Fewbeasts would have considered the red squirrel as a warrior of Redwall. The young squirrel, Oakbrush, was studying under Sister Alemma as an infirmary keeper. He was remarkably bright for one so young and a good learner. However, whenever trouble came, the squirrel was as courageous as a badger.
Oakbrush sat by the window, stroking a bow across a small fiddle. Abbot Jedidiah came over to his side. "Come on, Oakbrush, you'll miss the summer feast! They're making your favorite raspberry and arrowroot pie!"
The squirrel grinned. "I was just practicing for my song. I guess those Dibbuns will drag me out on the lawn if I don't come sooner!"
The old mouse smiled. Oakbrush was popular with the Dibbuns for his good charm and character. He was never afraid to run outside and play with them. "Okay, I guess I'd better get out there soon!"
The squirrel and mouse walked up the stairs where the feast awaited them. If they had looked out the window at that time, it was unlikely they would have seen the two vermin outside. The two silver ferrets looked warily around for a brief second, and then raced on through Mossflower Woods.
The pine marten stood at the edge of camp, accompanied by his second-in-command, a stoat named Ridgenose. The marten's blazing green eyes surveyed the land. He looked around. "Well, Ridgenose, have the two scouts returned?" he questioned.
"They have not returned, yet, Chief." As strong a position Ridgenose was in, he could not help but look in fear at the marten. Terclau Foxbrush was not a beast to challenge. The fox's brush that hung from his belt served as a clear reminder. Being the leader of a vermin band, the fox had challenged Terclau to single-handed combat, misjudging the marten's ability. Terclau had slain the fox in one swift stroke.
A stoat raced back to the camp. "Chief, the ferrets have returned!"
Terclau grinned. "Good. Bring them here and see how they've done tonight."
Silverflash and his mate Kernney had been hard at work. The two ferrets were quick, very skilled with weapons, and quite intelligent. Kernney was a fair cook as well, and the ferrets could easily subsist in the wilderness. Silverflash turned to his mate. "Well, our chief Terclau will have quite a story to tell, Kernney."
She nodded and made her way to the imposing figure of the pine marten. The ferret attempted to swallow her fear. "We came across a small vermin band, Chief. There were ten of them-a few stoats and weasels, but mostly water rats. They rushed us as we were passing through. We didn't have much trouble defeating them, though, with the skills we've learned."
Terclau stroked his dirk blade, nodding as Kernney reported her story. "So you defeated ten. No, that's not much trouble for two ferrets like you. And I assume you slew them all?"
Silverflash shook his head, replying, "No, Chief. It would have been way too easy for us to slay them once they were defeated - they were cravens. I had their leader, a big stoat named Jekker, pinned down, with Kernney drawing her bow on the others. They begged us not to kill their leader. We gave them a fair warning to not mess with those under Terclau Foxbrush. At that name they all fled as fast as they could."
Terclau snorted. "You're far too soft for a vermin, Silverflash. Mark my words, someday you'll regret that."
The squirrel walked out to the lawn, carrying his fiddle. He closed his eyes as he sniffed the wonderous different smells. Almost immediately he could pick out the smell of his favorite dish. "Good old Sister Marienna. She can make that raspberry and arrowroot pie like no other."
The Dibbuns let out a rousing cheer when the squirrel came into view. Several of them raced out on the lawn, often tripping and stumbling on their clean habits. "Play a song for us, Oaky! Pleeeaasse!" an infant mouse called out, putting what she thought to be her most adorable expression on her face.
"Play for us, an' do the dance too!"
"Are you and Natthar doing your thing together? I like that!"
The athletic young otter shrugged. "How many times have we done that little routine, Oakbrush? I lost count."
Oakbrush smiled. "Don't worry, Natthar, we'll be doing that new song we've worked on together."
Oakbrush began his song with a slow, dirgelike opening. Natthar walked into the center, looking like a dispirited Dibbun. He began in a mournful tone:
"Listen to my sad lament,
Those cooks found out where I went;
Just one little damson pie,
Now I must scrub low and high,
Didn't want this in the least,
Can't you understand a hungry beast?"
The Dibbuns giggled and pointed their fingers at the young otter as if he was a naughty mouse caught stealing pie. Oakbrush took up the fiddle again and Natthar grabbed a broom and held a feather duster in one paw.
