Book One: Oracles, Ravagers and New Recruits
Chapter One: The sable in the hills
A tall, silver sable stood on the high salt cliffs near Salamandastron, wearing a black cloak that swished in the wind. His name was Armuk Rinn the Conqueror and anybeast that defied his horde or himself was a dead one! Armuk's Oracle, a blind Pine Marten named Addison stood next to him, paw on his shoulder. The sable's silence was frightening to her.
When Armuk Rinn was silent, it meant that somebeast was approaching Hellgates faster than they thought.
"Wot's da matter m'lord?" She asked in her peculiar accent. "Is something not to yer liking?"
Armuk's muzzle twisted into a scowl. "Not to my liking!" He snarled. "NOTHING is to my liking, Addison! This raid was a failure! Salamandastron was simply too well-armed! Hellgates, I'll never take it and live!"
Addison smiled an odd smile. "You shall, my lord." She assured him. "The visions have treated me favorably these past few weeks, and I have foreseen it. It is so."
Armuk shifted on one footpaw. "Good."
He glanced up at the azure summer sky. Seagulls screeched and wheedled. "Little beasts..." He muttered, and produced a long sword from his sheath and hurled it into the air. As they were flying in a straight line, the seagulls were all impaled, one right after another. They fell to the grass with a steady Whump! Armuk's blue gaze shifted to the nearby beach. "You." He said to Addison. "Find Brownjaw and tell him to muster the horde at once!" Addison grimaced. "I... I shall my lord." "I SAID AT ONCE!" Without another word, Addison took off running, navigating well despite her disability. Armuk smiled at her from a distance and prepared to remove the dead animals from his sword. The Conqueror was coming.....
In Mossflower Woods, a sixteen-year-old hare named Feryn Kordyne sat quietly at the dinner table of his little house, parents and sister alongside him. They ate dinner at their simple wooden table without a word. It was a stretch to call their minuscule repast a full meal.
Hard times had fallen on the Kordynes ever since their crops had failed twice that year (They were farmers by ancestry.) and they struggled to make ends meet. Nothing had ever been quite the same in the family since.
"Mom, Dad..." Feryn said, clearing his throat. His ten-year-old sister Rebecca gave him a look. He ignored the look and waited for his parent's responses.
"Yes, son?" Mr. Kordyne said, wiping his muzzle with a yellowed napkin.
"I went to Shae's Creek and talked to the recruiter. I'm in the Long Patrol." Rebecca and Feryn's parents gave their son a look.
"Feryn." Feryn's mother said, getting up from her chair.
"You're awfully young to be in the Long Patrol. It's dangerous out there." Feryn cleared his throat.
"I know what I'm doing."
He said, voice firm. "and besides," He added. "My pay will help support us and maybe by the time I come home the crops will be better. In the spring if we've saved enough maybe we can afford to get another plow. I know it'll take time." He sighed.
"But with work it'll happen! Dad!" Feryn turned to his father. "Didn't you come from two generations of farming hares before me?" Mr. Kordyne gave his son a long look and then he said with a sigh: "Feryn, son, there's something your mother and I haven't told you..." Feryn blinked, deeply surprised and shocked. "My father and my grandfather weren't farmers.
They were both in the Long Patrol. That's how your grandfather died, Feryn, on the battlefields of Terramort during the Great Vermin War. That's why I'm hesitant to let you go but..." Again he sighed. "Son, it's your destiny. You join the Long Patrol."
Mrs. Kordyne made a grab at her husband's shoulders.
"Dixon, you're being unreasonable!" She protested.
"Our son could die on the battlefield!"
"Amelie, it's what he was born to do!"
As their parents battled, Feryn turned to Rebecca. She stood, wide-eyed and somewhat frightened in the kitchen door. "Come on, Beck." He took her paw. "You go outside. I've got something to show you."
Feryn led Rebecca outside to their small backyard, which wasn't much to look at, as much of it was taken up by their field. But at the far lefthand corner of the yard, there stood an ancient sycamore tree, bent over by time and lightning, with dozens of firm, solid branches jutting upward towards the heavens.
"Come on Rebecca, don't be such a slowpoke!" Feryn joked, trying to maintain his good mood as he raced across the damp lawn, his sister close behind. "No fair! You always beat me!" Rebecca protested as she reached the trunk of the tree. "Next time I'll let you win."
Feryn clung to the bark with his claws, and then scaled the tree as well as a squirrel, Rebecca ahead of him by inches. Halfway up they reached their favorite branch, the one that somehow seemed closest to the velvety, midnight-blue sky polka-dotted with silver stars. After what seemed like hours of staring up at the stars, Rebecca said
"So you're really joining up with the Patrol?" She asked.
Feryn nodded grimly. "I want an adventure. And..." He sighed. "It'll give us a chance to be happy, Rebecca. We're struggling. Maybe now we can have some real food on the table, and new clothes too. And besides," Feryn put a paw around his sister's shoulders. "I feel like I have to do this." Then he told his sister the secret he'd only just learned of himself. "Write to me!" Rebecca said as Feryn scaled down the tree. "I will!" He called up. In seconds Rebecca was down as well. "Don't complain." She said, and quickly kissed him on the muzzle. Feryn had to smile.
"Complain, complain, complain!" He mimicked in a high-pitched voice. Rebecca giggled and darted inside the screened-in porch. Feryn however, lingered. The candle that had only minutes ago been burning brightly in the parlor window had flickered out.
Chapter Two: Reflections of the Dead
Meanwhile, at Salamandastron it was nightfall, as in Mossflower. Gorath the Flame, the slightly elderly badger lord was pacing his forge chamber, habitually fixing lopsided furniture or straightening crooked throw rugs. His seventeen-year-old son Brang Forgefire was due in any minute. Gorath had asked for him over ten minutes ago and he still wasn't there yet. After a few more minutes of this, Gorath collapsed in exasperation in his burgundy wing chair.
Brang was a typical seventeen-year-old: Overall, he could be serious, but only when he wanted to be. Other than that he was reckless, impatient, and liable to get into fights. It was those last three things that worried his father the most.
Where is Brang? Gorath thought, sighing, but at the same time he probably knew: If Brang was anywhere, he was holed up in some conference room with the Long Patrol, smoking a cigar, or playing cards or laughing over some cheap inside joke. This was what Brang did to entertain himself.
Gorath got up
from his chair, hearing paws outside his closed door. A voice came from outside:
"Dad? I'm here." Brang.
"Come in!" Gorath said, getting the door for his son.
Gorath gave his son a stern look. Yes, Brang had been gambling over something trivial. His breeches were creased, suspenders crooked, and there was a rebellious grin on his face. Gorath sighed and resumed pacing.
"What do you want to talk to me about?" Brang asked quietly, sensing his father wanted to talk about something very serious. Gorath stopped pacing.
"It's about your heritage. I want you to follow me to the tomb." Brang was not squeamish about the prospect of going in a tomb nor had he ever been, as the place had been his playground as a toddler. So Brang, concealing words of protest, followed his father out of his bedroom and town a winding set of marble stairs cut into the hall. The stairs were long, and went down a flight.
A tiny, always-lit lamppost at the stairrail lit up the otherwise dark stone room under the ground. The tomb was airy and cool, and it was a beautiful summer night, the moon shining through the stained-glass windows and casting colored shadows on father and son’s hides. The tomb was silent, as always except for the occasional tapping of Gorath’s staff on the stone floor. Gorath and Brang traversed the familiar room, passing the stone effigies of each and every badger lord or lady, the latter of which mounted on their coffins.
Brang wanted to say something but he didn’t know what. He’d been to the tomb hundreds of times as a young child, and felt he was never alone while there; it was as though the spirits of his ancestors were watching over him. After ten minutes of walking, Brang and Gorath reached the coffin of Melanius the Gallant, one of the few female leaders of Salamandastron. Brang had often felt raptured staring at her statue: The long-dead badger lady was tall, and wore a subtle, wry smile. She also wore a stone cloak forever flapping in a nonexistent wind. In one paw, Melanius clutched a stone daffodil, and in the other she held a battle-axe. Her face was proud, but not arrogant, and worn slightly away, covered in dust, but that somehow only made her even more beautiful.
“Son,” Gorath sighed, leaning on Melanius’s chest.
“I brought you down here because there’s something I must tell you.” Five years ago or even three, Brang would’ve rolled his eyes and scornfully thought Lecture time! But that was then, this was now. “What?” Brang whispered, struggling to keep a calm face, as he knew what was going on. “Son.”
Gorath put a paw on Brang’s shoulders. “You know I won’t be around forever, and that one day you must succeed me as the Badger Lord of Salamandastron. When I was your age, my adopted father told me the same thing and his father before that. Brang, I know it’s hard, but I’m not exactly young anymore. Someday soon I’ll step down, and the throne will be yours. And as the next Badger Lord your duties will be to defend Salamandastron from vermin, head the Long Patrol, and act as a listener or advisor to anybeast who desires your counsel. It’s the family tradition Brang, and soon I’ll be too old to shoulder it.” Gorath paused, gazing into Melanius’s stone eyes. He sighed.
“Do you know who this is, Brang?” Brang nodded solemnly. “Melanius the Gallant.” He said automatically. He knew every Badger Lord and Lady’s name by heart. “Yes, and she was your great-great-great-great-great-great grandmother, called the best Badger Lady of her time.” Brang held up a paw, beginning to get somewhat impatient. “I know. Because she defended the mountain from a vermin onslaught, warned Redwall, and won the day."
"Exactly. My son, one day that was me and another day it shall be you. They say the spirits of each and every badger lord and lady linger here. Your ancestors. They are not here to haunt the mountain, only to give out advice in times of need. But now, now they are only dormant. Sleeping. One day Brang, mark my words, you'll be down here seeking out their wisdom. But not now. This is a time of peace and we shall cherish every moment of it."
For a long time, father and son stared together at the statue of Melanius. After a while Gorath picked up his staff from where he'd propped it, and said "You may stay a while longer if you wish." And headed for the stairs. And somehow, for some reason that is what Brang chose to do. Brang was alone in the tomb now. The effigies of his ancestors reflected pale shadows onto the stained-glass windows. Out of habit, Brang sat down on the floor in front of Melanius’s statue, the way he had done many times as a child.
“I don’t know if any of you are here,” He said with a sigh. “Or if you hear me. But I’m here and I want your advice! I don’t think I’ll make a very good badger lord. My father is ashamed of me. If there’s anything you have to tell me, anything you want to know….”
Brang nearly jumped out of his pelt as a somewhat-familiar voice screeched behind a white marble pillar. The scream was followed by a giggle. Brang opened one eye as a half-shadowed figure came out from behind the pillar. It was his sister, Rowanbloom. If anybeast could claim the title of Melanius’s double it was her. Rowanbloom’s pelt was a deep dark black, like blue velvet, and her eyes were wise and strong. She even wore a bright green cloak similar to the one Melanius had worn in life. She was also thirty in comparison to Brang’s seventeen. Still laughing, Rowanbloom said
“Seventeen and still afraid everything are you, Brang?” She looked up at the black-painted sky on the tomb ceiling. “It’s good to be back.” She said after a pause. “Welcome home, Ro.” Brang said, engulfing his mischievous sister in a bear-hug. When they were done with their little reunion, Brang said
“How come Dad never said you’d come home?” Rowanbloom shrugged. “I guess he wanted to surprise you.” “So,” Brang said, leaning on a pillar. “Was Malkariss interesting?” Rowanbloom wrinkled her nose hearing the name of the place in the south.
“No!” She said immediately.
“It was repulsive and boring. All they have to offer down there is hot weather and war.”
So brother and sister kept up their conversation a while, until Rowanbloom’s eyes strayed to the effigy of a tiny badgerbabe mounted on a coffin. Without a word she went to it. Brang followed. The badgerbabe’s name had been Blaireau, five minutes older than Rowanbloom, and by birthright he’d been Salamandastron’s next badger lord. But fate had been cruel to him. At the tender age of two years old Blaireau had succumbed to the awful Dryditch Fever; making Brang next in line for the throne after adventurous, but always-traveling Rowanbloom declined the position. “What was he like?” Brang asked as they stood over the coffin. Rowanbloom only shrugged vaguely. “I barely remember him myself.” She said, gazing down at the epitaph written on Blaireau’s coffin:
HE PLAYS BETWITXT THE MOONLIGHT AND SLEEPS AMONG THE STARS.
“I do remember he liked to carry a toy sword around, though. It’s the same one you played with later.” Rowanbloom added. Brang’s eyes widened in surprise. He’d never known he owned a deadbeast’s plaything before. “I wish I knew him.” Brang said, studying the epitaph for a long time. Rowanbloom nodded. “I know. I myself wish I could’ve known him for longer.” Rowanbloom and Brang visited with Blaireau for a few minutes longer before departing on the stairs, leaving the long-forgotten would-be badger lord alone in his dark, eternal resting place.
Chapter Three: The New Recruit
When Feryn came back inside, he entered the living room to find it near-deserted. Rebecca was nowhere to be seen. Probably in her room. Feryn thought sourly, facing his parents. His mother looked upset, but his father looked proud. In addition, Dixon Kordyne held the broadsword from the mantle in his paw.
“Son,” Dixon said, beckoning Feryn to his side. “Take this blade. I have no use for it. First it was my grandfather’s, then my father’s, and now yours.” Feryn glanced at the sleek broadsword his father held. Feryn had spent hours polishing it and cleaning it as a younger hare, but never once did he so much dream he’d ever own it!
“Use it well.”
“I will!” Feryn said in a tear-choked voice, embracing his father. After a moment, Feryn turned uncertainly towards his mother.
“Be careful,” She said. Feryn nodded.
“I will.” He whispered. “I will.”
“When will you be leaving?” Feryn’s mother Amelie asked. Feryn shrugged.
“Probably at dawn.”
“At dawn it is.” His father said.
The following morning Feryn stood on the porch, lacing up his old harvesting-boots, wearing an ancient wool coat and a kilt. His sword was sheathed to his belt.
“Now,” Feryn said as he stood up, wagging a claw at Rebecca.
“You take care of Mom. Okay?” Rebecca nodded.
“Can do.” She said. Feryn looked around several times before he kissed his sister on the cheek.
“Feryn!” She exclaimed and wriggled out of his grasp. Feryn had to smile.
“I’ll be back on leave at the end of the summer!” He said as he stepped off the porch. Rebecca prepared to go inside.
“Okay! I’ll expect you!”
She waved, and then went inside and closed the door as Feryn disappeared from view. Feryn, on the other hand soon found out that nature had constructed the perfect day: It was warm, but not too hot out. The sky was a bright turquoise color, untouched by a single cloud.
The dirt felt good under his shod paws, and the grass growing along the dirt road was emerald green and pleasant to look at. But as afternoon came along, the hare grew hot and weary. After a time he came upon a curious sight: what appeared to be the ruins of a house- except that only a brick chimney and fireplace were left. It didn’t appear to be that old; the stone and wood showed no sign of rot. Old or not old, Feryn approached it anyway. The fireplace was in the shade, and he had to find someplace cool to sit before he succumbed to heat stroke. “Curioser and curioser….” Feryn muttered as he gazed out at the scattered shard of pottery in the grass near the fireplace.
He started towards the fireplace through the crabgrass and sat down on the bricks. Oddly, the stones were warm but for summer that wasn’t surprising. So Feryn ignored the strange warmth and opened his haversack. “Thank the seasons I packed vittles…” He muttered to himself, producing a leek and mushroom pasty, as well as some wheatbread. There was a little marmalade for dessert. So Feryn bit greedily into the pasty, and was soon so engrossed in eating and leaving, that he almost didn’t notice the black paws wrapping around the bowl of marmalade and dragging it through the fireplace. Almost. Bewildered, the young hare immediately spun around, trying to see who’d snatched his dessert. Then he heard the mischievous giggling and thought he knew: A troublemaking young one had undoubtedly stolen his food. What a younger creature was doing in these ruins he didn’t know, but Feryn intended to find out.
“All right, show yourself.”
He growled, trying to frighten the young one into coming out. “You’re going up against Feryn Kordyne of the Long Patrol…” A timid voice came from behind the chimney “L-l-Long Patrol? Here I am, here I am!” Through an almost unnoticeable crawlspace in the fireplace, a scrawny young ferret of about seven dragged himself into the open. He clutched Feryn’s bowl of marmalade to his chest. His clothes were ragged and covered in soot, but his eyes were bright and spritely, but Feryn still did not let down his caution even as the ferret set down the bowl.
“I… I didn’t mean it.” The ferret whispered. Feryn slowly became less suspicious. “Well, who are you then, and what are you doing here?” The ferret picked on a scab on his paw-pad.
“I’m Alex.” He said in his odd accent, which seemed to be a cross of Malkarrian and Scraggwayan. “And I’m here ‘cos I ain’t got no job.” Feryn was no longer suspicious, however he was somewhat unconvinced of the beginning of the ferret’s story. A seven-year-old working? Yeah, right. He thought, but said nothing.
“Used to be a stable boy up in the city. They threw me out because they said I didn’t work fast enough.” The ferret wrinkled his muzzle.
“So I moved out here. I like this place. I thought nobody’d find it for a while. But then you did.” Alex paused.
“You must be right clever.” Feryn shook his head, saying
“I’m smart but no one’s really called me clever.” And with that, he stood up, ate some of the marmalade and packed the remainder into his haversack. Feryn sheathed his sword and prepared to move on. Alex scrambled up beside him.
“Don’t go!” He protested.
“It’s boring out here!” He paused. “I… I’m real good with trails an’ things. I might be able to help you get where you goin’. So where you goin’?” “Salamandastron.” Feryn said automatically. “Salamandastron?” Alex scoffed. “I can get you there in a blink!”
Feryn considered this. If Alex was right about being a good guide; getting to Salamandastron probably wouldn’t be so hard. On the other paw; if he turned out to be lying (which Vermin usually did a great deal of.) Feryn would end up in the middle of nowhere, most likely penniless. I’ll compromise. He thought quickly. I’ll let Alex take me halfway, and if he is what he seems I’ll stay with him.
Satisfied with his judgment, Feryn straightened and said “Lead the way.” Alex broke into a grin. “Thanks!” He exclaimed.
“Yew won’t regret it!” But the young ferret bounded ahead of Feryn, and Feryn sighed. “Alex, will you cut that out?!” He shouted. “You’re going too fast for me!” But just as Feryn caught up with the wily ferret, Alex only did so again. Feryn grimaced.
“Alex! I have patience, but it’s getting thin, so would you please keep up with me?” Alex made a face but kept walking. So the hare and the ferret walked alongside each other for some time with no event. Lunchtime faded into midafternoon. The sky became even bluer.
It got hotter. Feryn winced. His tongue was cracked and dry from lack of thirst. He swished a bit of saliva around in his mouth, trying to savor whatever he had left. After a moment, the hare looked up, sighing heavily. Alex had started up with his troublesome antics yet again- now he was belting out a southern war song in a baritone voice: “Rrrrally ‘round the Malkarrians, rally ‘round the Malkarrians! Rally round the Malkarrians all the livelong day!” “Stop it Alex.” He muttered, paying more attention to the road. Salamandastron was getting nearer in the distance. Alex kept singing. And singing. After about five more minutes of this Feryn could stand it no longer. “SHUT UP!” He finally snarled, losing control of his temper. “If you can get me to Salamandastron I suggest you’d hurry.” Feryn called over his shoulder, trotting at a brisker pace simply just to avoid Alex’s presence.
Luckily for Feryn, Salamandastron was only ten more minutes away. By the time the hare and the ferret neared the extinct volcano, it was all Feryn could do not to sing out in joy at the prospect of being…. Alex-less. “Won’t ever travel with him again…” Feryn muttered as he strode down the trail to Salamandastron. After a while, Feryn stopped to catch his breath at a simple forest clearing.
Redwood trees sprouted up out of the ground and nearly blocked the sun. The sky was a perfect turquoise; the ground flesh-colored and littered with small pebbles and old pawtracks. But what really caught Feryn’s attention was Salamandastron, the great, famous mountain that seemed to tower above all else. Feryn stared at it in rapture for a long time, the way a human country boy would gawk at Times Square upon seeing it for the first time.
After the clouds began moving on the horizon, the hare moved on as well. For a moment Feryn squinted, thinking he saw a tannish shape darting in and out of the trees. Then, after a few minutes passed and he didn’t see the shape again, Feryn shrugged and continued on. But then, just as the mountain was within reach, the blur made a reappearance and knocked Feryn to the ground.
“Washa! It’s the new recruit!” Gasping and wide-eyed, Feryn stared up at the somewhat fat, tan-colored hare in green trousers and a jacket who’d just tackled him. “What’d you do that for?!” Feryn whispered. The hare cringed.
“S-sorry!” He spluttered, offering a paw to Feryn. Feryn took the hare’s paw and stood up, brushing dirt off his kilt. “Didn’t mean to shove you.” The other hare said, still cringing.
“Just an accident.”
“No wonder they call me Clumsy Gabe…” He muttered to himself.
“So you’re Gabe?” The hare turned, startled to see that Feryn had heard his self-musings.
“Yup. That’s me all right! I’m Gabe Whipscutt of the Long Patrol, first-class private and it’s my duty show you the ropes!” Gabe seemed to gain composure all of a sudden.
“And, I’m not the new guy anymore!” Gabe’s enthusiasm was almost contagious, and Feryn found himself thinking: He’s probably better than Alex.
“So you’re new too?”
“Nope! Not anymore!” Gabe squealed.
“I just joined up in April. Before you I was the newest member of the Patrol.”
“The patrol has a pecking order, doesn’t it?” Feryn asked, knowing but not really caring he’d be at the bottom of it. Maybe it had something to do with his being a modest farm boy, because Feryn didn’t really care that much, if at all about being popular.
