"I don't suppose you'll reconsider my offer."
"As much as I would love to accompany you, I believe my duties lie in planning a funeral."
Trufflehunter was gracious enough to let Reepicheep spend the night and after a morning tea and biscuit Reepicheep stood in the badger's doorway and said:
"Do not despair. The fault lies not with you."
"Yes it does Reepicheep," the badger replied, "if I only would have-"
"Done more, loved more, conversed more? All of these are fetches to say when bargaining. If he looked at you with forgiveness, then all is forgiven." Reepicheep answered.
"I wish I could believe that."
"Why don't you?"
"Don't diminish yourself again!" The mouse shouted, "I refuse to stand in the doorway of someone who pities themselves."
"But it is my fault that he's dead Reepicheep!" Trufflehunter walked towards him, his eyes distraught and his heart confused. "It's my fault. I'm going to have to live with that for the rest of my life!"
"You shouldn't blame yourself."
"But I do!"
Reepicheep sighed heavy, "Those who live in the past must also live with death and decay."
The badger nodded and began to turn to his affairs: "Good luck Reepicheep, I pray you find your father soon."
The badger grabbed the supplies he was preparing in a bag and handed it off.
"Perhaps you could use these," Trufflehunter said, "no use to anyone if it sits around."
"Gramercy." Reepicheep replied as he placed the supplies in his own burlap sack.
"What does that word mean anyway- gramercy?"
"That word dear badger," Reepicheep said with a smile, "is all we need to say when we have learned everything we have come to know."
"Are you implying that we are scholars studying and examining the ordinary?"
"I'm implying dear badger that we were made for somewhere else. We are searching for feelings and emotions that are impossible acquire here: happiness, joy, love. If we can find the quintessence of these then we shall have to look no further."
"If you find such a place, send for me." Trufflehunter said.
"Why dear fellow, you're walking the road that leads there, just keep walking!" The mouse said with a smile. He waved and continued on his way eastward.
"Reepicheep!" A voice called.
"Come about!" The mouse answered.
Nikabrik appeared as if he were running a marathon and has fallen victim to fatigue.
"What is it?" The mouse asked.
"Best you see it for yourself." The dwarf said and quickly led the mouse to the trouble.
Genocide befell him for along the river bank, the bulk of his people lay dead. Reepicheep and Nikabrik took a walk, examining each cadaver and paying respects.
"They died by fire burns."
"Fire burns you say?" Reepicheep asked trying to keep his composure and noticing that Nikabrik was himself a bit burned.
"Yes sir," the dwarf said, "the Telmarines came in and burned everything. They all managed to get out but as you can see-"
"They burned alive. What a terrible way to go." Reepicheep said a tear forming.
Nikabrik sighed and lowered his head, "I'm sorry Reepicheep," he said, "I did what I could."
"I know Nikabrik." Reepicheep turned towards the dwarf, giving him a look of indifference:
"I know you must have charged in and finally be the hero you always wanted to be. I bet you feel pretty damn good about yourself don't you?"
"I don't understand, what are you-"
"I'm saying that you did absolutely nothing to help them!" The rodent cried. "My kin is dead, I don't blame you for that but you could have at least given a sacrifice."
"Well what did you want me to do? Throw myself in and die?"
Reepicheep didn't answer. He just walked down the line.
He passed old friends of his from childhood, grandparents, friends of the family, and every form of relation. He knew them all, especially the children.
Whenever he reached one of them he would close their eyes, kneel reverently and say:
"May you rest easy."
Eventually, Reepicheep reached his doorstep. He wanted so badly to open the door and discover that the place had not been touched, that his family was still alive. But he didn't knock on the door. He didn't need to.
"Tilden," he said, "I've never been so sorry."
His brother lay dead face down in the dirt, his back was unrecognizable. The fire had claimed his identity but Reepicheep knew without question who he was.
"The last we spoke," the mouse said kneeling, carefully turning his brother over so he could see his face.
"I questioned your parenting, saying that you were mentally inadequate to face the truth- that you were absent from Solomon's life. I have come to the consensus that you were not meant for him. You did not father him, you fathered me and thus were meant for me. You steered me towards your son and I was too blinded by the title of 'uncle' or 'brother' to see that. I do not regret my words but I do regret my deliverance of them."
