Hi, I hope you like this story, which I've taken the liberty to title Tyranny's Shades. Please do not correct spelling, only notify me (on my talk page) about what you believe to be spelling mistakes (I deliberately spelt "tiger" as "tyger"). Gott wisst Gott Wisst's talkpage 04:49, 22 February 2009 (UTC)
Stánclá, a great, black tyger, snuck with unmatched stealth through the dark streets of the City of Hass.
A patrol of guards, mostly wolves of the jungle, passed by, not noticing the dark figure crouching into the shadows.
He continued on his way up the paved hillside, and then out into a great, open space. He had to be careful here lest he be seen, and, indeed, careful he was.
He finally moved into the black shadow of a great stone wall, sighing with relief.
He crept past the two lion guards.
He crept through the courtyard.
He crept over the draw bridge and past the ten almost-sleeping, great bears standing watch at the great entrance to the castle.
He snuck down a long hallway and into the kitchen, merged into the dark jet walls as a guard passed by on patrol, and continued on his way up the hall.
He stopped, for there ahead of him stood two great, brown bears guarding two huge, bronzen doors.
He drew a razor-sharp shortsword out of its well-oiled sheath, making only the slightest sound of metal drawing across metal, but this was enough to alert the guards, who were trained to notice even little things like this.
They looked about, not seeing the dark figure creeping up on them.
Stánclá padded up to one, who had his back turned, and slid the razor-sharp, black-edged sword through his neck.
He fell dead without even a sigh.
The other bear turned, and, seeing Stánclá, moved his large, clawed paw, as if to draw his sword, but he too fell dead with hardly a sound before his paw had even gotten halfway to his sword.
Stánclá stepped forward and picked the keys off one of the dead bear’s belts. He unlocked both of the great, bronzen doors and stepped through.
He saw before him a great, spiralling stone stairway. After first listening for anyone moved around on the stairway, he bound up the stairs as swiftly and as silently as he could, so as not to be caught with no place to hide, as the stairway was somewhat lit.
He came to two more bronzen doors at the top and, realizing that this did not take the key he had used earlier, dashed back down the stairs and took the other bear’s keys. Those worked.
He pushed open the door, trying not to make a sound, but without success, for the door’s hinges had not been oiled for many a night. “My first stupid mistake, not oiling the doors,” he though to himself, angrily.
There were two more bears on either side of the door. They instantly engaged Stánclá in combat; he killed one with ease, but just before he killed the other, he (the bear) let out a loud call for help.
Stánclá rushed along the corridor willy-nilly; there was no time for stealth now, only speed would get him anywhere.
He saw a door off to the side. There were two more bears in front of it, and they were alert and looking for action. He crossed blades with the first, then killed him, but the second was far harder.
He was surprised to find that the second one was a match for him but never lost his cool. After crossing blades with the bear twice, he finally did a daring move; he dropped his sword on the corpse of the other bear, so as not to make overmuch sound and make it easy for other guards to locate him, stepped forward so that he was face-to-face with the beast, and struck him in the face with his claws outstretched.
The bear was greatly surprised, and so stood motionless in surprise for a crucial moment; Stánclá took advantage of this by grabbing the bear’s own sword of his hands and ramming it through his middle. The bear fell dead, but not without a sound.
The death was messy and ill-calculated by Stánclá, and he wished he had had more time to think over the best way do the fight, but there was no hope for it now. Even now he could hear the guards’ feet pounding in his general direction. He stopped, picked up his sword, wiped it clean, and shoved it in its sheath. He also took some more keys off one of the guards, which he tried on the single, heavy, wooden door. It swung open with what seemed like a deafening creak.
He ducked inside the room. It was richly furnished with all manner of beautiful and ancient things, but these did not concern him; what concerned him was the great desk in the centre of the room facing the doorway.
It had all kinds of papers, invitations, and other important documents lying on it. Hastily Stánclá searched through them, looked for something which would be of use to him. He finally found a book that looked to him to contain what information he might desire. He picked it up and, looking around for something waterproof he could put it in, set eyes on a waterproof-looking leather pouch. He stuffed the book in the bag, and then he, seeking for a way to delay his pursuers, shut the door, lifted up the great, wooden desk with a heave, and dumped it front of the door.
He fastened the drawstring of the leather pouch and began to fumble with the catch on the shutter for the sole window in the room. After what seemed like forever, he got it open. The guards were now banging in the door, but there was still another object between him and the open-air: two iron bars. He was frantic now, and shook them with all his might. Neither of them budged. He examined the bars carefully, checking to see if there was an easy way to remove them; there it was! A padlock through a hole at the bottom of each one, linking them to some iron rings built into the window-hole.
He hacked once, and then twice, at one of the padlocks with his black sword, and even now the door was edging open. A third time he hacked, and so sharp was his sword that it sliced through.
He wriggled twisted loop of the padlock of the ring and threw it out the window, and then wriggled through, hearing, even as he began to fall, the door of the room finally bursting open.
He landed with a splash in the ice-cold water of the lake, alerted a few nearby guards.
They came running, but he was away like a flash, and they only saw his tail as he ran up the wall steps and jumped over the wall.
Quickly a runner was dispatched to the city’s garrison to make sure the city’s patrols were doubled within three minutes and the docks were heavily guarded.
Stánclá found it harder and harder to avoid the rapidly spreading guards, but he did it.
He finally reached the docks, only to see it bristling with guards.
In despair he fled to the beach, and there he saw a raft. It was by no means worthy of voyaging, but that was not what he wanted, he only wanted to move along to another part of the isle without being seen. He pushed the raft out into the water and then climbed on. It had a rough, white sail attached to the “mast”, a thick wooden pole built into the centre of the raft, and a wooden box at the base of the mast, which had nails driven through its bottom and into the timbers of the raft.
There was a slight breeze when Stánclá had pushed out, but suddenly the breeze became a cold wind, enough to push his craft out into open waters at an alarming rate. He, alarmed at the rate at which the raft was going, furled the sails for fear that the small craft would be pushed into the Great Current, a huge and very fast current that flowed very close to the island, but it was too late, and the island was already fading into the distance as the small craft sped along bearing with it its ill-equipped captain.
Days, weeks, months later, a small raft was gently deposited onto a great, sandy beach.
It bore a great, white sail, a big, wooden box, and a large, black cat.
The cat sighed and rolled off the raft into the shallows, then crawled further inland where the waves only reached his feet.
He fell unconscious from many weeks of wear and tear on the salty, windy, cold ocean.
* * *
Three hares of the Long Patrol came bounding along the beach side. One, a great-bellied, grey one, broke the rare silence by saying, “I say, old chaps, what’s that further along, up the beach there? Looks like a blooming sail, wot wot!”
“Aye,” said another with a great bristling moustache. “Why not look’n see what’s up.”
They did so, and gasped when they saw a great, black cat sprawled out in the damp sand.
“Will ye lookit the size of the blooming great monster!” exclaimed the third one, a young hare only newly recruited. “He’s almost twice as big as Lord Eisoculus!”
“Aye,” said the large one. “What d’ye both think we should be a-doin’?”
“Not sure,” said the moustached one. “Maybe we should see if ‘e’s alive. He does look somewhat rag-tag in the ways o’ health’n hygiene....” he trailed off.
The youngest one wandered over and poked the cat with his foot. It moved. The young hare quickly jumped back, thoroughly unnerved.
“Eeek! ‘E’s alive, wot wot!”
The moustached one walked over to the cat spoke in his ear, “Are ye still with us, m’lud?”
The cat groaned.
“Yizzz.... I’m zdilll alyve....” he barely whispered. “I need vadder.... I ‘m zoo dirsty....”
The cat groaned again and rolled over. The moustached hare took a skin-flask from his belt and said soothingly, “Now, jis’ ye open your mouth, m’lud. I’ve some water right ‘ere. Ye’ll make it. Just hold on!”
The cat opened his mouth slightly, and the hare poured his water down his throat, slowly.
Before the flask was half-empty, the hare said in his most soothing voice, “Right, that’s enough now. If ye have overmuch more ye’ll be sick. Get up’n we’ll help you to a place where ye c’n rest. Think: rest!”
The cat sighed happily at the taste of water and then heaved himself up; he stood groggily and began to walk, almost falling over in doing so. The three hares, who were little more than a third his stature, instantly rushed to help him.
“Vaid,” the cat said. “I need my dings. I zhall ged dem vrom de ravd.”
He tottered over to the raft and opened the lid of the box, which was sitting at the foot of the raft. He pulled out a leather pouch, a belt, and a beautiful, black sheath with a black-hilted sword lying within.
He buckled on his belt, leaning against the “mast”, which was scarcely taller than he, and hung the pouch and the sheath on it.
He was about to go again, but stopped, looked in the box again, and pulled out a sturdy fishing rod (the box was almost as long as the raft was wide, which was about two meters, and so could easily hold a fishing rod), from which he pulled all the string, intending to use it as a staff.
He returned to the hares, leaning heavily on the staff.
“I am ready,” he said. “I vill gom vid you do de blaze dad you zbeag ov.”
The three hares nodded, and then introduced themselves.
“I,” said the large one, “Am Evergut, a sergent of the Long Patrol.”
“And I,” said the moustached one. “Am Gamolhara, a captain of the Long Patrol.”
The young hare then said, “I am Jongaug, the Runner of the Long Patrol. Last to be mentioned, but by no means least.”
The other two hares eyed him, and Evergut said icily (with offence in his voice), “So, do you propose that we two are lesser than you?”
“Er, well, y’see, sir, I didn’t quite say that.... You are, after all, vast! Yes, very great indeed.”
Evergut let out a sigh of indignation, “What are you saying?”
“Er , um, nothing....”
“Right. Let’s just keep it that way!”
Stánclá nodded, smiling humorously at the bickering hares, and introduced himself, “I am Zdaahnglaah. I gome vrom var, var avay over de ozhean, vrom var do de vest and (I ding) a liddle do de zoud.”
“Ah, yes? Well, do tell us more about yerself as we go along, m’lud!” said Gamolhara.
They went on their way, enduring hours and hours of burning sun, which Stánclá did not do overly well, having been on a raft for more than two months without end.
They saw Salamandastron in the distance just as the sun was setting.
“I say, if we go fast, we may just reach it before nightfall,” Jongaug.
“Aye,” said Gamolhara. “You, Jongaug, go ahead and tell ‘em we’ve got us some comp’ny.”
Jongaug burst into a loping run, and the others followed behind into a weary jog.
As they finally reached the entrance of the mountain, Stánclá collapsed in a pitiful heap of weariness.
A waiting crowd of hares gaped at Stánclá’s massive size, until finally the Badger Lord of Salamandastron, Lord Eisoculus, bellowed: “Well, what are we waiting for? We must help our weary guest inside!”
A crowd of fourteen hares plus the badger fell to the task of lifting the semi-unconscious tyger inside. They groaned and heaved, and finally they carried him into the main hall with the help of a makeshift stretcher made of a blanket and some poles.
Stánclá felt the cool, firm stone-floor beneath him, and fell into a complete, restful sleep.
Stánclá awoke to the sound of hares hustling and busting nearby.
He was in a dark, cool, stone room; he was lying on the floor with a single, thick sheet over him and another under him. There was a stream of light pouring in from a single window opening that, as far as he could tell, faced south.
He looked around him and saw a small table in one corner of the room, on which sat a jug and a loaf of recently-made bread, and his things sat on the ground just next to it.
