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The Veil is Torn

SaynaSLuke September 17, 2015 User blog:SaynaSLuke

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Accused; The Veil is Torn

Cover art :)


By Sayna


Though he flees the grip of death,

Paws red though white as snow.

He's called to fight til his last breath,

His heart through trials will go.


Through it all one can see,

Past this web of mystery.

The plan laid out in ancient time,

A veil shall set us free.



Author's Note

Well, here we are. The final book of 'Accused' .. let's see what happens, shall we? ;) I've left my poor chararacters in such a mess, really, I wish I could just be nice to them for a little, but I'm afraid their quest isn't done yet.

Time in Southsward is about up, so it's time to see what Xzanthia's really been up to. It ain't gonna be pretty.

If you haven't read the prequel, Dream Seekers, I'd advise you do .. this won't make a lot of sense otherwise ;)

So anyways. I dedicate this to the faithful readers who have stuck with me for five books now, and the ones who have joined in as the time has passed. Thanks guys <3 :)

Also to Lus, and her addition to 'Accused', the Lenn subplot ;) We'll be seeing more of it soon ..

To my parents, and of course Brian Jacques. May he live on through his stories, I only dream of one day becoming as good an author :)

Also I'll post the links of some fitting music :) [1] [2] [3] [4] (For Veil, Fripple, Cedric, Esther, Vinwyte, and Ivan, I can see them fighting back-to-back with this playing) ^^ [5]




Chapter 27 Broken Lives

The night wind blew softly over Redwall, ruffling the black headfur of a young brown rat sitting on the steps leading to the door of Great Hall. His agile paws ran across the stick of pine he was whittling, but they did their work by habit only.

Filip was staring up at the moon, overrun by wispy clouds. Its cold white light lit the abbey lawns, but the young rat was oblivious to beauty. He glanced down at his work, though his gray gaze did not register what he stared upon.

He did not like Roseanna, or Trimp, or Redwall in general. He wished his parents would spend more time with him, but ever since this change ... they'd been worried more about Ash.

Because Ash wasn't getting better, she was still quiet and dull eyed .. listless. She could speak, but it was a flat, uncaring voice, as if she did not properly know what she was saying.

Filip scowled. Roseanna hadn't figured out anything that could help Ash, and deep down, Filip was worried about his sister.

Of course Roseanna wouldn't find anything, what could he expect? No, if something was going to be done to get this mess fixed, he'd have to do it.

But where to start? That was the biggest question.

Suddenly there was a crack, and the little hawk he was whittling split in two beneath his ill-guided knife. Filip scowled, dropping the shattered pieces. Why couldn't he just pay attention to what he was doing?

It was things like this that made them call him worthless .. he always drifted off into some day dream, and ruined whatever he was working on.

The rat heaved himself onto his paws, thinking of going to bed. No, let him get another piece of wood first, lest he have to do it in the day while eyes were on him. Filip walked through the stand of thick grass in front of the main doors, heading toward the pond.

It was dark here, for the walltops cast long shadows. Filip cast about for any fallen piece of pine or oak, but there seemed to be nothing. The rat sighed, about to turn back, but he heard something that made him freeze.

"I'm telling you Tyre, I don't like it! Some of them are forming alliances, my goal is to keep them separate!"

The voice was Xzanthia's .. though not the soft voice she always used in the day. It came from the parapet above him, and Filip quickly ducked under it, crouching near some bushes.

Another voice answered, one Filip hadn't heard before. "It is as I said. You are too rash. Haven't I said you'd need help?"

"Oh don't play I told you so, just advise me, advisor."

"Hmm .. well, as it is the larger part of them is divded, we just need to conquer."

"Tell me something I don't know."

"Well, don't be such an upstart smart-aleck, didn't Nightshade teach you anything about northern tribes of vermin?"

There was a pause, and then Xzanthia spoke again, voice thoughtful. "Hmm .. yes she did. But they are rabble, the lot of them .. primitive. I'd have to give them something of value."

"You have the abbey at your disposal, pick what hurts the most."

"What hurts the most. Hmm .." Xzanthia paused, before continuing, and Filip could just imagine the grin on her face. "I like the sound of that, Tyre."

><><

Fripple awoke slowly, not sure where she was or what had really happened. She could remember fighting Cedric .. and then Mizzah had been there .. but other than that there was darkness.

She was lying in a beautifully decorated room, most of the light coming through the balcony's open doors, though it was fading light. The mouse sat up slowly, feeling a little sore, but feeling alive.

She limped carefully to the balcony, realizing instantly this must be the great palace .. how had she gotten here?

Suddenly a cheerful voice rang from behind her. "Fripple?"

The next thing she knew, somebeast was hugging her tightly. "Oh Fripple .. Oh I was so worried!"

Fripple struggled away from Catkin, asking, "What .. where am I? What happened? I .. is Cedric .. alive?"

"Oh I think it's so nice you would think of him first." Catkin smiled, suddenly sobering. "You know he's an absolute wreck Fripple .. he blames himself, and it's very upsetting, I've never seen Cedric like this. Please cheer him up for us, cause you're the only one who can!"

Fripple blinked. "He blames himself because he was hexed?"

"Yes, that's it. He thinks you'll never forgive him." Catkin paused. "You will forgive him, won't you?"

"I .. well .. I don't see it's even his fault. It's my fault, and I deserve what I got .. but .. I will speak with him." Fripple sighed.

She suddenly noticed what beautiful attire Catkin was wearing. "Wait, what's going on?"

The otter smiled. "Oh, Lady Lilly's very happy for what we did to help Southsward. She's throwing a party to celebrate tonight .. you know it's been almost four days, and Veil is so sad .. his mother .. she died, and Esther blames herself, and Veil's just depressed, and poor little Esmund .. Oh Fripple, it's such a mess."

Fripple blinked. "Oh .. yes, it sounds like it .. I better go see them."

Catkin grabbed her arm. "Go like that? You can't, It's a good thing I dropped in to see if you were awake, you would have gone in your nightgown!"

"Oh." Fripple cast a glance at her attire.

Catkin set her in a chair in front of the room's dresser, picking a brush up off it. "Well hold still, I like doing hair!"

Fripple didn't move as Catkin pulled and brushed her long hair, she was staring at her reflection, taken aback. For a still healing scar ran between her eyes, across the length of her face. "That's not coming off, is it."

Fripple was careful to touch the wound gently.

"Well .. you do have some of the Flowers of Icetor .. perhaps it won't last forever." Catkin tried to be hopeful.

"It doesn't matter." Fripple sighed. "And yet .. Oh, I am an idiot, to even care what he thinks. No, it doesn't matter."

Catkin paused in her intricate braiding. "You care what he thinks?"

"No! No, I do not. Not one bit, he can think just what he likes. Maybe this will get him to .. leave me alone." Fripple finished her statement with a sigh.

Catkin did not seem convinced, as she pulled Fripple to her feet, opening a nearby closet and pulling out a white dress with a sky blue over-piece, one that flowed out behind with a cape-like quality. "Here, isn't this pretty?"

Fripple was droll. "Yes, prettier than me. But very well. I need to talk with my friends .. it sounds like they need me."

Catkin helped her pull on the dress, straightening it. "There, I think you look beautiful. Put the sandals on, won't you?"

Fripple did so absently. Catkin held the mouse's arms in turn, slipping a silver cuff on each one. Fripple looked at herself a moment in the mirror, sighing, "Thanks Catkin."

She slipped out into the hall, looking around. "This way." Catkin led her down the corridor, into another, and finally to a double staircase leading down into a marble tiled hall filled with lanterns and creatures.

Catkin peered over the railing. "I'll help you look for him .. oh there he is, see? With Mizzah and Errik! Come on!"

The otter dragged her friend down one set of stairs, though Fripple was more reluctant. They got to the bottom of the stairs, when Catkin about ran into Vinwyte. "Oh, Vinwyte! There you are, I didn't see you .."

Fripple discreetly loosed her paw from the distracted otter's grasp, turning and looking in the direction Cedric was. He was still there, talking with his uncle and Errik .. and something made her walk forward.

She stopped behind them a ways, and it was actually Mizzah who saw her first. "Oh, Fripple! I didn't see you child, are you feeling better?"

Fripple nodded slowly, meeting his gaze. "Yes, much .. I could fight again."

"Well hopefully you won't have to." The jerbilrat patted her shoulder. "And I suppose you want to talk with Cedric?"

"Yes .. I suppose. I heard he wanted to talk to me?" Fripple couldn't help but let this come out as a question.

Mizzah nodded. "Yes, I'm certain he does .. Errik lad, why don't you come with me?"

The slender fox did as was suggested, and Fripple did have to admit Cedric looked downcast. He met her gaze momentarily, before blurting, "Princess, I'm sorry .. I'm so sorry .."

Fripple shrugged. "Why?"

Cedric looked, honestly, a little blank. "Because I hurt you Princess, I almost .. killed you."

"I almost killed you. What is the difference, you planned none of it. It's my fault you were hexed .. I never bothered to talk to you about Ignasa, I guess I .. just didn't really want to ruin .. everything. But I should have, because that's what a friend does, if they care."

"We're .. still friends?" Cedric was hesitant.

Fripple nodded. "Yes, if you .. still care, after I almost killed you."

"Yes .. I .. of course I do!" Cedric was quick to answer. "You did that out of self-defense, I couldn't ever blame you. And you did tell me about Ignasa .. that night I took you to see Errik the first time, I just .. I didn't listen."

"I don't blame you. At least .. you seem to have learned from it." Fripple sighed. "If one of us is to blame, the both of us are."

Cedric slowly looked down, as he pulled something from his belt. "I think this belongs to you, Princess."

Fripple slowly held up the object. "My necklace? But I paid you with that."

"You don't pay a friend to stay. You taught me that much .. thank you."

He bit his lip, suddenly blurting, "And Princess .. I feel like I .. sort of .. ruined everything."

"I've never seen you so unsure before. I forgive you .. don't you believe me?" Fripple raised an eyebrow.

There was silence for a moment, before Cedric looked up. "Are you angry about .. what I did?"

Fripple suddenly realized what he was talking about, and she sighed. "Oh, that? No. Why would that matter to me? Once it stops hurting, I'll probably forget it's even there. Until I look in a mirror, but I don't do that often. It'll probably bother you more than me."

"It doesn't bother me .. except the fact that I did it. I feel like I .. ruined your looks Princess."

Fripple paused, finally sighing. "Well, I wasn't pretty to begin with. I'm a warrior."

Cedric obviously felt bad that his statement had been taken the wrong way. "No, it's not like that .. I think you're .. maybe not cute, but beautiful. I just wondered what .. you thought about it."

"You really must be insane Cedric .. but I knew that anyway. I'm glad I didn't .. kill you."

Cedric sighed, almost in relief. "And vise versa, Princess."

><><

Veil knew Lilly was showing her appreciation to them and their friends by throwing a party for them .. and really, all of Southsward. Still, that didn't make him feel like going.

He'd come down at the rabbit queen's request, but had quickly distanced himself from all the others, slipping out into the palace's courtyard. He sat beside the pool now, watching the fountain blankly.

The events of the last few days were simply a blur. When he and Ivan had reached Lady Lilly and most of her guards, defending the tunnels and the wounded from what was left of Swartt's horde, Ivan had shown them their dead leader's weapon and necklace.

Some had fled, a few had kept fighting and been killed, but about thirty had fallen to their knees and proclaimed Veil their king. So now he had a horde.

They were under lock, key, and guard, but he was still trying to decide what to do with them. In fact he was trying to decide what to do with the rest of his life. He felt like he'd lived a hundred life times.

Obviously, he had to care for Esmund, for Bluefen had wished it and the child had no relation save him. But as to where he would go or what he would do ..

"Veil?"

He turned to see Esther slowly making her way down the steps into the courtyard, leaving the glow of the lanterns in favor of the afterglow of the sunset and the rising moon. Her eyes were downcast, and Veil wondered what she was going to say .. they hadn't gotten a chance to talk since the battle.

The ermine stopped a few feet away, seeming to want to say something, but too afraid. Veil realized she looked almost gaunt, and he spoke up. "Are you feeling .. any better?"

Esther paused, then sighed. "Yes .. and no. I'm still weak .. I guess, but that's .. to be expected. But that's not the real problem .."

Veil waited, and she suddenly continued. "I remember it all, Veil .. everything. Everything I did .. and .. I never thought .. I could be .. hexed."

Veil sighed, moving over some and motioning she should sit. The ermine did, though she kept her gaze averted. "I will never steal again .. because my life was stolen, and I know what it feels like. Are you .. very angry with me?"

"There's no point in it." Veil's voice was dull. "We all make mistakes, and we all learn from them."

Esther nodded. "I learned .. Oh I learned. I was so terrified when he took me .. I asked Ignasa to forgive me .. and I think he did. Thank you .. for saving me .. even after I would have killed you."

Veil heaved a sigh. "I didn't save you. Bluefen did."

"And Veil .. I still feel like that .. is my fault too." Esther looked away. "I'm so sorry."

"Esther .. we've all got a lot of wounds. Both emotional and physical, and I think we're all partly to blame. But that was not your fault, my mother .. knew what she was doing. I'm not really sure she ever intended to come back .. she acted like she wasn't even upset, like she knew it would be her end."

Veil looked up at the stars. "And .. it's not what I thought it would be at all. But .. it's alright. She never knew love .. I think she wanted to find out what it was like. And she has now, it's alright. Though I'll always wish I could have known her better. What she was really like. But someday .. someday I guess I will."

He put his head in his paws, watching as the tile swam before his vision. "I'm just not sure what to do anymore. We went down here for a dream, and this is how it turned out .."

He felt a gentle paw on his shoulder. "I know what you mean .. and .. what do you think has happened at Redwall?"

"Oh .. I don't know." Veil had been thinking a lot on the very subject, just not willing to voice it. "But I can't go back."

There was a little scurry of paws, and Veil found Esmund looking up at him. "Veil .. can I stay out here with you?"

The little wearet still looked sad, and Veil picked him up with a sigh. "Yes."

Esmund leaned against Veil's shoulder, stating, "Mother used to tell me 'bout the stars, I remember. Can she see them too?"

Veil found himself stroking his little brother's headfur. "Mother is with Ignasa now .. if she wants to see the stars, I'm sure she can. Maybe she's looking down on them."

"Can she .. see us?"

Veil paused at the little wearet's innocent question, and Esther answered. "I don't know, Esmund, maybe. But when my grandmother went to Ignasa, my mother and father told me that perhaps she could still see us. Still ... if you follow Ignasa, you'll meet her in the Lands Beyond."

Esmund sighed. "Someday, like Veil said. But .. it's so far away and .. I miss her!"

Esther nodded sadly. "We all wish it hadn't happened .. but at least you know she's safe .. and free."

"Besides, mother wanted us to live. She told me so .. she wants us to keep going without her .. and she'd be sad if we gave up." Veil admitted this fact with a sigh.

Esmund sat in silence for awhile, before nodding. "Yes .. but .. I don't know where I'm going to stay now!"

Veil paused, before sighing, "Well, I guess you'll stay with me .. wherever I will go."

"I think we'll all come with you Veil .. to the very ends of the earth."

He met Esther's gaze, and smiled weakly, but genuinely. "Yes .. you did that once. I couldn't think you would leave me .. even if you should."

Esther's green gaze sparkled with something odd, and she blurted, "I could never leave you to wander alone .. all by yourself .. it .. it wouldn't be right."

Veil blinked at her, slowly smiling again, momentarily. "I .. thank you."

For some reason Veil couldn't look away, and for a moment, he felt almost .. happy again. But then that moment ended.

"Veil? Can I talk with you now?"

It was Bryony, and Veil knew she'd been wanting to talk to him for several days now, he just hadn't wanted to face her. He didn't know what he'd find, though he did know Bryony and Glow had traveled from Redwall to find him.

"Alright Bryony, yes. I haven't felt like talking to anyone .. but I guess. Why did you follow me .. us?"

Bryony fiddled with the sash of her elegant dress, blurting, "That's just the thing Veil! I found .. I found gloves in the garden. Stained with Wolfbane. And then I heard Xzanthia say she was a Shadow Fighter, and .. she framed me, and Martin believed her! I had to run, just like you!"

Veil blinked at her. "You?"

"Bryony, you ... everybeast .. always liked you. They might not have all liked Veil, or Fripple, or me .. but you were fine!" Esther was just as surprised as Veil.

"Yes I know! It's those monocles, just like you thought .. but it's also Xzanthia. She hexed Ash, and I saw her do it! Mayberry follows her around and seems totally blinded .. Martin's getting worse and worse." Bryony looked sad and afraid at the same time.

Esther started. "Ash is hexed?"

Bryony nodded regretfully, as Veil broke in, hesitantly. "What are you really saying Bryony?"

"We need you! Redwall .. and all of Mossflower!" Bryony pulled out a battered piece of parchment, showing it to Veil. "This, I found it in Brockhall .. and that's Bella's handwriting. It's a prophesy Veil, and it's about you!"

The ferret said nothing, just scanned the paper awhile. He did not disagree with what was obvious, but he simply asked, "How can I ever even try to fulfill something like this? I am an outcast, they want to execute me for something I never did."

Esther sounded slightly wounded. "I'm not sure Martin really .. deserves a hero, after what he did."

She paused. "Though .. I miss my parents. And Mossflower .. are Rupert and Estella ok?"

"They are, last I knew. Viewed with suspicion, though I can't promise anything anymore." Bryony was reluctant.

She sighed. "They look down on the vermin now, and they don't trust them .. oh, not everyone, but a lot of beasts. Trimp and Beau, Rose, and a few others seem reluctant to accuse them, but they also don't do hardly anything. It's like there's this evil spell over everything! Veil .. won't you come back, please? We need you .."

The mouse paused. "We don't deserve you. I don't, after I did nothing to stand up for you, but .. we need you .. or anybeast! We just need somebeast who's brave, strong, and close enough to Ignasa .. to save us."

"One beast? I don't think one beast can reverse that ... I mean .. it sounds like they would fail .. just saying." Esther sighed.

Veil looked away. "Ignasa can save you .. call out to him. I cannot. I cannot save anything .. not my mother, not my friends .. nothing. And .. I do not want to go back, to face them."

"So you'll just let them win?" Bryony sounded almost accusing. "All your freinds .. all the beasts who raised you .. they will die if you do nothing!"

"It's not that simple!" Veil almost snapped. "You can't understand Bryony, I trusted them. I looked up to them. I wanted to be just like Martin, that brave, honest, and noble. But I was wrong .. he turned on me, they all did. I would have to fight them .. I might kill somebeast in anger, and then I really would be a murderer. I can't trust them, and I can't trust myself."

Bryony crossed her arms. "Veil, we need you. I came all the way across the desert to find you, I searched the catacombs to save you .. and I did it because I know you're brave and selfless enough to help us! Please, somebeast has to!"

Veil didn't look up, but he finally stood, towering over Bryony a moment, before stating, "I'm sorry Bryony, I really am. But I'm not that beast .. find a creature more worthy."

The ferret stalked across the courtyard, tail swishing behind him. Bryony looked desperate. Esther stood up, holding out a paw. "No .. don't. Just wait. You didn't see .. everything he's had to, so let him be."

"Talk to him! Esther, please! Redwall is dying, everything we cared about .. it's being destroyed .. and .. I just know he can stop it."

Esther blinked at the mouse, slowly sighing. "Well .. I don't think he'll listen to me .. I haven't really earned his trust."

She sighed almost as soon as she said this, seeing Bryony's pleading eyes. "I could ... try. I guess. Maybe it would do some good."

><><

In the palace, the mood was more cheerful. Ivan however, did not feel as happy as the glittering lanterns about him.

The cat was leaning against a pillar, in it's shadow. He was watching Catkin drag Vinwyte out onto the dance floor at that moment, and the sight brought a slight smile to his face.

Aubretia and Byron stood a ways away, looking over one of Aubretia's ridiculously large tomes with .. honest interest it seemed. Star was sampling the banquet, Fripple and Cedric stood talking in the shadow of a different pillar.

Lady Lilly was speaking with Zarya, Sunflash, and Skarlath near the stairs, while Kensly was talking to Zenith, Glow, and the young mouse that had come with Mizzah .. Lenn, he thought it was.

Suddenly there was a soft touch on his arm, and he jumped a little. The dark brown and white cat, Skadu, stood behind him, and she spoke quickly. "Sorry ta bother ya, but did I 'urt ya awful bad?"

"Hmm? I ... you hurt me? When did you do that?" Ivan honestly couldn't remember what she was talking about.

Skadu scratched her head. "In da catacombs .. I thought ya was a guard and I scratched ya. Don't ya remember? I just wanted ta say I was sorry an' I didn't mean ta do it."

Ivan suddenly realized what she meant. "Oh, that? I'd .. forgotten."

"It's still there." Skadu pointed this out matter-of-factly, quickly adding, "Not that .. I wanted that or somethin' .. but .. it just is."

Ivan shrugged. "Yea. It's fine though."

The two were silent for a few moments, watching the other creatures around them. Ivan wouldn't have continued the conversation, but Skadu did. "So .. I'm sorta wonderin' .. where'd ya come from really? Cause good wildcats ain't somethin' ya see every day."

"I .." Ivan paused. "I don't know if I'm really good."

"Ya ain't?" Skadu raised an eyebrow.

Ivan shrugged. "True followers of Ignasa can't be hexed, but I was. I'm .. confused now. I thought I knew what I was and where I stood, but I thought wrong."

There was silence for a few more minutes, and Skadu spoke again. "So .. how do ya know?"

"That's .. what I don't know." Ivan explained.

"Oh."

Skadu seemed to understand this, before adding, "And I know what ya mean cause .. I don't really know either. I guess there's more to it than just joining the woodlanders?"

"Yea. I lived with them my whole life, but I guess I'm not. It has to do with Ignasa .. I'd ask Veil what he thinks, but .. he doesn't really want to talk." Ivan fell silent once again.

"Oh."

There was silence again. Neither cat spoke for a while, before Skadu asked, "So ... why were you standing here alone?"

"I don't talk much." Ivan explained simply. "They all have friends, new and old, they would rather spend time with. But that's ok. I like having time to think, and I know they mean nothing by it."

"Oh right .. yea, me too! Well, I guess I like ta talk, but I don't really 'ave anybeast ta talk ta, ya know?" Skadu put in.

Ivan shrugged. "You're talking to me."

Skadu paused. "Oh .. yea, I am. But .. ya know. Do ya .. want ta do somethin'? Like explore the palace? I've found it's got this real high tower an I like high places. Makes ya feel free."

Ivan paused, before standing up straight again, for he'd been leaning on the pillar. "Alright, I'll come if you want to show me. I like them too .. think it's part of being a cat."

><><

Veil stalked stiffly away .. he didn't want to face anybeast. He couldn't go back! Did he look like a hero? He was an outcast, let Bryony find somebeast else to save the abbey.

He felt a pang of guilt, but he shoved it away. No. He had lost his mother, come close to loosing his friends, and he wasn't going to lead them back into danger.

Besides .. after all that had happened, why should a vermin risk his neck to save them? Let them fall upon other woodlanders for their help, since those were other goodbeasts.

The ferret strode softly into the palace, aiming to slip up to his room .. just to get away from everybeast. He didn't want to talk anymore, he wanted to think.

However it seemed he rarely ever got his wishes, and this time was no exception. For as he slipped through the open door, he heard Lilly announcing something. At first he paid no attention, but as he slipped into the shadows of the pillars, he realized who she was speaking of.

"Without these beasts, Southsward might have been lost. Their faith and loyalty saved our city, if young Aubretia hadn't been as brave as she is, we would have never found the Morning Song."

Veil looked in the direction of the noise, seeing Lilly lay a paw on the little golden mouse's shoulder, and smiling. She motioned to Vinwyte and Catkin. "These two helped defend the wounded and aided my guards in driving Swartt's horde back .. I wish to give them these as my thanks, after all, they helped find them."

The two otters took what they'd been given, looking amazed .. Veil couldn't see quite what it was from where he stood.

Lilly continued, and the ferret's heart only sank. "I cannot thank all the beasts I would like to, sadly, but there is one I can. Were it not for his bravery and loyalty to the ones he cares for, Swartt might still be alive. But he is dead, thank Ignasa, and he will never cast his shadow upon our land, or any land. A toast to Veil Sixclaw, for his courage and honor he showed in risking his life for a people not even his own."

Veil pressed against the pillar, feeling his heart sink.

He risked his life for a people not even his own.

Perhaps it was true. Perhaps he had risked his life for Southsward without ever meaning to. But whether he'd meant to or not ... it didn't change the hard fact.

He'd helped to free foreigners, but he wouldn't set aside his anger and aid the creatures of his own country.

I can't!

But even as he thought this, the guilt yelled back.

You have to! You know what's wrong, you can help them.

Veil leaned against the cool stone pillar, thoughts swimming.

They betrayed me!

But his guilt was a cruel, obstinate thing.

And would you do the same? Would you be as low as they?

Veil growled inwardly, in confusion and frustration. He swept away from Lilly's voice, he didn't want to hear what a great beast he was.

He was really a coward.

The ferret slipped unnoticed up the stairs, for the crowd was paying attention to Lilly. Veil made it to his room, before falling onto his bed and staring almost wildly at the ceiling. That guilt would never leave until he did what it wished ... but the task it wished!

Ignasa, show me what to do!

><><

"I am telling you Roseanna, I saw her!" Filip was not in the mood to be ignored. "It was Xzanthia, and she plans on destroying the abbey!"

Roseanna stared at him. "Xzanthia? That helpless little thing?"

"She's no helpless little thing, she's a witch!"

Roseanna rolled her eyes. "Her? She's like .. eleven seasons old!"

Filip clenched his paws. "Roseanna, I'm telling you .. I heard her! She has an accomplice!"

"Who?"

Filip snarled. "I don't know, I didn't see them! They were on the parapet and I was under it."

Roseanna sighed. "You're going to have to prove this."

Filip couldn't believe it. She hadn't been able to come up with one clue, and he'd found out what the problem was ... but she wouldn't believe him!

"You don't trust me? If they'd found me who knows what they'd have done! I just risked my neck for you and you don't care?"

Roseanna huffed. "I think you might have been dreaming ..."

Filip stamped a paw. "Dreaming? You ... you're just as bad as your father! You're just like him! I don't have to stick my neck out there if you don't care .. and you know, I won't!"

"Filip, stop being an idiot!"

"Ha!" The rat yelled back. So that was the way she wanted to play eh? Well let her play it alone. He'd do this by himself.

"Burr, you'm have a gurt fight wif mizz Rozeanna zurr?"

Filip jumped, fur bristling. Roseanna wasn't behind him, but Foremole Dinny's son Togget was. Filip scowled. "Oh what do you want?"

Togget rubbed his snout. "Why I do be wantin' what you be, gettin' Redwall back to the way it were."

"Oh. Well Roseanna's no help ... and .. hey! How come you know about what we want?"

Togget smiled almost secretively. "Boi hokey, you'm must think you do be quiet! Oi did get 'e feelin' you'm could be needin' me."

Filip sighed. "We're fine, thanks."

"Oh don't you'm be fibbin, if you'm be foine, why you be fightin' in'e orchard? E' varmit could come an' hear you, so she could zurr."

"Roseanna won't believe me!" Filip defended himself.

Togget shook his velvety head. "Oi don't be carin' what she be believin', but boi e' Lands Beyond you'm do talk loud for bein' sneaky, so you'm do."

The mole rubbed some dirt off a digging claw. "Well now zurr, we'm should go find mizz Roseanna shouldn't we?"

Filip was stubborn. "I don't want to see Roseanna, she can boil her head. I'm going to talk to Trimp and Beau."

Togget sighed. "Oi suppose Oi do be comin with you'm then zurr."

><><

Trimp looked up from where she was rolling out the dough for some scones as Filip and Togget came in. The hedgehog paused. "Wull what's you two scamps doin' hanging about me kitchen eh? Hungry I suppose. Take a biscuit if ya like."

She pointed to a platter of honey coated morsels, and Togget took his with good will. Filip didn't feel like eating.

Trimp gave him a sharp look. "Master Filip, since when did you turn down nothing I gave ya ta eat?"

"Sorry." Filip mumbled. "I'm not hungry."

"Well this is serious young chappie, wot, wot? A lad like you goes off the jolly ol' nosebag, an all manner a bloomin' awful things is bound ta happen, wot?" Beau spoke while stuffing his own mouth with biscuit.

Trimp smacked his paw with her spoon. "Sir Beauclair! I offered it ta them, not you, you ol' walkin' feed-sack!"

Beau looked hurt. "Humph. Disreaguardin' an offisah young miss, two weeks fizzer, an extra week for smacking his poor ol' paw with a spoon. Young'uns these days, why on the patrol you'd be facin' the stocks so ya would .."

Trimp was nonplussed. "Mmhmm. Now young Filip, tell us what the trouble is, why don't you?"

Filip thought for a moment, and he felt his normal scowl return. "It's Roseanna! Last night I saw .."

Togget was licking honey from his claws, but he still poked Filip. The rat sighed, looking around carefully, before speaking in a softer tone. "I was out late last night, and I overheard Xzanthia on the parapet. She has an accomplice, though I never saw who it was. But she said she didn't like any of us forming alliances, she said she was trying to keep us separate."

"A jolly ol divide an conquer move is it? Well we'll give her what for, shall we?" Beau was ready to be on the move.

Trimp shook her head. "Beau, I hate to say this, but that'd be about the dumbest thing we could do."

Filip caught her meaning. "Right, we can't just get rid of Xzanthia, more than half of Redwall thinks she's a perfect little angel .. in fact .. I think we're about the only ones who don't. See how stupid this is?"

Beau nodded, sticking the last biscuit in his mouth and mumbling, "Downright mutiny an chaos, that's what it is, wot?"

Trimp rolled her eyes. "Like what you do ta me poor kitchen. But I think our only chance is to find something against her."

"Burr aye, but that do be the question .. what?"

Nobeast could answer Togget .. for nobeast had a real answer, not even for their own hearts.



Chapter 28 Back to the Beginning

Veil awoke slowly, groggily coming to as something tugged on his paw. "Veil? Veil please wake up! Are you still mad?"

Veil groaned, blinking his eyes open to see Esmund peering at him. It took him a second, but the events of last night came flooding back, and the ferret sighed. "No .. no I'm not mad Esmund. I was never upset with you, I shouldn't have left like I did."

Esmund scrambled up onto the bed. "Oh I know you weren't mad at me. Mother'd do the same thing, an' she was never mad at me, just at other beasts."

Veil blinked at him. "Mother would storm off?"

"Yes, lots. She had to be 'lone to think, cause that's what she'd tell me." Esmund looked sad for a moment, as if he didn't really want to think about Bluefen.

Veil sat up, realizing it was early morning. He sighed, not wanting Esmund to look so downcast. "Do you want to go out on the balcony?"

Esmund paused, then smiled a little. "Yes."

Veil couldn't help but feel better around his innocent little sibling. He unclasped the doors, pushing them open as Esmund ran out onto the balcony, scrambling at the wall to see over.

Veil picked him up, letting him look out over Southsward. "It's so .. big!"

The two said nothing for a while, just took in the quiet of early morning .. though it wasn't as quiet as Mossflower. The rumble of chariot wheels were constant, or cries from the newly opening market .. unlike the peace of the gentle northern woods.

"Veil?"

"Yes Esmund?"

There was a pause, and the wearet looked totally solemn. "Veil, now that you have fathers horde .... will we have to live in the cat'combs again?"

Veil blinked at his brother. "No! No, of course not Esmund, they weren't ever Swartt's catacombs, and they certainly aren't mine."

Esmund sighed with relief. "Oh good .. cause I like it up here much better. But .. where will we go?"

Veil set him down. "That's .. what I'm trying to figure out."

The events of last night still haunted him, what Bryony had said, what he had said, and what Lilly had said. There was no getting around it.

The ferret leaned against the balcony's ledge, trying to enjoy the morning, but he had too good of a view of the great desert outside the city wall and past the green lands the river blessed.

Veil sighed, shaking his head. "What am I doing?"

"I don't know ... watching something?" Esmund did his best to be helpful.

And in that second .. Veil understood what he'd known all along. It made him feel free, almost. He would have to return to face his past, in order to find his future .. Ignasa had even said so. It didn't mean he had to forgive them .. but he would never have rest until he tried to free them or died in the attempt.

The ferret picked up Esmund, stating, "Yes .. I'm imagining my home. And I think .. if we could set it right again, you would like it there."

He walked back into the room, setting Esmund on his bed and pulling his sword off his dresser. The ferret buckled it on as his little brother spoke. "You mean we're .. leaving Southsward?"

Veil paused. "Yes .. I think so."

Esmund sighed. "Oh. I've never .... been anyplace else."

"Well .. I understand Esmund. And I will have to talk this over with my friends .. I'm not sure where they all stand. You can come with me if you like."

Esmund hopped off the bed, following Veil to the door. "Ok!"

The two left the room, quickly making their way toward the great hall, only to be met with Lilly before they got there. The rabbit queen bowed slightly. "I was just going to send for you, friend. Kensly tells me your horde is getting restless because you do not show your face."

Veil sighed. Oh yes .. his horde.

"Milady, if you could, send word that I will speak to them at noon today? I must speak with my friends first .. so as to really .. get an idea of what I am doing."

Lilly smiled. "Yes, of course. I see in your eyes you have made your choice?"

Veil nodded. "For better or worse, I have made it."

"My son .. I have wanted to ask you this since I first saw you, fighting your father in the arena." The rabbit paused for a moment, before asking, "I assume you had a mentor?"

"I do .. or did." Veil replied with some confusion.

Lilly's brown eyes glittered. "You fight with the tricks of a beast I once knew .. if you would, what is your mentor's name?"

Veil raised an eyebrow. "Groddil .. he's a .."

"A silver fox!" Lilly broke in. "So it is true! Tell me, is he well? Does he still live?"

Veil nodded, admittedly bewildered. "Yes, I believe so. But how do you know him .. he has never been to Southsward, I don't think."

Lilly's voice was soft. "No, no he has never been here. But once, when I was a child, I lived in the north. My family was captured by Shadow Fighters and killed, but Groddil, a prisoner also, helped free me. An owl named Boldred took me to the beast who adopted me, a friend of hers, and the childless king of Southsward. So you can guess the rest."

She paused only a minute. "But I always missed Groddil .. I wish I could see him again."

Veil shrugged. "You could, I suppose .. he lives at Redwall."

Lilly looked very thoughtful. "At this time .. I do not know. I will ask Kensly and Cyrus how they feel the city is .. after such a turmoil, I may have to stay, no matter what I wish. But I thank you for thinking of it, Veil. Your friends are having breakfast in the garden, if you seek them .. I will speak with you later."

Veil watched her sweep down the hall a moment, before turning to Esmund. "Let's go talk to them .. and I'm sure you want some breakfast."

><><

Fripple was listening to Bryony talk about what had befallen Redwall, and it wasn't encouraging. It certainly wasn't encouraging Catkin.

"Oh that's awful! And I thought Xzanthia seemed so nice .. though her monocles were .. scary. But I thought you helped find them!"

Bryony shook her head. "I did Catkin, and I was stupid .. I didn't see through it, but I should have .. it was so .. easy. Too easy."

Fripple broke in. "Yea, I'm glad I never touched those things. Right before Rose was poisoned, I was going to look through one .. to see what Veil saw. That .. I think Ignasa stopped me."

She paused, before asking, "Bryony, are my parents .. and brothers .. ok?"

Bryony shrugged. "I don't know Fripple, Sayna and Timbal are at Salamandastron. You know that."

Fripple was about to answer, when there was a clatter from nearby. The golden mouse looked up to see Bryony's quiet friend staring at her. "You said .. Sayna?"

Fripple nodded, raising an eyebrow. "Yes, Sayna is my mother's name."

The mouse, who Fripple knew was called Lenn, exclaimed, "You're Sayna's daughter! But you .. you do look like her, in a way."

"You've met my mother? But .. how is it I've never seen you before?" Fripple felt her bewilderment growing, for she was certain she did not remember this mouse .. the creature was about her own age.

Lenn dropped her gaze. "I am sorry your highness, I did not mean to speak such things. You are confused now, and I am too .. I doubt you would believe me if I told you."

"My name's Fripple." The mouse maid corrected. "I've got Cedric calling me Princess and one is quiet enough."

Cedric paused in eating his breakfast. "Oh wait Princess .... you do have a name .. don't you?"

This was said in a genuine fashion, not in the least bit sarcastic. Fripple sighed. "Yes. Yes, my name is Fripple."

"Do you ... want me to start .. calling you that?" Cedric was still shaken after his experience being hexed.

Fripple thought for a moment, trying to think what it would be like for Cedric not to call her Princess. "Umm .. nah. You've made such a habit of it I'd only be confused."

There was a patter of paws, and Errik plopped himself in-between them, clapping Cedric on the back so that he nearly face-planted in his plate of food. "So I see you're getting better and better huh? I told your princess you would, after all, if I pulled you off an arena once and patched you up, I could do it again."

Fripple made a face. "I'm not his princess, I'm my own princess."

She paused. "Not to say, that he's not my friend and all, but .."

Errik grinned. "Oh I know how it is."

Fripple was saved any more embarrassment by the soft scuff of paws at the door that opened into the garden courtyard. She looked up, to see Veil standing there, eyes averted. Fripple sat straight again. "Veil!"

She hadn't seen the ferret since the fight in the arena .. and he looked downright tired. Worn, depressed, and even guilty. As he looked up, Fripple realized he had his head slightly turned, as if he could not see correctly out of his scarred eye. His voice was weary. "Bryony ... I am sorry for my anger last night. I will return to Redwall and ... do what I can."

Bryony sat bolt upright. "You .. will? Really?"

"I .. I will." Veil sighed, clearly disheartened.

Kinta slowly stood from where she was sitting, walking over to Veil. Her voice was understanding. "Veil, you are not a failure. Bluefen would be downright upset to see you act this way, she would probably blame herself. But I understand .. you are not the only beast to have lost someone."

Veil's attempt to smile was haggard, but his reply was genuine. "Thank you Kinta .. I am still getting over it. But I will. I just need .. time."

Esther looked hopeful. "We'll always come with you."

Catkin sniffed. "Oh .. Veil, you look so sad! I think you need a hug."

The otter did so, hugging the ferret tightly. Veil looked stiff. "Umm .. thank you Catkin, but .. that's not .."

"That's not helping much." Ivan was droll.

Catkin let go of Veil, and he looked relieved. She pounced on Esmund however, picking him up. "Oh your brother is so cute! Esmund, do you want some breakfast?"

The wearet was a bit overwhelmed. "Umm .. yes?"

Veil watched Catkin walk off, as he sighed. "Will you come back with me? It's dangerous, I know, and you don't have to."

Fripple stood up. "Pfft, that's what you said the first time. I'm in! Mossflower's my home too."

"We all are Veil!" Esther spoke after looking around a moment.

Vinwyte broke in. "If .. I may? I have no home to go to, so if I could go with you ..?"

"And I the same .. Esmund and Bluefen .. are .. or were, my only family." Byron looked down.

Cedric slowly cleared his throat. "Ahem .. You wouldn't happen to need a guide across the desert?"

Fripple looked to him. "You're coming? I mean, not that I don't want you to, but I thought .."

"What, that I'd stay in Southsward? And do what Princess, race chariots again? I wore that dream out .. I won the race, and I did it with you guys. Course I'm coming, I don't think you can keep me away." Cedric grinned, a little of his normal self returning.

Errik paused, before clapping Cedric on the back again, successfully slamming his nose in his plate. "Good luck matey, I'll miss you. But I've got the restaurant and my parents to look after, not to mention my new horse. Firewing's getting better, and I offered him some light work in return for food, my stable, and a little pay. That way he can look after Nix, and make some money. Besides, you know I've got a girlfriend? Yea, that little fox girl I used to hang out with once .. You come visit us sometime mate, bring Princess along, it's always more fun with the two of you."

><><

Xzanthia strode through the upper halls of Redwall, making her way toward the staircase down to the first floor. She ran her gloved paw down the wall as she slipped down the stairs.

These beautiful halls .. they were hers, or as good as. Their high king had given them up .. oh, and in such irony. He was completely in her power.

The wearet reached the bottom of the stairs, to be met by Mayberry. The otter wasn't in a very good mood. "You know what I saw?"

Xzanthia shrugged. "No .. tell me."

"I saw Togget and Roseanna in the orchard, and they were talking with Filip. I think it's a shame two respectable woodlanders would get messed up with that nasty rat." Mayberry made a face. "He has such a vile attitude."

Xzanthia played along, mostly because she was curious. After how well the monocles were working, why would two woodlanders be talking with a vermin?

"Yes, I've noticed .. he sulks all the time. I wouldn't be surprised if he's planning something."

Mayberry thought about this. "What if you're right? You can never trust a vermin."

Xzanthia smirked inwardly .. it was almost amusing the way these monocles worked. You could never trust a vermin eh? And Mayberry said it in confidence to a vermin. The wearet pasted a worried look on. "That's totally correct .. I wonder what evil thing he could be up too .. and how he might have deceived such nice creatures like Roseanna and Togget."

"I know, it does seem odd .." Mayberry paused. "But then, while I'd say Togget is pretty reasonable, he's also really trusting. And Roseanna .. well. She's got a sharp tongue in her head .. and she's got Bloodwrath. She also used to bite everybeast as a child, is what I've heard. If that doesn't tell you something about a creature's character, I don't know what will .. she's a very unruly animal."

Xzanthia nodded in total seriousness, for she'd caught the part about Roseanna having Bloodwrath. Beasts with Bloodwrath were beasts to be wary of, the wearet had listened to Nightshade tell her over and over only the fool confronted Bloodwrath.

"She doesn't sound very nice."

"Oh, as those Lukes go, she's alright. But you know what I mean. At least Martin seems to be acting more responsible for his land, he's keeping a much tighter grip on what goes on." Mayberry nodded importantly.

She paused. "I'm hungry, do you want breakfast?"

Xzanthia paused, before nodding. "Alright."

><><

Veil stood beside Lady Lilly in the courtyard, as Cyrus and a number of other guards led his new 'horde' in. They were a motely crew, vermin of every size, species, and demeanor. Some stood straight in defiance, some slunk about in total fear. Others were in-between, cautious, fearful, yet afraid to cower.

Veil took a breath. "Listen, all of you. I am not Swartt. I will never be my father. If you seek a leader as him, you have no place with me. I serve Lord Ignasa, and I will neither plunder nor enslave .. if I fight, I fight against all your leader ever stood for!"

There were murmurings amongst the beasts, some looking shocked, some looking angry, and others were simply confused or afraid. Veil continued. "Which also means, if you serve me, I will not rule you cruelly. I will not enslave woodlanders, and I will not enslave you. If you wish to make me your lord, I will do my best to be a just lord for you .. I will not view you as pawns, like I know my father must have."

One beast, a scrawny, middle-aged ferret with dingy fur, slowly looked up. "Melord .. what'd ya mean?"

Veil sighed. "What is your name?"

There was a long pause, and the ferret finally spoke. "Wildag. Me name's Wildag, Lord."

Veil could tell this was just the sort of beast his father would count as expendable. He felt some pity for the creature, who had obviously been told he was stupid all his life, and it wasn't his job to think. "Wildag, what I mean is this. You served my father, and he made you all slaves .. but I do not believe in slavery. If you wish to stay with me, you may. If you wish to leave, you may. You have your freedom, but understand Lady Lilly has reclaimed her city, and should you be found of offence, I will not protect you from her judgment. If you come with me, I am going to fight a Shadow Fighter to free an abbey of woodlanders. Any who wish to leave, leave."

There were quite a few beasts that asked to leave then and there, but fifteen or so stayed. Wildag seemed to think for a moment, before kneeling before Veil. "I don't git alla what yer sayin' Lord, but ya seem a better beast than ol' Sixclaw, an I think I'd be right glad ta serve ya."

Veil laid a paw on the older, kneeling ferret's shoulder. "I thank you, Wildag."

Another beast stepped forward, a dusky furred rat. The creature knelt, bowing his head. "Milord, I served your father with loyalty, and so I will serve you. My family has served the Sixclaws for three generations, and I won't be breaking the practice, it's a sure way to bring bad luck. Even if you do have some strange ideas, you seem a good leader. My name is Scraw, in case you wondered, Lord."

The remaining beasts knelt too, and Veil marveled at how many actually stayed. He'd expected less, in all honesty. However he was finding himself glad of the help, with no idea what he would find back at Redwall.

"Thank you, all of you. What I'm going to do will not be easy, or anything like you've ever done, but my friends and I will need help, so I am grateful even this many would offer to go with me."

Scraw stood, asking, "So, those beasts who left .. you're going to deal with them now?"

Veil was confused. "Why? I have no dealings with them, they are their own beasts."

"Uh .. wull .. yea Lord .." Wildag paused. "Um .. but .. ain't that just a trick ta see who's loyal? Yer gonna gut em all fer desertin', right? Better hurry cause .. they done thought a that an will make themselves good'n scarce!"

Veil sighed. "Wildag, I do not plan on chasing them. They've made their choice, and they are freebeasts .. I mean what I say, I only want beasts who want to stay."

Scraw and Wildag stared at each other, and Veil heard Wildag mutter, "Mate, he's ... on the level wid it!"

Scraw shrugged.

Veil wondered how many beasts he'd really have by the week's end.

><><

The western plains were quiet in the warm noon, though the first breath of fall graced the nights. The only noise was the quiet thump of horse hooves, and the only occupants of this otherwise empty land were a group of riders.

Their horses were a motely assortment, as were the beasts who rode them. At their head was a stocky dark bay, a tall gray and a sway-backed old sorrel pinto. The three riders spoke amongst themselves, their horses putting in an occasional word when they felt it needful.

"Going straight into Redwall would be crazy, if Martin really is acting like Groddil says." Sayna was firm.

Groddil shrugged. "He's likely much worse by this time."

Timbal sighed. "I just hope there's a way to break him from .. whatever delusion he seems to be in."

"You have no idea what he was like at first Timbal, he was rash, stubborn, and completely determined to have his own way."

Groddil smiled at Sayna. "Sort of like you."

Sayna sighed. "Yes, very like me. Some twins look alike and think differently, but when it comes down to the basics, Martin and I think shockingly alike."

She paused. "Which is why I say we should be careful. Let's take Coll and Gustav to Brockhall first, with Quinn and Groddil .. vermin won't be welcome, I'm afraid. Maybe Thalia should go with them, as she's our healer."

Timbal nodded. "You're right, that's probably best. It's hard to think of the walls we built holding our enemy, but I do agree with you. There's no way of knowing what it will be like."

"It'll be a good week or so before we get there, even still. What do you plan to do?" Groddil raised an eyebrow.

Timbal looked grim. "We must confront Martin. It is only right, as we are all marks."

Sayna absently ran her fingers through Dancer's mane. "Yes, he acted without our consent .. and three of the marks must agree before a decree can be passed."

"Well, you two are the beasts to do it." Groddil heaved a sigh. "I don't envy you, though."

><><

The rest of the day in Southsward was spent preparing for travel. Lilly saw to it that Veil's new horde were given food and decent clothing, and spent most of the day in conference with her three chief guards, Kensly, Cyrus, and Reihon. Veil found himself caught in a whirl of activity, keeping both Esmund and the horde out of trouble and seeing they had things to do.

Catkin saw about packing food and plenty of hotroot, though Esther tried to convince her she had quite enough. Eveningstar had decided to come, as he didn't have much of a business after his disappearance and his lack of a chariot. Byron and Aubretia amused themselves by trying to repair his old one, Errik having gone back to the race track and salvaged what was left of it.

In truth, everything seemed .... peaceful. Too peaceful. Like the calm before the storm.

Being one fourth vermin herself, and having grown up with vermin all her life, Fripple was not adverse to Veil's new horde. They were a little slow-witted, perhaps, but they'd been punished for thinking, likely all their lives.

She was wary of them, however, and vowed to keep a sharp eye out for trouble .. after all, these beasts had followed Swartt and fought against them in the battle for Southsward. Cedric shared her mindset, even being more concerned about them.

"I donno Princess .. you really feel right about that crew coming with us?"

The two were walking through the palace's great hall with Annon. Fripple shrugged, leaping up a couple stairs with little difficulty. "There's really nothing I can do about it, it's Veil's horde, not mine. And I'd say we must keep a close eye on them."

Annon nodded. "I've been watching them, and they seem .. for the most part .. just the normal vermin pawn. Not very bright. But there are several .."

"Yes, I've noticed." Fripple agreed. "The large weasel and his small friend .. I heard them say they were brothers. But there's something shifty about those two, I will say."

Cedric's fluffy tail whisked across the steps as he caught up. "Yea, that little weasel gives me the creeps, I gotta say."

"Veil's got his eyes on them, he doesn't trust them either. But as father says, this is probably their first chance to hear of Ignasa .. let's give them all a fair trial. If the worst comes to the worst, I think we can handle a couple weasels." Annon wasn't unduly concerned, though he was still alert.

He caught up with the two as they reached the top of the staircase, Cedric asking, "How'd Veil get a horde anyhow? I was ... sort of unconscious."

"Well he brought his father's sword and necklace back, and ordered the horde to stop fighting ... probably never dreaming they'd really do it. But they sure did, all of them that didn't flee then and there .."

Fripple had paused at the double staircase's overhang, blinking down into the waning light that streamed across the majestic hall. She stared at the collected shadows at the bottom of a pillar, almost sure she'd seen movement. But it was not repeated, and Cedric reappeared in the hallway he'd vanished into. "Princess?"

Fripple followed him. "Coming!"

><><

As the creatures disappeared into the upper halls, the shadow amongst the pillars stirred again. It wasn't much of a shadow, and yet it was one .. with life all its own.

It swept amongst the pillars, slipping out into the darkening courtyard, to be met by another of its kind.

"They wonder, and are wary."

The other shadow grunted. "Humph, they always are. Play it safe, and they'll let their guard down. You know it, you've seen it before."

"Yes." The first agreed. "But they serve the one whose name shall not be spoken. Swartt's son has uncanny abilities, that's what I've heard."

"Just cool it. They'll get distracted, and as soon as we get to this Redwall and find Xzanthia, we won't be around them anymore. Just play act. You can do that much." The second beast was unconcerned.

"I guess. But you watch out .. Prophets have power just like Shadow Fighters." The first beast's voice was wary.

The second shadow snorted. "Prophets can't summon fire or speak curses, their skills are primitive compared to a Shadow Fighter. They are aware of some thoughts and feelings, they can sometimes predict the future or prophesy, but Malimore's servants are stronger in the long run. So just cool it. This Veil is a novice Prophet at best."

"Humph, you simply quote what I've told you, brother. You have no voices, that is my power."

"Oh come off it, you're no Shadow Fighter."

The first creature's voice was a sneer. "I would have been, but Swartt and Shroud did not deem me worthy. I'm learning on my own, but I must find myself a mentor .. which is why I must find Xzanthia."

