Foxhollow Ch. 4
Chapter Four: Lord Big
The farther Judith walked in these woods the colder it got. Eventually the trees lost their leaves, the grass crackled with frost and her breath was mist.
Judith wrapped her arms around herself as she continued to walk. She knew these woods were on the border of other Regions, she would have to start over in one of them. She was a hard worker and knew how to grow the best of crops; surely it shouldn’t be too hard to find a new job.
And surely King Nicholas won’t try to hunt me down, Judith was just a rabbit. She wasn’t valuable. Though a part of her feared he would replace her with one of her own from Bunnyburrow, but it was too late to go back now. Judith couldn’t return to her family with Gideon Grey there and she doubted if she went back to the castle she would be welcomed with open arms.
Her only place to go was forward.
Her ears lifted up as she caught the sound of running water, there was a river nearby. Wanting a drink of water Judith followed the noise until the trees broke away to reveal what she had been looking for, she shivered slightly when she saw the ice caking the shore, no doubt that water was freezing.
A small voice had Judith turning her head to the right, blinking in surprise she spotted a shrew. It was a very pretty shrew; she was wearing a beautiful ice blue dress and was gazing at her reflection in the water. The rabbit looked at the rock she was standing on with suspicion, it looked awfully slippery.
Judith crept forward, quiet so as not to startle the shrew, before clearing her throat, “Excuse me?”
Unfortunately Judith’s stealthy approach wasn’t the best of plans for the shrew let out a gasp of surprise and whirled around, losing her balance on the icy rock. With a terrified shriek she fell into the river with a splash.
Immediately Judith was running toward the river, not even hesitating before she dove into the water, just as she expected it was freezing and hit her like a punch in the gut. She pushed her head above the surface and swam along with the current, glad her elder brothers taught her to swim, seeing the shrew’s small head as she tried to keep above the water, her shrieking shrill and breaking into spluttering.
“Hold on!” Judith called out and forced her limbs to move faster, her bones aching from the sheer cold. Just as she reached the shrew she sunk under the surface, Judith dived down, forcing her eyes open against the cold and spotting a brown blur. She reached her paw out, kicking her legs to get closer and closer until at last she gripped the shrew in her paw. Clutching her to her chest Judith used her free arm and feet to paddle up and break the surface, taking in a gulp of air that stung her lungs.
She quickly headed back to the bank, her teeth chattering and being sure to keep the unconscious shrew’s head above water. The rabbit let out a cry of relief when her feet brushed the bank and she crawled out of the freezing river, crawling across the sand and not stopping until she reached the prickly grass.
Even though Judith longed to lie down and sleep she instead placed the shrew on the ground, noticing how her belly was round. She was pregnant.
Panic rising anew she held her up and patted her back, letting out a gasp of relief as the shrew coughed up a lungful of water, when her gagging subsided Judith ran her paws over the shrew’s small arms, back and belly, trying to rub warmth back into her cold body. All the while Judith ignored the aching of her ears and limbs from the cold water and air.
The shrew was finally starting to warm up, her eyes blinking open, when a sword suddenly appeared in Judith’s vision, resting just under her chin. Shocked the rabbit looked up with wide eyes to see a polar bear in black garments and cloak, glaring down at Judith with steely eyes, behind him stood two more polar bears, smaller but no less intimidating.
“Step away from Lady Fru Fru,” the predator growled, flashing his large fangs and Judith’s heart stopped. And she had thought Gideon and Nicholas were terrifying. When the bunny didn’t move the tip of the sword pressed against her neck and Judith forced herself not to swallow. “I said step away.”
“W-Wait!” the shrew suddenly gasped, rising onto shaking limbs, her body shivering. “Don’t Kozlov! S-she saved my life! And my baby’s!”
Kozlov sheathed his sword and knelt before the Lady Fru Fru, picking her up with daintiness, “You are as cold as death, my Lady. We must return you to your father.”
“B-bring her,” she begged, pointing to Judith. “Don’t l-leave her here.”
Kozlov nodded to one of the other polar bears who walked over and picked up Judith with little fanfare, the rabbit letting out a squeak of fright as the large clawed paws grabbed her. Besides her shivering she tried to stay perfectly still while he wrapped his cloak around her and followed Kozlov through the forest. All the while trying to keep her heart from pounding up her throat, of course when she ran away from one predator she ended up with an even bigger one.
