That first night, they camped out in the trees as they weren’t that familiar with all the animals that roamed these woods. It turned out to have been an excellent decision as, late that night, a pack of wolves found their scent and spent a good thirty minutes howling below their trees before T-Bone finally got annoyed by their howling and fearful someone might investigate the noise, sent a small plain missile to explode harmlessly near the pack, sending them scampering away in terror not to be seen again that night.
Though finally quiet, it was still an uncomfortable night as trees didn’t make good beds. Morning arrived, cold and foggy, as they climbed down and ate a sketchy breakfast before taking off at a brisk pace once more. In this fashion, they made their way north.
At a small village along the way, they ran into their first bit of bad luck. After taking on some supplies, trading game they’d caught, the group headed across a meadow and through yet another forest when a group of brigands waylaid them.
“Look out!” an enforcer on their left flank yelled when he was knocked off his feet by a big man in dirty peasant dress carrying a huge bow.
Others of the band just like him charged the team with knives, staves, swords, and fists.
The Kats of the future quickly formed a circle with their backs to each other and didn’t hesitate to use their more modern weapons to defeat the thugs more quickly, but they had to take care not to use all their precious ammo, having no way to make more. The attackers were some fifteen strong and very determined, so unfortunately weren’t scared off by their modern weapons as easily as they’d hoped.
Though they managed to wound, not kill, their opponents, the brigands weren’t so hampered, succeeding in seriously injuring three of the Enforcers as well as delivering many minor wounds on everyone else. When the group finally drove their attackers off, the medic desperately wanted to treat the more seriously hurt members, but Feral nixed that, opting for finding somewhere safe first.
So, the injured were carried hurriedly along for more than an hour until they found shelter in a small glen hidden by a huge rock pile with only one small entrance leading into it. Reasonably safe now, they could tend their hurts and rest. A small stream was inside their sanctuary, which was a blessing. So Felina, T-Bone, and two Enforcers brought water back for the medic then went hunting for dinner.
“How’s it look, Ferguson?” Feral asked the medic worriedly, crouching beside him as the tom treated one of the three Enforcers laying on the grass, covered by the cloaks of their fellows to keep them warm.
Shaking his head and looking really tired, Medic Ferguson said, “I’m sorry, sir, but Oren, Berg, and Cougland will need at least four days to heal enough to be able to continue the trip.”
Feral rubbed his neck and shook his head. “Not good, but obviously we don’t have a choice.” He stood up and turned away to let the medic do his thing and went to the group sitting around a small campfire they’d set up as dusk began to fall. Thank God it was summer, so staying warm after dark wouldn’t be a problem.
They looked up as he came over and joined them, sitting cross legged on the ground.
“We’re not going anywhere for a few days,” he announced unhappily, accepting the water and food Felina handed him.
“Great! Well, we might as well use it to rest and build our strength,” T-Bone grumbled. “Wish we knew how much further we’ve got to go. It’s been five days already and no sign of a castle.”
“We knew it wouldn’t be a walk in the park here, guys. It is the dark ages after all,” Razor reminded them, eating the deer stew they’d made.
“I know, but I was kinda hoping we only had animals to deal with. You know… the four footed ones, not the two legged idiots,” his partner grumbled as he ate his stew hungrily.
“Unfortunately, the two legged kind seemed to outnumber the poor peaceful animals,” Felina snorted, annoyed at their delay and smarting from a cut on her face, one arm and leg.
“Hey, it could be worse… it could be raining you know,” Razor said trying to be upbeat.
“Shut up! You want to jinx us?” Major Donar growled.
Razor pursed his lips and made a raspberry sound of derision at the tom.
Donar scowled at him, but Razor ignored the officer and directed his next statement to Feral. “Since we’re stuck here for several days, I suggest T-Bone and I go on reconnaissance and see if we can find signs of how close we are to Megalith. We might get lucky and run into someone we can ask.”
“Oh really, how do you intend to do that wearing those clothes and masks?” Major Donar derisively demanded.
Before T-Bone could open his mouth to retort hotly that their cloaks would be enough to hide them, Feral interrupted.
“He has a point. You’ve been lucky so far only because you haven’t interacted closely with anyone that matters. Those thugs were only moderately surprised by your appearance, but they don’t count.”
“Alright, we’ll ditch our masks when we’re out there but not to you guys. And, they stay on when we meet the Queen,” Razor agreed reluctantly, realizing Feral was right.
