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This is a fan fiction story by Riverrune, The Rogue Bard. It is not considered canon, nor is it a policy or guideline.


Prologue ~ Tell Us A Storee, Mem Flinn!

Autumn leaves swirled and danced on the stone steps outside the gatehouse of Redwall Abbey.

Rittlesby the hedgehog babe toddled over to the door, and firmly pushed it shut.

“Der we go, Mem Flinn! Did oi do et roit this here toime?” Rittlesby said, tucking his chin in and swaggering about, as he tried out his imitation mole speech.

The aged shrew, Flinn Furrit, chuckled gently as she leaned back in her old oak rocking chair and continued her knitting. A warm glow from the crackling fireplace lit her dark furred face.

“Of course you did, little one,” she said, kindly.

“Of course you’m did notter!” a husky voice piped up from the back of the room.

A rather round mole came trundling over to the gatehouse door, and swept up the little dibbun in one large paw, careful not to let his digging claws scratch the little infant. He gave the door a light shove, to ensure it was properly latched, then turned his full attention to the dibbun.

“Yew cheeky young rascaller!” the mole chided, waving a claw at the giggling babe. “Now what’d I tell you’m ‘bout impersicatin’ this here moler? Doant you’m know et be roight disrespectfuller?”

The little hedgehog shook his head, with wide innocent eyes. His spike tips drooped in dismay. He hadn’t meant to disobey. It was well-known that the little hedgehog greatly admired the mole.

“Oh, now, Tumbley, you behave yourself!” Mem Flinn suddenly said, clacking her knitting needles on the arm of her rocking chair. “And, put that young hedgebabe down, before you poke yourself! He's done no more wrong than you ever have. Or, do you forget what a handful YOU were as a dibbun? Eh?” There was a sharp gleam in her eye as she glared at the mole over the top of her glasses.

“Oh, well, yes’m, iffen you’m says so,” the mole mumbled, shuffling his paws as his cheeks darkened in embarrassment.

The little dibbun squirmed in Tumbley’s arms, and quickly leaped away as the mole bent over to set him down. The little babe curled up in a ball and rolled across the room to the shrew mum. He jumped up on his paws, and tried to quickly scramble up into her lap. The shrew objected at once.

“Hold up a moment there, young ‘un!” Flinn said, quickly gathering up her knitting so it wouldn't be crushed by the over-enthusiastic youngster. “I don’t recall inviting you up here, little spike-face.”

Rittlesby doubled up with laughter, and snuggled up in the shrew mum’s long white apron.

As grumpy as she tried to sound, the shrew’s heart was immediately softened by the innocent trust and love of the little babe. Despite his sharp stubby spikes, she wrapped both arms around the little hedgehog and squeezed him tightly.

“Oooh! You little rogue!” she said, with a laugh. “You know, some days I think you might be worse than old Tumbley here!”

“Woah naow!” Tumbley said, stepping forward onto the braided rug, and placing both paws on his hips, while trying to make an offended expression. “Oi warn’t half so bad as you’m claim oi was, an’ you'm knows et!”

Flinn Furrit rolled her eyes and shook her head, as she gingerly patted the back of the spiky baby hedgehog. She looked up at her old friend, and sighed.

“Oh, Tumbley, you old fraud. We both know you were a right terror, the wildest molebabe ever to set paw in Mossflower Woods and the lands beyond! It’s a wonder they even let you come back here, after all you did.”

“After all oi did, eh?” Tumbley said, raising a furry eyebrow. “How about, after all you’m did, eh? Burr hurr, you think oi already forgottered wot a trubblemakin' shrewer you’m was, back in ee day? Oi surely does a' 'member!”

Flinn waved a paw dismissively.

“Oh, yes, well, I was a very different shrew back then…” Her mind wandered into realms of memory for a moment. “Yes, I most certainly was...”

A slow grin spread across Tumbley’s face.

Rittlesby noticed his smile.

The mole gave the dibbun a quick wink, then pulled up a little stool and sat down across from them, on the other side of the fireplace.

In the fire’s warm glow, Flinn Furrit began to rock back and forth, as her thoughts traveled back to her younger days, to wild times, mysterious quests, and daring deeds.

For a time there was only the crackling of the wood fire, the smell of sweet smoke, and the gentle creaking of the rocking chair. The warm air nearly lulled Flinn Furrit to sleep, but then she remembered she had a captive audience. No storyteller could pass up so great an opportunity.

She began to sing slowly, with a distant look in her eyes.

“It wasn’t the quest we set out on,
It wasn’t the battle we sought,
But, when we were faced with the darkness and dread,
We stood by our friends, and we fought!
It wasn’t the journey we planned for,
It wasn’t the foe that we knew,
But, when the night fell, and the fires arose,
We knew, every beast, what to do.
Deep in the mountain, the story is told,
Of allies and friends, with courage so bold,
We rallied our forces, and laid out our plans,
To challenge a creature of legend so old.
Homeward we journeyed, though dark was the way,
Knowing our fight was not o'er
For, deep in the forest of Mossflower Wood,
The hordes of our foe grew once more...”

Tumbley nodded his head, lost in his own set of memories.

Little Rittlesby, however, was spurred into action by the epic ballad. He jumped up and down on Mem Flinn’s lap and shouted, “More a’ more a’ more! Tell us a storee, Mum! Please, oh, please!! Tell us about the grey ratter baddie an’ his gang o’ master thieves. Oi loik that storee a lot, Mem Flinn!”

Flinn Furrit narrowed her eyes, and stole a look at her mole friend.

Tumbley nodded his head sagely.

“Well, then, Rittlesby, you little scamp,” Flinn said, with a sigh and huff. “Heh! I suppose you’re old enough to hear the full 'storee' as you’m call it.”

The dibbun’s eyes went wide with surprise, and he clapped his paws in eager anticipation.

“Oh, goodee! Oi allus knew ‘tere was more ta the storee!”

“Yes, yes,” Flinn said, patting his footpaws. “Now then, Rittlesby. Just sit right here, calm yourself down, and pay close attention. There is much that can be learned from the tale I’m about to tell you, and much that ought to have been learned a lot sooner! This tale is not for the faint of heart. It tells of dangers, deceptions, and dragons!”

“Dragons?!” the babe piped up, excitedly.

“Oh, yes,” Flinn said, nodding. “Only, that’s just what we call them nowadays. For time out of mind, they were known only as the great fire lizards. Most beasts thought they were nothing but a myth, and so did I, until the day I came face-to-face with… well… I ought to start at the beginning, shouldn’t I? It all began, on a day long-ago, when a grumpy wild shrew met a tiny dibbun mole…”

Book One ~ Riddles And Tales

Chapter 1 ~ The Musical Mole

Wild Flinn Furrit

~ Flinn Furrit was a capable-looking shrew, with short sable fur, keen eyes, and an easy, confident pace. She wore a simple bark brown dress with a black vest, and an old cloak, oddly patched and painted to blend in with the forest undergrowth and shadows. She carried no visible weapons or pack, but this wild young shrew of Mossflower Wood was never unarmed, and never unprepared. The world was hers for the roaming; its creatures full of countless stories, songs, and tales full of wonder, discovery, conflict, and adventure!

~ ~ ~
Tumbley the Mole Dibbun

~ Tumbley was a carefree dibbun mole, with velvety brown fur, bright twinkling eyes, and a hopelessly adorable wobbling gait. He wore a grass green lop-sided homespun tunic, with a small brown leather belt that sported a tiny scabbard for his knife. Over one shoulder he happily carried a bulging sack, that seemed to move on its own now and then and emit tiny chitters. Every new pathway led to a grand new adventure for the little mole! Despite a lack of seasons to his credit, this dibbun was no stranger to the artful creation and memorization of several dozen curious riddles, rhymes, and ditties. Light was his heart, and freely he wandered, tumbling wherever the wind blew him day after day.

~ ~ ~

The afternoon sun seeped pleasantly through Flin Furrit’s headfur. She twitched her ears slightly as a curious dragonfly buzzed by overhead. The path she was wandering followed a little tributary of the great River Moss. She had been slowly traveling upstream for several days now, heading further east into Mossflower Woods than she had dared to for quite some time. The last few seasons she had taken her time exploring the tall forbidding mountains facing the western sea. Now, she was making her journey further inland, in hopes of finding new stories, new vistas, and new experiences. The last thing on Flinn’s mind as she steadily paced along the leaf-strewn woodland path, beneath the dappled shadows of gently swaying birch and elm boughs, was making a new friend.

~ ~ ~
“Wot havs a sting an’ rhymes wi’ me?
‘Naught but a likkle ole bumbledeebee!
Wot havs a needle, but won’ poke me?
‘Naught but a gurt big -- fur tree!
Wurr be the warter higher n’ a wall,
Up at the top ov a watery fall!
Wurr be the sky as low as moi toes?
Down inna puddle that rurflects moi nose!”

Tumbley bumbled along in happy bliss, composing and singing his own simple riddles and rhymes with each new sight his little black eyes took in. His sensitive nose had long ago caught the tempting smell of fresh water, but now he could also hear the trickling laughter of the little stream ahead. Throwing caution to the wind, Tumbley dashed headlong through an elderberry bush, trampled an unsuspecting fern, then curled into a tight little ball and rolled down the muddy riverbank and landed with a giggling splash in the cold sparkling water.

The water came up around his pudgy middle, and quickly soaked through the thin fabric of his tunic.

“Oh, burr hurr!” Tumbley shouted, joyfully, using his digging claws like cups to slosh about large quantities of water in every direction. “Tumbley do loike a likkle barth onna loverly spring day!”

Scoop, scoop, Tumbley closed his eyes and poured water over his head, letting it trickle down his face and into his ears. He chuckled and shook his head from side to side, sending little droplets flying off into the stream. Sunlight glinted off the lively flowing water, sending up glints like a thousand gems in the bright noonday glare.

Unlike many quite sensible moles, Tumbley was a water-lover, and had little fear of drowning or being eaten by hungry fish. He was, at that moment, quite hungry himself. But, the prospect of a carefree splash in a cool stream was so alluring, it overcame his rumbling tummy.

Inspired by the delightful sensation of cool water flowing all around him, and the happy sound of the wind in the trees, Tumbley started to sing a song he composed on the spot.

“Hurr, ho, the chucklin’ stream,
Whur the warter feels just loike a dream!
Thur be no bother fer a mole loike me,
Hurr in the middle o’ the chucklin' stream!
Splursh! Splarsh! Oi takes a barth,
No more can oi stand the dusty path!
As oi ducks moi head, n’ oi sings moi song,
The chucklin’ stream do stream a--”

Ker-plunk!

Something landed in the water next to Tumbley.

The dibbun’s mouth fell open in surprise, and he completely lost his place in the song. A moment later, the object bobbed to the surface of the water, and started flowing downstream.

It was a red and green patched crab apple.

Tumbley wasted no thought on where the apple had fallen from. He’m was gurtly a-hungered! Wildly, the dibbun splashed about as he tried to quickly wade downstream after the little bobbing snack.

“Oi gotcher--hoarrgh!” The mole got a mouthful of water as he made a desperate dive for the apple. His head disappeared for a second, then up bobbed the mole, like a happy little otter, floating on his back, with the little crab apple triumphantly held aloft in one paw!

A clapping sound came from the trees above.

Tumbley looked past his prize, and noticed for the first time he was not alone. There, looking down at him with a curious expression on her face, was a dark-furred shrew.

Tumbley quickly swam for the far bank, and scrambled out of the stream. He threw a look over his shoulder, and saw the shrew was climbing down the tree it had climbed, and was waving after him. He didn’t waste time. Stuffing the apple into his mouth, the mole used his big digging claws to quickly climb the bank, then he threw himself flat in the long grass up on top.

Flinn shook her head, as she quickly waded across the little stream.

“Sure are a flighty feller, aren’t you?” she commented to herself. She stepped out of the water and stood still a moment, twitching her whiskers, and turning her ears this way and that as she listened. “Hoi!” she cupped her paws to her mouth and called up to the top of the bank. There was no reply. “I didn’t mean ta startle you, little moley. No need to run. I’m not gonna eat you.”

There was a shuffling in the grass atop the bank.

“Gurr ‘way!” a gruff little voice called out, followed by the sound of juicy munching.

Flinn put her paws on her hips, and shook her head. She couldn’t help smiling.

“Enjoying that apple, little moley? Why don’t you come down here and tell me where you learned that little song you was singin’?”

Tumbley peered through the long grass, and chewed slowly, savoring the crisp juicy apple. Lying flat on his stomach, he knew the shrew could not see him, but he could get a good look at her and size up what manner of beast he was facing.

“Oi never learned no songer from nobeast!” he casually replied, pausing to lick the juice off his digging claws. “Oi maded et up moi own self. So, thur!”

Flinn nodded her head slowly in admiration.

“Ah, I see. Well, then, you must be a champion songwriter, eh, mister watermoley?”

Tumbley twitched an eyebrow in annoyance.

“Moi name be’s Tumbley, ole treeshrewer.”

Flinn held up a second apple, and tossed it idly into the air, catching it with ease as it fell.

“Oh, I’m no tree shrew, grassmoley. I’m just a wild wandrin’ shrew, lookin’ fer stories and songs ta add ta my collection.”

This caught the molebabe’s attention. Tossing aside the well-nibbled apple core, Tumbley stood to his foot paws, ignoring the bank mud now smeared across his tunic, and jumped off the bank top. He slid down the muddy bank, and landed with a sploodge beside Flinn.

“Hoi, miss norra-tree-shrew. Oim Tumbley!” the mole waved and winked cheekily from flat on his back on the ground.

The shrew stifled a laugh. She wasn’t one to let her guard down, or laugh in the presence of other beasts, but there was something about this little mole that broke through her tough facade.

“Nice ta meet you, Tumbley. I’m called Flinn Furrit.” She held out a paw.

Tumbley got back on his footpaws, then teetered unsteadily for a moment. When he found his balance again, he eagerly took her paw in his own and shook it vigorously.

“Pleaser ter meet you’m as well, Flinn Furriter. Would you’m loike to hurr anuther one o’ moi songers?” The mole’s face was beaming with enthusiasm now.

Flinn shook her head, and tossed him the second apple. The mole quickly bit into it, eating like a ravenous starved beast, sending apple juice and seeds flying.

“Ahem,” Flinn coughed into her paw. Even she had more manners than this little rogue. “Well, I guess I won’t ask for a thank you. I would like to know where your parents are, though, Tumbley. A little mole like you shouldn’t be out here all on your own. What if you got swept away downstream?”

Tumbley swallowed his current bite of apple, and chuckled gruffly.

“Hurr, hurr, hurr, loike any moler as round as oi would ever drown in this yurr stream!”

Flinn crossed her arms and raised an eyebrow.

“Yes, well, you may be able to swim, but aren’t you worried about somebeast like--say, a sneaky tree shrew-- sneaking up and carrying you off?”

Tumbley smacked his lips and shook a digging claw at her.

“You’m too slow to catch oi! This yurr moler can look arfter his own self!” the mole declared, nodding his head stubbornly.

Flinn Furrit sighed, and tapped her footpaw impatiently.

“No more dodging the question, moley. Your parents?”

Tumbley shrugged nonchalantly, and tossed aside his second apple core.

“Oh, they’m whur etted by bad ratters ‘bout four, five, six seasons ago… or, whur they caught inna landslider, or drowned inna pond?” Tumbley said, scratching his head, and staring up into the trees with a puzzled expression.

Flinn shook a paw in his face.

“Ha, ha, nice try, little woodland runaway! Now, tell me once-and-for all, truthfully, where are your parents?”

Tumbley’s eyes suddenly grew dull. He lowered his head slightly, and avoided looking the shrew in the eye. He rubbed his elbow as he spoke in a much subdued tone.

“Oh… whell, foine then… iffen you’m really wants ter know… the truth bees much more misrabler n’ that, marm… see, the land whurr my famberly useded to live all dried up! Crops wourdn’t be growen any more, an’ then most alla moley folk gotted turrible sick loike we’m never seed afore.” Tumbley’s eyes grew wet with tears. “Moi mum n’ dad hads to send oi away fer moi own pertecshun. So’s I wourdn’t… wourdn’t… get so vury dreadfuller sick…”

Flinn could see there was no lie in the molebabe’s story. Kneeling down, she quickly did the only sensible thing to be done. She gave the dibbun a tight warm hug.

“There, now, don’t cry, little moleyface,” she chided, with a gentle pat on his shoulder. “You must be the bravest of all brave mole folk, to have lived through all that famine and plague!” A hint of moisture gleamed in the corner of her own eyes now.

Tumbley looked up at her with big wet eyes, full of hope.

“You’m really think so?” he asked.

Flinn swallowed back a lump in her throat, and straightened out his lop-sided tunic.

“Yes, Tumbley. I really do think so,” she reassured him, firmly. “I’ve met dozens of other creatures who would run away and hide forever, if anything that terrible happened to them. But, o-ho-ho! Not, you, little moleywhiskers! You aren’t afraid of anything, are you? Traveling the world, I see, all on your own, with a load of provisions, and heavily armed too.”

She pointed to the little knife sheathed at his side.

The tiny molebabe drew forth his weapon of choice. A gleaming silver butterknife. Pretty as a picture, but dull as a dandelion stalk. He looked quite proud of it too.

Flinn noted the little spark of determination had returned to his dark squinting eyes.

“Ho yes’m, oi do indeed be armded--to the whiskerers! But, oi doant hav no loadfuller of provisioners.” He shook his head, and grinned, and then slowly lowered his slightly wiggling bundle. Loosening the cord that bound the top, Tumbley opened up the bag, and showed Flinn what was hiding inside.

A family of little black beetles crawled out of the bag, two big adults, and three little half-grown beetles. They swarmed around Tumbley’s toes for a bit, then each set out in a different direction, searching with their little black feelers and other senses, obviously looking for something.

“Well!” Flinn stepped back a pace, unsure what to think of this sudden revelation. “What good are a bunch of beetles to you? Are these a light snack for the road, or do you only eat beetles?”

Tumbley gasped and shook his head vehemently.

“Hurgh! No, no! Oi never etted no beetley-folks, marm Flinn. Oi only cachered them a few days ago. See, they goes out n’ foind oi good fruits n’ berriers n’ tasty plants. An’, in return, oi keeps 'em safe en moi pack alla day as oi travellers, n’ let them eat whurrever they’m wants from the vict’ules they’m brings in uvry day.”

Flinn smiled.

“That’s pretty clever of you, Tumbley. You’re quite the resourceful little moley, aren’t you?”

Tumbley stamped his foot impatiently.

“Oi told you’m to call oi Tumbley, and Tumbley is wot oi does want you’m to bees callin’ oi from yurr on! No more a this moley-thes n’ moley-that, burr hurr!”

Flinn tried to stifle another chuckle, but this time she could not help letting a little snerk escape.

Tumbley instantly narrowed his eyes, and put both paws on his hips in imitation of her. “Bees you laughin’ at oi, marm Flinn?”

The shrew coughed, and shook her head.

“Sorry, Tumbley, but you really ought to see yourself right now, moley--err--matey. All covered in mud, from whiskers to tail, and apple juice still running down your chin. You’re a sight ta turn me back a few seasons ta my younger days!”

Flinn was smiling fully now, and didn’t mind a bit.

Tumbley grinned broadly, and made a little bow.

“Oi do bees moi own self, that oi does!”

Flinn rolled her eyes, and gave the mole a swift kick, sending the molebabe rolling down into the stream again. Tumbley splashed about with many a “burr hurr!” and “just loverly!”, as he quickly scrubbed himself clean of the bank mud.

When the dripping mole finally stepped out of the water, Flinn handed him the cloak she had taken from her back. She helped the little mole dry his fur, while gently chiding him.

“Right, now, all joking aside. You do need to be a bit more mindful of your surroundings, Tumbley. The forest holds many dangers for any little ‘un, and I’d hate ta see you come ta any harm.”

Tumbley looked up at Flinn and said, “Whurr you’m talkin’ ‘bout, marm Flinn? Oi bees yer new trav’lin capanion, burr hurr. Whether you’m loikes et or not!”

Flinn sighed, and patted his velvety head. How could she argue with that?

Chapter 2 ~ Redwall Rebels and Refugees

Ah, bathday. Now, some small creatures find this day of the week quite enjoyable. The dibbuns of Redwall Abbey, however, as a rule, do not.

“You little scallywag!” Sister Laurellis squeaked in dismay.

But, it was too late.

The wet, wriggling mousebabe slipped through her paws, and dove head-first out of the washtub. Then, up she popped, and made a bee-line for the door.

Split! Splut! Split! Splut! Splish! went the sopping footpaws of Meribelle Fieldmouse, the youngest and the most prone-to-troublemaking of the five Fieldmouse siblings.

“You come back here!” cried Sister Laurellis, as she barely prevented two more dibbuns from following the little one’s lead.

“Hurr hurr! An’ hurray for miz Merrybelly!” shouted little Ruta, the molemaid, raising her fist in open defiance. She struggled against her captor’s attempts to cleanse her, but even her best attempt was no match for her quarry.

The young badger mum Callambria chuckled and plopped a towel on Ruta’s snout. The molemaid caught it deftly and started furiously drying off her head, regardless of the fact she was still in the tub.

“Burr, goo! An’ yuck! Oi ‘ates barth day!” the mole whimpered.

“Hold still now, little ‘uns; we’re nearly through,” Laurellis said, shaking a paw and glaring at the little mole meaningfully. The exasperated mouse Sister threw a nervous glance to the fleeing escapee. “Come back, and let me rinse you off, Meribelle!” she called out.

“Let’s just finish up with this lot, Laurie,” Callambria suggested, as she dunked a cheeky mouse that was making faces. “She won’t get far with our infirmary keeper on the lookout.”

~ ~ ~

Meribelle paused at the end of the hallway, and gave herself a furious shake, sending beads of water and soap suds splattering everywhere.

“Not gonna take no bath ever never again!” she joyfully cried, raising both paws.

A rousing cheer of support came from the bath room, accompanied by two maternal sighs.

Down, down, down, the spiral steps ran Meribelle, chuckling to herself at how easily she had managed to escape that particular bout of unpleasant scrubbery.

Afternoon sunlight streamed through the stained glass windows in Great Hall, casting curious patterns of colored light on the stone floor. The warm stone felt good on her wet paws, as the little fieldmouse quickly scampered through the big empty room, and made for the broad front doors to the abbey. Being a very small dibbun indeed, she would have greatly struggled to open the large double-doors herself. But, it seemed luck was on Meribelle’s side. The door stood slightly ajar, letting in an inviting burst of sunlight and the sweet scent of apple and pear blossoms from the orchard.

Out she dashed, without a second thought, into the blinding light and lovely warmth of a beautiful spring day.

Swoosh!

“Eeeek!” screamed the little dibbun, as two powerful talons neatly caught her under the arms, and swept her up and away into the clear blue sky.

~ ~ ~

Over by the abbey pond, Abbot Fernberry calmly sipped a bit of elderberry cordial, and leaned back comfortably in his chair. The elderly hedgehog had witnessed the dibbun-snatching, which had hardly surprised him, and now he watched in amusement as the large brown owl continued to fly in circles over the abbey, holding the screeching babe aloft.

“Seems our Sister Elm-thistle has her talons full keeping track of your five youngsters, eh?”

He turned and winked at the gape-jawed Mr. and Mrs. Fieldmouse, who were sitting on a log bench beside him. The juice mugs nearly fell from their trembling paws, as they both stared in amazement at the spectacle above them.

“Oh, dear!” cried Mrs. Fieldmouse. “I do hope my baby Meribelle isn’t too frightened!”

“Frightened?” Replied Mr. Fieldmouse, with a scoffing shake of his head. “Not our Meribelle. Those sound more like shrieks of joy, than cries of terror to me! That’s more like our wild little daughter.”

The abbot smiled, and set down his mug on a little wooden table that sat between them.

“Ah, yes. No need to worry, Mrs. Fieldmouse. I assure you, all your little ones will be quite safe here at Redwall Abbey. Our Sister Elm-Thistle is really quite gentle. I’m certain she did that more to entertain than to frighten your little spike-tussler… and, look! They’re landing just now, safe and sound, on the walltop.”

Looking up, all three saw the owl had carefully set down the little dibbun on the western wall top, and was just starting to lecture her firmly on the virtues of a thorough bathing. This little dibbun, however, seemed only interested in a repeat performance. She immediately clambered up on the back of the owl. The onlookers could only guess what she was demanding, but even if they couldn’t hear her words, it was plain to see her intent.

“That won’t get her far. Will it?” said Mr. Fieldmouse, with a grin.

Abbot Fernberry nodded.

“Not with Sister Elm-Thistle it won’t. No free flights for dripping dibbuns today! Now, then, as I was telling you earlier, your family is more than welcome to stay here at Redwall for as long as you like.”

Mrs. Fieldmouse held up her paws quickly.

“Oh, no, Father Abbot, we couldn’t possibly impose on you like that. We do thank you for giving us shelter, and food, and protection for the night, but--”

“--But, we will be just fine on our own tomorrow,” Mr. Fieldmouse finished for her. “You see,” he took his wife’s paw gently, and they shared a look of contentment and understanding. “We are mice of the field, Father Abbot, and the Fieldmouse families have lived in this corner of Mossflower wood for countless seasons and generations. As much as we would love to make our home here with all of you in this beautiful Abbey, our home is in the open grasslands, under the clear blue skies, with only the sound of the meadowlarks at dawn and the crickets at dusk. That is our home, and always will be.”

“I understand,” the Abbot said, nodding his head slightly. “However, you’ll note the skies have not been so clear of late, have they?” he added, looking over his glasses at them.

Mrs. Fieldmouse looked down at her paw that clasped her husband’s paw.

“Yes, that is true. The spring rains have been so unusually strong this year; we never believed our home could be swept away in a sudden flood like that. It was very frightening to nearly lose all our little ones.”

Mr. Fieldmouse gave her paw an encouraging squeeze, and looked the Abbot in the eye.

“We may have lost our home, but we will quickly build another. Our eldest son may still be young, but Timothy has more strength in him than you would guess by the size of him. We will manage, as we always have.”

The Abbot looked from one face to the other, and slowly swirled the cordial in his mug, as he considered their words.

“Very well, then. You do as you feel right, but don’t begrudge an old Abbot the opportunity to lend a hand and help you build that new home… Please?” He raised his eyebrows slightly, and tried to look beseeching.

Mr. Fieldmouse chuckled, and held out a paw.

“Of course, Father Abbot,” he said, as the Abbot clasped and shook his paw firmly.

“We aren’t too proud to accept your help. I may be new to your Redwall ways and customs, but I do know that you, Abbot Fernberry, are a most tenacious and stubborn fellow when it comes to helping others.”

“Why, thank you,” the Abbot said, settling back into his chair. “I try my best to be worthy of my role within these walls.”

Fernberry was well-known for being the sort of abbot that does not sit idly by and let other beasts do all the work. He always insisted that he be allowed to personally help.

As Sister Elm-Thistle escorted the little dibbun down the steps from the walltop, Mrs. Fieldmouse rose to her footpaws.

“Oh, she’s still all sopping wet from her bath!” She bunched up the corners of her long skirt in both paws, and rushed across the abbey lawn to dry her little one.

Mr. Field mouse leaned forward and tapped a claw to his nose knowingly.

“I’d better go check on the rest of our crew; make sure they aren’t tearing your Abbey down around our ears.”

Fernberry chuckled softly, and said in an absent-minded way, “Oh, yes, yes, see to the little ones. I think I’ll sit out here a while, and just enjoy the beautiful day.”

~ ~ ~

Late afternoon draped the abbey grounds in peace and tranquility, embellished only by the occasional happy whistle of a robin, the lazy droning of bees in the orchard, and dragonflies buzzing amongst the reeds and flowers at the edge of the pond.

Abbot Fernberry had long since fallen asleep in his chair, and was peacefully dreaming of bygone seasons.

A small trout eagerly jumped at the far side of the pond, with a splash that sent little ripples flowing out across the calm blue waters. The recent spring downpours had raised the pond level several paw spans, drawing in a swarm of thirsty insects that the pond fish gladly welcomed into their growing bellies. An increase in active fish always led to another kind of activity.

Splash!

The sudden upheaval of pond water signaled a classic belly-flop dive from Rudderbob, the otter. This disturbance was quickly followed by a second, even louder splash from his younger brother, Barkjim. The two otters were fishing again, and in a most undignified manner.

Abbot Fernberry stirred from his slumber, and opened one eye slowly. Noticing the little waves sent up by the diving otter brothers, he smiled and resettled himself.

Having startled most of the fish to the far side of the pond, the otter brothers started swimming in zig-zag patterns, chasing the big trout further and further into the shallows. They hoped to wrestle one of the larger fish, and present it as a peace offering to Daylily, the head cook of Redwall, and ruler of the kitchen. Just why a peace offering was needed...

Up jumped an especially spry trout, and with a neat tail-flick, it sailed straight over Rudderbob’s head, and landed safely back in the middle of the pond. Undeterred, the brothers continued their underwater hunt, narrowing down their potential prey to two older specimens with various missing scales from previous battles.

Rudderbob motioned to the fish on the right. Barkjim shook his head, and pointed furiously at the fish on the left. Each brother dove for their juicy target, but they only managed to knock their heads together.

Up popped both otters, rubbing their sore heads, and shouting at each other.

“Hey, I said leave that one! It’s too old and weak. Wouldn’t be a fair fight,” Objected Barkjim.

Rudderbob shook his head, sending droplets flying.

“Nah! That’s ones wiry, but always up for a scrap. And we need my fish, ‘cause he’s bigger, and has the colors our Cooky likes best.”

“Ha!” laughed Barkjim, wading into the shallows. “You better not let her hear you calling her that. You know how she is about nicknames.”