His companion laughed. "You'd let an eleven season old brat train you?"

The first huffed, finally snapping, "Only until I have more power than her. Then she may well meet the fate of her mentor."

><><

Night had fallen over Redwall several hours back, and the slight cold of autumn's first breaths nipped at Filip's nose. He sat under the parapet where he'd overheard Xzanthia the night before, and he was getting impatient.

Where was she? Why didn't she come? It felt like he'd been sitting in this cramped spot between bush and wall for hours upon hours!

He got a nasty thought suddenly .. what if she wasn't going to come? What if she didn't meet her mystery companion every night? Then all his waiting would be for nothing.

Filip scowled in disgust. Trust Xzanthia to not come the night he'd chosen to sit here.

But he felt himself grow cold as an even more ghastly thought presented itself. What if she'd seen him?

The rat felt shivers run up his back ... what if she was watching him right now? What if he was not hunter, but the hunted?

Filip crouched further down in his hiding place, trying to get warmth back in his limbs .. but it wouldn't come. Xzanthia was a witch .. what if she could sense him .. feel his fear? He then regretted not asking Togget to come. Even Roseanna would be better then being alone.

But he was alone. He stiffened as his ears picked up the faint sounds of pawsteps, naturally stealthy ones.

He didn't know he could get colder than he was, but he did. In fact .. maybe it wasn't just him, maybe the air around him had dropped in temperature.

The rat was laying on the ground now, striving to keep from shivering out of fear. Black shod paws slipped through the grass in his vantage point, and a grayish-lavender skirt flowed around dark brown legs and a supple tail.

Filip held his breath, but he was sure his pounding heart would betray him.

Xzanthia paused almost directly in front of his hiding place, as if listening for something. Filip felt he was done for, but the next second, the wearet continued to the nearby wall stairs, slipping up them with barely a sound.

Filip took a soft breath, waiting. There was the sudden sound of an owl, so close and so real the rat had to wonder if Emalet had returned from Noonvale for a visit.

But then he realized who it really was .. Xzanthia. He shuddered as there was the sound of rustling wings, and Xzanthia's voice rang out. "Tyre, listen. I want you to speak to the vermin bands of the area. Get their leaders to meet me in Mossflower at the place I shall appoint. See if they will listen at all, and if they will, tell them I will bring a great treasure as down payment for their services."

The other voice, Tyre's, sighed. "What are you up to now Xzanthia?"

The young wearet was smiling by her tone of voice, but Filip guessed it must be a demonic sneer. "I've grown fond of Redwall, it's time it was really mine. I plan to take it .. forever."



Chapter 29 Slipping Secrets

TViT &#039;Mutual Suspicion&#039;

Mutual suspicion >;)

The morning dawned clear over Southsward, and the courtyard of the palace was a busy place. Lilly had decided to go, though Cyrus had pressed her not to go alone, and she was taking Kensly and Zarya. The badger was more pleased with this than she would let on, for she would have greatly missed Sunflash. The badger himself was talking to Veil, Fripple, and Ivan at that moment, asking them what life was like in Mossflower and about his mother.

"She still lives at Brockhall?"

Fripple shrugged. "Well, sometimes she does go there. Often though, she lives at Redwall .. she can still get around, but she likes to be in the company of other beasts."

Sunflash smiled a little. "I can imagine she would .. my father though, is he ..."

Veil and Ivan looked at each other, the cat speaking. "Well, the stories say Bella was married to Barkstripe, but .."

"Barkstripe, lord of Brockhall?" Aubretia broke in. "I believe he was killed in the Greeneyes' conquest of Mossflower."

Ivan looked uncomfortable, and Veil sighed. "Um .. thank you, Aubretia."

The mouse smiled. "You're welcome Veil."

She pushed her glasses up her nose, blinking at Sunflash and stating matter-of-factly, "You have golden headfur."

"Gee, you never noticed?" Fripple rolled her eyes.

Aubretia sniffed. "I have been very busy taking records of this adventure, teaching Byron how to read and write Loamhedge script, and tallying our supplies, also calculating how long it will take to cross the desert again. I haven't had the time to look at creature's headfur."

She turned back to Sunflash, beginning to sketch a picture of him. "But your stripe and headfur are golden, as I just pointed out."

The badger looked at Veil, who shrugged. "Well .. yes it is little miss, it always has been."

Aubretia looked up. "Really? I wondered if you dyed it, but seeing as you didn't ..."

Byron had walked over and was looking over her shoulder, and Aubretia took this moment to shove some books in his paws, digging through her bulging satchel.

"Cities of Trade again?" Fripple sounded sarcastic.

Aubretia shook her head absentmindedly. "Oh no, I finished that before we got to Southsward. I'm looking for something else."

She pulled out another book, entitled, Lords of Salamandastron. Fripple sighed. Aubretia flipped the book open, pointing to a page. "Yes, as I thought. It is recorded that the late Lord Boar, before his final battle, told Sir Trubbs that the sun marked one would return to rule the mountain. See also, Prophesies page six hundred and seven .."

Her voice faded off as she flipped through the book. Sunflash ran a paw through his golden stripe. "And ... you think that has to with me? But I've been a slave most of my life!"

Aubretia paused. "Statistically, you must be the one of prophecy. There are not that many badgers, and only one in approximately a thousand and five hundred would have the genetics to be born with a golden stripe. Which means, in short, yes. I think you must be the next badger lord, and I don't care where you came from, I'm looking at the figures."

Sunflash blinked at her a moment, before sighing, "I just want to see my mother again."

Veil looked away, turning and walking over to were Scraw was motioning for him. Fripple sighed, as Sunflash frowned. "Did I say something wrong?"

Catkin was walking by with a satchel full of hotroot. "Oh no, it's not your fault at all. Veil's just very sad right now, because his mother was killed in the battle. He doesn't mean to hurt anybeast's feelings, I'm sure."

Sunflash wasn't sure how to answer, but he needn't have worried, for Skarlath landed beside him the next second. "Reeeeaaaaakkk! When will we be off me friend?"

Fripple shrugged. "As soon as Lady Lilly says."

Cedric walked up behind her, plopping a headscarf on her shoulders. "You're gonna want that, Princess, remember?"

Fripple sighed. "Oh yes."

><><

Morning saw Filip sleeping late, tired from his nightly vigil, scare, and equally disturbing discovery. However it also saw him awakened by a hefty paw. "Burr, maister Filip, you'm wake up, mizz Trimp do want to talk to you'm."

Filip groaned, rolling over. "Go 'way Togget, 'm tired .."

The mole wasn't one to be trifled with in such matters, and he yanked Filip's sheet off. "Oh hurr zurr, mizz Trimp be angered if you'm baint appear."

Filip sat upright, shivering a little as the brisk morning air streamed through his still open window. "Brrr ... aww Togget, why'd you have to pick the coldest morning to do something like that?"

Togget shrugged, and Filip retreated toward his washroom, sighing. "Fine, let me get out of my nightshirt ok? I'll come, I'll come."

He pulled his washroom's door shut behind him and yanked his night clothes off, replacing them with his tunic and belt, as well as his leather fingerless gloves. Filip shoved the door open again, not giving his rumpled appearance a second thought. "Alright, let's go."

Togget followed him as he hurried down to the kitchens, looking in cautiously. Trimp met him, rather cheerfully. "Why Filip, I never expected Togget could wake ya up that quickly, but ain't I getting a surprise."

She set him down at the counter, asking, "An' what would ya like to eat then?"

Filip scratched his head, unused to Trimp being this friendly. "Umm ... maybe some pancakes? Or some of your meadowcream flan?"

"Ho hurr .. that baint breakfast food." Togget was a little unsure about meadowcream flan for breakfast, though Filip guessed he was sort of wishing he'd thought of it.

Trimp went to the pantry obligingly. "Oh sure, I do like a bit a that meself .. let's just eat it before the feedsack awakes. Now young'uns, you gonna tell me what you found?"

Filip blinked as she shoved a plate of meadowcream flan, heaped generously, under his nose. "Um. What, you mean last night? But how'd you find out about that?"

Trimp took a bite of her own flan as she pushed Togget's plate in front of him. "Hmm, oh that? Togget saw you going to bed late and figured you must be up to something. So, what were ya up to?"

Filip looked around a moment, before stating, "Remember how I told you I heard Xzanthia on the parapet the night before last? Well I hid in the same spot, and she came again, and talked to the same creature, though I didn't see them, of course. I just heard them. Anyway, Xzanthia told whoever it is .. called Tyre I guess .. to find any bands of local vermin they could and see if they'd agree to help her destroy us!"

"Who said what ... heeeeyyy ... Trimp!"

All three creatures wheeled about to see Roseanna watching them. "How come you're eating meadowcream flan for breakfast? I want some!"

She plopped herself on the other side of Togget, and Trimp absently dished up some more, handing her the plate. "There. Now do go on Filip."

The rat sighed. "Yes .. well that was about it. She's just trying to raise an army, and she said she'd pay them with some kind of treasure."

"Oh'm she baint have a treasure though!" Togget spoke around a bite of flan.

Roseanna spoke before Filip. "Which means she's going to steal ours!"

Filip scowled. "I thought you didn't believe me."

"Oh, well .." Roseanna paused. "Maybe I don't. But if that's really true, she must be planning to pay whoever's supposed to kill us with something of Redwall's!"

Togget shook his head. "Boi ald 'arry, she do be a roight sneaky one!"

Trimp nodded. "Oh yes Togget, so she be. But that means we've got ta be a might sneakier. Any idea what she's after Filip?"

The rat was about to deny this, when Beau broke in. "I say! I do say! Meadowcream flan, an you didn't wake this poor ol' beast? Why you greedy-gut gobblers! I'll show you, wot?"

The hare took what was left of the flan, about a third, and began devouring it. "Mmmfff, quite good .. I'll just confiscate this liddle treat, offisah's orders ya know."

Trimp sighed. "Well now that you're here why don't you all lend me a paw? Oh yes, you too Sir Beauclair, you too."

><><

Filip disliked helping in the kitchen, but decided not to press the issue because Trimp had been nice enough to feed him meadowcream flan for breakfast. The rat mixed some batter, feeling his shoulder tire a little as the mixture thickened. Hopefully after he'd done this, Trimp would let him go.

Togget brought a bag of flour to the hedgehog. "Burr .. it do be gurtly heavy."

Trimp shrugged, opening the sack. "Roseanna, Beau, I need piecrust. Ya make it, an I'll have Filip an' Togget help me make the filling."

Filip sighed. Apparently he wasn't going to get away any time soon.

The minutes wore away faster than he thought they would, for he helped serve breakfast, and afterwards Trimp entertained her crew by telling an animated tale while mixing pie filling. If Filip admitted he enjoyed anything, he could almost think he was beginning to do so .. Trimp treated him the same as everybeast else.

However, his newfound contentment was soon shattered, by the arrival of Mayberry and Xzanthia .. neither one being Filip's favorite creature.

The little wearet smiled winningly. "Miss Trimp, we didn't have much to do, and Columbine suggested we help you for a while."

Filip caught a tiny bit of underlying grudging in her honey-sweet voice, and Trimp was certainly not fooled. But the hedgehog played along. "Well dearie, ain't that nice'a ya? Hmm .. tell ya what, ya can wash me dishes."

For a second Filip wondered why Trimp didn't ask her to help with supper, and then he knew. The hedgehog didn't want Xzanthia near the food. Filip had stopped mixing the pie filling he was making, a sudden thought washing over him like ice water.

If Trimp was worried about the wearet poisoning beasts, and Filip himself had heard her tell her accomplice she wanted to kill the beasts of Redwall ... could it be that she, not Veil, was behind what had happened to Queen Rose?

He had no more time to question his theory, for Xzanthia was speaking. "Oh I'd love to miss Trimp, but I can't, my glove is leather and would be ruined."

Filip sensed the wearet was avoiding the work for some reason, and she almost sounded .. nervous?

Trimp pressed her advantage. "Sweetie, there's a remedy for that, now ain't there? Take the glove off."

"No! I ..." Xzanthia sounded angry for a second, before she paused, smiling again. "Why you can't ask me to do that, the glove is a brace that helps with a healed but painful injury. I'd be happy to help with anything else you might need done."

Mayberry backed her up. "Why Trimp, that's prying to make her tell you such things. She only wants to help, and you don't have to be so firm about the dishes, let Filip do them. He's certainly bored enough, staring at us over there."

Filip realized he was fixated on the three, and he quickly broke in. "I'm mixing .."

Mayberry cut him off. "Oh I'll do that, at least I know how to cook and wash my paws. Scrubbing the dishes would be good for you, you might get clean from the elbow down."

Filip sneered with bad grace. "Ha, I'll do what I want! I was doing this job and you and your little .. friend can't just shove me out of it."

"Master Filip, do go wash the dishes, won't ya?"

The rat stared at Trimp, feeling betrayed. "But Trimp .."

She took him by the shoulder, leading him toward the sink and muttering, "I'm sorry Filip, but I'm outnumbered, and I don't wanna raise too much suspicion til I can find out more proof see? Help me out here."

The hedgehog deposited the rat at the sink, stating, "Xzanthia, ya can take the dishes he washes an put them away. Is that ta much ta ask?"

Xzanthia paused, before stating a little aloofly, "No, I suppose not."

She walked over to Filip as Mayberry took the food he'd been mixing. Being so near the wearet gave him chills, and she smiled at him, as though she was in complete control. "Aren't you supposed to be washing?"

Filip muttered, picking up a dish and beginning to scrub it half-heartedly. He rinsed it off in a tub of clear water, drying it clumsily and shoving it into Xzanthia's paws. The wearet snapped. "Dry them better! ... You don't want to put wet dishes away."

"I couldn't care less, so don't tell me what to do! If you want them dried, dry them yourself."

The two glared at each other a minute, before Togget stepped between them. "Ho hurr, Oi'll be a dryin', do lay off foighten."

Filip huffed, picking up the next dish. "Fine."

He washed sloppily, disgusted that Trimp would do this. He noticed, out of the corner of his eye, that Xzanthia was holding the plates in her gloved paw rather than her un-gloved one, despite her claimed injury. Besides ... wearing just one glove was ... weird.

Before, he'd have said it was weird cause Xzanthia was weird. But now .. he wasn't so sure. Xzanthia said her right paw was permanently injured ... but as far as he could recall she seemed to be right-pawed. However he was doubting himself, and could not say for certain.

Xzanthia seemed to dislike anything wet, and at first it annoyed Filip .. this sissy wanted to take over Redwall? But then he thought deeper. What if there was a reason .. what if ..

"Hurry up boy, I'm waiting!" Xzanthia sounded a little irate.

Filip had a sudden inspiration, as he looked down at the bowl filled with sudsy water in his paws. On a rash whim, he spun around, flinging the water and tripping in the same moment for effect.

Xzanthia yelped, leaping back and dripping with water and soapsuds. She glared murder at Filip, and he felt an instant chill .. had he pushed this two faced brat too far?

"You filthy .. little .. rat! Why you did that on purpose you meddling idiot, by Hellgates I'll ..."

The wearet stopped her colorful tirade abruptly, realizing that everybeast was watching her. "I mean ..... well this clumsy nitwit just soaked my dress! I didn't do anything! He wasn't working, and I told him to hurry .. and he spun around and poured water on me! He had no right! There was no reason for him to do it."

Trimp walked over as Filip stood. "I just tripped."

His excuse didn't sound as steady as he'd of liked, but Trimp intervened. "Filip, be more careful, you had no reason to do that. I've a rag Xzanthia, ya can dry off with that."

"No .. no .." Xzanthia was quick. "No, I'd better not. I'll change my clothes, I hate being wet."

"Should I come with you?" Mayberry paused in making her pie.

Xzanthia shook her head. "Thanks, but no. I won't be a minute .. though don't make me work with him again."

Trimp grabbed Filip's paw, dragging him toward the pantry. "Now master Filip .."

She slammed the door behind them, continuing her sentence. "What were ya thinkin? Nay, ya weren't. Ya didn't see her eyes, I was afeared for ya."

Filip raised an eyebrow. "She was mad and all, but .."

"Her eyes turned black. I was afeared she was gonna try an kill ya then an there, an even if she didn't, you've made an enemy." Trimp was serious. "This ain't a game anymore master Filip, it's turnin' inta a war. You've gotta tread careful."

><><

The thudding of horse hooves broke the silence of the desert, and sand flew up in clouds. Fripple had forgotten how dusty it was.

Aubretia was sitting behind her on the horse Lady Lilly had given them, and the young mouse asked, "Do you think the jackals will bother us again?"

"With a group this size? Bookworm, that'd have to be one desperate pack of jackals." Cedric was riding behind Annon on the jerbilrat's dappled gray.

Mizzah, Lilly, Kensly, and the two badgers rode in front, and Veil had to keep an eye on his horde .. who weren't the best with horses. A few seemed somewhat skilled, at least.

That night, everybeast was tired, from horse to rider. However Veil didn't get a moment's peace, even when he tried to join his friends around their fire. He'd just gotten settled and reached for some dinner, when Wildag walked up. "Erm .. Lord Sixclaw?"

Veil sighed. "Wildag, please don't call me that."

"Er .. Lord Veil .."

Cedric couldn't resist making a joke. "Say your majesty, you've even got subjects now!"

Wildag took him seriously. "Oh .. yea, yer majesty! Wull, the thing is, ya haven't told the horde what ta do, an' we donno what ta do less ya tell us."

Veil scratched his head. "Umm .. and .. what am I supposed to tell them?"

"Wull .. give 'em orders or somethin'. I donno yer majesty, yer the leader, not me." Wildag scratched his head.

Veil frowned. "What .. you mean like have them guard?"

"Make them clean the supper dishes." Ivan didn't crack a smile.

Wildag, however, did not argue. "Yes yer majesty, just have us do somethin'. If'n we don't ... not me, but the others ya know .. will get bored an' inta trouble."

Veil thought for a moment. "Yes .. I do see your point. Tell me Wildag, what do you like doing?"

The ferret blinked. "Um .. wull Lord, I'll do whatever ya want me ta."

"Yes I know that Wildag," Veil reassured him. "But I'm asking you what you might like to do as a job. What are you best at?"

The older beast thought for a long while, before he stated. "Wull now ... I've alwus sorta liked cookin' yer majesty. Or maybe makin' meself armor .. I donno. I like ta make things."

He looked a little afraid after having said this, but Veil calmed his fears. "In that case, I suppose I will make you a cook .. we could use another. I should ask the horde what they would all like to do best .. and appoint duties that way. But I'm sure you're right .. I've got to keep them occupied, don't I?"

><><

Xzanthia was not having the best of days. After having nearly betrayed herself in the kitchen, thanks to that nosy little rat .. she'd had to clean up. After all, it wouldn't do to get so dirty one of these idiots decided to give her a bath.

Washing was such a bloody waste of time.

The wearet snarled as she pulled her now dry dress on, blinking at herself in the mirror. Yes .. she looked right. Now she just had to sun herself a bit ... but there wasn't much sun left.

Xzanthia scowled .. once a day went downhill, it just kept sliding. They would be onto her more now ... especially after she'd swore by Hellgates in the kitchen! Why had that rat .. Filip or whatever he was called, had to trip and make her do something so blundering? It was all his fault.

That is, if he'd really tripped. Had he done that on purpose? Had there been a leak?

Her eyes darkened. She'd watch that one .. if he was truly trying to expose her, his life wouldn't be worth half a sheckle.

The wearet was nervous now, as she pulled on her leather corset. How many beasts had heard her swear? Trimp, Beau, Roseanna .. that rat, the little mole .. and Mayberry too! Thankfully the monocle should take care of her duped ally, but the others ... well, she simply couldn't afford to commit that many murders. Without an easy beast to blame, like that disappearing son of Sixclaw, she risked detection. But she risked it anyway .. if those beasts got too nosy about her sudden outburst, or her hatred of water ..

No! No, they could not find her! She had to do this, she had to win. If she did not .. Xzanthia snarled. What was she thinking, she would win .. she always won. These beasts were nothing but inferior woodlanders, and they were far from their Lord, thanks to the monocles. They neither looked to him or called for his aid, and he would not come without their wanting him.

Still. Fortune was a fickle beast, and well Xzanthia knew it .. she needed her horde. Tyre would bring her the news tonight .. nay, it almost was tonight. She would meet him in the woods, with her payment. She just needed to steal it.

And that was the tricky part .. but it was suppertime. All the beasts were headed to Cavern Hole, she could see them through her window .. so the time was right.

It was now or never.

><><

"So mum, dad, you're never going to guess what I heard today!"

Roseanna was walking across the abbey lawns with her parents, Luke and Richart. Martin raised an eyebrow. "Hmm .. what was that?"

"It was so crazy, you'll never believe it, seriously! I was helping Trimp in the kitchen today, with Togget and Filip. And Xzanthia came, with Mayberry see .."

Rose shook her head. "The way Mayberry follows her around is strange .. the otter is so much older."

Martin shrugged. "Well dear, she never did have many friends. I'm glad to see she has one finally."

"But dad you're not listening!" Roseanna crossed her arms.

Martin smiled at his daughter. "Well, I am listening now Roseanna. What happened in the kitchen, did you burn Trimp's flans?"

"Daaaaad!" Roseanna flopped dramatically against him. "I'm not that bad a cook. No, it was about Xzanthia."

"Well don't keep us waiting, tell on." Rose instructed her daughter as she walked through the abbey doors.

"Oh yea, mother, she said ..." The mouse paused, upon seeing Richart watching with interest. "Uuumm .. She said .. Hellgates."

"Hellgates?" Richart piped up with shocked surprise.

Rose shook her head. "Richart! Don't repeat everything you hear! Roseanna, why did you have to say that in front of your little brother?"

Luke was smirking, and Roseanna felt this was coming across in the wrong manner. "No, Xzanthia said it. Filip tripped and dumped some water on her, and she just like .. freaked out. Totally. I thought she might even hurt Filip for a minute!"

Martin was honestly surprised. "Xzanthia? But she can't be more than eleven seasons."

"Well she sure said it, and she said it like she meant it."

Martin didn't quite agree with his daughter. "She was a vermin seer apprentice .. it's not really her fault what she may have heard. I'm sure she was sorry afterward."

Roseanna shrugged. "Ehhh .. she didn't seem real sorry .."

For some reason, Martin didn't directly answer. "Come on, we'll be late for dinner. I'm sure it just slipped out."

Roseanna followed last, frowning. It sure had slipped out .. with poisoned hatred.

><><

Xzanthia watched the Lukes disappear into Great Hall, soon hidden from view by the abbey's half shut oaken doors.

She rubbed her paws together .. maybe this wouldn't be as tricky as she'd thought. The wearet looked around, the only visible beasts being Foremole Dinny and a few of his crew, going into Great Hall that very moment.

Why this was to be a child's game!

Xzanthia didn't slip through the shadows, just strode quietly across the abbey lawns, unconcerned with being seen. After all, she was just taking a stroll.

She stopped at the gatehouse flowerbeds, pretending to admire the flowers as she really scanned the area to see if anyone had followed her. Even though she saw nobeast, she decided to play it safe, and knocked on the gatehouse door, even though she knew good and well nobeast would answer.

Nobeast did, and Xzanthia took one last look about for safety measures. Satisfied, she opened the door, ducking through in and softly shutting it behind her. Turning around, she saw the item she desired, the great broadsword Martin used to carry.

Xzanthia took it down, wincing as the cold hilt almost thrummed in her sensitive paws. However it suddenly faded, and somehow, it was as if the shining blade grew dimmer .. as if it's magic was not able to work in evil paws.

As if someone would not let it.

The wearet glared around herself, picking up a cloth draped over a chair and wrapping the sword in it. She didn't like touching the thing .. it gave her shivers.

Still, it was elegant. The vermin in Mossflower would be too stupid the realize it's mystical properties, all they would know was it was shiny. They were just typical vermin.

Xzanthia smiled as she slipped from the gatehouse into the waning light, prize tucked beneath her arm as she allowed herself a sadistic chuckle. The high king's enemies paid to destroy his kingdom, and with his own sword!

The irony was beautiful.

Xzanthia left by the east wall gate, a grin on her face and triumph in her eyes.

However she was not unwatched, for two eyes had seen her theft ... ones whose owner was quickly becoming dedicated to her downfall.

><><

Xzanthia shifted her hold on the wrapped sword, running deeper into Mossflower's shadows. She curled her lip in somewhat of a contented sneer .. if it would just get darker, she'd feel about at home.

The wearet stopped in a clearing, filled with the dim light of dusk. She cupped a paw to her mouth, imitating an owl's cry three times in rapid succession, and waited. However there was no immediate flapping of wings.

Xzanthia scowled, repeating her signal, with the same effect. She thought for a moment, and upon deciding she was far enough from the abbey, yelled, "Tyre!"

There was no answer.

"Tyre!"

Despite herself, Xzanthia was getting worried. It wasn't like Tyre not to come ... and while he might be irritating, he was an important tool.

"Tyre!"

The wearet knew there would be no response, but she called the bat's name anyway. Xzanthia took a deep breath, muttering, "Stay calm .. yes .. calm, and collected. No matter the situation, you are more powerful and can triumph over any enemy."

She opened her eyes, suddenly rolling them. Oh of course, what was she thinking? Was being around those stupid abbey beasts addling her brain? All she had to do was feel for Tyre's emotions .. emotion was easy to exploit, in any case.

Xzanthia took a deep breath, letting her breathing slow and her thoughts swim, searching for her accomplice. There was a sudden twang of fear and anger, as well as desperation. Yes, it was him .. but where was he?

"Do not push your power my apprentice. You are masterful for your age, but your body is not yet strong enough to cope with the rigors of extensive black magic."

Xzanthia snarled. No matter what Nightshade said, she needed Tyre .. he was the key to getting her horde! Besides, he could fly, and that was an instant advantage. No, she had too, this was a good reason.

The wearet closed her eyes, muttering the foreign words of the spell as she put her paws together. The was a tug on her innermost self, and a pang jolted through her as she felt the sensation of spinning .. falling ..

Her eyes snapped open, though they were another's ... Tyre's. Xzanthia winced .. the idiot was hanging upside down .. in a net, she could see the ropes before her face .. or rather, before her disembodied vision. There was a nasty, disorienting smell nearby, the flicker of firelight ..

Xzanthia's vision swam, she knew the spell was weakening. She cast her vision around frantically, taking in all details. There was a stream nearby, some sort of chanting or voices ..

Blackness surrounded her in a sudden swirling cloud, and her reality was cut off seconds afterward.

Xzanthia came to seconds later, pain fading quickly to discomfort, and then to nothing. The wearet staggered to her feet, grabbing Martin's sword and pulling the cloth off it. She might very well need this thing.

She bolted in the direction Tyre's emotions seemed the strongest, cursing as she ran through some entangling brambles. The wearet kicked herself loose, snarling, "Bloody Hellgates, these woodlands .. Eeeeek!"

Xzanthia tripped, falling down a root-covered slope with not a few rocks half buried in it. The sword flew from her grasp, it's blade sinking into the dirt at the bottom the hill. It's thief let loose quite a few undignified squeaks and she rolled down the incline, succeeding in hitting most of the rocks on her way.

The wearet's claws sank into a thick tree root, saving herself more bruises and scraps, though she was completely filthy and bleeding on several accounts. Xzanthia sat up, panting and gripping a spot on her knee where the fur had been torn back. That Tyre! That stupid bat ... she couldn't go back to Redwall looking this way and not be caught, it was impossible!

She slowly slid to the bottom of the cursed hill, pulling herself painfully to her paws, shaken and knocked about. Another beast her age might well have sat down and sobbed, but she was a Shadow Fighter, and she knew pain .. this wasn't the worst thing by far.

No, the worst thing would be to loose Tyre after all this trouble. Xzanthia seized hold of her stolen sword's hilt, hurrying off in the direction she'd been headed before .. this had to work!

><><

Filip hadn't followed Xzanthia out, it was too risky to try such a misadventure alone ... even he knew that. He actually hadn't even meant to see her .. he was just late for supper again, as he was late for everything.

Now he was faced with a bigger probable. He'd seen her take off with the sword, but who would believe him?

Well, the main bunch of Redwallers hated him anyway, and they didn't even deserve to have him trying to help them. Still, he'd tell Trimp. Trimp would listen to him, and she would know what to do about the whole mess.

The rat entered the kitchen through the scullery, running headlong into Beau. The old hare picked him up by the scruff, squinting at him, and coughing. "Humph .. young scallywag .. late for the jolly old mess and windin' an offisah eh? Well ruffian, I've a right mind ta slap ya on a blinkin' fizzer, being late for the flippin' vittles is downright bad for ya health melad!"

Filip struggled. "Lemme down Beau, I've got to find Trimp! I've got to talk to her!"

"Well now, the gel's a servin' supper .."

"Talk to me about what?" Trimp was standing behind them.

Filip pulled his tunic from Beau's grasp, pulling it back into place and gasping, "Trimp, come with me! We can't be heard!"

He practically dragged the hedgehog into the pantry, slamming the door shut. "I saw .. Xzanthia. She took Martin's sword out of the gatehouse, and snuck out a wallgate .. you just watch, she won't be showing up for dinner!"

Trimp was serious. "Master Filip, look at me."

He did so, and her brown eyes searched his gray ones for a few seconds. She let go of his chin, nodding suddenly. "Very well, I believe ya .. I don't wanna tell Martin though, I donno who he'll blame, but ya can bet yer life it ain't gonna be Xzanthia. Do ya have any idea which way she was going?"

Filip shook his head. "No .. I just saw her sneak out .. she didn't say anything."

Trimp nodded. "Hmm .. let's bide our time. Let's see if Martin even notices .. an' see if Xzanthia comes back. But I bet this ain't gonna end well .. nay, it sure ain't."

><><

Xzanthia stumbled her way through Mossflower, cursing every rock and tree root she tripped over under her breath .. these infernal woods. She was quickly learning what to look for and avoid as she ran, but it seemed that while she jumped over a rock, her tail snagged in gorse bush the next second. Or she landed in a hole as she came down. Or she slipped in the mud puddle at the bottom of the hill.

And just after I took a bath ..

She was dripping, her wounds stinging .. and she made up her mind to punish Tyre for causing all this trouble. The thought of inflicting pain upon another took her mind off her own discomfort, and she renewed her speed.

Suddenly her nose caught the pungent scent she'd smelled earlier, when she'd momentarily possessed Tyre's vision and senses. The wearet ran in that direction, all pretense of sneaking gone as she caught sight of firelight. She crashed carelessly through some bushes, tromping upon something that yelped and wriggled .. out of instinct, Xzanthia sent the gleaming sword she was carrying into the mess of fur without even thinking. There was a pained gasp, and the creature went limp beneath her paws.

She jumped off her slain victim, disregarding the blood dripping from Martin's sword as she stared about the clearing she was in. Many sets of eyes stared back at her .. they belonged to little, scrawny weasel-like animals dressed in ragged clothes .. compiled of old cloth and woodland materials.

Sure enough, Tyre was caught in a net on the other side of the fire .. but Xzanthia didn't have much time to think about him. A scrawny male weasel came toward her, snarling, "Eeee .. you killa Flitchaye, we killa you!"

Xzanthia took in the scenario in a moment, asking, "You are their leader, I presume?"

She didn't expect trickery in this simpleton, and there was none. "Course I am .. what else I be? Now killa her!"

Xzanthia sneered, holding a paw up. "Let this be a lesson to any who dare challenge a Shadow Fighter!"

There was a flash of green, and another tug at her heart, another subtle jolt of pain. However the weasel flew back with a startled yelp, slamming into a nearby tree and collapsing on the ground lifelessly, fur smoldering.

Xzanthia felt her self-confidence grow, as she saw this was in her favor .. the Flitchaye were all staring at her with horror and wonder. Of course, they had never been confronted with a Shadow Fighter, most likely.

She stood straight, stating, “That is what happens to fools who think they can capture my advisor, when I only want to strike a deal with you.”

One of the weasels, a more adventurous beast, spoke up. “Well .. watcha want then? We not know who bat was.”

The creature shrank back instantly after having said this, but Xzanthia decided to play her cards carefully. She needed these beasts to fear and serve her, not flee. “I want a horde to help me conquer a place of many riches .. the abbey of Redwall.”

There were instant murmurs, and Xzanthia could sense a mix of emotions from these creatures. There was fear, but resentment as well .. the wearet chose to capitalize on this. “So you do not like them either?”

The same weasel that had spoken before, spoke again. “Eeeah, we Flitchaye like them not, no! Old ones say once we richer beasts yes! Say we rob an’ work for green eyed cats too, have money, have good food. Then mice an’ woodland beasts come, kill cats an build new castle, they see we no steal an’ not want us work for them .. we poor tribe cause’a them, yes yes!”

Xzanthia was thoughtful. “Hmm … I do see your point. And will you just let them do this injustice to you?”

Another Flitchaye spoke up. “But they much stronger than us, we no take mighty castle! Too strong, walls too thick, yes!”

This was perfect! It was just what she needed, so what if Tyre had gotten captured and she’d had to use a little magic? The wearet smiled inwardly, though she put on an understanding face. “Why my good creatures, why are we at odds? We have the same enemy and the same purpose. I can get you through the walls, and I can weaken the beasts we are against. I have partly. And even better, I am going to gather a great horde, one that can hold their own against an incompetent bunch of woodlanders.”

There was a pause, though it was filled with both excited and dubious muttering. Finally, the weasel that had spoken first spoke again. “Wull .. watta we git outta it?”

Xzanthia grinned, holding up the sword. “See this, and how elegant it is? Well let me tell you, I have seen the treasure of the Lukes, and it is a hundred times greater. I will give you this, as well as Redwall itself. And should one of my horde prove his or herself worthy, I would appoint that one to rule the abbey in my stead while I ventured south to finish business of my own. How would that suit you?”

Now the talk was quick and excited, and the weasel who seemed to be the chief speaker broke in. “That sound’a good to Flitchaye, yes yes!”

“Then are you with me?” Xzanthia held up the sword, smiling in triumph as she sensed what the answer would be.

There was a chorus of confirming, excited voices .. they’d already forgotten their dead leader. Just like these simple, woodland vermin bands always did. Still, she’d keep a good eye on them, resistance could rise in the least expected places. That was a lesson Nightshade had pounded into her head over and over.

The young wearet felt an exhilarating rush .. she was almost twelve seasons old, and she already had a horde all her own. That was even better than Swartt. And Nightshade never even had a horde.

This was marvelous. Xzanthia lowered Martin’s sword, leaning on it. “I am your leader then, and you shall refer to me as Lady Xzanthia, is that understood? Any who wish to argue this, speak now.”

Quite a few beasts looked at the body of their dead leader, and nobeast dared step forward.

Xzanthia nodded firmly, though she was hardly able to contain her excitement. So this was what it felt like to lead a horde. She loved it already. She was born for this, there was no mistaking it.

It was her destiny.




Chapter 30 Four Divided

Trimp had been right .. very right. Xzanthia hadn’t come back, though Filip felt she could appear any second. She was a complete wildcard.

It was the second morning since the wearet’s disappearance, and everybeast was worried about her, or about her return and what she was up to. Martin was heavily considering sending search parties if she did not return by tomorrow night.

Filip climbed the wall stairs quietly, for he could see his father standing on the parapet. The young rat paused behind Whegg. “Dad ..”

Whegg jumped, relaxing again as he saw his son. “Oh, Filip. What are ya doin’ up this early, that ain’t like ya, me boy.”

Filip made the decision not to tell his father everything .. after all, he wasn’t used to being open. “I donno. I’m worried I guess.”

Whegg smiled sadly. “I’m ‘fraid we all are son .. it shouldn’t be this way but .. it is.”

“Yea .. I know.” Filip agreed.

The two said nothing more for a while, just watched the sun slowly light the woodlands of Mossflower. There wasn’t really that much to be said, or at least, Filip couldn’t think of what it was.

Whegg spoke again, finally. “I’m sorry I’ve spent so little time with ya, son.”

Filip sighed. “It’s .. ok I guess. You’re busy.”

Whegg blinked at Filip a while, before nodding. “Wull .. thanks Filip lad, I thought ya’d be angry.”

“There’s no point.”

Filip realized his voice sounded tired. But he felt tired. Things had been ridiculous ever since he’d told Roseanna about her father’s sword, and convinced her to not blurt the news everywhere, which was easier said than done.

Martin acted like he never knew the difference.

Filip was pretty certain he didn’t.

“What’s got inta ya son, ya seem .. different.” Whegg was looking oddly at him, though he did not seem angry in the least.

Filip tried to think of how he was different, but he felt the same as always. “I .. donno dad .. what do you mean?”

Whegg scratched his head. “Don’t get me wrong, I think’s it’s a good change. Ya just don’t seem as .. wull .. as grumpy as usual, if ya know what I mean.”

“I ..” Filip thought for a moment. “I guess not. I’ve had .. other stuff to do, I guess.”

“Yes .. yes we all have.”

Whegg laid a paw on his shoulder, sighing, “Son .. if you .. are ever faced with anythin’ .. confusin, ya know ya can always talk ta me about it?”

Filip met his gaze a moment, before nodding. “Yea .. I know, dad.”

Whegg’s brown eyes sparkled in confusion, and Filip had the feeling he was about to ask him more questions, but pawsteps sounded behind them. “Whegg, Whegg mah dear!”

Regina was running along the parapet, and she came to a stop, leaning against the wall. “Whegg Ah think our prayers have been answered, Aye, Ignasa is still with us. Come, come quickly!”

She grabbed his paw, pulling him back the way she’d come. Filip followed them, halting at the front wall as his parents did. He felt a surge of relief, for the road was not unoccupied. And the horses and riders on it could only be the beasts Trimp had kept saying she wished would show up .. the king and high queen.

They had a number of hares with them, all mounted, and several of Prairefire’s herd were trotting with them, including the old chestnut himself.

Whegg broke out of his trance momentarily. “Praise Ignasa, they’re back! Gina, help me open the gates. Filip … could you tell Martin?”

Filip paused, before nodding. “Sure .. I guess.”

He bolted off around the parapet and down the nearest set of stairs, jumping off them when he neared the bottom. The rat’s paws pounded through the grass as he ran around to the front of the gatehouse, but he needn’t have worried. Martin was already out, along with Rose, Luke, and Roseanna. The golden king stared at Whegg as he lifted the bar of the gates.

“Whegg, whatever are you thinking? It’s too early!”

Regina shook her head. “No mah lord, Timbal and Sayna are back! Ah mean .. their majesties, a course.”

Martin looked surprised, though he nodded to Whegg. “Of course then, I am sorry. Continue, if you please.”

Whegg nodded, shoving the gates open a crack as Regina ran to help him. A small crowd was gathering by now, and Filip found he had to stand on the gatehouse steps to avoid them. Roseanna joined him, muttering, “Think this’ll help us?”

“Probably.” Trimp’s voice came from behind the two, and they jumped.

The hedgehog nodded firmly. “Oh I’m here too. An’ I’m rather pleased our wearet friend ain’t. Of course .. that’s as a yet, anythin’ could go wrong at this point.”

Beau had hobbled up behind them, and he leaned on his staff. “Stiff upper lip an’ forward to the bluffs me friends. That’s the jolly old ticket, wot?”

><><

Sayna looked up as Dancer trotted through Redwall's arching gateway, as she always did. The view brought a slight smile to her face, though it was short lived.

Redwall looked like home .. but it felt hostile. Something about it felt terribly wrong.

Dancer stopped with a toss of her head, and Sayna dismounted almost reluctantly. All her senses made her want to be able to flee if necessary .. there was something dark afoot.

However she looped her reins over the ridge of her jousting saddle, patting Dancer's neck as she did so. The mare's scrubby whiskers brushed her ear. "Ignasa go with you, friend."

Sayna loosened the girth. "Thanks Dancer."

She walked to Timbal's side, where he'd stopped at the gatehouse stairs. Martin looked .. pale. Pale, dull-eyed, and all in all not himself. However the most disturbing thing was nobeast in Redwall seemed to perceive there was one thing amiss.

Martin walked down the steps, looking sort of .. stiff. "Timbal, Sayna .. I did not expect to see you again so soon. Is Trubbs well?"

Timbal nodded. "He is, and all trouble with the shore toads has pretty well evened out. Which brings me to the trouble at Redwall we have heard of .."

"Trouble?" Martin sounded confused. "On the whole, there has not been trouble. Although we did have some earlier this summer, with a poisoner .. is that what you speak of?"

"It is." Sayna heard herself speaking. "And Martin, I feel we marks must discuss this in private, if you don't mind?"

Martin paused, but nodded. "Yes, it is a serious business. If all of you would not mind, get some breakfast. Roseanna, Luke .. yes, you too Richart .. go with them."

Richart stuck his lip out, but he followed them. Sayna followed Martin up the gatehouse stairs, quickly hugging Rose. "I'm glad you're alright."

The queen smiled, though shakily. "It's good to see you sister."

Timbal shut the door behind them, stating, "Martin, if you would. Tell us exactly what happened, poisoning is a serious thing."

The golden mouse nodded. "It is indeed. The hard and simple truth is this; Veil tried to poison Rose. I did not think he would stoop to such an act, but I'm afraid he did .. wolfbane was used, and his paws were stained blood red."

"What other evidence did you have?" Timbal's voice was not accusing, simply confused.

Martin raised an eyebrow. "What more evidence did I need? It was completely obvious."

Sayna's dark eyes glittered. "You were willing to execute a beast for having red paws? A beast that has always kept in good standing with you?"

"What are you saying?" Martin's eyes hardened slightly.

"I'm saying he could have been framed! How did he react?" Sayna crossed her arms.

Rose spoke up. "From all I heard, he pleaded that he was innocent."

Martin nodded. "Yes .. but he had to have been lying."

Timbal frowned. "Martin, you say he had to have been? You won't even question his honesty? Veil was always a sensitive and kind child, accusing a beast of murder is serious. You would have condemned him to death, all because his paws were red?"

"I acted on what I saw." Martin sounded defensive. "You weren't there, how would you know? Speaking of which .. who told you? And why did you come back?"

Sayna looked at Timbal, who spoke. "Groddil came to us, and told us what had happened. I am your friend Martin, but this is wrong. Look at all that happened for it. This could not be the will of Ignasa .. did you bother to ask him?"

There was a long pause, and Martin looked almost guilty. However he shook himself. "I .. saw no need to trouble Ignasa with such a matter. There was no horde, it was simply one beast."

Sayna shook her head. "I am sure Veil is innocent. It goes against his character to do something like this."

"You've been known to be wrong." Martin's voice was getting sharper. "And you would have made the same decision in my place."

"How do you know what I would have done? And I feel you could have murdered an innocent beast .. that, Martin, is not what a just king would do." Sayna scowled.

Martin huffed, crossing his arms. "Look, did you come to trouble me? These are my people, and I am doing a perfectly good job of leading them. Why didn't you stay at Salamandastron?"

Sayna's ears flattened. "Martin, I'll have you know ..."

Timbal held up his paws. "Alright, stop it! Both of you, just ... quit. This won't do us any good."

He turned to Martin. "All the same, what are you saying? Your people? Martin, we are supposed to be one."

Martin scowled. "She is accusing me of being a poor leader, and I've lead quite well. Better than she could ever do, what with her temper and arrogance."

Sayna snarled. "You're acting like you used to, Martin. Back when we were sixteen. Well is this a repeat? How many beasts will die this time? Just like in the battle of Marshank .. how many beasts did your foolish behavior kill? Answer me that, how many will die for you?"

"You ..." Martin's voice was snapping with fury.

"Stop this!" Timbal shoved between the siblings. "This does no good."

Rose broke in. "He's right, and the both of you are acting immature. Sayna, why would you bring back those memories?"

Sayna grumbled, and Timbal stared at Martin. "What has gotten into you .. Rose, how long has he been like this?"

Rose sighed. "I .. it's so fuzzy now Timbal, I am sorry. Ever since I was poisoned, my memory's not been the same, especially of that particular time. It was about the time I was poisoned, however .. I think."

Timbal shook his head. "Martin .. my friend. What has gotten into you? You aren't the beast I once knew."

Martin glared at Timbal. "I don't know what you're talking about, I've not changed. You're the beasts who've changed."

Sayna rolled her eyes. "Is it that your vision of us has changed then? Because I'm certainly the same."

Martin pulled something out of his belt, putting it to his eye and glaring at his twin a moment. "Yes, I suppose you're right. You don't change .. you're as proud and rebellious as ever."

Sayna's short claws slowly curled into fists. "And you aren't? What is that thing?"

Timbal sighed. "Can you stop picking a fight .. the two of you! Martin .. what is that?"

The high king dusted it off carefully. "It's mine, and I'll be keeping it. I'll thank you to leave it be."

"Really? You've never needed glasses." Sayna's voice was sharp after all Martin had said.

Timbal shook his head. "Sayna .. stop."

She met his gaze a moment, with defiance, but the seriousness in his blue eyes brought her back to her senses. Sayna took a breath, feeling her anger recede. "I .. am sorry Timbal."

The mouse sighed, turning to Martin. "Friend ... I .. don't understand. What happened to you?"

Martin scowled. "Nothing, until you came along."

Sayna noticed how he was shifting the monocle from paw to paw, and Timbal did to. "Martin, let me see that."

"No!" The answer was quick, and even Rose seemed surprised.

"Martin, do stop acting like a child! Let him see it, there is no harm."

The mouse blinked at her a moment, before deflating a little. "Oh ... very well. Be careful with it!"

Timbal felt the monocle's gold rim, the frown in his eyes deepening as his ears almost automatically flattened. "This thing .. feels cold."

Martin snatched it back, grumbling, "Then I'll just be keeping it. It is mine, after all."

Timbal shook his head. "What has happened Martin, you're not what you once were. You are so ... short tempered, I could say even hateful! Tell me true, what has gone on while we were away?"

Martin met his gaze intensely .. almost insanely .. a moment, before dropping it and running a paw through his headfur. "I .. I don't really know Timbal .."

His voice had changed from tense to weary, and he did not look up. Timbal shook his head at Rose and Sayna, blue eyes warning. "Go on my friend, many things are confusing."

Martin seemed to have wilted, and he looked paler than ever. "Confusing, yes .. yes that's just it .. everything seemed so .. obvious, and I just .. wanted what was best .."

"Yes, of course you did mate, you always have." Timbal's voice never wavered. "Martin, something happened. Something went wrong, right? Just tell me, what was it? We will fix whatever's going on, together."

"I .. I don't know .. I hope I was right .. I had to be right .. it was so .. so obvious." Martin sounded like part of him was far away. "I never meant .. any harm .. I just wanted to protect Rose .. and Redwall. Oh, I hope I was right .. Timbal, I was? Tell me .. yes tell me Veil was the guilty one. Tell me I did the right thing!"

He was looking up now, brown eyes both excited and pleading .. every part of him begging to be told what he wished to hear. Timbal slowly shook his head. "Martin, matey .. listen. I can't .. tell you that. One of the four cannot pass such a decision without the agreement of the other three, I do not agree. I'm sorry, but .."

Martin slowly drew himself to his full height, the glitter in his eyes dulling once again. "So I see. You do not find me fit to rule in my own right."

"That was never Ignasa's intention!"

Martin stared at Timbal for what seemed minutes, before he spoke again. "You were not there, Rose was nearly dead. What was I to do but save my people from the poisoner that could have killed us all? As it was, he took my daughter. He took your daughter too, Timbal, yes, yours too. Veil is a wicked creature, and I will remain firm in my judgment, if the murderer dares return, I will take his head! That is my oath, as king of Mossflower, I will protect those I care for. You should do the same, and better yet, choose who's side you're on."

He wheeled around, pushing the door of his room open and shutting it firmly behind him.

Rose sighed, sitting wearily down in a chair. "I don't know what to do this time .. I really don't."

"So it's just like Groddil said." Sayna's voice was grim. "The four are divided."

><><

Xzanthia shook herself, ridding her hair of any excess dampness. She patted her fur a little, satisfied that it too, was dry. The wearet stretched, standing up and pausing at the edge of the stream she was beside.

Yes, she looked alright. Scraped and bruised still, but that would just help make her story of getting lost seem more convincing.

She had a horde now, and she was willing to pay with a little discomfort. The leader of the Painted Ones had been elated with Martin's sword, it was enough to ensure his help. That and the fact his tribe shared the Flitchaye's story .. the kings and queens of Mossflower had more enemies than they thought.

Xzanthia picked up the old stick she'd found, limping on it as she made her way back toward Redwall.

Her fortress .. yes, her own little world.

Soon it would be, and she wouldn't have to share her land with a bunch of woodlanders.

The wearet hobbled up the road toward the main gates .. and they were open. Xzanthia frowned .. why would that be? She felt a sliver of dread, and forgetting her pretense of pitiful limping, burst into the best run she could muster.

She reached the gates, peering inside to see an array of horses on the lawns, talking and grazing.

"What are you doing? You know breakfast's being served, right?"

Xzanthia blinked at the chestnut, Forestfire. That was all he said. No 'are you hurt?', not even a 'where have you been?'. Of course, he lived on the grasslands .. but still. Xzanthia huffed, remembering to limp on her way toward the abbey building.

The chestnut raised an eyebrow, before tossing his head and taking a bite of grass.

Xzanthia shot an irritated glance behind her as she limped into Great Hall, and was met with Columbine, coming up the stairs from Cavern Hole. The mouse wife was quite a bit more cooperative then Forest.

She blinked at Xzanthia a moment, before exclaiming, "Oh! Oh where have you been? Are you hurt? Oh yes, you are! What happened?"

Pleased now that somebeast was paying attention, Xzanthia sniffed. "I just went out to play in the forest .. but I got lost. I tripped in a gorse bush and fell down a hill .. and then it got dark and I was scared .."

Columbine felt bad, from the look in her eyes. "You poor little thing .. out there all alone! I knew I should have sent Gonff out after you. Well you're back now .. come with me dearie, I should look at your leg .."

"Oh .. it's much better now." Xzanthia insisted quickly. "I really just want some breakfast."

Columbine paused. "Well, I'm sure Trimp has something. If you're sure you're alright .."

"I am .. it's fine .. thanks, but I'm just hungry." She limped away, careful to limp, but not too much.

She paused at the door into Cavern Hole, looking around to see a few beasts clearing tables .. among them, that rat Filip, his nosy little friend, Roseanna, and the mole they hung out with. Togget, Xzanthia recalled that being his name.

"Xzanthia! Where did you go?"

Mayberry came over quickly, looking worried. Xzanthia sighed. "I .. got lost. And fell down a hill, it was nasty."

The otter looked genuinely upset. "Oh, I'm sorry! That must have been awful .. but .. did you hear?"

Xzanthia paused. "Hear what?"

"King Timbal and high queen Sayna are back! And you know something else? They got in a fight with high king Martin!" Mayberry seemed proud to bear such news.

Xzanthia frowned. "You mean to say that .. the other two of the four marks .. are here?"

"Yes .. of course. Why do you look like that?" Mayberry was confused.

