A Swing at the Mule

by Oberon Snowcat

I looked up at my ceiling and luxuriated in the feeling of a clean bed under my back. Yesterday after I had gotten back from our raiding mission I had spent more than an hour in the bath-house cleaning all of the blood from my fur until the white and black stripes almost shone.

I looked over at the clock on my desk and then realized that I had to get up quickly because I really didn’t want Caroline to come in on me while I was still wearing nought but my fur.

We had both agreed that she was to come by here at nine-o-clock in the morning and it was already eight fifty-five. I quickly shrugged into a basic kilt and tunic before there was a knock at the door. I quickly opened the door and found myself standing over the otter morph just as she was in the act of raising her hand to knock on the door again.

“Good morning! I am on time and ready for my fitting!”

I managed to smiled before I said, “I’m glad to see that someone around this place believes in showing up on time. Come in, come in.” I gestured with one of my hands inviting her into my apartment. “Pardon the mess I just got up, I was enjoying my bed this morning, much better than a tree trunk in the forest while the commander makes plans with Finbar the ferret.”

Caroline stepped into the room before she turned and asked me “Why exactly do I need a fitting for a sword?”

“Like I told George my weapons are custom built for their wielders, they are exactly balanced for the use of the person who contracts me to forge them. For instance have you seen the set that I made for Misha?”

She nodded her head “Fine weapons! What exactly do you want me to do? Just hold still?”

“Yes that is exactly want I want you to do. But come on into my forge and I’ll take care of it all as quickly as I can.” I led her past my desk with the clock and my journals on it. I noticed her looking at the clock and joked “Like my clock?”

She laughed and wiggled one of her ears before she replied, “It looks familiar. Did my cute foxy make that for you?”

“Yes he said that it was one of his collaborations with one Will Hardy, the Keep Jeweller.” Caroline let out a delighted chitter before she said

“You mean my father Will Hardy! That’s how Misha and I met in the first place.”

“Are you meaning to tell me that you met Misha when he started working with your father making these clocks?”

The otter nodded her head “Yes he came into my father’s shop looking so handsome in his armour.”

I smiled and pointed at my own armour which was sitting on its rack in the corner of my forge “What do you think of that armour over there?”

She glanced over at the flat black armour before she replied, “Good looking. Not as handsome as Misha’s. Is there anything special about it?”

“Well other than the fact that I made it myself more than thirty years ago there area few things about it that make it better than your standard armour. Even though I’ve had to repair it more times than I can count during my time as a mercenary. It is actually superior to most types of armour that I’ve run into though there are probably some kinds out there that are better. I picked up the chest and back piece and held it out for Caroline to see. She reached out with a hand and stroked the left metal chest plate

“It’s certainly seen some hard use, and it’s held up very well considering all that it’s been through.”

I turned around and placed the armour back on its rack, picked my measuring string off of its hook in the wall and asked Caroline “Can you hold out your arms so that I can get a good measurement of your arms, hands, and body?”

She held out her arms and tried to remain still as I quickly measured her arms, her hands, and her height before I went over to the wall where I had several spare short-swords and picked one off its hooks before I handed it to her.

“How does this weapon feel? It’s not really designed for you but it might be relatively close to your requirements. If you want you can use it until your own weapon is ready.”

She unsheathed the weapon and tested it in her hand before she said, “The balance is good but the weight is a bit too much for my liking. Would you let me try another?”

I took the sword from her and replaced it in its scabbard before I re-hung it and looked around at my collection, finding two likely candidates I pulled them down and held them out to her. They were both old weapons that I had forged many years ago when I was still back in my homeland.

She tested both weapons before she held out the one that I was most proud of and said “Both of these weapons are fine swords but this one here feels about right for me.”

I grinned and handed her the scabbard and belt that went with the weapon.

She sheathed the blade and strapped the belt around her waist before I stated

“When I get your weapons finished I will need a way to contact you.”

“I’m always at the Long House. If you can contact Misha just leave a word with him.”

“Ok now that that’s out of the way when can I expect to receive payment for your new blade?”

“How about half tomorrow and the rest when you’re done?”

“That is acceptable Caroline, I trust you because I believe that you have a sense of honour like your consort, Misha.” She smiled and then leaned over and planted a small kiss on my muzzle just below my sensitive nose pad

“Thank you Oberon.” I felt the blood run up the insides of my ears and to the tip of my nose before I replied

“It’s not really a big deal.”

