I stood and watched while the twins carefully applied tribal paint to each other’s faces. Tig’s was black and orange stripes. Leo’s was a sort of mix between tawny gold and brown. Not quite stripes, but something that looked fierce. Stumble and Surefoot were predictably painted with black circles around their eyes and alternating black and grey stripes across the rest of their faces. Red’s upper face was reddish-orange with a white mask and lines drawn in for whiskers below, the tip of his nose black. Roo’s face was grey with kangaroo paw prints on both cheeks. I turned back to the mirror and sighed. I had no clue as to what to paint on my face. Before I could pursue the thought any further, there was a commotion and Peter came dive bombing into the common room from his trapdoor.
“Fall out, men,” he crowed. With a lot of yelling and shoving, we managed to form a crooked line in front of him. He started at the end opposite where I was and examined each Lost Boy, hmmming and making comments about how fierce they looked. He came to me, looked at my face and shook his head. “I appreciate the effort bear boy, but there’s just something missing. You know, like everything?!”
“But Peter, it’s his first time,” Stumble said. “He’s never had to do it before.”
“Oh, and you lunkheads couldn’t teach him? Fine crew you make.” He stared at me and grinned. “That’s okay, first time is for luck.” The next moment he was yelling for stuff and telling me not to move an inch. The rest of the boys trotted back and forth as he called for one thing after another. His hands moved my face back and forth, smeared stuff on it, poked and prodded it, painted and drew on it. He stopped and took a step back. “There’s something missing,” he mused almost to himself and then grinned. “Leftenant Lion front and center.” Leo stepped over to Pan and looked at him questioningly. Peter handed him something I couldn’t see and then pointed at the left side of my face. “Left cheek, right under that dent in his face.” From behind Peter, Tig mouthed “dimple” before I had a chance to panic about a dent in my face.
Leo stood in front of me, screwed up his face a moment and then nodded before squishing something into my left cheek and stepping back.
“Ha, knew that’s what it was,” Peter crowed. “Turn around and take a look bear boy.” I turned and looked into the mirror and was stunned. My face was covered in brown but it wasn’t solid color, I could almost swear I could see individual strands making up fur. On my right cheek there was a skull and crossbones with a dagger drawn in below it. On my left cheek was a bear paw and right above it a squished blueberry. There was a small wooden sword drawn just below my mouth. “Told ya, you’re the grizzliest bear this side of anywhere. The biggest too. Okay, line up again.”
Once more a ragged line was formed. Peter took out his dagger and made a small cut in his left palm, bloodying the knife. He stood in front of Leo and wiped some of the blood from the dagger on the left shoulder of his pelt. Next he took his right index finger, dipped it in the blood in his palm, and then smeared it on Leo’s forehead as he said something too soft for me to hear to which Leo gave an answer I also couldn’t hear. He repeated it for each of us and I wondered how much blood he had. He finally got to me and gave me a grin that was made up of pure wildness. He wiped the bloody dagger on the shoulder of my pelt and then drew something in blood on my forehead as he said, “My life for yours, your life for mine.” It wasn’t a question but I responded with an unhesitant “from now until death.” If he had told me to attack The Jolly Roger at that moment with only my bare paws, I wouldn’t have even questioned it.
He stepped back, rose a foot off the floor and crowed. We all answered back, the echoes bouncing back and forth off the common room floor, ceiling and walls. “Okay lads, let’s show Neverland who keeps this place together. It’s time for the Lost Boys to rade and show the flag. Bear boy will lead since it’s his first time. When they see him, they’ll know Pan means business. When they see the rest of you they’ll be cowering in their caves, lairs, holes, and even their prissy castles. Let’s do this!”
With a great deal of commotion all of us headed for our trapdoors and the outside world. Before I jumped up to grab my trapdoor (which I did on the first try) I took a look in the mirror to see what Peter had drawn on my forehead. It was a perfect replica of the red feather he wore in his hat. I lightly traced it with a finger.
Outside, there were a couple of torches that had been lit, giving the area around Hangman’s Tree a sort of reddish, otherworldly look. There was confusion as Lost Boys and wolves milled about chasing and yipping at each other. I went towards Ember, but Peter shook his head. “Tonight you are the one who leads Curly and that means riding the leader.” I started to remind him I was Cubby and not Curly, but it didn’t seem important enough to worry about. He led me towards an older wolf that was silver and grey, missing an eye and most of an ear. The wolf, who was the size of a small pony, sniffed at me and then raised his muzzle and howled at the sky. The rest of us, boys and wolves, answered the howl and for a moment every doubt I’d ever had about myself was left behind. Laughing and teasing me about the need for pixie dust, the rest of the boys grabbed me and managed to get me on the wolf’s back. The wolf looked back and introduced himself as CloudLeaper. As I looked back, I saw a ragged line of wolves behind me with a Lost Boy on each one. Peter strode up to where I was sitting and handed me a longsword with a flag furled at the top. I took it and managed to immediately cut myself on the blade. It was good to know some things never change. Peter cocked his head at me and nodded. “Whenever you’re ready, bear boy.”
