Joshua came up next to Marlin.
“May I help?”
Marlin passed him the knife she was using, and grabbed another for herself.
They made quick work of preparing the meal, and soon Helena was simmering the stew over the old wood stoves hot plate.
Once the stew was ready, Helena ladled the stew into four mouse sized bowls. Gregory busied himself with a loaf of nut bread which he sliced and placed next to each bowl for dipping into the stew.
Marlin laid out the cutlery for the meal and pointed towards the chair nearest her.
“Why don’t you sit there, Joshua?”
Joshua did as he was asked and sat down at the table, as the mouse family served the dinner they had all helped to make.
Soon they were all sitting at the table, and ready to eat.
Gregory dipped his bread into his stew and ripped a piece off of the glistening bread with his teeth.
The others started to eat as well.
Joshua tried the stew, and smiled warmly as the tastes of the vegetables rolled over his tongue.
He began to eat in earnest.
Marlin smiled at him, as she gently spooned a chunk of carrot into her mouth.
“Slow down, Joshua. There’s plenty for you to have. You don’t need to eat it so quickly.”
Joshua blushed and nodded.
“Sorry. It’s just so good.”
“It is good, isn’t it?”
Her parents smiled at the two young animals, as they ate their dinner.
They made quick work of their meal and soon enough the now empty bowls were washed and put away, along with their cutlery.
Gregory closed the cabinet door.
“Why don’t you two go play, and while your mother and I have a chat.”
“Sure thing father. Joshua, do you know how to play tag?”
Joshua shook his head.
“Not really. How do we play?” his voice rasped through the fabric wrapped around his neck.
Marlin offered him a wicked grin, walked up to him, and placed a paw on his shoulder.
“Tag! You’re it. Now chase me until you tag me back.”
She ran off out of the room at full speed.
Joshua looked at Marlin’s parents.
Helena smiled at him.
“Quickly, go get her.”
Joshua ran out of the room smiling widely as he went.
Helena and Gregory sat at the dining table and began to have their discussion.
Marlin ran out of the kitchen, through the back door, and down the alleyway leading out behind their home.
Joshua soon followed, catching up to her quickly with his much longer legs.
They ran through the alleyway, right up until Joshua laid his paw on Marlin’s back and yelled out in great cheer.
“Tag! You’re it!”
Marlin stopped, stooping breathlessly, with a grin from whisker to whisker on her face.
“You got me. Now how about we play hide and seek?
Joshua shook his head.
“How do we play that?”
“I count to twenty, and you run and hide. Then I come looking for you. Simple as that.”
“Is twenty a lot?”
Marlin looked at him incredulously as well as with a small amount of pity
“It’s plenty, Joshua. I’m going to close my eyes, and you run off and try to hide from me.”
Joshua wasted no time and bounded down the alleyway, passing by the back door they had just recently come out of.
Marlin counted out loud, until she was ready, opened her eyes, and saw nothing but an empty alleyway.
She walked through the alley, running her eyes over everything she could, but could not find the stoat anywhere.
Marlin came to the street that joined the alleyway, and searched in both directions for her new friend, but could not find him.
After fifteen minutes of determined searching, she began to call out for him.
“You did it Joshua. You beat me. I have no idea where you could be.”
She walked by an empty dirt lot, it’s high wooden fencing hiding it from view.
“Why don’t you come out and show me where you found such a fine hiding place.”
As she passed the corner of the lot, she could hear faint sniggering coming from the other side.
Marlin found a hole within on of the boards, and lowered her eye to it.
In the corner, the shape of Joshua could be seen, as he tried to look through a gap in the fence without giving away his position.
“Aha!” she yelled, as she laid eyes on him “I found you, you rascal.”
Joshua jumped a little as Marlin’s voice surprised him.
He climbed over the fence expertly and dropped down next to her.
“You got me. Is it my turn to look for you?”
“Yes, but you don’t have to count out loud if you don’t want to. Just wait for me to hide, and then come looking for me.”
Joshua nodded sheepishly.
“I don’t really know my numbers. I’ll do as you said. Be quick about it. I’m sure you won’t find a better hiding spot than I did.”
“I bet I will.”
She ran off down the street, and disappeared from view.
Joshua counted in his head as best he could, and soon was searching for her.
Marlin rounded the corner of the street and was soon at the front door of her parents shop again. She ran around to the back of the building and found her parents waiting for her. They called her inside.
“Marlin, we have something we want to discuss with you, right now,” said Gregory, wrapping his paw around her shoulder, and leading her in through the door.
Joshua searched the neighborhood for the better part of forty minutes before finally admitting defeat and heading back towards the back door of the mouse’s house. The door was open when he arrived, and he walked in feeling no small amount of defeat at not being able to find Marlin.
He was surprised to find her, and her parents, waiting for him at the dining table. Marlin had a serious look on her face, and both her parents were smiling at Joshua as he came into the room.
“So, this is where you were. No wonder I couldn’t find you.” His voice rasped mechanically as he pursed his lips in mock frustration.
Marlin shook her head.
“Sorry. Mother and Father needed to talk to me. I was just about to go out and start looking for you.”
Helena motioned to the chair nearest Joshua.
“Have a seat, dear. We have some things we need to talk to you about.”
Joshua looked worried but sat down as he was told.
“What’s up?” asked Joshua, as concern crossed his furry features.
Marlin cleared her throat and clasped her paws together in a dignified manner.
“We’ve been talking and we’ve got something to ask you.”
Her eyes rose to meet his.
Marlin wrung her paws together before taking a breath and speaking quickly.
“We were wondering if you’d want to come stay with us? Here, at our home.”
Joshua blinked twice, raised his paw, and lowered it to his lap once again.
“You want me to live with you?”
The mouse family nodded their heads.
“We thought you might like a nice bed to sleep on, instead of—what you showed me today?” said Marlin.
Joshua looked from one mouse’s face to another, and flashed a wide toothy grin before looking uncertain.
“You really mean it? You’re not just messing with me?”
Helena shook her head.
“Yes dear. We do mean it. We have space enough to give you a bed, and a roof over your head, and the stores being doing well enough that you wouldn’t harm us in anyway from staying with us.”
Joshua clapped his paws together, so full of joy and excitement he could barely contain himself.
“I would be honored!”
Gregory and the others smiled.
“That’s fantastic! We thought we might even help you with some tutoring, same as Marlin.”
“It’s the least we could do for a brave stoat such as yourself. Especially for what you did saving Marlin today.”
“Happy to help. Gosh. Do you mind if I go and bring my stuff from my home—my old home, with me?”
Marlins parents nodded.
Helena opened her arms and held out her paws, palm up.
“That would be fine, wouldn’t it dear?”
Gregory smiled and nodded.
“I’m sure Marlin will be happy to help you bring your stuff here, while we get your bed and room sorted.”
Joshua looked awe struck.
“I get my own room? I can’t believe it!”
“It’s small, an old storage room of ours—but it will do as your room. I’ve already started clearing out the bolts of cloth that filled it.”
Joshua enthusiastically nodded his head, all too happy to hear about his new room.
“Can we go right now? I could have my stuff packed away in a few minutes.”
Now it was Marlin’s turn to nod.
“Let’s get going then. Let me grab a bag so I can help carry stuff with you, and we’ll have you home with us before morning.”
Joshua jumped up from his seat, and ran to the door, as Marlin did the same right behind him.
They went to Marlin’s room, where she found her travel bag, and soon they were out the door and walking merrily through the darkened streets towards Joshua’s soon to be previous home.
The two of them made it to the warehouse in record time, and after a furtive glace in both directions down the empty street, were soon through the fence and standing inside Joshua’s tent. He quickly began stuffing his meager belongings in the bag Marlin had brought, and even with his blanket rolled up and stuffed inside, it barely felt full. They exited the lean to, and he began to undo the knots that held the red fabric of the door way to what had been his home for these past years.
The fabric securely removed, he flipped it over and held it up to Marlin.
On the side facing her was a large orange star, with three faces of the moon underneath it. The fabric was a flag of some kind.
“It’s the flag of my family. My father had the thought to wrap me in in case I succumbed to my injuries, that if someone found me they might have buried me with it.”
“It’s very nice. Maybe you could hang it on the wall in your room.”
Joshua perked up immensely at the thought.
“I think I will,” he said, as he folded the flag into a small bundle and tucked it safely in Marlin’s bag.
Marlin motioned to the tent.
“Do you want to take any of the rest of this down with you?”
Joshua shook his head.
“No. I’ll leave this for someone else to stay dry in. It’s the least I could do.”
Marlin nodded and turned towards the alley.
“We’d better get back as soon as we can. I’m sure my parents have cleared out your room by now. Father has probably got something nice and soft sorted for your bed.”
