I held a contest for the best Redwall based fanfiction about the character Leatho Shellhound form the book High Rhulain.
The winner’s fanfiction was illustrated by me.
The Life of Leatho Shellhound
Written by WarriorOfMossflower
Gales whipped across the tropical island in the middle of a warm ocean. Mournful shrieks and screams of the wind filled the air. The dark, clouded sky was swept into a swirling vortex by the storm. A maelstrom of sand, leaves, and uprooted dead trees clashed and tumbled across the island. Tropical storms were common on Sunset Isle, but the island had not experience one as terrible as this in many, many seasons. Jagged outcrops that soared into the sky around the island’s edges were swamped by water in places that had never even felt the sting of the seaspray before. Brooding black clouds foretold that the storm would not be over anytime soon.
Fearful, wide eyes watched from the holt of the river otter that dwelled on the highest hill on Sunset Isle. The creature was not a river otter, but a sea otter seeking refuge from the storm. Blanc Seastroke, the river otter who lived in the holt, had welcomed Mai Shellhound in with her one day old ottercubs.
Mai shivered and huddled around the tiny babes, hoping that she could keep them safe and alive. One was a healthy, lively male cub, the other a slender female, but the conditions under which they had been born could not have been worse. Though they might not recall it, they would be able to boast about being born in a storm and be telling the truth.
“I reckon it won’t be too long afore the water reaches us,” Blanc observed, narrowing his eyes against the rain as he watched the rising tide levels. Most of the island was already flooded, a process which had been aided by the multiple rivers and streams that crisscrossed over Sunset Isle.
Mai closed her eyes with a silent sob. “What can we do?”
“Nothin’.” Blanc flinched as a clap of thunder sounded above. “We can do absolutely nothin’.”
“But…we’re otters!” Mai argued. “We can swim.”
“Not against those waters,” Blanc told her bluntly, his eyes roaming to the choppy sea. Raging and boiling, the water pounded and crashed against the shore, with insurmountable waves towering further out in the ocean.
Mai turned away, keeping her cubs behind her so as to shield them from the storm. She squinted into the storm, waiting for a flash of lightning to illuminate the thing she wanted to see. White bolts finally ripped across the sky, lighting up the hazy shape of Sunset Isle’s twin in the distance.
“Green Isle,” she whispered. The sea otter turned to Blanc and said excitedly, “I have kin there!”
“That’s helpful,” Blanc told her sarcastically.
“Maybe not to you or me, but…” Mai turned to look fondly down at her whimpering cubs. “Blanc? Do you reckon…if I were t’carry these two or somethin’, would they make it to Green Isle?”
“With a lot of luck, yes,” said Blanc, coming to stand by her. The male ottercub feistily wrapped his paws around Blanc’s leg and gnawed on it with his toothless mouth. Blanc’s expression softened.
“It’s madness. Suicidal. But I’ve got nothin’ to lose. We can put ’em on our backs and do our best t’get them across.”
“Really? You’ll help me?” said Mai, her face lighting up.
“Of course.” Blanc gently pried the male otterpup from his leg and quietly said, “Do you want to name them before we go?”
“I’ll name one, and I want ye t’name the other,” Mai said brightly. She picked up her daughter and murmured, “I shall call ye Whisp, short for Whisper, because you are much quieter than your brother.”
“And you,” Blanc paused, examining the male cub. The cub grinned. “I shall call ye Tempest, because you are wild, just like the storm you were born in.”
Tempest and Whisp exchanged a glance, causing the older otters to laugh. All traces of mirth soon disappeared from the otters’ faces as they felt water beginning to soak their paws.
“Should we go?” Mai asked softly, holding her daughter close.
“We ain’t got much o’ a choice,” replied Blanc, readjusting Tempest on his back before diving out into the sea.
The unruly waters had now flooded all the way up the hill and were beginning to swamp the holt. Mai stepped out and pushed off the wet hillside, skimming through the water like a fish as she followed Blanc. She tried to stay on the surface, unsure if her daughter could hold her breath for long periods of time as older sea otters could. Whisp clung to her mother’s back bravely, her squeaks lost to the wind or saltwater.
