Declarations of Allegiance - Part III

Shortly after noon on the third day, Charles fell onto the makeshift bed that Angus had made for him. Misha was sitting in one corner sharpening his axe blade, while the badger was busying himself over a lunch that smelled vaguely of fresh meat. The rat moaned softly, while Misha briefly glanced up to watch him languidly drape one arm over his head. The bright blue tunic Phil had given Matthias was torn in three places.

"I guess I'm going to get one of Lars's blackberry wines for free," Misha remarked as he returned to sharpening his axe. Both the fox and the badger tried to suppress a bit of laughter.

Charles just stared at the tree roots above him that crisscrossed the ceiling. "I don't think I've ever seen anybody jump between trees that fast before in my life."

Angus chuckled. "Would you like some soup? That was all Misha could eat when he tried keeping up with those two."

"Hey, I thought we agreed not to mention that!" Misha barked in embarrassment.

The rat chuckled a bit. "Sure; soup sounds great."

Angus ruffled the white diamond atop his forehead with one paw a moment as he surveyed his two guests. He then turned back to the stove while calling out over his shoulder. "Don't you ever believe anything that there fox says about me. The truth is much more humorous."

They both chuckled at that, though Charles was still quite sore. Misha laid down his axe and whetstone and slipped on his bright blue tunic. "Well, I'm going to go and be visible. You should have Mrs. Fowler sew up your shirt when you get the chance. I'll see you sometime this midafternoon at the cell, okay?"

"Yeah sure. Don't forget to bring some of Mrs. Levins's pie," Matthias groaned.

"I'll see if I can get us some of Lady Avery's tea as well. It'll add a nice touch." Misha patted Charles on one shoulder, and then promptly left.

"You really shouldn't have tried keeping up with the Avery boys, you know," the badger admonished as he brought over a bowl of thick smelling soup in a clay bowl.

"Oh, shut up!" Charles grumbled in embarrassment as he took the soup and began to eat.

When Charles did show up later that afternoon at the prison tree, Misha was already there chatting away with the otherwise quiet Shelly. In his arms, the long patrolmen carried the scrumptious pie and the quite aromatic tea. The fox repressed a chuckle as Matthias sorely made his way up to the pair of them. "Feeling any better?"

The rat nodded. "Yeah, I should be fine. How's our guest?"

Shelly shrugged. "Pretty quiet actually. He hasn't said much of anything since we put him here."

"I suppose we are ready to begin, then?"

"Just a moment, hold this. Be careful, it's hot." Misha handed Charles the tea pot, and indeed it was quite warm. Charles held it gingerly in one paw as the fox fished out two cups from his pockets. "Here, take these too." The rat held them in his other paw, clinking them together.

"Shelly?" Misha pointed at the door with his free paw. The guard flipped up the iron bolt, and swung the door inwards. Misha stepped inside the dark interior which was filled with the scent of the pie. Charles followed him in, and then the door swung shut behind them.

"Ah, this is a wonderful spot to have our dinner, don't you think?" Misha asked loudly as he set the pie down upon the floor. The figure of the Lutin crouching in one corner was very clear.

Charles sat down across from the fox, the Lutin always in his sight. "Oh definitely, let me pour you some of this delicious tea."

"I just love this pie, everybody should have some." Then the fox glared at the Lutin. "Would you like some pie?" The Lutin stirred, and then moved closer, a frown etched into his gnarled face. "I bet you are very hungry by now."

"Give me food!" the Lutin growled softly.

Charles shrugged, sipping at his tea. It was a bit lukewarm, but it still tasted quite good. "That depends on how much you cooperate with us."

"What were you doing in the forest?" Misha asked as he licked a bit of the blackberry pie from his claws.

"I was scouting," the creature glumly replied, casting its black eyes to the ground. Charles stared at the figure, noting the way it shook and quivered. It was frightened, that much he could tell.

"For whom and why?" Charles asked.

"Baron Calephas. He wants to take this place. All of you will die at his hands!"

