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It was the season of heavy rain and strong gales, and a great downpour was occurring late one night in Mossflower Woods. The cold, merciless rain churned the dirt into thick,sticky mud, and the wind caused the trees and other flora to thrash about violently. The forest-dwellers were locked up tightly within their homes, warm, dry, and safe from the raging storm. Indeed, it was foolish for any beast to have so much as a toe outside in such dreadful weather. That, however, did not stop the vixen.
The mysterious vixen had been running through the forest for quite some time now, a paw constantly resting on her swollen belly. She was due for birth, but she refused to have her child until she found a safe place. Her cries and pleas for shelter rang out over the claps of thunder, but no one opened their door for her. Instead, she received confused and mistrusting stares from the windows of the Mossflower inhabitants' homes. Why on earth would anyone supply shelter to a vermin? The pregnant vixen let out a cry as her footpaws got stuck in the sticky mud. She fell into it, her red coat stained. The vixen lied in the mud for a while; she was so tired, and just couldn't bring herself to move anymore. But, when she thought of her fast-approaching cub, she found the strength to push on. She crawled on her paws and knees out of the mud, towards the direction of a tree stump house. Surely, the beast in there would be kind enough to let a weary mother-to-be give birth? After what seemed like an eternity, she arrived at the house's door. Gathering her last bit of strength, she hit her paw against the door with a loud "BANG!" Seconds passed, and the door opened. A hedgehogmaiden stared down at the vixen. The vixen stared up at the hedgehog, her eyes begging for help. More seconds passed, before the hedgehogmaiden dragged the vixen's body inside her tree stump, and out of the storm.
The sound of a wailing, newborn fox cub echoed through the hedgehogmaiden's home. The hedgehogmaiden gently cradled her in her arms, whispering tender words to calm her down.
"There, there," said the hedgehog. "I'm here. I'm here, I've got you."
The maiden's eyes glanced at the wooden table that rested in the center of her home. The mother vixen rested on it, lifeless and covered in blood. She hadn't survived the birthing process. The cub was now an orphan. Sadness and sympathy gripped the hedgehog's heart. She glanced at the cub, who was now beginning to quiet down.
"...I'll take care of you," the hedgehog declared. "It's what your dear mother would've wanted, bless her soul. And your name? Your name will be...Barabell."
Celler-keeper of Redwall Abbey, Patrick Nudgin, trekked through Mossflower Woods. He had been sent by the Father Abbot to invite the woodlanders to the annual Midsummer Jubilee Feast. At the moment, there was one family in particular the hedgehog wanted to invite. But there was a problem. Patrick wasn't sure he was going in the right direction. He was in a clearing, looking around, confused.
"Now, I know there was an apple tree sapling 'round here somewhere..." he muttered to himself. "It couldn't 'ave just gotten up and walked off? Or maybe..." the hedgehog swallowed nervously. "Maybe I be lost? Oh, woe is me! I've gotten meself lost, never to be seen again!"
The hedgehog fell onto his knees, and made an over-dramatic gesture.
"Alas!" he cried miserably. "I'll be stuck here for the remainder of me days!"
While Patrick continued to wail and weep, something had sneaked up behind him on silent pawsteps. The creature pulled out a kitchen knife from the rope belt around her waist, and held it to the hedgehog's throat. Patrick froze. A sinister chuckle rang in his ear, and the familiar scent of fox rang in his nose.
"Turn them pockets inside out, hedgepig," the fox hissed. "Give me your valuables."
As soon as the fox spoke, however, Patrick's fear faded, and was replaced with a combination of amusement, relief, and mild annoyance. Patrick pushed the knife-wielding paw away and turned to the fox, shaking his spiky head.
"Barabell," he scolded. "You nearly scared me to death."
The vixen, Barabell, laughed at her little prank.
"Sorry, Mr. Nudgin, but I just had to!"
"You little rapscallion," said Patrick. "And prey tell, where is the apple tree sapling?"
"I uprooted it," explained the vixen proudly. "Don't worry; I'll put it back. It's fun seeing how dramatic you get when you're frightened. You'd make a good performer, don't you know, Mr. Nudgin?"
"A performer, you say?" repeated the hedgehog. "Well, I did do a bit of performing as a wee one... Oh, bugger, I'm getting distracted! I must speak with Ms. Agatha."
Barabell nodded, and took Patrick's paw. She led him through the forest, until they reached the tree stump house. Inside, Barabell's adopted mother, Agatha, sat in her rocking chair, gently swaying back and forth as she sewed together some cotton breeches for her daughter. Although they were rather masculine, Barabell seemed to enjoy wearing them rather than dresses, and what made Barabell happy made Agatha happy. She stopped her sewing when the front door opened, and Barabell and Patrick walked in. Barabell rushed to her adopted mother, excitement in her eyes.
"Mum!" she chirped. "Mum! Mr. Patrick's here!"
"I see, replied Agatha in a gentle, amused voice. "And to what do I owe this pleasure, Mr. Patrick? The recital of another love poem? Or is it so that I can be given yet another bouquet of Redwall's summer roses?"
"Neither, at least this time," said Patrick, a smile on his muzzle. "It's that time of the year again. Abbot Nicholas is having another Midsummer Jubilee."
"Is he now? My, my, a year has passed by so quickly. Well, you already know my answer."
"And that is?"
Both Patrick and Barabell let out miserable sighs.
"Mum, you always say no," complained the vixen. "Why can't we go to the Jubilee? I want to see what Redwall Abbey is like."
Agatha stared at Barabell grimly.
"I know you do, my child, but..." the hedgehogmaiden trailed off. She just couldn't bare tell the vixen what the Redwallers would think of her.
Patrick turned to Barabell.
"Could you excuse us for a moment, Barabell?"
