Mischievous Blues

May 25, 2011

Ripple frowned at his pennies. Not enough? How could there not be enough! He had… that was a five… and a ten… so… He had twenty-six pennies! How could that not be enough!

His eyes raised up, misery sparkling and dripping down his cheeks, as he beheld his hero in all his colored glory. This was the one. Everyone he knew had one. But it was either a Sunflash, or the Fourth Edition species set… and he needed weapons for those, if he got them…

“What’ll it be?” said Merritt.

Ripple’s lower jaw jutted out.

“I’ll be right back, sir!”

He hobbled off, his pace varying until he found a comfortable stride. Not too fast, not too fast! The grass felt slippery, mushy and warm. He felt much better back inside the coolness of the abbey.

He’d seen Skipper earlier, talking to that over-eager weasel, Noel. The sight of them conniving had made his lip curl in disgust. If he could just get Skipper away for a minute…

He found Skipper walking down the rear hall, to the backside entrance of the main abbey building. He was involved in a boisterous conversation with two other otters, all of them yammering and chortling over something. The weasel was nowhere in sight. Ripple tried to get within hearing range.

“Skip… Skipper! Skip!” Exasperated, Ripple put on a fresh burst of speed. One of his knees popped, and he tumbled. Grimacing and grinding his teeth, he grabbed a door handle and lifted himself back up, managing a few more limping hops. “Skip! Skiiiippeeeeer! Dad!

This succeeded in getting the Skipper’s attention. Seeing Ripple panting and leaning heavily against the wall, he jogged back down the corridor.

“Wot is it? Somethin’ wrong?”

It took Ripple a moment or two to catch his breath.

“Um, no sir. There’s merchants come.” Ripple held up his sweaty paw, displaying his pitiful pennies. “I’m a mark short… Could I have my allowance today, instead?”

“Seems an awful lot there already. Wot’re ye buyin’?”

Ripple frittered, pretending to re-count his pennies as he arranged his appeal. “There’s a new map, sir, it’s got a river. An’ there’s a new deck out as well. But Brother Aloysius tole me to get this rare ole book. For study. An’ if I buy that, I don’t got enough… I been doin’ my chores,” he added.

“Aye, that ye have.” Skipper fumbled in his pocket. “There ye are. Need any help?”

“No!” Oops. Too hasty! “I can carry it all up myself, sir.” Skipper nodded. Ripple admired his new coin. Skipper coughed. Ripple blinked up at him. “Um… thanks…” He deflated a little upon having to say it.

“Get along then,” said Skipper, giving him a pat on the back.

Ripple scurried with great care. As he reached the end of the corridor, Skipper called out. “Oi, Rip!” He turned around, squinting at Skipper’s fuzzy shape. “I’d shore like to read that book when yer done!”

Ripple waited until he was around the corner before uttering a meek “Eep.”

“So that’s five for the weapons pack, fifteen for all of the new starter species, three for the river map, and that includes two bridges; sixty, sorry, fifty for the watercolors… and twenty for Sunflash the Mace second edition. Ninety-seven in all.”

Ripple held aloft his blessed mark. Merritt plucked it out of the air. In that moment, the fur on his nape stood on end: transaction successful! The ferret packaged it all neatly in Ripple’s bag, folding the map with almost over-exaggerated caution. Sunflash the Mace was put directly in Ripple’s paw. He felt light-headed. He blamed it on the lack of shade.

“And here’s your seven pennies…” Merritt’s paw hovered, clenched tight. “Unless there’s something else I can interest you in?”

Ripple quizzed the display again, after glancing at the hare, who shook her head silently.

“I don’t got enough for another character pack, sir,” he said.

“Oh, there’s more than cards here.” Merritt began to open a crate that that Ripple hadn’t even noticed was there. The hare reached over and slapped it shut. Merritt only just pulled his claws out in time.

“Merritt! Just give the lad ‘is pennies.”

They tumbled into his non-Sunflash-filled fist.

“Gee! Thanks, sir, marm.”

Ripple headed back to the doors, only half listening to their ensuing banter.

“Merritt… the bag…”

“Well now, what’ve we got here…”

“What are you doin’? Give it back to ‘im… ‘ere, I’ll do it.”

Inside again, Ripple could have sworn that Sunflash’s stripe glittered as he passed under a window’s honey-fog stream. He could practically hear the creak of the badger lord’s armour, feel the draft of air from the swinging mace…

A touch on his shoulder caused him to jump. Saskia held out his bag.