"Oh, you mean that force down in the valley?" Misha took a bite of the pie and licked his chops for effect. "And how are they going to do that?"

The Lutin scooted a little closer, his eye on the food that the fox and rat were sharing. "Once we have enough men in place, we'll sweep out of the valley and crush this village!"

"And then what?"

The creature actually looked surprised at the question. He shook his head meekly. "I don't know that. They didn't tell me that."

Misha patted the rat on the shoulder and looked at the door. Charles nodded and then scooted the half-full pie plate over to the prisoner. "Eat up! You've earned it." As the Lutin dug obliviously into the meal, Charles and Misha collected the cups and tea pot, and knocked on the iron door to be let out. The Lutin never looked up.

Once they were outside, Misha gave Charles a very somber look. Charles shook his head. "I have never seen somebody come clean that fast," the fox pointed out.

"Neither have I. Maybe my plan worked really well?"

The fox wagged his tail abruptly. "No, that's not it. There's something else going on. I don't know what though."

Shelly coughed, catching their attention. "Lord Avery stopped by while you two were in there. He said that if you needed him he would be with Lars."

Misha shook his head. "He's tempting me, I know it!"

Charles chuckled. "You're not the only one!" He then gestured to the cups. "What should we do with these?"

Misha gestured in the direction of the tree house. "Return them to Lady Avery of course. I'm afraid Mrs. Levins will need a new pie plate though."

Lars's brewery was more like a bar than anything else. Situated inside a large cavern in the hills alongside the Glen, it was secure from any attackers, and had multiple exits. Thus, it also ended up being the fall back point in the event of another invasion. The entrances could be completely sealed, and there were several obscured smoke holes that emptied out into the air. If absolutely necessary, there were two weeks worth of provisions for the entire town.

The caves themselves were extensive, though the townsfolk only used the first few levels. The bar itself was quite cleverly built inside the hill just before the caves proper, so it was made of wood and plaster instead of stone. There were several tables and benches, as well as an unlit fireplace. Lanterns hung from the walls, as well as from roots overhead. Barrels of Lars's finest lined half of one wall, while the black bear himself was busily mixing ingredients for another batch.

In many ways, it reminded Charles of the Deaf Mule on a much smaller scale. There were many folk whom he'd seen about the town sitting at the tables and sharing a good drink. The familiar scent of oil and ale permeated the air. Yet there was no pool table or dart board. The familiar figures of Copernicus, Michael, and the rest were not here. Still, the rat knew that this was his sort of establishment the moment he walked in.

Misha pointed to a table in the back where Angus and Garigan were talking. Before either of them could take a step, the badger waved his black paws to them while the ferret just stared placidly at his drink. As they sat down in two of the other chairs, Angus smirked. "If you are looking for Lord Avery, he just left."

"Really?" Misha asked a bit astonished. "Too bad, we just got through with the Lutin."

"He had to go take care of something," Garigan remarked. "Something just came up."

"Oh, what would that be?" Charles asked, his eyes straying to the mugs of ale that the two guards each held.

"He didn't say," the ferret replied in annoyance.

Before anybody else could say anything, a large bear walked up to their table and guffawed as he loomed over them. "Misha Brightleaf! I'd heard you were in town. Why haven't you come to see your old pal, Lars Hasgkenn?"

Misha chortled, stood up, and shook paws with the black bear. "Sorry, I'm on orders not to get drunk for now."

"Oh surely you can have just one!"

Misha sat back down shaking his head. "With you, Lars, just one means a barrel, not a mug!"

The bear laughed at that, and then patted his friend on the shoulder. "Well, in case you change your mind, I'll be over at the bar."

Misha was still shaking his head when the bear left them, his paunch bobbing up and down as he walked. "He never changes!"

Angus chuckled, drinking a bit more. "Nope. I think he wants to see if you'll ever try singing again."

The fox nudged the badger's shoulder in annoyance. "Would you stop talking about those things! You'll ruin my reputation."

Charles tapped his teeth with one claw. "At least Caroline isn't here to hear about it."

"Caroline?" Angus asked, his eyes lighting up with curiosity. "Something you haven't told me, my good friend, Misha?"

