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The old squirrel sat dozing peacefully in the fire warmed expanse of Redwall's Cavern Hole. Sighing contentedly, she snuggled deeper into her large plush armchair. The fire crackled and spat, eagerly consuming the birch logs within the grate. The squirrel noted it all in silence, satisfied to simply let the stillness reign.
The slight pitter-patter of paws, however, heralded the end of her reverie. Feeling a slight weight in her lap, the aged creature slowly opened her eyes, smiling at the curious gaze of the youngster sitting atop her knees. Two other Dibbuns (for this was the name given to the abbeybabes) sat upon the arms of her chair, watching her expectantly. Tippin, the tiny mousebabe in her lap, twitched his small, wet nose as he lightly tapped her thin, worn paw.
"Sissa Eevy be's up now?" He squeaked. The squirrel chuckled and nodded.
"Yes, dear one. I'm awake."
He grinned. "You pwomise us's a stowy, Dwubbo saya so." The tubby, little mole on the chairs right arm, who was a few seasons Tippin's elder, nodded avidly.
"Yurs, yurs. 'E bee's a roight bowt thart. Yu'm a says at brekfurst dis mornern." The squirrel turned to the babe at her other side, "And I suppose you would like a story as well?" The little ottermaid blushed shyly.
"Yus pweese," she murmured. The old Redwaller smiled at the three and shakily beckoned to a small table nearby.
"Alright then. On that table is a book of Redwall tales. If you will bring that to me, we can choose a story." Giggling with triumph, the Dibbuns jumped down and fetched the book. Setting the big, leather-bound tome gently in her lap, they resumed their perches on her chair.
Carefully, the old squirrel opened the dusty manuscript to a page and began reading. Her old voice, normally creaky and shaky with age, now came alive with the storyteller's magic. Words flowed from her lips, weaving, turning, dancing through the young one's minds. Opening the doors to the realm's of the imagination, and sweeping the babes off on an adventure.
Smoke and dust swirled in ashen clouds, blown by the fitful breeze through the rubble, whistling eerily over cracks and niches. Limp, grey clouds hung low overhead, their light drizzle hissing with steam as drops fell onto the still hot embers that had once fed eager flames. The lone traveler watched it all through sad eyes, tears mixing with the rain on his face, wondering who could have wrought such destruction and turmoil. In his mind, he could almost hear the wailing cries of those who had perished in this once peaceful town.
Their shrieks still ringing in his ears, the mouse turned back to the path, pausing to collect his now heavy bundle. Placing the haversack about his shoulders, he gently scooped up the blankets he had managed to find withing the ruins. A tiny mousebabe, no more than a season old, lay wrapped within, the only survivor of the catastrophe that had befallen her home.
Cradling his precious cargo, the traveler gazed once more at the piles of stone marking the graves of the villagers he had found and buried. Mentally vowing to shoulder this new responsibility for their sakes, the mouse turned and continued his journey down the road.
Thirteen seasons later...
Spring dawned over Mossflower Wood in a glorious rush of light. The new day's sun filtered through breeze blown trees, shadows and sunbeams dancing on the forest floor. Morning larks trilled their song as they flitted through branches, flying to and fro. Herbs and flowers grew alongside a trail worn by the paws of travelers over the long years. The lush beauty was lost, however, on the young mousemaid who ran through the vegetation.
Heart pounding and breath ragged, she forced herself onward. Risking a quick glance over her shoulder, the mouse caught a glimpse of her enemy. The spear-wielding rat was hot on her tail, and quickly gaining, yellow teeth bared in a vicious smile. Suddenly, the trees gave way, and the rat found himself in a small clearing. The mousemaid was no where in sight.
"Youse can run, but ye can't 'ide!" The vermin snarled in a savage tone. It soon became apparent, however, that finding the small woodlander would be easier said than done. Silently the mouse watched from within in the foliage of an oak as the rat cast about for tracks, sniffing here and there in the underbrush. Growing in anger and desperation, he began thrashing about the bushes with his spear.
"Snivelin' wretch! Wher'd ya go?"
"Up here, ya mangy furred coward!"
A small blade came hurtling out of the branches above, burying itself deep in the rat's outstretched neck, slaying him instantly. As his body fell limply to the forest floor, the young mousemaid clambered down from her perch in the giant oak. Turning the corpse over with a footpaw, she retrieved her dagger. Wiping it on the rat's tattered clothing the mouse spent a moment admiring her weapon.
Light yet sturdy, the dagger was a thing of beauty. A slim, diamond shaped steel blade, a blood channel running down from the lethal tip, an intricately carved bone hilt, and a deep sea-blue pommel stone. Smiling slightly, the mousemaid thrust it back into the sheath at her side, and walked back to the trail.
She was heading for the legendary Redwall Abbey. But what had started out as and exciting journey, had now turned into a dangerous mission. The abbey dwellers needed to be warned.
Vermin were abroad in Mossflower.