She shook her head “Honour means a lot to me and Misha, even if he’ll never admit it openly.”

“That was the first thing that I admired about your consort, his sense of honour.”

“Thank you. Misha loves to play the outsider with no honour sometimes, but even George has honour of a sort.”

“That old cutlass, I’ve known that old man for longer than you would believe.”

“You knew him before he came here?” She asked “I think that old bandit knows everyone.”

I laughed at her expression “We met back more than a decade ago while we were working off in the Pyralin Confederation messing around with the removal of some nobleman.”

She shook her head “Nothing surprises me about that old jackal anymore.”

“I can tell you one thing, that guy has definitely been around the Midlands for a long time.”

“Misha says that George has been everywhere and done everything.” She explained. “And I believe him completely.”

I laughed slowly before I said, “One of these days you’ll probably find me and George at the Deaf Mule sitting around trading old war stories for the fun of it.”

“Now THAT is something that I’d love to listen to. George can really tell some great stories.”

“I have my own fare share of stories, more than fifty years of warfare will give you a lot of stories to recount.”

“I bet! You have to tell them to us someday.”

I moved around her and hung the other sword on its hook before I pointed out “Well right now I believe that I have to go shopping for some iron because,” I indicated the barrel that I used to hold my iron supply, which was notable because it was empty “, I currently am out of the stuff and it’s hard to make swords without iron.”

She wiggled an ear before commenting “Thankfully iron is cheap here. There are several iron mines in the south of the valley.”

“How good is the quality though?”

She shrugged “I don’t really know iron, but Misha uses the local iron a lot and he’s happy.”

“I’ll take that as a recommendation, never the less I will take my own testing fork with me. Now if you don’t mind I need to get dressed properly so that I can go out in public. I indicated my thrown on clothing with a hand while I used the other to pick my testing fork off of its wall hook.

“All right. No harm in being safe and testing what you buy. Misha does it to. He always says ‘if I’m spending all this money I want to be sure of what I am getting.”

“Well that is the way I am.” I told her as I exited the forge and headed for my closet. “I’ve seen far too many people who will take something at face value. Personally I’ve been around for far too long to fall for something like that.”

She nodded at my wisdom before she headed out the door “I’ll see you later Oberon.” she chirped closing the door behind her.

I shook my head to clear some of the thoughts from my head. That was one good looking female, but she was already spoken for in that respect.

Once I was dressed I made my way to my usual breakfast spot where I made quick work of my breakfast before I headed down to Euper to see if I could find myself a supplier of iron for my forge.

After twenty minutes I found myself in front of shop that advertised that it was ‘Mack’s General Supplies, Where People come when they want something.’

I stepped through the door and found myself facing a small rodent of a man with a clearly avaricious look on his face.

He looked up and me and put on a pleasant expression before he said, “Good morning sir! How may I help you today?”

I look him up and down and finally answered him in a business-like manner. “I’m looking for roughly fifty pounds of high quality raw iron.”

“Raw iron I have. It comes in 5 pound bars at 2 suns per bar.”

“Can I see what you have? I want to test these bars myself for quality.” I said as I pulled out my testing fork.

“Of course sir.” He shouted into the back room summoning a young boy who he told to watch the shop. Then he said “If you’ll follow me sir.” before he made his way into the back room which was full to ceiling with various things.

I looked around in the dim light of the back room, not that that was really a problem for me, before I located the bars of iron in a barrel, much like my own, and stepped towards them.

“Feel free to examine them. I have only the finest stock in the whole of Euper.” He boasted.

I picked on of the bars out the barrel and struck it with my fork, and then folded my ears at the sour tone that the fork produced.

“What are you trying to do to me?”

“What?” the little man exclaims. “You think that there is something wrong with these bars.”

I sighed before I explained “My testing fork never lies about the quality of the iron that it hits.” He smiles

“That metal is fine for ordinary objects but if you want high quality that will cost you more.” He pointed over to a second barrel that contained more metal bars. “Try the bars in that one.”

I moved over to the indicated barrel and picked out a bar and struck it with the fork and then grinned, much to the discomfort of the merchant, at the pure tone that the fork produced. “That is more like it merchant.”

He smiled “I told you sir – only the best. You may choose which bars you want sir.”

I quickly tested and selected fifteen bars, five more that I had originally intended and placed them in a pile before I turned and asked the man “I was wondering if you also have access to a supply of anthracite coal?”