"I .." Xzanthia realized she had a look of shock on her face, and she quickly tried to disguise it. "Oh .. I mean .. well, I thought they wouldn't be back for a while."

Mayberry shrugged. "Well, they came back, and if you ask me, it was serious. They insisted on speaking with Martin and Rose in private."

"They did .." Xzanthia heard her voice, and winced, for it was automatically suspicious.

Mayberry raised an eyebrow. "Yea .. it was sort of weird. But apparently Martin got pretty mad .. he didn't show up to eat at all, but the others did. They didn't look very happy either, something must have gone wrong."

><><

Midday in the desert was sweltering, even more than in Southsward. The jingle of tack and the plodding of hooves was the only sound, that and Lilly conversing with Mizzah.

"Sir are you sure we should not rest? The horses are weary, and we could continue in a few hours."

Mizzah shook his head. "We are near some of my pastures. If Zillah and Ittai have moved the camp, we will rest, but I would like to see. Annon, run on ahead would you?"

The cream and brown jerbilrat nodded, urging his horse into a lope and disappearing over a dune. Cedric yawned from his seat on Star. "The way he can get his horse to tear around like that .. and in this heat!"

"You got me to go way faster." The horse observed, craning her neck a little to see him better.

Cedric shrugged good naturedly. "Aye, you're right there Munch."

Annon and his dappled gray reappeared over the top of a dune with a shower of sand. "Father, they're right here! I guess they moved a little after all .. closer to us."

Ittai appeared behind Annon on his chestnut, reining to a stop before Mizzah. "I trust you are well master?"

"I am, and I brought quite a few friends .. one of you run and tell Zillah to have the cooks prepare a good meal .. not say a feast, but close. We will rest here tonight and be out of the desert by the day after tomorrow, for the horses need rest."

"And food!" Star piped up.

Evening nudged her good naturedly. "That all you ever think about?"

Star laughed. "Well, I'm always hungry!"

Veil was riding a little behind Mizzah, keeping an eye on his horde .. Ittai noticed them. "I do say master, what of them?"

Mizzah shrugged. "They are Veil's creatures general, see they have their own tent, and good food."

He gave Ittai a meaningful look, and the jerbilrat nodded. "Of course sir, I will see they are accommodated."

Mizzah smiled. "Good, general, I thank you. Milady Lilly, I will see you and your beasts have a tent, and the same for Veil and his friends. But come now, we must put the horses away, they are spent."

><><

Esther sat outside the tent Mizzah had asigned them, idly rubbing some wax on her bowstring.

She could see Veil over at the tent his horde had been given, talking with Scraw and what looked like Wildag. Ever since they’d left Southsward, most of Veil’s time was taken by the ‘horde’, or Esmund. Of course, that was probably a good thing, seeing as it kept his mind of past events.

The ermine sighed, unstringing her bow and walking into the tent. She almost ran into Cedric. The jerbilrat took a step back, brushing himself off. “Whoa Swipe, leave off with the neckband. I like it the way it is, thanks.”

Esther coughed. "Erm .. well, I wasn’t after your jewelry, I just wasn’t looking .. you know .. where I was going. Sorry .."

"Nah, it’s fine Swipe, and it’s not jewelry, it’s a symbol of status. And why are you so .. distracted? You’re normally so .. oh, observant." Cedric raised an eyebrow.

Esther thought for a moment, before shrugging. "Well .. "

Cedric looked curious. "I’ve noticed you seem rather .. down Swipe."

"Yes, ever since I .. well .. Swartt .. well, the theater."

"Oh that .. yes .." Cedric scratched his chin. "Yes, don’t .. blame yourself Swipe, it wasn’t all your fault. Least .. you didn’t plan it any more than I did."

Esther broke in. "Yes, that’s what everybeast says! But it was … partly. I .. I knew. I knew all my life, about Ignasa, and .. I just didn’t .. think I was really that bad. And see what happens? I .. wish I could make it up to Veil, but I … I don’t know how."

Cedric shrugged. "Huh, that’s a hard one. I like to count myself the kind of guy that’s good with advice, but .. I donno. I’ve never really figured his Majesty out, have you?"

"Of course!" Esther smiled. "At least .. the way he used to be. He was our quiet voice of wisdom, he just .. always sort of .. knew what to say. He was always shy ... but he used to be a ... a friendly quiet. Now he’s just so .. depressed. And guarded .. you know?"

She fiddled with her arrows. "And .. I miss the old Veil. I wish I could bring him back. But .. I guess he doesn’t even .. really .. like me."

Cedric looked thoughtful. "Oh yes .. you were the one who liked him. Even I know that much Swipe."

Esther looked down. "Do you think .. he knows?"

"Ehh .. his Majesty’s the kind of guy to let that sort of thing fly in one ear and out the other … not even notice what’s under his nose. I’d have noticed long since, but his Majesty? I donno. I think it’s a little too subtle for him."

Cedric paused, laughing. "And that’s saying something for his powers of observation."

"Well Cedric .. you ... seem to know a lot about this ... and I was wondering .. what would you do .. I mean .. suggest I do?" Esther looked hopeful.

Cedric was surprised. "Who, me? You think I can help you with that? I donno Swipe, I’d rather not really tangle with his Majesty .."

"Please?" Esther was determined. "I’m sure you know something, you must. You got Fripple to like you, and nobeast’s ever done that before .. yea .. trust me. So?"

Cedric shrugged. "Well .. subtle is best. But then ... the thing with his Majesty is you can’t be too subtle. You’ve tried that, and it didn’t work. Still, you have to be subtle but not too subtle. You see my point Swipe?"

"Yes .." Esther thought for a moment. "I think I’m beginning to .. perhaps .."

Cedric sighed. "I didn’t think so. Well, do nice things for him .. no .. you sort of do that already. Man I don’t see why he hasn’t noticed. So, maybe we should forget subtle."

Esther nodded impatiently.

Cedric ran his claws through his forelock. "Boy the things I get messed up in. Maybe you should write him a letter .. something to tell him how you feel .. and sign it anonymous. That way he won’t know, but he’ll .. realize that somebeast likes him. Because at this point he’s just not .. aware of it. How, I donno, it must take a lot of effort not to notice, but .. yea. He’s his majesty. And Mizzah wanted me Swipe, so .. good luck with it. See you around."

The jerbilrat winked at her as he left the tent, letting the flap shut behind him.

Esther thought for a moment, before she noticed some of Aubretia’s writing materials laying on the mouse maid’s bed. The ermine frowned, before selecting a page near the back of the tablet of papers and pulling it out.

Surely Aubretia wouldn’t mind .. and Esther didn’t really care to explain why she needed the parchment.

><><

"So I’m telling you, these sheep .." Star shouldered her way through the tent flap, sitting on her haunches with a yawn. "They are the dumbest creatures. I tried to talk to them, but they all run away from me!"

Cedric looked up from his seat, stating, "They’re used to having horses herd them, whata’ya expect?"

Star sighed. "Oh, I don’t know. Anyway. What are we having for supper?"

Fripple laughed, shoving Cedric good-naturedly. "Well at least your aunt made it and not Catkin, whatever it is, so we won’t all die of overheating."

Esther filled a plate, shoving it in front of Star. "There you go .. don’t eat too much .."

Esmund broke in, mouth full. "I like it!"

Esther picked him up laughing. "Well that’s the idea, you eat up, it’s good for you. Where’s your brother?"

"Oh he’s coming." Esmund took a bite of his dinner. "He’s just talkin’ with Wildag."

Catkin smiled. "I think it’s nice Veil has the horde, it’s just wonderful!"

"You could say that I guess." Veil walked around Star, sitting down on his bed and taking the plate Catkin offered him.

Catkin patted his shoulder. "Oh .. you don’t think so? I think it’s very nice you get a chance to really be a leader, cause we all knew you could. And after all, we’re in your horde!"

Veil cast her a sideways glance. "I ... didn’t ever mean to have a horde, actually."

"Well, you have one now." Ivan was stoic.

Esmund crawled onto Veil’s lap, stating, "I think it’s cool you got father’s horde."

Veil sighed. "I .. yes .. thank you, Esmund."

Esmund paused in eating, pulling a piece of parchment from under Veil’s blanket. "Ooh .. what’s this say?"

Veil took it from him, turning it around. "Well I don’t know Esmund, I didn’t put it here. It says, To Veil .."

He raised an eyebrow. "Oh it’s for me. To Veil .. So .. I just wanted to tell you I sort of .. like you .. well more than sort of .. but .. yea. Anyways I was sort of wondering if you ...."

The ferret broke off, a very odd look on his face.

"Well?" Esmund persisted.

"I .. don’t really think I .. was supposed to read this outloud." Veil stammered.

Catkin grabbed the paper, reading through and exclaiming, "Signed Your Secret Admirer! Veil .... how wonderful! You have a secret admirer! I wonder .. whoever could it be?"

Veil turned the paper over, reading what was on the back. "Five plus X equals ...."

Everybeast looked at Aubretia. The mouse looked up, taking the paper from Veil. "Say ... so that's where the last page of my book went!"

She handed it back, frowning, "And ... why are you all staring at me?"

Fripple laughed. "You're Veil's secret admirer?"

Aubretia looked blank. "Wait .. what? I'm missing something, apparently."

"And it's more than a paper." Ivan contributed drolly.

Byron raised an eyebrow, asking a little hesitantly, "You're .. not really Veil's secret admirer .. are you?"

"Me?" Aubretia pulled out her notepad, wrote something down, and shook her head. "That is simply amusing, not only is Veil a number of seasons older than me, he also happens to be a ferret. Beyond that, I secretly admire nobeast."

She shook her head. "Still, it would seem he has one ... let me calculate who it might be."

Veil looked back at the paper, and suddenly over at Esther, who was trying to be as inconspicuous as possible. "I'm .. not really sure you need to do that."

Aubretia stopped. "Why ever not?"

Veil cast another glance at Esther, who was keeping her eyes averted. "Perhaps ... if it is a secret, we should keep it that way."

Esther looked up in surprise, though she looked relieved. Fripple was laughing so hard she couldn't sit up.

Catkin smiled, plopping herself beside Esther and hugging the ermine. "Oh don't worry, I'll keep it a secret Esther. But I still think it's so wonderful!"

Ivan smirked. "You're wonderful at keeping secrets."

Catkin paused, and Esther looked miserable. "Thanks ... so much .. "

Catkin frowned. "You don't look happy .... hotroot?"

Esther sighed. "Erm ... no thanks."

The conversation was interrupted by someone opening the tent flap, and neither Veil nor Esther looked one bit sorry. Bryony came in, leading Lenn. The black mouse maid yawned. "Lilly said we should go hang out with you. Kensly might come later."

She paused. "Sooo .. what's up?"

There was a moment of silence, before Veil shrugged. "Umm .. nothing, really. What have you been doing?"

Bryony shrugged, as Glow stuck his head in the tent flap behind them. Catkin grinned, stating, "Well come sit down! Anyone want hotroot?"

Lenn blinked, and Bryony shook her head. "Oh no Lenn, you don't want to eat that, I promise. Catkin grows it herself, and trust me, it is super spicy."

Catkin sighed. "Actually I sort of ran out of that halfway through our trip down. I got this in Southsward, and it's .. oh .. pretty good. Not spicy enough, but it works."

Bryony shook her head. "Yea .. no .. we're good."

She plopped down beside Fripple and Cedric, Lenn hesitantly following her. "It's ok if we sit here?"

Cedric shrugged. "Oh sure. So who are your friends Princess, I don't think we ever got introduced properly."

Fripple shrugged. "Well that's Bryony .. we grew up together, and Bryony's friend Lenn."

"I'm .. from Redwall." Lenn added.

"Oh then you know Princess." Cedric put in.

Fripple shrugged. "Well .. she didn't grow up with us .. when did you go to Redwall? It must have been after we left."

Lenn blinked. "Well .. I've lived there all my life, but .. the whole situation is pretty odd. If I really tell you about it you'll probably think I'm crazy .. most other beasts do."

"I thought you were crazy when I met you Lenn .. but now .. well, I'm not so sure. You helped us find the Morning Song and defeat the Shadow Fighters .. so I think maybe you're telling the truth. Though I can't even begin to think how." Bryony shrugged.

Fripple raised an eyebrow. "So .. You haven't been to .. the Redwall we left? You don't really know what it's like?"

"To be honest Fripple, we don't really know what it's like or how far it's gone downhill since Bryony left." Veil was serious.

"I've heard Bryony say it was bad .." Lenn began.

"Yea, it was." Fripple sighed. "My uncle .. he .. just seemed .. possessed. And here's the thing everybeast, have you really thought hard about what happened? My aunt had to have been poisoned by someone. We all know it wasn't Veil, so who was it?"

Esther spoke softly. "We have not talked on what happened at Redwall .. enough. There's a clue somewhere .. but I just ... can't remember any details anymore."

"That's the greatest problem .. we should have spoken sooner." Aubretia sighed.

Byron suddenly spoke. "Miss Aubretia, you told me you wrote a diary of the trip .. didn't you?"

Aubretia sat bolt upright. "That's right .. I did! Hang on ..."

She pulled out a satchel, digging through it. "No .. not that one .. wait! Oh I am so scatter-brained sometimes .. here."

The golden mouse pulled her diary from under her pillow, opening it to the first ragged pages. "Yes, I have them labeled .. let's see, early spring .. yes .."

She smiled "Ah-ha! Right here. I'll read it to you, and do remember I'm very observant. Yes .. hmm .. today has been the most shocking day of my life, for my father has accused Veil of poisoning my mother. I cannot understand why he is so determined to punish Veil, even if his paws are red. I cannot let this happen, even if I love my father, he has to be wrong. All my calculations say Veil is innocent, but I have no idea who the real poisoner is .. "

Fripple broke in. "No, before that."

Aubretia raised an eyebrow. "Ok .. well .. let's see. Here's a couple days before. Today a stranger arrived, she seems very shy and gentle. She is a wearet, but my father says to be kind to her, apparently she has had a hard life. She's very young .. younger than me, I did talk with her, and while she seems kind, it's almost odd. She's so kind, and speaks quite properly .. I didn't see a vermin doing that. She's almost .. too perfect. Tonight, when we met her, she seemed surprised to see Veil, so surprised she stood rooted to the spot for a full thirty seconds. I have tried to calculate her reasons, and it must be because she wasn't suspecting to see one so close to her species. Later I noticed .."

Veil had stopped eating, and he broke in at this point. "Yes .. I do remember! She stared at me like I was ghost, or like she'd seen me before .. but I'd never seen her."

Fripple nodded. "And her sickly sweet behavior too .. like she was trying to pull the wool over our eyes. Boy, did she do it! We didn't even think of her being the poisoner!"

"Xzanthia, the poisoner?" Catkin sounded shocked. "But she's so .. nice! And .. young."

"It makes perfect sense now that we think about it. She brought the monocles, Mizzah confirmed that. She planted them and took Bryony to find them in case she would need somebeast to blame." Fripple leaned forward as Esther continued her thought.

"Yes, and she must have wanted to kill Rose .. because she was the queen?"

"Yea, probably. Killing royalty is the first step to most takeovers." Fripple took a bite of her bread.

Bryony crossed her arms. "That's the way I see it, and the thing is, it didn't work. So she had to find someone to blame."

Veil's voice was soft. "She framed me."

Fripple shrugged. "That's what it's coming down to."

"Why me?" Veil looked around. "I've asked that a lot, and I've told myself to stop. However .."

"Maybe it's what we should have been asking all along. Everyone .. why Veil? Why did the poisoner pick him, and not another one of us?" Fripple crossed her arms.

"If I may .. and not to intrude at all, could it be because he was another vermin, and an easy target?" Vinwyte spoke for the first time that night.

Esther shook her head. "Maybe .. but Veil was kind to most everyone. He was quiet .. but I was a thief! I'm an ermine, why didn't she go after me?"

"Aye, and I'm a cat." Ivan stated. "Besides there were plenty of vermin at Redwall to choose from."

Bryony nodded. "Yea, like .. Filip. He was always a sort of grouch, somebeast could have framed him much easier than Veil."

"There must be a reason .." Fripple paused. "Aubretia, what do your calculations say?"

Aubretia sighed. "I'm trying Fripple .. but this seems to defy calculations. By all reason, if she really is the poisoner, Xzanthia would have picked somebeast else."

"So she has to have ulterior motives!" Fripple exclaimed. "I knew it!"

Byron was blinking at her. "Xzanthia? Xzanthia was Nightshade's apprentice. And there's more than that ... but it's fuzzy .."

"Tell us! .... please?" Esther broke in.

Byron sighed. "Alright. Well, I've been Bluefen's servant as long as I can remember .. and once, she took care of a child she called Xzanthia. But ... it was a long time ago, I must have been three or four seasons old. Then one day .. Swartt came and took Xzanthia away .. and the next thing I knew of her, was Bluefen telling me she'd been apprenticed to Nightshade. You should ask Kinta and Skadu, cause they trained with her .. I was always cooped up with Bluefen. Veil sir, are you alright?"

Veil gently set Esmund, half asleep in his dinner, on the bed and walked toward the tent flap. He paused, pacing a little. "No .... Bluefen told me .. right before she died .. that I had a sister. You don't think .."

"You have a sister too .. no ... Xzanthia? Xzanthia's your sister?" Fripple stared at Veil.

Veil scratched his head. "Well .. she couldn't be my full sister ..."

"She .. has markings sort of like .. Esmund's." Esther's voice was quiet.

Veil paused, nodding. "As I remember."

He shook his head. "I'll have to talk to Skadu and Kinta soon .. and .. see if I can get to the bottom of this. Are they with Mizzah and Lilly?"

"Yea." Bryony confirmed. "But they're asleep already .. I think."

Veil sighed. "Very well, I'm tired myself. I'll .. talk to them in the morning."

Fripple sighed. "Yea, let's just go to bed. Nobeast can think well when they're half asleep."

><><

Xzanthia was hiding in an alcove of the wall, watching Sayna and Timbal walk through the Great Hall, talking quietly. "We cannot stay here Timbal, I will not trust to ever awake. Something is very wrong here."

"Aye, like Martin's monocle. I have the feeling that thing has a lot to do with his state of mind." Timbal grumbled.

The two paused in the middle of Great Hall, much to Xzanthia's relief .. she needed to hear what they were saying.

Sayna crossed her arms. "I was talking to Trimp about those, and she admitted almost everybeast had one .. at least over half the abbey. She said Redfarl had one .. of course Martin, and Arvid was under the influence of the one Redfarl has. Foremole Dinny never took one, at least we have that on our side. But Trimp says Bella and the Gingiveres simply disappeared."

Timbal paused. "Yes, though Groddil told us .."

"Yes, I know .. it makes sense." Sayna put in, "And Timbal, from what Filip said, all this seems to come down to that new wearet, Xzanthia. Did you see her?"

Timbal nodded. "I did. She seems innocent .. but .. I don't know."

Sayna sighed. "Timbal, I know you're worried about Martin, I am too ... I shouldn't have snapped at him so much. He just has a way of really .. irritating me when he acts like that. Still, we cannot stay here, not at night. It will be the end of us. I've asked Ignasa to calm me down, but I swear it's him giving me this warning. We've got to leave Redwall, at least during the night."

Xzanthia mentally cursed. No! Idiots .. those two mice were dangerous, and she needed to get rid of them for good .. how could she if they left?

Timbal shook his head. "I'm not arguing with you. Though .. don't talk so loud. Let's get out of here for now, we can come back in the morning."

"Should we take the hares with us?" The golden mouse caught up to the brown one.

He nodded. "Yes .. I'm inclined to believe your gut feeling is correct this time, we're in a hornet's nest of evil."

><><

Esther tried to remain inconspicuous as her friends all settled down to rest, but she didn't want to sleep. That whole thing had blown up in her face .. now she was pretty sure Veil was going to avoid her .. or not know how to talk to her anymore.

The ermine slipped out of the tent, silent as a shadow. She walked a ways, before sitting down in the sand with a sigh. She couldn't do anything right.

First she was a thief, and a nuisance at Redwall, she couldn't save Veil when he got captured in Southsward .. in fact he'd ended up protecting her instead. Then she'd gotten hexed and nearly killed him .. not to mention herself .. and now this!

Esther sniffed a little, staring up at the stars. "Why can't I do anything right? Just one thing Lord Ignasa .. can't I do just one thing to really .. help? I don't want everybeast else to do it for me. I always said I wouldn't be the kind of girl that needed protection, but ... everything I touch is ruined. I wish .. that I could do better."

There was a tiny scuff behind her, and Esther jerked around, staring at none other than Veil. She looked down. "Oh .. Veil I ... I ..."

Veil sat down a few feet away, and didn't speak for a few minutes. He finally glanced at her, with something like hesitation. "Do you .. actually mean what you wrote?"

Esther gulped. "I didn't mean for you to know who ... how did you know? I signed it anonymous .. you know?"

"Yes ..." Veil paused. "But you write the same way you talk."

Esther thought for a moment, before slouching a little. "Oh. I .. I'm sorry Veil ... please forgive me .. I didn't think .. yea, I just didn't think."

Veil was still looking straight at her. "I'm not .. mad. I'm just surprised."

He let his gaze drop. "And honestly, perhaps what you did was a good thing. I've felt so numb the last few days .. I .. I don't know. But that sort of made me .. think again."

There was a moment of silence, before Veil looked up again. "So .. did you actually mean it? It wasn't a joke Ivan got you to pull?"

Esther blinked. "Of course not! I mean .. I wouldn't do that .. I ... yes I meant it. I suppose I've ruined us being friends .. and ... and I'm sorry."

She laid her chin on her knees. "More sorry than you could .. ever imagine."

Veil's eye's were searching. "But you really do .. like me. To be honest, I sort of .. feel the same, but I never said anything because .. because."

He looked down. "Maybe because I've been so self-centered ever since we left Redwall. I didn't pay attention to anybeast else, and it's .. selfish. I'm the one who's sorry."

Esther slowly raised her head. "You're sorry? But .. none of it's your fault, it's mine."

"No, part of it is my fault. I haven't bothered to even thank you .. so, thank you." Veil was determined.

"What for?" Esther stared at him.

Veil met her gaze steadily. "For coming with me. All I ever did was try and discourage you from coming, but I never thanked you once."

Esther slowly looked away. "Thank you .. I mean, you're welcome .. I mean .. yea."

Neither said a word for a few minutes, before Esther spoke again. "Veil, did I .. mess up everything with that ... stupid letter? Are we still friends .. or ... not."

"It'll take a little getting used too." Veil was almost laughing. "But when I think about how I read it aloud .. it's almost funny."

Esther thought for a moment, before the humor of what had happened came to her as well, and she had to laugh. Veil shook his head, still smiling. "I can't remember the last time I really laughed .. was it before we left?"

He paused. "And if you mean you think I'll treat you differently .. I don't know yet. We'll have enough to think about soon. If we make it out alive I ... well .. I don't know what would happen."

Esther shrugged. "Yea ... I .. shouldn't have ... but someday. Maybe. Can we just ... forget that?"

Veil sighed. "Maybe that would be best. We should get some sleep ... we've got a full day of travel tomorrow."

He got to his feet, holding out a paw. Esther paused, before taking it and gaining her own feet. "Thanks."

She cast one last glance at the star-strewn sky as Veil disappeared through the tent flap, and Esther vowed she would do better.

This time, I really will help. Somehow .. somehow.



Chapter 31 Skewed Plots

"Burr .. maister Filip?"

Filip moaned, rolling over in bed. "Togget, what is it now?"

The mole's voice was determined. "It do be Roseanna, she'm an' maister Luke! They'm be awaitin' for you, must be dreadful important."

Filip grumbled. "It's not even light out .. just lemme sleep."

Togget pulled the rat's sheets off, voice low. "Mizz Roseanna'll come in herself so she will, she's awful jumpy, so'm she be. You best be a com'in."

Filip sat up. "What's she so up tight about huh?"

His mole friend shrugged. "Sure she never told me maister Filip, burr aye. But she do be a wantin' out of here."

Filip slowly slid his legs out of bed. "I guess I'll have to come .. if this is some false alarm though .."

"Hurr, it bain't zurr, Oi be a thinkin' it moight be about Xzanthia."

That brought Filip to his senses a little more. "Well ... alright. Let me get dressed .."

There was a soft creak, and his door swung open .. Filip momentarily wished he had a weapon at paw. However the next second there was a flash of red hair and something grabbed his paw, dragging him toward the door.

Filip scowled, trying to yank his paw away. "Roseanna, let go of me! I'm coming, but I'd like to wear something but my nightshirt, do you mind?"

Roseanna's voice was a hiss. "look, I'm trying to save your rotten life. Luke and Forest are waiting, we're leaving tonight!"

"And going where?"

Roseanna grumbled, still dragging him. "I'll tell you once we're out. But I'm telling you, she'll do anything she can to stop us, and she's after you, cause you told Sayna what you guessed about her!"

Filip let himself be dragged along. "But how did she know about that?"

"Because she followed them! I saw her! They don't really trust her, but they don't see her as the threat she is either. They left, they wouldn't stay the night here, and neither will we! Come on Filip, I swear she's after your blood!" Roseanna sounded so desperate Filip started to feel afraid as well.

They were running along the Great Hall, and Filip heightened his pace. Togget was behind them as they ran out the door, and suddenly Filip slid to a stop. "Hey wait, what about Trimp and Beau!"

Roseanna paused, spinning around. "Oh ... yea, I forgot about them .. let's tell Luke so he doesn't worry, and I'll try and tell them."

She ran toward the wall gate, Filip and Togget behind her. Sure enough, Luke and Forest were waiting. The mouse spoke first. "What took so long?"

Roseanna rolled her eyes. "Filip did, what else? Now I've got to go get Trimp and Beau."

Luke shook his. "No, you can't go back in there, I'll go. If she's watching, she'll be on the lookout for you, but not me."

"I .." Roseanna paused. "Oh, I guess. But be quick. Forest, do you think he should? Forest?"

The horse's head was down and three of his legs locked in light slumber. Roseanna grabbed his scruffy mane, shaking him. "Wake up Forest, how can you sleep at a time like this? After what Luke and I saw earlier ..."

Forest yawned. "It's night time."

Luke agreed with her. "Forest, I wouldn't have believed it if I hadn't seen Xzanthia with my own eyes, but we heard her .."

"Yea and if you ask me it's pretty dumb for her to talk aloud about her plans." Roseanna snorted.

That second, Filip heard a tiny scuff from behind them, and a smooth voice rang out. "Maybe it was, but you're no smarter, talking so loudly of me."

Filip groaned, facing Xzanthia with defiance. "What are you doing here?"

"I could ask the same, rat." Xzanthia smirked. She paused. "So what will I do with you? I could tell on you .."

"You could lie on us, just like you lied about Veil!" Filip spat at her feet. "But I can run faster than you, and I could tell on you first!"

Xzanthia snarled. "You wouldn't make it three feet."

Filip felt a trickle of cold run down his spine, but he decided to do what he was best at .. argue. "Yea, but what would you do with my dead body, huh? Would you dump me off the wall or something? And what about them, they've seen you, and you can't kill us all."

Xzanthia smirked. "Idiot, I've killed more beasts than you could dream of, I couldn't care how many murders I commit."

Luke's voice was steady. "You'll care if you get caught."

The wearet hesitated for a second, before sneering, "You seem to think you'll have a chance to talk, don't you? Deadbeasts don't talk."

Roseanna pulled out her bow, slowly loading an arrow. "Like you could kill us all."

The mouse drew her bow back, snarling, "I think you'll be the dead one if you move one inch."

Xzanthia's white fangs gleamed. "No arrow you shoot can touch me, and besides .."

She broke off, suddenly letting loose three swift owl calls.

Roseanna rolled her eyes. "Ok, what's that do? Prove you're stupid?"

Xzanthia's brown eyes snapped. "I won't forget that mouse."

Filip suddenly thought of something .. the only time Xzanthia did that was to call whoever she spoke with on the battlements. And the question was ... how could somebeast speak to her on those high battlements? He instantly flung himself to the ground. "Quick, get down!"

There was a screech, and a yelp from Roseanna as something dark and flying grabbed her hood, pulling it over her head. Xzanthia pulled a knife out, jumping for the mouse maid.

Filip was on the ground anyway, and he lunged, pulling Xzanthia's paws from under her. The sound of steel on steel rang out, and Luke knocked the knife away from the wearet. "Nobeast harms my sister. Father will be quite interested to hear this about you, don't you think?"

Xzanthia snarled, flinging loose dirt in Luke's face. The mouse staggered, struggling to free his vision, and Togget shoved the wearet away so she could not use her advantage.

Forest jumped at her, rearing, only to neigh in frustration and pain as the dark, flying shape attacked his eyes. Xzanthia bolted up, sneering, "Got you now!"

She hurled the knife, and Luke cried out, grabbing his right arm. Filip staggered to his feet as there was a hiss and a blinding flash, accompanied by a cry of pain from Roseanna. Filip grabbed Forest's mane, practically yelling in his ear. "Forest, help us! We've got to get out of here!"

The horse did a half rear, and as his hooves came down, Filip vaulted onto his back, reaching down for Togget's paw. The mole scrambled onto Forest's back with the rat's help, and Luke was close behind. Roseanna flung the wall gate open, and reached for Filip's paw.

The rat grabbed it, but in the next second there was another hiss, another flash, and a flood of searing pain across his lower arm.

Filip instantly let go, unable to do anything else, and Luke lunged for his sister. The mouse caught Roseanna's paws, pulling her onto Forest just as he burst into a gallop.

Filip had a chance to glance behind them, and just managed to see Xzanthia raise a paw.

We're dead ... she'll take out Forest ..

But the dark shape seemed to attack the wearet before she could shoot any more green fire, and the next second the trees of Mossflower blocked her from view.

"Maister Filip, be ye hurted?" Togget's voice reached him, but the mole sounded almost far away.

Filip felt his head spin as pain like he'd never known racked his arm .. and in consequence, his entire body. The rat felt himself slump over a still running Forest's neck, and the next second he was falling .. just falling.

Somehow, he never felt himself hit the ground.

><><

Xzanthia raised a paw to finish the escapers off, but something pulled her back, practically dragging her too the ground. The wearet flung Tyre off, snarling, "You idiot! What do you think you're doing, I had them!"

The bat growled. "I'm saving your neck, Milady. The more green power you shoot, the more likely it is for somebeast to see it and inquire where it came from. And how will you cover up the murder of the king's children? No milady, let them go. I doubt they will be back any time soon."

Xzanthia got to her feet, grumbling, "The rat knocked me down, and he got me in trouble! I want to make him pay for it!"

"Get over your feelings and start thinking like the warlady you are." Tyre's reply was short.

Xzanthia huffed, snapping, "Oh .. shut up and don't play smart. Get out of here before somebeast sees you."

The bat rolled his eyes. "As that may be. You've got a good thing going here milady, don't mess it up."

"Please." Xzanthia smirked. "I've got this under control. Now go!"

Tyre sighed. "As you wish milady."

He fluttered out of sight again, and Xzanthia pulled the loosely swinging wall gate shut. At least they wouldn't be able to enlighten the beasts in Redwall.

And that Tyre. He was a ridiculous, paranoid idiot. She had this conquest all planned, and nothing could stop her.

Especially not some little rat and his stupid friends.

><><

"Filip, wake up honey, come on."

Filip mumbled, thinking the voice was his mother's. "Mum .. t's still dark out .."

"But it ain't sweetie, an' I made you some breakfast. Now open those eyes for me, won't ya?"

That voice .. it didn't have a highland accent like Regina's. It sounded like vermin slang though ..

Filip blinked his eyes open, finding himself looking into sparkling blue eyes set in a iridescent gray face. The rat coughed. "Sandingomm? Sandingomm, it's really you?"

The cat helped him sit up in bed, putting some pillows behind him. "Course it's me, I live in me own house now don't I? Forest said ya took a nasty fall there, said he 'bout stepped on ya, so you're a lucky one, ain't ya?"

"I don't feel awful lucky." Filip muttered.

And he certainly didn't, from the ache all over his body to the knowledge Xzanthia was still loose in Redwall. Sandingomm shrugged, helping him eat a little warm porridge. "Ehh .. ya, wull ya do sorta have a point there don't ya? Yer arm's a bit of a mess .. I donno if it'll heal proper or not, but Bella put herbs on it so ye've got a chance."

Filip glanced down at his right arm, swathed in a bandage, and sighed. Sandingomm's voice was serious. "Though ye've proven ta me an Gingivere there's a Shadow Fighter in Redwall. Only one of that lot could make such a wound, for the skin's burnt."

"Will I loose it?" Filip was beginning to feel fearful for his wounded limb.

Sandingomm shook her head. "I donno 'bout that, I don't think so. Least ways Bella wasn't actin' like ya would. I think it'll be more like me leg .. stiff, but there. Now eat some more, it's good for ya."

Filip obeyed wearily, before asking, "So we're in your manor?"

"That ya are." The cat smiled. "Ya showed up on me doorstep at bout one in the morning and half dead the lot a ya. But you're alright, thanks fer that."

Filip had about finished his breakfast when Bella came in, leaning on her staff. She sat down on a nearby stool, asking, "Now then young one, why don't you tell me how this happened, and the situation at Redwall. I've not really heard news since Groddil left for Salamandastron."

"He brought Sayna and Timbal?" Filip was surprised.

Bella looked eager. "Timbal and Sayna are back?"

"Yes." Filip nodded. "I didn't guess that Groddil had brought them though."

"Aye he must have. I wish Argulor was back from Noonvale, but since Yar and Emalet are up north with him, I've nobeast to act as messenger." Bella sighed, adding, "Still, we must make do with what we've got. Now tell me of Xzanthia son, if you would."

The thought of the wearet was starting to give Filip chills, but he spoke. "She's .... deceptive. She's got most of Redwall under her thumb .. other than us, Trimp and Beau are the only ones I know of that really suspect her. At first I thought she was irritating, then a jerk .. then evil .. but a Shadow Fighter? I ..."

The rat broke off, glancing down at his arm. "I guess I know now."

Bella's voice was grim. "Yes, I think we all do."

She looked out the window, shaking her head. "And to think we defeated the Greeneyes .. Badrang .. Lotor .. all great warlords and kings. Yet we fall to one little wearet .. not even thirteen."

Sandingomm placed a paw on Bella's shoulder. "We didn't fall ta just her. We fell to deception. An' what did Ignasa say when he crowned our kings an' queens?"

Bella's voice was soft. "To discern with his wisdom .. to be wary of deception. We have not heeded our Lord."

"So he has let us fall." Sandingomm finished.

Filip frowned. "So you're saying .. there's no hope?"

"Far from that young one." Bella corrected. "For Ignasa speaks truth when he says that where there is a group of faithful .. no matter how small .. there he will be. We must ask his council, we must be strong."

She stood stiffly. "I will call out for his guidance, and perhaps he will speak to me in my dreams. Until then .. you need rest, as do the others. You are safe here, for I doubt Xzanthia even knows of this place, and she would not leave the abbey at this time, when you have all vanished."

><><

"Come on Princess, make that horse run faster!"

Cedric's voice was a laughing challenge. "Munch and I can outrun you any day!"

Fripple spurred her black Arabian on, shouting, "Come on Whirlwind, you can catch them!"

The horse didn't talk, but he and Fripple worked well together. He stretched his legs out smartly, haring after Cedric and Star like an ebony flash of lighting. Cedric clapped his legs gently on Star's sides, goading, "You gonna let them do that Munch?"

She snorted, throwing her all into the run and passing Fripple's steed yet again. Cedric bent over the mare's neck, moving with her as she crested a sand dune.

Fripple sent Whirlwind after them, pulling him to a stop when she saw Star was standing motionless now.

"What is it?" Fripple called.

Cedric turned a little, stating, "It's Sirocco, Princess, look!"

Fripple brought her horse beside Star, looking where Cedric indicated. Sure enough, she could see the town, and even a faint green smudge that was the hills behind it. Her heart beat a little faster, as she stared at that beautiful green, no matter how faint it was.

"You alright Princess?" Cedric's voice cut through her thoughts.

Fripple nodded. "Of course .. I just missed seeing real .. grass. As weird as it sounds."

Cedric smiled a little. "You miss Mossflower."

"I do." Fripple confirmed. "I love the desert too, in a way .. but Mossflower is my home."

Cedric looked down a little, a Fripple suddenly realized what he was thinking. "You'll miss the desert won't you?"

"A little, Princess. A little. But I've always liked seeing new places." He paused. "Besides, I showed you my world .. don't you think it's your turn?"

Fripple laughed. "I suppose."

The clopping of horse hooves rang out behind them, and Mizzah pulled his bay to a halt beside them. "You two done running about like madbeasts?"

"We found Sirocco, Uncle Mizzah." Cedric put in.

Mizzah kept a straight face, "Ah, it moved did it? Well, we'll stop there for a while .. get some water, and be well into the flatlands by dark."

><><

Filip tried to sleep, but he was uncomfortable and almost feverish. His arm ached continually, and all in all .. he ached. It was anything but pleasant.

The rat rolled over, closing his eyes restlessly. He was slightly dizzy, and he wished somebeast would come. His mother had always watched over him .. and his sister .. when they were sick, but Sandingomm had to take care of Roseanna and Luke too. She couldn't stay with him all the time.

Filip didn't bother opening his eyes; there was nothing to see. He wished he could sleep, but rest refused to come.

"Filip."

There was a soft voice, quiet, nearly spectral, but real. Filip snapped his eyes open, but the room looked just like before.

"Filip, listen to me."

The rat propped himself up on his good arm, looking around with some fear.

"I have not come to harm you, Filip."

The voice didn't exactly calm its listener's fears, and Filip stammered. "W .. who are you? Where are you?"

"I Am That Is, Filip. As for where I am, it matters not. Now heed me. Your kind have always been called villains. Now it is their time to be the heroes. Some have turned to me, and have helped woodlanders before, but this time, reality has been turned around. The woodlander acts the vermin, and the vermin acts the woodlander. So now, Filip, son of my servant Whegg, will you answer my call?"

The young rat had stopped looking around in confusion, and he closed his eyes. He didn't answer for a second, before he shivered, murmuring, "I ... I am not a .. a hero Milord. Nobeast ever liked me."

"Who's fault was that?" Ignasa's voice was gentle.

Filip sighed. "Mine. I never .. liked them."

The rat felt a tiny breath of wind around his ears. "You are so much like your father, in many ways."

Filip hung his head. "No I'm not .. father is a goodbeast."

"He wasn't always." The voice was quiet. "Will you follow his pawsteps?"

Filip's arm buckled beneath him, and he fell back on his pillows, muttering, "Milord .. I want to .."

"Then believe me."

"Believe you ..." Filip hardly understood what he meant, and yet a tiny part of him did. "I will, Milord."

"Find a high king's faithful servant, find his faithful subject also. Call upon the Morning Song, and break the spell of lies." The voice grew softer, and Filip suddenly thought of something.

"Wait! Wait, don't go! ... What about ... my sister ..?"

The gentle feeling of wind seemed to pause, before it swept over him. "The answer will come, fix your eyes to the south. I am with you, my son."

Filip felt that strange, wonderful presence recede, and he slipped into restful darkness.

><><

Xzanthia paced in a woodland clearing some distance outside Redwall, her voice a growl. "I have this war sewn up, Tyre, I even got a horde! And now .. now the other two marks show up."

Tyre watched her through half open eyes, asking dully. "Is that such a problem?"

"Yes!" The wearet's teeth snapped together as the word came out. "Are you kidding? I can't have the four marks rejoin! That would destroy everything!"

Tyre sighed, latching his claws tighter about the branch he was hanging from. "I see why your father sent me."

Xzanthia wheeled around. "Never call him my father again, if you value your rotten life! Swartt will pay for what he did to me!"

"Oh come on." Tyre snorted. "What he did for you? He made you what you are today."

"Shut up!"

The bat gave her a sideways glance. "Yea, I sort of see your point."

Xzanthia glared up at the bat, hanging prudently above her reach. "You ... know nothing! You were a cowardly prisoner who saved your life by being a traitor to your kind! What would you know, all the times I tried .. so hard! But I was not good enough! I could never be good enough for him! Well now .. now he will pay. He will pay with his life .. with the lives of both his darling sons!"

Tyre raised an eyebrow. Xzanthia snarled. "Oh, you don't believe me? Well hear this. He thought I could never be strong enough? The woodlander's blood and his sons' blood will drip from my paws as I kill him, and then he will know that I am more than he could have dreamed! He will pay!"

"Fine, that's your business." Tyre decided not to contradict. "But the matter at paw."

Xzanthia crossed her arms. "You just watch your mouth. As for the matter at paw, what am I going to do about the marks? You're my advisor, advise me!"

Tyre huffed. "Well it's no great mystery. You have a horde don't you? Put them to good use."

"My horde ... yes! Those little tree rats! They must know Mossflower like the back of their paw, they can tell me where the two marks have gone, and they can dispose of them! Tyre! Go speak these words for me. Tell that rat chieftain .. whatever his name was .. to get a score and a half of his band and prepare for an attack on the marks. Make him tell you where they are. As for me, I've got to get back .. it's almost noon. Martin's going to realize his children really aren't there, he probably has already, so I need to make the most of it."

Tyre watched the wearet bolt off, and he scowled. How much more could he stand?

Or more realistically, how much more could he survive?

><><

Xzanthia refrained from slipping in the wall gate, even if she'd left it cracked open. This could require a scene. If it didn't, she'd just been playing in the woodlands.

She was met at the gate by Whegg, who gave her a suspicious look. "Where have ya been, eh? Yer fond of disappearin', ain't ya now?"

Xzanthia smiled winningly. "Oh but I'm not the only one sir."

Whegg jumped on this, just as Xzanthia had hoped. "Not the only one .. you know where they are? My son and the others?"

"Not now," Xzanthia shrugged. "But can I please pass?"

Without waiting for his answer, she slipped passed him into the abbey lawns. Martin and Rose were talking with Trimp, Gonff, and Wildfire, all of which seemed worried.

"Have you seen them?" Martin's voice was strained.

Trimp curtsied. "I'm sorry Martin, I've looked everywhere, all through me kitchen an' cellers, Ben an' his sons is a lookin' too. I sure hope they're alright."

Wildfire tossed his head. "First I loose my daughter, and now my son!"

"Indeed my friend, I as well." Martin looked pale as ever, an now his face was drawn with stress.

Rose laid a paw on his shoulder. "Dear, you don't look well."

Martin rubbed his forehead. "I don't feel well, Rose. And now on top of it all, Roseanna and Luke disappear .. those children know how to give a beast gray fur."

His shoulders slumped. "I'll never see Aubretia again, and now .."

Rose sighed. "We will find them, Martin. Perhaps they have just gone for a little adventure into Mossflower .. they will be alright. They are warriors like you."

"Yes, but .." Martin sighed. "But the Doomwytes have traps, and who knows what other villains could be roaming out there?"

"Luke's no weakling sire, with all due respect. I'm sure my best friend knows plenty about the Doomwytes and what to avoid." Gonfflet dipped his head as he said this.

Xzanthia was watching the group, and presently Gonff noticed her. "Oh, where'd you run off to, eh? Can't remember seeing you this morning."

Martin met Xzanthia's gaze, and the wearet felt a bit of inner satisfaction. The monocle's curse was truly starting to take effect .. slowly, ever so slowly, but it was working all over Redwall.

"Xzanthia, have you seen Luke or Roseanna?"

The wearet thought for a moment, before nodding. "Yes sir, I saw them sneak out the west wall gate with Filip, Togget, and Forest."

Martin stared at her. "Why would they do that?"

"I don't know, but I saw them early this morning. Before it was light even."

Gonff crossed his arm. "Really? And where were you?"

Xzanthia could barely keep from shooting the mouse a glare, but she didn't. "I couldn't sleep, that's all .. so I went up on the wall to look at the stars, and as I came down, I saw them. I did think it was odd, but I didn't want to question your children sire."

Martin crossed his arms. "You say Filip was with them? Well he's been a shady character from the time he was about five, I'll wager he instigated it."

"Martin, dear, listen to me." Rose broke in. "I don't like how you instantly move to blame the vermin first whenever something goes wrong. Our children are perfectly capable of getting into trouble on their own."

Martin sighed. "Rose, I know you like to look for the good in beasts .."

Rose frowned. "Martin, Filip is young. He's not guiltless, but with Roseanna, Luke, and Forest, he wouldn't be leading! They don't listen to him, think Martin, it doesn't make sense."

"Well .. I do see your point Rose. Perhaps he wasn't the instigator .. though he had to have something to do with it. The question is, why did they leave? What on earth could they be doing?" Martin wearily shook his head.

Rose shrugged. "Did it ever occur to you they may have gone to see Timbal and Sayna?"

Martin frowned. "Well they had no right to do that, they should have asked. They could get hurt .."

"Martin, it's their aunt and uncle! They wouldn't be in danger there." Rose was looking a little irritated.

"I don't know Rose ... I'm not sure who to trust anymore."

Rose pointed at the monocle tucked into his belt. "And I think Timbal is right, it has to do with that thing."

Xzanthia could barely keep from growling, but she held it in .. with difficulty. Martin sighed, "Rose, you don't understand, I need this. It lets me see things in a whole new light."

Rose grumbled. "Yes, I have the feeling it does, and it's not good. I've never liked that thing, Martin, and I wish you'd get rid of it. You haven't looked well for weeks now, you've been acting judgmental and paranoid, and you question the loyalties of the other two marks! Dear, are you alright?"

"Why wouldn't I be? I have good reason to be under stress, Rose. Three of our children have vanished, trouble seems to plague our abbey, and what's more, my own friends accuse me of doing the wrong thing! I have a headache."

"You look it." Rose crossed her arms.

Trimp broke in. "Erm .. with all due respect your majesties, might I go back to me kitchen? That is, if'n ya want afternoon tea .."

Martin waved a paw at her, rubbing his head. "No, no, that's fine .. yes, go on."

"I'll come!" Gonfflet offered his services, following the hedgehog.

She sighed. "Alright master Gonfflet, but only if you keep yor paws off me pies .."

Rose turned back to Martin. "Dear, you need rest. You're sick .. come with me."

The high king nodded without complaint, following her up the gatehouse steps. Rose gave Wildfire and Gonff a meaningful look, but as her gaze swept over Xzanthia, her green eyes sparked with suspicion.

The gatehouse door shut, and Xzanthia shot it a dark glare. She walked toward the abbey, hatred boiling. Why hadn't that meddling mouse wife just died when she'd poisoned her the first time?

Xzanthia paused at the doors leading into Great Hall, a slow grin forming on her features.

There would have to be a second time. And this time, Xzanthia totally intended to kill.

><><

"But Sire .."

"Wildag, please. My name is Veil."

"I meant yer Majesty, a course." The older ferret corrected himself. "Some a the horde ... not me a course, not me, but some a the horde wanna know how long it is til we git .. erm .. wherever we're gettin'."

Veil sat down on a smooth rock by the fire, sighing, "Mossflower, and we will be there in .. em .. Aubretia?"

The mouse looked up blankly, and Byron muttered in her ear. "He asked how long til we reach Mossflower .."

"Oh!" Aubretia nodded. "Well, I'd say at very least a week."

"How come ... I mean we .. sort of took longer then that coming down .." Esther looked dubious.

Aubretia nodded. "Yes but according to my calculations .."

Byron broke in without meaning to. "We're all mounted and that sort of .."

"Let's us go faster." The two finished as one.

Catkin laughed, plopping cheerfully next to Vinwyte, who jumped slightly before relaxing again. Catkin smiled at Wildag. "Oh Veil, do tell your horde to come and eat with us. If we're to be a team, we must get to know each other. Now that we're past the desert, we should!"

Wildag looked hesitantly at Veil, and Esther spoke up. "She .. might have a point .. you know? If they have to fight for us .. maybe they should know us better, and vise versa .."

Veil thought for a moment, before nodding. "Very well, Wildag, you helped cook this. Come and eat it with us, won't you?"

The ferret hesitated, and Catkin nodded. "Oh yes ... please do Wildag! It would be nice, because I like your cooking very much. Only .."

She paused, digging in her satchel and pulling out some hotroot. "It needs more of this."

Wildag hesitantly sat down, accepting the plate Esther offered him. "Wull .. thanks Sire, it's awful kind'a ya."

Esmund crawled onto Wildag's rock, staring at him pointedly. "You is in my brother Veil's horde, I know!"

Wildag was looking wary, and he looked rather relieved when Skadu grabbed the wearet and sat down next to Ivan. Scraw walked over next, blinking at Wildag. "What do you think you're doing?"

Wildag cringed. "Uh .. the boss said I could Scraw .. honest 'e did!"

Scraw stared at Veil. "He did?"

"I did." Veil spoke up quickly. "In fact, you may sit with us if you like. I never asked for a horde, but now that I've got one, I think Catkin's right. I'm not going to be my father and ignore the beasts who follow me. You know, Scraw, go tell the others to come. Zenith and Kinta too."

Scraw stood dumbfounded a moment, before stammering, "Umm .. Milord, with all respect .. that ain't the way to do it."

Veil crossed his arms. "I've made my decision Scraw, go tell them. And that's an order."

The rat paused, before bowing. "Yes lord, so it'll be."

Wildag watched him walk off, before shaking his head. "Sire, yer the weirdest horde leader I never laid eyes on .... I mean ... not sayin' nothin' against ya, yer not a bad horde leader an all, yer just .."

"Different?" Fripple asked. "Different is good."

"Ya know missy .. I think I'm startin' ta agree wif that." Wildag nodded. "Though Scraw ... he's real loyal ta the normal way. I donno if'n he really likes it, but he's afeered a what might happen if we do summat different. He ain't big inta change. So I donno how he's gonna take this new kinda horde."

><><

Filip awoke due the warm evening sun streaming through his window, and the chirping of birds. He looked around, trying to recall how he'd come to be here, and the events of the day came flooding back.

The rat slid his paws out of bed, waiting for a flood of pain in his right arm. However while there was some, it wasn't half as bad as he'd expected. He stood shakily, just as Sandingomm opened the door. She looked surprised, asking, "Yer up already? Thought you'd be down fer another day then."

Filip blinked at her, before blurting, "I've got to speak with Roseanna and Luke, please Sandingomm, it's important!"

The cat raised an eyebrow. "Why?"

"Because ..." Filip paused. "Because Ignasa .. he spoke to me. He gave me a message they need to hear!"

Sandingomm was staring at him, and the rat quickly added, "I know you'll think it's crazy but ... I heard him."

The cat shook her head. "No, I don't think it's crazy .. he did the same for me, once."

She stopped looking at Filip, twitching her tail. "But if he gave you a message .. ya, what am I thinkin'? Come on, let's see if Rosanna and Luke are awake, this is important. Think ya can make it down those stairs, hmm?"

Filip nodded, following her carefully to the door and making sure not to jostle his arm. Sandingomm watched him closely, but the staircase wasn't very long. The rat followed his benefactor down a few halls, and to a door. She opened it, leading him into the kitchen.

"Alright now, ya sit at the table." The cat pulled out a chair for him as Gingivere walked in.

