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Their Last Hope

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A young fox pup sits on the stones next to a gently flowing stream. His eyes, red as his fur, gazing upon the pile of rocks before him. The loose dirt underneath slowing hardening from the frigid cold that wraps his world.

Pulling his knees in closer to fight off the cold he contemplates his fate through his tears. The village where he lives is slowly dying. Those who remain are either too old or too sick to leave. Which is why he was there, his father had left to go Viking, and his mother fell ill shortly after.

She had sent word of her illness nearly two years ago but he never returned or sent word. Fearing the worse, the young fox tended to his mother until her dying breath.

Now he sat by the icy stream as fresh snow began to fall, shivering and hopeless. He had given up all hope and was determined to stay and freeze where he sat close to his mother’s grave. Until a voice called his name.

“Nicholas?” Turning his ear and then his head towards the source of the voice he found a red fox dressed as a warrior with an eye patch over his left eye. A thick fur coat draped across his shoulders.

“Yes?” he replied through chattering teeth, unsure of who this stranger could be. He watched as the warrior approached until he was standing next to the young fox. He stared down at him for a moment before dropping to his knees.

As soon as his knees were on the ground he reached forward and pulled Nicholas into a warm hug and pushes his cheek against his own. “My boy,” He whispered into Nick’s shoulder. “I’ve found you.”

Stunned, Nicholas wasn’t sure what to do. He had given his father up for dead. Yet here was a one-eyed fox who, other than the eye patch, looked very much like the last memory he had of his father. A memory of him sailing away on a Viking long boat waving as he floated off.

“Papa?”

 

The island of Lagomorph

The young crown prince rabbit is rushing through the gates of the castle he calls home. He has been out in the fields working to ensure a bright future awaits the bundle of joy his wife is soon to grace him with. He has just received word that this bundle is on its way.

Racing inside, he made his way to their chambers to be by her side. Entering the room, he discovers he’s too late. She has already given birth to six kits. Five boys and one girl. Their first litter.

As he marveled at the heirs to the kingdom, he was unable to hold back the tears of joy. He made his way to his wife’s side as she lay in the bed. Fully cleaned and resting.

He climbs on the bed and wraps his arms around her shoulders, pulling her in to rub his chin to the top of her head and nuzzle their cheeks together.

They sat together on the bed as each kit was brought before them starting with the first-born son, naming each. Until the final child was brought, their daughter.

“What shall we name her Bonnie?” Stu asks.

“How about Judith?” she replies.

“Yes, Judith.” Stu remarks as he reaches forward to pet the kits ears.

“Judith Laverne.” The couple smiles as they place their first daughter down amongst her brothers. Sitting back, Stu hold bonnie in his arms as she turns her head to nuzzle into his neck. Soon after he listens to her gentle breathing as she falls asleep.

 

18 years later

It was a warm late summers day. The fields of the Hopps Kingdom were flourishing. Trade from the port next to the castle brought goods from far distant lands and made the Hopps very wealthy and rich. But their good fortune also brought jealousy and anger from the neighboring rabbit kingdoms. Three families have joined together and challenged the Hopps resolve for their lands.

After a year of fighting a stale mate war Stu Hopps, now king, convenes his war council to find an advantage.

“What can we do to push these thieves back?” Stu asked the council of rabbits before him.

“There is not much we can do your majesty. We are outnumbered four to one. It is taking everything we have to defend our vast territories. We are surrounded with our backs to the seas.” One of the council members points out.

Stu places one paw on his hip and uses the other to scratch behind his ear in contemplation. Staring down at the map of his kingdom. None of his allies had rallied to his aide when hostilities broke out. All claiming there was nothing they could do. Stu would remember that when the war was over and they wanted to renew trade.

Thinking of trade drew Stu’s attention to the port near his castle. It was the only major port on the entire island.

“What of the sea?” he asked his council.

“What of it sire?”

“Can use it to our advantage? To move troops behind our enemies and attack them from where they least expect it?” Stu said while pointed at the port on the map and tracing a route by sea to the nearest enemy strong hold.

“Perhaps, but we would need warriors and ships to send a force strong enough. I’m afraid we have neither majesty.”

Feeling defeat weigh heavily on him Stu leaned on the table before him and let out a tired sigh.

“Father?” Gregory, the eldest and crown prince, spoke up. Having attended the war council since its inception, Gregory was aware of all the battles and their cost. Not only was he the crown prince but was also an accomplished warrior and leader.

“Yes, my son? Do you have something to add?” Stu stood a little taller as he looked upon his son with pride.

After hesitating for only a moment Gregory spoke up. “What about mercenaries?” The atmosphere of the room changed immediately. Others began to shift uneasily and whispers filled the room. Holding up a paw to silence the room Stu waiting until it was quiet for a moment before speaking.

“Go on.” He said with a gesture to Gregory. Who walked to the center of the group and next to his father.

“I have heard tell of a mercenary who is honest and loyal to his contracts. One who has ships and would be able to attack our enemies from sea.”

“And who is the mercenary you speak of?” Stuart asked.

“Johannes Wilde.”

Behind the closed doors of the secret passage to the council room, Judy Hopps’ eyes grow wide. In a whispered voice, she spoke “a fox!”.

“The Red Devil!” one of the council members yelled. The entire room had erupted in loud voices, most protesting the suggestion.

Speaking above the group Gregory continued. “There are several merchants and traders who frequent our port that vouched for his reputation as honorable! And one I know personally that can arrange a meeting with him.”

“Who son?” the king asked, confused how his son would know anyone who might be associated with the Viking mercenary known as the Red Devil.

“Gideon Grey.”

“The pie merchants?!” another council member shouted.

“Yes! He is in port today and is awaiting our response.” The council erupted into another loud argument and Judy had disappeared from behind the hidden door.

Among the many merchants and traders that were at the port buying and selling goods, Princess Judith Laverne Hopps was searching for one in particular. As she surveyed the many ships that were docked she caught sight of her target. A pudgy red fox loading baskets onto a modest looking ship.

After making her way through the crowd she found him preparing another bundle to load onto his ship with his back turned to her.

“Gideon Grey?” she asked still unsure if it was truly him or not. She had not seen him since she was nine. Where they had met on a field near the ports. She was playing with her friends when he came and began to bully them. When Judy stood up to him he pressed her to the ground and used his claws to scar her face.

“Princess Judith!” he exclaimed and dropped to a knee bowing before her. “I-I would like to explain myself! I-I had a lot of self-doubt that-that expressed itself as unchecked rage. I beg your forgiveness.”

Judy reached her paw up and placed it on his shoulder. “Well, I can see that you’re sincere and I forgive you.”

“Oh, thanks.” He said while standing up. “It really means a lot.”

“Judy?” Gregory was now standing behind her.

“Gregory!” she said in a startled voice. “What are you doing here?” Placing her paws behind her back with a forced smile.

“I have some business with Gideon. Are you alright?”

“Oh me? Yeah, I’m fine, you’re fine, Gideon’s fine, we’re all fine!”

“Uh-hu. Well if you don’t mind I’d like to speak with Gideon.”

“Oh ok!” she said while standing still with a big smile. While Gregory looked on for a moment.

“Alone please.” He finally spoke up.

“Oh right, uh, it was good seeing you again Gideon. Hope I see you again! Bu-bye!”

“You as well princess.” The smiling fox said as he waved goodbye. Once Judy was out of sight Gideon leaned down close to Gregory’s head and whispered in a low voice.

“Has the council reached a decision?”

Smiling back at the pudgy fox he once hated but now calls friend he gave his reply. “They have.”

 

Rodrevland 2 months later

Sitting in his home next to the fire. Johannes Wilde is mending a fishing net while humming a tune. Having forgotten the words long ago, only the melody remains in his mind. Filling the small hall, he called home, with a sense of security and welcome.

Voices from just beyond his door cause him to turn his head. As the door opens he observes a younger version of himself walking in, save for his mother’s green eyes. A basket full of fish in his arms and a friend, a short fennec fox, following behind him.

“Ah! You’ve finally returned!” he greeted.

“Yes, and we’ve managed quite the catch!” Nick exclaimed holding up the basket of fish.

“So, I can see. Any news from the village?”

“Politics as usual. They want to make you an Earl.”

“I am nothing more than a sword for hire.” Johannes said with a sigh. Watching his son and friend prepare the fish to be cooked.

“Father, perhaps you should reconsider. You already fulfill many of the duties of Earl when you’re not away. Besides, you aren’t getting any younger you know.”

The older vulpine chuckled and leaned back in his chair. He had to admit, he was beginning to feel his age. His joints ached and many of his old battle wounds would inform him of when the rain approached.

“Perhaps you’re right.” Both Nick and Fin stopped preparing fish and looked at each other and then the older fox in front of them, eyebrows raised.

“What? It’s like you said Nicholas,” stroking the fur on the bottom of his greying muzzle, “I’m not getting any younger.” He said with a somber voice.

KNOCK KNOCK KNOCK!!!

Their contemplating was interrupted by someone knocking on the door. Nick, having left the fish to Fin, opened the door to find a large red fox bent over wheezing to catch his breath. Causing him to chuckle at the sight.

“I swear Gideon you eat more pies than you sell by the look of you.”

Straightening himself up to look at the shorter fox, Gideon took a deep breath and opened him mouth to reply only to double over again struggling for breath. The sight had Nick laughing out right.

“Come in Gideon before you pass out in the door way.”

“Thank you.” He managed to strain.

“Gideon!” Johannes exclaimed. “How good to see you.”

“It is good to see you as well Mr. Wilde!”

“That’s Earl Wilde chubby!” yelled the fennec fox in his always surprising deep voice. Gaining a look of surprise on Gideon’s face.

“No, it’s not. I haven’t decided if I want the job.” Hearing this gave Gideon an idea. The villagers had always said they would like for Johannes Wilde to be an Earl. In fox culture, a commoner who showed they were worthy of the title and the nobility it came with, could be voted into the position by the Elders.

“You should accept the offer Mr. Wilde!” He nearly shouted.

“Oh,” he replied raising an eye brow at Gideon with interest. While Gideon had often voiced his approval of the idea, he had never encouraged him directly. “and why is that Gideon?”

“Because I come with an offer for a contract! If you were Earl your price would increase significantly!” Now with a big smile, Gideon reached into this satchel and produced a letter.

Scowling at the paper presented to him Johannes eyed the paper warily. “While I may or may not accept the position of Earl I am certainly no longer a mercenary.” Turning his head to gaze on the mesmerizing flames he continued. “My time wielding a blade for gold has passed.”

Now wearing a frown, Gideon was uncertain of what to do next. How could he return to his friend Gregory with the news that their much-needed help wouldn’t be coming?  

Noticing his friends sudden change of mood, “Who is offering the contract?” Nick asks.

All three foxes turned to look at him, each with a different expression on their face. Fin with one of curiosity, Gideon with hope and his father with worry.

While Nicholas has joined him for most of the contracts he undertook after finding his son, Nick had admitted that he wasn’t interested in the life of a mercenary. To which Johannes was grateful.

Both Fin and Gideon were aware of his decision and both were intrigued by the questions. Turning to present the letter to Nick Gideon answered his question.

“It’s from King Hopps of the Island of Lagomorph.” Nick accepted the letter and studied the closed envelope. The wax that was used to ensure it stay closed with the family crest of the Hopps pressed into it.

“Why would rabbits offer a contract to a fox mercenary? The few I’ve met both despise and fear us without cause.” Nick said while dropping the unopened letter to the table and leaning back in his chair.

“They are in dire need of assistance. They are surrounded with their backs to the sea assaulted by enemies that wish to overtake their lands. They have waged war for over a year now and have only held their ground.”

“Sounds like a lost cause to me.” Said Fin.

“Sounds like an opportunity to me.” Nick replied with a grin.

“Oh?” His father spoke now more curious than worried that his son might have decided to pick up where he left off. “And what opportunity is that Nicholas?”

Leaning forward and resting his elbows on the table, Nicholas pointed one of his clawed fingers at his father. “If you become Earl one of your responsibilities would be to ensure a steady economic future for Rodrevland right?”

“Yes.” His father conceded.

“How better to start off than to ally yourself with one of the richest kingdoms north of Puris?”

“Wait a second.” Fin interrupted. “So, you’re saying instead of just taking their gold, you wanna be allies with the bunnies?”

“Lagomorph is one of the most fertile nations I have ever seen.” Gideon added. Being a merchant, he often sailed between many different nations bartering and selling goods. “And Rodrevland has many resources in abundance that they would be willing to trade for.”

“One of which would be warriors.” Johannes bluntly stated. Looking from Gideon to Nicholas he asked, “I thought you weren’t interested in fighting?”

“I’m not,” he replied with a shrugged, “not as a mercenary anyway. But if it is to better the state of our people I would face any foe and show them the blood of the Red Devil courses through my veins.”

Taking pride in his son’s resolve Johannes address the group. “Gideon, join us for the night. Tomorrow we’ll all go to the village and present this idea to the Elders. If they still want me as Earl after this then we’ll make preparations.”

The night was spent planning for the next day’s meeting with the Elders. Hopefully they would agree that an alliance with a wealthy and agriculturally rich nation would be worth the risk of sending warriors to fight someone else’s war.

The next morning the group arose and began to pack their belongings. This trip would require an extended stay in the village. As Nicholas prepared his pack his father placed his paw on his shoulder.

“Son,” Nicholas stood straight to look his father in the eye, “you know that if we do this you will have to stay in Lagomorph to fight and lead our warriors into battle.”

Placing one of his paws over his fathers he replied, “I do and I am prepared.” Nicholas had proven the last few times they were in combat that he was an excellent fighter and leader.

Giving his son a worried smile, he released his grip and returned to packing his own belongings.

After a lengthy meeting with the Elders of the village in which they discussed the many concerns of this possible alliance, it was decided that it would be worth the risk of sending warriors in order to secure a promising trade deal.

The following week was a blur of activity. Johannes was given the title of Earl and began building his small Kingdom. Word was sent for warriors to gather and Gideon was appointed as trade master. Fin was given the position of Guardian and would oversee public order. 

After all preparations were made and the last of the expected warriors arrived, their cargo of offerings and trade goods were loaded alongside provisions for the journey. A total of 10 long boats with 250 warriors, all varying species of foxes although mainly red, arctic and grey, were loaded and set to sea for the long journey to the Island of Lagomorph.

 

The Island of Lagomorph 2 weeks later

Judy’s POV

Walking along the castle wall, Judy glances through the crenels as she passes. Wearing her black pants and a white shirt that fits loosely and ends at her knees. A belt wrapped loosely around her waist with the tip dangling nearly to her knees, her bow and quiver slung across her back.

It had been nearly three months since Gideon had left the port to contact the fox known as the Red Devil. After Gregory had caught her talking with Gideon he quickly tracked her down and interrogated her about what she was doing there.

She had tried to say she coincidently found him but Gregory knew her better than anyone. They had both been very competitive growing up and he was the only one of all 27 siblings that could best her at almost anything.

After his insistent questioning, Judy reluctantly admitted to eavesdropping on the council meeting and learned of the plan to contact the mercenary through Gideon. She had planned on question him about his relationship and everything he knew about the fox.

That was until Gregory had caught her talking with Gideon. Fortunately, he hadn’t told their father about her spying on the war council. He also made her promise not to continue such activities. In exchange, he told her everything Gideon had told him.

This morning she had hoped for a chance to challenge Gregory to a match of archery, however, fate had trapped him in the council chambers to discuss more pressing issues. So as the early morning fog began to recede out to sea, Judy paced atop the castle walls looking for any sign that Gideon had contacted the mercenary that Gregory had sent an offer to.

Stopping midway across the wall she leaned into the crenel she had stopped at and leaned into it resting on her elbows. She looked down at the port below the walls. The many merchant huts opening doors and windows. Preparing for the day’s events of bartering and selling.

Sparing one last glance out to sea she turned and started walking back to nearest flight of stairs. As she stepped behind the first merlon she stopped mid stride. Her eyes began to open wide as she slowly stepped back and looked out to sea once again. There exiting the fog she could see a Viking long boat slowly drifting out.

It was like watching a dream. The ship seamed to materialize out of the fog. It’s long stempost jutting towards the sky before curling in on itself. The mast holding up a large sail with a striped red and white pattern.

Judy watched as it made its way into port and docked at one of the many piers. She watched as two red foxes leapt from the boat to the pier. Followed shortly by a larger red fox that she recognized as Gideon. The seemed to be having a conversation amongst themselves before one laughed and said something to a grey fox, the first Judy had ever seen. She then noticed that there were several red, grey and white foxes on the boat.

All started making their way off the boat. It was then she noticed that the mammals of the marketplace had begun to make their way up to the castle. They were retreating from the fierce looking warriors that were gathering on the banks.

She looked back at the boat to see one fox holding a horn to his lips. As she listened to its deep single toned melody she noticed that this fox was facing towards the sea. Looking back at the fog bank she then saw what he had signaled.

Now she could count nine ships as they made their way out of the fog and towards the docks. Shortly after the castle alarms began to sound. Rabbits were running everywhere. Taking position along the walls and gates, preparing to defend against and assault.

Judy looked back down to see the foxes had nearly completely disembarked from their ships and were starting to make their way towards the castle gates. She looked back into the ward and searched for Gregory. Spotting him exiting the palace door she made her way to the stairs.

Passing a captain of the guard along the way she informed him not to fire that they were expected. Judy then ran to Gregory and called his name.

“Gregory! It’s them! Gideon is with them!”

Turning to face her he replied. “You say Gideon is with them!” His tone and face taking one of urgency. The rest of the palace guards were under the impression that they were just raiders and were preparing to fire arrows upon their heads as soon as they were within range.

“Yes! I saw Gideon approaching with them.” Turning to face the nearest officers Gregory began to shout orders to hold their fire. After ensuring the order was relayed Gregory and Judy along with the council members that had joined them began making their way towards the castle gates.

Opening the view port, Gregory could see the foxes had stopped just outside of the range of their arrows. Looking closer he could see Gideon standing next to a fox with an eye patch over the left eye. From the description, he had been given, this had to be Johannes Wilde.

“Open the gate.” He commanded. Two guards come forward and hefted the large piece of timber that had been used to bar the gate closed. As the gates opened Judy could see Gideon standing alongside the many foxes that had returned with him.

Gregory raised his paw and beckoned them to approach. The one-eyed fox walked in front, followed by six others in two columns behind him. Gideon and another red fox that strongly resembled Johannes at the front of the two columns.

Looking on Judy noticed Gideon was still wearing his merchants attire. She was somewhat grateful for it, he did not seem like the type that would fare well in battle. The others though left no doubt as to their profession. All wearing similar clothing with body armor made of metal plates sown into the shirts they wore over their undershirts. With chainmail hanging as sleeves.

Each carried a variety of weapons. Most had swords that were to long for a rabbit. A short ax, a round shield carried across their back and spear. Once inside the gate they stopped in front of Gregory and the one-eyed fox spoke.

“Vi er her for å svare på anropet ditt og gjøre et skranketilbud” And then produced the letter that Gideon had been given. Gregory leaned over slightly to look at Gideon quizzically.

“He said ‘we are here to answer your call and make a counter offer’.”

While the three of them went back and forth in conversation, Judy seemed only able to focus on the third red fox that stood beside Gideon. His emerald eyes seeming to captivate her. She watched as he looked around him taking in everything. Head almost on a swivel until he met her gaze.

Embarrassed at being caught staring Judy’s ears began to turn a deeper shade of pink as her face heated up. That seemed to get a smile from the fox as he leaned down to be eye level with her and spoke.

“Vel, du er sikker på at det er en søt gulrot”

The other three seemed to stop their conversation and look at them. Judy leaned over to look at Gideon around the fox that was still bent over looking at her.

“What did he say?” she almost whispered. Gideon swallowed nervously as he looked around trying to avoid her gaze.

“He, um-uh, he said you look like a cute carrot.” His eyes still darting among the group of rabbits around them as he whispered the last part.

Every rabbit who heard visibly shifted as their eyes opened wide. Which didn’t go unnoticed by the now nervous group of foxes. Uncertain of what might happen next or what caused the sudden change. The only one who seemed un-phased was the fox in front of Judy.

She stared at him wide eyed with their muzzles mere inches from each other before Judy suddenly raised her paw and slapped the smirking vulpine across the muzzle. She watched as he stumbled slightly before rising. His ears flat as he brought his own paw up to his muzzle.

“Don’t call me cute!” she shouted before dropping her ears behind her back in frustration and stomped off. Nearing the palace door, she could hear a chuckle. Once inside she slammed the door and heard the entire courtyard erupt in laughter.

Nick’s POV

The fog had been heavy throughout the morning. They were nearly blind and had placed their faith completely in Gideon and his knowledge of the waters they were in. Upon passing a large rock barely above the water line Gideon called out.

“We’re 100 yards from the port Earl Wilde.”

“Very good, inform the other ships to stay here until we signal.”

Another fox called out into the fog as he untied a rope from the back of the boat. Listening as other voices seem to come from the fog in reply. Shortly afterwards, the fog slowly cleared and they could now see the docks that awaited them.

Just beyond the piers, Nick could see a market place with all the activity you would expect of such a place. The market seemed to extend up a hill until it was stopped by an open field which led to a grand castle wall with a gate.

Looking along the wall, he could see a couple of guards at the towers and in the middle of the wall leaning through on of the crenels was a grey rabbit. It didn’t look like the guards he could see. Must have been one of the royal family perhaps.

As they approached the pier, the foxes began to disembark and tie off the boat. Nick’s father looked at the marketplace as the rabbits and a few other species that saw them were frantically trying to leave. He looked at Gideon.

“Are they not expecting us?” he asked.

“I could not tell them when we would return for sure.” He replied. “After all this time, they may have given up hope.”

Looking back at the fleeing merchants he laughed and signaled for the rest of the warriors to disembark and to signal the rest of the ships to approach. Once all had arrived and their crew on land the band of foxes made their way to the castle gate.

As they walked Nick looked at the many abandoned stands of the merchants. “You were not lying Gideon, this place truly has riches beyond what I imagined.” Gideon simply smiled as his friend continued to look upon the trinkets and produce on display.

As they approached the castle they came into the open field between the buildings and the castle walls. “No doubt this is their archers’ limits.” Nicholas pointed out.

“Indeed,” Johannes agreed, “we will wait for them to invite us further. Gideon be sure to make yourself visible. They’ll be more welcoming once they know it’s you who brought us here.” Gideon took a step forward away from the gathered warriors to make himself easily seen as Johannes had suggested.

They didn’t have to wait long for the gates to open. In the gateway stood a brown rabbit dressed what appeared to be plain clothing ushering them to approach. “Nicholas, Gideon and the captains only.” Johannes commanded and the group of seven foxes began walking across the large field.

“Who is that?” Johannes asked.

“That would-be Gregory the crown prince Earl Wilde.” Gideon replied.

“He doesn’t look like any prince I’ve heard of.” Nicholas added. The brown rabbit was wearing a simple white shirt under a plain tan colored vest and dark brown pants. With no symbols to mark his status.

“Prince Gregory is a very humble servant of the people. He is also an accomplished fighter and leader in the war.” Gideon informed the other foxes as they entered the gate. Once inside they stopped in front of the prince.

“We are here to answer your call and make a counter offer.” Johannes announced while pulling the letter Gideon had brought to them and offered it back to the rabbit. With the seal still unbroken.

The prince leaned over to glance at Gideon, an unspoken question on his face. Johannes heard Gideon reply in the rabbit’s native tongue. “tá muid anseo chun do ghlao a fhreagairt agus tairiscint chuntar a dhéanamh”

As the trio went back and forth with Gideon translating for them Nicholas looked around at the many different rabbits before him. He marveled at how different each looked from the next and how some seemed nearly identical.

He was also accessing the size of the force in the castle. It had seemed Gideon had not exaggerated on their situation. He could only see enough warriors to guard the castle against a moderate attack. This worried him as he contemplated what that meant for him and the other fox warriors.

Looking around further at the rabbits gathered around them he caught sight of one that looked familiar. Staring at him was the grey bunny that he saw on the wall. The unmistakable grey fur and black tips on its ears. Only now could he tell that it was a she.

“Well isn’t this a pretty one.” Almost as if she heard his thoughts the inside of her ears turned a deeper shade of pink. “I wonder if rabbits tease easy?” He thought and then bent over to look her in the eyes. “Well you sure are a cute carrot.”

He heard the conversation behind him stop. No doubt everyone was looking at the two of them now. Nick took the moment to admire the pretty rabbit before him a bit more as she leaned over to look at Gideon.

