11 03 09 - The Slave Line grows...
Location: Mossflower Wood, near Redwall.
Characters: Madison and Rhydderch.
No snow. That's a good thing... and quite possibly the only good thing at all right now. At /all/. She should have known Kasto wasn't going to get better - miraculous recoveries just don't happen. But why did he have to die when he did? Just after she shattered all of his dreams by saying she didn't love him. It feels like her fault he died, when in reality it was his fault that she nearly lost her life. But she sheds no tears. She's been through this before. She can deal with it... just deal. Run away, pretend he never was real. Madison has thrown caution to the winds, the earthbound squirrel having to use her cane as she has walked for so long that her limp is becoming more pronounced. Her eyes are dry but wide, expression stony, armored against the world as she heads to Redwall with abandon, and no intention of actually entering. Can't go in there again.
- The forest whispers, a cool breeze rustling the naked branches above, a last sigh from a winter slowly fading. No snow, and just a hint of warmth makes travelling easier, but the quiet and time to think can play havoc with the psycholigical scars of beasts. Too much thinking, too much silence, they can drive one mad unless they can be roused from it, from the brooding. Here then, along the winding, near non-exstant path, the smell of woodsmoke reachoes a nose, just a hint at first, then getting stronger. Woodsmoke, and the scent of food cooking; a homely simple things. And then, carrying amongst thebranches and treetrunks, a cheerful, whistling tune.
Madison knows all too well the dangers of being left alone with oneself, the squirrel almost tired even of the act of thinking - every time she does, she seems to only shake a little more. Eventually, the reckless squirrel detects the smell of woodsmoke - if she were more composed, she would take care to detect what was cooking, and if the scent of roasing meat would signal an early warning. But she doesn't, the squirrel instead torn between stubborn solitude and the dire need for company. While every bit as stubborn as she always was, the squirrel is somehow more vulnerable... reluctantly in some ways, she heads toward the sound of whistling, leaning on her cane as she does so.
- Closer and closer, and still the tune plays. It's a lilting, happy ditty, rising and falling and occasionally stopping for a sudden thunking noise. One can see why through the trees, before she is spotted. There's a short, somewhat round figure in a bright green cloak chopping a few chunks of kindling with a small handaxe, his back to the squirrel. Though, it must be said that the smell from his fire is a good one - there's a tell-tale tang to cooking meat, a certain scent that cannot be mistaken, but here there is none. There's just a small blackened iron pot hanging over the fire, bubbling contentedly, smelling of forest herbs and greens. Fora second, one might think the figure n green a fox, but as he thunks the axe into a tree trunk and trundles over to his fire, the white and red of his fur makes sense - a stoat. A smiling, whistling Stoat in a jaunty set of emerald grene clothes.
Madison wanders upon the scene almost in a dreamlike fashion, her paws moving branches aside in what appears to be slow motion, until she spies the figure. And that's when it shows: The squirrel is... well, let's tell it from the perspective of her old, more cynical self: You're stupid, Harley Madison. Living for two seasons in an abbey where foxes and ferrets can wander freely has made you soft. And that's true... the squirrel's current state, coupled with that 'tolerance' removes much of the caution ingrained in her, aided by the apparent cheerfulness of the stoat. So she steps by the last of the branches into the scene, standing in silence, shoulders hunched, posture and gaze both wary. Like the old Madison, but more vulnerable... and a little more portly.
Rhydderch takes a seat at the fire, back to Madison and shunts a few sticks of kindling under the pot, leaning forward to stir it with a stick. He's stopped whistling and now all there is is the crackle and pop of the fire, and of the trees dancing to the tune the wind plays overhead. It is an idyllic scene, almost, but for the weapons in plain sight. Funny thing is though, the axe is stuck in the tree a good dozen paces from the Stoat, and that little shortspear of his is leaning against a canvas lean-to opposite the fire from him. Rhydderch grins to himself, the leering quirk of his lips hidden from sight. Oh yess, they always come... especially around this place. Everyone is always so jolly, eh? Heh. He leans back just a bit, and holds up one red paw, a small wodden bowl in there. "I've enough fer two?" he asks in a hopeful voice... like one might ask to a beast holing a knife to their back, in the hopes that they won't get harmed.
Madison probably has a little voice representing herself two seasons past that is screaming at her: it's a set up, you idiot! That's a stoat! How she has changed, and hardly for the better as - with some caution, though greatly reduced - she limps into the clearing, murmuring a small, "H'lo." to show she means no harm.