He twitched his whiskers before cautiously responding “That’s a little harder to obtain then good iron as there is none in the valley, but I have some. It’s becoming more popular among the local smiths. Would you like to see some?”

“Certainly good merchant, but I warn you I know the difference between high quality anthracite and lower quality coal.”

“Would I try to cheat a killer like you sir?” He asked me as he led me deeper into the store room.

“For your sake I certainly hope not.” I replied in a tone that was as frosty as the water in the Metamor River.

He turned on me “Sir!” he answered coldly “I have my honour and find that mildly insulting that you would think that I’d cheat you.”

“I’ve run into many merchants in the past thirty years who would think nothing of cheating someone just to get more money.” I replied as he led me to where a dozen barrels were resting

“All too true. But NOT me! Feel free to examine my wares. You’ll find no cheating here.” He pointed at the barrels and said “Here is the hard coal that you wanted.”

I pried the lid off of the first barrel and pulled out a chunk of lustrous black rock and tried to scratch it with one of my claws. It didn’t leave a mark on the rock. I dropped the hunk of coal back into the barrel and turned and smiled before I said, “I apologize for the perceived insult good merchant. I can see that you have good quality products here. I would like four of these barrels of coal as well as my previously selected iron.”

“Fair enough. The iron is 3 suns a bar and the coal is four suns a barrel. Do you want it delivered? For a small fee of course.”

“Yes I would like it delivered to my apartment in the keep.”

“All right. There will be a fee of four suns for that sir. I will require some payment before I deliver anything.”

“From my calculations your total price comes to sixty five suns, but the best that I can do is sixty suns.”

He looked at me his eyes narrowing in thought before he replied “For a warrior like you I’ll offer all these great products for only sixty-four suns.”

“Sixty-four suns, come on you can do better than that. How about sixty suns and a moon.”

“I have a family to feed! You want my children to STARVE? 63 suns.”

“How can you be flat broke when you have all of this stuff? I’ll give you sixty-two, but don’t ask for a penny more.”

“I am not poor but my children cannot eat coal and iron! But sixty-two does sound fair.”

I grinned at him and held out my large hand for him to shake on the deal. “Fair enough sir!”

He extended his hand and shook my hand. After a swift shake of hands I reached into my belt pouch before I asked him “Do you mind if we go to the front of the shop so that I can count out the coins?”

“All right.” He replied before he began to make his way back to the front of the shop with me following close behind him.

When we got there I pulled out some coins and placed them on the counter. Since my last time with monetary confusion I had exchanged all of my foreign money for local currency for the sake of expedience.

I counted out six garrets and a sun before I said “You’ll get the rest when my supplies arrive at my room.”

“Good! You are a fair trader sir! It’s been a pleasure doing business with you.”

I smiled slowly and then handed him a piece of paper “Those are the runes that you will find on my door. By the way how long will it be until these materials arrive? I have to begin work with them as soon as I get them.”

“This afternoon soon enough for you?”

“Yes that will be fine, the earlier the better. I have two contracts to fulfil as soon as I possibly can.”

He nodded before he said “I understand; each person here has his own business that he would like to get taken care of as quickly as possible.”

I nodded in response as I left his shop and headed back to the keep whistling as I went. On my way back to the keep I ran into a messenger who looked up at me and said

“Sir I have a note here form George the Patrol Master for you.”

I nodded and took the note out of his hand and placed it into my belt pouch before I said “Thank you and have a nice day.”

The messenger smiled and headed on his way while I continued on my way. When I got back home I broke the seal on the note and read the contents.

Adòn Naharél I request your presence in my office at nine-o-clock sharp tomorrow morning in my office.

George, Patrol Master, Metamor Keep

I nodded my head. I guess that this meant that George was once more going to change my assignment to suit his own needs.

There were times where I just wished that he would make up his mind where he wanted me to be. I shook my head and sighed before I removed my cloak and placed it on its hook, flung the letter on my desk, and sat down to write something in my journals.

Several hours later I was writing down recent events in my journal. I had a habit of keeping everything down on paper, even though paper could be expensive in some places, when there was a knock on the door. I went to open the door and found a young woman standing there pushing a large cart.

“Sir my father sent me here to deliver the materials that you purchased at our store earlier in the day. I also have to pick up the rest of the money for this stuff.” She indicated the cart which was loaded down with the four barrels of coal and the fifteen bars of high quality iron that I had purchased.

