Categories > Books > Redwall > Pride of Kavazara

Chapter 2: Any Other Wraith But That One!

by Forge 0 reviews

An deadly, ancient enemy comes from the Far Northlands, seeking to satisfy a cold, base hunger. The castle of New Kavazara, Bladestone, opposes them... but it may not be enough.

Category: Redwall - Rating: PG-13 - Genres: Action/Adventure, Fantasy - Published: 2006-02-16 - Updated: 2006-02-17 - 5854 words

Gregory P. Wong

Chapter Two: "Any Other Wraith But That One!"

Really, now, what was going on?
Tigron and Major Slasheyes saluted to three armored warriors who waited outside of the Bladestone lord's chamber. Two of the sentries stood with their unsheathed wide-bladed, long-handled Praetorian scimitars-praemitars-at paw, the unsharpened back edges resting on their shoulders; the other, standing imposingly in the middle, wielded a glaive whose blade was two feet long; the seven-foot weapon was held vertical against the guard's left shoulder. The armor that showed through the gap in their ceremonial scarlet cloaks was ornate and rugged. Well, of course rugged, since the battle armor was almost identical to his own, albeit more decorated. A crimson sash-also helpfully showing them to be Praetorians-ran from left shoulder to right hip. The triple-crested, open-faced helmets revealed cautious eyes-it was practically in the job description to have that look-but little else, since crimson scarves under the helmets concealed their features. They were all Praetorians, the elite warriors from the already-elite Crimson Guard.
The elite Crimson Guard units-the High Templars and Praetorians-followed a different ranking system. At the lowest level were the pili-the plural form of pilus-or sergeants. The pili were under the centurions, tribunes, and praetors-lieutenants, captains, and a rank in between major and colonel, respectively. Second in command of the Crimson Guard divisions were the Archons, who was in turn under the command of the Arbiter, the spouse of the Bladestone ruler.
The Crimson Guard started with sergeants as the lowest rank deliberately, since they were all experienced warriors, not rookies, and could be counted on to react properly. Though there were the occasional disputes of chain-of-command-yuck, sometimes those were farking /ugly/-the Templars, Wraiths, and Crimson Guards respected command ranks. Thus, a praetor could give orders to a Templar major, but would have to yield to a Wraith or Templar colonel.
Speaking of command officers, what was the glaive-wielder was. Joy, there was only one way to find out.
Well, here was a good opportunity. He tapped into their minds quickly. No harm in practicing... right?
The one on the left was a weasel Praetorian pilus-about the rank of a sergeant-named Corando. The other scimitar-wielder was also a pilus, but she was a vixen who went by Veka Willowpaw. And the last soldier, the one carrying the glaive was...
...Not a soldier. Geez.
He was a stoat named Zurfin, and he was a praetor! Spiderspit. Praetors were, well, high-ranking officers, something between a major and a colonel, answering directly to the Archons.
Drat. It was easy to assume that something important was going on. Any officer above the rank of centurion only held sentry duty at times of dire need. Oh, yes something was definitely up.
What the heck was going on?
"Captain Slasheyes, reporting with Lieutenant Sandstar as ordered," he heard the major intone firmly.
He watched the praetor soundlessly-they were always so damned soundless-step aside from the center of the door. The two other Praetorians used their free paws to swing aside the heavy brass-studded oak door that led to Lord Longspear's council chamber.
His footpaws padding along on the stone floor, he entered after Slasheyes.
Time for some revelations.
Lord Tritan Longspear, ruler and commander of Bladestone, turned to face them. The lord and his wife had probably been staring out of a large window that faced the north. Being psychic Wraiths, beasts visiting them didn't normally have to announce their presence. Convenient, definitely.
And, despite their positions of high power, they weren't wearing fancy trappings of any kind. True, their clothing was a bit /more ornate than the clothing /he wore, but Lord Longspear and Lady Galecut didn't flaunt themselves. He liked that about them.