"No supper for you, sir!" the little mouse giggled.
"Hurr, you bee's a very naughty h'otter!" a molebabe scowled. Natthar continued.
"So I must dust to my dismay,
The molecook steps into the fray,
'Mister Otter' she says to me,
'There's a comb of sweet honey,
I hid it for you in this room,
So look for it - sweep that broom!'"
At this point Oakbrush played at a frenzied pace, while Natthar frantically cleaned and swiped with the duster as fast as he could. The Dibbuns chortled with laughter. It was hard for the elders to keep a straight face. Finally the reel ended, with Natthar sitting in the grass, panting for air.
"I've looked everywhere for that treat,
What does it take for something sweet?
Then the mole comes up to me;
'Mister Otter, can't you see?
The honey is right in front of you;
Hope you like it and good work too!'"
The song ended with the otter putting a dejected expression on his face. Oakbrush slipped him a piece of honeycomb and the otter ate greedily. The performance was met by rousing cheers. Abbot Jedidiah applaueded heartily. "Very good, you two. You did something different this time. Now, let's get on with the feast!"
"And I'm headed straight for the raspberry and arrowroot pie!" exclaimed Oakbrush.
"Me too!" exclaimed Natthar. "Right after I try Skipper's hotroot muffins!"
Oakbrush grinned. "Hotroot muffins? Are you sure you don't want something else, like maybe...honey?"
"I'm sure the Dibbuns will have beat us to it," Natthar replied jokingly. The two friends headed towards the table where the great feast of plenty was set.
Ridgenose had an idea. However, he knew better not to test the unpredictable pine marten's mood. "Chief Terclau?" he asked nervously.
The pine marten's eyes focused on the stoat. Ridgenose trembled slightly. Terclau Foxbrush grinned. He enjoyed seeing fear in others, especially those who were high-ranking vermin. It reminded them of their position. "What is it, Ridgenose?" he asked.
"Chief, most of us have been former corsairs, raiding the high seas. Except for those fox brothers, Reddjaw and Dethglint. Nobeast knows where they came from. Weren't they originally ..."
"Get on with it, Ridgenose," Terclau growled.
"Chief, we are largely unfamiliar with this woodland country. Your creatures know little about foraging the land. Well, except for those two silver ferrets. We could have a much more destructive and powerful force if we could raid some boats, somehow."
Terclau Foxbrush held a heavily clawed paw to his own face and smiled widely. "Very good, Ridgenose. You were ever the clever beast."
The two silver ferrets came into view. "Chief, we have scouted out a place the horde can camp tonight."
"Very good," the pine marten grinned.
"What were you discussing?" Silverflash asked, not fully trusting his savage leader.
"Ways we can become a much more powerful and destructive force than we are now," Terclau replied slyly. "Our creatures know much more about moving by water than by land."
That night, the two ferrets thought about what their leader had been discusing. "It is true most of the horde is more adept over water," Silverflash said.
"I remember life as a corsair," Kernney said. ""It seems both of us liked the life of an adventurer and freebooter since we were little more than babes. I remember the captain well, too - a large grey searat, Blackfang the Dagger. We were useful to him, so we weren't treated badly but if anyone happened to fail a task or anger the captain..." Kernney paused at the awful memory, "it was just terrible. The searat would laugh at the screams and terror of his victims. We served Blackfang until he was killed during a skirmish."
"Then the captain of that ship, the Redcrab, took over to make us the most feared vermin horde throughout the land. That beast was Terclau himself," clarified Silverflash.
"He is much like Blackfang was in the fact that he rewards skilled creatures well," said Kernney. "But what sort of leader kills those serving him on his whim just to make an esxample? Then no creature follows such a leader by loyalty, but only through terror. I've liked the life of raiding, but I do not wish to become a leader the way beasts like Blackfang and Terclau did."
Silverflash merely nodded at this remark. "That's true. Terclau told me I was too soft for letting Jekker's band live, but it was completely unnecessary for me to kill them."
At Redwall Abbey, the feasting was done and manybeasts had gone inside. Natthar gazed at Oakbrush's fiddle. "Might you...teach me how to play that?" he asked his friend.