He paused and controlled himself, he was beginning to tear up. After a moment of silence, he looked up at the sky and descended to anguish, pleading, and bargaining.
"I am confused, enchafed, and ashamed. Please have the mercy to reveal me peace. I beg of you, reveal me peace! I cannot live without it, my heart yearns for comfort. I cannot sleep knowing that he died because of my misunderstanding. I should have been there and wasn't. I should have died with them. Please, reveal me peace, for if I find none, then I will assuredly die!"
Reepicheep sighed, closed his brother's eyes and kissed his forehead and gave the last rites:
"The darkness and disillusions of this world pass away, the light and inspiration of the next shall overtake you. May you never fall from there, and if you do, let me lift you up."
Reepicheep stood up and saluted his blade. "Fly on justice. Fly on."
Nikabrik walked up behind him when the moment had passed.
"They're heading north, if you hurry, you'll be able to catch them."
"I cannot seek vendetta," Reepicheep said, "it is against my conscious. Besides, I haven't found everyone yet."
"Who are you missing?" The dwarf asked.
"Solomon- if illness befall him, I doubt I'll survive the grief."
"Don't talk like that." Nikabrik said, "Keep the faith that he's alive for now until it's certain."
Reepicheep nodded, "Quite right, let's begin looking."
They searched the river bank. Up and down and up again. When the sun began to hit midday Nikabrik began to give up.
"Reepicheep, let's face facts, he's gone."
"I refuse to believe that Nikabrik, there's got to be somewhere we haven't looked."
"Where is there left to look Reepicheep?!" The dwarf shouted, "We've searched the bank, we've searched the river, we've searched the houses, the bank on the other side and the bloody trees. Where are we supposed to look?"
Reepicheep shook his head, "I- I don't know. But I'm not giving up on him until I find him."
"You're wasting your time."
"I'm finding my nephew who is my son. Either you help me or you don't and if you don't then be gone and then let me grieve and then let me die."
Nikabrik nodded, "So be it."
The dwarf left the rodent to himself. Reepicheep listened to Nikabrik's footsteps, they were quick and uneasy. The mouse turned back. Rage, feral animalism, and devious desire took the rodent over as he quickly followed. Nikabrik ran as fast as he could, knowing that at any moment, Reepicheep would catch up to him. He jumped over fallen trees and stormed through undergrowth behaving like a race horse. He would never run this fast again in his life.
When the dwarf got a considerable distance away he stopped to rest by a large oak tree that had a large root that curved up into an arch and down back into the ground. The dwarf rested in the shade of the arch's shadow.
Nikabrik looked up and saw the mouse atop of the root looking very peeved.
"I have half a mind to let you die Nikabrik." Reepicheep said as calmly as he could.
"Now, now Reepicheep, let's not jump to conclusions here." The dwarf said scrambling to his feet.
"I believe the conclusion dear fellow is that you suffer from murderous psychopathy and are by definition an accomplice of genocide. Now," the mouse said wielding his blade, "I will give you time to explain yourself for I am not heartless but I'm afraid your time is very limited. Go!"
"Well you see, I was being blackmailed by the-"
"I don't very much care." Reepicheep said, "Get to the confession part please."
"Alright I did it, I killed your family."
"Thank you." Reepicheep said and threw his blade at the dwarf. It stuck him in the neck, the dwarf fell on his knees.
The mouse jumped down and landed perfectly on Nikabrik's shoulder. "Now I'm not going to kill you, for I will not stoop to your levels, but answer me this: where is Solomon?"
"I don't know. They didn't tell me much."
"I assume you mean-"
"Miraz, yes, he blackmailed me sir, said if I didn't do it then he would kill everyone."
"Why take such a risk?" Reepicheep asked.
"Your father is very important to him Reepicheep, he needs him now more than ever." Nikabrik said.
"My father no longer follows him."
Nikabrik laughed, "Been listening to Trufflehunter again?"
"He's your friend too, or at least he used to be." Reepicheep said.
"What do you mean, used to be?" The dwarf asked, a bit confused.
"Don't think I won't keep this from him."
"I don't expect you to, but just because your family is dead doesn't determine my friendship status with him."
"Actually," a voice said, "I think it does."