He walked to the table and looked at the jug. It had some milk in it and was big enough to serve him as a large mug.
“Strange,” he thought. “Where do they get milk from out in the middle of nowhere?”
Not troubling himself too deeply over the question, he picked up the jug and drank deeply from it, receiving much refreshment thereof. He broke the bread in half, making two pieces of bread that were about the size that he considered to be that of a bun. He munched on one half and left the other on the table, then he bent over, picked up his things, donned his belt, and hung the pouch and the sword in its sheath of it.
There was a single, oaken door opposite the window. He walked up to it and looked at it. It was not locked, and so he opened it and ducked through the doorway.
It opened into a long, stone corridor with a few windows every now and then, all facing south (by this he was made certain that he was in the south side of the mountain).
A large (well, large for a hare, anyway), official-looking hare with many medals on his jacket strutted up to Stánclá and said in a highly official voice, “Ah, awake? Good. I was just coming to check on you. Lord Eisoculus wishes to speak with you directly. Follow me please.”
The hare led the way through countless stone corridors, making Stánclá somewhat dizzy in doing so. Every now and then there were a few hares wandering about the corridors doing various tasks.
Finally the came into the great hall where there were a good number of hares passing the time, waiting to be sent on portal or maybe just for the next meal.
They passed beyond all these and into a great spiralling stairway. Finally they came to a large door, on which the official-looking hare knocked.
“Come in!” boomed the voice of the badger lord.
The hare pushed the door open and smartly marched into place about a metre in front of Lord Eisoculus’s great desk.
“Sah! Reporting with the afore-said guest, sah!”
“Thanks you, Hereman. You may leave,” said Eisoculus, indicating towards the door.
Hereman walked out, and Eisoculus indicated that Stánclá should sit in a very large chair in front of the desk, which, although very large, was still a little too small for Stánclá to be thoroughly comfortable.
“Well, Stánclá,” the badger lord began. “You are of great interest to me; I have never seen a beast larger than you, unless it be some stupid great fish, but there are many of them. I would, if you will, that you tell me of your roots, and why you are here. Is it pleasing to you that it should be so?”
“Yesz, I vill do dat,” said Stánclá, trying to control his accent. I have told a liddle to de harez, bud my guesz iz dat dey have nod told you anyting.”
And so Stánclá began his great story, striving ever to hold his accent to that which such as the badger lord might call “normal”.
Many years ago, a great and just tyger was the ruler of the Green Isles of Stone. He was called Cealdeag the Wise.
He had many evil rivals, one of the most of these being his own brother, Hass.
Hass was a tricking, lying villan, and Cealdeag knew this, but he thought that he could handle Hass without killing or jailing him. He was wrong.
One night, after a great feast had been served in Cealdeag’s foremost castle, and all of it’s inhabitants were asleep, an assassin snuck into the castle grounds. Past the sleepy guards he went, and somehow he got into the castle. He snuck along a dark, jet hallway. Eventually he passed the kitchen, where the cook was sleeping.
Whether the assassin made a sound or not, I do not know, but nonetheless he woke the sleeping cook, who was, like me, and like the royal family, a black tyger.
The cook saw a shadow creeping by the kitchen doorway and, curious to know what it was up to, followed behind it.
He soon recognized the shadow as that of a cat, but it was not a tyger, no, it was much smaller. It was a wildcat of some kind.
He lost track of the cat a few times, but soon found that the cat had passed beyond two great, sleeping guards and up the main stairs of that castle (now it was a strange thing that the guards slept, for they were of the highest quality, but possibly they had eaten or drunken some drugged food or drink.)
The cook went up the stairs as silently as he might, and found two more sleeping guards on either side of the upper entry to the stairway.
He saw the shadowy cat flit off into the darkness down a corridor going straight ahead. He followed after it.
The cook noted that they were approaching the royal chambers, and then a thought struck him: What if the shadowy cat were an assassin? It would make sense, after all. The guards slept, which surely meant inside work in the kitchens. Then he remembered: the new apprentice; he had been appointed a new apprentice by the king at his brother’s, Hass’s, recommendation. The cook did not, of course, let the new apprentice work with the food for the banquet; instead he had helped prepare the simpler guards’ fare. It all made sense.
He hurried now, calling out: “Help! Help! An intruder!”
He heard a soft curse somewhere ahead in the darkness and continued shouting, knowing that if the guards were drugged, it would take a lot to wake them.
“Stop there, cat!” he called.
He could see the cat at the end of the corridor; he was hurriedly fumbling with a lock on the doors to the royal chambers. All the eight great, powerful guards in front of it slept.
“Wake! Wake!” screamed the cook.
The guards grumbled uneasily in their sleep and the cat finally got the door open.
He rushed in, stabbed the king and the queen in their bed, and rushed to the royal cot where the young prince of the Green Isles slept. He raised his dagger, being stopped short as a savage blow from a black, sharp-clawed paw slashed across the back of his head. He turned with a yelp and was instantly killed as the huge, black cat threw all his weight into the smaller cat, ramming him into the stone wall.
The tyger could hear the sounds of guards running to the chambers and sighed with relief; at least the prince was safe, but then he listened to their cries, and his heart sank: “Quick! Something’s gone wrong with the plan! We must finish off the job!”
The plot ran much deeper than he could ever have suspected, yes, even so deep as the royal guard itself, for even now two treacherous guards stirred themselves, outside the chamber door, having received a much smaller dose of the sleeping-drug.
The cook thought franticly for a moment and then lifted up the small princeling. He charged out the door and straight into the arms of some treacherous guards rushing to the scene.
He spat in their surprised faces and thundered into and over them, supposedly never to be seen again.
There was no peace in the castle for the rest of the night, and, by the end of it, the story emerged, through the treacherous lies of Hass, like so:
A certain noble, very close to the king indeed, had arranged for the cook to drug the guards. The cook was also, along with a hired assassin, supposed to kill the king, the queen, and the prince. The whole thing, said Hass, would have gone unwitnessed if it were not for two of the royal guard, who, knowing their important duty guarding the king and the queen, had not consumed so much food as their companions during suppertime, which had been larger than usual because King Cealdeag had foolishly allowed all of the castle guards, including the royal guards, a larger feast than usual during the feast time. The two royal guards, who had not wished to consume so much food as their companions because they knew that digesting it made one tired, had not, therefore, consumed so much of the sleeping drug; they were commended for their wise choice, but the other guards were executed for not valuing the life of their king. Sadly, said Hass, the young prince had been taken and would probably be dead already, but he asked that everyone keep an eye out for a suspicious-looking, slightly large, black tyger.
A week later, the cook was supposed to have been killed and captured, and the corpse of the young prince was supposed to have been found and buried alongside his father’s grave, but no one except Hass and his close circle of friends bore witness to this.
Hass, being the next inline to the throne, took it, claiming to be heavy at heart to take the place of his dead brother, but no one saw him shed a single tear.
“Dere vere, of course, some who did not believe dat Hass vas completely innocent of de matter, and a few rebel groups formed; some of them did not concern demselves about his innocence or guilt, but rader simply the fact that he vas a tyrannical and bad ruler. In fact, many of a lesser isles surrounding Hass’s Isle (for he, Hass, had renamed it after himself) revolted and declared demselves independent. To dis day Hass tries to reclaim full control of these renegade isles, but he has a hard time.
I myself am a rebel; I belong to a group called the Restoration of the Green Isles group. I vas sent on a stealss mission into Hass’s Castle (vich used to be known as de Green Castle) so as to steal somesink dat vould serve as evidence against Hass. Sadly, I vas discovered, but I escaped and fled to de beach. And dere I took a raft vich was on de beach and pushed it out into de vated, but a vind came and pushed my craft into de Great Current. De great current is a very power, very long, qvite vide current dat runs by Hass’s Isle.
Before I escaped, I took dis,” here Stánclá pulled his bag up, opened it, and took out the book he had taken on that fateful night those months ago.
“What is it?” asked Eisoculus.
“I do not know, but ve can look and see.”
Eisoculus leaned across the large desk, and Stánclá opened the book to one of the early pages.
He gasped, for spread out before them was Hass’s diary; Stánclá knew it was Hass’s diary because he had studied Hass’s signature on official documents (usually to do with taxes) posted in public places.
“Diz iz bedder dann I gould have hobbed for!” gasped Stánclá, breaking back into his native accent.
“Do read on, friend,” said Eisoculus, obviously somewhat excited.
Stánclá turned back the pages until he reached the first one. He began reading Hass’s messy handwriting.
“The tenth of moon seven of the last year in Cealdeag’s reign: Today my broder dies. I become king tomorrow.
The eleventh of moon seven of the first year in my reign: Not all vent well; my plot vas discovered and de royal prince still remains, but no matter; he can do little against me now. Today at de eleventh hour I vas officially proclaimed king. Tomorrow I vill receive de crown of my late broder…” Stánclá stopped. His whole jaw had tightened in disgust.
“I tink dat ve boss know how dis continues,” he growled.
Eisoculus stared disdainfully at the diary. His nose wrinkled as he said, “Such a filthy, heartless beast… But what else have you in that bag?”
Stánclá looked in the bag again; he had not looked in the bag much during his voyage for fear of getting the book wet, and he had never actually taken the book out, but now he saw that there were some things more in the bag; he reached in and pulled them out.
He gasped, for in his hands he held a beautiful golden circlet, which was inset with a large jet stone and two smaller diamonds on either side; and a golden bracelet with a braid pattern and many small inset emeralds.
Eisoculus’s eyes opened wide in admiration.
“It is beautiful smithwork, but surely Hass would never leave such a thing out on his open desk? It belongs in an old locked chest somewhere,” he said.
“Aye,” replied Stánclá. “Methinks it vas so, but I know dat he had had a great feast de night before; maybe he had shown it to some of his friends and, in a drunken state, had forgotten to put it back again.”
“Maybe so,” said Eisoculus. “I must thank you for what you have told me, but now tell me more of yourself and your family.”
“My family,” said Stánclá, “Is a very ancient vun; I tink dat de family name goes back hundert of years. My fader is a blacksmith, but he has dabbled in goldsmydery and gemcraft. He is vun of de best smits on de island, but he is also a secret rebel. My family has been smit crafting for many generations, and has made many masterpieces vit de art. Vun such vun I have,”
He drew his black-bladed sword. It was without rust or blemish after months at sea.
“Dis is de most excellent ting dat my ancestors have made.”
Eisoculus looked at it for a long time, then beckoned for a closer look. He stared at it and smiled.
“It is beautiful… I am a smith myself, and, like you, my ancestors were before me. It’s been a time since I have seen a blade like that, but I have seen one, no, two; one of the most ancient badger lords of this mountain, Lord Borcktree was his name, had a blade like that, but not quite so good. Come, would you see my armoury and that of my ancestors?”
Stánclá sensed that this was a very great privilege indeed. He nodded.
Eisoculus smiled, got up, walked to the door, and opened it.
“Then follow me,” he said.
Stánclá stooped through the doorway and followed behind the badger lord into the ancient, musty darkness in which one could so easily become lost: Salamandastron.
After what about five or ten minutes of wandering through the tunnels (Stánclá wasn’t sure which one because there was a sense of timelessness in those dark, ancient tunnels), Eisoculus lead Stánclá into a broad tunnel; at the end of it there was a hanging curtain, and beyond that, Eisoculus knew what.
Eisoculus strode the ahead to the curtain and said, “Come, we are here.”
