Warren and the Rogue Crew
Okay, so this is the first chapter (almost a prologue, really) of The Life and Exploits of Warren McCrosbin, a Redwall-inspired fanfic series that I am currently working on. This story is kind of a test for me, as I'm still getting familiar with my setting, characters, and the overall feel that I want for my series, so it may end up being different than its still-to-come sequels. I am 100% open to feedback, so please comment and let me know what you think!
Also, yes, I may have borrowed the term "Rogue Crew", but I gave it a different definition in my story, as you will see if you read it. ;P
A Dream Fulfilled
Eighteen-year-old Warren McCrosbin, burst through the door of his family’s five-room log cabin, his face alive with excitement.
“It’s happened!” he cried to the four shocked wolves that looked at him. “I’ve been accepted! Into a Rogue Crew, I mean. I received my application from a squirrel messenger just now. Finally, after all these years, tomorrow my dream will come true!”
If Warren had been expecting delighted shouts of joy from his family, he did not get them. Instead, his mother, Felicity, put a paw to her mouth in shock. Damarius, his father, narrowed his eyes and set down his cup of tea with a faint clink. The jaw of his younger brother, Tad, had dropped, and he was looking at Warren with an expression of longing, but he too made no sound.
Desperate for some congratulation, Warren turned toward the last face in the room – that of his older sister, Willa. To his disappointment, she had cast her eyes down in silence.
“Come on!” Warren burst out. “Someone say something! Aren’t you all happy for me?”
Finally, after a moment of silence, Felicity took a step towards her son. “Warren, are you sure this is what you want?”
Warren stared at his mother. “Of course I’m sure! You know what Rogue Crews are like – heroes, voyagers, saviors to those who need them. To be a member of one – traveling the world, doing what I please, making my own living – what more could I want?”
Damarius McCrosbin suddenly stood up and approached Warren, surveying him silently. Warren, clad in a simple, forest-green tunic and rough pants made from gunnysack, was tall, lanky, and covered in thick, mottled gray fur – a younger version of his father. After a moment, Damarius extended his rough, gray paw. Inside was a small, silver dagger – a dirk. “Just a little something I’ve been saving for you,” he smiled. “It was mine when I was your age. Good luck out there, son.”
One by one, the rest of Warren’s family came forward, each offering their own gift. Tad handed Warren a tiny bag of golden coins. Willa offered her brother half a loaf of nutbread that she had baked. Lastly, Felicity faced Warren and presented him with a small leather book. Inside was written by paw:
From Felicity McCrosbin
The Life and Exploits of Warren McCrosbin
“For your adventures,” she said. “Be careful.”
Warren’s steely green eyes met his mother’s hazel ones. “I will,” he replied. And then, “Thank you all.”
The Rogue Crew
The next morning, Warren set out bright and early for Three Trees, a well-known clearing near the edge of Mossflower Wood - the forest which he called his home. There he would meet and join his new Rogue Crew.
He soon arrived at his destination and stopped short in his tracks. Before him was a small, odd-looking group of five animals. There were two elderly water rats – wiry, scruffy, and clad in dirty tunics. Each wielded a rusty cutlass. There was a young, sleek-furred vixen with one eye, and grasping a leather whip, clad in a simple, no-frills traveling dress. Next to her was a colossal mountain hare with thick, wild, gray fur, a scarred face, and wielding a pair of twin daggers. He glared at Warren with dark, unreadable eyes.
Lastly, standing in the center of the group and the obvious leader, was a big-muscled sea otter that appeared, Warren guessed, to be not many seasons older than he. Warren stared, taking in the otter’s foreign appearance. He had vibrant tattoos on his face and chest, and was wearing baggy, black pants and metal shoulder armor that connected to a sort of weapon holster – red leather straps that criss-crossed over his broad chest and back.
Brandishing a freshly-polished trident, the otter strode forward until he was nose to nose with Warren. He smelled of salt water.
“Well,” the otter mused quietly, looking Warren up and down, “ye must be our new recruit. Warren McCrosbin, right? That squirrel told me ye’d be comin’ this mornin’.”