Feral rolled his eyes but had to agree that was a viable idea, and they did need to know if they were going in the right direction. It was certainly better than wasting more time.
“Fine. Tomorrow…” Feral began to say when Major Donar cut in angrily.
“Sir, why them? Why not two Enforcers? You can’t trust a pair of vigilantes no matter how much they’ve been helping us. Who’s to say they won’t just go off on their own!”
Furious, T-Bone lunged to his feet but his partner blocked him. “Stand down, buddy,” Razor warned softly, forcing his partner to sit down again.
“Back off, Donar. They go because they have the armaments to handle most anything they encounter, they’ve worked as a team for years, which is of benefit when doing this kind of sneaking around, and I trust them,” he said flatly, brooking no more dissension then turned to the vigilantes. “As I was saying, you’ll go out tomorrow but don’t go further than a day’s travel before returning. We do need you when we meet the Queen, you know.”
T-Bone grinned broadly at Feral’s admission, his good humor restored. “Aww, now that’s something I’ve been waiting to hear from your mouth for a very loooong time.”
“Stuff it, hot shot!” Feral growled without heat. “It’s time to get some sleep. You and your partner can take first watch, Donar and Jepson second watch and Felina and I will take dawn.” Having given his orders, Feral rolled to his side and curled up, making it plain he meant now.
Some grumbling was heard among the Enforcers, but they quickly followed their leader’s instructions, curling up on the ground, trying to find sleep.
T-Bone stood up and stretched, his partner doing the same, then they went outside their camp, relieving the present guards. For the next few hours, they kept watch, listening for trouble. At one point, they even climbed to the top of the rockpile where they could better see if any danger approached their hideaway. They were relieved a few hours later and sought sleep to refresh them for the trip to come.
The next morning, the pair ate a sketchy breakfast and said farewell to Feral and Felina, who were going off shift to get some sleep. They set off in the direction they’d been traveling at a paced run. For most of the morning, the two encountered no one. They startled a herd of deer into running and avoided a mother bear and her cub as lunch time rolled around but encountered no people.
“I’d hoped we’d find someone about by now,” T-Bone groaned as they took a brief rest to eat some trail rations and drink water while staring around watchfully.
“Yea, though the scenery is beautiful, I really wished we knew if we were even going in the right direction,” Razor said sourly, finishing his snack and rising to his feet.
“I’m with you on that. I’d hate to think we’d gone miles in the wrong direction the whole time. That would suck.”
“Bite your tongue.”
His partner snorted in amusement. “Let’s take a quick nap in those trees before setting off again.”
“I can keep going for hours, you know that.”
“But, I can’t, so a rest now means I’ll be able to keep up with you without stopping again before we reach the halfway point, and I don’t want to push so hard that I end up too tired to return, so resting now makes more sense because we won’t need as long to recharge,” the tabby said reasonably
“Uh… actually, that made sense, strange as that may be coming from you,” Razor snorted, heading for the trees.
T-Bone swung at him for the comment, but Razor ducked and smirked. Shaking his head, the tabby chose a good sized tree and began to climb. Razor followed behind him then passed him as his lighter weight allowed him to navigate through the tree limbs much easier than his bulkier partner.
After resting for an hour, they were soon on their way again. Reaching a distance that Razor judged would take them to dark to return to camp, they turned about, still not having seen anyone they could speak with nor catching sight of a castle. Disheartened, they were halfway back to camp as the sun began to fall when they finally got lucky.
Razor stopped in his tracks. “T-Bone!” he hissed.
His partner froze in mid step, turning his head to stare at his friend questioningly. The smaller tom had his head tilted to the left and was listening hard. T-Bone tried to hear what had attracted his partner’s attention.
Over the quiet noises of the forest, they heard the distant sound of a horse and wagon and, over that, voices speaking softly. Quickly, they headed for the sounds until they managed to spot the group of travelers through the trees without showing themselves. Following the wagon, the pair stayed out of sight until they could find a good opportunity to ‘drop in’ on the group to speak with them. At first, it seemed the travelers intended to continue on through the growing dusk but, to the hidden pair’s relief, the small band had only been heading for a tiny clearing in the forest where the driver drew the horse to a halt.
