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I am finally going to start to rewrite this story. This is dedicated to Skipper Rorc, Peony Laminar, Brockkers(Rose), Lorgo Galedeep, Nightpaw Streamspliter, Snowpaw the Wild, Sister Armel, Snowy Longname, and all the other users that are my friends. Feel free to comment and I hope you'll enjoy reading!--Laria WavedeepI am an otter of Redwall! 08:13, May 16, 2010 (UTC)
The wind moaned and howled through the dark night, causing the fallen autumn leaves to rise off the ground and sweep through the air. The waves crashed against the sharp rocks that were standing on the shore. A light drizzle came, turning the sand into oozing mud. Lightning lit up the sky for a breath-taking moment, then the night returned to its former darkness once again. Vegetation hung off the edge of the towering cliffs, caves dotted along on different ledges.
In one such cave, a holt of sea otters slept, away from the rain and cold winds. Only some were awake, sitting by the fire. A female dozed against a male's shoulder, clutching a small bundle close to her. The male took the bundle from her and set it in his lap, chuckling softly.
A male, who was about the same age, asked, "Have you named her yet, Grall?"
The otter looked up and replied. "Her mother and I have named her Laria. Laria Wavedeep."
An ancient looking female nodded. "That's right, after my great-great grandmother, Laria."
Grall whispered, "Shouldn't both of ye be gettin' to beds? There's nought but to sleep this storm out. I have a feeling in my rudder that tomorrow will be a fine day." He planted a light kiss on the ancient one's cheek. "Goodnight, Frewn, beauty." He nodded at the other male. "Goodnight, Werlan, mate."
His best friend lay down and winked. "G'night, Grall. Sweet dreams!" Werlan snorted softly in good humor and an instant later, fell asleep. Grall stayed awake, staring into the dying flames of the fire. He tickled the babe's nose lightly, and the little otterbabe growled slightly and moved in its slumber. Grall repeated the babe's name over and over again until he too, fell asleep.
Outside, the fierce storm showed no signs of ceasing, but continued to rage on. Far out, in the deep sea, a ship moved forward slowly, riding each wave. Its mast was broken and its sailcloths ripped and cut from the battering rain. Although it was in need of repairs, it still moved closer to the shore. And closer.
Book One: The Wildcat Warlord
The otter chieftain was right. The next day there was no sign of a cloud in the sky, and the sun was shining brightly. Most of the holt was up and about, yelling and racing each other to the sea. The elders and some adults stayed behind in the cave, relaxing and talking. The young otters frolicked in the water, splashing each other and wrestling playfully. The remaining adults followed behind and supervised. A male called Trog was weaving a fishing net out of the tough kelp that lay in abundance along the shore. He was surrounded by eager young ones as they urged him to finish it and help them to catch fish.
"Hurry Trog, I wanna go catch some fish for lunch!"
"Chief Grall will be pleased when we catch a whole netful!" On seeing Trog finish it, they whooped and pulled him towards the sea. Trog swam, pulling along the net with the help of the excited young ones and together they hauled several fish on to the shore. They continued until late morning, arriving back at the cave pulling a net of fish. Frewn and some elderly female otters started cooking the fish, scolding any of the holt members who ventured to taste the food. Grall sat next to his wife Lestra, holding the babe and smiling fondly down at the little otter. Laria stared back up at him with dark blue eyes, then yawned and reached out a paw. Grall let the little paw grasp his paw and chuckled.
Werlan grinned and said, "She's a proper liddle beauty, ain't she Grall?" Lestra smiled and Grall swelled his chest out proudly.
"Lunch is ready!" At that announcement otters rushed madly to get their bowl and be served steaming hot fish. Washed down with some dandelion cordial and a dessert of blackberry and apple crumble, it set a good meal. There was much talking as every otter gossiped and shared information. Some showed off their weapons and displayed their skills, even challenging each other to duel. Werlan, who wielded a light sabre, was challenged and beat his opponent easily. He was the best warrior in the holt, with the exception of Grall. Grall used twin swords, and was lightning swift with them.
Werlan winked and said, "C'mon Grall, give us one 'o yer sword skills!" Grall mock scowled and pretended to grumble. Lestra laughed and pushed Grall.
"Oh go on, Grall, don't be such a fusspot." Grall turned on her and scowled at her too, but with a twinkle in his eyes. He unsheathed his swords, threw one away and bowed to Werlan.
"Alright, Werlan, show me what ye got!" The otter feinted to the right and stabbed at Grall, but Grall dodged and waited for his opponent to strike again. Werlan swung at the otter chieftain's side, but Grall blocked the blow and quickly disarmed Werlan. He sheathed the sword and retrieved the other. Werlan sat down next to him and glanced sideways.
"How do yer do it, matey?" Grall shrugged.
"I don't know. I was taught by a Long Patroller, when we visited Redwall when we were younger. Aye, that 'un was a real swordbeast." Grall went back in his mind, recalling memories of his youth.
Out at sea, the ship, named Bloodseeker, bobbed up and down on the waves. It had hardly moved, owing to the fact that it's sailcloths were ripped and that there wasn't any breeze that day. A fox dressed in a partly torn tunic was shouting at the twentyscore vermin aboard. They were rushing about, trying to straighten things up after fierce storm the night before.
"Hurry up an' patch that sailcloth up, blatherheads! If we don't get t'shore by t'night, Lord Zegarath will 'ave yer heads, an' y'know that 'e ain't gonna back on 'is word!" Zegarath Deathblade. The name chilled the bones of every horde member. The deadly wildcat was a born killer, vicious and ruthless, his temper quick and if his orders were not carried out swiftly, he would punish the victim severely, sometimes going as far as killing them. He could wield virtually any weapon, though his favourite was a massive scimitar. He was feared throughout the Northlands, now he was determined to be known wherever he went. The wildcat usually wore a brown tunic with chainmail and a swirling cloak. When he was battling, he usually wore only a silver breastplate, his chainmail underneath it. He was on his most treasured ship, the Bladequeen, which was also flanked by two other ships, the Seaclaw and the Wavebite. Each ship was carrying two hundred fighting vermin each, all seasoned warriors. Luckily, only the Bloodseeker had been struck by the lightning. Zegarath ordered for ropes to be tied to the ship and towed along by the others. This way, they moved faster, and by late afternoon had arrived at shore, a few leagues away from Holt Wavedeep. Zegarath had his mind set on one goal. Just one. To conquer the great Redwall Abbey.
Zegarath roared, "Make sure the ships are secured tightly to the rocks! Barbclaw, gather a few others and make campfires and pitch the tents! Blackfur, take two score and forage for food and water. Mudtail, bring some food and drink from the ship's stores and set up a separate tent for them. Yore in charge of the vittles for now." He watched as his horde of eight hundred argued and fought. He went into the tent which was made for him and waited until his chair from the Bladequeen was brought and placed in it. He sat down and was served some blackberry wine by a nervous ferret.
Before the ferret could go, Zegarath beckoned to him and said, "Bring me Vadorn, an' be quick about it. You know I don't like being kept waiting!" The ferret nodded furiously and disappeared through the tent flaps. A few minutes later, a tall lean fox entered. Vadorn was Zegarath's strong right paw; the highest ranked in the whole horde, apart from Zegarath.
Vadorn said impassively, "You wanted me, Lord."
The black wildcat nodded and leaned foward. "Yes. Get a party of twoscore and send them out to gather materials for repairing the Bloodseeker. Then I want you to gather a score and scout out the land, and note down any tribe of woodlanders so we can take them prisoner. I want many slaves, as much as I can get! Got yore orders?"
Vadorn nodded and bowed. "You can trust me, Lord. I won't fail you." The fox swept out the tent, paw on sabre as he shouted out his orders.
Zegarath went outside an felt the cool sea breeze starting to come. His cloak started flapping into the breeze and he sighed deeply. His forces were strong, he would be able to conquer Redwall easily, he was confident. He went back into his tent and was served some steaming woodpigeon which some soldiers had caught. He had barely started eating when a timid voice interrupted.
"Lord Zegarath, er, Cap'n Vadorn, uh, would like to see yer, Lord..." The voice trailed off.
Zegarath growled, "Come in, Vadorn!" The fox strode in confidently and bowed.
"Lord, my scouts and I have found a sea otter holt, just up on the cliffs. Shall I show you, Lord?" Zegarath took a bite of the woodpigeon and spat it out, disgusted.
"Whoever cooked this bird is a horrible cook. Yes Vadorn, show me. I would be very interested." He smiled dangerously, causing even the experienced fox captain to shudder inwardly. Vadorn walked quickly, feeling the warlord's eyes bore into his back. They went under the cover of the rocks which were abundant on the shore. Vadorn felt his paws sink into the sand and he struggled visibly to stay upright. Finally he crouched beside a boulder and pointed to the cliffs. There, on one of the ledges, a cave revealed sea otters, talking happily and carefree.
Zegarath nodded approvingly and patted Vadorn's shoulder with a strong paw. "Good work, Vadorn. We will attack the holt tonight, under the cover of darkness." He started walking back to the camp. When they arrived all the vermin were talking and eating, arguing or drinking grog.
The wildcat roared, "Silence!" All eyes were turned upon their leader. "Captain Vadorn and his scouts have spotted a holt of sea otters, just further up the shore. So sharpen yore swords, and get some rest! Get ready to kill! We will take them as slaves so they will serve us throughout the seasons. Hear me, for I am Zegarath Deathblaaaaddee!" The air was filled with warcries as vermin shouted out their challenge.
"Zegarath, Zegarath, kill kill kill! Zegarath Deathblaaaddee!"
Frewn was rocking Laria to sleep, while Lotus, the holt's healer, was tending to a young otter who had cut his footpad on a rock. The babes and young ones were starting to be put to bed by their mothers, even though it only just got dark. But they ran away and protested. Lestra was busy helping to catch the young otters to be bedded down.
"We don't wanna go t'rotten ole bed! It ain't fair on us!" Sooner or later, however, each got caught and put into bed. Lestra started singing a soft lullaby, lulling them into a deep sleep.
- "When the moon starts to appear,
- Slowly the sun will disappear,
- Stars will shine in the sky,
- Ever so far and ever so high,
- The breeze will lull you into sleep,
- Sweet dreams will come which you can keep,
- The sun will come with a bright new dawn,
- Birds will sing sweetly in the morn,
- Look forward to that pretty sight,
- So sleep deep, dear, and rest tonight."
Small snores issued from the beds. Werlan yawned and struggled to keep awake.
"I think yore wife's lullaby is starting to work on me too," he said to Grall.
But the otter chieftain wasn't listening. "Quiet. D'you hear that?" Werlan strained his ears and listened, then shook his head.
"Nope, not a thing. You could just be hearing things, mate. 'Tis nothin', don't worry about it."
Grall sighed deeply. "You may be right," he said. He tried to push the matter to the back of his mind, but he couldn't. He stayed up and talked with the others, but nothing could stop him worrying. He went lay in his bed and stowed his twin swords next to him within paw reach. Finally he started to fall asleep, troubled and worried. Laria slept between Lestra and Frewn, and she whimpered in her dream. Outside an army was getting ready to march towards the slumbering cave.
Grall woke up to the sounds of screaming and warcries. Instinctively he reached for his swords, his paws closing around the hilts and he grasped them tightly. He jumped up and a quick glance explained everything. Otters were fighting desperately for their lives, but were being overwhelmed by the eight hundred vermin that swarmed in the cave. He plunged into the fray, sweeping vermin out with thrusts from his twin swords. He looked around for his wife and Laria, but there was no sign of them. Then he spotted Lotus crouching behind some rocks which were at the back of the cave.
"Lotus! Get out by the back entrance and run fer it! Wavedeeeeepp!" He faced a group of ten snarling vermin and was cut in several places. Then he saw her. His blood turned boiling hot with rage and his eyes turned a blazing red as he charged, regardless of his wounds and flung himself on to the vermin, his blades whipping to and fro slaying vermin. He stood by Lestra's lifeless body, as if protecting her from getting trampled over. He spotted a huge wildcat wielding a scimitar, and realized that he was the leader. Without hesitating he bulled through the crowd and charged him. Several vermin got in his way and he managed to slay two before one tripped him up. He lay exhausted on the ground, then felt himself being hauled up roughly. Two strong weasels held him as Zegarath addressed him.
"Well, well, what 'ave we got here, eh? What's yore name, otter?"
Grall answered without lifting his head up and said, "Why would you want t'know? What d'you want from us?" Zegarath tickled his throat with the tip of his sword.
"I am Zegarath Deathblade. I'll ask you again, otter, what is yore name?" Grall did not answer. Feeling the weasels' grip loosen, he wrenched himself from them and attacked Zegarath. The wildcat calmly stepped to the side, as if expecting Grall to do that, and pressed a footpaw on his back. "Well, yore a fierce one. As you can see, if you try doing that again, yore friends will all die, and I'm sure you won't want that to happen, would you?" Zegarath lifted the otter and showed him the carnage. Several otters were held firmly by some soldiers, among them Werlan, who had a bloodied face. Werlan looked at Grall with sad eyes. Grall started shaking with fury and bit Zegarath's paw. He fell to the ground as the wildcat snarled and brought the hilt of his blade down on Grall's head. The otter fell unconscious. Zegarath wiped the blood and growled, "That otter can stay here. He'll have nought to do but bury his comrades. Come, let us go, and bring the slaves with us." He swept out the cave into the dark night, followed by his horde and the stumbling prisoners. Werlan took a last glance at the remains of his home. He felt his back being prodded with a spear, turned around and sighed, a tear spilling from his eye.
Lotus was panting heavily, still holding Laria. The otter healer had been running non-stop. She stumbled a few more paces, then collapsed against a beech tree. She closed her eyes and hugged the babe, feeling tears streak down her face. She opened her eyes and pressed on, looking desperately for a shelter. She rounded a bend and gasped. There, on the path, was Redwall Abbey. Lotus walked quickly, determined to get there before she collapsed of exhaustion. A minute later, she stood outside of the Abbey's gates, and knocked on it.
Abbess Sallena was up at dawn already, going out for a morning stroll. She was a score and five seasons old, pretty and wise, with sky blue eyes and had an unusual red fur, with a tinge of gold. She was joined by her lifelong friend, a kindly mole name Durg. The squirrel Abbess smiled at her companion.
"Hello, Durg. Why are you up so early?" Durg smiled back and waved a hefty claw.
"Oi be's a-doin' 'ee same thing as you'm be's doin', Muther H'abbess. Nought loike a noice stroll out in 'ee mornin', burr aye!" The Abbess nodded in agreement.
"Yes. Ooh, I'm hungry. Should we go to the kitchen for an early breakfast? I'm sure Friar Sorgan won't mind. Care to join me?" Durg nodded slowly, as if he wasn't listening to her. Abbess Sallena looked at him, concerned. "Are you alright, Durg? Is something the matter?" The mole turned his velvety head towards the main gates, pointing.
"Burr, Oi think oi heard summthin' from over there, somebeast a-knockin', oi think." Durg walked over there and was about to call out when a tired, breathless voice spoke.
"Hello, anybeast there? Please let me in!"
The squirrel shouted, "Are you friend or foebeast?"
"I'm a friend, an otter!" Together Abbess Sallena and Durg unbarred the gate and opened it. Lotus staggered in and collapsed into Durg's arms, still clutching the babe to her.
Abbess Sallena relieved her of Laria and said, "Hurry Durg, bring her into the gatehouse and lay her on the bed. She must have travelled far. Get Brother Gerdum. Go!" The mole hurried off, carrying Lotus in his digging claws. Abbess Sallena took a moment to take a quick glance at the babe, then followed them to the gatehouse. Durg had already left for the Abbey. Abbess Sallena opened the door to find the Abbey's recorder and gatekeeper, Rogann Spikepaw. The huge hedgehog had bedded Lotus down and covered her in soft blankets. The old otterwife had fallen asleep, crying out in her dream as it replayed her holt's desperate battle.
Rogann ushered the Abbess in, murmuring to her, "Pore otterwife, she's seen terrible things. I think she might have just lost her holt or family." The squirrelmaid showed him the babe.
"Well, it could have been a great sickness. Look, she was carrying this babe. We'll have to ask her what happened." Then Brother Gerdum arrived, with Durg following behind. The mouse nodded his head politely to the Abbess.
"Good morning, Mother. I'm sorry, but could you all please go out? I would suggest having breakfast while you wait."
Abbess Sallena smiled and replied, "Of course Brother." They left the gatehouse and went into the Abbey, crowded around by curious Abbeydwellers.
"What was that about?"
"Why did Durg need Brother Gerdum?"
"Aye, is somebeast hurt?" Abbess Sallena glanced at the Redwallers as the otterbabe started wailing with fright.
"Ooh, look, a little babe!"
"What's it called, d'you know?"
Rogann called out sternly, "Quiet! Please, finish yore breakfast and go about yore duties." The Redwallers slunk away, still whispering and gossiping among themselves.
Zegarath's army arrived back in the camp, hauling the exhausted captives along. They were weary and tired, wanting sleep. Zegarath watched, knowing that Vadorn was sauntering behind him.
Without looking back, he said, "Yes, Vadorn?" The fox stood next to his leader.
"Lord, what do you want to do with the captives?" Zegarath pondered the question before answering.
"They will be slaves, but for now, they will be kept prisoners. I don't want any of my horde getting lazy because they have a slave to do everything for 'em. I will choose a slave for myself though, my own personal slave. For now we will rest, knowing that the otters can't attack us, nor can any other woodlander. If they do, they are foolish. Post sentries around and make sure they have shifts. Take care that the captives are tied up tightly, and that there are no sharp things around."
"Yes Lord. When will you choose yore slave?" The wildcat waved a paw dismissively before going inside his tent.
"When I have had some rest." Vadorn turned and yelled at the guards who were tying the captives up.
"Make sure there aren't any sharp things around, and that they're tied tightly! The captives will be slaves for when we reach Redwall! If one escapes, you know what Lord Zegarath will do!"
A sinewy otter hid behind a sand dune, observing the vermin camp with sharp eyes. Holding a stout ash stave in one paw, he patted the two daggers he kept sheathed in his black belt, which was buckled around his brown tunic. He wrapped a dark green cloak around himself as a sudden breeze came.
He crawled away and murmured to himself, "Better tell Abbess Sallena at Redwall. Long time since I've been there. Can't wait to dig into those hot pasties!"
Grall started regaining his consciousness slowly, his head one throbbing mass. He opened his eyes and the truth came back to him instantly as he saw the lifeless bodies of what was once his friends and holt. He got up and moved his way through the carcasses which littered the cave floor, otters and vermin. He touched each one of his holt members, murmuring softly to himself. He stopped when he reached Frewn and Lestra, both with dagger thrusts in their hearts. He knelt and cradled his wife in his lap, feeling tears prick his eyes. Then he held Frewn's cold limp paw, tears now rolling down his face. He stood up and held his twin swords tightly, face drawn and pale. He started laying the slain vermin in the sand, and sealed the back entrance of the cave, which Lotus and Laria had escaped from. He lay the bodies side by side, and looked at them for one last time. He took a yellow bracelet from his wife's ankle and clasped it, closing his eyes. He put it on his own paw, to never forget the day of his holt's last fight, and, to remember his dead wife, Lestra. Then he started sealing the cave entrance up with seaweed, mud and rocks, finishing at midday. He then started to sob, weeping for his lost loved ones.
He raised his twin swords high and roared, "I, Grall Wavedeep, swear on my wife's body, that I will kill you Zegarath! I swear it! Wavedeeeeepp!" Then he was off, running through the sand like a madbeast, with tears still streaming down his face as his mind though of only one thing. Revenge.
With Abbess Sallena carrying Laria, the three Redwallers went to the kitchen, where Friar Sorgan was working away, cooking and supervising his assistants. Friar Sorgan had just been appointed Friar, committed entirely to his beloved kitchens. The shrewcook was watching an ottermaid anxiously just as they entered.
"Easy does it, Prell, good, now place the big strawberry on top of the trifle gently, that's it, well done! You've just made your very own woodland trifle!" Friar Sorgan turned to his visitors and smiled. "Good morn to ye, Mother Abbess, Rogann, Durg. What brings you here to my humble kitchens?"
Abbess Sallena returned the smile and said, "An otterwife just came, absolutely exhausted, carrying a little otterbabe too. We were just coming to see if we could feed it something. Do you have anything, Friar?" The plump shrew checked a small pot which was on the bench top, cooling. He opened it and sniffed the air, then took a small spoon and took a sip of somekind of broth. He took another spoonful of it and fed it to the little otterbabe.
Friar Sorgan said, "'Tis warm mushroom broth. The poor thing looks only a few days old. C'mere, Prell, look at the sweet liddle thing, eh?" The young ottermaid peeked at the bundle and gasped.
"Oh, its so sweet! Do you know its name?" Rogann shook his spiky head.
"No. Hopefully we can question the otterwife a bit. She looked pretty tuckered out."
Abbess Sallena said, "I think something dreadful has happened to them. I can't imagine what. Do you like it Prell?" Prell nodded vigorously.
"Oh yes. I do hope they stay here in Redwall. May I please hold it, Mother?" Abbess Sallena gave the babe to Prell and the pretty ottermaid gave a delighted shudder. Just then Brother Gerdum entered and nodded politely.
"The otterwife is sleeping peacefully. She was having a horrible nightmare. Maybe later you can see her, though she'll need lots of rest to recover."
The squirrel Abbess said, "Thank you Brother. Now, shall we have some breakfast? Durg and I were going to have something to eat before this happened." Friar Sorgan ladled out bowls of hot oatmeal porridge, and beakers of dandelion and burdock cordial.
The shrew said, "I'm sorry Mother, I've been dreadfully ignorant."
Durg replied, "Burr, that be's nowt a problem, maister Sorgan, us'ns be's caught oop with all 'ee ekksoitment!"
The mysterious lone otter looked up at the foliage which was covering him, with little gaps in between for the sunlight to beam through. He had arrived in Mossflower Woods two hours after dawn, now judging that it was slightly past midday; he had made good progress and continued tirelessly. He stopped by a stream, quenching his thirst. Nearby was a wild blackberry bush; he picked the ripe berries and ate them slowly. He nibbled on some cheese and lay back on an ancient sycamore tree, satisfied. Taking out his twin daggers, the otter started honing them on a rock close by, testing the tip. He smiled as he heard voices; singing out, faint and slightly gruff. He couldn't help but grin as the song reached his ears.
- "Lah dee diddily dumdee doo,
- We hope this gets across t'you,
- You can shout until yore blue,
- We're each a fearsome Guosim shrew!
- We scoff'n'sing'n'shout'n'fight,
- We feast'n'laugh'n'dance at night,
- We'll chew yore head off with a bite,
- Oh, you won't ever ferget that sight!
- Paddlin' on rivers is our life,
- We don't bother with all the strife,
- Arguin' with a bossy wife,
- We all keep a rusty knife!"