“You think so?”
Marlin nodded once again.
“I’m sure of it. We mice work quickly when there’s something at stake such as a new family members bed.”
Joshua’s mouth hung agape, before snapping shut.
“You think I could be a part of your family?”
Marlin rolled her eyes.
“Of course, you silly thing. What else would we want other than to have you be part of our family.”
Joshua’s echoing voice crackled as he sniffled back a tear.
As tears welled up at the corners of his eyes, he blinked them back as quickly as he could, failing miserably to stop them from falling down his furry white cheeks.
“I never thought I’d have a family again.”
Marlin came up to him and placed a paw on his side. She turned him to face her.
Joshua looked down at her.
“Listen to me, Joshua. I—we—would be glad to have you be a part of our family if you’ll have us. You have nothing to worry about when it comes to that. Just don’t go taking us for granted one of these days.”
Joshua wiped back the tears as they came forth.
“I wouldn’t think of it. No, not me. Not at all.”
Marlin smiled and nodded her head curtly.
“Then it’s settled. Let’s get out of here and get you home then.”
They headed down the alley way, and to the opening in the fence. Marlin went through first. As Joshua reached through the opening, he couldn’t help but look back down the alleyway, and with a sharp inhale of breath, smiled one last time as his old home. He turned towards the opening once more and, without hesitation, walked through towards his new life.
oshua grew during his time with the mice. He was an honest, and hardworking young stoat, who took his new found life with his adoptive family as the happiest times he’d ever had. Though his room was small, barely enough to fit the bed Gregory eventually made him, and a small mouse sized clothes dresser in one corner, he was never shy to be openly thankful to his family for such a thing. The flag his biological father had wrapped around him before the knife met him hung on the wall by the door, where he could see it every day as he woke, to be reminded of where he had come from. Soon enough Marlin and he had filled the room with things he had no knowledge of wanting while living on the streets. He earned a fair allowance working in the store most days, after the mornings lessons from their shared tutor, a weasel named Ms. Sims, who’s spectacled face was often one of happiness as her two students worked diligently on their given problems of the day.
But while the life of the family was fine and happy, the city of Port Palo fractured and became increasingly hostile. The two groups: those that wanted foreigners out of the town: The Homefront Coalition, and those that were foreigners themselves or lived in their communities, were hosting competing rallies through the months, and as the parties grew in voice and timbre, so did too the hostilities between the two.
One fateful night, the leading party of the Homefront Coalition, who wanted nothing more than to rid the city of any animal that hadn’t been born there, incited a riot after much speech giving and drunken badgering of those that walked around or through the gathering crowd. The crowd of animals, mostly drunk after a night of heavy inebriation at the meeting halls where the rallies were held, spilled out on the streets, and marched through city, lighting fires at the homes and businesses of the animals that were known foreigners.
The leading animal, a long out of work, chinchilla lead the charge through the streets.
“Make them leave, whence they’ve come! Do not let them desecrate our homes! Take our jobs! Pollute our families!” he bellowed as he led the incensed mob through the streets.
They made it to the merchant alley and stopped outside the family’s storefront.
The incensed chinchilla stormed back and forth in front of the store.
“And here! Ladies and Gentleman—is a house of one of those despicable families! No longer will we sit and wait for them in vain. No longer will we let them do as they please before the sake of those that welcomed them with open arms only to be destroyed by their devious plans!”
The crowd roared in agreement.
Some shouted out towards the frantically pacing chinchilla.
“Burn them! Burn them to the ground!”
The chinchilla bridled with anticipation continued on with his prophesizing.
Gregory woke to the smell of smoke coming through the open window, and the sounds of the crowd yelling below him. He got his family up quickly and quietly and motioned for Marlin and Joshua to head for the back door.
“You head around back and see if you can join the crowd. I’m going to head out and see if I can calm these folks down.”
Helena nodded, and set the two of them out the back door, closing it behind her.
Marlin and Joshua headed around the back of the building and came into the middle of the amassing crowd, as they began to chant in unison.
“Burn them. Burn the dirty animals. Burn. Burn. Burn!”
Marlin couldn’t see over the crowd of animals, and turned to Joshua.
“Let me get up on your shoulders, so I can see what’s going on?’
Joshua bent down and she scrambled up his body and stood on his shoulders, where she could see the chinchilla being passed a torch.
As her lowered the torch to the doorway of the building, the door opened, and Gregory stepped out into the crowd.
“My good animals. What do you hope to accomplish by burning down my livelihood?”
Gregory raised his open palms in an attempt to assuage what the chinchilla was about to do.
That’s when the first bottle thrown from the crowd struck him, dashing alcohol over his body. Others followed suit, pelting him to half empty bottles of what they carried with them, stones, and whatever else they could find to fling at him.
The chinchilla held up the torch, menacing Gregory with it.
He turned to the crowd.
“You see! He tries to trick us with his words. To make us feel as though we are to blame for what his ilk do to cause such pain and misery in our town.”
“String him up!” Yelled an otter from the crowd.
The mob began to chant in thunderous tones.
“String him up! String him up!”
The chinchilla, unbridled with the fervor the crowd gathered, was all too happy to oblige.
“Friends. Grab this mouse. Make him a example of what happens to those that would harm our way of life! String him up!” yelled the chinchilla, as he lowered the torch to the alcohol soaked door frame. It caught alight all too quickly, as those around Gregory wrestled with him and brought him to the nearest lamppost.
Marlin and Joshua looked on in horror as a rope was brought forth, and tied around his neck, and thrown over the lamp post.
The crowd chanted on, in murderous glee.
“String him up! String him up!”
And with one fatal motion, a group of animals, all wearing the drunken smiles of the righteous, hefted Gregory up into the nights sky, and tied off the rope around the lamppost.
Marlin shrieked in horror as her father struggled for air, clawing at the rope around his throat. It was lost in the raucous applause and cheering as the crowd watched him kick at the air hopelessly.
“String him up! String him up!” echoed the mob as the stores second floor caught fire and began burning.
Marlin clawed her way down Joshua and made to run towards her father with tears in her eyes, when a powerful arm stopped her. Trotters covered her mouth as she fought the arm, as it turned her towards whoever was stopping her.
Wilbur stared down at her, a morose look in his eye.
Wordlessly he grabbed each of them by the paw, and led them away from the crowd and down the alleyway away from Gregory’s no longer struggling body.
He did not stop until they were well away from what had happened.
Marlin could contain herself no longer.
“What about mother! What happened to her?” she yelled, hot tears running down her face and whiskers.
Wilbur shook his head.
“You saw the building. It was entirely engulfed in flames. If she didn’t make it out herself, then—”
Joshua shook back tears.
Wilbur offered no reply.
After a moment, he spoke again.
“You must get out of here. It’s no longer safe for you in this city. Come. Follow me, and I’ll get you to safety.”
“I want to see my father. Let me go and see my father!” yelled Marlin.
Wilbur shook his head again.
“No dearest, you may not. I will take care of him once the crowd has moved on. I’ll do my best to find your mother too—but you must leave. Now!”
Marlin slumped to the ground and began to cry shuddering breathes, beyond mere distraught.
Joshua gathered her up and made her stand on her feet again.
“He’s right. We have to go now, or else they may come hunting for us and we’ll end up just like Father.”
Marlin screwed up her face in abject hatred and frustration.
“You’re—you’re right. Show us the way.”
Wilbur nodded a small agreement and headed down the alleyway. They followed.
Soon they came to a metal cover in the center of the alleyway. Wilbur bent down and lifted the cover with his powerful arms.
He threw the cover to the side and pointed into the vast darkness that was the sewer system below.
As the smell of the sewer reached Marlin her nose wrinkled in disgust.
“You’re sure? We can’t just outpace the mob and make a break for it?”
Wilbur shook his head.
“Listen to the city. It’s in agony. There are multiple mobs spreading throughout the city. We’ll be lucky if it doesn’t burn down before the morning comes.”
Joshua nodded and grabbed Marlin’s wrist.
“Come on, we don’t have time to waste.”
He pulled her down into the sewer.
Wilbur peered down at them from the street.
“Just keep heading straight, until you reach the gate at the end of the tunnel. It’ll let you out onto the fields surround the town. Head East until you find the main road, and don’t stop until you have to.”
Joshua looked up to him with a determined eye.
“I’ll keep her safe. Don’t worry about that. You go on. Try to find Helena.”
Wilbur nodded down at them, and retrieved the cover.
“Good luck!” he yelled, as he placed the cover over the opening once again.
The two of them were enveloped in pitch darkness.
Still holding onto Marlin’s wrist, Joshua began trudging through the sludge along the bottom of
the sewer pipe. Marlin held her breath as they raced along in total darkness, their footfalls the only sounds as they sloshed through the muck.
