[Vfw-times] MK Winter assault part 77

COkane8116 at aol.com COkane8116 at aol.com
Tue Jan 8 02:47:49 CST 2002

12/27 - 3pm

After what felt like an eternity Charles finally struggled up from the bounds 
of an unwanted sleep, his body sore and resentful at his attempts to rise.  
Blinking into bleary, half-formed surroundings the rat struggled against the 
confining bag that held him fast, pushing the cloth away, but aching at every 
motion.  The greatest pain was across his back, which felt as if a spike had 
been driven into the flesh and sewn in place.  Yet there was one balm, a 
pleasant surcease from his stultified blackness, that smiling face of his 
dulcet lady; the last thing he could remember seeing.

And then, when his feverish images began to coalesce into something coherent, 
he realized that the image he saw was not that of Lady Kimberly, but of that 
opossum whom he had saved from the bridge.  The bridge?  Yes, the one that he 
and the Glenners had gone to destroy.  What had happened to it?  He had lain 
over Baerle as it began to collapse and then terrible agony had filled him, 
then nothing; darkness.  Where was he?

Suddenly the blackness was sucked from his eyes as he bolted upright from the 
convulsing phantasms of his unconscious self.  Blinking wide, his eyes stared 
at a small room shorn from rock, braziers lining the walls casting the place 
in a friendly amber glow.  Looking down at his paws before him he found that 
he was lying in a bed, covered by thick quilts.  Over his chest were bandages 
wrapped tightly around his ribs.  He reached up to gingerly press against 
them and grimaced, a dull throbbing pain resounding through him.

Obviously Charles realised that he was back at Glen Avery, but what had 
happened?  He turned to climb from the bed but the pain in his back sent him 
falling back onto the pillow in a terrible exhaustion, his breath stolen by 
the sudden ache.  His tongue lolled form his mouth as he panted, the heat of 
even trying to move that much enervating him completely.  The falling timbers 
must have injured him more than he had realized; he was probably lucky to 
still be alive in fact.  But what about the others?  Surely they did not go 
unscathed in that bridge's angry fall?

His question was answered a moment later, at least in part, when he heard a 
shifting behind him, a creak of old wood, much like a chair.  Charles put one 
elbow beneath him, and with a grunt and a heavy breath, rolled over onto his 
side and peered over his pillows at the figure behind him.  Slouched over in 
one of Lars' chairs from the brewery was the same grey-furred opossum whose 
face he had seen in his dreams.  Baerle was reluctantly sleeping, her narrow 
snout resting on one of her small paws, the long white claws slicing through 
the fur of her muzzle and whiskers.  Most of the white powder still clung to 
her in patches and there were splinters of wood still imbedded in her fur 
from the collapse of the bridge.

Charles could not help but afford a small smile.  She had been watching over 
him as he lay here ever since he had been brought back, not even taking the 
time to refresh herself.  His chest felt a bit lighter at that despite how 
uncertain she had made him feel the previous day.  He could almost feel that 
impromptu kiss on his muzzle, and he had to suppress a chuckle as his ribs 
groaned with the very thought of it.  He wondered idly why she had played 
with him during that voyage, but found no immediate answer that made sense to 

He did not have much time to ponder such matters, however, before the opossum 
stirred, her long white tail gripping the chair leg tightly.  Yawning, she 
stretched her arms out wide and blinked drowsiness from her eyes. She then 
saw that the rat was awake and watching her, a small smile crisscrossing his 
whiskered muzzle, and so returned the expression, her dimpled cheeks casting 
a glow upon her face that the braziers could not match. "Ah, you're awake," 
she said, her voice smooth, relieved. "We were wondering if you were ever 
going to recover."

Charles nodded and leaned back into his pillows. "What happened?  How badly 
was I hurt?"

"You broke four ribs," she said reproachfully. "You almost died on the way 
back to the Glen, you know." Her voice was slightly accusing, as if his 
injuries were entirely his fault.

"Four?" Charles murmured, pressing his fingers up against the white bandages 
and wincing.  He kept running them along the shape of his chest though, but 
could not feel any twisted bones, or bones in places they shouldn't be.

"Burris used his magic to mend them, but they're still weak, so you are going 
to have to stay here for a while." Baerle said, bringing the chair around to 
the side of the bed so that they could talk without the rat straining himself 
to look back at her.

"I've never had four broken before." Charles murmured, as if proud of his 
injuries.  Baerle scowled at him as he said that and swatted one of his round 
ears with a paw.

"Don't you think about it."