“Yup. That we do.” Gabe said, reaching into his pocket and pulling out an apple. He bit into it with gusto. Knowing little about the military and how it worked, Feryn asked
“So to get in…. Will it be… Hard?” Gabe shrugged.
“It shouldn’t be. Just the usual: Can you haul a load of sugar bags or how many push-ups can you do.”
Feryn heaved a sigh of relief. Physical work he could definitely do; growing up in a rural area, after all. “So where do you come from?” As they trotted down the summer trail, Feryn realized he could learn to like Gabe Whipscutt after all. Feryn shrugged.
“East. On a farm, down by Shae’s Creek.”
“What’s that?” Now Feryn found himself being the one to exchange things.
“It’s a village. A hamlet really.”
“Cool. So. How many animals in your family?”
“It’s just my Mom, my Dad and my kid sister Rebecca.” Feryn felt homesick just thinking about his sister’s name.
“Yeah. I’m an only child…” Gabe said, voice trailing off.
As they traveled on, Gabe and Feryn talked idly, ranging from stories of farm vs. military life to the going-ons of celebrity warriors. Finally, as Salamandastron was only a few feet away, Gabe trotted briskly ahead and said to Feryn. “I’ll see ya later after you get in. I’m sure ya will. And one thing you should know…” “What?” Gabe grinned. “Colonel Wildwood has a really hot daughter. Her name’s Venya. She’s untouchable. Like a rock, but harder to crack. I think she’s waiting for Mr. Right.” So the two odd friends stopped there, two unlikely hares both on their way to Salamandastron.
Chapter Four: First Day on the Job
Meanwhile, Armuk Rinn sat in the Ravager's current camp, the ruins of an abandoned mansion, looking barbarically elegant as far as sables could go. He sat in a smashed wooden chair, propped against a bas-relief statue of a hippogriff. Armuk chuckled as he sipped his brandy. Everything was going exactly according to plan!
Sounds of somebeast playing on a lute or lyre drifted in from the courtyard and he smiled. Armuk looked up as his healer/ personal physician, Crazyeyes came trotting in from the courtyard, carrying a cup of barley wine. Crazyeyes was a thin, blue-clad sewer rat who always stuttered when he was nervous. He was however, still a good addition to Armuk’s horde.
“Crazyeyes. Take stock of my inventory.”
“In a moment, your Lordship, when I’m not busy.”
Crazyeyes cringed and gulped. Armuk’s blade was at his throat.
“Y-yes m’lord.” Crazyeyes read aloud from the parchment scroll “S-sixteen casks of wine. Two horses. Five-hundred an' thirty-six jewels, precious an' semi precious. Seventeen gold rings. Longswords; six hundred, eighteen 'undred broadswords, a hundred bows and arrows and one….. Trebuchet.”
Armuk smiled as he poured himself more wine. Raising the flask to his lips, he drank some and then set it down. Armuk caught a glimpse of his reflection on the wall mirror. His fur was pale, but it was undoubtedly from spending most of the day indoors…. Or so he thought, anyway. Now that he was bored of Crazyeyes, Armuk quickly snapped to attention. “Get out of my sight, you filthy wretch!” Crazyeyes winced. Such fits of name-calling were not common in any horde, but had a special place in Armuk’s. “And find Brownjaw. I want to see him.” “What for?” “Don’t ever question my orders, Crazyeyes.” Armuk hissed. “Just do what I ask and you shall live. Disobey me once and you die. Do I make myself, clear, wretch?” “Yes.” “Good. Now get Brownjaw! Tell him that after lunch we’re going hunting. Hunting for hares….”
Feryn sat outside Salamandastron. There were clouds gathering on the horizon, but there probably wouldn’t be a storm. Either way, the hare was bored out of his mind. He’d just been accepted into the Long Patrol, and given half an hour’s break before training started.
Half an hour seemed like an eternity out in the middle of nowhere. At least at home on the farm he always had something to do. Feryn sighed, somewhat homesick. At home all his time had been taken up by chores, but at least they were something to do. Feryn stared down into the barren ground and played with a few blades of grass, ripping them ildy out of the ground. After twenty seconds this became boring, so he scrambled onto a mattress-shaped rock and put his front legs behind his head.
After a few moments, a breeze that was both warm and cool swept through the nearby meadow, and there was something tranquil about seeing the grass blowing in the wind. Lulled by his peaceful surroundings, Feryn soon found himself drifting into an unexpected nap..........
Feryn was almost asleep when his eyes registered a faint, large shape on the horizon. Gabe was coming from the righthand side of the mountain, running like greased lightening. He wore a haversack on his back, maybe full of vittles for a mid-afternoon snack. He laughed when he saw Feryn, stretched out on the flat rock.
“Well, well, well, Feryn, me old messmate, sleepin’ on the job, aren’t you now?” He laughed.
“Just kiddin’. We can do whatever we flippinbally on break, b’cuz it’s peacetime!” Feryn watched, now fully awake as Gabe played around with his haversack a minute before pulling out a dark green, seaweed-colored tunic and a kilt of the same color. Feryn stared at it, wide-eyed in disgust. He had never laid eyes on anything so hideous.
“That’s my uniform?” He whispered. He’d always known that Long Patrol uniforms weren’t pretty but he hadn’t been expecting this. Gabe chuckled. “Yup. Not like I’d need a spare!” Without a word, Feryn stuffed his uniform into his potato-sack bag.
“So Gabe,” He said, getting up and stretching. “How much break time we got left?” Gabe shrugged.
“Around twenty minutes. Why?”
“I’m bored.” Gabe leapt up.
“And y’don’t think I’m any better, Feryn?” Gabe pointed to the meadow.
“C’mon. Let’s go explore while we can!” Feryn joined him, grinning. “Couldn’t have thought of a better idea!” And raced off to join his friend in the exploration of the meadows.
As Feryn and Gabe strided across the meadows. they caught side of something. At first what was litle more than a shadow racing in from the distance, it became clearer as it approached. It was Venya Wildwood, the Colonel's daughter, practicing riding on one of her father's horses. And Feryn knew, with an instinctive kind of animal feeling that he loved her.
Feryn gazed at Venya, in a daze. She looked so beautiful yet tough; with the warm June sun shining onto her dark fur, and her sitting so high upon her horse. The landscape was as perfect as Venya; dotted with purple and yellow flowers. Flowers and tall grass waved gently in the breeze, and the sky was a perfect shade of azure. As he stared at Venya Wildwood in rapture; it certainly didn’t take Feryn very long to realize he was in love.
But before he could continue his daydream, Venya reigned in her horse just a few feet from where they stood.
"I told you she was hot." Gabe squealed into Feryn's ear. But before either could say anything else, it was Venya who spoke.
"Hey. I'm Venya. My Dad said we'd have a new recruit today." She shifted her green gaze to Feryn.
"That's me." He said, regaining his composure rapidly, blushing. "And Gabe," She added in a mock-stern voice.
"Lay off the candied chestnuts. You're looking a bit pudgy there." Gabe also blushed. After a moment of silence, Venya asked
"Either of you need a lift?"
"Yes. We're hopelessly lost." Feryn said, stepping forward.
"All right," Venya dismounted.
"I'll take you back to the mountain then. It's not too far." She took the reigns of her horse and walked off. Feryn followed, and so did Gabe. As the three went off into the warm afternoon sun, Feryn got the uncanny feeling they were being watched. Not wanting to be dismissed, he kept silent.
The afternoon dragged on. Feryn and several of some of the other newer hares had training with Venya in an isolated clearing. At the present, she stood next to Feryn, instructing him on arrows.
“Okay, you’re doing good, Feryn. You just need to remember to hold the bow straight and everything will be fine.” She released her paws from Feryn’s bow and watched as he pulled back the string and fired. It was not a perfect bulls-eye but it hit the target anyway. Feryn grinned and loaded another arrow into his bow and kept practicing.
Meanwhile, in the bushes at the very edge of the clearing Armuk and his weasel captain Brownjaw were both spying and eavesdropping on the Patrollers.
“D-did you see that, Chief?” Brownjaw whispered in a frightened voice. “Them rabbits sure can f-fight.”“Shut up, you imbecile!” Armuk snarled in a low voice, clamping a paw over the weasel’s muzzle.
“Shut your gob, or they’ll hear us from miles away!” As the sable snapped out this remark, he got spittle all over Brownjaw’s muzzle. The weasel cringed and wiped it dry on his torn sleeve.
“But Chieeeef…” Brownjaw whined like a five-year-old. “I could kill ‘em all at once if only you’d let me!”
“That’s not the point!” Armuk snapped, gazing up at the sky.
“My point, Brownjaw,” He explained in a cold tone.
“Is that we keep them alive, especially that Venya one, for as long as we need to. By the time I’m done with ‘em they’ll wish they were never born.” He chuckled slyly at this. But Brownjaw was mystified.
“Whuh whuh whuh…. We do?!” Armuk slapped his temple melodramatically.
“I’m SURROUNDED by idiots.” He moaned, and then said
“Why did I ever make you second-in-command? You have no brainpower! Get going before I give your job to someone else! Tell Addison to meet me at the neck of the woods at sunset. There’s something I want to talk to her about that doesn’t concern you.”
Brownjaw soundlessly bounded off through the back of the bush, leaving Armuk alone with his devices. A sly smile curved up on the sable’s face. Everything was going exactly according to plan. If everything succeeded; Salamandastron AND Redwall would both be conquered and occupied by summer’s end. If everything succeeded. If everything succeeded……
Chapter Five: Spies and Secrets
There was a sudden silence in the already-quiet clearing where Feryn, Gabe, Venya and other hares were practicing archery and other things. Gabe stiffened and raised his head as a lanky, teenaged badger could be seen coming in from the north. Without a word Venya ran to greet him, and immediately they began conversing like old friends.
“Who’s that?” Feryn whispered to Gabe.
“That’s Brang, His Lordship’s son. Lord Gorath’s best friends with the Colonel, so therefore Venya and Brang are pretty tight. I think he’s here to meet you.” “Is his father coming?” Feryn asked, cocking his head, and leaning on his bow. Gabe shook his head.
“These days Lord Gorath’s way too busy for most stuff, so it’s a pretty jolly old wheeze that Brang can come out here to meet you.” Suddenly Gabe was silent as the badger approached, Venya trotting at a brisk pace beside him. Brang stopped until they were face to face, and Venya stood besides Gabe. “So. Dad said you’re the new guy. Nice to meet you.” He offered a paw, which Feryn shook.
“So I see you’ve already met Venya and Private Whipscutt here.” Gabe broke into a sunny grin, which was contagious; for Feryn found himself smiling too for absolutely no reason.
“I think you’ll like the Patrol pretty well. Because this is peacetime; there’s not a lot to do but hang out and target practice, sword train and horseback ride, if you like that sort of thing.”
“Cool.” Suddenly Brang looked grim as he gazed at the turquoise sky, and then to the stone sundial. A shadow had fallen on the engraved numbers of 2:30. “Is it really 2:30?!” Brang cursed irately. “Great. Just great. Dad told me to be back at the forge ten minutes ago. I’m in for it now!” And with that, the teenage badger took off like a bolt of lightning, leaving a bunch of less-quiet hares in his wake. Break time was over, and the remaining hares found themselves returning to their peacetime duties.
Armuk and Addison were deep in the woods to the north; engrossed in an outdoor council, discussing Addison’s visions. The sable and the marten were seated on a tree that had been felled by lightning, and talking in hurried whispers:
“Really, is that as you say, Addison?”
“Aye, m’lord. Everything is going very well.”
“Good, good Addison. I always knew you were one I could trust…."
At that same time, a certain young ferret named Alex was wandering through the woods on an empty stomach. Ever since he’d taken Feryn to Salamandastron earlier that afternoon; he’d been searching for food all day with little luck. The ferret’s best prize so far had been a small but nearly-empty thicket containing a few lonely blueberries, which he’d promptly eaten.
But berries were certainly not enough to sustain him, and so he wandered, alone and forlon through the woods until he neared Addison and Armuk’s meeting spot.
“…. But what we REALLY need right now, is a spy.”
“Yes, yes, my Lord. I agree with you wholeheartedly. Someone to spy on the enemy and learn their secrets. We mustn’t remain hidden like this forevr.”
“No, no. We mustn’t, Addison.” By now Alex had heard their voices from afar and hungrily wandered towards their clearing, figuring that the strangers would have food. So, with a hungry belly and a brave heart, he parted some of the bushes and stepped onto the hot and dusty ground.
“Got any vittles to share?” Were the first words that came out of the ferret’s blueberry-stained mouth. Armuk immediately leapt up from his log and greeted the young one, speaking in a deceptively friendly voice
“Yes, yes, my young friend. Addison and I have much food divided among us. Isn’t that right, Addison?” The blind pine marten nodded, taking an apple from a discarded haversack and biting into it. Alex licked his muzzle.
“Now give this young one some food.”
Addison fished around in the sack for a moment, and produced another apple, which Alex caught and bit into greedily, devouring it the way termites devour wood. He sat cheerfully on the ground, and Armuk sat beside him, removing his cloak and sitting on it like a picnic blanket. “Now, young ferret, listen to my offer. Suppose you join me and my horde in a little…. Plan we’re making. Your position is needed deeply, and you will be paid well. With food.”
Alex’s eyes brightened. “I’ll do it, I’ll do it! Take me to the vittles!” Armuk laughed slyly and dusted off his cloak, putting it back on. He strode over to Addison. “Perfect,” He whispered. “I believe we’ve found our spy.” Addison grinned. “You have, my Lord. I see potential in this one.” “As do I. The fools at Redwall and Salamandastron would NEVER suspect one so young!” “Brilliant.” Then, Armuk stood up and so did Addison.
“All right, let us go.” Armuk said, leading the way out of the clearing. “Ok. Where are we going?” Alex asked, scrambling up eagerly and trying to follow. Armuk chuckled slyly and ruffled the ferret between the ears.
“Someplace where there’s lots of vittles.”
Alex grinned and licked his muzzle.
“Hey! Wait up!” Several minutes later, as they were walking back, Alex almost lost sight of Armuk and Addison, them being adult animals and therefore much faster than him. Once, Alex stumbled and almost crashed into Addison, who gave him an odd look. He shuddered. There was something about the pine marten’s murky blue-gray eyes that gave him cold chills. But most of the time after that, things went well. The three vermin animals plodded along the Salamandastron beach, getting closer and closer to their destination. Alex the ferret happily trotted along; blissfully ignorant and unaware of the dangerous game he was being drawn into….
Armuk, Addison and Alex arrived back at the Ravager's camp some five minutes later. Alex was awestruck with the fading grandeur of the old place: The wallpapers were dusty and had odd, chipped paint and cob-web filled candleholders adorning it.
On the ceiling there was a rusty hole where a chandelier once must've swung. The front hall was decorated sparsely; with a few red velvet wing chairs near an open picture window and a bas-relief drawing of a hippogriff. Near the chairs there was a marble fireplace; the fire having long gone out.
All in all, it was a place of shadow and secrecy, and there was something about its atosphere that Alex loved. The ferret looked up as Armuk's icy blue eyes settled on him. "Stay here with Addison for the time being. I'll return." Grinning maliciously, Armuk strode up the carpeted Imperial staircase. His Spy and Oracle could wait. In the meantime; he had a traitor to deal with....
"Gyahh!!! Chief, mercy! Have mercy!!"
Yelloweye the stoat yelped in horror as Armuk drove the dagger into his shoulder. The sable grinned maliciously and tore the dagger out of the hordebeast's shoulder. "Not until I get my information!" The Conqueror hissed icily. Yelloweye gulped, and Armuk went on
"Where were you three nights ago? And don't lie. It's so easy to tell when you lie, Yelloweye. You're no good at it."
"I... I told you, Lord, I was huntin' with Mangefur an' the others."
"YOU DID NOTHING OF THE SORT!" Armuk raged. "You were selling information to Frith, weren't you? I heard Brownjaw mention it. Speak! Is this the truth?!" Yelloweye whimpered.
"Y-yes.... I, I mean NO!" Armuk chuckled. Then, he gritted his teeth and cursed. His dagger missed. Yelloweye backed into the wall, panting heavily.
“Don’t do it, Chief!” He whispered. “I ent Brownjaw’s little ‘elper; he’s innocent an’ so ‘m I! I’d never plot on yer life, m’lord! I’d march into Hellgates with you, Chief, I’m that loyal!” A sly smile played on Armuk’s muzzle.
He would deal with Brownjaw later. Yelloweye was his priority now, and had to be disposed of as quickly as possible. “Good, because that’s exactly where you’re going!” And with that, Armuk proceeded to shove the screaming and whimpering Yelloweye to the dusty stained-glass window.
“Any last words, stoat?” Yelloweye shook his head in terror.
“Go on and meet your maker, you coward!” Armuk screeched, shoving Yelloweye through the window. It shattered immediately, and he crashed into the dirt, shards of colored glass surrounding his broken body. Armuk laughed maliciously, until another sable stepped out of the darkness. Zwilt the Shade. His power-hungry seventeen-year-old son.
“Zwilt,” He growled. “Where, by the claw have you been?! It’s afternoon and I haven’t seen you since last night!” He grasped his son’s cravat fiercely.
“Go on, speak up!” Zwilt only grinned evilly at his vicious father.
“You have no right to make me tell, Father. And who knows! Maybe by the end of the season you’ll be in the ground and I’ll be the one running this pack of beggars. I’d be Zwilt the Conqueror then!”
Armuk only laughed.
“In your dreams, you scummy runt. Have you got a death wish, Zwilt? Do you want to be down there with your old mate Yelloweye?”
Armuk pointed to the courtyard. Zwilt scoffed.
“All right, you’ve won this time, old one. But don’t think you always will!” Armuk had his longsword pointed at Zwilt’s throat now.
“And you’re going to be a loyal, respectful son or else you and Yelloweye will be keeping each other company by afternoon….” Zwilt wriggled out under his father’s grasp, muttering. Armuk departed with a swish of his cloak, saying “And don’t think you’re going to be on the expedition later.”
Zwilt stopped dead in his tracks. “Expedition? What expedition?” Armuk only laughed slyly.
“The one as sure as hellthunder you won’t be going on!” With a rush of cold wind and the slam of a door, Armuk Rinn was gone.
Chapter Six: A dark horizon
Meanwhile at Redwall Abbey; all was well. Here is an extract from the journal of Dania Wynn; recorder of Redwall Abbey at the time of The Blademaster’s Tale:
This is to be my third year as recorder since old Samolus Fixa passed on; and seldom have I seen a summer so beautiful! Abbess Perrit wants to name it the Summer of the Blooming Sky and I agree with her….
Dania, a gray squirrel of only 24, sat at her desk in the Gatehouse Cottage, chewing at the edge of her pencil, uncertain on what to write next. The squirrel got up from her mahogany desk and over to the half-open bay window; eclipsed by two white silk curtains blowing in with a cool breeze. She climbed up onto the red velvet-cushioned window seat and, putting a knuckled paw under her chin, began to look around and think. The Gatehouse cottage, as Dania knew, was the atypical picture of the word ‘cottage’: The floor, although bare, was covered by a pale pink carpet, and the walls a cream-colored with a pattern of roses. On one end of the room there was a small stone fireplace; with a collection of porcelain bird statues on it. Near that; there was a couch and several wing chairs, as well as a long wooden gold-clawed coffee table with a bowl of fresh apples from the orchard at its center.
Dania leapt down from the window seat and promptly took an apple from the bowl; biting into it and letting the cool juice trickle down her chin. Just as she had finished the apple AND felt she was on the verge of an idea; Dania nearly jumped against the wall at the sudden loud knocking; the squirrel had a tendency to startle easily. Two Dibbuns; Rusty the hedgehog and Shanna the squirrel came bursting in through the door, with torn clothes and muddy paws.
“Dania, Dania, look what we found!!” Dania felt a slow smile spreading across her solemn features. “Ow! Rusty, you’re a right old villain!” Shanna growled, clutching a concealed object to her. Rusty shot a glare at her playmate; and hesitantly approached Dania, clutching a bouquet of daisies.
“Rorzan helped us pick ‘em!” She exclaimed proudly. “Yeah, he did!” Shanna chimed in. Dania smiled, and arranged the flowers in a vase, sitting down after she did so. Dania’s eyes widened.
“Rorzan?? Is that so?!”
“Yeah, he was real nice with us an’ everythin’!”
Dania thought about this as she sat back. Rorzan was the shy, quiet, 14-year-old son of Zaran the Black, the otter who had been at Redwall for quite some time now. “I find it very surprising to believe that it was Rorzan. He’s a big 14-year-old and you two aren’t even eight yet… But, it’s good to see him being social. He’s so quiet all the time it’s hard to tell what he likes and what he doesn’t. Anyway; if you two see him again tell him I said hi.” “Ok Dania!” “Bye Dania!!” And with that, the two dibbuns scrambled out, leaving muddy pawtracks in their wake. Dania smiled and returned to her desk. She felt much more inspired now; and had gotten back into her ‘writing mood’ So the young recorder took up her pencil and continued righting; unaware that there was ever-rising danger in the far-western land near Salamandastron…..
In the parlor of the Ravager’s camp; a full-scale meeting was at hand, or rather paw. A plan was being made on how to get Alex into Salamandastron easily. Armuk sat, drumming his claws on a side table while Addison sat nearby, fumbling with her pebbles and seashells and muttering strange words in a low, haunting voice. I’m impressed she even knows what she’s doing….. the Ravager thought dryly as he observed. Finally, his patience was rewarded as Addison tossed down a spiral shell down upon the coffee table and uttered a strange cry
“Keeyiyah!” “It is done, m’lord.” She keened in an excited voice.
“I… Have seen the future!” “Good, then. Speak up.” Armuk coaxed her, anxious. Addison swallowed. The pine marten grinned wryly. She did a spreading gesture with her paws. “I now know what you must do to get our young spy into Salamandastron.” She fingered a small black pebble, worn smooth with time from the harshness of a raging sea.