She wasn’t sure how much time had passed before the leafless trees gave way to a clearing. In said clearing where a series of small wooden cabins, each had windows glowing with the warmth of firelight. And in the heart of the clearing stood the largest cabin of them all, it looked to be two stories and that is where the polar bears were taking Judith and Lady Fru Fru.
The rabbit had to hold back a moan of relief when they stepped through the threshold of the cabin and the cold air was replaced by delicious warm. She noticed the three polar bears walking past a sort of living room, a group of polar bears, arctic shrews, and a few other miscellaneous prey sitting near a fire place, chatting pleasantly to one another and a few drinking bowls of soup.
The sight of the roaring fire and food nearly had Judith slipping out of the bear’s claws to join the group, but she stayed put.
She was carried into a room where a large desk stood in the middle, a fireplace on the far way and what looked to be a fur rug. On the desk stood a male shrew was pacing in a frantic manner, he stopped and looked to the polar bears as they entered the room.
“Daddy,” Lady Fru Fru spoke in a quiet and still shaky voice. She was placed on the desk and the older shrew immediately pulled her into a desperate embrace, his shoulders shaking.
“What were you thinking running off like that,” he pulled away and looked her down. “Why are you wet?”
“She fell into the river, Lord Big,” Kozlov rumbled.
The shrew gaped at his daughter, Fru Fru shrunk under his gaze. “I’m sorry Daddy, I just couldn’t stand being cooped up in here. You never let me go out for even a walk.”
“And now you see why,” he snapped, “You and my unborn grandchild would’ve drowned if Kozlov hadn’t found you in time.”
“It wasn’t us, my Lord,” the bear interrupted. “It was this rabbit.”
The shrew’s blue eyes looked down at Judith who had been placed on the floor, she did her best curtsy she could manage while she had her arms wrapped around herself, still cold despite the warm room.
“It’s true, Daddy,” Fru Fru spoke up. “She jumped in and saved me.”
“What is your name, child,” Lord Big asked the bunny.
“J-Judith, sir,” she answered.
“You have my sincere gratitude, my dear Judith.” He seemed to notice her shivery, “Kozlov, please give my daughter’s savior your cloak so she will not catch her death of cold.”
The bear obeyed, throwing the large cloak over Judith’s shoulder, she instantly wrapped the thick, warm fabric around her. Meanwhile Lord Big was taking off his own cloak and wrapping it around his daughter.
“Shall I bring you and Lady Fru Fru a meal, my lord?” Kozlov asked and the shrew nodded, asking him to bring something for the rabbit as well.
Judith found herself sitting in front of the large fireplace with the two shrews, sipping from a bowl of vegetable soup.
“What were you doing in the Stormy Woods, Judith?” Lord Big asked of her, sitting close to his daughter who smiled up at the rabbit. “I know of every animal that lives in this forest.”
“I…I was leaving Foxhollow,” she explained. “I plan on going to a different Region and starting over.”
“Why would you need to start over?”
Judith’s ears fell across her shoulders; she didn’t know how much she could share with these two near-strangers. Fru Fru looked to her father, “What does it matter? If she hadn’t needed to start over she wouldn’t have been there to save me.”
Her father glared at her, “I’m still quite angry with you, child.”
Fru Fru sighed and looked up at Judith, “Ever since I started carrying child my father refuses to let me do anything on my own.”
“I have many things to do,” Lord Big reminded her. “I have a village to watch over I don’t need my reckless daughter running off without even an escort.”
Judith cocked her head to the side, “You watch over this village?”
The shrew nodded,
“Yes, as you must know life as a prey is…not always ideal, living under the
rule of predators, thought I will admit Foxhollow is not as awful as others. I
was one such, my wife and I lived under the rule of a vicious jackal in Kingsland.
When my wife became pregnant with my daughter I had decided enough was enough
and we left, finding shelter here in Stormy Woods. While I was here I came
across a pack of polar bears run by a large tyrant, feeling pity for them I
used my small size to sneak into the bear’s camp while the beast was asleep.”
He turned to look at the fireplace, the light flickering in his blue eyes, “I
slid his throat. The other polar bears were so relieved they wanted to repay me
and so we made this village together, a place for other prey who were being
mistreated by predators.” He let out a soft sigh, “Tragically my wife passed
away bringing my daughter into this world.”
Fru Fru placed a paw over her father’s, resting her head on his shoulder.
“I’m sorry for your loss,” Judith breathed, “But it is truly amazing what you have done. I wish I was as brave.”
Lord Big gave her a queer look, “You jumped into a freezing river to save a mammal you didn’t know, I hardly would call that cowardice.