He drew aside the curtain and Stánclá stepped through.
Stánclá stood silent at what he saw; they were in a huge, dark chamber filled with weapons and the tools of a smith. The only light in the place came from a few glowing coals lying in the forge fire.
Finally he let out a long breath of admiration.
“Eisoculus, your forecomers vere certainly of swythe skill vith de hammer and anvil. Vould you show me deir vorks?”
“That I would, friend,” said Eisoculus with a small smile.
He strode up to one particular sword mounted on the wall.
“This,” he said, “Is the sword of my great forecommer, Lord Brocktree, Founder of the Long Patrol. It is a blade such as yours: almost peerless. I myself have wielded this very weapon on rare tide, and I have never handled one of better quality, but I do know of one which is superior, although by but a little, to this again; it was the blade of a very great warrior called Martin. He was one of the founders of a beautiful place some way inland called Redwall. It is an abbey which celebrates all things that are good, and Martin has been the guardian spirit of that place throughout the ages. “But even Martin’s blade was made by a badger; this badger’s name was Boar. He was the son of Lord Brocktree and was a mighty warrior indeed. Come, I will show you his axe.”
He hefted a great, heavy battle axe off a rack just beside the one from which he had taken Brocktree’s sword. Of course, he first set Brocktree’s blade back in its place.
“This axe slew many a knave evil enough to challenge the goodbeasts here and yonder.”
He swung the axe with a mighty stroke through the air; it sung a keen death-song. Stánclá shuddered to think what it would be like to receive a stroke like that.
“But come now, you are surely tired,” said Eisoculus. “I will take you back to your chambers where you may rest. Methinks you best regain your strength, as you will not be staying here forever, although I do offer such.”
“Yeszz,” replied Stánclá, “I am tired.”
Eisoculus lead Stánclá back to his room. Stánclá wondered how he could remember the way through such a place, but he did, at least, sense that the badger’s connection to that mountain was deep, very deep indeed.
* * *
Two weeks had passed, and Stánclá wished to go inland to the place called Redwall. His spirit was restless to see more, and he knew in his heart that his past would overtake him soon enough. He wanted to be ready for such a time as that.
Eisoculus stood with Stánclá just outside the main entrance to Salamandastron, speaking with him.
“I hope that the supplied I have given you will last you as long as they are needed. I am sending with you two most excellent hare scouts of the Long Patrol, Old Fred and Quickleg. They will guide you to Redwall abbey,” he said to Stánclá.
And then, in a low voice, he whispered in his ear, “I sense that you have not seen the last of the troubles you have told me of. Do not worry, I have perceived through ancient badger lore that there is hope for you at Redwall, or at least that there is help there to be had. I also offer my help if there comes such a time in which is should be needed. But see, I would not let you depart with just supplies and advice; I have been making this for you over the last two weeks. Use it well.”
It was a beautiful, sturdy, steel kite-shield with the emblem of a black claw painted upon it.
“I do not know vat I can say or do to tank you for vat you haf done for me, but I tank you nonedeless,” said Stánclá tears in his eyes.
“Oh,” said Eisoculus, “It is nothing,” and then he continued, “And here’s to the restoration of the Green Isles!”
Stánclá nodded down at the badger, “To de restoration of de Green Isles!”
Then he turned away, and the two hares, Old Fred and Quickleg, who had been standing nearby, followed behind him over the sands. To Redwall.
A shadow flitted into the corner of Hass’s eye.
“You may dalg, Boldend.”
The shadow strode into the center of Hass’s vision, about three meters away from the throne.
“Highnezz,” Boldend said, “My mezzengerz have gombleded de zenzuz ov your highnezz’z gingdom. Dere abbear do be dwo beazdz mizzing. Dey are, in vagd, broderz. One ov dem haz long been zuzbegded of agdividiez againzd your mighdinezz. Deir vader vaz unable do brovide invormadion az do deir vereaboudz, nor gould he egzblain vy dey vere nod brezend vidin your majezdy’z gingdom vidoud having leave.”
“Who iz deir vader?”
“He iz a zmid, de best on de izle, my lord; he iz galled Ealdraglá.”
“Iv I remember righdy, he vaz unvilling do brovide zervizez vor me, dezbide him being head zmid do my lade broder.”
“You remember gorregdly, lord.”
“Bring ‘im do me.”
Within the hour a party of six soldiers had brought Ealdraclá back captive. His eyes burned with a light Hass had never seen before. His eyes spoke of wisdom, justice, honesty, kindness, bravery, and showed no fear of death. But most of all there was confidence.
Hass hated the beast immediately. He was a black tyger, just like himself, and Hass had heard of him before; he a most excellent smith, but Hass had never met him before now, and of this Hass was glad.
He was silent for a little, and then said with an icy edge in his voice, “I brezume, Ealdraglá, dad you know vy you are here.”
“I do,” said the captive back.
“Vad have you do zay?”
“Noding dat zhould be zaid do you.”
Hass gripped the armrests of his throne tensely; he hated be disobeyed.
“Very vell. Bud you vill zuvver vor dis.”
The captive nodded sadly. He would suffer. He had been suffering. That’s why he went against such beasts this; they caused suffering, pain, sorrow, misery, death.
Hass hissed, “Dage him do de dungeonz.”
The guards saluted, not so stiffly as they might have, Hass noted, and led Ealdraclá away.
* * *
A small sailboat ran aground on the western shores of Mossflower.
A black, powerful cat stepped out.
Stánblac, a black tyger, stood and viewed the seemingly endless miles of sandy shoreline. What way to go, he asked himself. Inland, for that was where there was shade, rest, and food. Stánclá would never have sat around in such a dry, barren land as this, he told himself.
* * *
Stánclá had been traveling with the hares for a night and a day. He had grown rather tired of hearing their ever-working mouths (working both to help form words and to consume food). He sat eating a fish Old Fred had caught in a nearby stream and musing about what might have happened since he had gone from Hass’s Isles.
“…I say, old chap, are you listening?” came Quickleg’s voice. Stánclá realized that he was being talked to.
“Vad? Zorry, I vas not listenink. Vad vere you sayink?”
“Ah, we were discussing the unfriendly vermin hereabout.”
“And vat vere you saying about dem?”
“Well, we were just discussing how they might cause problems fer us, m’lud.”
“Ah, do you tink so? I tink not. I am, after all, bigger dan anyting dat I have seen here yet. And you have told me dat I am indeed probably de biggest ting in dis land, and ve are all seasoned varriors, so I tink dat ve vill meet nutink dat vill cause us overmuch trubble, yis?”
“Well, maybe, but do you think you could fight off dozens of rats at once? You certainly are strong, but methinks that even ye’d ‘ave a bit a’ trubble doing such a feat, m’lud, wot wot!” said Old Fred.
“Ve shall see,” said Stánclá with a dangerous glint in his eyes.
The hares nodded to each other knowingly.
“Well, we best be to sleep, eh,” said Quickleg.
They soon retired, and were swallowed by darkness, but not only darkness closed in on them.
Stánclá tossed in his sleep. He dreamt that he was standing before Hass. In his hand Hass held a great, black trident.
“Zo,” spat Hass, “You are de one who haz been medaling in my avvairz. Digging ub de grown ov my broder, eh? I dell you, you vill not live long vid dad; you are doo muj ov a rizg do me.”
And with that Hass leapt at Stánclá and seized him; he hooked his forelegs and hindlegs around Stánclá and began to squeeze. Stánclá tried to hit and slash Hass, but he couldn’t; his legs and arms were stuck to his sides; he couldn’t move. He tried to yell, but he couldn’t do that either. Out of the corner of his eye he saw something. He turned his head to stare at the thing, and when he had done that, he couldn’t tear his eyes away; it was a large mouse, obviously a warrior. The mouse looked him sternly in the eye and said in a commanding voice, “Awake!”
Stánclá awoke to find himself being dragged along the ground in the darkness by dozens of rats. His whole body was rapped with thick vines, all tied behind his back; he could scarce bend his body, lets alone move his arms.
The two hares were being dragged along too, both still sound asleep. Stánclá thought with a wry grin that a hare could sleep through anything… Except a meal.
He tried to turn his head, and one of the nearby rats noticed it.
“Awayk, arya? Well, see ‘ere big fella, yer’ll no’ enjoy being awake for toomuch longer, hey?” he laughed in Stánclá’s face.
Stánclá jerked his head forward and snapped his jaws. The rat stopped laughing and jumped back frightened, but soon he was mocking again.
One of the hares, Quickleg it was, started to wake, groaning and sighing very loudly indeed. Finally he opened one of his eyes, and then gasped.
“I say, rotters! You’ll regret this!”
There were some snickers from some of the rats who were dragging him, and one rat, an especially large one, walked over to the hare and spat in his face.
“Sharrup rabbit-face-food-muncher!” he said.
Quickleg shook his head to get the grimy spit off his face, and then turned on the rat with glowering eyes, “You, sah, shall pay for that.”
The rat sneered a little, and then wandered off to hurry the laboring rats with an evil-looking whip his was carrying.
After some time, they came into a large, swampy clearing. There were hundreds of other rats gathered there, some cooking, some fighting, some eating, some dancing, and most all of them being plain foolish.
A fat rat waddled up to the party. He hugged the large rat who had been so rude to Quickleg with grimy arms.
“Arrg, Gogblud me lad, what ‘ave ye ‘ere?” he said in what was supposedly a friendly voice.
“More slaves, sir. And the largest beast I ever set eyes upon… Do but look at him, if ye will, sir!”
The rat waddled over to a respectful distance from Stánclá’s large jaws, which could easily have consumed him in three bites, maybe two.
He gasped, “Wouldja lookit ‘im! ‘E’s hooj! What’ll we do wiff him, Gogblud?”
“Dunno, chief. Maybez we could eat him?”
“You vill nod be eading me any dime zoon!” he spat. “You vill die bevore dat.”
The chief nodded to Gogblud with eyes open in astonishment. “Right savage one, ain’ ‘e?”
“Aye, chief. But methinks ‘e’ll taste well nye boo-tee-fool in a stew.”
Stánclá began to flex his muscles. The bonds, he found, were very tight. And there were dozens of them.
He let out his claws and began to poke at one of the vines behind his back. He was set in for a long night.
* * *
Stánblac had been traveling over sand for hours, but he had made good time; he had reached woodland. He was very wear, for he had jogged most of the way. Sleep was his chief desire, and so he lay down on the ground. He soon slept, but it was not a peaceful sleep. A large mouse was chasing him in his dreams.
“Get up! Awake! You are needed elsewhere!” the mouse bellowed.
Stánblac, after quarter of an hour of restless tossing and turning, finally got up, heaved his travel-pack, and started wearily off again.
He followed his instinct to go inland, but pretty soon he ran into a vast, smelly marsh. He traveled north along the edge of the marsh for some time before he met an owl. The owl was sitting in the branches of a short, dead tree consuming the grizzly remains of some large worm or fish; Stánblac could not tell which it was. The owl became immediately aware of Stánblac. He stared strait at him.
“Whooo are ye, may ah ask?” he hooted in amazement at the size of Stánblac.
Stánblac considered, and then answered, “I am Zdaanblag. And who are you?”
“Ah’m Greifither. Ah’m frum th’ northern highlands. Where’re ye frum? Ah’ve never seen a beast quite so big’s ye.”
“I am vrom Hazz’z Isle over de ozhean do de vezd. May I azg vat land diz iz?”
