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Dedicated to...who(m)ever keeps critiquing and the alter ego Academy, the Neopets fiend.
Find the sword, stop the Lord was all it said. I paraphrase, but sounds easy enough, right?
I wish it were that easy. I don’t know where this sword or lord is, no clear indication of where to start for leagues…no indication that I’ll even survive.
And who am I to do it? I am only Academy!
Kazirka Deathlaye the ferret and her son, Borha were making their way east after a successful raid on the Far West coasts and forests. Kazirka’s head emerged from her covered stretcher, and glared past the bearers, down at her son, “Shut them up.” She snapped.
“Yes mother.” Borha turned around to the mass of 5 score beasts he had following him, on the ground below the hillock where he stood, the piercings in his huge arms shining in the sunlight. “Should I take 2 score of ya, an’ wrap ‘em round ya mouths an’ noses?” He roared “Well? Then keep quiet! Any crow wid half an’ eye could see yew lot, may as well shaddup!” He grabbed the nearest guard by the neck, and held up the squirming victim.
The noises stopped immediately. “Better. Good enuff, mother?” There was a shrill note, and Borha took it as approval, “Good enuff.” He flung the unfortunate guard carelessly down the hill, “Tell ‘em that we stop fer now, Grunger! Bawhawhawhaw!”
Amid Borha’s laughter, Kazirka’s stretcher was placed lightly on the ground, and Glorence, her advisor, was called. “Pin the flaps back.”
The pine martin did as commanded, “Yes, Warlady. Did you call for something more than just fresh air?” She was met with a glare.
“Of course. Any one of the oafs carrying me could simply open the flaps of my canvas. I want you to tell me where we are headed, Glorence.”
“Well, Warlady, we are almost on the fringes of one Mossflower Woods.” Kazirka suddenly stopped observing one of her earrings and stared intently at Glorence “And is this where it is? Read me the prophecy again.” They had found an old seer holed up in a cove by the sea, wanting no part with any group. With Borah’s paws about to crush her above her own purple fire, she had seen the future.
“You don’t want the seer to recall it for you, Lady?”
“She’s either drunk or dead. Last time I saw her, might’ve been both. Go on, Glorence.” She cleared her throat and began.
And he will be Redwall’s hero,
with the strength, none can compare
but use thy lady’s treachery
to trump him, if ye dare
For if he is allowed to be free
with the wit one cannot sand
You’ll be gone within the season
from a traitor within your band.
“Then…what is this Redwall? Shouldn’t we be going to a Redwall Forest?” Added Kazirka quickly, not wanting to seem unknowledgeable. “I think Redwall is in Mossflower, but if it ‘twill put my Lady’s mind at ease, I shall go double check.”
She cackled, showing the small semiprecious stones implanted on her fangs. “Yes. And while you’re out, have food and wine sent. Post guards around the medium of course, you foolish beast.”Her attention was back to her earrings again. Glorence’s mouth was a thin line as she bowed to the Warlady and exited.
Trhad, Narran, and Jurt looked upon the badger in awe. Celesten was the only beast in the Deathlaye horde bigger than Borha. He lifted a large boulder and walked several steps, and let the rock fall behind them, “That’ll be outta the way, mates.” His tattooed face grinned as they showered him with applause.
‘Nice, ole pal ‘o mine.” Borha had stepped into the clearing, pushing Narran into the ground while simultaneously swiping a dead pigeon from Jurt. “Didjer use Bloodwrath t’move it?”
“What’s that?”It sounded like neither an enemy or an ale.
“You ain’t ever heard o’ the Bloodwrath?” Asked Trhad, “Streuth! It’s this thing that only the mos’ powerful badgers get when they gotta do something hard like that.”
“Or when facin’ down a mortal enemy!” Borha crammed the entire bird in his mouth, crunching through bone and feathers.
Celesten shrugged, “Mayhaps I ain’t powerful enough.”
“Don’t lissen ter these louse-ridden bumberheads, Cel.” The Chieftan clapped a paw on his shoulder, “Yer got plenny o’power, more than this wrath. That’s why ye ain’t use it, ya got somethin’ better!”
“Oh, I know it, yer lily-livered swamp stomper!” He gave the ferret a friendly shove. “Show me what ya can do!” He bounced back with a quick right hook. Celesten crouched low and rushed at Borha’s unprotected middle, knocking him flat.
“Ya leave yaself open far too much, mate!” He said as Borha heaved himself up, “Thank ya lucky stars we ain’t enemies!”
I wrap my tail around me as tight as I can; still balancing on a branch. Snow would be better to hide it,but it’s far too cold for me to handle right now. I hear one crunching on the snow beneath me, seeking me out. After a moment of consultation with another of its smelly brethren, he walks away. Great! Now I can—
The squirrel hit the ground , landing in a pile of snow. He instinctively went rigid, but soon the hunter had found its quarry.
“No use hidin’, nature’s mistake. Get up, now, where’s half yer crop?” The arctic fox grabbed an ear and heaved him up.
“Now see here—er--Snarek, what’s with this name calling? I think I’m rather suited for these conditions!” Indeed, Academy was snow white, with blue-gray ear tufts and a smattering of the darker color blending with the white on his tail. “Hid plenty o’times before. And, secondish, I’m not even full grown yet. Why does Fangice want crops from me, anyway?” Fangice Coldclaw, one of those ‘Rule over all that he surveys’ type, Academy called him. Strolled up the land one day, declared it his, and set out a whopping great horde to enforce some laws, the Chillfiends.
“You’ve been livin’ off ‘is Iceness’ food fer long enough, ‘e says.” Snarek dropped the squirrel and looked around, “Takin’ advannage o’his kindness. So, where is it, eh? In ‘ere?” he tapped his head with a claw.
Academy straightened himself, “Just a moment.” He tensed his hindpaws, “I stashed my crop away this time, ‘tis right over …here!” A pile of snowballs, premade for the occasion, was within paw’s reach as he flung one at the tax taker and darted away through the forest, kicking up snow.
Snarek snarled and shook his head, drawing his spear, and pursuing the young squirrel once more.
Academy took to the trees when he thought the fox was far enough behind. He can follow my prints, and then get his silly self lost! He heard voices, and quickly came to a stop, dislodging snow. Clear eyes darting this way and that, he found the source to be a few Chillfiends grouped around a fire below. A small fish encased in ice was rotating above it.
“Whatta haul o’ grain ya got there, Knawblack!” Said a ferret loudly, “Who’d ya lift that’n offa?”
Knawblack grinned and patted the sack of crop, “From that hedgehog family. Wid all those paws, they had too much grain for ‘em all to eat anyway. Though I’d help meself to a little more!” They all broke out in laughter. Academy clenched his paws. Shiffen Sluicespike and his wife, Millya, had 5 hogbabes to feed, and were always glad to have Academy stop by for supper. As one could imagine, having half their grain taken for Fangice’s tax was hard enough, but to have this Knawblack take even more was too much.
While still watching the group, Academy began to think up a plan on the fly.
Much farther south, Francabean was assisting the Abbot of Redwall around the grounds.
Freddle was usually confined to a wheelchair, but the old mouse refused to be pushed about the yard. He leaned on his cane for support, “And how is Dwingle, Franca? I haven’t seen her too much of late.” He asked brightly.
“Oh, oh! Ma’s trying to organize a choir of Dibbuns. She’ll bribe ‘em with food, get ‘em all in one room…then a little mole will remember he’s got to practice his tunnels, or a hedgehog will insist that he fetch some Strawberry Fizz, ‘cause all the singing makes their mouths dry, or…well, anyway, that’s why I’m out here with do, Father.”
Freddle nodded with a smile, and directed his vision ahead. “Behind me please, Franca. Let me see who that is.” Franca’s fur was far lighter than woodland squirrels. A very light brown, as though her fur was once white and, through the sun’s determination, go darker, if only a little. The sun shone brightly off her, interfering with the Abbot’s vision. She stepped back, looking over his shoulder.
A figure was lolloping around, singing jovially.