Trufflehunter emerged from the trees, carrying a bow and quiver on his back and a satchel on his side.
"You've been a very busy dwarf haven't you?" The badger said, smirking as readied a bow. "I believe an execution is in order."
He pulled on the drawstring.
"No Truff," Reepicheep said, "murder is never an absolute."
"But you just said that he committed genocide!"
"Yes," the mouse replied as he removed his sword, "but he wasn't alone in the deed." He jumped off the dwarf's shoulder.
Nikabrik winced and grabbed his wound.
"I'm sorry," the dwarf said, "I know those words aren't right but that's all I can say."
"That's all anyone can and will say when death arises." Reepicheep said turning back towards him, "I'm sorry."
The mouse advanced towards him, not bothering to get close and personal. "Don't take my sparing your life an act of forgiveness Nikabrik. I will never forgive you. If you come near my door I will turn you away, if you so much as go near that river I will personally hunt you down and skin you alive. If you so much as breathe the same air as me, I will, without question, remorse, or rites, end your life. As of this moment, I disown you of my sword. May the wolves feast upon you. Or better yet, let the crows do it."
"Why the crows?" The dwarf asked.
"Crows devour everything, and they don't do it quickly either."
Reepicheep left but before he disappeared, Nikabrik said:
"I buried those I could. I know it may be damned of me to say but I loved your family. Every single one of them."
"There was a time when love meant having great veneration." Reepicheep said.
A stern look in his eye developed as his shoulder was beginning to freeze over. He turned towards the sunlight, sighed a moment and resumed speaking.
"There was a sense of pride, poise, honor about it- when it meant something beautiful. Now love is tantamount for annihilation. I suppose whenever we cry we'll have you to thank- for breaking our hearts and stealing our capability and comprehension of love. Tell me are there any other words of value you would like to change? Chivalry, Honor, Bravery, or Reverence perhaps? Those are choice words, adept words, words that can mean anything now that love is dead. Are we to live in world where everything is antithesis? Love is murder, murder is benevolent, benevolent is cruel, cruel is worthy, worthiness is dead along with chivalry which is cowardice and cowardice is admired. What kind of world is that Nikabrik? Narcissistic anarchists are the harbingers of war. They always carry a lit match."
"You're breaking my heart Reepicheep." Nikabrik said, crying over his actions.
"Don't you dare grieve for it be not your place!" The mouse cried in rage. "You didn't lose everything this morning!"
"I lost my soul Reep," the dwarf, said, "it died with the fire. You might as well just kill me. For everything you say is true. I'm a coward, a murderer, a worthless waste of time. I'm sorry for the trouble. I don't expect you to forgive me, I do expect you to kill me though."
Reepicheep shook his head. "I won't give you satisfaction."
"Then let me grieve and then let me die." Nikabrik said.
The mouse nodded, "As you wish."
Reepicheep and Trufflehunter were silent as they walked away, they wanted to hear Nikabrik's heart break.
The dwarf cried and sat in this state of pity for three hours.
When Reepicheep and Trufflehunter returned to the badger's burrow that day, Nikabrik passed away. The last words he said were:
"Tell him I'm sorry."
"Read it back to me."
"I am sorry to report that I am unable to fulfill the duty requested of me on the account that I have been captured, tortured and interrogated by insurgent forces. I'm sorry but you'll have to find the information on your own. Your son seems like a nice boy."
"Good, send a raven to him."
"You're an owl," The reader of the letter, Aurelius, a general in Miraz's cavalry said. "why can't you deliver it?"
"Because," the owl said, "I'm stuck in this fucking cage!"
Kashmir, or to be more specific than that, King Kashmir, was a great horned owl of normal proportions, that is, sixty-three centimeters high with a nearly five foot wingspan. His feathers were a deep mahogany, and lovely sable with tufts of hoary for highlights. His eyes were gold vermilion, his beak was ebony and his talons were taupe.
"I've been in this fucking thing for seventeen fucking days! I'm fatigued, miserable, dehydrated, it's like Black Dolphin all over again."
"I don't understand that reference but enough with the curses. You make a sailor want to cringe."
