by Chris O'kane

Caroline was delighted when the tall spires of Metamor Keep came into view. The trip back to the keep had gone quickly. After what had happened to them up north, it was almost a leisurely trip. The group of six Long Scouts had easily avoided the lutins that were looking for them.

It was early afternoon when they reached the road leading up to Metamor Keep. They met a mounted patrol coming down. To Carol's surprise the leader of the group was Andre, Misha's good friend. The wolverine was in full armor and was carrying a lance.

"Andre!" Misha said with a shout, "What are you all dressed up for?"

The wolverine dismounted and the two friends hugged and clasped hands. "It's good to see you Misha," he said warmly. "That was some coup you two pulled off, killing Furlin all by yourselves."

"It was mostly luck, the arrogant fool got too far from his army," Misha answered. He turned his head and looked at the scouts standing in a group about ten feet up the road. "Danielle, why don't you take your people on ahead, me and Carol will follow in a few minutes," Misha said talking to the marten.

Danielle nodded, "Ok boss. See you at the top." With those words the four other scouts started up the hill, leaving Misha and Carol with the cavalry.

Carol was tired and wanted to go on, but stayed with Misha. After all she had started the patrol with him, she would finish it with him.

"Carol, I heard you two had quite an adventure," Andre said.

"It may have sounded like an adventure to you, but I was frightened the whole time," was her answer.

Misha put his arm around her, "The important thing is you didn't panic."

"When I was nose to nose with that giant wolf, I almost did. If you hadn't been there, I would have panicked, and probably been ripped to pieces."

"Giant wolf!" Andre asked in awe. "You were nose to nose with a giant wolf? How close was it?"

The otter held her hand about a foot from her nose.

The wolverine's eyes grew bigger, "Wow, that's too close for comfort."

She just nodded in return. Just thinking about it made her shiver.

"You can tell me all about it later at the Mule," The wolverine said.

"What are you up to?" Misha asked.

"Cavalry training. It's been too long since I used a lance. I have to practice if I'm going to win the joust at the summer festival," was the answer from Andre.

"I heard they've broken up the joust by size," Caroline said.

Andre nodded, "Finally. They should have done it a long time ago. I've heard rumors that Sir Saulius is going to joust."

"Now that's good to hear," Carol said, "he's been hidden away in the cellars far too long." Misha nodded in agreement.

"Well, I've got to go. I'll see you later in the Mule?" Andre asked.

"I don't know, I'm pretty tired. All I want to do is get cleaned up and got to bed," Carol replied.

"It's been a rough trip, I think we'll catch you tomorrow night. OK?" Misha said.

"All right. I'll talk to you two tomorrow," Andre said, mounting his horse. He started to ride away but stopped, "By the way, Jennifer wants to invite you two for dinner this Friday. How about it?"

"That sounds great," Carol said answering for both of them.

"Neat! I'll tell her when I get back. Good night you two," Will said and rode off with his soldiers.

"You ever meet Andre's wife Jen?" Misha asked.

Carol nodded, "Of course, she's a teacher here at the keep. A wolverine just like him."

"Oh! I never knew you'd met her," Misha replied.

"There's a lot about me you don't know," she answered.

The two scouts started up the road to the keep arm in arm, talking and laughing as they went.

To Carol the worn grey stone always looked too warm and friendly to be on such a stark military thing as a gate house. Coming back to Metamor Keep always felt like she was she was coming home. Even when her family had first arrived at the Keep, when she was barely five, she felt at ease. It was part of the magic of the place.

As they walked up to the massive gate she saw that three soldiers were on duty. Walking up to the sergeant Misha announced loudly, "Misha Brightleaf, scout. Returning from patrol."

"Caroline Hardy, scout. Returning from patrol," Carol added.

The sergeant waved them in, "Welcome home. Did you have fun?" she asked.

"Oh, the usual boring trip," Misha replied with feigned indifference. Carol knew he wouldn't talk about what had happened to anyone but Phil. If Phil decided it could become general knowledge then they would talk about it.

Cleared, they started to walk through the gatehouse. They passed under the portcullis and into the passage beyond. Misha stopped, "You know this place always gives me the creeps." He pointed up to the ceiling and she followed his hand and looked up. "Those openings are called murder holes. They're used to pour boiling oil and water down on any attacker, who is standing where you are."

His voice had changed and Carol looked down just in time to see him running away. There came a sliding noise above her and she looked up just as a deluge of water descended on her. It caught her right in the face.

She let out a blood curdling scream full of shock and pain as the water washed over her. "YOU BASTARDS! THAT WATER'S FREEZING!" she shrieked. She stood there soaked to the bone and shivering from the icy water.

She heard Misha laughing and looked up to see him standing in the courtyard, warm and dry.

"Come here Misha!" she said in an icy tone and motioned to him.

"I don't think so," he answered cautiously.

She softened her tone, "Why did you that?"

"It's part of your initiation, everybody gets christened like that," he said. Misha slowly moved closer to her until they were standing face to face. "Welcome to the Long Scouts Carol."

"I'm in?" she asked in surprise. Misha nodded. "Thank you!" she said and hugged him with her soaking wet body.

He let out a yelp as the water soaked through his clothing. "Your welcome, honey," he said laughing.

There was the sound of laughter behind her, and Carol turned to find Craig, Danielle and the rest of the patrol stand there, laughing. They all surrounded Carol, slapping her on the back and hugging her.

The group walked deeper into the keep, past the inner gate into the town. talking and laughing as they went. Carol basked in the attention, laughing and swapping stories.

The group suddenly stopped and Carol looked around to find out why. They were standing in front of her father's shop. With a final handshake or pat on the back the group quietly broke up and left. Finally only the fox and the otter were left standing there.

They stepped through the doorway into the workshop. The sights, smells and sounds of the workshop came to her like old friends. The faint tap, tap, tap, of the hammer. The smell and sounds of molten gold or silver as it was poured into a mold. The worn, wooden floors creaked as they tread on them.

"Papa?" she said aloud, half-afraid there would be no answer. The tapping stopped, and footsteps came from the back room. A tall badger appeared in the doorway.

Carol!" he shouted and running to his daughter, held her for a moment kissing and hugging her.

"See Will! I told you I'd bring her back safe and sound," Misha said in a loud voice.

Will held her at arms length and stared at her a moment, "Why are you soaking wet?" he asked.