The high moon coated the canopy of the forest in a lush indigo. The ground was slightly darker, more of a sapphire than anything. A comfortable wind from the south blew in as Reepicheep and Trufflehunter walked north towards the camp.
A hunting fox scurried by.
"Serene isn't it?" asked the mouse, after the fox passed, "That the world takes a breather at night. Gives you time to reflect."
Trufflehunter habitually kicked some dead leaves, making a rather calm rushing sound, similar to that of a river. "Time to reflect on the fact that we're stuck out here."
"Why are you always such a downer?" Reepicheep said as they passed a tree that van Gogh would be proud of. "No one likes a pessimist."
"No one likes a grandiloquent either." The badger stopped his leaf kicking and occupied himself with shadows of tree branches, noticing how eerily they resembled reaching hands.
The mouse looked over to his friend, admiring the way the light reflected off his fur making him almost angelic. The only things missing were wings and a halo.
Trufflehunter pushed on ahead, leaving the mouse to himself.
"I still see the frightful cub who fears rain." Reepicheep thought as he looked toward Trufflehunter, seeing the light cascade onto the earth gracefully into splotches. The malignant trees reached out toward the badger. The mouse followed, going gently into that good night.
A robin situated himself in his nest and a woodpecker quietly preformed some woodwork. Trufflehunter resumed his leaf kicking.
"Do you remember that time when we were kids," Trufflehunter said, "and there was that big storm the time you visited?"
Reepicheep nodded, laughing as he did so, "Yes! It was spectacular. Your father was trying so hard to calm us down and whenever thunder or lightning hit, we'd scream and he'd say-"
They both chimed in, "It's only rain!"
"After that, we would blame the rain on everything." Reepicheep said, still laughing, "The house fell down because I accidently sliced a support beam. 'The rain did it!'"
The badger smiled, "You were locked up in your room for three months with no supper."
"Well, it made something out of me." The mouse answered.
"Something of a recluse if I remember correctly." Trufflehunter said.
The mouse playfully hit him, the badger laughed.
"Rather un-sensible don't you think," the badger replied, "to blame your mischief on rain."
Reepicheep laughed inwardly, "Well, of course it was. Think about it, we were children, and most children aren't sensible in blame. By the way, my mischief, pun intended, was never good at keeping me out of trouble."
"Ha," the badger said with sarcastic indifference, "species group joke."
They jumped over a tree root.
"Say," the badger continued, "do you remember the time you thought I was dead?"
"Well to be fair," Reepicheep said, "you were laying on the floor motionless."
"I fainted from a ghastly sight Reepicheep," the badger replied, "that was all."
"You never told me what that 'ghastly sight' was."
Trufflehunter sighed, regretting his mentioning of it. A hunting fox made the mistake of sneering too soon causing Reepicheep to very nonchalantly place his right paw on his sword hilt and partially unsheathe it. The fox moved on, thinking it best to not get in a bloody mess at this time of night.
"It was my neighbor in the process of love-making." The badger said when it was silent again.
Reepicheep laughed, "In broad daylight or at evening?"
"In broad daylight. Not only that, but it was so passionate that they began rolling around in the dirt and almost into the river. I couldn't look away, I know I should have but I just couldn't. Two lovers getting on the horse like that at such speed and-"
"Alright," Reepicheep said, "enough with your perversion."
"Anyway, after I fainted," the badger said, "you came in and started to perform CPR. Luckily you only had time to compressions."
"Yes, that situation would have been extremely awkward." Reepicheep replied as he slowly rotated his thumb up against his fingers in a counterclockwise motion.
The leaves began to waltz slowly in the wind, the trees applauded. The moon rose a bit higher as a storm from the east began to move in. Thunder sounded, lighting illuminated the darkness. For a moment, the world was no longer translucent in its deeds, but rather it disclosed everything from present to past to future.
"A storm's moving in." Trufflehunter said. "We best find shelter."
"Still afraid of rain are we?" Reepicheep asked, noticing that his friend bolted ahead into the forest.
"I just don't like being caught in it Reep," the badger said, reverting to all fours and turning back his head, letting his medical satchel rest on his back.