The loose-fitting shirt she wore hid her modesty well except for where the strap and string of the bow and arrows came across her chest. Causing her shirt to contour to her humble breast. The belt she wore hugged it to her waist hinting at just how curvy her hips might truly be.

After conversing with Gideon, a moment, she leaned back to face him. Her expression had changed as well as the atmosphere of all the rabbits. They all shifted slightly and she had anger in her eyes. Before Nicholas could pull back she had brought her paw up and slapped him across his muzzle.

Stunned and nearly knocked over by the surprising strength this rabbit had he stumbled back up and brought his paw to rub the spot she had assaulted laying his ears back flat against his skull. She yelled at him.

“ná glaoch orm gleoite” and dropped her ears behind her back before stomping off.

He turned to Gideon and asked in an innocent manner, “Why did she do that?” Gideon hesitated a moment before answering. Scratching behind his neck.

“Bunnies don’t like to be called cute.”

Hearing this Johannes couldn’t stop the chuckle that started to build up inside him. Seeing his son be slapped by a female for trying to tease her was probably the funniest thing he had ever seen. His laughter became contagious amongst the other foxes and soon the bunnies that had witnessed the exchange.

As the laughter died down Johannes turned his attention back to the young rabbit before him. “Now then, what was this about meeting the king?”

Inside the palace

As the group made their way down the halls of the palace the foxes began to feel nervous. When Gideon had mentioned their desire to become allies the young prince seemed to be put on edge and it caused quite a stir among the other rabbits. When Johannes asked Gideon about it he had no answer.

Nicholas just assumed that it was the same as back home. The idea would have to be brought before the king and approved by a council or some other fashion. He spent his time admiring the stone and wood work of the rabbits who built the palace.

As they entered the throne room, Nick looked around to see most of the rabbits that were with Gregory outside had taken seats on either side of the throne where the king sat. He also noticed a certain grey doe that was staring daggers into him. He did his best not to look at her.

The king was a mirror image of Gregory only being much older and plumper. He sat on the thrown wearing clothes suiting his position. Black velvet pants with a red velvet shirt that had gold trim.

Gregory began speaking with the king in their native tongue. At one point the king dropped his ears and stared at Nick’s father with a look of disbelief. The fox interpreted this as a good sign that they were willing to be allies and embark on a lucrative trade deal for both parties.

Allowing Gideon to do most of the talking, the group watched curiously at the exchange. Gideon who had started out with his ears erect and his tail held high had slowly withered. His tail now rested on the ground and his ears slumped to the side. When he turned around Johannes could see the concern in his eyes.

“What’s wrong?” he asked.

“Well,” he started, scratching behind his ears and looking to the side, “they are willing to accept your offer.”

“But?” Nicholas added.

“But they would require a marriage to consecrate the alliance.” All the foxes in the group opened their eyes wide and their ears and tails went flat. A couple even dropped their jaws open in disbelief. They had heard of arranged marriages before but in their culture, they didn’t exist. No one even considered it.

Having watched the entire exchange Judy was growing nervous. If an arrange marriage was to take place it would be her hand that was offered. She was counting on the fact that her father disliked predators, especially foxes. Hoping he was simply trying to discourage them from seeking this alliance.

Judy truly hoped they would just take the gold her father had offered and leave. Seeing how they reacted to what must have been the marriage proposal gave Judy hope. They truly seemed shocked at the idea.

Stu had been extremely nervous allowing these predators into his palace. Even more so when they said they wanted an alliance. The law of the land demanded such a sacrifice by both parties. He hoped that the offer would cause them to turn away and just take the gold he was offering.

Looking at the letter he had written, he noticed that the seal had not been broken. They had not even considered his offer and came here with offers of trade, claiming that Johannes Wilde had been elevated to the ranks of Nobility among his kind.

Stu’s hopes for simply paying these mercenaries the gold he had in abundance and being rid of them were sinking quickly. When he saw how they were shocked after speaking with Gideon, his hopes slowly began to rise again. As the foxes conversed amongst themselves Stu looked upon his son Gregory.

His ears were drooping with sadness that he had put himself out in front of everyone vouching for this mercenary. And this was the result. He would have to either face the failure of not being able to help his people or see his favorite sister married off to some brute warrior.

When the conversation between the foxes had ended Gideon turned to face the rabbits waiting for their decision. They all felt a since of hope that these foxes would see reason. That an alliance between their species was something ridiculous.

By the appearance of the group in front of them, with their ears back and their tails low all but the one who had insulted Judith who stood tall with his ears erect and tail up, the rabbits assumed they had accepted defeat.

“Your terms for the alliance have been accepted.” Gideon spoke in a sad voice. You could have heard a pin drop in the room. “I present to you, the heir to Earl Wilde, Nicholas Wilde.” With a gesture towards Nick as he spoke.

Taking his queue Nick stepped forward looking at the king and bowed down to one knee. The room stayed quiet as everyone waited for King Stuart to respond. Before he really knew what he was doing, he held his paw out towards Judy and spoke.

“Agus mé a thabhairt duit mo iníon Judith Hopps.” Nick looked up and followed to where the king’s paw was pointed. Only to see the face of an irate doe with piercing amethyst eyes staring back at him. His jaw dropped realizing it was the same he had tried to tease in the courtyards.

The remainder of the day was a blur. Having accepted the offer, both sides agreed to hold the ceremony immediately to get the formality out of the way. There were more important things to discuss about trade and the war.

Judith was rushed to her room where she was hurriedly sized and dressed in an elegant white gown. All the while tears flowed down her cheeks. This was not how she had imagined romance. There had been plenty of suiters to try and win her hand but none were ever in a high enough status for her father’s approval. Sometime during the madness her mother had appeared.

“Oh Judith!” she cried. “I was just told what happened. I will speak with your father and have this matter resolved immediately!” Bonnie then ran out of the room in search for Stu.

Sometime after her mother had left Judy’s eyes had stopped shedding tears. She began to wonder about her now husband to be. Remembering the name Nicholas Wilde, she had never heard of him. But Gideon has introduced him as the heir of Johannes Wilde the Red Devil. That could only mean he was the one known as the Devil’s Spawn!

Nick had watched as the poor doe that had been betrothed him was rushed out of the throne room. He watched as her face went from fierce anger to one of fear. After that he had been rushed to a room where tailors were measuring him. Once their measurements were finished they turned to their work.

Seeing an opportunity, he slipped out of the room unnoticed. He made his way out of the palace and through the open gates towards the marketplace. The merchants had returned to their stands and were now bartering with the many new vulpine customers.

Making his way to a certain stand he had seen on the way up to the castle walls, Nick stopped as he looked down on the many ornate pieces of jewelry spread out before him. The female rabbit standing behind the table was visibly shaking in his presence.

He pointed to a piece of jewelry that caught his eye and with his other paw held out several silver coins. The rabbit stopped shaking and slowly reached out to take the offered coins. After inspecting them she then grabbed the piece of jewelry he had selected and placed it into a small box and tied a string around it.

Taking the box and placing it into his pocket he made his way back to the castle. Once in the courtyard he began looking up at the many windows and balconies jutting out. He had no idea which one could possibly belong to the rabbit he had been betrothed.

Just when he was about to give up, he spotted her. She had just stepped out onto a balcony and was looking out to sea. She was wearing a white dress that accentuated her figure nicely. Noticing that the balcony had vines that were growing up the wall next to it, he made for the foot of the palace and started working his way up.

By the time he made it to the balcony, she had retreated into her room. Nick leaned in to see if he could see her inside, only to see a sight that broke his heart. She was crying into the shoulder of an older doe. If he had to guess her mother by the way she was dressed and the similarity in their features. He leaned back, out of sight, and waited till she was alone or left the room.

Judy’s mother had finally returned. She had been standing on the balcony looking out at the sea hoping that the long boats would magically disappear just as they had appeared early that morning. She heard a knock at the door and turned to see her mother entering her room.

Judy ran to her mother’s arms and her crying continued. “Mother what will I do! He is the Devil’s Spawn! The one in the stories!” Bonnie pulled her daughter close to her and gently ran her paws down Judy’s ears trying to comfort her.

“I have spoken to your father. I tried to make him see reason but this war has clouded his judgement.”

After gathering herself she separated herself and put on a brave smile for her mother. “Thank you for trying. I know it puts you at odds with him. But if this will help our people, then it is a sacrifice I must make.”

Bonnie cupped one of Judy’s cheeks in her paw and kissed the other. Turning to leave the room, she looked back once at the door way and gave her eldest daughter a reassuring smile. Once the door was closed, and she was all alone, Judy felt more tears begin to fall.

She was stopped when a she heard a thumping sound behind her. Her ears turning and then her body just enough to see what caused the noise. There on the balcony stood the fox she was to marry. On his face, he held a gentle smile and a box in his paw.

Judy watched as he placed the box on the floor in front of him and then leapt out of sight. She rushed over to see where he had gone. Looking over the balcony side she could see him working his way down the vines that had covered the palace walls.

She watched as he made his way to the bottom. Once there the stepped back a few paces and looked up at her, still smiling. Then made his way out of sight. Judy then turned to the box that was on her floor. She picked it up hesitantly and removed the string. Opening the box, she found a gold necklace. A pendant in the shape of a fox with an emerald stone for an eye.

Chapter Text

Judy sat alone in her suite. The servants had come and packed away all her belongings and moved them into her future room. While it would be much nicer than her current arrangements, it would also be shared with a fox. A strange one at that. Holding the pendant in her paw, her mind reviewed everything she knew about him.

The only fore knowledge she had were rumors and stories the merchants brought with them. Tales that befit the name The Devil’s Spawn. The thought of which made her visibly shiver with dread. Tales of a merciless mercenary that left behind nothing but death and destruction in his wake.

Judy rubbed her thumb along the smooth metal on the pendant in her paw. She looked down and studied it for a moment. Its shape was the side profile of a feral fox sitting on its hind quarters, tail raised along its back with the tip pointed opposite of where it was facing. The only other distinguishing feature was the single emerald gem for an eye.

Judy couldn’t help but notice how it was so like what she knew of her betrothed. A fox with tales of behavior that would more than qualify as feral, yet a hint of playfulness with the quirk in its tail. Just like when he teased her in the courtyard.

Looking back at that moment, Judy could remember the look in his eyes. Not one of malice or murder, just playfulness. The overall demeaner of the pendant seemed friendly. He had certainly seemed friendly when he left it.

Had he intended to gift her something that was a representation of himself? Judy heart and mind became more conflicted the longer she pondered. Her heart wanted to accept the gift and wear it proudly. A sign that she was willing to sacrifice for the greater good of her people and hope for a bright future. But her mind was another matter.

He only wants to claim his prize! Her mind would say. In rabbit tradition the buck would often gift a doe he was to marry jewelry that was representative of their house. It was to represent the doe’s submission to her husband and his house. Many of her past suiters had brought such gifts thinking they would simply claim her as theirs.

Most left with a limp and blood running from somewhere. Nicholas however wasn’t a rabbit buck but a fox tod. It was unknown if his traditions were the same as hers or if they were completely different. She knew of one mammal who could answer her questions. The only fox she knew that could speak her language and fill in the gaps.

But Gideon had been trapped much the same as her. Serving as an interpreter during the final negotiations of this new alliance. She looked out the doors to her balcony and her heart sank.

The sun was setting, soon the servants would be there to take her to her wedding. She had spent the remainder of her day fretting over the meaning of a piece of jewelry. She had to make a choice. To accept this gift for whatever it may mean to her and him or leave it behind and risk the wrath of the Devil’s Spawn.

 Pondering on her options, Judy jumped in her seat when she heard a knock at the door. “Yes!” she called out.

“Lady Judy?” a servant called through the door. “It’s time.”

Out of time and the pendant in her paw, she stood and inspected her dress. The smooth white fabric with long sleeves that widened at her wrist had gold colored trim around her neck, wrist and feet. A gold colored belt that matched hung loosely around her waist and the long tip hung low to her feet. Were this a wedding of her choice she would have been extremely pleased with the way the dressed looked on her. But tonight’s wedding was far from her choice.

“Enter.” She called. And the servants behind the door entered in and began preparing her for the journey to the chapel hall where the ceremony would be held. They placed a veil over her head that hid her face and made her keep her ears behind her back. A cape wrapped around her shoulders with a gold chain in the front. The cape was long enough that it served as a train behind her dress.

Walking out the door Judy was surprised to see two fox warriors standing on either side of her door. “What are they doing here?” she asked one of the servants.

“They’ve been here all day. They’ve done nothing but stand at the door.” She answered with a shrug.

Observing them for a moment, she noticed these fox warriors had their shields on their arms instead of on their back and helmets on. They did not look at her or anything else just staring straight ahead. As she started to walk away she heard them begin to follow.

Realizing they were escorting her to the chapel, Judy started to question whether Nicholas Wilde was any different from every other male she’d ever met. Did he have them guarding my room? Were they to keep me from running away?! Glancing down at the pendant still in her hand, Judy felt the anger starting to make her face and ears burn.

She clutched the pendant in her closed paw, squeezing it harder and harder until the delicate metal began to give way. Doing so the entire walk to the chapel. Once there she glanced down and felt satisfied to see the figure of a fox bent and distorted. The green gem having fallen out of its socket.

She gave a satisfied “Hmm!” as the doors to the chapel opened. Standing in the entrance was her father. She watched as he came up beside her, a sad expression on his face. At least he’s not proud of what he’s done. She thought to herself.

“Hey Jude!” He said walking up to her. “Jude the dude!” Remember that one? Her only response an annoyed stare from behind her veil. The annoying nickname had come from her preference to an active lifestyle as opposed to just learning to sew and tend to activities deamed more befitting a lady or noble birth.

“Listen, Judy, I know this isn’t what you wanted…” her father’s voice started fading off as Judy looked away and began to ignore him. She focused instead on the fox at the front of the chapel. The tailors had prepared a hasty garment for tonight. His clothes were simple yet refined. From the black velvet pants that shined in the light from the candles spread across the room, to the violet colored vest with golden floral designs.

He was talking to Gideon, eyes only half open and a smile on his face. Judy His expression was changing. Judy He was looking back at her. Judy His eyes opened wider and sparkled with a smile creeping further up his… “Judy!” Stu said shaking her arm gently.

“What!” she shouted in reply with her teeth bared. As her voice echoed through the chapel everyone turned to see just what was going on. Seeing her father’s shocked expression, Judy glanced around to see that she was now the center of attention for all the wrong reasons.

She dared a glance at the fox that was the cause of all this trouble. He seemed to be amused by her sudden outburst.

“Uh, Judy.” Her nervous father whispered. “It’s time sweetheart.” He slowly reached forward and moved her arm around his. She barely noticed as her father gently pulled her down the aisle. Her eyes, locked on the fox. They didn’t soften until she caught sight of her mother.

The tear soaked cheeks and red eyes, proof that she was not the only one suffering from this union. Her demeaner softened and she glanced at her father. He had been crying as well and it was plain to see that he was barely holding himself together.

Once they had reached the end of the aisle, she graced him with a smile and hugged him close. “I love you dad.” She softly whispered.

Feeling his face stretch to a small smile, “I love you to.” He whispered in reply. His voice full of sadness. He pulled away and looked up as her husband to be stepped towards them. Stu took Judy’s paw and caringly placed it into Nick’s. He quickly turned away and took his place by his wife’s side.

She walked with the fox up to the pulpit where an overdressed rabbit priest stood. They then turned and faced each other with her paws in his. As the priest talked, the fox started rubbing the knuckles of the paw still holding the damaged pendant. Glancing up at him, Judy saw what she thought was hope in his eyes.

She quickly looked down where he couldn’t see her expression as a frown pulled at her lips. The ceremony was mercifully short. The new couple were whisked away to their new chambers together. As they walked in Judy suddenly realized what was about to happen.

She was about to spend the night with a mammal she barely knew! Her eyes were racing from one side of the room to another as they made their way into the bedroom. Unable to find a way out and away from the fox her breathing became rapid.

A voice behind her drew Judy’s attention. Turning around she saw Nick, the priest, her father, Gregory, Johannes and Gideon. Nick was speaking to Gideon and Johannes, all three had a confused look as they looked at the three bunnies. She took this opportunity to see why they had followed them into their bed chambers.

“Dad? What’s going on? Why are you here?” She asked walking up to the three rabbits.

“W-well, uh, J-Judy,” he stuttered, “you see, when a political marriage takes place it has to be witnessed.” He finally said nearly whispering the last word.

“Ok? Well you were there you witnessed the most humiliating day of my life. Being married off like some bargaining chip.” Stu stared at the floor in shame unable to look at her any longer.

“Judy,” Gregory started but halted for a moment when she turned her disgruntled gaze at him, “we have to witness the consummation.”

“The consu…” Judy froze, now realizing why they were there. Not only was she being married off to some strange fox but her father, brother and strangers would be there to witness him… She couldn’t finish the thought.

She started to panic. Her heart was racing inside her chest while her breath was growing quick and short. She began to feel faint as she started walking backwards. When she bumped into something she thought it was the bed.

Before she had time to react. Two large paws wrapped around her shoulders. Looking up she saw the bottom of a cream-colored muzzle with lips pulled back in a snarl he hissed one word through his teeth.

“Ute.” When all the three bunnies did was stare back at him, he raised a paw with a finger pointing towards the door. Judy followed to where he was pointing and saw the back of Gideon leaving their living quarters with Johannes already out of sight.

When the bunnies still didn’t move, he shouted loud enough to make them flinch. “Ute!” Gregory and her father hastily made their way out the door. But the priest hadn’t moved. Nick stepped around Judy and walked towards him. Stu quickly jumped to Judy pulling her close to him and placed his muzzle to her ear.

“There’s a dagger under your pillow.” He whispered low enough only she could hear. He then placed a kiss upon her cheek and left. Judy barely noticed Nick carrying the priest out by his robes. Dropping him unceremoniously outside their door and slamming it shut.

The sound of the thick wooden door crashing against the stone frame brought her out of her stupor. She looked at the back of the fox that she was now being forced to live with. Watched as he turned to face her. Barely noticing his demeanor had changed through her rage filled eyes. She now had a way to defend herself. She would not have to submit to anyone.

Clutching the crumpled pendant still in her paw she watched as he looked at her and shyly smiled. She waited for him to approach her as she pulled the thin veil off her head, fully revealing her face. The glare she wore stopped him in his tracks. He no longer smiled but had a worried look.

She looked for clues to what he might be thinking. The stunned face may just be that he wasn’t expecting her to challenge his dominance. She took it a step further hoping to completely impress upon him that he was not her master.

She held out the paw holding the pendant and let it drop from her paw so that it dangled from the chain. Bent at an odd angle with the green gem now missing, having fallen and bounced out of sight. She let him stare at it for a moment before dropping it to the floor while she turned away from him.

Without looking back, she closed the door behind her pressing the lock bar shut. She leapt to the bed and checked under the pillow for the dagger her father had hidden. True to his word, the blade was tucked out of sight. She drew it out and turned to the door. Expecting him to try and break it from its hinges at any moment. But nothing came.

After a long while, Judy took the chance of changing from her wedding dress and into a long-sleeved night gown. Laying on the bed for a couple of hours she still hadn’t heard anything from the other room. She had heard him start a fire and some shuffling but that was it. What is he doing in there? Her curiosity finally got the better of her.

She silently pulled the lock bar back and eased the door open. Peeking out, she caught site of a red furry tail hanging off the sofa in front of the fire place. Easing the door open further. She stepped out, holding the dagger close. She walked around the side and saw the fox lying on his back shirtless.

Surprised, Judy felt her ears starting to warm. This was the most fur she had ever seen on any male other than her brothers. His thin torso exposed to the light of the fire revealing just how far the cream ran from his muzzle to below his waistline where it disappeared under the pants she was thankful he was still wearing. Feeling the cold of the blade in her paw, Judy realized this was her chance to be free of the cruelest mammal she had ever heard of.

She stepped up beside him and raised the blade above his chest. She had never struck another mammal before and wasn’t sure what she was doing. The doubt in her mind caused her to pause. A flicker from the slowly dying fire caused a glint on his face to draw her attention.

Fearing he was awake she looked up. His eyes were still softly closed, yet his cheek was shimmering in the fading light. Looking closer, she could see his entire cheek was matted and moist. Had he been crying? She wondered.

The guilt of what she had done struck her as a blow to the chest. When she turned to leave she saw what he held in his paw. Hanging over the top of his paw was the pendant she had dropped on the floor. It had been roughly bent back into shape and the emerald gem placed back on the eye. Had he truly meant it as something other than a way to claim her?

Motion in the corner of her vision had her turning her head quickly to see Nick looking at her. But his eyes weren’t focused on her but the dagger she held upside down in both paws. Her eyes grew wide as she tried to take a step back. Turning to run back to the bedroom, she was stopped by a paw on hers.

Nick had reached out and grabbed her paws, squeezing the dagger beneath them. Slowly, he pulled her closer until they held the dagger over his heart. Lifting his other paw over the top letting the pendant dangle from the chain next to the daggers blade.

Judy watched as he closed his eyes and took a deep breath. Feeling his paws tighten around hers, her eyes grew even wider as she realized he was preparing to take his own life. When he lifted the blade slightly she acted without hesitation. Pulling as hard as she could, she drew the blade away and ran to the bedroom closing the door. Behind the door she heard him mutter something.

Throwing the blade to the other side of the room she leapt to the bed and pulled the blankets over her head and cried as the emotions from the day over took her.

Chapter Text

The crackle of a slowly dying fire, the shuffle of paws against stone, Nick slowly opened his eyes. What he saw was perhaps the most beautiful sight he’d ever seen. Grey and white fur glimmering in the fire light, deep violet pools shining with fire.

But it was a dying fire. A reflection of the one in the room. Looking down upon the blade she carried, he knew why she was here. She wanted release and as his heart still ached so did he.

When her determination faltered, he grabbed her paw in his, gently squeezing it reassuringly. He pulled the knife’s point over his heart and placed his other paw over the top to ensure the final blow. Letting the pendant hang by the blade.

His symbol of giving himself to her. A gift that once given cannot be given back. A promise that once made cannot be broken.

Nick closed his eyes and lifted the blade slightly. Taking a deep breath and bracing himself for what was to come. Tensing his arms to deliver the release he desperately desired. Suddenly he was stopped.

He opened his eyes and the bunny had pulled the blade away and ran back into the bedroom closing the door behind her. Snarling in anger he rolled over on the sofa. “Dumb bunny.” He muttered. Closing his eyes again and allowing sleeps sweet embrace to take him again.

Earlier that day

Nick dropped the last couple of feet from the vines. Looking back up he could see the rabbit that was to be his wife leaning over the edge of the balcony. Smiling up he thought to himself, “She looks impressed.” He made his way toward the palace entrance when the door was opened. There stood Erik, a grey fox, one of the captains.

“There you are! They’ve been looking for you.” He exclaimed.

“Who?” Nick asked in return.

“Those bunny tailors. They’ve put together quite the outfit for you.” He said with a mischievous grin.

“Hmm. I can hardly wait.” Nick replied in the most sarcastic voice he could muster. “Did you send the guards I asked for?” Earlier Nick had asked Erik to assign two guards to the rabbit, he had learned was named Judith. Their purpose, to protect and obey the commands of the lady of the house they served.

“I did but I couldn’t pry Gideon away from the negotiations.”

“I suppose his talents are better suited to helping my father right now. If Judith misinterprets the purpose of the guards I’m sure it’ll be easy enough to explain later.”

Nodding in agreement, Erik now had to satisfy his sense of curiosity. “So where did you disappear to?”

Nick’s ears lowered slightly and his smiled faltered somewhat. He wasn’t sure if anyone else would understand why he’d given the pendant to Judith. Normally such a gift wasn’t given until a couple had been together for an extended amount of time and were certain of the devotion to one another.

However, Erik had been Nick’s friend and comrade in arms for many years. “I went to find Judith a gift.” He finally said in a low voice.

Erik’s ears raised up in alert, stopping him where he stood with his eyes wide at what his friend had just told him. “Have you given it to her?”

Nick looked down at the floor. His smile completely gone. This wasn’t the reaction he wanted. His actions were his own and not for someone else to judge. But he knew that it was concern and not prejudice that fueled his friends question.

“I have.” After pausing for a moment, Nick continued. “I’ve noticed the married females here wear something similar. I don’t know if it means the same.” He said shaking his head. “But if I can offer her something…”

Seeing Nick’s sorrowful expression, Erik placed a paw on his shoulder.

“I asked for this.” Nick continued. “I talked my father into asking for this alliance and I agreed to this marriage. You were there Erik they simply handed her over.”

Erik could tell Nick was troubled by the arrange marriage for more than one reason. Squeezing his shoulder he offered a friendly smile.

