Captured in the Dark Chapter 1
Painfully the beaten mouse forced himself to stand before his tormenter. But once he had made it up onto his footpaws he received a blow to the face. He squeaked at the impact and fell, clutching the swelling spot.
"I told you to get up you filthy slave!" Chuckled the fox cruelly. " I'll teach you to disobey me!" He laughed and let his whip's end uncoil and fall to the ground an inch before the mouse's face, whose eyes went wide with terror.
"No, please!" The miserable slave cried in fear, his eyes ever transfixed on the instrument of punishment. "I'll be faster next time! Please don't whip me!" He dared to look up at his master, and it earned him a hard kick in the gut.
It was just when the fox was going to beat the living daylights out of his chain-beast when another fox came into the tent. He was slightly muscled and younger then the other fox. His eyes were brown as mud and his fur was a shining orange. It was clear as day that they were related, by they're faces. Brothers, in fact. They were the sons of the cruel and heartless Doxtriz Gorelimb, a master raider and slaver.
The younger fox, Copper by name, brow darkened at the sight of the bruised mouse on the floor. He, like his father and brother, had slaves, but unlike his father and brother, his approach to punishing them was extremely different then their way of handling uppity slaves.
"What now, Slickcast?" He asked the slave's tormenter in a drained and careful voice.
"Nothing you should worry about, brother." Slickcast grinned, winding the lash about his paw and turning to his brother. "Scum here disobeyed me; I'm merely teaching him a lesson."
The younger fox glanced at the creature curled up upon the floor, paws over head. He was a small, young dormouse, the type you'd find living in the woodlands or mountain valleys. His fur was brown and his frightened and deep green eyes were barely open as he listened to the two vermin conversing like he wasn't even there.
"Well you need to come now, Slick. Father demands your presence."
"I shall be there shortly, my brother." The bigger fox replied, straightening.
Copper cast his keen eyes upon his brother.
"We both know it is not wise to keep Father waiting." He said plainly, but with a touch of venom.
His brother cast him a grin and nodded.
"Indeed. You're loyalty and respect towards him is quite amazing, little brother." The smile faded lightly. "Just keep in mind who is the first born and rightful heir to this horde, got that? You don't order me around."
"Keep you're petty rights and forked tongue in your own mouth, Slick." Copper replied sharply. "I don't care a hoot for the position you treasure so dearly. Don't get sly with me, brother. I may be younger, but I am not ignorant or air-brained. You will be nothing but a corpse if you challenge Father."
Slickcast cast a dangerous look on his brother then smiled.
"You indeed caught mother's outgoing ways." He leaned forward and tilted his head. "Just keep what I said in mind. When I am leader of this horde I will require the same amount of respect and loyalty that you give to our beloved father. And you will obey me in every command."
Copper sneered at the fox.
Slickcast nodded once more and then stood straight, in a dignified manner.
He nudged the mouse on the floor with his footpaw, causing the pained creature to whimper slightly.
"Get up Scum. I want to have some damson wine when I return, go and get some off of Getter. NOW!"
"Yes Master." Scum said as he quickly and painfully rose and scurried out of the tent.
Once he was gone Copper turned to the older fox.
"It's no wonder your slaves are always useless, Slick. You beat them frail."
"And you, dear Copper, hardly raise a paw against them, allowing them to be rebellious and strong willed."
"I need my slaves to work, not collapse and be useless for days on end."
"My slaves do work, dear brother. But if they collapse, I don't wait around for 'days on end' for them to get back in shape. I get rid of them."
Copper glared at his brother as he left the tent, leaving his younger sibling to himself and his thoughts. Copper clenched his fists and set his teeth. This life he led was a sickening and low honorable one, and he was set on changing that.
He scanned his brown eyes over the luxurious tent of his brother's. Fine rugs, golden platters and shining weapons filled the dwelling; they were obviously captured in the raids his brother craved on going on. The raids Copper resisted. It wouldn't be true to say that he was a good and kind creature, but he did have his limits. He was a honorable beast, a beast who didn't think that slavery was a necessary thing. It was the lazy and power-craving beasts that used slaves, not he.
