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This is my first fan fiction blog, so tell me what you think. The story takes place after Doomwyte.
Prologue: What the Night Hides
It was a typical cool spring night at Redwall Abbey. Most creatures were asleep, but Brother Dolon, the gatekeeper, was walking with old Abbot Thren near the orchard. Many seasons of peace had passed since the last vermin attack on Redwall. No one noticed a small black shadow slip over the battlements of the west wall. No one saw it slip into the gatehouse. Shortly the Abbot and Dolon finished their walk and bade each other goodnight. Dolon entered the gatehouse and took a drink from a mug of October Ale on the desk. He accidently knocked a book off the desk, and when he bent to pick it up, an arm reached out from behind a curtain and sprinkled powder into the mug. Dolon retrieved the book, and straightened up. He took a swig of the ale, put the book on a nearby shelf, yawned, swayed, and fell to the ground.
A ferret in a black cloak stepped out from behind the curtain. Nettleclaw was a rapscallion shorter than most ferrets, but faster. After their near annihilation at the Ridge of a Thousand, the rapscallions, as a tribe, had recovered. However, lack of a strong leader resulted in many small bands roaming the southlands instead of a huge army. Nettleclaw was not a strong fighter; he owed his position as a leader of a dozen or so other vermin to his cunning. His few followers were like him, not powerful, but tricky, and most importantly, almost fanatically loyal to him. Nettleclaw envisioned himself as the ferret to unite the vermin bands. All he needed was a symbol to impress them so they would follow him. The answer was obvious; the Rapscallion sword. Nettleclaw had obtained information that led him to believe that the sword was made of metal that was resistant to rust, so therefore it still existed. He looked through old records until he found what he was looking for. He lifted an ancient scroll and read, “After the battle, the Warriors buried the Rapscallions in the rift, and our own on the ridgetop.”. Nettleclaw smiled, now he knew for sure where the sword was, it was probably broken, but he could fix that. Once the rapscallions were following him he could conquer both Redwall and Salamandastron, but not yet. Silently as a shadow he slipped out of the gatehouse and over the wall, leaving Dolon still deep in his drugged sleep. No one would ever know he’d been there.
Chapter One: Beechtail of Angdelve
Several weeks later, Beechtail steadied himself in the upper part of an ash tree with his friend Maplefur. He was taller than other squirrels, and heavier with almost orange-red fur. Maplefur was lighter and had, as her name implied, beautiful dark reddish-brown fur. Trying not to look down, he listened nervously as his friend tried to explain how to grab on to a branch without falling.
“Okay, Now try to jump to that oak, see the big branch, try to get to that,” Maplefur explained.
Beechtail steadied himself. I’m a squirrel, I can do this, he thought. He leapt for the oak, his paws clutched at the branch, slipped, and Beechtail felt himself falling, “AAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHH!!!”
“Look out below!” Maplefur shouted form the top of the tree.
“Ooofff,” Beechtail landed flat on his back at the bottom of the tree. He lived at Angdelve, a small iron mining settlement, on the southeastern edge of Mossflower woods. Moles did most of the actual mining, the other creatures mostly squirrels and otters farmed and protected the settlement from vermin raiders. He was quite a good swordsbeast, but since there weren’t many vermin brave enough to attack the settlement, he had never been in a real fight. However, his climbing ability was about average, for a mole. He was also an abysmal shot with any sort of ranged weapon. Maplefur on the other had was agile and a dead shot with a bow.
Maplefur somersaulted out of the tree and landed next to Beechtail. “Are you okay?” she asked, looking worried.
“I’m fine; I didn’t land on anyone this time.”
“We better head back, it’s getting late.”
“Yeah, I’m hungry and sore, I think that was the fifth time today.”
Still chattering to each other, the two squirrels headed back to Angdelve.
Nettleclaw signaled for his army to stop. He had found the sword right where the scroll said it would be. After mending it, his band traveled around and demanded that the other bands serve him. Nettleclaw gave the leaders of the bands the option of a one-on-one fight. After he bested a few strong fighters through trickery, none dared to challenge him. At last count his horde totaled over four score scores. Next he had set his sights on a small settlement a scout had spotted. It looked like a mine. The iron would be a valuable resource to his horde, as most of them were not very well equipped.
“Blackskull, Mudeye, take your troops and circle around to the other side. I don’t want anybeast to get away, and everyone, don’t burn the village, just kill the inhabitants, we need the forges. Let’s go.”
Maplefur and Beechtail had just reached the edge of a deep ditch that separated Angdelve from Mossflower wood, when they heard shouts and saw vermin swarming through the village. A few fighters were providing a rearguard to the survivors, but archers were picking them off. The captain of the guard, an otter named Flodrun, was fighting with a ferret much smaller than him. Flodrun evidently noticed that everyone else was slain, so he tuned and fled. The ferret took a short run and threw his sword. It took Flodrun through the back and he fell into the ditch, his body rolled to a stop at the bottom. The ferret said something to the rest of the vermin and they ran back toward the village. The ferret began to climb into the ditch to retrieve his sword. Beechtail slid to a stop by Flodrun’s body. One look at the awful wound with the blade still in it confirmed he was dead. Beechtail pulled the sword out and scrambled to get out of the ditch. The ferret saw him, jumped the rest of the way and climbed up after him. Beechtail barely made it to the top before the ferret did.
“Give me my sword, squirrel,” the ferret demanded.
Beechtail took a step back, tripped on a tree root, and fell to the ground. The ferret ran forward, drawing a dagger, but when he was only a few paces away, Maplefur dropped down out of the tree grabbed a low branch, and landed a double footpaw kick right on the ferret’s chest. He was lifted off his feet, and thrown backwards into the ditch.
“Beechtail, we have to get out of here,” Maplefur warned, “Angdelve is lost, and there must be hundreds of them.”
Beechtail looked at the sword he had taken; one side was curved in and out, like waves. The other side was straight. There was a line halfway along the blade where it looked like it had been broken and reforged. “I’m taking this; maybe someday I’ll get a chance to give it back to the ferret, just like he gave it to Flodrun. In the meantime, we’ll head for Redwall; they’ll want to know about this.”
The two squirrels turned and vanished into the depths of Mossflower.
Chapter Two: Preparing For War
Nettleclaw emerged from the ditch an hour later in a very bad mood, not only had the squirrels escaped, but they had the sword. When he reached the settlement, he saw Mudeye the weasel, one of his officers, approaching. He quickly slipped the dagger into the sword scabbard, giving the impression that the sword was still there.
Mudeye gave a quick salute, “We’ve got the mines chief, no-.”
“Shut up,” Nettleclaw snapped angrily, “I want to see Blackskull. Tell him to come to that forge in four hours. Get the hordes working on forging shields and spears; there should be plenty of metal.”
“Yes sir, Chief,” Mudeye turned and walked off.
Nettleclaw went to work. Sometime later Blackskull entered the forge, Blackskull was a black fox, and Nettleclaw’s second in command.
“You wanted me Chief?”
“Yes, when we killed the group that was trying to escape, I threw my sword at the otter. Two squirrels stole the sword and ran. They know how large my army really is, if they reach Redwall or Salamandaston all our plans will be ruined”
“What do you want me to do, Chief?”
“Take a dozen scouts and track them down. But first, tell me what you think of this.” Nettleclaw showed him his newly forged replica of the Rapscallion sword.
Blackskull looked the sword over, for several minutes the only sound that could be heard was the pounding of hammers as well over a sixteen hundred vermin forged spears and shields. Soon Blackskull gave his opinion, “There’s no evidence of a break, but as long as they don’t look too closely, they won’t notice; they don’t know you lost the sword.”
“Good, and don’t tell anyone about this.”
Blackskull exited the forge and went off to find his trackers.
Nettleclaw watched him leave; he knew Blackskull wouldn’t betray him. Now, he needed to arm his soldiers and train them until they could crush anything. As, long as the two squirrels were captured, it would be some time before the news reached Redwall. He would succeed where Cluny, Ferahgo, Damug, and many, many others had failed. However, everything had to be perfectly timed. As large as his horde was, it was fairly well matched against the Long Patrol, but there were the Redwallers to consider, who knows how many woodlanders they could muster, probably enough to turn the tide of battle. Nettleclaw’s plan called for perfect timing, efficiency, and patience, conquering Mossflower would take a long time, but he would do it. He had never failed at anything before.
Chapter Three: Followed
Beechtail and Maplefur were following the course of a dry riverbed, Maplefur was explaining their path to Beechtail.
“This stream used to flow into the big lake, there is a part where the water flows out again, we follow the lake shore until we find it, we can make a raft, and then it’s just a matter of getting to the river that is by Redwall. It’s a long way, might take a week or more.”
When the sun went down, Maplefur stopped at the base of a tall oak, “If we sleep up there we won’t have to stand guard.”
Beechtail glanced up. There were many thick branches that formed a tangled web. It was impossible to see the higher branches. Anybeast up there would be well hidden from the ground and the sky. There was only one problem, “Um, Maplefur, we might be squirrels, but I can’t climb like one.”
“Not a problem.” Maplefur took a coil of rope from her pack and raced up the trunk into the net of branches. A few seconds later she slid down on the rope. “Even you should be able to climb this.”
There were several close calls, but Beechtail climbed the rope without slipping. However, he was still not convinced about sleeping in a tree. “What if I fall off?”
In response, Maplefur pulled up the rope and tied Beechtail to a sturdy limb.
Blackskull headed off into the woods with his trackers, he had decided to forgo sleep to make better time. Most of the trackers had not been active in the fighting; sixteen hundred vermin against a village of around a hundred is a bit extreme. The squirrels had several hours head start on his band. He needed to catch up. A rat named Sludgenose called him over.
“I found tracks; it looks like they are following this riverbed.”
Blackskull soon had the trackers lined up to march. Two were on either bank, looking for traces of them climbing out. They continued on until dawn. Blackskull decided to stop, as his patrol needed to rest. They camped at the foot of a large oak. A rat named Dungback took the first watch.
Beechtail was awakened by a paw clamped across his mouth. Maplefur was untying him, but there was a sense of urgency in her eyes that told him something was wrong. She pointed downward, and gestured to be silent. Beechtail turned over until he could see what was wrong. Around a dozen vermin were sleeping at the foot of the tree. However, one was standing guard. They were in a dangerous situation; the guard would see them if they tried to climb down, and Beechtail would probably fall if they tried to escape through the treetops. Beechtail pointed at the sentry and mimicked firing an arrow. Maplefur nodded and took out her bow.
Dungback was tired of standing guard, so he took a seat on a large rock. A hissing noise caused him to look up. The arrow buried itself in the back of his neck; he slumped forward, killed instantly.
Beechtail tied the rope to the branch, and slid down it slowly. Maplefur untied it, and climbed down the tree. Careful not to make noise, they tiptoed until they were a safe distance away, and then took off running. After traveling a considerable distance, they stopped and sat panting on the riverbank. Beechtail recovered first.
“Great shot, I don’t think we would’ve been able to sneak past him without being spotted.”
“Probably not, but the rest of them will be after us now. They’re probably from the group that attacked Angdelve. We have to get moving again.”
After a few minutes the squirrels took off again down the riverbed.
Back at the vermin camp, Blackskull had discovered the body of Dungback. Further investigation revealed the squirrels’ tracks leading to the tree and back. In a matter of minutes the trackers were on the move again, after being berated by Blackskull for not realizing the squirrels were only several yards above them. They were going to march all day, and all night if need be, until the squirrels were captured.
The race to Redwall was on.
