When he was satisfied with the adjustments to his armour and weapons Skitt turned and rose just enough to peer over the broken wall. The battlefield had gone eerily silent and was now covered in smoke from the artillery. For a moment he allowed himself the fanciful thought that the battle had ended and that he could go home to Behan but even as the thought comforted him the hair on the back of his neck rose. A sound drifted though the smoke, at first he thought it was an echo of his own heart pounding in his ears but as it grew he knew it for what it was. Feet, dozens maybe hundreds of feet pounding the ground, running and the sound was growing louder just as his heart beat faster.
Figures began to appear in the smoke, hazy shadows without distinct form, Skitt counted 35 before he forced himself to stop. It would do no good knowing their numbers he had already know they were badly outnumbered.
As if a hand had swept across the field the smoke suddenly parted and those shadows became armoured mice, hundreds charging across the devastated landscape toward the pathetic protection of ruined walls that Skitt's forces held.
"FIRE" bellowed the Sargent from somewhere to Skitt's left and again the world became noise. This time however the noise came from both his left and right and was the lesser crack pops of BlazePowder firearms as the device hammers struck firesteel sparking and igniting powder in two dozen guns almost at once. Each gun was a marvel of chemistry, the powder would ignite in an explosive force pushing a metal spike the size of his finger down a long barrel and when it exited the speed it moved at was nothing short of terrifying. The effect those projectiles had was instant as nearly every shot found a mark. Those hit seemed to jerk and spin like puppets whose stings were tugged by a careless child then fall haphazardly as if those same strings had been suddenly cut.
A moment of dawning hope quickly died as the smoke rolled back even farther and showed Skitt's assessment of being outnumbered was sorely underestimated.
"Ready your swords Mice" called the steeled voice of the Sargent "Show them what true warriors are made of. You are the King's Guard" the last he punched each word out raising his paw and a half blade high. The reply was instant as the mice about Skitt rose their swords, bows or other weapons and cried "FOR THE KING". It took him a second to realized his blade was now high above his head and that his throat cried the same words but more than that his heart screamed them out to all the worlds, he may die but he would not fail the king in this.
As he turned back to the approaching enemy, now close enough to clearly see, a small part of his heart whispered "Goodbye Behan, my love, my life."
"INCOMING" Skitt felt the impact of his back on the ruined stone barrier he was using for cover. A small whistle increased to a high pitched scream as dozens of arrows arced in on a deadly path. He heard the multiple impacts upon the stone and ground about him cut by a piercing cry. His heart skipped a beat as he heard the sound knowing that another of his troop had fallen.
"Mr Burntail, give them our response." A hardened voice reported. Skitt's eyes were drawn to the great cannons tucked safely behind stacks of sandbags behind the lines of halberdiers. A strange little mouse head popped up from beside the cannon, its ears cut in the form of a cog marking it as one of the eccentric G-ears, engineers of the army "A pleasure Sarg" squeaked the gear eared little mouse.
Seconds later the world exploded in light and noise as the cannons belched forth their angered retort. Within seconds the ground rumbled as the explosive ammunition landed among the enemy with punishing blows.
"POWDER FORE" The hard gruff voice of his Sergent carried easily over the battlefield noise and pierced the smoke. Skitt glanced from side to side watching as mice pulled the drycloth from their rifles and spun to lay them on whatever cover they crouched behind.
Instinct and drills told him what would be next, guns were called only when the enemy was preparing a charge. As a swingsword it would be his time soon. Drawing his blade from it's sheath he closed his eyes, calming himself. He shifted subtly in his leather armour ensuring the boning was resting where it should to protect him as well as not hinder his movements. the counter charge would be ordered soon.
The moon's faint light cast long shadows that would twist and turn in the clearing as the stalks of grass swayed lazily. The trap had been reset by the frustrated hunter, a new chunk of Swiss cheese sitting on the trigger.
The darkness around the clearing gave no clues to anyone beyond and the grass swayed in it's sleepy way. It was late when two shadows seemed to separate themselves from the darkness and drift toward the trap. The lead shadow was hunched as if ready to pounce, it's head scanned back and forth taking in the clearing searching for danger. The second shadow stood straight it's head focused on it's companion, but it moved with a obvious grace, one that spoke of beauty and a hint of danger.
Stopping suddenly sinking lower to the ground the Hunched shadow almost disappeared into the shadow of the trap itself. Moments went by as the second shadow began to give off an impatient air.
"Well" The standing mouse purred as she pulled back the hood of her cloak and the moonlight reflected from Silk black fur and impossibly blue eyes.
A whispered voice rose from the shadows of the trap "The prey was here. It foiled this trap and ...hmmm"
"What is it?" she narrowed her eyes as much in curiosity as to keep track of the shadow.
"The stance, I would not want to face this prey. It is skilled" the voice drifted on the wind.
"HA! are you afraid shade? Worried this prey would be to much for you?" insulted the black mouse.