The vixen was unsure why they couldn't speak in front of her, but nevertheless, she obeyed. She slipped outside, but held the door open just a bit, to catch little bits and pieces of the quiet conversation.
"It's Redwall's code to accept all creatures," Patrick was saying. "They won't deny her."
"But that won't stop the more skeptical ones from judging her, and treating her like a threat," Agatha argued back. "She's already got a reputation in Mossflower. No one trusts her. They don't believe a vermin can be raised to be good."
Barabell had heard enough. She closed the door the rest of the way, and sat against the house, sighing. Barabell had a bit of an idea of what Agatha was talking about. She couldn't explain it, but sometimes, she'd be taken over by a feeling of greed. She had once gotten in trouble with nearby family of rabbits for swiping their rhubarb pie as it was cooling. This, and other instances of Barabell's random moments of petty thievery and trickery, caused more suspicion to be thrown her way. Barabell now felt guilt run through her for her prank against Patrick earlier.
Shaken from her thoughts, Barabell looked up to see Patrick peering at her from the front door of the house. Quickly, she got to her paws and went to the hedgehog. Silently, they went inside. Barabell glanced at Agatha. The maiden had a thoughtful look on her face. Whatever Patrick had said to her possibly gotten her to reconsider. There was a still, lingering silence between the three animals. Suddenly, Agatha spoke.
"Barabell," she began. "If you promise to me that you'll keep your paws to yourself and be a good little foxmaiden, then we shall go to the Jubilee. But only if you promise."
Barabell's golden eyes glowed with happiness. She rushed to Agatha and hugged her tightly.
"Of course I do, Mum!"
"Then we'll go."
The excited vixen leaped about like a hare stepping on hot coals, cheering ecstatically. Patrick smiled.
"I best hurry and get me job done, then," he said. "I've got to look presentable for such beautiful guests." He flashed a gallant smile at Agatha when he said the word, "beautiful".
Agatha couldn't help but smile at Patrick. It seemed that he would never stop trying to win her heart.
Far beyond the vastness that was Mossflower Woods, deep in the northeastern region of the Northlands, existed a great, black mountain, covered from its base to its tip in snow, even during the hottest time of the year. So great and tall was this mountain, that the peak was hidden from view by a massive gathering of clouds. Also concealed by the clouds, was a white castle made of marble at its center. This was the kingdom of Jicidus, the home of the Icesplinter Clan. For many generations, a clan of Arctic foxes lived in the castle. They took slaves from Mossflower, and forced them to construct the great castle. Many lives were lost, but the deed had been completed after decades of work. The remaining slaves became castle servants, vermin from the Land of Ice and Snow came to work as the clan's army. No conqueror dared to climb the mountain; the Icesplinters were in their own little paradise where they could look down on the measly world below them. Lord Hawkin Icesplinter was the current ruler of Jucidus.
The white-furred, blue-eyed lord sat in his throne room, atop a throne made of shimmering silver and green velvet. Beside him was his son, the Young Lord Levias. Shivering in a pitiful pile at his footpaws were a small band of servants. Two large rat guards riding atop the backs of their mountain goat steeds surrounded the servants, their spears pointed down at the terrified creatures.
"Sire," one of the rats began. "One of the sentries spotted this lot popping out of the ground a distance away from the castle. After some further investigatin', we saw that they were comin' out of a tunnel that led to the Servant's Quarters. No doubt they dug it to escape Jicidus."
Hawkin stared down at the servants, his chilling stare so strong it could put an adder's to shame. He was silent for a moment, before he opened his maw to speak.
"Trying to escape Jicidus, eh?" he echoed, his voice a frightening-sort of calm. "Now why would you want all want to do that, hmm? Don't I treat you well enough?"
Hawkin bent over, and slowly stroked the head of a young haremaid that sat amoung the group. He laughed at her uncomfortable whimpers. A vole with a much bolder spirit pulled the haremaid away and glared up at the fox.
"Leave her be, you...you tyrant!" he spat, only to be hit in the back of the head by one of the rat guards. He would've been killed right then and there had Hawkin not intervened.
"Stop," commanded Hawkin, directing his icy stare at the rat. "These are my servants, and only I shall kill them. Understood?"
Shivering under the stare, the rat guard backed away, his eyes falling to the floor. Hawkin turned to his son.
"Levias, my collection."
There was a collective gasp of horror from the servants. Even the rat guards joined in. Not even Levias could ignore the shiver that ran down his spine. The younger fox obeyed his father's command, however, and slipped off. The rapid heartbeats of the servants echoed in the large throne room as they stared up at the fox lord, silently pleading for mercy. But it if was one thing the Icesplinters weren't known for, it was mercy. The lord responded to the silent pleas with his soul-piercing stare that held no love or compassion for any living being. After a few moments, Levias returned with a small, wooden box, which he gave to his father. Lord Hawkin opened the box intentionally slowly, as to draw out the torment he was giving the servants. He plucked a vial from the box. In the vial seemed to be a white material that flickered and moved about like smoke. Hawkin stared once more at the unfortunate goodbeasts, and with a twisted grin, he tossed the vial into the center of the group, where it smashed into pieces, releasing the white smoke. The servants screamed bloody murder as the smoke began to dissolve and eat away at their skin, down to their bones. The haremaid crawled to the lord, and grabbed at his robes.
"Please!" she cried. "Spare us! Please! Make it stop!"
A rough kick from Hawkin's footpaw sent the maiden back into the smoke. The rats and their steeds backed away, not wanting to be caugh in the smoke themselves. Levias felt sick to his stomach. Although this wasn't the first time he'd seen such an execution, it still was nightmare-inducing to watch. He couldn't help but turn his head and look away. But his father turned his head back around, and forced open his eyes.
