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
~ 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 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--”
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.”
“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.
“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.
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.”
“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.
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.”
“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 formed 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.
“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 from 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.
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.”
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.
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 crow, 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 all… when 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.
“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.
“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’ for?”
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 from 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.