A/N: I have purposefully changed a few of the details given in Triss for this story. The reasons for those changes were purely stylistic – I thought it would be interesting to bring Plugg and the Seascab crew in, rather than having Rocc Arrem killed and Triss captured by the ratguards. – SG
by Sauron Gorthaur
Dead silence reigned in the throne room of Riftguard. The two ferrets, father and daughter, stood facing each other, pink eyes alight with anger. Agarnu snorted in disgust, glaring at the four-season-old ferretmaid who stood aggressively with her narrow white chin jutting out. Spreading his paws wide, he berated her, not for the first time this week.
"Vat you t'inking? I haff told you not to go into der shtore room and mess vit der veapons. Der sword is not a toy: how many times I tell you dat?"
Unrepentance radiated from Princess Kurda. "Chah, I know dat. I vill learn to use der swords, and den I vill be der greatest swordbeast in Riftguard. You vill not shtop me."
Agarnu jabbed a dirty claw at her. "I put der big lock on der door if you go in dere again."
Kurda's paw also shot out, accusingly pointing at her brother, who was skulking in the shadows, eavesdropping, but avoiding his vicious sister. "Dat sneaknose, you vould never know if he didn't tell you."
Agarnu growled. "I vill talk about diss no more. You go and shtop der trouble-causing now, yarr." He turned on his son. "And you, too. I vant no more fighting. Go and fetch Riftun here to me." He settled back down into his throne, making it clear to his offspring that the conversation was over.
Kurda turned on her heel and marched out primly, managing to kick Bladd's tail as he scurried out in front of her. The sea breeze rushed in as she stepped out into the Riftguard grounds, and she wrinkled her nose in disgust at the smell of dead fish that it brought. There were slaves about, watched over by ratguards, but she ignored them as she stalked across the rocky turf, fuming inwardly.
Looking up, she watched some of the big sea birds wheel overhead, squabbling over one of the stinking fish carcasses. A smaller kittiwake abandoned the attempt at a meal and swooped down to land on the statue of a ferret in the courtyard. Kurda looked up at the stone ferret, admiring his muscular, lithe form and the flail he held almost carelessly in one paw. Her eyes narrowed with delight at the thought of holding such a weapon, though swords were superior. They felt better in her paws, more deadly. What did she care if Agarnu had forbade her to touch the weapons? She was the grand-daughter of Sarengo, not an idiot buffoon like Bladd.
The smell of smoke mingled with the sea odors, and Kurda looked up sharply, keen eyes noting the black column rising on the Riftguard promontory. The brief good mood that thinking about weapons had put her in, abruptly vanished. She picked up her pace, heading for the promontory.
Captain Riftun was there, lording it over several ratguards and slaves. Already a large fire was burning, and the slaves were bringing more wood and brush. Riftun berated slaves and his own rats alike. "Wot do ye think yer doing, numbskull? Ye ain't here to gaze out to sea. I'll use yer own whip on ye if ye don't see to those slaves.
"You, otter! That ain't gonna burn. It's too wet, see. Now, you get back up there an' get some heather wot'll actually catch on fire. I don't have all day. Move!"
The otter in question was an old creature with a lame leg. He dropped the load of soggy vegetation and turned wearily, but not before one of the guards had flicked a whip out at him. It caught him on the back and he fell. When he did not rise, the guard whipped out again, shouting at him.
Before anybeast could stop her, Kurda stepped forward and with one fluid movement, snatched a sword from a guard's belt and drove it into the slave. Riftun looked confused for a moment, but then his face hardened. "Now, wot'd ye go and do that for, Yer Highness? Yer Daddy ain't gonna be too pleased when he hears about this."
The young ferret kicked out at the body. "Vhy you bodder vit dat von? He vas old, only a shlave. Vhy you care, eh?"
Riftun shrugged. "Have it yer own way, Highness. Here, Vorto, make sure that fire smokes."
Kurda stared at the fire in disgust. "Sea scum, freebooters. Vhy you vant dem?"
Riftun was the only rat in Riftguard who could get away with speaking patronizingly to one of Agarnu's brood. "Slaves don't grow on trees, yer liddle Highness, an' you just killed another one. We're runnin' short an' yer Daddy wants his projects done double quick. An' we ain't gonna be able to do that without slaves. So, why don't ye just run along an' stay out o' the way, Missie."
Kurda radiated fury and her pink eyes blazed. "Ven I tell Agarnu you said dat, he vill punish you good."
"You just run along an' tell him," Riftun snorted as he turned his back on her.
The Princess of Riftguard stormed off, fuming. She wandered down by the beach for a while, glaring out at the dazzling blue expanse, and hurling rocks at the sea birds. Her bad mood took an even worse turn when she noticed Bladd skulking in the shadows of the large rocks, grinning from ear to ear. Kurda glared at him. "Vat you doing, Sneaknose? I run you t'rough vit big sword, yarr."
Bladd stuck his tongue out, but maintained a safe distance. "Yah, you von't do dat. You not allowed to touch der veapons, yarr. Too young."
Kurda bristled. "Von day I vill not be der youngling and ven dat day comes, I vill shtick a sword right in your heart."
Bladd retreated, putting a rock between himself and Kurda. "Daddy von't let you do dat. By der vay, he vant to see you again. He not happy 'bout der shlave." He fled then, giggling mischievously, as Kurda pursued in a rage.