Oakbrush nodded. "Well, it's not that hard once you get the hang of it. I'll teach you to play, under one condition."
""What is it?" Natthar wondered. "Don't tell me you want me to bake a raspberry and arrowroot pie for you. Because I am about as much use at cooking as a hare flying."
Oakbrush laughed. "No, I simply want you to teach me how to shoot a bow and an arrow. I've never figured out how to hold it straight."
"Sure!" Natthar replied. "But you're already a squirrel with a bow!"
The young shrew hardly knew what was going on. One moment, all was still in the Guosim camp, the next, shadows swiftly moved across the forest. Corrin rubbed sleep from his eyes and watched to get a better view of what was going on. A small party of vermin, led by two ferrets who were a ghostly silver in color, were making their way through the trees. It seemd they were headed toward...
It took the young shrew only a moment to figure out what was happening. He raced to alert the others. "The logboats! They're stealing our boats!"
Working under cover of darkness, Reddjaw and a small party of rats were already untying the first boat.
"Come on, you'd better untie those knots faster unless you want to keep travelling afoot," the fox snarled. "They know we're here already, and from what I've heard, those Guosim take no prisoners."
The rats struggled with the ropes, and Reddjaw realized he could speed up the process. Slashing with his dagger, the boat skimmed out on the water.
Slingstones flew through the air, and the fox knew he had little time. A stone slammed against Reddjaw's paw, numbing it. The dagger fell from his paw into the water. He hurried through the river as fast as he could and jumped into the boat. The logboat rocked violently, and Reddjaw shouted orders to the rats. "Paddle quickly! Get away from here!"
Two rats that had been left behind in the rush were brought down by the Guosim. Log a Log Derin charged out with a group of brave shrews, responding to Corrin's call. There they were met by a score of vermin, fightly savagely and swiftly, like the corsairs they had formerly been.
Reddjaw and the remaining rats drove the paddles into the water as fast as they could. They were close to escaping when the logboat struck a rock. The boat drifted backwards, and three rats lost grip on their paddles. "Stupid rock," Reddjaw hissed under his breath. Then he looked back.
The Guosim coming to intercept them were not as numerous as the fox had thought. His rats outnumbered and outsized them. Surely this band wouldn't be much trouble. Reddjaw stood on the boat. It rocked precariously. The fox addressed the shrews and changed his expression quickly as if he were in charge of the entire situation.
"I see you've brought another boat for those who serve Terclau Foxbrush," he taunted, punctuating it with a throw from his knife. He was still grinning when several slingstones struck him simaltaneously. The fox lost his balance, gave a yell, and plunged into the river. The Guosim continued on towards the rats. They had heard stories of the Guosim and how their chances against them would be small if they tried to fight without their leader. They leaped off the boat, swimming as fast for the shore as they could.
Log a log Derrin congratulated his shrews. "Good work, don't want to let those vermin get away with stealing our boats!"
Sounds of battle could be heard clearly from the distance. A shrew named Biddel sized up the situation. "There's more of those vermin attacking, Chief."
Despite the usual argumentative nature of shrews, most of them agreed completely. "Aye," annouced Derrin. "We'd best go and help our comrades. They could be in trouble."
A pair of foxes had led the charge. The Guosim outnumbered the vermin, but both sides clearly had skilled fighters. Log a Log Derrin realized the foebeasts' strategy was the opposite of theirs. The vermin would strike from out of the shadows and then disappear. They were hard to strike, but several were brought down by the Guosim. "There must be more than just twenty of them," Derrin observed to Biddel. "Several of them must be hiding in the shadows. Our fighters aren't used to this type of challenge. These vermin certainly know what they're doing."
Biddel looked at the fighting. "Look, Chief, there's Ril and Tera out there! Your son and daughter are little more than Dibbuns, and they could be in trouble. We've got to get to them before the vermin do!"
Ril and Tera were supposed to be sleeping, but had been wakened by the noise. The twins were insatiably curious and could not understand why they had to miss the action. Carrying their slings, they had somehow sneaked into the trees to watch. They were encountered by two vermin, a stoat named Blask and a vixen named Errya. Noticing the colorful beads the two wore, Errya grinned. "So, what do we have here?"
