*NOTE: THIS IS THE SAME STORY AS 'RHULA THE SWORD BEARER'. I JUST CHANGED THE NAME SO IT'S ON A NEW DOCUMENT. PLEASE READ THIS ONE BECAUSE THIS IS THE STORY I WILL BE UPDATING!*
TONN GRIAN MEANS SUN WAVE IN IRISH. [:
My old dad is always saying that each winter is worse than the last. I think it may just be the strength easing away from his old bones, making him colder more easily. Of course, I wouldn't say that to his face, if'n I didn't want to get slapped into next season. Sometimes I wish I could've seen him in his fightin' days. Oh, what a sight that wouldn've been! Hah! But for now we rest and wait for Brother Ruber and his trainee cooks to prepare our annual winter feast. Many of us have already done our duties around the Abbey, such as puttting up banners, cleaning tables and furniture, sprucing up the decorations, and what not. Abbess Bree took it upon herself to head out with yours truly and catch our grayling. And by the fur, that beast was a fighter! We pulled it around, or it pulled us around, for who knows how long until we finally got it under control. What a feast it will be with that fish as our main dish! Ruber was ecstatic when we brought the grayling in. He loves something big to cook, as always. For now however, as it gets dark, we all wait for the signal that supper is ready! Then it'll really begin. There will be games and races and eating and drinking and merriment all around. How I love Redwall's feasts. Considering I am Recorder of the Abbey, I have been compiling and searching for tales to add the the already growing story of our newest Abbeybeast, Rhula Sunwave. The otter came to us a while ago, around when my parents married. Well, I suppose considering I am already nearly finished, would you like to come read what I have composed about Rhula? It's a great tale if I do say so myself. Mother Abbess Bree read it first and said it was marvelous. It's a bit long, but believe me, it's very captivating and romantic and adventurous and...wait. I think I should end here before I babble on too much, and run out of ink.
Recorder of Redwall Abbey
Book One: Beginnings
Terrified screams rent the air as the ship pulled alongside the otter holt’s vessel. Any beast with eyes could see they were corsairs. The vermin lined the decks, covered from head to tail in weapons, with eager, bloodthirsty smiles on their torn, ugly faces. A pretty, young ottermaid gritted her teeth and ran to the tiller where her father, Novva Sunwave stood barking out orders to the otter crew, his face taut with anger. Novva was something to behold. He was larger than most sea otters, with half an ear missing and dangerous dark eyes. Yet, he could be the gentlest creature in the world, but this was not one of those times. He beckoned the maid over and pushed one of his long, sharpened swords he kept strapped to either side of his belt into her trembling hands.
“'Ere Rhula, take this.” He ordered with a pleading look in his dark eyes. “Find your mother an’ take ‘er an’ the others into the longboat. Get them out o’ here!”
Rhula looked down at the shining weapon and looked back up at him, squinting when the sun hurt her eyes. “But Dad, what ‘bout you? An’ the crew?” She couldn’t bear to leave him behind with a full ship of pirates. His eyes softened for a moment as he stroked his daughter’s head.
“My Rhula. You’ll do your ol’ dad proud, ye will. Now go! Go!!!” He pushed her backwards and grabbed the tiller, continuing to bellow out to the crew encouragement into battle. The realization of what was happening hit the maid. She turned to run and gasped when a knife flew a hairsbreadth from her head.
The corsairs had boarded.
Racing toward the cabin where her mother and the others of her family were hiding, Rhula bowled over a rat and hit another with the flat of the blade in her wild dash to the other side of the ship. Years of experience on the open sea gave Rhula easy passage through the sea of vermin as she fought her way to the cabin. A skinny stoat came running up to her, yelling wildly. He swung the rapier he was carrying down to the ottermaid, but she ducked and sidestepped, and he fell into the path of a weasel, who was coming at her from behind. Both fell, speared by each other’s weapons. Rhula continued on, dodging and defending whenever she needed a small gash now on her forehead. Finally, she thrust open the door and nearly fell into the arms of her mother, Ferrgale Sunwave. Rhula breathlessly explained the situation to her mother and she and the others of their holt made their way behind Rhula back out into the chaos. Outside, Novva and the other fighting otters had driven a good portion of the corsairs back toward their ship. Rhula brightened up somewhat. They were winning! Then she saw him.
He stood on the railing of his own ship, watching the fight through one wild, black eye, even darker than her father’s. He was a fox, and every inch a corsair. From the patch over his right eye and the ragged clothing, to the curved cutlass that hung at his side and the muscles that rippled under his sleeves. This was not a beast to mess with. Still, Rhula couldn’t help but hate him. She pulled her gaze away from the fox to lead the more helpless otters and her mother to the longboat that hung at the side of the ship. Rhula herded them along; keeping up the back so none would get hurt if some vermin happened to escape the crew’s grasp.
Rhula watched the first two climb down the side and into the boat when she heard a rough shout behind her. The maid turned and gasped. There was the fox pirate, sword out and pointing straight at her. Rhula backed up, urging the others on in a low voice. Her mother heard her and helped hasten the escape. A few of the otter crew turned to look at Rhula, like her father. His eyes were worried. The ottermaid had never seen him look scared of anything. Now however, he was truly afraid. A few of the corsairs, seizing the chance, attacked the crew and made their own escape.
She heard a scream and realized it was her own as she watched her father and the other otters go down in a flurry of claws and swords, fighting for their lives. The fox jumped down from the railing and onto the otters' ship, his eyes boring into Rhula, like they could reach her very soul. Knowing the element of secrecy was long passed, the ottermaid whirled and starting barking out orders, much like Novva, urging her family into the longboat. Rhula hastily pushed her mother in and was about to cut the boat loose when a small squeal broke through the commotion. Then, much like it had a moment before, everything stopped. Rhula didn’t need to turn around to see who had made the noise, but she did anyways, dreading what she would see.
Sure enough, the sight that awaited her made her feel faint, and she grasped the railing for balance. Rhula heard Ferrgale scream behind her, and the others in the boat also shared their surprise. There, in the clawed grasp of the fox pirate, was her little baby cousin Durbarr. He was dangling by the collar of his homespun tunic, giggling and swinging back in forth in the air, oblivious to the point of the cutlass just inches from his throat.
The fox saw the otters’ expressions, and grinned darkly. “Ah,” he hissed in a smooth voice, “I see you know this little one, hmm?”
“Let him go you scum of darkfire!” Rhula heard her father’s cry from behind the fox. However, Novva took one step forward, and the corsair brought the sword closer to Durbarr’s neck. The fox laughed and spoke again, his eyes never leaving Rhula.
“Now, now, what’s with that language in front of the children? We wouldn’t want anything to happen to them, now would we?” He held the tiny otter tighter and closer to him. Rhula growled under her breath, gripping the handle of the long sword tighter until her knuckles ached. She decided to speak, since it seemed no one else would.
“Who are you? Why are you attacking our ship?” Rhula tried to make her voice sound brave and fearless, but seeing her little cousin in his situation made it quiver. She held the sword up to her chest and straightened up, hoping to make herself look more powerful. The fox eyed Ferrgale and the others in the boat behind Rhula, then glanced over to where her father and the crew were standing, some with their hands still wrapped around the vermin. He sighed deeply as if very bored, then looked back at the ottermaid, his voice strong.
“I am Oltar Fireblade. Your ship is mine now, seadog. Either you and you little family here surrender the vessel to me, or Squeaky here will have squeaked his last!” He held up Durbarr higher, the cutlass tickling his throat.
Rhula heard Durbarr's mother sobbing softly in the boat. They were in a dangerous situation. There was no way her father or she would give away their ship to the vermin, but Durbarr’s life was on the line, and a very thin one too. Rhula’s mind raced to think of an idea, when suddenly she noticed something. In the tense situation, no one, not even she had noticed Briggol Shoreflight, her father’s second in command, sneaking up behind the fox with his sharp dirk, as silent as the breeze that floated by on the cool air. Rhula tried not to make herself too aware, as to give away his position, when all of a sudden, Briggol jumped. He landed on Oltar Fireblade’s back and tried to find the dirk purchase in the fox’s fur. When he did, the corsair captain howled in pain.
Dropping Durbarr, he whirled on Briggol, and the fight started again. Novva and the crew began attacking again with greater ferocity, as did the rats, stoats, and other vermin under Oltar’s command. However, Rhula’s eyes were fixed on Briggol as he struggled to grab the dirk that had fallen when he’d been shaken off. She watched in horror as the fox slashed at the otter with his cutlass. But Briggol was small and sleek and avoided all of the fox’s maneuvers with ease.
Suddenly, the ship shuddered and groaned, throwing everybeast flat on their backs. They all stood up quickly and Rhula looked around frantically. Had they run aground? Were there sharks in the waters? Then she saw Oltar grinning and she felt her blood run cold. Briggol was lying on the ground, and the maid turned her head so as not to see where the fox’s cutlass was. The poor otter had been run through when the sword flew out of Oltar’s hands as the ship rocked. Then, Rhula felt something, a burning ferocity rising within her. A rapid burst of revulsion was centered at the fox captain. She picked her father's sword and growled fiercely, but before anything could happen, the ship shuddered again.
Ferrgale confirmed her daughter’s worst fears when she cried that there were holes in the ship’s side. Holes from sharp rocks under the water. No! They had been too distracted by the corsairs that nobeats noticed the ship had drifted toward the dreaded Dead Rocks - a large group of rocks both under and above the water - and into the current.
They were sinking, and not only that, but they were being pulled by the current toward the huge rocks above the water, and fast. However, Novva and the crew seemed to take no hold of the situation. Instead they threw themselves into the bunches of corsairs and the battle resumed, this time, Oltar resuming his place on the railing, encouraging his vermin to fight. Rhula immediately started untying the longboat from the ship and placed Durbarr next to his mother, but the waves were roughening. They splashed over the sides of the lurching, doomed vessel, and Rhula was almost thrown under by a monster swell that threatened to flip the entire longboat.
The ottermaid looked around wildly and decided to use the sword to chop the rope. It came apart with a loud snap and the longboat was flung at her by another wave. It hit with tremendous force, and Rhula immediately came up for breath. Then, she saw the rocks more clearly. They were gigantic things, sticking up out of the sea like jagged teeth. She saw her father hacking away at oncoming vermin as the deck filled with water, ignoring his own deep wounds. Within seconds the ship would be ripped apart by the rocks. Rhula threw herself at the longboat, pushing it as best she could out to sea. She heard her mother’s cries to her daughter to get on the boat, but Rhula ignored her. Then, the longboat was pulled away from her grasp by the current, in the same direction as the ship…to the rocks.
Rhula grabbed at the rigging on the snapping mast of the vessel and tried to steady herself as best she could. For a moment, she looked at Novva and they locked eyes, his pleading into hers, telling his beloved daughter to get away if she still could. Then, a massive, resounding moan ran through the ship, followed by an earsplitting crash, and Rhula was thrown off the rigging and into the rough waves. Seawater filled her ears, her nose, and she struggled to get to the surface. Rhula gasped for breath when she broke through and quickly shoved her dad’s sword through her belt. Then another swell pulled her under.
Rhula felt the shooting pain as she was thrashed against something, and everything began to go dark. The light from above the water grew dimmer, and she fought with the last strength she had to reach the top, but her limbs felt limp, useless. She heard the sound of rushing water, like waves pounding on the shore, and then, nothing.
One week later...
The sky was a black and starless, and the waves broke on the shore with a vengeance. A lone ottermaid stood on the sea cliff, her deep green tunic blowing in the sharp wind, her eyes shining. Her gaze was fixed on a huge fox on the sand below her. He was laughing maniacally and waving his sword at the maid. The sword glowed a bloody red, the same color as he. Suddenly, a longboat appeared on the waves, its occupants unseen but shouting to the ottermaid, begging her to join them. She leapt to the shore and tried to follow, but was blocked by the evil fox, his voice beckoning her to battle him. Then, a crash reverberated from out on the sea, and the longboat was lost from view. The ottermaid fell to the ground, unconscious, and the fox disappeared completely, only his glowing blade left on the dark sand, and a voice was heard on the wind, whispering softly, “Sunwave…Sunwave…”
Skipper of Otters sat up so quickly in his bead that his head spun. He tried to catch his breath and slow his fleeting heart. What a strange dream he’d had. Skipper tried to gather his thoughts and stood up slowly, looking toward the window in his room where the first faint rays of dawn were peeking over the trees of Mossflower Woods. He wasn’t normally up this early, but there was no chance of falling asleep again, and he certainly didn’t want to look upon that wicked fox. However, the ottermaid’s face was locked in his mind. Dream or no dream, something in him longed to know who she was. He stepped out of his room, wrapping the warm brown tunic around him, and made his way down the stairs to Great Hall. Perhaps Martin could help.
The great tapestry of Martin the Warrior hung silent and watchful in the empty Hall, almost as if it were waiting for someone to come to it. Skipper sighed and looked up at the woven picture of Redwall’s great warrior. The mouse had a carefree smile upon his face, but his eyes shone with wisdom and kindness. “So Martin,” Skipper whispered halfheartedly, “any advice?”
He stared at the face of the ancient mouse, but nothing happened. Skipper shook his head and sat down on the cold stone floor, but suddenly, a single ray from the rising sun pierced through a window in the hall and illuminated the sword, which Martin had by his side, in a bright golden shine. Skipper was taken aback. Surely, this was Martin saying something, but what?
The large otter stood and chuckled. “Oh Martin. You either say something in a riddle, or nothing at all.”
“But if he just gave you a straight answer, there would be no adventure now would there?” The voice behind Skipper startled him into whirling and tripping over his own tunic. It was Badgermum Misera ambling into Great Hall, a soft smile on her hard, battle scared features. Misera had fought many a war while serving as Badger Lady in the great mountain fortress of Salamandastron, but now she had retired to the Abbey to protect and guide for the Abbeybeasts.
Skipper grinned sheepishly. “Now milady. Don’t you know it’s bad to scare a beast right out of his half awake hide?” She strode up to him, and he felt dwarfed by Misera’s immense presence. She laughed and patted the otter’s back.
“I am sorry Skip, but I couldn’t help but overhear you whispering to our friend Martin there.” She gestured to the now lit up tapestry.
Skipper shook his head. “It was a dream Misera. I couldn’t see the purpose of it, so I’d thought it’d be best to ask the Warrior for a little recommendation.”
The badger shook her grizzled head too. “Dreams are not for me. You would need to ask Abbot Ivan about that. He’s the master of dreams.” She chuckled and led Skipper to the kitchens. “I can smell Friar Rikk’s cooking already. You know, that trainee he’s got, little Ruber? I can tell that young rip will become an excellent cook when the time comes.”
Skipper immediately reverted to a good mood. “Hah! If his hotroot soup is as half as good as Friar Rikk’s, then I’ll have to give him a gold medal myself!”
The two friends laughed and joked and exited Great Hall to follow their noses into the kitchens of Redwall Abbey. All the while, the tapestry of Martin the Warrior watched them, the great mouse's eyes softening as they left, and the smile on his face seemed to grow slightly. All was nice and quiet as morning snuck its way in, but all things would soon change, beginning with a visitor.
The hot sun was now beginning to set over Redwall Abbey, its rays lighting up the red stone walls to a brilliant bright scarlet. Abbeybeasts dozed by the pond under the great oaks, while some bustled around, getting the feast ready. Abbot Ivan had proposed the night before that there would be a feast that night, to celebrate they times of happiness and peace that the Abbey had sustained for so long. There was going to be food galore, and although the usual grayling wouldn't be present this time, Friar Rikk had prepared a delicious, and enormous, pumpkin pie that made beasts drool at the thought of it. The decorations in Great Hall were marvelous and set up nicely, and the tables had been straightened and cleaned. The stone floors shone with a beauty, and the windows cast a soft light into the Hall, making it the perfect setting for a banquet of any kind.
Father Abbot Ivan sat with his back against an oak, watching two bright green dragonflies twirl and dance across the surface of the otherwise still Abbey pond. His companion was the short, chubby little gatehouse keeper, Sister Ella. The sister had lived nearly as long as the Abbot himself, maybe longer, and in her old age loved nothing more than dozing on the green grasses of the abbey courtyard and sneaking out scones from the kitchens when Friar Rikk isn't looking. The two had been friends since they were Dibbuns, and knew everything about one another. Ivan watched his sleeping cohort, he knew perfectly well not to disturb her. Instead, he propped Ella up against the oak as she snored lightly, and tiptoed lightly toward the stairs up to the battlements. He loved walking along the top around the Abbey, gazing over Mossflower Woods and down at the Abbeybeasts peacefully going about their duties. In fact, he was so endorsed in his own happiness that he didn't notice the large male otter standing in front of him until they collided, both tumbling to the ground.
Abbot Ivan shook his head violently, almost knocking off his glasses, trying to regain his senses. he was pulled onto his feet by Skipper of Otters. Skipper brushed the Abbot of dust, apologizing over and over. Ivan smiled and patted Skipper on his broad shoulder.
"Hah, do not worry my young friend. Wasn't your fault. How can your Abbot see over the Abbey's duties if he cannot see in front of him, eh?" The two friends laughed and began walking. Although he was smiling, Ivan noticed a troubled look in Skipper's eyes. He placed his hand on the otter's shoulder and asked with concern, "What is troubling you, Skip? I have noticed it all day. Something in your eyes."
Skipper sighed. "In all honesty Father Abbot, I don't know. I had a dream last night with a fox and an ottermaid on the shore of the ocean and voices calling from a longboat. I know it sounds like muddle, but I can't get the maid's face out of my head. If she's real, I want to know who she is, and that fox too. Lady Misera told me to ask you about it, since I asked Martin, but all I got was a sun ray on his sword." Skipper sat down on the rampart. "I'm confused Father. It's been bothering me all day long."
The Abbot sat down beside his friend, eyes full of sympathy. He looked Skipper in the eyes and called the otter by his real name. "Tavish, my boy, you are young and inexperienced when it comes to understanding visions and dreams. However, you are smart enough to try to. I cannot decipher this for you, but trust me, I am more than willing to help. If Martin has sent you a sign in some form or another, it must be gravely important."
Tavish, preferably called Tav, grinned at the Abbot and stood up, helping the wise old mouse up with him. "Thank you Father. Perhaps I can get Badgermum Misera to help too. She is, after all, just as old and wise as you are."
Ivan gasped in mock astonishment as the two made their way across the rampart. "Old? Now who are you calling old you great rudderwhalloper?"
Tav gave the Abbot a playful shove. "I'm calling you old, you chubby excuse for an Abbot."
"Now you've gone to far, me boy. Move along before I push you over the wall!" Skipper laughed as Ivan pushed him forward, and ran off, not hearing the Abbot mumble, "Excuse for an Abbot my whiskers!" However, now that he was alone, he was left to ponder with what Tav had said. The ottemaid had seemed of great importance to him. Perhaps she was real. Perhaps Martin was sending him a sign. What did any of this mean? Abbot Ivan shook his weary head and cleared his mind, focusing solely with anticipation for the events later on in the evening.
"Heehee! I be faster'n Mumma Mis'ra!" The little squirrelbabe Tim shrieked as he scampered across the stone floors of Great Hall. Badgermum Misera, for all her power, could not weave through the Abbeybeasts to catch the little one. She slowly walked to her seat beside the larger chair where Father Abbot Ivan sat, a sympathetic look on his old features as the badger approached and sat down. She laughed and smiled at the Abbot.
"I tell you Ivan, it is getting harder and harder every time to play games with these little rascals." Ivan laughed and looked to where the babe was approaching. He eyed Tim with mock seriousness.
"Now, young Timothy, just look what you've done to your poor Badgermum. She's tired and famished from that great chase you have her."
Tim immediately looked sorry for his actions. He shuffled his tiny paws on the floor and looked up at Misera with solemn eyes. "I be very surry Mumma Mis'ra. Me won't do it again!" He then turned and walked off slowly to join some of his fellow Dibbuns at the end of the largest table.
Misera smiled and glanced at the Abbot. "Father, I do think you shouldn't have been so hard on him. I do not think the little chap knew you were kidding around with him."
Ivan looked truly sorry and sighed. "I suppose you're right. Maybe we can cheer him up with some food, eh?"
As if on cue, the bells out in the belltower rang with a high song throughout the Abbey, sounding the beginning of the feast. Everywhere, Abbeybeasts sat with forks upraised and grins plastered on their hungry, eager faces. The first whiffs of food hit them, and then out from the kitchen hall came the plump little Friar Rikk, beaming with pride as his assistants wheeled out the dishes. And so the Feast of Peace began. Grace was said, and the residents of Redwall dug in to the precious entrees that sat before them. They passed around food and chatted amiably with one another.
"Why Foremole, would you like some damselberry pie along with your ale?"
"Boi okey moi stomach be oiken for durmselburry pie."
"My compliments to the Friar on this exquisite dark tea!"
"Father Abbot, I'm believin' you'd like some o' this salad?"
"Salad! Thank you Sister Ella."
Pass down this bowl of hotroot soup to Brecken please."
Brecken, the ottermaid second in command to Skipper of Otters, accepted the bowl of soup almost greedily. Then, she looked around at the otter crew seated around her, a puzzled look on her face. "Where's Skip?" She asked in a high voice?
At that moment, almost everyone became silent, and Great Hall was like a tomb until the Abbot spoke. "He may just be a little late, possibly getting some fresh night air. Our Skipper has had a bit of a trying day."
Most beasts went back to their meals and conversations, believing what their Abbot spoke, but Misera and the crew looked at him with slight worry on their faces. Ivan spoke in a low voice to the badger, "Brecken and I will go find Tav. Can you stay here and keep order for me my friend?"
Misera smiled. "Of course Father. I would not leave my tart unattended anyway."
The Abbot laughed and silently go down from his chair, motioned for the ottermaid to follow him, and quietly exited Great Hall through it's wooden front doors. Once they were outside, they immediately began searching. The Abbot shook his head and spoke in worry to Brecken.
"I am worried Brecken. Skipper is never like this. Now, over the course of a matter of hours, his whole persona has changed and he hides from us at the time of feasting and merriment. I do not understand it, save that it must of been that dream of his."
Brecken nodded. "He hasn't spoken to the crew all day, so I took over. I agree Father Abbot. I'm worried for him too." The otter's eyes flashed as she walked toward the gatehouse, the Abbot behind her. "It's the maid in his dream, that's what it is. Why, if I get ahold of the creature that's causing Skip to feel so distressed, I'll -"
Ivan put a strong hand on Brecken's shoulder. "Now now, missie. We've promised to help him, not bring revenge of some dream beast into the matter. Calm yourself."
Brecken smiled weakly and nodded. "Yes Father Abbot. I'm sorry."
Before she could speak any further though, noises were heard by the Abbey gates. The two headed to investigate. At the huge front gates, speaking in hushed tones, were three figures shrouded in the darkness. Brecken drew out a short knife slowly from her belt, sure they were intruders, and motioned for the Abbot to stay behind her. She poised to pounce at the figures, till one of them turned into the moonlight, and Brecken was surprised to see herself staring into the eyes of Tav. Her jaw dropped along with the knife, and Abbot Ivan laughed and gently pushed the maid aside.
"Well, Brecken, it appears we have been mistaken! Now, Skipper, what was with scaring us like that? Half of the Abbey had the mind to think you had run off!"
Tav immediately stopped grinning. "I'm sorry Father. It's just, Brother Verne here wanted me to come see a new visitor, and apparently he knows Badgermum Misera."
The big otter stepped aside to reveal an old, cloaked, male squirrel standing next to Brother Verne, the Abbey's hedgehog gatehouse keeper. Verne smiled and put a spiky arm around the frail creature.
"Father Abbot, Brecken, I would like you to meet a friend of our own Badgermum's, and a traveling fiddler, Rinje Quickbreeze. he has come here to bring us news from Salamandastron."
Brecken's eyes widened at the sound of the great seaside fortress. "Salamandastron! Somebeast must go get Misera!" When no one moved, Brother Verne sighed and ambled off toward Great Hall, mumbling to himself.
"Well, I supose if everyone is too lazy to move their stumps, I'll do it myself! Too much tart I'd say..."
The others left behind laughed at the gatehouse keeper's mutterings, before turning to their guest.
The Abbot looked Rinje Quickbreeze up and down, his soft eyes calculating the squirrel's appearance. He was not one to judge quickly, but Misera had said that after so much peace at Redwall, someone or something could come along and mess everything up.
"Welcome to Redwall Abbey, friend. May I say that it is such a feat for you to come all this way from Salamandastron to bring us news. Why did Lord Southstar not send on of his Long Patrol hares here instead?"
The old squirrel grinned, showing a mouth of surprisingly sharp, white teeth in the moonlight. "I have one thing that those hares would never even come close to...stealth. Southstar always sends me on important, prompt-tu missions because he knows I am the only one who could get to Redwall without causing some sort of commotion. I am sorry Father Abbot, but I must wait to find Misera, then I may tell both of you of our predicament."
"Predicament?" Brecken injected, curiosity dripping from her voice.
Tav, Skipper of Otters, looked very interested as well, but Ivan stepped in. "We must wait until Brother Verne returns with our Badgermum before our friend here can tell us the news. Please be patient."
Brecken crossed her arms and sighed. She ventured a glance at Tav, who was looking around the shadowy Abbey grounds, listening and watching. She couldn't help but notice the brawny strength of the otter, the way his dark eyes brimmed with confidence and spirit, the huskiness of his voice when he spoke...Brecken shook her head. She mustn't be thinking like that. Skipper was her friend and leader. She didn't deserve someone like him, but just maybe...
Before long, the awkward silence was broken and the gatehouse keeper ambled out of the Abbey with Badgermum Misera beside him. When Misera approached, her eyes widened at the sight of the old squirrel, and she rushed to him, Rinje's frail hand embraced in the badger's enormous paws.
"By the fur! Rinje Quickbreeze, you old treewhiffler! I haven't seen he likes of you in half my years! What brings you to Redwall this time of year?" Misera shook the paw of her old friend so hard, the squirrel looked shaken when he spoke.
"Heehee. Well, it's nice to see you to, me beauty." Rinje rubbed his now sore paw. "But I am afraid I am not all too happy to see any of you, not with the news I carry."
Everyone present looked at the fiddler with grim faces as he spoke again. "There are vermin, searats, that have landed north of Salamandastron who have heard of your Abbey. They want it, and they are destroying anything and anybeast in their paths to get here."
Misera's eyes immediately turned hard as stone, Brecken patted Abbot Ivan's paw in reassurance, who had his paw on Brother Verne's shoulder, and Tav stood alone, his face a picture of anger and defiance.
"Thank you for the information my friend, but I would suggest us talking over this in other quarters." She turned to the hedgehog. "Perhaps in the gatehouse where we can fetch some food and water for our friend here, Brother Verne?"
The keeper smiled and nodded. "Right away marm. I suppose the old Friar wouldn't mind giving up some vittles for a weary traveler." And once again, the loyal little gatehouse keeper moseyed off to the kitchens.
Misera smiled as she watched him go. "What a good Redwaller our Verne is, eh Father?"
Ivan smiled too. "Yes, Misera. Now, let us go to the gatehouse. This one looks bound to faint any moment." He motioned to Rinje Quickbreeze, who was indeed very tired, and the five friends headed off to the gatehouse in the dark, eager to hear more information on this suddenly ominous threat to their beloved Abbey.
Far beyond the safe confines of Redwall Abbey, on the shores north of the great mountain fortress Salamandastron, a young ottermaid about Tav's age was waking up. Her body was bruised and battered from the waves. She stood up slowly, groaning when her limbs protested. The shore was dark and the stars were her only light. The maid looked around, confused. Where was she? What had happened to her. The ottermaid collapsed back onto the sand, her eyes fluttering from exhaustion. Suddenly, she heard screams, shouts, and clanging swords in her head, and the images of a ship crashing into rocks sprang vividly in front of her sight. The maid screamed as the haunting sounds and pictures took over her mind.
Just as quickly as they came, the chaos faded from the ottermaid's mind, and she curled up on the sand, crying as the images took their effect. And there she lay for the remainder of the night, helpless and exhausted, waiting for sleep to come. Little did she know she was being watched, by a pair of soft eyes, watching and waiting to help.
