A Tale of The Knights of the Round Tuna
As Told by Mistress Maus and Master Misch
Proprietors of the �Cleaned Fish�
The Cleaned Fish
The sleepy town of Meowser houses a most unusual establishment known simply as the Cleaned Fish. The proprietors, Mistress Maus and Master Misch are a quiet sorts who keep a clean house, occasional furball aside, and a blind eye to the comings and goings of the various clientele. Mackerel stew, trout fillets, tuna pie, a pint of cream or a yard of milk are the fare to lift the tail and fuel the pounce. The Cleaned Fish has three levels, a loft holding the three guest rooms, the main floor and primary entrance housing the serving area and adjacent kitchen, and finally, the basement where Misch and Maus maintain their quarters. The basement also houses a single room with discreet access to the south gate winding slowly up to the outer walls of the Pursamy Winter Castle.
Continued from 14 August 2006
Rue Cat Blue slowly stretched on the old sofa, dipped a claw into a dish of mackerel stew, and asked simply: "What are you so exited about? Take that off!"
Tommy's head snapped left, right, up, down and his eyes fixed on the small crest affixed to his red chest. With a swish of the paw, the little insignia disappeared into Tommy's pack. Rue Cat Blue, a fun loving little guy with a taste for a good meal and dip of nip, was known as a carefree soul in the lower parts of Meowser. Tommy looked abashed; the youngest member tried very hard to overcome his excitement and took a seat on the divan across from Blue. Blue smiled: "Better, now what brings Tom Tomr here unannounced?"
With a hush in his voice, a dart of his eyes over the rays of light, Squire Tommy became Tom Tomr and said: "She has summoned us all - tonight, here."
Blue stretched again: "So it is serious."
Continued from 21 August 2006
As Mistress Maus shut the inner door to the chamber, the creamy Sugaree's persona vanished with a twitch of her tail and a flick of her red ears. "Where are the others!" she demanded of no one in particular.
Biscuit answered, "It is not wise for all to be here. MissaPu can't work unnoticed this close to the castle and Sami-Ra is far afield."
Rue Cat Blue nodded in agreement to the simple fact in Biscuit's answer. Sugaree meowed softly and said: "It must be recovered and the culprits caught! The loss is an embarrassment to the Kingdom and could be seen as a breach of treaty with Opossumaria. The Queen sent it here for the annual harvest feast and its loss can be kept secret for only so long. The Opossumarian delegation arrives within the month. The vows of friendship must be renewed!"
"War," muttered Purrser.
Biscuit flatly stated: "It gives us a month."
Tom Tomr energetically pronounced: "It must be the thieves' guild; all those jewels and gold would make a tempting target."
Blue blinked: "Rocky and his boys are no fools; however, a prize of this magnitude may have gotten the better of the prince of thieves." Sugaree cocked her head to the side, and squinted: "It disappeared from the lower vault - the guards heard nothing. The Queen's seer could not penetrate the fog around the vault, but the guards were found to be true."
Purrser scratched his crippled leg and reached for his staff, "Am I to go and visit MissaPu?"
"Yes," acknowledged Biscuit: "Blue - visit your friend Rocky, Tomr - stay here until I return from afar with Sami-Ra."
Sugaree looked at the hour glass and stated, "I must go." As she headed for the side door, she whispered: "Remember the gold and jewels are a clue to the prize which must be retrieved!" Biscuit checked for signs of spying eyes and slightly bowed.
Continued from 28 August 2006
Master Misch wiped the slate blackboard clean and scribed the special of the day: "Herring Hash." The farmer's boy drove up in the ox cart and shouted. "How many cans, Master Misch?" Misch wiped the chalk dust on his frock: "Two'er milk and one'er cream." Misch headed towards the ice house and opened the door as the young hedgehog started to unload the first can.
Sir Dory Alexander rode through the cobblestone street, his tail twitching side to side in time with the steps of his mount. Weapon at his side, pack at his back, the leather armor masking the black and white of his long fur. While his keen clear eyes scanned the details of his surroundings, he mulled over the current problem. The Opossums were unlikely culprits, as the treaty had been in place for over seven generations, and both sides benefited from the mutual trade. There were more sinister forces which could be at play such as the Foxloxians and Hounds, and the Squirrel Shire would also see a gain. And there were others. The advantage of Sir Dory Alexander and his small order was simply that they owed their allegiance to the Princess, and long ago the Princesses had been given those tasks which the head of state could not be tied to. A wayward Princess could always be married off.
Sir Dory Alexander was a knight, but also a privateer, a spy and other less polite things - a rat was a rat after all! Aside from that, you simply could not ask 30 Shorthairs to handle a problem discreetly. Alexander laughed as he pictured a regiment of Shorthairs bounding to the Foxloxian's gate to politely ask if they had anything to do with the burglary of the Pursamy Winter Palace. This required a subtle paw and a claw of magic; if only Sir Samson were a little closer than the Temple of Munk! The suns raced in the sky - time was passing.
Continued from 04 September 2006
At the fish market, a gaggle of young kittens burst away from the nearest stall as a steady stream of curses flew from the portly shopkeeper pursuing them. The leading kitten's claws were triumphantly hooked in a flounder steak as he tried to burst past the aging Purrser. A blur of a staff and the young rascal tripped and found himself sitting on the ground. The pack stopped and stared in awe.
The shopkeeper seized the moment and nabbed the rascal by the ear and bellowed: "Whipped, you're going to be whipped! Call the guard!"
Purrser looked at the young kitten, the flounder still firmly in his clutches: "He tried to cheat us! Four coppers he said, and when we paid he said we owed two more!"
A small crowd of shoppers and merchants gathered, each expounding their opinion of the event and drawing the attention of a Shorthair Tabby of the city guard to the scene.
"He stole my fish!" the shopkeeper cried indignantly.
"We paid!" mewed the kittens. As the guard moved to arrest the kitten, Purrser stepped in front of the Guard and reached in his pocket, pulled out a single copper and tossed it to the shopkeeper. "The bargain is made," he said with an edge in his voice.
The guard noticed the small crest on Purrser's cloak. Abruptly, he turned to the shopkeeper and stated, "I'll be keeping my eye on you! Go!"
With a confused frown, the fishmonger pocketed the coin and mumbled under his breath about the unfairness of the law. The Tabby Guard shrugged at the kittens, "What about them?"
Purrser shook his head: "Running did not help, a lesson already learned - let them go home."
Without looking back, Purrser headed off past the fish market out toward the point and the Lighthouse. "MissaPu is going to laugh about me getting mixed up with a bunch of street urchins."
Continued from 11 September 2006
The door to the lighthouse was open. Purrser entered and called to MissaPu.
�I�m in the kitchen,� returned a soft voice. �Do you want some catmint tea?�
�Yes that would be appreciated, and I would not mind some of those little sardines.�
MissaPu smiled, her snaggle tooth giving her the appearance of a witch. Purrser chose a morsel and thought that few made the mistake of actually calling the little red sorceress a witch to her face�fur and claws often flew, and those were lucky ones. Some of the more offensive ones were rumored to disappear, and the appearance of very large moths at the lighthouse was just coincidental. As Purrser took another of the small morsels, MissaPu again smiled. Sir Percival, or simple Purrser, was renowned for his love of a treat and the ability to snack even in mid battle.
�My lady,� Sir Percival began, �The Princess�.�
"I know," she stated flatly. MissaPu was MissaPu, and being Lady Maya would never be as important to her as her lighthouse, herbs, spices, powders, ointments and other ingredients for her magic and healing. However, being a sister to the Princess did incur obligations. �I bet she is in a tizzy with the feast�s prize and the gold container with all the ornamental jewels disappearing from the lower vault right under her nose. I can see her now, twitching her tail and flicking her ears as those blue eyes stab into the soul of anyone daring to cross her path.�
Purrser laughed at MissaPu�s imitation of the Princess. MissaPu stopped, �Delylah would not find humor in this � oh well, scrying in the shadows works best at dusk or dawn, not in the bright light of day. We must wait until then�.would you like a draught of cream?�
Continued from 18 September 2006
The temple of the Munk was far from tranquil, more like an anthill with the flurry of furry activity. Young Munks scurried here and there, carrying baskets of grain, bales of hay and straw, herbs, fruits, and seeds from the countryside to silos in preparation for the coming winter. Herders drove the flocks of sheep up to the high meadows each morning. In the pastures, the mooing of the cattle added to the sound and smells of a countryside alive. The orchards were acrawl with Munks gathering the apples and pears. The Master Chef�s steps could be heard scurrying between the vats of curds and cider. A sniff here and a sniff there, followed by a squeak of instruction to a mass of Munks to prepare this or that batch for the cellars, ovens, or the evening meal.
