Chapter 30 - River Test & The Male Otter, Watercress & The Iron Road.
Captain Shadow had led his rabbits out of the field where his warren lay further up the shallow slope where the copse stood big and dark as he took a look back. The group moved through the hedge as they entered the next field.
Snowdrop looked about as he sniffed the ground. "They're still ahead of us but we should be fine before the morning dew hits, if we can't find them by then, I don't know what we do?"
Captain Shadow growled as he ran that bit faster. "I tell you, if Inlo is still alive when I get back, I am going to kill him myself." They carried on until they reached the end of the field and came up to a road where Snowdrop stopped and looked about. "Not sure if they crossed or went down this..."
Dropwort stepped out onto the road and looked about one way and then the other, standing up on his hind legs and sniffed. "I can smell a stoat." Immediately the other rabbits croched down as Captain Shadow whispered low. "Where?"
Dropwort sniffed again and faced the direction that the wind was blowing. "It's upwind from us at the moment so it can't smell us yet, we best be careful though, it could be somewhere in that hedge or in the field itself."
Tallow got up and moved forwards onto the tarmac with a growl. "Well, if we can't out do a stoat then we aren't suitable for the great one or whatever we be calling him when he arrives." Tallow ran over the length of the road and came to a stop as he began to sniff at the grass verge before looking back, nodding his head.
The rest followed across the road, one after each other as Snowberry sniffed the grass and muttered. "They crossed here alright, looks like they're going straight on through this field." Captain Shadow nodded as he moved into the hedge with the rest following and stuck his head out of the other end. "Dropwort, go back to the other side and tell me when you can tell if that stoat is coming along the road."
"Right." Dropwort said and turned around, hopping over to the other side of the hedge and moving out slightly so that he could get a good look down the road where he could smell the stench of the stoat in the air.
Slowly, it was Tallow that spotted the stoat as it entered the field, carrying a small rat in it's muzzle. Captain Shadow cursed under his breath as he looked at it moving across in it's slinky way, the head easily vanishing from time as it settled down to start eating the rat in the field. "Well, that's torn it.." Captain shadow said. "Right, we can't go through this field, we have to go the long way around, back out to where Dropwort is."
Moving carefully backwards, not to disturb the hedge, Captain Shadow frowned as they made their way out onto the other side as they all sat on the verge of the road. "Okay, let's get going." Captain Shadow said as they slowly kept down wind from where the stoat was, not willing to get it's attention. Dropwort took the lead, followed by Snowberry and Tallow kept by the side of Captain Shadow as they slowly moved along the thin verge edge.
Snowdrop looked up to the sky and frowned. "Frith's starting to show signs of coming back." Captain Shadow and the rest looked up as they saw the faint start of light beginning to make the dark sky a different shade of blue as Captain Shadow growled. "Great, man will be up soon then."
Moving along the verge quickly, they heard a sound coming in front of them, a hum that made all of them stop as they listened with erect ears. As the sound got louder quickly, it was Dropwort that noticed the lights in the distance. "Hrududu." He said quietly, while looking at the two small lights growing bigger with each passing second.
"Hide!" Captain Shadow said as they all turned and went into the hedge loudly, knowingly that they had made a noise that distracted the stoat in the field as it looked up from it's meal, looking in the area where the hedge had shook. Dropwort felt the thick trunk hit his head as he felt Tallow behind him, pushing him on the rear. Growling, Dropwort snarled. "Stop pushing, I can't go any further..."
Tallow pulled back, allowing Dropwort to pull himself up, shaking his head as he muttered. "Thanks..." The sound of the car was now loud as Captain Shadow looked out of the bush, his body low to the ground as he hid behind the leaves, still staring at the bright lights as they became too bright for him to see. Closing his eyes, the loud noise came and with a rush of air, the Land Rover had passed them.
Feeling his fur all over the place on his head, Captain Shadow sneezed at the foul smell that the Land Rover had left behind and felt slightly ill in the head. Spitting he muttered. "I can never get used to that smell."
"Long-ears nearly get run over then?" Came a cold voice from behind them as Tallow, Dropwort and Snowberry turned around to seeing a bloodied muzzle of the stoat poking in it's head. "Maybe you prefer to die, my way, hmm?"
