Been thinking about Redwall, an old favorite book series of mine, and was horrified to learn that Brian Jacques had died. The only books I haven't read are the last two . . . and I almost don't want too.
Anyway, this is a short story, something that came into my head while I was revisiting my favorite, and in particular, not-so favorite, books of the series.
Namely, why can't there be decent ferrets? 'Vermin' can't be all bad . . . In fact, I bet there were some heroic vermin! So I came up with two characters that have nothing in common, and we'll see how it goes, okay?
Winter came unusually harsh, one year in the lands surrounding Redwall Abbey.
While the Abbey, with its order devoted to Peace and Goodwill, and those nearby who were able to claim sanctuary within the solid walls were spared the horrors of that winter, those outside were not.
It might shock readers to know that this story starts, not in the Abbey, or with some peace loving woodland creature, or even with the famed Long Patrol, who even in that winter continued their vigilance and near constant patrols between the Abbey and Salamandstron.
No, this story starts in the small cold den of a female rat, who was not very sound of mind.
The female rat had been named Hem by her mother, who had been rather clever. Hem, however, possessed none of her mother's cleverness, nor her father's crude and base intelligence which would have, at the least, allowed her to fight others for food and safety.
To tell the truth, Hem did not have much understanding of the world, and as her parents and their clan found out, did not even have the capability of remembering that fire was hot, just after touching it. This was an exaggeration, as Hem had learned that fire was dangerous, and steadfastly avoided it after being burned twice, but the fact remained, Hem had quickly become a liability to the group, not understanding when to be quiet, what not to touch, and even how to fetch water from a stream.
With the liability Hem presented, perhaps it was understandable that one morning, she woke up to an abandoned campsite, some supplies left in a knapsack with a small metal cup with matching bowl and spoon, an extra blanket (a farewell gift from her mother, who got in trouble for leaving the supplies, but was still not much of a mother for agreeing to leave her only child behind) and a small knife (dropped on accident, the owner was very put out to find it missing).
Now, Hem did not have much intelligence, but she was rather strong, and very, very stubborn. She survived for several seasons alone, reaching adulthood, and up until this harsh winter, had done very well without having to light a fire.
This winter, however, was starting to prove too much for her stubbornness and the now ragged blankets. Hem was cold, and she had not been able to find any food.
In her ignorance, and desire for water, she decided to eat the snow that was in the front of her den. This, as any reader who has any knowledge of survival knows, is a horrible thing to do. For while it might alleviate thirst, it also causes the internal body temperature to drop, speeding up the process of freezing to death.
Hem didn't know this, of course, so while she munched on the snow, it was to her good fortune that she heard the sound of crying. Hem immediately stopped, and rather clumsily moved through the snow to find out what the noise was.
What Hem found was a mouse babe, crying from the cold that stung its ears, and a small fire that was in danger of going out. (What Hem did not see, was the body of the mouse-babe's mother, hidden by a snow drift and the shadow of a tree. It was probably for the best.)
Hem faintly remembered what the word for the crying creature was, and crouched down so as to speak to it. "Bay-be." The mouse babe whimpered, and Hem struggled to remember how to say something else, but all that came out was another "Bay-be." Hem scooped it up, and, in a moment of instinct that soon escaped her, wrapped the blanket and cloak tighter around the babe, making sure its ears were covered. Hem then wrapped the child into the ragged blanket she was using as a cloak, and stared at the fire.
She had tried to make friends with fire before, but the first time it had stung her because she had moved to fast, and the second time had not liked her trying to pet it, even though she had even moved slow and tried to show she wouldn't hurt it. Cautiously, she picked up one of the still burning sticks, and was amazed at the heat radiating off it. She did not try to touch the flames again, having come to the conclusion that perhaps fire simply did not like to be touched.
She brought both babe and fire back to her den, and fed the fire the way she faintly remembered someone doing. "Bay-be." Hem gently rocked the little one, and smiled as the babe's whimpers faded into soft snores.
Hem was not very intelligent, but she was strong, and very, very stubborn. In her mind, the babe was now hers, and there would never be any way to prove it differently to her. "M-eye Bay-be."
The clever reader will realize, however, that fire and a lone mouse-babe would not guarantee the survival of any sort for them. They would be quite right to think that.
Save for that old knapsack that still had the small metal cup and a bowl with a matching spoon. It was purely accident that Hem put the small cup, now filled with snow for munching, too close to the fire. She found it a pleasant surprise when she went to drink from it, that the water was warm.
This did not solve the problem of food, of course, but the solution to that problem meant that one could put a new adjective to Hem's list of character traits, as well as start the mouse-babe's own list.
They were very lucky.
Their future provider, currently thought of himself as very unlucky, and very, very unfortunate.
He was a ferret called Lostpaw, his real name forgotten by most of his horde, and he was indeed missing his right paw.
To tell the truth, he had only recently lost it in a clash with a rival horde, before the harsh winter had set in, and was not recovering as well as he would of liked, as he had always been right-pawed, and the loss made everything difficult. He was not fussy about what he was called, but the amusement and mockery from his fellow vermin over his new difficulties was very quickly turning 'Lostpaw' against his own horde.
The horde itself was lead by a weasel, who didn't really care too much about Lostpaw's difficulties, or that Lostpaw had lost said paw defending him. Lostpaw, despite his new physical handicap, was very clever, and he realized that he was only going to have a few options.
One, he resigned himself to being a lesser member of the horde, after being a lieutenant for several seasons. Two, he suddenly frightened everyone by an impressive use of his sword with his left paw, which was far from possible (and it was more likely he'd kill himself). Three, he left the horde and struck out on his own, in a harsh winter that might just kill him.
It didn't take long for him to decide his course of action. One more taunt from a drunk fellow ferret, and Lostpaw had enough.
When morning came, Lostpaw was gone, and he had taken much of the food with him.
The weasel in charge, however, was rather amused, and quickly pacified his horde with tales of Redwall, and the plenty within its wall, and lack of warriors.
Next chapter, will have Lostpaw meeting Hem and the mouse-babe.
I am not making fun of anyone with mental or physical difficulties, As noted in the story, Hem is a slow learner, but she'll get to where she needs to be at her own pace, and while Lostpaw now has difficulties, he'll learn to compensate. How will be covered in the next chapter.