And that's what bothered him. There next target was full to the brim of honorable beasts, and they wouldn't stand a chance against Doxtriz Gorelimb. They would be crushed and enslaved. He was determined not to let that happen.
Leaving the tent quickly, he made for his own in a hurry. He had barely went three steps before he heard a cry off to his right.
'''Captured in the Dark Chapter 2'''
The mouse, who Slickcast had named 'Scum', wondered about the camp of hordebeasts in search of the winer, Getter. He hoped he could find the stout soon, for his master had long finished the wine he had stolen in the latest raid, and he didn't want another beating. After a few minutes he spotted the fat stout within a group of vermin, laughing. It was clear, to Scum's disappointment that Getter was drunk, and disturbing him would probably end in a whipping. But, his master could and would beat him harder then any beast in the whole raiding horde, so Scum advanced.
Curiously, Scum reached the drunk stout and his glaring companions. How the mouse wished he could be somewhere else, even in his wooden cage, rather then approaching drunk, violent beasts!
"What do ye want?" One of them spat at the slave.
"I...Master wants some more damson wine, sir." Scum looked at his footpaws, not daring to meet the eyes of the stout.
"Does 'e now? Well there's a payment for it ye know, mouse." Getter said grabbing the frightened mouse by the arm and squeezing it so he cried out in pain.
The vermin lounging about laughed and snickered at his pain.
"Please sir," Begged the mouse, struggling a little. "I must take the wine to my master!"
"Devoted creature aren't ye?" The stout mocked. "Or is it simply, that ye don't want another beating?"
Scum's lips quivered in terror, but he said nothing in reply.
"Well," Continued Getter. "Ye just go n'tell yer master that there's no more wine left!"
He threw the mouse onto the ground and kicked him in the face. The horde beasts laughed and jeered as Getter continued to lay out blows and kicks on the slave over and over. Scum cried out and gasped in pain, once again he went to put his paws over his head in protection. But before he could, a rat stepped on his paw and dug it into the hard ground. Scum screeched loudly at the pain and tried to pull it away, but it was useless.
"I came to see what was taking the slave so long, now I see." The voice was Copper's. "He was on his way to find wine for my brother, and you dared interfere?"
"Aw Cop, we were just having a little fun!" Getter stressed, then lied through his teeth. "Besides, he insulted me!"
Scum was now panting in fear, he hadn't insulted anybeast, but it was doubtful that fox would care. He'd listen to the stout's word over a slave's anyway.
"I don't know how he managed that, Getter." Copper continued. "But he's my brother's property to punish, not yours."
Getter snorted and looked away in anger. The vermin began grumbling, it was clear that they hated to have their fun busted by their leader's son. The rat who stood on Scum's paws dug the small creature's paw into the ground with all his might, trying to channel his anger over their spoiled games.
Copper glanced at the frightened mouse, who lay, biting his lip to stifle whimpers of agony as his paw was crushed further into the dust. Hot tears were silently rolling down his face as he tried in vain to pull his paw away. What Copper said next, he couldn't understand.
"Get off him, Bloodshot." He ordered the rat that had his footpaw on Scum's paw. "I need to take him back to my brother's tent for...other punishment for being late."
At first Bloodshot seemed as though he was going to be defiant, as Copper wasn't the most popular leader in the horde. But after gazing into the flames of the fox's eyes he obliged reluctantly and huffed away.
Getter and the other vermin glared at the fox a few second's before turning to follow the rat. Leaving him with the miserable slave on the ground.
Scum looked up at the fox that had spared him from being beaten. He was confused as to why the fox had gone and done it, but then again, foxes are unpredictable. He caught the vermin's eye and quickly looked away, holding his injured paw to his chest. One beating was enough, he didn't need another simply for making eye contact.
"Get up and come, mouse." Copper commanded as he turned and marched off.
Scum struggled to stand and follow. He had a deep feeling of dread when he thought of Slickcast's angry face. He could hear the whip whooshing through the air, feel the sting of pain on his back. He shuddered and shut his eyes tightly, willing the thoughts to go away.
Once they reached the tent, Scum slowly followed the fox inside, glancing to and fro to see if his feared master was there. Thankfully he was not back yet.
