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It was very late afternoon at Redwall Abbey. It had been a scorching summer, but this day was slightly cooler. Redwallers who were outside rested in the shadows of shady trees, while otters splashed and played with Dibbuns in the pond, and elders sat in the orchard, talking of old times. It was truly a typical, peaceful day at the legendary Abbey of Redwall.
Abbess Meriam was sitting in a chair by the pond with some elders, watching as the Dibbuns played in the shallows of the pond, supervised by the young otter twins, Blatt and Scrimmo, and their mother. Next to the mouse Abbess sat Old Bella, ancient badger mother of Redwall. Bella was so old she seldom found time to leave her big armchair in her room anymore, but she had decided to venture outside to enjoy the beautiful summer day. A molebabe called Drunny trundled up to her and shook himself off, pond water flying every where as he did.
"Hurr, Miz Bel, coom and splasher with oi in ee pond!" The little fellow said in his odd molespeech, tugging his nose respectfully to his elders.
The ancient silver badger lifted him up onto her massive lap, despite his being wet, chuckling as she did. "Oh, dearie no, little one, I'm far too old for swimming and splashing, I wouldn't want to have to have a strong young mole like you have to pull me out."
Flattered at the compliment, Drunny grinned. "Ho urr, marm, maybe ee shudd stay dry out here, you'm seem like ud take a long toime to fish ee out of the ponder!"
Heartwood, an old otter who was sitting on the other side of Meriam, leaned over to join the conversation. "Ahoy, Drunny mate, don't worry, I'd help ye, we'd get ol' Bella out together!"
Drunny looked up at the gigantic old badger. "Hurr, best get a few more h'otters, mister Heartywood zurr!"
Smiling at the molebabe's remark, Abbess Meriam called out to the otter twins. "Blatt, Scrimmo, will you round up those Dibbuns and get them dry, it will be time for dinner soon!"
As the young twins began calling the babes out of the water, a middle aged mouse came up to Meriam, with a rather urgent look on his face. Meriam saw this.
"Barlom, friend, what is it? Is something wrong?"
Barlom, the trusty recorder of Redwall, made his report quickly. "Visitors, Mother Abbess. Sumin's here, and he's got Jodd and another with him, and Jodd's injured badly. Sumin's got bad news!"
The Abbess could see her squirrel friend Sumin, and the hare Jodd, with another squirrel standing near the Gatehouse. The two squirrels were holding Jodd up. The hare was bleeding badly, from gashes in his torso and an arrow wound in his shoulder. Meriam could see that the other squirrel was injured too, with a missing ear and a bloody footpaw. Immediately the experienced Abbess whipped into action. She called to a slender female mouse sitting in the orchard, who had not yet seen what was happening.
"Sister Withe! Two injured beasts at the gates! Take two helpers and get them to your sickbay now! Barlom, friend, go into the Abbey and fetch Friar Bunfold, Bryony, and Foremole! Bring them back to gatehouse for an emergency meeting with Sumin! Bella, Heartwood, I want you there too. Blatt and Scrimmo, take the Dibbuns inside and tell Myrtle to start dinner without us all. Come Heartwood, help me get our badger mother to the gatehouse!"
Minutes later, Abbess Meriam sat in the Gatehouse with Barlom, Bella, Heartwood, Friar Bunfold (the fat mouse who was Head Cook in the Abbey kitchens), Bryony (the young mousemaid who's word and opinions Meriam greatly trusted), and Foremole (wise leader of the Abbey mole crew). Meriam had called all these beasts here because they were like a council she consulted in times of trouble; she greatly respected all of their opinions. The tough squirrel Sumin sat in the small desk chair Barlom used for writing. He looked exhausted, as he had been helping along the two injured beasts through the forest very quickly trying to reach the Abbey. He took a long drink from a flagon of cold water Friar Bunfold had brought for him. When he had finished, he set it down and spoke.
"Abbess marm, I traveled as fast as I could to get here. Marm, there's a vermin band headin' for your Abbey!"