In contrast to the turmoil all about, a black statue sat overlooking the Koi pond in the inner garden. It was cooler here and quieter, although it was never really quiet anywhere within the temple, in the little garden with its olive trees, juniper bushes and the small meadow of sacred grass.
With a loud crash and a bleating cry, one of the Abbot�s goats burst from the adjacent stall. The statue�s copper eyes snapped open. This was followed by ensuing wails from two young Munks as they tried to corral the errant goat. One attempted to keep the remaining animals in their stall while the other tried to coax the goat away from its prize. In the end, the goat triumphantly snapped up a branch from the olive tree and butted the unfortunate youngster whose focus was on the herd heading back into the stall. A razor claw snapped from the hand of the statue and sliced a stalk of sacred grass. The young Munks looked abashed and darted off to repair the gate.
Sami-Ra placed the stalk of grass between his sharp teeth and gracefully unfolded himself from the ground. Well, if you could not meditate on it, at least the stalk was tasty � either way it would help the digestion. Sami-Ra stretched gracefully and decided it was getting close to noon and a light meal of thin fish stew and watered milk would redeem the interrupted session.
Continued from 25 September 2006
Continued from 2 October 2006
�Light is good, light is pure, yet the shadows still endure.�
Using the white candle she passed the flame to the black candle. Now with the black candle, she began to light the five remaining candles around the little chamber. Purrser sat quietly and watched as MissaPu�s shadows sprang forth as she passed by each flame. The candles were carved to resemble old faces with gem eyes, from green to coppery red.
Softly she chanted: �The first to wake Maggi, a second for Sam, the third to call Jo,
fourth fire for Cody, and the final to Maxx, our dear departed friends spring forth
from the wax.�
In the center of the table rested a large copper bowl filled with scented oils. As MissaPu approached the table, the candle cast shadows crept forth and wrapped around her, then poured into the oils. The trails of their shadowy tails remained firmly fixed with each candle. A smell of catnip pierced the air.
�Nine by nine to reverse time,� she purred.
In the bowl rested a smooth flat crystal which began to glow white, then black.
�Tis� your help we do seek, light the shadows where evil creeps�
Yowls and hisses erupted: �For gold thy bothered?� a silvery form sneered.
�Gold and jewels are just a shell, of the prize I do tell.�
Suddenly, the black candle shattered. Pieces of wax splattered MissaPu�s face, singeing her left whiskers. Purrser jumped to his feet, his sword drawn. The smell of sulfuric smoke choked his senses. All was quiet.
Continued from 9 October 2006
Sami-Ra�s eyes snapped open. The fur from his whiskers to the tip of his tail stood on edge. His deep coppery eyes blinked twice and adjusted to see his meager quarters in the Temple of Munk. �Maya? ...Maya? � Sami-Ra�s ill feeling subsided as his black fur slowly rested. It was time to go! Now! He did not understand why, but by morning the sweet scared stalks of grass would be only a memory.
Continued from 16 October 2006
MissaPu coughed and looked at the shattered candle. The bowl of oil was covered with a greenish film. Carefully, slowly she walked over to the cupboard and picked up a crystal pitcher of cream. Softly she purred, �Nine by nine friends throughout time,� as she carefully doused each of five candles with drops of cream. Contented purring reverberated through the tiny chamber and abruptly, quiet erupted.
A shaken MissaPu rested on the sofa. �We are not the only ones dancing with the shadows tonight.�
Purrser finally sheathed his sword: �A magician? Who?�
MissaPu sadly shook her head: �A sorcerer, the who was not to be gained.�
Purrser frowned and then in a puzzled voice: �Then why in the Nine did they waste all the time telling us about the Princess Delylah?�
A tired MissaPu had to laugh at the black and white view of the very grey cat. �Answers are there for us to see; the problem is we don�t see things in the way of shadows. Whoever is behind this is not only a crafty sorcerer, but�I think bears a personal grudge.�
Continued from 23 October 2006
Rum Tom Tomr cartwheeled across the dance floor with Molly. Business was brisk at the Cleaned Fish. Mistress Maus carried pints of cream and milky ale through the maze of tables and clientele. A smirking brown Tabby snatched a pint of cream from Mistress Maus and hollered across the floor to Molly: �Sis, you want another?�
Almost out of breath, Molly meowed "not right now" just as Tom Tomr spun her about again. Tom Tomr had been in a state all day, anxious to get into the action, and worried about the fate of his fellow knights and of course the great prize. His emotions had bounded up and down until he had seen Max and Molly coming up from the farmers market. It was nice to see old friends from his village. Max was apprenticed to the smithy and Molly tended their parents� sheep. Two years that seemed liked an eternity were just as suddenly washed away by Molly�s smile. The reunion party had started almost immediately after Max explained they were looking for a place to stay until morning.
Master Misch came out of the kitchen carrying a pile of cow cheese and salted biscuits and headed up the stairs to serve the guest in the upper left room. He knocked on the door and waited. In short order, a grey silhouette appeared and took the food just as Tomr started to spin Molly again. A sparkle of light from the top of the steps captured Tomr's attention as Mistress Maus passed on her way towards the kitchen. Trapped by the glint if light, Tomr failed to keep a grasp on Molly�s hand. A loud crash erupted as the unwitting Molly was hurled into Mistress Maus�s serving tray. Tomr's eyes looked on the green eyes and tufts of smooth black fur at the top of the steps.
The image was suddenly whitewashed away as one of the errant mugs splattered cream across his face. With quick swipe of the paw, Tomr cleared his eyes. The door at the top of the steps was closed. Absently, Tomr licked his cream laden paw. "Meow! This good!" A rough tongue darted across Tomr�s cheek. �Yup,� agreed Molly with a smirk. Tomr�s red fur turned redder as Mistress Maus shook her head and simply said: �You two going to help me clean the floor?�
Continued from 30 October 2006
Rue Cat Blue spent most of his time down at the wharf. The smells, sounds and bustle of the crowds entertained him. He sat propped up next to one of the Opossumarian import shops. A spit of nip hit the pavement. Rue Cat Blue appeared to be the type that mothers warned about�too much nip and dip (of cream), let time slip and too soon to flip! To the causal observer, Rue was there in body only; however, from this vantage Rue Cat Blue had an inconspicuous view of the comings and goings to a large dingy warehouse just beyond the square. The place was busy, although no particular goods seemed to move in and out of it.
A large brown Raccoon sauntered down the street towards the warehouse. The patch over his left eye and the pack on his back were dusty grey. A motley colored cloak hid most of his muscled form. Rue Cat Blue noted the glint of three stilettos about old Raccoon. A notched ear with three silver rings twitched. Blue smiled and whispered to himself: �Ah Rocky, where have you been shopping?� With a blink, the little round Blue and his pack were nowhere to be seen.
Rue Cat Blue had had a busy morning. His pack contained a few baubles he�d picked up at Twitter�s Antiques. The old Squirrel had a fine selection above and below the boards of his shop. Additionally, Sir Moritz had obtained a large box at the palace earlier in the day. Rue Cat Blue knew the value of this on the street, and Delylah would certainly not miss one of the �little� boxes. It was all in the line of duty after all.
He entered the side door of the warehouse. A large burly grey Raccoon barely nodded as he made a three fingered sign. The guard continued to watch the door. Blue pushed past the main hall and the gambling tables. A moderate crowd, the mix of species seemed interested only in lady luck or creamy ale. A group of young Shire Squirrel flittered around a shell game table as the wily Fox batted her eyes at them each time she shuffled the walnut shells � they would soon learn Foxloxian paws were quicker then the eye. At a "Catz, Ratz and Batz" table, Blue noted Lucky Lenny tossing the dice. His friend Ruby was distracting the Opossum and milking the Opossum�s purse. The grey house Rat watched the rolls; customers could cheat each other, but try the house and steel would fly.
Blue wound past stacks of trade goods toward the cashier both. The goods were stacked haphazardly. Blue smiled�the piles also ensured only a few at a time could possibly rush toward the cashier. Everything had a purpose here. Left of the cashier�s cage loomed two large armored Raccoon guards in front of a heavy brown door. A crossbow within fingertips� reach of the guards reminded Blue there was more than fun here. Rue Cat Blue made the second sign, and the guards knocked on the door. The door opened. As Blue tried to enter, a large grey Ratsillian bumped into him. Blue merely smiled and confirmed his blades and purse were still with him.
