Hello again, everyone, and once again I'm so sorry for these waits. My whole life has gotten kind of stressful lately because of work and finals and all sorts of other hell to deal with and most of my writing time has been used to either catch up in my classes or for well-earned naps. Though, with it being a little over two months since my last update and the couple of writers who have decided to leave the Redwall Fanfiction Archive, I decided I'd go ahead and get this chapter posted just to say that I wasn't dead, and do intend to keep writing and finish the story. Though I do regret to inform you all, that my next update may take a little bit longer than this one did, but that's only because I've recently gotten the chance to apply for a very important internship that could really help me in the art career that I'm trying to go with right now, and I'll probably be spending the next month cranking out as many pictures as possible for a decent portfolio so that I've got the best chance of being accepted.
Speaking of art though, if you haven't noticed, I've finished the final colored version of my title picture and I've actually opened up a deviantart account to host some Good Fences related artwork. There's only one picture right now, the title picture of course, but I plan to update it soon with some chapter illustrations and character portraits and whatnot. If you're a fan of the story and interested in seeing my art for it, you can find it at .com
Lastly, I'd like to thank: Thomas the Traveler, Minkspit, Freya Thorine, Blackish, Shadow of the Nights, and Jade Tealeaf for reviewing since my last update. Thank you for your continued support and kind words and critiques.
And without further ado then, Chapter 7.
Chapter 7: First Impressions
Django waded carefully through the shallows of the lake, ripples expanding from his body and disturbing the crystal-clear water's placid surface with each one of the otter's cautious steps as he watched the creatures underneath him swim in unawares of the spear he held in his webbed paws.
The otter let the world turn to black as he closed his eyes and inhaled a breath, trying to shut out the quiet sounds of the soft breeze bristling through the reeds and the twittering of nearby birds who had returned from their winter migrations so that he could concentrate on the task at paw. It was just him and the fish as he readied his spear, relinquishing back his taken breath and opening his eyes. There was a flash of light, a gleam reflecting off upon the spear's blade as he thrust it forward swiftly through the water in one smooth and clean motion, impaling a trout straight through its middle. The fish was dead instantly, and Django waited for the thin, red cloud of blood to filter away in the water before lifting his spear and plucking his catch from the blade, tossing it into a reed basket he had strapped to his back.
"Ya got one!"
Django gave a glance over his shoulder to where Strong was making his way behind him, carrying a long, sharpened stick in place of a spear and trying to mimic his father's slow and quiet movements through the water despite the obvious eager smile on his face.
The chill of winter had come and gone, washed away by the warm showers of spring. Insects buzzed, birds trilled, and flowers were in full bloom as white gave way to green, the bare trees around the otters' home regaining their leaves, and the cold snow fading back into the soft, warm grass. The sheets of ice in the lake had melted, and, with the water finally warm enough to swim in again, Django had wasted no time in fetching his fishing spear and taking to the water to teach his enthusiastic son the art of spear fishing.
Django dipped the blade of the weapon into the water to clean it of any blood. "Aye, an' so will you," he said simply. "Wanna try yer paw at it?"
Strong nodded enthusiastically and took his place beside his father, already readying his own spear to strike.
"Not so fast, lad!" Django stopped his son with a quick grab to the back of his spear shaft. "Yer not gonna get one if ya just poke at 'em willy-nilly. Be calm an' steady, don't just try t' strike the moment ya see one. An' no matter what ya do, don't even try t' get one if it's near yer footpaws. Yer mum will have a nervous fit if I tell her ya've stuck yerself. Alright, watch me."
Django took a moment to glance through the crystal clear water, searching for another target. A particularly fat grayling cautiously swam around the otter's footpaws. "Be patient an' keep yer eyes on it and stay perfectly still. Shut out the world around ya, it's only you an' the fish. Just ignore everythin' else. An' when ya think ya've got 'im, plant yer paws deep in the mud, close yer eyes an' take a deep breath. " He demonstrated for his son, readying his spear. "Open 'em back up an' breathe out, an' then… strike!"