Blanc was a river otter, and it felt unnatural to be swimming out in the open ocean. Here, there were no sidestreams to cut off into if he wanted to lose a pursuer. Taking a deep breath, Blanc forced himself to tough it out and concentrate on the task at hand: deliver Tempest safely to Green Isle. However, it would prove to be a difficult task at best.
Suddenly, the waves loomed higher, rising out of the sea around Blanc. He knew he was in the ring that marked the beginning of where the waves began to swell before rolling inland. Before he could catch a breath, the upsurge of water slammed down on him, forcing him under. Dimly, under the dark ocean surface, Blanc felt Tempest’s tiny claws unhook from his neck fur. He felt the stream of air bubbles as the young sea otter released his breath. Ignoring the burning in his lungs, Blanc made himself dive until he felt his webbed paws touch the wet fur of Tempest’s head. Fighting the urge to inhale, Blanc picked Tempest up by the scruff of his neck and fought his way to the surface.
From afar, Mai saw Blanc and Tempest go under. Frantically, the mother sea otter sped up her swimming, only to see her friend and her son surface farther out in the ocean. Mai slid Whisp into her arms, sucked in a deep breath, made sure her daughter did the same, and dove underwater just as a wave crashed down where they had been moments ago. Unlike Blanc, Mai was experienced with ocean swimming, and rode the ocean current with ease. She let it pull her away from the dangerous ring of incoming waves before popping to the surface to draw breath. A little ways off, she saw the river otter battling his way through small whitecaps.
Otters were very strong swimmers, and could cover impressive distances in short amounts of time. Yet Green Isle still seemed far and distant to their weary eyes. They continued to strike out, using their rudder-like tails to steer them and their strong paws to pull through the water. At some point, Mai became aware of falling behind. She could not keep swimming, no matter how hard she tried. The thought of letting her young daughter drown had set their fire of adrenaline into Mai’s paws a long time ago, but now, not even that horrendous thought could get her numb paws to work. She began to sink, unable to halt Whisp’s alarmed squeals as the water washed over their heads.
Blanc was also exhausted, but he refused to give up even though he could not feel his deadened paws cutting through the water. He looked over his shoulder just in time to see Mai go under. Apparently, Tempest had seen it too, because he wailed with such an anguish that it could actually be heard over the receding roar of the wind. Grief stabbed Blanc’s heart, encouraging him to give up and let himself be lost to the waters also. Then the river otter remembered the young charge riding atop his shoulders.
I will get you to Green Isle, Tempest, Blanc promised silently. Even if it costs me my own life. You will carry on your brave mother’s legacy. Refusing to allow the rough conditions and fatigue to best him, the river otter swam on with slightly renewed vigour. He lifted his head, and, to his surprise, found that Green Isle seemed much closer. Now, Blanc could pick out individual trees standing in the forest that stood solemnly behind the seashore.
It was then that Blanc’s strength failed. No matter how hard he tried to move, he could not. With a feeling of dread, he realized that he was sinking. In one last, desperate attempt, Blanc flung Tempest from him, hoping that the ottercub would land in the shallows near the shore. Hoping that he had succeeded in his impossible task, Blanc succumbed to the cold, dark embrace of death.
Early the next morning, Halewrath Shellhound was ambling along the beach of Green Isle. He was the older cousin of Mai Shellhound, and the kindhearted otter Chieftain of Clan Shellhound. Halewrath squinted in the distance, searching for the familiar landmark of Sunset Isle in the distance. It wasn’t there.
A cold sense of dread settled in Halewrath’s heart as he put two and two together. A maelstrom had swept through the area and submerged Green Isle’s twin. Halewrath’s throat tightened as he remembered that his cousin, Mai, had left for Sunset Isle to give birth to her cubs.
“Oh no,” he whispered.
A whimpering noise caught his attention. Cautiously, with his paw sliding to his knife, the otter Chieftain followed the noise to its source. He dropped the weapon in surprise as he saw a pitiful ottercub staring up at him with wide eyes.
“‘Ello there,” murmured Halewrath as he knelt and tickled the ottercub under the chin. The cub giggled and tried to bite the otter’s paw. Halewrath leaned closer, noticing a strange mark on the cub’s right temple. It was a faint spiral that would no doubt fade away with time, but it was an important mark that reminded Halewrath of his younger days.