"Think about what?" Charles asked innocently even as he tried to sit up, 
holding his paws up before his face to ward off any more swats.

"Going back out to fight.  You're in no condition to leave this room until 
those ribs heal." Charles wondered if she'd used the same routine on her 
father while he was still alive.  

"But I'm very useful, and it really isn't that bad," Matthias grunted as he 
shifted back onto his elbows.

Baerle snorted indignantly, her tail lashing about behind her. "Men!  Anson 
said almost the exact same thing, and all he did was break a leg.  You can't 
even sit up and you think you are ready to go out fighting again.  You'd be 
dead in five minutes if you tried.  You are staying in this bed until I say 
you can leave."

Charles groaned, and lay back down on the pillow, panting once again.  He 
hated to admit it, but she was right; he was in no shape to help his friends 
in whatever was to happen next.  Nodding slowly, he sighed and acquiesced, 
"You're right, I ought to recover more before I go back out.  But I am going 
to go back out, and soon.  I just need to get used to the pain first.  I'll 
be fine after that."

Baerle put a finger to his chest as he tried to rise again and he gasped, 
collapsing back on the bed, his dark eyes wide from the sudden pain that had 
flooded him. "Oh, is that all you have to do?" she asked archly, her eyes 
imperious, yet there was something else behind them that the rat could not 
yet identify.

"I said you were right," Matthias spluttered, gasping once more for breath, 
each inhalation causing a new round of stars to flash inside of his head.  
Closing his yes he rolled into the pillow, welcoming blackness into his mind. 
 Then, with a sudden lance of fear he pushed the darkness away, forcing his 
eyelids open and gazing out past his furry snout towards the opossum who sat 
watching him.  Forcing his breath down, he repeated, "I said you were right."

"Good," she said sternly, before uncrossing her arms and leaning forward, her 
face taking on that mischievous girlish aspect, like the one she had worn 
just after kissing him. "Now, what would you like to talk about?  Is there 
anything you'd like me to do for you?  I used to give my father massages when 
he was sore, if you are interested."

The thought of asking her to give him a massage almost caused him to splutter 
in embarrassment.  Instead, all he managed was a dry cough, hacking for a 
moment or two until he caught his breath again, a thundering ache filling his 
chest and sapping his breath with each ragged cough. "No, thank you." He 
managed to gasp after a moment, waving an impotent hand toward her, "I would 
like to know what happened after the bridge fell, though.  Did everyone make 
it out all right?"

She looked at him curiously, ears pricked forward as she leaned close to hear 
his breathless words.  Impetuously she reached out a paw out to straighten 
the fur atop his head.  Charles was too sore to protest. "Not everyone made 
it okay," she said pointedly, but then added, "but everyone made it.  Anson's 
leg was broken, but he thinks he's fine.  Lady Avery is making sure he gets 
his rest.  A few of Angus's men have cuts and bruises, but otherwise we 
managed remarkably well.  We even have Baron Calephas for a prisoner!"

Charles blinked several times, trying to sit up in surprise until his chest 
convinced him that was an unwise move.  Baerle continued to stroke her claws 
across his head between his saucer-shaped ears, and he had to admit it was 
very comforting.  He thought of the times that Lady Kimberly had done the 
same for him while they were lying out underneath the summer sun in one of 
the Keep's gardens.  He hoped that she was all right, but even the thought of 
her filled him with worry.

However, it was short-lived, as the news that Baerle brought was great 
indeed. "Truly?  That is a major coup then.  How did we mange that?"

The opossum shrugged as she leaned close to him, her scent filling his 
nostrils.  Was it just his imagination, or did her subtle scent seem entirely 
too receptive?  Shaking such distracting thoughts from his mind he focused on 
her voice instead. "I'm not sure exactly how, I've been watching over you 
since you managed to hurt yourself, but I do know that his own sergeants 
turned traitor on him."

"What's being done with him?"

"Lord Avery and Angus interrogated him, I believe.  You know how intimidating 
Angus can be sometimes." After Charles gave a mild chuckle that did not end 
in a hacking spasm of coughs, Baerle went on, "His sergeants gave us their 
weapons, and so are unarmed for now, but otherwise I think they are free to 
come and go as they please.  They're both big men though.  It would take four 
of you to make one of them, I think!"

"I've seen Northerner's before, they are gigantic." Charles agreed.