"You watch this, boy," the lord snapped. "Only weak beasts flinch at the sight of death. And no son of mine is weak."
Levias saw that he had no choice, and watched as his father commanded him. After many, many minutes of bloodcurdling screaming, the servants had gone, and the smoke was clearing away. Only the bones of the servants, which were still slightly dissolving, were left. Lord Hawkin was satisfied. He turned to the rats.
"Clean this mess up," he ordered, as he set back and crossed his legs. "And fetch me a book. I'm bored, and it's about time I did some reading."
Barabell sat on the floor in front of Agatha's rocking chair. The hedgehogmaiden in question was sitting in the chair, brushing down Barabell's wild, untamable fur with a brush made of wood and old quills that Agatha had since shed. Needless to say, it wasn't a very pleasant experience. Agatha bit her lip, and slowly attempted to brush out a particularly difficult patch of fur on Barabell's shoulder. Barabell slowly began whimpering gently. Finally, Agatha lost her patience, and with a swift yank, she pulled the brush swiftly, straightening the fur. Unfortunately, her actions did have a consequence.
Barabell glared back at her adopted mother, and the hedgehog smiled back awkwardly.
"Sorry, Barabell," she apologized. "Your fur is just so tangled. If I had known we'd be going to the Jubilee tonight, I would've made it a point to tidy you up beforehand so this wouldn't happen. Trust me, this is hurting me far more than it hurts you. I don't like hearing my little Barabell hurting."
"Aw, mum..." replied Barabell as she ran red under her fur.
Hours of non-stop grooming passed, before Agatha was finally done. Barabell sprang to her paws and stretched her aching body. Agatha also rose, and approached a chest in the far corner of the house. Agatha reached down into the bottom, and when she stood up, she brought out a pretty, blue cotton dress, with lighter blue trimming on its sleeves, neckline, and hem. Barabell stared at the dress uneasily. Dresses weren't what she usually wore. In fact, Barabell couldn't recall the last time she ever wore a dress. The vixen shifted awkwardly.
"Er...Mum?" she murmured. "You really think that's the right outfit for someone like me?"
"Of course," replied Agatha. "You must look dignified, my dear. Besides, you'll look very pretty in it, trust me."
"...Well, if you say, so, Mum..."
"There's a good girl. Now put this on while I get dressed."
Barabell took the dress, and slowly slipped it on. The hem fell daintily onto the ground. Barabell gasped. It was quite soft, no doubt made of cotton or wool. And it hugged her body quite nicely. Indeed, Barabell did feel pretty in it. She found a mirror and looked at herself. Again, she gasped. Surely the vixen in the mirror wasn't she!? The mirror vixen looked so presentable, not like the mess of fur she was so used to seeing.
"Ah, Barabell, you look so lovely, my dear!"
Barabell turned to her mother, who was dressed in her own elegant gown. The vixen smiled sheepishly.
"Thank you, Mum."
"Well, it's almost nightfall," Agatha informed her adopted daughter. "Shall we be off to Redwall Abbey?"
Barabell nodded, her heart racing in anticipation. This was it; the moment she had been waiting for for so many seasons. Paw in paw, Agatha and Barabell left the tree stump house, and headed towards the north, towards Redwall Abbey. Barabell looked around with her sharp eyes. She could see and smell other Mossflower residents heading in the same direction as they were. Barabell swallowed. It was going to be a long night.
Levias had decided to retire to bed early that night. Watching his father perform an execution was always made him paranoid, especially after the lord began using his collection. Levias shivered. It seemed that ever since Hawkin began using the white smoke, his mental stability seemed to be rapidly declining. It was terrifying, to be honest. Suddenly, the young fox shook his head.
"Why must you be frightened at everything?" he scolded himself. "You're an Icesplinter. You're a vermin. This is what we do. Keep this up, and Father will end up disowning you."
Levias his head against his soft pillow, a yawn escaping him.
"You just need some sleep, that's all."
The young lord's eyes slowly shut, and he was soon transported to the realm of dreams.
Levias was standing on soft, cool grass, the sun covering him in a glowing veil of warmth. For a moment, Levias was in awe. He had spent all of his life in the marble castle; grass and warm sunlight were foreign to him. Slipping off his extremely warm royal garments, Levias took a moment to soak in the pleasant sunlight. He gazed about. He seemed to be on the grounds of a great castle made of red stone, massive walls surrounding it. It reminded the young fox of a place he'd once seen in his father's books, but he just couldn't recall the name...
"The good foxmaiden..."
Levias cried in alarm, looking in the direction of the sudden, deep voice. Before him was a mouse, clad in brave-looking armor. On his arm was a shield, the letter "M" engraved into it, and in his paw was a magnificent sword with a glinting blade. Levias' jaw fell open. A strange, yet mystical force seemed to radiate from it, one the young lord couldn't ignore. On the mouse's face was a look of experience and wisdom. Levias had never seen a mouse so brave and noble looking.
"Wh-who are you?" he stammered, dumbfounded.
"The good foxmaiden..." the mouse repeated. "Go and find the good foxmaiden."
""The good foxmaiden"?" echoed Levias. "Who is that?"
The warrior mouse said nothing. Suddenly, his body began to change. No longer was he a mouse, but a vixen, about his age. She looked like any other red fox the young lord had ever seen, but Levias did notice a strange dark patch of fur on her neck. She was wearing the warrior's armor, and holding the shield and sword. On her face was the same fierce look the mouse had.
"Barabell," she suddenly said. "I am the one called Barabell."
"Barabell..." said Levias quietly.
"Barabell..." Levias murmured as his eyes slowly opened.
The young lord then realized that he was awake, and back in his chamber. He could feel his heart pounding in his chest, and he felt surprisingly warm, despite that fact that it was snowing on the mountaintop that evening. Who was Barabell? Who was that mouse? He wasn't sure, but...he felt that maybe he needed to go.
