Feel free to help me with molespeech, harespeech, vermin accents, etc. This is my first fan fiction.
I believe I'll dedicate this to my past and present pet rats, Curiosity, Cream, Butterscotch, and Pepper (luv ya, my crazies!), to Brian Jaques, for writing such awesome books, and to users SalemtheCruel and ScottyBlue, for being very welcoming and friendly to me (and for having amazing fan fiction).
Lord Russano the Wise of Salamandastron was surrounded by more than twoscore Dibbuns. It was their bedtime and they wanted the kind Badger Lord to tell them a story. The mob was mainly composed of leverets, but it also included his young daughter Melanius and some visiting hedgehog babes.
Russano sighed, and said exasperatedly, "Couldn't you get somebeast else to tell you a story for once? I've got things to attend to!"
Melanius knew that her father couldn't resist her when she begged. Pleading accordingly, in babytalk of course, she said,"Pweeze, Faver? Pweeze tell us a a story?"
Sighing again, Russano relented, "All right, but what what tale should I tell you?"
His wife, Lady Rosalaun, came to his rescue. She had been listening outside the door to her husband's inevitable demise and was chuckling softly to herself as she came in. "Into your beds, you rogues! You're worse than searats!" she said, shooing them off. "How about you tell them of Noonvale and the badger Dexna?" Rosalaun added as she made sure they were all tucked in.
"But they're so young! And it's such a long story!" Russano exclaimed, shocked.
"Then use several evenings," she said dismissively, "and they are old enough to hear it. It will do them good, especially our Melanius. Besides, you're a good storyteller." She left Russano to begin his tale...
Book 1: Evil Rises and Quests Begin
The sun was setting as the orphan triplets Sunpaw, Moonpaw, and Starpaw made camp in the shade of a tree. All three were Long Patrol Gallopers, specially selected for this mission by the Badger Lord of Salamandastron Urthpaw, son of Urthwyte the Mighty. Moonpaw sat down and fell a into half-asleep state, remembering how he and his siblings came to be sent on this mission. Urthpaw was a rather old badger, and he had not had a child, nor even seen another badger, since his father had gone to the gates of Dark Forest many seasons ago, and he had been worrying about who would be his successor. One day, he had summoned Moonpaw and his sisters to his forge room, and had said, "Now listen, the three of you. I had a dream last night and I am about to send you on a very perilous mission. First of all, tell me if you are up to it."
Three confident replies came from the hares:
"We're all jolly well up to it, sah!"
"I'm bloomin' well agreein' with Sunpaw, m'lud!"
"Me too, we'll just need to bring a whole blinkin' lot o' tucker t'feed us all, wot! Sah!"
Urthpaw continued, "Very well then, I suppose you should hear what happened in my dream. It was like this: when I fell asleep last night, I was visited by many past Lords of this mountain, my father among them. The one known as Lord Brocktree stepped forward and said:
" Your successor lies northward,
Send three to seek her out.
She bears the mark of the sun on her forehead,
Send three galloping scouts.
Possessed by the Bloodwrath, she will be,
They will know when they find
The Badger Lady to be!"
Then they faded away. I have copied the verse three times, one for each of you. See to your weapons. I'll have the cooks prepare you haversacks of food. Set off as soon as you can."
Moonpaw's reverie was cut short as Sunpaw shook him, saying, "If you're not in the mood for vittles, I'll eat your bally supper for you, wot wot!"
"What!? Don't you dare touch my portion, wot!" said an indignant Moonpaw, running towards the fire to protect his food from his hungry siblings.
Since Lord Urthpaw had sent them off , they had been travelling for several seasons, and each had near lost their lives at least once; there had been fords with pike, battles with vermin, dangerous encounters with toads and snakes... But there had also been goodbeasts helped, friends made, and most important of all to the triplets, food eaten. On that note, Starpaw was on supper duty this night, and she was by far the best cook out of the three siblings. There was vegetable soup and an oversized mushroom pastie.
As they sat down to eat, Starpaw calmly and casually pointed out something she had noticed, "We're bally well being watched, y'know, wot. I think some blinkin' rats are after our vittles. Now stay calm, there's only two or three of the blighters, wot wot. The bloomin' thieves are hiding in the bushes up there a piece. I'd keep our eyes out tonight, wot."
"Oh, I see them too, wot. Well, they're not allowed to eat our bally dinner," replied Sunpaw.
"Let's leave a little bit of tucker out, just as bait tonight, wot," Moonpaw suggested. The others agreed and they began scoffing down the pastie and the delicious steaming hot vegetable soup. They finished them in five minutes.
Behind the bushes Starpaw mentioned, Prendrid the ferret and his gang of six rats had not heard the conversation. They were bullies and thieves, stealing from honest travelers and killing them or taking them as slaves for a short while after. They had been drawn to this place by the smell of Starpaw's soup and now they were discussing what they were going to do with the hares when they captured them.
"We could roast those big rabbits over their own fire! Tee-hee! That'd be funny!"
"Oh, no. Why don't we take the one that can cook as a slave and make the other two fight each other to the death?"
Suddenly Prendrid cut off the argument, saying, "I'm the leader of this band and I chose what we do to those rabbits. If anybeast else wants to be leader, we can settle that here and now."
There were no answers because they had all learned to fear Prendrid for his fighting skills and none of them wanted to get killed.
"Good," he said, satisfied that there were no rebellions, "We will circle around them right now and close in. I'll do the talking, the rest of you, keep your idiotic mouths shut. They should be scared out of their skins. If they aren't, we attack and kill them if we have to. After all, we outnumber them more than two to one."
The rats circled around and started moving inwards. As they came out of cover, one of them muttered to his mate, "These rabbits look like good fighters. See, they carry swords!"
"Ah, shaddup. Do you want Prendrid to hear you?"
Sunpaw, Moonpaw, and Starpaw did not care that they were surrounded, all they did about it was have a quiet conversation.
"Star', y'got the bally number of blighters wrong, wot!" "Too bad. Now there's two rats apiece and a ferret. More fun for us, I always say!"
"Ah well. Everybeast ready for a blooming spot of swordfighting, wot wot?"
"'Course we are, wot! What do you take us for, leverets?"
"Ah well, here goes," said Moonpaw, "I think their leader is that ferret blighter. Here, why don't you do the talking, Sunpaw? It is your turn after all, wot wot."
