"Laurel Rosemary Fiona Haremaid!" Colonel Fernspike said the young haremaid's name so sharply that everyone in the mess hall came to attention. Laurel knew he was mad; she almost never got her full name at the mountain, only when a long, dull reprimand was coming. The young haremaid groaned inwardly, silently cursing that the Colonel had chosen this time to yell at her. The other young hares sitting near her stopped eating, some even with their leek and carrot pastie halfway to their mouths. They were afraid of the Colonel---who wasn't? his reputation preceded him all throughout Salamandastron. They looked down at their plates, not wanting to meet his eyes. Laurel did too, but everyone knew what was coming, wether she looked up at him or not. This time though, it came worse than usual.
"Young missie, as you bloomin' well know, the Grand Promotion ceremony is coming up. Tomorrow, I believe." Colonel Fernspike's voice had lowered, but it was still a growl. Oh dear, she thought, that's what this was about. "Am I not correct, young maid?"
The haremaid in question slowly turned around in her seat and looked up. Not at the grizzly, monocled, old gray face, but somewhere on the tunic he wore. It was a deep, rich blue, with a bright yellow trim; the tunic he wore when he was not showing off his prized medals and medallions. No, that would be his scarlet red one with forest green trim. "Yes sir, I suppose so," she mumbled.
She chanced to look up a little higher up. The Colonel's neat collar with gold military braid on it gleamed in the mid-afternoon light from outside. He went on interrogating her, intent on his literary punishment for which he was so famed. "I jolly well hope you do suppose so; the whole blinkin' mountain has been speakin' of it for a season! Now, as you also know, the big raspberry and mulberry pie was baked yesterday. All hares except the cook and his assistants were told to keep out of the bally kitchens while it was being prepared! Do you not remember that?!" His voice was a sort of squeaky growl, rising a few octaves as he continued.
"Yes sir, i remember that, sir." How could anybeast not? Little Dribblescut Teaselthump from the Rockbane family had run all through the Salamandastron, announcing loudly to everyone he passed of the proclamation the cook had put out. Laurel was still staring at Colonel Fernspike's collar, heartily wishing she could disappear to an ant-sized speck, when his words caused her to jump out of her revelry.
"Then why, I say WHY is half of the bloomin' pie GONE?!!!" The frazzled hare's last words made her tremble. Her mouth was dry, all saliva completely gone. Her heart was thumping in her chest like mad, and the young hare's paws were suddenly sticky with sweat. She tried to avoid the Colonel's stare, but his eyes bore into her. Hesitantly, Laurel looked up, attempting to put on her sweetest smile. Fernspike's face was still unwavering, but his right eyebrow had shot up like an arrow.
"Well, sir," she began timidly, "that is a very good question, sir. Um, uh, ummm, mmmaybe little Plummy Woodlea, er, scoffed it. Hmmm?" she tried to smile even bigger, but it turned into a frightened grimace. The Colonel had on a face like a stone, which then tightened as he brushed off her suggestion which an explosion of colorful, hare-like language.
"You, you, VILLAIN!!! Scoffer, grubswiper, nosebag fiend! You soil the very bloomin' ground you stand on with your bally, beyond-the-limit antics! How many times have you got into trouble because of your scoffing, nabbing, or just plain ballyblinkinbloomin misbehaving!!! Why, if your pater could see you now, he'd, he'd!" The Colonel stopped, looking fit to burst, his face a deep crimson red. He stood up, ram-rod straight, dusted off and straightened his tunic. His eyebrow was no longer raised, but his jaw was still clenched, and his face impassive. He then issued forth orders that could not have been worse than the haremaid's death sentence.
"This is the limit, the absolute bally limit. You have disgraced the name of Salamandastron with your thoughtless actions, your unmaidenly doings, your infantile crimes!!! As a result of that, you will not be present during the Promotion Ceremony. You will be in your room, writing off one-hundred bloomin' pages, apologising to me, Lord Brockson, the cook, and all the other officers and hares of rank. You will stay in your room for seven days afterwards, so that you may have a reasonable amount of time to ponder your wrongdoings. Your meals will be brought up to you, and will consist of plain barley bread and water. I will have the locksmith put a new lock on your chamber door. nbsp;And mind you this", Colonel Fernspike leaned in closer, talking between gritted teeth, "any, i say any, back-talk or flippant actions until then will result in more pages and more flippin' punishments! You will be escorted to your room right now, seeing as you look through enough with the victuals you haven't flippin' stolen."