"Hello, Major, Lieutenant."
He and Slasheyes dropped to one knee and thudded their right fists to their left shoulders. The symbolic genuflection/salute acknowledged the Bladestone lord's authority as monarch and military commander.
"Rise," Lord Longspear said simply. He did, and heard Slasheyes do the same.
The lord turned to address the major, his voice warm yet businesslike. "Thank you, Major. You are dismissed."
"Yes, Lord," replied Slasheyes. "I take my leave, Lord Longspear and Lady Galecut."
With that, the ferret strode out of the room.
Okay, now this felt a tad uncomfortable. A praetor was guarding this room, and a major was just dismissed... this was seriously odd.
"I know you are confused, Lieutenant Sandstar,"-/extremely/ confused, actually-"but we must wait for the second Wraith to arrive before we brief you," said Lady Galecut from her husband's side. "She should be coming soon."
She/? /If luck was with him, he would be paired with an attractive, quiet, marten of some sort. If possible, she could be a nice pale tan, which could complement his-
And then he heard the door swing open. Hopefully the "she" was beautiful.
In stepped Archon Keltaa, commander of the Praetorians.
...Followed by Raezel Snowdance!
Well, looked like luck didn't like him.
Oh, fark.
It took all of his effort-plus some help from his calming techniques-not to groan audibly.
The snow vixen looked almost exactly the same. He and the vixen had been residents of Bladestone for, what? nearly four seasons already, and they tended to avoid each other.
He saw that her fur was still as white as snow, and her blue eyes still had an icy glint to them. The silver cloak that concealed her body couldn't hide the fact that she was still lithe and slender, or that her slight frame sported well-defined, compact muscles. And, even though he grudgingly admitted it, the female fox was still quite a beautiful creature. Under different circumstances, he might have tried a relationship with her.
If she weren't such a hyperactive, mischievous, impulsive female.
How long was it since he first met her? Eight seasons?

"Father? How much longer do we need to stay here? I want to go home," Tigron said to his father, Terson.
"I promised the snow foxes something, and they did the same. We're not going until we've kept the bargain."
"And we must honor our words because it's the right thing to do..."
"Exactly, son."
He sighed at his father's reminder and sat down on the lush grass that was the border between the northern icelands and deserts.
Off in the distant west, he spied Bladestone Castle, the hulking stronghold of fearsome warriors and soldiers. It was so big and strong-looking!
But he'd never go there. What use would they have for some chubby sand marten like him? There were some times that he wished he was as big and fast and strong as his father. He was already in possession of eleven seasons... he wasn't getting any bigger-or thinner-and he wasn't getting any stronger and he wasn't-
"Still looking into the west, kid?" Father said to him as he ruffled his ears. "Maybe one day-"
"What? /Father/, I'm just some overweight youngster from nowhere. They won't like me."
He saw his father's smile grow a bit. "Then you're not as smart as I think you are, son. I've been to Bladestone a couple of times. Did you know that they wanted to know if we had any warriors who would be interested in serving their lord?
"Of course, 'really.' "
He tugged on his father's tunic. "Do I have a chance?"
"Of course you do. I'll bet you're prime Pathfinder material, son."
Wow! "A Pathfinder? Me?"
A Pathfinder? Him? Pathfinders were those super Templars.
A Pathfinder?
"Sure. Just give yourself enough time to develop, and you'll be bigger than me." Father flexed his large muscles, showing the lack of fat. "I was chubbier than you at your age. And I wasn't half as good at you are at the /Sintaka martial art. You just need to grow into your body."/
Father was being perfectly sincere. He knew because Father never, ever lied, and because he could tell if beasts were lying, anyway.
His father grinned, reached down, and tousled his ears.
"Here they come. Looks like Beltik brought someone with him."