The larger cat raised an eyebrow. "He's up already?"

Sandingomm nodded. "Aye, and won't ya stay here while I get his friends?"

Gingivere shrugged, sitting down as his wife left. "So, how are Whegg and Regina? I've heard things at Redwall aren't the best, that they've gotten even worse than when we left."

"That's about right." Filip sighed. "Dad and mom ... they've managed to stay out of trouble this long .. but they're really worried about Ash."

"What's wrong with Ash?" The new voice startled Filip, and he turned to see Iris watching him, her sister Irene standing a little behind her.

Filip looked away. "Xzanthia hexed her."

Iris's mouth dropped open. "Xzanthia? Hex?"

"That's what it's coming down to, Iris." Gingivere stated. "Xzanthia is a Shadow Fighter."

Sandingomm came in at this moment, helping Roseanna walk to a seat. The mouse maid winced, limping heavily. "Filip, why right now? I feel like my leg's going to fall off!"

"Well it ain't." Sandingomm assured. "And Filip here has a bad arm as well, but he's got somethin' to tell you."

Luke had followed her in, and sat down, mindful of his bandaged left shoulder. Filip looked around. "Is that all .. where's Togget?"

"Ho hurr, I'm do be roight here. What you do be tellin us'ns?" The mole took a seat next to Filip.

Bella came in last, sitting down and watching the rat closely. "Tell us, master Filip.

The rat took a deep breath. "Ok .. well .. this will sound crazy. But .. Ignasa spoke to me."

Togget stared at his friend. "Boi hokey ... what'd he look loike?"

"I .. didn't see him. I heard him." Filip explained.

"Well .. how did you know it was him?" Roseanna raised an eyebrow.

Filip shrugged. "I .. just did. And he told me we need to find .. a king's faithful servant, also his faithful subject. To look to the south for the Morning Song, that will break the spell of lies. Or something like that."

"Find and king's faithful servant? Is he talking about my father? The king?" Luke asked.

Filip nodded. "I ... sort of get the idea it's about Martin."

Roseanna helped herself to some scones sitting on the table. "Ok, but who is dad's faithful servant? And how is he different from dad's faithful subject?"

Iris raised an eyebrow. "Aren't we all .. sort of his subjects?"

Gingivere shrugged. "In a way. Mossflower has never been a strict monarchy, but as Martin is the high king, I suppose it could be said most of us are."

"Ho hurr ... but what do be the difference 'tween a subject an e servant?" Togget looked confused.

Bella broke in. "A subject often has more freedom than a servant. A servant must do whatever his master says."

Roseanna frowned. "But father never had anybeast like that."

"I've got it!" Luke's cry made them all jump. "It's not something living!"

"What on earth do you mean?" Roseanna stared at her brother.

Luke drew his longsword. "This is my servant, is it not?"

Filip jumped up. "Of course ... his sword!"

><><

Xzanthia left the abbey as the sun began its descent in the western sky, and she'd been in a bad mood all day. Still, she'd get rid of Rose after she disposed of the other two marks. And those little painted tree rats would do that job for her.

The wearet found Tyre waiting for her, with the chieftain of the Painted Ones and a few of his creatures.

Xzanthia didn't like thinking Tyre was actually ahead of her for once, but she said nothing to him. "Good, I see you're here. Now. Chief ...."

"Grivak." He supplied.

Xzanthia smiled shallowly. "Yes, chief Grivak. Now, do you know where the two marks .. Timbal and Sayna .. where do they live?"

Grivak gave her a long look, before asking, "Vana, where you say marks live?"

A small female rat answered him, "In old oak, yes .. Brockhall. Where badgers once live, they live now."

Xzanthia smirked. "Good. I trust Tyre gave you your orders. But in case he didn't, I'll repeat them. Take as many beasts as you see fit, and kill the marks, also those who are with them."

Grivak looked wary. "What if other marks come? They kill us, yes!"

Xzanthia smiled. "Ah, but they won't be coming. I have them under my claws, you needn't fear them."

The Painted Ones looked dubious, and Xzanthia sighed. "How would it be if I paid you in gold? I can drop by the treasury and get you some .. just do the job. Unless you would rather face me .."

She purposely let a little power surge into her paws, creating a bit of dancing green light. Grivak quickly backed down, "No, no, we do it. We do it. When?"

Xzanthia showed her fangs. "Tonight. The sooner they're dead, the better."




Chapter 32 The First Battle

TViT &#039;The Terrible Trio&#039;

Coll, Crowwings, and Gustav :)

Night fell gently over Brockhall, and dinner.

The group around the table was a sizable one, and Groddil was speaking. "I know Martin has always been somewhat moody, but this ... I worry for him."

"He looked downright sick." Sayna set her glass down with a bit of force.

"Aye lassie, and that's part of my fear. Do we actually know all the negative effects these monocles have?" Groddil's yellow eyes flashed. "They are cursed by Malimore himself, just think on it."

Timbal slowly looked up. "It's killing him."

Groddil shrugged. "It's certainly weakening him."

"And yet he would fight you to keep it .." Quinn spoke softly. "Is there any way to .. destroy them?"

Thalia had paused in eating her dinner, and spoke quietly. "We must find a way to stop it .. is there a way you could get one of them?"

Timbal paused. "Maybe ... I see your point though, we could try destroying it."

Groddil nodded. "Yes, that's not a bad idea. Bella should be at the Gingiveres', and I will go see her tomorrow. For now .. I'll turn in. Thanks for dinner lass."

Sayna shrugged. "I only cooked part of it, you know it good and well Groddil."

The fox chuckled slightly as he vanished down a corridor, and Sayna rolled her eyes. Timbal stood. "He's got the right idea ... Gustav, Coll ... and Crowwings. Where did you get that flan?"

The three miscreants looked up quickly from their half eaten desert. Thalia moaned. "Oh my flan ... I wondered where that went!"

Gustav spoke with his mouth full. "We were 'ungry .. it's an awful good flan marm."

Quinn was holding in laughter, and Starbuck waved a paw at the three. "That was all our deserts, wot wot?"

Sayna scowled. "You two, bed. Now."

Crowwings grumbled. "Awwwwww ... can't I go with them? Huh? I won't get on the bed!"

Timbal shook his head. "No, you can stay out tonight. And maybe next time you won't take Thalia's flans, will you?"

The filly hung her head, mumbling. "Guess not."

Quinn stood. "I'm off to bed. Sounds like we have a day of planning tomorrow."

><><

The atmosphere of peace was almost complete and the sun's final rays faded from the sky. Gustav stood at his window, grumbling, "Yea .. we never go to bed this early Coll, an' just cause we took the flan .."

Coll didn't answer, as usual, just scribbled something down on the slate he toted around, showing it to his brother.

Gustav nodded. "Oh sure, it was a nice flan. But I don't wanna go to bed this soon!"

Coll paused, rubbing out his previous scrawls and scratching down more. His older brother read what he'd written, nodding. "Yea. We'll do that. Just get in bed and wait til everything gets quiet ... and then we'll get Crowwings."

The young mouse hopped into bed without changing into nightclothes. "This is going to be awful fun."

It took a little while for silence to overtake Brockhall, and it seemed hours upon hours for the two mice. However the stillness of night did come, and at long last Gustav chanced sitting up.

He nudged Coll, almost asleep. "I think we're good."

His little brother sat up with a yawn, nodding and looking more alert. Gustav slipped his feet out of bed, treading ever so quietly to his window seat. Coll followed him, scribbling something on his slate and holding it up.

Gustav sighed. "I'm going to climb out the window, what else? It's only one story, Coll."

The little mouse held up his slate again.

Gustav shrugged. "Why am I doing it? Cause it's more interesting. Are you coming?"

Coll peered dubiously over the window sill as Gustav ran back to the bed and pulled the sheet off it. "Come on or stay there."

It was an interesting sight indeed, for any who chanced to see it. Gustav tied one corner of the sheet to the sturdy drapery hook, throwing the end out the window and swinging out with full confidence it would hold.

He'd nearly gotten to the ground, when a voice rang out. "Hey, whatch'a doing?"

Gustav muttered out of the side of his mouth. "Quiet Crowwings, I'm trying to focus here."

He turned around as soon as his paws touched the ground. Crowwings cocked her head. "Aren't you in enough trouble?"

"Nah." Gustav waved a paw at her. "I'm not in trouble til I get caught. Coll, are you coming?"

The small golden mouse stuck his slate under his arm, swinging his legs over the sill. Just that moment there was a whoosh of air, and a spear buried itself in the bark an inch from Gustav's head.

Coll quickly scrambled back onto the widow seat, staring down at his brother with wide black eyes. Gustav stared at the spear, before fastening his paws around it and struggling to pull it from the bark. "Cool! I wonder where it could have come from. Hey, it's even got bones tied on it .. weird."

Crowwings snorted, looking warily around. Gustav yanked the spear from the bark and falling flat on his back just as another spear hit the spot he'd been only seconds before. Gustav looked a little more worried. "Hey ... we're under attack!"

He vaulted onto Crowwings back. "It's my first battle .. quick, let's tell mom and dad!"

><><

Sayna had almost dropped off when her door was flung open, and something jumped on her. She sat up ramrod straight as Coll scrambled under the blankets. Sayna grabbed him, pulling him out with a sigh. "Nightmares again?"

Her son vigorously shook his head, sparkling black eyes wide. Timbal hadn't even woken up, but he did when the door slammed again, accompanied by clopping hooves, and Crowwings whinnied in his ear.

Timbal yelped, practically falling out of bed as Gustav jumped on him. "Dad, dad! We're under attack!"

The mouse shoved his son off, gasping for air. "I'll say ... What do you think you're doing?"

Gustav grabbed something from Crowwings, holding it up for inspection. "This almost hit my head, and that's when I got the feeling it was an attack, see?"

Timbal snatched the spear away, inspecting it. When he spoke, his voice was grim. "It's a vermin weapon for sure .. somebeast threw this at you in your room?"

"Umm .. well, I wasn't really in my room. I used my bed sheet to climb out the window." Gustav explained.

Sayna broke in. "And you left it there?"

"Yea ...." Gustav didn't get a chance to finish his statement.

Timbal jumped out of bed, pulling his battle-axe from its place on the wall, and letting loose a yell to wake the dead. "Prepare for battle; we're under attack!"

Sayna was close behind him, snatching her sword from its resting place and bolting out into the hallway. "Quick, to the boy's room! We might be able to drive them back!"

Timbal gave his sons and Crowwings a commanding glare. "Stay here, battle is no place for children."

He slammed the door shut, running quickly after his wife. Brockhall awoke in a matter of minutes, but it wasn't fast enough .. the enemy was already in. Groddil came flying from his room at Timbal's call, cutlass and knives in paw, and was just in time to meet the first attackers.

The fox moved like lightning, jumping over his enemy's spear slash and beheading the creature with a powerful cut. Quinn came running next, hurling his spear at another beast who was jumping at Groddil from behind. The creature slumped to the ground, and Quinn wrenched his spear from the carcass, snatching the deadbeast's spear as well. "Watch your back mate."

Starbuck joined them, stabbing another of the beasts with his long dirk. "Where did the blighters come from, wot wot?"

Groddil felled an attacker with a thrown knife. "I don't know, but they seem familiar .. "

There was a flash of light and Thalia joined them, holding a torch. Quinn stared at the carnage around them, gasping, "The Painted Ones! It must be .. but we've never had any trouble with them before!"

Thalia broke in. "They're all up there on the staircase .. why aren't they down here fighting us?"

Groddil shot past the others, yelling, "They're after Timbal and Sayna, stop them!"

><><

Timbal jumped over a spear slash, bringing his axe mercilessly upon his attacker and cleaving the beast nearly in two. The mouse king was surrounded, and as he stabbed backwards with the spear head on the end of his axe, he reached for his dirk.

It wasn't there. He hadn't had a chance to don armor or even get all his weapons. There was a flash of pain across his shoulder from a spear, and Timbal instantly lashed out with his tail, pulling his opponent's legs out from under them. He swung the axe with precision, relieving the other beast of its head.

However for all he could do, there were still too many.

The sounds of fighting were behind him, presumably Sayna, and Timbal wondered how long they could actually hold out. However the next moment there was a wild yell, and something knocked him down as it impaled a beast who’d been sneaking up behind him.

A paw gripped his in seconds, pulling him back to his feet as a familiar voice rang out. "Think about what’s behind you, lad."

Groddil ran past him to Sayna’s aid, and Timbal was with him. The golden mouse was backed against the wall of the landing, using it to defend her back as she slashed her unstoppable sword into any who dared get close enough.

Timbal yanked one of the enemy’s feet from under them with his tail, letting them fall directly onto Sayna’s blade. Groddil had dispatched another two of the beasts, and Sayna slowly stood up, shaking her head as if to clear it. "Timbal, is that you?"

"It’s me." He quickly reassured her, realizing she’d probably been practically in Bloodwrath.

She nodded to show she understood, looking around. "Are there any more?"

Groddil wiped his dripping blade off on one of the bodies, stating, "I’m not sure lass, it does seem like it was too easy .."

Thalia came running up the stairs, holding her torch and sling. "Your majesties, hurry please! There are more outside, they ambushed us! Quinn, Starbuck, and the others are out there!"

Sayna didn’t wait a second more, just bolted down the stairs, sword at the ready. Timbal and Groddil were close behind, Thalia behind them. They burst out the front door to find a nightmare waiting for them, for the attackers seemed everywhere!

Thalia waved her torch threateningly, and the closest rats cringed, backing away. Timbal nodded to Groddil and Sayna. "Let’s get to the others. Thalia, stick with us, don’t get separated!"

><><

Gustav hadn’t waited long after his father had ordered them to stay put. The young mouse had quickly jumped up, pulling out one of his throwing axes. "Crowwings, Coll, we’ve got to help them! Besides .. this is my first battle, and I don’t want to hide through the whole thing!"

Crowwings wiggled with excitement. "Yeah! We’ve got to fight too ... can I be your charger, can I?"

Gustav nodded quickly. "Of course, every knight needs a charger! Coll, are you coming?"

Coll paused, and they all fell silent to listen to the clashes, and then a quickly cut off cry. The golden mouse shook his head vigorously.

Gustav and Crowwings exchanged glances, before the gray filly snorted, "Aww ... fraidy-cat."

"Yea, fraidy-mouse!" Gustav put in.

Coll scratched something down on his slate, holding it up. Gustav snorted. "Oh, we’re stupid are we? Well we’re going to help mom and dad, and you can just be a fraidy-mouse."

Coll nodded firmly, sticking out his tongue for good measure.

Gustav rolled his eyes, pulling one of Sayna’s knives from its place in her belt, hanging on the wall. "Huh, mom didn’t take her knives! That’s weird .. but it’s ok, we’ll use them!"

He proceeded to stick four in his belt, and vaulted onto Crowwings' back. "Forward, my trusty steed!"

Crowwings trotted to the door, shoving it open with her nose. Gustav peered out over her neck, frowning. "Huh, it’s awful quiet out here now ... what if the battle's over?"

The pewter gray filly trotted out into the hallway, her small hooves clattering noisily in the silence. She got to the top of the staircase before she stopped, staring at the limp body lying lifeless in front of them.

The young horse took a step back, gulping, "Umm ... is it ... dead?"

Gustav didn’t sound terribly excited anymore, either. "Yea .. I think so. Come on .. let’s ... go."

Crowwings stepped tensely around the carcass, trying not to look. She stopped directly before she reached the landing, which the moon only dimly lit. "Gustav ... I’m not sure this is such a good idea .... Maybe we should stay with Coll after all."

"Aww .. come one, don’t be a girl." Gustav tried to keep the tremor from his voice. "Mom fights battles, an’ she’s a girl .."

"Nuh-uh!" Crowwings exclaimed, “She’s not a girl, she’s a mother. And … I think I feel sick."

Gustav was pointedly not looking at the scene before them. "Just .. don’t look. Keep going, cause we’d have to go past the first one ... and that .."

"Yea, yea, I know. Just .. where are they? Are they ... dead too?"

Gustav snapped. "Don’t even ... think that, no, they’re alive ... just .."

"Listen." Crowwings whispered.

The two fell silent, and the faint clashes of desperate battle became audible .. as well as a slight noise behind them. Gustav jerked his head around, to see one of the rats behind them, bleeding, but holding a spear aloft. Crowwings was so tense she screamed, and her rider threw one of his axes with deadly accuracy.

The filly leapt forward as Gustav leaned over her neck, gasping, "It’s ok, I killed him .... Yea, I killed him ..."

Crowwings didn’t act like she heard as she trampled anything in her path in a mad dash for the door ... which thankfully, was open. The little horse burst outside with speed born from fear, plowing down one of the scrawny rats, in fact one that had Timbal pinned.

She trampled the life from the creature without pausing, locked in a dead run. Gustav clung to her like a burr, hurling his other axe at a beast that was about to behead Thalia. He drew one of Sayna’s knives next as he pulled on Crowwing’s mane. "We’ve gotta go back, they need us!"

But the filly wasn't listening, and she made a beeline for the woods. Gustav hardly thought, just rolled off her back, falling hard on the ground, so hard he cried out. The young mouse fought to regain his breath, and one of the rats jumped at him ... Gustav couldn’t move, he honestly couldn't.

There was a flash of steel, and his attacker fell in a crumpled heap.

"Gustav!" He found himself pulled to his paws, and shoved behind his benefactor as another rat ran at them.

Sayna impaled the attacker without thought, shaking Gustav in the same movement. "What are you doing out here? What if I’d been in Bloodwrath?"

Gustav couldn't even answer, he was breathing too heavily. Quinn joined them, wiping some blood off his cheek. "If we had the horses ... but they must have wandered too far to hear us!"

Sayna's voice was grim. "I'm sorry we had to get you into this ..."

"I'd rather die fighting than die helpless, milady."

Gustav swallowed hard, waiting for his mother to say they wouldn't die, but she simply lifted her chin, slashing out at a rat. "I'm with you Quinn."

><><

The cool night air was broken by the flap of massive wings as Argulor settled himself in his old nest in Brockhall's uppermost branches. The eagle let forth a tired sigh .. the journey from Noonvale to Redwall certainly seemed longer than it had been once.

Argulor may have been ancient, mostly deaf, and extremely nearsighted, but he still prided himself on his strength. Nobeast was going to say he couldn't fly the distance between Noonvale and Redwall.

The eagle settled down as comfortably as he could, for his nest was rather prickly after his absence. He tried to sleep, but there was a constant hum of faint noise .. rather muffled, but in recent seasons Argulor had found most beasts quite taken with mumbling.

Not to mention, most sounds had become nearly the same thing.

The golden eagle huffed at long last, as the faint sounds persisted. He stuck his head over the edge of his nest, calling, "Reeeaaak! Ah say down there, cut the blinking racket!"

There was a faint .. though a little frantic reply, and Argulor paused, before hollering again. "What? Speak up if you plan to ruin me rest, what's your excuse?"

Down on the ground, Gustav broke in at this point. He didn't even stop to think about how Argulor had come to be in his nest, just yelled, "The Painted Ones are attacking us! Argulor, help!"

There wasn't an instant reply, but minutes later the eagle's wings could be heard. Timbal held his axe high. "For Ignasa!"

A rat jumped at Gustav, thinking him easy prey, but the young mouse threw one of Sayna's daggers with shocking accuracy. Argulor fell upon the rats with vengeance once he realized what was going on.

The eagle snatched one of the rats that'd been standing on the sidelines, shredding his claws through the unfortunate's back. The creature squealed in shock and pain, but quickly broke off as Argulor dropped him.

There was an immediate lull in the fighting, and Argulor screeched with all the hair-raising quality he was known for.

Only seconds passed before there was a clinking scurry, and the dark shapes that were the Painted Ones retreated, not fancying a fight with an eagle.

Argulor settled to the ground, cocking his head. "Ah say lads and lasses, Ah wish you'd got me down here a bit sooner. Any injuries on our side, eh?"

Quinn looked around, shrugging, "My ear. But I think we're all alive."

Starbuck saluted, "Aye sah, all accounted for .. would've been a jolly different story if you hadn't shown up, spot on sah, wot?"

Argulor cocked his head. "Eh laddie? Speak up."

Timbal bowed, though he was holding his shoulder. "In fewest possible words, he was thanking you, sir."

"Ack, noo a problem. An' Ah do say, Ah have missed the taste of rat. Fish is a braw thing, dinn'ae get me wrong, but there's nothing quite so sustaining as a plump ..."

Groddil cut the irrepressible bird off. "Yes .. no doubt by your tastes my friend. And do take your pick. But it seems to me that my night's rest was .. postponed."

About this second, the thunder of hooves rang out, and Darkdiamond slid to a stop in the clearing, his daughter behind him. Crowwings snorted. "I told you!"

Diamond tossed his head. "What happened? Crowwings came and got me, I thought she'd just been dreaming .. or telling one of her wild stories, but .."

"She wasn't this time." Groddil shrugged. "But thanks to Argulor, we're alright."

Diamond looked apologetically at Timbal. "Sorry matey .."

The mouse winced, shaking his head. "It's alright .. ahh one of them got me pretty good .."

Sayna inspected the wound, calling, "Thalia, come help us over here! Groddil .. please take Gustav to bed, he looks a bit green .. and see that Coll's alright!"

Gustav weakly shook his head as Groddil practically picked him up. "Coll .. wouldn't leave ..."

"Well perhaps he was a might smarter than you lad?" Groddil smiled faintly. "Chin up laddie, you've done Mossflower a service tonight."

><><

"Veil, wake up!"

The ferret moaned as somebeast shook him. "Aww ... wake up, please?"

Veil cracked one eye open, to see Esmund about ready to pounce on him. "Alright, I'm up, I'm up. What is it?"

Esmund flopped on him anyway. "I'm hungry."

Veil sat up, finding himself smiling at Esmund's matter-of-fact reason for waking him. "Well, I am too. Did you look in my knapsack? There might be something."

"I did." Esmund crossed his legs, putting his elbow on his knee and resting his chin on his paw. "But it's empty."

Veil looked around to see his friends still asleep, and he sighed. "I'm not much of a cook, but I guess I can. We'll have to get water though. Come along, and quietly .. don't wake the others up yet."

Esmund skipped after him as Veil picked up one of the water pails at the edge of the camp. The two made off into the woods toward the nearby stream, a tributary of the Moss, though far from its origins.

Esmund grabbed ahold of Veil's paw, jumping to keep up with him. "I like you. Mommy always said I'd like you and I do."

Veil wasn't really sure what to say, but he hadn't seen himself as being terribly likable, especially in the last few weeks. "Why do you like me, Esmund?"

"Oh." The wearet's reply was honest. "You're a lot like mother. Only not quite as .. angry all the time. But she was sad a lot too."

Veil felt a pang of guilt, and he looked down. "I've .. been .. well. Esmund, I'm sorry."

"Sorry .. for what?" Esmund looked confused.

Veil doubted he could really explain much to Esmund, for there was nothing simple about his state of mind .. and it only got worse as they neared Mossflower. Deep in his heart, Veil knew it wasn't about what he'd ran from, but what he would find.

Would his parents take him back? Did they hate him now?

No, they wouldn't .. they wouldn't. Not after .. everything.

"Do you wanna .. race me to the stream?"

Esmund was blinking up at him, and Veil shook himself. "Uh .. yea! Sure, let's do that."

"Ok!" The wearet paused, before bolting off, yelling, "Go!"

Veil laughed, chasing him. "Oh that's how it is?"

The two bolted through the woods, Esmund being surprisingly fast and no easy catch. He ran across the pebbled bank of the stream, leaping onto a flat rock in the water. Veil was reaching for him when he tripped, falling flat on his face and sending a tidal wave over Esmund.

The wearet looked worried, but Veil sat up, grinning. "Sorry Esmund .. I didn't see that rock back there. You're fast, I've got to tell you."

There was a bit of laughter from nearby, and Veil turned to see Esther watching them. She was holding a pail of water, and Veil suddenly felt slightly self-conscious at his clumsiness. "We were .. racing."

Esther smiled. "Yes, I saw. I think Esmund won, didn't you?"

"Yes." Esmund nodded. "But I'm wet now."

"Are you ok?"

Veil suddenly realized she'd directed that to him. "Yea .. yea, I'm fine. We came to get the water, but you already did, so .. I guess we'd best go back."

Esther shrugged. "Alright. Come on Esmund, I'll find a way to dry your clothes."

"A ride on Skarlath! I want to!" Esmund had his own ideas.

Veil followed them, casting a glance back at the light-dappled woodlands. The soft morning breeze seemed to suddenly rustle some fallen leaves in the shadows, and Veil paused.

Esther's voice reached him. "Hey ... are you coming?"

Veil turned away, shrugging inwardly. "Yes, right behind you!"

><><

The peaceful calm of the stream remained for a few seconds after Veil disappeared, if not a few minutes.

Then a low voice rang out. "See what I told you? He's not fit to lead, does any horde leader act like that?"

"No .. not that I've seen." Another voice answered. "But .. he's kinder than Swartt .."

"Bah, what is kindness? We need a leader. And you know it good and well. Should one negligent boy turn the way we've lived for centuries inside out?" The first creature was decisive.

"Wull .. I donno. I sorta like how he acts." Yet another beast spoke.

The first voice snapped back. "Who's side are you on? Think about it good and hard ferret, I can make your death agony!"

"Now .. I never said nothin' 'gainst ya, I was just a sayin' .."

"Well then say nothing. Your neck is worth more for it." The first voice was a sneering sound.

Another voice spoke. "You all are fools, I'm for anybeast who acts like the Sixclaw prince. And I don't care about your threats. I've watched you for seasons, there was a reason Swartt turned ya away from Shadow Fighting .. idiot. Now pipe down, the lot of you. Be happy with what you've got."

"But our way of life .." The first argued.

"As if you care anymore than I!" The bold creature snapped. "Leave Wildag alone, and you back down. I'm sick of your conspiracy, all you want is to rule instead. Leave the boy be, or taste my steel .. through your scurvy gullet."

There was a pause, and the first creature backtracked. "Fine. But you watch your back, and see who's really the fool!"

The other never flinched. "You do the same. Get back to camp, I've had enough."

><><

"What?"

Tyre huffed. "That's what I said. Grivak is dead, and the attack failed."

Xzanthia glared at him insanely. "No! You're lying! You're lying!"

"What good would it do me?" Tyre looked disgusted. "And one would think you lost your whole horde. You may have lost twenty, more like fifteen. Just give the tree rats some gold, and they'll forget about Grivak. One boss is just like another to them."

"But the marks know we are here now!" Xzanthia snarled.

Tyre shrugged. "Not really. They know the Painted Ones attacked, but they took no prisoners, so there's nobeast for them to get the truth out of. They'll simply be on their guard."

"Which is just what I don't want!" Xzanthia snapped. "But fine. Fine, I don't need them dead just yet. It won't hinder my plans."

"Oh what is it now?" Tyre grumbled.

Xzanthia smirked. "I came up with this one all on my own .. I'll kill that meddling queen. She's really getting in my way, and that can't happen."

Tyre stared at her. "And how will you not give yourself away?"

"Oh come on Tyre, like a innocent, lovely little girl like me would ever dream of doing such an awful thing."

"You've got a sense of humor, morbid as it is." Tyre admitted.

"Of course I do." Xzanthia sniffed. "I poisoned her once, and this time I won't let her live. You see, I've staged a little .. accident."

Tyre sighed. "Fine. It's not like I could stop you. But be careful. That's dangerous territory, and you'll need all your wits."

"Since when have I had lack of them, oh genius one?"




Chapter 33 Flight of the Hunted

Morning saw Bella unbinding Filip's injured arm carefully, despite her large paws. The rat held still, though he dreaded really getting a good look at the wound.

However as the bandages fell away, they unveiled nothing but bare, raw, and somewhat scarred skin .. no hideous burns like he'd been imagining. Bella smiled a little, having him lay the arm in a bowl of water. "There, you're healing up faster than I thought you would."

Filip frowned, asking, "Will the fur grow back?"

"Well .." Bella paused. "I'm not sure. I didn't think it would, but there might be a chance of that. Or at least, that it'll partly grow back."

Filip sighed, shrugging quickly when he saw the badger watching him. "Sure .. yea .. it doesn't matter. How long until I can .. really function again?"

Bella shook her head. "Don't push yourself, I don't want you getting sick. You got out of the fever you should have had, but just take it easy."

"But Martin's sword!" Filip exclaimed.

The badger frowned. "There's nothing you can do right now, not with both Roseanna and Luke injured, and me so old. Gingivere and Sandingomm are keeping a lookout, but they don't want to leave us alone, since they're the only ones who are real fighters."

She smiled sadly at Filip's groan, "Ah, for the spirit of youth again. But I'll only get that in the Lands Beyond ... I did bring you these."

She handed him a small knife and piece of pine wood. "You always were handy at carving."

"How did you know that?" Filip was surprised, and a little defensive.

Bella laughed gently. "I've watched you much longer than you know. That will exercise your hurt paw .. get it functional again."

She'd just dried off his arm, when Sandingomm walked in, grinning from ear to ear. "So Bella, I'm a cat, guess what I dragged in."

Bella looked dry. "I know that look. What's up?"

Groddil walked in, and Sandingomm laughed. "Ta-da! See? He's up."

Bella had started to get to her paws, but Groddil shook his head. "No need for that my friend."

"You got to Salamandastron?" Bella was hopeful.

Groddil nodded. "Yes. I brought Timbal and Sayna back, they brought four hares, Quinn, and everybeast is mounted."

Bella sighed. "That's all?"

"Trubbs was afraid to spare more. No badger has come to rule, and he fears for Salamandastron." Groddil looked sad. "He and Lepus have nearly given up hope of the Sun-marked one's coming, they have tarried so long."

"My father .. wasn't one to jest, Groddil." Bella looked tired. "I can only believe this beast will come."

Groddil laid a paw on her shoulder. "I pray for it. Salamandastron will stand as a beacon of freedom for many long seasons after we have earned our final rest."

There was a moment of silence, before Groddil added. "However, I came to you because I needed to tell you a few things .. the Painted Ones attacked us last night."

"They did?" Bella jerked her head up. "Is everybeast alright? How did you drive them off?"

Groddil nodded. "Yes, that's the other part of what I wanted to tell you. Argulor's back."

><><

The rustle of wings filled the air as Skarlath alighted like a glorious sunbeam, shaking himself after his morning flight. "Raaeeek! I have seen your Moss river, you reach it today, at full sun time."

Veil looked up, and Sunflash spoke. "Did you see Brockhall?"

Skarlath shook his head. "Nah, nah, not yet. Still good journey .. two days with horses."

Star moaned. "Oh .. and I'm so tired of traveling."

Skadu shrugged. "Hey, least you're not fightin'. Cause we're gonna be doin' that when we git there, I guess."

Star thought for a moment, before sighing.

Veil nodded. "Yea Skadu, you're probably right. It'll come down to some sort of battle, though I don't think Xzanthia has a horde .. she's only one beast."

"But she has the power of Malimore .." Fripple broke in.

Esther nodded, though she countered. "But .. Ignasa is with us .. isn't he? So we should have his power. I met dark magic face to face, and it conquered me .. but Ignasa conquered it. And I turned to him. His power is stronger."

He voice had grown stronger and more decisive throughout her speaking, and Ivan noticed this. "I think that's the first time you've made a definite statement .. that I can remember. But you're right."

Cedric broke in. "Yea .. I think you've got something there Swipe. And here's what I'm seeing .. I don't know much about this, but from what I do know .. this Xzanthia'd be a fool to try and conquer a whole castle single pawed. Even Swartt couldn't do that. So I'm thinking she's got to have help."

Veil nodded. "Aubretia could give you the full statistics on that, but I'm going to say .. it's all too likely."

"Are there any vermin bands around your home?" Kinta spoke up.

"Yes, according to calculations." Aubretia hopped in. "The Doomwytes, the Flitchaye, the Painted Ones, there are some crow tribes farther north, as well as some tribes of toads and lizards in the swamp lands. All of these have been known to demonstrate shifty or villainous behavior."

Star heaved a sigh. "Golly, all of those? At once?"

"The probability is unlikely ... birds will eat toads." Byron added. "I don't think it would work."

Vinwyte nodded. "Two bands of vermin don't usually fight together for the same cause, or at least, not for very long."

"No, and that could work in our favor, if you think about it." Ivan's logic was sound.

Mizzah walked over. "Alright all of you, up and moving. We've got a long ways to go."

><><

Rose was sitting beside the gatehouse window, staring out at the usual bustle of activity in the abbey lawns. Martin was back on his paws again, and had gone off to visit Gonff, and Richart had gone with him.

They were just in the abbey, but she didn't care to go after them. She was disgusted, confused, and just upset .. things weren't going to get better by themselves, and she didn't know how to help turn the situation around.

The mouse stood, walking to her chair by the cold fireplace and settling in it. She slowly closed her eyes, imagining last winter, when the crackle of the fire filled the now silent room .. when all was as it should be.

Her senses dulled, and she drifted off slowly, tired from stress and little sleep.

Almost seconds later .. or so it seemed .. she was awoken by a splintering crash! Rose snapped her eyes open, looking blearily about to realize the sun's shadows were longer .. hours had passed.

There was a scuffing sound in the kitchen, proving the crash had not been her imagination. Rose staggered to her feet, grumbling, "Richart, what have you been into?"

The voice that answered gave her a turn, for it was Xzanthia's! "Oh your majesty, I'm so sorry .. I didn't mean to!"

Rose came to the kitchen doorway, to see the young wearet scrambling to pick up the pieces of a china plate. The mouse put her paws on her hips. "What on earth .. why are you in my house?"

Her voice was snappish, partly due to the fact she'd just awoken, and partly because she was suspicious.

Xzanthia flattened her ears in submission to Rose's greater authority. "Your majesty, I was simply running an errand for Columbine, and I didn't want to wake you. I see I should have .. I'm so sorry .."

"What did Columbine want?" Rose raised an eyebrow.

The answer was quick, "Oh, just a mixing bowl. The ones in the kitchen are all dirty or being used, and she wanted to know if you'd lend her one."

Rose looked suspicious, but walked to a cupboard and pulled a wooden bowl out. "Ask me first next time, and don't go traipsing about my kitchen. Even if you have to wake me up. Here, see it is returned."

Xzanthia took the bowl, lowering her head. "Yes your majesty, I will next time. I'd better get back .. but do you want me to help clean up?"

Rose shook her head. "No. Go on, I will deal with this."

The wearet bowed, turning and walking from the kitchen. Rose didn't move until she heard the front door shut, and then she followed, watching Xzanthia hurry toward the abbey .. almost like she knew Rose would watch.

"A mixing bowl, eh? Columbine has plenty of her own, that wearet's up to something." Rose grumbled under her breath.

She walked back to the kitchen, kneeling and gathering up the shards of china. She set them on the counter, and as she turned around to get the broom and sweep the floor, her paw knocked against a jar she used for drinking water, sending it to the ground.

Rose sighed as there was another shattering crash, but she froze in the next second. For the water wasn't pure .. it stained the reddish stones deep crimson!

Rose slowly knelt, laying her paw in the puddle of red water .. pulling it back to see her already reddish fur was stained scarlet.

Her voice was soft, horrified, and full of growing realization. "The red mark of poison ..."

She leaned against the cabinet, trying to think rationally. Should she tell Martin? Yes, she should .. Xzanthia had tried to poison her! But ... could she tell Martin?

The mouse seemed so completely trusting and blind to Xzanthia, what if he blamed an innocent beast? Just like Veil?

Looking at this evidence, Rose was pretty sure Xzanthia had been the poisoner all along. She felt a shiver run down her spine .. the wearet was so .. sweet and young.

Then Rose's suspicions took over. Yes, she was sweet, she was honey sweet. None of the vermin she had met .. even the ones that had turned to Ignasa .. were that perfect. It had to be an act .. in fact there was no doubt.

But would Martin believe her?

Rose stared down at the red on her paws. When had the tables shifted so cruelly as to make her fear her own beloved husband?

She made her decision quickly after that .. she'd tell him, but carefully. She set about cleaning the shards of pottery. Once done, she tried to wash her paws. The red clung to them with resilience, but Rose was determined and the stain hadn't had time to dry.

It slowly faded, and the stain on the red floor had begun to look more and more like the stones it had fallen on. Dusk was falling, and Rose started to wonder where Martin was .. in fact, the thought was starting to paranoia her.

If Xzanthia would walk into her kitchen and plant poisoned water, did she dare sleep? Was Martin safe? Was anybeast safe?

Had that water really been meant for her? What if it had been meant for Martin?

Rose shivered as the front door suddenly creaked, and she backed into a corner, grabbing the broom. There were pawsteps in the sitting room, and Rose wished she had a weapon at paw.

><><

Martin entered the gatehouse, a little surprised to not see Rose anywhere. He paused, calling, "Rose, are you here?"

There was a relieved sigh from the kitchen, and Rose appeared in the doorway. Her large green eyes were wider than usual. "Oh Martin, it's only you."

"Of course it's me .. who else would it be? And dear, why do you look so worried?" Martin was concerned.

Rose looked around. "Where's Richart?"

Martin shrugged. "Gonfflet was entertaining him, he'll bring him around soon. Now Rose .. you look pale. Are you alright?"

Rose shut the front door. "I am .. fine. But I have a good reason to be pale. You love me, do you not?"

Martin blinked, unsure of why she would ever think he wouldn't. "Of course I do .. you know that Rose. What is the matter?"

Rose paused a moment, seeming to calm herself. "Yes Martin, I am sorry .. I just .. need you to listen to me. And believe me!"

"I'd trust you with my life." Martin said simply.

Rose nodded, looking around before blurting, "Xzanthia came in here while I was asleep, never woke me, and was in our kitchen. I confronted her, and she claimed Columbine wanted to borrow a mixing bowl .. but Columbine has plenty. I gave her one and sent her on her way, but then I knocked over a jar of drinking water .. Martin, the water was red. It was poisoned with Wolfbane!"

Martin was stunned for a moment, before he stammered, "More poisoning? But .. who would do that? And how did they get it in the kitchen without getting caught?"

Rose was frustrated. "Martin, can't you see what's sitting in front of you? Xzanthia did it! She's the poisoner, she was trying to kill me, and I'll bet she poisoned me the first time!"

"What?" Martin was shocked to hear what his wife had meant. Xzanthia was no trouble, and she did whatever she was told .. on top of it, she was only twelve seasons!

He shook his head. "Rose, you've got to be mistaken. How could she do such a thing? She's so .."

"So perfect." Rose finished. "And you would believe her over your own wife?"

"Rose .." Martin tried to appease her.

Rose would not be appeased. "Martin, my life is in danger here. Our lives. You get weaker and paler every time I see you, it seems, and that wearet has you pinned under her thumb. Either arrest her, or .. or leave! This is no longer our home, it's under Malimore's authority, and we have to take Richart and escape! Please Martin, come with me. We'll find Timbal and Sayna .. and stop this whole thing."

Martin stared at her. "But Rose .. leave our people? Dear .. Xzanthia .. could not have been the poisoner. It would not be safe for us to leave the abbey .. and especially not you. I can't loose you again Rose, please believe me."

"But you will!" Rose was upset. "Martin you will, I swear I'll be dead if I stay here one night more. She wants me dead .. and it's because I spoke against her. She's dangerous, she would kill me in my sleep, and I don't intend to let her."

"Xzanthia?" Martin was becoming alarmed. "Rose, are you ok? Maybe you should rest .."

"Oh, you think I'm crazy? Listen to me, that wearet has blinded you. It's those wicked things .. those monocles. They give me shivers Martin .. please Martin, just get rid of that horrible thing."

Martin had never really seen Rose like this. They had argued before, yes, but it wasn't long before one gave in to the other. Now Rose was .. just plain frightened, and she couldn't hear how completely insane she sounded. She wouldn't give in either .. there was no reasoning with her.

"Rose, it will be alright. Running won't help anything, we must stay here .. I'm sure nothing will happen."

"Can you hear yourself?" Rose almost snapped. "You can't see the danger the lurks within our very walls, and you say nothing has happened? A lot has happened! You blamed an innocent beast for my poisoning, when the real poisoner is controlling you! You .. you're acting just like Urran Voh used to. Thinking everything will be fine if you just keep things looking good!"

Martin couldn't really remember a time when Rose had been this completely flustered and angry, and it upset him. She shouldn't be acting this way, there was no reason for it.

"I'm just trying to protect you! That is all, I don't want .. anything to happen to you."

"Martin, don't be this way!" Rose looked like she might cry. "Don't be so blind .. please. Destroy that thing .. or let me destroy it for you, if you can't. I swear it's killing you, and it's blinded you!"

Martin stared down at the golden monocle in his belt, slowly laying his paw over it. "But Rose .. you don't understand at all .."

"No, you don't understand. Don't be like my father Martin, do you know how many beasts died because of him? Come back to me, please .. please come back." Rose was desperate.

Martin shook his head. "Rose ... what are you talking about? I am here .. and all I want is to protect you .. and our children. That is all, please believe me .."

"You don't understand at all Martin .. you really don't. That thing is wicked!" Rose snapped a little.

"Rose .. ahh!" Martin clapped a paw to his head. "Oh, I have a headache. What is all this fuss over a simple monocle? No, there's no reason to get rid of it, and .. I think we're both tired. Can we talk about this in the morning?"

Rose crossed her arms, about to argue, before she shook her head. "Look .. fine. Fine, do what you want."

She stalked into the kitchen, and Martin rubbed his head. "Don't be angry about this .. I'm sorry for upsetting you .."

Rose turned around, green eyes wide. "Then listen to me .. please .. just believe me. I love you .. I care about you, and I could never loose you .. I fear for you."

She was echoing his very thoughts, and he felt his guard lower .. he was about to tell her to repeat what she'd been saying, but a jolt of pain shot through his head. "Ahh .. Oh .. I need sleep. I'm sorry Rose .. can you please tell me in the morning?"

Rose's eyes hardened a little, before they filled with sorrow. "If that is your wish."

She turned away again, and something in Martin wanted to call her back. However his headache worsened, and he sighed, staggering back towards his room. There was a knock on the door, and Martin shook his head. "Rose, that'll be Gonfflet, can you get it?"

There was a sigh from the kitchen. "Yes."

><><

Rose went to the door, casting a sad glance behind her as she did so. He just wasn't going to listen .. he really thought he was doing a good thing. It broke her heart .. and yet she couldn't stay here.

It wouldn't help her, and it wouldn't help him .. if she died, he'd be depressed and hopeless .. she had to leave. To save him.

The mouse paused at the door, before slowly opening it. Gonfflet tipped his hat as Richart jumped at her. "Mommy!"

Rose smiled, nodding her thanks to Gonfflet. "Thank you .. I hope he wasn't much trouble."

"Nah." Gonfflet's brown eyes twinkled. "Course not .. are you alright, your highness?"

"Yes .. I am." Rose managed a smile for him. "Just thinking on things."

The mouse nodded. "Well .. if you say so your majesty. I'll be off then."

He bowed, before trotting back across the lawns where one of Ben Stickle's boys .. likely Coggs .. was waiting for him. Rose sighed, noting the sun was setting, before Richart tugged on her skirt. "I'm hungry."

Rose smiled a little. "Well, I'll get you some supper then .. and do be quiet, your poor father's trying to rest."

She set her young son at the table, digging out some leftover salad and scones .. she hadn't had a real chance to cook today. Richart was fairly hungry, because he didn't object, just fell to the food.

Rose watched him for a moment, before she realized she would not rest easy until he was somewhere safe .. and it wasn't here. This only solidified her resolve .. she must take Richart and leave Redwall.

She nodded to him. "Finish eating .. I'll be right back."

Rose slipped back through the sitting room, to the gatehouse library, and a certain closet. She pulled it open, taking down her war-dress of chainmail with a sigh. The mouse looked at it only a moment, before unhooking the dress she was wearing and slipping into the armor. She pulled on her boots, then her green over dress and leather corset .. it felt just like the wars with Lotor all over again.

Rose buckled on her dirk and belt, before hanging the dress up where the armor had been before and walking back to the sitting room, where her bow and quiver hung over the cold fireplace.

She'd just buckled the quiver onto her belt and taken down the bow, when there was a scuff in the doorway. Richart stared at her, before exclaiming, "Wow .. you look .. really cool, mother."

Rose couldn't help smiling a little as she took down Richart's cape, and fastened it about his shoulders. "You'll need that, it might be cold outside."

"Where are we going?" Richart sounded confused, but interested too.

Rose sighed. "To .. visit your uncle Timbal and aunt Sayna."

Richart was not in any way adverse to the idea. "Oooh really? Is daddy coming?"

"No .." Rose felt a pang of guilt for what she was planning, but she pushed it away. "Not this time. But maybe he'll come later."

Richart scurried back into the kitchen a moment, returning with his toy sword. "Ok, I'm ready mother, let's go!"

Rose shook her head. "No, not until the sun sets completely. Let's get some pie first, why don't we? And do be quiet Richart."

"Oooh .." Richart lowered his voice. "It'll be just like an adventure, won't it?"

"Yes." Rose confirmed. "Yes, it really will be."

><><

Xzanthia ate supper, helped a little in the kitchen with Mayberry, and awaited the uproar that was sure to come. However, it wasn’t forthcoming. Everything seemed normal, peaceful, and not befitting the death of the queen.

Which meant one of two things; either they hadn’t found her body yet, or she’d gotten wise and wasn’t dead.

Xzanthia hoped it was the former, but she feared it was the later. How could one wimpy mouse wife be so hard to dispose of?

If Xzanthia hadn’t been caught doing kitchen work, she’d have gone snooping, but she couldn’t leave without raising suspicion. It was dark now, the stars were coming out, and most creatures were on their way to bed.

There was a sudden crash, so loud it made Xzanthia jump .. and yelp as her thin shoe slammed down on a piece of pottery as sharp as a nail. Beau broke in. “I say miss, watch where you’re flippen going! Young’uns, always got their heads in the clouds an’ causing general mischief .. if I was in charge a this kitchen, I’d put ya on a bally fizzer.”

Xzanthia’s day was not going well, and she snapped at the hare before she could stop herself. “Well you’re not.”

Beau crossed his arms. “An’ now ya take ta disrepectin’ an offisah. Why if I ..”

Mayberry broke in. “Oh Beau, do leave her be, she’s hurt her foot. Shouldn’t you go to Columbine, Xzanthia?”

The wearet was about to snarl a reply, but caught herself. She wanted to get out of the kitchen anyway. “Oh .. alright.”

“Should I go with you?” Mayberry was trying to be helpful, but Xzanthia was getting very irritated with the whole situation.

Surprisingly, Beau intervened. “Oh no ya ain’t, you clean up this mess before Trimp comes back, now hop to it, double time eh wot?”

Xzanthia hurried from the kitchen, relieved to have not given herself away. Her paw made an odd, wet noise every time she set it on the ground, and a glance behind her proved she was leaving reddish smears in a trail.

The wearet limped into Great Hall before she stowed herself behind one of the pillars and pulled off her now bloody shoe. She scowled as she set about extracting the piece of pottery, wincing as she pulled it loose and dropped it to the floor. Now her paws were bloody too .. just perfect.

She didn’t dare go to Columbine, but if she was seen by anybeast at this point, they’d probably escort her there .. the shard of pottery had been sizable and it looked like she’d stepped on a spearhead.

She thought a moment longer, before deciding to rinse the wound in the pond. If that didn’t work, she’d just have to limp out to Tyre.

><><

Rose kept Richart close beside her as she slipped through the abbey lawns toward the west wall gate. She hadn't been this tense since the battle with Lotor, but the air seemed to have that tell-tale crackle of deep unrest, it was a darkness that could be felt.

She'd been sensing it for awhile now, but after discovering the poisoned water, everything seemed so much .. more real. What if she'd drank it? What if Martin .. or Richart had? The thought made her cringe.

Rose shook herself, suddenly starting as she heard a twig snap. She spun around, drawing an arrow and loading it silently, looking alertly about herself. "Who's there?"

There was no instant reply, but Rose nodded to her son. "Richart .. get behind me."

"What are you doing?" The voice was cold .. yet familiar, in a way.

The shadows stirred, and Xzanthia stepped forward .. yet she didn't seem so young and innocent any longer. Her paw and glove were stained with something that gleamed darkly in the moonlight, something that looked wet. Like blood.

Rose inhaled softly .. how had a beast twelve seasons old suddenly grown to look so demonic?

"You know too much." The wearet's voice was cold. "Just like that ferret. You'll suffer worse than he did."

She raised a paw, and Rose thought she saw a little bit of sparkling green dance around it. The mouse gasped, drawing the bow back without a thought, and letting the arrow fly. There was a cry of pain, and Xzanthia staggered back, tripping over a rock and falling heavily to her side.

Rose waited for her to rise, but she didn't move. The mouse drew her dirk, slipping toward the fallen creature .. feeling her gut wrench a little at the thought of killing a child.

However Xzanthia was breathing, even if shallowly. The arrow had gone clean through her gloved paw, and Rose was baffled at the fact she was unconscious, however a trickle of blood running down the wearet's cheek and the rock her head had landed on explained that mystery.

The dancing green around the incoherent wearet's paw was slowly fading, and it could not be denied .. this beast was a Shadow Fighter!

I'll never have another chance .. she's down, she can't fight .. I could stop all this .. I could save Martin, the abbey ..

Rose raised her dirk, trying to make herself strike the blow.

This is a Shadow Fighter .. kill her!

One voice screamed this so loud it hurt, and yet, another voice countered.

She's a child, she's as young as your daughter!

Rose tried to force her paw down .. just one movement. Just one ..

Faint pawsteps rang in her hearing, and she froze, before grabbing Richart's paw and bolting for the gate, her nerve failing her. She could not kill a child.

There was a clacking as she almost tripped over her swinging quiver and some arrows fell to the ground, but she didn't dare stop.

She knew now, how Veil must have felt .. Bryony too.

She could not go back .. she was hunted. And by the ones she trusted and loved.

><><

The night's silence momentarily closed over the scene, though not for long. Beau came limping in, looking for Xzanthia herself. After Mayberry had set about cleaning, the old hare had become worried .. after all, the wearet had been bleeding quite a bit. He'd gone to Columbine just to see if she'd gotten there.

However the mouse healer had been confused and said Xzanthia had not come at all.

Beau had sighed, limping off again in intent to go back to the kitchens, but had come across Xzanthia's bloody pawprints in Great Hall, and decided to trail her.

Now she lay still, blood pooling around a green-fletched shaft in her right paw. Her gloved paw.

The old hare paused .. he really ought to get Columbine, but he'd watched that wearet in silence ever since she'd come to Redwall. She was never without the glove, and while she said it was because of an old injury, she didn't even make a pretense of pain when she lifted a dishpan of water using it.

Beau knelt beside her, putting his paw on her wrist and pulling the arrow out .. a feat that wasn't too terribly hard.

She didn't even move, and the hare slowly unbuckled the tight glove, working it free carefully. It came off with some difficulty, which surprised the hare .. until he saw what it was hiding.

