|Passing the torch
Author: Tau PM
Continuing from the end of series 3, the younger generation start a new band of travelling animals and leave White Deer Park. Meanwhile, Plucky's search for a mate causes problems...Rated: Fiction T - English - Adventure - Words: 3,019 - Reviews: 4 - Favs: 1 - Follows: 1 - Published: 05-22-06 - id: 2951478
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Disclaimer: The Animals of Farthing Wood belong to Colin Dann and that TV company 'wot made it'. I don't have any associations with either. Roamer, however, does belong to me. She's a character I created years ago when the show was on TV, and has been kept to the back of my mind ever since. When I was writing this, I tried to imagine it as if it was series 4 of the TV show, hence the slight disjointedness between scenes.
Chapter One: Stirring
It was spring. And like every spring in White Deer Park, it heralded the arrival of newborn animals. For the Farthing Wood animals in particular, new young meant an increase in their small band, a new generation to learn the oath and the story of the journey. It was a special time for all.
For Fox, this spring was a particularly good one, since he believed it may be his last. And as he and Vixen waited for the other animals to arrive at their den for the first meeting of the spring year, he could only marvel at the natural beauty around him.
"What a beautiful day." He said aloud, glancing up at the pale blue sky.
Vixen smiled serenely at him from her spot in the sun. "Don't say what you said last spring, you might jinx it."
"I know. But it is a beautiful day, all the same."
As always, Dash was first to arrive. She sprinted noisily into the clearing, skidding on the grass before coming to a halt. Winter certainly hadn't put a dampener on the young hare's spirits. She was followed by Plucky, who was finally beginning to settle into his position as new leader, and Whistler the heron. The clearing was very quickly full of animals, almost everyone (except a few of the younger generation) were present. Toad, Spike, Owl, Hollow, Hurkle, Shadow, Weasel, Measly and their cubs Fido and Cleo, Ranger, Charmer, Whisper, Friendly, Speedy, Leveret and his family and countless rabbits and squirrels.
Plucky looked quite nervous as he began to speak.
"Well…thank you all for coming. It's good to see so many faces after winter, even if it was a mild one. Before we all get down to usual spring business, there's a few things I want to discuss."
"The rats!" Dash piped up.
"The rats?" Hurkle asked.
"The rats." Ranger finished. "They're still coming"
"Now winter's over, we need to get rid of them once and for all." Plucky glanced at Spike with a grin. "Except you, Spike. But we need to stop them breeding and causing as much trouble as last year."
"I suppose that's where we come in." Weasel muttered peevishly.
"Well, I was thinking of the weasels." Plucky admitted. "They fear you more than anyone else."
"Not me. Not me. I'm in no position to be chasing rats around the place. No sympathy, the lot of you." Weasel fumed in a loud voice. "I dunno, drive us away and expect us to come back and sort out all your problems for you. Foxes."
Fox and Vixen looked at each other in slight dismay. "Position?" Fox hissed to his mate under his breath.
"Weasel, not…but more cubs?" Vixen asked.
"I blame him, personally." Weasel threw her mate a dirty look. Measly shrugged and grinned.
"We'll do it." Fido and Cleo chimed in together. A long winter of rat-hunting had made both youngsters bold, even if they weren't full grown yet.
"I was also thinking of Owl." Plucky turned to her as she sat above them all, nestled close to Hollow.
"We don't have time." Hollow cut in swiftly. "We have a nest to build before the eggs are laid, isn't that right, what?"
"What he's trying to say is…we're having chicks." Owl added, bluntly. On the stunned silence that greeted such an announcement, Owl glared down at Weasel. "Haven't you got anything clever to say to that?"
But Weasel was as dumbfounded as everyone else.
"Congratulations Owl!" Vixen, as always, was the first to speak. "I really had no idea. When are they due? You will be nesting in the park, won't you?"
"Of course I will." Owl huffed, looking awkward. "No need to leave White Deer Park this time, is there?"
"Owl needs rest, she doesn't need to be flapping about killing rats." Hollow continued to talk down at Plucky. "But I'll kill a few rats for her, to keep her well fed." He looked fondly at his mate.
"That's settled then." Plucky both looked and sounded relieved. "Hollow, Fido and Cleo will keep the rat population down, make sure you keep me informed. Secondly, I'm looking for volunteers to scout the park out, we haven't covered all the ground yet and we need to know the terrain. I know Dash is keen…"
"I'm the fastest." The hare interrupted with a broad smile.
"…but I was also hoping to get some of the other foxes involved with this one." At this, Plucky turned to Ranger, Charmer and Friendly. "Would some of the youngsters be interested?"
"I've got a couple of nephews who are already planning on moving out that way." Ranger replied, before turning to Charmer. "And maybe…"
"You're thinking of Rusty?" She replied quietly, nodding.
"I'm sure the cubs will help out wherever possible, if you tell them where you want them to go to, Plucky." Friendly added.
"Very well. I'll arrange for a meeting of all the animals who want to go scouting. I'll go and visit the red youngsters personally." Plucky was nodding to himself, calculating things in his head. "If Ranger will go speak to the blue cubs?"
