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Please read Two Swords; The Return of the Rapscallions before you read this, as this is a sequel. If anyone wants to be on an update list, say so in a comment.
Prologue: The Deep Places of the World
The mouse was sitting in a large circular cavern. He was not alone, around three or four score others sat around him in concentric circles. It was quite dark; the only illumination came from some phosphorescent lichen or moss that was growing on the wall, and also from a pair of strange, curved, blades on the mouse’s arms. They started at his elbows, and ended several inches past his hand. They were made of a clear glass-like material, and glowed with a pale light. All of the other mice in the cavern carried similar weapons, but unlike the center mouse’s, theirs were colored, and intricately carved in a variety of ways to resemble entwined vines, waves of water, or jagged bolts of lightning, and they were not glowing. They were silent, watching the one in the center, who after some time finally spoke.
“Yes, Naurimbor is coming again; I can feel it.”
Another of the mice answered, “How soon? Every day Gorthumbar and his armies draw closer; we cannot stop him. Not since Naurimbor came last time have the Deepmice been driven so far back.”
The mouse in the center looked at him, “I do not know, but it will be soon, meanwhile…” he paused. The quick patter of running footsteps was coming from a tunnel that led into the cave. A moment later another mouse stumbled into the cave. He was bleeding, and panting heavily.
After catching his breath, the newcomer babbled out his report, “They’re coming, lots of them, in the north tunnel! I left Tasardin, and Gondithil to hold the passage, but they won’t survive long without help!”
The center mouse glanced at his blades. The glow was noticeably brighter, and had taken on a blue tinge. He nodded, “We must go.”
All the mice in the cave surged to their feet. With the mouse with the glowing blades leading the way, they poured into the tunnel, shouting warcries.
Chapter One: Going Home
Beechtail was in his least favorite spot; the top of a tree, with Maplefur. At first he had been glad when the abbot allowed him to leave the infirmary; he had wanted exercise and some fresh air, but being able to walk meant climbing lessons. “So you can be a proper squirrel,” Maplefur had said.
Maplefur pointed at a nearby tree, “Okay, let’s try this again, jump to that oak.”
Beechtail was confused, “That’s an ash.”
“Sorry, ash, that’s what I meant.” Maplefur replied, Beechtail was sure she wasn’t paying attention; her eyes had the unfocused look of somebeast who‘s not aware of their surroundings.
Maplefur had been acting oddly all day. Beechtail, however, decided that she would probably tell him what she was thinking about eventually. Right now, he needed to concentrate.
He leaped out of the tree, and grabbed at a branch. He caught it! He was amazed; this was the first time since his fight with Nettleclaw, and the second time ever that he had managed to jump from one thing to another!
Moments later his euphoria was stifled by an ominous snap. He plunged downward, clutching the branch, which was really just a twig. “Aaaahhhoof,” He landed a few feet away from a cluster of dibbuns, who were having lots of fun seeing him fall out of trees.
ZIk and a tiny mousemaid named Miccip pulled him to his feet, “Mista Beetail, you norra suppose to be fallen outta trees, youse a squiggel, heeheehee.”
“Hey down there, show some respect for the abbey warrior,” called Maplefur from the top of the tree, “And Beechtail, maybe next time you’ll grab a thicker branch, but that’ll be tomorrow.” She climbed effortlessly down the tree, “It’s almost time for dinner, and if Lutran gets there first, there won’t be any left.”
The dibbuns took Maplefur’s words quite literally, and ran towards the door of Great Hall as fast as their little legs could carry them. Maplefur, however, was in no hurry, and wanted to talk to Beechtail.
“Beechtail, I’ve been thinking; I wonder if there are any other survivors from Angdelve besides us.”
“I doubt it,” Beechtail replied, “We saw the refugees getting killed by Nettleclaw’s archers.”
“I know, but that wasn’t everyone in the town, my parents and my baby brother weren’t there. I want to go back; I can’t stand not knowing.”
Beechtail remembered how he had felt when his parents never came back from a scouting patrol. It was two days before their bodies were found. He didn’t know which was worse, knowing they were dead, or not knowing anything, “Hmmm, I’ll ask Lutran. If the abbot lets us, I guess the three of us could take a trip back. If we hurry, we might make it back before winter.”
Maplefur gave him a quick hug, “Thanks,” she whispered.
Beechtail found it hard to concentrate on anything during dinner; he was only mildly amused when Zik and Gurbie the molebabe slipped a large amount of hotroot pepper into Lutran’s drink, and couldn’t believe it when he drank it without noticing the addition. After eating, he spoke with Lutran and the abbot about Maplefur’s plan. Both whole heartedly agreed.
“Well, Maplefur,” Beechtail told her, “we’re going home.”
Chapter Two: Journey to Angdelve
By midmorning the next day; the time the three friends had agreed to leave; Beechtail and Lutran were ready, carrying provisions. Lutran was armed with a thick staff, and Beechtail was carrying the Sword of Martin. Maplefur, however, was nowhere to be found.
Beechtail was complaining to Lutran, “Where is she? This whole journey was her idea, and she’s the one who wanted to leave so early.”
“Afraid I don’t know, wot,” replied Lutran, “Oh, wait, here she comes now.”
Maplefur came out the door of the Abbey, carrying her supplies. A squirrel named Oakarrow, one of the Limbrunners, was following her. The Limbrunners had appointed Maplefur as their leader after Aspen’s death. “Are you sure you don’t want us to come with you?”
“Yes, I’m sure,” Maplefur replied. She turned to Beechtail and Lutran, “Sorry I’m late, are you ready?”
Beechtail looked her up and down, “You do know we aren’t planning on fighting a war, right?”
The squirrelmaid was, quite literally, armed to the teeth, in addition to her bow, she carried a sling, which Skipper had taught her to use, three throwing knives and a metal-tipped javelin, which Adaracor had made, at Beechtail’s request, for her from the Rapscallion sword.
She scowled at him, “Laugh all you want, you might be glad I’ve got all these if we run into trouble.”
Beechtail shrugged, “Whatever. Now that you’re here, we can go.”
The three friends set off into Mossflower. They found Lutran’s raft where they had left it, almost two seasons ago. After checking that it was still riverworthy, they set off. Four days passed without incident, they reached the dry riverbed where they had first met Lutran.
As they walked up the riverbed, a rat watched them from a thick cluster of bushes. It was Chukka Bigaxe, and he knew his chance for revenge had finally come.
Chapter Three: The Ruined Village
“I recognize this place, we’re almost there!” Maplefur ran along the riverbed surprisingly quickly, considering the amount of weapons she was carrying.
“Wait for me!” Beechtail took off after her, dropping his pack.
Lutran sighed, picked up Beechtail’s foodpack, and followed after, muttering to himself “Confounded squirrels, charging off and leaving me to carry everything. Still, got to have enough supplies to keep fur and bones together, wot,” he pulled some candied chestnuts out of Beechtail’s pack, “Ha, if he doesn’t want his bally pack, I don’t suppose he’ll miss a bloomin’ pawful of nuts. Mmcrunch.”
Beechtail was gaining on Maplefur, upon reaching the first buildings of Angdelve, he rounded a corner, and crashed into Maplefur, who had stopped suddenly, “Ooof.” They fell in a heap, with Beechtail on top.
“I’m sorry,” said Beechtail, “I didn’t see you stand-” he caught sight of what she had been looking at, “Oh my.”
It looked as if the Rapscallions hadn’t bothered to bury the dead after they had taken over the village. All around them, skeletons of various woodlanders lay where they had fallen, with tattered clothing still clinging to them.
Lutran came up behind them, “I say chaps, you might have waited for m-” he stopped in midsentence, horrified.
They picked their way through the village, it was empty. As night was falling, Lutran found several torches in an abandoned house. He lit them, and gave one to each of the squirrels.
“What do you think; should we stay here and take care of the bodies, which could take a week or two, or go back to Redwall?” asked Beechtail.
Lutran replied, “I’m not sure, but it would take days, and we want to be back at Redwall before winter comes and it starts snowing. Go ask Maplefur.”
Beechtail turned and looked around. Where was Maplefur? Suddenly he heard a scream. He ran towards it, and was just in time to see Maplefur vanish into the tunnel entrance to the mines. He ran after her, Lutran following close behind.
Chapter Four: Trapped
A cluster of skeletons was lying at the entrance to the mine. Beechtail jumped over them, and took off down the winding tunnel. Fortunately, the light from Maplefur’s torch showed which way the squirrelmaid had gone. There were more skeletons, and for what seemed like eternity; Beechtail was racing after the glow of Maplefur’s torch, which was always just a bit farther ahead. Finally, they emerged into a deep cave, and saw Maplefur, crouching by two squirrel bodies, one much smaller than the other. She was sobbing.
They ran over to her, she looked up, still crying, and showed them, two matching carved wooden pendants, “These w-w-were my parent’s, I found one at the e-en-entrance, so I kn-kn-knew,” she started crying harder, sobbing into Beechtail’s shoulder.
He looked at the corpses, this must have been Maplefur’s mother and brother, and her father must have been at the entrance, trying to hold off the Rapscallions. They had probably tried to hide in the mines, but to no avail.
“He was b-b-barely a season o-o-old,” sobbed Maplefur, “why would they do this?”
Beechtail couldn’t think of anything to say, so he stood there, holding her.
Chukka had followed them into the mine; an evil idea had occurred to him. Drawing his axe, he began to destroy the shoring supporting the tunnel.
Beechtail heard a distant rumble, “Is that thunder?”
Maplefur stopped crying, and looked up, “I didn’t see any storm clouds, besides, we shouldn’t be able to hear it this far underground.”
Chukka clove another support in half; the ceiling of the tunnel was shuddering now. I should really-
He never finished the thought, due to a large falling rock.
Lutran suddenly realized what was happening, “The bally tunnel is caving in! Run!”
They fled out of the cave, but a short way ahead the tunnel was completely caved in. The roof of the tunnel shifted, so they tore back to the cave. Aside from the blocked tunnel, there was no way out. However, the cave itself seemed structurally sound, even though there was a large crack running up one wall.
Beechtail moaned, “We’re trapped.”
Chapter Five: Downstream
They glanced around the cave looking for another exit. There was none. Beechtail ran back up the tunnel. Drawing his sword, he hacked at the rocks like a madbeast; sending chips of rock flying everywhere, but even a mole can’t dig through solid rock.
Maplefur and Lutran dragged him out of the tunnel seconds before the ceiling gave way. The sat in the cave for a few minutes; stunned by the turn of events. Suddenly Lutran straightened up, “Is it just me, or do you chaps hear bally running water too?”
Beechtail listened carefully, it was faint, but there definitely was water flowing nearby, “Yes, I hear it.”
Lutran stood up, and walked around the cave. Stopping by the crack in the wall, he vanished through it. Seconds later the squirrels heard him calling, “Hey, come here; I think I’ve found the bally way out!”
Seizing their packs they ran after the otter. They found him standing beside an underground river. He pointed downriver; there was some clearance between the level of the river and the roof of the tunnel it flowed through, “This might come out somewhere, and it’s shallow, so it shouldn’t be too hard to float downstream, even if you’re like me and can’t swim.”
“You can’t swim?” the squirrels said at the same time.
“So what if I can’t? There are a lot of creatures that can’t swim. What’s wrong with that?” Lutran said defensively.
Beechtail started to reply, “Well…Oh, never mind.”
Maplefur eyed the river apprehensively, “I don’t think this is a good idea, we don’t know where this goes.”
“No, but there’s a slight chance it may jolly well lead out. And there is zero chance of us digging our way out. So, only one thing to do!” Grabbing the squirrels by the paw, Lutran leapt into the fast-flowing river.
Beechtail barely had a chance to grab a breath of air, before he was pulled under. The water was ice cold. Tossed about by the current, he was thrown against the wall twice, and lost his grip on his foodpack the second time.
Suddenly they emerged into a calm part of the river. It was still moving fast, but since the tunnel was straight, it was smoother, and still shallow enough for Beechtail’s footpaws to brush the bottom occasionally. The torches had gone out, but Beechtail had kept hold of Maplefur’s paw during the wild ride. However, they had lost track of Lutran. Beechtail called out, “Lutran!”
A voice answered from somewhere close in front of them, “I’m right here, no need to shout. Well, that wasn’t so terribly baAAAAAD!”
“Aaaiieee!” suddenly the river took a steep downward slope. Maplefur was screaming, and the echoes were deafening. The squirrelmaid was also squeezing Beechtail’s paw so tightly, he could barely feel it.
Between the noise, pain, and suddenness of the drop, Beechtail felt like screaming too, “Yaaaaah!”
The downward plunge ended as suddenly as it had come. Beechtail went underwater for a moment, but came back to the surface quickly. Then they were thrown into another whirling chaos of water.
It seemed to go on forever, but, when Beechtail’s lungs were about to burst, the river dumped them into a wide pool. It took Beechtail a second or two to clear the water from his eyes. When he did, however he was stunned by what he saw.
They were in a large torch-lit cavern. Near one wall was a ledge that was crowded with mice, which were all staring at the three strange creatures that had arrived in their cave. What was this place?
Beechtail’s thoughts were interrupted by a cry of distress. Lutran was thrashing around, “Somebeast lend a bally paw! I can’t swim!”
Somehow, Maplefur and Beechtail managed to pull Lutran to the ledge. The mice moved away from them, still silent, still staring. Beechtail reached back, to where the Sword of Martin and its scabbard was strapped to his back, he breathed a sigh of relief; it was still there. It seemed that Maplefur had somehow not lost any of her numerous weapons. Lutran still had his staff, which was probably why he didn’t sink instantly, but all the foodpacks were gone.
Beechtail looked at the mice. They were all wearing tunics that looked like they were made of lizard hide, and they carried curious blades on their arms.
The silence was starting to unnerve Beechtail. He spoke, “Hello, me and my friends mean no harm. We are lost; could somebeat tell us where we are?”
They didn’t answer, or make any sign that they understood him. They just kept on staring. Then some moved aside. Another mouse walked up to them. He was older than most of the others, and the blades on his arms were glowing faintly. He looked at Beechtail and spoke, “Naurimbor, you have returned!”
Chapter Six: The Tale of Naurimbor
Beechtail was confused, “Naurimbor? What’s that?”
The mouse kept on talking, “It is good that you have come now; we are in serious trouble, and the Scalehordes are destroying us.”
Beechtail frowned, still confused, “Look, I don’t know what you are talking about. Me and my friends just want to get out of here. Where is this place?”
The strange mouse spoke, “Ah, I see you do not know. Come with me, and I will show you,” he turned and walked towards a tunnel that seemed to be the only way out of the cave, aside from the river.