They traveled for what could have been twenty minutes or an hour or two until they came up
hard against the grate at the end of the tunnel. Moonlight peered in between the iron bars, casting a gloom figure behind each of them into the darkness they had just traveled through.
Marlin stopped at the grate.
“There’s a door over there,” she said, pointing towards it with one paw.
They raced up toward it and found that it wasn’t locked, though the door seemed to be jammed shut from all the dampness of the sewer.
“Throw your back into it,” said Joshua as he ran against it.
Marlin and he tried again until the door finally began to budge, and then swung open on creaking hinges and moonlight hit their faces.
They ran out into the night air without taking a moment to look back at the now smoking and burning city they once called home behind them. They headed East and reached the road, and continued running well into the night.
arlin awoke to a warm summers day, the sun beating down on her, warming her fur. Quite to her surprise she found herself laying on a bedroll to the side of the road. Her fur was matted from walking through the sewer the night before. She could smell it rising off of her. She grimaced at the thought of it and rolled on to her side.
Joshua was sleeping on a bedroll across from her, snoring faintly in the sunlight.
“Glad to see that you’re up, young mouse.”
A fennec fox, white as snow, was sitting across a campfire from her.
Marlin sat bolt upright.
The fox tutted quietly to himself.
“I’m Eshu, the fox. Pleasure to meet you.”
Marlin gathered her wits about her and swallowed hard.
“Thank you, Eshu—for lending us your bedrolls, and pulling us from the road last night.”
The fox nodded.
“Yes, you two looked worse for wear, collapsed on the road like you had been trying to escape something truly horrible.”
Marlin shook her head and began to cry.
Eshu smiled at her, and passed her a mug of tea.
“Here, here, child, don’t you fret. What’s got you worked up so?”
Marlin took the tea from him, her paw shaky slightly as she recounted the previous night.
“They strung him up, and then we ran. We kept running until our legs gave out. I’m not sure how we ended up here with you, but I want to thank you for taking the moment to care for us.”
“And you came from Port Palo?”
Marlin nodded, and pointed towards the still smoking city.
“I’m afraid so—and now—now we have nowhere to go. Our home is lost! My parents—are—gone!”
Marlin began to cry fitful tears once again.
Eshu got up from where he was sitting and sat down next to her. He placed a paw on her shoulder.
“We’ll I’m glad I found you. There’s plenty of thieves and slavers that travel this road, and I’m just lucky I was the one to find you. I couldn’t well let you alone in the middle of the road like that, now could I?”
Marlin shook her head, and offered a sad tentative smile towards the fox.
Eshu shook his head.
“No, I couldn’t. I would be wasteful to let such an opportunity such as that to go to waste, don’t you think?”
“Perhaps I should get Joshua, he’s my brother, up and we can help you clean up your camp so you can be on your way.”
Eshu thought for a moment.
“Well how about this? You two help me pack away my bedrolls, and come alone with me to the coast. There are ships leaving there all the time. Perhaps we can find you a way to a new home from there?”
Marlin blinked twice, and said nothing.
She shook Joshua awake, and turned to the fox.
“Let me let Joshua know what you did, and we’ll let you know. Right now it sounds like as good a plan as any, but I want to make sure he’s okay with it first.”
Joshua woke up to Marlin’s continued shaking and groggily sat up. Soon it dawned on him that he was on a comfortable bedroll and not in the middle of the road where he had fallen exhausted early that morning.
Marlin motioned to the fox.
“This is Eshu. He’s willing to let us travel with him if we want. He was the one that pulled us out of the road and gave us the use of his bedding for the day, even though we’re soiled as we are. What do you think?”
Joshua stifled a yawn with his paw, and looked around sleepily at Eshu, and back to Marlin.
He nodded slowly.
“That sounds about as good a deal as we could have. I’m happy to keep you company Eshu, if you’ll have us with you.”
Eshu smiled a wry grin, baring sharp teeth against the day.
“That would please me to no end, dear stoat. Joshua, is it?”
Joshua nodded once again.
Eshu clapped his paws together, his claws tinkering softly against one another.
“Then it’s settled. You’ll come with me to the coast, and we’ll see about finding you a new home from there.”
Marlin and Joshua nodded.
“Do you think we’ll be able to find such a place?” asked Marlin, clearly perplexed at the thought of not having a home any longer.
“I’m sure strong animals such as yourself will find a place to call home no problem what so ever. Now before we head out, would you two like something to eat. I’m sure you must be famished.”
Joshua felt his aching stomach. He had slept through most of the day, and woke with a ravenous hunger that he was all too used to before meeting his family.
“That would be very kind of you, sir,” said Joshua thoughtfully.
Eshu went over to his hiking pack and pulled out two small fish, which he laid out for his guests to enjoy.
“Please take these and eat as much as you can. I need you strong for the walk we’re about to take. It’s a week of travel to the coastal town I’m talking you too, and it’s not easy to get to, but I know you two will do just fine as long as you keep your strength and wits about you.”
Joshua grabbed the fish nearest him and bit into its soft cooked flesh. Marlin tentatively took the other and did the same to hers. They soon made full meals of their breakfast. They threw their bones in the fire that Eshu had started that morning.
Here’s the second part to Marlin. I’m using this time posting it here to reread what I’ve written and do small grammatical fixes on the master document. I usually don’t start editing until the story is done completely, but this has been helpful so far in catching the errors I made the first time around. Here goes:
“These scratch marks sting, but at least they’re clean now.”
Tum reached across the table and held out Marlin’s paw between his own, studying the rake marks between her arm fur.
He nodded slowly and began to reach for the nearest mark.
Marlin pulled her arm back.
“Don’t touch them! They’ll get dirty and I’ll have to wash them all over again.”
Tum shrugged, and shook his head apologetically.
Marlin smiled at him.
“Don’t worry about it, Tum. Mother should be back in two shakes of a whisker.”
“That I will,” responded Helena as she walked through the doorway carrying a small stack of white bandages, a bobbin of glowing blue thread, a piece of purple silk, and a pair of cloth shears.
She laid everything out on the table, and walked over to Marlin, and began inspecting her wounds closely.
Helena nodded approvingly.
“Looks like you did a good job cleaning them out. Now let me wrap them and they should heal up just fine.”
Marlin nodded, and held out her arms towards her mother, who sat at the table next to her and began to work with one of the bandages.
She made quick work of the first arm, wrapping the fabric neatly around Marlin’s arm, and pinning it closed with a bobby pin, and her other arm was soon too wrapped expertly with the soft linen cloth.
The job done, Helena turned to the young stoat.
“I think I have something that you may enjoy, if you’ll give me just a moment.”
Tum looked up at her expectantly and nodded, a grin crossing his brown and white face.
He and Marlin watched as Helena first cut a strip from the purple cloth and, laying it out on the table, gathered the faintly glowing gossamer thread and began to sew an intricate design along the fabric. They watched keenly interested as Helena worked quickly from one side to the other, wrapping circles around triangles, through squares and diamonds. She pulled the thread tight with her teeth, and cut it sharply in two with her shears, and knotted the final strand against itself.
She held the cloth up in front of her and satisfied with the work, stood up from the table.
Helena came around to where the stoat was sitting and motioned for him to lean forward.
“Here, let me get this around your neck.”
Tum did as he was obliged and leant forward.
Helena wrapped the cloth around his neck, and knotted it where the ends overlapped. She rotated the fabric until the sewn thread was sitting squarely on top of his scar.
Helena smiled up at him.
“Try speaking now, young stoat.”
Tum opened his mouth to speak.
In low raspy tones, words formed within him.
“—do you think it’ll work?” asked the stoat.
Surprised at the sound of his newly acquire voice, he cleared his throat.
Once again, he spoke.
“Oh, my goodness. I can talk. I can’t believe it! Who would have thought that a little old mute like me would be able to talk once again?”
Helena grinned up at him.
“My thread is imbued with blue magic. As long as that thread isn’t cut or damaged, you should be able to talk while it’s wrapped around your neck.”
Tum clapped his paws together
“I can’t honestly thank you enough!” he almost shouted from sheer excitement.
Helena smiled up at him and winked.
“You’re very welcome my young stoat. So, what’s your real name?”
He looked from Marlin to Helena and back again.
“My names not Tum. I was, and still am, very hungry. I was hoping to get fed for saving your daughter. My name is Joshua.”
Marlin squeaked back an embarrassed laugh.
“Oh deary me, I’m so sorry. I thought Tum was an odd name, but I didn’t want to judge.”
Helena walked over to the larder and turned towards the others.
“How about I make you something to eat and you can tell us about yourself. I’m sure that you’ve been wanting to talk for years.”
Joshua grinned widely, and nodded his head.