Warren gulped. “Y-yes, that’s me. But...” he hesitated, “this isn’t it, is it? I mean, is this the Rogue Crew?”
The big otter narrowed his eyes. “Aye, it is. Not what ye were expectin’?”
“Well, no. I mean, yes! That is, I’m just... taken aback is all.” Warren took a deep breath and attempted a smile at the otter. “I guess I just was expecting you all to look a bit more like...”
“Heroes?” the otter sneered. “I know how it is. You young’uns are all alike. Think they’ll make a good, honest livin’ out joining a Rogue Crew, they do. Take it from me, Warren. When ye travel the world, takin’ what ye please an’ leaving naught but a whisper, ye rarely end up looking’ like what ye expect.”
The otter turned and raised his trident, rallying his Crew. “Ain’t that right, mates?” He was met with a roar of approval.
The otter turned back to Warren. “We be leavin’ now, makin’ for the the traveler’s stop o’ Blackseed Post before headin’ on through the Greenfell mountains. If ye be comin’, now’s the time.” Pointing to the vixen, the hare, and the two rats, he named them respectively. “That lot be Vilya, Daanis, and Cut and Slash. Ye can get chummy while we march.”
Hefting his trident into the holster on his back, the otter cast Warren one last look before marching off into the trees to be followed by his Rogue Crew. “My name be Mors. Don’t use it. Ye can call me by me title: Rogue Leader.”
Warren hesitated as he watched the group leave the clearing. Not one of them cast him a second glance. He wondered if this was the right decision. Yes, he thought. This is what I’ve always wanted. So what if they’re not as dashing as I expected. I’m not going to turn back now.
Then, pulling out his dirk and shoving the rest of his family’s gifts deeper into his knapsack, Warren set off after his new Rogue Crew.
As the days passed, the group traveled west – leaving Mossflower Wood behind them and heading in the direction of the Greenfell Mountains that bordered Mossflower Country. Warren soon became properly acquainted with his travel mates over the endless hours of walking.
Warren had first attempted to approach the vixen, Vilya, and introduce himself. “Hey,” he had said amiably. “How did you get into this miserable lot, eh?” He had laughed good-naturedly, but soon realized Vilya was not so amused.
“Think this Rogue Crew is all a joke, don’t you, wolf?” Vilya had snarled. “Clearly you don’t realize that some of us need to join ‘miserable lots’ like this to survive. But what would a poor vixen’s plight matter to you?”
Vilya had marched on, leaving a stunned Warren in the dust. After that Warren was much more careful in how he approached the other Rogues.
Warren’s favorite of his companions was Daanis the mountain hare. Warren had had the opportunity to get properly introduced to the hare when – quite by accident – he tripped over Daanis’ massive footpaw while the group was setting up camp on his first evening.
Warren had lain there on the ground, hardly daring to move a muscle, afraid that Daanis would box his ears for being so clumsy. To his surprise, however, Warren had soon found himself being lifted into the air and spun around to look right into Daanis’ pale blue eyes. The huge hare had grinned.
“Ye’ll have tae be a tad lighter on yore paws if’n ye expect to last much longer out here, wolf,” Daanis had chuckled in a thick Scottish brogue. “A wee bairn like ye.”
With that, Daanis had set Warren down and had given him such a hard pat on the back that Warren had almost been knocked down again. From that moment on, Warren and Daanis were friends – or at least, as friendly as one can get with a warrior mountain hare.
Warren met the rats Cut and Slash as well, though they were not nearly as pleasant as Daanis. On Warren’s third full day, the pair sauntered over to where Warren was walking.
“Well, well, Slash. What do we have here?” Cut hissed from Warren’s left. Slash – on Warren’s right - aimed a crooked, yellow-toothed grin at the young wolf, replying, “Looks to me like a snack.”
At once Warren leapt away from the pair, brandishing his dirk. “Don’t come a step nearer, vermin!” he snarled, surprised at his own boldness. To Warren’s relief, the two rats gave in and slunk back to the other side of the road.
A moment later, Mors the otter fell into step with Warren, his dark eyes alight. “That was some mighty quick thinkin’ on yore part, mate,” he admitted, his quiet voice etched with slight admiration. “Maybe we can use a dreamer like ye after all.”