The sky was a black and starless, and the waves broke on the shore with a vengeance. A lone otter stood on the sea cliff, his warm brown tunic blowing in the sharp wind, his eyes shining. The otter's gaze was fixed on a huge fox on the sand below him. He was laughing maniacally and waving his sword at the otter. The sword glowed a bloody red, the same color as he. Suddenly, a longboat appeared on the waves, its occupants unseen but shouting to the otter, begging him to join them. He leapt to the shore and tried to follow, but was blocked by the evil fox, his voice beckoning the otter to battle him. Then, a crash reverberated from out on the sea, and the longboat was lost from view. The otter fell to the ground, unconscious, and the fox disappeared completely, only his glowing blade left on the dark sand, and a voice was heard on the wind, whispering softly, “Sunwave…Sunwave…” Then the voice changed to a higher, more mouse-like voice. It was strange, not soothing, dangerous maybe...
The ottermaid leapt out of the bed, pinning a stunned mousemaid to the ground, the otter's sword at her throat. Before she knew what was happening, the poor mouse was pleading, begging for her life.
"Oh! Please, d-don't hurt me miss! Y-you can have my tart, the cordial, a-anything! Just p-please don't h-hurt me!" The mousemaid, who turned out to be much older than the otter, was shaking uncontrollably under the ottermaid's fierce stare. Realizing what she was doing, the ottermaid stood up quickly and helped up the frightened mouse, who had spilt the strawberry cordial all over the floor of the small house the two were in. The ottermaid brushed off the little mousemaid, who was still recovering from her near-death experience.
At the sound of the mousemaid's scream, her husband, a just as small, chubby little thing, came rushing in, covered in dirt and smelling like flowers. He surveyed the situation and saw his wife, her eyes wide and cordial all over her smock, and next to her the ottermaid they had rescued, sword in paw, and an equally surprised expresion on her face.
"What happened?" He asked, completely clueless.
The ottermaid was about to apologize when the mousemaid spoke up. "It was nothing, my dear. Only a bit of a misunderstanding." She tried hard to keep her voice from shaking.
Her husband nodded, looked at the ottermaid, and smiled. "Well, I see our little warrior here is awake. Do you know it's been two days since we found you on the shore? Well of course you wouldn't, you've been asleep! Silly me..."
The ottermaid couldn't help but smile at the mouse's ramblings. "I'm sorry if I caused any alarm." Then she looked around, suddenly looking confused and skeptical. "Where am I?"
The mousemaid, now very warm to the young otter, patted her shoulder. "Why dearie, this is our home. We live in the foret just off the ocean shore. Last night we found you on the beach, all curled up and shivering, and brought you here." The motherly mouse motioned to the curved sword the ottermaid still had clutched in her paw. "I think, however, we would both appreciate it if you put the sword down, for safety reasons is all."
The ottermaid gently set the sword on the bed. The mousemaid's husband put an arm around his wife and motioned for the otter to sit. She did, and the other two pulled up chairs. Clearly they were in for a long conversation. The male mouse spoke first.
"I am Boqved, and this is my wife Evy. We are peaceful woodlanders who do not see many creatures other than mice like ourselves around here, until we met you. You are free to stay as long as you please, but first we must know who you are."
Nodding, the ottermaid looked at Boqved and his wife, and spoke. "My name is...is...." She trailed off, then her eyes widened.
Evy gasped. The maid didn't remember who she was. How was she supposed to remember anything else if not her own name? The mouse looked at her husband. "Boqved! She doesn't remember! The poor dear, what do we do?"
Boqved knelt down in front of the ottermaid, looking her straight in the eyes. "Miss, do you know your name? Do you know anything?"
The maid slowly shook her head, tears coming to her eyes. She couldn't remember a thing, and she was scared. Evy could clearly see that, and embraced the maid out of maternal instincts. "It's okay dearie. Everything will be okay." As she patted the maid's head, Evy felt the bandage that ran around one ear and along the back of the ottermaid's head. She had been bleeding from a head wound when they had found her.
Evy looked at Boqved. "The bandage! Boqved, when she hit her head, she must have lost her memory!"
Boqved nodded solemnly. Now that it was gone, it could be hard for the maid to get her memory back, if it came back at all. The mouse forced himself not to think like that, but it was better to prepare for the worst. He left to fetch some new cordial and a few freshly baked rolls for their visitor. Meanwhile, Evy decided to give the ottermaid a name herself. She wore a deep green tunic that was ripped and dirtied. Her belt held a long sheath for the strangely beautiful curved sword that lay on the bed, but what fascinated Evy the most was the gold band around the maid's right arm. It was intricately carved with suns and waves below them, no doubt a sign of her heritage. She bore nothing else but a small Freesia flower tucked into her belt. How it stayed there through all the tossing and battering she must have recieved in those waves Evy did not know, but she did know a name for her, at least until she hopefully recovered her memory.
"Freesia!" She said enthusiastically.
The ottermaid looked at the mouse like she had two heads. "Pardon me marm?"
Evy smiled warmly. "It's your new name, dearie. Of course, if you're alright with it."
"Yeah, I am." The ottermaid nodded. "For now though. Freesia. It's pretty." Suddenly, she looked down at the flower on her belt, her eyes lighting up. "Freesia! That's the flower my mother gave me on my birthday a week ago..."
The maid looked up at Evy and they both locked eyes. "You remembered." Evy whispered.
The ottermaid, now called Freesia, nodded, and Boqved entered the room. He looked at the two of them and asked, "What happened?" for the second time that day.
Freesia laughed. "I remembered where I got the flower from. My mother. A week ago..." She trailed off again. Her mother. There was something she longed to remember, but it just wouldn't come. Boqved saw the maid was troubled, and held out the tray of cordial and rolls.
"Here. You look famished, and this'll probably help. Please, enjoy."
Freesia took the offered vittles and ate and drank furiously. It had been days since she had eaten, and the only drink she'd had was the bitter saltwater swallowed in the waves. To get even a semi-decent meal was plenty good for her. When the maid had eaten her fill, she looked up to see the two mice staring at her. Never had they seen a beast with such a voracious appetite, save for the hares, but that was their nature.
"Um, thank ye kindly." Freesia stuttered, embarrassed. "I haven't eaten in a while."
Evy beamed like a mother watching her little child. "I understand dearie. Now you rest and I will go prepare dinner. The sun's almost setting you know!"
With that ending note, the little motherly mousemaid left the room. Boqved sat beside Freesia, fascinated by the curved blade. The ottermaid saw his longing and smiled. "You can look at it if you want, but please be careful."
Boqved nodded and picked up the sword slowly, almost reverently. He examined it in front of him, his eyes narrowing, trying to decipher the intricate writing on the blade. "This...why this looks like it was written in the old Northern tongue. There are very few beasts who can read this nowadays!"
Freesia bent down to examine the writing as well, interested in the mystery of it. "Really? I never did know what that was." She stroked the writing lightly, suddenly amazed by it, how beautifully it was carved, the way it shone in the rays of the setting sun shining through the window. Boqved looked up at the ottermaid, his eyes kind.
"I can tell you want answers young one. I may be able to help."
Freesia met his eyes and nodded. Any good advice would help right now. Boqved continued. "There is an Abbey, Redwall Abbey if I got the name correct, southeast of here. There are many wise and helpful creatures there, and probably a few otters like yourself. They could help you find your memory and whatever else you need, as I am afraid my wife and I are no help to you save for food and shelter." The mouse chuckled at his statement, but Freesia looked at him solemnly and placed a paw on his.
"No, you're more than that. You rescued me and gave me sanctuary when I was alone and helpless. You're every bit as good as those Abbeybeasts." She smiled at it, a smile of true thankfulness.
Boqved smiled back. "Why thank ye kindly miss. I do suggest you make your way to the Abbey. There are plenty of woodlanders around here who will help you on your way." The ottermaid nodded quickly, still smiling.
The happy moment was shattered when a shout was heard in the distance. Freesia and Boqved stood quickly. Evy ran into the room, her eyes wide with fright.
"Quick! We must get to the cellar! They're coming!"
Freesia was confused by what was happening, but found herself running with the two mice into the trees. There she found a well hidden wooden door that led to a cellar in the roots of a huge oak tree. Evy climbed down into the drafty, yet roomy space in the ground, then Boqved, but Freesia stopped.
"Freesia! Hurry in dearie!" Evy cried, but the ottermaid turned and bolted toward the house.
"The sword!" was the only thing the mouse couple heard before she was lost from their sight.
Freesia darted into the room where the sword lay. However, she was shocked to see two rats standing in the doorway across from her. They stared at her, neither expecting the other to be there. More vermin joined them and Freesia dove onto the bed, grabbed the curved sword, and turned to see the rats charging at her. She launched herself off the bed and on top of the tatooed vermin. They screeched in pain as Freesia sliced through the fray, taking down three in one long stroke of the powerful blade. The sight of the crazed, sword-bearing ottermaid wasn't enough to frighten the quartet of weasels who invaded the room as well, and they ran over their fallen comrades to get to the maid.
Freesia saw them and charged, whirling the blade like she had done so all her life. Within seconds, three were dead, and a fourth lay on the floor, gasping for air and trying to cover up his mutilated side. No more vermin came, and Freesia dropped the sword, her sudden bloodlust gone. Her legs gave out and she fell to the floor beside the dying weasel. He glanced over at her and, despite his condition, started laughing maniacally.
"You think you've one, don't you waterdog? You think you're so powerful, eh?"
Freesia eyed him oddly, then narrowed her eyes. "What're you saying, vermin?"
He laughed again, more choked up this time as the injury was getting to him. "Don't act like you don't know. The great Fireblade will kill you and all woodlanders like he did your little family up north."
Suddenly, something struck home. Freesia's eyes widened. The screams, the crashing blades, the ship against the rocks, it all came back to her in a tumbling mass of horror, crashing through the barriers of her memory. The ottermaid screamed and whirled her blade at the weasel. No more would he talk and say such terrible things.
Freesia ran out of the little house, fresh tears lining her eyes, threatening to fall. Those terrifying images she'd seen that night on the beach were back, but she still couldn't remember anything else. It was so frustrating not to remember! The ottermaid shook her head, trying to rid herself of the pictures and sounds in her head. She half stumbled back to where the cellar was, but upon reaching it, she found no one. The doors were flung open, but neither of the mice were there. The stench that had reeked from the vermin in the house reached her again, and Freesia fell to her knees.
"Why?" She whispered brokenly. "Why did those innocent beasts get taken and I'm left here?" She looked up at the darkening sky. "What did they do?" Freesia asked in a now harsh whisper. There she was again, alone in the dark, with nothing but her broken memory and the sword with the carven words to accompany her.
Freesia thought carefully of her next move. It was obvious that there were more vermin where those had come from. She couldn't go on a one beast rescue mission. What about that Abbey Boqved had told her about? Yes! The good beasts at Redwall would certainly want to help rescue her two captured friends. Freesia stood and looked back up at the starry sky, her eyes hard and determined as she walked off into the woods.
Tavish stood on the rampart of Redwall Abbey's west wall, the early morning breeze cool and cleansing on his tired body. Rinje Quickbreeze's information about the oncoming horde led by the so called 'Oltar Fireblade' had completely ruined what was supposed to be a celebratory night. Badgermum Misera and Abbot Ivan had gone back to Great Hall to finish the feast along with Brother Verne, but the old squirrel had insisted on leaving that night, so he had not joined them. Tav heard Brecken's footsteps as she climbed the stairs to the walltop before he saw her. He sighed. The maid was a good companion and a loyal fighter, but Tav had the feeling she felt more for him than he did for her. By no means was he trying to be rude, but it just wasn't meant to be that way, and Brecken was hard to dissuade.
"Skipper? You okay up here?" He heard Brecken whisper softly behind him. Oh dear, he thought, this isn't going to be good. He sighed and turned, and saw that Brecken had changed into a pretty, dark blue tunic that reflected her dark eyes in the moonlight. Tav had to stop himself from groaning with frustration.
"Yeah. I'm fine. Just a little tired." Tav leaned against the wall. Brecken nodded and moved to stand next to him, a little too close. She sighed and looked up at the crescent moon.
"It's been an odd day, ain't it Skip?" She laughed softly, and Tav laughed halfheartedly with her. The ottermaid continued. "What about that old squirrel, Quickbreeze? And that news..." She shivered at the thought of it and drew closer to Tav, who was becoming increasingly uncomfortable.
"Eh, yeah...not the kind of news you want to hear everyday mate." Tav saw Brecken wince when he called her 'mate'. She clearly didn't want to be regarded as his friend, his comrade, his second in command. He continue carefully. "But, you nearly had me scared to death sneaking up on us earlier. You're a mighty good fighter, Brecken."
The compliment seemed to just make the ottermaid angry. She sighed heavily and moved away from her Skipper. "Thanks Skip. I think I'll just head down to the kitchens and see if'n old Rikk has anymore hotroot soup." With that, Brecken was gone, down the stairs and off to Great Hall.
Tav sighed and sunk down to the bricks, leaning his head back and gazing up at the moon. What am I going to do with her? He thought. Now, though, Skipper of Otters had more important things on his mind. Although they had agreed to hold a Warriors' Council tomorrow in Cavern Hole, Tav couldn't stop thinking about Quickbreeze's ominent news. And that Fireblade...could it really be the fox from his dream? Was the horde Quickbreeze said was as large as that of Ungatt Trunn's actually heading to Redwall?
Tav shook his tired head and made his way down the stairs himself, hungry and needing some company, other than that of Brecken. The breeze was strengthening, and Tav shivered as he jogged across the Abbey grounds. Autumn was coming to and end soon, and no doubt about that. They needed to have the fall harvest within the next two weeks before the snows came. When would the fox's horde reach Redwall? Before or during the snows? No one had any answers, and as Tav entered the dimly lit Great Hall, he saw the Abbeybeasts who still hung about were tired and in no modd to think of approaching vermin.
He saw Misera Badgermum helping a half asleep Brother Rikk up the stairs to the dormitories. Abbot Ivan was chatting Misera and the squirrel Kayra Redleaf in low voices. Tav didn't have to guess what they were talking about. A few other Abbeybeasts hung about, putting away the remains of the apparently successful feast, but no others were there. Cavern Hall was now a place of solitude and seriousness.
Tav approached the Abbot, who bore a very serious look on his face. Kayra was shaking her head, no doubt she knew the story now. Skipper put a comforting paw on the squirrel's shoulder. "Don't you worry marm. We'll get through this somehow."
Abbot Ivan smiled half-heartedly. "I don't think you feel as sure as you sound, Skip."
Kayra laughed. "Don't worry Father Abbot, he's just trying to be optimistic. You can't blame him for that." Tav grinned comically, and Ivan couldn't help but laugh too.
"I suppose not. We all should be getting some rest though. Tomorrow we can talk about war and such things."
With that, he was up to his room, followed by Kayra Redleaf. Tav sighed. Once again, he was the only one up with too much on his mind to go to sleep. Tav sat tiredly down on a bench and looked out one of the windows of Great Hall, his mind thinking back to what the old squirrel had said about the vermin horde. Rinje had said that they were the "most bloodthirsty, ragged rabble of vermin I had ever had the displeasure to slap my poor eyes on."
Tav smiled at the memory of the little creature's words, despite the meaning of them. The horde was huge and dangerous, as all searats were. Skipper of Otters had been in little battles, mere run-ins with vermin, but never all out war. How was he, inexperienced in the art of large-scale battles, supposed to protect the Abbey against that fox's might? He knew it.
Help. Redwall needed help, and Tav knew just where they would find it.
Oltar Fireblade, fox corsair leader of the seavermin horde, stood tall and proud on a hilltop, surveying his hordebeasts as they bumbled around, clearing spots to sleep, warming their paws over fires, or scrabbling over a hunk of meat. Oltar was a sight to behold. A long scar across his face and the many scratches all over his body showed that he had been fighting, and winning, for a long time. His black eyes were piercing and unmerciful, as he always was. The corsair bore three daggers on a strap across his back, a long rapier on a strap going the opposite way, and his favorite weapon, a sharp curved cutlass he kept in a sheath at his side. Oltar gripped the cutlass impatiently. Where were the scouts he'd sent out earlier? They should be back by now!
A small, hunched figure approached him from behind and limped to the side of the fox lord. She was a fox, just like himself, and a herbalist, the only one Oltar confided in, although he did not completely trust her. She looked up at him, her eyes glowing strangely red in the moonlight. Her voice was quiet and raspy.
"My lord. The scouts. They have not yet returned?"
The corsair rolled his eyes. "Yes Rutera, I can see that. What news do you have of that otter we captured from the raid?"
Rutera stiffened. If she told her master the wounded otter escaped, she was dead. Then, if she lied, the torture would be worse than death. Thankfully, her hide was saved when Oltar spotted the scouts he'd sent come out from the cover of the trees.
"Ah! There they are. You can tell me later my healer. I must go greet them."
The vixen exhaled loudly. Thank goodness for the interruption. It wasn't the first time her life had been spared. She watched as the corsair strode down the hill and through the camp, rats standing straight to attention as he passed by.
Oltar approached three vermin dragging along two fat little mice, hugging each other and shaking in fear. The fox looked the two rats and a ferret over, quickly becoming annoyed again. "Three? I sent ten of you worthless creatures out to scout, and three return?" the scouts started getting nervous as the Fireblade's voice rose.
"Did you run into a bunch of bally badger lords!?! You are trained soldiers, corsairs! What, did these things manage to kill off seven of you?" He thrust a paw toward the mice, his eyes seering into the vermin as one of the rats made his report in a shaky, uncertain voice.
"Your mightiness...w-we scouted, as you asked, a-and found th-these two up near the c-c-coast." Oltar shook his head and closed his dark eyes in exasperation and motioned for the rat to continue. "B-but there was a-a-an otter sire..."
The fox's eyes snapped open and he leaned toward the rat, a leering grin on his scarred features. "Please, tell me more..." he hissed. The rat, named Fligg gulped audibly and quickly nodded.
"S-she came out of nowhere, o Dark One. S-six of ours went in, but she slayed them within seconds sire. I managed to get away and found the mice hiding in a cellar. We caught them and brought them back to you! I swear upon Dark Forest, that otter had the Bloodwrath my lord! The Bloodwrath it was as she killed them in one stroke of her mighty..." Fligg's frightened tirade shriveled under Oltar's gaze.
The corsair stood up straight and examined the three who had made it back to camp. More vermin were gathering, interested in the tale of the berzerk otter. Fireblade spoke, his voice reeking with sarcasm.
"So...let me get this straight...seven of you were slain by a wild ottermaid. You escaped with those two and brought me back mice. Mice...and no otter." Fligg and the others stood stock still, The Fireblade was mad, and Fligg knew what he would ask next.
"There were ten of you. Why didn't you get the otter?" Oltar's voice was light and innocent, but Fligg was rooted to the spot, unable to speak. Dringe, the ferret in the trio, and not a very bright one at that, pointed his index claw up in a matter-of-fact manner, and answered.
"'Cause you'm didn't tell us too, your might'ness."
There were audible gasps from the crowd that had gathered, and Fligg felt ready to pass out. The other rat who had accompanied them, Redskull, groaned under his breath. The fox corsair bristled at Dringe's comment. He relaxed quickly into a sly grin, and gave the ferret a sympathetic look.
"Dringe, me old mate, let me tell you something. When I sent you out, I sent you to scout, to find things of importance, to find places of importance, to find beasts of importance. The otter, my friend, was a beast of importance." No beast saw Oltar draw the cutlass, but he did, and with frightening speed. Fligg winced, sweat rolling down his brow, as the body of Dringe fell to the ground. Oltar looked at the two rats with a terrifying glare.
"Fligg, I spare your life because you gave a report, and you Redskull because you were smart enough to say nothing." The fox turned to the horde of vermin who stood in silence, and spoke in a fearsome voice. "Clearly if this idiot does not know what a beast of importance is, then he is of no importance to me!" Oltar kicked the dead ferret aside. "Let this go for all of you. When I give instructions, I expect them to be followed! Those who disobey me or fail to complete my demands with answer to me, Oltar Fireblade, Commander of Land and Sea!"
The horde chanted back to their leader in unison, the mass of voices seeming to shake the very stars from the sky.
"Oltar Fireblade, Commander of Land and Sea!"
Tav sat bolt upright in his bed, eyes wide and breath coming fast. The otter sighed deeply and put his head in his paws wearily. The dream had come again, and this time there was more. The ottermaid had called his name, a beautiful yet pleading voice. Tav loved the way she said his name...
The Skipper shook his head and climbed out of the bed, all thoughts of sleep gone. Why was he thinking like that? What if this maid wasn't even real. But that wasn't the most troubling part. It sent goosebumps down Tav's spine thinking about the fox. The fox with the flaming blade had struck down the maid, looked at Tav, and laughed, laughed maniacally. The thought of the poor ottermaid got Tav angry, and he had to calm himself before the dream completely took control.
Tav sighed again and went to sit on the windowseat, gazing up at the gorgeous night sky, dotted with stars and a waning moon. His mind began to wander, thinking about a lullaby his mother used to tell him when he was a babe:
- Sleep my little baby,
- don't you fear.
- The stars are watching you,
- from far or near.
- When you can't find your way home,
- look up above.
- The stars are my eyes,
- filled with love.
- Think of me, darling,
- think of me dear.
- And I will be with you,
- no need to fear.
- Sleep my little baby,
- as I sing to you with love.
- The stars are my eyes,
- from above.
Tav felt a tear run down his cheek, and he quickly wiped it away, though no one was watching. The last time he had seen his beloved mother was far back when he was only a mere otter kit. Now she was dead to his best knowledge, poisoned by some unknown scum. His father had run off to find the vermin who killed her, and he had been brought to the Abbey by Iva, Father Ivan's mother. The tears now were from anger as Tav thought of the fateful night to which he had few memories, yet it stuck in his mind as something to torture him every now and then. He smiled ruefully as he thought of a comment made by Kayra just a few days before...
"You have a great life Skip. You're luckier than most!"
Ha! She had no idea of the life he'd had. Tav leaned his head against the window and quietly shed his tears, the beautiful lullaby repeating itself over and over in the poor otter's mind.
The Council of War as under way. Misera Badgermum, Abbot Ivan, Skipper of Otters, Kayra Redleaf, Foremole Bunkel, Tav's crew, and a few assorted others who were educated in the art of battle were gathered in Cavern Hole. They were sitting around the huge wooden table Foremole had officially dubbed as the Table of Warriors. The Father Abbot spoke first.
"Welcome my children, friends. As you know, we have been targeted by one called Oltar Fireblade and his horde, and from the mouth of Rinje Quickbreeze, they are marching here, or are going to."
The Abbot let the message sink in. Foremole was shaking his velvety head, Kayra's eyes were gleaming with hate, Misera was sitting quietly, pondering, and Brecken was watching her Skipper's reaction. Tav remained quiet, however he looked as if he wanted to say something. Ivan continued.
"Since it has come to our fronts, this council has been brought together, and considering we are too few to counter this should the horde decide to attack, it is only obvious that we need outside assistance. Does anyone have anything they would like to present?"
Misera Badgermum cleared her throat, and the Abbot's eyes shifted to her.
"We may ask of help from Salamandastron, Father Abbot."
Tav's eyes widened, and a smile began to form on his lips. She'd taken the words right from his mouth! Without second thought, he blurted out, "I second that decision, Father!"
Abbot Ivan glanced back at Tav. He sighed. "Salamandastron may be a good idea, but it is so far away! The troops may not come in time! Plus whoever we send to them may be at risk of running into the horde themselves!"
Misera saw the light go out of Tav's eyes. She to lost some of the vigor that had been there moments ago. Foremole Bunkel held up a huge digging claw. "If'n oi moight bee ursistoince. Wot about if'n Roidwall gott'm cloiser urmy oind Soilomandoistrun?"
Riverleap Smoothstream, an otter in Tav's crew, laughed at the clueless look on her Abbot's face. "Steady on mate. He's sayin' wot about gettin' help from around the Abbey, and from the ol' mountain too."
Misera laughed as Ivan understood. The Abbot spoke again. "Good thinking Foremole, very good thinking actually. Hmm...we could rally some help from Mossflower to protect the Abbey, while-"
"-a group goes off to Salamandastron to bring troops!" Tav finished for him, excited once again.
Father Abbot eyed the otter with a smile. "And I suppose you'd be the first on the waiting list to go, Skip?"
Tav grinned so hugely, Abbot Ivan was forced to the laugh. "All right, all right. I give you my permission to recruit a party to go to the mountain." The Abbot became more serious. "But you must stay here until we get others to help protect Redwall. I do not want our whole procession of otters roaming off and leaving us defenseless."
Kayra snickered and everyone turned to her. Ivan gave her a quizzical look and she started to laugh. "Father, I think you just hurt our Badgermum's feelings."
The Abbot turned to Misera, who was sitting with a look of mock rejection on her face, and the whole council burst into laughter.
There it was. Just beyond the trees was the Redwall Abbey Boqved had told her about. Freesia grinned and strode forward through the brush. She was one step closer to saving her friends, and completely oblivious to the pair of weasels just beyond her range of hearing.
"Bet'cha me can toss this'ere sword tae the end o' that cleering there!" the dark-furred weasel, Cdurf, bragged to his sandy colored companion, Svilt. Svilt snickered and prodded him with the flat of her dagger. "Bet'cha can't!" She hissed playfully.
Cdurf scoffed and exaggeratedly prepared himself to throw the short sword. He threw the blade with surprising accuracy, just as Freesia was walking through the clearing. The ottermaid had no time to see what the noise was, and the pommel of the blade smacked into the side of her head, knocking her into unconsciousness mere yards from the Abbey.
The two weasels stared at each other, and Svilt jabbed a finger into her companion's arm. "You kilt it! Now what're we gunna do?"
Cdurf looked scared. "We run! Thata be a wat'rdog. They'm wander in groops. The rest o' them be 'round here somwh're!"
Svilt understood. If that otter was in a group, then they didn't want to stick around when the rest of them came back. They would be deadbeasts. With that, the two weasels took off deep into the underbrush of Mossflower, not knowing that, by a stroke of luck, the young ottermaid was alive.
Up on the front rampart of Redwall Abbey, oblivious to the sudden turn of events, a young mousemaid named Oera was skipping down the walltop, singing to herself.
"I once met a vole, who looked like a mole. He lived in a hole, and, and...ran with the Long Patrol!" Oera rambled on, making up the lyrics as she went along. She twirled her blue homespun dress, spinning and spinning until dizziness got the best of her, and she was forced to lean against the brick of the wall. Oera glanced over to see her friend Bree Redleaf, Kayra's daughter, running toward her. The squirrelmaid did a flying cartwheel and landed in a heap beside her friend.
"Oera! What're ye doing up here by yonself?"
The mousemaid smiled and shrugged. "I don't know Bree. Just having an afternoon stroll I suppose."
Bree laughed and looked over the wall. "Gorgeous day to take a stroll. I say, just look at Mossflower, so lively on an afternoon like thi-" She stopped short and gasped. "Oera! Look!"
The two friends looked down over the wall. Oera gasped as well. There, at the edge of the trees, lay an otter.
Bree jumped up and grabbed Oera's paw. "Come! We must tell the Abbot and Misera!" The afternoon had suddenly taken a serious turn.
Father Abbot Ivan and Misera Badgermum stood alongside Tav as the prone form of the ottermaid was brought it on a stretcher. The Abbot's eyes were filled with worry. He hated seeing another creature so helpless. Misera had a comforting paw on his shoulder.
"Do not worry, Father. Sister Neiva is the pride of Redwall for her skill with herbs. She will have this maid up and at 'em in no time." the Badgermum looked down at Bree Redleaf, who stood on Ivan's other side. "That was a responsible thing you did coming to us, Bree."
The squirrelmaid smiled weakly. "Thank ye Misera, but I'm worried for that ottermaid. She's so pretty. I would hate to think the worst for somebeast like her."
Misera chuckled sympathetically. "She will be fine young one, isn't that right Skip? Skipper?"
Tav was not listening to the badger. He was staring at the maid as she was carried into Great Hall. It can't be, he thought. But it was. The maid from his dream was real, and she was at Redwall Abbey.