‘’Ain’t it a day, today, hooray!’’
‘’To splash in sun, an’ run in rain,’’
‘’But time and time and time again,’’
‘’You’ll find me in the clear an’ deep,’’
‘’Forgettin’ if the bank is steep,’’
‘’The water’s where I’ll be!’’
Following the conclusion , the figure twisted around in a dance, quickly falling flat on its rear. It saw them and waved, “Right as rain, Father, Franca! Here, let me ‘elp!” Flurrin Battlerain ran up to meet them, giving a short bow to the Abbot. Freddle waved him aside. “Don’t bother. Sources tell me you may soon be a leader one day.”
Flurrin’s eye grew wide. “Really? Did Old Ronka tell ye, Father?” The Battlerain otters had been without a Skipper for a while, and had lived under the counsel of Ronka, the eldest in the clan. She had spoken recently about wanting to enjoy her last days with ought someone staring her down for instructions, but most had just thought it the usual guff.
“Now, I won’t say all that. There’ll be more competition for the title than just you.”
“Huh! They’ll be no match for this!” He ran past the two, swinging his heavy rudder through the air, pretending to thwack and punch imaginary adversaries. “Whoo, not in my clan! That’s right, my claaaaan!” He slipped and stumbled the last steps until he fell into the Abbey pond, face first.
“No match, right. Except for the great slipups—really great!”
“Now, don’t laugh too much at our friend Flurrin.” Insisted Freddle, “Who knows, maybe he’ll fall so much he’ll trip someone else up and they’ll call it a fight!” And they both broke out into hoots of laughter.
Flurrin climbed out of the pool, “Very funny.” He said, “But all that trippin’ makes a beast hungry! Race ye to lunch!” And while flipping and mock fighting around them, they made their way to the Great Hall.
“I’m getting too old for this.” Mumbled Freddle, and for some reason, Franca was hopeful.
Glorence walked through the camp until she found Borha and Celesten, roaring with laughter and quaffing drink as they sat with Trhad, Narran, and Jurt, who looked on hungrily as the huge beasts ate from a varied spread.
“Lookit us, pal, stuffin’ our gobs wid no t’ought to our pals ‘ere.” Borha crammed a strawberry into his mouth.
“Let’s get t’remedyin’ that, eh?” Celesten took a burnt woodpigeon, bit a part of it, and threw the rest to the waiting hordesbeasts, who pounced on it.
“Gimme that!” Narran punched Jurt on the shoulder, and he toppled close to the fire.
“Slimy rat!” He gathered a pawful of ashes and threw them at his assailant, accidentally hitting Trhad, whos’ paws flew up and rubbed his face.
“Ya aim’s worse than a mole at sea!” He growled, and the cruel leaders laughed even harder until Glorence stepped in and pulled Jurt from the fire’s edge.
“What have you two been up to, eh?” She glared accusingly at the pair.
“Jus’ havin fun, but o’course yew ain’t have a bloody thought ‘bout dat bouncin’ round in yer skull. Take a break from lickin’ Ma’s paws?”
The Warlady’s advisor ignored the insults, “I came here for Celesten. He’s on assignment.” The badger was interested, “What sort?”
“Confirming if this really is Mossflower Wood, home of Redwall Abbey. Any woodlanders will trust you far more than any of us, as soon as I cover those tattoos all over ye.”
“Oh no, yew ain’t touchin’ my horde markins’!” He replied hotly, but Glorence shook her head.
“Only coverin’ up, Celesten. A bit of Dellwort will make your face all white, an’ I’m sure I can find somethin’ to make your stripe black. You’ll have to take out the earrings and piercings, though.”
Borha looked up at his friend, who stood and sighed, saying “If I gotta. When do I go trampin’ through this overgrown bramble bush?”
The pine martin took his paw, leading him away, “Right now, we get you ready.”
Rangar the Inker had covered the unnatural markings and gave him a burlap smock. Celesten observed it. “Why this rag?” He said.
“To look naturaler. I ain’t get all of your chest covered. Besides, yew look like a bumpkin. Woodlander’s always help bumpkins.” He licked his lips, “If’n ya catch one, haul it back fer me.”
“Huh. I doubt it. C’n I go no w?” Withought waiting for an answer, the badger stomped out of the tent. His mind was on heading into that woodland, when he heard someone call his name, “Wait! Celesten!”
Kazirka had decided to honor her camp by actually walking through it. She beckoned something small in her wake. “Take Bayur.” She instructed, “Look at him.”
Celesten blinked; Bayur looked like a shrew, when in reality, he was a stoat. “His nose is nearly as long as those rivermice, see?” She tossed a faded headband carelessly at him, “Why, I suppose he can act as your companion, because badgers are too noble to have slaves!” Kazirka cackled, and pushed a blade into Celesten’s paw, “Get going.”
“Ain’t ever thought I’d be back in these woods agin.” Bayur took a deep breath, “Smells nice, nicer than them plains breezes.”
“Oh, you’ve been to this Mossflower? Then why are we searchin’ for Redwall? Shouldn’t yew know if’n ya been here?”
“Let me tell ye, Celesten, whenever ya get a chance to go into the woodlands, take it.” The badger was still rather miffed; He was having a great time, only to be dragged away to find information on a forest half of them had been in. What a waste of time!
“Why were ya here before, then?”
“Travelin’.” Bayur said, after a moment of silence, “Jus’ travelin’.” He held up a paw and Celesten nearly crashed into him, “Shush, now, I t’ink I hear somethin’!”
“Get that ‘eadband on.” Celesten pushed his way in front of the stoat and roared out a challenge, “I was born in the middle of fallin’ stars! My ma be thunder and my da, ole lightnin’! Who dare challenges the son o’the elements?”
Above them, leaves rustled and something tittered, “No need to be like that, sir badger. Astrod won’t hurt ye.”
An old squirrel with rust colored fur slid down a tree and landed on the ground. “Can’t go jumpin’ outta trees these days. Breaks these old bones. Just preparin’ lunch, would you care for some, mister…?”
“Celesten.” He decided upon using his real name, considering it didn’t sound verminous, “Oh, and this is Swingle.” Bayur gave a nod. “We’ll be happy to join you.”
“Why, excellent.” Astrod gave them a big grin, “Follow me!”
There was so much food that neither Celesten nor Baylor had ever tried, and here they tried everything. Summer salad, with meadowcream mixed in. Apple tarts. Berry pastries. Astrod encouraged them to help themselves.
“Facin’ a seven season famine?” He inquired, “Go, on, have some more!” After a while, pleased and exhausted, the two leaned against a tree.
“Now, we didn’t come through here to simply impose on somebeast’s hospitality. We need to know a little ‘bout this place. What is it?”
“This is Mossflower Wood, home of more triumphs than tragedies. The jewel of the forest is Redwall Abbey, a few klicks north o’here. Want me t’show you two the way?”
Celesten nodded, “Please. No need to take us inside, though—we’ve still got to go further south and pick up our families.” A lie, of course.
“Follow up, then!” He led them on a trip through the afternoon, when, during sunset, Redwall came into view. “There ‘tis!...I suppose you’d best be moseying on, so you can get ya families here soon.”
“Afraid so.” Celesten clapped both paws on their tour guide’s shoulders, “Thanks merrily, and may we meet again on our way back.” Astrod shook paws with Baylur, and was up a tree in a flash of fur. The two didn’t talk until they reached the fringes of the camp, “Ah, I ain’t shoot that squirrel. Pity, Rangar’ll just ‘ave to shut up an’ accept it.” “He wouldna ate ‘is carcass.” The badger shuddered, “Far too ropey.”
Glorence and Borha were watching them enter, abundant interest written on their faces.