Smiling back, Nick cleared his throat. “So, when do you leave?” He asked as they continued their march to the tailors hoping to change the subject. Fortunately for Nick, Erik complied.

“In the morning. We’ll hide aboard a merchant ship that will take us to our destination.” Said destination was a castle on the coast north of the Hopps’ lands sitting on a rocky cliff overlooking the sea.

A group of six grey foxes, since their coats will blend in well with the rocks, are to climb the cliffs and observe the occupants. It is believed the armies that face the Hopps are using the castle as a supply point to store all their food and essentials for the winter.

Stopping in front of the entrance to his room, Nick turned to face his friend. “I wish you well Erik.”

“And I you Nick.” Nick then turned and entered the room to what had to have been the ugliest set of clothes he has ever seen.

The next morning

Judith awoke to the sun shining through her window. It was already midmorning. She had spent half the night crying into her pillow. Still damp, she pulled her face away from the tortured cushion. Lowering herself out of the bed, she walked to the bedroom door.

Easing it opened she peered into the main room, much as she did the night before. The fire was but ash and the sofa was empty. The clothes he had worn were laying neatly on the back of a chair. But something was missing.

Looking on the table and all the other furniture, she couldn’t find the pendant he’d repaired. Surely, he wouldn’t keep it with him. If anyone saw it they would recognize it as a failure to claim his prize.  The thought should have made Judith glad.

Instead, she couldn’t get over the ping of guilt she felt from last night. She still didn’t know why he wanted to die. Surely, he didn’t think that she would be swept off her feet after being forced into a marriage and given a mark of ownership.

But somehow, he seemed just as trapped as she was. She went to the bedroom and pulled out a blue dress. Changing quickly, she made her way out of the suite only to stop in the doorway. She hadn’t realized the guards would still be there.

However, if they intention was to stop her from leaving they made no sign of noticing her opening the door. She decided to test the waters. Walking out slowly she watched out of the corner of her eye for any motion from them.

They didn’t move until she was beyond them and walking away. Using her ears, she listened as they stayed just behind her. Curious, she quickened her pace. The guards stayed right with her. Then she stopped without warning.

Besides one of them nearly falling over, they came to a complete halt the same distance behind her.  So, they’re escorts then? Before she could test her limits further she knew she needed to find Nicholas and she knew right where he would be.

She made her way to the council room where the war council met, her escorts right on her heels. As she approached the door she was starting to get nervous. She didn’t know how Nicholas would react to her interrupting a council meeting. But she did know how her father would react.

Before she could deal with that she had to get past the guards at the doors. Two rabbits dressed in ornate uniforms holding ceremonial spears stood at either side of the door. As she approached they moved their spears till they crossed each other blocking the door before she could get close. But she expected that.

What she did not expect was how her escorts would react. As soon as the bunnies moved their spears the two foxes leapt in front of her holding their shields in front, aiming their spears, baring their fangs and growling at the now shaking bunnies.

Truth be told, Judy was just as shaken as they were. It took a second for her to realize what was happening. These foxes weren’t her escorts they were her bodyguards. The rabbits guarding the doors were too scared to even move their spears back. Fortunately, the door to the council room opened.

And there in the door way with the light shining around him portraying the silhouette of a demonic warrior stood The Devil’s Spawn.  

Reaching out and moving the spears blocking the door out of the way he started walking towards Judy and her guards. As soon as they had seen it was him the guards immediately stopped growling and hid their fangs but did not drop their guard until he was well past the guard bunnies.

Now with her guards behind her Judy stood in front of Nicholas once more. Still a little shocked from the spectacle that she had just witness, she was finding it a little difficult to form words. Not that it would have helped, she still couldn’t speak his language.

With a very annoyed expression he looked down at her. No doubt annoyed at his wife interrupting state business she thought. She looked down from his face. Noticing his green shirt and brown pants that gave him a very dashing cavalier look. Judy’s ears dropped behind her back, disappointed she had come all this way and hadn’t thought of how to ask him for the pendant back.

When she dropped her ears, she noticed he tilted his head to the side. Glancing back up she caught a glint of a gold chain around his neck. Raising her ears again, she pointed at the gold chain. Hoping it was the pendant around his neck. All he did was look more annoyed and shrug his shoulders.

Rolling her eyes, she reached up and grabbed his collar, quickly bringing him down to her level. Blushing, she reached into his shirt and pulled the pendant out. Letting go of his collar, she watched as he stood back to his full height and reached to touch the pendant while looking at her.

She pointed at the pendant once more and then shyly pointed back at herself. He seemed to get excited at the idea as his eyes got wider and his eyebrows both raised. Reaching behind his neck he undid the clamp that held the chain together and offered it to Judith.

Taking the pendant, she pointed her ears up and placed it around her neck and fastened it. Then placed one paw on it delicately while looking it over. The feeling of being watched washed over her, causing a shiver to go down her spine. She glanced up and saw Nick looking down. Emerald eyes sparkling with delight and a smile to match. She even noticed his tail started to wag slightly.

She offered a satisfied smile in return and turned to make her departure. She only tuned about half way when a large paw found her shoulder. Looking back, it was Nick that stopped her and was gesturing for her to follow him back into the council chambers.

Into the council chambers? But females aren’t allowed while the council is in session. Maybe he just wants to show me off? Show that he’s managed to somehow tame me? Thinking to herself she didn’t notice her paw was wrapping around the pendant and starting to squeeze again. Then she felt Nick’s paw leave her shoulder.

Looking at his face once more she felt the guilt from earlier returning. Those sad eyes returning along with a frown. Judy quickly reached for his paw with both hers. Smiling towards him she gave a slow nod and let him lead her into the room.

Nearing the two guard bunnies she noticed them looking back and forth at each other as if they weren’t sure what to do. Nick must have noticed as well. He gave a low growl gaining their attention. Spoke something to the two foxes that were following them which seemed to be for them to stay outside the door and guard it.

Once inside, Nick released her paw and turned to close the door. At that moment, Judy felt more exposed than ever before. There were 15 other bunnies and three foxes. The foxes seemed to be pleased at her presence and were all smiling. Gideon more than the others.

The bunnies, however, made it appear as though she was the most disgusting thing they had ever seen. All had a look of either revulsion or anger. One rabbit was making his way towards her. She felt large paws rest on her shoulders and looked up to see a cream-colored muzzle leaning over her.

“She cannot be here!” the angry rabbit nearly shouted. Gideon said something that must have been a translation.

Judy felt something wrap around her feet and felt the growl that rumbled through Nick’s throat. The rabbit’s anger quickly melted into a puddle that was forming on the floor between his legs. While Nick started talking, Judy looked down at her feet.

Staring down at the red tail with a dark tip she hardly noticed the conversation. She was intrigued by this fluffy warm appendage. Then she heard something that caught her attention.

“…and take council from her as my equal.”

Judy’s head snapped up along with her ears. She barely noticed the fox behind her shaking his head at the surprise. Or using his paws to lower said ears back down so they weren’t in his face. She did notice how he dragged his claws along the edges causing her to shiver with a sensation she’d never felt before but definitely wanted again.

She felt his paw press against her back and towards the table everyone was standing around. Every rabbit at the table, including her brother Gregory and father, were standing with their mouths agape in disbelief. The foxes alternatively were smiling. None as much as Johannes.

The rest of the meeting went by in a blur. Judy had no idea what they were discussing. The only thing she could think of were two words. “my equal.” Did he mean it? Was it true or just a show? She desperately wanted answers.

The meeting was over before Judy realized it. As everyone started to walk away from the table, Judy took the only action she could to get the answers she wanted.

“Gideon?” she called.

“Yes, Lady Judy?”

“Can you come to our chambers later? I need to ask my husband some questions.”

Chapter Text

Judy paced in the bedroom waiting for both Nicholas and Gideon to appear. After the meeting in the council chambers, she took her leave and traveled directly to their suite. The two guards in tow. At the door she noticed two more were waiting. Once she opened the door the two that had accompanied her turned about and left. Leaving the two new guards to stand watch.

The hour had grown late and Judy’s patients was beginning wear thin. She knew there were other meetings taking place after the war council. She realized now that she could have stayed and if his actions were any indication she would have been welcomed.

But one word still rang in her ears. “Equal” was the last thing a marriage was in rabbit society. She stopped her pacing and walked to the door of the balcony in the bedroom. The night air was chilled from an approaching storm. She looked out to the port where several torches were moving about checking the mooring lines were secured properly.

Gazing at the longboats, she wandered if Nicholas would take her with him when they returned to Rodrevland. Having never traveled far from the castle gates, her knowledge of the world was limited to what books she could get her hands on, none of which mentioned his homeland. Sighing in disappointment, she looked out to the approaching storm.

Watching as the waves crashed against the rocks in the distance. Judy closed her eyes and imagined herself standing at the bow of one of the longboats. Sailing head on into the stormy sea. Imagining the salty sea air racing through her fur as the waves crash against the bow throwing mist over her. Just imagining it caused her to shiver with a chill that wasn’t there.

To her surprise, the next thing she imagined was a large dark red paw wrapping around her. Pulling her in to warm, thick fur. Instinctively sniffing the air, she could smell his scent. Spicy musk filled the air around her over powering the salt of the sea. Taking a deeper breath, she inhaled more of his scent along with the smell of…strawberries?

Partially opening her eyes, there floating in front of her was a bowl of strawberries. Looking beyond the bowl into the glass of the door leading out to the balcony she saw her reflection. Which was dwarfed by a red fox standing behind her. Looking down she now saw the imaginary paw was actually real and pulling her in to a close embrace.

Feeling her face and ears begin to heat from a heavy blush she dared to glance up and saw the smuggest grin she’d ever seen in her life. Everything within her screamed to run away and hide her embarrassment from the world. Yet his hold, while firm, was gentle and maybe even caring?

Before she could determine anymore he pulled away. Walking towards the table in the main room holding the bowl of strawberries out to her. Enticing her to follow him. He was playing with her. She reached up and placed a paw over the pendant around her neck, remembering the playful quirk of its tail and how it made her think of the fox before her. With a humored smile she followed.

Taking a seat, she watched as he laid the bowl of strawberries in front of her and then took his own seat across from her. Resting his elbow on the table he propped up his muzzle with his fist staring intently at her. It was beginning to unnerve her as the silence only seemed to grow the longer they waited.

Not wanting to seem ungrateful she thought of a way to break the silence. Even though he couldn’t understand her. Picking up a strawberry she looked over into his emerald eyes.

“These are my favorite.” She said with a smile moving to take a bite.

“Yes, your brother told me.”

Mouth hanging open, amethyst eyes staring wide into emerald, paw holding a strawberry half way into her open mouth all Judy could do was stay frozen. Surprise and horror coursing through her. “Did he just say what I think he said?” Slowly leaning back in her seat, placing her paws in her lap with the strawberry still in her grip, Judy stared into his half-lidded eyes.

 “H-how…when…”

Seeing her struggle with the revelation that he could speak her language, Nick offered her some help. “How do I speak your tongue?” he offered.

Nodding her head enthusiastically, Judy had already forgotten everything else she wanted to ask. This mammal who had stood up for her twice already, who she didn’t believe she had a way to communicate to her was now talking to her and she could understand him. To say she went deaf to anything other than his voice would be an accurate description.

“Gideon show me.” Nick knew he sounded childish. While Gideon had been teaching him how to speak the language of the lagomorphs, he had only had a few lessons before Gideon brought the contract to them. But Judy hadn’t seemed to notice.

“Of course!” she scolded herself. Allowing a moment to compose her thoughts and order her questions, Judy took a bite of the strawberry she just remembered in her paw. Thinking to when they first met, her next questions came to her instantly.

“Why didn’t you speak when we first met?”

“I did.” He quipped with a smug grin.

Rolling her eyes, she tilted her head to the side with an expression that conveyed the half annoyed half amused question of “Really?”. When he only replied with a chuckle she relented. “Fine, why didn’t you speak to me in Lagomorph?” A small smile pulling her lips back.

Scratching under his chin in thought, Nick really didn’t know why he didn’t try to talk to her in Lagomorph. Having chosen to tease her on a whim, it was only natural to speak in his native tongue. But how to tell her that was what really stumped him. So, he simply shrugged and gave her a smirk saying “Fun.”

Dropping her ears behind her back, now slightly annoyed, she put her elbow on the table and propped up her head on her paw. When she felt an unfamiliar weight swinging on her neck, she looked down and saw the pendant swinging from its chain.

When she reached for it with her paw she didn’t see him drop his features for a second before recovering. Looking back up at him she asked the first thing that came to her mind. “Why did you give me this?” Eyes pleading for an answer other than what she originally thought it was for.

Looking at the pendant a moment, Nick still wasn’t sure why she rejected it so harshly before or why she had changed her mind so adamantly. He wanted to tell her more, tell her everything. How it was a representation of giving himself to her and her alone. Unable to think of the proper words he kept his reply as simple and to the point as he could manage.

“It is me so I always with you.”

Looking at him for a moment she felt the need to confirm what he was telling her. That there was more to it than what he just said. Thinking back to last night, his willingness to end his own life was extreme for something that should be so simple. Before she could think further, he asked her a question.

“Why did you not want?” Judy had expected him to ask that question. She had prepared a small speech to explain how to rabbits it would mean the female has surrendered herself to her husband. Becoming little more than a glorified baby making servant. At least in the nobility, that’s the way it is.

Having to actually answer it, her little speech went out the window. The image of his tear soaked fur and his resignation to end his life flashed in her mind. Looking away from his eyes, she stared down at the floor to her side. Ashamed that she hadn’t even given him a chance.

“I was afraid.” She finally answered. Nick suspected that had something to do with it. But he needed to know what it was that she was afraid of. Leaning forward he placed a finger under her chin and gently guided her gaze back to his.

Judy reluctantly allowed him to guide her eyes back to his. Green eyes that were both gentle and concerned.

“Afraid of me?” It sounded more like a statement than a question. Judy’s grabbed his wrist with both her paws and shook her head to both sides. “No not of you.” She reassured. “Well not just you but of what marriage means for me.”

Tilting his head to the side a little surprised. “What does it mean?” Judy went on to explain how noble does were expected to provide numerous heirs and spend their time rearing children and tending to the needs of their bucks but not allowed to participate in whatever business they were conducting.

Nick scoffed in disgust at the idea. “Patetisk.” He said. “Like them watch us.”

At the mention of their wedding night, Judy for the first time, analyzed everything that had happened. She halfheartedly laughed at the image in her mind of Nick carrying out the priest by his robes just to drop him outside of the door. Her smile faltered for a moment remembering the knife her father left.

“Why did you want back?” He said pointing at the pendant. He already knew what event caused her to change her mind but he was surprised when she showed up asking for it. But he wanted to know her reasons if nothing else just to understand her better.

Looking down at her paws, she still held on to his wrist. Moving them to grasp either side of his larger paw. Subconsciously she started rubbing the rough pad of his palm. She took a deep breath and released it to steel herself for what he would ask after her explanation.

“When I found you on the couch, I saw that you were crying. That and you had repaired the pendant. As we are already married, you have the right to force me to wear it. But seeing how you reacted, how it hurt you, I realized it meant something more to you.”

Using his thumb to gently caress the back of her small paw, Nick took a moment to marvel at the difference between them before speaking.

“You right. It is more than me.” Sighing when Judy looked up at him, Nick wasn’t sure how she would react to what he was about to tell her. “A gift like this,” as he reached up to touch the pendant hanging from her neck, “is only given to livskompis.”

“Livskompis?” She repeated. “What does that mean?”

Looking at the floor, Nick’s brain raced through the words that he knew for an answer. “Ehm, is you and me for alltid and no others.”

Judy thought on that a moment. She wasn’t sure what alltid meant but she thought she knew what he meant by no others. “So, you wouldn’t take a máistreás?”

“Máistreás?” He asked letting Judy know it was now her turn to explain something to him.

“Um, another female to bed.”

She knew many of the bucks in the royal court were infamous for their mistresses. It happened so often that it was considered common practice. And though she hadn’t given the subject much thought, now she felt like she expected him to have a mistress of his own. Probably a vixen back in his homeland that could provide him children. She was certain she wouldn’t be able to. For some reason that saddened her.

“To bed?” He repeated with his eyebrows scrunched in confusion before he fully understood what she meant. “Oh, elskerinne!” He exclaimed in realization. “No, no, fox no elskerinne.” Shaking his head for emphasis.

Judy raised her eyebrow in surprise. She couldn’t believe that all foxes would keep to this practice of livskompis. Still not sure exactly what that meant. She made a mental note to ask Guideon its exact meaning. “So, are all foxes liv-skom-pis?” Doing her best to pronounce the word correctly.

Frowning slightly at the question, Nick let out a sigh as he shook his head. “No, not all.” Either sadness or disappointment in his voice, Judy couldn’t tell which.

After saying nothing more, Judy thought on what next to ask. She knew what she wanted to know most, why he would want to end his own life. However, now didn’t seem the time. Also, Judy wanted their first conversation to be more up lifting. So, she attempted to change subjects.

“Sir Wilde,” she started before being interrupted.

“Nick, please.” He said with a smile.

“Nick,” now smiling back at him, “do you have any deartháireacha?”

“deartháireacha?” he asked in a way that was clearly a question.

“Um, brother and sisters?” She replied to clarify. Her siblings had always been a great source of joy in her life. Being from the oldest litter meant once she was old enough she helped with the others as much as she could at whatever age she was at the time.

But instead of seeing a happy fox eager to share tales of mischief and adventures, she was caught off guard by a simple “No.”

That one word caused Judy’s whole world to crash down. Coming from a large family, even by rabbit standards, Judy had enjoyed being around her many siblings. Her and Gregory often getting into trouble together while seeking new places in the castle walls to explore. Then again with her younger siblings as she shared her gained knowledge of all the best hiding places.

That Nick never had the opportunity to experience the joy of playing with someone as a small child was heartbreaking. She could see an image of a small fox pup in her mind. Sitting alone in an empty room with a deafening silence all around him frightened her.

“You deartháireacha?” He asked.

Fortunately, the thought of her own siblings brought Judy out of her sad stupor. “Yes,” she gleefully replied, “I have 27 brothers and sisters. There’s Gregory who you’ve already met, he and I are from the same litter, then Sarah, Sam, Nicole, Jessica, Fredrick, Nathan…” she continued until she finished naming all 27 siblings. Only then did she look up at the Vulpine sitting across from her.

To see the look of horror as his eyes bulged wide and his mouth hung agape. Strangely, the part that caught Judy’s attention were his teeth, which for the first time, seemed to catch her attention. Particularly the pointy parts. He stayed like that a moment before speaking again.

“H-How?” he stuttered out.

Laughing at his apparent shock, Judy then offered the explanation, along with the sad truth of why.

“Well unlike other mammals that only bare one child at a time rabbits still have litters up to six. When we’re born we’re very small and have no fur.” She made a gesture of brushing the fur on her cheek before continuing. “Rabbit young often don’t make it past their firth birthday. Gregory and I are the only two who survived from a litter of six. Gregory, Sam, Frederick and Nathan are the only males who survived.”

“Sorry.”  He stated while running his thumb across the back of her small paw once more. It was only then that they both noticed they were both still holding paws. Almost simultaneously, they both released their grip and looked away bashfully.

“Um,” he continued, “all rabbits have big family?” he asked.

“Not normally no. Most only have 6-8. Ours is larger because my father wanted more heirs and being the king we had the best treatment while growing up. That helped to ensure more kits survived.”

With all the talk of kits and heirs Judy remembered the sadness she felt when she realized she would probably not be able to bare him children, and realizing he was somewhat older than her, she hesitantly asked, “Do you have children?”

This caused him to snort through his nose and cover his cover his mouth as he tried not to laugh. He couldn’t help it. The way she asked had been too cute to hold it in. “No,” he finally answered, “no children.”

Giggling at how she must have sounded Judy decided to keep inquiring more about his personal life. “Were you ever married before?”  Smiling when she asked in a playful manner to let him know she was just being curious.

“No,” he answered again shaking his head before placing a paw upon himself, still smiling at her questions, “I livskompis you.”

“There’s that word again.” Judy had guessed it meant that foxes rarely broke their marriage vows. Still remembering the events from the night before, she had a nagging feeling it meant more than he was able to express. While still pondering on the meaning of the word, she looked back out the balcony doors and saw the storm was close approaching.

Looking to where she was, Nick noticed the storm outside. Taking the bowl from the table he stood offering it to Judy and gestured with his free paw towards the balcony. Smiling as he remembered finding her there when he entered the room.

Smiling back, Judy graciously accepted the bowl. Taking another strawberry from the bowl as she walked toward the balcony doors. Once in front of the glass doors, they stood in a comfortable silence. Watching as the rain began to poor down.

Feeling the slight chill of the cold air through the thin glass doors. Judy once again closed her eyes and tried to imaging sailing on the sea with the spray of the ocean mist on her face. Once again causing her to shiver not just from the though this time but also the air that seeped through the cracks around the doors.

Noticing her shivering Nick took a hesitant step closer to her side. Wrapping his tail around the back of her legs and placing his paw gently around her shoulder. He was surprised to feel her lean into the embrace but welcomed it all the same.

Staring into the distance, he saw a flash of lightning. Only seconds later the loud roaring clap of thunder caused the glass doors to shudder and the bunny in his harm to jump into his side. Dropping the bowl of fruit and wrapping her arms around his midsection.

He looked down in alarm at her sudden reaction. Seeing her try and hide her face in his shirt, her eyes still shut tight. Nick gently guided her to the bed. The hour was growing late. He felt the previous day and night and events throughout today had drained them both. She offered no resistance to his guidance.

Pulling the blanket back, he gently pried her arms from him. She opened her eyes and saw the bed before her. She looked up and offered a thankful smile before whisper such. As she was starting to climb into the warm comfort another thunder clap rolled even louder than the last. Causing her to leap back into the arms of the waiting fox. Nearly knocking him over.

After recovering from the near fall and the surprise of how fast she had moved, Nick reached down and gently stroked her ears. Feeling how tense she was, he leaned down till his muzzle was between her ears and softly whispered.

“Do you want I stay till rain over?” Her only response was to nod without moving her face from his shirt. Reaching down he gently lifted her up and laid her in the bed. Pulling her into him, he kept his muzzle at the base of her ears and brought his tail up around her. Offering all the comfort and protection he could.

Even still, when the thunder would roll across the landscape he could feel her tense ever so slightly. Each time offering a gentle kiss between her ears before tenderly caressing them. Eventually, she settled down and was gently snoring into his fur.

Looking back out into the rain, Nick’s began to worry. Not for himself nor the bunny in his arms safe and protected. But for his friend who had left that morning by boat along with fellow vulpines to investigate a dangerous target behind enemy lines.

That is, until someone started knocking on the door to their suite.

Chapter Text

Along the coast of the Island of Lagomorph

 

Darkness. Water dripping, wood groaning under pressure. The rocking of a boat. Erik was used to traveling by sea. He fancied himself an explorer. While he had never found anything new to his people, his sense of adventure was achieved by finding new places to him.

As such, being hidden away in the stores of an old merchant vessel was making him anxious. The need to go above deck and look towards the coast, to see the unseen was likening to slowly pressing a blade into his paw.

The long day’s journey up the coast in this condition was slowly wearing him down. His thoughts went to his friend Nicholas. When his friend appeared to wish them a safe journey he looked downtrodden despite the smile he wore. Erik also noticed the new golden chain around his neck. Knowing what it probably meant, he kept to himself. Not wanting to upset his friend further.

The long journey made it difficult for one’s mind not to wonder. Arranged marriages had been practiced long ago among foxes. As time passed the practice was left to history. The damage it did to a fox’s mental state had proved dangerous.

Being forced to become intimate with someone they had not imprinted on first was playing a dangerous game with their life. On very rare cases the arranged marriage became happy. However, most ended tragically with one or sometimes both taking their own lives after imprinting on another besides their betrothed.

The laws of marriage were strictly enforced to encourage those betrothed to each other not to break their vows. In the hope that it would prevent them from going astray from each other. After the practice was ended in Redrovland, the laws of marriage were still strongly recognized and the tradition of gifting started. The couple would present gifts after both imprinting on each other.

This is what worried Erik the most. Remembering how arranged marriages often ended, seeing the gift that Nick had given was given back, the fact that he chose to commit to her in marriage did not mean he would imprint on her. It was a step in the right direction, however rash it may have been.

Standing up from where he had been sitting for several hours, Erik made his way to the steps that went to the top deck. He couldn’t stand being cooped up inside a ship any longer. Letting his worse fears run circles inside his head had exhausted him mentally.

The other four grey vulpines that volunteered for this trip were sleeping soundly with the rolling of the seas. Poking his head out of the entrance he saw the beginnings of a storm approaching. Looking about he finally spotted the captain of the vessel.