Gasps of shock arose from the listeners. Bryony cried out, "Oh no! What will we do?"
"How many of them are there, Sumin? Have you contacted Skipperjo an Redfarl?" Friar Bunfold squeaked, quite taken aback by this news.
Abbess Meriam was about to quiet them, when Bella spoke first. The old silver badger raised her paws for silence.
"Please, Redwallers, let our friend finish his story. Ask questions later. We must know the situation before we act. Continue, Sumin."
The squirrel related his tale. "To answer your question, Friar, camp of Skipperjo and Redfarl is where I was where I first discovered these vermin. Y'see, Skipperjo and Redfarl have taken their tribes far away, down to the seas, for a big festival the otters and squirrels have this time every few seasons. Naturally, they leave a few beasts to guard their camp while they're gone. They left Jodd (I guess he doesn't really fancy the squirrel parties, even though he thinks he is a squirrel), as well as two other squirrels, Dregel and Tiggan. Dregel is the young'un who came with me today. Well, I knew that these three were alone at the squirrel camp, so I'd thought I'd stop for a visit and keep 'em company. Well, when I got there, I walked straight into a battle scene! Thirty plus vermin were shooting arrows all throughout the camp. Right as I came in, one took poor Tiggan right through the heart. Poor Tiggan, he was only a young'un. Dregel and Jodd were up in an oak tree, firing arrows back and trying to get away. They were both injured when the vermin attacked them on the ground, but they managed to get away into the trees. I rushed them with my javelin, slew one, and grabbed Tiggan's bow. I shot up into the tree and held off the vermin while the other two escaped, and then we traveled for half the night and all morning to get here. Now, a few days ago, I was in far North Mossflower, and do you know what I found? Old Barclo, in his den, slain, full of arrows. I just know it was these same vermin who did it! If they were near Barclo's dwellin' then, and now in these parts, they can only be heading to the Abbey!"
There was a long and sad silence as Sumin finished his narrative. It was always sad to lose of one Redfarl's faithful squirrels, who had helped the Abbey many a time, and Barclo was an old shrew hermit who was also a good friend to the Abbey.
Heartwood sniffed. The tough old otter's voice radiated anger and sorrow. "Scum! Barclo was my matey, and he was a tough un! if those cowards had faced him head on, instead of killin' him from afar, he'd have taken a few with em, mark my words! We must fight these vermin!"
Abbess Meriam put a comforting paw on his shoulder. "We will find a solution, Heartwood, but first we must learn more about these intruders. Tell us about the vermin Sumin."
The squirrel related all the details of the band. "Thirty eight exactly, marm, thirty seven once I was done with 'em. Though I heard 'em talkin' about their chief, so I don't think their leader was with 'em. Ferrets, weasels, and stoats all, not a rat or fox among 'em. Every one of them carried a bow, and every one of them knew how to use it. These were not your average vermin, marm. Typically, in a vermin band, there are few true trained warriors, just savages with weapons or creatures to fat or lazy to make an honest livin'. But in this one, every single creature was big, young, and just as fit and muscular as Skipperjo. These are trained warriors, friend, and whoever trained them disciplined them. They were all clean, well armored, and armed to the teeth. In addition to their bow, each of them carried a sword at their side and a dirk in their belt, and many had other weapons beside. These are soldiers. There wasn't a fat one or an old one in the entire group. They may not be much in numbers, but they'd make up for it in fightin' skills, believe me."
Another long silence. Again it was Heartwood who broke it. "We got able-bodied creatures here, let's form our own band of fighters and send this scummy lot packin'!" Barlom and Bunfold agreed with this suggestion.
Bryony was against it. " No! If we let creatures who have no experience with war fight, there will be more bloodshed than if we send real fighters. Let's send somebeast to go fetch Skipperjo and Redfarl!"