Mai had had the same faint spiral buried in the fur on her right temple when she was a cub, playing with Halewrath.
“You’re her son,” the otter Chieftain gasped.
The cub giggled again, almost as if he was acknowledging it. Then he looked solemnly up at the older otter, an expression of unusual seriousness–for a cub–settled on his face.
Halewrath swept the cub into his arms and looked into the tiny eyes. “I shall call you…Leatho. You are a son in the Shellhound legacy. May you live to carry it on when times call upon you, Leatho Shellhound.”
Leatho, formerly known as Tempest, simply gave his toothless grin, permanently locking away all the trauma his young eyes had seen thus far. It was time for his new life on Green Isle, the place where Mai had wanted him to be.
“Goodness gracious!” Fella Shellhound the ottermum bustled out of the holt, rushing down to the beach. “What have those cubs gotten themselves into this time?”
It was a clear summer morn on Green Isle. Several seasons had passed since Leatho Shellhound had washed up on the shore, but he was still a rambunctious youngster. The place of his birth, Sunset Isle, was long gone by now, washed away by the turbulent sea and the elements.
Senya, a young ottermaid about the same age as Leatho, gave another earsplitting wail. Leatho flinched and tried his best to calm her.
“Senya, ye ain’t goin’ t’bleed to death. It’s just a tiny scratch.”
“Easy for you to say!” Senya replied angrily. “This is all your fault, Leatho Shellhound! If ye hadn’t pestered me into sparring with ye, none o’ this would’ve happened!”
A slight smile flitted across Leatho’s charming features, though he quickly wiped it away as he spotted Fella dashing towards them. Fella was a comical sight, her cooking apron whipping in the wind as she forced her chubby legs to run faster. When she saw that nobeast was mortally wounded, however, she slowed to a waddle. Being the ottercook of Holt Shellhound, Fella spent most of her time in the kitchens, which had led to her overlarge stomach. She was still huffing and puffing by the time she reached the young otters.
“Now,” she said sternly, “what’s happened this time?”
Bottom lip trembling, Senya held out her paw, which was slashed. The cut wasn’t deep, but Leatho’s stick had left splinters in it. It was those lingering nuisances that antagonized the ottermaid.
“Hmm, hmm, dearie me,” mused Fella.
Leatho, knowing that he would be in deep trouble for harming the ottercook’s daughter, tried to tiptoe away stealthily, but Fella detected his footsteps without looking back.
“Stop, Leatho. You’ll wait right there until I get the splinters out of Senya’s paw.”
Knowing that argument was futile, Leatho plopped down on a large rock with a sigh. This sunlit summer morning may as well be a dark, stormy night to me, he thought poetically.
With each splinter that was extracted from her paw, Senya howled her pain to the skies. Leatho wouldn’t be surprised if the whole Shellhound clan came rushing to the beach, dressed for war and believing that there was a slaughter going on.
“Got the last one!” exclaimed Fella. “Whew, you youngsters will give me a heart attack one o’ these days. Goodness gracious, always gettin’ yerselves into some sort o’ accident or the other.”
“Now can I go?” Leatho piped up.
“No,” Fella said firmly. “Have ye appologized for what ye did t’Senya?”
“No, he hasn’t!” Senya declared. When her mother turned to look at Leatho again, the ottermaid stuck out her tongue childishly.
Glaring at his rival, Leatho said sarcastically, “Sorry, Senya. I hope ye never, ever leave yer paw unguarded again when ye choose t’duel with me.”
“Now now,” clucked Fella. “That’s no way to appologize.”
There was no way out of this predicament. Leatho decided that he would play along, in hopes that Fella would not put him on dirty-dish duty. Feigning shame at his horrible crime, Leatho looked down at his footpaws and scuffed at the sand with one of them. “I’m really sorry, Senya.”
The ottermaid looked suspicious for a moment, then decided that Leatho’s appology was genuine.
“Appology accepted, Leatho.”
Leatho had to restrain himself from whooping with joy. Fella smiled, satisfied, and said, “Ye may go now, ye rascal.”
