AN - Unlike my last story, I plan to make this an extended narrative, with a plot and everything! It's almost like I'm a real writer now... *sniffs* Leave a review if you enjoy!
Disclaimer: I own nothing. And if a few lines sound like they come from the movie, well, I have a good memory for that sort of thing.
"She can't become a warrior, Bonnie. She's a bunny!"
"I'm aware our daughter is a bunny, Stu. I don't think that's going to be confusing for anyone. What, do you think mammals will look at her and say 'Is that a bear, or a horse? You know, I just can't tell —'"
"Well, of course they'll know she's a bunny, dear. I wasn't trying to argue against that. I was just saying —"
"Did you think it was a point that needed clarification? I thought it was pretty obvious, honey."
"Why is this such a big deal? All I did was make one remark and you have to turn it into this big thing —"
"What thing? I thought we were just having a friendly discussion about our daughter's plans for the future, like parents do. Is that so odd?"
"Look, all I'm saying is that she's small and cuddly. Nobody's going to take her seriously! And if they do, that's even worse. If she gets in a real fight, we both know what's going to happen."
"Bonnie, dear? Bonnie, are you listening? What's the matter?"
"... Oh, no."
five minutes earlier:
Grinning, the red fox turned to look at the small bunny facing him behind the vendors' stalls, ears quivering with fury. "That doesn't belong to you," she said, pointing to the small pouch on his belt that jingled audibly. "I saw you take it from Laney. Give it back!" Behind him, two small sheep cowered on the ground with fear.
"Ah don't think so," the other mammal replied in a broad accent. "Ah think ah'll keep it. What're you gonna do about that, huh? Wiggle your cute little tail at me?"
"First of all, don't call me cute. And second, Gideon Gray, I could just take it from you," the rabbit replied, eyes narrow.
"Yeah, raht!" Gideon laughed. "Ya know, us predators used ta eat prey! So maybe you better just skedaddle, before ah give in ta mah primal instincts," he continued, bending low over her. His teeth glinted, hot breath wafting from his open jaws.
Her face settling in hard lines, his opponent clenched her fist, before sending a punch straight into his nose. Taken by surprise, Gideon stumbled back, only just saved from an ungraceful fall by his weasel friend. Fur rising along his shoulders, he growled at her. The small rabbit felt a little jolt of fear run through her. In two steps, the fox crossed the distance between them, pushing her roughly down into the dirt with a swipe across her cheek. She gritted her teeth to keep from making a sound.
"Ya just don't know when to give up, do ya?" he spat. "Well, ya can keep that as a reminder. So whenever ya start thinkin'a becomin a warrior, or ya think that yer better than us preds, just remember that ya'll never be anythin more than a stoopid, carrot farmin' dumb bunny!"
With that parting remark, he spat in the dirt and turned, barking to his crony, "C'mon! We got better things to do than stick'round here all day with a bunch'a lousy prey." Turning behind a stall, they were out of sight.
As soon as they were gone, the two sheep rushed to their fallen friend, helping her up. "Judy, are you okay?" one asked anxiously. "Oooh, I'll tell my folks about this. That Gideon Gray's been acting a lout for far too long."
"Never mind him, how'bout you, Judy?" said the other. "He scratched you right down your cheek! That might scar."
"It was worth it," Judy said with a small smile. "Here." She reached out and opened her paw to reveal the pouch. "Pulled it off his belt when he was distracted. I know it was all your allowance for today. And I don't care about the scar," she went on wearily. "What he said hurt more."
The two sheep looked at each other, then one spoke. "Well, everyone knows you want to learn how to fight, and become a warrior, and that's great'n all, but... there's never been a bunny who did that, not in any of the stories."
"It doesn't matter, though, Judy," said the other hastily. "Even if you can't be a warrior, you don't have to be a farmer your whole life..." She trailed off, suddenly unsure of herself. The bunny was looking at her as though she'd said something wrong.
"Can't?" she repeated, eyes suddenly sparking with fire. "Nobody tells me what I can and can't do, not even my friends. Or my family. I don't care what Gideon or anybody else says, I can be a warrior if I want to. And he was right about one thing," she added, bristling with determination. "I don't know when to give up." With that, she turned and walked away, leaving the stunned sheep to stare at each other, speechless.
As she marched out of the narrow avenue between the backs of the stalls, she emerged onto a broad thoroughfare, lined with stalls of every kind. Vendors hawked their wares to passersby, loudly calling out descriptions of their products and promising the best value anywhere. Customers haggled over prices, vegetables on skewers were roasted over cookfires, and forges belched sparks into the blue sky. The air was filled with the ringing of hammers, the clink of coins, and the scent of smoke.
It was market day.
Head turning to follow all the bustle and noise, Judy Hopps didn't notice her parents staring at her from across the way. The market only came a few times a year, and she wanted to make the most of it. Unfortunately, that meant she didn't have time to escape when they made their way in her direction, Bonnie bearing down on her with worry etched into every line of her face.
