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Aria whirled around, practicing her swordplay. Her knapsack lay unguarded by the fire. She sliced the leaves off of a lowhanging branch and stopped. Someone was coming through the forest, overhead, probably. She didn't bother to douse the fire on her way to the stream. Strapping on her knives, she grabbed her knapsack and jumped into the stream. Her strong strokes pulled her to the other bank, where she clambered up, cold and soaked to the bone. She turned around, just in time to see a figure come strolling along, picking leaves out of it's tail. It was a squirrel, and from here she could tell it was lithe and strong. It paused, and stooped over the fire, then turned and stared straight at Aria. She didn't blink, she didn't even turn her head, she just stared. The figure called out, and two more forms joined it. One was an otter, the other, she shuddered, was a badger.
Tor stared at the two eyes on the other bank, adrenaline pulsing through his veins. He called to his companions, Skipper the otter, and Minna the Badger Mother. Both were armed with two long javelins apiece, a slingshot and Minna carried a longbow. Tor only carried a sword, slingshot and a bow and arrow set. He turned to Minna and asked quietly, excitment quivering in his voice,
"There is a beast on the other bank. I do not know who it is, or what it is for that matter. All I know is that it can swim well, is quick, and is armed." Skipper flexed his paws, grinning like a disobedient dibbun,
"Do you want me tah fetch the wanderer in, matey?" His eyes were alight with a kindling fire, reflecting Tor's feelings. Minna stepped between them, her small eyes filled with concern and wisdom.
"Now Skipper, Tor, I don't think we should fetch the wanderer in, as you put it. Leave them be. If they were friendly, theey've would've stayed. But they didn't, so we don't know. Please, let's go back to Redwall." She turned around and started heading back into the trees.
"But, they are so close to Redwall, what if it's an enemy scout? What if it saw us, and is listening to us right now?" Tor's voice rose in volume and pitch. Skipper walked up behind him, placing his paws on Tor's shoulders, he began steering the young squirrel to the forest, back to home. Tor straightened his shoulders, and sprang up into the nearest oak.
"I bet I'll get there before you guys do!" he crowed as he nimbly dashed forward. Minna and Skipper turned, satisfied that their job was done.
Aria sighed, she was going to follow them. She empited out her knapsack, left the things that she wouldn't need, and bounded into a overhanging willow that swung silently over the stream. She jumped quickly from bough to bough, using all her efforts to get into the tree. She reached the top of it, got as far over the edge of the stream as she dared, and leaped. Her eyes narrowed over a oak branch, and she reached for it. Her claws cuaght the edge of it, and she pulled herself into the mighty oak. She started hopping branches, jumping recklessly, unafraid, yet afraid she would not find the three creatures who would lead her to Redwall. She ran into Tor, who had paused for a break, and knocked them both to the ground. She whipped out her sword, and placed between them, point in the ground, her paw on the hilt. She glared at him, her eyes narrow and menacing. Tor backed up, and drew his own sword, and leveled the tip with Aria's nose.
"So, you came out of hiding, intruder." he said quietly, angered by her sudden appearance.
"I was never the intruder. You see, you do not own the forest, it owns you. You cannot control it. You cannot own it. Therefore, I was not intruding."
Tor blinked, the creature in front of him was a drop dead beauty, with pure black fur and eyes like a polished emerald. He then noticed her build. She was sinewy, lithe, and he knew she was agile. Her paws were cuallesd, strong, her tail was sleek, full and gleamed like ebony ivory. It glimmered in the moonlight, then she struck. Her blade whipped around his like a angry torrent of wind, and his blade was on the ground before he could block it. He stared at his empty paw, and drew his dagger. But it was useless, she was already gone. Soemhow, she had melted into Mossflower Forest, gone, but he was sure that she would return.
THE LOOK OF A WARRIOR
Sunlight sliced through the thick curtains, not wanting to be contained to the sky. It dappled the drowsy mouse, covering him with soft cushions of sunlight. He yawned, his friars cap tilted down over his eyes. Something soft tickled his nose, and he leapt, yelling,
"Ohh, my cake, my beautiful cake!" Foremole Burnby waddled backwards, his homely face light up in a smile,
"Burrhurr, 'Ee cakes bee's not aburnin', laddie, Oi's takin' care o' that!" Higgle brushed his brow, his little tail whapping the ground at a slower pace.
