(Book 1) NOTE: I would greatly appreciate any constructive feedback on this! Let me know how I can better it! It's still a work in progress so it may be changing periodically and I hope it doesn't drive anyone crazy but since I'm doing this in my spare time it may take a week or two before it's updated so bear with me ;)
Also, I apologize in advance if there are any similarities in ideas or names other people have used... I haven't yet had the privilege of reading anyone else's stories so I promise it wasn't on purpose if you see any! I hope you enjoy it. Thanks! :)
"Far to the north, a land burried 'neath ice... mourns the death of her once great king. A ruthless overlord took his place, a savage son of Hellgates... will freedom ever again ring? The frigid gael and the deathbird's knell, sound the warning of forgotten cries... Who is safe from the wrath of his eyes?' 'Who goes there? Who dare tred this land? None but the foolish and the brave..' 'Cross foaming depths and ominous wave Where silence rings and leviathans wait... the place of ships graves. Lies this land known to some, and the castle of Itaris. A maiden was chosen from thy Abbey, to embark on this treacherous quest. She alone must restore to the throne, the Silverfanged heir."
"The maid who chose to walk the warrior's path, Shall not tread this place alone. Within stone walls cold as ice, The savage king she will dethrone.''
'Book One: Itaris' 'Prologue'
A full crystalline moon hung low over the north coasts. Stars glittered like tiny slivers of ice in the sable night sky as storm clouds moved to reveal the soft light of the moon, causing the sea to take on a silver glow. The beauty was lost in the bitter cold. The northlands, a place made fierce and desolate by lack of food and arctic temperatures… seeming to be eternally in the clutch of winter’s dark grasp.
The frozen wind moaned and snaked through stunted pine forests and against barren cliffs. It cried fitfully to a guttering fire high up on the cliff face, hidden slightly within the entrance of a sizable cave.
A large creature, the like of which had never before been seen in Mossflower country sat at the cave's entrance, his fierce eyes reflecting the pale moonlight.
Nazar the wolf was deep in thought.
He was an awesome sight. Nazar was taller, broader and more muscular than any of the others in his clan. He was a grey wolf of impressive size with a savage glint to his golden eyes and long, milk white fangs that showed slightly beneth his lip, even when his mouth was closed. The molted grey fur was daubed thick in blue and black war paint and markings that gave him an eerie sheen in the firelight. A black cloak fell down his back and silver armor plated his chest while a massive broadsword rested beside him, only a creature of his stature and capacity could lift it.
Despite the wolf's personal strength and power he was troubled.
Once his kind had numbered nearly a thousand, now, they were less than two hundred... a shadow had fallen over the north, an evil that had driven them to the brink of existance. No creature could stand against this pernicous force, his father had tried, and failed... Their enemies greatly outnumbered them and fought with a ferocity that was beyond anything they had ever experianced. Not only had they been forced from their home and he denied his rightful heirship to the Itaris throne, but their hunting grounds had been completely cut off and they were now forced to scavenge or starve. The wolves had fought feircely, being warriors at heart but there was nothing they could do against overwhelming odds. Any resistance was quickly cut down, being delt with ruthless savagery and causing the clan to scatter. By sheer determination Nazar had rallied as many of the smaller clans as he could but their numbers were too few and now he alone was forced to come up with a solution.
Frustrated he turned to his Seer. "What of thy visions, Prophet?"
Prophet, an ancient white wolf tipped with silver raised his gaze from the dancing flames of the fire. "I fear my visions have been dark of late, Lord. The stone remains silent."
"Mayhap your visions are growing dim because the stone has selected a new Seer."
Nazar growled at the smaller wolf who had spoken from behind "What are you inferring, Izzan?"
Izzan was not a big wolf but he still held a comanding presance. His coat was as winter white as the snow outside and his black eyes were like shards of obsidian ice. He lowered his head non-chalantly from his leader's piercing gaze "Only that the silence of the Diviners Stone may be a sign that it is seeking a new carrier... A stronger Seer who can bring to light it's true potential."
The big wolf grunted "Do not pretend to know more than my Seer Izzan, you may have the blood of a Soothsayer but your voice is not the one I seek. Prophet's powers may be diminishing but his abilities as a Seer are still stronger than thine!"
Izzan's black eyes glinted in the firelight.
Nazar turned back to his old Seer who had remained silent the whole time. The aged wolf was holding and staring into the surface of a semi transluesent stone, he swayed slightly as the flames danced across it's surface. Nazar made no move, he had seen Prophet like this before. He was in a trance.
When Prophet finally spoke his voice was clear and strong, having no tremble to it as before.
“Seek ye bells and a silver sword, forged from a fallen star by a badger lord. It’s blade is deadly as midwinter’s ice, the pommel is red as blood. It alone possesses the power, to destroy thy enemies and reclaim thy land, seek it now in the southern land... - ”
The old Seer's voice faded. After a moment Prophet set aside the stone and shivered slightly in the bitter night wind. He looked exhausted. “Lord, I fear my visions are still dark beyond this… I feel certain there is more but... it is hidden from my view.” he looked strangely past Nazar and then turned his gaze back to his chieftan.
Nazar's eyes shone with an ardent light. The light of new hope.
"A sword?" Izzan scoffed incredulously, "A weapon that can defeat our enemies... ? Surely you don't actually believe that- "
Nazar was not listening "Where do we find this weapon? Tell me!"
The old Seer lowered his head “There is only one place where bells are found in the south. Redwall Abbey!”
A black wolf in the back looked up as others began murmuring doubts amongst themselves.
“Redwall Abbey? Are you sure?”
“But that’s in the far south!”
“No one’s ever been that far south.”
“I thought such a place was only a myth?”
“Does it even exist?”
“Don’t look at me, I’ve certainly never heard of it.”
“Why are we searching for a mythical place and a legendary sword if they’re not real?”
Prophet had to raise his voice to be heard “Jaden Nightlance's grandsire, Vortigern spoke of it. He claimed such a place does infact exist.”
Nazar rose to his feet “Then we will travel for Redwall, at first light!”
Izzan shook his head dubiously, "Who's to say how far this place is? How will you recognize this weapon once you reach your destination?"
Nazar was in no mood for Izzan's patronizing. "Distance and perils mean nothing to my clan, my warriors are capable of overcoming any obstacles in our path." He said brazenly. "As for the sword, it must be of magnificent craft and easily recognizable.”
Sighing heavily Izzan shook his head and stood "My Lord, listen to reason... Did not Prophet's first revelation always state that a maid would be the bearer of our deliverance? Why now has it suddenly changed to a mystical sword?" He stared down sorrowfully and pityingly at the ancient Seer "Is it perhaps that in eight seasons time no such maid has come forth? Prophet's mind is old. I fear that his troubled thoughts and visions are being blurred by memories of the past and fantasies that he can not bring to pass... Since the time of your father, King Bhaltair's death we have all noticed that his visions have been growing dimmer and his powers weakening...."
Several wolves nodded hesitantly in agreement, though most were too afraid to voice their thoughts.
The white wolf continued "Who's to say that these supposed visions are not just fabrications conjured up by a weary mind? If you are seeking help Lord, you cannot expect it to come from dead prophecies."
Nazar's golden eyes shone with a dangerous light as he replied, gripping the hilt of his sword and pointing a threatening claw in the Soothsayer's face. "I've listened to your patronizing long enough, Izzan! You've been allowed you to speak openly thus far, any other creature who'd dare speak against my Seer in such a manner would've had his head severed from his body long before now... Remember this Izzan, I allowed you to join our clan because you were an outcast and had no other place to go. You are not a warrior, nor are you a hunter; your chances of surviving on your own are unquestionably slim - Do not try my patience any longer nor challenge Prophet's abilities again for it will be thy last! Do I make myself clear?"
There was a moment of intense silence as the white wolf met his Chieftain's searing glare, slowly Izzan lowered his eyes submissively to the cave floor. "Perfectly my Liege, forgive my impudence." He answered simply.
"We shall see." Nazar stated coldly. The Chieftain turned his back to Izzan and faced the gathering, the hushed murmurings faded as the clan went silent for their leader to address them "Prophet has never led us wrong before." He reminded them. “Warriors of Itaris, listen! Once, we were a mighty nation; banded together under one ruler. My father, the true ruler of the Itaris throne! You all know how our enemies invaded in the night, oppresing and slaughtering all in their wake. My father was slain fighting against these savages and we were forced to disband into clans... is this naught cause enough to fight for our own defense and freedom? Why should we be forced to scavenge and hunt where there is no food while our young ones starve? We are not helpless against such odds, we’re warriors! We’ll fight! Prophet’s vision has shown a glimmer of hope and a sure chance of victory! Who will fight for his freedom and his fellow warriors? Who’s with me!”
A howling cheer arose from the clan at their leaders rousing words.
“We will find this sword, destroy our enemies, drive them out and slay anybeast who dare stands in our way!” The howls became deafening.
No one noticed as the black wolf slipped out.
Nazar smiled in satisfaction, then turning he barked out orders. “Faelan, Maccon, put out that fire! Bardalph, Ulric, Hunter! You three will scout ahead and find a good course for the others to take along the cliffs, take Jaden Nightlance and Gurn with you... Trine, I will leave two score warriors and two other healers with you to care for the wounded. Those who are too young or feeble to make the journey will remain behind as well. The rest of you make ready to travel!”
Maccon a grey brown furred wolf approached Nazar, averting his eyes from the chieftain’s intense gaze “Jaden Nightlance is missing, along with the Diviner’s Stone.”
Chapter 1: Deepening Snows
The gathering dark and oncoming storm created almost an ethereal serenity inside the silent grounds
Snow was falling; floating down in thick, soft flakes through the still darkness of night. Webs of it clung like ivy to the ancient stones of Redwall Abbey. The fine powder blanketed the lawns and orchards. Beneath an impenetrable layer of ice, the pond lay frozen over within the outer walls.
Drifting gently onto the windowsill of an upper dormitory room where frost had formed on the transparent rock-crystal glass of the window. Like delicate workings of lace the tiny water crystals sparkled dimly in the diminishing lamplight on the window ledge. A small island of light against the enveloping shades of storm and nightfall, a single lantern burned from within. The squirrelmaid Rosabel, sat watching the large snowflakes dance and swirl outside and sighed as she turned back to her parchment and quill.
Extract taken from the Diaries of Sister Rosabel, Official Abbey Recorder in Mossflower Country:
It does not feel like spring, let alone mid-spring! It feels as though we are still in the clutches of mid-winter. In our orchards the trees should be crowned in blossoms, the gardens full of flowers and tiny veggitabale starts growing, the air warm and full of joy for the renewal of life! Instead, you gaze around and all is bare... Snow is everywhere. Winter came on hard this year and refuses to relinquish its hold even now.
Brother Dill has been unable to do any planting outdoors this season; being forced to bring what seedlings we could to be planted in small containers indoors. He fears that our crops will be meager if this weather holds up. Abbess Mhera has twice had to forestall the Abbey's nameday feast (which is held at the start of each new season... being as winter seems determined not to allow spring to come.) However, the cold and dark have done little to dampen the spirits of our good creatures as there is much to be thankful for! For instance this beautiful Abbey which we are blessed to call home, were all can live in peace and harmony, surrounded by family and entrusted with the gift of true friendship! With plenty of good food and all the necessities of life provided by mother nature... What more can a creature ask for?
A couple of our dear ones from the past have passed on, Old Hoarg the Gatekeeper is one of those who have gone to the quite woods and sunny valleys were never again they will have to worry about deep snows and icy winters... but alas, that is a part of life.
War and bloodshed have not touched our walls in many a long season thanks to our Abbey Warrior Deyna. The days have been long and prosperous for those who dwell within these walls. For this I am grateful as peace is precious, however, I am surprised to say that not all would so readily agree... My dear friend, Kya, longs for adventure. She yearns for excitement and the ways of our Abbey are not always thus, but who knows, maybe someday she will find it? I would love to go with her, traveling to far off lands, searching for treasures and fighting off evil to be mentioned with the brave! Oh it does sound exciting does it not!? But alas, it is not to be... for I am a simple Abbeymaid and a recorder, no, my place is here... at Redwall Abbey.'
Rosabel's pen scratched as a loud knocking sounded on the door outside her bedchamber, setting it down she glared irately at the squiggily mark she'd just made on the page as a result of a broken consentration. The rapping sounded again followed by a voice "Rosabel, have you dozed off? What are you doing in there?"
Smiling to herself, Rosabel made her way to the door "I should've guessed that was you Kya, no one else can pound my door to splinters with so few knocks."
Kya chuckled "You're mistaken there Rose, my dad or brother could've knocked it down in one blow!" the young recorder nodded knowingly as she opened the door "True yes, now, what brings you to my humble headcourters?"
Kya smiled sheepishly as she noticed the ink on Rosabel's paws "I didn't disturb your work did I?" The squirrelmaid shook her head "No, infact I had just finished when you came to the door."
"Oh good, you've been cooped up in that room so long you missed the dinnerbell!"
Rosabel closed the door quickly and followed her friend down the stairs crying "Why didn't you say so! Hurry, before that hare eats everything!"
Grinj was lost.
The rat had been wandering all night, stumbling through the dense woodlands and he had found himself in a part of the country that was completely unfamiliar to him. Mossflower could be a foreboding, eerie place in the dark, pre-dawn hours. The moon could still be seen through the towering, swaying cover of trees that were unusually bare for this time of year. Spring still clung grimly to winter’s last snows, not wanting to relinquish her white cover that carpeted the earth beneath in a frozen cloak.