Rudderbob chuckled.

“That I do… That I do.”

The Abbot twitched his head spikes at an inquisitive bee, and smiled to himself.

~ ~ ~

“Just look at the state of my kitchen!” Daylily cried, throwing up her apron in despair.

“Burr hu-hurr,” little Ruta chuckled, patting her stomach with a floury digging claw. Bathtime had ended, and already the dibbuns were looking for new messes to make. This time the kitchen was their target.

“We be hungry! Gonna make a best pie tart ever!” had been Meribelle’s rallying cry.

“Oh-oh-oh, help me, Mum!” the poor cook now whimpered, snatching a bowl of lemon custard from Dorothy Fieldmouse, while pinching a candied chestnut from the very teeth of Skitters the orphan squirrel babe.

Neither pies nor tarts had been made, though a great deal of food had been scoffed, and a glorious mess been made of the once pristine kitchen.

Callambria stood in the doorway, paws on hips, and shook her head in dismay.

“Seems to me these little ones are eager to have themselves a second bath today, and an early bedtime with no supper. Sound about right to you, Cooky--err--Daylily?” she asked.

The volecook’s tail was drooping sadly on the floor, and her ears kept twitching distractedly at each new cry of excitement from the little rabble of dibbuns. This proposition pleased her greatly.

“Oh, yes! Yes!” she said, excitedly. “That’s right, you little scamps! Out! Out! Out o’ my kitchen, this very instant!” she picked up a rolling pin and waved it menacingly.

The dibbuns needed no second bidding. Callambria’s threat was enough to send them scurrying, but not before Meribelle made off with a loaf of cherry bread, and Skitters stole back the chestnut right from under Daylily’s whiskers.

While the badger mum confiscated these absconded victuals, Sister Laurellis tentatively offered to help with the kitchen clean up. But, Daylily would hear none of it. One dose of dibbuns was more than enough excitement for one day. She much prefered being left alone after all that fuss and bother, even if it meant doing all the tidying up herself.

As Laurellis hurried away to help corral dibbuns, the vole chef took quick stock of the damages inflicted and provender purloined.

“What a pity, what a pity,” she kept muttering to herself, as she found one woe after another. Here, an open jar of blackberry jam. There, a half-eaten oat scone. Fresh honey dripping from a counter top. Two carrots poked in the top of a giant spring vegetable pasty.

“Ohhh, those little rascals! How shall I ever get supper ready on time, with all this lot to clear up!” Then, she noticed a bit of crust had been broken off a still-steaming fresh strawberry pie. “Hmm…” she pondered, knowing these particular dibbuns loved strawberries more than anything else. “I suppose, since you spared this little gem, I’ll see what I can whip together for a little late-night snack.”

Like many a Redwaller, the fussy cook had a real soft spot for the young ones, and often gave them larger portions than their parents would ever have approved.

She had just spotted a fallen apple cider souffle, which set her into a fresh bout of despair, when in through the kitchen door bounced two soaking wet young otters.

Rudderbob and Barkjim proudly held between them a wet, wriggling trout, with a bit of pondweed still trailing from its mouth.

Daylily let out a shocked squeak and swooned on the spot.

Chapter 3 ~ Greyflint's Crew

Golden tones of evening sunlight drifted down through the leafy alders that overhung the little stream. A light mist rose from the rippling waters, settling in little dewy beads atop the bowed heads of the bluebell blossoms that lined the banks. A sweet smell of spring filled the air.

Snap!

Greyflint the rat tossed aside both halves of the broken recorder. He had no use for music. “These woodlanders are so soft, so weak… so pathetic.”

The master thief picked up a torn haversack, and rifled through it absent-mindedly.

“Nothing of value here,” he muttered, spitting at a pile of last-years acorns. “Why’d you even tell me about this place, Stingpaw?” The rat turned suddenly, and glared at the slinking vixen.

Stingpaw swirled her tail out of his way instinctively, and motioned to the scene of the crime. Greyflint’s “Grey Crew” had just finished raiding a squirrel family’s winter store.

“Alright, alright, Grey! I admit, this wasn’t the plunder I promised you, but one beast’s trash is another beast’s treasure. Look at all the herbs I have now!” The fox healer held up several large clumps of dried herbs she had found in the stash.

Greyflint narrowed one eye, and stood with a paw resting lightly on the hilt of his sword that was stuck point-down in an exposed root of a great oak tree.

“Well, now, isn’t that just lovely, Stingpaw! All this trouble, and me nearly losing an ear, just so you could get a bunch of old dead leaves? You want leaves? Here, have some! Ragebeak!” Greyflint shouted, looking up, and shaking his fist in a bout of sudden ill temper.

Instantly, there was a burst of loud cawing, branch crackling, and a shower of dark oak leaves fell down on the startled fox.

Stingpaw said nothing, and quickly packed away her precious herbs in a newly acquired haversack. She knew it was dangerous to talk back to Greyflint when he was in one of his moods. At least they tended to go as quickly as they came.

A rustle and a sneeze announced the arrival of the other two crew members.

Nightfang the stoat and and Deathfur the weasel assassin. Both were panting heavily as they stumbled over the pile of nuts. They were out of breath, but not entirely out of luck. They each carried bulging haversacks full of fresh provisions.

Greyflint took a deep breath to calm his nerves, and stepped forward to inspect their haul. The usual fair. Oatfarls, crab apples, a few spring pasties, four sacks of nuts, and a jug of mint tea. He selected a thick wedge of nut-studded cheese for himself.

“Did you deal with that whiny squirrel family?” he asked, calmly.

Nightfang rubbed his elbow, and said nothing, shooting a sharp glance at the weasel.

The assassin shook his head, and sneezed a second time. “Sorry, boss. They got up in the trees before we could stop them. I did put an arrow through the big one’s hindpaw, though.”

The rat nodded his head slowly.

“Right… so, you’re telling me, you couldn’t do the one simple thing I asked you to do for me… and, you,” he pointed a claw at Deathfur. “Some assassin you turned out to be. A squirrel with a lame foot can still recognize the face of his attacker. We can’t keep playing this little game, if you lot refuse to play by the rules!”

“You mean, play by your rules,” Stingpaw muttered under her breath.

“What was that?!” Greyflint said, shooting a fierce look at her.

He hadn’t heard her clearly, and she could tell, so she shook her head innocently said, “I said, ‘Right, boss, you make the rules!’”

Greyflint twitched his nose, and growled. He took a grouchy bite of the cheese. It tasted like mold in his mouth. He spat it out, and tossed aside the rest of the wedge.

“That’s right. I am your boss, and you’re my Grey Crew. Don’t forget for a second, it was me who put this crew together. I hand-picked you snivelling lot from the dregs of Port Rottcum, because I saw in each of you the exact set of skills needed to form the perfect team of thieves. Have you forgotten our mission already?”

With an ear-splitting craw, and a flurry of black wings and talons, Ragebeak the mad crow flapped down from the branches above them, and landed next to Greyflint.

“Creeaww! Tell them, Grey! Tell them again! Remind them of the glorious plan!”

Greyflint looked around him at the faces of his little crew. He grinned wickedly.

Chapter 4 ~ The Wild Shrew

Flinn was beginning to question her choice in a travelling companion. The sun was ready to set, and Tumbley’s tummy was rumbling. This meant his mouth was mumbling. Flinn shook her head. Even her thoughts were starting to rhyme!

“Oh, gurtly ahungered oi do be,
Moi tummy es rumblin’, carn’t you’m see?
Iffen oi doant eat soon, oi moit shrink!
Oh, fer a boit to save oi from the brink!”

Tumbley paused in his lament, to hold a paw to his stomach, while looking upwards with a “gurtly” forlorned expression.

Flinn promptly elbowed him.

“That’s enough rhyming, little minstrel-moley!” With a swish of her cloak, she produced another apple, which she dropped right on Tumbley’s head.

“Ow urr!” the molebabe objected, catching the apple as it bounced off, then rubbing his head a bit gingerly. “Es apples awl you’m can spare fer a poor starvin’ mole choild?”

Flinn rolled her eyes. “It’s more than you deserve for all the ruckus you’ve made in the past half hour. If you’re always going to ramble like this, then we’d best part ways here.” She motioned ahead to a branch in the stream they were following.

Tumbley shook his head, and rubbed the apple on his tunic before taking a big juicy bite. He spoke with his mouth full. “Whurl, that shure wurr’m quickful, marm Flinner. We’m on’y just mettered! An’ now--mmmph schrumph--now you’m werna git rid o’ oi?”

Flinn paused mid step, and put her paw down firmly. “Look here, young un’!” she said, sharply, pointing a claw at him.

Tumbley looked up and grinned at her with two bulging cheeks.

Flinn swallowed a laugh, and tried to make her voice gruff. “Don’t talk with your mouth full, Tumbley. And, I never said I wanted to get rid of anyone… just...” she turned away just in time for him not to see the huge smile sweep across her face. Staring off into the woods, paws on hips, she quickly added, “Just you mind your manners, and no more singing!”

Tumbley shrugged, then froze with the apple halfway to his mouth. Setting down his bag, he opened the top, and dropped the remaining apple inside for the little beetle family to dine on. “Roight, then, marm,” the mole said, chipperly, clapping his digging paws together, then wiping them on the front of his tunic. “Iffen oim nowt ‘lowd ta be singen none, then et bes you’m turn ta do ee bit o’ talkin’.”

Flinn turned around at this, with bright alert eyes and an eager expression. “Ah, yes, that’s more like it! What? No apple core this time?” she pointed to his empty paws.

Tumbley closed the bag up tightly and reslung it over his shoulder, saying simply, “Oh, oi allus gives ee likkle supper to moi beetlers. Figger ‘em beetler young ‘uns do be needen ee nurishment same as oi to be growen up big n’ strong loik.”

Flinn nodded, then suddenly her ears swiveled to one side, and she came alert. Dropping to all fours, she started sniffing the air, and turning her head from side to side nervously.

“Wurr be ee trubble, marm Flinn?” Tumbley asked, blinking rapidly, as he tried to keep up with her rapid ear swivels.

“Get over here, quick now!” Flinn whispered sharply, in a no-nonsense tone. “Under my cloak!” she said, as she raised and swept her camouflaged cloak over herself and Tumbley in one smooth, soundless motion. Flinn and Tumbley crouched low to the earth, and listened intently. There it was! A distinct rustling, cracking, and swishing sound of somebeast moving their way, quickly through the trees tops high above them. Flinn peeked through a little hole in the old cloak, looking up at the branches above them warily.

Tumbley nudged her with the back of his paw. “Hurr, marm Flinn. Whom bes a cummin’?”

Flinn covered his mouth with one paw, and whispered, “Shush! Whatever it be, it’s a comin’ real quick-like. Be still as ya can, moley.”

Tumbley mumbled something inaudible around her hand, and his shoulders drooped in a sigh.

Suddenly, all went quiet. The sound in the trees had stopped. There was nothing.

Flinn held her breath. Tumbley did the same. They both waited.

Having finished their meal, the beetle family was getting eager to stretch their legs for a bit. As they always did when signaling Tumbley to give them a little rest, they all set up a rousing chitter in unison.

“Hey! T’ere be somebeast down there!” a young voice said, with a gasp.

“Nevermind that, Brizzy!” a louder voice said, impatiently, in a strained tone. “We have to keep moving. It’s not safe here.”

“Oh, but dear,” a third voice said, in a motherly tone. “We can’t--oh!” the voice suddenly sobbed. “We can’t keep on going at this pace, not with the young ones so tired, and you with that great ugly arrow in your paw!”

“I’ll deal with that later, Rosin. Right now we--”

Flinn Furrit threw off the cloak, and shouted out, “Ahoy, woodlanders!”

When the squirrels above them nearly fell out of the tree tops, Flinn held up both paws to show that she was unarmed, then motioned to little Tumbley, who grinned and waved. “Friends we be, not foes to thee!” Flinn called out, in a sing-song voice. This was an old greeting, and rarely used in Mossflower Woods.

The two adult squirrels seemed familiar with it, though. They both relaxed at once, and the female sang back in reply, “If friends you be, then we welcome thee! Sorry, but we’re in a bit of a rush!” They three red squirrels lightly balanced in the leaves of the beech tree above. They started moving on, but Flinn called up to them.

“Halt a moment! You’re in no danger here; I smell no foul beast about, and that hindpaw needs tending to before infection sets in,” she pointed to the big male squirrel’s right footpaw, that was bleeding heavily where the grey and green arrow had pierced right through the paw.

The squirrels exchanged glances, and whispered to each other for a moment. They reached a decision quickly, and made their descent to the forest floor.

“My name is Rosin Treedancer,” the mother squirrel said, managing to curtsy as she climbed swiftly down. “This is my husband, Pineclaw, and our wee daughter, Brizzy.”

Brizzy waved a paw at Tumbley and smiled shyly.

“Well met, forest friends,” Flinn said, sitting down cross-legged on the ground. “If you’ll only stop a moment, and let me bind that footpaw. May I ask what sort of trouble you’ve fallen into?”

Pineclaw dropped to the base of the beech tree, and used his big bushy tail as a crutch to balance his weight as he hobbled over to Flinn.

Tumbley watched with great interest, as Flinn produced a pouch from some hidden pocket inside her cloak. She pulled out several bandages and herbs. While she worked out a poultice and bandage, Pineclaw carefully lay down on his side and extended his hind leg towards her. His ears were back, and his jaw set firmly. Flinn could see he was in a great deal of pain, and quite desperate for any relief she might give him. She sensed he did not trust her much, but enough to let her help.

“Here, Tumbley, hold these for me,” Flinn said, handing the poultice-smeared bandage to him.

Tumbley nodded. “Roight, marm. Es mister Pineclawer gunna be aroight?” he asked.

Flinn inspected the arrow. Without a word to anybeast, she grabbed the shaft right behind the arrowhead, and started pulling the arrow the rest of the way through the wound.

Pineclaw cried out in pain. Rosin covered her mouth with a paw, and trembled. Brizzy exchanged a startled look with Tumbley.

Once the arrow was out, Flinn tossed it aside, and set to cleaning the wound. Mrs. Treedancer offered her a water flask to help clean the wound. Flinn seemed unbothered by the sight of blood, though the smell filled her mind with horrible memories she could only stifle by staying completely focused on the task at hand. After cleaning out the wound, she dressed and bound it tightly.

“There,” she said, when she was finished. “It’s not perfect, but you won’t lose that paw now.”

Pineclaw’s fur was damp with sweat, and he was panting heavily. Still, he managed to sit up slightly, taking care not to move his bandaged paw. He held out a forepaw to Flinn.

“How can we ever thank you, marm…?”

“Flinn Furrit’s the name,” Flinn said, shaking his paw firmly. “Storyteller, traveler, and just glad I could be of help. This is my new pal, Tumbley, the strong and uncharacteristically quiet all-of-the-sudden.”

Tumbley stood up and bowed politely to the squirrels. “She’m be roight. Moi name be Tumbley. But, I be knowen likkle ov all this servivin’ such n’ so forth. Oi figgered oi better stay soilent n’ just let marm Flinn here do awl the speakin’ an’ awt.”

Brizzy giggled.

“You talk funny!” she said, abruptly, pointing a tiny paw at Tumbley.

Rosin looked horrified, and Pineclaw rolled his eyes and sighed.

“Brizzy!” the mother said, sharply. “You be nice to our new friends.”

Brizzy looked puzzled, and cocked her head to one side. “Oh? I didn’t mean ta bes mean, mama. I just like the funny way the Tumbley says the things. Is that alright, mama?”

Before she could be further corrected, Tumbley held up a digging claw.

“Doant be a feared now, yun squirrely choile,
Though oi do appear to be most very woild!
Oim only a likkle ole moler, as you’m see,
So larf if you’m want, et doant much bother me!”

Tumbley sang out his improvised song, with such ease and calm, he completely surprised the little squirrel family.

“Yay! Yay! Do it again!” Brizzy cried, clapping her paws together, and running around in happy little circles.

Flinn guessed the little dibbun was a few seasons younger than Tumbley. Always a trying time at that age. But, also sweet.

“Belay that!” Pineclaw said, attempting to stand. He winced, and sat back down, still not wanting to put any pressure on his injured paw. “The wicked weasel that shot me is still back there, with a stoat and some other creatures. They’re bad news, and will likely kill us all if they catch up with us. They robbed our home in the old oak tree, and even stripped the foodpacks right off our backs!”

Rosin nodded agreement, her eyes wide and wet with tears. “They nearly made off with our little Brizzy too!” she said, reaching out and drawing her young one close to her side.

Flinn shook her head at the squirrels.

“Right, a weasel, a stoat, bad brainless vermin. So, that’s your plan then? Just runnin’ away?” there was a note of irritation in her voice, as she stowed her medicine pouch back inside her cloak and stood to her footpaws.

The squirrels exchanged glances.

Pineclaw grimaced and forced himself to stand to his feet, again using his tail to find better balance and keep his weight off his hind foot. “What else can we do? We are peaceful woodlanders. We don’t stand a chance against organized vermin. If we hurry, we might just make it to Redwall Abbey before nightfall. You two should come with us. We’ll all be safe there.”

Flinn crossed her arms and tsk tsked.

Tumbley looked up at her with an odd expression in his little black eyes.

“That’s the best you’ve got?” Flinn challenged again. “And, here I thought you said you were woodlanders…”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Rosin said, furrowing her eyebrows, and suddenly looking much less comfortable in the presence of the shrew.

Flinn poked Pineclaw in the chest. “It means, that’s all you lot know how to do anymore. Trouble comes, and you all go running to your tribes and your sanctuaries, thinking you’re escaping trouble, only to find you’ve brought all the trouble right along with you.”

Pineclaw batted her paw away, and shot back, “Hey! I’ve got a wife and babe to look after; I can’t afford to get killed and leave them alone to fend for themselves… anyway, since you don’t really care what we say, then what would you suggest we do? Or, what would you do in our position?” He winced again.

Flinn put her hands on her hips. “Let me give you a bit of friendly advice. There will always be vermin running wild in the woods. The best thing to do is be ready to defend yourselves, fight back, and deal with ‘em on yer own. I tell you what--keep following this here stream back the way Tumbley and I came. This time tomorrow you’ll find yourself in the camp of Skipper Banebrook. He and his crew can teach you everythin’ there is ta know about survival and holdin’ yer own in a fight with vermin. Skip Bane’s a good beast, one o’ the best. Stick with his crew for a season, and I guarantee no vermin--weasel, stoat, or otherbeast--is gonna mess with you ever again.”

While Pineclaw and Rosin discussed their next move, Brizzy scrambled over to Tumbley and whispered, “Hey, Tumbey, can you sing anudder song fa me?”

Tumbley chuckled and opened his sack. The beetle family quickly scurried out, much to Brizzy’s surprised and delight. The beetles seemed oddly fascinated by her bushy red tail, and kept following it around. The squirrel babe hopped from spot to spot, always keeping just out of reach of the beetles tiny claws. Tumbley improvised a little riddle for her.

“Thurr be a shell, but no snail insoide,
An’ thurr be a marsk, but et doant help oi hoide,
Thurr be a feeler, but ets not en moi heart,
Wurr creeture be’s oi? Oim a hinsect fer a start...”

Brizzy giggled, and used her tail to direct the beetle family to the trickling stream. The thirsty beetles drank eagerly from the water’s edge, and the little ones snapped at a passing water strider.

“Oh, I know!” Brizzy said, suddenly. “You bees a likkle beekle! Am I right? Am I right?” Her eyes shone with merriment.

Tumbley rolled himself up in a ball, and started rolling around in little circles.

“She’m be a bright ‘un! She’m guessed my riddler roight off, she’m did!”

Brizzy tried to roll herself into a ball and imitate Tumbley. The best she could pull off was a few lazy somersaults, with the final one landing her with a loud splash in the water.

“Brizzy?!” Rosin called, worriedly, rushing to the water’s edge.

Tumbley rolled down after her, reaching the babe first, and easily fished her out. He picked up the squirrelbabe and handed her up to the outstretched arms of her worried mother.

Rosin chided her little daughter gently. “Oh, Brizzy! Do be careful around the water. You might’ve fallen in too deep, and been swept away in the current!”

Flinn rolled her eyes, and sighed in defeat.

“Alright, you squirrels. I’ve done my part, the rest is up to you. Go where you will, but I’ve had enough of your nonsense fer one day. Come on, Tumbley. I know of a good camping spot off a ways into the woods from here. Tell your new friends goodbye... unless you’d rather go with them to Redwall or the otter’s camp?” she added, a bit hesitantly.

Tumbley waved to the squirrels, and scampered over to Flinn’s side. He grabbed the edge of her cloak in his digging claws, and cried out in mock horror, “Oh, noah, you’m doant be leavin’ oi, marm Flinn! You’m be needin’ a good strong mowler loik oi to be a lookin’ arfter you’m! Iffen oi lefted you all on you’m own, yews ownly be eatin’ applers for the rest of you’m loif!”

Flinn flinched as a smirk pulled at the corners of her mouth.

“Alright, you villain, let go my cloak!” She tried to shake off the little mole, but he held on tenaciously.

Pineclaw took his wife’s arm, and waved a paw at Flinn and Tumbley.

“Well, thanks again for all your help, you two. You’re an odd pair of traveling companions, the two of you. But, I guess you’re alright. Well, I think I’ll take you up on that offer, and pay that Skipper of yours a visit. It’s about time we met our woodland neighbors, and I wouldn’t mind a few lessons in fighting from a beast with experience. Is he as good as you say, Flinn Furrit?”

Flinn raised an eyebrow dangerously. “Oh, he’s better than good. He earned the name Bane. Farewell, foresters! Remember, just follow the stream.”

As the squirrels hurried away into the gathering darkness of the evening woodlands, Tumbley peered up at Flinn.

Both were silent for a few moments, adjusting to what seemed like a sudden darkness as the last of the sunset faded from the sky, and the evening dusk turned the forest an eerie deep blue hue.

“Can I have my cloak back now?” Flinn asked, tapping her footpaw.

Tumbley stood his ground. “No, marm, you’m may not!”

“Oh, really?” Flinn bent down to remove the clinging dibbun.

“Roight! Not until you’m be given oi an hanswer to’m moi questioner,” Tumbley said, pulling back.

Flinn hesitated.

“Question, eh? Right, then.” She sat down, and folded her arms. “Ask away, stubborn moley!”

Tumbley took a deep breath. “Wurr be you’m famberly, Flinn? And, woi didn’t you’m tell them squirrelers to go n’ foind shelter at Redwaller Habbey?”

Flinn sighed. “Heh. That’s two questions, Tumbley, but I guess you deserve an answer to both. My family is gone, Tumbley. Dead. Band of foxes killed my parents, and left me alone in the woods to fend for myself. Only, that was many long seasons ago now, and far away from here, in a place where there be no Redwall Abbey and ‘woodland friends’ to run to for help and protection. I don’t dislike the Abbey; I think it’s a good place, and those who live there mean good and all. I just…” Flinn averted her gaze, even though she knew the mole could hardly see her face in the gloomy half-light. “If it wasn’t for tough, resourceful creatures like Skipper Banebrook, I’d have died of hunger or been slain by vermin myself long ago. Trust me, Tumbley. Them squirrels belong in these here woods, runnin’ free from bough to bough, not cooped up in a place with four walls where other beasts do all the lookin’ after for them. Nah! That’s just no good, Tumbley. They be much better off learnin’ the hard way how ta get by and make their own way in the world.”

Tumbley nodded his head. “Hurr, hurr, hurr,” he said, slowly.

Flinn wasn’t sure if he was agreeing with her, or secretly laughing at her.

“Well, that thurr settles et, marm Flinn!” Tumbley said, releasing her cloak, and standing to his feet. There was a slight scuttling sound as the beetle family swarmed around Tumbley’s feet, waiting for him to open up the sack for them to go in for the night.

“That settles what, little tug-a-moley?” Flinn said, hoping her smile would go unnoticed in the gloom.

Tumbley shuffled the beetles back inside their sack, and hefted it again.

“Well, naow, oi still be gurtly a-hungered, so oi says we’m be a goin’ first thing inna mornin’!”

“Going where exactly?” Flinn queried, amused.

Tumbley chuckled triumphantly. “To yon Redwaller Habbey of course!”

Chapter 5 ~ Pillows and Pasties

Daylily was gently roused awake by the smell of sweet honey and basil pan-fried trout wafting from the Abbey kitchens out into Great Hall. The vole cook sat up slowly. It took a moment for her to realize where exactly she was, and what she was lying on. A crowd of wide-eyed guilty-faced dibbuns were gathered around the small mountain of pillows they had gathered to form an improvised bed for her. Daylily picked up one of the cushions, and tossed it at a particularly dour-faced hedgehog babe.

“Put those smiles right back on your faces where they belong, young ones!” the beloved “Cooky” announced. “I’m still breathing!”

Immediately the dibbuns came alive with excitement and positive chatter, and no small amount of bouncing.

“Yay! Yay! Cooky’s okay!” Meribelle started the cheer, and the others soon picked it up. Mum Callambria and Laurellis tried to calm down the lot, but the little band seemed quite determined to raise their exultations to the rafters. The young badger and mouse had their paws full.

Daylily covered her ears with both paws, and started throwing pillows left and right, easily pegging three small dibbuns before they all scattered. Then, it was only a matter of seconds before an all out pillow war started. Pillows flew, spouting downy feathers and cotton fluff all over the place.

“Ahem, hem, hem, I say, what’s all this about?”

Every beast froze at the abbot’s voice, a few in mid-swing. Daylilly blushed and buried her face in her apron.

Abbot Fernberry stepped inside the front door, and gently closed it behind him.

“My, my, I take a short nap, and in my absence it seems the entire Abbey has turned to childish anarchy. It seems I have no choice but to postpone the Spring Blossom Festival.” He raised an eyebrow, and glanced meaningfully from face to face.

For all the trouble they often caused, the dibbuns of Redwall Abbey could be surprisingly well organized and resourceful when properly motivated. As quickly as the chaos had started, it ceased, and each little one began frantically gathering up pillows, feathers, cotton, and the odd lost sandal.

The war had been brief, but quite thrilling.

Callambria wiped a paw across her brow, and curtsied before the Abbot.

“Oh, my deepest thanks, Father Abbot. These young uns--I just can’t seem to handle them! I wish I was more like my grandmother Amberie. She had no trouble keeping the dibbuns in check, and that was when we had a far larger crew. I really feel I am too young to fulfill the duty of badger mum to these young ones.” She held out her paws, and her head drooped. “I’m sorry, Father Abbot. I really am. I must be such a disappointment to you.”

“What? Nonsense!” Fernberry said, with a wave of his paw. Bristling unexpectedly, he marched straight up to the big badger. He looked her in the eye, and said very solemnly, “Callambria, daughter of Ellerie and Bramble, and granddaughter of Amberie… I did not appoint you to the post of badger mum so you could give up so easily! I expect more from you than this, and I know you can do it. I won’t accept your humility either. I am well aware of your youth, and I have never once doubted you were the perfect candidate for the post you have been given--the post you accepted and swore to uphold. I’ll not hear another word of despair.”

The Abbot’s eyes lost a bit of their fierceness, and his voice quickly softened. He patted the badger mum’s huge forepaw.

“I trust you, Callambria, as do all of us here at Redwall. Now, then,” he turned to the dibbuns who were still nervously trying to clean up their chaos. “Why don’t we all pitch in and finish cleaning up this mess. I smell trout! And, it smells simply marvelous! No doubt the river otters are meddling in Daylily’s kitchen again. I do hope there’s enough for everyone.”

Without another word, the Abbot bent down, and swept up two large pillows in one arm, and the squirrel babe Skitters in the other.

“You bee’n helpink us, Faver Habbot?” Skitters asked, in wide-eyed wonder and admiration. His long red ears swiveled forward, eagerly soaking in every word the Abbot spoke.

Fernberry chuckled, and shook his headspikes with pleasure.

“Well, of course I bee’n doin’ just that! Here, let’s set these pillows down, then go keep an eye on those two otters, while Cooky--er--Chef Daylily finds her feet again.”

While the crew in Great Hall finished tidying up the place, the Abbot sauntered off with Skitters to check in on the otter “crew” in the kitchen.

~ ~ ~
“Come, hearken, mateys true, and to me pay attention,
Don’t ever try to cook, with your brother--list not to him!
For once I listened to me brother Bob’s intentions,
And I followed him--a fool!--into poor Daylily’s kitchen!
Singin’ toss, and stir, and boil! Singin’ toss, and stir, me brother!
Singin’ toss, and stir, and boil! Singin’ toss, and stir, me brother!
Just a humble beast was I, and trusted I me brother,
Now a troubled beast am I, and we’ve learned from one another.
For we searched the place and found what set the nose a twichin’,
And we cooked a great concoction up, in sweet Daylily’s kitchen!
Singin’ toss, and stir, and boil! Singin’ toss, and stir, me brother!
Singin’ toss, and stir, and boil! Singin’ toss, and stir, me brother!
The porridge looked too dull, and we had to perk the taste up,
So Bob threw in some spices, by the pinch and paw and teacup!
Dear Cooky wasn’t there, and knew not what she was missin’,
And we kicked back, and laughed, at our cookin’ in the kitchen!
Singin’ toss, and stir, and boil! Singin’ toss, and stir, me brother!
Singin’ toss, and stir, and boil! Singin’ toss, and stir, me brother!
When the Sister found us there, and she seen our fearsome habit,
Despite our cries and prayers, we were marched off to the Abbot!
The meadowcream and jam, to add in we was itchin’--
With honey, pears, and figs--to our cookin’ in the kitchen!
Singin’ toss, and stir, and boil! Singin’ toss, and stir, me brother!
Singin’ toss, and stir, and boil! Singin’ toss, and stir, me brother!
I said ‘twas Bob’s idea, and he gave them no denial,
As the smoke filled up Great Hall, how it made the place smell vile!
For, the stove we’d run too hot, while we’d tried our new rendition,
And we got banned six seasons for our cookin’ in the kitchen!
Singin’ toss, and stir, and boil! Singin’ toss, and stir, me brother!
Singin’ toss, and stir, and boil! Singin’ toss, and stir, me brother!