Beechtail glanced at Maplefur and Lutran, unsure of what to do. They shrugged, so Beechtail followed the strange mouse. The other two came behind. As they walked along, the mouse spoke.
“I am Palan the Seer, leader of the Deepmice. We are at war with a vast army of lizards and snakes, who continually drive us back. Soon, we will have nowhere to go. It has always been this way, the Deepmice and the Scalehordes locked in a constant struggle for survival.”
“A long time ago, the time of my grandfather’s grandfather, the Deepmice were in a similar situation. Driven back, we had little chance of survival. Then a hope came unlooked for; a creature from the abovelands. We called him Naurimbor, which is “hand of fire” in the old tongue, because of the color of his fur. Which was, as yours is, red as flame.”
Beechtail looked at himself. His fur was lighter than most squirrels’, but it would be stretching the truth a bit to say it looked like fire. “What happened then?”
Palan continued, “My ancestor, Ringil, made weapons for him. He was a mighty warrior. We turned the tide of the war, and almost destroyed them.”
They entered another cave; it was filled with carved clay tablets; probably records. “However, Ringil and Naurimbor were ambushed. Somehow, Ringil did not have his blades at the time, so Naurimbor gave Ringil one of his. They were separated in the fighting; Ringil made his way back to the rest of the Deepmice, but Naurimbor was never seen again, until now.” Palan looked pointedly at Beechtail.
Beechtail interrupted, “Look, I don’t know who Naurimbor was, but it’s not me.”
Palan shook his head, “Soon after Naurimbor vanished, Ringil had a vision. A creature from the abovelands told him that Naurimbor would return when we needed him most. When he awoke, he made two sketches, one of Naurimbor,” he handed Beechtail a thin piece of slate.
Beechtail studied the drawing, it wasn’t very detailed, but it was definitely a squirrel, complete with a bushy tail. Beechtail sighed inwardly, why was it that everywhere he went, everyone expected him to be some sort of hero? He had gotten unusually lucky in his fight with Nettleclaw, but he really wasn’t the strong-as-Martin warrior everyone thought him to be.
Palan continued, “And one of the creature from his vision.”
Beechtail took the other sketch, which was on a somewhat thicker piece of slate, only to drop it in shock. It was Martin the Warrior!
Chapter Seven: The Hidden Prophecy
Beechtail tried to catch the piece of slate, but missed. It hit the rock floor, but, miraculously, it did not shatter.
“You look like you’ve seen a ghost!” commented Lutran
Beechtail gestured at the slate on the floor, “It’s Martin!”
Palan looked at him, “You know of this creature?”
“Yes,” Beechtail pointed to the sword, “This was his.”
“Interesting,” Palan bent to pick up the slate. It came apart when he lifted it.
Somebeast had used melted wax to attach two identical pieces of slate together. There was writing carved into the inside surfaces, “Hey, look at this!” Beechtail called.
Palan rubbed some of the wax off the words. Looking at the piece of slate, with Martin’s picture on it, he scrutinized it, then looked up, “It’s written in the old tongue, but I can read it.”
Beechtail was practically jumping up and down with impatience, “What does it say?”
Palan cleared his throat, “Ringil’s Vision of Naurimbor’s Return.” He handed Beechtail the slate, “I think that was just the title.”
Beechtail gave the slate to Lutran, who commented on the detail of the sketch, “’Ha, you’d think this was copied from the bally Tapestry.”
Palan was muttering to himself, trying to translate the writing on the other half of the slate. Finally he looked up, “It says…
Three shall come from world above,
The battle’s tide to turn.
One heavily armed, one quite confused,
And one with burning fur.
Take Flameblade; sword of Naurimbor,
From where it hangs upon the wall.
The Deepmice may have victory,
But twice Naurimbor shall fall.”
He looked up, “This must be the original poem. Ringil told everyone the first verse, but we have never heard that second part before.”
Maplefur sighed, “Why does Martin always have to be so cryptic?”
Lutran shrugged, “If Beechtail is supposed to be this Naribom chap, with bally burning fur, and you’re the heavily armed one, Maplefur,” he gestured at the squirrelmaid’s numerous weapons, “then that makes me the quite confused one. I’m not confused about anything, except the poem of course.”
Maplefur stifled a laugh, barely, “It fits, Lutran. You wouldn’t get it, but it fits.”
The semi-crazy otter shrugged, “Oh well, if you say so.”
Beechtail was thinking, “But twice Naurimbor must fall…what does that mean.”
Palan looked at the slate, “Ringil used a word that would mean a literal fall from a high place, but in this context it could be better translated as “defeated”. Naurimbor has already fallen once. Although, if you are defeated, I don’t see how we would win.”
Maplefur suddenly interrupted, “Wait. If we stay here, Beechtail might die?”
Beechtail gulped, “Die?”
Chapter Eight: Beechtail’s Choice
Palan nodded hesitantly, “If I read the poem’s meaning correctly…possibly”
“It might mean a literal fall. Right?” Beechtail asked, looking nervous.
Palan reread the poem, “Probably not, he may have used that word so it would rhyme when it was translated. There are some other places where he did similar things.”
“Then is there any way out?” Maplefur asked.
“There is a tunnel that was believed to lead to the abovelands, but we think it has caved in. We know there is a passage to the surface, but it is deep in the Scalehorde’s territory. Not even when Naurimbor was here before have we been able to take it. You could try the first tunnel, but since it has water flowing through it, you might not be able to return if you find it blocked. Also, if you leave, I fear we may not survive long.” replied Palan.
Maplefur looked at Beechtail, “What do you think?”
Beechtail didn’t know what to say, part of him knew he should stay and help fight, but the other part didn’t want to die. He stammered, “I-I want to think. Could you leave me alone for a bit?”
Lutran and Maplefur looked at each other for a moment, and then walked away.
Beechtail sat against the wall, holding the piece of slate with Martin’s picture on it. What should I do? Try to get out, or fight? Am I going to die if I stay? With these questions spinning around his head, Beechtail realized he was quite tired. The minutes ticked by. His eyelids closed, and he fell asleep.
Martin’s picture was moving; he looked up at Beechtail, “A true warrior always helps those in need.”
Beechtail came awake with a start. He stared at the piece of slate. That doesn’t answer my question, but I get the point.
He walked out to where the others were waiting. They too were asleep. Lutran was snoring, Maplefur was waking up though. She yawned and looked up at him, “What took so long?”
“Sorry, I fell asleep,” Beechtail mumbled apologetically.
Palan was the next to awake, rubbing his eyes, the mouse stood, “Naurimbor, have you decided what you are going to do?”
“Yes,” Beechtail said, he paused, realizing he might be saying his own death sentence. Then he remembered Martin’s words.
Chapter Nine: Flameblade
“Okay. If that’s what you really want to do,” Maplefur said resignedly. She grabbed the hem of her tunic, which was still wet, and squeezed some water out on to Lutran’s face.
He came awake in an instant, “Yaaaagh, confounded squirrel! And I was in the middle of a deeper’n’ever pie too. Bad form to wake up a chap in the middle of a dream, especially when the dream involves scoff. Speaking of food, I’m a bit famished. Wonder what Deepmice eat?”
Maplefur chuckled, “You said you wanted me to wake you up, and you can eat later, once we figure out the other two lines of the poem.”
“I already know what those lines mean, I’ll show you, and then I will have some food brought up from the stores,” said Palan.
They followed him back to the record chamber; the mouse threaded his way through stacks of the tablets. Upon coming around pile near the back wall of the cave, they saw him lift something down from the wall.
“Naurimbor called the blades Ringil made for him the Flameblades,” said Palan. He turned, and presented the object he was holding to Beechtail. All three of the friends gasped.
The Flameblade was a slightly larger version of the weapons the Deepmice carried, owing to the fact that they were small, even for mice. It was made of a translucent, glass-like material, a deep ruby red at the base that gave way to bright orange and finally golden yellow at the tip. The weapon was carved like a jet of leaping flame. It was beautiful.
“Hold out your arm.” Palan said.
Beechtail obliged, and the mouse used several lizard skin straps to attach it to his arm. It was quite an unusual weapon, requiring no hand to wield. The tip extended about one-and-a-half paw lengths past his fingertips. It was light as a feather, and sharp as a glass shard.
Maplefur chuckled, “Wow, Beechtail. Everywhere we go you just have to pick up another sword as a souvenir.”
Beechtail drew the Sword of Martin, marveling at its craftsmanship, as he always did when he held the ancient blade. The hands-free aspect of the Flameblade allowed him to wield Martin’s sword with both hands and still parry blows with the Flameblade.
“What is it made of?” Beechtail asked, “It looks like glass.”
Palan grinned, and struck the wall of the cave with one of his own blades. It gouged a huge divot in the wall. “It’s not glass.”
Beechtail’s curiosity was aroused, “Where does it come from?”
There is a chasm, with a natural bridge running across it, where thin stalagmites rise up like long needles from the darkness below. The stalagmites are the only know source of this material. However the cave has recently fallen into the hands of the Scalehorde. We h-”
He was interrupted by a loud rumble from Lutran’s stomach. “Oh, I forgot about the food,” said Palan, “We’ll go get some right away.”
The meal consisted of unidentifiable fungus and lichen, and a few small cave fish. It was quite bland, but thankfully filling enough so that they didn’t have to eat much.
Beechtail took the opportunity to ask Palan more about his blades, “Why do they glow blue?”
“They show when our enemies approach by getting brighter and bluer.”
“Like right now?”
Palan glanced down at his blades, his eyes went wide and he shot up, “I wasn’t watching them, the Scalehordes must be close. But we should have heard something by now.” He ran out of the cave, with the others following.
Palan seemed to know where he was going. The tunnels were empty, almost. They nearly collided with another mouse running the opposite direction. Palan stopped him, “Gondithil, what’s happening? Where is everyone?”
The mouse began to talk in a rush, “Large attack, north tunnel, they’ve killed the sentries. I’ve got everyone fighting at the Gullet because there’s no sign of Gorthumbar yet, so we have a chance. We think the sentries on the east tunnel are still alive, but cut off. We need to get a path through so we can rescue them.”
Beechtail interrupted, “Who’s Gorthumbar, and what’s the Gullet?”
“Gorthumbar Scaleking is the leader of the Scalehordes, but no one has ever seen him and survived. You’ll see what the Gullet is when we get there,” replied the mouse.
Palan glanced back at Beechtail, “Are you ready to fight?”
The squirrel nodded, “Let’s go.”
Chapter Ten: The Gullet
Beechtail found it hard to keep up with the mice; they ran through the maze of tunnels and caves with incredible agility, barely slowing to go around corners.
He suddenly noticed a low roaring noise up ahead. He came out of the tunnel into a large cavern, and stopped; stunned by what he saw.
A wide, crescent shaped ledge ran around one side of the cave. The ledge was packed with mice, struggling to hold back a teeming mass of lizards and snakes of all sizes. The rest of the cave was a huge funnel-like depression. Water flowed out from under the ledge, swirled down the slope, and vanished into a hole at the base of the wall with a gurgling roar.
“Hey,” Maplefur waved a hand in front of his face, “Wake up. We’ve got a war to fight.”
Beechtail came back to reality; he looked around and saw that Palan had jumped straight into the thickest fighting. His two blades glowed like sapphire torches, giving everything around him an eerie blue appearance.
A mouse on the edge of the ledge went down; felled by a lizard swinging a stone club. Beechtail and Lutran leapt into the gap. The lizards and snakes had never seen a weapon with as far a reach as Martin’s Sword, and Beechtail slew several quickly. His presence seemed to rally the Deepmice, who battled with new intensity, shouting, “Naurimbor! Naurimbooor!”
Stones whizzed by; from Maplefur’s sling. Lutran was using his staff to pound on a snake he had pinned to the ground with his foot. Beechtail was locked in combat with another lizard. His opponent swung a stone axe at his head; he raised an arm to shield him, and unwittingly blocked the axe with the Flameblade like he would with a shield. The lizard hissed in annoyance. Seconds later, one of Maplefur’s throwing knives buried itself in his throat.
The squirrelmaid laughed, “Now are you glad I brought so many weapons?”
Beechtail pulled the knife from the slain lizard and tossed it back to her, “Okay, you were right, as usual.”
Maplefur was looking for a new target when she saw it; a red-eyed lizard with jet black scales on the other side of the ledge was directing a group of newly arrived adders towards where Beechtail and Lutran were fighting. Realizing she had spotted an important leader, she set aside her sling in favor of her bow. She selected an arrow, then took her time to line up for a perfect shot.
Beechtail found himself surrounded by the adders; he couldn’t take a real swipe at one, or they would get him. Fortunately, it was much easier to defend himself with two weapons.
Suddenly he heard the unmistakable twang of a bow, followed by the whistling of an arrow, and finally a thud as it found its mark. At once a wail of despair arose from the Scalehordes, they fled back into the tunnel they had come from, with the Deepmice hard on their heels.
Beechtail was chasing after the fleeing reptiles when it happened; his footpaws became tangled in the coils of a young adder. He tripped, and tumbled off the ledge.
Maplefur saw the Beechtail fall. If Lutran hadn’t been there to grab the back of her tunic, she would have jumped after him. The waters swept the squirrel and snake into the hole. They vanished, and Maplefur realized the awful truth; Beechtail was gone.
Chapter Eleven: Determination
Maplefur was sobbing. She was not the sort of creature to cry often, but ever since Nettleclaw had destroyed Angdelve, not that long ago, she had lost everyone; first her family and friends at Angdelve, then Aspen, and now her best friend of all; Beechtail. Now all she had left was Lutran, and her friends at Redwall; but who knew if she would ever see them again? And if Lutran…
She didn’t let herself think to the end of that sentence.
Lutran put a comforting arm around her. She whispered her thoughts to him as they looked at the hole where Beechtail had disappeared, “Beechtail shouldn’t have listened to the stupid poem, even if it was Martin. We should have left while we still could.”
The Deepmice had pursued the retreating Scalehordes, but now they returned, with them were several other mice, presumably the sentries who were trapped. A smiling Palan walked up to them, “We rescued the sentries, and the lizards have retreated back through tunnels it took them several months to cap-” he paused at the sight of Maplefur’s tearstained face, “What happened? Where’s Naurimbor?”
Maplefur pointed silently at the hole.
Palan’s smile turned to an expression of shock, “No. He couldn’t have.”
“Ah, might there be any chance you chaps know where the stream goes?” Lutran asked, hoping that Maplefur wouldn’t be so distraught if there was some chance Beechtail was alive.