Django tossed his latest catch lightly into his basket, turning back to his son with a grin. "Ready for a turn?"
Strong nodded. Django moved behind his son and held onto the end of the spear to steady it for him. "Alright, do exactly what I said. First pick ya out a good, big, fat one."
"That one!" Strong said with a point to a fat trout.
"Aye, that's a good one," Django agreed. "Alright, what d' ya do first?"
"Close my eyes?"
Django shook his head. "Plant yer footpaws deep in the mud. Ya don't want t' end up losin' yer balance an' stumblin'." The otter waited for his son to get his paws settled before continuing. "Alright, now ya can close yer eyes an' take a deep breath." As the young otter's eyes shut, Django helped guide his spear above the water's surface into a better position. "Just shut out everything, lad. It's just you an' the fish." Strong nodded. A few moments passed before the younger otter released his breath and snapped his eyes back open. He lurched forward and struck out with his spear, hitting nothing but water as the trout narrowly dodged its point.
Django gave a chuckle. "Ahaha! Not bad for yer first try, lad. Ya only missed it by thaaat much."
Strong looked to the water and back at his father in confusion. "But, I did what ya said. Why didn't I hit it?"
Django's smile faded as he realized his son's distress. He knelt down to Strong's level and placed a damp paw upon his shoulder. "Well, Strong, ya can't hit 'em all. Sometimes ya gotta miss, otherwise, what would be the point o' hittin' 'em in the first place?"
"But you never miss…"
"Even the best o' warriors misses from time t' time, Strong, even me. So there ain't any reason t' be upset about it. And that was only yer first try. Pretty good for a first try, I have t' say. Ya just gotta work at it and practice and then you'll be gettin' every fish in the lake. Trust me."
Strong looked back to the water before giving a curt nod. "And you'll help me, right?"
"O' course, lad. I'll be right behind ya the whole time," his father assured. "Why don't ya give it another go?"
His son nodded and resumed his position, Django once again steadying the spear for him.
While Strong gazed through the clear water for another sizeable fish, his father caught a movement from the corner of his eyes and turned to look across the lake. Rederick and Helk were making their way back to their home from another unsuccessful hunting trip, the archer practically stomping in frustration and seeming to berate and snarl at his son the entire way. The younger fox said something to his father at the door of their shack, which earned him a hefty slap to the back of his head. The kit covered his head from another blow before scrambling inside, his father shouting a muffled threat at him.
Rederick grasped at his shoulder before glancing over it to where Django stood watching them from across the lake. With nothing but a stare, the fox turned and stepped inside his home, slamming the door behind him.
Django was glad that Strong hadn't seen the ordeal. It had become almost a regular occurrence for the fox when he came back from a fruitless hunt to take it out on his son in some way or another. At first it had just been a shout or two, then maybe a light cuff to the back of his head, but it seemed to escalate nearly every day, to the point where there was rarely a time where he wasn't hitting the fox kit. And even when they were successful, no looks of a job well done passed from him to the young one, no compliments, no smiles of encouragement, just silence. It was almost as if Rederick was disappointed that they had caught something, disappointed that he didn't have a reason to hurt his son.
The otter had believed that even vermin had to love their own children, that it was some unwritten law of life that everybeast had to follow, but just like a vermin, Rederick needed somebeast smaller and weaker than him to bully, and, with his injured shoulder, the only beast that was, was his own son.
Django shook his head in distaste before looking back to his own son, ready to set a different example for the child.
Strong was the apple of his eye, never once complaining when his father tried to show him what he was doing wrong, or wanting to quit even after missing again and again. A few words of encouragement, or shouts of "ya got so close that time, lad! You're gonna get it next time definitely!" were all that was needed to keep the smile upon the young one's face. The burly otter had always wanted his son to be a great warrior one day and it was at this moment, Django knew that he had nothing to fear, because try after try, and fail after fail, Strong never gave up, and by the time he and his father thrust forward the spear together and caught a small grayling through its middle, the lad was already readying his spear to catch another.