"Sit." Copper said, making a motion to a nearby stool.
Reluctantly, Scum made his way to the stool and sat down, squeezing his eyes shut in terror and confusion. He had no idea what the fox wanted from him, and he was scared to death to think about it.
"Give me your paw." The firm voice commanded.
The mouse, thinking his injured paw had suffered enough torture, shaking he put his other paw out. What the fox had in mind, the little slave didn't know.
"No mouse, you're hurt paw!" The voice hissed.
Scum opened his eyes, pleading filled them.
"Please sir, don't hurt it more!" He begged, tears filling his eyes. "It hurts enough! Please sir, anything but that! Plea-"
"Silence!" Copper growled and held out his paw for the mouse's. "Let. Me. See. Your. Paw."
Head down, suppressing his tears, Scum extended his injured paw, wincing as the fox took it into his own. He closed his eyes again, expecting a fresh wave of pain to course up his arm. But it never did. Something cool and moist touched Scum's paw making the pain cease a little. Then something was being wrapped around his paw. He opened his eyes. The fox was bandaging his crushed paw!
"There." Copper said quietly when he had finished, and then turned to put a bottle of cream back into his satchel he always carried. "Your paw will be fine."
"But..." Scum looked up; fear was still present in his eyes.
"You'll be fine." Copper repeated, ignoring the mouse's 'but'.
"T..Thank Y..You s..sir." Scum said lowly, looking at the ground.
"Yes, well...go get some sleep until Slick comes back."
"No! My Master will beat me if I'm caught sleeping!" The mouse bloated out, then realized what he did and added a quick 'sir' on the end, fearing a beating.
Copper raised an eyebrow.
"How can you work if you don't sleep?" The fox asked opening the tent flap, and a gust of frigid wind burst into the tent.
"I...I...d..don't know...s..sir..." The mouse was shivering fiercely in his rags.
"Well, at least rest for a few minutes." Copper turned away and began to leave the tent, he turned back to see the mouse still sitting on the stool. "Did you hear me?"
The mouse jumped, startled.
"'Yes but' what?"
"I can't go outside while my Master is gone...he'll..w..whip me..." The mouse gulped, shuttering a bit..
"Why would you need to go outside?"
"My Master puts me in the cage...its outside."
"Can't you just lie on the ground somewhere in here?"
The mouse's eyes went wide with fear.
"No sir! My Master..."
"Ok, ok, ok! I get it, he'll beat you. Fine stay up, can't say I didn't try."
With that, Copper huffed out, leaving Scum alone in his master's tent. The mouse got off his stool and went over to the corner of the tent and curled up, awaiting with dread, his cruel master's return. Tears filled his green eyes, rolling off his light brown facial fur as he looked at his bandaged paw. Why had the fox done that to him? Why had he been so...nice? Scum didn't understand it. Slickcast was so cruel, yet his brother...? The tears fell onto his ragged tunic. They were tears of confusion and loneliness.
Captured in the Dark Chapter 3
After Slickcast had returned to his tent, Scum had been savagely beaten for disobeying his master and thrown in his cage, left to starve. After a long while of trying feebly to nurse his wounds, he had fallen asleep in a flood of quiet tears. He had learned long ago the punishment for annoying the camp guards with his sniffles.
The next thing he knew he was being jerked awake as somebeast grabbed him by the scruff and dragged him out of the wooden cage. Though this was not uncommon, he let out a small squeak of fright and pain, which was rewarded by a stinging slap in the snout.
"Shut up mouse!" A harsh voice warned. "I'm taking ya to yer new master. If ye don't stay quiet I'll flog ye so 'ard ye won't be able te gasp 'tween screams."
Scum clamped his mouth shut. He knew the beast who spoke to him was Fungal the weasel, and he never made light threats. Meekly, he allowed himself to be dragged by the neck to wherever it was the weasel was to take him. The mouse could not help but wonder who his 'new master' was. He silently begged fate would place him in the possession of somebeast less cruel then Slickcast. Though, he had never put too much faith in fate, not after all the unjust and severe whippings and beatings he had suffered under these raiding vermin.
