The Wandering Feather
Written by: Kevin (KS) Sharbaugh

Chapter Six

Dale and Foxglove were hit with the desire to feed at about the same time as Chip, Dee and the others making it inevitable that they would meet back up at the picnic tent. There was the appropriate exchange of introductions before a table was staked out for the whole group. June opted to stay behind and hold the table while the others grabbed the grub. At the buffet tables were arrayed a variety of foods both common and exotic... including a dizzying number of dishes made of insects. Zipper was grateful, at least, to see there were no flies among the delicacies provided.

"It's been awhile since I've eaten any bugs," Chip commented as he watched his fiancé pile a small mountain of roast termites on her poker chip plate, "My mom would never eat anything that could scream, so I only had insects when staying at a friend's place."

"I've found that if you grab ‘em and bite the head off real quick there's not enough time for them to scream," Dee commented, "Didn't you have any after you moved out on your own?"

"Nah, me and Dale moved right to the city," Chip began to explain, "Once we got there it was easier to supplement our diet with human food."

Returning to the table, Dee pointed out the reason for the sheer volume of insects among the dishes provided. "Our tribe's always had a higher than normal percentage of crawly things in our diet," she mentioned a she took her seat, "Having to hunt for insects so often kept our warriors in good fighting shape."

"Talking about hunting and eating," Fangs interjected, "I think I'll go find myself a nice juicy cow." With that, he politely dismissed himself to grab his daily dose of blood.

"I guess I should thank your tribe then," Foxglove mentioned to Dee, "It's not often I get to eat a prepared meal of insects."

"Bugs weren't the only things we would hunt," June added to the discussion, "We were still hunting cats as recently as one-hundred and fifty years ago."

"You gotta be pullin' me leg," Monterey declared.

"No," June replied, "Efry time the Clan Mothers would swear in a new Chief he would lead the tribe's best warriors on a ceremonial cat hunt to proof his right to lead the tribe in battle. The bones would be used to build important structures and the meat was cured and stored for special occasions, like weddings, powwows, adoptions. According to our legends it was a Chief who belonged to the Wolf Clan that started the tradition, he claimed his ancestors spoke to him in his dreams and stated that they must learn to hunt and fight like wolfes to ensure the tribe's strength."

"And it worked," Dee pointed out, "Once word got around to neighboring tribes that we hunted cats they were too terrified to start wars with us." After finishing off a termite, she added, "Not that it stopped us from starting wars with them."

"Dale, dear, you're not eating," June stated as she noticed the chipmunk just staring at a roast termite, "Aren't you hungry?"

"Yeah, but," Dale began, "It's looking at me!"

Dee promptly reached over and tore off the termite's head and popped it in her mouth. "Lemme know if any of it's udder parts bodder you," she mumbled through her full mouth.

"I guess the termite's always tastier on the other plate," Chip commented.

"It's no problem, Dale," Monterey offered, "Just pretend you're Godzilla or something, eating terrified villagers."

As Dale began to tentatively gobble his grub, Chip tried out one of the fried insect wings he'd grabbed. After a few bites, the spices began to register with his taste buds. "Ooh!" came his distressed remark. Everyone watched as he dutifully finished chewing what he had in his mouth before swallowing it, then attempting to alleviate the torment by gulping down the full contents of his thimble of soda.

"Buffalo wing?" Dee asked, to which Chip replied with frantic nodding.

"Oh, Chip, you big baby!" Dale remarked, "It can't be that spicy."

"Oh yeah?" Chip shot back, "You have one!" Grabbing another wing from his plate he shoved it in front of Dale. "Go ahead!" he dared his friend.

"Sure!" Dale proclaimed, "I'll show you who's a real man here!" Dale crammed the whole wing in his mouth and began chewing enthusiastically. Then he suddenly stopped. Dale's lips, then his nose and eventually ears all began twitching in a disturbing manner. As his eyes began to water, he forced himself to continue chewing. Struggling onward, he shook his head and pounded the table with his paw. Then with a rather loud ‘gulp' he finished the wing. "Delicious," Dale wheezed painfully before downing his soda.