I reached over to my desk and picked up a small leather pouch that contained the remaining coins that I had to pay to the merchant and handed it to the woman before I picked up all fifteen on the iron bars and carried them through my living area into the forge room.

Then I returned to find the young woman carrying one of the four barrels of coal though my room along the same path I had taken.

She set the barrel down and then said “If you don’t mind sir I’ll just bring the barrels into the room and I’ll let you place them where you want to.”

I nodded my head and grabbed the barrel where he had placed it on the floor and carried it into my forge where I placed it on corner a good distance from the hearth of the forge. Five minutes later I closed the door, threw off my vest and covered myself with my leather apron.

I lit the furnace and then went back to my journal until the fire was the right temperature. When it was ready I picked up the first bar and placed it in the fire and grabbed the bellows handle. I pumped the handle several times until I saw that the bar had turned bright yellow-white.

Over the next three hours I reduced the size of the metal bar, five pounds was far too heavy to make a sword from. I had finally gotten the right amount of metal and I was beginning to fold the metal to make the blade for the sword that I was making for George.

I looked at the clock in my living area and smiled. I set down the partially finished blade and banked the fires before I threw off my leather apron and put on my vest. Misha would be proud of me for laying aside a piece of work before it was finished. I had already decided that today I would go down to the Deaf Mule and have a couple of ales and throw some darts and knives with Copernicus; after all it had been several weeks since I had been down there.

Though the last time I had been there I had almost demolished the place and that was something that I don’t think that Donnie had really appreciated all that much.

When I got down the to bar Donnie looked up at me and smiled before he said

“I have a drink here that I just created. Do you think that you wouldn’t mind trying it out? Most of the other patrons don’t think that it smells all that good.”

I nodded my head “After all of the damage I caused the last time I came in here I should try and do something for you besides washing dishes.”

He laughed at my comment before he placed a glass mug on the bar, one side the mug was made for a person we possessed a muzzle, and poured a brownish green concoction into the mug.

Even from where I was standing my nose told me that whatever was in that mug was going to be absolutely heavenly. When Donnie finished mixing the drink I picked it off of the bar and made my way to the table near where Copernicus was shooting darts.

“Cope did you want to shoot against me tonight?”

He looked over at me in surprise before he said “I’ve missed the challenge that you normally present to me.”

We played a single game, this time he won, but sooner or later I was going to beat this lizard at his own game.

Now that I didn’t have to worry about what the drink would do to me I sniffed it and whoa this was powerful stuff whatever it was because I was getting buzzed on the fumes of the drink alone. I took a swig and all I can say about that is wow this stuff was gooood. I don’t know what it was about the stuff but I seriously liked it and it didn’t take me very long to polish off the rest of the drink.

I actually stood up to go over to the bar but I just about fell on my face as I prepared to take a step so I sat down again, to be joined at my table by the swimming faces of Drift, George, Caroline, Jack and Copernicus.

“Are you ok Oberon?” Jack asked me

“I realllllyyyy don’ knooowww.” I managed to say.

After that the rest of the evening was concerned my memory was a hazy muddle of fumes from the one drink that Donnie had concocted for me.

The one moment I can recall is the feeling of being hugged by someone who was telling me that it was all right and that I had as much right as anyone else in the keep of having these problems.

George came into the bar and looked over at the dartboard where his friend Oberon was shooting darts with Copernicus. George picked up an ale and headed over to where the tiger had placed his drink.

Gods that drink smelled something terrible. Why in the name of Eli had Donnie given Oberon that drink? Considering the fact that this drink smelled like crushed grass and water.

When Oberon finished his game, which he lost by the smallest margin he picked up his repulsive smelling drink and took a stiff swig. From the expression on the feline’s face George could tell that whatever was in that mug was definitely to Oberon’s taste.

The cat sat down beside George and looked over at the jackal owlishly before he took another swig from him mug. Soon they were joined by Drift, Jack DeMule, Caroline and Finbar. Jack looked at George for a second before he asked

“How are you doing today George?”

George sighed before answering “Well I had to go through all of the information that we gathered from raiding that lutin encampment yesterday. That was balls of fun.”

Then the two of them looked over as Oberon slammed his mug down onto the table and stood up, somewhat unsteadily, before attempting to walk over the bar.

The big cat caught himself before he fell on his face and then returned to that safety of the chair that he had been sitting at

“Are you ok Oberon?” Jack asked in concern

“I realllllyyyy don’ knooowww.” the big cat slurred as he looked around the table owlishly at those who were sitting around it. “I haven’ sat at a table with friens for a very long time.”