The song was interrupted by a shrill voice.
"Log-a-log Togboat, I ain't no bossy wife, an' neither are all these other shrew wives, d'you hear me?" This was followed by a gruff chuckle.
"Oh, you could never be bossy, me heart's delight." The otter watched with half closed eyes, chuckling with anticipation. A logboat rounded the corner, followed by four other logboats, all crewed by experienced shrews. The middle one was filled from top to bottom with shrewbabes. On the leading logboat a strong shrew was standing, paw on rapier and eyes roving the land.
His eyes caught sight of the otter, and he bellowed, "Stow those oars, we can rest 'ere for now." Even before the boat stopped, the burly shrew, otherwise known as Log-a-log Togboat, jumped overboard and splashed in the shallows, running towards the otter.
"Well, if it ain't Trad Rockstream. How are ye, you ol' streamwalloper!" They flung themselves at each other and wrestled playfully, greeting each other.
"Not half as bad as you, Togboat, you ol' riverpaddler. Wot brings you 'ere, matey?" The pair sat down as Guosim set about preparing food and making a fire, as well as calming the little ones, who were still jumpy from their boat ride.
Log-a-log explained, "We abandoned our home, we're goin' t'Redwall. Apparently we got a new enemy on our paws. Zegarath Deathblade." He gritted his teeth. "Aye, he must've sent a group o' his scummy vermin out. They found out who we were and where we lived; Zegarath wants slaves. Fortunately, one o' my shrews spotted 'em comin' and we moved out. Been travelling since two hours after dawn. What 'bout you, mate?"
Trad said, "I was travellin' to Redwall too, told meself to warn Abbess Sallena. Zegarath wants Redwall!" The shrew leader shook his head grimly.
"But 'ow we gonna stop 'im? He's got a fair amount o' vermin, 'twould be suicide to try 'an fight 'im." The two friends sat together, conversing quietly.
Werlan surveyed the camp with tired eyes. He spotted a fox coming for him and glared at him.
"What d'you want with me, fox?" Vadorn smiled coldly.
"My Lord Zegarath would like to see you. An' if you insult him..." Vadorn chuckled, making Werlan shudder. "You'll see soon enough." Werlan was frog-marched to Zegarath's tent. The wildcat sat on his chair, waiting patiently.
"Ah, thank you for bringing him to me, Vadorn. Have you made sure that they are tied securely?"
"Yes, Lord. I checked the ropes, they are firm and strong, and I have made sure there are no knives or sharp things around." Zegarath nodded his satisfaction.
"You have done well, Vadorn. You may now leave." The fox turned and walked out the tent flaps. Zegarath leaned forward, a smile playing on his lips. "What is yore name, riverdog?"
Werlan replied through gritted teeth, "Werlan."
"I hope I can trust you to tell me the truth, Werlan." The otter captive shrugged. Zegarath continued, "Tell me, are there any other woodlanders that you know of, shrews, hedgehogs, squirrels, mice? Hares, badgers? Anybeast?" Again Werlan shrugged, knowing that his life was at stake. But he was willing to risk his life instead of being cowardly and giving away other creatures. Zegarath held his patience. "I'll make sure you get some proper food and drink, if you just tell me who and where they live. Speak up, friend, I won't hurt you. I give you my word."
Werlan growled, "I'm not yore friend, wildcat. I never will be, you an' I know that. I will not risk other creature's lives." There was a frightening silence. The wildcat narrowed his eyes, his voice becoming considerably harsher, colder and menacing.
"Fine then, riverdog, if that's what you want. Guards, take this wretched riverdog out of my sight before he spoils my eyes. Tie him to a tree and give him twenty lashes with the whip." He smiled cruelly as he watched Werlan struggle within the grip of two burly stoats. "Enjoy yore punishment riverdog; this is what you'll get if you disobey me!" The otter was completely dragged through the camp, biting, kicking and lashing out with his free paws. He managed to punch one in the stomach and bite the other's paw before they got him tied to a tree. Most of the horde witnessed the punishment, staring at the horrific wounds that the whip made. Werlan was taken back to Zegarath, blood dripping down his chest and face. Werlan suffered in utter silence, hatred and contempt barely hidden in his blazing eyes.
Zegarath asked, "Are you goin' to tell me now, riverdog?" Werlan held his silence and stared at the ground, rage building up in his mind.
"No, I will not. Go on, continue to whip me and punish me, but it won't change my mind!" Zegarath secretly admired the courage of the otter, but did not show it.
Instead he growled menacingly, "You should not be so insolent when speaking with me. Vadorn!" The fox trotted in.
"Tie this riverdog separately from the other slaves and give him no food or water for two days. Starvation and thirst are the greatest persuasions of all!"
Log-a-log shouted, "Up on yer hunkers, Guosim! Moran, have the logboats been hidden well and tied securely?"
A hefty shrew roared, "Aye, Chief, all secured and hidden!"
"Right then, march to Redwall, on the double, Guosim!"
Another voice called out, "Permission to sing, Chief?" Log-a-log shook his head.
"Sorry Gedda, no singin', foebeast might hear." They continued marching in silence. After an hour of steady marching, they rounded a bend and stood on a well-trodden path. Up ahead, gleaming in the sunlight, was Redwall Abbey. In a few minutes they were outside the gates, gazing up at the walltops.
Trad stepped forward, knocked a few times, and roared, "Ahoy the Abbey, anybeast inside?" A moment later, an otter appeared, smiling broadly.
"Well, cousin Trad, I'm not surprised t'see ye hear matey, with a whole lot o' Guosim!"
"Let us in, Skip, afore we die o' hunger!" The gates opened slowly, and the whole company were greeted by Redwallers. Skipper Rortan shook Log-a-log's paw heartily.
"Well, Togboat, how are ye?"
"Same as always, Skip, fightin' fit and hungry!" Abbess Sallena was confronted by Trad.
"Well, Abbess, you haven't changed much have ye?"
"Neither have you, Trad, not the slightest bit!" Trad lowered his voice, and suddenly became serious.
"I have urgent news Mother, could we have a meeting in Cavern Hole? I will gather all the creatures who will be needed."
Abbess Sallena nodded and replied, "Of course Trad."
Grall had been running non-stop, seeking revenge on Zegarath and his horde. He finally stopped at midday, when he tripped and collapsed. He lay there, regaining his breath. Finally, Grall staggered upright and found himself on the edge of Mossflower Woods. He started foraging for food and water. The exhausted otter came across a small stream, with wild apple trees growing around. He drank deeply and ate some apples, then stood up and started searching again. He came across some pawprints and studied them. Satisfied, he walked where the prints led, making sure he missed no details. After half an hour of walking, Grall came across Zegarath's camp. He crouched behind some bushes, his eyes darting backwards and forth. He spotted Werlan, separated from the rest of the slaves. He gritted his teeth and ground them together. Grall knew he needed a plan, otherwise he too, would get captured and used as a slave. The otter racked his brains until he could think no more, then decided to go with the simple plan. To wait until midnight, sneak in while the vermin were asleep, cut the slaves loose, then kill Zegarath. Grall knew it was risky, but he would go with any plan. As long as he killed Zegarath.
Skipper Rortan, Log-a-log, Abbess Sallena, Foremole Durtclaw, Trad, Rogann, Kiplo Brewbeast, the Abbey's Cellarhog and Durg gathered in Cavern Hole. They were served by Friar Sorgan and his assistants who brought out food to nibble on, seeing it was teatime. Skipper thumped his paw down on the table to restore order.
"Silence, Redwallers! Now, we have important information, brought to us by Log-a-log Togboat and Trad." Trad took the floor.
"Thank you, Skipper. I do not want to alarm you, my friends, but evil is abroad Mossflower." A hubbub broke out, and Trad had to bang his rudder on the table. "Quiet! Now listen, all of ye. A wildcat has come, by the name of Zegarath Deathblade, an' his horde has at least six hundred, probably more." There were gasps around the room. "An' he wants to conquer this Abbey."
Skipper roared, "Well, he's only gonna get Redwall over my dead body!" Several shouts followed.
"Aye, let the scummy vermin come and we'll send 'em packin'!"
"Boi okey, oi'll give 'ee vurmints such billy-oh, burr aye!"
"We ain't surrenderin' to no wildcat, ye hear me!"
Trad bellowed, "Silence! We're supposed to be actin' like proper Abbeybeasts, instead o' a bunch of rowdy Dibbuns!" Immediately there was a shameful silence. "Of course we aren't goin' t'surrender, who said that? But we do need to be ready for an attack, an' any other things a wildcat can think of. So, from now on, we will have sentries on the walltops, and Dibbuns must not be found outside the gates. Does anyone else have any other suggestions? Alright. Remember, be ready!"
Brother Gerdum rushed up to the Abbess and said, "Mother, the otter is awake. Would you like to see her?" The squirrelmaid beckoned Rogann and Durg and nodded in reply.
Skipper sighted them and bounded up, saying, "Ahoy mateys, where are ye off to?"
Rogann replied, "Goin' to the gatehouse, got an otter in there. Exhausted and half dead, by the looks of it. She was carryin' a babe too; we gave her the bed in the gatehouse. We're goin' t'question her a bit." Skipper nodded grimly.
"I'll wager it has summat t'do with that wildcat, Zegarath Deathblade." Abbess Sallena pushed the gatehouse door open and went in, followed by the others. The otterwife's eyes explained the fear, death and destruction she had seen.
Abbess Sallena said gently, "How are you feeling?"
"Better than I was a few hours ago," Came the tired reply. "I cannot thank you enough for the kind hospitality you have given Laria and I."
Rogann asked, "The babe is called Laria?" The otter nodded wearily.
"Aye. She is the daughter of Grall Wavedeep, the chieftain of Holt Wavedeep. I am Lotus, the holt's healer."
Skipper enquired, "What 'appened, marm?" Lotus trembled and bit her lip to stop herself from weeping.
She calmed herself and said, "We were attacked last night, by a wildcat. I woke to the sounds of screaming and wild laughing; slaying, killing everyone!" Lotus hugged herself close and tried to push the memory away. "I saw my friends being cut down before my very eyes. Laria was sleepin' twixt her mother, Lestra, and Frewn, Laria's grandmother. They had both been killed, so I grabbed Laria and hid myself behind a rock which was at the back of our cave. Grall yelled at me to escape with Laria, so I did. I know nothing after that, except stumbling through the dark woods, with the screams and warcries still echoing in my ears." By now she was sobbing heart-brokenly into the blanket.
Durg patted her kindly and said, "Burr, et must have been turrible furr 'ee. You'm be's wi' Redwallers noaw, h'in safe paws. Yurr, drink summ o' this cherry'n'damson woine." Lotus accepted the small beaker and sipped slowly.
Skipper said through gritted teeth, "If I'm not mistaken, marm, the vermin who attacked yore holt goes by the name o' Zegarath Deathblade. He'll be comin' to Redwall soon." But Lotus had not heard a word he said. She started shivering and sweating, nearly dropping the empty beaker in her shaking paws.
Rogann relieved her of the beaker and said kindly, "Have some rest, you'll need it Lotus." He turned to Brother Gerdum. "I think she might have a bit of a fever there, mate, better see to 'er." The mouse nodded.
“Thankee, Rogann. Must’ve had a bit of a shock, poor thing. Go along, I’ll see to her.” The company of four crept out and walked back to the Abbey, each immersed in their own private thoughts. Abbess Sallena went to the dormitories, where Laria was kept. The otterbabe slept peacefully in a cradle, and issued small noises as Abbess Sallena stroked her small forehead. A soft padding of pawsteps came towards the room. The door swung open to reveal a hedgehog maid, holding the small paw of an infant dormouse.
The Abbess asked, “Oh, dearie me, what have we here, Meryl?”
Meryl replied, “Oh, little Dwen here accidently cut his footpaw on a sharp rock. Have you seen Brother Gerdum, Mother?”
“He’s in the gatehouse, looking after Lotus, the otter. I know a little about healing. Do you want me to try?” Abbess Sallena took the little Dibbun’s paw and led him to a bed. “Well, how did you do it, Dwen?”
Dwen replied, “We was playin’ den I twipped over da wock. It hurt vewy much!” The squirrel nodded sympathetically.
“I’m sure it does. Now, I’ll wipe the wound with some water, then put some sanicle on it. Wrap it with dockleaves, and…there! How does that feel?” Abbess Sallena finished tying up the bandage she had wrapped around the dormouse’s footpaw. The babe leapt up and pranced around.
“Yeehee! It all be’s fix up gooda now. I go play now! Bwe bwe!” Meryl stopped the Dibbun running off.
“What do you say to Mother Abbess, eh?”
Dwen scuffed his footpaw and said, “Fank you, Muvver.”
Meryl nodded in approval and ushered him, “Go play now, you little rascal.” But Dwen didn’t move. Instead, he walked up to Laria’s cradle and tried to peer inside. Meryl lifted him up and said, “This is Laria, our new Redwaller. “
Dwen gazed at her and asked, “Can she play wiv us?” Abbess Sallena smiled and shook her head.
“No, she’s too young. Maybe in a few seasons. All right, go and play.” Dwen trundled off obediently, followed by Meryl. Abbess Sallena glanced at Laria briefly, then followed Meryl down to the orchard.
Zegarath glanced at each one of the otter slaves, shaking his head as he continued down the line. Not one of the sixteen satisfied him enough to make one of them to be his personal slave. Zegarath surveyed the rest of the camp, his eyes settling on Werlan. The starving otter hadn’t spoken at all since he had been tied to the stake in the middle of the camp. Werlan watched under half open eyes as the wildcat warlord made his way towards him.
He held his silence until Zegarath spoke, “I have a feeling that you still aren’t goin’ to tell me about the other woodlanders in Mossflower. Right?” Werlan made no answer, but only clenched his paws which were bound tightly by ropes behind the stake. Zegarath continued, “You may be brave, but at the same time you are foolish. You have no idea what I might be planning for you, or yore fellow slaves.” He smiled dangerously. “If you even think about planning to escape, forget it. You will die a painful and slow death if you even attempt once!”
His voice laden with contempt, the otter said, “Then you won’t get the information that you want. And those other slaves might be as stubborn as me, so then what are ye goin’ t’do, wildcat?” Werlan looked up and stared defiantly into Zegarath’s eyes.
“I’ll force ‘em. You don’t know what I can do, slave.” Zegarath’s mood suddenly snapped, and he snarled, “Vadorn, see to it that this otter get’s fifteen strokes o’ the whip. Understood?” The fox captain came hurriedly and saluted.
“Yes, Lord!” Zegarath spat at Werlan, “Soon yer tongue will be the death o’ ye, slave!” The wildcat stalked off, his cloak swirling around him. Werlan wonder where his best friend, Grall, was. Was he alive or dead? Where was he? The weakened captive was brought back to reality when Vadorn cracked the whip over him.
Grall honed his twin blades on a rock, making sure it was at least ten paces away, so the vermin wouldn’t hear. He tested it with his paw, finally satisfied that it was as sharp as a freshly broken glass shard. Grall’s keen ears picked up voices from the camp; one was menacing and cruel, the other hoarse and weak from lack of use. Grall peered at the camp, and the sight which he saw caused his body to shake with rage and fury. Vadorn whipped at Werlan, clearly enjoying it. Grall watched silently as Vadorn continued the punishment. Werlan’s previous wounds were opened, blood oozing out of them. The fox stopped, noting the agonized look on Werlan’s face, turned and walked off, leaving his victim to the rest of the horde. They jeered and laughed at him, continuing to tease him and prod him with their spears and crude swords.
A thin rat sneered, “That’s wot yew get fer disobeyin’ Lord Zegarath. Soon we’ll feed yew to the birds’n’gulls, they’ll like yew fer brekkfist, though they likes their food plump an’ fresh, not scarred and thin like yew, riverdog.”
A weasel came forward with a helmet full of salt water and asked nastily, “Would ye like some water, fresh from the sea, riverdog?” He splashed the water at Werlan, causing the otter to gasp as the cold liquid came in contact with his body and the wounds. Werlan squeezed his eyes tight, gritting his teeth as the salt water touched each one of his many cuts. Grall forced himself not to charge and attack the cruel laughing horde, tormenting and teasing his friend.
One, a fat ferret, held out a plate full of meager roots and berries and teased, “D’you want some food, riverdog? You want to get free, do yer?” A stoat swaggered up, gripping in one paw a chain and mace, and wove a pattern around Werlan with the fearsome weapon. The otter winced visibly, helpless and defenceless. It nearly ripped his ear off, whistling pass with hardly a hair’s breadth in between them. Suddenly Grall could stand it no more. The sight of Werlan being tormented and tortured by the vermin set his blood boiling. He rose from his sitting position and drew his twin swords, baring his teeth.
He growled, “Wait there, Werlan, I’m comin’ t’get yer. Hang in there, mate.” He charged into the camp, waving his swords and bellowing, “Wavedeeeeeeppp!”
Werlan shut his eyes tightly, waves of nausea sweeping over him. With the wounds, salt water and torturing put together, it did not prove a good combination. Werlan sighed heavily and felt tears prick at his eyes. What did he do to deserve this? Only a few days ago he had been carefree and happy, with hardly a care in the world. Then, suddenly his life is turned upside down, and he is taken into slavery by a vicious and cruel horde led by a ruthless wildcat. Yes, he asked himself, what did he do to deserve this? The otter felt like crying out like a lonely babe lost in the woods, praying for the end to come quickly and painlessly. But he knew that the end was a long time off.
Werlan turned his thoughts to happy memories, smiling as he recalled his younger days. His family, his mother and father, his older sister, his cousin…and of course, his best friend, Grall. Playing in the cool sea water every summer…listening to tales around the fire in winter. Life, indeed, had been happier. Everything currently happening faded away; the jeering of the taunting vermin, the wind from the sea, the crack of the whip…
Suddenly, a cry rang through the air, filling Werlan’s heart with joy and relief. A cry that he had heard many times throughout the last few seasons. A cry that he had almost given up on ever hearing again.
“Wavedeeeeeeppp!” Werlan’s eyes snapped opened and he sighted the lone otter charging across the camp towards him, eyes ablaze and swords whipping everywhere, slaying the vermin that dared to stand in his path.
Werlan roared back in answer, “Wavedeeeeeeppp!” Grall continued tirelessly. Whenever he killed two vermin though, five more would take their place. Soon he was surrounded completely, hemmed in on all sides. Werlan shouted warnings above the melee.
“Fox behind ye, mate!” Grall turned in time and dodged out the way before the fox’s spear could run him through. The otter thrust one of his swords in the fox’s snarling features, before turning and running a stoat through. Werlan knew that Grall would not last against the horde; the otter was almost collapsing with exhaustion.
Vadorn’s voice could be heard shouting above the noise of the battle, “Don’t kill him, make sure he stays alive! Lord Zegarath will be pleased to see him captured!” Werlan’s heart skipped a beat. Behind Grall, a sinewy lean weasel crept up and held his wooden club high above the unsuspecting otter.
Werlan yelled desperately, “Grall, look out! Grall!” But the otter turned too late. He crumpled to the ground unconscious, still gripping his twin swords tightly. Werlan nearly sobbed with helplessness. Now their last chance to escape was crushed and flattened. He let his head slump forward. Now they were at the mercy of Zegarath Deathblade.
Skipper Rortan paced around Great Hall, obviously worried. He didn’t hear the pawsteps until the creature they belonged to spoke.
“What’s the matter, Skipper?” The brawny otter looked up, startled.
“Abbess! Oh, there’s nothin’ wrong, but…” His voice trailed off. Skipper paused for a moment, then voiced his thoughts aloud. “But I can’t help feelin’ worried about that wildcat, Zegarath. We hardly have any warriors here, only Foremole’s crew, Log-a-log an’ his tribe, an’ my crew. We’ve had enough experience, aye, but we only equal up to at least sevenscore, but that’s it. ‘Sides some other able-bodied Redwallers who are willin’ t’risk their life’n’limb fer Redwall, that’s all our warriors. We wouldn’t last long against a horde of armed vermin.” He sighed heavily. Abbess Sallena shook her head, and looked up at Martin’s tapestry.
“We’ll see if he comes or not. If he does, you have my permission to gather some allies around Mossflower. I’m sure they’ll be more than glad to help. Meanwhile, ask Brother Aiden to the ring the bells to warn woodlanders that Zegarath is coming. I trust you’ll organize the sentries and wallguards?” The otter nodded.
“O’ course, Mother. No sense in bein’ unprepared for trouble.” He glanced around to see the Dibbuns stampeding madly across towards them, pursued by their mothers. Smiling slightly, he said, “Speakin’ o’ trouble, look who’s comin’.” Covered in soap suds and giggling, the babes left puddles of soapy water for their chasers to slip in. Skipper blocked their path, chortling as they squeaked desperately.
“We don’t wanna be baffed! Quick, Skippy!”
“Burr, oi be’s shrinkin’ zurr, oi bain’t gunna shrink no more!” Skipper blocked them until they were swept up into their mothers’ arms, some nearly crying in dismay. They were carried back to the waiting tubs of water, wailing. Abbess Sallena chuckled.
“Rascals. I remember I was like that. Ah, for Dibbun days!” The pair of them walked outside to the orchard. They sat down under a fruiting apple tree, next to Rogann and Kiplo, the Cellarhog. Kiplo reached up and plucked an apple, biting into it.
“Ah, nothin’ like a good russet apple, eh?” Rogann nodded in agreement.
“Aye, friend, with ripe yellow cheese an’ some fresh baked bread. With some o’ yore October Ale, o’ course.” He licked his lips. “I could do with a hot pastie right now, washed down with some dandelion an’ burdock cordial.”
Skipper nodded dreamily. “Aye, matey, a slice o’ woodland trifle wouldn’t go amiss.”
Abbess Sallena added, “And some bilberry scones, spread thick with meadowcream and damson preserve, with a beaker of rosehip and mint tea.” Rogann groaned.
“Ooh, all this is makin’ me stummick grumble. Should we go to the kitchens for an early lunch? I hope Sond hasn’t eaten everythin’ up though. I sometimes think that that hare can demolish all the food produced in the Abbey!”Sonderlin Clementis Whipplescut, or Sond as he was called, was known throughout the Abbey for his enormous appetite, roguishly gallant, had a playful manner but could be serious when need be. He would lay his life down for friends, brave but sometimes head-strong and reckless. He was liked around the Abbey, always having time for the Dibbuns, whom he had grown fond of. Of strong build, he wore a light green tunic with a brown belt. His fur was a mottled light brown, with an exception of his right ear, which was black. He had no recollection of his history, his parents or his Dibbunhood, only knowing that he had been a wanderer in Mossflower. He had been rescued by Skipper and some of his ottercrew when he had been fighting a gang of young rats, who had attempted in burning him. Luckily for him, he had survived unscathed, with only a wound from the left side of his jaw to his right eye. The four friends made their way to the kitchens, their mouths watering as they thought about the food they would eat. When they arrived, Sonderlin was leaping about, a grin plastered on his face as he evaded the grips of the outraged kitchen assistants and Friar Sorgan.