The owl eyed him with a little suspicion, but then said, “Aye, why not. This is Mossflower country, m’ brae lad!”
Stánblac nodded, taking this new name in, then asked, “Vould you have janzed do zee a gread beazd who loogs nod unlige me?”
“I seeg vun suj beazd. He iz named Zdaanglaa.”
The eye stared at him a little more, then said, “Ah know of nae such beast, but ah’m a-thinkin’ ah could sure help ye find ‘im! What would ye give me if ah did?”
The cat considered for a moment; it would be good to have a guide such as this to help him, one who could fly and was familiar with the country.
Finally he said, “A pieze ov gold vor eaj veeg you help me.”
The owl opened his eyes wide, “A piece of gauld? Why, ah sure love gauld, but it’s expensive stuff. C’n ye show me this gauld?”
Stánblac reached down to his belt and lifted a small pouch of it. He opened it and shoved his hand in, when he drew his hand out again he had three pieces of pure gold, each weighing a little over a tenth of a pound.
The owl gasped.
“Ah’m sure certain ah could dae tha’, mister Staaanblaac. Come noo, ah’ll start right away! Just ye tell me whaar ah should gae and ah’ll search every square inch fer this friend o’ yers!”
Stánblac nodded. “Do de nord,” he said.
Stánclá had been working on his ropes for hours now. Finally the vine-ropes began to loosen a little. He sighed with relief; his efforts hadn’t been for nothing, but there were many hours to go before he could fully loosen these.
He was very weary, but there was no chance of him going to sleep; the vermins had been feasting for hours. Apparently it was their chief’s birthday.
Of course, the prisoners had not been left unguarded, but the three guards had taken to the bottle and were very drunk, and so Stánclá could speak with the two hares, who had both woken up by then, quite safely.
They were all quietly working on there bonds, but Old Fred had dropped off one or two times, and eventually Stánclá had told him not to worry, and that he would get him out of the bonds once he himself was out.
But he never had time to get out. A large fat rat, one of the cooks, waddled over to where the three half-asleep guards were sitting and kicked one of them sharply in the ribs.
“Oi, yew! Va chief’s said vat oi’m t’ cook va big wun roiyt naow, and vat you stooped dozy-heads’re t’ help me get ‘im over t’ va cooking-place.”
The rat snarled angrily, but got up and woke his dozing companions too, saying again what the cook had said. They both got up grumbling, and moved towards Stánclá.
“V’ chief must be drunk! Vis big bloke was brought in by ten strong rats! How’re we gonna get ‘im t’ va cooking-place wiff only free of us?”
The cook spat at him in annoyance, but agreed, seeing his point.
“Aye, y’d best go’n grab sum more of yer mates from va table.”
The rat wandered off grumbling.
Stánclá had been listening all throughout, and he redoubled his efforts in desperation, and by the sounds of things, so had Quickleg, but they both knew that there was no way they could fully be loosed from their bonds in the two or so minutes it would take for the rat to get all the help needed to move one such as Stánclá.
* * *
The owl returned to Stánblac five minutes later, bearing news.
“Ah reckon ah’ve found yer friend. But ye best hurry; seems they’re captured by some local vermin tribe, which is having a feast to celebrate summat, and it’s well nigh possible that yer friend is the dessert. Ah saw him trussed up like honey in a honeycomb ‘long with two ‘ares.
“Lead me do dem!” cried Stánblac.
* * *
The rat returned with nine other half-drunk rats.
“’Ere,” he snarled. “I got us sum ‘elp.”
The rats were groggy, and so took a little longer then was necessary to attach a tow-vine to Stánclá’s feet, and when they did get around to it, Stánclá by no means cooperated, thrashing his feet up and down and back and forth, struggling desperately against his bonds.
And when the rats had finally attached the tow line, many of them were bruised by Stánclá’s chaotic kicks, and Stánclá still thrashed.
It took fully half an hour to drag the great cat across the one-hundred yards between the place for prisoners and the cooking-place, and a full nine more rats had joined since the expedition had begun.
And when they finally got him to the cooking place, he caused chaos, knocking over piles of food, pots and pans, and tables.
“’Old ‘im still so’s that oi c’n cut ‘is throat’n be dun wiff it!” roared the cook.
All of the rats piled onto Stánclá, and ten more too; Stánclá could still move his body, but increasingly little. Just as the cook was closing in for the kill, Stánclá finally slipped one of his paws out of his bonds, and at that moment, a great, black cat burst out of the forest a little to the south.
“Zdaanglaa!!!” it roared.
Stánclá smiled at the petrified rats, and roared back, “Zdaanblaag!!!”
The giant cat smashed into the cooking area, immediately overturning several tables. Stánclá struggled with the remainder of his bonds, and, having one hand free, quickly loosed himself, joining Stánblac and some large bird, an owl, probably, in the fray. The feast had broken up by the ruckus now, and hundreds of rats armed with rusty blades, sharpened sticks, and other such weapons, were hurrying over to the cooking area.
Stánblac shouted to the owl, “Greivider, de rads, zvoob dem!”
The owl fluttered out and did a spiraling dive into the approaching crowd of rats, causing chaos among their ranks. The chief rat thought it now a good time to gather defence about him, which was a stupid move, for Greifither instantly noted him as important, making him a preferred target.
Stánclá and Stánblac crashed into the advancing rats; some tried to flee, but the more foolhardy ones began to attack them, and the cautious ones stood at a safer distance flinging pebbles at the two with sling.
The two hares piled in from the rare with an uproarious battle cry of: “Euuuulaaaliaaa!”, Quickleg finally having loosed himself, knocked out the ward-rats, and freed Old Fred.
Stánclá had the folly to try and kick at the rats, barely a quarter his height, with his bare footpaws, but he regretted it, withdrawing one of his footpaws with a cry of pain.
The rats looked like winning from mere weight of number, and Stánclá could see that him and his friends could not keep it up for too much longer.
“Do de voodz!” he called.
They began to retreat, constantly battering back the foe. The chief saw this and cried out gleefully, “Get ‘em! Keep it up idjits! Theys ain’t not gonna kill yer!”
(He was not actually taking part in the fray, but was standing three or so meters back with, encouraging his rats on with praise and insults.)
“Gw’an! Get ‘i…” he was cut short as a swooping shadow bowled into his back, knocking him over and killing him instantly.
Gogblud saw and easy opportunity to establish himself as chief, and so charged forward shouting, “Right lads! Let’s be getting’ vese ugly beasts into a pot! We’ll feast va rest of va noiyt ‘nd’ll ‘oner our dead in va mornin’!”
The rats surged forward again, Gogblud leading at their head.
He died soon thereafter with a hare-punch to his heart; most of the rest of the rats, seeing their two most prominent leaders lead, lost heart, and stopped pursuit, and the others, not having enough backup, followed suit.
The five continued towards the wood, and did not stop until they had run about five minutes among the trees.
Then they stopped, panting and bloody, but not unhappy. The first thing the two cats did was embrace each other in a huge, powerful hug.
“Vat are you doing here, Zdaanblag?” said Stánclá.
“Vollowing you; vader send me.”
Stánclá nodded, “How iz vader?”
“He vaz vell venn I leaved, bud he may have gone under zuzbizhun by Hazz zinze I zaw ‘im lazd.”
“Yez? How did Hazz reagd do my zdund?”
“He vaz very angry. Zoon enuv de vizherman hooz boad you zdole game vord and zed dad he had been robbed. He vaz drazhed begauze he did nod rebort de mizzing boad zooner. Ov gourze, Hazz alzo ordered a gomblede zeardzh ov de island, and noding zuzpizhiouz vaz vound in our houz. Vader heard dad Hazz vaz brebaring a zhip to dry and gadzh you (id vaz obveouz dad you had been dagen by de Gread Gurrend), and zo he zend me do varn you and helb you.”
“Yezzz? All de vay agrozz de ozhean do landz unknown?”
“Yez, on de dend day avder you levd I zed oud vid Old Brogleg’z boad. I prezume dad Hazz’z zhib leaved zoon avder dad. Bud I zdill do nod know vad id iz dad you hav dagen vrom Hazz. Vad vaz id?”
“Bedder dann you gould hobe vor. I…” here he stopped, quickly checking his belt. His pouch was not there.
Stánblac could see the sudden look of panic on Stánclá’s face and asked, “Vad? Vad iz id?”
“I have lozd id! Id iz bag vid doze vermin!”
“Wot?” said Quickleg. “Was it yah pouch-thingy-mabboby, old chap? No worries; I’ve it here. Took it, ‘long with lots o’ other stuff (yah shield is quite heavy, wot), back from our pile of possessions, which I found over in the camp area somewhere, before I engaged the jolly fight, wot!”
Stánclá sighed with relief, taking the pouch which the hare now offered him. He quickly checked its contents; everything was there. Good. Obviously the rat chief (or anybeast other) had not bothered to check their possessions for anything valuable at the time.
“Dang you, vriend,” he said to Quickleg, and then you Stánblac, “Diz iz a mozd egzellend vind, I ding, and you vill be mozd bleazed wid id.”
He pulled out the crown and book. Stánblac looked with interest at them.
“Diz grown vaz Gealdeag’z,” explained Stánclá. “And diz boog iz Hazz’z diary.”
“Yezszzzzz. Bud nod muj helb over here. Ve muzd vind a vay do redurn.”
Stánblac smiled, “Yez, vun day, but nod now.”
Stánclá nodded and was about to say something else when Greifither interrupted him.
“Loook, this is ah’ll vurry nice, but whattabout mah pay?”
“Vell, gonzidering dad you have nod been helbing me for a veag, I ding id vair dad you ged noding,” he said, winking to Stánclá.
The owl ruffled up his feathers in fury, “Ye’ll regret that, cat!”
“I vaz only joging. Here, have diz,” he said, handing a gold piece to the owl.
Greifither relaxed, taking the gold piece in one of his talons.
“Ah, well, ah’m much obliged to you, and ah’ll be glad to do business again anytime soon! Ye’ll know where t’ find me.”
Stánblac nodded, and the owl took off into the night air.
“A whole pieze ov gold? Really? Dad vaz, don’d you ding, a liddle muj?” asked Stánclá.
“Maybe, bud he helbed zave your live, and vad’z vord more, your live or a pieze ov gold?”
“I guezz my live.”
Old Fred was nodding off to sleep, and everyone suddenly noticed how tired they were.
“Led’z go vurder inland and vind a blaze do zleeb,” suggested Stánblac.
Everyone nodded, and began to pick themselves up again, Stánclá reclaiming his possessions from the two weary hares.
They then wandered inland for ten minutes, found a good tree to sleep in, and slept the rest of the night and much of the next day away as if in feather beds.
Stánclá awoke the next morn to the smell of cooking vegies; he looked down to the base of the tree (a large, half dead oak it was), where he saw Old Fred sitting with Quickleg and stirring a potful of some vegie soup (maybe stew, for it was verb thick) over a small, open fire.
“Ah, good morning frendz… I zmell a byooteeful zmell. Vat are you cookink?” he said, trying to control his accent.
The hares looked up, and Quickleg said back, “Oh, nuffing ‘tall m’lud. Old Fred here’s just been out gathering herbs and roots this morning (it is actually two hours past midday, you know).”
Stánclá looked surprised. “I muzt have slebd in…”
“Aye,” said Old Fred. “Your friend, Zdaanblag (or whatever his name be), has been up and about an hour since. I don’t know where he is, though. He went off in that direction some ten minutes since,” he said, waving his paw off in the general direction of east.
