A Tale from the White Liar Tavern
"Rabbits in Habits"
A Flintloque Short Story by David Gretton
Artwork Conceived and Created by Tony Harwood and Edward Jackson
Throughout the realms of Valon the White Liar Tavern in Broomcoat has a very special reputation for the quality of the ales sold and the tales told. During the cold winter months the landlord brings comfort to his regulars by offering hot mulled brews and spiced pies. With steam rising from their flagons it is customary for patrons to recount their stories...
He was drunk but at least knew that he was drunk. Stage Two in other words. A grimace passed across his hairy face as the cold ale found the one spot where the enamel in his tusks was wearing thin. The pain was worth it for the richness of the White Liars new guest ale, “Smack me Shirley”. Wonderfully hoppy flavour. Not long to Stage Three, where everything would work out fine in the end. Always best to enjoy that Stage. His eyes wandered around the old oak beams, the soot covered ceiling, the large roaring fireplace. He felt at home here, more so than at his cottage. His friends were here, the landlord Master Gretwrench, Privates Letch, Drool and Ogle from the 45th foot, Fingers, Master Kromwretch the local blacksmith and even the baker, Mr Bunz, enjoying a fine pale ale. Only the presence of some of his framer weavers lurking in the corner spoilt the congeniality of the evening. He could ignore them if they kept themselves to themselves.
The normal hubbub of conversation drifted around the rafters. The price of bread, the war overseas, the odds of Private Letch finally getting his hands on Roseorcary the kitchen helper. All was normal calm as he took another long draft of ale. At some point he would reach Stage Four where he would no longer feel the pain in his teeth and his jokes would light up the evening for the other people in the tavern. Food was a priority right now and the kitchen seemed to be taking eternity over it. Best to get some food for Stage Five, the throwing up and passing out by the old oak tree phase.
His eyes wandered across the dart board and noticed that the landlord had thoughtfully replaced the picture of Emperor Mordred that had been getting somewhat tatty. Stage Two was good, the Stage at which the edges of reality were numbed somewhat. The serving maid, Hope (or was it Chastity?) strode across the room with his supper. He never once looked into her eyes, or even her face, preferring instead to savour the roundness of her breasts as they glided towards him.
She slammed the food down onto the oaken table with so much force that his precious pint, even half empty, came perilously close to flowing over the edge of the tankard. He was so alarmed by this that he barely had chance to follow the serving Orcs buttocks as she fumed back to the kitchen.
The smell of rosemary drifted up from the stew in front of him. Firm chunks of meat and heavy dumplings a speciality of Ethel the chef. He was halfway through the first mouthful when he noticed the abnormal lack of noise in the tap room. The only sound reaching his ears was the crackle of the log fire and the hissing of steam as it escaped from the patrons’ capes hanging near the fire.
Odd. Very odd. He looked up towards the bar only to find that people were staring at the doorway. Two nuns had walked, no, stumbled into the tap room of the White Liar. He looked into his ale and sniffed it curiously. His nose detected nothing unusual about the ale, a normal pint of "Smack me Shirley". No, nothing wrong there. Looking up from his pint his brows creased even further. The nuns clearly weren't from St LentOrc's; he knew several of the younger nuns from there quite well; a few very well indeed. No there were several hints that told his brain that something was wrong. Little signs such as their habits were grey rather than black, that they had a simple carrot emblem emblazed on the breast instead of the normal skull: larger signs such as the soft brown fur that covered their exposed hands or the whiskers that poked out of their veils: huge signs that the sober part of his brain troubled to comprehend; the large pair of rabbit ears that rose out of their wimples. That seemed to grab everyone’s attention. Quite a few of the regulars were looking at their ale with the same curiosity that had troubled him earlier.
There was the distinct sound of sniffing from behind their veils.
Behind him he heard Private Letch murmur "do Nuns do bets?"