The seer shook his head, “No one has ever been down there before and come back…wait,” he paused, then continued, talking to himself more than Maplefur and Lutran, “The Scalehordes control much more than we do…if it goes anywhere…and we searched the Scalehordes entire territory…we might find him…and we need to if we are going to win.”
“Right, we’ll have to think of some way to get past them,” said Maplefur, with determination replacing her sadness. If there was any chance Beechtail was still alive, she would take it. It was much easier than admitting he was dead.
Palan looked at her apprehensively, “That’s not something that can be done easy, especially without Naurimbor. We are hard pressed to keep what little territory we have left.”
Maplefur shrugged, “Then we better get started, do you have a map of all the tunnels?”
“Yes, back in the record chamber. Follow me.”
As Palan lead the way back to the chamber, various strategies were whirling through Maplefur’s head.
Somewhere in the territory conquered by the Scalehordes, a snake and a lizard were making their way along a dark tunnel. They entered into a pitch black chamber. Fear showed on both their faces. All that could be seen in the chamber was a pair of red eyes, barely visible, glowing with a dim light that illuminated nothing. A guttural noise, like some bizarre cross between a hiss and a growl came from the cave; a voice.
The snake answered, “My lord Gorthumbar… your ssson, Curvigurth…he wasss ssslain.”
A roar of rage sounded from within the chamber. Something whistled through the air. The snake fell to the ground, dead. The lizard cringed, expecting to be struck dead also. The voice came again, but there was a questioning tone to it.
“No, milord,” said the lizard, “It was not the Deepmice, it was…like Naurimbor, but a female.”
The voice spoke again.
“Yes, milord, Naurimbor has returned,” answered the lizard.
Another roar, and the body of the lizard joined the snake on the floor.
Chapter Twelve: Calris
For the second time in as many days, Beechtail found himself in whirling vortex of water. Water was in his eyes, and he couldn’t see a thing. The snake that had tripped him was still tangled around his footpaws. He had managed to grab a breath of air before going under, but he was running out of oxygen. Suddenly he was thrown against the wall with enough force to drive what little air he had left from his lungs.
Quite unexpectedly, Beechtail’s normally horrible luck took a turn for the better; the stream emptied into a shallow pool. Beechtail landed flat on his face in about knee deep water. Spluttering he sat up. Then he realized the snake was still alive.
The squirrel had lost his grip on the Sword of Martin during the ride, but the Flameblade was fixed to his arm. He lunged at the snake, frantically searching for its head.
The snake was very small; only about as thick as Beechtail’s arm, but it was an adder and therefore deadly. It had not been able to get to the surface after landing in the pool, since it did not have arms, so it was still disoriented.
Beechtail saw its head lift clear of the water, and grabbed it by the throat. He drew back the blade for the deathblow.
Their eyes met.
“Ssstop! Do not ssslay me!” hissed the adder.
Beechtail paused in mid swing. The snake continued speaking, “If you kill me, you will die, becaussse you do not know the way out.”
“There’s a way out?” asked Beechtail.
“Yesss, if you ssspare me I will ssshow you.”
Beechtail was not entirely convinced, “How do I know I can trust you?”
The adder smiled slightly, “If I am lying, you die. If you kill me, and I am telling the truth, you die. Your only chance isss to trussst me.”
Beechtail considered this. The snake had a point. He let go of the serpent, “Okay, we’ll work together, but I’m watching you, so don’t try anything.”
“Don’t worry; I cannot essscape on my own. I will need your help. If it heplsss you breath easssier; I ssswear by the fangsss of my ancessstor, Asssmodeusss the Great, that I am not trying to deceive you.”
“You know of Asmodeus?”
“Of courssse, it hasss alwaysss been the duty of the greatessst ssserpentsss to guard the portal to the sssurface. Asssmodeusss wasss the ssstrongessst”
The squirrel thought hard, he had read most of Redwall’s history during the long weeks he was in the infirmary with broken bones, “The way out is through the quarry?”
Beechtail began to walk to the edge of the pool, “We- Ouch!” He nicked his footpaw on something sharp. Bending down, he pulled the Sword of Martin from the water, and breathed a sigh of relief, “Oh, I thought I’d lost this.”
The snake eyed the sword apprehensively, “That… that isss the sssword that ssslew Asssmodeusss.”
Beechtail nodded, “Don’t worry; I won’t be using it on you. Provided you’re telling the truth, of course. By the way; what’s your name?”
“Calrisss. I am called Calrisss.”
“Okay Calris, let’s get out of here.”
Beechtail had never, ever, thought he would wind up traveling with an adder, but then he had never though he would be hailed as the long lost hero of an underground colony of mice either.
Chapter Thirteen: Battle Plans
Upon reaching the record-filled chamber, Maplefur had expected Palan to start digging for the map. However, he threaded his way through the piles toward another tunnel. As he made to go down it, Maplefur stopped him, “Weren’t we supposed to find a map?”
He pointed down the tunnel, “It’s down here.”
Maplefur and Lutran followed the mouse down the tunnel. After a very short distance it opened up into a small chamber. At the middle of the room sat a raised stone slab. The slab was carved with a series of grooves and pits. Small holes were drilled at certain places along the groves, and red and blue pins sat in the holes.
“Okay, the groves represent the tunnel network,” explained Palan, “the blue pins are areas that we control, the red is the Scalehordes.”
The Scalehordes controlled almost the entire map, with the Deepmice occupying a small corner. Palan removed some of the red pins and replaced them with blue ones to reflect the outcome of the battle. He continued talking, “If the Gullet leads anywhere, it’ll be deep in the Scalehordes’ territory. We haven’t ever been able to map the far side of it, so we have no idea where the tunnels lead.” He pointed to the end of the map opposite the blue pins, where the carved grooves ended abruptly.
Maplefur was astounded at the extent of the tunnels, “These must run under half of Mossflower!”
Palan looked at her quizzically, “What?”
The squirrelmaid shook her head, “Never mind, but it’s a lot to fight through.”
“Well, not all of it is inhabited; most of the Scalehordes stay close to the front lines of the battle,” replied Palan.
“So, if we could get behind the front lines, we could search for Beechtail without running into the lizards?” said Lutran.
The mouse thought for a moment, then smiled as he realized what Lutran was suggesting, “Yes, but there are only a few tunnels between here and there. We have to gain some more territory and make them spread their forces if you want to slip through.”
Lutran looked at the map, “Which ones?”
“These two groups of caves, and this bridge over the chasm should be enough.”
They studied the map, Palan thinking aloud, “A large-scale frontal assault might not be the best idea. The Scalehordes have the advantage of numbers, and they’ve done well at that sort of thing in the past.”
“Haha, quality over quantity, as we hares say in the Long Patrol, wot! And that goes for strategies too!”
Maplefur didn’t feel like trying to convince Lutran that he was an otter, so she let the “we hares” comment slide. However the rest of his statement rang a bell. Strategy. Nettleclaw had beaten the Long Patrol with a trap, and they had beaten him with one, just barely. Hadn’t that shown that a good plan was better than a huge army?
The squirrelmaid glanced at the map. Nettleclaw had drawn off half the Long Patrol, surrounded them, and almost completely annihilated them. Maybe they could do something similar. “Look! This tunnel here leads to the others side of the two sets of caves. If we capture it, we can cut off all the lizards in the caves from the others, and then come at them from both sides.”
Palan looked at the tunnel she had pointed to, “Bad idea. The tunnel isn’t structurally stable, which is why no one uses it.”
“Even better; we’ll take them by surprise.”
The mouse shook his head, “It’s too dangerous. We’ll have to think of something else.”
Lutran gave his opinion, “It’s less likely the bally tunnel will cave in on us than us beating them in a bloomin’ all out charge.”
Maplefur nodded, “We have to take chances if we’re going to win. If the tunnel doesn’t collapse on us and the group in the tunnel can hold out long enough, it should work fine. They may not even have guards at the other end of the tunnel.”
Palan was still not convinced, “There are a lot of ifs in that plan.”
“If you have a better idea, let’s hear it,” replied Maplefur.
The mouse looked at the map for a long time, “No, I don’t. Your idea is the best, but it’s not as if we have any good options. We’ll have to start preparations for the assault immediately; we’ve got a lot to do.”
Chapter Fourteen: Traveling with an Adder
Beechtail had improvised a torch with some oily cave moss, and a club he had found in the pool. To light it, he struck the Sword of Martin and Flameblade together, it produced some sparks; not as many as if he had had flint to use, but he eventually got a flame. The moss didn’t burn brightly, just enough for him to see where he was going, but he was pleased to find that neither of his two weapons had been able to scratch or chip the other.
Now, Beechtail had been following Calris though various tunnels and caves for several hours. They hadn’t spoken much, and the silence was making him nervous. He decided to speak, although the oppressive silence made him talk in a whisper.
“Calris, you said you needed my help to get out of here. What do we have to do?”
The adder answered in a low hiss, “Sssilence, there are othersss that live in thessse tunnelsss, and they would not let usss passss easssily. If you mussst know, there isss a door that requiresss handsss to open, and if we have trouble; two ssstand a better chance than one.”
Now Beechtail had even more questions than before. The Deepmice and Scalehordes were not the only creatures underground? What were the others? They passed through a chamber with several other tunnels leading to it. Beechtail half-expected to see, emerging from the dark mouths, creatures from his worst nightmares. He glanced behind them, as far as he could see, there was nothing there. Somewhat relived he looked back at Calris.
Then he heard it; the soft patter of footsteps.
He froze, straining his ears to hear more, the footsteps continued. Since Calris had no feet and Beechtail was half paralyzed with fright, there must be something else in the tunnels.
Calris took up a fighting position in front of Beechtail. The squirrel turned around, to prevent whatever was making the noise coming up behind them. The patter grew louder, coming from both directions now. Beechtail realized that, whatever it was, there was more than one. As it drew closer it moved into the light of Beechtail’s makeshift torch.
Beechtail had seen shrimp often at Redwall, this certainly resembled one. But the shrimp had been small; this was huge! The body of the creature was level with Beechtail’s waist. It had two crab-like pinchers, but also eight legs, like a spider. At the back of its body, the creature had a long curved appendage, with a lethal-looking stinger on the end, which curved over its back about a head above Beechtail. The squirrel shuddered; anything with so many legs was creepy, especially spiders.
The creature seemed to sense his fear. It charged at Beechtail, clacking its pincers. The squirrel slashed at it with Martin’s Sword. One of the pincers opened, catching the sword as the blow fell. The keen blade sliced into the joint of the pincer, severing the smaller half. Both of them stared at the half of the claw for a second, then the creature’s stinger whipped forward at Beechtail’s face. Beechtail raised his arm to shield his face, and cut off the stinger with Flameblade, more by accident than design.
Still, the now stinger-less end of the appendage poked Beechtail in the eye. The squirrel staggered around rubbing his eye, while the creature ran at him. With his good eye, Beechtail saw it charge. He lifted the sword of Martin and struck down as hard as he could. It was a good, solid, strike. The creature fell, twitched a few times, and lay dead.
Beechtail turned back to Calris. The snake slithered out from between the lifeless corpses of two of the creatures. The squirrel was impressed; the small adder was a fighter.
Calris looked up at Beechtail , “We have been dissscovered. We must sssacrifice sssecrecy for ssspeed.”
Beechtail nodded, “Then let’s get going.”
“If you carry me, it will be fassster,” said the adder.
Trying to hide his revulsion at holding the snake’s scaly body, Beechtail lifted the adder. Calris coiled around Beechtail’s shoulders.
Beechtail ran down the tunnel, “What were those things?”
“Ssscorpions, thessse tunnelsss are filled with them. Now sssave your breath for running, I will tell you where to go.”
Scorpions. The name sounded menacing. Not wanting to encounter any more, Beechtail complied with Calris’s request, and ran faster; listening for any more telltale patters.
Soon it became apparent that several more scorpions were following them through the tunnels. Beechtail raced ahead guided by the snake.
Chapter Fifteen: Through the Tunnel
Maplefur peered into the dark mouth of the tunnel; the lantern she was holding illuminated a short stretch littered with small rocks that had fallen from the ceiling. I hope nothing larger falls while we’re in here, she thought. She was at the head of about thirty of the best Deepmice fighters, all carrying about three days worth of food; there was no way to know how long they would have to hold out.
Lutran was right behind her, armed with a stone spear. Maplefur was glad he had decided to come with her group. Palan was leading the rest of the Deepmice, which was about four score. The entire colony of the mice, young or old, had volunteered to join in the attack, since it was the first time they had mounted their own attack in living memory. With such numbers, it had taken almost a whole day to prepare. But, it wouldn’t be easy; according to Palan, the Scalehordes numbered around five times their tribe.
“Well, are we going to go in?” Lutran asked.
The squirrelmaid took a deep breath and led the way into the tunnel; lantern in one hand, javelin in the other. Silently, Lutran and the mice followed suit. Palan had warned them that a loud noise, a heavy footstep, or even bumping the wall could cause the ceiling to give way.
The going was slow; at any sound other than the soft padding of footpaws trying to make as little impact as possible, everybeast would freeze until it became apparent that the tunnel was not going to cave in. Maplefur estimated that they had gone about three-quarters of the distance in the few hours they had been walking. She smiled weakly; they were almost there.
Something small and hard struck the top of her head with enough force to make her see stars. She stumbled, but Lutran grabbed her arm and kept her on her feet long enough for Maplefur to regain her balance.
“Thanks,” she whispered. The squirrelmaid looked up. A small gap in the roof of the tunnel showed where a stone had fallen. Stupid rock.
As she watched for any other sign of falling rocks, she noticed some stone dust spiraling down. Lutran sniffed; his eyes watering. Maplefur realized what was happening a second too late.
“Ah-ah-AAACHOOO!” Lutran sneezed. The sound echoed around the small tunnel, growing in volume a hundredfold, and at once there was a new sound; the sound of shifting rock.
“Everybeast run!” shouted Maplefur, sprinting off down the tunnel. More dust was falling now, and some larger rocks. Holding an arm above her head for protection, she hurdled a large fragment, and dodged a falling stone.
Judging from the sounds, the tunnel was beginning to collapse completely. They were several cries of pain, but they weren’t the screams of creatures being crushed by falling stones.
Suddenly Maplefur saw the end of the tunnel a short way ahead. She put on an extra burst of speed, and ducked under a stone as it fell. She shot out of the collapsing tunnel, and slowed to a stop in a small chamber. Behind her, Lutran leapt over the rock, and came out of the tunnel so fast he couldn’t stop until he hit the wall.
