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The sun was just coming up over the sea beside Salamandastron. Malvinia Wildscutt woke up and left the barrack room and went downstairs to the kitchens. Frennic the cook was already up with his helpers fixing breakfast. Malvinia sniffed appreciatively at the cauldrons of hot, honeyed oatmeal as she passed them. Just then, she spotted her son, Colby sneakily dipping his paw into one of the cauldrons. She went over to him and tweaked his ear sharply, he started and the whole cauldron, oats and all, toppled to the floor.
- "Colby Burrbuck Wildscutt! Wait 'til your father hears about this!"
- "Owow! Leggo a chap's bally ear, ma! Ye're pullin' it off!"
- "You little rogue! Come with me or I will pull your blooming ear off!"
Frennic tut tutted as the culprit was hauled away, "That Colby'll 'ave a real talkin' to when th' Captain finds out, that's for sure."
- "Poor Colby," said his daughter, the pretty young haremaid, Dawnblossom beside him.
- Frennic smiled and hugged her, "Don't worry about him, m'dearie...Ah, here he comes"
- A shamefaced Colby entered the kitchen with his mother right behind him. As he was brought before Frennic he passed Dawnblossom a wink and a sly smile that missed Frennic and his mother, then went back to his feigned shame while Dawnblossom stifled a giggle.
- "I'm so sorry Frennic. Colby has come here t' apologize. If I were you I'd set him on bally dishwashin' fer a season or two!" with that, she gave Colby a push toward the cook and left.
Frennic played his part well, squinting fiercely and roaring like a drill sergeant, "H'attenshun!" Instantly Colby's charade of shame vanished as he stood stiffly to attention. "Stan' straighter, young Wildscutt! Chin in, chest out! Dishwashin' duty fer one or two seasons, eh? That'd be lettin' ye off way too lightly. I say dishwashin', kitchen cleanin' an' gardenwork f' ten bally seasons, at th' blinkin' least, wot!"
- Colby threw an elaborate salute, "Yes sah, Frennic, sah! I'll be gettin' right on to it, jus' as soon as I'm finished eatin' m' bally scoff!"
- "What scoff might that be, Colby?" asked Frennic.
- "Oh, er, ahem...don't worry y' bally head about that, Cooky, jus' gotta finish m' breakfast first. A chap's got t' have 'is strength, y' know!" he said, skipping out of the kitchen.
Frennic turned to his daughter, "Well, I guess that means we'll jus' 'ave t' get somebody else t' clean up th' bally mess. That Colby'll not be seen back here in awhile, I'm guessin'" Dawnblossom was just about to ask why, when her friend, Fern Longleap, a lanky young female hare of about fourteen seasons with dark tan fur, wearing a light blue dress, came into the kitchen.
- "Dawn, are y' free t' go with me along th' beach t' collect seashells? Colby's coming too."
- "'Course she is," said Frennic giving Dawn a slight pat on the ears, "Run along now, dearies, I'll just 'ave t' get this mess cleaned up m'self."
Colby was waiting for them behind some rocks on the tideline, a well filled picnic basket beside him.
- He waved cheerily as they arrived, "'Ello, gels! Jolly good day for a picnic, wot!"
Fern and Dawn sat down beside him as he pulled out the contents of the picnic basket; three blueberry muffins, some berry preserves, a pawful of candies chestnuts, a flask of dandelion and mint cordial and a huge plumcake that just about filled the basket all by itself.
- "Why Colby you ol' grubswiper, where'd y' purloin this feast? Ahah! I see the plumcake Frennic made for 'Is Lordship, you rogue!" said Fern.
Colby winked conspiratorially at Fern and held out a blueberry muffin to Dawn.
- "'Is Lordship's 'avin' a meetin' somethin' 'bout th' scouts report an' so 'e said we could 'ave a picnic t' get us out of their way. I jus' filled th' basket with what I could jolly well find. 'Tain't much, though," he said,
- "Artemia, Barberry, Chary an' th' rest should be here any minute an' they better bring their own bloomin' scoff or go elsewheres, wot."
Just then a lanky dark-brown hare loped up and flopped down beside Colby, flashing the haremaids a dashing smile, he reached for a scone. Colby rapped his paw
- "Bring y' own bloomin' scoff, Barberry, y' great grubswiper!"