Skipper of Otters was fast asleep next to the bed of the strange ottermaid who had come to the Abbey about four hours before. She too was sleeping preacefully, deemed in stable condition by Sister Neiva. It took plenty to convince the stubborn sister, but Tav was eventually allowed in to the infirmary to see the maid. He had watched her as she slept, enraptured by the fact that she was, most definitely, the ottermaid from his dream. Now he was out cold, and was being watched by a curious Sister Ella in the doorway, who was soon joined by Misera Badgermum. Ella smiled when she saw Tav and the maid.
"Now, won't ya look'm at that! I'm say our Skipper be'm smitten." The old mouse said with a grin. Misera laughed.
"I think you're right, Ella. Just wait until the maid's awake!"
The two friends walked off laughing just as Sister Neiva came bumbling to Tav's side, another batch of physick in her paws. She gently shook the otter and he jolted awake.
The Sister smiled sympathetically. "You are in the infirmary Skipper. Remember? You had to stay at the maid's side, and you would not take no for an answer."
Tav's cheeks turned a deep red and he stood. "Uh, you're right Sister. I'll just check on, uh, dinner..." With that he was gone. Neiva watched him go, chuckling.
"It is not even lunchtime you lovestruck waterdog."
"I'm not lovestruck..." a sleepy voiced said behind her. Sister Neiva turned in surprise, dropping the physick, to see the ottermaid sitting up crookedly in the bed, her eyes heavy with sleep. The Sister smiled and began cleaning up the sudden mess.
"Not you my dear. Now, while I clean this up...how was your nap?"
The ottermaid looked at the happy old hedgehog strangely. "Wh-where am I?"
Neiva stopped cleaning and looked up, her face motherly. "Why, you are at Redwall Abbey dearie. You were unconscious when we found you and you've been here for a few hours."
"Redwall? Redwall Abbey?" The maid's voice was almost delirious. Sister Neiva realized this and quickly sweeped away the remnants of the physick. She bumbled to the maid's side and placed a cool cloth on her forehead.
"You were hit hard on the side of the head. Do not plague your mind with questions. Just rest and I will have Friar Rikk bring you up some warm vegetable soup. It always clears the mind." Neiva glanced at the maid. "If you do not mind me asking, what is your name, pray?"
"Freesia..." The ottermaid whispered before falling back onto the pillows, pulled back into unconsciousness. The infirmary keeper dabbed her patient's face lightly.
"Freesia. Well, welcome to our Abbey, Freesia." Neiva said gently.
The sun was setting over Redwall, and everybeast was buzzing about the arrival of their newest arrival. Freesia's name was mentioned in every room, and frankly, Abbot Ivan was sick of it. He came bustling into the gatehouse where Misera Badgermum and Brecken sat deep in discussion. The old badger smiled sympathetically and offered the mouse some grapes, a biscuit, and the rest of a glass of cordial.
"Here Father Abbot, please take these. You look hungry."
Ivan laughed weakly as he sat down beside the two. "Thank you Misera. I suppose I have been thinking to much and completely forgotten about eating."
Brecken glared at the floor. "Thinkin' about that stupid maid that everybeast is talkin' about, no doubt." She mumbled.
Misera and Ivan looked at the ottermaid. The Badgermum's eyes widened. "Now Brecken, what's with this kind of talk? It sounds to me like you object to our new arrival. You don't even know her!"
Brecken stood quickly, still glaring. "Well apparently Skipper does." With that, she turned on her heel and stalked out of the gatehouse, all thoughts of conversation blown away.
Abbot Ivan sighed. "Clearly we do not know our friend Brecken as well as we thought we did, Misera." He ate a grape and leaned back on a bookcase. Misera nodded.
"I agree. Do you suppose we should tell the Skipper about this?"
The Abbot chuckled. "Somehow I think Tav already has an idea of what Brecken thinks of him and the maid." He decided to change the subject. "Now, tell me, what were you and the ottermaid speaking about in such serious tones?"
Misera nodded. "I meant to tell you, Ivan. Very early in the morning, I walked out to the Abbey pond for I could not sleep, and a bird, a falcon in fact, landed in the courtyard. He told me he had news from Salamandastron."
"News? What kind of news, Misera?" The Abbot leaned forward in sudden anticipation.
"It is from Lord Southstar. He requests a Council of Mossflower."
"Council of Mossflower?" The mouse was taken aback. "But, but there has not been one since the CORIM in the days of Martin the Warrior! Is the threat of this Oltar Fireblade so horrible that a Badger Lord would call upon those circumstances?"
Misera shrugged. "I don't know Father. However, I see this as an opportunity for Tavish. He was begging to go to Salamandastron. Now that there is an even better reason to go, I say we send him."
"Yes, but it isn't like we can send the entire otter crew with him. We need plenty of protection, Misera."
The badger understood. "Brecken stays behind." She stated simply.
The Abbot nodded. "She will not like it, but she is Skipper's second in command, and therefore must be here with the crew in his absence. Now, we just need a crew of our own to go with him."
Misera smiled. "I'm glad you took this so lightly, Father Abbot. Now, we must go see if the maid they call Freesia is awake. I don't think she has had a proper introduction to the Abbot of Redwall yet, eh?"
Ivan laughed. "Come, my old friend. Let's pay her a visit."
The two friends exited the gatehouse, laughing uncontrollably as the Abbot burped in the most impolite manner, probably from too much cordial. Little did they know someone had been listening. Brecken stood behind a large oak near the gatehouse. She had heard everything, and was not happy about it at all.
Abbot Ivan and Misera Badgermum poked their heads into the doorway of the infirmary. The badger chuckled as she glanced around for signs of Sister Neiva.
"Look at us Ivan. Sneaking about like a couple of Dibbuns. Now, where is our little guest?"
"Freesia's not to be seeing vistor's now, that's where." A firm voice came from behind them. The two jumped and whirled to see Sister Neiva standing, hands on hips, a glare on her sharp features.
Ivan smiled sweetly. "I'm so very sorry Sister. It's just, we never had a proper introduction to, um, Freesia."
"Hmph! She's in no state for proper introductions Father, thank you anyways." Sister shuffled in the infirmary and over to where the ottermaid lay, two empty soup bowls and a nearly completely eaten loaf of bread on the nightstand. Misera's eyes widened.
"Goodness! That maid has the appetite of a hare!"
The Abbot laughed. "She surely does. I wonder if it's because she has gone too many days without food. I'm so very curious to know more about her, yet with Neiva around, I do not think that's going to happen soon."
Misera nodded and patted her friend on the back and turned to leave. "Yes. Come Father Abbot. We need to focus on more important issues at hand. War is soon to be on our front."
The ottermaid, Freesia, who was now awake again, watched the two leave and glanced at Sister Neiva. "Who're they?" She asked sleepily. Neiva smiled and gently pushed the maid back onto the pillows.
"That was our Abbot and Badgermum. They just came by to see you, but you're much too tired for introductions right now. Rest, Freesia. Soon you can go about the Abbey and meet whom you'd like to."
Freesia lay back down but was eager to go after the two figures who had left just seconds ago. Boqved had said they had answers, and an Abbot was sure to be wise enough to help. But under the mouse nurse's watchful eyes, she wasn't going anywhere for now. Sleep had evaded her, and now Freesia was confined to the bed, unable to do anything without the Sister noticing. She sighed and propped herself up on the bed. However, when the maid tried to sit up quickly, a sharp pain ran through her head, and she fell back onto the pillows with a groan.
"That is why I told you to lay down missie! You have an injury, and you need to take it slow!" Neiva rushed to Freesia's side, applying more of the cold cloth to the side of her head.
"Thanks." The ottermaid mumbled, then winced when the cloth touched her temple. "You were right."
Sister Neiva smiled and rolled her eyes. "Of course I was, you young rogue."
The nurse's smile faded as she looked the tired ottermaid over. "Now, time to get down to more serious topics. Do you know anything about where you're from, Freesia? Anything like that?"
The maid stared wide-eyed at the mouse, then after a long period of silence, slowly shook her head. Still, there was nothing. Little blips of things here and there, but beside her name, Freesia remembered nothing.
Neiva sighed. "Just as I feared. Perhaps we will need the Abbot to see you sooner than I expected. Stay here, and I will go get him." The little mouse bumbled out of the infirmary. Freesia saw her chance. She snuck to the doorway, slower movements not triggering the sudden headaches. She peeked out and crept down the hall unknowingly toward Great Hall, her brown eyes shining.
Freesia tip-toed down the hallway, now dimly lit in the early evening. Suddenly, the hall opened up to a staircase and led down to Great Hall. The maid stood, frozen, her eyes probing the scene before here. Large wooden tables were scattered here and there, as were Abbeybeasts. A huge arch in one end led to the kitchens, while on another wall hung a large tapestry with a mouse woven on it, carrying a magnificent sword. But it was not the arhcitecture of the room that made her stop.
Sitting on the tables chatting was Skipper and his crew, as well as Abbot Ivan, Misera Badgermum, and Sister Neiva. Freesia was about to turn and run back when she locked eyes with a handsome, burly young otter sitting next to the bagder. Tav's own eyes widened when he saw the maid standing at the top of the staircase. It was her again, the one from his dream. And she was beautiful. Suddenly, she whirled and ran back down the hall.
"Wait!" Tav cried out, to everybeast's surprise. He bounded off the table and up the stairs after the ottermaid. Brecken watched him go and gritted her teeth. No, not again. She ran after him, ignoring the calls from her Abbot and Misera. That maid was stealing Skip from her, and she wasn't having any of it.
Freesia's breath came fast as she skidded into the infirmary. She glanced around wildly, then, on a whim, dived into her bed and snuggled deep under the sheets. She barely heard the other otter entering the room over her heartbeat. Boy am I stupid, she thought. He'll think I'm a looney.
However, once she heard pawsteps, she held her breath and stayed as still as possible.
Tav saw the maid hidden under the bedcovers and smiled. She was acting just like a Dibbun who had been caught raiding the pastry cabinets. He strode over to the bed and bent over, bringing his face close to the ottermaid's head under the sheet.
"You know you're not foolin' anyone, right?" He whispered, trying not to laugh.
"I'm not?" A light, questioning reply came from under the covers.
Tav grinned. "Not really."
Freesia was thinking of what to do next. Reveal herself or stay hidden till Sister Neiva returned. Before she could make a decision, she heard another pair of paws making their way into the room.
Brecken stood in the doorway, breathing hard. Tav whirled to see his first mate standing in front of him, looking madder than a nest of hornets.
"Breck? What is it?"
Freesia dared a peek out from the covers and saw an ottermaid standing in the doorway and staring at her with a malicious glare. Freesia wanted to duck back under the sheets, but something told her not to.
Tav slowly walked toward Brecken, his voice soothing. "Brecken, calm down. What's wrong?" He asked in a lingering voice, almost afraid for an answer. Brecken's eyes were fixed on the maid hidden under the bed. It was her! She forced to keep herself calm when suddenly footsteps were heard. Abbot Ivan, Misera, and Sister Neiva appeared behind Brecken, all looking flustered and surprised.
"Now now, what is all this?" the Abbot asked, quickly pulling himself together. "Isn't it a little too late in the daytime for such ruckus? Skipper?" He laid a fatherly eye on Tav, who stood still in between Brecken and the bed where Freesia still lay, wide eyes peeking out from the white sheet.
"Um, well, you see..." Tav struggled for the right words.
"It was my fault Abbot." A voice was heard behind the the otter. Everybeast's attention turned to Freesia, who had gotten out of bed without a sound. "I, I snuck out o' this place and he caught me." She nodded to Tav.
Misera beamed. "Well, it seems we have a sensible, truthful beast in our Abbey. You say your name is Freesia, young one?"
"As far as I know." Freesia tried to sound confident, but something in her mind was screaming it was wrong. Misera could sense her uncertainty, but ignored it for the moment. She turned to Brecken.
"Now, what was your part in this, missie?" The badger asked almost accusingly, at least, as Brecken saw it. The ottermaid's eyes hardened and she turned to walk back down the hall without a word. Misera sighed. What was wrong with that maid? Ever since their guest's arrival, she had been so, so impossible. Ivan and Neiva saw it too, but set about other duties.
The infirmary keeper bustled in and set about making Freesia's bed. "Since apparently you are up and at 'em now miss, I suppose I'll get to business." She winked at the ottermaid.
The Abbot came is as well and examined the two otters standing in the room. His eyes were still on Tav. "Well then, I see you and Freesia got to know one another." He saw the maid make no move, but Skipper's cheeks reddened immediately. Ivan smiled. "I will take that as a yes." He looked over at Sister Neiva. "Come Sister. You can rest from your duties for a moment and join us for dinner."
The Sister laughed. "My work is never finished Father Abbot. Don't you worry, I will be down in a moment." And so she started sweeping.
Misera smiled at the sight of the motherly Sister humming to herself, sweeping here and there in places where there wasn't a speck of dust. She beckoned the maid, Freesia she said her name was, out to follow them to Great Hall for suppertime. I wonder if she's ever had a meal like Redwall's? The Badgermum thought.
Freesia followed the Abbot, the badger, and the otter they called Tav back down the hall to the huge room from whence she had just come. Now that she was in good hands, Freesia allowed herself to look around the room as they made their way down the staircase, marveling at the mere architecture of the place. She didn't happen to notice Tav looking at her every few moments. For some reason even he could not desire, he was enraptured by her, something the Skipper had never felt before. The closest he had ever felt to this was in the foggy memories of his mother...
Tav forced himself not to think of her. It would only lead to pain. Pain...was that what Brecken was experiencing. He looked back up the stairs, expecting her to come running down them. Nothing. There was something serious going on with her, and he had a strong sense it had to do with the new maid, Freesia.
Foremole Bunkel approached the group, a huge grin on his velvety face. "Oi be reckognin' zuppur's bein' surv'd soon!"
Abbot Ivan laughed. "Yes Bunkel. I can smell it too. It isn't even feast night and Friar Rikk prepares us a famine dinner. What a great Abbeybeast he is."
Misera nudged the old mouse. "Admit it Father, you only like him for his pudding!"
"Now Misera!" Ivan tried to say more, but he, Misera, and Foremole dissolved into laughter. Freesia, however, had found herself drawn to the huge tapestry she had seen earlier. It bore that herioc looking mouse with a shining sword at his side, a soft, yet roguish smile on his wise face. The same sword was hanging above the tapestry, glowing in the soft light of Great Hall. Tav noticed the maid staring up at Martin the Warrior and smiled. No matter who came to Redwall, they were always caught up in the legendary mouse's aura. He went to stand by Freesia, watching her face as he spoke.
"He's pretty amazing, ain't he miss?"
"What?" The maid started at the sight of Tav next to her. "Oh, yeah. Amazing. Wh-, who is he anyway?"
Tav grinned. "I figured you'd ask that. That's Martin the Warrior, our Abbey's founder and great warrior. Tis far too long a story to tell, but he's a great figure 'round here and is even said ta appear in dreams of those destined to be th' next Abbey warrior."
Freesia felt a shiver go down her spine at the otter's words, which were lingering in her head. "Wow. Sounds...interesting." She glanced at Tav, not knowing what else to say. He was smiling, a smile that was brighter than a sunset, and just as warm. She couldn't help but smile too.
The two turned at the call of Misera. It was time for dinner, and Abbeybeasts were already crowding Great Hall, eager for a good supper. Some saw Freesia and whispered to their friend, and others saw her and were curious. Many ignored her, to Freesia's great relief. The last thing she wanted in this unknown place was to be the center of attention.
Tulia Braefleet McScuttie looked back at the mountain of Salamandastron, dark in the early morning, the stronghold that had once been her home. No longer though. Now she was a free hare; free of the rules of her parents; free of whatever rule said she couldn't join the Long Patrol. Too young, hmph! She would show them, all of them. Tulia looked forward to where the mountains rose like jagged teeth piercing the sky, and sighed. Now began her trek.
Lord Southstar had said he needed a hare at Redwall Abbey to help protect the Abbeybeasts, and she was plenty up for the job. Leaving only a letter and her precious brooch given by her mother, Tulia had run away from Salamandastron, on a mission to show everybeast they were wrong about her. She fondled the pommel of her longsword set securely in its scabbard, and felt the daggar on her other side, just making sure they were there. Without looking back, Tulia made her way down the hill and toward the east, to Mossflower.
"Mayflaird! Mayflaird McScuttie!" A frantic cry echoed down the halls of Salamandastron. Mayflaird Braefleet McScuttie sat bolt upright in his bed, his keen ears picking up the shout. The hare leapt to the door of his room in a single bound and ran to the source of the sound, his heart racing. His wife, Brena, was standing in the hallway, fresh tears streaming down her motherly face. Mayflaird embraced her tightly, deeply worried.
"Wot's wrong, Brena? Wot is it?" He asked in a low, rushed voice.
"It's Tu-Tu-Tulia..." She whispered brokenly.
Brena's burly husband ran into their daughter's room. Nothing. Mayflaird was stunned. He could only stand their as more hares gathered into the room, awakened by Brena's cries. They knew what had happened immediately as they entered. Tulia was gone. One of the hares, Finolleap Spurwood, who was a very close friend of Tulia, happened to have heard the news, and was just as shocked. Why did she run away? Salamandastron was her home. There couldn't be a good reason for her to just, go.
The sun was slowly rising over the Western Sea as the news of Tulia's departure milled around throughout the mountain. It was breakfast time, and the hares of the Long Patrol were assembled at the huge table where they ate with the Badger Lord of Salamandastron, Lord Southstar. All of the young hares were bright and hungry, but a sort of solemness hung about the room. The thought of one of their hares suddenly missing with only a letter to giude them was...different. Never had this happened at the fortress. Finolleap, normally called Fin, sat silently, surrounded by his Patrol comrades. Suddenly, all fell silent.
The Badger Lord had arrived. A picture of power, splendor, and judiciousness, nobeast knew how to rule, or fight, like Lord Southstar. His sinewy arms and chest were covered by a simple maroon tunic. The broad, black sabre Southstar used hung by his side, where it always was. His eyes were huge and dark blue, rare for a badger, and shone with a light of a warrior, but also held the patience and respect of a true leader.
The hares stood smartly and saluted him with their swords. Southstar nodded in approval and everybeast sat, the food now brought out. Nobeast spoke, for all knew the matter at hand, especially the Badger Lord. He looked around at every one of his trusted fighting hares and spoke, his voice deep and strong.
"My friends, morning to you all. It is not a good one, I'm afraid, due to the sudden departure of one of our own. Now, most of you already know of Tulia's absence, but I would like to address the subject in a more dire manner. As we all know well, the fox Fireblade's troops are out there, in or near Mossflower, and now so is Tulia." He watched as eyes hardened and teeth clenched at the sound of the corsair's name.
"Therefore I have decided that somebeast, one of you, will leave the mountain and find her. She may be a good fighter, but young and inexperienced as well, and needs to be brought back for her own safety." Southstar did not say, but he already knew why the haremaid was gone. She wanted to prove herself worthy of the Long Patrol. And by leaving to fight for Redwall was how she intended to do so. Before he could say anything else, a paw shot up in the air, and Finolleap was on his feet.
"Me! I'll do it, sah!"
Southstar smiled fondly at the young hare. Finolleap Spurwood was the son of Hartleap Spurwood and grandson of Buckleap Spurwood, both legendary runners. They could outrun the very wind, and so could he. The hare was a newer recruit of the Patrol, but Southstar seriously considered sending him. If anyone could bring back Tulia, it was him.
"Well done Spurwood.":He began carefully, though still smiling. "I'll have to consult Brigadier Flytblade and Talia's father, the Captain about sending recruits, but thank you for your volunteering."
His spirit a bit dampened, but excited none the less, Fin nodded and sat back down. The hare next to him, Sage, seemed just as enthusiastic. "Just think Fin, ol' boy! Your first bally assignment! Congrajubilations!" The pretty haremaid complimented in the hares' normal entertaining language.
Fin shook a paw at her. "Nah-ah-ah! Not yet Sage me beauty. The Lordie himself's gotta approve me right to go. Way it works doncha know."
Sage laughed, and the two friends dug in to their breakfast. Down the hall from the main dining room was a snug alcove known to the hares as "The Office". It was where the higher ranks of the Long Patrol dined and gathered. Snoring away in a chair near the window with a dusty book on his lap was the old Major Copsleton Hadwill Silistra. He had served the Patrol longer than most of the hares on the mountain, and had been at Salamandastron longer than Southstar himself. Now, he spent most of the time eating and reading, and had gained quite a belly doing so, but couldn't resist a good fight when it came along.
Next to him, scanning the bookshelf with a monocled eye, was Lieutenant Dorothea Duckfontein Dillworthy. Completely named after her ancestor, she was known as Dotti to those ranked above her, and was probably the most feminine leader of the Patrol, very beautiful and clever. However, an injury in battle caused her to lose sight in her left eye. the monocle was neccesary, but certainly threw off some of her attractiveness.
She turned at the sound of somebeast enetering the room. Dotti did a quick salute as Brigadier Flytblade entered the room. She was the most experienced and dangerous fighter among the hares, and therefore had earned her rank, along with her uncanny diligence and fairness toward the recruits she led. Flytblade smiled at the Lieutenant and nodded toward their sleeping comrade.
"I see ol' Copsleton's getting an entra wink or two. Lovely mornin' for it, eh Dotti?"
Dotti laughed at the sight of the Major. "Indeed, Brig. I say though, did ye hear the news of our own little Tulia?"
Flytblade nodded solemnly. "'M afraid I did. Her mum's a mess and 'er poppa's not much better either. Fledge is down there comfortin' the two o' them. Sad day for the mountain, 'tis." A slow grin suddenly appeared on the Brigadier's face. "I've heard ol' Southstar's hatching a bally plan to get her back. An' guess what beast be wantin' tae go?"
"Eh...ye got me beat, Brig. The flippin' brain's jumbled."
"It be the new recruit, young mista Spurwood!"
"Finolleap? I say! Good show, the Lordie's givin' the little chap a chance!" Dotti was comletely hooked.
Flytblade laughed. "He is indeed. I 'eard him say he's got to talk with us 'bout it. Heehee! We've already got an answer for him, and guess who's goin' with old Fin?"
Dotti grinned as she understood, and the two hares looked at Major Copsleton, dozing in the warm sun rays drifting into the mountain of Salamandastron.
Finolleap Spurwood stood bouncing with anticipation on his tip-paws, waiting for the meeting to be adjourned. Rumor had spread like lightening that Fin, a new recruit, was going to be sent after the missing haremaid, Tulia. For now though, Lord Southstar, Brigadier Flytblade, and Captain Mayflaird McScuttie were discussing the arrangements. It was vital that all went smoothly, and with the imminent Mossflower Council with Redwall concerning the threat of the corsairs just around the corner, Southstar had a lot on his shoulders.
The door opened and Fin nearly leapt into Mayflaird's arms. The Captain laughed at the young hare's expression, surprising himself considering the matters at hand.
"Wot's the matter Spurwood? A bit antsy aren't we?" He settled Fin and the two stood aside as Flytblade and Southstar walked out. The Badger Lord smiled. "Well, well. Finolleap Spurwood. Just the hare we wanted to see. Learn anything?" Fin's cheeks turned red when he realized Southstar was talking about him eavesdropping.
"No, sah! Nobeast droppin' eaves here, sah!" He answered diligently. "Didn't hear a ballyflippin' thing, sah! And now the old tummy's rumblin'. Ought to go get some grub, eh? Toodaloo!" With that, Fin was gone, speeding down the hall to the kitchens in the lower floors. Flytblade shook her head and laughed as she watched the young leveret run.
"He's a good 'un, Fin is. I think ye've made the good decision my lord." She looked up at Southstar. He was watching the young hare go as well. The badger nodded, smiling.
"I have a good feeling about that one, Flyt. I think we have made the right choice." He turned to Mayflaird. "While I am thinking about it, have any of your runners returned yet, Captain?"
The Captain shook his head. "Not yet, m'lord. In fact, I'ma startin' tae get worried 'bout them."
Suddenly, a voice echoed from down the hall.
"They're back! M'lud, m'lud! They're back!"
The three friends stood wide-eyed as a young hare came sprinting towad them, remnants of breakfast still on his mouth. It was Katlyn, the cook Willtup's new assistant. Southstar steadied the haremaid with his huge paws, his voice calming.
"Steady there miss! Now, report to me what's happening."
Katlyn understood quickly. She stood straight and saluted the badger. "The runners 're back, sah! One o' them injured, sah! Rain's are comin', sah! End o' report, sah!" With that Katlyn was gone, back down the halls. Lord Southstar and the two hares looked at one another, then followed where the haremaid had gone, the sound of an approaching storm now loud in the distance.
That very storm had unleashed it's full power on the camp of Oltar Fireblade. The hordebeasts were arguing over spaces under trees or spots in makeshift tents to escape the drenching rain and seething cold wind. A few looked up at the hill where their Captain was nice and warm in his tent. One weasel, Girgeback, growled to his companions as he brought his food out of the rain.
"'Course ol' Fireblade gits ta be all warm 'n snuggly in his high an' mighty tent. We're down 'ere freezin' our tails off in tha pourin' rain!" Girgeback looked around as some of the vermin next to him nodded their agreement. One rat, a smart beast by the name of Lutgro, scoffed at the weasel's complaints.
"Hah! I bet ye wouldn't say that tae the Captain's face, ye lily-livered whiner!" Lutgro jabbed the weasel's footpaw with his shortsword. Girgeback growled and stood up, spitting in the rat's as he spoke, his blade menacing.
"So, you've got ta nerve ta chall'ge me, eh?:
Lutgro rolled his eyes. "Wouldn't be no chall'ge mate. I'd have ye beat in'a hummin'bird's wingbeat!"
Girgeback, infuriated by the insult, charged the rat, yelling manically. Before he could even take a slash, Lutgro sidestepped and struck in the same motion. He stood over the fallen weasel, the shortsword poking Girgeback's throat. Girgeback looked up at surprise at Lutgro, whose eyes were blazing as he spoke.
"Ev'r try an' cross me again, Girgeback, and I'll yer guts for garters!"
Lutgro walked off, leaving the defeated weasel sitting in the rain, rubbing his head, his eyes seething as he watched his new enemy disappear in the pouring rain. The vermin who had seen it happened went back to whatever they were doing. These kinds of things happened nearly everyday. It was only a matter of time before the Fireblade found out about the fights in the camp, and punished them all.
Meanwhile, however, Oltar Fireblade was troubled, and in no modd ot think of petty things like his hordebeasts fighting. His black eyes burned into those of his seer, Rutera. "I need answers, Rutera. You tell me we cannot move on. Why? I need answers, Rutera!!"
The vixen cast some herbs into the small fire which cast a spooky glow around the tent, her low chanting never stopping despite her master's anger. Rutera finally stopped and walked around to hand the corsair a glass of dark ale.
"Be calm, my master. I cannot see further, as I have told ye. My visions have told me to stop our quest for the redstone Abbey until 'tis safe again. I do not know when that time will come, but we must be patient so-"
She was cut off as Oltar grabbed the vixen by the throat, his voice a ferocious growl. "Patient!?! I have no patience left, vixen!!! All my life I have wanted this Abbey, and now when I am so close you tell me we can't take it!?!?!"
Rutera struggled against the fox, his grip strangling her into gurgles and choking wails. He dropped her, and she fell to the ground with a thud. The vixen stood quickly and limped to the other side of the fire. She spoke no more to her master, resuming the chants as the storm raged on outside. Seeing that conversation was no longer an option, the corsair captain groaned exaggeratedly and swept out of the tent into the sheeting rain. Rutera watched him go, nursing her throat
The storm that was drenching the camp of Oltar Fireblade was a misty drizzle on Redwall Abbey. The Abbeybeasts were confined indoors until the rain stopped. Dibbuns ran amok, complaning about not being able to go outside and play in the rain. The older beasts, however, were grateful for the rain, their chance to cease from outdoor chores and a chance to relax. For Bree Redleaf, however, this was a time for her favorite chore of all - storytelling. For such a young beast, she had a knack for storytelling, whether they be true or some tale spun up in her mind. Dibbuns who had managed to calm down sat in a semicircle around the squirrelmaid, their eager faces shining. Misera Badgermum, Abbot Ivan, and Oera were only a few of the older Abbeybeasts sitting behind the younger ones.