He started momentarily, before he pulled out his handkerchief, trying to pat away some of the blood. However soon he was rubbing .. staring .. this creature .. was she really the beast that all Redwall thought she was?

><><

Xzanthia came to ever so slowly, to feel somebeast rubbing on her right paw and wrist .. something that felt like it was on fire.

She held in the moan she wanted to moan, not daring to move. That had better be Tyre. But wait ... she was in Redwall. Was Tyre here already? Had he seen that mouse wife shoot her and come to help?

She cracked her eyes open a tiny bit .. freezing. It was that old hare, he was rubbing on her right paw .. he had the glove off .. no!

Xzanthia was frightened, and desperate ... this could not be the end .. it could not be!

Her left paw clutched spasmodically at the grass it lay upon, pausing as it came in contact with something hard .. a sideways glance showed her it was a sort of stick .. it was an arrow shaft. Of course, the one he'd pulled from her paw .. the fool.

The wearet's claws closed around the arrow as Beau noticed she was awake. "I say gel, care ta explain all this ta me ..."

He never got further. Xzanthia thrust with fear and fury driving her paw and the arrow, there was no time for any rational thought or bluffing.

The hare cried out in pain, and Xzanthia half sat up as he fell to the side .. silent now.

Xzanthia whimpered, clutching the paw to her and curling over it as the pain came in full force. She snarled under her breath however .. one mouse wife .. one stupid mouse wife.

It was all her fault!

A few moments passed, though to the wearet it seemed forever. However the rustle of wings announced Tyre's evening visit .. but his voice was sharp. "What have you been doing?"

Xzanthia glared up at him, teeth clenched in pain. "Isn't it obvious?"

"Besides murdering somebeast, I'm really not sure. You're bleeding all over, what will you do when they find you?" Tyre snarled.

"I don't know .."

"Then why did you kill him? You just messed up everything!"

"He knew too much." Xzanthia snapped. "And besides, that's not my arrow."

"What do you mean, he's dead, and there's blood all over you!" The bat was more than frustrated.

Xzanthia snarled. "That's the queen's arrow, isn't it? I'll blame her, how hard can it be? She went insane and killed him .. and tried to kill me!"

Tyre acted like her couldn't believe what he was hearing. "What? Frame the queen for outright murder? The queen? You're mad!"

"No, I'm right. A Prophet's apprentice, a sweet little mouse maid .. the queen, it is all the same. If the king would believe they would kill, why not the queen?"

"You .. can't be serious. You have no idea what you're saying, that's his wife! He wouldn't put his wife to death!" Tyre was staring at her like she'd gone mad.

Xzanthia held her wounded paw, rolling her eyes. "So? He can always get another. There are plenty of female mice about this place."

Tyre's mouth was actually hanging open. "How .. what .. you don't understand. You just don't. Woodlanders are not like your ... like Swartt."

"Yes, they are. I don't care what Nightshade says, they are just like us. Veil never did anything to Martin, and he would have taken his head off, they are as good as vermin, the lot of them. I see no great honor. Now help me get cleaned up, before they find this."

Tyre shut his mouth grimly. "And how will you explain that?"

"I told them I was a seer's apprentice, why wouldn't I be a healer? Besides, they'll just question me a little. They'll be more worried about him." She indicated Beau's body. "After all, why would an innocent child be anything but a victim?"

Tyre's eyes hardened. "You're no innocent child."

"You know that." Xzanthia smirked a little. "But they don't."

><><

Rose had slowed her pace once she shut Redwall's wall gate behind her. Richart didn't think it was such a marvelous adventure anymore, as they were faced with the fords of the Moss.

Rose picked him up, glad of her tall boots as she made her way across the river, it's dark water tugging at her paws as the gravel floor shifted constantly. At one point, she tripped, almost falling to her knees.

Richart practically climbed her, exclaiming, "Ooooh it's cold!"

Rose got back to her paws, though her arms were soaked. She staggered up the bank, shivering a little. "Well .. come on. Brockhall's not too far off."

"But we've been walking for .. for ever!" Richart followed his mother, but not without complaint.

"No, perhaps thirty minutes, but it's a good hour's walk, son."

Richart moaned. "I'm tired. And cold, and I want you to pick me up."

"No." Rose had to set the line somewhere. "I'm just as tired as you. Come on, you're a big mouse."

"Don't wanna be." The child complained as he tried to keep up.

They'd reach the top of a hill, when hoof beats rang out, and Rose grabbed Richart, staring wildly about.

However when the trotting horse and rider came into view, she relaxed. "Groddil! Stargazer! Oh .. thank goodness. Where .. have you been?"

The fox was surprised. "Visiting the Gingiveres .. well, today. What are you doing outside Redwall .. with Richart .. at this hour?"

Rose sighed. "It's as you thought .. it's terrible. Xzanthia is a Shadow Fighter, Martin is blind to it, and I had no choice but to run. If I wanted to live. I'm trying to reach Brockhall .. Timbal and Sayna are there, yes?"

Groddil nodded. "Yes .."

"And Roseanna and Luke?"

"No," Groddil shrugged. "They're with Gingivere and Sandingomm .. Forest, Togget, and Filip too. Bella was going to try and bring them to Brockhall tomorrow morning."

Stargazer flicked an ear in Rose's direction. "You'll want a ride, I assume?"

"If you could .." Rose was relieved.

><><

"She's really a Shadow Fighter." Timbal sounded grim.

The three marks were sitting about Brockall's kitchen table with Groddil, talking over the events of the last days.

"Yes." Rose took a sip of her tea. "She really is .. Groddil, can their apprentices control the green fire?"

The fox shrugged. "A little, yes. But it's unlikely they would waste such a good cover as a child with an apprentice .. no, they would send a knighted Shadow Fighter."

Rose shook her head. "But she's only eleven or twelve!"

"I know." Groddil nodded, "But if she was trained from, say five, and was a quick learner .. it's possible."

"It's so despicably wicked." Sayna spat.

Groddil met her gaze. "It's the way of Malimore."

Timbal set his cup down. "And here's the question; what will we do about it?"

Groddil wiped some tea from his beard. "Well, Bella and the Gingiveres should arrive sometime in the morning tomorrow, I sent some horses to go meet them. I told Bella about the Painted Ones and she decided it would be best for us all to be in one place .."

"The Painted Ones?" Rose broke in.

Sayna sighed. "Yes, it's a long story .."

Groddil nodded. "Bella wants to see if she can get Argulor to spy like she did in the wars against the Greeneyes."

"That's a good thought .." Timbal suddenly paused, asking, "But can he see and hear enough to do that?"

The silver fox paused as well. "I'm .. not sure. Bella might have overlooked that."

"I suppose the only thing to do is wait and let her talk with him." Sayna yawned.

Rose sighed. "Yes, I know it's early .. but I'm so tired after today. Not as young as I once was, I guess."

Groddil nodded. "You've got the right idea lass, I'll be off to bed. Unless of course, you'd like me on guard .."

Timbal shook his head. "No, the horses are supposed to be watching tonight, Diamond volunteered."



Chapter 34 A Hero's Welcome

"I have been walking for hours. Hours! Are we there yet?" Star groaned as she made her way through some bracken, yanking her long tail free of it.

Evening plodded quietly beside her, used to constant travel.

Fripple was trying hard to stay awake, and Cedric looked just as tired .. however Esther looked a little more alert. "But .. doesn't this look familiar to you guys?"

Veil looked around from where he was riding behind her, holding onto a sleeping Esmund. "Yes .. it does, vaguely."

Aubretia broke in. "We are on the east side of the Moss, unlike when we left Redwall. According to this map, Brockhall should actually be fairly close."

"You're kidding, right? We can't be that close." Fripple mumbled sleepily.

"It would be nice if it was .." Catkin added.

Aubretia turned the map around, nodding. "Actually, I'm not joking. We are only about fifteen minutes away. You're turned around because we're traveling due northeast, but when we started for Southsward, we were headed southwest. See?"

"Mmhmm .." Fripple sighed. "I guess it's whatever you say."

Veil looked around the group, a lot of them straggling, and had a sudden thought. "Aubretia, if we're really that close, the Doomwytes will be close too. They'd love to prey upon any stragglers, and we'd be too tired too fend them off well .. maybe we should press on to Brockhall. After all, no beast is there .. right Fripple?"

She nodded. "I don't think so, my parents are at Salamandastron."

"Won't .. the door be locked?" Byron asked.

"Yes." Ivan stated, in a flatter voice than usual.

Fripple yawned. "I know where the key's hidden. And if not, I think Esther can pick the lock."

She pulled Whirlwind to a stop, turning him around. "I'm going to go tell Mizzah, Lilly, and the horde, keep going .. I'll catch up."

><><

By the time the travelers reached Brockhall .. an actual good thirty minutes away, they were nearly asleep on their feet. There was a dull jingle as Fripple dismounted, walking to a stone bench and rocking it backwards .. or trying to. "Ugg .. this might be easy for a badger, but .."

Sunflash lifted one end of the bench, and Fripple pulled out the rustic old spare key. "But we have badgers with us. Yea ... thanks Sunflash."

He nodded, though drowsily. Fripple walked to the door, sticking the key in the lock and turning until there was a smooth click. She pushed it open, yawning, "Careful of the steps. Just make yourselves at home anywhere. It doesn't matter, nobeast's here, and I don't really want to climb the grand staircase at one in the morning."

"It's three in the morning, by my calculations." Aubretia spoke up.

"Whatever, Library." Fripple paused. "Oh hey, let's go sleep in the library, the rugs are softer there."

Lilly's voice was tired. "What about the horses? Is there a stable?"

"Yea, around back .. Oh, Veil, get everybeast situated. There's plenty of room in the ballroom and hall. I'll meet you in the library after I help with the horses." Fripple sighed.

Star laid down near the door, regardless of Cedric. The mouse sprang off with agility, before leaning against the doorframe. "Really Munch?"

It was a little before they got the horses settled, and when they returned, most creatures were already asleep. Fripple had the presence of mind to lock the front door, before stumbling to the library and flopping down beside Catkin and Esther, falling into repose almost seconds after she shut her eyes.

><><

Martin, however, just wished he could sleep. He couldn't. He had an infernal, mind dulling headache, Rose and Richart were gone, Beau was dead .. shot by an arrow .. a green fletched arrow. What's more, Xzanthia had been shot too, and claimed it was Rose who'd done it.

Martin couldn't believe it, he wouldn't believe it. In fact he recalled how Rose had been suspicious of Xzanthia, and called her before him.

She stood there now, waiting with her large, sad eyes. Martin sighed, asking, "What do you know about this, Xzanthia. Tell me the truth, for murder is a serious thing."

He met her gaze, looking for a flinch .. yet there was none, in fact she agreed with him. "Oh yes sir .. and terrible .. I can't believe her majesty would do it .. and she was so kind. But .."

The wearet broke off with a sniff.

Martin felt at his wit's end, in all truth. "No Xzanthia, I won't believe it was Rose .. it couldn't be. Some .. fiend, must have framed her."

Xzanthia broke in. "But I saw her .. and she shot my poor paw!"

Martin rubbed his aching head. "No .. she can't have. It must be somebeast else. It was dark, you could have easily been mistaken."

"I wasn't .." Xzanthia began rather indignantly, before she broke off, finally mumbling, "Yes ... I guess I could have been, sir."

Martin was glad she saw the obvious truth. "Yes, you were. As for who it really was .. Ahh, my head!"

A jolt of pain shot through his skull, and Xzanthia's irritatingly honey-sweet voice did as well. "Oh, are you alright sire?"

Martin groaned. "No, I am not. One of my creatures is dead, a good old friend, and a friend of my father .. and my Rose .. is gone. I never .. meant for this, or wanted this .. oh, why didn't I listen to her? This headache .. ahh .."

He wasn't even talking to Xzanthia anymore, but to thin air. However the wearet answered, probably trying to comfort him. "Well .. maybe she will come back, after awhile. And if not .. I'm sure there are plenty of other mice who would like to be your queen."

Martin stared at her, unable to believe what she was saying. "Xzanthia, what do you mean? I want no other queen, she is the only one I could ever love .. if I cannot find her, I shall never marry another until the day I meet her in the Lands Beyond."

Xzanthia stared at him in silence, rather blank, incredulous silence. Martin was suddenly tired of the wearet being there. She seemed innocent, but he wanted away from her for some reason .. he'd question her later. "Xzanthia, get some rest and leave me."

The wearet paused, before obeying quickly and hurrying away from the gatehouse, toward the abbey. As she disappeared through the doors, Martin stepped out into the lawns, slowly walking with no real sense of direction.

His pawsteps led him to the edge of the pond, where he stood awhile, staring blankly at the glassy water with no real thoughts. Shattered fragments of reality had claimed his mind, and his head still ached. His paw slowly came to rest on the familiar disk and chain stuck in his belt, and he drew the gold monocle out.

His vision swam as he stared at it .. it was the cause of all the trouble between him and Rose.

"I'd much rather have her .. than all the gold in the world. And I'd throw this away if it would give me her back." Martin's voice was soft.

All of a sudden, he knew what he had to do, and he did it. He flung the monocle into the pond with a snarl!

However the next moment he found himself waist-deep in ice cold water, feeling desperately for the very thing he'd tossed away! Martin stopped, though something seemed to tug at him .. something that wanted that monocle desperately.

He pulled himself from the pond, shaking a little. He'd managed to throw that thing away .. why had he jumped after it? It was beyond his reach now, somewhere beneath the waters that shimmered deceptively with starlight.

Yes, that was best. It should stay there, wicked thing that had driven Rose away. He didn't want it.

And yet .. he did. It was unexplainable, freakish, and just disturbing the way the emotions conflicted.

Martin shivered harder, realizing it was a cool fall night, and the lower half of him was dripping. He needed a little sleep, that was all. And in the morning .. well .. he'd come up with something.

Something.

><><

Fripple awoke slowly, to feel somebeast shaking her. "Wake up .. please Fripple, I think some other beasts are here!"

It was Lenn's voice. Fripple sat up, mumbling, "What .. who?"

"I'm not sure .." The other mouse stammered, worriedly. "I went to get a drink of water, and I heard noises at the scullery door .."

Fripple shook herself, and Veil was also sitting up by now. A terrible idea came to Fripple, suddenly. "You don't think .. Xzanthia or somebeast found this place?"

It was a ghastly thought, but Veil frowned. "We'd be dead already if she did .. but I'll go see who it is."

"Not alone." Fripple jumped up, grabbing her saber from the bookshelf. "Lenn, can you come .. you can sound the alarm if it comes to a fight .."

Lenn drew her knife, nodding. "Yes, of course .. hurry! Whoever it is will be inside by now, the scullery door is rarely locked!"

Fripple followed her. "How would you know that?"

"Um .. I .." Lenn didn't seem to have any hesitation about which passages led from the library to the kitchen. "Well, I've been here. Quite a few times .. actually."

Fripple was pondering this, when Lenn shoved the kitchen door open. The three creatures stood blinking in shock, Veil and Fripple especially. There was a small cry of amazement, and a gray creature threw themselves at Veil. "Oh my son!"

Veil was caught off guard, and Sandingomm practically shoved him against the wall. The ferret stammered, "Mother .. how did .. I mean .."

The cat shook him. "But where did you go? Ya just left .. your father and I were worried sick! Is Ivan with ya?"

"Um .. yes, he's asleep still .." Veil was slightly overwhelmed.

Gingivere put a paw on his shoulder a moment, before hugging him as well. "I wish you'd have stuck around Mossflower son .. where did you go?"

"Southsward .." Veil admitted, "But .. you don't hate me? For everything?"

Gingivere looked grim. "We had to leave Redwall soon after you did. My friend .. Martin .. he's not himself. I don't believe it, any of it."

Fripple and Lenn were watching with silent amazement, when Bella walked in, Roseanna and Filip behind her. Roseanna stopped dead still, before gasping, "Fripple! Oh my gosh, Fripple!"

She limped over, hugging her cousin with excitement. "Like, where did you go? And what happened to your face? And who's this?"

"I'm Lenn .." The mouse maid supplied.

Cedric walked in at this moment, sleepily. He stopped stock still, staring. "Where'd these guys come from, huh Princess?"

Roseanna blinked. "Hey, who's this? Who's he calling princess?"

Cedric shrugged, pointing at Fripple. "Her, who else is a princess?"

"I am." Roseanna said, brightly.

"Yes Cedric, this is my cousin, Roseanna. Library's sister." Fripple supplied.

Roseanna had been staring at the two a moment, and suddenly came to her own conclusion. "Oh wow ... Fripple, you got a boyfriend? You?"

Fripple clapped a paw to her forehead. "No, I did not!"

"Yes you did!" Roseanna crowed. "You really did! He calls you princess, and you let him!"

"He's always called me princess! I gave up fighting it after awhile!"

"You did? Wooooow you must really like him!"

She turned to Cedric. "How'd you ever manage it?"

Bella broke in, with a slight chuckle due to the terrible face Fripple was making. "Look .. don't you know your parents are here?"

><><

"Mother!"

Sayna found herself looking into Gustav's eyes. "Mother, come quick!"

Crowwings stomped a hoof. "Yes! There's been another battle! There are lots of vermin in the great hall!"

"What are they doing?" Timbal was half awake.

"Laying about!" Gustav exclaimed. "Hurry!"

Sayna pulled her sword down from it's place on the wall, as Timbal reached for his axe. "The Painted Ones again?"

Crowwings did a nervous half buck. "I don't know, but they're there!"

Sayna shoved the door open to be joined by Rose, loaded bow in paw. "Sayna, Coll woke me .. he seemed terribly worried and was writing something about vermin on his slate .."

Timbal nodded, buckling on his dirk and grabbing his axe. "Apparently there's been another attack. Gustav, wake Groddil, now!"

The mouse hurried off with Crowwings, and Timbal swept for the great staircase, axe poised for action. Sayna stared down the stairs, and she could see Gustav had been right .. there were creatures lying everywhere. The dim light shining about the great hall lit their way, and Sayna was in absolute wonder .. this was an army, but where had it come from?

Timbal was a little ahead of them, and as he stepped down the stairs, there was a sudden, shocked yelp! Sayna pinned her sword across the beast's throat, asking threateningly, "Who are you, and what are you doing in our manor?"

The creature had fur the color of sand, dark brown points, and the strangest dress Sayna had ever seen. He did not move, simply asked slowly, in a strange accent, "Your manor? Fripple said nobeast was here."

Sayna slowly withdrew her sword, asking, "Fripple?"

"Fripple's here?" Timbal broke in.

The creature stood, rubbing his oddly fluffy tail. "Ahh .. yes, she let us in. I am truly sorry for breaking into your home .. you are .. Fripple's parents, then?"

Timbal nodded. "We are .. and I do apologize for stepping on your tail, sir ..."

"Mizzah." The creature supplied. "I suppose you could call me a king of the desert, for I rule a sizable tribe. You must be .. one of the marks, a king?"

"I am Timbalisto, my wife, Sayna .. was the one who pinned you, and this is her sister Laterose." The mouse explained. "If our daughter is with you, who else is?"

Mizzah shrugged. "There is Lady Lilly, queen of Southsward, also the young Veil and his horde. Besides my tribe."

"Veil?" Rose breathed. "Veil .. he came back? But why?"

There was a slight noise from the bottom of the staircase, and Sayna turned to see the lost young ones standing there, none other than Veil standing with them. Esther suddenly reached out and took the ferret's paw, laying her own on his shoulder. Fripple stepped forward, "Mother, father, aunt .. none of it was Veil's fault, it was all .."

Veil had smiled faintly at Esther, before he laid a paw on Fripple's shoulder and stepped past her. The mouse stopped talking, and Veil walked silently up the steps and knelt before the three rulers of Mossflower. "I ran as a coward, but I return now .. do what you see fit."

There was a shocked moment of silence, before Rose put her arrow back in her quiver. Sayna lowered her sword, and Timbal let his axe rest on the ground. Rose spoke, quietly. "Why would you dare put your life in our paws, when you were so wrongly judged?"

Veil didn't look up. "I see now, that running has brought grief to us all, and I asked Ignasa where we should go, but never if we should. The real threat has been here all along, and I failed to see it, milords, I am sorry."

Sayna raised her chin. "No, it is us who are sorry. The marks were ordered to protect Mossflower, not unjustly execute its creatures."

Rose frowned. "Please, tell us what really happened. We had no say in any of the accusations, and we do not believe it was you. Still, we should know how this came to be."

Veil looked a little surprised, but he did not stand up. "I do not know your majesties, all I know is one day I was a squire, and the next my paws were red and I was accused of murder. It sounds like I'm lying I'm sure .. but I honestly do not know how my paws came to be that way."

"Were they red the night before?" Timbal asked.

Veil paused, thinking. "No, that was the night Xzanthia brought the monocles, and I looked through one. It was terrible .. it turned the hall dark and the carvings on the walls looked demonic .. it made me sick, like somebeast had poisoned me. I simply went to bed, and the next morning .."

Sayna frowned. "Nothing happened from the time you got up to the time you were accused?"

"No .. I simply washed my paws in my water basin, as usual." Veil shrugged.

"The water!" Rose exclaimed. "Xzanthia must have put wolfbane in it, because she did the same thing to me .. though I was supposed to drink it, not stain my paws."

Timbal looked at the other two marks, before speaking. "Martin's folly .. has not fallen upon us all. We hold no accusation against you."

He and Rose both looked to Sayna, nodding simply. The golden mouse raised an eyebrow in questioning, but Timbal nodded.

Sayna laid a paw on Veil's shoulder. "By the laws of Mossflower, three marks tip the scale. You were unjustly accused, but we have justly pardoned you. Nobeast shall seek to do you harm, and you are free to go where you like. Your name is cleared, and arise."

"Yes!" Everybeast looked at Catkin, who hugged Esther, the nearest creature. "Yes, we did it!"

Esther was grinning from ear to ear, though she wasn't paying attention to Catkin, but Veil.

The ferret slowly stood, asking, "That's all it took .. your majesties?"

Rose smiled. "Ordinarily we would have held a court, but that's pretty hard with half the other leaders deceived or absent. If we are to battle this evil, you must be pardoned, and we have the high queen on our side."

"And I put my blessing upon your decision."

All the creatures on the stairs wheeled around to face none other than Bella, who looked almost amused. "I stood for him then and I do now .. I'm glad to see you in one piece, Veil."

"I .. almost wasn't .." Veil was a little overwhelmed at this sort of welcome, and even more so as his friends joined him.

"Oh Veil I'm so happy! Everything's so wonderful!"

"You survived again, I see."

"Good going your majesty, it'd be a shame to loose you after all this time."

"Told you I'd stick with you til the end, and I still will!"

"I calculated this would happen, didn't I tell you?"

Rose broke in that moment, seizing hold of the speaker and giving them a tight hug. "Oh Aubretia, my Aubretia .. I thought I would never see you again .."

Aubretia held onto her glasses. "Mother! But I was with Veil and everybeast, I got into some scrapes, but they'd never let anything happen to me .. we're a team now."

She looked over at Veil. "Aren't we?"

Veil looked around as soon as he escaped Catkin's enthusiastic hug. "Yea. Yea .. I guess we really are."

"We'll stop this together .. won't we?" Esther slipped her paw into Veil's sixclawed one, looking hopeful.

"I guess we'll be trying." Veil smiled, despite himself.

"Well, look who's back." Groddil's yellow eyes were warm as he clapped Veil on the shoulder. "I can tell you've seen much, I see it in your eyes. And I feel you are wiser for it."

By now most creatures were awake, and some looked confused. One who seemed especially so was Lilly, for the queen of Southsward had come nearer when Groddil had begun talking. She was at the bottom of the steps now, staring up at the silver fox.

At length he noticed her, and instantly froze, asking hesitantly, "Lilly? Is that you, lass?"

The rabbit gasped, running up the stairs between them and hugging the fox. "Groddil! Groddil, it is you! How though, how .. I thought you'd have died for sure .."

She stepped back. "And what happened to your hair .. and your bad paw .. I .. can't believe it!"

Groddil sighed. "Ah .. yes lass, it's a long story. But how are you here?"

"We came with Veil, to help. He aided in saving my city, so what was I to do but return the favor? Besides, those monocles must be stomped out forever." Lilly looked determined.

Bella broke in. "This must be the young rabbit from the Shadow Fighter camp you spoke of, eh my friend? What other surprises shall we have?"

Groddil shrugged, but somebeast else answered her .. in an odd manner. "It's awful early, you mind letting a bird sleep?"

Everyone looked to the rafters, where a golden eagle was staring down at them. Timbal laughed good naturedly. "Argulor, you old windbag, how come you can hear us now and you can't when we're in the middle of a battle?"

The golden eagle cocked his head as Sayna laughed, "Aye, come on featherbag, what do you want, breakfast?"

She paused. "By the way, why aren't you in your nest?"

The bird ruffled his feathers. "Argulor? Where him be?"

Even Bella was confused. "Argulor my old friend, you must be growing old like me! You're sitting right up there, how can you ask where you are?"

She paused, pulling a pair of crystal spectacles from her skirt and sticking them on her nose. "I say Argulor, your feathers do look bright this morning .. the trip to Noonvale must have done you good. Misplaced your neckband again, I see."

The eagle was staring at her, and he suddenly swooped off the rafter, alighting on the grand staircase's banister. "Lady ..... Bella? It be you .. really you?"

"Why .." Bella took a step forward. "Why you aren't Argulor .. but you look just like him ... Skarlath? Can it be you, the little pile of golden pinfeathers I once knew?"

The bird flapped his wings. "Raaaaaeeeek! Lady Bella, they said you live!"

He paused a moment, before screeching even louder than before, so loud nobeast had even the faintest hope of sleep. Skarlath ruffled his feathers, a smile in his bright golden eyes as beasts began congregating to see what the trouble was.

"Skarlath, you old trouble maker, we marched a good twenty-four hours, and now you wake us early?"

Bella slowly turned at the sound of this voice, staring at the sturdy badger who was glaring half-mischievously at Skarlath.

Skarlath looked totally mischievous as Bella spoke softly. "Sunflash? Sunflash .. it can't be you."

Sunflash turned to her, eyes wide with amazement. "Mother .. is it really you?"

Bella hurried down the stairs as fast as she could, gasping, "Oh Sunflash .. my little Sunflash!"

The badger grabbed her paws, before she pulled them away to throw her arms about him. "I thought you were dead .. when Verdauga took you .. and Skarlath too .. Argulor and I gave up all hope of seeing our children again."

Skarlath interrupted. "Raaeek! My father's nest where?"

Timbal pointed up, a little dumbly. "Um, at the top of this tree."

"Then I see him." Skarlath stated, spreading his wings and making for an open window on the second floor.

Lilly ran her paw through her curly brown hair. "Well, I think we've had or fill of surprises for today .. Kensly, where are you?"

There was no response, and Lilly called, "Kensly?"

Even as she spoke the words, there was a shocked cry, one of amazement. Everybeast turn to see Thalia staring at Lilly, and the two rabbit's eyes met for a moment, before Lilly stammered, "Thalia ... but they killed you! We found .."

The rabbit shook her head. "No, I ran away .. I thought they killed you!"

"No .. Boldred took me to Southsward .."

Thalia flung herself at Lilly, hugging her tightly. Lilly shook her head, before returning the emotion. "Oh my sister .. my dear twin .. tell me, how many other beasts will come back from the dead?"

Thalia drew back, with a sigh. "None, I'm afraid .. the others were not so lucky."

Lilly was silent a moment, before she smiled. "But you are! Where have you been?"

"I .. went to Salamandastron." Thalia explained. "And actually .."

She took hold of Starbuck's paw, for the hare had walked up behind them. "Actually I married Starbuck here ... what about you?"

"I .. " Lilly looked overwhelmed. "Well, I'm the queen of Southsward .."

As if to prove her words, Kensly tapped her on the shoulder. "Yes milady, you called?"

Rose interrupted. "Sayna, Timbal ... will we leave royal visitors hungry?"

Timbal blinked. "Oh .. oh yes, of course. Indeed, something like this doesn't happen every day, we must .. any volunteers?"

Veil looked around at his friends, who nodded, Catkin speaking. "Oh we'll help, Timbal sir! We'd just love to!"

Timbal paused, before he snagged Fripple by the shoulder. "Well, no proper reunion for you?"

Fripple smiled a little, before hugging him. "Sorry dad. I .. really did miss you."

She hugged Sayna. "You too mom."

Sayna ruffled her daughter's headfur. "Me too .. and what's this?"

Fripple rubbed the slowly fading but very obvious scar across her face. "Oh .. I mean .. well .. I got in a fight."

"Why are we not surprised?" Timbal laid a paw on her shoulder. "You going to help us with breakfast?"

"Yea .." Fripple paused, before motioning to somebeast. "But you should probably meet my friend Cedric first."

The mouse looked a little bit hesitant, but he bowed quickly. "So you're really Princess's parents? Yea .. ok, well as she told you, I'm Cedric, and .. um .."

"Princess?" Sayna asked.

"Oh .. yea, he's called me that for .. um. Forever?" Fripple shrugged.

Roseanna spoke up from where she was standing. "Yea, he's her boyfriend!"

Fripple winced, shooting her cousin a positive death glare. "Could you have said that any louder?"

Timbal raised an eyebrow. "Really Fripple?"

"Em .. no dad, he's my friend. I mean .." She shot Cedric a glance. "He's a good friend. But he's still my friend .. not .. yea."

><><

Xzanthia ran into Martin on the way back from breakfast, and was surprised to see he seemed .. more his own master. He was still deathly pale and dull eyed, but he stood straighter than before.

The wearet let her gaze rest on the place Martin's monocle should have been .. but horror of all horrors, it was gone!

Xzanthia felt her heart beat a little faster .. that was her tool .. she couldn't control Martin without it. Of course .. she had to keep her head. Even if he had somehow ridded himself of the monocle's presence, he could never rid himself of its power .. it would always play with his mind.

But without it, he would grow slowly stronger .. Xzanthia felt a flash of fear, for Nightshade had told her plenty of the one whose name was not to be spoken, and his power was strong. Could he free Martin?

It doesn't matter, he may be the king, but a king needs followers .. and I control his.

"Xzanthia, are you feeling alright? Or is the injury hurting you?"

The wearet shut her slightly open mouth, wincing for effect. "Ahh .. uhh .. Yes sire, it is."

She thought for a minute, before sighing, "And also, I just feel so bad for everybeast .. everything is so terrible."

She looked at his belt, as if just noticing the vacancy in it. "Oh .. and you've misplaced your monocle too .. what else can go wrong?"

Martin scowled. "I threw it in the pond, I don't want it anymore. In fact, I'm not sure I like how everybeast seems to rely on them, and how I did too. Something's fishy about the whole thing .. if your wound hurts you, go see Columbine."

He walked on down the hall, and Xzanthia scowled behind his back. That was completely not what she needed to happen .. still, all she had to do was return it to him, he wouldn't be able to resist it a second time.

But she didn't dare go swimming!

Xzanthia paused. No, she couldn't ... but she knew who could.

><><

"The way I see it is this; we need spies. Xzanthia is one, and I wouldn't be surprised if she has more." Timbal set his paw down on the table as he explained the situation to Mizzah, Lilly, Veil, and his friends.

Sayna nodded. "And the trouble is, we don't dare send any vermin, or anybeast Martin might recognize."

Mizzah spoke. "Perhaps we could go in .. me, Annon, Jeshu .. maybe Lady Lilly .."

The rabbit jumped on this. "Yes, we could be travelers from Southsward .. I could be myself, and so could you Mizzah, and the others we bring could be our servants or family."

Mizzah was excited. "That's it, and we'll go in mounted. We've been on a long journey as it is, and by my opinion we look pretty dusty."

"But who will you be taking in?" Rose asked.

"I could take .. Kensly, what about Zarya and Sunflash, they could be my royal advisors. Badgers always help to .. well, make us look convincing. How about Cedric too, he looks the part." Lilly pointed at the mouse, who looked up from his breakfast.

Mizzah nodded. "And I would bring Annon and Jeshu .. that would be enough, don't you think?"

Timbal frowned. "Yes, the only problem is that .. well you don't know your way around. While that'll help, in a way, I think you need somebeast .. or even two, that have been in Redwall before."

"Who?" Rose sounded surprised. "Martin would guess .. he's seen us all."

"What about Lenn?" Fripple asked, pointing to the mouse maid. "She's been in Redwall before, right?"

Lenn looked up, stammering, "Um .. yea .. well .. yes I have but .. I can try. Though I'd like it if you sent somebeast else to help me."

"Whoever it is, it better not be a vermin." Ivan was droll. "Counts me out. Course, none of us can go back."

"Wait! Or can we .... I mean think about it." Esther broke in.

Veil looked interested. "What are you thinking of?"

Esther paused. "Well, they're sneaking in anyway .. and I've got it! We send Fripple."

Almost everybeast spoke at once. "Fripple?"

"Me? How? Martin will recognize me, I'm his niece!" Fripple raised an eyebrow.

"But you have golden fur .. like Mizzah, and if we dressed you like .. say his daughter, you'd have a headscarf. See my point?"

Fripple opened her mouth as if to argue, but Mizzah interrupted. "Yes I do .. in fact it seems a good one."

"What? You really think we can pull that off?" Fripple was astounded.

Mizzah shrugged. "As long as you hide your tail under your robe. You're scarred as it is, and if you keep your scarf over your face, you should be fine. And you know your way around well."

Fripple looked at her father, who actually nodded, though thoughtfully. "It's not a bad idea. And also, what is to be done about Martin's sword?"

"Hey, aren't we forgetting something .. the Morning Song?" Fripple asked. "Why don't we just sing that and .. forget this whole thing."

"It doesn't work quite like that .." Lilly explained. "Didn't you see the crowd?"

"No." Fripple shrugged. "I'd been fighting Cedric and as soon as the Bloodwrath lifted I blacked out."

"Same here." Cedric confirmed.

Sayna raised an eyebrow. "What happened?"

"Well .." Fripple and Cedric looked at each other.

The mouse spoke first. "It was really my fault."

"No, you were hexed, it was my fault for not .. telling you more of Ignasa." Fripple argued.

Cedric sighed. "Actually, it was my fault .. most of it."

"No it wasn't!" Fripple countered.

"Yea it was, Princess .."

"Stop it ok, it was both our faults." Fripple snapped, before coughing. "Anyway .. the Morning Song ..?"

Lilly nodded. "Yes, you see, it only frees those who accept it .. and want its freedom. The monocles lost their power only for the beasts who sang with you, that was why there was a fight. You weren't part of that, cause you were wounded and unconscious .. and that's why we've got to go in and see where beasts stand. While we do that, Veil and everybeast out here will find out the strength of her forces .. and I guess, Martin's sword."

"I see your point .. know your enemy." Fripple crossed her arms. "We've got to know more."

"Exactly." Mizzah stood. "Alright everyone, get ready. The sooner we get in there, the better."

><><

Martin's day was far from good. He was slowly becoming aware of how serious the situation was .. and how deeply Redwall was in it. He couldn't make himself believe it, in all truth.

Somebeasts actually blamed Rose for Beau's death, and Martin knew it was completely ridiculous .. Rose would be horrified.

But she had not come back, and Martin could hardly get anyone to agree to helping him make search parties. Whegg, Regina, Rupert, Estella, and Trimp had been some of the only ones to believe him .. every other beast seemed caught in a cloud of indifference. Gonff agreed to help, but Columbine was off in her own world.

Now, to top it all off, Mayberry had caught up to him and handed him that hated monocle .. something that felt oddly right in his paw .. a terrible, upside-down feeling of desire, fear, and hatred mixed in one.

The otter smiled, though Martin noticed she looked a little drawn and sickly. "I was fishing in the pond, and I found this .. I thought you would want it."

Martin felt an all too familiar jolt of pain race through his head, and he rubbed it. "Ahh ... yes .. thank you Mayberry .."

He felt anything but thankful, but he didn't want to upset the otter. He sighed, asking, "Why did you .. bring it back?"

As soon as these words left his mouth, he realized how odd they sounded. It was his monocle, of course she'd given it back to him.

Why had he taken this thing in the first place?

Mayberry frowned. "Well .. it's yours, so I brought it back. And they're so nice, why would you ever want to be without one? I wouldn't give mine up for anything."

She looked so sincere, so totally sure of herself in this judgment, Martin felt his skin crawl. He looked down at the disk in his paw, and the desire to look through it was completely overwhelming .. but he was too afraid.

Martin sighed, shaking his head. "Mayberry, I don't feel well, I'm going to rest."

He left the otter quickly, not pausing until he reached the gatehouse. He stopped halfway up the steps .. he just had to get rid of this thing .. he had to. Apparently the pond was not a safe place, so where could he put it?

Somewhere nobeast would ever find it. Should he bury it? Oh, but that was no good! He'd know where he'd put it, and wouldn't be able to resist digging it up .. it had to be somewhere he couldn't go.

Or else .. somebeast else had to hide it for him. Somebeast he could convince to do it, and never tell him ... Oh, it was hopeless!

However the next second he paused, catching sight of Togget's dibbun brother Gurmal running across the abbey lawns. Or was it ..?

The mole dibbun stopped at the gatehouse stairs as a matter of politeness, but Martin didn't let him leave. "Gurmal, would you do something for me?"

The dibbun blinked up at him, and Martin was reminded of the games he'd played with his own children. "I'd like to play a game."

He held out the monocle, stating, "Now Gurmal, I want you to hide this from me. Hide it very well, so I have a really hard time finding it."

"Whoi'm Oi be doin' that zurr?" Gurmal rubbed his snout.

"Well, the harder it is for me to find it, the more fun the game is, right?" Martin asked.

Gurmal understood that, for he smiled, taking the monocle and stating, "Oi do get what you'm be meanin zurr, Oi'll hoide it so well, Oi'll forget where'm Oi put it. Cause Oi do always be forgeten where Oi put things."

><><

"Whirlwind, stop that!" Fripple tugged gently on the reins as her stallion tossed his head continually.

"He knows we should have saddled him before the dawn if this wasn't supposed to be a day off." Cedric laughed, holding his horse's reins tightly. "And by the way Princess, you look good."

Fripple rolled her eyes. "Cedric, don't call me Princess in there, it might look suspicious!"

"It's better than him calling you Fripple." Mizzah observed as he pulled his magnificent bay to a halt beside them.

Fripple sighed. "Well .. yes, I do see your point. What will you call me, Mizzah .. that is .. father?"

Mizzah thought a moment, and Annon rode his gray mare up to than. "Make it easy father, call her Zillah like mother."

Mizzah nodded. "Yes, that's an idea. We'll call you Zillah .. and remember to keep your scarf over your face."

The clopping of hooves announced Lenn and Kensly's arrival, each mounted on their own horse. Lenn pulled hers to a stop beside Fripple, who noticed how nervous she looked. "It'll come out alright .. that is .. I hope it will."

Fripple tried to reassure her.

"It's not that." Lenn laid her paw on her satchel, and Fripple thought she caught sight of faint glow in it. The brown mouse looked down, sighing. "I just .. well. You have helped me."

Fripple didn't have a chance to ask what Lenn meant, because Lilly, Sunflash, Zarya had joined them. The rabbit queen nodded to them. "We must be off, the day is near half done."

><><

Loud knocking on his door roused Martin, and he started from his seat beside the empty fireplace.

"Martin .. sire, come quick! We have visitors!"

The golden mouse started quickly for the door; that was Whegg. Was something wrong? Had Rose returned? Martin didn't dare hope for that.

He opened the door, to see Whegg looking excited. "The strangest looking beasts are coming down the path milord, you must come see!"

Martin followed the rat, running quickly up the wallsteps, to where Regina and Rupert were already standing. The golden mouse took his place beside them, staring out across the flatlands.

Sure enough, there was a strange group of mounted creatures, and they were making their way to the abbey. Martin nodded to Whegg. "Come, we will meet them in the gates and see if they are friend or foe."

The rat nodded, bolting down in front of Martin and heading for the gate. He pushed them open with a creaking sound, for the bar was not across them during the day.

The first riders were already there, two young mouse like creatures with spears and good looking horses. The duller colored one dipped his head to Martin, speaking in a strange and rather musical accent, "I speak on behalf of her majesty, queen Lilly of Southsward. Is this the great abbey of Redwall?"

Martin blinked, finally nodding. "Yes .. it is. You are from Southsward, young sir?"

The dull brown mouse nodded. "Yes, I am sir Kensly, this is one of my guard, Cedric. We seek the high king."

"He is the high king." Whegg informed the mouse.

Most of the other travelers had joined their companions now, and they impressed Martin as some of the strangest beasts he'd ever seen.

They were woodlanders, for the most part, but they wore white, and the ones that didn't wore intricate robes. Their horses looked fast and dainty, though none seemed intelligent. Their ranks parted to allow a well dressed rabbit to ride through, and she pulled her horse to a stop.

"You are king Martin, and this is Redwall?"

He nodded. "Yes I am, and yes it is .. your majesty."

She smiled graciously. "Call me Lilly, sire. We have traveled afar to meet you, as a neighboring kingdom, for the glory of your conquests has reached Southsward."

Martin shook himself. "Indeed .. I am sorry to keep you out. Whegg, Rupert, open the gates for them."

As the two turned to do so, he added, "Do come in, you must speak with me."

><><

"So tell me your names, friends, and tell me what you wish."

Martin had brought his guests into Great Hall, and most of them were busy looked about themselves. Lilly answered him. "As you know, I am queen Lilly, and this is my captain of the guard, Kensly. As well as one of his guards, Cedric."

She motioned to the two badgers who were with her, stating, "These are two of my advisers, Zarya and Sunflash. I'll let my friend Mizzah introduce his own beasts."

The golden creature she had indicated bowed, stating, "I am Mizzah, a chieftain of the desert. This is my son Annon, my daughter Zillah, and my adopted daughter Lenn. Also my healer, Jeshu .."

Fripple was bored with introductions, she knew who everyone was. She noticed Lenn staring in dumbfounded amazement, and she whispered, "What's the matter?"

Lenn paused a moment, before whispering back. "Where's the tapestry?"

Fripple was confused, and she muttered back, "What tapestry?"

Lenn looked around, answering softly, "The tapestry, you know, of Martin the Warrior .. did Xzanthia steal it?"

"There's never been a tapestry in here, Lenn .." Fripple whispered. "What are you talking about?"

Lenn paused, her eyes widening a little. "Ohh ... wait .. I mean .."

At that moment, the doors creaked open slightly, and none other than Xzanthia stepped through them. Fripple froze, placing a paw on Lenn's shoulder and slipping behind Cedric and Kensly. Cedric raised an eyebrow, whispering, "What's the deal, Princess?"

Fripple clamped a paw on his shoulder, nodding in Xzanthia's direction. "That's her. I can't let her recognize me, keep us behind you."

The wearet was staring at the group now, in complete and poorly hidden astonishment. Martin hailed her, motioning she join them, and while she obeyed, her pawsteps were reluctant.

"Xzanthia, you say you came from Southsward, so tell me, have you seen these beasts?"

The wearet was so fixated on Lilly, Sunflash, Zarya and Kensly, she didn't answer for a moment. At length she stammered, "Yes .. I have .. seen them."

Martin prompted her. "Yes, and? This is queen Lilly of Southsward, isn't it?"

Xzanthia paused, before stating, stiffly, "She is."

An awkward moment of silence passed, and Lilly looked expectantly at Xzanthia. Martin prompted the wearet again. "If this is your queen, shouldn't you bow?"

Fripple could just about feel the tension in the air as Xzanthia looked from side to side, and seeing no way out, curtsied tensely, her ears pinning flat to her head. "Your majesty."

One corner of Lilly's mouth twitched, almost as if in amusement. Martin was satisfied, though he looked a little oddly at Xzanthia due to her reluctance. "Well, in that case, go tell Trimp to prepare a good afternoon tea for our guests, go on."

Xzanthia's jaw was clenched, and she was desperately trying to keep from scowling. Martin turned back to his visitors, and Xzanthia shot Lilly a positive death glare before hurrying of, hatred obvious in her abrupt movements.

Martin was speaking again. "And I'm terribly sorry we can't make a feast for you at this moment, but Redwall is going through hard times. I wish you would not have to see us like this."

Lilly looked compassionate. "Maybe we can help with that, milord."

Martin looked over at Zarya and Sunflash, adding, "After all, I've always heeded a badger's judgment, and all of you seem the right sort of beasts. Perhaps .. Lord Ignasa sent you to us."

Cedric, Kensly, Lenn, and Fripple all exchanged glances as Mizzah smiled softly. "The ways of the Lord of the Morning are mysterious. Mayhap there is something to your words sire .. we will do all we can."



Chapter 35 Treachery's Mark

TViT &#039;My Revenge&#039;

Xzanthia vs. Esmund .. :/

"What is going on? What do you mean by coming here?" Xzanthia had hurried off to meet Tyre as soon as she'd gotten away from the beasts in the Great Hall .. neglecting to tell Trimp about afternoon tea.

As fate had willed it, Tyre was not alone, but had two weasels with him.

The smaller of the two crossed his arms. "I regret to tell you this, but Swartt is dead, and our stronghold in Southsward has fallen."

"No!" Xzanthia could not believe what she was hearing. "You lie! You must lie!"

"What would it avail me. Come my dear, I was one of your father's assassins, why would I lie?"

"But Shroud and Nightshade .." Xzanthia protested.

"Both of them dead." Was the flat answer.

Xzanthia stared down at her paws almost insanely for a moment, before snarling, "How? What could break our hold on Southsward?"

The small weasel shook his head. "Rumor is Nightshade blasted Shroud on accident, and then that badger, Sunflash killed her. As for your father, Lady Bluefen killed him."

Xzanthia suddenly laughed harshly. "Then I know you lie. That spineless coward could not kill an infant woodlander, let alone the mighty Swartt Sixclaw."

"I admit your brother, Veil .. had a lot to do with it."

At this, Xzanthia paid deeper attention. "What, you mean to tell me he has dared return?"

Her informer nodded. "Indeed, and he brought the other little Sixclaw prince, Esmund."

Xzanthia's eyes darkened. "That little brat? He didn't die already? Well, I'll have to deal with that."

"Milady .." The weasel crossed his arms. "With all respect, we came to join you in defeating these woodlanders. The queen of Southsward is here, within their very walls, and if we can slay them, we stand at the door of a great empire."

Xzanthia paused. "And how do you figure that?"

The weasel smiled darkly. "The monocles can never truly be destroyed. Beasts will hide them, protect them, and use them in secret. Most may be gone, but the deception will never die out. Without their leader, we could possibly take Southsward back."

He bowed. "And we have come to aid you in this."

Xzanthia crossed her arms as well. "Hmm .. I do see your point. You were an assassin? I don't see that you carry any weapons. Of course, with your friend there, I don't suppose you would need them."

The weasel's pale eyes twinkled subtly. "Aye, Wurgg's the brawn .. but I'm the brains my dear."

His paw fell to a small sheathed knife in his belt, perhaps four inches long. "But one does not need many weapons to be deadly .. my kisser here does more then enough."

"What is your name?" Xzanthia asked, feeling a little less sure of herself.

The weasel's pale eyes seemed to dance with a strange, amber light, like an eternal flame. "Beasts call me the Wraith. As for any other name, there is no need."

He didn't wait for her to speak, before adding, "You wonder why they call me such? I'll explain, dearest .. now you see me, now you don't!"

Wraith moved so quickly, even Xzanthia did not see where he had gone .. but his place next to Wurgg was empty, only a few stirring leaves betraying the fact he had ever been there.

Xzanthia kept her cool, though she resolved to watch this one .. as best as she could. "Alright, I see you could aid me greatly. And I see your point, but there is time enough after I have some satisfaction from the first part of my revenge. Come out where I can see you!"

Wraith stepped out from behind a tree, strange eyes smiling all the while .. though he didn't bother to.

Xzanthia nodded. "Good, I like to be able to see who I speak to. Listen, I want that half-blood brother of mine. Get him for me, and I'll make you my general, second only to me, is it a deal?"

Wraith paused a moment, before nodding. "Aye. And my brother Wurgg is second to me, a captain."

"Fine, I need somebeast to help me, besides the idiots I'm stuck with .." She cast a glance up at Tyre, who was hanging upside down from a tree branch with a less than impressed expression.

The bat raised an eyebrow, snorting, "Milady. You would waste your time trying to kill a beast not seven seasons old? Listen to me, the time is right. We have a greater force still, let us attack tonight, kill them all, and then take over Redwall. They are not expecting an attack so soon after the first."

"You do not give me orders!" Xzanthia snarled. "You simply advise me, know your place."

Tyre rolled his eyes. "And what do you think I am doing? Now get these foolish notions of killing the child out of your head, and do what needs to be done first!"

"I will do what I want, fool! You are below me, you will always be below me, and I am tired of your ridiculous advice! Go do something useful, like gathering the Flitchaye .. get out of here."

Xzanthia turned to Wraith and Wurgg. "Yes. You shall have whatever you want, just bring me Esmund, alive and unharmed. I'll be doing all the harming .. is that understood?"

><><

"And you hold on like this .." Gustav explained, clamping his legs tightly around Crowwings, who neighed in surprise and bolted forward. Gustav plopped to the ground as the filly trotted around them, tossing her head in annoyance.

"So, do you want to try?" Gustav asked Esmund, not bothering to get up right away.

Esmund gave Crowwings a wary look. "Only if she doesn't jump .. I don't want to fall off."

Crowwings tossed her scruffy mane. "I won't if you don't dig your heels in. 'Stav always digs his in."

Gustav stood up, brushing some leaves from his fur and shaking himself. "Well, it seems more ..."

"Painful?" Crowwings asked sarcastically.

Gustav held out a paw for Esmund, stating, "Ehh .. whatever. I'll help you on."

The wearet hesitated, before grabbing a clump of Crowwings' mane and vaulting onto her back, clumsily. He sat upright, looking a little nervous. "Now .. not too fast .."

Crowwings was used to Gustav, and she bolted forward. Esmund hung on for dear life as the filly galloped through some trees, and did a sliding stop in a leaf-pile, sending showers of leaves everywhere.

Esmund toppled off with a little squeak, and Coll poked Gustav, shaking his head. However Esmund popped out of the leaves the next second. "Oh! Again, let's do it again!"

Crowwings had flopped on her side and rolled on her back. "I want a ride sometime! I wish you were bigger, you could give me one then."

Gustav jumped on her, laughing, "Nu-uh, you'd squash us!"

"If you were bigger." Crowwings corrected.

"But we aren't, and you are, so you have to give us rides!"

Coll waded through the leaves to where the two were grappling, poking Gustav. The mouse didn't pay attention. Coll stamped a paw, before throwing his slate pencil.

It hit Gustav on the head, and bounced off. The mouse was indignant. "Hey, what's that for?"

Coll bent over searching the leaf pile for his pencil. He pulled it out, scribbling something on his slate.

Crowwings was still on her back, and being upside-down, asked, "What's it say ..? A shadow feast with a funny bur?"

