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Lightning flashed across the black moonless night and thunder cracked the earth with an ear shattering roar. The crew of the Stormhawk was below deck sleeping the storm away. Not like that would help, Zaroc thought. He stood on deck and let the rain wash his face of the grime and grit which had collected on his body all the seasons on deck. With him was his only friend, a tall, slender, dark furred young rat, whose name was Darktan. Zaroc turned his face to Darktan.
“You’re the best at predicting the weather, when do you think the rain will stop?” Darktan faced the place where he surmised the moon would be, and shook his head miserably.
“Hard to say cap’n, but it would probably be best to lie low until it clears.” The young ferret grinned cheekily at his friend
“Lie? I was hoping we could tell the truth for once.” The rat tweaked his friend’s ear playfully and was about to start a wrestling match on the ship, when an ear splitting boom knocked the two young beasts flat. They both pulled themselves up and gasped. The ship was on fire!!!!! Downstairs the crew was scrabbling to the door to see what had happened, but before they could do much else the boat crashed into some rocks and the mast broke off and fell on the crew’s cabin, blocking the door so they could not get out. But two creatures had fallen over board. Captain Zaroc and first mate Darktan.
Zaroc lifted his head with a groan. He looked up and stared around him. Where was Darktan? There he was, pressed in between those two rocks. He raced across the sandy beach toward his friend. The sun was peeking through the clouds. Dawn had come shedding new light and chasing the fears of last night away.All the hope and peace of the end of a storm was wasted on Zaroc as he raced to help his friend. He could not lose his only friend after what had happened to his sister. Memories flashed through his mind: the pains of the torture instruments on his flesh. The sobs his sister gave every time he screamed in agony. Being tied to a tree and watching the vermin stab his sister. The feeling of whips hit him as he screamed his sister’s name, over, and over.
“whitepaw! Whitepaaaaaawww!!!!!!” he pried his friend from the rocks, sobbing as he tried to get his friend breathing and the memories engulfing him. Darktan sat up coughing and then went rigid with shock
Zaroc whirled around and gasped. The biggest mountain he’d ever seen was looming over them from the shoreline. A sound of footpaws from behind them got their attention. The last thing the two of them saw when they turned around was a score of hares when one of them brought his club crashing down on their heads, sending them into blackness.
Zaroc woke with a groan. then hissed with surprise. he could not see! wait, he could see the faint out line of his paw. he bumped his head against something soft. it felt like a sack. he peered about him and heard noises from outside. he leaned forward and listened hard.
" who are they colonel?"
"no idea wot, they the ferret chap was wailing something over and over. thought he must have been mad" Zaroc’s eyes grew accustomed to the Dark and he could see he was in some kind of storeroom. Darktan was in a corner. Zaroc saw him stir.
“Where am I?” he groaned. The beasts outside stopped speaking
“It seems as though our Guests are awake” murmured the feminine voice. “Bring them out will you Sergeant?” the door opened and light poured in the little room. Zaroc felt his paws being bound behind his back, and he and Darktan were pulled roughly to their feet. Two hares marched besides them, and Zaroc saw where they were headed. They were being taken to a large badger. She had a regal look about her. Zaroc felt no fear toward her, only respect. They stopped in front of her and she spoke to him.
“State your name and rank.” Zaroc looked into her eyes and bowed politely
“Captain Zaroc of the Stormhawk, Ma’am and this is my first mate, Darktan.” The badger surveyed him with a look he could not interpret and continued.
“Where is the rest of your crew?”
“Our ship crashed into some rocks after it got hit by lightning. We are the only two who survived the crash.” The badger continued to stare at him then said:
“you are an unusual Vermin, Zaroc. Most of your type would be at least trembling as I interrogate them, but you look at me without as much as a blink. Why is that.?”
“After the things I went through lady, this is very minor.” He said with a smile.
“I see.” She turned to the hare on Zaroc’s left “release them.” The hare gave her a look and said
“m’lady?” she glared at him.
“You heard me Ferdimond. now jump to it!” she turned to Zaroc “I have seen you in dreams young Zaroc. I was told of a hero who would destroy an evil that had maimed him in his past.” Zaroc’s paw went to a scar on his back. How had these dream creatures known about that? He felt the ropes slide off his paws and he bowed.
“Thank you lady. I will serve you in whatever way possible.” The badger lady smiled and turned to two young hares. “Blackpaw, Fleet , take our new friends to the mess would you please? I hope you find your stay here pleasant, Zaroc.” As Zaroc and Darktan were taken off to the mess hall by the two chatty young hares, sergeant Wonwill turned to lady Melesme and cried
“what was that all about M’lady?” she gave him a small smile.