All four of them moved quickly as the stoat hissed and jumped into the hedge while Captain Shadow, Snowberry and Tallow got out of the hedge, moving onto the road and running down it. Before the got a few paces down the road, they heard a squeal and Captain Shadow turned around to see the hedge rustle slightly before another ear piercing squeal and the hedge went still.
Turning around again, the three rabbits continued to run down the road but they slowly slowed down as the hard tarmac was tiring them out quicker than they had thought. Panting heavily, Captain Shadow nodded for them to go back to the side of the road that they had come from in the first place and moving into another hedge, they rested panting hard.
Panting heavily, Snowberry flopped onto the ground as he felt his heart racing. Captain Shadow was in more of a foul mood than he was earlier that night when he looked out of the hedge before muttering. "We rest here for a bit and continue on during the day." Captain shadow turned his head around. "Understood?" He saw the other nod their head as they rested, the new day slowly starting to arrive as the sky got lighter.
Slowly the world around Bracken, Birch and Straw continued to awake around them as they moved through another field, full of grass now, the farm house was in the distance though they could hear movement coming from that direction. Birch kept looking towards it from time to time as he heard a faint loud whistle coming from a kettle within the building that he turned his head back towards Bracken again and muttered. "They're doing something un-natural in there, I tell you."
Bracken nodded as they came to a small ditch at the edge of the field and he looked down into it, smelling the water held within it. "Birch, we've kept away from the place, they're not going to attack us." A loud squeal came through the air as all three rabbits looked up and back to where they had come and Bracken frowned. "That sounded like another rabbit being killed." Growling he looked at the other two. "We're being followed." Bracken turned his head back and slowly hunched up before jumping over the ditch and scrambling up as he landed slightly short to the other side. Coming up on his hind legs, he glared. "Well, come on if you don't want to go back into that blasted place."
Birch nodded as he ran up and jumped over the ditch, landing into the hedge as he muttered. "You don't have to tell me twice." Straw followed suit as he turned to look at Bracken. "Me either, I had enough of that place to last me a lifetime." Bracken grinned slightly before following the other two bucks through the hedge as they found themselves on another road.
This road was different, it didn't have that horrible stench of tarmac in the air but it was just two very worn tracks with tall grass growing in the middle with several dandelions about the place. Straw hopped forwards and started to nibble on one of the dandelions. "Mmm, not had these in a while." He chewed and then spat them yellow bits out and looked like he was ill. "Yuck, what on..." He turned to the other two as Bracken chuckled. "Ah a hrududu comes along here then, they do that to the grass and plants that grow near a road."
Straw muttered under his breath as he hopped over the other side and went through the metal wire fence and blinked turning his head back around again as he looked at the other two. "That fence is humming?"
Bracken stared at the fence and then looked at Straw. "Don't go near it. Birch, make sure you don't touch it at all when you go through, got it?" Birch nodded his head as he slowly walked over and crossed where the thick grass grew in the middle of the road. "Got it." Moving across again, he watched as Straw moved to the side and then backed away slightly as Birch could hear the humming coming from one of the metal wires. Lowering his body down and crawled through the long grass on the edge of the road, flattening his ears down so that he got past the wire and crawled over to where Straw was. Sitting up he looked at Straw and blinked. "I don't think you should go jumping through a fence like that again if it hums."
Straw nodded as he watched Bracken do the same as what Birch had done a moment before and came up alongside them. "Okay, we be spotted here if we stay. Let's carry on." Birch twisted his ear around as he heard the faint sound of whistling before a door opened at the far farm house. "Okay, let's get going shall we." Birch couldn't see the farm house but he was near enough to hear sounds in the early morning air as he turned around and hopped away, just as the first bird began to sing, announcing to the world that morning was arriving.
The next field had sheep in it once they had made their way up a small hill as Bracken gave a sigh. "Oh great, that's all we need." Birch ran up alongside as they carried on their way as he muttered. "Maybe it's too early for them to be too arrogant?" Straw was also wary as he looked about. "Don't they destroy grass by pulling them out to the roots?"
Birch nodded his head. "Yes, that's what they do, they destroy a field and move onto the next one. It takes a while for man to get a field to re-grow grass again. It's very annoying to be honest, they should only eat the shoots then it would grow back again."