"I did not say that" came the voice suddenly without location or origin "I merely said I would not face it" the voice came to rest over her shoulder "My blade will taste it's back"
The black mouse's eyes showed only a second of surprise then narrowed once again as a evil smile crossed her face. "Then I will be sure to distract him when the time comes" she purred once again lifting her arm toward the trap. With a quick twist of her wrist a barbed blade shot from her sleeve and embedded itself into the Swiss cheese. For a moment all was quiet and unmoving in the clearing as if the action had stunned nature itself. The moon reflected off the surface of a fine thread making it seem to wink into existence briefly before vanishing again then with another twist of her wrist the cheese jumped from the trap into her waiting hand.
She opened the satchel at her side and a low glow emitted and a scent briefly wafted to the shade making his nose twitch and his mouth water. Dropping the swiz into the satchel she once again sealed it.
The shade gathered his focus once again moving silently in front of the dangerous mouse "There is a complication, It's tracks have been joined by others."
The Black mouse snapped her head up and if possible looked even more deadly "Was it them?" her voice was cold with no purr and filled with venom.
The shade recoiled a step back involuntarily and stammered "N.. No Lady Dulcina, the tracks show no sign of armour. they look more like locals the prey has befriended"
Dulcina scanned the shade's face as if making sure he was telling the truth. Seemingly satisfied she once again switched to her soft purring voice "Well how unfortunate for them, is there anything else?"
The shade made a last scan of the clearing "No lady, nothing more to tell"
Dulcina nodded and pulled her hood up once again casting her face into shadow. The shade accepting that the conversation had ended turned toward the edge of the clearing and began to drift into the shadows followed by the graceful Lady Dulcina.
The seconds seemed to hang like months as Skitt stared at the medallion in Aurum's paws. He raised his head slowly "You.. Your a Knight." It had not been a question nor derogatory it came out as more of a sigh of relief, Skitt suddenly didn't feel as alone.
His hope met a fatal end when he saw Aurum shaking her head. "No, young mouse this was given to me by a close friend on a horrible night." Aurum's eyes misted at the edges and she stared over Skitt's shoulder as if looking at a distant memory. "I was asked to protect it as I was asked to protect another precious valuable, a baby mouse." She turned to look into the confused eyes of Yena "Your father gave me this Yena, the night he left to find your mother."
"My father" stammered Yena as she stared at the medallion.
Skitt looked excitedly to Yena "Do you realize what it means? Your father was a Swiss Knight that makes you an heir to him." But once again his excitement was greeted with Aurum's shaking head.
"Yena's father was a good mouse none would argue that, but he was no warrior and especially a knight. He was a talented blacksmith who was born and grew up in the Meadows."
"But... then the medallion" Skitt's eyes widened in horror "did he steal it?"
There was no time for him to react Yena had planted a balled fist into his cheek and was already landing other blows as they both crashed to the floor. For a minute it was all that Skitt could do to shield himself from serious harm as the barrage continued. "My father was no thief" Yena punctuated each word with a series of blows.
It was the gentle laughing that made them both stop and look up at Aurum. She smiled warmly looking down at the tangled mess of mice. "You are just like your mother Yena, Just like her"
Skitt withdrew surprised by the change in Aurum but he wasn't the only one who seemed shocked. Yena stared as if Aurum had grown a second head and began singing the Gnawnian anthem. It appeared the only one who did not seem to notice was Kerl as he looked into his teacup. He was the one that broke the awkward silence first "That's to bad Skitt, oh well maybe now you can tell us about that medallion you wear. You know the one with the eight triangles on it."
Even as Kerl looked up at Skitt Aurum sat forward in her seat "Medallion?" she questioned staring intently at Skitt.
Starting to feel like leaving Rodentia was his greatest mistake Skitt tried desperately to shrink into himself.
Recovering from her shock at Aurum Yena quickly made to wipe away the small bits of cheese that had almost fallen from her open mouth.
"Ya, i saw that too, it had eight triangles each one had a different symbol in it." She joined the others intently looking at Skitt.
"Eight symbols" muttered Aurum as she stood and turned to her desk and shelves.
A very uncomfortable Skitt replied to the Inquisition in a mild and unconvincing voice "it.. it's just a trinket from my homeland Rodentia." His eyes seemed to plead for them not to press any further.
"Well" Huffed Yena "if you won't tell us about that trinket," she emphasised the last word with a bit of spite "why are you looking for this Finewisker mouse anyway?"
"I.. well can't tell you." Skitt looked down at the table edge to avoid Yena and Kerls looks.
Yena huffed again turning in her chair so she would not have to look at this annoying mouse any longer.
Kerl just sighed "I don't understand you seem like you have a lot to tell but nothing to say?" and went back to his tea and cheese with a shrug.
That was when Aurum's voice came from her shelves where she was moving items about "Of course you can't say can you young mouse?" she glanced over her shoulder and Skitt was relived to see the warm brown eyes and smile had returned.
He just nodded with a sad expression and Yena looked over at Aurum as if she could hear that anthem in duet again.
"You are bound, bound by an oath to complete your task or never see home again" Aurum turned something wrapped in blue silk was cradled in her hands.
Even Kerl was watching her now his curiosity obvious as she walked toward the puzzled Skitt.