The leading nun stumbled into the tavern in a way that suggested that she was having problems with her floor length habit before muttering something profound to herself in a language that Retch had never heard before. Whatever she said she had clearly meant it with all the passion of the truly devout or, possibly, someone stubbing their toe on the raised floor board near the bar.
Two furry paws, it was the only way to describe them, lifted the veil to reveal a fine set of furry whiskers, jet black eyes and a very large rabbit's face covered in soft brown hair. There was a slow hissing sound as the regulars took in their breath slowly. Private Retch found himself looking in to a triangular face covered with brown fur. The eyes stared at him as her nose twitched. The without pupils the gaze was utterly soulless. The nun surveyed the room before turning to the bar Orc. As she did so a second nun, who was slightly slimmer than the first, surveyed the room. Burrovians? Burrovian nuns?? What in the name of Sentinel where they doing here?
He looked down at his dinner and for a passing second felt a moment of guilt.
"eh, you don't see that every day Drool do you? Rabbits in habits".
“Sex, dinner and a fine fur coat all in one night?”
Private Letch, 14th Fencibles whispered the joke with the volume of an Orc at Stage Four of the evening, if anyone in Broomcoat didn't know of their new arrival they probably did now. The sisters, if that's what they were, ignored the comment although the careful observer would have noticed an ear homing in the source of the interjection.
The first sister, who his mind named Plump as she seemed noticeably better fed than the first struck up a conversation with the bar Orc. In the intense silence only a deaf Orc cold not have heard her.
"Ah, goods sirs, Us I wonder's if help could?"
The BarOrc, regained his composure with rapid decorum.
"Certainly, er, er” the barman struggled with the next word “....ladies". He wasn't sure if this is the correct appellation however as he didn't quite know what an appellation was it was the best he could do.
Several of the locals looked at other although it was difficult to tell if it was in alarm or concern. The 45th had taken a sound kicking when they tried to invade Burrovia several years ago. There were many Orcs who would shed no tears should misfortune befall any rabbitsoul around here. Oddly and despite the danger the slimmer of the sisters, Slim to his mind, seemed to be smiling at something.
"Wees is Sisters travelling da order of St. Beatrice from. Pilgrimage following the steps of St. Peter we is on. Our Oldstead Abbey next call is. We wonders if you would be so good if this pikes turn as to let's us know” Plump paused for thought as she struggled to find the words “will in end dere take us?".
The BarOrc forehead creased as he tried to convert the rabbit nuns’ words into good Orcish whilst behind her sister Slim bit on her right paw. When the bar Orc replied it was with a slowness of speech that was normally reserved for young children or idiots.
"Yes, yes sister. You should carry on and head for the city then go north from there”.
Then, as if sharing the same thoughts as many of others “The roads are still quite dangerous at night; what with all the riots and the Cruddites. Is it safe for you to travel?”
It was possible that a look of concern passed over Plump’s face although it was difficult to tell. Slim had, in the meantime, taken hold of a chair to support her.
“Ers, wots Crudites are?”
He was convinced that the BarOrc looked at group in the corner before continuing “Mis-contented Orc’s that cause trouble”
The light from the doorway was blocked out by a form as massive as it was fluffy. All eyes turned from the grey clad rabbit nuns to the huge, no giant, rabbit creature that stood in the doorway. To an Orcish mind it is impossible for something to be cute and fearsome at the same time; the inexperienced Orcs simply saw this as another talking bunny. The most seasoned, or pickled, of Orcish veterans in the tap room on the other hand saw a creature slightly bigger than an ogre with forearms with enough strength to crush an Orc’s head and teeth sharp enough to snip an arm off without much effort at all. Best not to ask how much force it could KICK with. Retch looked down slowly at his stew. His warm lovely tasty stew. His warm lovely and tasty rabbit stew. He suddenly and quiet fervently hoped that the creature didn't notice his choice of supper.
The BarOrc, a barrel of an Orc who brooked no nonsense on a Friday night, took a step back before recovering.
