, Ryalto jumps into the pool right behind her, splashing a large wave over her head. The wave mattes down the last strips of fur on Tara's head, and she laughs as Ryalto surfaces. The water has matted his fur down completly and darkened it's normal dark brown to a near solid black. "And so the black coon arises from his deep lair, here to terrorise another pool. You're it!" Tara tags Ryalto on his head and then swims swiftly away towards even deeper parts of the pool.

"Hey! You didn't say we were playing chase!" Ryalto starts swimming after her, pasing a shorter, pure white rabbit who was floating on her back.

The wake of his pasing disturbs her and she looks over and blinks. "A black raccoon? I must have been swimming too long..." The rabbit turns over and swims towards the pools edge.

Ryalto continues after Tara and dives under the water. Smiling to himself, he quickly closes on her billowing tail fur, which is hung low as she stops and treads water. Raising as slowly as he can, he quickly grabs the tip of her tail and shakes it before blowing out and surfacing. Taking a quick breath, Ryalto then laughs and taps Tara on the head. "Now you're It."

"Hey! No fair, you dived!" Tara smiles back at him then leans back and floats, revealing a one peice swimming suit the same colour as her fur. "I don't get you. Perfectly at home in the water, yet you hate to actually get in."

"Oh, I see you don't like being It." Ryalto leans back and floats beside her. "I'm just a bit self conscious about the fur thing. I've already shocked a rabbit into thinking she's had too much water."

"Already? Boy, you do work fast."

Ryalto splashes a little wave at Tara, then laughs. "No, you work fast. I just try to keep up."

L'thal walks into the large bathing hall wearing a light, white tunic and his badge hanging from his neck as a medallion. Seein the two kits in the middle of the pool, L'thal starts towards the pools edge, but stops. Looking to one side, he sees a young white skunk healer aprentance about to jump in. "You! Halt one second."

"..." The skunk stops and looks at the knight in confusion. "Yes sir?"

"You see those two kits in the middle? 5 crowns if you tell them to come here to speak with me."

"5 crowns?" The skunk looks at L'thal in doubt, but clearly is interested.

Taking a small brown purse from his tunic, L'thal shakes out 5 gold coins, and holds them for the apprentice to see. "Payment after they come here, of course."

Smiling, the skunks dives into the pool, and quickly resurfaces. "Of course... I'll finaly be able to buy that testing set..." The skunk quickly swims towards two raccoons, his tail fur slicking back in his haste.

"...I don't know. Maybe the Red Feather inn is a better choice. The fox traders were always saying that dad's inn was comparable to that." Tara continues floating along, swishing her tail below her and relaxing in the warm, mineral rich waters.

Treading water, Ryalto smiles. "Yes, but I remember that my dad and I stayed at the Golden Arrow. The innkeeper seemed to know Dad, so maybe we can get a good room if he recognises me."

"Good point! You are definatly distinctive, so he might." Tara flicks her tail under the water at Ryalto's, and then floats a bit further from him. "I wonder how much longer Brenei will be?"

The skunk swims up behind Ryalto and taps him on the shoulder. "Hey, you. There's someone over that way that wants to speak to you." He points towards L'thal.

Ryalto blinks once as he turns around towards him, and then looks over to where the white skunk points. "I don't know him... Wait, what is that he's wearing on his neck?"

The skunk blinks at seeing Ryalto's fur colouring, and then stutters "He j-just want's to s-speak t-to you..." He then turns around quickly and swims back.

Ryalto blinks once more and then turns to Tara. "What was that about?"

Tara grins. "One of the signs of the appocalypse, for them skunks, is an all black skunk. You know, if it wasn't for your muzzle, you would look like a skunk. And with their poor sight, he might have thought you were one."

"Thanks.. Well, might as well go see who wants to speak to me." Ryalto starts swimming towards the pool's edge.

"Hey! I'm coming with you!" Tara swims after Ryalto.

The white skunk pulls himself out of the water and stands staring at L'thal. "I don't know why you want to speak to the Ender, but just pay me and let me leave."

Raising an eyebrow, L'thal looks at the white skunk, and then at the approaching kits. "Last I heard, the Ender was not a raccoon. Take a second look, and look at the tail."