I looked out at the dark beyond the torches. “Where do I go? I mean is there anywhere special I need to head?”
“Don’t worry. CloudLeaper has been doing this for ages. Just keep one fist tight in his ruff and the other holding onto the sword. Try not to let your tongue get between your teeth either,” he added with a laugh before levitating a few feet above us. He let out a crow that echoed back from the forest and then looked at me.
“Let’s go,” I told CloudLeaper. The wolf lifted his grizzled muzzle up towards the moon and let out the most blood-chilling howl I’d ever heard. It didn’t sound like a wolf, but something terrible. Behind me the wolves let out answering howls and then CloudLeaper took off as though demons were after him.
The trip through the woods was unreal. I couldn’t see hardly anything, but could feel the trees rushing by on both sides as CloudLeaper moved left and right to avoid them. The fingers of my left paw were locked into the ruff of fur at his neck while I did my best to keep the sword with the flag upright in the other. I finally did what I do best and closed my eyes trusting the wolf to get us through the woods. Behind me I heard howling, but couldn’t tell if it was the wolves or the boys making it. In what seemed like seconds, I heard the crashing of surf and opened my eyes to find that we were on the beach at Pirate’s Cove. The Jolly Roger was in the middle of the bay swinging at anchor and I saw a pirate in the crow’s nest looking at us and rubbing his eyes. The wolves skidded to a stop in the sand and all of us started howling. Peter floated over to where I was and unfurled the flag on the sword I was holding.
Out on the ship a lot of yelling and commotion started up. A couple of the hatches in the side of the ship opened up and I saw two cannon rolled out. I leaned over and whispered into CloudLeaper’s ear, “We should probably go now.” I heard what sounded suspiciously like a laugh before he turned and raced back for the trees. Behind me I heard the jeering of the others and hoped it was directed at the pirates and not at myself. There was a roar and a crash in the trees to the left of us. Hook was screaming something that was lost as we entered the trees and I breathed a sigh of relief.
CloudLeaper created his own path between the trees and once more I closed my eyes figuring I didn’t want to know if we were getting ready to hit a tree. We raced over hills and through valleys eventually coming to the Great Bear River just below the falls. This was pretty open area, so I opened my eyes just in time to feel the wolf bunch up under me and leap. “Are you crazy?” I shouted. There was no way that a wolf was going to be able to jump across the river, especially with the heaviest Lost Boy hanging on for dear life on his back. Before I had a chance to get too scared, CloudLeaper landed on the other side with plenty of distance. “How’d you do that?” I whispered, not sure I wanted to know the answer. The only thing I knew for sure was that it wasn’t pixie dust.
We ran flat out along the river and then forked off towards Lost Boys’ Meadow. CloudLeaper slowed to a trot and then a walk as we approached the huge field. Nibbler was a specter by the massive oak tree as he saluted us. At the outskirts of the field we stopped. Peter was above and slightly ahead of us and gently crowed. Nibbler strode out to the middle of the field and started to sing. I can’t remember the tune and the words were not any I could understand but those in the field apparently did. As we waited in front of the field, the ghosts of generations of Lost Boys rose from the ground. By the time they had all risen, the field was covered with their ghosts. This time Peter cut loose with a crow that shook the guardian oak tree and received a responding crow from the group.
I had no idea what came over me, but I waved the sword with the flag above me and howled as loudly as I could. There was silence for a moment and then a blast of sound almost knocked me over as the ghosts, the wolves, and my brother Lost Boys howled back at me. I pointed my sword and yelled, “Forward.” CloudLeaper gave a growl and took off. I looked back and saw the ghosts following along with the rest of the current Lost Boys on the wolves. The ghostly Lost Boys were running along the ground, but had no problem keeping up with us. I glanced up and saw Pan flying above, his eyes reddish through some trick of the light and a smile that wasn’t quite one of good humour on his face. I heard crowing and howling from the ghosts that were now following me.
I knew exactly where to go and with my knees directed CloudLeaper towards the elves’ domain. I had a feeling of vertigo and then felt a set of arms around my middle letting me know someone was riding behind me. Whoever it was, it didn’t bother CloudLeaper at all. “You’re going to rade the elves, aren’t you?” I heard a voice I recognized as Nibbler ask me.
