Once there was a small country known as Lennonsire, a small place that had lived in peace with its neighbors for generations. The country was mostly a forest, having a few scattered villages here and there with small farms generally clustered around the small towns. One was village known as Fallwood, the center of the Lennonsire and so nestled deep inside the thick surrounding forests and glades. Fallwood was a quaint little village, although it could really have been considered a small city. As it was the center of the country, it received people from all parts of the world, making the village roads often busy and very often crowded with travelers from every imaginable walk of life.
Merchants lined the streets, trying to sell their wares to any passerby that happened by their stands. The colorful cloth covered stands stretched to the very edge of the village, but the merchants never went outside the protective surroundings of the buildings for fear of the outlaws and thieves that lived in the forest. All around people lived and worked and played, making the town square quite a sight to behold. Small cubs laughed and squealed as they chased each other through the milling crowds of people that came to do business in the market. The pack animals pulling carts of goods grunt in surprise as an over-zealous cub makes a mad dash across their path and the driver shouts at the little one to watch where he is going. People haggle the merchants, trying to get the best price for their goods. Pushing, shouting and elbowing, people of all ages clutter the street almost shoulder to shoulder, cutting off any hope of traveling through. The chaos is homey though, hinting at a place that had lived and grown in peace.
Outside the hustle and bustle of the market, the homes and the shops of the village begin. The streets are not as crowded or loud as the market street, but the goods are still as good as the ones in the market. Homes spring up out of the top of the shops, making the streets look like it is walled in, and giving the street the sound of a cave. People hustle and bustle about, doing their business with the same gusto as the market street goers. Cubs run up and down the street, sometimes the more mischievous of them taking a cooling pie off a windowsill. The butchers and the bakers present their goods to the people, their simple cloth stands built out of their shops.
Just outside the protective confines of the noisy village, small niches were cut into the thick forest to serve as fields. The farms were usually small, as the owners never had the time to keep up the constant battle with the forest, nor the money to hire somebody to help them. Many of the farmers ended up losing the battle, and the forest foliage often reclaimed the small farms in less than a year. It was in one of these niches that a small cub by the name of Darien grew up.
Darien was of the family Greenwood, but parents had died when he was very young, leaving the young kit with nobody to look after him. Fortunately, a young couple that could not have cubs of their own found him and adopted him, giving Darien both a home and someone to call his mother and father. Their family name was Ridal, but insisted as soon as Darien was old enough to understand that he should still be called Greenwood, in honor of his dead parents. Many of the villagers had trouble believing that Darien was a son of Ridal, and many times Darien was called a liar when he was asked who his parents were and he pointed them out. Altogether the three of them did made an odd looking family, especially around the time of Peace, when the three of them all sat together on the floor of their cottage, opening gifts together. It made quite a scene: two wolves helping their yearling kit tear through the brown paper wrappings, scattering tattered bits of paper all around. Finally, the young kit coming up with a new toy or shirt or such, covered from the end of his nose to the tip of his tail with paper and string. Still, Darien grew up happy and the villagers soon became accustomed to him and his family. But, whenever somebody called Darien Ridal, he corrected them, true to his word to his adopted parents.
Adrian, Darien's father, was a farmer by trade, and he spent every day from sunup to sundown working his fields. The only days he was ever home were the holidays, the time of Peace and the first of the year. All others he worked, determined to make a good life for him and his family. Layla, Darien's mother, was a housewife so, while Adrian worked in the fields, she stayed at home with Darien, watching the cub and keeping the house in order. Darien would often cry to his mother, as he sometimes never saw his father for days on end. Layla would simply smile and pat his head, then tell him that his father would come around eventually. At night, Darien would stay awake, using his keen ears to listen in on his parents as they got into heated arguments over Adrian's prolonged absence at home. They whispered as quietly as they could, trying to prevent the sound from carrying and waking their son, but the look of tension on Layla's face as she tucked him in was enough to keep Darien up to try and hear what was wrong. Eventually the arguments stopped, and Adrian began appear around the house more often, to the delight of his little son.
Finally, when Darien reached the proper age, his father took him out into his fields, to help do some of the work and support the family. At first, all Darien could do was plant the seed and sometimes help pick the crops. His father pushed him hard though, expecting his son to be able to do the work that every wolf cub his age could do. Being a fox, Darien was at a natural disadvantage and all he could do was try to keep up with his father. Everything that his father made look so easy was almost impossible for the young kit to do, but he did his best in the hopes that one day he would be able to do the jobs with such ease.
* * * * *
Almost at the same time that Darien began to work in the fields, his father came to him with a sword in one hand. "Darien, when I was your age, my own father came to me and showed me how to use this." He gestured to the sheathed sword. "He told me that it has been thus for hundreds of years, that the eldest Ridal should teach his son the art of the blade as soon as he is old enough to work." Darien nodded his head, eyeing the blade as if it was some kind of a deadly snake. Adrian handed the blade to Darien. "Now it is your turn to learn."