“D’ya see this pebble here, it represents Alex. And these here, are the Patrol.” She pointed to a small group of grayish rocks. “Now what you must do, my Lord, is that you shall take a small group of captains and mount a fake ambush to the northwest… Three young hares of the patrol will be taking lunch there at exactly 12:34 today…. You will seek to do the young one harm, but a troublesome young hare- what’s his name? Ferinus? Will come to his aid. He will offer Alex shelter at Salamandastron.”
The pine marten chuckled. “And that is what I saw, m’lord.” Armuk began to pace. “Fine. That’s what I’ll do. What weapons should I take?” “Spears. And I would advise you’d take Brownjaw, Mangefur and Scabnose.” Brownjaw?! Armuk thought in disbelief, but kept his mouth shut. It would be apt to follow the Seer’s advice; as her visions had never been wrong yet. So Armuk grinned and stood, shivering a bit. He threw on a light traveling cloak. “You have done well, Addison. I’ll see to it you’ll be rewarded for this great success…. How would you like to dine with my officers and I and toast our victory over Redwall and Salamandastron?” Addison curtsied, chuckling slyly. “It would be an honor, my Lord.” Armuk waited until Addison had left the room. Only then did he have a quiet laugh with himself. Victory, he knew was not far off.
Clang! Swish! Clang! Steel clashed against steel as Feryn’s broadsword collided with Venya’s rapier, the dancing blades gleaming wickedly as they reflected the summer sun and the cloudless, heather-blue sky in which it dwelled.
“You fight well, Farmer Boy.” Venya commented wryly as she dodged Feryn’s well-placed uppercut. Feryn slashed again.
“Don’t call me that!”
“On the contrary.” Venya said with a grin. “I can call you anything I want!” “Watch out!” Taking a step back, and then forward, Feryn deflected Venya’s blow and landed a sharp parry to the top of Venya’s sword and shoved her back roughly. In turn; Venya threw her weight into her own blade, but her effort was futile. She decided to end the lesson when she grew weary and could no longer battle Feryn’s skillful moves.
“Keep it up, Farmer Boy!” Venya called, picking up her sword and starting to walk off. Then, she started to dart off towards the mountain, sprinting at an impossible pace. “Let’s go back to the mountain.” “All right; not much to do out here anyway.” Feryn followed; and being a hare, he found it easy keeping up with her. “Hey…” Feryn paused, a grin spreading across his face. “Why not have a little fun on the way and make like we’re babes again? Race ya!” “Hey, no fair!” Feryn set a scorching pace in seconds, being a hare, and Venya laughingly pursued him.
On a jetty overlooking the sea; a Warlady lay in wait. Her name: Zanna the Fang. Zanna the Fang was not a typical wildcat. She appeared normal, for the most part: She wore a dark, brownish-green sleeveless tunic and a black-dyed hemp cord with a shark fang on it dangled from her neck; and she also wore a dark, forest green cloak and dark brown breeches held up by the skin of an anaconda she had once slain. Her fur was a reddish-tan color, and her eyes a stunning shade of hazel- popular rumor had it that they could kill you if you stared at them for too long, although this was false.
Zanna’s one real weapon, was her two front teeth. They were overlong and knife-sharp, and always protruded from her mouth and muzzle, giving her a grotesque overbite of sorts. But she was certainly not a creature to laugh at. So much as a nip from those teeth; and any unarmored creature would be dead; as Zanna’s fangs could cleave through fur and flesh all the way to bone. They did not call her death’s shadow for nothing…
For Zanna the Fang was a sabertooth tiger. And to so much as call one a bad name was death. For anyone. As she walked along the dirt path extremely close to the blue-green sea; the surf pounded against the rocks. Zanna, not afraid of heights at all, bit into her greasy wing of woodpigeon and then calmly threw the bleached bone into the sea when she was done with it, walking on. She headed into the forest, acting on instinct alone.
For Zanna the Fang had a mission to carry out….. The sabertooth walked alone down a bridle path; which was muddy and damp. Holly bushes and poison sumac grew in clumps along the trail. After a few more minutes of walking she reached the Ravager’s current camp: The mansion was a decaying; granite palace with an eerie, dark façade and an abandoned look to it. Grinning slyly, Zanna walked towards it and hoped for the best.
At the same time Zanna the Fang approached the door of the Ravager’s camp, Armuk was growing restless. He paced the sitting room, like a wild tiger. Zwilt and Addison were with him; and there was only an hour to go before he would send Alex into the mountain…
And it appeared he would have to follow his Seer’s advice; for try as he might, no other plan options would come into his usually fertile mind. The Warlord was still pacing as he argued with Addison over HOW exactly the campaign to take Salamandastron would go.
Zwilt, who sat on the horsehair sofa, chuckled slyly as he pretended to read a map of Mossflower with a dagger stuck in the picture of Salamandastron.
Idiots! He thought. “Zwilt!” Armuk snapped icily, glaring at his son from where he stood by the fire.
“I invited you to come to this council because I thought it'd be educational for you. Are you learning, son?”
“Yes, Father.” Zwilt’s voice was flat and emotionless. Armuk snorted.
“My lord; must we tarry so?” Addison sighed, glancing at Armuk. “A spy is a bold move enough; but if you try anything more than that Gorath- and his children’s eyes will be on you. Do you really want that so soon?” Armuk immediately shook his head.
“No. For the time being we must keep our approach subtle.”
For once; Armuk agreed with his Oracle’s logic. Zwilt fidgeted a bit on the couch.
“May I leave now?”
“Hah!” Armuk rolled his eyes scornfully. “So Zwilt grows impatient, hmm….”
He shrugged and resumed his plotting. “You must have patience, my son.” Armuk turned his attention back to Addison, feeling he could trust her logic- but only for now. Zwilt sighed and got up.
“You said I would learn something here today. I'm not so sure myself......” Armuk faced his son. “Did I tell you you wouldn't?” He laughed humorlessly; saying to Addison.
“He’s as foolish as his mother! My son seeks to be a Warlord, and yet he clearly does not have the motivation or patience.” He paused a bit, looking back to Zwilt. “I brought you here, my stupid, stupid son to give you a little more wisdom. Have you watched Addison or me at all?”
“I've had enough of you! Leave. Addison you’re dismissed as well. I’ve heard enough from you for today.”
And so Armuk was alone, a plan forming in his mind. So far, Addison, although he resented her, was proving to be helpful in the Salamandastron-Redwall campaign, but her visions no longer seemed concrete, and because of this the Conqeuror knew she would soon outlive her usefulness, and when that day came there would be blood. Much blood.
A moment later there was a slight knock on the closed door.
Armuk crossed the room and opened it. Zanna the Fang stood on the other side of it. The Warlord took a step back unexpectedly.
"Are you Armuk Rinn the Conqueror?"
Armuk stiffened, glared at her, and leaned on his sword.
"As a matter of fact I am. Now who in Hellgates are you?"
Zanna threw back her head and laughed.
"I am Zanna the Fang and I'd like to talk to you about a few things..."
"Well... Do you have a Seer or Oracle in your horde?"
A look of shock flashed through Armuk's face.
"Yes. Yes I do, though I get the feeling her visions and prophecies are false. I think she's a deceiver."
"And that's where I come in.... What are your goals, Armuk?"
Armuk eyed Zanna coolly. He was somewhat unconvinced still, but was beginning to like the way Zanna thought and talked.
"I desire to take Redwall Abbey and Salamandastron. Currently I'm posting my spy inside the mountain."
"Then I'll tell you what, Armuk... Why don't you trust me and not your Seer? I have a band of mercenaries camped out on the flatlands, all trained killers. Perhaps we could aid your cause?"
Armuk turned back to Zanna, grinning.
"I like the sound of that, Zanna. I like that a lot."
So the Sabertooth Tiger and the Sable became reluctant allies, and began discussing what was now THEIR goal, and not just Armuk's: To assassinate the royal family of Salamandastron. The Long Patrol of course, was unaware with this scheme. The game had finally begun!
END OF BOOK ONE
Book Two: Black Lightning
Chapter Seven: The Bird and the Worm
Meanwhile, at Redwall, all was well. Dania had hastened from the gatehouse to the kitchens to see how things were going in the preparations for the annual midsummer feast.
Abbeydwellers bustled about, putting the finishing touches on this dish or that roast. Dania wiped her paws on her spotless blue pinafore and glanced around the room.
Abbess Perrit stepped in, smiling warmly. "Dania, how nice to see you! How are you?"
Dania smiled back.
"Good. Things certainly are busy today, eh?"
"Aye!" The Abbess waved and walked off, ocaisonally saying hello to other creatures who were able to answer, and checking along at how the food was progressing.
Dania stopped to rest a moment, leaning against a tabletop. She wasn't looking where she had put her elbow. It wedged against the rim of a clay bowl filled to the brim with arrowroot sauce.
The bowl went flying!
Dania (and a lot of other beasts) Cringed as the contents of the bowl splashed all over the head and face of a creature in the shadows of the back of the room.
Brother Derek, the aging hedgehog who was the infimary keeper, had been drenched with the sauce. Only his eyes were spared.
"Brother Derek, forgive me. It was an accident, I'm SO sorry!"
Derek only smiled as he licked some of the sauce from his headspikes.
"I already had a bath today; I didn't need one in arrowroot."
This prompted some laughs from the assembled Abbeybeasts. Dania thanked her lucky stars it was only Derek; after all, he was patient and good-humored. He could certainly tolerate something as unimportant as getting his spikes wet.
With a smile, Dania glanced around her and continued helping prepare the feast... Until a tall, narrow-boned black otter with blue eyes approached her. Rorzan, the quiet son of Zaran and Skipper Rorgus. Dania froze.
"Rorzan? Hello. I don't see you here often."
"Hello, Dania." The young otter said in a solemn voice. The squirrel eyed him.
"Is something wrong?"
"Yes. I feel like there's something in the air... I can't quite place it but I have a feeling we're in terrible danger!"
Everyone was staring at Rorzan and Dania now.
"Rorzan, don't be silly. What makes you think that?"
"Just a feeling." He said, and promptly walked off.
Alex didn’t like the roar of the sea. He also didn’t like the feel of Armuk’s blue eyes on him.
“Chief, am I doing something wrong?”
The young ferret asked nervously, as they stood near Salamandastron, near the beaches where the waves pounded the rocky coast.
Armuk shook his head slowly.
“No, Alex, just the opposite…”
He said slyly.
“In fact, you’ve been extremely good. That’s why I’ve appointed you my spy. You’re much cleverer than many of the thick-headed dolts in my horde and can fit into places they can’t. In fact, I have a mission for you right now…”
Armuk smiled and drew Alex close. Alex did his best not to look nervous.
“Alex, here’s your mission and remember it well: inside Salamandastron, there are some secret tunnels from the days of the wildcat Ungatt Trunn. They can be used to spy on others. I want you to get inside the tunnels and observe Gorath and his family. Watch them, and find out where the best area to attack them would be. But you’re not doing any attacking! After you find that out, leave and report back to me or you’re a deadbeast. Understood?”
Alex nodded mutely, terrified.
Armuk just threw back his head and laughed.
Alex asked, fidgeting uncomfortably.
“How am I going to find and get into those tunnels?”
“Oh you’ll know Alex. You’ll know.”
The young ferret threw a crooked salute and hurried north in the direction of the mountain.
The sand of the beach was cool and gritty and clung to Alex’s bare footpaws as he darted blindly towards the back of Salamandastron, breathing raggedly, heart pounding. He had to accomplish his mission exactly the way Armuk had said he should….Or else, death! “I don’t want to die, I don’t want to die…” Alex murmured to himself as he fled. But then a reassuring thought popped into his head: If he did well he’d be rewarded…. In food!
Licking his lips at the thought of all those good vittles they had back at camp, the ferret drove himself onwards, almost tripping and falling as he reached the back of the mountain. Alex sat himself on his knees in the sand and rested a minute, gasping for breath and waiting for his heart to slow. When it did and he felt better, his paws began searching for any crevice, peephole, or secret opening he could use to get himself inside the mountain.
At first, he found nothing. But then, Alex’s paws grasped around a large, cool piece of red quartz. Prying it loose, he yanked hard and pulled it out. In the place where it had been, there was a hole big enough to fit one’s paw. Alex scooped away clumps of sand with his forepaws, and the hole gradually got bigger and bigger, revealing some sort of long-lost secret entrance! The young ferret’s heart began to beat wildly. This was his chance to shine!
Once he was certain the uncovered hole was big enough to enter, Alex eased himself through, head and chest first and then the rest of him. It was a tight fit, and for a moment he lay, half in half out of the secret tunnels and half on the surrounding beach. Gasping and panting with exertion, the ferret squared his shoulders and heaved himself through, tumbling forward into a damp abyss.
The cavern Alex found himself in was damp and cool and smelled of the sea at low tide. The ferret’s nostrils flared at the unfamiliar scent. Getting up onto his footpaws and rising from the hunched position he’d been in, Alex’s left footpaw caught on something brittle and he almost tripped backwards. Leaning down, he scrabbled to grab it, but only knocked it a little farther. Muttering under his breath at his misfortune, Alex’s gaze steered left, and he let out a yelp of horror, realizing he was staring at some sort of skeleton clad in decaying rags, mouth open as though in shock.
Alex picked up the torch and walked away, rather than running; not wanting to collide with an unseen wall. Taking his small dagger and a ragged piece of twine from his pocket, Alex tied the dagger to the top of the torch and used it as a sort of walking stick as the blind do, feeling his way through the nearly pitch-dark tunnel. Rainwater dripped from stalactites to the floor, and Alex’s footpaws were slick from walking in puddle after puddle.
“You’re doing it for the vittles. You’re doing it for the vittles.”
Alex murmured, voice echoing. The young ferret picked himself up and continued onward through the lonely network of tunnels.
Alex eventually ascended into a forking network of tunnels that led around the mountain. Now that he was actually inside; he’d have to be much more careful than in the cavern, as creatures could be watching from anywhere. The ferret spent a majority of his time dodging and quivering in the shadows as a group of hares would pass him by, ears pricked and alert, taking in every word they said and making a mental note to include his findings in his report to Armuk.
Now Alex crept along the huge hallway, crawling on all fours. His fur and clothes were dark, and it would take a very keen-eyed beast to notice him crouching there in the darkness. His heart and breath quickened, sensing someone past. Alex backed into the wall and pressed himself against it until the danger was no more. He then treaded forward north, stealing quick glimpses of the forge chamber, and finally, the large bedchamber which was shared by Gorath, Rowanbloom, and Brang.
It was enormous and occupied by three equally-huge beds, as well as a writing desk with an embossed ledger on it bearing the name The Family Chronicle. Glimpsing into the doorway, Alex could see Brang, Rowanbloom and Gorath, talking and laughing. This was it! This was where the assassination attempt could be staged! Alex just knew it. Snickering almost inaudibly, the young ferret darted across to an empty corridor and began his silent journey back to the caves. Lord Armuk will be pleased and I’ll be well-rewarded! The ferret thought smugly as he walked off, not having a full idea what dark chain of events he had just set in motion.
Armuk Rinn was not a patient creature. It had been nearly two hours now since he’d sent Alex out spy on Lord Gorath; and he should have been back thirty minutes previous. The sable was alone in the camp’s parlor, pacing by the fire, eerie shadows cast upon the floor from the closed windows. Armuk did not like being alone. It made him feel uncomfortable and feel as though he had no power. And being without creatures to manipulate was something Armuk despised greatly.
Armuk….. The sable leaned against the wall, gasping for breath as he heard the voice. It was low and willowy; and seemed to be no more than the wind. Kalya. The warlord did not want to think of her, had not wanted to for nearly two decades, and yet suddenly the name seared into his mind like a grotesque sort of mental branding tattoo and stayed there. Kalya. Zwilt’s mother.
Armuk had been twenty-two and young when he’d met the other sable, and Kalya, not much older. They’d fallen in love almost immediately; and with a growing horde to lead and a child on the way life seemed very sweet indeed.
Until, the day before they were to be married, Kalya disappeared without a trace, leaving Armuk with a newborn Zwilt to raise. Zwilt… Armuk had passionately hated his son from that day forward because he reminded him so much of his mother; but only in negative ways.
Armuk looked up with a jolt as there was a sudden crash. Hopefully it wasn’t Zwilt doing something stupid…. The sable ran to the window, the source of the sound. Perched on the sill was a scrawny black crow named Sombra. Armuk recognized him immediately as the sentry he’d posted to keep watch for Alex. Armuk threw open the window and Sombra flew in a tornado of black feathers, perching on the mantel.
He cawed in a breathless tone.
“A-Alex is returnin’ yet! I saw him out by the front gate, Sire!”
“Good! I was wondering when he was going to show up.”
The crow cocked his head, studying Armuk.
“Is there anythin’ else y’need, m’lord?”
“No, Sombra. Go. You’re dismissed.”
Sombra flew back out from the window he’d entered from. Armuk then left the parlor and headed out to the front gate, hoping that Sombra was right about Alex. The front hall of the manor was decrepit, and covered with dust and fading pale pink carpets. Busts of creatures of ambiguous species were mounted on mahogany stands. Huge beams of pale light streamed in through the open windows and cast noontide shadows onto the fraying rugs. Armuk leaned against one of the busts and glanced north.
Amid the ruin of iron and bramble that had once been the front gate, Alex darted down the cobbled drive and through the door. Shutting the door behind him, Alex ran to Armuk, panting breathlessly.
“Well, Alex? What did you find inside the mountain?”
Alex was silent for a moment, but then spoke up. He produced a bark scroll from his pocket and handed it to Armuk. It depicted a somewhat-crude but overall good depiction of the tunnels and inner chambers of Salamandastron. Gorath’s chamber had been circled with a thin charcoal stick.
“The best place for the assassination would be Lord Gorath’s bedroom, sir. You can just send an assassin in while the lot’s sleeping and they won’t know a thing.”
Armuk grinned and patted Alex on the head.
“I like the way you’re turning out, Alex. Good job. Keep your eyes and your ears open. I’ll have more for you in the future. Go on into the pantry and see Addison. She’ll be happy to supply with all the food you need.”
Alex whooped with joy and raced off towards the panty. Armuk flinched visibly as Zwilt walked in from one of the adjoining chambers, broadsword poking through his belt, a smug look on his face. Armuk hated that look, and returned it with a curt, sour one.
“Guess what I’ve done, father?”
He said in an imperious tone.
Armuk shut one eye.
“You’ve gone into battle and wiped out half of our own.”
“No. I went out with Brownjaw and a party of twoscore to the eastern woods. Guess who we met up with? Your old friend,. That rat, Frith Stonehowl…. Huh, he had a big ego but we took care of him like you wanted. Took his horde too.”
“How big was it?”
“About threescore. They’re Ravagers now.”
“So for once you do what I say. Well done, Zwilt.”
Zwilt bowed. There was a servile look in his eyes, but Armuk saw right through it. Zwilt had played games like this often in the past in an attempt to get on his father’s good side. He’d failed all those times. Armuk’s blue eyes lingered on his son as he exited. Most surely Zwilt was up to that again. But what if he wasn’t….?
“Oh well. I’ll watch him anyway.”
Armuk thought anyway, and went off to consult with Zanna on the final details of the developing murder plot.
Indigo shades of early summer evening fell over Salamandastron; the moon a big silver coin in the purple-blue sky, the stars like tiny diamonds in its velvety abyss. The sea lapped softly at the white sand beach, and mighty waves crashed upon high, moss-covered rocks.
Within the mountain, there was happiness and light. A huge feast had been thrown in the Mess Hall to commemorate the longest day of the season before full summer. There was lots of merriment going about: The Regimental band struck up a few songs. Gabe had a violin but was not among them for obvious reasons: He couldn’t quite keep the beat nor even the tune.
The hares attacked their food with vivacity common for their species, and laughed and teased and greeted friends.
“Good day for a solstice, eh Ro?” Brang teased his sister, giving her a sharp elbow.
“Brang you old leg-puller, stop!” Rowanbloom laughed; looking quite pretty in her delicate pale pink dress with embroidery of tiny flowers on the sleeves.
Feryn wished he could join the fun with as much enthusiasm as the others, but his mind roved to other things. Home. Rebecca. His parents. Feryn knew his father was proud of him and wanted him to grow up to be a scarred and decorated war hero someday, (and maybe even Rebecca too, if she had a desire to join the Patrol when she was older) but his mother only wanted him to stay at home- farm, plow, raise crops; keep the torch that was the family honor burning bright. Both of his parents wanted what was best for him, but what WAS the best for him?
Feryn’s thoughts were interrupted as Venya trotted in, clad in full uniform with her rapier sheathed to a black belt. She wore a huge, toothy grin on her face. Some of the hares stopped and said hello. Feryn waved and tried not to look like the lovesick fool he felt like.
Venya pulled up a chair at the long table and slumped down besides him. “How’s it going, Farmer Boy?”
She asked, putting her footpaws on the table and taking a bite out of a slice of toasted nutbread.
“I’m good, thanks.”
Feryn paused to sip some cordial. It had a sweet, tangy taste, so he instinctively had a little more.
“My dad give you his Evil Eye yet?”
“His evil eye?”
Seeing Feryn’s puzzled look, Venya just laughed.
“Ohh. That’s what I call this cold look he gives all his hares, especially the new ones. My old dad runs a tight ship, but if you look beneath the surface he really cares.”
She smiled friendlily.
“Want some of this cake? It’s awfully good.” She said, indicating a slab of glazed vanilla cake, topped with berries and apple slices.
Licking dry lips, Feryn cut himself a piece and tasted it. Pure heaven! The hare looked up, roused by a loud snuffling. It was Gabe, who was also eating cake.
“I say… Steady on, Feryn ol’ chap! Aren’t you…. Bally well… Goin’ t’save some for your old messmate, wot?”