"Have you been fighting? What happened to you?" she gasped, reaching for Judy's cheek to inspect the marks. "Was it that Gideon Gray? I've half a mind to go find his mother right now and let her know what I —"
"It's just a scratch, Mom," Judy muttered. "I'm fine, really."
Maternal concern assuaged, exasperation began to take a more prominent role. "Well, what were you thinking, getting in fights on market day? I thought your father and I raised you better than that. This better not be some ploy for attention, little missy, and you're in enough trouble as it is with this idea of becoming a knight in armor."
"Mo-ooom!" Judy cried, anger rising inside her. "First of all, I didn't start the fight, he did, when he stole Lacey's allowance. Second, no, this isn't some ploy for attention. How could you even think that? And third, I'm not becoming a knight in armor, I'm becoming a warrior, an adventurer. Armor is for rhinos and elephants. I'm going to have a cool sword, and a staff, and a lasso for tripping people... Do you think I should have a lasso or a whip? I can grab stuff with a lasso, but maybe a whip would be easier to use, and I don't know how to tie a lasso. I've heard of this panther from the Far East who throws metal stars, but how do you throw those without cutting yourself? Or what about —"
"Jude," her father said, cutting off the fountain of words. "It's great that you want to be an adventurer, but face the facts. You're a bunny. There's never been a bunny hero, ever."
"Then I'll just have to be the first," his daughter said cheerfully. "Besides, you already said that ten minutes ago. I'm going to learn how to fight, and then I'll go out into the world and do great things, like you always wanted, right?" Head tilted, she stared at her parents innocently.
"You can do great things here, sweetie," Bonnie said. "We always need more help on the farm. You can learn nature magic, like Alexandra, or your cousin Lenny. Look at what they're doing! Why, just last month Lexie saved a whole cornfield from blight. You could do that too, and you know mages are just as important as anyone."
"But I don't want to be a mage," Judy countered. "I want to learn how to fight, so I can help people everywhere, not just on this farm. You said there weren't any bunny heroes? Well, this is why. Because nobody thinks us bunnies are good enough, not even you! Who's going to stick up for us if we don't stick up for ourselves?" With a twist, she slipped free of Bonnie's hold and darted off into the market without looking back.
"Oh, Stu," Bonnie whispered softly, watching her vanish into the crowd. "What are we going to do with her?"
The answer to that, as Bonnie and Stu found out, was absolutely nothing. Judy wouldn't listen when they told her she was too small and defenseless to go out into the world on her own. She pointed out that she could hear danger coming before it would know she was there, and that all adventurers were honor-bound to look out for each other. They told her that in a real fight, her opponent would always be bigger than her, and she could be knocked out or killed with a single blow. In return, she said she just wouldn't let them hit her. Besides, she could run rings around anyone in her weight class or beyond, and the bigger her opponents the slower they would be. They asked what she would do if attacked with magic. She responded that mages and warriors never fought each other, since neither could defend against the other's attacks. To every question, she had an answer, and to every point, she had a counterpoint.
At last they decided it was just a phase that she'd grow out of as time passed. And after months of arguments and tearful fights, she finally dropped it. She stopped mentioning it, and when pressed, simply said that she'd realized it wasn't possible, although she didn't say what she thought she'd be doing instead. Bonnie and Stu gratefully accepted this sudden reversal, and thought no more of it.
As a matter of fact, she hadn't given up her dream at all. Realizing that her parents would never support her, she had simply acted like she didn't care anymore so that they would stop worrying and trying to stop her. She could get more done on her own.
She created her own exercise regimen, rising before the break of dawn to run miles and do push-ups out in the fields, where she wouldn't be noticed or disturbed. She pushed herself as hard as she dared, just before her family would start to notice, even though it made her tired and achey throughout the day. When she turned in after all her work was done, she flopped onto her bed and fell asleep instantly. She was too tired even to dream. It felt like just seconds later when she forced herself awake to,start the routine al over again.
She went on like this for a year and a half, working herself to the bone every day. She only allowed herself rest on holidays, or market days. Although it was grueling, it had an effect. Her previously soft body became hard with muscle, and her endurance more than tripled. As she grew, her frame stayed lean, but never thin. At the end, she could run a five-minute mile without breaking a sweat, and jump over two of her siblings standing on top of each other.
This, however, was only the beginning. Although she was fit, she had yet to receive any real instruction in combat, and she couldn't ask anyone she knew to teach her. The most she got was a few boxing lessons from one of the old-timers, given to enthusiastic kits, but she didn't dare ask for anything more advanced. She wasn't sure what she would do. If no one would teach her anything, her dream of becoming a hero was over before it had even begun.