He looked towards where his father was peering of into the southern distance. His father told him that the climate here was very harsh. At the southernmost part that denoted the "far northlands" was a band of desolate, frozen wasteland, a day's march in width and season's knew how long. Beyond /that was another band of waterless, burning desert. Luckily for travelers, after the desert there was a patch of fertile land with forests and plains, with plenty of fresh water. And unluckily for said travelers, beyond that was another band of desert, followed by one more patch of icelands that trailed far into the north; in fact, the icy plains were the far northlands./
But he and Father didn't go near the grasslands, since the snow foxes were to the south of the desert, and they couldn't see the foxes if they went /away/, could they? But yuck... they were so close to /frozen water/.
By now the two cloaked figures were only a few hundred feet away. The taller one, even though his face was hidden by a scarf, he recognized from the time Father had bartered and traded.
It was Beltik Snowdance, chieftain of a snow fox tribe that wandered the southern ice plains. They had always been allies of his father's clan, even before the respective tribes had fled Kavazara.
The snow foxes and sand martens hadn't been native to Kavazara; they were immigrants from other lands. At the end of the exodus over the sea, Wraithlord had given them permission to go their own ways... with his blessings. Even though they were not directly under Bladestone governance, the many nomadic tribes were strong allies.
The other figure... he couldn't make out much of him. He looked relatively tall-taller than him-though pretty skinny. Actually, skinny enough to look half-starved.
The other fox took the scarf from his face.
Oh, wait.
The him was really a /her/. The wrappings had concealed her features.
He was momentarily taken aback. She was a very pretty vixen, about his own age, tall, lithe, with piercing blue eyes that seemed to embody the frigid icelands.
Most emphatically a her/./
"Hello Beltik," Father said, bowing slightly in a sign of respect.
"Hello yourself, Terson. And you too, Tigron," the snow fox said cheerfully, also making a bow. The chieftain gently nudged the vixen. "This is my daughter Raezel. I think she's only a few weeks or so younger than Tigron."
Father looked at the female snow fox and smiled.
"Greetings, Raezel," Father said in greeting.
"Hey," replied the young fox.
He decided to say hello, too. Why not? "Hello. I'm Tigron."
He saw the snow vixen blink. "Hi, Tigron."
But then his father was back to talking with Snowdance.
He noticed his father was grinning widely. For some reason, whenever his father spoke with the snow fox leader, he couldn't help but grin.
Hellos aside, his father and Snowdance began to speak rapidly back and forth about trade items. Juicy cacti fruit and flowers were considered a delicacy among the snow foxes. But the feathers from snow fowl were the absolute best for fletching. So, the his tribe and theirs traded.
But he noticed that after grouse feathers and plants, he caught the hissed words "vermin hordes."
"Beltik... Not with them here."
Then suddenly, he noticed that his father and Snowdance had stopped talking.
Why were they looking at each other like that?
Snowdance shook his head, clearly upset. Then he grinned as though nothing had happened and crouched so that he faced him and the vixen.
"Rae, how about you and Tigron go to that hill over there and talk for a little while. Tigron's father and I need to talk.
He nodded, and he noticed the snow vixen just shrugged. He and the female set out for the hill, which was about fifty yards distant.
" Do you go by anything else besides 'Raezel'?" he asked.
"I also go by Rae, but only to my friends," came the answer.
Somehow, the message /but you'/re not my friend yet/ was implicit in the phrase./
They walked slowly. Hmm... what to ask?
"Are you a fighter?" the vixen inquired.
Weird question. "More or less. I'm decent at unarmed combat, though my father and uncle are still teaching me the longsword."
He noticed that he and this vixen had made their way /past the hill, probably out of sight of Father and Snowdance./
"Oh, that's neat," the vixen said, her body language implying the opposite. The psyche that he scanned also held different from her words. "I'm good at paw-to-paw too, but I'm learning dual sickles."
Sickles. Oversized grasscutters. And there wasn't any grass on that frozen plain, anyway.
He noticed that the snow fox female gave him a not altogether pleasant glance.
"I don't need insults," the vixen said suddenly.
What... "Me? You're the one!"
A scowl appeared on Raezel's pretty features.