Starring upward at the groaning, creaking trees of Mossflower and walking backwards Grinj tripped over a hidden log and fell into a deep snowdrift. Shivering he pushed himself up and continued forward, his frayed brown tunic and thin cloak held little warmth against the cold. With his breathe misting before him, he glanced back at the lone set of tracks trailing off northward he had left in the new snow. “Vhrrrrr!” Grinj shivered uncontrollably as a brisk wind blew through his thin clothing and froze him to the core. Looking up the rat sighed with relief as he saw what he’d been looking for; above the distant tree tops the spiral of a large stone building could be seen.
Pulling his ragged cloak tighter about his thin shoulders he started towards the place with a renewed determination.
A golden dawn rose slowly, streaked with pale pink and violet. Abbess Mhera stood over the main threshold on the battlements starring out at the frosty, dew kissed flatlands and the misty woods surrounding her beloved Abbey. She breathed deeply in the crisp morning air, taking in the silence and beauty dawn brought with it. Somewhere a lark trilled as the light grey drizzle and mist began to clear. It was a beautiful morning to be alive and there would be much to do for this evening’s feast.
“Brrrr hurr, you’m freeze e’ tail off’n Muther h’Abbess if’n e’ stay oop ‘ere furr long!”
Mhera turned to see her good molefreind Gundil trundling up with two cups of steaming hot cordial. She smiled warmly at him and accepted her mug gratefully.
“Forgive me my friend, I just got lost in the beauty of the morning. I hardly noticed the cold… Oh Gundil, just look at it! Isn’t it splendid?”
“Hurr, that et is miz Mher’, but io dearly wishes et wiould ‘urry oop an turn spring! Io don’t know ‘ow Abbesses can take all ee gurt snow!” Gundil said, blowing on his drink before taking a sip.
Suddenly a movement caught Mhera’s eye and the Abbess turned towards the woodlands on the north side of the path, a lone creature was staggering towards the gate. It was a thin grey rat wearing a ragged cloak and shivering uncontrollably. He stumbled forward and tripped, falling heavily against the path.
Mhera immediately set down her cordial and leaned over the wall, concern etched on her face as she starred at the fallen beast.
“Hurr, what you’m gonna’ do Mher’?” Gundil whispered.
The rat caught sight of the two creatures atop the wall and raised a pitiful whine “Please ‘elp me!”
Gundil saw the sympathetic look in Mhera’s eyes and shook his head “Zur Deyna, won’t loik this…”
Mhera began heading for the stairs “I can’t very well leave him out there to freeze to death! My brother will have to deal with it. Drogg, open the gate will you!”
The old hedgehog set down the tray of food he'd been taking to the Gatehouse and hurried to obey, curious at his Abbess’ urgency. Drogg Spearback and old Brother Hoben who had been sitting comfortably in the gatehouse only moments ago shuffled quickly behind, following Mhera and Gundil out onto the path.
The four stopped a few paces from the fallen rat, who whined piteously “Please, I beg yer good beasts, be merciful! ‘elp a poor, unfortunate beast. I ‘aven’t eaten in days an’ what rations I ‘ad was stolen by an ‘eartless weasel. Tis’ ice cold an’ I’ve nowhere to go… please, show mercy!” the wretched creature broke into pathetic sobs.
Drogg leaned over, whispering quietly to Hoben “Scruffy, flea bitten wretch ain’t e’?”
Old Hoben nodded.
Mhera stepped forward, quickly consoling the heartbroken rat. “Here now, stop this. Of course we’ll feed you and you’re welcome to- !”
Before she could finish the rat had taken a vise-like grip on her paw and was shaking it warmly, “Oh, bless yer! Good, kind, loverrrly otterly lady. Bless yer, bless yer!”
Mhera practically had to pry her paw from his grasp. “You can call me Mother Abbess.”
“Mother,” the rat said almost dreamily “I like that, wish I ‘ad a mother… least one that I could recall… ” the woeful creature almost burst into a fresh flood of tears.
“Get him inside quickly!” the young Abbess commanded.
Gundil and Drogg leant a paw to the bedraggled rat, “Yurr zur, oop you’m cumz. An’ stop all ‘e cryin’, bain’t good for ‘e… doan’t worry, uz’ll get ‘e warmed an’ fed.” The good mole assured.
“Deyna’s going to love this.” Drogg muttered under his breath, trying not to turn away from the stench.
Grinj smiled through his tears, “Bless yer, good beast’s all, bless yer!”
Nimbalo and Deyna sat talking in the kitchens, both turned at the sound of somebeast’s approach. Mhera entered, followed by a scraggly grey rat who was holding onto Gundil. Nimbalo immediately leapt up, his paw reaching for a kitchen knife as he shouted out a warning “Mhera, look out! There’s a rat behind you!”
The ottermaid stepped boldly in front of the rat, stopping Nimbalo from leaping upon him “Put that knife down. The rat is a guest.”
The harvest mouse lowered the knife in bewilderment “You mean to say he ‘aint holdin’ you an’ Gundil ‘ostige?”
Mhera shook her head “No, he isn’t… he’ll be staying with us a while, at least until he’s fit to travel.”
Deyna, who had held his peace until then stood slowly, his eyes directed at the vermin who was now standing in his Abbey. Voice low, Deyna spoke to his sister “Mhera, may I have a word with you. In private?”
The rat quelled under the big otter’s gaze.
Mhera obliged, stepping out of the room with him.
Deyna turned solemnly to face her “Mhera what is going on?”
“The rat was cold and hungry, I simply brought him in to feed and clothe him, nothing more.”
“I know you feel what you’re doing is right and I will not reprimand your decision as Abbess, but as Abbey Defender and as your brother I must voice my opinion… I do not think this is a wise decision.”
The Abbess sighed “What would you have had me do? Leave him outside the gate?”
Deyna looked at her, answering frankly. “Yes. I would have.”
Mhera frowned “Redwall is famed for its hospitality. How can we uphold its name if we won’t uphold its most patent principle? Our rule that all who come in peace are welcome within our walls?”
“Mhera, I think that we can exclude vermin from this- ”
“The Abbey’s saying is ‘ALL those who come in peace are welcome!’ that doesn’t just stand for woodlanders.”
Deyna tried to reason with her “Mhera, you don’t know that he came here with peace on his mind… if he had he would be the first… you don’t understand the thoughts and intensions of vermin. I do. They’re cunning and dangerous, blood, cruelty and plunder are all that they know.”
Seeing the crestfallen look on his sister’s face Deyna’s voice softened “You can still insert peace and uphold Redwall’s name without endangering those you love. You could have sent out food and a warm cloak… That’s what I would have done.”
Mhera felt deflated, she knew her brother was right. She sighed again “I’m not very good at this am I? You’re right of course. They say that wisdom comes with age but I don’t feel like I’ve gotten any wiser over the seasons… ”
Deyna smiled, throwing a paw about her shoulders and winking to lighten the mood “I’d say wisdom comes more with experience than age… I’ve met a few old uns who were fools.”
She chuckled, pushing him playfully “How’d you come to be oh so wise little brother?”
“Living on your own and fending for yourself for so long you learn a thing or two. Don’t go cutting yourself down Mhera, you’re new at this and haven’t had the experiences of a seasoned Abbess yet, but it will come and I think you’re doing a great job… huh, if I had been Abbot- ”
“Woe to my poor Abbey!” Mhera laughed at the thought.
Deyna grinned “I guess it’s a good thing I was never cut out to be an Abbot and someone with some sense had already filled the position… I mean, think if Nimbalo had- ”
“Don’t EVEN go there!” Mhera cried out. Holding up her paws she admitted “Ok, I get it. I’m glad I’m the Abbess now that you bring that up and I’m glad that I can learn from my mistakes but what do I tell the rat?”
“You leave him to me.” ____________________________________________________________________________________
Chapter 2: Vision Quest
Silverfang slept fitfully, the young wolf was resentful at not having been chosen by his father as one of those sent after the traitorous deserter. Having lost mother and sister Silverfang was the next and only heir to the Itaris throne after his father and Nazar was very protective of him. Sometimes a little too protective. Seeing seventeen winters the hot-headed, rebellious pup thought he was ready to take on the challenge of being a leader despite the fact that he still had much to learn; Silverfang did not appreciate the fact that he was supposed to have a bodyguard with him wherever he went.
After several restless hours and finally managing to fall into a semi-peaceful slumber Silverfang was awakened by something. A sound in the cave or maybe just a premonition that something or someone was in the room with him. He was surprised he had wakened at all being a deep sleeper but something was definitely off. Laying awake for several minutes and straining his eyes and ears but not being able to perceive anything in the inky darkness he began to dismiss the feeling and brush it off as just being startled by a sound from further in the cavern were several of the clan slept. Silverfang began to drift back to sleep when a grey fog started to fill the room and a figure materialized out of the haze. Unsure whether he was dreaming or seeing an apparition the young wolf was shocked to see his grandfather standing over him. Wearing the armor that was now his father's and carrying the sword that had been passed down to Nazar; the old wolf appeared as full of life and ready for action as Silverfang remembered him.
A voice seemed to resonate from the fog, deep and full of urgency. "Why do you sleep grandson while the enemy gets further away with the symbol of thy power and birthright? Should not you go after him?"
Surprised, Silverfang answered, his tones slightly subdued in shame "I was not chosen."
"Only the rightful heir and his Seer may hold the Diviners Stone... If you allow the traitor to take it you are giving up your only security to the throne! All the clans will rally to he who wields the stone and to him give their full loyalty."
"I know but- "
"You were chosen Silverfang, this is your Vision Quest... You must track down the traitor and retrieve the stone. Only then will your father and the clan see that you truly are a leader worth following and the heir to my throne!" Enraptured by this thought Silverfang sat up with a start "But what about the others who were sent ahead? How will I find Nightlance before them?"
Bhaltair his grandfather raised the mighty battle sword to point south west "The others have taken a path that will lead them down the coastline whereas Jaden has taken a rout to the south east, through the forests. The trail Nightlance has taken is quicker and will get him there two days before the others if he does not slow his pace... you will follow the same path and reach him before the five trackers, but you must leave now!"
Feeling the weight of urgency in the air, Silverfang nodded, reaching for his sword. A much lighter and smaller weapon than the one his grandfather held he mentally noted, much less of a true warriors weapon.
Bhaltair had one last warning to offer "This is a dangerous quest and as my grandson I feel I must warn you... Nightlance is a trained fighter and will not hesitate to kill you! You must not honor the code by being the first to strike, only when your enemy is dead can you be safe to take what is rightfully yours."
"Where is Jaden going?" Silverfang wondered
"To the red stone Abbey in Mossflower. Remember the path I have told thee and heed my warning! The Diviners Stone must not remain in the traitor's keep... you...... must........... retrieve........" Slowly the figure began to retreat into the swirling grey fog and disappear.
Silverfang sat there for several more moments, marveling that he had finally received his Vision Quest! And what an important mission it was! Being delivered by non other than his grandfather.
Silently he grabbed his sword, slid his black and blue doublet over his head, buckled the snakeskin belt about his waist and found a cloak and travel pack before sneaking silently from his chamber and out of the large cavern his clan had used as a refuge. Quietly, heading for the trees he began his quest to reclaim the Diviners Stone!
After the young wolf had gone a shadow slid silently from the chamber, leaving behind a small cloak clasp pendant shaped like two fighting dragons with red stone eyes...
"So, you want to stay in our Abbey?" paws on hips Deyna glared down at the hapless rat. Grinj gulped, staring up at the big male otter towering over him. Too frightened to speak he could only manage a small nod.
Nimbalo leaned over, whispering gruffly "Don't trust 'im mate! I say we kill 'im now an' sling 'is flea bitten carcass outside afore Mhera knows what 'appened to 'im!"
Deyna ignored him, not taking his eyes off the quaking rodent. When he spoke his voice was flat "What's your name rat?"
"G- Grinj yer 'iness!" Grinj squeaked.
"Well Grinj, if you want to stay you have to make yourself useful! You'll work for your keep; I won't allow idle paws inside this Abbey, do you understand?"
The rat nodded vigorously "Oh yes, yes! Bless yer kind si- "
"I wasn't finished," Deyna cut in "You'll work hard just like any other creature, no slacking or lousy, half done jobs. The rules are quite simple, you don't work, you don't eat. Further more, you will wake at a decent hour and you will behave yourself completely! You will be watched at all times and if you make one wrong move it's back out in the snow!"
Grinj gulped again "Yer too kind fer words, Lordship"
Deyna nodded approval "Good, I will allow Mhera to fill you in on our rules and then we will get started!"
Shocked at finding himself still alive after his encounter with the big otter and the fierce little mouse known as the slayer, Grinj allowed himself to be led down to the kitchens.
He was completely in awe at the enormity and vastness of the huge building. Passing Great Hall Grinj starred at the marvelous tapestry and the likeness of Martin The Warrior before being whisked to the kitchens.
Upon entering the kitchens Grinj was met by the most delicious, mouth-watering scents that wafted over him, immediately sending his saliva glands and rumbling gut into overdrive!
The kitchens were bustling! Everyone was hurrying about, preparing for that evenings feast. New pies and hot, golden breads were being pulled from ovens. Scones were set out to cool, soups were steaming, cakes, crumbles and puddings were created. Salads were being prepared and cheeses were being rolled in from the cellars. All was in merry chaos.
An old, stooping otter mum paused from her work to approach, followed by a male squirrel. "What can I do for you son?" the otter mum asked, whipping her paws on her apron and smiling with delightful surprise.
Deyna returned her smile "Nothing Mama, just trying to find a job for our new guest."