Darien held the sword in his small paws, nearly caught off balance by the weight of the blade. The sword was polished and shinning, intricately stenciled with carvings of dragons on the hilt. Adrian turned the sword over in his son's paws as he explained, " This sword was my father's and my father's father's. It has been passed down over the generations, from father to son." He pointed to a silver stone and a small orange gem. "This stone is mine and this one belonged to my father." He pointed out several other small stones in order: red, yellow, blue and ivory, tracing the history of the sword back nearly five generations. "And this," he gestured to a small empty setting on the hilt, "is yours to fill." Darien stared at the setting, placed in the eye of one of the small dragon carvings.
Darien looked at his father questioningly. "What will I put into it?" he asked.
Adrian shrugged. "When it comes to that time, you'll know what."
Darien held the sword in front of himself, rubbing the blade gingerly. "It looks so new…" The blade did in fact look new, hardly showing a single nick or blemish on it.
"The blade is new…. The sword isn't… I broke it fighting off a bandit some years ago. " A look of guilt crossed his father's face. "He tried to rob us on our way into town and I had to defend what we had…. " Adrian's eyes lost focus for a moment and he seemed to go back to that day. He clenched his paw into a fist and grimaced as the image came back to him as clear as day. He simply stood there, remembering the face of the thief, his voice and, finally, the fight. The life came back to his eyes and he noticed the worried stare that Darien was giving him. He put a stout paw on his son's shoulder, "I pray you keep better care of it then I did."
Darien nodded, watching his reflection in the blade do the same. Adrian laughed and tussled his son's head fur. "Now go on inside. Put up the sword and wash up, dinner will be on soon." He gave the entranced kit a soft push toward the door. Darien nodded again, still staring into the blade of the sword, and hurried off into the house.
Adrian watched Darien go inside, wondering if he was doing the right thing teaching the art of the blade to Darien. It was hard training, even by wolf standards, but for Darien it would be near impossible. His son was strong for his species, but he was, after all, still a fox. And Darien was not his natural son, and so not a son of Ridal. For as long as it had been around, the Art had been passed only inside the family of Ridal. Darien did have a lot of spirit though, and as the proverbs said, "The hands can manage what the heart can handle." Adrian thought for a moment, considering, before deciding that it was the right thing to do. Unless he passed the art on to someone, it would be lost forever. The art was as old as the family of Ridal, and if it died, then it would make the end of the family complete. Adrian and Layla were unable to have cubs of their own, and they were the last of the Ridal. At least if the art were still alive, then part of the Ridal family would live on. Darien was not his natural son, but he would learn the arts and one day pass it on to his own son, just as it had been done for the last five generations. Adrian rubbed his ears thoughtfully, affirmed in his decision.
A faint whisper of cooking meat came in on the wind, followed by his wife's voice calling "Supper!", tickled Adrian's nose and brought him back from his reflections. His mouth watered as he thought of Layla's cooking. His wife was a wonderful cook, better than most of the merchants that peddled off their food on the side of the road. Besides being a great cook, she was as beautiful as a rose and in her day had attracted the attention of every male in town. It was pure good fortune that Adrian had won her hand in marriage. Had it not been for her father's cart throwing a wheel and it then hitting Adrian like a titan's mallet, the two of the never would have met or fallen in love. Adrian thanked the powers to be for the bad wheel and giving him Layla as his wife, before going back to his house for the evening.
* * * * *
Darien swung his sword high, toward Adrian’s face. Adrian leaned back, as the blade passed close enough to split the ends of the fur on his muzzle, then brought his own blade to Darien’s throat before he could regain his gaurd. Darien swatted the blade away with his own, and jumped back a step, then lunged forward with an overhead swing. Adrian sidestepped the attack, and drove his elbow into the small of Darien’s back.
Darien tumbled to the ground, muzzle first. He growled and hopped back up to his foot-paws, and made a quick lunge at Adrian. Adrian swatted Darien’s blade to the side, and gave him a hard kick in the tail end as he stumbled by. Darien yelped and fell to his knees, cradling his tail and whimpering.
“Remember, son: the art is the suppleness and speed of the warrior, not the strength. Use the momentum of your movements to give strength to your attack, not your muscles. “ Adrian hoisted Darien to his foot-paws. “Now, again.”
Darien continued to rub the base of his tail, not even looking at Adrian.
“Again!” Adrian barked. Darien blinked uncertainly, before lunging with his sword. With a lighting quick maneuver, Adrian sidestepped the thrust, and slammed his footpaw into the side of Darien’s muzzle. Adrian made a half wince as Darien’s muzzle cracked from the sheer force of the blow. The kick sent Darien spinning to the ground, where he lay, stunned.
Adrian shook his head and stared down at the young kit disapprovingly. “You’re getting careless, son. You could be dead now, even if I didn’t have a sword.” He buried the point of his blade in the dirt and extended his paw to Darien.
Darien accepted the paw gratefully, and Adrian hoisted him to his feet. “I’m sorry, father.” Darien’s ears laid back and he stared down at the dirt at his footpaws. He rubbed his muzzle experimentally and winced.
“Don’t be sorry. Do it right.” Adrian said, matter-of-factly. “In a fight, there is no room for error.”
Darien nodded, still rubbing his muzzle and staring at the dirt.