Knawblack and the others were still seated after a quarter of an hour. (Academy could tell; first the sun was behind him, now it was in his eyes.) Fire crackling brightly, Knawblack took the fish and blew on it gently, and took a small bite. “Wow, yew gotta give this a try, Voklink!” The fish was being passed when something knocked it onto the frozen ground. With a curse, Knawblack jumped to his feet. “Alright, which one of yew threw dat iceball? Yew was gonna get yer turn…”
Sharp icicles began to rain on the other side of the camp, down on Drufel, who squealed and fell backward. “It’s comin’ from o’er there!” Leaping over the fallen rat, the Chillfiends dashed into the perimeter around the camp, leaving it nearly empty. After their sounds grew dim, Academy slid down a tree.
He took the fish and sniffed it, tossing it aside. There was plenty of food to take and return among the Alkahine folk. There were frozen fruits, vegetables, even a few pieces of gold, heirlooms. Academy took it all, with a firm resolve to return every piece. He walked towards Knawblack’s grain collection and was about to picked it up.
“Hold it!” Academy knew the following sound well; the sound of a bowstring being tightened, “Yew drop everythin, now!”
It all hit the ground except a select piece as Academy turned slowly to face Drufel, who was grinning pretty wide for a rat with two missing teeth. “If’n it ain’t the little brat wid ‘is life on loan. Won’t I get a fat reward for finally catchin’ ya in the act o’stealin’!”
The squirrel hadn’t come across this particular Chillfiend before, and reverted back to an old tactic, “Don’t mind me, mate.” He said, swinging the item in his paw; A silver medallion, embossed with a capital letter ‘R’, “I’ll give you this an’ scat. You go back t’being knocked out, and this is yours. All of it.”
Drufel looked like he was seriously considering the offer, frozen claw out to receive the trinket. In a quick change of heart, he snatched a bone whistle from around his neck and gave three short blasts. Before Academy could make a move, he was surrounded by a score of Chillfiends. Snarek grinned as the spear pole thudded into the squirrel’s head, knocking him cold.
“There’s somethin’ ominous on the other side of this door…” Flurrin took his spearpole, and carefully pushed open the door.
“YAAR!” Freddle managed to pull Franca back out of the way of the stampede of Dibbuns, who promptly tackled Flurrin. There were shouts of “I wanna bes an otter too, Flurn!” and various small war cries.
“Easy, easy there, ye little terrors! There’ll be plenty o’room for all of ye, just get off, yer crushin’ a poor beast t’death!” The Dibbuns helped Flurrin up, pushing him into the room.
Freddle turned to Franca, “I’ll need your help right now, miss. Walk me to my chair, and get the crowd’s attention, please.” They strolled across the Great Hall, assaulted with noise from all sides. At the Abbot’s high chair, Franca put her best paw forth in makes enough noise to outshout even the loudest chatters, “Quiet! Quiiiiet…Redwaaaaallll!”
The noise died down quickly. A little mole said ‘Oi wish yew wuddent do that, miss Frenka.”
“She had to, Durdle.” Replied the Abbot lightly, “For I have an announcement. In a season’s time, I am stepping down from my post as Abbot. I have a good idea on whom my successor should be, but I will watch everybeast I find suitable until the end of autumn, and then I will make my decision. And I have received word today that by the same time, the clan of Battlerain will have a new leader, as by chosen by Old Ronka.”
Everybeast broke into conversation with their neighbors, Franca and Flurrin being no exception. “We’ll be leaders together!” She whispered, “Me, the Abbess, imagine…”
“Oho, I can imagine alright, mate. Old Freddle’s protégé thingy, that’s what ye are!”
The crowd’s attention returned to the Abbot, who held a silver medallion, a letter ‘W’ prominently displayed on the front. “We will also need a Champion in the coming seasons, I’ve been told. Now, I can’t pick the beast he has his eye on, so that matter will wait.”
He strolled over to the tapestry of Mossflower’s savior, Martin the Warrior, and looped the faded ribbon around a peg that held up his wondrous sword. He turned back to the crowd, “But now, we have a feast to prepare! The Autumn of… ” Freddle stopped short, “Of what, I’m not sure. Can’t have a feast with ought a name for the season, can we?”
“Sure we can!” Roared Flurrin, and everyone laughed.
“Then let’s get all paws on board. There’s an abundance of crop, and that means a talent show, something to show Mother Nature how grateful she has lavished her bounty on us. Chefs, artists, everyone doing anything should have something to contribute! In two days time!” He clapped his paws, and everyone began to partake in the special Redwall fare, delicious as always.
“This event was made for us.” Said the squirrelmaid, eyes bright, “We’ll make this feast the best one anybeasts’ ever seen!”
There was a lot of pain for Academy. It seemed to come from all around….the ground, and especially his head. Every bit of it trapped him in freezing temperatures, but the worst onslaught of cold came from the voice.
“Well, well, if it isn’t…him.”
His eyes s snapped open; His cheek rested on the cold glass floor of the Frozen Palace, arms held to said ground by unnaturally shiny chains. Academy put himself as upright as he could, staring at Fangice. A gold clasp held the deep purple cloak over his slim shoulders. “What have you done this time?”
“Nothing your Chillfiends hadn’t done before.”
In a flash, Fangice was beside Snarek, “Tell me, Captain.”
“Liftin’ food from the taxers, Lord Coldclaw.” He said, and for some reason, Fangice was ecstatic at the fact.
“I couldn’t convict this runt for anything else, but I’ve got him now. No proof that he had broken any of my laws! No one could tell how the barracks caught fire, or the porridge poisoned, or anything, when we all knew it was him! And now he is convicted simply for stealing.” He strolled over to Academy and looked down at him. Then, with a swift movement, lifted the squirrel by the neck and stared him in the face, “Why did you do it?” he screamed.
In his mind, the bite Academy gave him was simply a brush of teeth against his arm. And blood. And bone. Again, nothing serious. He was dropped quickly, and Fangice had stepped back, clutching his bleeding arm. “Because I was hungry!” He said as triumphantly as the situation allowed.
His Iceness’ fangs were bared, and he was shaking, “To…the…dungeons…” He spat out, “You won’t live to see next season, no, not even next week! Fetch Shinno!” He added, as the guard swarmed in to haul the prisoner away, “As soon as this arm is sewn, I’ll use this claw to rip your heart out! Nobeast does this to me! Nobeast…!”
The Chillfiends worked surprisingly quickly when their boss was in a murderous rage, and so the end of the monologue was missed. As soon as they stepped into the cold dungeon, a cell was unlocked and Academy thrown in.
“Sweet dreams, ya little terror.” Snarek slammed the door shut and went back upstairs.
For the first time since the incident, Academy felt shaken, as though this could finally be the end of his days. He was so distracted, than when he settled down onto a pile of straw in the corner, he didn’t realize that it was alive until it punched him in the face. He reeled across the cell and squinted around for his assailant.
A older hare had taken up a boxing pose, medals and awards jangling on an ivory tunic. “Righto, ye snowbrained bottom brushes! Ole chompers finally come for me, eh? Well, Swankers Jollydiggle is not goin’ down without a fight!” A flurry of punches was thrown. When nothing retaliated at him, he popped in a monocle and spotted Academy. “Why, hello there, chap! Good gosh, what happen to your left peeper? Those guards knock you about, wot wot?”
This was hardly believable, “You punched me!” the squirrel gasped. A bit of snow was scooped from the windowsill.
“My ‘pologeys, laddie. One must always be prepared.” He handed Academy the snowball, “Put that on it, courtesy of Swankers O.S.P Jollydiggle!”
“A jolly pleasure t’meet you. High time I had some company. Whatcha in for?”
“Huh, stealing.” His ears twitched as if expressing further the irony in his statement. Swankers nodded.
“’M in for flippin’ insubordination. Had to say the word t’him 3 times before he got around to understandin’ what I was talking about. Tossed me in here.” He sighed. “Though my days are run. I’ve been getting’ well fed lately…or as well as a prisoner can. You know what’s comin’ when ya gets stews an’ pasties an’ whatnot. Fattenin’ ya up! ‘Only one more day until we gets that rabbit stew boss promised’ One o’them cads said. Why, they’d get a better meal from ‘im than me.”
“That makes two of us. A lovely hare and squirrel pasty we’ll make.” Something hit the floor beside Academy when he slumped down the wall. “Eh…?”