Chapter Four: A Strange Ally
Towards the late afternoon, the vermin began to catch up to Beechtail and Maplefur. Maplefur was the first to notice that they could hear shouts in the distance. The squirrels increased their speed, but the vermin still gained on them. At dusk, they reached the shore of the lake just as the vermin came into view farther up the riverbed. Maplefur fitted an arrow to her bow, and loosed it at the approaching trackers. Another followed it a second later. Most of the vermin dove out of the way of the arrows, but an unlucky weasel took both in the chest. The vermin struggled to get out of the exposed riverbed. Two ferrets, however, charged at the squirrels.
Beechtail’s sword was out in a flash and Maplefur fitted another arrow to her bow. The lead ferret stabbed at Beechtail with a dirk, but the squirrel parried, and ran him through. Maplefur waited until the other was almost on top of her, and then shot it at point-blank range, it was impossible to miss.
Beechtail wiped his sword off on the grass and watched the vermin scrambling behind trees and rocks. “We can’t run or hide now, we’ll have to stand and fight.”
Maplefur readied another arrow, “Aye, They’ll charge as soon as they realize there are only two of us.”
“Three of us, if you count me, old chap,” said a voice behind them.
Both squirrels jumped in the air and spun around. An otter was standing on a raft on the lakeshore. At least, Beechtail thought he was an otter; it looked like an otter, and the creature had a rudder-like tail, but something that resembled two long ears was attached to its head.
The otter-hare-creature bowed elegantly, “Lutrantis Cogiter Elepus at your service, call me Lutran, I noticed that you seemed to be having some sort of difficulties with the vermin yonder. I would be honored to render some assistance, I would advise coming on to the raft, wot wot.”
After their initial shock, the squirrels clambered aboard the raft, and not a moment too soon. Blackskull had seen them turn, gathered his trackers, and charged them. Lutran used a long pole to push the raft out into the lake, and rap a particularly brave stoat, who tried to wade out after it, on the head.
Blackskull shouted orders to the vermin. “Use your slings; kill them before they get away.” But the raft moved swiftly, propelled by the strange creature. Most of the stones fell short, but all three of the raft’s occupants had to lie flat as a few passed overhead.
Once they were a good ways off from the shore the stranger mounted the pole upright in the center of the raft, and fixed a sail to it. “Now then, where might you two bold warriors be headed off to, eh?”
Beechtail hesitated before answering, “Redwall Abbey, and just wondering, sir, why do you speak like a hare?”
“I am a bally hare, you don’t expect me to speak like a bloomin’ mole, do you, wot?” exclaimed Lutran. “If you’re bound for Redwall, you should head up the lake’s outlet stream, mind you, be sure to get off before the big waterfall. Say chaps, your quite far from Redwall, where are you from?”
“Angdelve,” replied Maplefur, “The village got overran by vermin. We’re bringing the news back to Redwall.” Lutran seemed to consider this for a moment. “Well I’d better head that way too, got to alert the jolly old Long Patrol, doncha know. Righto then, got to put us on a course for the stream.” He turned to move the tiller, and Beechtail got a good view of the back of his head. A massive scar stretched across his entire head, evidence of a major head injury.
“Ouch,” Maplefur whispered to Beechtail, “whatever did that to him must have addled his brain. He’s crazy.”
“Maybe, but he has a raft, and he did help us escape from the vermin.”
Lutran turned the raft until they were a good ways out from shore, but still close enough to avoid missing the stream. “Those blighters don’t seem to want to give up, do they, jolly persistent for vermin.”
Blackskull had got the trackers marching along the lake shore to keep up with the raft.
Beechtail looked worried. “Can we beat them to the stream?”
Lutran laughed, “If this wind holds, we could be there by midday tomorrow.” He suddenly frowned, “But I’m not sure that it will. You two get some sleep. I’ll keep us on course.”
The exhausted squirrels didn’t need to be told twice. A few seconds later and they were asleep.
Chapter Five: Crossing the Lake
Blackskull marched his trackers until near midnight. He gave them several hours to sleep, and then got them moving again. The squirrels were harder to catch than he originally had thought. However, both times they had escaped through sheer luck. They would not be so lucky this time. The weather was changing. The wind would die down, and they would slow down considerably. When they did reach wherever they were going, he would be waiting for them.
When dawn arrived, the wind was still holding, and the vermin on the shore were mere specs in the distance. Lutran prepared a large breakfast, which he ate almost entirely by himself. It seemed that the horrific injury that caused him to think he was a hare also gave him the appetite of one.
However, at midmorning, the wind began to die down.
Maplefur was the first to notice, “At this rate, we’ll be stuck out here until the wind comes back.”
Lutran shook his head, and produced two paddles from somewhere, “We have to paddle, but, with a little luck, we might make it to the jolly old stream by evening.”
Paddling was hard work, and they made very slow progress. Two would paddle while the other rested. The vermin began to gain on them again. However, when it was almost too dark to see, Maplefur saw the stream. Beechtail expected them to go ashore immediately, but Lutran cautioned him against it.
He gestured to a fire the vermin had built earlier that evening, “Best to sleep out here, where we won’t have to keep watch, wot. We’re nearly out of tucker, so we’ll have to forage for breakfast tomorrow morning. In any case, it seems the blighters have turned in for the night too.”
After eating the last of the supplies, all three creatures settled down to a long sleep.
Blackskull and his trackers, however, were still awake. They had rested for an hour or two at the fire, and then carried on marching under the cover of darkness.
Chapter Six: Nettleclaw Marches to War
Nettleclaw stood on a low hill with his captains, and watched his army as they packed up the camp to march. It had taken a long time to make weapons for all of them. Even more vermin had joined since they had attacked the village, bringing his total army up to nearly two thousand, twice the size of the first rapscallion army, and this time they were much better equipped. However, Nettleclaw would have liked to take a few days for training, but since Blackskull hadn’t come back yet, there was a chance that the squirrels might have escaped. If any rumor of his army reached Salamandastron before he did, all his plans would be ruined. If they succeeded, however, taking Redwall and Salamandastron would be easy. Once those two fortresses were conquered, he could garrison the ruins of Castle Floret, Castle Marl, and any other fortress that might be mentioned in Redwall’s extensive records. He would become Lord Nettleclaw, with an empire that stretched far beyond Mossflower. But that was getting ahead of himself. Soon he might conquer Redwall. At a signal from one of his captains, three hundred soldiers detached themselves from the main group. These had been hand-picked by Nettleclaw for their stupidity and lack of the ability to follow orders. Mudeye would take them along the west edge of Mossflower, in plain sight. Meanwhile Nettleclaw would personally oversee the rest of the troops which would travel in the forest itself. The three hundred would be expendable if they ran into trouble.
Nettleclaw turned to his army, “Listen closely, because I am only going to say his once, and if you disobey these orders, I will kill you personally. We will be traveling north under the trees. No fires, no noise, understand.”
A stoat named Weedear called out, “I’ll have a fire if I want one.”
Nettleclaw sighed. Weedear was a good fighter, though very stupid. Nettleclaw would hate to have to kill him, but examples had to be made. “What makes you think that? I’m the one leading this horde, remember?”
Weedear grinned, “Then I challenge you to a duel. If I kill you I will lead the horde.” He was waiting for an opporitunity like this since he had joined the horde. There was no way a overconfident ferret half his size would boss him around.
Nettleclaw’s answer took the stoat completely by surprise, “I accept.”
Wondering why the ferret hadn’t asked for anything if he won, Weedear raised his spear and charged. Nettleclaw parried his thrust and slashed with his sword. Weedear blocked it with his shield, and attacked again. They exchanged blows for a while, and then Nettleclaw suddenly hurled his sword high into the air. The vermin onlookers gasped, and while everyone, including Weedear, had their eyes fixed on the sword, Nettleclaw drew the dagger from the back of his belt, and stabbed the stoat in the heart.
“Does anyone else want to try to defeat Nettleclaw?”
Chapter Seven: Dream-World
Beechtail was having a nightmare; shadowy forms ran in every direction, the sounds of fighting echoed all around, mingled with cries of pain. He found himself face to face with the ferret that had killed Flodrun. Beechtail’s hand shot to his sword hilt, and then he realized that the sword he had taken from the ferret was the one the ferret was using. Beechtail took a step backwards. The ferret laughed evilly, “Still a coward? There’s no one to save you this time.”
Beechtail felt a paw touch his shoulder. A calm voice said, “Here, use my sword.” Beechtail looked over at the newcomer. He couldn’t really see it, like it was something he was watching out of the corner of his eye. However, he was soon distracted by the sword. A red pommel stone and a black leather hilt ended in a magnificent blade. Beechtail grasped the sword and swung it experimentally. The hilt felt strange, like wood, but the sword was incredible. It was more than an extension of his arm, it was his arm. He turned back to the ferret. It leaped at him. Beechtail swung the sword through the ferret. It went right through, and the ferret vanished.
Beechtail shot up. It was still dark. He was on the raft. He glanced over at Maplefur; she was moaning and clutching her head. “Are you okay?”
“No, I’m not okay, I was having a good sleep, and then you had to ruin it by bashing me on the head with a pole,” snapped Maplefur. She glared furiously at him.
Beechtail was mystified, “What pole?”
Maplefur’s eyes narrowed, “What pole? Maybe the one in your hand?” She said sarcastically.
Beechtail glanced down, sure enough; the pole Lutran had used to push the raft was clutched in his paw. He was speechless for a second, and then he remembered his dream. The realization of what had happened hit him, and in spite of Maplefur’s glare, he laughed.
“Hahahaha I was just hehe, oh, I can’t say it hehehe, it’s too funny hahahahaha…”
Maplefur’s glare got even angrier; if possible, “It’s not funny.” She rolled over without another word.
It took Beechtail some time to get his mirth under control. “Maplefur, I’m sorry, I was just dreaming, and...” He paused. Evidently Maplefur’s head was not paining her anymore; she was fast asleep. Beechtail let go of the pole, and curled back up. She’ll be fine in the morning, he thought. After making a mental note not to ever wake Maplefur up in the middle of the night again, he drifted off into a dream-free slumber.
Chapter Eight: Discovered
Ghan Cloudcleaver was leading his skein north when he saw the lights below him. Signaling the rest to continue without him, he dipped lower in order to get a better view. Vermin! The lights were from campfires, after taking careful note of their exact numbers, Ghan turned, and angled west a bit. The news that around three hundred vermin were marching north would be worth a lot of food from Lord Adaracor of Salamandastron.
As the goose flew off to the northwest, another figure stepped out from the shadowy edge of Mossflower. Nettleclaw knew perfectly well where the bird was headed. It was all according to plan.
Several hours later Ghan reached Salamandastron. Upon hearing his news, Lord Adaracor immediately summoned his top officers.
“You’re sure of this? There are three hundred of them?”
“Ghan is sure. They are coming this way”
An old hare with many medals on his tunic spoke up, “That does it then, we’ll have to stop the blighters before they get too close to the Abbey.”
Adaracor sighed, only last week he had sent a regiment of pike hares to deal with some searats that had captured a costal settlement. “If there are three hundred of them, five hundred should be plenty, they might even turn back without fighting. Ghan, can you guide them to the vermin?”
“Yes, Ghan will lead them.”
“Major, you will be in charge of this. Pick out your troops, and leave by tomorrow at noon. Colonel , alert the kitchens, get them a week’s worth of rations. “
The hares left to carry out their orders. Adaracor strode to the forge. There would be only five hundred hares to defend the area, until one of the two groups returned.