Sunlight streamed through the high arched windows of Redwall Abbey, catching swirls of dustmotes in it's bright yellow rays. Creatures bustled about, buisily applying themselves to their daily tasks. Whether cooking, cleaning, or minding babes and elders, each abbeybeast had a part to play in the keeping of their beautiful home.
Up in the Infirmary, Taro hummed quietly as he worked, carefully sweeping the dust from the cool stone floors. As of late, the young mouse had been spending most of his time there, on account of his being tutored by Siser May, the Infirmary Keeper. The Council of Abbey Elders had been quite surprised when Taro had shown such an affinaty for the work. Most had asumed he would be the adventurous type, like his father, Terreas, who had been a constant traveler in bygone days.
Taro, on the other hand, was rather shy and quiet. Prefering the company of his sketchbook and pen instead of the other youngsters. The exceptions to this, however, were Taro's younger sister, Melani, her best friend Ivy, and a young otter by the name of Ruddan. They accepted Taro's more serious manner, and often enjoyed looking through his drawings of various herbs and flowers while he explained their properties. Because of this, Taro had become more open and easy going, which the Elders all agreed was good for the young mouse.
Taro smiled to himself as he sang softly.
"Ashes and embers, black bones of a town.
Evil fires now abated, leaving death all around.
Yet in this great sorrow a hope shines forth clear.
Embodied in one, tiny creature's small tear.
The last of the living, the last of the free.
Through life's tests and trials, now stronger she'll be.
Little Larkspur now blooming, bright flower of blue.
To her heart she'll always, and forever be true."
The tune was one his father had taught to him. Terreas had written many poems and song over the years, but this one was Taro's favorite. It had a lilting, almoust mournful melody, and the lyrics were rather sad, but the young mouse felt a strange connection to it, though he couldn't say why. Terreas had explained that he wrote this song one particular summer during his wandering. He said it had been inspired by a creature he had met and traveled with, a mouse with a very sad life's story. No matter how much Taro pressed for more, Terreas would only say:
"The past is the past. Traveling was my life back then, but it isn't any longer. You and your sister...you are my life now."
Sweeping the last of the dust into the dustpan, Taro set the broom in the corner and inspected his work. Nodding his satisfaction, the young mouse fetched his sketchbook and pen, heading off to the Abbey pond where Melani, Ivy, and Ruddan were waiting.
"Bout time ya got 'ere, matey!" Ruddan winked at his friend. "Thought we'd have to come and rescue you from that dusty ol' place." Taro chuckled, shaking his head.
"Oh, Ruddan. You know you'd never set foot in that room. No matter how long I had to be in there." The others giggle at the otter's embarressed blush.
"Well you knows 'ow I feel 'bout gettin' physicked. I don't care 'ow much ya say they ain't that bad, 'cause I'll never be in there long enough to try one. So there!" Ruddan set his mouth into a tight frown and folden his arms. Taro stiffled a grin and copied his pose.
"Fine, be that way," he retorted.
The two stared at each other for a moment more, then unable to contain their mirth any longer, burst into gales of laughter.
"Hahahaha" Taro laughed, wiping a tear from his eye. "Really, Ruddan. I've never seen you look more like a pouty Dibbun than just now."
Ruddan chuckled, "No more than you, matey, with your little 'be that way'. Hahaha. Oh, that was a good 'un." The two of them turned to Ivy and Melani, who were shaking their heads in exasperation.
Ivy rolled her eyes, "You and your little arguments. I can't see why you think their so funny."
"It's not so much that what we say is funny," Taro replied to the young squirrelmaid. "It's that we both look so funny when we do it!" Ruddan nodded, but before he could comment, Melani broke in.
"Weren't you going to show us something, Taro."
"Oh, right. Well I had another one of those weird dreams last night."
Ruddan raised an eyebrow. "Ain't that the fifth one this month?"
"Sixth actually. It began exactly the same as all the others, but then it...changed."
"What do you mean?" Melani gently prompted her brother.
"I don't really know for sure. Like the other dreams, I was out in Mossflower wood, gathering herbs for Sister May. Then I heard a noise from behind me, so I turn and end up running smack bang into something and all goes black. That's usually when I wake up, but this time..." Taro stopped and looked around at his friends. "I hope your all comfortable, because we're going to be here for a while."
Light shimmered softly into existence as his gaze came into focus. Taro seemed to be floating high up in the air, somewhere deep withing a forest. Loud yells and jeering drew his attention downward to the clearing below him. Two figures stood at within a large circle of vermin. The mangy band cheered for a fox, leaning casually on the hilt of his saber. His opponent, a young mousemaid, crouched, a strange dagger gripped tightly in each paw. A ragged looking weasel stood, spear in hand, over an unconscious mouse that lay on the ground near the edge of the circle. Silence fell as the two creatures eyed each other, neither twitching even a whisker.