"Sure it's me, sandscratcher."
He bristled. "You're right, iceblinker."
The vixen growled.
"Take that back!"
"You first."
"Why!? You're the first one! What's wrong with sickles, /sand marten/?"
"They're nothing but farming tools, /snow fox/. What's wrong with a longsword?
Raezel snorted. "bor-ring," she said, emphasizing the word's two syllables. "Beasts who know how to use one of those are a doughnut a dozen."
Now should be the time to use his calming techniques.
Or not.
"At least it's not three dozen. All the ones that use sickles are harvesters. Stupid vixen."
That did it.
He barely ducked away in time to avoid Raezel's spinning roundhouse kick.
He backed away, and settled into a /Sintaka fighting stance. He stood with his legs bent, shoulder width apart, the right slightly forward. His right shoulder was a bit forward, and he was hunched over slightly. His forward arm, the right, hung down with his forearm parallel to his stomach, running horizontally. His left paw was nearly touching with his face, the forearm running diagonal towards his left hip. Sintaka was primarily a close-range defensive martial art that emphasized limb-locks and motion redirection, though its wide array of strikes, including punishing knee- and elbow-strikes allowed him to attack easily./
But Raezel the iceblinker was in unfamiliar fighting form. The good-looking female-who was actually quite angry-bounced on the balls of her footpaws, her right shoulder canted towards him. The iceblinker had her right arm held out far from her body, almost completely straight, and the left was held away from the shoulder, the paw barely brushing her ears.
Hmm... It looked like some type of long range art. Interesting.
He tensed up, and waited.

Stupid little sand marten. Like only /farmers used sickles./
Raezel bounced loosely back and forth. The sand marten-whom she had to admit was handsome in a desert dweller sort of way-was in some weird fighting stance.
She looked it over.
It looked weird but effective. The angle of his body would let him throw out quick elbow hits, jabs, and backfists, and the left could deliver a nasty thrusting punches and hooks. He looked flat-footpawed, though the ease in which the sandscratcher stood told her he could kick easily from his stance.
Well, big deal. Whatever it was, it looked like it was a short distance art, probably most comfortable with defense and counters.
Well, her /Desh'tan art would give him plenty to defend. Desh'tan emphasized long-range strikes, usually kicks, and lightening fast movement./
She circled the little snot, which was pretty much an accurate description, since she was a bit taller than he was. And he was fat. Hence, a snort snot.
While she was bouncing around him, the sandscratcher was almost motionless; the only movement was him shifting to keep him facing her. Well, good.
But something was seriously pissing her off. It had to be the sand marten's expression. He wasn't meeting her eyes and he looked like he was in a trance, his eyes seemingly focused somewhere around her stomach. Hmm...
She feinted left and lashed out with a right snap kick that would crunch his jaw. The sand marten smoothly brought his right arm up, deflecting her footpaw. His other arm darted to snag her leg, but she countered with a strong downward jerk that broke his hold.
Short and blubbery, but fast. And the strength with which he nearly grabbed her leg belied his figure.
Maybe it was that trance thing.
She and Tigron circled again. She kept up a barrage of strikes, but Tigron blocked them all. Then, the sand marten surprised her with right arm uppercut that almost clipped her chin. She snaked backwards, countered with a twin pawed strike that would take out his eyes. /Tigron countered with a double crossing-arm block, his paws locking on her arms./
This was bad. It was now painfully obvious that Tigron had been waiting for a grappling match. His paws and elbows skillfully locked down all of her attempts to break free. She was able to withdraw one limb, but as soon as she tried to get the other one out, Tigron trapped it again. Even his legs went into action, neutralizing her footpaws as she tried to break free.
An open pawed strike slammed into the left side of her head, and she saw some blinking stars dart across her vision.
That little...
She rolled with the blow. Obviously the sand marten had not expected her to fall back so much, and he stumbled. She let loose with a punishing axe kick that cracked down across his muzzle.