"Hey, Monty," Dee called, "Let's see if you're any better with these!"

"I'd love to," Monterey replied, "But I'd like to get more of those chee-e-eese balls before they're all gone."

As Monterey left the table, June spotted someone at another table. "I think that's my brother over there," she stated, "Ken, could you wheel me over there, I'd like to talk to him." When June passed behind Chip he let out a startled yelp.

Looking about in disbelief, Chip declared, "She just pinched my butt!"

"I think at her age you can do those kinds of things," Foxglove supposed. Leaning in towards Dale she breathed, "But you don't have to wait till then."

"I-I think I'll go get some more villagers," Dale stammered as he stood up, "er, I mean termites!" Foxglove just huffed quietly as Dale shuffled off.

"We've met two of the other Clan Mothers," Chip mentioned, "I wonder if we'll get a chance to meet the others while we're here."

"The head of the Bear Clan's right over there," Dee explained, pointing towards Monterey.

"I don't see her," Chip replied.

"The tall one," Dee clarified.

"I'm still not sure," Chip mumbled, "On which side of that huge badger is she?"

"She is the badger," Dee verified.

"You have a carnivorous Clan Mother?" Chip asked.

"Sure," Dee replied, "We'll adopt just about anybody into the tribe under the right circumstances. Her name's Charity Rose," she continued after making room for Dale to sit back down, "she's the fourth generation of her family to be part of our tribe... she obviously had to have roots outside the tribe with a name like Rose."

"Don't you have to have a blood tie to the tribe to be a member?" Raven asked.

"Nope," Dee answered, "Just as long as your mother's a member, whether by birth or by adoption."

"I bet your Aunt Carol doesn't try bullying her," Chip remarked.

"Actually, she's the one that started referring to her as ‘Bruin-Hilda'," Dee pointed out, "but no one in their right mind calls her that to her face."

While the conversation concerning that particular Clan Mother continued, Monterey was making his own introductions. "Could you hurry it up there?" he asked, growing short on patience, "Yer blockin' the cheese balls!"

"Well if the cheese balls have a problem with my standing here I'm sure they'll tell me to move," Charity replied lightly as she continued filling her plate.

"Oh real funny," Monterey returned. Looking up at the substantial carnivore before him, and unaware from the view that it was a female, he pointed out the dangers of keeping him from his favorite dietary element, "Listen, mate, I've been known to move mountains to get at my cheese and I'm not above doin' it again!"

"Have fun," she called back to him, "By the time you get Everest to the Alps I should be done here."

"That's it!" Monterey set down his plate and grabbed Charity around her waist (though he couldn't quite get his arms all the way around) and hoisted her up.

It wasn't often anyone ever actually tried anything physical with her, and it was even more rare for someone as apparently short as he was to lift her off her feet and move her with such ease. Still, what he'd done was grossly inappropriate and he had to be made aware of that. Once Monterey had let go of her, Charity spun about and grabbed hold of his sweater and lifted him with one paw. "Where do you get off touching me like that?!" she snarled. Then, as she glared at him, she realized something. "Hey, yer kinda' cute!" she chirped in her own burly way.

Not willing to take that kind of comment form what he still assumed was a guy, Monty growled, "Oh-ho, yer askin' for it!"

"I certainly am, big boy!" Charity cooed.

"You-" Monterey began before coming to a sudden realization, "Wait, you're a female!"

"And you're all male," Charity replied, "and all mine!" Tossing Monterey over her shoulder, she declared, "Sorry ladies, this one's taken!"

"Don't I at least get a last meal?"

Not having heard the details of the exchange, Chip asked Dee, a little worried as Charity hauled off her catch, "She's, um, not going to eat him... is she?"

