Fishing (part 3):
The three mammals sat on the upstream edge of the weir, their legs hanging off the side and swaying over the mill pond. Nick’s claws, which were exposed now that he’d removed his waders, sometimes glanced the water and sending little ripples off into the distance. Both Kits, Judy and Nick, had their old-fashioned fishing poles out and balancing on a railing, letting the lures float out just in case any other fish wanted a bite. With so much fish in Nick’s bag, they’d decided to put most of their bait onto the remaining hooks; they’d have plenty more once they’d filleted today's catch, taken from the heads as well as other leftovers. Even if it weren’t the case, there were always bugs on the farm that were only fit for fish bait. That meant there was no harm in trying to bait one last big catch, though Tarka had joked that they’d likely only get a piddling little minnow or something for all its worth.
Nick and Judy didn’t mind though. The day had been busy for them, Nick tired out from all the fishing he did and Judy from both her earlier experience and the relaxing wash she’d had. Despite being jumpy and excited before, they both thought that a nice it-down in some old chairs would be a good thing before they started on their way back to the burrow. Nick especially.
“Are you sure you…”
“YES!” Judy loudly replied, irritated that, once again, her sense of navigation was being questioned.
“Sure Carrots…” Nick replied. “Sure…”
“And don’t call me that!” she scolded.
“And don’t be so loud,” Tarka hissed at her. “If you want any more fish, you’d better not scare them off.”
Judy blushed slightly, before turning away. “Sorry,” she whispered, to which Tarka nodded.
“Better be,” he muttered. “Least you can do given that you’re using my pond as his larder. When your mother and brothers come over to mill their grain, I’ll be sure to have a word with her about this. I think a bit of a markup is in order, so tell her to bring at least ten-percent more.”
“Yes sir,” she replied again.
A soft quiet filled the air. The waterwheel hadn’t turned all day, while the stream water coming off the moor up above merely flowed near-silent down the overflow channel. Nick, his scout book out, was scanning through the pages furiously until his eyes widened and he turned to Tarka. “Mr Tarka sir,” he said, “I think I found the fish I almost caught.”
“Really?” he asked, turning over in his chair to look at Nick. The Fox kit presented his book out for Tarka to look at and the otter glanced at the picture for a few seconds before spitting on the ground and turning back.
“Barbel,” he grovelled. “No use to me if you caught that. Says so right in there, you can’t eat the roe!”
“Suppose it’s a good thing I didn’t catch it then,” Nick said, sending the older mustelid nodding.
The quiet was broken slightly as Judy yawned, her mouth opening and rotating before gently closing again…
It was broken again as Nick pulled in a huge breath, before his mouth opened up into a huge yawn. His jaws almost at right angles to each other, his tongue pulled itself up like a cobra poised for a strike while his teeth glistened in the sunlight. The yawn kept on going, finally disappearing just as Nick saw fit to bring his paw up to cover his mouth, not that it would do much good. Closing his lips together, Nick blinked a few times before wiggling in his seat, settling further down into it. Tarka looked at him for a few seconds, thinking, before hopping off his chair and scurrying back to his house. “I’ll be just a minute,” he said, and Nick watched him get smaller, before turning and vanishing behind the mill building.
“So….” Judy began, trailing the word out as she thought out her exact wording. “How was your first fishing trip.”
“Pretty great,” Nick proudly replied, a big smile on his muzzle. “I think you could see that when you looked in the catch bag though.”
“Show-off,” Judy grumbled.
“Jealous,” Nick snarked back.
“But, ummm… How are you finding it out here, so far?”
“It’s nice,” Nick replied. “I think I’d like to spend more time here. Explore…”
“Do scouting stuff?” Judy suggested.
“Yeh,” Nick replied. “I mean, I was about to join the Junior ranger scouts when I was told I’d be evacuating out here. I guess that if there’s some in the town I can join them! Though I guess we’ll being doing different stuff to what scouts normally do.”
“Why?” Judy asked, causing Nick to roll his eyes.
“Take a guess,” he suggested. “There’s a big thing beginning with W.”
“Oh…” Judy said, before giggling.
“What?” Nick asked.
“They’d probably be sending you out gathering food and stuff! And firewood, given that coal’s being rationed. Anyway, I heard that the Junior scouts stopped given the war. Sent them all home to do just that.”