The otter brothers were in fine form. Lustily singing a well-known otter melody, with words of their own invention, With expert ease, the tag-team duo were busily whipping up a grand evening supper for everybeast at the Abbey.

Barkjim was master of the griddle and tongs. The beautiful trout was sizzling scrumptiously in a giant frying pan. Barkjim eyed it lovingly, as only a hungry otter can. His left paw easily flipped a row of open-flame-broiled shrimp, while his right paw plucked fresh-boiled russet potatoes and scallions from a big boiling kettle. The latter scoff ended up in one of his brother’s pans. The former scoff he would soon be adding to a large bubbling pot of otter hotroot soup. A delicacy among otters, it was said one could never make the recipe too hot and spicy. Anyone but Rudderbob, perhaps.

Rudderbob was lord of the larder and ovens. His eyes quickly took in the broad array of herbs and spices he had gathered and precariously lined-up all along any open counter space. He swept up the pan of boiled vegetables and quickly dodged about the room, adding bits and pinches of sage, oregano, red pepper, rosemary, and a few other “secret spices” he kept in a special cupboard. Over all this, the youthful otter vigorously shook two types of cooking oil, and a fair amount of salt. Into a big hot oven he swept the pan, and popped the door shut. Spinning on his paws, he opened a second oven, and drew forth a steaming hot pasty with a glistening golden crust.

The fresh and unmistakable aroma of leeks and mushrooms set Abbot Fernberry’s mouth a-watering. Skitters stared in slack-jawed awe at the otter brother’s culinary confidence and candor.

“Hey, toss me a knob, me old Rudderbob!” sang out Barkjim.

Rudderbob set down the pasty, and snatched from a top shelf a crock full of soft yellow butter. Without turning around, he tossed the butter backwards over his shoulder to his brother. Barkjim whirled on his footpaws and caught the little pot in one paw, expertly flicking out a large pat with a butter knife. This he spread across the fat little shrimp. The sounds and sights and smells were unbearably delicious.

“Didja ever see a face like him? Eh, me river-singin’ brother-o, Jim?” Rudderbob laughed, looking up at the Abbot and Skitters, while he wiped his spice-dusted paws on a clean dishrag.

Barkjim glanced sideways at the onlookers, and nodded with a cheerful grin. He slipped out of song-speech and said clearly, “See? I always said we just needed a chance to prove ourselves to you, Father Abbot. Bob and I will make you proud at the Spring Blossom Feast--err--Festival. I promise!”

Abbot Fernberry nodded, and set down Skitters, who was starting to wriggle.

“Oh, I’ve no doubt of that, Barkjim. You two never cease to amaze me with the wonders and wreckage you get up to in Daylily’s kitchen. It’s little wonder she banned you after that last incident. Although, as I recall, is was only six weeks, not six seasons you were banned for.”

Barkjim chuckled, and bounced his eyebrows. It had been a pretty great lark.

Skitters was investigating Rudderbob’s spices. Back and forth the little one scampered, on fleet nimble paws, sniffing first one, then another, until he found the one he was looking for.

Rudderbob leapt over, and snatched up the babe before the little squirrel could inhale a whole mouthful of nutmeg.

“Woah, lad! Easy there on the spices,” Rudderbob said, chuckling. “I know that stuff’s your favorite, but it won’t find no berth in today’s supper, nor your little tummy. Sorry, little shipmate.”

Skitter’s tail drooped sadly, but his tiny paws held tight to the little jar with all the strength he could muster. He dearly loved the taste of nutmeg.

“No, no, Ruddabob!” the infant objected, shaking his head. “I wanna puddin’ thing, a puddin’ thing, a puddin’ thiiiiing!” the babe sang out, loudly.

The Abbot shook his head, tears of merriment streaming from his eyes. His shoulders trembled as he laughed aloud.

“Oh, ho ho, oh dear, hee hee, ho! And what, pray tell, is a puddin’ thing, if I may ask?”

Rudderbob exchanged a wink with Skitters, and said, “Only a top-secret dibbuns delight breakfast menu item. Not to be spoken of ‘round suppertime. Mum’s the word, Skitters, matey. Same for you, Abbot, beggin’ yore pardon, cap’n.”

The Abbot folded his paws into his habit sleeves and gave the otter a semi-stern look.

“Ahem! Mum’s the word, eh? That sounds suspiciously just like what you told your brother before a certain incident occurred--an incident I see you have so cleverly immortalized in song!” The Abbot smiled, and shook his head. Then, he cleared his throat and said more clearly, “But, I’ll hear no more of this ‘cap’n’ business. I am your Abbot, not your uncle. You wouldn’t want me to report you to the Skipper again, would you?”

Barkjim and Rudderbob both stood to attention sharply, and saluted the Abbot. Skitters did likewise.

“Sorry, Father Abbot,” Rudderbob said, handing the dibbun back to the Abbot. “We do get carried away sometimes when we cook, and it’s easy to forget we aren’t out in the woods anymore. But, please don’t tell Uncle Bane we’ve been bad. We like it here, and we’re real thankful that you’re teaching us proper manners and all that, Cap’n--err--Sir--err, um, Father Abbot...”

Fernberry tapped a claw on the lid of a teapot. “Well… Why don’t you two just finish up in here, and be sure to clean up after yourselves this time. And, while you’re at it, brew up a big pot of that “nighty sleepy timey whatsit” specialty tea of yours, young Bob.” He nodded to Rudderbob and patted Skitter’s shoulder gently. “It seems our young dibbuns have quite overdone themselves today, and need a little something with their supper to calm them down. Wouldn’t hurt you two either…” The Abbot laughed as he ushered Skitters out of the kitchen.

The two young otters saluted their Abbot, then quickly returned to the task at paw.

~ ~ ~

In the Abbot’s absence, Callambria was attempting to placate the ravenous young ones.

Every dibbun wanted to know what they were having for dinner, what drinks there would be, who would get to sit with who. Would they get to sit on pillows instead of chairs? Would Father Abbot mind if they had a storee-time? Would she mind if they each got a free piggy-back ride around Great Hall before they went to bed? For that matter, did they really have to go to bed at all?

“Enough!” the badger mum said at last, throwing her apron aside in frustration, after a dibbun had untied it for the third time. She pulled a small whistle from her pocket, and blew on it three times.

Immediate silence filled the hall. The dibbuns each scattered to a different corner of the large room, hoping to escape. They hadn’t a chance.

SisterElm-Thistle

The doors to Great Hall blew open, and in swept the fierce infirmary keeper, Sister Elm-Thistle. The tawny owl spread her wings, and glided silently into the center of the room. Her claws lightly clacked on the stone floor as she landed.

Tucking her wing feathers neatly behind her back, the owl quickly paced about the room, neatly snatching up one dibbun at a time with her sharp strong beak. Carefully holding them up by the tough scruffs of their necks, the Sister started forming them into a line. Soon, the other dibbuns scurried forward and joined the queue of their own volition.

“Whell now, hoo hoo whoo exactly es responsible fer thes latest en a long lein o’ transgressions agin’ yon badger Mem Callambria. Eh?” the owl asked briskly, in her heavy mountain accent.

The dibbuns looked to one another, then to Callambria. None dared to look Sister Elm-Thistle square in the face.

None but one plucky fieldmouse.

Meribelle raised a paw and waved it excitedly. Her big round ears twitched impatiently.

“Yes, ye brae lettle lassie,” Elm-Thistle said, rolling her eyes and sighing. “What es et now, Meribellie?”

Meribelle jumped forward out of line and said, “It was me, Sista Elm-issel! It was my idea ta help Cooky who felled down. We made a pillow bed fa her! Wasn’t it good, Sista? Wasn’t it a good idea a mine?”

The owl nodded slowly, and said, “Endeed, ye done well, lass. ‘Twas a guid deed ye done, fer a well o’er-welmed auld vole mem. Now, back en laine, an at attention, alla ye!”

Meribelle eagerly fell back in line. She didn’t mind the strict Sister one bit, for even she had a soft side that couldn’t be denied when it came to young ones. Just then, however, the owl was feeling ready to mete out orders. She paced up and down the line as she spoke, always keeping her eyes fixed on the dibbuns.

“Arright, ye lettle bairns! Get ye tae the readyin’ o’ thes here Great Hall. These pillows will nae walk theyselves up tae the dormitories on their own. Ye lot,” she motioned to half the line with one wing. “See tae the proper returnen of yon pillows. An, the rest o’ ye,” she motioned to the other half with her other wing. “Ye can help an auld night owl ready the tables fer the faine meal a bein’ prepared by teh young otter laddies. Off wi’ ye now, huh hoo, huh hoo!” the owl’s gentle hoos belied the sternness of her orders.

Soon the pillows were all making a little pilgrimage up the winding dormitory steps, while Sister Elm-Thistle oversaw the washing and setting of tables. Callambria brought in the large trays of plates, cups, and eating utensils. Laurellis thanked the owl Sister several times for her timely intervention. The owl said nothing more of it. Laurellis took Minsky Fieldmouse and Ruta the mole outside to gather some fresh flowers to decorate the tables.

It was this industrious cooperative scene that so surprised Abbot Fernberry to walk back in on, with little Skitters in tow. The squirrel babe puffed out his chest and started to strut about, counting himself lucky to have avoided all the heavy work. The Abbot pinched his ears lightly, and sent the dibbun off to report in to Callambria. As the badger mum showed Skitters how to fold napkins, Abbot Fernberry turned from the hustle and bustle to gaze upwards at the beautiful tapestry on the wall.

For seasons out of mind, this old and treasured tapestry had adorned the wall of Great Hall, a testament and historic record of Redwall’s early days, when the great mouse Martin the Warrior founded and laid down the guiding principles of Redwall Abbey. Every creature that had found refuge, shelter, food, and friendship in the dusty rose-hued walls and halls of the Abbey owed their peace and joy to the brave and selfless actions of this one mouse. He was beloved by all who called Redwall their home, and respected far beyond the reaches of Mossflower Wood, not just for his own life, but for the countless good deeds of those creatures inspired and instructed by his teachings and example.

Fernberry raised a paw and reached toward the tapestry. It was often recorded by Redwallers in seasons past that the spirit of Martin still roamed Redwall Abbey and spoke to the creatures, helping to guide and protect his precious Abbey long after he was gone. Whether these stories were true or not, he could not tell. But, the Abbot did feel a great kinship with Martin the Warrior, and Fernberry greatly wished to instill in the peaceful Abbey beasts the same heart and principles Martin would have wanted them to live by.

“You know, old friend...” the Abbot said, speaking now to the picture of Martin in front of him. “Hah. I wish I had truly known you… Tell me, Martin… With so many creatures looking to me for approval… I never get a chance to ask them how I measure up… Am I properly walking in the pawsteps of those who came before me? I hope to leave a trail as memorable and honorable as theirs.”

“You will.”

Fernberry turned around, to find Meribelle looking up at him with a knowing smile. She took his paw and squeezed it tight. “You da bestest Favver Abbot eva!”

Chapter 6 ~ All For A Crown

Safe within the four square walls of Redwall Abbey, laughter and goodwill passed from one beast to the next as freely as the good food and drink they were never in want of. Out in the open fields beyond the dusty road that crossed in front of the sandstone Abbey, the last warbled notes of a lonely meadowlark waned into the cool night air. Meanwhile, somewhere, deep within the depths of that great forest, Mossflower, far removed from any such peaceful employment… Greyflint the rat sat just outside the light of his crew’s campfire, sulking in the shadow of a moss-covered boulder.

It was time.

While his four associates warmed themselves and ate from their plundered provisions, Greyflint swallowed the pit of bitterness that ever lived in his aching belly, and started digging. Words fell fast from his quavering mouth.

“I will despise you, descry you, destroy you;
I will bring judgment, whenever I please.
I am your king, and no beast shall defy me;
I am the ruler of land, sky, and seas!
Deep in the westernly waves, never seen,
High in the southernly sky, ever been,
Once on the northernly isles was my throne.
Now on the easternly shores I am known.
You will not see me rise up through the blue,
You will not harm me, of green blood and true,
You will not hinder the red deeds I do;
You will not sway me, though I’ll blacken you.
I will despise you, descry you, destroy you;
I will bring judgment, whenever I please.
I am your king, and no beast shall defy me;
I am the ruler of land, sky, and seas!"

As he spat the last words that had daily tormented him for so many seasons, the rat unearthed a large brown satchel. He knew what it was, for he had buried it himself just that morning. This was his burden. This was his curse. This was everything to Flint!

Tearing open the satchel, Greyflint’s eyes shone with a strange light as his shaking claws withdrew a large iron circlet.

The dragon’s crown.

His crown.

The ancient crown of the infamous dragon king, Velnedazz!

Holding up the crown, which was heavier than his own steel sword, Greyflint feverishly inspected the four identical settings, one on each side of the crown, each distressingly empty of the fourstones that once adorned them. Stepping closer to the firelight, so that half his face was lit in eerie gold and red flickers, Greyflint inspected the inside band of the crown. There were words engraved inside the crown, an ancient poem, the song of King Velnedazz, written in the foul dead tongue of the fire lizards. Few beasts could read those words, and fewer still dared to, or even knew where to find such writing still in existence.

Greyflint knew the words by heart... and they ever burned him there.

“I will have them, Velnedazz!” Greyflint snarled, in a low growl. “I will have the fourstones, and I will claim their power for my own. You may have been a king, but I shall be more. No beast will dare stand against me.”

Greyflint began to dance about with a strange, jerking motion, like he was stepping on hot coals, or trying to avoid the lashing bite of a snake. He spoke to the crown, as though it were a living thing, as though it held within its cold metal the very heart of the dragon king himself.

“You were a foolish, cowardly snake, to run and hide from mortal beasts! But, when I claim the power of the fourstones, I will be Immortal! Invincible! Invisible even--if ever I wish! And, every beast will bow to my will! Oh, I am no snake, Velnedazz--I am Greyflint the sea rat! Captain of the Sea Slayer, master of words, leader of the Grey Crew, and one day The Grey Lord of all that I wish and desire! I will have allwhen my quest is complete!” Greyflint stared at the crown, with wild bulging eyes, like a creature estranged from his own sanity.

~ ~ ~

“Did you hear something?” Stingpaw asked suddenly, looking up at Nightfang, who was halfway through eating a large spring pasty.

Savory juices seeped around the corners of the stoat’s mouth, and crumbs fell on his tattered jerkin. Nightfang shrugged, and stuffed the rest of the pasty into his mouth, savoring the rich, home-baked flavors. He had never tasted anything so decadent in all his life. What did he care if the fox heard something strange in the night? She was paranoid. And, good food was worth any peril to one who had lived all his life eating nothing but mealy shipboard rations and prisoner’s slop. Nightfang had pulled the wool over many a sea rat’s eyes in his days as a talented illusionist, but when it came to victuals, there was no illusion strong enough to wash away the taste of rot and disappointment.

The weasel Deathfur had already eaten his fill, and was idly leaning up against the old oak, whittling a new arrow to replace the one he had lost. Without looking up, he said, “Oi, what’d yew hear this time, scaredy-vixen?”

Stingpaw ignored the insult, and stood to her paws, glancing around the little campsite.

Greyflint had dashed behind the big boulder, and was hurriedly burying the crown again.

“I wonder what Flint is up to?” the fox asked, cautiously picking up her satchel of healing herbs, as though subconsciously afraid it would be snatched away.

The only sound to be heard was the crackling fire and the night wind through the treetops.

Ragebeak sat on a low-hanging limb, eyeing his crew mates hungrily... Greycrew are not food, he reminded himself, recalling the words that so often were repeated to him. The crow stretched his wings tiredly, and preened a few loose feathers, which floated silently down into the fire. The smell of burnt feathers soon stung the crew’s nostrils.

Stingpaw made a face, and looked up uneasily at the mad crow.

“Ya know, I don’t know who’s madder sometimes, Ragebeak or Flint. He still thinks we don’t know he’s raving mad about that old dragon crown, so obsessed with losing it, he buries it every night in a different place.” She shook her head, and sat back down, irritably kicking aside some dirty acorns. The nuts had sat too long near the fire, and were piping hot.

“Yeowch!” the fox withdrew her footpaw swiftly.

Her instinct was to suck the burn, but she knew better medicine than that. Rifling through her sack, she found a small pouch. This contained a rare plant she had found many seasons back, on a warm tropical island. Breaking the thick rubbery leaf, Stingpaw rubbed the clear sticky sap from the aloe onto her singed footpaw.

Deathfur peered across the fire at her.

“Heh. If yew don’t trust Cap’n Greyflint, then why’s ya a part of ‘is crew anyroad?”

Stingpaw waited until she had finished dressing her burn, before answering the weasel.

“The same reason as all of you, mainly. You all remember the horrors we endured at Port Rottscum…” Stingpaw paused, to let the name of that wretched island prison revive the unpleasant memories each held of that place.

Nightfang swallowed, and shifted his paws uncomfortably. Deathfur stopped whittling, and tightened his grip on the knife that he held. Ragebeak cocked his head and ruffled his plumage, sending two more feathers spiraling down into the flames below.

Stingpaw knew well the right words to speak when inciting a mutiny… and the consequences for doing so… but, that was not her intention this time. She stood to her paws, gingerly, and held out her paws to the others in a gesture of understanding.

“We all owe Greyflint a debt for helping us escape from that place, and no beast can argue we’ve been better off under his leadership than we ever were before. He may be mad, but Flint is also fiercely loyal--if unnaturally so. I know he would never willingly betray us... but that does not mean he will always have our best interest in mind. He lost his former crew, every beast, in a single day and night. We all know the tale.”

The others nodded agreement, listening intently. They all knew the tale of the Sea Slayer’s last voyage, and it’s gruesome demise.

Stingpaw shook her head in dismay.

“Few beasts have suffered as painfully as Flint, and he is all the more dangerous for it. As long as he lets us roam freely, and do as we please, aye--we follow him. But, keep in mind, mates. We ain’t at sea any more. These landlubbers may not be savvy, but they can be gnarly in a pinch. We saw a bit of that today, with those squirrels.” She shot a meaningful glance at Deathpaw.

The weasel assassin snarled back at her. The accusation stung, as sharply as his recent failure. He preferred to do his killing on the high seas, where the the only trunk a squirrel could run up was a mast, and there was no trick of the light in tree shadows to trouble his aim. The bow was his second choice of weapon, anyroad. Anybeast fool enough to let him get too close, would sooner feel the ground as they fell dead, before they felt his blade slip between their ribs.

“I’ll get ‘em next time,” Deathfur muttered. He was tired of Stingpaw’s murmerings. “Get ta the point, quick, if ye got one, fox.” He yawned to show his indifference, and also to annoy her.

Stingpaw swallowed hard. She was walking a thin line already, but she felt it was time she said what was on her mind.

“All I’m sayin’ is, if the time comes an’ Flint sends the lot of us off to our deaths--don’t say I didn’t warn ya! Fer now, though, we stick ta’ the plan, an’ help him find the lost fourstones. Ye all know I doubt they hold any real power, but that’s never been the point, really, has it?”

“No, indeed,” said Greyflint, stepping up behind Stingpaw, and setting a paw heavily on her shoulder.

The fox flinched, and resisted the urge to pull away.

“Already planning a little mutiny, eh, Stingpaw?” he asked, with a disarmingly cheerful grin.

Stingpaw held her tongue. She knew better than to tell truth or lie when the boss was center stage.

Stepping closer to the fire, Greyflint dropped his voice to a tense whisper, and said, “Gather, 'round crew, and I’ll tell ye a tale. One that’ll curdle yer blood an’ curl yer tails til’ next season! But, afore I begin,” Greyflint waited a moment, as his crew came forward and crouched near the fire, giving the rat their undivided attention. “Remind me, my Greycrew--”

“Kreeaww!” Ragebeak dropped suddenly to the ground, absently beating his wings against Nightfang and Deathfur as he struggled to land and steady himself. “Cap’n FlintGrey be speaking! Hear all beast, be hearing ye!” the crow squawked, wobbling so far forward, he nearly fell into the fire.

At a nod from Stingpaw, the stoat and weasel caught the crow under his wings and pulled him back, holding him steady in one place.

“Har, ha-harr!” Greyflint laughed, shaking his head at the tipsy bird. “I see ye’ve had a swig too many of this landlubber’s grog!” Greyflint nodded to the empty bottles of nutbrown beer the crow had found full and chilled in the back of the squirrel’s hoard. “Ye all ought ta listen ter yer shipmate, Stingpaw here,” he said, slapping the fox roughly on the back. “The fourstones may hold great powers indeed, or no powers at all! Just remember, Ragebeak, my black-feathered maniac, it’s not about what ya do or don’t believe… it only matters what lies you can manage ta make other beasts swallow. If ya spin a convincing enough story, a simple mind will believe anything ya want it to!”

Greyflint grinned wickedly, and spread wide his paws, looking from face to face eagerly. “Remember, my most brilliant and villainous Grey Crew,

“We fight with our minds, our wit, and our lines,
We take them by sleight, instead of by force.
Great treasure and power will be ours in good time,
If we stick to the plan, and we all stay the course.”

The crew knew the rest of the chant, and each joined in, agreeing aloud to appease their captain, while each in their own mind considered their own reasons for aiding the sea rat.

“With the pow’r of the dragons,
At last, we’ll be free,
With none to oppose us,
In earth, sky, or sea!”

Chapter 7 ~ A Mossflower Morning

“Gudd mooooooornin’, treeshrewer!”

Bright morning sunshine leaped and danced in Flinn’s vision as her eyes flew open suddenly. She instinctively dug her claws into the tree branch she was sleeping on, and looked down to see what was going on below her.

Down on the ground, Tumbley was swinging a large pail of water back and forth, and chuckling giddily as the morning sun rays reflected off the sloshing water and up into the treetops. Waves of light danced off Flinn’s features. She wasn’t fully awake yet, and neither was her good humor.

“Away wi’ ye, cruel watermoley! I’m a sleepin’ up here!” Flinn said, crossly, turning around, and curling up under her cloak once again.

“Oi! Oim no watermoley, miz Flinn!” Tumbley objected, setting down the pail. He cleared his throat, and tried a less obvious approach. “Oi be the moler who dunn brotted ye’m brekkers… em, err… iffen you’m be hinterested in any, that is?” Tumbley rocked back on his heels, and tapped his digging claws together, looking up eagerly at his new friend.

Flinn had an answer all ready to shoot back at the mole, but instead her stomach spoke for her, answering Tumbley with a loud rumbling gurgle.

Tumbley grinned.

“Erryup! As oi thoughted, Miz Flinn! You’m be gurtly ahungerin’ thes mornin’. See? That be’s whoi oi wurr koind n’ thoughtfuller, and oi didn’t sing ye moi mornin’ brekkers songer.”

Flinn threw off her cloak, and looked down at him again. She raised an eyebrow skeptically.

“Ya really held yerself back from singin’... just fer me? Well… alright then.”

With a sigh and a stretch, Flinn relaxed her leg and shoulder muscles, that were always tight after a night spent up in a tree. With practiced ease, she uncoiled a rope tied one branch over, and slid down the rope to the ground. Blinking and yawning, her sleepy mind tried to take in the “brekkers” Tumbley had prepared for them.

The mole had cleared a bit of bare earth, and covered it with patches of soft green moss for them to sit on. The food was laid out on a flat piece of bark. There was quite a lot of pine nuts, fresh watercress, and a pile of half-ripe elderberries (compliments of the beetle family). And, as a final touch, the any-meal, all-purpose, token crab apple.

“My, what a spread!” Flinn said, paws on hips, as she nodded half in admiration, half in jest. “Must have taken you half the mornin’ just ta find this lot!”

Tumbley shrugged modestly, and settled himself on a thick bit of moss. He waited on no ceremony, stuffing down pawfuls of watercress and elderberries with great gusto.

Flinn shook her head at the enthusiastic little mole. Turning to the water pail, she cupped some fresh brook water in her paws and splashed it onto her face. It felt good to wash away the dreams of night, and enter a new day alert and ready for anything. Well, almost anything. This Tumbley was something else! The second pawful she drank slowly, letting the cool water warm a bit inside her mouth before she swallowed it. Cold water always upset her stomach first thing in the morning. With a content sigh, the shrew turned to the breakfast “table”, which was already half-empty by the time she sat down.

“Bit hungry, little moley? Ya know, this grub ain’t goin’ anywhere anytime soon.”

Tumbley bit into the crisp apple, and chewed reflectively, pondering her statement. He swallowed, then looked at her very seriously.

“Look yurr, Miz Flinn, when we’m gets ta Redwaller Habbey, you’m ‘ll see what real grub do look loik. This ‘ere be’s nought but a loight scoffin’. Oi gots ta get moi tummy ready fer the big toime mealers.” Tumbley patted his round belly, and pushed himself back from the bark “table”, resting with one paw behind him, while he finished eating his apple with the other.

Flinn ate in silence. She had a strange feeling in her stomach, and a sort of dread in her mind, when it came to her thoughts of Redwall Abbey. Part of her had always wanted to visit the sandstone sanctuary. Part of her was worried the Abbey beasts would pity her, and try to make her stay there. She couldn’t stand the thought of that. She liked being free, able to go where she wished and do as she pleased. Being tied down to any one place would be such a dullness in contrast to her vibrant wandering life.

But, when it came to matters of the stomach… oh, the tales she had heard of the great Redwall feasts!

The shrew stared out into the sunlit forest. Morning sunlight filtered down through the treetops, like shafts of bright cheer, unfettered and un-deterred by the lingering shadows of night. There was a lightness to the air, a newness to the day, something she always loved about mornings in Mossflower Wood. The early birds were already up and about, singing their hopeful serenades to potential lovers. The romance of it all was lost on Flinn Furrit. She would gladly sleep ‘til noon every day, if only the rest of the forest occupants would let her!

As if to fly in the face of her unwelcome early rising, a rather agitated wren darted down through the branches of the elm tree, and neatly plucked the last bilberry out of Flinn’s paw.

“Gerraway!” Flinn cried, jumping back, and waving her paws. As the wren flew off through the tree trunks, Flinn stared after it in open-mouthed indignation.

Tumbley fell over backwards chuckling.

“Burr hu-hurr! You’m shudd see ee self, Miz Flinn! Ho-ho! Oi ne’er did see any ‘un as flustercated as you’m be’s! Why oi--!” Tumbley was cut short as one of the beetles crawled up onto his stomach and gave him a warning pinch. “Hurr--ower!” Tumbley said, getting back on his footpaws again. “Hurr, hem, urr,” he cleared his throat. “Roight you’m are, Mem Beetler.” He nodded to the beetle, who clacked her pincers once more, then quickly scuttled away. “Oi’s a sorryfuller, Miz Flinn,” Tumbley said, clasping his paws, and trying to look remorseful as he looked up at the shrew. “We’m best be off roight ‘way iffen we’m ta get ter Redwall Habbey afore midnoight.”

Ignoring his penitence, as well as his persistence, Flinn produced a rolled-up map from a fold of her long brown dress. Laying the map flat on the bark table, she pointed out Redwall Abbey on the map.

“Yer sense of direction ain’t too shabby, Tumbley, but I saw we take the long road, and get there in three days time. Why? Ye ask. Because, I only came this way inta these parts of the forest lookin’ fer one thing. These old ruins--see, right here on the map.”

Tumbley leaned over the map, to see the spot Flinn was pointing to.

“See, it’s hard ta get to, bein’ up on a rocky hilltop an’ all, so most woodlanders round hereabouts prob’ly don’t know much about it. They sure won’t know what’s hidin’ up there, I’d bet an apple to an acorn.” Flinn rubbed he paws together eagerly.

Tumbley scratched his velvety head, a bit puzzled.

“Hurr, you’m must alluz be betten wi’ applers, seen as that’s all you’m lives offer. Oi!”

Tumbley dodged, as Flinn flicked a pine nut at this face.

“Awroight, then. Long as you’m promises to still go ter Redwaller Habbey wi’ oi, then oim all in fer a likke soid ‘venture,” He said, straightening his belt in a business-like manner, and nodding his head decicively.

Flinn rolled up the map and put it away.

“Not even gonna ask me about what I’m lookin’ for?” she asked, surprised at the mole’s quick acceptance of her sudden change of plan.

Tumbley shrugged.

“Oi figger you’m ‘ll shows oi all in gudd toime. Fer naow, let’s usn’s be offer!”

The mole turned abruptly, and started marching off into the trees.

The beetle family came running from various directions, scuttling over fallen leaves and pine nuts, trying to keep up with his little mole’s trundling wobbly strut.

Flinn chuckled, and helped gather up the little black beetles. As Tumbley didn’t seem inclined to slow down, she had to finagle the little beetle family back into his sack while he was walking.

The shrew threw one last look over her shoulder at the elm tree they had camped in. She could just see the top of a mound of dirt by the tree’s roots, that marked the entrance to a little cave Tumbley had dug out the night before for himself to sleep in.

This molebabe sure was a sturdy resourceful little one. Not much like the dibbuns Flinn was accustomed to. That reminded her of something she had been meaning to ask.