Chapter Nine: Downstream
Unfortunately for Beechtail, Maplefur woke up in a bad mood at dawn. She made a point of not speaking to Beechtail while they were foraging for breakfast. In an attempt to placate her, he gave her some berries he had, after that she seemed a bit less hostile, though not particularly friendly. After eating, they continued to gather whatever food they could find. Beechtail was gathering some ripe berries, when he heard them. Several creatures were walking through the woods toward them. Beechtail moved to the side to get a better view, and tripped over a tree root.
“Ooofff.” There was silence for a second, and then he saw them at the same time Blackskull saw him.
Beechtail scrambled to his feet, heedless of the bushes, he dashed back to where Lutran and Maplefur were loading their finds on the raft. He skidded to a stop in front of them. “Vermin…in the woods… saw me… coming,” he gasped.
“You two, untie the raft, I’ll keep the blighters busy,” Lutran turned, and picked up a thick, forked branch. Blackskull and his trackers emerged from the trees. A brave stoat, hoping to impress his leader, leapt forward; slashing down at Lutran. Lutran caught the sword in the fork of the branch, snatched a hatchet from the vermin’s belt, and slew the astonished creature. The rest of the trackers charged led by Sludgenose, who was wielding a spear. “Eulaliaaaa,” Lutran hurled the branch at them causing all except Sludgenose to stop abruptly. The rat kept on running; Lutran sidestepped, grabbed the spear haft, and catapulted Sludgenose into the river, where he was swept off downstream by the current. Maplefur had untied the raft and it was beginning to drift off without Lutran. He used the spear to vault to the raft, and then released it. The spear whipped back, knocking Blackskull flat.
“Idiots, kill them! KILL THEM!!!!” Blackskull shouted at his trackers. He jumped up and down in fury as the raft sped out of sight downstream on the swift current. “We’ve almost had them three times! Why can’t you kill them? Get some sleep; it might be your last if we don’t catch them tonight.”
Back on the raft, the three friends were in fits of laugher. “Hahahaha did you see the look on that rat’s face when he flew in the air?” Maplefur chortled. “Or that fox when the spear hit him.”
“Yeah, he’ll have a headache to match yours.” Beechtail regretted his words as soon as he had said them. Maplefur stopped laughing abruptly and glared at him.
Lutran kept laughing for a few seconds before he realized he was the only one. “I say, chaps, what’s got you frownin’ like moles on a boat, eh? Just a moment ago you were laughin’ like mad otters, wot wot.”
The ironic statement sent both squirrels into another fit of laughter.
Lutran stared at them for a while, and then glanced back along the way they had come, “Dashed strange creatures, squirrels.”
When Beechtail had gotten his mirth sufficiently under control, he asked Lutran about where they were. “Well, this stream goes for quite a way, and then it goes over the edge of a large waterfall. More seasons ago than most badgers live, some warlord’s army went over the edge, umm…Gupo the Savage or something like that. However, if we keep out of the main current, there’s a side stream that bypasses the waterfall, and you go down a set of rapids instead. Ha, I’d like to see the vermin try to follow us on the river, wot”
The raft began to pick up speed. Maplefur and Beechtail had to fend off rocks with the paddles. Lutran pointed to a spot farther downriver, right on a bend. “A little more to the right, watch those rocks.”
“I see it.” Beechtail jabbed at the rock with the paddle, causing the raft to side out of midstream.
The raft moved close to the bank then shot off into the trees down a side stream. If Lutran had not pointed it out earlier, Beechtail would never have seen it. The entrance was overgrown with bushes that concealed not only the stream, but Sludgenose the rat, who had pulled himself out of the water just before the raft arrived. However, the three friends didn’t see him. But he saw them.
Chapter Ten: The Long Patrol Marches to War
Currare and Celeriter were the two fastest gallopers in the Long Patrol. They were best friends and were currently sitting in the mess hall, and betting with some of their friends on who would be picked for the patrol.
“I bet my pastry that it’ll be you Curra, you’re the fastest.” One young hare commented.
“C’mon chap, don’t you have anything better that your measly pasty, eh? Anyhow we’ll probably both go.” Curra slid forward a large slice of pie as his wager.
Celeriter, or Cel as she was more commonly called, added a small bag of candied nuts to the pile. “I’ll be the one going on the jolly old patrol, doncha know?”
Major Dilworth burst in to the mess hall. “H’attention, if I call your name, get your weapon and report to the kitchen for rations. Anyone not lined up in two hours, ready to march is on a fizzer.”
As their names were called, hares began to gobble what was left of their breakfasts, not eager to find out what Dilworth meant by “fizzer”.
The major called the next name “Celeriter.”
The haremaid laughed and grabbed the pile of food “Told you so.”
In a few hours, the chosen five hundred were lined up, standing to attention, outside of Salamandastron, carrying several days’ worth of rations. Ghan was circling overhead. Curra spotted Cel in the front rank, and waved. She winked back at him and smiled.
Adaracor came out to address the troops. “As some of you may know, there are around three hundred vermin marching northward as we speak. You are to intercept them before they reach Redwall Abbey. Give them the opportunity to turn back in peace, but if they don’t, show them that the Long Patrol does not tolerate vermin in Mossflower anymore! Eulaliaaaa!”
“Eulaliaaaaaa!” The five hundred hares of the Long Patrol marched off into the distance.
Chapter Eleven: Somebeast's Enemy is Anotherbeast's Friend
Beechtail was trying to figure out how to explain the previous night’s events to Maplefur, when the raft stopped abruptly. “What is it?” He asked.
Lutran pointed farther downriver. A crude dam stretched across the stream. “Some blighter has built a bally dam on the jolly old river.”
As if on cue, a dozen rats, armed with everything from slings to sticks to axes popped up from behind bushes and trees. One of them stepped forward. “Dis is our river, yew got ta pay to pass us, riverdog.”
Lutran stood up indignantly, “I am a hare, sah, not a bally otter, and even if I was an otter, I would not take kindly to being called a “riverdog”. Just for that we’re not going to pay. Eulaliaaaa!” Lutran shoved hard with the pole sending the raft flying towards the dam.
The raft smashed through the dam, Beechtail and Maplefur were almost thrown from the raft. The dam collapsed, releasing a flood of water that carried them downstream quickly. The trees moved by in a blur as the swell of water carried them through the rapids. After what seemed like an eternity, the raft finally came to a stop in a large pool. The waterfall entered at the other end.
“That was awesome; too bad we can’t do it again.” Maplefur laughed.
“Augh, I feel dizzy.” Beechtail moaned.
They tied the raft up behind a large rotten log at the edge of the pool. Lutran sighed, “Enough traveling for today. This will be as good a spot to camp as any.”
Even though it was only early afternoon the three friends slept.
Towards early evening, Blackskull and his trackers were on the move again, when they heard somebeast waling through the bushes towards them. Immediately the trackers dropped out of sight behind bushes and trees. Blackskull signaled them to take whoever was coming alive, and then leapt out in the creature’s path. The trackers all leapt on it before Blackskull could see who it was.
“Yaagh! Chief, it’s me, Sludgenose. Ouch, get off.”
“Get off, you fools, can’t you see it’s one of ours?” Blackskull pushed them aside, and pulled the rat to his feet. “Where have you been all this time?”
“Sorry, chief, I got thrown in the river. But more importantly, I just saw the squirrels and that strange creature go off down a side stream.”
Blackskull and his remaining trackers lost no time in reaching the stream. Suddenly rats appeared from all around them. One stepped forward, holding an ax, “Dis is our woods. Yew got ta pay us to go threw here.”
Blackskull remained calm. “We are tracking two squirrels that passed this way. How long ago was that?”
The ax wielding rat beckoned to another. They held a whispered conference, and then turned back to Blackskull. “Ya, they passed this way. I be called Chukka Bigax. If yew wants to kill ‘em, we help ya.
Blackskull smiled inwardly. Three against twenty were good odds, for him.
Chapter Twelve: What Happens in Dreams
Somewhere on the east edge of Mossflower, Nettleclaw and his horde were sleeping, most likely dreaming of conquest. Somewhere north of them, around five hundred hares were dreaming of food, of course. But in all of Mossflower only two creatures were having dreams that were important; Beechtail, and old Abbot Thren.
In Abbot Thren’s dream, he was walking in Great Hall, he found himself looking at the tapestry of Martin the Warrior, but Martin was not there, there was an empty space in the center. He looked around. He was not alone, a mouse that he instantly recognized as Martin was standing in the doorway he moved outside as Abbot Thren walked towards the door. The Abbot looked outside; Martin was standing at the south corner of the Abbey building. He walked out of sight, and Thren followed him. They walked all the way to the southeast corner of the walls in silence. Martin pointed out into Mossflower and said.
“A Warlord comes, and leads a horde,
To conquer and enslave.
But Two Swords may yet win the day,
And all of Mossflower save.
A Warrior comes from village lost,
With vermin sword in hand,
Give him my blade, for he must drive,
The rapscallions from the land.”
Thren woke up, and found himself in Great Hall. He looked around, and then he remembered his dream. What did it mean?
Beechtail was standing in an open field. Several yards away, the ferret that had slain Flodrun was standing with his sword. The ferret raised his sword. Beechtail realized that he was unarmed. He was about to turn and run, when a loud voice shouted behind him, “Beechtail of Angdelve, stand firm. Do not be afraid. Take my sword and protect your friends.” Beechtail turned. Standing behind him was a mouse, an armored mouse that was holding a sword. It was the same sword as in his previous dream, and the mouse proffered the hilt, as if giving it to him. Beechtail grasped the hilt, the mouse disappeared, but the sword remained. It seemed to move on its own, requiring barely any concentration. He turned toward the ferret, it leaped at him. The swords clashed, Beechtail struck several times, but the ferret parried them.
Suddenly a paw was clamped across Beechtail’s mouth, jolting him awake in an instant.
Chapter Thirteen: The Limbrunners
Lutran gestured for him to be silent, and then moved his paw off Beechtail’s mouth. He pointed at Maplefur, who was still asleep. Beechtail woke her up in the same manner that Lutran had woken him, and the crawled back to where Lutran was staring into the woods. Even in the near dark, Beechtail could make out the dozen or so figures coming down the stream bank. There were about twenty of them, too many to fight.
Beechtail recognized Blackskull, and the rat that they had encountered earlier. Maplefur joined them, and the friends crawled back into the shadow of the rotten log. Maplefur tapped Beechtail’s shoulder. He turned, and she pointed at a small space under the log, hidden in darkness, a few feet away.
Beechtail tapped Lutran, and gestured towards the hollow. Lutran nodded. Maplefur began to creep into the hollow, but then, when she was just climbing into it, a cloud moved. A beam of moonlight illuminated the space so that Maplefur could see what was in the hole.
A bleached white skull was staring back at her.
Maplefur shot back out of the hole, and cannoned into Beechtail. The sudden noise was like a clap of thunder in the silence of the spring night.
“There they are! Get them.” The vermin and rats, with Sludgenose in the lead ran towards the noise.
Lutran groaned, “So much for hiding chaps. We’re going to have to stand and fight, wot.”
Maplefur had her bow out in an instant. Beechtail drew his sword. Lutran grabbed the pole from the raft. As the vermin ran towards them, Maplefur let fly with an arrow. Sludgenose toppled backwards with two arrows in his chest. Beechtail was confused, “Where did that other arrow come from?”
Suddenly squirrels were swinging down out of the trees, shooting arrows.
“Haha, Aspen Limbrunner, come to join the jolly old party?” Lutran laughed.