It was not long before they met their destination. As a matter of fact, it was only a minute before they arrived at Slickcast's tent. Scum's cage was always placed outside of the fox's warm tent do he could be fetched easily. Scum could sometimes here the fox on his angry rants and more cheery moods. He hated hearing the angry mood swings that his master came over, for it often meant a beating was coming for him, the only thing he had was the suspense and dread of awaiting to be summoned.
Fungal stopped in front of the tent, he paw still gripping the young mouse's scruff unmercifully.
Scum kept his head bent as he listened to the weasel respectfully call into the tent.
"I brought 'im Slick, sir."
"Enter." Slickcast's gruff voice replied from within.
Pushing the mouse before him, Fungal entered the tent and threw the poor slave onto the ground so hard the wind was knocked from Scum's lungs.
"'ere 'e is Slick. Jus' like ye asked." The weasel stated.
"Good. Now get out." Slickcast's voice was cold and thick.
The weasel bowed and obliged, leaving the mouse on the ground.
A few seconds passed before the vermin spoke again.
"Get up Scum." The fox commanded.
The mouse quickly scrambled up before his master, head bent in submission.
There were a few more moments of deep silence before Slickcast shattered it.
"There you see? He isn't strong, smart, clean or big. Why do you take such an interest in him?" He question.
"Because I could use him." A voice answered.
Scum's ears pricked up, but he kept his face down. That was Copper's voice! He'd know it anywhere.
"This is rather sudden is it not, brother?" The older fox continued. "Felt a twang of pity for him earlier during the night?"
"My reasons should not concern you, Slick. " Copper responded coldly. "Your pay is all you should worry about."
"Fine, fine. Take him, you know I'd give anything for four barrels of damson wine and a load of pigeon and seagull meat."
Copper grabbed Scum by the arm gruffly. He left the tent pulling the mouse behind him. Scum wasn't sure whether to be relieved or frightened to death. Yes, the younger fox had been softer to him then his brother, but he was still a fox and the kin of his other master. Being owned by any beast in the whole horde was sure to be painful and strenuous...but the leader's kin? The little mouse shuttered as he was dragged behind the fox.
When they reached Copper's tent and entered, the fox let go. He instantly walked over to a table and sat down, eying the slave before him.
After a long silence, the fox spoke up, his voice was level and calm.
"What's your name, mouse?"
Scum still had his head bent and muffled something inaudible. The fox cupped his paw over his ear, straining to hear what was said.
"What was that? Speak up mouse I can't hear a thing!"
"Scum sir…I mean Master." The mouse quickly spoke.
"Scum?" Copper raised a brow. "What kind of name is that? Was your mother drunk or disgusted with you when you were born?"
The mouse didn't answer the question. He couldn't really. It wasn't his mother who had named him, it had been Slickcast. The fox had killed his mother shortly after his birth. It was really surprising that he had survived so long.
"Hmm." The fox thought as he tapped his chin. "Well, that name must go. Hmm...How about Arman?" He looked at the mouse for conformation.
"Yes Master." The mouse shrugged.
"Blasted! Stop being so submissive and answer my question! Do. You. Like. The. Name. Arman?"
Scum was genuinely shocked. Slickcast had never asked his opinion; he had barely let the young beast speak at all unless he was responding. Unsure of what to do he stood there in confusion. The young mouse somehow considered this situation to be a fearful one, for he shook with fright like a leaf in the wind.
"Well?" The fox demanded.
"I..I s..suppose...M..Master." He stammered. Copper rolled his eyes.
"Look." He said as softly as possible to the mouse. "I'm asking you what you think about what name to name you. It's your choice. So, do you like the name Arman or not?"
"Not..r..really..s..sir." Now the mouse was being honest, though he wasn't sure if it would cost him to disagree with his new-found master.
"Then what name would you use?"
Scum was now highly unsure of what to say. Sure, many times when he was caged and alone he thought of what names he would call himself if he ever was miraculously freed. But of course, he doubted that would happen. He bit his lip, thinking hard for a name. He wanted it to suite him, to be his.