The little round room contained a few benches. Blue dumped the baubles from his pack on the nearest one. A small grey Mouse scurried forward popped a monocle over his eye and stared: �Not bad quality but nothing special.� As the appraiser sorted the goods, a large grey Raccoon brought bins forward. The Mouse�s paws skimmed over an abacus marking the tally of the goods. Blue did not argue. Rocky sat disinterested in a large black chair in the back of the chamber. His notched ear had twitched once as Blue entered. One by one, the baubles disappeared into the bins. The transaction was nearly completed as the Mouse counted out seven pieces of silver and a few copper. Blue took the coins, leaving a silver piece on the table. The guild had dues after all. A smart thief paid without asking. The Mouse Abercrombie would always remember who hadn�t paid, and goods would be valued less next time.
With the apparent business completed, Rue Cat Blue pulled the large box from his pack. He placed it on the table the lid towards him and cracked it ever so slightly. Rocky�s eyes widened. Without looking directly at Rocky, Blue quietly stated, �Might I have a word with you in private?� Rocky rose slowly and pointed to a set of curtains against the wall by his chair. Blue nodded and took his box, following Rocky into the back chamber.
It was a comfortable little nook; Pursamy carpets and pillows adorned the floor. A pitcher of cream rested on a small table. Blue noted the magic mirror hanging on the wall, Rocky kept a sharp eye on his customers and his help.
Rocky looked Blue over: �May I?�
�Sure,� said Rue Cat Blue.
Rocky lit a small dragon candle and intoned: �Into the maw all sounds draw,� as the dragon candle coughed a flash of flame. Rocky slowly raised his head and met Rue Cat Blue�s eyes. �Why do you visit my home Sir Moritz?�
�A problem to solve have I,� Rue Cat Blue purred. �The Princess is missing a prize and the time is short.�
�What sort of prize?� questioned Rocky in a noncommittal tone.
�One that could lead to War,� surmised Blue.
Rocky shook his head and flatly stated: �Politics is not my game.�
�Ah,� smiled Rue Cat Blue, �but the lower vault would be of interest � yes?�
Rocky�s paw inched toward one of his stilettos. His eyes remained calm. Blue was a good judge of character and decided Rocky was nervous, but not the culprit in this case. Blue slowly opened the large box. Rocky�s nose twitched and his grip relaxed. Rue Cat Blue slid the box of Royal Bee Honey Cheese Tarts toward Rocky: �My old friend, if you hear anything � I would appreciate a little nudge.� Gold and silver were important to Rocky but ordinary; the Royal Bee Honey Cheese Tarts from the Princess�s kitchens, however, were another thing entirely. Blue reached over and poured himself a cup of cream.
Continued from 6 November 2006
Sir Dory Alexander rolled once across the ground and sprung at the closed shadows with sword in paw and claws at the ready. The flash of metal erupted as the Foxloxian�s sword met his.
Alexander�s warhorse mount charged to the opposite direction and with a large thump ran over the nearest rogue trying to corner Alexander from behind. This villain�s breath was stolen away and the mount�s momentum sent him bouncing down over the embankment. His sword, helmet and shield sprayed into the high grass.
Alexander only vaguely registered a splash, his attention forced on the foe facing him. Clank! Clank! Quick strokes and parries, but Alexander�s mind was racing and replaying the attack as he kept his foe busy. His eyes had adjusted to the twilight and noted the large fallen tree on the edge of the road.
A quick kick to the Foxloxian�s mid-section served as a springboard to launch Alexander towards the fallen tree. Two rapid bounds and Alexander pounced on the third Foxloxian, surprising him in the middle reloading his crossbow. Crossbows must be cranked to be reloaded, and a set of razor like claws appearing in Fox�s face broke his needed concentration. Snap! The bolt launched. Alexander and the Fox froze in time, their eyes tracing the arc of the quarrel. Thunk, the quarrel stuck out of the edge of a soft leather boot. The Fox�s eyes widened, followed by a howl of pain. Alexander sprang back, and the wounded took the opportunity to bound limping away towards the woods.
The remaining Fox stood in the roadway, recovered from the kick, as Alexander turned to face him. The Fox glanced at the Alexander and noted the stain of red emerging from the side of Alexander�s leather armor. The Fox stared at Alexander and nodded; with a quick flourish of his sword he saluted and turned to dart away. A fluffy red tail disappeared in the grass. The Fox certainly was no coward, but robbers were a practical sort and the risk had outweighed the prize.
Alexander looked for his mount. A sharp whistle brought an echoed response from the horse. Alexander turned toward the direction of the mount when a scrape of gravel forced his attention about. A very wet and winded Fox was crawling up the embankment. His fur was pasted down; weeds and briars were stuck in his coat. Algae hung from his right ear. Alexander pointed his sword at the unarmed Fox.
The Fox looked embarrassed: �They�ve gone?�
Alexander nodded. Fury trotted back to the scene. The Fox cringed at the horse�s approach. Sir Dory Alexander pondered a second and decided to bluff: �You�re the ones who were seen at the Persami Winter Palace!�
The bruised Fox shook his head flinging algae about and with a forced puff of breath said: �No way! Prince Nightrunner would skin �emm� well�.� The Fox stopped, sat on his haunches and looked abashed. Water dripped from his face and fur.
Pain raced up Alexander�s side � a rat was a rat, but there was nothing to be gained from trying to take this Fox a prisoner. Alexander needed to press on. The information was already useful to narrow down the Knight�s search. Alexander pulled himself up onto Fury�s back. Red drops rolled down his knee. Alexander looked down at the Fox and smiled a fanged grin: �Shadows conceal.� Alexander pushed Fury forward. The puzzled Fox coughed as Fury�s dust added to his misery.
A few of the locals were yowling out the tune of "Furagone�s Wake" as the door to the little inn opened. Mabel recognized the clear eyes hidden behind the dirty face. Biscuit entered the warm room, grass stains and weeds about him. He started to smile at Mabel, but before the usual greetings were exchanged, the form in the door collapsed.
Continued from 13 November 2006
Tom Tomr woke up early with a slight headache and headed down to Mistress Maus�s kitchen for some fresh catnip and chamomile tea. The pot began to whistle even before he entered the kitchen.
Mistress Maus smiled: �Quite a night you had; they are out in the stable loading up the cart. She poured the hot water, filling three stoneware mugs: �You mind taking these along with yours?� The smell of the tea brought back his concentration. Tom Tomr thanked her and took the mugs on his way to the stable.
Max was sitting up in the cart, his head buried deeply in his paws, his ears laying flat on top of them, his tail laying limply on the seat. A small groan escaped Max as the ox shifted slightly, moving the cart and him. Tom Tomr greeted his friend by pushing a mug under Max�s noose. Max never lifted his face � the mug merely became engulfed in his paws with his chin resting on the mug.
Molly came bounding around the back of the cart: �Good morning Tomr,� she beamed. �Tea, great!� She took the last mug and drank. Tomr sipped his cup slowly, trying to uncloud his mind. Molly smiled: �You�re going to keep your promise and visit us mid-winter!�
Tomr stuttered: �Well of course,� as he absently scratched his left ear and wondered what else he had promised.
Molly looked bemused and said: �After all, you�re going to have to ask my parents before we ��
Tomr choked on the tea and unceremoniously coughed and sneezed, tea erupting from his nose. Molly rolled over laughing: �You boys just make this too easy!� As Tomr stopped coughing, she walked over and kissed him on the cheek, �Seriously, if you could visit it would be fun. Max and I must get going now.� She pounced onto the seat beside her brother who winced at the sudden movement of the seat.
Molly gathered up the two mugs and handed them to Tomr. �Bye now!� Tomr stood looking up at Molly; he noted the morning light bouncing across the tufts of her ears the little flecks of light seemed to sparkle in her eyes. Tomr was frozen. The cart lurched forward and Molly�s laugh brought Tomr back to the morning. He stood and watched the cart roll out of sight. Slowly Tomr turned back toward the kitchen � time to return the mugs, time to go see the Princess.
Continued from 20 November 2006
Sami-Ra hunkered down on his mount, an oily cloak wrapped tightly about him, his hat scrunched down to his brow. Drops of cold drizzling rain ran along his whiskers and vaulted from his whisker tips to the ground. This morning had erupted with a huge thunderstorm threatening to wash away the world; however, as the hours wore on, the violence subsided into a steady shower sneakily seeping into every pore � a proclamation of the winter ahead.