Filorn squinted at the strange creature for a moment, then brushing him off as a large, unkept mouse. She smiled warmly at Grinj "Well I'm sure we can find you something! Here, come with me."
"Those grimy paws aren't getting anywhere near the food!" the male squirrel interrupted. Friar Broggle, the Head Cook stepped forward, sizing up the new-comer "We could use some good pot scourers," he finally offered "but our... uh, guest will have to wash up first."
Grinj was horrified "Wash! What fer?! I did only three seasons back!"
"Well that explains a couple things!" Nimbalo coughed
"I hope he's joking" Broggle commented, nose crinkled in disgust.
"I wish you were right," Deyna said "Alright, come on Grinj."
The rat nearly choked "You were serious!?"
Trembling Grinj starred into the basin of steaming water. "No, I can't do it."
"Yes you can."
Grinj watched the steam swirl a moment longer before shaking his head decisively "No, I won't! You can't make me! I promised never agin'!"
Patience running dangerously thin Deyna grabbed the rat by the scruff of the neck and frog marched him toward the water basin "You can either get in or I'll push you! Which do you prefer?"
Grinj yelped in panic "No! Please yer Eminence, I beg yer don- yargh!" With a cry and a splash the unfortunate creature was dropped into the barrel, struggling wildly Grinj screeched in terror "Whaaag! I'm drownin'!!! 'elp! I'm- glug!"
"Be still ya' filthy wretch or I'll drown you myself!" Nimbalo barked fishing around in the now murky water with a long pole to help the rat back to the surface. He was very much enjoying himself.
"Glllblargh! Waaa! Yer got soap in me eye!"
Now dressed in a fresh, warm habit Grinj sat at a stool in the kitchens scrubbing furiously at a large pot under Deyna's watchful eye.
Sister Alkanet, a prim, severe little mouse passed by remarking airily "Vermin inside our Abbey, I never heard of- "
"He's being well watched." Deyna reassured the old mouse.
She paused, starring demurely down her nose at the otter seated in front of her "See that he is!" Sniffing at the air her whiskers twitched in disgust "Uhhh! What is that foul stench?!"
Birrel a young mousemaid cutting carrots giggled "It's lemon verbena!"
"The rat is wearing lemon verbena! After his bath he still stank so bad Fwirl and I couldn't get near him with his new habit so I doused him in my new lemon verbena perfume! It took almost half the bottle to get him smelling this good!" she broke into fits of laughter and Sister Alkanet shook her head "I don't see what's so funny, wasting so much good perfume and now the rat smells... of lemon verbena!"
Birrel nearly fell off her chair laughing "Hehehe! You should have smelt him before Sister and you wouldn't be complaining! Hahahaha!"
"Really," Alkanet scolded "This is not mature!"
Rivertam, Deyna's wife came to Birrel's defense "Is that a new wine Sister?"
Alkanet turned to her, smiling faintly "It is, would you like to try some? Drogg says he's not sure what it needs, maybe you can help me out?"
The pretty otter had a kind and gentle spirit, she was always smiling and ready to help and was liked by everyone. Happily she took the bottle "Thank you Alkanet, I'd be obliged!" before she could remove the cork Boorab, Redwall's resident hare and Assistant Cook called across to her "Don't do it pretty one! That vile stuff would poison you for sure!"
Alkanet glared frostily at him "You're one to talk Mr. Boorab, wasn't it only last week that three of our creatures came up with terrible stomach aches because of your 'experimental soup'?"
Boorab sniffed officiously "A small accident marm, could've happened to any good cook!"
Removing the cork and taking a sip Rivertam swished the liquid around for a moment and stopped, her face a mask of disgust. Slowly, with effort she swallowed and coughed, trying to smile "Whew! It uh, it... ahem... it has a strong flavor."
Ignoring the hare Alkanet turned back to her, replying "Yes, isn't it delicious? It's my own invention."
Trying to hold back the tears the otter wife asked politely "What's in it dear?"
"Oh, just a couple added ingredients... Parsley, some sage, a little dried fennel and- "
Rivertam was suddenly taken by a fit of coughing, the old mouse patted her back in concern "Tam, what's wrong? Did you swallow a big piece of fennel?"
Choking the otter exclaimed "No, I'll be fine! Thank you Alkanet."
Alkanet took her arm sternly, leading her toward the dormitory stairs "You should go to the infirmary at once. I don't like the sound of that cough, you may be coming down with something!"
"Really, I'm fine!" Rivertam objected, pulling away "I have work to do."
A mouse rushed into the kitchen calling to Deyna and his wife "Tide's here along with a couple of hares!"
Relieved Rivertam handed the bottle of would be elderberry wine back to the Sister and ran after him crying "Deyna, our son is home!"
Broggle groaned "More hares. One is bad enough and now... How do they always seem to know when we're about to have a feast?"
Filorn the ottermum shrugged and turned to Deyna "You go and welcome your son Deyna, Broggle and I can keep an eye on our guest."
"Two eyes," Broggle commented "You go ahead, your mum and I can manage things here."
Chapter 3: The Undying Rose
Smoky tendrils of mist swirled through the dense woodlands. Jaden Nightlance paused, his breath misting in front of him, keen ears picking up movement from behind. Someone was following him through the undergrowth.
Standing still he continued to listen for several moments without turning around, whoever was coming towards him was clumsy and making enough noise to wake the dead. They were now close enough he could hear them mumbling in agitation.
Casually Jaden stepped off the small trail and hid behind a large sycamore trunk, drawing his dagger and patiently waiting for the other creature to reveal itself. He didn't have to wait long; Silverfang stumbled out of the foliage, cursing darkly as a hawthorn branch slapped him in the face. The young wolf picked up the sword he had dropped and continued on, more wary than before.
Jaden didn't have to guess why he was here, quietly he waited until Silverfang was passing his tree.
Before Silverfang could turn fully around or raise his own weapon Jaden grabbed him by the cloak and the shoulder of his tunic; powdered snow rose as the young wolf's back slammed against the frozen earth.
Completely startled at having been caught off guard by his quarry Silverfang's ears flattened against his skull as he snarled "Go on! Kill me! It'll be the last thing you ever do Jaden!"
Slowly Jaden removed the dagger from the younger wolf's throat and growled "If I was planning to kill you, you'd be dead already! Now, why are you following me?"
Silverfang glared up at his captor "You stole the Diviner's Stone! I came to get it back!"
Jaden cocked an eyebrow, sheathing his weapon "I didn't think your father would send you out with the others... Where are they now?"
Recovering significantly from his initial shock Silverfang's confidence bolstered and he barred his fangs at the black wolf "Bardalph, Ulric and Hunter are hiding in the brush and trees just down the trail, waiting for my command!"
Seeing through Silverfang's bluff Jaden nodded and stood, surveying the tree line. "I see," he said "then why aren't they coming to your rescue?" Jaden looked down at him declaring "You're alone aren't you?"
Silverfang looked down, not answering.
Nightlance nodded understandingly "Your father doesn't know you're here either, does he?"
"No." The young wolf admitted glumly
Jaden reached towards him, Silverfang flinched but instead of trying to harm him the black wolf helped him to his feet remarking "I'm sorry I tripped you."
Silverfang scrutinized the black furred wolf closely. Jaden was average height but he had jet black fur and a lean, well muscled and toned body. His eyes, that had never quite changed to the natural brown or gold in the wolves had somehow retained their deep, baby blue all wolf pups are born with. Those deep blue eyes were resonating sincerity. Deeply confused Silverfang leaned back against a large boulder "I don't understand." He whispered, brow furrowed in consternation.
"Don't understand what?" Jaden asked
Ignoring the question the younger creature stared at him and demanded "Why did you steal the Diviners Stone?"
"You wouldn't understand my reasons even if I explained them to you." Jaden replied levelly
Silverfang pressed further "Then why didn't you kill me when you had the chance?"
"I hardly think clumsily following someone is a crime punishable by death." Jaden shrugged, unconcerned.
Glowering Silverfang snapped "But you must have known I was coming after the Stone, and you saw that I was armed so why didn't you strike first?"
The older wolf snorted "Even if you were older and more skilled I wouldn't see you as much of a threat... you're not exactly a trained killer."
Silverfang scowled "Why are you going to Redwall?"
Sighing in exasperation Jaden replied briskly "It's a long story... If you want your questions answered you'd best keep up." Without waiting for an answer he turned from the agitated teen and continued down the trail.
Curiosity overtook the young wolf and hesitantly he followed Jaden. Determined he'd take the Diviners Stone once he got his answers.
Mhera and Brother Hoben met the four creatures out on the path in front of the Abbey. The Abbess smiled warmly, welcoming her guests. "Sargent Sandwud, Lieutenant Hawkthorn! What a pleasant surprise!"
Hawkthorn bowed stiffly "Tis' an honor marm."
Sargent Sandwud gave a smart salute adding "Indeed tis'! And we're at your service Mother Abbess!"
"Thank you Sandwud!" Mhera turned to her nephew, her smile broadening "Tide! You look fit and well, we heard you weren't coming home for another two weeks though! My, this is a day for surprises!"
"It certainly is Mother Abbess!" Tide replied cheerfully
Mhera gave his ear a slight tweak "Don't be so formal young rip, it's Aunt Mhera to you!"
"What brings you to Redwall Abbey?" the Abbess inquired of the three hares.
"Lady Rosalaun asked us to stop in and make sure everything's top hole, wot!"
Mhera's face brightened with pleasure "How kind of Rosalaun! By the way, how is your Lady? And Lord Russano? It's been several seasons since they last visited here."
"Lord Russano has gone off on a voyage; chasing some searat warlord or other... Groggyspike or whatever they call him." Sandwud responded.
"Grogspit" Hawkthorn corrected.
"Ah yes, that was it! Grogspit!" the Sargent's whiskers twitched in annoyance "Daft funny names those blighters come up with, eh wot? Hmmph! Not much originality is there? It's no wonder they're stupid... poor mites aren't given much of a chance with names like that, indeed not!" suddenly remembering the earlier question he coughed politely and continued "Ahem, yes. And Lady Rosalaun is doing fine, keeping everything at the mountain in check while her husband's away."
"That's wonderful news!" Mhere exclaimed, "And I'm happy to inform you that everything is running smoothly here at the Abbey, everyone seems to be in good spirits and health... though I'm sorry you've traveled so far to find we don't need any assistance."
Sandwud winked at her "That's the best news of all! Now if you don't mind Mother Abbess, lead on to that famous Redwall grub!"
The Abbess hid a smile "Why certainly friend."
"Oh, what bally good luck! Did you hear that Tide? She mentioned grub!"
Tide hid a grin at the enthusiastic cry of his friend, the young hare who had been his traveling companion. His eyes lit up however as he saw his mother rushing towards him.
"Tide, oh Tide! It's so good to see you son!" In a flurry of tears Rivertam clasped her son affectionately.
"It's good to be home Mama!" Tide exclaimed. He looked up to see his father standing a few paces away. Gently releasing his mother Tide went to greet him.
"You've grown another inch" Deyna observed matter-of-factly.
Tide smirked "Are you sure it wasn't you who shrunk in my absence, you old riverdog?"
Deyna grinned widely, pulling his son into a fierce embrace "Get over here you young rip!"
Laughing heartily Tide introduced his parents to the young hare standing to the side. "Mother, father; I'd like you to meet Percy!"
"I'm pleased to meet you Percy, and it's so good to have you here at Redwall with us! I'm sure my son was glad to have company in his long travels!" Rivertam said, shaking the hare's paw.
Tide hugged his mother fondly a second time, glancing over her shoulder as he inquired "Where's Kya? She's always here to greet me?"
Deyna looked around "Yes, where is Kya? I haven't seen her all morning?"
Rivertam sighed "She's probably out in the woods again, she was up before dawn so she could help me and her grandmother finish baking the honeyed oatcakes for breakfast but left as soon as we were finished, taking a few of them with her."
Deyna shook his head disapprovingly "She shouldn't be out there by herself... what does she do out there all day anyways? She's made herself far too scarce these days."
Tide exchanged a look with his mother and nodded knowingly "I think I have an idea."
Ssssssthhhtk!!! A long, blue-feathered arrow stood quivering in the center of the makeshift target. An ivy wreath hung on an elm trunk. A tall, lithe figure in a tunic of cream and sky blue with golden trim and a grey cloak stood at the other side of the clearing, a fearsome longbow in her grip, and a look of grim satisfaction on her face. Suddenly a voice called out from the undergrowth, "Hawhaw! What a shot! You certainly weren't kidding when you said she could shoot, wouldn't want to cross her on a dark night, wot!"
Kya whirled around, another shaft already on her bowstring. "Who's there!" she demanded, shocked that someone had snuck up on her so easily.
"Steady on gel," the voice replied "put that frog sticker down, we're friends not foes!"
Kya tightened her string, drawing it taught as she spoke "Show yourselves then for friends don't linger in the shadows!" a creature could never be too careful in Mossflower Woods. Most who lived here were friendly and harmless woodlanders that would sooner bid you a good morning than bid you farewell, but vermin were also known to lurk about. Cautiously she kept the bowstring taught, eyeing straight down the shaft, tilting the angle just a bit higher than the two forms drifting through the foliage. However, she recognized one of them and immediately lowered her aim, regretting her suspicion.
“Kya!” cried the handsome otter that approached her.
A sudden excitement filled the ottermaid and Kya set her bow and quiver down in a deep snow drift, running to meet her brother. “Tide! They said you wouldn't be home for another two weeks?”
Sweeping her up into his strong paws Tide laughed "What? And miss Mama's fine cooking and a chance to pester that hare at the feast tonight?"