The silver medallion with the ‘R’ was in his paw. As he turned it, the sun caught on the surface.
“Whooa!” Swankers rubbed his eyes, “The sayin’ goes ‘an eye for a bally eye’ not one for two! Wot is that?”
“Something I found…” Inspiration struck, “How many guards come down with food?”
“Only one. But since there’s two of us now, might be more.”
“Well, I’ll count on only one. I’ve got an idea t’get us out. ‘Tis a risky and foolhardy one—“
“But the only one we have. Go on pal.” The hare looked as far as he could see down each corridor, where a dozy guard stood, “I’m listenin’.”
Franca and Flurrin were outside after lunch. She was sitting on the ground amidst a pile of books; he was going through more fighting motions.
“A good Skipper has to be strong, fast, and unbeatable!” He twirled the pole around his head, “Anythin’ helpful in there, mate?”
A page was turned, “There’s plenty. ‘’Summer of the Six Pearls’’…this Skipper of Otters killed a…lizard? With nothing but his bare paws! ‘’Summer Of the Savage’’…maybe…” Franca’s thoughts were far from battle tactics. If she were to be Abbess, she would need to know where she came from. There was her foster mother, of course, Dwingle. A little dimmer compared to even the ones in Abbey school, but always loving. “Did Ronka tell the clan how she would pick a Skipper?”
“Nah…but Azlan says that the last task is usually finding the Bladestone. It could be hidden in all of Mossflower.” His eyes lit up, “That’s it! I’ll practice by searching in Mossflower!”
“What could you look for?”
“Well…whenever I see the Bladestone, I notice that it’s shinier than a cooked trout. Doesn’t seem like much of a challenge if it’s that bright, but maybe…dirt is rubbed on it.” Franca was running back to the Great Hall, “Hey! Where ya going?”
“I’ve an idea!” Back inside, she went between the tables to Martin’s tapestry. She caught the medal in one paw by the silken ribbon, eyes avoiding the heroic figure above her.
“It’s for an ally of Redwall, sir.” She mumbled, “I’ll take care of it.” And left.
There were a crowd of Dibbuns around the door, and one older, harried looking squirrel trying to keep them in order. She caught sight of Franca and beamed.
“Why, that’s my girl, that’s my Franca, you’ll help me tip these little ‘uns into Cavern Hole, won’t you? Yes you will, come along now, minutes, follow Francabean!”
She sighed, but managed to put on a big smile, “Last one down doesn’t get the special treat Sister Dwingle has promised!” She had their attention now.
“’Tis a secret, Hollom. Best hurry down and see! C’mon!” She stepped to the side just in time; Whooping and cheering, the Dibbuns raced across the Hall, down a side hall, and waited at the door. “Me’n Flurrin are going to collect plants in the forest.”
“You two pick some sage and thyme for the Infirmary! And , Franca…” suddenly, she was locked in a hug by her foster mother, “Be safe, dear. You be my heart. Go on now.” The clamoring of the Dibbuns was too much to ignore. Dwingle wiped her eyes and hurried on.
“What took so long?” Flurrin was throwing his pole like a javelin, and running under to catch it; It wouldn’t do to poke holes in the Abbey lawn.
“Helping Mum. I told her we were going into the woods, so we’ll have to bring back some plants.”
“Did she try an’ stop us?” The otter lifted the latch on the gate.
“No. Why? Oh, because that’s how elders act sometime. That we can’t take care of ourselves.” They set off on the path, hitting the door until they heard the latch fall back, and set off. "No, she didn't."
“So…It’s there. Did you ask this squirrel about the warrior?”
Kazirka’s tent was darkened, a fire in the middle sending up purple smoke. Celesten and Bayur were sitting across from it, heads bowed. Bayur spoke for both of them.
“No, Warlady, he did not.”
She dunked a handkerchief into a bowl of liquid and tossed it at Celesten, “Clean that off. I can’t stand to see you that way, so ordinary.” His eyes widened in surprise as he wiped his face.
“This is the best wine, Warlady!” He said. She gave him a rare smile.
“Indeed it is, only for the best beast in my horde. Call for my adviser—“
“Can Borha come too?” The smile disappeared.
“Yes, yes, for once, he actually needs to be here. Tell Glorence to find him too.” He bowed and left.
The badger found them both, glaring at each other over a shaking rat on the ground. “Schym was our best knifer!” said Glorence.
“’e badmouthed me, pine ratten.” A long blade was stabbed in the earth, “It’s my horde, an’ everybeasts’ gonna respect me!”
“Alright, wot is this?” Celesten finally bent down and touched the rat, who uncurled from his ball. Schym’s throwing paw was cut straight down the middle, two claws on each side of the deep, bloody mess. “C’n ya throw wid that other paw?”
He nodded an affirmative. “Good on ye. Go get that bandaged up, mate.” He helped the knife thrower up, and he ran from the clearing.
“You agree with this punishment Borha inflicts on his own followers?”
He could only shrug, “’tis his horde. Whatever punishment ‘e sees fit goes. She wants to see us.”
Back in the tent, there was another visitor. Kazirka patted her on the arm. “Sit. This is Vallea. Says she had a vision—“ She snatched the wine bottle away from her, voice growing to a deeper growl.
“Tell us what we need, or…” The friendly pat quickly turned into an iron grip, and Vallea squealed.
“Yes, Warlady, o’course!” When everyone was seated, she opened a small pouch and dumped it on the fire. Blinding white smoke filled the tent. Celesten could see no one, but heard a broken sounding voice;
- “Bright is the warrior, home from the snow, and the sister, home from the stone.”
No one talked until the smoke had cleared. Vallea was chugging the wine, until she saw everyone glaring at her.
“What’s it mean?” Whispered Glorence, and the seer shrugged.
“Aye, who knows, miss--?”
Kazirka took the bottle and smashed it on her paw. “You know!” She roared over the screams of pain, “Or you wouldn’t have seen it! Tell us or it’ll be your head next!”
Borha, Bayur and Celesten had discreetly backed away, as close to the entrance as they dared; Her wrath could just as easily be turned on them.
Vallea supported her arm, swollen and bloody on the paw, and spoke.
“If he lives ‘igh in the Lands o’ice an’ Snow, he probably have very bright fur. Much lighter than the woodlanders.” She kept her gaze on the ground.
“Redwall’s a whoppin’ great home o’stone, Ma, dat’s what Bayur an’ Cel saw.”
“I see.” The Warlady nodded, “Celesten, gather the captains, tell them to start whipping these lumps back into shape. I want archery, bladefights, guerilla, tooth and nail. Work on them all, understood?”
He bowed, “Of course. You have not requested, but commanded.”
“Borha, gather a small group, make it well rounded—it must have a good archer. Come and see me when you do. Bayur, you are in his group.” She cast a disapproving glance at Vallea, rocking on the floor and dripping blood. “Glorence, get her out of her, and clean up this mess. Everyone is dismissed.”
Glorence was thrown into the smoking remains in the rush for the exit.
The plan depended far too much on luck. When the prisoners’ dinner was brought, Academy only had a few spoonfuls and poured it on the ground, on the other side of the bars as best he could. Swankers gave a disapproving tut, “Wastin’ food! Why, when I was a leveret…”
“When you were a leveret, you were probably a freebeast! I know it’s wasteful—and a pity, too, it’s pretty good—but you’ve still got your bowl, so eat it up.” The hare needed no second bidding; It was gone in a flash. Academy looked incredulous. “You could have shared some with me!”
“Didn’t ask, young ‘un.” They slept through the night, waking early. Swankers piled as much snow as he could into the slippery mess in front of them while Academy practiced reflecting the light with the medallion.
“Ooh, someone’s coming! Places!” Swankers huddled around the gate, while Academy stood back. The sun was position correctly, if the guard was right in the middle of the door…
“Rise’n’shine, beauties. Day o’recocgnin’ fer ya.” He unlocked the gate, and Academy flicked the light in his face. The stoat instinctively covered his eyes, slipping backward when the hare had pushed him through the bars. Swankers also hit him with a swift punch, knocking him cold.