He stopped for a second and smiled impudently, saying, “Can’t catch me, I’m too fast for you, Friar, wot wot!” Then, grabbing a hot pastie from a cooling tray, he swapped it around his paws while dodging the ladles aimed at him. He took a small nibble, before Skipper tackled him to the floor, plucking the pastie from his paws. Sond stared at his paws for a moment, dismayed that his purloined snack had been taken from him. Friar Sorgan loomed over him, whiskers twitching and paws waving around with rage.
“Remove this hare from my kitchens, Skipper, before he decides to escape an’ raid from the pantry! I’ll have your ears chopped off! Your tail plucked an’ your nose stuffed with weeds if you ever try raiding my kitchens again, d’you hear me, Sonderlin Whipplescut?!” His voice rose as his let his anger flow out. Skipper led Sond out into the lawns, with Rogann, Kiplo and Abbess Sallena following, chuckling. The squirrelmaid regained her composure and spread her paws wide as the hare flopped down in the under a gnarled pear tree.
“Sonderlin, what are we going to do with you? This is the seventh time you’ve raided the kitchens this season. If you wanted food, you could just ask Friar Sorgan politely.”
The hare mumbled, “The bloomin’ cad won’t listen t’me, even if I did, wot.” Sond reached up and plucked a pear from the tree, munching on it thoughtfully. The Matthias and Methuselah bells rang out over the Abbey and the surrounding woodlands, warning the woodlanders. Sond mistook these sounds and stood up cheerfully, saying, “Oh, it must be teatime, wot! I’m famished!” He dashed off towards the Abbey.
Abbess Sallena and the two hedgehogs burst out laughing as Skipper berated, “It ain’t teatime, famine-face, it’s warnin’ the woodlanders around the Abbey!”
The hare did not turn around and laughed, “Yore just tryin’ to bally make me miss it, wot! Well, this hare isn’t gonna miss a single meal, so there!” Kiplo, Rogann and Abbess Sallena were laughing hard, doubling up as they tried to hide their mirth. Skipper stared at Sond’s disappearing form, then started laughing with them. They laughed all the merrier when they saw Sond being chased by vengeful kitchen assistants and Friar Sorgan, waving their wooden ladles at him as he sped off.
Zegarath was running; but from what? A dark shadow seemed to be pursuing him. He looked around desperately for a hiding place, but there was none. The shadow came closer, and closer. The wildcat felt cold sweat dripping down his forehead. He grabbed for his scimitar; but it wasn’t thrust in his belt like it normally was. Zegarath turned around and yelped. The shadow seemed like it was only a few paces away. Zegarath ran for his life, not knowing where he was going. But no matter how fast he ran, the shadow was always on his heels. Zegarath felt like his legs were two lumps of heavy metal, but he forced himself to carry on. Suddenly everything around him disappeared, replaced by darkness. Then, a mouse stepped out of the shadows. The wildcat knew instantly that this was no ordinary mouse. He was carrying a magnificent sword, with a blood-red pommel stone and a leather bound hilt. But his eyes; they were penetrating, boring into Zegarath. Zegarath could not lift his head to meet the warrior’s gaze.
Zegarath stammered, “Wh-who are you?”
The mouse replied, “Who I am matters not to you. But I know who you are, wildcat. Zegarath Deathblade.” The wildcat tried to shrink into the ground. “You may be brave and frightening, but you are a coward at heart, Zegarath. You want power over Redwall Abbey. If you go there, you cannot turn back. If you do, your army would turn against you, then what would you do?” The mouse spoke coldly. “Make a wise decision Zegarath.” The mouse raised his sword and brought it down upon the wildcat.
Zegarath bolted upright from his slumber, shivering and sweating. He quickly calmed his shaking paws and felt for his scimitar. It was still where he had left it, on the wooden table in his tent. He sighed and glanced around. The mouse; who was he? Though Zegarath usually didn’t believe in omens and superstitions, this was one time he did. Fortunately, he had told nobeast anything about his plans to conquer Redwall. Sure, his horde had heard of the Abbey, but never seen it. Zegarath planned his next move. He was busy thinking when he heard voices outside the tent. He listened to them speaking.
“I’ll tell Lord Zegarath that we captured that leader riverdog.”
“No, Gerbull should, ‘e was the one wot knocked the riverdog unconscious.” Their argument was broken by Vadorn.
“Shuddup, you two. I’ll tell ‘im, ‘sides, I’m the captain.” The other three knew better than to argue with Vadorn, from past experiences. The strong fox was known for his skills with the sabre. They were about to enter the tent when Zegarath came out. The three vermin, the weasel Gerbull, a stoat Bogtail, and a rat called Twog, bowed low, embarrassed at being caught arguing.
Vadorn stepped forward and saluted, saying, “We captured the leader riverdog, Lord, would you like t’see ‘im?”The wildcat nodded silently and followed them to where Grall lay, tied to the chain of other slaves. The otter was still unconscious, so Zegarath beckoned Gerbull to him.
“Fill somethin’ with water and splash it over him. Make sure that it’s a big portion.” The weasel bowed and rushed off to do his bidding. A few minutes later, he returned. Without saying a word, he tipped the water over Grall. The otter opened his eyes and gasped in shock as the water came in contact with his body.
Zegarath turned to Vadorn and ordered, “Untie the riverdog over there an’ tie him here, then bring this one to my tent. Got it?” Vadorn saluted and swaggered off. Zegarath swept off to his tent, his mind working away.
Grall sighed heavily. Why did he have to suddenly rush in like that? Now their chance of escaping was basically nil. Vadorn stood over him and hauled the otter up, snarling.
“Get up, riverdog, or you'll be dead within a blink of an eye!"
Grall turned and fixed Vadorn a look with contempt written plainly on his face. “If you did kill me, I’m sure Zegarath will kill you as equally slow and painful. Right?” The fox captain did not answer. Instead, he shoved Grall in the back, sneering as the otter fell forwards.
“Don’t talk so smart, riverdog; it’ll be the death o’ you one day!” Grall got up slowly, his blue eyes blazing with anger.
“One day I’ll get ye; aye, Zegarath, you an’ his horde! I assure you, fox!”
Zegarath’s voice called out impatiently, “Vadorn, hurry up an’ get a move on, or you’ll feel my scimitar slicing yore skull open!” Vadorn walked hurriedly, with Grall trailing behind.
The otter muttered under his breath, “Aye, soon I’ll get my revenge. No matter what stands in my way, I will get my revenge sooner or later! You hear that, Zegarath? I’ll wait until the day I’m free, then I’ll pay you back hundredfold for what you did to my holt and kinbeasts!”
Zegarath watched his captain push the vengeful otter inside, a smile playing on his lips. He could plainly see that Grall was shaking with cold fury, but he pretended not to notice.
Zegarath said loudly, “Thank you, Vadorn. You took yore time gettin’ here. Why, may I ask?”
Vadorn answered readily, “Lord, this riverdog was stubborn and did not move, so I had to pull him up. He also threatened me, but I didn’t listen to him.”
Grall interrupted angrily, “Liar! I didn’t threaten you, it was the other way around, you birdbrained clod!”
Vadorn strode over and pawed the sabre in his sheath, snarling, “Be quiet, or you’ll feel this blade carving yore insolent tongue out, riverdog!”
The wildcat commanded, “Stop!” There was a silence, with Grall and Vadorn glaring at each other furiously. “Vadorn, bring me two beakers and some of my best elderberry and plum wine.” Vadorn raised his eyebrow in surprise, but bowed obediently and left, casting a glance of hatred in Grall’s direction. Zegarath leaned forward. “Have a seat, otter.”
Grall remained standing and answered, “I will stand.”
The wildcat shrugged. “Suit yoreself. Anyway, I want to talk with you.” Vadorn walked in, carrying to wooden beakers and a flask of wine. He placed them on the table in front of Zegarath and eyed Grall contemptuously before leaving. The wildcat waited until he had left, then continued. “Yore not short of nerve, courage or strength, I can see that. How would you like to become a captain in my horde? The best of food, an’ power over everyone. What about it, eh?” Grall remained motionless and silent for a few moments.
He said impassively, “No.”
The wildcat asked, “Are you sure? You could have yore very own quarters, warm food an’ drink, an’ command over my creatures. You would like that, wouldn’t you?”
The otter suddenly exploded with fury and shouted, “No! I do not want to be a captain under you, or have power over yore murderous vile horde!” He glared at Zegarath, eyes turning slightly red. Zegarath reached for his scimitar and snarled at Grall.
“Vadorn! Chain this riverdog with the other slaves and make sure he gets twenty slashes o’ the whip! Now!”
The fox came hurrying in and shoved Grall towards the tent flap.
“Move, ye heard Lord Zegarath!”
Grall turned to the wildcat, his eyes staring into Zegarath’s. “I’ll get you one day, I swear! You will curse the day you were born Zegarath, for you are a coward at heart!” Zegarath shivered as the otter’s parting words reached him. The dream came back to him, and he sat down into his chair, thinking.
Down in the cellars, Durg, Foremole Durtclaw, Trad, Skipper Rortan, Kiplo, Rogann and Log-a-log were having a merry time, supping October Ale and various other drinks while belting out rowdy songs which included Sonderlin’s favourite subject. Food. Log-a-log sang lustily:
- ”Oh, gimme a big pastie or a pear flan,
- The cook’s a-wieldin’ a rusty ol’ pan,
- A turnover or pudden wouldn’t go amiss,
- Give the cook me thanks an’ a big kiss!”
Skipper thumped his rudder and did his piece.
- ”Raspb’ry an’ apple, a slice o’ tart,
- To woodland trifle I give me heart,
- Scones an’ preserve with blobs o’ cream,
- Soup an’ stew, now wot a dream!”
Foremole Durtclaw started off gruffly with his verse, waving an empty beaker about.
- ”Luvverly deeper’n’ever poi,
- H’oatmeal porridge, me oh moi,
- I gurtly loves h’a bowl or two,
- Candy chestnuts h’an’ dried fruit too!”
Rogann started singing, only this time about drinks.
- ”There’s naught like a drop of October Ale,
- Dannelion cordial by the pail,
- Sweet elderberry an’ damson wine to sup,
- Cold apple cider, drink it all up!”
Kiplo enjoyed this immensely, considering that it was about drinks and he brewed them.
- ”Strawberry fizz, loved by all,
- Here we drink, to Redwall,
- Rosehip tea, drunk hot or cold,
- Try our cherry wine, and behold!”
The whole company collapsed with laughter and patted each other on the backs, chuckling and giggling away like babes. Then Sonderlin came in, looking for a place to hide from the kitchen helpers and the shrewcook, who were still looking for him.
The seven drinkers stopped their merriment and looked at the hare, and Skipper asked, “Yes, Sond?”
Sonderlin quipped, “I heard singin’ here, then some flippin’ creatures who laughed like bloomin’ maniacs, wot wot!”
Rogann shook his head, trying to keep his face serious. “Must’ve been voices in yer head, mate. We was just talkin’ about good things about Redwall. Ain’t that right, mates?”
Foremole Durtclaw nodded solemnly. “Burr aye, maister Rogann. Yurr, maybe you’m needs summ fresh air, Sond.” He ushered the bewildered hare towards the entrance. He closed the door before Sonderlin would protest and joined his friends.
Sonderlin wandered off, muttering, “Huh, I swear I heard them singin’ down there. Hm…”
Sonderlin spotted an upturned wheelbarrow in the shade of a huge, gnarled apple tree, and deciding that he needed to rest for a while, strode over and sat himself down. Reaching up, he grabbed a ripe apple and pulled until the fruit was broken from its stalk. The hare polished the apple on his tunic, munching and chunnering to himself.
“Got t’keep my young ‘andsome form safe from starvation, wot! Those kitchen chaps will be absobloominlutely horrified when they find m’body, buried among ants an’ whatnot, wot wot! Then they’ll be sorry that they ever kept me from eatin’!” Sonderlin smiled as he pictured in his mind, he, Sonderlin Clementis Whipplescut, being lifted from the ground, head lolling to one side as the mourning Redwallers bore him on a stretcher. Everyone would be crying and sobbing, blaming the shocked kitchen cooks for the unexpected death of the brave hare. Especially Friar Sorgan.
Sonderlin was so busy imagining his death that he did not notice two Dibbuns, a tiny squirrelmaid called Tiffle and the dormouse Dwen, clamber up on the wheelbarrow behind him, stifling their giggles. Tiffle signaled to Dwen, miming an action, which Dwen nodded in reply, nearly tripping over his own footpaws from smothered laughter. Tiffle reached up and tried to reach Sonderlin’s ear, but her arms were too short. Tiffle beckoned Dwen and stood on his small shoulders, having a natural ability as a squirrel. She grabbed the hare’s two tall ears and pulled upwards.
Sonderlin immediately reacted, and, thinking that it was Friar Sorgan and his kitchen helpers, yelped, “Owowow! Decease from pullin’ me precious earlugs, sah, an’ I promise I’ll never steal from yer confounded kitchens again! Gerroff me! Leggo o’ me lugs!” The hare, clearly in pain, waved his paws behind him, sweeping Tiffle and Dwen off the wheelbarrow in the process. They landed hard on the grass and set up a concerted wail, crying. Sonderlin whirled around to face them, a look of pain and anger on his face. It melted away as he noticed the two upset Dibbuns. At that very moment, Friar Sorgan himself and his kitchen assistants appeared in the orchard. Them, and a few others who had heard the two babes crying, among them Skipper, and another creature, Sister Maybell. A rather caring and kind otter, she was the caretaker of the Dibbuns, who absolutely adored her. She could be quite severe at times, but you would be special to witness her bad temper, since it was seldom she showed that kind of mood.
Sister Maybell asked, “Pray, what is happenin’ Sond?” The hare was stuttering and stammering.
“I-I-I…w-wot?” The two upset Dibbuns were swept up into the otter’s paws.
They wailed, “We was jus’ playin’ an’ Mista Sod yell at us f’noffink, a-an’ he push us offa bawwo! Wahaaahaa!”
Sister Maybell turned on the speechless hare. “Wot have ye got t’say for yourself, Sonderlin? Fancy pushin’ my babes off a wheelbarrow for nothin’! An’ yellin’ at ‘em too! What’s the world comin’ to?” She walked off, comforting the two babes. “There, there, wipe those tears away, me dearies. Come to the kitchens, I’ll see if there’s any candied chestnuts around, an’ some cordial too. Would ye like that?”
Sonderlin waved his paws around, turning his shocked gaze on each of the furious onlookers.
“B-bu-“ Skipper hauled the hare roughly onto his paws, holding him firmly.
“Wot’s the best punishment fit fer him, eh Sorgan?”
The shrewcook answered without any kind of hesitation. “Washin’ greasy pots’n’pans, cleanin’ the dormitories an’ scrubbin’ the floor o’ Cavern Hole!” Sonderlin groaned audibly. He was led inside the Abbey for his punishments, being berated by Skipper and Friar Sorgan.
Vadorn shoved Grall forward, knocking the otter flat.
He tied Grall onto the chain of slaves and said calmly, “You behave yourself now, otherwise Lord Zegarath will be on ye like a hawk.” Grall snarled at the fox and tried to lunge at Vadorn’s footpaw, but the fox stepped to one side calmly. He turned on his heels and strode away.
“Grall, it’s you!” The otter felt someone grasp his paw and he turned around to face Werlan, his eyes filled with tears.
“Werlan, I destroyed yore chance of escapin’. I’m sorry.” Grall quickly wiped a paw across his face.
“Don’t worry, I’m sure we’ll escape somehow. We just have to look out for our chance,” Werlan said, sounding more confident than he felt.
“Not before I’ve slain that murderous wildcat and his horde. Nothing will stand in my way. Nothing!” Grall shook a clenched fist at the late afternoon sky, then collapsed sobbing. “I’ve ruined everything Werlan; most of my holt killed, including my wife and mother, then my vengeance takes over my mind and…I don’t even know where my daughter is. I’ve ruined everything! ” The sixteen otter slaves stared at him in amazement. Nobeast had ever seen their chieftain cry, leastways not very often and so heartbrokenly.
Werlan said firmly, “’Twasn’t yore fault, Grall. What happened to the ole Grall, eh? We’ll get through it together, I promise!” Grall wiped his tears away and clasped Werlan’s paw, face grim.
“Aye, mate, let’s hope we get out alive!”
Zegarath had made up his mind. Since his dream with the mouse warrior, he had doubted his plans of conquering Redwall.
He called, “Vadorn!”
The grey fox trotted in and bowed. “Lord?”
“Get the soldiers ready to march. We’re going southeast, find a place to settle down and build a grand fortress, with slaves and all. And when we accomplish that, Vadorn, we will make ourselves known and feared throughout the land! Imagine it, you and me, livin’ the life of a king! How about it, eh?”
Vadorn did not let his emotions show, though inwardly he felt a very slight tinge of excitement. “Very good, Lord. When shall we start marching?”
“When the troops are ready. Have three guards look after the slaves on the march. I want four to scout ahead, see what’s in store. Make sure they are capable and smart. As for the ships, well…I think we’ll just have to leave them there.” Zegarath shrugged. “But I won’t need them once we have our fortress. Right?”
Zegarath voice became a menacing growl. “And just let anybeast stop me. Nobeast can defeat me. Nobeast!” He drew the scimitar and stared at his reflection in the blade. “Go, Captain Vadorn.” The fox permitted himself a little smirk outside the tent as he drew his own blade, the sabre. We’ll see who is the better swordbeast in the seasons to come, wildcat!
A young female otter captive by the name of Creekflower, spotted Vadorn coming with Bogtail, Gerbull and Twog.
She hissed to another older female otter, “Here comes that fox captain an’ some o’ ‘em vermin. Wonder wot they want now?” Her companion shrugged.
“Does it matter? We’re all gonna end up dead sooner or later, mark my words.” The otter, Dewrose, had no time to say anything else because Vadorn had arrived.
He turned to the three trailing behind him and said, “You are to guard these prisoners from now on. If they escape, you will answer to Lord Zegarath and you know what he does. Understood?” Three heads bobbed up and down vigorously. Vadorn left them to their devices and they stared at each other, uncertain of what to do. They each had been given their own whip so they could punish disobedient slaves. They fiddled with their new whips, having no experience as slavedrivers. Two otter brothers, Rymal and Trekkan, sniggered at the vermins’ hesitancy.
Twog whirled on them furiously and lashed out at the duo, “Be quiet, you stoopid riverdogs, or I’ll flay ye insolent hides until ye see yer own guts!” Rymal and Trekkan were instantly silenced, but glared murderously at him. Twog shuffled about nervously, feeling the otters’ eyes bore into him. Meanwhile, Gerbull and Bogtail had found some roots and were roasting them over a small crackling fire.
Twog stalked up and flung himself beside Bogtail, whining, “Why are you two sittin’ around while I’m keepin’ an eye on th’ slaves, eh?”
Gerbull took a glance at the seventeen slaves and shrugged. “They’re not doin’ anythin’. No need to watch ‘em, you’d know if they’re up t’somethin’.”
Twog stuck his jaw out and argued back, “How do you know, smartmouth?” Gerbull ignored him and stood up.
“Bogtail, keep an’ eye on the roots, make sure they don’t burn. I’m goin’ t’get some water, get us somethin’ t’drink.” He walked off.
Twog muttered under his breath, “I’ll get ye one day. I’ll be pushed around by yer no more when I’m finished with ye!
It was a happy scene in the orchard of Redwall, with a tea buffet set up full of famous Redwall fare. Every Abbeybeast was seated on a chair, from small Dibbuns to elderly ones. There was damson crumble spread thick with meadowcream, strawberry trifle, shrimp and hotroot soup, deeper’n’ever pie, almond and mintcream wafers and an immense cherry and hazelnut cake. To wash it down was October Ale, dandelion fizz, strawberry cordial and rosehip and mint tea. . Prell, the young ottermaid who was one of the kitchen assistants, had brought it upon herself to look after Laria. She carried the week-old otterbabe out into the orchard and placed her on her lap. Prell fed ladled some soup into a bowl and fed it to the hungry Laria, who was taking in everything around with curious eyes. Once she had finished her small meal, Laria tried to clamber out of Prell’s lap, but the ottermaid chuckled and held her back. She tickled the little otterbabe under the chin lightly, making Laria squeal and squirm.
Abbess Sallena had been watching the ottermaid closely. She came over and said, “You like her, don’t you Prell?”
Prell nodded eagerly. “I like her very much, since I have no memory of any kind of family, Mother.”
The squirrel Abbess enquired, “Would you like to adopt her?” Prell’s brown eyes shone with excitement.
“Really? You mean I can keep her?” Abbess Sallena nodded, smiling. “She can be like my little daughter! Or even better, my little sister!”
Abbess Sallena’s tone grew stern. “But you are taking full responsibility for her, alright?” Prell nodded. The Abbess observed gently, “It’s good that you’re a sea otter, too. You can tell her about everything… when she’s old enough to understand.”
Prell looked surprised. “I always thought I was a stream otter! I had no idea.”
Unexpectedly the squirrelmaid winked at her. “Well, now you know.” Brother Gerdum, the infirmary keeper, walked up and started piling his plate with food. Abbess Sallena asked, “How’s Lotus, Brother?” The mouse continued placing food on his plate.
“Better, Mother. She will be up and about in a few days.” He turned his attention to a plate. “Ooh, is that almond and mintcream wafers I see?”
Everyone in Redwall was happy. All except one. Sonderlin Clementis Whipplescut. He looked out one of the dormitory windows and sighed.
"Blinkin' cads, makin' a young chap miss a full tea time, wot wot!" He pleaded to Skipper, who was eyed his work fiercely behind him. "Please sir, could I go to the kitchens an' get summat to fill my starvin' tum, wot?"
The gruff reply he got left him in little hope. "Keep cleanin'!"
Gerbull bent down, scooping up water with a beaker he had found. He drank his fill, then bent down again to scoop some water for Bogtail. Some inner instinct told him that somebeast was behind him. He started to turn around but was kicked in the back. He splashed noisily into the water, face first. He spluttered and choked, outraged. He turned to confront the creature, but stopped in his tracks.
Vadorn snarled, “What are ye doing? Yore meant to be watchin’ the slaves, not foolin’ about!” Gerbull could not reply. He was speechless. Vadorn grabbed his ear and dragged him back to where the slaves were sniggering. The fox captain ignored them and let go of Gerbull’s ear, saying, “Stay here and guard them! Understood?” The weasel nodded fearfully, and was given one last contemptuously kick from Vadorn.
Gerbull whirled around and grabbed his cutlass, shouting at the laughing prisoners, “Shuddup, you impudent lazy riverdogs, or you’ll feel this blade carvin’ yer heads off!”
