Chapter 1 ~ The Saber Squirrel
Fluffy pink under-bellied and golden cream-topped clouds gently drifted over the western ramparts of Redwall Abbey. A crisp autumn breeze, rich with the refreshing scent of russet apples from the orchards and the warm embrace of woodsmoke from the kitchen, wafted upwards to the twitching nose of the walltop's lone sentinel.
Rivenah Thornpaww lightly and easily balanced atop the red sandstone battlements, while impassively scanning the peaceful sun-warmed path and field before her. Her left paw rested firmly on the hilt of an elegantly lethal fencing blade. She was unnaturally thin, as squirrels go, due to her recent life of hunger and helplessness. Had she not been found and rescued, revived and nourished back to health by the kind and compassionate creatures of Redwall... well... she was ready even now to accept her fate.
If only they could understand. But how could they?
The alert squirrel perked up her ears as she heard soft pawsteps coming up the stone stairs to the walltop, accompanied by an all too familiar and wonderful scent.
"Why am I not surprised to find you here, Riv?" The young mouse smiled, as Rivenah turned around and rolled her eyes at his nickname for her. "I brought your favorite, friend-o," he said, cheerily. "Apple and cheese sandwiches, with maple nutbrown ale. Friar Fat Belly wouldn't let me have any candied chestnuts, even though I promised to not eat a one and save them all just for you."
Rivenah eagerly took the plate of food from the young mouse, and sat down with her back against the sun-warmed stones and her tail neatly curled around her.
"You should not speak so rudely of your elders, little runt," she commented. "Not everyone appreciates your nicknames. And, you know what Sister Ceryllin would say, don't you, Virnon Figblossom?"
Virnon's ears turned red in embarrassment, as his two terrible fates were rubbed unceremoniously into his face. First, that he was younger and smaller than his three older sisters, and second, that he was cursed with such a flowery last name.
"Alright, I give up, Riv! I'm sorry I called Friar Barrett a fat belly. How goes the battle up here?" Virnon winked knowingly, as he deftly changed the subject, and helped himself to a swig of ale.
Rivenah gave a quick rehearsed report. "Nothing has stirred in the field all day, and apart from a lazy cardinal pecking crumbs around the base of the eastern wall corner, nothing has managed to enter the Abbey perimeter."
Virnon smirked, and stole a glance at the eastern walltop.
"I know you don't care much for Ellie's favorite reading and snacking spot, but that's not the battle I was referring to."
Rivenah raised an eyebrow, and shifted uncomfortably. "I don't know what you mean," she said, evasively.
"Yes you do," Virnon replied calmly. "You just won't let yourself admit it to anyone else yet. But I know you better now, Riv. In your mind, you're still trapped under that oak tree, calling out for help."
"Stop it, Virnon!" Suddenly angered by the painful memory, the red squirrel bristled her tail as she stood and pushed aside the plate of food with a footpaw. "You know nothing of what I suffered that day. I will forever bear the burden of that bitter night..." She took a breath, to calm herself, then said, "You can have my supper; I'm not hungry anymore."
Ignoring the look of sympathy from her young friend, the squirrel tightly gripped the hilt of her sword, and marched away towards the eastern walltop, her tail swishing behind her in annoyance.
Virnon was not surprised, but he was hungry. The young mouse quickly set his teeth into the fresh apple and cheese sandwich, sipping the cold ale while he watched the angry squirrel walk away. He knew how it felt to feel lonely and misunderstood. Why couldn't she see that? He only wanted to help her, to get to know her better, to be a friend.
When she reached the far walltop, Rivenah stopped, and blinked back a tear. At her feet, there was a little pile of stale oat scone crumbs. How often had she scolded little Ellie, the molebabe, for sneaking snacks up to the walltop? Rivenah only pretended to be angry with little Ellie, but she secretly had a soft spot for the tiny mole dibbun. She reminded her of the childhood and innocent wonder she once knew. Once.
With a sudden burst of energy, the squirrel ran across the battlements, and took a flying leap towards a nearby elm. Her expert tree-jumping skills kicked in as she lightly landed on a flimsy branch, and used it to springboard herself across to a sturdier bough. It was easy to balance, with the help of her bushy red tail. Though her body lacked much of its former strength, she tried her best to keep up a daily exercise routine.
Finally outside the claustrophobic Abbey walls, Rivenah stretched her wiry limbs in preparation for a treetop venture into the forest depths of Mossflower Wood. There she could lose herself, but not her way, and be free to do as she pleased, and not be questioned or badgered by anybeast.