Bree began to weave a tale of a heroic tale of an otter on a quest to find a magic sword. Tav, Skipper of Otters, saw what was going on, and rushed to find Freesia. She'd had a rough time since first arriving, and he felt she needed a good story to cheer her up. He wa surprised to find her gorging away on a huge bowl of pudding under the gleeful eye of Friar Rikk, who was certainly pleased with the ottermaid's love for his dessert. The Friar saw Tav coming and laughed, beckoning him over.
"Got a lovely appetite, that'n does. Don't ye think so, Skip?"
At the notion the two were no longer alone, Freesia stopped eating and looked up to see the big otter looking at her, grinning. When Tav started laughing, she started to get embarrassed. Freesia glanced Friar Rikk. "Wh-what is it? Friar? What's he laughin' about?"
The plump little mouse started laughing too and he and Tav were leaning on each other, trying to catch their breath as the chortled away. Finally, Tav was able to speak. He tried to explain to the perplexed ottermaid in between laughs.
"Y'ye've got, ahaha, a little somethin', heeheehee, on your mouth miss, ahahahaha!" He fell into another batch of giggles.
Freesia quickly grabbed a nearby cloth and wiped away the beard of pudding around her mouth, her cheeks deep red. She stood, watching mouse and otter laughing. Freesia rolled her eyes at the silly beasts and walked off out into Great Hall. Tav happened to see her go, and slowly stood up, helping Friar Rikk. He wiped his eyes and looked at the beaming old Friar.
"Whoo, that was a good laugh, but I think we've offended her. I'll help you clean up and then go and-"
The good Friar cut him off and shook his head, still grinning. "No, no. Go an' accompany the miss. I'll stay an' clean up this 'ere mess. Go on, ye young rip!" Rikk playfully chased the otter off with his ladle. Tav brightened up even more and ran to catch up with Freesia. The Friar watched him go, smiling softly.
"Go and be with 'er Skip. Let her know ye love 'er."
Freesia heard the otter approaching behind her and stopped. She turned to see him running toward her. Tav saw her stop, and unable to stop himself, barreled straight into her, both of them toppling to the ground. Freesia stared, surprised, into Tav's brown eyes inches from her face. Tav immediately stood up, embarrassed, and helped the ottemaid up too.
"I'm sorry miss. I, uh, was goin' a bit too fast I guess."
Freesia couldn't help but laugh at his awkward comment. "You think?"
Tav grinned, and took her paw. "C'mon. I want to show you somethin'."
The ottermaid, confused by trusting, followed the Skipper over to where a small crowd had gathered. Bree was deep into her story, and everybeast was mesmerized. Tav brought Freesia to a small table next to where the Abbot and Misera were sitting, and beckoned her to sit beside him.
"Bree's got a knack for storytellin'. I think you'll enjoy this 'un."
Freesia shrugged at sat next to the smiling otter. "I guess it couldn't hurt." However, within minutes, she too found herself enraptured by the squirrelmaid's tale of the otter named Riverfall who finds and magic sword and wins the love of the princess of a peaceful kingdom. It was a simple story, but everybeast was in love with the adventure and romance in beheld. When Bree was finished, she was met with a roar of applause and approval from her audience. She blushed and bowed, and walked down from the makeshift 'stage' that had been created.
As the crowd dispersed - some herding the Dibbuns off to wash up for dinner, Friar Rikk's assistants rushing off to the kitchens, and others going off to do their own duties - Tav and Freesia were met by Abbot Ivan and Misera Badgermum. The Abbot smiled approvingly at the Skipper.
"Well Skipper, I see you have been keeping our new guest company." He turned his attention to Freesia. "What did you think of our Bree's storytelling, eh?"
Freesia shook her head in awe. "It was amazing, Father Abbot. You must be proud of someone with such a gift."
Misera nodded. "Indeed we are, miss Freesia." Suddenly, a thought struck the bagder. She glanced at Ivan, her face worried.
"Have you seen any sign of Brecken today?"
The Abbot sighed and shook his grizzled head. "Indeed not, Misera. I'm becoming increasingly worried about the ottermaid every since-" He stopped and looked up at Freesia, as did Misera, and the maid's eyes widened. Misera spoke slowly.
"Ever since...the news of war was among us. Yes, that must be it."
Abbot Ivan nodded quickly. "Yes, most Abbeybeasts are bothered by the prospect of war. She is no different."
With that, the two old friends bid the otters goodbye and walked off. Once Freesia was out of earshot, the Abbot spoke again. "I am a fool, Misera. To think of speaking like that when Freesia was right there. Oh, I am a fool."
Misera patted her friend's shoulder with a huge paw. "Tis not your fault, Father Abbot. We do not know if that is even the reason. War could be why Brecken's so distressed. Nobeast knows but her. Hopefully, she will be better by the time supper comes around."
Ivan nodded. "I agree. Thank you, Misera, for your wise words."
Freesia and Tav watched them go. The maid was still stricken. She stared after them, her voice a whisper. "It was me they were talking about, wasn't it? I'm the reason your friend is so angry."
Tav watched her sympathetically, and squeezed her paw softly. "No, no, that can't be it. Why would Breck not like somebeast like yourself? She's got no reason."
The ottermaid broke away from his paw and shook her head. She needed to get away by herself for a little while. "I-I left something up in the infirmary." Freesia said, immediately remembering her sword. "I'll see you at supper."
Freesia made her way up the winding stairs, not looking back. Tav watched her go, his heart sinking. Was she right? Was Freesia really the reason why Brecken was acting so...strange? Skipper of Otter sighed and rubbed the back of his neck with a paw. There was definitely something he didn't know. Oh well. Something would hopefully be revealed by supper, if his first mate showed up anyway.
Brecken sat on a bed of the empty infirmary, admiring the curved sword that lay on her lap. A small lantern was the only light in the long room, casting soft shadows as the drizzling rain fell outside. The ottermaid ran a paw over the strange markings carved on one side of the blade. It looked like some type of language, but she couldn't tell. Brecken stroked the markings absentmindedly as she thought about the events over the past days. First the knowledge of possible war, then the arrival of her...the ottermaid's mind seethed at the thought of the Abbey's new guest.
There was nothing wrong with the maid they called Freesia herself. It was reactions to her that made Brecken's blood boil. Skipper was obviously smitten with her, yet after all these years had failed to notice Brecken as more than "mate" or "a mighty good fighter". She sighed at the thought of it, but was startled out of her thoughts by footsteps in the hall. There was nowhere to go, and on a strange impusle, Brecken dropped the sword with a loug clatter and dove under the bed.
Freesia entered the dimly lit room, an odd feeling that she was not alone. Dismissing it, the ottermaid searched around for her sword. She found it lying on the floor. That's odd. She thought. I'd left it on the bed and-oh well, at least it's here.
Brecken breathed a huge sigh of relief once the maid left. She felt completely idiotic though, hiding under the bed like a Dibbun. She eased herself out from underthe bed and walked into the hall. The ottermaid smelt the fresh, mouthwatering scent of dinner from Great Hall. It was time to eat, but how she would face Skipper with Freesia she had no idea. She groaned and shook her head wearily, heading toward the smell anyway.
"Skippa! Skippa! Me wanna get stawbewies!" The little hedgehog maid, Daisy Cellarhog, ran up to Tav, her chubby paws outstretched. Tav laughed and picked up the Dibbun, careful of her spikes.
"You can't go out there, ye little rogue! It's pourin' waterfalls outside!" Skipper set Daisy onto the ground gently, and she ran to her mother, Opal Cellarhog. The kindly hedgehog mother picked up her daughter, and Daisy started yelling again.
"Mama! Mama! Me wanna get stawbewies!"
Opal shook her head, laughing, and looked over at Tav. "Didn't you just hear Skipper? It's pouring outdoors! It is suppertime anyway. Come along, Daisy." Opal winked at Tav and walked to a table beside her husband, where she sat down the squirmish little hedgehog Dibbun.
Tav chuckled and glanced out of one of the windows of Great Hall. It was even darker now, and the rain was still coming down. He sighed and looked around Great Hall. It was the perfect scene of merriment. Young ones ran about, laughing and playing. His crew was joking around, and the others sat at the tables, chatting amiably with one another. Tav happened to glance up at the stairs when he saw a familiar sight. There was Brecken, making her way slowly down the steps. He grinned, happy to finally see her again
Brecken saw Skipper coming toward her, and she brightened up. He patted Brecken's shoulder, still grinning.
"Well, aren't you a sight for sore eyes Brecken! Thought I'd never see ye again."
Brecken smiled weakly and walked with Skipper back to the tables. "Uh, yeah. Nice to see ye too, Skip." Tav glanced at her worriedly.
"Somethin' wrong, Breck?"
The ottermaid shook her head, the flickering smile still there. "Nah, I'm fine. Just a bit sleepy is all."
Tav eyed her. There was something Brecken wasn't telling him, something she wasn't going to tell, at least not now. He gave in to his first mate's answer and walked with her to where the rest of his crew sat, faces bright and hungry. Riverleap saw them coming and grinned, her warm hazel eyes lit up.
"Now lookee here, mates! Ol' Breck's decided tae join us again!" Brecken couldn't help but smile at her companion's rustic otter speech. The crew welcomed her warmly, as if she'd been gone a lifetime. Within minutes the food was passed out - it was more of a subtle dinner, without the grand dishes - and Redwallers were chatting and eating happily. Instead of eating with Tav and the otter crew, Freesia was having an interesting time eating with a group of Dibbuns who were absolutely fascinated by the new ottermaid.
"Do yoo hava swowd, miz Fweesa?"
"Wot's that thingy on ya arm?"
"Can yoo tell Joee a stowie?"
"I wanna sit next ta miss Fweesia!"
"Noo, I wanna!"
Misera Badgermum rushed over to the overpowered ottermaid, scattering the enthusiastic Dibbuns left and right, scolding them in the process. "You all should be ashamed of yourselves! Attacking poor Freesia with all your silly questions and requests, what were you thinking? Get out of here, you little pests. Back to your parents, the lot of you!"
The badger sighed and sat down beside Freesia, watching the little rascals run about giggling. She turned to the ottermaid, who had a humorous grin on her face."I'm sorry for that, miss. You know how young beasts are. They always want more."
Misera looked weary, and Freesia put a paw on the badger's huge shoulder.
"Ain't your fault, marm. In fact, I liked the company of those little ones." The maid grinned. "But it's nice to get away from them ev'ry once in a while."
The Badgermum lightened up and stood, offering Freesia her paw. "Wise words, miss. Please, come join the Abbot and I for dinner."
Freesia accepted and was sat down next to Misera, where she had a full view of Great Hall. For the first time in a long time, she was actually enjoying herself. The whole atmosphere of the Abbey, the creatures there, the food, everything just made her feel genuinely happy. Her unexplainable loss of memory was no big deal right now. Now, Freesia could relax.
Supper was finished quickly. The rain had finally ceased, and the Redwallers, full as they were, immediately went outdoors into the crisp evening air to romp and play. Those who were too tired for any sort of playing cleaned tables and went up to the dormitories, ready for a good night's rest. However, Abbot Ivan was wide awake, and thinking. He stared up at the tapestry of Martin the Warrior, contemplating.
A Council of Mossflower. Is this really that necessary? He thought. The Abbot tried to steer clear away from war whenever possible. Now that it was so close to their fronts, he wondered if there was any possible way to avoid it.
Perhaps Lord Southstar is mistaken. The horde could ust be traveling through our parts. It doesn't mean they are coming for us. Does it?
"It most likely does, Father Abbot." A voice came from behind him. He jumped and saw Kayra Redleaf walk around to stand in front of him. She had a grave look on her face.
Ivan slowed his pounding heart and sighed. "In all my years as an Abbot, I have faced small groups of vermin, looters trying to infiltrate the Abbey, but nothing like this. What if our Council is in vain? Do you suppose the Abbey could really fall?"
Kayra's green eyes widened. "Father Abbot! I'm surprised at you. Saying such things like that. You sound like some crazed old weasel, talking in such terms!"
"I-I am sorry, Kayra. I don't know what came over me. Maybe the whole aspect of war is making me paranoid." His old face turned hard and determined. "We need to start the Council. We need volunteers."
"I do not think volunteering is an option Ivan!" Both mouse and squirrel turned to see Misera running toward them, a piece of parchment in her paw. She knelt down beside the Abbot and handed it to him. "I found this lying on my bed in the dormitory. I asked every creature who was up there with me, but nobeast knows where or who it came from. I would not read it without consulting you first."
Abbot Ivan squinted trying to read the scraggly written words. He sighed and handed it to Kayra. "Your young eyes are better than mine. See what this old thing says, my friend."
Kayra took the paper and began to read the text as best she could.
- "To start the Council, four must leave
- On the night of winter's eve
- Perilous journies along the way
- Only three must return one day
- A runaway who would like to stay
- Yet only she knows the way
- A newcomer, forgotten days of old
- Know's how to winter the frosty cold
- A burly leader, a swimmer gay
- With his dagger, vermin will pay
- A weaver of tales, a friend indeed
- Her words of wisdom you shall heed
- Only three must return one day
- Perilous journies along the way
- On the night of winter's eve
- To start the Council, four must leave."
Abbot Ivan, Misera, and Kayra Redleaf stared at one another, their minds reeling with thoughts. The Abbot spoke first, slowly, almost cautiously.
"Well then. I suppose we have our travelers?"
Misera couldn't help but laugh at her Abbot's confusion. "I'm not sure Father Abbot. First, we must decipher what this means. But I suggest we go and round up those young ones who've made a break out into the grounds. Tis too dark for that, and if we are to get any answers, our minds must be fresh and ready."
Kayra nodded. "Wise words, my friend. I will get Skipper's crew to help gather them. You two should go and get some rest. Something tells me tomorrow will be a long day." "Bless you, Kayra. Have a good night's rest!" Abbot Ivan smiled gratefully at the squirrel, then he and the Badgermum made their way up the staircase of Great Hall and to the dormitories.
The hallway was dimly lit, but the two old friends paid no attention to the light. Misera was fumbling with the parchment, all thoughts of sleep had fled from her mind.
"It's interesting, Ivan. I do not agree at all with my own words. I think I could be up all night trying to decipher this. My mind just won't give me rest."
Father Abbot nodded. "It's true, my friend. Not everyday is a riddle like this found in Redwall. But we must try and sleep. Perhaps our dreams will tell us something."
Misera patted her friend's grizzled brown head as they reached their rooms. "Perhaps. Goodnight Father Abbot."
The moonlight shone over the unconscious figure on the beach. The otter had lain there for days, the pain never ceasing, the dreams repeating. Now, however, he was waking up. His eyes opened sleepily, staring blankly up into the starry darkness. The storm had left behind a wonderous vista in the sky. The otter groaned and tried to sit up, but the shooting pain from his chest was too much. A pained scream escaped him, and he collapsed back onto the sand.
That fox's blade had pierced his skin, but not his heart. He would survive. He had to. For his captain and the crew. For the holt, he had to make it. He moaned again as the seething pain crept through his weakened body. The otter was helpless. The wound was far too deep for movement, but it was healing. At least it was healing. He felt for the dirk in his belt...it was still there. Good. When he was stronger, he would need it. He would find that corsair, by Dark Forest he would find that fox. The otter stared up at the moon, the painful sleepiness pulling him under again, and he thought of the fox's dark, evil eyes.
By my blade, you will pay for the death of Holt Sunwave. You will...
Oltar Fireblade stood, seething, inside his tent. He stared blankly, the dark, fiery eyes blazing into nothing. The fox was furious. Couldn't go to the redstone castle, could he? Oltar howled his anger, causing any nearby vermin to jump in suprise. Why did Rutera always have to be right? The Fireblade straightened up, hoping to look a bit more presentable, and sauntered out of the tent, a growl on the tip of his teeth, the foul mood hanging over him like a curtain.
The storm had left an aftermath of muddy and heinous proportions. Hordebeasts everywhere were moaning and mumbling, trying to clean off their weapons or salvage the remains of food swept away by the rain. Just seeing this made the fox corsair more vexed than ever. He grabbed a rat closest to him, pulling the unfortunate creature face to face with his malicious features. Oltar hissed at him with clenched teeth.
"Why is my camp such a WRECK?" he screamed the last word. The rat, Jinqi, wilted under his leader's onslaught.
"I-I d-don't kn-kn-know.." Jinqi was barely able to whisper. That was a bad move. Not being able to provide a supportable answer, Olatr saw the rat of no use to him. He held the doomed Jinqi close and drew the cutlass, slaying the rat in one quick slit of his throat. The fox threw Jinqi's twitching body on the soaked ground, scoffed, and walked into the camp, muttering to himself.
"Useless rat. These idiots are too stupid to serve me. I don't know how I put up with this nonsense."
Left and right, vermin saluted their leader as he passed by, showing off the best possible respect toward him. They knew the Fireblade was mad, and nobeast wanted to get on his bad side. Oltar strode through the field to a grove of pine trees on the far side of the camp, where the two captured mice were tied.
Boqved saw the corsair approach and instinctively shuffled in front of a sleeping Evy, ready to take whatever the fox would throw at him. He growled when Oltar approached, the round little mouse's voice surprisingly dark.
"I swear, if you touch her, or even look at her the wrong way, I will kill you with your own cutlass and hang your dead carcass for the crows and ravens!"
The Fireblade put up his paws in a gesture of peace, the velvety smoothness of his voice saturating. "Calm yourself, mouse. I am not going to harm you. However, if you do not answer these questions truthfully, I may have to go back on my word. Understood?"
Boqved's glare hardened. "Ask away, vermin."
Tulia Braefleet McScuttie sat, shivering, under a gigantic tree, her sleepy eyes probing the vast, wet plain. Some beast was following the haremaid, and she knew it very well. From the smells to the strange noises at night, Tulia knew she was not alone. Part of her wanted to keep going and forget about it, but most of her was scared. The afternoon was still cloudy and gloomy, reflecting fully on Tulia's mood. She scooted further into the hole inside the pine and pulled two rolls out of her knapsack, along with a canteen of water, and couldn't help but grin when she took a bite of a still fresh roll.
"Nothin' like some vittles tae calm your tummy." She mumbled in between bites.
"I say! Wise word's ol' gel, wot!"
Tulia screamed, dropping the rolls, and hit her head against the wood in her reaction to the voice outside. Before she could get her thoughts straight and investigate, a cheery face poked inside the hole. Tulia sighed and rubbed her head when she saw who it was. Out of all beasts.
"Finolleap Spurwood! What in blue blazes're you doin' here?" The haremaid glared at her friend. He held up his paws innocently, the grin still plastered on his face. He twirled his long ears and plopped down beside Tulia.
"Sent on a daring mission from the ol' Lordie, doncha know! To bring you back to the bally mountain, Toodles."
Tulia cringed at the sound of her nickname. She stared at Fin, thinking. "To bring me back, eh? Well, you can tell ol' Southstar and every other beast that I'm headin' to Redwall, and there ain't no way to stop me."
Fin became serious, a very unusual thing for him. "Tulia, there's vermin out yonder, a whole blinkin' horde o' them. If'n you don't come home, they could find ye. I'd ne'er be able tae live it down." Tulia glanced up at Fin, and down to the wet ground. He had a point, but if she didn't go to the Abbey, nobeast would.
"'M sorry Finny, but I can't." Tulia whispered, still staring at the chocolate covered dirt.
Oltar Fireblade was in a slightly better mood. Though the mouse had failed to tell him where the ottermaid had gone, his wife had paid for it dearly. After questioning the husband, he'd had a ferret named Volleg wake the wife, and had asked her the same questions. When neither of them could provide an answer, Oltar had had Volleg stab the wife in the stomach, to teach the male mouse a lesson.
The corsair grinned as he thought of the mouse's heartbroken expression as his wife lay dying. They got what they deserved. Failure to complete my commands means death, Oltar thought savagely. Clearly, though, the husband knew where the Abbey of Redwall was, and once that stupid vixen said they could move on, that mouse would be in the front lines leading them. If he led them off track, his death would be painful. Nice and slow...
Tav and Freesia stood side by side, staring at Misera Badgermum, who had just told them the meaning of the strange riddle found the night before. Bree Redleaf stood next to the ottermaid, even more taken aback than they were. Abbot Ivan was sitting on his bed in the little, candlelit room where everyone had gathered. Night had come, and for some reason, Misera had decided until then to tell the creatures present of the dream she'd had the night before. Bree glanced around with wide eyes, her frantic glance resting on the huge badger.
"Misera? Why must I go? I love this old Abbey. I could never leave the safety and comfort inside these walls. Surely, there must be sombeast else ye be thinking of!"
Misera patted the young squirrelmaid's shoulder reassuringly, her voice a bit sad. "A weaver of tales, that is your nickname young miss. You're a friend to all, and amaze us with your wise words everyday. It must be you."
Freesia stood staring out the window into the dark purple-ish, blue-ish sky. The riddle had said she was one to go too. Could she? After all, she'd first come here to rescue her friends and hopefully gain her memory, and now she was being sent to some far away, fantasy mountain of badgers and hares? Was this all real?
Tav, however, was ectastic. He had been waiting patiently for word to head to Salamandastron. Now that the time had come, he was so excited, he could barely think. The Abbot saw the Skipper's eager face and placed a placating paw on the otter's shaking one. "Calm down, me boy. We still need to find the one who knows the way. Without her, this mission is as dead as a rat in a sinkhole, if you'll pardon my reference."
Tav smiled at the old mouse. He couldn't help but be averted away from death or violence, even when using a simile. "I know, Father Abbot. I know. But how do we know where to find her, or even who she is?"
Misera shook her head. "I'm not sure, but I thin-" She stopped and looked over at Bree, who was mumbling to herself on the Abbot's bed, deep in thought. Everybeast looked at her as well, and they all jumped when she yelled out in triumph.
"Aha!! Of course! Why didn't we think of that before?" Bree grabbed Freesia's paws, her soft eyes lit up and dancing.
Freesia laughed. "Think o' what, Miss Bree?"
The squirrelmaid whirled and took hold of the Abbot's paw as she answered. "'A runaway who would like to stay, yet only she knows the way.' Don't you get it?"
Ivan shook his greying head, a smile playing on his face.
"A runaway from Salamandastron, no doubt! She'll want to stay here, yet only she knows the way to her home!"
Misera steadied Bree. "Now, now. Just where did this elaborate idea come from, miss?"
The excited maid shrugged. "I'm not sure, Misera. It just came to me. Makes sense though, eh?"
Tav joined in Bree's excitement. He grabbed her small paws and twirled her around the room. "Great job, miss! Now the ol' mission can get underway!" Bree could say nothing for she was laughing too hard, but the Abbot stood, chuckling himself, and tried to put on a more serious face.
"Now Tavish. You must listen to the riddle. It says, On the night of winter's eve, to start the Council, four must leave. We must follow the riddle's instructions, and this runaway has not even appeared to us yet! We must be patient."
Tav stopped to listen to the Abbot, sending Bree crashing into him. The two went down laughing. Freesia found herself in tears from giggling too hard. Even Misera, who saw this as a serious matter, was grinning hugely. She nudged Abbot Ivan and nodded to the three chortling young Abbeybeasts.
"Look at them, Ivan. More chipper than blue jays on a spring breeze, I would say. Let us leave this for the night. Tomorrow we will find more answers. Leave them to their happiness."
The Father Abbot smiled too and took his old friend's advice. "I agree, Misera." He waved his frail arms to get the laughing creatures' attentions and said, "Alright, alright. We'll leave it at this for the night. Now you all run along and get ready for bed, before you laugh yourselves to death."
For some reason, that made the three friends laugh even harder, and they walked out of the room, followed by Misera and Ivan. Freesia and Tav leaned on one another, supporting Bree between them, and the three stumbled and fell down the hall, waterfalls of tears running down their faces. The night had ended on a happy, comforting note. Little did any of the creatures at Redwall know that the last piece of the riddle was approaching faster than they thought.
The sun was rising, fiery and brilliant, over the fringes of Mossflower Woods. Tulia Braefleet McScuttie squinted against the glare of the strengthening rays. Her mind was telling her to press onward as she slung her haversack over her back, but the haremaid's heart was reaching back to Fin. His heartbroken eyes, his fading smile as she told him she had to leave. Tulia felt a lump form in her throat thinking about him. What about her parents? What were they going through? And Southstar. The Badger Lord was probably dissapointed in her, even angry. Sad, maybe? Tulia shook her head. No, Why would anybeast be sad that she left. Probably the second she returned they would yell at her, scold her for leaving.
"Tulia Marybell Braefleet McScuttie!" She could hear the voice of Southstar now. "How dare you run away from this mountain young lady! You have forsaken all responsibility for your own selfish actions. What were you thinking, leaving your parents to worry sick about you and leave the cooks with no assistant and..."
The list went on and on inside Tulia's head. She rubbed a paw over her tired eyes and walked on. Her mind was made up. She was going to Redwall, and not even the Badger Lordie himself was going to stop her.
"Oh, how I wish that maid wasn't so stubborn."
Lord Southstar leaned his great head back against the rock wall of the forge, a newly made rapier clenched in a gigantic paw. Finolleap Spurwood stood in front of him, the hare's eyes red from his fruitless conversation with Tulia. She'd told him she had to leave for Redwall and wished never to come back to Salamandastron. She basically told him she never wanted to see him or anybeast fromt the mountain again. His best friend, leaving him for good.
Fin couldn't help but be sensitive. He was normally bright and peppy, but very fragile. It was in his nature. Southstar saw the hare's fallen complexion and ruffled the leveret's ears, a reassuring smile on his wise face.
"Ah, don't you worry young Fin. Although I want Tulia back just as much as you do," The badger leaned in till he was face to face with the hare and whispered, "I had a dream last night."
Fin's eyes immediately lit up. He bounced on the tips of his powerful legs. "Ooh! Tell me 'bout it, sah! If ye don't mind me askin'."
Southstar laughed heartily. "I'll tell you later, Spurwood. For now, though, go get yourself a batch of the mushroom soup ol' Bard just made. You did good, young one. Rest and I will tell you tonight."
Finolleap saluted, whirled on his heels and bolted for the forge door at the mention of food. Before he left, though, the Badger Lord gave him one last statement that stopped him in his tracks.
"Trust me, young Fin. This dream of mine, I think it means that miss McScuttie was meant to go to Redwall Abbey!"
Fin shut the door and headed, slower this time, toward the kitchens. Meant to go to Redwall? Why? He felt the lump coming again. Did the Lordie mean that Tulia would never come back? That couldn't happen.
"That won't happen." Fin muttered.
"Wot won't happen, ol' chap?"
The hare turned to see the sleepy Major Copsleton Hadwill Silistra bumbling over to him. Fin smiled at the sight of the Major. The old hare was meant to go with him on his trek for Tulia, but Copsleton had backed out, going into a silly speech of how "one like this ol' mate here, Fin'lleap Spurwoody, his perfectually fit for this type o' mission, doncha say so, chaps?"
"Nothin', sah. Just mumbling to meself is all."
Copsleton grinned comically and entwined his arm in Fin's, tugging him toward the kitchens. The young hare looked at his companion, a sudden worried thought crossing his mind.
"How're the scouts, Major?"
At the mention of the three unfortunate hares, the old veteran sighed. It had been a few days since they had returned, bruised, battered, and scared, back to Salamandastron. One hare, the clever and decisive Danbright Longeye, was still in critical condition, his leg twisted in ways it shouldn't be, and a brutal gash on the left side of his head. The two others, Algaron Tymballow and Faylee Frunk were off in much better condition. Algaron had but a few bruises on his right arm and Faylee a long cut on the bottom of a footpaw.
Oltar Fireblade's garuvalous horde of vermin were most certainly behind it. The young haremaid, Faylee, had given a riveting account of their run in with their attackers to Lord Southstar, who had stood, scorching mad, as nursehares carried an unconcious Danbright to the infirmary. Copsleton was standing beside the bagder, watching Faylee speak, and Algaron stand by his friend's side, a comforting paw on her shoulder.
"We had a good perimeter. There hadn't been sign of nothin' out on the plains till we entered the woods. Danny told us to stay back, just patrol the plains, but Algy and I were sure we'd heard somethin'. We went to invest'gate an' found rats, lots of rats, just loungin' around, pickin' their teeth with swords, fightin' each other, and whatnot. Then we saw her. T'was a little volemaid, all tied up an' cryin'. That made Danny just so mad, he lost it..."