Judith smiled softly but she didn’t count her rescue as something as incredible as bringing down a large predator when he was only a small prey. But then she suddenly realized something.
“Where is your mate?” Judith asked Fru Fru, wondering why he wouldn’t be here to check on his wife and unborn child.
Grief flashed in Fru Fru’s eyes and she looked to the fireplace, “He passed away a few days before I found out I was pregnant. Daddy and I are good at finding true love…just not as keeping it safe.”
“I’m so sorry,” Judith quickly apologized; guilty for bringing up what was obviously a painful memory so soon after hearing that her mother had passed.
“Thank you,” the female shrew replied and smiled up at the rabbit. In that moment a kindred feeling sparked between the two, even if they had barely shared a few words an understanding formed and Judith knew she had found a new friend.
But just then there was a knock on the door and a polar bear she didn’t recognize peeked his head in, “Lord Big?”
“What is it?” the shrew stood up, noting the bear’s nervous expression.
“We have a visitor, he wishes to speak with you.”
“Send him in,” Lord Big ordered, nodding the bear closed the door and retreated.
“I expect you don’t get many of those,” Judith asked, looking at his confused expression.
“My polar bears are good at keeping a cutthroat reputation in order to keep malicious animals out. And only so many mammals know of me…”
The door opened again, the same polar bear and Kozlov walking in, and just behind them waltzed in Nicholas Wilde.
Judith’s ears shot up and her eyes bulged as she watched the fox walk around the desk to stand before her and the two shrews, Lord Big obviously knew him if his expression was anything to go by.
“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Lord Big,” Nicholas nodded regally.
“Prince Wilde,” the shrew returned the nod.
Nicholas smiled easily, “It’s king now, actually.” His head suddenly shriveled toward Judith who jumped to her feet. The fox’s green eyes were unreadable as he spoke, “There you are; I’ve been looking all over for you.”
Lord Big narrowed his eyes at the fox, “King Nicholas…what do I owe this unnatural visit?”
Nicholas kept his eyes on Judith, the emerald gaze still indecipherable, “I’m here because she’s here. And she belongs to me.”
Judith could only stare at him with wide eyes, just barely noticing how her heart picked up its pace.
narrowed his eyes at the fox, “Belongs to you?”
“She’s my ward,” Nicholas explained, turning back to the shrew with his trouble-free grin. “My responsibility.”
Since when? Judith thought but stayed quiet.
“She told me she was running from Foxhollow to start anew in a different Region,” Lord Big replied, his expression suspicious.
Nicholas looked over to the rabbit, his expression pleasantly surprised but Judith was sure it was a mask. “Why would you need to do that, Judith?”
“Which Region did you
want to go to?”
“I’m-I’m not sure…”
“I know you come from a family of farmers but it would not be easy to find a farming job in other Regions, Foxhollow is the most prosperous when it comes to growing crops.”
Nicholas smiled, “How about I take you back to the castle? You can have a good night’s sleep, you look exhausted, and then tomorrow we can talk over this ‘starting anew’ business.”
Lord Big still look wary of the fox, “She can stay here if she wishes.”
Judith felt gratitude and affection to the shrew but Nicholas gave him an unsure look, “You have enough animals to care for, my lord. I will not throw my responsibilities on your shoulders.” He walked over to stand next to Judith, the rabbit tensing as she felt his body heat, “But it is clear you have become fond of her and you and your daughter are free to visit her. However now it is getting late and I was in the middle of a meeting before she left.”
He nodded to Lord Big again, “But you have my sincere gratitude for watching over my ward. I hope our paths cross again.” He grabbed Judith’s wrist, the bunny’s heart sky-rocketing with nerves as she was led out of the room before she could speak.
The walk back to the castle was a silent one, Nicholas didn’t ask her any questions and Judith’s tongue felt like it was frozen to the roof of her mouth. All the while Nicholas kept a firm grip on her paw.
When they reached the castle none of the mammals they passed looked surprised to see her again, even Bellwether gave her a pitying smirk as they passed her in the hallway. They stopped before Nicholas’s bedchamber door. “Have you eaten?” his voice was quiet, calm.
She nodded, “They-they fed me.”
“Good,” he opened the door and gently pushed her inside. “Stay in there, a guard will be posted at the door. We’ll talk when I get back.”
Despite that he didn’t slam the door when he closed it Judith felt a wave of dread bring her to her knees.
Pushing thoughts of that rabbit, that female, out of his head Nicholas walked back to the dinning room where his mother and Shenzi still sat; sipping from cups of tea, both looked relieved to see him walk in.