Then came the memory. The memory of the mouse who had been a slave to Slickcast along with him. A mouse called Taft. He had always been kind to Scum when the small creature wept after being whipped or had been starved for days. He had given a small amount of comfort in Scum's tiny and worthless life. Taft had been the family the mouse had never had. It had been him who had finally had enough of the cruel fox abusing the defenseless and youthful mouse. He had heard Scum whimpering as the cruel lash cut his skin and had left the tent in rage to put a stop to it. The only thing he got for his bravery was death. Scum saw his only friend beaten to death before his eyes, and that night, he wept like never before. He had always wished he could have at least thanked the older mouse for being kind, and now he had the chance to honor him.
Bringing his eyes up the patiently waiting fox, he announced his choice, still a little scared.
"Well..I..I rather like the n..name T..Taft.."
"Taft, eh?" The fox said slowly. "Where'd you get that name? Well, no matter. Taft it is then. See that cot in the corner? It's for you. Wash up and get some sleep, I'll be back in a while." With that the fox stood up and left the tent. Scum, now 'Taft', stood in shock as he watched his new master leave.
"Taft. Taft. Taft." The young mouse said as he laid on the cot the fox had given him. "I'm Taft not Scum. Taft. Scum. Taft. Scum. Taft.." He smiled slightly. He never liked being called Scum because, well, it's in the name. It made him feel like the scum of the earth, just as Slickcast had told him he was. But now he was Taft. Taft the mouse. His grin faded. Taft the slave. No matter what his name was, he was still a slave.
"Taft, you awake?" Copper asked as he walked into the tent. The mouse shot out of his cot and answered promptly.
Once again, the fox rolled his eyes.
"Don't be so jumpy, you could hurt yourself."
"Yes Master." The mouse said quietly storing the order away.
"I brought you some food." Copper placed a plate of bread and fruit, along with a cup of water on the table. "Eat it quickly. I have something for you to do."
"Yes Master." Taft answered as he walked over and picked up the plate.
"Don't you say anything else besides 'yes master'?" Copper asked impatiently. "Do you know how to say anything else?"
"You know I do." Taft replied, and then slapped his paw over his mouth in correction, nearly dropping his plate. Fear filled his eyes "I..I mean..Yes Master...er.."
"Good grief mouse!" The fox sighed. "You'd think I'd hit you every time you stutter or slip a word! Speak freely Taft. I hate one sided conversations."
The mouse stood there silently, looking at his footpaws, not exactly sure how to react to the new command.
"Eat your food, Taft." Copper ordered, then stalked over to a chair by the table and sat down.
Taft took his plate and cup over to his cot and sat on the ground, squirming into the corner of the tent and trying to stay out of the fox's sight. He looked down at his plate. It had more food on it then he had any recollection of ever being given before. The fruit and bread were fresh and clean, not moldy and shrunken like the ones he usually got from Slickcast. Picking up an apple he looked at it in wonder. No bruises or shriveled spots, it was like him ever since he had been under Copper's ownership. Slickcast would have surely beaten him a few times already for any reason he could find. Taft sighed and was about to take a bite out of the piece of fruit when Copper called to him, startling him and causing the apple to fall from his grasp.
"What are you doing on the floor Taft?" The fox asked.
"Eating, Master." The mouse replied, a little shaken. Would the fox whip him for eating in his presence?
"Not on the ground you're not." Copper said sternly. "Eat like a civilized beast, at the table. Hurry, I have a message for you to send."
Taft got up and walked to the table. Placing his plate on it, he sat down on a stool and began to eat. He tried not to wolf his food down, but it's hard when you're starving. The fox watched the mouse eat; his eyes were hard and unreadable, making Taft flinch. Once the mouse was finished, he picked up his plate and cup and stood up to wash them, but Copper stopped him.
"Don't worry about the plate, I'll get somebeast else to take care of it." He took the platter from the stunned Taft's paws and replaced it with a satchel and canteen. "There's food, a fresh tunic and supplies inside, along with the message. Listen very closely now, this is vital information. I want you to head west-"
"Alone? Your sending me away?" Taft squeaked in fright and excitement, he couldn't contain it, everything was happening too fast now.
Copper let out a sigh then nodded.