There was a silence, then Grall growled dangerously, “You wouldn’t dare to. Yore leader would be very upset, wouldn’t he?” Gerbull searched his brain for answers, but couldn’t find any. He swaggered off casually, then tripped and fell flat on his face. He fumed as he heard sniggering behind.
Dawn came quickly the next day. By midmorning the whole horde was up and marching briskly, going southeast. Breakfast was being eaten hastily while walking.
Werlan muttered, “I wonder where we’re goin’? Shall we ask weaselface, Grall?”
The otter shrugged. “You can, but don’t try anythin’ to insult him. He’ll report us to Vadorn and Zegarath, plus he’ll whip ye.”
Werlan called out to Gerbull, “Hey you, where are we goin’?” Gerbull and Twog, who were walking in front of the line of slaves, turned around and lashed his whip.
“You don’t need t’know, riverdog. Keep quiet or I’ll report ye to Lord Zegarath!”
Werlan wrinkled his nose at Grall. “Didn’t give much of an answer, did he?” Grall didn’t answer. He was too busy mumbling under his breath.
Friar Sorgan had woken early, putting a kettle of water to make some tea. He turned to a cauldron of oatmeal porridge and stirred it slowly, tasting it as he went. Durg the mole plodded in and yawned.
He waved a digging claw at the shrewcook and said, “Hello Froir Sorgan, et be’s a foine day outsoide, an’ ee porridge smell’s gudd, burr aye!”
Friar Sorgan ladled some porridge into a bowl and sprinkled some berries on it. “Come in for an’ early brekkist?” The mole nodded. The shrew handed the bowl to him and Durg sat down at the table, spooning the hot porridge down. Prell and Abbess Sallena popped their heads in and smiled.
The squirrelmaid asked, “We’re not too early to have breakfast, are we?” Friar Sorgan waved his ladle and ushered them in.
“No no, Mother, o’ course not. ‘Ere, pour some tea while I get ye some porridge.” They were just starting to eat when a few Dibbuns, Trad Rockstream, Skipper and Rogann walked in, sniffing as they went. The two male otters and Rogann sat themselves down on the chairs while the Dibbuns crowded around Friar Sorgan.
The shrew looked aghast at the group sitting at the table. “Since when did my kitchens become Cavern Hole? The sun hasn’t even risen fully yet!”
Abbess Sallena chuckled and stood up, saying, “We’ll go eat in Cavern Hole. I think everybeast has the same idea to have an early breakfast, eh?”
Sonderlin bounded in and wrinkled his nose at them, waggling his ears. “Did somebeast say breakfast? I’m flippin’ famished, wot wot!” Everyone present roared in laughter at the sight of Friar Sorgan’s face.
Trad paced the walltops, spear and sling at the ready. Brow creased worriedly, he walked to where Skipper was standing.
He said, “I wonder where the foebeast have gone, mate. They would’ve arrived by now, wouldn’t they?” Skipper nodded. They watched the path and flatlands, squinting their eyes. But there was not a sign of a single creature.
Book Two: Friendships and Betrayals
“Pass me some of those ripe apples and pears, will you Laria.” The tall lean ottermaid placed some fruits in front of Prell and watched as she chopped them up. Prell looked at the bored ottermaid and smiled. “You’ve done enough work here, Laria. Have the afternoon off. You’ve earned it.”
Laria smiled back. “Thanks, Prell. See you soon.” The ottermaid could barely stop herself from skipping in delight as she walked out of the kitchens. She stopped in front of the tapestry, gazing at the sword which was held on two pins above it. She touched the words at the bottom right hand corner, whispering the words. “Martin the Warrior.” She turned away and walked out into the bright sunny afternoon.
Now fourteen seasons, she was tall and lean, sinewy and strong. Usually she was quite sensible, but occasionally she always allowed herself to be a bit wild with her best friends, a slightly older male river otter called Shoregan, and a female badgermaid named Merna. Merna had been found orphaned in Mossflower Woods, just one season after Laria was brought to Redwall, her parents thought to have been killed or taken captives by Zegarath. As for Shoregan, when he was a few seasons old, he had wandered to Redwall with his old grandmother, because the rest of his family had been captured as well. Laria had immediately palled up with the two, remaining faithful to each other throughout the seasons.
Laria wandered to the pond where she started throwing pebbles. A few minutes later, Merna and Shoregan sat down beside her. She continued throwing the pebbles, counting the bounces.
“So, what’ve you guys been up to?”
Merna groaned and stared ruefully at the ground. “Brother Gerdum and Lotus wanted me to mend some old sheets and blankets. Huh, I can tell you that was hard!”
Shoregan wrinkled his nose. “Pore you, mate. I’d hate to be doin’ that. Anyways, I think I had a worse job than you, mate. I had to help clean the smocks the Dibbuns wear! They were so dirty and full o’ mud that I nearly needed a bath meself!”
Laria chuckled. “I had a better job than both of ye. I had to help my sister make some afternoon tea.”
Merna shook her striped head. “Lucky. Right, we’ve got the rest of the afternoon off. What are we goin’ to do?” The trio sat in silence for a while.
Laria got up and said, “Well, I’m going to the cellars. I’m pretty thirsty, y’know. You two comin’?”
Shoregan yawned and followed her. “Sure, matey. I feel like some strawberry cordial right now. Come on, stripehound, up on yer hunkers.”
Merna growled playfully, “Don’t call me stripehound, riverdog.” Laria grinned, listening to the two battering each other with insults.
She interrupted without turning around, “Have you two noticed that we’re inside the cellars? Let’s go see if Kiplo is around.”
“Actually, he’s up in the kitchens collecting his share of the crop. Need ‘em for brewin’ drinks, y’know.” A small, plump male hedgehog scurried from the shadows, smiling. “Now, wot can I do for you three, eh?”
Merna asked politely, “We came here because we were thirsty. It’s quite hot outside. It’s nice and cool in here, though. You must like it being in the cellars, Durgle.”
Durgle nodded. “I like it fine ‘ere, miss. Brewin’ drinks is like my whole life. Without it, I don’t know wot I would ‘ave done. I’m not much of a cook, though I do like to make some seedcake now an’ then. Seedcake an’ October Ale go together very well, y’know. Mm…” He licked his lips.
Shoregan sensed that Durgle would be going into a different subject and interrupted, “Could we maybe have some strawberry cordial? I’ve been cravin’ it for some reason. Can’t get it out o’ my head. Could you show us which barrel it is?” The small hedgehog nodded vigorously and started shuffling towards a row of big barrels with taps knocked into the wood. He put small glasses on and peered at the barrels, moving along and murmuring to himself.
“Hm, dandelion an’ burdock cordial, dandelion fizz, blackberry an’ damson wine, redcurrant cordial, pennycloud an coltsfoot cordial, horse chestnut beer, October Ale…Aha! Here ‘tis, strawb’rry cordial. Merna, darlin’, could you get some of the beakers in that little cupboard over there? Mebbe we should have a liddle snack, eh? Laria, m’dear, just behind those empty barrels is another cupboard. In it are a few liddle tidbits which I sneak in from the kitchens.” He chuckled as he saw Shoregan’s eyebrows rise. “Ye didn’t think I would do somethin’ like that, did ye? Ah well, Kiplo an’I sometimes have a few snacks while we’re workin’. We don’t bother t’go up to the kitchens often, ‘tis too much of a walk. Ah, here comes the food an’ beakers. Wot did ye get, Laria?”
The ottermaid replied promptly, “A small fruitcake, some seedcake and a big yellow cheese.” Durgle took his glasses off and stored them in his apron pocket. He took the beakers from Merna and filled them with pink, bubbly liquid. Placing them in front of his young friends, he smiled at them as they sampled the drink.
Merna clamped a paw to her mouth as she exclaimed, “Whoo! That’s fizzy all right!”
Shoregan quaffed his down in one go, wiping his mouth with the back of his paw. “That’s the stuff, matey. I like it!” He held his beaker out for more.
Laria contributed by putting in her comment. The moment she sipped, she started giggling and shaking away, nearly spilling the drink on herself. “Whoohahaha, that’s too fizzy for me! Hahaheehee, pass me some cheese, Durgle. Hahaha!” The hedgehog sliced up the fruitcake and cheese, passing them to the three friends. He gave them each a portion of the seedcake, smiling.
“Maybe you should try another drink. You can sample the drinks for the Nameday and Harvest Feast, eh?”
Shoregan nodded delightedly. “Can we, Durgle?”
Durgle winked at him. “Course ye can, Shoregan. ‘Ere, I’ll let ye try some o’ this pear cordial…”
“Move yer worthless hides faster! You there, vole, pick up that stone and catch up wid the others, or you’ll feel my whip! Move it!” The weasel, Gerbull, had become very accustomed at being a slave driver, after having done it for fifteen seasons. After a few days he had taken to it like a duck to water.
Gerbull watched and lashed his whip out at a young gaunt squirrelmaid about ten seasons old. She struggled to hold a chunk of limestone, staggering a few paces before she dropped it and collapsed beside it. The weasel slave driver stood over her, the whip a few inches from her face. The squirrelmaid whimpered in fear and covered her face with her paws.
Gerbull growled, “Pick it up, treejumper. Go on, pick it up!” She stood up and managed to hold it in her paws. Gerbull nodded his approval and turned to another bunch of slaves who were hauling a big block of limestone, which was being rolled on logs towards the construction of the fortress.
Zegarath had chosen the building of his fortress in a valley. They had wandered for several seasons, destroying and accumulating woodlanders as slaves. He had gathered fivescore when they had stumbled upon the valley. A lake was on its south side, being fed by rivers and streams nearby. Just north was a quarry of limestone, from which the wildcat had decided to build his fortress with. It stood by the north side of the lake, with walls of stone and wood surrounding it. Inside the slave compounds were complete, and the soldiers’ quarters. A big longhouse stood in the middle, with a weaponry and armor room, plus a big throne for Zegarath, where he interrogated soldiers or slaves. Zegarath had his personal chambers next to it, though it was not yet finished. It was the last thing that needed building, and Zegarath wanted it to be up before the cold and harsh winds and rains of winter arrived.
Grall looked up as he carried a large rock, sweat dripping from his forehead. The otter had grown thin and grey, but inside there was still the strength and fire of determination to slay the one who had killed his wife and holt: Zegarath Deathblade. In front of him Werlan blowed and puffed, grunting as he staggered towards the cart which would be used to transport the limestone to the castle. Finally, after what felt like an hour, the two slave otters reached the cart and dumped their load on to it.
Bogtail the stoat cracked is whip at them and said coldly, “Get back to the compounds and get yer lunch. Go on, slaves!” The group of captives, young and old, shuffled slowly towards the fortress, accompanied by half a score of guards.
Werlan murmured to Grall, “Gruel and water, eh Grall?” Grall sighed and shrugged. Over the seasons he always thought of his daughter, whom he had only seen for two days in his whole life. He could picture her, a tall lean ottermaid, sky blue eyes, brave and loyal, standing on a distant hill. Leastways, that was what he liked to think and believe.
Werlan nudged him out of his reveries. “Grall, we’re at the compounds.” The two lifelong companions lined up for their daily ration of a bowlful of meager soup made from the soldiers’ scraps, and two ladlefuls of water. The slaves ate their portion quietly, some murmuring to each other. They knew they were being watched over by the guards.
Suddenly, the wail of a babe rang throughout the compound, followed by loud crying. Twog the rat trotted up and sniffed in disdain.
“Shut the babe’s mouth, mouse, or it’ll go badly for ye! I said shut it!” The widow mousewife tried to silence her babe but the little mouse kept on wailing. Twog gripped his spear and said through gritted teeth, “Silence the liddle fiend, or I’ll do it for ye! Hurry up!” Grall pushed past the slaves and hurried to the mousewife.
He took the mousebabe from her and rocked it gently, speaking gentle words. Even though the babe stopped it’s wailing, it still whimpered quietly and reached up towards Grall’s face. The otter continued to rock the babe soothingly, singing the lullaby which his wife had sung the night before the vermin ambush. Somehow, it had burned itself into Grall’s head, and there it stayed.
- "When the moon starts to appear,
- Slowly the sun will disappear,
- Stars will shine in the sky,
- Ever so far and ever so high,
- The breeze will lull you into sleep,
- Sweet dreams will come which you can keep,
- The sun will come with a bright new dawn,
- Birds will sing sweetly in the morn,
- Look forward to that pretty sight,
- So sleep deep, dear, and rest tonight."
The mousebabe fell into a deep sleep, then Grall passed the babe back to its mother.
The mouse smiled gratefully. “Thank you, sir. I don’t know what they would’ve done to him had it not been for you. Thank you.” Grall nodded in acknowledgement, his mind somewhere else. He wandered back to Werlan and sat down, staring at the dusty ground. Werlan knew from experience that the babe and lullaby had reminded his friend of Laria and his dead wife.
The following day, the summer sun beat down fiercely, the heat penetrating the very skin of the Redwallers. Everyone was outdoors, sitting down in the shade of the trees in the orchard or swimming leisurely in the cool water of the pond.
A buffet lunch had been set up by Friar Sorgan and his helpers, who had obliged willingly with the Friar remarking, “If I stayed in the kitchens, I swear I would have been roasted alive!” The Dibbuns had suddenly turned extremely mischievous, playing pranks on anybeast they could without being noticed.
The first prank was when Rogann returned from filling his beaker with October Ale, only to find his plate had mysteriously disappeared. He scratched his spikes in puzzlement and sipped his drink. “Did you see my plate? It had a pastie, bread, cheese and salad on it. It’s suddenly disappeared. Vanished!” He gnawed a face spike.
Brother Gerdum, for it was he who Rogann had been asking, turned away from his food and drink and shook his head at the hedgehog. “No, I’m afraid not. Was it here?” He placed a paw on an empty spot on the table. The Recorder nodded and shrugged.
“Oh well, I’ll just have to get a new plate. Can’t afford to miss lunch, y’know, searchin’ for it.” The mouse turned back and reached for his cold mint tea.
He quaffed it and immediately reacted, by clutching his throat and dropping his beaker, then giving a strangled yelp. He fanned his mouth and jumped up and down. Skipper Rortan and Trad were passed by, watching him curiously.
Skipper bit his lip to stop himself chortling and Trad enquired, “Is somethin’ the matter, Brother? What are ye doin’ that for?” Brother Gerdum pointed to his mouth and mimed an action, then resumed fanning his mouth.
Skipper got his mirth under control and said, “You want a drink? I can do that. Hold on a tick.” Skipper returned a few moments later, in his hefty tattooed paw a tankard of dandelion and burdock cordial. The mouse grabbed it and poured it down his throat.
After a few moments, he calmed himself down and breathed in and out, then said, “Thanks Skipper. Somebeast must’ve changed my tea with hotroot soup. I swear my tongue must’ve shriveled up with spiciness by the time you got the cordial.”
From under the huge long oaken table, with the tablecloth hiding them, the Dibbuns giggled and fell over one another. Diggun, a molebabe, shushed them and quietly sneaked out with Brother Gerdum’s purloined tea. He pretended to sip it every time someone passed him, walking towards Prell’s plate of food. Checking to see that no one was looking, Diggun carefully removed the cheese that lay on her bread, then poured the drink on to it. He placed the cheese hurriedly back on the bread and dived under the table, clutching the empty beaker to him. Not a second later, the ottermaid returned to her food, not noticing the changes. She picked up the bread and cheese and bit into it, then shook her head.
“Hm, somebeast poured tea on to my bread…” She lifted the cheese and saw the soggy middle of the bread.
Under the table, the Dibbuns rolled around in mirth, trying not to betray their presence. A chubby little otter crawled out and headed towards a beech wood bowl of strawberry trifle, ladling a goodly portion onto a plate. Then he made a beeline for Kiplo’s bowl of hotroot soup and dumped the trifle into it. He dashed back under the table and peeked to view the results of his prank. The other Dibbuns crowded around him, eager to see the reaction.
Soon, Kiplo came ambling back and found a slice of trifle floating midst his hotroot soup. He stared at it and frowned, remarking to Durgle, “Wonder who would put that in? I’m not gonna eat that, though it is a waste of soup…”
Abbess Sallena stomped up to them and threw her paws up, exclaiming, “Ooh, wait until I get my paws on whoever put meadowcream on my salad! I have a feeling I know who it is though…”
Kiplo raised an eyebrow and said, “Dibbuns?” The squirrel nodded and glanced under the table.
The babes started arguing on what prank they should play next, and on which beast.
Diggun said gruffly, “Oi shudd do et, oi be’s gurtly quick! Put ee pudden on zurr Sond’s pastie,that should ee trick.”
But a mousebabe argued back, “No, it was me who putta meddercream onna Abbess salad. I do it!”Diggun picked up a candied chestnut and threw it at the mouse’s head. The mousebabe retaliated by flinging half a pastie at the mole.
Soon all the Dibbuns had joined in the food fight. They were busy searching for ammunition among the grass when Skipper’s face appeared under the tablecloth.
He grinned sweetly, then boomed, “Bath time, liddle ‘uns!” The Dibbuns squealed and dashed out from under the safety of the table. Trad reached for Diggun, but the molebabe smashed a squashed turnover into the otter’s face as he was picked up. Trad released him and rubbed away the contents of the turnover from his eye. Everywhere the Dibbuns followed Diggun’s example, and soon the orchard was total chaos. Food and drink splattered the tables, chairs, grass, trees, chasing elders and Dibbuns.
However, by late afternoon the Dibbuns had finally been rounded up, and the tables and chairs cleared away. The Dibbuns were ushered into a line, most looking down at the grass and scuffing their footpaws, knowing that they were in big trouble. And all of them were covered from head to toe in some kind of food and drink.
Silence reigned the orchard, then it was broken as Skipper stood forward, brawny arms crossed as he frowned at each of the Dibbuns in turn. He asked flatly, “What have you got to say for yourselves?” There were no answers. The otter continued sternly, “Today you have been playing pranks nonstop, which is absolutely intolerable. You are all on Abbess’s Report.” There were shocked gasps as the Dibbuns looked at each other, aghast. “Firstly, just look at the state yore in. Straight after this, you are all to have a thorough bath, and don’t run away from it, otherwise you’ll get another one. Secondly, you have been misbehavin’ and you must be punished. You will only get bread, cheese and water for dinner tonight, breakfast and lunch tomorrow. Then it’s straight up to bed. You’ll help wash the dishes, then you’ll clean out the infirmary. Is that clear?” There were guilty nods from the babes.
One said quietly, “Will we still getta choppa up and den cook inna soupy?” Skipper raised his eyes to the sky and shook his head in despair. He turned to the squirrelmaid standing beside him.
He whispered to the Abbess, “Do you think I was too harsh on ‘em?”
The squirrel replied, “No, Skip. It’ll do them good to learn a lesson.” She waved a paw at the babes. “Dismissed.” The Dibbuns trudged silently back to the Abbey, crestfallen, guided by several elders.
Lord Tabayra Stoneblade watched the sunset from his chamber. The brown eyes shifted restlessly, roaming the sea. The Badger Lord was no longer young, but was still far from being old. Scars from bygone battles shone on his fur. He was a descendant of Lord Brocktree, Boar the Fighter, Sunflash the Mace, Rawnblade Widestripe, therefore having the dreaded Bloodwrath. His armor was hung up on the wall, polished to a dull sheen. Next to it was a mighty broadsword, one which only a creature as formidable as he could lift.
There were several knocks on the wooden door to his chamber.
Lord Tabayra answered without turning his great striped head. “Come in, Peony.”
The door opened, and then a tall, brown furred female hare entered. She wore the Long Patrol uniform, a long sleeved scarlet tunic with gold buttons and chest pockets. Buckled around her waist was a black leather belt. Thrust through it, a rapier glinted, as sharp and keen as a freshly broke glass shard.
On one paw was a tray, laden with food and a beaker. The Badger Lord glanced at it and raised an eyebrow. “Early supper?” Major Peony Laminar nodded and smiled. She placed the tray down on the windowsill.
“Aye, Lord. You didn’t have any lunch or tea, busy as you were, so I brought some food. Not good, y’know, wot wot!”
Lord Tabayra chuckled and said, “Thank you, Major. But before I start eating, I need to tell you something.” The hare’s curiousity was roused.
The badger said, “Mossflower Woods, as you know, has had no kind of vermin threat, too long for my liking. I want you to pick a score of capable hares and go to Redwall. Just to see if everything is alright. Can you do that, Major?” The hare saluted smartly and grinned.
“Yes sah, of course sah. See if everythin’ is shipshape at Redwall, sah. Got it, sah!”
Lord Tabayra snorted and rolled his eyes. “Stop callin’ me ‘sah’, Peony. You know how it bugs me about all this formality. Now, when do you choose to leave?”
Peony replied promptly, “Mayhaps two days from now, s…Lord. Tonight I’ll choose the group. If that’s alright?” The Badger Lord nodded.
“You have my permission. Pick them now, if you like.” The hare nodded.
“Thank you, Lord. Have a nice supper, sah!” She winked at him and disappeared around the door, closing it carefully behind her. Walking down the corridor, she waggled her ears at another female hare about fifteen seasons old. “Hello, Dawnsorrow. Taking a sunset stroll outside, wot wot?” Private Dawnsorrow Whopplescoffer saluted at Peony. She wore a blue long sleeved tunic, like that of Peony’s. In one paw she hefted a javelin, which she carried everywhere with her, even mealtimes. Thrust through her belt was a scabbard, a sabre sheathed in it.
She replied, waggling her ears back, “No, Major, but I could go for a jolly ole patrol around the mountain, wot? Y’know, see if there’s some vermin chappie out there who wants to take the bally mountain for himself. I’ll boff his bloomin’ brains out if he comes a flippin’ paw’s reach of Salamandastron, wot wot!”
Major Peony shook her head. “Boffing his brains out won’t solve the problem, Dawn. So forget about it.” Dawnsorrow hung her head, tapping her javelin point against the floor. “Anyway, his Lordship wants me and a score to go to Redwall, see if there’s any jolly vermin stickin’ about.”
Private Dawnsorrow lifted her head and her ears sprang upright as she pleaded, “Take me, please Major, I promise not to cause any bloomin’ scraps along the way. Please, Peony! Take me, take me!” Peony scratched her ear thoughtfully, then shrugged.
“I’ll have to ask Lord Tabayra. Sorry, pal.” She saw her friend’s shoulders sag. She threw a paw around Dawnsorrow and smiled. “Cheer up, Dawn. I’ll try to work something out, but I’m not promising anything. All right?” Immediately Private Dawnsorrow’s spirits lifted and she saluted smartly, grinning.
“Thanks heaps, Major. When I get picked to go with you, I’ll show them that I’m a real warrior!” She strutted off down the corridor, using her javelin as a staff as she continued to herself, “Private Dawnsorrow the brave, fearless, warrior of the Long Patrol! I’ll send rats quakin’ in their flippin’ boots, stoats tremblin’ in their rotten fur, weasels scattered brainless, ferrets shiverin’ in their coat, when they hear the name Dawnsorrow Whopplescoffer the…ouch!”