As Ryalto pulls himself out of the water, the white skunk watches as he pulls out his tail. He stares at the banded black on near-black matted fur and then mutters a small prayer before approaching Ryalto. "Sorry.. I-"

Ryalto smiles. "No problem. I just have dark fur. Most don't freak out, though, so may I ask why you did?"

L'thal hands the apprentice the coins. "He thought that you were the Ender, but since you are a raccoon, that is not possible."

As Tara rolls herself out of the pool, she grins. "Told ya, Ryalto. You do look like a skunk when you're wet and they can't see your snout."

L'thal's eyes light up, yet he frowns slightly as he reaches into his tunic. "You are Ryalto then?"

Ryalto turns from the white skunk to L'thal, quickly noting the medallion. "Yes... What did you wish to speak to me about, sir?"

Taking out the silver ring, L'thal hands it to Ryalto. "Your father asked me to tell you that he is sorry."

Taking the ring in his right palm, Ryalto looks at it in disbelief. "No, it can't be... He can't be dead. He is one of the best swordsmen in Torrean! No one could-"

L'thal places one hand upon Ryalto's right shoulder. "He was struck down by an arrow at Brandur's Well. I am sorry to have brought you such news, but..."

Tara hugs Ryalto from behind, tears dampening her still wet check fur. "Oh, Ry..."

The white skunk blinks at overhearing this news and bows his head in a short prayer. Then looking to Ryalto, he hands Ryalto a small steel token. "I am sadened by your misfortune, Ryalto. If ever you need my service, just ask for X'alo." Straightening up, he bows once to L'thal, and then walks briskly out of the hall.

Ryalto closes his fist around the ring and token. Head falling down, tears start to fall from his eyes as one word escapes, "Why?"

"Come, young ones. I have arranged rooms at the Golden Arrow for the night. Let us find my collegue." L'thal starts towards the door when Brenei walks in with a pair of towels. Seeing the medallion, his eyes light up and he takes a step forward. But then he sees the two kits crying, and he frowns. "What has happened?"

"You must be Brenei, I am L'thal." L'thal takes the note out of his tunic. "Your message. I have just told them sad news that they missed by their abrupt departure. I have arranged rooms for us, if you will accompany me?"

Brenei nods his head curtly and then walks up to the kits. "Come on. I may not know what you cry for, but I do know that we can trust this knight. Toral was a friend of his as I was a friend of Toral's." He leads the two kits out of the hall, and L'thal follows.

The two kits sit beside a large fire in a equally large sofa. Ryalto holds a small, steaming mug, while Tara sips from a small glass with a peach fragranced liquid inside. Hanging above the fire, a large picture of a tall raccoon leaning against a sword stares blankly forward.

"Gandrol, father of Colm, who was father of Folran, who was father of Calmear, and who, in turn, was father of Bret..." A tear falls from Ryalto's check into the beacker. "I don't care who my ancestors were, I'd give them up for having my father back."

Tara hugs Ryalto and gives a weak smile. "Come on, you need to get something in you. Drink."

Ryalto stares down into the dark, light brown liquid. "What's the point? Sooner or later, I'll die and join my father's fate. I have no one now, so I might as well join him sooner."

"You have me. And Mom and Dad. And your friends. You think mom's gonna be happy that her brother is dead? Or happy that you decided to abandon her too? Now drink that mug of cider now."

Ryalto takes a large gulp of the cider and then looks back into the fire. "I don't know why, but I can't stop thinking that it's my fault. I should have stoped him going, or went with him. Anything, just to stop what happened..."

"Ry, the only one at fault is that archer. Don't even think that you are to blame. You aren't."

Ryalto takes another gulp of the cider, wincing a bit. "This cider tastes a bit funny... Tara, I'm not going back to Fallow's Gale. I just don't want to go back there..."

"Fine, just finish the cider and I'll go get you something to eat."

Ryalto finishes the cider off and hands Tara the cup, yawning. "I feel funny..." Blinking a few times, Ryalto then slouches into the high backs of the sofa and falls fast asleep.