"Yes Taft, I am." He looked hard at the confused young mouse. "The lives of many beasts depend on you. This massage is of the utmost importance. I'm trusting you to take it safely to it's destination. Please listen to what I say, ok?"
Taft nodded and held the satchel close to his chest. He was terrified at the idea of being sent away to wander alone, yet he was terrified of what his Master would do to him if he disobeyed. Never before in his life had he been asked to do such a task. Since when did a master send his slave away?
"Head west through Mossflower woods." Copper continued. "You'll find a big redstone place called, Redwall Abbey. I want you to knock on the gate and give them the message that I put in the satchel. Ok?"
Taft hesitated then nodded. He looked down at his footpaws.
"Then I come back Master?" He dreaded the answer. "Then I go back...back to S..Slickcast?"
"No Taft." Copper said lightly. "You can stay at the Abbey. You're free once you hand them that message. But if you don't, then I will find you and give you back to Slick, got it?"
The mouse shuddered.
"Good mouse." The fox smiled, it was actually a warm smile.
He lifted his paw to pat the small mouse on the head, but the creature flinched in fear. Taft closed his eyes expect to be slapped, and was confused when he felt a gentle paw on his head, rustling his headfur. He looked up at the fox a question in his eyes.
"Not all foxes beat slaves, Taft." Copper said with a sad smile.
Captured in the Dark Chapter 4
Taft ran as fast as his paws would go. Slickcast had seen him slipping out of the camp after darkness had fallen and now had four hordebeasts casing after the little mouse. He ran and ran, his paws were sore and his sides hurt, but he didn't stop. Slickcast was behind him! If he ever caught the starved mouse...Taft shook at the thought.
"I sees 'im Slick!" A creature shouted, not far behind Taft.
"Right, keep up the fun of the chase me lads! After him!" Slickcast's unmistakable harsh voice sounded through the forest. "We can't let him alert the target!"
Fear and horror at the sound of the fox gave Taft an unbelievable burst of speed. He glanced behind him to see his pursuers, thankfully they were nowhere in sight. He dogged trees, hopped logs and ran so fast his tears of terror flew off his fur. He wanted to be anywhere besides sprinting for his life in an unknown wood, even in his accursed cage awaiting torment.
After about a half an hour of dashing and scurrying nonstop the mouse could run no more.
He fell to the ground on paws and knees, panting and gasping in the frosty air, causing his lungs to burn and ache. The fresh layer of winter snow beneath his paws, melted at the heat of his body. He was in a cold sweat, and his eyes were bloodshot. Looking about in desperation for a place to hide from the fox and his vermin, he spotted a hollow tree trunk, maybe just big enough for him to squeeze into. A shout from the distance sent the young beast diving for the tree.
He pushed and squeezed and struggled to pull his weak body into the tree's hollow trunk, but it was no use. He couldn't do it, even being as skinny and young as he was. He would be caught and, and...Taft closed his eyes and bit his lip. Hot tears found their way out of his eyes and down his face. He didn't bother to brush them away. He had wept more times then he guessed he had eaten, and he had found the warmth of the salt water an odd comforter. Curling up into a ball, he gave a shuddered sigh and looked down at the satchel Copper had given him.
He hated the thought of failing the fox who had promised him freedom. Freedom that he would never get because of Slickcast. Copper wouldn't help him again, he knew. He was alone, waiting for the cruel fox to catch and beat him to death. All he had ever wanted was a chance for freedom, and now it had come, and soon it would be destroyed. Shuddering, Taft put his head in his paws and began to weep bitterly.
"Wha-?" Taft's head perked up and he looked about. "Who made that noise?"
"It's me, over here."
Taft swung his head around to see two black eyes staring at him. He screeched and squirmed backward fearfully.
"D-don't hurt me!" He squealed in terror, throwing his paws up in front of his face and shutting his eyes tightly.
"Hurt you?" The creature said coming closer. "Why would I hurt you?"
Taft carefully eased his eyes opened. He was surprised to find that before him was an otter, squatting down to the mouse's level. He wore a broad and genuine smile, his fur was dark and glossy, and his torso was muscled and stout and frightful to the little slave. The otter lifted a paw to gently touch the terrified mouse on the shoulder, but Taft squeaked and drew back until he felt a tree from behind preventing further escape.