For some reason the big fellow’s speech was actually improving.

Caroline’s ears pricked up and she asked, “How long has it been Oberon?” her voice showing some mild concern

“Thirty years, six months, and four days. That’s how long its been since I was at a bar in my homeland sharing a drink with my friends and family.”

George shook his head before he asked “Why have you gone and done that to yourself when you could’ve easily found yourself comradeship in any place on the continent?”

“Do you have any idea what it’s like to constantly lose friends?”

George saw something like a feeling of pain remembered cross Drift’s face at Oberon’s question. He also noticed another expression, this one of conviction and determination. George knew that look, he had seen it before and he pitied the one who was the object of that look.

“Can you imagine constantly going through life losing friends, family, and comrades? Trust me being alone is much better than going through your life in a constant state of bereavement.”

George looked over at the big guy before he commented “I do know about this Oberon. I’ve lived to this old age, but most of my friends and comrades haven’t. I doubt that even my brothers and sisters are still alive.”

“You can’t spend forever alone Oberon,” Caroline added. “A person needs friends!”

George watched as Oberon looked around the table and then put his head into his hands before he finally said “I guess that is true, you have no idea what it has been like, the past thirty years, all alone with no one that I could afford to befriend because of the risk of them ending up dead.”

Caroline tenderly rubbed the back of Oberon’s neck “We’re all a lot harder to kill off then you might think, and you cannot stay alone forever or you’ll go mad!”

Oberon looked up at the otter morph before George saw something that he thought that he’d never see in the eyes of the tiger. The man was crying, that really shook George. This man was really a human being no matter how much he sought to hide it. George could see that Caroline was unsure of what to do, but then she made up her mind and hugged the large cat “Hush, You’re among friends. Everything will be all right.”

George heard the cat sigh before Oberon said, “I know, and for the first time in more years than you can count I feel good about it.”

George commented, “You’re stuck here my friend. So you have us all as your friends whether you want it or not.”

The big tiger’s reply was, George later figured, completely out of character for the feline warrior “I would really appreciate that.”

Finally George figured it out, must be the drink talking. Since he was wondering about it so much about what had been in the drink he stood up and went over and asked Donnie

“What did you put in that poor feline’s drink anyways?”

Donnie shrugged. “Oh a little extra something to make him relax. I didn’t think that he would relax THIS much.”

“A little extra WHAT?”

George asked getting a little exasperated with the bull morph bartender. “Catnip.” Donnie replied

“You gave him catnip, aren’t you aware of its effects on felines?” George asked shaking his head in wonder.

“Sniffing it is like drinking it, isn’t it? I have several feline customers who sniff it so that they can relax.”

“I get the impression that sniffing it is much less potent then ingesting it. When he ingests it, it stays in his system for much longer. I just hope that he doesn’t throw that stuff up.”

Donnie looked at concern over at the feline slumped over with his head in his hands before he said, “Are you sorry that I gave it to him? Oberon needed it, he needed to relax and unwind, and he wouldn’t do it without help.”

George shook his head “No I’m not sorry that you did it Donnie but next time, dilute it down seventy or eighty percent, so that he is still in control of his faculties. He will eventually pass out from this dose.”

“If not the catnip then all the alcohol that he’s been drinking will make him pass out.”

“How much did he drink before you gave him that?”

“Well he had the look of a person who came here to get drunk. If that drink doesn’t knock him out the two dozen that follows certainly will.”

“I don’t really think that he needs anything else to drink Donnie. Oh by the way can you wake him up tomorrow at half past eight in the morning. I think that I’ll rejoin my comrades over at the table and see if I can give more comfort to our broken down cat.”

“He can sleep in one of my rooms. He won’t be the first one.”

George walked back to the table where the rest of them were and sat down before he asked, “How’s he doing now?”

“Sinking fast.” Caroline explained. “I don’t think that he’ll be awake much longer.”

“What’s he been saying?”

“He was talking about his family and friends from his homeland. How someone wiped out his entire clan,” Finbar said being quiet for a change. “He was crying pretty hard, that is something that I’ve never seen him do.”

Jack looked over and went on “It sounds like he’s had a hard life.”

“He has,” George commented. “He’s lost his whole family.”

Drift looked over at George and quietly said, “I know what that is like. From my point of view it’s probably the worst thing that can happen to a person.”

