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Getting kicked again sealed the deal and Peros shifted away from his dad’s immediate reach. The elder boar was lying slightly twisted with the skin of his brow pulled back to reveal the whites of his pink eyes, it was pretty intimidating. A persistent drip of dew from overhead kept landing rhythmically on his dad’s floppy pink-grey ear. Maybe that irritation was the source of this particular nightmare.
With a grunt Fireflecks kicked himself awake at last. But not so much as to notice that his son was awake, his only sow gone and daughter nowhere to be seen. He simply straightened himself out in a light stretch then curled up a bit more snug to the long grass and fell asleep again. Peros continued to give him a sour face as he himself began to grow aware of their surroundings.
They had spent the night in a dry creek bed that was overgrown with a mixture of long grasses bordered with reeds and rye. Their little sleeping hollow was where the temporary grasses met the permanent papyrus clumps. A stone had caused a drift of soft sand to accumulate. There was plenty of space here for more than just the four of them. He wanted to stay for a while, the rye was a grass he could eat without too much discomfort and it didn’t usually grow well in the wider valley they traversed. If he could just rest and feed himself well for a day or two he wouldn’t have such a hard time keeping up with the rest of his family.
Jaqui watched from her vantage point with warm but shining eyes. She could read both her son and Boar like books, not that she really understood what she saw, well at least not Peros in any case. Fireflecks was her Boar and yet so much more. He was her soul mate and her twin flame. Jaqui was a noble- born cavy who had eloped with her lover… a lover who was only one star short of being a divine. So now they were on the move, trying to stay ahead of their pursuers. Fireflecks was also noble-born which was possibly even more reason for the two of them to be hunted down by the Lord-cavy of their own home. There were other reasons too; two of them were being dragged along for this cross country marathon. Jaqui, Fireflecks and their son Peros were of a rare colour, one highly sought after in both the Minu Valley they were in and the Shiriya Valley that connected with it in the north.
On top of this Fireflecks had inherited the satin gene; a rare coat variation that turned every hair on his body into a prism that caught the light. Gold fur shone gold and grey fur shined silver. They were all gold/grey argentes so they had silver fur with gold on the tips thus a satin argente such as Fireflecks sparkled with gold and silver. Peros was also a satin. He would also sparkle gold and silver once his adult coat cleared his colour and he grew healthy. IF he grew healthy Jaqui reminded herself with a sigh. With anything special comes a price. For satins it was generally smaller stature, considerably shorter lifespans and a high probability for degenerative teeth and bone issues. Their prism fur was fine and soft, not very warm and was inefficient at turning sunlight into vitamin D.
But she chided herself for negative thinking and turned her attention back to the road ahead. She hummed to herself a song which had become her travelling prayer and began reading the bush. The sky was pale but it would take a long time for the warmth of sunlight to reach them down here. The air was heavy but not biting cold so there would be a mist today instead of frost. There was very little wind in the treetops so it was in the process of changing direction, probably bringing a fresh rain down from the north if they were lucky. A nearby mouse and her partner were picking up seeds, another sign of rain. A good rain would wash away any trace of the family, especially if it was enough to put some flow into the creek temporarily. Now was a good time to move on.
Peros wasn’t aware that his mother was returning until she was practically stepping out of the grass beside him. His breath hitched for a moment as fear gripped him. They were running after all and capture would mean death for him and his father, he was very young but old enough to understand that much. His mother moved gently past him to where Fireflecks was lying.
As she approached he rolled over and met her warm eyes with adoring ones. How he knew it was her, even when asleep, was one of the mysteries Peros couldn't work out. Watching his parents in silence Peros saw Fireflecks receive affection from Jaqui as he got up. It was amusing to him how much smaller Fireflecks was than his mother, Jaqui, particularly when she was almost half his age. As he lay there thinking about it he realised that he and his sister, Sasha, would probably be no different. Thinking of her he realised that she was nowhere to be seen.
His twitchy movements caught his mothers attention and Jaqui saw him looking around with a confused look. It didn’t take much to figure out what he was looking for, or who for that matter. Jaqui looked to Fireflecks before turning to face him,
‘Sasha has already started. She’s on her way south as we speak scouting. We’ll probably catch up with her a little later. If all goes well she would have found us somewhere to spend the night.’