Waiting for them to dismount the wagon first, the two watchers noted it was a small family made up of two females and four males. Only two of the males were old enough to be considered adults. They all seemed nervous and weren’t very well armed. By their conversation, it seemed they were heading to somewhere they hoped to make a new start but were afraid of being set upon by the bands of thieves they’d heard were in these woods.
Fortunately for them, T-Bone and Razor’s group had already rousted the bandits, so the family was fairly safe but it also meant they would spook easily if the pair didn’t pretend to be harmless. Neither was looking to be perforated by arrows or end up harming one of the family in a fight.
To make their task easier, they removed their masks and shoved their hoods back plus hid their glovatrixes in their pants under the cloaks. Now they looked like simple travelers. Choosing to come from the opposite side of the clearing from where the group was setting up camp and as much in the open they could, they demonstrated they were alone. They did everything they could to appear harmless and safe.
They came within sight of the group then halted before hailing them. “Greetings. We mean you no harm and seek only guidance if you can give it?” Razor called out in a pleasant voice. It was thought he should be the speaker as he had less trouble talking the way they did.
The males had their bows up with arrows notched in seconds while the females quickly hid behind the wagon. They didn’t relax even as T-Bone and Razor walked a bit closer and stopped again, holding their palms outward from their bodies to demonstrate they were unarmed.
The eldest of the group eyed them nervously as he returned their call, “Greetings. What guidance seek you?”
“We are a small regimen of soldiers, ten souls on foot, who arrived here from a different country seeking assistance from your Queen Callista. It seems the directions we were given to her castle were inaccurate. Please, we pray thee, do you know the way to Megalith?” Razor asked humbly.
The males remained steadfast for moments longer before the eldest signaled them to relax by lowering his own bow. They did so but stood tense and ready if this turned out to be a trick, eyes studying the woods around them while their leader spoke to the strangers.
“Fortune smiles upon thee, sirs. My family is heading for a new life within the walls of Megalith City,” the elder admitted cautiously.
“Truly? We are indeed fortunate then. If you could but direct us, good sir?”
“I would be happy too, but might I ask a favor in return,” the male asked hesitantly.
“Uh…” Razor glanced over at T-Bone worriedly. “If we’re able to oblige, sir.”
“It isn’t much, truly. We have heard of brigands roaming these woods. We could sore use such strong toms as you to guard us in exchange for being guided to Megalith.”
“Oh… uh… could you excuse us a moment to speak in private?”
“Of course, sirs,” the male said graciously, though a worried look flashed in his eyes as to why these two were hesitating. Perhaps their leader wouldn’t be pleased to follow simple peasants. That wouldn’t be too surprising.
Pulling his partner away, Razor walked them a short distance back the way they’d come before halting.
“So, what do we do? I don’t want to leave them to be attacked by those bastards that hit us, but we can’t take them back to our camp because they’ve seen who we are,” T-Bone hissed softly.
Razor thought deeply a moment. “We can’t, in good conscience, leave them here. All we have to do is put our masks back on just before we reach our camp. Because we’re soldiers and they are but simple peasants, we can simply say we wear masks and took them off to make friends but must put them back on before we rejoin our company. No other explanation is necessary as they don’t dare ask questions of those that outrank them. Don’t look like that! I know it sounds nasty, but it’s the only way we can do this and retain our identities. They won’t tell the rest who we are because they won’t know who we really are.”
“That’s stinks, but I agree it’s the only thing we can do. Let’s do this.” T-Bone turned and walked back to the nervously waiting family, Razor on his heels.
“We thank you for your assistance and wish to return the favor. If you will follow us, we can take you to a safer resting place a couple of miles back that way. If we leave now, we can arrive before it gets any darker. Tomorrow, if our injured are able to, we’d like to transport them aboard your wagon and go as a group to Megalith,” Razor suggested carefully. “However, if you do not trust us, we certainly understand if you refuse. No hard feelings if that is your choice. But, we do still need the location of Megalith City. How say you?”
The older male’s eyes narrowed suspiciously and whispered angrily with the elder for several minutes. The elder seemed torn on whether to accept or refuse. His eyes flicked to the older female, questioningly. She looked away from him to the strangers, staring at them with piercing intensity that made T-Bone feel a bit uneasy then turned her attention back to the male and nodded.
That seemed good enough for the leader. He bowed and said, “Good sirs, we thank you and accept your offer of safer shelter and guarding us on our travels to Megalith City. My name is Justin and this is my family. May we know who you are?