“No wonder he doesn’t want anyone to get too close to him. He’s afraid of losing them too.” Caroline commented from where she was sitting beside the nearly comatose tiger.

They all nodded before Copernicus who had been shooting darts with someone else leaned over the table and asked, “Can you imagine a life where you are constantly afraid that you will lose all of the people that you care for?”

Finbar shook his head. He was uncharacteristically sombre. “I can imagine losing my mom. I’d go crazy.” Just then there was an audible thump and they all turned to see the big black and white tiger face down on the table snoring lightly.

“And megakitty is down for the evening!” Finbar said sarcastically returning to his normal form of talking.

George shook his head before he pointed out “I guess that we’d better tell Donnie to drag this big guy’s tail up to a room for the night.”

“Maybe we’d better do it,” Caroline suggested. “He is our friend.”

Finbar laughed “He weighs more then all of us combined. How are we supposed to pick this guy up? Levitate him with a spell? As far as I know none of us is a mage.”

“We’ll get Donnie to carry him. It’s HIS fault that Oberon got this way, so he has to do it. A fitting punishment.” George answered.

They all agreed and then George and Jack went over to Donnie and told him that Oberon was out for the evening. Shortly afterwards George left the Deaf Mule and went to his own apartment where he turned in for the night still thinking of what he had heard from his friend.

I’m not sure how much later it was but the sun was beginning to creep through the shutters when I opened my eyes.

The reason that I awoke was instantly apparent as the sound of someone knocking on the door increased in volume. “Oberon get up I have a message for you.” a loud bass voice shouted from the hallway. The sound of the voice stabbed into my ears like a bar of white hot steel.

I moaned and picked myself up from the bed that I was laying in and stumbled over to the door and opened it. I found myself facing the barkeeper of the Deaf Mule.

He looked straight into my eyes and said, “Last night George told me to get you up early because you have to report to his office this morning.”

I looked at Donnie for a moment trying to sort my fuzzy memories of last night out until I recalled that what the barkeep had said was true.

“What time is it Donnie?”

He looked at me and then said, “It’s just after eight-thirty in the morning.”

I groaned again and then grabbed my belt and cloak which were hanging on a bed-post and headed out of the room

“Aren’t you forgetting something?” Donnie asked me, his eyebrow cocked at me.

I thought for a second before I reached into my belt pouch and tossed him a silver moon. “Keep the change Donnie.” I mumbled as I made my down stairs and out into the street.

I slowly made my way, with a pounding head towards George’s office. When I got there I closed the door and said “Reporting as ordered.” I told George while keeping my ears plastered to the back of my skull to keep the louder more painful sounds out

“You’re late,” George replied coldly.

“Well you have that krachendra of a barkeeper to blame for that. By the three forsaken ones what was in that drink that he gave me?”

“If you have a hangover there is no one to blame but yourself.”

“Well I think that you should blame that barkeep, I’ve never been that looped after consuming just one drink. What did he put in that concoction in that drink anyways?”

“You’ve never heard of Catnip have you?” George answered me with a question

“No I’m afraid I haven’t heard of it.” I answered slowly “What is it?”

George shook his head. “It’s a herb that is normally harmless, but to felines like you it’s like alcohol. A small sniff is like a dozen drinks of strong whiskey.”

“So that’s why that drink that I had went straight to my head. Damn it tasted so very good, I actually wanted more when my mug was empty, though I don’t really remember much after that.”

George laughed. “What part of LIKE ALCOHOL did you not get?” I

placed my hands over my ears before I softly said “Can you please not shout, and would you be kind enough to turn down the lamp a little?” Then I muttered under my breath “That barkeep had better watch out next time I come into his place.”

“NO!” George shouted, I could tell that he was being deliberately loud “Your lack of good judgment is not my problem.”

I growled at the loud sound of his shouting and then instantly regretted it. “What is the purpose of this interrogation sir? If there is a reason behind it please tell me so that I can go home, pour myself into bed, and sleep that awful drug off.”

“Well to be brief, Barbara, your former commander of your first patrol unit was removed from command and that unit needs a new Lieutenant. That new Lieutenant is you.”

I looked at him for a second, my astonishment burned through the haze of the catnip fumes and I asked him “Are you meaning to say that you’re promoting me from a simple scout foot-soldier to an officer after less than three months here at the keep?”