The Deepmice poured out of the tunnel, just as it collapsed. A mouse at the rear stumbled just as she came out of the tunnel, and a large boulder landed on her foot. She screamed, but pulled her mangled footpaw from underneath the rock. Several nearby mice began digging in their packs for bandages and other medical supplies.
Lutran was counting them, “Twenty-eight…twenty-nine…thirty. Is that everyone?”
Maplefur nodded, “Yes. I guess we all made it through safely,” she looked sympathetically at the mouse with the crushed footpaw, “more or less.”
Lutran was now going around seeing if anyone had lost their supplies in the collapse, it didn’t take long. “Somebeast dropped a lantern, and two mice lost their entire bally packs, but that’s not that bad. Huh, it could’ve been jolly well worse. What about you, still got the rope?”
The squirrelmaid reached behind her to feel the coil of rope tied to the top of her pack. She had spent two hours fishing it out of the pool they arrived in, but it was worth it; a rope would be incredibly useful down here. If she had only had it when Beechtail… but she didn’t want to think about that now.
“Okay, first we need to-” Maplefur started to say.
A lizard ran into the cave, stopped abruptly, spun around, and fled.
“Oh great,” Maplefur sighed, “So much for the element of surprise.”
Chapter Sixteen: Escape From Scorpions
“Left,” Calris hissed in Beechtail’s ear.
Beechtail turned, and ran down the left fork of the tunnel. He was panting heavily; he had been running a long time, and Calris was weighing him down. The door had to be close. It had to.
“Ssscorpion ahead, ssslay it quickly.”
Beechtail lunged with the Sword of Martin even before the creature moved into the dim light of his failing torch. The blade pierced its head, or at least what Beechtail thought was its head. The squirrel pulled the sword free from the twitching corpse without breaking stride. It was good that Calris could see in the dark so well, or it would have probably killed him before he knew it was there. Listening wasn’t much use when every tunnel echoed with the footsteps of many-legged creatures. Most of them were behind him, hopefully.
Calris hissed in his ear again, “One more right until the door. When you sssee it, reach into the crack halfway up. There isss a lever that unlocksss it. Pusssh hard to open it. I will try to ssslow them sssome.”
“Calris, what is a door doing down here of all places?”
The snake gestured with his tail back where the scorpion lay dead, “It wasss built to keep the ssscorpions from essscaping.”
“Oh,” Becchtail felt stupid.
He saw the fork just ahead, and he angled towards the right tunnel. As soon as he entered it, he felt the adder’s coils loosening.
Calris dropped to the floor, “Go, but wait for me when the door isss open.”
Beechtail nodded and ran along the tunnel, it wasn’t far. A great stone wall blocked the way. If Calris had not told him there was a door, he would have thought the tunnel was a dead end. He ran up and began searching for the crack. There it is. He stuck his hand in, and felt around. From the sounds farther up the tunnel, it seemed Calris was trying to hold off many scorpions at once. Beechtail glanced over his shoulder to make sure no scorpions had gotten past the snake. His fingers felt an odd protrusion in the crack; a smooth bar that wasn’t natural. He pressed it with his fingers, trying to make it move in any direction.
The squirrel put his shoulder against the door and pushed with all his strength. I wish I was a badger, he thought. It was hard, but he managed to push open enough to squeeze through.
“Calris! It’s open!” he shouted.
He waited several seconds, but when the adder didn’t come, he started back the way he had come. Calris had helped him; Beechtail couldn’t leave him behind.
The squirrel came around the bend in the tunnel, and stopped short. Ahead was the most unusual sight he had ever seen. Calris was looped around the tails of two scorpions, holding them together, and a third was lying dead behind them. The trio of scorpions effectively blocked the tunnel. One of the ones Calris had immobilized had the adder’s head in its claw, and was trying to rip it off.
Beechtail charged forward and loped the pincer off in one blow. Grabbing the snake, he turned and ran back towards the door. He hurled what was left of his torch behind him to gain time.
Calris had recovered quickly from nearly being torn in two, “Hurry, you mussst clossse the door fassst.”
Turning sideways, the squirrel squeezed through the gap. He pushed as hard as he could, and he shut it before the scorpions could get through. However, one did manage to get a claw crushed in the door as it closed.
Beechtail leaned against the door, breathing heavily from the effort, “Wow, Calris, that was close!”
No answer. He turned around to find the point of a spear at his throat.
Chapter Seventeen: Captured
The spear was held by a toad, a large wart-covered one; about two-thirds as tall as Beechtail. There were two others with him, and they had their spears leveled at Calris. The one menacing Beechtail croaked at him. Beechtail was confused. The toad croaked again angrily and pressed the tip of his spear into Beechtail’s neck slightly.
Calris looked up, “He sssaysss: drop your weaponsss.”
Not really being able to do anything else, the squirrel complied. The toad motioned to one of the two guarding Calris, who came forward and picked up the two swords. Then the toad jabbed down the tunnel with his spear, and croaked again. Calris immediately began slithering down the tunnel, so Beechtail assumed the toad had said “march”. He followed the adder while the toad trio hopped behind, one with a spear trained on the snake, and another pointed at the back of Beechtail’s neck.
The minutes ticked by and became hours, then Beechtail lost track of time. The toads pricked Beechtail’s back with a spear every time he opened his mouth to speak, so the trip was a silent one. When Beechtail was convinced that the toads would keep them moving through one tunnel or cave after another until they dropped dead of exhaustion, they entered into a huge circular cave.
The domed cave was roughly about the size of Great Hall in height, with sheer walls until about one-quarter of the way up, where the walls opened up at a slant covered in strange ridges. The floor of the cave was completely bare, except for a dozen or so stone slabs sitting against one wall.
Two toads were sitting on a ledge high above the slabs. Using a system of counterweights and pulleys, they lifted two of the slabs at a signal from the toads that had captured Beechtail and Calris, exposing two dark holes. The toads led Beechtail towards one that was second on the right and Calris towards one that was generally in the middle.
Once the toads had shoved the squirrel inside the hole, they hurled his weapons in after him, and quickly lowered the slab before he could react.
Beechtail felt his way around the small chamber, a small hole drilled through the slab let in air, but barely any light. Beechtail’s paw encountered a mound of an unidentifiable soft substance; a bed. The squirrel smiled; running through the tunnel’s carrying Calris had been tough work, and for all he knew, it could have been days since he had fallen into the Gullet. He pitched forward, and was asleep before he hit the ground.
Chapter Eighteen: Holding Out
Maplefur and Lutran’s group heard the approaching lizards a very long time before they saw them. If Maplefur remembered correctly, the lizards that were aware of their presence were the ones Palan’s army was supposed to be attacking. “I sure hope Palan attacks; he might not if he thinks we were killed in the cave-in,” she said to Lutran.
Lutran thought a moment before answering, “It’s not as if we can do bally anything if he doesn’t, wot. Hey, Tasterdinner, or wotever your name is, any sign of the foebeast?”
Maplefur glanced over towards the other tunnel. The injured Deepmouse was sitting on a boulder by the entrance, with her legs swathed in bandages. The mouse, whose name was Tasardin, gave a thumbs-up signal. “It’s still quiet over here,” she called.
The squirrel maid felt somebeast tap her shoulder, “I think they’re almost here.”
Maplefur turned to the Deepmouse who had spoken, “About time. Get everyone ready.”
Soon, the lizards could be seen coming at them down the tunnel. Lutran and two Deepmice took their places at the entrance to the tunnel. The others picked up paw-sized rocks from piles near the tunnel. They lifted them to throw, awaiting the signal. Maplefur loaded a heavy pebble into her sling, and began to whirl it around her head, “On three. One…Two…”
Just as the foremost lizard was on the point of reaching Lutran, Maplefur let fly with her sling. “Three!” she shouted. The unlucky lizard leading the charge was killed instantly, as the rock crushed its skull, causing several behind him to trip over its corpse Then the Deepmice hurled their stones; some aiming at the fallen lizards near Lutran, others sending their hard projectiles farther down the tunnel to hit the lizards who were still standing.
“Eulaliaaa!” Lutran lead the charge down the tunnel. The Scalehordes were taken completely by surprise by the stones and the charge. They turned and fled, with few slowest falling to Lutran’s spear. The Deepmice did not go far, however, before returning back to the cave. The Scalehordes on the other hand, continued fleeing down the tunnel, mistakenly believing they were still pursued.
They had been unusually lucky after the first assault. No Deepmice had been killed or injured at all. “Hopefully it’ll be a little while before they come back,” said Maplefur, “we have to give Palan more time.”
“If he doesn’t get here soon, we’ll be in a bally load of trouble.”
Chapter Nineteen: A New Friend
Beechtail opened one eye. It was still dark in the cell. Sitting up, he felt the Sword of Martin and Flameblade lying by his footpaws. Why the toads had given him his weapons back, Beechtail didn’t know, but they were probably sure that he couldn’t use them to escape. With that in mind, he started working to prove them wrong.
First he tried the door. It was too thick to hack through, even if Martin’s Sword was hard enough for that, and definitely too heavy to lift. The hole in the center only let in air, and it would take a lifetime to enlarge it enough for him to get out.
Next he began to feel his way around his cell. It was still too dark to see. Beechtail’s foot touched something on the ground that rattled. Bending down, he discovered a clay cup full of bitter water and a bowl of… something. Beechtail was starving, so he ate it anyway, and guessing from the taste, it was probably a good thing he had no idea what it was.
After his meal of the unknown substance, Beechtail set about exploring the rest of his cell. The back and left walls of his cell were solid rock, and probably as thick as the door. By stretching up as far as he could, his fingers brushed the ceiling, which was just as solid as the floor. The right wall however, had a narrow crack, barely wide enough for his fingers. It seemed to be the only flaw in the cell’s structure. However, Beechtail’s luck was back to its normal level of terrible, and a good hour of prying, levering, and hacking at the crack with his weapons only resulted in him wedging the Sword of Martin in the crack very tightly.
Leaning all his weight on the hilt had no effect, and neither did placing one foot on the hilt and then trying to stand on it, which Beechtail managed for about half a second. Grumbling about his bad luck, the squirrel set both footpaws against the wall, grabbed the hilt, and pulled. Several seconds of tugging had no visible effect, and then the sword came free so abruptly Beechtail went tumbling head over paws across his cell, which wasn’t very big, resulting in him smacking his head on the wall. Sitting up, he felt the back of his skull. There was a big lump, but not the wet sticky feel of blood.
“Let me out!” shouted Beechtail, more because of anger at his helplessness than any real belief that the toads would let him out or even hear him. In the dead silence that followed, all he was aware of was his own heart beating.
“You’re not one of the Scalehordes,” said a voice curiously.
Beechtail leapt up in fright. He swung Martin’s Sword around the narrow confines of his cell, but as far as he could tell, it was empty. “Who’s there?”
The voice came again, “And you aren’t one of the Deepmice…wait.”
Beechtail heard a gasp.
“Flameblade,” the voice whispered, “you’re…Naurimbor?”
Beechtail had finally located where the voice was coming from; the crack in the wall, which Beechtail realized must lead to the adjoining cell. He bent down and put his eye to the crack. He could see nothing. “My name isn’t Naurimbor, its Beechtail. What’s yours?
The voice paused a moment before replying, “I am called Galical, and you are Naurimbor, or Palan wouldn’t have given you Flameblade if you weren’t. Palan is still leader, right? I’ve been down here a while.”
Beechtail sighed inwardly; if telling one of the Deepmice straight out that he wasn’t Naurimbor didn’t convince them, there was nothing he could do. Why did everyone think he was such a great warrior? Martin wouldn’t have lost to Nettleclaw, and neither would Matthias or Deyna, or Naurimbor for that matter.
“Is Palan is still leader?"
“Huh?” Beechtail wondered what he was doing for a second, and then remembered, “Oh. Yes, Palan is still leader. How long have you been down here and how do you know I have Flameblade?”
“You really can’t keep track of time down here, but it’s been a very long time. My night vision has gotten pretty good. Still, I wouldn’t have known you were on our side until you shouted. Most Scalehordes can’t speak our language, and those that do are usually adders, which are the evilest sort if you ask me,” Galical replied.
Beechtail decided it wouldn’t be wise to tell Galical about Calris, so he changed the subject, “What do the toads want with us?”
He heard a humorless laugh from the adjoining cell, “Entertainment. They think making their prisoners kill each other is fun.”
“Really, what if they don’t want to fight?” Beechtail asked; he didn’t want to possibly kill Galical or Calris for that matter.
“If they don’t fight the toads kill them both,” Beechtail thought he heard a hint of sadness in Galical’s voice, as he continued, “So if you don’t fight, you die no matter what happens.”
“How did you find all this out?”
When Galical spoke again, Beechtail was certain of the sad tone in his new friend’s voice, “You probably got here the same way I did; falling down the Gullet,” Beechtail nodded, and Galical continued speaking, “three of my friends were with me. One got killed by the creatures in the tunnels before the toads captured us. We were brought here, and soon figured out what the toads wanted. Eventually, my other two friends had to fight each other. They didn’t. The toads killed them and I’ve been the only Deepmouse here since.”
Beechtail was horrified at the fact that he might have to kill Calris, or Calris kill him, but he needed to know more if he was going to escape, “Galical, what happens if you win all the fights?”
“Oh, if they run out of prisoners to fight each other, the survivor, who has been me for a long time, gets to live until they fill up the cells again, and then it’s a new set of fighters. If I’m keeping track right, there’s just one empty cell; they’ll probably go capture one of the creatures on the other side of the door, and then it starts.”
“Really, you have to fight scorpions? What else do they have?”
Galical replied, “Is that what they’re called? Yes, there are usually three or four scorpions, and a lot of captured Scalehorde lizards, and a few snakes. I heard they had something especially nasty for me to fight. It might just be an extra big scorpion, or maybe something else from those tunnels; it could be anything.”
Great, Beechtail thought, with my luck, it will be a giant two headed scorpion with a crossbow. Well, maybe not that, but still, it’ll be horrible.
“Anyway,” Galical finished, “We should probably get some sleep; it’ll start in a few hours.”
Of course Beechtail didn’t get much sleep after that.
Chapter Twenty: What the Toads Want
Eventually, Beechtail did fall asleep after staring at the ceiling he could not see for about an hour, but it seemed that no time at all past before he woke suddenly. He looked around for what had awakened him, and saw nothing that hadn’t been there before. Then it hit him; he hadn’t been able to see before. There was much more light coming in through the air hole than before, which meant that there was more light in the cavern outside.
He put his eye to the hole. Through it, he could see part of the lower half of the cave as well as the upper part opposite the cells. The higher levels of the cave were packed with croaking toads of all sizes. Evidently the strange ridges he had seen when they captured him were seats that only a toad could sit on comfortably.