The sun was also setting over Noonvale, an ancient settlement of goodbeasts in a forest not so far to the north of where the three hares were camping. It was situated in a quiet, secret glade in the Northeastern Forest. No foebeast has ever known the location of the valley and its inhabitants have always been peaceful, for there has never been any need for warriors. There were quaint little houses with gardens and thatch roofs, orchards full of apples, damsons, pears and more, and some of the best cellarbeasts and cooks in all the Northlands. There was also Council Lodge, a building built in the same style as the other houses, but much larger and used for feasts, meetings, and anything else where a lot of space was required. It was also the site of meals.
The chieftain was a sturdy old hedgehog known to all as Soreno. He was not the wisest chieftain Noonvale had ever known, but he ruled with compassion, good sense, and a ready wit. His wife, Tatila, often counseled him in his decisions, when she was not playing with their two children Paro and Sanna and the rest of the Noonvale Dibbuns (the term used for babes of all species).
This particular family lived with the young badger Dexna as well. Dexna had an unusual golden stripe on her forehead, instead of the white stripe badgers normally have. Soreno and Tatila had raised her from her Dibbun days after finding her on the side of a path, her parents killed by vermin. She was a quiet badgermaid, rather shy, who did not make friends lightly.
This evening, as Dexna was hurrying toward Council Lodge so that she wouldn't be late for her evening meal, she passed her good friend Lenai's family's house, as she did every evening. Dexna spotted Lenai emerging from her house. Lenai was a mousemaid, descended directly from the long ago healer Brome. Every generation of her family since then have trained a healer and as Lenai was an only child, she was inheriting the knowledge from her mother, Malia.
As Dexna veered over to walk with Lenai, they heard a voice calling them from behind "Hey! You going to leave your mate behind?"
"Starpetal, is that you?" Lenai called without turning her head.
"Who else would it be?" the voice muttered as its owner, Starpetal, caught up with them. Starpetal was an ottermaid of average height with piercing blue eyes and pretty, darkish brown fur. She often wore a loose light blue dress with a white length of cord around her waist and a short green shawl.
Together, Dexna, Lenai, and Starpetal formed an inseparable trio.
"I would have beaten you two to dinner if I hadn't been held up by by those annoying Dibbun twins Sholo and Kolo," Starpetal announced, then added, "I do hope they have hotroot soup!"
"You would do anything for a bowl of hotroot soup, Star'! I've never seen anybeast so obsessed with it since your uncle visited a season ago! Besides, you know the cooks always make hotroot soup for you annoying otters. Although they wouldn't if there wasn't an ottercook in the assistant cook's position."
"Dexna, so what if I like hotroot soup! You don't have to complain every time I mention it!" said Starpetal in mock indignitiy.
"Starpetal, please do your mole voice at supper tonight! Please!” asked Lenai in a pleading tone, “We haven’t heard it for so long..." She trailed off as they approached the Council Lodge.
"Okay, fine, Lenai. Oi'll be a moler tonoight!"
They passed though the doors, laughing aloud.
Far beyond the gates of Dark Forest, in the lands of sunny meadows and silent streams, a pretty mousemaid called Rose sat down against a towering oak, as another mouse, this one bearing a beautiful sword and known as Martin, paced in front of her.
"Laterose of Noonvale," he said firmly, using her full title, "you are not coming with me, for the final time."
"But I've never visited anyone in their dreams! And besides, it's my own home that's in danger! Don't I have the right to warn them?"
"Rose, you've never visited anybeast in their dreams before. Believe me, it's harder than it seems!"
"So you don't think I can do it, then."
"It's not that, Rose. I just want to protect you. When we left for Marshank, I made a promise to your mother that I would take far greater care of you than myself. That vow still stands."
"Martin, matey, just let her go with you!" said a new voice from behind the tree.
"Gonff!" exclaimed an indignant Martin, "What were you doing eavesdropping?!"
"You don't really want to know, do you?" He rolled his eyes. "I really think you should let Rose go. It's Noonvale, not Redwall. Her home, not your's. You only visited there."
"Okay, fine. I can't stand against both of you. Listen, Rose. This is what we're going to do."
Even farther north than Noonvale, just past the border of the Lands of Ice and Snow, was where Xenton's horde had made camp. They were leaving those cold, forbidding lands at last! That had been Xenton's dream for many years now. He was a tall, youngish ermine with ambition. In his ermine clan, all the names began with "x", except the white vixen healer and Seer, whose names always begin with "n", no matter the clan, and his name was no exception.
He had always wanted to lead his clan, and his chance had come at last when the old chief, Xalen, who had ruled wisely and with good sense, at least as well as a vermin can, had been killed in an unexpected blizzard one morning. Then, as per tradition, they had those who wanted to be chief would state their names, and, at dawn the next morning, participate in in a fight to the death with every one else who wanted to be chief. Well, Xenton had jumped on the chance, and he had done everything he could to fix the others weapons without their noticing.
As the fight began the next morning he had an obvious advantage, as the weapons of the other ermine kept on breaking. By mid-morning, Xenton had won the battle and the command of his diminished clan (there had been eleven, including him, who had wanted the title). He ruled by fear, and by noontide had already had his clan on the march toward the known camping grounds of another clan, the one whose names started with "j". He was going to ambush them, and add to his army. He eventually conquered the "i" and the "h" clans as well, until he had an army of four and a half score ermine.
His weapon of choice was a four pronged trident. His three paw-picked captains, all from his old clan, bore three pronged tridents, and the rest of the army used two pronged tridents. He had long ago decided that once he got out of the Lands of Ice and Snow he would recruit some ferrets and weasels who would form the lowest and most dispensable ranks of his horde. Then he would go out to conquer and enslave. Once he found a suitable area, why, all he'd have to do is watch his slaves build him a fortress! And, unknowingly, he was headed straight in the direction of Noonvale.
Prendrid was walking toward the hares when he heard one of them shouting out to him: "Who are you and what do you want, wot?"
Putting on his most menacing voice, he shouted back, "We want your vittles and you, rabbit!"
"Well, you can't have our tucker and especially not us. Oh, and y'got the blinkin' species wrong: we're hares, not rabbits, wot wot."
"You're surrounded and outnumbered, rabbit! Surrender!"
"Oh really? Well, actually, I'd noticed that, wot. Something that you didn't seem to have noticed is that were perilous Long Patrol hares, not rabbits. And the Long Patrol doesn't surrender to bullies! "
"That's it! Charge!"