Faylee had fallen into sobs. Algaron took over for her, holding her tight and speaking in his rough, well-mannered voice.
"He charged out into the camp with his sword out, flailing it around, screaming 'Eulalia!' and all. The rat's charged after him, trying to hack him to pieces as she ran to the little vole. Fay and I ran in after him, yelling for him to stop and escape. We needed a plan, but Danny wouldn't have it." He had looked up at Southstar then, his eyes wide. "It think the Bloodwrath was upon him, sah. Anyway, he saw the rats coming and whirled on them, taking them out, but there were too many. One caught him on the head with his axe,"
Algaron flinched when he said that.
"and another two grabbed his leg. We heard a snap and Danny cried out like a creature in unbearable pain, but he still fought, slashing at the rats on his leg and straining to reach the volemaid. We rushed the remaining rats and picked him up carefully. Something bad had happened to his leg, and we knew it. The rats either guarded the volemaid, nursed their wounds, and few went after us. Good old Fay here fought three off on her own as I dragged Danny along. She joined us and we were able to make it here before the storm came."
Major Copsleton swore he'd seen a tear in Southstar's eye. It was hard not to cry at the heroic story of young Danbright, who's condition now nobeast was certain of. The old hare looked sideways at Finolleap, now coming out of his memory.
"Eh, well young Tymb'low's doin' fine. Faylee's still a-blubberin' but she'll be fine too. Now, young Longeye, can't say much 'bout him."
Fan watched the Major, worried for the sake of the powerful young hare. "What'd you mean, Major? Is he gonna be okay?"
"We ain't quite sure, young one." The Major tried to take Fin's mind off of the sad events that had occured by dragging him down the stairs to the kitchens of Salamandastron, where the scent of the freshly made mushroom soup was wafting through the hall.
"C'mon, Spurwoody. Bet you're gonna want a bit o' soup, eh?" Copsleton waggled his eyebrows and rushed into the room, a laughing Fin not far behind.
Oltar Fireblade looked down upon the little volemaid shaking on the ground, frightened completely out of her wits, with a devious smile on his scarred face. The rats who had brought her to him were injured and bruised, and the corsair had thrown a tyrannical fit when one beast had told him they had been attacked by "three rabid rabbits". To think of it: plenty of well trained and powerful scouts beaten by RABBITS.
Now, though, the Fireblade examined the maid. Clearly she was of no use as a slave. The little brat was as weak as a grain of sand, and not brave enough to serve as a soldier. The fox's sharp eyes flicked over to where the mouse sat, tied up and sleeping, against an oak. Oh well. If she couldn't be a slave or a soldier, she could at least work as bait for when they reached the redstone house.
If we reach the redstone house, a voice nagged inside his head. Oltar growled at the thought. The stupid seer Rutera still said it wasn't right to move on yet. It was losing time, yet the smart fox saw it as a chance to gather supplies, and prisoners. He grinned more and the maid shrieked as he grabbed the collar of her dress. The little vole froze in the corsair's potent stare, unable to do anything as he began to speak in a calm, yet chilling voice.
"Listen vole, and listen good. You are in Oltar Fireblade's horde now. Make one false move, you die. Do anything to upset me, you die. Run away, my rats will find you and, you die. Obey me and my orders, you live. Understand?"
The volemaid, being a volemaid in that case, began to wail, her babyish cries echoing through the trees. Oltar threw down the maid, motioning to a rat. "Tie that little brat up with the mouse. If she decides to act like a stupid baby, she'll soon find out that crying will get her nowhere."
The rat obeyed his master's orders, and oddly the maid stopped crying once she was put beside Boqved, the sleeping mouse. She snuggled up against him and, as if it were a disease, soon fell asleep beside him. The Fireblade rolled his eyes and walked away. At least the idiot had shut up.
The otter could stand. He grinned with triumph, standing tall and proud upon the sands. His dirk was secured by his side. The pain in his chest was still there, still poking around, jabbing him every once in a while, but he felt much better. His quick eyes scanned the bright horizon, the afternoon sun making him squint. The otter's eyes widened when, in the distance, he saw it. A mountain. Surely that was what it was. Could it be the mountain of Salamandastron? If so, that was his best bet. With his mind made up in a matter of seconds, the young male otter strode down the beach, toward the distant sentinel.
Book Two: Questors and Questions
From the excerpts of the writings of Brother Verol, Recorder of Redwall Abbey,
Winter's eve is only days away. Most of the Dibbuns are excited because of the snow and hot cocoa that come along with it. However, for the three beasts from our Abbey who were chosen to go to Salamandastron, it will be a day of goodbyes and good lucks. Poor Bree Redleaf, the maid is so nervous I think her tailhairs will fall off. She does not want to leave the Abbey, and yet why would she? Skipper of Otters, however, is a completely different story. That otter is more spry than a spring breeze. That other ottermaid, Freesia, she was chosen too. She baffles me completely. I am not one to be subjective, but she is an odd one at times. Sister Neiva says her memory is lost. All she can remember is her name, although sometimes not so sure if it even is her real name. Goodness what days we are upon! And with the news of that fox, Olmar Waterblade or whatever the blighter's name is. He has everybeast worried, including me. Perhaps what they say is true and he does attack the Abbey. I suppose this quest should bring something good out of it. Is that young Irma Truffle I hear? She must be coming to get me for supper. I suppose I should go anyway.
Brother Verol turned at the sound of the wooden door slowly creaking open. He had been right. In shuffled young Irma Truffle, a plump little molebabe with the brightest black eyes, and a smile to match. She grinned happily at the old vole, who happened to have a remarkable sense of hearing despite his age. In fact, Verol was most likely the oldest creature in Redwall.
"Hullo moister Vurool. Dinna toim 'tis!" The charming little maid grabbed the vole's frail paw and pulled him from his chair, bumbling out of the room and down the hall to the source of the wafting smells of food floating down from Great Hall. Verol smiled as Irma babbled on aimlessly about a ball game near the Abbey pond that afternoon. Oh, how he loved the Dibbuns. They were so carefree about everything, not having experienced the harshness of the outside world.
Great Hall opened up before him, and the two friends, young and old, ambled into the cheery dinner that was unfolding. Abbot Ivan smiled brightly as Verol sat down beside him, opposite Misera Badgermum, and Irma trundled off to sit next to her older cousin, Jetho Truffle, who happened to be in Foremole's crew. The Abbot nodded as everybeast took their seats, and happily said grace.
Finishing with a deep "Amen!", supper commenced. Freesia sat with Bree Redleaf, chatting amiably despite the fate the two new friends would soon be subject too. Kayra watched her daughter, her eyes sad and longing. Why was her sweet, sensible Bree chosen to venture all the way to the fortress of Salamandastron when she was just as capable? It made no sense. Bree was no warrior. Sure, she was smart and wise for her age, and could easily sort out difficult situations, but say the group was attacked...
Kayra shook her head, dismissing the horrible thoughts that sprung to her mind, and went to sit beside her daughter, forcing a smile on her face when the two saw her. Bree grinned and turned to look at her mother.
"Mum! Freesia and I have been discussing what we'll do once we reach yon mountain. Tis going to be an exciting event, eh Freesia?"
The ottermaid grinned as well and nodded, sipping some more of her grape cordial. "You bet. To think Bree was nearly cryin' about leaving earlier, now she's chipper than a blue jay."
Kayra had to smile at the odd maid's comment. There was definitely something different about Freesia, yet nobeast could put a paw on it.
Further down, a few tables away, Tav, Skipper of Otters, sat with his crew, all gorging on their plentiful food and enjoying every bite. Even Brecken, who had been solitary and serious the past few days, was having a good time partaking in supper. One otter was missing, however. Indrus Greatfall was nowhere to be seen. A younger otter in the crew, Songblue, noticed his absence and stuck his dark head up, searching Great Hall. He tapped Skipper on the shoulder and whispered the otter's disappearance to him.
Tav nodded and motioned for Songblue to come with him. He pulled Kayra Redleaf aside and brought her along too. As winter was getting closer, nighttime was coming quicker. Therefore it was already pitch dark outside. Tav grabbed a lantern and opened the large, heavy front door of Great Hall leading to the courtyard, leaving behind the merriment of suppertime.
Kayra's ears pricked up at the sound of a thud and flapping wings. "Look!" She pointed to a black form near the orchard. The three ran silently over, everybeast suddenly noticing a large crow flying off into the woods. Tav's eyes narrowed and he pulled his attention to the form on the ground. Songblue knelt down beside it with the lantern in paw. Kayra's scream broke the stillness of the night air.
Father Abbot Ivan stood over the prone, cold body of Indrus Greatfall, silent tears streaming down his grey cheeks. Misera stood beside him, her eyes shining with unshed tears, powerful paws clenched in fury. Tav was speechless, unable to grasp what had just happened. Nearly an hour before, he had been walking down the stairs to supper, laughing with Indrus, and now he was standing over the otter's dead body. Kayra had left, unable to bear the sight, and the rest of Skipper's crew stood behind him, heads bowed, all quiet.
Indrus's honey-colored fur was stained with blood, a black feathered arrow piercing his chest. The crow seen flying away had no doubt speared him with it. Strangely, the otter's face was peaceful, almost happy, his eyes closed and his mouth slightly open. Supper had ended early that night, nobeast wanting to eat more after hearing the news, or seeing the result. Dibbuns were sent to bed, merely told that Indrus was injured, and the older Abbeybeasts had done the same, all shocked and sad at the tragic, sudden loss.
Misera spoke first, her voice an angry shaking hiss, holding the paper that had been on the arrow.
"OF. The letters read OF." Her eyes blazed. "I think we all know who's responsible for this."
Oltar Fireblade. The corsair's name ran through everybeast's head. The Abbot sighed and patted the still paw of Indrus, the tears still coming. "Why, Misera? He-he did nothing wrong. Why must th-this beast terrorize us with warnings?"
"'Cause he's a bilge-nosed, scum-tailed, cowardly son of Hellgates, that's why." Tav growled. He spun on his footpaw and left the infirmary, not able to stand the sight of his dead comrade any longer. The rest watched him go, Abbot Ivan with wide eyes. Never had he heard Skipper talk like that before.
Once he was in the hallway heading toward the dormitories, Tav let the tears fall, fresh and unbridled. In his mad dash to his room, Tav ran smack into Freesia. The ottermaid steadied him. She saw his tear-streaked face, and he saw her's. Without a word, the two locked in a tight, comforint embrace.
"I'm sorry." Freesia whispered in his ear. Tav said nothing. The silent waterfall continued. There stood the two friends, never letting go, in the dark hallway. Outside, in the dark, desolate night, a crow cawed.
The funeral was the next day. The sun shone bright and there were a few puffy clouds wandering about in the gorgeous blue sky. Tav leaned against the window of his dormitory room, wondering why a day so tragic had weather so beautiful. The door creaked open slowly, and the otter turned to see Oera, the mousemaid, poking her head in, her eyes round and watery.
"It's time." She said softly. Tav nodded slowly and stood up, his limbs feeling stiff and weak after a restless sleep. He sighed and walked out to follow the young mouse. As much as he had loved Indrus, Tav couldn't see how he could face his own comrade's funeral. The Dibbuns had not been allowed to come, as it would have been to nerve-wracking for them - Indrus had been deeply loved by all the little ones - and the adults could come if they wanted.
Even so, around the Abbey pond was filled with creatures paying respects to a brave friend. Indrus was to be buried under the largest oak in the grassy land by the pond, where he loved to lean against and sleep on hot, lazy afternoons.
Tav opened the door of Great Hall, and everybeast in the lawn turned to look at him. He immediately felt self-conscious. Abbot Ivan beckoned him over to where he stood with Misera and the rest of Skipper's crew. The old mouse's eyes were sad, a sympathetic smile on his lips. "Welcome, my son. I am glad you joined us. This must be difficult for you."
Tav managed a weak smile back, then stood beside the Abbot. He spotted Freesia across from the burial site, standing next to Foremole Bunkel and his crew of honest, good-natured moles who all bore a painting of mourning on their velvety faces. Freesia caught her friend's eye and held his gaze, silently trying to comfort him. Tav looked away, unable to look anybeast in the eye.
The procession was slow, silent, and respectful. A few said some good words about the otter, but Tav could not bring himself to say anything. He would only break down in front of the Abbeybeasts, diminishing any sense of wellness among the creatures of Redwall. Once it was all over, the crowd slowly diminished, leaving behind flowers on the small grave. Tav stayed behind, sitting beside the resting place of his good friend. He soon fell asleep, exhausted by the past events.
Freesia sat inside the gatehouse with Skipper's crew, and Misera. The Abbot had gone about the Abbey, comforting anybeast who needed it. Freesia knew who needed it most, but everybeast felt it be best to leave him alone for now. She sipped a cup of water and glanced around at the crew, her soft brown eyes noticing the dramatic change they had taken. From the joking, loud, boistoroius group of otters they used to be to solemn, quiet mourners was more of a change tha Freesia could take. She watched Brecken stare into her cup, off in another world. Songblue, who had first seen Indrus's body, was comforting Riverleap, who leaned on his broad shoulder, a few tears escaping her watery eyes.
Misera Bagdermum could not stand the morbidness any longer. She patted two otters on the backs and smiled. "Now, now. Just look at you lot. Do you think old Indrus would like to see his comrades all shaken up like this? I think not!" Her voice became softer and she leaned down, looking all the crew, including Freesia, in the eye. "Indrus Greatfall was a great otter, a happy, optimistic beast. He will always be with us in our hearts, watching over us. He will never leave, and one day you will see him again. Think of it that way."
Brecken smiled and nodded. "Thank's for your advice, Misera."
The other's agreed quietly. They were a bit happier due to the badger's message, but the great weight that was now pressing on their hearts would be there for a long time.
Oltar Fireblade leaned against the old wood of his throne like chair, napping in the glow of the afternoon sun. He was almost starting to enjoy this stationary thing. Maybe Rutera was right. Rest was what he needed before conquering a castle. He opened his eyes a smidge and saw his recently promoted rat captain, Redskull, approaching. The fox groaned and sat up.
"What do you want, Redskull? Can't you see I'm sleeping?" He grumbled. The rat, seeing his leader was not in a good mood, stiffened and made his report quickly.
"Provisions still up tae date, Cap'n. Ev'rybeast ready for yer orders, Cap'n. No sign o' that crow yet, Cap'n." The rat stood motionless, waiting for the Fireblade's answer. The corsair sighed irritably. The crow, Yriss, had been sent out to the redstone Abbey on a mission, and still had not returned.
The fox looked up at Redskull, squinting in the sunlight. "Good job, Redskull. Report back to me the second that bird arrives."
Redskull nodded quickly and descended back down the hill into the camp. Oltar watched him go, his mind on other things. Word had reached him that there was a small village nearby, packed with food, possible weapons, and slaves. The corsair grinned deviously at the image it painted. Plenty of slaves would be nice. His mind made up in a matter of seconds, the horde leader grabbed his long cutlass and strutted happily down the hill, into the camp. The hordebeasts saw their Captain coming and immediately saluted him. The Fireblade grinned and addressed the horde, his voice booming over the field, waking the two prisoners still tied to the oak.
"Everybeast! Bring your attention to me! It has been addressed that there is a profitable village on the outskirts of our camp. A horde needs food, weapons, materials, and slaves! I plan to attack the village tomorrow night. Anybeast who does not fight will die by my cutlass. Those who do will be rewarded! What say you?" He shouted.
"We follow Oltar Fireblade, Commander of Land and Sea!!!"
The sea of voices shouting back could be heard throughout the forest, sending chills into the hearts of the two poor prisoners, mouse and vole, who bore witness to the birthing of a tyrant's awful scheme.
The forest was dark, and full of shadows from the full moon. The ottermaid traveled on, pushing through the undergrowth in her haste. Something was following her. The rustling noises behind her were growin louder, closer. The maid's dark eyes darted around, a chill running down her spine as she felt somebeast was watching her. Suddenly, a sword appeared at her feet. It was a curved blade, with strange writing on it. She could not make out what it meant, then out of the blue, a maniacal laugh pierced the shadowy silence. The ottermaid whirled to see a large figure in front of her, sword drawn. She could not see what, or whom it was, but noticed another dark form sneaking up on the menacing figure. The smaller beast, dagger in paw, leapt onto the larger one's back. The ottermaid gasped as the bigger shadow screamed in pain, and the two strangers fell to the ground. Before she could do a thing, a loud cry rang through the forest. "SUNWAAAAAAAVE!!!"
Freesia sat bolt upright in her bed, sweat pouring down her brow, heart pounding like a drum. She lay back down on her pillows, trying to slow her breathing and her heart. What a strange dream! She hadn't dreamt anything like that in days. Now, it was a different dream, but the scene of the one figure jumping on the other was strangely familiar. As was the cry of "Sunwave" before she awoke.
"I can't remember a thing anyway, so it could be anything from my past, or just something my dreams made up." Freesia said sadly to herself. Her memory was still gone, and it bothered her greatly to not remember. The ottermaid heaved herself out of bed, all feelings of sleep escaped from her mind. The moon's light shone faintly in through the window, and she lit a small lantern for more light. Freesia sat on the desk chair across from the bed, thinking hard. Maybe if she thought long and hard enough, something would come.
Her mind was blank. Freesia stared into the little flame of the lantern, her eyes watering up. "Please," She whispered to no one in particular, "please give me something. Anything!" Once again, nothing came save for the tears. The troubled maid covered her face in the sleeves of her woven tunic, the sobs shaking her slim form.
Misera Badgermum and Father Abbot Ivan sat on a bench under one of the huge oaks around the Abbey pond. It was another gorgeous day, but the breeze was blowing, and it was chillier tha usual, a sure sign that winter was on its way. The creatures of Redwall were still in mourning, but the mood was definitely lighter. The two old friends relaxed in the cool air, watching as red, orange, and yellow leaves gently brushed the pond's surface, sending out battalions of ripples across the water.
The Abbot sighed, snuggling deeper into his warm, brown habit. "What a glorious day, eh Misera? It's a shame it has to be one of mourning. I have seen no sign of Skipper or our guest Freesia today. In fact, I have seen much more of Brecken than them."
The huge badger patted the Abbot's shoulder in agreement. "It's not right. Skipper has taken Indrus's death harder than anybeast here. I've never seen him so heartbroken in my life. But what about Freesia? The maid has been locked in her room all day. She's been so social ever since she came here, and suddenly, this!"
"Do you suppose she's mourning?" Ivan ventured.
Misera shook her head. "No that cannot be it. She barely knew Indrus at all. I think it's something else. Do you remember when Sister Neiva told us that Freesia remembered nothing but her name?"
The Father Abbot looked up at his friend, nodding. She continued. "It must be troubling her. I would be upset if I could not remember anything. The poor maid, she must be terrified. I do wish we knew where she came from and who she really is. Freesia is...different. I can tell."
"Yes, different. You may go comfort her if you like, but I suggest we leave her be. She may want to be left along if she's had her door locked all day." The Abbot said matter-of-factly.
Misera nodded and leaned her head against the trunk of the huge tree. "You're right, Father Abbot. With our four leaving in a matter of days, we cannot afford to have any more troubles, tragedies, or anything of that nature."
The little Dibbun mole, Irma, was fast asleep in the arms of Skipper. Both were snoring loudly in Cavern Hole, completely content for the time being. Kayra Redleaf, Misera, and the Father Abbot poked their heads in. The squirrel smiled softly at the sight.
"Now would ye look at that." She whispered.
"Finally that poor otter is settling down." Misera shook her head, but couldn't help but smile at the two friends asleep and comfortable in the large chair.
The Abbot nodded, and the three left the silent room. "Indeed. We all need to settle down and rest while we can. Indrus's death has woken us all wide awake. I have a heart-wrenching feeling this is only the calm before the storm."
The moonless night left the landscape around the fortress of Salamandastron shadowless, a black sentinel upon the beach. Inside, candles lit the rock halls and rooms of the maze-like mountain. Inside the infirmary, the old nurse, Beloca, was dozing beside the bed of Danbright Longeye, the candle flickering warm light around the small room. The young hare was still in critical condition, unable to be move, unable to awaken. Beloca was relieved to finally get a bit of sleep, always trying to calm the leveret during his dream-created spasms. Any movements could hurt his broken leg even more, and who knew what damage the axe slash to his head had created.
Now, however, all was quiet, and the two hares were both fast asleep, so neither noticed when the Badger Lord Southstar and Major Copsleton peeked in. The major looked up at his gigantic companion, motioning toward the nurse and patient.
"There ye have it, sah! Told ye they'd be sleepin' like there's no tomorrow." The old hare whispered.
Southstar nodded, his eyes sad as he looked upon the fragile form of Danbright. "It's a shame about that young one. I had high hopes for him. He's an excellent runner, very clever and decisive. Now, who knows what will become of him."
The Major's long ears drooped in agreement. "Aye, sah. But ol' Beloca's doin' the best she can."
The badger placed a huge paw on his companion's shoulder. "That she is. I doubt she's gotten a good sleep in days, having to deal with that one." Copsleton looked back up at his leader, eyes sad as well.
"You'm seen Faylee lately, m'lord? Poor gel's all broken up o'er what happened to Da'bright. Al'gron's not much better either. Those young ones ain't used to war, an' injuries like this 'un."
The Badger Lord backed out of the dim room, the Major following. "They'll need to get used to it. Once the Council of Mossflower is underway, all hares here must be ready for war, whether it happens or not."
Major Copsleton, despite the mood, puffed out his chest and stood straight in a comical manner, his eyes hard but twinkling, twirling about his crop and hissing out orders as Southstar watched, struggling not to laugh.
"You bally lazy lot! Get off'm your poofy stumps an' stand tae attention when addressin' an officer! Now, we be goin' intae battle, chaps an' chapesses. Swords at the ready, hearts in the front, an' "Eulalias" ready for shoutin', off we go! An' bein' led by a jolly Badger Lord, I expect you lot to show respect when battlin' with 'im! UNDERSTOOD??"
Southstar clamped a paw over the Major's mouth when he got too loud. The Badger Lord laughed as he pulled the hare down the hall, whispering, "Good job, my friend, but a little too loud for this time of night. Understood?"
Copsleton grinned sheepishly and nodded. "Aye, understood m'lord. Suppose I got a little too carried 'way in ma speech, huh?"
The bagder smiled. "Just a bit."
Finolleap Spurwood lay in bed, his sheet pulled up to his mouth, head deep in the pillow, comfy and in a light, yet satisfying sleep. The candle had just gone out, and the room was as black as shadows. Fin's past few days had been very trying, and now it was a relief to finally sleep and relax. However, one of his long, sandy colored ears pricked up a second before an ear-splitting scream split the silent air.
The young hare sat bolt upright in his bed, eyes wide and heart pounding at the blood-curdling sound. Leaping out of bed, Fin quickly wrapped his green tunic around him and ran blindly toward the doorway. He slipped on the rug that lay beside his bed and flew, footpaws first, through the doorway and into the hall, where other hares were gathering, all shaken by the unearthly scream. They all glanced around at each other, hoping the other would have an answer. Fin saw Brigadier Flytblade running through the growing crowd, heading down the hall to the stairs. The leveret followed, yearning to know what was happening.
"Brig!" Fin cried. "Wait for me, marm!"
He was pushed off his footpaws again when two hares dashed past him. Fin recognized them as Algaron Tymballow and Faylee Frunk. Algy was holding Fay's paw, pulling her along as they followed the Brigadier. That could only mean one thing. Fin groaned as he ran after them. It had to be.
The infirmary was cleared of all curious hares. Lord Southstar was standing in the doorway, his dark eyes wide, worried. Fin nearly slammed into Flytblade in his mad dash down the stairs. The Brigadier turned and, seeing the disheveled hare, couldn't help but smile weakly. Fin, however, was in no mood for smiles. His huge green eyes stared up at the Brig.
"Wh-what's happenin' marm?"
Flytblade sighed and looked over at Southstar. Algaron and Faylee had gone into the infirmary, the only ones Beloca allowed in with her. The Badger Lord was staring into the room as he spoke, his voice husky with sleep.
"It was young Danbright. The poor leveret had a nightmare. He's not saying anything, an I am guessing he's still asleep. Faylee is patting his head and Algaron's holding his paw. Beloca must be giving him some medicine. She has sleeping medicine that helps for deeper, less disturbed sleep. Other than that, I do not think we can do much more."
Flytblade, Fin, and any other hares around, all bowed their heads. Ever since Danbright had come back to the mountain with his injuries, he had been in and out of sleep, mumbling to himself, refusing any food but tasteless crackers, and now screaming in his nightmares. Whether this would last long, nobeast knew, but Beloca had said that, from his condition, the symptoms could be worse, and permanant in worst case scenario.
After a few minutes of milling about, and making sure that the medicine had taken sure effect, everybeast went back to their beds. Algaron and Fay would stay with Danbright and Beloca throughout the night, and Lord Southstar promised to check up on them time to time, saying there was little chance he would get to sleep anyway.
Finolleap, now annoyed at being awoken, trundled back to his room. Sure, he was worried about Danny, but as long as the hare was is no mortal danger, Fin felt there was no reason to be woken up in the dead of night.
Down in the infirmary, however, sleep was no longer on the minds of those tending to Danbright Longeye. Faylee was sitting beside the unconscious hare, smoothing the hairs on his head over and over again while Algaron held his paw comfortingly. Beloca had administered the medicine to keep the injured hare deep in sleep, and hopefully deprive him of more nightmares.
Faylee looked over at her companion, her wide eyes glowing softly in the candlelight. "Algy? Do ye think Danny's gonna be alright? Will the me'cine work?"
Algaron stared back at her, his handsome face a picture of sympathy. "I don't know, Fay old gel, but Danny's a strong fellow. He'll pull through for us." Algaron motioned to the old hare nurse. "Beloca know's what she is doing too."
"O' 'course I bally do! Young Longeye here'd be dead if'n not for me, miss Frunk!"
The two friends looked to see the bumbling Beloca mixing more medicine, a huge grin on her face despite the circumstanced. Fay laughed and nodded. "Ye win, marm. Ye win."
The screams were still ringing in his ears. The hooded figure had watched, helplessly, as the village of the kindly creatures that had taken him in was burned to the ground. Most were dead, and a few taken by those murderous scum of the fox, Oltar Fireblade. He didn't even deserve a name. Weapons, food, everything was taken. Now, nothing was left of the village save for painful memories that would last with him forever. The hooded creature limped off into the wood. His search would begin again. He needed to find troops to fight against the corsair, or at least any of his family members. The night, black and moonless, hung over the cloaked one in a grieving state of darkness. It was time to move on.
Boqved watched, sickened as the captives from the burnt down village were brought before the Fireblade. he had been asked the same question days before: "Will you join under the leadership of Oltar Fireblade, or would you like to be let go?"
The mouse shook his head at the meaning of those seemingly innocent words. He had chosen to "join" the horde in order to protect the little volemaid, Sunflower. If he was "let go", the poor maid would be at the mercy of the vermin. Thankfully, Sunflower was still sleeping, so she would not have to see the scene that was about to unfold.
The poor beasts, caked in black ash from the flames, were brought, paws bound and silent, before the feet of the corsair fox. He looked down at them with an expression of contempt. Mice, hedgehogs, and a few squirrels were among the small remnant of the village. Huh, he thought dismissively, they're of just about as much use as rocks in quicksand. Oltar stood from his chair, making himself look as terrible as he could, and eyed the group/
"Now, now, what do we have here? A couple of refugees from a burnt down village, eh? Tsk tsk, what a horrible incident." A few hordebeasts snickered at the words. "Being the just creature that I am, I will give you a choice. You can either join my horde as slaves or soldiers, or I can let you go."
The captives' eyes lit up at the thought of being free. Boqved saw it in their eyes and he struggled against the rope that held him to the oak. "Beware your choice, friends!! If ye want to be let go, he'll kill ye!!" The mouse shouted, unaware of a ferret standing behind him. He was knocked senseless by the soldier's spear butt.
The group, now unsure and terrified, looked around at one another. Two twin squirrels, a boy and girl, pushed their way to the front, eyeing the Fireblade ferociously.