“Lutran!” A grey squirrel landed in front of them, “so nice of you to bring Chukka’s lot down here. We were just going to go and drive them off. Ha, you saved us a trip.” The squirrel ran to the side, and shot a rat that was trying to run.
Beechtail was just about to charge into the fray, when he saw Blackskull standing off to the side, holding a throwing knife. The black fox threw the knife as the squirrel ran at him, then turned and fled. Beechtail flinched as the knife whizzed past him, but it missed far to his right. His relief was instantly replaced by dread as he realized that, to miss by that much, the fox couldn’t have been aiming at him.
A squirrel’s scream drowned out the sound’s of the battle. It was Maplefur! Beechtail hesitated for a second, and then plunged into the bushes after the fox. They ran for a minute or two, until Beechtail caught up with the fox. Blackskull turned and drew his sword, a falchion.
Beechtail struck with all his might, smashing the sword from the fox’s grip. However, the force of the blow caused Beechtail to lose his hold on his sword. Beechtail was more surprised than Blackskull.
The fox recovered first, and punched the squirrel hard. Beechtail staggered, and then tackled Blackskull to the ground. They rolled over and over, and came to a stop with the fox on top. Blackskull wrapped his hands around the squirrel’s neck. Beechtail tried to break free, but the fox was too strong. The fox’s sword was lying a few feet away, but he couldn’t reach it. Beechtail started to black out. He felt something fuzzy touch his footpaw; it was the fox’s tail!
Beechtail grabbed the tail as best he could with his footpaws, and tugged hard. Blackskull released his grip a fraction, and turned to look behind him.
That was all that Beechtail needed. He punched the fox, and then lunged for the sword. His fingers closed around the hilt. He swung, and Blackskull toppled to the ground, minus his head.
Chapter Fourteen: On to Redwall
When Beechtail had recovered from being nearly strangled, he started to walk back to the others, leaving the fox where he lay. After a short while, he reached the clearing, which was littered with the bodies of slain vermin. About twenty squirrels were all standing in a cluster, and Beechtail could see Lutran’s fake hare ears in the middle. He managed to get a view of what they were looking at, Lutran, and the gray squirrel that he had called Aspen, were finishing tying a bandage around Maplefur’s shoulder. The squirrelmaid was grimacing in pain, but was alive.
Lutran looked up, “So, you’re finally back, wot. Did you get the fox chap?’
Beechtail was amazed; he stared at Maplefur, “He threw a knife, I thought you were dead.”
“I might have been, but Aspen here knocked me out of the way,” she eyed the bandage on her shoulder, “at least mostly out of the way.”
“Ahem, did you get the bally fox?” Lutran interrupted.
“Huh? Oh, yeah, I did.” Beechtail replied.
Aspen finished tying the bandage. He helped Maplefur to her feet. “There, how does that feel?”
Maplefur moved her arm a bit, and grimaced, “Better.”
Aspen nodded, “It’ll probably be sore for a while, we’ll get you to Redwall Abbey, and they’ll fix you up in a day or two.”
Maplefur smiled at him, “Thanks, and thanks for rescuing us.”
Aspen laughed, “No problem, me and Log-a-log were going to go drive off Chukka tonight anyway. He’ll be upset that we did it without him. Here he comes now.”
Several log boats, laden with shrews, paddled to the shore. A shrew in the lead boat called out, “Ahoy, Lutran, is that you? You’re just in time. Me an’ Aspen are going to go deal with a bunch of rats that have been harassing travelers.” He jumped ashore, paused and stared all around at the slain vermin. “Oh, y’know, you could’ve waited for me.”
Aspen chuckled, “We probably should have. But enough about that, we’ve got an injured squirrel to get to the Abbey, I don’t suppose you would want to give us a lift?”
Log-a-log smiled, “Sure, we’d be happy to give you a lift. Though, you can only get so close by traveling on streams.”
“How far is it to Redwall?” Maplefur asked, “I don’t think I could walk very far.”
“Don’t fret, pretty one, we’ll have you there by tomorrow evening,” Aspen reassured her.
Beechtail was nonplussed, Maplefur was his best friend, and she was the only one patient enough to try to teach him to climb even though everyone, including himself, thought he was hopeless, but he had never thought of her as being “pretty”. However, now that he thought about it, she really was quite pretty…
Beechtail was still considering this as he and all the squirrels piled aboard the log boats and raft. In a few minutes, the scene of the fight was deserted as the flotilla sped down the river, headed for Redwall.
Several minutes later, two of the slain rats shifted, another crawled out from beneath them; Chukka was still alive. After retrieving his ax, and vowing to get revenge, he disappeared into the woodlands.
Chapter Fifteen: The Armies Clash
Nettleclaw was awakened by one of his scouts, who was clearly badly frightened, “Chief, there are several hundred hares coming this way, a couple of miles off. They’ll be here soon. It’s the Long Patrol what’ll we do? What’ll we do?!”
“Get the captains together, quickly.” Nettleclaw ordered.
After the scout had left, Nettleclaw buckled on his armor, and coated the sword with a special poison – an extract from the stinging nettle – that had given him his name. It was not deadly, but any contact, even with the flat of the blade, produced an unbearably itching sensation. It was quite distracting, and when fighting an opponent as devious as Nettleclaw, distractions were fatal.
A short time later, his officers were all awake, and standing around him. Nettleclaw glanced around to make sure they were all present. “The Long Patrol is coming; this is what you must do…”
The Long Patrol marched boldly up to the three hundred rapscallions that were camped outside Mossflower woods. Major Dilworth challenged them, “Who is in charge of this lot?”
A ferret climbed up on a large bolder to reply, “I am Nettleclaw, Firstblade of the Rapscallions.”
Major Dilworth replied haughtily, “Oh, really? Well, Nettleclaw, you had better turn this bally army around, armed vermin are not allowed in Mossflower anymore; by order of Lord Adaracor of Salamandastron.”
It was hard to tell from such a distance, but Dilworth could have sworn that the ferret smiled. It replied, “Well, I’m not about to “turn this bally army around”, so I’m guessing that this means we’re going to fight.”
Dilworth did not like where this conversation was going. Nettleclaw turned and signaled to one of his officers. Dilworth’s eyes went wide as a thousand vermin marched out of the forest. The young galloper, Cel, tapped on his shoulder franticly. He turned, and gasped in shock. While he had been talking, several hundred more vermin had come out of the woods, behind them.
The ferret pointed his sword at the surrounded hares, “Attack.”
Chapter Sixteen: Solving Riddles
Abbot Thren was deep in thought. So deep, in fact that he didn’t notice the twin mole dibbuns, Gurbie and Burbie, who were playing tag with Zik, a baby squirrel, until they cannoned into him.
“Ooff,” the old mouse lost his balance and fell. The two molebabes ignored him, and fled down the stairs to Cavern Hole.
A strong paw grasped his shoulder, and lifted him to his feet, “You have to watch those dibbuns, they don’t think about whoever might be in their way,” said a gruff voice it was Skipper. “You know, come to think of it, you have seemed a bit detached all day, something wrong?”
“I saw Martin in a dream last night, he gave me a poem that seems to be a riddle, but I can’t make heads or tails of it.”
“Ooh, I love a good riddle,” Skipper replied, “Can I help?”
The Abbot gave him a slip of parchment, on which he had recorded the poem from his dream. Skipper pored over it for a few minutes. Then he looked up. “Hmm, this doesn’t make much sense, it seems like Martin is telling us to look for certain things that will happen, and gives instructions on what to do when they happen. These first two lines are plain enough, there is going to be a war.”
“A war! There hasn’t been a real war in Mossflower since…since…I can’t remember.”
Skipper looked grim, “Yes, the Long Patrol usually handles the large groups of vermin before they get to the Abbey. Aspen, Log-a-log, and my crew usually handle whatever gets by them. However, since this is Martin telling us this, we can assume it will happen. What puzzles me is that the last line indicates that the vermin will be rapscallions, I thought they were all destroyed at the Ridge of a Thousand.”
“They were, but I guess some could have escaped. I’ll have to go look at the records. What about the next part?”
“They are a little more cryptic, so we’ll ignore them, for the time being, the next few lines are easier to understand. It seems a “warrior” will come, as far as I know, Martin usually appoints a Champion in times of crisis. From what the poem says, this “warrior” will come from a village, there are several in Mossflower nowadays, and he will have a sword that once belonged to a vermin. If I understand it correctly, we are supposed to give him Martin’s sword.”
“What about the other part, what does that mean?” Thren asked.
“Simple, it refers to the warrior, if he has a vermin sword, and we give him Martin’s, what does he have?”
“Two sword… Oh, I get it.”
“I wouldn’t tell everyone about this, we don’t want to cause a panic.”
“Agreed, I should’ve thought to ask you sooner, I’ve been trying to solve that all day, ha, and you got it in a couple of-,” he got no further because at that moment, a large group of squealing dibbuns, evidently fleeing bath time, stampeded through Great Hall, headed for the open door.
“Sombeast, stop them!” Sister Acilla, the infirmary keeper and assistant dibbun-minder, shouted from the stairs to the dormitories, “If they get outside it’ll be midnight before we catch them.”
Skipper managed to reach the doors before the dibbuns did, but just as he was shutting it, Zik raced forward and slipped past him. Burbie tried to escape into Cavern Hole, but was stopped by the Abbot. Together, he and Acilla herded the dibbuns back up the stairs to their baths.
Skipper opened the door and ran out. The escaping dibbun was running east, along the south wall top. He caught up with him at the corner of the wall. Skipper lifted the baby squirrel off his feet. Zik immediately began to complain, “Me no wanna get baffed, get water in eyes an nose an mouf an soap an drownded an….”
“Hey up there, who’s drowning dibbuns?” A voice said from over the wall.
Skipper looked down; Zik took the opportunity to try to wriggle free, but with no success. “Log-a-log, is that you, matey?”
“Aye, Skipper, and let us in, you old streamwalloper.”
Still holding the struggling squirrelbabe, Skipper opened the east wallgate, “Ha, Aspen Limbrunner, you haven’t visited us for a while, and you brought Lutran too. Welcome back!”
“I say Skipper old chap, we didn’t miss supper now did we, I’m feeling a bit famished right now.” Lutran asked.
“You’re always famished,” Aspen retorted, “allow me to introduce my friends, Beechtail and Maplefur, she’s hurt, so I would like to get her up to the infirmary.”
Skipper did not reply. Zik wriggled free, and was caught by Log-a-log. Skipper hardly noticed. His eyes were fixed on Beechtail’s sword.
Chapter Seventeen: A Crushing, Ruinous Defeat
Currare was on morning lookout duty at Salamandastron, he was sitting at the crater rim, with his eyes fixed on the horizon, looking for any sign of the patrol returning. He suddenly noticed a dark blot that was rapidly approaching, a bird he realized. It was swerving from side to side, as if it couldn’t see where it was going. It was Ghan Cloudcleaver!
Ghan dipped lower, and half-landed half-crashed on the mountainside, a few feet short of the crater. Curra called for help, and scrambled down to the bird. An arrow protruded from his leg.
Minutes later he was in the sickbay, tended to by several hares. Adaracor arrived a short time later. One of the medic hares saluted and gave her report, “Still unconscious, sah, the bally leg is hurt pretty bad, and he’s probably exhausted and dehydrated. He’ll live, but we won’t know what happened until he revives, sah.”
“Let me know the second he awakes, in the meantime, triple the guards and lookouts, have the garrison on red alert. This is not a good sign.” In several minutes, Salamandastron was prepared for war.