"Nicely said, Sunpaw, wot wot. We don't take insults! Take two each!"
With a cry of "Eulaliaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa," they drew their sabres, their chosen weapons. The three siblings were all very perilous swordfighters, having been taught by Lord Urthpaw himself, who was very skilled with great sword known as Verminfate. They formed into a triangle back to back.
The rats closed in, wielding cutlasses and daggers. As one reached out with a long dagger to stab Moonpaw, he ducked, and swung his sabre. The rat wasn't fast enough, and his head fell to the ground. His mate came rushing up, bent on revenge. She managed to slash his arm before Sunpaw dispatched her with a quick thrust from her sabre.
Starpaw was faring well, having parried the blows from another rat's cutlass. This one seemed to be the most best fighter in the group. Quite suddenly, she ducked under his searching blade and stabbed at his sword paw. The rat was forced to drop his sword and retreat, seething and in a lot of pain.
Prendrid was dueling with Sunpaw now. He recognized her as the spokesbeast. The ferret was a rather experienced swordsbeast, but, as he soon found out, no match for Sunpaw. After blocking several of his futile attemps to get at her, her saber flicked out and she disarmed him with a quick twist, his sword clattering onto the grass.
He found himself lying on the ground with the hare's blade tickling his throat.
"Surrender or die, scum, wot!"
Prendrid's cowardly nature took over. "D-d-ddd-don't hurt me. Please!" he said desperately.
The three remaining rats had stopped fighting now. They looked in astonishment at their leader, then tried to run away, but stopped at the sound of Moonpaw's voice. "Don't move or this blade'll be at your throats!" It was obvious he meant it.
An idea formed in Sunpaw's mind, "Do we have any bally rope in our packs, Star'?"
"Hmmm... Yes, here it is! Good stout bloomin' rope it is, too, wot"
"Good. Have the bloomin' others come over here and drop their blinkin' weapons." She lined them up in a straight line and began to tie them together at their waists with the rope. Then, she bound their paws together behind their backs so they were attached tightly together in two ways.
Moonpaw had caught on, and he said threateningly, "Listen, vermin. If you are not jolly well out of sight by the time I count to five then you can bet you'll feel our bally blades, wot. And I never want to see you again. One, two-" He had no need to count further, as they were already out of sight, spurred on by their terror.
As the hares settled down after the excitement, Starpaw said, "If I know vermin, once they untangled themselves, they'll come back for revenge. I'll take first watch tonight."
Lenai was dreaming. Two figures were approaching her, a pretty mousemaid who looked so much like her she felt as if she were looking into a mirror, and a mouse with a glint in his eye that proclaimed him a born warrior, holding a magnificent sword. She recognized them almost instantaneously, from the painting in the scallop-shell locket that her mother sometimes wore. She was speechless with astonishment.
After a few moments, she managed to gasp disbelievingly, "Rose?! And Martin!"
"I thought you'd know us," Martin said, smiling. Then his face grew serious. "Listen to what Rose has to say, and heed our instructions, for Noonvale is in terrible danger..."
"Some must leave home,
But more will return.
The actor scrape
The one striped by the sun
The petal from the sky
The black climber
And you, Lenai
Will go on a quest
To save what you hold dear
When you find the evil one
You will know what to do
Help the captives, save Noonvale too
Just start out to the thorn
And be off with you!"
"Be safe, young one. Travel well. And remember that we are always watching over you..." Rose's gentle voice grew fainter as the figures began to fade.
Lenai was roughly thrust out of her dream when the resident falcon, Silverflight (I'm open to suggestions for better names!) came back from his high-flying patrol of the surrounding area with news. Unable to control his excitement, he sat in the gray predawn light screaming out the tidings and waking everybeast up:
"The actors are coming! The Wandering Noonvale Companions Troupe are coming home for a visit!"
Lenai suddenly remembered her strange dream.
Rushing out of the house, she called to Malia, who she saw on her way out, "Be right back, Mother! I've got to speak to Soreno and Tatila! It's urgent!"
She ran flat-out for the chieftain's dwelling, which was luckily not very far off.
"Soreno! Tatila! Dexna, you may as well hear too!" she panted.
They caught the urgency in her voice. "Here, come in and catch your breath then tell us what you're doing dashing about," said Tatila for them all, adding, "And I hope it's not about actors. We've heard enough of that from that bird."
"Actually, Inet's the one who reminded me."
"Oh, just get on with it!" growled Dexna mock impatiently.
Lenai told them of her dream. And when she was done, she asked, "Do you believe that my dream was a warning? That Noonvale is in danger? That I have to go on a quest?"
"I certainly do," Soreno answered, "and I'll tell the rest of the Noonvalers at breakfast. Then we can figure out who the others are."
"By apples and acorns! That's a riddle among riddles!" exclaimed a familiar voice.
"Starpetal, out from behind the door!" Dexna sighed loudly.
"And just what were you doing eavesdropping?" asked Tatila severely, with an icy glare in the ottermaid's direction.
"I just saw Lenai running across the grounds and I wanted to know what was so important!" Starpetal said, imitating the voice of a guilty Dibbun, fibbing to get him or herself out of trouble.
Starpetal was an expert voice and accent imitator, it came naturally to her. She soon had everybeast laughing at her antics, even Tatila, though the latter tried to keep up her picture of dignified indignation for a few moments before losing control.
Xenton's army had pitched camp on some flatlands a day's jouney south from the border of the Lands of Ice and Snow. He sat in his tent, holding a council with his capitains, though he was using it more as an excuse to yell at them instead.
"So, Xerapent, Xillen, Xarel. Have you brought me any captives? Any ferrets and weasels to swell my ranks?"
Without giving them time to answer, he thundered in their faces, "No! Not a single one! All it is is 'Yes, Sire. I'll bring you captives, Sire.' Empty promises! Where are the bound up slaves to serve my every desire? Hein?"
Getting no answer from his terrified underlings, he continued his rant. "Not here! Let me tell you this: If you have not brought me captives by dawn tomorrow, your worthless lives will be made an example of! Now go! Before I kill you here and now!"
They hurried out the door, fighting and stumbling against each other in their haste to get out the door before they were caught by their chieftain's lethal four-pronged trident.
Nerilan, the old vixen Seer and Healer, was heading towards Xenton's tent. Hearing the sounds of the scuffle, she paused in front of the tent,
"Trouble? He in one 'o his rages?"
"Aye. Best stay clear for now."