"There, little guy, I won't harm you." The big otter said soothingly and in a kind voice. "I'm Skipper Rogth, but you can call me 'Skip'. What's your name? What are you running from?"
Slowly, Taft forced himself to gulp down his horror and speak.
"I-I'm T-t-taft. Are y-you f-from R-redwall?"
Skipper continued to smile cheerfully and warmly at the mouse, making some of Taft's fear die down. He couldn't remember the last time a beast had ever looked upon him with that kind of smile, that is, a warm smile rather then a malicious and cruel one.
"No, but I know the way there." The otter raised his eyebrow slightly. "Are you heading there little friend?"
"Yes, sir." The little creature said.
"Well then." The otter stood up and held out a paw to help the small beast up. "You should come with me. From the looks of you, you need a good bath, fine meal and long night of sleep."
Taft shook his head.
"No. I-I have to get to R-redwall, it's important." He paused in thought and terror before quoting Copper. " 'The lives of many beasts d-depend on me. This massage is of the u-ut-tmost impor-t-tance'." He struggled with the last two words as they poured from his mouth.
Skipper stared at the mouse for a few seconds; paw still extended, and then chuckled.
"Well, you're a determined little beast, aren't you?" He knelt down next to the mouse and grinned, ignoring the fact that the little creature pushed his back as far as he could into the tree. "Fine then, I'll take you to Redwall. But we should go back to my camp, not wise to sleep out in the open ya know."
Taft watched the otter rise again and put his paw out a second time. Unsure of how the water-dog would treat him if he refused, he took hold of the paw and was pulled upright.
"Here, follow me." The otter said, turning and marching off into the forest.
Reluctantly, with no better plan, Taft followed the beast back to his camp.
Taft had been fed and given a place to rest in the small tent the otter used. The otter watched the terrified mouse closely. He often peered around at the trees and shuttered at the slightest sounds. It was certainly clear that he didn't know whether to trust the otter or not, the fear Rogth read in the young beasts eyes was enough explanation for him. It took a long while for the little mouse to finally fall into sleep, keeping his green eyes always on the otter.
Now Skipper Rogth watched the young mouse drift into sleep, shuttering and flinching at the slightest sound from the surrounding wood. He felt pity for the young beast as he listened to his whimpers and cries as he slept. However he thought it better to simply let the mouse sleep then wake him to see what was wrong. But when the shivering creator's sniffles grew louder and stronger, the otter sighed and went over to Taft, hoping to calm the tiny creature down. Touching him lightly on the shoulder, Rogth was surprised when the mouse woke, squeaking with terror and began crying out pleas and scrambling to get away.
"No! Don't hurt me! Stop! Please! Let me go! Don't whip me!" He threw his paws over his head in horror, tears running free down his cheeks.
Skipper quickly took the young mouse in his grasp; he regretted waking the young beast so suddenly. The little form quivered in his arms, in fear and in confusion. Rogth gently rocked him back and forth, his voice lulling the crying mouse back into reality as best as he was able.
"Calm down little fellow. It's alright, nobeast can hurt you. I'm here to protect you." He wiped the mouse's tears away with his finger and pulled a blanket over the shaking creature in the freezing night air.
Taft grabbed tightly onto Rogth's fur and pressed himself against the big chest, quaking and sobbing.
"Don't let me go! Please don't let them get me!"
"Hush, I won't." The otter said, he was surprised at how mouse grasped him like he was a long lost friend, not willing him to let go. "Go back to sleep. You're safe now."
After a long while Taft had drifted back into his troubled slumber. He had never known what it felt like to be safe, but somehow he guessed it felt like being held in the arms of a strong otter, who would take him to Redwall and freedom.
Taft woke and pulled his blanket tighter about his body, as a gust of wind pierced him. The cold penetrated his skin mercilessly regardless of the blanket and rags wrapped about his small body. He whimpered slightly and opened his eyes. Though he knew where he was, he was still surprised to have been allowed to sleep until he woke, rather then be dragged out of sleep and put to work. Waking without seeing wooden bars surrounding him also made him feel odd.