“Jolly good! Didn’t think that’d work…move on to the upper levs now, wot?”
“Yes. Let’s head left, though, away from the throne room.” They went up the stone staircase, moving upwards in tight spirals. They came to an open window that showed the courtyard, with little fires surrounded by Chillfiends trying to keep warm. “If they’re out there, Fangice must be in some high bad mood…”
The wall was too slippery for Academy to run down (And who wants to fall into a vermin gathering anyway?), so they continued up.
“Let’s make for the kitchens.” Whispered Swankers, “There’s bound to be a scullery we can slip through—“
“Er, yes, or fodder!”
After a while of sneaking and hiding, they came to the conclusion that the Frozen Palace was much bigger than they thought, and were lost. Of course, there had been plenty of escape routes, all covered by guards, or just plain inaccessible. Until—
“Hello, what’s this?” Academy pushed open a door; the furnishings inside were luxurious and plush. There was a fireplace against one wall across from a bed and table. “Can you guess who this belongs to?”
The hare came inside, stepping on something soft, “Eurgh, I think I just planted a footpaw onto that fangfiend’s mother!” Sure enough, there was the pelt of a skinned wolverine, tan and brown. One of his ears twitched, “Uh-oh! Somebeast’s a-comin’! Get up that fireplace, cad!”
“What about—“ The hare had jumped under the bed, an Academy raced up the fireplace until he was suitably wedged in the chimney. He heard the door slam open and paws march in.
“Where is Sharf? Where’s my meal? Those prisoners should have been cooked and served by now!” It was Fangice.
A weaker voice followed, “Sir, I thought you said the squirrel was to personally be tortured?”
“Hmm…that’s right. Get me the medium-sized sword; the one with the blue pommelstone. And fetch Sawyer along with it. I need to look like a king for my greatest achievement.” The door closed again. For a while, there was much rummaging around for a decent cloak and admiration in the floor-length mirror. Academy had to hold his nose to stop from sneezing, and he hoped that Swankers hadn’t fallen asleep, because he had a tendency to snore. Sometime later, the door was throw open again.
“Sharf was found on the ground in a pile o’muck in the dungeons. The captives ain’t there!”
There was a low growl, growing in intensity and volume until it became a roar. The visitor began to shriek, and something hit the ground, stopping the noise. “Put everybeast on high alert, Fellor! Every Chillfiend out of the palace is to search the land thoroughly—now go!”
More noises of movement, “And you…” This was spoken quieter, almost a whisper, “Search outside as well. They’ll be trying to get away. Follow them, do whatever you must, but get the squirrel Academy back here alive. Presumably mortally injured. Bring him back dead and you’ll take his place on the whipping post.”
“Have I ever failed ye, Lord?” This low, smooth voice was presumably Sawyer’s. There was no reply. The door shut again, and all was silent.
“Looks like ye got a ransom for your head there, cad.” Swankers had crawled out from under the bed. “All clear!”
“Won’t be the first tim—oof!” Paws numb, the squirrel had fallen right into the grate. He emerged, covered in ash and embers.
“Put some more o’that on! Makes one look like one of these unsavory cads! Hey there, don’t hog the soot!” The two dumped pawfuls of soot on their visible parts. “Roll down those ears.” Said Academy, opening the door. “An look busy!”
They now navigated the castle a little less warily; No one they came in contact with could see who they were. Immediately heading outside, they pretended to search in the nearby forest. “Any luck ‘ere, Kasher?”
“Uh, not a whisker wot—er, I mean, wot was dat? Somethin’s that away!” The other searching went off in the direction Swankers indicated.
“Now, for phase two!” He ran toward the hilltop, pushing a snowball, which got bigger and bigger. “Help me, Swank!”
“You’re not bally well tellin’ me we’re going to roll in that thing? It’s a ball of ice!” It’s the fastest—“
“HEY! STOP THERE!” Their heads snapped back behind them. The trail of soot was clearly visible, and had been spotted by the enemy, “I got ‘em, mates! Let’s get ‘em!” A score and a half began to run and stumble toward them.
“Push it, and then fall into it, on my word!...3….1…NOW!” The two fell into the huge, frozen ball; the momentum from their pushing and gravity combined made it fly down the hill; All of the pursuers were left baffled far behind.
Except Sawyer, who kept close behind it, bounding from branch to branch.
The sky over Mossflower was white. The rumble of distant thunder accompanied the wind whipping through the forest, heavy with the scent of rain. “Let’s do this quick.” Said Franca, shielding the medallion from the scratching branches.
“Actually, this is just flippin’ perfect! Who says Ronka won’t make it rain to add a level of challenge on the day?” Flurrin hopped around, “Go an’ hide it, mate, not too hard for now!”
Borha led his group into Mossflower slowly, “When I give da signal, split up. Catch der pale squirrel. Giva signal when ye find her. We ain’t comein’ back widout her, right?”
A fox, Halesur, raised a paw, “Er, yeh got too many signals, sir. What’s da one when we find her?”
Their leader picked up two rocks and slammed them together. They made a loud clack, and then fell to pieces. “Dat is. Let’s go!”
Franca looked around; Most of the hiding places were simple and obvious, but she saw one component that gave her an idea. “Close your eyes, Flurrin!”
The otter shut his eyes, spun around, and fell on the ground, “Kay, matey. Ready!”
There was a tall tree a few hops away; One could see a good deal of Mossflower if they stayed at the very top, far higher than the surrounding trees. She started to climb for a better view. The wind was stronger here, and it took her a while to climb, but when she reached the top branches, she stopped and let out a deep breath.
“Lovely.” She looked over the emerald expanse. The River Broad flowed to the east, meeting up with the Great South Stream much further down. Redwall was north, tall, old. The plains were to the west—
She squinted. Something was there, a group of sorts. There was smoke rising, and she could see little figures moving, running, fighting. Suddenly, Franca got very scared, and raced down as quickly as possible. She was back amongst the lower branches when an arrow whizzed by and struck her tail. She squealed and lost her grip, falling until she was splayed haphazardly across lower branches. Another arrow caught her in the shoulder; She couldn’t move.
“I got ‘er, mates, I got ‘er! Keep bangin’ those rocks, Grimmer!”
Grimmer and the archer, Yusser, had found it strange that there was a lone otter, sitting on the ground, eyes and ears covered. Yusser was all for sticking an arrow into him, but Grimmer thought it more in their interests to take hold of two hostages, and, creeping up behind him, slammed a rock on his head.
“Lookit up there.” Yusser pointed to the large tree.
“Why, thatsa might huge tree, dere…”
“I mean somethin’ movin up there, dolt—It’s light coloured!”
They hid, weapons ready, and waited. This was their squirrel, running down the tree at speed. Yusser let loose his arrow when she was still far above—no need for her to be able to jump from tree to tree. She made a noise and fell some feet, before getting entangled. The hunt was over.
Borha stormed into the clearing, other horde members following meekly behind. He nodded an affirmation to Yusser. “Well done, yew.” Then, in a quick movement, smacked him upside the head, “Now how do we get ‘er down?”
“I know, lord!” Grimmer talked to the huge ferret quietly, and a grin grew slowly over his face. He picked up Yusser and heaved him into the tree. “Grab ‘er, fool!” The startled stoat screamed and twisted in midair, but managed to grasp her habit sleeve and pull her down. They both hit the ground painfully. Borha flung Franca carelessly across his shoulder. “Good work, yew lot. Fancy grog for yous tonight!”
There was a cheer, and they headed back to camp.
After a long way of rolling, bumping, and running into things, Academy felt the snowball run against something large and heavy. Big enough to stop the mound in its tracks and collapse. He kicked himself free and began to dig for Swankers. As he heard the muffled cries of the hare, he dug faster, stepping back when he fell out in a pile of slush. “Criminy, good pastie pie!” He exclaimed. “Never doin’ that again. Not ever! Where on earth are we, anyway, wot?”