Catching up to Tumbley, the shrew matched her pace to his, and asked, “Tumbley, me ole matey, tell a treeshrewer… ahem, err… how did you learn to talk so well? I mean--all you mole folk have accents, that’s no bother, I just can’t see how a mole as young as you can talk so nicely. And, makin’ songs and riddles, like it was nothin’!” Flinn tried to hold back her own natural accent, but she felt so at ease around the little mole now, it slipped out on its own.

Tumbley stuck out his chin proudly.

“Oi learned moi good speechifyin’ from moi ole nuncle Tomber, larst o’ the Trumbly Troibe. Moi gurt dad wurr Dan Trumbly, an moi dear mum wurr Sweetpea o’ the Warterhills. Bein’ born atwixt two tribers, oi got me ‘th’ best o’ both tunnels’, as the sayin’ goes. Nuncle Trumbly taughted oi gudd werds, n’ moi granmum, Esther, o’ the Warterhills, she’m taughted oi gudd singen’ n’ riddlin’...” Tumbley walked onward briskly, but it seemed his mind was on a different path now. Familiar faces, the sights and sounds of his old home in the tunnels that bridged the two great underground colonies… it all seemed so far away now.

Flinn listened intently.

“Nevver did learn me any hinsterment, though, ded oi?” Tumbley said, quietly, to himself. Flinn wondered if this was something he meant to say out loud. The little mole said nothing more for a time.

The two walked on in silence, surrounded by the warm waking sounds of the forest. The smell of fresh dew, and the wind through the leaves. It was all so peaceful. Yet somehow sad.

Flinn set a paw on Tumbley’s shoulder as they walked.

“I can see you miss your family a lot, Tumbley… have ya tried goin’ back, ta see if the sickness ever--”

“Burr, no,” Tumbley said, shivering. He brushed off Flinn’s paw, and shifted the weight of his sack. “Oi be’s honner bounden nevver ta go back thurr,” the mole said, turning his face down and away from Flinn’s searching gaze. His typical levity was gone, and it seemed he spoke for a moment from seasons beyond his own.

Flinn decided not to press the matter further.

“Well, those beetle friends of your sure are real resourceful,” Flinn said, trying to change the subject.

Tumbley straightened up again.

“That they’m be! Oi’d be powerful a-hungered all toime without em! Moi ole granfer, Dubbly Warterhill, he taughted oi how ta make friends wi’ yon beetlers. Alla Warterhill molers c’n do et, iffen ee beeklers be obligin’.” Tumbley smirked at this.

Flinn shook her head.

“Wish I could meet your ole granfer--you’re whole fam’ly, fer that matter! I never knew moles could be so interestin’, Tumbley me mate. You do them all proud.”

Tumbley looked up at her. She saw doubt in his eyes, but also a faint ray of hope.

“Does oi really, Miz Flinn?”

“Yes, Tumbley, you most certainly does.”

~ ~ ~

Ding! Dong! Ding! Dong!

Bright chimed the Matthias and Methuselah bells at Redwall Abbey, stirring the drowsy abbey beasts from their peaceful slumbers.

Meribelle hugged her little pillow tightly, and snuggled down further under the soft home-sewn quilt that covered her.

“Marnin’, ma beauties!” sang Sister Elm-Thistle merrily, throwing open the curtains, and suddenly flooding the dibbun’s dormitory with sunshine.

There was an instant chorus of infantile moans, groans, and sighs.

Meribelle whimpered and let out a squeak of dismay, as the tawny owl threw back the quilt, and quickly rolled the little fieldmouse out of bed.

“Oop n’ at em, ya wee bairns! Th’ marnin’s half o’er--whit be ye all a stell sleepin’ fair?”

Meribelle stubbornly refused to open her eyes. She curled up in a little ball, and started sucking on her paw.

“Go ‘way, Sista Thistle!” cried a cheeky youngster, from one of the bunks.

Elm-Thistle’s keen eyes swept the room quickly, as she turned her head nearly all the way backwards.

“Whoo-hoo, who said that? Own up thes enstant, ye lettle trebble maker!”

Several dibbuns giggled, only to hush when the stern eyes of the infirmary keeper looked their way.

There was a soft tap on the door, then it swung open part way, and the big striped head of Callambria peeked inside.

“Everything alright up here?” the badger asked. She winked at one of the dibbuns who turned to look at her. “I hope the good Sister Elm-Thistle is making your morning just as pleasant as you made bedtime last night,” she said, calmly.

The owl Sister puffed up her chest feathers indignantly, and strutted about, her eyes growing large as dinner plates. Cooky’s late night “snack” had caused no small “to-do” up in the dormitory. Elm-Thistle had spent half the night preening pie crumbs out of her feathers. Now, she was too flustered at the memory to even speak. With a “Hmph!” she swept the door fully open with a wing, and strode out into the hallway.

Callambria stepped aside out of her way, then waited a moment, before slipping inside the dibbuns’ room and closing the door after her. There was a few moments of silence, as they all waited for the owl to march down the spiral steps. Once they knew Elm-Thistle was well out of ear-shot, the room erupted with laughter and merriment.

“Good morning, Mum Callambria!” the dibbuns cried, tossing their pillows up in the air excitedly.

No one made mornings so nice as Mum Callambria.

“Now, now, then, calm down,” the badger said, blushing with pleasure. She went from one bed to the next, helping the little dibbuns sit up, stretch their paws, and make their little beds. All the while, she recited a well known nursery rhyme.

“Early do the little ones rise,
As each little sun ray touches the skies,
But, who are the little ones that run away?
These are the shadow, that don’t want to play!
Oh, which of the two will you be today?
Like the sun, a happy good beast,
Always on time, and ready to obey?
Or, just like the shadows, a right naughty beast,
Ever hiding from chores, and running away?
Will you be a sunray or a shadow today?”

A short while later, a merry band of dibbuns came trailing down the stairs after Mum Callambria, and filed out into Great Hall. Dust motes gently drifted in the sunlight streaming in through the stained glass windows. The breakfasting tables were already set, and ready to accept the hungry youngsters. The dibbuns wasted no time, each finding their seat on one of the low benches, and eagerly reaching for their cups and plates.

Cooky--err--Daylily presided over every meal at the Abbey, and breakfast was certainly no exception! With great delight, she brought from the kitchen two large bowls of steaming oven-fresh oatscones, dripping with honey. Sister Laurellis walked right behind her, with a large pot of mint tea in one paw, and a bowl of cool meadowcream in the other. Daylily and Larellis swiftly served the hungry dibbuns.

It was only a matter of time before the feeding frenzy would start.

Thankfully, Abbot Fernberry was still close at paw. He was sipping a cup of dark cider, while looking over an old manuscript Brother Thomas had found in the gatehouse. On hearing the distressed voice of Callambria, trying to keep the dibbuns from eating until everyone had been served, he decided it was time to have his say.

“Ahem,” the Abbot said, setting down his cup and the manuscript. He looked over the top of his reading glasses at the bright-eyed dibbun horde. “I believe Mum Callambria is advising you to wait until we’ve said grace. Isn’t that right?”

Several dibbuns nodded. A few shook their heads. Meribelle stuffed a pawful of meadowcream into her mouth.

The Abbot stood and held out his paws, closing his eyes as he calmly intoned,

“For this good meal, of sweetest make,
We give our thanks to those who bake.
May this good day be strong and true,
Like those who rise early, our tea to brew.”
~ ~ ~

“Wot’s the point of gettin’ up early ta make yew all brekkist, if’n yew’s all gonna sit ‘round an’ sleep in all morning?”

Deathfur stared grimly into his meager pot of boiled roots and old potatoes. It wasn’t much, but it beat no breakfast at all.

“Eearrrggh!” Greyflint unsheathed his sword and swung it wildly at the pot. Deathfur barely dodged out of the way in time. The blade rang loudly off the black kettle, and knocked over the simple branch stand that held it up. Deathfur muttered angrily, as the last of his hard work soaked down into the dew-dampened earth.

The other crewbeasts came awake, as Greyflint roared again.

“Haiyaarrr, mateys! This be the day! The plan starts now, so up on yer haunches. Today we march fer the gem o’ Mossflower, that grand ole fortress of landlubbin’, peace lovin’ weak beast. Arr, ha-harr! Ye know the place, fer there ain’t another like it on land or sea!”

Stingpaw felt her neckfur stand on end. She growled and forced herself to get up and stand to her paws. She hadn’t slept well with a root from the oak tree sticking in her back all night. Now, she had a new concern forming a knot inside her hungry belly.

“Aye, Flint, Cap’n, we hears ya. But, why Redwall of all places?” she asked, wearily.

Nightfang blinked drowsily, and twitched his whiskers.

“Redwall? What’s a Redwall?”

Redwall!” Deathfur said, rolling his eyes. “He means Redwall Abbey, ya dunce!” He kicked a half-baked potato in annoyance.

Eyeing the spilled soup, Nightfang came fully awake. In desperation, he salvaged what vegetables he could, and nibbled on them nervously.

“Yah don’t mean...” the stoat said, in-between mouthfuls that burned the inside of his mouth. “Redwall, tha’ cursed place no beast ‘as ever taken nor fought agin an’ lived ta tell the tale?”

Greyflint laughed and spat into the empty kettle.

“Heh! Call it cursed all ya like, but stories only get told by survivors, so I says, if other beasts ‘ave been inside the red walled fort, then we can get in there too! And, that we will, mates! Ye all know the plan. Ev’ry part has a place, and ye’ll all keep yer place in yer own parts.” He turned to Nightfang, who was gnawing on a muddy turnip.

“Spit that slop out, Nightfang, messmate!” Flint said.

Nightfang reluctantly set down the turnip.

“Lissen, mateys,” Flint said, plucking a burning branch from the campfire. “Afore ye knows it, we’ll all be eatin’ fine and well, an better n’ ye ever dreamed in yon abbey. This may be the hardest job we ever pulled, but I guarantee yer, et’ll all be worth it fer the prize we’ll be takin’.”

As the Grey Crew followed Flint’s eager trek into the forest, away from the stream, a bright ray of sunlight touched the top of the mossy boulder and sparkled off a thousand beads of fresh morning dew.


Chapter 8 ~ Relics And Riddles

Flinn was in a good mood. The noon sun smiled down on the shrew and mole as they paced side-by-side down a long dusty path that led them out from the forest into warm spring meadows and open skies. Being back on a well-worn path again, on the trail of a strange unsolved mystery, with the sun on her back, and the wind in her whiskers.

Ahh… What could be better than this? the shrew thought to herself, contentedly.

Flinn saw a fluttering movement out of the corner of her eye. She looked up quickly, and saw the familiar brown and white under-feathers of a skylark as it flitted away high into the sky. These wild free creatures of the air always delighted and thrilled her with their aerial escapades and care-free antics. When the bird was high above, nearly out-of-sight, Flinn heard it’s bubbling song come ringing back to earth over the lush green grasslands. It filled her with a secret joy.

The shrew sighed contentedly and stretched out her arms, shaking out the stiffness and soreness that had crept into her muscles over the past few days. With the unpredictable wild spring weather, her travels through Mossflower Wood had been greatly slowed down. What should have taken days had turned into weeks. But, perhaps her waiting was now all about to pay off. She looked to the mole who trundled along beside her in silence.

“I never planned ta meet ya, Tumbley,” Flinn said, out-of-the-blue. Her tone was warm and friendly, yet the mole cocked his head and gave her a strange look.

“But, I’m glad I did,” the shrew added quickly, which brought a smile to the dibbun’s deeply dimpled face.

Flinn had always been a solitary creature, but now that she had a new friend, a companion on the road, and she found the experience wasn’t nearly as disagreeable as she feared it would be.

“Woi be that, Miz Flinn?” Tumbley asked. He seemed subdued since their last conversation, and had said little as they traveled for several hours through the forest, and now for a good while out on the open road. Flinn could tell he had a lot on his mind. So, clearly, she decided the best thing to do was give him something new to think about!

“Alright, Moley matey!” she said, with a slight smile. “If you’re so good at makin’ up riddles, then how do ya feel about helpin’ me solve one?”

Tumbley’s eyes brightened. He twitched his little pink snout and stood a little taller.

“Hoo urr, Miz Flinn! Oi’ll solve any riddler you’m cares ta give me! Or, leastaways, oi’ll do moi besters.”

Flinn nodded, and clapped her paws together eagerly. Not lessening her brisk pace, Flinn took a deep breath and at long last broke into her special “storytelling” voice.

“Oh, little moley, hold on ta yer butterknife, ‘cause you’re gonna need it!” Flinn said, excitedly, stepping closer to Tumbley, and setting one paw on his shoulder, while motioning to the road ahead with the other. “See, there’s a great wide world out here, an’ I’ve seen a fair bit of it!”

Tumbley’s eyes grew wide with wonder and curiosity.

Flinn smiled at him. Really smiled, not just a little, not just for show, but genuinely smiled. This was the Flinn Furrit she wanted him to meet. She slipped a paw into one of her hidden dress pockets, and pulled out an amulet. An old, rusty chunk of copper, so marred and mangled by time and abuse it was hardly recognizable as something anybeast would ever want to wear. She tossed the amulet to Tumbley. He caught it in his digging claws, and held it up to the bright noonday sun to get a better look.

“Feast yer eyes, matey, on a long-lost relic of a bygone era! But, that’s just a trinket really,” Flinn shrugged, as though it were nothing. “Ya see, I likes findin’ old things, old relics and the like, but there’s somethin’ I treasure far more n’ these baubles.”

Flinn produced several more curious oddities. A shark tooth knife, a string of grey pearls, a set of iron keys, and a little quartz hare figurine.

Tumbley’s mouth fell open in awe of her collection.

“Aye, more n’ the relics, what I like is the stories that go with ‘em!” Flinn’s voice was filled with mysterious excitement and great suspense. “Ya see… I’ve met some o’ the oldest creatures still alive in all the world. An’, all I ever asked ‘em for was a story I never yet heard…”

Tumbley tore his eyes from the objects in her paws, and looked up to the distant look in Flinn’s dark eyes. The shrew stared up into the sky for a moment, hoping to catch another glimpse of the lofty skylark.

As if speaking aloud to herself, Flinn said, “One tale in partic’lar caught my fancy… ‘twas told by an old female badger, Grandmum Ymelda, of the old Northshore clan. She spent many a season starin’ out ta sea from the safety of her clifftop sett. ‘Twas a cozy den, as I recall,” Flinn looked down to the path ahead, but though her paws journeyed forward, her mind traveled back to that windy day on the Northern cliffs.

“Ymelda wasn’t too keen on havin’ visitors, but she liked my stories well enough, and said I was a goodbeast ta call on her an’ give her no trouble. She told me a tale, a remarkable yarn, one I’ll never forget!”

Tumbley’s paws tightened around the amulet, as he gazed up fixedly at Flinn’s face. She seemed completely lost in her own memory.

“As we sat near the fire, an’ out o’ the wind, she told me of times long ago and forgotten. Of days afore civilized beasts settled down, when right an’ wrong was a shifty matter, an’ one kind of nightmarish creature held all other beasts in dread of his shadow…”

Tumbley blinked. “Who’m wurr that beaster?” he asked.

“A dragon!” Flinn turned her suddenly fierce eyes on Tumbley, and raised both paws.

Tumbley fell back a pace, and gasped.

“A whurr?!” the mole asked, raising both eyebrows and his paws in unison.

Flinn laughed and shook her head.

“Sorry, matey. I couldn’t resist. Nah, dragons--or fire lizards as somebeasts call ‘em--they be the creatures a’ tall tales and old made-up legends, I say! The stuff of nightmaresi-ha! Meant ta frighten little ones, and teach ‘em ta obey their parents and always go ta bed on time. Still… There’s many an old beast ‘as claimed they’ve seen the foul beasts, or leastaways heard so many tales of ‘em they’re convinced they must a’ been real.”

“Does you’m burlieve they wurr real?” Tumbley asked, incredulously.

Flinn shook her head and shrugged.

“Real? Not real? Doesn’t matter much ta me! I’ve seen all kinds a’ beasts, and no lizard ever got the better of me, matey! I can deal with that lot any time I please. But, back to the bit about the riddle.”

She tried to adopt her “storytelling” voice once again.

“Ymelda’s stories made me smile, all but one. She told me of an old dwellingplace of goodbeasts, a place the old ones call Loamhedge. A place of peace and sanctuary, much like Redwall Abbey is today. Now, I’ve heard tell of Loamhedge afore, and know well the sad fate of that place. But, what caught my ear was when the old badger told me a new tale from Loamhedge.”

Tumbley listened with rapt attention.

“There was one beast livin’ there, a young mouse, named Merrylea Asterleaf, the recordkeeper of Loamhedge. Yore own story reminded me of Loamhedge’s fate, Tumbley. A great sickness came there, and nobeast survived. But, though she was sick, that lone mouse, Merrylea took her most precious recordings, and traveled far away from Loamhedge. Though she never recovered from the illness, she did manage ta hide her recordings in a secret place. Bein’ a grand writer and riddler, she left clues behind, in a riddle, in case any clever n’ brave beast was willin’ ta find an’ read her writings.”

Tumbley nodded his head.

His eyes grew even larger.

“Bes that why you’m goin’ ter yon ruiners? Lookin’ fer Miz Merrylea’s writin’s?”

Flinn nodded eagerly.

“Yes! Oh, and just listen ta this, matey. This is the riddle as old Ymelda told it ta me.

Deep in the forest that ever blooms,
Seek the little mountain, on a night with two moons.
Enter by the mouth, to find the heart,
But, beware the time, when pathways part.
If ye will know what the old ones hid,
Then, find more courage than they did.”
~ ~ ~

“Aha! Yes, here it is,” said Abbot Fernberry, raising a paw in triumph.

Brother Thomas, the ancient mouse gatehouse keeper, looked up from his half-eaten porridge, and blinked across the table at the hedgehog.

“Found what, did yer, Berry?” the old mouse said. His trembling paws lost their grip on his spoon, and it landed back in his porridge with a plop.

Fernberry looked over the top of his glasses at his old friend.

“I’ve found that record I was telling you about. See?” he held up the parchment paper scroll, then set it back down and began reading. “Ahem.

“The Spring of the Overflowing Moss. This has been an exceptionally
rainy spring, and Redwall Abbey has seen a great influx of poor woodlanders
and field beasts, seeking shelter from the rising waters that have flooded
them out of their homes and burrows. I feel the Abbey food stores will run
too low soon. Thankfully, our good friends and allies, the Sparra folk,
have agreed to help us in the relief effort. Every day now, they send out
their brave sparrow warriors to search high and low for fresh fruits and
berries that have not been spoiled by the rains. Some have even negotiated
and bartered with various other birds and squirrels for a share of their
winter stores of nuts and grains. The cellars are still well stocked, thanks
to Brother Noble, our venerable cellar keeper. And, a band of otters, led
by Skipper Bankbrow, have volunteered to brave the dangerous waters of the
raging River Moss, to bring in a steady supply of fresh fish, to feed our
hungry visitors and keep the Abbey pond well stocked.”

The abbot set down the paper, and reached for his cup of cider.

Alas, the cup was empty!

“Oh, Father Abbot, would you like something more to drink?” asked Daylily, from the kitchen door. Though busy already with lunch preparations, the kind-hearted cook could not help overhearing the Abbot’s words, and had been watching him as he read aloud.

Fernberry nodded towards her.

“Yes, thank you very much, Sister Daylily. But, I think I’ve had enough of this rich cider. I need something lighter to clear my head so I can think.”

The vole cook smiled, and winked knowingly.

“As you wish, Father Abbot. But, you know the cellar doors are always open any time you’d care to visit. Foremole Ardiose is ever so fond of your company. But, I see you’ve got a scheme in the works, so I won’t distract you any further.” The cook turned, and disappeared inside the kitchen.

Thomas looked down at his trembling paws, and shook his head.

“It’s no use, Berry…” the old mouse said, with a mournful sigh. “If only these old paws of mine weren’t so shaky, and my eyesight so poor, I could be of more help to you! Some record keeper of Redwall I am; too old to see, and too weak to write. I must be such a burden to you…”

Fernberry looked up, and shook his head indignantly.

“Not at all, Thomas! You’ve never been a burden to anybeast, and certainly not to me. Your wisdom and insight is a constant treasure, and even moreso your friendship. If not for your diligent studies and research over the seasons, I wouldn’t even have known about this helpful record. Now, then. I’ve already read the rest of this account, so I’ll briefly say this: the last time there was a great flood in Mossflower, everybeast helped pitch in for the relief effort. But, what I found most interesting, and of certain use presently, was the clever workings of the molefolk in building dams and culverts to redirect the flood channels to protect unflooded homes and new building sites. So, I think I will pay our good Foremole Ardiose a visit after all!”

Fernberry smiled, and rolled up the scroll. He looked up again at his old friend.

The old mouse slowly spooned in mouthfuls of oatmeal, chewing reflectively. He seemed lost in thought.

Fernberry stood, as though preparing to leave.

“It’s a funny thing,” Thomas said, suddenly.

Fernberry paused, and waited for him to continue.

The mouse set down his spoon, and said, “When you set your mind steadfastly on a thing… it is often something quite different that employs you.”

Abbot Fernberry sat back down, slowly. He knew, from experience, not to dismiss the odd sayings of his old friend. The minds of the elderly often worked in slower, but deeper, and more meaningful terms than the minds of younger beasts. There was always something to be learned, if one had the patience to listen and discern.

“Do you think I’m being too hasty?” Fernberry asked, calmly. He leaned forward, and pushed the scroll across the table toward his friend.

Thomas reached out a paw, and picked up the scroll. He was trembling uncontrollably, and even his voice shook as he spoke. There was a dull light in his eyes, and he spoke as one in a dream.

“The eye only sees what it knows to be true,
And, the paw may be false, that knows just what to do.
To be kind to a stranger, you surely should,
But, beware any helper that seeks his own good.”

Fernberry heard a soft gasp in the hushed silence that followed. Looking past Thomas, he saw Daylily standing gape-jawed in the kitchen doorway, holding a heavy jug.

“Is everything alright, Sister Daylily?” the Abbot asked.

The vole blushed, and hurried forward with the jug. She shook her head, and quickly poured a cup of peppersage tea for him. This was one of her specialty tea blends, the perfect blend of peppermint and sage. She also knew it was a favorite of the Abbot’s.

“Thank you, Daylily,” Fernberry said, holding his paws over the steaming cup to warm them for a bit.

Daylily curtsied, then turned toward Thomas with a nervous twitch of her whiskers.

“I say, Brother Thomas, was that a poem from one of your scrolls?” the vole asked, timidly.

Thomas blinked and looked up at her as though seeing her for the first time.

“Oh! It’s you, Daylily. Thought I saw a young mouse just now. Not, that you aren’t young, my dear” the old mouse smiled, and his grey cheeks colored slightly. “Must be my foggy old mind playing tricks on me again.”

Abbot Fernberry observed his friend for a moment.

“Perhaps… perhaps not. Say, old friend, Thomas. If you do recall any more of that old poem, you will be sure to share it with us, won’t you?” the hedgehog asked, blowing on his tea to cool it down.

Thomas picked up his empty porridge bowl, and nodded as he slowly pushed back his chair and stood to his footpaws.

“Oh yes, yes of course, Berry. Now, then, Daylily. Where should I put this?” he held up the bowl, and squinted at the vole cook.

Daylily smiled, and took the bowl from him, patting the elderly mouse’s paw gently.

“Don’t you worry, Brother Thomas. I’ll just wash that bowl for you. Is there anything else you need?” she asked, kindly.

The grey mouse bowed his head in thanks.

“Oh, no, I’m quite alright now. Breakfast was splendid, as always. I think I’ll take a turn about Great Hall.”

As the old mouse slowly shuffled off to study the many tapestries that decorated the large sandstone room, Abbot Fernberry sipped his tea and pondered the wise words of the mouse.


Chapter 9 ~ Dibbuns And Discoveries

Timothy Fieldmouse had been up before dawn, helping out with the early morning chores around Redwall Abbey. Now, as it was approaching tea time, the quiet young mouse was still hard at work. Since the rising flood had washed away their home, Timothy felt it was his duty as eldest of the five siblings to be his father’s strong right-paw, and help ease the burden for his family in any way. Even now, in the midst of the safety and plenty of the great sandstone abbey, he still felt responsible for his siblings, and--like his parents--he felt deeply indebted to the Abbot and his fellow abbey beasts for all the kindness and comforts they had freely shared with them.

As the bells tolled the noon hour, Timothy swept a paw across his warm brow, and looked up from the wood he was splitting, to peer at the hot shimmering sun far above. He instantly sneezed. Then again. He drew in a big breath, then sneezed a third time.

“Phew! Glad that’s over,” he said aloud to himself. “Why does that always happen to me when I look up at the sun?” He shook his head and went back to his work, picking another chunk of wood off the fresh woodpile, and setting it up on the stump in front of him. He raised his axe, preparing to swing.

“Aii!!” screamed a shrill little voice.

Timothy faltered, and the axe swung wide, nearly clipping his own long grey tail. Dropping the axe, he turned around quickly, his ears swiveling to pick up the sound again. He knew the sound of his siblings voices, and this one was that of the youngest, little Mirthy Fieldmouse.

“Heeeelp! Helpa, helpa, helpa me!” came the frantic cries of the dibbun fieldmouse.

Timothy ran around back of the main abbey building, and saw a band of dibbuns gathered in the shadows of the tall abbey. They were all looking up, pointing paws, and jabbering frantically at one another. Peering into the sudden contrast, it took a moment for his eyes to adjust. Then, he saw her. Half-way up the back wall of the abbey, little Mirthy was clinging desperately to an ivy vine, the one she had used to climb up so high in the first place.

“Ooh, she gonna fall! Quicka! Somebeast catcher her!” a little one cried.

“Hurr oh, it be turrible!” Ruta sobbed, sitting on the grass, and covering her eyes with both paws.

Timothy looked around for any kind of ladder or rope, but the yard was empty.

Little Skitters took immediate action. Despite his few seasons, he was a true squirrel, and could climb incredibly well. The little one nodded his head, and in a blurr of red fur, he raced his way lightly up the ivy vine, until he was close enough to look Mirthy in the eyes. The little mouse was pale with fright.

“Don’t worry, Mirthy!” Timothy called from below, encouragingly. “We’ll have you down in no time. Just hold on! Hold on for me, won’t you?”

The frightened mouse nodded her head, and stared in wide-eyed wonder at the little squirrel in front of her.

“Climba down down?” Skitters asked, with a positive smile.

Mirthy shook her head, then winced, and pointed down to her footpaw.

Skitters saw the problem, winked at Mirthy, and quickly climbed back down to the others to report his findings.

“You da big brudder?” the squirrel asked, bouncing up in front of Timothy.

Timothy nodded, his eyes darting quickly from the bouncing squirrel to his scared little sister. “Yeah, that’s me. Out with it--what’s going on? Is she too scared to climb down?”

Skitters shook his head.

“No, norra fraid, she climbded alla way up tha on ha own! She very brave sista!”

Timothy was losing his patience, and wondered if he should go get help from some older beasts.

Skitters hopped forward, and poked Timothy’s right footpaw with one of his claws.

“Ow! What was that for?” Timothy asked, more confused than annoyed.

The little squirrel pointed down to Timothy’s footpaw, then to his own right paw.

“Sista Mirthy, she gotta ha footpaw stucked in da hole inna wall!”

Timothy shook his head, unsure what to make of this.

“There’s a hole in the wall? Her paw is stuck?”

Skitters nodded vigorously.

“Okay, okay,” Timothy said, feeling a fresh wave of fear as his sister squeaked again, and started whimpering. “Here, why don’t you climb back up and keep my sister company. Can you do that for me, Skitters? I’ll go get help, and I’ll be right back. Just keep talking to her, and make sure she keeps tight hold of that ivy.”

Swelling with pride at being entrusted with such an important task, Skitters fluffed out his bushy red tail, and bounced excitedly.

“Oh yesa, yesa, Timmy! I willa do it! I willa! I will!” Up the wall the little squirrel raced again.

The other dibbuns had watched all this in hushed amazement. They continued staring up at Mirthy, but little Ruta glanced over at Timothy.

“Whurr you’m gonna do, Timmy?” the molemaid asked, worriedly.

Timothy’s mind was racing. “Don’t you worry, Mirthy!” he called up, cupping his paws around his mouth. “Skitters will be with you. I’m gonna go get help. I’ll be right back, I promise! You hold on tight, okay, sis?”

Mirthy looked down at her brother, and nodded. A tear rolled down her little nose.

“How did I let this happen?” Timothy berated himself, as he ran back around to the front side of the abbey, looking furtively from side to side, hoping to catch sight of one of his elders.

~ ~ ~

The Cellars were cool and dry, and a welcome respite from the warmth of a hot day. It wasn’t summer hot, but the spring weather was being especially unpredictable that year. First came torrential rains, and now hot blistering sunshine. What next? Hailstorms and wind? One abbey occupant remained mostly unbothered by the freak spring weather.

Foremole Ardiose sat back in a warm bulky armchair, and slowly raised a beaker of raspberry wine to his lips. He wasn’t a drinking mole, by any means, but he was rather partial to the odd sip now and then, and what cellar keeper would he be if he didn’t regularly taste his own goods?

In the dark cellar, the only light came from a beeswax candle brightly flaring atop a barrel of October Ale, the last of the winter store. This brew the cellarkeeper was saving for the Spring Blossom Festival. Staring over the top of the candle, Ardiose raised a glass to the empty stool on the other side.

“Burr hoo, this yurr glarss be’s for you’m, as evur. A good day to ee, Grandfurr.”

Aridose sighed, and took an appreciative sip from his glass. He observed the empty stool for a minute, his mind’s eye remembering the smiling face and deep-throated chuckle of his grandfather. It had been four seasons since Foremole Deepfur had passed on, and still he was greatly cherished and his memory kept alive in the heart and mind of his grandson.