"Thanks Burnby, I don't know what I'd do without you." The two friends strode out of the gatehouse, talking amiably about the weather, and the food, when Higgle remembered,
"Oh, Burnby, we get to prepare the Abbots feast, a large one! The hares from Salamandastron are coming, two score in all, and maybe Lady Fireblade Redeye will come too. And we only have until the end of summer to do it! We must start immdeitally!" He started to dash off, when Foremole pulled him back.
"Now now, youngin', we's gotten' plenty o' time afore the feast, relax now. THere's no 'urry." Higgle paused, nodding.
"Right, Burnby, but we still have to make breakfest, come on, let's go." The pair walked away, unaware of a dark shadow watching them from an aspen tree.
Aria watched the two creatures walk away, and then she leaped down lightly, onto the battlements, balanecing skillfully on the edge. She left her sword in the aspen, she would have no need for it here. Sitting on the edge of the battlements now, she peered into the distant windows of Redwall Abbey. Her heart quickened when she saw the tall bell tower at one end of the battlements, the little Southwest gate and Northwest gate, and Mossflower beyond the Abbey itself. It's stones gleamed red and pearl pink in the sunrise, turning everything around her into a soft red setting. Aria sighed a sigh full of longing, and then climbed down the stairs toward the orchard.
Tor was walking along the western battlements, when he saw a fleeting shadow. He waved his paw hurriedly at Skipper, who was walking the Eastern ones. Skipper nodding, signaling that he had already seen the shadow, annd was planning out his move. Aria had noticed them, and knew exactly where to hide and duck so she couldn't be seen. She grinned, and followed her nose to the orchard, where she swung up into a low hanging branch, laden with apples. Stuffing one into her mouth, she sped higher into the branches, 'till she was at the top of the tree. Wondering what would happen, she threw an apple at the back of Skippers head. It smacked into the wall beside him.
"Matey, I'll take a joke any day, but chuckin' apples at beasts, I just don't fancy that." He turned to the forest again. Leaning on his javelin, another apple clucked down, this time hitting his paw.
"Ow, you young whelp, stop chuckin' apples at your elders!" He grimaced, and turned to the wall where Tor stood. He wasn't there. Skipper spied him, waving franctially at a tree. Leaves shuddered down, and Skipper glimsped the black shadow. Climbing down the walltops which agilty with belied his age, he jogged over to Tor.
"Well, whats happening?" He asked, his weathered features lit up with excitment.
"I don't know Skipper. Something's up there." Tor strained on his paws, trying to see what was making the tree move.
Aria chuckled. Pulling on the fishing line, she made the branch jerk and shudder, though someone, or something was on it. Easing backward, she leaped into the tree behind her, and the next, and the next. Until she was next to the wall. Slinging the sack over her shoulder, she started climbing furiously. Paw over paw, her tail straight down, she walked up the side of the wall. Puffing, she leaned againest to battlement. It would only take a few minutes for the Squrriel and Otter to get back up here. Dashing around the side of the battlement, she flung herself headfirst into the aspen, as shouts of alarm rang in her ears. Buckling on her sword, she secured her knives. It was time to go back to the clan.
Kire streched languidly, flexing his powerful limbs. He was honey colored, with deep black eyes. He laughed, an eerie sound that made his guard shudder. Flexing his claws, he sipped the damson wine reflectively. A sudden shout outside made him leap up. Buckling on his sword with ease, he walked out of the tent. A lone squrriel stood in the middle of camp. A tattered traveling cloak whipping around it's paws in the brisk and snappy wind. On it's back was a sack, filled with food no doubt. Rubbing his paws gleefully, he turned to his guard.
"Wwhere are the others?" he demanded, already knowing the answer to his question. THe guard shivered, "I, Sir, They're sleeping." Kire clucked disapprovingly. Shaking his head, he strode toward the aragonnot squirrel.
"Now, raise the troops. I want them here NOW." His command was spoken softly, yet snapped like a whip. He stared at the squrriel, "What is your name, traveler?"
The stranger pulled off the cloak, and simply said, "Hello father." Leaping forward, she grasped him in a bear hug. Kire laughed till his sides almost split.
"Wwhat kind of a welcome is this, eh?" Aria winked at him, her wide simle covering her face.
"YOu know, I can hear you Grimlech, and you too Dogpatch. I n fact, I can hear the lot of you. YOu're all louder than a troop of youngin's in a strawberry patch." She whipped around, and shoke paws with her friends, Grimlech the stoat, Dogpatch the weasel, and a young ferret called Snow.
"Wwhat's in the bag, Shadow?" asked Snow, poking the bag with a stick.
