[Vfw-times] MK Winter Assault part 57 - What will Kim think?

COkane8116 at aol.com COkane8116 at aol.com
Tue Nov 20 02:56:53 CST 2001


For some reason, as he moved to join the opossum, she flashed him that 
dimpled grin again.  Uneasily, he strode off into the trees, and up the 
eastern rise, back-switching when the terrain became too steep.  Baerle was 
behind him of course, easily following the trail he set, her foot paws 
crunching the snow lightly, or not at all.  He almost imagined he heard 
Zagrosek chuckling behind him through the trees as he worked up that slope, 
though he could not imagine why that would be so.

The trees continued to thin, fur and pine having long since replaced the oak 
an birch that was predominant towards Metamor Keep.  Ice hung from the pine 
needles, crystalline like fragile glass, trapping the trees in their glossy 
cocoon.  Finally, after a few dips and rises, they saw one peak that opened 
out onto the valley beyond. It was even steeper than before, and slippery 
rocks jutted up from the hard earth. Digging his claws into the ice-locked 
stone, Charles hefted himself up the last few feet, before he crouched in 
shallow snow atop the slender rise.

"Um, could you help me up?" he heard the opossum's voice call from behind.  
The vista before him did not even have time to register, before he naturally 
turned about and looked down the rock slope at Baerle who stood at its base, 
her narrow snout admonishing, though her eyes were pleading earnestly.  She 
held out one slender paw, short claws reaching up towards him. Charles held 
out his own, and gripped her warm hand in his own, and pulled, letting his 
Sondeck draw her towards him.

Her foot paws clawed at the ice of the rock, scrabbling some of it free 
before she finally leaped up the last of the incline, and landed atop the 
rat, knocking him over onto his back, his face full of surprise.  She laughed 
gently as she peered down at his embarrassed face.  Before he could reach out 
to object and before he even realised what she was about, the sly opossum had 
planted a firm kiss on his pink nose. "Thank you!" she exclaimed spritely, as 
if it were the most natural thing in the world.

Charles scooted backwards then, extricating himself from beneath her embrace, 
though in the process managing to shove a good deal of snow down his tunic, 
his whiskers twitching in a furious blush.  "Uh, you're welcome," he 
stammered, rubbing at his nose, still in disbelief about what she had just 

She giggled slightly, and then sat back on her haunches, clearing the snow 
away with one paw.  She then rested her legs, her long fleshy tail curling 
about them as she turned to look out across the hill. "Have you ever been 
this far North?"

"Um, twice before," Charles said, still shaking slightly, though he peered 
out over the landscape on the other side of the hill too, still unsure of 
what had just happened.  The valley dropped off slightly just past the rise, 
but they could not see far, as the fog layered the hills on the other side of 
the depression, all the way to the mountains several miles distant.  It was 
still too dark to make out many details, but the clouds on the eastern 
horizon were brightening.

"This is as far as I've ever come," Baerle said, when Charles did not speak 
further.  She crouched down a bit lower, resting her head on her paws, elbows 
buried in the half inch of snow.  Their clothes were much warmer than the 
Sondeckis robes that they'd arrived in, and so the rat found himself quite 
comfortable in the chill. "You're a scout from Metamor?"

Matthias nodded, letting his eyes trail down the hillside, trying to spot 
anything he could.  When he wasn't looking at the young, female opossum, he 
could almost imagine that she hadn't kissed him.  He cringed at the thought 
of how irate Lady Kimberly would be when she found out another girl had 
kissed him.  And his beloved would probably blame the whole affair on him too 
he thought sourly. 

But, he kept all of that in his mind, and let his mouth stay where it 
belonged. "Yes, I've been on missions for the Keep sporadically over the last 
nine months."

"Is that why everybody knew you when you arrived last night?  Have you been 
to the Glen before?"

Charles nodded again and found himself, despite his best efforts, glancing 
over at her.  She was not looking at him, but was scanning the valley and the 
hills, as the fog threaded through them. "Yes, it was one of my very first 
missions in fact, back in April.  I don't remember seeing you, did you just 
move to the Glen recently?"