They stumbled apart. She felt an ache on her jaw. Tasting coppery flavor of blood in her mouth, she spat. The spittle that plopped to the ground was pinkish. That strike from little sand-beastie must have cut the inside of her cheek on one of her teeth.
But she had given as good as she had got. Tigron's muzzle was already developing a bruise, and his nose was bleeding slightly.
Damned sand marten...
She and her opponent settled into their respective fighting stances.
And again!
Her left foot dug into Tigron's stomach.
Tigron landed a left backhand onto her jaw.
She replied with a whirling neck chop.
And the sand marten shot a kick into her right shin.
And she bloodied his nose further with a side kick
And Tigron battered between her ears with a right overhead strike.
And she sent a rising back kick into his jaw.
And he sent a quick lung-emptying jab to her chest.
And then a pair of strong paws yanked her away.
"/WHAT IN THE NAME OF SEASONS/!" she heard her father bellow as he spun her around.
Strangely, she shot a look at the bruised and bloody Tigron. His father had the young sand marten firmly around the neck. He wasn't exploding like Dad, but it was clear he was way angry.
"Rae!" Dad hissed. "What on this /earth possessed you to pick a fight with him!?"/
"He insulted me!" she shot back angrily. "Just because I'm taking up sickles he called me a... a... stupid farmer vixen! And he called me an iceblinker!"
"That's /it/?" Dad said exasperatedly. "By unholy Hellgates, young vixen! I haven't reacted to insults ten times worse than that!"
She looked away. She didn't really have an answer to that.
"We'll talk about this when we get home, Raezel Snowdance," Dad said quietly, his outrage seeming to disappear. "Apologize."
Gripping her arm, Father led her back to Tigron and Terson. There was no sign of the sand marten leader blowing up on his son, but she guessed that Tigron was getting a good talking-to.
Served him right.
"I hope she'll be all right, Beltik," Sandstar said to Dad.
"Oh, she'll be okay. Tigron looks pretty bad, though."
Sandstar shook his head. "Only as bad as your daughter."
Dad shrugged. "I suppose so."
She made eye contact with Tigron. She curled her upper lip into a snarl. The little twerp answered in the same way.
Dad and Sandstar apologized to each other, which was just as well. There was no way in Hellgates she was gonna apologize to Tigron!
Dad dragged her away, back to camp. The bruises were only now beginning to be felt.

Nonononono. Not Tigron Sandstar.
He was very different from back then. Most significantly, he had lost the fat. Second most significantly, he was now taller than her-and she had never been called short. He was muscular too, but not overly-muscled. It was more of an attractively fit body with nice, large, hard muscles. And he was still handsome. So, in short, he hadn't changed much from when she and sandscratcher came up to Bladestone's doors. Figured. She hadn't changed much either.
And he was still a boring, static, and damned near lacked a sense of fun.
All those past few seasons hadn't changed him one-
She shook her head. She didn't want to think of those past seasons. They were too painful.
Still though, she still didn't like /Lieutenant /Tigron Sandstar. But she was loyal to Lord Longspear and Lady Galecut, so she at least needed to hear what was going on.
But why was he here too? Hopefully-
Longspear clearing his throat jerked her out of her thoughts.
"So, Lieutenants, I sense you're a bit... surprised to see each other."
"Yes, sir," she and Tigron said at the same time.
"Good," the rat lord said. "I also sense you're curious as to why I have summoned you two."
Understatement, mark two.
Longspear clasped his paws behind his back and looked out towards the north.
"The Dervaga Lord and his minions are preparing to move," said Galecut. "No doubt it's going to be a serious offensive."
Well, okay. That still didn't explain why she and sandsniffer over there were here.
"We were just getting to that, Lieutenant Snowdance," the rat lady noted dryly.
She blinked. Oops. Better get a control on her thoughts and how much she broadcasted.
Shi saw Lord Longspear turn back to face them. "Are you two familiar with Redwall Abbey?"