Flicka, Sami-Ra�s mount, shook her head forcing a spray of cold water from her neck and mane. Sami contemplated the way ahead over the Crescent Mountains, down through the Black Forest and along the coast to Meowser. Four days of hard travel. His unrest about Maya had steadily subsided since leaving the Temple of Munk, but Sami-Ra knew he needed to get back soon. A trip through Squirrel Shire would add three days to the trip, but if there was snow in the Crescent passes, the trip through the mountains could be delayed for weeks.
Continued from 27 November 2006
Dory Alexander�s eyes narrowly opened, he squinted trying to focus on a pair of butterflies, one red and one black flittering about. Strange, he thought, butterflies? Muffled sounds failed to penetrate the fog of his mind. Dory attempted to move, and a sharp pain raced up his side.
�Lie still!� intruded into his consciousness as he squinted and the butterflies melted from his vision to form a pair of pointed ears. Mabel shook her head, a relieved smile on her face. Dory concentrated and the room came into focus. Mabel meowed: �Yup, quite a scare you gave us. You been out collecting stickers from jealous boy friends?� holding up the remains from the cross bolt.
Dory concentrated on Mabel and the room, and remembered the little run-in with the Foxloxians on the road. Shifting into his Biscuit persona, he bantered: �So you�re dating Foxes now?�
Biscuit�s paw reached down to explore the wound in his leg. Mabel smacked his paw: �Leave the bandages alone! You want to bleed on my bed again?�
Biscuit glanced out the window and asked: �How long was I out?�
Mabel looked seriously at him: �A little over a day; the wound is clean, but you lost a lot of blood.� Mabel continued: �Figure you�ll have to lie up here for a couple of days. The boys moved your gear and Fury into the barn.� Biscuit took this all in with the typical reaction of a Knight in the employ of Princess Delylah: �So you got any food ready�?
Continued from 4 December 2006
Tom Tomr bounded up the cobblestone walk through the outer and inner gates on his way to the palace. Since Max and Molly�s departure, Tomr had been concentrating on the mystery of the missing feast. The platter has been huge and required four guards to carry it. The cover was gold encased with gemstones and other ornamental jewels. Additionally, the blocks of ice that were required to keep the feast cool added more weight.
Squire Tommy stopped in the middle of the courtyard; the guards all had let him pass unchallenged since he was wearing his official crests. He moved up the marble steps of the audience hall and strode over to the fifth column. From this vantage point, Tomr had witnessed the arrival of the Queen�s guard and the feast. It was just about the same time of day mused Tomr. The light played with his crest, reflections flittering on the column as Tomr looked about. Odd. Tomr tried hard to remember; normally he was fascinated with the play of light to the point of accusations of being entranced at times. The excitement of the guards and their horses and armor all sparkled in his mind. The captain formally greeting Princess Delylah, but then again something had not been right. Light � yes, the light had been wrong!
Tommy rushed across the audience hall steps and sprung down steps heading crosswise to the round tower that was the Princess's primary residence. The guards here did check him over � CC and Captain Shadow knew him on sight, but it was a part of the routine to mentor the young Squire Tommy. He entered the tower and headed up the spiral steps to the library, the most likely place to find Delylah. The library balcony overlooked the courtyard and gardens. The tower also ensured it would be very difficult to spy on the Princess.
The butler, Jazz, was just coming out of the library and said to Tommy, �Go on in, Sir. She is expecting you.� Another advantage of overlooking the courtyard noted Tommy � few surprise visitors. He knocked on the door and entered.
Delylah sat out on the balcony. Tommy noted the shadows. She had visitors. As he strode through the library to go out and meet the Princess, Tommy recognized Moritz�s voice. �Dory Alexander and Samson should be back in a couple of days,� stated Moritz.
�Good morning, Tommy,� acknowledged Delylah. �Please have a seat and take a dish of cream.� Lady Maya and Percival were here as well. Each greeted Tommy and waited for him to sit and serve up a dish of cream. Tommy was charged with excitement, and he waited for Delylah to ask for his report. Delylah merely cocked a red ear in his direction.
�The feast was a fake,� announced Tommy.
Maya�s ears perked up, and she said: �No, Princess!� This stopped Delylah from swatting Tommy on the nose. Delylah tilted her head, annoyed. Maya looked seriously at Tommy: �Explain please.� Tommy tried to choose his words carefully, but what came out was simply: �The light was wrong!�
Moritz shook his head, but Percival thought about this and then asked slowly �Which light - when?� Tommy launched into his story of watching the arrival of the Queen�s guard, the Captain of the Guard talking to Delylah, the number and color of the horses, the glint of the armor, the spectators around the courtyard, the lack of sparkle and the jewels and gems, the smells of the vendor�s stands: Tuna rolls, Trout fillets, Mackerel stew, the movement of a shadowy figure by the bakery, the guards hauling the feast and ice towards the square guard tower, the ivy on the tower moving with the breeze, and the feast casting an odd shadow.
�Stop!� said Maya looking at Tommy in earnest. �The jewels did not sparkle and the shadows were wrong?�
Delylah�s fur started to rise. Tommy looked around the table and could not comprehend how the group could not understand the importance of his discovery. Tommy tried to explain again: �Everything sparkled in the sunlight but the feast�s jewels and gems.�
Delylah�s paw slammed the table claws extended: �So what?�
Maya looked hard at all of them: �Illusion, the feast was never here!�
Delylah growled. Percival ignored her and stated: �If the feast was never here, then what was in the vault?�
Moritz rose: �Come � time to reexamine the vault with different eyes.� Maya rose as well and she, Tommy and Moritz headed for the vault.
Continued from 11 December 2006
Sami-Ra pulled off his boots and started looking for kindling. The pine bark and needles provided enough dry material to start a small smoky fire. Sami-Ra stripped off his wet gear and plopped himself on the ground. He wrung out his tail. Dried fish provided the evening meal as he meticulously started to clean his weapons and gear. They were set for the night.
As morning sun rose over the pines, Sami-Ra and Flicka were already on the move, the valley below shrouded in fog as the pair climbed higher into the hills. The trail showed signs of increased traffic, wagon tracks marring the path. Although Sami-Ra met a couple of travelers along the way, the trip progressed uneventfully. The sun climbed to its zenith as the travelers rounded a series of sharp turns. A narrow outcropping along the last turn provided a view of the Shire. Nuts! Well, all kinds of nuts.
The Temple of Munk had been a scurry of furry activity, but the Squirrel Shire was something entirely different. The homes seemed precariously suspended in the branches of the huge trees. The residents bounded back and forth, dropping multiple stories at a time only to grasp some hidden branch or nook and propel themselves along their way. A few Opossums could be seen sleeping in the sun their tails securely wrapped around the branches of an Inn catering to more acrobatic visitors. Sami-Ra did not mind height but Flicka would have to remain at the stables at the edge of the Shire.
Sami-Ra scampered up a set of ramps leading to the main level of the Shire. His intuition propelled him along the rows of shops. Walnuts, hazelnuts, peanuts, Solomon nuts, nut cakes, nut bread, nut mead, and other crunchy delicacies were in abundance. Sami-Ra thought he would be hard pressed to get a plain meal of Mackerel or Tuna stew in this place without being doused in pine nuts and macadamia oil. Yuck!
Ah ha! This would be better � a sign for the Royal Roe Inn claiming to serve cold Cod rolls and Herring chops. Sami-Ra purposefully strode towards the three story loft. The lower level of the Inn appeared like a huge basket woven in and around the trunk of a big oak. Through the open shutters, Sami-Ra spotted an array of guests. A well attended Inn was a good sign. The second level mimicked the shape of a half of a walnut shell, with the dark carved deck hosting a number of tables set about for dining on the open air pavilion. Two cat walks wrapped themselves to the left and right toward the upper levels. Waiters bounded over the edge just as often as they walked down the catwalk, their trays spinning about in their paws keeping the contents skyward even when the Squirrel waiters were not. The right side led to a large bungalow. �Private Party� was written on a sign suspended on the walkway. Sami-Ra headed toward the pavilion.
A short grey squirrel intercepted Sami-Ra. �Party of One?� the Squirrel chattered.
�Yes one,� Sami replied dryly. As the maitre d� led Sami-Ra towards an open table, he caught the unmistakable smell of rodent and cheddar.
Once seated, Sami-Ra glanced at the menu � the cod special with milk appealed. The table�s vantage point revealed the left catwalk leading up to a tiny multicolored bungalow�more like a Magpie�s nest, observed Sami-Ra. A figure could be seen sitting opposite him in the tiny dwelling. His whiskers tingled and an image flooded into his mind � food? Sami-Ra reached for his sword and snapped up the magical shield around his consciousness. His fur came alive with the building power of his magic.