"I'll see him later, then."
They headed in separate directions, all away from their dangerous master.
The scout named Ihilidir came rushing back from his mission, all happy with his news, which he just knew would earn would earn him prestige in the horde. He knocked on Xenton's tent and upon hearing a bad-tempered "Come in" he opened the flap and and walked in.
"What is it?" Xenton growled, "I'm busy."
Ihilidir took a step backward, blanching in fright. The ermine chieftain was a frightening sight. His claws were outstreched, as if waiting to snare the next beast who came near him, and his black eyes were blazing with anger at something unknown to the scout.
Taking another step back, he said in a trembling voice, bowing low, "Sire, I am a scout and I am here to report the presence of a family of squirrels, who would make perfect slaves, in a southerly direction. There is also a band of approximately twoscore ferrets and stoats, led by a large rat, approaching from the east."
Xenton seemed to calm down a bit, saying, "Get me Xerapent. Go!"
Xenton picked up his four-pronged trident and the scout bustled out the door, frightened as the captains had been earlier.
A few minutes later, Xenton heard knocking again. Heaving a sigh, he replied "Come in."
Xerapent walked in and bowed, then asked, "Sire? You sent for me?"
"Ah yes, Xerapent, my faithful captain. You will round up a score and ten of my soldiers and capture the twoscore ferrets and weasels heading this way. The scout Ihilidir will guide you. Fail me, and the consequences will be severe. Now go!" The ermine's tone brooked no argument. The small female ermine ran out of the tent in the same manner she had earlier: in fear for her life.
Lumpback was a large rat, the boss of the band of ferrets and stoats Ihilidir had mentioned. His unfortunate name came from the fact that he was a humpback, but to his band he was Boss and nothing else. He had a naturally cruel nature, and whenever he got the chance he would torment his victims, which could include his band-members, eventually giving him a long, slow, painful death. This had a double purpose: entertaining him and making sure that none of his vermin ever rebelled against him, as they were all horribly afraid of him.
At that moment, he was lounging on the grass, enjoying the feeling of evil triumph. Earlier that day, his band had raided the home of two mice and three hedgehogs. After he made the hedgehogs and mice carry all their meager possessions outdoors, and watching with relish as two of his ferrets put torches to the wooden building, he had executed the terrified woodlanders one by one, slowly and painfully. He forced the ones who were still alive to watch by shacking them tightly in chains and having some of his underlings put their various weapons at the necks of the wretched beasts so that they couldn't even move their heads a tiny bit without touching the sharpened metal. He laughed silently as he remembered the anguish on their faces, and the fear. It had been hilarious how how they pleaded in vain for their lives and especially those of their loved ones!
Snapping back to the present, he barked at the first one of his underlings that he saw.
"Hoi, Kromando! Gimme som'more o' that drink ye found in the silly mousey and hedgepig's house!"
Kromando hurried off obediently, watched by Lumpback.
Starpaw's prediction proved wrong. For some unknown reason, Prendrid and his band had not attacked that night, and all was peaceful. After a light breakfast, they head north again. Searching for the badger, whoever she was.
Terrom was a rather quiet squirrel, father of three. His close-knit family wasn't war-like in the least, except for his eldest daughter, Kataryna, who was fourteen seasons old. She was, quite unusually, a black squirrel, the only one of her coloring in the family. She had a quick temper and was easily irritated, but when she wasn't in a bad mood, she was helpful and determined.
At this particular moment, she was walking back to the house with her mother, Celina, her younger brother of ten seasons, Peneen, and her Dibbun sister, Analyka, and seven baskets overflowing with blackberries they had gathered in the woods surrounding their new home. They had finished the quaint, three-roomed dwelling only the day before with the much-needed help of the neighboring woodlanders, along with the very un-needed comments and complaints of two grumpy old owls who also lived nearby. Tonight, there would be a party, and all who had helped to build the house would be invited.
Quite suddenly, Analyka tripped over a protruding root and fell. The blackberries in the basket she was holding tipped out and spilled out all over the ground, most of them either getting squashed or rolling under a nearby thorny bush. Peneen quickly crouched down and began gathering up the rest, before they were stepped on or got too dirty, while Kataryna and Celina tended to Analyka, who was crying and had scraped her knees. Once the young squirrel had calmed down, and Peneen had finished collecting the fallen berries, they stood and started back on their way, Analyka complaining that her knees hurt and she couldn't walk. After listening to her sister for several minutes, Kataryna offered to carry her piggy-back style, if only to keep her quiet. However, her mother would have to carry the black squirrel's everpresent weapons: a bow, a quiver of arrows, and two daggers. Celina agreed, though cautiously, for she was actually quite afraid of the weapons.
They traveled home in that fashion, and when they arrived, Terrom was cooking for the feast, as cooking was one of his favorite things to do. There they continued setting up for the party, unaware they were being watched by evil eyes...
A rattling of cart wheels broke the early morning stillness. The hare pulling it pointed out an enormous circular stone, overgrown with moss and flowers.
"Noonvale! We're nearly home!"
A hubbub broke out among the creatures walking alongside the cart.
"Oh, home! I haven't seen my dear mother for nine entire seasons! How I long for her warm embrace!" exclaimed a pretty mousewife, whose young one was seated in the cart.
"Hush, Olive. You always were too dramatic," informed a volemaid by the name of Neila.
Olive's indignant response was drowned out by the gruff, dreamy voice of the mole Honeyclaw, who was reminiscing about food. "Oi cerpintly wont sum gud Noonvale vittles! In moi 'pinion, thur the best anywhurs."
"Aye, even Redwall fare can't compare!" agreed an otter, called Dara.
They entered the settlement to a rousing cheer. Their friends and relatives hugged and kissed the Wandering Noonvale Companions 'till they were fit to burst, then dragged them off to Council Lodge, to eat the sumptuous breakfast that had been prepared.
Before they began, Soreno climbed onto a table and banged a wooden spoon and bowl together for silence. Once the crowd quieted, he announced formally, "Welcome home, Wandering Noonvale Companions Troupe!"
The room erupted into noisy applause, and he had to bang the spoon against the bowl again. Once he had their attention back, he continued, "Make yourselves at home and stay as long as you like! Also, I'm quite sure I'm not the only one who wants to hear your stories," he smiled, then continued, "Now, I have some important news for us all. Last night, Lenai had a dream. I-"
"Doesn't everybeast dream? What makes her so special?" blurted a young otter before his mother silenced him.