Warren smiled, but inside he didn’t feel half so proud. Was he really going to have to use his only weapon on his own companions? So far this Rogue Crew had not been at all what he expected.
A Chilling Conversation
The next day, after several hours of endless trekking, Warren relished a rest. Sleep, however, was not coming to him that night. He lay awake on the cold, hard ground, feeling homesick for Mossflower Wood.
Suddenly, he heard a rustling from behind and sat up abruptly. There, holding Warren’s open knapsack, was Mors. Warren stared silently as Mors dropped the bag and extended his other paw without a word. In his rough palm were Warren’s family’s gifts: Tad’s tiny bag of coins, Felicity’s journal, and Willa’s loaf of nutbread, which was still intact despite getting bounced around from Warren’s frequent jogging.
“This lot yours, mate?” Mors asked quietly, a strange look in his dark eyes.
Warren sat up a little straighter, unsure of how to reply. Finally, he said, “Aye, a few things I picked up before joining the Crew. Provisions, and whatnot.” He chuckled distractedly.
“Mmm, alright,” Mors mused, flipping through the blank journal and fingering one of Tad’s coins. “Sure about that, mate? ‘Cause this here journal says ‘From Felicity McCrosbin’ on the first page. Ye got an explanation fer that?”
Warren fingered his longest claw, momentarily lost for words. Finally, he said, “A friend gave that to me. Said it belonged to some ancestor of mine.”
This reply seemed to satisfy Mors, and he threw the objects back into Warren’s open knapsack on the ground. “Good. A Rogue, by our code, can have no ties to beasts he cares about. All relationships must be severed if one is to truly be part of the Crew.”
Warren arched one eyebrow. “I’ve never heard of a Rogue Crew code.”
Mors nodded. “Tis true. All of us must abide by it.” Shrugging nonchalantly, he added “I killed my family in order to gain my position. Ha, don’t look so horrified, wolf. Happened often where I come from. ‘Tis almost expected o’ young otters. Well, g’night.”
With that, Mors turned on his heel and headed back to his bed – an old blanket laid opposite the dying fire.
As soon as Warren heard Mors snoring, he grabbed his knapsack and, after checking that all his belongings were still there, pinned the strap securely once more. Mors’ words echoed in Warren’s head, repeating over and over. A Rogue, by our code, can have no ties to beasts he cares about. All relationships must be severed if one is to truly be part of the Crew.
Was Mors testing him – trying to see if he really had what it took to be part of a Rogue Crew? If so, Warren wasn’t confident that he passed. His thoughts were a mess, filled with his siblings’ admiring faces, his mother’s journal, Mors’ menacing words. He imagined two older otters crying out as Mors brought his trident down upon them, shuddering. Finally, exhausted from the stress, shock, and confusion of the past hour, Warren fell into a troubled sleep.
Cat and Mouse
The next morning, Warren awoke at the crack of dawn. Afraid to eat Willa’s nutbread, Warren instead breakfasted on a pawful of wild blackberries and a piece of hardtack. A meager meal, but it would do.
As the Rogue Crew trekked onward, Warren could see the Greenfell Mountains looming near. That meant that they would most likely arrive at Blackseed Post the next morning.
Hardly three hours had passed, however, when suddenly Warren heard a cry. Straightening and cocking his ears in the direction of which the sound had come, he listened harder.
“Did you hear that?” he asked Daanis.
“Aye,” the big hare replied. “It be comin’ from there.” He pointed toward an overgrown thicket off to the right. The same cry rang out again, this time louder and more pitiful.
“It’s a child. And he’s in trouble!” Warren cried, his voice rising. Dropping his knapsack and whipping his dirk from his knapsack, Warren took a step towards the thicket.
“Warren!” Mors’ rumbling voice stopped the young wolf in his tracks. Warren whirled towards his leader, who had turned towards him from the head of the group. “Don’t ye go down there.”
“But someone’s in trouble!” Warren protested.
“I said no, wolf!” Mors thundered. “We can’t spare any time. We Rogue Crews do run on a schedule, ye know.” The big otter grimaced, catching the flash of fury that coursed through Warren’s green eyes. “Don’t test me patience, wolf. We move on.” Mors turned back towards the nearing mountains.