An otter that looked to be in his middle ages. Otterton was his name. Having been the only merchant in the port that spoke their tongue and often traveled the coast, he was handsomely rewarded for his assistance.

Waving his paw to gain the attention of the captain, Erik waited for him to approach. Still unwilling to leave his hiding place. “Captain! How much longer do you suppose we may be?”

Looking at the approaching storm the otter weighed the possibilities before responding. “Will be well after dark before we reach the best cliff for you to swim to. If this storm lasts we may have to wait until another day.”

Nodding his head in confirmation Erik let out a frustrated sigh. “Keep me informed, will you?”

To which the otter nodded in response before turning away and walking back to where he stood before. Erik lowered himself back into the gloom of what now felt more like a prison than a ship’s cargo hold. Settled back into his previous position and closed his eyes for some much-needed rest.

 

Hopps Palace

Johannes Wilde stood next to the fire in the room he had been given. The furniture provided was barely big enough to be considered comfortable. It was obvious that the rabbits he now called family never entertained mammals of different sizes.

That was the least of his worries. Everyone who knew him knew he only feared one thing. The loss of his son. After a letter from his wife finally found him on a battle field in some distant land, Johannes made the journey home as quickly as possible.

Upon arriving at the village and finding their home in disrepair, Johannes feared the worst for his bride and young son. The loss of an eye on the battle field adding to his worry that they may not recognize him when he found them.

After talking to several neighbors his worse fears were confirmed. Making his way up the side of the mountain with the burial grounds, Johannes could not believe his eye. There sitting on a rock barely clothed was a young fox pup with the most beautiful green eyes he had ever seen.

This morning those green eyes were far too many shades darker than he liked. When he asked Nicholas would only tell him he didn’t sleep well. But he recognized the look in those eyes. Nicholas was well versed in hiding his emotions from others. His father was able to see beyond the mask he wore.

He recognized the hurt in those emerald pools. It was a hurt he himself felt to this day. The pain of loss and hopelessness. And although that seemed to change after his bunny bride came to see him at the council meetings, Johannes still worried that a rushed union as this could still be deadly for his only child. Even though he has grown and proven himself an adult more times than he could count, he would always be his little boy with his mother’s eyes.

“Why so gloomy old friend?” An arctic fox named Nadim asked.

“I worry for Nicholas.” Nadim was one of Johannes’ oldest friends still living. The rest having died of disease or combat.

“Last I saw the boy seemed in good spirits.” Nadim replied in a questioning tone. “What could have you so worried?”

“This morning Nicholas was wearing a new neckless under his shirt. I could see the gold chain around his neck.” He gestured towards his own for emphasis. “Then, when his bride interrupted the council meeting, she entered wearing a fox pendant and Nicholas no longer wore the gold chain around his neck.”

“Do you think he’s imprinted?” The arctic fox asked with worry in his voice.

“No, it hasn’t been long enough. But he is trying to force it to happen.”

“Wouldn’t that be good for him though? To strengthen the bond of their marriage?”

“Normally yes, but she’s a rabbit. You know as well as I do that they have a reputation for a reason.” Johannes closed his eyes and took a deep breath. “I will admit that I was happy to see Nicholas stand up for her.”

“Oh? When did this happen?” Nadim asked.

“During the council meeting. One of the rabbits, a lord something or other, approached her and was ranting about how she couldn’t be there. All of them looked at her with disgust. Even the king, her father, looked ready to say something.” Johannes paused to release a laugh. “You should have seen their faces when Nicholas growled at that crazy rabbit for trying to take her away. Caused him to wet his own trousers.”

That caused Nadim to laugh before saying, “rabbits, such timid creatures.”

“I don’t know what shocked them more his growling or when he started speaking their tongue.” Johannes moved to the seat across from his oldest friend.

“Oh? And what did he say?” If the arctic fox did no look attentive before, his ears fully erect and eyes wide certainly expressed it now.

“I asked Gideon afterwards. He said something like,” he paused for a moment. Tilted his head up slightly and closed his eyes to concentrate better. “She is a member of my household and my mate. My affairs are her affairs. She is entitled to know all that I know. To go where I go. I will consult and take council from her as my equal.”

Finished, Johannes opened his eyes and look back at Nadim, awaiting his impressions. The arctic fox wore an expression of satisfaction.

“Impressive.” He said.

“The rabbits seemed to think so as well. There were no further attempts to remove her from Nicholas’ side. What impressed me most however was what Gideon said afterwards. He said that was the first time Nicholas had spoken their tongue in nearly perfectly. He said most of the time he sounds like a child having just learned to speak sentences.” Johannes finished with a sense of pride.

Nadim raised an eyebrow upon hearing this. “It would seem passion can affect one’s tongue as well as their blade hand. But tell me, how did the princess react to this announcement?”

Johannes smiled for the first time tonight during their conversation. “I think she was feeling the weight of the glares the other rabbits were baring down on her. Although, she didn’t so much as flinch when Nicholas pulled her to him and growled at that obnoxious rabbit that tried to take her away. While he was speaking she kept looking down with her ears drooped behind her back. I think the poor dear felt guilty for intruding on the meeting. However, once Nicholas finished speaking her head seemed to snap up along with her ears.” Now trying to speak through a laugh, “You should have seen Nicholas’ face when he was slapped on either side of his muzzle with those ears of hers.”

Both foxes laughed for a moment before Johannes continued. “I think being called an equal to her husband stunned her more than anything. While her ears remained upright for the remainder of the meeting, she did little more than stare into nothingness. When the meeting ended she, she seemed to snap out of her little dream world.

I’m guessing they didn’t talk during their first night together or he had trouble speaking to her because she went directly to Gideon and asked him to meet them in her chambers so she could speak with Nicholas.”

“Well I would say you have little to worry about then. It would seem she is now trying to make this relationship work as well.” Nadim offered as a word of council.

Releasing a sigh and lowering his head slightly, Johannes tiredly replied. “I suppose you’re right.”

“Of course, I am.” He replied.

Johannes simply huffed at his response waiting a moment longer before speaking. “By the way how is your daughter Skye? I didn’t have the opportunity to see her before we left.”

Nadim’s smile stretched from ear to ear. “Oh, she’s turning into a fine young woman. Her mother would have been very proud.” He stood from his seat stretching to get some of his joints to pop. “Now, I’ll be heading to my bunk before the rain starts. Otherwise my old bones won’t want to move.”

Johannes stood and embraced his old friend. “Thank you Nadim, your council as always is most helpful.”

“Think nothing of it old friend. Besides, us single fathers have to stick together.” Nadim replied with a smile. “Goodnight Johannes.”

“Goodnight Nadim.” As the old arctic fox left, Johannes made his own way to his bed. After disrobing, he lay on top of the sheets with the blanket pulled back. “I’ll stop worrying if they are both happy tomorrow.” He thought and closed his eyes for another restless night.

The King’s Chambers

Stuart Hopps, king of the land of Hopps, sat at the table in his chambers. A glass of wine half empty in his paws. A contemplative expression across his features. His head was aching from the thought process he was engaged in. Replaying the scene from the morning’s council meeting over and over. “…and take council from her as my equal.” That’s what the fox said.

While Stu had always considered Bonnie his equal in their marriage, he had never expressed it or shown it in a way that minutely compared to the display the fox had.

As the door to his shared chamber opened and his wife of nearly nineteen years entered, Stu’s expression changed from one of contemplation to regret and self-loathing.

“Stu dear? What is wrong?” Bonnie asked, having immediately picked up on the change in her husband.

“I am such a fool Bonnie.” Rolling her eyes gently, Bonnie walked to the chair beside her husband. Taking the glass of wine from his paw, she sat still holding his paw.

“Now what makes you think that?” She had an idea. He had acted this way before after realizing he’d made a bad deal or over chastised one of their children. He also acted this way last night after returning from their daughter’s consummation. “A lot sooner than I had expected.” She thought. Although he hadn’t spoken a word, simply drank himself to sleep at the table.

When Stu looked up into her eyes, she was not expecting his question. “Have I treated you as an equal?”

Bonnies ears stiffened, her eyes widened and her mouth hung open. While Stu had apologized for doing something stupid a few times over the years, he’d never done anything that made her feel lesser than he. Yes, there were times she couldn’t accompany him, such as the council meetings. But he always discussed the business of those meetings afterwards with her.

She couldn’t understand why her husband would suddenly doubt the way he had treated her as less than equal. Those parts she was forbidden from were apart of society. A part she had settled on and raised her own daughters to settle on.

“W-why would you ask that?” Concern now flooded her body.

“You haven’t heard of what happened in the council meeting?” he asked.

“No!” she replied. “What happened?”

“Judith came to the council chambers today.” Bonnie’s concern instantly morphed into fear.

“Did that fox strike her? Did her harm my daughter?” she franticly asked.

Stu simply continued, ignoring her questions for now. “During the meeting we were discussing more trade agreements and battle strategies for the war. When we heard very loud growling from the other side of the entrance. We all assumed the foxes had betrayed us. We readied to draw our swords and strike them down. When the one that married Judith went to open the doors.

There in the hallway were two foxes with their spears pointed at the guards of the door. Teeth bared and snarling like savages. As he approached them they relaxed and backed away to reveal Judith behind them.” Bonnie inhaled a gasp of surprise.

“After a moment he brought her into the chambers with him. I was so stunned I didn’t know what to do. Suddenly, lord Savage approached the two of them, telling them she couldn’t be hear and I’m sure he intended to eject her from the chambers himself.”

Bonnie scowled at the name Savage. “That brute!”

“Gideon said something to the fox. I assume he translated what Lord Savage was saying because the fox pulled Judith closer to him and started growling at Savage.” Stu smiled a little. “Made the fool wet his own trousers in front of the entire council.”

This caused Bonnie some satisfaction at the cruel lord’s humiliation.

“But the most stunning part was what the fox said next. Speaking in our own tongue, he claimed Judith as part of his house and that she was his equal. He kept her by his side the remainder of the meeting. I even over heard him asking Gregory what her favorite food was after she left.”

Bonnie smiled, the worry she carried for her daughter was slowly beginning to dissipate. Only to return upon seeing her husband’s sullen expression return. “Is this why you’re upset? You think you haven’t been treating me as an equal?” Stu simply nodded looking at the wood grain of the table they sat at.

“Oh Stu.” She got up from her seat and hugged her husband tightly while whispering in his ear. “You’ve never kept your business from me, even asked for my advice from time to time. I’m happy with the way things are.”

Their loving embrace was interrupted by the clap of thunder outside. Causing both rabbits to shiver slightly. “I better check on the kits.” She said softly, pulling away. Stu simply nodded and watched as she left their shared chamber. Wondering to himself how he could be so lucky.

 

The Hopps’ Kingdom Port village

In a smoky tavern filled with mammals of varying species, a lone rabbit sat at a corner table. The shadows from larger mammals and the distance from the sources of light allowed a level of obscurity. The only light from the corner being the occasional flare from the wooden pipe. Followed by a billow of smoke soon thereafter.

It wasn’t this rabbit’s first time to stay within the shadows. To go unnoticed was a simple trick in a land dominated by his species. The past year of war making it even more so. Refugees fleeing the fighting were easily blended into.

After nearly two months of waiting, the lone rabbit finally saw what he had been waiting for. Fox mercenaries, landing on the Island of Lagomorphs. Not as conquerors or raiders but as mercenaries for hire. Now he knew he would soon be able to return home to report to his master.

All that was left was the arrival of his informants. Those seeking to topple the Hopps from their thrown. Soon after the rain had started, two figures wearing cloaks approached his table. And without saying a word joined him at his table.

“It’s about time.” He muttered without looking away from his pipe, knowing their sensitive ears would hear him.

“There has been a development.” The older of the two said.

“What sort of development?”

“You are aware of the marriage that has taken place?”

“Yes, the princess and a fox. Quite the match.” He said with a wicked grin towards the younger of the two that had joined him. Who returned a hateful glare.

“They had a sort of falling out.” The older of the two continued. “When the fox appeared this morning, he looked as though he didn’t care if the sun would shine or if we would all burst into flames. Not saying a word unless spoken to during the council meetings.”

“Sounds like the Devil’s Spawn was unable to claim his prize.”

“That may have changed.” The younger of the two now joining into the conversation. “She came to him during one of the meetings. After which he brought her into the meeting with him.”

“A doe in a council meeting,” the lone rabbit placed his elbows on the table, resting his chin on his joined paws, “interesting.”

“Indeed,” the older rabbit sneered, “when I tried to remove her the damn fox threatened me.”

“So, he’s soft on her, is he? Well we can certainly use that to our advantage.”

“No!” The younger rabbit interjected. “She is a victim in all this and I will not see her harmed for something she did not have a choice in.”

Nodding in consent, the lone rabbit agreed silently. “When can we expect visitors then?”

“A week’s time. Once their scouts return they’ll plan an attack and then leave.”

“Then I should take my leave.”

 

Chapter Text

Bonnie walked confidently down the halls of the Hopps’ palace. As queen, she was given a larger portion of respect than other does. While most only afforded her the due respect of a queen, a few offered genuine politeness to match. Such was the case with young master Jack Savage.


“Good evening Lady Hopps.” He offered with a courtly bow. “I trust the little ones are settling from the storm?” Knowing his queen would always comfort her children personally.


“As best as a mother could hope.” She replied while smiling at the polite rabbit. The phrase, the fruit never falls far from the tree, certainly didn’t apply to him. She admired how Jack seemed to save his innocence from his father’s, Lord Richard Savage, ire. His courting of Judith two years ago was the only one that Bonnie had endorsed. Judith however had other plans.


She, for whatever reason, had refused his approaches. Only offering vague excuses as to why she wasn’t interested. Fortunate for Judith, her father had indulged her. Even after turning away several more suitors the following two years. It caught Bonnie completely by surprise when she learned of the arranged marriage. Stu had never once tried to push her or her sisters onto any buck.


When Bonnie confronted him after she found out, Stu had said he didn’t think they would go through with it. Something about hearing foxes outlawed that sort of thing while traveling in his youth. Bonnie was irate to say the least. But both knew the risk of trying to go back on their word with over 200 well armed fox warriors at their door.


And then there was the case of the two guards that always stood outside Judith’s suite door. The day of the wedding they hadn’t moved or made any sign they noticed the multitude of rabbits traveling in and out of the room. Only following Judith wherever she went.


Bonnie had desperately wanted to go to her daughter the next morning. Things could be uncomfortable for a young doe after the first night. Especially with an aggressive buck. She didn’t want to think about what Judy may have gone through after her first night with a fox.


However, the custom was that the newly wed couple would be given the entire next day to seal their marriage. She felt somewhat relieved after learning that Stu had left Judy a dagger to defend herself with in the event that the fox became overly aggressive or his approach was unwanted. Then Stu told her about the council meeting.


After worrying for Judith’s safety for the past night and day, plus the storm raging outside, Bonnie’s maternal instincts were standing on end. It didn’t help that Judith had never grown out of a rabbit’s instinctual fear of lightning. It was one of the few things that caused her a great deal of embarrassment. Often spending hours in Bonnie’s arms shivering and jolting with each strike.


So despite her own customs and not knowing that of the foxes, she marched to the chambers where her eldest daughter was housed with her new husband. She wasn’t certain the fox would allow her access to her daughter. She’d be lying if she said she wasn’t afraid of the brutes standing watch at the door. But a mother’s love will push her to the ends of the earth to protect her children. Thus after ending her conversation with young master Savage she found herself approaching the two fox warriors standing vigil over her daughters room.


Despite all of her resolve, she could not bring her self to ignore them. When she approached before, they hadn’t so much as even looked at her. This time, they watched attentively as she approached. Once she turned to face the door, one of the foxes held up its paw, signaling to wait. All she could do was stand there in apprehension with her nose twitching rapidly but ears held high in a sign of authority. Watching as the other fox knocked gently on the door.


*KNOCK KNOCK KNOCK*


“Who the devil could that be?” Nick thought. As he slowly started to unwrap himself from around Judy, he ran into a problem. Thunder striking caused the young rabbit to grab hold of him in her sleep. Waiting for her hold to slacken, Nick watched as her nose wiggled and she breathed heavily through it.


On a hunch, Nick grabbed the pillow he had been leaning against and rubbed it along the bottom of his snout and neck. Once Judy’s hold was loose enough, he lifted her arm and slid away, leaving the pillow in his place. He watched as she pulled the soft item to her face in her sleep before relaxing again.


Nick swiftly made his way to the door before the guards would assume they were either asleep or…anyways, he cleared his throat as he reached the door. Pulling it open he saw a female rabbit with familiar amethyst eyes and ears held high. After what seemed like hours someone finally opened the door. The sight of the red fox in the door way made her ears drop. If he was with Judith she was certain there was no way he would allow her to interrupt. Queen or not, a husband had rule over his wife in every aspect. Even if what Stu said was true.


“Hun kan komme inn.” The fox she learned was named Nicholas, her new son-in-law, said. The guards then moved aside to allow her entrance while Nick stood to the side holding the door open gesturing for her to enter. Walking through the door way, Bonnie’s first thought was maybe Stu wasn’t exaggerating after all, maybe they had all been overreacting.


After the rabbit Nick knew to be his mother-in-law entered the suite, he closed the door and watched as she looked around the living area. The table situated behind the couch facing the fireplace with chairs on either side. When she looked back at him, he gestured for her to follow him towards the bedroom.


As Bonnie watched Nicholas open their bedroom door, she was surprised even more when he stepped back and allowed her to enter. Stepping into the room, Bonnie could not believe her eyes. There, sleeping on the bed, was Judith. In the middle of a thunderstorm cuddled to a pillow.


Bonnie stepped closer, she still couldn’t believe her eyes. Here was her daughter, the one who would stay awake holding onto the nearest rabbit she felt she could trust until a storm would pass, sleeping soundly. As Bonnie looked closer, her ears rose when another clap of thunder washed over the room. She watched as Judy clutched the pillow slightly and her nose wiggled while she…sniffed it?


Bonnie raised and focused both ears and she could just pick up the faint sniffs Judith was making into the side of the pillow. Leaning closer Bonnie took a few tentative sniffs before her eyes went wide.


Nick watched apprehensively from the doorway as his mother-in-law stood up from inspecting Judy. The wide eyed look she gave him caused his ears to lower along with his tail. Not sure if the rabbit was shocked or starting to get angry with the way her nose was twitching. He backed out of the door way as she approached. Stopping once she had room to close the door behind her.She looked back at him and smiled before offering a gentle bow. Nick returned the gesture and watched as she left the suite.


Once outside the room and the door firmly closed behind her, Bonnie realized something. During the shock of discovering her daughter was not only sleeping through a thunderstorm for the first time but using a pillow that smelled strongly of fox, she had forgotten that said fox could speak her language. “Oh carrot sticks!” she hissed while stomping one foot. Then marched back down the hallway whence she came. Leaving behind two very confused guards.


On the other side of the door, Nick let out a slow breath he hadn’t realized he was holding. “Well at least one rabbit seems to like me.” He thought. Nick walked back to the bedroom doorway and peeked in, making sure Judy was still asleep before cleaning the spilled strawberries from the floor. He then extinguished the candles that were still lit and closed the door to the bedroom. Once again placing a barrier between him and the princess.


He stood in front of the bedroom door staring through it. His mind racing over the pros and cons of what he wanted to do. What he wanted didn’t include sleeping alone on a couch tonight. Nick closed his eyes before taking a deep breath. Trying to force himself to imprint on the rabbit wouldn’t work. It took time and wasn’t guaranteed to happen just because you wanted it to.


He let himself fall onto the soft cushions of the couch and kept his eyes closed. It was better to sleep here than deal with a scared princess in the morning. Waking up cuddled to a fox certainly couldn’t be good for a rabbit’s heart.


It also wouldn’t be fair for her. Despite their union, and the positive progress to their relationship tonight, he knew that she may not fall in love with him. Although, he certainly could see himself falling in love with her. She had a strong and free spirit if her actions towards the king during the marriage ceremony and towards him in the court yard where they first met were anything to go by.


Nick thought back to that event. What felt like so long ago was merely nearing two days. The outfit she wore certainly wasn’t what rabbits considered proper for a princess. Although, with the way the shirt and pants showed off her form, he wasn’t complaining. He smiled at that thought. How a fox found a bunny to appear attractive. And the fact that she enjoyed archery probably didn’t…


“Archery!” Nick thought. His eyes opened wide and his smile started to take over his muzzle. “That’s something we have in common.” Nick rose from the couch and went to the bedroom door. Easing it open, he peaked inside to make sure the princess was still sleeping.


Sure enough, there she was still cuddling with the pillow that carried his scent. He watched for a moment as she clutched the pillow tighter and her nose would twitch whenever the sound of thunder would enter the room. He considered for a second if waking up next time him wouldn’t be as much of a start as he had originally thought. Then thought if she woke and found only his scent maybe that would entice her to seek out his company on her own accord.


Deciding that would be the proper course, he used his night vision to quickly scan the room for her quiver of arrows. Becoming frustrated when he saw they weren’t there. He eased the door shut and made to leave the suite. Walking the halls he found the palace to be far more lively than he would have imagined.


The halls were filled with music and decorations. Most looked to be thrown up as a second thought rather than planned. As if the celebrations had sprung up of their own accord. He found Gideon conversing with a rabbit he didn’t recognize and moved to join him. He was holding a cup that smelled of some sort of liquor and speaking louder than probably necessary.


“Gideon!” He said while placing a paw on his shoulder.


“Nick!” A slightly inebriated Gideon replied. “You made it!”


“So it would seem but to what?” Nick gestured to the celebration happening around them.


“Oh! That’s right! You don’t know.” Gideon expressed with an overly dramatic face. Mostly likely due to the alcohol Nick thought.


“Don’t know what exactly?” Encouraging his friend to continue.


“About the thunder party!” Gideon held out both arms and raised them to either side while turning towards either end of the room they were in.


“Thunder party? Because of the storm?” Gideon nodded his head overenthusiastically.


“Yes, yes! You see,” he started gesturing with his hands as if that made it any clearer, “rabbits, like foxes, are born with certain instincts. Leftovers from savage times. This one happens to be a fear of lightning and thunder.”


“That explains the princess’s reaction.” He thought. Looking around he noticed a couple of rabbits would duck their heads and lower their ears when they heard a thunder clap break through the music. “So, is this like a coming of age celebration?”


“Sort of,” Gideon replied while gesturing his hands again, “more like a way to encourage younger rabbits to face their fear and beat their instincts.”


Nick looked around the room, noticing several of the rabbits that lowered their ears seemed younger than the princess. “At what age do they start attending these celebrations?”


Gideon opened his mouth to reply, only for his eyes to go wide before closing it again. He then turned to the rabbit next to him who was slightly swaying and asked the same question Nick had.


“Oh, about 15 for most.” He slurred in reply. “’Cept that princess Judith one. She tried when thirteen. Grabbed onto anyone close when thunder struck. Boom!” he said for emphasis raising his paws up and spreading his fingers.


“Gave one buck wrong idea.” He said with a smile and light chuckle. “He thought she wanted a little extra courage. If you know what I mean.” Winking at the foxes standing next to him. “She kicked him right in the balls when he grabbed her tail.”
Both foxes laughed in response. “Then what?” Nick asked.


“She left. Never came to party again.” He said in a tone that made it sound as if it was the saddest thing he’d ever heard.
Nick now understood that this was probably a point of embarrassment for the princess. He had hoped her actions during the storm suggested a level of comfort towards him. Maybe even a growing fondness. Slightly disappointed, he knew his plans for tomorrow were now more important than ever.


“Gideon, do you know where the armory is?”


“Nope, but Lucas here might. He’s a member of the royal guards. Hey, Lucas! Do you know where the armory is?”


Lucas just stared back in confusion before Gideon realized he hadn’t translated the message. Slapping his forehead, Gideon tried again. “An féidir leat é a chur chun an armory?”

Now understanding, Lucas nodded his head in agreement. “Yeah, sure. I can take him there. Don’t know why he wants to go to the armory though. Those guys are boring”

Nick followed the swaying rabbit down the halls and stairs of the palace. They ended up in a room full of military weapons and armor. The old dark brown bunny looked at the fox with a hint of distaste. Nick thought it might be because he had been awoken from a nap. Ignoring the rabbits reaction. Nick grabbed ten arrows and got Lucas to show him back the way they came.

Upon reaching the place where rabbits were celebrating the conquering of fear, Lucas rejoined Gideon for another drink. Nick waved his thanks and walked the remainder of the way back to his suite where he hoped the princess was still asleep. Receiving a few odd looks from rabbits that were still awake. Seeing a fox carrying arrows down the halls of a rabbit palace was definitely a first for all.