Feryn and Venya both grinned at the antics of the cheerful, portly hare. After Gabe was done eating, (which took quite a while) he whipped out his violin and strummed it a few times. Turning to the hares in the band, he called loudly:
“’Ey! You chaps! Watch an ‘are who knows how to make some REAL music! ….. No, no it ain’t a fiddle an’ I’m the one who jolly well plays it!”
Dead silence reigned over the Mess Hall as Gabe tuned the violin and managed a few squeaky, off-key notes that changed pitch sporadically as he played. He sucked in a deep breath of air and sang in a baritone voice:
“Oohhh in days sad, I sailed the sea.
A little boat… My scoff and me….
One day the tides got wild and we were overturned.
And I tried to find the vittles, but alas I couldn’t find any, not a little; an’ I washed up upon a foggy moor.
So I roamed for far an’ wide, all along the shore an’ tide, and alas alack I couldn’t find me scoff.
So I was walkin’ ‘round, just me, and as pretty as you please,
There was a tree, its branches ripe with fruit.
So I ran right up to it, an’ in the sand I went to sit, and I’m still on this island with me scoff!”
Gabe was rewarded with applause and cheers. Even though his violin skills were not the greatest; his nonsense song was entertaining, and he wasn’t that bad of a singer after all.
“Thank you, thank you.”
He said to the cheering audience.
“And I’d like t’dedicate that little ditty to two of my best friends on this ‘ere mountain, Feryn Kordyne and Venya Wildwood!”
Venya broke into a grin and whispered:
“Rather your friend then your enemy, Farmer Boy!”
Her paw brushed Feryn’s. Feryn felt a rush of heat run to his face, and looked away, tingling as though with the sensation of pins and needles. But he was smiling. Not an embarrassed smile. A good smile; one of happiness. He was finally beginning to fit in now, and had found friends in Gabe and Venya. On the mountain of Salamandastron, things were looking very bright indeed, yes, as bright as the stars that studded the velvet sky.
Chapter Eight: Mayhem on the mountain
Armuk Rinn was in high spirits. He was laughing merrily to himself as he paced the front hall of the manor, lashing out with his broadsword and cleaving the air. Zwilt was out on some petty mission. Good. All the pieces of the plan were falling into place at last! Soon the fool Gorath would be out of the way, and his children as well. Excellent. Without a leader, the Long Patrol was nothing more than a pack of frightened rabbits! And that was all that stood in the way of possession of the mountain. Brilliant! How simply brilliant!
Armuk thought happily as he waited for Zanna to arrive with her best assassin. The sable’s happiness dropped away like a stage curtain however, as Addison staggered through an adjoining chamber, clutching a gnarled oaken staff.
“Did ye heed my advice, Lord?”
Armuk felt a drop of sweat run down his neck. He could not lie to his Oracle, as much as he wanted to. She would immediately know he was lying and question him further. So he said outright:
“I did not heed your omens, Addison. Sending Alex inside the tunnels proved much more successful than your visions did.”
Addison cocked her head, looking almost as though she could see. The look was downright eerie and it gave Armuk chills. But Addison looked unconcerned and only nodded.
“I understand, Sire. I have my visions, but they are not always correct.”
“I am glad you understand, loyal Addison.”
Addison smiled and nodded, but Armuk sensed something cold and treacherous behind that smile; a deadly beginning to contempt. He didn’t like that at all, but he would let it pass for now. His eyes remained on the blind pine marten until she exited. A few moments later, Zanna strutted in, twirling her spear. A small, scrawny ferret, pure-black and completely armed to the teeth was with her.
“This, my Lord, is my best assassin: Nightclaw.”
“Shall I show the sable a few of my tricks, Zanna your honor?”
Nightclaw’s voice was a smooth, low monotone. He twirled one of his daggers. Zanna nodded wordlessly.
“Yes. Please do.”
Armuk stepped aside. Zanna grinned visibly, gaping front fangs gleaming in the lamplight. Nightclaw took ten steps back so that he stood in the doorway. Then he turned his back, dagger in paw. Fast as lightning, he hurled the dagger. Zanna stepped into the front of the hall. It zinged just above her head and embedded in its target: The door at the end of the hall. Nigthclaw turned around. His eyes snapped open and he grinned sadistically.
Armuk was agape. Never before had he seen such a skilled knife thrower!
“That was your target?”
He asked Nightclaw, amazed. Nightclaw did not answer. He simply nodded and went to retrieve the still-quivering dagger from the wood. Then, he walked back to Zanna and Armuk and bowed.
Zanna asked in a quizzical tone. Armuk nodded wordlessly. No words could describe his gratitude and bliss.
“Yes. Very, Zanna. I can’t thank you enough.”
The sabertooth cat smiled thinly, revealing her infamous fangs.
“Your wish is my command….We ARE allies, aren’t we?”
And with that, Zanna stalked off, but before she did she knelt and whispered to Armuk:
“The time of the assassination is yours to choose. Good luck!”
Once Armuk was alone with Nightclaw, he turned swiftly and faced the ferret, saying coolly:
“You’ve proved enough, ferret. Go to Salamandastron. Go now; use the tunnels! Enter Lord Gorath’s bedchamber, slay him and his two children and report back to me. Mark my words, Nightclaw, if you fail I’ll have your head!”
Nightclaw smiled and said in a hissing voice.
“Why, sable? Is your own not good enough for you?”
Without another word, Nightclaw the Assassin trudged off towards Salamandastron, eager to do as his leaders bidded- the scrawny ferret was much more like a machine than a beast. And he had only one function, like a machine: Kill!
Nightclaw the Assassin strode slowly, almost mechanically across the beach. It was past midnight and everyone at Salamandastron had long gone to bed. The waves lapped softly at the beach. Nightclaw’s paws dipped into the damp sand, the stinging seawater soaking into their pads. The ferret did not care. He focused only on his mission- lived for his mission and the instructions his leader had given him. Slay the badgers? Hah! Child’s play. Nightclaw was the very best at his job and he knew it.
The ferret chuckled lowly to himself and twirled his long dagger, catching it has he threw it into the air. The slim steel blade glistened in the moonlight, and for an instant both the moon and the mountain were reflected on it. By now, the entrance to the tunnels was growing closer. Nightclaw dropped to all fours on the spot Alex had been that afternoon and began to uncover the secret entrance.
Being small as well as thin, Nightclaw easily fit through the hole Alex had left- he’d be sure to cover it upon exiting the mountain. The horrors of the cavern did little to bother Nightclaw; he had eerily keen night vision and rarely (if ever) crashed or stumbled or took a wrong turn.
At last, he arrived in the main corridor. A thin, evil smile spreading across his lips, Nightclaw headed north towards Gorath’s bedchamber, as silent as a creeping shadow.
His claws closed around the great brass doorknob and opened it. The door did not squeak. Yanking his longest, sharpest dagger from the crossbelt he wore on his chest, Nightclaw walked in, shutting the door behind him.
Gorath, Brang and Rowanbloom lay on their beds, fast asleep. Nightclaw strode towards Rowanbloom first, dagger in an iron grip.
“Hello there, fair maiden….”
He said in a cracked, squeaking voice as he stood over Rowanbloom’s bed. Smiling, Nightclaw put his long paws around the badger’s neck and squeezed hard, in an attempt to strangle her. Rowanbloom woke up seconds later and tried to scream. Nightclaw clamped one paw over her muzzle and removed his other from Rowanbloom’s neck. He took his dagger and hacked at her throat. Once, twice, three times. The scream died away on the young badger’s lips. Even though her eyes were still open in horror she had long gone away to the land of peaceful meadows and gentle brooks.
Not bothering to clean his dagger or remove it from the badger’s throat, Nightclaw smiled twistedly down at Rowanbloom and walked calmly over to his next victim- Gorath. Nightclaw smiled coldly at the aging badger. The badger’s eyes snapped open almost instantly. They darted towards the bloody dagger in Nightclaw’s paws, and his cold smile, and instantly he knew what the cruel ferret wanted.
“Even if you kill me, ferret, Salamandastron will never be yours or the master you serve.”
“Hah! In your dreams, old one!”
Nightclaw held the dagger to Gorath’s throat. He smiled sadistically at the Badger Lord.
“Do you not know the power of Armuk Rinn and Zanna the Fang?”
He paused, as though waiting for Gorath to aswer.
“No. I think not!”
Laughing harshly, Nightclaw discarded the dagger and drew a long rapier that had been clad in a flimsy sheath. In one long, swiping move he slashed off Gorath’s head, edging back as it hit the floor.
“You….You killed my father! My sister too!”
Nightclaw’s breath caught in his chest as he stared in horror at Brang. The young badger must have woken up when he had killed Gorath. Brang got out of bed and picked up his father’s old pitchfork, Tung, which had been mounted on the wall. Eyes turning scarlet with the rush of oncoming Bloodwrath, Brang launched himself towards Nightclaw, who had his rapier ready.
The steel of the pitchfork prongs collided with Nightclaw’s metal rapier. They clashed and struck again as Nightclaw leapt nimbly back, cloak flying. Brang gritted his teeth, struggling to control himself as he tried to concentrate on his foe. Brang raised Tung over the rapier blade, intending to ram it into Nightclaw’s throat. Nightclaw dodged.
“You think you can win, young fool?”
He chuckled, very amused.
Brang leaned against the wall to catch his breath, breathing hard. He muttered an old chant that helped to calm berserk badger rulers: “Badger leaders from the past, hear my pleas: Forge the ties that bind; restrain my paw and guide my mind.”
It worked. Brang dodged Nightclaw as he slashed down with his rapier, intending to behead him. Just as he looked up to swing his pitchfork, Brang collapsed, clutching his throat as the sword embedded itself into his lower neck. Just before he lost consciousness, Brang let out a scream loud enough (but not actually!) to wake the dead.
Licking blood of his rapier, Nightclaw fled the room, heart pounding. Hares in surrounding rooms were starting to amble out into the hall to see who had screamed and why.
Someone called out:
“Stop him! Stop the invader!”
It was Venya’s father Velton Wildwood, clutching a swagger stick and a military saber, eyes as hard as ice.
Nightclaw gasped as he hurried down a forking corridor and scrambled to find his exit.
Feryn was woken from a dream about lemonade when he heard the muffled screaming and running about in the hall. The hare sat up blearily on his bunk, wiping his eyes. All the other bunks in his barrack-room had been vacated and hastily: Bedsheets had been ripped off and lay piled on the floor, nightclothes scattered about, and clothes had been taken from the dressers and in a great hurry. He leapt up with a jolt, hearing a pouding on the door.
Shaking a bit, Feryn fixed the buttons on his nightshirt (which were crooked) and answered the door. It was Colonel Velton Wildwood, Venya’s domineering father, whom Feryn had only seen at a distance before. He was dressed in full uniform, oddly, and had a rapier sheathed at his side, much like the one Venya used. He clutched a swagger stick in his left paw. A curling mustache of fur adorned his arrogant pointed snout.
“Er….Colonel Wildwood. Good morning to you, sir.”
Feryn said a bit uncertainly (as it was very early morning now)
“I have come at this ungodly hour, Private Kordyne, to deliver some most disturbing news.”
The older officer paused to clear his throat. He then lean towards Feryn and said in a low voice:
“There’s been an assassination attempt on Lord Gorath and his family.”
Feryn leapt back, shocked. Had such a tragic event occurred, wouldn’t he have been notified earlier?
“And I see your roommates were most unwise in not waking you sooner. The assassination attempt occurred well over an hour ago.”
Feryn turned, grim-faced, to Wildwood.
“You keep saying attempt… Did Lord Gorath and his children….?”
The Colonel just shook his head sadly.
“Only young Brang survived, though he does have some superficial wounds to his throat. He keeps saying that a vermin assassin entered the mountain and slew Rowanbloom and his father, but how this is possible we don’t know. Several of my comrades and I suspect that someone in the mountain may have tipped off a vermin….”
But Feryn was no longer listening. He’d suddenly heard everything he needed to know.
“….So if you see anyone suspicious, then report to me or Brang… Pardon. LORD Brang.”
Brang a badger lord? Brang was so young and surly, Feryn found that notion difficult to grasp, but it was one of many things he would just have to adjust to in the developing tragedy.
“But in the meantime, we’re uncertain. Right now I’ve sent some teams to scour the mountain for any secret entrance a vermin spy or cutthroat might use to enter Salamandastron…. I’d like to say you have potential for a new recruit and I like that. I’m assigning you to search with them. If there’s anything you’re unsure about, my daughter Venya will help you.”
Feryn nodded and saluted.
“Yes sir. Where are the searchers?”
“A little ways down the western corridor. You can’t miss them.”
The Colonel smiled and walked off with his swagger stick. Feryn hurried back into his room to get changed. A few moments later he emerged, armed with his broadsword, and dashed off to join Venya and the other investigators in the corridor.
At the corridor, Venya and half a score of other hares were investigating a group of fresh pawtracks that stopped at a wall. They did not continue in any other direction.
“Yes, it’s very strange…..”
Venya muttered as she poked the stone wall with her rapier tip. She smiled as she saw Feryn.
“Well look who’s coming to join us! Everyone, say hello to Feryn Kordyne, otherwise known as Farmer Boy.”
Feryn (now growing used to the playful moniker Venya had bestowed on him) shook paws warmly with the other hares investigating the pawtracks and learned their names. After a while, the conversation drifted back into figuring out where the strange pawtracks led.
As Venya had a talk with the other hares in the crew, Feryn paused to lean on the wall. He leaned forward with a start as the wall swung back, revealing a darkened entrance.
Venya whispered, eyes gone huge.
“A secret entrance!”
A clamor of dialogue ensued:
“What’re you rotters waitin’ for? Let’s go!”
“No, no! Let’s wait for further orders and stay here.”
“Orders from who, wise guy?”
“Everyone, be quiet!”
Venya fixed them with an annoyed stare.
“We can all get this done so long as we cooperate and stick together. Everyone, take those torches off the wall- one for everybeast. C’mon, gang. Let’s roll!”
In a rush, the torches were yanked off the wall. Feryn, Venya and the other hares trooped into the damp, dank secret caverns of Salamandastron, shutting the secret door behind them. The other hares conversed quietly:
“Gee, matey, it’s right awful dark in ‘ere…. I can’t see a bally thing in front o’ me.”
“Huh, you’re bloomin’ right, Stormpaw, neither kin I!”
“Hey, my voice echoes! Echo! Echo! Echo!”
“Shuddup, mate, you’ll make us all look daft!”
Meanwhile, Venya strode at the head of the line, with Feryn walking alongside her.
“I think,” He commented.
“It looks like the assassin came in from the outside, entered using that door and exited using it.”
“It’s starting to look that way. Let’s see if we can track the blighter to his camp….Wherever that may be. But I’m a good tracker.”
She winked, but then froze dead in her tracks, calling:
“’Ey, mateys! Around here! Look... The invader left more tracks outside, and they head straight south. All of you, head back inside and report to Lord Brang and my dad with your findings. Feryn and I will meet you back as soon as we get our tracking done.”
There was a flurry of nods and murmurs and agreement, and with that, Feryn and Venya set off on the trail.
“If you want a lesson in tracking, Farmer Boy, stick close to me. You’re good with a sword; I’m better with the trail. We make a good team, eh?”
She smiled warmly. Feryn nodded, smiling back.
The trail they set off down was smooth, and lined with pine trees, holly bushes, small shrubs, and maple trees. The roar of the sea had been reduced to a faint whisper. Venya and Feryn helped each other along through the overgrown plants and brambles, primarily in silence, speaking only when they needed to. Tracking was a silent art; and too much noise might alert a wayward vermin sentry hidden somewhere in the brush.
“Any ideas on where there might be a vermin camp?”
Feryn asked Venya as he helped her over a particularly threatening bramble patch. Venya shrugged.
“Hard to say, really. But there’s been reports of hordes and small gangs hiding in the territory we’re going into. We can only hope that we’re lucky and find something- or somebeast that might be helpful. There’s supposed to be a ‘haunted mansion’ around these parts, but no one believes that sort of talk…”
After ten more minutes of walking, they stopped in front of the huge, vast mansion that had once been camp for the Ravagers. But no longer: The house’s gates had been swung open, as though in a hurry, and a huge cooking fire had dwindled down to ashes in the front courtyard. The Ravagers had gone; onto their next goal: Redwall Abbey.
“This was it….”
Feryn whispered, eyes widened. Venya nodded grimly, and wiped away the beginnings of tears on the back of her paw.
“The villains got away!”
Both hares felt anger, aungish, and general depression boiling inside of them. But there was no place for that. With a sigh, Venya put her arm around Feryn’s shoulder, and together, the two of them walked back to the mountain.
Chapter Nine: Journey to Mossflower Country
The Ravagers were marching north towards Mossflower Wood and their next camp, the pale lavender-red dawn light from the sky shining down. As Brownjaw and several other thick-headed weasels goaded on the slower walkers, Armuk strode imperiously on at the front. Nightclaw had informed him before the departure that his Salamandastron invasion had been a success, and that had been joyful news for the sable, who flinched as Zanna walked up beside him, tapping his shoulder with her spearpoint.
She whispered in a rasping voice. Armuk turned around somewhat.
“I got some news for ye.”
“And what’s that?”
Zanna’s voice dropped to a secretive whisper as she said.
“Nightclaw is lying.”
“Yes. I was able to find out that he was only lying when he said he slew ALL the badgers at Salamandastron… One of them, the young one, still lives!”
Eerie fires lighting up in his eyes, Armuk nodded towards Zanna and said to her:
“Keep that up and you’ll be well-rewarded.”
Then, the sable marched off further down the ranks where Nightclaw dragged along with the other slower creatures.
“Hello there, Nightclaw….”
There was an edge to the sable’s silky voice. Even Nightclaw was chilled by it.
“Er….Hi, m’lord. What is it?”
“Don’t think you can lie to me.”
Armuk got right to business. His voice soon turned to a low, menacing rasp.
“I know you only succeeded to slay two of the badgers and not three. Fool! Did I not say I’d have your head if you failed?”
Armuk stopped walking.
“Everybeast, stop where you are!”
Obediently, all the Ravagers did. Every eye was fixed on the humiliated Nightclaw.
“Everybeast, look upon this so-called Assassin….He is nothing more than a liar. And what does Armuk Rinn do to liars?”
A nervous chorus of answers came from the vermin horde:
Giving a low laugh, Armuk turned to Nightclaw and said in a vicious whisper.
Nightclaw did. Armuk swung his broadsword, and in an instant the Assassin became the Assassinated. As the eyes fell on his grisly, headless carcass, Armuk snapped to his hordebeasts:
“As far as you’re concerned he’s not there. Now KEEP. GOING!”
With gulps, murmurs, and reluctant nods, they did. Armuk glanced towards Zanna. He did not care how she’d gotten the information that she did, only that he was glad of it. She was getting very useful to have around, maybe even more so than Addison…. Addison. The sable smiled. He had his eye on the pine marten. And the eye of Armuk Rinn observed all…….
Meanwhile, at Salamandastron, a huge procession had turned out for the burial of Gorath and Rowanbloom (if you can call being put into stone boxes underground a ‘burial’) A score of hares carrying lanterns and torches led the way into the darkened underground tomb. Damp-eyed and stonefaced, Brang walked at the head of the line, clad in a red cloak and a silver breastplate that had once been his father’s.
At last, the carriers placed the bodies of Rowanbloom and Gorath on two stone platforms between Blaireau and Salixa, and placed the lids over them. They shut with a dusty, Click! A paw resting gently on his father’s sarcophagus, Brang choked back tears as he spoke to the hares. His clawtip rested on the bandage at his throat.
“My father was a great Badger Lord. But Rowanbloom and I, we just knew him as ‘dad’ he was a lot of fun, but could be wise and very firm when he wanted to be. My whole life I’ve admired him. I still do. My father was getting old. We all knew he’d pass down his position soon and we’d all learned to accept that….But Rowanbloom….”
For a moment Brang looked as though he was going to cry. But then he steeled himself and continued.
“Rowanbloom was young and adventurous. She had her whole life ahead of her…..But now she’ll spend that life in the quiet streams and gentle meadows of the Dark Forest. I hope that she can give our little brother Blaireau a hug for the both of us. And I swear,”
Brang’s voice rose.
“By the oath of the Badger Rulers and warrior hares here before me, I swear to avenge her and my father by slaying her killers!”
He was met by cheers from the assembled hares. Everyone was silent then, as the burial concluded, and the Long Patrollers gathered there waited to here the young Badger Lord’s first decrees.
Early dawn steadily developed into a bright early summer morning. At Redwall, Rorgus, the Skipper of Otters trooped out from the cloisters with Rorzan, who was his son. Rorzan sniffed as he hefted the loaded sling in his paw.
“I don’t see the point of it, Dad.”
“I’m never going be as good with weapons as you or Ma, so why bother?”
Rorgus smiled and faced his son.
“You’ll never know until you try. Now come on Rorzan, you old stick-in-the-mud!”
Rorzan paused to mop his brow on his tunic sleeve. Then he sauntered along beside his father with his sling, to the old oak tree that was to be their target. Rorgus positioned his own sling carefully, making sure its loaded rock was in its correct place. Then he said to Rorzan:
“It’s high time you’ve graduated from a slingshot. A slingshot is a child’s weapon; and you’re fast becoming an adult.”
Rorzan snorted, but watched respectfully as Rorgus stepped back so that he was parallel to his son. Then, he raised his arm and hurled the boulder. It struck a bull’s-eye on the target attached to the tree.
“The key, son, is all in the arm and the wrist. You have good control o’ those, and y’know everythin’. Ready?”
Suddenly feeling determined, Rorzan took a few steps back, yanked his arm back behind him and then raised it upwards into the air. The rock sailed through the summer sky for a moment, before hitting dead-center on the target. Rorgus grinned.
“Now try it again!”