Slowly they made their way through the field as they could hear more sheep starting to wake up, rising from the ground as Bracken quickened their pace. "Come on, sheep usually have a dog to herd them." He said with a worried look about him as he glanced about the place.
Straw looked about. "But they go with man don't they, so unless man turns up we be fine." However, there wasn't anything to slow down Birch or Bracken as they finally made it to the end of the field and another electric fence. Carefully moving through the fence was the only time that Bracken and Birch had time to slow down and feel more comfortable again as they ended up in a clear field that held nothing.
Moving through the grass, they walked slowly, tired from their journey so far as Bracken looked about. "We need to find a place to rest for a while. Keep a look out if you see anything." Both Birch and Straw nodded their heads as they walked across the grass field slowly.
Nothing was available as there was another wire fence but the lack of any sound made the rabbits think it was a normal fence and as Birch went under and left a tuft of fur from the barbed end he looked about in the next field and saw what they were looking for. "There's a small crop of tree's over there, we can find someplace safe perhaps."
Bracken looked at Birch. "You sure, what if it..." He stopped and nodded his head. "Sorry, not all places will be the same as that other copse we were at." Straw didn't say anything as they ran across the field to where the small crop of tree's where as they came to a stop and started to look about. Bracken sniffed the air and gave a look of concern in Birch's way but he shook his head. "Nothing, no bad feelings. Not a single feeling of being watched either. I think this is safe enough for us to rest for a bit."
Straw nodded his head as he sniffed at a bush before turning his head around to the other two. "So who's going to take the first watch, just in case we need to move off quickly?" Bracken looked about and replied back. "I take the first watch, you two get some rest and I wake you up a bit later on." Slowly all three of them slipped into the bush and out of sight as the morning continued to roll on, Frith threatening now to show himself as a orange glow shown from under the horizon.
Much later on in the day when Frith was climbing still in the sky, Captain Shadow watched another hrududu rush past them, his nose wrinkling again with the smell that was left behind as he looked at the other two that were sleeping quietly. Getting up, he moved to where Tallow was and nudged him with a paw. "Tallow, get up, it's your turn to keep a watch out, I need to rest for a bit." Poking Tallow again with a paw, he saw the other buck open his eyes as he yawned. "Okay sir, how long should I wait?"
Settling down, he replied back. "As soon as it hits Ni-Frith." Captain Shadow replied back while closing his eyes. Speaking quietly. "If anything else comes about, usual single, thump on the ground if it's urgent."
Tallow nodded his head as he moved to look out at the road for the time being, his nose wrinkling at the smell that still hung in the air and after looking up and down it, he turned around and moved quietly to check out the field behind him, the buck preferring this side as he watched some birds slowly rise from the tree's before falling down on the groun to search for worms.
Tallow kept moving about throughout the morning as he checked on the position Frith was in and slowly he woke up the other two, shaking them gently. Captain Shadow and Snowberry woke up, both stretching before they slowly pulled themselves up as Tallow nodded. "It's time, should we cross over the road and head back to where that field is, try and pick up the tracks again?"
Snowberry nodded his head. "That would help yes, need something to work on." Looking upwards, he sniffed the air and frowned. "Though it looks like it's going to rain soon though."
Captain Shadow frowned. "Then let's get a move on shall we? I don't fancy returning in failure with Darkclaw-Rah. I rather not risk sharing a place beside Inlo." With those words in their mind, all three rabbits came back to the outside of the hedge and looked to the road that did have some traffic moving on it now.
Another hrududu rushed past, nearly threatening to send all three to roll over on the ground as Captain Shadow looked about and nodded his head as all of them ran across the road, while the sound of another hrududu was approaching quickly. Tallow had just managed to hop out of the way when a tyre rolled in the spot he was just in before as he fell flat on his face panting. "Phew that was close..." Tallow said as he looked back, before getting up and following the others as they were moving through the field.
Running across the field, they slowly turned around as they headed back the way that they had ran to that morning away from the stoat. Snowberry was ahead of the others as he looked at the approaching hedge and slowed down before going through. Captain Shadow and Tallow were just behind him as Snowberry checked the field in front of them and nodded his head. "No stoat, nothing is in this field at the moment. Let's go."