"This last summer.  My father finally died, and so I came out here.  I like 
the Glen better anyway." Her voice was bereft of any melancholy, but Charles 
suspected that it was only because she hid it rather well.

"Where were you living before, and how did your father die?" 

When she turned to meet his gaze, her dark hazel eyes finding his own as if 
by instinct, the rat returned his attention to the valley. "We lived in 
Mycransburg.  Before Nasoj attacked the first time, my father was Lord 
ard'Kapler's butler.  He lost both of his legs when their manor was 
destroyed, so I had been taking care of him since then." Her voice remained 
level as she spoke, and Charles found himself gaining an odd sort of sympathy 
for her.  Caring for an invalid could not have been easy, especially after 
the way Mycransburg had been decimated.

"So why did you come to Glen Avery after he died?"

She turned back to the valley, her voice taking on a slightly distant cast. 
"It's where my mother was from."

"And where is she?"

"My mother?  I never knew her. She died giving birth to me.  But many of the 
folk at the Glen knew her." She giggled then, her face brightening, her short 
whiskers laying back against her narrow muzzle. "Do you know the tailor's 
wife?" At seeing the rat nod, she continued, "She treated me so wonderfully 
when I fist arrived, I've started calling her Auntie Levins, and me her 

Charles could not help but smile, at the thought of the plump hedgehog acting 
as a surrogate mother for a friend's bereaved daughter. "That's rather 
lovely, I'm glad you found a home here."

"Do you like Glen Avery?" Baerle suddenly asked, shifting about on her belly. 
 Charles noted that she appeared to be lying closer to him than she had been 

Even so, he pretended not to notice. "Yes, I do.  If I did not already have a 
life at Metamor, I would move her, for it feels as much a home as any place 
I've ever known."

Baerle smiled then, her tail curling about her legs rather supply, more 
tightly than Charles could ever manage with his own tail.  Even so, she did 
not speak for several more moments, preferring to lay there, watching the 
valley move slowly in the last few minutes before dawn.  The only thing that 
moved before them though was the mass of fog that drooped over the hillside, 
shifting and eddying over the contours of the land.  A gentle breeze came up 
the incline, rattling the trees behind them, the ice covering the needles 
tinkling a silvery melody.

At that, the opossum shivered visibly, and chattered her teeth together, 
"It's cold!" She wrapped her arms about her chest to emphasize the point.

Charles moved closer and wrapped an arm about her back, and pressed his side 
into hers. He gave her a small smile then, "This should help keep us warm 
until that sun rises." She grinned back at him, her muzzle dangerously close 
to his.  He then remembered that kiss she'd planted on him earlier, and he 
was half afraid she'd strike again.  Yet, she kept her lips to herself, 
pressing her side into his as well, and slipping her own arm underneath his.

The rat felt slightly uncomfortable at that.  He'd never been this close to 
any other woman but Lady Kimberly, and he'd no intention of being this close 
to any other.  But, this was to help keep them warm, as it was frightfully 
chilly laying there on the bare hilltop, with the wind rising over their fur. 
 And that was all it was to him, two companions huddling together for warmth. 
 "Feeling better?" he asked then.

She favoured him that dimpled smile again, and nodded. "Much better." Her 
eyes turned back towards the fog bank, as it started to yellow with rising 
sun.  Charles watched in rapt fascination as the fog started to glow with the 
dispersed morning sun, looking more like a mound of warm cream melting into 
the groove of the hills they topped, like a delicious biscuit fresh from 
Gregor's ovens back at Metamor.  The glints of light began to make the ice 
gleam brightly, casting ephemeral light about them on all sides, reflecting 
it subtly even into the dense thickets.  The two animal morphs huddled 
together for several minutes more as they watched dawn bring light into 
Metamor Valley once more.


