I serve the House of Hopps. None shall harm my charge.

Two raccoons, a wolf, a weasel and a fox charged into the main station of the constabulary. They were known ruffians from the area, members of a gang, led by a cruel and cunning grizzly bear. Each had a price on their heads for assault, murder, robbery and other unsavory crimes.

The thugs threw down their arms and threw themselves at the feet of the desk sergeant and other officers, begging to be protected. It took the stunned officers of the law a moment before they realized who was in front of them. As soon as they did, they pounced.

I serve the House of Hopps. None shall harm my charge.

As the officers manacled and muzzled the thugs, the door opened again. It admitted a sight that bewildered the officers further and set their teeth on edge. It was a red fox. A very red fox. He was dressed immaculately in the attire of a House servant and his chest bore the coat of arms for a high family and a member of the House of Lords.

I serve the House of Hopps. None shall harm my charge.

The fox's face was set in an easy, disarming smile. His eyes were half-lidded emeralds that glinted in the lamplight. He was the epitome of poised grace and cool aplomb. He was drenched in blood.

The constables detaining the mammals in chains felt their new charges tense and shudder. The smell of urine drifted on the air as one of the racoons began to whimper. Several constables began to surround the bloodied vulpine, pulling truncheons as they moved.

I serve the House of Hopps. None shall harm my charge.

The fox stepped to the side and bowed slightly, holding the door ajar. An opulently dressed, matronly rabbit glided past him and addressed the assembled officers. "Excellent! You've captured the scum that threatened my family. Do your duty and arrest them. We shall wait."

The moose wearing lieutenant's bars stepped forward, his hoof still on his weapon. "Who are you, madam, to give us orders?"

"She is my wife and speaks with my authority," came the response, as another rabbit puffed his way unsteadily into the room assisted by a pair of smaller rabbits and followed by several more. One of which was quite obviously an adult, with grey fur, black-tipped ears and possessed of striking violaceous eyes. She trailed along at the back, herding the stragglers of what had to be her siblings.

"Lord Hopps!" The uniformed mammals scrambled to salute, or haul the thugs off to the cells as quickly as they could. A member of the House of Lords was present. That changed things materially.

The lieutenant scrambled over. "My lord! What's happened? That fox is-"

"That fox" Mrs. Hopps interrupted, "is our butler and, in this evening's case, our savior. Your concern is touching, but unnecessary." At that, the Hopps matron turned away and left the floundering constable in the care of her equally floundering husband. He would handle the uniformed oaf well enough.

She turned to the vulpine in her family's livery and he moved to the customary position before her. His back was ramrod straight, eyes soft and straight forward, smiling with his paws clasped behind his back. "Nicolas, you are a mess."

"Indeed, I am, Madam. My apologies. A bear was inconsiderate in where he bled," the fox replied.

Bonnie Hopps very obviously raised an eyebrow at her servant's attempt at humor. "This will not do, Nicolas." She said as she procured a large purse from about her person. "You will remand yourself to the nearest guesting house of repute and clean yourself up. I expect you to be back at the manor tomorrow noon."

"I understand, Madam."

"Good. Now, take this and go tend to yourself. We will deal with this mess."

"As you say, Madam."

She placed the purse in his paw and he turned to go. None of this was missed by the young, violet-eyed doe. Nor was the fight her mother had to keep her mouth from quirking up at the fox's humor. Nor was the concern in her mother's eyes at his state. Nor was the way her mother's paw gripped the fox's for a heartbeat, before she turned away and he departed.

Judith Hopps missed very little of the exchanges that night, including the one twenty minutes beforehand, in an alley less than a mile from where they now stood. The exchange started when her family was surrounded by predators and menaced into the alley. They all knew what was about to happen. Robbery was a common enough occurrence and the pattern seldom changed. No resistance meant no harm. The fact that a Lord was attacked would mean that the thugs would be found and punished severely the next morning. As long as they kept to the script, there would be no surprises.

Then, the grizzly bear who was obviously the leader changed the game, as it were, by grabbing one of the kits. Before Judith could react, she was shocked silent as their heretofore unimpressive butler, the fox, stepped forward.

"Kindly release the kit and take the coin. No one needs to be hurt."

Her father was already swooning and the other kits were cowering between the wall at their backs and her and her mother's skirts. She was a lady, but she knew the uses of a hatpin and bodice dagger as well as any lady could. Unfortunately, she couldn't move with so `many little paws gripping her skirts. All she could do was look on in growing fear as the fox talked down his muzzle to a bear dozens of times his size.

"What did you say, fox?"

"I believe you have functioning ears, so I'm sure you heard me. I doubt you understood the words, though. You are rather stupid to assault this family."

The bear goggled for a moment before snarling and leaning into the fox's face. The fox, in turn, didn't budge from his place between the bear and the rabbit family. The bear held the struggling kit up to the fox's face and growled, "Say that again." Making his threat abundantly clear.

The fox blithely smiled in turn. "It wouldn't help you understand any better. Besides, I have what I want."

"And what is that, besides an early grave?" the bear sneered.

The fox leaned in and whispered, "Your paw that close to me."

The bear screamed.

The kit was plucked from the air and plopped into Judith's arms in one smooth motion as the mammoth ursine lost the ability to use his paw. Then, many things happened at once. Stuart Hopps, First Lord of Bunnyburrow, Landholder with the rank of Earl, many times knighted member of the government, fainted. Bonnie Hopps, his wife, pulled as many of the kits as she could behind her and dropped, making herself as low and out of the way as possible. The ruffians looked to their leader as he clamped his one functional paw over his bleeding wrist. Judith cradled her sobbing sister and dropped, like her mother, but facing the bear, so she could defend herself and her family.

The sight that met her eyes made her world stop for a moment. The butler she had known since she was a kit wasn't there anymore. The butler she knew was a punching bag. He was a ridged, boring staple of her daily life; an unimpressive, mildly sarcastic nuisance that could serve tea and be ignored, or abused, as she chose. Not once in the eighteen years she'd had to put up with him had he even so much as raised his voice in her presence.

The mammal in front of her was not the bastion of placid, servile civility of her acquaintance. Mr. Wilde was not an imposing presence, like the mammal in front of her. He was not intimidating. He never spoke above a well-mannered droll.

In the center of the chaos, this Mr. Wilde's voice cut through the clamor. "You should have just taken the coin."

The bear gathered himself and spat back, "Whoever you are, you're dead!" And moved to attack.

As Judith watched, a second hooked dagger appeared in Mr. Wilde paw as he uttered, "I serve the House of Hopps. None shall harm my charge." And the fox moved.

Judith watched as the stiff-necked irritant she'd known and loathed for so many years danced inside his massive opponent's reach with a speed and grace that put the ballet to shame and proceeded to take him apart. If she'd been told before that evening that her butler could harm a gnat, she'd have laughed. Now, she watched, stunned, as the enigmatic, red-furred servant efficiently slashed, stabbed and pounded their attacker into a pile of cowering fur.

As the rest of their assailants fled in terror, Judith helped her mother collect her siblings and her father, while Mr. Wilde stood guard. As they made their way to the police station, Judith couldn't help but wonder about her family's butler and what other secrets he hid behind that calm facade.

I serve the House of Hopps. None shall harm my charge.