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The Warriors Begining

SaynaSLuke February 26, 2014 User blog:SaynaSLuke

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The Warriors Beginning

Cover for 'The Warriors Beginning'


The mighty Lord who owns the blade,

And acquaintance of old,

Will war long with the Lord self-made,

Where sun turns sea to gold.


The warrior maid with golden fur,

Will come and help them fight.

And even when strife is no more,

Lingers sorrow black as night.


Whoever hears and heeds this cry,

To march off into war,

The question is; Who will die?

Whose blood will stain this shore?


Note

This is the first book in a trilogy called The Unsung Heroes

Book 1: The Warrior's Beginning (completed, rewritten version of Martin the Warrior (book)

Book 2: Four Warriors Cometh (in progress, rewritten version of Mossflower)

Book 3: The Prophesy Fulfilled (not started, rewritten version of The Legend of Luke)


This story is dedicated to Brain Jacques, because he had the awesome idea to write this book the first time, and my amazing wiki friends, who have given me much needed help and support.

Thanks everybody! <3 >':'<

-Sayna

To my readers:

There are a few things you might want to know about this story, just so it doesn't come as a shock. This is a rewritten version of Martin the Warrior (book) It has horses in it, and a few rather fantastical things also. (not to mention, when I say this is rewritten, I mean, rewritten. I have totally disregarded BJ's plan for the story, and made my own. It does contain fragments of the original plot, but it has changed a lot. I have even gone as far as to change the geographical lay of the land somewhat.) Still, I think some of you might find this interesting. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it. Best wishes -Sayna


Sometimes you have to wonder how it could of happened. How it might of happened. How it should of happened. Sometimes you have to ask, Why did this happen? Should this have happened? Did this have to happen? Lend your ears to me for a time, all you creatures who dare to dream, and hear a untold tale of grand old Redwall history. A tale of a forgotten warrior, forgotten happenings, and forgotten truths. Though you have probably heard of Martin the warrior, I doubt you have heard his tale told like this -Sayna S. Luke


Main Characters

Sundew: (aka Sally) daughter of Urran Voh. Golden brown mouse maid with jet black eyes.

Laterose: Same as in Martin the Warrior (book).

Martin:Same as in Martin the Warrior (book), only now he has golden brown fur >:D

Groddil: Silver fox, same as in Lord Brocktree (book).

Raven: (aka Erwin) black ermine with one with paw and striking blue eyes.

Gruven: plain brown mouse, with the makings of a warrior.


Important Characters

Keyla: otter, same as in Martin the Warrior (book)

Ghostdancer: dark gray Arabian mare, Sally's best friend.

Badrang: Same as in Martin the Warrior (book).

Tramun Clogg: Same as in Martin the Warrior (book).

Vilu Daskar: Same as in The Legend of Luke, but older and with more injuries. (peg-leg, hook-paw, all in all rather twisted up)

Lord Ignasa: The rightful king of Mossflower and the lands beyond. He is some type of large cat (haven't decided what yet but I'm leaning toward a cougar)(note that while he is a cat, he's good) His name is contrived from the names Ignatius (meaning 'The Fire') and Asa (meaning 'Healer') so therefore, Ignasa means 'The Healing Fire' (Clever, yes?)

Luna: Albino mustang mare with indigo eyes.


Note that many of the original characters have undergone revision, some more then others, as you will see.


Prologue

A little hedgehog crouched next to his mother in a tiny, ramshackle cottage, shivering against the cold. The two creatures were a picture of dejection, skinny and dirty, obviously very poor. The young one looked up at his parent, whispering,

"Mommy isn't there anything to eat?"

The hog wife shook her head sadly. "No dear. You know I haven't hardly been able to provide for us since your father died."

The child murmured, "Tell me a story mother, please. One about how Mossflower used to be."

The hog wife got a far away look in her eyes, and began.

"Once upon a time, Mossflower was free. There were no vermin to rule us, instead there were five wise leaders. Barkstripe the badger, Lord Blacktail the squirrel king, Skipper of otters, Martin, king of Kotir, And Lady Lepus the rabbit chieftain. Our land was happy and prosperous, and no creature suffered want. One summer, King Martins Queen, Sunflower, gave birth to a son. Martin threw a grand feast to celebrate, and invited all his subjects and fellow rulers. Every creature went, from peasant to noble. Then Verdauga struck! He killed Martin, Sunflower, Barkstripe, and so many more. However, Legend says that Lepus and the young prince, who was called Luke, escaped. Now Mossflower waits, silently in oppression, for the warrior prince and princess who will defeat Verdauga, and restore peace to our land."

The little hog babe pressed closer to his mother whimpering, "When will they come mother, when?"

The hog wife stroked her babes head spikes, whispering, "someday my son, someday."

Her eyes hardened. "And when they do, those vermin will pay for your fathers life. Mark my words, they'll curse the day they took Mossflower!"

The snow storm howled ruthlessly outside the dwelling, but it couldn't extinguish the small spark of hope that still burned within.


Chapter 1 Maid of Noonvale

Sundew was the eldest daughter of Urran Voh, chieftain of Noonvale. She had golden brown fur, golden head fur, and eyes like chips of jetstone. She was considered by most an unusual maid, rather quiet, very serious, and not quite right in the head. For Sundew was a dreamer, and the population of Noonvale were not. Sadly, this young mouse who had so much potential, was hard put to make use of it. She was a cripple, forever confined to the prison of her chair.

This was the way most of the creatures of Noonvale looked at her, but Sundews few friends saw a very different side portrayed. By them she was called Sally, and was always full of exciting schemes and clever ideas. To be truthful, Sally didn't smile much even for them, but her friends had learned to read her sparkling black eyes. These few playmates of Sally's were, Laterose, her sister, Brome, her brother, Gruven, a brown mouse with a taste for adventure, and Ghostdancer, a dark gray filly.

From Sally's point of view, Noonvale was a boring town full of stale, unimaginative old creatures. Sure, the location and cottages were pretty and peaceful, but Sally wanted adventure, not beauty. To her Noonvale was a dusty old gossip strewn place badly in need of excitement.

Urran Voh had never known what to do with Sundew. She was terrible at knitting, sewing, cooking, graces, and all other maidenly pursuits. The only thing she seemed to be able to do was draw, and take care of animals.

Yes, Sundew was a mystery. To her father, to her friends, and even to herself.


Chapter 2 Just a Normal Day

Sally stretched in the pre-dawn light, and opened her eyes. From her bed she could see out her window, which offered a grand view of Noonvale's town square. She sighed. She could see her fathers goat, Tulip, calmly munching grass by the fountain, the squares centerpiece. Sally sat up in bed and hurriedly got out of her night clothes, grabbed her dress of the head board, and pulled it on. Disregarding petticoats, bonnets, and shoes, Sally slid into her waiting chair and wheeled herself outside. Tulip was her responsibility, and her father would be furious to know the goat had got loose.

"Tulip! Tulip you nut! How did you get out this time?"

The goat answered Sally with a friendly

"Maa,"

before heading toward the stable, signifying it was milking time. The mouse rolled her eyes and followed Tulip as quickly as possible.

"Need some help with that?" A voice called.

Sally shook her head. "I can get there myself, Gruven."

Gruven shrugged. "OK, but I can get you there faster."

Sally relented, knowing Gruven's sturdy twelve year old arms were stronger then her already tired ten year old ones.

"OK."

Gruven seized the back of the wheel chair and pushed it toward Urran Voh's stable. "Why are you always trying to do everything yourself?"

Sally shrugged. "I'm tired of being called a failure."

Gruven snorted. "Who calls you a failure? Not me!"

Sally sighed. "Well I guess they don't say it, but I can tell they think it. You may not think I'm a failure Gruven, but you pity me. No don't say a word. I can sense it when you look at me."

She looked down. "I'm tired of being pitied and scorned, tired of this chair, tired of boring old Noonvale. I want an adventure! Something exciting!"

Gruven sighed. "Not like there's any chance of that here."

When they got to the barn, Tulip was waiting in her pen. Gruven fed the goat, and Sally begun milking. With nothing else to do, Gruven leaned against the back wall of the adjoining stall, which belonged to Urran Voh's horse, Lightingflash.

"I wonder where old Flash and Ghostdancer are this morning?"

Sally looked up. "Oh they just went to graze on the north ridge."

Gruven yawned. "Well I hope they h. . YIKES!"

Sally craned her neck to see Gruven over Tulips back. "What's wrong?"

He shrugged "Oh this wall stones loose. It just startled me."

He pulled the rock inward a little. "Hey it's hollow, and . . . WOW! Sally, come look at this!


Chapter 3 The Sword

Sally quickly wheeled her chair over to where Gruven was standing, staring into the wall stone he had pulled loose. She peeked into the hollow stone, suddenly understanding Gruven's amazement. There laid a sword of unmatched beauty, a sword kings would have fought for. It's hilt was gold plaited, with a sapphire in its pommel and one on either side of the cross tree. Its blade was mouse sized, and perfectly balanced, but strangest of all was the name engraved on the hilt.

SAYNA.

Sally picked up the sword, and it felt as though she had found a long-lost friend. She polished the blade on her skirt, admiring how it glinted in the early morning sun light. Somehow, she knew she had been born to wield a sword, and this weapon had been made for her.

"I call to order this meeting of the Warriors of Noonvale." Sally stated.

She sat in the club house she and her friends had built. Rose, Gruven, and Brome sat on the floor, while Ghostdancer stuck her head through the window.

Sally held up the sword. "This morning, me and Gruven found this in Lightingflash's stall."

Dancer piped up. "But how could you find that in my dads stall? He'd have cut himself on it!"

Sally snorted. "Not in his bedding silly, in a wall stone!"

"Oh." Dancer stated, as if it made perfect sense for a sword to be IN a wall stone.

Sally continued. "Anyway, I say we should keep it."

Before anymore could be said, however, a rustling from outside betrayed a intruder!

Gruven opened the door a crack, whispering, "There's a big snake out there! It's coming strait for us!"

Sally grabbed the sword. "Open the door."

"But Sally. . ." Gruven protested.

Sally's eyes held a wild red light. "Open that door NOW!"

Gruven had never seen his friend like this. He quickly did as he was bid.

Sally could hear a voice in the back of her mind, whispering,

'Strike the one who would kill your friends, strike now!'

The door was flung open, Sally LEAPED TO HER FEET, bounded across the room, and brought a swift cut down on the snakes neck.

Gruven broke the stunned silence. "Sally, you're standing!"

Sally swayed and grabbed the playhouse door for balance as Dancer sniffed the beheaded snake. She took a step back.

"This was an adder!"

Sally took one shaking step before her legs buckled and she fell. She determinedly got to her paws, but fell again. The mouse maid growled and seized a fallen limb, and using it as a walking stick, she managed to stay on her feet.

"We need to bury this thing before somebody sees it."

That night, there was much rejoicing in Urran Voh's home. The mouse frowned as he watched his daughter. While he had not heard about the adder, or the sword, something told him sally had a greater destiny then Noonvale.


Chapter 4 The Magician Returns

Sally sat alone on a ridge over looking Noonvale. She polished her glistening weapon and once again stroked the mysterious name engraved on the hilt. SAYNA. Sally scratched her ear. What did it mean? It almost seemed familiar, as if from a dream, or a dream of a dream. One thing Sally knew, however, she was made to carry this sword. The weapon felt as though it was an inseparable part of her.

Sally stood up carefully, still getting used to standing. She pretended to face an imaginary foe, swinging hard to the right. The weight of the sword caused her to spin around three times and sit down hard, making her loose her grip on the hilt. The sword flew across a short expanse and hit a tree, then fell to the ground. Sally was about to scramble up and grab it, when a evil chuckle rang from the woodland. Almost out of nowhere, a dull black fox appeared. He picked up the weapon and examined it.