"That concludes our meeting then." Plucky got to his feet and shook out his long tail. "Until those of us with young arriving are ready for more meetings, we'll postpone anything that isn't urgent. Have a good spring, everyone."
As the animals started to drift away, some hurrying off on various important things, others taking their time to chat in the warm spring sunshine, Plucky turned to Fox in some concern.
"Did I do well, Grandfather?"
"Excellently, Plucky." Fox replied. "You're a full lead fox now. I'm very proud."
Plucky beamed widely.
Weasel was teasing Owl. "I bet birthing'll be hard, for an old bird like you."
"How dare you!" Owl spluttered.
"Don't worry. If you need advice on birthing technique, I'll be only too happy to help." Weasel laughed loudly. "What are friends for, after all?"
"Our little band of animals will be getting even bigger this year." Vixen was musing aloud to her mate and grandson. "The owls will have their chicks, the weasels are expecting another litter, and the foxes…well, we could see a doubling of our numbers this year. See what you've achieved, Fox?"
"Hmm. I can't help thinking, what will happen this year? It'd be nice to have an uneventful time for a change."
"White Deer Park is never uneventful. Never."
On the other side of the park…
Rusty and his cousin Pace sat on a small hill overlooking the rest of the park. There was a slight breeze and the air was rich with smells. The pair were a year old now, younger than Plucky, but had chosen a somewhat quieter existence than their cousin had.
Rusty was a strong, sure youngster, firmly built in body and mind like his father Ranger, and one of few words. He was an odd colour, a mixture of blue and red making a dark blue red. He had grown up handsome, developing muscles beginning to be defined in his shoulders. He was a source of great pride for his parents, and the rest of the blue clan.
Pace, on the other hand, was smaller and lighter than his cousin, pale orange like his father Friendly, and as swift as his name suggested. In comparison to his silent cousin, he was easy-going and chatty, similar in personality to his sire. They made an odd couple, but each found the company of the other to be agreeable. They had, in fact, been tracking that morning, just for fun.
"Smell that, Rusty?" Pace sniffed a particularly good breeze that wafted under his nose. "Rabbit."
"I smell fox." His cousin replied. "Female. Coming this way."
"Female?" Pace stood up, head in the air, trying to catch the scent. He scanned the park below them, searching for proof.
The vixen was upon them long before Pace could smell her. Rusty smiled a greeting and she bounded over the crest of the hill, her long tail wagging in return.
"Oh. Roamer." I didn't see you coming." Pace admitted to his younger cousin, wagging hello.
The young blue vixen smiled and sat down, tucking her bushy tail around herself. Ranger and Charmer's daughter from last year, Roamer was true blue in colour, but with her mother's distinct beauty. Unlike her brother Rusty, who was every bit his father's son, Roamer was a balance of both parents. Sharp and strong, a silent hunter with a knack for travel, but as gentle and sweet as it was possible to be. A delightful mix.
"There's news on the grapevine." She said. "Plucky wants a few of us to scout around the new territory now that spring is here."
"Why us?" Rusty asked quietly.
"Most of the elders have got cubs on the way. And it sounds like Plucky wants to get us younger ones involved in the group again." Roamer turned away to look away at the park's boundary, brow furrowed. The mild spring breeze lifted her blue coat..
"We can do that." Pace remarked confidently. "I'll cover the ground in no time."
"What's wrong?" Rusty asked his sister.
Roamer sighed. "Don't you ever wonder what's out there? Mapping the land within the park is all very well, but it's a big place out there. Why can't we go outside the park?"
"Leave the park?" Pace looked dumbstruck. "Are you mad? We all know what happened to Bold when he left! Do you want to end up like him? Do you!"
"I didn't mean it like that, Pace." Roamer replied. "And we're not cubs, like Bold. We're a year old now."
"We?" Pace flustered, getting to his feet. "I'll have nothing to do with this, thank you! I wouldn't betray the family by thinking such…thoughts." He tossed his head and leaped away down the hill, his natural speed carrying him away from them before Roamer could reply.
Rusty turned to his sister, a smile on his face. "You forget, sister, whose son Pace is. Friendly would never even consider such an idea."
Roamer snorted and got to her feet. "You make it sound worse than it is, Rusty. And I'm not the only one who's thinking of it. I've been talking to the young weasels."
Her brother stretched slowly and followed her down the hill. "You should know better than to deal with them. You know what Grandfather says about weasels."
"Grandfather is wrong. They're bright, those two. Anyway, the female, Cleo, she brought it up. She's itching to travel you know."
"Word of advice, little sister. Never listen to anything a weasel says."
The object of their discussion was lying on a log not very far from the hill where the young foxes were. Cleo was watching her brother tormenting the stag Trey by running around the deer's feet. Trey was starting to get extremely annoyed.
"How dare you! Filthy little…" Trey stamped his feet and tossed his fine head at the grass. Fido was laughing, long and loud and brightly, the sound eerily reminiscent of his mother's.