"Ah, you're awake! Good! Come eat something, little mate."
Taft jumped at the voice and quickly sat up. He looked around, finding himself in a small travel tent. He was amazed at how drained he felt.
"I'm sorry if I woke you up by opening the tent flap and letting that cold breeze in." Skipper said smiling at the mouse. "But now that you're awake, might as well get some food into ye, eh?"
Taft made a move to leave his place and became aware that he wasn't feeling so well. He shivered, wrapping his arms about him. He was freezing and yet ever so hot, a terrible feeling. It didn't take long for the otter that the mouse hadn't moved and came to the mouse's side.
"Hey mate, you don't look so good." He said as he put a paw to Taft's burning forehead. "Seems you've got a fever. Lie back down, I'll be right back."
"But I have to get to Redwall!" Taft croaked. His mouth and throat burned and scratched as he spoke, causing him to wince.
The otter gently laid him back down and put another blanket over the mouse.
"You're sick mate; we'll get there by noon today. So don't you worry about that. Try to rest while I make you something warm to drink."
"Can I have my sack?" Taft groaned hopefully as the otter pulled the blankets tight about his body.
"I'll bring it." Rogth assured him. "Now lie still and keep those blankets on, you're ill enough."
Taft happily obeyed. He never recalled being given a blanket for warmth in any season and looked after with real concern. It was a warm feeling to know that maybe this strange otter cared about him, even in a slight way.
Skipper came back into the tent a few minutes later gripping Taft's satchel and a cup of green-oak tea, which he made the little mouse drink before he let him have the sack.
Once the tea was done, the otter handed the satchel to the mouse. Taft opened it eagerly and looked through it's contents, searching for something. It was not long before he found what he wanted. Pulling out a warm tunic, just his size, Taft gave a small yelp of joy as he inspected it. It was clean and unfrayed with a dark green color and brown stitching around the edges. Any other beast would have thought nothing of it. But to Taft, it was his very own unscratched tunic.
The smile was so bright on the mouse's face; Skipper thought he was looking at a long lost treasure, rather then a new tunic.
"Here." He said softly. "I'll help you put it on."
He helped the little mouse removed his ragged tunic and then he washed him off with what water he carried in his canteen. The little mouse looked as though he hadn't been cleaned in seasons, because he was crusted with dirt and mud all over. However that could not compare with the horror, the otter saw nasty scars that could only have been caused by a whip or rod, over Taft's pelt. Some of them were newly crusted with blood. He was also very much bruised up, making the otter wonder where this mouse had come from. He at first thought Taft might be a runaway, but after the previous night's terrors and the scars, he knew the mouse had just escaped slavery.
He had nothing to bandage Taft's back with so he tore an extra blanket up and used it's peices instead. At first Taft wouldn't let the otter touch his back, sliding away from the Skipper, but he was too weak to fight for long, and reluctantly allowed himself to be cleaned and bandaged. The little creature winced at times but how the little mouse didn't cry out in pain, the otter didn't know. Slowly, trying not to disturb the home made dressing on Taft's back; he helped the little mouse slip on his new tunic.
"It's so warm!" Taft croaked and smiled, brushing his paw over the material in awe. Then his face became serious. "We have to go to Redwall, Skip."
"We're going to." Rogth once again assured the mouse. "But we need to take it slow, you're ill.."
"No." The mouse said painfully, shaking his head. "We have to hurry, or I'll never get the message to Redwall and I'll never be free."
Skipper raised an eyebrow.
Taft nodded stiffly, but said nothing.
"Well...what's this message you have to take?"
"I don't know." Taft shrugged. "It's in the satchel. Copper said to give it to Redwall, and that it was important."
Now Skipper raised both eyebrows with concern.
"Can I read it?" He asked gently, trying not to raise alarm for the mouse.
"I guess." Taft shrugged again. "I don't know how to read."
He reached into the sack and produced a small, sealed paper. Carefully, he handed it to the otter as though it was a relic. Rogth took it, smiling warmly at the mouse and then opened the seal. Unfolding the paper he read it's contents and his brow darkened.