Curra stayed up on the crater rim all day. However it was past mid-afternoon when a figure was seen staggering towards Salamandastron, it came slowly, and it was still a long way off, when it collapsed to the ground and lay still. Curra was the first one out of the main gate, and took off sprinting towards the creature.
When Adaracor, and several other hares, caught up with him, they found him sobbing and holding the limp form of Celeriter. The pretty haremaid was lying still with an arrow protruding from her side; the tunic around it was stained with a dark liquid. “I think she’s dead,” he sobbed.
An old hare, carrying a medical kit, pushed his way forward, “Let me see,” He felt a vein on her wrist. After several seconds, he smiled slightly. “She’s still alive…barely. Let’s get her back to the mountain.
Cel opened one eye a fraction, “Water,” she rasped.
The medic hare gave her a sip from a canteen. He pointed at the arrow, “How much blood have you lost?”
“The wounded hare struggled to speak. “Not…blood…mostly,” then she fainted.
Back in the sickbay of Salamandastron, a medic cut away part of her tunic around the arrow wound. Cel shifted as the medic examined the wound. He paused, a look of puzzlement crossing his face, and, from the inside of Cel’s tunic near the wound, withdrew an extremely mangled slice of blackberry pie. “Oh, it’s juice, not blood.”
Cel woke up, and raised her head. Seeing the pie, she commented, “Should’ve eaten that and saved the bloomin’ pastry instead, it was solid as a bally rock.”
The medic looked up from the wound, “It’s not bad; the arrow barely hit her.”
Cel nodded, “It’s not bad, and I’m just tired, and thirsty, and starving.”
Seeing that the haremaid was awake, Lord Adaracor stepped forward, “What happened, where is the rest of the patrol?”
Cel sighed, and leaned back, “It was all a trap. We got right up to the bally vermin, and before we knew it, we’re surrounded; there must have been hundreds of them hiding in the bloomin’ woods. There were archers too. The must have killed at least half of us on the first volley. Major Dilworth ordered anyone who could get away to jolly well escape, we fought our way out, only a couple score made it, but they were all shot before we had gotten away. There must have been at least two thousand vermin blighters that attacked us. I would guess that we killed a few hundred.”
Everybeast in the sick bay was stunned. Lord Adaracor was the first to speak. “Colonel, Lieutenant, meet me in the forge room for a council of war at dawn tomorrow. Currare, you might as well come too. A young brain might be of some use,” he carried on talking, to himself now, “Two thousand! Not even the Rapscallion army was that large-,”
“Oh,” Celeriter exclaimed, as if suddenly remembering something, “their leader, a ferret, he had the Rapscallion sword.”
Chapter Eighteen: Victory, for the Rapscallions
Nettleclaw stood on a large rock. He looked out over the battlefield, around five hundred hares, and four hundred vermin lay dead. The hares had fought valiantly, but with the odds at four to one, they didn’t stand a chance. Granted, one escaped, but that wouldn’t make a difference. For the time being, the Rapscallions would have to stay put. It would take a few days to reorganize, appoint new officers, and gear up for another battle.
The ferret turned to his horde that was standing to attention behind them. He pointed at the battlefield with his sword. “There lies the once mighty Long Patrol. Never before in history have they been defeated. We are the first. Even if we are somehow destroyed, we will be remembered for this. But that will not happen. All that stands between us and complete and unchallenged rule of Mossflower is the other half of the Long Patrol, and whatever fighters the Redwallers can muster. We defeated them once, we can do it again. Follow my orders, and we will have victory! Whom do you serve?”
The response was deafening, as there were nearly sixteen hundred vermin shouting, “Nettleclaaaaaaw!”
Nettleclaw smiled, now that he had won their loyalty, they would follow him to the gates of the Dark Forest itself, if he led them there. Nettleclaw sheathed his sword. The odds were now in his favor. The Rapscallion army had returned to Mossflower.
Chapter Nineteen: Two Swords
“That sword, that’s the Rapscallion sword.” Skipper rasped; his voice a mere whisper.
Log-a-log glanced at it, “Ah, so it is. I didn’t notice.”
“What’s the matter, Skip, you look like you’ve seen a ghost,” Aspen commented, “granted, his fur is a bit lighter than an average squirrel, but it’s not white.”
“Rapscallion sword? What’s that?” Beechtail asked looking confused.
Skipper explained, “The Rapscallions were a large group of vermin, who invaded Mossflower. They were known for two things, their numbers, and their leader’s sword. Unless I am much mistaken, you’re holding it. Where did you get it?”
Beechtail told his story, “Me and Maplefur here, we’re from Angdelve. Several days ago it got attacked by vermin. As far as I know, we’re the only survivors. I took this sword from a ferret. I think he was a leader, he said something to the others, and they all went back to the village.”
Skipper thought hard, “Angdelve, isn’t that the iron mine, south of Mossflower?”
“Yeah, that’s it.”
Skipper looked worried, “You better see the Abbot. I’ve got a bad feeling about this, the Rapscallions nearly conquered Mossflower last time.”
Skipper led the way across the grounds to the Abbey building. Beechtail was looking all around, everybeast had heard legends of Redwall, but he had never been far from Angdelve. They entered Great Hall, Beechtail was walking just behind Skipper when he stopped abruptly, Log-a-log collided with him, as did Aspen and Maplefur. Zik took the opportunity to flee to Cavern Hole, unluckily for him at the same time Abbot Thren and Sister Acilla came down the dormitory stairs. The squirrel was hauled off to bathtime, still struggling.
Skipper turned, Beechtail’s eyes were riveted on the Tapestry of Martin the Warrior. The squirrel walked slowly to the tapestry. He stopped and stared at the image of the armored mouse. It was the one from his dreams!
Abbot Thren took in the situation at a glance. His eyes shot from the sword to Skipper. Skipper nodded, they were both thinking the same thing. Thren walked up to Beechtail, “I take it that you have seen Martin the Warrior before?”
Beechtail replied without taking his eyes off the tapestry, “Twice, in dreams.”
Abbot Thren gestured to Skipper, pointing at the sword hanging above the tapestry. Skipper pushed a chair against the wall. By climbing on it, he was just barely able to reach the sword. He took it down, and handed it to the Abbot who presented it to Beechtail.
“Martin also spoke to me in a dream. He told me to give his sword to a warrior who would come from a lost village, carrying a vermin sword. He spoke of war, and of two swords that were our only hope of victory. This is one of them, you have the other.”
Beechtail grasped the hilt of Martin’s sword. The black leather hilt showed no indication of the blade’s age, or the battles it had been through. The red pommel stone glowed like a ruby, but the blade surpassed them both. It glittered like an icicle, shone like the star it had been forged from, and seemed to move on its own. It was perfectly made to be able to use with only one hand, or both. Beechtail swung the sword in a figure-eight, marveling at its balance and lightness. He drew the Rapscallion sword. The Sword of Martin was so…so…perfect, it wouldn’t make it any more difficult to fight with both at the same time.
He turned to the Abbot, “What was the other thing in the dream?”
Abbot Thren uttered one word. “War.”
Chapter Twenty: Council of War
The atmosphere was quite gloomy at the council of war in the forge room of Salamandastron. Currare and Lieutenant Pelwold were poring over a large map of Mossflower. Colonel Lupshaw was pacing back and forth, muttering to himself. The door opened, and Lord Adaracor walked in, causing all three hares to jump to attention. The badger’s eyes were red from lack of sleep, and he was carrying a scroll, yellow with age. Adaracor sat down on a chair that looked much too small to support his weight, and placed the scroll on the table with the map. “I know that when Celeriter said the ferret was carrying the Rapscallion sword, we didn’t believe her. I myself though it would have rusted away to nothing long ago. Last night I searched through the records, I wasn’t sure what I was looking for, it’s quite possible that several of the Rapscallions escaped destruction at the Ridge of a Thousand, but the sword is a different matter. However, after reading this, I think that the sword could have survived all these seasons.”
“Wow, so is that scroll really from the time of Cregga Rose Eyes?” Curra asked.
“No, actually this is even older; this goes all the way back to when Rawnblade Widestripe was Lord of Salamandastron. Here, read it.”
Curra picked up the scroll and read it aloud.
Lord Rawnblade has developed a new metal, it is an alloy of steel and the unidentifiable metal we obtained from mole traders last summer. Strangely the new metal doesn’t seem to corrode of rust, even in seawater. Rawnblade forged an unusual sword for Sergeant Learunner. It is straight on one side, and wavy on the other. When I asked him about this, Rawnblade said that it was because Salamandastron is where the sea and the land meet. I didn’t really understand why that was important, but who wants to argue with a badger? Also today…
Adaracor interrupted him, “Stop, give me the scroll.”
Currare handed it over. Adaracor opened it to a different part, and gave it back. “The stuff in between is of no importance, read this section.”
Sergeant Learunner was killed today, along with his children Gorsepaw and Crocus, while out on patrol, they took several searats with them though. I have never seen Rawnblade so angry. We were able to learn, because we recognized several of the dead vermin, that they were killed by searats from the Fearwave, one of Gabool’s ships, under Captain Rapsca. It appears that Rapsca also took Learunner’s sword…
Adaracor interrupted again, “There isn’t any more of importance until near the end.”
It has been nearly two seasons since Learunner was slain, and we haven’t found any trace of Captain Rapsca. Even a captured searat didn’t know anything. However we have more urgent problems, not the least of which is Gabool the Wild…
Colonel Lupshaw voiced his opinion, “Very interesting, but how does this help us?”
Adaracor explained, “This ferret, to have recovered the sword, probably knows much of what we just read. This isn’t just any old horde, they are well armed, trained, and are led by an extremely competent and intelligent leader. The fact that he was able to gather an army that size so quickly, and draw us into a trap, means that he probably has a plan to conquer us, and it’s working.”
Lieutenant Pelwold commented, “Salamandastron is quite the fortress, we could probably hold them off, despite their numbers.”
“However, that would leave Redwall Abbey open to attack, and this ferret has enough troops to overrun it,” Adaracor responded, “and with the supplies from Redwall, they could lay siege to us, and probably win.”
Lupshaw suggested another strategy, “If we brought the garrison to Redwall, we might be able to defend it. But that would leave the bally mountain undefended.”
“And if they make an alliance with the searats, we wouldn’t stand a chance.”
Currare stepped forward, he had been looking at the map of Mossflower, “If defending the jolly old fortress is hopeless, why try? Let’s meet them head on, if we take them by surprise, and strike first, and somehow prevent their bally archers from causing too much damage, we might stand a chance.”
The three others stared at him, Lupshaw spoke, “If…we attack at night…and spread our forces out…Ha, this might jolly well work, wot.” He scanned the map, “Here, if they keep on their present course, we can ambush the blighters here, this cluster of hills, a mile or so east of the Ridge of a Thousand.”
“Rats, I was hoping we would fight at the bally Ridge.”
“Now that would be weird.”
Adaracor made his decision. “At sunset in three days time, we will attack them at those hills. We will leave the mountain at noon today. Currare, I need you to go north, find Captain Resscutt, and his pike hares, we need them back here, soon. If you don’t arrive in time, try to stay hidden, and take back Mossfower, like in the time of Boar the Fighter. Leave immediately, minutes may count.”
Curra saluted, and rushed off. He stopped at his quarters to grab his fencing saber, and the kitchens for some light traveling food. When he got to the main gate, he found Cel waiting.
“Aren’t you supposed to be resting? You were wounded,” asked Curra.
“Not really, I just ran like a bally whirlwind to get here, so I was exhausted. They’ve let me walk around some today. Where are you off to?”