"They're helping our men make new weapons right now, I think.  At least that 
is what Amelia told me when she came in with fresh linens for you a few hours 

Charles studied her, his own face quizzical. "Fresh linens?  Why would I need 

Baerle laughed sprightly at that, and cocked her head to one side. "You've 
been bedridden for almost a day now.  You can't very well use your chamber 
pot lying down can you?"

"Oh." Charles said, flushing once more in embarrassment.  He gingerly lifted 
his sheets with one paw, and peered down, which only caused the opossum to 
laugh again. "Oh dear."

"Don't worry, I cleaned you up.  I've had to do it for my father for years 
now a well."

The rat flushed even more, his whiskers standing out to their tips as his 
ears backed in consternation.  She'd cleaned him up, which meant she'd 
touched him down there.  Nobody had ever touched him down there in years, not 
even Lady Kimberly!  He wished he hadn't asked about the sheets now, as he 
would have been perfectly happy remaining ignorant of the entire affair.  At 
the very least, Charles could console himself that this was nothing special 
for her, as she had done it for her father after all.  Yet for some reason, 
he felt she derived a secret amount of delight from taking care of him like 
this, and he could not understand why.

So he turned the conversation back in directions that he felt were less 
compromising for him. "Why do you need to build more weapons, I thought you 
had plenty here."

"We did," she said, her face taking on the serious rote once more. "But 
Nasoj's forces swept down on us so fast, we weren't able to stockpile them in 
sufficient numbers.  We have enough swords and daggers, but many of our 
longer bows were broken."

"So you are trying to repair them?" Charles asked, though for some reason he 
doubted that, as he was vaguely aware the difficult process involved in 
shaping a bow.

"No, silly, we are using the pieces for what we can.  The snapped strings 
make wonderful garrottes, very good for taking out sentries."

"What do they want to use all this for?  We've taken out the supply line, so 
now what can we do?" He queried as he propped himself slowly up on his elbows 

Baerle leaned forward again and tapped a claw on his pink nose. "You can stay 
in bed and rest," she said pointedly, pressing that claw down, making the 
rat's whiskers twitch uncomfortably. "As for the others, I think that Lord 
Avery wants to help save Metamor.  I think they're going to attack Nasoj's 
forces from the rear as soon as they can force Baron Calephas to talk."

Charles's eyebrows arched in surprise and he found himself trying to rise 
once more, the pain in his chest filling him again though he did his best to 
ignore it. "If we are going to help Metamor, I have to be there, it's my 

But once again the opossum simply pressed her claws into his ribs, and with a 
grunt he fell back onto the pillow, breathing heavily.  She waited several 
moments, shaking her head down at him.  With her watching over him like this 
he knew that he was not likely to join in the fight until she thought he was 
ready.  Yet, despite that, there was sympathy in her eyes this time. "You'll 
be no good to us when we do go, not like this.  You'd delay us at every turn, 
and where would we be then, hmm?"

Charles closed his eyes as he continued to catch his breath.  Finally, after 
the agony had left his bones, returning to that dull throbbing that was 
bearable, he answered her in despairing tones. "But Metamor is my home!"

"Then why did you come here to fight with us?" The question struck the rat as 
more curious than anything else.

"Because of Garigan, my student.  I promised him that as soon as he reached a 
certain point in his training, he could return to Glen Avery freely.  When we 
found out that the Keep was under attack, he insisted on coming to save his 
home, but I knew that if he tried to come alone he would be caught and 
killed.  So I insisted that I go with him, and so here I am."

"And your human friends?"

"They wanted to come along as well."

She nodded then and leaned back in her chair, tail swinging back and forth 
and rubbing at the polished wood.  Finally she bent down and retrieved 
something from the floor at the rat's bedside.  Matthias watched with keen 
interest, hoping sourly that food was in his near future.  He hated having to 
be waited on like this but, much to his chagrin, Baerle was right. He could 
not do practically anything for himself in his condition.

Yet what she lifted was not anything edible, but the thick black cloth of his 
Sondeckis robe.  She turned it over in her palms, the white of her paw fur 
brighter in contrast.  Finally she managed to draw the heraldry to the top, 
the folds of the robe making the white sword appear bent and the red palm 
crooked, almost like a paw. "You were all wearing robes like these when we 
found you, except that Garigan's was green.  What does this mean?  I've never 
seen anything like it before."

With a sullen pang of irony he realized that Nasoj's attack had forced the 
issue.  He could no longer hide who he was.  The bloody kangaroo was going to 
have his way after all because of this.  Somehow that only made him despise 
his former friend all the more.  However he could only hope that the 
marsupial met an unfortunate end during the attack, as his neck was not here 
for the rat to sink his claws into.