The hares in the mess hall were stunned. No one had ever heard of such a cruel punishment. To miss such a grand feast and party as the Promotion Ceremony was in itself unheard of. Laurel could do naught but blink, shocked at the Colonel's words. As her mind slowly grasped what had just taken place, Fernspike rapped out orders to two large, hefty young hares who were finishing up their noonday meal. "Seascore! Thistlebane! Kindly escort young Miss Laurel up to her quarters." The two sprang up immediately, not wanting to delay while the Colonel was in one of his moods. Casting pitying and understanding looks at Laurel, they held her paws as gently as they could and walked off. The seasoned hare looked around him at the silent faces that had abandoned their food, in favor of watching the exchange between the culprit and the executioner. "Well, what are you lot all staring at?! As you were, back to your meal!"
Laurel allowed herself to be herded upstairs to her room, silent and non-opposing. Tears gathered at the corners of her eyes, but she quickly wiped them away. She was a Harerabble, and she would not lose her dignity by letting anyone get to her. And she especially would not carry out the cruel and unjust punishment the Colonel had issued. No, she would leave the mountain, that was clear, and be rid of all cruel reprimands and orders forever. Or, she thought, as long as need be. She didn't want to be in the Long Patrol, that would just mean more orders and more commands. She didn't want to be a Galloper, either. She would go out, and explore the world for herself, maybe even go and visit the Redwall Abbey she had heard Seargent Billows talk of. Yes, that was what she would do.
The two male hares deposited Laurel inside her room, and closed the door behind them. The haremaid sat on her bed, forming an escape plan in her mind. For a few minutes she just sat, thinking. Then she sprang up from her bed, wiping away from he mind what had just occurred and filled with a renewed hope of freedom and adventure.
A half moon climbed its way higher in the sky, which in turn slowly changed into darkness. Waves chased the shore, as the big mountain watched over all. Inside Salamandastron, everyone was sitting down to supper. Before he ate, a hare fixed a tray of leek and mushroom pasties, a fresh salad, a flagon of dandelion and burdock cordial, and plum and apple crumble and took it upstairs toward the sleeping quarters. Knocking lightly on the door of one of them, the hare stood patiently, his nose atwitch as the tempting aromas drifted upward.
The door was opened by Laurel, the previously afore-punished young hare. Holding the door open no more than a pawswidth, the haremaid looked inquisitively at the tray as the other hare spoke.
"I was told to bring ye a tray up for ye. i know this ain't the Colonel's orders, but i just thought ye might like to taste some decent food. Ye may not get this much every day, it's rather hard sneakin' a loaded tray up. But i'll try. Anythin' else i can get ye, Laurel?" he held forth the tray, and Laurel took it as she replied.
"Oh, uh, er, no, nothing else, thanks. But, you don't need to be bringin' this up anymore. There'll be no need to. I can't explain right now, just, um, oh, you'll understand soon enough. Oh, wait, there is something. Um, is everyone down there, eating? No one missing to speak of?"
"Nah, they're all dinin' in the Mess 'All, everyone present and correct, from the Badger Lord 'imself down to young little Plummy Woodlea, the villain," the hare finished.
"Oh, alright, thank you Lyron. Well, uh, goodnight," Laurel said.
"Goodnight. Oh, and uh, i'll be comin' up tommorer mornin' to bring ye something. Sleep well."
"Goodnight," Laurel whispered softly, pondering the events of the coming night. Setting the tray back down in her room, the haremaid dug in eagerly. Filling herself and doing full justice to the meal (especially the crumble), she sat back in her chair, unsure of what to do next. She looked around her room. All the sheets, blankets, and pillowcases that had previously adorned her bed were now knotted into one long rope. Also tied to the ever growing rope were some of her clothing and the tablecloths off her counterpane and nightstand. Her heart raced as she thought of what she would be attempting tonight.