The small Rodent waiter paled considerably: �Sir? Is there anything wrong?�
The presence slipped away from Sami-Ra. He quickly considered the intrusion, assessed the danger, and decided. Sami-Ra looked at the waiter and flatly stated: �Party of two, the marinated Mackerel pie, honey grazed cashew cake, peanut brittle, and a pitcher of cream.�
The little squirrel twitched his nose in puzzlement: �Yes Sir.�
Sami-Ra rose and pointed to the little bungalow: �I�ll be eating there.�
Sami-Ra purposefully strode across the catwalk to the Magpie nest. He knocked on the door and entered without waiting to be invited. Well, the invitation had been delivered already. She was sitting at a small round marble table. A tiger eye talisman around her neck. Sami-Ra�s eyes adjusted to the room. She was old, white tuffs covering most of the tips of her ears, of which the left contained three heavy golden rings; the right was notched and decorated with a silver chain. She smiled; her teeth were short and yellowed for a Squirrel, definitely old. She was wrapped up in multi-colored robes, a paw resting on a rose crystal sitting in the middle of the table, dark claws tapping on table. Her eyes were clouded and murky, her brown nose twitched.
�Please sit; I�m known as Madame Illisandra.� Sami-Ra sensed her power � real magic was spun about her. The Tiger-eye trinket was charmed to fool the untrained into thinking it was her source but Sami-Ra knew better.
He seated himself: �A note or runner would have served as a better invitation.�
Madame Illisandra merely replied: �You would not have come another way.�
Sami-Ra started to say that she risked herself for nothing; having taken her measure, he knew she was not a fool. Ah, the mysteries of life � and lunch. Sami-Ra smiled as he heard the steps of the waiter: �Shall we have lunch my Lady�?
The meal proceeded quietly. Polite conversation about the seasons, Shire and traveling helped pass the time. They were sipping the cream after the waiter had cleared the table. Sami-Ra waited patiently. �I thank you for the meal and company.�
Madame Illisandra stated: �Do you desire a reading?�
Sami-Ra contemplated � fate was intriguing and he was always interested in the way others used their magic � but part of allowing a reading was to let, in some small way, another gain an insight into himself. Sami-Ra could not jeopardize his link with Maya. �I thank you for the offer, but it cannot be so.�
Madame Illisandra was not put off by this. She rose and went back to a small cupboard. After rummaging around, she came back with three trinkets: A small ivory figurine in the form of a rat, a blue crystal vial containing a gold speckled liquid, and a flat grey granite stone.
She set the items in front of Sami-Ra and stated: �This is what I have to offer you, but without the reading, I can�t tell which it is you may have use of.�
Sami-Ra smiled: �What is the cost?� Madame Illisandra smiled back: �The cost is unknown, for it will be determined by the path if or when you require one of these.� She continued: �The price is five gold for the figurine, nine gold for the vial, and four gold for the stone.�
Sami-Ra whistled: �A hefty price!�
As evening approached, Sami-Ra and Flicka were well on their way to the village of Pounce. Two or three more days of travel after that and then they would be back home. Ah well, Maya would be extremely entertained by Sami-Ra�s latest acquisitions. Sami-Ra pictured a Maya growling under her breath, the snaggle tooth snapping up and down: �You spend N I N E gold on a �Love potion of Pine� that is not worth a dime!� Sami-Ra held the little vial and felt the magic � it contained real magic, but what would he ever need a Love Potion of Pine for? It was touted only to work on rodents and, as Dory Alexander was fond of saying: �A rat is a rat after all!�
Continued from 18 December 2006
Sir Moritz led the procession down to the lower vault followed by Lady Maya, Squire Tommy and Sir Percival. Sheer determination was etched into their faces. The guard along the passage snapped to attention at the approach of the Princess�s personal advisors.
Rumors ran rampant since the disappearance of the feast, and an uneasy tension remained between the Palace Guards and the Queen�s Elites. After all, it was assumed that the Palace Guards had grown lazy in their lush assignment at the Pursamy Winter Castle. Lush assignment! Ha! Captain Shadow had drilled the guard regularly and led them on pounce and bound runs every morning through the neighboring woods � neither rain, nor snow or burning heat kept him from keeping the guard at the ready. The guard was no place for slackers; Princess Delylah ran unannounced inspections and had a nose and claw to dig out even the most minor violation. Armsmaster Dash ensured that everyone was kept sharp and ready at weapons drill. However, with the feast missing, the guard�s reputation was tainted.
Captain Shadow was just examining the vault doors, when the Sir Moritz and company descended the stair.
�My Lady, Gentlemen,� Captain Shadow stated: �Can I be of assistance?�
Sir Percival huffed: �Yes, open the vault!�
Captain Shadow motioned the guard to comply. As the young Tabby guard opened the door, Lady Maya motioned for everyone to wait. �Douse the torches,� she said. The second guard obeyed without question. The party waited until their eyes adjusted to the grey veils of the vault. Maya concentrated and probed into the layers of the darkness. A small glow echoed from a foot print on the floor, and Squire Tommy pounced into the room and captured the glitter before Moritz or Maya could even speak.
�Tommy!� Maya growled and since no obvious harm had befallen the young squire, �Come here with that!� Tommy proudly presented Maya with a small amber crystal which Maya gingerly took and then with a lightning paw smacked Tommy on the ear. �What if it had been a trap?!�
Sir Moritz rekindled a torch and started to examine the floor of the vault. �Look Percival, the melting ice formed an outline here and the depression of the feast�s stand is not even as deep as Tommy�s paw print!�
Sir Percival crouched down and sniffed the track. He carefully tasted a spot of the dirt. Both Captain Shadow and Lady Maya looked aghast until Percival announced, "Not a scent of anything but wood and water in the whole room."
Captain Shadow stated flatly: �Then we were duped, but how could this happen?�
Maya held up the amber crystal in the light, the perfect shape of a small red spider trapped in time was revealed. Maya smiled: �A web of magic talisman, extremely rare and difficult to use. The owner will not be too pleased that it had to be left behind,� Maya mused. �Gentlemen, thank you. I will go see the Princess.�
�Illusion on illusion,� whispered Maya to the crystal as she headed up out of the vault.
Sir Moritz looked about: �Nothing more to learn here. Captain Shadow, prepare the company for a maneuver � we should be heading out within two days time!�
Percival glanced at Moritz: �Do you think it would not be better to await Alexander and Samson�s return?�
Sir Moritz shook off a worried glance: �No, if they are not back by then we will have to find both them and the feast � someone knew a lot about the operations of the Queen�s guard to pull this off!�
Continued from 25 December 2006
Morat paced about his chambers. What was the use of pulling off the greatest caper in history when no one but a bunch of Ratsillian lackeys knew about it. He wanted show Delylah and rub that smug face in the feast till she choked! Well, maybe not choke, but how could she have snubbed him and shredded his feelings as if he were a catnip toy! Ah, but she would be sorry! Soon enough, he would unveil the very feast right in front of her and the Opossumarian and Queen�s delegation! The Mouseturm keep may not be the Winter Palace, but it did have the advantage of sitting on the island in the middle of the river. Invitations needed to be sent out � but timing was critical!
Morat picked up a rose crystal from his desk and chanted softly. The grey whiskered form slowly took shape: �Your bidding, Master?�
�Squeak, come to my chambers. We have some work to do�and have the lackeys ice down that feast,� sneered Morat.
Continued from 1 January 2007
Pounce was a tranquil spot on the trade route to Meowser but just far enough out so that the bustle of the city did not encroach into the daily lives of the town�s residents. Dory Alexander was happy here. As Biscuit, he worked in Mabel�s Inn kneading the fresh dough into fine breads and delicate pastries. Mabel watched Biscuit�s progress in the kitchen; she was always amazed that the knight had acquired these skills. Flour was sprayed all over his face; one thing that was inevitable was that Biscuit was always messy. They had decided that he needed to stay off of the road and Fury for a few days. The bolt had missed the vital parts of the leg, but there was no sense in taking a chance on infection setting in. Mabel had ensured that Alexander�s bandages were changed, his weapons cleaned and stowed, and Fury taken care of. The locals never asked her too many questions about Biscuit. They enjoyed the treats he conjured. After all, crawfish pastries were not found everywhere!
Mabel was smiling � this was a good day. One of her boys was leading Fury out for his walk when the great warhorse let out a thunderous neigh and rose up on his hind legs. The horse�s greeting echoed back from around the bend. A harried Biscuit appeared at the doorway at the sound of Fury�s call.