She smiled with a sly twist of suspicion. “How did you know we were having a feast?”
He chuckled "Oh, news travels fast in Mossflower. That and I had a hare with me who wouldn't keep quite about it... luckily we didn't have to walk such a long ways on the return journey."
Kya crinkled her nose "What do you mean by that?
"I'll tell you later, lets head back to the Abbey... Oh! I almost forgot, you haven't met my traveling companion"
Kya glanced past her brother at the strange figure at the edge of the clearing whom she had noted standing there the whole time; the unmistakable lanky form of a hare holding a lance.
Tide indicated the hare "This famine faced stomach on legs is Percival Lancejack Obrathon Ragglewaithe... Otherwise known as Percy, who is non other than the nephew of our infamous Assistant Cook!"
The hare made an elegant leg and bowed, tripping on his cloak hem. Stumbling a few steps he righted himself using his lance, coughed and continued "Ahem, pleased ta meetcha' I'm sure!"
Kya chuckled at the gangly creature "Your Boorab's nephew?"
"That I am! Speaking of uncle Boorab, how's the old fellow getting on?"
"He's doing quite well as you can imagine for any hare approved to the lofty position of Assistant Cook!" Kya laughed.
Percival nodded whole heartedly "Wish it was me to tell you the truth but I'll have to mourn about my position later, right now there's a big plate of food back at the Abbey with my name on it!"
Kya smiled "Alright, we'll head back. I just have to grab my bow!"
Tide and Percival followed; Percival commenting "That was an amazing shot you know! Your brother told me you were a skilled archer but that was an incredible shot!"
The ottermaid shrugged modestly "I'm sure any good archer could have done it just as easily."
"That's quite a distance Kya," Tide reminded her "You're an excellent marksman!"
Kya brushed it off "How could I miss with the new bow you made me?" She chuckled, turning to Percy "So, what else has my brother told you about me?"
"Quite a bit actually!" Percy informed her.
"I'm sure he has." Kya grinned mischievously at her brother
Percy continued "Hearing so much about you I thought you sounded just like him but now that I see the two of you together I can tell you're not alike at all!"
"Oh, how come?" Kya asked curiously
"You're much prettier than him!"
The three friends burst into laughter. Kya could already tell she was going to like Percy.
Retrieving her bow and quiver Kya and Percy turned to leave. Tide paused, lingering back a moment "Here Kya, I got this for you."
Kya's eyes gleamed as her brother handed her a beautiful, peach-pink cockle shell. He opened it to reveal a perfect, small white pearl attached to a delicate silver chain.
She gasped with wonder as she lifted the little necklace from its holder, exclaiming "Oh, it's beautiful! Tide, did you make it?"
He shook his head "I found the pearl but Lord Russano fashioned the chain for me."
Kya's eyes lit up "You didn't say you were going to the Fire Mountain... what was it like?!"
The big otter smiled "It was amazing, absolutely incredible! The fire mountain was everything I've ever imagined it to be but the thing that caught me at once was it's size; it's huge! It has grand halls, a mighty forge, a beautiful dining room and a view of the sea that will take your breath away, not to mention the towering creature who rules there!"
Kya felt her heart swell with excitement "Oh, how I long to go there! I've always dreamed of the sea," her wistful thoughts faded and she laughed, shoving her brother playfully "And you have no idea how jealous I am that you got to visit Salamandastron without me!"
"Well then, I'll have to take you with me this summer." Tide exclaimed, giving her a light nudge back
The ottermaid's countenance fell as she sat on a large rock at the edge of the path "Father would never allow it."
Her older brother sat next to her, trying to read her expression "Perhaps he'll change his mind? After all, you're almost an adult."
Kya sighed longingly "I don't think so... I've tried before, you know how stubborn he gets when he sets his mind to something."
Tide nodded "I know."
They sat in silence a moment before a voice cut in "Hey! You two can sit there like sour apples all season but I hear there's going to be a feast tonight at Redwall Abbey and I for one don't want to miss it!"
Shrugging off the gloom Kya laughed good naturedly and stood up "Percival's right, we should probably head back."
"Try again, Kya. He may change his mind." Her brother whispered.
"I don't think it will do much good but I guess I can try" she said, shrugging it off "Let's get back to the Abbey though. I promised Mama I'd help with the cooking for tonight."
Despite the deep snows outside, the festive atmosphere within Great Hall could not be dampened! Bouquets of dried flowers, fresh trimmed Winter jasmine, red river lily, Ivy and Jacqueline Postill decorated the tables and windowsills to bring a little color and life to the dull, grey evening. Beautifully arranged and spread out, the foods were just as wonderful smelling and colorful! Hot apple and blackberry pies were set out still steaming, crisp, warm breads and savory soups gave off tantalizing smells. Peach cobbler and red current tarts, puddings, crumbles and scones served with meadow cream were all in attendance. An immense Woodland Trifle covered in preserved strawberries and raspberries and slathered in cream and shaved almonds sat in the center of the festive board looking almost too cheerful to eat... Almost.
A group of gluttonous Dibbuns (The term for Abbey babes) was determined they would be the first to sample the delightful dish; if it weren't for the fact that several hungry hares had already set their sights on the grand prize.
Both parties gave their marauding notions up however when they caught the stern glance from Sister Alkanet who was fixing one of the last bouquets at the other end of the table. Alkanet was still renowned for her fabled icy stare....
The tables were set, food and decorations fully laid. Dibbuns and elders had been washed and were dressed in fresh raiment and everything was in place.
Kya, wearing a new, tan and moss green dress sat next to Rosabel and her brother Tide. The pretty ottermaid's dark brown fur had a slight sheen to it in the soft candlelight. Glancing at her reflection in a silver pitcher of water she frowned, trying once again to fix and smooth down the spikey fur at the crown of her head. It seemed to be her trademark and she was never quiet able to completely tame it. Her father would often tease her that she must be part shrew. Frustrated at not getting the fur to stay down Kya gave a snort of annoyance and turned back to listen to Tide and Percy's conversation. They were recounting to Zinzan and Zorando, Tide's good friends; two Harvest mice about her age, how they had traveled up river on a stolen searat vessel named the "Stormtide" on the return journey home. The reason they hadn't had to walk so far.
"That sounds dangerous." Fwirl, Rosabel's mother fussed, setting down a plate for a little mole.
Tide, assured her and his mother who was helping Fwirl dish up the little ones. "Don't worry Mama, we were fairly safe and didn't rush head long into anything."
Rivertam smiled affectionately at him "I know, son."
Nimbalo sighed, leaning back in his chair "Ah, I wish my sons could've gone with you" he said, patting Zorando and Zinzan on the back.
The squirrel mother sighed, dishing up a plate for a mouse babe "I'm just glad no one was hurt!" she protested.
Sargent Sandwud coughed " 'Hem, not ta' worry marm, the Lieutenant and I kept the young uns outa' the main action!"
She paused, thanking the old hare before turning to Nimbalo who had leaned back to set his foot paws on the table.
"Nimbalo," Rivertam scolded "Would you be so kind as to help me serve the little ones?"
The Harvest mouse gave her a surprised look "You want me ta' serve up the little uns?"
"If that wouldn't be too much of a burden on you seeing as your so busy," the otter wife said curtly.
"But that's girls work!"
"Oh really?" Fwirl asked, flicking her tail indignantly, "I bet Fay would have something to say about that!"
Nimbalo relaxed, smiling nonchalantly "Na', she knows who wears the belt in this family- "
"Nimbalo," a sweet voice called out "Would you help me carry these plates?"
"Coming my delicate honeysuckle!" the little mouse called quickly.
Deyna chuckled, shaking his head "Would you like me to help my dear?"
"That would be wonderful." Rivertam smiled
Awed speechless Grinj gaped at everything about him. Now that everyone was nearly seated the gaunt rat decided it was time to stop tormenting his rumbling stomach, aside from two little oatfarls Filorn had given him earlier that day to help tide him over till dinner he hadn't had anything to eat.
Reaching for a plum tart Alkanet gave his paw a light slap, "We haven't said grace!"
Seeing that everyone was anxiously waiting to try the good food Mhera stood. "Friends," she declared "I want to thank each and every one of you for your time and hard work in putting together this wonderful spread! I'd like to give a special thank you to our cooks who have prepared all of this good food and- "
"Oh joy! She's getting to the part were we can eat!"
A couple giggles rose at Percy's joyous exclamation as well as a few glares from Broggle, Boorab, Sandwud and Lieutenant Hawkthorn.
Percy, seeing the stern looks on the faces of the Head Cook, his uncle and two superior officers he smiled sheepishly and apologized "Ooops! Sorry marm... Please continue, we're all ears!"
Mhera tried to keep a straight face as she continued "Further more, I'd like to welcome our guests to Redwall Abbey and our name day feast! I hope that they enjoy their stay... And now, for the name we have chosen. Determining a name for this season has been a difficult task being as spring has not... well, wanted to act like spring! Brother Dill and I were out walking through the gardens yesterday morning when we came across an early blooming rose. The hardy little plant was not only surviving but thriving, bringing hopes that even through the darkest times beauty and love can still exist. We have named this 'The Spring Of The Undying Rose'!"
A cheer went up from the Redwaller's until the Abbess held up her paws for quiet, "Let us give thanks for this beautiful season!"
After silence was restored and everybeast bowed their heads the Mother Abbess recited.
"Winter, Summer, Spring and Fall. In peace and plenty gathered we; together, within the Abbey of Redwall. True friendship good and loyal, here with us today May all your journeys be blessed with prosperity, as if you all were to stay! For this bounty mother nature we thank you, for allowing us to tend your soils Now to bring this good food to justice, we end our days long toils!"
A loud "Amen" sounded and everyone began passing foods.
"Hurr, pars io' ee' deeper 'n ever turnip 'n tater 'n beetroot pie!"
"Mmmmm! Those scones smell delicious!"
"I'll try a slice of that redcurrant tart!"
"Oh my giddy Aunt! Is that Woodland Trifle for real?!"
"You better believe it is old scout!" Boorab chortled, winking at Percy's gleeful expression "And I'm the super talented cook who whipped up that beauty!"
"What a whopping great fib! Shame on you Mr. Boorab, that's Filorn otter mum's special creation!" Fwirl scolded.
Always gracious, Filorn smiled sweetly "Oh, Mr. Boorab did help quite a bit with it."
"Only with tasting it" Broggle grumbled as he sliced the Trifle
"And what's wrong with that?!" Boorab quipped defensively, "I get stuck with the dangerous job of poison tester and here you chaps all moan like I've just spit in your Ale- ! Oh, here Perc, don't drink that! Try some of this! Now this is the stuff to put whiskers on you!"
Percy took a draught of Drogg Spearback's finest October Ale and sighed dreamily "Now this is perfection! And yet- " he retrieved the Elderberry Wine Sister Alkanet had made back from his uncle and quaffed the whole beaker. Boorab starred dis-believing at his nephew, ear twitching slightly as he watched in horror for any side affects. "How do you feel old bean?" Boorab asked carefully.
Percy smiled "Absolutely splendid! I say uncle Boorab, what's in that divinely superb wine?!"
Alkanet, just as shocked as Boorab stepped forward "You mean... you enjoyed the wine?"
Percy made an elegant leg to the old mouse, "Are you its skilled maker?"
"I am" the stern sister replied hesitantly, not wanting to hear any rude remarks about her wine.
"Marm, I bow my ears to you!" the young hare stated "You are truly an artist among artists! A master of the trade!"
Taken aback with pleasure Alkanet beamed a rare smile at the hare and shook his proffered paw "Well, it's nice to see that some creatures still have a sense of taste!"
Good natured banter and laughter continued to fill the joyous atmosphere. Dibbuns began to drift off, one little squirrel falling in her soup while two baby moles began dozing through a half eaten pie and elders sat back to loosen their belts and reminisce about old times.
Catching Kya's glance Rivertam cleared her throat slightly, gaining her husband's attention. "Deyna, your daughter has something she's been wanting to ask you for quite some time now," she smiled slightly at her daughter's nervous expression "And I don't think she'll be able to sleep properly until she gets an answer."
Deyna set down his goblet of October Ale, giving her his full attention. "What is it beauty?"
Kya set her fork aside, "Dad, I was... I wanted to ask you... well, I was wondering if-" she paused, looking to Tide and then her mother who smiled at her and nodded encouragement. Taking a deep breath Kya continued, "I want to go with Tide and Skipper's crew this summer when they journey to Salamandastron; Aunt Mhera is sending a gift to Lord Russano."
Deyna was taken aback by his daughter's request. "But they'll be gone the full summer and into the fall!"
Kya's shoulders sank at the tone of her father's voice "I promise I'd be back in time to help with the Autumn Harvest."
The large male otter looked at his wife in surprise, wanting to see her reaction to the absurd question. To his shock Rivertam was smiling gently, "I've given my consent but I told Kya she needed your permission before she could go."
The Abbey Warrior was at a complete loss. Kya's request had come as a surprise but not so much as Rivertam's ready consent to it.
Deyna was very protective of his family but especially of Kya. Since the day she was born Deyna had felt there was something very special about the tiny ottercub and besides harboring a strong fatherly pride for his little son and daughter he had also felt an overwhelming instinct to protect her. She was his flower and any young male otter who'd shown even the slightest interest in the pretty ottermaid had quickly learned to keep their manners about them and treat her with the utmost courtesy and respect.
Deyna looked at Kya curiously, "Why do you want to leave the Abbey?"
Kya glanced awkwardly at her paws "I've never been to the Badger Mountain or really traveled anywhere for that matter."