“I’m sorry, no, we are special warriors who are normally masked but removed them so as to not frighten you. However, we must put them back on as our culture decrees. We thank you for accepting our offer and suggest we leave quickly,” Razor finished then pulled his mask out and pulled it on.
Surprised but hiding it, T-Bone did the same.
The group blinked at the pair in surprise but said nothing, accepting the explanation without question and quickly prepared to leave again. The younger kits stared at the strangers with a little fear and curiosity at their now masked faces as they climbed back aboard their wagon.
Justin gestured politely for the strangers to come aboard as well. Sighing in relief, the pair accepted, and, for the first time since they’d started this trek, the two tired warriors were able to ride and rest their feet as they guided the family back to their encampment. No one said anything on the hour long trek.
As soon as they arrived close enough to see the hidden glen, a voice gruffly called out, “Halt! Who goes there?” Out of the growing dusk, a huge tom stepped out of hiding and stared at them, a torch held in his paw to cast a light on the visitors.
“It’s us, Commander,” Razor called back, then he and T-Bone jumped down from the wagon and approached Feral. Razor quickly brought him up to date on what had happened and why they’d brought the family there.
Frowning, Feral looked past them to the nervously waiting family then nodded. Grudgingly, he agreed they had made a good decision bringing the family here. The small group would be safe from danger, they knew where Megalith was, and their wagon could help transport their injured members. A win-win situation for their mission.
“It’ll be awkward ensuring no one gives away where we’re from, but we’ll manage. Good job. This is better than we could have hoped for. Did you find out how far we are?”
“No, not yet. Thought it best to wait until we proved we were the good guys. They are kinda of nervous you know,” T-Bone admitted.
“Good idea. Alright, guess I should make their acquaintance. Get a name?”
“The leader’s the elder; his name is Justin,” Razor said helpfully as the three of them walked to the wagon.
“Greetings. I’m the leader of this troop. Welcome to our camp and thank you for the offer of assistance. Please join us. There’s room for all of you and the horse. The wagon will have to be left just over there but will be guarded so it won’t be taken.”
Relief shone on Justin’s face that his decision had been a good one. “You are most gracious, lord. I and my family thank you for your kindness. We are beholden to you. Would you share a meal with us? It isn’t much, but it is warm and filling.”
Feral smiled a little in return. “Thank you, no. We have just eaten, but you are welcome to the venison we killed early today to add to your meal,” he offered kindly.
The older female sighed with joy. Nodding shyly to the powerful tom, she felt relief that her family would be safe and well fed. It was very rare to find such kindness in a someone of this tom’s obvious rank. She had been told many under Queen Callista were equally kind and caring. She hoped so as they life had been so hard up to now. She was equally relieved that they wanted something so simple from them. God was certainly smiling favorably upon her family this night. She must remember to offer a proper thank you during her prayers tonight.
Other males and a female, to her surprise, came from somewhere in the rocks ahead to aid them in unloading their things and leading them all back into a naturally hidden glen behind a huge rockpile. There was even fresh water available where even now her son was guiding their horse to. It was the perfect place, and, for the first time since they’d begun their journey, she felt safe.
Feral quickly sent an order to his troops to guard their tongues around these people. They could not risk any form of contamination that could alter the past in anyway. No names were to be given and none of their modern world equipment exposed at any time, and they were warned to confine their speech to very simple things and nothing more.
The family quickly set up camp a short distance from their benefactors against one of the rock walls. Accepting some of the venison, the females soon had a much hardier stew made and were enjoying it around their tiny campfire. It was wonderful to be able to relax. They found their protectors to be kind but reserved. None would give their names nor tell them anything about themselves. They weren’t rude about it, but it was obvious they weren’t allowed to discuss such things.
The one thing that had surprised the two peasant females was the sight of a female warrior. Felina was unlike any female they knew of, except, of course, the Queen. It was obvious she was not a servant nor attached to any of the males, though they did learn the leader was her uncle and that she was treated with respect by the other males.
It was certainly a strange group they’d fallen in with, but if it got them to Megalith City alive and safe, it was worth accepting their oddness. They went to sleep, feeling safe and protected for the first time since they’d left their former home.
Navigate This Author's Stories
Disclaimer: SWAT Kats: The Radical Squadron is copyright to Hanna-Barbera Cartoons Inc. All Rights Reserved. © 1995. All other characters and material within this page are the property of their respective creators.