Misha grinned, licking his nose slightly. He leaned back in the chair, and put his footpaws on the table. "I'm just a lucky fox!"

Garigan shook his head, stuffing his muzzle down his mug, while Angus stared contemplatively at the fox's pads as the toes twitched. "Lucky, eh?" The badger reached out with one paw and began to tickle at the pads with his claws. Misha jerked his legs back at the touch, nearly falling over backwards in his chair as he did so. "So who is this Caroline?"

Misha leaned forward on the table and glared impishly at his friend. "A lucky otter!"

"Oh my, she's musteline!" Angus elbowed Garigan, but the ferret kept his muzzle in the beer mug.

Before the badger could press Misha for more details, Charles saw Lord Avery come back into the brewery followed by a large moose wearing a chain mail vest as well as a bright blue tunic with the seal of Metamor emblazoned on one breast. It only took them moments to spot the four, and soon they made their way to the table.

"I trust you two know Lance?" the squirrel gestured at the figure beside him.

Charles smiled at the slightly familiar figure who was scratching at the fuzzy velvet covering his small set of antlers. "We've met once or twice, good to see you again. What are you doing here?"

The moose slipped into a seat, blinking a moment to get used to the lighting. "Well, I'm with the timber crews now. The newest member in fact. Well, the Chief thought that I should go with Lord Avery here to meet you two while they bivouacked."

"I take it from your uniform that you have orders to stay?" Misha pointed at the emblem.

"That is what the Chief says," Lance looked over at the bar, and held up one hoof-like hand. "How's the ale here?"

"The best ale you'll find in the Glen!" Angus declared proudly.

"The only ale you'll find in the Glen," Garigan remarked caustically.

Lance chuckled a bit, and then turned about in his chair while Lars stepped up to his side. Paws on both hips, the brewer looked down at the newest patron. "What can I get you?"

"Just a tap of ale, please," the moose asked in a friendly tone.

Lars looked over the fox and rat again. "Are you two sure you don't want anything?"

"Quite sure!" Misha replied, showing great restraint. Charles shook his head as well.

As the black bear turned back to the bar, the rat gave Lance a penetrating gaze. "So why are you here?"

Lance put both of his forehooves on the table. "We're here as backup. Also, Phil gave us orders to help rebuild Glen Avery's fortifications. I don't know all the orders, but I do know that after tonight, we aren't suppose to be drinking either." He said the last even as Lars returned with a mug of bright foaming ale.

"Why after tonight?"

Lance looked a bit embarrassed. "We weren't supposed to arrive till tomorrow, but the Chief said that if we wanted to drink, we had to get here today."

Angus slapped his thigh as he laughed. Even Garigan was chuckling slightly at the moose's embarrassing revelations. Charles shook his head, "I bet Lindsey was leading the pack too."

Lance took a quick sip, the foam sticking to his long dark nose. "Actually, he was wasn't walking too fast."

"Well, we're glad to have you all here, " Lord Avery broke into the conversation, handing the Lance a handkerchief for his nose. "Not sure if we'll need you, but we are glad to have you."

Misha tapped the table with one claw. "It is very possible that we could need you. We just got finished interrogating a Lutin that had been scouting out the area. I've never seen anybody talk that easily. He confirmed everything that we had heard from Phil without any pressure whatsoever. I don't like it."

Angus shook his head. "Who could resist Mrs. Levins's pies?" After the chuckling died down again, the badger continued in a more serious tone. "It sounds like he is either very stupid, or...."

"Or?" Charles prompted after the other trailed off.

"Or he was told to say that and no more if he got caught," Angus finished, rubbing the white diamond of fur on his head with his paw again.

Lord Avery sucked in his breath, and Lance looked quite uncomfortable. "Well," Charles muttered. "If that's the case, then we need to scout around that area. See what their forces are like first hand."

"No, that's too dangerous. We don't have the manpower to risk anybody anyway!" Brian objected.