As her mother started making food, Marlin looked up at Joshua. She put her arm out, and grasped his paw with her own.
“How did you get such a nasty scar to begin with. From the size of it, I’d wager you’re lucky to be alive.”
Joshua squeezed her paw and nodded.
“That’s for sure. My father was the one that did that to me, when I was much younger.”
Marlin covered her mouth with her free paw in utter disbelief.
“Your father did that! For whatever reason could an animal do that to their own son?”
“He had too many mouths to feed, and instead of just kicking me out on the street, he took me somewhere secluded and tried to cut my throat. Luckily it cut the vocal cords. A lot of blood though. That much I remember.”
Helena clucked disapprovingly.
“That’s horrible. How did you heal the wound, if you don’t mind me asking?”
Joshua shook his head.
“No, I don’t mind. I was found by an older gypsy goat. She sewed my neck back together and let me stay with her in an old alleyway on the outskirts of town. She took care of me for a few years before she died one early morning.”
“Oh, how horrible.”
Joshua turned to her.
“It wasn’t too bad for her. She went in her sleep and just didn’t wake up. Not a bad way to go in this town.”
Marlin and Helena nodded as he continued in the low raspy voice the magic enchantment provided.
“I’ve been on my own since. Just sort of wandering the town looking for safe places to stay and for the occasional meal.”
Marlin got up from the table and walked up to her mother. She leaned into her large furry ear, and began whispering. Helena nodded.
“We’ll talk with your father about it once he gets home.”
Satisfied, Marlin went back to the table and sat back down.
“What did you ask her?” asked Joshua, curiously.
Marlin shook her head.
“Never you mind. I’ll tell you later, once father gets home.”
Joshua shrugged, and smiled.
Helena brought over a small assortment of buns and plain bread spread with slivers of cheese, and laid them out before the two young animals.
Joshua looked up to her expectantly.
“You mean I get to eat all this? This is enough for three stoats, and a small bunny.”
Helena nodded and smiled.
“It’s the least I can do for your help in rescuing my daughter. I’m sure that if it hadn’t been for you that she would have faired much worse than just a few scratches and bruises.”
Joshua beamed up at her from the table.
“It wasn’t any bother. How was four on one a fair fight?”
“That plank you brought with you seemed to even it out pretty quickly.”
Helena looked alarmed.
“You had a plank?”
“I had to get them off of her as quickly as possible, before they did any real damage.”
“Well—I’m glad you were there with that plank. You saved her life, not just her lunch money.”
Joshua smiled and looked down at his plate of food.
“I surely can’t eat all of this. Would you like some miss?” offering the food to Helena.
She shook her head.
“No dear, that’s for you. Why don’t you two eat your lunch and then go out for a bit and explore the town together?”
Marlin looked up at Joshua with a gleam in her eye.
“I’m sure we could get up to all sorts of hi-jinx together if we were to hang out for a while. Plus I want to make sure we’re back here once dad gets home.”
Helena smiled at her daughter and nodded.
“That sounds like a plan to me.”
Joshua picked up a piece of bread, layered with a fine yellow cheese, and bit into it.
He sputtered as he tried to talk around his mouthful.
Helena eyed him approvingly.
“Careful dear. You’ll have difficulty talking around food with that spell. Slow down and try again.”
Joshua did as he was told, slowing his chewing and attempting to talk after swallowing most of it.
“I’d be happy to take you to my home today, if you wouldn’t mind it.”
Marlin looked unabashedly curious.
“That sounds like a wonderful idea. I’ve never been to an urchins home before.”
Joshua laughed. It came out as a low growling shudder.
“Urchin? Me? No.”
Marlin laughed as well.
“Well what would you call yourself?”
Joshua thought for a moment before responding, taking another large bite of his bread.
“I’ve always been fond of the term gutter punk, myself.”
Marlin blinked twice with a blank expression on her face. Her whiskers twitched.
“Err—well, gutter punk it will be, I suppose.”
Helena gasped in shocked realization.
“Dear me, I’ve left everyone in the store by their lonesome. I’d better get back there before folks start leaving without paying for things.”
“You’d better hurry mother.”
Helena ran from the room, without another word.
Joshua turned to watch her go, and then faced Marlin once again.
“Your mother is a wonderful lady.”
“Fathers pretty wonderful himself. How about we finish this as quickly as we can and then you can show me where you live.”
They began to eagerly wolf down their food until both plates were laid bare.
Their meal done, the two new friends cleared the dishes, placing them in the sink, and made their way back to the storefront where they found Marlin’s mother helping out a long line of grumpy customers.
“Oh I am sorry for the wait. Bit of a family emergency I’m afraid.”
The hare that stood in front of her beat her foot on the ground impatiently, clearly not used to waiting so long to buy what she wanted.
Marlin waved as she left, clearly revealing the bandages on her arms to the impatient hare before turning towards the door.
The hares moods changed completely.
“Oh it’s no bother. Family and all. I’ll just take these won’t I? Lovely silks you’ve gotten.”
Helena both nodded at the hare, and smiled at Marlin as she and Joshua left. As the bell tinkered as the door closed behind them Helena called out. “Don’t be too late, back before dark!”
Marlin shouted back at the closed door.
“Sure thing mother.”
She turned to Joshua.
“Okay, let’s get going to your place. I’m beyond curious as to how you live.”
They walked for the better part of an hour before coming to a series of warehouses straddling the sky. Joshua walked to a fenced off area and, checking his surroundings, popped a fence post up and outwards, revealing a secret entrance to the side of the warehouse.
He held it up for Marlin to walk under.
Marlin ducked her ears beneath her arm, and walked through the opening into a dark alley way. The warehouse walls on either side were both too high to clearly see the sky, as the roofs of each building nearly touched one another.
Joshua walked around Marlin, who was staring up at the overhanging arches overhead and grabbed her paw with his own.
He walked her down the alleyway passing a series of shanty tents on either side. Most were empty, while others were hiding the sleeping forms of unknown animal types below them. Joshua walked her through the tents, some awnings nailed directly into the warehouses walls, until they came upon a red and green fabric dwelling.
Joshua bent down and went inside, and then popped his head out.
“Here we are. Home sweet home. Would you like to come sit inside?”
Marlin nodded vigorously and bent down as she crawled inside. There wasn’t much room inside, barely enough for both of them to sit cross legged, but it was dry and warm in the mid afternoon sun, despite the shade that the buildings offered.
As they got comfortable, Marlin raised one claw to her lips.
“How many of you live in this alleyway? There are so many tents, lining each side.”
Joshua counted on his claws, once, twice, thrice, and again.
“I would wager there’s twenty of us at this point. Once word spreads of a good spot to live, the real estate gets eaten up like nobodies business.”
“Do you all get along? It must be hard not knowing who your neighbors are going to be.”
“We keep to ourselves mostly. Once in a while a mouse, or fox, will come back drunk as a skunk and get a little loud. Getting them to bed is the best bet, so the warehouse folks don’t find us.”
Joshua stretched out his arms, and yawned. It was getting awfully warm in the tent.
Marlin looked around.
Other than a small sack of what she supposed were his clothes, or perhaps food, and a dirty blanket, it seemed that Joshua had little to nothing to his name. It saddened her.
“So you live here by yourself, not talking to anyone, just whiling away the days?”
“Basically,” he rasped, the gossamer strands of thread placed around his neck glowing a dull blue against the inside the darkness of the tent.
He looked around, noticing the blue glow around his neck.
“One moment. I’ll have to do something about that.”
He turned towards his bag, and began rummaging through it, until he found what he wanted. He pulled out a dirty white cloth neckerchief and wrapped it around his throat, hiding the purple fabric underneath.
“Excellent. Don’t want anyone bothering me about it, now do I?” His voice grating against the fabric mechanically.
Marlin shook her head.
“I wouldn’t have even thought about it.”
“I’m not the only one with this wound. I would wager plenty of animals would want it for themselves, or to sell it to someone who needed it without a second thought to my well being or care in the matter.”
Marlin thought about it for a moment, before nodding.
“Glad you had the foresight to hide it.”
“Before we fall asleep in here due to the heat, would you like to come with me around the city. I can show you some amazing places, and I promise to have you back before dark, just like your mother wanted.”
Marlins ears perked up.
“That would be wonderful. What’s in the typical day for a gutter punk such as yourself?”
Joshua took her paw and led her out of the tent, closing the red flap behind him by placing two stones on the fabric that reached the ground.
They went paw in paw down the alley way, and into the town.