"besides we don't know how bad the storm is going to-"
The wind and the trees waged war against the clouds, who came with such defiant force that the thunder shook the ground and the lighting destroyed the badger's orientation but his courage was also gone, but it did not flee from the might of the storm. But rather, the might of a swinging, squeaky, eerie cage.
Trufflehunter's paws grew clammy, his eyes grew wide with fear and his heartbeat slowed to a dismal crawl. His energy depleted, he could not cry for assistance.
The cage swayed back and forth in the wind. Back and forth, back and forth, back and forth. A pendulum of malice charging the storm on, encouraging it to engulf the place with sorrow and resentment.
A cold chill ran up Trufflehunter's spine, forcing him to submit to the ground, curling up in a ball- astraphobia was kicking in.
"It's only rain!" The badger said, closing his eyes, as if that would fix the problem.
The storm advanced, carrying a sword.
"It's only rain!" The badger repeated, tears falling down as his body began to shut down in fear. The badger closed his eyes.
"It's only rain Trufflehunter," an angelic voice said. "it's only rain."
The badger opened his eyes, seeing the trees damn the storm back into hell but the storm came on, destroying all hope and signs of love. The malicious beating of the world was going against the pact made and in this sacrilege, the voice spoke again.
"Remember what I said about rain?"
Water soaked the badger's back and ran down his face, trickling off it, forming a small waterfall. The badger stood up weak kneed. The rain masked his tears.
"You said to never fear it, for it's natural for rain to fall out of the sky. It's as natural as grieving." Trufflehunter said, voice trying to outdo the storm which sounded its thunder and showed its lightning.
"You think you can beat me!" The badger shouted.
The wind howled in defiance. The general rallied his troops and charged. The storm pushed on, giving all it had to show the world something that was never understood.
"You think you can kill me! Go ahead, I dare you!"
The lightning struck the earth, the thunder screamed wildly for someone to understand his predicament. The wind and forest continued their protest, ignorant of the wise storm who wanted nothing more than to be a raincloud.
"You can't best me!" The badger cried in a single breath, his lungs screaming.
"Trufflehunter!" A more familiar voice called out. "It's only rain!"
The badger laughed hysterically, hallucinations began to swirl in his head.
Visions of sprites, fireflies, and gold vermillion colored leaves started to dance in circles. The wind gathered into a vortex, periwinkles sang their swan songs and the sun appeared. The voice who spoke before answered: "It's only rain!"
"Damn this rain!" The badger shouted.
"Damn this infernal storm!" Trufflehunter looked back with bloodshot eyes and a disdainful heart as thunder roared some sense and lightning instilled some enlightenment.
"Why did you have to die so quickly!" He stood up and began to wage war.
The thunder retaliated with a pleading yell, lightning continued with epiphany encouragement. The rain however, just kept on beating the badger down with the force of hail, the common sense motivator. A trifecta of grief counselors.
"Curse you and you're damned wind!" Trufflehunter shouted, noticing that the wind was pushing against him. "Why did you have to leave me here alone!"
"Who said you were!" A familiar voice shouted.
The badger turned and saw Reepicheep, who loyally stood there waiting.
"I'm in the storm too." He said.
"Your father didn't die this morning!" Trufflehunter said, tearing streaming down again. "I didn't say goodbye to him," the badger advanced, this time the wind cooperated. "I didn't have the chance to love him."
"That was your fault!" The mouse raised his voice over the storm but the badger knew that even if it wasn't raining, Reepicheep would still be yelling at him. "You denied him the world!"
"He killed my-"
"It doesn't matter Truff!" Reepicheep said, still screaming. "It doesn't matter. It doesn't change the fact that we're still in rain."
Thunder, lightning, and wind continued their constructive abuse. All the rage in the badger boiled to te brim, but instead of cursing the world he screamed. It was long, hard, and full of regret. To Reepicheep, this was the saddest state he had ever seen him.
As the badger was about to submit to grief, the mouse placed a hand on his shoulder, signifying the end of misery and the beginning of a healing.
The badger out of pure emotion and shear need, embraced the mouse with all the love in the world. Reepicheep, who was not fond of being handled or unexpected embraces, made this one exception, understanding that hearts break easy, but love is a good tool to fix it with.
The storm made peace with the wind and both proceeded to their own affairs. The wind blew innocently, the storm passed on through, and the leaves tumbled to their beds.