“Sorry about that,” he apologized to the hyena, “I had some matters…to deal with.”
“Yes, your pet,” Shenzi grinned in amusement, “A rabbit, is she not?”
Nicholas blinked then
glanced at his mother with a question in his eye. She mouthed: “Eavesdropped.”
Why wasn’t the fox surprised?
“I must say,” the hyena stood up and walked over to Nicholas. “It’s a little disconcerting that a king of an entire Region can’t control one measly little prey.”
Nicholas smiled at the insult, “I assure you it won’t happen again. Now, I had that preposition for you, regarding that artifact in the Nectar Forest.”
Shenzi’s eyes gleamed with interest, “Go on.”
“I understand the importance of a Region’s heirloom. But I also understand to keep my citizens as satisfied as possible and no doubt your soldiers could unnerve a few. So, you can send your archeologists or what have you to the border of our territory where my most trustworthy of soldiers will safely escort them to the Nectar Forest and help them search. Only your animals will touch the artifact and once you find it my animals will safely escort them out of Foxhollow. Everyone wins.”
Shenzi’s eyes narrowed into slits when she couldn’t find a kink in Nicholas’s plan. Finally she spoke, “I will talk to my council, see what they think of this. Until then it is late and I long for my home. Good evening to you, King Nicholas.”
“And a farewell to you, Queen Shenzi,” Nicholas replied, glad that he was able to keep the smugness out of his tone as he escorted the hyena out the door, his mother’s proud gaze warming his back.
Judith was sitting on her small bed, the quilt wrapped around herself. Her ears shot up as the door opened and in walked Nicholas.
She slipped off her bed and stood up straight, trying to appear brave. However the fox didn’t even glance at her as he walked to his wardrobe where he deposited his cape. He let out an exhausted sigh afterwards, rubbing the back of his neck with one paw.
“Um…” Judith started to speak. And immediately wished she hadn’t.
Nicholas whirled around so sharply his tail smacked against his legs, his green eyes like fiery pits as he glared at her with such anger the rabbit almost raced out to the balcony with the purpose of jumping off. But somehow she managed to keep her feet still.
Nicholas took a step forward but then stopped, as if he didn’t trust himself to get too close to her. He sucked in a breath, clasped his paws together, the smack of his paw pads echoing in the chamber, and then he smiled.
“How was your day?” he asked in a sickly sweet voice.
Judith only stared at him.
“That boring, hm? Well, let me tell you about my day. I was woken up with the news that a greedy hyena who doesn’t even try to hide that she wants my land has requested a meeting. I’m sitting there, trying to figure out how to subtly tell her that I will not part with one leaf of my forests when one of my guards gives me a message. This rabbit, who has been fed, clothed, even given a bed in my chamber, a rabbit that was treated fairly as far as I am concerned, has ran away. At first I was more than content to just let her go home to Bunnyburrow with her fluffy wuffy tail between her legs. But no, like the dumb bunny she apparently is, she goes to Stormy Woods, a place known to be full of cutthroats and other dangerous animals that could easily kill her or worse. And while I was willing to actually be a good king and worry about the safety of my citizens over hers my mother told me she was my responsibility,” he said the word like it was a vile illness. “So I had to cut my meeting with this greedy, slightly psychotic hyena short and walk through a freezing cold forest to find this bunny. Turns out she was living with a prey who I know isn’t overly fond of any predators that aren’t polar bears and now I’ve given him permission to visit my home whenever he wishes so I could bring this rabbit back. And now that hyena thinks I can’t handle one prey and the proposition I gave her will only hold her at bay for so long.”
He suddenly walked over to Judith, his shadow leering over her. “The point is, I lost what little reputation I had to a queen, invite that shrew to come to my castle and no doubt rob me blind if not try to take over, and now I’m exhausted and freezing all because I had to fetch you.”
Judith shrunk into herself, “I-I’m sorry.” It was all she could think to say.
“Not yet you aren’t,” Nicholas growled with a flash of fangs. He glared over at the fireplace that was nothing but glowing embers, throwing shadows against his russet fur. “You know, I was probably only going to make you a little servant, clean or cook or some such, maybe even tend the gardens, hell maybe I would’ve even let you go. But such options have been burned to ashes. It’s clear I have to keep you caged like a pet and so a pet you will be.”
He turned his venomous eyes on her, his teeth bared, “To celebrate your idiotic mistake I’ll give you a pet name…And I personally fancy the name ‘Carrots’.”