"Why, my good friend, it's filled with apples from Redwall Abbey of course!" Snow whooped aloud, and dumped the bag. Swiftly grabbing six for her friends, she let the rest of the group dive upon them, snarling and fighting. Giving two to Kire, and one to the rest, she bit into the apple.
"My, these really are good, aren't they Dogpatch?" She asked the weasel, whose brown eyes twinkled with merryment.
"Wwell, I don't know, let me have another bite." He bit into the apple twice more, "I think they taste very good. Well done Shadow." He smiled, and punched Aria in the shoulder. Kire grinned, his mood lighter since the arrival of his daughter.
"Shadow, how well fortified is the Abbey? Is it strong?" He asked, seemingly naive.
"Why, no, father. It has a wall of red sandstone bricks built around it, a bell tower, and well armed creatures. But, it also has lot's of food. I could smell their breakfest from the orchrads." Aria cocked her head, and wiped her mouth, "Why, are you thinking of attacking Redwall?"
Kire nodded, and grabbed Aria. Taking her by the paw, he led her into his private quarter. Plopping down on a cushion, he watched her scurry up a tree, and settle on a very low bough.
"Why, as a matter of a fact, I am. I already have a large force coming to MOssflower tonight. And another arriving in a moon. Tonight, we will have a ceremony. It will be naming you our Warrior. That means you'd be second in command, besides me, of course." Smiling, he took another sip from his wine. "Are you pleased?"
Aria nodded, sweeping her tail over her head, she leaped out of the tree. Bowing, she nodded. "Yes, I am. Can I go spend some time with Grimlech, Dogpatch and Snow?"
Kire nodded. As he watched Aria sweep out of the tent, he thought. His father, Ferahgo the Assassin, had failed in his attempet at Salamandastron, and so had his brother, Klitch. But he, Kire the Knife, would not fail in his quest. Of conquering Redwall.
Aria twisted, struggling to see the intricate pattern woven into the cloak. Kire laughed, watching her fight the volumious cloak to see the ancient writing. Airia stopped, and stuck out her lower lip. "I could use some help here."
Kire smiled, and shook his head. "Sorry Aria. I can only repeat the words at the ceremony."
Aria growled. "So the only time you actually keep the rules is for a ceremony!
Kire grinned, and nodded. "Don't worry, you'll enjoy it. Now, stay here, until I call for you to "rise". Aria opened her mouth, then shut it. She leaned against the tree, and waited.
Tor was sitting down to dinner when Minna padded up softly and tapped him on the shoulder. He dropped the brown ale and choked on his raspberry cream tart. He turned around. "Oh. It's just you Minna. I thought it was that little hooligan Berty. The little pest has been stalking me all over and around the Abbey, poking me and prodding me with that wicked twig he calls a sword." Minna laughed, and then produced the infamous babe in her arm. Berty squealed, and tried to get out of her paw, but she held the mousebabe tight.
Minna chuckled, a homely sound, and then got on to the reason she came. "Well Tor, this "hooligan" Berty, is going to be the least of your worries soon enough. I've just gotten word from King Chirp Sparra that vermin have been seen heading towards St. Ninians. It's too close for comfort, and I don't think they've come to say hello and sup strawberry cordial with us." She put Berty down, and the little mouse ran off to torment someone else, shouting "Redddwallll" the whole way. She gestured for Tor to follow her, and led him to the gatehouse.
"We have been seeing a lot of movement since last night Tor. I think that you were right about the "wanderer" being a vermin. Now, we must talk with the Otters. Skipper?" Abbot Mutheser turned to Skipper of the Otters. The brawny otter rubbed his paws together worriedly.
"I don't what we should do. All I know is that my son, Brojan, is leading the hares to Redwall Abbey, and St. Ninians is on their way here. I can't sit around and wait for the Salamandastron Long Patrol to come." He sat back, munching on a mushroom flan. "That's my thnkin', now what's yours, you young rip?" He gestured for Tor to speak. The young squirrel took a deep breath and started.
"I think we should send out scouts, reliable beasts mind you, like Skipper here. We should watch the movements of the vermin and make sure we know their moves. If they do attack the Abbey, then we will be ready." Abbott Mufelus rubbed his paws together nervously. He was a peaceful creature, and hated the idea of woodlanders spying on vermin.
"Oh dearie me, you really think it will come to that?" The poor mouse was all aflutter, worriedly thinking about his beautiful Redwall Abbey. "I mean, can't we just wait for them to move on, and then there won't be any war?" Tor and Skipper shook their heads.
"Sorry Father, but I know from reading the recordings of passed recorders that no vermin scum has ever been able to resist the call of power. [Gabool], [Graypatch], and many others."