“I believe we have two new allies Sergeant.”
3 seasons on.
Zaroc and Darktan raced down the steps laughing and joking.
“Our first long patrol, Dark! What do ye make of that?” Darktan listened to his stomach rumble and grinned at his friend.
“I think we should get to the mess before the hares get all the food! I don’t want to be hungry for the next 5 hours!”
“You’re starting to become a hare yourself! Last one there’s a badger’s scut!”
“Hey no fair! You got a head start!” when they reached the mess hall, three young hares were waiting for them. Blackpaw, Fleet, and Theta had befriended the young vermin in the three seasons they had lived at Salamandastron. Fleet spoke up.
“Thought ye were gonna miss lunch wot!” Darktan laughed.
“Miss lunch? Not on your life!” Theta shoved a salad toward Darktan who wolfed it down and reached for a scone. Zaroc was more dignified when Fleet gave him a bowl of soup. He sipped it politely and shared a knowing look with Darktan as the hares stared at them from across the table. Finally Blackpaw cried out:
“Well who’s going this time? Tell us ye flipping cads!” Zaroc grinned at Darktan and the two spoke in union.
“We are!” these two words made the three hares whoop with happiness.
“You mean the five of us right?” asked Theta.
“Yep!” cried Darktan happily. Grins and high-five’s were exchanged as the three of them ate, stating what they were going to do on the patrol.
“ I’m going to flatten a few rats wot!” Cried Fleet giving a backwards glance at Blackpaw to see if she was impressed. But Darktan spoiled it.
“pfft! And what do ye know about flattening anything Lady Melesme said at the end we would stay at redwall!” this brought more whoops and cries of pleasure.
“Redwall! I hear the tucks ten times better than this!” said Fleet.
“Darktan’ll like that I’m sure.”Teased Zaroc. Darktan made a face at him then stole his soup
“Yeah, well I’m sure I will to wot!”Said Theta. Zaroc retrieved his soup and continued sipping it daintily. Theta leaned over and whispered:
“What does Zaroc mean? Wonwill told us it was some old Vermin tribe language.” Zaroc shifted uneasily then noticed that all four of them were staring, waiting expectantly. He sighed and pulled up his skimpy short vest wich mostly concealed a large birth mark on his right side. They all leaned forward exclaiming over it in awe.
“Looks like some sort of a bird’s wing!”Said Darktan.
“Yes. That’s why names Zaroc, or, in my tribes language:Kestrel.” He stated. He pulled at the belt of his trousers were a sheath with a long straight rapier hung. He felt awash with dark memories as he remembered the meaning of his name One thought slipped in his mind and accidentally came out loud.
“Sorry?” said Fleet.
“Nothing! Nothing!” Zaroc said quickly.
“But ye said “Whitepaw” mate. What is that supposed to mean?” Zaroc stared at the floor for a moment then lifted his head and said:
“Whitepaw was my sister. She was killed by a vermin band seasons ago.” The others stared at him mortified.
“Why did they kill her mate? What happened wot?” asked Theta.
“Because I didn’t cooperate.” Said Zaroc flatly. “I’ll tell ye the rest when I’m ready.” Fleet nodded in understanding, and Blackpaw spoke.
“Ye don’t have to tell us if ye don’t want to. We understand old lad.” Zaroc smiled at her gratefully. “Thank you Blackpaw. I just need time.” The rest came out in a snarl
“And lady Melesme meant more than the scars on my body when she said I was maimed! My own sister was ripped from my heart, and I never even managed to avenge her! I swear when I catch a hold of the beast that stabbed her he will pay tenfold for what he did! He may have been covered by a cloak, but I saw a birth mark on his arm. It was a crescent moon with a star next to it!!!!!!” He left the table, his soup entirely forgotten. He walked up the steps to the dormitory. He needed to think. as he climbed up a third flight of steps he felt a little tug on his trouser leg. He looked down and saw a plump little hare babe, its almond eyes wide. It was little Dauncey, Kersey and Ferdinand’s baby son. He lifted his chubby arms with such a serious expression on his face that Zaroc had to laugh even though he felt hot tears sting his cheeks. He picked up the little hare babe and cuddled him. He sat down on the steps still holding little Dauncey. The little hare babe placed his paw on Zaroc’s face then stared at his paw in curiosity as one of Zaroc’s tears clung to it. Little Dauncey waved the paw slightly under Zaroc’s nose, showing him his new discovery. Zaroc giggled and tickled the little hare, asking:
“Do your mom and dad know you’re up here eh?” the little babe wrinkled his nose and shook his head solemnly putting g a chubby finger to his lips. Zaroc grinned and shook his head in mock severity.