"Ho Ho me pretty. This will serve me well. It's a pity you won't live to use it, but never fear, old Ferran will!"

Sally began to slide backwards, but the one called Ferran moved like lightning. One second he was forty paces away, and the next he was he was standing over her, pinning her down with a footpaw. Sally shuddered, looking into the pale eyes of one so evil . Her obvious fear delighted the fox. He threw back his head and laughed.

"Har Har! So your afraid mousy! An well you should be."

He lowered his cutlass. "Why does he think you're so special? you're just another miserable coward, like they all are. Well I ain't here to question my master, just to serve him."

He raised his weapon. "Tis Hellgates for you mousy."

Suddenly a silver fox leapt out of the bushes and brought his cutlass up to deflect Ferrans death blow. The clash was so loud it nearly deafened Sally, and both foxes lost their weapons.

Ferran snarled, "Groddil! You traitorous scum! I thought you'd long since gone to Hellgates! But still it shouldn't be to hard to make sure of that!"

The one called Groddil snarled back. "Ferran, you evil, cruel beast! Killing the defenseless! And you might be surprised how well I fight!"

Ferran sneered "Ha brother! Since when did you fight for the helpless? And besides, you're a cripple! What could you do to me?"

Groddil did not give his brother the satisfaction of an answer. He lunged at Ferran and sank is teeth into the black foxes shoulder. Both creatures went down in a jumbled heap of bristling fur and snapping fangs.

Suddenly Ferran managed to disengage himself, leaving large chunks of black fur in Groddils claws. Sally slowly got to her paws, astonished by what she had seen. She ran over to the silver fox, who was staunching the flow of blood from a gash that ran from his nose tip to just under his left eye. Sally ripped a piece of cloth from the hem of her skirt and offered it to him. The fox took it and blotted his wound, before stating,

"So you want to learn sword fighting lass?"

Sally's mouth dropped open. "How did you know that?"

Groddil shrugged. "That was the general idea I got, watching you swing your sword around."

Sally raised an eyebrow. "You were here all along?"

"Yes, I should come to your defense earlier , but ... Well I'm sorry." The fox apologized.

Sally picked up her fallen sword. "It's OK I guess."

The fox closed his eyes and leaned up against a tree, before stumbling over to some bushes and pulling a walking stick from them. Groddil heaved himself onto his paws with a groan.

"Not as young as I once was."

Sally noticed with a start that Groddil was badly deformed. His back was hunched over, one of his back legs was twisted underneath him, and his left forepaw was crabbed.

The fox smiled. "Yes I know. Not the most good looking am I?"

Sally shook her head. "I didn't mean it like that ... What happened to you?"

Groddil grimaced. "It's called 'Don't play with wildcats unless you want to get scratched' but anyway, you want to learn sword fighting?"

Sally nodded eagerly. "Then meet me here tomorrow. We'll make a swords beast of you, never fear. Just one thing. Please don't tell anyone about me."

Sally nodded. "I won't." She promised, before hurrying off.

Groddil stared after her and whispered, "Whoever would have thought I'd find her here."

Sally came the next day, and the next, and the next, until meeting Groddil became a routine. The fox taught her well, and by the time the winter wind blew, she was showing great promise in fencing, knife throwing, and archery. Sally looked up to Groddil and thought of him not only as her mentor, but her friend as well. Little did she know just how valuable the silver fox was.


Chapter 5 An Oath of Vengeance

I will have revenge Badrang!

Raven dyeing her paw black.

The winter wind howled viciously around a lone traveler. She squinted her eyes against it, and kept going. While she was an ermine, she was glossy black all over, and her coat never turned to brown in summer. Her blue eyes stood out starkly against her almost iridescent black fur, as did her one white forepaw. She pressed on doggedly, but finally the storm forced her to take shelter in the many rocks on Fort Marshanks shore.

She reached into her satchel and removed a wooden bowl as well as some herbs. The creature mashed the leaves and mixed them with some water to create a dark substance. She plunged her white forepaw in it, smiling with satisfaction as the fur turned black.

"I am coming Badrang. I am coming and this time you can't stop me. This time I am ready. This time, you will pay."

Badrang stood on the wall top enjoying the winter sun on his sleek white fur. He was a true ermine, possessing a white coat and black tail tip in winter, and a honey brown coat in summer. Badrang hated his summer coat so much, he had his former seer Muckfur, create a mixture of herbs to keep it white permanently. Much as he hated to admit he needed anyone, Badrang was at a loss as to what to do without Muckfur, who had fallen ill and died recently.

This was the state of mind the tyrant was in as he watched the lone figure make its way to his fort. It was small, graceful, and almost familiar ... Badrang shook his head. No that was impossible.

Hisk came running up the wall steps. "Lord somebeast's approaching!"

Badrang rolled his eyes "Do you think this is news to me? Get back to your post this instant you nitwit!!"

Hisk was confused. "But sire, what about .."

Badrang shot his captain a look that would freeze the heart of a brave beast, something Hisk was not.

"Do as you're told. I'll see to our guest."

Badrang watched the traveler come toward him. The creature was wearing a hooded cloak, and her voice was soft, almost silky.

"Are you Lord Badrang, tyrant of the north coasts?"

Badrang was pleased by her flattery, but did not show it. "I am. Who are you stranger?"

She removed her hood to reveal piercing blue eyes. "I am Raven, a traveling seer."

Badrang smiled inwardly. A seer was just what he needed. "Then you will join my horde and travel no longer."

Raven held out her right forepaw. Badrang shook the paw, relieved that it was not white. Never the less, he would keep his sights on Raven. He wheeled away, his blue cape swirling behind as he motioned her to follow.

Raven narrowed her eyes. That had been easy, almost too easy. The black ermine resolved to keep a wary eye while in Fort Marshank.


Chapter 6 Raven at Work

Raven sat in the barracks, contemplating her next move. Badrang thought she was a seer, well that had been her intention, but it could get her into trouble. She had never actually had any connections or voices that allowed her to read omens or see the future. This was entirely up to her wit and slyness. She just hoped she could bluff as well as she could scheme. Still, it shouldn't be to hard, if Badrang was as stupid as she remembered.

Raven had taken a scout around Marshank the first day she got there, and it was pretty obvious to her that if she wanted to accomplish anything, she would have to get rid of Scalrag, Badrangs sniveling spy. She carefully pulled a vial from her cloak and poured its contents into a jug of ale. Raven proceeded to set the jug on Scalrags bunk before smiling grimly.

"That poison has been extremely useful to me. You'll go out like a light Scalrag."

The ermine had just made it back to her bunk, when a rat called Grimjaw walked in.

"His Mightiness wants ter see ya in 'is longhouse."

Raven stared at the speaker aloofly. "Very well rat."

As she left, Grimjaw spied the jug on Scalrag's bed. The rat grinned slyly.

"Ho ho Scalrag old matey, ya shouldn't be leaving things around."

Grimjaw snuck from the barracks with the deadly jug of ale in his paws, sniggering at his cleverness.


Chapter 7 The Story

"Once, in Mossflower, which is a great southern land, their lived a great warrior, a mouse called Martin. He was king of southwest Mossflower, and lived in a beautiful palace called Kotir. The land was peaceful, and Martin ruled his subjects well. However, he and his queen, Sunflower, were not happy, for fate had withheld from them what they longed for most. A child. Finally, one summer, Martin and Sunflowers greatest wish was fulfilled, and they were granted a son, who they named Luke. Now one night, when Prince Luke was only a week old, death struck Mossflower. A cat and his minions attacked. They plundered. They slaughtered. They burned. The woodlanders who were left alive, scattered or summited. Martin and his wife were killed, but the legend says that somehow, Luke was saved."

Groddil looked up, pausing his tale.

Sally begged, "Tell me the rest! About the warrior prince and princess."

Groddil nodded. "Fair enough. Mossflower has remained in oppression ever since. But it has been said that someday, four great warriors will defeat the cat. There is a prophesy that goes like this;


The mighty prince carries a sword,

For to defeat the self-made lord.

In the northlands, born of pain,

There he'll leave a flame.


The mighty princess carries a blade,

She is a warrior born not made,

Whose eyes are like night and head fur is gold,

Same as foretold as in days of old.


A mighty warrior from northlands came,

Danger in his very name.

Unmatched in battle, unmatched in war,

Well known from Mossflower to northern shore.


The last warrior is not without power,

Though she is called after a flower,

When hope is no more, when others will fall,

She will save them all."


Groddil smiled. "The last part of the prophesy makes little sense. It goes like this:

And the warrior princess shall live and fight for them over a thousand seasons, making sure no vermin ever rules Mossflower again."

Sally looked wistful. "I wish the warrior princess was real. I wish I was her."

Groddil scratched his scruffy gray beard. "Oh she's real Sally, mark my words."


Chapter 8 Groddils Confession

Sally sipped her steaming mint tea. It was frosty cold outside, but it was nice and warm in Groddil's snug burrow.

Sally studied her mentor as she drank her tea. The fox was on in seasons, and his fur was silver. Whether the color resulted from age, or if it was from birth, sally could not tell. Groddils eyes were fluid, piercing yellow, contrasting drastically with his shimmering coat.

In truth, Groddil was a contradiction. He was a fox, a vermin. Yet he refused his kinds evil ways. Goodbeast's wouldn't trust him, which was why he spent his days as a hermit, farming his land and teaching Sally the arts of war.

Groddil interrupted Sally's reverie.

"What's on your mind, eh lass?"

Sally asked the question that had been nagging at the back of her mind. "Groddil, are you a magician?"

Groddil shrugged. "Depends on what you think a magician is."

Sally frowned. "Well you know, can you tell fortunes, see the future, or read dreams?"

She paused, "Groddil, I know we haven't talked about your past, but let's face it, you're like family to me, and .. well .."

Groddil look down and scuffed a paw on the floor, then spoke. "Yes, you're right. You may resent me after you hear my story, but you deserve to know the truth."

The fox sighed. "It all started a long time ago, when a silver fox was born last in a litter of five. All my life I was bullied and pushed, so in an attempt to make friends, I fell to practicing paw reading.

At first I made it all up, but slowly I began to just .. well .. know. Looking back, I realize how creepy that feeling truly was, but I was young and I reveled in the power I believed I commanded.

When I was fourteen seasons old, a vicious wildcat called Ungatt Trunn captured me and my family. To save myself, I told the cat I could read omens. Being a superstitious creature, the warlord killed all my kin except my elusive brother, Ferran.

The cat crippled me so I couldn't run, and took me with him, making me his magician, or slave, to be more realistic.

When I was eighteen seasons old, Ungatt Trunn attacked the mountain of Salamandastron. He picked a good time too, for the badger and his hares were old. The fortress was in evil paws within a fortnight, but the badger and nearly a score of ancient hares were nowhere to be found.

The mighty one forced me and other vermin to search for them, and after many useless days of looking, we were forced to make a report.

My master was furious I had not fulfilled my orders, and he had a rat called Ripfang flog me."

Groddil winced at the memory, and paused for a time, as if unsure whether to continue. Then he began again.

"There were many struggles for the fire mountain, but I'll never forget the one in which I met Stargazer. That horse is one in ten million Sally. He had compassion on me, a fox, and helped me escape my evil master, throwing away everything he had to do so.

Even though I was free, I had to return. Had to see which side won. The woodlanders did. As I was leaving, I found my master's broken, but living body washed up on the shore.

He begged me to help him. My mind ran through all the things he had done, all the things he had made me do. I felt a burning anger wash over me as I remembered how I had ordered the death of the old badger lord, under his command.