Foxglove, on the other hand, had heard the exchange. "That's not the, uh... type of hunger she's motivated by," she replied.

"Poor Monty," Dale commented.

"We really should stop her," Chip pointed out.

Just as Charity was about to leave the picnic tent, her way was blocked by Chip, Dee and Dale. "Hae', Charity!" Dee greeted her.

"Hi, Dee," the badger returned, "Hey, you cut your hair!"

"Yeah..." the mouse answered quickly.

"You've got our friend there," Chip added before Dee could form the words.

"Mine!" Charity countered in a childishly possessive manner, clutching Monterey tighter.

"What am I here," Monterey asked loudly, "a bloomin' football?!"

"We don't want to take him from you," Dee pointed out, "I was just thinking maybe I could introduce you to my friends properly."

Charity thought for a moment. "Well, I guess," she finally agreed, turning to follow Dee and Chip back to their table, still toting Monty around.

"If you're going to be carrying me back," Monterey piped up, "Could you at least stop at the buffet so I could pick up some CHEESE?!"

Everyone had only just sat down when Bob, his wife and a third mouse arrived at their table. "See, I told ya I could find her," Bob said to his companion before he and his wife found a spot to sit.

"Hae'," the male mouse greeted Dee as he walked up.

"Hae'," she greeted back, "What's up?"

"We've gotta problem with the set-up for makin' corn soup," he pointed out.

"What happened?" Dee inquired further.

"One of the cook's assistants forgot you shouldn't add the lye when the water's boiling," the mouse elaborated.

"Is he ok?"

"I think he hurt himself worse trying to run from the scene."

"I guess I'll go take an inventory of the damage," Dee stated as she began to get up.

"No, you don't have to do that now," the mouse explained, "It'll take us the rest of the day just to decontaminate the area. Gerry says we haff enough soup already cooked up to last the rest of the Powwow anyhow, so efen when it is cleaned up it's not going to be a rush job."

As the messenger departed and Dee returned to her seat, Gadget voiced what she assumed was a very innocuous question, "Isn't lye used in rat poison?"

"YOU'RE POISONING THE SOUP!" Dale exclaimed, bits of food spewing from his mouth.

Dee quickly grabbed the screaming chipmunk, clamping a paw over his mouth. "Could you say that louder next time?" she asked sarcastically, "I think there are a couple deaf people in Gowanda who didn't hear you!" Without bothering to uncover his mouth, Dee began to explain to Dale why there was poison involved in the cooking process, "We use the lye to hull the kernels of corn, once that's done the corn is rinsed very thoroughly before it's diced and added to the soup." Shaking her head as slowly as she spoke, Dee pointed out, "There is no lye in the soup." Dale managed to mumble an ‘I understand' through Dee's paw, after which she released him.

"Bob's haffing some of it right now," his wife pointed out, "and he's not dropping dead. You can efen try some of mine to see for yourself," she added, offering Dale her bowl.

Seeing his hesitation, Monterey blurted out, "C'mon, lad, sometimes ya gotta be daring!" Taking the bowl, he took a few sips. Setting it back down Monterey declared, "See? Nothin' to worry about." Then he started gagging and fell off the bench.

"MONTY!" Dale screamed.

"Just joshin' ya, lad," the Aussie reassured his friend, getting back up on the bench, "The soup's fine, not as spicy as I'd like, but I wouldn't send it back."

Dale warily lifted the bowl and took a few sips. "Hm," he murmured, then took a larger sip... then a gulp.

"Hey-HEY!" shouted Bob's wife, taking back her bowl, "I said you could try some. If you want more you can get your own."

"Okey-dokey," Dale stated, getting up. As he began to walk off, he turned back, "You wanna bowl, Foxy?"

"Sure!" she chirped.

Dale had just returned with two bowls of corn soup for himself and Foxglove when somewhere a cry rang out. "THIEF!" someone shouted, "THIEF! HE STOLE MY... THING!"