"May you find solace in sleep, cousin." Tara walks to the bar behind the sofa and hands the emptey cup to the raccoon behind it. Pulling herself onto a stool next to Brenei and L'thal. "He's asleep."

The innkeeper look at the cup and shakes his head. "I'm not surprised. That was my strongest cider, Brownwood."

L'thal looks at his cup of cider. "It's not that strong, Forel..."

"To us raccoons it is. Why do you think I have so many wines here?" Forel looks over at the sofa. "So much like his father in spirit, but he looks more like his mother."

"What did she look like? I can't remember her very well."

"She had the darkest fur of any raccoon I have ever seen, and her eyes were a deep emerald green. Beauty does not come close to describing her, but alas she was too fragile for this world." Forel sighs and places the cup under the bar. "As I said, Ryalto takes after Rya in his looks, but has his father's spirit."

L'thal looks to the picture. "So, Forel. You were about to tell us the story about that raccoon."

"Ah, that is Gandrol, who incidently has two of his ancestors in this room. He was one of the first barrons of Lotcyon, and the founder of this city."

Brenei smiles and mutters under his breath to L'thal, "How logical that it's called Gandrol's Ford then..."

Forel smiles as he continues. "He was one of the best swordsmen of his time, and would probably went to join the order if for one thing."

"What's that then?" Brenei smirks, seeming to know the answer.

Tara beams "He liked politics. Or, actually, he liked messing with peoples minds. He would go against popular oppinion just to challenge people's ideas and get them thinking. Always played devil's advocate..."

"In short, he was the best barron that Lotcyon ever had. Since his passing, none of his kin have ever run for barron, saying that the shadow of his talent was too deep to surpass. And to this day, every young kit that aspires to be a baron is told to follow in his example, as he always worked for the people, not himself."

Smiling some more, Tara adds on after Forelm, "Except when he was courting. Then he did what ever it took to prove his affection to his lady Fallow. Which Fallow's Gale is named after."

"Interesting. But that raises the question of how your village got that name." L'thal smiles at Tara, then finishing his cider and setting it on the bar. "Another, please."

Forel takes the cup and moves off to refill it as Tara points to another portrait hung above the bar. "That's Lady Fallow. The story goes that it was nearing the end of Gandrol's days as a barron, and she was looking for a quite place for them to spend the last of their days in peace away from the bustle of politics. When they came upon the clearing that the villiage is in, a great gale came and blew Lady Fallow into Gandrol, reminding her of how they met in a market where she triped into Gandrol's arms. The two liked the clearing so much thanks to that wind, they set up the Windless Arms Inn, which they gave to their youngest son on their death. My father is the first innkeeper of the Windless Arms not to be a decendant of Gandrol, but only because my uncle gave it up when he went to Heather's Peak."

Returning with L'thal's cider, Forel sighs. "Aye, Sykre is a good innkeeper though. Use to work here, till he married Lara and went to Fallow's Gale. Which reminds me, young lady. Just why are you and Ryalto not there?"

Tara grins sheepishly and shrugs. "Ryalto got sick of the village, and I tagged along to keep him out of trouble." Sighing as she looks to the sofa, she then adds, "Though now I think he wishes we hadn't left. He doesn't want to go back now."

"It is probably best that-"

A tall raccoon enters the tavern, rushing up to the bar. The four look to him as he leans over the bar and sits down next to Tara, panting heavily. "Forel, you'll never believe the news. A runner has just came in from Fallow's Gale."

"What news?" L'thal sits tall, a frown crossing his face in worry.

The raccoon blinks at the skunk, and then notices the medallion. "Knight, Fallow's Gale has fallen. It is now under P'lfal control. But the new cannons are working! They've stoped the skunk's troops cold there."

Brenei looks at the raccoon in confusion. "I am sorry to have to ask this, but cannons? Surely you don't mean those massive things that hurls big balls of lead in the air with a massive bang."

Grinning widely, the raccoon shakes his head. "No, dear Knights. These have been called 'Hand Cannons' and are small enough to hold in your hands. You hold it up, point it at the enemy, and fire it. You can break your shoulder if not careful, but the small balls of lead it fires are strong enough to punch through most armor."