Peros turned to hide a fattening lip and rolled his eyes. Of course she is.
At this Fireflecks raised his head from resting it on his paws. “I was unaware that she’d already started. I assumed that we were waiting for her… Sorry folks.”
He slowly got to his feet. Balancing precariously on his hind legs he groomed the sleep out of his eyes. Then he paused, still twisted and awkward, ‘What made her choose south?’
Jaqui looked at him blankly. She had suddenly realised that he must have been talking in his sleep earlier.
‘Didn’t you say last night that we were heading south? Did you not say that she could go ahead and scout?’
‘Did I?’ replied Fireflecks in confusion. He looked to Peros- who simply shrugged- then turned back to face Jaqui,
‘We’ll she must have read my mind because I don’t remember saying it but I definitely thought about it.’ Fireflecks suddenly broke into a broad grin as he thought about his daughter, it made Peros ill to see it.
Together the trio headed off towards Moongable hill. They wove their way through the patchy undergrowth towards its base. By the time they got there their coats were darkened and damp from the dew. Moongable rose up before them like the sun out of the mist sporting a faint mottled glow. Its east bank was slippery and steep; the family dared not try and climb it. Instead, they looked for a path that followed the base around to the south.
Suddenly, out of a damp shadowy place, a large blob of thick sticky mud came flying out of the long grass. It landed on Peros’ shoulder and he lost all comprehension; bolting into the bushes which circled the clearing. Fireflecks turned on his rear legs, twisting around, to try and see where it had come from as a second sailed overhead. Jaqui had disappeared within a second or so. Sasha appeared near her father, impressing him no end, and, as a flash of orange, she left his side once she had pinpointed the source of the mud. A moment later the mud stopped coming and there was the sound of a scuffle. Sasha came out of the grass nosing along a little sow probably half her size- a weanling at best. The little sow seemed very annoyed at being discovered,
‘Leave me alone!’
‘Why don’t you tell us what you were doing?’ Sasha said sternly
‘I was practising.' She replied tartly, 'It was not my fault that you were in my firing field.’
‘Firing field? What are you practising…’ Warfare? Fireflecks smiled
‘Just target practice.' She was looking at the ground.
'What on earth for?'
'There is a boar who has been hanging around my friend and is bothering her. I scare him away with mud.’
‘Mud isn’t that scary?’
‘It is if you’re a longhair.’
Things now made a little sense but the question remained as to who the long haired boar was.
‘Who is your friend?’ Fireflecks asked her half hoping that they would be old enough to give them somewhere to stay.
‘Her name is Gumnut. She’s a Sow of Buster, so don’t try anything funny.’
‘I’m sorry little one we’re not from around here.’
‘Don’t call me little. I am big enough and my name is Booqui’
‘I’m sorry Booqui. You are right. You are a big girl now.’ Fireflecks toyed with her, but all he ended up really doing was encouraging her.
‘Come on, Fireflecks,’ came Jaqui’s voice as she rejoined him, ‘We need to keep moving. I don’t like the sound of this Buster.’
Fireflecks silently agreed. Together he and Jaqui collected Sasha and continued on south, making their own trail as they went. Fireflecks felt a fatherly warmth in his chest as he replayed the scene in his head and considered his daughter. While Peros had bolted away Sasha had appeared, where she was needed, to protect the family. On top of that, she had appeared out of nowhere. She was a stunning sow; bright golden orange, (satin like her father). She bore a long white stripe down her right side/shoulder leading to an elegant white gloved fore foot. She had gorgeous pink eyes and large pale floppy ears. She was already growing into a prize for any boar, beautiful, charming and very wise. Jaqui had taught her all her “bush wise” methods and Sasha had been a keen and spirited student.
Peros had also been taught but had always faced huge difficulties. It did not come as naturally to him as it did for his sister; therefore he had to work hard at it. But he just didn’t understand so no amount of learning would be able to help him. He would never be able to silently vanish the way the rest of the family could and since weaning he hadn't grown much. He never seemed hungry- and growing cavies are supposed to be ravenous.