The two new friends spent the rest of the afternoon, and well into dusk exploring the city together. At one point Joshua had taken her to his favorite water fountain where many an animal tossed in a copper coin or two, or even a silver if he was lucky. He had her be on look out while he dived into the humungous fountain and swam around looking for coin. Soon he surfaced with paws full of coin, and they clambered off into the city, leaving a wet trail behind them and laughing as they went. As he dried Joshua told her all about the great places in the city that she had never thought to go, having only really stayed in her neighborhood for her time in Port Palo. They visited a cheap rickety hole in the wall drink stand, that sold their drinks for the lowest prices in the city. As Joshua attempted to pay, Marlin lowered his arm, and threw two coins up onto the warped wooden plank that acted as the stands counter.
“Let me pay, Joshua. You save your money.”
Joshua nodded, and thanked her.
They sipped their drinks as they walked through the town and as the sky darkened Marlin looked up.
“Father should be home by now. Let’s go back to my place, and you can meet him, and stay for dinner.”
Joshua nodded enthusiastically and lead Marlin through the city clutching her paw in his own. He ran so quickly that Marlin nearly stumbled a few times before pulling on his arm with her free paw, begging him to slow down.
He turned back to her.
“Sorry. I thought you wanted to get home as quickly as possible. Plus its not safe for foreigners after dark.”
Marlin looked shocked.
“How did you know I was a foreigner?”
Joshua looked her up and down.
“There’s aren’t many a mouse the type that you are around here. You’re very fuzzy for such a warm climate, don’t you think. Not to mention your bright colors.”
“You’re right. I’m bright and fuzzy. Most of the mice that live here are dull browns and greys. Not bright orange like me and my family.”
“Not to mention your mothers accent.”
“You’re right about that too. I forget about it since I hear it all the time, but she clearly has one from the old country.”
They slowed to a reasonable walk. Joshua turned to her.
“So where is your family from anyway?”
Marlin thought for a moment before responding.
“I’m not sure. Mother and Father won’t talk about their lives before coming here. I’ve asked so many times, and all they say is that they live in Port Palo now, and that’s all that matters. Then they smile to themselves and look relieved. It’s all very annoying, I must say.”
Joshua giggled. It croaked out of him, in small mechanical yips.
“My, your laugh is funny,” said Marlin, poking out her tongue at him.
“About as funny as your great big whiskers,” retorted Joshua, who also poked out his tongue.
They laughed with one another as they walked through the streets, being careful to mind back alleyways where danger could lurk.
Just as it began to darken to the deep purple of the evening sky, Marlin and Joshua made their way through to the merchants alley and came to stand in front of the mouse’s shop. Marlin opened the door, and bowed down low, raising one arm in a friendly come hither gesture.
Joshua walked into the store and waited for her as she closed the door behind the two of them. The store was empty but neither her mother or father were in sight.
Knowing that it was time to close the store down, Marlin locked the front door and flipped the sign so the closed lettering painted on one side could be seen through the window.
That done, they walked through the store, passing the great loom which had a few extra inches of fabric created, displaying great fish below the boats on top of the water, and into the house beyond.
They came to find their mother and father making dinner. Gregory was whistling a tuneless song while he chopped vegetables for that nights dinner.
“We’re back. Father, this is Joshua, the stoat who saved me from my mugging this morning,” said Marlin, as she slumped herself into the nearest chair at the table.
Helena turned to her and chided her while waving a wooden spoon in front of her face.
“You’re late young missus. Before dark means before dark. You know it’s not safe out there at night.”
Marlin pursed her lips, her whiskers twitching this way and that as she tried to defend herself.
“Sorry mother, we were just having so much fun here. I lost track of time and we got back before it got totally dark, didn’t we?”
Helena was having none of it.
She waved the spoon around again, and jabbed it at the air a few times as she spoke.
“Be that as it may, you’re to be home before dark from now on. Go and wash your face and paws and come help make dinner with us.”
Marlin huffed out a sigh, and pushed back from the table in the beginnings of a foul mood. She did not like to be told off, especially in front of company.
Joshua followed her into the wash room where they both stood before the sink and Marlin ran the tap, until warm water washed down the sink. She soaped up her paws, and handed it to him to do the same. She rubbed the soapy paws on her fuzzy cheeks and washed her face, scrubbing at it harder than she really intended.
“Imagine. Telling me off for not being home before dark, and it’s not even dark yet.”
Joshua smiled and rubbed his soapy paws over his white and brown face as well.
Marlin splashed water on her face, and washed her paws clean, as Joshua did the same.
“Oh I don’t know,” offered Joshua, “I think it would be nice to have someone that cares about you worry where you are.”
Marlin froze as the realization of how she was acting must appear to a stoat such as him.
She blushed, entirely embarrassed, and just a little ashamed of herself.
“You’re right, of course. I’m very lucky to have such loving parents.”
“Now we should go out there, all good cheer, and help make the dinner—something I’m looking forward to terribly.”
Marlin offered a small smile, her mood improving.
They left the wash room, and came back into the kitchen, and Marlin walked right up to her mother and gave her a big hug.
“You’re right. I’m sorry for acting so irresponsibly. It won’t happen again.”
Helena smiled down at her daughter.
“Oh, I’m sure you’ll be irresponsible again one day. You’re young. But thank you dear. I’m glad you’re home safe.”
Marlin let go of her mother, and walked over to her father, who was quietly cutting vegetables and placing them in a stew pot next to the sink. He smiled all the wider as Marlin hugged the side of him, and told him she loved him too.
“I know dear. And I you. Now how about we cut these up as quickly as we can, and then you can help your mother cook the stew for tonight’s dinner?”
Marlin whole heartedly agreed and took out a knife from the cutlery drawer and began to cut the vegetables Gregory gave her into small spoon sized chunks.
So I’ve started writing a new book these last couple of days. I’m at just above 6,000 words for the few hours of work I’ve put in so far. I’m hoping to have it done in the next month or so depending on my diligence.
I wanted to share it with you piecemeal as I make it. I have the beginnings of the plots down, and it’s fun so far. A lot of work, but so much fun.
I’ve been reading Brian Jacques works for two hours each day before starting to write, so I can absorb as much awesomeness as I can from the literature and writing style and to make sure I don’t copy anything. This is by far the best thing I’ve written, in style alone, so far. It’s all a learning experience, right?
Anyway, here’s the beginning of Marlin, the story of the life of Mistlehop’s founder. Here’s a basic drawing I did of her a while ago.
A Fateful Voyage.
Across the sea sailed a large merchant vessel. A very pregnant mouse and her husband are below deck. A seagull, the ships doctor, is tending to the expectant mother.
“It’ll not be long Helena, before your mousling makes itself known to the world,” cheered on the seagull, wiping at the sweat soaked mouse’s furry forehead with a dampened cloth.
Helena grimaced. The contractions had started twenty minutes ago, and like it or not, the youngling was to be born today. She had hoped they would wait until they had made dry land, to their new home in Port Palo, before deciding to come—but that was not to be, as she steeled her body as a contraction rocked deeply within her.
“Ohh,” groaned Helena.
Gregory, her husband, held tightly onto her paw.
Patrice, the seagull, turned to him, having gathered a bucket into her feathered wings.
“Please go and fill this. We’ll need it once the baby starts to crown,”
Gregory took the bucket from her and nodded resolutely.
He walked from their compartment at the end of the hall, below deck, and made his way out into the bright and sunny day. He squinted against the dazzling light playing off the water and felt the salt spray mist against the fur of his face and arms. Gregory made his way around to the back of the large merchant ship, that carried not only his future progeny and belabored wife, but also their livelihood in the form of various cloths—both enchanted and fine.
Gregory reached the back of the vessel and came to the duckboard that hanged by strong chain on either side perilously close to the churning water. The ship traveled at great speed despite its massive size. The ripple it cast through the water was long and deep. As he came to the duckboard, Gregory passed the otter Jasper, who was tending to the large net cast from the back of the boat to gather fish as they traveled. Jasper was letting slack from one of the two pulleys at the back of the boat, which caused the net to drift further behind, and deeper into the sea where it had a better chance of catching the many plentiful sea fish that followed behind the boat in great schools.
Jasper nodded towards Gregory and smiled.
“Patrice will have her right, don’t you worry. That old sea bird has done more below this ships decks than most doctors do in practice on dry land.”
Gregory smiled and turned back towards Jasper as he walked out onto the duckboard, holding one length of chain with his free paw.
“I’m glad she’s here with us, that’s for sure. I don’t quite know what if it was just Helena dealing with that on her own.”
Jasper clicked his teeth approvingly, as he pulled back on the winch that controlled that side of the netting, securing it in place once again.
Gregory held firmly onto the chain with his paw, and kneeled down on the edge of the duckboard. As he lowered the bucket into the water, there came a great and massive jolt as the net pulled sharply downwards into the blue seawater.