"Ah, but this was no ordinary dream, Nerne. Come up here, Lenai. Tell them what happened."
Shyly, as she had never been comfortable speaking to large groups, let alone crowds, the mousemaid climbed up beside Soreno and told her story, ending with the riddle, which had been burned into her mind. When she finished, there was complete silence for a couple of moments, then everybeast began talking at once, as if on cue. It took Soreno and Tatila's combined effort ten minutes to quiet them. In that time, Lenai had clambered off the table and gone back to her seat, next to Dexna and Starpetal.
Once order was restored, Soreno announced his idea. "Hogwife Eyla has agreed to bake a batch of her best sweetcakes with meadowcream for whoever wins the contest I'm suggesting. Whoever discovers the answer to the riddle wins them. You can work alone or in teams, beginning after breakfast."
The Noonvalers latched on to his words like honey. Hogwife Eyla was, without argument, by far the best baker in Noonvale, and her sweetcakes, with or without meadowcream, were coveted like jewels. Every single creature in the Council Lodge vowed that they would be the one to find the answer, and that was that.
Lumpback glanced up from the roast bird leg he was eating long enough to slurp some dandelion cordial they had found in his ill-fated victims' home. Half of it missed his mouth completely, but he ignored the cool liquid tricking down his body. He sat in the shade of the awning his minions had built to keep off the hot noontide sun. As he bent back down over his messy meal, a shout of "Chief!" interrupted him and the ferret Kromando rushed under the awning.
"Chief!" he repeated, "There's a bunch o' whitebeasts comin' twards us! There looks like a score-and-a-half of 'em. Maybe they've got plunder?"
“S’round ’em. You know what you’re s’posed ta do. And don’t disturb tha Chief agin, unless ya git plunder!” said Lumpback as haughtily as he could manage.
“Aye, Chief. We know wat ta do.” Kromando hurried out again to find his bandmates already fighting the ermine. The ferrets and weasels were severly outmatched in everything but numbers, and even that advantage wasn’t working for them, because the ermine had been ordered to keep them all alive, but to knock them out, which Xenton's creatures were doing excessively.
By the time Kromando came out from under Lumpback's awning, some of the rat's vermin were already surrendering and begging for mercy. Kromando quickly joined in the fight, but before he could do much damage with his long dagger, an ermine came up from behind an knocked him unconscious with her trident-haft.
Soon enough, all of the weasels and ferrets had been subdued, and tied together with a long rope. Three of the ermine went under the awning and brought out a sniveling Lumpback, begging and pleading for mercy. When he saw his tied up underlings, who were beginning to revive, he only cried harder. The ermine put him at the back of the line, and tied him so tight that he couldn't move his arms or legs, and had to be dragged along the ground by his former minions.
Xerapent, who had not participated in the fighting, now came forward and announced to the cowering captives, "You are now low-ranking soldiers in the great Xenton's army. You will obey orders from the other ermine, who obey orders from me and the other captains, who take orders from Xenton. If you disobey, you die. If you insult your superiors, you die. If you do anything wrong, you die. Your lives are now worthless. As for you," she continued, looking pointedly at Lumpback, who couldn't move, much less speak, in fright, "We'll see what fate we can divine for you, one time leader. Rats, ha! Worthless scum!"
She laughed cruelly as she watched the ermine make the prisoners move, dragging their leader behind them. "Xenton will be pleased!"
Kataryna sat in a tree at the edge of their clearing, keeping watch. The party was in full swing below, with voles beating out a melody on their small drums, and a family of hedgehogs dancing a jig near the fire, and everybeast just generally enjoying themselves. A mousewife began a jolly song, and soon everybeast who knew it had taken it up. It went:
An ant began to speak one day
This is what he was heard to say,
"My auntie lives five days away,
I met her for the first time, just today
My brother ate something very odd,
We all thought it was a piece of cod,
But, in fact, our thoughts were flawed,
Auntie got it out, and we were awed,
And then we began to applaud,
For he had eaten a fishing rod!"
All the Dibbuns fell about laughing, then everybeast began eating and drinking again, laughing and talking, gorging themselves on the good food and hospitality. Everybeast, that is, but Kataryna. The squirrel had not joined in the song or the laughter, but sat watchful, a self-appointed guard, for she had had a foreboding sense of danger that nobeast else took seriously, exhilarated as they were.
She heard her mother calling up to her, "Kataryna! We're out of blackberries! Will you go get some?"
"Sure. I know where the patch is." Anything to get away from this confounded merriment.
Katrayna picked up the empty basket, slung her bow and quiver across her back, and hurried away. She got to the blackberry bramble quickly enough, the sounds of the party fading into silence behind her. As she filled up the basket as well as she could in the dark without getting pricked by thorns, she kept glancing back into the darkness behind her.
The basket was nearly full when she heard it. A scream, long and strident. A voice that could only be Analyka's. Then there was a red light, just barely visible though the trees. Fire. Something large was burning. A tree or-
She did not stop to consider that horrible possibility but took off at once through the trees, basket forgotten.
The Wandering Noonvale Companions Troupe was gathered at their cart, determined to solve the riddle and win the prize. Everybeast had trying all day, first individually, then in pairs, then in larger groups, all to no avail. Nobeast could seem to come up with any answers. The actors had been concentrated on the line that concerned them.
"The actor scrape"
The hare who had been pulling the cart, Aqui Wilffachop de Quincewold, considered himself the leader of the Troupe (and very important). He had suggested that they look over the entire cast to see who had a scrape. Unfortunately, a lot of them did, and often more than one.
He had to concede to the hedgehog Casper's point: "Well, Lenai said 'scrape' and not 'scraped'. I don't think it means that one of us has a scratch. Maybe one of us will get scraped? Or scrape something? But what would they scrape?..." he trailed off muttering.
"Anything, really," said Dara unhelpfully.
There was an uncomfortable silence for a few moments, then an annoyed mutter was heard from behind a tree. "This is taking too long. Would they hurry up and figure out it's an anagram already? Then we can get out of this uncomfortable position."
"Really, Starpetal?" groaned Lenai. "You are NO GOOD at eavesdropping. That's twice today you've proven that now!"
"Now we'll never learn their names!" added Dexna ruefully.
"An anagram?" exclaimed Aqui, "What is that?"
"What do you think it is? A plum? No, it's when you mix up the letters of one word to form another, you silly hare," explained Starpetal, exasperated, as the trio walked into the midst of the Troupe.
