Hazelwood was a murderer. Ketani shouldn’t have let the mouse live. He was a traitor, he killed Hjerral Snowbirch. He started this hawk-forsaken rebellion and would kill Highwhisker and all his heirs, making him guilty of five more murders, even if Highwhisker only considered four mice possible heirs.
Hazelwood knew he was close to Roz, but Highwhisker knew that females couldn’t be the ‘Whisker. It was a law hidden to all mice’s eyes until. They were the ‘Whisker, and he knew never to tell the ancient law to any other. It was as old as Snowwhisker himself.
The laws were rigid. Some might even consider them total walls to change, but that was how laws were. In the court burrow, Ketani hung his head. Even if it meant that your closest friend couldn’t become the ‘Whisker. Unless she beat him in a fight to the death, but he hoped it never came to that.
Leaning into his paw, the chestnut mouse cursed himself. “I can’t do anything right,” he sighed, speaking to himself, “I can’t execute someone who has made it clear he wants to kill like a Frozenmoon mouse and has even went so far to associate himself with them, I can’t tell my best friend that she can’t be the ‘Whisker, and I can’t rule out one mouse to be the next ‘Whisker,” he groaned, rubbing his paw into his furry face. He lifted his brow, and then looked up. His ice blue eyes had a new flare in them.
“Aha!” he shouted, slamming his paw into the top wood block in the Court Burrow. “I need to resolve things. I’ll tell Rozalin. I’ll get that complex dug into at the same time!” He was the ‘Whisker, and that didn’t mean sleeping without the sounds of other mice. That meant he had to organize things. This was his city, not Morlyle’s. He lifted himself from his seat, and started walking down the staircase, twisting around pebbles that were used for each Guilds’ seats in the Court Burrow. The dusty scent was still thick in the air, but this was the Courtroom. It would always be the heart of Wolf Plains, as long as it was there.
Hazelwood could very well be lying, Ketani thought. He could be pulling him on, taking the heirs away so that Ketani could be killed without any heirs, thus killing the ‘Whisker name. But Morlyle was a mouse of his word. He always knew it. But if Hazelwood thought that Rozalin was one of the heirs, she should be sent on the expedition too.
Then there was the thought of Edvard. He had a family, and things happened in the wild. Though Edvard was the most level-headed of them. What better choice than a mouse who could keep a clear mind in his rule? He hopped off the stairway, starting to walk out of the Court Burrow.
Roz lost her temper quickly. He remembered the situation of Renair, who used to be Rozalin’s fellow classmate. Used to be.
The mission could easily be streamlined to three mice.
He stepped out over the ledge of the burrow, and began walking into the grass.
But if he would allow Rozalin, he’d have to let another mouse on. She was younger than Rozalin, and though he rarely saw her around Wolf Plains, she had the same sense of responsibility as Edvard. She’d have to come along too.
“This is temporary, Ketani. Just to get them away until the rebellion was gone,” he murmured to himself.
“Ketani?” Highwhisker swivelled to see Rozalin. His face warmed at the sight of the rosy-blonde mouse. “Yes, Roz?” He looked down at his paws, digging themselves into the dirt. She didn’t hear anything, did she?
“The Burrowers are having a boating competition and,” the mouse said, blinking bright green eyes, “you know. Maybe you’d like to join me. For old times’ sake.”
Ketani grinned. He hadn’t been to a competition in so long, let alone had he been in one. That was the only time that the Burrowers really got celebratory. And Ketani could use a celebration nowadays. “Course I’ll do it, Roz.” He took a step towards the ‘Whiskers Quarters before he stopped. “You do have paddles?”
Rozalin raised her paws and gave him a withering look. “Yeah, Ket. We’re going to win a race without kayak paddles. Course I do!” She stamped a paw on the dirt, and began to jog through the grass. Ketani smiled and followed after her, though she was somehow much faster on two legs than any other mouse he saw.
Mice snuck looks at them, and Ketani heard a young Sewing trainee snicker. “Roz, how many mice are going to be there?”
“The entire city,” she said, shrugging. Rozalin slowed down. She then turned around and grinned, “You haven’t lost your waterpaws yet, have you?”