Continued from 8 January 2007
It had been a long hard day in the saddle. Samson and Flicka were just about to crest the turn which would bring the sleepy village of Pounce into view when Flicka�s ears pricked up and she energetically called out after another horse's neigh. Samson smiled and thought, �Ah, old girl, so Fury is nearby.� Samson let Flicka have the reigns and with renewed energy they pushed into the village.
Continued from 15 January 2007
Mabel was none too pleased to see the second warhorse round the turn. One knight was always pleasant company, two meant there was trouble. And with these two, there was always high trouble. As the rider and horse pulled up into the courtyard, Biscuit limped out to greet Samson. The two whispered a minute and then Biscuit called over to Mabel, �Can you fetch us some cream?�
Continued from 22 January 2007
The Opossumarian diplomats bored Delylah to tears! Well almost � these perfunctory meetings strained the princess�s patience; she feigned interest in the proceedings between the Opossumarian and her counselors and chancellor. Foremost on Delylah�s mind was the missing feast.
Chancellor Sukko rolled out the seating chart, his violet eyes scanning the list of invitees. His whiskers vibrated in consort with each Opossumarian on the list: � �Lord Moximaria, Count Fredoria and Contessa Opielisia will be seated to the right of the main table. Prince Nightrunner and his delegation will be seated .��
�This is not acceptable,� clicked Master Opiia and the Opossumarian�s diplomat rolled his head left of his shoulders and back right, his tail curled. �We cannot endure the presence of the Foxloxian rogues.�
Princess Delylah choked down a shout and pleasantly snarled: �For the Vows of Friendship to retain their veneration, it must be witnessed by all!�
Master Opiia looked aghast. His attempt to scorn Delylah�s comments was forestalled by a timely intervention of Jazz. The butler popped the lid of the serving tray and flooded the room with the smells of hot Royal Jelly Cheese Buns and Fig Filled Flounder Fingers. Jazz smiled innocuously at Master Opiia: �Difficult arrangements.� Master Opiia selected a cheese bun and contemplated Jazz�s comment. Delylah smiled. Jazz may be simply the butler, but he knew how to control a gathering.
Lady Maya entered the room and assessed the situation. Princess Delylah�s red ears were laid flat against her tiara. Taking in the entire delegation, Maya could only be thankful that her sister had the dubious honor of being the Princess. Maya curtsied for show. �Princess we have an urgent issue with your gown for the feast!� Maya scolded herself and thought: �Lame, ever so lame � is that the best I can come up with?�
Delylah�s ears perked up immediately: �Ladies and Gentlemen, if you would excuse me, I will leave this in your capable paws.� The parties bowed as Maya and Delylah swept out of the room. Delylah growled: �Pompous Opossums!� Maya merely smiled and followed the princess to her private chambers.
Continued from 29 January 2007
Mabel stalked off into the inn, grabbed a goblet of cream and stomped back into the yard. Biscuit and Samson were still engaged in deep conversation. Biscuit noted her standing there with the one glass; Mabel�s ears lay flat against the top of her head, and her fur tingled with electricity about it. Samson followed Biscuit�s eyes until both knights� attention was focused on the innkeeper. Mabel downed the goblet of cream in two gulps, her tongue darting across her lips: �Get your own drink, you varmints; you�re burning a fortune in pastries!�
Biscuit�s nose twitched sensing the air: �I�m not burning anything!� he pronounced.
Samson looked at Mabel and laughed and whispered to Biscuit. Biscuit looked about. The stable boys were watching, and a couple of customers stood at the doorway. With a heavy sigh Biscuit walked back to the kitchen to tend to his culinary treats.
Samson walked over to Mabel and proclaimed for all to hear: �I would like a room for the night, good Lady.� She looked at him and for the audience present agreed to arrange it. Samson moved off into the Inn without further comment.
Satisfied, Mabel looked around and thought: �Pursamy Knights � not a lick of common sense in any one of them, standing in the yard plotting the gods knows what, like the universe revolved around them, and then wondering when the rumors start flying about!�
Sami-Ra enjoyed the warm fire. He sat at a table at the back of the inn surveying the crowd. He and �Biscuit� had agreed to depart in two days. Mabel had counseled that Biscuit�s leg needed a little more time. The two knights had snuck off into the barn and completed a few minutes of weapons practice. Samson noted Dory Alexander favoring stances that did not stress his injured leg. Both decided that there was still time to solve the puzzle of the missing feast. The Princess�s Captain, Sir Alexander, was quite positive that the others would be well onto discovering the truth if they had not already done so.
Continued from 5 February 2007
Sir Moritz, Sir Percival and half of the Princess�s guards assembled in the courtyard. Captain Shadow had made the preparation for extended maneuvers, and rumors flew as to where the troop was heading. The whole court was wrapped in mystery.
Moritz leaned to Percival said: �Just a ride in the country.� Percival rubbed his lame leg and mounted Frost; the gelding let out a puff of air in protest as the stout knight settled himself in the saddle. Percy�s stomach growled � field rations and hard cold ground � yuck!
Lady Maya and Squire Tommy watched the company assemble from the Princess�s balcony. Tommy was frustrated: �I�m going to miss it all!�
Maya smiled: �You know very well your duty is to be with the Princess.� Tommy started to protest when Maya noted Percival waving to Tommy. �Go see what he needs,� she chided Tommy out the door.
Captain Shadow watched as Tommy came bounding out of the Princess�s tower and headed straight to Sir Percival. The knight and squire exchanged a few brief words. Captain Shadow noted that Tommy�s tail fell flat as he turned and headed out the side gate down towards town.
Mistress Maus was surprised to find Tom Tomr arriving at the Cleaned Fish in the middle of the afternoon. Tom Tomr seemed dejected and lacked the usual pounce in his step. He spied Mistress Maus and smiled. �Sir Percival would like to get some road rations.�
Mistress Maus raised a knowing eyebrow: �And when would Sir Percival want these?�
Tom Tomr laughed. �The company should be on the road in less then an hour.�
Mistress Maus shook her head: �Well go fetch a set a of saddle bags and tell Master Misch to go the cellar!�
Master Misch and Tom Tomr stood along the gate waiting for the Princess�s guards to appear. He inspected the saddle bags: Smoked salmon steaks, a crock of fresh trout fillets, a few jars of cream, a pouch of brandy, dried herring snacks, a couple jars of caviar, and a few other treats to supplement the field rations of most knights.
Falstaff and Sir Moritz soon broke into view, followed by the Captain Shadow and the Princess�s guards. Moritz spied Master Misch and Tom Tomr standing there by the gate and knew why Percival had decided to bring up the rear.
Sir Percival rode up to Master Misch: �The usual?�
Master Misch laughed: �Yes and a surprise or two, but you really need to allow a little more time for proper preparation.�
Tom Tomr fastened the bags to Frost. Satisfied, Sir Percival smiled: �I thank you, timing is as times allow.� With a touch on the reigns, Sir Percival and Frost followed the company down the road.
Tom Tomr smiled mischievously: �I had better get back�.
Master Misch shook his head and headed back to the inn.
Continued from 12 February 2007
Princess Delylah was in the south gardens with the Opossumarian Ambassador and the delegation of the Prelate of Munk when her chamberlain approached with a well dressed Ratsillian in tow. The Ratsillian bowed before the Princess and handed the chamberlain a scroll with a flourish of motion. Squeak looked at the Princess and spoke: �My master wishes to extend an invitation to Pursamy court and guests to attend the most magical masquerade ball at the Mousetower three days hence.�
Delylah frowned; this Squeak was familiar but she could not quite place him. Chamberlain Sunny bellowed: �Preposterous! The blue moon is merely nine days hence, and with all the preparation for the great feast, your highness, this is absurd!�
Squeak twirled his whiskers with his three fingered left paw. Ah ha! Delylah smiled. She let the conversation ramble about as the ambassador and prelate joined in. Squeak, Squeak, Squeak? Runner Squeak, Squeak the Sneak � Morat the mage�s furry fiend. So this was the game!
Princess Delylah noted that the conversation had stopped and all eyes were on her. She smiled a fanged grin and addressed Squeak: �Tell Magus Morat the Pursamy court will be delighted to attend his masquerade ball � it will provide a wondrous diversion for all.�
Squeak was surprised at the mention of Morat�s name but his joy that he could tell his master of his success outweighed his normal caution. �Three days hence, we must prepare � please excuse us.�
Delylah watched as the group bowed and departed; no one noticed the fur on her tail charged like lightning.