"You've gone out into Mossflower Woods and been to the river Moss several times." Deyna countered.
Kya lowered her head "Yes, but I've never really been anywhere or done anything exciting in my life... I've heard the stories about the adventures you and mom had when you were younger and all the amazing things you did... I want to be able to see the world and do incredible things too."
The Abbey warrior looked from his wife to his daughter in silence, then shook his head in firm resolve "No Kya, that's too long...- "
"It would only be for the summer and they won't be making another trip like this for another four seasons!"
"I don't think it's a good idea and besides that, you're too young. In four seasons time you'll be old enough to make your own decisions and go where you will." Deyna resolved.
"But I'm sixteen seasons and Tide was able to make this trip a season younger than I!"
"That's different," Deyna said sternly "Tide had some formal training with weapons."
Her voice became pleading "Father please give me a chance! I'd be with Tide the whole time and I have had so- "
"That's enough Kya, my decision is final!"
In the silence that followed Kya quietly slid her chair back, starring despondently at her untouched plate "May I be excused?" she whispered.
Deyna nodded and she quickly left the room.
After she'd gone Deyna glanced at Rivertam who had given a sigh of disappointment. "You think I was wrong, Tam?"
She stood and began clearing the dishes "No, I know you did what you thought was right... "
"But you still think I was wrong?"
Rivertam paused, looking at her husband "Deyna, your daughter has matured into a fine, responsible maid. She respects you too much to go against your word but Kya is a restless spirit... She hears about the adventures you and I faced in our younger seasons and longs to have her own."
Deyna frowned "That's what worries me."
Rivertam's voice softened "My love, you can't protect her forever... have you ever considered that maybe Kya wasn't called to live the life of a simple Abbeymaid? That perhaps she was born for something more?"
His wife's wording had caught him off guard and he sighed uneasily "I've always felt that Rivertam,... Since she was little my fear has always been that my time with her would be short, that something would happen and she'd leave us to find her own way..."
Rivertam nodded "The same fears have been on my mind the last few seasons."
Deyna was surprised "And you want her to go?"
"Deyna, she needs room to grow and this may be her chance to find herself. As her parents we've done our part in guiding her and teaching her but I feel it's time we step back and allow her to forge her own trail."
"You feel she's ready?"
"I do. And Tide will be with her, our son will keep her from any real harm."
Nimbalo chuckled, cutting in "I think you're overreacting, she'll be fine! Kya's a good maid and has a sensible head on her shoulders, all in all she's like her ol' dad!" adding quickly "Only much prettier."
Tide stood "Father, there's something I haven't told you. Kya has had some formal training with a weapon, she used to sneak out and watch while you were teaching me sword fighting and she asked me to teach her how to use one. She's also kind of self taught herself the use of a bow and has become quiet proficient in archery... thus the reason for her mysterious disappearances to the woods."
Deyna furrowed his brow questioningly "Why didn't she say anything?"
"She's tried to, several times including tonight. She was afraid you'd disapprove." Rivertam said gently "She knows that you and I have always wanted her to grow up a proper maiden, to mature in grace and learn the skills she would need to one day be a mother and wife but we never really considered that that might not be her calling..."
The otter warrior looked at his wife "How is it that you knew about this?"
"I sort of found out but figured she should be the one to tell you."
Breathing a heavy sigh Deyna looked at his son "You will be with her the whole time?"
"She'll be with me and Skipper's crew."
Deyna leaned back "I guess I'll let her know first thing in the morning." he sighed again.
Chapter 4: Thief In The Night
"Prince Silv- " Airard the gray wolf entered the dark chamber at the back of the cavern, stopping abruptly when he realized it was empty. The Prince's bodyguard scanned the barren antechamber carefully, noting the missing sword and absence of Silverfang's cloak. Turning to check outside Airard paused as his keen eyes caught sight of something lying in the dust on the cave's floor.
Approaching, the tall wolf knelt down; picking up and inspecting the small object - A golden cloak clasp shaped like two fighting dragons with ruby eyes...
What was Lorc's cloak clasp doing in here?
Lorc, Airard's brother and the Prince's second body guard was waiting outside the chamber as Airard emerged, looking incredulous. "Nazar is getting impatient, where's the Prince?" Lorc inquired airily, arms folded across his chest, back leaning against the stone wall. Lorc was a lot bigger than his brother, taller and broader with more of a muscular body while Airard was tall but with a leaner build.
Airard gave him a suspicious glance, "He's not in there." he replied, brushing past his brother.
Lorc came to his feet with a start, "What do you mean 'not' there?"
Airard turned back repeating "Silverfang's gone and he's taken his sword... Did you go into the Prince' chamber at all last night Lorc?"
The powerful wolf shrugged his broad shoulders nonchalantly "Only for a moment, to check on him... why?"
Airard stepped towards him, handing his brother the cloak clasp "Because I found this on the cave floor." He watched his brother closely for a reaction.
Lorc furrowed his brow, masking surprise and took the clasp quickly "That's odd, I ... must have dropped it when I went in last night... " he looked up at Airard "Where would he go?"
Airard continued to watch him but couldn't hide the anxiety in his voice "I was just about to check outside but- "
"Don't bother," Lorc cut in "I just came from the woods; he wasn't out there."
Face paled Airard looked at him, expression taut with apprehension "What are we going to do?"
Lorc placed the clasp carefully in a pouch on his belt before turning thoughtfully back to his smaller brother, "I think I may have an idea of were he may have gone- "
"Where who may have gone?"
The two brothers whirled around at the sound of Izzan's voice, alarm etching their face's.
Izzan stepped forward raising his paws disarmingly "I mean no harm. You just sounded troubled and I- "
"You were spying on us weren't you, sly coat?" Lorc growled, drawing his dagger.
The soothsayer stepped back, shaking his head assuringly "No, I was only passing by on my way to speak with Prophet when I heard arguments... I thought maybe I could be of assistance."
The big wolf scowled, brow furrowed as he grabbed hold of Izzan's black and gold tunic, drawing him closer "What all did you hear and why would you want to help us, Seer? You're not even a part of our clan or any of the other clans under our Cheiften for that matter so why would you want to help us?"
Izzan broke Lorc's grip on his tunic; the powerful wolf was shocked at how easily the small white wolf had done it but Izzan ignored him and stood up straight, declaring "I joined your clan because I have nowhere else to go... All of the clans are either here or have disbanded further north... I am not a great hunter, nor am I a soldier. I am simply a Seer. My best interest would be in keeping this clan from disbanding as well; as I am safe here."
Airard glanced past his brother who was shaking his head in disagreement and turned to Izzan imploringly "Prince Silverfang has gone missing. How do we find him? I cannot face up to Nazar and tell him we've lost his only son."
Izzan shook his head sadly as if he had already foreseen this "I should have done something to prevent this but now I'm too late... "
Lorc looked dubious but Airard appeared stricken "What do you mean? You should have prevented what?"
Heaving a heavy sigh the Seer looked up at the two guards "The Prince has gone with Jaden Nightlance."
The brothers tried to mask their disbelief.
"You mean he's gone to try and retrieve the Diviner's Stone by himself?!" Airard balked.
Izzan shook his head "No. He has joined forces with Nightlance and is traveling with him, even as we speak..."
Airard couldn't believe what he was hearing, "No, that's impossible! Silverfang may be rebellious but he's not a traitor! Why would the Prince ally himself with Nightlance?"
The Seer shrugged "Who can say? But that is what I see... "
Airard broke into a cold sweat "What do we do?"
His brother snorted apathetically "Nothin' we can do, the arrogant pup is long gone by now."
"But what do we tell Nazar?! That his only heir is gone? That his son is a traitor?!?" The smaller brother looked on the ferge of panic.
Izzan broke in, trying to sooth the tall wolf's fears "You both should go after him, I will speak to Nazar in your behalf."
The bodyguards starred incredulously at the soothsayer.
Lorc sneered, "What's in it for you? Is there something you know that you're trying to hide?"
Izzan's coal black eyes turned on Lorc as he inquired just as pointedly "Is there something you're trying to hide?"
A flash of uncertainty crossed the large wolf's face.
"You would do that?" Airard asked with evident astonishment, "Only Prophet can quell Nazar's anger when he- "
Izzan gave a small chuckle "I have dealt with many an angry Warlord, Nazar is no different. You two should leave while you can, I'll deal with Nazar."
Nazar was impatient. He glanced restlessly back at the caves' entrance and continued to pace, he turned, swishing his tail in agitation as he barked at one of the warriors. "Maccon! Where are Lorc and Airard? Where is my son?"
Maccon shook his head in bewilderment, having just emerged from the cavern. He moved aside for Izzan as the Seer approached the anxious Chieftain, eyes humbly lowered. "I'm afraid I have ill tidings my Lord."
Nazar glared irately at the soothsayer "What do you want Izzan? Make it quick!"
The white wolf stepped forward, cautiously announcing "Your son is... missing, my Lord."
The war Chieftain starred in astonishment at Izzan "What do you mean he's missing? My warriors have been up for several hours now and no one saw him leave?"
"He must have left in the dead of night, Sire." Izzan replied.
"Lorc! Airard!" Nazar snapped.
"They are not here either, they have gone after Prince Silverfang."
Nazar turned on Izzan angrily "Why didn't they come directly to me?! Who gave them permission to leave!"
"I told them they should go after the Prince and bring him back swiftly before he does anything foolish and that I would inform you on what had transpired."
Nazar fought to control his rising temper "You have a lot of gall Izzan, what exactly do you think my son is trying to do that may be so foolish?"
"Well?" Nazar growled.
"The Prince has... deserted."
Voice low the clan leader snarled threatening "What, exactly are you implying Seer?" Nazar's paw strayed to his sword hilt as he approached the soothsayer, growling "No more games, Izzan. Explain your riddles or leave my presence."
Taking a step back Izzan continued "I have seen in vision, your son aiding the enemy. Silverfang has joined Nightlance in his quest."
Nazar stopped cold, drawing his sword as he seethed "How dare you! How dare you question my son's loyalty and honor! How dare you come up with such a vicious lie and then have the audacity to spread it to my clan! I will not stand here another moment and listen to you derail my son!"
Wisely Izzan stepped back several more paces. "I can only question what I see and my vision is not a lie conjured against you or your son... Believe what you may but I have spoken the truth, Silverfang is traveling with the enemy... Ask your own Seer!"
The Chieftain whirled on Prophet "Tell this jackal the truth! Tell him!!!"
Prophet stood, his troubled eyes studying Izzan for a long moment before he turned his mournful gaze on the clan leader "Izzan speaks true... your son is with Nightlance."
With a furious yell of pent up rage Nazar swung his sword, clipping a couple hairs from the tip of the soothsayer's ear as Izzan ducked to get out of the way. Nazar shouting after him "Get out of my sight Izzan!"
Without looking back the white wolf fled into the woods.
Thoughts racing, Grinj lay awake for several hours, listening intently until he was sure everyone was asleep.
Carefully he sat up, glancing at the two young mice sleeping in the beds either side of him.
Zinzan was lying peacefully, his steady breathing telling the rat he was deep in slumber. Zorando on the other hand was snoring uproariously.
As silent as possible Grinj slid from the bed and tip pawed across the room, pausing to look back at the still sleeping forms once he reached the door. Breathing a sigh of relief Grinj turned, stumbling into a nightstand and knocking over a clay vase. Scrabbling frantically in the dark the gray rat caught the vase before it smashed against the stone floor. Gritting his teeth Grinj held the vase against his ragged chest, not daring to breath.
Zinzan stirred, rolling over and muttering something unintelligible as he pulled the covers up over his ears but was immediately asleep again. His brother's snores had drowned out most of the noise.
Nerves on edge Grinj continued to hold his breath for what seemed an eternal amount of time, straining his ears for any sound of movement or sign of some wrathfully woken creature coming after him. Nothing moved.
Fighting to calm his wildly beating heart Grinj carefully placed the clay vase back on the nightstand and left the room.
Wondering the still halls he thought about the task at hand, the task he'd been given and the consequence if he was too late or failed to retrieve the object of his master's desire. Shuddering Grinj crept past the quiet dormitory rooms and down the stairs.
Finally, upon entering Great Hall the rat caught sight of the object he was looking for, the moon glinting off its silver surface.
A sword hung over the great Tapestry.
The sword of Martin the Warrior.
Licking dry lips he gulped nervously, starring up at the fabled weapon. He was racking his brain for ideas on how to get it down without waking anyone.
Looking around he found a bench. Very carefully Grinj gave it an experimental pull. The bench was heavy and made of solid wood, it made a low, protesting groan as it moved. Panicked Grinj released the bench, cowering down beside it and covering his head because of the noise. After a long moment of silence the rat hesitantly uncovered his head and gazed around. No beast appeared to have been roused by the sound. Cautiously Grinj waited a couple more minutes to be sure everyone was actually asleep before faintheartedly continuing his task. Every little sound caused the jittery rodent to stop instantly; holding his breath and listening, making his grueling work painfully long before he finally reached the Tapestry.
Scrambling up onto the bench he raised his paw; grasping the hilt Grinj paused again, feeling a twinge of guilt and remorse. These were nice creatures, he'd never been treated with such kindness before... he couldn't take something from them, besides what if he were caught?! What would they do to him? But worse yet, what if he didn't?! His body began trembling involuntarily at the thought, his master was cold and merciless, it wouldn't matter what excuse Grinj gave him. If he didn't have the sword he would be slain.. or worse!
Dogged determination swept through Grinj and clutching the sword he raised it carefully from its two holders.
Wiping a bead of sweat from his snout he glanced around and grabbed hold of one of the little iron lanterns hanging from a column next to the Warrior's tapestry, the flame had burned out but the wick was still giving off a faint glow.