Gustav sighed. "What do you mean, a shadow beast with funny fur?"

Coll stamped a paw, pointing deeper into Mossflower and making a terrible face. He growled, raising his paws.

"Sooo .. there's a big scary monster in there?" Crowwings guessed.

Coll nodded, waving his arms before clamping a paw to his mouth and flopping in the leaves, dragging himself along.

Gustav paused. "Well there's no need for such dramatics, the monster's out there, not here. And if it does come here, I'll get it with my axes."

"Yea, fraidy-mouse!" Crowwings whinnied laughing.

Coll glowered at the two, stamping a paw and looking completely frustrated and sulky. Gustav sighed. "Whatever Coll. Come on Esmund, let's make leaf-forts!"

There wasn't answer. Crowwings and Gustav looked over at where Esmund had been standing, to see he was gone.

"Oh." Crowwings sounded surprised.

"Coll, did he go inside?" Gustav looked at his little brother.

Coll glared at Gustav, pointing out into Mossflower.

"The monster?"

Coll nodded firmly.

Gustav grumbled. "Well how am I to know, if you'd just talk, this would be a whole lot simpler."

Coll stuck his nose in the air.

Crowwings staggered to her hooves, shaking leaves off everywhere. "Well come on you guys, if a monster caught him, we have to save him!"

Gustav's eyes lit up. "Oh .. yea! Let's do that!"

He vaulted onto Crowwings' back as Coll stamped a paw, pointing back at Brockhall. Gustav rolled his eyes. "Esmund could be in danger and you want to waste time going back?"

He held out his paw. "Coll, are you coming or not?"

Coll sulked a moment, before grabbing Gustav's paw and climbing onto Crowwings' back. The filly did a half rear, and bolted off into the woods in the direction Coll had been pointing.

><><

"On guard!"

"Blade up Luke, you'd be dead if this was a real fight."

"Good thing it's not; my shoulder wouldn't take it."

Veil lowered his rapier. "I forgot about that, do you want to keep at this?"

"If my sister can shoot on a bad leg, I would hope I could still fence." The mouse cast a sideways glance at where Roseanna and Esther were standing some forty yards from their target.

Scraw walked up. "With all due respect your majesty, can some of the horde train?"

Veil looked at Luke, who looked stiff, as if he was trying to keep from laughing. The ferret didn't bother remarking on his supposed title.

"Yes, I need to pay more attention to them, don't I?"

He said this half to himself, but Scraw nodded, looking around. "If you wish to keep your title and your life milord, yes."

"My life?" Veil frowned. "But Scraw, I do not keep them here, they only stay if they want to. I don't trust .. all of them, forgive me, in some cases not even you and Wildag. But surely it's easier for them to leave and seek fortune elsewhere than murder."

Scraw shrugged. "You don't have a real reason to trust me, but I'm finding reason to trust you. I always thought if you were born low-down, you'd die low-down, but I hated it .. I'd always push my fellow horde members around. Swartt would have never even spoken to me, but you're different kid .. I mean your majesty .."

He paused, as if awaiting some punishment for his slip-up, and finally continued. "I don't know how or why you are, but you are, and I don't want to see them get you."

"Who?" Veil asked, curious now.

Scraw looked around, giving Luke a glance. "It's a dangerous game, sire. I got carried away and told them off for picking on Wildag .. he's spineless and easy prey for the likes of them. It's Wraith and his brother Wurgg. There may be more, but I don't know right now. I'm trying to keep you around kid .. I mean .."

Veil waved a paw at him. "Never mind Scraw, if you must give me a title .. I guess call me sir. As for Wraith and Wurgg .. where are they now?"

"I don't know." Scraw shook his head. "They aren't seen if they don't want to be, especially Wraith."

Veil looked serious as he nodded. "Alright Scraw, thanks for telling me. I'll do my best to look out for them."

"Don't trust them .. no matter what they say, don't trust them. That goes for the rest of the horde too .. even me. I don't know my own loyalties sire, I've never been good with it." Scraw looked away. "Just .. be careful kid."

He forgot to add 'your majesty', and Veil didn't bother reminding him.

Filip walked over, asking, "Can one of you two train me a little? Bella says I should practice."

Veil looked at Luke, who shrugged, rubbing his arm. "You'd better do it, you're in better shape than me right now."

Veil nodded. "Alright, Filip, keep your feet slightly apart for balance. Hold your sword hilt loosely, but keep it ready .. and always watch me."

The ferret raised his rapier, but he never got a chance to actually start the lesson. There was a rustle of wings, ones that sounded diverse from Skarlath's, and everybeast in hearing range looked up.

The black eyes of a light gray bat watched them, and Luke started when he saw the creature. "You! I remember you, you were with Xzanthia!"

The bat's ears flattened. "But no longer, that idiot. She's too high and mighty for my council, and with Swartt dead, I won't be giving it to her. Besides, she's making a complete fool of herself, and pretty soon she's going to get her whole horde killed. Veil, I need to tell you something."

The ferret raised an eyebrow. "You .. know me?"

"I've seen you, yes. I saw you run away. But you look so much like your father I'd have known anyway. Still. If you want your brother Esmund to stay in one piece, don't let him out of your sight. Xzanthia's sworn to kill him before she tries to kill the rest of you."

"But why?" Catkin suddenly blurted, having come over when the bat had arrived.

The otter looked around. "He's so little, what could he have done to her?"

"He was born." The bat's voice was droll. "And if you want to keep him alive, I suggest you find him .. quickly. She sent Wraith to get him; it may already be too late."

Veil looked around, asking, "Esther, where is he?"

The ermine looked afraid. "He wanted to play with Gustav and Coll .. I didn't think anything about it .. I'm .. so sorry."

Ivan nodded. "I advised it Veil, I just told them to stay near Brockhall."

"He .. he needed somebeast to play with .." Esther looked down.

Veil rubbed his head. "Never mind, never mind .. come on, let's try and find him. Ivan, where were they?"

Vinwyte broke in at this moment. "They were playing in that old garden .."

Veil didn't sheath his sword as he ran toward Brockhall, the others behind him. He knew how sadistic his father could be, and he guessed Xzanthia was much the same.

They arrived in the old garden minutes later, to find it empty. Veil skidded to a halt on the old, cracking paving stones, looking around the overgrown trellises and wild rose bushes, hoping for any sign of his brother, but there was none.

"But look .. they were here."

He felt Esther's paw on his arm and looked where she was pointing .. sure enough, there were filly sized hoof prints in a patch of soft dirt, surrounded by bare paw prints. Veil sighed, walking past where the prints were and calling, "Esmund? Gustav? Crowwings?"

He paused as there was a crunch beneath his foot, and he picked up a now broken slate pencil. The ferret shook his head, asking, "Esther, where did they go?"

The ermine shook her head, studying the leaves and brushing some away. "I can track them, but it's going to take too long .. there's so many leaves."

She knelt down as the bat interrupted. "Don't waste your time, she'll have them at the old five topped oak by the waterfall."

Esther stood strait. "But that's a good ride from here!"

"You better get started." The bat sounded as droll as Ivan.

Skadu shoved in at this point. "Hey, how do we know ya ain't playin' both sides?"

The bat scowled. "Why would I risk my neck to do that? Once I pick a side, I stay on it."

"We still can't trust you." Zenith observed from her place beside Skadu.

The bat sighed. "Fine. Have somebeast guard me, I don't care. But don't blame me if you get the kid back in ten pieces."

Quinn laid a paw on Zenith's shoulder, and she nodded. The dog fox crossed his arms. "We'll watch him. The rest of you, get the horses, and hurry!"

><><

Esmund woke slowly, to find out he couldn't move. He was moving .. very fast, but in and of himself he couldn't. The little wearet opened his eyes to see the ground zipping past a good four feet from his face, and he could hear the thunder of horse’s hooves.

Surprisingly, the situation didn’t last long, for there was a jingle and a skidding feeling as the animal was yanked abruptly to a halt.

There was jarring as the beast behind him dismounted, before pulling him off the horse. Esmund could tell he was tied up, and he didn’t resist as the creature dragged him into the camp .. for that was what it was.

“Milady, I brought him.”

The beast holding him spoke. Esmund looked up as the one he spoke to stood, a grin on her face. “Perfect. You know me, don’t you?”

This was addressed to Esmund, who gulped.

“Oh come on, you know me.”

Her voice sounded so much like his father’s, haughty, imperious, and dark. Esmund couldn’t speak; just stare at Xzanthia in dumb fear.

She scowled. “Too scared to talk, huh? Well you should be. Wraith, tie him up. I’m still deciding what to do with him. When Tyre comes back, I’ll have him advise me on the best way to kill this little .. imposter.”

Xzanthia sneered. “You don’t deserve to be called a Sixclaw, little half-blood. I’ll see to it you won’t be able to claim the name .. you’ll be dead.”

Wraith dragged Esmund away from his sister, pushing him up against a nearby tree-trunk and binding him to it. The weasel didn’t say a word, though his odd eyes almost twinkled. He pulled on the ropes to ensure they were tight, before walking away.

Esmund shivered, stretching his legs in order to stand on tip-toe. The wearet looked around with fear, not knowing what to do next, or even where he was.

However, he didn’t have a lot of time to think about it, for soon after there was a terrible commotion. Several of the small, oddly dressed rats came into the clearing, dragging a pewter gray filly along. Crowwings’ forelegs were hobbled and the rope went up and around her neck to strangle her every time she bucked.

Some rats came behind, pulling Gustav, whose paws were tied behind his back. Another had ahold of Coll.

There was an argument with Xzanthia who had come over the instant the rats had come into sight. Esmund couldn’t hear a word of what went on, but it seemed heated.

Presently, the rats dragged their captives over to where Esmund was, even tying Gustav and Coll to the same tree with him. Crowwings tried to bite the beast tying her down, and another knocked her in the jaw with his spear-pole.

The filly staggered, falling to her knees with a strangled gasp because of the rope around her neck, and she rolled onto her side to relieve the pressure.

The rat she’d tried to bite kicked her spitefully, but his companion cuffed his ears and shoved him away, before walking back to the others.

Crowwings carefully rolled over so she could see the other captives, and Esmund cringed to see blood running from her cheek. He knew this all had something to do with him, but he didn’t know what to do. Gustav turned his head carefully, whispering, “Esmund, who’s the creep with the purple dress, huh? She’s like, a couple seasons older than me and they all follow her!”

Esmund looked down, whispering, “She’s my sister.”

Gustav looked over at Xzanthia, before whispering, “No way, your sister? That .. bratty little kid? That’s the creature who’s trying to take over Redwall?”

Esmund nodded miserably.

“Well, what’s she going to do with us?”

Esmund sighed softly. “She hates me. I don’t know what she’s going to do, but it’s going to be awful.”

><><

"Stay behind us, and don't get lost! Esther knows where the waterfall is, cause she's been there."

Veil's horse side stepped nervously as he shifted in his seat to look at the ermine, sitting behind him. "Which way?"

She pointed away from both Brockhall and Redwall, deeper into Mossflower. "That way! It took me a long time to get there, maybe an hour, but I was on foot."

Veil nodded. "You heard her, let's go!"

He clapped his heels on his horse's sides, and the creature leapt foreword. There was a spontaneous jingling of bits and tack, before a thunder of loping hooves grew behind him.

Esther wrapped her arms around his waist to keep from falling of. "Veil, we can't run the whole way there, there's too many trees!"

Veil shook his head. "I've got to try Esther, I promised mother .. that I'd keep Esmund safe. And I'm going to!"

Esther gulped, hanging on tighter as branches whipped around them. Veil leaned over his mount's neck, not urging the horse to any more speed, for they were at their limit due to the trees.

Veil cast one glance behind him, as the horse ran around a spur of rock. The next second, Esther's paw gripped his shoulder with vise-like strength. "Veil!"

The ferret saw why she was terrified, a log had fallen in their path, likely some three feet high! There was no time to think, no time to realize how stupid he was for thinking he could do it.

Veil spurred the horse, which stretched forward and took the jump. Time seemed to freeze as the horse's fore hooves scraped the top of the log with a distinctive clacking, and it came down on the other side with a jolt.

Esther was thrown about some, but she managed to regain her hold on Veil and save herself from falling off. Her voice was a gasp. "W .. We made it ..!"

Veil felt her shift around some, and she sounded worried. "Veil, some of the others didn't make it over!"

"Is anybeast hurt?" Veil didn't dare look over his shoulder again.

"I .. I can't tell!" Esther replied. "We've still got Luke, Ivan, Skadu, Filip, Bryony, and Kinta .. but I don't know about any more."

Ivan brought his horse near Veil's. "Mate, we can't go back, they'll either have to join us or we'll have to meet up with them later."

Skadu piped up from her seat behind the cat, yelling, "What got inta that head a yers, jumpin' a log like that!?"

Luke spurred his mount on, calling, "There was no time, it'd have been ten times worse if he had stopped, cause we wouldn't have been able to!"

The mouse had overtaken Veil by now, and he passed the ferret up. "There's no going back, so we might as well deal with it. Which way Esther?"

"Left!" The ermine called. "The wood is .. awful dense up ahead, we're going to have to trot .. or even walk."

><><

Esmund felt like he'd been tied to the tree forever, his wrists were going numb. Talk between the captives had been forgotten, after all, there wasn't much to talk about. The Painted Ones knew how to keep beasts from escaping when they tied them up.

There was some sort of argument among the vermin, but Esmund had long since given up trying to hear it. Suddenly there was a noise right in front of him, and Esmund looked up, almost yelping when he saw the creature Xzanthia called Wraith standing in front of him.

The weasel was holding a knife, and Esmund froze in terror. However he brought the blade against the ropes that held the wearet, and Esmund fell to the ground, paws still behind his back.

Wraith hoisted him onto his feet, cutting the rope binding his paws, and never once spoke.

Esmund struggled weakly as Wraith started to drag him toward where Xzanthia was. "No! No, I don't want to! Leave me alone!"

Gustav piped up from where he was still tied. "Yea, let him go!"

Wraith paused, before shrugging. "Oh, he'll be going, don't worry kid."

Esmund felt tears come, and he couldn't stop them. He was going to die now, just like his mother .. did it have to hurt? He struggled against Wraith, but it was no use.

This must be the way it would end.

Xzanthia looked smug, standing in the middle of the clearing. Wraith dragged him in front of her, and she sneered. "They say the unwritten law of the Sixclaws is that if one should kill another in a fight, the victor gains the loser's status. So shall we find out who's really worthy to rule?"

Esmund struggled vainly to get away, crying, "I don't want to rule! I just want to go live with Veil! Don't make me fight, I don't want to!"

Xzanthia rolled her eyes. "And Swartt wanted to make you his successor over me? So I'm insulted on top of being shunned, then .. and you will die as I have sworn."

"I never hurt you! Please just leave me alone!" Esmund begged.

Xzanthia's brown eyes glittered. "But you did .. you took my place! I was Swartt's only child! I had the right for his kingdom! I had the right for him to want me! To care about me .. and you had no right!"

Esmund staggered back as Xzanthia snarled, "You stole everything from me! I thought my father loved me, but he hated me. He was just using me .. he wanted you! Just because you were a boy and I wasn't .. you aren't even a ferret! You're just a worthless mistake, you and that goody Prophet brother of yours. I hate you both!"

Esmund had tried not to cry for her, but he couldn't help it. Xzanthia grinned with satisfaction. "And now at last, I have you. Bluefen always protected you, don't ask me why. She should have hated you just as much as me."

"Mother loved me!" Esmund threw back, angry that Xzanthia could say such things about her.

"Mother is it?" Xzanthia's white fangs gleamed. "And you really believe that? She wasn't your mother, your mother was some weasel. Swartt just made Bluefen watch you, and stupid, sentimental idiot, she did it."

Esmund fell to the ground, not wanting to believe Xzanthia. "You're .. lying! You're lying just like father! I won't fight you!"

Xzanthia shrugged. "Then I guess you'll let me kill you. It's not my problem if you don't defend yourself. Wraith, arm him, in case he changes his mind."

Wraith pulled Esmund onto his feet, shoving a dirk into his paws. The wearet gulped as his sister grabbed three long knives, sitting on a nearby log. She placed the hilts between her left claws, sneering, "I'll be proving father wrong, and I'll do it right too."

Esmund kept a tight grip on his weapon's hilt, watching Xzanthia approach him with true terror. His sister suddenly knocked him over, wrenching the dirk from his paws and slashing her knives shallowly across his shoulder, just deep enough to draw blood.

The wearet cried out, falling to the ground on his wound and not bothering to move. She would kill him now .. he couldn't stop it.

Xzanthia snarled. "Don't just lay there, get up. Come on, I want a fight!"

Esmund rolled away from her, desperate. He grabbed the fallen dirk, spinning around clumsily. There was a clink as it was blasted from his paws and Xzanthia's knives ripped across his cheek, a little deeper this time.

"Good, come on you little scum, get your weapon!"

Esmund staggered for it, and Xzanthia tripped him, making him fall on his face and nearly cut his nose on the blade.

"Esmund! Go for her legs!"

The voice was Gustav's, and Xzanthia momentarily paused. "Somebeast shut him up ... Aaahh!"

Esmund took his friend's advice, swiping the dirk at his sister's paws and cutting her knees. Xzanthia clapped her right paw to the bleeding wound, her eyes black. "I'll get you for that!"

She jumped at him, and Esmund scurried desperately back, gasping for breath. Xzanthia lashed out with her knives, and Esmund just managed to roll away, almost cutting himself on his own blade.

"Look out, cut now .. up, swing up!"

Esmund obeyed Crowwings on instant, and was rewarded by a shriek of pain. Xzanthia staggered back a few paces, blood running down her arm. She growled. "Shut that one up too!"

Esmund got to his paws, just in time to be shoved against a tree by his enraged sister. "That's it, no more games. I'm done playing."

She grabbed the dirk from his paws, flinging it away. "You'll die now, just like father, and just like your brother will too!"

><><

"According to my calculations, we'll never catch them now." Aubretia looked frazzled as she adjusted her glasses and her grip on her mount's reins.

Catkin pulled her horse beside her friend's. "I hope they're going to be ok .. and I do hope they get Esmund back."

"The main question is .. what do we do now?" Byron spoke up.

Vinwyte shrugged. "Follow their trail?"

"Exactly what I was about to suggest." Aubretia stated.

"Are you .. sure that's a really good idea?"

Everybeast looked at Roseanna, who shrugged. "I mean, there could be any number of vermin in there, it's just the five of us now. I'm just thinking."

Catkin sighed. "I know .. but shouldn't we try to help? What if they really need us?"

Roseanna paused, before shrugging. "Ok, I guess I'm in."

Aubretia clapped her heels on her mount's sides, starting in the way the others had gone, and Catkin was close behind her. Roseanna followed, catching up to her sister. "And where are we going?"

"Obviously, wherever they went .." Byron shrugged.

Aubretia nodded. "Exactly. And it's not like they're exactly hard to follow. I think they ran through every bush they possibly could."

"Yea .. ok, I see that." Roseanna consented.

They made it a ways, before coming to a darkly shaded clearing. Roseanna sighed. "Hmm .. and now which way, genius?"

Aubretia sighed. "Statistically, the only way to figure that out is to cross over and pick up their trail where the trees start properly again."

Catkin's horse would not stand still, it was agitated and continually tossing its head. The otter patted her mount. "Shh, I know it's dark and a little creepy, but everything's going to be ok .."

The horse would not calm down. In an instant, it reared, and both Catkin and Vinwyte were taken by surprise. They fell off, Catkin landing on top of Vinwyte and knocking his breath away.

"Hey, come back!" Catkin called, but her horse had taken to its heels, back the way they had come.

The other two animals were of the same mind, and they fought to run away. Roseanna yanked on her mount's reins. "Quit that now, what's the matter .. Oh!"

Creatures seemed to surround them from nowhere, one grabbing Roseanna's horse's bridle. The mouse maid tried to yank her reins away from him. "Let go!"

She reached for her dagger, not having time to load her bow .. however another of the creatures wrenched it from her grasp, dragging her off the horse. Roseanna yelped as the stirrup caught on her injured leg, and she bit the creature holding her.

He dropped her with a cry of pain, and the horse bolted .. dragging Roseanna with it.

The mouse cried out, struggling to free her foot and Vinwyte tried to get away from the creatures who were pinning him down. The next second there was a flash of black fur, and Byron leaped in the horse's path, grabbing the reins and yanking back.

He was pulled off his feet, but the horse slowed in bewilderment, and Roseanna managed to free herself of the stirrup. Byron was thrown to the ground as the horse bolted again, and he lost his grip on the reins.

He struggled to a sitting position, to find Roseanna was looking at him as she rubbed her foot. "You're crazy! That horse could have trampled you!"

Byron looked down, and the creatures that had started all the trouble grabbed him. They grabbed Roseanna too, who yelled in fury. "Get your dirty paws off me!"

She snapped at them, but they held her so she could not reach them and pinned her arms behind her back.

Aubretia kicked at her guards, but they were too strong. One cuffed her hard on the back of the head, sending her glasses flying. "Oh no! No, give me back my glasses! Please, Oh please!"

They paid no heed to her cries, and Vinwyte growled as they tied his paws behind his back. Catkin struggled, asking, "What do you want? We don't have anything important, please let us go!"

One of the strangely dressed creatures nodded to his companions, and they followed him deeper into Mossflower, dragging their captives with them.

><><

"And so it seems our Xzanthia has vanished." Fripple grumbled.

Cedric shrugged. "Well Princess, it could be worse, we could be seeing her."

They were walking along one of the Great Hall's galleries, alone, on their way to meet Mizzah by the pond. Cedric added, "And by the way, I've got to say I'm impressed. From how you talked when I first met you, I thought you were just a bunch of country beasts, but whew .. this proves me wrong."

Fripple smiled, though it was lost to Cedric because of her headscarf. "Well, Mossflower is just full of surprises, isn't it?"

"Sure is. Sort of like you."

Fripple sighed. "Oh .. Cedric, please don't do that, ok? I'm afraid it jeopardizes our mission."

Cedric raised an eyebrow. "And that's the only reason?"

Fripple turned a little red. "I ... didn't ever really want a boyfriend, no offence."

"Well .." Cedric admitted, "I never really wanted that either .. I always thought it would pin me down. You know, flirting is one thing, but actually sticking with one creature .. I guess I've learned a few things. Gone soft, I suppose."

"You and me both." Fripple sighed. "Yet I can't get away from you."

"Same, Princess. I guess we're stuck with each other .. right?"

Fripple laughed. "It looks that way."

Cedric looked around. "Why do you say that? Is there anyone else .. you like? Around here?"

"Nah, you're the first." She admitted. "What I meant is, there's going to be a battle. One of us could die in it."

Cedric shook his head, following her. "You're so hopeful."

"Hey, that's not my strong suit, it's yours. Now come on, we're keeping your uncle .. erm .. my father .. waiting." Fripple caught her slip-up quickly.

They'd made it to the bottom of the stairs, when they heard a slight noise. The two froze, before starting forward again, to see none other than Lenn.

Fripple sighed, moving toward the mouse. "Lenn, you shouldn't be by yourself, it's a great way to get picked off. You'd better come with us."

Lenn paused, before nodding.

"What were you doing by yourself anyway?" Cedric was curious.

Lenn shook her head. "I just .. everything's so .. new. And different from .. my time."

"Your time?" Fripple asked.

Lenn looked down. "You won't believe me, nobeast does. I don't want you to think I'm crazy, cause I'm not. And besides, we have a job to do."

She opened the doors, hurrying across the lawns. "Come on, let's go."

><><

The sun slanted merrily through the thinning autumn canopy of Mossflower, upon a scene that was anything but merry.

Xzanthia had Esmund pinned to a tree, and weaponless on top of it. She was panting, but had a look of near insane triumph on her face. "Looks .. like I .. win .. brother."

She recoiled to strike, eyes gleaming with a wild light, but a strange voice rang out.

"Climb'a tree!"

Both Gustav and Crowwings, though being restrained by painted ones, stared at Coll in complete amazement.

Xzanthia paused one moment too long and Esmund put his once silent friend's advice into action. He scrambled up the tree trunk, and onto a branch.

"Will you idiots keep them quiet?! Come down here, you coward! Fight like a Sixclaw!"

Coll bit the Painted One that tried to clamp his paw over his mouth. "Higher!"

The rat growled, dealing Coll a blow that made him cry out in pain and slump motionless in his bonds.

Esmund had done as his friend had suggested however, and sat in one of the tree's higher bows, watching Xzanthia with wide eyes.

She laughed wickedly. "You can run fool, but you can't hide!"

Esmund gasped as one of her knives clipped some of his whiskers off, embedding in the tree trunk next to his head. He barely had time to move before the next knife tore across his shoulder, making him fall flat on the branch with a cry.

He reached for one of the knives in the tree trunk, trying to pull it loose, but it would not budge.

Xzanthia sneered, raising her last knife. "Die, little polecat!"

The air was split by a sharp whistle, and Xzanthia dropped the knife with a cry. She grabbed it again in the next second, as a horse came to a sliding stop between her and the tree. "Get back!"

Esmund gasped. "Veil! Esther!"

The thunder of hooves rang out as Luke and Kinta broke into the clearing, the mouse sending his horse toward the beasts who had his cousins captive.

He already had his sword drawn, and he brought it down with vengeance.

Xzanthia seethed and the two other horses galloped in, as their riders took on her horde. She glared at Veil. “You! I’ll kill you for this!”

Esmund had started climbing down the tree as best he could, and Esther kept Xzanthia at arrow-point, snarling, “Stay away.”

Esmund got near halfway down, before he lost his grip, falling with a cry of dismay. Veil jerked forward, catching his brother and nearly falling off the horse himself.

Esther let her arrow loose by default, grabbing hold of Veil and helping to pull him back on their mount, but Xzanthia hurled her knife, and bolted. The horse stumbled, and the missile flew past its intended victims, embedding in a tree trunk.

Ivan rode up beside Veil, bringing his flail down on an attacking rat with a crunch. “Mate, we’ve got to get out, she’s got too many for us to defeat.”

Luke rode his horse past them, Kinta holding onto Coll while Gustav was on Crowwings. “Let’s get out of here, now!”

“Fall back, we have what we want!”

Veil spurred his horse with the others, and they galloped back the way they’d come. Esmund was sitting in front of Veil, shivering and bleeding, but he whispered, “Y .. you came to help me?”

Veil adjusted his hold on his brother slightly. “Of course I did .. I wish we’d gotten there sooner. Are you alright?”

Esmund shivered, before nodding weakly. “Yea .. I’m .. fine ..”

He slumped against Veil with a slight whimper, his eyes closing as the rush of battle faded away and true exhaustion took over.

><><

“Good job sis. Now what do we do?”

Roseanna gave Aubretia a dark look. The mouse maid squinted at her sister, whispering, “I don’t know, somebeast tell me what they’re doing.”

Byron answered. “Not much, it looks like they’re having some sort of conference and trying to light a fire.”

Aubretia gulped. “You know .. I remember reading that some of these bands of vermin are cannibalistic ..”

“Thanks so much!” Roseanna was completely sarcastic.

Vinwyte glared at them. "Shh! You'll attract their attention if you start yelling."

Catkin looked worried. "You .. think they're very hungry?"

"They might be." Roseanna observed.

"But .." Catkin looked around. "But they wouldn't actually .. eat us, would they?"

"I wouldn't put it past them." Roseanna wasn't feeling positive.

Catkin shook her head. "They must be starving!"

She paused, sighing, "In a way, that's terrible that they would be so hungry."

Vinwyte gave her an odd look. "You feel sorry for them?"

"Well .." Catkin slumped against the tree she was tied to. "I would like to get away, but maybe I could help them."

"I .. doubt it Catkin. They're just vermin .. just like the ones I was enslaved to for so long. They don't know what kindness even is, their whole lives are nothing but hatred, and they don't have friends." Vinwyte shrugged.

Catkin looked sad. "That's awful!"

Aubretia spoke up. "Statistically, shouldn't we be trying to escape, not worrying about helping vermin?"

Byron had been standing in silence, but now he broke in. "That's it!"

"What's it?" Roseanna asked.

"Catkin should cook for them."

His friends stared at him, before Vinwyte realized what the mouse really meant. "You might just have a point there."

Catkin blinked, surprised. "He does? I mean, I would like to, but I thought you wouldn't want me to. You actually want me to help them?"

Vinwyte paused, unaccustomed to telling even partial falsehoods. Byron answered for him. "Yes, he would like that very much. We all would, right?"

Aubretia nodded. "If I could calculate, I'm sure my calculations would say this is the best answer to our problem."

Catkin was excited. "Really? Thanks you guys, I'll make them the best shrimp soup ever! That should make them happy! Hey, over here? Can I talk to you please?"

If Roseanna hadn't been tied to the tree, she'd have likely slammed her head against it in frustration.

The Flitchaye turned around, the one who'd been doing most of the talking advancing towards Catkin. "Whatta want? We no letta you go."

Catkin did an exceptional job of looking sincere .. because she was. "Oh I know that. It's just that you look terribly unhappy, and I thought I might cook for you. After all, you look hungry, and I can't imagine Xzanthia feeding you very much."

There was a pause, and the weasel grumbled. "No, she not done that. She not even paid us!"

"That's .. sad." Catkin said with feeling. "She should pay you if she said she would."

The weasel shook himself. "Ah, whatta want. I not stand here all day."

Catkin nodded. "Well, I wanted to cook for you. I like cooking, and .."

"You think we fools? You poison us!" The Flitchaye were .. with reason .. suspicious.

"Poison?" The otter was horrified. "I'd never poison anybeast!"

The weasel leader snorted. "They all say it, ha."

Catkin shook her head. "No, no, look, I'll eat some of whatever I make before you do. I can't poison you then. You can watch me and make sure I do it!"

One of the other weasels spoke up. "Aww, boss, we hungry. Let'er cook, huh?"

The Flitchaye leader paused for a good thirty seconds, before making it look like his own idea. "Right, you cook. But we watcha you good, and you try any tricks? You not servin' dinner .. you is dinner. You see?"

Catkin rubbed her wrists as her captors freed her. "Yes, alright .. though that's terribly horrid. But I wouldn't dream of poisoning anyone."

><><

"Do we still have everybeast?" Veil had brought his mount to a stop in a shaded clearing.

Ivan reined his horse in. "I think so. Luke and the others were right behind me."

The creatures the cat spoke of thundered in moments later, and Luke pulled his panting horse to a stop. Crowwings' legs were shaking, and Gustav looked frazzled.

"Where's Forest?" Esther asked. "And Bryony and Filip?"

"I .." Luke turned in his saddle.

"They're still back there?" Kinta gasped.

Ivan looked droll. "That's just what we need."

Veil looked down at Esmund, who was unconscious but still murmuring faintly from pain. "I've got to get him to Thalia."

"Right .. and .. Crowwings and Gustav are completely worn out. Not to mention Coll's not waking up .. and .." Esther stopped, for her point was across.

Ivan sighed. "I'll go back."

"Ya mean we'll go back." Skadu put in.

Veil opened his mouth to argue, but Ivan had already sent his horse back the way he'd come. Luke held up a paw. "Can we wait? This horse is limping, I'm pretty sure there's a stone stuck in its hoof."

The mouse dismounted, handing the reins to Kinta. "Keep him still."

Luke lifted the horse's fore hoof. "As I thought. Hold on boy, I'll get it out."

He drew his knife, prying the stone loose and letting the horse put its hoof back on the ground. Luke was about to stand up, when he frowned. "What .."

The mouse reached forward, picking up a pair of dark-rimmed glasses. "Aubretia's! These are my sister's! But where .. where is she?"

The others didn't answer, and Luke stood straight. "I've got to find her. She would never be apart from these unless something was wrong!"

Esther winced. "Your horse is tired already .."

"I don't care, Aubretia's in trouble! And Roseanna's probably with her!"

Kinta spoke up. "We can make better progress on a fresh horse. Maybe we can find Star."

"Skarlath!"

Everybeast looked at Veil. "What?"

The ferret looked truly excited. "Why didn't I think of it before? We can ride Skarlath! Some of us at least."

><><

"Somethin' smellin' good, yes! Whatta makin'?"

The aroma of Catkin's soup was already beginning to lessen the Flitchaye's suspicion and heighten their anticipation. The otter was gracious to her cooking's admirers, and smiled. "It's otter's shrimp soup, my favorite! A good dish of this, nice and warm, that's the sort of thing to make anybeast happy!"

She stirred the soup, sniffing it. "Ahhh .. that's good. Now it's time to season it. May I have my satchel back, please? It has my spices in it."

The Flitchaye leader frowned. "How we know it not poison?"

Catkin looked offended as he handed her the satchel. "Poison? This? How awful of you! This is my favorite thing to eat, in the whole world!"

She pulled out one of the roots, taking a large bite and chewing it happily. "There, how can that be poison? And that's an extra good one too .. here."

She chopped it up in the soup, pulling some more of the roots from her satchel and chopping them up. Catkin stirred her creation, tasting it and nodding. "Hmm .. it needs more."

She proceeded to chop five more of the roots up, throwing them in the caldron. "Mmmmm ... there. That smells just about right."

The otter threw it a little more spice for good measure, stirring the soup and tasting it again. "Ahhh .. that's about the best batch I've ever made."

"Ehm .. sir?" She addressed the Flitchaye leader. "Could I have some too?"

He glared at her. "Nah, you get back. We eata first, then my patrols, then ya, ifa any be left."

Catkin sighed. "Oh ... well, alright .."

The Flitchaye were so enchanted by the smell of Catkin's cooking, they greedily fell to, neglecting to tie her back up. The weasel leader spoke to her while quaffing a bowl of her soup. "Mmmmfff thisa good, good, very! You cook fer us now, you not go! I'ma watchin' ya, so don't trya runnin' off!"

Catkin cast a glance at her friends, shrugging. Roseanna looked completely downcast. "Aww .. it didn't work!"

Byron stared. "How come .. I can't eat two bites of her stuff without feeling like my mouth's on fire!"

"What's happening?" Aubretia asked, squinting at the scenario before them.

Vinwyte raised an eyebrow. "I have the feeling we just need to wait a bit."

He was proven right moments later, when on of the Flitchaye rubbed his paws in his eyes. The weasel screamed in pain, scrambling away from the caldron.

Catkin frowned. "Don't rub your eyes, that never feels good!"

However the incredibly spicy dish was catching up with those eating it, and complete chaos erupted!

Flitchaye were suddenly running for the nearby Moss, screaming about being on fire and needing water. Some were yelling about poisoning, but they all made a mad dash for the river, leaving the caldron of soup, Catkin, and their prisoners unguarded.

Roseanna cheered. "Yea! That was awesome!"

"Catkin, get us loose!" Vinwyte called. "We've got to get out before they come back!"



Chapter 36 Of the Brave

"What are we doing?"

"The Painted Ones have Martin's sword, I heard Xzanthia say she gave it to them."

"Yes and .. what does that have to do with us?"

"We're going to find it."

"Filip! We can't do that on our own!" Bryony was horrified. "Forest, do you know what he's planning?"

The horse tossed his spikey mane. "Aye, and it's got to be done. We couldn't endanger the children, so we stayed behind."

"But what about me? I'm not a fighter!" Bryony gasped.

Filip rolled his eyes. "Are any of us? Look, we've got to get that sword back. How come I had to get partnered with a wimp?"

Bryony was indigent. "How come I had to get partnered with an idiot?"

"Because you did."

"You're insane! I hope you know I don't like you for this!"

Filip's gray eyes sparkled with annoyance. "Shut up and get over it or walk back."

"Both of you shut up and get over it." Forest flicked his ears back. "Act like adults or you'll both be walking. I don't have to carry you, you know."

Filip looked like he wanted to say a good deal more, but he sighed. "Alright, fine. Now look, first we've got to find out where the sword is."

"You don't know where it is?" Bryony snapped.

Forest and Filip glared at her. "Shut up."

Bryony fell into a sulky silence. Filip absently ran his claws through Forest's mane. "So here's my plan. We double back to the camp, and wait til we see the beast who's carrying the sword. We charge them, grab the sword, and run off."

"That is the dumbest thing I think I've ever heard." Bryony was already disgruntled and wasn't in the mood to agree with even the best of plans if they came from Filip.

The rat glared at her. "Do you have a better idea?"

"I .. well .." Bryony fidgeted. "Not really. But they do have horses, Wurgg and Wraith do."

Forest let his ears droop to the sides, giving him a seriously unimpressed look. "I'd like to think I can outrun feral horses, thank you."

Bryony paused. "But what if they surround us?"

"I'll be trampling some rats, then." Forest paused. "No offence Filip."

"What if Xzanthia shoots her green power at us?" Bryony was dismayed.

"Quit with the what ifs." Filip grumbled. "I've made up my mind to get the sword, and I'll do it, even if it's the last thing I do."

Bryony sighed. "Or you mean .. the last thing we all do."

><><

"Which way are we going?"

The escapers had stopped in a thinner part of the wood, though it couldn't be called a clearing. Roseanna slumped against a tree, holding her ankle and adding, "I can't take much more of this!"

Byron looked to Aubretia, who he was guiding .. so she didn't trip on roots or fall down a sudden incline. The mouse maid was panting, and out of habit, she reached up to adjust her glasses ... that weren't there. "Oh .. drat it all! I don't know! I didn't bring my maps, I didn't bring a compass, and I don't have my glasses!"

"Like that's a big deal." Roseanna grumbled. "Pretty soon I won't have a foot!"

"I can not see. And you don't think that's a problem?" Aubretia was frustrated with her sister.

Vinwyte and Byron looked at each other, as if pleading with the other to break up Roseanna and Aubretia's fight before it got serious.

Catkin shoved in between the two. "Alright, let's just .. both of you relax ok? Just take a deep breath, and stop arguing."

The sisters glared at each other a moment longer, before giving in and taking Catkin's advice.

Catkin nodded. "There, that's better. Fighting isn't going to get us anywhere."

"The question is; what is going to get us somewhere?" Byron asked.

Vinwyte shook his head, looking at the sky. "I can tell you which direction we're headed by looking at the sun, but I can't tell you where we are. These woods are confusing .. every tree looks the same."

Roseanna staggered upright. "If we can find the Moss, we'll have a better chance of getting back to Brockhall. And the water would feel good on this .. stupid leg."

"Hey!" Catkin was cheerful. "We might even meet my dad and the otter crew!"

"Otter crew?" Vinwyte sounded unsure.

"Yes." Catkin nodded. "My father is the skipper."

Vinwyte paused a moment, before his face fell ever so slightly. "Ah .. yes. I'm sure they would .. be a great help."

Catkin cocked her head at his behavior. "What's the matter?"

"I .. nothing." Vinwyte shrugged.

"Hey, the biggest thing right now, is how do we find the river?" Byron broke in.

Vinwyte paused, listening for a moment. "I can't hear it. Aubretia, which way is it?"

"I don't know. I don't even know which side of the Moss we're on, and besides, we're near the waterfall, I'm almost sure of it." Aubretia was still a bit cross.

Byron raised an eyebrow. "I know Esther talked about a waterfall, but .. how big is it?"

"Oh, it's a big one for sure. Probably as tall as Redwall's wall." Roseanna was still rubbing her ankle.

Byron looked blank, and Roseanna sighed. "I forgot you haven't seen Redwall."

The black mouse shook his head. "No, I think I get your point."

He proceeded to kneel down, laying his head on the ground. Vinwyte looked confused. "What .. are you doing?"

"I did this for Bluefen all the time. If you were to get lost in the catacombs, any sounds would be distorted and confusing. But when you put your ear to the ground .. that's a little different. You could hear pawsteps, voices, even the sound of the river if you were close enough."

"Hear anything, in that case?" Vinwyte asked.

Byron frowned. "Not exactly. Sounds aren't as concentrated out here, I don't suppose. Still .. there's something."

"I wish we had a mole with us." Roseanna groaned.

"We'll have to make the best of what we have." Catkin tried to stay positive. "Where is what you're hearing coming from, Byron?"

The mouse frowned again, standing up and brushing himself off. "It's confusing. There's a really faint rumble .. almost my imagination, and it sort of sounds like it's in that direction."

He indicated the way absently, adding, "But I could hear some snapping, like somebeast walking through brush."

"Heeeyy .. You're right, I hear it too." Catkin confirmed.

Vinwyte looked around, suspiciously, and Roseanna pulled out her bow, loading it. "I think I smell a rat."

A moment later, a band of about ten Flitchaye burst into view. Roseanna promptly shot one, snarling, "Correct that, I smell a weasel!"

Vinwyte grabbed her before she could shoot again. "Save it for a more protected spot .. come on, run!"

><><

Filip was sitting on Forest's back, watching the camp of the Painted Ones from a large outcrop of rock. Bryony was sitting behind him in sulky silence, but it was better than her talking.

The rat honestly had little idea of what he was going to do. He was vaguely hoping one of the Painted Ones would walk out of the camp with a few others .. maybe on a patrol, and be carrying the sword.

Then they could attack, grab the sword, and flee.

The only problem was that it wasn't working. None of the tree rats were leaving, and he hadn't even so much as caught a glimpse of the sword.

At long last, Forest backed away, treading carefully deeper into the woods. When they'd gotten a ways, the horse spoke. "I think it's time for plan B, don't you?"

"Yea, like go home." Bryony couldn't resist speaking.

Filip scowled. "Will you be quiet? Alright Forest, what's plan B?"

The horse tossed his head. "Hey, don't look at me, I'm the transportation, you come up with the plans."

"Oh that's marvelous ... awk!" Filip broke off as something slammed into his side, catapulting him off Forest.

He hit his head on the ground, and a weight pinned him there, cold steal resting on his throat. Through the haze he was in, Filip heard a high-pitched voice speaking. "Move you not, this one dies. What you want, tell me, yes yes!"

Bryony's voice was blurry as well, but she sounded afraid. "Don't kill him!"

"I do what I want, yes yes, you no bossa chief's daughter. Why you watcha camp, speak!"

Forest was more authoritative. "The moment you kill him, you'll die under my hooves."

The beast pinning Filip to the ground snickered. "Yea, tough words .. but'cha won't move while he alive, you not want me kill him, heehee!"

Filip opened his eyes carefully, finding a dusty brown creature in dirty, outlandish rags had him pinned flat on his back, her spearblade across his throat. She had matted fur, stringy hair, and her brown eyes looked dull, despite her threats. Filip glared at her. "Why don't you just kill me?"

The rat's eye's snapped with impatience. "Soon I will. First what you do hangin' round our camp?"

"Like I'd tell you, scum!" Filip snarled in anger.

Instead of being angry, the rat cocked her head. "You bold one, yes yes! Why you no fear?"

Filip thought a minute, snapping, "Because somebeast just knocked me off a horse; I'm too mad to be afraid."

As he said this, Filip found the situation a little more fearful.

The Painted One snickered. "Hmm .. what Vana do with you? You no fear, you sneak on camp, you crazy beasts, yes yes! Whatcha want?"

Filip's way of manifesting fear was through anger, so he grumbled defiantly, "I'll tell you what I want! I want the sword Xzanthia used to pay you, it belongs to my king and my people! You have no right to it!"

The change on Vana's face was drastic as Xzanthia was mentioned. She spat on the ground, too near Filip's head for comfort. "Two faced little liar, not deserve live, her! Yes yes, someday, she finda spear in'er, she not so great then!"

Bryony broke in. "Wait .. you're not for her?"

Vana sneered. "Why I be for beast who killed father? Grivak mighty chief of Painted Ones, rule well, little witch has sent to death. I killee for it!"

Filip couldn't exactly move, but he grumbled, "Then why are you trying to kill me? We're trying to stop Xzanthia."

The Painted One narrowed her eyes, thinking a moment. "You kill?"

"If that is what it comes down to, we will." Forest was the one who answered.

Vana paused. "You need sword? Why need a sword so much?"

Filip paused, and Bryony shrugged. "It .. it's magical."

Filip sighed. "Not .. really."

"Yes it is, it glows blue!" Bryony seemed very good at arguing.

Forest flicked his ears back. "Only when it is used for good, and its wielder trusts in Ignasa. At least that's what my father would say, and he saw it in action."

Vana lifted the spear a little, allowing Filip more comfort, but not letting him sit up. "Use magic sword kill Xzanthia? Sword only works good?"

Filip groaned .. now she would take the sword for herself. However the rat surprised him.

She slowly let him up. "Vana not good like woodlander. I help you get sword .. you killee her?"

Forest cocked his head. "Why don't you kill her yourself?"

The rat scowled. "She magic .. Vana not fight magic. She killee me, not I killee her .. but you use sword for me?"

Filip brushed himself off. "Why should we trust you?"

Bryony looked confused. "Why do you trust us?"

Vana paused a moment. "Have no choice. You same. Why not we work together, yes yes?"

><><

The crashing of brush was loud as the escapers fled the Flitchaye again. They didn't hardly care where they were going, because they were lost already.

Catkin caught up to Vinwyte, panting, "This .. this isn't working!"

Vinwyte caught hold of her arm, practically dragging her along. "We can't stop, I will not fall into vermin's paws again. I will not!"

"V .. Vinwyte .."

He shook his head, breathlessly. "You .. you don't understand."

Roseanna's teeth were clenched in agony, but she ran anyway, ears pinned. Aubretia shoved the hilt of one of her knives into Byron's paws, gasping, "Use it; I can't see enough to wield them!"

She tripped over a root at that moment, falling flat on her face. Byron grabbed her paws, trying to pull her onto her feet, but the Flitchaye were upon them.

However, before one could throw a spear, there was a furious yell. Roseanna jumped in front of the two mice, an arrow clamped between her teeth, and one on the string. There was a hiss as her first shaft sank into the closest weasel's chest, and she loaded the next without hesitation. Her voice was a snarl. "Run, you idiots!"

"Stop her!" Catkin's voice was a wail. "She'll Bloodwrath on them!"

The otter hurled her spear at the weasel who was coming, giving Roseanna enough time to load her bow again. The mouse maid shot, but their enemies were too fast. The closest Flitchaye dodged the arrow, bowling Roseanna over, only to scream as she tore her dagger across his shoulder and throat, eyes turning red.

Vinwyte jumped into the fray at that point, ducking under a spear thrust, and belting his attacker a hard right with an iron paw. The weasel flew backwards, crumpling on the beast behind him, who also fell.

Byron ducked, jumping out of reach like lighting. The Flitchaye snarled, leaping after the mouse with ferocity, and Byron managed to dodge again, knife held ready should he get a chance to use it. Aubretia jumped at the beast, meaning to knock him aside, but she misjudged the distance and fell short. However, she just managed to wrap her arms around his legs, causing him to pitch forward, directly on top of Byron.

Aubretia scrambled to her paws, drawing her other knife, but Byron shoved the limp body away, staggering upright, his knife dripping. “Th .. thanks .. he fell just right.”

Catkin was trying to defend herself against the onslaught of blows a weasel was bringing against her, but while she could throw a spear like no other, she was no paw to paw fighter. Her opponent sneered as he sliced her spear pole in two, knocking her hard against a tree trunk.

However, it was the last thing he did. There was a sound not unlike a roar, and Vinwyte plowed him over with a hard blow to the jaw, sinking a spear into him with shocking ferocity. A terrible howl rang out, and everybeast turned to see the last Flitchaye try to run, only to be met with Roseanna .. a wild and terrifying Roseanna. The mouse leapt on him with no more than a dagger in her paw, plowing him over and bringing the weapon down once .. twice, and again.

She slowly stood, blood staining her clothes and running from a gash on her brow. Catkin gasped. “R .. Roseanna? Don’t .. can you ...”

The mouse met her friends’ gazes, red hair spilling across blood red eyes .. even Vinwyte took a step back. However, Catkin’s voice had brought Roseanna back to reality. She looked around in bewilderment, before the wild light faded from her eyes, and she crumpled to the ground with a sob of pain. “Wh .. what did I do .. oh my leg!”

Catkin ran to her, kneeling. “Hey .. are you ok? Does anything hurt besides the leg .. I mean .. there’s blood all over you!”

Roseanna seemed to think a moment, before she grinned lopsidedly. “Not mine though.”

She coughed, before slumping to the ground, breathing heavily. “I .. can’t go on .. the Bloodwrath.”

There were faint shouts from back the way they had come, and Vinwyte picked Roseanna up with ease. “Look, we can’t stay here!”

Catkin looked around a moment, before gasping, “I know where we are .. I know where to go! Come with me!”

She hurried off into the woods, calling, “Come on!”

Vinwyte ran after her, Byron and Aubretia trying to keep up. Catkin was excited despite the situation, and she showed it. “Can you hear it, can you?”

There was a moment’s pause, before Aubretia cried out, “The Moss!”

The mouse maid bolted toward the sound of the river, feet pounding through the dead leaves, Byron close behind her. Catkin ran next to Vinwyte. “There are more of them?”

The white otter tossed Roseanna over his shoulder easily, nodding, “Sounds like it.”

Aubretia slid to a stop as the roar of the river came to its loudest, and Byron stared in wonder. “Whoa.”

Catkin kept running toward the river and the waterfall, calling, “With me! There’s a cave!”

Byron grabbed Aubretia’s paw, following the otter. “Where is it?”

They crashed through the last of the brush, practically falling down the river’s bank. Vinwyte shoved himself onto his paws as the yelling behind them grew louder, accompanied by crashing. Byron pulled Aubretia onto her feet, crying, “Run, quick! Where is it Catkin, where?”

The otter scrambled to her paws. “This way!”

Roseanna coughed at this point, stumbling onto her own feet. “I can run .. I can ..”

Vinwyte dragged her along. “You’ll need some help.”

Byron’s bare foot caught on a half-buried tree root, and he pitched forward, flat on his face. Aubretia fell too, scrambling up and trying to pull her friend to his paws. “Come on! Hurry!”

However one of the Flitchaye jumped from the thick brush, raising his spear to throw. There was a swish as something flew through the air, sinking into the weasel and felling him instantly. A flash of dark fur followed it, wrenching its weapon from the body.

“I say mates, get in here! It’s the Flitchaye!”

Catkin gasped. “Dad!”

The dark brown otter grinned, despite the situation. “Catkin, me girl! Where’d ya think you was off to, eh?”

A couple of other otters ran into view. “Skip, where’s the Flitchaye?”

Ten or so weasels came down the bank at that second, and Roseanna gripped her dagger tightly. “Right there!”

Kaylar paused one second, before yelling, “Fall back to the river mates, pull our classic disappearing act!”

The otter grabbed Roseanna, ordering, “Take the other two, now!” Catkin grabbed Vinwyte’s paw. “Come on!”

The otter ran with her, asking, “What are we doing?”

“Swimming!”

Vinwyte skidded to a stop at the river’s edge. “I can’t!”

Catkin stopped, already in the water. “What? You’re an otter Vinwyte! You can swim, all otters can!”

“Not this one .. not very well .. go, get out of here!”

Catkin’s amber eyes sparkled. “No. They’ll kill you, I’ll help you do it!”

She shoved him. “Now!”