When all was quiet and the emotions had died down, the mouse and badger got their bearings.
The ground was charred, defiled by fire and consumed by war. Grass lay black and dead like martyrs, pieces of tent frames were discarded to the side like foundlings and a scrap of parchment with illegible writing lay underneath the still swinging cage. A chain, the weight of the world, moved slightly- a ghost who was never put to rest.
"Has the storm, and furthermore, your screaming, stopped?" A voice asked.
"Yes," Trufflehunter said, looking around, "the storm has passed. Sorry about the screaming."
"It's alright," the voice replied, the chain shifted again, as if it were being turned over, "not like I was going to get some sleep anyway."
"Where are you?" Reepicheep, who was near the base of the tree with the cage, asked.
"Up in the cage."
The mouse looked up and saw the metal gallows. Even though the wind was absent, the cage slowly began to sway and spin in a slow counterclockwise pendulum-sque motion.
"Mind if we come up?" The mouse asked.
"Be my guest." The voice answered.
The mouse, who was followed by the badger, ascended the tree. The bark was wet and difficult to grip but they managed to get up to the height of the cage fairly quickly. The mouse jumped first and cleared the bars easily. The badger jumped a bit short, dangling a bit before pulling himself up. Then came the unspeakable silence.
Rain water slowly began to hose off the blood on the floor, slowly forming rivers and seas. Feathers haphazardly lay across the sea like a straight of impassable rocks of a long forgotten civilization. Something to fear but something to inspect with wonder. At the end of the sea toward the end of the world, lay a dying, dishonored owl.
His wings were tattered and ripped to shreds, behaving like wet paper. The once beautiful strong mahogany and sable feathers that adorned his back were frayed at the ends, as if they were each individually burned at the tips.
The face was that of Quasimodo: destroyed and demonic. The right eyeball dawned a haunting and blinding scar that made his once vermillion irises of nobility seem unimportant. If a King's status were won solely on the magnificence of the eyes, then Kashmir would lose.
A crown of blood adorned his head, and his skull was bleeding so profusely that some of it was standstill, a diseased swamp.
His beak was no longer impressive and his talons were no longer sharp or regal, but rather dull and uninspiring. To be frank, Kashmir Zolnerowich, for that was his true name, was the pinnacle of failure and self pity, living up to his informal title: The King of the Forsaken West.
"Has the rain stopped?"
"Yes." The badger replied, "The rain has stopped."
"Good," Kashmir said, "Mstislav didn't like rain either."
The owl lifted his chain and shifted around so he could see his new conversationalists better. He did this slowly to minimize the pain but nonetheless, the owl winced. When he was settled, Kashmir looked at them, specifically Reepicheep.
"So, you've come to make sure I was dead?" The owl asked.
""Why would I want to kill you?" The mouse replied.
"Don't give me that shit," Kashmir said, glaring at him, his gashed eye ironically improved his intimidation skills. "I know what you're trying to do here." He placed his wings on the bent steel bars and hoisted himself up slowly rising like the Kraken.
"Sir," Reepicheep said, standing across the sea trying his best to keep his composure. "be civil."
"I'm tired of being civil!" The owl screeched and moved his chain around like a bullwhip. The cage shook wildly, as if still in the storm. The creaking increased, threatening to break and plummet to the ground if this abuse continued.
Kashmir raised the chained talon again, this time, aiming directly for the rodent, who still stood there composedly.
"You betrayed me!"
"Really," The mouse said, jumping into the air as Kashmir slammed the chain down against the floor again.
"what's my name then?" Reepicheep landed.
"Chevrep" the owl answered.
"Try again." Reepicheep replied. He moved a bit closer, stopped a moment and placed his paws on the chain. He shuttered a bit from the cold wet steel and moved his fingers up and down a single chain link.
The chains of war and fear. The mouse thought.
Reepicheep looked at the owl with shameful eyes, as if he has caused Kashmir to be placed here. The owl in turn, looked at the mouse and noticed how gentle his eyes were. They carried the right amount of innocence and an overabundance of compassion and concern. The eyes of someone who understand what pain was.
"My dear boy," Kashmir said, "I couldn't be more sorry."
"Who did this to you?" Reepicheep asked, not wanting to believe his premeditated answer.