"Your task is set for you and you alone and you are not to speak of it to anyone," she smiled and pulled the silk back showing a golden medallion with eight triangles "Except to another Swiss Knight." She smiled.
Aurum stood in the archway holding a serving platter with a tea pot and cups, Skitt was struck by the fine silver fur and warm brown eyes of the older mouse. As she moved toward the table he noticed the strong strides that she took and the balanced movement of her tail, she was obviously not infirm, that he could tell for sure.
Setting the platter down gently Aurum pulled back her chair to sit causing Skitt to jump up from his chair nearly knocking it over. His sudden movement had surprised the others leaving Yena staring at him and Kerl looking around for the emergency.
Aurum nodded curtly at the blushing Skitt and took her seat. Skitt pulled his seat back in and sat once more suddenly very much interested in the grain of the wood on the table before him.
"I'll get another cup" said Yena shaking her head and finally taking her eyes of Skitt.
"No need Dear, I have brought enough for all" Aurum smiled and showed the four cups before her already lined up and ready to receive the tea.
Skitt's head came up as he caught a waft of the warm liquid, it had been a long time since he had had a cup of good mouse tea. Once on his voyage he had tried some hunter's tea that he had removed from a cupboard but he had found it bitter and not at all tasty. That was when he found out from other mice aboard the ship that Hunters used dried leaves to make thier tea not the carefully cultivated cheese mold dried and specially ground with herbs. Skitt had been mortified to think that the Hunters drank crushed dried leaves in hot water. But here he could smell the sweet aroma of a fine tea and his mouth salavated at the prospect.
"I am Aurum scribe of this village, I am pleased to make your acquaintance.... " She stopped looking to let the newcomer fill in his name.
Skitt inhaled deeply ready to introduce himself when Yena cut in rolling her eyes "His name is Skitt Proudfur, that's all" as she placed the plate with the sliced cheese she gave a sharp look at Skitt daring him to add anymore. Kerl just giggled and took a slice of the cheese and gave it a good loving smell and sighed to himself.
"Well Skitt Proudfur" she gave him a strange look as if something was on her mind "what brings you to our village?" as the tea was handed out to each waiting set of hands.
Skitt stole a quick glance at Yena who did not seem to be interested in speaking for him this time "I am looking for someone" he spoke timidly but with gaining strength and purpose "I was told I could find them here in the meadow."
"Well this is the right place" announced Yena her mouth half full of cheese and tea "Aurum keeps the records for most all of the meadows, if your friend was here she would have records."
Aurum smiled "It is quite possible I do not know everything but much is kept in my records, what is your friends name." she looked intently at Skitt.
"Tilnk Finewisker" replied Skitt with a hopeful air about him.
Aurum's face changed slightly Skitt could see it and realized that the look held danger. "There is no mouse here named that nor has there ever been." snapped Aurum before composing herself once again.
Walking through the village was a little eerie for Skitt. Though there was many hill homes, at least a good five to six dozen just in eye shot, there was no one around. Just as his curiosity had built enough to ask though Yena stopped at a small round semi-circle of a door in a hill home. He was amazed at how well blended in the door was he would barely have noticed it if he was just passing by. Yena pushed on the door and it swung slowly and silently open. Skitt followed as Yena and Kerl strode in finding his eyes not quick to adjust to the change in lighting he could only just make out darkened lines and even those disappeared as Kerl closed the door behind him. He fought the urge to draw his sword as his sight slowly adjusted to the dim light.
As it all came into focus Skitt took in his surrounding with a slight bit of surprise and awe. The inside of the home was surprisingly large. The room he stood in was easily as large as any living room back in Rodentia and furnished much alike with a more rustic air about it. there was two arches made of cut and sculpted stone leading to other rooms that he could not quite make out. This room itself had a long table which had chairs set evenly spaced along it with one end pointing toward a small stone fireplace sculpted much like that of the arches. along the wall to his right sat a comfortable looking chair at a desk bracketed a bookshelf and scroll holder. At strategic places small iron pillars rose to the supporting beams of the ceiling and on those pillars scones sat the fire within casting a mild light into the room.
"You would think he has never seen a home" Yena chided watching the amazed Skitt survey the room. "Aurum are you home?"
"Yes dear" came a pleasant voice from past one of the arches "Just in the kitchen getting tea, be out in a second."
Yena placed the cheese on the table and moved over to a cabinet that inhabited part of the left wall. Drawing few plates from the cabinet and a rather large knife placing them on the table she looked up at Skitt. It was at that moment that he realized he still stood by the door gazing at the room and felt the rush of heat blush his cheeks again.
"Do you know how to use a chair?" Yena said motioning to one of the seats at the table.
Kerl just looked back at Skitt as if it were a real question and seemed ready to show him the technical expertise of sitting.
"Oh, yes of course my lady..."
"Yena, please just Yena" she averted her eyes and lowered her face so he could not see the blush.
Skitt moved to the chair he was offered and sat carefully moving his sword to rest at his side. Kerl sat to his left with a huge grin.
"We have a guest, how wonderful." came the voice from the stone arch.