"Hold on, lad, I need t' take a breather," Django said with a pant. "Why don't ya try it on yer own for a bit?"
"But I don't think I can do it without ya…" Strong said.
"Sure ya can, ya just gotta try," Django replied.
The otter cub looked back to the water. "But..."
Django let out a sigh before moving back behind his son and taking the top of the spear shaft back into his paws. The otter smiled as an idea came to his head. "Alright, what's first?"
Strong grinned ardently before looking back to the water for another target. "Pick a fish," he said when he found one.
Django nodded. "Then what?"
"Paws in the mud."
"Aye. What's next?" his father asked.
"Close my eyes an' shut out the world. It's just me an' the fish," Strong answered, his eyelids closing shut as he took a breath.
"Aye, just you an' the fish," Django said, letting go of the spear and taking a few noiseless steps backwards away from his son. He chuckled quietly to himself. The young otter still held the weapon in perfect form; despite the fact his father was no longer steadying it for him. "An' then?"
"Strike." Strong lurched forward with his spear cleanly and swiftly, the sharpened wooden point making quick work of a fat trout as it pierced it through its very center. His son looked at the catch for a mere moment before shouting for the world to hear, "we got another one!" With his usual grin, the young otter pulled his catch from off the point and turned to face his father.
From where he stood a few taillengths away from his son, Django smiled at him. "No. We didn't. You did."
The grin disappeared from his son's face as he looked to the fish and back to his father, realizing what was going on. "I-I did…?"
"Aye, lad," his father answered with a curt nod. "All by yerself."
In disbelief, Strong's wooden spear and catch fell from his paws back into the water. Frantically, he grabbed them back up before he lost them and when he looked back up to his father, the lad's grin was replaced with a toothy smile that spread across his entire face.
Django understood now what his own mother must have thought when she had seen him smiling even after the pain that had come from his father's death. A child's smile had a way of making those who saw it forget everything that troubled them, and the otter could only focus on it as he smiled back at his son. The best kind of memories were the ones where everybeast was smiling, forgetting the sorrow of what had happened or what was to come, and Django knew that this day would be one of them.
And through it all, Django knew he would remember it always.
-.-.- -.-.- -.-.-
"Ya shoulda seen 'im, dear. Never givin' up. Not complainin'. An' then, the moment I let go o' the spear, he snags one all on 'is own. The lad's a natural. Ain't that right, Strong?"
"Huh?" Strong looked away from where he had been gazing outside the living room window and back to where his mother and father were talking, the smell of frying fish wafting in from where they both stood in the kitchen. "Oh, aye, yessir," the young otter answered with a nod before turning back to the window.
"What're ya lookin' at, lad?" his father asked, moving beside him hurriedly upon the sofa and looking outside the window. He sounded worried.
"The lake," Strong answered his father. "I wanted t' go swim. Can I?"
"Supper's almost ready. Maybe when you're done eating," his mother answered. "What do you think, Django?"
His father didn't answer her, his eyes fixed upon something across the lake. Strong followed the older otter's gaze to where it was fixed on the foxes' house across the lake.
The door had been flung open and Mister Rederick stood in the entrance next to his son. With an aggravated look towards him, he sent the smaller fox sprawling across the porch with a rough kick to his rear. The fox cub slowly recovered and got back to his footpaws, giving a look behind him as his father sternly issued a command to him and pulled close the door, leaving him alone outside.
Though the young otter wanted to keep watching, his father wouldn't have any of it and quickly closed the window drapes, turning to where his mother stood and giving her a look. Strong had seen the look pass between his parents a few times before, almost always springing up whenever something about their vermin neighbors were mentioned and he was still in the room. It was a look that simply said, "We need to talk… privately."