"If you wish to carry on straight down the road. There is a small Covent just off the main road, St Lenorcs. I'm sure that they would be able to give you lodging for the night"
There was a twitch of whiskers from Plump. "Thank yous"
"Sisters" It was James Towels, a frame knitter and well known troublemaker from the village of Wollorcton who was sitting with the group in the corner “in these troubled times I wonder if it would be possible to grant us some wisdom?"
A look of sheer terror seemed to pass across the Plump’s face quickly to be replaced by a sense of serene calm as she gazed at Slim. When Slim finally spoke her Orcish was almost perfect.
"A prayer,, nose, but a parable. Perhaps that would be appropriate"
Slim turned to look at the rabbit monster who handed over a thick, well bound book. Slim squinted as she thumbed through the pages.
"St. Peter, St. Cloudfoot, ...ah heres we ares.."
"The parable of the Rabbit and the Stoat"
"Cotton Tail, verses 8-162”
A second calm passed across the tavern, even Old Sid had taken off his cap.
"It was the time of before the beginning, the time before the Great Change. It was the magic hour, the hour before the dawn. The Great Buck rose from the warren of the night and hopped into the world. All around him he saw his children, nibbling on the grass and enjoying fine daisies. He felt the promise of the morning sun and lay down with his brethren. Then from nowhere didst a thumping arise. The Great Buck cast his ears unto the sound and heard the sound of a chase. He looked up and did spy a short brown shape of a stoat in the dawn light narrowly behind the flicking legs of a rabbit. The Great Buck felt sadness for the other rabbits watched yet did nothing to help their brethren, each knowing that they were safe so long as the stoat was chasing an other rabbit. The Great Buck looked up to smite the interloper but as he did so he harkened to a second thumping sound that came from afar. A second rabbit burst into the field a stoat snapping at this rabbits heals also.
Then did the first rabbit, spying the second stoat, turn towards this new predator.
The two stoats, seeing the other, forgot their prey and fought with each other, gouging and cutting each other relentless. Finally one of the stoats, bleeding profusely emerged victorious its sharp pointed teeth embedded into the others throat.
Then did the rabbit turn on this survivor and the fight did not last long. Weakened by its battle the other stoat the creature perished under relentless attack.
The Great Buck came then unto the wise rabbit and tended its wounds. He said unto the Rabbit “I name you Peter, leader of our people. Guard our people well and lead them wisely for there shall come a time when such wisdom shall be needed". The Great Buck reached forth and tore out the teeth of the stoats and game them as tribute to Peter saying "Guard these well for there shall be a time when you need them also".
The other rabbits, ashamed of their cowardice, harkened to the words of the Great Buck and pledged that whenever the weak shall be oppressed by the strong that they shall not stand ideally by letting their brethren perish whilst they are safe".
"In these times when the strong seek to rule the weak with oppression and tyranny these words are as relevant to those Orcs that fight for freedom as they have ever been."
There was almost imperceptible murmur of agreement from many in the room including Private Drool of the 45th. It made sense. The sisters must have fled their land when it was invaded by the tyrant Mordred.
The sister bowed her head in silent prayer and to his surprise so did Private Retch and most of the tap room.
He raised his head to see the landlord passing over a small keg of what seemed to be Mr Bunz's carrot juice and a small sack to the Plump insisting "it was only proper" as the towering rabbit ogre and Slim started to collect donations in a faded leather purse. He thought about taking the opportunity to visit the outhouse in the back however there was something about the set of shoulders of the giant that suggested that this would be very unwise. He reached in his pocket and rummaged for several seconds before finally finding the smallest of coins. He was relived that Slim, and not the giant, reached him first. Even despite the smoke and ale of the tavern he could smell her fir and sense the small hairs as they irritated his nose. He looked into eyes as dark as midnight as he dropped his paltry offering into the purse, her brown noise twitching furiously as their gaze met. Her eyes had a dark brown where there should have been white. Unnerving. He was careful to ensure that his fingers were inside the purse before he let go of the coins, anxious to conceal the meagreness of his offering all the time aware of his stew. His hand brushed against Slims’ paws and as it did so a pain flashed through his hand and chest before grounding itself via his feet. Slim muttered some sort of blessing for the offering before moving onto the next marginally willing beneficiary. He watched, unable to eat, until the Plump, Slim and Giant had hopped from the tavern. Only then did the regulars let out a collective sigh of relief as in the background the wheels of the cart creaked into the night.
