Redwall and its world are copyright to Brian Jacques. The characters in this story are copyright to me. Well, here we are again. The fourth chapter of 'The Wayward Fox.' I do so hope you enjoy it!
The morning dawned cold and sharp. The treetops glistened with droplets of dew as the rosy fingers of dawn's light caressed their leaves. The usual birdsong filtered softly across Mossflower, sweet and clear, ignorant of the danger that had entered the region. The streams still flowed, the fish still swam. A gentle breeze blew threw the forest, shaking small glittering shards of water from leaves, landing on the grass below like tiny diamonds.
Skipper sat in the infirmary, looking out of one of the windows across the calm peace. The big otter sighed, rubbing a paw across his cheek. It was strange that, in the midst of such an unusually warm spring, this morning should be accompanied by such a chill. Skipper turned to look at the fox, still unconscious in his bed. The otter chieftain looked up as the infirmary keeper walked in.
"Ah, good morning, Skipper," Brother Geoffrey said as he spied the otter.
"Good morning to ye, Geoffrey," Skipper replied, somewhat surprised. "'Tis early fore ye to be up, if'n ye don't mind my sayin'."
The old Abbey mouse chuckled quietly. "Indeed it is, my friend, but who could sleep when we have a fox inside our walls? And, from young Swiftstream's report, I gather there are more vermin abound in Mossflower country."
The otter nodded. "Aye, matey, seems that way. I don't know how many, we only spied them two from yesterday, and they're long gone." Skipper's paw shot to his javelin, leaning against a wall, as the form on the bed groaned. "Is 'e wakin' up?" he asked, his eyes riveted to the fox.
Geoffrey shot him a glance. "Hush now, Skipper, and put down that javelin, he'll be too weak to move, let alone harm anyone."
The fox groaned again, his head twisting and turning as his eyes squeezed shut tighter. He whimpered as he thrashed about under the covers, the sheets rustling as he squirmed. Brother Geoffrey frowned, biting his lip as the fox groaned. Bending forward, the healer mouse placed his palm against the creature's brow. He withdrew it sharply as air whistled between his teeth.
"He's burning up!" the old mouse said anxiously. He turned to one of the cabinets and, removing a bowl from the cupboard, started pouring water from a jug. Taking a piece of cloth from the cabinet, he crossed back to the fox's bedside. Geoffrey began dabbing the wounded creature's brow with the damp cloth. "Oh dear, this is a terrible fever! Skipper, could you hold the damp cloth to his brow?" The large otter bent low, placing a paw gently on the cool material. Geoffrey quickly walked to the other side of the bed. Quickly unbinding the bandage around the fox's shoulder, the healer inspected the wound. "No sign of infection," he mused as he redid the binding. He quickly checked the wounded leg, but with the same result. The healer sighed as he looked at Skipper. "I don't know what is wrong with him. The wounds are completely free of infection and are healing correctly." Geoffrey shook his head. "I fear that there is nothing I can do. It's all down to him, now."
Flames. He was surrounded by flames, their terrible glow flickering, casting long shadows upon the leaf covered ground. He could feel the terrible heat, burning all around him to ashes. Beyond the fires, all was darkness. He was trapped in a ring of trees, homes, crops, all burning. And the screams. He turned, looking for a way out. There, between two large oaks, a path clear of flame! As he dashed towards it, he tripped over something. Falling hard, the air was knocked from his lungs. He looked at what had tripped him, and screamed.
The still form of a female squirrel, clutching at the blade between her ribs, her life blood seeping out onto the ground. Cradling her head on his lap, the creature sobbed, begging her to wake up. Her cold, lifeless eye gazed upwards, unwavering, at the smoke wreathed branches overhead. The beast stood, his shoulders shuddering as he wept over the squirrel's corpse. Squeezing his eyes shut, he turned back to the path between the oaks. He ran towards it, stumbling as he struggled to see through tear-blurred eyes. As he reached the grand old oaks, the beast paused. He stared in horror at the scene before him.