Stánclá was an excellent tracker, and as Stánblac had made no efforts to conceal his tracks, he caught up with him in about five minutes.
He stood in the middle of a small clearing with the sun on his back, but he turned around when he heard Stánclá’s footprints.
“Good avdernoon, Zdaanglaa, broder. Did you zleeb vell?”
“Yez, who gould nod avder lazd nighd.”
“Yezz, bud lizzen; lazd nighd I vorgod do give you zumzing dad vader gave me do give do you. Here,” said Stánclá.
He took a waxed-cloth pouch from his belt, opened it, and took out a small, wooden box. He opened the box and took out a envelope. It had a green-wax seal with the imprint of a leaf overlapping a dagger, the head-token of the various networks set up to restore the Green Isles.
“Vader zed dad I muzd nod read diz, and dad id iz vor you alone, or anyvun whom you jooze to zhow id do.”
Stánclá took the envelope, broke the seal, and opened it. He pulled out two folded pages of oldish, dry paper. He opened them and this is what he saw:
Dear Stánclá, I send this letter to you hoping for the best, but fearing the worst; as your brother, Stánblac, may have told you, I have heard that Hass will send out a ship in pursuit of you, and that his head general, General Blagvord, is to commandeer the party sent to capture you. Be wary, for he is not to be trifled with. If you remember, he overcame both Fraemann and Hundling at the same time.
Whatever you secured must surely have been of great value to Hass, but I will not know anytime soon. Hopefully, however, I will know one day.
But now I must tell you of even heavier news which will put you in danger just by knowing it, but I feel duty-bound to tell you anyway; you are not my son, nor is Stánblac your brother.
Here Stánclá stopped scanning the paper, his face registering an expression of surprise; Stánblac saw this, but withheld his curiosity, and Stánclá turned to scanning the paper again.
...Stánblac your brother.
You are, full sooth, the missing son of King Cealdeag. I kn…
Stánclá’s mouth dropped open, but he continued reading to himself, noting the blotches and smudges on the paper; “It must have been a very emotional thing for him to do this…” thought Stánclá to himself.
…You are, full sooth, the missing son of King Cealdeag. I know this will be hard for you, but you are the rightful heir to the throne of the Green Isles.
Some seasons back, around nineteen to be exact (about the length of your life so far), my brother, who was the cook at the castle at that time, came knocking on our door in great desperation. I opened the door, and he practically fell into my arms. He was carrying you. He told me of what had happened in the castle, of which you yourself well know, for I have told it to you almost completely accurate according to what he told me. Of course, I never told you what happened to the cook, but I will now: he had suffered a few dealy wounds through his escape from the corrupt guards of the castle, and died within ten minutes of delivering you to me, and making me promise that I would raise you and one day try to restore you your rightful stead as king of the Green Isles; this I promised him heartily, and after he was dead, I took him away immediately and buried him deep within the small jungle on the far western side of the isle. Your foster mother, of course, cleaned up what little mess there was so as to be as unsuspicious as possible. Hass never sent out a search for the cook and the babe (you), or, at least, he never sent out a true search (if he had not made any show of attempt to recover you, it would have been as if he were openly declaring, “I couldn’t care less,”), for if he had set out a true search and found you, he would have been obliged to promise to have you as king when you had come of age (at twenty seasons). Maybe he could have gotten rid of you, but I think not, for the beasts of the isle would have killed him if they had discovered anything had happened to you while in his care.
I wish you all the best, your friend, Ealdraclá
Stánclá’s face showed utter shock, and Stánblac stared at him curiously. Stánclá could tell that he wanted to see the letter, and so he passed it to him.
Stánblac stared at the paper for a minute or so, his face becoming very grave all the while, and then he looked up at Stánclá with a new light in his eyes and said, “Vell, vrend, zire, or vadever you vand do be galled, diz zhinez a new lighd on dingz. Vat vill you do?”
A righteous anger had been rising up in Stánclá for a small while now, and he replied thus so: “Any vay dad I gan, I vill gome aganzd Hazz undil he iz dead or ad my merzy.”
He said it with such a cold, adamant voice that Stánblac was a little shocked by its intensity, but nodded in due time.
“Aye,” he said. “Hazz’z Dayz are numbered now.”
Stánclá turned to him, “Dey alvayz have been.”
Blagvord had been at sea for months, the ship had left the Great West Current seven days since, and the beasts on-ship were getting anxious for land. Of course, there were no recent records of anyone from Hass’s Isles having travelled this far west in the last few hundred seasons. There were, of course, myths of a lush green land to the far west, but who could verify them? Who indeed, but they would know whenever they did (or did not) come to land.
Blagvord had, of course, been resistant to going willy-nilly across the unknown ocean on the Great West Current in pursuit of somebeast who would almost certainly never return to pose a thret to Hass, but Hass had been adamant, and finally Blagvord had to give in.
He moved to the front of the large ship. The winds were fair today. The crew’s moods were not. Blagvord had heard that mutiny was being planned, but he doubted it were true, after all, was he not one of the mightiest fighters in all of Hass’s kingdom?
Some of the crew threw him some surly glances, but they’d been doing it for a while, so Blagvord wasn’t worried.
The wind kept up well through the first half of the day, but lessened a little just after lunch, while Blagvord was napping in his cabin.
A large, dark wolf strode up to a great lizard of some kind and whispered in his ear, “I’s time, friend.”
The lizard blinked and nodded.
“I zhall zummon de croo.”
The lizard went off, beckoning to all he passed, “It’z time, vriendz.”
A small crowd, then most of the ship’s crew gathered on the main deck, in front of the wolf.
When Blagvord stepped out of his cabin, quite refreshed, he saw before him almost all of the ship’s crew. He sensed trouble, easily.
“Vad iz id?”
The large, dark wolf, a rebellious soul called Forthass, Blagvord recalled, stepped forward from the rest of the crowd.
“We’ve bin ‘t sea fer near three months now, th’ stores’re near half-way, and we want t’ stretch our dear paws,” he snarled in a surly voice. Several of the crew nodded.
Blagvord shrugged, seeming casual, but really preparing his every muscle for a desperate attempt to defend himself, noting the absence of some of his most loyal crewmembers; they’d help him…
“Vad gan I do aboud id?”
Snorts of anger could be heard from the crowd. The wolf took another step forward.
“Y’ kin pass me the title of ship’s navigator so’s I kin turn this ship around, and, if we be lucky, we’ll git back t’ dry land without starvin’.”
Blagvord nodded, as if considering, and then lunged forward with lightning speed, grabbing hold of the wolf’s neck, and then retreated a few steps, holding a dagger to the wolf’s throat; it would mean death by execution for him if he turned the ship around, and all the crew knew it.
He snarled at the crew, “Vun zdeb nearer, and ‘e diez.”
The wolf rolled his eyes back in fear, beckoning the crew away.
Twelve more large, dark tygers appeared from bellow deck, surrounding the sixty or so smaller wolves, lizards, rats, cats, and serpents. Certainly the crew outnumbered the tygers, but the tygers were by far the superior in skill with weapons, even so, they would likely not last if the crew rushed them, but they stood a chance.
The crew packed into a tighter space, hissing and spitting. Suddenly, Forthass twisted in Blagvord’s grip, scratching at his eyes, and screamed, “Forth, kill’em! We kin do this!”
The crew needed no second bidding, leaping forward at the great cats. It took Blagvord a few moments to get a better grip on Forthass, and when he had, he found himself being rushed by three other wolves. He kicked two of them away, winding them badly, then slammed his body into the second one, in which time Forthass had twisted completely out of his grip and picked up one of his recovering companion’s weapons.
He rushed at Blagvord, swinging the scimitar he held in his paws. Blagvord raised his fore-drawn dagger and blocked the blow, but received such a shock from the ringing blades that he dropped it as quickly as he had drawn it before the fight. Forthass grinned and swung again, but Blagvord ducked, and Forthass’s blade got stuck in the fore-mast. He tried to wrench it free, but couldn’t. Blagvord pounced upon him and smashed his head against the sword edge, causing a great slash to appear across one of his lefty eye. Forthass was temporarily stunned, so Blagvord dragged him to the side and heaved him over into the sea; just at that moment a cry came from the crow’s nest, where a rat, only just aware of the fight down bellow, was crying aloud, “Ho, mates! Stop yer foitin’ daun thar! ‘Tiz shurly land ai sees ahead o’ us!”
A stunned silence enveloped the ship, and everybeast stopped fighting to look. Sure enough, land could be seen on the horizon after a minute further had passed. Only now did the beasts notice the seabirds flying overhead.
Blagvord hissed angrily. “Zee! Iv you had only vaided! Diz vould never hav habbened.”
He spat disgustedly over the side of the ship, where Forthass had gained full consciousness, one eye and all.
“Mate, then pull me up! I promises never t’ doubt ye agin!”
Blagvord hissed down, “No, you zdarded diz. You ged yourzelv oud ov your own drubblez.”
Some of the crew gasped at this cruelty, but none dared to speak up; all the rebellious crew had been temporarily disarmed by the dark tygers just after the fight. Forthass looked up helplessly, but was met by a stony glare, then his face turned icy cold, and he sneering at Blagvord, “Ye’ll hregret tha’ one day, mate.”
For a single moment Blagvord’s hearrt turned cold, but quickly dismissing it he sneered at Forthass, “Zerdainly, ven I zmell de zdenj ov your rodden gargazz.”
Forthass glared for a moment, and then turned towards land and struck out; it was a crazy endeavour, but if he did not try, his hope of life was truly hopeless.
The crew cleaned up the four beasts who had died in the struggle and returned to their regular duties. Blagvord’s heart was still not satisfied, though.
“Nobeazd bud me and my loyal vunz vill ead undil ve reaj land.”
Baleful glares were sent his way, but he only revelled in his crew’s dread and hatred of him as land gradually came closer on the horizon.
* * *
Stánclá and his companions had been travelling together for four days when they came to the river moss. The water was cool and clear and very thirst-quenching. Quickleg smiled, “I say, old chaps, how ‘bout I sing us a luvverly little song?”
Old Fred winced; Stánclá saw it and was about suggest that they eat, knowing by now that food would divert any hare, when Stánblac enthusiastically consented, “Go ahead, vriend.”
Quickleg burst forth in raucous song, much to the horror of everyone but him. The tune was fine, but Quickleg’s voice was not:
Oh, waves wail far a-hind o’ me! Rivers sail right in front o’ me! And I’m a-eastward bound wi’ friends o’ mine To a good auld abbey great ‘n’ fine! From west-coast-ward to woody halls Stuffed t’ the ceilin’ wi’ food ‘n’ wine! I’m a good auld western hareeeee Runnin’ here ‘n’ theereee! Ain’t nothin’ like to a hare When it comes t’ getting’ ye thereee; To a place as nice ‘n’ food-stuffed as the place we’re goin’ to! ‘Cause I’m a western haaaare!
Stánblac gave a smile that seemed to be an attempt to show appreciation, “Er, very nize, now, Vred, gan you dell uz vad ve need vor lunj?”
Old Fred, too, gave a half-heartfelt smile and replied, “Aye, we’ll all need t’ be doin’ something. You, Quickleg, go fetch some watercress ‘n’ other ‘herbses; there should be lots hereabouts. Stánclá, sir, try ‘n’ see if ye can catch me a fish or somethin’ suchlike, and you, Stánblac, go find some wild herbs or wild edible veggerbils, aye? I’ll get the fire and cookstuff ready.”