The ground was packed firm. Academy could see nothing clearly, but felt a tall piece of stone to his right. “Dunno…may be a basin?”
“How long’ve we be rollin’?”
“Again, dunno.” He rubbed his eyes, “Think we should walk a little farther, just to throw them off?”
“Mmhm.” The old hare stretched his back and legs, joints cracking, “I could use a little exercise. Let’s go, old lad.”
They walked further into the canyon, noting that it sloped downward. “Aw, see, why couldn’t our snowboat roll this way?” Joked the escapees. It was late in the night when they stopped amid a crowd of rocks around the entrance to a cave. “In here.”
A small fire was burning brightly, and a figure sat hunched over it. It looked up. “’ello, me hearties! Come on, on your hunkers now, Skippurn’ll feed ya up!” It was a dark furred, friendly looking animal.
They didn’t see him push the bow and poisoned arrows into the shadows.
Celesten was the first to see the group. “They’re here!” He shouted, and ran to meet them, sending several bystanders flying. He stopped in front of Borha. “That’s ‘er, ain’t it pal?”
He grunted. “We got anuther one as well.” He signaled to the two holding a bound Flurrin, and they dropped him on the ground. He was regaining consciousness and beginning to wriggle about. “Bind ‘im in ropes! Do I gotta do all yer thinkin’ for ye?”
The otter was quickly bound and subdued, and Celesten felt a strange pang of emotion. “Let me get Her Warness.”
“No need, Celesten, I am here. Nice thinking, anyway.” Kazirka had a purple velvet cape hanging from her shoulders, which Glorence was holding up behind her. She went to Borha and patted him on the cheek. “Well done, son. Finally, something thought-provoking that you can do.”
There was an awkward silence. Then “String her up. Lock her in a cage, I don’t care what; keep her secured until we find out the next part of this prophecy. I want half a score of guards by her at all times. If it comes to killing her, you two can fight for the honors.” Celesten and Borha looked aghast while Kazirka glided away.
Night had fallen, clouds still sailing across the moon. Freddle had taken a stroll across the walltop, accompanied by Dwingle. “You know, I missed seeing Franca and Flurrin at dinner this evening.”
“Hmm, now come to think of it, I ain’t seen ‘em since about after noontide. “
“Did they sneak in and hide away, perhaps?”
“Oh, they’re too old for that. They’d still do it though.” She looked across Mossflower’s canopy. “Father Abbot, why, I just don’t feel confortable, and I wont, until I know where they are. If you’ll excuse me, I think I’ll go a-lookin’.” With a bow, Dwingle left, anxiety written all over her face.
Freddle placed both hands on the walltop and sighed. It had been too quiet in Mossflower.
Franca was in a cage suspended from a thick tree limb. She climbed on the limb and swung a bit from it, but the guards poked her down with spears. “Whaddaya want me for?” She said.
“No idea really. Jus’ t’keep ye unner lock an’ key.”
“But that’s not fair. I’m a young’un. I’m also a guest. You should offer me vittles, and a escort home.”
But then they had snapped to attention, saluting with spears as Kazirka stopped in front of them. She put her paws together and separated them. The guards took a few steps and made a tunnel for their lady. For a long time, Kazirka just looked at Franca. Then: “You have beautiful fur, dear.”
“’Twill make a lovely cloak for me in the coming seasons!” She threw back her head and emitted a loud, shrill laugh. “But I think I’ll wait for both of you.”
Franca was confused. “Did Flurrin get away? The otter?”
“Unless he’s your brother. But I doubt that.”
“I don’t have a brother.”
She pointed at her captive, “Lying can’t help you. You aren’t going anywhere.” Then she turned away. “Now, to the other one.”
Franca was left there to hang her head and think. News to me...
Flurrin’s captors were not the brightest. After he was tied, they sat on the loose trails of rope in the mud by the riverbank. They were between the river and the otter, trying to spear fish for dinner. Whimble stabbed the water. “H-Hey hey, I got summthin’!”
Dritty jumped up “Pull up yer spear!” A dead fish lay on a small clump of riverweed. The two cheered.
“Eatin’ like kings today!” While they danced about, Flurrin wiggled in his bonds. Then, he looked around as best he could and proceeded to roll. The loose ends grew slack. Dritty noticed and was about to call the alarm when he was bowled over by Flurrin, who spun with a splash into the river. The water loosened his bonds, and he wriggled free. He didn’t know where his tribe was, but he knew Redwall would be north if he went up the river. He had to find and warn Franca, that it wasn’t safe to be in the woods today.
Skippurn sang a jovial tune as he hopped around ladling hot stew for Academy and Swankers. “Mmrsmmerch! Better’n that guards’ stew!” Praised the hare. “Ain’t it, lad?”
“I wouldn’t know. This is spiffin’, though, thank ye mister Skippurn.
“No problem, mates.” As he sat down, Academy squinted at him. The squirrel had never been out of the snowy plains since birth, so maybe…whatever Skippurn was didn’t live up there. But he sounded familiar.
Swankers had the same thought, “I say—sluurrch—old lad, what beast of fur’o’feather are ye?”
In a flash, Skippurn had spun on his forepaws, kicking Swankers in the jaw. The hare fell with a reflective kick, upsetting the pot of stew. Academy jumped up.
“You’re not Skippurn!” He shouted as the cave filled with smoke.
The assassin Sawyer snarled. “How would you know?” He gathered his bow and poisoned arrows and started firing. “This is the end.”
Academy pushed Swankers as close as he could to the opening, but going out himself only stalled instances. He crawled back inside and scrabbled at the wall, climbing up and flipping off. Arrows followed him every step of the way.
Eventually, they stopped; The fletch had run dry. The black fox grabbed two daggers and went after the squirrel.
“Now, I wouldn’t kill you. Fangice would.” He jabbed by Academy’s left arm, and something blazing smacked him across the face.
“Lame!” Academy pushed the cauldron with his back paws. ‘’That’s the second batch of good soup I’ve ruined!” he shouted.
Sawyer slipped on the mess. Before he fell, he flung one of the daggers. It clacked harmlessly against the wall. Academy picked it up and ran outside.
“How t’do this…” He spotted nothing helpful. Hoping that the assassin would be out of commission for a few long moments, he grabbed Swankers and pulled him down the canyon. After a while, he heard the fox behind him, not bothering to keep quiet.
“Stay still!” He shouted. “So I can kill you!”
“Thought you weren’t gonna do that—whaa!” In the darkness, he hadn’t seen the shadow surround him, but felt himself being lifted into the air at an alarming rate. The hare was ripped from his grasp.
“Doncha be worryin’, mah friend! Ole Rocktalon O'Flew has got ye!”
He gasped. “A hawk!”
The huge claws shifted themselves slightly. “Righto, friend! An’ awaaaay we’re goin’ from ‘ere!”
“No! N-not yet, my friend is down there! I dropped him when you swept me up! We must get him!” Rocktalon turned easily in the air and sped back down. Swankers was still where he lay, with Sawyer gaining on him. Academy dropped to the ground. “I need you to pick ‘im up, sir!”
He cocked his head. “An’ what about ye?”
Academy climbed onto his back. “There! Problem solved! Now hurry!” Rocktalon grasped Swankers’ just as Sawyer slashed with his blade before he was buffeted by a large wing.
“An’ awaaay we go!...Unless ye got somethin’ else we must do!”
“No, no! Fly hard Mister 'Flew! Fly hard!”
Flurrin stumbled out of the river. He walked a league until he reached the main path, and up toward Redwall. Weary, he pounded the doors until Yanmir was roused from sleep.
"Nobeast comes knockin' in the dead of niiight!" The big hedgehog yawned, and walked down the steps. The gate was unlatched to find a shaking, sobbing otter.
"Franca isn't here...is she?"
Yanmir's face twisted into a mask of surprise. "She was with you!" Then, in gentler tones, he put an arm around Flurrin and led him to the kitchen. "Now, now, Friar Diddle can certainly spare some food for ye..."