"I'm sure you'll give those beads to us," the stoat grinned. "We have our ways of persuasion."
"We got t'ese from our dad Loglog!" Ril protested.
"He's t'chief of our tribe, an' he could beat you two sc'uffy beasts any day!" added Tera.
"But he's not here," Errya smiled wickedly.
"Leave them alone!" came two strong voices. The stoat and fox turned around in surprise to face Biddel and Log a Log Derrin. Hastily they grabbed their weapons and faced the two Guosim. "We can learn a method or two from you but we won't bully young ones much smaller than us!"
Errya swung her dagger, hoping to catch Biddel off guard. The shrew turned and fought with his rapier, growling, "Leave the babes alone!" Derrin faced off against Blask. The Guosim soon discovered that the fighting skill of the two was considerably better than the Mossflower-roaming vermin they had encountered. The two pairs of fighters were locked in combat, slashing, parrying, and trying to gain an upper advantage.
Suddenly the vixen Errya slashed down with a cruel thrust felling the brave shrew Biddel. She stood over the shrew, wiping her blade. "That was a fine effort, sure, but..."
Gathering his reserves of strength, the shrew thrust out with his rapier. The fox was slain instantly, falling on top of the courageous Biddel.
Blask turned to run, stumbled on a tree root, and lay quivering on the ground. Log a Log rushed over to his friend. "Hang on, Biddel, we'll get you to the healer." He turned to look at the stoat Blask, but he was already running for his life.
"No, that fox wounded me deeply. I'm not going to make it." Biddel looked weakly up at his chieftain.
The shrewbabes looked up at their leader. Not wanting to tell them what has happened, led them back to the camp.
Back at the stream, three rats and two stoats were untying a boat from a post. "Reddjaw may have messed up the job," one rat muttered, "but we know what we're doing." Undetected, the five paddled away into the night.
Oakbrush and Natthar were improving at the skills they had taught one another. The otter could now play a fine reel on the fiddle. It had taken Oakbrush some practice, but he could now hit a target if he concentrated on his aim. Abbot Jedidiah stepped outside. "You two really sharpen each other. That is a skill that many warriors and Abbey leaders have learned."
The two friends smiled at each other, and Natthar said, "Does this mean I'll be able to be able to play the fiddle for the next feast? You can be the one who dusts with the broom and makes the Dibbuns laugh."
"I thought you liked doing that," Oakbrush grinned.
"Well, it's fun, but crowds of Dibbuns are constantly asking me to do that silly dance all the time."
"Maybe you could do something different for the next feast," the old mouse suggested.
"We should have thought of that!" Oakbrush said.
Ridgenose stood on the bank with his cutlass, nodding as the five vermin rowed past him. He whispered to one of the stoats who seemed to be in charge of the situation. "That's a good logboat, Prett. Wouldn't want one with holes. Terclau Foxbrush would have been mad, sure enough, if we came back empty pawed."
"Maybe so, but Reddjaw messed up the job. Some shrew saw them getting away," the stoat gave her reply.
Ridgenose traced his paw across the permenant scar across his nose, an injury that had come from a batle at sea. The stoat's brown eyes flashed as he looked across the river. "Any more boats coming? Terclau won't be pleased with one."
"Those shrews are no pushovers, Ridgenose," a rat named Roda said.
"I know that!" Ridgenose growled. "But the idea was mine, so one of you had better try to get another boat while the shews arent' looking."
Roda had spoken up, so she had no choice. The unlucky rat headed back in the direction of the Guosim camp. The vermin watched as she swam back, fighting the current.
Log a Log Derrin returned to the Guosim camp. The shrews had slain or driven back the last vermin still in the camp. Derrin sighed and gazed around. The camp had quieted down considerably since the battle. The shrews were healing those wounded in the fight. Yet something was not right. Derrin stepped over to where the logboats were tied. Sure enough, one was missing, and a rat had untied a second one.
"Where are you going and who leads your horde?" Derrin demanded, seizing the boat.
Roda glared back at Derrin but remained silent. "Tell me, rat. Where are the other vermin who stole our boats?"
"They are gone, shrew. You'll never find them," was all Roda said.
Oakbrush and Natthar sat on the grass outside. The weather was fine for