Vinwyte didn’t hesitate any more, just leaped into the river, Catkin diving after him like a streak of lightning.

><><

“Where are we going?” Filip’s whisper was cross as he tried to follow Vana silently.

That wasn’t the easiest thing to do, as the rat was nimbly scurrying through the dense canopy of Mossflower. Filip tried not to look down, but he lost his hold on one of the branches, flopping across a tree limb with a gasp.

Vana leapt back to his side, whisper practically a hiss. “Whatta do? You rat, come on! No noise, they hear us!”

She bounded gracefully across some branches, as much at ease as if she was standing on solid ground, and maybe more so.

“I’m not that sort of rat!” Filip grumbled, and Vana looked unimpressed.

She tossed her dirty hair. “You now, yes yes! Come, quiet, we near.”

Filip shook his head, but he obeyed, as quietly as possible. Vana stopped on a limb that grew from a monster of an oak, and Filip struggled to keep his balance. Vana rolled her eyes. “Sword too special just carry. We keep safe, yes yes .. in safe place. Have guard. I talka to him, you getta sword fast, sneak out, fast.”

Filip wasn’t sure about the fast part, but he nodded. “How do I get past the guard?”

Vana snickered. “Cause you go back way, yes yes. Show you. Then you wait hear me talk, see?”

She led him around the tree trunk, and Filip was relieved to find himself standing on a rickety pathway of planks, basically a swinging bridge. He made better progress, and Vana hopped off the bridge, onto a catwalk. “Right, here. You no make’a noise, see?”

She pulled some brush aside, and Filip stared at the lost sword, lying amongst some objects that might .. in a sense .. be called treasures.

Vana nodded. “I go round. Once you hear me start talk with guard, take’a sword, go cross’a bridge, and wait behind first tree trunk. See, yes yes?”

“Yes y ..” Filip shook himself. “Yea.”

Vana nodded, hurrying away. Filip looked back toward the sword, his paw itching to grab it. Maybe it wasn’t so much desire to return Martin’s treasure, but this whole adventure was beginning to mean more to the rat.

It was a chance to prove he was something, something more than a loser. Maybe he wanted to give his parents something to be proud of for a change.

Maybe he just wanted to prove it to himself.

Suddenly, he heard the sound of voices, and slipped into the odd, crudely made hut-like structure the sword was in. Filip’s paw closed around the hilt, and he felt a tingle run up his arm. The dull blade seemed to regain its normal luster with a faint gleam of blue, one that quickly faded. Filip stood transfixed a moment, staring at the gleaming weapon in his paws.

However he soon came back to reality, slipping toward where he’d come in. His footpaw caught on a necklace of shells, bringing down a stack of tarnished bronze shields and plates with a shocking clatter!

There was an exclamation from the front of the shack, and Filip lost no time in bolting out the way he’d come. Unfortunately, two other Painted Ones were walking along the catwalk nearby, and they set upon him in an instant.

Filip’s paws scurried across the rickety planks as he jumped onto the swinging bridge, losing his balance and falling to his knees. He managed to keep his grip on the sword, and scrambled back to his paws.

One of the Painted Ones followed him onto the bridge, spear raised. However his companion wasn’t as intelligent, and in an odd way, aided Filip.

The rat brought his spear against one of the ropes that held the bridge up, slicing it in two! Filip pitched forward, just managing to grab ahold of the intact rope, but the other rat wasn’t so lucky. He grabbed one of the planks, snarling at his companion, “Eeeeaah, idiot! Why you cuta rope, me on it .... Ahhhhhhh!”

The plank he was gripping slipped out of its place in the broken bridge, taking him to the ground far below. Filip couldn’t hold both the rope and the sword, it was too heavy.

The rat hated to let his coveted prize fall, but it was the sword or his life. Filip groaned, finally letting go of the hilt, watching the weapon plummet to the ground.

He grabbed the rope with both hands, gasping as the Painted One that had started all the trouble raised his spear to cut it! Filip clung to the rope, staring wide-eyed as Vana and another rat ran up. He directed his pleading gaze to Vana .. she could stop this!

But she did nothing, and the spear flashed down. Filip heard himself scream as he began to fall, and then everything happened too quickly to be real. He swung through some branches, before there was an amazing crash and all of Filip’s breath was knocked away.

He found he was draped across a large branch a few moments later, and the wreckage of the bridge was hanging about him. There was more cracking, and he looked blearily up to see Vana jumping down toward him from branch to branch.

She stopped directly above him, grabbing his shirt and muttering, “You pretend my prisoner, yes yes!”

The rat looked at the others, still above her. “Thisa one live! I take him prison, downa tree, yes yes!”

She yanked him up, dragging him to a rickety staircase and down it. Filip staggered behind her, snarling, “What was that for? Why didn’t you help me?”

“Am helping you, I not looka traitor, no. We getta sword and run to horse and friend.”

Filip coughed, nearly falling down the last of the stairs. Vana kept him on his feet, grumbling, “Little wimp, yes yes. I fall longer and climb back upa same minute, you acta like you killed!”

“I .. feel like I’m .. killed!” Filip exclaimed, indigantly.

Vana was unsympathetic. “Little wimp, is you, what you are. You rat, learna be one!”

They’d reached the bottom of the tree now, and Vana ran ahead. “Where’a sword fall, where?”

Filip looked up, trying to discern where the bridge had been. “Erm ..”

Vana suddenly dashed forward, grabbing the weapon from where it was nearly concealed by heather. The gleam of the blade dulled, it’s sparkle fading instantly. The rat maid sighed, handing it to Filip. “Notta look so pretty when I hold.”

However, Filip’s touch restored the blade’s true beauty with a faint gleam, and he hefted it with a tiny bit of difficulty. “Let’s get out of here.”

“Hey! Vana, whatta do?”

Filip and Vana turned to see the guard running down the stairs. Vana grabbed Filip’s paw. “Outta time, we run now!”

Filip shook himself free of the rat. “I can run on my own!”

Vana snickered carelessly. “You little wimp, whatta I know?”

“In a stupid tree maybe,” Filip dashed ahead of Vana. “But not on the ground!”

“Get’em, they steala sword!” There was a collection of shouts from the Painted ones once their escape was known properly.

“We gotta time.” Vana’s voice was determined. “They not fast as group, no. Take’a longer we take, we getta to horse fast, leav’em in dust!”

She jumped ahead of Filip, into a thicket of brambles, only to be flung backwards violently. The rat maid flew several paces, landing heavily on her right leg and side. She struggled to sit up, falling back with a shrill cry of pain.

“Well, well. Now what have we here?”

Filip took a step back as an under-sized weasel came towards him, a brawny creature of the same species slightly behind him. The smaller of the two’s pale eyes gleamed as he chuckled. “Two little rats who don’t know their place.”

Filip held the sword in front of him, growling, “Get away from us!”

“Oh dear, you have a sword. Know how to use it laddie?”

Filip scowled, jabbing the weapon at him. The weasel ducked aside, laughing. “Looks like we’ll find out. Wurgg!”

The large weasel looked at his companion. “Take this one. Break his arms first, then his legs, but leave him alive. It’s been too long since I enjoyed a bit of torture.”

He drew a tiny knife, advancing on Vana, who tried to drag herself backwards, gripping her spear. The weasel didn’t smile, but his eyes did. “I’ll just have some fun with our little traitor while you’re at it.”

Filip felt frozen to the ground as Wurgg came toward him, holding a sickle-like weapon easily. The rat gulped, holding the sword forward with shaking paws and mentally pleading for Ignasa to send help .. any help.

There was a tingling in the sword hilt, and a brilliant blue glow swept up the blade, causing Wurgg to pause in amazement.

"Wield my blade through me, Filip. The servant must fight for the subject, and they two for the king!"

Filip cast a glance behind him at a cry from Vana, and he wheeled away from Wurgg, dashing towards the smaller weasel. "For Ignasa!"

><><

“Ivan, do ya hear that?”

The cat pulled his horse to a stop, listening a moment, and he nodded, pulling his mace off his back. “Yea. Hang on.”

He kicked his horse into a gallop, and Skadu grabbed ahold of him. “Whoa!”

Ivan laid the reins down, grabbing hold of a clump of mane instead, raising his mace as they crashed into a clearing where chaos reigned. Filip was fighting a small weasel with Martin’s sword, glowing brilliant blue. There was a Painted One on the ground behind him, a large weasel circling around the two, and the yells of quickly approaching enemies.

Ivan yelled, sending his horse at the larger of the two weasels. The creature ducked away, slashing his curved sword at the horse’s legs, and the animal reared with a shriek of pain. Skadu slid off, half on purpose and half on accident, but she ran to help Filip and the other rat.

There was the sound of more hooves as Forest and Bryony rushed in, charging toward Filip and his companions. Bryony lashed out at the weasel with her spear, causing him to jump back. Skadu lifted the fallen rat onto Forest’s back, and Filip kept their attacker at bay with the sword.

However, Ivan was concerned with his own troubles. He swung his mace at the brawny creature he was faced with, and the weasel countered the blow with shocking strength. He kept trying to cut Ivan’s horse down beneath him, and it was all the cat could do to keep the animal from bolting.

Ivan drove the horse away from the weasel, putting his mace away and pulling out his flail. He charged his enemy suddenly, swinging the deadly weapon with ferocity, and the weasel couldn’t quite duck. He screamed as the flail caught him under the eye, sending him flying.

“Ivan!”

The cat wheeled his horse around to see a positive wave of Painted Ones rushing toward them. He kicked his horse into a lope, heading toward Skadu, who had called his name.

He grabbed her paw, pulling her onto his mount as Filip vaulted onto Forest. “Let’s get out of here!”

Forest laid his hooves to the ground as fast as they could possibly go, catching up to Ivan and Skadu quickly. “Your horse is bleeding.”

“How bad?” Skadu asked, not daring to look behind them.

“Not terrible.” Forest maintained his place by their side easily. “But I wouldn’t push him. And that’s exactly what you’re doing.”

“There’s no help for it. Have we outdistanced them?” Ivan asked, keeping his eyes on the path ahead.

Bryony looked behind them, nodding. “I think so.” Ivan pulled his mount to a walk. “Then let’s go slower. We’ll run only if we have to.”

><><

“Oh .. uk! I am wet .. and cold .. and ..”

Kaylar dropped a blanket over Aubretia’s shoulders, clapping a paw on Byron’s. “Good show mate, trying ta swim with the rest of us. I say, where’s me daughter?”

“Here father .. right here.” Catkin led Vinwyte up the incline from the water and into the holt itself.

She shook a shower of water from her fur, but Vinwyte shrank back a little. “Catkin .. you brought me to your holt?”

Catkin shrugged. “What else was I to do? Don’t worry, we’ll get you something to eat and new clothes and ..”

Keylar helped Roseanna sit down, calling, “Spring me dearest, we’ve got a wounded beast, would you and Bula tend to her? And while we’re at it, Catkin’s come home!”

A dark brown otter appeared in a tunnel leading into the large cave they were in, and she ran to Catkin, hugging her. “Oh my little girl! We were so worried .. with you missing and your sister trapped in Redwall with that terrible Xzanthia! But you’re alright!”

Catkin nodded. “Yea, I’m fine .. we just went to Southsward, that’s all.”

Kaylar laughed. “Aye, that’s what ol’ Argulor told us. I know miss Aubretia here, but what about your two new friends, eh?”

Catkin grinned, nodding. “Oh, yea! This is Byron, and my friend Vinwyte. We .. well we .. sort of saved them in Southsward.”

Byron and Vinwyte looked at each other, shrugging.

Keylar grinned good naturedly, clapping Byron on the shoulder. “Well then, perhaps I’ll introduce meself. I’m Skipper Kaylar .. though ye can call me Skip. Or Kay, I s’pose. This is me wife Spring.”

Spring smiled, grabbing Vinwyte’s paw and shaking it heartily. “I’m pleased to meet you young’un! You’re from Southsward, eh?”

Vinwyte was forced to meet her gaze, though he’d previously had his head turned away. “I’m .... not really from Southsward .. milady.”

“Oh ... my ..” Spring took a step back, Keylar stared despite himself, and Bula, who’d just come in, stopped dead in her tracks.

The otter healer spoke first. “Hoi, what’s a beast like him doing here?”

Catkin frowned. “Whatever’s the matter? Vinwyte’s a good creature, why are you looking at him like that?”

Vinwyte looked down. “Catkin, I tried to tell you .. but .. maybe I should go.”

“No, don’t leave! What’s gotten in to everybeast?” Catkin was upset.

Vinwyte didn’t meet her gaze, as he slowly rubbed the red mark on his cheek. Kaylar cleared his throat. “Young sir, I ain’t going to be called a judgmental chief, an’ I do me best to be a fair ruler .. so tell me, where’d a beast as young as you come up with the brand of the Outcast?”

Vinwyte looked away, finally mumbling, “I never asked for it, milord. My mother was a river otter, my father was a sea otter .. their holts were somewhere up north. There was a lot of animosity between the two holts .. so when I was born, I didn’t commit a crime, I was a crime.”

He met Kaylar’s gaze, continuing. “My father died shortly after, I don’t remember him. My mother tried to protect me as long as she lived, but she died when I was still very young. The holt had always hated me .. I was so different from them. I had white fur .. I was marked forever.”

Spring’s voice was softer now, even compassionate. “But they wouldn’t brand a child .. would they?”

Vinwyte looked down, and then back up. “They called me bad luck .. blamed me for everything. It came to a head when the Skipper’s son was killed in a feud with one of the members of the holt my father came from .. and it was his only son. They branded me as a last act of spite in case I should live, and threw me out.”

He shrugged. “I did live. I got captured by vermin, I was sold multiple times, and I finally ended up on a pirate galley. When I was worn out for rowing, they sold me in Southsward, and your daughter and Fripple bought me. That’s ... really all there is to tell. I’ll leave if that’s what you want.”

Kaylar cleared his throat. “No, stay. I will give you a fair trial .. though I can’t promise about all my otters.”

Spring shook her head. “Aye, they have the old ideas, some of ‘em.”

She laid a paw on Vinwyte’s shoulder. “But sometimes the old ideas ain’t the best thing. We’ll let ya stay.”

Kaylar nodded. “Though I ‘spect we’ll be off to Brockhall soon, in all honesty.”

><><

The day was waning over Brockhall, and the manor was a center of activity as a report had to be made to Timbal and Sayna.

“That’s the short and long of it your majesties.” Veil hung his head. “I should have sent somebeast to find you, but ..”

Sayna sighed. “Quinn and Zenith found us, with that bat who claims to be part of your horde. We did spend half the day trying to catch up and help .. though we were unsuccessful in that and fell to guarding Brockhall.”

Veil rubbed the back of his head, sighing, “Don’t listen to the bat milady, he .. supposedly turned traitor on Xzanthia, but I’m not sure what to think of him yet.”

Timbal looked dubious. “Aye, I’m not sure of him either. He did say he brought you news of Esmund though.”

Veil paused, nodding. “Well, he did do that. I should talk with him .. more.”

Timbal held up a paw. “And Veil, thank you.”

“For what?” The ferret paused in turning around.

Sayna shrugged. “You did save the boys and Crowwings. As well as .. in a way .. leading Filip to the sword.”

Veil paused a moment, before smiling. “Thanks .. I mean you’re welcome.”

Timbal nodded, pacing the office, formerly Bella’s. “Aye. Now look lad, we’ve got to think on this quickly, we don’t have much time. You’ve thwarted your sister for now, but from what I’ve seen of Shadow Fighters, she’ll not rest until we’re dead or ..”

He paused, and Veil nodded. “Or she is. I know, sire. I’ve thought of it.”

Sayna sighed grimly. “I’m sorry it has to be like this, Veil.”

“I .. still have Esmund.” Veil shook his head, running his claws through the lock of headfur that always draped in his eyes. “And I’ve got to protect him from her. I saw that .. very clearly today.”

Timbal’s blue eyes glimmered gently. “Take the night off lad. We saw to it your horde had work, I imagine they’re going to bed right about now.”

Sayna shook her head. “They aren’t good with kitchen work, I learned that. They’re worse than me! Except that Wildag .. he might come out a good cook, but not if I train him.”

Veil couldn’t help a little smirk, because he could imagine Wildag out-cooking Sayna. She read his thoughts, and laughed. “It’s good to see you still have a sense of humor.”

Veil paused at the door. “Your majesties? I just wanted to say .. thanks for taking me back.”

Timbal smiled sadly. “Lad, we never cast you out. It was the least we could do.”

Veil looked away, nodding with a smile to show it wasn’t they who had saddened him. He slipped out the door, walking into the hall and looking toward the grand staircase, where a bit a cold, blue light was shining down from the second story.

The ferret slowly laid his paw on the mahogany rail, starting his way up the steps. He stopped at the rail looking down into the hall a moment, before heading toward where Thalia was keeping Esmund.

Veil hesitated at the door, before pushing it open and walking in. The rabbit healer wasn’t there, but Esmund was asleep in the bed, and Veil pulled up a stool, wincing as it made a grating sound on the floor. He sat down more carefully, adjusting his little brother’s blanket.

Esmund murmured in his sleep, opening his eyes a crack. “Thalia?”

Veil wished he hadn’t awoken the wearet, and he sighed, “Sorry Esmund, it’s just me ..” However his brother had fallen asleep again, never having properly awoken.

Veil shook his head, asking softly, “Was Xzanthia as innocent as you once?”

He wasn't expecting an answer, and he didn't get one. The ferret stood slowly, walking to the open doors of the balcony and slipping through the drawn curtains. Veil leaned against the railing, staring out into the calm autumn night.

"I see why I had to come back. The Sixclaws made this mess .. it's only right that I should try to fix it."

He looked down. "I wonder if I can."

"You can .. I mean .. I think so."

Veil looked up to see Esther watching him from a branch above the balcony, and she dropped almost silently onto the planks. The ferret met her gaze a bit hesitantly. "How do you know?"

Esther paused, and shrugged. "I'm .. not totally sure .. but .. you did sort of get us this far."

"No." Veil sighed. "You got me this far."

Esther frowned. "Ok .. we did it together. But .. can't you .. I mean .. can't you be the way you were .. before?"

She added quickly. "Of course, you've gotten better .. but I still .. miss .. you."

Veil thought about her words, finally looking away. "I'm sorry .. I really am .. I don't know who I am anymore. I'm just .. lost."

Esther paused, before she hugged him. Veil froze, blinking at the ermine, before he felt a smile grow on his face. Esther let go of him, turning away. "I know what you mean, I .. I always feel like that. I .. feel like I can't help anybeast .. I feel like I'm always in the way .. maybe it would have been better if I .. hadn't come."

"No, I'm .. glad you did." Veil met her gaze, smiling a little. "There's something about you that .. makes me think about somebeast besides myself and my problems.”

Esther almost blushed, or maybe it was a trick of the light. Either way, her green eyes sparkled. “I’m glad I .. helped in some way.”

She paused, asking, “Is Esmund alright?”

Veil nodded. “Yes .. and what happened today has made up my mind. I will stop Xzanthia, even if I die doing it.”

He laid a paw on the railing, determination shining in his eyes. “I’m not fighting for my enemies ..”

Veil met Esther’s gaze. “I’m fighting for my friends. And I see now I was too dumb and selfish to see it all along. Someday .. when Esmund’s old enough to understand, I’ll have to thank him.”

Esther smiled, before she looked away. “But .. she’s your sister. I .. I’m sorry Veil .. I shouldn’t have ..”

Veil nodded. “I know. She’s just like my father .. and I’ve got to protect what I ... care about.”

He looked down, wanting to say more, but not really sure what to say. Esther smiled a little. “I’ll help you.”

Veil laughed, softly but genuinely. “Thanks Esther .. I imagine I’ll need all the help I can get. And I couldn’t ask for better friends, I really couldn’t.”

“We’ll do this together .. right?” Esther’s green eyes almost twinkled.

Veil grinned, despite himself. “You know, the last time I said we would, I got captured by Swartt.”

“Well ... that’s true.” Esther admitted. “But let’s see if we can’t do better this time? Eh?”

She held out a paw, and Veil shook it. “I’ll do my best.”

Esther smiled. “And so will I.”

><><

Sunflash was making his way along Great Hall, stepping through the fading pools of colored light cast from the windows. He got near the entrance to Cavern Hole, when a commotion in the kitchen made him pause.

“Why you little ruffian, stealing honey indeed! Get back here you little curmudgeon!”

Sunflash blinked as a little mole dibbun, sticky with honey, came dashing up the stairs and ducked behind the badger’s legs. “Boi Hokey zurr, don’t be a lettin’ her catch dis poor mole!”

A hedgehog, whom Sunflash knew to be the cook, came dashing up the steps, spoon in paw. The creature looked around, noticing Sunflash, but not the mole hiding behind him. “Humph, that Gurmal. He’s alwus one fer gettin’ into trouble. Where’s he hidin’ this time, eh?”

It took a moment for Sunflash to realize she was talking to him. He shrugged noncommittally, and the hedgehog grumbled, turning back the way she had come. “I bet he hid behind the kitchen door, the scamp.”

The mole waited until she was gone, and he slipped out, grinning at Sunflash and tugging his snout. “Thank’ee zurr.”

The badger caught sight of a gleam of gold in the mole’s paw, and he smiled a little. “What’s your name? What’s that you have there?”

The little mole looked secretive, standing on tip-paw to whisper in Sunflash’s ear. “Moi name is Gurmal, an’ Oi do be ee hoidin’ this here for king Marthen, so Oi be.”

Sunflash started to see a monocle laying in Gurmal’s paw. He felt a bit of concern, and he asked, “The king gave that to you?”

Gurmal nodded. “So he’m did, it do be part of ee game. Oi be a hoidin’ it for him, loike he wanted. He wanted it hid real well, so’m he does.”

Sunflash looked around, wondering if Xzanthia was watching them, and not wanting any harm to come to the young creature. "Why would he want that?"

"Well .. Oi'm not sure zurr, it do be part of ee game."

Sunflash smiled despite the situation, realizing that Gurmal was too innocent to understand. "Ah, I see. Well, where do you plan to hide it?"

Gurmal thought a moment, sighing. "Oi'm baint certain zurr, Oi do be ee figurin' that one out, so Oi do."

He nodded, adding, "Oi do be havin' trouble a foindin' a place sneaky enough, so Oi do."

Sunflash paused, before asking, "Do you need some help doing that?"

"Well .. Oi baint know zurr. Oi do think you'm have to ask zurr Marthen if you'm could play too." Gurmal looked apologetic. "Sorry zurr."

Sunflash hadn't had a chance to be around many young beasts, but he was finding he had a soft spot for them. He chuckled, patting the little mole's head .. though gently. "That's alright, I may ask him later. For now .."

The badger disliked the thought of Gurmal being anywhere near a monocle, let alone carrying one. Also, the one that Xzanthia had been controlling Martin with .. who knew what she might do to the poor dibbun!

Sunflash suddenly had a thought, and he whispered it in Gurmal's ear. "I'll tell you what. I visited the cellar earlier today, and I saw the cellarhog .."

"N'uncle Ben, zurr." Gurmal supplied.

"Right, Ben. He had some casks he was still filling .. put it in one of those."

Gurmal thought for a moment, before a large grin spread across his face. "Oi do think that be a roight gurt idea zurr .. Oi'll be a doin' that'un!"

The mole hurried back the way he'd come, waving. "Goombye zurr, Oi'm off to be troin' it!"

Sunflash straightened up, smiling. Depending on which cask the monocle ended up in, it might be seasons before it was found. At least it wouldn't be able to hurt Gurmal .. or Martin. And Xzanthia would never find it.



Chapter 37 Raid on Redwall

"Is Xzanthia here now?" Mizzah and the others had congregated by the pound, a favorable place because of how hard it was to approach without being seen.

Lenn spoke up. "Yes, Kensly and I saw her in the kitchen on our way from dinner."

Lilly nodded. "Good. We need to know where she is at all times, whenever it's possible. Zarya, where's Sunflash?"

"I think he was just coming from dinner. He should be here soon." The badger shrugged, though she looked a little worried despite herself.

Annon shook his head. "With all due respect, we need to travel in pairs at least."

Lilly was firm. "Agreed. We're dealing with Sixclaw's little brat, and you saw how excited she was to see us."

"Aye, she about stepped out of her fur when she saw you, milady." Kensly put in.

Lilly tried to keep a straight face, but she cracked and smiled a little. "Yes .. and though it was a bit of humor at her expense, mark my words that she'll make us pay tenfold. We must be on guard and armed at all times."

Mizzah nodded. "Yes, I don't want to see any of you young'uns alone for any reason. It's a certain way to mysteriously disappear .. forever. To make it easy, I'll just assign you partners .. Cedric and Fr .. that is Zillah .. you make a good team. Kensly .. stick around Lenn, she's observant and you deal with any serious fighting you might get into. Annon .. stick around. Go with any group you'd like to, but don't go alone. The badgers, Lilly, and I might switch around some. Skarlath should come sometime in the night to tell us what Timbal and Sayna have decided."

Sunflash hurried up at this moment. "Sorry, I stopped to talk with a mole dibbun .. did I miss anything?"

Mizzah shrugged. "We'll tell you again. Look, you young beasts run along. Take them exploring or something .. Zillah, and keep an eye out for Xzanthia."

><><

Fripple adjusted her headscarf as she walked through the orchard toward the abbey, and Lenn caught up to her. "When .. when were these trees planted? They're so .. young!"

Fripple had to turn her head to see Lenn, because of her veil. "They were planted when I was a dibbun .. in fact I helped some. I think I was six seasons, so they've been around .. let's see .."

She paused, trying to figure the equation in her head, but Lenn solved it first, and for some reason, her voice was awed. "Then they are only eleven or twelve seasons old! I .. I never imagined .."

She paused beside a young apple tree, stating, "This is where the old apple tree was .. I've climbed in it. And that means .. no, this couldn't be the very tree. It just .. couldn't be."

The mouse rubbed her head, sighing, "Oh, history is not at all what I thought it was. Here I thought I would unlock its secrets .. and how many secrets it has hidden."

Lenn suddenly seemed to realize Fripple was watching her, and she looked down. "I'm sorry."

Fripple looked to where Cedric, Kensly, and Annon were walking, slightly behind them, and she slowly stated, "I get the feeling, that there's more to you than we realize."

"You .. don't think I'm crazy?" Lenn looked surprised.

Fripple shrugged. "You really don't seem like it. My father always taught me to be open-minded, and though I understand little of what you say sometimes .. I don't think you're insane."

Fripple paused, suddenly voicing what she'd wanted to for a while. "You talk like you've seen the future .. are you a Prophet?"

Lenn looked surprised. "Oh no, no, I'm not .. I .. I haven't seen the future, I've .."

She looked around, finally stating, "I sort of .. came from the future, I guess."

Fripple was taken back .. she hadn't really thought Lenn was a Prophet, but to hear she'd come from the future .. that was .. The mouse shook her head, trying to clear it. Lenn sighed, and Fripple felt bad. "No, I'm trying to get used to the idea. How?"

Lenn looked behind them to make sure the others were still not listening. "It had to do with Martin's sword, and Sayna's. You see, I touched them, they glowed blue .. I .. it's hard to explain. When I woke up .. or at least, I think I did .. I was in the oasis, and Mizzah found me."

She rubbed her arm. "At first I did want to wake up, but now .. now part of me wishes I could stay."

Fripple thought a moment, before she tried to cheer Lenn up. "Well .. I know I'm awake, so you must be. And I doubt you can leave, anyway."

Lenn smiled, glancing back at the boys. "Yes, sometimes I hope I could .."

She looked down. "But I must go back .. I may already be too late. I have the flower I wanted, I can save him .. but I am trapped here."

"Who?" Fripple was confused.

"My grandfather. He's very ill .. and I hoped .." Lenn's paw fell to her satchel, where the Icetor flower was.

Fripple looked down. "Oh. Right .. how could you get back, do you think?"

Lenn shrugged. "Probably with the swords .. but Martin's is lost. And besides .. you are better friends than I ever had .. in my time. I want to stay .. forever .. but .. my grandfather."

Fripple didn't say anything for a moment .. somehow, she believed Lenn. "I'm .. sorry I can't .. help."

"That's ok." Lenn wiped an eye, straightening up. "I'm going to help you first, anyway."

"So what's the secret, huh?" Cedric broke in.

Fripple met Lenn's gaze a moment, before shrugging. "Nothing. Have I taken you up on the wall yet? No? Come on, it's an awesome view!"

Her friends followed her quickly, Cedric bolting ahead of her. "Race you, Princess!"

Fripple laughed. "Oh really?"

She bolted after him for a moment, before almost loosing her headscarf and stopping to fix it. "Nice one Cedric."

The mouse skidded to a halt, running back. "Sorry, I forgot."

Lenn had reached the steps to the wall, and started up them, Kensly and Annon behind her. Cedric leaned against the stair's railing, asking, "Need some help with that, Princess?"

Fripple fixed her scarf. "Nope."

She walked past Cedric, laying her paw on the railing. He winked at her. "You look good in that. Keep your hair from sticking out so much, though."

Fripple rolled her eyes, stuffing the lock of brown hair under her scarf. "Is that better?"

Cedric shrugged. "Yea, it works."

He suddenly paused, before grabbing Fripple's paw and dragging her behind and slightly under the staircase. She blinked. "What are you doing?"

Cedric shook his head, pointing out on the lawns. Fripple saw why he'd hid .. it was Xzanthia.

The wearet seemed to have heard something, likely them, for she paused. The two mice waited with bated breath, hiding in the staircase's shadow.

Xzanthia began walking again, heading for the wall gate that led out into Mossflower. Fripple and Cedric exchanged a glance, before the mouse whispered, "Princess, what about the others?"

"They're in a group aren't they?" Fripple pointed out, a burning curiosity growing in her to find out exactly what Xzanthia was up to. She started after the wearet, expecting Cedric to follow, and he did.

"Alright." He sounded just a curious as she was. "But we won't follow her too far, my uncle would be furious!"

Xzanthia paused at the gate itself, looking innocently around. Upon deciding nobeast was there, she slipped out, leaving the gate open a crack. Fripple ran to where the wearet had just been, slowly peering out into Mossflower.

There was nobeast.

Fripple scowled, slipping out of Redwall and trying to see in the mostly faded light. Cedric grabbed her shoulder, whispering, "There!"

Sure enough, there was a subtle rustling that receded into the darkening woods, and Fripple followed. "After her! She's up to something .."

"Isn't she always?" Cedric asked, suddenly tripping and falling into Fripple, knocking her against a tree.

The mouse maid glared at him as he regained his feet, whispering, "Sorry, there was a tree root .. I'm not used to those being around."

Fripple shook her head, suddenly noticing Xzanthia had stopped walking, and seemed to be listening. Fripple pulled Cedric against the tree she was beside, pressing a finger to her muzzle.

The two stood as still as was possible, hardly daring to breath, especially when horse's hooves broke the silence. There was a jingling as somebeast dismounted, and Xzanthia suddenly spoke. "There you are. Look, we don't have much time, and you know it. Did you rally the Painted Ones?"

"My dear, I did my best. But we have had .. difficulties."

"Bah, you and that scum Tyre! He's vanished to who-knows-where, and you want to tell me things are going wrong?"

The answer was smooth, and fearless. "Now, have I told you what happened? Wurgg and I brought the Flitchaye to the Painted One's camp, and both groups have quite a woeful story to tell .. you ought to be able to use it to your aid. After all, self-pity and anger are the fires of revenge."

There was a pause, before Xzanthia spoke again, more favorably this time. "You have a point there. What happened?"

"After you left to check on Redwall, the sword was stolen from the Painted Ones by several of Veil's friends. As for the Flitchaye, they claim to have been poisoned by a pretty little otter maid who offered to cook for them."

"And I suppose they accepted, the dim-wits."

"Apparently so, milady."

Xzanthia's voice was a growl. "They think they can play games with me? This was my fool of a father's mistake, to simply hold ground until it was taken from him. But I will not stand still. I have had enough of play-acting, it's time those fools saw the real me .. and let them cower on the day they do. Just imagine it .. the darling angel that lived among them, turns into a demon to slay each and every one."

"No prisoners and slaves, my dear?"

"No." Xzanthia's voice was ice cold. "Slaves and prisoners have a way of overthrowing the master fool enough to keep them. I'll save myself the headache."

"You sound just like Lady Nightshade."

"I take that as a compliment. Let's go .. I'll come back tomorrow night. By the time the moon reaches its zenith again, Redwall will be mine."

><><

"Skarlath .. you .. can't be serious!" Timbal was concerned. "Lady Lilly says the attack will come tomorrow night?"

"Raaaeeek! So she say. Before moon's zenith." The golden bird ruffled his plumage. "She say your daughter find."

Timbal tapped his claws on the table. "Yes .. I can imagine."

Sayna stood. "But we're not ready. After the injuries we sustained .. Veil, how many does she have?"

Veil looked up at Tyre, hanging from the rafters. The bat sighed, fluttering down and perching on Veil's shoulder. "At least five score. If not six."

"Even with the otters, we might number half that many!" Quinn spoke up.

Sayna held up a paw. "Wait, what about the squirrels?"

Rose shook her head. "I don't know .. Redfarl took a monocle, and Arvid was using it too. They've sort of .. fell to ruling just the squirrels."

Timbal looked grim. "I'll get Warthorn and Argulor to talk to them. Now, Veil, how about having your .. ally there tell us what he told you?"

Tyre looked unimpressed, but then, he usually did. "I simply told him that I'm done serving a brat who doesn't care for my talents. I'd rather work for you, and perhaps then, should I prove myself, Lady Lilly would allow me to return to Southsward and live among you overdwellers."

He paused a moment. "Anyway, that's my best chance. I am a traitor to my kind, and among bats .. disloyalty to the tribe is the greatest crime."

Argulor adjusted his monocle. "Ack, if Ah may say, what is our strategy of attack, ye'kin?"

"Should we defend the abbey? We could keep her at bay, since she's no longer in the walls." Sayna looked around for ideas.

Veil slowly stood. "If I may, your majesty? That's not going to work .. too many in the abbey itself are deceived."

"Except Whegg and Rupert. And their families .. they'll stand with us." Luke broke in. "And Gonff too."

Timbal nodded, asking, "Can we truly depend on them? I hate to say that about our friends, but .."

Gingivere stood, laying a paw on Veil's shoulder. "Whegg's true, Timbal. I know a lot's happened, but Filip says his dad's wary of it, Regina too. I believe in them."

Esther nodded, standing as well. "And .. my parents .. well .. I think they would be for us."

Luke crossed his arms. "Last time I talked to Gonfflet, he told me he disliked the monocles."

"I'm glad to hear it." Sayna laid a paw on the table, asking, "Filip, tell us what you said you would like to."

The rat slowly stood, looking down. "I've .. Lord Ignasa has spoken to me several times now. He told me to find the sword .. he called it the king's faithful servant. He told me the king's faithful subject would come from the south, and they two would fight to save the king."

Roseanna spoke for the first time, raising an eyebrow. "What's that supposed to mean?"

"I don't know!" Filip snapped a little, before sighing, "At least, not yet."

"What did Ignasa say? Can you remember?" Sayna asked.

Filip nodded. "Something like .. Find a high king's faithful servant, and find his faithful subject. Call upon the Morning Song, and break the spell of lies. Then something about looking to the south, and that the lost son of Redwall would return. It's all a little fuzzy now."

Bella had sat in silence until now, and she spoke up. "My friends, it is obvious. Veil is the one. In the other prophecy, it says the veil will set us free. He is the subject who must wield the servant."

"Me?" Veil couldn't remain quiet. "Me wield Martin's sword? I .. I'm going to fight for Redwall, but shouldn't Martin have his own sword?"

The ferret paused, adding, "Of course .. I'm not sure he can use it right now."

"I've got an idea!"

Everybeast turned to look at Esther, who shrank back momentarily. She cleared her throat before speaking again. "Maybe Veil should take the sword back to Martin! I mean .. if we can just destroy the monocle, he'll be himself again .. right?"

"I hope so." Rose sighed.

Bella shook her head. "I'd think there'd be some sort of side effect. He's had it almost a season and a half!"

"Still, there's something to Esther's plan. The monocle is controlling him, so it must be broken no matter what happens." Timbal paused. "Can they be broken?"

There was a moment of unsure silence, and Ivan shrugged. "I don't know, we never saw what actually happened in Southsward."

"Well, if'n yer askin' anybeast, they can't. Can they Kinta?" Skadu looked at the rat.

She shook her head. "No. Zenith .. what did your mother say about them?"

The black fox absently rubbed her arm. "They were created to be invincible. Nightshade bragged that they were the culmination of Shroud's life's work, that he put everything he had into them."

She shivered a little as Quinn laid a paw on her shoulder. "They are unbreakable."

Kinta frowned. "I know that's what she said. But don't you think, that Ignasa made a way to destroy them?"

There was a pause, before the sound of metal sliding across metal rang out, and Sayna drew her sword, staring at it. "Maybe he did."

Timbal's eyes lit up. "Of course, the swords! They can deflect a Shadow Fighter's green fire, they probably can break the monocles."

"Now, for the plan of attack." Groddil stood up. "We can't keep her out of Redwall, she's seen to that. So the only thing we can do is let her come in .. and arrange a surprise to greet her."

><><

The day had passed quickly in a whirlwind of preparation, for they had to be ready to infiltrate Redwall before Xzanthia did. Roseanna practiced archery with Esther, Luke honed Filip and Togget in a few fighting moves, and Bryony joined in.

Gingivere and Sandingomm helped wherever they could, as did Sayna and Timbal. Veil tried to get a feel for Martin's sword, which was both heavier and shorter than his rapier.

Quinn and the former seers aided in planning, and it was decided that taking on the Painted Ones in the trees, their natural habitat, would be foolish.

The ending decision was to trap her .. in the trap she'd set for them.

Veil buckled on his rapier and dagger, fastening Martin's sword across his back. Esther stood nearby, counting the arrows in her quiver.

Night had fallen, and there was hardly a trace of the sun any longer, but Esther didn't have a problem seeing. But then ... she never did.

Skarlath was preening nearby, though he looked impatiently over at the two now and then. Veil adjusted his armor some, standing straight again. "Esther, are you ready?"

She smiled, nervously. "Ready .. as I'll ever be, Veil."

Skarlath hopped off the stone bench he'd perched on, ruffling his feathers. "Raaaack! Then we go, now! Night grows late."

Veil took a deep breath, carefully swinging onto the eagle's back and holding a paw out to Esther. The ermine took it, getting on behind him and putting her arms around his waist .. admittedly holding on with vise-like strength.

Skarlath didn't waste time, he ran a short ways, before catching air and swooping skillfully up between several trees and into the starry sky above them.

Veil had been a little nervous about two creatures riding Skarlath, but the eagle didn't seem to have a problem with the extra weight.

"Who's going to meet us again?" Esther asked.

"I think they said Sunflash and Lilly, but I'm not sure." Veil replied, somehow not feeling terribly like talking .. yet in a way, wanting to.

Esther sighed. "I'm .. afraid, I won't say I'm not. But .. I'll try my best."

"I think .." Veil paused. "That I feel the same. But I .. will also do what I can."

Esther didn't say anything for a moment, before she added, "Veil ... do you think it will work? Our plan?"

The ferret shook his head. "I'm not sure. It's risky .. but I think we have a chance."

"But it will cost somebeasts .. their lives, won't it." She didn't ask, for she knew.

Veil nodded, thinking of Southsward. "War always costs somebeast's life."

Esther nodded, finally stating softly, "I hope it won't be your's."

Veil didn't say anthing for a moment, though he felt almost happy that she cared. "And I hope it won't be your's, no matter what happens to me."

"Don't die .. please don't. You don't have to .. fight Xzanthia."

Veil wanted to reasure her, even perhaps say more, but the words would not come. "I'll do what I ... need to."

Skarlath cocked his head, stating, "You watch him see, make certain he stays out'a trouble."

Esther smiled a little. "I'll try."

The eagle swooped down upon the parapet, where Sunflash was waiting. "Good, you're on time."

Veil slipped off their mount, helping Esther to do so as he looked around, feeling it odd to be back here. Sunflash noticed. "It's safe .. as it can be. They're all asleep and completely unawares .. I'm glad Fripple and Cedric heard what they did."

Skarlath jumped onto the wall stones, squawking, "I go now, good luck you have."

Sunflash nodded as the bird left. "Come on, let's get out of sight. I've got a good idea of where that monocle of Martin's is .. but we have to be fast."

Veil followed the badger down the steps, Esther close behind him. "How fast .. exactly ..?"

"I'd say this has to be done in half an hour. Now Esther .. can you sneak past the cellarhog?"

The ermine shrugged. "Sure ... but .. why?"

Sunflash looked almost amused. "I'm pretty sure that's where the monocle is."

Veil and Esther looked at him oddly, and he continued. "You see, Martin gave it to a dibbun mole in hopes of getting it out of his sight, and I spoke with him .."

Veil broke in. "Wait, a dibbun mole? You mean Gurmal?"

"Oh no .. not Gurmal .." Esther looked upset.

Sunflash was confused, and Veil sighed. "Togget could tell you .. Gurmal's very .. forgetful and scatterbrained. The only thing he can keep straight is meal times."

Esther nodded. "And .. he may have gotten better while we were gone, but ..."

Sunflash paused. "Oh. I see your point .. hopefully it's just a matter of determining which cask he put it in. He was going to drop it in one of the unfilled ones, and I don't think Ben will have had time to fill them. He was helping in the orchard and gardens most of today."

"Well it's something." Veil agreed.

Esther raised an eyebrow. "Are you .. coming too?"

Sunflash shook his head. "No, I'm not made for sneaking around. But if you need help, we'll be stationed in different places, watching."

They had stopped in the shadow of the wall, and Veil looked across the moonlit lawns toward the abbey building. "We should get started then. Even after we break the monocle, we'll have to give the sword back to Martin."

Esther looked around cautiously, slipping out of the wall's shadow. "It's clear. Follow me, Veil, quick."

She walked briskly toward the abbey, keeping her gait quick but not obviously running. Veil did the same, though the whole experience felt very surreal .. why was he walking across the lawns of a place he said he'd never return to?

Yet he had. The ferret found Esther was ahead of him, and he caught up with her. The ermine slipped silently into the shadows of the abbey, heading for the doors leading into Great Hall.

She never spoke, simply motioned with a paw when she wanted Veil to stop or move forward. And somehow, there was something a little different about her, something admirable, in a way.

Veil suddenly hit upon the reason, she wasn't as nervous as usual. Maybe because she was too focused to be.

Esther made her way up the steps of Great Hall, pushing one of the doors open ever so slightly, before motioning that Veil should join her.

He did so, slipping through the doors after she did, and carefully pulling them shut. The ferret joined Esther at the wall, stating quietly, "I forgot how good you are at this."

He couldn't see her expression, but she sounded like she was smiling. "There just hasn't been a need for it before now. And ... thanks."

"What be you a doin'?"

Esther gasped, almost screaming as she jumped, wheeling around. Veil turned quickly too, his fur bristling.

Gurmal was watching them with wide-eyed innocence. Veil and Esther both breathed a sigh of relief, tensing again as the mole asked, "Bain't you'm been runnin off zurrs?"

Esther stuttered. "Um .. well .. that is .."

Veil broke in. "Gurmal, we're trying to help the abbey. I know we left, maybe we shouldn't have, but we've returned. There's a very dangerous creature trying to take over, and we're trying to stop her."

Gurmal looked confused, and Esther added, "Please don't tell! Please Gurmal .. it'll ruin everything!"

Gurmal suddenly chuckled. "Oh hurr, Oi'll say it would! Oi do be ee tryin' not to sleep, so'm you not tell, Oi surpently won't."

Veil felt relief at this, and he suddenly recalled what Sunflash had said about Gurmal. "Say ... where did you hide Martin's monocle?"

"Whoi, Oi can't be a tellin' that. It do be ee part of ee game." Gurmal was profoundly loyal.

Veil and Esther looked hesitantly at each other, Esther speaking. "Yes .. of course. And that's .. good. But the thing is .. Martin needs our help. Really, really bad. So we need to .. find the monocle see, it's very important."

Gurmal paused, before speaking up. "Boi hok'y, you'm mean it do be an .. 'veture?"

"Yes .. yes that's it!" Esther smiled. "It is. It's a very exciting adventure, and we need your help."

Veil decided to say nothing, and Gurmal wiggled with excitement. "Oi'm sure glad Oi decid'd not to be ee sleepin' tonioght so Oi am! What we be ee doin'?"

Esther explained quickly. "If you tell us where you put the monocle ..."

Gurmal lost his sense of loyalty in the face of an adventure. "Oi'll not be ee tellin' you, Oi'll be ee showin' you, an it do be ee roight gurt hoidin' place, so it do."

He made his way along the hall toward Cavern Hole, Esther following quickly. Veil felt a slow smile cross his face, before he followed them. Gurmal hurried down the steps to the kitchens, pausing at the door. "Ho hurr, you'm need to be arful quiet you'm do. Ol' Ben do be ee sleepin'."

Veil saw what he meant, for the hedgehog was laying on a pile of sacks at the foot of a shelf. Gurmal tugged on Esther's paw, pointing at the shelf and whispering, "It do be up thur."

Veil stared at the shelf in hopes of seeing a golden gleam in the dim light, but saw only the stacks of plates and pots that would normally be found on a kitchen shelf. "Where?"

Gurmal was matter-of-fact. "Whoi, it do be in ee 'unnypot, so it do."

Esther groaned softly. "Why would you put it in a honeypot?"

"Whoi Oi do loike eaten 'unny." Gurmal explained.

Esther sighed, stepping softly toward the shelf, cautious lest she awake Ben. The ermine reached for the jar Gurmal had indicated, practically leaning over the sleeping cellarkeeper.

Both Veil and Gurmal were holding their breath .. for somewhat different reasons .. when Esther's fingers closed around the honeypot. However the next second she stumbled, stepping on Ben's paw and yelping in the same moment, dropping the jar.

Ben stirred, but he fell still again as the honeypot landed squarely on his head, clunking dully as it hit the ground. Esther leaned against the wall, grabbing her foot. "Oooh his spines .. even through my boots ... wait .. what happened?"

Veil picked up the honeypot, examining Ben while being careful not to touch him properly. "You knocked him out."

Esther gulped. "I .. didn't mean to .. I'm sorry .."

"I think he'll be fine .. but let's get out of here." Veil sighed.

"What's goin' on?" The storeroom door swung open, emitting Trimp.

She blinked upon seeing who it was, suddenly stating, "Hoi, you're early. Gave me a bit of a turn it did .. what's with Ben?"

"Umm .." Veil and Esther looked guilty.

"They be ee doin' it zurr, not this mole!" Gurmal exclaimed.

Trimp waved a paw at them. "Alright, I guess you knocked him out, hmm? Well it is what it is .. what are ya doin after me honeypot?"

Veil shrugged. "Gurmal said he hid the monocle in it."

Trimp glared at the mole. "Oh so that's why he was in me honey. I thought he told Sunflash he was going to hide it in a wine cask .."

She grabbed the pot from Veil, sticking her paw in it and feeling around for a moment. The hedgehog shook her head, pulling her dripping, very sticky paw out of the honey and scowling. "Alright young Gurmal, where is it really?"

The mole paused, suddenly exclaiming, "Whoi now Oi do remember .. Oi put it in the 'Tober ale roight there."

He pointed at a notoriously empty place on the counter. Trimp was dismayed. "You mean the one I gave to Martin! Gurmal, how do you manage these things?"

The mole scuffed a paw. "Oi don't know roightly .. Ben saw me a'fore Oi could be ee getting to ee cellar an Oi .."

Veil ran a paw through his unruly crop of headfur. "Great .. ideas, anybeast?"

><><

Martin was not having a good night, he could not sleep. The mouse king was sitting in his empty living room, staring dully into the empty fireplace.

He had a faint headache, though the constant migraines that had plagued him seemed to have receded. Still, his life was miserable, confusing, and lonely .. his family was gone, maybe forever.

Or had it never even happened? Had the last twenty some seasons been no more than a dream?

Martin rubbed his forehead. That was crazy .. he must be crazy.

"How did this get to be as bad as it is?"

The mouse asked nobeast in particular, as he staggered onto his paws. "That's it .. I'm not going to sit around anymore. I'm going out to find them, no matter what happens."

But your people. Will you leave them?

Martin sighed, reaching for his monocle from pure habit, and becoming frustrated with himself. "No, you got rid of that thing. You'll never see it again, and that's the way it should be."

He clapped a paw to his head as the ache increased some, and he stumbled into the kitchen, pulling down a glass .. a drink wouldn't hurt at this point.

The mouse took the jar of October Ale off the shelf, glad Trimp had remembered to send it over. However as he shook it, there was a clinking at the bottom.

Martin frowned, shaking the jar again. Yes, there was definitely something in there.

He pulled the large wooden bowl sitting on the table nearer, pouring the ale into it. There was a sudden flash of reflected light and a clattering splash as the object fell into the bowl as well.

Martin pulled it out, though he'd already guessed what it was.

The monocle.

The mouse glared at the thing he was quickly growing to despise, grumbling, "Why can't I get away from this thing?"

On a sudden impulse, he threw it forcefully on the stones of the kitchen floor. There was a clink, and the monocle remained entirely intact, though a jolt of pain shot through Martin's head, and he staggered against the table. "Wh .. what?"

He scooped up the eyepiece, staring at it with growing fear. The mouse walked quickly to his room, pulling one of the swords that decorated the wall from its place and brought it down upon the monocle with power.

Martin heard himself cry out, heard the sword clatter to the floor as he fell with it, his vision swimming. The mouse coughed, looking at the thing he'd thought was his aid as his anger morphed into fear.

It was just the same, but the sword's blade was nicked.

"Ignasa .. what is .. going on?"

As he pleaded for any answer, he realized he had not thought of Ignasa in many, many weeks.

"Martin, what have you done?"

The voice echoed in his mind, and Martin stammered, feeling strangely guilty and defensive. "I .. I've done nothing! Have I? What did I do .. I know not!"

"In your heart, you know well. And a price must be paid, my son."

Martin felt cold fear at these words, and he pleaded. "But milord .. tell me what I have done! What price? What is happening?"

"Simply the culmination of all you have ignored and aided in, even. I am sorry my child, you have much to face .. the ghosts of your decisions await you."

The mouse king shivered, staggering to his paws and snatching up the monocle. "No .. no .. I'll stop this! I'll destroy this thing .. nothing bad has to happen. Just don't .. don't let it hurt Rose .. or my children!"

As he ran out the door of the gatehouse, a soft echo followed him.

"My dear son, some things you cannot change."

><><

"The question is, how're ya plannin' to get it outa the Gatehouse?" Trimp panted, as she bolted up the steps beside Veil and Esther.

Veil shook his head. "I'm not sure .. Esther, can you sneak in?"

"I'll try .." The ermine sounded unsure.

They skidded to an instant halt as Great Hall's door pivoted in, emitting none other than Martin himself. The mouse shut the door behind him before he really realized who it was.