The young otter hurried off, ignoring the annoying stab of pain he felt every time his left footpaw hit the sand.
He turned as Senya rushed to him. “What is it?”
“You’re limping! Ye must’ve been hurt as well.”
Leatho lifted his footpaw, then clasped it between his forepaws as he examined the rough pad. An ugly thorn protruded from a pebble-sized puncture in the skin. “Oh.”
“Mum, come quickly!” called Senya.
Fella was waddling up a sand dune. Distracted by her daughter’s call, she overbalanced and toppled down the slope. Leatho hobbled back down the sandy hill, resisting the aiding arm of Senya. Fella sat up as the young otter reached her.
“Ooh, dearie me, wot is it this time?” Fella frowned as Leatho flopped down on the sand and showed the underside of his left footpaw. “A thorn, eh? Ye just wait a minute, an’ I’ll have that prickly thing out of there in two shakes of a rabbit’s tail.”
Leatho winced as the ottermum began to tug at the thorn. He gritted his teeth as she pulled harder, and it still did not come free.
“Hm, a stubborn one, eh? Hang tight, sweetie. It’ll come!”
A yelp escaped Leatho as the thorn came free and he rocketed backwards. Carried on by his momentum, he skidded head over heels into the ocean, where he lay still.
Worried, Senya rushed to his side. “Leatho?”
As she leaned closer, Leatho whipped out his forepaws and dragged her into the water. Senya came to the surface, coughing and spluttering. Her friend grinned cheekily, and ducked as she swiped a wet paw at him. Leatho dunked the ottermaid, and she waited underwater for a good while until he was ocncerned enough to put his face to the water where she had gone under. When he was perfectly positioned, Senya sprang from the seafloor and cannoned into him. It toppled both backwards into the shallows, where they lay laughing until Leatho sprayed Senya with water and renewed the fight.
Fella glanced at them apprehensively, then began her arduous waddle up the sandy slope. “They’re otters. They can’t drown.” With another glance over her shoulder, Fella muttered, “But I’ve been wrong before.”
Sunlight danced across the sea, sparkling on the surface as the young otters frollicked in the water. Bands of silver wrapped throughout the island, all rivers, streams, and rapids springing from the ocean in which the otters played. Green Isle was an otter paradise.
Unfortunately, the otter inhabitants had no idea what great evil was soon to befall them.
Malicious green eyes blended perfectly with their leafy surroundings of fern fronds. They were obviously feline, slanted in that elegant yet feral way. The fur surrounding the eyes was pale orange, tinged with gold, and flecked with splotches of black. Above the eyes was a sculpted forehead that gave way to delicate, pricked ears. Below the eyes was a firm pink nose, with whiskers spreading out to either side. The mouth was the only thing that seemed flawed about the face: it was permanently hooked up on the left, revealing a lethal canine tooth. A short scar trailed away from it, which looked like it had been ripped by a bird’s talon. The cat had a sleek body, with the golden-brown, black-spotted fur smoothed down. It had powerful legs, undoubtedly to propel it in chase of prey. The cat’s tail was curled up by its side, twitching every so often.
A bankvole popped up at the cat’s side, looking miniscule in comparison. “Yes, Sire?”
The cat’s eyes narrowed as he continued to stare through the gap in the bushes. “It seems that we could have a bit more…opposition.”
“You mean the otters, Lord Pradus?”
Pradus nodded slowly. “Yes. The otters. I thought we had enslaved them all.”
“No, Sire. We have captured the Streambattle and Galedeep clans, but there are still others on the island.”
“Hmm…” the wildcat mused. He angled his ears at the scene on the beach. “Which clan do they belong to?”
Areo studied the two young otters, Leatho and Senya, as they splashed in the shallows. “Er, Shellhound, I believe.”
“Shellhound?” Pradus repeated. “Shame that we’d have to eliminate them. They look like they could make strong slaves, but that kind of strength can be dangerous.”
“Oh yes,” Areo agreed hastily. “They would surely resist, I’d bet me tail on that.” The bank vole hoped that his master could not see his trembling chestnut-brown fur. Areo had recently come into service of the wildcat, and he was still incredibly intimidated by Pradus.