Too preoccupied talking to herself and imagining, she walked slap bang into a pretty haremaid, wearing a pink tunic, about the same age as Dawnsorrow, carrying an armful of shells from the shore. Dawnsorrow readied herself for the reprimand and hung her head.
“Dawnsorrow, you silly buffoon! Look what you’ve done! Your name should be Dawnsorry, not Dawnsorrow!”
Dawnsorrow scuffed her footpaw and mumbled, “Sorry, Searose. Didn’t see you there.”
Searose ignored her and continued into her shrill voice, “Pick up those shells for me or I’ll report you to my father, and he’ll deal with you severely, as you should know.” The private could hear the pride in Searose’s voice. Her father was Colonel Shorewood Buckblade, the next best swords master along Lord Tabayra. Dawnsorrow knelt obediently and started picking up the shells. Searose stood over her, smirking.
Dawnsorrow had just picked up the last shell when Searose deliberately bumped into her, scattering the shells once more across the floor. The haremaid gritted her teeth and started to pick them up again.
Searose shoved her aside and dropped them into a sack, stating, “You’re no good at anything, really. You just dropped them again, silly. Go along now, I’ll stay behind and do what you’re supposed to be doing. Why don’t you try and cook some saltwater stew? That should be nice.” Dawnsorrow seethed inwardly as she bit her lip to stop herself arguing. The ‘saltwater stew’ had been a disaster, when she had attempted to help make a shrimp and vegetable stew. Dawnsorrow strode off down the corridor, leaving Searose behind. A bump in the rock floor tripped her, and she went head over heels, javelin flying out of her grasp. Behind, she heard Searose laughing. The private glared down the passage at Searose, picked up her javelin, and walked away, her dignity and pride injured.
Two days later, a score of Long Patrol hares stood outside the main entrance of the mountain stronghold, carrying haversacks of plain food to last the journey. Major Peony checked the list, murmuring to herself.
“Let me see… Sergeant Thornwood, Captain Thrushtip, Lieutenant Seawort, Windal Rockbreeze, Corporal Jagwaithe…” The hare counted off the group, shaking her head. “Colonel Shorewood, that’s who we’re missing. Where is he?”
“Major, Major, take me! Please!” Private Dawnsorrow came dashing out from the mountain to join them. Lord Tabayra frowned, then sighed resignedly.
“Take her, Peony. She’ll learn valuable experience on the way. One more hare won’t harm…” Colonel Shorewood stomped up, towing a reluctant Searose.
“M’lord, I’d like my daughter, Searose, to join Major Peony’s group.” He pulled Tabayra to one side, saying, “She needs to get out of the mountain and do some real action. Her mama spoils her, she does, but she needs to be disciplined. An’ I’m not goin’ ‘cause you need a companion here.” His friend, Lord Tabayra, shook his head, smiling.
“Colonel, I can look after myself, and you know that.”
“But most of the officers are goin’ with the Major’s group. So-“ The badger raised a paw, halting Shorewood’s voice.
“All right, you stay here. I guess what yore sayin’ is, if a vermin wants this place, then you must be here to help me. Right?” The hare smiled.
“Took the flippin’ words out o’ me mouth, Lord.” Colonel Shorewood turned to the waiting party. He barked out, “Searose, yore goin’ with Major Peony’s group to Redwall, as are you, Private Dawnsorrow.”
Searose looked horrified. “But Papa, I don’t want to go!” The colonel marched up to her and grabbed her shoulders fiercely, making Searose wince.
“Searose, don’t do this now. No more will you be spoilt by yore mother, ye hear me, missie? Time fer you to patrol and do some real action. It’ll do ye good to see some fightin’.” Searose pouted and stamped her footpaw. But her father said calmly, “Make me proud of yer Searose, not ashamed. Be proud that I’ve actually let you go with Major Peony.” He hugged her briefly, then stepped back to join Lord Tabayra. Searose glared at her father, but the colonel took no notice.
Major Peony ordered, “Line up in columns of three! Sergeant Thornwood, lead us off with a marchin’ song, will ye! Steady now… March!”
Sergeant Thornwood’s gruff voice rang out as the group marched smartly, with Lord Tabayra and Colonel Shorewood gazing after them.
- ” One, two, left, right!
- March until yore out of sight!”
- ”Stomp those footpaws right down hard,
- They’ll be nicely red and sore,
- You’ll be cryin’, oh yes you will,
- But tomorrow you’ll be gettin’ more!”
- ”One, two, left, right,
- March until yore out of sight!”
- ”Oh me of my, don’t you cry,
- Yore eyes will turn all red,
- For supper you’ll have a tot of blood
- An’ some vinegar before bed!”
- ”One, two, left, right,
- March until yore out of sight!”
The party faded into the distance, travelling northeast towards Redwall. Colonel Shorewood had returned to the mountain, leaving Lord Tabayra by himself.
The badger murmured to himself, “Come back safe an’ well, Long Patrol hares.”
Grall glared at the scorching sun, beads of sweat trickling down his forehead. He grunted as he lifted a heavy block of limestone and placed it on the wooden cart, which, when it was full with limestone, would be hauled back to the fortress by slaves and used to build to Zegarath’s chamber. Grall was pushed to one side to join a group of slaves, who were waiting until there was a considerable amount of the prisoners to go back to the fortress for the next shift of slaves.
Werlan staggered towards Grall, panting heavily from lugging his fair load of stone. He said wearily, “Seems t’me that the blocks are gettin’ heavier. Or is it us gettin’ weaker?” Grall shrugged.
“Hoi Gerbull, y’think that this group o’ slaves c’n go back?” Bogtail flicked his whip at their direction.
The weasel, Gerbull, eyed them. “Yeah, that lot should be enough. Go on, slaves, the sight o’ yer makes me sick!” He struck Werlan hard to emphasize the statement, flogging away at the weak otter to make them move faster. “Move faster, you lot, or this ‘un won’t be around no more!” Werlan stumbled forward, gasping as the whip opened wounds. Grall launched himself at Gerbull, his paws waving wildly to find the weasel’s throat. Gerbull fell backwards onto the ground from Grall’s onslaught, his eyes bulging as he felt himself lose grip on the whip. Werlan stooped and picked up the whip, advancing grimly on the slavedriver.
“’Ere, Grall, lemme do the hurtin’. We’ll see who’ll be whippin’ who when I’m done with yer!”
Meanwhile, Bogtail the stoat had called urgently to nearby horde members, and they surrounded Werlan, Gerbull and Grall, some others ushering the slaves back to the fortress. Two vermin grabbed Grall and hauled him roughly backwards, holding him back from attacking. Three managed to catch Werlan before he had started to flay Gerbull. The weasel lay on the ground, eyes wide with fright. He stood up shakily before scrabbling away from Werlan.
He gasped out, “Bring ‘em t’ Lord Zegarath. He’ll know wot to do!”
Grall let himself be pushed and shoved towards the fortress, but Werlan struggled wildly, yelling “I’m not finished! I’ll get yer one day! Cowards, come an’ fight me, or are ye too scared?” Several more helpers had to come and restrain the kicking and scratching otter before he was controlled.
Grall said firmly, “Just do it, Werlan. We can’t go up against them.”
Bogtail shook his head and reprimanded Werlan like an old mousewife, wagging his paw at the otter. “That’s right. Yore ole mate there has got a head of good common sense. Listen to him, or it’ll go badly for ye, ye understand?” Werlan stopped struggling and hung his head. Grall sighed heavily. They reached the fortress doors, watched by horrified fellow slaves and vermin as they were marched towards the longhouse.
Bogtail knocked on the wooden door and called, “Lord Zegarath, we have some disobedient slaves here who tried attackin’ Gerbull.”
The voice that replied was calm, yet it had a dangerous tone in it. “Come in.” Bogtail shuddered inwardly as he opened the door and pushed Grall and Werlan into the room. It was not the first time the two otters had been inside the longhouse for disobedience and attacking a horde member. In fact, over the seasons they had made themselves infamous among the horde and slaves, bringing a new light of hope into the slaves and casting a dark shadow of fear into the hearts of vermin. But not Zegarath.
Grall and Werlan focused their eyes on the warlord sitting in front on a throne in front of them. Zegarath wore his usual attire, a brown tunic, chainmail and a black cloak. He nodded slowly.
“You two again, eh?”
Bogtail came forward, bowing shakily to his master. He said, “Sire, these two attacked Gerbull for nothin’, so we had to restrain ‘em.”
Werlan yelled, “Liar! He was whippin’ me for nothing!” He wrenched himself from the grip of the two guards holding him and lunged at Bogtail. The stoat yelped and stupidly let go of his spear as Werlan’s paws brushed his neck, trying to strangle him. The vermin rushed to their companion’s aid, but Zegarath beckoned them back, evidently enjoying the fight between his slavedriver and slave.
“Leave them. I want to see how this turns out.” Meanwhile, the two combatants struggled and fought, rolling over on the floor. Werlan raised his paw and punched Bogtail in the eye, causing the stoat to halt momentarily. That was all the otter needed. He stood up and slammed his rudder hard onto Bogtail’s head. The stoat seemed surprised, then his eyes rolled back into his head, instantly killed. Zegarath nodded at the guards, and they restrained the weary otter from attacking further, though they hesitated slightly. Zegarath ordered, “Get that body from my sight.” He saw them halt, afraid of touching the corpse. “Hurry up, blockheads!” They scurried to obey his orders and lugged him outside. Zegarath turned his attention to the two otter slaves waiting before him.
He waited until he felt it was the right moment to speak and started to pace across the room in front of them. “Both of you slaves…” He spat out the word ‘slaves’ with a noticeable tinge of disgust to it. “…Know the punishments you get when you disobey or attack a horde member. Correct, yes?” Grall and Werlan nodded soberly. “And what are they?” The two otters remained resolutely silent, eyes focused on the ground in front of them. Zegarath stopped walking and turned to face them. “Do you know what the punishment is for not obeying me?” He brought his face close to Grall and made it like it was confidential. “Death.” He watched for Grall’s reaction, but saw none. Grall let his eyes wander to stare at Zegarath’s green ones, and they remained like that for a few minutes until Zegarath couldn’t bare it anymore. He averted his eyes and blinked, shaking his head. “Well, yore both tough ones, and no mistake. But you won’t be so tough when I’m done with you.” He let a cruel smile play on his lips. “Vadorn!”
The fox captain entered and bowed. “Lord Zegarath.”
“I want you to put these two on double work tomorrow. No food for tonight and all of tomorrow. They can have a supper of twenty whips. Give them a smaller amount of water tonight and tomorrow, then they can go back to normal rations. Understood?” Vadorn smiled evilly and bowed again.
“Yes, Lord.” He took hold of the two otters and shoved them out of the longhouse. “Move it, slaves, or I’ll make it forty whips!” Zegarath listened as his captain’s commanding voice faded, then returned to his throne, reaching for a goblet of damson wine from a table next to him and sipping it. He sighed contentedly and brushed his claws along the arm of the throne, testing how sharp his claws were. They made a loud scratching sound, and he nodded, satisfied. Soon his fortress would be complete. Then, just maybe, he might still be able to take over Redwall. The wildcat spotted an ant crawling along the arm of his throne, and, raising a paw, he pierced it through with a claw, seeing it wriggling feebly to get free. He smiled and thought, That’s how those Redwallers will be when I’m finished with them!
Dawn arrived slowly the next day, the pink and orange hue gradually turning into a cloudless blue sky. Redwall’s old stones were a dusty rose colour, as it was each morning, protecting the slumbering inhabitants from weather and vermin.
Prell had risen early as usual and went off to the kitchens to help the cooks prepare for breakfast. As she was walking in Great Hall, her eyes strayed and she found herself staring at the tapestry of Martin, and the great sword that was held on two pegs above it. She allowed her gaze to wander over the marvelous piece of work, and felt a fierce pride well up in her for Martin the Warrior, the one who had helped build the Abbey she lived in, the brave mouse who had driven away enemies and nearly giving his life up for friends. The ottermaid continued admiring the tapestry until a voice interrupted her, making her start.
“Prell, is that you?” Stifling a yawn, Laria shuffled towards her, and Prell could see that she was tired.
“What are you doing this early in the morning?” She enquired curiously.
Laria glanced at the tapestry and shrugged. “Had a dream; it was very puzzling. So I came down here to ask Martin what it meant.” She shrugged again and covered her mouth to stop yawning. “’Scuse me, I can’t stop yawnin’. Do you want to have some breakfast?”
Prell smiled. “Why not? I could do with some rosehip tea and a few oatmeal scones.”
“Ahem, so could I, pretty miss. I feel as hungry as a hundred flippin’ toads who’ve eaten only mud for ten bloomin’ seasons, wot wot!” Sonderlin came bounding energetically in from the orchard, winking at the two ottermaids. “Would two beautiful blinkin’ gels like yerselves like to accompany a handsome hare for brekkist?” Prell fluttered her eyelashes comically and curtsied deeply.
“Of course, sir hare, we would be much delighted. Come on, Laria!” They followed Sond to the kitchens, where Friar Sorgan barred the hare’s entrance, much to Sonderlin’s dismay.
The shrewcook wagged a ladle threateningly under Sond’s nose and asked fiercely, “Whaddaya want, ye great vittle thievin’ famine face? Yore not allowed in ‘ere, unless its to wash and clean the dishes!” The hare stared outrageously at the Friar.
“If ye think I’m here t’jolly well clean those confounded bloomin’ dishes, then you’ve guessed wrong, sah! Us Whipplescuts were never cut out for washin’, more the type for eatin’ and samplin’ food, doncha know, wot wot? Ask these pretty gels, they should know!”
Laria winked at Prell cheekily and protested, “Don’t tell such great whackin’ fibs, Sonderlin, tell the truth! You wanted to be here so you could help wash the pots an’ pans, right? You said Whipplescuts never needed food and could go on for hours without havin’ anything such as a crumb. Isn’t that right, Prell?”
The ottermaid caught on immediately and joined Laria. “It’s true y’know, Friar sir. My sister never lies!” Sond turned his confused gaze onto the two otters and scratched his ears, bewildered as the Friar ushered him towards the sinks where piles of pots and pans lay dirty.
“I’m sure these two are tellin’ the truth, so you can stay right here, and scrub those dishes until they sparkle like the stars! Y’hear me?” The hare could only nod and gazed mournfully at the dishes. He started as Friar Sorgan’s voice said sharply, “Well, what are ye waitin’ for, next spring? Get cleanin’!” Sonderlin picked up the first plate and started his chore, trying to ignore the conversation which was going behind him between Friar Sorgan, Laria and Prell.
“Well, what do you two want for brekkfist, eh? I’ve got some oatmeal scones, porridge, bread an’ cheese…oh, and I also managed to make some apple and plum dumplings with a honey and arrowroot sauce. I guess you’ll be wantin’ that, with some redcurrant cordial?” They both nodded eagerly and sat down at the table, giggling at Sond and a prank well played.
“Did somebeast mention brekkfist an’ apple an’ plum dumplings wid honey and arrowroot sauce?” Shoregan popped his head around the door, grinning, then being shoved out the way by Merna.
“Move, ye great fat lump. Who said you could have any?” She growled playfully as she plonked herself next to Laria. “Mornin’, mate. How’s it goin’?”
Laria tucked into her dumpling and replied, “Goin’ good, I suppose. Shoregan, why do you always have to squeeze yourself in between Merna and me?” The otter grunted as he pushed Merna to one side and managed to sit in between them.
“’Cause I do. Got a problem with that? Hoi Friar, where’s me dumplin’?”
The shrewcook smacked his ladle on the back of Shoregan’s head and replied gruffly, “Soon, be patient.”
“Lemme have a dumplin’, I’ll do anythin’ for one! Please please please please!” Sonderlin rushed up to Friar Sorgan knelt, hugging the shrew’s legs.
Friar Sorgan whacked his ladle on the hare’s head and answered, “Once you’ve finished washin’ those dishes! I can’t make any more if I’ve got no pots or pans!” The hare raced back to the sink and started scrubbing furiously at the dishes. Merna and Shoregan started chuckling and laughing at the greedy hare.
Prell turned to Laria and asked, “You said earlier that you had a dream? Can I ask what it was about?”
Laria was silent for a moment, staring at the table in front of her like in a trance, then spoke. “I was at the edge of a valley, standing on top of a hill, watching. I saw a fortress built of limestone, but I couldn’t see what was inside it. I saw slaves dragging limestone blocks to a cart, so it could be brought back to the fortress. The slaves were gaunt and wore rags; some were hardly any age at all. But only two stood out; two otters, both males. I think they were about the same height and weight. I feel like I’ve seen them before, but I can’t recall either. Then the scene changed; the two otters were chained to posts, being whipped by a weasel and a fox. The slashes the whips made…they were horrible, and the wounds that the pair received were horrendous. A wildcat was nearby, sitting on a throne, and it looked like he was enjoying the whole thing. The two slaves were taken down from the posts and dragged in front of the wildcat. He spoke to them, but I couldn’t hear what he said. He laughed cruelly and issued an order, I think to bring the otters back to the slave compound. That was when I woke up.” She shuddered. Everybeast had fallen silent to listen to her, and now they glanced at each other in puzzlement. Was it warning? Or was it just another dream?
Shoregan shattered the awful silence by saying, “Where’s me dumpling, Friar?” There was laughter as Friar Sorgan started chasing him around the kitchen.
“You’ll get it when you get it, ye great riverwalloper, and not a moment sooner!”
Merna managed to catch hold of Shoregan’s collar as he raced past and held him firmly, calling to the Friar, “Quick Friar, spank him good an’ hard!” Prell shook her head at their antics, smiling.
Laria abruptly stood up and said, “I’m going outside for a quick walk. I’ll be back soon to help.” Prell nodded in acknowledgement and started to gather ingredients to mix together a batter.
Laria stared at pond, watching the ripples as she threw pebbles in. She had seen the two otters before, but, according to Lotus the old otter healer, she had lived in the Abbey ever since she had been born. ‘’Maybe they had been visitors,’’ she thought. The ottermaid twirled a grass blade around her finger, releasing it and watching it uncurl, still pondering her puzzling dream.
A young ottermaid, roughly about the same age as Laria, paced the wooden deck of a ship, named Silver Falcon. She wore a red tunic, with a brown leather belt and a black cloak with a hood and arm-sleeves, and she shouldered a quiver of red fletched arrows as well as a yew bow. To make her complete she carried a scabbard with a long dagger thrust in it. She was Segalia Riverstorm.
A squirrelmaid scrambled agilely down from the mast, wearing a royal blue tunic with a lavender belt and a blue cape. She had several throwing daggers thrust through her belt, and a throwing axe was strapped to her back. Ampanna breathed in the sea breeze and sighed contentedly.
“Wind’s blowin’ the right direction, mate, and I got some other news too.” Segalia groaned and covered her eyes.
“Don’t tell me. Lijel spilt all the fresh water below deck, or he attempted makin’ a sea stew. Or he-“
Ampanna cut her off and grinned. “Somethin’ even better’n that, Seg. I spotted land, south of here.” Segalia permitted herself a smile and patted her friend on the back.
“Good work, matey. Go check on Lijel, will yer. Make sure he’s not makin’ a mess of the vittles.” Ampanna saluted smartly.
“Sure. Should I relieve him of cooking?” Segalia rolled her eyes.
“What do you think? I swear he must have been taught by a filthy liddle frog or toad!” The squirrelmaid nodded in agreement with her friend and proceeded to descend below deck. Segalia turned and ran to the wheel, quickly turning it so that the ship’s prow faced south. Her grey and green tinted blue eyes spotted the land in a flash and she grinned.
Suddenly she heard a crash and shouts below deck and groaned. Lijel’s voice could be heard.
“Intruder! Vermin attackin’! Seg, Seg, come an’ help me fight off this…Oof! Get yore fat tail outta my mouth!”
Ampanna was saying indignantly, “Its only me, you stupid oaf. Look what you’ve done, toppled that pot over and now the vegetables are all over the floor. Guess who’s gonna clean it up? And my tail’s not fat!”
Lijel protested, “But you bumped into me, so I bumped into the pot. Its yore fault, not mine!” He was garbed in a dark green tunic with a brown leather belt and a grey cape about his shoulders. A sword hung at his side. The brown otter staggered up onto deck and grinned at Segalia. “Hi matey, how’s it goin’? Miss Bossyboots is being really annoyin’ today, ain’t she?” Ampanna emerged and shook her head, glaring at Lijel through her aqua blue eyes.
“Some of the vegetables are gone, Segalia, thanks to our friend here. I’ll see what I can put together. He can stay up here and keep you company.” She disappeared below deck again and muttered, “Lijel will pay for this…” Lijel slumped against the mast and peered at Segalia. The ottermaid was staring up at the sky, frowning at the grey clouds which were overhead.
She said, “There’s gonna be some summer rain comin’ afore long, mate. Wind’s already picked up a bit.”
Lijel shrugged. “Rain won’t hurt yer, Segalia. If yore scared of a liddle sprinkle or shower, you can go below deck. I’ll watch the wheel for a while.” He grinned as Segalia turned on him and started advancing.
“Don’t you dare! I would never let you sail my ship, and I’m not scared of rain, y’know!” She dived upon him and the pair wrestled on the deck, laughing. Just then the first few drops of rain started falling, and the pair ceased their playing. Lijel lay flat on the deck, catching raindrops in his mouth. Segalia ran to the wheel and made sure it was bound tight on a course due south, then raced below deck. Catching sight of Lijel, she called, “Are ye comin’, or do you wanna catch a cold out here?” Lijel remained where he was.
“I’m fine here. I was right, youse so scared o’ rain! Hahaha!” Segalia shrugged and turned to join Ampanna in the galley. Lijel stayed there for a few moments, enjoying the rain, which turned into a massive downpour. The otter sprang upright and rushed madly below deck. Quickly closing the door behind him, he shook his fur like a dog. Segalia wagged her finger at him.
“Now yer drenched, Lijel. Well, I’m not drying you up.” Ampanna appeared with a towel and started scrubbing Lijel from top to bottom furiously.
“Look at you, Lijel. Yore drenched! Let’s hope you don’t catch a cold. I’ll get ye a nice cup of hot tea while you dry yerself. I’ve also got some stew with the leftover vegetables.” She glanced at him meaningfully, reminding herself of the incident. Lijel smiled smugly at Segalia, who rolled her eyes.
The hares had made slow progress. Eighteen of them, who were veterans and experienced campaigners, plodded on steadily through the sand dunes, but Searose and Dawnsorrow could hardly lift a footpaw to move another step. Dawnsorrow, however, knew she needed to prove herself, so she tried her best to keep up with the older hares.