It had been a problem on and off for his whole life. It's all Peros had known. He watched his parents who did not seem to have any difficulty in eating, already self-conscious he made sure that he didn’t stand out any further. But like a sow hiding a pregnancy it was only a matter of time until it became obvious. So he did not return to them right away, knowing that he should not have panicked or bolted like that. Now he’d have to face even more shame when he returned to his family.
Peros walked along in silence, wondering what the next move was to be, when suddenly something caught his leg and he was thrown on the ground. His heart stopped in his chest and for a moment he thought he'd been grabbed by a hawk. It took a long while before he calmed down enough to consider where he was. Hanging from a shrub by his hips he was twisted and tied in a blue wild bean vine. As if things were not embarrassing enough he thought just as a shower of sticky yellow pollen fell over him.
Knowing that he was stuck, Peros prayed that someone would find him before his family did. Of course, he was not so lucky. The family had split up to look for him and it was Booqui and Sasha who quietly appeared on the scene. Sasha stopped and looked at her brother feeling his shame. Booqui, however, looked him up and down as if considering how he got up there but, as it turned out, it was actually her fault. She started talking as she made to help him.
‘You know what? You’re not the first to fall in this trap. I seem to get everyone. Ev-ry-one... BUT the longhair who is bothering me. I reckon I have had to reset this more than…than…than I have toes. And I’ve only had it for a couple of days.’
‘Maybe you should move it?’ suggested Sasha.
‘No-oh.’ Booqui giggled, ‘I like it being here I get to meet the most fun cavies.’ She smiled as she lifted Peros’ leg so she could untangle him.
Peros did nothing, said nothing and thought nothing. He let Booqui untangle him and silently followed them to where they would meet their parents.
‘I’m sorry, Peros, for scaring you like that.’ apologised Sasha.
‘I don’t need an apology. You were not the one who made me bolt.’ There was no mistaking that tone.
‘Peros I know we don’t get on very well but I’m your sister, I want to help you.’
‘Help me!’ Peros angrily spun around to face his accuser, ‘What makes you think I need help?’
‘I’m sorry that came out wrong.’
‘No, it didn’t! That is exactly what you meant to say. I don’t need your help and I don’t need your sympathy.’ Peros pushed past her and trotted off into the grass dropping the remnants of the trap on the ground.
‘Is he okay?’ asked Booqui with a tone of, surprisingly, genuine concern.
‘I don’t know, Booqui. He’s feeling very lost at the moment. He knows what he wants, I think, but doesn’t know how to get it.’
‘I’m going to help him.’ said Booqui curtly. She trotted off as well leaving Sasha on her own to try and explain things to her parents.
Sasha found her parents hiding amongst a scattering of boulders that lay near the base of Moongable hill. Sasha could not help looking up; the hill was very steep moving sharply skywards from a few metres ahead of them. Before her eyes a burst of morning sunlight pierced the clouds and struck the hill. It reflected a glowing paleness in the multitude of flowers. Their miniaturised chalky petals captured the light and the side of the hill seemed to have a shifting lustre as the breeze threw them around.
‘Beautiful, are they not?’ Smiled Fireflecks, suddenly feeling very relaxed. He had followed her gaze to what lay beyond the ferns. ‘Did you know they only grow on the eastern side of things? The morning light dries the dew off the petals quickly. The male plants grow around the other side where it is not so important.’
Sasha looked up and blinked as the sunlight vanished, taking with it the colour and returning the hill to the dull grey-green.
‘I found him,’ Came a familiar little voice from behind them. Booqui had found Peros. And had brought him grudgingly back. It was a comical sight for she had fashioned a vine into a loop and had led Peros back to his family as if he were a horse. The family did not laugh with Booqui, not finding it even remotely funny. Fireflecks walked over to his son and without a word bit through the vine around his neck. The comments were left unsaid but Peros was no fool as he fought back the tears.
Jaqui made to change the mood as she turned to Booqui, ‘Booqui, can you think of somewhere to the south or west where we will be welcome to stay?’