"I've heard a bit about it, sir, but only in passing," replied Tigron.
"Same here," she said.
The rat lord nodded. "I could go into the whole story here and now... but it would take me far too long."
She looked at the Bladestone ruler questionably.
"Suffice it to say that I need you two to travel south, to that very abbey. I need someone to get a message to them that war might touch their land."
Wha...!? She stared, dumbstruck.
"The Dervaga are ready to make their move. I can't determine the strength of the force, but a force will be marching from the northland mountains soon."
She shot a glance at Tigron. He looked puzzled.
"Yes, Lieutenant Snowdance?"
"Why send us? I'm not aware of the full details, but I do believe reconnaissance Wraiths are in the southern regions. Why not send a message via the Wraithorb."
That sounded like a good idea. The Wraithorb was a four-foot sphere made entirely of Wraithstone. It could amplify a Wraith's thoughts and open a two-way communications between Wraiths who were too far away to communicate telepathically.
"I've already tried, Lieutenant Sandstar. I don't know how, but something seems to be blocking my psychic abilities. I can't reach the Wraiths stationed to the south."
"In any case, Lieutenants, there are three Wraiths within a day's march of Redwall, hidden," stated Lady Galecut. "Captains Zine Trueblade and Felgara Whipclaw, and Major Herin Flickerfist, male weasel, female ferret, and male weasel, respectively. They'll be needed at the abbey, too."
"Sir?" she asked. "Five Wraiths is, uh quite a bit." Understatement. "I doubt any vermin horde or bandit mob will be serious enough to warrant... that much force."
"It's not the criminals I'm worried about, Lieutenant," Lord Longspear answered softly. "I don't know what the future holds, but I want Redwall very secure in the event of... a defeat."
She heard Tigron gasp, but she was too busy gasping too. A Dervaga horde strong enough to take out Bladestone Castle? No way.
"Yes way, Lieutenant Snowdance. The power emanations coming from the northern mountains are the strongest we're ever felt. It will be bad," Galecut said in clipped tones.
"And this is why it is imperative that some beasts reach Redwall. Those beasts are to be you two."
But then why...
"Sir, why send both off us? You'll need all the warriors you can muster... so why send off two of them?" Sh heard Tigron query.
"Oh/, /nice/. /You read my mind/, /didn'/t you/?" she mindspoke to Tigron.
"No/, /I didn'/t/. Shut /up/," the sand marten replied tersely.
"Okay/. /Sure/. /Why not/? /Yes/, /sir/, /yes/, /sir/, /three /bags/ /full/."
He didn't reply. Good.
"Lieutenant Sandstar, in a matter this important, I believe in insurance. For one, you'll have to cross very punishing territory to reach the southlands. You and Lieutenant Snowdance both know how utterly harsh the southern deserts and ice fields are. You might be able to help each other in your respective environments, as well.
"That also doesn't take into account what hostile forces you might encounter," Lord Longspear continued.
"Sir!" she blurted out. "I think one of us would suffice against slavers and-"
"At /ease/, Lieutenant," barked Lady Galecut. The command wasn't especially loud, but it held a great deal of force.
Oops. Better put a lid on it. She clopped her jaw shut.
Lord Longspear waited for a few seconds. "Again, Lieutenants, I'm not worried about normal beasts. Warlords and pirates have attacked Redwall and bounced. The same could be said for you two." The last sentence was said delicately. "What I'm afraid of are Dervaga sleeper units that managed to slip past us."
/Sleeper units/!?
Oh, bloody Hellgates.
Dervaga formations that managed to slip past Bladestone and into a threatened area, waiting to spearhead the way for a main horde. They were usually a lot worse than the average Dervaga.
This /is/ /bad/, she thought
"And..." She watched Longspear make a face as though he had bitten into an exceedingly sour lemon. "The completion of the mission supercedes all else. If one of you becomes so incapacitated as to be immobile, the other will have to... have to abandon the fallen one and continue the mission."
What!? If... No! Don't think of that...