"Aye, ya can go out an' swim for an hour or two after supper, Strong," his father answered his mother's earlier question. "Until it's ready, why don't ya go an' wait in yer room 'til yer mum calls fer ya?"
"Yessir…" Strong said with a nod. The young otter slid off of the couch and gave a glance over his shoulder as he walked slowly in the direction of his room down the hall, watching his family stand in silence as they waited for him to turn the corner of the hallway and close his door. They always seemed to exclude him from their talks, and whenever he asked, they simply said that it was something he didn't need to hear or that it was a grown-up talk and that he was too young to understand, but he was nearly eight-seasons, surely he could listen to just a talk?
Strong paused at the door to his bedroom, his mind made up. He pushed open his door and then slid it shut loud enough for his parents to hear from around the corner before quietly tiptoeing closer so that he could hear.
His mother was the first to speak. "What did you see?"
His father sighed. "What d' ya think I saw? He hit 'im earlier this mornin' too. Twice."
"Maybe it's just discipline, Django?"
"That ain't discipline, dear. There's a difference between tannin' a child's hide an' doin' what he's doin'. He ain't hittin' 'im t' teach 'im a lesson or t' behave, he's just hittin' 'im because he can. At first it was just a couple o' shouts, an' maybe that's how it works with vermin, I don't know, but now if that young 'un's near 'is dad, he's gettin' hit, or kicked, or whipped, or somethin'. I'm half tempted t' get my spear an' put a stop to it."
"It's their business, Django. Just try to ignore them," his mother said.
"I don't want Strong t' see it, Lorena. He only saw a little kick right then, but what if he sees somethin' worse next time? I don't want 'im t' think that that's how ya parent or get the idea that I might do that to 'im," his father said. He gave another sigh. "This was a bad idea, Lorena. They've brought nothin' but trouble so far."
"Just try to ignore them, Django," she repeated.
"That beast had blood on his shirt. He killed somebeast. How can I ignore 'im when there's the chance it was some innocent traveler, or a family? Who's t' say he won't do the same t' us when yer done fixin' 'im?"
Strong's eyes widened. But the fox had said the blood was from a bird.
His mother confirmed his thoughts. "Are you sure he did, Django? Have you seen the body? Maybe he was telling the truth about the bird and you're just blowing it out of proportion like you always do."
"Blowin' it outta proportion?" his father replied. "Dear, I know vermin. While ya were sleepin' nice an' snug behind yer cozy red walls, I was patrollin' with an otter holt, tryin' t' make Mossflower a safe place for the travelers and families that live in it. I've seen what they can do. They are all liars an' backstabbers." He paused here, before finishing with, "Lorena, my father helped a vermin once an' I watched as they stabbed 'im in the back… over and over again 'til he stopped movin'. Even with how many bodies ya've cut into an' sewn back up, ya wouldn't believe how much blood there was. It was everywhere, on the walls, the floor. I just… I can't imagine Strong watchin' that… watchin' us…"
Strong's eyes went wide with shock as he kept listening.
"Not everybeast is evil, Django. That's what I was taught at Redwall, and that's what I believe."
His father gave a snort. "An' not everybeast is good, like ya seem t' think, Lorena. While I was in the patrol, I saw what those beasts are capable of. We tried t' thin down a large horde once. They were gettin' too big, too rowdy and restless, so we were gonna try t' make 'em scatter. Beasts pushed down others' children t' get away, cut through neighbors with their blades because they got in their way. There was… one beast… who fled instead of helpin' his own bleedin' wife. Those beasts… they don't know what love, or honor, or good even is."
Strong gasped loudly enough that he covered his own mouth.
"Django, stop." The urgency in her voice stopped his father before he could say anything else. The sound of footsteps across the wooden floor reached Strong and, before the young otter could react, his mother had a firm hold of his arm. "Strong!" she snapped. "Didn't your father tell you to go to your room?"
The young otter gave a solitary nod from under his mother's stern gaze. "Yes, ma'am."
