The canopy above was dense with greenery, the thick carpet shielding the small village below from hungry on-lookers that would prowl the skies above. Soft morning rays still found a way to slice through, dappling the ground below in a radiant orange. Creating a sense of calm if you were naive enough to ignore the dangers that lurked beyond.
A gentle whisper of wind brushed over the village, upturning fallen leaves into its chilled grasp. Reaching out, I caught one as it passed, its frail form pulling against my paw fighting to be let free. Something I too was familiar with. But, not all were so lucky to return to the dance that was freedom.
Cradling the fragile leaf to my chest I looked out over the glade, the hustle and bustle of village life below could easily be heard from the boughs of the trees above, for which I roamed. Life here moved with the seasons, never was there nothing to do.
Looking towards the north, where the snow-coated mountains loomed, I could imagine large waves like the ocean carrying the cold season heading towards us. It wasn't often. But, on a few occasions, the frost would come early. Covering the ground in a thin layer of ice. It never lasted long as the sun would often eradicate of it's existence.
Humming, I looked down at the faded orange leaf clutched in my paws. Still pulling against my gentle grasp, I released my hold. Watching, as it slowly drifted away into the distant woods.
Getting to my feet, I slowly walked along the branch I was perched on, observing the to and fro of Village life below. Curling my tail around the nimble bough, I watched as young pups like myself ran between the crowd, older rats calling after them.
Resting my head onto my folded arms, sinking into the soft fur, I watched life pass me by below, content knowing they had no idea I was there. The warm sun added to the decision to stay. I could afford to stay for a few moments longer, being down there meant I had to mingle. I grimaced.
“Ah, here you are!” Came a cheery voice.
“Ahhh bushel-berry....” I grabbed my ears pulling them over my eyes, wishing the voice away.
Why was it that I could never find a place for some kind of peace? Not even in my hollow I could be left alone. Grumble, I rested my chin on my paw. This was the last place I thought she would look. Not many even dared climb this high.
“I have been looking all over for you.”
I could feel the branch below me bend slightly from the extra weight applied to it. The rustling of leaves joined the wind's gentle melody as it passed over. The trees creaking in an attempt to join.
“My, this is a rather quaint spot you have here.” She laughed, running a paw over my head, playing with the fur between her claws. “No wonder you don't want to be with the others.” She paused, “But you know, sitting up here isn't going to make you any friends.”
Sitting up I shook my head. “I have friends....” I hesitated whiskers twitching. “Well....kind of.”
“To become a good leader you must have relationships with those who live among you. I know sometimes it's hard.” Taking one of my paws into hers, she smiled giving it a light squeeze. “Maybe talk with those you do like? How about Oliver? Hmm? You two get along.”
I frowned, it could be an option. But Oliver would be too busy poking the river frogs. After knowing him for such a long time I was aware how that would end. I wasn't in the mood to have dried mud plucked from my fur, not even the best of washes could do the job.
Frowning, she waited a moment, before smiling. “Maybe you could meet some of his other friends? That would be fun.” Sitting behind me, she began to comb through my hair. “I'm sure Oliver would love that.”
I could feel her whiskers brush my fur as she spoke, something that felt distance, but familiar. “All they like to do is throw things at one another....” I mumbled.
“Well what about Sir Griffen?” She eventually asked, ears curled back in question.
“He smells like old fungi.” Nose twitching, I shook my head. “I rather stay here.”
Letting out a long sigh, I was sure the whole glade could hear her disappointment. “Well, you can't spend your entire life in this tree, as nice as it is.”
Sitting up I turned to face her. “But-”
“No buts, now go mingle.” She interjected, giving me a gentle push along the branch, but the warning in her eyes didn't go unmissed.
Grumbling, I looked back, but as I expected I was only met with a short wave from her edging me to keep going. Of course, she wouldn't understand. They never did. It was always duty first.
Climbing down the tree, a cold chill ran down my spine the moment I touched the grass below. The sounds of other rats weren't as far off as it was in the safety of the tree. Scowling up at my mother, her eyes following me, I did everything in my might not to run in the opposite direction.
“Collect some nuts too while you're down there.” She called, before running along the branch, her chestnut fur swallowed up by the leaves.