A dull rapping sound roused the mole from his memories. Setting down his beaker, the mole slowly scooched himself forward, and pushed himself up with both digging claws. With unhurried calm, he shuffled across the room, and walked up the darkened steps to the big door. Unlatching the door, he opened it slowly.

“Oh, my, you’re still here!” Daylily said, throwing up her paws, with a look of deep relief.

Ardiose grinned, and shrugged his shoulders, opening the door a little wider, and bidding her enter.

“Whurr else would oi be, marm?” the mole asked, in his big gruff, yet gentle voice.

The flushed vole shook her head quickly, and pointed down the hallway she had come from.

“Oh, it’s terrible, Foremole, sir! You must come quickly!”

“Be ole Fernberry outen his dark cider?” Ardiose asked, cheekily. But, seeing the vole cook was truly distressed, he quickly took a more serious tone and asked. “Whurr be the trubble at, marm? Oi’ll help any un as needs oi!”

The cook was quite flustered, but did her best to explain, as they walked hurriedly down the hallway, out into Cavern Hole, then turned and went up the wide stairway to Great Hall.

“Oh, it’s one of them little fieldmouse babes. She got herself all caught up in the wall!”

“Oop inna wall, you’m say?” the mole echoed, nodding his head sagely.

Daylily waved her paws distractedly. “Yes, err, no, I mean, in the side of the abbey wall, that is. Oh! I can’t explain it rightly. You must come and see for yourself. It’s just awful! For, no one even knew the crack was there, and now the whole abbey might fall!”

Ardiose shook his head, and scratched his left ear in confusion. It seemed the poor vole was too upset to make much heads nor tails sense of the situation. He tried to reassure her, and they both said nothing more until they were outside on the abbey lawn, and able to see what all the fuss was about.

Mum Callambria stood in the midst of a small cloud of dibbuns, all clambering for her to help save their little friend. Mr. and Mrs. Fieldmouse were helping a group of abbey beasts, position a net underneath the little babe. Abbot Fernberry stood to one side, having a quick quiet word with Barkjim, the only good climber in the abbey.

“If only we had a squirrel!” Daylily said, throwing her apron up over her head, and sobbing loudly.

Foremole Ardiose shaded his little black eyes from the bright sunlight, and patted her shoulder comfortingly.

“Thurr, thurr, now, Daylily. We’m ‘ll have the little un down inner jiffy. Just you’m wait n’ see.”

As the worried cook uncovered her eyes, and dared to look upwards again, she could see the little fieldmouse still clinging on to the ivy vine, that was starting to sag now. Little Skitters was hanging upside-down next to her, amiably chattering on, telling her a funny story.

“Steady, steady now,” said Mr. Fieldmouse, as the group of abbey beasts stretched the net tight, and positioned it close to the wall. “Alright, now, Timothy, make sure you hold that end up good and high. Just like Rudderbob. That’s right. Brother Allum, be sure to bunch the cloth up like this, so you get a firm grip on it. Right. Everybeast ready?”

With baited breath, the assembled elders and dibbuns alike anxiously watched as Barkjim began his ascent. Although climbing wasn’t his best skill, the young otter enjoyed any physical activity, and took especial pride in anything he could do better than his older brother. Rudderbob grinned proudly at his younger brother, silently cheering him on as the otter made his way upward, paw over paw. The old virginia creeper was a tough ivy, with thick vines, that long had grown up every wall and tree in Redwall.

As Foremole Ardiose stepped up, and joined the net-holders, he now saw the bigger problem the little fieldmouse’s escapade had uncovered.

Long overgrown by the thick dark green ivy, the back wall of the abbey building showed no sign of old age, but now, as the young otter’s weight began tugging at the vines, breaking some, and pulling away large sections, it became all too clear what shape the wall really was in. A huge crack was forming in the wall, reaching from just above Mirthy, nearly all the way down to the ground. A cursory look confirmed the foremole’s fears. A whole section of the wall was beginning to crumble.

“Must be thurr mortar atwixt them stoners,” the mole commented, shaking his head.

Abbot Fernberry stepped over next to the mole, and asked quietly, “What’s you’re assessment, Ardiose? That crack looks just awful. I can’t believe we never noticed it before. Do you think it’s from all the rain we've had this spring?”

The foremole shook his head, and pointed with a large digging claw.

“Burr, no, zurr, Farther Abbot. This yurr problem oi seen afore.” The mole explained, speaking with a sighing tone. “When thurr be a flaw en the moarter mixture, en et doant set roight nor dry thurly… whurl, you’m c’n see whurr happens for ye’m self.”

The Abbot looked over at Daylily, who was nervously biting her claws.

“You don’t think the whole wall is going to collapse, do you?” Fernberry asked, in a hushed whisper, taking care not to be overheard.

The foremole closed one eye, and sized up the situation.

“Whurl, naow…” the mole adjusted his belt and flexed his big digging claws. “Doant ee ferget who you’m be a talkin' to--they doant call me Foremoler fer nuthin’! Oi’ll get moi best molers a workin’ on et roight ‘way, zurr Abbot. We’m won’t let yurr down.”

Fernberry smiled, as Barkjim finally reached the two infants, and gently helped Mirthy free her footpaw from the crack in the wall. “Thank you, Ardiose. I don’t know how we’d ever manage without you… That’s one strong otter,” the Abbot shook his head, as he watched the otter work, with three paws holding on tightly, while the fourth worked to free the little dibbun.

Mrs. Fieldmouse could no longer contain herself.

“Oh, don’t you worry, baby! It’s gonna be alright, Mirthy! Just do what the good otter lad tells you, alright?” The worried mother waved a paw encouragingly. Mirthy waved back.

“Ready, now everyone?” Mr. Fieldmouse called out, as the otter wrapped an arm around the little mouse, and prepared to jump. The net-holders raised the big bedsheet as high as they could, and forced themselves not to gasp as the otter let go and jumped. The otter leapt out, away from the wall, then fell like a rock, wrapping both arms tightly around the little dibbun. Both landed with a light whump in the center of the sheet.

“Whoaah!” cried the net holders, buckling under the sudden weight. But, the net held, and a moment later, the otter tumbled off onto the grass, and unrolled, to reveal the unharmed babe.

Mrs. Fieldmouse dashed forward, scooping up her babe, and gushing out words of reassurance and worry.

“There, there, now, are you alright, Mirthy baby? Is your paw alright? Let mama see it now.”

The little mouse hugged her mama tightly, and said in a little high-pitched voice, “I’m a-kay, mama! Skitta n’ biga Jim saveded me!”

Mrs. Fieldmouse kissed her little ones cheek, and said, “Yes, they did, and you were all so very brave. What do we say now, Mirthy?”

Turning to Barkjim, who stood a pace off, rubbing his sore paws, the little mousebabe grinned and said, “Thanka you, mista biga Jim, fa savin’ me!”

The otter laughed and bowed.

“Anytime, little missy. But, I’m hopin’ there won’t be a next time. That wall ain’t safe ta climb.”

Mr. Fieldmouse waved a paw at the infant. “That’s right, Mirthy. You know better than to go climbing walls all on your own. What ever put the idea into yore little head, darlin’?”

Mirthy’s cheeks turned bright red, and she buried her face in her mother’s shoulder.

“Really, dear, Mirthy’s just had a terrible fright!” Mrs. Fieldmouse scolded, embracing her infant so tightly, that her footpaw would certainly have been injured further if it had been injured at all. But, her paw was fine.

Mr. Fieldmouse threw his paws up.

“Sorry, hon, didn’t mean it that way. I just need to make sure our little ones stay safe. They’ve all been so flighty since the flood. I fear the Abbot’s going to make us leave if we keep disturbing the peace like this.”

Abbot Fernberry strode over to the mouse couple, and patted little Mirthy’s head gently.

“There now, glad to see you safe on the ground again, little one. Oh, don’t you worry, my friends. We can handle even the rowdiest of guests here at Redwall. Take those otter brothers for example,” he said, pointing a claw over his shoulder and smirking.

Rudderbob exchanged a look of injured innocence with Barkjim. “Who, us?” he said, holding a paw to his chest.

The Abbot pretended not to hear.

“There’s no damage done, so all-in-all, this was just a bit of a mid-day adventure. We all need the reminder to stay on our toes, and besides, if it wasn’t for your little one's escapade, we never would have discovered that terrible crack in the wall.”

Mr. Fieldmouse scratched his chin whiskers, and looked up at the wall.

“Aye. About that, Father Abbot. Is there anything that can be done to fix it? I hate to see your beautiful abbey fall apart like this. I grew up with the legends of this place in all the old stories. If there’s any way we can help you, please let us know.”

Fernberry nodded.

“Thank you for the offer. I’ve just been speaking with Foremole Ardiose. He and his crew will take a good long look at the wall, and determine the best course of action to take. I’ll be sure to let you know when the repair work begins. But, don’t think for a second that means I’m putting off the rebuilding of your house!” the Abbot quickly added, raising a paw. “That’s another project I’m working on. Although, I’m going to need Foremole's help in that as well, I think.”

Ardiose had been listening in. He trundled forward, and held out a digging claw. Mr. Fieldmouse shook his claw and smiled.

“Anyway oi c'n help you’m builden yurr new houser, oi’m more ‘n happy to ablige,” the mole said, warmly.

“Thank you so much, both of you,” the fieldmouse said, looking from the mole to the hedgehog.

Suddenly, little Mirthy blurted out, “I a sorry, favva Abbot!”

The Abbot turned, and gave the little mouse his undivided attention.

“Sorry, my dear? Whatever for?”

Two fat tears streaked down Mirthy's little cheeks.

“I so sorry I climbded yore habby wall n’ broked it wiv my likkel foot paw!”

Merry laughter echoed around the abbey lawns, as the rescuers and dibbun rabble joined forces to head inside for tea time and a hearty noon luncheon. When the tale was full told, it was found little Mirthy had climbed the wall to prove to her big sister Meribelle that she too could be a “roight trubblymaker” as Ruta called her. The Abbot listened to her heartfelt apology, and assured her that all was forgiven, though she ought not to try such a dangerous feat again. Mirthy promised to become the model dibbun. Fernberry chuckled, and patted her head fondly as they sat as the luncheon table.

“And, where is your big sister?” the Abbot asked, looking around the gathered company for any sign of Meribelle.

“I thought she was with you,” Timothy said, looking at Mirthy quizzically. Mirthy shook her head. “What about you?” he asked, turning to his other siblings. The twins, Minsky and Todd Fieldmouse, shook their heads, and went back to eating the little plum pudding they were sharing. “Mama? Papa? Have you seen Meribelle?” Timothy asked, looking up at his parents.

Mr. And Mrs. Fieldmouse exchanged a look, and sighed wearily.

“I’ll go look for her,” Timothy said, without a second thought. Getting up quickly, he dashed across Great Hall and out the big front door, leaving behind a still steaming barley, nut, and apple bake.

Minsky promptly took his spot, and sunk her little teeth into the hot bake. She had to fan her mouth, as the flaky crust was still piping hot, but her hungry tummy rejoiced all the same. Meribelle would be proud of her plundered provisions.

But, where was young Meribelle Fieldmouse?

~ ~ ~

“So, tell me, Tumbley. What d’ ya make o’ that mouthful?” Flinn asked, after repeating the riddle, per Tumbley’s request.

The mole rubbed his chin fur thoughtfully.

“Wurr, oi don’t know ‘bout any likkle mountainers, but oi do fink oi knows wurr a noight wi’ two moons be!” He said, triumphantly.

Tumbley smiled.

“Really? Do tell,” she waited for him to answer.

Tumbley broke into a happy little skip-step, as he explained, without looking up from the dusty sun-warmed path. “Et be loik moi likkle riddler, marm Flinn. Wurr be the warter higher n’ a wall, Up at the top ov a watery fall! Wurr be the sky as low as moi toes? Down inna puddle that rurflects moi nose! See, marm?”

Tumbley looked up, with a smile that said, isn’t it just the most obvious answer ever?

Flinn put a paw on her hip and looked at Tumlbey with an eyebrow that said, alright, get on with the explainin’, little moley! We haven’t got all day, ya know.

Tumbley twitched his long whiskers.

“Et bees too sunnier out to show you’m proper loike, but whur oi means es… thur only be one moon in ee skoi, but, iff’n you’m look down in ee still calm waterers, you’m c’n see ee second moon lookin’ back at you’m.”

Flinn shook her head in amazement at the mole’s simple logic. It made sense to her!

“Nice one, Tumbley, me mole matey. My turn, now. See, the first part I already figgered out. The forest that ever blooms, that’s just a play on words. It means Mossflower, a forest named after a flower, ever blooming. The little mountain would have stumped me good, though, if not for a story I once heard.”

Tumbley paused to pick a bright yellow dandelion. He munched on the stem, and gazed up at Flinn as she recalled the tale.

“I told ye about Ymelda, the old badger. Well, she told me about one of them badger lords as lives in Salamandastron.”

“Salamanglabon whutzit?” Tumbley mumbled, around the dandelion stalk.

Flinn explained.

“Oh, yeah, Sal-a-man-das-tron. It’s a big old mountain, a dead volcano, out on the coast of the big blue sea, far west of here. I’ve been by the mountain a few times m’self, though I nevver been inside it. Don’t care much for hares n’ badgers. The hares are all chattery toffs, and them badgers are beasts of war. Always lookin’ fer searats ta deal death an’ judgment to. Well, I guess it’s their lot, and I can’t say they’s wrong. I just try ‘n steer clear a searats and the like as best I can. Anyroad, it’s been tradition for seasons beyond my ken, for a male or female badger ta travel from wherever they call home to live as a lord or lady in that mountain fortress. Well, one such badger, he lived right here in Mossflower. He traveled alone to Salamandastron, and ruled there for many long seasons. But, when he was old, he traveled back home to this forest, and lived out the last of his days here in peace. He missed his mountain home, though, and his loyal hares, so he made a sort of monument to The Mountain, and he called it the ‘little mountain’. Remember those ruins I showed you on the map?” Flinn asked.

Tumbley nodded his head.

“Well,” Flinn said, trying to picture the map in her mind’s eye. “Anyone else would think they was ruins, but since I know the story, I know what that pile of rocks really is. It’s a little scale replica of the mountain itself. Only, it’s probl’y too small ta have all the inner rooms n’ tunnels and passages. Oh well, we’ll have ta wait an’ see for ourselves, Tumbley.”

The mole tossed aside the chewed stem, and plucked a fresh one. This one he fiddled around in his claws, while he pondered the next part of the riddle.

Enner by thur mouth, to foind the heart… wurr does et mean, though, marm Flinn?”

Flinn considered this a moment, then had an epiphany.

“Oh yes! I almost forgot. Yes, I think that bit also has ta do with the little mountain. Salamandastron was once a volcano, spittin’ hot firey rock into the sky from its top. The top a the mountain is called the ‘mouth’, I think. An’, ev’ry mountain has a heart. Means down deep somewhere inside the mountain. So, I guess that answers one question. The little mountain must have an open top and tunnels going down into the ground underneath. It’s the line after that one that gets me. Beware the time, when pathways part. Don’ know what it means, but I think we’ll get it once we’re there. Timin’ is everything on this quest, Tumbley.”

The mole looked up at her curiously.

“Really? Woi be’s toimin’ everythin’?”

Flinn pointed up at the noonday sun.

“See that, Tumbley? The sun never changes, does it? Always up, down, up, down, every day the same. But, the moon is a different thing. It changes shape with the days, and months, and seasons. I can’t be sure, but I think we need ta find the little mountain on the night of a full moon. That way--especially if your reflection theory holds water, heh!--that way we’ll be sure ta see two moons, not half a moon and half a moon.”

“That be roight good moler logic roight thurr,” Tumbley agreed, nodding his head sagely. “And, whurr about the foindin’ more courage n’ others did?”

Flinn shrugged.

“Oh, that’s probably just a little warning, to scare off any half-hearted adventurers, who haven’t the guts nor gumption ta stick it out. That won’t be a problem with me n’ you though, moley matey. Right?”

Tumbley nodded his head firmly.

“Roight! Naow then, iffen you’m done tellin’ stories n’ riddlers, how ‘bout we’m stop a whoile for a likkle loight lunch. Oim moight’ly starved arfter all that riddlin’, marm Flinn!”

The shrew chuckled and shook her head.

“Lunch sounds good ta me, Tumbley. Only this time, I’m treatin’ you ta the good stuff. No more apples fer a while. And, I think yer gonna like it.”

Tumbley hastened his pawsteps in anticipation.

Chapter 10 ~ The Blackstone

Greyflint’s crew had made good time, and now they were only a short half-day journey from Redwall Abbey. Flint was in a rare good mood, and had decided they should stop for a rest and some vittles, while Deathfur scouted ahead.

Stingpaw rubbed an apple on her skirt, then took a big crunchy bite.

“Ahh,” sighed Flint, relaxing with his back against an elm tree. “I can almost feel the prize in my paw…” he clenched his fist, and closed his eyes for a moment.

The healer fox rolled her eyes.

“Don’ count yer loot afore yew’ve robbed it,” she reminded him, around a mouthful of apple. The fox was still uncertain it was wise to target the big sandstone abbey, but she felt confident enough they could pull off the heist. As long as their wildcard was kept in check… She threw a nervous glance at Ragebeak.

The black-winged crow had discovered the last of the blackberries from one of the haversacks, and was greedily gobbling down as many as he could. Dark red juice streaked from the sides of his beak and down into his chest feathers. The sight sickened Stingpaw, and the vixen had to look away, as the bile rose in her throat.

Greyflint noticed her aversion, and chuckled darkly.

“Heh, heh, heh. Worried about our mad crow, eh, foxey?” The rat grinned.

Stingpaw shook her head, and threw away the rest of the apple, her appetite ruined. She looked up at Greyflint with baleful sea green eyes.

“Look, Flint, if that crow of yours so much as scratches one of them abbey beasts…”

Flint laughed.

“Har, ha-harr! Afraid you’ll wear out your welcome too soon, are you? Well, never fear, fraidy-fox. That potion of yours has always worked like a charm on that mindless manic. He won’t harm a flea, once yer fizzick takes affect. It may be as kooky a concoction as yew’ve ever made, but I’ve never doubted the results. Aye, trust the plan, Stingpaw. Trust the plan…” Flint folded his paws behind his head and closed his eyes. He could hear the fox sigh, but did not see the look that passed between her and the stoat.

Nightfang was glad he would not be needed for the first part of the plan. He was loath to enter the abbey, and much preferred to wait until the fox and crow had played their part, and reported back their findings.

“Cap’n!”

Deathfur appeared suddenly, out of the surrounding trees, and ran up to Greyflint, panting heavily. Throwing a smart salute, the weasel made a quick report, as Flint slowly opened one eye and glared at him.

“Cap’n Flint, I seen one of ‘em! I seen--just like yer said there’d be--up ahead a ways, fair flyin' down the river, all wild-like in one of those log boat thingies.”

“One of what?!” Flint demanded, irritably.

Deathfur held out a paw at chest-height. “It were a shrew, cap’n! Little dark-furred, long-nosed critter. Remember, ya told us ta tell yew right away if’n we ever saw one out here in these woods?”

Greyflint’s mood swung back to cheery in an instant. He slapped a paw on the weasel’s shoulder, and grinned amiably at him.

“Ha-harr, matey! So, ye seen a shrew fer the first time, did yer? An’ ye says it was in a log boat?”

“Yes, Cap’n, that’s right. What d’yer make of it?”

Greyflint rubbed his paws together greedily.

“Excellent! Right then, slight change of plans, Grey Crew. Stingpaw and Ragebeak, ye two will go on alone ter the Abbey. Foller the plan, an’ report back as soon as ye are able. The rest of us are gonna go pay the famous ole Guosim shrews a little visit… an’ take back what’s rightfully mi--ours. We’ll take what we need, an’ nothin’ more. Now ain’t the time ter be startin’ an all-out war with a bunch a big-mouthed shrews. Can’t risk any of ‘em tellin’ them Redwallers about our little set-up. At the same time, we can’t pass up this golden opportunity, mates! Two of the Fourstones in as many days? Just think of it! Fate must be smilin’ on us, mateys. ‘Tis a good day fer us, and woe betide any creature that stands in our way! Are ye with me, mates?”

Flint drew and twirled his sword in a flashy pattern.

The Grey Crew nodded, and said in unison, “Aye, chief, we’re with ye.”

~ ~ ~
“In the log of the log of the Log-a-Log-a-log,
There’s a scroll in a hole in the shape of a mole,
An’ ye can’t kick a tick, if ye can’t read a lick,
So, look ta the mole-shaped hole for the scroll,
In the log of the log of the Log-a-Log-a-log!
Oh, waaaaay-oooo! Oh, waaaaay-oooo!
Down the flooderin’ Moss I’m a rudderin’,
High on the waves, I’m a sailin’ free,
An’, ain’t no beast gotta log like me!
In the log of the log of the Log-a-Log-a-log!
There’s a tale of a tail on a trail ta the sea,
An’ ye can’t get free of a flea ‘til ya see,
The tale of a tail on a trail ta the sea,
In the log of the log of the Log-a-Log-a-log!
Oh, waaaaay-oooo! Oh, waaaaay-oooo!
Down the flooderin’ Moss I’m a rudderin’,
High on the waves, I’m a sailin’ free,
An’, ain’t no beast gotta log like me!”

The frothy waves of the angry river Moss tossed and turned, objecting to the light-hearted song of the shrew. But, Brody of the Guosim only threw back his head and roared out in a deep-throated laugh, as he easily navigated the churning rapids in his clever little logboat. Mossflower Wood had always been his home, and the river Moss his playground. If Brody had his way, the young shrew would spend all his time roaming the many long tributaries of the great river. But, alas! A deep and solemn responsibility was soon to be laid on his able shoulders.

He would be Log-a-Log of the Guerilla Union of Shrews in Mossflower.

For many long seasons his father, Ruge, had been Log-a-Log. But, age had at last caught up with the formidable shrew leader, and he felt the time had now come to pass on the burden of leadership to his young and learned son.

Brody’s “eddicashun”, as Ruge called it, was often a point of teasing and mockery by other shrews, but no more. The books Brody had read helped the Guosim find food in a harsh winter, and even now was helping the argumentative shrews find common ground in the relief effort, as all Mossflower felt the wrath of winter melting fast into the tears of spring.

The shrew drew in a deep lungful of fresh air, and prepared to launch into another river shanty.

“Haloo! Heraway!” came a familiar cry from somewhere up ahead.

Easing his logboat out of the main current, Brody slipped the log between two sharp rocks, and neatly dropped down a short cascade into a small pond.

Waiting for him, on the western bank, stood a scrawny old otter, with odd tan patches in his slick brown fur, and a white eyepatch that contrasted the jet black jerkin he wore. The otter waved both paws, until Brody waved back. As he drew near, the shrew could see there was a large lump of fur and matted blood stretched out on the bank. Brody looked grim, as he edged the logboat into the shallows, and jumped down into the water. As he waded ashore, the old otter knelt down and inspected the body.

It was a drowned ferret.

“Poor blighter,” Brody said, stepping closer.

The otter nodded, and spoke in a raspy dry voice,

“S’right that, young laddie. Never cared much for vermin, but a goin’ like this is a cruel fate fer any beast, I says.”

The shrew shook his head. “Well, it’s a sight better ‘n he may ‘ave deserved, but we best bury ‘im. Aye? Deeplough, old friend.”

“Aye,” the aged otter nodded his head in agreement.

With sad eyes, the two friends dug in the rain-softened soil above the river’s bank. To keep their minds off the grim task at hand, they spoke of the day.

“Half the morn, an’ this old feller be all I found sah far,” Deeplough said, twitching his whiskers. “But, a’hm keepin’ mah eye keen on tha lookout fer any more flooders. Ye had any luck yet, laddie?”

Brody sneezed, as a fat drop of rainwater rolled off a leaf and splattered on his face.

“Nah, not much happ’nin’ round this bend o’ the Moss. I’m hopin’ we seen the last o’ the spring washouts. I’m lookin’ for’ard ta summer a’ready. Ain’t you, mate?”

Deeplough tossed aside another pawful of mud, and looked up at the young shrew.

“Eh? Summer can come as she likes, Brody, m’ boy-o. But, she ain’t a comin’ afore the spring maiden has had her last lament far her winter beau gone by. So, I says.” The otter looked up, with a slight smirk, at the glowering clouds high above.

Brody often wondered how Deeplough came to live in Mossflower. The old otter was unlike any of the other otters living along the banks of the river Moss. He was a solitary beast, a lover of nature’s beauty, a good beast, if an odd one at times. He called himself a “forest guardian”, and took it upon himself to offer aid and assistance to any creature in need, be they gentlebeast or vermin. His generosity often led him into trouble, as his eyepatch clearly attested, but it had also earned him a good deal of respect. When asked why he chose such a life, Deeplough always responded, “‘Tis the life ah was born to, an’ the life ah’ll die livin’ out.”

A short while later, the two friends sat side-by-side, next to the unknown ferret’s grave, looking out over the cold little pond. Though no rain had fallen that day, both shrew and otter were covered in tiny beads of dew from the waterfall’s spray. Brody wiped the water from his eyes, and turned to Deeplough.

“Tell ye what, matey; it’s been a long mornin’, an’ the afternoon’s comin’ fast. How’s about you join me ‘n the mob fer a bite a’ early luncheon? I know how much ya do love our shrewbread.” Brody grinned hungrily.

The otter twitched his whiskers, and said nothing. He was clearly lost in some deep thought, and food was a far topic from his mind and thoughts.

Brody knew to wait patiently, and not rush the otter.

After a while, the otter stood to his footpaws, and looked up into the bright grey sky with his one good eye, and spoke in a half whisper.

“The filth ‘as gone an’ washed awa,
But, thither comes more foul anon…
Though, be it by some sweeter grace,
Ah’ll pass thy blade, an’ glimpse ‘er face.”

A chill swept over Brody, though the air was still. With the waterfall spray rising like a mist all around them, Deeplough looked like an otter lost in time, as though he were standing on some far-off distant shore.

~ ~ ~

“Right!” shouted Log-a-Log Ruge, gruffly. “Wot are yew lot standin’ round gawpin’ for? We gots work ta do, an’ plenny of it!” Swaggering around the little campground, the plump shrew chieftain bellowed out orders to the gathered Guosim. “Turlow, Bringe, an’ Dacey, ready the boats. Ampen and Gren, gather up alla these gennelbeast’s thing-a-lings an’ been-too-longin’s. Gurben, yew be taken my Lila n’ Jyrie up past th’ dam, and see they’s all settled in rightly with the newcomers. Ya hear me, yew lot?!”

The more orders Ruge gave out, the more disagreeable the shrew “mob” became.

“But, yew said I warn’t allowed near the boast no more, Log-a-Log!” Dacey whined.

The young shrew was promptly cuffed over the head by the burly Turlow.

“Quit yer complainin’, an’ listen ter the chief, shortsnout!”

“Shortsnout, ye’self, Tur-blow! We all know yew’s just tryin’ ta win points wi’ the boss!”

“No, I ain’t, ya shirkin’ lazy layabout!” Turlow pounced on Dacey, and the two shrews fell to wrestling on the wet grass.

“Oi! I don’ wanna go up by the dam, Da!” Jyrie objected, paws on hips. “Ain’t that right, sissy?”

Lila shook her head, and held up her paws. She wasn’t one to argue with Ruge, as their father or as their leader.

“Wos that Ampen or Ampin yew wanted?” piped up Sorley, the twin’s younger brother. “An’, why can’t I ever help? I’m as big n’ strong as those two trembly-pawed mud-backs!”

“Oi! Who yew callin’ trembly-pawed?” Ampen shouted, grabbing Sorley’s right ear and twisting it.

“Yeah! An’, who you callin’ mud-backs?” added Ampin, tweaking Sorely’s other ear.

The little shrew squeaked, and tried to lash out with both footpaws at once.

“SILENCE FER THA STONE, YE MISRUBBLE MOB!!” Ruge boomed, in a voice so loud, everybeast stopped their squabbling and covered their ears. Jumping up atop the wrestling Turlow and Dacey, Log-a-Log Ruge held up a paw, and waved aloft his right to speak freely.

The Blackstone.

At once, the camp fell deadly silent, and all fighting, argument, and ire blew out of the shrews like the frozen north wind had blown it clean away. All eyes turned to the chieftain. Puffing out his big belly, in what he felt was a formidable fashion, the old Log-a-log held up the smooth round jet-black stone and spoke his mind.

“Ye all know tha rules! No fightin’, unless it’s with foebeasts. No quarrelin’, unless it’s fer good reason. An’, no disobeyin’ my orders. That’s final! Do y’ hear me? We ain’t some mindless varmint rabble. We be the Guosim of Mossflower, noble an’ right proper shrews, in our own right. An’, when my son Brody takes my place as Log-a-Log, I aspect alla yews ta treat ‘im wi’ the same kinda respect as ye shows me. Now then, back ta work, tha lot a yew--my old rickety self acluded, mates! Because, Who are we?”

As one, the gathered shrews raised their paws and shouted,

“Who are we? The Guosim we be!
Never run from a fight, When we fight fer the right!
On the river, day ‘n night, ‘Till the fadin’ of the light.
Hey! Who are we? Why, the Guosim we be!”
~ ~ ~

“Heh, hee, hee! Didn’t I tell you so?” Greyflint whispered, gleefully, rubbing his paws together.

The Grey Crew observed the shrew camp from a safe hiding spot.

The rat captain clapped his paws together, and looked from one crew mate to another.

Stingpaw shook her head, clearly unimpressed.

Ragebeak started to cackle, and had to be stifled by Deathfur and Nightfang. The weasel and ferret were more easily persuaded.