A moment later, Mors heard Daanis’ deep voice cry, “No, lad!” But it was too late. Warren had entered the thicket.
Warren streaked through the thick forest, following the cries for help, which were getting steadily louder. It seemed to be ages before he finally located the source of the noise. Crouching down behind a clump of bracken, Warren surveyed the scene before him.
There, towering over a little mouse that was covered in cruel scratches, was a fearsome-looking wildcat. Clothed in a brown tunic and a makeshift cloak of moss and leaves, she cackled maniacally before lashing out at the young mouse, inflicting yet another wound on its delicate body. The young mouse cried out once more. At the edge of the clearing slumped the mouse’s mother, who appeared to be unconscious. She had probably been knocked out by the wildcat.
Warren sucked in a breath, unable to process the cruelty before his eyes. This was a game of cat and mouse, only the cat was brutally torturing her prey before feasting on it. Warren felt cold fury rising up within him. His paw tightened around the handle of his dirk. Then, without knowing what he was doing, he charged out of the thick at the wildcat, his teeth bared.
The wildcat barely had time to react before Warren lashed out at her with his claws, which did little damage against the cat’s thick fur. Realizing that Warren was there to help him, the young mouse dove out of the way, towards his mother, as the wildcat retaliated, using her strong footpaw to catch Warren hard in the stomach.
Though winded, Warren allowed his animal instincts to take over. Blinded by rage, Warren threw himself against the wildcat’s body, digging his claws into her fur and clamping his teeth onto her neck. The wildcat let out a yowl of rage and raked her claws against the back of Warren’s head, causing him to release his hold on her neck. Instantly Warren was thrown off, and he landed hard on the ground.
Seeing the wildcat charging toward him, fearsome fangs bared, Warren whipped out his dirk and thrust it before him. The wildcat was too slow to stop. The dirk entered her side, and she screamed in pain. Warren leapt to his paws. Glaring at Warren with dark eyes of pure hate and holding her bloody side with one paw, the wildcat limped off into the trees, defeated.
Warren took a deep breath. He was shaking all over, and the bloodied dirk fell from his paw. Suddenly, a flash of tan caught his eye. He glanced to his right. The young mouse, bleeding from his scratches, was looking at Warren from the edge of the clearing, huddled next to his mother, who was just coming to.
“Thank you, good sir wolf,” the young mouse said. “I owe you my life.” Then, like the wildcat, he too was gone, scampering off into the trees with his still half-unconscious mother at his side.
A Decision Made
It seemed like hours before Warren finally made it back to the main path, his head aching from where the wildcat had wounded him. He was not surprised to find his knapsack sitting there in the dirt and no one there. Assuming that his Crew had continued traveling, Warren wearily started up the path once more, wiping his bloody dirk on his trousers as he went.
It wasn’t long before Warren spotted the group in the distance. He made his way up a hill and into the trees, at last reunited with his Crew, who were taking a break just a little ways from the path. The young wolf sat heavily down next to Daanis, who avoided eye contact with him.
It was a few moments before either of them spoke. Then, Daanis said, “Say, why did ye do that, lad? Ye know Mors is gonna be after ye for disobeyin’ him.”
Warren shrugged, still worn out. “I guess that’s just how I was raised. Wasn’t gonna let some big, scary otter stop me from doing the right thing.”
Suddenly, before Warren knew what was happening, his dirk had been ripped out of his paw, he was flying through the air, and being pinned to the trunk of a nearby tree by a muscular paw. It was Mors, and he was livid. Letting go of Warren, Mors slapped him hard across the face, making him see stars.
“Ye defied a direct order from some big, scary otter who also happens to be yore Rogue Leader, wolf scum,” the big otter snarled, towering over Warren like a tattooed wall. “If it happens again, ‘twill be your death call. Do I make meself clear? I don’t tolerate disobedience in me Crew.”
Giving Warren one last shove, Mors turned tail and stalked back towards where the others were sitting. Not one of the other Rogues, save Daanis, had even watched the whole affair.