“Ye little rogue! I shudder to think what your mom is going t’ do to me when she finds out your missing and see’s me holding you! Aw well, here, why don’t I see where she is then hand you off to her and tell her a little sparrow tried to fly off with ye?” the little hare babe thought for a moment then nodded his head smiling. Then said one word
“secret!” Zaroc nodded smiling back.
“yes. Secret! Where is yore mum anyway?” Little Dauncey pointed upward saying:
“firmery!” Zaroc looked where he’d indicated. “The infirmary eh? Well let’s go!” he hauled the little babe on his shoulders and walked up another flight of stairs toward the infirmary. He found the babes mother, franticly searching the infirmary. When she saw them she rushed forward snatching the little babe of his shoulders crying
“Thank you Zaroc! Where on earth did you find him wot?” Zaroc bowed to her courteously.
“He was being carried off by one of those nasty little sparrow’s mar’m! Probably thought he was a little ball of fluff and was taking him off to use little Dauncey for his nest, I rescued him just as he was being flown out the window!” Kersey raised her eyebrows at Zaroc then looked down at her little babe who was smiling innocently at his mother. She made an exasperated noise.
“Honestly old lad! You have more imagination than my little son here wot!” Then she grinned equally mischievously.
“well thank you ever so much for saving him from that sparrow’s clutches wot! I must have a word about them with Lady Melesme! They’ll steal every babe we own if we ain’t carful!” Zaroc bowed and went downstairs back to the mess hall. Little Dauncey waved a chubby paw to him as he left.
Chapter 4. Two days later the long patrol marched along the dusty path. The two runners Fleet and Blackpaw had gone ahead, scouting out the area for signs of trouble. The long patrol was hot and dustier than Darktan expected it, but he didn’t complain as he marched beside Theta and Zaroc. To Zaroc the road was endless, everything needed to be explored. The march was called to a halt and it was soon apparent why. Fleet was Running back. Alone. The others stared curiously at him as he skidded to a stop, spraying sergeant wonwill with dust. He panted trying to catch his breath and the sergeant waited patiently. Fleet finally managed to choke out:
“Vermin! Whole mess of them! Blackpaw went for a closer look! Told me to tell you she’d be coming back soon!” The sergeant swore angrily before exclaiming:
“That stubborn little curmudgeon is going to get herself Killed! The little- He was interrupted by Blackpaw thundering in. she Gasped out
“They’re headed straight for redwall! There were tons of them! The leader was a nasty looking Stoat with a scar on his face! We’ve got to stop them wot!” she collapsed and Fleet was immediately at her side and offering her a flask of water. She accepted it gratefully and sipped it. Zaroc absently let his face contort in a snarl. He remembered that stoat. How could he forget him? The same stoat that had tortured him and ordered his sisters execution as well as whipped him. It was hard to forget a beast like that. His snarl had not gone unnoticed. Wonwill turned to him immediately and said:
“Zaroc; what do ye know about these beasts wot wot?” Zaroc spoke up still trembling with rage.
“Aye, I know about these beasts alright! It’s a long story, if anybeast cares to hear it.” Wonwill lead the patrol under a shady oak and beckoned the lot of them to sit down, before turning to Zaroc.
“Begin, old lad” and so he did.
Screams echoed in a dark tunnel. The dim lighting surrounded a young ferret as again a needle dipped with a strange poison injected him. He tried to fight the pain but no resistance was good enough. He heard the voices screaming at him to tell them everything he knew about where his tribe was hidden, but the young ferret would NEVER tell them. They could do all they wanted to him but he would stay silent. The only thing that worried him was his sister. He managed to glance at her. She was being held back by a cloaked character. His sister was struggling, but the beast held her shoulder gently but firmly. His ice blue eyes were wide with horror as he watched Zaroc being tortured. Zaroc could hear his sister sobbing as she tried to break free of the cloaked figure. Zaroc was brought back by a pain so fierce it made him screech. Great, they were using red hot pokers on him now. Let them try to get him talking. One day he would break free of the chains holding him to the floor, and then they would see he was not to be underestimated! Suddenly the scarred stoat raised a knife and slashed Zaroc’s back without mercy. Zaroc gritted his teeth. He would not give them the satisfaction of hearing him screech. The cloaked figure whispered something in his sister’s ear but she shook him off. The cloaked one squeezed her white paw as though he was trying to comfort her. Zaroc felt a strange understanding of the strange blue eyed character in the cloak. Like Zaroc, he too had been forced into all this. Suddenly the stoat raised Zaroc’s head roughly and roared in his face.