"We'll ne'er join ye horde, vermin! Kill us if ye want!" The male squirrel spat at the fox's feet. His sister agreed. "Ye'll never break our spirit, ye one-eyed, toad-faced, bilge-bottomed excuse for a fox!!"
The rest of the village looked on with huge eyes and slack jaws. Oltar Fireblade quivered tremendously with fury. He drew the long cutlass and pointed it at the twin squirrels. "Nobeast speaks like that to Oltar Fireblade and lives! Guards!!"
A pawful of rats dragged the two brave creatures into the woods, grunting and fighting to keep them in their grasps. The corsair glared as he watched them leave, then looked back at the group of trembling creatures. "Thanks to your two friends over there, your lives just became much worse. You all will be slaves of me and my horde. Failure to do as I say means death. If I feel the need to dispose of you, I will. Is that clear?"
Oltar's voice was smooth as butter, but his words sent ragged chills through everybeast from the village. They all nodded dumbly, defeated and scared. The volemaid, Sunflower, had awoken at the sound of the yelling squirrels. She watched in silent surprise as the new arrivals of the camp were led off, quiet and huddled together, out of sight.
Redwall Abbey was nearly back to it's old self again. Though the tradgedy of Indrus Greatfall's death was still greatly present among Abbeybeasts, the mood was preferably lighter, and regular duties were taken up again. However, Tavish, Skipper of Otters, could not get the picture of his comrade's dead body out of his mind. The night they found the poor otter speared by an arrow was lodged deep in his memories, and it haunted him nearly every waking minute. He strolled along the ramparts atop the west wall of the Abbey. Thoughts of Indrus buzzed around in his head like angry wasps.
"Ahoy, there Skip! I here there's to be war on our fronts soon, eh?"
"Not to worry, Indrus. If there's any war going on, we'll be ready for it. Beside's, we're going to Salamandastron, remember?"
"Hah! You're goin' me ol' mate. I'd rather stay an' defend this ol' batch of bricks than go off to some unknown fortress. There wouldn't be no food there anyway. All the hares on the mountain'd eat it all!"
Tav smiled to himself. Indrus was always the laughing kind, making a joke out of everything.
"Skipper!" He looked up to see Songblue standing there, eyes worried. "There's no sign of Indrus. He never came to supper."
Tav stood, taking in the situation, and got Kayra Redleaf to come with them on a search for the otter. The squirrel joked that he'd gone to raid the orchard for blueberries. That was where they decided to check first. Out in the night, he noticed a form lying on the ground. Kayra pointed out a crow flying out into the night. Tav's eyes narrowed. Crows were never known to be goodbeasts. If Indrus had had an encounter with it...Tav erased the thought from his mind when Songblue lit up the form with the light of his lantern...
Tav looked up at the sun, the tears coming again. He shut his eyes tight and sat down, leaning his muscled back against the brick. No more crying. No more mourning. Indrus was gone, and there was nothing he could do about it. The otter tried to think of what Misera had told him. "Young Greatfall is in a better place, Skip. He feels no pain. He is happy."
"He is happy." Tav whispered to himself. "Yes, he's happy."
"Who's happy?" Skipper turned his head to see Freesia walking toward him, two bowls of strawberry cordial in her paws. Tav couldn't help but feel relieved at the sight of her. Not only did he need company, but the cordial looked far too appetizing. The ottermaid sat beside him and Tav happily took a bowl.
"Thanks, Freesia. I was gettin' a little hungry."
Freesia smiled. "Your welcome Skip. The Abbot told me I'd find you up here. Figured you needed some company."
Tav looked at her from the corner of his eye, a small smile on his face. "Please miss, call me Tav. And, yes, it does tend to get a little lonely up here."
Freesia eyed the otter. "Um, ok Tav. Why are you up here anyway? Everybeast is worried about you being so solitary. I'm worried about you."
"Really?" Tav's eyes lit up, but he regained himself. "I, uh, I mean, there's nothin' to worry about. I'm fine."
"Sure there's not." Freesia smiled softly. Tav met her gaze and held it for a moment when he noticed the gold band on her arm.
"Eh. Where'd you get that?" He motioned to it. Freesia looked at the band. It was intricantly carven with pictures of suns and waves of the sea below them. She shrugged and touched it, some unknown memory tugging at the back of her mind.
"I, I don't know. I can't remember a thing since I was washed up on the beach."
Tav's eyes widened. The beach? He realized he had never heard the maid's tale of before she came to Redwall. Had anybeast heard anything? "Washed up? Please, Freesia, tell me what happened before you came here."
Freesia nodded. "Okay. It was the original reason I came to the Abbey, before everything else here took place." And so she launched into her short, bittersweet tale that sent Tav's mind wandering, thinking.
Freesia and Tav stood in the presence of Father Abbot Ivan and Misera Badgermum. The maid had just related to them her story again, and now sent mouse and badger thinking. The Abbot was still in shock. Their sweet, kind Freesia had killed seven tatooed vermin within a matter of seconds in an attack that seemed equal to that of the Bloodwrath, seen in the mighty Badger Lords of Salamandastron. Tav had been surprised too. He had never seen Freesia as a warrior, but her story made his respect for the maid even stronger.
"Oltar Fireblade's scouts, eh?" Misera mused. "And you say he has the to mice, Boqved and Evy?"
The ottermaid nodded. "That's the real reason I came here. For help. I don't know what's happened to them now. I'm hopin' they're alright..." A worried looked shadowed Freesia's pretty features. Abbot Ivan placed a comforting paw on her shoulder.
"Worrying will get us nowhere, Freesia. Action is the way. When your group leaves for Salamadastron, we will gather help from around the woods. A few bands of squirrels and some otters and Skipper here knows are already on their way."
Misera shook her huge, striped head. "That may help, but if this fox's horde comes to our walls, we will need much more. If he is still in the area you described, Freesia, we may have enough time for troops from the mountain to arrive."
The Abbot sighed and sat on one of the large chairs in Cavern Hole. "I dearly hope our Abbey does not have to endure war. We have had many seasons of peace here. The creatures here do not know the first thing about battles, and those who have experienced them have either passed on or are too old to fight."
Tav clasped Freesia's paw, his tone hard and courageous. "Don't worry, Father Abbot. If'n that fox comes, I'll fight to the last breath for Redwall." Freesia looked up at the otter, an admiring look on her face. Misera nodded, her large eyes fiery, the warlike spirit of badger's past broiling up inside her. However, Abbot Ivan was not so keen to agree. As much as he loved Skipper's courage, he hoped and prayed that somehow, Redwall would be spared from war.
Nighttime was once again upon Redwall Abbey. Creatures were settling down for the night, stomachs full on dinner. Bree Redleaf, however, sat inside the Abbey gatehouse, her nose buried in a huge, thick, dust-covered book. It was a compiled history of Salamandastron. The young squirrelmaid had taken to the gatehouse, supper and all, and grabbed a pile of books on the mountain. She was learning much, as was deeply intrigued by the tales of powerful Badger Lords and the valiant Long Patrol hares that fight at their side.
The huge wooden door opened and the ottermaid, Freesia, popped her head in. Bree looked up and smiled at the sight of her new friend. Freesia sat down beside the squirrelmaid. "What're you looking at, Bree? Looks interesting."
Bree grinned. "Oh, it is. Tis all about the history of yon mountain, Salamadastron. Badger Lords, hares, magic swords, tis all here! I'm excited tae go now, Freesia!"
The ottermaid patted her friend's shoulder happily. "That's the spirit! No good to start a quest in a foul mood."
"No good indeed." Bree laughed. "Have ye ever seen a Bagder Lord, Freesia?" She looked inquisitively at the ottermaid. Freesia looked up at the towering bookcases as if trying to think back to a far off memory.
"I don't think I have, Bree. I faintly remember somebeast telling me about them, how big and powerful and wise they are." The maid's eyes narrowed as she tried to think back. Bree gasped.
"You remember? Freesia! You remember something!" The squirrel clasped her friend's paw excitedly.
Freesia sighed, a sad smile on her face. "Mayhaps I do, but it's not enough."
Bree Redleaf nodded understandingly. She could not think of what it would be like to not remember a thing from her past. It would be too horrible. Her eyes happened to wander to the strange golden band on Freesia's right arm. Too bad she couldn't remember, Bree would love to know about that beautiful band.
The friends' heads jerked up at the sound of the door opening again. In came one of Foremole Bunkel's crew members, Jetho Truffle. The kindly mole bowed his head quickly to the two maids, a jolly smile on his chubby features. "Guid ervning, marms! Yon Farver Abboit asks if'n you two coim insoide for tae noight. Tis bein' roiny outsoide!"
Bree and Freesia glanced at each other, grinning at the mole's quaint speech. The squirrelmaid stood up and doused the two candles. "Thank ye, Jetho. We'll follow you to Great Hall." She helped Freesia up and the two friends followed and trundling mole out into the light drizzle, sleepyness coming over them all.
Misera, Abbot Ivan, and Kayra Redleaf all sat in Cavern Hole. The rest of the Abbey was sound asleep, save for the three adults. Ivan was troubled, as were the other two. There were two days until the chosen beasts left for Salamandastron, thought they still had no fourth traveler, Freesia and Bree were convinced that the fourth would show up before they left, but the Abbot's trust in that proposition was quickly fading. Misera Badgermum was angered greatly at the thought of the horrible fox still roaming Mossflower, terrorizing goodbeasts and what not. Kayra was worried about her daughter. Although she was happy that Bree was not as scared to leave, the squirrel mother was scared to let her travel all the way to the western coast.
"Imagine," Kayra began in a shaky tone, "my little Bree out there with that fox and his horde with nobeast else but two otters and some unknown other. I can't think of it." She shook her head wearily, the traditional leaf-shaped necklace of the Redleaf family swinging on her neck. Misera's eyes softened and she squeezed her friend's paw.
"Now, now, no reason to get too worked up about it. If Bree was not meant to go, she would not have been in the riddle. Martin is telling her to go, Kayra, trust me."
The Abbot nodded, his wise face solemn. "I agree with Misera. Though I do not like the thought either, something tells me they will reach the mountain unharmed, and once they arrive, they will be completely safe. With a Badger Lord and regiments of hares, I would be surprised if anybeast there was unsafe!"
Kayra couldn't help but smile. "I suppose that's a bit more comforting. Thank ye, both of ye."
Misera nodded. "You're very welcome. Tomorrow we must help them prepare. I am worried about our fourth questor though. What should we do if she doesn't come? Father Abbot?"
"I, I do not know, Misera." Ivan sighed. "The riddle says that only she knows the way. It's true. Nobeast here knows the way to Salamandastron, or if they do, have not spoken up."
Kayra and the Bagdermum nodded understandingly. With no fourth traveler, the quest was as good as gone. Kayra hoped that whoever they were, they would come soon, but deep in the back of her mind, something pleaded for nobeast to come so that she would not have to see her daughter leave.
Abbot Ivan was the last to go to sleep that night. He bumbled out to make sure the gatehouse was locked. After checking, he walked sleepily back to the dormitories. a sudden cold breeze whipped through the air, billowing the old mouse's tunic and nearly knocking him off his feet. While readjusting his glasses, Ivan noticed something falling from the sky. He squinted at the small object. A snowflake! Many more began to fall, silent and cold in the Abbey courtyard. The Abbot grinned as he watched the peaceful fall of the white, frozen rain. Winter was coming.
Tulia Braefleet McScuttie woke up with a start. She stared in wonder at the silvery vista all around her. Snow covered the woods as far as the eye could see. The haremaid brushed off the cold clumps off of her and her haversack. The night before, she had heard the great bells of Redwall Abbey ringing loud throughout Mossflower. She was very close to the Abbey. In fact, Tulia was sure she would reach it by that afternoon.
After a quick breakfast of cold jam-covered toast and a swig of water - Tulia had become amazingly responsible when it came to eating, for a hare - the haremaid headed east again. She was in much higher spirits now that the Abbey was iminent. Now, though, there was a thought nagging at the back of her mind. What if they did not accept her? She had always heard that Abbeybeasts were peaceful and kind to travelers, but suppose they had something against...runaways.
'Course not, Tulia scolded herself, those Abbeybeasts're good creatures. They'll take me in.
The haremaid strode down the snow-covered path, eager to reach the Abbey soon. The sun was already up, but the thick clouds covering it and the breeze kept the temperature freezing. Tulia, however, was very resilient to harsh conditions, an attribute which she thought could get her into the Long Patrol. Turns out I was wrong, she thought, clenching her teeth at the memory.
Tulia traveled through Mossflower Woods for a considerable time, when suddenly, she saw a break in the trees, There was something beyond it, something big. The maid's face lit up as she charged through the snow. After what seemed like forever, Tulia broke through the trees and gasped at the sight.
Morning broke, thankfully silent and relaxed, in the fortress of Salamandastron. Lord Southstar grunted and stretched, his eyes droopy as he hauled himself out of bed. His stomach was rumbling up a storm and he stumbled out into the hallway. Southstar smiled as the faint smell of breakfast drifted up the halls. Food. Glorious food. The badger tightened the dar brown tunic around him as cold air drifted in from his bedroom window. He shook his head to wake himself up a bit and headed down the hall. The Long Patrol would be expecting him for breakfast.
Sure enough, the hares were waiting, eyes alight at the thought of breakfast, at the huge table of the dining hall. They stood and saluted Southstar traditionally, then the cooks brought out mouthwatering trays of omelets, biscuits, and jugs of grape juice from the kitchens. Algaron and Faylee dove in like twin tornadoes, tucking away every last morsel they could get their paws on. Brigadier Flytblade, Major Copsleton, and Lieutenant Dorothea laughed along with Southstar, watching the leverets gorge.
"Ye think they'd been surivin' a flippin' ten season famine!" Dotti chortled, holding her stomach when it hurt.
"Lovely lot, aren't they?" Flytblade grinned slyly. "D'ye think I should rough 'em up a bit?"
Southstar smiled down at the tough female hare. "Aye, Flyt. Just, don't be too hard on them." The Brig nodded and stood, her eyes hard and her voice loud and commanding.
"Long Patrol! Sit at attention ye lily-livered batch o' magpies! What d'ye think yer doin'? Gorgin' down on the meal afore the Lordie's even gotten a bite in? Shame on ye! Now, sit still an' eat quietly, or I'll make ye run the per'meter of the mountain afore the sun's at noon!"
The dining hall was as silent as a graveyard. Leverets looked up at the Brigadier with huge eyes. One hare, Narya Fallopaw, had paused in mid leap for an omelet and was looking at Flytblade in surprise. Everything was quiet. Then, out of the blue, Major Copsleton burst out into laughter. Tears rolled down the chubby hare's cheeks as he tried to contain himself. Southstar was grinning hugely, and Dotti joined in the Major's loud chortles. Soon, once the Long Patrol hares realized the joke, the entire dining hall was laughing, and it could be heard all throughout the mountain of Salamandastron.
Down in the infirmary, Beloca smiled as the echoes of laughter from the dining hall spilled into the room. She placed a cold washcloth gently on Danbright's head. Thankfully, the young hare had been in a quiet, deep sleep. Hopefully this meant he was calming down some. His nightmares and restlessness kept the harenurse up for many unhealthy hours of the night, and she wasn't sure how much more she could take. However, the faithful Beloca was going to do whatever it took to see that the leveret was better again.
Danbright twitched and muttered something in his sleep. Beloca watched him with anxious eyes, hoping nothing bad would happen, and that the worst - those blood-curdling screams in the night - was over.
Oltar Fireblade, watched, eyes narrowed, as the prisoners conversed amongst themselves. quietly, secretly, like they didn't want him to here. Little did they know how greatly that angered the fox. They could be planning escape, gossiping about the corsair, or otherwise. Taking a deep breath, Oltar put on a sly, relaxed expression and ambled down the hill, paw resting on the hilt of his cutlass, toward the whispering group.
One of the members, a hedgehog, noticed the fox approaching and sushed the others, motioning to the corsair warlord. "Shush! Here he comes!" He hissed at the unsuspecting captives. The Fireblade stopped in front of them, inspecting each of the silent mice, hedgehogs, and squirrels. His gaze stopped on a young mouse. The fox poked the terrified creature with the point of his cutlass.
"You there. What's your name?" Oltar asked, his voice smooth as honey.
"J-Jack Fieldm-mouse, s-sir." The mouse barely choked out. The Fieldmouse was young, fit, and handsome. His huge green eyes followed the tip of the sword as it wandered from his chest back to it's sheath. Jack's mother, an elderly mouse, was rigid behind him.
The corsair smiled, seemingly innocent, and beckoned Jack to come with him. The young mouse gulped and followed, afraid to make a sound. He heard his mother stifle a sob behind him and closed his eyes, pleading silently that she would be alright, no matter what happened to him. His father had been lost in the raid of the village. Dead or not, his mother had lost her other half and could not afford to lose any more. Jack stopped as Oltar Fireblade turned, looking the mouse up and down. Finally, he spoke, the voice smooth, yet chilling.
"Jack Fieldmouse, eh? Well, Jack, you look like a strong, healthy young mouse. I am giving you the chance to be more tha just a prisoner. How would you like to be my personal slave. No, not slave. Think of it as an assistant. What do you say?"
Jack eyed the fox. Knowing it was not a yes or no question, he replied, his deep voice a bit shaky. "I will accept your offer, as long as you promise not to hurt my mother."
The Fireblade grinned. "I give you my word."
Oltar led the rigid Jack up the hill to his tent where Rutera, the vixen seer, was preforming a ritual. The corsair growled, annoyed by the vixen's chanting and mumbling. He kicked the bones that she had scattered about and knocked over her cup of cordial.
"You idiot! Can't you see I have a visitor? Show some respect, vixen!" He yelled contemptuously. Rutera stood silently, her black eyes boring into Jack's scaring him into silence once again.
"Who is that?" She whispered, her raspy voice seething.
Oltar growled even deeper and stood in front of the mouse, almost protectively. "He is my assistant, vixen, to clean my weapons, bring me food, things like that. Things that you never do. All you do is sit around and play with a bag of bones!" He shouted again. Jack jumped at the fox's noise, and he tried to slow his beating heart.
Rutera hated the mouse immediately. A lowly, skinny little creature was being held in a higher light than she, Oltar Fireblade's seer! That was unacceptable. He had not been seen in her visions. What importance was he to her, or her master for that matter. The vixen's cloudy eyes burned into the mouse's, hoping he felt her hate for him.
Jack did feel it. He was relieved when he followed the Fireblade outside, away from the strange vixen. Oltar brought the mouse to hs chair, and motioned out onto the field where his mighty horde lay resting and eating. "It's quite a sight, isn't it Fieldmouse?" The fox grinned proudly.
"Eh, yessir. Quite." Jack said quietly. Why a huge rabble or vermin born to kill and mutilate would be a good sight was nonsense in his eyes, but that was the key to his survival - obey and agree.
A resounding knock at the main gate brought the attention of all Abbeybeasts out in the snowy wonderland. Everybeast stopped what they were doing. Even the Dibbuns, running about screeching and laughing, halted to see who was at the gate. Misera Bagdermum ran to the ramparts and peeked over the wall, just as a loud shout came from behind the wooden gate.
"Hallo? Any bally beast in there? If'n ye are, do ye want tae leave a chapess tae freeze tae death, wot?" The voice's owner sounded desperate to get inside.
Misera looked down at Brother Verne, the gatehouse keeper, and Abbot Ivan. "It's a hare. Open the gate's Verne!"
The gates opened to reveal indeed a young, female hare. She was shivering and had snow completely covering her from the waist down. Her haversack drooped across her middle, half open and torn. Clearly she had been traveling a long way. The Abbot saw that quickly and immediately helped the haremaid into the Abbey walls. She smiled at him thankfully.
"Why, thank ye, old chap. So this is the jolly Redwall Abbey, eh? Not much warmer'n here I can tell ye that! Hah!"
The Abbeybeasts laughed at the haremaid's funny expressions and comments as the Father Abbot and Misera brought her inside Great Hall, where another creature had already called down Sister Neiva. They gently sat the maid down on a bench in the Hall while the good nurse inspected the hare for signs of hypothermia or anything else.
"She seems to be fine. Just a bit cold is all." The Sister reassured the worried Abbot. She glanced at the shivering haremaid. "What is your name, miss?"
"Tulia Maybell Braefleet McScuttie, marm." The maid answered promptly, as if addressing an officer.
Neiva nodded, satisfied. Misera's eyes widened, intrigued all of a sudden. "McScuttie, do you say? Where are you from, miss Tulia, if you don't mind me asking?"
Tulia sighed and shook her head. If she told, especially if she told a badger, she'd be sent right back to the mountain. Well, maybe the Redwallers would have pity on her. She glanced up at the three pairs of curious eyes.
"Salamandastron, marm." She answered, unsure. All was silent for a moment, then Misera's brain kicked into action. Her eyes lit up as she looked at the Abbot. The old mouse shrank away from his friend's powerful gaze. The badger was excited, very excited. She saw a passing volemaid and called her over.
"Miss Bankvole! Please, go fetch Skipper and Freesia!" She turned to Neiva. "Go find Bree. She's outside, I think. Hurry!" The Badgermum rushed each beast along. Ivan watched her, head tilted in honest confusion. Tulia joined him. She had just gotten to the Abbey and already everybeast was going nuts. Then, Misera turned back to the maid, her eyes alight like dark orbs.
"Tulia, why did you come here from Salamandastron. Answer quickly!" The badger ordered.
The hare watched the odd Badgermum for a moment, then answered, her voice hard and determined. "I ran away, marm. Ran away 'cause they wouldn't let a chapess join the blinkin' Long Patrol, that's it, and I ain't goin' back, wot!"
Misera suddenly wrapped Abbot Ivan in a huge hug. The frail mouse gasped for breath and the large badger let him go, a shining grin on her old face. "Don't you see, Abbot? The last piece of the puzzle!"
"I-I am sorry, Misera. I have no idea what you speak of." Ivan was dumbfounded.
"Runaway who would like to stay, yet only she knows the way!" Misera practically shouted. "She is the last of the Council!"
Tulia stood up, now catching on to what the Bagdermum was saying. "Wait. Yer sayin' I've got tae go back to that flippin' fortress? That jail o' jewels? Those horrible hares? No bally way! I'm sorry marm, but I ain't setting foot in that mountain 'gain!" She said indignantly, nose high in the air.
"Ye have to! Otherwise we can't have yon Council!" Bree Redleaf's high voice echoed from the front Hall door. Misera, Ivan and a particularly annoyed Tulia glanced over to see the squirrelmaid standing in front of the Sister Neiva.
"What's happenin'?" Tav's voice called from the top of the Hall's staircase. Misera looked up to see the two otters and motioned for them to come down while Bree joined them. Once they were all assembled, the Abbot explained the situation.
"Attention everyone, I have brought you here on a very important note." He gestured to the haremaid. "This is Tulia McScuttie an-"
"Braefleet McScuttie, if ye please, your Abbotship!" Tulia corrected. Abbot Ivan nodded and continued.
"As I was saying, Tulia is from Salamandastron. She's a runaway. I believe, everybeast, that we have found our fourth piece of the puzzle."
Redwall Abbey was buzzing with excitement. Ever since the haremaid, Tulia, had arrived that morning, everybeast was talking about it, and how the next night, the Council would leave for Salamandastron. The only problem was, one member of the four was not too keen to go. Tulia had had a wonderful afternoon at the Abbey, with more food than she could ever imagined, and better hospitality than she had ever had from Salamandastron.
Yet, there were always those telling her: "You must go to the mountain!" or "The quest can't go on without you!" and "Only you know the way, Tulia!" It was driving her crazy.
The haremaid sat, dozing, next to the warmth of the fireplace inside the snug little gatehouse. After days of traveling with barely any rest, the rest was needed, and deeply appreciated
The door creaked open slightly and Brecken poked her head in. Not wanting to wake the sleeping Tulia, the ottermaid crept inside the gatehouse, her eyes locked on the object. Misera had asked her to get the large brown book about Salamandastron that Bree had read for a possible clue to help them get there if they ended up not being able to convince the haremaid to go back to the mountain. Brecken clenched her teeth as she reached over Tulia's head for the book on the lap of the chair next to the fire.
Her paw barely touched the edge of the book when a gust of wind blew the wooden door wide open, completely freaking the ottermaid out of her fur. She screamed and fell backward, taking the book with her. Tulia, awoken by the sudden screech, leapt up in surprise, looking down with wide eyes to see Brecken lying, in shock, on the floor, tripped up by one of the many books on the carpet.
"Eh, who're you?" Tulia's head tilted in confusion.
Brecken stood and dusted herself off, trying to slow her pounding heart. "I-I'm Brecken, Ski-Skipper's second command."
Tulia grinned, amused at the rigid otter standing in front of her, book clutched to her chest. "Well, Brecken, Skipper's second command, did ye like wakin' me up when I'm havin' me a jolly good sleep? Wot?"
"Sorry." Brecken looked down to the ground, about to make her way back out into the snow filled night. "I was just gettin' this book for Misera."
"I'll come with ye, then! No sense goin' back tae sleep when I'm blinkin' wide awake, eh?" The haremaid's happy attitude caught on to Brecken and the two companions laughed as they headed toward the Great Hall, snow falling softly, quietly around them.
Cavern Hole was once again filled, this time with a Council of Questors, the name given by Riverleap Smoothstream. The ottermaid was very partial to naming things. An odd quality, but useful at times. In fact, Bree Redleaf's father, Birchpaw, who happened to be a very forgetful beast at times, often said that it was Riverleap who gave his daughter her name when she was born. Kayra denied it everytime, but everybeast loved to here the story just to be entertained by the charming squirrel.
Now, though, things were getting serious. Tulia had, regretfully, decided to join the Council after being asked many, many times by a persistant Bree, who the haremaid had taken an automatic liking too. Around the huge, balsom wood table sat Misera Badgermum, Father Abbot Ivan, Foremole Bunkel, Freesia, Tulia, Bree and Kayra, and Tav and his crew, this time including Brecken. The Abbot looked around the table. Everybeast was wide awake, despite the time of night, and ready to listen.
"My friends, we have gathered here today to discuss a very important matter at hand." Ivan began, pausing to watch his audience's expressions. "Tomorrow night, the Council of War is scheduled to leave for Salamandastron, as we all know. A few of you have been assigned to look for routes to get there, help our travelers pack, things such as that, and we must start on those activities immediately. However, there are other things to address."
Everybeast leaned in to listen, but Tulia leaned away, trying not to bring attention to herself. Although she had her mind set to stay at Redwall, she couldn't help but think that without her, the other three "questors" would be lost. The Abbot continued.
"For one, the enemy is still out there in Mossflower Woods, and coming for us. I do not mean to frighten you, but Redwall must find help. Skipper and his crew have already contacted several otter tribes in the area, and I hear the our Kayra knows groups of squirrels south of us that may be willing to help. That is lovely, but if we are truly up against the size of the horde our friend Rinje Quickbreeze told us about, then we will need more."
Misera continued in his place. "Our travelers will hopefully bring back troops from Salamadastron in time, but if they don't then we must do what your Abbot says and find help on our own."
The creatures present nodded and spoke amongst themselves. The otter, Songblue, who did not know about Tulia's unwillingness to return to Salamandastron, spoke to the haremaid loud enough for everybeast to hear.
"Tulia, why are you going back to the mountain if'n you ran away from it?"
All talking ceased immediately, and the spotlight was placed on the stricken haremaid. Brecken gave her young comrade a quick slap on the back of his head. Songblue looked up at her, his eyes asking what he did wrong. Misera looked ready to slap the otter too, but she held herself and looked at the Abbot, who was watching Tulia.
The haremaid had locked eyes with Bree, who had been pleading her to go plenty of times. A war was raging inside Tulia's mind, and she groaned as she gave her answer.
"I'm goin' back for the bally Abbey." She said in a pained tone. Bree shouted suddenly with joy and threw her arms around the hare's neck in a tight hug. Ivan drooped with a sigh of relief, and Misera looked at Tulia proudly. Despite every reason Tulia had to stay at Redwall, she decided to go back to Salamadastron for the sake of her new friends and and the Abbey.