Probably Lord Longspear saw the look in her eyes.
"I assume you're ready for this mission, Lieutenants."
"I... Yes, sir. We'll do our best," stammered Tigron. "We'll leave before dawn tomorrow."
She blinked. She really, really desperately wanted to say "I'/m/ ready /for/ this /mission/... /but pair me up with any other Wraith but that one/!"
Instead she said "I'm up to it, sir."
Which was probably the biggest lie she had ever made...
As she saluted the Bladestone lord and lady, and was dismissed, she wondered what in Hellgates she was going to do. She couldn't stand Tigron!
And she knew Tigron couldn't stand /her/, either...
Oh, this was the most humongous bucket of stinking spiderspit that's ever been sloshed. Cripes.

Lady Serai Galecut shook her head as the two lieutenants left the conference room. She looked at her husband.
"I'm having second thoughts, Tritan. They bicker too much... Sandstar and Snowdance didn't do a sufficient job in masking their conversation."
The male rat just shook his head. "What's done is done. Those two are still the best candidates." Tritan's whiskers drooped. "What disturbs me the most is the last... order I had to give them."
She stepped next to her husband and put a paw on his shoulder. "It was a necessity."
"An ugly necessity," her husband spat.
She sighed and massaged his shoulder tenderly. This was one reason why she loved him so. He was unswerving in his duty, and he had excellent foresight... and sometimes had to painfully subvert his conscience to carry out his responsibility.
The anger he was displaying was not against her, or Sandstar, or Snowdance. It was against himself. Because the act was so... disturbing.
She just placed herself in front of Tritan and hugged him tightly. She felt his arms encircle her. She dug her face into his chest. She and him drew strength from each other in little moments like these.
It was moments like these that helped them deal with the madness of the Dervaga.
She heard the heavy door slide open. She and Tritan didn't release each other, but she and her husband looked and saw Praetor Zurfin salute respectfully with his glaive. The Praetorian sentries didn't have to salute in the normal fashion when on duty.
"Yes, what is it, Praetor?"
"Sir, War Marshal Razorfang wishes to speak with you."
"Indeed. Give me a few moments, Praetor. Perhaps ask the war marshal to tell you about his new hobby. It'll give me some time."
"Sir?" asked Zurfin. She could hear the puzzlement in his voice.
"Never mind, Praetor. Just give me a few moments."
"Yes, sir," the praetorian acknowledged. The stoat saluted with his weapon, and turned to go.
"Praetor!" she called out right before he reached the doors.
The officer made a perfect about-face and stood at attention.
"Yes, ma'am?"
"After you grant entrance to War Marshal Razorfang, have yourself and the two pili relieved. And take the rest of the day off."
The stoat was silent for a moment. Then he bowed slightly. "Yes, ma'am."
As he walked out, she thought Zurfin had little spring in his step.
The door closed.
"That was nice of you," Tritan said with a smile.
"He's been there all morning, and this is a special assignment. The three should get some down time."
"Yes, Madame Arbiter."
She gave a little snort. At least he did have a sense of timing and humor.
"Thank you, Mister Grand Marshal."
Her husband's smile widened a bit, and he leaned down to kiss her.
"Oh, you..." she sighed a bit. "Always sweeping a poor female off her footpaws."
It was her husband's turn to snort. "Some poor female you are. Maybe if you didn't show off so much leg I wouldn't-"
It was a good sign. She and her husband were being playful, which meant they were managing to cover the pain that was prevalent in being a ruler of Bladestone.
"And you are one of the few beasts that help me deal with it," Tritan murmured.
It looks like she hadn't been masking her thoughts as well as she thought. No matter.
"Now, I think we better let go of each other, or else Rid might make some cracks."
She reluctantly let go of her husband. Well, there would be always other times to hold each other close... when they were alone. And under the sheets. And... hmm...
Even though she and Tritan were over one hundred-thirty seasons, they were still looked and felt "young." In plenty of different ways, too.