‘Sure, I’ll take you to my uncle’s warren. He’s never there so I reckon they would be glad to have some guests.’
‘Alright then, lead the way.’ Fireflecks smiled as he gestured for her to take the lead with manners that would suit royalty. Booqui went gooey inside and pretended that she was a princess leading her subjects on some noble quest. Jaqui and Sasha enjoyed watching her play, it was comforting somehow and it passed the time.
They walked for a few hours, on and on past the hill and down into a shallow gully. The air was heavy and moist down here with a small ribbon of mist still clinging to the surface of a creek. There was a whip bird somewhere overhead calling out for it's mate. They were in a good walking rhythm so nearly fell over Booqui as she stopped dead in her tracks. She was sniffing the air and before anyone could ask she fell sideways; apparently it was intentional as she sprung into a sudden dash towards a large bushy native plumb and disappeared.
The family followed her. As they advanced they could sense danger ahead so the sows checked their pace. They came around the bush, Fireflecks leading, to find two boars fighting with a group of sows. Fireflecks was infuriated; he knew that there was never an excuse for attacking a sow. He himself leapt into the fray, teeth nattering loudly, to protect the sows. They all stopped and spread out a little, one of the sows gasped in surprise, and looked to him.
’Who are you?” said one of the boars coarsely. He was mostly a rusty red colour.
‘It doesn’t matter who I am; to you, I’m defending this warren.’ said Fireflecks with a tone that was a controlled quiet. He turned slightly, raising his fur on end for just a moment before letting it return to place.
‘What?’ The other boar smirked, ‘Is that the best you can do? Listen, mate you’re out of your depth here, we're both twice your size. Come back when you’ve grown up a little.’
‘My name is Minu Fireflecks, son of Sunfox.’ He announced
The second boar took an uncertain step back as he registered the name. Sunfox and Moonfox were two brothers and together they were the most respectable pair of cavies for miles around. But the other, faded black, boar felt differently.
‘You liar, you’re too runty to be a son of theirs. You want to fight I’ll give you a fight.’ and with that, he made a dive for Fireflecks.
Fireflecks stepped just enough to one side for him to sail past unexpectedly and fall into the waiting teeth of what Fireflecks assumed was the head sow. She grabbed his ear with such force that he was instantly immobilised with a cry of pain. Hearing his friend in pain the second boar came in for an attack but he no longer trusted his fighting skills and fumbled the attack. With a sharp kick to the passing body Fireflecks sent him skidding into a muddy puddle that lay nearby. The boar picked himself up and frantically nattered his teeth; it was aimed more at his friend than Fireflecks,
‘You told me there’d be no opposition; you told me they were undefended.’
‘What?!’ said Fireflecks angrily. A very subtle change saw his eyes glaze ever so slightly, ‘You knew there was no boar here so you came and attacked the sows?’
‘No! We came to steal the sows and they fought back’
‘Of course we did, you fool. What did you expect?’ said a rich creamy beige sow with a white blaze.
The boar said nothing but looked down in acceptance he turned to leave.
‘Where do you think you’re going?’ said Fireflecks with feigned calmness ‘I think you owe someone an apology.’
The boar bowed low towards the sows and apologised. The big medium grey sow with a dark nose let his friend go and Fireflecks chased them both far away from the warren.
‘Thank you, for your help.’ The lilac sow said to Jaqui. ‘It was most appreciated. You’re lucky to have a boar like him.’
‘Don’t mention it. It’s easy to be brave when others are in danger.’
‘Well said, Mum.’ came Sasha’s voice.
Yet again, Booqui sprang forward from nowhere, ‘Aria! Are you okay?’
The big sow returned Booqui’s hug with an affectionate smile. Booqui eventually pulled back,
‘I got him, I got him.’ She said through a broad childish grin.
‘Got who?’ Aria answered with a smile of her own, she could probably guess.
‘I caught one of those boys that were here a moment ago.’ She then unexpectedly turned to Jaqui, Sasha and Peros,’ I’m sorry but does that boar you’re with have a brother?’
‘Yes he does, but not around here, Why?’