"That was the point of coming here," added Dexna.
"So I suppose you've already solved the riddle, then?" asked Casper, with grudging admiration.
"Most of it, actually," admitted Lenai, "Remember, it goes like this,
'Some must leave home,
But more will return.
The actor scrape
The one striped by the sun
The petal from the sky
The black climber
And you, Lenai
Will go on a quest
To save what you hold dear
When you find the evil one
You will know what to do
Help the captives, save Noonvale too
Just start out to the thorn
And be off with you!'
So, obviously, I'm on this quest. I can't seen my use, but whatever. 'The one striped by the sun', well, who in Noonvale has a yellow stripe? As far as I know, Dexna's the only one, and-"
"Be quiet, Lenai!" interrupted Starpetal. "Are we really going to give everything away? This took forever to figure out!"
"You be quiet, Starpetal. We're never going to find out who the actor is without them," retorted Lenai.
"So, anyway," she continued, turning back to the Troupe, "'The petal from the sky' refers to the name of who's going. Took us awhile, but the only petal in the sky we have is Starpetal, so she's coming too."
Lenai paused for a breath and Dexna took up the explanation. "Now, 'thorn' is a well-known anagram for 'north,' but one that can certainly stump you if you were not looking out for it. This is where Malia, Lenai's mother, comes in. She passed beneath the tree we were sitting in, muttering something about anagrams and trying to remember the directions to her favorite herb patch at the same time. That's when I remembered about thorn and north."
Lenai took a paper from her pocket. "All we have left is 'the black climber' and 'the actor scrape'. This is the letters of 'scrape' arranged in a circle. Here, take a look and see if you can recognize any names."
Xenton had had a delightful day, despite its bad beginning. First there had been the new recruits; that had been a surprise. He honestly hadn’t expected those bumbling underlings to succeed. And torturing that rat had been a pleasant spectacle as well. Ah, to hear his cries for mercy and his screams of pain as they roasted him alive! And it had been amusing to watch the new recruits as they were forced to eat their former leader’s remains.
And then, just fifteen minutes ago, his scouting party had returned with news of a feast containing mice, otters, hedgehogs...slaves! Of course he had immediately sent out a force to capture them, and was waiting eagerly for their return.
Just then, he heard a long, drawn-out scream and saw a faint red light from between the trees. Good! They had succeeded!
Kataryna raced through the branches, the flickering orange-red light of fire growing steadily brighter. As she drew closer to her new home, she began to hear the sounds of a struggle, and the faint, shrill cries of a creature obviously in pain. Then sharp command of “Back to camp!” and the noises hurried off.
When the squirrelmaid arrived in the clearing, she met a scene of total devastation. The remnants of the quaint new house were still blazing brightly, threatening to set fire to the forest beyond. The last vestiges of the feast were scattered around the ruins. As well, it was obvious which way the attackers had gone; they hadn’t bothered to cover their tracks. The trail led north.
Kataryna shook with fury. “You will pay, whoever you are!” she cried. “By the seasons, you will pay!”
She dashed off, following the trail-- and immediately ran straight into a large oak that had been hidden in shadow. She had time for a last, anguished thought, What an idiot I am!, and then the world went black.
"I can't see anything," complained Aqui despondently. He shook his head sadly. They, well, mainly the hare, who, like a Dibbun, stuck his face in front of anybeast else who tried to participate in the solving, had been staring at the paper for some time now and had come up with nothing. The inseparable trio waited impatiently at the edge of the circle of actors crowded around Lenai's scrap.
"Well," chided Neila, "you might give the rest of us a chance, my big important hare."
All of a sudden he was pushed away by a wall of paws as the actors surged around him to get a better look. He ended up outside the circle next to Dexna and looked at her dolefully. "Oh, what a terrible life I have!" he mourned. "Chucked out by my own command!"
The gold-striped badger had to look away to keep from laughing aloud. As she struggled to control her mirth, a sudden cry of triumphant excitement sounded from the midst of the assembled Troupe. "I've got it!"
"Who is it?" wondered Starpetal, impatient.
"Yes, who?" Everybeast but the one who had shouted out, Dara, was echoing the otter's question.
"If you want to hear, then quiet down." Everybeast immediately hushed expectantly and Dara laughed lightly. "Casper, of course!" She smiled at the young hedgehog's astounded expression. "See," she pointed at the paper. "There's a C, and an A, and then an S, and a P, an E and finally an R. It makes sense when you think about it."
"Oh, now I see it!" exclaimed Olive.
"Moi, moi. It's so obvious now!" marveled Honeyclaw. "How cowld oi nowt have seen it afore?"
Only Casper was silent, too overwhelmed in the enormity of it to speak. Lenai walked over to him, sensing his feelings, and comfortingly put her paw over his. "What's wrong?"
"It's just-- just," he paused as he struggled to find the right words, "so much! Why me? I'm not special! Why not Dara? or Aqui? or anyone else in Noonvale? What's my use?"
"We shall see," replied the mousemaid, her amber tunic billowing in the slight breeze that had sprung up, bringing with it the sweet smell of lilacs. "I don't know why Rose and Martin chose me either, you know. Nor, I believe, do Dexna and Starpetal. If they do, then they're wiser than me."
"Starpetal is most certainly not wiser than you, by all means, Lenai," declared Dexna from behind them. Lenai whirled around to find that the badger was watching Starpetal, who was sticking her tongue out at the two of them. As she caught her two best friends looking at her reproachfully, she smirked.
"Oo... Lenai's in looove..."
"Yes. Definently not wiser," confirmed Dexna. Then she added in a whisper, "But there's something I must tell you. It think it was meant for me alone, but I can't keep anything from my two friends. And Casper, you may come too, because we are going together on this quest, and secrets do not breed trust. Follow me to where we will not be disturbed..."
Ten minutes later, they were nestled in tiny glade, just barely large enough to fit the four. They were surrounded by sweet-smelling ferns among which small blue forget-me-not flowers grew plentifully. Dexna picked one and spun it between her fingers, trying to pick up the courage to begin.