“Tell me where they are, you scum faced son of a seagull! Or I’ll do worse to you then what I’m doing now!” Zaroc’s response was to spit in the stoats face; he was rewarded by a roar of fury. He felt the chains being taken off his paws. He was pulled roughly and dragged out the tunnel. His sister was being forced along too. Zaroc was brought into a bright clearing being filled with evil looking onlookers. Zaroc’s arms were lifted up and bound to a tree branch so He was forced to stand. He saw a pole which his sister was being tied to by the cloaked creature. Her fur was completely silver, except for the tip of her tail and her left paw which were both white. She looked at him in a way that said clearly: be brave. He nodded to her. He realized the stoat was right next to him, grinning evilly. He felt his hot breath in his ear as he whispered
“Now you will see what happens when you defy me Zaroc son of Bane.” The onlookers began stamping their paws and shouting with glee. One of the weasels pulled the cloaked one forward and roughly handed him a knife. There was horror in the beast’s movement as he looked at the knife. The thumping of the footpaws matched the pounding of Zaroc’s heart. The cloaked animal was shoved toward Whitepaw, and the beast gave a despairing look at Zaroc before raising the knife. The sleeve of his cloak slid down and Zaroc could see a birth mark clearly on the arm. A crescent moon with a star. He heard the voice of the cloaked figure clearly as if he were right next to him. He was speaking to whitepaw and Zaroc had no idea how he could hear him. Perhaps because it was as though time had frozen everything else except three young beasts.
“Forgive me.” Said the cloaked animal. Then the knife came down. Zaroc heard himself scream, saw Whitepaw stare at the knife protruding from her chest, before going limp, Felt Whips hit his back and he started shouting'''''
“WHITEPAW! WHITEPAW!!!!!!!! WHIIIIIIITEEEEEEPAAAAAW!!!!!!!!!” He saw the cloaked beast’s hood come off as he fell to his knees and buried his face in paws. It was a ferret that was just Zaroc’s age. Zaroc’s sympathy for him vanished and he saw everything else dissolve and become flames, and the only thing that wasn’t fire, was the wretch on the ground. And the ferret’s shoulders were shaking. But Zaroc did not care. As much as the ferret was sorry for what he had done, he was his enemy. Forever. And then everything was gone and all he could see was darkness.
As Zaroc’s story ended he saw revulsion on Darktan and Fleet’s faces and tears running down Theta and Blackpaw’s cheeks. The disgusted looks on the rest of the long patrol was reflected in Wonwills eyes.Zaroc felt relief. It was not easy, to tell someone about your past. Remembering it was hard and painful. Wonwill nodded to the patrol, who all stood up on command. Wonwill spoke.
“You all heard what these vermin are capable of. Now it’s time to show them that a deed like that shall not go unpunished! Zaroc, you will be given the chance to avenge your sister, in due course. And we will stay by your side! Fleet, Blackpaw! Show us where these vile vermin lurk, wot!” and they were off with the two runners in the lead.
Book 2. Whitepaw. Seasons back.
Whitepaw woke and gave a shriek of pain. It hurt! She remembered with a jolt her brother Zaroc. Did they still have him? Or had they killed him? She felt tears sting her cheeks. She would not accept he was dead! Never! Not until she found his dead carcass! She convulsed. That dirty sneak! How dare he stab her! And poor Zaroc………. They would probably still be torturing him. She heard foot paws stepping close to her and heard a little cry of alarm. Then she blacked out.
Whitepaw woke on a soft bed with a bandage around her chest. She blinked at a little pair of blue eyes staring at her in fascination. She sat up and stared at a tiny ferret dibbun. He had brown fur, black mask fur, and all four of his feet were black. The tiny dibbun squeaked out
“mammee! The pretty beast wake up!” Whitepaw saw a little vole wife shuffle toward her.
“weel now. Ain’t we feeling better? I’m Didjety and this is my liddle son Treygan. The Husband will be back in an ould minute. If it weren’t for him ye’d still be in an ould ditch so you would!” Whitepaw smiled at the vole wife.
“Thank you ma’am. I’m Whitepaw. Where did you find Treygan? He’s realy cute.” Said Whitepaw smiling at the blue eyed little ferret, which crawled up on the bed and sat next to her. Didjety smiled and pressed her back down gently.
“I found the liddle beast crying by an ould stump. His ma and pa were both lying dead right next to him. Don’t know how they died but they were both as cold as stones and I brought the liddle tyke back to the dwelling. He’s going to be a right thief like his dad so he is!”