“Awww….” Nick sighed.
“Well don’t worry, I heard the normal ranger scouts are still working, and they’re doing more interesting stuff.”
Nick’s ears flicked up, and he turned to face Judy. She couldn’t help notice that his tail was wagging. “Like what?” he asked.
“Well,” Judy began, “my brother Henry has been working a bit with the home guard. He says that they’ve got ranger scouts helping them build things, cleaning up weapons and sending messages and stuff. Apparently some are training up to carry people on stretchers, though it tends to be bigger mammals doing that.”
“Just a shame I have to wait four more years,” Nick complained.
“Well, not if the war ends,” Judy commented.
“Do you think the war will still be going on in four years?”
“Do you?” Nick asked back. “I hope not. I want to see my Mum much sooner than that. I want us to win, but we will won’t we? We’re the good guys, and the good guys always win. Don’t they?”
“Don’t they, Judy…?”
Judy looked away as Nick’s voice trailed off, a worried tone taking over. She hoped they’d win the war, but she couldn’t be sure that they would. She didn’t mind much, her old Grandpa had said that the Cud Reich was a great country. Though that was because both he and it hated predators and, looking at Nick, Judy was pretty certain that she didn’t. She wondered how much Nick, and all the other predators, really worried about losing the war. She was about to ask him when a voice interrupted them.
“Sorry ‘bout that!” Tarka shouted as he carried three big jars, cradled in his arms. He waddled up between the two and placed the jars down between them, before turning up to Nick. “And don’t worry about the good guys not winning. We always do.”
Nick smiled at the comment, only for his grin to fade as Tarka continued.
“Though the real question is, how much do we lose in the meantime? We and our children and their children could all lose, but we’d eventually win as long as we stayed good.”
“Are you worried?” Judy asked. “About what happens if we lose?”
“Not as much as their soldiers should be,” Tarka replied. “They invade, I’m not going down without a fight. I’ll hide in the moors, make their lives miserable… If I don’t kill ‘em, I’ll make it so that they look at Knitler’s ball with envy!”
Nick burst into a snickering giggle, slapping his knee as he hunched over laughing. Judy, not getting the joke, just waited till he finished before speaking.
“What’s in the jars?” she asked.
Nick’s ears flicked up, and he took a sniff. “It smells like beer,” he said. “Is it ginger beer? All adventurers need lashings of ginger beer at the end of the day!”
“Is that in your scouting book?” Judy asked, Nick’s eyelids lowering to half-mast in response.
“No…” he muttered. “It’s in the story books my Dad always read out to us in the evenings. I’ve only tried it a few times before… though it doesn’t actually smell like beer, unlike that stuff. Maybe that ginger beer does have alcohol in it?”
“Alcohol yes,” Tarka replied. “Ginger, no.” He leant down and stuck a cork screw into the top of one of the jars, pulling out the stopping cork with a loud pop. A foam of bubbles, tinged with amber, fizzled out and flowed down the outside. Tarka took a deep sniff and blew down, before lifting the jar up and taking a deep swallow. “Apple cider,” he proudly boasted, before pushing it towards Nick.
Taking a few exploratory sniffs, the fox lifted the jar up and took his own taste, only with widely different results. His face winced up into a disgusted scowl, his tongue flopping out almost to its entire length, all while Tarka just scoffed.
“City boys…” he muttered. “I thought that you all had to drink beer and stuff as the water was too filthy to trust!”
“Noooo….” Nick grunted. “And the stuff the landlord down the road sneaks me doesn’t taste nearly as bad as that!”
“PAH!” Tarka huffed, before pushing over the jar to Judy. “You try it, show the city boy that we country-folk can hold our stuff!”
Judy’s nose twitched at the jar, and she carefully took a little sip. Sucking her lips a bit, she went back for another, larger, sip; before she hauled up the jar and took a great big swig. Nick looked on with wide eyes, while even Tarka had a slight look of concern on his eyes, as Judy finished and placed the clay jar back down. “It’s good!” she commented, before giggling slightly.
“Yes,” Tarka muttered, “just a shame that the one who likes it is a bunny girl who’ll be hopping drunk if she’s not too careful.”