Even so, he still had to answer her question.  Taking a deep breath, and 
thankfully not descending into a coughing fit for having done so, he began, 
"I'm not surprised.  That is the symbol of the mage clan that we four belong 
to.  Well, we aren't officially members as such, and my elders do not even 
know of our ferret.  But that tells others who we are and what we can do."

"You are a mage?" she asked, her voice trembling slightly.

"Not like Burris, or most of the magicians you've seen, certainly.  I can't 
cast any spells in the normal sense of the word.  We have a power born within 
us that lets us use physical force in ways that ordinary men cannot, and most 
mages cannot.  That's how we were able to break the foundation of the bridge, 
because we are stronger than we appear; far stronger."

She traced her claws over the sword, and around the hand. "How can Garigan be 
a member if your elders don't know about him?"

Charles fumbled with his words for a moment. "Well, he isn't technically.  
When I was here last April I saw that he had the power within him, and so I 
took him back with me to Metamor to train him to master it, instead oft he 
other way around."

"His power controlled him?" Baerle asked, her voice mostly curious now, 

"Yes.  Our power feeds on our emotions.  Ask any of his friends here about 
how he was acting before he left for Metamor last April.  He was surly, 
grouchy, and very combative.  You've only seen how he is now."

Baerle shook her head, "Only a little while watching him in the bar.  I 
didn't come to Glen Avery until last June after all."

Charles nodded as he lay against his pillow. "I remember you mentioning that 
before.  Anyway, had I not reined him in his power might possibly have killed 
him, or caused him to harm others.  It won't do that now, he's learned enough 
to keep it under control."

She continued to fold the cloak contemplatively, running he paws across the 
dark fabric, feeling the rough edges of the seam. "Will you be going back to 
Metamor, after?"

"After what?" Charles asked.

"After all this is over, and you've recovered I mean.  Will you take Garigan 
back to Metamor with you?"

"I would like to, yes," Charles admitted.  The truth of the matter was he had 
never even thought that far ahead so far as Garigan was concerned.  Now that 
they were in Glen Avery he had no hold on the ferret, and if he should decide 
to stay how could the rat compel him otherwise?  Reluctantly he added, with a 
painful sigh, "But, that is his decision."

"What of your human friends?  Were they both women before?"

Charles did his best not to laugh though his whiskers twitched with a smile, 
"No, they haven't been touched by the curse yet.  I imagine they'll stay only 
as long as they have to, unless the curse takes them.  I wonder if that 
wouldn't be such a bad thing after all." His voice trailed off as he 
considered what that could mean.  With three black Sondeckis there would be 
little to fear from the Kankoran at least.  He could even give back the 
Sondeshike simply to appease Misha, as it would do Rickkter little good.

Even so he felt slightly ashamed at that line of reasoning.  Misha was his 
friend, somebody he cared deeply about.  And he had betrayed a trust in 
keeping that Sondeshike.  Yet the great unknown was whether he could trust 
Rickkter far enough to let him have the weapon back.  He did not know for 
certain, but he was afraid that he could not.

"And you are going back to the Keep once this over?" she asked finally, her 
voice rather distant.

"Of course, that is my home."

She nodded absently, gently stroking his head fur with one claw.  It was much 
like Lady Kimberly did while they were lying together, he thought.  Even so, 
Baerle's sudden withdrawal did strike the rat as unpleasant, so he scooted up 
a bit under the covers and offered her a pleasant smile. "Were you an archer 
before you came to the Glen?"

She nodded, turning her muzzle to one side, considering the sconce along the 
rough-hewn cavern wall.  The light it cast made dizzying shadows along the 
contours of the cave, always flickering and shifting about him as if they 
were spinning about. "After Nasoj's forces destroyed Mycransburg, I took up 
the bow.  I was only twelve at the time, and hadn't changed yet.  Most of the 
boys my age had been killed in the raze, and as many of the older men who'd 
survived were now women, they let me practise with them.  The bow was the 
only weapon I was really any good at."

"Have you had much chance to use it?"

"More now that I'm here at the Glen than before, but yes, I've killed my fair 
share of Lutins.  They like to raid our farms you know.  Mycransburg is still 
too poorly defended, even after all these years.  I remember the days when I 
would play with one of the ard'Kapler boys out in the rolling fields with the 
cattle, doing our best not to step in the pies.  He was older than me by 
eight years I think, but he was a midget, and hated being around his family.  
He went off to Metamor a year or two before the attack to become a mage I 

Charles grimaced, his breath sucking in warmly. "Wessex," he murmured, 
remembering the dead child's eyes, haunting grey embers that flared with 
maleficent light.