Lord Pradus Felidae stood and stretched regally, enjoying the warm sunlight as it glimmered off his coat of fur. “Come. I will deal with the Shellhounds later. Right now, we have the construction of my fortress to tend to.”
“How do you like it?” asked Senya. “My mother taught me how to make it, specially for you.”
“Mm-mmf! Ish good!” mumbled Leatho, his mouth full of the shrimp-and-hotroot soup that Senya had prepared for him as a sort of peace offering between them.
The young otters’ moods had been prickly towards each other ever since Leatho had bonked Senya on the head with his stick when they were sparring again. Yet now they seemed almost compatible and friendly, Fella observed, watching from the kitchen.
Senya beamed at the compliment. “Glad ye’re enjoyin’ it,” she laughed as Leatho tipped his bowl almost vertical to get the last tasty drops.
Outside, the sun was dipping towards the horizon, preparing to let its sibling, the moon, come out and shed her pale light on the islands. Halewrath Shellhound, the Chieftain of the Shellhounds, sat on the sandy shore, his eyes narrowed against the vibrant colours of the setting sun. Oranges mingled with fiery reds, dancing with the shaded purples in the sky. The clouds, too, were streaked with these colours, and they hung peacefully with their brethren in the sky.
Halewrath twisted his head over his shoulder to see Leatho coming down the slopes of the beach. “I’m here, Leatho.”
The young otter skidded down a particularly large dune and joined his uncle. He sat down and lay back, contentedly watching the stars come out of the swirling sunset. Halewrath sat quietly with his own thoughts. Remembering the island that had once been Green Isle’s counterpart, he had to blink several times to prevent tears from springing to his eyes.
Sunset Isle, famously named because of the glorious sunsets that were seen behind it. The place where Mai Shellhound had last been seen. Halewrath knew she must have perished in the turbulent waters that stretched between the isles on that stormy night, and now gazing at them sent a stab of pain to his heart. He and his sister had been very close in their younger days, and it had carried on into adulthood.
Leatho sat up suddenly and turned to the old otter. “Uncle, is Tannel really me mother?”
“What? Tannel?” Halewrath repeated, startled out of his memories by the question.
Tannel Shellhound was Halewrath’s other sister. She was easygoing and kind, as Mai had been. Her own cub had died at birth, but she had raised Leatho like he was her own ever since he had washed up on the shores of Green Isle. Tannel had been devastated at the loss of her real son, and the finding of Leatho had probably prevented her from doing something horrible. Though the young cub had been overshadowed with the grief that Mai was gone, Tannel had done her best to help him grow into a fine young otter.
“Yes,” Leatho said solemnly.
“Why, o’ course she is? Ye don’t think that we would lie t’ye, do ye? Whatever gave ye…” Halewrath faltered when he met the youngster’s grave eyes.
“Why?” he asked bitterly. “Why didn’t ye tell me the truth to start with?”
The old otter looked away, ashamed.
“Who was she, really? Who was me actual mother?” Leatho pressed.
“My other sister. Her name was Mai,” Halewrath answered dejectedly. “She was like Tannel in every way. Easygoing, determined, and fiercely protective of her family.”
“What happened to her?”
The otter Chieftain sighed wearily. “If I tell ye, ye must promise me that it won’t ever interfere with your and Tannel’s relationship.”
For a moment, all that could be heard were the waves lapping against the shore. Then Halewrath spoke.
“Mai went to Sunset Isle to give birth to ye in peace. She had been there two days when the storm hit. It was the worst that we’ve ever seen–we felt the winds all the way over here. The island was submerged an’ beaten down by the elements. Mai must’ve tried swimming here, because ye washed up on the beach the morning after that terrible cyclone.”
Leatho was silent. He stared at the peaceful sea, mixed emotions evident in his eyes as he pictured the calm expanse as a raging storm. First there was immense sadness in those almond eyes, then an untamable anger. Halewrath looked at his nephew sympathetically, but before he could speak, Leatho snapped,
“I hate you.”
The otter Chieftain could find no words as Leatho stomped away, kicking the sand as he went.
Sleep eluded Leatho that night. Nightmarish visions of his mother drowning from fatigue plagued his mind, and he was afraid that if he actually did fall asleep, they would be all the more vivid. He lay awake wondering why he had ever asked in the first place. What had roused his suspicions?