Feeling a lot more enthusiastic now that he had confidence in himself, Rorzan picked up his discarded rock, put it back in his sling and repeated the process that was now becoming familiar. He got another bull’s-eye. Feeling proud, and sure of himself, Rorzan continued to practice with his father with the slings all morning, and felt a beam of pride when Rorgus said:
“An’ mebbe, if’n yore ready, next week we’ll move on to the quarterstave!”
For the young otter Rorzan, things were now looking very, very bright indeed.
After the burial, the Long Patrollers somberly returned to their daily mountain tasks. But not Feryn, Venya, and Gabe. Brang called them to the Forge Chamber for a late brunch of vanilla-raspberry scones, apple tarts, greensap pancakes with honey, pecan toast and other such delicacies. “Gabe, slow down or you’ll eat EVERYONE’s food!”
Brang chided jokingly as Gabe wolfed down his third tart. The hare replied with “Mmmhmmm…..Don’cha say, s’ie, don’t ya just bally well say, wot!” His voice was muffled from the food.
“And don’t talk with your mouth full!” Feryn joked, smiling. After everyone had finished eating, Brang leaned back, put his footpaws on the great oaken table and smiled. But the smile soon faded into a pain-creased grimace, and his paw went to his healing throat. It was a moment before he broke the silence and said:
“I wish it were that simple, but I didn’t invite you three down here for a breakfast party.”
Gabe’s ears and whiskers drooped noticeably.
“It’s high time we discussed the subject of…. My family’s killers: Who are they? What do they want?”
Feryn spoke up.
“You keep saying ‘they’ what makes you so sure it wasn’t just one assassin, traveling alone?”
Brang sighed, a deep, rumbling echo.
“There’s been reports of a vermin horde called the Ravagers poking around in the woods. I was such a fool not to believe those reports when obviously they were true! I’d bet gold on the fact that the creature who slew my father and sister was working for is…”
“Armuk Rinn, the Conqueror, the dreaded warlord from the far west; he’s the one who heads the Ravagers, he’s the one whose blood I want!”
Brang’s voice deepened to a slow growl. But then he quietly and discretely restrained himself, gesturing to the three hares:
“That is where you three come in. The news is spreading fast throughout the land that the Ravager’s next goal is to obtain- by any means necessary- the abbey of Redwall. My father was a friend of that Abbey for many years, and helped defend them once many years ago. Now I can only hope to return the favor. I’m going to be sending any of you to Redwall to warn them of the oncoming vermin attack. If it so happens they want your assistance, ask for reinforcements when you return. Corporal Wildwood, Privates Kordyne and Whipscutt, which of you seek to go? Put a paw up if yes.”
Feryn and Venya both put their paws up. Gabe did not. All three sets of eyes were on the flabby hare. He sighed.
“Well, Brang, y’Lordship- sah, I’m just not the jolly fightin’ type. I’ll stay behind an’…. Guard the bally vittles, if that’ll do.”
Brang nodded in understanding.
“If you choose to stay behind, that’s just as well.”
He turned to Feryn and Venya, suddenly less formal- his old self.
“If the two of you are going north to Mossflower, you’ll have to pack. Borrow as many extra weapons as you might need from here, just not anything my dad wielded. Feel free to take plenty of vittles from the kitchen. You’ll need ‘em; it’s going to be a lot of walking.”
Feryn looked to Venya.
“As ready as I’ll ever be, Farmer Boy! Let’s go!”
And so, as they exited the forge room, Feryn felt excitement welling within him. They were going on a journey; a journey to help save the Abbey of Redwall.
The Ravagers completed their march as morning turned to early afternoon, and the vermin hordebeasts all broke for lunch. Their new camp was located in a labyrinth-like network of limestone caves and chambers in what had once been an old stone quarry.
Presently, most hordebeasts were either lounging in the sun with full, bloated bellies, or napping in the shade of the cave while eating meager lunches or half-rationed snacks. The others fished or swam in the River Moss, laughing as they splashed at each other like cheerful infants.
Armuk Rinn sat on a flat rock in the sun, a half-eaten knapsack of apples and roasted trout meat on the hard earth beside him, deep in thought and far away from the noise and bicker of those idiots all over the woods. His plans on how to take Redwall Abbey grew more detailed and comprehensive every moment.
An immediate, full-scale invasion was imbecilic as well as risky. Many others had tried that in the past and failed horribly. Armuk did not want to be the next. The plan lay in something much simpler, less complex. But what?
And then it dawned on him: He had important creatures in his horde. There were also important creatures at Redwall Abbey. Surely at least a few of them had children, precious, growing babes and young ones! Why not steal the babes right from the snouts of the Abbeydwellers and then hold them for ransom?
And if the Redwallers didn’t comply, it was simple: Redwall would still be taken, but by ambush! Smiling at the brilliance of his foolproof plan, Armuk stood up and chuckled lowly. His first move would be to get Alex inside Redwall and see who these important creatures were, and how many young ones they had.
The silver sable strode across the dusty earth, the summer sun glinting off his back. He found Alex wading in the stream, engaged in a water-fight with the sons of several of his horde soldiers.
“Alex! Get out of there, you silly fool!”
Silence reigned over the peaceful woodland as Armuk yanked Alex out of the river by the shoulders. The young ferret winced as the claws sank into his shoulderblades. He spat out cold water onto the dusty ground and then yelped:
“Yeoow! Chief, what was that for? I was having fun, and I was going to beat them!”
“Does that matter?!”
Armuk snarled in a saturnine tone.
“I have a very important job for you Alex, much more so than your last so you had better listen well: I want you to head further north to the Abbey of Redwall, and be as secret as you possibly can. Spy on them and learn who their figures of authority are- and I know that Abbey has a lot- and learn how many young ones they have, if any. If not; any common abbeybabes will do. As soon as you find out, come straight back here! If you’re not back in two hours….. Let’s just say things will get very unpleasant. Do I make myself clear?”
Wordlessly, Alex nodded.
“And don’t stop by the kitchen!”
Alex prowled through the Abbey grounds, so scared he could hardly breathe. He’d just managed to slip his scrawny body under the gates- now what? Would locked doors await him inside?
Would entering Redwall even be necessary; or would examining the grounds and the creatures there suffice? Deciding to compromise, Alex crawled on his belly near the northern wallgates and ducked behind a shaded oak tree, breathing hard. He froze and squinted his eyes as he tried to glance about.
He noticed Mittee, a young squirrel who was the daughter of Abbess Perrit, sitting in the grass. She was extremely quiet and rarely spoke. A few yards in front of her, Rorzan swaggered boldly up to Andio, an auburn and white-furred young mousemaid, daughter of an abbeydweller named Bisky (Who had played a vital role in defending Redwall during the Doomwyte Conflict) and his mate, Spingo.
“Hey, Rorzan. Watcha got there?”
She asked, staring at the otter’s sling. Rorzan hefted the pebble in his sling and narrowed his eyes.
“Hah! I bet you can’t beat me at target practice. I’m a better thrower; I’m good with daggers!”
Alex sniggered as he watched the exchange between the older creatures.
Raising her left arm, Andio took a simple, crudely-hewn throwing dagger from her pocket and hurled it at the very tree Alex stood behind. It was all the ferret could do not to yelp or cry out from fear of being struck.
The dagger missed the target. Rorzan gritted his teeth and hurled his slingstone. It struck dead-center in the middle of the tree.
Rorzan snorted. It was plain fact that Andio was a sore loser (maybe this had to do with her being two years younger than him)
“Yes you did!”
“If that’s how you’re gonna be, wanna rematch?”
Andio paused and glanced at the tree, from the target, to Rorzan and his sling.
“I think this tree is bad luck, Rorzan… Maybe we should have our contest somewhere else…”
“Aww come on you little upstart it was your challenge, wasn’t it?”
“Yeah, I guess…..”
Alex waited until Rorzan and Andio drifted apart and went their separate ways before he continued his spy job. He carefully crept out from behind the tree, hid himself in the bushes and the brambles and sat down to wait. It would have taken the most experienced beast hours to find him there in the dark.
At last, half an hour past. Having gathered all the information he needed, the ferret scampered out, absolutely unnoticed, out of Redwall and back to camp. His leaders, he knew, would be pleased. It was all he could do not to raise his head and breathe in the welcoming, good scent of the kitchens…..And…. Food…..
Chapter Ten: Captured!
Fog. In the middle of summer; in the middle of the afternoon, there was fog! It blanketed the great deciduous woodlands like a white blanket and it stayed.
Venya commented dully, biting into her last apple as she jogged alongside Feryn.
“Here. I never lived apples. Want mine?”
He asked, holding out his own.
Venya accepted it and began to eat. The trail was soft and damp on their footpaws, and the oak and beech trees towered above their heads.
“You’ve been to this part of Mossflower before. We close to Redwall yet?”
Feryn gritted his teeth in thought.
“I haven’t been to this part of the woods in years, so it’s hard to say, but I think so. At any rate, let’s keep going. I think I can see their belltower through the fog.”
Venya froze in her tracks.
Venya shuddered visibly.
She said in a cool, unaffected tone.
“I just got the creepiest feeling we were being watched.”
Feryn’s blue eyes assessed the grove of brambles, hollies, and thin shrubs lining the trail. At fist he saw and heard nothing due to the fog but flinched at a distant, loud snapping of twigs.
Now Feryn and Venya were walking parallel to each other, the eerie feeling increasing dramatically. They were completely caught off-guard when a halfscore of vermin burst out from the foliage, armed to the teeth. Armuk and Zwilt were leading them.
Caught up in the rush of the unfolding battle, Feryn struggled to control himself. He lashed out with his long broadsword at a weasel and a ferret but missed beheading both of them, narrowly.
Sidestepping back, in an instant Armuk appeared, as though out of thin air from the fog and pressed his own sword to Feryn’s throat. The young hare’s weapon fell to the ground like a discarded toy.
Venya had snatched a spear from one of the attackers and had laid a few creatures flat but was fast running out of energy. She circled the foebeast with spirit and vigor, yelling out
in a fine, roaring style.
Armuk’s blue gaze froze on her.
“Put down that spear or the both of you rabbits die!”
Those cold, harsh words drained the fight from Venya. She stared down at the ground and relinquished her spear.
“Don’t think you can win this easily, vermin!”
Feryn hissed at Armuk, who just smiled coolly.
“Oh yes, I can…”
The sable warlord turned to the members of the Ravager patrol:
“Brownjaw, Scabnose, take our two new prisoners back to camp! And do it in the utmost secrecy….”
Growling and baring his teeth, Feryn was led over to Brownjaw, who laughed oafishly, raising his crude sword:
“Like ya showed me, Chief?”
“Exactly like I showed you.”
Feryn collapsed to his knees suddenly, seeing stars as Brownjaw whacked him over the head with the flat of his sword. Colors. Faces. Exploding lights. Darkness.
Armuk was pleased at how well his plans were going. Now that he had captured Lord Gorath’s (Now Lord Brang’s!) two precious hares; it was possible to manipulate Salamandastron from a distance. When the time came…. For now; his current goal was to obtain whatever young ones from Redwall would best be suitable for his plans. The sable froze on his spot under a shady willow tree as Alex came darting up the path from Redwall.
He threw an awkward salute. Armuk nodded. “What’d you find at Redwall? Who are their leaders? Do they have young uns?”
The ferret nodded vigorously.
“Aye, they do! Let’s see…. There’s a funny colored-otter named Zaran, and two tough mice named Bisky and Spingo. I think they’re some sorta warriors, Chief. They look it! And then there’s a brawny otter called Skipper, ugh, I wouldn’t want to cross ‘im in a fight! Then there’s that squirrel called Abbess Perrit. She’s kind of on the quiet side. She has a daughter named Mittee, who’s a lot like ‘er. Zaran and the Skipper have a son named Rorzan. He’s real strong an’ tough. An’ Bisky and Spingo…..”
As Alex started to talk about Bisky and Spingo’s daughter Andio, Armuk suddenly felt very strange: Even though it was a scorching midsummer day, he suddenly felt weak and cold. Standing up shakily, the warlord commented:
“I think I’ve heard everything, Alex. We make our move tonight.”
Eventually, Armuk gathered the horde and explained his plans as well as the identity of the new captives. When he was done, and alone once more he wiped his brow on the back of his paw.
“Alex, it’s very cold out here for June.”
The ferret looked at him strangely.
“Sire I’m quite hot. Are you sure you’re all right?”
Armuk didn’t answer. He flinched as his vision was obscured by several jarring white hot flashes. Feeling cold, dizzy and irritable the sable snarled:
“No, no I’m not! Now go! Send for Addison!”
Alex hurried to obey his leader’s orders. (Ever since Crazyeyes died in the invasion against Frith Stonehowl, Addison was now the one to consult on herbs) By the time Alex was out of sight in the quarry’s caverns, looking for Addison, Armuk was lying under the willow tree, unconscious.
An hour later, Addison returned from the cave chamber that Armuk had been using as his bedroom. She sensed Zwilt sitting at the mouth of the cave.
She asked, tapping him on the shoulder. Zwilt leapt up, clutching his sword.
Addison curtsied politely, before saying in a low voice:
“Your father is very ill.”
The young sable’s heart skipped a beat. His eyes were full of evil joy. He said in a snarling tone:
“How ill? With what, Addison? Tell me!”
He yanked the bejeweled collar of Addison’s long white silken gown. The pine marten sighed.
“Dryditch Fever. The worst I’ve seen.”
The grin broadened on Zwilt’s face. He knew that without the supposedly mythical Flowers of Icetor, his father would surely die! And then HE would lead the Ravagers! He would conquer Redwall Abbey himself, with plans only one as sly as he could concoct.
“And…..He wants to see you?”
Zwilt’s voice was silky and edged with doubt and sarcasm. Addison just nodded.
“It’s about the plans he had for the next hour or so….”
Zwilt suddenly knew what Addison meant. Armuk’s plan to obtain his next (and final) captives had been a simple one: Stake not too far from the Abbey gates (but not too close either) and simply wait until nightfall. Then, a patrol of select, high-ranking creatures was to enter the Abbey by means of grappling hook and take the creatures they needed (now known as Mittee, Rorzan and Andio) and then quietly and discretely retreat back to camp. Zwilt was under the assumption that Armuk wanted to speak with him on who would make up the members of the elite patrol. So he nodded and went down a twisting corridor to his father’s chamber.
Armuk sat with his back against the wall, lying in a makeshift bed of old cloaks, and assorted rags, a pillow on the floor behind him. Every so often he would shiver. His eyes were glassy and too bright. Zwilt kept his distance from him.
“Why did you send for me, Father?”
Armuk’s voice was slightly rasping when he spoke. He said:
“I’d like to inform you, my weakheaded son, that you’re going to be with the patrol that’s going to Redwall Abbey.”
Zwilt’s heart soared.
It sank into his footpaws as Armuk said next:
“You’re not going to be in charge. I don’t trust you near enough. Zanna is going to be in charge, and you’ll be coming along. Just because he’s second-in-command, but not for much longer anyhow, Brownjaw will accompany you. You know what my plan is; and you and Zanna will do exactly as I’ve instructed. Understood?”
Zwilt nodded grimly.
“Aye…Now you get some rest.”
Armuk snorted. His eyes watched Zwilt’s every move as he left the room. He uttered one word in a low, inaudible snarl:
A peaceful early summer evening covered Mossflower Country like a dark, cozy blanket. At Redwall, everyone was exhausted from the night of feasting, dancing and laughing that had befallen them. As a result; everybeast ended up going to bed early, which boded well for Zanna, Zwilt and Brownjaw. They watched from a safe distance as the Redwall’s lamps and candles, one by one, were blown out.
Peering up ahead, Zanna ventured forth by a few steps. She nodded. “It’s safe; everybeast’s in bed from what I can gather. Let’s go! Quietly now.” Zwilt rose and picked up his spear from the ground, motioning for Brownjaw to do the same. Zanna jogged ahead of them and hurled her metal grappling hook over the wallgate. Leaping up with her cat’s agility, she soon easily hauled herself up and made it to the other side.
Zwilt climbed up using the rope of the grappling hook and joined Zanna. Then, with a little slowness, Brownjaw did too. Once they were all together, Zanna reviewed the plan with them:
“We each take one young’un a piece. I’ll have Andio; Zwilt, you take Rorzan, and Brownjaw, you find Mittee.”
The sabertooth cat produced a large clump of herbs from the inside of her cloak and handed some to Zwilt and Brownjaw, who pocketed them.
“Once you’ve found your victim, hold these under their noses so they stay asleep. Once you two find your prisoners, meet me out here and we’ll head back to camp.”
With quick nods between one another, the evil trio split up.
Zwilt crept down the hall with the stealth of the late Nightclaw, cloak dragging slightly behind him. Exploring the dormitories was a gamble: Any creature could be behind whatever door he opened, but it was a risk he’d have to take. The young otter in the bed was tall and somewhat thin, and grayish-black in color. Rorzan. Zwilt recognized him immediately from the description he’d been given.
Trembling in slight fear, Zwilt placed a gloved paw lightly behind Rorzan’s head and held the soporific under his muzzle. He waited a few minutes. The otter’s breathing gradually changed from the relaxed, easy rhythm of a natural sleep to the slow rasping of an induced one. Sighing in relief, Zwilt brushed back the blankets on Rorzan’s bed and heaved the otter into his arms- easier done than said.
Feeling relived, the sable walked as confidently down the hall as he could, without being weighted down by the burden of Rorzan. Eventually, he met up in the courtyard with Zanna, who successfully retrieved Andio. Ten minutes passed. Brownjaw did not show his face. Then another ten. Again, no Brownjaw! Zwilt and Zanna were becoming irate by now.
“Where is he?!”
The sabertooth snapped curtly, losing her temper. Zwilt shrugged.
“I’ve no idea. But if he’s not here; we’ll have to go back without him.”
No sooner had he said these words, did Brownjaw come rushing down the Abbey steps, empty pawed. Zanna swaggered up to him.
The weasel gulped.
“Er…. I…. I couldn’t find her, Lord Zwilt, Lady Zanna. I- I’m sorry!”
“There’s no time for sorry!”
Zwilt snapped, listening in. Zanna turned to the Abbey.
“I could go get---“
But before she could finish her sentence, Redwall’s windows became alive with a few flickering candlelights, and faint voices.
“Everybeast go! We have to get out before we’re seen! Those abbeybeasts are awake now!”
The three vermin ran as though Vulpuz himself was chasing them. They ran out through the one wallgate that had been accidentally left open and darted down the open path, back towards camp.
Once the trio returned, Zanna saw to it that Rorzan and Andio were put with Feryn and Venya in the holding chamber at the very back of the cave. Once that had been taken care of, Zwilt approached Brownjaw, who lay on the riverbank slurping water.
“My father does not care for liars, and creatures who fail at their callings. Come to think of it; neither do I!”
“But Z-Zwilt, I ain’t no deadbeast!”
“Yes you are.”
Brownjaw scarcely had time to blink as Zwilt thrust his spear through the weasel’s midriff. He knew that Armuk would be pleased; Brownjaw had always been a terrible, bumbling first officer. Humming, Zwilt walked over to the firepit and went to see what was being roasted for dinner.
Rorzan’s skull throbbed dully when he awoke. One of his eyes opened slowly, only to fall shut again. When he opened his other, he could make out faint, blurred shilouettes of two worried faces hanging over him. His vision cleared a little, and he could see that they were hares. Feryn and Venya. When he could completely see their faces, the otter tried to sit up. He suceeded, stammering in a groggy voice:
“Who…Who are you creatures?”
They introduced themselves. Feryn said:
“I’m Feryn Kordyne, otherwise known as Farmer Boy….”
He gave Venya the elbow.
“And I’m Venya Wildwood. We’re Long Patrol hares!”
Rorzan managed a weak smile. He had heard great tales about the gallant beasts who made up the Long Patrol.
“I’m Rorzan. I’m from Redwall Abbey and so is Andio here…. Although I don’t know if I can call her a friend or a rival.”
The captives were no longer in the caves. While unconscious; they had been moved out of there due to the problem of restraining them. There had been no posts or anywhere else to tie them in the caverns, and so now they sat, tied to four branching tree limbs by their chests and shoulders, paws tied behind their backs.
“Well then, Rorzan, let’s get straight down to business, shall we? It’s obvious that this vermin horde, the Ravagers, have taken us prisoner for a reason…..”
His eyes strayed nervously to the two, hard-eyed ferret guards who stood nearby, watching them like hawks. Rorzan blurted without thinkinng in a low voice:
“Maybe they want to hold us ransom….”
“Aye, I bet that’s it.”
Feryn nodded his agreement, wincing as the tight ropes chafed his shoulers as he moved slightly. Rorzan shifted a little as best his bonds would allow as the slumped-over Andio came to. She did so with a bang. Leaping up onto her footpaws, she screeched ferally at the guards:
“Hah! Who are you vermin fools to mess with a Gonfelin? I’ll give you blood and thun— OW!”
The rebellious mousemaid fell back as she learned about the rope’s limits the hard way.
The guards both laughed. One of them, a burly male who was named Redguts, said in a oafish tone:
“Hah! Lookit der liddle mouseymaid tryin’ ter play tough!”
His friend, the other ferret, Riptail, nodded in agreement.
“Aye, mate! What a sorry lot!”
Venya winced. She had put on a similar display of rebellion earlier with similar results. She nudged Andio, speaking in a low whisper:
“Acting like that isn’t going to get us anywhere. We’ll never escape unless all four of us can cooperate.”
Andio’s anger hovered over her like a storm cloud. She crossed her arms, bound wrists in all.
This brought Rorzan to a certain question:
“How CAN we escape?”
Feryn sighed. He and Venya had discussed that before in brief whispered conversations.
The hare looked to Rorzan, saying:
“The way it is now, unfortunately, it looks like we’ll have to take whatever chance we get.”