“I’ve got to go find jolly old Captain Resscut, we need him.”
“Well, good luck, and please, come back.”
Curra smiled at her, “Don’t worry, I will.”
Then he was gone.
Chapter Twenty-One: War
Currare ran faster than he had ever run before, the miles went by quickly. He only stopped to rest once he had reached the River Moss. He crossed safely; evidently the pike that usually swam in the river weren’t hungry.
At noon, every hare in Salamandastron, with the exception of Celeriter who wasn’t healed enough for battle, was lined up ready to march. The normally talkative hares were silent, most, if not all of them, probably would not return. They all snapped to attention as Lord Adaracor came out of the gate, clad in full battle-armor and carrying his chosen weapon.
It was a gigantic, two-handed mace and chain, but it had not one, but four chains and spiked balls. Granted the chains were thinner and longer, and the spiked balls were relatively small, it was still much too large for any creature besides a badger to lift, let alone swing.
Adaracor was issuing some final orders to Cel.
“Do you understand what you have to do?”
“Yes, sir, have Ghan Cloudcleaver leave tomorrow morning to get whatever troops from Redwall he can, and if I see vermin coming, poison the bally food and water supplies so the Rapscallions can’t use them, and get out the escape tunnel.”
“Good,” Adaracor marched to the front of the army, “Long Patrol, march.”
The five hundred hares marched off in silence, for what could easily be the last time.
Currare rested for an hour or two, and then started running again. The night passed quickly, and he was still going. The sun rose, he ran faster. All of Mossflower was depending on him. At noon, he stopped to catch his breath, and heard the sound of many creatures coming toward him. He hid in some bushes.
Captain Resscutt came down the path, at the head of one hundred hares, all carrying long pikes. Curra recognized them and stood up.
“Currare, what are you doing here?”
As fast as he could Curra explained what had happened over the past few days. Resscut looked worried when Curra mentioned that they were going to attack the Rapscallions, “When is this battle going to take place?
“Tomorrow night, about a mile east of the Ridge of a Thousand.”
“Well, we’ll have to jolly well run fast to get there, and we still might not make it. If you need to rest, you can catch up later.”
“No, sah, I’m ready to run.”
The hundred hares sped off, with Currare in the lead.
Chapter Twenty-Two: At Redwall Abbey
Maplefur loved Redwall Abbey. The morning after she arrived, Aspen had shown her around. They had seen the famous kitchens; Friar Cibus had given them breakfast. Lutran had tried to get some, but was chased off; Cibus muttered something about a missing batch of scones. They had been to the bell tower, and Aspen had told her the story behind the two bells. They had practiced archery in the orchard, and she could see that Aspen was impressed with her skill. He took every opportunity to compliment her on anything.
It was quite obvious that Aspen was in love with her. She hadn’t seen Beechtail much since coming to Redwall, he spent most of his time with Skipper and Log-a-log, talking about how best to defend the Abbey, but judging from the look on his face every time Aspen complimented her on whatever, for the fifth time in as many minutes, she could tell that he was too. Beechtail was still her best friend ever, but over the past few days he hadn’t been particularly nice to her; he still hadn’t apologized for hitting her with the pole, so she was happy to let Aspen drive him crazy, for a bit. Anyway, it wasn’t as if they were in any real danger at the moment.
Skipper, Beechtail, and Log-a-log were walking along the west battlements, discussing how to best defend the Abbey. At least, Skipper and Log-a-log were; Beechtail’s mind was on other things. He had seen Aspen and Maplefur in the orchard shooting at targets; Aspen seemed to have another compliment ready every time Maplefur lodged another arrow in the center of the target. Maplefur had been his best friend, ever since his parents were killed by vermin, Rapscallions, he now realized. But now she seemed to spend every moment with Aspen…
Beechtail forced himself to pay attention to Skipper, who was making suggestions about how to stop the Rapscallions if they had a battering ram. Since it was getting late, they stopped and went inside.
Dinner was quite an event, with Lutran and Skipper in a shrimp-and-hotroot soup eating contest. Lutran won by a very wide margin. Beechtail was seated next to Skipper, and took the opportunity to ask, “How long have you known Lutran?”
Skipper sighed, “A very long time…back before he got hurt.”
“And…how did he get like that?”
“Vermin raided his home, he killed most of them, but one got behind him and got him with a mace and chain.”
“Yes, the vermin killed his family, but afterwards, Lutran stood back up, ha, that gave them a shock. I don’t think any of them got out alive. He’s twice the fighter he was before, and that’s sayin’ a lot. He doesn’t remember a thing, other than his name, which was Lutran, even before he got injured.”
Beechtail thought about that for a few minutes, “Maybe if he remembers his name, then his memory isn’t completely gone.”
Skipper shrugged, “Who knows, the Redwallers have dealt with that sort of thing before, but it’s difficult.”
Eventually the meal drew to a close, and everyone headed off to bed.
Beechtail was back at Angdelve, he was standing in the trench by Flodrun’s body. He knelt by the dead otter. Wait, it wasn’t an otter, it was a squirrel! He turned it over. Maplefur! Form somewhere nearby, he could hear the ferret laughing.
Beechtail shot up instantly, all was quiet. It was just a dream, just a dream.
Chapter Twenty-Three: Mossflower Goes to War
Beechtail didn’t get much sleep, but the next day he paid better attention to Skipper and Log-a-log, as they worked on the plans to defend the Abbey. The day was bright and sunny, Aspen and Maplefur, were back in the orchard, practicing archery again…
Beechtail tried to concentrate on what Skipper and Log-a-log were saying. It was nearly noon. There was a dark blot on the horizon. Skipper saw it too. They rushed to the west battlements, to see if it was the Rapscallions approaching. It was a bird!
It grew larger, Ghan Cloudcleaver soared over the Abbey wall, and landed by the Abbey pond; severely frightening some nearby dibbuns. They rushed down the stairs to the pond.
Skipper faced the bird, “Who are you, and what do you want?”
Ghan looked up, “I am called Ghan Cloudcleaver, I bring a message from the longears of the firemountain, for Abbotmouse. He showed them a scroll tried to his leg.”
“A message from Salamandastron?” Log-a-log ran off to find the Abbot.
In a few minutes, Abbot Thren was reading the scroll, which was a letter from Lord Adaracor, explaining their situation, and asking for reinforcements.
“Well, my crew will go join them, Adaracor has got a point, it’ll be difficult to defend Redwall,” Skipped commented.
“I’ve got forty shrews, we’ll come too,” Log-a-log added.
“You’re not leaving us behind, the Limbrunners are with you,” replied Aspen. Maplefur nodded.
“But, someone has to stay and defend the Abbey,” said Skipper.
“Not really, if I understand the plan, the Redwallers are supposed to flee into Mossflower,” replied Beechtail.
“Abandon the Abbey! I’ve never heard of such a thing,”
“I’ve never heard of the Long Patrol losing a battle, but it happened.”
The discussion turned into an uproar, Beechtail clanged his swords together to restore order.
“We don’t really have a choice, if the battle is tomorrow night, we should leave today. The whole point of this attack is to hit the Rapscallions with everything we’ve got. We must all go.”
There was some muttering, but eventually everyone agreed that Beechtail was right. “We’ll leave tonight; get everyone ready to march by then.”
The rest of the afternoon was quite busy, Skipper’s crew gathered pebbles and made javelins, the Limbrunners were busy making arrows, the shrews were arguing, as usual. Beechtail and Log-a-log made sure that the kitchens would have rations ready, and the Redwallers organized the infirmary; if the battle was won there would be many wounds.
At early evening, everything was ready. After a quick meal, the army, consisting of around forty otters, the same number of shrews, a score of squirrels, and one partially crazy otter/hare, marched out the gate, guided by Ghan, and led by Beechtail, bearing both the Sword of Martin, and the real Rapscallion sword.
Chapter Twenty-Four: The Great Army of Mossflower
Nettleclaw gazed north; his army was preparing to march. It had taken a few days to reorganize his army; they had taken heavy casualties. He had seen a goose flying east, on the horizon yesterday. It was probably going to warn Redwall, but that did not matter. If they fled the Abbey, he had enough troops to hunt them down. A map he had “acquired” showed a cluster of hills near the Ridge of a Thousand, with luck they would camp there tonight. Mudeye, his second-in-command while Blackskull was absent, walked up behind him and saluted.
“The horde’s ready to move out, chief.”
“Good,” Nettleclaw strode off northward, with his soldiers following behind; all sixteen hundred of them.
By marching through the night, the army from Redwall reached the hills by dawn. They found that the Long Patrol had already arrived and set up camp, on the north side of the largest hill, so as to be out of sight when the Rapscallions drew close. Adaracor saw the new arrivals, he strode over, “Good, you’re just in time. Skipper, Log-a-log, would you and all the other captains come with me? We need to discuss battle plans.”
Skipper, Lutran, and Log-a-log followed the badger. Aspen ran up from where the Limbrunners were marching in the rear. He ran a few steps past Beechtail, stopped, and turned, “Come on. Martin made you the champion, didn’t he?”
Beechtail hadn’t realized that the others would count him as a leader. He made a mental note of that, and ran to join Aspen.
Adaracor looked up as the squirrels joined the group of commanders that was gathered around a model of the hill. There were piles of rocks arranged on it, presumably representing battle formations. “Aspen Limbrunner, glad you could make it. Who’s your friend?”
Aspen replied, “Beechtail, formerly of Angdelve. Martin chose him to wield his sword”
“It got overran by vermin,” answered Beechtail, “Unless I am much mistaken, the same ones we are about to fight.”
“They conquered Angdelve? Oh, that explains where they got so many weapons. By the way, how do you know this is the same group?”
Beechtail held up the Rapscallion sword, “Because I took this off their leader.”
Adaracor took the sword, and looked it over, “Yes, this is definitely badger made. You’ve got yourself the real Rapscallion sword.”
“Badger made?” asked Beechtail.
“Long story, no time to explain it now.” Adaracor pointed to the mound and pebbles, “Since the Rapscallions have an extremely competent group of archers, we’ve decided to spread our forces out. There will be fewer soldiers in the center, but that’s where the best fighters will be, they will also have the highest ground. Skipper, your otter crew will be here along the west end, Log-a-log, you’ll take the east side. Aspen, you’ll e in the back of the west group. I’m expecting the Rapscallions to break through our lines at the center. When that happens, bring everyone around, and strike at their archers. That may be our only hope. With the exception of a hundred hares, that are somewhere northwest of us, we are all that stands between the Rapscallions and victory; we cannot afford to retreat. Any questions?”
Beechtail had one, “What about me?”
“You’ll be in the center with me, if the Rapscallions see you wielding the Rapscallion sword, it may demoralize them. And anyway, if Martin appointed you as champion, you must be an excellent fighter.”
As Adaracor continued talking, Beechtail realized that since he had Martin’s sword, everyone expected him to be some sort of superhero, but he wasn’t. He was just a normal squirrel. Actually, that wasn’t a very good description of him either; who ever heard of a squirrel that couldn’t climb a tree, or shoot an arrow? Maplefur could, and so could Aspen…
Beechtail jerked himself back to reality just in time to hear the end of Adaracor’s sentence, “also, the hill has a lot of tall grass on it that we can use for cover. Come with me, I’ll show you.”
As the other captains followed the badger, Beechtail started to follow them. Someone grabbed his shoulder, he turned. It was Maplefur. She seemed sort of…nervous, which was unusual for her. “Beechtail, um… there’s something I wanted to tell you…I-”
Beechtail interrupted her, “You want to fight in the back with the Limbrunners. That’s fine; maybe if we survive this battle, you can join them. I’m sure Aspen would love that.”