I pushed him into the water, watching as he disappeared beneath the waves. I was half crazy with gilt and sorrow for my wicked deeds, so I chanted what Ungatt Trunn had taken so much pride in. His list of praises."

Groddil got a faraway look in his eyes, chanting in a singsong voice,


"These are the days of Ungatt Trunn.

The fearsome beast,

Oh mighty one.

He who makes the stars fall!

Conqueror, Earth-shaker,

Son of King Mortspear, brother to Verdauga!

Lord of all the blue hordes, who are as many as the leaves of autumn!

Oh all powerful Ungatt Trunn!


The fox looked down. "I wandered until I found this place, and hid from .."

He paused, and Sally thought she heard a hint of fear in Groddil's voice.

"Hid from my past."


Chapter 9 Slave to a Tyrant

He wasn't much to look at, but he might have been, who could tell? Maybe if his fur had been clean, instead of battered and filthy. Maybe if he had worn good clothes instead of his torn, stained rags.

A lot of things might have been different about him, if he wasn't a slave.

Badrang's slave.

His name was Martin, though not many knew that.

He had handsome brown eyes that offset the rest of him. They looked like they should have belonged to a noble prince, not a slave.

At that very moment, Martin was loading stones onto a cart with some other slaves. The young mouse winced as the heavy rock he was carrying pinned his paw to the cart as he set it down.

"Kayla!" He hissed through clenched teeth, hoping Captain Hisk did not hear.

Kayla, a young male otter, set his stone down on the cart and pried the rock off Martin's paw.

Martin nodded his thanks as he caressed the wounded paw. "Thanks Kayla."

The otter hurried his friend back to the rock pile. "Don't let em know you've been wounded mate. Can you work with that paw?"

Martin grimaced as he picked up another stone. "I'll live."

"Well you know Badrang's crew don't show favors ta wounded slaves. Don't let on you've been hurt." Kayla warned.

A shadow danced in Martin's eyes. "I know too well. Don't worry about me Kayla."

Kayla allowed himself a rare smile as his friend walked off. Martin had always been a fighter.

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"Raven!"

The black ermine scurried into Badrang's presence. "Yes my Lord?"

Badrang stared moodily at his seer. She was hiding something, he knew it. However, no matter how hard he tried, he couldn't figure out what. So he snapped bad-temperedly,

"Well, do your job! Don't just stare at me, read the future!"

Raven nodded, sitting cross-legged in front of her Lord's throne. She pulled out a pouch of shells and bones, shaking it and scattering it's contents across the floor.

The black ermine had read the suspicion in Badrangs gaze, and she knew she'd better make this good. As she was staring at the mess on the floor, trying to think of a good answer, something very odd happened.

Badrang glared at Raven as she stared at her omens, but suddenly she looked up, glassy-eyed. She began speaking in a soft, unattached voice.


"The mighty Lord who owns the blade,

And acquaintance of old,

Will war with the Lord self-made,

Where sun turns sea to gold.


The warrior maid with golden fur,

Will come to help them fight.

And even when strife is no more,

Lingers sorrow black as night.


Who ever hears and heeds the cry,

To march off into war,

The question is; who will die,

Whose blood will stain this shore?"


A silence fell across the room, terrible and foreboding. Badrang broke it.

"What's that supposed to mean?"

Raven looked up, her eyes back to normal. "I know not my Lord."

She was vastly relived she had come up with something, although the rhyme made as much sense to her as to Badrang.

Badrang was not in the mood for games. "You said it! How can you not know?"

Raven cringed. "Sire, my voices said it, not I. Perhaps it will be made clear to me in later days."

Badrang stared murderously at Raven, but it occurred to him that he would never know the riddle's meaning if he killed the seer.

"It better, Raven. It better."


Chapter 10 A Few Seasons Hence

Seasons pass, as seasons do, and at Fort Marshank, tensions were high.

Raven was seated in the barracks, dyeing her paw black once more. All this time she had not allowed the fur to grow out white, lest Badrang should guess her true identity.

She had never discovered the meaning of the strange riddle, and Badrang was not pleased.

Raven shook her head as she disposed of the dye. She didn't even know how or why the riddle had come into her thoughts. It was as if some other beast had spoke through her, and so she had lied that it was her 'voices'

As if she had any. She was no seer, but she was an actor.

A good one.

><><

Martin sat beside his dear friend, a bay pinto horse called Wildfire. The two were nigh inseparable, for they were the same age and had been captured by Badrang near the same time.

The horse and the mouse made for an odd pair to look at, but never the less, there could not be two better friends.

Wildfire sighed. "Badrang's been more cantankerous then usual recently."

Martin just nodded, staring at the sun as it vanished behind the stark walls of Fort Marshank.

Wildfire could tell something was on his friends mind. "What is it?"

Martin shook his head. "All this. How long can we hold out?"

The horse tried to put a brighter side on things. "Hold out? Well we have done a good job of it so far!"

Martin looked away. "Don't lie Wildfire. What about the old ones? What about your mother? Hisk works her far to hard, and it's quite obvious."

Wildfire winced as he thought of Redcloud, and how Hisk whipped her constantly.

Martin continued. "Face it, we're dying. The old ones first, and we'll be next. What about Kayla? He pushes himself far past his limits to help the others, it's killing him!"

The mouse looked down. "Something's got to be done Wildfire. Badrang whips and starves the life out of us, then rants because we don't work harder."

Wildfire glanced at his scarred flank. "Yea, I know. All to well."

The horse looked curious. "So .. What's got to be done?"

Martin stared up at the stars coming out in the darkening sky. "I don't know. But something's got to change."

><><

Far off in Noonvale, Sally was thinking the same thing.

She was fifteen seasons old now, and skilled in the art of fighting, for Groddil had taught her well. However, no one, not even Rose or Gruven knew of her hidden skill, nor of Groddil.

Sally was tired of hiding everything that mattered to her.

But she had too.

Yes, something had to change.

Something.


Chapter 11 A Change of Scenery

Sally hitched Dancer to Urran Voh's cart while Rose and Brome loaded sacks of barley onto it.

"But why can't I come?" Brome whined.

Rose grabbed the grain sack he was dropping and placed it on the cart. "Because you're too little, that's why."

"I'm not too little!" Brome pouted. "I'm nine seasons old, almost ten!"

Rose rolled her eyes. "That's the point."

Seeing her brother's crestfallen look, she ruffled his head fur. "Cheer up Brome! We're only going to Evenglade, you've been there before."

Brome grumbled bad-temperedly, "Yes, but I want to go again! You and Sally always get to do fun stuff, and I get left out!"

Rose laughed. "Well I wouldn't call selling father's barley exactly fun. Last time we didn't have to many takers."

Sally walked around the cart to her siblings, snorting, "Yea, and you know why? It's cause his prices are to high."

Rose tried to be hopeful. "Well it's too early for barley this season, so we may have better luck."

Arreah came out of the cottage carrying a large basket.

"I've packed you two some meals, and they should hold you over for two days, with snacks in-between."

Urran smiled. "You spoil them to much dear."

He handed Sally a small bag of coins. "Now, Sundew, you, Rose, and Ghostdancer stay at the inn at Evenglade tonight, and I'll expect you back by sunset tomorrow."

Sally and Rose climbed into the drivers seat, calling, "Goodbye Father! Bye Mother! Bye Brome!"

"Be back by sunset tomorrow!" Urran ordered once more.

"Get enough sleep!" Arreah advised.

Brome just stuck his lip out in a pout.

><><

As soon as Noonvale was out of sight, Sally promptly leaned over and shoved a barley sack off her three knives, bow, arrows, and sword.

Rose rolled her eyes. "Really Sally? All those weapons? We're only going to Evenglade!"

Dancer laughed. "Try telling Sally to go anywhere without her weapons. I think they're an inseparable part of her."

Sally smiled as she stuck a knife in her belt, pulled the sack back over her armory, and leaned back in the seat.

"You're right about that Dancer."


Chapter 12 The Tyrant and his Slave

The Accident

It was early morning at Fort Marshank, and as usual, the slaves were already hard at work.

Badrang was inspecting them and their labor, something they hated.

The ermine was atop Wildfire, loftily observing the work. The horse plodded through the slave yards, casting sorrowful glances around him.

Now he understood why Martin said they were dying. As Badrang's personal horse, it was not his duty to work with the other slaves.

He had it relatively easy, compared to this.

At that second, things went awry.

A young squirrel tripped over a rock on the ground, sprawling directly between Wildfire's front hooves. In an effort not to trample the poor creature, the horse jerked back, nearly throwing Badrang in the proses.

The squirrel picked himself up and scurried away, unhurt. However Badrang began thrashing Wildfire, furious.

><><

Martin was carrying stone when he heard the commotion. He got in sight of Badrang and Wildfire just as the ermine dug his spurs deep into his horses sides. Wildfire instinctively shied away from the pain, causing Badrang's spurs to tear a long rip in his hide, almost to his back.

Wildfire gave an anguished whinny as this new injury was added to his collection of cuts and bruises.

Martin couldn't stand it anymore. He flung himself at Badrang, seizing the ermine's leg and hauling him off the horse.

The young mouse grabbed Badrang's whip and begin trashing him with no mercy. The tyrant reacted by kicking out and managed to catch Martin in the jaw with a spur. This resulted in Martin going head over heels backwards, but the mouse flung himself back into the fray, only to be hauled off by Hisk and Scalrag.

Badrang got up, pure hatred on his features. His voice was cold as ice.

"Hisk, Scalrag, tie this insolent slave on the stakes. We'll see how hard he can fight seagulls!"

Martin managed to get his muzzle free of Hisk's paw. "Brave thing to do, letting a bunch of gulls do the dirty work you're afraid to carry out!"

Badrang slapped a paw across Martin's face. "Shut your mouth slave, or I'll do it for you!"

Martin sneered back, "Strike me when I can not fight coward! Because if I ever get loose, I'll show you how a coward dies!"

Badrang stiffened momentarily, remembering the sound lashing this defiant slave had succeeded in giving him just moments ago. The tyrant winced as his wounds began to sting in earnest.

"Get this idiot out of my sight so I don't kill him. I'll enjoy watching him suffer later."

As Hisk and Scalrag drug Martin off, two beautiful blue eyes watched them. Their owner smiled.

This could be useful.


Chapter 13 Call of Fate

This could be useful ...

Raven watching Martin being drug away by Scalrag and Hisk.

Rose, Sally, and Dancer were not having much luck. They had reached Evenglade, only to discover someone else selling barley, and cheaper.

"This is hopeless." Sally sighed.

Rose had to agree. "Yea."

"Wasn't there another town, a smaller one, near here?" She asked.

Sally nodded. "Yes, it's called Winterdell. But it's a good distance from here."

Dancer looked quizzical. "Can we make it before dark?"

Sally shrugged. "I think so. I've never been there, but I've seen it on father's map. We can make it there before dark, but we can't get back here."

"Is there an inn?" Rose asked.

Sally laughed, "How should I know? I haven't been there, and maps don't say such things."

"Oh." Rose sighed.

Sally looked at the barley and thought of her father's disapproval. "Still, I think we'd better."

As Dancer started out, Rose asked, "But what will we do if there isn't an inn?"

Sally shrugged. "We'll live."

Rose wasn't so sure.

><><

Badrang stared at the form of Martin, tied between two ropes on Marshank's wall. The tyrant rubbed his stinging shoulder where his slave had managed to lash him heavily. Suddenly he whirled around, yelling,

"Hisk!"

Hisk came running. "Yes my Lord?"

Badrang's eyes glittered cruelly. "Take that mouse down to Gurrad, but tell him to go easy. Make sure he knows he is not to kill him. I still want a good show, but I think that slave needs a little .. more then seagulls."