The only animal hovering around the stoves was Dwingle. When the pair came in, she blinked uncomprehendingly at them and asked. "Why, where's Franca?"
Flurrin held himself and set his mouth in a hard line. Without further ado, the squirrelmarm had found a warm blanket and a bowl of broth. After spooning some broth into him, she asked "Has somethin' happened, dear?"
He swallowed and replied. "Marm Dwingle, it's not safe to be in the woods today."
Yanmir looked confused as she replied "Vermin, I bet. And they've caught my girl." She patted them both on the shoulder and gathered a traveling cloak. "Don't be waitin' up. Tell Abbot that 'tis dangerous outside, and not to let anyone go for herbs." Then she was gone.
The land passed beneath Academy, the bushes sailing by like foreign matter in an ocean. While his paws ached from holding on to the unconscious hare, he thought of how tired Rocktalon might be from carting them across leagues and leagues with nary a break.
Eventually, the hawk began to lose altitude. They were headed toward a grassy field. When they were low enough, Academy jumped off, and Rocktalon flopped on the ground a moment later.
"Fantastic escape, lad! Though floppin' in mud ain't what I thought our reward would be!"
"Eurgh." Academy's arms were spotted with mud. He looked like the egg of a flightless bird. "I've only seen mud a few times, but I can tell you now, it's fairly off-putting to a visitor of these parts." He went over to the hare, who was laying face down in it. "Come on, old pal..."
Swankers sputtered and spat out mud. "Pffft! Plaah! How cappin' foul, my boy! Don't ever eat that!" He made to stand up, but fell flat. "Ooouch, somethin's amiss with my bally backpaw!"
The pad was cut through and bleeding, red tinged with green. "Huh. Dunno what's more unappealing, the mud or that." Academy poked it, and it twitched. "You're not walking many places for awhile."
"If I'm not treated in short order, I'll be usin' a bally pegleg!" He looked around as best he could. "When I ran with the Long Patrol, we took regular excursions into Mossflower Wood, more specifically, Redwall Abbey. I'm certain it's a day's easy loppin' that way." He pointed into the woods. "They can patch up anythin' thrown at 'em!"
"But how to get there?"
Surprisingly, Rocktalon stood up. "That's a good enough wee rest, boys, I'll get our hare there in a nick of time!"
"But we've been flying all night, you gotta be tired, sir."
"Oho, not when there's Redwall fare to be had! But I can't carry ye both again."
"I'll follow." Said Academy. "Through the trees. You'll be flying just above the forest, so I can see you." After another hour's rest, Swankers clambered onto Rocktalon and the bird took flight, Academy hopping behind them until they reached the fringe of Mossflower wood.
Franca had been in the cage for almost an entire day. At one point, she nodded off and found she was lying on the wooden medallion. She looked at it and tossed it to the side. A lot of good you did! She thought savagely, but she knew it wasn't the medal's fault. Not really.
The guards had gotten extremely slack and inattentive. One even went so far as to repair his spearhead while standing on duty. This gave Franca a thought, and she immediately went limp, falling to the bottom of the cage. After a few minutes, she was spotted, but by the wrong animal.
"Wot's 'er problem?" A large paw shook the cage roughly; It wasn't the reedy little weasel, it was Borha. She tried hard to remain still. "Is she dead?"
"Well, why'd she be dead?" Franca thought that ferret was really stupid; He still wasn't paying attention. Borha stared at him, then snatched his spear and broke it over his head. The guard fainted.
There was a sigh behind the big ferret, and he turned. Eyes half closed, Franca couldn't see behind him, but she sensed it was another large animal. "Mate, what're ye doin'?"
There was a snap, and the cage was ripped from the branch. "She went'n'died, after jus' half a day!" More cage shaking, this time in front of a...badger? Tattooed, yes, but a badger was staring in the cage with an interested expression.
After a moment, he reached out a huge paw and poked her side gently. "I don't think so. She's just lyin' there, maybe asleep. All that cage shakin' would kill 'er, though, so cut it out!"
"Now I got ter find a new branch..." He was saved from looking around sheepishly when Kazirka stepped out of the foliage with Glorence, seeming to randomly materialize. "Gaarr, muther, I wish yew wouldn't do that--"
"Like anyone is concerned." Was the smooth reply. "I want her bound beside my tent. If this 'hero' is not seen by this evening, she will be sacrificed instead."
There was silence. Then--"That mean we c'n eat 'er?"
"If there's anything left." Said Glorence.
The situation wasn't good, admittedly. It was oddly hot and muggy for fall, as if summer was coming in. Franca still persisted with her unconscious routine, thinking how she would never be abbess, never see Flurrin become Skipper--
Flurrin! She had forgotten all about him. Where was he? Had he escaped? Was he bringing the entire Battlerain tribe to come crashing down on the Deathlaye horde in her name--Oh, and save the woodlands too?
He had to be. With that comforting thought, she fell asleep for real--still holding the medallion.
Something had been bothering Celesten for the past few days. A funny sensation he had felt a few days ago had reappeared when he saw the pale little squirrel. For a moment, he was genuinely concerned that she was dead, and not just for her original intent of sacrifice. He flicked Borha in the back of the head "Lousears, wot if she really was dead? What then?"
He looked at him strangely. "So wot? We'd jus' be sent to find annuther one."
The badger sighed and looked down. "Let me say it this way. Wot if ye found me dead, an' y'don't know wot did me in. Would ye be mad?"
He blinked. "D'you plan on bein' killed?"
"Of course not, dunderhead! But what if?"
The only reply was a flash behind Borha's eyes as he hefted the fallen branch up and slammed it into the trunk. It broke in half, splintering. "I'd be bloody furious...an' so would Ma. She'd 'ave to accept me as 'er favorite, an' she won't do that." He added bitterly.
Now it was Celesten's turn to look surprised. "'Accept me as her favorite'--huh?" But Borha shook his head and walked off, looking for someone to beat up.
Academy had never been this far south. The sunlight Mossflower's canopy shone green on everything, except the shadows. He was unnerved at there being so many places an enemy could hide, all around them!
Rocktalon and Swankers seemed at ease, however. The hare was lying on the bird's back, observing everything with interest. Occasionally, he shouted a direction to go left or right.
"How 'bout this" Said Rocktalon calmly. "I plop ye onna ground an' go lookin' for the Redwall myself!"
Swankers bristled. "Well, don't want to be todderin' round this bally wood all day, that's all, lad."
"Oh...look." Academy squinted, and jumped into a tree. "Somebeasts' coming!" Rocktalon dropped the hare into a patch of heather and took up a battle pose, Academy on a branch beside him.
The squirrelmum Dwingle had been walking through the forest all night; In her rush, she strayed from the path and couldn't find her way back. She crossed her arms and muttered. "Why, that's a fine predicament there, you, first, y'girl's gone, an' now, y'can't find your way home..." She looked up, completely missing the bird of prey on the path in front of her, and spotted Academy. Her mouth dropped open. "Ooh, is that you, dear? Or is an old maid hallucinatin'? That you, Francabean?"
Academy looked down "What the--What's a Francabean?" he muttered.
Dwingle teetered over to the tree and looked up. "Come down, dear! We'll find Redwall together!"
"Stay there lad!" Rocktalon shouted. He hopped in front of the squirrelmum and poked her in the chest until she started backing away. "What'd ye want wid Acad'my, eh?"
Dwingle was stubborn. "What're you on about, bird? An' stop your pokin' me!" She stomped her footpaw. "That's my 'dopted daughter up there."
Academy thought it was time to climb down and remedy the situation. Sliding down the trunk, he approached her slowly. "Marm, I'm not. You're mistaken me for somebeast else, I don't have any family."
She peered closely at him, and a look of disappointment clouded her face. "I see it now, dearie--but! But you look exactly like my girl!"
"That can't be, marm. I've no family!"
Swankers had hopped up and was strolling down the path, bits of foliage attached to his headfur, looking furious. "Bally beetlechomper! Where'd ya get off tossin' me around like that?"
Dwingle went over to him. "Mister hare, tell me now, how many squirrelbeasts have y'ever seen looking like him?" She pointed to Academy.