However, at the front of the seats sat an extremely fat ugly toad, surrounded by armed guards, holding a golden jewel encrusted trident. Beechtail knew that was obviously some sort of chief or king. The lead toad waved the trident, and croaked officiously.
At once the frenzied croaking of the crowd swelled to new levels. From what he heard over the noise, he guessed that the toads must be letting two prisoners into the arena; that was what the cave must be, but he had been too tired to realize it.
The hole limited his field of vision, but he caught a glimpse of a spear wielding lizard charging across the arena. The lizard passed out of his line of sight, and the sound of the stone spearhead striking a hard object could clearly be heard, even through the thick stone slab. There were several more thuds, and then the lizard stumbled back into view, one arm hanging limp, and another clutching half of the now broken spear. A second lizard came running after it, and brought a heavy club crashing down on its skull; slaying it instantly.
The victor turned and strode back to his cell while the toads cheered. Beechtail felt sick. The lizards might have known each other, but now they were ready to maim and kill each other. He was glad that Maplefur was not here; he knew he wouldn’t kill her and she wouldn’t kill him, even if females were unpredictable sometimes. If they did fight, she would probably win; but that was beside the point.
Beechtail retuned his gaze to the hole as a new pair of contestants entered the arena. One of them was an axe wielding lizard, and the other…was Calris. The lizard knew what he was up against and used caution, circling the adder who lay coiled almost lazily in the center of the arena.
Suddenly, the lizard charged, chopping down at the apparently relaxing snake. Calris must have been wound tighter than a spring inside; a flick of his coils, and he was out from under the descending blade. The lizard started to bring the axe up for another blow; the snake flicked his coils effortlessly, and wrapped himself around the axe handle. The lizard had already lifted the axe high enough for Calris to attack; sinking his fangs deep into the neck of his opponent. Dropping to the ground, the adder slithered away from the doomed lizard, which collapsed to the ground, struggling for breath that would not come. Within seconds the lizard’s vain struggles subsided, and Calris was let back into his cell, while the next contestants battled.
Beechtail knew that eventually he would have to take his turn in the arena, but it still shocked him when the slab of stone suddenly slid upward, scraping the side of his face raw. Grabbing the Sword of Martin from where he had dropped it, he stumbled out into the arena, blinking as the sudden light dazzled eyes that had become accustomed to darkness.
The squirrel looked around for his opponent. It was the club wielding lizard from the first fight. The lizard did not charge, but stayed where he was, baiting Beechtail to charge. Remembering the fate of the first lizard (it was hard to forget, as the corpse was still there in the middle of the arena), Beechtail did not charge full out, but walked slowly towards his enemy, ready to defend himself if the lizard made a move to attack.
The lizard stood stock still until the squirrel was almost close enough to reach out and touch it. Then it suddenly lashed out with its club. Beechtail was ready, and parried the blow with Martin’s Sword. However, the impact of the heavy stone club numbed his paw, and nearly tore the blade from his grip. Shrugging off the pain that he was now getting used to, he lunged forward, gashing his opponent’s shoulder with Flameblade. The lizard yelled in pain, and retaliated with a blow that would have shattered Beechtail’s skull like glass if he had been a second slower in ducking. As it was, the momentum of the blow spun the lizard around; Beechtail ran it through before the lizard could reorient itself.
The squirrel was able to wipe his blades off on the corpse before the cell was opened and he had to go back inside. He didn’t know what would happen if he simply remained in the arena instead of returning to his cell, but he could guess.
The next fight was different.
A spear-carrying lizard came out to the center of the arena, stopped, and stared at its opponent, which was outside the squirrel’s field of vision. It was shaking visibly, and Beechtail saw that it seemed to be looking upward at something. There was a drumming noise, like several creatures running, and something huge and black rushed across the arena so quickly that Beechtail did not get a good view of it. There was a shriek of horror that was abruptly cut off, and then there was nothing Beechtail could see except the spear, and some blood on the floor.
Chapter Twenty-One: Something Nasty
Beechtail slumped back against the wall of his cell, horrified by what he had just seen. What could do that? One moment it was there, and the next…The squirrel fervently hoped that he wouldn’t have to fight whatever it was any time soon.
When the door to his cell opened again, he was gladden to see that his new opponent was not the mysterious creature that had slain the lizard so quickly, but a scorpion, albeit a very clever and strong one that managed to trip him, and pull clumps of fur out of the squirrel’s tail with its claw before Beechtail managed to kill it. Upon returning to his cell, Beechtail decided that his imprisonment must be driving him insane, as he had been happy to see the scorpion, and not terrified.
Beechtail decided not to watch any more of the fights because he really didn’t want to know what the creature that had killed the lizard was. Eventually, he was let into the arena again to face yet another lizard, this one with an axe. After parrying several blows that probably would have snapped any other sword than Martin’s, Beechtail managed to slay the lizard by dropping into a crouch and slashing across the lizard’s chest. As the lizard crumpled to the ground, Beechtail stood back up wearily, and turned to go back to his cell.
But they didn’t open it. Instead they began to lift a slab to let a new opponent into the arena. Beechtail groaned; he really wanted to rest before having to fight something new. Something moved in the darkness; something big.
The squirrel’s breath froze in his throat; the toads were pitting him against the mystery creature. Realization made him shake with fear, and nearly drop the Sword of Martin. A pair of thick black appendages poked into the arena, reaching from the darkness. A second later, they were followed by the biggest, most hideous, spider Beechtail had ever seen; the thing must have been the size of a badger! Its black eyes glittered malevolently, and its underside was marked with a red-orange hourglass. It was poisonous.
Great, thought Beechtail. He had not had arachnophobia before falling into the Gullet, but between the scorpions and this…
Suddenly it charged. Caught by surprise, Beechtail wasn’t able to get his sword up in time. The squirrel was knocked flat. The back of his head struck the hard ground, and he blacked out.
Beechtail was tumbling. Rolling over and over like he was falling down a hill, which he had done often in his life. He tried to stop, and found that his legs couldn’t move. Suddenly, he remembered what he had been doing. His eyes shot open. The huge spider was standing over him, wrapping his body in webs, and was already up to his stomach. The toads were laughing hysterically.
The squirrel yelled, and the spider dropped him to the ground. Beechtail swung at its legs with Martin’s Sword, but the arachnid was quick enough to avoid the shining blade. He tried to scramble away from it on his elbows, but it kept advancing; always just out of the squirrel’s reach.
Suddenly it darted forward. It struck the squirrel’s wrist with one thick black leg. The Sword of Martin went spinning across the arena. Beechtail knew he had one last chance; he lunged upward with Flameblade.
He had been aiming for its eyes, but the spider moved, and instead Flameblade, as well as Beechtail’s entire arm, went straight into the creature’s open maw. The spider’s legs jerked convulsively, and then it slumped forward on top of the squirrel, dead.
Beechtail screamed, and yanked his arm out of its maw hastily. He never wanted to feel anything remotely like that again; it was worse than when he nearly killed himself falling from the Matthias bell’s rope. He shuddered, rubbing his arm as if to scour the taint away, then levered himself out from under the dead spider. It was too much to think that the toads would help him free himself from the spider’s web, and after finding out how long it took to saw through the thread that still tethered him to the spider which was almost as thick as his little finger, he pushed it off like struggling out of a pair of too small pants. Still, the process took over ten minutes in which the toads never stopped laughing. Fortunately, it wasn’t too sticky, and it unraveled slightly as he went along, or he might never have been able to get free.
After retrieving Martin’s Sword, he took one last look at the dead spider, and the coils of silk beside it, and prayed the toads wouldn’t make him fight again. As usual, Beechtail’s luck went from bad to worse. The toads began to raise the door of another cell. When it opened, Beechtail caught sight of his next opponent.
It was Calris.
Chapter Twenty-Two: Freedom
“No,” muttered Beechtail to himself, “Not Calris.”
This had been what he had been dreading, even more than fighting the mystery creature. Since falling down the Gullet, he had begun to regard the small adder as a friend, even if the snake might not feel the same about him. However, according to Galical, either the toads would kill him, or Calris would. If that happened, the Deepmice might lose the war against the Scalehordes, and Maplefur and Lutran would never get out. Unfourtunantly, that meant he would have to kill Calris; he would make sure Maplefur and Lutran got back to Redwall safely if it was the last thing he did.
While he was thinking, Calris had been slithering closer and closer. Suddenly, he launched himself at Beechtail’s face, fangs gleaming. Reacting instinctively, and with abnormal luck Beechtail’s paw shot out and somehow caught the adder by the throat, just below the head. Calris snapped twice at Beechtail, but could not reach. The squirrel changed his grip to hold the snake’s mouth shut, and prevent him from biting his hand. However now that he had his opponent helpless he couldn’t bring himself to kill Calris. If only there was some way to get out of doing it.
Beechtail felt like a candle just lit up in his head; get out. If they could escape, they wouldn’t have to kill each other, and what better time to escape than when they were both in the arena together? The squirrel glanced around for ideas. Interestingly, the only armed toads were the chief toad’s bodyguards, and the “royal box” was slightly lower than the rest of the seats…
“Calris, if I get us out of here, will you not attack me?” asked the squirrel.
The adder nodded slightly, somewhat limited by Beechtail’s fingers.
“Good,” said Beechtail, “Redwaaaaalll!”
The squirrel charged at the king toad’s box, whirling Calris by the tail above his head, the wind whistling through the surprised snake’s fangs. Beechtail hurled the adder, and Calris flew up and up, spinning towards the chief toad. One of the guards lumbered in front of his leader, and stabbed at the flying serpent with his spear. Calris twisted around in midair, and landed on the toad. His fangs sank right into the guard’s neck. The lead toad threw his ornate jewel-encrusted trident, which was not designed to be used as a weapon, at the adder. He missed completely, and the trident went spiraling to the arena floor.
Beechtail looked around for some way to get himself out of the arena. He saw the trident hit the floor of the arena. An idea came to him. He grabbed the trident and ran over to where the dead spider lay. He grabbed the end of the web it had been wrapping him in, and knotted it around the center tine of the trident. Beechtail ran over towards the cells, and hurled it at the ledge where the pulleys to open the cells were. It must have caught on something, because it didn’t fall back down when he tugged on it.
Hand over hand, the squirrel hauled himself up the makeshift rope. The spider web was strong, and slightly sticky, making it harder to fall off. He made a mental note to take some back to Redwall, if he ever got back to Redwall. The two toads that operated the pulleys fought to get away when Beechtail reached the ledge. However, his paw remained stuck to the web, and by the time he had unstuck it, they had vanished. Beechtail didn’t really care, and looked for the rope that opened Galical’s cell.
Calris was still wreaking havoc among the chief toad’s guards. Most were already dead, and the few that remained had joined the spectators in a mad dash for the exit. The lead toad tried to make his escape, but tripped over a combination of Calris’s coils and his own fat. He fell headfirst into the arena, and bounced several times before coming to a stop dazed in the middle of the arena.
Beechtail had finally found the way to open Galical’s cell. It had taken a few tries, and he had also unintentionally opened the gate which he had entered the arena through. Calris had finished with the chief toad’s guards, and was slithering around to the ledge where Beechtail was when the rope Beechtail tugged caused the slab of stone on Galical’s cell to rise. Before it was even half open, the Deepmouse crawled out flat on his belly.
Galical shot towards the fallen chief toad with the agility and swiftness that all Deepmice seemed to posses; which rivaled that of most squirrels; by most, meaning all except Beechtail. The toad croaked, and tried to lumber away, but Galical threw himself forward in a flying tackle, slamming into the toad’s back, the points of his blades driving into its heart.
Having slain the enemy who had ordered the executions of his friends, Galical pulled his blades free, and walked to where Beechtail’s makeshift rope hung. Before the Deepmouse had climbed to the ledge, Calris reached Beechtail. The snake looked up at him, “You could have ssslain me, but you ssspared me again. On my honor, I will repay you if possssssible.”
A paw reached over the rim over the ledge, and Galical pulled himself up. The Deepmouse looked the same as all the other’s Beechtail had seen; dark fur, clad in a lizard skin tunic, and carrying two blades which were silver and carved jaggedly, like lightning. He stood bent over panting for breath, and then straightened up to look at Beechtail.
“Thank you for rescuing me, I would have nev- BEHIND YOU!!!” he yelled, and leaped forward, blades first, looking at something behind Beechtail.
Beechtail spun out of his path, grabbing Calris by the neck to yank him out of Galical’s way. The Deepmouse went sprawling on the ground, but bounded up again in an instant. He eyed Calris, who was dangling from Beechtail’s paw, “Good catch,” he said, “But I would have had him myself in a moment.”
The squirrel glanced down at the adder in his paw, “What? Calris is a friend.”
Galical shook his head, “You’re Naurimbor; you should know you can’t trust snakes, they have no honor.”
Calris levered his head up out of Beechtail’s paw to speak. “We mossst certainly do!” he spat.
Beechtail was starting to get annoyed. “Stop it, both of you! We have to work together if we are going to get out of here alive. Galical, I trust Calris, so leave him alone. Calris, that goes for you too. Now, where do we have to go?”
Calris gestured towards the arena entrance with his tail, “I know the way.”
Soon, the squirrel, adder and Deepmouse were passing through the tunnel; the latter two glaring daggers at each other.
Chapter Twenty-Two: Falling Back
Maplefur’s sling whirled around her head. She saw movement farther down the tunnel, and hurled the heavy pebble at it. The lizard pulled his head back around the corner just in time as the rock sailed past to ricochet of the wall.
The squirrelmaid wiped sweat from her brow, and loaded another stone into her sling. By her estimate, it had been about a day and a half since the first charge by the Scalehordes, and they had made a half dozen since then, though Maplefur’s group always drove them back in the end. Not knowing how long it would be until help arrived, or if it would ever arrive, she had organized the Deepmice into shifts, one of which rested while the others fought. Fighting usually consisted of chucking stones down the tunnel to make the Scalehordes keep their distance, but every now and then they got close enough that they had to be fought back with blade and javelin. During such attacks, four Deepmice had been killed, and most took a few scratches.
Thankfully, there had been no sign of the Scalehordes coming from the other tunnel, and if they did, Tasardin would give warning. Of course if they did come from the other tunnel it wasn’t likely that they would survive with or without warning.
She loosed another stone down the tunnel. A subsequent thud and cry of pain told her that she had hit something. Mechanically, Maplefur reloaded, and looked for a new target. She was running low on rocks good enough for slinging. Palan needed to arrive soon or there would be more than just four Deepmice dead, possibly an otter and squirrel too.