Searose dropped to her knees and paws and breathed heavily, the private marching past her. Dawnsorrow, even though she knew that Searose was mean to her, walked back to her and tried to lift her up. Searose glared at her and brushed Dawnsorrow’s paw away.
“I don’t need you to help me. I can take care of myself.” Dawnsorrow shrugged and turned to join the others, who had stopped at a huge dune. Searose called, “You’re not just going leave me here, are you? I’ve got footpaws that are bleeding and blistered!” No one heard her, so she crawled towards them.
Peony looked around and spotted Searose. “What’s Searose doing all the bloomin’ way there? Private Dawnsorrow, go help her, if y’please.” Dawnsorrow didn’t budge.
“I went to go flippin’ help her just now, but she said she didn’t need my help.” Sergeant Thornwood rose and strode over to where Searose was crawling.
She said gratefully, “Sergeant Thornwood, sir.” The haremaid took on a whining tone and lied, “That Dawnsorrow saw me fall to my knees and paws, but she didn’t even hel-“
Sergeant Thornwood interrupted her in his gruff voice. “Be quiet, Searose. Major Peony saw you and asked the private to help you, then Dawnsorrow said that she had, but you said you didn’t need any help. I’m bally sure Dawnsorrow’s not a liar.” Searose’s heart sank as the sergeant lifted her and carried her to the others.
The healer, a male hare named Clover, tended to Searose’s blistered footpaws as well as Dawnsorrow’s. “Well, will yer lookit that. Worst blister’s ah’ve seen in quite a while, wot! Don’t worry, I’ll soon have you up an goin’!” He placed a few herbs on Searose’s footpaws and bandaged it up gently.
The haremaid made a show, tears spilling down her face as she complained. “Ouch ouch, that hurts! Don’t make it worse! Owow!” Clover gritted his teeth and tried to ignore her. Finally he finished bandaging her footpaws and crawled to where Dawnsorrow sat.
“First time on a patrol, young ‘un?” Dawnsorrow tried a smile and nodded.
“Yes sah. But so far there hasn’t been much excitement has there, wot?”
Clover went to work and replied, “We’ve hardly started our journey, y’know. Before you know it, we’ll have a gang of vermin on our tails, then you’ll be in yore first jolly scrap. That’s when the adventure starts.”
Dawnsorrow watched as he admired his work, then packed away his herb satchel. “When did you have your first, Clove?”
The healer scratched his ear. “As I recall, I must’ve been yore age, mabbe a bit younger. I was out with Sergeant Thornwood, who wasn’t a sergeant, merely just another bloomin’ adventurous young ‘un like me. We were walkin’ along the shore, when up pops this flippin’ vermin, an’ another, an’ another, an’ quite a few blinkin’ more. There was about seven to ten, I reckon. Anyways, I stood there wonderin’ what to do, but Thornwood didn’t. He just started loaded his sling an’ started whackin’ lef’ an’ right, then I joined him. It didn’t take long, but we drove the flippin’ vermin off. Thornwood was cool as y’like after that, but me? I was bloomin’ ecstatic, kept boastin’ about it, wot. I…let’s say…embellished the tale a bit more. Accordin’ to me, I beat them all single-pawed, with only a broken dagger and a blinkin’ stone.” Clover smiled and shook his head, and then his face grew serious. “I realized that I had just killed a livin’ being. It was a horrible feelin’, miss, but I’ll never forget it. That’s when I decided to become a healer. Killin’ wasn’t cut out for me, wot.” He shrugged.
The score of hares ate their lunch quickly and silently before resuming their journey. They continued wearily until they reached the fringe of Mossflower Woods at dusk, where Major Peony spotted a fallen beech tree, ideal for making camp. They settled down, lighting a small fire and posting two sentries, Clover and Lieutenant Seawort. Corporal Jagwaithe, the young and easy going harecook, and Windal Rockbreeze, a huge fighting hare, got down into producing a meal for the patrol. Windal, surprisingly, was a good cook. Stirring some sort of soup that he had concocted, he ladled portions into wooden bowls and handed spoons out to the group. Corporal Jagwaithe tore up mountain bread for each member to dip and served out beakers of fruit cordial for the hungry party.
Later that night, Peony and Windal sat together, watching out for intruders. Peony glanced at her patrol and chuckled, “Look at that lot, snoring like a score o’ dormice after a bloomin’ feast.”
Windal snorted softly. “Aye, Peony.” The two were silent for a while, both sensing like they were being watched. Windal peered into the darkness, striving to see. Feeling the fur on the back of his neck rise, he whispered, “D’you think...?”
Peony scratched her ear, undecided. “I’m not sure. I can’t see anythin’ in this confounded darkness. Maybe we should just wait an’ see.” Her companion nodded and slid back to his former position.
“Wait an’ see what?” The pair jumped, startled, and whirled around simultaneously. Dawnsorrow sidled up to them, yawning.
Windal relaxed. “Don’t scare the flippin’ fur off’n us, Dawnsorrow.”
The haremaid shrugged an apology. “Sorry. I didn’t mean to.” The three talked for a while, conversing about Redwall and its inhabitants, and what it was like. Peony and Windal related their last journey to the Abbey to Dawnsorrow, and the more she listened to them, the more she wanted to go there. Finally, Major Peony and Windal decided that it was time to change shifts. Crawling towards Sergeant Thornwood, Peony suddenly sniffed the air, on the alert. Dawnsorrow and Windal had smelt the same strange waft of scent and Windal looked at Peony alarmingly. The major recognized the stench of drugged herbs.
She waved her paw to signal for them to move out quietly, then yelled, “Ambush! Rouse yerselves, Long Patrol! Ambush!” Out of the corner of her eye, she spotted Windal and Dawnsorrow scurrying out of the camp, reluctant to leave their friends. A hefty stone whacked her on her head and she fell down, unconscious. From nearby the chant grew closer and closer to close in on the wakening hares, smelling the drugged air in moments as they readied themselves for a fight.
“Flitchaye! Flitchaye! Flitchaye!”
Chapter Twenty One
At that very moment, the Silver Falcon dragged through the shallow water, her hull scraping the sand. Segalia peered through the ship’s window, the moon’s light reflecting on the water. The storm had stopped long ago, but she was dismayed to see that they were stuck on a sandbank. She shook her head and headed towards the stairs which led to the deck. Ampanna stumbled from her room, yawning.
“What’s goin’ on, Seg? Got knocked out of my bed and now my head hurts.” She gingerly felt a lump growing on her forehead.
Segalia continued on her way, replying, “Ouch. Aye, we’re stuck on a sandbank. But we’ve reached land, anyway. I’m not sure where we are exactly, but we’ll see.” Her friend followed her to the deck and they gathered in their surroundings.
Ampanna grinned and said, “At least we’re at the mouth of a river. If we manage to get ‘er through the sandbank then we can hide Silver Falcon somewhere, and we can start.”
Segalia looked at her quizzically. “Start what?”
Ampanna pondered for a moment, then answered, “Start goin’ somewhere, I s’pose. I’m a bit sick o’ staying on the ship. I want some kind of adventure, if you know what I mean.” The two maids fell silent for a few moments, then Segalia spoke. Her voice had a tinge of excitement to it.
“Ampanna, do you realize what river this is? I’m pretty sure this is the River Moss!” The squirrelmaid stared at her.
“Then we’re near Salamandastron?”
Segalia nodded. “That’s right. We could visit Lord Tabayra and the Long Patrol.” She grinned. Suddenly an inner instinct told her she was being watched. Whirling, she clenched her paw and struck the intruder on the head, downing it. She stood over the form, wondering whether she had done the right thing or not.
“Segalia! What’ve you done to him?” Ampanna rushed to the unconscious Lijel, who was quickly forming a bruise on the side of his head. The ottermaid shuffled guiltily and shrugged.
“I didn’t know it was Lijel. He just wanted to sneak up on me. You don’t need to worry over ‘im, Ampanna. ‘E’ll be fine.” Lijel groaned and sat upright.
“Why’d ye do that, Seg? Ow, me pore ‘ead!”
Segalia rolled her eyes and kicked his footpaw. “Yore fine, Lijel. Stop bein’ such a whiner.”
Lijel jumped up and observed the sandbank. “Look’s like our captain couldn’t steer properly and crashed into a sandbank. Hahaha!” Segalia turned to Ampanna, ignoring Lijel.
“We’ll try to move the ship in the mornin’. Meanwhile, its sleep time for me.” She trudged below deck, yawning. Ampanna glanced at her other companion before following the ottermaid, leaving Lijel alone on the deck, still laughing.
The full moon shed some of its luminous light on Zegarath’s fortress. Werlan winced in pain as a young volemaid placed some herbs on his back wounds. She bound it to his fur with torn up rags and tied it firmly in place with the help of a dim lantern. She packed up her herb satchel and stood up, satisfied at her work. The otter stood up gingerly, expecting his wounds to hurt with movement. Raising his eyebrows in surprise, he glanced at the volemaid.
“Where’d ye learn to be a healer, Centhia?” Centhia shuffled her footpaws shyly.
“I don’t really remember,” she said in her quiet voice, “it’s very vague. My parents or guardians somehow taught me to recognize which plant could heal. I don’t remember the names of them, but I know from instinct, I guess.” Werlan placed a callused paw on her shoulder and led her through the dark towards the crowd of slaves in far side of the slave compound. Grall greeted them sullenly. Centhia had tended to him as well.
“We’re havin’ our meetin’. Come join us.” Werlan padded silently and sat down on empty sack, several scattered around the compound. From nearby loud snores rose from the soldiers’ quarters. Outside a few guards patrolled the fortress, keeping a wary eye on their surroundings. Normally they didn’t walk near the slave compounds, so the prisoners were safe from intruders. Holding a lantern, an elderly squirrel had the floor, telling tales of his younger days, surrounded in a circle of slaves who wanted to listen.
“When I was younger,” the old squirrel said, “I remember travelling to Redwall; an Abbey who was taken care of by woodlanders. These woodlanders were kind and considerate, but well trained in the ways of battle. I was only a youngster then, but we had a feast; in honour of the warriors who drove off the vermin who had controlled Mossflower in ancient times. One of these warriors was Martin the Warrior, a mouse who was a great hero. He drove off the tyrant, and together they built Redwall. The feast was amazing; there was food, drink and entertainment. The food they cooked was wonderful, there were so many different varieties.” He licked his lips longingly. “Chestnut and leek bake, carrot and mushroom turnovers, woodland trifle, damson and apple crumble with meadowcream, greengage pudding…” Sighs echoed all around the compound, each imagining their own version of the various dishes. “There was singing and music, as well as games. We had to leave a few days later, and you could imagine how sad I was. But that wasn’t the last time I saw Redwall. After that, I visited frequently.” He stopped and fell silent.
A timid voice interrupted, “I want to go to Redwall.” Other voices joined as well.
“It sounds marvelous, the way old Tharg told it.”
“Let’s escape and go!” The hushed voices became louder and louder. Grall urgently blew a sharp whistle that sounded like a hawk’s cry. The whistle immediately stopped the growing hubbub and everyone fell silent, glancing around to see if any of the guards or soldiers noticed the disturbance.
Grall stepped into the middle of the circle. He said sternly, “Let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Firstly, we can’t escape because we’re closely guarded. If we were to escape, we’ve got to make a good plan as well as a backup one. Secondly, we’ve got young and old ‘uns to look after. Thirdly, who know’s where Redwall is?”
Werlan stood facing to his friend. “But Grall, I’ll wager somebeast here knows roughly where it stands. I mean, nothing’s impossible. Right, friends?” The sea of hopeful faces nodded eagerly in the dim light. Tharg, the old squirrel, stepped in.
“I know where it is, though it’s quite a few days’ journey. But, we need everybeasts’ approval to escape. So, whoever is with me, Grall and Werlan, raise your paws.” Grall stared across the slaves. Every single paw was raised, every face stamped with an expression of determination and hopefulness. Their eyes shone with new energy.
Werlan turned to Grall, his face lit up with hope. “There’s our answer mate. The escape is on!”
Chapter Twenty Two
Laria tossed and turned restlessly in her bed, obviously still thinking about the dream she had the previous night. After a while, her eyelids began to droop, and she fell into slumber.
Visions filled her mind. She saw the face of an otter, a young pretty female, looking down at her lovingly. In the background was a fatherly presence, one she had never known or felt, protecting her. Shadows flickered on the cave walls as the fire’s flames danced and leapt. There was talking and laughter everywhere surrounding her. The female otter passed her to another otter; a male this time. Laria recognized him from her previous dream, but obviously he was younger, happier and more relaxed. She felt the fatherly presence grow stronger. From nearby came the sweet voice of the female otter, singing a lullaby...
Suddenly the scene changed; it was of a campsite, with fires burning as stoats, ferrets, foxes, weasels and other vermin alike attempted cooking fish and pigeons. A wildcat, the one who had been in her previous dream, clad in a brown tunic with chainmail and a black cloak, stepped forward. Beside him was the same fox in her other dream, a tall lean male, a sabre hanging loosely from one paw. Laria couldn’t hear what the wildcat said, but loud cheers and war cries issued from the hordebeasts.
Once more the scene changed; this time in the cave once again. But it wasn’t the same happy and carefree mood the otters had been. This time, screams of pain was all she heard, coupled with a mixture of vermin laughing and the clash of steel upon steel. She saw the female otter lying dead, with the male otter standing by her body, cutting back foebeasts. He barged through the crowd of vermin towards the wildcat, who was standing at the entrance swinging a huge scimitar, his laughter heard over the melee…
Laria bolted upright, gasping for air. She glanced around the dormitory to see if anybeast had woken, then noticed that she was enmeshed with the blanket covers from her ordeal of the nightmare. Slowly she disentangled herself, still shaken by her dream. Her mind was racing; both dreams were not just any dream. She had seen the wildcat and otter again. She sat on her bed, slowly piecing the puzzle together. The male otter had been taken captive by the fox and wildcat, but why had she felt such a strong bond with him? Something inside her said that he was some kind of relative, but she had no proof. The ottermaid decided that she would have to ask Lotus, who was like a grandmother to her. And what about the female otter? Prell had said their parents had died when they were younger, when she was too young to understand. Laria couldn’t fathom it out. Slowly rising from her position, she wandered from the dormitory towards the infirmary, where she knew Lotus would be either sleeping in a little truckle bed, or doing some kind of chore.
Searose groaned, her eyelids fluttering open. Immediately she wished that she had stayed unconscious. Her head was throbbing painfully, and it felt like there was a massive lump forming on her forehead from when she had been knocked unconscious. The haremaid tried to move her arms, but found that they were pinned to her sides, and that her legs were tied tightly together. Her first instinct was to cry and shout for help to release her.
Spotting a creature with it’s back turned to her, she gave vent her feelings in a pleading and whining tone. “Can’t somebeast untie me? My head’s throbbing and I got a bump on it! Just look at the state of my tunic, its all dirty! And get rid of that sm-“ She stopped in mid sentence, looking horrified as she stared into the face of a grinning Flitchaye.
It was barbaric looking, with dye smeared on its face, wearing ragged pieces of clothing and wielding a wicked looking blade. It poked Searose and taunted her, crying, “We d’Flitchaye! Flitchaye! You ‘ear dat rabbet? We d’Flitchaye! Heehee, you no lookin’ so brave now, eh, eh? Yowch!” Another Flitchaye, taller and a more seasoned fighter, smacked the smaller on the head.
“You talk to da rabbets, I carve ya nice’n slow! You like dat?” The smaller Flitchaye shook its head vigorously and scurried away, joining the other groups of Flitchaye. The taller, obviously the leader by its belt, sword and other pieces of jewelry, leered nastily at Searose. “We kill ya nice’n slow, how you like dat, eh? We getta more plunder, nice lookin’ swords! Heeheehee!” He danced about in front of the frightened haremaid.
“Ignore the nasty little blighter, Searose.” Searose turned and saw Captain Thrushtip tied next to her, who had come to. She smiled comfortingly at the young haremaid. “I’ve counted our number, and only Windal and Dawnsorrow are missin’. Either they were slain, or they bloomin’ escaped. So we still got a jolly good chance to live, y’know.”
Searose whispered to her, glancing at the Flitchaye, “What are they? They look like monsters.” The experienced campaigner glared disdainfully at the Flitchaye leader.
She answered, “They’re runty liddle weasels, who live in tribes around Mossflower. They capture passing travelers, torture ‘em, then kill ‘em. All for th’ flippin’ fun of it, wot!” The leader was still in hearing range. He brought his face close to the hare captain’s face, sneering.
“Yah, we kill ya! Heehee, you gotta nice sword, rabbet!” He drew the blade and showed Captain Thrushtip.
Immediately the hare started struggling to get loose as she yelled angrily, “That’s my rapier yore holdin’, vermin! Give it back to me!” The Flitchaye cackled and sheathed the blade. He mimicked her.
“Dat’s my rapier ya holdin’, varmin! Gimme back! Heeheehee!” He got too close to her, allowing the hare to kick out her long legs and trip him up. Sniggers were heard from all over the camp as the Flitchaye laughed at their leader. The runty weasel glared at them, his face contorted with rage. He stood up and advanced to Captain Thrushtip, who knew what was coming for her. The leader drew her rapier again and swiped at her head. The hare managed to just missed the blade by ducking, the rope limiting her.
Spitting and frothing, the weasel growled savagely at her. “You alla die, tonight!” He turned and stomped away.
Searose broke down sobbing. “They’re going to kill us tonight! I wish I never came on this stupid journey! Wahaaahaaa!” A voice on the other side of her spoke.
“No use cryin’, Searose. It doesn’t help matters,” Major Peony said. Searose carried on blubbering. Major Peony sighed and hung her head. Her head was throbbing unmercifully from when she had taken the sling stone.
“Flitchaye, eh? Knew it from the blinkin’ moment I smelt those bloomin’ herbs last night. You all right, Major?” The hare turned her head to face Sergeant Thornwood. The other members of her patrol were tied in groups of four to each nearby tree.
Major Peony surveyed the camp. She replied slowly, “I’m fine, Sarge. Got a right ole bloomin’ headache though. Captain Thrushtip offended the Flitchaye’s leader. Says we’re going to be killed tonight, old chap.” Sergeant Thornwood chuckled unhumorously.
“Wouldn’t have expected anythin’ else from the blighters, wot. Let’s hope that we can bally well escape with some outside help, eh!”
Lotus, the otter healer, was mending some old sheets and blankets. Looking up from her work as the door opened, she saw Laria peer inside. The middle aged otter smiled at her warmly.
“Wake up early, Laria? Did you have a good sleep?” The ottermaid strode over to Lotus and sat down on a comfy old armchair.
“I don’t know. Sort of. I’ve had these dreams for the past two nights, but I can’t make head nor tail of it.” Lotus stopped her chore and listened closely as Laria related her dreams. As she finished, Lotus was staring at the bed sheet she was holding. Thoughts were racing through her head. Should I tell her the truth? she wondered.
Laria was waiting patiently for Lotus to respond. The healer sighed heavily and put aside her needle and the sheet, then clasped Laria’s paws tightly. Voice trembling, she spoke.
“There are things that you never knew, Laria. Things that haven’t been spoken of, yet we’ve known them for a long time. We kept those hidden from you, so we didn’t cause you any pain or suffering. But now is the time to reveal everything of your past.” Pausing, she took a deep breath, and started. “You were born on the western shores, in a holt called Holt Wavedeep. We lived in caves on the cliffs. Your parents were Lestra and Grall Wavedeep, and you had a grandmother named Frewn, and your father Grall was the holt's chieftain. There were other otters too, Grall’s best friend, Werlan. I was the healer of the holt. A few days after you were born, our holt was attacked by a wildcat called Zegarath Deathblade. He took us by surprise, slaughtering nearly every otter. He killed your mother and grandmother, and took your father and his best friend as prisoners. At the time I was holding you, scared out of my wits, hiding. Grall told me escape by the cave’s back escape route, and I ran with you into Mossflower. I came here, and they took us in. Prell was just a young ottermaid then. Abbess Sallena thought you and her would make great sisters, since Prell couldn’t remember anything about her family. We thought Zegarath would come and try to attack Redwall, but, to our surprise, he changed course and went straight east instead of coming south east. We were safe, yet your father was still a prisoner. I still have nightmares about the attack on our holt.” She shook her head sadly and a tear dropped from her eye. The ottermaid opposite stared at her, the truth dawning on her. There was a silence between the two for a while, then Laria spoke quietly.
“So Prell isn’t my sister?” Lotus shook her head. Laria swallowed a lump forming in her throat and asked, “Do you think my father is still alive?” The otter healer released Laria’s paws.
“I’m not sure, dear. He could be.” She changed the subject and stood up, looking outside. The sun had risen. “Let’s go downstairs and have breakfast, shall we?” The ottermaid nodded and led the way downstairs. Her heart was pounding and only one thought was in her mind.
My father is alive!
Chapter Twenty Three
Just south of the Flitchaye encampment, sitting with his back against an ash tree, was a lone male otter. His hooded brown eyes swept through his surroundings, taking in every detail. He wore green shorts, accompanied by a black belt which accommodated a pair of identical assassin daggers. An orange stripe ran down from his forehead to the tip of his muzzle. Two black dots could be seen above both eyes, while blue lightning bolts were visible on each cheek.
He lazily twirled his daggers, sensing a creature watching him. A small smile spread on his face, and he called out, “Ya don’t need t’be afraid of me, matey!”
An ottermaid stepped out from some bushes to his right. She wore a light blue tunic with a brown leather belt, covered by a maroon cloak with a flower clasp. A sword and several daggers were thrust in her belt, while a quiver of white-fletched arrows hung over her shoulder. In one paw was a long yew bow.
She looked him over and asked warily, “Who are you?”
“Rorc Nightblade. Please t’meet ya.” He sheathed his daggers with a swift movement, jumped up and took hold of her paw, pumping it up and down vigorously.
“I’m Asria Wildlough.” There was a pause, then she asked, “Why do you have Juska tattoos, yet you’re an otter? You don’t look like a vermin.”
Rorc shrugged casually. “I was brought up with the Juska, but I left them and now I’m a wanderin’ warrior.” He did not press questions about her past. Changing the subject, he asked cheerily, “Did ya bring any food? I ate m’last crumb a while ago. Could do with some hotroot soup, y’know.”
Asria brought out a pouch. “Well, its not much, but I got some bread and cheese with some water to wash it down. Its definitely not hotroot soup, though it should take the edge off your hunger.”
Rorc grabbed the proffered bread and attacked it hungrily. He reached for the flask of water and took a swig, then settled himself against the ash tree. “So, wot are you doin’ around ‘ere?”
Asria sat down next to him, placing her bow next to her. “Same as you, wandering around Mossflower.” She nodded at his daggers. “I suppose you have to be good with those if it’s the only thing you carry as a weapon.” Rorc drew one from his belt and held it, ready to throw.