Cavern Hole was slowly beginning to fill up with guests, all eagerly awaiting the start of the Abbot's Midsummer Jubilee. Patrick was sitting at the edge of the great, long table, muttering to himself as he smoothed down his quills.
"You bothersome quills," he muttered bitterly to himself. "Behave yourselves and stay down. I can't be seen looking like some country bumpkin."
"Heh, trying to impress a special someone, Patrick?"
Patrick glanced over at Abbot Nicholas and the Badger Mother, Whitney, who were both watching him in amusement. Nicholas was a young and rather large grey mouse, who could've easily passed off for a rat if his fur wasn't always so neatly groomed. Whitney was a large badger, one of the largest Redwall had ever had. She wore a dark green habit, and in her paw was a great, wooden peel, which, besides helping get things out of the oven, she used just in case any troublesome young ones needed a good spanking. Patrick sighed.
"Aye," he responded. "I be trying to impress Ms. Agatha Prickle. She's coming tonight."
Abbot Nicholas and Whitney looked surprised.
"Ms. Prickle's coming to the Jubilee tonight?" asked the Abbot, stunned. "But she hasn't been to an Abbey event in seasons!"
"I managed to convince her," the hedgehog said. "She's also bringing a guest."
"Who might that be?" asked Abbot Nicholas.
"Good heavens, a fox!" Whitney suddenly shouted.
Patrick, Whitney, and Abbot Nicholas were staring at the entrance to Cavern Hole. Walking into the room were Agatha and Barabell. Patrick winced and glanced at Whitney. She was gripping her peel quite tightly, a venomous look in her eye.
"My, my," muttered the Abbot. "No wonder she hadn't been showing up. She had a young one. You didn't tell us about this, Patrick."
Patrick flinched at the aura of hostility radiating off of Whitney.
"I was a bit afraid to, Father Abbot..."
Whitney shook her head, eyeing Barabell dangerously. She was a fox, a vermin. And there was only one thing Whitney could associate with a fox: a thieving, murderous monster. The Badger Mother would keep a good eye on her. Agatha and Barabell had arrived at the end of the great table and bowed politely to the three Redwallers.
"Good evening all," Agatha began. "Long time, no see, yes?" She gestured to the young vixen beside her. "This is Barabell, my daughter."
"Didn't know hedgehogs could give birth to foxes..." said Whitney coolly, earning a knowing glance from the Abbot.
"Oh, I didn't birth her, I..." she trailed off. She glanced at Barabell, who stared at her curiously. "It's a long story. Er...say hello, Barabell."
"'Ello," the vixen greeted. "Nice to meet you."
"The pleasure's all mine, young lady," replied Abbot Nicholas, who seemed unfazed at the sight of a fox in his Abbey. He glanced at Whitney. "Whitney?"
"Charmed..." mumbled the badgermaid, still glowering at Barabell, causing the foxmaiden to shiver a bit.
"Ahem," Patrick cleared his throat in an attempt to clear the air. "Agatha, you look quite beautiful tonight."
Agatha grew warm under her quills, and laughed politely.
"Why, thank you, Mr. Nudgin. You don't look half-bad yourself."
Agatha sat beside Patrick and they began having a hushed conversation that included a lot of giggling and a bit of blushing on Agatha's part. Barabell glanced up at the Abbot and the badger. They were also engaged in conversation, but unlike Patrick and Agatha, neither of them looked very happy. Barabell's ears fell back; this was all because of her. Barabell sat beside her adopted mother, glancing around Cavern Hole. She could see other woodland creatures staring at her. Some were curious, others had looks of judgement. Any beast whose eyes she caught immediately looked away in hopes to save face. Barabell finally rested her gaze on the wooden table. So far, that night hadn't been as fun and whimsical as she hoped it would be. Suddenly, that was a slight tugging feeling at her tail. Barabell glanced back to see a young he-squirrel, his fur a very deep shade of red. His eyes were wide and full of wonder, the large glasses on his face making them seem ever bigger than they were. He was smiling at Barabell, his tail gently twitching.
"Hello, cousin," greeted the squirrel. "Name's Caleb. Caleb Redtussle. Never seen you 'round here before. What's your name?"
"Er...Barabell," Barabell answered hesitantly. "Barabell Prickle. Uh...cousin?"
"Ah, sorry." The squirrel readjusted his glasses with a look of embarrassment on his face. "Bad habit of mine. Mean no harm by it, I swear."
"Oh, no, no, it's alright," Barabell insisted.
Caleb sat in the space next to Barabell.
"I'm guessing this is your first Jubilee."
"It is. I'm not sure what's going to happen."
"Oh, you're going to love it," the squirrel assured her with a smile. "There'll be dancing and singing and magic tricks. I hear Mr. Nudgin's planned something special for Ms. Prickle."
Barabell giggled at the thought.
"And after that," Caleb continued. "Is an amazing feast of breads, cheeses, salads, all sorts of desserts..." Caleb's rumbling stomach interrupted him. "Excuse me! I haven't eaten since lunch. Sister Ginger didn't want me losing my appetite."
The vixen's eyes glimmered and her mouth watered. She was so entranced, that she'd forgotten everything around her. It wasn't until she'd heard Caleb speak again, his voice having an annoyed tone to it.
"What do you want, Banessa?"
Barabell turned to see another squirrel, a maiden, who was a bit older than the both of them. She was glaring at Caleb, her arms crossed and her tail lashing about irritably.
"Sister Ginger wanted to know where you went off to," the squirrelmaid explained. "So I went to look for you. You know better than to run off, Caleb."
Caleb's tail also began to lash out as he pouted.