Nose twitching, I kicked a pebble out of my path heading toward the chaos that lurked beyond. It was hard to make out what was happening once you entered the crowds. Young pups of only a few weeks often made nuisances of themselves running around the adults, though they paid the young very little attention as there were more important things to be taken care of.
Keeping my head down, not wanting to draw any eyes towards me, I crept through the bustle. It was times such as this I wished I didn't have such a dark coat, it was much easier to spot among the soft browns. Even the blues of my tunic did little to mute out the black. But at least I was small, something that worked in my favor.
Making quick work getting through the crowds, it wasn't long before I reached the edge of the ground village. The forest before me stretched out further than the eye could see. But if you paid close attention you could make out the faded walls of the glade.
Lifting a paw, I squinted my eyes. I always enjoyed comparing the size of my paw to distant landscapes, making me feel bigger if not for a moment. Shaking my head after a while I entered the forest, the smell of chestnuts on the wind.
Roaming along the forest floor, it wasn't long before I found a few fallen nuts each one safely tucked away into a bag I carried around with me. It was often filled with trinkets I would find. Some had no names or use. They were only shiny and were as hard as stone. Weren't edible or useful for any kind of labor work.
Other than Old Creaky. He always seemed to find some kind of use for these things. I often pondered if I should take them to him, he always seemed to require more. I found it rather odd, but the others often said to leave the old rat to his business.
Not wanting to be out longer than I had to, I collected as many nuts as I could. Arms full, I walked over to the bag, dumping the food inside before slinging it over my shoulder. I had been lucky to not run into anyone while gathering, the tree I had chosen far enough away from others.
Holding the sling of the bag, I grimaced noticing a gathering group coming back from the river, dragging some reeds and shells of water with them. I watched as they passed, laughing as they did, a few males in the group poking fun at one another.
Heading after them, I followed a few tail lengths behind until we got to one of the larger trees towards the center of the village, wasn't as large as the evergreen that stood to the center, but was big enough for storage.
Slipping past the large group, I entered the hole towards the base of the tree. The inside hollowed out a wooden staircase winded up the base of the tree until you reached the halfway point. Everything from here stretched out like a web, each branch used for its purpose.
“Here's a bag of chestnuts,” I grumbled, walking past an older rat.
“Ah, Young prince, how nice of you to stop by.” He greeted, jotting a few things down with coal on the bark leaflet he held before placing it to the side. “How many did you manage to find?” he asked, gray eyes looking me over then to the bag as he walked over.
I shrugged before dumping the contents onto the floor watching as they rolled away. “I don't know. Didn't count.”
“Mmmm.” The older rat, picked up one of the nuts, looking it over, nose twitching. “This season has been a fruitful one, wouldn't you agree?” He glanced in my direction.
“I guess so?” I picked one of the nuts up, before having it snatched from my paws by Asher who sent me a disproving look.
“I will be sure to let the Queen know you were here, young prince. She will be pleased with your find I'm sure.” Picking up his chart again, he wrote a few things down before waving a paw at me. “Now as wonderful your presence is, I must work. Off you go, young one. Go play with your friends....” He paused, humming for a moment. “Whatever they may be doing.”
Not wanting to hang around any more then I already did, I didn't hesitate to leave the room. Wouldn't have been long before Asher would drag me into counting stock for winter.
Walking down the halls, securing the bag over my shoulder, a few others passing by gave me a quick nod before continuing on their way. Ears curling back, fur bristling, I avoided eye contact. This kind of attention was how it had always been since my birth, of course I had never grown used to it. Would I ever? Was the question.
Pushing past the vine netting, I stood there for a moment soaking in the sunlight. Having had no interest in going to gather again I figured heading to the tree tops was better, wouldn't find as many rats here.
Walking along the wooden bridges that linked home-tree to those around it like a large web I headed towards the armory. Perhaps I could do something of use there? They always had interesting stories to tell while working.
I smiled, maybe I would finally be granted a weapon of my own. Humming, I pondered what it would end up being made of. A thorn from a rose bush, or perhaps one of the harder barks found deeper into the woods....outside of the glade...
Pausing for a moment, my eyes catching a glimpse of the dark green carpet that loomed beyond our walls, I wondered what it would be like to leave, perhaps for a moment. Was it as others claim it to be?
“No. No. I can't.” I shook my head, pulling at my ears. I knew what kind of stories had gone around. “It would be a mistake.” Giving the glade walls one last glance, I continued on my way.