He hurried off after the others, leaving Maplefur standing there, mouth open, looking shocked and confused.
Chapter Twenty-Five: Night Falls
At early evening, Ghan reported that the Rapscallions were approaching the hill. Adaracor soon had the whole army hiding in the long grass along the crest of the hill. Beechtail found himself near the center, next to Adaracor. Colonel Lupshaw was on the badger’s other side. For over an hour they watched the Rapscallions drawing closer and closer. The sun set completely, but the moon provided plenty of light to see by.
When the Rapscallions were only a couple hundred yards away, Adaracor whispered to Lupshaw, “Well, what do you think? Should we charge now?”
The old hare smiled grimly, “Why not? Best to get it over with.”
The badger grabbed his giant flail, and jumped up. All along the hill, hares and woodlanders did the same. The shouts of the Mossflower army were as varied as the army itself.
But drowning out all others, the battle cry of fighting hares and badger lords, was the mighty war shout of Salamandastron; “Eulaliiiiaaaaaaaa”.
Even Nettleclaw shuddered at the sound, but he recovered quickly. As the army of Mossflower thundered down the slope towards them, he made some quick decisions. “Mudeye, concentrate the attack on their center; their lines are thin there. Rapscallions, attack.”
The horde ran to meet the woodlanders, shouting their own war cry.
Beechtail drew both his swords in one swift motion. The shouts all seemed to die away, and he was aware of nothing, except the distance between him and the Rapscallions.
There were so many of the vermin.
The one coming towards him was a weasel, with a spear and shield, like all the rest of the horde.
There was no going back now.
Ten paces, five paces, three, two-
The two sides me with a resounding crash. Beechtail stabbed with the Sword of Martin. The keen blade pierced the shield and its bearer. He swung the Rapscallion sword, and slew a rat in the next rank. Tugging Martin’s sword free, he charged the vermin; slashing, thrusting, parrying, and slaying with both swords at the same time. Beechtail thought to himself, now this is the way to fight!
Adaracor swung his flail, sweeping away all that was directly in front of him. At every blow, several vermin were slain by the swinging chains, or heavy spiked balls. He could feel the Bloodwrath, madness of battle, trying to take control. But he could not let it. I must hold the line, he thought, hold the line.
Aspen nodded, his group of squirrels let another volley of arrows tear into the Rapscallions’ ranks. There were so many of them, that they didn’t need to be too accurate. The Rapscallion archers, on the other hand, were having great difficulty hitting any of the spread out woodlanders. He nocked an arrow, and seconds later, another Rapscallion hit the ground, never to rise again.
Nettleclaw smiled, his superior numbers were beginning to show. His army was taking heavy casualties, but the woodlanders were too outnumbered to survive. They had shown good strategic planning, but a pitched battle against a horde his size was a mistake; they had no chance.
Chapter Twenty-Six: Darkest Hour
Beechtail was in the thickest fighting. His earlier fears were forgotten, swallowed up by the thrill of battle. He swung both swords in a scissor-like motion and then stabbed with lightning speed, slaying three vermin at almost the exact same time. He was being driven backwards and sideways by the sheer weight of numbers. A hare on his right went down, Beechtail stood over him; holding the Rapscallions off until sombeast could pull him out of the battle. Suddenly the Rapscallions got in between him and Adaracor, they drove him back, widening the gap. The line was breached.
Adaracor was being similarly pushed back, at his signal, the woodlanders on his side of the breach ran east, forming one group. On the other side of the battle, Beechtail did the same. Next to him, Colonel Lupshaw was fighting with Mudeye. The weasel spun his spear expertly, blocking all of the hare’s saber thrusts. Now Lupshaw’s saber was locked against the crosstree of the spear. Mudeye seized his opportunity, and kneed the hare in the stomach. Lupshaw doubled over, the weasel plunged his spear into the hare.
“No!” Adaracor punched with all his considerable strength.
Mudeye flew twenty feet. His head went twice that.
Adaracor carried Lupshaw out of the main fight, “Don’t worry, old friend, we’ll get you somewhere you can rest.”
The old hare shook his head, “No, let me stay here…to hold the line until…Currare returns.” His eyes clouded over, and he went limp.
Adaracor set the body down gently, then went at the Rapscallions like a thunderbolt. He seized a long spear from the ground, and knocked several vermin over with it. He swung his giant flail, and kicked out at vermin when he had the opportunity. The Rapscallions were no match for him, but many of the woodlanders already lay dead. Remembering the plan, he led his half of the army towards the vermin archers.
Beechtail’s group was trying to push through to the archers also. Beechtail jumped backwards to dodge a spear thrust, stepped on a dead rat, and fell to the ground. A stoat in front of him raised his spear.
“Fire!” Suddenly the stoat, and several other nearby vermin, resembled pincushions. Somebeast pulled him to his feet. It was Maplefur and Aspen.
“Ha, good to see your still alive, Beechtail,” said Aspen. He turned, and shot an arrow into the vermin ranks.
Maplefur started to say something, “Beechtail, I wanted to te-“
“Look out!” Aspen shoved them both flat. Several spears passed right where they had been standing. Aspen shot two arrows at the same time, hitting two different vermin.
“Show-off,” Beechtail muttered under his breath. He scrambled to his feet, and ran at the vermin again. He found himself fighting next to Lutran, who had armed himself with a large ax.
“Quite a few of the blighters, eh, wot?” commented Lutran while hacking at a nearby rat.
Beechtail sliced the blade off a fox’s spear with the Sword of Martin, “What? Oh, yes, there are a lot of them.”
Lutran spun the rat around, and pushed it into the one behind it. “Seems like it’ll be a jolly old last stand soon.”
Beechtail glanced around; the woodland army seemed to be reduced to around half its original size. By his estimate, it was getting close to dawn. Then the Rapscallion archers would start to really cause damage. Well, we’ll just have to see how many we can take with us.
Chapter Twenty-Seven: Dawn
Currare was panting as he crested the hill. Captain Resscutt ran up behind him. From the far side of the next hill, the sounds of the battle could be heard. Curra looked at Resscutt, “Should we just, go right into it?”
The hare captain thought hard for a moment. “No, we’ll circle around to the east a bit, if we time it right, the sun will be in their eyes when we charge. That’ll make it harder for their archers to hit us.”
The hares sped off around the hill.
Beechtail knew the woodlander army was losing; there were too many Rapscallions. They were growing tired, as they had been fighting all night.
Beechtail found himself fighting alongside Maplefur and Aspen. The squirrelmaid started to say something, “Beechtail, I wanted to tell y-”
“Look!” Aspen interrupted her.
The first light of dawn was glinting off the spear points on the crest of the hill.
Beechtail did a double take. There were spear tops showing over the hill! A moment later, Currare and Captain Resscutt came over the hill at the head of a hundred Long Patrol hares, armed with long pikes.
Nettleclaw saw them too. “Archers, fire on my order.”
From the top of the hill, Resscutt could be heard, shouting orders, “Spears down.” Instantly, a hundred pikes pointed at the Rapscallions. “Long Patrol…Charge!”
As the hares thundered down the slope, the Rapscallion archers drew back their arrows, waiting for Nettleclaw’s signal.
Nettleclaw was waiting for the perfect moment to fire, when it happened.
The sun rose, directly behind the charging hares.
Blinded by the sudden light, many of the Rapscallion archers accidently released their arrows into their own ranks.
At the same moment, the Long Patrol hit the front ranks of the Rapscallions. Their long pikes easily outreached the Rapscallion spears. Vermin fell like wheat before a scythe.
As the hares cut through the vermin ranks like a knife through butter, Adaracor could be heard roaring out, “Hahaha, I knew you’d do it, Curra! Eulaliiaaaa!”
Chapter Twenty-Eight: Escape Plan
Nettleclaw had great confidence in his soldiers’ ability, but he was no fool. He knew that the battle was lost. There were still a few scattered groups of vermin fighting, which would provide the distraction he needed to escape. Nettleclaw turned to flee, but found himself confronted by a trio of hares.
The one in the lead pointed his rapier at Nettleclaw, “You, sir, are coming with us.”
In one swift motion, almost faster than the eye could follow, Nettleclaw drew his sword and slew the speaker. Crossing blades with the next one, he thrust her sword upward, and stabbed her with his dagger. He threw himself at the third hare’s feet. He tripped, and Nettleclaw sprang upright, and plunged his sword into the hare’s back.
Before Nettleclaw could retrieve his sword, Curra came running at him. As he swung his saber at Nettleclaw’s head, the ferret dropped to the ground, holding his dagger up.
Curra screamed in pain, Nettleclaw pulled his sword free and fled; leaving Currare cradling his wrist, which was now without a paw.
Beechtail saw Nettleclaw running. He was going to give chase, but Adaracor stopped him.
“Let him go; we can come back and track him later. We need to get the wounded back to Redwall.”
Beechtail glanced at the fleeing ferret, then reluctantly turned to go help the many injured creatures.
Nettleclaw glanced backward; no one was following him…yet. They would come after him eventually, and Nettleclaw didn’t think he could evade them. He needed something to discourage pursuit permanently. Like always, he had a plan. The survivors of the battle formed a ragged procession, heading the same way he was; towards Redwall.
Night was falling when the weary army finally made it to Redwall, laden with stretchers bearing those who could not walk.
Aspen, Beechtail, and Maplefur were walking together. Beechtail was helping Curra, who was weak, and a bit dizzy from blood loss. On the long trek back to the Abbey, they had become friends. “Almost there, Curra, just little farther…”
As they passed through the gate, a small blur shot by Beechtail. It was the squirrelbabe, Zik, running from his latest misdeed. He fled north up the path.
“I’ll get him,” Aspen called, giving chase.
Maplefur spoke to Beechtail, “Beechtail, I wanted to tell you, I-“
Beechtail interrupted her, “Do me a favor, stay here and close the gate when Aspen get’s back. Then you can tell me whatever it is you keep trying to tell me”
Maplefur nodded and walked back to the gate.
Beechtail followed everyone else up into Great Hall.
Adaracor was speaking to the Abbot, “The ferret who started all this got away. As soon as all the wounded are safe, I’m going to go back and hunt him down.
A cold voice spoke from the door to Great Hall, “Oh, I’m afraid it’s much too late for that.”
Beechtail spun around.
It was Nettleclaw, and he was holding his sword to Maplefur’s throat.
Chapter Twenty-Nine: Nettleclaw’s Revenge
Beechtail was dumbstruck, “What?! How did you…”
Nettleclaw grinned evilly, “Oh, it wasn’t so hard, especially since you only left your pretty little friend here to guard the gate,” his eyes narrowed, “Drop your weapons, or no more pretty little friend.”
“Just give up, it’s over. You lost,” Adarcor responded.
“Over? It’s not over. I didn’t have time to gather every Rapscallion. I’ll have another army. Now, drop your weapons, or I kill the squirrel,” to prove his point, Nettleclaw moved his sword a fraction. Maplefur gurgled as the sword pressed into her windpipe, making it hard to breathe.
Beechtail reluctantly placed both of his swords on the floor of Great Hall, as all the others did the same, “What do you want?”
Nettleclaw kept his sword at Maplefur’s throat, “This squirrel here will not be harmed, as long as you do what I say.”
“And what do you want?” Beechtail repeated.
“My sword, squirrel, and passage back south. You will not follow me, or try to find me, understood?”
“Understood,” Beechtail saw a flash of movement.
He realized two things. One, Aspen was sneaking up behind the ferret, and second, Nettleclaw didn’t know that.