Half an hour passed. The prisoner's paws were untied briefly so they could be fed a mixture of leaves, gruel, and an unidentifiable slop. Seeing little else to do after they were retied, they drifted off into reluctant sleeps. Feryn stayed awake the longest, eyes on the stars. He made a silent vow that he, Venya, and their reluctant new friends would not stay imprisoned forever. And that was a promise! The young hare drifted off to sleep with that firm, reassuring thought fresh in his mind.
Chapter Eleven: For whom the bell tolls
A quiet silence had fallen over Redwall in the rising summer dawn. After Rorzan and Andio (who were known as responsible young adult creatures) had been found missing, it was immeadietly discussed on what happened to them. As a general rule; no dibbuns or young creatures of Redwall were allowed to be off the grounds for more than a day without their parent’s permission. As breaking this rule resulted in reference on the Abbess’s List, not even fearless Andio dared to stay away that long.
And so, a conference over scones and breakfast tea was being held in Great Hall. The conference members consisted of Bisky, Spingo, Zaran, Skipper Rorgus, and Rivereye, an older white cat so-named for his blue eyes. Right now, he was trying his best to restore order among the confused and worried parents.
“Everybeast, quiet down! We’ll never get anywhere if we all just sit here fighting and arguing like babes.”
“First of all….Who did this? Our children wouldn’t just wander away from Redwall like this! They had to have been taken.”
Bisky, like the others, was not happy. He gripped the sides of his armchair in mounting temper.
“Aye, who’d do such a wicked thing?”
Rivereye nodded solemnly.
“Everybeast, pay attention. And listen well.”
Rivereye cleared his throat. All the impatient sets of eyes were on him.
“Ever since yesterday, there’ve been reports of a vermin band called the Ravagers afoot in Mossflower Country. We all thought that this was a rumor and not to be taken seriously- after all; the Ravagers were clearly nowhere in our vicinity, and they aren’t the most brutal of the hordes of the world. But I apologize. I believe I’ve led you creatures astray with my past decisions.”
He sat forward and bowed his head silently. The silence did not last.
“We must kill Ravagers. Ravagers be evilbeasts!”
Zaran spat, paw caressing a dagger.
“Why ravagerbeasts take Rorzan, why?”
Her mate, Skipper Rorgus, silenced her and held a paw to his lips. Zaran spoke no more, but she continued to toy with her dagger hilt. Rorgus held up a paw. Rivereye saw it.
“Has the Abbess been informed of the situation?”
The cat nodded.
“Aye. She was among the first to know.”
“What are her opinions on the matter?”
“She suggested that all four of you- and everybeast here at Redwall knows you as brave and valorous warriors- go bring back your young ones yourself. You should have the right.”
Bisky pounded the table with a fist. He smiled.
“Rivereye, that’s a capital idea!”
After it had been agreed by all that Rorgus, Zaran, Bisky and Spingo would rescue their young ones themselves; they broke out their weapons for the first time in more than a decade and set out in hot pursuit of the Ravager’s camp with the dawn sun on their backs, (which was known to be located to the south, now) ; four vengeance-hardened warriors on a quest for the things they treasured and held dear.
At the Ravager’s camp; Armuk had grown steadily worse over the night. He became extremely weak and was delirious much of the time, much to Zwilt’s delight and Addison’s distress. The blind pine marten, being as loyal as she was, rarely left his side. This was fine with Zwilt. He’d always been uncomfortable in the Seer’s presence anyway.
Morning was dawning slowly on the Ravager’s camp. The captives were untied, fed their breakfast, before being tethered back on their tree like the night before. Again, as there was little else to do, they mostly made small talk (absolutely no talk of escape around the guards!) or slept. When the glowing ball of the sun still hovered on the bluish, pink and blackened rim of the sky, Zwilt stalked in to the mouth of the cave and approached Addison.
“How’s my father?”
He whispered. Addison gave a long sigh.
“Much worse. Bedridden; and very weak. You’re to lead the Ravagers in his illness.”
Zwilt’s eyes widened.
“Is that so? Is that what HE said?”
Addison nodded somberly.
“Aye, but he wasn’t happy about it.”
“Well then. I won’t distract you from your work another moment! Goodbye, Addison!”
Zwilt practically danced out of the cavern in the bright dawn sun, however the young sable obviously had two left footpaws. Feeling refreshed and happy with his sudden promotion, Zwilt leapt up onto a flat boulder under a pine tree (not that far from the oak tree where the prisoners were tied), calling in a bold, clarion tone:
“Everybeast in the ranks, come forth and rally to me! I have a very important announcement….”
There was a lot of murmuring and the shaking of heads as the a hundred Ravagers came forward.
Zwilt cleared his throat before he continued.
“As you all know now, my father is very ill with Dryditch Fever. I doubt he’ll be in any shape to lead you horrible blaggards until he’s well; and that’s fine by me. I intend to take you, little more than a scrounging mercenary band and make you into REAL warriors who will be feared throughout the land! And supposing my father DOES get his position back?”
Zwilt laughed evilly.
“Well then he’ll have me to answer to. But we’ll wait and see about that. And for now, my name will ring through all Mossflower Country and beyond! Everybeast: Bow your heads to Zwilt the….”
Zwilt paused a moment, thinking of an adequate title for himself. Blade; for his skill with the sword? Zwilt the Blade? No, not quite right. It didn’t have that special ring to it. Zwilt the Shadow, for his stealth in battle? Again, not a perfect fit. And then it struck him: why not combine them? And there one had it: Zwilt the Shade!
He finished his sentence quickly and abruptly. There was some cheering and raising of weapons. Then, the Ravagers dispersed and went about their daily chores.
Feeling delighted and greedily drunk on his new power, Zwilt strolled out of camp and down a northern trail, to practice with his sword. Hearing a rustling of bushes, the sable paused a moment to trace the sound with his eyes. Nothing happened. Figuring it was just a loose tree branch or a stone falling into the shrubbery, Zwilt shrugged and continued on.
But as he did, he could hear whispering and quiet murmuring. The clang of steel. There were creatures afoot! Zwilt froze where he was and watched the plants. The voices grew louder. Zwilt froze as two other, adult sables (who couldn’t have looked more different from himself) stepped forward. Their names were Ephraim Jebadiah and James DeVaney ‘Bones’ Skelton; and they were brothers.
They were both lean and tall, but that was where the similarities ended. Bones held himself at an odd angle, as though he’d broken his leg many years ago and it had never quite healed.
His eyes were a faded blue, and somewhat bloodshot. His teeth were visible with his mouth closed, and they were jagged and yellow at the tips. He clutched a small femur bone in one paw the way an infant would clutch its toy. There was a slightly childish look in his eyes, and yet it was also sly and one of pure evil. And that was how he was: Sly and sadistically evil, but with a strangely immature and childish side as well.
Bones wore a dull and ragged purple cape that would have blown away in the wind were it not secured by a circular gold pin with a black center. Beneath the cloak, he wore a plain, pale yellow tunic, with a belt made from the hide of a dead ferret, long stained with blood. Tucked into a leather scabbard was a long, well-made rapier.
This was Bones’s most infamous weapon, with which he’d made his name as an assassin and a serial killer. Bones was not a warlord; no henchbeasts were dull-witted enough to want to serve under his ruthless tyranny. Bones didn’t have his name for no reason: While his victims were still living, he would infamously slash at their extremities with his sword and tear the bones within straight from the flesh. And that was why they called him Bones!
Ephraim was the opposite: He was straight and well-refined, and he had an elegant, aristocratic smile plastered on his lips. He leaned on a long claymore- Ephraim’s weapon was more for show. Ever the gentlebeast; he never fought unless he absolutely had to. Typically, Bones did all the fighting (even though the twisted sable was far from being a slow, thickheaded brute!) His blue eyes were unlike Bones’s, they were smooth, cool, and almost gentle in their depth. He smiled as he spoke to Zwilt, saying slowly and unhurriedly:
“Have you any gold? This is our territory, interloper!”
“No, no I do not!”
Bones giggled insanely and jabbed Zwilt in the chest with his swordpoint.
“Well ye better pay up, ‘cause if ye don’t we’ll kill you!”
Ephraim fixed his brother with an icy glare.
Bones bared his teeth harshly.
“Don’t you tell me to shut up! If I don’t want to talk, then I won’t.”
“Then don’t. Talk.”
Stone-faced, Ephraim turned back to Zwilt.
“Sorry for the distraction. Excuse my brother. He does not know what he says.”
Bones gave Zwilt a look that said: Ignore him. Of course I do!
“So kindly pay us tribute, passerby, for our clan has ruled much of this land and the southern parts of it for well over a hundred years! Trespassers are NOT, do you hear me, NOT accepted!”
“I told you I have no gold!”
Ephraim pressed on:
“Well then what DO you have?”
Zwilt took a deep breath.
“I have a horde of fivescore called the Ravagers. We have a little camp a little north.”
Zwilt pointed with his claw. Ephraim nodded.
“Well, why don’t my brother Bones and I accompany you? Perhaps we can settle it like gentlebeasts?”
“Can’t we settle it the other way?”
Bones looked deflated and resigned himself to lagging alongside Zwilt the remainder of the way back. Zwilt could handle Ephraim easily (he was a coward and a bully; a simplistic mixture.) but Bones? Doubtful. The young sable sensed that Bones was a lot more than the weak-headed fool he seemed to be…..And he was!
The three sables walked back to camp in silence. Bones twitched occasionally and played with the large metal ring of spikes attached to his left paw. It resembled a brass knuckle; except for the said spikes. It was a cruel weapon, called the cat’s paw for its shape. Its chief purpose was to tear out the victim’s fur and flesh; making it a favorite of Bones, who used his frequently.
As the three beasts neared the camp, the forbidding sight of Bones and Ephraim provoked many gulps and whimpers of fear from the cowardly ravagers.
“Like Ephraim says… Why don’t we settle this like gentlebeasts and with…. A DUEL!”
Bones laughed manically and whipped out his rapier.
Zwilt gritted his teeth.
“A duel, you say? Then… In that case may the best beast win!”
He turned to Ephraim.
“If I win, then what’s my prize?”
The arrogant sable shrugged.
“You keep your land, and we’ll get off.”
“And if I lose?”
“Your land and horde go to us….”
Zwilt was about to say that the Ravagers weren’t really his horde (at least not yet) but suddenly, this didn’t look like the place.
The whole horde grouped around Bones and Zwilt while Ephraim preferred to lurk behind at the rear, craning his neck to see.
Bones and Zwilt took ten paces back, blades in the air. Then, they took ten steps forward, eyes closed. The blades touched.
“You go first.”
Zwilt said calmly.
In the end, Bones did get the first move- he slashed at Zwilt with his rapier and tried to drive the younger sable back like a border collie herding sheep. Zwilt cut his way forward, and landed a slash on Bones’s arm. The mad sable curled his lip in a snarl, but said nothing. This sort of duel required no words.
Bones uppercutted Zwilt to the side, grazing and slashing, leaping forward like a piston. Zwilt struck out a footpaw so that Bones lost his balance and tripped, sprawling on the dusty earth. This provoked many laughs from the assembled Ravagers.
Bones was not a creature to be mocked. Snarling viciously, he got back up and ran at Zwilt and managed to catch his younger opponent off-guard and running the younger sable through the shoulder.
Zwilt gasped but didn’t have time to examine his wound. There was certainly no time for it. He veered off to the right and began to circle Bones, hoping the other sable wasn’t expecting such a move. Zwilt got a neutral hit, and his blade collided with Bones’s. Their footpaws danced nimbly on the tan soil, scrabbling back and forth like crabs on a beach as the two foes locked blades and struggled to exploit the other’s weakness.
The Ravagers watched in silence, eyes fixed on the dueling foes. Andio watched them with longing.
“Look at those vermin, sittin’ around and havin’ their fun while we rot! Not very fair is it?”
She added dryly. Venya snorted. Feryn rolled his eyes. Rorzan was silent but looked like he was stifling a laugh.
Andio leaned back against the tree, attempting to move her bound wrist. It jerked free from the rope to give her just enough freedom to reach down to her back pocket.
The mousemaid whispered excitedly.
“I can get my paw free enough to grab my dagger. I can cut our ropes so we can escapes! The vermin are too busy with their duel to see!”
There were quiet smiles all around as Andio hacked off the ropes binding her wrist, and then severed the long one securing the prisoners to the base of the tree (the way they had been tied had been changed previously; supposedly to make chances of escape less likely) Then, the four young creatures snuck off towards the left, a good distance away from the circle of Ravagers watching the sword fight.
In the makeshift ring, Zwilt shoved Bones towards the right. The other sable retaliated and pushed Zwilt towards the right. The blades clacked and made contact again and again. Finding the opening he seeked, Zwilt threw his weight into his next blow and shoved Bones to the ground gasping for air. Zwilt was the winner! The land would remain his!
The Ravagers on the sidelines cheered for him:
“ZWILT! ZWILT! ZWILT! ZWILT! ZWILT THE SHADE!”
However, the cheering was cut short. A burly stoat towards the back of the crowd happened to see Rorzan, Venya, Feryn and Andio hightailing it out of camp. He blew a few times on his stone whistle:
“Ayieeeh! The captives are escapin’!”
The crowd dispersed abruptly, but by then the prisoners were nearly to the edge of camp. A further element of surprise was added as Zaran, Spingo, Bisky and Rorgus came charging out of the bushes to the right, brandishing their respective weapons. Warcries pierced the noon air:
Soon however, chaos broke loose: In their extreme fervor to find the interlopers from Redwall, the vermin (excluding Bones, Zwilt and Ephraim!) soon became confused and began attacking each other as a cloud of dust rose up. Using the confusion as a distraction, Rorgus ambled over to his son Rorzan, shouldering his lance.
“C’mon, son…. Let’s get out of here while we can. Eight beasts can’t face a rabble like that alone!”
Wordlessly, Rorzan, Feryn, Venya, and Andio dashed out of the battle-torn camp and hurried after their rescuers.
The sky darkened to a bright teal as Feryn, Rorzan, Andio and Venya loped along the path to Redwall with Andio and Rorzan’s parents.
“I imagine the Abbess will want to meet with ye two.”
Rorgus said, glancing backwards towards Feryn and Venya. Feryn nodded.
“Aye. We were originially supposed to be delivering news to your Abbey; but then the Ravagers captured us. All due apologies, sir.”
Skipper Rorgus nodded.
“You’re certainly forgiven. Oh look, there’s Redwall now!”
Sure enough, the elegant redstone building of Redwall Abbey had just come into view. Feryn and Venya quickened up their pace and jogged alongside the Redwallers. Skipper yelled out in a deep voice:
“’Ey! Thick’ead behind the gate! Open up! It’s the Skipper!”
There was a clang as the iron gate was opened, casting shadows on the emerald-colored lawn. Bisky, Spingo and Zaran bounded forward while Skipper lagged behind a bit. He smiled as Feryn and Venya bounded ahead of him with their powerful, speedy legs.
Abbess Perrit smiled as she saw Skipper Rorgus, Zaran, Spingo, and Bisky enter with their young ones along with Feryn and Venya, the young Long Patrollers. Venya gave a low whistle at the sight of Great Hall.
“This place sure is beautiful, Mother Abbess!”
She exclaimed, twirling her rapier skillfully. Abbess Perrit smiled and adjusted her habit sleeves.
“Skipper, Zaran, Spingo, Bisky….Can you all be off for now, with your children? I’d like to have a word with these brave young hares here.”
Rorzan, Andio and their parents all went their separate ways, and Feryn and Venya were alone in Great Hall with the Abbess. Feryn felt himself smiling as he gazed up at the great tapestry of Martin the Warrior.
“Admiring our Abbey Warrior, are you?”
The Abbess smiled warmly. Feryn nodded.
The three of them took a respectful moment to glance at the tapestry together. Martin was a gentle yet fierce-looking mouse; he was ancient and youthful all at once, and curled on his lips was an enigmatic smile that almost said: I dare you to figure out my riddle, young rabbets!
“Let’s get down to business, shall we?”
The Abbess said after a while. Feryn sat down on the stairs comfortably while Venya and the Abbess preferred to stand. Once everyone was comfortable, Abbess Perrit said:
“So. What business do you bravebeasts have inside our Abbey?”
Feryn cleared his throat.
“Well y’see marm, we were on our way to deliver news of a possible vermin attack. These were the instructions given by our Badger Lord, Lord Brang. But on the way we were ambushed in the woods by the vermin crew they call the Ravagers, and they took us back to their camp.”
Venya told what happened next:
“When we woke up, we were tied to a tree. There were two young ones- Rorzan and Andio, next to us, and they were unconscious. When they woke up, we all began to plot about escape. But how was it possible? We tried to think of all the theories we could, Mother Abbess, marm. Earlier today, two evil-lookin’ sables came to the Ravagers camp, and one of them got into a duel with the younger one they call Zwilt. I think he’s a stand-in leader for his father, who seems to be…. Ill with something. The vermin got so busy watching the fight that Andio, who had her dagger hidden in her back pocket, cut us free, and we escaped. Then, your warriors ambushed the camp and we all got out together.”
“And that’s how it happened.”
The Abbess nodded.
“I see. This is most troublesome indeed….. So Redwall will heed your warning, if not a little late. However; Log-a-Log Taro will be visiting Redwall with his Guosim today, and I’m sure they’d be more than obliged to defend the Abbey with the rest of our warriors.”
The squirrel Abbess smiled.
“You two can stay a few days, if you wish, if only for food and shelter.”
Feryn rose and shook Perrit’s paw firmly.
“Thank ye, marm, but I’m afraid we can’t. Venya and I will have to be getting back to the mountain. Lord Brang will be worried enough about us.”
Venya turned to Feryn and nudged him.
“Can we at least stay for lunch?”
Feryn smiled. His stomach rumbled.
“I don’t see no harm in it!”
He turned to the Abbess.
“However, we WILL stay for lunch!”
Abbess Perrit grinned.
“Excellent decision. Cavern Hole is just below those steps- The food should be ready at any time.”
And with that, the three descended the ancient stone steps to Cavern Hole.
Chapter Twelve: War Games
Zwilt was clearly not having a good day- First his father’s prisoners had escaped (one of whom had somehow been ARMED!) and then those awful Redwallers had shown up and started the ambush. The dust of that was still settling. Zwilt sat with his footpaws in the cooling water of the River Moss. As soon as he got over his heat stroke, he’d find out who hadn’t frisked the prisoners for weapons and see to it they paid with their head!
Humming under his breath, Zwilt stood up, dried his footpaws and went into the base of a huge abandoned oak tree where his father was now quarantined- after all, Dryditch fever WAS contagious! He glanced at Addison, who was leaning in the doorway. Sensing Zwilt’s presence, she simply asked:
“You saw your father an hour ago. What d’ye want now?”
Zwilt smiled curtly. Addison ignored him. She herself had just seen Armuk and what he had said to her had not been pretty: The sable warlord had threatened that she found a way to get him well…. Or else. Knowing how much Armuk favored slow and brutal torture, Addison shuddered. She knew that he was catching on fast that most of her ‘visions’ were actually false. Gulping, she said in a low voice:
“What are you going to do about your father’s illness?”
Zwilt just shrugged.
“Nothing, even if there WERE any Icetor flowers around.”
And with that, the sable laughed and walked off. Addison shuddered and went to the simmering campfire to await her next vision- and if one didn’t come, she could just sit there and say she had one. Simple. And so the two beasts made their separate ways; unaware that Ephraim and his brother had been watching.
The camp was nearly deserted now. A few Ravagers were practicing with their weapons, but most were swimming in the river or having lunch. His black eyes fell on Bones and Ephraim Skelton; the two decadent sables who had since been drafted into the Ravager horde. They strode unhurriedly across the camp until they were inside the tree. What they were doing in there, Zwilt could care less. He smiled and sat back and continued eating his lunch.
Armuk had been drifting in and out of a fevered sleep when he heard pawsteps in the underground chamber beneath the tree. His eyes flickered and he sat up shakily, breathing hard. It was Bones and Ephraim. Ephraim was holding an extravagant wood-cut box with a pattern depicting a strange plant on the front, in stained glass. Armuk glared at them. He had just had an argument with Zwilt about the failure of the latest mission. He was not in the mood or condition for another fight.
“What do you fools want?”
He spat in a hoarse voice.
Ephraim’s voice was low and silky.
“Just a little bargain that might please you!”
“And that would be?”
Bones’s face lit up; and he was about to say something until Ephraim angrily clamped a paw over his muzzle and told the mad sable to shut up. Then, Ephraim turned back to Armuk, still holding Bones’s muzzle shut.
“If you give me and Bones freedom to move outside camp, and give us back our influence in our home turf; as well as everything of monetary value your Ravagers own. We- I, will reward you: I will assassinate your foolish power-craving son, and cure your Dryditch fever with this.”
He opened the box to reveal to delicate white Icetor flowers pressed against a dusty red velvet lining. Ephraim held it just out of the silver sable’s reach.
“Do you agree?”
Armuk nodded somberly.
“Good!” Ephraim gestured for Bones to leave. Then, he hurriedly ground the flowers into a liquid, put it into a small beaker and handed it to Armuk. He gulped the whitish mixture down.
“Tell your brother this: Before I let you go home and give you your little baubles, first you must slay Zwilt; and don’t do it at any random time either. You must wait for the right opportunity.
Ephraim looked a bit nervous.
“Er, milord, if those are our instructions then it may take a while to find the right time to slay Zwilt…. And you mustn’t tell anybeast of our plan until he’s dead!”
Armuk snorted bad-temperedly.
“I don’t care so long as I’m getting the better end of the deal.”
Ephraim bowed. It was an awkward bow; as the arrogant sable was used to being the master rather than the servant.
“Your wish is my command, my lord!”
And with that, Ephraim Skelton left, leaving Armuk alone to plot his next move in the campaign to take Redwall and Salamandastron.
“Oi! Open up in there! Is nobeast about? Or ‘as everyone gone deaf in my absence!”