Misha leaned forward and pointed at the moose. Lance blinked in surprise and pointed at himself questioningly. The fox then looked at the squirrel and waggle his ears. "Well, if the timber crews are here now, then you have plenty of men to go around. Charles and I can do the scouting tomorrow."

"After certain individuals sober up of course," Charles added.

Garigan growled, "What makes you two think that you would be better scouts than our own people? We've lived here a lot longer than you have, and we are much more familiar with the territory."

Charles stared curiously at the ferret while Misha kept his tongue in check. "He didn't mean nothing by it, Garigan," Angus assured his friend. "Would you like me to get you another ale?"

The ferret shook his head, turning away from the others, "No that is all right."

"Besides," the moose added, pointing towards the table, "you'd have to get it away from those two." They each turned and saw two small squirrels accosting Lars from the front of the bar. Lord Avery bolted up in his chair, his large tail slapping Charles in the face. The rat spat out hairs as he ducked away, but the noble did not notice.

"Christopher, Darien!" Brian shouted in his piping voice. "What are you two doing in here?"

The two boys looked like they'd been stabbed. "We were just trying to be big men!" one of them, Darien probably called out. The two then began flexing their nonexistent muscles, causing quite a few patrons to turn away and snicker. "We can do it, Dad, we're old enough!"

"You're not old enough till I say you're old enough," Lord Avery shot back, leaving the table to stand by his children's side. He looked over at the ursine man behind the bar. "Don't give these little rascals anything but milk!"

Lars chuckled. "I had no intention of doing anything but."

"Aw, but Dad!" Christopher whined.

"You two heard me! Don't you be causing any trouble, you hear?"

They both hung their heads, but the glint of mischief was still in their eyes. "Yes, Dad."

"Good, be home in time for supper now." Lord Avery then turned back around and headed back to the table, shaking his head slightly. When he finally met the eyes of the others at the table, their was an ornery glint to them. Charles, who had by now gotten the last of the fur from his mouth, tried to suppress a chuckle.

"So," Lord Avery asked as he sat back in his seat, "what are your plans for tomorrow?"

Misha folded his paws on the table. "Like I said, Charles and I will scout out the ravine to see if anything is going on. Once we have more information, we'll be able to decide what our next move is."

"You'll have to be careful going through that pass, you'll be exposed to them," Angus warned between drinks.

"We'll go in our animal guises through that part. They won't notice that," Charles pointed out.

"And we'll begin rebuilding the fortifications here, or at least make a show of it," Lance added. "I bet the others are almost finished by now. I hope you bartender has enough ale to quench the thirst of fifteen tired timbersmen!"

"Lars? He has enough to satisfy a whole army!" Angus declared with quite a bit of pride.

The remainder of their evening was spent in the company of the timbersman and a few of the Glen folk. Shortly after sunset, Charles and Misha excused themselves from the merrymaking and retired to Angus's home. Even Angus stayed at the brewery into the night. Snuggling up beneath their own covers, they lay there staring up at the roots crawling across the tunneled out roof. The rat could heard the sounds of his companion rolling about on the lumpy mattress.

Taking a deep breath, Matthias spoke out into the darkness, "What do you think we'll find out there tomorrow?"

"A bit nervous?" Misha asked, his voice muffled by the pillow he was lying against.

"Well, as nervous as anybody gets the night before they do something really dangerous."

The fox chuckled as he rolled over again. "I have no idea, which is why we're going out there."

Charles licked the back of his incisors as he lay there. His eyes blinked a few times as they adjusted to the somber blackness. "Was Garigan always this aggressive?"

"The ferret? No, he was a lot calmer when I first met him. I'm sure it's just a matter of growing up. He's still a bit young after all."

Charles rolled over in his bed, his tail curling up next to his hindpaws. His eyes found the circular doorway that led out to the night air. Any moment now Angus would come in quietly and retire to his own bed. Turning back over to face the fox, he said, "Something has been bothering me ever since we got here."

"What is it?"

"Do I really snore?"

Misha rolled away from Matthias, leaving the rat staring at the fox's backside. "Go to sleep, Charles."

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