He shook his ears free of debris. "T'be honest, marm...only him."
"But what if'n I said there was another one like 'im? Then what?" She was shaking his arm now.
The hare nodded slowly."...I'd say 'Show me at all bally costs, for I cannot believe it, wot!'"
Franca could smell the smoke--It was sort of like burning apples--and saw the hazy purple smoke.
Beyond her, Kazirka was talking with Glorence and Vallea, the Seer. Staring pointedly at her, she asked "Have you performed a sacrifice, vixen?"
Vallea stepped back, holding a bottle of wine. "Weel, no, not actually, milady-I've only s-seen it done."
"So...what you are saying is that I have wasted my time, hunting you down, killing your kin, and dragging you here, my supplies, that could have been used on more worthy animals than yourself, and seasons of housing you and letting you drink my wine?" Roared Kazirka.
The Seer knew her time was up, so she turned tail and ran on all fours, as hard as she could, but the Warlady did not let her go easily. She leaped after her on all fours as well, howling a battle cry as she overtook her adversary in a few leaps, and applied all of her weight to her head and neck. There was a loud snap!, and Vallea's corpse was picked up and waved about.
"This! This is what happens should you lie to your Warlady!" She shot a look a Franca who was swinging, horrified, in her cage, and continued. "This fraud has wasted my time. If anybeast else is hanging on for a free ride, and is not fully devoted to me, speak now!"
Silence rang throughout the camp. With an attitude of forced calm, she approached her adviser. "Now what? You claim to have all the answers."
"M-Milady, I can perform a sacrifice--"
"Then why have you said nothing!?" The body was shaken in front of the pine martin.
"I-It's different than hers!" She covered her face. "It would be stronger than-than hers, but the ingredi-di-dients are different, an' we have only a few of them--"
Kazirka took a long look at Franca, who had her arms cross and her ears flat. "You live to see another sunrise, girl. Find me the boys, and the searchers!"
Rocktalon had mustered up his strength for a third time and was sailing low over the forest, with Swankers concious and on his back. Dwingle and Academy ran through the trees.
"Flurrin said they was at the very edge of the forest--"
"Right, so, why isn't he helping?"
Dwingle stopped so suddenly that Academy ran into her and fell down a few branches. "Why, he should, shouldn't he? She was helping him train for Skipperdom, or whatever, yes, I'll go get him! You follow your friends!" She took off north.
"But-I don't quite know where to go!" He shouted, but she was gone. Peeved, he continued behind his friends.
Where was she when I was starving and cold in the Icelands? He thought If this is really a kinmember...
He had been daydreaming, and Rocktalon's voice startled him. He twisted around and grasped a branch, hanging down. A big, mean looking ferret was just below him. He didn't see Academy, and stomped into the forest. "Cummon Cel! Let's get der stuff for dat little pine brick..."
Another huge animal stomped after him, but this one was frowning. Academy wasn't sure what kind of animal he was. There was paint swirled around a stripe on his face. When Academy moved to adjust himself, the animal looked up, surprised.
Trying to remain as still as possible, Academy was surprised when he felt himself being pushed up into the trees. "Right, comin' Borha!" He ran off in an instant.
Up in the tree, Swankers approached Academy and shook him by the shoulder. "What're ya on about, boy? Jumpin' in front o'the enemy!"
He shook himself loose. "Well, when I was taking my upside down excursion, I saw a huge purple tent. The kind leaders have, trimmed in gold. Way on the other side of the clearing."
He hailed Rocktalon down. "Oi, Rock! We're following the treeline to the right, until ye see a tent, that's where we'll stop, hide, regroup an' all that. Follow me!" Academy took off, leaving behind Swankers who was mumbling "More bloody trees? I might've well been a jolly bird at this rate."
It took a few minutes to reach the other side; There were lots of vermin lying around being lazy while trying to look helpful at the same time. They overheard one rat say to his friend how "Kazirka's in a right terror state. pal. Best look busy."
"How?" The stoat grumbled. "We didn't get no orders!"
"Take the initiative, moron!" Mumbled Academy sarcastically. The pair looked around.
"Who said that?"
Snickering quietly, the would be rescuers continued on their way. Soon, the big purple tent was in evidence.
"Whoever owns that must be a pansy." Sniffed Swankers. "Or a beginner. What happened to the days of real terror vermin, eh? We had 'em when I was in the Long Patrol; Must've killed 'em all!"
Just then, a huge ferret stepped out, purple cloak over her shoulders with a necklace of fangs. Her claws were long and sharpened, and she had numerous bracelets and rings on. She seemed to speak harshly to a pine martin, but they couldn't catch her words. Eventually, the pair stalked off.
Rocktalon glanced at the hare. "Beginner, eh?"
Academy did the same. "Pansy, huh?"
Swankers was speechless. "I-I say, is that who we're up against? Laddie buck, let's rescue your other half with all speed, wot!"
Academy leaped to the tree closest to the tent; It wobbled, and he heard something below give a cry. There was a rope and cage attached to it. Something bright sat in a corner, and he climbed down said rope to investigate it.
That squirrelmarm was right; This girl in the cage did look like him. (Well, she had white fur. Not many squirrels do.) She was curled in a ball, right by a bar that seemed to had been gnawed on. Academy jumped on the cage top to get her attention. "Go away, ya stinkin' vermin." she mumbled, not looking up.
"...Right, well, this was supposed to be a rescue mission, but I guess I can continued on my way now." He climbed back up the rope and into the tree ahead. The girl in the cage was looking up now, so he gave a wave and a Hold on a moment signal.
"Rock, d'you think you can bite through those bars? They're wooden, not horribly thick, but too strong for normal beasts. There's a fraction already chewed a bit."
The bird stuck his head down and craned his neck to get a better look. "Probably. But we may need a distraction. Not the usual guff on distractin' every beast in the vicinity--If they're smart enough to stick the cage right by the rat hole, they're smart enough t'guard it when in a clutch."
"Wait--'Cad me boy. Did you even ask her why she was captured?" Injected Swankers.
"Um...no. But if anybeast is captured, shouldn't we want to free them anyway?"
"Well o'course, my boy-but go ask anyway!"
Sighing, Academy shimmied down the rope again. Crouching on the cage, he bent over and said "Hi there. Why're you there?"
"Some prophecy...they're looking for Redwall's Hero. I'm from Redwall, but I'm not the hero--I'm the Abbess, one day, I hope, I mean, if I ever get out--I'm Franca, by the way."
"Wonderful. Stay right there. Friends are coming; A bird and a hare. They'll get you out, and you'll show them the way to Redwall. If somebeast who's...well, clearly evil tries to move you, shout 'Eulalia'! Okay?"
"Anything to get out!" Her eyes were shining. "What's your name?"
"Given name--I dunno. But as for names I give myself, just call me Academy." Plan in mind, he began running along side the edge of the camp, missing Franca's gasp of recognition. The vermin who managed to catch a glimpse of a white streak going across the forest look on quizacally, unsure, if the prisoner was still there. Eventually, the alarm was raised.
Kazirka and Glorence were overseeing the gathering of weeds, plants, and bones to be ground into powder. The Warlady was just about to chastise them for moving too slowly when a cry rang through the forest. "Redwaaaaall!"
They turned on the spot; Behind them, the entire Deathslaye horde was racing toward her, arms raised. The front runner stopped suddenly. "Milady, somethin's goin' on!"
"Really? How astute of you to notice." She said sarcastically as she looked around. "But what is it?" Suddenly, she saw the white squirrel, perched on a low overhanging treelimb.
"Did she escape?"
"No, I-I don't think that's her. This one's a bit smaller--" Gasped Glorence.
Summoning up strength and bravery, Academy called out. "I am Redwall's Hero!...And I'm also male. Don't forget."
Kazirka lunged forward, claws outstretched, but Academy just jumped to another limb, and then onto the ground, several feet away. "Try an' catch me! Look, I'm even on the ground for you shriekin' bligerats!"