Rhydderch eases a glance over his shoulder, looking worried for just a moment, then his face breaking in a warm grin. "Phwah! Hullo to yer aswell! Does me'eart good taesee asquirrel astead'o vermin, aye." he says, his voice a pleasant if somewhat rapid brogue. "An how'syer doin' this foine day, m'lady?" he asks, motioning for the squirrel to join him at the fire, though not bothering to get up. After all, he wouldn't want her to get the wrong impression... the only weapons he's got are opposite the fire, after all. He offers the small bowl to her, "I've a wee broth 'ere, ifn ye wannae share, tis quite good, if thin, aye? Tell me, what brings yer out'ere?" he asks.
If the squirrel had been handed the bowl two seasons ago, she would have... well, she'd have told him to cram it up his nose and left. Or checked it for poison and such... if she'd cared enough to do so. This Madison doesn't even bat an ear at the vermin's distrust of vermin. Her stomach gives a timely rumble, and she nods. "Thank you." Heh. Manners. Chump. After a sip, "I'm..." she shrugs, falling back on an old phrase, "...Running away."
Rhydderch gives a little chuckle as she takes the offered bowl, ladling out some of the broth to her - it is pretty thin it must be said, but there's some dried peas and carrots in it, looks like, and some spruce nettles a well. Bush soup, really, but the stoat seems to enjoy it well enough, taking a ladlefull himself and blowing on the hot broth before taking a sip. His smile fades as the squirrelmaid's words sink in, his brow furrowing a bit. He lets the silence hang for a long moment, then softly, and it must be said with a aire of the truly interrested, he asks, "Whyfor?"
Madison gives a shrug, and another sip, the squirrel apparently too distressed or hurried to have packed any food for herself. She can deal with the soup, and actually finds the taste quite agreeable, having figuratively killed all but one taste bud with seasons of herbal abuse. "Long story." Try really long.
Rhydderch ahhs and nods softly, swirling his bowl gently and frowning into the fire. "Well, I'll nae be one tae pry. Tis a hardroad fer many'o beasts, and I be no stranger tae such." the stoat says, nodding slowly and drinking some more. It can be said that it's hard to see this stoat having a hard time at it - his clothing is of a very good weave, the light armour he wears kept pristine, and the rotund belly he sports hints of good food. "Aye, many'o story traveles my ears out in these'ere woods. Terrible business fer many." he nods. "Me name by Rhydderch, by kindness may I ask of yours?"
Madison should notice it really. All the signs are there, from his actually being vermin, to his overly friendly attitude, to his conflicting frugal living and yet apparent prosperity. But she's weary, and evidently not in her right mind. But what's new? She nods in reply, only giving a single word, "Madison."
- Ah, but it's enough to throw most beasts. The trick to it all, really, is that he's always alone, so no one ever really feels they should get away from him. Always works out in his favour. "A pleasure to meet yet, Madison, truly 'tis. And 'ere's ter ye never needin' tae run again." the Stoat says, ladling himself out a second helping of the soup. Quite good stuff, even if he does say so hisself; the spruce nettles was something new, but it worked out loverly. he gulps down his second hlping and leans back with a characteristic cheerful grin, "I ply trade in gold'n silver meself nowadays. Tis a fine way tae go." he says, making conversation.
Madison nods just a little - she used to be so brilliant at sneaky one-liners, her alarm bells should have been ringing at those words, the not needing to run, but no. She sips, and sips again, not really growing more at ease, but... more off-guard, certainly. "I've hardly ever even seen any gold and silver." she makes an effort to further the conversation somehow.
Rhydderch nods, "Tis rare enough fercertain, but abeast ken cater tae the Abbeysmiths on occasion - fancy gear and the like, though they's more oft thrifty. More often in the bigger cities and on the seas." offers the Stoat, lifting a paw to his neck and drawing out a chain woven from silver links, "Tis a trick ta get fer certain, but ye'll get th'ang o it quick enough... might be yer leg pose trouble, though." he stoat says thoughtfully, rubbing a chin. Then just shrugs and flashes a white-toothed smile, "Ah well, yer look'n like a tough Squirrel, ifn y'don't mind me a'sayin." he says, grinning to Madison.
Madison nods a little, and is silent. The squirrel completely misses the blatant meaning of the stoat's words, and it's only when he flashes that grin that she recounts them in her mind. It becomes clear that she finally understands, as her eyes widen, and her paw reaches down to her side for her cane. An action that would have been calm despite the urgency previously is now rather haphazard.