"Well, then, what're ya doin' out of it, lad?"
"I just wanted t' listen," he said to his father.
Lorena sighed and relinquished his arm. "That wasn't something you needed to hear, Strong, especially not… that."
"But… they haven't done any o' that. Dad says that they're evil, but they can't be that bad, can they?" Strong asked.
His mother knelt down to his level. "I don't know, Strong. Maybe they are. That's just something that we're going to have to find out. Sometimes though, beasts simply fear what they don't understand."
"Ya try t' understand a vermin, dear, an' all you'll get is a knife in yer back," his father said, "so, I'll take what I do know about 'em an' I'll keep doin' what a normal beast should: fear 'em." With a huff, the older otter turned and stormed up the stairs, leaving his wife and son alone in the den.
His mother sighed. "Your father means well," she said to Strong. "He does. He just wants to protect us. But your father's all about first impressions. Once he's seen something about a beast, whether it's good or bad, that's all he can see, and he won't ever look past that. It's just how he… grew up. All of that is what he's seen about vermin, and he'll never be able to look away from it."
Strong looked up to his mother curiously. "What's a first impression?"
The otterwife gave her child a soft smile. "It's the first thing you see about a beast," she said. "For example: when I first held you, Strong, and you were crying and screaming in my paws, I knew for a fact, that you were perfect in every way. Your father took you from me and said 'look at his rudder, dear, it's the longest thing I've ever seen. With a tail like that, he's got to be a strong warrior one day. There's a thought! Let's name him Strong.'" She gave a chuckle at the memory. "That's what he's always wanted, for you to be a great warrior when you grew up. Maybe join an otter holt or become the abbey champion, it was always a dream of his for you.
"But as for the foxes." His mother sighed. "They didn't make a good impression on either of us. They tried to steal from us, shot an arrow at us, Konin held a knife to your father's back. And he can't see past that. But I don't think they're evil like he does. There's a difference between evil and desperate. Konin could have stabbed your father, but she didn't because all she cared about was saving her mate, and that's why I'm helping them. Because I think, despite what they look like and what they are, they're a family just like us, and maybe there's some good in them. What do you think, Strong?"
"They made us that statue."
"Aye, and they didn't have to either," his mother answered. "They might not be the best beasts in the world, but maybe they're better than we think. And that's just going to have to be something we have to find out on our own."
She stood up from where she had been kneeling, and gave her son a lighthearted smile. Her blue eyes sparkled as if she were proud of him for something, as if he learned something. Strong looked back to her with a confused look. But what had he learned? His father thought that the foxes were evil, but were they truly? His mother didn't even seem to know for sure.
As his mother returned to her cooking, Strong turned back to enter his room and shut the door behind him. He sat down on the edge of his bed and looked around to where Brushy sat on his side by the pillows before grabbing up the squirrel doll and placing it in his lap. "What d' ya think? Are they evil or not?"
Brushy had no answer for the child, his button eyes not displaying a single emotion to even help Strong answer his own question. The squirrel doll just simply stared back, silent as always.
Strong set him down with a sigh, looking to his dresser where the sculpture Mister Rederick had made of him and his family had been set for decoration. His father had refused to put it in the dining room when his mother had suggested it, so after another talk that they wouldn't let him be a part of, they had decided to put it in his room instead. The young otter picked it up carefully and flipped it over in his paws.
"The Riverdeeps are as proud and strong as their tails are long," he read silently to himself from where it was carved in its side.
Mister Rederick had said he made it to repay them, and his mother said that they didn't have to. But if they didn't have to and they still made it, surely that meant that they were good for something, right? That they were thankful? Surely, his father couldn't be right, they couldn't be that bad.
Strong gave a look to his door, setting the statue back down and grasping for Brushy's paw. With no answer easily available for him, the young otter didn't know what to think about his neighbors, but, there was a solution. Just as his mother had said, he would just have to find it on his own.