Hisk bowed. "Your wish is my command."

><><

Raven frowned as Martin was drug into the bowls of Fort Marshank.

This posed a serious difficulty.

Gurrad was Badrang's torturer, his hangman. The black ermine knew that the slave would be helpless and possibly dead when Gurrad got through with him.

Raven twitched her lip. Hopefully the slave would survive.

He looked as though he could be very useful.

><><

Wildfire choked down a sob as Martin was drug away. He knew that Gurrad would do a good job of torturing his friend.

The horse closed his eyes. His best friend was to be tortured, and he couldn't do a thing. He felt so helpless.

"I'm sorry son." A soft voice murmured.

Wildfire just shook his head miserably.

Redcloud nuzzled her child's shoulder. "Be brave for Martin. He would want it."

><><

"We're lost, that's obvious." Sally moaned.

Rose sniffed. "Now what?"

Dancer had lost the road, and apart from the soft glow of the coach lamp, all was black.

"We make camp." Sally sighed.

She unhitched Dancer, and made a bed of barley sacks in the back of the cart.

Rose snuggled down in the bed remarking, "It's a good thing we didn't sell the barley, because it's pretty comfortable."

"That's nice." Sally remarked before blowing out the lamp.

Rose sat bolt upright. "Don't do that!"

"Why ever not?" Sally asked.

"Because I can't see!" Rose wailed.

Sally was unsympathetic. "You're not supposed to. You're supposed to go to sleep."

Long after her sister had fallen asleep, Rose sat up, staring into the darkness. Every sound was unfamiliar and scary. She desperately wished they were safe at home.

But she wasn't the only one to wish they were somewhere else that night.


Chapter 14 Crossroads

Martin hung limply from his bonds, half-conscious. The lashes Gurrad had given him stung painfully, and Scalrag had tied him so tightly his paws had gone numb.

He weakly looked up, murmuring, "Is it true the only way a goodbeast leaves this place is through death?"

He slumped down, his strength gone.

Suddenly a voice whispered, "Hold still mouse, I'm going to get you out of this."

Martin stared at his rescuer through blurry eyes. "R .. Raven?"

The black ermine cut through the ropes, then helped rub the life back into Martin's numbed limbs. He muttered, "But .. but I don't understand .."

Raven handed him a flask of water and some bread. "Now get out of here mouse, before Badrang catches you."

Martin took a drink, murmuring, "Thank you!"

Raven flicked her long black hair over her shoulder. "I have my reasons. Now get out."

><><

Raven slunk back into Fort Marshank unnoticed.

She sighed. It was a pity Gurrad had lashed the mouse so much, for he was too weak to be of any use.

Still, it was better to have him die outside the fortress then at Badrang's paw. At least the tyrant would not have the enjoyment of watching the gulls tear him apart.

><><

Sally slowly awoke to realize she was sleeping in the back of the cart, far away from home. She yawned, poking the lumpy bundle beside her.

"Wake up Rose! Time to get going."

Rose's head was thrust from under the blanket.

"Wake up??? I've been awake all night! There was something crashing around out there! It was big, loud, and scary and I was sure we were going to be eaten alive!!"

Dancer came trotting up. "It was me."

"It was not you!" Rose argued.

Sally left her friends to their ridicules argument and went to survey the traces. When she reached them, she groaned. She had left them on the ground, and now they were wet with dew. The mouse maid sighed, grabbed a rag, and began drying the harness.

When she was finally done, Dancer backed into the shafts and Sally harnessed her.

The mouse proceeded to climb into the drivers seat with Rose, and look up at the sun. Only, the sun wasn't there to look at. In it's place was a large, dark cloud bank.

"Which way?" Dancer asked.

"Ummmm .." Sally gulped.

Rose looked shocked. "You mean you don't know???"

"I can't do it with out the sun to guide me." Sally admitted.

"Oh no!" Rose gasped, the beginnings of hysteria on her voice.

Sally sighed. If her sister got hysterical, nothing would get done.

Thankfully, Rose didn't have time too.

A giant flash of lighting rent the sky, followed by a deafening clap of thunder.

Dancer reared up until she almost fell backwards. Rose tumbled into the back of the cart as the front wheels were lifted from the ground, and Sally hung on with all her might.

Dancer came down and took off running as fast as her legs could take her. The momentum catapulted Sally off the drivers seat and into the back of the cart with Rose.

"Dancer stop!" Sally cried, but the horse was oblivious to anything besides her fear and her instinct to run.

Sally looked over at Rose, who was laying flat on the floor.

"It's ok!" She tried to reassure her sister. "Dancer will wear out and have to stop!"

><><

However, Dancer was not lacking in speed or stamina, and it took a long while for her to slow down.

When she finally did, she was apologetic. "I'm sorry guys, I don't know what came over me."

Rose was not paying attention. "What's that?"

Sally followed her sister's line of vision, until she saw the cause of Rose's interest. Several large black birds were circling in the sky some distance away.

"I don't know." Sally remarked, adding, "Let's find out."

><><

It took longer then Sally had thought to come even remotely close to the place the birds were, for they were far off.

As they neared the spot, Sally could smell salt on the breeze, and it puzzled her. She had never been to an ocean before, or she would have recognized the salt smell and the screeching of gulls.

The woods were thinning out, and Rose yelled, "Hey look at that!"

Sally saw the bundle of fur and rags as well, and her heart sank. She kicked the barley sack off her sword, grabbed it, and ran toward the creature.

She reached the prone unfortunate at the same time the vultures did. Sally drew her sword and lashed out at the nearest bird, cutting it's wing. The bird let out a loud squawk, frightening it's companions.

Sally seized the sword in her teeth, and grabbed the unconscious creature's tunic. She begin to drag the mouse across the distance between her and the cart, which was far to long.

Dancer saw the danger first, and broke into a gallop, trying to reach her friend before the vultures did, something that seemed impossible.

Rose grabbed Sally's bow, which was little more then a toy. She didn't know how to aim, how to hold a bow, or even how to notch an arrow, but somehow she managed to put the arrow on right and fire!

The arrow flew dangerously near to Sally and the mouse she was dragging, but miraculously took down a vulture instead of them!

This gave Sally enough time to get herself and the mouse into the cart.

The mouse maid collapsed on a sack of barley, gasping, "Get us out of here Dancer!"


Chapter 15 Complications

"Well, now what?" Rose ventured to ask after they had left the sea shore behind. Sally had unhitched Dancer, and they were all resting after their harrowing experience.

The mouse they had rescued was faring poorly. He had never awoke, and although she didn't like to say so she didn't think he ever would. At least not without proper care, something Sally couldn't give him.

The mouse shook her head in answer to her sister's question. "I don't know Rose. I just don't know."

Rose looked hopeful, "Well if we could take him back to Noonvale, I'm sure mother could .."

Sally looked away. "Rose I've got to tell you this. The fact is, I've got no idea where we are, or where Noonvale is. We can't get home. Face it Rose, We're really lost. Really and truly."

"Oh." Was all Rose could think to say.

They sat silent for a bit, each thinking their own thoughts.

Suddenly a soft, unfamiliar voice rang from the woodlands. "I do not know where Noonvale is good travelers, but it may be that my mother does."

All three whirled around to see a short yet beautiful mare. She looked about fifteen seasons, but her manner was far older. She was the strangest horse Sally had ever seen. She was pure white with crystal blue eyes, but oddest of all, her pupils were deep, sparkling indigo, not black as they should have been.

The horse smiled. "My name is Luna. Now waste no time, for I know thou have an injured friend, who is in need of help. My mother is a healer."

She watched Sally struggling to lift the mouse onto Dancer for a minute, before laughing softly. "Thou must put him on me, one who is not so tall."

Sally managed to accomplish this, and Luna smiled down at her. "Thou will ride me too friend, to see he does not fall off."

Sally nodded, climbing onto Luna's back and steadying the mouse there.

"Now leave the cart, for no harm shall befall it." Luna ordered, before heading off into the woods.

><><

Sally could feel that Luna walked very oddly. Every step had a tiny pause before the hoof touched the ground, and this puzzled Sally greatly. Still she didn't have much time to contemplate this, for they came in sight of a quaint little cottage made in the hollow trunk of a very large tree.

Dancer looked at Luna, puzzled. "I thought you said you were taking us to your mother."

Luna stared blankly at Dancer for a minute, before laughing her pretty laugh. "Oh I see! You think my mother is a horse. Well I suppose my real one must have been, but I have no memory of her."

She looked sad for a minute, before smiling again. "No, my mother's name is Polleekin. She is a mole."

Sally wasn't sure what to think of a mole adopting a horse, but she didn't really have time to think about it. A homely old mole wife trundled from the cottage.

"Luna the next time thy be a runnen off thy moit tell me first! Oi've been a worryin about thou young horse!"

Luna sighed. "Mother, I'm not a baby anymore. I didn't go far, but I did manage to find these travelers. They have a friend who's in need of some urgent help."

She looked worriedly at the mouse as Sally gently drug him off the horse's back.

Polleekin instantly flew into action, helping Sally carry the mouse indoors, ordering, "Now Luna, thy keep the gray horse company, whoile Oi see what's to be done with this here young'un."


Chapter 16 New Friends

Rose

Laterose

"A most strange tale young'un, but then Oi've seen apleny of strange things in moi days." Polleekin declared after hearing Sally's story.

She sat by the bed she had laid the mouse on, carefully bandaging his wounds. Rose sat beside the mole wife, looking worried.

"Oh will he be alright Polleekin?"

The mole patted Rose's paw. "Now there, there missy Rose. He'll be foine. This uns a strong creature, an that's for sure."

Sally smiled nervously. "I'm going down to see Dancer and Luna if you don't mind."

As she left, Polleekin observed, "Missy Sally ain't for sitten around sick rooms Oi'm a guessin."

Rose sighed. "Yes, my sister likes to be outside under the sky and not in a house."

She paused, adding, "And she doesn't like anything to do with healing. I have the feeling she feels pretty useless, and that's something she really hates. Mother tried to teach her healing, but it was no good. Sally just couldn't figure it out."

She walked over to the window, smiling down at Sally telling Luna about their adventures.

"She likes telling stories though."

Polleekin nodded. "Oi know this missy Rose. Now mioght you help me?"

><><

The day passed slowly and peacefully. Sally stayed outside until Polleekin asked her to help with dinner, and then she obliged the mole wife.

Rose watched over the mouse, who was sleeping quietly, while Sally helped set the table.

She carried a glass of warm milk over to her sister. "Here Rose. Polleekin wants you to see if he'll drink that."

Rose smiled. "Alright. How's Dancer?"

Sally grinned. "Fine. She's getting along with Luna really well. They're friends already."

Polleekin's voice came from the kitchen. "Oi'm pleased with that. Luna's been a needin some friends."

The conversation was interrupted by the mouse, who blinked his eyes open as Polleekin entered the room.

"Oi see our young sleeper awakes." The mole wife commented.

"Where am I? Who are you?" The mouse groaned. "I thought I was as good as dead."

Rose handed him the milk, explaining, "I'm Laterose, but just call me Rose. This is my sister Sally, and our friend Polleekin. You're in her house."

The mouse looked confused. "But how .. I don't understand ..."

Sally was about to begin telling the story of the rescue, but Rose kicked her footpaw. "Never mind all that right now, you need to sleep. We'll tell you in the morning."

She took the empty glass. "What's your name?"

The mouse closed his eyes murmuring, "My name is Martin."


Chapter 18 Meanwhile ...

Urran stood at his front door, staring into the growing dusk, watching for his daughters and Ghostdancer. However, no cart appeared.