“I nevver woulda believed it,” Deathfur said, shaking his head, and fingering the tip of his bow. “Yah told us the Blackstone was real, same as the others, and that it held a power all it’s own, but this…”

Nightfang held up a paw in imitation of Logalog Ruge. “Yeah, didjer see the way that pot-bellied shrew cap’n was wavin’ an’ showin’ off his prize, an’ how the whole lot shut their gobs n’ listened right quick?”

Stingpaw scratched her neck, where a midgefly had just bitten her.

“Huh. Looked ta me like that little chief has his paws full, and can hardly get a word in edgewise. Sure, they all stopped and listened, but I think it was just on account of his voice being so loud. You really think it was the stone?” she looked at Greyflint incredulously.

The rat captain tapped his sword hilt, and grinned wolfishly.

“Aye, I really do, but either way it won’t matter for long, because in a few minutes that little stone will be all mine.”

“Yeh mean ours, right? Cap’n?” Nightfang said, with a half-hearted laugh.

Greyflint threw a paw around the ferret’s shoulder, and said in a cheerful tone, “Aye, that’s right, Nighty. With the power of the Blackstone, gettin’ inter Redwall Abbey ‘ll be even easier that I ‘ad dared ta hope. Now, ‘ere’s how we’re all gonna play this…”


Chapter 11 ~ There Is No Granny Clovertail

Sunlight danced in the water of the little stream, as it wound it’s way along the edge of the path, and then turned away to the south. Flinn and Tumbley stood on the bank for a moment, observing the cheery rippling brook. They could feel the change in the spring air already. Looking over her shoulder, Flinn saw the dark rain clouds quickly moving over Mossflower Wood, and heading toward the open grasslands.

“Right, Tumbley-o,” Flinn said, clapping her paws suddenly. “That’s the last sunshine we’ll we seein’ for a while, so sing me a riddle quick as ya can, before we’re off again.”

The little mole straightened his grass green jerkin, and gazed down into the water solemnly, as he spoke.

“Furrwhell, sweet sun, whurr shoines so bright,
Ee rains do cum, to o’ershade ee loight,
But, whoile you’m still be glitterin’ foine,
We do be’s thankful furr ee gudd mornin’ toime.”

Tumbley bowed to the rippling waters, then turned to Flinn with a smile on his little round face. “Moi ole nuncle Trumbly taught oi them first two liners. But, the rest oi maded up moiself. Do ee loike et, Miz Flinn?”

The shrew smirked, and shook her head.

“Yore a true riddler, moley! Now, we’d best hurry along, or we’ll be late. And old Granny Clovertail keeps a tight schedule. If we’re late by even a minute, there won’t be a scrap of tea left!”

Tumbley’s eyes brightened.

“Did you’m say tea?” He asked, raising an eyebrow. “An who be’s Granny Clovertail?”

Flinn just smiled, as they started off down the path again. “Come an’ see for yaself, Tumbley, matey.”

A short while later, Flinn turned and left the little path, heading in a straight line for a large grassy knoll in the distance. The sun was quickly running before the wind, as the storm clouds moved in. The grasses around Flinn and Tumbley rustled excitedly. A few eager raindrops were starting to fall. The air grew colder. Tumbley trundled along as quickly as he could. Flinn quickened her pace, hoping to reach Clovertail’s house before the rain started falling in earnest.

Then, she saw it.

Stopping short, Flinn pointed to the grass knoll ahead. It was much closer now, and Tumbley could just see the slope above the waving grass.

“Wurr es it?” Tumbley asked, his voice a bit muffled by the wind as it grew stronger.

“I can see the little path up ahead. Hurry now!” Flinn urged him onward, with a wave of her paw.

They dashed onward, until suddenly, the grass stopped. They both stumbled out of the long grass and onto a neat little path made of smooth grey river stones, that wound in a snake-like way ahead of them. The edges of the path were lined with merry-faced daffodils, backed by solemn purple irises, and beyond that on either side a neat little yard full of lush green clover.

While Flinn admired the pretty flowers, Tumbley skipped along the riverstones happily, reminded of the stones his family used to line the walls of their tunnels.

“Whurr be Miz Clovertail’s house?” Tumbley asked, looking around. The pathway only seemed to lead them up to a large blackberry bush at the base of the hill.

Flinn bowed politely toward the bush, and said in sing-song voice, “Pray, let a poor wand’rer call on ye, sweet Granny Clovertail!”

Tumbley looked at Flinn as though she had completely lost her mind.

“Miz Flinn?” Tumbley asked, a bit concerned.

There was a clicking sound, and suddenly the entire blackberry bush started moving towards them.

Tumbley jumped back a pace.

“Whoarr! Wurr be’s goin’ on?” Tumbly cried, in alarm, holding up both paws in little fists.

The bush was a secret door!

To the little mole’s utter astonishment, he realized the blackberry bush had been cleverly grown to cover a little round door in the side of the hill. This was the front door to Granny Clovertail’s underground home. And, there, in the doorway, grinning from ear to ear was Granny Clovertail herself. She had light sandy colored fur, with soft grey patches on her cheeks and eyebrows.

The old hare bowed elegantly, nearly losing her large puffy hat in the gusting wind. Her long blue dress and apron billowed about her. With a grin and a wave of her paw, she gestured for them to join her inside.

Flinn and Tumbley needed no second bidding. The two travelers eagerly hurried inside the hare’s home. As the female hare closed the door behind them, and their eyes adjusted to the underground dark, they took stock of the little room they were now standing in. Though only a humble entryway, the cozy space was surprisingly tidy and inviting. A little candle burned in a wall sconce across from them. Flinn took off her camouflaged cloak and hung it up on the little coat rack. Tumbley did the same with his sack, making sure to leave the top loose enough that the beetle family could crawl out and explore if they felt like it.

The old hare inspected the travelers for a few moments, looked them up and down, then scratched her chin reflectively and tsk tsked.

“Bit of a storm flying about out there, eh? Wot wot?” Granny Clovertail said, in a raspy, yet cheery voice. “I say! You two look like you’ve been on an extra long romp in the old forry, eh?”

“Wurr be an old forry?” Tumbley asked, scratching his head in confusion.

Flinn pinched his elbow.

“Be nice, Tumbley. Me n’ you are guests now. This is my good friend, Granny Clovertail. And, she meant the old forest, Mossflower.”

Tumbley shuffled his feet and his cheeks darkened in embarrassment.

“Oh, whurl, sorry, Miz Clovertail. Err, c’n oi call ee Granny?” he asked, shyly.

Clovertail let out a bright laugh, and patted the little mole’s shoulder encouragingly.

“Wa ha ha! ‘Course you can, young Tumbley. Do make yourself right at home, my laddie-o. Oh! You’ve come just in time. I’ve just set out a lovely spot of tea in the grand ole parlor. Wipe those paws good and well now, and wait right here, while I bring the hot water.”

The hare spoke quickly, and moved with surprising speed for her age. In a moment, she was gone, shooting off down a tunnel to the their left.

Tumbley shook his head, as he wiped his footpaws on the little entry rug. Flinn also made sure her paws were brushed clean.

“Well now, little watermoley? How’s this for a tunnel?” Flinn asked, motioning to the room.

Tumbley looked around, and nodded approvingly.

“This yurr be a sturdy likkle domeecoile. Oi wunner how deep yon tunnelers go into ee hillsoider?” he mused, glancing down the hallway. They could see other candles further down the tunnel, illuminating doorways into other little rooms.

A few moments later, the hare returned, with a bowl of steaming hot water, two hand towels, and a little basin. Flinn and Tumbley savored the warmth as they washed their faces. Then, to Tumbley’s great surprise, Granny Clovertail poured the rest of the water into the basin, and started washing their footpaws.

Thankful tears sprang to the little mole’s eyes.

“Woi urr you’m bein’ so koind to usn’s, Granny?” he asked, as the kind old hare knealed and washed his paws one at a time. “Oim a perfect stranger to ee!”

Granny Clovertail looked up and winked one big blue eye at him.

“Pshaw! Think nothing of it, young un! ‘Tis my pleasure, and the least I can do for you. Wot are friends for, anyroad?”

After washing their feet, Clovertail tossed out the wash water, and they followed her down the tunnel. They passed several rooms, that the hare explained were sleeping quarters, kitchens, larders, pantries, storage rooms, cellars, etc. Then, she stopped at a little room with many extra candles lit around the walls. Inside the little parlor, there were several plush armchairs, and a little round table already set for tea.

But, what a tea!

Tumbley’s mouth watered at the sight of a plate piled with dozens of piping hot barley scones, surrounded by an assortment of various open-faced finger sandwiches on platters, a collection of tempting jams and jellies, a big bowl of fresh strawberries in thick meadowcream, a crock full of apple butter, and an bright blue tea kettle.

Flinn’s stomach rumbled. She patted her thin mid-section, and nodded to Granny Clovertail.

The hare laughed, and said, “Looks jolly good, doesn’t it? Well, don’t wait on my account. Make yourselves at home, little rovers, and tuck right in, while the scoff is hot!”

And, what a scoff it was!

Tumbley and Flinn tore into the hare’s “tea” with full abandon. The little mole soon had meadowcream smeared all over his face, and strawberry juice-stained paws. Flinn tried to be a less messy eater, but her appetite got the better of her. Tumbley chuckled as the shrew picked up a sandwich too quickly, and it slipped from her fingers, and landed with a plunk! right in her teacup. Tea splashed, and two little cucumber slices landed in between Flinn’s ears. She shook her head sadly.

Granny Clovertail laughed blithely, and helped the shrew, by snatching the cucumbers, and popping them into her mouth. Though she didn’t look half so hungry as the other two, the old hare was not short on appetite either. She scoffed two or three jam-smothered scones at a time, in-between swigs of fresh mint and chamomile tea. Tumbley watched in fascination as the hare piled up seven little sandwiches and ate them all in one huge bite. The mole dibbun tried to do the same, and ended up with a lap full of sandwich toppings.

Happy laughter filled the little parlor, as the trio enjoyed their tea in the warmth and comfort of the old hare’s home.

“Great seasons! What are you up to this time, Sunny?” a voice suddenly said.

Looking up from their bountiful tea party, Tumbley, Flinn, and Clovertail blinked in surprise. Another hare was standing in the doorway, paws-on-hips, shaking his head. Like Clovertail, he had light sandy brown fur.

Granny Clovertail chuckled, and tossed the newcomer a hot scone.

“Oh, button it, brother, and join the party!” the old hare said, merrily.

Tumbley looked from one hare to the other, and shook his head. “Bruther? B’aint he much too young ta be’s yurr bruther?” the little mole asked, nonplussed.

The male hare scoffed the scone, then sat down in one of the chairs, and pulled it up close to the tea table, chortling aloud.

“Bwahaha! Her? Old? Wot? Nonesense!” He shook his head, and explained. “Sorry to disappoint you, young chap, but there is no Granny Clovertail. That’s just a silly little game my jolly ole sister likes to play on unsuspecting guests. Oh, by the by, the name is Barty--well--Bartholomew Applescoffer Sparrowswift, to be correct. Pchaw! And, this flouncy feather-brained faker is my little sister, Sunrose Appleblossom Sparrowswift. Though I call her Sunny, wot wot!” The hare offered Tumbley his outstretched paw.

Tumbley shook his paw eagerly, and grinned

“Pleasured to meet ee, Zurr Applescoffer! An, ee sister too,” he nodded to Sunrose. “But, oi think oi’ll still call ee Granny, iffen you’m doant moind.”

The young haremaid laughed, and tossed aside her puffy hat, wiping away the grey powder she had used to disguise her face.

“Woohoohoo!” she laughed. “Guess the jig is up, Barty, you old tattle-tale! Yes, m’ real name’s Sunny, alias ‘Granny Clovertail’. Barty and I are the last of the Sparrowswifts still living here in Cloverhill Garden. Barty, old chap, you already know our rugged rover, Flinn Furrit, here, of course. This little mole chap is named Tumbley.”

Tumbley was torn between wanting to eat more, and wanting to ask about the friendly hare siblings and their curious home under the hill.

Flinn noticed Barty’s fur looked damp.

“Is it raining hard now?” Flinn asked. There was no window in the little room to see outside.

Barty kept his eyes on the multi-layered sandwich he was making as he answered.

“Indeed, marm! Coming down like wildcats out there! Bloomin’ deluge, wot! Glad we got the last of the strawberries harvested this mornin’. Won’t be much left of the poor plants after this lot blows through.”

Flinn could faintly hear the rain falling above them. Tumbley could feel the vibrations in the earth through his digging claws. This prompted him to ask a question.

“Ole Granny,” he said, holding up a strawberry. “Aren’t you’m afeared of bein’ warshed out boi this yurr stormer?” He looked at Sunny solemnly.

The hare siblings exchanged a look of surprise.

“Wot’s that, eh?” Barty said, winking at the mole. “Young mole chap can’t figure out how two clever hares stay dry underground? Thought you’d have guessed by now.”

Tumbley scoffed the strawberry in one bite and shook his head. He knew how his family had kept their tunnels dry, but he had never been in a hare warren before. These tunnels and rooms were much larger than the ones he was accustomed to, and the floors weren’t slanted at any angles.

“You just focus on fillin’ your empty stomach with this bally good scoff, wot!” Sunny said, with a wink. “Then, we’ll give you the whole 'grand tour' after tea-time’s ended.”

This was an excellent plan, in theory, but in reality, tea-time never really ended. As soon as the smorgasbord started looking depleted, Barty dashed off and returned with more full bowls and plates. It seemed the hares had endless appetites to match their endless food supplies. Tumbley wondered if they’d been through a famine, like the one his family had suffered. Flinn assured him the hares ate this way all the time. Tumbley felt sure they must spend all the rest of their time cooking, just to keep up with all the scoffin'!

When it came time for the ‘grand tour’, Tumbley’s wobbling gait became decidedly much more wobbly. His little round tummy was bulging with food, and even after washing his face a second time, he could still taste blackberry jam around the corners of his lips.

“Granny Clovertail” took them on a slow, but thorough, tour of the large warren. There were many tunnels leading off to other ‘houses’ under the big hill, each with similar rooms to their own home. She told Tumbley all about the big Sparrowswift family that used to live there. She explained how the rest of the family eventually left, feeling the open grasslands were too exposed and dangerous. Only the young brother and sister remained, to upkeep the land, and tend the gardens. Barty promised to show them the gardens, once the rain let up.

The hares were able to show Tumbley the neat little culvert that ran around their home, carefully diverting the rainwater into a little pond on the backside of the hill. A little water wheel could be viewed through a small window in the mill room. This room was devoted to grinding various grains, using the power of the water wheel. That explained where they got so much flour to make baked goods whenever they pleased.

Tumbley was in awe of the hares’ large estate.

Flinn also was clearly impressed by the industrious duo. Anything the hares failed to point out, she quickly explained.

As the day wore on, the rain did not let up. So, they all at last adjourned to a little sitting room. This room was much like the parlor, with more large comfy armchairs. Only, instead of candles, there was a cozy fireplace, and a shelf with several books and scrolls. Flinn idly picked up a few of the books and flipped through them. Writing was a rare skill, and few woodlanders even knew how to read.

“Looking for something?” Barty asked, sitting back and relaxing in a deep armchair, with his long feet propped up on a footrest.

Flinn shook her head.

“Nah. Just perusing… I’ve read all these before. Besides, you both know I prefer a good spoken yarn to the old written word. Though, I’ll always take either, if the tale is a good one.”

Sunny and Barty nodded.

Tumbley smiled as the haremaid pulled out a basket full of colorful yarn balls and wooden knitting needles. When he asked her about it, she showed him a bright red scarf she was making for her brother.

“Moi ole dad would say you’m an old soul in ee young body, Miz Sunroser,” Tumbley commented.

Sunrose blushed with pleasure. “Oh my, Flinn! You never said your friend was such a bally charmer, woohaha!”

Flinn rolled her eyes, and paced over to the crackling fire. Holding out her paws, she warmed them. It felt good. It felt wonderful. This warmth. Good food. True friends.

Ah, this was the life!

~ ~ ~

Mem Flinn stared into the fire for a good long while in silence. Rittlesby nudged her paw with his little damp snout. The old shrew looked down at the hedgehog babe sitting on her lap, and she had to blink several times.

“Oh, oh, sorry about that!” she said, sitting up a little straighter in the rocking chair. “I was lost in remembrance for a moment… that day…” Flinn sighed, and patted the hedgebabe on the head, being careful not to touch his sharp little spikes. “If only I had known what I was about to ask of them…” She looked across the gatehouse room at Tumbley.

The mole was gazing up at her with eyes every bit as bright and enthusiastic as they had been as a dibbun. He still loved hearing her tell her old tales. And, this one he loved best, because he had been a part of it!

“Whurl? Go on wi’ th’ story, Miz Flinner!” Tumbley said, in an eager, but slightly teasing voice, mimicking the voice of his younger self.

Flinn rolled her eyes, and said, “Well, Mr. Tumbley, since you’ve already heard the story I told on that rainy day in spring, so many seasons ago, why don’t you tell the next bit?” There was a glint of challenge in her dark eyes.

Tumbley laughed in his deep bass voice, and scooched his chair a little closer. Rittlesby turned around quickly, so he could look at the mole he idolized. Leaning forward, Tumbley looked into the wide eyes of the little dibbun, and took up the tale.

“Thurr we wuz!” Tumbley held up his digging claws dramatically. “All gathered ‘round ee broightly cracklin’ foirysoide… when all ee sudden, Miz Flinn starts a singin’ ee mostest beautifully song oi evver did hurr!”

Mem Flinn clapped a paw to her forehead, as Tumbley launched into the song as he remembered it.

“Cum, yurr the whistling down on a flea,
Cum, wurr the applers fly around at ye,
Cum, let yurr paws run, please, afore ye sneeze,
Cum, inter the valley, an’ dance wi’ a bumbly bee!
Oi ‘ave ‘eard yore mum is fallin’,
Oi ‘ave ‘eard the two bells fling,
Oi ‘ave ‘eard--”

Rittlesby doubled over in laughter, tears streaming from his eyes as the mole sang in a warbling falsetto.

“Oh, give it a rest, ya old tale-twister!” Flinn finally cried out, falling into her old wild accent. She fished a thimble from her apron pocket and tossed it at the old mole.

Tumbley let the thimble bounce of his snout as he grinned cheekily, and shrugged unapologetically.

“Oi’m just a tellin’ ee storee as oi amembers it, Mem Flinn! But, oi guess oi b’aint ee marster storyteller, am oi now?” he suggested, bouncing his dark eyebrows mischievously.

Rittlesby giggled, and turned to look at the irate shrew.

Mem Flinn settled back into the rocking chair, and calmed herself, sniffing impatiently.

“Well, now, that’s enough of that nonsense. If I let you sing any further, this poor young ‘un will never know what The Wind’s Song really ought to sound like.” Flinn cleared her throat, and took up her tale once more, by singing the pretty lilting melody.

~ ~ ~
“Come, hear the thistledown whisper on the lea,
Come, where the apple blossoms fly across the sea,
Come, let your paws run, free into the breeze,
Come into the valley, and dance a while with me!
I have heard your mother calling,
I have heard the bluebells ring,
I have heard the chestnuts falling,
I have heard the river sing!
Go, with not a care to bind you,
Go, and let the day be fair,
Go, by paths you know will be true,
Go, with blessings in the air.
I can hear your mother calling.
I can hear the bluebells ring.
I can hear the chestnuts falling.
I can hear the river sing.”

As the last note of Flinn’s song faded away, Tumbley exchanged an amazed look of surprise with the hare siblings.

“You can sing?” They all three asked Flinn in unison.

Flinn Furret laughed.

“Of course I can sing! I just don’t all that often. Anyroad, I only sang that song, because I recently learned it, and all this wild spring weather reminded me of The Wind’s Song… I learned it from the sparrow scholar, Kipattan. I was visiting her for a certain reason, and that same reason is what brought me to Cloverhill Garden today.” Flinn looked from Barty to Sunrose.

They nodded for her to continue.

Flinn’s tone became more serious.

“I am looking… for a certain mountain,” she said, her tone rising slightly on the last word.

This cued the hare’s curiosity, and their ears swiveled forward eagerly.

“Sala-bally-mandastron?” Barty blurted out, excitedly, nearly jumping out of his chair.

Flinn shook her head.

“Well, yes, and no. Please, be patient, Barty.” She hurried to pull her thoughts together. “This last winter I traveled along the northern coast, and met an old badger grandmum named Ymelda. She told me a tale of dragons. Yes, yes, the legendary fire lizards of old, that I still don’t believe ever existed. Ymelda believed they were real, though, and her story was so intriguing, I had to learn more! She told me a riddle, that is really a clue, that leads to a secret location somewhere in Mossflower Wood, wherein lies the records of Merrylea Asterleaf of Loamhedge. Records that speak of a time when the dragons supposedly lived and roamed the lands. With the help of my new friend here--a master-riddler in his own right--” she nodded to Tumbley. “I’ve been able to decode most of the riddle.”

Flinn recited the riddle, then added, “I believe the sparrow Kipattan saw this very mountain, and that is why she put it on the map that she made for me.” Flinn withdrew the map once again, and laid it out on a little end-table near the fire.

Tumbley had seen the map that morning, but now it held even greater interest, and he eagerly poked his head between the two hares as they gathered around and leaned their heads over the map to inspect the location of the little mountain. Flinn pointed to where they currently were, a spot she had marked on the map with her own pen. Then, she pointed out the trail she had marked, leading from Cloverhill Garden to the little mountain.

“You see,” she explained, “Kipattan saw the little mountain from above, and at first sight, she thought it was a smaller version of Salamandastron. I know she has seen the real mountain with her own two eyes, and would recognize its shape. On closer inspection, she saw it was the ruins of an old tower, broken down over many long seasons. Only, somebeast had come along and piled up the old stones to look exactly like the mountain of fire... but that's a tale for another time." Flinn tapped the mountain on the map with a claw. "In all my travels, that's the only 'little mountain' I've ever heard of, and I really think that is where Sister Merrylea hid her records. But, there’s only one way to be sure.”

“My, that's a jolly old whopper of a quest, eh?” Barty said, wiggling his ears excitedly. “Sounds like a super good wheeze, wot wot! Shall we help the wild shrew, eh, Sunny?” he asked, winking at his sister.

Sunrose inspected the map a second time.

“Well now,” she said, in her ‘old’ voice. “I’m not too sure about this. These ruins are awfully close to that old abandoned quarry thingy those mice chaps and chappesses dug out far too many seasons ago. I’m glad they built old Redwall Abbey, wot! But, those lands aren’t the safest grazing grounds anymore, if you catch my meaning, old lad.”

Barty nodded sagely.

“True that, sister-o, but it seems the wild shrew has made up her mind. And, you know how she is, once she sets her mind to a bally thing, wot?”

Tumbley wasn’t sure what all of this meant. He looked to Flinn with a hopelessly lost expression.

Flinn rolled up the map and tucked it into her hidden skirt pocket.

“Aye, yore right, Barty, and so are ye, Sunny. This ain’t no easy quest I’m on, but I aim ta stick with it. If ya want in, just say so. If not, ‘s alright, I understand. I only thought you two were the bravest n’ toughest hares I ever met outside the Long Patrol.”

At the mention of the famous fighting hares of Salamandastron, Barty and Sunny stood up straight, and tried to look both dignified and indignant at the same time.

“Hold hard, there! Steady in the ranks!” Barty objected, glaring at Flinn.

Sunny threw a quick salute, and spoke in a brisk, official tone, “Privates, Sparrowswift an’ Sparrowswift, reportin’ for duty, marm!”

Tumbley threw up his paws in resignation.

“Woaher! Hold et, all ye wotwots and Spare-a-sifters! Wurr be’s goin’ on yurr, Flinn?” Tumbley demanded, stamping a footpaw in annoyance.

Flinn Furrit sighed.

“I’m asking Bartholomew and Sunrose to join us on our quest; it’s as simple as that. This could be a very dangerous undertaking, and though I might be able to manage it on my own, I wouldn’t feel right putting you in harm’s way, Tumbley. So, I’m partly bringing them along for added protection. But, they’re also both excellent trail cooks and--”

“Roight, stop thur!” Tumbley held up a digging claw. He pointed to the hare siblings. “Cook us up morra that thurr grubber, an you’m two c’n go a questerin’ with us furrever!” Tumbley nodded his head, and patted his full happy stomach.

Flinn turned, and set a paw on the mantel, smiling to herself.

“Yes, yes, there’ll be plenty of food for us all. That reminds me. I found some baubles for ya two lop-eared hooligans.” Flinn withdrew two objects, one in each paw, and turned around, handing them quickly to the hares.

Sunrose got the string of grey pearls, and Barty got the quartz hare figurine. Both hares leapt up excitedly at the unexpected gifts.

“Presents, Barty!” Sunrose cried, joyously. “Hurrah! And, three cheers for the old Wild Shrew!”

“Hip hip, hurray!” Barty cried, holding his newfound treasure aloft. “I say, jolly good show, Marm!” He drubbed his footpaws on the ground like a drum.

Tumbley smiled at their enthusiasm.

Flinn took it all in stride.

“Oh, it was nothing. I remembered yore mum had a string of pearls she used ta wear, an’ though these un’s are ugly n’ grey, I figured ya might still enjoy ‘em, Sunny. An’, that old chess piece I figured could replace the piece ya lost from your pater’s old set, Barty.”

Sunrose immediately tried on the pearls. They really were an odd grey color, like they had been through a fire, and were all covered in soot. But, she already loved them like they were made of silver and strung with gold!

“You really are the absa-bally-lutely limit, Flinn!” Sunrose said, throwing her paws around Flinn in a sudden hug.

The shrew could not escape.

“Oomph! Gerraway, with ye!” Flinn objected, but her smile gave away her secret delight in this sudden show of affection.

“Top hole, this craftsmanship, wot!” Barty said, turning the chess piece over in his paw, and holding it up close to his big brown eyes. “Makes a chap wonder whoever made such a masterpiece in the first place. Hmm…” He looked around, as though missing something.

Tumbley tapped the hare’s footpaw to get his attention. “Hurr, Zur Applescoffer, wot be ee lookin’ furr?” he asked, politely.

Barty looked down at the little mole.

“Wot? Oh, yes! The little mole chap! Almost forgot we had a fourth recruit. Welcome to the bally ranks!” He held out his paw again.

Tumbley shook the hare’s paw, while he shook his own head in dismay. “Burr hurr, and you’m say yon Granny be the feather-brained ‘un in the famberly...”

Barty laughed. “Hoo ha ha, yes, I do get a bit turned ‘round myself, young lad. Now then, I wonder wherever did I put father’s old chess set? Oh, never mind! There’s a bally mysterious quest afoot, and that’s wot, wot! Ha ha!”

“Yes, exactly,” Flinn said, rubbing her paws together eagerly. “We leave just as soon as that bally deluge of yours lets up.”

The fire burned lower as Flinn and company laid out their plans.

Chapter 12 ~ When Comes The Storm

Abbot Fernberry had his paws full. As thunder cracked the air above the abbey, the Father of Redwall helped usher a large family of hedgehogs inside the main gate.

Rimspike, and his wife, Lydia, gratefully thanked the Abbot for the offer of sanctuary. The rains started smacking the lawn with big fat drops. A little hogmaid squeaked in fright, and hid behind her mother’s apron.

Callambria checked for any stragglers, then quickly shut the big front gate. “That’s all of them, Father,” she said, wiping a large paw across her face.

Lydia hugged her youngest babe close, and closed her eyes tight, letting a teardrop roll down her snout. “Not everyone, good badger lady. We lost our pore little Kippy in the flood. She were washed away ‘fore we even ‘ad a chance ta hear ‘er cry out!” The hedgehog mother started sobbing, and Rimspike put a paw around her shoulder comfortingly.

“There, there, honey, don’t you fret yore head o’er that little ‘un. She be a river ‘og, same as you n’ me, dearie. A little ‘ole flood won’t take ‘er from us forever. You’ll see. She’ll pop up sooner ‘r later.”

Abbot Fernberry shook his head.

“Oh, but that’s terrible, Rimspike! You should have said something sooner. I’ll send my two otter lads out right away to contact Skipper Banebrook. I know he’ll do his best to find your little one, and bring her safely home.”

Lydia’s tear-flooded eyes looked up at the Abbot with a heart-breaking expression. “Oh, thank ye, kindly, Father! I don’ know what we’d ever do without ye an’ yore good beasts.”

While Callambria helped the waterlogged family scurry across the Abbey lawn and enter the sanctuary, Fernberry hurried past the little gatehouse, to the wallsteps. The stones were slick with rain, and he nearly lost his footing several times, but the determined old hedgehog reached the walltop at last. Looking left, then right, he soon spotted one of the otter brothers.

“Hoy, there! Rudderbob?” he called out, unsure and out-of-breath, cupping his paws to his mouth to be heard above a deep rumble of distant thunder.

The otter on lookout turned, and waved a paw, then quickly dashed over to the abbot.

“What’s the trouble, cap’n? Err-I mean, Father Abbot!” Barkjim quickly corrected himself.

The abbot overlooked this slip, feeling a bit embarrassed he had mixed up the brothers himself. Pointing down to the glistening forest below them, he shook the raindrops from his spiketips, and looked the otter in the eye. “I’ve an urgent mission for the two of you. This could be a matter of life and death, so listen closely…”

~ ~ ~

Meribelle was not lost. Neither was she found. Not realizing her parents were starting to worry about her whereabouts, the little fieldmouse had taken to exploring again. As much as she liked the “abbey place”, she much preferred the wide vastness and depths of Mossflower Woods. Having found a good climbing spot, thick with ivy, it had only taken her a few unsupervised minutes to climb up and over the great sandstone wall that bordered the forest. She could have taken the wallsteps, but where was the fun and adventure in that? The ivy was wet and slick, and--nimble as her little paws and claws were--she struggled to climb down the other side.