They had been teasing each other, as usual, while Leatho slurped his second bowl of shrimp-and-hotroot soup. In reply to one of Leatho’s insults, Senya had scoffed,
“Ha! Ye weren’t even born on Green Isle, anyways! An’ I would know, ’cause I’m older’n ye by at least a season.”
Now, the thought of it chilled the poor young otter to the bone, like the drafts that whistled mournfully outside. He had thought that this place was his home–now it might as well be a foreign island somewhere far over the seas to him. Leatho felt betrayed. Betrayed by Senya, by uncle Halewrath, even by Tannel.
He listened to her quiet breathing as she slept not far from him. The kind ottermaid loved him to death, as if he really were her son. But now that he knew it was not true, he would never be able to look at her the same way again, despite his promise to Halewrath.
I owe Halewrath nothing, the rebellious side of his mind growled.
He helped raise me, though. He’s been the one, throughout the seasons, that has led our clan and taken care of me, said the other, more sentimental side.
He lied to me!
He was only protecting me from the truth. He knew it would hurt me.
Leatho looked across the room, his keen eyes picking out the shape of his ‘mother’ on the other side of the room. Tannel’s soft snores echoed around the room, soothing Leatho and sending cold shivers up his spine at the same time. All these seasons, he had thought she was the one who had brought him into the world. It was painful to think that she had not.
She betrayed me, too, by withholding the truth, thought Leatho’s rebellious side.
She did it because she loves me. It’s painful for her, too, responded the sentimental one.
And what of Senya?
If she had not told me, I would not have questioned Halewrath.
So is she the ultimate traitor, for waiting so long to share her knowledge?
Leatho contemplated this all night long, tossing and turning restlessly. Eventually, he fell into an uneasy doze, his young mind still tormented by visions.
Pradus Felidae, too, was having a fitful night. Every time he sank into sleep, he would be faced by a young otter, wielding nothing but a small dagger. The wildcat would have laughed at himself if the vengeful look on the otter’s face hadn’t been so grave. Why did Pradus fear a worthless woodland creature?
Feeling suddenly paranoid, the wildcat Lord stood and donned his elaborate black-and-gold coat. He tucked a knife into his belt and made sure it was hidden by the coat. Then Pradus prowled out of his temporary tent to stand in the middle of the camp. Moonlight turned his spotted fur a silvery colour, and his green eyes shone eerily. Those green eyes sought out the almost-constructed timber fortress and narrowed. It would be finished in two days, but two days was too long for Pradus.
“Up on your paws, you spineless felines!” he bellowed.
All around, cat soldiers staggered from their tents, loosely gripping their weapons. It had to be an attack, right, if the Warlord was waking them in the middle of the night? They stared in confusion at Pradus, who stood calmly by the ashy remains of the fire.
“Finish the fortress. Now,” he ordered.
“Sir, it will take at least two days for the completion of your–” The unfortunate speaker never had the chance to finish his sentence. Pradus’s knife was embedded up to the hilt in the subordinate cat’s head. He toppled backwards, causing the other soldiers to leap into the air in fright. Their fur was literally standing on end.
“Now then,” Pradus said coolly. He yanked the knife out and casually cleaned it with his tongue, performing the task as naturally as a cat might when washing themselves. “Unless you wish to join him, I suggest you get the work. The Fortress of Green Isle will be completed by sunset tomorrow, or I will personally skin you alive and then drown you in the lake.”
The feral cats shuddered.
“Have I made myself clear?”
“Yes, sir!” they yowled in reply.
Pradus watched with satisfaction as the cats began rushing about. Then he turned and stalked back into his tent, but not before he had placed two guards on watch outside of it.
Across the wildcat camp, a mother was holding her newborn kitten. His fur was tannish/orange, like his father’s, and it stuck out in tufty clumps that ringed his small, fuzzy face.
The mother, whose name was Yuula, beamed proudly at her son. “I name you Riggu Felis,” she murmured, “son of Lord Pradus Felidae!”