With a sudden, wild roar, the fox leaped upon the mouse, blade whirling in a large arc. At the last possible second, the mousemaid dive, the saber coming within an inch of her head. Rolling swiftly underneath him, the mouse swiped at his footpaws with her dagger, her accuracy evident by the fox's howl of pain. Turning, he faced his opponent. As steel clashed upon steel, the vermin band roared with cruel enthusiasm. The two creatures began an eerie dance of gleaming blades, a cut blocked, a slash deflected, a blow dodged. Only the mouse's speed and cunning kept her away from the deadly saber. Eventually the locked weapons, standing face to face, the mouse's eyes filled with the burning light of a warrior, the fox's with the icy ruthlessness of a tyrant.
Swiftly, the mousemaid kicked out at him, using all her might to push him away. The fox quickly recovered, and came pounding back at her, head lowered. Instead of dodging, the mouse stood firm, sucking in her stomach and clenching her teeth. As her enemies head connected, she used the momentum to throw herself into a back flip. Shocked, the vermin watched as the mousemaid unhooked a flat, metal ring from her belt in midair, landed lightly on her paws, and threw it like a discus at the fox all in the same fluid movement. A moment later, the ring boomeranged back into her waiting paws, driping with blood. The fox stood, dumbfounded, gazing at the stump where is forearm had once been.
The group burst into pandemonium, the vermin rushing to their leaders aid, completely forgetting the mousemaid and her unconscious companion. Screaming in agony, the fox writhed on the ground as a strangely clad vixen bound scraps of cloth to his arm. In a brief moment of sanity, he yelled for his followers to grab the mice, but when they turned, the clearing was empty. The two creatures had vanished.
Taro had watched the battle with nauseas amazement. The noise of the vermin began to fade as his vision dimmed once more. A moment before all went black; a voice rang through Taro's mind like a mighty throng of brazen bells.
Heir of my sword, my oath, my vow.
Soon to have destiny marked on your brow.
Watch for the Warrior, in days to come.
Maiden of battle, with weapon like sun.
Tales of the father, thirteen seasons past.
Stories of journeys, yea one of his last.
Look to the cloth, in the heart of the Hall.
Find what ye seek, your dreams, see them all.
Now waken, and tell not the old what I say.
For of my here dwelling, this be the last day.
Now I live in you, not in cloth, plant, or stone.
So that in the darkness, you'll ne'er be alone.
Taro's three friends sat in stunned silence as the young mouse finished his tale. Taro shifted uncomfortably. "Well?" He asked. "What do you make of it?"
Rudan shook his head in bewilderment. "It's a right puzzler, that's all I can say."
Melani nodded her agreement. "I can't make head nor tail of it. What about you, Ivy?"
The pretty squirrelmaid shrugged. "Same here."
Taro sighed, his shoulders sagging. "I was afraid you'd say that. I honestly don't know what to do about this anymore. It's be nearly a month since I've had a decent night's sleep because of these dreams. But I can't talk to any of the Elders about it, or father for that matter."
"Why not?" Melani questioned.
Taro shrugged. "I don't really know, it's just a feeling I have I guess. Maybe it has something to do with that one line in the riddle: 'Now waken, and tell not the old what I say.' I can't shake the feeling that I'm only supposed to speak to you three about my dreams. Perhaps I'm taking this too seriously, it wouldn't be the first time."
Ruddan threw a paw around his friend's shoulders. "Nonsense, matey. I think you're right to go about it this way. Remember what we learned in Abbey School? Creatures of olden days were often given special dreams in times of trouble."
"But these aren't 'times of trouble'!" Taro countered. "It's been ages out of mind since any threat has come to the Abbey. Besides, why would I be the one to have the dream instead of Abbot Pat or one of the Elders?"
Ivy provided the answer. "It's because they wouldn't pay attention to them like you have. The one who sent you these dreams knew that."
Taro jerked to look at her. "What do you mean, 'the one who sent me these dreams?"
"Isn't it obvious? You mentioned that the voice at the end of your dream reminded you of a throng of bells. Who has ever been described with a voice like that?" The other three creatures looked at each other, then back at Ivy.
"Who?" They chorused.
"I'll give you a clue, he was the greatest Abbey Warrior in all of Redwall history!"
Taro gasped as he realized what she was saying. "You mean?.."
Ivy nodded. "Yes...Martin the Warrior."
Taro's mouth hang agape as he tooking what it all meant. "Martin. THE Martin. Spoke to me? But...why me? I'm just an assistant Infirmary Keeper!" His three friends rolled their eyes. Ruddan gave him a friendly shove.
"Why you, matey? I'll give you two good reasons. Tell me, who is considered by the Elders 'an old head on young shoulders'?"
Taro blushed. "Me..."
"And who is it that still truly believes the legends about the great Warrior Mouse and his sword where others doubt?"
"Me, I guess."
"So...out of all the creatures here at this Abbey, who do you think Martin's going to talk to?"
Taro looked around at his three friends, noting the serious look in their eyes. He smiled. "You've made your point, Ruddan, but I still have one question. What does it all mean?"
Ivy smiled. "That's what we need to figure out." Ivy took a a bit of charcoal and barkpaper from out of her habit sleeve. "I've taken to carrying these around ever since old Sister Emila began my training for Abbey Recorder. They've come in handy a fair bit. Now...slowly repeat Martin's words."