With a little squeak, the mousebabe slipped and toppled head-first into a big pile of soggy loam. If she had been any larger, she might have injured herself, but the lightweight dibbun only hopped back up on her feet and laughed at her daring escape!

“I’m gonna have a ‘venture inna Mossyfower!” Meribelle declared, paws on hips.

She didn’t seem to mind the heavy rainfall a bit. Meribelle loved storms, and had no fear of thunder or lightning. Her courage often comforted her siblings, even the older ones, and was one of many reasons they all admired the mischievous little dibbun.

Casting a searching eye about her, the mousebabe soon spotted a serviceable stick. Picking it up, she brushed off a few wet leaves, and tapped the end against the ground to test its strength. Yep! This would do just fine as a walking stick. A shiver ran down the little one’s backfur, and she shook herself, sending raindrops flying.

“Brr! It sure bees cold n’ wet out here! Ah, well!” With a bright smile, and a confident pace, the bold little one strode off into the darkening forest undergrowth.

~ ~ ~

“Meribelle? Meribelle!” called Mrs. Fieldmouse, peeking her head around the abbey door, and glancing out at the rain-lashed lawns. The warmth from inside was swept from her lungs by a sudden gust of chilly wind. Sister Elm-Thistle closed the door quickly, and tried awkwardly to wrap a wing around the worried mother’s shoulder.

“Ai, gudd lady, nevver ye fear! Ai’ll find the leddle trebblemaker for ye.” Motioning to the hedgehog family digging into a late brunch at the dining tables, the tawny owl added, in her thick northern accent, “See, o’er yonder? Ye aren’t the only one missin’ a wee bairne. Ah don’ know whit be goin’ on en their wee schemin’ minds, but a’hm convinced thes wild wether be gone tae their heads!”

While Mrs. Fieldmouse sought to understand the kind owls heavily-accented words of assurance, Foremole Ardiose approached them, with two steaming cups of hot tea.

“Hurr, gudd mizzez, be ee a moight thirsted? Do warm eeselves with some o’ Daylily’s peppersage tea. Et’ll cheer ye’m roight oop!” he said, with an encouraging smile.

Slam!

The three turned quickly to the dining table, to see where the sound had come from. Rimspike shoved aside his plate, upturning the mug he had just slammed down on the table. Ignoring his spilled cider, the hedgehog father stood up from his seat, and marched purposefully towards the door.

Mrs. Fieldmouse and Foremole made way for him, but the large tawny owl blocked his departure, with both tan wings spread wide.

“Hauld on a mite, sirrah! Whit be the treble, ye gurt hedgepig?” Elm-Thistle asked, sharply. She wasn’t about to let a newcomer start any trouble in her abbey.

The hedgehog father shook his headspikes in warning and stepped forward until he was face-to-face with the owl.

“Out o’ my way, y’ great owl! I can’t sit ‘round here jawin’ while my liddle ‘og maid is out in that downpour! I’m a’ goin’ with yon searchers yore Father Fernberry be sendin’ out ta look fer ‘er.”

The owl relaxed, and folded her wings back.

“Aha! Ye mighta said so a mite sooner, laddie. I’ll be searchin’ the skies meself, lookin’ far a mouselet, so I’ll keep an eye oot far the spikebabe as weel.” The owl nodded. Rimspike nodded, then together, they threw open the door, and hurried out once more into the storm.

Foremole watched them go, then started, as a bright flash of lightning arched above the abbey.

Ducking back inside, the mole slammed the door shut, and shivered with fright.

“Brr! Et be just turrible out thur!” Then, noticing the distressed expression on the face of Mrs. Fieldmouse, who was wringing her paws distractedly, the mole added, “But, the gudd thing about yon stormers es, they allus has to end some time or uther! Roight? An’ we’ll have you’ms little un’s safe agin afore you’m knows et. Thur bees no need ta be afroighted an’ worrisome. Just you’m wait n’ see.”

Bam!

The little hedgehogs scurried under the dining tables, as the front doors shook under the heavy impact. Foremole fell forward, and Mrs. Fieldmouse threw up her paws in alarm.

“Kreaww!! Kreaww!!” Even through the thick oaken door, the wild cry of the crow could be clearly heard.

Ragebeak had found his way to Redwall Abbey.

~ ~ ~

Foaming white crests rippled the angry green-grey river, as though the flooding Moss was annoyed with the grinning shrew that nosed his logboat into her slick muddy bank.

Brody hopped ashore, landing lightly on his footpaws. With excitement and haste, he reached down and scooped up a sodden lump of mud and prickles.

“Oaargh, lemmego, mista sh’ew!” Kippy complained, loudly.

Brody chuckled in his deep bass shrew voice.

“Oh, haharr, little shipmate. Yer fine n’ dandy, little missy! That’s a good sign.” He quickly set down the spiky young hedgehog. “I seen how ya fought that current, an’ swam ashore, little ‘un. That were no small feat! Ye must be pretty strong fer a hedgehog.”

Two shiny black eyes glared up at him, as the highly unappreciative dibbun stuck paws on hips, and shook her head at him. “Why you a picka me up, mista?” she demanded.

Brody held his paws wide, and shrugged apologetically.

“Hey, now! I’ve been lookin’ fer drowners all afternoon, missy. Just thought ya might be hurt or winded after that big swim. I meant no offense. The name’s Brody. Brody o’ the Guosim,” the shrew said, holding forth a paw.

The hedgehog eyed his paw suspiciously, then took a cautious step forward, and held up her own paw. It was shaking, and so was her voice, as she said, “My name’s K-Kippy, daughter of Rimspike n’ Lydia.” The little one sneezed, and blinked up at the darkening sky.

Brody shook her paw warmly, then motioned to his logboat. “I’m guessin’ ya took a ride down yon river Moss, that was more n’ ya bargained for, eh, Miss Kippy? Care fer a ride back upstream ta yer home?” The shrew meant the offer kindly.

Being a good and proper hogmaid, Kippy knew better than to trust a complete stranger. However… he had tried to help her, and he did say he was one of the Guosim, and Papa allus said the Guosim was good n’ proper woodfolk. Real trustworthy types.

Kippy rubbed her chin in thought. Then, she realized how muddy her chin was, and tried to wipe her paw on her dress. That too was muddy. Fresh rain was starting to fall in heavy sheets, dribbling down her face and into her eyes. She blinked several times. A crackle of distant thunder was all the further convincing she needed. With a resigned sigh, the hogbabe threw up her paws (as she often saw her mother do when o’erwhelmed), and said quietly, “Oh, a’right, mista. But, you take I to my Mama n’ Papa right now! Ya hear me?” She waved a paw sternly up at him.

Brody nodded his head solemnly, trying his best to stifle a desire to laugh out loud. “Right this way, marm. To thy parents, we be a-goin’ forthwith!” The shrew helped lift the little one up into the logboat, then he leaped in beside her, and quickly pushed off from the bank with an oar. “No worries, little shipmate. I’ll have ya home again in no time a’tall!”

~ ~ ~

“Bother this bracken!” Stingpaw snapped, pulling her paw back quickly as another sharp thorn pricked her skin. She had unwisely strayed from the path Greyflint had been leading them on, and now she was elbows-deep in thick shrubs and tangled bushes. To make matters worse, a clump of wild blackberries was mixed in with the bracken. She knew there would be many more pinpricks in her hide before she escape the mess she was in.

At least the forest trees provided some shelter from the storm overhead. Seasons at sea had accustomed Stingpaw to rain, wind, and lightning. Even the rumbling thunder hardly troubled her. She was more concerned with entangling vines and prickly briers at the moment.

“Never was a landlubber,” the slim fox muttered, swatting at a curious fly that kept circling her head. “Sometimes I wonder if I made the right choice, jumpin’ in with Flint and all… then again…” she shuddered, and rubbed her arms as if at some uncomfortable memory. “There are things a lot worse n’ bracken, I suppose.” The fox sighed, and forged ahead.

A short while later, she made it out of the thickest patch, and found herself in an alder grove, with little clumps of rain-studded bluebells and feverfew growing about the trunks. This she didn’t mind as much. Finding herbs and other medicinal plants was her specialty, and the only pastime she truly enjoyed. If only she could find a simpler, better life... But, she was a fox, and all foxes was bad, they all said. And, all the ones she knew certainly were. Why should she be any different? If no one was ever going to trust her, then what was the point of even trying to change her ways?

“Bah!” Stingpaw dismissed her rambling thoughts, and trod intentionally past the pretty alder grove, on into a lighter patch. Through the trees ahead, she could see there was a little clearing. She hoped to find the path soon, the one Flint had said would lead her straight past Redwall Abbey.

What she found was not so much an intentional path, as a wandering trail, that seemed to lead nowhere. It ran off in several directions, and none of them were useful. Discouraged, Stingpaw sat down, with her back to a knobbly alder, and sighed heavily. She uncorked her water flask, and took a long drink, letting the water gush around the sides of her mouth and down the front of her tattered tan jerkin.

“Wot am I doin’ out here, anyway? Finding an Abbey, ta steal some rubbishy rock fer a mad rat? Stingpaw, ya silly vixen… ya better find yew a new job, n’ soon! If the others won’t see reason, I may ‘s well leave on my own. Flint ‘ll hate it, but I don’t much care anymore.”

An amused giggle suddenly alerted Stingpaw that she was not alone in the clearing. Ducking her head low, into the tree shadows, she looked all around and instinctively reached for her throwing dagger.

“Does you allus talk ta ya self, miss Sting-a-paw?” Merribelle came strolling out of the woodlands, stick in one paw, tapping the end against one paw lightly (in imitation of Mum Callambria, when she used a broom to herd dibbuns)..

Seeing it was naught but a wee baby fieldmouse, the fox relaxed, and held up both paws, with a disarming smile. “Oi, hey there, little ‘un! Didn’t yer mama ever tell ya never ta sneak up on strangers?”

Merribelle shook her head. “Nah! She only telled me nevah ta talk to um!” The mousemaid nodded her head vigorously, oblivious to the irony of her statement.

Stingpaw leaned back against the tree, with both paws behind her head. She noted the simple cloth habit the little one wore, a Redwall staple, according to Greyflint.

“Oh, I see. Well, my name’s really Summerpaw, see? Ya must have heard me wrong afore. An’, I don’t normally talk to myself, but see…” Stingpaw had to make up an alibi quickly. “I just lost me mate a week ago, and I still catch myself talkin’ outloud to ‘im.” Stingpaw faked wiping a tear from her eye.

The little mousebabe was not without compassion. She dropped her stick, and ran forward, paws outstretched. Before Stingpaw could stop her, the little one had thrown her paws around the fox’s neck in a tight hug.

“Oh, ya pore likkle foxer!” Merribelle wailed, sobbing aloud, as her mum often did. “I so sorry you losted your true wuv!”

Stingpaw coughed several times into her paw, and covered her mouth to keep from laughing out loud.

“Well, um, thanks,” she said, hoarsely, pushing the little mouse back.

She hadn’t entirely told a lie. Stingpaw had lost her mate… and his killer would pay one day. One day… but, not yet.

Blinking, the fox tried to smile, which came across more as a grimace.

“My name’s Merribelle!” the very un-shy mousemaid said, offering her hand quickly to the fox. “Are you a woodland adventurah too?”

The fox shook her head, and slowly stood to her feet. Looking down at the little one, she held out both paws and shrugged. “I’m really quite lost, Merribelle. Say! Do you happen ta know where I might find a big place called Redwall Abbey?”

Merribelle’s eyes lit up excitedly. Of course she did! She knew all the good paths through Mossflower Woods, and she knew exactly which ones she had taken since leaving the Abbey.

Paw-in-paw, the unlikely duo headed eastward, out of the clearing, and--Stingpaw eagerly hoped--back on track towards the red sandstone fortress.

Chapter 13 ~ Tales In The Night

The day was dying, while the storm lived on, and the Guosim shrews were not idle.

Log-a-Log Ruge wiped the sweat from his dark brow, and nodded once more. Five other shrews assisted him in hauling the last of logboats up above the riverbank. With the swelling floodwaters, even a well tethered boat was in danger of being swept away.

“Logalogalogalogalog!” roared out the deep bass voice of Brody.

Looking up quickly, Ruge fixed his gaze on the incoming logboat, expertly maneuvered by his sturdy son. He smiled proudly, and beat a paw to his chest.

“Hoy, there, Brody, me boyo! ‘Tis about time ya showed up. I were begginin’ ta wonder where ya was at! Oy, an’ who’s that with ya?” The shrew chieftain peered through the pouring rain and gathering gloom to try and make out the little figure huddled down in the boat behind Brody.

The young shrew reached the bank, and several shrews jumped in waist-deep into the fast flowing water, to help pull the boat up alongside the other logs. “Aye, father. This here be my new liddle shipmate, Kippy. She’s a mite waterlogged, mates, careful now.”

Two sturdy shrews picked her up easily, and lifted her out of the boat.

Kippy objected loudly.

“Oy! Put me down this h’instant, yew shrewers!” the feisty young hedgehog bristled.

Turlow and Bringe dropped her suddenly on the muddy bank, and pulled back quickly, nursing their spike-pricked paws.

“Ooh, owow! We ‘ain’t tryna harm ya, liddle ‘un!”

“Yeah, yowowch! That stings. We be the Guosim, missy. Friends ta all woodlanders.”

Kippy shook herself, sending water droplets flying. She was soaked, and scared, and miserable, and a little motion-sick from the bumpy river ride. All she wanted was a warm fire, and her mother and father’s arms wrapped tightly around her. But, here she was, in the midst of a shrew camp, surrounded by a curious crowd of creatures not much bigger than herself (though nearly as round; they were clearly well-fed).

“Aye, they didn’t mean ta be so rough, Kippy,” Brody said, patting her shoulder lightly, despite her quills. “Now, then,” he turned to the gathered shrews, who had all turned their attention towards him. “Get back ta work, you lot. Tend ta the Log-a-Log’s biddin’, an’ let us pass in peace.”

The kind-hearted Guosim could take a hint, and they all quickly scurried out of the way, returning to their logboats, even though the work was done, not daring to disobey the son of their Log-a-Log, especially in front of the chief himself.

Log-a-Log Ruge nodded once to his crew, then joined Brody, walking on the other side of Kippy, and taking her paw. Something about Log-a-Log’s grin, and the warmth of his strong paw shake, set Kippy at ease. He and Brody looked very much alike, and she knew at once this was a creature she could trust. She shook his paw as firmly as she dared, and spoke in a more controlled tone.

“I’m Kippy, mista Log-a-Log-Log. Can you help me foind my famberly?”

Ruge chuckled, as they walked briskly along the bank, towards the warm light of the camp fires.

“Bless yer heart, liddle un, you bet I will! I’m sure they’ll be pleased as two toads inna buckit ta see ya safe an’ sound again. Once we get ya some proper eatins and suppins, ye can tell this ole Log-a-Log-Log the whole story.”

If Kippy felt happy at these words of assurance, she soon felt infinitely more so at the sight and smell of hot food, the warmth of a toasty camp fire, and the comfort of a thick shrew quilt wrapped around her cold aching shoulders. Piping hot shrewbread and frothy pear cider was all the shrews had ready-made, but the little hedgehog could not complain. She eagerly at the good bread, and quaffed her cider so quickly she burned her little tongue.

“Ooh, s’ hot!” Kippy waved a paw across her mouth, and panted for a second.

Ruge and Brody sat across from her, and on either side of Kippy sat her rescuer’s two younger sisters.

Jyrie giggled, and offered Kippy a cup of cold water to cool down her mouth. She eagerly accepted it.

Lila watched the hedgehog, wide-eyed with amazement. She could hardly believe the tale her brother had related to them.

“Did you really swim across the Moss all on your own?” Lila asked, in her sweet innocent voice.

“A course she did!” Jyrie responded for Kippy, clapping her paws together loudly. The older of the two sisters was never shy around strangers, and never hesitated to voice her opinion, loudly. “Kippy here is a reg’lar river hog, ain’t that right, Kip?”

Kippy blushed a little, and looked down into her cup of cider.

“Oh, err, well, I… yes’m, we’re all river-folk, me n’ my famberly. Some calls us river hogs, an we calls ourselves that too, though I never felt like one.”

“Really?” Brody interjected, raising an eyebrow. “How come?”

Kippy shrugged, then pulled the soft quilt tighter around her shoulders.

“Dunno. Just don’t much like water, I guess.”

Jyrie shook her head. “But, ya swam so well! Why don’t ya--”

Ruge made an odd grunt, and--catching his daughter’s eye--he shook his head slightly. “Now, now, that ain’t the story I asked ta hear, miss Kippy. Whereaways does yer famberly live? I’m guessin’ they’s out there right now lookin’ fer ya. How long ago did ya get swept away?”

Kippy sniffed, and Lila quickly offered her a handkerchief. She nodded and smiled her thanks to the younger shrewmaid, then blew her nose and cleared her throat.

“Err, uh, was ‘bout maybe two-three hours ago, up tha river. Big water broke our dam an washed ‘way our home inna minute! I was a only one inside. I cried out for Mama, but…” Kippy sniffed again.

Lila put a comforting arm around her shoulder, and Jyrie held her paw and squeezed it encouragingly.

“Our dad’s just the best,” Jyrie put in quickly, with a cheerful smile. “He’ll get ya back with yore mum n’ dad in two flicks of a robin’s tale, he sure will!”

Kippy looked up timidly at the shrew chieftain.

Ruge smiled, and raised his mug of pear cider.

“Get a good rest on tanight, liddle missie. First thing inna mornin’, I’ll h’escort ya maself ta yer Ma an’ Pa. That alright by yew?”

Kippy nodded her head. It felt good to be around such kind and warm-hearted creatures, who freely offered her shelter, food, and help.

~ ~ ~

A sharp alarm whistle broke the calmness of the moment. There was a scuffling sound, and two sharp cries came from outside the tent. Ruge held up a paw, motioning for everyone to keep silent. He winked at Brody. Father and son reached for their rapiers, and quietly turned to the entrance of the tent.

Throwing back the door suddenly, they both rushed out into the rain-swept night.

Four angry shrews were trying to wrestle a large rat to the ground. The big grey beast was having none of it. He bowled them back easily, using only his open paws and arms, making no use of the large saber hanging from his belt.

“Oi! Gerroff me, shrews! I’m here in peace!” Greyflint said, in as dignified a manner as he could muster, in his currently soaked and irritated state.

Dacey was particularly wary of the rat. He dodged in under his arm and landed a sharp kick to the grey rat’s ribs. Flint sucked in his breath sharply, and fell backwards.

“Back away now!” Ruge called out, gruffly, bowling into the four shrews, then grabbing Dacey by one ear and forcibly dragging the young one away.

“Ow! Ow! Lemme go, chief! Lemme at ‘im!”

“Yeah, c’mon, chief!” cried Ampin.

“He’s a no-good rat!” added Ampen.

Ruge threw a withering glance at the shrew twins, then turned his attention full on the rat. Keeping one paw firmly on his rapier hilt, Ruge extended his free paw towards Flint.

“Oi, I’m Log-a-Log of the Guosim, an’ this here is my camp. What brings ya round this way in tha middle o’ the night. Yer lucky my crew never tore the ears off ya!”

Greyflint got back up on his footpaws quickly, and clasped the chieftain's paw. They shook paws for a moment, each taking note of the others non-trivial grip strength. Flint held up both paws, and spoke in a calm rational manner, adopting the gruff accent of the shrews.

“Sorry ta sneak up on yer so suddenly, shipmates. The name’s Greytail. Trav’ler, storyteller, an’ shanty-singer, though right now just lost an’ soaked through ta the bone. Saw yer lights through the trees, an’ I only hoped fer a place ta shelter ‘til this storms blow o’er.”

Ruge looked the rat up and down, without answering. He weighed the rats words against his simple attire, the way he carried himself, his stance, and the way his tail swayed behind him restlessly.

“Aye, mate. We’ll find ye a bunk fer the night,” Ruge said, slipping into a searat accent. “Though it might not be fair ta yer crewmates, leavin’ ‘em out in the cold n’ rain on an ‘orrible night like this.”

Greyflint feigned ignorance, but only for a moment. He too was quick to pick up on small movements and a signal Ruge made with his left paw.

“Aye, sir Log-a-Log!” Flint said, dropping the shrew accent. “Yer a real perceptive cap’n. I can tell! Well, ya got me, I has two messmates I allus takes with me.” Flint turned and waved both paws at the dark woodlands beyond the camp. Immediately, Deathfur and Nightfang came stumbling forward, rubbing paws, chattering teeth, and trying to shake off the rainwater. “This here be my troupe-mates, Log-O!” Flint threw one paw around Deathfur and the other around Nightfang, with a broad grin. “Peacefur, the silent actor, an’ the one and only Starfang, the master illusionist.”

Log-a-Log shook his head at the unlikely trio. He knew instinctively they were up to no good. But, it was a stormy night, and they were only three beasts. There was little they could do under his watchful gaze.

“Right, then, Greytail. You an’ your troupe-mates is welcome ta stay the night. My son Brody here ‘ll show ya where ye can sling yer sacks an’ rest yer backs. Yer prob’ly hungry ‘s well, so help yaself ta any shrewbread an’ cider ye finds layin’ about. Though with this starvin’ mob, ye’ll be hard-put ta find any leftovers.”

~ ~ ~

From the safety of the chieftain’s tent, Kippy and the shrew sisters eagerly watched and listened-in on the conversation.

“You don’t really think father will let that big scary rat, a weasel, and a stoat, spend the night in our camp, do you?” Lila asked, nervously.

Jyrie shook her head. “I thought dad allus had more sense n’ that. But, if he says they c’n stay, he must have a good ‘nuff reason. Well, it don’t concern me, so that’s that.” Jyrie went back and sat down by the fire.

Kippy continued staring at the three newcomers, as they passed through the middle of the camp, attracting much unwanted glares and gawping stares from the rest of the tribe. Log-a-Log Ruge announced that the trio would be staying the night as their humble guests, and were to be treated civilly by one and all. Kippy had never seen vermin up-close like this before, and in the stormy darkness and uncertainty, they terrified her. A shiver ran down her spine.

Lila took Kippy’s arm, and pulled her back away from the doorway.

“Come an’ sit by the fire, Kippy. Nevver mind those beasts. Our dad won’t let any one of ‘em hurt ya.”

Lila was right. Log-a-Log Ruge left Brody in charge of setting up a tent especially for “Greytail” and his troupe, while the chief himself gathered together a group of his strongest and sharpest shrews.

“Right, ye all knows the drill. Never met a vermin I liked, an’ never liked a vermin I met. I’d not trust these three fer an instant, shrews. Lookouts and campfires, shifts all night tanight, but none a ya lays a paw on any one of ‘em until I says so. Is that clear?”

The shrews all nodded, grim-faced and certain. For all their squabbling ways, all Guosim felt the same way about vermin. All except Brody, perhaps.

As father and son returned to the family tent to stand guard, Brody spoke quietly.

“I know what you’re a-thinkin’, father. But, I can’t help wonderin’--what if this Greytail really is a trav’lin storyteller? Can ya imagine all the stories he could share with us? An’ I wouldn’t mind seein’ some of the stoat master’s illusions. They sound real interestin’, don’t ya think, father?”

Ruge grunted.

“I wouldn’t bother with that lot. Just a searat cap’n an’ some cronies, wot think they c’n pull one over on this ‘ere Log-a-Log.” Ruge folded his arms and shook his head. His tone was cold, and his ears lay flat in ire. “Aye. That one may ‘ave quite a few old yarns ta tell, but I doubt any of ‘em is fit fer good an’ honest beasts like me an’ you, son. Best steer clear o’ that ‘illusionist’ as well. I never could trust a beast as made a livin’ trickin’ the mind n’ eyes of other beasts.”

Brody reflected on his father’s logic.

“Aye, father. Yore right, I’m sure. I just can’t help feelin’ a bit curious. I know you don’t think much of my learnin’, but I find there’s a lot ta be learned from old tales and legends, lessons that get swallowed up by time and fade ta dust in the memories of old one.”

Ruge allowed himself a sigh and a half-hearted laugh.

“Heh. You sure has yore head in the clouds sometimes, Brody, m’ boy! But, yer a bright ‘un, and I aspect you’ll be a much wiser Log-a-Log n’ I ever was. Alright, then, wot do ya say we do with this rat an’ his crew tanight?” The shrew chieftain stopped and looked eye-to-eye with his son.

Brody narrowed his eyes.

“I say… If we have ta stay up all night keepin’ an eye on that lot, then they may as well stay up all night, an’ be just as mis’rable. I say, let ‘em share a few tales, and try some slight-of-paw on our crew. Could be real amusin’.” Brody smirked.

Ruge grinned.

~ ~ ~

“Well, we made it this far, Cap’n. Now what?” Deathfur whispered, as the three of them tried to get comfortable on the narrow little shrew cots they’d been offered.

“Bah!” Greyflint spat on the ground in frustration, and tossed aside his blanket in annoyance. Hearing a slight sound outside, he quickly snatched up the blanket and tried to settle it over himself again.

Brody swept inside the tent, suddenly, holding a small lantern.

“Oi, new shipmates! Our Log-a-Log has invited your troupe ta honor us with a one-night special performance. Vittles and drink will be provided, of course. ‘Tis all we ask in return for sparin’ ye this lovely tent, good vittles, and our friendship. What say ye, messmates?”

Greytail stroked his chin thoughtfully.

Well, if your chief really is alright with that--just grand! What say ye, messmates?”

Deathfur and Nightfang exchanged a glance, then nodded, and adopted their best fake smiles.

“Aye, cap--err--Greytail. Aye, aye!” piped up Nightfang, with nervous enthusiasm.

“Sounds like a plan,” Deathfur added, more smoothly.

When Brody had gone out, and they were alone once more, Greyflint turned to the others and grinned deviously. “Aye, aye, indeed, mates. We’ll give these shrews a performance ta remember.”

~ ~ ~

Most of the shrew camp had already gone to bed. Even the sisters had fallen asleep, with little Kippy safe between them. Three shrews kept guard over the chieftain’s tent.

Ruge and Brody sat right up front of the small band that gathered and sat around on logs, awaiting the evening’s entertainment. The rain had finally begun to abate, and now only a light mist fell down on the audience, beading raindrops on clothing, fur and whiskers.

Greyflint wasted no time taking center stage.

Like any good and true storyteller, he produced a long and flowing cape from seemingly nowhere. It was silver-lined, and many mottled shades of green and blue throughout. He swirled and swept his cape, like the roiling of waves on the open sea.

Deathfur was appointed his “official assistant”, and now sported a shiny silk waistband, a red eyepatch, and a crumpled old seafarers hat, with a long black crow feather. He stood atop an upturned logboat, mutely acting out the scene as Greyflint spun the tale for the onlookers.

Without any warning, Greyflint leaped forward close to the fire, so his face was fully illuminated, and launched into his best storytelling voice.

“It were a stormy black night, much like this, when the good ship Sea Sailer fell down ta the deeps!”

Brody felt a shiver run down his spine, but he was too captivated by the searat’s voice to heed his quieter misgivings.

Greyflint backed away from the fire, slowly, swishing his cape like a receding tide around his footpaws.

“Avast!” he motioned to Deathfur. “The hearty, the brave, an’ the swell-lookin’ sea rover, ole Cap’n Darvius!”

Deathfur raised one fist, and a sword scabbard, shaking them both to the skies above. The shrews had made them leave their weapons in the tent.

“Oh, he were a fine cap’n, Darvius,” Greyflint went on, in an awe-filled tone. “He sailed ev’ry sea, high n’ low, by wind and tide, in search of a treasure no beast yet livin’ ever lived ta set eyes on!”

Suddenly, a bright streak of red flew up from the fire, followed quickly by smaller streaks of blue and gold. The shrews gasped, and drew back from the fire in alarm. Nightfang jumped up from his seat, and threw a second pawful of fireworks into the fire, this time making sure the audience could see his movements. More lights flew up into the night, and one even burst into a colorful ball of green and purple sparks, that showered down on the amazed audience.

Turning to face the shrews, Nightfang revealed his face was half-covered by a black and silver mask. He raised both paws, and threw something out over the onlookers heads. They again gasped and started, then relaxed when they saw it was only dry flower petals.

While these were all distracted, Flint had continued to swirl his cape, edging slightly around the side of the fire, so he now stood with his back to Deathfur. Up close to the fire, he now cast a sharp silhouette on the tent behind Deathfur.

Crouching down, Flint moved in such a way that his shadow became the image of a dark winged creature, that seemed to rise up, with a wide gaping mouth, as if to swallow “Captain Darvius” whole.

Deathfur responded at once, attacking the beastly shadow with the sword case, still never speaking, but his face full of fire and determination.

Greyflint was in his element now, as he broke into a chilling song.

“From the depths of the jade and ebony seas,
A monster of legend arose, with such ease,
By the moon’s silver light, on a crimson night,
The sea dragon sought for the king’s lost might.
As the good ship drew near, by the breath of ill fates,
The captain drew blade, and stood fast by his mates,
But, alas! Neither strength of the sword or the will,
Held the power to sever the beast from his kill.
When the cold morn did break,
In the sea dragon’s wake,
Not a beast had survived,
And, he who lived, died.
For, none can give back, what the sea takes away,
And the crew of the Sea Sailer no more will say,
“Aye, cap’n, we’re with ye! Once more and anon!”
The good ship has fallen; her crew is all gone.
No more, no never, this captain will roam,
‘Til his crew be avenged, and the sea bring them home!”