As the scouts had reported, the area around the bridge was respectably 
guarded.  Groups of six or seven Lutins circled the area at the South end of 
the long wooden bridge, accompanied by at least two of their arctic hounds.  
Ten Lutins stood sentinel at each end, bearing spears of crude but 
serviceable make, as well as hatchets and an assortment of stolen iron 
daggers.  Over the chasm, the long wooden bridge spanned, with one central 
support descending into the darkness below.  A few Lutins patrolled across 
it, though they usually stopped midway to see how long it took their spit to 
reach the bottom.

Angus set his ponderous form behind the tree trunk, nestled in the midst of 
snow covered branches.  Despite his bulk, he had little trouble climbing the 
natural towers, though he did find it tricky at times seeking out trees with 
branches wide enough to support his weight without buckling.  As it was, he 
was only twenty feet from the ground, but it had been enough to gain him a 
good view of the Lutin forces, as they milled about.

Taking a deep breath, he fixed his claws into the ice covered bark, and began 
to slide down the slippery oak, shivers of white glistening from his black 
claws as he descended.  He held on tight with his legs though, keeping his 
descent both slow down quiet enough so as not to attract attention.  Though 
he easily could have had one of his subordinates go up to take a look, he 
always preferred to do this sort of task himself. And no one was likely to 
argue with a three hundred pound badger either.

Lord Avery waited while the badger wiped the snow from his sleeves after 
landing with a silent thump in the thick snowdrift.  The grey squirrel was 
grey no longer, his fur a snow white from the powder, his dark eyes shone 
like pebbles against them.  They were four standing in the snow so close to 
the bridge they wished to destroy.  The rest of their men waited several 
minutes back, while they went ahead and made one last survey before their 
plan of attack was set.  Garigan stood next to the noble, two wicked daggers 
clutched firmly in his paws, while to his left was Alldis, whose wide rack of 
antlers threatened to catch the squirrel's tail as it flitted anxiously from 
side to side.

"It doesn't appear as if they've changed any of their patterns from 
yesterday.  Ten men at the at the end of the bridge, two groups of scouts 
patrolling the woods.  An equal number on the opposite side, though it will 
take a minute to cross once they know what is happening." Angus spoke in a 
low gravely voice, keeping his head close to the ground to further muffle the 

Lord Avery nodded, and then began to absently gnaw at the end of his long 
bow.  He quickly stopped himself, affording only a slight moue from 
embarrassment before speaking. "Let's kill the scouts first, as quietly as 

Alldis shook his head, "They have hounds.  They'll start baying as soon as 
they smell us."

The ferret let his eyes trial between the three of them, but held his tongue 
in check.  Brian Avery though bore an amused expression. "True enough.  We 
should give them something to bay at though.  There are many animals in these 
woods, and we are certainly animals after all."

The deer scowled unpleasantly as he found the Lord of the Glen's eyes upon 
him. "The last time we used that tactic, they shot the animal full of arrows 
if you recall."

Brian nodded. "I know, but it is probably the only way we can take out those 
scouts without the rest of their party realising what we have done.  Let's 
regroup with the others, and then I'll want you to be our animal for us, 
Alldis.  I know it is a great deal to ask, but-"

"But I am going to do it anyway," the deer morph affirmed, bowing his head 

Angus gave his friend a comradely pat on the back as they retraced their 
steps through the snowbound earth, a good distance from the road.  Garigan 
slunk off ahead, eyes darting this way and that as he slipped between the 
trees. They were tighter packed here than at Glen Avery, as they were much 
shorter, and thinner.  Even so, a few giants rose up among them, stretching 
upwards to the sky itself, though none were large enough to build a home in, 
as had been done at the Glen.

The return trip to their comrades waiting in the woods lustered between the 
trees, and in most cases, invisible amongst them, was uneventful.  The Lutin 
patrols stayed close to the bridge, preferring to run as close to the road as 
possible.  The Glenners though were at home in the woods, and even though 
most of them had never been this far from their home, they still walked among 
the trees as spirits riding upon the wind.  Only as they were so used to 
their own techniques were they able to even spot the guard of archers that 
had nestle in the crooks of branches all around their temporary camp, and 
even then, Angus was certain that he missed at least half of them!