Chapter 2 ~ Blind Old Chocka
Utterly unappreciative of of the vast natural beauty of Mossflower Wood, an old blind weasel slowly hobbled down the dusty path that led to Redwall. The ancient sandstone Abbey was legendary in many lands, known far and wide for its famous hospitality, excellent food, and peace-loving occupants.
Chocka grinned to herself, revealing a row of crooked half-rotten teeth.
Soft living meant the creatures who lived in Redwall were unaccustomed to the hardships of life outside their walls. Chocka, however, had lived long enough to have heard tales of the other side to this story. These Redwallers were always able to defend themselves in a pinch. It seemed the greater the enemy, the harder they resisted. Such terrifying foes as Cluny the Scourge, Slagar the Cruel, Damug Warfang, and even a band of mysterious Marlfoxes had gone up against the fearless abbey beasts, and yet all had been soundly defeated.
Chocka smiled, as she tapped the ground ahead of her with an oddly carved stick.
She always did like a challenge.
Even an army of a thousand Rapscallions couldn't stop her from having what she wanted, once she set her mind and blackened heart on it. She was only one creature, and she had no army. But, she needed no army.
All she needed was to choose her next prize.
And, this time, her prize was no small trinket. Soon she would claim for her own a truly legendary weapon. Forged by a badger Lord of Salamandastron, out of a fallen star; wielded by countless heroes, who stood for good and fought for peace, under the banner of Redwall Abbey. Her prize, once named Ratdeath, was the Sword of Martin the Warrior.
Chapter 3 ~ Of Family And Friends
"Are you quite finished downing that tankard of October Ale, my old friend?" Abbot Elias asked, slipping his paws into the folds of his dark green habit.
Tinius Spikery blushed to his quilltips, and quickly set down his drink.
The kindly old mouse abbot coughed and twitched his whiskers in amazement, as the hedgehog cellarkeeper wiped the foam off his lips with the broad sleeve of his shirt.
"My apologies, Father Abbot. I don't often see you down 'ere, and I always has a pint or two when I'm a bit put out and need ta clear me head a bit."
Elias nodded understandingly. "Ah, yes. Your wife is having twins soon, if I recall rightly. I see why you're feeling more stressed than usual. How is Amethyst, by the way?"
Tinius sat down heavily on a nearby stool, and sighed deeply.
"I wish I could do more to 'elp her, Father. But, she gets so awful fierce and ornery now, with the ole cravin's. I feel at times she means ta pull me spikes out an' skewer me with 'em!"
The abbot chuckled softly, and set a hand on his friend's shoulder. "As you know, Tinius, I never married. But, I do know enough of such matters--concerning the coming of babes--to reassure you: she only wishes to alleviate her own discomfort. If you are unsure how to appease her, then I suggest you speak with Bernum Figblossom. He helped his wife with all four of their young ones. I'm certain he will know what's best."
Tinius sighed deeply, and rolled his broad shoulders back. "Thank you, Elias. You have been a good friend to Amethyst and me. It's a right pleasure to 'ave you as our Abbot. You keep growin' wiser with each passin' season."
The Abbot shrugged his narrow shoulders. "Perhaps." Then, he added, with a slight smirk. "But, you will definitely grow all the more stouter and wider of girth if you do not moderate your ale consumption more carefully."
Tinius nodded, as he looked down at his round stomach. "Yore right, Father Abbot. I would do well ta find a more pract'cal use fer my alone time."
Elias smiled, and withdrew a small parcel from his habit. "Excellent. I have just the diversionary employment you need, my good fellow. Have a look at this..."
The hedgehog cellarkeeper stood to his footpaws and eagerly accepted the oddly shaped package. He had always enjoyed collecting and identifying strange objects. He unfolded the cloth covering, to reveal a smooth, yet oddly shaped seashell with various sized holes bored into its sides.
Tinius' eyes lit up with delight.
"Can you tell me what it is?" Elias asked, curiously. "Skipper Elmbark said one of his otter crew found it lodged in a stream bank a few day's journey from here."
Tinius turned the shell over several times in his large paws, then covered multiple holes at once with just one of his pudgy fingers, and suddenly blew in one end of it. The shell gave a shrill high-pitched whistle.
The abbot started in surprise.
Tinius laughed aloud, in a booming voice. "Oh, ho ho! Well, I never... A wanderin' Long Patrol hare once told me 'bout 'ow they make these instruments out of shells they find on the beach by the mountain fortress of Salamandastron. It's called an ocarina."
The abbot raised an eyebrow. "A pretty name, but hardly a pretty sound for a musical instrument."
Tinius stared at the ocarina with wonder. "Nah, I just blew too hard. These are meant ta have a soft mellow tone. I have no gift fer music, but surely there be some creature here at the abbey who can figure it out."