However, none saw fit to try and stop or question his actions. Upon reaching his destination he handed the arrows over to one of the guards. Gave instructions on what he wanted and sent him on his way. Nick entered the shared suite as quietly as possible. Making his way to the bedroom door, he peaked in to once more see the princess still sleeping with the pillow clutched close.

Easing the door back into place, Nick made his way back to the couch. Using a cushion as a pillow, he laid on his side, staring into the now cold hearth of the fireplace. His mind wondered to the night before. “If one night can change so much, what will two hold in store?” Closing his eyes with that thought, Nick let his mind slowly wonder into the realm of dreams.

The coast of the Island of Lagomorph

An otter watched from the rain soaked cliff he desperately clung to, as his only means of providing for his family slowly sank beneath the waves.

“There goes our ride home.” Erik the gray fox hanging on to a ledge next to him spoke. “We’ll need to improvise from here on out.”

“I hope your lot knows what you’re doing. My mammals aren’t warriors.” Captain Otterton said.

“Once we scale this cliff, we’ll see what our options are.” Reaching further up, the fox began to expertly scale the hazardous rock face. Emmitt looked down at the remainder of his crew and the other foxes with them. Only three of his ten mammal crew had survived the swim from the doomed ship to the shore.

“I hope they are in our favor.” He uttered before following the fox up.

Fortunately, the cliffs were not very high. But the climb had been difficult and all members of the group were exhausted once at the top.

“What now?” Otterton asked between breaths.

Erik looks around at their surroundings. “How far do you think we are from the castle?”

Emmitt looked around as well. The rain from the storm doing them no favors for their sight. Walking back towards the ledge, he looked up and down the coast as best he could. “Maybe two miles up the coast and you’ll find the castle.”

Erik looks in the direction they need to travel. The original plan of sneaking into the castle unnoticed won’t work if they have to walk up in plain sight. Or will it? With a grin that lets all his teeth catch the gleam of a lightning strike, Erik looks back at the little otter. “How would you like to earn a few extra gold coins?”

Chapter Text

Hopps Palace Next Morning

Judy's POV

The world was dark and slightly cold. Judy’s nose began to protest against the bitterness of it as it twitched of its own accord. Yawning into her pillow, she burrowed deeper into the side of it escaping the assault of the cold. Her sleep riddled mind began to dream one last dream before giving in to the dawn.

She felt herself being enveloped by warmth. A slight pressure holding her in place so gently it could only be described as soft and safe. In the darkness of this world she felt protected and not the unease of a creature without night vision. Taking deep breaths through her nostrils, Judy savored in the scents that surrounded her.

Heavy spice and musk filled her nose. The scent felt foreign yet welcoming. Her mind tried to picture the source of the scent which brought her comfort. Tried to envision the safe place she was in. Her vision swam in darkness with a light tint of red and cream just on the edges of her perception. Her hearing sounded muffled with the sound of the sea moving to and fro on the shore in a slow, soothing rhythm.

She reached out into the darkness. Desiring to find what it was that made her feel so at ease. As soon as her paw began to move she felt it. Fur so luxurious and soft, like nothing she’d ever experienced before. Longer and fuller than any rabbit she’d ever touched before. The feeling so wonderful beneath her finger tips she dug further to find it’s bottom. When she felt resistance she stopped her advance and began moving her paw up and down. Enjoying the feeling of the long hairs between her fingers.

She stopped when the muffled sound of the ocean changed. What used to be the water receding from the shore turned to a deep rumbling before going back to normal. She waited with gaited breath in her dream world. When the sound didn’t return she continued running her fingers through the soft darkness once again. When the rumbling returned she didn’t stop moving her paw. Instead she continued to explore her surroundings with all her senses.

She found the sound was more of a fluttering and she felt the rumbling sensation rather than heard it. The soft rumbling felt like a soft message as it worked through her body. Loosening any tension she had left, causing her to melt further into the warm darkness. The sensation was not enough, she wanted more. She wanted to drown in the scent, to be swallowed by the luxurious fur between her fingers. Unwilling to fight the desire, she did the only thing she could to get closer.

Nick's POV

Being nocturnal was not an easy thing for a mercenary. Having to rise early before dawn, often after a long night of raids and fighting other warriors with excellent night vision, to do battle, tend to camp, scavenge for food, he adapted to a state where when it was near day light he would be only half asleep if he had no need to rise. So as he felt himself approaching the world of light, he quickly took stock of what the day was supposed to hold for him.

Without opening his eyes or moving from where he slept, he quickly gauged what needed to be done this day. There were no tactical meetings for him to attend. Trade meetings would be the order of the day. His father and Gideon could handle that without him. There was the surprise for Judy but his duty would be to keep her away from where that was to take place. She would no doubt have more questions for him and he certainly had a few he wanted to ask as well. So Nick decided to remain where he was until she woke. Trying to pull his arms closer to himself he found something weighing him down.

He never considered himself to be one that liked to cuddle with a pillow. He had seen several of his friends, including Fin, sleep curled up into a ball with a pillow in their arms pulled tight into them. Though Nick slept in the same position curled up with his tail pulled up to his nose, he simply didn’t like having something pressing against him while he slept.

This pillow, however, didn’t press against his arms when he pulled it closer. It wasn’t a cold material that he had to wait to warm up. What ever it was made from emanated it’s own warmth. Although, something about it seemed to be able to move. Tickling the fur across his chest and upper abdomen. He almost reached down to stop it when it started to scratch.

The sensation of being scratched caused him to involuntarily start to purr. And as suddenly as the scratching started it came to and end. He waited for it to start again and almost started to whine in it’s absence when it started once more and with more vigor. Once again drawing a soft purr from within him. The sensations were so wonderful he could feel his tail begin to twitch. When suddenly, whatever this thing was that had given him great pleasure, decided to try and pull a small patch of fur out by the roots.

Still half asleep, Nick acted out of instinct and curled up further into himself barking out a yip in pain. Trying to protect himself with his arms he attempted to squeeze them around his chest. Only to be reminded there was something there. That something started pressing back against him and yelling into his chest.

He loosened his grip and looked down just in time to be slapped across the muzzle with a large grey ear. Wincing slightly from the surprise slap, he loosened his grip further and looked down to find two frightened purple eyes staring back at him.

“Cad a dheanann tu I mo leaba!”

Judy's POV

Judy was feeling smothered. This soft and warm wonderland had turned into a trap. A trap that was trying to squeeze the life out of her. With what air was left in her lungs she screamed as loud as she could. All the while pressing against the assault as hard as she could. The grip against her finally slackened enough for her to catch her breath and raise her ears only for them to strike against something painfully. Still pushing she felt herself move back further and was able to turn her head upward at the object that she had slapped her ears against.

Sunrise was still an hour away, but the clouds from the previous storm had cleared and the light from the predawn hour allowed enough light into the room to allow Judy to see the red and cream fur of a fox.

‘FOX!’ Her mind screamed. Her instincts of fight or flight kicking in and she was never one to back away from a fight.

“What are you doing in my bed!” she screamed. He relented his grip around her and she quickly pulled her legs up between them kicking hard into his stomach. Thinking this would send him off her bed, she was surprised when he only moved a little ways and the kick pushed her off the edge and unceremoniously onto the floor. She quickly regained her footing and looked back at the vulpine now gasping for breath on the couch.

She stood there with rage in her eyes and fist clinched at her sides, her ears raised aggressively. ‘Who does he think he is!’ She thought. ‘Just because we were friendly last night doesn’t give him the right to use me as a cuddle pillow!’

At that moment she noticed two things. First, they were not in her room where she also remembered clinging to him during the thunderstorm. Second, the guards at their door had rushed in at some point.

Outside Judy and Nick’s suite.

Arvid was an old warrior. A red fox like the majority of their company. With strands of silver showing plainly to all who gazed upon him that he was well into his fifties. Currently, he was trying to figure out why he had volunteered for guard duty of the newly wed couple. He understood the purpose of the traditional duty. It had nothing to do with hierarchy. It was a vulpine tradition. A way to keep the newly wed couple from being accidentally walked in on while being knotted for the first time. As well as protection for the female as her body adjusted. Which is why there was always a male and female guard posted.

Memories of the first week with his own wife brought a smile to his muzzle. While at the same time the ache in his aging knees reminded him that this would be his last adventure. And the last time he volunteered for guard duty. Glancing over at his companion, a female red fox named Gilah, he watched as for the hundredth time as she tried readjusting her armor. Trying to get comfortable with the heavy equipment she was unaccustomed to wearing.

Since they were away from their homeland, they had very few females in their company. Often causing them to have two male guards out of necessity. From what Arvid understood there were no married females among them. Just as there were few married males as well. With winter approaching, mating season would soon be upon them. As such, most of the younger couples chose to stay home instead of come and fight for their Earl. Which left an odd mix of older more experienced warriors and younger warriors who had not yet felt the sting of battle.

Arvid was snapped out of his musings when a shout was heard from the suite he and the female red fox were guarding. Gilah had heard it as well. When the scream was followed by a loud oomph and clattering of furniture, the two raced into the room. As they quickly scanned the room, their attention was drawn to the sound of someone gasping for air on the couch. As well as the furious rabbit standing on the other side.

Avrid and Gilah quickly moved to the flank of whoever it was currently struggling to breath. Avrid noted how the rabbits features changed when she saw them. Her ears went from erect and high on her head to stiffly hanging behind her back. Her facial expression changed from what was obviously fury to something softer. Concern? He wasn’t sure. What did concern him was how the son of Earl Wilde was now struggling to catch his breath.

He looked between the fox and rabbit to try and deduce what had just happened. Wilde couldn’t speak at the moment and he didn’t speak the rabbit’s language. However, as looked more closely, the fire was long cold, no candles were lit and it was still dark in the room, barely enough light for the rabbit to see he assumed. The princess rabbit was still in her dress he saw her wear yesterday. The fabric was rumpled and creased at odd angles.

Judging by the pillow and blanket on the floor, someone had slept on the couch. ‘Yup,’ he humored to himself, ‘someone’s in the dog house.’ Combine that with waking up to someone you barely know and you get a kick to the gut. ‘Or a knife to the throat in my case.’ He couldn’t stop the chuckle at the memory.

Now both females were looking at him as quizzically. As well as the son of Wilde, who appeared to be gaining his breath back.

“Come,” he said as he turned to leave, waiving for Gilah to follow him, “we’ll leave the lovers to sort this out themselves.”

Judy's POV

“Kom, vi lar de elskende a sortere dette ut selv.”

Judy watched as the two fox guards left the room. Only noticing that the younger one was female as she was leaving. ‘They have female warriors to? Does that mean?’ Her thoughts were interrupted by a pained gasp. Looking back she now saw the state Nick was in. Sitting up, he was massaging a spot on his chest.

Looking back down, she was grateful he was at least wearing a shirt, even if it was open in the front. Although, that didn’t stop her from wanting to burrow back into his chest when she closed her eyes. Now she just needed to figure out how she got on the couch with him. Thinking back to the night before, she had an idea of how it happened. Recalling how, to her embarrassment, she had latched onto Nick at the sound of thunder. Then, remembering how he had comforted her until she had fallen asleep in his arms.

Her eyes blinking several times at the thought. That was rare. Her poor mother would often spend hours holding Judy in her arms late into the night. Often falling asleep before Judy. Waking up feeling well rested and hardly remembering the storm was something new. Going over several theories quickly, she decided that either Nick brought her in here, which she considered unlikely, or she came to him.

This revelation disturbed her slightly. Her siblings and parents always told her that she could be clingy when sleeping. Always wanting to latch on to something or someone. 'I distinctly remember falling asleep in the bed.' She thought. 'Which could only mean, Nick came in here to sleep on the couch.' While there was no mistaking his kindness, he was obviously not ready for this level of intimacy. Otherwise he would have stayed in the bedroom with her. Neither was she, she tried to tell herself.

“Nick, I…” she trailed off when he looked up at her. His emerald eyes shimmering in the small amount of morning light that intruded into their small living area. How could she expect him to forgive her. When the cold finally made itself known it caused her to shiver from her toes to her ears. It was the perfect excuse.

“I think-I think I’ll get us some breakfast.” She said quickly. Still shivering, she made her way to the bedroom. There she changed from her now crumpled dress to one made of sky blue velvet. After brushing her fur, she grabbed a light grey coat to keep her warm.

It was a simple garment with a hood. Meant to keep the wearer warm without over heating if being active. It hung on her shoulders down to her feet. With pockets on the insides to keep items or a small purse when shopping.

Now dressed for the day, Judy walked back to the main room. She glanced to the couch and was stopped instantly by what she saw. Nick had his shirt completely off with his back turned to her looking into a mirror. What drew her eye was not the shimmering fur or the way it moved with his muscular back. It was the scars. On his right shoulder blade was the branding of what looked like a curled sheep’s horn. And three lines that looked like larger versions of the ones on her own cheek traveling diagonally from left to right and down. He quickly realized she had returned to the room and pulled it back over his head.

Looking away, Judy quickly made her way out of the suite without saying a word. Thankful that rabbit’s were naturally early risers and the kitchen would already be in full swing.

Nick’s POV

‘Well that was embarrassing.’ He thought to himself as the guards left. Having regained his breath he sat up and started to pull his shirt to fasten it closed. When his paw brushed against a certain spot on his ribs he winced at the sudden reminder of someone trying to pull his fur out. He began rubbing the area to sooth the soreness away.

“Nick, I…” he looked up to see Judy staring at him sorrowfully. When she said nothing more he thought to lift her spirits. A joke on his tongue about just asking for his fur instead of trying to yank it out. It was stopped dead when he saw her shivering.

“I think-I think, I’ll get us some breakfast.”

He swore he saw her shiver the entire way to the bedroom before closing the door. He stared at the now cold fireplace scornfully. As if it were mocking him with its cooled ash and blackened bits of wood. He contemplated for a moment on whether he should try and restart it now or not. The thought of seeing her shiver again made up his mind for him.

Seeing the flint on the mantle, along with char cloth and kindling near by, he set about the task of building the fire. First bundling the kindling into a ball and then creating an opening to the middle. Making it look like a birds nest. Next he placed the char cloth in the premade bundle of dry flammable material and set it to the side. He then began piling small twigs and pieces of wood in the fireplace to created a type of structure to place the bundle on once it was burning.

Without thinking, he wiped his paws across his shirt and winced when he once again touched the spot where his fur had been yanked. Seeing a mirror on the wall opposite the bedroom, he removed his shirt to inspected the area more closely. He had only been there a moment when he looked up and saw Judy staring at his back. He quickly threw his shirt back on hoping she hadn’t seen to much detail of the scares he wore.

Watching her quickly leave the room. He pulled a paw across his muzzle. ‘This is not working.’ He grimaced before returning to the task of setting the fire. Expertly working the flint to create a many sparks as possible, the char cloth quickly caught flame.

Once flames began to dance out of the bundle, he placed it in the fireplace and began placing twigs and other small pieces of wood on it. Steadily adding larger pieces of wood until the flames were satisfactory and the fuel was large enough that it would last a while. He then went into the bedroom where his own cloths were stored. Washed himself and put clean cloths on.

Now sitting back on the couch, he tried to patiently wait for Judy to return. Watching the flames dance in front of him.

Chapter Text

Lucas Skipson was not born into nobility. Instead his father was a crafter of weapons. Not swords or arrows like a blacksmith would make but weapons of a larger scale. Trebuchets, catapults, ballista of all sizes and variations. How his father came into this line of work was a secret he took to his grave. But young Lucas had inherited it and learned every aspect of siege and defense warfare with such machines.

So much so that it was his father’s designs and Lucas’ expertise that help to keep the war at a stalemate. With weapons that hurled stones are launch spears at three times the distance of anything their enemy could muster, it gave the rabbits of the Hopps kingdom a distinct advantage.

Something that didn’t go unnoticed for long by the nobility. Once they discovered it was Lucas’s machines of war that had prevented the fall of the kingdom, he was soon rewarded with a promotion to be a member of the Royal Guard Sapper Corp. Since his position was not one of ceremony but of actual responsibilities, he quickly set to work scrutinizing the castle’s defenses.

Having lived around the castle his entire life, his father worked in the armory and he a kitchen boy till he was old enough to work in the armory with his father, Lucas made quick work of suggesting several changes and improvements that could be added to make the castle more secure from an attack. After seeing the effectiveness of his designs in battle, the changes were quickly made and then improved upon. This left Lucas will very little to do. So, he took up the habit of socializing with some of the gentlemammals of the court.

Being a commoner, he could not approach a member of the nobility without being summoned. While the gentlemammals of the court were willing to tolerate his presence and approaches, they made no effort to directly associate themselves with him.  

To be honest, he was starting to get lonely. None of the other guards cared to speak to him much. He implemented so many changes when he arrived that the lower ranks only associated him with extra work. While those that out ranked him would sneer at how the nobility seemed to hang on his every word and often over ride their own suggestions.

Visiting the local taverns quickly lost its luster as none of the girls that would give him the time of day wanted anything more than one night and a few coins. His bland light brown fur was nearly light enough you could hardly distinguish his lighter muzzle and neck fur. His greenish blue eyes were the only characteristic that the ladies seemed to like. But never anything more than a comment on how pretty they were.

Then the foxes came. There were now 250 fox mercenaries that needed to be billeted. Since everyone else who seemed to matter was too afraid to work with them, it was quickly decided that the one rabbit that no one seemed to care for was assigned to the task.

It was difficult at first. He quickly learned that none of them spoke his language nor he theirs. However, with a few quick words from the pudgy fox named Gideon, the foxes were soon returning from their longboats with tents and furnishings for their stay. All Lucas had to do was show them the field they could setup camp in.

He was hesitant to stay, all of them being foxes and he the only bunny. He stayed long enough to watch them erect several tents and began forming into organized sections. Clearing areas for a place to cook meals and socialize. When they were nearly done he began to feel he was over staying his welcome and thought it looked awkward for him to simply stand their watching them.

After taking several steps away from the fox camp Lucas heard heavy steps approaching from behind him. Turning around, he found a young red fox approaching. He was soon amazed to find that the fox approaching him was actually a vixen. Garbed in protective armor, it was hard to distinguish her gender due to the layers of protective clothing. But up close it was easy to see the gentler features and shape of her muzzle and eyes.

“Hvor er det beste stedet å ta en drink?” She said. Lucas didn’t know how to reply. Here in front of him stood a female warrior. A FEMALE warrior. He had never even considered the idea much less seen one. Sure, several of the females in the nobility would wear pants when doing activities outside. Those that were allowed to anyway.

“Uh,” Lucas started glancing around the field they were standing in looking for some form of help. Everyone he saw was either another a fox or a rabbit he knew did not speak both languages. Seeming to notice this the vixen tried again.

“Drikke.” She said while making a cupping shape with her paw and raising it to her mouth.

“Oh, deoch!” He exclaimed having caught on. He looked through the castle gates to where the nearest well was located, then, towards the town where there were public wells for all the mammals there.  A small debate raging in his mind. Should he show them the nearest water source or send them to town.

Looking back at the female standing before him he shrugged his shoulders and turned towards the gates. Waving a paw over his shoulder for her to follow him. As they entered the gates he noticed they, or rather she, was getting several stares and slack jaws. He quickly pointed the well out and motioned for her to follow him back out the gates.

She hesitated for a moment and then quickly followed after him. He noted the way her ears were back and tail hung lower as she started to outpace him through the gates. Being a bit of an outcast himself, he could empathies with how she might have felt.

Once back at the camp the female fox went back to a group of foxes that were outside of one of the large tents that had been erected. Watching as they talked he saw how their ears and tales dropped as the one that followed him spoke. He also noticed that of the seven standing there three others were females as well. He glanced down at the village and back at the group. Back down to the village again and eyeing a particular building when an idea struck him.

Calling out to the group, he signaled for them to follow him once more. After the group neared he guided them down to the village and in front of the well. Placing a paw on the side of the well he spoke. “Uisce.” He said and then turned to one of the nearby buildings.

Once at the door he placed a paw on the handle then turned back towards the group and with a large grin on his face spoke one word. “Leann!”

Opening the door, the groups curiosity was obviously peaked when the smell of alcohol hit their nostrils. Lucas led them to a table where they all sat together. He then ordered a round of drinks and indicated to the foxes that this first round was on him. They all nodded and anxiously waited for the drinks to be served.

Rabbit sized mugs were spread out on along the table for each to take. Lucas raised his mug in a salute towards the vulpine around him and began drinking they in turn returning the gesture. Soon the tavern was full of foxes enjoying rabbit ale.

The next thing Lucas remembered was waking up in a pile of hay outside the walls that protected the palace. He felt cold and wet along with a crushing headache that worsened as he heard shouts and cheers of excitement. The only thing louder than the cheers was the pounding in his ears from the blood that flowed through them. With his eyes still shut to try and block out the light that was trying to break in, he tried to roll over and bury himself further into the makeshift bed to get away from the noise and the cold.  

But he couldn’t move. There was something weighing him down. Groaning at the discomfort of trying to move out from under whatever had decided to fall on top of him, Lucas began the arduous task of adjusting his vision to the sunny day he’d awoken to. Even though they were under a simple shed to keep the hay dry, the bright beams that made it through the cracks were enough to make it moan in agony. First rolling his head to either side eliciting several welcomed cracks, he used his left paw rub the crust from his eye lashes. After a few moments he was able to squint with bloodshot eyes and see what great burden had befallen him.

All he saw was a large lump on his chest underneath the dark blue cloak all guardsman wore. With the royal guard having silver trim to denote their status. Watching as the lump seemed to move slightly up and down on its own. ‘Great,’ he thought sarcastically, ‘another barmaid to pay for.’

It wasn’t that he looked down on their profession per say, one must find a way to put food on the table after all. But rather the lack of feeling he himself had afterwards. The lack of attachment being primary among them. The only comfort he found was that they had sunk far enough into the hay that no one could see them if they were walked in on.

“Might as well see who it is.” He mumbled. He slowly lifted the cloak up and then slowly lowered it back down. Turning his gaze towards the roof he felt himself sobering quickly as only one thought came to mind. ‘Yup, that’s it! I’m dead!’

Lying on his chest sleeping soundly was none other than Eileen Hopps. One of the princesses that had turned 15 and attended her first Thunder Party last night. Some of the events from the night before started to come back. Standing in a corner to himself, trying to stay awake when someone grabbed his paw and drug him onto the dance floor.

He couldn’t remember much after that. Or before it. Trying to think what happened to the foxes he took to the tavern when the doe on his chest started to move around. Looking back down he watched as she lifted herself off him and pulled the cloak out from over her head. Keeping her eyes closed and rubbing the sleep out of them.

Lucas marveled for a moment at he looked at her. Her fur was white as snow. Her ears were tipped with small specks of brown dotted down to their base. Her paws were the same color brown with her hands being brown back to her wrist where the same specks when to her elbows. He assumed her foot paws were the same with specks up to her knees. He had never seen above her ankles. Her tail had the same dark brown on the top and white cotton poof on the bottom. Her eyes were a shade purple between her mother and Princess Judith. She was the most unique of all the Hopps princesses. And the most sought after.

With one paw on his chest and the other rubbing one eye she slowly opened her other eye and looked sleepily around. Glancing at him for a second before moving on only to do a double take and her eye to slowly widen. Lucas, for his part, kept is arms to his sides and expression neutral. Waiting to see what she would do.

She looked from his eyes down to where her paw currently was resting on his bare chest where his undershirt parted. She quickly withdrew it and sat up with her ears rising to an alert position before wincing and grabbing both sides of her head. Falling back into his chest.

“Ow! My head!” She croaked out. “What did you do to me!” She then raised a fist and weakly punched him in the gut.

Lucas only laid his head back down and looked back at the ceiling. Resigning himself to his fate.

“Yup, I’m dead.”

Chapter Text

“What did you do to me?” Came the muffled voice from his chest. He watched as Eileen pulled his cloak back over her head to hide herself. Lucas took in a deep breath before reaching a paw down to check that his pants were still on and the fastener was still done. Breathing a sigh of relief when he found both in their rightful place.

‘Well that’s promising.’ He thought to himself. “Um,” he began in a normal voice only to be cutoff when a dark brown paw shot out from under his cloak to be placed on his muzzle.

“Not so loud.” She said in a pained voice. When he nodded in response she pulled her paw back under the cloak. The stayed there for a moment in silence when Lucas’s own hangover began to make its presence known again. The only things he remembered clearly were taking the foxes to the tavern. Waking up in their camp with a hangover only for one of them, the vixen he first met he thought, to hand him another drink.