Night fell, and with it, Urran's hope. It took him a while to realize that his children wouldn't get back that night.

Arreah came out of the house, looking worried. "Dear, you must come to bed. Sundew's a responsible young mouse, and she won't let anything happen to Rose or Dancer. You'll see."

Urran nodded, stiffly shutting the door against the cool night air. Brome fiddled with the crotched covering on a chair, asking, "Aren't they back yet?"

Urran shook his head. "They'll be back in the morning Brome. Now run along to bed."

Brome scowled and began climbing the stairs to his room, before asking, "But what if they aren't back in the morning? What if they got captured, or lost, or ate up or something?"

Urran pointed a stern paw at his son's room. "Bed!"

Brome stuck his lip out and drug his feet all the way to his room.

As he pulled on his bed clothes, he imagined what it would be like to get lost, captured, or ate up.

None off these things seemed like calamities to his young mind. They seemed like magnificent, wonderful adventures, and he was very jealous to think that his sisters could have got captured or ate up without him.

He could envision Sally coming home and telling about getting ate up or something as equally exciting.

Then he, Brome, would have to sit and listen to that, and not have anything to tell.

As the young mouse crawled into bed, he made up his mind, that before Sally, Rose, and Dancer returned, he would have had an adventure just as exciting as theirs.

><><

Urran made himself a cup of tea to drink before bed, and his wife did the supper dishes. She looked at him, mild concern on her face.

"Dear, do you think .. Brome may have something? About the fact they may be lost?"

Urran took a sip of his tea. "Hmm I don't know. I doubt it though. They most likely didn't sell the barely until it was to late to get home tonight, and they stayed at the inn."

Arreah rung her paws. "Oh I do hope they didn't get caught in that dreadful storm early today."

Urran shook his head. "I'm sure they were snug and warm in the Evenglade inn dear. Sundew would never sell barley in a storm like that."

Arreah still looked worried, so Urran smiled, "I'll tell you what dear. If they aren't back by next morning, I'll ride down to Evenglade and inquire about them."

Arreah looked relieved, but she still fussed. "Well what if they aren't there?"

Urran put his empty tea cup in the sink, laughing, "Then I'll ride all the way to Winterdell if necessary. However, I'll most likely meet them on the rode before I even get to Evenglade."

Arreah smiled half-heartedly, before looking out the window one last time. "I do hope they're safe, wherever they are."

And they were. At least for time being.


Chapter 19 Moving On

Sally awoke slowly as the gray light of dawn spilled through her window. She stretched, got up and pulled on her dress. It was good to be away from home for awhile, although Sally had no idea where Noonvale was.

She slipped downstairs and began helping Polleekin get breakfast. She nodded to Martin, sleeping on the mole wife's couch. "So how's our new friend this morning?"

"Burr he'm be a lookin much better now. Oi'm a thinken he'll be on his paws afor long." Polleekin answered, setting some dishes on the table.

Sally bit her lip. "Polleekin, do you know where Noonvale is?"

The mole wife shook her head. "Oi'm afeared not missy."

Sally sighed. Polleekin's small black eyes searched Sally's face intently. "Oi do know something that moight be a helpin you though."

Sally looked hopeful. "What?"

Polleekin motioned to some birch-bark paper on a nearby shelf. "Now you'm roight down what Oi say, cause Oi'm a thinken you'll be needen it later."

Sally wrote down Polleekin's strange words carefully, making sure she understood the mole wife's rustic speech. She then read the riddle back to Polleekin, to make sure she was correct.


"Set out from the place of peace,

For to find the place of war.

If thou seek the ruthless lord,

You must reach the eastern shore.


The path you tread is fearful,

Still, don't be afraid,

Beware of deceitful paths,

Seek light oh warrior maid!


From mountain top to valleys deep,

Never stop, only keep,

Sight of two headed slope,

And always hold onto hope.


Even when you reach your goal,

Your path will not end.

For reaching peace may take it's toll,

And you'll start over again.


Just like waves pound on the shore,

Ever changing, still the same.

Sometimes things happen,

And you're not to blame."


Sally looked up. "Is that right?"

Polleekin placed a caldron of porridge on the table. "Oi spect so missy. Don't ask Oi what it means, for Oi don't know. That be for you to foind out."

"Find out what?" Rose yawned as she sat down at the table.

"A riddle, and our only hope of getting home." Sally explained cheerfully.

She stood, handing Rose the parchment. "I'll go and see what Luna and Dancer are up to."

Rose scrutinized the writing carefully, complaining, "Sally, how do you expect me to read this?"

She hurriedly grabbed another piece of paper and copied Sally's handwriting off so other beasts could read it.

Sally shrugged. "Sorry."

She sat down at the table just as Polleekin came in with Martin, sitting him down next to Rose.

Rose sat up strait, handing Sally the parchment. "There. Now we can read it."

Sally scanned the writing. "Oh." She absently stuffed it in her satchel, before starting to eat Polleekin's porridge.

Martin ate like he had been through a ten season famine, and this seemed to please Polleekin greatly.

"Oi do say now, you'm have a gurt appetite zurr. What you'm been eating before you came here?"

"Almost nothing." Martin managed to say around a mouthful of porridge.

Rose looked shocked. "Didn't your mother feed you?"

Martin stopped eating for a moment. "I don't have a mother."

Sally cocked her head. "Where did you live before we found you then?"

Martin snorted. "Live? More like living death! I was Badrang's slave."

Polleekin interrupted. "You'm came from that vermin fort?"

Martin nodded. "Aye. and I've got to go back and help my friends!"

Sally looked at him oddly. "Without an army? If this Badrang is very powerful, you won't stand a chance."

Martin looked down. "I know. But I've got to try. Thank you for helping me, though."

Rose refilled his bowl, stating, "Well I guess you could come with us. I could have my father help you get an army."

Sally was about to say something about how Urran would never let himself get caught up in a war, but Martin was already replying. "Do you really think so?"

Rose smiled prettily. "I'm sure of it."

Sally opened her mouth to contradict this statement, but Polleekin was motioning to her. With a sigh, the mouse left her unfinished breakfast and followed Polleekin outside.

The mole wife looked a little sad as she handed Sally some provisions. "Oi know you'm be a leavin today, and moi Luna going with you."

Sally was not expecting this. "Uhh .."

It seemed that Martin would be traveling with them, and now Luna would as well.

Polleekin smiled. "Oi can't keep the choild with me forever. She needs to get out and see the world."

She looked over to where Luna and Dancer were grazing side by side. "An besoides, Luna'd be moighty sad when Dancer leaves, Oi can see that. Best she goes with you."

Sally nodded. "Ok. She can come but I don't see .."

Polleekin patted Sally's shoulder. "You'm look out for moi Luna missy, see that she comes home to Oi."

Sally felt the weight of this new responsibility rest on her shoulders, and she nodded. "I will Polleekin. I will. Although I'm sure Luna can look after herself."

Polleekin looked away. "Burr, she'm can do many things missy. But there are some things when she'll be needin help."

Before Sally could ask what she meant, the mole wife was trundling off to tell Luna her decision.

><><

Luna was overjoyed with Polleekin's consent that she go. She and Sally retrieved the cart, while Polleekin packed more provisions for the journey, and Martin, Rose, and Dancer muddled over the riddle.

The goodbye with Polleekin was sad, but they promised to return again.

The old mole wife shook her head sadly as the five travelers disappeared into the woods.

"Oi do hope Oi made the roight choice, but Oi'm a thinkin they'll be a needen Luna. Oi just hope she comes home."


Chapter 20 Brome Sees an Opportunity

The next morning, Brome was in a foul mood. He was trying to think of how he could have an adventure, and not discovering a way.

Brome hated not being able to do something, because he usually succeeded in getting whatever he wanted. The young mouse was rather spoilt, although he did not see himself as being such.

He played in the fountain in the town square, seeing how far he could skip pebbles. Brome was just about to skip a flat stone, when someone snatched it from his paw. Brome turned about to see Roderick, his sister's mortal enemy. The young mouse set up a howl as Roderick threw his nice, flat rock into the fountain, sneering,

"Ha, Sundew can't save you now! Not that she could anyway."

"M .. My sister is .. isn't a coward like .. you! If she w .. was here .. you .. you'd be .. be .. shredded!" Brome sobbed viciously.

Roderick laughed meanly. "But she isn't here is she?"

"No, but I am!" Gruven's voice rang from behind the bully.

"And I'll see that no one is mean to my best friend's little brother. You got that Roderick?"

The bullying mouse slunk off sullenly, as Gruven retrieved Brome's rock from the fountain. "there you are Brome."

Brome grinned happily, wiping the tears from his eyes. "Thanks Gruven!"

Gruven looked away. "You're welcome Brome."

Brome crawled across to Gruven. "You're worried about Sally?"

Gruven shrugged. "I suppose."

Brome laughed. "Oh you are! You are!!"

Gruven was spared more of this conversation by the arrival of a cart. Both mice looked on curiously as the wagon, pulled by a short black mare headed toward them.

Gruven shooed Brome off. "Well don't just sit there, go tell your mother!"

Brome hurried off as the badger driving the cart pulled her horse to a halt in front of Gruven.

She dismounted from her cart, followed by a hare. "Is this Noonvale young sir?"

Gruven nodded. "Aye, it is. Who are you?"

The badger smiled. "I'm Rowanoak, co-founder of The Rambling Rosehip Players. This is my accomplice Ballaw De Quincewold. Just Ballaw."

Gruven raised an eyebrow. "Rambling Rosehip players?"

Ballaw bowed. "Traveling performers doncha know me lad. Roving circus, wandering actors, call us what ya will."

By this time Arreah had come out of her house. She dipped her head to Ballaw and Rowanoak. "I am pleased to meet you good beast's."

Rowanoak returned her gesture. "You are Arreah I presume? Your husband met us one the road to Evenglade earlier, and directed us here. He said his town might like to see our performances."

Arreah smiled. "Yes, I am Arreah. And I'm sure our townsfolk would enjoy a circus very much."

Ballaw took the black mares reins. "Where can we set up our jolly old tents and such?"

Arreah motioned to where they stood. "Right here in the square."

As the Rambling Rosehip Players began setting up their camp, Brome hurried up to Gruven. "Oh a circus! What fun!"

But even as he contemplated the enjoyment of a show, his fertile young mind was cooking up a plot ...


Chapter 21 The First Obstacle

Sally and her companions pitched camp as the sun set. They lit a fire and sat around it, talking about the next day.

"Sally, where is that riddle I copied for you?" Rose asked as she settled down between Martin and Luna.

Sally retrieved the crumpled paper from her satchel, handing it to Rose.

The mouse maid began reading.


"Set out from the place of peace,

For to find the place of war.

If thou seek the ruthless lord,

You must reach the eastern shore."


Rose frowned. "But who's the ruthless lord anyway?"

"I have the feeling," Martin stated as he poked the fire, "That his name is Badrang."

Rose shook her head. "We're seeking him?"

Sally peered around Luna's forelegs. "I guess."

Martin scratched his head. "Badrang does live on the eastern sea, but I know where his fort is. Why do we need these strange .. directions?"

Rose held up a paw. "Let's try and decipher the rest before jumping to conclusions."

She began reading again.


"The path you tread is fearful,

Still, don't be afraid.

Beware of deceitful paths,

Seek light oh warrior maid!"


She nodded. "I think this stanza is what we must do first. The riddle says not be afraid. Afraid of what?"

"Deceitful paths probably." Sally chipped in, peeking around Luna's legs once more.

"How can a path be deceitful?" Rose asked, puzzled.

Martin shook his head. "I don't know. But what about the part that says; 'Seek light oh warrior maid.' Who's the warrior maid?"