Gregory gripped the bucket handle and the chain out of surprise and fear, and the edge of the duckboard was pulled into the water, causing rivulets of water to geyser out of the lattice of wooden planks that made up the duckboard. Gathering himself quickly, he bounded onto the boat, as a terrifying large fish cascaded out of the water with the boats netting twisted around the great sharp point that extended from its head.
“It’s a great flipping Marlin!” yelled Jasper, as he turned his attention to the winch before him.
The marlin dived below the water once again, as water splashed against the boat, and the line holding the net zipped outwards so quickly the line hummed from its speed.
“Help me stop the net!” yelled Jasper, as he reached for the winches handle, as the dark mass beneath the water suddenly changed direction and came full speed around and towards the side of the boat. The marlin slammed its side into the boat at full speed, trying its best to remove the net from around it’s head. The boat rocked heavily on it side, then fell back down into the water with a tremendous wave of water splashing up on the deck, soaking both of the animals from whisker to tail.
The bucket momentarily forgotten, Gregory raced over to the winch as both he and Jasper tried in vain to slow the speed that the line was traveling. The line went limp as the marlin changed course and tried to get under the boat, before becoming taut once again, as the end of the boat began to shudder violently into the water. The boat end sunk deeply into the water, and bounced upwards as the marlin changed course once again.
The winches began to spin wildly as the marlins frantic attempts at escape continued. Jasper and Gregory were thrown from the winch, as it slammed into its final position as the line ran to its looped end around the winches housing. The winches handle snapped clean off from the force of the sudden stop, and a resounding crack was heard as both the winch and Jaspers arm broke in several places all at once. They hardly had time to notice.
“Take my knife and cut the lines!” shouted Jasper, motioning with his now useless arm, as bone prodded sharply from his mangled forearm.
Gregory, took no time at all to heed his command, and unsheathed the great knife from it’s cloth scabbard. Sunlight caught the blade, and blinded the poor mouse momentarily, before he swung around and struck the rope as hard as he could.
The knife slid into the rope cleanly, but did not break. Gregory started to hack away at it until the rope split, frayed, and snapped. Without a second thought, he ran to the other winch, which had fared better than the first, and began to saw at the rope with frantic thrusts. It too frayed, split, and snapped and the boat lurched forward with a sickening ferocity before settling back into the water. As the boat rocked and calmed once again, the great black mass of the marlin sped off into the depths.
Gregory turned towards Jasper, who was wide eyed and panting from the pain of his broken arm.
“Looks like that did that trick,” panted Jasper.
Gregory bent and lifted the knifes scabbard from the otters waist, and gently slid the knife back into its home once again.
Gregory picked up the bucket that had been rolling around the deck, and filled it wordlessly before once again turning to Jasper.
“We’d better get downstairs and get your arm looked at,” offered Gregory.
Jasper nodded mutely, gritting his teeth against the pain shooting up along his arm and into his very being.
Gregory led the way down below decks and through to the room where he had left Helena and Patrice only a few harrowing minutes before.
The door to the room had been closed, likely slammed shut from one of the violent lurches the boat took. Beyond the door, could be heard a tiny frail voice, crying against the gloom of the hallway.
Gregory inhaled sharply, and opened the door carefully, incase anything had fallen to block the entrance. He was greeted by Helena clutching the pink frame of a young mousling, who’s face was scrunched up as it continued crying. Patrice walked over and gathered the bucket from the thunderstruck father, and ushered him and Jasper into the room.
“What the bloody hell happened?” asked Gregory, as he kneeled down beside his wife and newborn youngling.
“Whatever happened outside, when the boat slammed up and down, caused Helena to go into full contractions,” offered Patrice, as she dunked a cloth into the bucket, wrung it tightly, and passed it to Gregory.
“She was born in just a few minutes,” said Helena, looking both radiant and unabashedly tired.
Gregory wiped the cloth around Helena’s nose and whiskers, and along her sweat soaked forehead. Between her arms the young mouse cooed quietly to herself, as she stared up at Gregory with massive blue eyes. Her crying spell had stopped, as she began to study the face of her father with the unshielded curiosity only the newly born can produce.
Helena sighed contentedly and looked up at Gregory.
“What shall we call her?” asked Helena.
Gregory thought for but a moment, and smiled.
“Marlin. Let’s call her Marlin.”
“Is that what caused all this mess out there?”
“It’s a fitting name for a mouse born on the sea,” offered Patrice, as she turned her attention to Jasper. He held up his busted arm as easily as he could.
“My my, that must hurt something shocking,” clucked Patrice, as she turned him around and began to lead him to the sick bay down the hall.
Patrice turned to the new family, and paused momentarily, before saying.
“Marlin the mouse, born on the seas, I wonder what adventures she may see.”
Gregory and Helena both smiled at the seagull, as she once again turned and headed down the hall way.
“I’m sure I’ve got something to heal that, Jasper,” said Patrice, as they disappeared from view.
Helena once again looked up at her husband.
“Who would have thought a great ruddy fish would give us our daughter? What a day it’s been.”
Gregory nodded as he dunked the cloth into the bucket, and began to gingerly bathe his wife and daughter, taking great care not to hurt either of them with his attention.
As he wiped the blood from the beginnings of fur forming on Marlin’s pink face, he smiled at her. Marlin stared up at him, squinting her eyes as the cloth came around and wiped at her brow, and she smiled a toothless grin.
“There we go little one, there we go,” crooned Gregory.
Helena looked on as the two of them bonded, and as a smile cornered her lips, she began to doze—as the steady rhythm of the boat continued onwards to their new home across the sea.
Below them at some great depth, the marlin swung it’s massive pointed head from side to side, as the net first loosened, and then slid off to fall to the depths below. The marlin headed on with its life, not knowing the namesake of which it had been named cooed and gurgled happily to herself above the deep blue waters.
The travel took a few more weeks and was relatively less harrowing since the marlins departure. Jaspers arm had been set, and a few healing spells had been lain across the broken bone and skin to stitch them together once again, and he had been healing well since, though was not up to his usual level of robust duties that the others working the boat were happy to take up for him as he mended.
He carried his arm in a blue cloth sling, though it could easily move on its own at this point, as Patrice had ordered a month of half duty for the young otter, so that his bones mended to be stronger before the breaks occurred. Her word being law on the open waters.
Helena and Gregory sat up on the deck, playing peek a boo with Marlin, as the ship made landfall in the Port Palo docks.
Soon they had gathered their modest belongings from their compartment and Helena had given orders to Jasper and the crew on where and when to unload their wares, as she ran the family business with diligence and apt mindfulness on all it’s proceedings.
Gregory carried Marlin on a sling around his chest, and they disembarked from the boat and made landfall for the first time in a month. Getting used to the lack of sway that firm ground gave, they made their way into the city and to their new storefront and home in the merchants alley. The key to the door was threaded on fine silk around Gregory’s neck, and as he reached into the opening of his shirt, Marlin giggled.
Gregory pulled the key from around his neck, and unlocked the door to the shops entrance, and swept it open in a wide arc. Helena smiled at him.
“Home we are.”
“Once again,” responded Gregory.
Helena shuffled into the entrance of the shop, who’s walls were bare except for the racks that the cloth bolts were to be placed in, and the various barrels and open topped boxes stacked against the far wall.
Helena walked over the stack of boxes and placed what she was carrying down on the red carpeted floor before them. She picked up on of the open topped crates, suitable for a thrice week old mousling to sleep in and laid it in the center of the room. Going back to the bag she had placed on the floor, she opened it and removed a padded cloth segment, and folded it until it would fit snuggly inside the box. Helena tucked it into the crates frame—and motioned for Gregory to hand her Marlin. Gregory undid the sling that held her and passed Marlin over to her mother, who gently laid the mouse into the crate.
“We can watch her while we get things set up for the cloth delivery later tonight,” said Helena, pointing at the stacks of boxes against the wall.
“Shouldn’t take too long, I would wager.”
Helena huffed out a puff of air and began to take down the boxes one at a time, standing on tiptoes to reach them, before laying it against the corner of open wall and the cloth racks already secured into place.
The two of them made quick work before the store was how they liked it, just as it had been in their old home before coming to Port Palo.
The work for the day momentarily done, they gathered their things, and young Marlin once again in her sling, and walked through the store to the house beyond. They had paid to have the place furnished before they arrived, so they could sell most of their things, and have more space for their wares on the ship, which was undoubtably being unloaded as they went from room to room, gathering up the place that was to be their home. They found their room to be suitable, and the baby’s room to be large enough for the crib it held now, and a proper bed once Marlin reached the right age to need one. They fed Marlin and put her to bed. Marlin cried for a few minutes before succumbing to the softness of the crib and spent the rest of the night resting peacefully.