"bloody stoopid thing to ask for that" howled one regular at master Towel. "Two pints barman" came the cry from Private Drool. "Bloody odd times" muttered another.
Away from the inn a covered cart rumbled down the road towards St Lenorcs.
In the back of the sister Ginger (Plump) reached for the keg of carrot juice pouring a long measure into a pewter cup. Several seconds of rummaging later she fished out a silver hip flask. She looked from the drink to the hip flask before mentally coming to a conclusion. She knocked back a long slug from the hip flask her whiskers crinkling in satisfaction before passing the carrot juice drink to the giant who was driving the cart. "ashh, betters". She turned to look at her sister Shadow (Slim) who was struggling with the wimple. In the end Shadow gave up, left the wimple in place and reached for a carrot from the sack. Her sister Ginger gave her a disapproving look before venting her feelings.
"What in the name of the Great Buck made you give that parable?. Why didn't you just spell out the real reasons we are here?"
Sister shadow gave back a noncommittal look "Seemed appropriate, all things considered”. She sniffed the fresh orange carrot and the long, dangling greenery at the top. The leaves danced as she played with the carrot.
“You wouldn’t be upset because I made you practice your Orcish any chance?”
Ginger ignored the remark
“and I presume that was you cursing the foul Orc in the corner?”
Shadow considered denying it, then again her sister knew her too well.
"His meal was, was.." her words trailed off "unacceptable"
"What did you do to him?".
"Nothing too obvious. Won't sleep for a week. Best not to be too far from the drop either"
Ginger tilted her head on one side, not entirely convinced that her sister was telling the full story.
Shadow interrupted before she could continue.
“Anyway how much did we get?"
Ginger tipped the purse. An array of coins, mostly bronze, scattered onto the floor of the covered wagon.
"hmm, tight sods the lot of them. Still a few pieces of silver which isn't bad. Looking forward to getting a lot more for the relics" Her eyes scanned the coins eventually settling on a folded piece of paper.
Ginger unravelled it with great care, squinting at the writing.
"It says here, Worstwood. 17th. 9.30".
Shadow interrupted her munching of the greenery "That's tomorrow".
"About time. I want to get rid of this cargo before we get put into a stew ourselves. The enemy of my enemy may be useful but he is still someone I don't trust. How do we know that these Cruddites will be any use anyway?"
Shadow looked at the now defoliated carrot before tossing it back into the sack. She sucked in her cheeks as she did so, the desire for another carrot overcoming politeness and she buried her head in the sack, muffling her voice as she was speaking.
"We don't but the contacts says that they have coin and it’s not as if they can trace this lot back to us” Satisfied with the foliage on the next carrot she proceeded to strip it of its greenery savouring every mouthful. “Every dead Orc is a good Orc as far as I’m concerned, even better if it’s each other they’re killing.”
Sister Ginger nodded in agreement and as she did so a wry smile crossed her face.
“Funny if they did work it out mind. I’d love to see the look on their faces when they try and figure out the cause of this little rebellion.”
With that the wagon rolled into the night. No one watching would have noticed the false bottom or the fifty bessie muskets that were stashed within it. Fifty muskets that had been taken from the dead hands of the 45th as they lay still and lifeless on the beaches of Burrovia.
The sisters smiled quietly as they brought the teeth of the stoat back home.
David Gretton is 40, married and has one daughter and one rabbit. He is still trying to write the great Hangulmorian novel and to paint his Bunrovian army in the theme of the Confederate Army of the East.
Now it's Your Turn...
This article was originally published on Alternative Armies' content portal, Barking Irons, and is reproduced here with permission.