The cold night ended on a surprisingly warm note. The Council went on and was adjourned earlier than expected. Father Abbot Ivan went to bed happy and content, hoping the next day went well. Misera Badgermum was asleep before her head hit the pillow. Tulia left with Bree and Kayra, while Tav, Skipper of Otters, Freesia, and Brecken walked together to their rooms. Tav and Freesia said a short, but sweet goodbye, something that Brecken definitely took notice of as the two otters headed down the hall.
She walked a little too close to Tav for his comfort, their arms touching as she shivered against him.
"It's a cold night, eh Skip?" Brecken laughed softly. "Hope ye don't freeze too much when ye leave tomorrow."
Tav smiled weakly, wanting to move away but stayed beside her, not wanting to hurt his friend's feelings. "Eh, yeah we wouldn't want that. I kind of don't want tae leave the ol' Abbey, Breck." He glanced down at her,. not expecting to lock onto the ottermaid's gaze up at him. Tav immediately felt awkward when she answered.
"Really? I-I don't want ye to leave either. It'll be a little...lonely."
Tav sighed quietly. This was not going well. "Don't worry. Ye'll have the rest o' the crew, and everybeast else too."
Brecken looked back up at him as they approached her room. "It won't be the same, Tav."
The otter went rigid. Never before had she called him by his real name. Thankfully, they were at the door of her room, and Tav was ready to leave before things got stranger. "No, it won't Breck, but you'll get throught it." He said, hoping to end the conversation then and there. Of course, the ottermaid would not have it. She glanced at Tav and unexpectedly hugged him tighly.
Tav stood, silent, then hugged her back, but hesitantly. He heard her whisper, "Ye know, I don't think it could hurt too much if another tagged along with ye, eh?"
He immediately pulled away and looked down at the hopeful ottermaid. "Whoa there. Sorry, but ye can't come with us, mate."
"Mate, eh?" Brecken sniffed, eyes suddenly blazing, and whirled on her heel into her room, closing the door not so quietly behind her. Tav sighed heavier and walked to his room, suddenly feeling more weary than before. Of course the night had to end that way. Brecken would never be happy with the fact that he felt nothing for her like she did for him. Never.
The next morning, as cold and snow covered as it was, bustled with excitement and anticipation, and the afternoon was much the same. That night, the four questors would be leaving, though none were sure if they were truly ready to go, each with their own reasons. Bree Redleaf's was simple: she never wanted to leave Redwall, and the thought of being so far away from it made her sad, and yet she knew her duties. Tulia couldn't bear to think of what she would face upon returning to that dreadful mountain. Tav wasn't too keen in leaving the Abbey either, having spent his entire known life there and not knowing the dangers nor adventures that awaited beyond. Freesia was angry to be leaving. Though the idea of a visit to Salamandastron was exciting, she still needed to find her poor friends, Boqved and Evy, and regain her memory as well. So far, neither of the two were working out.
Bree sat in her bedroom, eyes roving over an ancient map Misera had found inside the gigantic book on Salamandastron she had been reading. It was fragile, and she handled it with care, looking for the trail to the fortress. The Abbot had said it would be of no use if such a map was inside the book if it did not leave a clue of how the get to the mountain. The squirrelmaid sighed in exasperation when her searches were to no avail. She glanced up to see Tulia peeking in and smiled.
"Come in, Tulia." Bree's voice was tired, but welcoming. The haremaid grinned and ambled into the room, eyes locking onto the map in her new friend's paws.
"Wot's that, ol' gel? Map o' some sort?" Tulia asked, leaning down to take a look at it, her face beaming with curiousity.
Bree laughed at the hare's expression and nodded. "Yes. Misera said it should have some clue of how tae get tae yon mountain. Cannot figure out what 'tis though." The squirrelmaid's face fell.
"Hey, now. Don't go gettin' all beat down just 'cause o' some blinkin' map!" Tulia pulled Bree off her footpaws and onto the ground. "Look up, gel! T'day's an excitin' day! Act like you're excited!" The squirrelmaid put on the best 'excited' face she could, and Tulia burst into laughter at the sight.
Bree narrowed her soft eyes at the haremaid and marched out the door, a sly smile on her face. She heard the chuckles stop behind her, and then Tulia's pleading voice. "Wait! C'mon Bree, I'm just joshin' with ye! Let's get down tae ol' Hall o' Cavern's or what'ver it be called and eat some bally lunch!"
The two chums headed down toward the stairs and to the Great Hall, where beasts were gathering for lunch. The other two of the traveling group, Freesia and Tav, were there with the rest of Skipper's crew, and Misera Badgermum. The Father Abbot was outdoors with some of the Dibbuns. Although the luncheon seemed to be happy and cheerful, Brecken seemed to have sunk back into her former elusive self and though she was sitting with the otter crew, had not said a word the entire time.
Bree and Tulia were greeted and the two sat down, each to a steaming hot bowl of broccoli soup. The smell was nearly salivating, and the friends dove it, Bree having taken in Tulia's eating habits quickly. Misera watched the squirrelmaid with wide eyes. Never had she seen the maid eat so...unpolitely. She shook her great striped head in awe and took leave of the group, promising she'd be back later.
Freesia was just as surprised. Though she knew hares had a thing for eating, never had she pictured such a polite, mild mannered Bree gorging down as she was doing. The strangeness of the situation hit her, and the ottermaid burst into peals of laughter that sent Tav, who was sitting next to her, completely off guard. The otter nearly fell off the bench as he eyed Freesia, completely confused. Girls were...odd.
The scouts were amazed by the sight before them. The great redstone Abbey was even more magnificent than the old vixen Rutera had described it to be. The lead scout, a weasel named Frugl, grinned as he scanned the front wall with his grey eyes. The Fireblade would most definitely be pleased. He turned to his three companions, features alight.
"Imagine, chaps, just imagine livin' in a palace like that'n!"
The twin rats, Fleaback and Rotback, who agreed on everything, nodded their brown heads vigorously, but the ferrett Nimro, who was a very adept beast and deadly with a knife, was not so optimistic. He looked up at the brick walls that seemed to stretch to the clouds, saw the thick wooden doors behind an iron gate, and sighed with contempt. Frugl immediately turned his haze to the silent ferrett. "Somethin' ya want tae say, Nimro?"
The ferrett shrugged. "Not much. Just thinking that tis a bad idea to attack this Abbey. They're too well fortified. I think they know we're coming..." His husky voice trailed off. Frugl sniggered.
"They know we're comin'? Hah! Those stoopid fat mice wouldn't know a rock if'n it hit 'em on the head!"
Jack Fieldmouse had never been truly scared of anything in his life, but the sight of Oltar Fireblade, garbed in his corsair clothing, knives and swords galore strapped on, and a ruthless grin on his scarred face sent chills through the mouse every time. Now, to his horror, he had to see it nearly every minute of the day. Every once in a while, the young mouse was allowed to go visit his mother and the rest of the captives who were tied to a managerie of trees on the southwest side of the huge field that was the horde's camp until further notice.
The sun was slowly beginning to set behind the trees of the snow covered wood. Jack sighed as he watched it disappear. How he longed to be watching the sunset from outside his own house again. The mouse shook his head. That was all gone now. Now, he had to feed the captives. Jack balanced the small tray of assorted bread and a small flagon of water, none of which looked the least bit appetizing, and walked over to the group of chained creatures lying about.
"Mother? Are you awake?" He whispered. The frail little mouse named Jahna turned over to see her son standing above her, food in hand. She smiled and sat up, shaking the two sleeping hedgehogs next to her. "Yes, I'm awake. Wake up sleepyheads. My Jack has some food for us."
Jack grinned as the groups' drowsy faces lit up at the sight of the stale bread and musky water. How they could eat something like that, the young mouse didn't know. Unlike them, he wasn't hungry whatsoever. Walking around the camp with the fox, seeing the vermin and that creepy vixen had made his appetite flee for the hills. He watched, content for a moment, as the group ate. Then, Jack got a small, sad feeling creep through him. Never had he seen his friends, his family, so helpless and desperate. His hate for that Oltar Fireblade grew like a flame in his heart, a flame that would never burn out.
"Oy! You! Fieldmousey! O'er here!" Jack winced as the voice of Prigell, one of the corsair's captains, called him over. He nodded to the group of captives and walked to where the fat weasel was standing, his red-tinted eyes dull. Jack glared up at the weasel, his lip curled.
"What d'you want, scum?" He spat in the vermin's face. Prigell, enraged by the insult, gave Jack a stinging slap across the face, not knowing he was being watched. Quick as the wind, Oltar Fireblade had the weasel in a deadly headlock, his voice like a thousand knives.
"Touch that mouse again, and I'll see you'll meet my good friend, the cat o' nine tails!" The fox hissed.
The terrified weasel nodded and, once free from his Captain's grip, sped off as fast as his chubby legs would carry him down into the camp. Jack watched him go, his face in a painful grimace as he still stung from the hard slap. The Fireblade looked down at the mouse and spoke like a scolding parent.
"You shouldn't have provoked him. Weasels are known to have short tempers. You have to watch your back in this camp, kid. Prigell doesn't like you now. He'll be watching." The fox warned. Jack was confused. Why was such a powerful ruler, able to kill one of his soldiers just depending on his mood, be warning him about a mere weasel. He was the corsair's assistant now, wasn;t he? Jack said nothing, and followed the fox back to his tent.
Inside, much to the mouse's disgust, the seer, Rutera, was eating some odd looking piece of meat. Jack tried not to look as she tore at it like some rabid creature. Oltar seemed to be avoiding her as well. Lately, the vixen had been acting...odd. Perhaps she was angry that her visions were telling her that the horde could not move to Redwall as well, and it was not just the warlord himself, who was annoyed.
The vixen saw the two enter and glared at Jack. He held her gaze for a moment before she started eating again. The Fireblade looked down in disgust at the hungry Rutera. He growled and kicked the meat from her paws. "Lazy vixen! Why are you eating when you should be watching? Watching for signs, idiot!"
Rutera's eyes blazed, but her raspy voice was low. "The signs are not coming, oh lord, though something is telling me we will be able to move soon. We must be patient an-"
"PATIENT!?!?" The Fireblade exploded, knocking over a pot that held a hot mushroom soup. "I have been patient for far too long, vixen!! Why in Hellgates would we be waiting so much if the Abbey is right under our noses? Answer me that!!!"
Jack watched, too scared to move, as the fox lifted the frail vixen by her throat, the corsair's eyes a blackish red in the firelight, his whole frame shaking. Rutera gurgled as she tried to speak, and Oltar brought her down, his face clearly demanding her to say something.
"My visions are clouded," She hissed, nearly unable to talk. "by some otter. She bears two swords and hovers in a fog, blocking my sight."
Oltar Fireblade said nothing. He stared into space, thinking. Jack watched the two of them carefully. There was something he was missing. An ottermaid? Why was she so special. What was going on? The corsair looked over at the frightened mouse. he tossed Rutera a loathsome glance and motioned for Jack to follow him. The fieldmouse sighed with relief to leave the uncomfortable tent, and that ever creepy vixen. Outside, the breeze blew harder than before, and Jack shivered, his tattered habit of almost no use.
The corsair Captain took no heed of Jack's freezing state and looked out upon the camp, watching his horde with pride. He smiled arrogantly and spoke while keeping his gaze out onto the white Mossflower Woods.
"A magnificent sight, eh mouse?" Oltar said, his voice flowing with contempt. "That redstone house stands no chance. They will fall with no problem, much like that pitiful little village of yours."
Jack bristled, a growl building in his throat, but he held himself together. One wrong move, one little clip of his emotion, and he was dead. It was a test. That scum was testing his limits. The mouse said nothing. He stood there, staring out to where small fires blossomed around the camp as night fell, paws clenched into fists.
Oltar watched Jack's face and grinned deviously. That mouse would break soon. The fox drew a small dagger from the strap on his back and twirled it expertly in his paw. "That is what it takes to be a warlord. Power, control over others. It also takes emotion. Showing your emotions can get somebeast hurt." He eyed Jack as he finished. "Somebeast they love. Like, like a mother, per se. "
The fieldmouse held in a gasp, his paws clenched so tight it made his knuckles scream in pain. The fox was pushing it, but the Fireblade contined. Now he was having fun.
"Warlords have to take beasts captive, to show their superiority. Captives, prisoners, they are like bugs. They do not matter. They are like trees; they can be useful, but after a while they grow old, tiresome and it's just easier to cut them down, kill them." the Captain sighed and smiled, watching Jack start to tremble.
"I am a warlord, Fieldmouse, and I have a responsibility. Get rid of the oldest trees in the forest and make way for new ones.Ye've got to get rid of the parent trees," He hissed the last line. "the mother trees."
Jack felt something inside him snap, like a branch in a storm. Blinded by sudden rage, he leapt onto the fox lord, strangling the surprised Fireblade in a death grip around the neck. The mouse's eyes glared into his enemy's with ferocity unmatched. His grip tightened, and Jack felt himself smiling as he watched the fox desperately try to breathe. He almost had his foe on the ground when something struck him in the back of the head. Jack was unconscious before he hit the snow.
Bree shouldered her pack and sighed, looking around at the candlelit Great Hall one last time. How would she be able to leave her beloved Abbey? Would she ever return? The young squirrelmaid shut her tear-brimming eyes tightly, opened them, and walked out into the silently falling snow.
Outside, most of the Abbeybeasts had gathered by the main gate to say farewell to the travelers. Many of them held candles in the growing darkness, casting a soft glow around the Abbey courtyard. Tulia McScuttie, the haremaid who had finally come to terms with going back to Salamandastron, saw Bree’s fallen complexion and hugged her firmly, grinning and half dragging her friend to the gate where Tav, Freesia, Misera, and the Abbot were waiting. Misera squeezed Bree’s shoulder, smiling. “Ready, miss?”
Bree nodded before being swept up in a huge embrace from her parents. Kayra was unable to keep the tears back. Just the thought of her little girl out in the wilds of Mossflower was nearly unthinkable. Bree’s father, Oakbrush, however, was patting his daughter proudly on the back. Long had he wanted to see her go out into the world and make something of herself, yet he was still just as worried as his wife.
“Go make something of yeself lassie.” He whispered in her ear. Bree smiled and let go, giving her parents one last nod before she walked to join the others. Abbot Ivan and Misera walked over to the four of them. The Abbot smiled at them, tears in his eyes.
“Be careful my friends. Walk wisely and keep each other safe. Good luck.” Misera patted Ivan’s back and grinned.
“And give Lord Southstar my regards.” She added.
The main gate groaned as it was opened, and the travelers prepared to leave. Suddenly, a voice came from the doors of Great Hall.
“Wait! Don’t go! I have it! I have-ooff!”
Everybeast watched with perplexed looks on their faces as the chubby little Brother Verne came barreling out of the Hall, Martin’s sword in paw, then trip and fall flat on his face, the blade twirling out of his paw and at Misera Badgermum’s footpaws. Abbot Ivan couldn’t help but smile as Verne stood, blushing, and bumbled over to the group at the gate, picking up the sword.
“Er, you asked for this, Father Abbot?” He asked, embarrassed.
The old mouse grinned, taking the sword and turning to face Tav. ‘On behalf of our Abbey, we would be honored if you would take the sword of Martin on your quest. I had a vision you would carry it, and carry it you shall, Skipper of Redwall.”
Tav stared in shock down at the blade sparkling in the moonlight. They were offering this sacred weapon to him? He couldn’t believe it. His shaking paws took the sword anyway, and felt a rush as he gripped it. The blade felt comfortable in his grasp, like it belonged there. Abbot Ivan saw the look on the young otter’s face and smiled.
“It is yours now, Tav. Use is responsibly.” He stepped back and raised his candle as a salute to the questors. “Now, I think it’s about time you four get a move on. Nobeast wants those vermin to knock on our door too soon!”
Chapter Twenty One
Algaron Tymballow and Faylee Frunk stood, motionless and quiet, in front of the infirmary door. Beloca had told them they would be able to come in once Danbright woke up, but it seemed to have been since they first arrived. The late hours of night were upon the mountain of Salamandastron when the huge wooden door finally creaked open. The old hare nurse’s head poked out, and she nodded for them to come in.
The two young hares stepped into the candlelit room where their injured friend was propped up by pillows on the bed. Faylee could not stand the sight of her Danny looking so helpless. His leg was wrapped in a cast and supported by a small pillow, and a huge bandage surrounded the right side of his head below his ear, covering his eye. Algaron sighed and squeezed Fay’s shoulder comfortingly.
“Goin’ tae go ahead an’ take yon head bandage off o’ him. May look’m a bit ugly though!” Beloca warned. The two hares nodded understandingly, but they were not leaving.
Danbright twitched slightly as the nurse hare carefully unwrapped the stained bandage. Faylee gasped at what she saw. Running down Dan’s head from the bottom of his right ear, twisting and turning like a stream just past his eye down he center of his forehead was a huge, deep red scar. It made the haremaid nauseous looking at it, but she managed to stay upright, supported by Algaron, who took the shock in silence.
Beloca threw away the bandage and saw the look on Fay’s face. She smiled sympathetically and shrugged. “I told ye it may be ugly!”
The injured hare groaned as he woke up slowly. Algaron glanced at old Beloca, motioning toward his friend. “May we?”
“Yes,” She answered slowly. “but be careful. Nobeast yet knows the effects o’ that head injury.” Faylee watched Dan quietly, and then slowly walked toward him, Algaron right behind her. She stopped when Danbright turned his head her way, his foggy eyes watching her, scrutinizing her every move. This wasn’t the Dan she remembered. He was different…somehow.
Fay walked up to the bed, staring into the now unfamiliar eyes. “Danny? It’s me, Fay. Ye alright ol’ lad? Dan? Danny, please answer me.” She pleaded, but the hare just stared at her, looking confused.
Algaron stepped forward and took his wounded friend’s paw. “Wot about Algaron? Old Algy? Do you remember me either?” He asked in the same begging voice. “Please Danny, say something, anything!”
Danbright fell back onto the pillows, and began mumbling. Before they could discern anything intelligible, the hare slipped into unconsciousness. Faylee sighed and leaned against Algaron.
“S’much for that, Algy.” She whispered. Beloca saw the haremaid’s sadness and handed her a cup of hot cocoa.
“Please, miss Fay, drink t’is. It’ll help.”
Fay smiled at the kind hare nurse and nodded. “Thank ye, Beloca. Now that Dan be sleepin’, I guess Algy an’ I’ll be on our way.”
Beloca agreed. “Be on yer way, young ones. I’ll let ye know if’n young Longeye here wakes up ‘gain!”
Algaron and Faylee thanked the old hare and left the infirmary, though neither felt happy, just confused and upset that they could get no response from their old friend. Fay was deeply worried. The head injury had looked horrible. She couldn’t bear to think of what the effects it had on him were. Algaron hated seeing his comrade, who was once so witty and comical, now bedridden and seemingly insane.
They turned the corner of the hallway, almost running smack into Captain Mayflaird McScuttie. The large hare looked upon the two, an understanding look crossing his worn face.
“Been off tae see Danbright, eh? How is the bounder, eh?”
“Not very good, I’m afraid, sah.” Algaron said in a low voice. “He doesn’t even seem tae recognize us.”
Mayflaird could hear the sadness in the hare’s voice, and patted the leveret’s shoulder comfortingly. “We both be goin’ through tough times, laddie. Best be as upbeat as we bally well can!”
Fay smiled at the Captain’s words. “Right ye are, Cap’n. In fact, I’ll go and get me some more o’ that hot cocoa from yon kitchens tae brighten me up!”
Algaron watched her go, a weak smile on his face. “That’s what I love ‘bout Fay. No matter what, she’s always happy.”
The night was making Bree nervous. She walked close to her three companions, constantly trembling as the noises in the forest slowly got to her. When a twig snapped under her footpaw, she yelped and jumped into Freesia’s arms. The ottermaid stared down at the petrified squirrel in shock.
“Bree? Ye alright?” She asked, letting her friend back onto the ground. Bree nodded quickly, pulling her haversack closer to herself. She walked shoulder to shoulder with Tav, his warrior-like presence comforting her. Tulia, however, was not worried in the least bit. She was skipping around, hacking through the undergrowth with her sword like a carefree dibbun. Bree couldn’t help but smile at the sight of the prancing haremaid.
Tav yelped as he sidestepped a twig that came flying from Tulia’s charge through the bushes. “Watch where ye toss those things, miss!”
Tulia looked back and grinned. “Watch were ye step then!” She said tauntingly. Tav rolled his eyes and the four continued along the path, away from Redwall.
After about another half hour of endless walking, the travelers decided to stop and rest for a while. Tulia started a small fire and they sat around it in silence, listening to the sounds of night around them. Bree was slowly starting to get scared again. Never had she been outside of the Abbey at night, and she felt so vulnerable out in Mossflower Woods. Freesia saw the squirrelmaid’s distress and sighed. She sat close to Bree and put an arm around her, calming her.
“It’s only the sounds of nighttime, Bree. Besides, you have us to protect you. It’s ok.” She said reassuringly.
Bree managed a weak smile. “I know. It’s just…I don’t know, odd for me to be outside of Redwall. It doesn’t feel right.”
“It’s not right for me either.” Tav’s voice from across the fire was quiet. “But it’s our fate. If we don’t go, no one will. We’re the Abbey’s only-”
“Tav,” Freesia said firmly. “No need to be morbid!”
The Skipper grinned sheepishly. “Sorry, mates. Just sayin’.”
Tulia yawned noticeably and pulled a fresh roll from Brother Rikk’s kitchens. She ate it in one bite and looked into the fire sadly.
“’Tis a bally shame tae lose food so fast.” She said in a mock mournful voice. Bree started laughing unexpectedly at the haremaid’s remark. Tav and Freesia grinned themselves. Tulia, however, was not amused. She crossed her arms and sniffed indignantly.
“Imagine that, somebeast laughin’ at a poor chappess’s lack o’ grub! And I thought ye were my friend, missy!”
The comment made Bree laugh even harder. The serious mood had lifted, and as they packed up camp sometime later, everybeast was happy, all besides one exceptionally hungry haremaid.
Brecken sat in the infirmary where her bed was, surrounded by the silence. She stared at her oatmeal, which she had brought from dinner, pushing it around with her spoon. Ever since the travelers had left, she had been completely uneasy. She needed to see Skipper again, to talk to him. She hadn’t spoken to him since the night when Tulia had decided to go to Salamandastron. What a note to leave it on, Brecken thought sarcastically. She needed to find him. The way they had left things was completely unreasonable.
She glanced at a small bag on her bed and sighed. Suddenly, the door to the infirmary opened and she whirled to see Riverleap standing in the doorway, a sad look on the ottermaid’s face.
“’Tis the only way, ain’t it Breck?” She whispered.
Brecken nodded, knowing what her friend meant. “I gotta go find him, Riverleap. I can’t just leave it like this.”
“But how’ll you find him? Who knows where they are by now.”
Brecken began packing things into her pack. A drawn out map of Mossflower Woods, her small dagger, and a few other necessities were all needed for the quest that was now forming in the ottermaid’s mind.
Riverleap looked at her long-time friend nervously. “Breck, d’ye even know what you’re doin’? I mean, those horrible vermin are out there, and nobeast here even knows where’m the devils are!”
“Yes I do. Trust me, Riv me friend, I’ll stay clear o’ those rascals, even if’n they are close enough to us.” She shouldered her pack, testing the weight. “Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to prepare. I’ll be leavin’ as soon as possible.”
Chapter Twenty Two
Oltar Fireblade sat, quivering, inside his warm tent, but not because of the cold. He was furious. Once again, the seer vixen Rutera had told hi to wait before taking the redstone Abbey, and once again, Oltar had had to stop himself from strangling her. Without the vixen he was basically blind. She guided the horde’s path everywhere, and was his right paw. However, now he was loosing his already strained patience
Rutera was on the other side of the small fire, chanting nervously and glancing up at her master every now and then. Her visions were telling her so many different things: go to the abbey, stay away, go north, go south, stay there. She couldn’t decide what to do, and she was scared. Ever since that little brat of a mouse had attacked him, the corsair had been increasingly aware of his surroundings, cautiously awaiting what was around every turn, and questioning his horde members.
Suddenly, a loud cawing noise brought the two out of their rigid silence. The Fireblade wheeled out of the tent on his footpaws in mere seconds, Rutera following timidly behind. The warrior fox’s eyes widened at the sight of his spy crow, Yriss, panting and bleeding on the ground. The crow looked up at the shocked corsair captain and a shaky breath escaped through his beak.
“Got’n odder, sire.” Yriss said in barely a whisper. “Kilt ‘im,” He breathed back in, rasping, “but they got’n me…”
Oltar knelt down beside the fallen bird, eyes bright with curiosity and without a single ounce of sympathy for the crow. “Who? Who got you?”
“The…” Yriss took one more deep breath, “the Shadowrats s-sire.”
The Fireblade stood up as the mutilated crow took his last breath. He shuddered once, and then lay still forever. Around the fox, hordebeasts started mumbling to one another. Shadowrats? Those terrors of the trees were mere legends, weren’t they? But with their said realm sitting on the path from Redwall to their camp, those killers in the boughs of the pines could have easily ambushed Yriss, and killed him.
Walking around the dead bird, Oltar examined his wounds. They were deadly. He saw blood everywhere on Yriss’s feathers, and the spear and arrow wounds seemed to have been pinpointed perfectly in lethal spots on the crow’s body.
Despite certain awe he felt towards these assassins, Oltar grinned deviously as he wondered how great an ally they would make to his horde. Plus, he could kill their leader once gaining their trust and take the Shadowrats for himself. The corsair fox turned to his silent horde, still grinning.
“As you can see, our friend Yriss did not have the brains to avoid these so called Shadowrats. However, his news, though unfortunate it may be,” everybeast caught the sarcasm in their leader’s voice, “may have given us the chance to make a new ally. A group of you will be sent into the Shadowrats’ territory to discuss certain allegiances with the tribe. If you fail, trust me, you will much rather be killed by them than face me afterwards.”
A sinking feeling crept through every rat, weasel, and ferret in the Fireblade’s horde, each one hoping they would not be chosen. Still, as the fox swept away to his tent, leaving the dead Yriss behind, they saluted him, the hissing of all of their swords making an eerie echo throughout the forest.
Oltar Fireblade walked effortlessly back up the hill, but stopped halfway to look at his prisoners, clinging to one another for warmth in the snow that had been piling up over the past few days. Shooing Rutera back to the tent, he smiled wickedly and strode over to them. Those that were awake sat rigid in fear as the fox approached. Oltar put on a mocking sympathetic face as he watched their eyes widen.
“Now, now, what’s all this? Afraid are we? Why, there’s no need to be.” The fox spoke in a voice smooth as honey. He saw one old female mouse, terrified as she was, strain against her chains and look the corsair straight in his black eyes.
“W-what have ye done with ma son?” She asked, trying to keep a steady tone.
The Fireblade felt himself reel with anger inwardly. That stupid Fieldmouse he had instructed as his assistant had nearly killed him earlier. The fox couldn’t help but awe at the mouse’s strength. If it hadn’t been for Redskull, his trusted Captain, the corsair may not still have been alive. Oltar rubbed his throat where the mouse had choked him and glared at the captive lying on the freezing snow.
“Oh, don’t worry Fieldmouse, your little Jack will get what’s coming to him. He’s in the care of my most trusted captains, just in case I get bored.” The Fireblade chuckled evilly and turned on his heel back to the tent. “Besides, I haven’t used my cat o’ nine tails in quite some time. I need something to practice on, wouldn’t you agree?”
Oltar grinned as the mouse’s agonized screams echoed behind him. What a good time it will be to have that sniveling mother watch her own scummy son’s death, the dreaded fox thought. His mood had lightened tremendously, and Rutera glanced up in surprise when her master walked in laughing. She dropped the trinkets she had been chanting with and looked at him oddly.
“Master?” She simply asked. The Captain of the Fireblade horde grinned at the vixen almost charmingly and began to shine the hilt of his cutlass.
“Rutera, get my cat o’ nine tails ready. That Fieldmouse will feel pain tonight.”
The seer caught on and chuckled treacherously, her raspy voice creepy inside the lukewarm tent. “With pleasure, my lord.”