A lizard that was thought to be dead near the entrance of the tunnel suddenly moved, pushing itself to its knees, and grabbing its spear. Before it could do anything, it was hit by what must have seemed to be an avalanche of paw-sized rocks from the Deepmice clustered around the entrance. It collapsed again, and Lutran ventured a short way out into the tunnel to make sure it was really dead this time with his spear. As he walked back to the cave, he called out to the squirrelmaid.
“Any chance at a brave warrior getting a nip at the bally nosebag to keep from perishin’ of hunger worked up by his great heroic deeds?”
Maplefur rolled her eyes, “You just ate an hour ago, can’t you think of anything besides food?”
The mad otter adopted an expression of an innocent Long Patrol recruit addressing an officer, “Of course sir, I can think of tuck and scoff and vittles and chow and-”
Maplefur interrupted him with a mock hare accent, “Well then you might as well stop bally thinking all together laddie buck, and get back to your post because you aren’t getting either; we’re on short rations doncha know?”
Lutran sighed, “Whatever you say Quartermistress. I guess I’ll just waste away, wot wot.”
The squirrelmaid chuckled; Lutran had been clamoring from a snack about every hour, sometimes more. She suddenly realized that there was a whirring noise, even though her sling was hanging by her side.
A Deepmouse that had been at the entrance to the tunnel suddenly toppled backwards; the stone that had slain him rolling across the floor. More rocks whistled past, from the direction of the Scalehordes, causing Maplefur, Lutran, and the Deepmice diving for cover.
Maplefur peeked around the edge of the tunnel mouth. Near the bend in the passage, she could see several lizards spinning slings. “Slings!” she yelled, leaning out for a better view, “Since when have the Scalehordes used slings?”
A paw grabbed the back of her tunic, yanking her out of the way of a stone that flew right through where here had had been a moment before. “Thanks again,” she said to Lutran; who had saved her.
The otter, however, looked worried, “They’re coming for another bally charge, and it’ll be difficult to stop them if they have slings now, wot. The cheating scum probably just copied what you were doing. What do we do?”
The squirrelmaid considered her options; the cave was very large, and it would be difficult to defend if the Scalehordes gained the entrance. What they really needed was somewhere narrower, where the Scalehordes’ superior numbers wouldn’t be as useful, and since they couldn’t stay in this cave any longer, that left only one option.
“We have to retreat,” she replied, “I know it sounds crazy, going deeper into Scalehorde territory, but we don’t have much choice.”
Lutran nodded, “I’ll occupy those scaly chaps’ time while you get everyone out.”
“Okay, as long as it doesn’t involve getting yourself killed, otherwise, I’m ordering you to come with us now,” Maplefur said.
Lutran saluted with his spear, “Yes, sah!” and then stepped out into the middle of the tunnel mouth. He ducked as a stone sped past, “Haha, you’ll have to do better than that to hit a Long Patrol hare! C’mon you, ugly looking lizard in the front rank; yes you sirrah. Come up and have a spear.”
Maplefur was busy getting the Deepmice out of the cave. As the last one ran into the tunnel carrying what was left of the supplies, she turned to the otter. “Lutran, come on!”
Lutran knocked the lizard in front of him down with his spear, turned, and ran towards the tunnel.
“Don’t leave me!” wailed Tasardin; still sitting on the rock, unable to walk.
“Oops,” said Lutran, scooping her up with one arm, “My apologies miss. Bad form to leave a comrade behind. Hey! Watch where you point that thing!” he yelled as an arrow from Maplefur’s bow narrowly missed his head, and killed a lizard behind him. He caught up with the squirrelmaid, and they ran down the tunnel together.
Soon they met a Deepmice who had dropped behind to wait for them. “Bad news,” he said, “we ran into some Scalehorde scouts and two got away. We’ll have them all here soon.”
Maplefur sighed, “Is there any good news?”
The Deepmouse nodded, “There’s a spot up ahead that’ll be easy to defend.”
Tasardin tapped Lutran’s shoulder frantically, “Keep going they’re catching up!”
Deep in the Scalehorde territory, a large jet black lizard was standing in a dark cavern, conversing in a strange tongue with a massive shadowy form. A pair of red eyes glowed dimly high above the lizard’s head. After some time the lizard turned and left the cave. Another lizard, smaller, and with lighter scales was waiting. It bowed low, and addressed the lizard emerging from the cavern.
“What orders does Gorthumbar have for me?”
The black lizard acknowledged the other lizards bow with a quick nod. “You are to gather all Scalehordes, commander, and crush the Deepmice who have penetrated into our territory. However, you are to leave the female Naurimbor to me; I will avenge my brother.”
The lizard straightened up, “I hear and obey, but if Naurimbor is leading them, my warriors might flee.”
“If Naurimbor appears, he will be…” the black lizard paused, glancing over his shoulder at the entrance to the cavern, “…dealt with.”
Chapter Twenty-Three: Convergence
“I don’t think this is the right way; we’re going down not up,” muttered Galical to Beechtail as they walked along behind Calris, “I still say we shouldn’t trust him.”
Calris, who appeared to have excellent hearing, turned around, “You have never been thisss way, ssstupid. Why would you know?”
Beechtail gritted his teeth and resisted the urge to bash their heads together. They didn’t seem to be able to go for five minutes without antagonizing each other, and his patience was wearing out. “Calris, keep going, and quit the name-calling. Galical, I trust him, so leave him alone.”
The squirrel’s two companions walked onward in relative silence for several minutes, with Galical muttering sulkily under his breath, although Beechtail caught the words “adders” and “liar”. Calris was hissing quietly to himself, and Beechtail guessed he was thinking along the same lines as Galical. It was strange on how two completely opposite creatures could be so alike
The silence lasted long enough that Beechtail was thinking they would leave each other alone when suddenly, Galical pointed a short way ahead, “Ha, I told you not to trust him; it’s a dead end!”
“What?!” Beechtail ran forward. The tunnel ended in a slightly inclined stone wall. All this time he had been trusting the snake and he had never thought that he might not be telling the truth.
Calris rolled his eyes, a very strange expression with an adder’s slit-like pupils, “Look up, geniusssesss.”
The squirrel and Deepmouse inclined their heads to look at the tunnel’s ceiling. However, there was no ceiling; the tunnel had entered what looked like a vertical shaft. The wall in front of them was not; as it had first appeared to be, a flat wall, but instead it was a slanting rock face so smooth, that Beechtail thought about what it would be like to slide down if there was a large pile of pillows at the bottom, for a moment. At the top of the shaft, an opening showed where the passage continued. “How are we supposed to get up there?” Beechtail asked.
Galical looked at Beechtail questioningly, “The stories say that Naurimbor was a great climber…”
Beechtail shook his head, “I’m not Naurimbor, and I’m definitely not a good climber.”
Calris looked from one to the other, “One of you mussst climb, ssso decide sssoon,” he hissed.
Galical shrugged, “I might be able to do it, but how will you get up?” He asked Beechtail, deliberately ignoring Calris.
“I know!” Beechtail exclaimed. He lifted a large coil of spiderweb from his shoulder, “If you let this down to us, I can climb up carrying Calris!”
The Deepmouse looped the web around his neck, and started to climb. He used his blades as picks, to chisel out small hand-and-footholds in the stone. It was a long slow ascent, and Beechtail’s neck soon ached from looking upwards. However, Galical was sure-footed as most squirrels and made it to the top without a fall, or even a close-call.
Beechtail wrapped Calris around his shoulders as the Deepmouse let the spiderweb fall like a long thin silver ribbon. The squirrel no longer felt squeamish at holding the adder’s scaly coils, and he even talked to the adder as he pulled himself up the rope. “So, Calris,” he said, “Once we get to the top, where are we?”
“Thisss isss the border between the Ssscalehordesss and the toadsss. It isss a ssshort way from the top to the border with the Deepmice.”
“Oops,” Beechtail’s paw missed the foothold, and he dangled for a second before he righted himself. He was more than halfway up; it would be a bad time to fall.
Calris continued speaking, “At the top isss alssso a passssssage that leadsss to the sssurface.”
Beechtail almost let go of the web in shock, but his fingers were stuck to it. He reached upward and grabbed the edge of the opening. He pulled himself up. “What! It’s this close?”
Calris unwound from around Beechtail, “Yesss,” he gestured with his tail farther down the tunnel where it forked and went in two directions, “One will ssshow you the way out, the other leadsss to the Deepmice. Choossse which way you want to go.”
Beechtail started toward the tunnel to the Deepmice, and then paused. What if Maplefur and Lutran had somehow defeated the Scalehordes, and gone back to Redwall? They might have if they thought he was dead. If he went back, he might die. If he didn’t, they might die, or maybe they were already dead. There were too many possibilities to consider, and the wrong choice would mean death for any, maybe all, of them, if they weren’t dead already. Somewhere in the distance, he heard a low booming. Calris perked his head up.
“What’s that?” Galical asked.
Calris listened for a moment. “That sssignal meansss that Deepmice have been ssspotted in Ssscalehorde territory. All sssnakesss and lizardsss are to come.”
The Deepmice hadn’t seemed to be up to the task of invading while he was there, but Maplefur and Lutran could have talked them into it, meaning they were still alive. He knew what he had to do. Grabbing Calris by the neck, he raced down the tunnel toward the Deepmice, with Galical following behind.
“How far is it to that place you mentioned?” asked Maplefur, talking to the Deepmice running in front of her.
“Just up around this bend,” he replied.
Rounding the corner, Maplefur was suddenly aware that the walls of the tunnel were not there anymore. They were in a huge rift, with the far side too far away for Maplefur to hit it with an arrow. A stone bridge, wide enough for twenty creatures to stand shoulder to shoulder bridged the gap. On either side of the bridge, long thin stalagmites pointed upward, their bases lost in darkness. They were not quite as high as the bridge, but they looked needle sharp.
The Deepmice had gathered at the apex of the bridge, and were arrayed in two staggered rows facing the tunnel. Maplefur instantly knew why they had chosen this spot; if a lizard wanted to get around them, they would have to get dangerously close to the edge. The squirrelmaid ran past the rows of Deepmice and turned, raising her bow to shoot. Lutran ran up, and deposited Tasardin behind her, then took his place at the center of the line.
The Scalehordes boiled out of the tunnel, two falling to arrows, but they streamed forward, intent on crushing the Deepmice. Lutran shook his spear in the air, “Eulaliaaa!” The Deepmice leapt forward. The two sides met with a crash.
Lutran was stabbing here, there, and everywhere with his spear, felling many lizards, and the Deepmice were giving a good account of themselves, forcing the lizards to the edge of the bridge, where two fell shrieking into the depths. Maplefur sent arrow after arrow into the ranks of the reptiles, but it was not enough, they were slowly being driven backwards, step by step.
Suddenly, the squirrelmaid heard Tasardin scream. She turned. A huge black lizard was striding across the bridge from the other end, and she could see dozens more of the normal sort following behind. She raised her bow to shoot, but the lizard knocked it aside with a flick of his hand. It seized her by the neck and lifted her until her feet were dangling above the ground. Its grip tightened, cutting off her air.
Chapter Twenty-Four: Reunion
Beechtail thundered along the tunnel, Galical panting heavily and trying to keep up. Calris had moved to a more comfortable position coiled around his arm; not the one with Flameblade of course. He was trying to stay oriented and navigate as Beechtail ran.
“Turn here,” he hissed as the squirrel ran past the tunnel, “No! Ssstop! Ssstop! You missssssed it.”
Galical collided with Beechtail as the squirrel stopped abruptly, sending them both tumbling. Beechtail hit the ground in a roll, and was up in a second. Galical struggled to his feet and ran to catch up with the squirrel.
“If you had gone that way, it would lead to the sssurface,” warned Calris, “Go ssslower, or we ssshall get lossst.”
She could not move. She could not even call for help; she could only hang there, as the black lizard throttled her, with her heart and brain clamoring for oxygen. Lutran and the Deepmice could not come to her aid without turning, and exposing their backs to the murderous Scalehordes, who would not balk at stabbing an opponent in the back.
Through a misty haze, she saw movement. It was Tasardin. The crippled Deepmouse dragged herself towards the lizard, and tore a chunk of flesh from its foot with her blades. The lizard cried out in pain, and lessened its grip. Maplefur levered herself up enough to breathe.
The lizard stamped at Tasardin with its huge foot, and the Deepmouse was knocked clear across the bridge, skidding to a stop a paw’s length from the edge. She tried to get up, but fell back, and lay quite still.
“No!” Maplefur seized a throwing knife from her belt, and stabbed at the lizard. It caught her wrist before the blow fell, and began to twist the blade toward her own neck. She fought the lizard as hard as she could, but could only delay the inevitable.
Beechtail thundered along the tunnel, lashing out with Martin’s Sword at anything and everything in his way. Behind him came a growing tide of lizards and snakes, which Calris had dropped back into after assuring him that this tunnel would lead him directly to the Deepmice. The squirrel had thought it best to let the adder return to the Scalehordes. If Galical was any indication, the Deepmice would try to kill Calris whatever Beechtail said, and he didn’t think Calris would want to join the Deepmice either. From, what the snake had told him back at the arena, he didn’t think Calris would take any part in the battle, at least against him personally, but that may not have been what the adder meant.
Suddenly he emerged into a huge cavern, running along a bridge that spanned it. Up ahead, he could see Deepmice and Scalehordes fighting, and a huge black lizard that grabbed at something in front of it. The lizard was the only thing between him and the Deepmice. Raising the Sword of Martin to kill, he charged.
Maplefur felt the tip of the knife prick her neck. With the strength of desperation, she forced it back a fraction, but it was hopeless; she was going to die. The lizard seemed to sense her despair, “Now, you will die for killing my brother,” it whispered.
Its silver tongue flicked out. No, it wasn’t a toungue; it was the blade of a sword. It dropped Maplefur to the ground, where she landed flat on her back, her bushy tail cushioning her fall. The lizard’s red eyes dimmed, and it keeled over sideways. Standing behind it was someone the squirrelmaid never expected to see again.
“BEECHTAIL!!!” she shouted joyfully. Maplefur started forward, looking like she was about to hug him, but stopped short, a disgusted expression crossing her face. “Ewwww, what happened to you?”
Beechtail looked down at himself, his tail was missing patches of fur, one eye was blackened, and the other side of his face was raw and scabbed, the rest of his fur was grime-covered and sticking out at odd angles, he was drenched in blood from the lizard, and overall, filthy. “Uhh…long story.”