"Sally!" Rose and Dancer exclaimed at the same time.

Sally shrugged, slightly embarrassed. "I guess."

Martin shook his head. "But how is that possible? I've never heard of a maid being a warrior."

Sally got up, and walked over to the cart. "I can show you."

She pulled out one slim knife. "Watch."

Martin never saw the knife leave Sally's paw. One second it was laying loosely in her palm, the next there was a whistle followed by a thump. The knife stood quivering in a tree trunk twenty paces away.

Sally retrieved her weapon thoughtfully, hesitating a moment, before handing it to Martin. "Here, you might as well have this. I've got others, and we might get into some scrapes were we'll need more then one warrior."

><><

The quiet crackling of the fire filled the air as the travelers slowly dropped off to sleep.

Sally looked at Rose, expecting her to be wide awake and terrified like the last time they had to camp out, but to her surprise, her sister was sleeping peacefully. Sally didn't know what to think of this, but she dropped off before she could give the matter serious thought.

><><

The next morning, bright and early, the travelers were on their way again. It was midmorning before Sally noticed that the ground was growing damp and soft. She looked up into the tree tops to see fungus coated trunks and moss covered branches.

Sally had never been in a swamp before, so she did not know what to make of the odd plants and soil. As they kept going, the ground got damper and damper until Sally's bare footpaws were sinking in mud with every step.

Dancer was a little behind the others, pulling the cart, when the wheels sunk deep in a particularly deep spot of mud. The horse tried to pull her load out, but to her horror she realized it was sinking deeper!

Sally whirled around as Dancer yelped, "Help, get me off this thing! It's sinking!"

Sally ran to her friend as the cart settled down even deeper in the muck. The mouse pulled on Dancer's harness, but her efforts were futile. Mud splattered in her face as Dancer struggled against the sinking cart, and amazingly she managed to pull it out a fractional amount. But the next second it settled back down, sinking even deeper.

Dancer's eyes were pleading. "Sally, please! Just leave the cart! Get me off!"

Martin, Rose, and Luna had come running at the commotion, and Sally instructed, "Help me get the harness off!"

"But what about father's cart?" Rose asked, shocked.

"Oh blast father's cart!" Sally exclaimed as she tried to undo a harness buckle. "Would you rather lose Dancer?"

"I can't get it undone!" Martin exclaimed. "The harness is to taunt to unbuckle!"

Sally looked around for a split second before leaping on to the doomed cart.

Dancer struggled as this added weight made the cart sink deeper. Sally threw her bow and quiver at Rose. "Here, catch!"

Rose awkwardly did so as Sally grabbed her other knife, and drew her magnificent broadsword from beneath a barley sack.

She leapt from the rapidly sinking cart, yelling, "Get out of the way!"

Her friends leaped backwards as she brought a two pawed cut at where the harness connected to the cart, instantly severing Dancer's bonds.

Dancer jolted forward as the cart sank from view.


Chapter 22 Brome's Adventure Begins

Brome sat in his room, looking out at the Rambling Rosehip Player's camp. He grinned cheekily, satisfied that he had come up with a decent plan for an adventure. It had occurred to him what a stir he would cause when it was discovered he was gone, but that didn't really bother him. In fact it made the whole thing even better.

Brome's mother spoiled him. She was always willing to do almost anything for any one of her children, but Brome especially. He was her baby, and no matter how big he got, she would always view him as such.

Rose was Urran's pet, not Brome or Sally. Still, he seemed to favor Sally over his son. He never cut Brome any slack, never really cared to have any real interaction with him.

Rose petted Brome terribly. She played with him, did his chores for him, adored him with her entire being.

So being, Brome was indeed, badly spoiled. But even though Rose and Arreah loved him dearly, they never gave him what he really wanted. Excitement.

This was where Sally came in. Compared to the rest of her family she was incredibly strange. Still, she was Brome's favorite sister. She never petted him, never doted on him. She let him learn things the hard way, let him feel the consequences of his actions. However, she let him come with her when she explored the forest around Noonvale. These times were the happiest of Brome's life.

Brome scribbled some writing on a peace of parchment. He snuck into Sally's room and stuffed it under her pillow. Arreah had made the bed already, so nobody but Sally would know where he'd gone. When she got home, she would understand why Brome wasn't there to greet her.

But more then that, she would understand his need for adventure.

><><

The show commenced at midday, and Brome enjoyed every minute. This made him even more determined to carry out his plan.

While his mother thanked Rowanoak for putting on such a splendid performance, Brome crawled into the cart, and hid under some burlap sacks in a corner.

After the excitement of the show and the prospect of running away, Brome was tired out. He fell asleep almost instantly.


Chapter 23 Raven's Memory

Raven sat under the shadow of Marshank's wall, thinking.

Ever since she had helped the mouse escape, Badrang had his eyes on everyone, including her.

Especially her.

Raven buried her head in her paws, choking back a sob. She had to do this! She had to kill Badrang! For her family! For her husband, her children!

Raven tried to hold back the memories that flooded into her mind, threatening to swamp her. She sobbed as those hated memories drowned out the real world and threw her into that of yesteryear.

Once, Raven had been a kindbeast; before Badrang. She had a husband and children; before Badrang. She had a home, a place to call her own; before Badrang.

Smoke.

Heat.

Raven cried out as it all came back.

Running from the burning house only to realize that her baby son was still inside, Seeing her husband murdered before her very eyes. Grabbing her young daughter's paw and running, agonizing pain as a knife sunk into her back. The feeling of falling, and then total darkness ...

Raven trembled as she saw and felt those terrible memories as if the were happing again.

She sniffed. A kind otter had found her and brought her back from the brink of death, but Raven almost wished he had left her.

She drew a dagger from her belt, her only weapon, and held it in her paw, admiring it's deadly beauty. It was the selfsame knife Badrang had almost killed her with.

She stroked it's sharp blade, whispering,

"Just as this knife drew my blood at your paw Badrang, so shall it draw yours at mine."

Burning revenge smoldered in her blue eyes as she swore, "You will pay for this Badrang. You will pay."


Chapter 24 Luna to the Rescue!

The five travelers stared at the place the cart had been just moments ago.

"Well that went well. Thanks Sally." Dancer panted.

Rose took a few steps backwards, shocked at how the cart had vanished. Suddenly she felt a foreboding pull on her footpaws. She tried to pull them out, but they sunk deeper.

Her four friends jumped at her scream, wheeling around to see Rose up to her knees in mud. Martin ran to her, grabbing her paws and trying to pull her out, but almost falling in the swamp himself.

Rose almost pulled Martin in, with her frantic efforts to escape.

"Stop it you two! Hold still!" The two mice went completely still as Luna's voice rang out sharply.

The white horse took a fractional step towards them, feeling the ground as she did. She inched forward, ordering,

"Martin try to keep her from sinking any deeper. Sally, Dancer, stay where you are, and don't distract me!"

Sally and Dancer didn't dare move, or even hardly breath. They had no idea if the next move they made would send them into a mud hole too, so they stood frozen, watching helplessly as Luna slowly made her way across to Martin and Rose.

Rose whimpered as she sunk in up to her waist. Martin tried to pull her out, but his paws just slipped, resulting in Rose sinking deeper.

Luna had just about reached them when she stopped abruptly. "Martin, I can't go any farther, this is where the swamp begins."

Martin was frantic. "Well can you reach her, she's not that far away!"

Luna swiveled her ears nervously, and looked like she was about to say something, but Rose begged, "Please Luna! Please try!"

Luna carefully reached out with her muzzle, almost as if she was trying to feel Rose. Her nose brushed up against the back of the mouse maids dress, and she seized this in her teeth, pulling cautiously. This resulted in Rose being pulled out a little ways. Luna quickly grabbed her friends belt and yanked.

Rose sighed with relief as Luna set her down beside Sally, who, despite how muddy her sister was, hugged her. Martin stumbled over to them, gasping,

"That was a brave thing to do Luna."

The white horse sighed. "I only did what any other would have done."

Sally shook her head. "No, you didn't. We couldn't have felt our way to Rose like that."

Luna hung her head, self-concise. "Thank you, but it really was nothing."

Rose tried to shake the mud from her dress, to no avail. "Well, now what?"

Martin looked worried. "I don't know. We can't go back, I mean what about the riddle?"

Rose gasped. "That's it! The riddle! This swamp must be the deceitful paths!"

"Though the path you tread is fearful, still don't be afraid." Dancer quoted.

Luna looked thoughtful. "Beware of deceitful paths ..."

"Seek light oh warrior maid!" Rose exclaimed, looking at Sally.

Sally shrank back. "Don't look at me, I don't know what to do!"

Rose put her paws on her hips. "Well you need to. You're supposed to seek light!"

Dancer sighed. "Not like there's much of that in here, the trees block out most of it."

"The trees!" Sally exclaimed, before feeling her way to the tallest one in the vicinity.

"What's she doing?" Martin asked.

"Climbing." Rose stated as if this was completely normal. And for Sally, it was.

The mouse climbed up the twisting tree she had chosen, carefully feeling her way around lest she step on a rotten branch. As she got higher and higher, she could see more light. When she had finally got above the other trees, she could see the lay of the land. Not too far off, was a treeless patch of ground that looked higher then the surrounding swamp. She sighed with relief. That was a safe place to spend the night.


Chapter 25 Captured!

Luna looked at Martin. "Me and Dancer are going to scout ahead. You two stay here."

Rose gulped. "Be careful!"

Luna smiled. "You too."

The two mice watched until the horses were out of sight, which didn't take long. A silence fell over the swamp. Rose broke it.

"Hey, Martin, thanks for saving me back there."

Martin looked down. "Oh, well it was Luna who saved you."

Rose touched Martin's paw. "Well if you hadn't held onto me, I would have sunk before she got to us."

Martin wasn't sure what to say. "Uhh .. well, you're welcome."

Rose was about to say more, but all of a sudden there was unearthly hiss from the undergrowth, accompanied by foreboding rustling.

She grabbed Martin's paw. "What's that?"

Martin drew Sally's dagger. "I don't know."

He handed Rose Sally's bow and quiver. "Here, you'd better take these, just in case."

Rose put an arrow on the string, hoping she wouldn't have to use it.

"I sure wish Sally was down here with that sword of hers." Martin muttered.

"Me too." Rose sympathized as a large lizard slipped from the undergrowth, followed by over two score others.

"What do you want?" Martin addressed the large lizard.

The creature just hissed menacingly, and his cohorts started forward.

Martin whispered in Rose's ear. "Shoot the ringleader! Hurry!"

Rose drew the bow back tremblingly. "I .. I'll try."

The mouse maid was shaking so badly she could not have aimed even if she knew how, which she didn't. She let the arrow fly poorly, and it flew wide of the leader. However it took another lizard in the throat, instantly felling him.

"Good shot Rose!" Martin encouraged as Rose struggled to reload the bow. She had just pulled it back when a little lizard ran strait at her. The mouse maid instinctively let the arrow fly, and it took the creature through the foot. Martin leapt forward to kill the wounded adversary, but Rose gasped,

"Oh don't Martin! Please don't!"

The next second, the lizards had surrounded them and bound their forepaws behind their backs with vine.

"Why wouldn't you let me kill him?" Martin asked as their captors tied them together.

A tear trickled down Rose's cheek. "He wasn't any older then my little brother! And I killed the other one .."

At this point she broke down. Martin felt bad. "Don't cry Rose, it was just my warrior instincts. You're right you know, he isn't much older then a babe."

There was no more time for talking, for their captors shoved them to their paws and forced them deeper into the swamp, leaving the wounded lizard behind.

><><

Sally did not know of her friends capture, because she was high up in the tree, working her way down.