The mousemaid Oera sat dozing by the fire in Cavern Hole. It was exceptionally warm in the below ground room, and she was taking great advantage of it. The maid had never been fond of the cold, unlike most of the creatures at Redwall, and spent the good part of the day either wrapped in a blanket, drinking cocoa or soup, or sitting near a fire somewhere in the Abbey. The thick book she had found about Salamandastron sat in her lap, opened to a specific page concerning the great forge inside the mountain.
The picture on the page showed off a Bagder Lord endowed in intricately carven metal armor, a gigantic axe in one paw, and the other paw resting on a table in the middle of the vast room. Oera had studied the page in undying interest for the mountain citadel until sleep had finally taken over. The mousemaid had had very little sleep the night before due to thoughts about her good friend, Bree, and now she was exceptionally tired.
So tired in fact that she did not even twitch when the door to Cavern Hole crashed open. In the doorway, eyes huge as he watched the sleeping mousemaid, stood Oera’s older brother, Oliver. He let out a sigh as he pounding heart settled, and walked over to his sister, shaking her gently.
“Sis!” He whispered loudly, “Wake up, Oera!”
The mousemaid came to groggily. She glanced up at her brother with tired eyes and groaned, angry at being woken up.
“Ohh, what is it, Oli? I need my sleep, so it’d better be something serious.” She sighed and stretched, the Salamandastron book falling to the floor. Oliver picked it up and looked at his drowsy sister with something like empathy. He grinned sheepishly.
Oera rolled her eyes and gave her brother a playful slap on the arm. “I swear, Oliver, you will be the death of me!”
Oliver, still grinning, followed his sister up the stairs and into Great Hall, where little snacks were being passed about. Lunch was never a huge thing at the Abbey. He threw an arm around Oera’s neck, leading her toward where the Father Abbot, Foremole Bunkel, and his crew all sat, munching on mouth-watering looking pasties.
“That’s what I’m here for, sis.” Oliver said before they sat down next to Bunkel. The homely mole looked at them, a smile creasing his velvety face.
“Lookie ‘ere. If’n ain’t zurr Olivur an’ his sproightly sis Ora. Burr aye, these’m pasties’re moighty good!”
Oera grinned at the mole’s quaint speech and patted his huge paw. “I’m sure they are, Foremole. I’m not so hungry, however.”
“And why might that be, young one?” Abbot Ivan’s voice could be heard from behind the mole crew. Oera sighed and stood, ambling over to where the old mouse sat.
“It’s Bree, Father Abbot. She’s my best friend and she’s gone. I was quite fond of Freesia too. It’s dangerous out there and I’m worried for them.”
The Abbot nodded solemnly and placed a comforting paw on Oera’s. “I know, young one, but you must understand, they are quite safe. Skipper is a warrior with the sword of Martin, and Tulia is a hare from Salamandastron. If she could not get them out of a situation, I don’t know who could. And Freesia, she is one to be reckoned with. Did you happen to see that sword she carried?”
“Yes, Father, I did.” Oera nodded. “I never questioned her about it, her not being able to remember anything and all.”
Ivan looked crestfallen. Just the very mention of another beast’s crisis made him sad. “The poor maid. Imagine that, losing your memory. A terrible thing to think of. Perhaps this journey may help her out in some way.”
Foremole’s crew, and Oliver as well, had been listening to the conversation, and they all turned to see Misera Badgermum approaching, a scrap of parchment in her huge paws. She knelt before the Abbot and handed him the paper, her eyes twinkling.
“I happened to hear you mention something about Freesia’s sword, and thought I would show you this. A few nights back, I took the sword and examined it-” Misera caught the Abbot’s scolding glance, “-for the proper reasons, Father- and found writing carved into the blade.”
Ivan scanned the paper hard, squinting to see through his glasses. He grinned and looked up at the Badgermum. “My, my. You just like do go about finding things, don’t you marm?”
Misera smiled and continued.
“It is in the old Northern tongue, usually used by the otter tribes that live upon those Northern shores.”
“Well what does it say?” Oliver’s adamant voice broke out in the hushed Hall, now scarce of Abbeybeasts who had finished their lunch. The Badgermum looked sternly upon the young mouse.
“Patience, you young rip.” She turned to the Abbot. “Please, Father, read the parchment.”
The Abbot nodded and leaned in to read. “Eh…it says…Ton…grain. Ton of grain? Misera, what is so important about a ton of grain?” Ivan glanced belligerently at the old badger.
Oera stifled a laugh as she examined the words. “It says Tonngrian, Father Abbot.” She looked up with solemn eyes at Misera. “The Northern tongue, I suppose, marm?”
Misera Badgermum nodded and smiled proudly at the mousemaid. “Aye, it is, Oera. Good job.” She sat on the floor in front of the two mice, young and old. “I was able to translate it myself and it means Sunwave. Think about it. Sunwave, and the band on Freesia’s arm was carven with suns and waves!”
One of Foremole’s crewmembers, a short, stout female named Fimsy, raised a digging claw timidly. The Abbot nodded toward the mole. “Yes, Fimsy. What is it?”
“Oim thinkin’ yon Froisa must’m be a Surnwave urself. Moikes sense!” The molemaid nodded quickly, satisfied with her answer.
Ivan beamed at the mole and clapped his paws together in a businesslike manner. “Very good, Fimsy! The maid speaks wisely. If this is graven into her sword and her band, then it would only be logical if she was from an otter Holt called Sunwave!”
Oera’s eyes were bright with excitement. “Wonderful, Father Abbot! Simply wonderful!” She slumped down in the seat. “But, what do we do now? Freesia is off in Mossflower woods. What’re we supposed to do?”
Misera patted the mousemaid’s head as if she were a Dibbun. “Do not fret, young missy. They may be the questors, but we are the thinkers…and dreamers! We will find ways to help our friends, old and new.” She stood and looked Oera up and down. “Now, why don’t you run off to the kitchens and see if Friar Rikk has any leftover pasties. I heard they were quite delicious!”
The maid, smiling again, nodded and grabbed Oliver by the paw, dragging him to the kitchens. Foremole Bunkel beamed as he watched them go, and shivered in spite of himself.
“What a luvurly moid ye got there! Boi okey, I be colder’n moi uncle in ‘is oice pond’n the middle o’ wointer! Gurrboi moi froinds, I’m be off tae yon cellurs, where’m be woirm’n noice!”
The humble mole trundled off along with his crew to the wine cellars.
“To bother poor Goody Cellarhog no doubt!” The Father Abbot of Redwall laughed as he watched the homely creatures leave.
Misera prodded the Abbot’s side playfully. “Blaming the poor Foremole of bothersome duties, eh? It’s not like you, Father! Shame on you!”
Ivan eyed the Badgermum roguishly and stood, posing proudly, a comical sight considering the old mouse’s age. “Why, since when would I do such a thing, Misera? I have no blemish on my blaming others! Perfect as a summer prune I am!”
The two aged friends laughed inappropriately for proper Abbeybeasts and headed off to the kitchens to follow Oera and Oliver, but not before Misera had a troubling thought, something that had been bothering her all day: Where was Brecken?
A resounding knock on the chief timber doors of the mountain of Salamandastron woke the sleeping guard who always sat by the gate. The drowsy hare sighed deeply as he awoke and flipped back the cover on the door that hid a small hole, which enabled the guard to see the beast that stood outside.
“This be the bally mountain o’ Salamandastron. Who be you?” The guard spoke the words he had said hundreds of times before. The reply that came back sounded trustworthy.
“’Tis Briggol Shoreflight, second in command to Novva Sunwave of Holt Sunwave. I’m askin’ entrance into your mountain for a weary voyager.”
The guard, an aging Duncan Dallspear brightened up immediately. Coincidentally, he happened to know the leader of Holt Sunwave, and was eager to hear news of his old friend.
Briggol took a cautious step back as the great wooden doors slowly opened with a groan, revealing a smiling older hare, clad in a tunic and ceremonial sash, a scimitar hanging to his side. The otter felt the warmth inside the fortress, contrasting greatly with the thick snow around him. Duncan beckoned the exhausted otter inside warmly, where other hares were gathering, having heard the gates opening. They looked in curiosity as the otter and hare walked by, not having seen another beast besides hare or badger in quite some time.
Gradually, the hallway broadened. Briggol was taken up several flights of stairs and his legs eventually felt ready to give out, giving how worn-out he already was. The hare looked sideways at him and smiled. “Me name’s Duncan Dallspear, Mista Shoreflight, just in case yer wonderin’.”
Briggol couldn’t help but smile at the hare’s faint accent. “Pleased ta me ye, Duncan Dallspear,” He looked up at the large door they had stopped in front of, “but, eh, where are we?”
Duncan grinned and grabbed the door handle. “You’ll see, Shoreflight.”
The door opened slowly, and Briggol’s eyes widened in awe.
The room that beheld him was a forge, a gigantic cavern with a flaming fireplace on one side, a sturdy crafting table next to it, and along one long wall on the opposite side hung countless numbers of spears, short swords, broadswords, dirks, axes, a claymore, and plenty more weapons. However, the size and scope of the room was not what awed the otter, but it was the creature that had forged all of those lethal weapons.
Standing beside the table, hammer in one powerful paw, and the nearly finished blade of a cutlass in the other, stood the largest, most sinewy beast Briggol had ever seen. Lord Southstar looked down at the captivated otter warrior, a warm smile on the badger’s battle worn features. He glanced at Duncan Dallspear, who stood at attention when catching the gaze of his leader.
“Dallspear, I see you’ve brought me a guest. Now, who may this young one be?” The Badger Lord set down the tool and blade and walked up to the otter before him, making Briggol tilt his head eve further back at the badger’s enormous height. The otter gulped before speaking.
“B-Briggol Shoreflight, milord Southstar.
The badger nodded his head. “Shoreflight…I’ve heard that name before. Under Novva Sunwave’s command, aren’t ye? How is the old rascal these days?” He inquired, now interested in what his visitor had to say. Briggol, however, sighed as the memories came back to him. He glanced back up at Southstar, trying to stay the emotion in his voice.
“Novva is…dead, milord. Along with the rest o’ Holt Sunwave.” The lump in his throat threatened to overcome him as the otter clenched his paws into fists. “Slain by that Oltar Fireblade they were, all o’ them.”
Lord Southstar’s eyes hardened, ominous tears lining them. He placed a paw on Briggol’s shoulder, squeezing it lightly. He sighed deeply and looked past the miserable otter to Duncan Dallspear.
“Leave us, please.” The bagder whispered. The hare nodded and swiftly departed. Turning, Southstar walked to the table where weapon and crafter lay. Gripping the blade, he twisted it with his mighty paws until it was an unrecognizable piece of coiled metal, and threw it into the fireplace. The flames hungrily licked at it, the fire roaring with delight. The Badger Lord stared into the glowing light, anger coursing through his strong frame.
Briggol had watched the scene in silenced wonder, yet when the bagder turned with a tear running slowly down his striped cheek, the otter broke down. He fell to his knees, the tears coming in rivers. Never in his life had he cried, yet Briggol’s entire family and closest friends were all dead, and the emotions were unbearable. The young otter’s frame wracked as sobs overtook him. He was completely oblivious to Lord Southstar’s comforting arm around his shoulders, the names of those lost floating through his head like clouds.
Dearest Ma and Popps. His valiant captain, Novva. Ferrgale. Aunt Streamvale. Big Uncle Rogrutt. Rhula. His best friend since cubhood, Briggol and Rhula had been the closest of comrades, unrelated brother and sister. Now she, along with everybeast else, was dead, gone forever.
The quiet sobs continued, unhinged, as the otter sat, helpless and in the strong embrace of Southstar. Above them, a small window in the forge cast soft rays of sunlight upon the two, as if the sun itself was consoling the mourning warriors.
Chapter Twenty Three
Jack Fieldmouse watch, eyes narrowed, as two burly weasels walked towards him, sinister grins on their dirty, scar-torn faces. The sight of their smiles made Jack’s blood run cold, but he sneered at them nonetheless.
“What d’ye want, you pair of overgrown toads?” He growled at them. Jack recognized the two as Nurk and Vurk, twin rats who had been responsible for the Fieldmouse as he was tied behind Oltar Fireblade’s tent. If he’d spoken out loud enough, he’d gotten a good slap from one or both of them. Other means of pain were also applied, but it only made Jack hate them even more.
One of the weasels, Nurk, brought his ghastly features down to Jack’s eye level and chuckled. “Norm’lly, I’d be takin’ that as’n insult, but you’ll git yours, mousey.”
Vurk grinned wider and began untying Jack from the oak trunk, trying to pry the ropes from the thick snow. “The Fireblade’s gotta try ‘is cat on you t’night! Your ta lucky first timer, mouse!”
The two brothers laughed at their cruel statement. Jack felt his heart stop for a moment. What did they mean? His cat? Whatever it was, the vermin made it sound horrible. It wasn’t until he felt himself being pushed onto his knees that Jack came back to the real world. He struggled as the weasels tied his paws around another pine trunk, making him completely defenseless. The Fieldmouse craned his neck to the side to see, illuminated by the setting sun, Oltar Fireblade surrounded by his horde.
Rats, weasels, all of them were smiling those same frightening grins that the twins had had plastered on their faces. For the first time since his village had been captured, Jack felt sincerely petrified. Never had he seen those vermin so happy, even if it were a disturbing happiness. As his eyes wandered the crowd gathered, Jack gasped when he saw his mother, eyes wide and terrified, in the grasp of the rat captain, Redskull.
“Mother…” He whispered. No matter what they would do to him, the mouse was scared at what they would do to his beloved mother. He felt the stinging slap as one of the twins backpawed him for speaking. Jack gritted his teeth and looked back at the corsair fox.
“What’s this about, fox?” He shouted at Oltar.
The Fireblade couldn’t help but admire the Fieldmouse. He seemed to have no ounce of terror in him. Suddenly, the fox saw Jack recoil slightly at the sight of the weapon in his right paw. Oltar grinned crookedly and ambled leisurely toward the mouse.
“Oh, I think you know quite well, mouse. Letting your emotions get the best of you is never the best thing. In fact, my throat still hurts from it.” The corsair rubbed his throat and sighed pitifully. Jack rolled his eyes when he heard sympathetic sounds coming from the hordebeasts. Oltar Fireblade continued, casually swinging the cat o’ nine tails around with his paw.
“Criminals must be punished, Jack. However, wrong deeds can be forgiven, if given the correct information.” He paused to catch the fiery gaze of the Fieldmouse.
Jack struggled to keep a cold shiver at bay as the wind grazed his back. “What d’you mean, vermin?”
Oltar stopped at the side of the mouse and slung the nine tails down so they caught in the snow, inches from Jack’s footpaws. “Redwall Abbey. You know of it, I know you do. Tell me all you know about the redstone house, and I will spare you from meeting my friends here.” He gestured to the weapon on the ground.
“Spare your own life, Jack!” The young mouse turned in surprise to hear his mother’s terrified voice break the evening air. He saw her slump to the ground, catching sight of the tears running down her face. “I can’t let you die, son. I can’t.”
Jack stared in shock at his mother, then clenched his teeth, turning to face the Fireblade’s leering smile, a stubborn frown on the mouse’s dirty face.
“I’ll never tell you, fox. I won’t be responsible for the deaths of innocents. Do what you want, but you won’t get a word from me!” The Fieldmouse stared down the now impatient horde leader. “Besides, you’d kill me whether I told you or not, wouldn’t you?”
The Fireblade yanked the cat o’ nine tails from the snow and laughed, a bone-chilling sound. “My, my, you sure are a smart mouse, aren’t you? I even made it an event by giving your precious mother a chance to watch.” The corsair’s voice lowed to a growl as he rose the weapon high over Jack’s bare back. “As I said, criminals must be punished.”
Jack squeezed his eyes shut and cringed as the spiked metal balls sank into his skin. He tried to hold in his pain, but an agonized scream escaped him as the nine tails yanked out of him, ripping the mouse’s back open. He heard his mother’s sobs faintly behind him, and felt himself descend out of reality for a moment before the spikes sank back into his now exposed skin. Jack felt tears spring to his eyes and cried out in pain as the balls were torn out again.
Oltar Fireblade grinned as the Fieldmouse’s screams echoed about the otherwise silent camp, and swung down harder, Jack’s shrieks becoming almost deafening as he yanked the nine tails out of the mouse’s now mutilated back. Around them, the horde was silent. Never, in all of their days, had any of the hordebeasts seen a creature in so much pain, and their leader enjoying the mouse’s persecution so much. It was truly spine chilling to watch.
Soon, each blow upon his back made Jack sink deeper and deeper into the strange darkness consuming him. The pain faded away and the last thing he heard before slipping into unconsciousness was Oltar Fireblade’s laugh.
Bree Redleaf gasped and fell to her knees, a horrible feeling in her heart. Freesia, Tav, and Tulia turned in surprise to see their companion on the ground, eyes wide with fear and concern. The ottermaid knelt down in front of her friend.
“What is it, Bree? What’s wrong? Are ye feeling okay?”
The squirrelmaid looked up into Freesia’s worried eyes. “Something terrible just happened. I don’t know what it was, but somebeast is hurt. I can feel it.” She whispered.
Skipper of Otters and Tulia McScuttie glanced at each other in confusion. The haremaid helped her stricken friend up and dusted the dirt off of her tunic.
“Now, now, wot’s all this? Somebeast hurt, eh? Now, just how d’ye bally know that, missy?” Tulia eyed Bree, wondering if possibly the maid was going crazy.
In the fading sunlight, Bree sighed and shook her head wearily. “I-I don’t know, but I need to rest, if you’ll allow me to.”
Freesia helped her friend sit upon a small log. “Of course ye can, Bree. Everything’s okay. We’re here for ye, whatever may be wrong.”
Tav had watched the whole thing, not sure what to do with himself. He too had felt a strange disturbance, like somebeast was in terrible pain, yet he couldn’t put a paw on what exactly was happening. The otter sighed and sat down regrettably with his fellow travelers. They were taking far too many breaks. Time was scarce, and with the Fireblade’s horde out there with Redwall on their minds, there was very little time to rest.
While Tulia comforted the still anxious Bree, a fire was started and rations were passed around. Tav took a sip from his canteen of spring water, and then turned to see Freesia leaning against an oak, staring up at the night sky through a break in the forest canopy.
The tired ottermaid looked up to see the Skipper offering her his canteen, a sympathetic look in his brown eyes. Freesia smiled thankfully and took a sip, her throat relishing the cool water. Tav sat down beside her, following his friend’s gaze up past the treetops.
“It’s beautiful, ain’t it?” He whispered.
Freesia nodded and leaned her head against the smooth trunk of the huge oak. “It is.” The ottermaid’s eyes suddenly became clouded. “But…I have some odd memory of me sitting on a beach, surrounded by creatures…I can’t tell who they are…there’s a fire going and, and somebeast is singing…”
Tav glanced at Freesia worriedly. Was everybeast in the camp going insane? “Singing? Freesia, what’re you talking about?” Then it struck him. “Wait…memory?”
He turned and held the ottermaid’s shoulders so she faced him. “Freesia! You remembered something!”
The troubled maid looked up at him with teary eyes. “Even if I did, it’s not enough…” She whispered. Freesia pulled her curved sword slowly from its scabbard. She examined the carven writings on one side of the blade, a frustrated look on her pretty features.
“I don’t even know what this means, if it means anything.” She sighed.
Tav gently took the blade from Freesia’s paws and observed it carefully. “Well, this is in the Northern tongue after all, d’ye think you’re from the Northern Shores?”
Freesia shrugged. “I have no idea. The name rings a bell, but other than that, I remember nothing.” She slumped down against the tree trunk, suddenly feeling exhausted. “Maybe if I sleep, something’ll come to me.”
“Maybe…” Tav whispered, a soft smile on his face. He put a comforting arm around the tired friend’s shoulders, and to his surprise, Freesia did not recoil.
Bree happened to look up from tending to a cut on her footpaw and saw the two otters resting against the tree trunk. She nudged Tulia and nodded toward them, a smile on the squirrelmaid’s gentle features. The haremaid grinned and clasped her paws together, putting on a face of a love struck maid, fluttering eyelashes and all.
“Ah, young love. Such a loverly thing, wot! Makes me teary-eyed at the thought!” She sighed, her wistful voice making Bree laugh.
“My, my, miss McScuttie. You are an odd one!” The squirrelmaid giggled.
Tulia immediately broke out of her reverie and glanced at her friend, ears flapping indignantly. “Odd? Now who’re ye callin’ odd, miss bushybrain! No flippin’ snacks for the likes o’ you, my treewhallopin’ excuse for a squirrel!”
The haremaid’s outburst only made Bree laugh even harder. The squirrelmaid held her stomach as the laughter eventually subsided. She wiped tears from her eyes and smiled up at her confused companion.
“Sorry. You are quite different from anybeast I’ve ever met, Tulia. I have never seen a hare before, so everything you do is new to me.”
Tulia McScuttie stood and posed nobly. “Well then, here’s a hare for ye! Perilous tae the death! Valiant tae a fault! Loyal till the end!”
Bree smiled and touched up her cut a bit more. And modest, ye cannot forget that one. She thought mockingly. The maid looked back at Tav and Freesia, both now asleep under the canopy of trees.
It is so charming seeing them together. They are the perfect match, and yet neither really realize it.
Bree sighed and accepted a biscuit from Tulia. The sense of an injured beast was still nagging at her, as was the sinking feeling that this unusual tranquility in their voyage was not going to last long.
Beloca, the old hare nurse, yawned loudly as she packed away her medicines in the washroom that she had been using to patch up her patient’s head wound. The entire night, she had been tending to Danbright Longeye’s jagged wound running down his head. Thankfully, the reddening was going down, a sign that it was starting to heal. The hare had become more restless over the past few days, mumbling in his sleep and even waking up the mountain again with one of his blood curdling screams.
The hares of Salamandastron were starting to worry, and a few were getting angry. Many could not stand being woken up in the middle of their sleep by those unearthly screeches. Beloca sighed when she thought of Algaron and Faylee. Dan’s best friends, they were in the infirmary more often than anywhere else, always checking up on their friend.
I don’t know where those leverets get that kind o’ devotion from. Never seen beasts so worried ‘bout another not related to ‘em. The old hare thought as she headed back down the hall.
A small candle lit her way as she ambled to the sickbay, though the sun was starting to rise. It’s first rays had not yet found the mountain, and the cloudy winter morning made it darker than usual.
Beloca saw that the door was wide open. Her heart stopped, as she knew she had closed it before leaving. She rushed into the room and, sure enough, Danbright was gone.
Faylee Frunk silently made her way down the hall from her bedroom, past the great dining hall, and toward the Office. She had heard about a book that Lieutenant Dotti had been reading that had fascinated her. Always one for book, Fay had taken immediate interest and now, with nothing to do in the early morning hours, she decided to go find it.
The large window inside the snug room gave Fay the view of the sun’s first light rays. The haremaid smiled as she watched the faint light creep over the top of the hills beyond Salamandastron.
She scanned the shelves and sighed. Nothing. Mayhaps the Lieutenant has it an’ forgot tae give’t tae me. She thought cheerily.
Faylee crept back out of the room, enjoying greatly the feeling of secrecy as she tiptoed throughout the mountain, back to her bedroom. As the haremaid passed the forge room, a strange noise echoed behind her. It sounded like somebeast whispering, and the hairs on the back of her neck stood in fright.
Turning slowly, Fay glanced about the dark passageway, but saw nothing. She gulped and continued walking. Suddenly, she heard it again. This time, it was closer, and she could hear the words.
“You vermin’ll pay by my sword…” A harsh whisper reached the haremaid’s stiffened ears.
Terrified, Fay turned slowly and saw a mysterious figure not a few feet in front of her, shrouded in the dark shadows of the corridor.
A scream escaped Faylee’s throat as the figure leapt at her. She was pinned to the ground, the cold blade of a sword at her throat. Heart racing, the maid looked up at her attacker and was locked in the sinister gaze of a pair of very familiar green eyes.
“You’ll kill no more, scum.” The figure raised the blade in his paw for the killing blow.
“DANNY!!” Fay shrieked.
With lightening speed, the haremaid punched the sword from her attacker’s paw and kicked him off of her at the same time. She stood swiftly, her heart pounding as the assailant landed hard on his back
The figure struggled to sit up, and in the faint light, Faylee saw Danbright Longeye’s shocked face. The hare dropped the sword he was holding and looked up at the anxious haremaid, a terrified look in his clouded eyes.
The wound on his head looked redder than usual, and his legs, bandaged and otherwise, were shaking. The two friends stared at each other in stunned quiet, both unable to pull themselves together. Fay happened to look past Dan to see Brigadier Flytblade, Algaron, Lord Southstar, and a few others come barreling around the corner into the hallway. The stunned looks on their faces were evident as they saw Danbright. Flytblade immediately knew what had happened and rushed the Faylee’s side.
“Are ye alright, missy? Did ‘e do anythin’ to ye?” The Brigadier whispered urgently. Fay shook her head slowly.
“I’m fine, Brig. Nothin’ happened.”
Algaron Tymballow stood stock-still, trying to piece together what had happened. Had one of his best friends really almost been killed by the other? Everybeast in the fortress knew that Dan was under the weather, but how had he become this insane?
Once it was confirmed that Fay was unharmed, everybeast turned their eyes to Danbright. The stricken hare stood near the end of the hallway. He was staring at the rapier that lay on the floor, silent bewilderment crossing his scarred face. Dan looked up at the small crowd that was gaping back at him, his green eyes wide with terror.
“Danny?” Faylee whispered, taking a small step toward her friend, paw outstretched. The Brigadier held her back protectively.
“Stay ‘way miss. He’s dangerous right now.” Flytblade whispered.
Danbright stared at Fay momentarily, looked wildly over at Algaron who was standing like a statue beside Lord Southstar, then turned and fled the scene, a small gasp of pain escaping the leveret as he tried to run on his injured leg.
Algaron felt his stomach churn as he watched his friend leave. The hare looked down at the sword on the cold floor, and then glanced over at Faylee, who met his gaze. Tears were in her eyes. He moved to comfort her when suddenly, out of shock, the haremaid fainted.
Lord Southstar slammed his huge paw on the table inside the forge room. The hares who had been chattering nervously amongst themselves quieted immediately. Nobeast was in the mood to eat that morning, a complete rarity with hares, but the news of the early morning’s events made all of their appetites flee.
Inside the forge stood Major Copsleton, Brigadier Flytblade, Lieutenant Dotti, and a few other officers. Captain Ferdimond Frunk and his wife Alyeea, Faylee’s parents, were also present. The Captain was furious that his daughter had almost been killed. Alyeea was also angry, but she had always had a soft spot for Danbright, and part of her felt sorry for him.
“Calm down, everyone!” The Badger Lord’s voice boomed around the rocky cavern. “Now, I know you all want to discuss the matter and hand, but we must get things straight. Save for her fainting – and may I say she is fine now – it is safe to say that Faylee is not injured in any way. Young Longeye is back in bed and Beloca is keeping a very strict eye on him.” Southstar nodded when he saw the concerned eyes of those around him. “Yet, that doesn’t explain why Danbright almost slayed her…”
Everybeast stared at the ground, not knowing what to say. Never in Salamandastron history had a hare, sane or otherwise, tried to kill another hare.
The Major, far more serious than usual, stood tall and cleared his throat. “Ahem. Permission tae speak, m’Lordie?”
Southstar nodded, wondering what his good friend had to say.
Copsleton glanced around at the officers in attendance. “’N all ma years as a Major, I’ve never seen such events takin’ place ‘ere. I think we c’n all say, young Da’bright’s harebrained, if’n you’ll excuse the word. An’beast ‘ere who’s got somethin’ tae declare, speak your mind!”
Captain Ferdimond raised a paw to speak. He was very respected in the Long Patrol, deadly with a scimitar and completely flawless when it came to throwing daggers. He never missed. Copsleton motioned for him to speak. The Captain nodded, his ears standing straight indignantly.
“This may be complete folly tae some, but ah’ve got a bally reason tae say it. Danbright nearly killed ma Faylee t’day, an’ he’s dangerous tae everybeast on the mount’n. If’n you’ll excuse the idea, but I say the only solution tae this is tae flippin’ banish the bounder from Salamandastron.”