"I'm not a Dibbun, Banessa," he grumbled. "I can handle being on my own for a night."
"Big squirrels don't pout," Banessa shot back smartly.
"Alright, you've found me. Can you go away now?"
"Absolutely not. I'm not letting you hang around some flea-bitten vermin."
Barabell flinched. No one had ever spoken about her in such a manner.
"Excuse me?" Agatha's voice suddenly snapped.
Banessa gasped, and clasped her paws over her mouth. Caleb and Barabell turned to the adults. Both Agatha and Patrick were giving Banessa furious stares. Abbot Nicholas also looked at Banessa sternly, and great frown on his muzzle. Even the judgmental Whitney was displeased, momentarily forgetting that Barabell was a creature that she despised. Banessa shrank under the cold stares, growing warm under her fur and immediately regretted coming over.
"You'd better mind that mouth of yours, missy," warned Patrick.
"That's right," added the Abbot. "Barabell is a guest. Don't you dare disrespect her in my presence."
"...Sorry..." was Banessa's meek reply.
The embarrassed squirrelmaid scurried off, hoping not many others in the Cavern Hole had seen the stern talking-to she had been given. Agatha gently rubbed Barabell's shoulder.
"Are you alright, young one?" she asked gently.
"Ah, don't worry about Banessa," said Caleb cheerfully, attempting to cheer the vixen up. "She's can be a real brat sometimes. Oh, look, cousin! The dancing otters!"
Barabell looked up, and gasped at the sight of a dancing troupe of otters, who did many a flip and tumble over the great table. Banessa's cruel words had been pushed aside in her mind, and was replaced with curiosity. Great cheer filled Cavern Hole as the many guests enjoyed the gyrating and leaping of the talented otters. Soon, the dance ended, and was replaced with magical mice and their parlor tricks. Barabell watched as one of them approached her, his eyes locked onto hers. Mesmerized, Barabell held the mouse's gaze. With the mouse was close enough, he glanced around her. Suddenly, he grabbed behind her ear, and pulled out a blue carnation. Barabell gasped.
"For you, milady," the mouse said, placing the lily in the foxmaiden's headfur.
"Thank you," said Barabell shyly.
Hmm...Barabell thought. Perhaps tonight would be a good one.
The magic show soon ended, and Patrick stood up, a goofy smile on his face. Agatha watched him, puzzled. Barabell and Caleb snickered. This...would be entertaining...
Pulling out a folded piece of parchment from his habit and standing in some moonlight pouring in through the window, Patrick cleared his throat and began his piece.
E'er since I be young
I always dreamed o' the one
The one to fill me days with glee
A maiden so grand and lovely
A maiden with such a pretty face
And a smile that makes me heart race
But I be in a pickle
For the maiden be Ms. Agatha Prickle.
"Oh my..." Agatha whispered, growing warm under her quills.
Barabell and Caleb retreated under the table to hide their laughter. Others in Cavern Hole weren't so sneaky. The low hum of giggles and chortles could be heard all throughout the room. Abbot Nicholas himself was shaking furiously as he laughed. Patrick continued, too lovestruck to notice.
Alas, the Prickle's hard to get
Regardless, I have no regret
Of meeting her so long ago
Of falling in love with her so
Now, I hope and pray
That the love will be returned someday.
So I end my poem saying this:
Agatha, won't you love me, miss?
With a satisfied sigh, Patrick returned to his seat, as a roar of applause rang out through all of Cavern Hole. The he-hedgehog beamed at Agatha.
"Fine poetry that was, eh, Agatha?" he said.
"Er...yes...um...hehe...yes, Patrick, that was quite lovely, thank you."
"So there's a chance for us, then?"
Agatha chuckled, and suddenly kissed Patrick's cheek. Slack-jawed and wide-eyed, Patrick fell backwards, landing onto the floor on his back. Nearby Redwallers rushed to help him up.
"Are you alright, Brother Patrick?" someone asked.
"Aye," Patrick replied, giggling like a drunken idiot. "I feel like the luckiest hedgehog alive."
A few hours passed since the Jubilee began. Caleb and Barabell were slumped over the table, bellies distended. All about Cavern Hole, Redwallers and their guests from Mossflower were recovering from the long and magnificent dinner they had just finished eating. Barabell sipped slowly from a mug of strawberry cordial in hopes of washing all the food she had eaten down. She had eaten breads, salad, fresh Redwall perch and shrimp, cakes, frostings, and other delectable goods until she felt she would burst. Everything was delicious as Caleb had said. The vixen lied her head down on the table, resting a bit, when her tail was tugged once again. She glanced at the squirrel beside her.
"Want to see something cool, cousin?" asked Caleb.
"Uh...sure?" replied Barabell.
"Alright." Caleb got up and walked off a bit before turning back."Follow me."
Barabell glanced at her adopted mother. The hedgehogmaid was busy socializing once again. Surely she wouldn't mind if Barabell went off to explore the Abbey a bit? Barabell turned back to Caleb and rushed after him. The two headed out into Great Hall, and onto the Abbey grounds. Caleb rushed to the gatehouse, and waiting for Barabell to catch up with him. He opened the door and smiled eagerly.
"This is the Gatehouse," he explained. "This is where the Abbey recorder works. All kinds of stories from Redwall's past were recorded here. But that's not all. A very special treasure is kept here: the Sword and Shield of Martin the Warrior."
"Martin the Warrior?" Barabell repeated. "Who's that?"
"Did you see that great mouse on the tapestry? That's Martin, a champion warrior against sinister wildcats, rats, and other vermin. He's been dead for seasons, but his tools are kept here, and they've been passed down from warrior to warrior. It's been seasons since Clarinna, the last warrior of the Abbey died. Martin's things have been locked away. But, since I heard this was your first time at Redwall, I thought, what's the harm in showing you?"