Moving carefully, the group finally got to the point where they could smell their own scent as well as their quarry that they were tracking. Snowberry moved about as he sniffed again and pulled his head back out of the hedge. "Stoat got Dropwort, blood on the leaves." Brushing a fly from his nose with a paw. "No body though."
Captain Shadow sighed as he looked about. "We best get on, nothing that we can do for him now." He turned to look at the hedge and shook his head slightly. "At least he left some of his kittens with a doe. I shall inform them one day on how he died." Nodding at Snowberry to carry on, he watched the buck sniff out again before hopping off. "They went this way."
Following Snowberry as he kept on checking the tracks, the party continued to follow where the escaped rabbits had left a short time ago, knowing that they had managed to get a fair lead now due to their problem with the stoat. Captain Shadow was still in a foul mood on the whole thing as they came up to the end of the field where Snowberry was checking again and pointed out some fur that smelled of Straw which Captain Shadow gave a sniff himself to be sure.
"Yeah, that's him. I can tell his smell from anywhere." Captain Shadow gruffly said as they entered the next field which he stopped dead in his tracks. Going quiet he could see from the other side of the field a tractor slowly moving along a road as it stopped far from the gate. Twitching his ears, all of them could hear cows moo'ing before they saw a man come to the gate, opening it wide. Then Captain Shadow saw something that made him shiver and drop to the ground as the others followed suit, there was a dog barking but they couldn't see it yet. Growling, Captain Shadow dug his claws into the ground. "I don't believe this. I really just don't believe it, this is not my day..."
Tallow looked out to the other side and looked at Captain Shadow, all three were now lying low on the ground. "It's okay, the dog is with the man see, I think they're heading off to tend to the sheep after this, it's a sheepdog." Hearing a grunt come from Captain Shadow, he went quiet after deciding not to bother his superior officer for the time being.
Watching silently they saw the cows moving out in the field as the farmer closed the gate and giving a whistle to the dog, Captain Shadow saw the dog bark and then jump into the tractor as the engine came on again before it slowly drove down the road as it came to a stop on the road behind them. Reversing it turned back around as they could hear it slowly moving down the road again as the cows continued to move out around the field to graze.
"Come on, before something else happens." Captain Shadow said as they entered the field. Snowberry was moving quickly now as he looked back to where the other two were and then continued to follow the scent. Which wasn't easy as a few times they had to get out of the way from a few hooves that were getting in their way or nearly on top of them.
Eventually they made it to the other side and Snowberry sighed as they crawled through the hedge to the ploughed field in front of them. "Hmm, this is going to be tricky." Snowberry said as he sniffed the ground before moving on again to follow the scent as best as he could. Eventually he came to a stop where Captain Shadow and Tallow were looking at him before he turned back on himself and searched for the scent again and headed in another direction. Stopping again he looked up and around before heading back to where Tallow and Captain Shadow were standing.
"Well, they didn't head towards the farm house, perhaps it scares them." Snowberry said as he went back to sniffing the wet soil ground as Captain Shadow looked towards the faint house in the distance. "Hmm, they did mention that they're warren was destroyed by man, perhaps they were telling the truth."
Tallow looked about. "Well, where are they heading then?" Snowberry continued to move on again as he found their scent once more and replied back. "They went this way." Slowly they headed over, jumping across small muddy puddles as they came to the edge of the field where there was a ditch, filled with muddy water. Captain Shadow didn't need Snowberry to say that they have come this way as he could see scratch marks on the other side.
Captain Shadow was about to say something when he heard something on the other side, the same barking sound came as he heard sheep bleet back in a field up ahead. "Well, let's go see where that is." They had no choice but to keep following the path that Bracken and his two friends were leading them as they slowly jumped across the ditch each in turn.
The sound of the dog had woken up the three rabbits in the other field as Bracken got up immediately, thumping the ground instinctively before stopping. Birch was looking outside of the small wooden area and turned his head back again. "There's a dog in the other field where the sheep are."
Straw gave a shudder. "Could we please move, we need to get moving." Bracken thought about it and nodded. "Come on, we cut through this small wood and see what comes about on the other side.