Barberry's ears flopped down comically and he tried to put on an injured expression
- "Aw, Colby, I er don't 'ave any grub. Y' couldn't let a growin' chap starve, could you, old lad?"
Colby gave a guffaw and prodded Barberry's stomach, which was fairly ample.
- "Starve, eh? Y' wouldn't starve if'n a bally ten season famine came through with a stomach like that"
- "Just look at y'self, y' great scoffer! Next t'ye, I'm a bloomin' twig!"
Dawn and Fern giggled around mouthfuls of blueberry muffin while two more hares showed up. One was slate grey and a little undersized with an unusually sombre face. The other was a female, light tan with large brown eyes. She was laughing merrily and had her own basket slung over one arm.
- She spoke as she riffled through her basket for edibles, "So this's the spot, eh, Colb? Nice li'l place! I've got some information y'might find interestin', wot. Chary an' I were just huntin' f' clams along the shore an' y'll never guess wot we blinkin' well 'eard."
She looked around at their faces, gauging their expressions.
- "Well? Any guesses?"
Each young hare shook their heads in turn and Artemia grinned, nudging Chary.
- "Tell 'em wot we 'eard, y' duffer!"
The others leaned in, faces rapt.
- Chary looked up from a pastie. "Hmm? Oh yes," he said, dabbing his whiskers with a silk kerchief, "Apparently, there's an army of vermin's been seen about an' they're sendin' in the jolly ol' Long Patrol. This'll be our first good battle, if we're lucky, so I'd study hard and practise a lot if I were you lot. Don't want any chance you might not get picked. Best behavior, lads!" He glanced especially at Colby.
Colby chuckled with glee. "Oh, er, righto, wot wot! Just think! We'll be bona-fide Long Patrollers! Absoballylutely smashin', wot!" Fern grinned and Dawn giggled happily, while Barberry swiped Colby's blueberry muffin.
- "Tha's righ', real patroll'rs, mmf, scrrnch! Wor wor!" he said, speaking through a mouthful.
In his forge room, with two of his oldest comrades, Brigadier Bartholomew Billberry Waltscallow and Colonel Madfrey de Barkwolde, Lord Mavelin Ironfist paced, deep in thought. The two hares stood stiffly to attention, awaiting their Lord's speech. At long last, he took a deep breath and turned to face them.
- "If what the scouts saw today is true, we're facing up against more than some flotsam rabble of luckless wavescum. I've seen their flag before, when I was a young whelp, living with my mother in the south lands."
The badger lord's eyes clouded with a pinkish hue and he clenched and unclenched his great fists.
- "The Bloodletters they call themselves. Babe slayers, beasts without honour. Without mercy. I was very little then, but I remember it as clearly as if it were but yesterday..."
- "Mavvy, don't stray too close to the waves or they'll snatch you away!"
The little badgerbabe squealed with laughter as his mother snatched him up, tickling his sides. She set him back down, giving his little backside a pat.
- "Stay on my other side, away from the waves. Run along now, you liddle rogue. Play with Fikka." She bent down to pull up some seaweed, which she stuck in the basket which was slung over her back. There were seven total in their small group. Mavelin, his mother, an elderly otterwife and her daughter and babe, an elderly shrew who wore an eyepatch over one eye, and a young male badger, a loner who had recently joined their group, though he never spoke and kept his distance, sometimes disappearing for days. The ottermaid set down her young one, Fikka, who was a season younger than Mavelin. The two babes giggled and played chase as the group continued on their way. The old shrew grumbled and complained to himself, while Runa, the elderly otterwife chided him gently.
- "Ah, me old creakin' bones! Wanderin' willy-nilly o'er the land, without a proper rest or meal in days! It'll be the death o' me yet, I tell yer!"
- "Simfit, old friend, ye remember why ye went wi' us instead o' yore Guoss brothers?"
The shrew blinked his good eye, trying to recall.
- "'Cause I wanted ter end me days waddlin' on the land like a lubber, when I could be in me logboat sailin' ter battle! Now why would I do that, I asks? 'Cause I'm old an' daft, that's wot!"
Runa shook her head.
- "Nay, friend, it was yore belly wot did the thinkin' this time, ye recall. We're goin' to Redwall Abbey!"