“First time?” He asked softly. He felt her nod her head against him. He thought back his own first time. Or rather, the first time he woke up with a hangover and a doe was still there but it was not the barmaid that bed him the night before. He had just turned 18 and decided to celebrate at the local tavern. Had several drinks, took a doe to bed and when he woke, this stranger was there instead. He immediately felt his senses bombarded by the harsh world around him.

The only saving grace, the matronly doe who was there when he woke. Gently caressing his ears to sooth, the ache. He can still remember the soft lullaby she hummed, a familiar tune he heard while traveling with his father to his homeland in the east. Her fur was a golden yellow with light colored tips on her ears. White on her muzzle that lowered into her dress. Her eyes were strangely familiar. A blue with a green tint.

Lucas never knew his mother. He was an only child raised by his father. At that moment he had wished the gentle doe with him that day had been her. He drifted back to sleep under her gentle care only to wake again and find her gone. He’d asked around but no one could name who it was that was with him that day. She had vanished and he never saw her again.

He was brought back out of his memory at the sound of cheers outside the shed once more, causing both to wince. Now, however, Lucas could make out that they were a little bit of distance from the source. When the princess that was currently curled up on top of him began to whimper he felt a longing he had not felt since his father was on his death bed. A deep desire to help to alleviate the suffer of someone else. He reached up and slowly pulled the cloak out from over her head.

The ache that ran through Eileen’s head seemed to pulse through her body. Add that to the embarrassment of waking up on top of one of the Royal Guard in a hay loft and you have the recipe for hearing your heart throb in your ears. As Eileen was learning. It didn’t help that there seem to be hundreds of mammals shouting every few seconds.

When whoever this was started to lift the cloak off her head, she flinched away when she saw his paw reaching in for her, uncertain of his intentions.

“It’s alright princess,” he spoke softly, “I won’t hurt you. I only want to help.” She watched as he reached behind her and took one of her ears in his paw. She stiffened at the touch. Touching a bunny’s ear was a very intimate act. Usually reserved for parents comforting young kits or lovers.

That thought hit her like a ton of bricks. She tried to remember what some of her friends and sisters had told her about their first time. About the soreness and discomfort of the morning after. She wasn’t sure if the hangover was disguising he symptoms or if nothing had really happened. At the moment, it was hard to concentrate on that thought.

She now understood why touching another rabbit’s ears was considered intimate. The gentle waves of soothing pleasure that traveled through her were enough to remove the ache in her ears. Traveling down until the raging pain in her temples was nothing more than a dull headache. She could only imagine what it would be like to be touched this way when she was not in pain.

The longer he rubbed his paws down her ears the more she melted into his touch. Her eyes began to slowly close at the relief of her headache subsiding. The cloak had been pulled back to her neck revealing her head and ears. He clearly knew who she was, the unique speckles of dark brown that ran down her ears gave her away instantly to anyone, addressing her as princess.  But she did not know his name, had only seen him occasionally around the palace.

Still resting her head on his chest, her senses began to focus again. He had laid his head back down and was no longer looking at her. She couldn’t tell if his eyes were open or not. His fur was light brown, almost light enough not to distinguish it from the fur of his muzzle, neck and chest. She realized her hand had drifted to the scruff of fur on his chest just in front of her own muzzle.

It was longer and slightly coarse compared to her own. All his fur, that she could see, seem to be this way. There was also something different about his scent. All rabbits, she had been close enough to smell, had a similar earthy scent. His was different. She could smell the alcohol from the previous night and what had to be rain from the storm.

Underneath all that was the scent of…spring. It was the only way she could describe it. She smelled flowers and the open air of a meadow. He was so different from any buck, or rabbit in general for that matter, that she had ever met. And she had been unfortunate enough to meet more than she cared for.

She learned quickly that others seemed to adore her fur pattern. Since she was born nobles had tried to convince her parents to enter an arranged marriage with one of their sons. Her father, thankfully, had always refused. But since she was 12, the age he allowed suiters to approach her, it has been nothing but one buck after another, trying to marry into the Hopps family or attain her as a prize. She liked the attention at first. And there were several that she genuinely liked.

Her father, however, was keener on their motives. The happiness of his children was paramount in his dealings. Pushing away the ones he knew would not be good for her. After several months, Eileen also became weary of the number of suiters. A year later she started refusing all who would approach her. That did not stop some from trying however.

Once she had finally turned 15 she could attend a Thunder Party! She had mostly overcome her fear by then and was more curious about being able to drink ale for the first time. The music had barely started playing when she started getting asked to dance. Time after time she politely declined. After what had to have been the hundredth offer in the first two hours she was no longer enjoying the party.

Desperate to change the situation, and with the help of the ale, she decided to accept the next offer to dance. Stepping closer the dancing area, to let herself be known, she spotted him. He was standing near the wall talking to two foxes. She recognized them as Gideon and the son of Earl Wilde, her newest brother-in-law.

And unlike the other rabbits that stayed clear of the foxes or seemed nervous around them. He was the epitome of calm. As if talking to the predators was no different than talking to a fellow rabbit. She noticed he seemed to have a slight sway to his stance and over exaggerated his gestures. ‘Probably drank too much.’ She thought. She was about to dismiss the idea of talking to him when he walked away with Wilde following him.

Her breath hitched for a moment. ‘He just turned his back on a predator.’ Her ears ringing with the words her father had spoken to them so many times in their lives.

‘Never turn your back on a predator. Especially a fox. They’re the worse!’

‘He’s going to get himself killed.’

She started to take a step forward, to go after him, save him from his drunken mistake. She was suddenly cut off by someone else. Someone she truly wished she’d never met. Samuel Shortgates. The most arrogant and pompous rabbit she ever met. A friend of her older brother Nathan, only two years older than she from the second litter. He was also the first, and the quickest suitor she turned down.

An expression of long suffering settled on her features. “Please move Samuel.”

“And why would I want to do that? I know it’s not what you really want.”

“I’ve already declined your request to dance thrice tonight.”

“You’re playing hard to get. I know you’ll relent to me eventually.” He used his finger to lift her chin so he could look at her face. He wanted to look in her eyes but she glanced to the side away from him. “You will leave here with me tonight and I’ll show you what it means to be a doe.”

She jerked her head away from him and walked away. She went to where some of her friends and sisters were standing. Immediately they started bombarding her with questions.

“When are you going to say yes?”

“I wish he would touch me like that.”

“What did he ask?”

“He’s fur is so silky.”

On and on it went. He had never talked to any of them that way. If he did they denied it. Most of them thought she was being too harsh. She barely acknowledged their comments. Instead she looked towards the hall the light brown rabbit had traveled down. They would be too far ahead for her to catch them now.

After two more drinks she deciding to take her leave, Eileen started walking away from the celebration when something caught her attention out of her peripheral. She glanced over and suddenly felt very heart drop to her stomach. Samuel Shortgates was mirroring her movements. He was obviously watching her and did nothing to hide the fact. She considered going back to her friends when she looked to the exit desperately wanted to leave and go back to the safety of her room.

But walking back into the room was a rabbit with light brown fur wearing the dark blue uniform with the silver trim of a Royal Guard. She glanced over to where Samuel was again and saw he was still making his way to the exit. No doubt to cut her off and make good on his threats.

She kept walking as well and watched as he passed the fox that was once again talking to the Guardsman. No doubt anticipating, she would do the same. She smiled and walked quickly to the guardsman. He was talking to Gideon and hadn’t noticed her until she latched to his arm dragging him to the dance floor.

“Dance with me!” She called. He would have dropped his ale if Gideon had not grabbed it from him as she led him away. The band was now playing a lively dance toon that many rabbits were twirling and jumping along with. She began to jump and twirl with the rest finally enjoying the celebration she had been waiting so long attend.

Her dance partner was there with her, swinging and twirling expertly at her side. She managed to catch a glimpse of Samuel as he glared their way before leaving. The relief she felt at knowing his presence was gone was like having a thousand sacks of carrots lifted of her shoulders. She then thought of how, in her drunken stupor, she managed to drag him out to this hay shed in the rain. Complaining the whole way, he finally pass out as soon as he laid down.

Why she had drug him out here was beyond her. She had heard several of her older friends and sisters talk about dragging lovers to places like this. The word made her mind freeze. Was he her lover now? Could he be? He’s a guardsman but he would have to at least be considered a gentlemammal of society to be a suitor.

At the moment it didn’t matter, her once stiff ears were now limp and moved as fabric beneath his touch. She heard him start to hum a tune she didn’t recognize. The hum in his chest tickled her cheek. She wanted to hear the words of the song he saw fit to sooth her with.

“Guardsman.” He raised his head off the hay he was using as a pillow to look at her, his humming stopped. She contemplated on asking his name but was afraid the spell would be broken if she knew. Never moving off his chest she asked, “Do you know the words.”

“Yes, my princess.” She felt her cheeks warm when he addressed her that way.

“Will you sing it for me?” She looked into his eyes. Blue with a tint of green.

“As you wish.” Was all he said before lowering his head back down and began to sing. His voice was low but he was obviously a tenor. Keeping the song soft for her compromised senses. He was not the best singer, she thought to herself, but he seemed to carry the tune well.

“A naoidhean bhig, cluinn mo ghuth”

She realized she didn’t understand what he was saying.

“Mise ri d’ thaobh, O mhaighdean bhan”

He was singing in another language. One that sounded like their own but different.

“Ar righinn oig, fas as faic

Do thir, dileas Fein

A ghrian a’s a ghealaich, stuir sinn

Gu uair ar cliu ‘s ar gloire

Naoidhean bhig, ar righinn go

Mhaighdean uashaill bhan”

 

When Lucas had finished his song, he raised his head up once more. Knowing she would ask where it was from. However, the sight of a princess drooling into his chest scruff was not what he was expecting. He watched her gently snore for a moment contemplatively. He had not intended to get into this situation. He merely wanted to help alleviate her suffering.

Deciding it was best to simply stay where he was, Lucas laid his head back down and closed his eyes. Singing the song had brought back memories. Memories of traveling with his father, of a doe in a tavern soothing his own pain. Memories he attached to a feeling of loss. But now he had a new feeling attached to it. One of comfort and contentment.

Pulling his cloak back over her head and ears, he decided that there was no rush to leave where he was now. Savoring in the feeling of being with another that was content to stay with him. He didn’t know how long he slept for but when he heard a scream his eyes were open instantly.

He regretted it as soon as he saw the fist that connected with his muzzle. Then he felt the attack of others along his body. Some punching his head others kicking his body. One landing a swift kick to his groin causing him to moan in pain. He tried to fight back but the weight of five to one was just too great. They had the advantage in numbers and the element of surprise. All he could do was curl into himself and try to keep from taking too much abuse to his more vulnerable areas. Through it all he heard the panicked screams of Eileen. Calling to him, begging them to stop. They ignored her pleas and continued their assault upon his body boxing his ears till they rang.

After what felt like an eternity, the beatings finally stopped. After a moment longer, he dared to open is eyes. Feeling one of them beginning to swell shut already. Through his blurred vision he could make out several red and white shapes moving around. His ears were still ringing and couldn’t hear what was being said. Unsure of what was happening until his vision went dark and the rest of the world with it.

Chapter Text

“Are you sure it’s alright?” She asked for what had to be the hundredth time. The concern in her voice gave it a faint waver as she gently rubbed the bony knuckles under her paw.

‘I will have it no other way.’ The old vixen replied. Her fur more grey than white in her advanced age. ‘It will be a loose fit for you but you can make up for that with more padding. You’ll be hot for sure but you’ll be well protected.’ Despite her lack of physical strength her mind was as sharp as an arrows broadhead, as she redirected the conversation from herself back to the young one in her charge.

She leaned down to nuzzle the old vixen across the muzzle before gathering the armor, now hers, and making to the door with tears in her eyes. She looked back at the old eyes, nearly blind from age, as they looked in her general direction. It was hard to remember that she was once a fierce warrior that taught her everything she knew, enough that Gilah could best several of the male warriors. Now she could barely lift her head off her own pillow. She knew deep down this would be the last time she saw her in this life as she closed the door behind her.

Gilah stood on the docks watching as all the other foxes of their company made their way through the town up towards the gates of the biggest, also the first, fortress she had ever seen. She and a pawful of others had been tasked with watching the boats as the others went to the fortress.

Seems the old vixen was right about being hot. The extra padding needed to make the armor fit properly doubled as extra insulation. Despite the cool morning, she felt comfortably warm. As the sun began to warm her further, she started to worry that she may get hot enough she needed to pant. Fortunately, before that happened, the majority of the foxes returned with orders to break out the tents.

Hearing that the rabbits had accepted their proposal for an alliance made the entire group feel more energetic. She wasn’t sure if it was because they could finally get off the boats after nearly a week or because they didn’t have to row their way back home.

She quickly removed her armor and lent a paw in setting up camp. Noticing a light brown bunny in a dark blue uniform with silver trimming watching them. She watched him for a moment as he simply stood by watching them. With her team’s tent pitched and her gear stowed, Gilah donned her armor once more, minus the extra padding. Stepping out of the tent, she walked up to a group consisting of the other females that would live in her tent and the rest of her team members. Including their team leader, an old red fox named Avrid.

“Now that camp has been established we need to find the nearest source of fresh water.” Avrid said to the group as he started glancing around.

“What about that rabbit?” Gilah said pointed to the brown bunny that had been watching them. “He could help us.” He had started walking back towards the gates when she caught sight of him again.

“If you think you can talk to him, give it a try.” He said crossing his arms over his chest and gesturing with his muzzle towards the retreating rabbit.

Gilah took off right away chasing him. Catching him quickly before he entered the gates. After a brief conversation, she was able to convey the need to find drinking water and he led her into the open gates. She looked around, amazed at the beautifully constructed stone palace within. It wasn’t long before her guide pointed to a well and then turned around motioning for her to leave with him.

She stayed where she was for a moment and took in the sight of the courtyard, admiring the structures. She then noticed all the rabbits within, staring at her. Some were more than staring, most were sneering with obvious contempt. Feeling awkward and unwelcome, she quickly turned and outpaced the rabbit that led her to the water supply. She wasn’t thrilled with its location after seeing their reaction.

“There’s a well just inside the gates but…I don’t think the rabbits are too keen on us using it.” She said with hesitation.

“What makes you say that?” Avrid asked.

“The way they looked at me.” Her voice carried the worry she felt. The number of scowls and sneers she had seen directed at her had unnerved her slightly.

Avrid was about to respond, when they heard a voice calling. He looked over to see the rabbit from earlier calling and waving them over. Without looking away from the rabbit he addressed Gilah’s concerns. “Your guide doesn’t seem to mind our presence.” He cheerfully stated.

Gilah was surprised to see the light brown bunny waving them to follow as he walked toward the village. Intrigued, the group as a whole followed after him. They made it to the village where he stood next to a well. It was good walking distance further from the one he had first show her. He patted the stones lining the top of the watering hole he said “Uisce”.

He then walked towards a building nearby and stopped at the door, waiting for them to gather around him. They all looked on curiously as he grasped the handle that opened the door. A smile on his lips as he spoke his next word as though it were the name of a secret lover. “Leann!”

The group watched as he pressed the door aside and started walking in. Even though they had started to follow as soon as he had moved, their eyes were widening as the scent of sweet alcohol began to bombard their sensitive noses.

Inside what was obviously a tavern was a large room that span the entirety of the building. A mixture of round, rectangular and square tables of varying sizes, though most were bunny size, scattered the room. To the left of the door was a stairway that led to a second floor. At the far end from the door was a bar where an older rabbit buck was cleaning clay mugs before stacking them beneath the bar top. He froze in place when he saw who had just walked through the door. Being nearly noon, the tavern was empty of nearly anyone else.

“Ocht mbliana ar mo thaobh.” Their guide called out. Which set the rabbit behind the bar into the motion of collecting and filling mugs.

 

A pair of bunnies sat at one table. They merely glanced at the group for a moment before returning to their conversation. Gilah was surprised, she had expected the same treatment as she received at the castle. Further behind them were a male wolf and female whitetail doe. If the way she giggled was any indication, he seemed to be flirting and succeeding.

They were led to a round table that was just slightly large for him and slightly small for them but was comfortable for everyone. They watched as mugs were placed in front of them. Their guide stood and spoke to them.

“Is é an chéad bhabhta seo domsa.” He made a gesture to indicate towards himself and then held up one finger. Everyone nodded in response, to which the bunny raised his mug towards the middle of the table. “Ceannairí!” They all raised their own to match and repeated the word as best they could before they taste the amber liquid within their mugs.

Soon more foxes appeared in the door of the tavern. With even more joining them as the day progressed into the evening. As night began to fall, more mammals of all species present in the village joined in. Mixing with each other and communicating in foreign tongues. Striking trade deals and making friendships.

That was the day before.

The next morning Gilah found herself splayed out on her bedding in the tent she and the others had setup the day prior. With a pounding headache. Slowly sitting herself up, she began to rub her temples to ease back the pain when the scent of food started to draw her attention. Easing out of the tent she found Avrid sitting by the fire stirring a cauldron that smelled of vegetables and gravy.

The day was still bright but clouds had started to move in. A storm was beginning to approach. She sat next to the older fox and watched as he used a ladle to scoop out a portion of the stew for her. Handing it over so she could sip its contents from the bowl. The warmth and richness did wonders to ease the pain in her head and body.

“You and I have watch tonight.” He spoke softly. Well aware of the affect a night of celebrating could have on one.

“So, are the rumors true? Did Nicholas really marry a bunny?” He nodded in response. He then reached down and handed her a mug that was sitting near him. Gilah took it and sniffed its contents.

“Ale?” She asked.

“For him.” He replied with a smirk as he pointed behind her. Gilah turned and found the same rabbit that led them to the tavern stumbling out from between two tents. He rambled over to her and she offered him the mug. He accepted the offer and sipped its contents. With a dopey smile on his face he waved his thanks and weaved a path to the palace.

“How does he do it? He easily drank double what any of us did.” She asked. Turning back to face Avrid once again. “I never would have imagined a rabbit having that kind of tolerance.”

“He’s actually a hare.” He noticed her wide eyes at the revelation. “Or half of one anyway. They tend to be larger than rabbits and have the tolerances to go with it.”

She looked back at the retreating rabbit, or hare? Whatever, he walked past a couple of other bunnies leaving the gates and noticed he was slightly taller than them. His ears were also longer making him seem even taller next to them. Disappearing behind the stone walls.

“Hares and rabbits have a history between them.” Gilah looked back at Avrid as he continued to tend the stew. “Bad blood that has stained their relationship for generations. His ability to drink must come from practice.”

The rest of her day was slow as she allowed Avrid to nurse her back to health. Plenty of stew and even more water. It was still early evening when she laid back down to sleep. Avrid said he would be by to wake her when it was time for their shift. The old Tod always moved at his own pace and seemed to be able to keep up with the fastest without leaving the slowest behind.

She pulled the blanket up over her head, the rain had begun to move in and the clouds were only growing darker. The storm could be bad and she just hoped the rain stopped before they had to run to their post somewhere within the palace walls. Standing guard would be miserable enough at the early morning hour they drew, she didn’t want it to be worsened by being soaked to the bone.

Fortunately, the storm passed sometime during the night. The sound of thunder rolling on in the distance. Gilah had tossed and turned throughout the night. The sound of thunder clapping nearby along with rain striking directly overhead made it difficult for anyone to sleep. After the rain had finally stopped for a short time a new sound made its way to her ears.

The crackling and hissing of wood as the fire’s flames consumed its hardened flesh. Drawing forth the warmth it held within and shared it with the world. Knowing her time to rise was soon approaching, Gilah stood from her sleeping place and pulled the flaps of the tent aside to see who it was that had bothered to rise so early and bring heat and light to this small part of the world.

She was surprised to see Avrid sitting near the fire. Perched on a log that had been drug up from the shore to provide a sitting area. She grabbed her armor and weapons, then proceeded to exit the tent and sat next to him. They sat in silence for a few moments pointing their gaze towards the dancing flames before them. Watching as the remnants of a life longer than their own faded into ash.

The storm had brought the cold with it. The moisture beneath her feet felt like a whirlpool that syphoned warmth from everything around it. Pulling it down into the earth. Gilah debated in her mind rather she should wear the extra padding she had for the added warmth. Her mind pondered the decision for a moment until it was interrupted.

“Why are you here young one?”

Gilah looked over at him. Studied him for a moment. Hazel eyes never leaving the fire. Despite his age he still had a strength about him. He had not withered with time, instead seemed as hard as stone. Physically larger than she, yet his presence was never overbearing. His voice always calm and collected. Whenever he had touched her it was always gentle and reassuring. Only when he glanced towards her did she realize she had been staring without answering his question.

“I…I want to be a warrior.” She stated proudly, holding herself up to show it.

“Yes, that is what you want but why are you here? Why join this group to the unknown? I can tell you are far younger than you appear.”

Gilah felt her heart beat quicken as she swallowed nervously. “H-How…”

“How did I know?” He finished for her. She nodded in response. If he knew he could have her sent home and that was something she did not wish for. “You’re too skinny.” He said with a shrug.

“Too skinny?” She repeated. He nodded once then stood and donned his equipment. Seeing him prepare to leave she did the same, deciding to leave the extra padding behind. “How am I too skinny?” She asked as they approached the open gates to the palace.

“You’re wearing the armor of an arctic fox, yet it is too large for you. You’re only shorter than average but clumsy meaning you recently had a growth spirt but haven’t quite gotten used to it. Once you fill out you won’t need to wear that extra padding anymore, you’ll need new armor and your balance will improve greatly.”

‘New armor?’ She thought to herself. She ran a paw over the protective garment over her torso. The small indentations along its surface, a reminder of what the previous owner had suffered. Before that night, wearing the armor without the extra padding hadn’t bothered her. But now that someone had noticed it didn’t fit properly, caused her to fidget with the straps and strings. Trying to hide the imperfection that wore it.

It wasn’t until a loud noise in the room they guarded drew their attention did they speak to each other again. After leaving the room, she finally broke the silence.

“What was that about?” His chuckled for a moment before answering.

“You’ll learn after you’re married.” He hummed in a delighted manner before returning to silence with a wide smile and a look in his eye that said he was remembering happier times.

A moment later and the door to the room opened.

Judy stepped out into the hallway to find the guards still standing outside. She made a mental note to ask Nick if they could be dismissed soon. She found the gesture to be endearing but unnecessary now that they had had a chance to speak to one another.

Proceeding down the hall, the guards followed her as expected. She led them down the passageways to the kitchen area. As expected, the room was alive with bakers and cooks preparing meals for those staying in the palace walls. The kitchen was long and the food preparation began at the back of the room and worked its way forward. Everything from preparing batter and cleaning vegetables worked its way from rear to the front. At the front was a long table that separated the entrance from the cooking area. A rabbit sat here with trays and plates for those that chose to come and retrieve their food themselves or for those that asked for special orders.

In the corner she noticed her brother Nathan and a couple more rabbits. She didn’t know their names but she did know one of them. Samuel Shortgates. Judy’s mood had already felt gloomy from this morning’s incident. Seeing this arrogant pile of fur only made her fur bristle. She quickly stepped up to the table and asked for two meals to go with one having extra portions. She then stood back and tried to listen in on the conversation her brother was having.

“He’s a commoner, no one will miss him.” She heard Samuel say.

“He’s a member of the Royal Guard. They’ll notice if he goes missing.” Someone she didn’t know said.

“What do we care? It’s not like anyone will suspect us.” Samuel said back.

“I agree with David. I’m all for roughing him up and teaching him a lesson but that’s all.” Another of the group spoke up.

“And if he violated her?” Nathan said angrily.

“Then we can turn him over to your father and have him publicly executed.” That last bit caused Judy to look over at the group. Samuel went to speak but noticed her watching them out of the corner of his eye.

“We should continue this elsewhere.” He said to the group before walking toward the table to grab a tray of food and take it with him. The others following after, each eyeing her and the fox guard that stood by her side. As Nathan passed she called out to him.

“Nathan,” he stopped and looked at her, “can you talk a minute?” He looked at his friends as they left the room. Only looking back at him for a second before continuing on.

“For a moment, yes.” He said after looking back to her.

“What’s going on? And don’t tell me nothing. I heard what you were talking about. Who is it you’re worried about?” Nathan seemed to consider her questions for a moment before speaking.

“It’s…Eileen. She ran off with one of the Royal Guard last night and hasn’t been seen since. We’re going to look for them as soon as there is enough light.”

“Are you sure that’s wise? If she chose to go with him then-

“He’s a commoner Judy. She’s a princess. There’s no way she chose to go on her own free will. He coerced her into it. Had her drink more than she could handle and sweet talked her away. Samuel saw the whole thing.”