Leatho awoke to sunlight streaming in to the holt. He sat up groggily and rubbed sleep from his eyes. Tannel was nowhere in sight: Leatho realized that she must have gone outside for breakfast. He strode out to look around, but there was nobeast around. Feeling strange, Leatho began to walk around the area. Where was everybody?
Then he came across something that caused him to stop in his tracks and suck in his next breath sharply.
It was the body of Senya Shellhound, daughter of Halewrath and Fella Shellhound. Leatho’s cousin, rival, and best friend. He could do nothing but stare down at the carcasse in horror. Senya’s body was terribly mangled. Countless wounds and long, open scratches crisscrossed all over her, oozing blood. Nobeast but a wildcat could have done this.
Leatho slowly sank to his knees, tears rolling down his cheeks. Why would anybeast do this to poor, innocent Senya? And to think that Leatho’s last thoughts of her while she was alive had been dark, mistrustful ones. The young otter choked on a sob and beat the sand with his paw.
“It’s not fair,” he whispered. “Why her? Why Senya?” And why has nobody else come to mourn her? The thought sent a chill down Leatho’s spine.
He stood, still teary-eyed, and made his way down to the beach, dreading what he might find there. His breath caught once more as he beheld the slaughter.
The entire Shellhound clan, down to the last small otterbabe, lay murdered on the beach. Leatho walked between the bodies of his loved ones, shaking with tears and with anger. Whoever did this would pay. If it had the been the wildcats work, then very well. He would slay them all and drive them from Green Isle.
Then Leatho came to Halewrath. Beside him lay a slain wildcat. The clan had obviously been caught by surprise, or there would be many more wildcat bodies among the dead. Leatho sat down by Halewrath and hung his head guiltily. His last words to the kind otter Chieftain had been “I hate you” and now he wished he could simply recall them into his mouth.
A flicker of movement caught his eye. It was the weak rise and fall of a chest. Halewrath’s chest!
Halewrath’s eyes opened slowly, painfully. “Leatho?”
Halewrath gave a heavy sigh. “They got me, Leatho…”
“No, you aren’t going to die! It’s all right, I’ll take care of you.” Desperation was creeping into Leatho’s voice.
“Leatho…take this.” Leatho blinked in surprise as Halewrath’s trembling paw offered him a long dagger, as well as a sling. Gingerly, he lifted them from the failing paw, which dropped toward the ground. Leatho flung the weapons aside and caught his uncle’s paw.
“Uncle, I don’t hate you! I don’t!”
Halewrath’s eyes began to slide closed. “I…know…Leatho…”
“Don’t leave me!”
“Stay strong…clan gathering…tonight. Go…in my place…” After a long while, Halewrath’s chest ceased movement, and his paw went limp. Leatho sat with him silently, feeling very peculiar. It was the saddest moment of his life: he should be crying. Yet he wasn’t. He was simply beyond tears.
Leatho sat there until the sun was at its peak in the sky, until Halewrath’s body turned cold. Then he stood and retrieved the long knife and sling. The knife was thrust into the belt that bound his green tunic to him, and he wrapped the sling around his wrist. Next he gathered several rocks and pebbles and found a pouch inside the holt. He put the pouch in his belt, beside the long dagger.
Wind ruffled Leatho’s chocolatey fur as he stood on the crest of the highest sand dune and stared out at the sea, paw on his dagger hilt. Waves lapped against the shore, washing back with whooshes. Ripples splashed against each other, farther out in the ocean. The wind whistled around Leatho’s ears, its pitch set at a high keen, as if it were sharing his mourning. His dark, attentive eyes drifted sorrowfully over the massacre. He would bury his family soon, but first he had one important matter to attend to.
Tannel Shellhound was not among the slain bodies. There was still hope.
Leatho walked into the mirky forest, feeling trapped under the leafy canopy. The late evening shadows added a gloomy shade to the surroundings, but Leatho pressed on. He ignored all eerie night noises, intent on one goal. He was going to find her. His ‘mother’. The wildcats wouldn’t have taken her far, if they had decided to keep her as a captive.