"I hope so," said Elias, bowing slightly. "I must see to another matter presently, but I should very much like to hear your ocarina played at the upcoming music festival. I wouldn't be surprised if my little gem of a mousemaid can learn to play it in less than a week!"
- ~ ~ ~
The mousemaid in question was at that very moment humming a new tune she was composing for the festival. If she could only think of a poem lovely enough to fit the melody she was crafting...
Music often brightened the days and memories of the tender-hearted young mouse. Her parents had drowned in a riverboat accident when she was just a babe. Her uncle, and now step-father, Abbot Elias, had taken her in and raised her as his own. Though she often missed her parents, she would always call Redwall Abbey her home now.
A sprig of freshly-picked mint tickled her nose. The mousemaid looked up at the tree branches above her. No squirrel babes there, she shought. She went back to her composing, and slouched down a little more against the apple tree trunk at her back. The mint again brushed her nose. She looked out across the leaf and fallen apple strewn grass. No mole babes there. She again went back to composing, still quite oblivious as to the true identity of her tormentor.
A few moments passed, wherein the only sound was the breeze stirring the colorful autumn leaves, and the last bees of summer drowsily droning in and around their hives. Then, the mint sprig landed on the mousemaid's notebook, and a voice started softly singing,
- "One merry day, in the month of May,
- When you came away with me,
- We sang a song, so sweet and long,
- That lives in my memory...
- Oh, come with me, my bonnie belle,
- The days are fading fast.
- Soon we'll hear the winter's wind,
- And feel its icy blast.
- So, come with me, my one true love;
- I'll never leave your side.
- And, glad we'll be, in Mossflower, free,
- If you'll only be my bride."
"Really, Virnon?" she said, without looking up. "Don't you have anything better to do right now? I hear Sister Ceryllin has some new herbal remedies she wants to try out on someone. You're always too 'sick' to do you're share of the dishes at meal times, so I think it's high time you visited the infirmary."
The encourageable Virnon stepped out from behind the apple tree, and sat down beside her.
"Aw, Clover, he sighed, shaking his head and smiling. "You know I'm highly allergic to all that lilac Willowbrook puts in the soap. I'd loose my paws if I had to scrub pots all night long!"
Clover Joy finally turned and acknowledged him, unable to hide a slight smile that said she didn't really object to his perpetual interruptions.
"You know, I've never met anyone else who is allergic to lilac? What makes you so special?" she asked, raising an eyebrow.
Virnon winked. "Oh, you know me. What's a few purple rashes, pussy sores, and a swollen nose? I guess that's nothing special, if you say so. But, I tell you what--it won't stop me from taking first place in the festival this year." He rubbed his paws together eagerly.
Abbot Elias' annual music festival and competitions had become rather popular with the younger Redwallers, and no one was more competitive and desperate to win each year than young Virnon. He always did what he believed to be his very best, in hopes of impressing Clover, and proving his skill to his older sisters. But, every year he was soundly beaten by the unattainable talent of the singer and song-writer, Clover Joy. His desire to be better than her musically was only out-shone and hindered by his endless attempts to win her over.
Ever since Brimson, Skipper Elmbark's son, won the paw of Shyra Stonemoss, Virnon felt it was his duty as a mouse to not be outdone, even in matters of the heart. He little cared that Brimson was three seasons older than he, or that Clover only laughed at his hopeless wooing. Clover didn't mind the attention, but she refused to get Vernon's hopes up, until her step-father and abbot gave his blessing. Elias approved of Vernon, but wanted to see him grow and mature a bit more first.
Clover was not without friends her age in the abbey, but none of the others knew so many of the old songs, or could play so many instruments, or shared her love of reading like Vernon did. They both had many similar interests, such as exploring the woods, building playforts for the dibbuns, harvesting food (and eating it too), enjoying music, and challenging themselves to do their very best at everything they put their minds to.
A curious robin perched in the branches above them, and listened to their voices, as the two young mice chatted freely about the upcoming festival. The robin shivered and puffed out his wings against the cold autumn breeze. The abbeydwellers' activities mattered little to him> Only, whenever the word 'festival' was used often, one morning soon after the leftover crumbs and berries of a feast would be tossed out over the orchard lawns. With the advent of colder weather, scarcer food would make such a generous offering a welcome meal for any bird.
Chapter 4 ~ Friend Or Foe?
Rivenah stared at the slow-moving river water before her. The forest was calm, and the sun had already fallen below the tree line. Looking left and right, the squirrel made sure that she was alone. Then, she took off her belt and let her sword and scabbard fall on the damp moss along the bank. She took a deep breath, then stepped forward and dove into the River Moss.