Her chance came during the spring fair, when a grizzled old wolf arrived in the village from parts unknown. He was criss-crossed with scars, he had a chunk missing from one ear, and he made it apparent he intended to stay. Although his appearance made plenty of folks uneasy, Judy saw him as her chance to learn.
It took her a few days to work up the courage to approach him. Late in the evening, however, after all of her chores were done, a very nervous bunny stepped up to his hut on the outskirts of town and knocked twice. The boards were rough - he'd built the place hmself and refused any offers of help, although few had been made.
The door was yanked open almost immediately after she drew back her paw, startling her. The old wolf stood in the doorway, backlit by a small fire. "I scented you coming a hundred yards out," he said without preamble. "What do you want?"
"Well, I — I want you to teach me."
"Teach you what?" he barked roughly, eyes narrowing. "I have nothing to teach anyone. Go away, before I bite your ears off." Turning away, he slammed the door in her face.
Judy's nervousnes was quickly replaced by anger. "I want you to teach me how to fight!" she shouted through the door. "Nobody else will. They all think I'm not good enough, but —"
The door was opened just as swiftly as it had been closed, moments before. "I would ask you to repeat yourself, but I heard you the first time. What I'm wondering is, why would a little bunny want to go out into the great big world, risking life and limb in the pursuit of some foolish ideal? Do you want to end up like me, spending your last days as a pathetic husk of what you once were, in a shack next to some cornfields?" He gestured expressively.
Hoping to lighten the mood, Judy ventured, "You don't look very pathetic to me, sir."
The wolf laughed once, a smile creasing his face, before it was gone the next instant. In its place was a calculating look, as his gaze traveled up and down her body, evaluating her potential. Judy stood still and hoped.
"Well," he said after a few seconds, "you're not as limp as a dead fish, like a lot of these rabbits. But we've a long way to go before you can call yourself a fighter."
Trying futilely to quell the hope rising inside her cheat, Judy said, "So you'll teach me?"
"I never said that," responded the older mammal. "You look like you've spent some time lifting bags of flour. But that doesn't mean anything. I've seen plenty of rhinos and elephants brought down by mammals barely bigger than you are, no matter how many muscles they had. Try to land a hit on me," he said, stepping out onto the grass, "and we'll see what I have to work with."
He assumed a relaxed posture, arms hanging loosely at his sides. His eyes never left her face.
Swallowing down her nerves, Judy ran at him and leaped, aiming a kick at his chest. Though she was moving fast, she felt her paw grabbed and twisted as the wolf ducked, sending her sailing over his head. She rolled, coming up on the other side. When she raised her head, he was facing her, looking as if he had never moved at all.
Now wary, she approached him, circling around to put the sun at her back so it shone into his eyes. He swiveled smoothly, keeping her in front of him. He gazed at her coolly. She waited.
Digging her hindpaws into the ground, she charged, feinting with her right paw before sending her left in a hard jab at his face. Instead of connecting, it was deflected by his elbow while he stepped aside, letting her momentum carry her past him.
"I saw that feint coming a mile away," he said.
Renewing her offense, she sent a flurry of kicks and punches at his legs, chest, and face, anger overwhelming her desire not to hurt him. It didn't matter. Every one of her attacks was dodged, deflected, or countered. Try as she might, she simply couldn't hit him. The wolf weaved back and forth like a wisp of smoke with an agility that belied his aged appearance. Perhaps what infuriated her most, however, was the fact that he didn't even seem to be trying.
At last he changed his pattern. Moving so fast her eyes couldn't follow, he seemed to somehow appear in front of her, sending her flying backwards with a strike to her chest. His punch was like a hammer blow.
Folding his arms, he looked her over. Gritting her teeth, Judy picked herself up and braced for whatever he might say.
"For a presumably untrained farm bunny," he said, expression unreadable, "that wasn't half bad."
Judy felt a little bubble of hope start to grow. Quickly she forced her attention back to what he was saying.
"You ever received any formal instruction?"
"A few boxing lessons," Judy replied, trying to keep her tone even. So much rode on his next words.
"Hm," was all she got.
With a sigh, the wolf rocked back and raised his eyes to the sky. "I must be getting soft in my old age," he said to no one in particular. Shifting his gaze down again to meet hers, he spoke. "Very well. It's better than sitting around here with nothing to do, I suppose."
Judy wanted to jump up and down for joy, but restrained herself. "Thank you, sir!" she got out. "I promise I won't disappoint you. Um... what should I call you, if you don't mind?" She could be polite and all, but just calling him sir would get old real fast.
With a quirk of his brow, her new teacher replied, "You can call me Ingvar. That's a name I haven't used in a while, and it'll be good to air it out again." He looked up, and only then did Judy realize that the sun was setting. "You'd better go home now, little bunny, before your family misses you."
"Um. My name is Judy."
He just looked at her.