Baerle nodded, turning to face him, muzzle cracking in a dimpled smile, her 
eyes brightening. "Yes, that was his name.  Do you know him?"

"I did," Charles said, looking to that face, so innocent despite all the pain 
that surely she had faced in recent years.  He could not help but feel a 
great compassion for her. "I'm sorry, Baerle, but he's dead."

Her eyes faded then, dark embers dwindling into ash. "Oh," she said, leaning 
back in the chair, her paws settling in her lap negligently. "I'm sorry to 
hear that."

"Not as sorry as I am to have to tell you this.  I wish I could give better 
news to you," Charles reached out a paw from under the quilts and laid it 
atop of hers, gripping them in a comforting touch.  She returned the gesture, 
holding onto his paw, as if it were a sacred treasure, an heirloom that had 
been passed on from a dying elder

"I'd rather know," she said softly, her eyes meeting his again.  There was a 
subtle warmth to them that they shared in that moment of rapport. "How did he 

Charles sucked in his breath, unsure of how to respond.  In all truth he did 
not know who had actually killed the young mage, only that it had been a most 
horrific death, most likely caused by another mage.  To make one undead was 
not easy, and there would have to be an investigation of it when Nasoj was 
finally stopped, if he was at all.  Sighing, he said the only thing that he 
could, "He was one of the first casualties of Nasoj's invasion.  I helped put 
him to rest before coming here.  I'm sure he is somewhere far better now." He 
did not mention that the boy had been a well-known agnostic at the Keep, as 
he did not know to what faith Baerle subscribed.

She nodded solemnly, her gaze descending step by step into a melancholy that 
was tearing at Charles's heart.  There was such a vivacious spirit in her 
that it pained the rat to see it quenched at the loss of an old friend.  He 
had lost too many himself.  Reaching his paw even further, he gently stroked 
it along her arm, offering her his smile yet again. "Baerle, it is all right, 
please don't cry."

She held onto his paw tighter, shaking her head. "I'm not crying!" she 
declared, though her eyes were wet. "I'm not crying," she added, though with 
less conviction than before.

Charles leaned over slightly, his chest groaning in protest.  His other arm 
came around and he gently presses a claw beneath her muzzle, raising her eyes 
to meet his.  "Yes you are." he said, though he did his best to keep a 
certain amount of levity in his voice.

And it proved enough, for her eyes brimmed then as she laughed, her body 
shaking, and her visage bright once more. She patted Charles on the head with 
one paw as she tightly held the other.  Then, not feeling that was enough, 
she leaned over his bedside and wrapped his chest in a gentle hug.  It did 
hurt slightly, but not enough for him to object.  As she drew back up, she 
pressed her muzzle to his, and kissed him quickly. 

"Thank you, Charles." she said, before she laughed again.  Charles's 
expression was once more that of shock, as his nose scrunched up, in 
disbelief that they'd kissed.  "You look really cute like that, you know."

He grunted and lay back on the pillow. He felt his stomach growl at him 
again, as well as another unpleasant sensation a bit lower on his anatomy.  
Grimacing, he patted the top of the quilts for emphasis, "Is there anything I 
can get to eat here?  I haven't eaten in days I think."

She chuckled again and rose from his bedside, her long white tail circling 
one of the chair legs. "Of course, I'll go bring something back in a bit.  
You just rest there, and we can talk more I get back, all right?"

He smiled and nodded, watching her leave out through the doorway at one end 
of the room.  When he heard the soft click of the latch he breathed a sigh of 
relief and tossed back the coverlets.  Aside from the bandage wrapped over 
his chest he was completely naked, but it was not something that embarrassed 
him as much as it used too.  Peering over the edge of the mattress he could 
see where his clothes had been piled and black chamber pot at one corner.

He grinned at that and began to draw himself up into a sitting position.  It 
took quite a bit of energy and by the time he had his legs dangling over the 
end of the bed he was panting again, so weak he had to hold onto the sheets 
to keep from falling back down.  With a ginger push he slowly slipped his 
feet to the cold ground, letting his paws feel the stone beneath them.  He 
kept his arms pressed against the bed for support for he did not think he 
could stand otherwise.

Then, kneeling over the chamber pot he took care of one pressing concern.  It 
felt good knowing that he would not have to worry about Baerle cleaning him 


   End part 77

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