“You forgot this.”

“Oh… sorry…”

“It’s alright. Just keep your ‘ead on your shoulders next time, wot?”

Ripple blushed and slipped his pennies into the bag. He puttered on in a hurry back to the stairway and began edging his way carefully upwards, sliding the folds of the bag along the banister underpaw. Once in the dormitory hallway, he allowed himself to review his prize again.

There were twelve spikes on Sunflash’s mace. Ripple stuck his tongue out at it. “Daaahh…” Oh, well. Twelve was just as good as eleven, right? It was still the same card in the end.

He flipped it over. Ooh, and they’d added a Skarlath command! No wonder Locria had boasted about it.

Using his trusty friend Skarlath, Sunflash does not have to be beside a chest to equip items from it. However, this can be used only once per turn, for Skarlath needs to rest between –

“Watch where you’re going!”

“Oh, um, sorry.”

Ripple pressed himself against the wall, letting the weasel past.

“Um, hey, Virrel, look…” He held up Sunflash. Virrel craned his head in closer. Realization dawned.


“It’s Sunflash the Mace! Second edition. All colored in!”

“Ah. Right.”

“Ye goin’ to buy yer own packs? They got the new species in. We could start a new game.”

“Maybe. Maybe. Later.”

“Oh. Alright. Bye…

Ripple pondered after the weasel. It was hard to say, but it had seemed like Virrel hadn’t even been impressed.

The eleventh stair from the top creaked. Ripple avoided it, and his leg muscles had no qualms in voicing their annoyance with him for the longer stretch. He was already worn out from chasing after Skipper.

The attic welcomed him. Or at least, he felt welcome here. It had been a library, dusty and somber, always empty, and therefore a perfect place for a sulk in his dibbunhood. After the accident, its charm was even more alluring. No stares, no whispers, no bloody sympathy tuts… Just him, the stacks, the dust, the rafters, the aviary up above… and Brother Aloysius.

Well, even Dark Forest had its toadstools.

It had been easy to convince Skipper to move a bed and some other furniture up. A window in the slanted roof to study the stars, Ripple had pointed out. A long way up from the Great Hall would surely help his recovery, strengthen his legs again. And since it was unfair for him to go all the way down to the gate house for lessons, he could continue his private tutoring under Aloysius right here, without the bat having to flit through the dormitories to find him. It was perfect!

Ripple shuffled through the stacks to his corner and placed the bag on his desk. Privacy was no concern, for the bookshelves separated the entire attic into quadrants. Aloysius would have to make a great deal of noise, flapping over them through the rafters, or else tapping along the ground with his strange crawling gait. Right now the bat was probably asleep, and the aviary was locked down, and so he had the attic very much to himself.

First things first. Ripple reached over his battlefield of a bed and dragged his pillow off, shook the sawdust onto the floor, then placed Sunflash the Mace down with alarming reverence on top. He gave the side a tap so it was centered perfectly.

Then he opened the bag and slid out the map. It was a simple affair, little more than a ten-by-ten grid filled with words: “Grass” filled most of the boxes, with “Wall” arranged strategically throughout. This one was different, with a line of boxes marked “River” running through the middle. Ripple hoped he had enough blue to fill it out. He set about pinning it up on the wall, alongside the rest of them. There was hardly a blank space left. The maps on the walls were forested with pins, each one tipped with a dried bean of a specific color.

With that accomplished, he tugged his habit off, balled it up and tossed it on the floor, and sat himself down in his old wheelchair. He let his body relax for a moment, releasing the stress of his trip downstairs, and rubbed his knees through his pajama bottoms. When he was quite comfortable again, he rolled himself up to the desk.

He pulled open a drawer and took out the folded uniform jacket, all blue and gold in grand Long Patrol tradition. One of Locria’s letters clung to a cuff and fluttered out. Ripple put it back and tucked them deeper inside the drawer. Leaning forward, he slipped the jacket on, tugged it tight down his back, and went to work clearing the mortuary that was his workspace.

He brushed cat fur off the sails of his model sailing ship, re-assessed the snapped foremast and tangled lines, and, with a sigh, scooted it to the far corner. He organized and stacked the star charts and sailing books. The spyglass he dusted off, removing the stains of disuse, and after some consideration tossed it gently onto his bed, aiming for a spot not filled with chunks of wall and shelving. When all that was out of the way, he emptied the bag, setting the cards to one side and tucking the watercolor set in the still-open drawer for later. Which left…

He stared for some time at the item he most certainly had not purchased. His heart quickened, and he glanced around behind him before turning the picture over. After a few minutes he lifted an edge and peeked under it. It was still the same picture. He leaned back.