They had all assembled fifteen minutes later; Stánclá had caught two large trout (he caught them with his bare claws), Stánblac had collected some wild potatoes, celery, and mint, and Quickleg had brought back an armful of watercress and some hotroot. Old Fred had two large pots half-full with water boiling over a large, open fire; into he promptly cleaned all the ingredients and threw them in. What came out was a slightly spicy, thick kind of fish-soup, or maybe a thin stew, which went down well, the hares eating well equally with the tygers.
They travelled well along the river without encountering another beast except the birds for four days, until, approaching a bend in the river, they heard voices up ahead. The friends worked out that Quickleg had best spy ahead and find out who it was.
He went forward on his belly as silently as a snake, into some thick bushes. The three beasts waiting didn’t hear anything for two minutes, then they heard a great scuffling and a short, sharp shout that sounded like it came from Quickleg. The three friends looked at each other worriedly, and then stalked forward into the bush. Stánclá drew his dead, dark blade, scanning around him. They could not see Quickleg. Suddenly Stánblac gave a small yelp of surprise as a small, brown, spiky-furred creature landed on his head from the boughs above; Stánblac pawed at the thing frantically, trying to get it off, but it would not, instead it drew a small, shiny rapier.
“Haa! Take dat, y’ great, big pussy!”
He stood upright and was just about to drive his rapier into the frantic big-cat’s head, when Old Fred gave a cry, “Why, ‘tiz only a shrew. A Gousim, I’m a-thinkin’, too.”
The shrew stopped what he was about to do and glared at Old Fred; Stánblac relaxed, taking it that there was no danger.
“Yeh, I’ma shroo! But lemmie tell ya, mate, ain’t no such thing as only a shroo,” the shrew spat indignantly.
A voice came from somewhere up ahead, “Izat you, Spikson? Don’t worry, th’ ‘are ‘ere says they iz only friends.”
The shrew shrugged and sheathed his rapier. Stánclá sighed with relief, and Stánblac muttered angrily, “Gan yoo bleaz ged ov my ‘ead?!”
The shrew replied indignantly, climbing down the great cat, “I wuz jus’ about t’ do so meself, cat.”
He had been bruised and scratched by Stánblac’s frantic barrage, but he shrugged it off, “’S nuffin’. ‘Till be gone in a fyoo days.”
Stánblac smiled, “Aye, zorry, dough, zhroo veller.”
Quickleg and another, older shrew appeared through the thick greenery. Quickleg was smiling and greeted his friend, “Hey, mates, seems we’ve jus’ stumbled across Logalog Bikkle and his tribe of Gousim, and this ole feller jus’ ‘ere (he’s Rightsome) sez they might put on a feast fer us.”
Old Fred’s eyebrows went up, and, although clearly please, he said reproachingly, “And, while you were learning about the possibilities of local delicacies, this good shrew here nearly killed or seriously wounded our dear mate, Stánblac, in which case we might just have killed him.”
Rightsome shrugged, “Aye, but all’s well that ends well. Come! I think I kin get me tribe t’ rustle ye up some good vikkles.”
The party followed behind and soon came into a small clearing by the riverside; in it were some dozens of shrews gathered around a few large campfires with their boats drawn up the gently sloping riverbank. Rightsome hailed a large and tough but happy looking shrew with a less than formal call, “’Ey there, Logalog, seems I’ve found me some hares and two great cats who wants a-feedin’!”
The Logalog hailed him merrily, “We cant just say no to pore, ‘ungry ‘venturers, now, can we?” then, eying the two cats with goggling eyes, “But see, they’re hyooj…! How kin we feed such monstrous beasties as those?!”
Stánclá smiled and bowed himself slightly to the shrew chieftain, “Do nod vorry, friend, ve eat no more dan a hare.”
The Logalog’s eyes widened, “Well, that’s not saying much t’ assure me!” but he smiled again and continued, “Nonetheless, we’ve dealt wi’ ‘ares in the past, and we’ll do it agin!”
Spikson hurried off to inform the cooks, meanwhile a great crowd of shrews flocked to the great cats, goggling at their size.
“Golly, wouldn’t wanna be eaten by wun ov dem beasties…”
“Lookit ‘iz claws, they’m like stone-grey daggers…”
“Cats, too, never liked cats…”
And so the chatter went, but soon enough Logalog Bikkle asked them a few question.
“So, I’ma guessin’ that ye’re frum Salamandawotitsplace?”
Old Fred nodded, “Aye, me ‘n’ this young hare Quickleg’re frum Salamandastron.”
“And wot about those two greatcatsez?”
“Vell, sir,” replied Stánclá, “Ve come from over de ocean do de vest, from a land oft called Hass’s Isles, but properly called de Greed Isles.”
The elders of the tribe and the four travellers soon got lost in conversation, especially conversation about travelling on the great, wide ocean.
Within the hour a great feast was full prepared, at which the travellers enjoyed themselves immensely. The merrymaking went on late into the night, until the last sleep-fast beasts finally fell asleep.
Blagvord had made landfall three days since, but he had made no move inland, yet; his scouts were taking the lie of the land.
Moods were black among all but the lizards as the roasting sun beat down on the ship in the midday’s heat.
One three-beat scouting party came trudging back over the sands to the north. The watcher in the crow’s nest called below, “’Tiz Sgith and his party back!”
Blagvord looked up from the rough map he had drawn up of the near-lying coastlands which he had assembled with the information he had received from his scouts so far.
“Bring dem do me,” he called out to nobeast in particular. A few serpents crawled out to meet the approaching party. Within five minutes they were up on ship and their leader, a black tyger (Blagvord had sent one along with every party), made his report: “Blagvord, zir, ve vend nord, juzd az you gommanded uz, and avder more dan a dayz draveling ve zaw a gread moundain, and ven ve game near, ve zaw dad id vaz a gread vordrezz guarded by rabbidz. Ve did nod zhow ourzelvez do dem, bud redurned az gwigly az ve gould.”
“Very good. Ve vill vaid undil all de zgouding bardiez redurn, den ve vill dage our zhip nord, zo long az I hear no bedder ding do do. Now, dell me de lie ov de land…”
* * *
Stánclá had arranged for Logalog Bikkle and his Gousim to paddle him and his friends upstream, from whence, Old Fred and Bikkle assured, it would only be a short distance to the abbey called Redwall. Although fighting against the current, the Gousim log-boats had made good progress, the Gousim being excellent water-beasts. The two great cats and the two hares, too, proved themselves skilful waterbeasts, although Stánclá’s and Stánblac’s size was a fearsome thing; they took up over half a log-boat’s space each.
It was past midday, and the beasts a-boat were getting exhausted, having been rowing half the day against the current. Logalog Bikkle called a halt, and the rowers thankfully steered to the southern bank of the River Moss.
The shrew-cooks began to prepare lunch; Old Fred went and joined them, and Stánblac went and lay down in the shade of some trees, but Quicklieg, Stánclá, and Logalog Bikkle decided to go inland to find a tall tree to see the lay of the land; Bikkle said they were surely nearing Redwall.
They wandered inland a bit searching for such a tree. After five minutes going strait south, they found themselves in a very large clearing, perhaps so large it could be called a field, it would have been a pleasant place, had it not been for a large band of thirty vermin surrounding a squirrel just past the prime of his life and a hedgehog couple.
The vermin, mostly rats, were giving the three a hard time, but they were not engaging in melee combat, only throwing stones, pinecones, and suchlike, at them and mocking them with petty insults. Logalog Bikkle’s brow wrinkled menacingly, and Stánclá drew in a sharp breath, but Quickleg, wasting no time, broke into a run, roaring, “Eeeuuuulaaaalia!”
The two other’s followed suit, Logalog shouting his ancient Gousim war-cry, and Stánclá doing the same to one of his.
The vermin turned towards the charging threesome, and were bowled over, very unready, by the ferocity of the attack. Stánclá had overtaken Quickleg and crashed into the band first, roaring, “Zdonez do breag ye! Baddle-zdooone o’ Green Islez!”
The squirrel and hedgehogs saw their chance and, taking up some fallen weapons, began swinging death to the vermin. Quickleg piled on, and Logalog soon thereafter, screaming, “Looogaaaloooogaaloggg!” and “Eeuuulaaaliaaaa!”
Within thirty seconds ten vermin lay dead, but the remaining twenty or so managed to rally themselves, putting up somewhat of a resistance, but the onslaught, especially from such a great beast as Stánclá, was too much for them. They were shattered, body and mind, and soon fell beneath the humming blade, except one: a great, vile, black rat. He detached himself from the group and fled, the seasoned squirrel saw him leaving and made as if to pursue, but Stánclá stopped him, “Leave it, vriend, he is helpless now, and to cut him down vould be cowardly.”
The squirrel nodded, but with regret in his eyes, “Aye.”
The six withdrew themselves some fifty metres from the carnage, where the lady hedgehog burst out in tears, “H’oh, fank you ever so much, good sirs; h’I don’t know hwot we would’ve done wivout yew…”
The male hedgehog cautiously put his arms around her and said, “There, there, Spikvrouw, dear, it’s fine now…”
The squirrel smiled, and, being the most together of the three, made a better attempt at thanking the three heroes: “I must express my extreme gratitude as to your having saved us, for we would surely have done battle with yon deadlings whe’er or not ye came to our aid, but we would likely be the deadlings right a-now.”
He bowed his head deeply to the three, and, in return, Stánclá bowed his, “It vas noding, vriend, ve vould never leave such goodbeasts as you to die at de clawz of yon rats ‘nd verminz in general. But come, vere are you going?”
The squirrel was about to make a reply, but the male hedgehog, beat him to it: “We’re h’bound fer Redwall h’Abbey. It’s but a little east and sou’ o’ h’ere.”
The squirrel nodded, “Aye.”
Quickleg nodded his head vigorously, “Say, old lads and ladesses, same here, wot, wot!”
The squirrel tilted his head in interest, “Really? But see, let us introduce ourselves, then we kin discuss our common goals, eh? I’m Redflow.”
The male hedgehog nodded, “And h’I’m ‘Ogson.”
“And h’I’m Spikvrouw,” added the female hedgehog.
The six shook paws, and Bikkle introduced his side of the gathering: “I’m Logalog Bikkle o’ the Gousim, this great cat y’see ‘ere is Staaaanclaaa (or summat like that), and this young ‘are is Quickleg.”
“Oh,” said Redflow, “Logalog are ye? I presume ye’ve got your tribe somewhere hereabouts? Come, might we join ye?”
Bikkle nodded, “Aye, and for the rest o’ the journey too, though y’ may find our log-boats a bit cramped.”
Redflow smiled, “Oh, we dinnae mind. Safer in bands, as they say…”
The beasts of both parties were soon getting along like old friends, smiling and laughing together as they moved off back towards the Gousim camp, where rest awaited the weary.
The last of Blagvord’s scouts had returned, and, after mapping the round-lying land as best he could according to their description, he ordered the ship to be made ready (they had offloaded much, not thinking they would be landing anywhere else), lifted anchor (he had weighed anchor at but less than one half-hundred yards from the shore – the beach at that point was steeply sloping), and sailed north to Salamandastron. The wind was fair, and it took the large ship but ten hours to reach the place, but it was by then quite dark, nonetheless Blagvord commanded that he be landed ashore with his two most trusted tygers (he dared not take anymore lest the crew should rebel – their spirits were still hot against him because of his cruelty to Forthass); he waited the night through on Lord Eisoculus’s front doorstep without the vigilant hares on guard throughout the night without so much as noticing the great, dark shades which blended in so well with the dark, shadowy rocks.