Before anybeast could agree or disagree, Sumin explained why Bryony's suggestion wouldn't work. "No, marm, there's no way. Y'see, the vermin chased us after we got away from the camp. They chased us almost the whole way. I eventually managed to lose 'em, but I didn't have time to cover our tracks. If those vermin know a lick about trackin', and I'd bet me tail that they do, they'll be here any minute, if'n they're not outside already! Not to mention the fact that I have no idea where Skipperjo and Redfarl are. They keep the location of their festival a secret."
Heartwood went back to his original plan. "Well then, let's get a group of defenders together! There's beasts in this Abbey who could fight! Sumin mate, we've fought and slayed our fair share o' vermin before! Let's do it again, this time for the Abbey! "
"Aye," shouted Barlom, "I'd fight and die for Redwall! I agree with Heartwood!"
Abbess Meriam looked to Sumin. "What do you think, Sumin? Are there any other options?"
"Fraid not, marm, unless we want to wait for the otter and squirrel tribes to return in a few weeks. I know ye ain't got many warriors here, Mother Abbess, but a few could lead capable beasts to fight. You got three warriors in me, Heartwood, and Dregel, four if Jodd recovers soon, and we got plenny of beasts who could fight. There's squirrels aplenty at your Abbey, whom we could train to be archers, and I've seen lots of big otters and hedgehogs here who could fight if needed. There's Foremole, your big cellarhog, and even your Veil, Bryony marm. Ferrets can make good fighters, as long as they're fightin' for the right side. We could easily form a defendin' force!"
Bryony was completely against having Veil fight. "No, no, Veil can't fight, I won't allow it! He's not a warrior!"
Meriam placed a paw on her shoulder to calm he down. "None of us are warriors, Bryony, but some of us will have to be. Of course, I will not force any creature who does not wish to fight to risk their lives for us. If Veil wants to help protect this Abbey, then nobeast can stop him. He is old enough to make his own decisions. If he chooses not to, then nobeast will hold that against him. That goes for all Redwallers who are asked to fight."
Myrtle the hedgehog wife was in charge of the kitchens while Bunfold was in the Gatehouse. The kindly hogwife had decided to send dinner to the Gatehouse for the creatures having a Council of War. She helped prepare a trolley of food, and then had chosen two helpers to deliver it. Brandilo the young hedgehog and Veil the ferret wheeled the food across the lawn to the Gatehouse. Normally, the troublesome Veil would've never bothered with such tasks, as he was usually very defiant towards his elders. However, this summer the ferret had been particularly well behaved, and was slowly earning the trust and respect of Redwallers. He had only been good this one season, compared to his lifetime of stealing and fighting, but his foster mother Bryony was confident that he would stay this way, and grow to be a well respected Redwaller. Veil's change was due mostly to his friendship with Brandilo. Brandilo was born and had lived at the Abbey his whole life, but hadn't had much to do with Veil until this summer, when the two young creatures had struck up an unlikely friendship. For some reason that no beast could quite figure out, Veil liked Brandilo and trusted him, which was not true of any other creature, except Bryony, and that was only occasionally. The young ferret's friendship with the hedgehog was changing him for sure, and making life easier for everyone at the Abbey.
Brandilo sniffed at the trays of food on the trolley. "Mmm, this mushroom turnover do smell good, don't it mate?"
"Aye, maybe the old fogeys in the Gatehouse'll share, eh Brand?"
Brandilo had a wise old head on young shoulders. He hid a fond smile and glanced at his friend. "Ah now, Veil, we shouldn't be callin' our elders names like tha', 'tis disrespectful. Old they may be, but without them this Abbey we love so dearly wouldn't be so nice and organized."
"S'pose you're right." The young ferret shrugged. "I wonder what the Sumin's bad news is? And how did the rabbit and the other one get so hurt?"
"Mebbe we'll find out soon, mate."
As they got up to the door of the Gatehouse, they could clearly hear Meriam's voice. Veil heard everything she said regarding him fighting. He dashed into the Gatehouse, not bothering to knock.
