Be StrongBy Karath Nikolas
((Something I wrote largely while on a plane... On a phone. Just a bit of Karath’s backstory I decided to write out.))
It was cold outside, a light fall of snow fell from the gray skies. The ground was covered in white, and faint lines of smoke trailed up from the buildings of the snow-bound village. Mountains that seemed to touch the sky towered up on both sides of the cold valley.
"Get back! you'll get burned standing that close."
The stoat took a step towards the young ferret. Many beasts were gathered around, some with smoldering torches still in paw.
"I said stand back."
The stoat stepped closer.
"Stupid child. Move! Or should I assume you've caught the sickness too and toss you into the flames?"
I'm so sorry... I'll still be with you, you won't be alone... You know I'll always love you, Andrei. Now go, be strong, I know you will be.
Andrei didn't even hear the beast. He stood staring into the flames, watching as everything he had known for the thirteen years of his life burned. The toy ship sitting above the fireplace that he'd played with for hours at a time, dreaming of the sea.The small collection of books he'd acquired and painstakingly learned how to read. And, his mother. The sickness had taken her only hours before. The house had to be destroyed, along with everything in it, to prevent it from spreading. That was the rule, wasn't it? It seemed so cruel now.
Now he stood outside, with nothing to his name but a thick winter coat. It didn't seem to be helping the cold much. As Andrei looked into the fire, he couldn't hear the beasts around him. He couldn't even think of his mother. All he could think was how warm the fire was, how brilliant it's flames. It seemed to be mocking him, it seemed to know how cold life was, and it seemed to beckon him towards its all too welcoming warmth.
He finally stepped back as the stray threads at the bottom of his coat began to smolder.
What did that mean? There was nowhere for him to go. He could perhaps find shelter with some family for a night, two at the most. But what then? Serfdom? Freezing to death? She left him!
The beasts who had been watching the dwelling burn were slowly making their way back to their own wooden houses. Still Andrei just stood. His fists shook with a grief that was almost like a rage. Finally, tears fell unhindered down his cheeks, freezing when they hit the snow.
There was a groaning of timbers and a fountain of sparks as the cabin finally collapsed upon itself. Andrei couldn't stand any longer, he just sat on the freezing ground, at a loss for what to do.
It could have been an hour, or it could have been only minutes before he felt a huge paw land upon his shoulder. He looked up, his cheeks streaked by now frozen tears.
It was the stoat.
Andrei's arm shot out, his fist thudding weakly against the beast's heavy jacket. He tried punching him again, realising the futility of his actions on the third time.
"I'm sorry." The stoat said, a voice that was deep and fierce, yet with a hint of kindness behind it.
"W-wha?" Was all Andrei could say.
"Didn't want you to burn. Could have said it better, I'll admit. And your mother. I'm sorry. Never knew mine..."
"Why are you here? Go away!" Rage was building in Andrei's voice.
"I lead a few beasts. I suppose you could say we're explorers, adventurers. Some might call us mercenaries but we don't like the term. I'm here because nobeast else is, it seems. I've talked to my group, we're willing to let you come with us. We're leaving soon, this place is full of sickness. It's not going to be an easy life for you if you come with us. It's an outright struggle most of the time. But it's better than it is here."
Andrei's mouth came open to speak, but he couldn't think of anything to say, so he shut it again.
"It's alright. Just nod, mate. You coming with us?"
Six other beasts had walked up behind the stoat, each carrying a large pack. All were armed. The stoat extended a paw.
Andrei shook it, giving a swift nod, trying to wipe the tears from his face with his paw but failing due to their frozen nature.
"You'll have to learn to fight, you know. You'll have to carry your weight like the rest of us. But I have something to give you before we depart. I'll teach you to use it in time."
The large stoat took from his pack something that appeared to be a roll of cloth. He sat it down on the snowy ground and unrolled it. It was a blade, a dagger, long enough to act as a short sword in Andrei's small paws.
Gingerly, he picked it up. From the silver scabbard he withdrew the blade, somehow shining even in the dim light filtering through the clouds. It's pommel was set with a brilliant piece of amethyst.
"Keep that safe. You'll have to use it some day soon. Come, get up now. We have to go. What's your name?"
Andrei stood up, putting the blade inside his coat.
"A-Andrei Nikolas, sir."