As the sun rose, however, they were more clearly seen, and soon a disturbance was heard from behind the great doors. A large (but still little over half as large as Blagvord) badger with starkly blue eyes strode forth from the opening doors with a military-looking hare striding confidently close behind him, and a whole crowd of hares various kinds of hares coming behind at a respectful distance. Blagvord got up from the almost-black stone he had been sitting upon and strode towards the badger with his two guards close behind him.
“What do you want here, cat?” thundered Eisoculus. “My hares tell me you appeared out of nowhere (but clearly not so). If you be friend, then welcome, but otherwise, you will find my shores and my mountain an unforgiving place for you.”
Blagvord felt great contempt for the badger, brave and strong though he clearly was, and his army of little hares, but he was not about to argue with this short beast – there was no need.
“I am gome here vor a beazd of zum gind, vun maybe liyg me, maybe nod. Have you zeen zuj a greajure?”
Eisoculus raised one side of his brow questioningly.
“I should not know ‘till I know exactly what such a beast this creature is, and why do you seek it? It is not often we have cats like you visit our shores,” (in truth, he had never seen or heard of such a cat before he had met Stánclá.)
Blagvord instantly heard the hesitation in the badger’s voice, but played on further.
“He iz, I believe, a gread gad, or maybe a bear, or maybe a volv.”
Eisoculus was sick of trying to pretend innocence, and saw that his attempt at seeming unknowing had failed. He locked eyes with Blagvord and strode to within Blagvord’s reach, then spat on the sand at his feet, then menacingly he said, “What if I do? Did you really think I would tell you anything, hated one! Go your way, for you will neither break us, nor will you learn from us; we can hold this fortress for and age and longer.”
Blagvord lashed out with his claws, slashing across one of Eisoculus’s eyes, leaving a deep, long scar from the tip of his left ear to the tip of his snout, then he kicked him in the stomach, winding him deeply, but he was surprised and pained to find that, instead of keeling over in pain, Eisoculus, in reply (though still getting his breath back and still blinking his left eye), smashed out into Blagvord’s left leg with his great, heavy badger claws; his rising bloodwrath found satisfaction in a yelp and a crunch as he felt his claws strike bone, and then, with his second stroke, beyond that. Blagvord, not Eisoculus, was the one to keel over in pain. His two guards stepped forward, as if to slay the badger, but Blagvord had seen the blood-red rising in Eisoculus’s eyes and had heard strange tales of bloody-eyed badgers devastating even great bears in their rage; also, the hares were marching forward angrily, drawing their swords, so Eisoculus shook his head, his leg throbbing with pain, “Leave him, fools, or we die here.”
There was no way that the three, cats, great though they were, could stand up to the mountain of hares and an adamant badger, so they returned to the waiting boat. And paddled pack to the ship. Blagvor’s left leg’s thigh-bone was broken through, and there were no surgeons on the ship, although there was one beast – a seasoned wolf – who could do just about as well as any surgeon. He felt around inside the leg wound with thoroughly cleaned paws, causing Blagvord excruciation pain.
“Yer lucky, sir, that the bloomin’ great badger over by yon mountain didn’t cause yer bone to shatter into pieces, only two ‘alves – simple enough break if ye ask me. I can bind it well and recommend that ye nae walk on it extensively fer about two months, and, with luck, it should be full well healed in about three months."
Blagvord winced as he heard the statement, but he was not pressed for time, after all, Hass had not put a deadline on his return, and it was not like he was racing any beast back the isles…
* * *
A young hedgehog was running around the wall-tops, scanning the forest surrounding Redwall Abbey. The otter Bole sighed, calling to the hedgehog for the tenth time, “Wee matey, let’s go down, we’ll know well enough when they come.”
“Huh, budd I wanna be th’ h’first t’ see them!” exclaimed the hedgehog.
“Whether’r not ye’re the first t’ see them, they’ll come sure enough. Let’s go’n join th’ other fer affernoon tea, hey?”
The little hedgehog shrugged his spiky shoulders, allowing the otter to accompany him down the wall-steps.
The afternoon-tea was grand, as ever, and there was a certain expectancy in the air, for it was nearly four seasons since Spikvrouw and Hogson (the parents of young Oggle) had gone off travelling with the slightly older squirrel, Redflow. They had said they would be no more than four seasons, and so everybeast expected them soon, but Oggle was especially impatient for their return, for he was but two seasons old when they had departed.
Soon enough, the Abbot, Gamel, a mouse just past the prime of his life, called for afternoon-tea to be cleared away, at which all the young abbeybeasts went off to play in the orchard except Oggle, who returned to his vigilant watch with Bole.
* * *
The shrew tribe was striding through Mossflower woods at a ground-eating pace, with Stánclá, Stánblac, Logalog Bikkle, the two hares, and the three abbeybeasts taking the lead. They had manoeuvred around from the north of the abbey to the west of it, so as to come to the path leading up to the main gates.
It was Quickleg who first spotted the red walls rising up in the distance, and a great shout arose as the Abbey came more into view. Hogson, Spikvrouw, and Redflow broke off into a run, with everyone else soon joining in the wild rush for the abbey. Stánclá and Stánblac soon outdistanced the others easily, racing ahead.
* * *
Oggle still scanned the woods when he saw two great, black cats bounding along the path towards Redwall’s main gates. He stood goggling for a moment at the size of the beasts, then shouted to Bole, who was standing some four meters away and looking towards the north, “Gack! Bole, lookit h’at! Those catters’re sure hyooj!”
Bole whipped his head around towards where Oggle was pointing and goggling, then goggled too, but only for a moment; he seized Oggle’s paws and practically dragged Oggle down the wall-steps towards the Great Hall. He burst through the front doors shouting, “There’re two great, black beasts chargin’ towards th’ abbey! Cats, I think. Get the warriors assembled! Call the guards! Send to Salamandastron for help! They’re huge!”
Soon seemingly everybeast was gathered around Bole, asking questions:
“Cats? Big? Do they look evil?”
“ Do they’m got fangses?”
“And big swords?”
“And bloody-red eyes?”
Abbot Gamel silenced the questions with a stern look, then asked the otter in a more orderly fashion, “And just was evil deed have they done to arouse our hatred?”
Bole was somewhat taken aback by the strong words, by realized the sense in the question and replied, “Nothing, Abbot, sir.”
Gamel nodded his head sagely, “Then let us go to see what they want.”
The whole crowd began to move off towards the wall at a rapid speed, but Oggle was by far the first there, and when he looked over the wall-tops again, he let out a loud exclamation, “It’s pa ‘n’ ma ‘n’ Redflow ‘n’ lots of h’shrewses!”
He would have fallen over the parapets in excitement if young Bole had not seized him by the spike and hauled him up from his position leaning dangerously far out.
“Aye,” he said, “but let’s no’ go falling off the walls, for wouldn’t opening the gates be a better options, wee matey?”
By this time everybeast within Redwall’s walls had gathered on the wall-tops, looking down at the rapidly growing crowd of beasts, mostly shrews, in front of the main gates. The gatekeeper, Dole Waterflail, Bole’s father, dashed down to the gates and began to undo the great bars across them. Meanwhile, Abbot Gamel was making inquiries and a welcoming speech:
“Well, Hogson, Spikvrouw, Redflow, and allbeasts other, welcome! By the way, I presume that these two great, unintroduced cats down here are your friends, being in your company and all?”
Hogson shouted joyously up, “Aye, sir! And ever will be! H’ey saved our lives, but we’ll tell ye all h’about that h’later, sir!”
Logalog Bikkle nodded and stepped forward from the crowd of Gousim, calling up to the abbot, “Abbot, sir, would it be no trouble if me’n me shrewbeasts here stopped by for the afternoon? I’m Logalog Bikkle of the Gousim, by the way.”
Abbot Gamel nodded down, “Aye, ‘twould be no problem, friend! Now, come, for our gates are open to ye!”
The gates were opening wider, and the Gousim tribe and all flocked inside. Redwallers rushed out to the returning travellers to here news of their travels, but Oggle was the first out and practically rammed into his parents, who enveloped him in their arms.
“Arrr, sonny! ‘Tiz good to see ye!”
“Oh, isn’t h’it just my likkle baby, how were you Oggle, my ‘oglet?”
The happy travellers and newly-introduced friends made their way across to the Great Hall, with young dibbuns and the mole-friar Grundwey dashing ahead to make preparations for a great feast to last into the depths of night.
Blagvord decided that he would not try to mount an attack on Salamandastron, for he believed that whatever beast he was seeking was not inside, but whatever beast it was had certainly passed that way. He decided to travel north along the coast for a while, then anchor the ship and head inland. Inland was likely where there were more beasts, and beasts usually gave information – if they were pressed hard enough, that is. And even if he could not find whatever beast he was looking for inland, it would still likely be far more pleasant the hot, salty, windy coast with miles of sand.
* * *
Bendnose the stoat was at his post amidst the bushes, watching for anybeast who might be venturing towards the vermin band’s campsite, when he heard a scuffling sound ahead coming his way, then he saw a large, black rat trudging through the bushes. He tensed, glancing over at his weasel compainion hiding in another bush some three meters away.
The rat was cuaght totally unaware as the two vermin rushed upon him from the bushes and muscled him towards their camp, and he made no attempt of resitance, for he knew the pointlessness of such a venture.
The two vermin pulled the rat into a camp of some fourty vermin living in eleven large tents. They took him into the largest of the tents, which sat in the middle of the camp; in it sat a fox, who looked truly a sly beast. He eyed the two with shifty, green eyes and looked the rat thoroughly up and down before dismissing the two vermin back to their posts, “Youse ‘uns kin get off back t’ yer posts now; I’ma thinkin’ t’ have a wee chat wi’ this ‘ere rat-beast.”
The two nodded and left, leaving the rat and the fox alone. The fox smiled wickedly at the rat, showing his sharp fangs, “Now, don’tshoo go a’thinkin’ tha’ I’ma ‘elpless wee babe-fox, eh. ‘Cuz I kin tell y’, I amnae such a thing’s tha’.”
He demonstrated his point nicely by throwing a small throwing knife just past the rats face, clipping off some of his whiskers. He smiled again, “I kin chop jussabout anyt’in’ beast-like in arf: ladybug, grass’oper, you name it.”
The rat nodded his head; he was in no condition to make a resistance. The fox continued, “So, hwa’s yer problem, ratty? Yer’a lookin’ right bedraggled jus’ stan’in’ there wi’ yer whiskers all a’droopin’ as if hey were real tired-like.”
The rat closed his eyes for concentration, then said hoarsely, “Look, matey, I war th’ leader o’ a band not much smaller’n yers jus’ ‘ere, but my band war a-kill-ed, if’n yer knows what I’m meaning?”
The fox nodded, and the rat went on, “Y’ see, we’m weren roamin’ the countryside, when we cames ‘cross some peaceful beasties, we did; two ‘edge’ogs ‘n a squirrel, it war. Now I sez to me mateys, ‘Less gerrim, for surely they got summat worthwhile on ‘em, and even if not, ‘till be a bit o’ fun,” so I sez, and they all nods really eager-like. Now we surrounded ‘em, and were teasin’ ‘em a bit before th’ kill, when a great cat and his followers come a-smashin’ into us. The cat war full-nigh hyoooj, twice’s big’s a badger, I thinks. And see ‘ere, ‘im and his friends, well, they jus’ beat all me good mateys t’ the ground ‘n kill ‘em, jus’ like that! And what duz I do? I sez to meself, ‘See ‘ere, Blackart, ‘tain’t no way yer goin’ to beat those ‘uns,’ and so I jus’ runs fer it. And look! I’m h’only wun of me mateys left! All of th’ others – gone!”