The mice ate their dinner quietly, being too tired to talk, while they waited for their wares to arrive from the docks. Assured that Marlin was safely asleep in her crib, they waited in the nearly empty storefront, until there came a knock on the door at six o’clock that night. A group of otters pulling a series of carts laden with their cloths waited patiently outside their door, as the supervisor waited for someone to answer the door. Helena opened the door to greet him, and the others, and began to give them instructions on how to arrange their wares and which bolts went where, in regards to magical ability, or finery of the cloth. Soon all the carts were unloaded, and the otters had finished their work, and the store looked ready to sell everything it housed.
The mice thanked them, and tipped them each a silver coin, before closing the door and locking it quickly behind them. Helena sighed, quite exhausted.
“How about we take tomorrow off, and explore the city?” Helena asked, grinning up at Gregory.
Gregory smiled and nodded.
“May as well. I’ll be looking for a proper café for our breakfast, that’s for sure.”
“Of course dear, trying the local cuisine as soon as you can.”
Gregory smiled and rubbed his paws together agreeably.
“Shall we go to bed then and get a proper start in the morning?” asked Gregory.
Helena wiped at her whiskers with both paws and yawned.
“Sounds like a plan, then.”
Helena doublechecked the lock on the front door of the store, and finding it properly secured, whipped around gaily, and put out her paw. Gregory took it in his, and they danced together in between the racks of cloth, around the crates, and barrels of threads and rolled lengths of cloth—through the store, and up into their room, where they promptly fell on the bed laughing and smiling with one another. Gregory gathered Helena in his arms and snuggled in close to her.
“We’re home, darling.”
Helena smiled. She yawned.
“That we are, that we are.”
They fell asleep holding one another, only to be woken the next morning to the sounds of a new city bustling around them.
Helena was the first to waken, still being held by Gregory. She rustled against him, until he woke from his slumber.
“I’ll feed her, you keep resting,” offered Helena, caressing his whiskers with one paw before rolling out of bed and onto her feet.
Helena walked to Marlin’s room to find her already wide awake and alert.
“You’re up early, my dear.”
Marlin cooed agreeably and focused in on her mother’s face.
Helena bent down and caressed her daughter’s whiskers much the same she had done for Gregory, before picking her up, and holding her close. Marlin buried her face into her mother’s chest and began feeding.
Helena walked throughout their home, and through the store, switching sides as needed as her arm got tired from carrying Marlin, until the babe was thoroughly supped and content. Helena patted the youngling on her back, until Marlin burped, and then walked them both to their room, to find Gregory still sleeping. Helena slid in next to him and shook him awake. Gregory woke gently enough, to find his wife and daughter staring at him from atop the bed spread.
“Go and wash up darling, and we’ll see about this café you want.”
Helena jiggled Marlin on her knee quite happily as Gregory got out of bed and headed towards the washroom at the end of the hall. He came back a few minutes later, his face and fur scrubbed and his attention much more alert.
Helena passed Marlin to him and began to get dressed for the day, changing out of her day-old clothes.
Soon they were ready to go and locked the store up and headed out into the city.
Their store was one of many on that street, on both sides. It was a merchants alley, and was already awake with customer and store keeper alike, bidding for wares and haggling prices.
They passed a boar arranging a stand of boar bristle brushes and combs outside his store, and waved him down. The boar was pleasant enough.
“Morning folks. Looking for a new brush for your wonderful lady’s fur? Or perhaps a bow for your young daughter,” asked the boar amicably,
Gregory shook his head and smiled.
“Actually, we just moved here—into that building,” as he pointed towards their new home a few stores down.
The boar nodded.
“How may I help you then, my new neighbors?”
Helena was perusing the brushes but turned to look up at the boar.
“We’re hoping you know of a café we could go for breakfast today? It’s our first day in town, and we’re hoping to get it off on the right paw.”
The boar thought for a moment, and then snapped his trotters together.
“I have just the place. If you head down this street until you pass a yellow store, dresses and gowns most fine, and take a right—you’ll find yourself in a restaurant alleyway, where there are more than just a single café to choose from. I recommend the Boarhouse Café, as my cousin owns it—and the breakfasts are quite good for such a reasonable price.”
Helena smiled and thanked the boar.
They headed on their way.
The boar waved after them.
“Come back here when you get a chance, and I’ll introduce you to the city myself, if you’d like.”
Gregory turned and smiled at the boar, assuring him that they would take him up on his offer most assuredly.
The family walked through the street, admiring the different store fronts, passing the local grocers, who was taking carts of fresh vegetables early in the day before the market rush of morning shoppers came in—and passed the dress store. They turned and came down the street a few restaurants before coming to the Boarhouse Café. The sign hanging over the door pictured a boar welcoming those that entered into a painted reproduction of the café with open arms.
Gregory watched the sign swing in the breeze.
“That reminds me. I’ll need to put our sign up today before we open.”
“That you do. It’s resting on the wall by the door.”
Gregory held the door open for Helena and Marlin and went in after them.
They sat down at the nearest table, and waited for a few minutes before a mole came up with paper menus in her large paws.
“Morning folks. Shall I get you two some coffee while you peruse the menu?”
Helena nodded and smiled.
“That would be lovely of you dear.”
The mole curtsied and went off to gather their morning drinks.
Gregory turned to Helena, who was bouncing Marlin on her knee rhythmically.
“So where else do you want to go today?”
Helena pursed her lips, her nose whiskers twitching delicately.
“We’ll we found the grocers, so we should probably stock up today, but other than that—we should just get the store opened.”
“Alright. What are you going to have for breakfast?”
Helena looked down at her menu, until she found something she wanted.
“Oatcakes for me, with cream. I’m sure Marlin would like to try some cream. Wouldn’t you, little one?”
Helena scrunched up her face and tittered at the young mousling, poking at her belly with one claw.
Marlin giggled and smiled up at her. She gurgled happily.
Helena looked up from Marlin and towards Gregory.
“What about you, hon?”
Gregory thought for a moment before deciding.
“The oatcakes have it. Fresh cream does sound delightful doesn’t it?”
They placed their menus on the table and waited until the mole brought their coffee to them.
She laid out a small pitcher of cream, and two glass mugs of coffee for the two mice.
“Are you ready to order then?” asked the mole, wiping her large clawed paw across her temple.
The mice nodded and gave her their order.
The mole curtsied once again, and went back to the kitchen.
The couple sat and listened to the other diners as they ate and ordered their meals.
A couple of stoats were situated in the table next to them and were talking loudly to one another.
They were deeply in the middle of their conversation, and the first stoat was speaking at a quickened pace, accentuating his point with claw jabs in the air.
“You see, it’s the foreigners that cause us all this trouble. They come in and take the jobs of all those animals that would work if they could—even the jobs they don’t really feel up to doing, and then push those hard working natural born animals out onto the streets.”
The stoat that sat across from him was nodding sternly, listening intently to what his friend had to say.
“Do you think they could take our jobs?” asked the stoat, through a mouthful of granola.
The first stoat nodded in an exaggerated manner.
“Of surely, surely they could. It wouldn’t put it passed any dirty foreigner from waltzing into our factory, demanding half the wage for the same amount of work, and pushing us all into homelessness. It’s what they do you see. It’s how they beat the system.”
The second stoat nodded dumbly again.
“Perhaps we should round them all up, and make them leave the town,” said the stoat.
The first one agreed.
“That could work, if we could get enough animals that feel the same way as us together. Perhaps it would be worthwhile to talk with our coworkers and see how many share our views?” offered the first stoat, waving his fork into the air with his paw.
Helena and Gregory listened intently—but said nothing.
Soon the stoats were done with their breakfast, paid, and headed out into the street.
The mole serving them brought out their breakfast and laid it in front of each of them.
They thanked her, as she curtsied once more, and headed off to tend to another table.
“Can you believe what they were saying?” asked Helena, scowling at her breakfast, as she took her knife and cut into her oat cake.
Gregory shook his head.
“It looks like old resentments follow us around.”
Helena shook her head angrily.
“I thought that if we moved to such a progressive place as Port Palo, we would be able to leave that sort of misguided hatred back in the old country.”
“Someone has to be at blame for every little inconvenience, but perhaps it will not get worse—and stay the middling talk of breakfast conversation.”
He gathered cream from the bowl next to his cake and slathered it onto the side of the chunk Gregory had cut from the sweet roll.
Helena chewed her mouthful, still scowling.
“We’ll see dear, we’ll see.”
They ate their breakfast quickly, wanting to get out of the café as soon as they could. Helena tried offering Marlin a mouthful of cream, which she ate up eagerly, licking her muzzle and whiskers as best she could.
They paid their bill and headed back to their store, forgetting to take the boar up on his offer of exploration. The mood had soured that morning. Gregory busied himself with putting the sign up above the door, standing on a ten step ladder to reach the sign posts hooks.