At that moment a Voice called from the front of the house "Didjety me ould Duck! hows the perty beast doin'? you feed her all me sausages yet?"
Didjety shook her paw at a fat vole who had entered with a heavy sack over his shoulder, and Treygan giggled at Whitepaw who ruffled his head fur as she looked up at the cheerful newcomer.
"weel you ought to be ashamed Of your ould self Yoofus Lightpaw! you can barely fit your fat tum through the door as it is!"
Yoofus looked outraged. "och, weel ye listen to her!" he Compalined to Whitepaw and Treygan "do i look like i'm fat?"
Whitepaw beamed up at him. "Why no, sir! you cut a dashing figure if i do say so myself!" she fluttered eyelashes at him. Yoofus's chest puffed out, but Tryegan piped up
"Yousa fat dadday! mammee saya so!"
Yoofus wilted, and shook his head pityingly at Treygan. He leaned forward so his mouth was close to Whitepaw’s ear and hissed.
“Blind as an ould mole that one is! It’s you and me who see the real truth missy.”
Whitepaw was enjoying herself immensely. “Of course” she whispered back “I could be wrong.”
Yoofus pretended not to hear her, and called to his wife: “The perty beast says she’d like some vittles, buts’ too shy to ask ye herself. Why don’t ye make her some dandy ol’ stew, or some hot oatmeal, something she can stomick after that nasty encounter!”
Didjety had been way ahead of her husband. She placed a steaming wooden bowl that had a strong creamy aroma into Whitepaw’s paws, smiling fondly at her.
“Tis only Oat and wheat meal, but it’ll stick to your ribs, sup that whilst I get ye an ould drop o willow bark tea.” She bustled off, and Whitepaw took a spoonful, burnt her tongue and placed it back fanning her mouth with a paw. Treygan dipped his paws in Whitepaw’s oatmeal, and sucked on his paws, not even flinching as steam billowed around his face. Whitepaw hastily Retrieved her Oatmeal before Treygan could stick a drool covered paw into her bowl.
Whitepaw recovered quite quickly, but Didjety would not let her leave until she was satisfied she had been fed properly, saying Whitepaw had:
“But the ghost of an ould stomick, and ribs like branches.”
Whitepaw had thanked the Lightpaws and had hugged them all in turn before going. She was sad to leave them. They had grown on her as a sort of family. Didjety had refused to let her leave without a packful of food and a skin of water, so Whitepaw had enough provisions to hold her for a week or more, considering how conservative she was with her meals.
The going had been mostly smooth, and Whitepaw paused by a stream to have a quick lunch and to consort a map of Mossflower that Yoofus had given her. Sitting cross-legged on a smooth stone overlapping the stream, she poured over the map and munched on a scone. She heard a faint rustling in the bushes behind her, and she frowned, her brow furrowing, but did not look up. A cough sounded from behind her, and Whitepaw drew out one of her daggers, and sliced a scone in two, in a threatening way. She turned her head, and saw a handsome male ferret, with bright blue eyes, a white face and underbelly, and brown back fur. He white mane like head fur, and a bandage on one arm. She eyed him cooly.
“Can I help you with something?” she asked. He blinked at her, and took a step back as though trying to get a better look at her. He nodded.
“I just wanted to ask if I could have a scone. I haven’t eaten in three days.” She tossed him one and he caught it. He sat and ate, and Whitepaw turned back to her map. Ah, there was the stream she was sitting next to! She squinted to read the miniscule writing. Crookstream and ripples it read. She sighed and rolled the map up and stuck it back in her knapsack. She paused, feeling the male ferrets gaze on her. She looked at him, trying to hide her frustration. Did he have nothing better to do?
He stood up and extended a paw. “I’m Zach. Thanks for the scone.”
“Whitepaw.” She said and shook his proffered paw. Why did his voice seem so familiar? She turned and started to walk upstream.
“Wouldn’t go that way if I were you.” She twisted around and stared at Zach.
“Said I wouldn’t go that way. There’s a swamp full of mad rats, call themselves the painted ones. If they don’t get you, and the lizards don’t get ye, than the Swamp muck will. I know my way around these woods. How’s about, as repayment for the scone, I help ye through the swamp?”
“It was only a scone.” She said. She was confused. But the way Zach was looking at her made her feel a desire to trust him. His eyes were pleading, begging her to say yes. It was like he owed something to her, but he wouldn’t let on what it was. She stared for a while at him. He seemed honest. If he was a crook, she could defend herself.
“Alright, but don’t give me any trouble.” She said, and turned back to the path by the stream, Zach following her.