For the second time that day, Agarnu stood glaring at his offspring. There she stood, defiant and unrepentant, anger glinting in her evil, pink eyes. She was dangerous, dangerous like Sarengo. He didn't even like to think what she would become when she was older. Although Bladd was the elder of his children and the rightful heir, there was no doubt in his mind who would actually take the throne. He shook his head.
"Vhy von't you be like Bladd? No trouble, no disturbances. Vhy you alvays der trouble-maker?"
Kurda was about to argue back when the doors slammed unceremoniously open. A ragged, but vicious group of vermin entered, followed by a number of nervous-looking ratguards. Kurda scowled at the sight of the motley sea raiders: rats, ferrets, weasels, stoats, and one fox, all well-armed.
The fox swaggered up to Agarnu, showing no respect for the ferret king. "So, we saw yer beacon. What do ye want, eh?"
Kurda leapt forward, trembling with rage. "You shpeak humbly to der Riftguard king, scum," she spat.
The fox eyed her with a mixture of distaste and amusement. "Well, well, if it ain't a liddle pink-eyed ferretbabe wot thinks she can order Cap'n Plugg Firetail about. Well, I never. Wot do ye say, Slitfang, should I go down on bended knee and beg her liddle Majesty's pardon?"
A large weasel laughed dully. "Haha, hit 'er over the bonce wid yer axe, Cap'n, an' then she won't be so mouthy."
Kurda's fur stood on end as she shrieked at the insolent fox. "You vill learn manners. I vill haff you hung from a pole vhile I chop you to bits. I vill haff your tongue ripped out of your grinning face. I vill…"
At a sign from Agarnu, Riftun intervened by putting a paw over her mouth and dragging her back as she fumed. Agarnu sighed faintly as he turned back to Plugg. "Ignore her. She vill not bodder us again. Now, haff you brought der shlaves?"
Plugg picked his teeth with a claw and spat. "Aye, we've a few, though ye ain't gettin' them cheap. Pickings are tough this time o' year, but ye can cast yer eye over 'em."
Kurda trailed after the group, growling to herself. One day they wouldn't push her around like this, oh no. One day, when she had learned to use a sword properly, they'd all be sorry for the way they had treated Princess Kurda of Riftguard: Agarnu, Bladd, Riftun, and most of all the sea scum. Filthy raiders! There were few creatures Kurda loathed more than the loud, rude, dirty sea vermin.
Plugg was in the lead with Agarnu, but the ferret king stopped short at the sight of the ship moored in the bay. "I von't go on der ship. Bring der shlaves down here to me."
The fox captain shrugged. "The ship ain't gonna sink, but if'n you're scared, I'll bring the slaves out. Slitfang, Tazzin, go fetch the slaves, will ye?"
The oarslaves were a wretched bunch, two dozen emaciated beasts in rags. Agarnu went down the line, indicated the creatures that he wanted to buy. Most he passed by in disgust at their weak condition, but on coming to a sturdy male squirrel, he stopped. "Dat von," he said.
As Slitfang unchained him from the slave line, the squirrel glared at Agarnu. "I don't go without my daughter." He pointed at a small squirrelmaid chained next to him, a creature only two or three seasons old.
Agarnu scoffed. "Vhy I vant a little squirrelmaid? She vill be no use to me."
The squirrel's eyes blazed with a dangerous light. "I tell you, ferret, if I come to serve you, you will regret it. But if Trisscar does not come, you will regret it even sooner. Rocc Arrem will make your dying day come swiftly."
Riftun menaced him with a spear. "Slaves don't talk to the king o' Riftguard like that. You'll soon learn manners in the punishment cages."
Rocc Arrem's eyes continued to dance with the warrior's fire. "Do what you will, vermin. My daughter comes."
"Give her to me."
Everybeast turned to look at Kurda, who was smiling evilly. "He vants you to buy his daughter. Yarr, buy her for me. I vill punish him for his vords ven he sees how I vill treat his daughter."
Agarnu shook his head. "Yarr, yarr, vatever you vant. Do not kill her. I not able to buy new shlaves every season."
Slitfang unchained the squirrelmaid and kicked her over towards Kurda. The ferret could feel Rocc Arrem's eyes on her. "You are an eviler tyrant than your father. Mark my words, only death comes to tyrants."
There was something in the squirrel's eyes that frightened Kurda, but not wanting to lose face in front of the gathered beasts, she merely snorted and turned on her heel, dragging the squirrelmaid after her. Going up to her chamber, she kicked the squirrel in. She had never owned a personal slave before and was enjoying the new taste of uncontrolled power. She would have to see about getting one of those whips that the ratguards always carried. And someday she would have a sword. A cruel giggle escaped her lips as she thought of the arrogant Rocc Arrem tied up and in her power when she had a sword in her paw. Ah, he would not be so arrogant then. But she could do a good deal of damage now; she had his precious daughter in her care.
She kicked out at the squirrel again, making sure her claws caught the small creature's back. "See diss room. I vant it clean before diss night or you vill get no supper."
The maid looked up and met her eyes. Kurda recoiled back at the gleam in those eyes, the same hatred that had lit Rocc Arrem's gaze. "My father was right," she said quietly. "One day an end will come to you and all your evil kind. My father will do what he says."
Kurda could not meet the fiery gaze, and a tremor of unknown fear ran down her spine. The simple words of this creature, several seasons younger than herself, left her with a nameless dread. With a snarl, she turned, slamming the door in the squirrel's face, but she could not forget those fierce eyes. Little did she know that her doom had come to Riftguard.