The sign firmly in place once again, swinging gently in the breeze, he lowered himself to the ground, and took the ladder inside to store it properly.
They opened the store, and much to their amazement were selling pieces of cloth within the first hour. Those that worked at the other stores came to see them on their breaks, to welcome them into the neighborhood, and to offer advice on where to go to have fun nights drinking and where the best restaurants were—many being close by down one of the many streets running intersected with their own.
The boar that saw them that morning came just as dusk started to settle into the day, and he introduced himself.
“I’m Wilbur,” said the boar, holding his hat between his trotters and smiling sheepishly.
Gregory stuck out his paw, and they shook agreeably.
“Thanks for telling us about the Boarhouse. Their oatcakes and cream were delicious.”
Wilbur nodded, and smiled.
“I’m glad you liked them. My cousin works very hard every day to make that the best experience he can.”
Helena nodded. She already knew she liked the middle aged boar. He had a kind way about him, that spoke to her sensibilities very well.
Wilbur raised a trotter to his chin and rubbed it wistfully.
“When would you like me to take you on a tour of the city?”
The couple thought about it for a moment.
“How about tomorrow?” suggested Gregory.
Wilbur clapped his trotters together and smiled.
“That sounds like a fine idea. I’ll be by early in the morning and we can spend a few hours learning the city.”
Helena nodded and thanked the boar.
Wilbur wished them a good night and made his way to the door.
He turned back to them.
“Be careful at night around here. There’s been some talk about anti-immigrant agendas beginning to take hold in the city. As long as you’re together, or travel with friends, such as myself, you should be fine—but take care not to go down any darkened alleyways by yourselves.”
The couple agreed and thanked him once again.
Wilbur made his way through the door, the bell hanging over head tinkling as the door shut behind him.
“Nice boar, that Wilbur,” said Gregory.
“Yes. Let’s make sure to keep him as a friend for as long as we can.”
Their new friend gone for the evening, the young mouse couple decided it was time to close up shop for the day. They made quick work of closing down the store, helping the last of the customers with what they needed and escorting them amicably through the door. Once the last of the customers had been helped, Gregory locked the door behind the old sheep, and swapped the sign that hanged from the door frame from open to closed.
That done they gathered Marlin and made it back into their house and readied to go to the grocers for supplies for the coming week.
They were diligent with their shopping, after learning where the major food groups were organized within the store and were soon back at home having carried cloth bags of food through the street to their house. They unpacked the food, organizing the dry goods into their larder, and the fresh vegetables into their cellar, and readied themselves for dinner. They ate a modest meal of lettuce leaves and barely mead that they had procured that night in small bottles from the grocers, and went to bed soon after feeding Marlin for the night.
Years passed in much the same fashion. Marlin grew quickly and strongly from a small babe to a stalwart young maiden. She made the best of most situations and worked hard under her parents tutelage to learn as much as she could. Marlin wanted for nothing, and took great care of those she came in contact with.
One fine summers afternoon, in her ninth year, Marlin walked through the streets by her home, enjoying the feeling of the bustling port town as the many different animals that made up its populace went about their lives. The sun beat down on her warmly, lifting her spirits as she traveled through an alley way, as she was cut in shadow by the height of the buildings buttressing either side. A group of animals—a fat stoat, and triplet foxes—lounged lazily on crates to one side of the alleyway.
As Marlin passed the stoat called out to her.
“Hey there, mousey, where do you think you’re going?”
Marlin stopped and turned as the group surrounded her. Marlin made no noise, but attempted to pass the stoat, who placed his outstretched arm against the cool wall blocking her path.
“You’re not going anywhere without paying the toll to get through.”
Marlin grimaced, thinking of the small allotment of coin she carried with her for the meal she was hoping to procure.
“I only have enough for myself, and I’ll not be giving it to you lot, that’s for sure.”
Marlin readied her body and raised her fists.
“You’ll have to fight me for them.”
The stoat and foxes chortled, choking back laughter at the sight of the small mouse ready to defend herself.
One of the foxes nodded slyly to his siblings and came up behind her, propping his leg outward.
The other two foxes laughing to each other pushed Marlin with hard shoves and she toppled over onto the dirt packed ground.
The animals set upon her with punches and raking claws as she did her best to cover her face and body with her arms. The stoat clawed into her—and straddled her waist with his clawed paws raised.
He grabbed at her shirt with one free paw, and pulled her face close to his. Marlin could smell his hot breath washing over him. Her nose and whiskers wrinkled in disgust.
“Are you going to pay up now? Or do we have to spill more of your blood before you’ll give up your precious coins?”
She spat in her face. Long driblets of spit hanged from his nose and muzzle. The stoat pulled back his arm as the foxes started to kick Marlin in the ribs and legs, hard sharp blows.
Marlin closed her eyes tightly against the onslaught, until a cry rang out as an almighty crack echoed throughout the summer days air. Marlins eyes opened and she saw the stoat turn around quickly while yelling in pained surprise.
Crack! Went the board as it connected with the grey stoats face, and down he went senseless and without hesitation. He slumped off Martin and lay in a heap next to her.
The stoat that carried the board readied it again, and swung low with all his might, connecting with the hind legs of the fox nearest him. The fox yelped in pain and fell to the ground clutching his wounded legs cursing his attacker.
“You’ve broken them!”
The stoat carrying the board swiftly kicked the fox in the face, and out he went, much like his friend.
The two remaining foxes bolted from the alleyway hissing and throwing curses to the both of them behind them as they ran.
The victorious brown and white stoat dropped the wooden plank on the ground and walked up to Marlin, who was still laying there in a mild daze.
He offered his paw.
Marlin took it and was soon on her feet again.
She looked over the stoat appreciatively.
“Thanks. I was surely done for, if you hadn’t come to help me.”
The stoat nodded and bowed low.
Marlin dusted off her clothes, being careful not to touch the scratch marks raked up her arms too easily as they began to sting something awful.
“What’s your name, friend?”
The stoat looked at her with green unblinking eyes. He reached up towards his neck with his paw and pulled the fur aside to reveal a great and gristly scar running along the width of his neck.
He pantomimed a talking head with his paw, and shook his head.
“Oh, so you can’t speak, is that it?”
The stoat nodded and smiled.
He reached for his stomach and held it with both paws.
He gestured wildly with both arms, pointing towards the defeated animals, and then clutched his stomach once again.
Marlin looked at him quizzically and let out a small yip.
“So you’re saying your name is something like tummy, is it?”
The stoat shrugged and rolled his eyes, and grabbed his stomach once more, again gesturing to the two waylaid attackers.
Marlin winked up at him, her whiskers twitching.
“Alright Tum, why don’t you come with me. We should probably get out of here before the others return with more of their ilk.
The stoat sighed inaudibly and nodded.
They walked through the streets back towards Marlins home and came to the store front.
Marlin gestured inside.
“This is my family’s store, I’m mother and father will have a reward for you for helping me out so deftly. Follow me.”
Marlin and the stoat walked into the store, and made their way to the back, where Helena was working a great loom, weaving intricate patterns one line at a time into a great tapestry depicting boats sailing on clear waters.
Helena stopped when she saw Marlin and her new friend standing next to her, and noticed the long scratches along her arms, and the beginnings of swelling of her facial features.
“What happened to you my dear!”
Marlin offered a lopsided grin.
“I was getting mugged, and this fine young fella came to my rescue.”
Helena put down her threads and came to inspect her daughter’s wounds more closely.
She held up each arm, and gently prodded the bruising rising out of Marlins young face.
“We’d better get some salve for you for those wounds. You’ll have to clean them out properly with hot water and soap. It’ll sting something awful, but you make sure you do it.”
Helena lead Marlin and the stoat through the room with the loom, and back into the house beyond, to the sink in the kitchen.
“I’ll go and get you some bandages, while you clean yourself up. Wait until your father hears about this,” chided Helena.
She motioned for the stoat to sit at the table which he did wordlessly, and nodded a grin at her once he was comfortable.
“What’s your name, young sir?”
The stoat cupped his paw to his throat, and mimed the talking head again with his free paw, while vigorously shaking his head from side to side.
Marlin turned from the sink towards her mother.
“He can’t talk. I’m calling him Tum, since he keeps grabbing his stomach all the time.”
“Well that won’t do. Let me see if I have something for him so he can express himself.”
Marlin nodded, and went back to gingerly washing her wounds with a basin of hot water and bar of soap. It was not a fun job, but the hot water soothed her wounds nicely.
Helena left them alone for a few minutes.
Having finished washing the wounded appendages that would fit in the sink, Marlin dried them lightly with a small clean towel, and sat down next to Tum at the table.