It was enough.
Reaching for the candle inside Grinj forced the memory of what Zorando had said the day before out of his head. How the young mouse had shown such pride for the tapestry and how he had said that it was a symbol of everything the Redwaller's were. Grinj couldn't think about this right now... he had a job he had to accomplish. Trembling he raised the candle towards the tapestry's hem; the gray rat froze however as he found himself looking into the eyes of the mouse on the tapestry. Martin the Warrior appeared to be watching him intently and seemed to know full well the rat's intentions. Cold terror spread throughout his limbs. "I didn't mean it!" Grinj whimpered, setting the candle down on the bench as he climbed off. Backing away from the image with the sword in paw Grinj tried to shrug off the eerie sensation that Martin was still watching him closely. Fearfully he turned and stole from the silent hall; the warrior's eyes appeared to follow him as he swiftly made his exit of the Abbey.
Shivering with a mixture of cold, fear and relief that he had made it out alive Grinj made his way towards the north wall gate.
The rat bit his lip, anxiously looking back. He had successfully stolen the sword but had failed in his mission to destroy the tapestry... He just couldn't bring himself to do it with the mouse looking at him. Grinj sighed, giving a despaired moan, what would he tell his master? He pushed the thought from his troubled mind and stepping out of the Abbey he paused momentarily to buckle the belt and scabbard about his waist so that he could more easily carry the sword. Suddenly he realized that his mind had been so preoccupied with getting his paws on the great weapon that he had not used the foresight to remember to grab a pack of food or a cloak.
Fumbling with the belt clasp he cursed himself for his stupidity.
Even though the habit they had given him was much warmer than his threadbare clothes and cloak there was still snow on the ground and it was dang cold! His personal cloak and ratty clothes had been burned by one of the sisters but he was sure if he had looked around a little he could have found a nice comfy one. However, the one thing Grinj couldn't believe was that he had been stupid enough not to hide some of that delicious Redwall food!
Swallowing he tried not to think about it because it only made his mouth start watering.
Searching for shoots and roots had been a hard and hungry business, although the few soups he was able to make with them was all that had kept fur and bones together in this bleak, winter like weather.
Grinj's mind again wandered back to the kind creatures who resided within these walls and he sighed with regret. Despite the fact that he was completely terrified of the big otter warrior and the little mouse called the Slayer, and the fact that he had been thrust into a barrel of steaming hot water and forced to scrub dirty dishes until he was sure his paws would never dry out and become permanently pruned he still couldn't shake the feeling he had had inside that Abbey. The joyful, peaceful feeling and the kindness he'd been shown by the Abbess and several others: Filorn otter mum's kind smile, helping Boorab come up with the lines for one of his rowdy songs about food, Fwirl giving him this nice, new habit, Zorando starting a food fight with Zinzan and allowing him to join in before all three were caught and sent upstairs to stitch old quilts in the infirmary for Sister Floburt... Sure, so most of the creatures didn't like him but maybe,... after some time he could make a few friends and learn to live happily like they did...
Grinj slapped himself, what was he doing? It wasn't possible for him to live among decent, civilized creatures! He was a rat and that was that! His expression darkened, besides, they would never welcome him back after what he'd just done, once they realized he'd taken the sword their warrior's would be after him... But- what if he were to take it back before they noticed it was gone? He looked up at the Abbey, seriously reconsidering this option. Maybe he would be safe within these walls, safe from- An image flashed in Grinj's mind and he stiffened with dread, he would know! He always knew...
The rat backed up towards the woods, taking one last look at the marvelous Abbey in the steal, blue- gray light of predawn. He sighed heavily and glanced towards the flatlands beyond Redwall. Suddenly his blood froze with something more terrifying than any winter's chill could bring.
Panic engulfed the rat and Grinj backed further away, shaking his head. No! It couldn't be! He wasn't overdue... at least not yet. But he couldn't deny what he saw.
Out on the flatlands in front of the Abbey, though it was dark and they were still a good distance off were the undeniable forms of two wolves!
There was only one reason Grinj could think of for two wolves to be here. They had been sent to bring him back! Cold terror gripped the rat and turning he fled into the dense foliage of Mossflower Woods.
After several restless hours of tossing and turning Kya fell into a deep sleep.
A rosy pink haze began filling her senses and the sound of ocean waves in the distance lulled her mind into a gentle serenity. She could smell salt in the air and felt the soft spray of the waves.
A mouse appeared in her mind's eye. Despite the fact that he was simply dressed and not wearing his armor or carrying his sword Kya immediately recognized him. Martin the Warrior walked towards her through the mist, halting a short distance from the ottermaid.
"Martin?" Kya whispered in surprise
A grave expression shown on the warrior's face and there was urgency in his eyes but when he spoke his voice was a gentle echo which drifted through her thoughts.
"Darkness has fallen. In silence they sleep, Maid of warrior's blood you are chosen No one has taken, to watching the thief. My symbol, my blade was stolen this night. Blue fletched arrow heed what I say; Before the lark wakes, before the warning bell tolls thrice You will be called away.
A path you will see, a quest lies ahead My sword to the Abbey, shall not return until the tyrant is dead. The silverfanged heir must be returned to his throne, The prince who lost his kingdom but retains the Seer's stone.
The journey is wrought with danger; the way is far indeed True friends will be with you, in your time of need.
Flowering bell shall follow they wake, for she can foretell the symbols that feathers make. Though fear may hold her, journey on.
Twin blades shall join you at the crack of the fourth dawn. Kin of fool, brave of heart! The lance wielder will understand his part. Next the rogues, slayer's sons. Timid courage; wild ones. And last, prince and heir will join thy quest. Return him again to the Castle of Itaris.
Seven are called, seven destines intertwine. Fear not for those you must leave behind, For darkness shall aid them in time of need. Now blue fletched arrow, my words you must heed!"
The words drifted off and with a start Kya came awake. Breathless she lay there for a second, wondering what her dream could have meant. Each word branding itself like a hot flame into her memory. She knew they had to be written down before she could forget a single one and the urgency of Martin's message could not wait. Leaping from her bed she ran to the room of the only creature she felt this important message could be shared with.
BOOM! BOOM! BOOM!
Rosabel's head came up with a start. The squirrelmaid's head fur was sticking every which way and she could barely open her eyes but seeing it was still dark she moaned in annoyance and flopped back down on the bed, pulling the pillow over her ears.
BOOM! BOOM! BOOM!
Groaning in agitation she sat up and snapped rather crossly "Who is it!?! Can't a decent creature get some sleep around here! The sun's not even up!"
"Rose!" Kya called out urgently "Rose, it's me!"
Voice cracking with tension Rosabel mumbled "Me who?! I don't speak to ruffians who deprive me of my much needed rest you know!"
"Rosabel, it's me, Kya!" the voice shot back brusquely "I have to speak with you, it's urgent!"
"And you couldn't wait until morning?" the irritated squirrelmaid clamored, dragging herself from her comfortable bed.
Upon opening the door Rosabel's vexed expression vanished when she saw the serious look in her friends eyes. Kya entered, quickly shutting the door behind her "I had a dream Rosabel,"
"Oh, is that all?" Rosabel asked grouchily, not at all happy at having been woken up. Kya's next words caught her attention though.
"Martin the Warrior spoke to me!"
Chapter 5: Castle In The Cliffs
Itaris castle stood like a silent sentinel atop the rugged cliffs of the north. Surrounded on three sides by thick pine forests while the west side plunged to a dizzying drop into the hissing sea far below. The keening wind sang through the still forests and moaned past the ancient stones.
A waning moon cast a pale, silver glow over the ocean and surrounding seascape. Part of the castle was actually built into the side of the time-old rock face with a narrow trail leading from the shore, up the side of the cliff to one of the castle's two main entrances. The land had a mysterious beauty about it.
Harsh cawing echoed off the rock wall as several crows and ravens settled into the pines, having been disturbed by something. Within the castle, in the ancient throne room several creatures sat listening to the commotion outside.
Vielfrass the Ruthless sat on the throne.
The wolverine Warlord turned his cold, dark, piercing eyes to his two sons, Arthmael and Einar; motioning for them to check it out. After they had departed, taking several ermine and fox guards with them, he turned back to stare at a female wolverine adorned in deep purple, gold and black silks who was seated on a smaller throne next to his and inquired. "What was Deathtalon's report?"
Queen Saorlaith gazed demurely out the window at the white crested waves coming into the shore, replying with disinterest "Our raven captain says that the squirrel and otter tribes are being driven further east and are no longer on our lands... he claims they will be of no more concern to us."
Sverre, their daughter stepped forward adding "Several of their leaders have been captured and are being held in our prison cells."
Vielfrass glanced at her, "Under Einar's command?"
Straightening her shoulders Sverre shook her head "Under mine!"
The Warlord gave a snort of approving laughter "Very good. It's always best to have captives of our enemies... Rebel leaders to make examples of in front of their armies to instill fear... I always knew you had the brain's of a war commander!"
Saorlaith cast a mocking look at her husband "Wasn't it you who only a couple days ago said that females should stay out of all things pertaining to battle?"
Vielfrass scoffed "All other species of females... wolverines are born and bred for blood!"
Rolling her eyes the queen turned back to her view outside.
"And what of our old adversary?" Vielfrass pressed, expression darkening "What have become of the wolves and their- ?"
Einar and Arthmael re-entered the chamber, a white wolf bound between them.
"Look who we found slinking around outside!" Arthmael snarled, pushing the prisoner forward.
"What do ya' want done with 'im?" Einar growled.
Vielfrass leaned forward, a barbaric light entering his eyes "Well, well, well... Nazar's mighty Seer. Tell me wolf, what has become of your Chieftain? Is he still hiding out in caves and cowering like the dog that he is!"
Izzan ignored the King's harsh, mocking tone and continued to stare at the floor stones as Vielfrass continued, "Why are you so far from your pack of nursemaids? Have you came to spy and report back to Nazar?"
The wolf retained his silence.
"Why were you sneaking around my castle, speak!"
"Nazar has no need of a spy... least of all me." Izzan shot irately at the wolverine's callous manner.
Vielfrass was surprised by the smaller creature's boldness, he stood and approached the white wolf.
"My skills are no longer appreciated among the clan... I have been banished from Nazar's presence." Izzan stated bitterly, "So I have come to offer my services to the true ruler of Itaris."
Snorting, the wolverine replied "I have no need of seers and visions, your services are therefore of no use to me... "
"Fortune telling and prophesying are not the only services I have to offer."
Vielfrass chuckled "You have a quick tongue wolf but I assure you, you have nothing I want... Tell me, what if I were to slay you?"
Looking up into the ruthless King's eyes, Izzan said "I would sorrow for the loss of valuable information, which I alone bear."
Vielfrass cursed but then broke into hoarse laughter "Well thought out, Seer. Your life, for vital information.... A fair trade I suppose but mind, if I don't esteem what you have to say useful I will kill you here and feed your flesh to my armies."
Unfazed Izzan replied "I would expect no less but I assure you what I have to say will be deemed worth your time."
"I'm listening, wolf." The Warlord stated, mild amusement in his voice.
"Nazar and his wolves have gone south."
Uallach, another of Vielfrass' sons interjected, brow furrowed in consternation "South? Why south? Your Chieftain has only ever sought to reclaim his lost throne... what would draw him from that objective?"
"A prophecy." Izzan stated, "A prophecy he believes, could end your rule."
"And what prophecy would that be?" Vielfrass glowered
"Nazar has gone to find a sword."
"A sword?" Einar sneered incredulously
"A sword; fabled to have been made and wielded by mighty warriors of long ago... it has been prophesied to bring victory to he who wields it!"
Uallach scoffed "What is this swill?!"
"I bring these words as warning, believe what you will but you wished to know the whereabouts of Nazar and I have told you." Izzan replied simply
"He's lying!" Arthmael glowered, "The cur is just making up a bunch of mumbo jumbo to try and save his pathetic hide!"
Vielfrass leaned forward "Why should I trust you, Izzan?"
"For one I value my life! As I've stated my skills are no longer appreciated by my own clan and now I can see that there is truly only one ruler worth following... I wish to serve the one I know shall be victorious in the end."
"How do you know my father will be victorious?" Sverre demanded, not doubting the truth of the statement but trying to discover if the wolf had an alternative motive behind his words.
Izzan didn't even flinch "I have seen it and I know how to bring it about."
"How?" The Warlord snarled, coming to stand over the soothsayer.
The white wolf continued "Send me with one of your sons to retrieve this legendary weapon and- "
Vielfrass laughed "What, so you can escape to rejoin your clan?! I don't think so Izzan!"
"Send three of your sons if it would make you feel better," Izzan shrugged impassively "But I- "
"I do not doubt that any one of my sons could handle you quite easily but you are a sly one wolf!" Vielfrass cut in angrily. "I do not fear prophecies and need no mystical swords to destroy my enemies! I am Vielfrass! Lord and King of all of the north! My enemies tremble at the very mention of my name and have seen their leaders torn apart by my bare paws! None are left who dare to defy me!"
"Except for a certain clan of wolves who are traveling south... "
With a snarl of indecision the Warlord paced back and forth while Izzan stood calmly beside Einar. "If you don't fear the prophecies then why did you have Nazar's wife and daughter murdered after Nazar's Seer made the prophecy of a maid of warrior's blood slaying a Ruthless King?"
The Warlord laughed coldly "A maid indeed! It was my wife who ordered Ashtera and Arrawn's death... "
"I have seen what can happen to Warlord's foolish enough not to heed the prophecies." Saorlaith stated darkly "My own uncle was killed because of his foolish pride and disregard for such words!"