A sweet birdcall filled the air, holding them entranced for a long moment. As the notes finally faded, the badgermaid cleared her throat. "Last night, I dreamed too," she said softly, solemnly. She paused, as though for comment, but nobeast spoke. "I was on a beach, next to a mountain. I knew the name somehow. Salamandastron, it is called. I wasn't compelled to look at though, for some reason. Standing before me were an array of badgers. They were all armed, swords, daggers, spears, maces, bows... I knew them all, they were all Lords and Ladies of Salamandastron at some point in history, past, present or future. There was one, though, who I couldn't help but notice more than the rest, Sunflash the Mace his name was, and he lived long seasons ago, but I felt a certain kinship with him, and not only because we were the only ones in all that crowd who had a golden headstripe.
"As I locked eyes with him, he came over to me and said, in his deep voice, 'I have been chosen to give you this message, and not only for the reason that I am your forefather. When you have finished your journey, we await you at our mountain. Farewell.' I watched as they faded to mist, Sunflash lingering longest, long enough to wave his goodbye..."
Book 2: The Black Climber
Kataryna groaned. The first thing she was aware of after waking was the pounding headache in her skull, but eventually she began to discern the fact that there was a soft blanket covering her.
"So, you're awake at last." The voice was deep, but not menacing. Still, the squirrelmaid reached for her daggers. They weren't there. "No need to try to hurt me. I'm not going to hurt you. Oh, by the way, your weapons are over there on that wall, but you probably shouldn't get up yet."
"Who are you?" she inquired, sitting up and opening her eyes despite what she'd just been told. "And, for that matter, where am I?"
“Me? Oh, I’m Kahi. Yes, yes. I’m a wildcat. Please quit looking at me that way. And no, I’m not a vermin, whatever you may have heard.” He was a wildcat indeed, his fur tan with darker spots, his arms muscular, his ears short and pointed. He had on a dark blue cape over a tunic of rough fabric, a sword sheathed at his side, but his face was young and merry, shattering his rather intimidating appearance.
“Okay... But for the second time, where am I?”
“Oh, right. That. Well you’re several days’ walk south of where you blacked out, but only a day and night if you take the stream, as we did. And before you ask, yes, you’ve been out for that long. And we’re in a cave that we found by the streambank.”
“We? I didn’t help you find it!”
“Right, right. I never mentioned Sior. Well, you see, he’s my friend and traveling companion. We never stay put, always headed somewhere in the land. We’ve even been all the way down to Mossflower Country and Southsward! Believe me, that took seasons. We met by chance one day, and he told me his story. You see, he’s a badger. Don’t look so shocked, yes, I travel with a badger. Apparently, he’d been an apprentice to one of the Tabura, learning their wisdom. One day, when he was off gathering herbs, a band of vermin attacked his mentor, and when he got back home, the place was, to say the least, a wreck. Fortunately for the vermin, he’d already received training on how to control his Bloodwrath, so he stayed calm and decided to spend the rest of his life wandering and seeking wisdom on his own. Well, on his own until he met me, of course!” He smiled.
Author’s Note: Really sorry about this, but I completely miscalculated time, so we’re going back some time to the dawn after the last Dexna, Lenai, Starpetal and Casper section; meaning about twelve hours before the last update. Sorry...
ANYWAYS, on with the story!
The sun had just risen, but most of Noonvale was already up and about. The threesome were all sitting together at their usual places in the Council Lodge, their breakfast lying uneaten on their plates as they continued the discussion they had started the day before: Who in the name of crab apples could this black climber be?
"Well, let's go over the black Noonv--"
"Dexna, how ever many times we try to list, well, just about anything, we always come up with nothing! So we should just try something else!" snapped an exasperated Starpetal.
"Starpetal, calm down," admonished Lenai. "We're all frustrated, but we don't need to take it out on our friends."
"Okay," replied the ottermaid, chastened.
"Now," continued the sensible mousemaid, "Since we ourselves can't figure anything out, what do say we have Casper join us? We'll have to travel with him anyways, so we may as well get to know him."
"Great idea!" exclaimed Dexna. "We should probably eat before our food gets cold, though. Then we can take him to one of our spots in the woods."
Not much time later, they were walking along one of the thin, winding trails that only they knew of in the forest that bordered Noonvale. It was so narrow that they had to go single-file, Casper at the end, because he didn't know the way.
They had not had much trouble at all to get the hedgehog to come with them; all they'd needed to do was go talk to him. He was surprisingly easy-going, and was very fond of telling stories of the journeys he'd undertaken with the Noonvale Companions Troupe, but, unlike a hare, he never exaggerated.
"Here we are!" finally announced Dexna, who was in the lead. She pointed at a very moss-covered log that had long-stemmed brown mushrooms growing out of one end. The trees were so tall here that they couldn't see the sun, and the small piece of sky that was visible was covered by a cloud.
Starpetal sat down on the log. "Hey Casper, lucky you! This is the first time we've ever shown one of our secret places to anybeast but us. C'mon, sit down!"
"Oo, look! Marigold! I never realized those were there! Mother'll definitely want some!" exclaimed Lenai. As the others sat down on either the log or the ground, she walked over to the medicinal plants and began to pick them and stuff them in her barkcloth herb-pouch that she always carried with her.
"Well, Casper," began Dexna, "have you got any insight to offer about who could be the black climber mentioned in the riddle?"
Analyka trembled in terror, cowering against her mother's soft fur at the sight of Xenton's menacing figure, four-pronged trident in full view. Since they had been captured the night before, all the partygoers had been chained together at their arms and legs, the iron manacles cruelly tight. Analyka and Celina had had the good fortune to be put next to each other; Terrom and Peneen had been separated from them and chained farther down the line on either side.
When the captives had first been herded into the camp, bewildered, stunned, and terrified, Xillen had appeared and given his version of a welcoming speech, all the while waving his trident around enthusiastically. "Welcome to the camp of my Lord Xenton's horde. You are now his slaves, and bound to obey his every word. As Captains, I, Xerapent, and Xarel speak for our master, and thus you will obey us. You will also obey every last hordebeast, no matter the rank or species, for you are lower than even the lowest ferret or weasel. Keep that in mind. If you disobey, you will be whipped, or worse. If you disobey twice, you die. Painfully. If you do anything wrong or disrespectful, you die even more painfully. Remember at all times that you are lower than the lowest soldier and that you are alive and breathing only by my Lord Xenton's will and to serve him. We march tomorrow. Weaklings are killed."
Though the sun had only just risen, Xenton was already come to inspect his new slaves, resplendent in cape and armor, his trident in paw. As he walked along the line of helpless woodlanders, they cringed away from the terrifying ermine, powerless against him when he prodded and poked them cruelly, treating them as what they were to him: objects. When he arrived at Analyka, he looked at her once and then turned to the two ermine who had become his personal servants, "Hilj, Imah. This one is too young to be of any use. We have time for some amusement before we march. Unchain her and assemble the horde in from of the slaves."