L'thal frown deepens. "When you say most armors..."

"Well, I mean most. So far, only the special armors made by Chandrol's blacksmiths, and those are very rare among their ranks."

L'thal smiles. "Aye, they are. It took me years to save up for my set. It is nice to know that prudence can pay off."

Walking around the bar, Forel hands the raccoon a small ale and sits in the stool beside him. "Rale, what of the people of Fallow's Gale? Are they all right?"

Rale takes a sip of his ale before continuing. "Most are fine, though there was some problem with some Lynx bandits that they captured the day before the attack. Oh! Appearantly two kits-"

Forel holds his hands up and points to Tara. "We know about the kits, what else?"

Blinking at Tara, Rale takes another sip. "Well, I wouldn't send them back there just yet. The fighting is still preaty bad in the woodland between here and there. Thank you, Forel, for the ale. Now I must be off to tell my wife. Good night, fair knights and little one." Rale hands the finished ale to Forel and heads out the door.

L'thal and Forel start discussing whatis to be done with the kits, while Brenei shakes his head. He drains the last of his ale down and turns to see what Tara is up to.

Tara sits back, leaning against the bar. She stares at the picture above the fire for a few minutes, and then at the sofa. "Brenei, we're going with you to Heather's Peak."

Brenei raises and eyebrow, and then looks to his other side at L'thal and Forel's gradualy heating debate. "Really now? And may I ask just how you think that?"

Tara continues to look at the sofa. "No thought involved. Ryalto needs something to hold onto, and he needs it now. Taking him back to Fallow's Gale wouldn't have done that, and just would have reminded him of his father. He's never been farther than here, and this will give him a bit of excitement and fear, fear that will keep him from falling into depression. You said you needed to get to Heather's Peak, so we'll just follow you."

"I see, that is a valid reason... But why do you have to come along?"

"I always wanted to see the world, not read about it. And I am certain that the fox are hiding something from us land dwellers."

Brenei shakes his head. "I take it you plan on sailing some time in the future?"

"If not me, then one of my decendants should. I doubt that these lands are all that consist of our world, and I think the fox know it. But what I don't know is why they don't tell us about it, and that's what I want to know."

"Fair questions." Brenei leans over between the skunk and raccoon and clears his throught loudly, interupting their fight before it breaks out into racial slurs. "I will take them with me to Heather's Peak. There, they will be safe from the war till it is ended, and then they can return to their village."

Forel stands back in shock, then frowns. "That idea's stupid! This war shows no sign of ending any time soon, and-"

"I have information that will probably end this war very swiftly. I cannot tell you it, though, as that would put your life in danger. I should probably not have even told you that I had the information..." Brenei starts to look at the floor, his ears drooping downwards.

"Is that what Toral died for? This information?" L'thal looks at Brenei, all anger forgotten.


"Then I will acompany you as well. Hopefully the kit's luck will hold out and extend to all of us." L'thal drains his cider in one long pull, and then places the cup on the bar. With that, he bows once and walks over to the sofa and lifts Ryalto into his arms and carries him up a flight of stairs.

Forel shakes his head. "I don't like the idea, but getting them away from the fighting is a good thing. Fine. Take them to Heather's Peak. But I expect to see them here in this tavern within two weeks of the fighting's end, or I will never serve either of you another drink."

Brenei smiles. "An idle threat, in a city with ten other taverns, but I will see that at least Tara gets back here."

Forel frowns "What do you mean 'at least Tara'?"

"I mean what I mean. Now it is time for Tara to get some sleep, and I personaly am very tired. Good night, Forel." Brenei stands and rests his hand on Tara's shoulder till she too stands.

"Good night then, Brenei of the Order."

Both smile and walk up the stairs, following L'thal's path. Tara wispears into Brenei's ear right before slipping out of Forel's earshot. "You think Ryalto will try then?"

Forel's eyes widen in horror as he cleans up his tavern for the night.

Ideas, characters, character names, and anything else that I can say is copyright, is copyright of The Redshirt (Jason Taylor) 2002-2003. If you enjoy this story, why not tell me? Or if you though it was absolute shite, tell me as well. I need the feedback.
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