The gruff, rasping voice that rang out in the darkening afternoon sky was none other than Log-a-Log Taro Streamfighter. A brusque, muscular shrew in his midseasons, a fading red headband decorated his upper forehead, and his left arm was decorated with many tattoos of powerful logboats and vermin fleeing for their lives. He had with him his Guosim, which consisted of a score and a half of burly and well-armed shrew warriors.
Taro felt his patience slipping away as he banged on the gates. The noise carried and could be clearly heard inside the Abbey. In Cavern Hole; the Abbess stirred and rose from her seat with a slight sigh.
“That’d be Taro now… Typical of him. His motto is to be heard and not seen.”
Leaving the Abbey and going out onto the grounds, Perrit unlocked the gates for her old friend and ushered him in.
“Huh, it’s about time, Perrit! I thought you’d let us rot out there!”
The Abbess smiled.
“Oh Taro you dramatic old beast! Come on!”
Throwing a burly arm about his old friend’s shoulders, Taro strolled merrily into the Abbey with his Guosim walking behind him. After the dramatic entrance of Taro and his shrews in Cavern Hole, lunch officially commenced with gusto; and the food was unimaginably delicious: Shrimp an’ hotroot soup, meat pies and warm, fresh-baked nutbread and cheese farl, and baked trout in a bath of arrowroot sauce, as well as delicious strawberry cordial.
Sitting between Venya and the Abbess, Feryn helped himself to a tankard of strawberry cordial and a good portion of some of the cooked trout. As is typical of a hare; he ploughed through the fish and then went in for seconds, and then thirds, pausing respectfully to lick the cream sauce off his snout and whiskers.
“Mhmmm….They don’t cook like this at the mountain, eh Venya?”
He teased, nudging his friend.
Venya roused herself from her second bowl of hotroot soup, pausing briefly to slurp some water.
“No, no they don’t but y’have to admit my father’s a good cook enough!”
Done with lunch, Feryn smiled back and served himself a slice of decadent blueberry pie. While he was eating, Venya turned to the Abbess:
“I think after we’ve finished eating and resting our paws for a bit, Feryn and I will definitely be going back to the mountain. Feryn, what do you think?”
“Aye. Lord Brang needs us.”
The Abbess nodded understandingly as Feryn got up from his chair to go outside. Venya got up as well; but went to the right, wanting to see more of Redwall. Leaning across the table, Log-a-Log Taro eyed the Abbess, commenting:
“Those two seem like nice young ‘uns. Who were they?”
“Two young Long Patrollers. Feryn Kordyne and Venya Wildwood; delivering a message from their badger lord; they’re going back to Salamandastron shortly….”
“Though I wish they’d chosen to stay. Even if only a pawful extra, this Abbey needs trained fighters in the event of war.”
Taro’s brow furrowed.
“Yes. Unfortunately it’s beginning to look like a possibility. A horde of vermin who call themselves the Ravagers are camped out somewhere in the woods, and according to Feryn and Venya they have all the intent to attack our Abbey….”
“Attack Redwall? Hah! Not while I’m around. Dear Perritt, it’d be an honor to assist you in defending your Abbey with my Guosim, if’n ye please.”
The Abbess was relieved.
“Thank you, Taro. This Abbey is going to need all the help it can get.”
Rorzan, who had been sitting two seats down from Taro, stood up, warrior’s spirit blazing in his eyes. He clutched at his sling.
“Well if Redwall needs to be defended….. I’ll help too.”
Skipper Rorgus beamed with pride at his son, and then discretely finished off the remnants of his hotroot soup.
In the passing hour, Feryn and Venya were mostly idle: Feryn sat under a gnarled apple tree in the courtyard, watching the clouds go by. At one point he fell asleep, but not for too long. With everybeast else at lunch, Venya gave herself a tour of the Abbey, and found great enjoyment in wandering down its time-hallowed halls, and slipping down its ancient drafty passageways.
Shortly after one o’ clock, Venya padded outside to see Feryn with his back to the tree. She patted her sheathed rapier fondly.
“We’d better get going.”
Feryn said, standing up. Venya nodded.
“Aye, let’s go….”
The two hares walked silently out of the Abbey gates, some inner bond blossoming between them, as they walked down the dusty paths and trails that would eventually lead them back to the sun-dappled shores of Salamandastron.
Chapter Thirteen: Easier to Run
Soft, warm wind blew around Addison when she awoke. The fire she’d been sitting in front of had dwindled down into a pile of burnt twigs, and heaps of simmering black ash with hot reddish glimmers. The blue, blue sky had faded into a soft, muted orange with undertones of delicate turquoise and pale lavender. Had she actually had a vision? The pine marten thought. This took a while, as she usually had a difficult time remembering things after she went into one of her trances (unless of course, the trance was faked!)
Getting up, Addison went to the inside of the tree where Armuk was, and could sense that the two of them were the only creatures there. The marten blinked as she heard the faint sound of footpaws scraping against the dirt floor as Armuk stood up.
He said coolly.
“I’m much better; and I’ll be completely well in a few days.”
Smiling, he walked over to Addison and put an arm around her shoulder. Addison nodded, smiling. She was delighted but baffled by the sable’s sudden recovery. Obviously Addison did not know of the secret pact that had gone on between Armuk and the Skelton brothers, and hopefully she would never. But realizing it was very possible that she could ‘see’ what happened or find out some other way, Armuk said in a smooth tone:
“I’ll just say that I have you to thank for my sudden return to health, Addison, and, I’ll make sure you’ll have my protection. But! If you have any visions about my emptyheaded son’s inevitable death, then you’ll be dying with him!”
Addison hesitated, panic rising. She in fact, had not seen any visions of Zwilt dying young nor did she think she would. The last vision she had had, (the one she’d just come out of!) Addison had witnessed Zwilt becoming a beast of power and authority in later seasons, and loosely affiliated with the family of Bones and Ephraim.
Gulping, Addison’s voice betrayed her nervousness. She said calmly:
“I agree, Sire, after all…..How could I refuse?”
Armuk smiled toothily, revealing gaping knifelike fangs.
“That’s good, Addison. You’re loyal. I like that; after all, you really can never know who to trust these days…..”
Addison laughed nervously.
“Aye, aye, ‘tis very true, m’lord!”
Outside the tree, Zanna the Fang cursed irately and sharpened her spear. She had heard most of the conversation clearly from where she stood. She had always hoped that Armuk would die; because honestly, of the two sables she definitely preferred Zwilt. The sabertooth tiger found the young sable gullible, and easy to sway.
So, she began a little plot of her own: Spy on Ephraim and Bones, the beasts who had REALLY contributed to Armuk’s recovery. Little did she know, the brothers were actually spying on Zwilt themselves, and Zwilt had instructed two of his own guards to spy on them!
Suddenly the camp was abound with espionage, and whispers of overthrow. If it continued like this, Zwilt and Armuk would inevitably duel for possession of the horde, as was tradition. But, if, thought of thoughts, father and son DID fight each other, who would win? And who would take the Abbey and the mountain…….?
The afternoon sky turned to moody gray as Feryn and Venya made their way to the great mountain Feryn was coming to know as home. Feryn glanced at the forebidding, bluish-hued sky above and commented:
“I hope we can get back to Salamandastron before it opens up.”
Venya looked up as well.
“If we hurry we can. Come on.”
She jogged a few paces ahead, and after a few moments of lingering behind Feryn followed after. Suddenly, Venya stopped dead in her tracks in the middle of the dirt trail, sniffing the air, a worried look on her face. Feryn eyed her.
“Aye. But I think this could be vermin territory. I smell rat.”
Feryn’s paw strayed towards his broadsword.
“We’d best keep a sharp eye then.”
Venya nodded her agreement, and Feryn took a few steps ahead. After a while, Venya began to call out:
“Farmer Boy, wait up! You’re a lot faster than me, you know.”
Feryn began to slow down, but no sooner did he, was there a faint rustling in the bushes growing along the side of the path. This was followed by an aungished yelp. Feryn turned around rapidly, running back.
A score of well-built river rats stood behind Venya; their leader a scarred, muscled brown rat who held a crude sword at the rebellious haremaid’s throat as she bared her teeth viciously at her oppressors. Splitclaw and his gang.
There were many puny bands and gangs of vermin all over Mossflower Country, but Splitclaw was the most well-known for his sadism and vicious treachery. And there he was; with Venya at his swordpoint! Feryn felt his blood boil as he approached.
Splitclaw threw back his head and laughed.
“‘Ey, buckoes! We’ll make these rabbets sorry they ever set paw in our territory, eh!”
And then the melee began in earnest. Venya broke free from Splitclaw’s grasp and threw herself into the fray. Feryn was tackled by one of the rats, and struggled to claw his way up. He bit the creature’s forepaw, drawing blood. Feryn’s opponent yelped and leapt back into the throes of the battle like the coward he was.
So Feryn continued to fence, claw, growl and bite his way through the raging chaos that ensued, with no sign of Venya. That all changed when Venya, stealing forth like a shadow, leapt forward and impaled Splitclaw with her rapier from behind.
The arrogant rat gave a surprised half-scream half-choke and collapsed facefirst on the dusty ground, dead.
One of the rats screamed:
“Madbeasts! They’d killed Splitclaw! RUN!”
The rats dispersed in all directions. Gasping and out of breath, Feryn reached Venya, footpaws dragging in the dirt.
“Let’s go, before they decide to take revenge.”
He shot ahead, and without another word, Venya followed.
An hour passed. A rainfall never came; but the dreary weather lingered. Feryn and Venya plodded along, footpaws long since growing heavy. Seeing a lake (not a mirage!) On the horizon, Feryn pointed it wearily out to Venya.
“A lake! Let’s stop there, and cool our paws for a while.”
So the two hares sat on the sun-warmed rocks on the lakeside shores and began greedily drinking from their newly refilled canteens. They were unaware of the scrawny little shadow coming down the road. It was Alex!
The young ferret was growing exhausted. At first the day had been pleasant: He was given a fine red cloak and a black tunic (the unofficial uniform of lower-ranking Ravager soldiers) and all the vittles that he could stuff his mouth with. Alex had been satiated and satisfied; digging into the rewards that his successful spying missions had earned him.
But then, he had wandered away and heard of Zwilt’s plans for him. The missons would be getting harder; and failure would be met by death. Believing he was no longer able to continue being a spy, Alex had fled waywardly about Mossflower until he reached his current destination.
Not seeing Feryn and Venya quite yet in the rising cloud of summer dust, the ferret crossed over to the lakefront.
Venya’s green eyes widened in shock as she saw Alex’s masked face; immediately recognizing him as a Ravager. (or at least a former one)
“You cowardly scum! What’re you doing here?”
Trembling in rage, Venya held her rapier point at the cowardly ferret’s throat. No sooner had Venya done this than Feryn strode over. He glanced at Alex.
“I-I’m desertin’, marm! I used to be with the r-Ravagers, but they were too harsh on me so I went to be my own beast again. Please, kind creatures, have mercy on me! I DIDN’T MEAN TO KILL LORD GORATH AND LADY ROWANBLOOM!”
As soon as he said this Alex clamped a paw over his muzzle. Venya’s eyes widened.
She prepared to thrust her rapier, but Feryn pointed the sword away from the quivering ferret’s throat.
Feryn said coolly.
“I know this creature. His name’s Alex. Vermin or not; he helped me get to Salamandastron when I didn’t know the way, and it’s not like he slew Lord Gorath and Rowanbloom with his own paws. And besides; it’d be against my honor if I let Alex die while in my debt.”
Venya was clearly a bit disappointed, but she had sense about her. The female hare nodded in understanding. Alex continued to whine incessantly. Grinning mischievously, she said:
“You don’t deserve to die, ferret, but here’s what ye DO deserve!”
Venya, without warning, took Feryn’s broadsword from him and roughly spanked Alex on the rump with it. He yelped and rubbed his tail, feeling the spot where the cold steel had made contact with tender fur. Feryn turned to him:
“We’ll let you go right now if you tell us one more thing….”
Alex forced a nervous smile.
“What are the Ravager’s plans now?”
“Er…. I’m not so certain but I heard talk about them splittin’ their forces for sommat. That’s all.”
Venya and Feryn exchanged glances. Feryn nodded.
“You may go, Alex. And don’t forget to stay out of horde company in the future!”
Alex nodded, and then disappeared into the clammy afternoon.
As soon as he was out of sight, Venya turned to Feryn. She said slowly:
“I need to talk to you.”
Wordlessly, Venya went to the lake, sat on a lumpy rock and dipped her footpaws in the water. Feryn did the same.
“There’s something troubling me, Feryn.”
Feryn blinked. He’d certainly been troubled enough lately. His secret feelings for Venya were getting harder and harder to conceal. Before they’d left the Abbey, Venya had once left for an hour and a half. Feryn was secretly terrified and worried if she’d been recaptured by the Ravagers or some other terrible vermin horde. And when Venya had come back, Feryn had felt terrible and chided himself for a fool. And he’d known ever since then that what he felt for Venya was indeed love, and not some silly infatuation.
“What is it? I’ll listen.”
Venya took a deep breath.
“A long time ago, when I wasn’t much more than a babe….. I think I killed my mother.”
Feryn looked shocked, but Venya kept going.
“Everybeast says it was an accident but…. I feel like it was somehow my fault.”
Feryn touched her paw gently.
Venya sighed and closed her eyes, remembering.
“My mother was playing with me on the beach one day, when some wicked vermin with swords came and held her at the swordpoint. I cried and demanded they leave her alone, and they all laughed. I tried again and again, but nothing happened. I was so terrified I went to the mountain and told my father what had happened. He came out onto the beach with a few of his comrades, but we were too late. The vermin had run off; and there was my mother….Dead.”
Venya sobbed quietly.
“If I’d just stopped pretending to be brave and gone to get my father sooner then maybe my mother would be alive today!”
Feryn placed a paw on her shoulder and tried to comfort Venya.
“Venya, it’s not your fault. You were going up against full-grown vermin, there wasn’t anything you could’ve done at the time….. And your mother….. I’m sorry. Venya, I……”
“I know I must be doing a lousy job of concealing it….But…. I love you.”
Venya smiled and looked at him, eyes shining.
“I love you too.”
For a moment, it seemed as though time stood still when Feryn Kordyne and Venya Wildwood kissed. When they gathered their weapons and went in the direction of Salamandastron, they held paws. Of war and death they were no longer afraid.
~ End of Book Two ~
Book Three: The hero of Salamandastron
Chapter Fourteen: Straight out of line
As the early afternoon became late afternoon, and shades of pink began creeping into the sky, an air of danger and mystery had fallen over the Ravager’s camp. With the upcoming confrontation between Zwilt and Armuk, everybeast was on edge. Zwilt’s followers such as Zanna and Addison hoped he would win; Armuk’s, that Zwilt would lose. Ephraim and Bones (who had bungled horribly in their attempt to kill Zwilt) however, cared only for themselves. They didn’t care who won so long as he had a good plan to conquer Redwall and Salamandastron.
Armuk stood in the center of the clearing. Never before had he looked so evil or terrifying: His blue eyes shone like cold fire, and his broadsword had been polished and sharpened. Beneath his long, flowing cloak of silky black, Armuk wore a long purple tunic, slightly stained with the long-dried blood of old foebeasts. He’d spent the past hour and a half preparing for this duel. Now the only thing to be done was sit and wait for his opponent: Zwilt.
The air was hot and oppressive. The summer sun cast a golden glare upon the scenery. The cold bitterness in the air was almost tasteable on the tongue as the entire horde turned out, on the edge of their seats and ready to watch the confrontation between father and son.
Armuk’s eyes fell on Addison. He smiled coldly. She had been loyal in the beginning; but had since shifted in her alliances. He knew via spies that she was only loyal to Zwilt (and most likely, Zanna) now, and for this the pine marten would have to pay the price. But not now. Armuk glared icily at her once, and then turned around, leaning on his sword.
He called into the air.
“Are you going to come out now, or will you hide in your den like the coward you are?”
Laughter erupted among some of the hordebeasts, but they were quickly shushed as a cold voice snapped out:
“No. Here I am!”
Zwilt stepped forward, carrying his own broadsword. Armuk took a deep breath, and then exhaled.
“Let’s begin then, shall we?”
And so, it began. The two sables began to circle each other in the dirt, blades gleaming in the sun. Zwilt’s voice was curt and full of contempt as he said:
“Father, you taught me to hate since I was little more than a babe. Did you make the right choice?”
Armuk glanced sideways at Zwilt, paw straying possessively to his swordpoint out of habit. The sable warlord decided it would be best to sound neutral, so as not to provoke Zwilt any sooner than he had to.
“I’m not sure, Zwilt. That’s for you to decide!”
He laughed, but there was no humor in it. Zwilt wasn’t expecting what came next: Armuk made the first move. Lunging forward like a piston, his blade collided with Zwilt’s.
“Can you do better than this, old fool?”
Zwilt commented, uppercutting.
“Don’t say that to somebeast who’s been fencing since before you were born!”
Again the blades clashed. Zwilt leapt aside and came back from the right; Armuk blocked his blow. But what happened next was unexpected. In a sense, Armuk cheated. He dropped his blade and grabbed Zwilt viciously by the shoulders and slammed him into the trunk of the nearest tree. Zwilt moaned and slumped over on the ground. Thinking he’d broken his son’s neck, Armuk turned around and made a sweeping gesture towards Zwilt.
“Look here, you idiots, worms and cowards! This is my foolish son Zwilt, who called himself ‘the Shade’ anyone who attempts to be as bigheaded and foolish as he will suffer the same fate! Now listen well: When I decree, the army will be split. Half will go to the Abbey of Redwall, and half will go to Salamandastron. Here’s to conquest! Here’s to VICTORY!”
A cheer arose from the motley crew of vermin. Addison glanced at Zwilt, and Armuk glanced back at her. With a gulp, the pine marten knew she was next….
“Well, well, well, Addison….”
Armuk smiled coldly. His voice was smooth and almost mellow. But there was something not quite right about it, a certain malicious cadence that made Addison shake even more than she had been.
“Poor you. Addison, I gave you so many chances. I honestly did think you were reputable as a seer but apparently that’s not so. Word gets around. And it’s all right, Addison. It’s all right because….. I pity the fool!”
The crowd parted. Everybeast with enough sense in their heads turned away as Armuk thrust his blade through Addison’s belly. The beasts with their backs turned didn’t need to look around. The hissing squirt of blood and Addison’s cry of pain told them all they needed to know. The pine marten’s milky eyes widened, pointed at the sky, and for a moment it looked almost as though she could see. And maybe she could. Addison gasped:
“I…. can see…. The sky… now…. How beautiful…. It is……”
With a final choked gurgle, Addison collapsed facefirst on the ground, dead.
Armuk grinned in satisfaction.
“Did I not say what I did to traitors and liars? Did I not?”
The sable was met by a plethora of solemn, wordless nods.
“Then gather around and listen to what I say: Half of you; go to the abbey of Redwall to lead your attack their. Ephraim, Bones, you’re in charge. The rest of you, and you, Zanna, are coming with me to Salamandastron, but we mustn’t attack first. We go back to our old camp and attack when the time is right. Understood?”
There were screamed and yelled “AYE!”’s
Armuk grinned, feeling his blood boil in anticipation of the coming battle.
“Then let us go and claim our victory!”
Spears, swords, axes and other weapons were raised aloud as the Ravagers began to chant:
“ARMUK! ARMUK! ARMUK RINN! Deeaattthhh to the foebeaaast! Yaaah!”
And with that, the Ravagers split up; with Armuk’s party going north, and Bones and Ephraim’s going south. The battle for Mossflower and the Western Shores had finally begun.
Zwilt awoke to a blurry world of pain. The sky was distorted and seemed to spin before him. Dazed, the young sable let out a moan. How long had he been unconscious? Zwilt gasped, as burning pain lanced through his left shoulder. He knew immediately that it was broken. Feeling his ribs gingerly, he discovered that two of them were broken as well. But the young sable knew he was lucky. Better a shoulder and a few ribs than his neck.
Raising his head a bit, Zwilt glanced about. The clearing was long deserted. A few sets of trampled pawprints led north and south, respectively. They’d gone without them. Oh well! He thought, grinning. Who needs my arrogant old father and his plans that never work? Hah! He should have went to me for advice instead of Ephraim and Bones….. But I don’t need them either. Zwilt the Shade doesn’t need anyone. I can do anything I want now, now that I’m on my own…..
Slowly rising to his footpaws, Zwilt stood upright and lurched off, the summer sun reflecting in his eerie black eyes, fully certain that no one knew more about war and vengeance, than him, the son of Armuk Rinn. And was he right? Who knew?? For now, it was all a gamble. And only time would tell exactly what sort of game Zwilt had gotten himself into…..
Chapter Fifteen: Parallel Wars
Late afternoon closed over Redwall in a chokehold. It was slightly past afternoon, but nowhere near nighttime. Dust and tumbleweed swirled on the dirt paths nearby; an afternoon of idyllic silence. Rorzan sat perched on the ramparts, his sling alongside him, chin propped on his forepaws. He hated these kinds of summer afternoons.
Idly, his paw snaked out onto the rough red granite surface, black and clear points of the stone sticking out among the pink. Rorzan’s black claws traced the top of a fading engraving of a raven, a goose, and an owl with indecipherable words written beneath them.
Biting into a strawberry pastry, Rorzan blinked, hearing a faint noise, not unlike shouting and the banging of metal and steel. Thinking it was just his imagination, he shrugged and went back to eating. But a few moments later, the noises came again, this time much closer and with more intensity.
Shading his eyes from the hot summer sun, Rorzan glanced out at the view of Mossflower Wood and stifled a gasp of horror at what he saw: It was a horde of nearly threescore vermin led by two sables, headed for the Abbey!