The fox had been listening interestedly, but did not like the familiar way the rat was talking to him, after all, the rat was at his mercy, and now he voiced his opinion, “I think, pris’ner, tha’ ye’re summat mad in th’ ‘ead. See ‘ere, cats’re big, but none I ever seen been even so big’s a badger, let alone twice so big’s a badger. But see, ye can ‘old the opinion o’ ‘is size for yerself, but lissen, liddle matey, yer at my mercy, ye are, and I kin jus’ kill ye ‘ere on th’ spot if’n I’ma wantin’ to. So you’d better lissen t’ me: I’m a kind-‘earted beast at th’ beast o’ times, and right now’s the best o’ times, so I’ma willin’ t’ spare yer wretched life if’n ye pledge yerself alleee-jins t’ me, right? All yer gotter do is bow down before me’n kiss me foot’n vow t’ be lyal t’ me ‘till the day I day, yis? Tha’ means tha’ yer gotter do hwot I say, yis.”
The rat, if he had had no hair, would have been clearly an enraged pink right then, but his life was in the balance, and it would be better to kiss the brigand-lord’s foot than to have one’s head cut off, or so he thought. He nodded, bit his lip, and slowly bowed himself before the tyrant, kissing his foot and saying, “I pledges allegiance t’ yer majesty. I will do hwotever ye says ‘till th’ day I or ye die.”
The fox smiled happily, smirked, and said, “Now, thees’re me first commands fer ye: Never plot agin’ me in yore entire life, or I’ll flay e alive; stay bowin’ t’ me fer a few more minutes; and after that ye kin do the washin’, h’it’s no’ been a-done in weeks.”
The rat inhaled sharply at the pompous commands, but he nodded his head from his bowed position and said, “Yis, master fox.”
“Oh, and another thing,” said the fox, “Ye kin call me Master Flametail, fer that’s me rightful name, slaveratthingy.”\
"Me name iz Backart, dummy," the rat muttered under his breath.
"Hwot woz tha'?"
"Nuffin', Master Flametail."
* * *
The beasts at Redwall abbey had been preparing a great feast for the last four or so hours, and finally it was ready, a great feast indeed. “Positively a hoard of food, wot, wot!” as Quickleg observed.
The finest wines, ales, and cordials were brought up from the cellars by the goodly cellar-beast, a hedgehog, Hogson’s brother, called Pinhead. Stánclá and Stánlac had rarely ever taken to the bottle, but they did so that night and their senses reeled from it as the hares downed food at an amazing rate (the dibbuns could not help but stare wide-eyed at them). They could scarce walk straight, the two big cats, but their thinking was clear enough, by which Abbot Gamel was able to extract the last of what Stánclá and Stánblac had to tell of their adventures so far (for they had been talking to him most of the afternoon). He enjoyed the merriment of the moment, as the feast went on late into the night, but when the beasts began to thin out, he turned to the skipper, Buster Waterflail, Dole Waterflail’s elder brother, and expressed his concern, “Buser, you are a good skipper, and you will be for a long time to come, hopefully; tell me what do you think of Stánclá’s and Stánblac’s tales? Personally, I have never seen nor heard of beasts quite so big as these two in all my life, expect, perhaps, in some of the older writings from the Gatehouse, and they say that there are beasts as big as them and ever bigger where they come from! And those beasts are probably in pursuit of them at this very moment! Is this not dangerous to the Abbey? Tell me, what do you think?”
The Skipper nodded, “Aye, matey, but we ‘ere at Redwall always show hospitality to good beasts, and it only works out that we should do th’ same for these ‘uns here too.”
“Yes, Skipper, but think of the dibbuns. Imagine if an army of beasts like Stánclá assailed Redwall – they could probably scale our walls just by climbing on each others’ shoulders! We would not stand a chance.”
The skipper nodded gravely, “Aye, mayhap, Father Abbot, it’d be best fer us to have council with th’ elders here on the morrow, with Stánclá, Stánblac, the two hares, and Logalog, too.”
“Yes, I think so, old friend.”
With that the turned to enjoying the merriment for as long as they could, with the late-stayers (or maybe early-stayers) staying well into the night and the next day, the main two of which being Quickleg and Old Fred, but even they were fast asleep as the morning light filtered through the stained-glass windows with the dawning of a new day.
Eisoculus had had a tracking party of twenty hares follow the ship as best it might along the beach. Each day, one hare was sent from the party to carry news to the mountain, and a fresh hare was sent from the mountain to replenish the party. So far Blagvord’s ship had made good headway to the north, and was nearing the River Moss. Eisoculus was troubled. Possibly the great, black, evil cat was planning on searching inland, in which case he might have more luck than just searching up and down the coastline. He had been thinking the problem over for some days, and finally he went to the great room deep in the mountain where his fore-goers had spent their time, the place where many badgers had had fore-sighted revelations. Once, there had been a stone wall standing between the cave beyond and whoever wished to enter it, a strange kind of stone it had been to, for it seemed to bend under much strength, and so it had, for many badgers, but after many long ages of this, it broke, and now there was a sizeable hole through which anybeast small enough could pass, but usually only a badger could know the mountain so well as to find the place easily, and all the hares knew it was a forbidden place set aside for the badgers, anyway. Eisoculus crawled through this and into the chamber beyond. Along the walls were a great many pictures and paintings containing many stories and predictions, and many caskets containing the bones of Eisoculus’s fore-goers stood leaning against the walls.
Eisoculus went to the end of this chamber and sat himself on a great seat, like a throne, with great arm-rests. He sunk deep into this throne and sighed deeply; his eyes were closed, and his heart was beating slowly, but if he had opened his eyes, the blood-red tint in them could clearly have been seen.
Eisoculus seemed to see before him a great, old badger. He knew the beast well enough by its sheer size and strength. The great badger smiled at Eisoculus, “Lord of Salamandastron, I am to tell you what you must do.”
“What, Lord Brocktree?”
“This is a hard time for you; you are caught between going to help your friends from what you know to be a possible peril, but you do not want to leave this mountain unprotected by a badger.”
“Yes. That is right.”
“But see, go to help Stánclá in his time of need, otherwise he will surely be overwhelmed, and isles he told you of will surely be lost for a great many more ages to the long, dark claws of evil.”
“But who am I to leave in charge of the mountain?”
“Leave Hereman in charge; he is a good general, and until the next ruler of this mountain comes, he will be a good steward, too.”
“Until the next ruler of this mountain comes? What? Am I not to return?”
“No, you will not see this mountain again. But one who is worthy will take your place, just as you did to he who came before you, Lord Fireheart.”
Eisoculus nodded his head, “Very well, Lord Brocktree, but what will become of me?”
Brocktree seemed to bow his head a little, as if in sorrow, “Though the badger-lords see far and know much, this I cannot know nor tell. But I think good will come to you.”
Eisoculus nodded, the dream faded, and he awoke. He looked around, feeling in his bones that it was late. He shook his head sadly, for he had much to do.
* * *
All of elders of Redwall had gathered together the Great Hall around midday, plus many of the younger but still full-grown Redwallers. Stánclá, Stánblac, the two hares, and Logalog Bikkle were also all present (most late-stayers at the feast having slept well into the morning) and all were sitting on chairs, except the two cats, who had to make to with a improvised seat of two stumps with a plank between, which had been hastily assembled the night before in time for the feast.
Abbot Gamel got up from his great chair to address the assembly, “Goodbeasts all, most of you will know why I have called you here today, but for those of you not quite certain, it is because of these two goodbeasts, namely, Stánclá and Stánblac.”
Heads nodded knowingly, and the Abbot went on, “I think you will all be familiar with their story so far, but for those of you who don’t,” he stopped with a glimmer in his eye, and said something that marked him out among most Abbots as just a little cheeky, “well, you’d best get whoever is sitting next to you to clue you in.”
Instantly a few beasts began cluing up with their neighbour next to them. One old squirrel, Holdy, stood up, asking, “And what of these two cats, o Abbot?”
“Well,” continued the Abbot, “it is well known that Redwall has an unofficial code of generosity, unless we have reason to be anything but generous. These two cats, by their excellent behaviour and good actions have shown that they are indeed worthy of our generosity and hospitality, and I wish with all my heart to grant it to them. But you may be aware of the possible peril these two beasts may be in, and they take it with them wherever they go. This would be no problem for me if, for example, this Abbey were filled with seasoned beasts and warriors, for Redwallers are brave beasts indeed, though we may sacrifice our lives for the sake of goodness; but we are not alone; there are many young and not full-grown among us, and I think the risk very great indeed, to have an army of such beasts as these two attacking Redwall with dibbuns and all.”
Stánclá nodded his head, and before anyone else said anything more, he spoke, “Yesz, zir, vat you say iz true. And see, ve do not vish to cause trouble for such a vonderful plaze az disz. Stánblac and I vill surely leave az soon az ve may, and vid many danksz to you for you’re the hospitality you have given usz.”
A buzz of conversation broke out, and Abbot Gamel blinked with surprise and gladness, for this made things much simpler, “Well, Stánclá, that simplifies things, and I must thank you muchly for your willingness to cooperate for the safety of our young ones. I would love to have you longer, but you seem to have such danger as we here at Redwall would not want our dibbuns to face. But come, we are not so hasty to get rid of you as all that. Stay some days more, rest, and stock up your supplies. Also, do not think we will leave you helpless before the common foe; I image that there are those among us who would be only too glad to accompany you. But see, you must surely work out plans, else you will be doing nothing more than running away from villain, and as much as it is good to preserve one’s life, you really need to have an objective.”
Stánclá nodded, “Vell, sir, you see, you know full vell dat I am de rightful heir to de drone of de Green Islesz. I voul like to return dere, but it vill take much time, and such a goal isz far in de future for Stánblac and I. For now, I dink dat it vould be best to somehow keep wary for anyding dat might be pursuing me. I do not even know for abszolute certain dat I am being followed yet.”
The Abbot nodded, “But see now, come and enjoy yourselves while this time of peace lasts.”
* * *
The brigand leader Flametail decided to make north towards the River Moss. There the land was good, and he hoped to pick of some beasts maybe hanging around abundant resource for water and food. The camp was packed up, and everybeast but Flametail himself had a heavy load to carry.
* * *
Forthass had been floating at sea for well over a week, holding onto driftwood, living off the small amount of vegetation growth on it and the small amount of fish and suchlike watercreatures he was able to catch. He had been surprised that he had not yet been consumed by some great fish or shark, but thankful, although near dead, and unconscious most of the time, still hanging on for dear life.
He became vaguely aware, after passing out for a time and coming back to near-wakefulness, that he could feel sand underneath his body, with the waves lapping over him and up the beach. He could scarce open his eyes, for they were sealed tight shut with dried salt, but he clawed his way up the sandy beach a bit, out of reach of the high tide, before passing out again. He was oblivious to the hares who came and saw him there, half dead in the sun, and was oblivious of being carried by some twenty of them north along the beach. He would not be aware of anything for some time yet.
(To be continued)