When she was nearing the ground, she called, "Hey guess what I saw!"

Nobody answered.

Sally hurried down the rest of the way, to see the clearing deserted, except for a little lizard with an arrow through his foot, pinning it to the ground.

But Sally wasn't concerned with that, she was concerned with the arrow. It was hers.

She ran over to the creature. "What happened? Where are my friends?"

The lizard cowered, hissing pitifully.

Sally was not as compassionate as Rose. She drew her knife, growling, "You tell me where they are, or else!"

The lizard whimpered, pointing to his mouth and shaking his head.

Sally did not understand. "You're mute?"

The creature she was interrogating shook his head again.

Suddenly it dawned on Sally. "You can't speak my language?"

The lizard nodded.

Sally was surprised, asking, "But you can understand it?"

The lizard nodded once more.

Sally tied a vine around her prisoners neck before pulling the arrow from his foot. She drew her knife again.

"Ok lizard, you're going to show me what happened to my friends!"

However before either could take a step, the undergrowth rustled, betraying an intruder!


Chapter 26 The Runaway's Misfortune

Brome snuggled deeper into his bed, wondering at how his soft sheets had become scratchy. He blinked his eyes open to see he was not in his room, but the Rambling Rosehip Player's cart!

The young mouse yawned. Of course! He was running away!

He peeked from under the burlap sacks to see no one about. He didn't dare sit up, so he snuggled down again and closed his eyes.

><><

Brome awoke to realize he was hungry and thirsty. The sounds of laughter rang from somewhere nearby, and he recognized Ballaw's voice.

"Now don't start a blubbin Celandine me gel, I'm sure it's around here somewhere."

A theatrical voice that sounded like a young maid's whined,

"Oh Ballaw I must find my nice dress before the performance! I should never be able to show my face in honest company again if I don't!"

Brome crouched farther down in his corner as he heard the hare's pawsteps approach.

"Now, now, me gel if you turn those faucets on you certainly won't be .. I say!"

Ballaw exclaimed as he whipped the sacks away to see Brome.

As the hare drug him rather unceremoniously from the cart and into the firelight, Brome noticed night had fallen.

Rowanoak stood up. "What's this Ballaw?"

The hare thrust Brome forward. "A bally stowaway Rowanoak me gel!"

Rowanoak surveyed Brome carefully. "Now where do you come from young feller? Summerglen? Silentdell?"

Brome had never heard of such places, and it seemed as though the Rambling Rosehip Players had covered considerable ground since leaving Noonvale.

The badger looked at him for a second. "Evenglade?"

She paused. "Noonvale?"

Brome stood still, hoping his face didn't betray him.

By now all the Rambling Rosehip Players had gathered around to see the stowaway.

Rowanoak dismissed them. "You all go back to your duties. Me and Ballaw will deal with this."

As the assembly dispersed, Rowanoak glared at Brome. "Now you tell me where you came from young'un."

Brome just obstinately shook his head.

Rowanoak sighed. "Now look young feller, I know circus life is tantalizing to young'uns, but your parents will be a worried about you. I don't want them to blame me if anything should happen to you."

"I don't have parents." Brome lied.

Rowanoak snorted. "Don't try to pull that on me young'un, I've lived a few seasons. If you were an orphan, where would you get those nice clothes?"

She held Brome's chin, forcing him to look into her brown eyes. "Now enough of this nonsense young feller. Where do you come from? Out with it!"

Brome could be terribly stubborn when he wanted to be. He simply refused to answer.

Rowanoak was getting frustrated. "Now do you here me young mouse? I said out with it, and I mean it!"

Ballaw grabbed Brome's paw. "Leave this to me Rowanoak me gel. I think I can loose this wee villain's tongue, eh wot?"

Rowanoak muttered something like, "A good spanking might do the trick .."

Ballaw ignored her. He set Brome down on a log by the campfire. "Now young chap, you want ta join our troop eh?"

Brome nodded.

Ballaw grinned. "Well request bally well granted! We've been needing a new member for a while haven't we Rowanoak me gel?"

"Ballaw .." Rowanoak began, flustered, but the irrepressible hare cut her off.

"Let me deal with this eh wot?"

He led Brome away from the campfire. "Come on you lucky young rip, as your first duty ..."

The hare pointed to a large tub of sudsy water. "You can wash all the supper dishes!"

The silly grin Brome had been wearing was instantly wiped off his face. Had he heard Ballaw right? Was he, the only son of Noonvale's chieftain, to wash dishes?

But the hare was quite serious. Brome got to work begrudgingly as Ballaw walked over to Rowanoak, laughing quietly.

"A few days of hard work'll change his mind me gel, you just watch, wot, wot?"

Brome had overheard this remark. He scowled. So that was it. Well, he'd show them. Nobody was going to make him back down.


Chapter 27 Friends and Foes

Rosepetal

Rosepetal

The lizard whimpered as it tried to hide behind Sally, but the mouse maid shoved him in front of her, yelling,

"Show yourself, or your pal here dies!"

Luna stepped from behind a tree. "He's not my pal, and I couldn't care less if he dies. But I'd save him to use as a hostage if I were you."

"Luna!" Sally gasped, immensely relieved.

A female rabbit on a small gray pony stepped out from behind the white horse. The hare dismounted remarking,

"That won't be of any use Luna, they eat their own kind."

The rabbit shook Sally's paw. "I'm Rosepetal, and this is my friend Grayspark. I understand your name is Sally?"

The mouse nodded. "Yes, it is. But how did you meet Luna? And where's Dancer, Rose and Martin?"

Luna shook her head. "Sally, it was a nightmare! Me and Dancer went ahead to scout for a good camping place, and the next thing you know she got tangled in this big vine net! And the lizards came ... " The horse looked away.

"I had to go for help, and I found Rosepetal and Grayspark."

Rosepetal broke in. "We'd better get to my place, the lizards won't go there. If we stay here we're liable to get captured."

Grayspark spoke for the first time. "What about him?"

The pony asked, indicating the lizard.

Sally looked at her prisoner as if just noticing him. "Uhh I don't know."

Rosepetal drew one of the identical rapiers in her belt. "I say we finish him off, here and now. Those things can't talk, and they certainly aren't friendly."

Sally was about to agree, but then something occurred to her. "Wait, no! He may be able to lead us to Martin, Rose, and Dancer!"

Rosepetal curled her lip. "Alright. Follow me."

With the rabbit leading them, it didn't take long to reach her home, a small dwelling built on the patch of high ground Sally had seen earlier.

She sighed with relief as the moonlight flooded through the thin trees here, but the lizard seemed terrified by it. He whimpered, trying to hide in Sally's shadow.

Rosepetal noticed the mouse's confusion at her prisoner's manner.

"The lizards are frightened of light, because the thinness of the trees allows birds of prey to reach them easier."

The rabbit motioned for Sally to bring the prisoner with her before leading them to a small cage made of reeds.

"Put him in here for now."

Sally did so, before following Rosepetal into the cottage.

><><

"So here's the picture. The lizards have your friends, and will probably eat them by morning. So your only hope is to strike now, get them out, and get back here before the lizards catch you."

Rosepetal explained.

Sally and Luna looked at each other.

"That doesn't give us much time." Sally stated.

Rosepetal shook her head. "No, it doesn't. So we've got to move fast. Here's the plan ..."

><><

Martin and Rose were tied back to back, so tightly they could barely move. Dancer lay still, burdened down by the net that entrapped her.

The lizards consorted amongst themselves some forty paces away, much closer to Dancer then the two mice.

Rose sniffed, whispering, "What are they going to do with us?"

Martin wished he could reassure her, but he could not. "I don't know."

A dreary silence passed over them, before Rose whimpered, "My paws are going numb, they're tied so tight."

Martin reached out as best he could and held one of her paws. "I'm sorry I couldn't protect you back there."

Rose was about to say something, when a voice whispered, "Hang on you two. We'll save you!"

"Sally?" Rose whispered.

Martin could barely make out Sally, crouching a few feet from them in the undergrowth. She whispered,

"We've got to throw the lizard's net over them, in order to buy enough time to get to Rosepetal's place. Rosepetal wants you to help her with the net."

Martin was about to ask who Rosepetal was, but he thought better of it. "What about you?"

Sally carefully cut Martin's bonds. "I have to pretend to be you of course! It's dark, and the lizards may not notice."

Martin slipped off into the undergrowth as he and Sally changed places.

Rose looked over at Sally. "Why can't you help with the net?"

Sally carefully cut Rose's bonds before wrapping some severed ropes around her paws to hide the fact she was not bound.

"I don't know. I'm not going to argue though."

The next second screeches broke out as Rosepetal and Martin threw the net onto the lizard's heads. Dancer jumped to her hooves, freed of her bonds.

"Come on!" Sally gasped as she and Rose leapt to their paws. She failed to look back, so as she reached her other friends, Sally realized Rose was not with her. She spun around to see her sister laying on the ground twenty paces away.

"It's my legs! They're numb!" She called out.

Martin began running toward her, but Sally could see a lizard coming at Rose from the other direction. For one second Sally thought of running to her sister herself, but she realized she'd never make it in time.

"Martin catch!" Sally yelled, throwing her broadsword at him.

Martin managed to do so, and brought a swift cut at the lizard, cutting it down the same moment it would have got Rose.

For one second, everyone stood completely frozen. Then Rosepetal cried out, "Don't just stand there, come on!"


Chapter 28 Honest Work

Brome was up to his neck in dishwater, and he was getting tired of it. In fact, he was getting tired of this whole situation.

He cast a rueful glance at the Rambling Rosehip Players who were gathered around their campfire, talking and laughing.

It had been a day since Ballaw had appointed him head dish-washer, and he was not enjoying his new job at all.

The Rambling Rosehip Players had not been standing still all this time, they had been on the move. Brome had seen more towns and villages in one day then he normally would in a year.

The whole escapade would have been a marvelous adventure, except ... Brome looked down at his sudsy paws and the mountain of dirty dishes still to be washed. Except for dishwashing.

He scowled. No, except for uncooperative hares and badgers.

Brome sighed, throwing the next stack of dishes into his tub as Ballaw walked over, carrying a plate.

The hare handed Brome a towel. "Dry those paws you young rip, so you can eat this bally tucker. Better hurry, before I get hungry and scoff it meself!"

The young mouse dried his paws and took the food quickly, for he knew Ballaw would make good his threat.

As he ate, Ballaw surveyed his charge with an approving eye. "So ya positively won't tell me where ya come from young rip?"

Brome shook his head.

Ballaw sighed. "I know you want an adventure me lad, but I can't help that. You belong with your parents, not with me. If something was ta happen to you .."

Brome looked down, mumbling, "Not like they'd care. Mum might, but dad wouldn't."

Ballaw stood slowly. "I see. But still, you will have to go home."

Brome picked up his washrag. "Not if I won't tell you where I live."


Chapter 29 Plotting

Raven stood on the fringes of woodland, gathering herbs. She had managed to get Badrang's permission to leave the fort, and that was a miracle in itself.

She stuffed a plant into her satchel, sighing. She needed a diversion. A good one. She was so angry with Badrang, she didn't care how he died, as long as he did.

Raven pulled a few berries from her satchel, admiring their beauty. She chuckled. They looked so harmless. But they were nightshade, a deadly poison. And they would take care a Badrang.

She stuffed them back into her bag with a sigh. Only if she could create a diversion long enough to poison Badrang's food.

The black ermine looked back at Marshank, a foreboding lump in the distance. She curled her lip. She wasn't going back until she absolutely had to.

><><

The afternoon sun was bright overhead as Raven wandered about the forest, enjoying their freedom and wild beauty. She sat down beside a small brook to rest, when she caught the scent of wood smoke.