Continued from 19 February 2007
The great room of Mabel�s inn was sparsely occupied. A robed Sami-Ra sat in the corner by the fireplace sipping a jar of cream and munching on a grilled trout steak. Biscuit came out of the kitchen and brought Sami-Ra a plate of stuffed anchovies. Mabel shook her head, not sure if this was a treat or torture � one could never quite tell with those two. A lot of folks, or at least those who could afford it, were on their way to the annual celebration of the treaty. The ceremony itself was strictly boring; however, the Princess was known to open the lower halls and tended to personally hear petitions the two days following the celebration. Free food and cream, plus the benefit to those heard was not having to grease the palms of a minor official along the way to the Princess; the Pursamy system was not corrupt � government was just government after all, and bureaucracy had well defined rules and standards. All in all, Mabel was just glad to be running her quiet little inn.
The door burst inward as two scouts of Pursamy Princess�s guard stomped in. �Proprietor,� one called in an officious voice. Her customers eyed the knights warily; Mabel noted that Biscuit and Sami-Ra had vanished without a trace. Mabel glanced out into the courtyard and noticed the advance of knights and horses. Great! Just Great! She thought sarcastically that what she really needed was the whole bloody Pursamy guard at her inn.
�Proprietor!� boomed the voice again.
�Hold your horses,� shouted Mabel. �I�m here!�
The guard looked Mabel up and down, ensuring she was safe. As the guard walked forward to address Mabel, a dark shape stepped away from the stairwell.
An icy voice cut off the guard�s advance: �Who leads the cohort?�
The startled guards� hands went towards their weapons when Sir Samson stepped forward. Decked out in his black leather armor and short swords, he imposed a menacing figure. Mabel marveled at the speed of the change in clothes and manner. The guard recognized Sir Samson and saluted: �Sir Moritz is leading the troops, Sir!�
Sir Samson turned to Mabel and spoke: �Mistress, would you be so kind as to prepare the side room.� Without waiting for her to acknowledge, he turned to the knight: �Tell Sir Moritz that the Princess�s captain and I will meet him at the side room of the inn. Also, tell Captain Shadow to set up camp in the north side pasture.�
�Yes Sir,� the knights acknowledged and turned to execute their orders.
Mabel walked into the side room followed by Sir Samson. The table was decked out for five, a pitcher of cream and a serving plate piled up with trout steaks and herring snacks. Biscuit smiled up at Mabel as she came in: �Sorry for the inconvenience.� Momentarily, Mabel�s fur bristled involuntarily as Sami-Ra strode by her wearing his robe, no sign of armor or weapons about him. He sat down at the table with Biscuit and smiled.
Mabel shook her head: �Five?� �Maybe,� replied Biscuit. �Would you see Sir Moritz in please?� Mabel turned to go out the door only to face two Knights standing in the entrance.
Biscuit stood up and said: �Gentlemen, Mistress Mabel, proprietor of this fine establishment, may I present Sir Moritz and Sir Percival.�
Sir Percival took a seat without formality and excitedly took a Herring snack. �Wow these look good! You boys have been goofing off awhile?�
Sir Moritz completed the formalities and looked at the table: �Four for now, thank you.�
Mabel turned and left the room, hearing Percival growl: �Where for curiosity have you two been?�
Biscuit�s voice cut in: �Foxloxian renegades�.�
Continued from 26 February 2007
Mabel noted Captain Shadow coming out of the side room again carrying a small pouch. Shortly thereafter, Mabel spied three riders break away toward the high road towards Meowser.
Continued from 5 March 2007
Morat was pleased, no overjoyed! Not only was Delylah coming willingly to his feast, she was bringing the entire court delegation. Everyone would be there when he unveiled the feast. The little fool, he would show who was the greatest wizard of all time! Ah, just one day remained until the big masquerade ball and so much yet to be done. Decorations, drink, food, guards�oh yes guards, not for a moment did Morat believe the Pursamys would simply allow the feast to be served at the ball. They thought they were clever! Hah! Once the assembled crowd had seen the feast he had won, let them take the feast; then the damage would be done!
Continued from 12 March 2007
Mabel minded her inn. A steady flow of riders passed to and from Meowser all morning. The inn provided the ideal rest stop enroute to the river and eventually to the Mousetower. No sooner had Mabel replenished the Opossumarian delegation, when a contingent of Foxloxians demanded her services. Ratsillians flittered in and out, joining to guide the delegations along their way. It was all good for business but did tend to strain her nerves a bit. Prince Nightrunner�s guard tended to keep themselves at a respectable distance from the Pursamy Princess�s escorts.
Continued from 17 March 2007
Princess Delylah and the remainder of her guard had arrived mid-morning and set up camp afield with Sir Dory Alexander and company. Squire Tommy was in his glory, spying all that glittered about as he wandered behind Sir Samson and Lady Maya on their way to the Princess�s tent. It was going to be his first large scale action, or so Tommy hoped � lost in his own thoughts of tonight�s imminent events, he caught only pieces of the others� conversation.
��illusion is illusion after all�� Maya stated.
Samson cocked his head thoughtfully, �Do you really believe he would not expect us to do the same?�
Maya smiled; �No, he considers himself the master and is far more concerned of the physical threat.�
Samson looked over at Tommy and then back at Maya: �Do you really want to trust the key to the boy?�
Maya laughed: �He is not the one who bought a Love potion of Pine!�
Continued from 24 March 2007
Morat�s private quarters overlooked the court yard below. The yard was teeming with the influx of traffic an from near and far. It was even grander then what he could have hoped for. He had gone all out to decorate the halls and provide food and drink; entertainment was everywhere to be had. He still did not trust the Pursamys not to try some stunt and was only mildly annoyed when Squeak had carried the message back that the Princess insisted that the Squirrel Shire delegation be invited. Morat had graciously agreed, as Squeak informed him that Sir Percival and two thirds of the Princess�s guard would remain camped at the village of Pounce. Morat wandered down the stairs to mingle with the crowd when he saw Rocky and a few of his boys milling with the masses. �Uh oh,� Morat puffed and hastily decided that he needed to check his magical store room and vaults. Raccoons implied a thieving hazard he had completely overlooked � ah, but there was still time to ensure all of his possessions were secure for the night.
Continued from 2 April 2007
Biscuit�s eyes followed Morat�s shadow as he disappeared into the main hall. Sami-Ra clutched the little figurine and exhaled: �He did not sense us.�
Biscuit smiled as he spotted Rocky and his troop. �I think Master Morat just realized he had better lock up more than the larder!�
�Percival promising Royal Cheese Buns to riffraff again?� laughed Sami-Ra. Then concentrating, he closed his eyes: �Head over to the stables.�
Biscuit did not waver and headed for the marked destination.
Continued from 9 April 2007
Biscuit looked into the stall and whistled. A tunnel entrance loomed ahead leading below ground. �A rat is a rat,� Biscuit frowned: �Anyone going down?�
Continued from 16 April 2007
Tom Tomr bounded behind Maya. Everything fascinated him: the decorations, the customs, the sea of servants and staff, the sheer variety of visitors, and the glittering armor of the guards. Tom Tomr muttered: �Boy, talk about secret recipes�they even guard the entrance to the kitchens.�
Maya�s ears perked up and she glanced at where Tom Tomr was looking. A stout rat in an immaculate white frock stuck his head out the doorway and bellowed: �Ice, I need more ice!� She smiled and whispered: � � and ice you shall have � come Tomr, quickly!�
Continued from 23 April 2007
Continued from 30 April 2007
The two crept through a series of connecting walkways. �We must be under the main tower,� noted Sami-Ra. The adjoining rooms were filled with a diversity of stuff. The rooms showed various signs of disuse. A room of woven baskets, a room of Djinn lamps, a room of cloth, a room of paintings, more piles of armor and weapons. The magical laboratory with files, instruments and �ingredients� in jars various and crocks that Sami-Ra insisted they avoid. A war room with maps of the realm showed no more use then the others they had encountered. The further the two proceeded, the more signs of life appeared � footprints and torches in the hallway. Sami-Ra and Biscuit pressed themselves into the shadows as a door groaned open and three stewards came scurrying down the hall.
Continued from 7 May 2007
Maya smiled: �Great, then we are ready. Push!�
The cart creaked as Maya and Tomr drove their way toward the kitchen. The guard ignored the motley rats � servants were beneath their notice. The duo made their way into the outer hall of the kitchens. The staff was busy preparing every kind of delicacy known! The chef spotted them: �Ah the ice comes � come park the cart here and bring the ice forward.�
Cautiously, Maya checked their disguises; even this low level of magic would not escape notice for long.
Continued from 14 May 2007
Continued from 21 May 2007
Tomr coughed. The chef spotted them: �You two get that fish thing into the main hall.� he said with distain. After all, he was a Master and that stinking fish was going to be the crown jewel of the meal. Morat might as well have asked him to create a meal around old Hound�s Tuna Jerky � disgusting!