Grabbing the bundle, she held one end of it over her open window and let the rest fall. She peered down, out into the darkness, and could just make out where the strip ended. "Too short", thought Laurel, and hauled it back up. looking about her room, she searched for any more scraps of anything that would make her escape plan possible. Muttering to herself, she opened drawers and looked in cupboards. "Huh, nobeast's gonna make me stay up here for a whole blinkin' week, writin' off one blooming hundred pages, wot! Wot! Wot, wot, wot!"
Seeing no more materials at all present in the confined space of her quarters, Laurel opened the door a smidgen and peeked down the hallway furtively. Spying none and hearing nobeast, she closed the door quietly, and padded noiselessly to where she knew more linens were kept.
Tip-pawing down a short flight of steps, Laurel could hear the faint sounds of talk and chatter in the Mess Hall. Entering a small room, she grabbed as many sheets, towels, and rugs as were possible to hold, the hare crept out and back to her own room. Laurel breathed a sigh of relief as she closed the door, and fervently began adding on to the makeshift rope.
The night wore on and Laurel was all ready to go. Winding the rope around her arms and shoulder, and carrying a small bundle of food and provisions, the haremaid stepped out of her room for the last time. Running softly down the corridor to the lowest room she could get to without nearing the Mess Hall, she went in and opened the window.
The cool sea air touched her face and Laurel breathed deeply. She could not suppress a shudder of excitement that went through her as she tied the rope to the window handle. Pulling it taught and tieing it a number of times to secure it, Laurel pulled hard, satisfied that it would hold. Checking the haversack tied to her back, Laurel sat on the window ledge and peered out into the darkness. Then, softly and silently, she grabbed onto the rope and lowered herself down.
Closer, closer Laurel traveled, grasping the rope as hard as she could, determined finish what she had set out to do. Never having been very afraid of heights, it was not that hard. Then, her footpaws felt the end of the rope and she momentarily panicked as she climbed a short distance back up. Laurel looked down and could make out the smooth sand below. She let go of the rope and jumped.
"Gone!! What do you mean, gone?" The eyes of Colonel Fernspike bore into the poor hare, Lyron, as he stammered out his reply.
"We-well, sir, I uh, I went to, to go and bring Laurel so-some breakfist this morn, and I, uh, er, well, um, she uh, was-was gone, sir, if you get my drift, wot. Heh, hmm." he nervously and looked around the room for any close possible means of escape from his interrogator.
"Very well then. As y'were," was all the reply from the Colonel. turning abruptly, he marched off toward the now uninhabited room of Laurel's. Lyron breathed a sigh of relief, and wiped his brow. The Colonel was a menacing creature, even to a tall, well-built hare like Lyron. He turned toward a window and leant on the sill. Lyron gazed out onto the flat blue ocean, breathing deeply, and wondered where in the name of fur and feathers Laurel had gone to.
At that same moment, Laurel Rosemary Fiona Haremaid was having a grand time. Resting her head by a sand dune that provided a bit of protection, Laurel had slept until dawn when she woke, feeling refreshed and eager to be off. Now the day was bright and clear, with only a slight breeze that had chased away any venturesome clouds long before. Sauntering along and swinging her bag, Laurel whistled to herself as she thought about what adventures lay ahead. singing a ballad that that she had learned as a leveret, Laurel launched into the song, pleased that there was nobeast about to critisize, remark, or comment on her singing.
Oooooooooohh, when the sun beats down And the sand is hot And you are tired and weary Just think of all the hares That you left behind.... At the mount of the quaint and eerieeeeee!
Oooooooooohh, if you think that---Aaaaaaaaaahhh!
Laurel jumped back mid-verse as a green and red frilled newt popped up in front of her face, the surprise of it knocking her off balance and sending Laurel toppling to the ground. The curious reptile scurried over and peered down at the haremaid, its throat pulsating as it watched her, unblinking.