The water was bitterly cold, soaking through her long red fur in an instant. The current was much stronger than it had appeared above water, and her large tail dragged heavily behind her. She struggled to swim back up to the surface. When her head broke the surface of the river, she tossed her head back and gasped for air, sending water splashing in all directions.
The sound of a twig breaking nearby caught her attention. Even full of water, her ears were very sensitive to noises of any kind. She tried to look around her to see both banks, but the current kept trying to pull her under again. She just wasn't strong enough yet to be swimming, and she knew it.
"Who's there?" she called out, feeling danger all around her like icicles in the air.
"I'm over here!" a weak voice said, from the far bank.
From the middle of the river, it was hard for Rivenah to see who was speaking in the dim light.
"Swim quickly! They are nearly upon you!" the voice urged her, sounding more desperate.
Rivenah struggled in the water for a moment, then struck out in the direction of the voice.
"Here,take hold of this!" the voice cried.
A sturdy vine of ivy came flying through the air towards her. It fell short and was quickly drawn away by the current. Rivenah's helper reeled in the vine and threw it once more. This time it went past her. Kicking hard, Rivenah opened her mouth and stretched upwards for the vine. A moment later, she had her teeth tightly sunk into the vine, then a moment later her front paws. In less than a minute, she was able to pull herself up onto the bank, exhausted and a bit disoriented.
When the world stopped spinning, Rivenah found herself face-to-face with an old bent-over weasel in tattered rags, leaning on a sturdy cane. The weasel had strange milky eyes that seemed to look straight through Rivenah, as the weasel extended a paw towards her. The squirrelmaid instinctively recoiled and fell back several paces.
"Who are you?" Rivenah asked, skeptical and unsure.
The weasel bowed her head courteously. "My name is Chocka. I saw you were in a spot of trouble, being stuck as you were in pike-infested waters. You're lucky I found you, miss, or you might have ended up as fish food."
The weasel's friendly tone was unnerving. Rivenah stole a glance across the river to her sword. She felt exposed and helpless without it.
"How can a blind weasel see?" she asked, bluntly.
"I saw with my ears," Chocka said, tapping her left ear. "I heard somebeast jump into swift waters, and my nose told me many pike were coming. See for yourself, young one." Chocka pointed at the river behind Rivenah.
The squirrel turned around and gasped as she saw the waters she had just been in churning white as several large dorsal fins searched the waters ravenously for a fresh meal.
"What do you say now, squirrel?" Chocka said, grinning widely.
Rivenah studied the face of her rescuer grimly. It did not seem right for vermin such as a weasel to come to the aid of a squirrel. But, being at Redwall had also taught her to give other creatures the benefit of the doubt, and be courteous to them, even if they didn't truly deserve it. In this instance, she really did owe the weasel her life.
"Thank you... Chocka, for rescuing me. I am indebted to you. My name is Rivenah Thornpaw, formerly of the Grey Hills, and presently of Redwall Abbey." Rivenah bowed slightly, but did not take her eyes off the weasel.
Chocka bowed unsteadily and leaned on her cane. She smiled crookedly and raised her grey eyebrows in surprise.
"Well met, Rivenah. Then, it is I who am the fortunate one, Miss Thornpaw. You see, a very dear friend of mine lives at your abbey, and I am just presently on my way to see him. His name is Corrin, though we used to call him 'Beardy', on account of his long chin fur." She chuckled to herself. "Do you know him?"
Rivenah shook her head. "I've not heard either name before, but then, I have only been at the abbey for a season now. Who are these others you speak of?"
Chocka looked confused, then said, "Ah, that would be my family. We're a big clan. I would never have left them, especially now that these old eyes of mine have failed me, but," Chocka coughed suddenly, and continued in a hoarse voice. "I've lived a full life, I have, but time has caught me up it seems. And, I decided to give all my good old friends one last visit before I go."
Rivenah cringed inwardly, as the weasel coughed again, hearing the rasp and pain as she gasped for air. Outwardly, Rivenah attempted a kinder expression.
"I'm very sorry to hear that, Chocka. Here, it's getting late, but the abbey's not far from here. I'll get you there safely, and then our herbalist and nurse, Sister Ceryllin can get you something to take the pain out of that cough."
The weasel looked visibly relieved by her words.
"That's terribly kind of you, miss. I do hope I won't be any inconvenience to your abbey folks. I do look forward to seeing old 'Beardy' again. Heh, old Beardy... what a fellow." She shook her head and chuckled again.
Rivenah pointed further upstream, and said, "At Redwall we welcome anybeast who comes in peace. We can cross the river on a footbridge up this way."