He couldn’t return it. It was simply not feasible in any manner. Throw it out the window? But then someone might see him, or trace its flight path, make the connections… He settled for sifting it in with Locria’s letters. It was his private drawer, the one Skipper knew was off-limits. It should be safe until he figured out how to destroy it.

If he even wanted to.

Then Ripple’s calm, calculating coolness burst like a dam. A manic grin sent his whiskers splaying and he rubbed his paws together in a positively unsettling manner.

“Time to review the troops! Wot. Wot.”

He tore into the light twine binding his new packs, ripping the knots with his teeth. He bounced in his seat as he arranged them in rows alongside his older cards. His rudder swished merrily. The room surrendered to his imagination, walls falling to reveal smoking plains dotted with snapping standards, the bookshelves behind him a crowd of eager soldiers, frozen in salute as they awaited Commander Eliwood’s verdict.

Someone screeched in the distance, breaking his concentration.

The soldiers assembled into arrays of bleak tomes. The valley’s horizon folded up again, smoke curls hardening back into grains and knots. Ripple grunted in annoyance and pushed away from the desk. He wheeled himself to the window, grabbing his spyglass from the bed as he passed by.

“Wot in ‘ellgates is goin’ on…”

He stood, nosing under the curtain, and tilted his eye against the spyglass to better see the commotion.

Far below on the Abbey’s lawn, some sort of fight was brewing. And then breaking apart. And then brewing again. It was like watching a miniature flock of starlings. Moles ambled in the midst, squirrels skittered, otters galumphed buoyantly. Out of the confusion, a ball shot out, sailing between two chairs that had been placed on the grass. The hedgehog standing between them flung himself in the opposite direction a good second or two after the ball had already passed by. Badgermum Agnes blew a whistle. Someone screeched again. Someone else screeched back. A weasel bounded after the ball. Skipper hoisted a mouse onto his shoulders and paraded him around as half the congregation sulked.

Ripple shook his head. He thumped the window with a fist and growled.

Playing! Skipper was playing! The antics of dibbunhood! Not out looking for Ruslen and the others, not protecting the Abbey…

Something fishy was going on. Everybeast was on edge and, as always, Ripple was left alone in the dark. They knew something he didn’t, and they wouldn’t tell him what it was, not even the dibbuns who always came up to bother him with their pointless news.

They’d given up the search. If he could only do something… If he could ask Locria, if he could get her patrol’s help! Just find word, that would be enough. Had Ruslen and Chamomile survived the winter? Had they run off for adventures? If so, why hadn’t they told him? He wasn’t that much of a tattletale… was he?

But no, there was nothing he could do but wait. He was no more than a dibbun himself. His only power over his world, his immediate access to the postal sparrows in the aviary above, had been shut off from him. All he could do was wait the seasons out and hope the Abbot would change his mind before his friends forgot about him. Maybe they would get the news somehow, and understand his silence.

Maybe they would think he died.

There was no use worrying. It was out of his paws.

He swiveled the chair back to his desk and resumed comparing the new species to his old hare collection.

“Boo,” said a voice behind him, and then it laughed as he jolted out of his chair, cards cascading like snowflakes around him. Ripple shrugged out of his Long Patrol jacket as fast as possible and shoved it under the bed, falling into habit before his brain could catch up and realize he’d already been caught.

“That’s never a good hidin’ spot, y’know. First place anybeast’ll look fer loots.”

Ripple glared up at the little wildcat.

“Yer not allowed in here!” He hissed, keeping his voice low for Aloysius’s sake. He began to collect his cards from the ground. Oh, if any of them got dented! “‘specially without jumpin’ on the creaky step like I tole ye to!”

“Said I was sorry, din’ I?” Bludd looked up at the wall above his bed, as if admiring a job well-done. “‘s not so bad. Wall’s still there. Rubbish place to put things that are gonna fall, though.”

“They’re not s’posed to fall… Or be slept on.”

Bludd snorted and pawed at her nose. She wiped it off on the edge of his desk. Ripple tried not to look.

“Oh,” she said, jigging a little. “I remember now! There’s something I want to show ye!”

“I already know ye can stand on yer head…”

“No, this is much better.” Bludd preened. “Much.”

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