Amfrew, the young badger collected wood to make a fire, upon which Mavelin's mother, Ilisa made a meagre seaweed and mussell soup. It wasn't much for taste, but filled their bellies so that they could rest without interruption. One by one, they all nodded off as the flames flickered and dimmed to embers. Mavelin and Fikka curled up, paw in paw, tuckered out from their day of play and fun. Then the shadows came. They had been watching the travellers for some time, only a speck on the horizon, and nothing that caused them any alarm. Then, they let their quarry pull ahead of them for a ways and docked their ship behind an outcrop of black rocks, obscuring it from view. They waited for nightfall, and the travellers' glowing campfire pinpointed their location. Now, in the darkness, they surrounded the sleeping creatures, their paws making no sound on the soft sands. A rat touched Runa's throat with his swordpoint and the otterwife's eyes opened in shock.
- "Move an' I'll slit yer throat, old 'un! Wake yer liddle mateys now, nice an' quiet-like. Don't want this t' be any harder 'n' it 'as ter."
Runa, eyes wide reached over and shook Simfit's shoulder. Keeping a low voice she said, "Wake up, friend. Don't move suddenly, we're surrounded!" But Simfit wasn't awake enough to comprehend her meaning. He drew his rapier, gained his footpaws with surprising agility and dove for the nearest vermin.
- "Surround us, do yer, vermin scum? I'll show yer Simfit ain't a shrew ter be trifled with, ho no!"
The cloaked vermin died with a gurgle as Simfit's blade found its throat. Before the other vermin could react, he had turned to face the next one, a fierce battle light in his single eye. The vermin were momentarily taken aback, but soon regained their composure, realising that it was only one half-blind old shrew. They closed in on the travellers in a tighter circle this time, blades drawn and menacing. By now, everybeast in the camp had awoken. Glindren, the ottermaid held Fikka to her chest protectively, while Ilisa rose to her full, imposing height, pushing Mavelin behind her. Time stood still for but a moment, then Ilisa, eyes becoming red with fury, roared into the face of the vermin.
- "Groaarrgh!! There may be more of you, but every one of us is worth ten of you! The first beast who takes one step closer will be the first to die! You may take me down, by your strength of numbers, but I swear that I will take at least a quarter of you before I fall!"
The female badger was unarmed, dressed in a simple dress, but her fury gave credence to her words. Each vermin knew that she spoke truth. Their eyes turned to their leader. From beneath his hood came a small chuckle, then it broke into a laugh, which rang against the cliffside. He threw off his hood, revealing a polecat of considerable size, his jaw twisted in a permanent sneer. His voice came out in a rasp, filled with malice.
- "I have faced a badger before, one far more powerful than you. He did this to my face with his bare paws! And yet, I live. I live because he does not!"
With that, the vermin launched himself at Ilisa, fangs bared in a wicked grimace. "Face me and die, badger! I am a Bloodletter!" As polecat and badger clashed, their roars mingled into the night air.
Simfit stabbed a weasel in the footpaw, and while it hopped about, he finished it with a jab to the throat. His diminutive size was his advantage, one he used to the fullest, ducking underneath blows, dodging assaults. Runa fought beside him, her only weapon a burning log from the fire. A rat screamed as the embers on the tip seared his face, but the otter did not back down. Instead, she put more of her strength to the task, shoving the log into the rat's mouth. Glindren held the two babes, whose eyes were filled with tears. Little Fikka burst out crying in terror when a cloaked figure reached to grab her. Not knowing what else to do, Glindren headbutted the foe, then gave him a good thwack! with her rudder. He fell to the ground, a crumpled heap. The young ottermaid had no time to rejoice before she was backing away from a fox, his sword drawn, poised to strike. Runa bowled him over, swinging her piece of wood and hitting at his face as hard as she could.
- "Mum, watch out!" screamed Glindren, but the words had barely left her mouth before a grinning ferret had plunged his sword into the old otterwife's side. Runa's eyes met those of her daughter and grandbabe, before clouding over. The ferret dragged his sword out of the body of the old otter, kicking it aside and now coming for Glindren and the babes. Again, the ottermaid felt death's cold breath brush past her. For the ferret had a new foe. Simfit roared with all his might, drawing attention from the otter and the babes.
- "Oy, mudforbrains! Aye, that's yew! Come fight an armed beast instead o' terrorizin' maids an' babes! Yellow-bellied wavescum!"
The ferret howled angrily and lunged at the shrew, who dodged nimbly aside.
