A small, dirty ray of sunshine fluttered its way down through the deck of a little grubby ship, striking the face of a ferret mother going into labor. Her husband was trying to sleep and shushed her cruelly. “Shut up, yeh groaning ragbeast,” he grunted. The female grabbed a piece of cloth, tore it and bit down to keep down a screech.
Two hours later, she wept over a little cub. She was still puzzling over a name for the little female when a strange orange mark in her fur caught the mother’s eye. Then the ferret looked at her bracelet . . . citrine. “Citrine,” she whispered through her tears. “‘Tis as good a name as any. Your can take my name, too . . . Blackpaw.”
“I said shut up!” Her husband stood and pushed her from her bed out onto the deck, then slammed the door.
She gasped in pain and fell to the timber, almost dropping Citrine. When she’d recovered, she whispered again. “You and I can live through it all, Citrine. We can . . .”
Twenty years later, they certainly had. On the ship, Citrine had grown up as a corsair, following in her mother’s and father’s steps. She was skilling with the knife and bow. Her mother had a better streak in her heart, though, and instilled in Citrine was a deep-rooted aversion to killing. Half of the matter was that she could see how pointless it was. She was smart. The other half was her upbringing.
Citrine was one of Captain Greyheart’s top crewbeasts for her marksmanship. He was a one pawed fox, a nasty old creature if there ever was one.
One fine, bright day found Citrine and the ship’s bosun, Tippet, standing by Greyheart at the helm. The crew of the ship Redpoison was to try their luck at raiding the southern coast today. Greyheart pointed a paw. “See that mountain?” he asked. He was pointing to a huge cone of stone by the shoreline. Citrine nodded. “‘Tis full of treasure, I’m told, protected by monsterous badgers and powerful fighting hares.”
Tippet sneered. “Are we attackin’ it, Cap’n?” he asked in a whiny voice. Greyheart buffeted the little rat’s ear.
“O’ course not. Many others have tried. Me, no thank you. We’re goin’ slightly further, to a more grassy plains area, with many small coastal villages,” he explained impatiently. Citrine didn’t say anything. She knew the captain well enough to not do as Tippet had.
Two hours later, the lookout screeched, “There!”
Citrine grimaced as she watched a pleasant coastal village loom up on the horizon. The black ferret shouldered her bow in dreading anticipation of the coming slaughter.
A white auklet screeched in terror as a slingstone came whistling after it, to the jeers of the Redpoison’s crew. Citrine watched them, stone faced. She’d made it this far through the years by killing from a distance. This time . . . this time, she’d been forced to kill a mouse who had been protecting his family. She felt like she was a captive to the whims of death itself.
It was all she knew, all she was good at. Now, as she stood looking at the body of the valiant creature whose life she’d cruelly stolen, she sensed it pressing down on her. It was a heavy weight. She could hardly breathe. Images flickered before her eyes: innocent creatures, fire arrows, unsuspecting victims, mothers, fathers, grandparents, they all came down like a flood.
She wept bitterly.
One of the bigger weasels making sport of the birds notice. “Haharr!” he laughed, then sneered. “Mate’s, look here, the big tough Citrine Blackpaw! She’s blubbering like a fretful hogwife!” They all chuckled, mocking her with silly faces.
Instantly, the tall ferret stood, her tears fading. Slowly, they all stopped laughing at her. Her face grew quieter and stiller. They all backed off. Except one.
Once before, somebeast had made fun of the black ferretmaid, and she’d done this . . . and more. All of them knew that she was the most deadly creature on the ship. This one, a lanky fox, had laughed it off, saying it was a lucky hit.
“What you gonna do, Orange? Huh?” he asked. His paw flipped out an iron scimitar.
“Brushfire,” she said quietly. “You should learn that to appreciate a good foe isn’t insultable. I don’t take kindly to stuck up fox-fur hats.” Tippet snickered beside Brushfire, and stopped when he stumbled to the ground. He had a knife buried in his leg. He howled in pain.
“Neither does I,” Brushfire growled, and threw another at Citrine. The black ferret flipped over its path, baring her teeth.
“Do that again.”
He did. This time, the marksbeast kicked it out of the air by the blade. It turned twice and landed, point first, in the sand by Citrine. “My turn.”
Brushfire gawked as she spun a knife right out of her belt at his tail. He was so stunned that he didn’t even pull it away. “Aiiieeeee!” he screeched. She walked right past him as he yanked out the dagger, tossed it away, and nursed his injured brush.
He was holding in sobs.
A slave. That’s all I am. Why? He did nothing to me. Neither did the mouse. A slave.
These were the thoughts running through Citrine’s head that night. She was lying, wide awake, in her bunk belowdecks. All of a sudden, she was hit by another wave of grief. The tears streamed down her fur this time. She held in the sobs, though, in fear of her detached father’s rage. He would throw her out, like he did mother, that night . . .
Captain Greyheart just overlooked Crygal Deathfur’s abusive ways. He let the ferret mistreat his daughter and his wife, Brighteye Blackpaw.
Citrine felt resolve creeping into her mind. She slinked out of bed, making as much noise as a feather, and crept over to her mother’s bunk, beneath her father’s and by a snoring stoat’s. She gently shook her mother awake, then slapped a paw over Brighteye’s mouth before she could scream at the dark shape above her. “Mother, ‘tis me. Be quiet,” she whispered. Brighteye calmed down.