"...I don't know..." Barabell murmured, backing up. "This might not be a good idea. I'm sure one who fights "vermin" wouldn't want a fox near his things..."
"Nonsense!" replied Caleb, pulling Barabell deeper into the Gatehouse. "Everything's gonna be fine!"
Barabell allowed the squirrel to take her over to the fireplace. On the mantelpiece rested a round, silver shield, the letter "M" on its center. Above it, mounted on the wall, was a sword with a silver blade, a red stone in its hilt. Barabell thought she could see writing on the blade, but she wasn't entirely sure. The sight of Martin's items filled Barabell with awe and amazement. They were both very beautiful, and a strange power seemed to radiate from them.
Barabell wanted them.
The vixen stepped forward, reaching up with her paws and grabbing for the sword. Part of her knew this was wrong, but she just couldn't stop herself. She wanted such a brilliant treasure. She held the sword in her paws, her eyes glowing a bright yellow in her moment of greed. She didn't snap out of it until she heard Caleb's voice.
"Cousin?" asked the squirrel. "You alright?"
Barabell shook her head, realizing what she was doing. She bit her lip; she had to think up a lie, and fast.
"Er...I just wanted to get a good look at it," she said. "After all, who knows when I'm coming back here, right? I'll just put it back."
Barabell placed the sword back in its place, her paw lingering on the hilt for a few seconds.
"Let's go back," said Barabell as she began to walk out of the Gatehouse. "My mum...she might get worried."
"Alright," said Caleb with a nod.
The two walked back to the abbey. Barabell couldn't help but glance back at the Gatehouse, however. She wanted the sword and shield. And she would have it.
Levias' pawsteps gently echoed in the quiet castle. It was dimly lit, the only sources of light coming from the torches hanging on the walls. The young lord was heading towards the dungeon, where the servants were being held. He needed to know from Pepper about the red stone building and the warrior mouse. If anybeast knew about such things, it would be Pepper. During his walk, however, Levias slowly came to a stop. He was approaching his father's chamber. The door was closed, thankfully, but Levias was still hesitant.
"Come on, Levias," he said to himself. "You can do this."
Taking a deep breath, Levias sneaked past the chamber door. But as he did, he heard someone approaching from the other end of the corridor. Frantically, Levias looked around for a hiding place. Spotting a pillar holding the head of one of the ancient lords, Levias ducked behind it, and waited. He peered out from behind it, and saw a familiar red fox approach his father's chamber. It was the captain of the royal guard, Gnilt. He opened the door to the chamber and looked in.
"You sent for me, sire?" asked Gnilt.
"Yes,Gnilt," Hawkin's voice replied. "I'm planning something very special, and I need you to start it off."
Gnilt entered Lord Hawkin's chamber, the door closing behind him. Levias slowly emerged from his hiding place, staring at the chamber door curiously. What was his father planning exactly? Levias walked on the tips of his toes and approached the door. Pressing his ear against the door, Levias listened in on the conversation.
"I'm tired of freezing my tail off season after season," Hawkin was muttering. "I've spent my entire life on this mountain, never getting a glimpse of the world below. The sight of the snow has bored me. I want a second castle, one in a warm place. Gnilt, you've come from Mossflower. Do you know of a suitable place for me?"
"Aye, sire," replied Gnilt. "There be a place called Redwall, built of red stone, with great walls around it to keep it safe from the outside world. It be a legendary place, filled with plenty of food. It 'ad its share of warriors to defend it, but for the most part, it's filled with peace-lovin' mice in funny robes."
"Redwall..." Hawkin repeated. "Safe from attackers, filled with food, and an abundance of slaves already living in it...yes, it sounds about right. Gnilt, you've led other successful armies in the past. Surely, you can think of a plan to take Redwall for me?"
"Anything for you, sire."
"Good. You're dismissed."
Levias gasped when he heard pawsteps approaching the door. He rushed down the corridor as fast as he could. After he made the turn at the end of the corridor, he stopped, panting.
"That...was close..." he whispered.
The rest of the trip to the Servant's Quarters was quite short. Levias approached a door that was guarded by an ermine and a stoat. When they spotted the young lord, they bowed.
"Young sire..." they both said respectfully.
"Tiptail," Levis greeted in response. "Kallaw."
Levias opened the door, and went in. The white fox was now in a dungeon. On either side of him were a long row of cells, filled with servants brought from Mossflower. The cells were crowded, holding at least 30 at a time. They all looked shabby, malnourished, and depressed. Levias could hear weeping coming from one of the cells, and it sounded very familiar. He walked to one cell in particular. This cell had an aging mousemaid in it. She sat in the the cell, cradling a Dibbun mouse, who was crying into her shoulder.
"Shh...shh...there, there, little one," the mousemaid cooed, her voice withered from age. She glanced up at the approaching Levias. "Young Lord Levias, it's you."
"Yes, Pepper," Levias replied, kneeling near the cell bars. "I needed to see you."
"I see," said Pepper. "It's been a while since your last visit."
"I know, but something important's come up, and I must speak with you."
"Alright," Pepper said. "What is it, dear?"
"I had a dream a while ago," the white fox explained. "I dreamed I was at a red stone castle, and a warrior mouse came to me. Do you know anything about that?"
Pepper's eyes widened.
"Why, you were dreaming of Redwall!" she gasped.
"Redwall..." Levias echoed. "Father was talking about it as I passed his chamber. He wants to take it as his own. But what about the warrior mouse?"
"That was the legendary Martin the Warrior, the old warrior and one of the founders of Redwall. But why would he come to you? What did he say?"
"He wants me to meet a good foxmaiden named Barabell. That's all he told me. I don't know why I have to meet her, but after hearing my father's plans, I think that maybe..."