"I want to fight! I'll help defend the Abbey, me and Brandilo both!"
Bryony stood up. "Veil, no!"
Abbess Meriam stepped in before the situation could go further. "Veil, please don't come barging in here during a meeting! Bryony, what did I just say?"
Bryony gave up and backed down. The Abbess looked to Veil. "Is there a reason you were eavesdropping on us, young sir?"
Brandilo answered her question by bringing in the trolley of food. "Just deliverin' some vittles to our wise Abbey elders on the orders of Myrtle, marm."
Meriam gave one of her rare smiles to the young hedgehog, remembering how much good he had done for Veil. "Well, this meeting's about over, and it's been decided that you two will help out, so sit and eat, while Sumin informs you of the situation. Heartwood, Foremole, come with me. We are going to address the rest of the Abbey, and get volunteers for defenders, whom will we bring back here so Sumin and Heartwood can start making plans. Bunfold, you'd better get back to your kitchen." The Abbess looked at Sumin and Heartwood.
"I place you two, my trustworthy friends, in charge of the Redwall Defenders. Nobeast could do better than you, I'm sure of that. Bella, you've been rather quiet throughout this whole thing. What have you to say?"
The ancient silver badger gave her opinion on the situation. "Although it pains my old heart to see my beloved Abbey go to war, I know it must be done to protect and preserve what my friend Martin, and all the others worked so hard to create so long ago. So, my friends who will be fighting, young and old, please be careful, and good luck to you. When this is over, Redwall will honor your brave names for generations. If I were younger, I'd be right alongside you, but alas, I can barely move anymore. Let us all hope that Redwall comes out of this safely!"
"Well said, friend." Said Meriam.
And so Redwall began preparing for war. Abbess Meriam and her two helpers went to find volunteers, Bunfold went back to the kitchen to begin baking extra food should the defenders need it, Bryony stormed off somewhere in tears, and Sumin and Barlom stayed in the Gatehouse to explain the situation to Veil and Brandilo, while Bella sat in the armchair watching them, wiping a tear from her eye.
The wine here was terrible. Corvun Coldheart sipped at it anyway, hoping it might calm him a bit so he didn't kill one of his warriors in anger in a moment. The tent in which he at was large, but primitively furnished. The oak desk he sat at, a small cot, and an impressive collection of otter weapons were the only items in Corvun' new tent. This otter chief is a simple beast, but clearly a fierce warrior, thought the weasel lord, surveying the large array of javelins, swords,axes, and daggers. Too bad he left. I would have enjoying killing him in front of his tribe.
Corvun knew that his warriors could have taken on the otters and squirrels who had lived here, and wiped them out. A small woodland tribe was nothing to the Deathbringers of Corvun Coldheart. They had done battle with tribes, with armies, with entire kingdoms. Creatures from every land had fallen to them. Had they been more materialistic creatures they would have ruled the world by now, but they had no need or want for castles and riches. They roamed the earth, attacking, killing, and pillaging as they please, but they did not do it for conquest, or glory, or gold. They did it for fun. They did not need fancy food or clothing or even a roof over their heads. They were tougher than that. Warriors. They slept under the stars every night and ate what they could find. Corvun had trained them that way. He had made it their life.
That was how he did not under stand how twoscore of his mighty Deathbringers, slayers of hundreds of warrior tribes in the High North, the force who brought Ullag Graysnout the Reaper of the Mountains to his knees, and countless other conquests were outsmarted by two wounded creatures and some old squirrel.
Back at the Abbey, Sumin and Heartwood stood upon the lawns, surveying their army: Veil, Brandilo, and the squirrel Dregel, now bandaged up, stood at the forefront of the group of defenders. Also present were Foremole and his entire mole crew, Barlom, Bral Hogmorton, the big Abbey Cellarhog, Swenna Greatsplash, mother of the otter twins Blatt and Scrimmo, and five more mice, all Brothers and Sisters of the Order of Redwall.