His eyes half closed, he said, “See that liddle white flower, over there by the rowan trunk?”
Asria corrected him, “You mean the wood sorrel flower?” Rorc rolled his eyes.
“Wotever. D’you think I could hit that? Tell me the truth.”
He could not help but grin when she said, “Truthfully, no.” She turned around and reached for the flask of water, and did not see the dagger fly from Rorc’s paw towards the flower, but she did hear the loud thunk when it hit its target. Whirling around, she saw the dagger still quivering, its point driven deep into the rowan’s trunk, piercing the flower straight through the middle.
Rorc folded his arms and raised an eyebrow, a cheeky smile forming on his face. “Well, whaddaya think?” Asria stared at the dagger, dumbfounded, changing her gaze from Rorc’s innocent face and the dagger.
Finally, when she managed to say something, she blurted out, “Are you sure you didn’t suddenly sprint and put your dagger there then come back while I wasn’t watching?”
Rorc’s mouth fell open. “Ya missed it?!” The ottermaid watched as he tugged his dagger out of the rowan, march back, aim, and throw. Asria looked at the dagger sticking out of the flower again.
She shook her head and said, “Alright, I believe ye. I’ve never seen anybeast sling a knife that accurate. The Juska must have taught ye good.” Rorc shrugged.
“I suppose. How ‘bout you with yer bow? Any good with it?” Asria strung her bow and selected an arrow. Notching it, she pointed at one of the rowan’s small branches.
“See that?” She pulled back the bowstring, aimed, and fired in quick succession. It thudded audibly into the branch with so much force that the branch cracked and split. Rorc nodded his head, impressed.
Gesturing to her, he said, “I haven’t shot a bow in a while. Mind if I have a go?”
The ottermaid passed him her bow and an arrow, saying, “Be careful with it; it’s the best bow I’ve ever had.” Rorc winked at her confidently. Notching the arrow and drawing the bowstring, he whirled around and fired randomly. The arrow shot into the woodlands, followed by a bird’s cry.
Rorc whistled and raised his eyes, apologising sheepishly, “Whoops, sorry.” Asria smacked him on the arm and plunged into the woodlands where she thought the cry had come from, leaving Rorc behind holding her bow. He ran after her, soon on her heels. Suddenly she stopped, making Rorc crash into her. They both tumbled to the ground in a heap. “Why did ye stop?” Rorc asked as he sat up. Asria didn’t need to answer him. In front of them, flapping its wings and screeching angrily, was a fully grown male buzzard. Swiveling its head to face them, two large golden eyes inspected the pair of otters fiercely. Instinctively, Rorc grasped for his two daggers while Asria grabbed her bow from him and notched an arrow.
The buzzard snapped its sharp beak at them, screeching, “Kraah! Kill vermin, all die! Evil! Kraaahh!” He lunged at them, beak open, ready for the kill.
Zegarath eyed Vadorn as the fox strolled in. “Ye wanted me, Lord?”
Zegarath leaned forward in his throne, nodding. “For the past few days, the slaves have not been their usual selves. Tell me, what do they do, normally?”
Vadorn pondered this question before steadily answering. “They keep themselves to themselves, sometimes whispering and gossiping. They never talk in front of the guards, and help each other.”
The wildcat inspected his claws. “Good, very good, Vadorn. But in the past few days, there has been more talking, maybe even some laughing. The guards tell me strange reports; weapons and tools missing, crops are disappearing, and the slaves are working much more slower. Do you have an explanation for this?”
Vadorn chose his words carefully. “They could be organizing an escape, Lord.”
Zegarath smiled, his teeth glinting fearsomely. “Yes, Vadorn. Now, I want you to find out the leaders of this rebellion are. Once you find them, bring them to me. I’ll show the both the horde and the slaves how I deal with such matters. Isn’t that right, Centhia?” From a dark corner of the room, the young volemaid nodded fearfully, eyes wide. Zegarath tapped his paws against the arms of his throne. “I managed to get this one. I’m sure you’ll tell me everything, right Centhia?” Again she nodded, never taking her eyes of his claws and scimitar.
Vadorn bowed, smiling wickedly. “Do you still want me to find the leaders, or will you get it from her?”
Zegarath waved his paw in dismissal. “I’ll get her to spill everything, every little detail. You go search, and if I find out who these leaders are, I’ll send for you.” The fox nodded and slipped out of the tent, his eyes slitted. Zegarath turned to Centhia, drawing a small delicate dagger from under his cloak. He winked at her. “I chose only the most littlelest, and prettiest, dagger for you. Now, tell me everything, or it’ll go bad for ye… very bad!”
Chapter Twenty Four
Windal Rockbreeze sat on a rotting log, watching Dawnsorrow pace back and forth in a little clearing. The big hare was munching hungrily on some wild ransom he had found while retreating from the Flitchaye ambush. He fiddled with his sling, checking that stones filled his pouch to the very brim, while keeping an eye out for any sign of trouble. Dawnsorrow, however, was venting her anger on everything around, flailing about with her sling, battering plants and trees. Finally, when all her energy was spent, she stomped back to Windal.
She muttered savagely, “Cowards, that’s what we are! Couldn’t fight off some scummy little weasels dressed in rags and covered from nosetip to tail in bloomin’ dye! Wait ‘til I get me flippin’ paws around their filthy necks, the blinkin’ disgraceful bunch of vermin!” Windal waited until she had stopped ranting before patting her back sympathetically.
“There now, lass. Major Peony ordered us to go, we didn’t choose to go. An order is a bloomin’ order, and orders are always obeyed. If we had stayed, trying to fight off those Flitchaye, we’d have been captured, or killed, even. Then what would we do, eh? There’s nobeast to know that a flippin’ score of fightin’ Long Patrol hares were captured by Flitchaye. We would be stuck in that there vermin camp, being tortured and made sport of. So, be grateful that there’s two of us still out here. When we go back to fetch the group, we give those Flitchaye a taste of blood an’ vinegar, by the left we will!”
Dawnsorrow jumped up, determination blazing in her eyes. “Then what are we waiting for, sitting around like a pair of bloomin’ lazy ducks? Let’s go!” The haremaid was about to dash off willy-nilly into the surrounding woodlands when her companion pulled her back down onto the log, shaking his head.
“Ye’ve still got a lot of things t’learn, Dawn. We have to make sure we’ve got a proper plan. An’ us two alone can’t charge into a flippin’ Flitchaye camp, we’d just be caught straight off! No, we have to think this out proper like. Though right now I can’t tell ye of any plans. It’d be impossible to fight off a Flitchaye horde and release a score o’ hares.” Dawnsorrow bit into a ransom, regardless of the foul taste.
“So we just wait here until a plan jumps into our heads?”
Windal shrugged. “There’s naught we can do right now.”
Laria ate her breakfast in silence. Already most of the Abbey was up and about, eating their first meal of the day. The ottermaid concentrated on her oatmeal porridge, mixing it with her spoon.
“What’s the matter, Laria? My porridge doesn’t taste like some kind of rotten gruel, does it?” She looked up and found herself staring into the face of Prell. Laria smiled meekly.
“Of course not, Prell. Your porridge is still the best.”
Prell’s face creased worriedly. “Then’s what’s bothering you? Do you feel ill?”
Laria shook her head and sighed deeply. “Can I talk with you? In the orchard?” Prell nodded, leading the way out into the orchard. Once seated underneath a shady plum tree, Laria turned to Prell. “I’ve been having these dreams lately. I couldn’t make any sense of them, but now, they do.” The ottermaid related her dreams to Prell, who listened closely. When Laria had finished, Prell sighed deeply. She’s found out the truth, she thought. One side of her was happy that Laria had figured out her past, yet the other side was sad.
Before Prell could say anything, Laria spoke again, in a hushed tone. “Prell…” A lump in her throat formed. “You’re not my sister, are you?” Prell shook her head, tears glistening in her eyes. The two otters stared at each other, then hugged each other tightly.
Prell whispered, “I’m so sorry, Laria. I truly am.”
Somehow, during the middle of the night, the Silver Falcon had been drawn out to sea again. The only explanation Segalia could come up with was that the ebbing tide had pulled the ship out.
Segalia poked her head into the galley, sniffing the air appreciatively. “Mm, is that hotroot soup I smell? Where’d ye get the ingredients?”
Ampanna continued stirring the contents of a pot. “Found some shrimp as well as hotroot powder. Chucked in whatever else I could find. How far away from land are we?”
The ottermaid shrugged. “About a league or two. Not too far away. Lijel is snorin’ his head off. Bumped his head on the mast last night, after we had gone to bed. Serves him right!” The squirrelmaid chuckled, ladling soup into two bowls.
“Hah, he should be in his bed for awhile. Enjoy the silence when ye can!” The two friends laughed aloud. The ottermaid sprinkled more hotroot pepper into her soup, leaning against the wall.
“This is good, Ampanna. Where’d you learn to cook hotroot soup?” Ampanna wrinkled her nose.
“I’ve been with you two basically all my life. How could I not know how to make hotroot soup?”
“Did someone say hotroot soup?” Segalia groaned as Lijel stuck his head around the corner, grinning lopsidedly. “My head’s got a lump the size of a duck’s egg!”
Chapter Twenty Five
Major Peony attempted for the umpteenth time that morning to unsuccessfully gnaw through the rope which bound her and her patrol captives. The only thing she received out of it was an aching neck. She could hear Sergeant Thornwood on her right, grunting and straining to untie the rope.
He sighed heavily and murmured, “It’s no use, Peony. Can’t bloomin’ well get these blinkin’ ropes off m’paws. Wait until I’m free, I’ll show those bloomin’ blaggards wot a Long Patrol ‘are c’n do. Wot!”
Captain Thrushtip was sawing at the rope with something, whispering, “Hang on a tick, Thorn. I think I’ve got…Yes! I’ve got me flippin’ paws free of the rope. Now I'll just cut this one..." The hares felt the rope tying the to the tree slacken. "Found this blinkin’ sharp rock right near my paw. Don’t ask me how I managed t’reach the rope, I don’t bloomin’ well know either. Thornwood, I’ll try and pass the rock to ye without attracting the Flitchaye’s attention. Major, wake up Searose, and tell ‘er to stay quiet, will you?”
Peony nodded, relieved that Captain Thrushtip was controlling everything. She had been at a loss at what to do. Gently, she shook Searose, clamping a paw over her mouth before the haremaid could protest. “Searose, listen to me and don’t say anythin’. Captain Thrushtip has got a sharp rock, and she’s passing it around so we can cut the rope. Be ready when it comes to you, an’ try not to get the Flitchaye’s attention.” Searose nodded, glancing fearfully at the Flitchaye.
The Flitchaye were still sleeping deeply when Searose cut through her bonds. A sentry, who was meant to be keeping watch, lay snoring nearby, snuffled and rolled over. Searose asked, “What do we do now?”
Captain Thrushtip answered, “Free the others then run and find Windal and Dawn.”
Peony shook her head. “No, we need a proper plan. A score of hares would be hard to keep silent in a forest, as well as being surrounded by Flitchaye who could wake at any moment and recapture us. No, we need to think this through. Though right now I’m open to any suggestions. Any ideas?”
The midday sun beat down on the fortress, penetrating into the fur of the slaves as they labored. Grall grunted as he lifted a rope, which was attached to a cart for transporting the stone back to the fortress. Several other slaves were on either side of him, some old, some young, it didn’t matter to the cruel slave drivers, as long as they got the job done quickly.
Gerbull the weasel, the main slave driver, cracked his whip and bellowed, “Pull, ye lily-livered swabs! Pull or ya get a nice juicy taste o’ my whip across yer scrawny backs! Heave!”
Grall could hear Werlan beside him grunt and strain with all his might. Focusing his eyes straight on the fortress ahead of him, he felt the energy surge through him as he dug his footpaws into the sand and grit. Out of the corner of his eye he could see Vadorn striding towards Gerbull in a purposeful and dignified manner. They held a whispered conversation, which he couldn’t hear. He could tell by the look on Gerbull’s face that the weasel did not agree with whatever Vadorn had in mind. Gerbull looked as if he was about to strike his superior with his whip, but though better of it and reluctantly called a halt to the slaves pulling the cart.
Vadorn eyed his two targets, ordering, “Werlan, Grall, and Tharg. Follow me back to the longhouse. The rest of ye, get back to work.” One slave, a tiny mousemaid, put up her paw timidly.
“Sir, ol’ Tharg be workin’ inna fields where they grow veggiebles and fruit an’…” She was silenced by an elderly mousewife.
Vadorn smiled slightly at her. “Thank you. Crowtooth, go an’ find him.” A skinny ferret saluted and as about to shamble off when Vadorn stopped him. “Crowtooth, salute with yer right paw, not yer left. It’s considered an insult.” Crowtooth nodded furiously and loped off.
Grall murmured to Werlan as they were led off to the fortress, “I wonder wot’s happened now…”
Vadorn forced the two otters to their knees. Zegarath sat before them, the corner of his mouth raised into a cruel smile. A few moments later, Tharg appeared, ushered in by Crowtooth. Only Zegarath, the trio of slaves, Vadorn and Crowtooth were present. Crowtooth scuffed his footpaw along the ground, whiskers twitching. He had rarely ever been in the presence of the wildcat, and he was very nervous. The room was quiet for several minutes before Zegarath spoke.
“Crowtooth, you can go now.” The ferret emitted an audible sigh, wiping away the beads of sweat on his forehead as he exited the longhouse. “Stand up, slaves.” Wordlessly they stood up. He focused his gaze on the two otters, then shifted to the elderly squirrel. “I know you two, but I don’t know your name, squirrel. What is it?”
The old squirrel’s voice trembled with fear as he rasped out, “Tharg, sire.”
Zegarath nodded. “I see. Vadorn!” The fox captain went into another room before coming out, dragging a terrified Centhia out with him. The three slaves gaped at the young volemaid, who couldn’t bear to look at her friends. Zegarath noted their anxiety and worried features before continuing. “Your little friend here has given me very valuable information. Like what’s been happening in the slave compounds…” Centhia whimpered with fear, and the wildcat gently stroked her head with a claw, grinning maliciously. He pointed a claw at the three slaves. “You are the three leaders. Correct?” Not waiting for an answer, he addressed his captain. “Vadorn, tie these three up in the prison. In a few days, I’ll deal with them, in front of the whole horde, to show what I can do to usurpers. Give them no food or water. Got it?” Vadorn nodded and forced them in front of him, out of the longhouse. Centhia shivered at the thought of what Zegarath might do to her friends, now that they had been caught. She almost forgot that she was in the presence of Zegarath until the wildcat jolted her out of her thoughts. He confronted her, grinning secretly. Centhia had no idea what was going to happen, but she sensed it was bad.
In a desperate gamble, she pleaded, “I don’t have any more information! Please don’t hurt me! I’ve told you everything you want to know!” She hugged herself tightly, not daring to look at Zegarath. The wildcat soothed her, pulling out the delicate little dagger.
“Of course I won’t hurt you. I’m just saying thank you for providing that helpful bit of information. Why would I hurt you?” Centhia lifted her head a fraction to look into the wildcat’s deceiving green eyes. That was her last fatal action. Zegarath moved as fast as lightning, cutting the side of her neck. The bankvole gave a last sigh before slumping forward, blood dripping from her throat. Her face registered pained surprise. The wildcat smiled and wiped his dagger on her before concealing it in his belt. He stepped outside, a spring in his step as his eyes shone victoriously. He threw his head back as he laughed. “Hahahaha!”
Asria and Rorc backed off, ready to fight the buzzard. It lunged again, aiming for Asria. The ottermaid fired her arrow, which bounced harmlessly off the bird’s vicious beak. It stopped, surprised, then snapped its beak, renewing it’s attack.
It screeched, “Vermin alla die when they meet Stormbeak! Kraaaah!!” Rorc reacted swiftly. Seeing that the buzzard was going to attack Asria, he bulled into her, just as the buzzard was about to strike her. Instead, Rorc took the blow, and he could feel warm blood running down from his right shoulder. The buzzard turned to Rorc, lying on his side on the dusty ground. He pulled out a dagger and was about to throw it when Asria’s voice cut through the battle.
“Stop, both of you!” They both turned to see the ottermaid standing behind the bird, bow drawn with an arrow notched in it. Her voice was commanding. “We have no need to fight. Stormbeak, we are not vermin, we are otters. I’m Asria Wildlough and that is Rorc Nightblade. We have no wish to fight you, unless you attack us.” The bird shifted restlessly, his golden eyes seeking them out.
“Stormbeak still not convinced. Vermin evil, must kill!”
The two otters explained to the puzzled buzzard that they were not vermin until he was finally convinced. Asria saw the blood running down Rorc’s arm. He protested that he was fine, but she ignored him. She tore a strip from her tunic and bound the shoulder wound, cleaning up the blood on his arm that was starting to harden. When she finished, Rorc viewed his shoulder, impressed.
“Thanks, mate.” His eyes spotted an arrow sticking out of a tree. He pulled it out and returned it to her, winking. “I didn’t hit Stormbeak after all.” Asria shook her head, and they started walking west, Stormbeak following them. He was starting to tell them about his past when Rorc shushed him; he listened intently. He whispered, “There are voices just up ahead, go careful from now. Try not to make any noise.” His companions nodded silently. Gradually the voices become louder, resembling a hare’s. Rorc stifled a guffaw as he listened to the hares bickering.
“Have you thought of a bloomin’ plan yet?”
“No! Have you?”
“No. You’re experienced, you should be doin’ the thinkin’, not me, wot!”
“We’re meant to be plannin’ together, Dawn, not arguin’.”
“Well…I don’t know!” Rorc ducked as a stone was thrown in his direction. Beckoning to his friends, they peered over the top of the bushes to see two hares. Winking at them, he bellowed in perfect hare imitation.
“Well, ye two ditherin’ ducks, don’t sit about all flippin’ day, or you’ll stick to those bloomin’ logs!” Immediately alert, Dawnsorrow and Windal looked about suspiciously. Rorc stepped out, grinning cheerfully.
Windal gaped at him. “Well, I’ll be a toad’s dinner! Rorc Nightblade, ye bloomin’ rascal!” Rorc looked over his shoulder and urged his friends to join him. Asria smiled at Dawnsorrow, then turned her attention on Windal. The big hare shook his head. “Well, if ain’t Asria Wildlough. How are ye? And who’s this?” Stormbeak offered a talon.
“Stormbeak. I kill vermin!”
Windal nodded. “As we all do, wot! This is Private Dawnsorrow Whopplescoffer.” The friends greeted her, and listened to the two hares as they told their predicament. When they finished, Asria smiled, a plan forming in her mind.
“Windal, how far is the Flitchaye camp?”
“Just west of here. Why?”
“You’ll find out soon enough!”
Chapter Twenty Six
Tharg sat down on the wooden bench, exhausted. Beside him Grall and Werlan were chained to the wall, and they were fighting and pulling to break free. Tharg shook his head, looking at his own chains. They were metal, rusting and looking as if they needed a good polish, but nevertheless were still strong as ever.
The trio of slaves had been locked up in the underground prison, in a small cell which contained a wooden bench, a torch holder without a torch, and a tiny metal barred window, which hardly let in any sunlight at all. All around them were cold stone walls, and the cell door allowed them to view the passage way leading outside. And to freedom.
Werlan tired of his continuous pulling and straining, shaking his head sadly. Grall paused for a moment, his chest heaving with exertion, then resumed, grunting and growling fiercely, determined to break his chains. Several thoughts were running through his head. I will not die here, in this accursed fortress! I will break free and kill Zegarath! I will make him suffer for all the pain he has put everyone through, he will pay! I will break free to… The vision of the young ottermaid, standing on the distant hill, the picture he always imagined, appeared in his mind. …to see my daughter alive. Energy coursed through the otter, and he pulled and struggled with the chains harder, his shouts of rage echoing through the dungeon, reaching the ears of the vermin guards at the entrance of the prison.
“I will break free! I will live and one day I swear I will make you suffer for everything you’ve put us through, cat! I will live to end your days, to see you lie down and die, and I will gladly dance on your accursed grave! I will live to see my daughter alive! I will live to kill you! I will live!!” Now tears streamed down his face, and he slumped onto the bench, weeping brokenly. Tharg put a comforting arm around his friend’s shaking shoulders, knowing that soon the inevitable would come. Werlan looked at his friend, the one who had always stood strong, weeping like a babe. He knew that they had to get out. But how was the problem. Werlan sighed heavily, and a tear made its way down his cheek. For now, they were stuck, and there was nothing any of them could do.
For the rest of the day Laria moved about as if she was in a dream, rarely speaking and doing things automatically. Finally, when tea was served out in the orchard, Skipper Rortan confronted her.
He sat himself next to her, questioning worriedly, “What ails ye, Laria? You haven’t been yerself at all today. Where’s the playful liddle otter I used ter know?” Merna and Shoregan sat on the other side of their friend.
Shoregan grinned. “Aye, the one otterbabe who managed to get herself soaked in cold vegetable soup. Hahaha!” Laria burst out laughing, as did Merna.
Skipper looked at them, bewildered. “When did this happen?”
Merna managed to answer back between chuckles. “We were only little, but you and Trad had gone to Hullabaloo. You should have seen her, dripping soup everywhere as she tried to escape from having a bath. Hahaha!”
“Oh, I remember that all right. You were a pawful of trouble when you were little, Laria.” Abbess Sallena smiled at her. The ottermaid smiled back, then remembered the events of that morning.
Skipper’s face turned serious again. He asked, “So what’s the matter, Laria?”
Laria sighed. “I found out that Prell wasn’t my real sister, and that my dad was captured by Zegarath Deathblade.” Rortan and Abbess Sallena glanced at each other. Merna and Shoregan stood by, shocked. They couldn’t believe it.
Shoregan said in disbelief, “Prell isn’t your sister?” Laria shook her head. She turned to Skipper and Abbess Sallena.
“I want to know whether he’s alive or not…” A lump formed in her throat. There was a pause, then Trad interrupted.
“What are you five doin’, sittin’ around like a group o’ mournin’ frogs? Aren’t ye gonna eat, or are youse gonna starve yerselves?”
“Aye, that otter chap is bloomin’ right, y’know. If ye don’t eat, you starve, an’ if ye starve, ye die! Hawhawhaw!” Skipper cast a withering look at Sonderlin, who had appeared with a plate piled high with food. The hare stopped guffawing and drooped his ears.
“This isn’t the right time to be jokin’ about, Sonderlin.”
“Ah, sorry sah. I’ll just be on my way…” Turning around, he crashed straight into Kiplo’s big bulk. The big Cellarhog blinked and looked down at his apron, which was covered in gravy, soup, and all other kinds of food which had once been on Sond’s plate.
The hare gulped as Kiplo enquired, “How much have you eaten, Sond?” Sonderlin looked rooted to the spot, speechless for a moment.