"You're supposed to protect it?" Pepper finished his sentence. "How extraordinary. It's said that Martin shows himself to heroes to guide them on their way, but also to torment those who cause evil. But you have a good heart, Levias. I should know; I did raise you, after all."
"I don't know if I should do this..." murmured the young lord, a look of uneasiness on his face. "Why meddle in my father's plans? After all, Redwall will be mine, too. Besides, what can I and a foxmaiden I've never met do?"
Levias looked at Pepper. The old maiden gave him a knowing look.
"You know that death comes to those under Lord Hawkin's control," said Pepper. "The escapees' execution should be an example of that. I think you should do this."
"...Alright. Tomorrow, my journey begins..."
"Be safe, my child."
Levias pulled Pepper's paw through the cell bars, and kissed it tenderly. He then stood, and left the dungeon in a hurry. If he was going to make this journey, he needed to prepare, and fast.
All was quiet in the Prickle household. Agatha and Barabell were sleeping in their beds, after hours and hours of a successful Jubilee. Barabell tossed and turned, as if she were having a night terror. Suddenly, her eyes snapped open, glowing as bright as they did back at the gatehouse. Barabell got out of bed silently, and staggered her way through the tree stump house. She exited through the front door, and into the dark forest. She didn't run into anything, however. It seemed that some invisible force was guiding her. She made her way through the flora, until she reached the edge of Mossflower Woods. The dark silhouette of Redwall Abbey was in her sights, and slowly, Barabell walked to it. When she reached the main gates, she stopped. Her eyes closed, the force controlling her seemingly vanishing. Barabell slumped against the wooden gates, quietly snoring.
Caleb was sleeping in Redwall's male dormitory, his glasses resting on a bedside table. His tail flickered every few seconds, and he murmured barely audible gibberish, replying to whatever the beasts in his dreams were saying to him. His eyes suddenly snapped open, and he slipped out of bed. He stood beside his bed for a moment, swaying back and forth slightly. He then made his way out, heading to the stairs and making his way into Great Hall.
Caleb wasn't alone in Great Hall. Banessa was headed towards the stairs, a mug of water in her paw. She was on her way back to the female dormitory, when she spotted Caleb walking out of the Abbey and onto the Abbey grounds. She watched him for a moment, curious.
"What in the name of fur is that squirrel doing?" the squirrelmaid asked to herself.
Banessa decided that she would follow the younger squirrel at a distance. Caleb continued on, finally on the Abbey grounds and approaching the gate. When he reached the gate, he pushed it, grunting with exertion. He managed to push it open a bit, allowing Barabell to slip inside and fall into his arms. Banessa, who was watching from the Abbey doors, gasped.
"The vixen!?" she gasped in alarm. "What's she doing here!?"
Caleb, still driven by the strange force, carried the sleeping Barabell to the gatehouse, and dragged her inside. Barabell then took over, springing back into her sleepwalking state, while Caleb fell against her. Banessa walked to the gatehouse door, continuing to watch the pair. Barabell set Caleb down in a chair near a table cluttered with books, and headed towards the fireplace, where Martin's sword and shield were. Barabell grabbed the legendary treasures. Banessa gasped.
"The bloody thief!" the squirrelmaid cried furiously. "She's taking the sword and having Caleb help her! I have to get Whitney, quick!"
Banessa turned on her heel and rushed back into the Abbey. She rushed to the female dormitory, and arrived at the great bed where the Badger Mother slept. He shook her awake.
"Whitney!" she cried. "The fox is here! Caleb helped her get in, and they're taken Martin's sword!"
The great she-beast's eyes snapped open, the color red flashing in them. She threw off her bedsheets and stood up, her infamous peel appearing in her paw seemingly out of nowhere.
"Thieving vermin!" the badgermaid roared, causing many sleeping in the dorm to be startled awake.
Banessa stood back as Whitney charged out of the female dormitory, down the stairs, outside, and to the gatehouse. She peered in, spotting Barabell with Martin's sword and shield, and she barked madly.
The sudden outburst was enough to awaken both Barabell and Caleb, the mystical force controlling them both returning to where it came from. With frightened screams, the two stared up at Whitney, terrified.
"Ms. Whitney..." Caleb began. "I-I can explain--"
"I don't want to hear it," Whitney snapped, causing the younger ones to flinch. "You two are in very big trouble."
Barabell and Caleb sat at the table in Cavern Hole, gazing at the ground shamefully. Standing before them were an angry Whitney, a serious Abbot Nicholas, and a concerned Patrick and Agatha. Several Redwallers, including Banessa, were watching the goings on from Cavern Hole's entrance. Whitney slammed the end of her peel against the stone floor, emitting a loud banging sound that caused Barabell and Caleb to flinch.
"What do you two have to say for yourselves?" demanded the badgermaid. "Well!? Spit it out, or I'll tan both your hides!"
"Whitney, please," said Abbot Nicholas. "You must stop being so hostile."
"Pardon me, Abbot, but why should I?" Whitney shot back. "The vixen's a thief, and Caleb helped her. They must be punished."
"That may be so, but such a temper is not the way of Redwall. You know this, Whitney."
Whitney snorted; she didn't care what Redwall's code stated, she could never see a fox, or any vermin, to be anything more than murderous, thieving monsters. Agatha sobbed quietly into a cloth; she never thought something this extreme would happen. Especially not to her baby. Patrick held her close, comforting her. Suddenly, Barabell looked up.
"Please," she began. "Let me explain..."
"Explain what?" interrupted Whitney. "There's no excuse for stealing."