Nettleclaw relaxed his grip on Maplefur, “Good, now slide my sword acr-”
He got no farther, because at that moment, Aspen leapt on him. The squirrel grabbed the blade with both paws, regardless of its keen edge. Wrapping his legs around the ferret’s middle, he hung on like…well, a squirrel as Nettleclaw tried to throw him off.
Maplefur ducked under the sword, which Aspen was holding away from her neck, and scrambled away towards Beechtail.
Adaracor was the first to get over his surprise. Swinging his flail, he charged at Nettleclaw.
Nettleclaw had often told his first group of followers that he was the most cunning creature alive; the claim was not without reason. Spinning around, he put Aspen in between himself and the onrushing badger.
Adaracor stopped abruptly to avoid crushing the squirrel. He lost his balance, and pitched forward; smacking his forehead on the stone floor of Great Hall. Looking dazed, he lifted his head a few inches, and then fell back, stunned.
Aspen, with a yell of triumph, wrestled the sword from Nettleclaw’s grip. His victory, however, was short-lived. Drawing his dagger, Nettleclaw twisted around and plunged it into Aspen’s chest. Aspen gasped, then his eyes clouded over. The brave squirrel fell lifeless to the ground; still holding the sword.
Chapter Thirty: No escape
“No!” exclaimed Beechtail and Maplefur at the same time. They rushed to the fallen squirrel, but it was too late. Aspen had gone to the gates of the Dark Forest.
Nettleclaw fled out the door of Great Hall, grabbing a long window pole on his way out. He might need it.
Beechtail seized his swords from the ground, and took off after him. Emerging from the hall, he saw Nettleclaw racing for the still open gate. Something shot by him. It was Curra!
The speedy hare sped past Nettleclaw. Upon reaching the gate, he slammed it shut with a mighty effort, and then collapsed to the ground; thoroughly exhausted.
Nettleclaw swerved, looking for somewhere else to run. The bell tower was his only option. He raced inside, and swung the window pole across the doorway just as Beechtail reached it. Unable to stop, the squirrel went flying; losing both of his swords in the process.
The ferret slammed the door to the bell tower and bolted it. Dashing to where the Rapscallion sword lay, he picked it up, just as Beechtail scrambled to his feet holding the Sword of Martin the Warrior.
“Well, if it isn’t the cowardly squirrel from the village,” Nettleclaw sneered, “scared? Your friend isn’t here to save you.”
Beechtail knew the ferret was baiting him, trying to make him careless, but he stepped forward all the same. “You’ll pay for killing Flodrun and Aspen.”
Nettleclaw’s sword moved in a blur. Barely having time to react, Beechtail flinched.
Beechtail was shocked to find the Sword of Martin, locked against Nettleclaw’s blade. Nettleclaw swung again, just as fast. The sword seemed to move of its own accord, when Beechtail realized what direction the next blow was coming from, the sword was there.
Nettleclaw made three lightning-fast slashes; Beechtail blocked them all, and then launched his own attack, a series of thrusts and slices that he would never have been able to duplicate with any other weapon. Martin’s Sword was like a living thing, seeming to respond to thought, so that Beechtail only had to think about where he wanted the sword to move, and he instinctively knew how to move it there.
Nettleclaw, however, was an excellent swordsbeast, showing no real effort as he parried the squirrel’s attack. He swung his blade in a figure-eight, causing Beechtail to hop back.
The squirrel landed on the window pole, which the ferret had dropped. His feet went out from under him, and he fell hard, knocking the wind out of him.
Nettleclaw leapt forward, raising his sword for the deathblow.
Chapter Thirty-One: The Warrior and the Warlord
Something struck the door to the bell tower, knocking it clean off its hinges. Nettleclaw looked up to see an extremely irate Adaracor enter the room, swinging his flail. Cursing his ill luck, the ferret fled up the stairs, into the belfry. Beechtail was up, and after him in a second. The stairs were too narrow for Adaracor to walk on, so he had to stay behind.
Up and up, the squirrel pursued the ferret. Reaching the heavy beam that supported the two bells; Nettleclaw ran a little way out and turned. Beechtail stepped on to the beam. He would have to be careful not to fall.
Locking blades with Nettleclaw, Beechtail drove him back a step. Beechtail pushed the Rapscallion sword aside, and then chopped down at the ferret. Nettleclaw sprang nimbly backward and the squirrel’s sword lodged in the heavy oak beam.
Nettleclaw swung at Beechtail’s neck, but the squirrel dropped down under the deadly stroke. Nettleclaw brought his sword around, and slashed diagonally. Beechtail jumped back, tugging the sword free, and stabbed at the ferret’s exposed side.
But it was only a feint.
Nettleclaw brought his sword back, and smashed Martin’s Sword from the squirrel’s grip. He caught the sword as it flew in the air, and stabbed at Beechtail with the Rapscallion one.
On the narrow beam, there was little room to get out of the way. The sword cut a deep gash in Beechtail’s side. The squirrel gasped and fell to his knees.
The ferret lowered his swords, “Ha, now were back to square one. Congratulations, you’re my new hostage.”
“Beechtail!” Maplefur had climbed up behind them. She ran out on the beam. Lifting her bow to shoot, she realized her quiver was empty.
Nettleclaw looked from one squirrel to the other, he grinned evilly, “I only need one hostage.” He shifted the Rapscallion sword into a better position to throw.
Maplefur froze; on the narrow oak beam, there was little room to dodge.
Chapter Thirty-Two: To Be a Squirrel
An image flashed into Beechtail’s mind. Maplefur, lying dead, with the Rapscallion sword in her. As Nettleclaw drew back his sword for the cast, the squirrel drew on his last reserves of strength and leaped.
He collided with Nettleclaw, and they fell, not straight back, but sideways, off the beam. They struck the side of the Methuselah bell, and slid down it. Miraculously, Beechtail was able to catch himself on the rim of the bell.
The ferret was not so lucky. With a scream of terror that would haunt Beechtail for the rest of his life, he plunged from the bell, until the solid sandstone floor of the bell tower stopped his fall with a sickening crunch. Thus ended Nettleclaw, the last Firstblade of the Rapscallions.
Beechtail was hardly any better off. His fingers were already slipping from the rim of the bell. Maplefur tried to climb onto the bell to help, but it was too smooth. If she tried, there would be two squirrels dangling from the bell. She did have some advice though, “Beechtail, jump to the bell rope!”
Beechtail looked at her like she was crazy, “Me? Jump? I can’t jump! You should know that by now.”
Maplefur glared at him, “You don’t have a choice! Just do it!”
Beechtail gulped and nerved himself up for the leap.
“JUST DO IT!!!”
Beechtail swung on the rim of the bell to gain momentum, and let go.
He grasped at the Methuselah bell’s rope.
He missed, and his momentum carried him past the rope.
Maplefur screamed, “BEECHTAAAIL!!!!!”
Beechtail shut his eyes tight, hoping that dying wouldn’t hurt too much. Something whipped past his face, and he lashed out at it instinctively. Then he realized he was no longer falling. He opened his eyes to see where he was.
He was on the Matthias bell’s rope.
But he was not yet safe, he was exhausted, and his acrobatics had opened the wound in his side even more; causing him to feel light-headed from loss of blood. Some part of him knew that he needed to get lower. He slid down the rope.
The world started to spin, and then blurred. He felt his paws slip from the rope, and heard Maplefur calling his name.
Chapter Thirty-Three: Beechtail of Redwall
The first thing Beechtail was aware of was pain; he hurt all over. He felt that he was lying on his back, on something soft. Opening one eye a fraction, he saw a shadow bending over him.
A voice he recognized as Maplefur’s called out, “Hey, I think he’s waking up!”
Fully opening his eyes, and looking around at his surroundings, he found himself in the infirmary of Redwall. Maplefur was leaning over him. Her face broke into a relived smile, “You’re up early.”
Beechtail asked, “How long have I been out?”
Maplefur grinned even more, “About six days.”
“Yep, and the Abbot didn’t expect you to wake up until sometime next week, assuming you didn’t die.”
They were joined by Abbot Thren and Lord Adaracor, the Abbot spoke first, “Good to see you up, how do you feel?”
Beechtail lifted his head a bit, and looked at himself. Most of his body was heavily bandaged, “Not very good.”
Adaracor chuckled, Maplefur gave Beechtail a “no duh” look, Abbot Thren started listing Beechtail’s injuries, “As far as we could tell, you’ve got three ribs and a leg broken, the gash in your side, and probably a minor concussion. Not bad really, considering how far you fell, even though Lutran caught you, more or less. You knocked him flat.”
“Is he okay?”
“Well…he still talks like a hare, although after he caught you he was groaning, and it sounded like molespeech, but he’s not really hurt. Does that answer your question?” said Maplefur.
Beechtail considered that, “I guess so.”
“By the way, great jump. You missed the first rope, but luckily you got a second chance. So it seems, you’re not a completely hopeless climber; we’ll start your lessons again as soon as the Abbot will let us,” said Maplefur.
Beechtail groaned and leaned back on his pillow.
“You did well, Beechtail. Martin made a good choice when he appointed you champion,” Abbot Thren walked off, “If you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to go back to work.”
Adarcor also left. Maplefur watched them leave, “It’s a good thing the Redwallers are such good healers, there are a lot of wounded.”
Maplefur looked sad, “Around seven score, some more seriously, a few might die. Until a minute ago, you were in that group. Only the most seriously injured get a bed in the infirmary, most are in the attics. There are already about three hundred casualties from the battle, including Aspen.”
Beechtail could see tears in Maplefur’s eyes, “I’m sorry. I know how much he meant to you.”
“It wasn’t Aspen I loved, it was you, Beechtail. When I saw you on top of Lutran, all bloody, with your leg at a weird angle, I was so afraid you were going to die, but you’re alive!”
Beechtail was not able to reply, because Maplefur suddenly hugged him tightly. She was smiling now. In a normal situation, Beechtail wouldn’t have minded; he probably would have enjoyed it, but with three broken ribs...ouch.
“Gah,” Beechtail gasped, “get off, that hurts.”
“Oops,” Maplefur let go and grinned sheepishly, “sorry, I forgot about the ribs.”
Beechtail waited a few seconds for the pain to subside. He looked up at Maplefur, “By the way, what was the thing you wanted to tell me?”
Maplefur looked exasperated, “I just told you!”
The infirmary rang with the two squirrels’ laughter.
Epilogue: And Then…
The old squirrel looked up from the large leather-bound book he was reading from, and gazed around at his audience, mostly wide-eyed dibbuns, although there were several older creatures who had wanted to hear the story again. “Beechtail had to spend the rest of the summer in the infirmary, but he made a full recovery. Currare learned to wield his saber with his left paw even better than his right. He returned to Salamandastron, became a Lieutenant in the Long Patrol, and eventually married Celeriter. Lutran remained at Redwall, with Beechtail and Maplefur, who-”
A baby mole interrupted, “Whur that bes aboot?” He pointed to the book, which, even though the story was over, contained many more pages. “An’ whur ‘appened to ee Beechtoil an’ Mapelyfurrur?”
The Zik the Storyteller smiled, “I don’t think Maplefur ever did manage to teach Beechtail to climb, but those two had many more adventures together.”
He closed the book, “But that’s another story.”
I hope you enjoyed reading this as much as I enjoyed writing it. Thanks everyone who has helped in any way, even by commenting. I'm writing a sequel, more info on my user page.--Gandr Adderbane Slayer of Snakes 17:00, February 7, 2010 (UTC)