“What . . . is it?” her mother asked sleepily.
“I’m leaving. Come with me.”
Brighteye’s blue eyes widened in fear. “No! You can’t do it!” she almost shouted. Citrine’s paw covered her mouth again.
“I can’t take this anymore. Please, Mother, I can’t leave you here!” the black ferret begged. Brighteye shook her head fiercely. Citrine almost sobbed. Her mother had been here too long. It was suffocating her. “Please!”
“No . . . I just can’t . . . your father . . .” Brighteye breathed, a hint of a tear shining in her own eyes.
“He can’t hurt you if you leave!”
“No . . . I want you to go, though!” she whispered, determination entering her own voice. “I can still change your father. You need to leave.” Citrine hugged her tightly.
“I love you, Citrine. You and I are different than all the other vermin. Live up to that. Let it roam, my daughter.”
“I love you too.” With that, Citrine snatched her weapons and clothes and dashed to the hold ladder. Once out, she made her way across the deck to the edge of the ship. They were some way off the coast, but the sentry was asleep. She left her cloak, buckled on her knives and quiver, and dived into the water.
On deck, the sentry started awake for a few seconds. “Wot was . . .” He promptly fell back to sleep. A grog bottle rolled out from behind him.
Citrine was an avid swimmer, having been on the seas her whole life. The lithe ferret quickly reached the shoreline. Pointedly avoiding the burnt village, she trudged onward, past the trees and into a large clearing.
Three years later, Citrine was a mercenary. All she knew was death and killing, so until she knew what to do with her life, she had resolved to kill only from a distance and be a scout for various employers.
This year, she’d taken a job from a wildcat in the north. His name was Gettar Rightwind, and he was only interested in slaving. No killing and a hefty sum made it an irrefusable offer to the black ferret. So far, she’d only looked for the slaves, not actually taken them.
Citrine stood now at the top of a hill, surveying another small settlement. It was at the base of the northern mountain range. Sheltered from the harsh winds, it had flourished by a cool mountain stream. Gettar would be pleased.
She ran back down the valley on the other side, through the pine trees, and all the way back to Gettar’s camp. Past the slaves’ tent, past the slavers’ tents, and into a larger grey one at the end. Gettar lounged in a portable cot, sucking on robin eggs. When she came in, he nodded in approval. His claw beckoned for her to draw nearer, and his golden fur flashed in the light from the entry. “What have you found?”
“A small mountain village, with many young ones and fit squirrels and mice,” she reported. “You do know that I won’t help take them,” Citrine added.
Gettar rolled his eyes but still nodded. “Yes, yes, I know. Go get a fish from the cook, and I will personally give you pay later.” Citrine bowed and retreated through the tent flap.
That night, Citrine led a small group of vermin to the village. They quietly stole into the cluster of houses, and soon one of them came out of a hut with an unconscious hedgehog over his back. Citrine looked the other way. She was standing at the edge of the settlement by a smaller hut.
Soon, each vermin had one of the strongest younger creatures. Citrine was about to lead them back, when an ermine tripped over a flowerpot, making a huge crash. She froze, as did the ermine. “You idiot!” a weasel whispered. Someone opened the door. It was a mouse followed right away by his family.
The ermine sneered and, followed by an arctic fox, moved forward to snatch the mouse’s son. The father stepped in the way. “Stop! Stay away!” He spread his paws protectively.
Suddenly Citrine was standing in front of a different mouse, in a different village. She felt emotion welling up inside her. What she was doing now was no better. Slave making slaves.
“Stop!” she yelled. The ermine looked at her, scowled, and kept moving. Citrine dashed in front of the mouse father just as the fox thrust forward with a sickle-shaped sword.
Everything went black as the vermin made off with their prizes. The last thing that Citrine saw before her eyes closed in pain was an unfamiliar pair of eyes . . . a fox that hadn’t been with her group.
Citrine woke up in light. A golden-red fox was beside her, applying a poultice to her side. “Ah, I see that you’re finally awake,” she said cheerfully. “I’ve seen many strange things in my life-time, young one, but never what you did.”
“My mother said . . .” Citrine winced as the fox’s soft paw pressed her wound. “She said I’m different than other vermin.”
“I know.” The fox stood and walked into another room. “My name is Kenai O’Mage.”
“I am Citrine Blackpaw,” the ferret replied.
“‘Tis good to meet you. You may stay as long as you need.”
“Are you a healer?”
“I am.” Kenai came out carrying a tray with a cup of dark liquid and two hard-boiled eggs. “Drink up. ‘Tis good for you,” she advised. Citrine nodded and downed it in one gulp. It tasted slightly like blackberries.
“Would you teach me?” she suddenly asked me. Kenai looked at her quizzically. “I mean, the art of healing.”
Kenai thought. Citrine hoped that she would say yes.
Citrine almost cried. She was to be released from her bondage.
Not a slave. A servant of those around her. Not a killer. A healer.
I love fiction, fantasy, roleplaying, and reading. Nice to meet you too. All of my tales are little kid-friendly, except perhaps a few stories in the Rogue Captain universe. Those are more geared towards teens. Check with your parents, just in case.