Kashmir reached for his iron bars of solitude with his right talon and clenched it. The bar shook and bowed down to his mercy. The only thing that was keeping the owl constrained was a single shackle and chain. The chain was around his left talon which was connected to a tree and the cage itself was connected to a branch on said tree via chain. He was about five feet off the ground.
Aurelius, who sat on a log with the short letter, stood up nonchalantly with a tinge of uneasiness for he heard the bar submit and was fearful of the same force coming down on his skull.
"If you could do that," a voice said, "then why didn't you leave?"
"I didn't leave," Kashmir replied, "because I didn't necessarily have a choice, whoever it is that is speaking to-"
The voice's owner revealed himself, smiling as he came behind Aurelius.
"Chevrep!" Kashmir cried with excitement, "Oh thank the lion's mane you're alright. I thought you were dead."
"Dead," the mouse laughed, "what have they been filling your head with?"
"Lies apparently, but- where were you, weren't you captured too?"
"I was, by the same group, they kept us out of sight of each other-for a good reason."
"In any case, it's great to see you," Kashmir said, "now, do you mind lending an old friend a hand?"
"Sorry I'm afraid I can't do that Your Majesty." Chevrep said, "politics and all."
"Politics?" Kashmir said a bit confused, "The only political issue here is me. I've been hogtied and tourutred by my own supporters because of you. I did this for you!"
"Yes," Chevrep said smiling a bit, "and what a splendid job you did too. What was your plan exactly? Getting me out of this country and smuggle me into yours? I'll be dead anyway."
"No you won't." Kashmir said, "I'm the King remember, they'll listen to me."
"They'll kill you." Chevrep replied, "I'll laugh when your people abandon you too. Do you honestly think that they'll give a damn about an outsider in the end?"
"Chevrep, this isn't you. Come on, stop talking out of your head and get me out of here!"
"Aurelius," Chevrep said, "you know what to do."
The captain nodded and produced a scalping knife.
Kashmir fidgeted a bit, "Chevrep, Aurelius, what are you doing?"
"Nothing personal Your Majesty," Aurelius said, moving a bit closer, "politics and all."
"What are you doing?" Kashmir's face turned fearful. If there was one thing he despised it was tools of destruction.
Aurelius grabbed the cage and shook it violently, the bird cowered in fear.
"Oh," the captain said, "is the King afraid of death?"
"No," Kashmir said, "I'm just afraid of killing you."
Aurelius reached in slowly and carefully, "Now, just relax, this isn't going to hurt a bit."
The bird brutally grabbed Aurelius's wrist with his talon. The man winced and tried his best not to scream. Kashmir pulled him in, "You just to have honor, what happened to it Aurelius?"
"War." Aurelius said struggling to breathe. "Thanks for destroying my hand."
"I used to call you Marcus," Kashmir said, "do you remember that?"
Aurelius dropped his knife. "Yes," he said, "I remember that, now can you please let me go."
"Promise me something." The bird said keeping his eye on Chevrep who slowly began to scale the tree behind the cage.
"What?" Aurelius asked.
"Never do so again."
"Never," Aurelius moved his hand a little, trying to circulate what little blood there was left. "do what again?"
"Bargain with the devil." Kashmir released him.
Aurelius fell over, landing on the ground desperately trying to hold his hand together which was a mauled cadaver. Blood spewed out in spurts and the overall pain was astronomical.
"Kashmir," Aurelius cried, "I told you it was nothing personal!"
"What was it you said," Kashmir looked at him, "politics and all? This is the 'all' part."
Chevrep entered the cage as stealthy as he could, he wielded his blade.
"Are you sure about that?" Kashmir asked.
"Yes," Chevrep said stopping, "I'm sure about it."
"What exactly," Kashmir said, grabbing the scalping knife, "do you plan to do moi droog?"
"If I told you that I would spare you," Chevrep said, "then I would be lying."
Kashmir turned around towards him, weapon in claw. "You know that this," he waved the knife, "is a dishonor?"
"A dishonor!" Chevrep laughed, "You are the dishonor Kashmir. The bastard son of a bastard."
The owl moved his knife toward the mouse, micrometers from impaling him.
"Ambitiously daring are we?" Chevrep said laughing, more despicably this time.
"This isn't you Chev," Kashmir leaned down more to his level, "where is the friend I once knew?"