"Whitney speaks correctly," agreed the Abbot. "Stealing is something we don't allow here, Barabell. Forgive me for saying this, but you were raised by a goodbeast. You should know better. Caleb, I am especially ashamed of you. As a squirrel of Redwall, you should know better to participate in the act of stealing. I'm devastated to have to do inflict punishment to one of my Redwallers and a foxmaiden I just met, but I have no choice."
"Shall I spank the two of them, Father Abbot?" asked a disturbingly eager Whitney.
"No," said Abbot Nicholas. "You both shall be put to work. Caleb, besides your usual duties in the Abbey, you will also be given extra chores to do. Barabell, you shall also have these chores. You will come everyday to provide your services to the Abbey until Ms. Prickle believes you've learned your lesson. Have I made myself clear."
"Yes, Father Abbot," Caleb murmured.
"Yes, sir," mumbled Barabell.
"Very good," Abbot Nicholas said, nodding approvingly. "Now, I believe its best that we all return to our beds and homes."
Cavern Hole was soon empty as the Redwallers returned to their dormitories, and Agatha led Barabell out of the Abbey. Barabell's ears fell back in shame, and tears rolled down her cheeks. She really was a vermin.
Pepper felt herself being shaken from a deep slumber. The ancient mousemaid's eyes slowly opened, and a confused moan escaped her lips.
"Pepper," she heard a familiar voice whisper.
"Levias?" Pepper replied, sitting up in the cramped cell. She saw the young white fox standing at the bars of the cell, a large pack on his back and a saber belt around his waist. Walking carefully around her fellow servants, Pepper approached the bars. "What's going on?"
"I wanted to see you one last time before I left," said Levias, a hint of sorrow in his voice.
"Oh, Levias..." Pepper cooed, her paw resting on Levis' cheek. Tears began to roll down her cheeks. "I remember when you were a little cub. You were my baby, and now..."
The two hugged through the bars as Pepper cried.
"Please," whispered the mousemaid through her tears. "Please return to me alive."
"I'll try, Pepper. And when I do, I'll stand up to my father. I'll take the throne from him, and I'll treat all of you with the respect and kindness you all deserve."
"Bless you, Levias. Bless you."
With that, Levias took his pack, and left the Servant's Quarters, sneaking past the sleeping guards. Pepper watched as he left, drying the last of her tears away. A smile was on her face. Martin was giving Levias a new confidence she had never seen before.
"Goodbye," she whispered to herself. "My son."
"Oi, ain't t'at the Young Lord down yonder? What's he doin'--ACK!"
A throwing knife was logged in the sentry rat's stomach. He teetered over the edge of the castle wall where he had been doing his job, and fell into the snow, his blood staining it red. Levias stood over him, his face like stone. Pulling the knife from the rat's wound, Levias kicked snow over the body. It was a new concept to him, murder was. But it was what he had to do.
Now that the rat wouldn't be able to alert anybeast, Levias began to climb down the mountain, away from Jicidus. Gravity pulled him down fast; Levias almost tripped over a few times. But he carried on, and thus, his journey began, as the sun began to rise.
Morning had finally come, and Lord Hawkin was approaching his army as they stood in the castle courtyard. It was a great army of 500 vermin, including foxes, ermines, weasels, stoats, ferrets, and rats, all of them armed with spears, sabers, and swords. Two foxes at the front of the army carried tall flag poles. On the flags was the emblem of the Icespliter Clan: A minimalist head of a white fox wearing a crown of ice. Lord Hawkin finally arrived, his head held high and his collection box in his paws.
"Gnilt," the lord called.
The fox captain in question stepped forward, bowing.
"My lord," replied Gnilt.
Lord Hawkin opened the box and held it out to Gnilt.
"I am granting you half of my collection, just in case the Redwallers give you trouble. Use these to let them know who they're dealing with. But use them sparingly. Don't expect to get more when you run out. But I trust Redwall will be taken by then, yes?"
"Aye, sire," said Gnilt, taking 10 vials from the box. "You can count on me."
"Good," replied Lord Hawkin. "Now, go."
Gnilt turned to face the army.
"Alright you lot!" he hollered at the top of his lungs. "Turn about face, and get your scrawny tails down this mountain! For Lord Hawkin!"
"For Lord Hawkin!" the responding cry rang out from the army and they began their journey.
Lord Hawkin watched for a while, smiling wickedly in approval, before turning to leave. He walked through the marble castle to his dining room. It was about time for breakfast. When he arrived, a long table of food was sitting there, waiting for him and his son to devour. But, to the lord's surprise, his son wasn't there. Odd...Hawkin thought. Levias was always first at breakfast. Levias then shrugged it off; the boy was probably sleeping. Sitting in his seat at the end of the table, Hawkin picked up some poached sparrow eggs, cooked goat, and milk, and began to feast.
Time passed, and Hawkin was confused. Still, his son hadn't shown up. He spotted a bankvole servant, and he called her over.
"Wake my son," ordered the lord. "Tell him to come for breakfast."
"Yes, my lord," replied the bankvolemaid, as she rushed to do her job.
Lord Hawkin nibbled on a breakfast biscuit as he waited. A moment later, the servant reappeared, looking rather alarmed.
"Young Lord Levias is not in bed, sire," she reported.
"What?" Hawkin snapped, pulling the unfortunate maiden towards him. "What do you mean he's not in bed?"
"I-I mean, it's empty, my lord..." the bankvole squeaked in fear. "Young Lord Levias isn't in his chamber."
"Look everywhere for him," Lord Hawkin demanded, tossing the bankvole away. "And you'd better find him, or I'll have you for supper, bankvole."
With a shaky bow, the bankvole rushed away to search. Sitting at the table in silence, Hawkin begin to think.
"Where in the Dark Forest in that boy?" he wondered. "Where would he go so early in the morning? Who knows...I'll punish him when he turns up. Now...back to breakfast."