Brody, Ruge, and every other shrew present had gone completely silent. So engaged were they by Greyflint’s tale, and in watching Deathfur’s portrayal of the tragedy, they never even noticed Nightfang.

The stoat had been slowly circling the fire, adding more fireworks now and then to punctuate the song. He suddenly did a swift cartwheel past Lol-a-Log, tossing up blue and white streamers as he went. The sudden flash of color and movement snapped everyone out of their daze, but they were slow to react.

Then, Log-a-Log realized it. Clutching at his chest, Ruge felt the familiar weight and coldness of the Blackstone that always hung about his neck was now gone. In a trice, the shrew chief was up on his footpaws.

“Thieves! Tricksters! Get ‘em, shrews!” Ruge roared.

All too late.

A huge plume of blue and purple smoke went up from the fire, caused by a thick powder Nightfang had just thrown in.

As the smoke cleared, and shouts rang out into the night, shrews ran forward from every side, rapiers drawn. But, the rat, the weasel, and the stoat were gone. As swiftly as the show had begun, it now was done.

And, Greyflint had claimed his first prize.

The Blackstone was finally his.


Chapter 14 ~ The Fox And The Crow

“Father Abbot!” Sister Laurellis called out, as she dashed headlong down the wide stone steps that led to Cavern Hole.

Abbot Fernberry and Foremole Ardiose were deep in consultation, sitting at a long table with a large group of moles, discussing their plans to repair the damaged Abbey masonry. Fernberry was just pointing out the location of the old sandstone quarry on a large map.

Father Abbot!” Laurellis cried, breathlessly entering the room.

Fernberry looked up at her sharply. “Yes, yes! What is the trouble now, Sister Laurellis? Can’t you see I’m in the middle of a very important meeting?” It was not often that the Abbot lost his patience, but in light of recent events, the panicked cries of the young mouse sister left his grey ears fairly steaming.

Laurellis stopped short on the last step, and bent double to catch her breath. She pointed back up the stairway. “I’m so sorry, Father Abbot, but this is urgent. There’s a large bird attacking the abbey!”

Fernberry set down the map he was holding, and exchanged a skeptical glance with Ardiose. “A large bird, you say?” He raised an eyebrow, and looked at the mouse sister, unconvinced. “You do know we have one of those living full-time here?”

Laurellis had caught her breath now. She straightened up stiffly, and set her face in a serious expression. “Please, Father Abbot. The bird is cawing and scratching like mad at the abbey door, and Brother Thomas fears it may be a crow. You recall the swarm that raided the orchard last autumn?”

Now the abbot was listening. “Ahem,” he cleared his throat, and stood up from the table. “Excuse me, Ardiose. And, forgive me, Laurellis. I’m not feeling myself today, but that is no reason for me to be so short with you, good sister. Brother Thomas thinks it is a crow? That would be a great trouble, especially right now. Of course, I will come at once.”

The moles looked to Foremole.

Ardiose sighed. “Whurl, b’aint much usn’s c’n do in ee middle of a storm loik this’n. Cum on, boyos, an let usn’s help the Abbot with this yurr trubblesum burdbaggen.”

A determined group hurried up the stairs toward Great Hall.

~ ~ ~

“Knock, knocka, knock-knock!” Meribelle sang out, as she tapped on the front gate with her little fist. The happy fieldmouse bounced up and down excitedly, eager to introduce everyone to her newfound fox friend.

Stingpaw looked up anxiously at the walltops. What? No sentries? She thought. That's odd. Surely a big, well-fortified place like this would keep a constant lookout for enemies. Either they all went inside to get out of the rain, or… Ragebeak has thoroughly distracted them with his ravings. She smiled. “Not very welcoming, these friends of yours,” the fox vixen commented, giving the door a solid whack with the hilt of her dagger. She tossed aside her only weapon, knowing it would not be wise to enter such a place with it.

Meribelle did not seem to notice. She shook her head, undeterred. “Nah! Dey’s just hiding in the big h’abby house, eatin’ strawbee pie n’ dandy cordal.”

“Strawberry pie, you say?” Stingpaw’s ears perked up. “But, wot’s a ‘dandy cordal’?”

The fieldmouse shrugged, and looked up at the fox.

“Don’ really know, Spring-a-paw, but it a really yummy sticky sweet a drink, an’ made with lots a dandy lions.” Meribelle nodded her head emphatically.

Stingpaw raised an eyebrow. “Sounds like you know exactly what it is. I’ll have to try some fer sure. But, how does we get in ‘ere, if the doors are all locked and no sentries posted?”

Meribelle had an answer for everything.

“Oh, dat’s easy nuff. We just climb up da big wall!” She looked up excitedly at the looming red wall, fully confident with her brilliant plan.

Stingpaw laughed, but when the mouselet ran up to the wall, and started expertly climbing up, using only a slight trailing vine of ivy, her eyes widened in disbelief.

Oh, this I have got to see! she thought to herself, shaking her head in wonder. Unconciously worried for the little one’s safety, the fox positioned herself directly underneath her, and called out encouragement as she climbed up. “A little to the left, Merry! Watch that crumbly bit.”

Meribelle paused, and leaned out from the wall, causing Stingpaw’s heart to skip a beat in fright. The little fieldmouse shook a paw at the fox.

“My name not Merry! It be Meribelle! An’ on’y my gooda friend Ruta getta call be Merrybelly.”

What could the fox say to that?

In less than a minute, Meribelle had reached the walltop. She jumped up onto the parapet and waved encouragingly to the fox.

“Are you sure you’re not a squirrel, Meribelle?” Stingpaw asked, cupping her paws to her mouth. “I wouldn’t a ever believed such a climb possible, if I hadn’t just seen it meself! But, what about me? I can’t climb no great big wall on just a wiggly bit of ivy.”

Merribelle scratched her head, puzzled by this conundrum. She looked around, and then squeaked excitedly, and disappeared below the parapet.

Stingpaw suddenly felt nervous for the first time. Being in the happy dibbun’s presence, she had felt so calm and content, but now she suddenly remembered what she was doing here in the first place. She was breaking in! She was no mouse-friend, but a no-good, lying, vixen thief, come to rob these unsuspecting abbeybeasts blind… Once she would have felt a sense of accomplishment in getting so far without a hitch, but now she only felt a sense of unease-that tasted of guilt-in the pit of her stomach.

I sure hope this is worth it in the end.

Meribelle appeared again, and tossed something down to her. It was a long rope, with a bucket tied to the end. Stingpaw narrowly avoided being hit on the head.

“Aha! A rope? Good thinking, mouse matey!” Stingpaw said, trying not to let her voice shake as she spoke. There was something unsettling in this part she was playing, and she suddenly wanted her mission to be over and done quickly, so she wouldn’t have to lie any more to this sweet helpful mousebabe.

“Jump inna bucket, Spring-a-paw, and I pulla you up!” Meribelle shouted, far too loudly for the fox’s comfort.

“Shh!” Stingpaw held up a paw, instinctively. “No need ta be yellin’, little un. Why don’t you tie off the rope ta the parapet? Yer a might too little ta haul me up all on yer own.”

The fox gritted her teeth, as she watched the infant tie several very impressive looking, but hardly seaworthy knots in the rope. At least it was a good sturdy rope. Bother me accent! Stingpaw thought, realizing only now that her old manner of talking had slowly come back. She had been so careful to improve her speech of late, knowing she would have to play the part of a goodbeast. How ironic it seemed, that the very model of a goodbeast had so set her at ease that she let down her guard so soon!

After a few test tugs, and a short climb, to see how well the knots would hold, Stingpaw decided to go for the climb. The mouse had made it look so easy. It was not. Stingpaw grunted with exertion, and had to pause several times to catch her breath. This wasn’t like climbing the rigging to unfurl the sails on a searat ship; this was a great high wall, made of large hewn stones. Footholds were few, and she dared not look down. Heights weren’t a bother, when she trusted the only thing that could make her fall was herself. This Meribelle was clearly a novice at knot-tying.

Maybe I’ll show here a few proper knots before I go, the fox thought. This idea kept her going on the last stretch. When Stingpaw finally hauled herself up and over the parapet, and dropped down to the walltop beside Meribelle, the vixen felt like laughing, crying, and taking a nap all at once.

“Gooda job, Sting-a-paw!” Meribelle said, giving her friend an encouraging pat on the head. Then, the mouse swiveled her large brown ears, and turned to look out over the abbey grounds. “Hey, whatta dat?” She pointed to a small commotion over by the abbey pond.

Having regained her breath, Stingpaw decided it was safe enough to poke her head up again. Looking out over the lawns, she saw right away that a group of Redwallers had coraled Ragebeak over to the abbey pond. The raving crow was flapping his wings awkwardly, cawing off-and-on, and shuffling in an odd side-ways fashion like a peg-legged crab.

“Oh, no!” the fox feigned surprise, and covered her mouth with a paw. She exchanged a worried glance with Meribelle. “Looks like your friends are in trouble, mouse matey. We best see if we can help! Shall we?

Merribelle took the fox’s paw, and hurried her along the walltop towards the stone steps leading down to the ground. “Hurry! Hurry!” the dibbun cried. “We gotta helpa da Favver h’abbot anna badgee Mum!”

“Help a badgee what now?” Stingpaw asked, nervously. What have I gotten myself into this time? she groaned inwardly.

~ ~ ~

“Caw! Kreeeaw!! It’s a bad dock! It’s a bad dock!” Ragebeak screeched, shaking his large black head back and forth inanely. He stumbled and reeled, nearly falling into the pond twice.

Callambria and Rudderbob were holding both ends of a large net they hoped to ensnare the big bird with. He was clearly insane, and as much a harm to others as he was to himself. If only they could capture the crow, and calm him down, then they might be able to reason with it. Slowly, they edged their way closer, careful not to let the large lethal beak get too close.

Sister Daylily was of the opinion such a dangerous bird could not be trusted. The bankvole cook stood at a safe distance, brandishing a frying pan, with a very un-sisterly look on her face. A cloud of curious dibbuns were all trying to hide behind her billowy apron, each too afraid to get any closer, but also overwhelmed with curiosity to see the “gurt crazy burdbaggen”, as Foremole kept calling him.

While Sister Elm-Thistle quickly shooed the little ones inside, Abbot Fernberry and Foremole tried their best to assess the situation.

“Oh, my!” Fernberry said, shaking his head in dismay. “Well, it’s definitely a crow. I certainly hope there aren’t any more about.”

Ardiose nodded in solemn agreement, and scratched his stubbly chin fur. “Hurr, zurr Abbot. Oim thinkin’ this yurr burdbag be a roight lunertick. Out o’ ‘is mind, oim afeared.”

Fernberry sighed. “Yes, that does seem to be the case. I wonder… oh, Sister Elm-Thistle?” the Abbot called after the tawny owl, who was just shuffling the last of the little ones back inside the abbey.

The owl turned, and addressed the hedgehog stiffly. “Aye, Father, wit be ye needen from I?”

Fernberry motioned to the crow. “This terrible madness. Have you ever seen anything like it? Is it common among crows? I’m afraid my knowledge of birdlore is quite limited. I would ask Brother Thomas, but he’s busy at the moment.”

Elm-Thistle narrowed her dark round eyes. “Eh? Common? Nae, Father! Thes be a fearsome sickness o’ the mind in yon carrion. I have nae the fizzick strong enough fer that madbeast.”

“Perhaps I can lend a paw?” Stingpaw could hardly believe the words that fell from her lips, as she and Meribelle came dashing up to the group, paw-in-paw.

Abbot Fernberry stared open-mouthed at the fox and dibbun. Could this day get any stranger? The immediate threat of the crow suddenly outweighed the Abbot’s curiosity over the fox. She was offering to help, and she sounded sincere enough.

In later seasons, Fernberry often looked back on that moment with great fondness and astonishment. Never before had any Abbot of Redwall Abbey so calmly accepted the arrival and assistance of a strange fox.

“Oh, um, hello? I don’t think we’ve met yet.” The Abbot held out a paw, then shook his head. “But, oh--yes, please! Is there anything you can do for this poor creature? I’ve never seen a bird or any other beasts so beside himself.”

Stingpaw held up a satchel of herbs, as much to prove her authenticity as a healer, as to convince the astonished onlookers that she really was unarmed and meant them no harm.

“Oh, ah, err,” the fox stumbled over her words, fear and instincts nearly overpowering her calm, as an otter, mole, and several mice started moving towards her meaningfully. She really wasn’t ready for a fight, or looking to start one. "My name is Springpaw. I--I--I’m a healer,” she stuttered. “And I’ve seen this madness before. In fact… I…”

Stingpaw threw a look over at Ragebeak. The crow winked at her, an unsettling moment of cognizance in the midst of his manic display. “I’ve met this crow before. His name is Windbeak. He’s really quite harmless, when he’s calm. This storm just brought up some old bad memories he can’t never handle anymore. I can calm ‘im, if ye’ll let me!”

Stingpaw’s voice rose in panic, as Barkjim crossed his arms, and Mr. Fieldmouse swept up his little one, while giving the fox a scathing look.

“Healer, eh?” the fieldmouse father said, hugging his Merribelle tightly. “How did you find my daughter?”

Meribelle kissed her papa’s cheek and said, excitedly, “Oh, Papa! This be Spring-a-paw, my newest friend! She didn’t find me. I finded her, alla lone an’ lost inna big Mossyflower woods. She be’s looking for a--”

“Yes, sweetie, you can tell me all about it later,” Mr. Fieldmouse said, more gently, before passing Merribelle off to her flabbergasted mother. He waited until his wife and daughter had left, before addressing the fox roughly. “What’s a fox like you want with Redwall Abbey?” he demanded.

Stingpaw could see she had made a dangerous enemy of this overprotective father. She backed away uneasily. Abbot Fernberry came and stood next to her. He put a paw on her shoulder. The fox froze.

“Enough of this!” the Abbot reprimanded Mr. Fieldmouse, sharply. “This good healer has done us two great favors today; first, in bringing home little Merribelle safely, and second, in offering assistance with our new crow problem. As long as she is here she will be our guest. And, I expect all of you to treat her with dignity, kindness, and fairness, for as long as she wishes to stay here. That is--” he added, quickly, turning to the fox. “If you truly wish to stay here with us?”

Stingpaw swallowed hard, but managed to nod her head, and half-smiled. “Oh, yes, please. Thank you, Mister Abbot. Err--Father. Um, Abbot? If only to shelter from the storm, I would gladly stay in such a place.” She looked out, across the lawns, to the tall abbey walls. For a moment the rain-washed red abbey walls reminded her of the grim barnacle-crusted walls of the prison yard at Fort Rotscum. She shook her head to banish the memory.

“Of course, you shall stay,” Fernberry said. “We have already sheltered many other woodlanders from this awful spring downpour. Here, Barkjim.” He waved to the young otter, who obediently sprang to his side. “Be a good lad, and find something hot for Miss Springpaw here to eat and drink. You look soaked to the fur, miss--if you don’t mind my saying so.”

Stingpaw rubbed her shoulder, noticing for the first time how wet and miserable she truly was. Without another word, she followed the otter towards the abbey doors, glad to be putting any distance between herself and the upset mouse father.

Mr. Fieldmouse shook his head, and glared after her. Then, he turned to Abbot Fernberry, and tried to relax his tone. “Alright, Father. If you say I have to treat that vixen all nice-like, then I guess I will. But, I don’t like that she waltzed right in here pretty-as-you-please, holding my baby’s paw!”

AbbotFernberry

Fernberry’s expression darkened. “Yes, I agree. Now that I think about it, that might not have been the wisest decision on my part, to let her stay… but… I can’t just turn out everybeast in the middle of a storm like this. This abbey is indeed a sanctuary to all that pass through her gates, so long as they bring only honesty and goodwill. We will keep an eye on the fox, but for now I wish to give her the benefit of the doubt. She did as much for all of us.”

“Hmmm…” Mr. Fieldmouse was not convinced, but he kept his doubts to himself. In all his seasons living in Mossflower, he never once met a good fox… but, then… had he ever given one the chance to be anything better than vermin?

Chapter 15 ~ Midnight Mysteries

“Oh, it’s a jolly good day for a stroll,
Here, on the road, with a shrew and a mole!
Give me a salad, or I’ll sing another ballad,
For, I don’t care a wink what you bally well think,
If you can’t spare a scone, or a right good drink!”

Bartholomew Applescoffer Sparrowswift was singing lustily, and very off-key, to keep up everyone’s spirits as they trudged onward through the pouring rain. The hares each wore a heavy brown cloak, and had even cut one down to size for Tumbley. The path they travelled was quite muddy now, so they had to travel carefully, to keep from slipping and falling. The sky was grey and the clouds overbearing, yet the company pressed on, knowing their window of opportunity would be small. The full moon would rise around midnight, and they only had a few short hours left to reach the Little Mountain.

Tumbley shook his head as he looked up at the garrulous hare. “Yurr, zurr Applescoffer, you’m sure known how to write ee roight turrible ballad!” the little mole chuckled.

Barty tossed back his head defiantly. “Wot? Wot? Terrible ballad, you say? Well, well, I’d like to see you try any better in the midst of all this bally dreadful downpour, young rip!” Tumbley grinned, and immediately launched into a whimsical song he composed on the spot.

“Yurr, hurr, on a quest we’s be,
Two turrible hares, a woild shrew, ‘n me!
An’ thurr b’aint no sun furr as oi c’n see,
But, oim a water moley, so et don’t bother me!
Naow, look ta thur roight, ‘n look ta thur left,
An, tell this moler, are we all thur yet?
Thur skies gettin’ foggy, an’ the ground’s gettin’ boggy,
An’ this yurr moler hasn’t et his supper yet!”

Sunny burst into loud giddy laughter at her brother’s despondent look and drooping ears.

Barty crossed his arms and tried to look haughty. “Well, well, so the chap can h’improvise a smidge better than me own good self, but the point still stands; when are we stoppin’ this bally forced march for a load of jolly old supper?” Barty turned and looked at Flinn beseechingly. Tumbley followed his gaze, and added his own imploring look.

Flinn eyed the two hungry singers, and shook her head. “Stow the talk of grub, mates. You’re making me hungry now! I say we press on, and when we reach the Little Mountain, we can have a midnight snack before heading in. Sound fair?”

Barty and Tumbley sighed in unison.

“That’s bally rough, you know. But, I guess we’ve nothing for it, Tumbley, old chap. Best tighten our belts, and bite our tongues, ‘til we reach the bloomin’ mount!”

Tumbley looked down, and patted his round midsection. “Burr hurr, thurr be’s no foighten with this woild shrewer, old chap, but oi do be’s powerful ahungered.”

Sunny skipped forward, and set a hand on both their shoulders, saying excitedly, “Tell you what, chaps, why don’t we all share a little about ourselves, to help pass the time? See, Barty, you and I have a hundred spiffin’ good stories to share about our family, and I for one would love to hear more about Tumbley’s lovely water moley clan.”

Flinn smiled, thankful that Sunrose had found a pleasant distraction for them all.

Barty immediately launched into a humorous retelling of his Cousin Jerald’s first encounter with a hive of angry bees. Tumbley laughed as the hare reenacted Jerald’s reaction to the stings, that had set him off in a strange hop-skip dance all the way to the little pond near their home. Barty dove into a bush in a perfect swan-dive, just as his cousin had into the pond. Sunny rolled her eyes, and helped to fish him out again.

Feeling cheerful, despite the rain, Tumbley eagerly told the hares and Flinn all about the large underground connected tunnel systems of the Waterhill and Trumbley clans. He described the large watermeadow they lived near, and how they made the best shrimp and watercress soup, with lots of wild garlic and fresh mint.

Not to be outdone, Barty began to list his Mum’s best spring vegetable dishes, which got him telling Tumbley all about their large estate garden. The mole and hare were soon comparing all their best gardening tips, recipes, and mealtimes. They both agreed, the more meals in a day, the better! As they started listing their favorite desserts, Sunny’s stomach growled noisily.

Flinn stopped suddenly, and turned on the chatty duo. “Hey, now!” she shook a paw at them reprovingly. “What’d I say about mentioning food? Stories is one thing, but--arrrgg!” Flinn’s stomach gurgled, and she lost her train of thought.

Tumbley nearly fell over chuckling, and Barty had to throw out a paw to catch him before he went. “Burr, hurr! You’m be’s roight gurty ahungered, same as usn’s, Mizz Flinn! Oi knowed et!”

Sunny rolled her eyes, and flopped open the satchel she was carrying. “Right, then, one-and-all, and you too, Flinny, m’ gel! Get your jaws around this lot!” The sandy-furred hare fished out three large blueberry barley scones, and tossed one to each of her hungry companions.

Flinn could not object. She hungrily wolfed down the scone, then slipped a water flask from her belt, and took a good long drink. “Phew! Alright, alright, so we all needed that.” She looked up at the darkening sky. “But, it looks like the sun’s almost set, and then we’ll be in total dark until midnight. Time ta light some lanterns, mateys.”

Tumbley nibbled his scone slowly, savoring the rich fruity flavor. Flinn stepped over, and opened the sack he still carried over one shoulder. The beetle family had opted to stay behind at Cloverhill Garden in the snug, dry, under-ground home. In their place, Tumbley's sack contained four sturdy lanterns with beeswax candles inside. Flinn removed one lantern at a time, carefully lighting them with a bit of flint and tinder she always carried, and passing the lights on to each of her friends.

Already, the dim rain-washed evening took on a new look, as the bright lanterns cast light on the path ahead, and drew out their shadows behind them. Flinn felt they were a bit too exposed, with the obvious lights, but in the dark and falling rain, even her excellent night vision was struggling.

More scones were eaten, and terrible ballads composed and sung, as the four friends traveled onwards into the night. An hour passed, and they were forced to leave the path, ford a small stream, and carry on into thick forest depths. Flinn had traveled these paths before, but even she did not know Mossflower Woods as well as the hare siblings. Sunny and Barty took turns pointing out all the little interesting landmarks that helped them keep their way in the dark vast woodlands. An oak split by lightning, a old dead pine, a blackberry bush filled clearing, a fallen beech, an eerie alder grove. Tumbley was in awe of the hares observational skills and keen memory.

An hour before midnight, the rain finally let up, and the night sky cleared to reveal a myriad of twinkling stars. When they reached the next clearing, Tumbley made them all stop and admire the stars for a few minutes. Brilliant pin-pricks of light were strewn across the blackness of space above them, coming together to form many easily recognizable constellations. The Mouse and the Mole, the Shield and Sword, the Badger Lord, and even the Three Sparrows, could be seen.

Flinn was reluctant to force them to leave, but knew the moon would rise soon. “Come on, Tumbley, Barty, Sun. We’re almost there, aren’t we?”

Sunny looked around the clearing, and smiled. “Right you are, Flinn! In fact, you see this little spring here?” she pointed out a little trickle of water seeping out from a pile of rocks, and running off into the woods. “If we follow this, it should lead us right to the mountain.”

Tumbley felt a shiver of excitement run through him. They were almost there!

As the company hurried on, going slightly downhill now, as they followed the streamlet, Tumbley recited Ymelda’s old riddle.

“Deep in the forest wurr ever blooms,
Seek ee likkle mountain, onna noight with two moons.
Enner by the mouth, to foind ee heart,
But, bewurr the toime, when parthways part.
If ye will know wot ee old ones hid,
Then, foind more courage n’ they did.”

Flinn pressed on ahead of the others, and battled her way through an extra thick flowering gorse hedge, until she came clear through to the clearing on the other side. The sweet yellow blossoms assailed her nose, but even they were not strong enough to cover up a more sinister scent on the midnight air. The shrew immediately wrapped her cloak around her lantern, and slipped back through the hole she had made. She whispered sharply to the others.

“Shh! We found the mountain, alright. But, cover up those lanterns, quick. I can smell snakes!”

Tumbley’s face paled, and he had to set down his lantern before he dropped it. “Snakers? Wurr’d they’m come from??” he asked in alarm.

Barty and Sunny exchanged a glance with Flinn. Barty sighed, and Sunny set a paw on Tumbley’s shoulder. “Sorry, Tumbley. We had hoped the old slitherers had shuffled off a long while ago. Always knew they lived hereabouts, but we figured the recent floods would have sent them packing! Guess not. Phwaw! Even I can smell that lot, and this gorse sets off me nose something terrible. Atchoo!” Sunny covered her nose with her cloak, but could already feel a second sneeze coming.

Flinn took charge at once. “Tumbley, you stay up here, and keep low behind this gorse hedge. Barty? You’re the fastest on foot, so I want you to take a quick run ‘round the edge of the clearing, and see if you can spot any snakes. Sunny, you keep a watch on Tumbley.”

“Atchoo! And, what about you?” Sunny asked, looking about to see if their was any fresh mint she could stuff up her aching nose.

Flinn slipped a sling and some small round stones from one of her hidden pockets. There was an odd gleam in her eye. “I’m going hunting.”

Tumbley’s eyes went wide with fright. “You’m not gonna go arfter yon snakers, Mizz Flinn? Are yurr?” His voice was small, and uneasy.

Flinn winked at him. “Well, yes n’ no. I’m hoping they all left before this last rain burst, and the den will be empty. But, I’ve dealt with snakes before, and I won’t hesitate to take one down if I find ‘im.” There was no hesitation in her calm voice. “For the moment, though, take a look at this, me mole matey.”

Flinn parted the gorse hedge, and Tumbley nervously edged forward and peeked out on a strange star-lit scene.

The grassy clearing was higher around the edges, and sank down towards the incredible spectacle of the miniature mountain, that rose out of a rain-swelled pond that formed a moat around the mountain’s base. The still waters looked like black ink in the darkness. Tumbley could not smell the odor of snake over the powerful gorse. He hoped Flinn was right, and the snakes had all left. The fun of the quest was beginning to fade in the fear of facing a serpent in its lair. Or serpents.

While Barty raced through the woods around the border of the clearing, Flinn left her lantern with the others, and slipped down the slope to get a closer inspection of the water’s edge. Tumbley could just make out her thin cloaked form, peering into the water at different places. She was careful not to let her cloak trail in the water, for fear of setting out ripples. She went around back of the mountain, and was out-of-sight for a time. Tumbley sat back and hugged his knees, feeling a strange sense of dread well up inside of him. He didn’t like this place. It had an eerie, sinister feeling, that made him feel they were all in very great danger.

Sunny tried to cheer him up. “Chin up, Tumbley, me laddo! Flinn’s a tough one, and Barty could out-race a whole band of foxes. It’s all a bit exciting, you know! A mysterious mountain, an unsolved riddle, and the best friends a chap could have, to share the adventure with. I’d say we have it pretty well off. Ha ha! And, look! There’s the magnificent old moon rising right on schedule.”

Tumbley looked up, and felt his heart lighten as the big soft white moon rose above the leafy treetops.

Flinn and Barty soon returned, to report their findings. No snakes about, though the scent was quite fresh. They guessed the snakes must have been forced to evacuate that afternoon. Flinn was grinning from ear to ear.

“I found it, mates! I found the mouth we must enter by!”

Tumbley looked up at her, and shivered. “Burr! Doant be talkin’ ‘bout no mouths, when all we’s been thinkin’ ‘bout be yon snakes!”

Flinn laughed lightly, and pointed to the mountain. “As I told ya before, Tumbley, Salamandastron used to be an ancient volcano, and tha open top of a volcano is called the ‘mouth’. Now, you can’t see it from here, but around the back-side of the mountain, there’s large stones sticking up out of the water, we can jump from one to the other, to reach the base. And, there are steps carved into the mountain side, hard to see at a distance, but they lead straight up to the top. That’s our path! If it’s alright with you lot, me n’ Sunny will take this bit.”

Tumbley looked confused, so Flinn explained.

“Barty can get you away from here in a jiffy, but I need Sunny’s climbing skills to get inside, once we reach the top. We’ll have to rappel down inside with ropes.”

Despite his fear, Tumbley was starting to get excited again. Looking down at the little pond, they could all now see the full moon clearly reflected in the still black water. On a night with two moons... Tumbley was thinking about the riddle, and he had a sudden thought.

“Look yurr, Miz Flinn. Thoi rhyme be tellin’ usn’s to bewurr the toime when parthways part. Oi doant fully unnerstand et, but oi doant think it be’s a guod oidea to split usn’s all up. Oi say we all goes together. Besoides, iffen you’m headin’ unnerground, thur be no safer n’ better place for a mole choild loik oi then below groun’.”

Flinn shook her head. “Aye, mate, but I could never ask a little ‘un like you ta join us in that dark snake pit. It wouldn’t be right!”

Tumbley crossed his arms stubbornly, feeling slighted now. “Wot? Oi thought you 'n oi were trav’lin companons, ‘n friends, Miz Flinn. ‘An, anyway, oi doant feel roight sittin’ out yurr b’hind ee hedge all noight, woil you’m be havin’ all ee ‘ventures ‘n solvin’ ee riddler. Oim comin’ with, n’ that’s final!”

Barty and Sunny both laughed aloud at the mole’s new-found courage. Sunny sneezed twice, and fanned her watering eyes with a paw. “I say, Flinn, let the little mole chap come along, if he’s that set on it. Besides, the bally moon won’t stay out all night, and we wouldn’t want those snake to return with us still in their den. Who knows? Old Tumb might be a big help down there in the bloomin’ dark, wot?”

Tumbley raised an eyebrow, and smirked. “Roight! Though, moi name’s Tumbley, not Old Tumb, Miz Sunrozer.”

Flinn wound her sling around her paw, and returned her sling stones to a pouch she attached to her waistband. “Alright, you lot. Fair warning, this could be the most dangerous thing we’ve ever done. Last chance of backing out. Any takers?”

They all shook their heads, then put their paws together, and raised them high to the midnight moon. “To the mountain!”

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