Leaping up from his perch, Rorzan ran down the battlements, down the side steps and towards the indoors, shouting:
“Attack, attack! We’ve got foebeasts comin’ in from the south and it looks like a lot of ‘em!”
Given what had occurred in recent times, the Abbeydwellers had since prepared themselves for the possibility of an attack. Some older creatures grabbed up makeshift weapons and began murmuring among themselves, whereas others screamed in horror that they were all going to meet their end.
The Abbess restored order (and sanity!) by banging down hard with a fist on the wooden table she’d been sitting at.
“Everyone, calm down! Look at yourselves, screaming and running about like a mad colony of ants! Everybeast, calm down. We’re never going to win this apparent ambush if we keep up this sort of behavior.”
She turned to Rorzan.
“You, Rorzan, you saw the vermin coming first, didn’t you?”
The young otter nodded.
“Aye. I was sitting on the walltops when it happened.”
“And how many were there? What weapons did they carry? Were they very close to us?”
Rorzan took a deep breath.
“There were a little less than sixscore, Mother Abbess…. They were armed with spears, pikes, swords, bows…The works. I could see them from the walltop; they looked like they were a few miles away.”
By now the panic was slowly dying down and settling into nervous apprehension.
“Everybeast, gather around. Here’s what we’ll do.”
Abbess Perrit gestured that the various Abbeybeasts gathered in Great Hall come closer.
“Everyone who can fight- Including Bisky, Spingo, Zaran, Skipper Rorgus, and your young ones- take whatever can be used as a weapon and go out onto the walltops or the grounds. We simply wait for the vermin to come to us and attack them from there. Log-a-Log Taro, do you have anything to say?”
The burly shrew shook his head mutely, toying with his rapier.
“I’ll take my archers out on the walltops and ‘ave the rest of my Guosim on the grounds, thank you.”
Rorzan shouldered his sling (loaded with a hefty chunk of basalt) and went to join the Guosim and his fellow abbeybeasts in their defense of Redwall.
Feryn and Venya’s footpaws were covered in blisters, and they were both weary as Salamandastron came into view, basking in the fuchsia-lavender sky, the amber sun lingering over it like a fresh copper penny.
Feryn and Venya darted ahead until they were mahogany and cream-gold blurs in the mass of pine trees.
On the beach, a few seagulls fought over strips of old leather that might’ve come from a bootlace, as the murmuring tide swept over the dampened sand, dotted with collections of sea scallops, seaweed, and dried-up starfish. The hares’ running footpaws trod on the damp sand, over and over like a repetitive drumbeat, the salty breeze making their fur curl.
Salamandastron grew larger by the moment, and Feryn could see a small patrol of Runners was there to meet them, among them Venya’s father. When they reached the assembled patrol, Feryn and Venya both threw stiff salutes as Colonel Wildwood, the obvious leader of the patrol, addressed them, stroking the edges of his thick-waxed military-style whiskers.
“Go straight to the forge and hurry, too. Lord Brang’s been expecting you all day.”
They raced inside and into the forge chamber. At the forge, Brang was hard at work, as usual, putting the finishing touches on a jeweled scimitar with a thin gold line running down the middle. He smiled at the sight of the two breathless young hares as they staggered in. Venya gasped out:
“Kordyne and Wilwood… Reportin’ for duty…. Your Lordship….”
“You name and we’ll do it.”
Feryn added, sinking into a well-carved wooden chair by the doorway. Brang laughed, and like a small rumbling thunderstorm, it shook the forge room to its core.
“You two look exhausted. Before you make your report, help yourself to some vittles.”
Brang gestured to an oaken side-table laden with vanilla-raspberry forge scones, blackberry muffins and small glazed cakes. Feryn and Venya threw themselves into the food as hares do, and so Brang waited until they were done before attempting to speak with them.
Brang said, setting aside the scimitar.
“Tell me what happened to you in Mossflower.”
“Well, y’see, sir, and that’s what happened….”
Feryn finished a while later.
“We’ve heard a lot of reports of the Ravagers splitting up; with half going to Redwall and half coming here to the mountain.”
The fire reflected in Brang’s eyes as he stood. The whitish scar was clearly visible and stood out against his black neckfur.
“If there’s vermin coming; then by the fires of hellgates we’ll be ready! Venya, go find your father and his patrol and track the Ravagers to their camp. Feryn, you’re going to. You’ve been showing a lot of promise. And….”
“Bring Gabe along. Believe it or not, he’s quite the tracker.”
Venya saluted and trotted out, while Feryn lingered.
“I’ll do my very best, your Lordship.”
He said honestly. Brang nodded understandingly.
“You may be a new recruit, Feryn, but I expect many great things from you. Good luck out there.”
Feryn saluted and turned to leave, but just before he did, he cast a longing eye on the newly-completed broadsword on the wall. As much as he loved his current weapon; rich with honor and family history, he craved two blades to wield as his own! The young hare kept this thought in his mind as he left the forge chamber and went to meet up with Venya, Gabe and the patrol.
As they approached Redwall’s gate, Ephraim and Bones could not stop arguing. They both had different ideas on how to attack Redwall, and as such things were not going well between the brothers.
“…..Tunnels are for fools, Bones!”
“Everybeast and I mean EVERYBEAST does tunnels! And what happens to them? They die! Grappling hooks are the way to go. Those abbeybeasts will never see us coming!”
“And what if they do, eh?”
Bones’s claws were making deep marks in the ground as he paced back and forth. The fighters were growing restless as their leaders bickered on.
“I DON’T BLOODY CARE! We’re using grappling hooks.”
“Your funeral, Epphy.”
Ephraim gritted his teeth in memoriam of the hated nickname and plodded on. The aristocratic sable took a pace backwards, hurled his rope into the air and sighed in relief as the steel grappling hook hit the wall with a fresh and jarring CLANG!
“Everybeast, follow us! Onward to victory!”
Ephraim called, and the rest of his followers raced after him up the wall.
Taro paced the walltops, his Guosim archers yearning for battle just as much as the approaching vermin fighters.
“Don’t fire until I say you can. Rorzan, me lad, keep an eye on your bowstring too.”
Rorzan had been outfitted with a bow an arrow, much to his delight. It was a far better weapon to use than a simple sling, which lay safely in a haversack by his footpaws.
Taro squinted, seeing the mass of vermin vaulting over the front gate. Eyes narrowed into determined slits, he barked out:
“When I give the order…. On my count now: One…. Two…. Three….. FIRE!”
The air was thick with zipping shafts, and warcries too:
By now Ephraim and Bones, along with their followers had reached the courtyard. Ephraim was getting nervous. Things had not been going well under his leadership and the tide was rapidly turning in the woodlander’s favor. He gritted his teeth, yanked out his rapier and surrendered himself to the heat of the ongoing battle.
Gritting his teeth, Rorzan loaded an arrow into his bow, drew back, aimed and shot. It hit its intended target: Ephraim’s left arm. The sable let out a yowl of pain.
“Retreat, retreat! Everybeast back. We’ll never win at this rate! Everyone out. NOW!”
He called out. And so the vermin retreated whence they had came, leaving a score and a half of slain Redwallers in their wake. It was for the most part, an easy battle but it had not gone without its sacrifices.
Seeing what Rorzan had done, Taro gave a low whistle and clapped the young otter on the shoulder.
“Ye’ve got the makings of a hero, young’un. No, I’m wrong. For what you did….You ARE a hero. You very well might’ve sent the rascals runnin’ for their mas down there.”
“I know. I just did what Martin the Warrior would’ve done in a situation like that.”
Rorzan grinned wryly and leaned against the walltop and the setting sun, paws resting on his bow and arrow, knowing in his heart that he had just become a warrior, and quite possibly, Redwall’s next, and the recipient of a proud legacy of honor, pain, and love.
But Rorzan the Warrior, as he had titled himself, was more than happy to live up to that legacy. And by teeth and claw, he would do it.
The young otter grinned, beat his chest, and yelled to the setting sun:
It was nothing less than a shout heard round the world.
Brambles and twigs cracked beneath the patrol’s footpaws as they began their steady march through the woodlands. Every so often Gabe would stop to identify a pawtrack or scent that nobeast would’ve thought to inspect. Even Venya was impressed.
He was truly a resourceful tracker; and Feryn noticed this as they plodded along.
“Almost there…Stay low, chaps an’ chapesses.”
Gabe whispered around his paw, shouldering his quiver full of red-fletched arrows; the only weapon he was truly skilled with.
“We’re hot on the blighter’s trail.”
As the path to the Ravager’s camp grew near, Colonel Wildwood held a claw to his lips for silence. If anybeast made a wrong move now, the whole operation would go up in smoke.
All fifty of the Ravagers Armuk had brought back with him to the original camp were in the courtyard. The gate had been left open; they obviously had not been expecting a visit of any sort from the enemy, least of all an ambush. However, the ambush fell on its tail when the hares, who had stood ready with their weapons, ALMOST ready to attack from their hiding spot to the side, were spotted by a sentry.
“Stay where you are, cowards!”
A voice like black ice sliced the air. Armuk Rinn’s. Feryn tensed and kept a close paw on his sword, as did Venya, and Gabe with his bow.
“If you lot do as I say, my Ravagers and I will let you leave our territory unharmed. But if you do not….”
Armuk chuckled and unsheathed his sword. His claw caressed the glistening tip.
“Let’s suppose we have a short fight here. A practice battle, if you will. If I win, we will take your precious mountain and I have my word on that. But if you rabbits win, we’ll surrender and look for another place to conquer.”
The Colonel nodded. He glanced around and said in a grim voice:
“Is everybeast ready?”
There were nods and general murmurs of yesses all around. And suddenly, it was as though someone had flicked a switch. Both sides rushed each other. Though the hares were badly outnumbered at a score versus nearly threescore, they still fought valiantly in the way that only Long Patrollers can.
Feryn’s vision became tinged red, and he lost himself to the roar of the battle. He saw his broadsword clash against Armuk’s. The gray sable laughed harshly.
“You really think you can win, rabbet? Look at what happened to your little friend!”
In the fray, Feryn thought he saw Armuk point to a slain shape. But, thankfully, it didn’t look like Gabe OR Venya. Just before his mind was enveloped by the bloodwrath, Feryn simply deduced that Armuk was trying to instill fear in him by showing him the ‘body’ of one of his two comrades. Well, it wasn’t working.
Feryn gritted his teeth and swung his sword. It hit Armuk’s with a resounding Clang! The warlord sidestepped easily. Feryn lunged forward and returned the blow. Armuk blocked. Feryn’s sides were heaving now, and blood was dripping from a small wound in his side. Armuk was indeed a formidable opponent, and Feryn’s vision was slowly clearing and his footpaws were growing lighter.
“Giving up already, young fool?”
Armuk grinned viciously.
Feryn’s face and jaw were set in a look of determination, and although the blood was gone, there was fire in his eyes. He swung his sword hard, and once again the two swords met. But this time, Armuk had a trick up his sleeve Feryn hadn’t been expecting: He brought his sword hard against Feryn’s. Too hard. The incredible amount of force caused the top half of the sword to break off, and Feryn to lose his balance and sprawl across his footpaws in the dirt, heart pounding wildly.
Instead of fighting more, Armuk only walked off.
“Don’t worry, rabbet. I won’t hurt you. Not now. I want you alive for the time being……”
The sable was grinning as he held his sword. Feryn felt a surge of anger rising in him as he scrambled to his footpaws. Glancing around the battlefield, he knew with grim certainty that the hares were losing badly; and the only option was to retreat if they wanted to report back to Brang alive.
Feryn heard someone, (probably Venya) yell above the fray. He scuttled off, carrying his broken sword in his arms. But not before he caught a glance of the body of Gabe, his eyes wide open in fright, a spear still lying in the center of his stomach, encrusted with blood.
Gabe, his humorous vittle-adoring friend, was gone, his merry voice forever silenced. Feryn himself felt numb and disturbingly empty as he ran with his fellow Patrollers out of the camp, amidst the harsh sound of cruel vermin laughter.
As they continued to flee onto the beach, Feryn did not feel like himself at all. He felt like something that wasn’t really there, something that was just in the background. A shadow. That was it. A shadow.
Chapter Sixteen: Burning in the Skies
“Feryn….It’s not your fault. You know that.”
Feryn looked up. Venya’s paw squeezed his. He managed to smile a bit and hold her paw back.
The last surviving members of the patrol had since gathered in the Forge room to make their somber report to Lord Brang, which they were doing now. The fire crackled slowly as Brang paced by it over and over.
“I think we can expect a visit from the Ravagers at any time. I want guards in the hall, or on the beach in shifts- use your best weapons. Let’s see if old Armuk can hold onto his honor. You’re all dismissed.”
As the hares who had traveled with Feryn and Venya to the Ravager’s camp filed out of the room, Brang’s eyes fell on Feryn.
“Come here, Feryn.”
He said slowly.
“I’ve been told that you broke your sword in the battle at the camp, so badly that it can never be reforged.”
Feryn’s ears drooped.
“Well….. I want you to have this sword. It’s a nice one; and I never needed it anyway.”
Feryn’s eyes went huge with awe, and his heart skipped a beat as Brang removed the very broadsword the hare had once admired from its place on the wall!
“Thank you, Your Lordship.”
Feryn took his new sword from Brang and saluted with it.
“The honor is all mine.”
And with that, Feryn left the forge room and headed off to the Mess Hall.
Dinner was a quick, silent and even somber affair. Immediately after everyone was done eating and the cutlery had been taken away and washed, the members of the Long Patrol returned to their respective posts and stations and did everything they could to prepare themselves for the possibility of a battle as evening pounced upon Salamandastron.
Feryn sat, knees to chest on a rock on the beach, his body gradually becoming saturated with the seawater. As delighted as he was to have his new sword, Feryn still missed his original with a fierce passion. And missing his sword only made him, in turn, think of Gabe, forever gone.
What do I do? Feryn thought. I can’t forget Gabe, but I also can’t go wallowing around in my own self-pity forever. As he searched for a possible compromise, Feryn sat up on the rock and fingered the bone whistle he’d been given, with instructions to blow if he saw the Ravagers coming.
He was fairly certain that in the event that the beach was attacked first, the Long Patrol would be able to drive back the Ravagers- at least for a time. Really, it all depended on how many of the vermin showed up, and that was an ominous thought indeed.
Feryn sat back on his rock and continued to watch, glancing up at the beautiful bluish-black sky of early nightfall. The waves lapped softly at the shore. All in all, things seemed relatively peaceful.
Until Feryn leapt up with a start as he heard the blast of a whistle.
“Everybeast, grab your weapons! The vermin are comin’!”
Feryn kept a close grip on his sword and had to grin as he saw Brang racing out of the mountain; clutching the scimitar he’d made himself.
It was soon clear who would quickly gain the upper paw of the battle: The odds of the battle at the camp had been bad enough; but at least then the Long Patrollers had been prepared. Here, they were yet again badly outnumbered and did not have the option of retreat- not even the mountain would last long as a suitable hiding place!
So it appeared there was nothing left to do but stay. Stay and fight. And fight they did!
Feryn caught as last glimpse of Venya as she waved briefly, grinned, and threw herself into the action in her signature fighting style.
Feryn found himself alone but far from helpless in the onward sweep. He forced his way through the rampant crowd with his broadsword and slew as many Ravagers as he could easily get away with.
Venya, meanwhile, was deeper into the crowd, and found herself staring into Zanna’s infamous fangs! The sabertooth cat smiled.
“Up for a duel, rabbet?”
Venya put on a determined face.
“Never better, coward!”
Zanna did not take kindly to being insulted.
“Little fool. You’ll pay for this!”
Zanna unsheathed her longsword and made contact with Venya’s rapier. Venya blocked the blow and took a step off to the side. Zanna disappeared to the left and then came back with a vicious uppercut. Venya winced and made a side-slash as best she could manage.
The young hare ducked as Zanna aimed to behead her, which gave her an idea….. Venya melted back quickly into the crowd. Zanna cursed and tried to find her. Venya took a step back, and appeared behind Zanna.
Before the sabertooth cat could make a move, Venya’s rapier was protruding from her back. Zanna obviously saw it, gasped in a croaking voice:
“I…..hope…..you face….. the wrath….. of Lord Vulpuz!”
Her hazel eyes flickered once, before clouding over.
Brang had gotten the bloodwrath and lost control of himself. He was currently running about like a madbeast; even outpacing his own hares. But his footpaws were growing heavy, he was covered in blood from his wounds, and looked nearly done in.
In the chaos, Armuk lunged forward, wielding a battle-axe. He snarled coldly:
“Now you’re going to see your family, badger!”
Brang shut his eyes and hoped it would be quick. It was all over now. He forced one eye open, suddenly thinking ……? As one voice cut above the raging drone of the battle:
Armuk had no time to duck aside. Feryn’s broadsword cut through the back of his head, and deep into his skull, cutting through the back of his leather helmet.
“Feryn Kordyne, you’ve saved my life….”
By now the Ravagers had been unmasked as what they were: A sniveling band of cowards; and arrogant ones at that. Now that they had witnessed the death of their leaders, they had no inkling of what to do anymore.
The few surviving vermin turned tail and ran. Sheathing her bloodied rapier, Venya saw Feryn. He ran to her, and they embraced tearfully.
Brang watched the couple from a respectful distance, quietly amazed. Feryn Kordyne came from very humble beginnings, but he was so much more than a simple farming hare- he was a hero, and deserved a reward for doing what he had done. And so the Summer of the Blooming Sky came to a glorious end, and turned delicately into fall, and then winter. Feryn went home to his family for harvest season, eventually returning to Salamandastron (and Venya!) in December.
He had been jogging on the frosty beach one day, when a huge shape came into view. It was Brang.
He called, clutching a concealed object in one paw.
“There’s something I’d like you to have.”
“And what’s that?”
Curious, Feryn approached.
Brang opened his paw to reveal a silk necklace, one side red and one side black, with a silver coin attached to it, depicting a paw holding a sword high.
“I found this a few weeks ago, in the wreckage of an old ship that washed ashore. I found this coin of some sort in the debris. I took it back to the forge and remade it into a medal for you. Feryn, there hasn’t been a Blademaster at Salamandastron, not since the time of Rawnblade Widestripe. Well, I say it’s high time we had one again. Feryn Kordyne, I dub ye….Blademaster!”
He pressed the medal into Feryn’s paw gently. Feryn studied it, eyes wide in awe.
“Brang, thank you so much for the medal. Great seasons, it’s amazing! I may be a hero, but I’m no Blademaster.”
He grinned slyly.
“I’m just a farmer boy, as Venya puts it.”
But Feryn slipped the medal around his neck nonetheless. Brang gazed up at the gray sky. “May the seasons be with ye, Feryn Kordyne.”
“And you too, Lord Brang!”
The two smiled at each other before glancing into the sky and yelling together:
Five years went by. The Ravagers dispersed and slowly melted into the background. Ephraim and Bones fled to the paradise of southern Mossflower, populated mostly by ridiculously wealthy (and arrogant) noble vermin families. Ephraim eventually settled down, and married another sable named Amanora Greengate. They would later have three children. And speaking of love….
Even after he became busy with his Blademaster duties, Feryn continued to court Venya. They were married on a beautiful August day on Feryn’s parent’s farm, and afterward there had been archery, good food, and plenty of swimming in the backyard pond. In the coming months, Feryn and Venya had many adventures. Once, they even found themselves on a deserted island, but that’s a story for another day!
However, the two hares eventually had enough of adventuring and decided that Long Patrol life was no longer for them. They wanted to settle down, live peacefully and start a family; so they moved to Redwall Abbey, which wasn’t too far from the Kordyne farm.
When Venya discovered she was pregnant, she and Feryn were full of joy and eagerly made preparations for the birth of their firstborn. However, what should have been a time of happiness and warmth suddenly turned painfully sour. Venya died shortly after giving birth to her and Feryn’s only son, Adarin Kordyne, whose name had been her final gift.
Feryn never entirely got over his loss of Venya. Adarin was her very image, and so the Blademaster was forced to confront himself about her passing over and over again. He raised Adarin as best he possibly could, all the while knowing that his son would someday feel driven to go to Salamandastron, just as he once had.
And speaking of Salamandastron….. Rebecca; now twenty-three, was a well-respected swordbeast in the Long Patrol, and could even put her older brother to shame with her skill and passionate flair with the claymore. Adarin idolized his father and aunt with every possible due.
It was one night, shortly after one of Rebecca’s annual visits to Redwall, when Feryn has having a difficult time putting seven-year-old Adarin to bed.
“Daddy, I don’t wanna go to sleep!”
Adarin pouted, curling his lip in typical youngbeast scorn. Feryn chuckled. He himself had been much the same at that age. He returned to his former expression of seriousness, however, as Adarin went on:
“I got to eat all the candied chestnuts at the feast today; I watched you and Aunt Rebecca fight with swords, and before the party’s even over I have to go to bed like a dibbun!”
Feryn didn’t bother pointing out that his son wasn’t that much older than a dibbun himself.
“Will you go to bed if I tell you a story?”
Adarin pretended to hesitate before vigorously yelling out:
Then he added:
“Ones about you and mom when you were in the Long Patrol?”
Feryn grinned slyly and then nodded.
“You were the best Long Patrollers ever!”
The young hare’s face lit up and he added:
“Are you going to tell the one about how you fought of all the Ravagers and saved your Badger Lord? Pleeaasseeeee?”
Feryn just couldn’t refuse, not after seeing the innocent look on Adarin’s face.
Feryn cleared his throat and began.
“Once upon a time your mother and I got into a battle on the beach of Salamandastron’s western shores. I couldn’t see your mother, but I knew she was nearby. I could hear her, yelling out ‘eulalias’ while I fought my way through the opposing throng…..”
Adarin sat bolt upright in bed and continued to listen as Feryn told his story. Outside, through the bedroom window, it was a clear summer night, and all was well in Mossflower Country, right down to the twinkling of the silver stars.