“Then why didn’t he stop her?” Judy asked accusingly.

“He said he tried but lost track of them once they left the palace and went outside.”

“They went out in the storm? We have to find them! It’s freezing outside! She could be ill!”

“It’s also too dark to see. We have to wait till first light.” Nathan reasoned.

“Fine. But I will be helping and I’m sure Nicholas will help as well.”

“Are you sure it’s a good idea to get foxes involved? I mean, are you sure we can trust them?” He cast an accusing glance at the guard behind her.

“I’m certain of it.” She firmly replied. Nathan then looked at her questioningly. “I can’t explain it now but I know I can trust him. If it will ease your worries I’ll ask him for a small group no larger than four.”

“Alright,” he relented, “I’ll go tell the others.” Judy watched as he left the room to catch up with his friends. She then retrieved her own tray and ensured the guard took one for themselves as well. She walked quickly back to the room.

Walking in she found Nick fully dressed and sitting on the couch in front of the now roaring fire. It filled the room with much needed warmth. She watched as he stood and turned to face her a shy smile crossing his lips before dropping to a concerned frown. Judy then placed the tray on the table and walked over to him. Wringing her wrist in a nervous display.

“I need to ask a favor.”

Chapter Text

“I need to ask a favor.”

Nick listened intently as Judy explained what she knew about her missing sister. That she left the party with a member of the royal guard, possibly against her will. She kept her word and only asked for four foxes to help. Nick never said a word and the only sign he was paying attention were the way his ears went from high and towards her to slowly move back behind his head.

“Will you help me?” She asked. Her own ears laid against her back and eyes wide and pleading.

‘That’s too cute.’ He thought to himself. “What does she look like?” Judy’s ears raised and she smiled at the vulpine who is her husband. She quickly described Eileen’s distinctive marks and fur coloring. Nick then grabbed his sword and headed for the door. Giving instruction to the guards waiting outside. Judy watched them run from where they were.

“Come!” He gestured for her to follow. Glancing back to the balcony door, she could see the sun had still not risen enough to see by and the lingering clouds blocked out the moon.

“Nick it’s too dark. We won’t be able to see anything. And torches would let him know we’re looking for him. Shouldn’t we wait till dawn?”

Nick merely smirked in response and tapped a finger beside his left eye. “Night eyes.” He said.

“You can see in the dark?” She said in amazement. When he nodded in response she ran forward and grabbed his paw, pulling him out the door. “Come on! We have to hurry!” Leaving the door open and the food on the table to grow cold.

Running up to the gates, where they found four foxes waiting for them. The two guards from earlier, an arctic tod and a grey vixen. Nick quickly explained the situation and they split into groups of two. Beginning with searching areas within the fortress walls. For just the six of them, it was a very large area to cover. Store houses with multiple floors dotted the inside of the wall. The walls and guard towers had several passage ways that led from the upper deck to basement rooms where guards would listen to detect tunnels being dug by enemy forces.

They had found several couples that were using these different places to…get better acquainted. But none were her sister Eileen, nor had they seen her or the guards man in question. By the time they finished searching the inner layer the sun had begun to rise. Judy’s brother Nathan and his friends had emerged and helped them with the search. All but Samuel, he had disappeared sometime during the search and not returned.

The sun was well above the horizon at this point. They had met back at the gates and prepared to begin searching the outer buildings. Sheds, barns and storage buildings.

“We need to hurry,” Judy stated, “they could be in one of the outer buildings. We may be able to catch him trying to reenter the gates.”

“Perhaps,” they all turned to find Samuel approaching, “we should be the ones to search those.” He gestured towards the other rabbits in the group. “We don’t want anyone seeing foxes raiding the storage sheds, do we?”

He had a point. Most rabbits were already unnerved with a large group of foxes camped at their doorstep. Seeing several go in and out of the storage sheds where food stores were kept could cause trouble. But Judy would have none of that.

“That’s ridiculous. They won’t steal anything! They’re helping to find my sister!” Samuel scowled towards her outburst.

“Keep your tongue when around males’ doe! Or I’ll teach-“

“Or you’ll what?!” Judy looked behind her to see Nick standing close enough that all she could see was the bottom of his muzzle. She couldn’t see his eyes but could tell his lips were pulled up just enough to let the tips of his fangs show. She also felt his tail wrap around her once again.

“Don’t take that tone with me pelt!”

‘He really is an arrogant prick.’ Nick thought to himself. Before anyone could say anything else Nathan stepped in.

“He has a point Judy.” Stepping between the two parties. “If someone raised an alarm because they thought the foxes were stealing it would only delay our search. Besides, we know where the different sheds are located. We’ll be able to check them quickly enough.”

Judy considered it for a moment. Looking back between Samuel and Nick a couple of times. Realizing that neither would back down, she relented.

“Fine, but go quickly and find me when you find Eileen so that I may tend to her.” He nodded and motioned for the group to follow him. She felt Nick shift position to place himself between her and Samuel as they passed. Never taking his gaze off the obnoxious rabbit. Once they were out of sight he relaxed and turned to the four foxes in the group. He whispered some commands to them and then they to walked out. Judy noted that they traveled in the same direction and Nathan’s group.

“Did you just tell them to follow Nathan?” He shrugged and spread his arms out to his sides. Smirk firmly in place.

“I don’t trust bad rabbit.” He said. “He no help with search. Was laying with female rabbit.”

“You mean, Samuel was having sex instead of helping to find my sister!” Nick nodded an affirmative. Scowl back in place. “How do you know?” She asked curiously. The whole time they had been together. If he had seen it she would have as well.

“I smell.” He said tapping the side of his nose. “They watch him now.” He pointed where the group had disappeared. “I have something show you.”

“Oh? What is it you want to show me?” She had not forgotten about the two groups now searching for her sister. One watching the other. But she was curious as to what Nick had to show her this early in the morning.

“You like arrow, gulrot?” He acted out the motion of drawing back a bow.

“Gulrot?” She asked raising an eyebrow at him. “What is a gulrot?”

“What you eat.” He replied.

After a moment of consideration, it dawned on her. “Oh! You mean carrot.” He shrugged in reply. He had no way of knowing if that was correct or not. “And you mean archery, like you saw me with when you first arrived.” He nodded. “Yes, I do enjoy the sport. Do you?”

“Yes, and you need get ready. We do fox archery today.”

“That sounds like fun.” She said trying to force as much joy as she could into her voice. If not for the situation with Eileen she wouldn’t have to fake her excitement. To Nick’s credit, he merely smiled in response.

“Wait? Did you just call me a carrot again?”

After making it back to their suite and eating a cold breakfast, Judy changed into her archery outfit with a thicker brown coat instead of the grey. It would keep her warmer as the sun had failed to cause any rise in temperature. They had to make a trip to the armory to retrieve her bow that had been taking away the day of their marriage. Nick had looked particularly annoyed when he heard that.

They eventually made it out of the palace and Nick led her out of the gates. Turning in the opposite direction the others had gone. After passing the fox camp, which was surprisingly empty, they rounded a corner and saw what had to be the majority of the fox camp sitting on the side of a hill looking down on a large open field where several barricades had been spread out at varying angles. There were some that were v shaped and others were just a simple wall. They also seemed to be varying heights and sizes.

“What’s all this?” She looked to Nick. Her eyebrows drawn together curiously.

“Watch.” He pointed to a group of foxes at one end with bows and arrows. Only the arrows seemed to have a blue ball on the tip. Soon another fox to the side yelled out and dropped a flag. The foxes immediately darted to cover while also letting a couple of arrows fly. Judy followed to where the arrows landed and noticed another group of foxes on the opposite side.

They carried the same strange arrows only the balls were red instead of blue. She also noticed that when the arrows struck a wall they left colored marks on them. She watched as the two groups maneuvered through the barricades, occasionally taking shots at the other group. Every time someone was struck the crowd watching would cheer. “Truffet!” Judy noticed that once they were struck they would lay down their bow and sit without participating further.

The more Judy watched the more she became involved with the action. Soon she was cheering along with the crowd. When the final member of the red team was struck the game ended. Both teams met in the middle to shake paws and then left the field while another team prepared to enter. Judy was so captivated she didn’t noticed Nick had left her side until she saw him walking straight back to her.

“Where did you go?” She asked with a happy smile.

“We go next.” He said pointed down at the starting point for the blue team.

“Really! Do we need to get ready? Are there any rules I need to know? What if I do poorly? I don’t have any arrows my size!” She was practically bouncing in place with excitement. Causing her to speak so quickly that Nick could not understand what she was saying. Although, he did understand the last part as she reached for the arrows in her quiver.

“Come.” He said stepping away again, gesturing for her to follow him. She quickly did so, falling instep beside him. The next round had already started when they made it to the area the next blue team was preparing. A set of quivers made slightly larger than normal to accommodate the larger tips of the games arrows. Nick grabbed the smallest one he could find and handed it to Judy for her to try on.

Taking the slightly oversized quiver from Nick, Judy replaced her current one with the new. It was slightly longer than she would have liked but she could make due. She then watched as Nick went over to a tub that was filled with arrows. She walked up to it and peaked inside. At the bottom was a blue powder that the arrows were sitting it. And in the center, were ten short arrows sticking out. She watched as Nick pulled them out to reveal the small blue balls she had seen on those playing the game.

He then handed them over to Judy and she inspected them before placing them in her quiver. Noting that the balls were a type of cloth that the blue powder stuck to.

“So now what?” She eagerly asked.

“Talk to team.” He pointed to a group of foxes standing near the starting point. They walked over and were greeted by several bows of respect. After a short conversation with the other foxes, two reds an arctic and a grey, Nick spoke directly to Judy. “They go left and middle. We go right, try to trap.”

Nodding in understanding, Judy only had to wait a few more moments before the crowd gave another cheer and the foxes started moving to the starting point. Judy and Nick joining them on the right side. When the flag was dropped they raced in different directions.

In their excitement they didn’t notice the muffled screams coming from the small hay shed near the fortress walls.

Eileen was enjoying the blissful dream she found herself in. She felt warm laying in an open meadow with flowers surrounding her. The fact that it was surprisingly dark didn’t worry her. She felt safe, protected from the dangers of the world. She dare not ask for more. All to soon the dream came to an end.

The cloak that had covered her head had been yanked away followed soon after by someone grabbing her arm and ripping her away from her dream. Startled, she yelled out, opening her eyes in time to see a group of rabbits wearing gauntlets descend upon the guardsman who she had left the dance with. The gauntlets, made of faux leather with metal studs across the knuckles quickly drew blood as one of the rabbits smashed it across the guardsman’s left eye socket.

“Leave him alone! Stop! You’re killing him!” She continued to plead until another paw came up to cover her dainty muzzle. She looked back to find the owner only to have her body tremble in terror. Holding her back was none other than Samuel Shortgates. She whimpered into the paw holding her muzzle far tighter than was necessary.

“Keep quiet or I’ll kill him myself.” He whispered into her ear. A sickly smile across his face. “I told you, you will be mine.” He was pulling her closer to him. Pressing the bulge in his pants against her back. The sound of thumps as gauntlet paws strike a defenseless body, the smell of something foul on his paw, as well as the stink of his breath, it made her sick.

Fortunately, it did not last long. Soon the doors to the shed burst open and four foxes raced in swords drawn. Quickly pinning the rabbits against a wall. Eileen watched in fear as they seemed to scrutinize the group and then the rabbit lying in the hay covered in his own blood. The old fox in the group narrowed his eyes at her before raising his blade. Samuel’s paws still holding her tight. She watched in horror as the fox gave a command to the others. One left the shed and he raised his sword toward her.

When he stepped closer she felt Samuel pull her in tighter. At least his bulge was gone. “Stay away pelt! This is none of your concern.” When the other rabbits went to step forward the foxes quickly raised their blades towards them in warning. They got the hint. Stay out of it.

The old fox placed the tip of his blade against Samuel’s arm that held her in place. Applying pressure to make him release her. Once his filthy paws were off her he retracted his blade. When Eileen saw him take a step back she took the opportunity and dashed away.

Now kneeling next to the brown bunny who had cared for her, she returned the favor and began assessing his wounds. His face was severely bruised, his nose and lips were bleeding. His teeth were ok as best she could tell. There was a large gash on the left side of his eye socket that was bleeding profusely. She knew he could be in worse shape. His breathing was raged and short. No doubt caused by strikes dealt to his torso.

“He needs a doctor!” She pleaded.

“Eileen!” She turned to face Nathan. “Did he violate you?” Her jaw dropped in disbelief. How could he think that? One glance to Samuel and she knew however. His jealousy and desire to have her would drive him to harm someone innocent.

“He has done nothing but be kind to me.” She replied fervently. “He gave me his cloak when I dragged him out in the rain.” She meant to continue but was interrupted.

“You dragged him?” Nathan asked. “Are you telling me that coming here with him was your idea?” The inside of her ears and her cheeks were a little pinker but she stayed firm in her conviction to declare the guardsman’s innocence.

“Yes, Nathan, it was my idea.”

“Eileen, he’s a commoner! You can’t just go rutting off with some commoner!”

“And you can!” She accused. “I’ve seen you and your so called ‘highborn’ friends leaving the taverns in the village. I’m not so innocent I don’t know what you do there.” Nathan was taken back. A sudden pang of humiliation ran over him before he pushed it aside.

“That doesn’t” He was interrupted when the fox that had left returned. Behind him were Judy and Nick. Both covered in blue and red power. Mostly covered in blue for some reason. Judy looked the situation over for a moment and was about to speak until she saw Eileen kneeling next to another rabbit on the trodden pile of hay.

“Eileen!” She cried and she pulled her sister into a hug. Her sister quickly returned the hug only to release it just as quickly.

“Judy, we have to help him.” Judy looked down at the battered buck.

“Nick?” He turned to look at her. His angry expression was nearly comical with the blue tint his fur was now sporting. “Do you have a doctor?”

“Yes, you know all them?” he asked, pointing at the bucks lined along the wall. She studied them for a moment before nodding. Making sure to memorize who was there.

“La dem ga.” He said. Judy watched as the foxes sheathed their swords and stepped away. “Leave.” Nick commanded the rabbits. They readily complied, except for Nathan. He made to walk to his sisters when Nick stopped him with a paw. Looking down at the rabbit with a scowl he shook his head no before pushing him back again. Returning his own scowl, he reluctantly left the shed as well.

After sending another fox for the doctor, Nick knelt beside the wounded rabbit and rolled him onto his back before beginning to access his injuries. Too much time on the battle field giving him the knowledge of basic first aid.

With Nick tending to the wounds and her sister crying while holding the paw of the still form, Judy put her paws on her sister’s shoulders to try and comfort her. “Tell me everything.” She whispered.

Chapter Text

‘Damn, he took a beating.’ Nick thought to himself as he examined the rabbit before him. He had pulled his coat as far back as he could without taking it off and used his claw to rip the front of the undershirt open. Causing Eileen to gasp in surprise when she heard the rip. Nick ran his paws over the rabbit’s ribs searching for puncture wounds. It would be hard to diagnose a broken or bruised rib with him unconscious.

He then felt the rabbit’s arms and legs for any abnormalities in case the bones were broken. Finding none he checked his head and felt several lumps forming. The swelling around his left eye where a large cut curved around the socket was something to worry about. Nick could barely pull the eye lids back far enough to inspect the eye itself. Seeing it wasn’t bulging or discolored in anyway, he concluded it should go undamaged and tore a small piece of the rabbit’s shirt to press to the cut and stop the bleeding. He noted the bad cut on his right side of his buck teeth to his upper and lower lip, pressing a bandage to it as well. He then leaned back and looked at the two does across from him.

Judy was hugging her sister by the shoulders trying to keep her calm. Eileen had tears freely flowing and shaking slightly but never made a sound. She had both of her smaller paws wrapped around his right paw. Judy was trying to ask her questions to find out what happened but she would only stare at the closed eyes of the buck as if willing him to open them.

Fortunately, the surgeon arrived promptly. Nick explained what he found while giving the buck a once over leaving the surgeon to perform his own professional examination. Moving over to speak with Avrid and get his report of what happened. Once satisfied he had two of the several foxes that had now gathered around the shed to carry the bunny to the medical tent, the surgeon following closely behind.

Eileen tried to go with them but Judy held her back. Hoping that separating her from this still unknown guardsman will get her to speak. Now facing her completely Judy held her younger sister’s shoulders tightly. Looking down into her eyes to convey the importance of what she was about to say.

“Eileen, you have to tell me what happened.” Judy stated firmly.

Eileen took several shuddering breaths before she could speak. Starting with how Samuel had restrained and threatened her and the guardsman. Judy then got her to tell how she ended up with the buck in the first place. Only when she was sure that Eileen was not exaggerating what happened, due to stress or being emotionally overwhelmed, did she release her shoulders.

“We have to go to father then. If we don’t Nathan and Samuel will tell him what they want him to hear. And it won’t bode well for…what was his name?”

At the question Eileen’s blush was easy to see through her white furred cheeks. By this time Nick was standing next to the pair and had listened to Eileen tell her side of events. Seeing the blush easily answered the questions for him and seeing as she was reluctant to answer, Nick offered to answer for her.

“You don’t know.” Seeing the mortified look and that the poor bunnies face was more red than white now, Nick took that as a no. With a sigh he looked toward the door of the shed they were still standing in. Leaning on the frame was the older fox who had been with them thru this entire fiasco. The tired look on his face reminded him that he was also guarding his and Judy’s room early this morning. In the off chance he knew something Nick spoke in their own language to the haggard looking fox.

“I don’t suppose you know that bunnies name, do you?”

“Lucas.” He casually replied. Taking Nick by complete surprise.

“How did…?” Too surprised by the casual way the old fox answered, Nick’s jaw hung upon with the unfinished question.

The old tod raised and eye brow at his reaction and pointed a thumb at the still red bunny. “She didn’t know?” When Nick shook his head, all Avrid could do was shake his own in response before walking away. Mumbling something about being too old.

“What was that about?” Judy asked. Nick then turned back to face her.

“Said his name Lucas.” Nick looked back at the now empty doorway then back at the two bunnies. “Not how he know.”

“Lucas.” Eileen whispers. Not realizing Judy heard her. Judy took a deep breath and began easing her sister towards the door. They needed to hurry to intercept any problems Nathan and Samuel may cause.

“Come on, let’s go see father.”

Following the two bunnies Nick happened to glance to the side of the shed. There he saw a dark blue cloth that seemed to be out of place. Collecting the item, he examined it while he followed Judy and her sister. It was the cloak of the Royal Guards. Over all the garment was just a dark blue. The front had silver trim that flared out where the buttons were located. The collar having the same silver trimming all the way around the stiff brim.

The only thing that seems to distinguish one guardsman from the other were the symbols on the left breast. This one had a silver sun. In the middle was an upside-down pick tool with the hilt of a sword resting on the point of the pick and angled across the handle. A shovel angled the same way crossing the handle with the blade of the sword. A crown resting at the top. A common symbol he had seen around the palace when referencing something to do with the royal family.

The cold had still not relented. Seeing that Eileen was ill prepared for it, no doubt due to her impromptu exit last night, Nick offered the item to his young sister-in-law. She hesitated for only a moment before taking the item. Wrapping it around her shoulders, she found it was nearly too big for her. Longer than she needed, she had to hold up the front to keep it from dragging the ground. Taking the opportunity to hold it to her muzzle and indiscriminately sniff the garment.

They had only just made it back inside the gates when Bonnie spotted them from the steps leading to the palace doors. Quickly running over she pulled Eileen into a hug.

“My child! Thank goodness you’re safe!” She leaned back to examine Eileen for any injuries, instead took notice of the oversized cloak she wore. “Come inside we’ll get you a-”

“Mother we must see father first!” Eileen interrupted.

“Nathan and Samuel attacked the guardsman that was taking care of Eileen. Now we fear they may be trying to convince father that he tried to take advantage of her when it was Samuel who assaulted and threatened them both.” Judy added.

Bonnie looked at Judy as if she hadn’t noticed her before. “Judith! Why on earth are you blue?!”

Earlier

A certain rabbit was getting dunked into the barrel of blue powder after dumping a bucket of blue powder on a certain fox for ‘accidentally’ bopping said rabbit’s tail with a powder coated arrow.

Back in the Present

“T-that’s not i-important right now!” A suddenly purple Judy was stuttering to answer her mother.

“She’s right!” Eileen encouraged. “We must hurry before father makes a decision.” Giving a sigh of resignation Bonnie conceded.

“Very well, come.” She led both daughters by paw into the palace. Nearing the chamber doors to the king’s throne room, Bonnie turned to Judy.

“We will need Nicholas to lead so the guards won’t try and stop us.” Judy looked back to Nick and felt certain he had heard at the scowl she saw him wearing. Sure enough, as they slowed their pace, Nick passed them by and let the rabbit guards open the door for him.

Nick walked in with the small entourage behind him. He felt slightly uneasy as he entered the great hall the rabbits called a throne room. This was the place it all began. Where he had made what felt like a selfish choice that dragged Judy along with him, all for the sake of an alliance.

Sitting on a raised platform was a chair that stood out above all chairs. The king’s throne was made entirely of gold. The ornate cushion made of the finest threads money could buy. Upon it sat The Head of the Warren, King of the Burrows, Leader of Clan Hopps, Stuart Hopps. The titles and ornate decorations didn’t seem to fit the rabbit on the throne.

The way his eyes were now watering with a steady stream of tears as he listened to the tale being woven by Nathan and Samuel. To his left, on a pair of stools, sat Johannes Wilde and Gideon Grey. Gideon whispering into the Earl’s ear. Translating what was being said as a look of displeasure was growing on his muzzle.

Everyone was so enraptured by the falsities being spewed by the two rabbits they hadn’t noticed the small group entering the large room. Nick slowed his pace to a near halt and turned his ears to better hear what was being said.

“…found them in the hay shed along the western wall. He had his paws all over her, playing with her ears, touching her in every conceivable way. Samuel bravely wisped her from his reach while the rest of us tried to subdue him. He began resisting, threatening her and us, we were afraid he would try something so we had to-“

“Liar!” Everyone looked to where the loud voice had come from. Nick, Judy and Bonnie were wide eyed at the strong voice that came from such a little creature. Eileen was shorter than Judy. The top of her head only coming level with Judy’s eyes. Yet standing there with her ears leaning forward raised aggressively, jaws clenched with her lips pulled back putting her buck teeth on display. The Earl would later say he felt a shiver of fear run down his spine at the sight.

Nathan had turned with a look of annoyance while Samuel’s was in disgust. Both were knocked aside by the flying ball that was Stuart Hopps. Quickly reaching his daughter and bringing her into a tight embrace.

“Oh, Eileen you’re ok!” Stu had lifted her slightly off her feet, rubbing his chin across the top of her head vigorously. Not letting her go until Bonnie patted him on the shoulder. “Nathan was just telling me of your horrible ordeal. I promise this buck with be dealt with most harshly.” Stu smiled confidently. Looking at his wife, he suddenly felt the confidence of what he just said dwindle away.

“Father,” Stu turned his attention back to Eileen, “they are lying.”

“Oh, come now Eileen,” the voice that sounded like the screech of eels to her said, Samuel confidently walked up, “do you really expect us believe a commoner knows anything of manners?”

“Compared to Lucas I’m afraid you come up a little ‘short’ Shortgates,” Eileen replied in a singsong voice before deadpanning, “in all manners.”

“How dare you talk back!” Samuel spat, stomping closer towards the group. “Do not forget that you are in the presence of bucks! And you will do well to-“ Samuel was nearly in front of Eileen when a strong paw reached up and grabbed the front of his shirt yanking him to the side and in front of King Hopps.

“And you would do well, boy, to remember whose presence you are in.” Stu squeezed the shirt in his paw tighter and lifted it slightly till the faint tear of seems could be heard. Bonnie felt her heart flutter at the sight of her husband. It was easy to forget that someone such as Stu, who was known for his emotional breakdowns, had worked hard in the fields of his own lands his whole life. The strength he gained there was well hidden beneath his now chubby appearance. The fact that he was protecting one of their children did nothing to stop the heat she felt rising in her belly only causing it to intensify.

Stu gave a slow shove to the brat in front of him and walked back to his throne. “Now then, I will hear both accounts.” After listening to both parties give their accounts as well as Nicholas giving the account Avrid had told him, Stu pondered on what to do next for a moment. He wished for privacy with his wife. She was so much closer to their daughters than he was. Looking closer at Eileen he noticed the symbol on the cloak she wore. Recognizing it immediately, he realized he hadn’t heard all accounts.

“Where is the guardsman now?” Stu asked. To which Nick stepped forward. Allowing Gideon to translate for a clearer answer.