The ground sloped gently down to a circular area, marked off with stones. In the centre, a male squirrel was fighting a larger form, a black creature wielding a wickedly curved sword, the green jewel in the pommel gleaming in the fire light. The squirrel was snarling and yelling, attacking savagely with his own blade, but each swing, every thrust was parried easily by the larger, darker figure. The squirrel swept the sword back over his head, roaring with rage. The dark figure moved in a blur, striking at his opponent's belly. The sword dropped from the squirrel's paws, before he collapsed sideways.
"No!" the figure between the oaks yelled, sprinting down the slope. He dropped to his knees beside the fallen squirrel, clutching a paw in his own. "Father!" he said softly, choking back tears as the black creature stood watching.
The squirrel's eyes turned to look at his. "Son…I am sorry…I wasn't….strong enough."
"Hush, don't talk," the crouched creature said. "Save your strength. I'll get a healer and…"
"No, son," the squirrel said. "It's too late for me." The blood flowed from the gaping wound under his ribs. "I…want you to know…how proud I am of you."
Tears trickled down the younger creature's muzzle. "Father…"
The squirrel gasped, the breath rattling in his lungs. "Son…I want you to leave here…don't look back…go somewhere you can be happy…I love you Bryn…" With these words, the squirrel sighed, his eyes closing for the final time.
"Father…dad….please," the crying beast begged, rocking back and forth as he clutched the lifeless paw. Finally, he threw back his head, his muzzle opening as he let forth a howl of anguish to the dark sky.
The black figure stepped forward. The firelight glinted of smooth, black fur as the large fox addressed the weeping figure. "Come, brother, it is time to leave." A paw extended down to the crouched fox. Bryn slapped it aside as he leaped to his feet, glaring angrily at the larger fox.
"You murdered them!" he screamed as he shook with rage. "You killed our parents!"
The black fox laughed. "Ahahahahaha! Don't be stupid, Bryn! You are a fox, they were squirrels! You and I are of no relation to them, we have no link to those pitiful fools! Come now, Bryn, let us leave here."
Bryn picked up his father's sword, levelling it at the black fox. "Don't you dare use my name, Jonathan! You may not have cared, but I loved them! They took us in, sheltered us when we were mere cubs lost in the snow! How could you? How could you?" he roared.
The black fox narrowed his piercing, yellow eyes. "I have told you before, Bryn, my name is Ynalk Alkan!"
The smaller, russet-furred fox laughed, a tone of madness creeping into his voice. "Ynalk Alkan, is it? What is that, some warlord's name?" Pointing the sword at Alkan, Bryn's voice dropped to a low growl as the tears continued falling down his face. "You killed our parents. You don't deserve to live!"
Alkan chuckled. "Are you going to kill me, brother?"
"You are not my brother!" Bryn roared as he leapt forward, the blade slicing the air in front of him. Alkan shrieked, leaping backwards as blood splattered the ground. The black fox looked down at his pierced side. The sword had barely pierced the flesh, but Alkan stared in horror at the wound.
"You stabbed me!" he screamed at Bryn, his eyes flashing with fear and pain. "I can't believe you actually stabbed me!"
Bryn leaped forwards again, but Alkan faded into smoke. Bryn's sword passed through the apparition as he overbalanced and fell. The russet fox turned his head this way and that, trying to find his opponent, but Alkan had vanished. Bryn was in the centre of the circular field, the surrounding trees blazing as flames crept up their trunks.
"Where are you?" he screamed at the darkness. He received no reply, the only sound the crackling of flames. Bryn sank to his knees as fresh tears curled down his face. "Mum, dad…I am so sorry," he sobbed, "I couldn't stop him." The fox breathed raggedly as he cried. He suddenly wrenched himself backwards. "I'm sorry!" he screamed at the sky. Finally spent, he curled into a ball and wept as all about him burned to ashes.