“I’ll be good!” Judy swooned, causing Tarka to grunt.
“Well, be careful. I don’t think you want to go back into the pond, do you?”
“No!” Tarka warned, as he took his jar back and jumped back into his chair. “The answer is no.” He took his own swig of the drink, before placing the jar beside him and settling down.
“Want to hear a story, Fox?”
“Okay Otter,” Nick replied.
“I’m pretty sure you know my name’s Tarka,” Tarka replied, “so enough with that cheek. Not my fault I can’t remember yours, city boy…”
“Do you want this story or not?”
“And my name is Nick.”
“Duly noted,” Tarka replied. The Otter got up in his chair and looked up at the looming mass of the moorland that rose above them. “That there is Emperor’s moor,” Tarka explained, before turning his head and point down the valley. Far in the distance, through the rolling curves of the hills as they cut into the river valley; past a tall, thin and abandoned viaduct and out across the flat farmland that farmsteads like Judy’s made their home on, lay the looming visage of a second moor. Dark, brown, rugged and bare, it loomed large on the horizon. “And that one there is Monarchs Moor,” Tarka continued. “The Roebuck family once ruled them all. Proud, rich and good businessmen. This mill was built by Lord Reece Roebuck for his bastard son Ryan Fitzreece, so he’d live a decent life. Lord Reece’s son, James Roebuck came next. Then Peter Roebuck. Then came the Monarch and the Emperor, and the fall of the Roebuck’s.”
“What happened,” Nick asked, and Tarka chuckled.
“Twins,” he said, with a sense of foreboding. “Frederick Roebuck was born, son of Peter, as was Hugh Roebuck. Peter maintained that, in terms of inheritance, that each one of his sons would get half of his land. The one exception would be if one was ‘clearly more suitable or less’ for the role, and then the superior would get the whole inheritance. Peter died when they were both children and they inherited their own halves aged eighteen, at which point they’d learnt to loathe each other.”
“So, did one try to claim the whole estate,” Judy asked, to which Tarka nodded.
“Both did,” he said. “Frederick was born first, so he claimed that the laws of inheritance worked for him. Hugh, however, used a strong piece of old deer law. Frederick’s antlers had thirteen points, making him a ‘monarch’. Hugh meanwhile had seventeen, a huge number, particularly given that ‘emperors’ only had to have more than fourteen. And so, they set their lawyers against each other.”
“So they spent all their money on lawyers?” Nick asked.
“Some of it. They dragged everything on for so long that it cost a fortune. At the same time, an old law stated that as long as the dispute took place, mining or quarrying was banned on their lands. While other landowners got rich, they got poorer and poorer. They still tried to one-up each other, building great follies, but that just drained what was left. Finally, when the lawyers finally threw out the case, commenting that neither of the bucks was suitable, it came to a duel.”
“Walk ten paces and fire?” Judy asked, as Tarka nodded.
“That they did. And as if god wanted to punish them, both were struck with mortal blows. The land, near worthless due to the debts attached, was given to some granddaughter of Ryan Fitzreece. By this time, steam mills had taken all but the local trade in the business, so the granddaughter sold what was left and invested her money in the new railways. I hear she married, died and her children have a good life. As for the mill, my father bought it and I inherited it.”
The three were quiet after the end of the story. No more fish were caught, and Judy and Nick prepared to leave. It was only as they packed that Nick remembered his catfish trap. The three made their way over, before finding a pleasant surprise in store. A fat catfish, at least the size of the barbel that escaped earlier, was stuck in the trap. Its head dunked underwater and its tail still in the pipe, it filled it all up, blocking any more fishing getting in as it trashed about. Judy, begrudgingly, apologised to Nick while Tarka looked on and smiled happily at the result, saying that keeping the trap would be fair payment for them taking some of his fish. Turning to Judy, Nick said that she’d have to help her bring down even bigger pipes and buckets, so next time one fish wouldn’t clog everything up. Judy mumbled something and together, their days catch in paw, the two began their walk back to the burrow. It may have been the story they’d been told, or just a feeling, but both were more open to each other. Judy listened carefully to Nick when he mentioned directions while Nick did his best not to pester Judy.
They returned home in good time, having (on balance) enjoyed the day, and excited for tomorrow.