The young otter snapped his head around as his attentive ears caught a soft moan. He was about to dismiss it as a trick played by the wind when he saw movement. With utmost caution, Leatho began to creep towards the source of the noise. His paw slid to his dagger as he treaded lightly over moldy leaves. The quiet sounds of pain seemed to be coming from a bent willow tree on the edge of a glimmering turquoise stream. Leatho peered closer and made out the silhouette of an otter. It had an arched, graceful neck that Leatho could see from his rear view. Subtly, he worked his way around so that his back was to the stream and he could see the otter’s face.
Leatho almost choked on the word. “Tannel?”
“Leatho?” Tannel whispered. Both eyes were blackened, one to the point of being sealed shut. The other squinted uncertainly at the young otter. A shiny, wet liquid glittered in the fading light, stretching from Tannel’s left eye down to where her long neck met her slender shoulders. Leatho inhaled sharply when he realized it was blood. Similar narrow, deep gashes crisscrossed Tannel’s back and her limbs. She was bound to the willow tree by her wrists, and it seemed to have cut off circulation to her forepaws. Her dark fur was matted and sticky with blood.
“I’m here,” said Leatho, doing his best not to sob at the horrific wounds that had been administered to his ‘mother’s body. She seemed mere pawsteps from the Dark Forest.
“You must know…” Tannel said softly. “…that I am not–”
“I know! And it doesn’t matter to me, Tannel. I still love you!” Leatho grappelled with the tree for a minute, then began to hoist himself up the thin branches to find a spot where he could cut Tannel’s bonds.
The kind female otter sighed. “Thank you…Leatho. You’ve been a wonderful son.”
“Don’t talk like you’re going to die!” snapped Leatho, more out of desperation and heartache than out of anger.
Her next words were so quietly murmured that Leatho had to strain to hear them. “I see…my brother…Halewrath is… waiting for me…” Tears filled her one open eye as she continued to stare at nothing. Leatho paused in severing the bonds to listen to Tannel’s very last words. “Mai! I see Mai…oh, Mai…you would be so very proud of your son…” Then Tannel’s head dropped to rest on her bloodstained, ripped tunic and a peaceful smile crossed her face.
Leatho slumped against the willow tree, almost as lifeless as his aunt/’mother’. He slid down onto his side and let his paw brush Tannel’s. Already, she was growing cold. A long, furious scream was ripped from Leatho’s throat. Gradually, it faded to a mournful howl, not unlike some wild animal’s. The young otter sat in the willow tree and wailed until his voice was hoarse.
Now, Leatho Shellhound was truly the last of his family.
Moonlight filtered through the forest as Leatho Shellhound trekked through the underbrush on his way to the gathering. He followed a small stream, comforted by its quiet rushing noise. He had released Tannel from the tree and buried her, but his heart still ached. An enormous weight had been forced upon his young shoulders, but he knew that he had to stay strong. Leatho planned to meet up with the other clans, devise a battle strategy, and drive away every wildcat that had ever set paw on Green Isle.
But that wasn’t how it turned out at all.
At the gathering, many questions were asked. Much sympathy was offered. But not a single thing was done to help the situation. Leatho soon became exasperated with the elder otters of other clans. He was sitting off alone, trying to avoid attention, when another young otter approached him.
“Ahoy there, mate. I’m Kolun Galedeep.”
Leatho looked up at him gloomily, making half an effort to judge how old he was. Kolun was very tall and had strong, broad shoulders. He looked much older than he actually was, Leatho learned later on.
“What’s wrong, Leatho?”
“Besides the fact that my entire family was slaughtered and the other clans are doing nothing to help? Nothing at all,” Leatho snapped. He immediately wished he could take back his words. “Sorry, Kolun. I’m just frustrated.”
Kolun sat down beside him with a sad smile. “I know how ye feel, matey.”
Leatho bit back a sharp retort and waited for him to continue.
“Sometimes the older otters just don’t understand, that’s all. I’m sure ye must have all kinds o’ crazy war plans, but be patient and think ’em over before ye share ’em.”
Leatho was silent for a long time. Now that he thought of it, his strategies for revenge did seem crazy and hastily thrown together. He stared at his paws and said quietly, “I know what you mean, but I still feel that we must take action soon.”
The big otter stood and stretched, looking thoughtful. “Ye think that the wildcats might target the other clans, too?”
Unfinished chapter: More coming.