“Wha-? No!” he said, raising his paws. “I’m not going to get sick at the pond, and don’t you forget it.”
The grass thinned, and revealed the horsefield. It was aptly named, as the four horses were steering clear of the mice on the other side of the field. The smallest one didn’t seem to care at all. The dark brown pony just stood there a few feet from the pond made from melted ice and snow. There was a sheet of ice before it thinned out into water, and some even swam in the near-frozen water for fun.
Ketani wouldn’t do it for the life of him, and that was the reason he like kayaks. They were impossible to flip.
“Great Hawk, you take forever,” Rozalin said, elbowing him on the shoulder.
“I like to think,” he replied.
“Well, by the time you’re done with that, the pond’ll be gone,” Rozalin said, and then dashed for the thistle patch where all the boats were hidden. He waited for her for a moment, and then followed her in. “Ah!” she said, grabbing the only kayak in the storage area, one made from aspen bark so that it was sturdy and birch bark to keep it waterproof. The two spent long hours making and testing the raft, right after Juniper died. Fishing for a paddle in the grass meshed basket, she produced two double-sided paddle. “Come on, before the race starts.”
Ketani laughed and walked behind Roz, who still had the same youthful energy as when she was a trainee and was running out of the thistle patch with both paddles in one paw and the lightweight kayak in the other paw.
Roz dropped the kayak on the water. “You coming?”
He smiled. “Who’s the judge?”
“Larx is. She has no waterlegs at all. So, she was the first pick.”
Great. Every time he saw Larx, she had no liking towards Highwhisker. She turned towards the fawn mouse, who was beckoning Roz over. She walked over her, raising her ears with dignity.
Ketani, though he knew it was rude, tried listening in on their conversation. He couldn’t hear a word of it, through the conversation happening around the horsefield. The small brown horse took a curious look at all the mice, but didn’t budge.
Nearly once a week in spring, these Spring Sails, as Roz and Ketani called it, happened. In the middle of May this was the first of the races. Hopefully it wouldn’t be the last of he spring. They could probably pull off a good four more weeks of racing on the boats.
Then Ketani realized something. Though all the Guilds were here, not a single one spoke about anything more than where their siblings lived, and how they’d place their hoppers in the same Guild. And nobody even took a look at the governor. Usually he’d get told about something happening in the burrowers, and with his old guild, something was always happening, or maybe some guards sneaking out of the city for a night. He sighed and lowered his ears. The revolution might not get violent, but mice had natural fire in their veins, which passed around quickly. If one thing got violent, the other mice were sure to follow, as long as they believed whatever Hazelwood was saying, and he was right. He was telling the truth about many things, however morphed they were.
Rozalin patted Larx on the back, and she ran up the branch, and the echoes of the complex were heard. She was climbing up a stairway of nails.
Roz tapped him on the shoulder. “Come on, Larx is starting to talk.” She hopped into the kayak and dug a paddle into the ice, ready to push off into the water.
From a plank leaning off the edge of the complex, a giant pile of old wood, the fawn shape of Larx was clearly visible. “All mice of Wolf Plains!” she shouted, her voice carrying halfway across the lake, “We haven’t had a Spring Sail in far, far too long! Prepare your boats! You have five minutes!”
He felt a paw on his back, and the chestnut mouse whirled to see Edvard, light fur laid down. “Edvard,” he said, smiling, “How’re things going?”
“Alright, more or less. The new trainees, even after a season of training, are still bouncing off the walls.”
“Hawk forbid. Five season olds acting like hoppers?” he joked.
“You have to keep them down. Their seasons of training are now over, so you have to teach them. If you keep them in check, maybe they’ll grow to be loyal Wolf Plains members.”
Ketani stopped, biting his cheek. He then sighed. There was no teaching Edvard, and it was Rica’s wish to have him the trainer. “How’s Archenne?”
“He’s doing fine. Him and Mia are best friends right now. Thick as thieves.”
“Is that a good thing or…” he asked to the blond mouse. Thieves and the Sewing guild never ended up well. They had an entire complex full of sword-like needles, though it could never be proven who did it.
“Yeah,” Ketani said, remembering Edvard and Lena’s new hopper, Mia.
He was one of the best archers back at the battle, which might be useful later. Morlyle couldn’t get to him alone.