"Stole his thing?" Dee and Chip asked each other aloud. As they pondered what thing was stolen a weasel frantically bounded down the table. Once everyone had recovered from the shock, they saw the same weasel leaping to, over, and across other tables.

"Whatever he stole he's going to hurt someone running like that!" Chip shouted as he watched mice, rats and every other species in the picnic area trying to capture the rampaging renegade.

"Don't worry there, Chipper!" Monterey declared, "I've got myself an idea!" Racing to the edge of the picnic tent, he gathered up a length of rope form around the support poles. By the time Monterey returned, however, the weasel was nowhere to be found.

As everyone looked around in confusion, someone noticed something odd, "Hey, this pitcher of water's starin' at me!" No sooner had the words left his mouth than the missing weasel exploded forth from the tiny vessel followed by a fine spray of water.

"Ooh!" Dee squeaked, "That's a neat trick!"

By then, Monterey, standing atop the table, had fashioned the rope into a makeshift lariat. "Learned this lassoin' lemmings in Laredo!" he proclaimed, swirling the rope above his head. No one bothered to ask how one finds him or herself lassoing Laredo lemmings, especially considering lemmings are arctic critters and Laredo is in Texas, they were more interested in seeing if Monterey could actually rope the weasel. As the stampeding weasel made another pass down a neighboring table Monty let loose his lasso, and snared the carnivore. "Ha, I still haAAA!!" he yelled as the momentum of the stampeding weasel yanked him from his footing and down the length of the table.

Righting himself in time, Monterey was able to hop to the next table, where each foot landed in a plate of mashed beans. With his new footwear he surfed down the table, pulling himself ever forward on the rope, gaining on his target all the while. Hitting a bump hidden by the tablecloth, Monterey lost his footing once more and took a header into a vat of corn soup. Not that he let go of the rope at any time, and soon was flying along behind the weasel once more.

Swallowing a mouthful of soup, then picking bits of corn, beans and salt pork from his clothes and popping them in his mouth he laughed, "Now that's what I call fast food!" With a few more pulls on the rope he managed to get a hold of the weasel's tail and began climbing up the carnivore's undulating back. Looping a length of rope around his snout, Monterey finally had a reign on the issue. The weasel, finally slowing, bucked wildly trying to throw his rider. Holding his rein in one paw, Monterey removed his leather cap waved it about with a loud, "YEE-HAW!"

"Ride ‘em, Monty!" Dale shouted as the crowd cheered the wild show.

With exhaustion setting in, the weasel's breath came in gasps. Finally accepting defeat and with a, "Hoo-boy," the suspect finally flopped to the ground. Hopping off, Monty had him hogtied within seconds... and the crowd went wild.

"Oh, that was so amazing!" Charity shouted as she ran up to Monty. Clutching him to her enormous furry figure she spun about. "You're better than a movie!" Charity squealed, "And you're mine!"

Two rats in blue uniforms raced up, the red flags with white emblems on their shoulders signifying their employment by the Tribal Police. Lifting the unconscious suspect off the ground, they prepared to convey him to jail. Just as they were about to depart, Carol Halfshell pushed her way out of the crowd and approached them.

"Good, a couple of our guys have him," she stated openly as if to inform the masses. Walking right up to the two officers, she directed them quietly, "Good job, boys, now get this joker to the tribal lock-up."

The two rats looked at each other before one asked, "Why?"

Carol's mouth almost hung open. "Why?!" she repeated in obvious annoyance, "Take a look around! He ran rampant through our festival, obliterated our picnic area... I think this clearly constitutes a crime against our tribe!"

The two rats looked back at each other again before the second pointed out, quoting the local law as clearly as he could remember, "The commission of any offense against the general public at an efent open to all is to be dealt with through the rodent courts of the City of Salamanca."