Rhydderch just keeps smiling from his side of the fire. The only move he makes is to offer another ladlefull of the broth to the squirrel... as if he didn't just balantly tell her that she was going to make her a slave. There's no poison here, no knockout drugs smeared on the bowl, no... nothing of the sort. There's just an unarmed stoat, grinning over a fire like an old friend. "Come no, no need tae get all sore about it. As I had said; tis a hardlife fer many'o beast. Just so happens yers'll be gettin' a wee bit harder."
Madison's eyes flick this way and that at the stoat's psychological warfare, so to speak, his contrast of words and actions, perhaps designed to unease and confuse. With Madison they seem to have a somewhat different effect. Maybe it's the final straw, maybe it's a worthy challenge, or deja vu, but in her mind, there's a click. Something just... goes. Oh, it lacks the conviction she used to have, and there's a clear waver to her voice showing fear, but the delivery and the words themselves are of a Madison not seen in... two seasons. "Perhaps... though by the look of you, you could do with a little physical work yourself."
- The retort hangs in the air for a second, and the Stoat just sort of sits there. A second passes. He blinks. Then he rolls backwards a bit with a snort and breaks out into a laugh. It is disconcerting, grating on the nerves the way he behaves - his laugh is a good one, a jolly, good-natured laugh any woodlander would have from a good joke. he lets the ladle sink into the pot and wipes the back of a paw over his nose, grinning. "Ho! Fire inyer belly! I like that, that I do, truly!" he says. Then his cheerful grins hardens, just that tiny bit; the glint in his eyes just turning that tiny bit flinty, "But I got slaves tae do th'ard work fer me."
Madison is of two seperate minds on how she feels - on one paw, she thought she just wouldn't care if anything happened to her out here, and part of her doesn't. But part of her is, that "human" side that causes her paws to shake and tremble as she realizes what's going on. Weakling. She moves to stand regardless, looking down at the stoat. "I bet you send them on a run and call that your exercise, right?" she, warily, moves to leave. "Thanks for the soup." There's more than just fire in her belly, there's also that old spark, dim, but present, lighting up her eyes with energy and wariness... and a fair bit of cynicism.
Rhydderch ahhs and braces himself on one arm, grinning to Madison as she moves to leave, "Ach, nooo. They work in me mines. That's plenty o'ard work for em down there. I'm not really a 'cruel' slaver... compared to most, anyways. i don't go outo me way tae hurt and abuse. Actually, tis quite a nice place, compared tae some slavecamps, aye." he says. The axe is there, glinting on the tree, and the spear even further from the stoat, and he doesn't even twitch a muscle to go and get them. "Yer quite welcome, but I'm afraid yer not gonna be leavin' me 'ospitality, me lovely squirrelmaid."
Madison shrugs, "Sounds like hell." she replies cheerfully, though it's not clear as to which part of his speech she's replying to, either the mines or his hospitality. "If I had a hat, I'd doff it. But I'm sure a poor depressed cripple is of no use to anyone. Excuse me." she again moves to leave.
Rhydderch sighs and shakes his head, "Always, they try taegettup'n leave. They never quite gettit, hey, one lone fat Stoat, tryin' ter capture slaves? That'd no go far." he clears his throat and raises his head, calling after Madison, all cheer, "Madison, me lovely! I daresay yer should glance upwards for a moment! A branch, two trees ahead o' ye, about three beasts high!" he says, and busies himself with his soup, taking another ladeleful. Mmmn, quite good, quite good... some barleybread would go lovely with it, he must remember that next time.
Madison does stop, and about-turn. But before she looks up with that arrogance betrayed by shaking limbs, she replies, "If I see a net and a tripwire, then you really aren't scoring any points with me on originality." that done, she raises her head.
- "Oh, nothing so dumb, me lovely!" calls the stoat. He grins. The grey rat huddled against the branch in a mottley grey and black cloak doesn't grin through. Dull black eyes glare down at Madison, baleful and emotionless. He's staring down a length of oak, a crossbow reinforced with iron, a black iron tip levelled at the sqiuirrelmaid's middle. "Longtails are notorious for their lack of subtlety, don't you worry!" Rhydderch calls from the fire, slurping noisily on soup. "Now don't try and run... there's half a dozen of em all around'ere, all of em quite good with those there flatbows..."
Madison should be breaking down and crying, and begging for mercy upon seing the archers. And the pathetic thing is, as recently as yesterday she would have. Part of her still wants to. But that spark is back, and despite her evident fear - only suppressed so much because she is trying to /not/ think about what's about to happen - she looks to the stoat. "'Don't try and run'? That's /really/ insensitive of you."
Rhydderch sniggers, winking once, "I admit I'm norrall that great at being kind. But yer get the idea. Come now, time tae getcher locked up tight and cozy, we'll be movin' soon."