The Queen turned her eyes to the white wolf "Tell me Izzan, what would you want in return if I sent my sons with you to retrieve this weapon?"
Izzan bowed respectfully to her as he replied "Only to be allowed to serve you in peace."
"If you do this thing and return with the sword you will be well rewarded," her eyes darkened "But if you try to betray us I give my sons permission to kill you immediately and without warning! Do you understand, Izzan?"
Vielfrass snorted in agitation "Arthmael, Einar and Uallach. You shall take a hundred each and retrieve this sword... once you have it you will bring it straight to me." He glared at the soothsayer, "I will show you how much I fear prophecies. Once I have the sword I will use it to behead Nazar and his whelp right here in this room before I destroy the weapon!"
"Why do I have to go on a ridiculous quest?" Uallach complained "Send Boath instead! He's always trying to prove himself to you."
Sverre snickered "Afraid, Uallach?"
Uallach scowled "Of course not! But I don't want to be sent on a wild goose chase for some stupid sword... who knows how far off this imaginary weapon is supposed to be.... If you think you're so smart Sverre then feel free to go in my stead!"
Sverre smiled insolently at him before turning to her father "Yes father, send me instead of Uallach. The poor beast might bruise his royal feet if he's made to walk too far."
Vielfrass nodded "So be it Sverre, you will go with them... "
Sverre ignored her brother's simmering glare as she asked "When do we leave?"
Lighting a small candle Kya related to her friend her mysterious dream, word for word. After she was done she starred anxiously at Rosabel who held up the parchment she had written it all down on, examining the page closely. Both maids sat, silently pondering the strange message.
Kya had already discovered Grinj's disappearance and the missing sword, she now understood the first couple lines.
Rosabel's expression was grave as she remarked "So Martin want's you to retrieve the sword."
"Me?!" Kya whispered in surprise
The squirrelmaid cast a sideways glance at her friend "Well, you are the one the message was directed at; Maid of warriors blood and Blue fletched arrow, who else uses blue kingfisher feathers to fletch their arrows?"
Kya studied the lines again "But what about the others... It mentions seven?"
Rosabel yawned, setting down the parchment and rubbing her tired eyes "I haven't the foggiest idea. I'm too tired to think properly right now and frankly it's too early for this kind of thing, we should get some sleep and try again when it's light!"
The ottermaid snorted in agitation, going to the window. Her expression was full of frustration. "But if that's true and Martin really is sending me after the sword then I don't have much time! I have to leave immediately!" already she could see a pale gray light stating to creep across the sky.
Rosabel sighed with dismay "And I suppose I'm the unfortunate soul who gets to tell your parents about this, right?"
"I don't think so." Kya reassured her.
Feeling somewhat relieved the squirrelmaid continued "Well then, we need to get you ready and study this closely, line by line."
Kya grabbed Rosabel's red scarf and the parchment "Then we'll have to do it on the way because it says for us to leave before the lark wakes!"
Rosabel glared at her, thinking she must have misheard. "What do you mean by we?'"
Carefully folding the parchment Kya commented ironically "I'm surprised at you Rose, so clever at seeing my role in this but failing to notice your own."
The squirrelmaid's face blanched "My own?! But it doesn't mention m- "
"Think about it," Kya said calmly "Flowering bell who can foretell the symbols that feathers make... What do you use to write with?"
"A quill pen but that doesn't- " suddenly Rosabel fell quite, realization hitting her like a lightning bolt.
"A rose is a flower. Flowering bell is just a play on words in your name. You are the flowering bell who can foretell the symbols that feathers make; which is really words written by a quill pen!"
Fear swept through the squirrel and she leapt up crying "But I can't go on a quest! I have responsibilities; being Official Abbey Recorder I can't just get up and walk away! Who would take my place?!"
The ottermaid tried to sympathize "We can't question Martin's wisdom, Rose. He must have a reason for wanting you to go."
"We can't just leave without informing anyone! My parents would kill me and I'm not even going to think about what your parents would do!"
"I'm afraid we'll have to." Kya replied somberly "We can't waste anymore time, we have to leave now!" she paused adding "It says not to worry about those we have to leave behind... though fear may hold you back, journey on."
Biting her lip Rosabel sighed and grabbed a small paper "Ok, but not before I write a quick note."
Kya set Rosabel's scarf and her writing satchel on the desk, sliding Martin's poem into the satchel before running to fetch her own things.
Upon returning to the room a few minutes later Rosabel had changed into a warmer outfit and had gathered up a couple extra pairs of clothes. Kya stuffed them into one of the travel sacks she had grabbed and handed it to her friend. The otter had brought two more sacks of food and was already wearing her gray cloak and had the quiver of arrows and her bow over one shoulder.
Slipping the writing satchel over her shoulder and wrapped her red scarf about her neck Rosabel set the note on her pillow before the two maids slipped quietly from the Abbey.
Chapter 6: Emergence Of The Wolves
Several small fires were lit and shelters erected as the wolves set up camp in preparation for the advent of night which was quickly sweeping over the north coasts.
The only sounds that could be heard were creaking pines, crackling fires and several hushed murmurs as twilight faded away.
Prophet sat a safe distance from the others, watching his leader warily from behind the light of his own fire. Nazar was in a foul mood and he snapped angrily at anyone who had come near him; ever since Izzan had revealed his son's treachery and he had confirmed seeing Silverfang with Nightlance... Prophet sighed in despair, Nazar was just as angry with him as with Izzan and nothing the Seer could think of to say would bring comfort to the warlord.
It may not have helped matters much that right after Izzan's banishment Prophet had tried to plead the younger soothsayer's case and get Nazar to repeal his command against him...
The old wolf was surprised when he heard Nazar call to him from across the clearing.
Rising cautiously the aged Seer took up his staff and made his way toward his chieftain's tent.
Nazar watched the grizzled creature with cold eyes, patiently waiting for his old Seer to seat himself in front of him before he asked "How far until we reach this Abbey?"
It was the first question the warlord had posed to his soothsayer in over three days. Prophet looked off into the woods in the direction they had been traveling and voiced his thoughts aloud "I've never actually been this far south, noble Lord but Iz- " he cut himself off quickly, realizing he had almost mentioned Izzan's name. Only a couple days had gone by to temper his leader's anger and Prophet didn't know if the mere mention of Izzan would enrage his captain so he decided to refrain, thinking it may be wiser to-
"Do not be afraid to speak your mind in my presence, Prophet." Nazar stated tiredly "I am willing to listen."
Prophet studied his leader closely in the flickering light, finally deciding that his words were sincere he continued carefully "Only Izzan has been this far south... we may still have several full days of travel ahead of us."
Nazar nodded, starring off absently into the darkening forests. Prophet realized that his eyes were red rimmed from lack of sleep and deep stress. "My son isn't a traitor. He hasn't abandoned his clan!" Nazar growled darkly "Izzan misinterpreted what he saw; my son has gone after Nightlance... nothing more."
The white Seer, unable to see his chieftain like this drew a deep breath and said softly "Nazar, I have served your family faithfully all of my life...Your Grandfather, your father and now you. My Lord, I am sorry about your son. It was not my intention to create a rift between you,- I was simply stating what I saw."
The massive gray wolf turned his amber eyes on the Seer, the coldness melting from his expression as he lowered his head and released a heavy sigh "I know, and it was wrong to treat you so callously. I just- "
"You don't have to apologize sire," Prophet intervened "I understand."
Nazar looked at him gratefully. "All the same I am sorry for my actions... they were unjust. I don't know what I would do without you, Seer."
Prophet rose slowly and placed a fatherly paw on his chieftain's broad shoulder. "Fear not, Lord. We will find you son."
Crashing through brush and thickets of dead and tangled branches Grinj struggled doggedly onwards. Gasping for oxygen the gray rat stumbled against a birch tree and paused to catch his breath, he was panting heavily from hours of running and the air he was receiving was coming in sharp, icy bursts that burned his throat and lungs. A frightened sob escaped from his throat as he glanced back through the trees, hoping fervently that his adversaries had not noticed him in the dim light and taken up pursuit.
So far he could see no sings of being followed but...
Grinj looked down at the sword of Martin the Warrior tied to his belt and moaned.
Why? Why were they coming after him? He had done his master's biding- he had the sword!
Had he somehow missed something? Was he overdue?! Grinj thought hard. By his calculations he still had time... nearly a week, so- why? Why were they here.... What could they possibly want?
Suddenly the rat stiffened. The Tapestry! That must be it!!! His master knew! He knew about Grinj's incompetence in completing his orders! Stupid! Why hadn't he just obeyed?! Why hadn't he learned his lesson? The master knew! He always found out! Those cold eyes missed nothing!
It was that mouse; the Warrior on the Tapestry... his eyes had seared Grinj just as deeply, almost as if he had understood completely what he had been planning... But- that was impossible... it was just an image so why couldn't he just bring himself to do it...
Sliding down to sit against the rough bark, the rat tore off the belt and sword; dropping them into the snow he looked away in disgust, wishing this task had been entrusted to someone else.
He couldn't go back now, the wolves were apparently out to kill him because of his disobedience and he couldn't return to the Abbey- they would seek his life as well because of his despicable crime. Heaving a sigh of despair Grinj forced back the bitter thoughts, where would he go?
Slowly Grinj looked back at the sword, anger suddenly rushing through him... it was all because of this weapon, this so called legendary sword that his life had been ruined!
Gripping the hilt Grinj glared at the blade, so much grief over a stupid sword!
Fuming the gray rat leapt to his feet and raised the silver blade up to swing angrily at the trunk of the tree; a red glint reflected off the metal and suddenly he stopped as an idea struck him. Lowered the weapon he looked at it closely in the early morning light.
Why return to the north? This was a true warrior's weapon, any warlord or clan chieftain would be proud to wield! It was here in his paws... why, any vermin would rally under a leader with such a sword... If he could gain an army big enough... The more Grinj thought about it the more he liked the idea. He could form a clan of his own, an army that could protect him from...
A new determination came over the rat and picking up the scabbard and belt he continued deeper into Mossflower Woods with a new objective in mind.
Nimbalo wandered casually along the ramparts as he had done every morning, taking in the majesty and beauty of Redwall Abbey in the early light. The little harvest mouse was bundled up warm for the brisk temperature as he ambled along, pausing now and again to breath deeply of the crisp dawn air. Deyna usually joined him but his friend was out searching for his daughter... Nimbalo shrugged, he would help look too, but... at a more leisurely pace.
The sky to the east was washed in a brilliant red that was slowly fading to a bright, cottony pink. The first sunrays were breaking over the treetops and Nimbalo couldn't help holding his breath at the sight, it always filled him with wonder and delight to watch the sunrise. He watched for a moment as the rosy hues touched the ancient sandstone walls, making them come alive with a soft glow. The harvest mouse cocked his head, his ears picking up the song of a waking robin and the gentle coo of mourning doves and despite the cold he definitely felt a subtle change in the air. He noticed a rowan tree at the north corner that was newly crowned in delicate buds and he skipped with excitement. Spring had finally decided to grace Mossflower with her presence!
Whistling happily to himself Nimbalo continued around to the west battlements where his gaze wandered over the flatlands and down to the ditch that ran in front of the path right outside the Main Gates. This was the spot where he had once sighted Ruggan Bor of the Juska, the golden fox that- Nimbalo stopped. He blinked, squinting out into the dense, dimly lit foilage and trees just the other side of the ditch.
Two creatures were standing there, one of them caught sight of the mouse and cupping paws around his mouth he called out to the lone figure on the wall top.
Eyes widening Nimbalo rushed for the abbey.
"Mom, have you seen Kya this morning?" Tide entered the kitchens just as the sun was rising over the eastern woods.
Rivertam shook her head, pulling new bread from the oven and setting the pans on the counter before turned back to her son. "No, I haven't. I thought your father was going to talk to her this morn- "
"That's just it, dad can't find her." Tide emphasized
Wiping flour from her paws Filorn took over taking the golden loaves from their pans, "Have you checked Rasabel's room?" his grandmother offered.
"Rosabel's gone too." he informed his mother and grandmother "I've checked everywhere but - "
Filorn chuckled at her grandson's concern "They're probably out in the woods; Kya most likely dragged Rosabel out at the crack of dawn to try and show off her archery skills and talk. You know how those two are!"
Rivertam nodded "Your grandmother's right, she's probably dragged Rosabel out before everyone woke up this morning to get in some extra practice and talk about girl things."
Tide bit his lip trying to press back the odd feeling of panic that had been rising in him since he'd discovered his sisters absence "You're probably right... I guess I'll get Percy and see if we can find them - "
"Let them be a little while," Filorn smiled gently "Kya was upset last night and will want to talk it out with her best friend... they'll be back shortly, you'll see."
Mhera arrived looking surprised "Well, you certainly are a bunch of early birds! What's going on?"
Filorn chuckled "Early birds indeed! I slept in an hour so I'm afraid your breakfast will be a little late this morning but- "
"You need your sleep mama." Mhera gently chided
Filorn brushed past her "Nonsense! If I slept as much as you kids suggested I would never get up! You would have to make your own breakfast!"
"Where's Friar Broggle and Boorab?" The Abbess inquired.
"Broggle is down sampling a few drinks to go with this evening's menu and Boorab, as the typical hare that he is was not going to miss out on such an opportunity." Rivertam commented dryly, adding "Oh, and we need to be quite because Friar Bob is still sleeping in the back." She indicated with a nod of her head toward the back of the kitchen's where several flour sacks were heaped and stacked haphazardly. Friar Bob lay snoring gently in the warmth of the nearby ovens.