He tensed on an instant, gasping, "You?"

Veil felt like he was facing a nightmare he'd tried to forget, yet it had returned to haunt him. For a moment he was frozen, he could say nothing at all, though there were a thousand things he might have wished to say.

Martin's eyes narrowed. "So that's what Ignasa meant .. you came back to stir up more trouble. Where is my daughter? What have you done with her?"

Veil found he could speak again, and with a little anger. "Aubretia is fine, I did nothing to her! I have not come back to create trouble .. I came back to try and stop it!"

Esther suddenly grabbed his paw. "The monocle!"

Sure enough, there was a little glimmer of gold in the king's paw, which he suddenly hid. "What do you want with it? To do more evil with it?"

Trimp stared at Martin. "You ain't making one bit a sense, sire. Xzanthia's the one behind those monocles, not Veil."

Martin paused, before stating, "I don't believe it .. how could it be. Trimp, you're for him?"

"I am." Trimp stood straight. "And sire, that thing is pure evil .. let us git rid of it for ya!"

"How can I trust you?" Martin snapped. "You think I'm going to trust a poisoner ... and those who're helping him?"

Esther lost her temper, suddenly. "Veil's not the poisoner, Xzanthia is! It was Xzanthia all along, stop blaming Veil for his sister!"

Veil felt his heart sink as Esther clapped a paw to her mouth, and Martin stared at them. "His what?"

Suddenly he broke off, snapping, "My sword! So you were the one who stole my sword, I might have known!"

"I didn't!" Veil exclaimed.

Martin drew the sword he was carrying, snarling, "Liar! I'll finish what I should have done in the first place, and you will never touch my family again, poisoner!"

Veil ducked under Martin's blade, shoving Esther behind him and drawing the mouse's real sword. Trimp jumped aside as the first clash of steel rang out. "Oh no, we can't be this loud!"

"Veil, the monocle!" Esther cried as Martin lost his grip on the chain. She dashed toward it, but Martin got there first, grabbing it and swinging his sword at the ermine. Esther dodged, but the blade clipped part of her left ear off, and she cried out, clapping a paw to the injury.

Martin took a step back, as if surprised by his actions, but Veil had seen enough. He could not stop himself, even if he later wished he could of. The ferret leaped at Martin with an angry yell, bringing his sword down with furious strength.

The inferior sword Martin was using shattered, breaking in half as Veil's blade ripped across his left eye, causing him to stagger away.

Veil stopped instantly, feelings of remorse and anger colliding and turning into the terrible knowledge he'd done the very thing he said he wouldn't do. Esther got to her paws, gasping, "Don't kill him!"

Martin gripped the hilt of his broken sword, jumping towards Veil with anger flashing in his open eye. The monocle clattered to the floor, and Esther dove for it again, just as two other creatures ran up.

"Stop!"

Martin suddenly paused, staring at the one. "Fripple? Wait .. where .."

The mouse paused, before grimacing. "Hi, uncle Martin."

Veil used the distraction to throw his sword at his friend. "Esther!"

She caught the sword, bringing it down on the monocle just as Martin spun around. There was a flash of green and blue as the object splintered into a thousand pieces, the smallest ones flashing as they disintegrated, but the largest ones remaining, though no more than shards.

Martin's good eye widened, and almost brightened, before he staggered one step, and fell like one dead.



Chapter 38 Our Battle Cry

TViT &#039;Showdown&#039;

The battle >;3

Esther dropped the sword from nerveless fingers, gasping, "Oh! Oh is he alright?"

She proceeded to throw herself on the ground beside the mouse, lifting his shoulders and listening for a heartbeat. The ermine relaxed a moment later. "He's alive .. oh thank goodness."

Trimp shook her head. "I ain't never seen the like."

Ivan came running in the next second, Skadu with him. "Quick! Places, everybeast, she's on her way!"

The cat stopped, looking at Martin. "What happened?"

Veil shook his head. "Get him out of here .. up to the dormitories, anything. Where's the others?"

"Comin' through the scullery!" Skadu gasped. "Yer friend Gonfflet .. an' his ol da, they're watchin' what Xzanthia does, and she'll be joinin' us soon!"

Ivan grabbed hold of Martin, starting up the stairs as Annon, Kensly, and Lenn joined Fripple and Cedric. Annon nodded. "We're ready .. behind the pillars by the door, let's go!"

Esther grabbed Veil's paw, pulling him beneath the staircase as Mizzah, Lilly, and the two badgers hurried past them to their own places, followed by some others who Veil didn't recognize in the dark.

A terrible silence filled Great Hall, frightening and suspenseful. Veil could feel Esther shaking a little as she pulled off her bow, loading it. He paused, feeling remorse that he had once again gotten the beasts he cared about into danger .. yet it wasn't even about him anymore, none of it was.

It was about the souls of goodbeasts.

He gently laid a paw on Esther's shoulder, trying to reassure her as the doors of Great Hall creaked open ominously, causing even Veil to hold his breath.

A shadowy figure was the first to enter, one that looked around carefully before fully stepping in, his voice carrying around Great Hall. "It's all clear as I thought, Milady. They're all safe in their beds."

"No they aren't." A familiar, yet much darker than usual, voice rang out. "They're only safe in their own minds."

The young wearet stepped past her new advisor, stopping in a ray of moonlight. "At last, Redwall really is mine."

Veil was fixated upon his sister, for even though she was a good ways away, he could tell there was something different about her.

She was dull, tawny gold.

Esther's voice wasn't just soft, it was dry. "What in .. the world ..?"

Veil shook his head, unable to answer, for he had no answer.

Xzanthia strode forward as her horde entered behind her, and many of them. The wearet's voice was full of satisfaction. "Take no prisoners, kill them all. These beasts are stupefied and weakened, they are hardly a conquest worthy of your skills. Their heroes .. which they threw out, will not come to aid them, for they know nothing of this. The irony is beautiful."

The horde of Painted Ones and Flitchaye had entered by now, and Veil had honestly expected more. Then he realized there must be some left outside.

There was a sudden voice to answer Xzanthia, as the sound of hooves rang out and a stocky horse took it's place in front of the stairs, ten yards away from the attackers.

"The irony is indeed surprising, isn't it?"

The doors of Great Hall suddenly swung shut with a clang, and while Veil couldn't see who was doing it, he knew it was the beasts who'd come in with Lilly.

Xzanthia stared in furious shock as two more horses joined the first, their riders obviously the queens of Mossflower. Timbal spoke again. "I'll give you one chance to surrender; you will find us neither stupid, nor weak."

Xzanthia's lip curled in anger, and she snarled, eyes turning nearly black. "You will all die this day .. attack!"

Timbal raised his axe. "Cavalry! For Ignasa and Redwaaall!"

The sound of hooves echoed like thunder as at least twenty horses moved in as one, their riders creating havoc. Veil gripped Esther's arm. "Now! Get up there with the squirrels and take out their back ranks!"

Esther nodded, jumping out of hiding and bolting up the stairs. Veil jumped out, crying, "Horde, to me!"

Scraw, Wildag, and Tyre, along with at least ten others, materialized from their hiding spots. Veil nodded. "Quick, around the sides. Use your species as cover, come on!"

He bolted forward, the others behind him.

><><

Fripple and the others with her found themselves backed against the doors by some of the horde that had escaped the rain of shafts from the catwalk allowing access to the windows. Cedric leaned against the wood of the doors, dealing his attacker a powerful kick with both hind legs. The beast collapsed, and Cedric was on him before he could recover, stabbing down with his spear.

Fripple quickly pulled her opponent's legs out from under them with her barbed tail, beheading them as they fell. "Defend Roseanna and Annon! They can shoot from behind us!"

Lenn lashed out with her dirk, staying at Fripple's side. "You .. trust their aim that much?"

Kensly took his place at her side. "We have no choice, do it!"

"Alright .." Lenn looked pale, but she gave in.

Annon whipped an arrow on his string, drawing back and loosing it with deadly accuracy. Roseanna did the same, sneering, "Ha! Got one!"

Annon reloaded his bow as she shot again. "You're good at that."

Roseanna paused, before grinning. "Thanks! Hey, you're not half bad."

"I've practiced most of my life." Annon sent a well aimed arrow at their enemies.

"Me too!" Roseanna said brightly, doing the same.

Cedric impaled one beast, but another rushed him at the same time, knocking him over. Fripple shoved the creature she was facing over with near insane strength in hope of coming to his aid, but she could not be fast enough.

However somebeast else was. There was a horse's angry scream, as a pair of gray and ivory hooves trampled the beast to death instantly.

Cedric scrambled to his paws, yanking his spear from the body it was lodged in. "Munch!"

Star tossed her head in acknowledgement, before plowing her way to where Evening was fighting.

There was a momentary lull in fighting for them, and Fripple grabbed Cedric's shoulder. "Don't do that to me!"

Cedric shrugged apologetically, but a shriek of agony made him stop. Stargazer and Groddil had been fighting nearby, and the old horse hadn't been able to dodge a spear thrust quickly enough. He staggered now, pitching forward onto the weapon lodged in his side, and throwing Groddil a good several paces.

The fox jumped up instantly, leaping back at his foes with a strange, yipping cry. Fripple stood frozen a moment, before whispering, "Oh no .. not Stargazer .. he's uncle Groddil's best friend!"

Her eyes suddenly narrowed. "We don't have anymore enemies here, let's help him!"

><><

Esther stopped firing shafts from the balcony, turning to Catkin, who was throwing javelins beside her. "Catkin, we've got to get closer, we'll hit our own if we keep at this!"

Sandingomm threw her bow across her back, drawing her curved rapier. "Agreed. I'm getting down there, now!"

The cat swung herself over the balcony railing, gripping one of the pillars and scaling her way down. Catkin was dismayed. "I can't get down that way!"

Esther looked to the staircase, realizing it was pretty well blocked. "No .. we'll go down the back stairs to the kitchen, hurry!"

Vinwyte had stopped shooting as well, and he pulled out his hatchet-like axe. "I'll go with you."

Esther nodded. "Right, come on."

She hurried toward the door leading to the upper halls, pausing once to look down upon the melee. In the darkness and the furious fighting, she could not see Veil .. and she wondered if she would ever see him again.

"Esther?"

Catkin paused at the door she was holding open, and Esther tore her eyes from the battle, following them. She pulled the door shut, hurrying along the hall. "Come on, quickly!"

Catkin ran beside her, amber eyes knowing. "Veil will be alright."

"But .. how do you know?" Esther found herself grasping for any hope of assurance.

Catkin paused. "You know, when you say it like that ... I don't know. But I hope .. and I will always hope."

Esther found nothing to say, for the way Catkin said these words, so sure of them and serious, was surprising. However as they skidded around a corner, they found they were not alone any longer, for a beast was standing at the end of the hall they were in, her back to them as she looked out a window.

Catkin stopped in her tracks, asking, "Ash?"

Esther froze, remembering what Filip had said about his sister being hexed, and Vinwyte just looked confused and wary.

Ash slowly turned around, though she looked so totally pale and almost emaciated, it gave Esther a sudden turn. But it was her flat, listless gaze that frightened Esther the most.

"She's under their spell .. what do we do?" Esther heard herself speaking frantically.

Vinwyte tensed upon hearing this, but Catkin suddenly exclaimed, "The Morning Song!"

Esther was at a loss, for she hadn't really heard it in the arena, being one of those it freed. However Catkin remembered, for she began softly singing.


"Sun that dawns in golden east .."


Esther just listened, almost entranced, and to her surprise, Vinwyte even joined in with Catkin. Ash hadn't moved an inch, but her wide, frightened, and dull eyes slowly began to sparkle with life once again.


"True north fades in lighting sky,

Both in day and dark of night,

Truth will guide our hearts to fly."


Esther found herself letting her voice join the two otters'; it was almost an involuntary response.

But Ash wasn't the only one effected, for the song carried into the dormitories .. the infirmary. Columbine and several of her assistants appeared in their doorway, the beasts in the dormitories did as well .. and the song was working.

For dull eyes brightened, ears laid back in soft tiredness perked once more, and slumped shoulders straightened again. Ash herself looked thin and slightly wasted perhaps, but her drooping, fear-controlled stance was no more.

As Catkin stopped singing, the rat stumbled forward, falling on all fours. The otter steadied her friend. "Hey .. easy, you'll be alright!"

Ash slowly looked up. "C .. Catkin?"

She suddenly threw her arms around the otter. "Catkin, it's you!"

The rat stumbled back on her paws, grabbing Esther's arms as if to assure herself the ermine was really real. "Esther! Oh thank you, thank you! You have no idea .. how many nightmares .. how little peace .. no strength to act in my own will .."

Ash suddenly stopped. "Wait .. Esther? Catkin? You left with Veil before that horrible Xzanthia .."

Esther found herself almost crying from happiness at seeing her friend back again. "I know, but we've returned .. all of us, and with many new friends .. to free you all! We're fighting Xzanthia and her horde .. right .. now ..... the battle!"

Vinwyte also came back to his senses. "We've got to get down there, they need us!"

Ash looked around. "Then I'm coming with you .. ahh!"

She stumbled, and Columbine stepped forward, looking a little dazed herself. "I've not made the wisest choices, but I know enough to say no to that. Stay with us Ash, you'll be no use in any fighting."

"No." A voice spoke up as there was the clatter of a monocle being thrown into the wall and Goody stepped forward. "But I'd like ta lam a rollin' pin on the villain who brought those things 'ere .. it's duped me long enough!"

Ferdy jumped foreward, Coggs close behind. "That's the spirit mum! Let's give em billy'o an' Eulalia, as ol' Beau used ta say!"

Esther raised her bow. "Who's with us?"

The cry echoed loudly through the hallway.

"Reeedwaaaall!!"

><><

Xzanthia snarled in fury to find her army evenly matched, and even becoming outnumbered. She kicked the nearest beast, for she could not grab them with knives between her claws. "You, do whatever you have too, get reinforcements!"

Wraith was nearby, and he called to Wurgg. "Those windows up there open! Get on one and holler for them, the only reason they haven't come in is cause they think this is the sound of us killing the Redwallers!"

Wurgg left instantly to do his work, and Wraith lashed out at a blue roan that was attacking him, tearing an injury down the horse's side. The creature kicked out, but lost his balance in doing so and fell, struggling for a few moments to get up again, before falling lifelessly to the blood-stained stones.

Xzanthia stabbed a squirrel that was leaping at her in the throat, snarling, "Where is that brother of mine? He will rue this day!"

Wraith shook his head, aiming a knife at Wildag, fighting nearby, but something black flitted across his vision, distracting him. Xzanthia froze, suddenly screaming, "Tyre! Tyre you rotten traitor! It was you who warned them, you scum!"

Her shriek reverberated through the hall, but Tyre did not listen, just dropped upon a Painted One's head, clawing at the back of his neck until he fell limp. The bat licked some blood from his fangs, staring defiantly at Xzanthia before flitting up again.

The wearet was broken from her shock, and she threw a knife at the bat with vicious strength. However, he was too quick, and the knife tore across one of the golden eagles' legs, provoking the bird to circle around.

It let loose a wild and terrible cry, hesitating a moment before diving at Xzanthia. She raised her knives to throw, but there was a swish beside her as Wraith beat her to it. The weasel's knife flew true, sinking into the golden bird's shoulder.

The creature screeched in pain, halting its dive momentarily before falling to the ground, flopping motionless upon it.

Tyre stopped his rapid movements in shock, and he did it one moment too long. For Xzanthia took her chance, hurling a knife with fury-born strength. It hit its mark perfectly, impaling the bat as he let loose one last, shrill cry of agony, and plummeted lifeless to the ground.

It all happened in an instant, and the next, an unearthly shriek rang out, and a golden blurr descended upon Wraith. The weasel reach for a knife, but he'd thrown them all.

The other eagle bore him upward, claws digging into him so deep a little blood splattered to the ground. Xzanthia raised her paw the throw a knife at Wraith's executioner, but she was attacked by an otter.

She ducked under the first harpoon slash, tearing her knives across the beast's legs as a couple Painted Ones finished him off. The wearet was too late to save Wraith however, for she was just in time to see the eagle drop him. The weasel had time to scream, before he hit the ground with a horrible thump, and lay deathly still.

Xzanthia paused only a moment, before walking over, to see her advisor was undoubtedly dead, his neck clearly broken. The wearet used the moment to yank her knife from Tyre's corpse, kicking it for good measure.

At that second, a bellow rang out. "Mates, get in here! We need reinforcements now, Lady Xzanthia's orders!"

Good, Wurgg had come through.

Up on the window balcony, Wurgg was trying to discern if the rest of the horde was coming, when a paw tapped him gently on the shoulder.

The weasel turned to see the gray tabby cat who'd attacked him two days earlier when the sword was stolen. The creature's expression never changed, and his voice was frighteningly droll.

"I don't kill my foes from behind."

Wurgg tried to raise his sword, but he was too late. The last thing he saw was the spiked flail swinging towards his head; then an explosion of pain, and eternal darkness.

><><

Out on the outer wall, Gonfflet was rather enjoying himself.

"No mates, Lady Xzanthia says she's got this one. She don't need ya one little bit, 'ear all that ruckus? That's them woodlanders gittin' killed, see?"

The mouse dropped below the parapet, elbowing Filip. "Heehee .. It's working right swell ain't it? I mean isn't it?"

Filip stifled a chuckle despite himself. "I must admit, this is a good idea."

"Course it is mate .. I say, you have a go!"

Filip paused, before hollering, "Aye mateys, stay where ya is! Yer job is ta keep em from escapin'!"

The rat fell down beside the mouse, laughing momentarily, even though he was worried for those inside.

Gonfflet looked thoughtful.


"There once was a band of vermin,

Their ears were so dirty you see,

When their leader screamed, 'Help us, we all will be killed',

They thought she said, 'Tis time for you to be filled',

And they all sat down to take tea."


The mouse paused. "I say, not bad! Wherever is my notepad when I need it?"

At that second, a bellow rang out from the direction of the abbey. "Mates, get in here! We need reinforcements now, Lady Xzanthia's orders!"

Gonfflet sat bolt upright as the horde outside tried the gates, and finding them locked, went into a frenzy. The mouse grabbed Filip's paw, dragging him along the parapet. "That's torn it, they'll be over the walls soon enough, and there's not enough of us to stop 'em .. to the scullery, mate!"

><><

Veil was beginning to hope, that while several had been killed, they could keep any more from dying, when Wurgg's cry rang out. Scraw took his place at the ferret's side, calling, "Milord, we've got them surrounded. The others will be here soon, what are your orders?"

Veil looked around, panting, "Kill as many as you can, that way the reinforcements won't have help!"

He ran a Painted One through as he said this, and Scraw grinned. "That's what I like ta hear kid .. erm, Milord. Get em mates!"

Veil jumped forward as the first blows fell upon Great Hall's doors, and some creatures rushed to keep them shut. But there had been no time to set the bar, and all attempts to keep the enemy out were useless.

The doors were flung open, and the reminder of Xzanthia's horde swarmed in .. more than Veil had anticipated. The wearet was on the stairs now, and she raised her glittering knives. "Get them!"

Veil shoved his smaller opponent, a rat, against a nearby pillar as there was a scream of pain nearby, and one of the horses fell, legs cut out beneath them. The fresh horde was surging in now, killing any they could.

Xzanthia didn't move to help them, just stood halfway up the stairs, letting the night breeze from an open window play with her ebony hair as she watched in silent satisfaction.

In that second, the destiny he'd suspected all along came pointedly clear to Veil .. Xzanthia had only a few guards with her, and even the badgers couldn't get through the horde on the ground. The ferret snarled to himself .. no matter what happened, this had gone on long enough and killed too many creatures. Even one death was one too many!

Veil cut down a Flitchaye, heading for the stairs, but shockingly, somebeast beat him to it. The ferret had a fairly clear path, for he was near the wall, and he found himself frozen in true fear.

He wanted to move with all his might, but for some reason, his legs refused to heed him.

The creature must have realized what Veil had, that without their head, the horde would fall into disarray. The ferret regained control of himself, and he ran toward the stairs, but everything seemed in slow motion, even if it wasn't.

Mizzah reached the wearet and her few guards, instantly killing the first and quickly turning upon the next. The beast tried to defend itself, but was no match for the jerbilrat's mastery of swordplay. Xzanthia was backing up, and Veil saw a flash of silver light as a knife grazed Mizzah's shoulder, but he never even paused.

Veil was at the bottom of the stairs now, running up them as he threw aside his rapier, drawing the only sword that could stand against Xzanthia .. Martin's.

But he was too late. Mizzah leapt at Xzanthia, sword raised, but he never touched her. Veil wanted to scream a warning, but there was no time as a brilliant flash of green shot from the wearet's paw, and Mizzah flew backwards, slamming against the wall of the stairway and crumpling brokenly to the ground, motionless.

Veil halted in his advance, and Xzanthia gripped her knives again, waiting for him. The ferret felt his lips draw back in a snarl of pure fury, and a sound not unlike a roar ripped itself from his throat. He threw himself at his sister, blade of his sword glowing softly as the hilt tingled in his paws.

Though he did not speak his prayer, it was very real. Ignasa, bring justice upon her!

The sword's glow intensified, and as he almost instinctively slashed at the wearet, Veil subconsciously realized that he might be forced to fulfill that plea.

Xzanthia spun away with speed that belied all Veil's mental preparation, and she grinned. "At last, brother."

Veil growled, swinging the sword. Xzanthia bolted just out of reach again, and she laughed .. proudly. "After all this time, I will have what I really came for .. revenge."

Veil paused as the oddity of these words occurred to him. "What?"

"You think this is all about some conquest I was assigned to?" Xzanthia snapped, "Fool, it was always, all about you! You are the one I desire to tear down .. they are just pawns. But ferret to ferret, Sixclaw to Sixclaw, you are the reason all this has happened to your friends, you and your father!"

"What did I ever do?" Veil practically yelled at her, fury boiling over.

"I wanted him to love me! To want me!" Xzanthia's voice was almost a scream. "But he wanted you! He wanted a son, not a daughter! He'd take a half-blood over me, and I will make him pay!"

Her voice suddenly dropped to an insecure sound of a child. "But Sixclaws don't love, we can't .. we use, we trod upon, and we throw away, it is all we are born to do .. oh you know, don't you, brother?"

Xzanthia's tone became almost snarky. "Yes, I see it in your eyes, you are no different. Just think .. your friends, my horde, our mother .. all tools, nothing more."

"Our mother .." This phrase stuck out to Veil more than any other.

"Oh you don't know .. you don't know!" Xzanthia crowed. "You think I'm some wearet? Ha! I am your sister, your full sister .. Oh yes, cringe at the horror that could come from your dear, dead mother .. a terrible blight upon her name for all of time!"

Veil found his heart sinking to his boots, for he knew she was not lying. Her fur was dusky, grayish gold, and her mask was a beautiful, heather tone gray that faded to striking black around the edges. Even her build and the way she carried herself shouted of Bluefen, and now, Veil realized why she had reminded him of some long forgotten echo in the moment they had first met.

She was the daughter of his father .. and his mother as well.

Veil had no more time to contemplate, for Xzanthia slashed her knives at him. The ferret dodged, but he wasn’t quite fast enough, and there was a flash of pain on his shoulder.

Xzanthia laughed, ducking his next advance and cutting his knees. Veil winced, thrusting forward with surprising power, knocking his sister over as his blade took her across the shoulder, slicing and burning at the same time. Xzanthia screamed in pain, kicking Veil hard in the legs and sending him reeling backwards, almost down the stairs.

Veil caught hold of the banister, saving himself as Xzanthia threw a knife at him, but missed because of her shoulder wound. The ferret snarled, suddenly throwing all four knives in her right paw at her brother, two missing, one grazing his arm, and the other sinking into his shoulder.

He pulled it out as he saw the green glow swirling around her paw, and he painfully raised the sword. There was a flash of light, and Xzanthia yelped, jumping over her own bolt of deflected power.

She snarled in anger, shooting the power again as Veil dodged, and the fire vaporized a piece of the banister, and the area around it caught fire.

Veil shifted the sword to his good paw, running up the stairs at her, and Xzanthia grinned insanely, jumping toward him with what could be called .. eagerness.

><><

Down on the floor of Great Hall, the fighting was heavy. The defenders were pretty much back-to-back, their ranks thinned from death and injury. Sunflash and Zarya did all they could, as did the horses and Skarlath, but the enemy was learning their tricks .. and how to trick them.

Fripple and Cedric were backed against a pillar, when Star came to their aid, trampling all in her path. The pint slid to a stop, and Cedric grabbed her mane, hoisting himself onto her back. He took hold of Fripple’s paw, helping her one behind him, and she pulled out her sling. “I haven’t had a real chance to use this yet.”

She swung it, letting loose a well-aimed stone that took a Painted One down. Cedric gripped Star’s mane tighter, holding his spear out like a lance. “Cover me, Princess!”

They charged into the enemy’s ranks as there was a shout from Cavern Hole. “We’re coming! Redwaall!!”

Esther was the first out, letting loose an arrow practically while jumping over the top stair. Vinwyte and Catkin were beside her, and a good number of Redwallers behind her.

Fripple loosed a stone. “They couldn’t have had better timing!”

There was a flash of green light from above them on the staircase, one that lit up Great Hall like lightning, and Star balked in surprise. A Painted One’s arrow took her in the side, and she reared in pain, causing Cedric and Fripple to topple off upon the ground. However the horse did not fall, just grimaced as she came down on all fours and Evening attacked the one who’d shot her.

Fripple staggered to her paws, stabbing the nearest Flitchaye with her saber and Cedric found his feet too. Esther tried to run up the stairs, but she, and those with her, where pushed back by Xzanthia’s horde.

Veil would have to face his sister alone.

><><

Xzanthia was becoming desperate as her opponent simply wouldn’t fall, thanks to his sword. Veil could tell this, and there was also something frightening going on every time she shot another bolt of power.

It was not unlike what had begun to happen to Swartt, but it was happening much faster.

Xzanthia was wincing, even coughing blood, evidenced by the trickle running from the side of her mouth. Yet she wouldn’t stop, she wouldn’t give in.

As the moments passed, Veil found his anger slipping away, to be replaced by something almost like compassion .. after all this was his sister.

She might be a monster .. but he didn't want to be forced to kill her.

Xzanthia panted, pausing in her advance to snarl, "Ha! Afraid of me?"

Veil lowered the sword slightly, and he realized the words he spoke were true. "No, I am not."

This seemed to infuriate his sister. "You will be! You will fear me before you die, as everybeast alive will learn to!"

Veil shook his head. "Xzanthia, don't do this .. you aren't getting anywhere. You aren't proving what you want to prove."

"I will kill you!"

Veil deflected a bolt of green power with his glowing sword, though the force threw him against the wall. But he was not afraid. It was a very strange feeling .. as if he simply could not fear. As if the reality he was living ... wasn't really real.

Xzanthia jumped up a few steps, blasting another flash of light at him, and this time, he fell against the banister, still partly on fire, and it cracked ominously. Veil shoved against it to right himself least it break, and it shuddered .. but as Xzanthia shot at him again the ferret couldn't move fast enough.

However something attacked her from behind, causing the green fire to hit the railing again, higher this time, and it was too much.

The flaming banister broke, falling down upon the heads of those below it, provoking not a few screams.

However Veil could not be concerned with what was going on below him, for what was going on above him captured all his attention. Ivan had gone after Xzanthia, and Veil ran forward now, crying, "Ivan, get away!"

The cat couldn't get a good hit with his flail at how close a range he was, and Xzanthia moved quickly, ripping one of the wickedly curved knives from her hair a stabbing backwards with it.

Ivan staggered, face frozen in agony as he fell backwards, paws clamped over the blade in his side. Xzanthia turned to face Veil, coughing as more blood dripped from the corners of her mouth .. her insane grin.

"I will kill .. everybeast .. you care about .. and you will die .. with their screams frozen in your ears .. is .. this not .. justice!?"

Veil felt a surge of terrible anger, and yet something wouldn't let him run at her. "Stop this .. it is you who will die."

He dodged a flash of green, and Xzanthia coughed .. blinking away the red .. and blackish grime that was beginning to run from her eyes. "I .. may die .. brother. But you will die .. too!"

Veil's teeth grated together, and his voice was low. "If that is what must be, you are right."

Xzanthia took a step back, a look of surprise on her face, and Veil continued, though he was growling. "You don't have to follow our father's path .. all it leads to is death."

"But .. your path .. will lead to yours .." Xzanthia's voice was a choking, rasping sound.

"And my lord is there for me .. is yours?"

For one moment, Xzanthia's eyes widened, before they narrowed with pain .. and hate. "Your lord is weak .. you have no power!"

She sneered. "If I die today, my deeds will follow me forever .. and history .. will dare not forget me! Nothing, not even your lord, could take away my legacy, but they will forget you. A hero's memory fades away so much faster than a villain's!"

Veil shook his head. "I don't want to kill my sister."

"Then I'll kill you!" She threw green lightning at him again, almost falling to the ground. Veil stepped aside, not bringing his sword against her .. this fight really had only one offender.

Veil could hear the sounds of battle were fading, but he had no way of telling which side was prevailing, and he had no time to look. He didn't want to have to kill Xzanthia .. despite the anger he felt toward her, it felt wrong. Maybe because he knew she was his sister .. maybe because she was just so young .. he didn't know if he could actually make himself take her life.

But he wanted her to pay for what she had done and what she was doing .. he wanted that with all his soul.

"Well you won't get it."

Xzanthia was crouched against the wall of the stairway, black dripping from her eyes and forming remorseless tears. She licked blood from her muzzle, sneering as several Painted Ones ran up the stairs to help her.

The ferret suddenly held up her paw, sending a flash of green at Veil with amazing speed. He brought the sword up, and there was a brilliant burst of light as it deflected off his blade.

Veil was thrown slightly backwards at the force of the blow, and came to the horrible realization he was teetering at the now unprotected edge of the staircase. Xzanthia could not dodge her own power, flung back at her, and she shot again.

There was one split-second before the forces of power collided in a blinding flash, and Xzanthia was thrown against the wall with brutal force, her head snapping back and slamming against it.

Veil found himself launched off the stairs in the same moment, and the sword was torn from his paws as he felt the sickening feeling of falling. He barely felt else anything as he landed but a terrible shock of pain .. and the swimming sensation that he really hadn't stopped falling.

Only now he was falling into eternal darkness.

Ignasa .. I tried ..



Chapter 39 Mea Culpa

TViT &#039;Mea Culpa&#039;

'It was all my fault ..'

The flash of light lit up Great Hall like day and all the fighting stopped almost instantly. The Flitchaye and the Painted Ones had already begun to back off, for with no general or leader to force them on, they began to find their losses disheartening.

However now, as their leader fell and did not rise again, they took to their heels. Lilly grabbed a riderless horse's bridal, swinging onto its back and raising her red stained sword. "After them, drive them out!"

Sunflash and Zarya responded to her, as well as Timbal, Sayna, Whegg, Skarlath, and quite a few others left standing.

Rose was the last mark left, and she swung down from Midnight's back, calling, "Everybeast, find the wounded! Leave the dead for burial, but let us try and save as many as we can."

Fripple realized how devastating their losses really had been, now that there was time to look. There were far many more dead vermin, yet some of the beasts she'd grown up knowing lay still among them, the most shocking of these being Argulor.

She heard a quiet footfall next to her, and turned to see Lenn looking about in silence. The mouse maid met her gaze, as there was a cry from behind them, and they spun around to see why.

Fripple felt her heart sink as she realized what had been the outcome of the fight on the staircase. "Oh no .."

Veil lay in a crumpled heap on the floor, and Martin's sword was stuck in the crack of some floor stones a few feet away, its blue glow fading. Esther was the first one there, and she grabbed the ferret's paw, begging him to answer her, but he didn't stir.

Even Cedric sounded shocked and sorrowful. "Not his Majesty .. he was too good a beast for this."

The sudden realization of everything sank in, and Fripple slumped to the floor as unbidden tears rushed into her eyes.

><><

Martin awoke slowly, trying to remember where he was and what had happened. The first thing he realized was that there was a terrible pain in his left eye, and the next that he was lying, sprawled on the floor of a dark place. The mouse staggered to his feet as he felt around, finding shelves, what felt like a mop handle, and finally the door.

Something about Veil .. poisoning .. his sword .. a monocle ..

It all came flooding back in a wave, a crushing wave of horrific realization. What had he done?

The mouse shoved the door open, staggering out into the hallway .. one of the upper ones. He made his way quickly toward Great Hall, pausing at the door leading to the staircase. Maybe .. it was all a nightmare.

But he smelled smoke .. and then blood. His paw was clammy and trembling, but he gripped the door handle, stepping out into a changed world.

The night breeze from an open window blew coolly around him, and while his left eye had no sight, he almost wished his right one didn't either. Great Hall was a battlefield, strewn with blood, the dead, the wounded, and the living as well.

This was what Ignasa had meant .. and he couldn't change any of it.

He took a quick step forward, tripping over a body and falling down several stairs. There was a groan, and Martin wheeled around to see Gingivere's young son, Ivan. The cat was watching him with half-closed, dull eyes, paws clamped over a dark stain in his side.

Martin crawled up the steps to him, gently prying his paws from the bone hilt of a knife, and the cat winced in pain. The mouse carefully replaced Ivan's paws, shaking his head. "Hang on .. I'll get you help, just hang on."

Ivan nodded, closing his eyes again as Martin stumbled down the stairs, passing several unmoving bodies but not having time to discern who they were in the dim light.

He reached the bottom of the stairs, running into somebeast who was on his blind side.

"Martin?"

The mouse turned, to see none other than Rose, watching him with hesitation. "Are you yourself now?"

Martin stammered. "I .. Rose I'm sorry. I .. I don't know what I was thinking .. I .. this is .. my fault."

She smiled suddenly, hugging him quickly. "Martin."

Martin knew she'd forgiven him, she needed to say nothing else. Suddenly he remembered what he'd been doing. "Rose, Ivan's up there, he's badly wounded .."

Rose let go of him. "Oh no .. I wondered why he wasn't here! I'll go see to him .. there's not much I can do for Veil."

Martin felt cold dread at these words. "What? You mean .."

Rose looked away, before hurrying up the stairs, without answering.

><><

A few moments passed before Fripple looked up again, to find Lenn sitting on the stained floor stones in front of her, eyes downcast. "You all love Veil .. don't you?"

"Like my brother .." Fripple felt a terrible emptiness growing in her heart. "From the moment he came here .. he was shy .. but he was good. He was better than us .. we loved getting into trouble .. fighting .. but he loved peace, and he thought of others first. I protected him .. because he was so timid at first, and now .."

She looked away. "Now he has protected me. And all of Redwall .. and died .. for it."

Lenn slowly reached out, touching Fripple's shoulder. "It .. it doesn't have .. to end this way."

"Yes .. it does." Fripple closed her eyes. "It's over."

Lenn shook her head. "No, I mean ... we still .. can save him .."

Fripple looked up to see Lenn's paw was on her satchel, and she slowly met Fripple's gaze. "You can have it."

"But .." While she wanted to snatch the last hope for her dear friend, something held her back. "Your grandfather."

Lenn looked down, suddenly shoving the satchel into Fripple's paws. "Take it, heal him, heal everybeast .. don't tempt me otherwise, I've chosen. Do it now .. I may not be a hero, but I won't be a villain."

Fripple suddenly hugged Lenn. "Thank you!"

She bolted onto her paws, hurrying over to where Veil was. "Is he still alive?"

Esther's eyes were dull. "We .. can't save him."

Fripple pulled out Lenn's Icetor flower. "Yes we can."

Esther's ears perked forward instantly, before she looked worried. "But how do we use it .. I've never .. I .. I'll try."

"Trimp, get us a bowl, quickly!"

Everybeast, including Trimp, jumped upon Martin's arrival, but the hedgehog hurried off to obey his order.

Fripple met her uncle's gaze slowly, and he looked away. "I am only beginning to understand all of what happened, but I am sorry. I should be dying instead .. and he will not die."

Trimp came hurrying back, handing the bowl to Martin. "There ya are .. ya wanted water in it?"

Martin knelt next to Esther, taking the Icetor flower from Fripple and pulling off a shimmering petal. He handed it to Esther. "Crush that in it."

"You .. know what you're doing?" Fripple was nervous.

Martin didn't reply, just took the bowl of glowing blue water and dipped his paw in it, before carefully raising Veil's head. The ferret's mouth was half open anyway, so there was little trouble in feeding him some of the mixture.

Some trickled out, but Martin tilted Veil's head back, and he swallowed the rest. Esther looked like she didn't dare breath. "Will .. he be alright?"

Martin shook his head. "I hope so."

Cedric knelt, picking up the bowl of Icetor Flower water. "Princess? Let's help the others."

Catkin nodded. "And hurry, Ivan needs it just as badly!"

><><

The world was dark .. empty .. and cold. And yet .. it wasn't silent. Veil slowly opened his eyes a crack, expecting to see light .. Ignasa .. anything one might expect to see in the Lands Beyond.

Yet all he saw was darkness .. and then dusty, bloodstained stones and even deadbeasts. The ferret slowly lifted his head, realizing his strength was slowly returning.

It all came back now, how Xzanthia had tried to stop her own power, and how he'd been flung off the staircase.

So why wasn't he dead?

"Veil?"

He looked up as somebeast threw their arms around his neck, burying their face in his shoulder.

"Esther .. what .."

Her voice was slightly muffled. "I thought you said .. you'd be careful .."

Veil found himself hugging her back, and even smiling. A moment passed, before he whispered, "I don't know how I'm alive .. but I'm glad I didn't have to leave you."

Esther slowly drew back, a little confused. Veil looked down, stating, "I seem to hurt a lot of creatures .. without meaning to, and the last thing I want to do is hurt you."

The ermine turned a little red. "You mean you .."

"Yes, I might as well be honest .. I do like you." Veil almost felt like laughing. "Ever since the desert .. and that letter .. well, you made me think and feel again. I always liked you as my sister, but you were the one who brought me back to reality after Southsward and I .."

He paused, finally adding, "And now I think .. I've grown to love you."

"For that?"

"Maybe it was what made me understand .. but mostly not. Just for yourself."

Esther blinked back a tear, before she hugged him again. "And I've always loved you .. for nothing more or less."

Veil didn't say anything, for he didn't need to. A moment passed before Esther sat down, smiling .. before there was a noise a little ways away, and both creatures looked up in surprise. Martin was kneeling a few feet away, and both Veil and Esther turned red, before the ferret asked .. a little suspiciously, "What do you want?"

Martin hung his head, stating, "I want to apologize. This .. was my fault. All of it .. I let this happen. If only I hadn't been so blind .. so stubborn and foolish .. I have hurt the beasts who follow me. I have hurt you."

The mouse looked away. "I feel like a traitor to my own people .. I don't deserve to be a king. All I can do .. is beg your forgiveness, though there is nothing I can do to ever deserve it."

Veil felt like this was all some sort of daydream, in a way, yet he found himself speaking, slowly. "All my childhood .. I've looked up to you. You were my .. roll model I guess."

Martin didn't look up. "Then I have failed you."

"But you taught me." Veil added. "You may not have meant to, but you did. And you allowed me to find many secrets. I'd never have left, were it not for you. Once I was angry, but I was angry at the wrong creature .. I forgive you, milord."

Martin looked up in surprise, before Catkin and Vinwyte hurried up, the former exclaiming, "Ivan's going to be ok."

Veil suddenly remembered what had happened to the cat, as Catkin noticed he was sitting up. The otter gasped, before hugging Vinwyte .. who jumped in surprise, and a slow grin grew on his face.

Martin stood up. "Are all the wounded being seen to? Should I help?"

Vinwyte nodded. "Yes, her majesty, Rose, could use some."

"I'll help her then." Martin hurried off.

Veil tried to push his feet under him and stand, but he fell back again. "Did we loose anybeast? What about Mizzah?"

Catkin suddenly looked down. "He .. "

Vinwyte nodded solemnly. "He's gone .. there's nothing we can do."

"And Argulor .. Tyre .. Stargazer. Even Stardust .. they're .. all gone." Catkin sniffed.

Veil took a deep breath. "How am I not dead, too?"

Esther took his paw. "It was Lenn's Icetor Flower .. she gave it to us to save you. And everybeast."

Veil looked at Esther, smiling. "I'll have to thank her then."

Catkin suddenly hugged the two. "I don't know why .. everything that has happened .. is so sad .. but I'm still happy. Because you're ok .. and Redwall is free!"

><><

It took hours to tend to the injured, clear Great Hall of the stains of battle, and destroy all the monocles that could be found. Martin ordered that every shard be buried in Mossflower, should they have any power left.

Fripple stood in Great Hall, now a semblance of clean as the rays of the sun slowly began coming through the stained glass windows, and she realized she was exhausted. Lenn was slowly coming up the stairs toward her, and she smiled weakly. "Did it work?"

Fripple was glad to have found the mouse. "It worked .. and we didn't need it all .. I saved this."

She pressed a glimmering object into Lenn's paw. "For your grandfather."

The mouse maid stared at the last, glowing petal of the Icetor Flower, and she smiled with joy. "Thank you .."

"No, thank you." Fripple found she was truly grateful. "You saved a lot of us."

Lenn tucked the petal into her satchel, asking, "Can I .. maybe .. sleep somewhere? I'm .. really tired."

Fripple nodded. "Uh .. sure. Yea, me too."

Cedric joined them. "I am tired Princess .. been up all night. And .. not the greatest night ever."

Fripple suddenly realized what he meant fully, and she put a paw on his shoulders. "I'm sorry .. Mizzah was .. a leader for all of us."

"He's as close as I'll ever have to a father." Cedric shook his head.

Fripple looked down. "He was a great hero .. and we won't ever forget him."

She rubbed a tear away. "Ever."

><><

Days passed before everything began to return to normal .. and even still, it wasn't quite the way it had been. Vermin were wary of woodlanders, and vise-versa .. but things were slowly healing.

The monocles had all been destroyed and buried far from Redwall, near the swamps.

As for Xzanthia, she had died when Veil had been thrown from the stairs, or shortly after. She'd been buried near the monocles, and many beasts were still puzzled about her .. the child who nearly destroyed Redwall, and the marks.

As the time of sorrow, healing, and rest after the battle ended, Rose suggested they throw a feast in honor of those who had died, and celebrate their freedom. Martin agreed without hesitation, and so it was to be.

Fripple was feeling pretty sheepish as she dressed, and she'd passed up Aunt Rose's offer to help .. she didn't want to hear her aunt talk about how nice it was that she had a boyfriend. Not that she hadn't developed odd feelings for Cedric, but she would be glad to view him as a good friend for the next few seasons.

She tied up her long hair, staring at her striking blue and purple attire in the mirror. Fripple sighed, picking up the simple golden coronet off her dresser and placing it on her head.

Her reflection stared back at her with a quizzical look, and she growled at it. "You're no help."

The mouse turned on the heel of her golden slipper, tripped on both her skirt and her tail, and almost fell out the door.

"Dresses." Fripple grumped, standing up again to find Lenn watching her, clad in a sparkling green gown to rival a princess's.

Fripple leaned against the wall, sighing, "I'm not really made for dresses."

Lenn shrugged and Fripple noticed the mouse still had her satchel over one shoulder. She looked around, suddenly stating, "You do know .. that I've .. I've got to go back now. Everything's working out .. well .. good, and I .. I need to go home."

She looked down. "I love your world. I really do .. and I like all of you too. But I wasn't born in this time, I was born later .. and Ignasa must have a reason. Besides, I've got to help my grandfather."

Fripple paused, feeling sad at this. While her mind hadn't grasped Lenn's story, her heart had, and she believed the mouse. "Alright .. if you're sure. The swords are in Great Hall right now .. we'll have to wait until everything dies down and beasts go to Cavern Hole to feast."

Lenn nodded, as Catkin walked by, with Mayberry. The otter had been silent and thoughtful since the monocles had been broken, and Xzanthia had shown herself for what she truly was. However she also seemed more accepting and quiet, and perhaps her experience had changed her for the better.

Catkin grinned. "You look so pretty! Come on, I can't wait for Cedric to see you, Fripple. Lenn, do you like anybeast?"

Lenn stammered something unintelligible, and Fripple put a paw around her shoulders, leading her away. "Yea, we'll catch up with you Catkin. Why don't you go dance with Vinwyte, huh?"

><><

“Fripple, I swear it’s just not fair.”

Fripple had lost track of Lenn at some point or other, and was in the company of Roseanna and Cedric .. the later wearing a tunic for the first time that Fripple had witnessed.

“What’s not fair?”

Roseanna almost pouted. “You got to go on the adventure, and you know everybeast just fine. But I’ve got to get to know them, and you brought back so many good-looking guys ..”

Cedric nudged Fripple, joking, “Say Princess, your cousin knows a hot guy when she sees one!”

Roseanna looked confused for a moment, before she laughed. “Oh I didn’t mean you. You and Fripple are cute together, but I meant your cousin. He’s so handsome.”

Fripple snorted, elbowing Cedric back before asking, “So what are we going to do now?”

Roseanna looked around, before grinning. “I know, you two are going to go dance.”

She shoved the two in the directed of the dance floor. “Yes, thank me later. Go on, I’m watching you ..”

Fripple rolled her eyes, looking at Cedric. “Why does this always happen to us?”

Cedric thought a moment, before grabbing her paw. “I don’t know ... but I’m not sorry.”

“Oh of course you’re not.”

><><

It took a good hour or so for beasts to begin heading for Cavern Hole and dinner, but they finally began to. However it took a while for Great Hall to empty out.

“So I’m interested to see what one of these Mossflower feasts is like ..”

Cedric was talking as he led Fripple toward the stairs. She paused, remembering Lenn. “You won’t be disappointed ... I’ve forgotten something in my room. I’ll be right back.”

Cedric paused. “Should I come with you?”

“No.” Fripple shook her head. “Save me a spot, ok?”

Cedric cocked his head momentarily, before shrugging. “Sure, Princess.”

Fripple hurried off, before taking a look back to see if he’d gone, and he had. She sighed, making her way back to the empty Great Hall.

Sure enough, Lenn was standing there, looking at the two swords, for they both hung in the niches Quinn had carved for them. Fripple stopped a little behind her, and she turned around, a little surprised. “You remembered.”

Fripple nodded. “Of course I did.”

Neither mouse said anything for a moment, before Lenn looked down, a glimmer of tears growing in her brown eyes. “I’ll .. miss you, Fripple.”

Somehow .. saying goodbye felt more real now .. more devastating. Fripple nodded, feeling wetness rush to her own eyes. “I’ll miss you too.”

Fripple thought a moment, before she took off her coronet, placing it on Lenn’s head. “Take this .. I’m sorry we couldn’t have been closer friends.”

Lenn looked shocked. “But .. this is a princess’s .. and I’m not a princess.”

“It doesn’t matter.” Fripple unclasped her golden feather necklace, placing it in Lenn’s paw. “I won’t forget you, or what you did for us.”

Lenn slowly nodded, slipping off her hourglass pendent. “And I’ll never forget you .. or what you did for me. You gave me the greatest adventure .. and friendships .. of my life.”

She dropped the necklace into Fripple’s paw, smiling a little. “Goodbye Fripple .. tell everyone goodbye for me .. Kensly too?”

Fripple paused, nodding. “I will.”

Lenn nodded, doing nothing for a few moments, before she turned to face the swords. Fripple paused, adding, “Goodbye, Lenn.”

The mouse turned her head slightly, smiling faintly, before she laid her paw on the swords.

At first, nothing happened, but then, a blue glow began on the blades, before it surrounded Lenn, swirling, glowing .. so brightly, Fripple was forced to close her eyes. When she could open them again, the mouse maid was gone .. not even a trace of her was left.

Fripple stared, slowly laying her paw on the swords out of pure curiosity. There was a slight tingling, but nothing unusual happened.

The mouse sighed, looking down at the hourglass necklace in her paw .. the only proof of what had just happened. Fripple shook her head, before slipping it on. “I’ll wear it for you .. my friend. Ignasa go with you in whatever life you lead.”

She looked at the swords one last time, before walking back toward Cavern Hole, and her own future.

><><

The feasting lasted almost a full day, and old friends enjoyed good company, while new ones were made. It was the dawning of a golden era of peace, love, and prosperity for Redwall and all of Mossflower.

The shadow of evil had been driven back, the past was slowly left to history, and beasts turned to their futures.

But there was one thing, King Martin promised would ring as a legend forever ..

That a Veil had set us free.



The End



Epilogue

“It was a wonderful thought, indeed. But it didn’t last.”

The story’s young listener looked up, cocking his head. “Why not?”

The story teller, a golden mouse maid with long, half gray hair, shook her head. “You see, in the end, it all comes down to those monocles. Some of the shards were not buried, because they were so small they were overlooked. Some whole ones were hidden and saved by their owners in Southsward. Either way, they have indeed changed the way woodlanders .. and vermin as well, see the world forever.”

She paused, stating, “Matthias, if they distort the present time, do you think they would not distort the past?”

The young mouse shook his head, asking, “They do? How does that work, Sayna?”

Sayna’s black eyes softened. “Ah, I tell stories so far over your head, how is it you love them?”

“Because I want to be just like you .. and Martin .. I want to be a warrior. And have adventures too!” Matthias swung his paws like he was swinging a sword, overbalanced, and fell into the soft orchard grass.

Sayna chuckled. “And I’m sure you will, young friend. But now, the day grows late. Won’t the abbeybeasts wonder about you? Associating with the ghost of Mossflower?”

Matthias shook his head. “You’re no ghost, they’re very silly to think it. But .. what happened when the monocles distor .. disor .. changed the past?”

Sayna’s smile grew serious again as she shook her head. “Simply this. They cast a slur upon the name of Veil Sixclaw forever, they erased all of Martin’s mistakes .. and Xzanthia? For all her claims and her ambitions, they wiped her name clean off the slate of history .. forever.”



Tis a gift to be simple,

Tis a gift to be free,

Tis a gift to come down where you ought to be.

And when you find yourself in the place just right,

It will be in the valley of love and delight.


When true simplicity is gained,

To bow and to bend we will not be ashamed.

To turn, turn, will be our delight,

Til through turning, turning we come 'round right.


~Simple Gifts a Quaker hymn



Final Note

Whoa. I wrote Accused. I .. like .. wrote .. Accused. Like all of it. O.o Like .. really.

  • throws confetti* *hands out ice cream cake and oreos*

Can you believe this? Really? This means I've now written six, completely finished, Redwall fanfics. Like .. wow.

I hope, while it's not at all perfect, that you enjoyed Accused.

I'd say I'd take a break .. maybe, but that wouldn't really be possible .. you don't take breaks from your life's passion. Which for me, is writing! :D

Thanks for being here for me .. to tell me that these stories are worth reading. I love you all <3 ^^

Next in the saga .. is book one of 'Tears of the Ocean'; Stolen Tears


~ Sayna S. Luke Quicksilver forged in the pools of the sky 06:02, November 30, 2015 (UTC)

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