“Darn right,” I responded. “They deserve it.”
There was a laugh from Nibbler. “I think you’re going to be surprised. I think all of you among the living are.”
“Whatcha mean?” I asked, but he wouldn’t tell me anything else except that I shouldn’t worry. Whenever someone tells me that, the first thing I end up doing is to start worrying but I knew better than to try to turn the horde at my back around even if I’d wanted to.
The countryside opened up and I saw the castle of the elves and gulped when I saw a couple of battalions of elvish rangers lined up in front of it. They didn’t look at all concerned, but then rangers never look concerned even when facing dragons and orcs all at once. Without any prompting, CloudLeaper slowed to a walk. I stole a look behind me and saw that the Lost Boys, both living and ghostly, had come to a halt. As I continued to move forward, one of the rangers came out to meet me. He nodded a greeting to the wolf who nodded back then he turned and looked at me. “What’s this then? Are you planning on attacking?”
“No sir, we’re on a rade.”
There was a gentle thump as Peter landed next to me, but he didn’t say anything. “Rades are useful things. They remind those who don’t know better what’s important. Once around the castle?”
“Twice,” I said surprising myself.
He tried hard to suppress a smile but didn’t quite succeed. “Very well, twice but no swimming in the moat and no stealing any pies.” I wondered how he knew about that but decided not to mention it.
“Deal,” I declared. He nodded, spat in his hand and held it out. I spat in my own hand and we shook. I turned back and once more yelled, “Forward.” CloudLeaper moved at a trot and started around the castle, the others following.
“Told ya you’d be surprised,” Nibbler said. “The rangers know what us Lost Boys are all about and they remember the real reason for rades. They aren’t all stuck up like the knights are.” I was too busy gawking at the castle to respond. Elves were staring out windows and gathered on the walkways between the towers. Naturally, being Lost Boys, we created as much noise and racket as we could. It was sort of expected. We came around the front of the castle and started our second rotation. If anything there were more elves looking down upon us. I was sorta glad I couldn’t hear what they were saying, because I was pretty sure it wasn’t flattering. Still, it was a sight that I don’t think I’d have ever been able to imagine. We finished the second circuit and started away from the castle. As we were leaving the rangers sent us off with a cheer. That surprised me more than anything did.
“Not too shabby, Cubby,” Nibbler told me. “I guess I’d better get these guys back or no telling what mischief they’ll get into.” I heard a whistle and then the arms around my middle were gone. I turned back and saw the only ones following now were the Lost Boys on wolves and Peter. The ghosts had vanished, which I guess is one of the things that ghosts do really well. I resolved to bring Nibbler some carrots when I visited him for the chess game. Maybe if I did that, he’d have mercy on me. I’d never managed to win a game from him.
I don’t know if it had anything to do with the vanishing of the ghosts, but when they disappeared, the moon rose from behind the mountains. Our shadows were running in front of us and has we crossed the open ground, they leaped free and raced us across the ground. The shadows pulled ahead and then vanished as we crossed into the woods only to return when we reached the other side, but once again attached to us.
After what seemed like a few more minutes, the wolves pulled up in front of Hangman’s Tree. It took me a while to get my fingers to unclench from CloudLeaper’s fur, although he didn’t seem to mind. I came close to tumbling off his back, but managed to catch myself when I remembered I was holding the longsword. The rest of the boys dismounted. I suddenly felt as though I’d been up for days and noticed that everyone else was yawning as well. CloudLeaper walked up to me and washed my face with his tongue. He gently nipped my left hand, drawing a little blood before leading his pack back into the forest, Ember giving me a wolfy grin as he left.
Peter flew up and took the sword from me. He untied the flag from it and gave it to me. “Not bad Furball. For your first rade anyway.” He glanced over at Stumble. “When raccoon boy led his first one, he almost fell off.”
Peter smirked but didn’t say anything more about Stumble before drifting upwards. “Keep an eye out for pirates, they’ll be looking for blood.”
“Let ‘em try,” I faux growled through a yawn. Tigger laughed at my words, but it was the good type of laughter. We all clambered back into the tree and settled down into hammocks and pallets. I finally had a chance to look at the flag I’d been carrying all night. It was blue with Pan’s green hat and feather in the center. What really surprised me was the figure in the upper right corner. It was a very round bear that looked vaguely familiar and was holding a sword aloft. The bear didn’t look very fierce but gave me a feeling of security, although I wasn’t quite sure why. I dragged it under the common room table as I got into my pallet and fell asleep holding it tightly.