"Come on Cleo, he's getting really mad now!" He shouted to his sister, running part of the way towards her and back to Trey again. He attached himself to the stag's leg, and clung on, laughing loudly.
Cleo shook her dark head with a smile. Tormenting Trey was one of Fido's favourite pastimes, along with hunting rats and generally making a nuisance of himself. Cleo herself had developed into a somewhat quieter creature, even if trouble did seem to find her even when she tried to avoid it.
Fido landed beside her with a bump, Trey having run off in a fit of madness. "Not in the mood?" He was panting heavily, eyes bright.
"No. I'm thinking."
"You think too much, Cleo." Her brother replied, chasing his tail. "Come on, I feel another rat hunt coming on."
Things were busy by the pond. The frogs and toads had begun their spring courtship. Toad sat watching them, wondering to himself how many of the young toads scrambling for mates were children of his own. An adder was sunning herself on a nearby stone, and Whistler and Speedy were fishing.
"Morning matey." Toad called to the snoozing adder. "No-one's seen you since autumn, Adder. Have a nice snooze?"
The adder raised its head and glared at him. "I don't know you. Keep your disssstance."
Toad was surprised by the youth in the adder's voice. It quickly dawned on him that he was not speaking to the adder he knew. "I apologise, matey." He muttered, hopping slightly away from the strange snake. "I thought you were Adder."
"I am." The snake hissed, glaring at him once more before slinking off into the nearest bushes.
"Are you alright, Toady?" Whistler turned to him from where he stood in the pond.
"Yes, matey. I think I just saw Adder. Or at least, I think it was Adder…"
Plucky was dozing in the sun outside his earth when he was awoken by a flustered Friendly and Pace. In raised voices, the two foxes told him what Roamer had said.
Plucky sighed. He hadn't realised how difficult it was to be a leader. Plucky considered himself to be good in a crisis, but it was the everyday issues that took up the time and wore him down. Not for the first time, he wished he had a mate to talk things through with.
"I'm sure Roamer didn't mean anything by it…"
"How can you say that?" Friendly looked genuinely hurt. "After all Bold did for you!"
"I have never forgotten that, Friendly." Plucky replied gravely. "I mean no disrespect to my father's memory."
"So how can you allow…"
"Enough." Plucky got to his feet. "I will speak to Roamer. And Rusty. Find them, Pace, and bring them to Fox's earth. He will want a say in this."
"I can't believe what I'm hearing." Fox glared down at his three grandcubs. Rusty, Pace and Roamer looked at each other in dismay.
"But it wasn't me, Grandfather." Pace piped up.
"Be quiet, Pace. You have as much to learn as anyone."
"They're young, Fox." Vixen remarked quietly. "It's natural that they would want to push their boundaries out from what they know."
"Are you saying we should be encouraging this?" Fox turned to her.
"If I may intercede, Fox." Owl hooted from her position on a branch above. "Sometimes, spreading one's wings can bring happiness into life."
"If Owl had stayed in White Deer Park, she would never have met Hollow." Vixen pointed out. "Any eggs yet, Owl?"
The bird flushed and ruffled her feathers. "Not yet, but it won't be long now."
"See." Vixen turned back to her mate.
"Grandfather, I never meant to cause offence." Roamer spoke up softly. "What I meant to say was that…well, there are so many of us here. We could do a great deal of good if we started a new group of Farthing Wood Animals. We younger ones, we should be taking up the torch, moving on to find another home, so that everything you started doesn't just end here."
Fox blinked in mild surprise. Such an idea had never occurred to him. "A new band of animals? To find another White Deer Park?"
"Yes, Grandfather. With your blessing." Roamer wagged her tail slowly, sincerity written on her face. "I've been thinking of this a good deal for some time."
"I haven't heard such earnestness since I first met your father." Fox replied quietly. He turned to Plucky. "Well?"
"It could do a great deal of good." Plucky agreed. "But will there be others willing to join such a band?"
"I'm sure of it." Roamer nodded eagerly. "Cleo has already mentioned her interest."
"I would be careful about taking any of the weasels with you." Fox shook his head. "Even if she is the quietest weasel I've ever met."
"I would be happy to go." Rusty spoke up for the first time.
"You, Rusty?" Plucky looked surprised. "But you're heir to the blue foxes."
"I know." Rusty lowered his head respectfully. "But Father would understand. And Mother."
"Ranger and Charmer may not be happy to see two of their cubs leave the park." Friendly cut in. "I know I wouldn't be." He gave Pace a stern look.
"I think you need to consider this very carefully, little cousin." Plucky turned back to Roamer. "Speak to the other youngsters in the park. Consider their words before you make a decision."
"I will, Plucky." The young vixen nodded. Sensing that the meeting had come to an end, she turned to leave. Both Rusty and Pace followed her.
"I hope they make the right choice." Fox spoke up to no-one in particular.
"But what is the right choice?" Plucky replied.
"Who knows? Who can ever know?" Owl hooted, sagely.
"Well, I know." Friendly was shaking his head. "No good can come out of this."