Shaking her head, Judy set off for home as the aging wolf retreated into his hut, neither having any idea what the coming years would bring. Ingvar, or so he had called himself, thought that Judy would probably wash out within a few weeks. Judy, for her part, imagined several months of intense workouts and one-on-one sparring, before she was ready to face the world.
Both of them were dead wrong.
Although excited for her training, Judy wasn't sure when she would have time in the day, when she was already waking up early to exercise. Even if she gave that time over to training, it was still little more than an hour every day — it would take her forever to learn anything.
Ingvar, however, came up with a solution. After talking it over with her, he approached her parents and told them that he would be teaching Judy his trade — namely, that of a merchant, as well as other helpful skills like leatherworking and weaving. Under his tutelage, she would learn to do sums, haggle over price, and gain an eye for value. She could buy and sell goods at a profit and make a name for herself. Best of all was that she could use his business connections to get a head start in the commercial world. Instead of starting out alone and friendless, he would use his extensive network of friends and allies to give her a leg up.
"Otherwise, she'd be a bunny in a pit of vipers," Ingvar told the anxious Hopps, not unkindly. "Don't worry, though. She's got a keen head on her shoulders, and I'll tell everyone I know to watch out for her. Call in a few favors if need be." Despite these comforting words, the two rabbits looked a little uneasy. Possibly because of the large wolf that towered over them, even sitting.
They were assembled around a small table, set with bread and fruit, where the Hopps usually hosted neighborly events or casual business meetings. The current mood, however, was far from the usual.
"Mr. Ingvar," Bonnie began, "We really appreciate this, it's too kind of you to offer. But I don't think we'd feel comfortable sending our little kit out there alone. Oh, I know you'd look out for her, and it does me a great deal of good to know that you'd be around, but... she's only a little bunny in a great big world, and I'd never forgive myself if anything happened to her."
"Mr. and Mrs. Hopps," Ingvar began seriously, "I won't lie to you. There's danger to be found out there, and while we both know Miss Hopps would never go looking for any, it might find her just the same. That's why I'll be giving her personal defense classes as well, so that she knows how to protect herself and what to in a dangerous situation."
Seeing the looks on their faces, he went on. "It's true that merchant caravans hire guards, and some traders keep permanent bodyguards. But mercenaries care only for coin, and if someone else offers them a better price, they can turn on you in an instant. I've seen it happen before. And carrying a staff or a sword will deter only the petty thieves. Carrying something you know how to use, on the other hand, can save your life. Even if it's only a dagger, a little instruction in combat could make all the difference, and I know you wouldn't want her to be reliant on others her whole life, yes?"
"Mr. Ingvar —" Stu started —
"Even if she never leaves the farm, and I can certainly think of worse places to stay," the wolf continued, "wouldn't you agree that these are useful skills to have? As the child of a wealthy and prestigious family, she stands to inherit a great deal someday. Or do you prefer to keep property in the direct male line?" he inquired politely.
Stu grasped for words, before Bonnie cut him off. "Each child, regardless of gender, has a claim to the estate. And as one of our oldest, she does stand to inherit a sizeable portion."
"Then at some point, she must learn the ways of business," Ingvar said amiably. "Otherwise, she will find herself surrounded by swindlers and crooks looking to cheat her out of her rightful fortune. I gather that you have not yet hired a tutor?" He took their silence as confirmation. "Then consider my services as acquired, sir and madam. I won't hear a word about it," he said, waving his paws to cut off their flurry of denials. "And as for pay, I want nothing beyond a decent meal now and again. I'm old now, and I have no use for money. My only function is to pass on my knowledge to the young. Of course, she won't be able to help as much around the estate, but then there are plenty of willing paws for that sort of thing, and hers are better devoted to learning the intricacies of leadership, which is to say, business. If you decide she can make it on her own out in the world, I'll do everything in my power to assist her, and if not, she'll be learning valuable skills no matter what she decides to do with her life. I think we'll begin our lessons tomorrow, if it please you, and continue until she has learned all that there is to learn on the subject. I'll show myself out — don't trouble yourselves on my account — it was a pleasure meeting you, and I look forward to teaching the young Miss Hopps. Good day!"
After having successfully battered the two Hopps into verbal submission, and rolled over any attempts at refusal, he slipped out and left them there, wondering what they had just agreed to.
And that's it for this first chapter! Leave a review, let me know what you think. Should I make the chapters longer or shorter? Keep in mind that longer chapters will take longer to write, and I'm not sure if I can adhere to a strict schedule until I get a sense of how much I'm able to write and how long that'll take me. I'm still starting out, so any feedback is appreciated. There will be more interesting stuff, I promise, but I wanted to establish the feel of the story and ground it in some solid backstory before we move on to the actiony bits. Tournaments! Magic! Maybe even a certain red-furred fox... Leave a like if you enjoyed it! :)