“You okay?” Edvard asked, frowning.
“I’m fine. But remember back at Hoof Spots?” He knew he had to bring it up. If he could defend himself somehow, then maybe he’d have a chance to fight off Morlyle. Trill might let him from his birdhouse for a “walk.” She might have no idea what he’d be doing.
“The entire city made an oath not to tell anyone about it. For the young’uns,” he said, closing his eyes. “I’m a father now, so I try not to talk about it, too.”
“And your archery skills?” Ketani pressed.
“Kaput,” Edvard said calmly, “Grab your floatcoats. All the other boaters have them on.” Edvard turned behind him and pulled out a pair of floatcoats from the ground. “Wouldn’t want you sinking.”
The two coats were finely made, the smooth grass string meshing itself between the pinecone scales. The jacket hadn’t a single crack in it, making it even better for helping a mouse float in the water just in case if Rozalin or Ketani fell in.
“The others might want me to sink.”
“This rebellion is empty words,” Edvard shot back. “It’s done no harm to you, and certainly nobody’s done anything about it. Nobody’s left their Guilds for it.”
But the revolution is more than just empty words, Ketani wanted to say. Morlyle could have killed him, and made several attempts to do it. But he didn’t want anybody to know. Edvard needed to go on the expedition, because the rogue animals had less chances of hurting the party than Morlyle.
“Come on, Ket!” Roz sat in the boat. “We’ve got five seconds.” Sure enough, Larx’s flag was waving. The green flag, meaning to get into the boats. Ketani looked out over the water as he sat in the kayak. There were four other boats.
Above the mice were black clouds. It would definitely start raining any time. Just enough time for a single race.
He tossed a floatcoat to Rozalin, who slipped it on while Ketani swapped it for an oar. She grabbed it at the center, ready to turn them quickly. As he put his own on, he began to chart the course in the kayak.
“Ready!” Larx shouted.
“Alright Rozalin,” Ketani whispered. “Five paddles straight, and then three to the port.” They were right in front of the complex, and in front of them was a bank. He wouldn’t want to portage, but just to stay in the water.
“Cut off Illene and Nera?” Rozalin asked.
“Get set,” Larx called again. A wind started to blow, and the black clouds above were getting closer to the mice’s heads. Nera and Illene had to hold down their boats to stop from flying away early. They were going to be fast today, hopefully not too fast.
As Ketani and Roz both put their oars in the water, Larx shouted, “Go!”
Roz started to the starboard, Ketani paddling on the left to keep the straightest course. “One,” Ketani whispered at the first paddle. He cast a shifty glance back to Illene and Nera. “Two.”
The pair were paddling faster, with all their might. Before he knew it, Ketani shouted, “Five!” Rozalin and Ketani both jabbed the port side of their paddles into the water, and they pivoted immediately. Water splashed into the two mice’s faces, and the ice-cold water got right into Ketani’s fur. They slipped right by the bank, and as they passed by the sailboat the other two were on, he watched them slow down. His eyes gleamed. “Great Hawk, how I missed this!” he said.
As soon as they passed though, the fawn mouse, Illene, glared. She curled her lip and let her sails down, holding Nera by the shoulder. The boat cut through the water like a rapier, leaving all the other boats in their wake. The Graduates from all the Guilds cheered. Ketani turned back to Rozalin and grinned. She returned it, and they watched as the new Graduates cut through the water.
“Wait for it,” Rozalin whispered, though she was definitely getting tired as she paddled.
Too late for any of the mice to warn them,a giant breeze blew to the side. As Ketani and Rozalin had to steady their craft for just a moment, but they could still paddle, the sailboat tipped right into the pond. Even the woven grass sail got drenched.
The young mice’s heads bobbed out of the water, and Ketani couldn’t help but smile as they looked around. The boat was now back in the water, and was flying out of control.
“Holy- Turn!” Ketani shouted as he drove the starboard side of the paddle to the water. The boat came whipping by him. The young mice were doing nothing while Nera was swearing. Vigourously.
The boat slowed down as the breeze did, at least for now. They were halfway across the lake, and the shade of the Burrowers’ complex was equal to that of the storm clouds above them. It might start raining before the race even finished.