Warren stood, stunned, his face still stinging from Mors’ brutal hit. He looked on as Mors picked up his fallen dirk and fingered it with a discerning eye. Then, without a second glance, the otter stowed it in his trident holster, squatted next to Cut the rat, and began chatting with him as if nothing had happened.
At that moment, something inside Warren snapped. Wiping a trickle of blood from his neck, Warren walked silently back to where the Crew’s belongings were heaped, and pulled his knapsack from the pile. Then, he approached Mors and held out his paw.
“Give me my dirk, Mors.” Warren was careful to address the otter by his name rather than his title. “Now.”
Mors looked up at Warren, his mouth tight but his eyes flashing dangerously. “Did ye just give me an order, wolf?”
“Yes, I did. That dirk is my father’s, and I intend to keep it. Give it to me.”
“And what if I don’t?”
“Then I will take it from you.”
Mors laughed mockingly. “A pathetic whelp like ye? Ye’d fight yore own leader for a meager dagger?” He stood up, looking around at his Crew. “Ye lot hear this’un? Says he wants to fight me. Can ye imagine anything more hilarious?”
There was no reply. Only Daanis dared to meet Mors’ eyes.
Enraged by his Crew’s silence, Mors turned back to Warren, his teeth bared. “Ye want the dagger?” he growled, “Fine. But take it, and ye are part of this Crew no more. The choice be yours, wolf. Leave it, and ye stay in me Crew. Take it and ye be nothing to me.”
Mors tossed the dirk onto the ground, still glaring at Warren. The latter strode, without a word, over to where it had fallen and picked it up, clasping it in his paw and flinging his knapsack over his shoulder. He started to walk away.
Then, he paused and looked back at the edge of the clearing, inspecting each Rogue’s face in turn. Daanis had just a hint of a smile on his scar-ridden face. Vilya, Cut, and Slash were gazing at him with what appeared to be newfound interest. And as for Mors, the big otter wore an expression of immense fury and regret. Warren looked at him the longest.
At last, he said, “You know, Mors, I’ve wanted to join a Rogue Crew ever since I was five. I thought it would be the most wonderful thing in the world – traveling where I wanted, making my own living, lending a paw to those who need one. But now I realize that real Rogue Crews don’t care a whit about things like that. I was stupid to think that you – or most animals – would put others’ interests above their own.
“But I was raised by Damarius and Felicity McCrosbin, two good, honorable wolves who did care about doing the right thing. Yes, that’s right. Felicity. My mother. She gave me that journal. They warned me about the real world, but I didn’t listen. They told me that I would never have a place among creatures like you, but I didn’t heed their words. Now I see what a fool I was.
“Farewell, Mors. Farewell, Vilya, Cut, Slash, and Daanis, my good mate, whom I hope I shall see again someday. I take my leave of you.”
With these words, Warren turned back to the trees and started to continue walking, catching sight of the path not far ahead. But before he had gone much farther, Mors’ angry voice reached his ears. Warren did not look back, but paused and listened.
“Ye are a fool, wolf,” he heard Mors spit. “Ye won’t last a day out there. Ye need us to survive. All ye’ve got is that loaf o’ bread, a tiny journal, a pawful o’ coins, and yore precious father’s dirk.”
Warren waited to be sure Mors was done, than turned back around one last time to face his former leader. “Funny,” he replied evenly. “That sounds like enough for a young wanderer like me to live on when you say it out loud, doesn’t it?”
Then, without waiting for a reply, Warren turned around one final time, marched through the trees out onto the main path, and continued along it. For the first time in several days, he felt happy. His heart sang joyously as if freed from some great weight.
As Warren walked, cherishing the soft earth under his footpaws and the gentle afternoon wind sailing through his thick, gray fur, he recalled a verse from a haunting song that Daanis had sung a few nights before while they were sitting around the fire.
Though I leave me home wi’ heavy heart
Me spirit sings loud and free
I’ll travel the world, see all the sights
Oh, a wanderer I’ll always be
As the days wear on, an’ the sun beats hot
I’ll cherish freedom, me
Though some may try an’ hold me down
A wanderer I’ll always be