He cocked his head and pointed out “Am I to understand that you don’t think that you can handle this task? Well even if you lack in confidence, I personally think that you are quite capable of this new position.”

I shook my head “It isn’t as though I don’t trust my abilities as a leader it’s that you surprised me sir. Trust me I will do my best in this new assignment sir, though right at this particular moment in time I doubt that I could lead a file of dogs out of an alehouse in my condition. By the way how long will I have to train them before I have to take them out into the field?”

George shrugged “That is up to you to decide but I bet that it will take at least a month or two.”

“OK I will take the job sir. The first thing that I will have to do is to evaluate their current skills. From there I will create a real training program that will address their weaknesses and make them into a halfway competent squad of scouts.”

“Don’t over do it at first Oberon. They are way out of shape. Take your time.

“I will take my time sir, but their training will be tough, I can promise you that much. I’ve never been an easy training officer, but there are many veterans across the midlands that can attest to that. However, those veterans are notable in that they are still alive, which is something that I believe is a result of their training, which I provided.”

“I expect you to be hard, but not too hard. They do need to be seriously shaken up.”

“I will be fair sir, as fair as my instructors were to me more than fifty years ago, though I will have to actually tone down some of their lessons to suit this place and the people that I am training. I can promise you one thing sir. Within a month I will have turned them into a halfway decent squad of scouts.”

“Fair enough. I expect to see some results within the month.”

I saluted him “If that is everything sir may I be dismissed so that I can get some sleep?”

George laughed with a dangerous smile on his face “I’ll be kind. Meet your team tomorrow at six-o-clock in the morning in the Scout Hall.”

“Yes sir.” I said before I turned and dragged my sore aching tail out of the room and headed for my apartment where I could crash into my own bed for some much needed rest.

Some hours later I awoke and looked up at the ceiling. This time my senses weren’t swimming though I was still feeling a little sore, but I could stand that soreness.

After a few more minutes I pulled myself out of bed and got ready for the afternoon. Once I was properly equipped for the afternoon I headed down to the practice field where I could get ready for my unit tomorrow.

As I was walking over to the archery butts with my training arrows I heard a sarcastic voice call out “Well look! The cat is among the living!” I knew that voice. It was Finbar the ferret morph.

I gave him a cold gaze before I growled “Do you want to keep your tongue in your head or would you prefer to hunt it down after I pull it out and throw it over the wall?”

He started to say something but Caroline stepped in front of him, stopping him. “You need to learn more about your new body Oberon. Catnip is something that you need to beware of.”

“Why in the name of the Forsaken Ones did that barkeep ever conceive that it was a good idea to give me that awful stuff in the first place?”

“Well he believed, like some of us here, that you needed to unwind a little and relax.” The otter explained softly.

“Well I was definitely mellow last night, so mellow in fact that I can’t really remember what I did or said after I finished my drink. If I said anything while I was under the influence please disregard it. I have better things to do than to listen to what addle-brained pronouncements that I may have made last night.”

Caroline laughed. “If you had been any mellower you would’ve passed out.”

“I thought that I did pass out.”

“Well in any case we didn’t really mind what you said last night. It just showed that you are indeed a human being under all of that fur.”

“Some of those things are best left in the past where they belong.”

Caroline came over to me and hugged me “We all have parts of our past that we want to forget.”

“I have more things that are to remain private then most; my feelings aren’t something that I really want to become public property or even public knowledge.”

“You can’t keep all of your emotions bottled up Oberon.” Finbar said calmly with no trace of his earlier sarcasm.

“Listen I’ve managed my own feelings in this manner for longer than either of you have been alive, so I think that I can continue to deal with them in whatever manner I see fit.”

Caroline looked up directly into my eyes “You can’t stay bottled up forever Oberon. You are here at the Keep for life, like the rest of us.”

“Well I guess that I will just have to make do with myself as best I can.”

“All right. We all have to live our own lives my friend.” Finbar said in a tone that was at once both pitying and final.

I nodded my head and thanked both of them before I moved to the line opposite the archery target butts with my bow in hand. I had a limited supply of target arrows, but right now they would have to do. I had yet to forge new arrowheads, though I had just recently purchased a good amount of iron I had only just started working on the sword that I had to make for George.

I turned in early that night because I really didn’t feel like going to the ‘Mule and subjecting myself to Donnie’s new concoction. Besides I had some things that I had to take care of tomorrow and they would require my full attention.

"A Swing at the Mule", copyright Oberon Snowcat