Continued from 28 May 2007
Maya elbowed Tom Tomr. They walked into the side kitchen and there on blocks of ice was the largest, pinkest salmon either had ever seen. Tomr caught the scent over the waves of smells, and his stomach growled. Maya�s eyes flashed wide, the feast still sat on the royal platter.
The pair strained as they hauled their catch out to the cart. �Now what?� whispered Tomr. �We can�t just walk out the main gate.�
Maya pulled a canvas out from below the cart: �Why not?�
Continued from 4 June 2007
Sami-Ra pierced one with his claw and tasted: �Argh, troop rations for the foul and furry.�
Biscuit spotted a heavy metal door with the face of a dragon cast into the black iron at the back of the chamber. He purposefully strode forward and when Sami-Ra shouted: �Wait!� Sami-Ra cautiously approached the door.
The metal dragon eyes snapped open, fiery pupils fixed on the two interlopers � �What do seek?� a brassy voice intoned.
Sami-Ra felt the door�s magic press on every nuance of his being. Biscuit jumped back in surprise and a growled: �A rat is a rat!�
The dragon�s fiery eyes flashed hot yellow, and the brassy voice intoned, �So it was, so it is.� The door grew cold black and quietly opened.
Sami-Ra let his breath slowly back into his body, shook his head and whispered quizzically, �A rat is a rat?�
Continued from 11 June 2007
Morat�s fur rippled � a major flash of magic. Panic stuck his core. He turned only to see the steely eyes of Princess Delylah bearing down on him. The hound suddenly bellowed and let out a piercing howl: �What on earth is that foul smell?� Morat glanced about in confusion. Two servants were stopped by the gate with a guard using his halberd to try to lift a canvas. Each time he lifted the canvas a little, a smell like the legends of the seven hells rolled across the yard.
Morat yelled at the guard, �What are you doing?�
�Sir, you said everything had to be inspected,� coughed the guard with watery eyes. The small female servant meekly said: �Garbage from the pits sir.�
Lord Surepaw roiled back again as the guard once more attempted to lift the canvas. �Get that stuff out of here!� commanded Morat.
Princess Delylah was puzzled that she did not smell anything. As the cart rolled past the gate, Delylah spotted a momentary flash of red from the servant�s tail. Delylah smiled at Morat. Lord Surepaw downed the drink in his paw, and Delylah smiled again but the focus was on her ring of Ratsputin.
Continued from 18 June 2007
Maya confirmed. Tommy used the glass and flashed a signal three times. After a few tense minutes, Captain Shadow and a few guards appeared from a copse of woods and approached the pair. Lady Maya looked at the Captain: �Get this to Pursamy as soon as you can, and keep it covered. There it not much ice here.�
Continued from 25 June 2007
�He is a collector!� Sami-Ra looked puzzled: �But it is just more cheese?�
Biscuit looked about the room: �To us maybe, but wow � even I have to appreciate this: A wheel of Wallace, a Gromit of Edelbrie, Smoked Cheddar of Squirrel Shire, Silver Frostbear Swiss with genuine weevil holes, � a pound of Galloping Goat Gouda .�
Sami-Ra suddenly felt Maya�s presence in his mind. The world around him became a vapor. Biscuit, oblivious to Sami-Ra�s �chat� with Maya, poured over the shelves of rare and ancient cheeses in the magically cool room. �Caviar Camembert!� Biscuit munched, when Sami-Ra shook his head and spoke: �Maya has gotten the feast out, and we have a plan to keep things interesting.�
Continued from 2 July 2007
Continued from 9 July 2007
Morat stood proudly and surveyed the room � the cream of the nearby courts had assembled at his keep. Everyone was having a grand time. This whole event was a marvel beyond his expectations, and the best was about to be unveiled. This was his moment. He glanced at Delylah and her Captain; curiously, they seemed quite content. Only Lord Surepaw was absent as he had suddenly turned ill. Morat supposed it was his oversensitive nose and the unfortunate incident with the garbage.
Continued from 16 July 2007
Sami-Ra applied the liquid evenly to the trench. �That should entice our rodent friends,� stated Sami-Ra as he finished. �Now for the hard part.� Sami Ra produced Madame Illisandra�s small ivory rat figurine.
�You want to start first or should I?� asked Maya.
Sami-Ra scratched an ear: �Ghosts or gods � I don�t know which is more fickle.�
Maya took out her dagger and struck a flat grey granite stone focal, Sami-Ra�s third magical acquisition. As the dagger sparked on the stone, Maya transformed herself into the sorceress MissaPu. The rock shattered into nine pieces and the smell of catnip overrode the smell of cheese in the chamber.
Sami-Ra pierced his left paw with a claw, a drop of blood dropped on the white figurine � then he poured his magic into the statue.
Continued from 23 July 2007
�Light is good, light is pure, yet the shadows still endure.�
The stone fragments glowed and turned translucent. The nine parts flowed together.
�Once more in life, I seek the five.�
Softly she chanted:
�The first to wake Maggi, a second for Sam, the third to call Jo, fourth fire for Cody, and the final for Maxx to serve, our dear departed friends flow forth from the earth.�
MissaPu watched her ghostly sisters and brethren, �Well, how about a party?�
Continued from 30 July 2007
With a piercing metal screech, the covered dish fragments vanished and were replaced by Kaspar, god of rodents. The giant white rat smiled at Morat: �Let the feast begin.�
Morat opened his mouth in fright only to feel the ghostly paw place a piece of cheese on his tongue. The cheese melted and so did Morat�s control. The giant rat dissolved, and a huge wheel of cheese appeared on the table. Morat noticed Pursamys serving the crowd. Each bite of cheese removed the tension from the room.
Delylah leaned over to Morat and smiled, �I think you should signal the musicians, Master Morat.� Without real thought, Morat signaled the musicians. The crowd cheered but Morat could not focus. Was it all illusion?
Continued from 6 August 2007
Maya laughed, �I saw his staff fishing him and some of the ladies from the Squirrel Shire delegation out of the moat.�
Samson laughed, �Love will make you do foolish things! Princess Delylah enjoyed the whole affair a little too much. The feast will seem quite dull to her!�
Maya mused, �The good Princess will be insufferable!�
Samson looked at Maya, �And my dear lady, that will be different in what way?�
The ride home was very uneventful. Maya contemplated the turn of events: �Samson, who is Illisandra?�
Samson looked back and sucked on his wounded paw: �That will be an interesting thing to find out.�
Maya did not say anything thing for awhile as Samson continued to nurse his paw. �What is with the blood thing anyway? You don�t need that for magic!�
Samson shrugged: �The only thing I could think of to make me concentrate. You have any idea what it is like when you start playing with ghosts � especially when one is my grandmother?�
Continued from 13 August 2007
Continued from 20 August 2007
Continued from 27 August 2007
�Most everyone is resting or getting ready for the feast,� responded Tommy.
�Have you seen Percival?� inquired Delylah.
�He went up to the kitchen for a snack, Princess.�
Alexander and Delylah looked at each other. �Well I could use a bite myself and don�t say cheese!�
Continued from 3 September 2007
Percival greeted them: �Hi guys! Want a snack � somebody left this out.� Delylah stared at the platter with the skeletal remains of the feast picked clean. A little bit of pink still remained by the tail.
Delylah shrieked a bloodcurdling scream. �What have you done?� she demanded.
Percival looked puzzled, �Well, I never met a salmon I didn�t like.� Delylah�s claws sprang forth, then she stopped. �No, that won�t help � get Mistress Maus! I need a missing feast now.�
Continued from 10 September 2007
�Dump it out. Pink seaweed is not that rare anyway. Besides, you need to get more cream. Tomr was down earlier and they are all coming tonight.� Mistress Maus smiled wickedly, �Go see Rocky, I ordered some Salmon treats just for fun.�
Continued from 17 September 2007
Three weeks later, a cart pulled up to the Tower. Morat watched as his staff unloaded the goods. Interesting times. He decided to go down and greet Captain Shadow.
�Greetings, Master Morat. The lady sends these with her compliments and thanks.�
Morat smells the box: �Royal Bee Honey Cheese Tarts.�
�Yes sir, she also invites you to court at your leisure.�
Morat looks thoughtfully, �Seems like a lot of trouble just to change one element of Pursamian politics.�
Captain Shadow smirked, �But if you can�t tell a salmon from a tuna roll, what other mistakes do you leave yourself open to?�
THE ENDStay tuned for the next exciting adventure from the Knights of the Round Tuna!
Pursamy Winter Castle