“In the care of our physician.”

Stu nodded before speaking again. “Then I will go and speak with him. Bonnie, it’s dreadfully cold outside. We should return to our chambers to dress accordingly.”

She gave a knowing smile and bowed. These little codes were how they could communicate discreetly. Once alone in their chambers Stu turned to Bonnie.

“Do you believe Nathan is lying?” Stu cuts to the chase. How closely he counseled with his wife was frowned upon by the nobles. Interactions like this had to be kept short.

“Thru his teeth.” She answered shortly.

“And Eileen?” He watched as Bonnie visibly deflated.

“She seems to have developed feelings for this Lucas fellow. If not for Judith and Nicholas’s accounts…I don’t know if we could trust her to be forth coming with any unsavory details about him.”

“Agreed.” Stu helped Bonnie to put on her coat before putting his own on. “I’ll just have to see what kind of a buck he is then.”

Near the main entrance to the palace, everyone waited for the return of Bonnie and Stu. Including Johannes and Gideon. Who were looking at the strange pair of blue mammals in front of them.

“Nicholas?” Johannes finally said.

“Yes, father?”

“Why are you and Judith covered in blue powder?”

Earlier

Nick watched as Judy stood on a crate to watch the next match. They had easily won their own. While their team pinned down the reds, he and Judy skirted around the flank. Nick then gave Judy a boost as she leapt out of his paws. Causing her to fly several feet in the air and fire from above. Taking out two opponents on her way down to be caught in Nick’s paws.

Now he watched as she was captivated by the new team playing. Fluffy tail tantalizingly closer to his eyes. He watched it twitch back and forth several times before getting an idea. He pulled out a blue arrow and casually held it in his paws before turning slightly to the side.

Present

“Oh, um, I uh…” Nick started scanning the room with his eyes looking for a way out. Fortunately, Stu and Bonnie appeared at that moment. “Oh look! They’re back!”

The group made the journey to the tent in the fox camp that Lucas was being tended to. Upon arriving they found the surgeon sitting outside his tent tending to a small fire where he was boiling water. Seeing the group approach, he stood and offered a bow. Before going in Stu had a few questions for the surgeon, which Gideon gladly interpreted.

“Is he awake?”

“Yes.”

“Has he said anything?”

“Only mumbled a few phrases the surgeon didn’t understand.” Stu had a suspicion that if he was anything like Eileen described he might be able to prove his own virtue with his actions. “He then tried to get up and leave but he’s in too much pain to get far.”

“Can he try and repeat what he said when he first woke up?”

The surgeon thought on it for a moment before doing his best to replicate the words he heard.

“Cá bhfuil sí? An bhfuil sí ceart go leor?” The surgeon’s pronunciation was badly off but for Stu it was close enough to give him the answer he wanted.

“Thank you.” Stu offered before stepping into the tent alone. It was dark and it took a moment for his eyes to adjust. He could hear the grunts and strains of someone in pain in the tent. But until his eyes adjusted he didn’t see Lucas making an effort to sit up and stand in the presence of his king. But once he did though. “Lay back down son.”

He watched as the tall buck eased himself back down to the bed and started taking shuddering breaths. There was no doubt in his mind that the boy’s ribs were badly bruised if not broken. Once his breathing was under control he spoke again.

“Thank you, your majesty.” He whispered. Stu smirked at the rabbit before replying with a shake of his head.

“It is I who should be thanking you.” This caused Lucas to hold his breath for a moment and stare at his king with wide eyes. “Eileen told me what you did for her. She also told me that you made no advances towards her. For that I thank you.” Lucas had to blink a couple of times to bring himself back to reality. To stunned to do anything more than nod in response.

“Now then, we do have a problem we need to discuss.” Lucas suddenly felt very chilly. “Eileen seems to have taken a liking to you.” Lucas let out a sigh. His features becoming apologetic.

“I did not intend for that to happen sire.” Stu nodded in response.

“I’m aware of that possibility, but tell me, do you think you could return her affection?” Lucas was only able to move his jaw up and down a couple of times allowing a couple of squeaky noises to exit before he could speak again.

“I-I don’t know sire. She is beautiful but…”

“But what?” This time Lucas sighed in frustration. He never meant for this to happen. This complicated his life and he wanted to live simply. Not seek out anything higher than his station.

“Sire, I hardly know her beyond her name. Besides that, I’m a commoner. She has no future with me.”

Stu grabbed a stool and pulled it beside the bed. Sitting for a moment before speaking. “You know your father told me the same thing before marrying your mother.” Lucas grunted when he felt the pain from trying to sit up hit him.

“You knew my father?” Nodding his head Stu had a genuine smile across his face.

“Indeed, I did. I met him while traveling in my youth. Before I was made king. He was building a ballista and testing it when we met. I convinced him to return here with me and I was able to get him appointed to the armory. That’s where he met your mother. Did he ever speak to you about her?”

“Only that she was the most beautiful rabbit he had ever seen and that he loved her very much. Not much else besides having given me her eyes. He was not one for details outside of his work I’m afraid.” Stu nodded in understanding.

“She was from one of the lesser noble families. I wasn’t king yet and couldn’t help him to raise his status. As you know status must be appointed by the king or earned through merit. Your mother didn’t want to wait for him to have the chance. She renounced her family and title and they eloped to your father’s homeland where they were married and you were born.”

“When he returned with only you a couple years later, the quietest baby I’d ever seen by the way, I knew something had happened.”

“She died giving birth to me.” Stu nodded sorrowfully.

“Indeed, she did. Her family shunned her after she renounced her title and they were no kinder to you or your father when he returned. I was able to get him reappointed to his position in the armory and have watched you grow.” After sighing to himself Stu continued. “I fear Eileen may do the same for you.” Lucas suddenly looked frightened.

“She can’t. Not for me.” Stu raised his paws to stop him from getting excited.

“Rest easy lad. I have a solution. As a thank you for what you did to help my daughter I’ve decided to appoint you as a Gentlemammal to a noble.” Lucas opened his mouth to protest only to be interrupted. “I am king and it will be done. Now because Eileen is a princess she is supposed to marry a highborn noble so I can’t allow you to officially court her…yet. If she has not found a suitor by her seventeenth birthday all other suitors are allowed to court her at that point. I doubt she’ll have any trouble waiting till then so it will give the two of you ample time to get to know one another. In the mean time I must find a noble family that will take you into their clan. The Shortgates family is well connected but I think I know someone who may be willing.”

Stu had watched as a smile kept growing across the boys muzzle the more he talked. “Thank you sire for everything.”

Stu only smiled in return and stood, patting him on the shoulder as he did so. Looking him over once more he noted that he was bare from the waste up. Bandages wrapped around his chest. His face was still swollen and left eye swollen shut. A bandage wrapped where a cut was located on the same eye. Considering how he must have been beaten he seemed to be faring well enough.

Almost back to the tent’s entrance Stu turned around to address Lucas once more. “I’ll let Eileen know she can come in now.” He said with a smile and then he was gone. Shortly replaced by the brown and white doe still wearing his cloak.  

Eileen stepped into the tent and was temporarily blinded while her eyes adjusted to the low light. Once she could see properly, she scanned the large- for a rabbit, room. In the center was a wooden table and a candle lantern hanging from the wood frame roof. Once her sight was fully adjusted, she was able to make out a wood framed cot with a familiar rabbit lying on it.

Making her way over to him, she saw the small stool next to the bed. Where her father must have sat, she thought. As she sat, she took in his appearance for a moment.

Bare from the waist up, she saw his ribs bandaged and the swollen features of his face. The bandage covering his swollen, cut eye. The cut on his lips had stopped bleeding but left no doubt of the scar that would form. Now sitting, she found it was just a tad tall for her. Only her toes being able to touch the ground. She hadn’t looked him in the eyes yet.

“Are you alright?”

She finally looked to meet his one good eye. In it all she saw was concern her. For that moment she felt like her world revolved around him and she his. She couldn’t help the tears that built in her eyes or the lump in her throat, preventing her from speaking. She looked down to her paws in her lap. She was a mess. The hem of her dress and his cloak caked in mud from the rain, rumpled and creased, it still smelt of hay.

She closed her eyes in an attempt to stop them from falling, But they wouldn’t. Soon she felt herself hiccupping through the tears. She felt she loved him. She didn’t know how or if it truly was, only that she cared more for him than anyone she had ever met. The fear that he hadn’t felt the same melted when he asked the question. As did her emotional outpouring, when she felt his paw take her own. She opened her eyes and in her blurry vision saw his larger paw gently stroking the back of her knuckles.

Soon the fear of being rejected was replaced by one of being torn apart. She knew the law, he was a commoner. She would have to denounce her title to be with him. The fear of how her family would react seem to pale in comparison with not being able to be with him.

“I suppose…” She looked up at him once more, a smile on his face as he spoke. “We have much to discuss.”

Outside the surgeon’s tent.

Stu watched Eileen enter the tent with a slight smile on his face. He didn’t know if it would work out between the two of them, but at least they would have a chance at a life, together. His smile quickly faded when he turned his attention back to the group of bucks, now waiting his judgement.

“You lot, return to the throne room. I’ll deal with you later.” He watched as the group trudged away with drooping ears. Stu would have to find a punishment befitting their crime. For now, there was another matter that needed tending.

“Earl Wilde,” he turned to face the one eyed fox, “I need to ask a favor.”

Chapter Text

Judy and Nick finally made it back to their shared suite. With her father and mother talking to the Earl, it was the perfect time to slip away unnoticed. She had wanted to stay and listen to what Stu was going to ask of the Earl, but a bump on her leg from Nick’s tail caused her to look at him, or rather the blue powder covering him. Carefully stepping away, she followed his lead to make their getaway, hoping that no one would come looking for them long enough to wash the blue out of their fur.

They made a brief stop in the fox’s camp for Nick to relay a message before continuing on their way, the short journey made in a comfortable silence. The early morning excitement mixing with the adrenaline of the latest events finally taking its toll. Once the door was shut he turned to Judy.

“Um, where is bath?” Judy turned to look at him. The blue power covered his head and shoulders, down his chest and back, some was even on his tail. She knew she was completely covered in blue as well.

“There’s a bath house we can use. Grab your things and I’ll show you.” They walked into the bedroom and both pulled out a change of clothes. As they left, Judy noticed there weren’t any guards waiting outside their door this time. “No escorts?” She asked.

“No more.” He replied. ‘Why the sudden change?’ She thought to herself before moving on. It was thankfully a quick trip to the bath house. Judy noted only two of her siblings had seen them. That meant her entire family would know they were covered in blue powder soon enough. As they approached a section of the palace Nick had never been in before, Judy glanced back to see his reaction.

They approached a set of heavy wood doors in a stone frame. Nick could smell the warm, humid change in the air. Curious, his head tilted to the side with one eye brow raised. As they pushed the doors open, the smell of warm water grew stronger. They were walking down a hallway with several doors on the left-hand side and only the stone and mortar wall of the palace on the right.

The doors they passed all had a wooden sign hanging from a nail. On each one, the word “áitithe” was engraved. Several times Nick could hear splashing or voices on the other side of the doors. Till they reached one with the word “folamh”. Judy held the door open for Nick as he walked in. Flipping the sign before closing and locking it.

Walking in, Nick felt the heat contained within the room before seeing a large indoor pool, something he’d never seen before. It took him a minute to get over his surprise to notice the floor he stood on was warm, yet it was stone as the rest of the palace. Walking up to the pool he placed a testing toe into the water and was surprised again by the warmth. It wasn’t unbearably hot, but soothing. He looked back at Judy with his mouth open in awe. Opening both arms to the room around him he asked the only question that came to mind. “How?”

Judy had watched his reaction to the palace baths. Enjoying the openly shocked expression as he tested the water. When he asked how her smile became a giggle. “Come.” She instructed, gesturing for him to follow her to the windows. She stood to the side to allow him to look out. Outside he could see servants feeding wood and coal into furnaces that were below floor level. Also noting that the floors were warmer closer to the window.

“The warm air from the fire runs under the floor and warms the water and the walls.” As if to test that, Nick stepped over to the wall and placed a paw on it. His ears and eyes going wider as he felt the warm stones. He looked back to Judy with a smirk and hooded eyes.

“Smart bunny.” He said before removing his shirt. Judy turned purple from the combination of her blush and blue fur. She took in his lean frame for a moment before turning around. She could hear more clothing being ruffled followed by footsteps that ended with the sound of him entering the water. She chanced a glance and saw him in the water turned sideways to her with his head facing away. She took it as he opportunity to remove her own clothing before slipping into the water on the opposite side of the bath.

Savoring the warmth of the water seeping into her skin, Judy closed her eyes and began scrubbing the powder from her fur. Her ears picking up the sound of splashing coming from Nick as he was no doubt cleaning himself. When she heard him take a deep breath she opened her eyes in time to see him sink his head under water, still standing sideways to her and looking away. She quickly did the same scrubbing her ears to get all the blue powder out of them.

When she came back up out of the water, Nick was still holding himself under, scrubbing at his much thicker fur. The top of his head was just out of the water and she watched the thick layers bristle when he moved his fingers back and forth. When he finished, he raised his head out of the water before shaking it back and forth quickly. Slinging droplets of water everywhere. Judy squealed in surprise when several droplets struck her face.

Holding one paw over her face to shield from any more water falling on her, she saw Nick look her way for what seemed like the first time. When their eyes met he quickly looked away again. Only he never turned his back to her. She finally remembered why from this morning. The scars and the horn shaped brand on his back. He was hiding them from her while trying to avoid facing her. Something she suddenly noticed she wasn’t trying to do.

She was facing him directly without looking at him. Instead closing her eyes or looking down into the water. The weight of the situation they found themselves in finally seemed to be catching up to her. Until this moment, it had all seemed like a series of dreams both good and bad. She looked up at him at last. He was still turned to the side but now his eyes were closed and he seemed to just be enjoying the warmth of the water.

Nick had been enjoying the warmth of the water. As it soaked his fur and soothed his skin. The cold that dominated the day hadn’t affected him the same as it had Judy. His thicker fur prevented that. Still, the sensation of warm water wrapping around him felt comforting.

The pool was too shallow for him, only coming up to his waist, he had to bend down on his knees to get it to his shoulders. With his thoughts on the day’s events, he reflected on everything that happened. From the awkward wakeup this morning to Judy asking him for help. His stomach was still sore from that kick. When she returned with breakfast and asked for his help he more than willingly did all he could. He would have done more if she would have allowed it.

After not finding her sister, his surprise that had meant to be the event of the day turned into just a distraction. One he took the advantage of, being as playful as possible. It seemed to be working until word reached them of what had happened with her brother. Seeing how Judy’s sister seemed so attached to that hare had him wondering. He had dealt with enough hares in his travels to know they didn’t generally get along with rabbits as a rule. Could Judy ever feel that way for him? Little did he know she was wondering the same thing.

“Nick?” He opened his eyes and glanced over at her. She was sitting on the edge of the pool away from him. Only the tips of her shoulders were visible above the water. Her fur was soaked and her ears were limp over them, the tips floating. He felt himself being pulled towards the purple gems that seemed to glow the more he looked at them. Right now, they showed sadness and worry. He felt his heart clench as the thought of tears leaving those eyes crossed his mind. When he didn’t reply, Judy took it as an invitation to continue.

“What will become of us?” Us, she wondered. Before now her only question was what would become of her. Would she be taken back to his homeland? Would he stay here with her? Would he leave her behind when everything was over?

To Nick her voice sounded desperate. But desperate for what he didn’t know. Today’s events were also a reminder of the violence in the world, particularly his world and the near future. He started moving towards her, never breaking eye contact. When he was close enough he reached out a paw and put it to her cheek.

“We are livskompis.” He had told her that before and Judy still hadn’t figured out what exactly it meant. “I always be yours.” With his last words he pulled his paw away and made to leave the bath.

Judy watched as he stepped out. He didn’t try to hide anything from her this time. He left his back turned to her where she could see the scars and branding as clear as the day light outside. He seemed to glance back at her from time to time. His features clear of any emotions that she could see. She watched as he dried himself before dressing and walking out.

Once he was gone, Judy put a paw to the cheek he had touched. It hadn’t stopped tingling from the contact. Now his words from the night before seemed to take a deeper meaning. He had told her straight out he would never take a mistress. Now he just told her again she was the only one he would ever be with. The thought made the water seem cold in contrast.

They had only known each other for three days. The first day she had been determined to fight him every step of the way. The second she felt content at just giving him a chance. Now with the third day nearly gone she knew she was helplessly falling for him. At the revelation she started panting as though she had been holding her breath the whole time. She laid her head back against the side of the bath and sunk slightly lower into the water.

“Sweet cheese and crackers!”

Chapter Text

The walk back to her shared room was entirely too short for Judy. No matter how hard she tried, the conversation with Nick replayed in her mind nearly every step of the way.

“What will become of us?”

“We are livskompis. I always be yours.”

What was worse was the look in his eyes when he spoke. The emotions that all seemed to play across his features at once, sadness, desperation, loneliness and fear. The last is what made Judy stop in front of their door before entering. Staring at the wooden barrier lost in her own thoughts.

‘Afraid of what?’

The image of his eyes held fast in her mind. His emerald orbs focused directly on her, unwavering. Was it her he was afraid of? Did he think her capable of causing him pain? The thought was disappointing. She’d already apologized for her mistakes, asked for the pendant back and made the effort to reach out to him. Even now she wore his token of affection.

Reaching up, she lifted the pendant to view it. The emerald stones, the playful tail and the imperfect creases she had added to it, like cracks in armor. All at once, Judy felt her emotions race downward. He had a right to fear her. She had proven she was willing to harm him.

Where once guilt resided, heartbreak now took residence. She now realized their plight was no more his doing than hers. The difference being where she had fought against it, he had embraced it, and her. With eyes now stinging from tears that threatened to escape, Judy opened the door of the shared room, and hopefully, a shared life.

The first thing she noticed was the fire had been rekindled. She could see a tail hanging below the couch. Taking one last deep breath to steady herself she approached her husband, her fox. Unsure of what she would say, Judy simply started talking.

“Nick I-” She was cut off by the sound of a snoring fox. Having not yet rounded the couch, she stopped at the sound. Blinking a few times before searching for the source. There on the couch, she found Nick sleeping peacefully. She looked on dumbfounded. Only being drawn out of her momentary lapse in awareness by his foot as it began to make small kicks in the air as if on its own, causing a small giggle as Judy realized how cute the action was.

Deciding that she felt tired as well, Judy went into the bedroom and prepared for a midday nap. After crawling under the blankets, Judy made several failed attempts at falling asleep. The more she felt her body pulling her down the more her mind pressed back. She tossed and turned several times before finally sitting up. She grabbed a pillow she hadn’t used yet and covered her face, yelling into the soft cushion to keep from waking Nick. She held it there and started regaining her breath when a familiar scent touched her senses.

This pillow had a faint scent that caused her whole body to relax. As if opening a passage for all her anxiety to exit, but it wasn’t enough. She soon realized the comforting smell was very weak on the fabric. It was no matter though. She knew the source of this aroma and knew what needed to be done.

She climbed out of the bed and made toward the couch. There she found Nick, still resting. Though he seemed to have been disturbed at some point and changed position so that his back was against the back of the couch, on his side with one arm hanging to the edge and the other across his chest.

He once again slept in just and undershirt with the front undone. Exposing his cream colored chest. She hesitated, then lay down the same as him. With her back to his abdomen, using his arm as a pillow, she felt her eyelids pulling themselves closed. Listening to his soft mumbles as she slowly slipped into the abyss of sleep.

Suddenly she heard him take a deep sniff, then another slower one. Her eyes went wide when she felt his cold nose touch between her ears as another sniff was taken. As he exhaled, his hot breath washed over her. She somehow knew that her scent pleased him, causing a smile to form on her lips.

She was surprised further when he reached around her front and pulled her flush against him, the contact making her blush. Her unease quickly dissipated when his tail curled around them, the tip ending at her muzzle. She gave no second thought to reaching out and holding the fuzzy appendage to her. Marveling at the soft fur between her fingers before the last threads of consciousness left her.

Nick awoke and found the fire he had rekindled still burning. He wasn’t sure what had aroused him from his slumber, only that he could smell Judy’s scent slightly stronger than earlier. But he was not done with his nap yet and and the muddied thoughts of ‘ Where is she?’ went ignored for now. Rolling himself over to his side, pressing his back up against the couch for support, he once again fell back into the realm of dreams.

It wasn’t long before his dreams were filled with grey and white fur and purple eyes. His small dream started void of any other sense but sight. Eventually, his sight faded to darkness. With his eyes compromised, he turned to his ears. After hearing nothing for some time he took a deep draw of breath through his nostrils. Surprisingly, Judy’s scent was close, so close he could nearly taste it. He took another slower breath. Taking his time in analyzing every particle of air that came through his snout. She was close.

He went to move his nose lower to the ground in the hope that being closer to her height would make the scent stronger. Surprised when his sensitive nose bumped into something soft. Nick partially woke from his dreamy state and cracked open his eyes. What he saw caused him to take a reactive breath, only to keep pulling that breath in until his lungs began to ache from the pressure and forced him to release the air within, his eyes fluttering shut once again.

Nick knew what it was like to feel drunk. The lapse in judgement, dulled senses and lack of coordination. Perhaps that was why he felt his arm lurch forward and ensnare Judy, pulling her flush to him. And then the wag of his overenthusiastic tail that ended on top of her. Nick knew one thing for certain, the moment she ran her fingers the the fur on his tail, he was lost. The last thought to consciously surface in his mind and make it to his lips.

“My bunny.”

Chapter Text

For what had to be the first time in her life, Judy was aware that it was daylight outside, and did not care that she was lazing about accomplishing nothing. In her mind she lay wrapped from head to toe in a red blanket with a yellowed wool lining. Beneath her was a bed of green that shimmered in the light. Feeling discomfort from laying on one side for too long, she rolled within her blanket to the other side. Confused when the blanket stayed still instead of rolling with her, she slowly cracked her eyes open.

Why did the wool of her blanket look like fur that was tickling her nose? And why did it smell so damnably good?

Tilting her head up to get a different view, she found the outline of a long narrow jaw. Poking out slightly from black lips she could make out the pointed tips of fangs. First, she felt confusion, then fear at the sight of teeth once meant to cut flesh, but lastly, comfort. Odd how the last suppressed the other feelings, as there she was where she was always meant to be. In the arms of this predator, in the arms of…

“Nick.” She whispered. Her slowly waking mind finally piecing the puzzle together. With his name came the last words he spoke to her.

“I always be yours.”

“My Nick.”

It was final. Her mind was made up. She would pursue his heart until she clinched it in her paws where she would greedily guard it against the world and all its cruelties. Keeping it safe until her dying breath and when she passed into the eternities that await she would not rest until it was safely within her grasp again daring any who may try to take it from her.

Bringing her gaze back down to the chest that was laid bare before her, Judy tried wiggly free of his grasp, so she may lay her claim upon him as her mate. Only to find that the more she wiggled the more he tried to hold her still. As if he were afraid she might get away.

The sound of a pitiful whine filled her ears. Judy’s eyes opened more fully. She could still feel the drowsy aftermath of sleep trying to pull them back shut but ignored it to look at Nick’s face. It pulled at the strings of her heart to see him frowning in his sleep. Settling back down, she allowed herself to be pulled back to his chest. While his hold on her had been firm it was not rough and she admired at the gentleness he showed towards her even when sleeping.

So, she settled back into his arms and buried her nose back into his chest fur. His scent once again pulling her back into a relaxed state between the waking world and the land of dreams.

KNOCK KNOCK KNOCK

‘Seriously.’ She thought. Judy had no desire to move from her current position. The cold of the day was still nipping at the parts of her exposed to the open air. Nick’s rich and luxurious fur was marvelous at keeping everything it touched warm. Maybe whoever it was would simply-

KNOCK KNOCK KNOCK

Whoever is standing outside their door was… Their door. Judy smiled at the first time she thought of anything as theirs. Still she needed to see who it was that was bothering them. Trying to wiggle her way loose from Nick’s arms once more she was met with the same resistance.

“Someone’s at the door.” She pleaded. Her cries were met with mumbling. “Nick, you need to let me go.”

“Min gulrot.” She heard him slur before finally escaping his grasp. She stood just outside his reach for a second and watched as he seem to look for her with his arms before finally settling down again. Still feeling the urge to close her eyes and crawl back into her personal fox blanket, Judy turned her tired eyes towards the door and forced herself in that direction. When she finally made it to the dreaded contraption she breathed a heavy sigh before pulling it open.

“Oh! Hey guys!” Her expression brightened upon seeing who was at her door. “What are you doing here?”