There were three other boats, teams of five on canoes. Trainees were in one, as could be told by the sounds of them shoving each other around and their grunts.
The other canoes had adults in them, though Ketani couldn’t get too focused on them. He just let his muscle memory paddle.
Ketani paddled harder but stopped as his paddles got out of rhythm and bumped into Roz’s paddles.
Roz shook her head. “I guess I’ll keep in time with you.” She swung her paddle faster in front of him, the droplets spattering his face wildly with her rowing. He shook his furry head off, and the chestnut mouse continued paddling with speed. They cut past the other mice, and Ketani felt his heart beating rapidly. He paddled past a few other Burrowers, rowing themselves into first place.
“Kayaks always win!” he crowed back at them, euphoria welling in his stomach. Their team of two was going to win, he just knew it. He felt his muscles beginning to burn and he slowed up on the paddling. He looked down at his paws in the long craft and he sighed. “Switch over?” They had this strategy planned since they were young and a nothing but trainer-leader duo.
Roz tapped him on the shoulder twice. “Aye aye, cap’n.”
Ketani lifted his paddle up, waiting for Rozalin to get him on the shoulder. The once calm water was in a fury now, all the ripples from the combined force of wind and paddles lapping dangerously at the boat.
The boat slowed, the wind blowing less in his face. Roz tapped him on the shoulder and the dark mouse knew what to do. He paddled harder than he could, trying to ignore the burn of his muscles. He could smell the sweat on his body, and Rozalin probably could too. Roz’s paddle hung in the air, laying parallel to the churning water.
Ketani sighed, and then looked back at her, letting his muscle memory take over. The Burrowing leader grinned and she jabbed her paddle into the water.
Ketani immediately felt the effect of both paddles in the water. This was the final stretch. In time they both paddle, trainer and trainee smiling their hearts out. The wall of snow that was the shore was peering ahead of them. In the north, snow hung around until June almost.
“Alright, Rozzie. Straight ahead and don’t stop!”
“Exactly what I was thinking,” she said. “We’re still in first, so lets end this with a bang!” she shouted. The boat seemed to go even faster. Highwhisker smiled. He put the last of his strength into his paddling.
The two paddled exactly in sync for the final stretch. It seemed the water stopped and time slowed. The wall became closer, and at the last moment before the craft impaled the hard snow, Ketani turned back.
He heard the crunch. The cold immediately hit him on his back. He looked out, and he was in a sunlit area of snow. A hole was pierced in the surface of the snow, letting in sunlight.
Ketani sat on the kayak that was angled nearly all the way up. He used his paws to hold himself in the kayak so he didn’t fall over. It didn’t work. His paws loosened and he flew down and onto Rozalin.
“Sorry!” he said, rolling off of her back awkwardly. She stood up and dusted the snow crystals off of her.
“S’alright.” She chuckled. “Can’t blame gravity.”
Outside the new tunnel, the voice of Larx was heard. “Roz Sunhide and Sir Highwhisker win!”
The crowd didn’t say anything. Nothing carried across the lake, like the sailing competitions before the rebellion. They simply clapped coolly. One mouse even shouted, “The only reason you won is because of Roz, Highwhisker!”
Rozalin scowled across the lake, her piercing green gaze enough to give Ketani shivers. “Ignore them, Ketani,” she said, but her gaze didn’t turn away from the mice. “They’re trying to get on your nerves.”
The sound of a raindrop echoed in the tunnel. Another one fell through the skylight, hitting the kayak and nearly flipping it over. The drops were that big. “We’ve got a May storm,” Highwhisker said. “Let’s get out of here.”
“Sure,” Rozalin said. She then grinned. “Don’t worry. We won’t get hit. Grab the kayak, and we’ll use it as an umbrella.
He remembered all the times that they had together. Roz always had that smile on her. She then became the Burrowing leader, and the smile wasn’t shown that much anymore. But when she did smile, it was just like times.
“I can’t let Morlyle get you,” Ketani whispered so that even he could barely hear it.
“What was that?” Roz asked, holding the kayak above their heads with one paw. Ketani held the other end over his head.
“Nothing, Roz,” Ketani said. “Let’s get back to the complex before we get soaked.” At least, more than he was already.