‘Oh, because the one in my trap looks an awful lot like him’
There was a second of chaos as seven cavies thundered off behind Booqui to rescue poor Fireflecks from Booqui’s trap. When they found him it was a comical sight. He had been thoroughly wound up in vines with mud all over his face. But instead of panicking or being angry he was laughing his head off. His family joined him as the sows wrestled with the vines, trying to free him. Once free, Fireflecks playfully chased Booqui around,
‘I’m going to get you for that one!’ He threatened hollowly.
She squealed and darted out of reach. Eventually, she made a dive for Aria who stepped aside, 'Leave me out of it.' Things then calmed down long enough for the three sows to invite them back for a bite to eat and a place to rest.
Aria, the lilac-grey sow, was Booqui’s aunty. She was the head sow of the warren. It was a small warren of fewer than ten cavies. Aria was saddened to speak of how the warren was once a grand one ‘with twice as many cavies’ but since her boar (no name was mentioned) was never there they no longer felt safe. Over time the cavies had left, searching for safer places to live. Only his harem was left and a few good friends.
'Did you wish to join us?' Fireflecks asked.
Jaqui looked at him with a sour face, 'We can't do that and you know it. You have enough to protect.'
'It's only polite to offer.' He countered effortlessly, 'Besides the more of us there are the more alert we can be.'
'And easier to track.' This time, she said it under her breath but Aria was probably close enough to hear her.
Aria looked to her companions; asking the silent question in turn. 'No, thank you.'
Fireflecks had to consider this for he hadn't expected it.
‘Thank you for the offer but we are bound to this place until he either un-claims us or someone fights for us. If we go with you, he’ll think you stole us like those other boars were trying to do. We do not want to get you in trouble.' The tense moment passed and the creamy sow dragged in a section of nasturtium for them to eat.
'Which way are you headed? Maybe we will catch up one day.’
As his family ate Fireflecks explained that he was not entirely sure where they’d end up but he was heading generally south-west.
At this, a chocolate, gold and white sow with long, thick wavy fur (called a Texel) came forward, She was probably three moons old (12 weeks) so, just a little older than Peros and Sasha.
‘I’ll tag along if you like. I am heading in a similar direction. Buster’s warren is that way and I’m now under his care. I promise that he’ll let you stay as long as you like- if he doesn’t then I’ll have a thing or two to say about it.’
‘You’re Gumnut then.’
‘Yeah. How did you know?’
‘Booqui told us about you.’ said Jaqui.
Gumnut gave a hardly dainty curse.
Fireflecks was taken back a step; neither expecting or used to hearing foul language.
‘What makes you think Buster will take us in?’ Jaqui enquired for him
‘It’s the sort of cavy that he is. I admit I haven’t seen him for a long time but cavies of his age and temperament rarely lose it.’
‘Why are you travelling to meet him?’ asked Jaqui, ‘You’ve come so far too haven't you?’
‘My mother was killed when our warren collapsed.’
‘I‘m sorry.’ said Jaqui
‘My condolences.’ Fireflecks gave a half bow. On the way upright his eyes met Jaqui's for a moment and they saw tiredness in each other.
‘Thank you. There were so many killed.’ Gumnut was too busy eating to be paying much attention.
‘So you’re a refugee.’ Fireflecks spoke softly.
‘That’s right.' She finally looked up from the food. Under his eyes she lost pace a little and swallowed. 'I was told that should things get bad I was to find Buster. My mother didn’t trust many cavies so for her to say that meant a great deal. I have to leave the Twin valleys because there are lots of longcoat boars here and they won’t leave me alone. I was part of the Shiriya sector, the north.’
‘We know of it. We came from the south, Minu valley. You must have been on the road longer than we have.’
In his heart, he wondered if the warren that she was talking about was the very one they were running from which fell to ruin not so long ago, the Citadel, may it be forever entombed.
Conversation tapered off here as they had something to eat. Fireflecks and Jaqui noticed how little Peros was eating and exchanged worried looks but didn’t say anything about it. After a good feed the group began to feel drowsy. Aria was most happy to give up her room for a while so they could sleep in the dark comfort.
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