"Don't you go quoting the law to me like I'm some kind of retarded child!" Carol snapped back. Thinking there might be some kind of trouble, Chip motioned the other Rangers to head over. They were unaware that June Redtalon had also motioned to her attendant to wheel her over for the same reason. "I know the law," Carol continued, "And I also know their law is rigged so people like him can get off! You actually think a jury of his peers is going to find him guilty? That agreement that turns people like him over to his own kind was signed by a bunch of traitors and half-breeds!"

"But enough about yourself, Carol," June spoke up, "These two boys were just about to cart this trouble maker off to jail. You wouldn't want them to just stand here while you yell at them, I'm sure that guy isn't as light as he looks."

"Got that right," one of the officers affirmed, then, turning to his partner, stated, "C'mon, let's get going."

Carol glared briefly at June, then turned to leave. Nearly running into Dee, who had followed Chip up to the disturbance, she considered shoving her aside but simply mumbled, "Whore," then walked off.

Dee was about to retaliate when she felt her elbow ensnared by the handle of a cane. "Doohickey," June stated sternly, "We don't go around beating up Clan Mothers... no matter how badly they might deserfe it." Bringing her cane back, she continued, "Besides, you know she's got it coming one of these days."

"What do you mean?" Dale asked.

"When someone comes to power through threats and intimidation, like she did," June began to explain, "You don't haff many friends, and your supporters only support you if there's something in it for them... One of these days she'll find herself backed into a corner with nothing left to offer her thugs for their support, her only hope will be to rely on her friends... and there won't be any."

"And everyone she's threatened and intimidated are gonna come looking for payback," Chip finished.

As Dee and Chip walked back to the table, she broached a thought that had popped into her mind earlier, "I'd like to see if I could recruit that weasel for my own Ranger team."

"You want to recruit a possible criminal?" Chip asked in disbelief.

"Suspected criminal," Dee corrected, "He hasn't even been tried yet."

"Whether or not he stole anything," Chip replied, "Just look at the devastation he caused here in the picnic area."

"Didn't you tell me that when you and Dale met Monty," Dee countered, "the three of you got into an enormous fight that trashed the cargo hold of a freighter?" Chip shrugged and nodded. "Gonna hafta go downtown later to check when his trial's gonna be." The two lovers joined others in trying to clean things up among the tables.

Not long after efforts began to right the tables and dispose of dumped food, the background noise of talking and working was joined with an ever louder croaking sound. "Sounds like those frogs are having their own little get together," Chip commented.

"Well, they're not around here anymore, that's for sure," Dee added after looking around.

Dale then let out a rather obnoxious belch. "Just because things look like a pig sty doesn't mean you have to act like one," Chip scolded his friend.

Bob then let go with an oral expulsion of gas. "Don't you get started," his wife remarked to him. Then she burped. "Sorry!" she commented as she began to blush.

Then Foxglove joined in, followed by Dale again. Soon, just about everyone around was belching repeatedly. Chip and Dee looked around in astonishment. "I know laughing and yawning are supposed to be contagious," Chip remarked, "but this is ridiculous!"

"Bud," Bob belched, at least that's what it sounded like.

Dale couldn't help himself, "Weis," he replied with his next burp.

"Er," Monterey concluded with his next expulsion.

The three hurriedly lined up... "Bud," "Weis," "Er."

"Bud," "Weis," "Er."

"Bud," "Weis," "Er."

The mice and chipmunk continued their Budweiser frog iprov routine to the periodic laugh-belches of others around them. "I don't know whether to laugh or cry," Dee groaned while Chip merely shook his head.

"Golly! What could possibly be causing this?" Gadget asked.

"And why isn't it affecting us?" Raven asked to the other three.

It was at that point that Fangs flew in. He was dumbstruck by the chorus of belching, which only lasted for another minute. "What the heck was that?" he asked.

As the previously belching crowd looked around in confusion, some starting to laugh at the absurdity of the whole experience, Chip provided the only answer he could think of, "It looks like a case for the Rescue Ranger."

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