When Lord Avery motioned for the others to approach, shapes materialised from 
the woods, as if they had just been created out of the trees themselves.  
Even those who had only been living with them for less than a year had become 
skilled, like the ermine Fellen who was suddenly at the badger's back, 
thumbing the pommel of his mein gauche.  Angus waited, giving the short 
musteline a firm pat on the shoulder, glancing from side to side as his 
friends made peace with whichever gods they worshipped.

"There are two groups of patrols, and we need to silence those first.  Alldis 
will distract the hounds, so you should be able to kill the Lutins quickly.  
The Lutins at the bridge must not know we are here until we attack them 
directly.  Archers, you will come with me to hide in the trees near the 
bridge.  The rest of you will go with Angus and Garigan to kill these Lutins. 
 It is nearly noon, so Burris should be at the bridge soon.  If we can take 
it before he arrives, all the better.  Now, let us fight for the Glen!"

Though Lord Avery's voice barely rose above a whisper, the last statement 
felt as if it had been shouted directly into their hearts.  Angus could 
barely contain his pride.  Fighting for his home was one of the greatest joys 
he could think of.  Drawing his thick blade into one paw, gripping it 
tightly, and feeling the weight responding kind, a grin began to cross his 
features.  The badger did not enjoy battle for its own sake, rather, he was 
charged by the love of his homeland, and hatred for all those who would 
destroy it.

His group consisted of roughly six other Glenners, including Fellen.  He 
watched for a moment as Alldis rubbed the snow across his muzzle and arms, 
removing the powder rather quickly.  He did not stay to watch his friend 
undress and shift.  Instead, he tasted the wind, and began to lead his group 
to the left of the road, circling far out into the thick woods, his men close 
behind.  The archers were already lost to sight far above in the trees, mov
ing between them as innocuously as normal squirrels might.

The stink of Lutins permeated the air.  Aside from this glaring fact, the 
patrols were decent soldiers among the Lutins, making little noise, and 
hardly talking amongst themselves as most were inclined to do, sharing bawdy 
jokes and the usual assortment of boasts and mischief.  If it were not for 
their foul scent, Angus was certain that he would have had a difficult time 
moving his men in behind them and their hounds.  As it was, they crept up on 
the unsuspecting patrol, weaving in and out of the trees, their blades ready 
and yearning to taste flesh.

A flash of brown from one side caught his eye, and with a bit of a wry grin 
on his muzzle, the badger knew that Alldis was doing his best to attract the 
hounds.  And he did a marvellous job, as the poorly trained dogs began 
yapping and straining at the leashes to chase the deer, galloping through the 
woods.  Several of the Lutins swore at their animals, even as the Glenners 
crept up behind them.

Angus was the first to reach them, followed by Fellen and a stoat.  He 
plunged the thick end of his blade into the first Lutin's neck, and grabbed 
another with one hairy paw, and snapped its neck with a single twist.  Fellen 
slid the mein gauche across one of the green-skinned throats, spilling the 
black blood across its studded armour and onto the mounds of disturbed snow 
below. After the first three of the seven were dead, the other four began to 
take notice, and one of them almost managed to cry out, but his voice was cut 
short when an arrow suddenly protruded from his warty lips, struck from some 
unseen perch among the trees.  

Their master's now dead, the hounds, still intent on the deer, ran after it, 
their leashes bouncing along behind them as a horse's pinions might after its 
rider had been dislodged.  They could hear a bit of laughter from the bridge 
as the deer and the hounds bounded along down the road.  Angus waited 
quietly, standing amidst the dead bodies, listening to that laughter, hoping 
not to hear the sound of iron being drawn.  Yet, only the laughter continued, 
and it was followed by the silence of the thick woods, save for the baying 
hounds receding down the road.

 End part 57
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