“Now, one more time, then you can go and have your mother look at that…”
Darien nodded numbly, and moved back into a fighting stance.
* * * * *
“Darieeeeeen.” Layla cupped her paws around her muzzle to let the sound carry far enough to reach her son.
Darien turned from the flock of birds that he was watching and scampered back to the house, his small foot-paw catching on a jutting rock and almost sending him sprawling. Darien regained his stride, and padded up to his mother. “Yes?” He tilted his head questioningly.
“I have something for you…. But you have to promise to take good care of it.” She smiled and reached into the folds of her breeches. “I think now that you’re working and training, you’re probably old enough to take good care of this.”
“Ooh! What is it??” He leaned forward, eyeing his mother’s paw excitedly.
Layla opened her paw, revealing a small pendant. It was shiny and shaped like a tear, deep green in color. She patted his head as she gently draped it around his neck.
Darien lifted the small pendant, eyeing it curiously. “What is it?” he repeated.
“We found that with you… when you came to live with us.” Layla replied. “We lifted you up and it fell out of your blankets. It’s called a maiden’s tear, I believe.”
Darien looked a bit confused, glancing from the pendant to his mother and back again. “What’s that?” He turned the pendant over in his paws, and sniffed it incredulously.
“Umm…” Layla rubbed her ears thoughtfully. “I’m not entirely sure. It’s a fox tradition, I think. The maidens left behind gave these to their leaving warriors, for luck and to remind them of what they had left behind.” She smiled again and rubbed Darien’s white muzzle gently. “Now I’m giving it to my little warrior.”
“Awww…. “ Darien pushed away his mother’s paw, grinning and blushing.
Layla giggled and tussled Darien’s unkempt headfur. “My son….” She smiled and licked the end of Darien’s muzzle. “Growing up so fast…” She patted him on the bottom. “Run along, now. Your birds are getting away!”
Darien grinned and rushed off, tail high and growling at the receding flock of birds. Layla smiled as she watched him paw at the sky, as if his tiny paws could reach high enough to catch his prey.
* * * * *
Darien continued to grow, and his body grew into that of a warrior, through training and work. He had a quiet nature, however, since the life of a farmer and the training of a warrior did not allow much time to build relationships. He always walked with a firm gait, and carried the same look of gentleness in his eyes, and very few who met him found a reason to dislike him. He grew as comfortable with his sword as any part of his body and wore it proudly, as if it were some great emblem of times long past.
Darien’s training was reaching its end, and Adrian was harder pressed every day to keep from being beaten by his son. Darien was finding it easier and easier to keep up with his father in his work, and took some small measure of pride in knowing he was getting better.
On his 13th season, around harvest time, Darien, Adrian and six other neighbors were working in the field, rushing to get the last few bushels of grain cut before the rains came. Darien made the final swipe with his sickle, quickly tied the bunch of grain and tossed it up into the massive bin on the produce wagon. He let out a tired sigh, and rubbed a paw on his forehead, trying to let some of the cool evening air under his fur and down into his broiling skin.
It started out quietly; so quiet that even Darien with his sensitive ears could not hear it. The sounds quickly got louder, until everyone heard the final crack of the wagon’s axle. Darien turned, and managed a small cry of horror as the massive bin tipped over and fell off the wagon, right on top of him.
Everyone was stunned at the sight and nobody moved, until Adrian screamed “Get it off of him!” Instantly, they all moved in, grunting and straining to get the bin off Darien.
After several minutes of effort, the men backed away, exhausted from straining against the weight. Adrian continued to try to lift it himself. “Get back here and help me!!” He yelled back to the others.
No one moved, until Adrian felt a strong paw on his shoulder. “Adrian…. He’s gone.” Maxim, the rabbit, patted his friend gently and tried to lead him away from the side of the bin.
Adrian closed his eyes and growled. “I’ll not leave until this is off him, dead or not.” He turned to Maxim, a glimmer of pain in his eyes. “We’ll need more hands…”
Maxim nodded, and ran off, clearing half of the field’s length in three bounds.
Adrian turned again to the bin and leaned against it, his muzzle resting on his folded arms. Nobody said a word, knowing Adrian to have a short temper and a firm dislike of sympathy toward him.
Adrian closed his eyes again, and whimpered quietly to himself.
Suddenly, he jumped back in disbelief. “Moved??” He thought to himself. He stared at the bin incredulously, wondering if it was his imagination, or if it had actually happened.
The neighbors stared at Adrian, wondering if he was going mad, until the bin jostled a bit more. Slowly, almost painfully slow, the bin began to rise, until they could see Darien underneath, covered from head to tail tip in black dirt, straining against the weight. Slowly, he made his way onto his knees, then to his footpaws and the bin rolled off his back neatly.
Darien stood up shakily and managed a small, tired smile. Slowly, he began to tip over backwards until he fell, out cold. Adrian quickly ran to his son’s side, and lifted him in his arms. No one else moved. They were all staring at the ankle deep indentations Darien had left in the hard-caked dirt.
Adrian began to carry his son home, and finally the others began to move, following behind the two as they made their way back home through the gathering twilight. No one spoke; they simply kept staring at the kit in his father’s arms.