A sudden noise behind them made the two squirrel’s turn. More lizards streamed out of the tunnel, which was now emanating blue light. Hard on their heels, at the head dozens of Deepmice, young and old, came Palan. They struck the massed Scalehordes like a hammer, with Maplefur’s group as the anvil.
Chapter Twenty-Five: Thud!
The death of the black lizard caused the lizards on the other end of the bridge to mill about uncertainly, unable to decide whether or not to charge. Realizing that they were not a threat at the moment, Beechtail charged into the ranks of the trapped Scalehordes. Packed together as they were, they had no way to avoid the blade of the Sword of Martin which sliced through scale, flesh, and bone alike. The Deepmice slew their own share of lizards and snakes, fighting to the death. Beechtail saw a young Deepmouse who couldn’t possibly have been an adult yet loping the head from an adder that had bitten him before dying from the poison.
In minutes, all Scalehordes were dead, leaving an eerie silence after the battle. Lutran came running across the bridge, “Haha I knew you’d weren’t dead! I say, you don’t exactly look the part of a gallant warrior braving blood and bally vinegar to return to some old friends. What have you been doing all this time, eh, wot?”
Galical was mingling with the other Deepmice, who all were overjoyed to see their friend returned to them. Beechtail looked around; Maplefur was standing on the edge of the bridge bending over something. She straightened up suddenly, “Help! I need somebeast who knows healing!”
The Deepmice ran over to the squirrelmaid en masse. Miraculously, Tasardin was still alive. She was moaning as Maplefur clumsily tried to stop the bleeding from the wound with a strip from the hem of her tunic.
“Here, let me do that.” Beechtail took the piece of cloth and bandaged the wound expertly.
Maplefur was amazed, “When we lived at Angdelve, you could barely remove a splinter! I thought you were Abbey warrior, not Infirmary Keeper.”
“You’d be surprised what you can learn if you sit in the infirmary doing absolutely nothing but reading for a whole season,” Beechtail replied, “She’ll probably live, but we won’t be able to move her anytime soon.”
“Strange,” one of the Deepmice commented, “They don’t seem to want to attack.”
Beechtail followed his gaze. The mass of lizards and snakes on the other end were standing stock-still, neither advancing nor retreating. “Maybe they can’t charge without one of those black lizards.”
“Or maybe they are waiting for some signal, or reinforcements,” added Maplefur.
Lutran cocked his head to the side, listening intently, “Somebeast tell me that wasn’t another bally cave-in.”
Thud. Beechtail thought hard. Two cave-ins within seconds of each other would be extremely unlikely unless the whole tunnel network was collapsing. Perhaps it was a drum. The Scalehordes had split into two groups; one on either side of the tunnel across the chasm. Was it a signal?
A red glow was painting the cavern. Palan’s blades, which had a second ago had been a bright blue, now glowed a deep blood red that filled the chasm with ruby light. The Deepmouse mouth moved soundlessly, then his eyes rolled up, and he collapsed in a dead faint.
Thud. Thud. Thud.
Suddenly Beechtail, Maplefur, Lutran, and all the Deepmice realized what the noise was, and why the Scalehordes had moved away from the tunnel. Lutran’s jaw dropped and his eyes bulged so much they were almost popping out of his head. Maplefur went so pale it was visible even through her thick fur. Several more Deepmice fainted, and the rest looked ready to follow suit. Beechtail had only two words to say.
What an understatement.
Chapter Twenty-Six: Gorthumbar Scaleking
The noise was the footfalls of a creature no living Deepmouse had ever seen. Gorthumbar himself had come to the battle. Scales that glittered like jet covered his body. A pair of eyes like burning coals glowed above a gaping mouth filled with teeth that looked sharp enough to cut metal. The lizard had been walking almost bent double to fit through the tunnel, but now that he was in the open chasm he straightened up on legs as thick as tree trunks.
Beechtail felt like fainting himself; Gorthumbar stood at least two heads taller than Lord Adaracor! How was he supposed to fight a creature taller, and probably stronger, than a badger?!
The lizard bore a single weapon. Clutched in hands that could tear foes apart was a giant bardiche. The long-handled single bladed axe was as tall as its bearer, and as thick as Beechtail’s arm, but it was the blade that held everybeast’s attention. Beechtail’s gaze flashed between it, and its duplicate on his own arm. Gorthumbar had the other Flameblade.
Maplefur was the quickest to get over her terror. Fitting an arrow to her bowstring, the squirrelmaid loosed it at the huge lizard. It struck him right between the eyes and bounced off the hard scales with a loud pinging noise.
The sound shook everybeast out of their terrified stupor. The Deepmice formed a defensive row behind Beechtail, but they looked too scared to stand their ground if Gorthumbar charged. Maplefur and Lutran stood in front with Beechtail.
“Sorry to spoil the fun, but I think we’d better mount a bally retreat before that…thing charges, wot wot,” advised Lutran.
“We can’t retreat; not without leaving Tasardin behind, and who knows what the lizards will do to her,” objected Maplefur.
Beechtail had an important decision to make. Tasardin was too badly injured to be moved to the other side of the bridge, let alone carried back to Deepmice territory. If they stayed, the lizard could, and probably would, kill them all. There was only one thing to do. “I have to do it,” Beechtail whispered, trying to convince himself more than anyone else, “I have to kill him.”
Maplefur heard his words. She watched him for a moment, looking surprised, then the squirrelmaid threw her arms around her friend. “You can do it,” she said softly, “Martin said you could, and I believe in you.”
Beechtail gritted his teeth, steeling himself for the coming battle. He drew the Sword of Martin, and held it straight up in front of him. In the red light from Palan’s blades the ancient weapon appeared to glow with the blood of countless enemies, slain by the generations of noble warriors that used the sword to protect their friends and families. Now he would do the same; he would not disappoint Maplefur!
With the Sword of Martin unsheathed in his hands, the squirrel felt more alive than ever before. He strode forward shouting a challenge at his foe, “Gorthumbar Scaleking! I am Beechtail Twoswords Naurimbor! Leave now or I will slay you!” He froze, somewhat embarrassed; he hadn’t been intending to say anything. The words had just popped out. Perhaps it was Martin’s doing; the histories of Redwall were full of instances where Martin had done similar things. Beechtail hoped that was the case; he was going to need all the help he could get.
The chasm was silent for a moment after his challenge; both armies surprised by his outburst. However, the sound of somebeast’s applause was heard, along with a voice a second later, “Hahaha, I say, top hole dramatics young ‘un, wot wot.”
After a few more seconds, the Deepmice joined together in cheering their champion on. Reassured, Beechtail stepped forward, blades held high, as the giant lizard did the same.
Chapter Twenty-Seven: Fighting Flame with Flame
As Beechtail advanced, Gorthumbar let out a roar that sounded like thunder, and swung out his bardiche in a wide scything swipe. Beechtail was forced to leap high in the air to avoid getting his legs chopped off. He landed flat on his stomach and promptly rolled over; just in time. The lizard brought the haft of the great axe down right where the squirrel had been a moment ago.
Beechtail scrambled to his feet and took a backhand slash at Gorthumbar’s massive hands with Flameblade while he did so. The blade glanced off the scales in the same way the arrow had, sending shocks up the squirrel’s arm. If I can’t find some way to hurt him, Beechtail thought, then this will be the most one-sided fight ever!
Gorthumbar began to take short jabs at Beechtail with the tip of the bardiche. Beechtail looked like he was performing some sort of strange dance as he hopped back and forth to avoid the deadly point. Once, he was not quite quick enough and added a small gash on his arm to his collection of injuries.
The crowd of onlooking Deepmice watched the climatic struggle intently, emitting either whimpers of terror as Gorthumbar attacked or sighs of relief as Beechtail dodged. The Scalehordes set up a chant in a strange language no Deepmouse could understand.
Maplefur was bouncing up and down with nervousness, muttering to herself, “Yes! No! No! Yes! No!...”
Lutran was also muttering to himself, “C’mon Beechtail old chap, I know you can do it. I’d wager a turnover, which I don’t have, to a feast, which I don’t have either, that you’ll find a way. Hmmm, a turnover sounds really good right now, and maybe some October Ale, wot wot. Careful; watch that blade…”
The huge lizard took several slashes at the squirrel, soliciting gasps from the Deepmice as Beechtail parried the attacks with his own Flameblade. Each time, the squirrel was forced almost to his knees, but he always managed to block the attack. As he fought, Beechtail felt a strange sense of power come over him; a feeling he hadn’t felt since he fought the rapscallions with the Long Patrol. His attacks became quicker and smoother, and his defenses were stronger and more fluid. Now he actually felt like he was Naurimbor, a real warrior, and not a bumbling squirrel who fell out of trees and just about anywhere else it was possible to fall.
As Gorthumbar brought his weapon up over his head for a two-handed crushing blow, Beechtail dove, and rolled between the lizard’s legs as the bardiche gouged a trench in the stone bridge where he had been standing before. In one fluid motion, Beechtail spun, slashing across Gorthumbar’s back with the Sword of Martin. The blade made a long white scratch across the surface of the scales, but did no further damage. The lizard’s thick muscular tail lashed out, clipping Beechtail on the jaw.
The squirrel was sent flying by the blow, and rolled to a stop on his back, dazed, at the edge of the bridge. Gorthumbar turned, and stomped towards the fallen squirrel. Beechtail realized, there was someone lying next to him; a mouse in armor. Martin? thought Bechtail. Martin grabbed Beechtail’s wrist and moved it so that his sword was pointing straight up in the squirrel’s grip. He winked at Beechtail and was gone.
Beechtail looked up. Gorthumbar was almost on top of him. The black lizard raised a giant foot above Beechtail’s body. The squirrel suddenly realized what Martin wanted him to do. Putting every ounce of his strength behind the blade, he thrust upward, shouting a warcry.
The tip of the blade went into the groove between two scales and met unyielding resistance as the foot stomped downward to crush the squirrel. The pommel jammed against the bridge, driving the ancient blade clear through Gorthumbar’s foot to the hilt. The lizard hopped on one foot roaring in pain. Beechtail held on to the sword, and was yanked off the ground.
Gorthumbar was not looking where his good foot was landing, due to the sword embedded in his other one. The black lizard’s foot came down half-off the edge of the bridge. He lost his balance, and toppled forward into the abyss.
Beechtail, who was still maintaining a death-grip of the hilt of the Sword of Martin, was dragged off the bridge as the lizard fell.
“NO! BEECHTAIL!” Maplefur screamed.
Chapter Twenty-Eight: “But twice Naurimbor must fall.”
The squirrelmaid rushed to the edge of the bridge, where Beechtail had fallen, as all the Deepmice did the same. At the edge, they stopped, gasped, and then began to cheer.
Far below them, impaled on several of the needle sharp stalagmites was the now-deceased Gorthumbar Scaleking, and dangling from his foot, still clinging to the hilt of Martin’s Sword, was Beechtail. As they watched, the squirrel dragged himself up to where he could perch somewhat precariously on the dead lizard’s leg.
Everyone sprang into action at once. The Scalehordes rushed forward. Maplefur swung her pack off her shoulders and dug in it for the coil of rope, shouting orders, “Palan, keep the Scalehordes away from me while I help Beechtail! Lutran, hold this.”
Lutran stared for a moment at the end of the rope the squirremaid had given him, then realized her plan, gesturing to several nearby Deepmice, “Hey, you Deepmice chaps, we’ve got to keep a bally tight grip on this, or your Nauribom chap goes plummeting to his doom.”
Palan was organizing a defense, “Deepmice! Protect Naurimbor!”
As soon as the Deepmice had a firm hold on the rope, Maplefur dropped the other end into the chasm, and then rappelled down it until she was level with Beechtail, and nearly at the end of the rope. She stretched out a hand towards her friend. Beechtail had returned Martin’s Sword to his back scabbard, and sat on the leg of the huge lizard unable to go anywhere.
“Beechtail! You have to jump to the rope,” she shouted.
The squirrel moaned, and buried his head I his paws. The feeling of power was gone; he was just Beechtail the clumsy squirrel again. “Not again!” he grumbled, and looked up at Maplefur, “Does this feel like déjà vu to you?”
Maplefur rolled her eyes, “Beechtail, I’m here to help you this time,” she said, trying to sound reassuring, “just jump.”
Beechtail sighed, stood up, took a deep breath, and leapt towards Maplefur. He almost didn’t get far enough, but he still managed to grab on to her paw. The sudden increase in weight pulled the Deepmice holding the rope closer to the edge of the bridge. “Pull us up!” both squirrels shouted in unison, but all the Deepmice and Lutran could only find enough traction to stop the edgeward slide.
Calris slithered backward to avoid getting killed by a charging Deepmouse. He saw what the squirrelmaid was doing, and guessed her plan. Sneaking between the legs of a Deepmouse who was looking upward at a tall lizard he was fighting, he continued towards the spot where the rope hung into the chasm.
Beechtail and Maplefur were in a bad position, and they both knew it. Lutran and his Deepmice helpers could not pull them both to the safety of the bridge, and sooner or later, one or both of them would fall. Already, Beechtail’s grip on Maplefur’s paw was weakening, and he could see that she was losing hold of the rope. Beechtail thought hard. Didn’t the prophecy say that Naurimbor had to fall again? If he let go, at least Maplefur would survive…
The squirrelmaid seemed to read his thoughts, “Don’t. Even. Think. About. It,” she said, somehow managing to make each word sound like a threat.
Beechtail didn’t want to tell her that gravity was going to make his decision for him in a moment or two.
Chapter Twenty-Nine: A Debt Repaid
Beechtail swallowed nervously as Maplefur’s paw slipped farther through his grasp. Unless a miracle happened, he was doomed. Too bad there weren’t any stalagmites beneath him that he could jump to. Of course, he would be more likely to get impaled like Gorthumbar, so maybe that wasn’t a good idea anyway.
Now he was holding on only with two fingers. It looked like his luck had finally run out. Not that he had ever had much in the first place.
Several things happened at once. Something long and flexible shot off the edge of the bridge, twisting in midair as it fell towards the two squirrels. Beechtail’s fingers lost their hold. Maplefur screamed his name, then shrieked in terror. At the same moment, Beechtail felt something smooth and hard wrap around his wrist, ending his downward plunge. Something that felt oddly like…
“Calris?” Beechtail asked, bewildered.
“Were you expecting sssomeone elssse?” the small, yet strong, adder replied, “Do you know any other Ssscalehorde who isss honor-bound to sssave the life of Naurimbor, our worssst enemy?”
Beechtail didn’t know how to reply to that. Now, he saw that Calris had coiled around Maplefur’s paw as well. The snake must be incredibly tough, as his arm felt like it was being pulled from its socket, but Maplefur appeared to be too shocked at touching an adder to feel the pain.