"Dead and buried with the fire," Chevrep turned his gaze southward towards his house, "I hope."
"The fire," Kashmir said, "was an act of malice! Was it from your heart?"
"I beg your pardon?" Chevrep asked, playing the idiot.
"Don't be coy with me mouse!" the owl cried, "Was the fire from your heart?"
"If you're implying that I wished it upon my kin then you are sorely mistaken."
"Was that from your heart too?" The owl asked, "Your mistakenness of self? Was that from your heart, or was it from your head, trying to play a manipulative game of chess?"
"You're talking like a nobleman Kashmir." Chevrep said, "That most certainly isn't the fire I knew in you many years ago. I guess the mannerisms of your position have grown on you."
"You have guessed correctly moi droog." Kashmir answered.
"Funny," Chevrep said as he jumped onto the knife, unafraid of it, for he had conditioned himself to withstand pain, "how you associate that phrase with me." He raised his eyebrows condescendingly, "Moi droog."
Kashmir reverted to his nature. He bent down and attempted to devour him. The mouse however was well adept to this situation and stuck his blade up in the air and slashed Kashmir's beak. The bird cried in pain, dropping the knife and backed up all the way to the iron bars.
"What's the matter?" Chevrep said, advancing toward him, "Afraid of a mouse?"
The King did not answer. He simply took a moment to think about his next move.
What does Chevrep hate more than anything in the world? He thought.
"Well are you going to do something or just-"
The owl lifted his wings in a heraldic rising position and beat them against the cage floor generating a deafening high pitched frequency. The cage shook in fury Chevrep gave in and submitted, covering his ears and pleading that his friend be merciful.
"It was all business!" Chevrep said. "I never meant to-"
"To denounce my love for you?" Kashmir stopped his taunting. The cage stopped moving. "Chevrep, I loved you like a brother. I came to rescue you."
"Why?" The mouse asked, "I don't need saving."
The owl advanced, the chain clanked ghoulishly against the metal, "They were going to execute you. I knew I wouldn't be able to bear that."
"Well, your sacrifice has been for nothing." Chevrep said, confidence regaining. "I am happy where I am, in my position and in my country. To be honest Kashmir-"
"It's King to you, you arrogant piece of shit!" The owl bent over, his vermilion eyes searched for the answer. He cocked his head as if he were performing a thorough examination. "There's something in you, something sinister."
"Really?" Chevrep said hinting sarcasm, "Let's see if this rings a bell. De fumo in flammam."
The owl grabbed the mouse's neck and screeched, the leaves of trees blew from the branches, the earth cracked and the new tectonic plates were formed. As the earth shifted around into uncertainty, Kashmir's brow furrowed deeper and deeper to the point where Chevrep thought that his jugular would burst. His eyes burned with passion, his voice a deep thunder.
"How dare you threaten me with death you fucking swine!" He screeched again, the world grew silent and still again.
"Kashmir, your spectacle only makes my reasoning stronger." Chevrep said. "You think that I was simply employed by a king who thought his people were against him?" He laughed, "You don't know the first thing about politics do you?"
"I know," Kashmir said, "that you're in way over your head Chevrep. You do realize that if you send them here, they will consume the world."
"Which is why," Chevrep said, "you're going to do it yourself."
"What, send them over?"
Chevrep nodded, "You see, you've negotiated with these people before, they'll listen to you, just like you said. It is your Kingdom that they're living in after all. What is the place called again, Tu'Famaren?"
"If you think that I'm going to allow the destruction of the-"
"Oh, I believe you'll have no choice." Chevrep said.
"Why is that?"
"You'll figure it out Kashmir, in the meantime," the owl loosened his grip, the mouse took advantage of the opportunity, "you'll just have to bleed!"
Chevrep stabbed Kashmir's left talon, the blade went clean through. Kashmir screamed in pain and buckled down, letting the mouse go. Chevrep then scaled the back of the bird and proceeded to scalp him.
"You know it's a dishonor!" Kashmir cried, pleading with him to stop the pain. Chevrep ignored him, he just continued slicing feathers away and then the sawing started. Kashmir's brain functions began to go, his eyes began to close, his will to fight had diminished but his screams of mercy were carried with the wind.
The King was dead...presumably.