"Nothing! Still nothing!" exclaimed Starpetal, her patience all but gone. She paced back and forth next to the moss-and-mushroom covered log. The sun had already peaked then started its downward climb and yet they were no closer to finding out who this black climber was. Needless to say, they were not in a very good mood.
The four friends (for Casper had been officially welcomed to join their group a little while ago, mainly to give them all an excuse to think about something other than the riddle) sat, and in the ottermaid's case, paced, in silence for awhile, deep in their own thoughts. After a long moment, Casper muttered to himself exasperatedly, "We should probably just get a move on anyways. What if it isn't even anybeast in Noonvale, but somebeast we'll meet along the way? And we're just sitting around trying to figure it out and this evil whoever-it-is is doing evil things and we have to stop him but we aren't..."
"Casper, that's brilliant!" cried Lenai, who had heard every word, as had the others. "What if we are wasting time? That's the only thing that makes sense! Come on, let's go tell Soreno!"
They began the short treck back to Noonvale, their spirits renewed by the possibility that the puzzle would come clear later and that they could finally start this quest of theirs.
Celina let out a horrified gasp at the ermine's pronouncement. Forgetting her terror, she hugged Analyka tightly, pleading desperately for her safety. "No, not my daughter, no please! Don't hurt my Ana!"
"Quiet," snapped Xenton, disdainful. "Do as I have commanded, servants."
Hilj and Imah obediently undid the squirrelmaid's shackles and dragged her to the front, a job made much harder by Analyka's distraught mother clutching at her daughter, pleading, and generally making a nuisance of herself in the ermines' eyes. When Terrom and Peneen saw her, they too began making a din, and, emboldened by the family, so did the rest of the captive goodbeasts.
The commotion attracted the rest of the horde, who assembled facing the prisoners, eager and curious to know what would happen next. Xenton turned to them, "Xarel, quiet these slaves. Find a whip if necessary. You two, keep holding her down." He pointed at a random ermine in the crowd. "You, get me a sharp knife. And hurry."
Skip to the next piece of italicized text if you are not fond of extremely graphic and bloody torture scenes. This was an experiment and I realised a bit belatedly that a warning would be a good idea.
Minutes later, the vermin had formed a half-moon shape with Analyka and Xenton at the center. The captive woodlanders had been forced into completing the circle, and there were guards arrayed around them, looking delighted at the prospect of using the whip. The squirrelmaid had been bound and dropped carelessly next to the ermine, and was trembling fearfully, sometimes letting out a scared moan for her mother, but otherwise staying silent. She had been raised in innocence, and knew nothing of the horrors that vermin were capable of, for she had only been a babe in Celina’s stomach when they had been driven out of their former home. The only times she had ever seen blood were when she fell and scraped her knees hard enough or when Peneen stepped on a thorn, which tended to happen a lot. She did not understand death, nor what was about to happen to her.
She saw Xenton raise his deadly-sharp knife, and was bewildered. She knew knives for chopping vegetables like mama did, though Analyka herself had never been allowed to use them. The only other blades she’d seen were Kataryna’s omnipresent daggers, and her older sister had always said that she was saving them for when they were important. Why then was the bigbeast lowering his knife towards her, towards her bound arm (why was it bound, anyways?), and piercing her unblemished fur and great droplets of ruby liquid were welling up and ahh it hurt and the blood was cold or was it her that was cold and she was screaming, screaming and the knife had carved a furrow down her russet arm and it hurt it hurt it hurt and she could hear her mother calling out faintly against the haze of pain and then she couldn’t and then the knife was carving her legs and her belly and her other arm and her back and her face and it was pain pain pain and she still didn’t know what was going on and she was screaming but then she wasn’t because her throat was sore and hoarse but also because the knife was in her mouth now and her tongue was there and then she couldn’t feel it and then the knife wasn’t in her mouth anymore but neither was her tongue and then her tail was hurting and she was bleeding all over, scarlet overwhelming her russet fur and it hurt it hurt it hurt and then she couldn’t stand it anymore and she slipped into a merciful, quivering void of darkness.
Celina watched her daughter succumb to blackness from where she was being restrained by five ermine, who did their best to keep away from her flailing paws and snapping jaws, chained and gagged though she was, and still keep her in the line. Terrom and Peneen were giving similar trying experiences to their captors, but none of them was able to reach Analyka, even with the strength of rage. They were a peaceful family, and never experienced the mixed blessing that is Bloodwrath.
Though the squirrelmaid blacked out, Xenton continued with his knife, a fiendish smile on his face as he carved her, not bothered in the least as the fresh ruby-scarlet-poppy-flame blood soaked his clothes and his fur, staining them iridescent red. He continued with his knife until the squirrelmaid was drowning in her own life-blood, until poor little innocent Analyka breathed her final breath.
He did not know that by that murder, he planted the seeds for of own demise.
Graphic scene finished.
Kataryna watched in grudging awe as Sior entered the cave carrying dead branches for firewood and other assorted woodland materials, the whole of which must have weighed more than her, like they were light as air. When he saw her sitting up, he dropped them with a clatter and came running towards her makeshift bed. “You shouldn’t be sitting up, young one. I’m surprised you’re awake already. The draught I gave you should have kept you asleep at least for the few hours left until sundown.”
“Well, I’m awake. And my name’s not little one, it’s Kataryna!”
“Yes, yes, Kataryna of the fiery temper. You had a concussion, and you really should still be lying down.”
“That’s what I said too, but she wouldn’t listen,” grumbled Kahi. “And I still want to know what in seasons’ name she was doing passed out with a bump on her head near the site of a fire.”
“Oh!” exclaimed Kataryna as memories she hadn’t known she’d lost came rushing back to her. The party, blackberries, Analyka’s scream, the fire, the tracks, her stupid mistake... They all flooded into her brain, and, despite the noticeable increase in her headache, she immediately jumped up and started towards the little wall-alcove. “No! I have to help my family! The house was burned and the tracks! I’m sure it was vermin! It has got to be vermin!”
Sior immediately stopped her with a huge paw on her shoulder. “You’re in no fit state to help anyone, let alone the fact that it has to do with vermin, and you are staying with us until you recover. That is final.”