Mhera smiled but noted Tide's anxious look and asked "So, what is going on?"
"Kya's missing. Again." Rivertam stated.
"Isn't she usually out in the woods?" the Abbess mussed aloud, "That would be my guess."
Filorn nodded "That's what we were just thinking, Tide was debating if he should go find them but I suggested he wait."
Mhera was curious about her nephew's odd expression and was about to inquire further when; panting, Nimbalo stumbled into Great Hall and cried “Mhera come quick! There’s two beasts standing on the flatlands just the other side of the ditch, demanding to speak with you. Two of the biggest foxes I’ve ever seen!”
Chapter 7: When Darkness Comes Knocking
Redwall Abbey's twin bells boomed out their warning call. The third tolls' echo faded and was replaced by hushed murmuring and the anxious whispers of the creatures who had gathered on the battlements. Peering down cautiously they starred at the odd creatures who were now positioned on the path outside their gates. Several had brought kitchen knives, window poles and several other makeshift weapons incase of trouble.
Sister Alkanet took it upon herself to be the spokes beast in Mhera's absence. She stepped forward and in her prim, no nonsense voice called down to the two miscreants on the path "What do you want, vermin? Speak now or be gone!"
The smaller of the two apparent foxes, the gray furred one came forward and bellowed “You there! Up on the wall, open this gate immediately or else we’ll- ooafff!”
Jaden elbowed the young wolf sharply in the stomach, growling a warning “Mind your manners, these creatures aren’t daft nor are they weak as has been said of them. Stand up and show a little respect!”
He pushed past Silverfang and bowed slightly to the creatures of the abbey. “Forgive my young friend, he means no harm. We’ve had a long journey and I’m afraid it has tried both of our patience… deeply.” Silverfang looked down under the large wolf’s stare. “I humbly request an audience with your Abbot, it’s a matter of urgency!”
Before Deyna could intervene, Mhera, who had just arrived came forward and indicated for everyone else to step back “I am Abbess Mhera, what is it that you wish to say?”
“We came to warn you that your Abbey is in danger!”
Hushed murmurs again began circulating among the creatures on the wall top, Mhera raised her paws “Friends please, let’s remain calm and listen to what these two have to say.” After silence fell the abbess called down to the two wolves “Continue please, we’re listening.”
Jaden raised his voice “You’ve probably never seen a wolf until now, we’ve traveled all the way from the far north to tell you that our clan is coming… they think you have something and will kill to get it.”
Alkanet was puzzled and her voice grew shrill with disbelief "I've never heard of such a thing! Vermin coming to our Abbey to warn us?! That's ridiculous! Truly if you have deserted your clan to bring us this news you will now be viewed as traitors... are you meaning to say that you've risked your lives and everything to warn us? Why? Why go through all the trouble? What possible reason could you have?"
Jaden's reply took her off guard, "I came to repay a life debt to your Abbey."
This caused even more bewilderment as Mhere looked at Hoben who shrugged. "Pray tell sir, how that is possible being as non of our Abbeybeasts have ever seen you before?"
The black wolf lowered his head "The life debt I came to repay is not mine; I was practically raised by my grandsire who told me stories of your Abbey and how one of your sisters saved his life."
Again Mhere looked to Hoben who seemed to be dawning some recognition. "I think I may remember... though it was more seasons ago than I care to recount."
The young abbess tried to mask her surprise "You mean one of our sisters did save the life of a wolf?"
Hoben nodded, although somewhat hesitantly "I was very young that summer and I don't know if it's the same creature he's referring to but Sister Sloey cared for a large, what we thought was a wounded fox outside the Abbey... The creature had terrible wounds covering his body and no one believed he would make it... He lay at death's gate for nearly the full summer but somehow recovered that fall."
Mhera was astonished "Sister Sloey treated a wolf?! Did he ever speak or tell anyone his name?"
"I heard that his name was Vorterg or something like that... The first time I heard him speak though was the day he left our Abbey, he thanked Sloey and Cregga for-"
"Cregga was there?" Mhere gasped in shock.
"Yes, but Cregga was angry about it and told Sloey that if she was to tend him she had to do so outside the walls and take Skipper and Arven with her each time. Cregga was of the opinion that he should be left but Sloey, being soft hearted and a healer couldn't leave him to a slow and painful death."
Jaden cut in "My grandsire Vortigern vowed that if ever he could return the life dept that he would. He has since travelled the ways of the earth but I am here to keep that promise!"
Lieutenant Hawkthorn who had heard everything leaned over to Deyna "I suppose we should bring the buckoes in for questioning." he said quietly.
Deyna nodded in agreement.
Mhere was puzzled "Why bring them in for questioning? They don't seem to be holding anything back."
"Be that as it may Mother Abbess," Lieutenant Hawkthorn stated "It may be best to speak to the chaps in private, what we need is details."
"We need to know how many we'll be up against, how far behind they are and most importantly what it is they're after... It would make no sense frightening your good creatures anymore with something that won't concern them if we can keep it that way."
"What are they talking about up there? Has the Abbess stopped for tea?" Silverfang scowled darkly, swishing his tail in annoyance.
Jaden continued starring up at the creatures on the wall top, "They're discussing whether we should be brought in for questioning."
The young wolf starred at Jaden questioningly "How do you know that?"
The larger wolf smiled faintly "Because I can hear them, that's how."
Silverfang expressed shock "You can hear them from that distance? You must have ears like a blooming owl!"
"I suppose." Jaden went silent for a moment, listening intently. His attention seemed to have been drawn away from the wall and focused on something behind them, back in the foliage. Suddenly an arrow whistled past, deeply grazing the black wolf's lower shoulder. Jaden yelped, quickly dropping to the ground; thinking fast he grabbed his young traveling companion and pulled him down behind him.
No sooner had he done so than a second shaft struck the wood of the gate where Silverfang's head had been.
Gritting his teeth and clamping a paw over the tear Jaden growled "I doubt that's the clan's welcome back committee. They don't waste any time do they?"
"What do we do now?!?" Silverfang cried.
"What the- ! The villains are firing on each other!" Hawkthorn cried.
Deyna was already bounding down the stairs for the main gate "Aye and we'll lose our best chance of defense if those two are killed! Help me Hawk before they're slain!"
Grabbing a pan one of the sister's who had brought it up as a weapon Hawkthorn dashed to the otterwarrior's aid.
Deyna opened the gates a fraction, ducking immediately as another arrow flew by. Crouching low he grabbed hold of the wounded wolf and dragged him inside with the help of Silverfang.
Hawkthorn swiftly closed the door as an arrow pinged off the pan he was holding as a shield. "That was close!"
Jaden sat on the lower step leading up to the battlements and inspected the nasty gash. He chuckled dryly, wincing at the wound that was bleeding far more than it should have been. "Well, Ulric's aim is improving."
Deyna wasn't a healer but by the amount of blood seeping from the wolf's wound he knew something was wrong and he glanced up at the Lieutenant "Hawkthorn, see to it that the gates are all locked and my sister gets everyone down off those walls! I don't want anyone else getting shot."
The Lieutenant saluted smartly and strode off to carry out the orders.
The otterwarrior turned to Nimbalo who had followed his friend down from the battlements "Nimbalo, help me get these two into the gatehouse." He then caught sight of Percy and Tide, just arriving with Zinzan and Zorando, they were trying to help Mhera keep back the curious crowd that was beginning to press around. "Mhera, would you join us in the Gatehouse? Zorando, have sister Floburt or Brother Egburt report to us immediately, please!" he looked up at his son "Any sign of Kya or Rosabel?"
Tide shook his head "None, and Grinj is missing as well!"
Deyna gaped at his son in dismay "The rat what?!"
Jaden drew a sharp breath as he stood "Grinj the rat?" His voice was full of alarm.
Tide drew his eyebrows together in confusion "Do you know him?"
"Who doesn't know him?" Silverfang spat "Swindling thief will steal you blind! Fortunately he's not very good at what he does."
Nimbalo was furious "Zinzan, I put you in charge of keeping an eye on him last night!"
The young mouse shrank back, lowering his head in shame "I know father, and I'm going to find hi- "
"He's probably long gone by now," Nimbalo snapped "Just hope that nothing was stolen!"
"We all make mistakes, mate" Deyna whispered to his friend "There's nothing you can do now... Zinzan, have you seen Colonial Sandwudd to- ?"
Just then the Colonial who'd been snoozing in the Gatehouse emerged and his manacled eye fell on the two wolves. The old hare's eyes widened and he grabbed up his pace stick. "Foxes! Look out!"
Deyna tried to reassure him but his voice was drowned out by the Colonial's battle cry "Death ta' the vermin! Chaaaaaarge!" Sandwudd rushed forward, shouting and swinging the pace stick wildly. The light of battle in his eyes.
Silverfang cocked a quizzical eye, wondering if he should arm himself but rememberig that Jaden had his sword "Is he serious?"
"Don't do anything stupid," The black wolf hissed.
"But he's going to attack us?"
"Let the otter deal with this and just, actually... just stay out of it altogether..."
Sandwudd's forward charge was halted as Deyna stepped in font of the two wolves and Lieutenant Hawkthorn appeared from behind, catching the Colonial 's pace stick mid-strike. The old veteran's whiskers and ears went stiff with indignation "What the -?! Release my weapon this instant Lieutenant!"
Hawkthorn shook his head apologetically "Sorry sah, but I can't allow that!"
The old hare's face darkened with furry and he blustered in outrage "What is the meaning of this Hawkthorn! Insubordination? Mutiny! I'll have you reported for this, Lieutenant, I'll... I'll- !"
"Take that for you Colonial." Hawkthorn finished, relieving his superior of the dangerously swinging object.
Incensed beyond comprehension the old hare was fuming. "What in blue blazes is going on here?!"
Deyna stepped forward "I apologize Colonial but we've brought these two in for questioning and- "
Hawkthorn cut in, nodding in agreement "Sorry old renegade, but we can't have you slayin' these two... they have vital information and we need them alive!"
Silverfang scoffed "Alive? What's the old, grandpa rabbit going to do?! Beat us to death with a stick?"
Sandwudd's manacle slipped out of place as he blustered "Rabbit?!? Rab-! I'm no rabbit you flea infested, mange-furred whelp of a mongrel! I'm a HARE!!!"
The young wolf growled angrily "Mongrel?! Who are you calling a mongrel, fluffy bunny? You're looking at a full blooded wolf, born and bred in the north... descendants of the Great Vulpuz who- !"
"BUNNY?!?" The Colonial looked on the verge of self combustion.
Jaden rolled his eyes and tweaked the young wolf's ear non too gently as he pulled him away, "That was not so courteous my young friend... this is precisely why I told you to stay out of it!"
Deyna and Hawkthorn had to constrain the old veteran before he could leap upon the young wolf.
"Hare's are proud and perilous creatures who will fight to the death."
Silverfang massaged his sore ear scowling "It's not my fault he's so touchy!"
"Just apologize." The black wolf growled.
Mhera came in between them "Alright enough! Deyna, please take these two into the Gatehouse so we can get to the bottom of this! Sister Floburt is already there to treat this creature's wound and we have much to discuss. Colonial Sandwudd, you may join us if you'd like to find out what is going on but there will be no more of this childish bickering and name-calling. Is that understood?" She glared at Silverfang and the Colonial who remained silent. After a moment she nodded approvingly "Good. Now let's hear these two out!"
Jaden gritted his teeth as Sister Floburt began suturing his shoulder wound. He continued haltingly "I thought they were three to four days behind us but due to an incident that caused a slight delay it now appears they are much closer than I thought... "
Silverfang lowered his gaze from Jaden's cold stare.
Floburt cut in "I noticed you were limping sir. Why is your footpaw bandaged?"
Jaden snorted "My young travelling companion thinks he is a blade master but due to that little incident I jut referred too I now have to carry his weapon... for both of our safety."
"How many wolves do you think we'll be facing?" Deyna inquired levelly, bringing them back to the subject and noting the mounting concern in Mhera's eyes.
"There are nearly a hundred and eighty strong... they- " He paused as the sister finished tying off the stitch. "They're searching for a sword."
Tide's eyes widened and Mhera glanced at her brother. "A sword?" She inquired hesitantly.
"Yes," he sighed "Our home was taken and our clan nearly annihilated by Vielfrass the Ruthless, a savage Warlord who has taken over much of the north. Vielfrass butchered many and killed off most of the Castles' Heirs... Nazar and Silverfang" He indicated his traveling companion " Are the last surviving Heirs..... The Wolves of Itaris were the protectors of the north and last thing standing in the way of Vielfrass' complete conquest... Our seer prophesied that this sword, the one from your Abbey was the only weapon that could defeat him." Jaden looked at Deyna seriously "Wolves are not vile, murdering creatures. Our leader, Nazar is honorable and only seeks to do what is best for his clan and their survival."
"But he'll kill innocents to accomplish this." Nimbalo stated pointedly.
Shame entered the black wolf's blue eyes "Yes but they weren't always like this... you must understand, survival and desperation have been our driving purpose over the last generation. Sometimes we have used the wrong means to accomplish something good."
"Perhaps we could speak with your leader?" Mhera suggested "If the wolves are really what you say they are than maybe we don't have to fight... maybe we can negotiate and figure out some way to help them out?"
Jaden's countenance darkened as he gazed out the Gatehouse window "I'm afraid it's a little more complicated than that... you see I- "
They were interrupted as somebeast pounded on the door "Deyna! Abbess Mhera! Martin the Warrior's sword is gone!"
'Book Two: Maid's Quest'