"Wha-what in the name of fur are you trying to do, my friend?! Knocking a poor haremaid about like that. See, look at that, gone and gave me a bloomin' bump on my noggin, you did! Laurel stood up and dusted herself off. only the reptile's eyes moved as she talked on, half to herself and half to the newt. "Humph, might've cracked open my skull had it not been for the fact that I was taught to fall the right way! Picked up a thing or two in the old military school, so i did. Still, not very civil of you, sir. When you want to meet someone, go up to them nice-like and shake their paw, 'stead of knocking 'em about like bally sandbags. By the by, to whom do i not have the pleasure of addressing, hmm?
The fact that Laurel's head was throbbing and the newt had not yet said a single thing did not help much to calm her. The haremaid waited, tapping her footpaw, fuming as she stared down at the newt, who in turn, did nought but stare up at her. After a full minute of that same procedure, the reptile trundled off, right under Laurel's hindlegs like a bridge, not turning back once or saying a word.
"I say! I say, he has got some bally nerve, trundlin' off, happy as y'please, without so much as a 'how do y'do' to the poor haremaid whom he just knocked to the blinkin' ground! Humph!!!
Hurt, hungry, and thoroughly vexed, Laurel looked around for any close means of cover to rest near when the sun was highest. Spotting a dune somewhat close by, she trudged over, and plopping herself down, began digging through her sack. "Hmmm, time for a bit of something or other for the old nosebag, wot. Where is that confounded mushroom pasty i thought I bloomin' well packed?! Hope the lizard chap didn't scoff it while my back was turned. I wonder wha- aha!! There you are, you old curmudgeon! My, you do look fine and tasty, if I do say so myself, wot!" Spreading a napkin daintily on her lap, Laurel launched into her pasty, gravy dripping out as she enjoyed herself wholeheartedly, along with a drink of the dandelion and burdock cordial she got the night before.
After finishing her meal, Laurel promptly settled down for a good nap, her haversack propped under her head. Remarking to herself, she shut her eyes tight against the high sun. "Humph, bloomin' sun, shining down on a poor maid who's trying to get her bally sleep. No feeelings at all for others who are having a jolly old snooze here and there." Laurel sat up, and rearranging the sack, settled down again, finally drifting off. The shadow of the dune grew longer over her as she slept peacefully on, dreaming of journeys and adventures.
Back at the ancient mount there were many mixed feelings, not to mention made-up theories, about the strange disappearance of Laurel. The young leverets that she used to amuse and play make-believe with whined for her and her much loved story-telling skills. Laurel used to bring up plenty of ideas for pranks to the young male hares in training, and together they would carry them out with much mischief around the mountain. Laurel had been a good friend to all, even if she did get into trouble quite a lot of the time. But there was much to be done in the early morning before the main ceremony, and everyone was needed to pitch in whether one particular hare would be present or not.
"Sir, don't you think that we ought to send out a search party, or at least have a few Runners go after her, sir?" Lyron consulted the Colonel.
Wot?! For whatever reason, m'lad?" The gruff Colonel looked up from his noontide inspection of the mess hall. "I admit, the disappearance of the gel is rather strange, wot, but I see no reason to run after her like a pack of troubled mother hens, eh. It's clear why she left! Pure lack of backbone, want of patience, and general slacking laziness is all the matter! If she can't stick out the consequences of 'er bally actions like a true mountain hare, like her pater would have done, then good riddance! Let 'er experience the world on her own, and as far away from here as possible! Now, laddie buck, we've got things to do, so focus your noggin on y'work and think about the ceremonial feast that lies ahead. Wot! Uh, ahem." The seasoned hare marched off, chiding some young leverets that were running around underpaw.
Lyron sighed. It was bad enough that Laurel was gone, but that the Colonel was going to do nothing about was even -
"Oy, I say, Lyron!" The voice of one of the young hare's friends called over and interrupted his thoughts. "What are y'doin', pondering your life? Lend a paw over here with this great whackin' barrel! Hey! Lyron! Where're y'goin'?! Lyron!!"
Lyron ignored him. Forget Fernspike. Forget the feast. He knew what he had to do.