"Chevrep." Kashmir answered, this time with a voice more disheartened, tragic, as if the repetition of the name produced a deeper scar than the one on his eye.
A tear fell. From where, Reepicheep couldn't accurately place, but he presumed it to be in the most sincerest of ways, from Kashmir's heart. It was bleeding, crying, and begging for forgiveness or some type of mercy.
"You are Reepicheep, I presume?" Kashmir asked, looking at the mouse more kindly.
"You have presumed correctly." The mouse answered.
Reepicheep couldn't answer that. He knew that physically he could, but mentally he was at the crossroad of grief and sheer madness. His brother played his father and his father the villain, and although Reepicheep gave rites and honors, he could not escape the natural feeling of sadness.
"How did it happen?" Kashmir asked, figuring out Reepicheep's silence.
"The same way it always happens. Fire, bad luck, and fish." The mouse answered.
The owl nodded, he knew what that meant, some form of malice.
The wind blew a bit, the cage swayed as water from tree leaves began to fall on their heads.
"I suggest," Trufflehunter said with a yawn, "that we all get some sleep. We'll figure everything out in the morning."
Reepicheep moved to the left, Trufflehunter to the right, and Kashmir stayed where he was. The bird watched his new companions situate themselves in a bloody mess with no qualms,. This made him smile and laugh a little.
"What's so funny?" The badger asked, just as he was about to close his eyes.
"Nothing badger, just-"
"King Kashmir." The owl answered. "Now as I was saying-"
"Wait," Reepicheep said, opening his eyes and getting up rather quickly, "you're a King?"
Kashmir nodded. "Well, not anymore. As of this morning I am no longer King of the Forsaken West."
"Since when was The West forsaken?" The mouse asked.
"Since about three years ago." The owl said. "Ever since-"
He looked out into the night and noticed the moon had returned to its rightful place. The blue indigo reclaimed the forest, as well as the hunting fox, the waltzing leaves and the applauding trees.
"Ever since my son died." Kashmir said, continuing to look up at the moon. "He always loved the moon. You could say that he had an affair with it. He said to me: 'One day, I'm going to fly up there, away from this place. Away from war, from grief, from pain, but not from you. I'll take you with me. To the stars and back and to the stars again. That's where we'll go father, to the stars and back and to the stars again.'"
A tear fell from his scarred eye, he exhaled his grief and reached out for his son's dream. Touching it ever so gently, unable to grasp the beauty of it: the moon, and its power of dream fostering.
"Those were the last words he said to me before I-"
"Before you killed him." Reepicheep finished his sentence.
Kashmir nodded, "That's why I am forsaken, that's why my people are forsaken. That's why I'm here! I'm here to die. To pay for my crime which was done without reason. I don't even remember why I did it. I just know that I weep every day for him. I wish nothing more than to turn back time, but Aslan did not give me that ability so I'll have to settle for the present."
Trufflehunter looked at him, seeing not an owl in blood and chain but his father. "Has anyone ever forgiven you?" The badger asked.
"No one has ever forgiven me of anything," Kashmir answered. "I was betrayed, me, a King, by his own people."
The badger and the mouse bowed low in respect and backed away as far as they could. Kashmir sighed in annoyance.
"You can stop with the pleasantries." The bird said.
The badger and mouse stood up.
Trufflehunter walked towards the chain, placed his paw on a link, and stroked it slowly as if in deep thought.
The blood on the cage began to dry and the sky became a bit lighter. In three hours the sun would rise.
"I do not know your name, your history, or your political administration but I do know that a your resignation would be the end of hope for me." The badger said.
Trufflehunter looked into the owl's vermillion eyes, getting lost in his face, which was no longer fearful but instead, was welcoming and yearning for some understanding.
Reepicheep stood now and looked at his friend, smiling and looking a bit proud. He heard the last part of this speech before.
A water droplet fell from a leaf and landed perfectly on Kashmir's face, mimicking a tear.
Trufflehunter smiled "It's only rain."
Kashmir nodded and looked up at the sky again and playing the loyal parrot he said, "It's only rain."
The moon was out and the trees released more water excess. The fox quitted his hunt for the night- he retreated to his burrow.
The leaves resumed their waltz. The trees applauded.