"Okay," she said. "And wipe that grin from you face, Tritan."
"Yes, ma'am."
She laughed one last time as the door opened to admit War Marshal Rid Razorfang.

"Good morning, Rid," Tritan said to the walking... mountain.
Rid Razorfang was a gray-furred, amber-eyed wildcat... at least that what the war marshal said. Tritan would bet his spear to a toeclaw clipping that Rid had some lynx or bobcat somewhere in his family tree. He was huge! He was at least seven feet tall, and broad to match. In fact, Rid was so wide that he looked squat. But that wideness held no fat; it was completely muscle. All that muscle was the only way he could manage the greatsword Rocksunder, what with its six-foot, wide-headed blade.
The wildcat saluted, genuflecting and slamming a massive paw to his shoulder.
"Aye, gud mornin' tae yew tew, Tritan, old friend," replied the war marshal cheerfully. He couldn't help but smile as Rid rose from his knee, strode-gracefully, despite his hugeness-over to his wife, dropped to his knees, took Serai's left paw in his, and kissed it. "Ahnd gud mornin' tae yew, milady."
"Ahnd gud mornin' tae yew, tew, Rid," his wife said with an amused grin on her face, imitating his accent. Rid laughed uproariously.
He and Serai had been on a first-name basis with the gigantic officer for a long, long time. His thick accent told of his roots from the southern ranges-what southern beasts would call the "northern highlands"-with its tendency to slightly roll "r" sounds and mispronounce "o". Rid Razorfang had immigrated north some forty seasons ago, and the wildcat had risen extremely quickly through the ranks under Ferna Sunear, Tritan's predecessor, and then under Tritan himself.
And, perhaps most interestingly, it seemed Rid had the longevity and youthfulness usually reserved to Wraiths. The war marshal didn't show any other characteristics of Wraiths, except for impossible strength and speed that any wildcat-perhaps helpfully mixed with a lynx-could have. It didn't matter, really.
Rid, despite his jovial nature, was a fierce warrior and a cunning tactician. It was only natural that he bestow upon the wildcat the position of war marshal, the second-highest commander-after the Bladestone Lord, of course-of the Templars and Wraiths.
"Aye, yew're as bewtiful as evah, milady. Oh, is m' humor tew much?"
He just shook his head. His wife was rolling her eyes and doing her best not to giggle. And, of course, Rid was playing it along. The wildcat was a shameless flatterer of his wife.
Well, Rid's antics were amusing, to say the least.
He shook his head, smiling. By now, the war marshal had entered a more serious mode.
"Well, Rid, to what do I owe your presence?"
"Tha bluddy Dervaga, Tritan. One o' m' Pathfinders met up with wone of King Nightalon's long-range scowts. It turns aout the Dervaga are churnin' out bluddy burds naow, Tritan."
He frowned and looked at Rid. "Birds?"
"Hellgates and damnation," spat his wife. "More surprises."
"No kidding," he whispered. His voice rose to a more normal tone. "Rid, deploy some teams of Pathfinders to keep a watch to the east and west. The Dervaga are going to try and slip past us." He growled a bit. "They're pulling out all the stops."
"Ach, okay," responded the wildcat. "Ah'll also dubble the longbow patroles on th' battlement. Shood Ah start deployin' tha siege weapons?"
He shook his head in negation. "No. If there are bird scouts... no. We want to keep those hidden until the last minute.
"Okay, Tritan. Ah'll get to work naow."
"Keep well, friend."
Rid bowed saluted, and repeated his ritual with Serai. Then, bowing deeply, the wildcat strode up to the door, gave a quick knock, and exited as it opened, a smoothly walking mountain.
As the door closed, he saw his wife look at him and cock her eyebrow.
Of course. He knew what she was thinking of.
"Tritan, what exactly is that new hobby Rid picked up? The one you told Zurfin about."
He grinned. "Oh, I haven't the faintest idea. I just knew he would have one."
He and his wife laughed.
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