Even though Calris had come in time to save Beechtail from a deadly fall, they were still hanging from the bridge, unable to get up.
On top of the bridge, Lutran and the Deepmice were straining to keep Maplefur, Beechtail, and Calris from plummeting into the chasm. Lutran was doing most of the work. Sinew stood out on the otter’s body as he pulled with all his strength. It just wasn’t enough. Lutran suddenly was aware of another pair of paws holding the rope just below his own. They were mouse-like, and the arms were covered in gleaming chainmail. Deepmice didn’t wear armor.
An immensely comforting voice spoke, “On three Lutran…one, two, THREE!”
Although Lutran had the mind of a hare, he still possessed the muscles and strength of a full-grown male otter, which was second only to that of badgers. He yanked at the rope with power he would not have believed he possessed a moment before. Shouting a warcry, “Eulaliaaa!” he marched across the width of the bridge.
The Deepmice assisting Lutran were pulled off their feet and dragged along after the otter. Maplefur, Calris and, Beechtail were lifted to the safety of the bridge, where the two squirrels rested, massaging sore wrists and nearly dislocated shoulders, while Calris lay curled up in a miserable looking loop. After a few seconds, Caris raised his head, and spoke to Beechtail, “I do not owe you anymore, you ssshould keep that in mind if we meet again.” With that the adder slithered off towards the battle.
Maplefur’s eyes were as big as plates. “What is going on?”
“Uh…long story, I’ll tell you later.”
Beechtail suddenly realized that the battle was far from over. The Scalehordes still outnumbered the Deepmice at least two to one, probably more. He stood up, and looked into the chasm, Gorthumbar’s body was there, sliding lower on the stalagmites. He could barely believe it. He had won, and best of all, he was still alive! Nothing could be more dangerous than Gorthumbar, he was invincible!
He helped Maplefur to her feet. “Haha, it looks as if we’re going to be fighting a war after all,” Beechtail laughed.
They were joined by Lutran, “I think the best thing right now is a bally heroic charge, wot wot?”
The squirrel nodded drawing the Sword of Martin, while Maplefur hefted her javelin. The trio of friends charged at the Scalehordes.
Chapter Thirty: Retreat
Maplefur took two lizards through the neck with the point of her javelin in quick succession, then she bashed another in the skull with the haft. Lutran was perforating two snakes with his spear. Beechtail was slashing high and low with the Sword of Martin; the blade was a web of silver light around him. Lizards fought to get out of his way; several were pushed off the bridge by their comrades.
If the Scalehordes morale had been shaken by the supposed return of Naurimbor, it had definitely been devastated by the so-called Naurimbor’s victory against their supposedly invincible leader. Now, with Naurimbor attacking them, their morale broke completely. Only a few lizards tried to make an organized retreat, most turned and fled; some even dropping their weapons.
Beechtail caught the spear blade of one brave lizard with Flameblade, and swept Martin’s Sword in a large circle, slicing through its waist and neck in one motion. The squirrel, letting his momentum swing him completely around, struck the head from and adder, a half second later.
The Deepmice were sweeping forward, overwhelming the few resisting Scalehordes in a matter of moments. The retreat became a rout; any Scalehorde unlucky enough to stumble was trampled by its comrades, and if it was still alive, it stood no chance against Beechtail and the Deepmice.
Now the Scalehordes were flooding back into the tunnel that they had emerged from, with the Deepmice, led by Beechtail, in hot pursuit. Strangely, the lizards and snakes were all fleeing through the same tunnels, and what was even stranger was that the route actually seemed familiar to Beechtail.
Suddenly, a Deepmouse that Beechtail recognized as Galical shouted out, “Naurimbor! They’re making for the surface!”
In seconds the Scalehordes’ plan became horrifyingly clear. An army of around two or three hundred lizards and snakes loose in Mossflower would be a disaster. They had to head them off before that.
As the Scalehordes passed through a fork in the passage, Beechtail grabbed Maplefur by the paw, who in turn seized hold of Lutran, and led them off down the other tunnel, in the opposite direction of the fleeing reptiles. “Where are we going?” shouted Maplefur.
“Shortcut,” replied Beechtail. He remembered this spot; it was the one he had run down when he had accidentally missed the turn. Calris had said that it led to the exit, and hopefully Beectail’s guess that it was a shortcut was correct, or he was going to look very stupid.
Suddenly, the reason why the Scalehordes had gone in the other direction became dangerously clear; a wide fissure split the tunnel floor just ahead. Running at full-tilt as they were, they had no time to stop, so Beechtail did the next best thing. He sped up. Upon reaching the edge of the crack, the squirrel flung himself forward in a huge leap. He was vaguely aware of Maplefur doing the same beside him.
Beechtail sailed across the chasm, his big bushy tail streaming out behind him like a banner. He landed on the other side of the crack clumsily, and stumbled to a stop. Maplefur landed gracefully beside him.
“Hey, you jumped!” she said.
It wasn’t quite the same as jumping from tree to tree, but for him, it was still pretty incredible. He opened his mouth to reply, but at that moment, Lutran cannoned into them.
“Cads!” Lutran shouted as the three of them picked themselves off the floor, “Very inconsiderate of you to stand in the way when a chap is trying to jump across a bally abyss, wot.”
Beechtail helped the otter to his feet, “Come on, we have to keep moving!” the squirrel said. He raced off down the tunnel, grabbing Maplefur’s paw and pulling her along. Lutran picked his spear up and hustled after his two friends, grumbling about “youngbeasts with too much energy”.
Within a very short time the tunnel made a T-shaped intersection with another passage. All was silent. “Which way do we go now?” Maplefur asked.
Chapter Thirty-One: Triumph of the Deepmice
“Uhh…” Beechtail was at a loss. Then Lutran’s ears perked up; his real ones, not the false hare ears he also wore.
“I say, do you chaps hear something off that way?” he said, looking down the dark tunnel. Faintly, the sounds of running creatures could be heard, intermixed with cries of pain and the clashing of weapons.
“This way!” Beechtail shouted. The squirrel led the way down the tunnel in the direction of the noise. In the darkness ahead, something was coming toward them. It was soon apparent that the front mass of lizards had just passed the shaft that separated their territory from that of the toads. Judging by the noise, the Deepmice were close behind. “Charge!” Beechtail yelled.
The Scalehordes suddenly noticed the two squirrels and otter. The front rank skidded to a stop, and tried to run the other way. The lizards and snakes were then caught in a very bad situation; the Deepmice were pushing them from one direction, and they were unwilling to run in the other due to the presence of Naurimbor, who they were now mortally afraid of. They became jammed tighter and tighter together, until there was no room for them to defend themselves. Every stroke of the Sword of Martin felled at least three lizards, often more.
Several lizards near to the shaft suddenly realized that there was only one way to escape. They leapt into the pit, only to fall to their deaths. The next few were smart enough to slide down the not-quite-vertical walls, using the first few unfortunate ones to break their fall. A growing trickle of Scalehordes began to choose jumping over certain death at the hands of the Deepmice, who showed no mercy.
Beechtail pressed forward, hewing everything in his way. Now there was only a dozen or so Scalehordes left. Suddenly, something at his feet launched itself at his face. The squirrel fell backward with a cry, his paw shot out on reflex, snagging the object.
“Calris?” Beechtail asked, bewildered. Sure enough, it was the young adder. He strained against the squirrel’s paw, snapping at him, but since Beechtail held him by the neck, he couldn’t possibly reach. Beechtail moved his paw, holding the snake’s jaw closed. Calris glared furiously at him, but couldn’t do anything. Beechtail stood up, and looked into the snake’s eyes. He had been through too much with the adder to consider killing him now, even if Calris didn’t feel the same. “Goodbye, Calris,” Beechtail said, “I doubt I’ll ever see you again.” He gently tossed the adder into the shaft.
Beechtail watched the snake tumble down to a relatively soft landing. He couldn’t be sure because of the distance, but he thought he saw Calris raise his head and look up at him, before slithering down the tunnel with the rest of the Scalehordes. Goodbye, the squirrel thought, friend.
Chapter Thirty-Two: Starlight
After a few moments Beechtail looked up. All the Scalehordes were either dead, or gone. His eyes sought out Palan. The Deepmouse elder was watching the blue glow from his blades slowly fade away.
“I take it you don’t mean to pursue them?” Beechtail asked, gesturing to the shaft.
Palan glanced up and shook his head, “No, there’s no need really. We have plenty of room, and it would be impossible for the Scalehordes to defeat us here, even if the defenders numbered only six.”
Nodding in agreement, the squirrel replied, “Well then, I think me and my friends are going to leave now; I doubt you’ll need us. Some of the Deepmice should come and visit us at Redwall.”
The old Deepmouse shook his head again, “No, Naurimbor, we could not live above the ground any more than you could live below it. The Deepmice will go with you to the surface, but no farther.”
A Deepmouse approached Palan, carrying a bundle wrapped in lizard hide. After a whispered conversation, Palan took the bundle, and presented it to Beechtail, “Before you go,” he said, “I want you to have these.”
Beechtail pulled away the lizard skin. The other Flameblade, and the two clay tablets that contained the drawing of Martin and Ringil’s prophecy were inside. “Thanks,” he said.
Leaving about half of the Deepmice behind in case the Scalehordes decided to come back, Beechtail, Maplefur, Lutran, and the other Deepmice filed along the tunnel to the surface. The passage was long, but fortunately, there were no side passages for them to get off course in, and it seemed to be going upward.
After what Beechtail judged to be around two hours, they rounded a bend to find that the tunnel ended in a solid slab of rock. “What!” Maplefur yelled, “We came all this way for a dead end?!”
Beechtail walked up to the slab. This couldn’t be the end; there had to be a way out, right? A crack about halfway up caught his eye. Acting on a sudden hunch, he reached inside and felt around. Something shifted under his paw, and the slab swung outward with a soft click.
Lutran’s jaw dropped, and Maplefur grinned, “Been here before?” she joked.
They emerged into a huge cavern, stalagmites hung from the ceiling, and a great underground pool filled the center. “Wow!” Maplefur exclaimed.
Beechtail turned to the Deepmice following behind him, “You can go back now if you want, or you can come with us if you like.”
There was silence for a few seconds, and then, one by one, the Deepmice turned and began the long walk back to their friends and families. Galical, however, lingered for a moment. “Well, are you coming with us?” Beechtail asked.
“No, it’s just that I never really thanked you for rescuing me from the toads,” answered the Deepmouse, shaking his head. He shook Beechtail’s paw and followed after his friends.
“Okay,” Lutran muttered uneasily, “I hope you chaps know where you’re going, because I bally don’t.”
“Simple,” replied Beechtail confidently, “Somewhere around here there should be arrows that point to the surface. I read in the Redwall histories that a mouse named Matthias made them when he was looking for Martin’s Sword. One-”
“-of the bells is named after him,” Maplefur finished, already running toward the nearest tunnel.
“Know-it-alls,” Lutran muttered under his breath.
It didn’t take them long to find the arrows. With no wind or rain to erode them, the marks were still quite clear considering their age. After walking up a very steep passage, they found a slab of sandstone that appeared to be the last obstacle between them and the surface. Beechtail put his shoulder against it and pushed hard. It opened a crack, and light streamed in, and a mass of white powder cascaded over the squirrel. Fortunately Lutran was right behind him, and prevented him from tumbling back the way they had come.
The three friends clambered out of the tunnel into a massive quarry. A full moon hung in the sky, and deep snowdrifts were scattered everywhere. Maplefur scooped a handful up, and tossed it at Beechtail, “Hahaha, so much for getting back to Redwall before winter.”
The squirrel tried to duck the snowball, but tripped on a rock, and wound up diving headfirst into a large pile of snow. The snowball hit Lutran instead, who jumped for cover behind a drift, shouting, “Oho, so it’s a bally snow war you want, wot wot. I bet you didn’t know I was the best snow-flinger in leveret school!”
After a furious battle, Lutran succeeded in causing a minor avalanche that buried the unfortunate Beechtail up to his neck. It took considerable effort on the part of Maplefur and Lutran to extract him. Once the squirrel was liberated, all three flopped on a snowdrift to rest.
“I suppose we better get moving if we are going to make it back to Redwall,” Beechtail commented, “with luck, the river might be frozen this time of year.”
“Yeah, it will be nice to get back to Redwall; sleep in a real bed, eat real food,” mused Maplefur.
At the mention of food, Lutran jumped up, and took off running, “Last one to the river is a rotten pastry!”
Laughing, the two squirrels took off after the otter; headed for home.
Epilogue: Home at Last
The following is an extract from the writings of Brother Dolon, Recorder and Gatekeeper of Redwall Abbey.
It’s hard to believe it’s already two weeks since Beechtail, Maplefur, and Lutran returned after their long trip to Angdelve. They were several days late, and we had been getting worried, as winter was approaching. One of the Limbrunners named Oakarrow asked permission to take a search party out to find them. Skipper’s ottercrew volunteered to join them, and they were no sooner out of sight down the path, than the missing trio started knocking on the east wallgate. They were cold, hungry, and covered in grime, especially Beechtail. Old Sister Ancilla made them wash up in the pond before the dibbuns started to get ideas. Luckily for them, the pond had thawed enough that they didn’t have to break through any ice. Still, about five minutes later, Lutran was being chased out of the kitchen, and Beechtail and Maplefur were wrapped up in blankets and eating hot vegetable soup in Cavern Hole.
In all the excitement, everyone forgot about the search party, and they were so far away we had to ring the attack signal on the bells to get them to turn around. They came racing back, yelling like badgers in bloodwrath! Some dibbuns still have nightmares.
Eventually everyone wanted to hear what had happened, and what a story they told! Dibbuns have been sent to bed for telling more believable ones! Personally, I wouldn’t have believed it if it wasn’t for the two odd blades Beechtail had with him; Flameblades, I think he called them.
Anyway, life at Redwall has settled back almost to normal, if any time at Redwall can be considered normal. Beechtail and Maplefur are planning a vacation to Salamandaston next summer to visit Lord Adaracor and the recently married Currare and Celeriter. After all they’ve been through; they deserve some time to relax. I was at Salamandastron once; it’s a beautiful place. You should visit if you every get the chance; I’m sure the hares won’t mind. Although, you’d better bring your own lunch.
Recorder of Redwall Abbey
I hope you enjoyed reading this as much as I did writing it! There will be one more story about Beechtail, Maplefur, and Lutran. See my user page for more information.--Gandr Adderbane Slayer of Snakes 22:11, August 28, 2010 (UTC)