Knowing that he was probably going to get in trouble, he attempted at modifying his food intake, babbling, “Er, er, three mushroom and onion pasties, two raspberry and damson tarts, a bowl of stew, er, some salad, a slice of raspberry pudding, er, a bit of trifle, some pear and damson crumble-“
“You can stop right there, Sond. I think, and everybeast would willingly agree with me, that you’ve eaten far enough. Soon you’ll be eating all the food and none of us would be able to have any! Skipper, what do you think his punishment should be?”
Skipper kept a straight face. “Personally, I’d have him washing pots an’ pans fer a while, an’ maybe he could mend the bedsheets and blankets, an’…p’raps clean out the dormitories?” The hare’s face went pale.
Kiplo turned to Merna. “What do you think, Merna?” The badgermaid pretended to think and muse over the possibilities.
Finally, she spoke. “Well, the things Skipper listed are far too hard in my opinion.” She winked at Shoregan and Laria. Sonderlin’s face was the very picture of gratitude and gratefulness. Merna continued, “So I will give my punishment. How about…” She let the suspense build until Sonderlin thrust himself at Merna’s footpaws, pleading.
“Please, marm, don’t make it hard, or I’m sure I will die of weariness!”
Merna smile mischievously. “I won’t make it too hard then. How about a few doses of some physick? Maybe that’ll be a fit enough punishment.”
“No! Please please please don’t send me to the bloomin’ infirmary! That mouse chap wotsisname’s gonna fizzick me to death then I’ll be-Ompff!” Kiplo covered Sond’s mouth with a paw as he carried him easily to the infirmary, Brother Gerdum following.
Soothingly he said, “Don’t worry Sond, you’ll be as right as rain after a few ladlefuls of dockleaf juice, motherwort and agrimony compound.”
The Redwallers chuckled as they listened Sond yelling and struggling in protest, some of the Dibbuns and elders falling of their chairs in laughter.
Chapter Twenty Seven
Crowtooth absentmindedly picked at his food, which consisted of overboiled vegetables, some kind of soup which tasted strongly of leek, and a tiny fish which absolutely had no flesh at all. The ferret had joined Zegarath’s army when he hadn’t even been born yet. His father and pregnant mother had been beggars and scavengers, and when they heard of Zegarath, they decided to join him. Crowtooth was soon brought into the world, a bad one at that. His parents were killed by Zegarath himself, when they tried to raise a rebellious army against him when they had had enough of his violence and his every day torture. Crowtooth had no one to turn to, so he stayed. As soon as Zegarath had started accumulating slaves, he had quite suddenly bonded with all of them. He had no idea why, but it was natural. When he was found out through a spy, he was whipped and tortured. Of course, since then he had never been brave enough to venture close to the slave compounds.
Crowtooth decided what he was going to do. He knew it was very risky, but he wanted to do it. Slipping from the noisy food hall without any notice, he thought where there would be any charcoal about. There was a fireplace in the soldier’s quarters. He would check there.
Quietly he padded towards several buildings. Each one held a number of horde members who slept inside at night, when they had finished the day’s work. Rounding the corner of one, he did not see Captain Vadorn. Ferret and fox collided, Crowtooth landing on his back, winded. Vadorn had managed to stay upright, and roughly hauled Crowtooth to his paws. Eyeing the ferret, Vadorn growled at him.
“What do you think yore doing? Going to the soldier’s quarters in the afternoon, eh? Speak up!”
Crowtooth looked up at the towering fox fearfully. Everybeast was scared of him. “Well, er, sire, I was just, uh, just going to check, um, my…” Vadorn, looking bored, lifted the ferret easily by the front of his tunic, his other paw digging into Crowtooth’s shoulder painfully.
“Well, check yer stupid stuff tonight, when you’ve finished all yore jobs, ye lazy deckswabber!”
Crowtooth nodded vigorously. “Y-yessir, right awa-“
Vadorn roared, “Do you know where yer meant t’be?”
“Er…” The answer proved enough for the fox, and he savagely shook the wretched ferret before dumping Crowtooth on the ground unceremoniously, kicking him forcefully.
“You don’t know where you’re supposed to be right at this moment? Get out of my sight, ye slimy bag o’ frogspawn!” Crowtooth crawled away on all fours, blood dripping from where Vadorn had stuck his claws into his shoulder, and bruises already appearing from his beating. Behind him the fox spat contemptuously and continued on his way.
Werlan lay on the ground, attempting to sleep, but failing. Tharg occupied himself by trying to find the weakest link in his chain, but to no avail. Grall was staring at the floor, unconscious of his agitated fiddling with the chains that bound him.
They remained in their positions until the padding of pawsteps disturbed the silence, and the glow of a lantern filled the gloomy prison. The slaves looked up and saw a ferret, the same one that had found Tharg and brought him to the longhouse before their unfortunate interrogation with the wildcat.
Grall, remembering his name, stood up and asked coldly, “What do you want, Crowtooth?” Crowtooth looked around tentatively. He had managed to steal one of the flasks of grog that a group of guards had bargained when they had some sort of competition. He had given it to the prison guard, a hefty female weasel called Fogclaw, persuading her to let him in. Eventually he had won.
The ferret gulped before he answered, wondering if he was making the right decision. He knew he was in the presence of two very unpredictable otter warriors, even if they were chained to the wall. “Well, yer see, er, I want to, uh, help ya, you know…” He saw the look of boredom and contempt registering from Grall’s heavily scarred face and hurriedly spoke. “I want to help yer escape.” There. He had done it. But his heart sank at the cold reply Werlan gave him.
“How do we know yer not one o’ Zegarath’s spies? A vermin’s a vermin, and they never change. Never. Somehow, Crowtooth managed to stop himself from trembling and spoke slowly, repeating his words.
“I want to help yer escape.” Werlan glanced at Grall, seeing if there was any surprise. There was none. Then he turned to Tharg, who was seemed to be thinking deeply.
Finally, the old squirrel gave his opinion. “Is this true, Crowtooth? You really want to help us?” The ferret nodded. Grall looked closely at the ferret. His eyes didn’t shine with greed or contempt, none of the things that a normal vermin would have. Finally, the otter gave in and nodded slowly.
“Alright, then. But you only have one chance to help us. If you double cross us, then expect the worse. Understand, Crowtooth?” Crowtooth nodded affirmatively.
Werlan stood up and asked, “Have you made any plans yet?” Crowtooth drew out a dirty looking piece of material, which happened to be torn from his tunic. He produced some charcoal and handed it to the trio.
“I was wondering if maybe yer could write a note to yer pals up there. Then I could give it to ‘em later on. I can’t read or write though, so one of youse ‘ave to do it. “
Tharg said, “What should we wri-“
A shout echoed down from the entrance. “Crowtooth, what are yer doin’ down there? Geddup ‘ere, ye ditherin’ idiot! What’s takin’ ye so long? Ye aren’t talkin’ to the slaves, are yer?”
Crowtooth hurriedly whispered, “Write yer message down, then I’ll come back later on, at night p’raps.” He scurried from their sight, bringing the light of the lantern with him. The slaves were left with nothing but darkness, a piece of charcoal and torn material, and the small flame of hope burning brightly in their eyes.
Abbess Sallena confronted Skipper Rortan in Great Hall, her face registering concern. “Who do you think told her?”
Skipper shrugged absentmindedly, answering, “Probably Lotus. Though it’s time Laria knew the truth. We can’t keep it from her forever.”
The squirrel sighed. “I suppose.”
Their awkward conversation was interrupted by a blur flashing past them, followed by a bellowing and furious Friar Sorgan, shouting and panting, “Come back, you empty sack on legs! Once I catch you, it’s back to the infirmary for you, this time triple the amounts of physick you had! Those loaves were dinner!”
Skipper caught the plump Friar in mid run. He soothed the shrew and said, “I’ll take care of Sond fer ye, Sorgan. Don’t worry yore ol’ head about it.” He turned. “‘Ey boyos’, go catch the thievin’ ‘are that stole those loaves and made the Friar’s fur go grey.” Skipper’s crew, burly otters both male and female which had just come in from the orchard, went racing out again, whooping delightedly as they ran swiftly towards Sond, who had taken a bite out of one of the several loaves that he had swiped.
Skipper and Abbess Sallena started conversing again before noticing Laria was standing in front of them. The Abbess questioned her. “Laria, is there something wrong?”
The ottermaid spoke slowly, as if holding her words back. “Since I found out that my father’s alive, I’ve been thinking.” She was silent for a few moments, then resumed. “I was wondering... Abbess Sallena, I want to find my father. I’ve decided I’m going out to find him. Sometime this week.” Merna and Shoregan appeared and stood behind Laria, supporting her decision.
Shoregan said, “I’m going with her, as is Merna.”
The Abbess nodded. “I’m glad to see that she’s got such faithful friends. However, if I cannot persuade you to stay and you must go out to find him, I will issue you half of Skipper’s crew, including Trad, and a few others to go with you.” Laria nodded, relieved that the Abbess allowed her to go. “When will you be going?”
Laria replied, “The day after tomorrow, at dawn. Is that alright with you?” The squirrel nodded and turned to Skipper, who had watched in silence. The three pals walked out on to the lawn, just as Skipper’s crew came back in with a struggling Sond.
Skipper spoke in his gruff voice, “They grow up so fast, don’t they. Laria’s been like a daughter to me.” Abbess Sallena did not see the lone tear that trickled down his weather worn face.
Chapter Twenty Eight
Crouching behind some thick blackberry bushes, Asria explained her plan to her companions while keeping watch on the Flitchaye encampment. “Right. We all spread out around the camp. Dawn, you have to be the closest to your Patrol, so you c’n free ‘em.”
Dawnsorrow peered through the brambles, whispering, “Where are they? I can’t see ‘em through this bloomin’ thick lot!”
Rorc pointed slightly to his left. “On the north side, near the centre. Are we gonna do a pincer movement, mate?”
Asria answered, “Sort of. Now, Stormbeak, you must follow me, until we’re all in position. When we are, you must fly up there. When you’re ready, give a grand entrance and distract the Flitchaye. Understood?” The buzzard nodded his head slightly, his fierce golden eyes anticipating the battle. Asria turned to Windal and Rorc. “Us three, when he lands, start attacking the main group of Flitchaye. Don’t rush in though. You must stay in the bushes, out of sight. Windal, do you have a spare sling for Rorc to use?”
The big hare rummaged around his stone pouch until he found one. “Here y’are, laddie buck. Take care of it, though. It’s one o’ my best.”
Asria addressed Dawnsorrow. “When the Flitchaye are distracted, release yore friends. If they have any weapons, which I doubt they’ll have, they’re gonna have to use anythin’ close to paw. Have them try to surround the Flitchaye. If they can’t, just keep fighting the vermin. Stormbeak, kill as many vermin as y’like, just don’t kill any of those hares or us.” Asria inhaled, then looked at each companion in turn. “Understood, everyone?”
Rorc raised a paw, like a student. “Do we take prisoners?” Asria shook her head. “No. If you spot their leader, knock him out and try to capture him. All right, let’s get into positions. Windal, the south side. I’ll take the west side. Dawn, the north side, and Rorc, the east side. Stormbeak, keep the Flitchaye at bay. When most of the Flitchaye seem to be together and retreating, meet together at the Flitchaye’s back, where they’ll be caught by surprise. Remember, wait for Stormbeak to make his entrance, and watch your backs. Good luck, everybeast.” Breaking up, the group dispersed and readied themselves.
Asria commanded the buzzard, when she could see everyone was in position, to go. Stormbeak took off quietly, and minutes later, a great cry was heard, raking through the skies.
“Krehaaaak! I am Stormbeak! Kraaaaaah!” The buzzard bolted from the sky, landing amidst confused Flitchaye. Instantly, arrows and sling stones hammered the vermin from all sides.
Dawnsorrow loaded her sling and took off for the captives, blood pumping through her veins as she yelled, “Eulaliaaaaa! Blood’n’vinegar chaps! Eulaliaaaa!” Battering Flitchaye left and right, she made her way towards the captives.
Peony watched in amazement as the Flitchaye ran to and fro, running from the buzzard as well as unsuccessfully avoiding the arrows and sling stones. Suddenly Dawnsorrow appeared next to her, panting.
The haremaid grinned. “At y’service, Major! Ahem, beg y’pardon,” she said, as she dealt a severe blow to a Flitchaye’s head, downing him. “I’m here to free ye, though it looks like you already are freed. Asria said to use anythin’ close to paws to fight the Flitchaye,” Dawnsorrow said, seeing the rest of the patrol.
Captain Thrushtip answered savagely, “Hear that patrol? Let’s go pay those vermin back!” Wild cheers and war cries issued from the patrol as they took off for the Flitchaye, who were looking slightly dejected and fearful as they ran from Stormbeak, only to be battered by Asria, Rorc and Windal.
“What do I do? I can’t fight!”
Dawnsorrow saw Searose, hiding behind the tree. The haremaid was looking extremely frightened, never having seen bloodshed or battle. Dawn shrugged and joined Major Peony, who had picked up a rusty dagger.
Together they plunged into the heat of the battle, yelling, “Eulaliaaaaa!”
Word spread like wildfire around the Abbey. Soon nearly every Redwaller was crowding around Laria and her friends, giving her pieces of useful, or in the case of Dibbuns, funny and useless bits of advice. However, advancing into the evening, everybeast dispersed and left Shoregan, Merna and her alone. Entering Great Hall, Laria strode towards the famous tapestry, followed by her friends. The ottermaid gazed up at the mouse depicted there, kind and heroic.
Merna laid a paw on Laria’s shoulder and said, “Are you sure you want to do this, Laria?”
The ottermaid nodded. “Of course. I didn’t even know I had a father, until this morning. It feels so...strange, after being said that you had no parents, then all of a sudden, you have a father. I still can’t take it in after what Lotus told me.”
Having sailed south, the Silver Falcon came in view of Salamandastron. Ampanna stared at the majestic rock mountain, basking in the cool evening salty air. Soon, the ship had beached, pebbles and sand crunching beneath her hull. Ampanna clambered down from the mast and assisted Segalia, making sure that the ship was secure. The ottermaid jumped over the side, splashing in the shallows, as her companions followed her example, laughing. Waiting for them to catch up with her, Segalia spied several hares coming out from the main entrance, armed. The trio walked up coolly, grinning. Eventually, one of the hares recognised them and made the others put their blades down. Walking to greet them, they met in the middle of the sand, then burst out laughing as they hugged each other. Segalia greeted a hare garbed in a yellow tunic with a brown belt buckled about his waist.
“Wethun! It’s nice t’see ye, matey!”
Wethun returned her greeting, grinning as his ears bounced up and down in the wind. “Segalia, ye bloomin’ riverdog, how’re ye? What bring you to Salamandastron?”
The ottermaid answered, “Oh, just visiting his Lordship, since we were near here. How’s things goin’?”
Wethun waved a paw around airily. “Oh, nothin’s been happenin’, really, wot. Stayin’ fer dinner, wot?”
Lijel answered for her. “Course we are, matey. Did ye make some good ol’ mushroom pasties fer me?” The hare smiled mischievously as he advanced on the brown otter.
“Maybe, maybe not, yer big famine face.” Wethun suddenly jumped on Lijel as the pair rolled around on the sand, wrestling playfully.
“Famine face, am I? Ye can’t talk, you sack on legs!” Ampanna and Segalia rolled their eyes as the rest of the hares laughed at the antics of their friends. Making their way up to entrance, they were greeted by Lord Tabayra himself, smiling warmly.
“Welcome to Salamandastron, Segalia, Ampanna, and Lijel. You’ll be staying for a few days, I hope?”
Segalia, speaking for her friends as well as for herself, smiled and said, “Of course are, Lord. How could we refuse?”
The huge badger led them through the winding passages of the mountain, leading them to the huge mess hall, where hares were having their evening meal. Huge amounts of food were being laid on the table. There were bowls of summer salads, leek and mushroom pasties, vegetable stew, loaves of bread and several mountain cheeses, ranging from small white ones to big, yellow ones, studded with nuts and herbs. For dessert there was apple and plum crumble, completed with summercream, with damson and pear puddings with maple sauce, a strawberry trifle and arrowroot cake. Mountain cider was shared all around. Lijel sat himself down and started piling huge amounts of food on his plate. Segalia and Ampanna found themselves a space and dug into the delicious food, served by the harecooks.
Chapter Twenty Nine
The freeing of the hares had been a success. By evening most of the Flitchaye were cowering dejectedly in the middle of their own encampment, with several of their kind dead, strewn around. Stormbeak had left, hunting down any that had turned tails and run into the surrounding woodlands. Very few escaped the large buzzard.
Peony stepped her way through the mess, making her way towards Asria and Rorc, who were eyeing the vermin as if they were dirty, smelly weasels. Which they were, of course.
Extending a paw, Peony smiled and said, “I can’t bloomin’ well thank you two enough for saving us. We were going to be executed at nightfall tonight. The whole patrol expresses their thanks.”
Rorc replied casually, “Oh, wasn’t nothin’ much, matey. I’m sure ye goodself would’ve done the same fer us.” He cast a glance at the Flitchaye. “We couldn’t have a last go at ‘em, could we Major?”
Peony mused over this question. “We’re not as cold blooded as that, but we have to punish ‘em in some way.”
Sergeant Thornwood marched up to Major Peony and saluted. “All present and correct, Major! A couple with minor wounds, but Clover will stitch ‘em up soon enough.”
Peony nodded. “Thank you, Sarge. You don’t happen to have any bloomin’ ideas about what to do with the filthy blighters, wot?”
The veteran hare grinned. “I say we give ‘em a taste of their own flippin’ medicine, wot wot! Send ‘em to sleep, eh?”
Rorc caught on, a delighted smile spreading across his face. “Excellent idea, matey. Send ‘em to sleep, an’ tie them up in their own ropes. We’ll see who’s the first to get free.”
Asria grabbed the Flitchaye leader, who made a futile attempt to escape her grasp. “You liddle savage, where d’you keep your sleeping herbs, eh?” The scrawny weasel pointed at a full grown rowan tree, right in the middle of the camp. Sergeant Thornwood scrambled over, examining the trunk of the rowan.
“Hm, doesn’t seem t’be anythin’ here, Major…Ah ha!” The hare came into view, carrying loads of green, unidentifiable herbs. He dumped it next to the tree, and vanished again, once more carrying an armful of the stuff. “There must be heaps of these herbs in here! Loads and flippin’ loads…” When he had finally finished unloading the herbs, the whole company gathered.
“Golly gosh, where’d it all come from?”
“That lot would be able to send about ten armies to sleep!
Thornwood had found, as well as the herbs, the Flitchaye’s supply of rope. He beckoned to the score of hares and marched over to the Flitchaye, who were eyeing the rope fearfully.
Peony commanded, “You four, Flitchaye, sit down around that tree. All of you, follow their example, and don’t try to run away, “ she said, glaring at a young Flitchaye, who was about to make a break for it. She turned to the hares. “Tie ‘em up, if you please. Good an’ tight.”
After the last knot was made, a great fire was lit, all the loam cleared and rocks surrounding it, to prevent it from spreading and creating a woodland fire. Everyone had their mouths and noses covered, to block out the smell of the herb. The herbs were dumped on top of the fire, right next to the trees. Wails issued from the Flitchaye, who had finally realised what their captors were doing.
Sergeant Thornwood turned to the whole of the patrol, grinning. “A flippin’ job well done, I say. Sweet dreams, ye bloomin’ vermin!” Everyone cheered, hugging and congratulating each other.
Major Peony shook paws with Rorc and Asria. “Again, I cannot flippin’ well thank you enough for comin’ to our bloomin’ aid, wot. Anyway, would you two like to come with us? We’re headed for Redwall Abbey, y’know.”
Rorc’s eyes lit up. “Redwall? I’ve always wanted to go there. Sure, we’ll come!” Meanwhile, the hares had lined up, ready to march again.
Major Peony said, “Better go line up then. It’ll be a short while to Redwall.” Marching up to the front, the hare ordered, “Right, patrol! Headed to Redwall at a march, wot!” Seeing Lieutenant Seawort open his mouth, she smiled.
“Permission to sing, sah?”
Peony waved a paw. “Go on, loud an’ clear, Lieutenant!”
- ”I was stridin’ through the woodland,
- When I suddenly came upon,
- A young maiden hare, with two long ears,
- Donning an apron on.
- She said to me, ‘Oh fine young sir,
- Why, you look lean and strong,
- I’ll wager you’ll be able to search for me,
- A stick so good and long.
- So I looked for a stick, straight and true,
- And when I gave it to her,
- She hit me on the head with it,
- What a scurvy cur!
- So to this day, now I’m old,
- I’ve never trusted again,
- Any hare maiden with a stick,
- For she’ll beat me with her cane!”
It was the night before Grall, Werlan and Tharg would have to be presented in front of Zegarath’s horde. There was no moon to light the fortress up, nothing to guide by except the stars.
Crowtooth crept furtively along, padding along as silently as he could go. In one paw he clutched a flagon of wine he had yet again stolen, and in it some drugged herbs, which he had obtained from the slaves, whom he had managed to convince that he was a friend, helping them. Over the day and previous night, they had worked out a plan to get the three prisoners out.
Making sure he wasn’t being followed, he crept towards the prison. A lantern was lit, hanging on a hook by the entrance. Below it slumped a weasel, Fogclaw’s mate, Danktail. He was sound asleep, snoring softly. Beside him a flagon stood. Glad that the prison guard was already asleep, Crowtooth replaced the empty flagon with the drugged one, placing it on the ground carefully so he didn’t wake Danktail. Searching around, Crowtooth located the prison keys, hanging beside the lantern. He took both, as well as a small bottle of oil, which was meant to be used to keep the small flame in the lantern going. He disappeared down into the tunnel.
Grall, Werlan and Tharg were wide awake, listening, on the alert. Upon seeing a glow from Crowtooth’s lantern, they jumped up, anxious to be out. The ferret appeared, fear and anxiety stamped on his face. Placing the lantern down, he worked feverishly, pouring oil on the hinges of the rusty iron door. Making sure they were well oiled, he placed the key in the lock and turned. The door swung wide open, making a slight creak, which echoed through the dark tunnel. All four froze, peering to see if anyone noticed. No one came. The freed prisoners crept out of their cell, helping Crowtooth to close the door shut and lock it. They made their way silently to the entrance. On seeing the weasel guard sleeping, Grall mentioned to the ferret, and made a stabbing motion. Crowtooth handed his dagger to the otter, and he plunged the dagger deep into Danktail’s chest, instantly killing him. Grall gave the dagger back to Crowtooth, who wiped it clean. Grall then reached over the dead weasel and pulled a serrated sword from him. Snuffing out the lantern, they hurried out of the prison, creeping towards the back of the fortress. A small wooden door had been built into the wall surrounding the fortress. Pulling the bolt back, they slipped out of the castle, closing the door behind them. They stood before the woodland. They were free. The escape was done.
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