- "Ha, lardbelly! Not so fast on yer footpaws, are yer? That's wot 'arpens when yer a lily-livered daddlepawed numpty!"
Simfit ducked a blow that was meant to part his head from his shoulders, then ducked under the blade of another cloaked vermin. He was now faced by five of them. The vermin fanned out, surrounding Simfit. The brave shrew gave Glindren an apologetic look before he disappeared under the vermin mass. Tears came to the ottermaid's eyes, and she turned, searching for somewhere to flee, to at least save the babes. Glindren felt something wet and warm trickling down her back, then felt a searing pain in her stomach. The ottermaid sank to her knees, pressing the babes to her chest. The vermin which had struck the fatal blow felt no more, as his neck was snapped by the powerful kick of a fully-grown badger. Ilisa was hemmed on all sides, but the vermin stayed their distance. This was a battle between their leader and the badger. Seeing Glindren fall, Ilisa roared and threw the polecat from her, briefly, snuffing the life from the grinning vermin that had slain her. Where was Mavelin? Fikka? The she badger scanned the scene, and a growl of rage and grief rose in her throat. She whirled on the polecat, grabbing his blade and jerking it from his grasp. Snapping it in two, bloodwrath filling her vision, she sought out her opponent...Only, he wasn't there. He had retreated behind his beasts, mirth in his eyes.
- "Bloodletters. Kill her."
Feeling restless, Amfrew had left the main group, after finishing supper, and scaled the low cliff that stood on one side of them. Sitting atop it, he closed his eyes, breathing in the crisp night air. He slowly let it out in a somewhat wistful sigh. He would soon part ways with their small band to strike out on his own, toward Salamandastron, mountain of badger lords! He had felt the mountain's voice, and the ground seemed to hum with it, as if the very earth under his footpaws felt the call. Though he had never been to Redwall Abbey, the young badger had his heart set on reaching the mountain before winter struck. The Abbey could wait until he was badger lord. With these pleasant thoughts on his mind, he slumbered blissfully on, with no clue as to what dark deeds would be perpetrated upon this deceitfully peaceful night.
The badger babe, Mavelin had seen it all. As his mother made her last stand, bravely fighting on, though greatly outnumbered. He saw the blood pool and run in rivulets as she was finally slain. Her promise held true. More than half of the vermin lay dead beside her. Fikka lay still and unbreathing, smothered by her own mother's body. Even though the vermin had long since departed and dawn was just creeping into the sky, the badger babe dared not move. Sobs choked in his throat, held there by the knowledge that if he made a sound, they might come back for him.
Amfrew blinked as the light from the early morning sun, glowing red with the dawn, hit upon his face. The young badger looked around him, watching how the light from the sun glittered on the water, like a dancing flame, setting the sea ablaze. He rose and stretched the stiffness from his limbs, then made his way back down the cliff, thinking to return to the sleeping group. There was a strange smell in the air, and the young badger's hackles rose. Something wasn't right. Making his way around a bend in the cliff, the full scene was suddenly within his view. Seconds ticked past as he stood, shocked. Then he heard a small whimper coming from under the body of the ottermaid. Stepping gingerly, he made his way through the bodies, which were now already being looked upon by the hungry eyes of the gulls. He knelt beside Glindren's body, where she lay not far from the body of her mother, Runa. Simfit's body could not be seen, but Ilisa lay not far from where he knelt. He grabbed at a patch of grey fur protruding from under Glindren's body. It wriggled and bit his paw. He saw that it was Mavelin, Ilisa's young.
- "Mavvy, it's me, Amfrew. It's okay, I'm here now."
The badger babe's lip trembled, then he was crying on Amfrew's shoulder, while the older badger petted his soft headfur comfortingly.
Amfrew buried them that day, those acquaintances which he had had so little regard for. He cursed his failure to save them and vowed he would learn wisdom before becoming lord of Salamandastron.
Scenes of long-past memory faded from before Lord Mavelin's eyes as he finished recounting the tale, one he had not told until now. There were tears in the eyes of his Brigadier and Colonel.
- "We'll make th' scum pay," said Barty, "I swear it."
- "Send th' blinkin' scum back to Hellgates, where they belong, and all their kind!" Madfrey added.
The badger lord's fist pounded down upon his table.
- "There will be no mercy. Kill them all!"