The black ermine was instantly alert. She snuck silently through the woods, closer, ever closer to the place the smoke scent was coming from. As she crested a small ridge, she saw the source of the fire.

A badger, hare, some squirrels, a mouse, and a few others. They were gathered around a campfire, and a horse and cart stood nearby.

Raven's sharp mind began working franticly. How could she use these travelers to her benefit?

She slipped from behind a tree, a smile in her innocent, almost mesmerizing blue eyes. "Hello goodbeasts. How are you this fine day?"

The badger surveyed Raven with deep suspicion, but the hare held up a paw. "We're doin fine me gel. Wot about you?"

Raven shrugged. "As well as I can be. What are you doing around here?"

The hare held out a paw. "We're The Rambling Rosehip players. The names Ballaw by the way."

Raven shook Ballaw's paw, almost exploding with relief. A traveling circus was the perfect diversion she needed!

She smiled disarmingly. "Ah circus eh? How'd you like to make some good money?""

Rowanoak stepped in. "That we would. But how?"

Raven pointed to the form of Fort Marshank in the distance. "If you would preform at yonder fort, I would pay you well. As would my companions."

Rowanoak shook her head. "Let's see the money first, and we'll think about it."

Raven pulled out a satchel, emptying it's contents on a flat rock. Rowanoak gasped as a shower of gold pieces clattered onto the stone.

Raven smiled. "Take that, and you will be paid the same after you preform."

Rowanoak nodded. "It's a deal. When shall we come?"

Raven handed the coins to the badger. "Arrive at dusk. I will meet you at the gate."


Chapter 30 Onward and Upward

The morning sun shone down on the travelers as they rested in the shade of some large pines. They had left Rosepetal and Grayspark with many goodbyes and much regret. The reclusive pair had given them some supplies, and also information about the road ahead.

"What was the next thing on that riddle Rose?" Sally asked as she drank some water.

Rose pulled out the battered parchment, rubbing some dried mud from it.


"From mountain top to valleys deep,

Never stop, only keep,

Sight of two headed slope,

And always hold onto hope."


Martin sighed. "What's that supposed to mean?"

Luna looked up from the grass she was eating. "The last time it gave us directions, they were hard to understand."

"But they were accurate." Dancer pointed out. "Although maybe not quite in the way we thought they might be."

"That's true." Sally agreed.

"Well, let's get moving." Martin stated as he heaved himself to his paws.

><><

By midday, the trees had thinned out, and were replaced by hot, dry sand and an occasional bush. Large rocks peppered the landscape, and the air was humid. Not to far in the distance, a mountain range reached majestically for the sky.

"This must be the great desert Rosepetal was talking about." Martin remarked ruefully.

Sally nodded. "Aye. And those must be the mountains she spoke of."

Luna sniffed the breeze. "I smell something odd."

The travelers were quickly becoming dependent on their white friend's uncanny sense of smell and her sharp hearing.

"What is it Luna?" Rose asked.

Luna flicked her ears, listening carefully. "I'm not sure. I can smell the scent of a living creature .. or more like a group of living creatures .. but I have never smelled it before."

Martin sniffed the air. "I smell nothing but dust and sand."

Luna shook her head. "Just trust me Martin. There is something out there."

She widened her nostrils warily. "And one of them is trying to sneak up on us right now."

Martin slipped from Luna's back, slowly drawing Sally's knife. He jumped as a creature scurried into the open.

Martin raised the knife. "It's a stoat!"

The stoat held out his paws. "I mean you no harm mouse."

Martin glared at the newcomer as Rose dismounted. "What's your name?"

The stoat looked at her oddly. "It's been a long while since anybeast asked that. My name's Rupert."

Sally joined the conversation. "Where do you come from?"

Rupert looked nervous. "I am running from my old master, and he is sure to have creatures after me."

Martin had been glaring at the stoat for a few minutes, and he suddenly exclaimed, "I know you! You're from Marshank!"

Rupert shook his head. "Don't even say that name mate. Tis a curse!"

He inspected the warrior mouse closer, before nodding. "You're the one that escaped. I remember you, the slave who defied Badrang."

Martin was about to say more, but Rose interrupted. "If you're running from that dreadful creature Martin has told me about, the you'd best come with us. It would be terrible if Badrang ever caught up with you!"

Rupert shook Rose's paw. "Thank'ee little missy, but I wouldn't hear of you puttin you an your friends in danger."

Rose shook her head. "No you must. If there are creatures pursuing you, they will undoubtedly see our tracks and follow us too. If we are to be chased, let us be chased together."

Martin held up a paw. "Now wait one second! This is a vermin! Why are you talking to him like an old friend?"

Sally stepped in. "Now look Martin, the fact that he is a vermin does not make him evil."

Rose nodded. "That's right."

Luna interrupted. "There is nothing to fear from this one. I can tell."

Rose smiled. "I think so too. He can come with us."

Martin sighed as Dancer introduced herself and Luna. Why did these Noonvale creatures treat vermin like friends? He'd thought for sure Sally would not like the stoat, but she seemed to have no problem with him.

Her words rang in his head. "Just because he's a vermin doesn't make him evil."

Martin shook himself. Was that true? Could that be true?

><><

They made the foot of the mountains by nightfall, and camped in a grove of spruce. Martin sat a little ways away from the others, deep in thought.

Rose crept over to him. "Martin, are you mad about Rupert?"

The mouse shook his head. "No, just thinking. And I sure hope Sally's right."

Rose frowned. "I guess it's hard for us to understand why you hate vermin so much. They've never done anything to us."

She sat down beside him. "I'm sure some vermin are bad. But they all aren't. It's cruel to think badly of them just because they come from a certain linage. How would you like it if everyone thought you couldn't be a warrior just cause most mice are peaceful?"

Martin sighed. "You're always right aren't you?"

Rose looked down. "Not always, but sometimes."

Martin allowed himself a smile. "I hope you're right this time, or we could be in a real mess."


Chapter 31 The Play

Brome was sullenly sitting on the back of The Rambling Rosehip Players cart, swinging his footpaws. Ballaw and Rowanoak were discussing what to do with him.

The young mouse stuck his lip out. He couldn't go home yet, he hadn't had a real adventure! Sure, he had traveled around and washed mounds of dirty dishes, but he wanted something more dangerous.

Little did he know, his wish was about to be fulfilled.

Ballaw walked up to him, his normal, jovial expression replaced by a disgusted one.

"All right you young rip, I'll make you a deal. If I let you act in this show, you will tell me where you live. Otherwise, you can simply wash our dishes until you turn gray. What's it going to be?"

Brome contemplated this. He could go home to tell everyone he had washed dishes, or he could go home sooner, with an exciting story about acting in a circus.

He nodded. "Deal."

><><

Badrang glared at Raven. "A circus? Why would I want a circus?"

Raven smiled winningly. "Think about this Lord. You can give your horde some entertainment, and after the show's over, you've got yourself some free slaves."

Badrang was beginning to see her point as she continued, "Besides, they've got a horse, as well as a badger, a hare, and some other strong creatures."

Badrang couldn't hold in a smile. "You've done well Raven. You've done well."

She bowed, exiting the longhouse. "My only wish is to serve you Lord."

As she walked across the courtyard, Raven felt a twinge of regret. What was she doing? Betraying innocent creatures just to fulfill her desire for revenge?

She closed her eyes. She couldn't weaken now. This had to be done.

><><

Brome peaked out of the cart as Nightshade pulled it toward Marshank. This was going to be fun!

As they entered the fort, Brome saw many kinds of creatures he had never seen before. However The Rambling Rosehip Players seemed disturbed by the inhabitants of this place.

Brome leaned over to Ballaw. "What's wrong?"

Ballaw stared at him. "Don't you know what a bally vermin looks like?"

Brome didn't have time to answer, because a white ermine wearing a blue cape shouted, "Welcome to Marshank friends! We are looking forward to your performance tonight!"

Ballaw exchanged a look with Rowanoak, before leaping from the cart. "Top of the evening to ya goodbeasts! I'm Tibbar the magic rabbit, and these are my accomplices, The Rambling Rosehip Players!"

Rowanoak brought Brome back to reality by shoving some props into his arms. "Well don't stand there, help us set up the stage!"

><><

As he helped, Brome had the feeling something was wrong. Celandine fell to helping him, so he asked,

"What's wrong Celandine?"

The squirrel maid looked worried. "Ballaw wouldn't use his 'Tibbar the magic rabbit act' unless something was really wrong."

><><

As the show began, Rowanoak took Brome aside. "Look young feller, we've been duped. This is a vermin fort, and I doubt they'll let us out after the show."

Brome was about to ask what she meant, but Ballaw had began his act. Rowanoak shoved Brome forward. "Well go on, he needs your help!"

><><

Raven had slipped into the longhouse, and was surveying Badrang's supper carefully. The tyrant himself was watching the show, planning to eat his dinner afterward.

Raven smiled as she sprinkled poison on all the food, making sure each course got a generous amount.

All of a sudden, a shout rang across Fort Marshank. A shout that was heard by all.

"A ship! A ship's approaching!"

><><

Badrang leapt up and ran for the wall top. He reached Bluehide, who had done the shouting, and exclaimed,

"Where? What ship?"

Bluehide pointed. "There my Lord!"

Badrang glared at the approaching ship with fury. "The Seascarab. It's me brother, Tramun Daskar!"


Chapter 32 Clogg's Return

Clogg stood on the deck of the Seascarab, looking at the impressive form of Fort Marshank. He grinned, delivering the ferret beside him a hearty clap on the back.

"Wull now what do ya know Boggs! I'll wager all me grog if that ain't me old brother Badrang's doing!"

Boggs could only nod, he was recovering his air after the pat on the back his captain had given him.

Clogg continued. "Now I suppose me ol' brother was a hindin from Lord Verdauga up here. Wull we found im, and the cat'll be mighty pleased ta git im back. There'll be a new skull on Verdauga's standard afore long, eh Boggs?"

Boggs grinned. "Yea, de fool shoulda never run from Verdauga. Trust me, our Lord alus finds a deserter."

><><

Badrang stood in his longhouse, donning battle armor. He snarled at his reflection in a polished shield on the wall.

"He'll never get me. I ran from him to start my own empire, and one day, Verdauga will pay for my years of servitude. I do not work for free."

The ermine sheathed his sword, the selfsame blade he had stolen from Martin seasons ago.

"My old master owes a debt to me."

Badrang grinned at Scalrag, who was standing behind him. "Verdauga owes me his power, his land, but most of all, his head."

Scalrag gulped. "Uhh .. Yes Sire."

Badrang nodded. "Of course, if you don't get out there and make sure my new slaves are secure, I might just have myself some practice."

Scalrag backed out of the longhouse, terrified. "Oh yes Lord! I'll do that right away!"

><><

As soon as he left the longhouse, Scalrag hurried over to the slave compound, where Raven was tied next to the wall.

The fox looked about carefully to see that no one was watching, before dragging the bound ermine deeper into the shadows.

"Alright seer, I know your little scheme. Don't play with me, I found you poisoning Badrang's food."

Raven glowered at him, but said nothing.

Scalrag continued, "However, the tyrant's been getting a little big for his britches recently, and I have a .. proposition for you."

The ermine snarled, "And what might that be?"

Scalrag smiled. "Apparently, for one reason or another, you want Badrang dead."

Raven nodded. "Yes, what is it to you?"

The fox blinked slowly. "So do I."

><><

Brome huddled in the back of the slave compound. He had finally got an adventure. Now he wished he hadn't.

Ballaw patted his headfur. "Now, now young'un, all's not as lost as it seems."

Brome sniffed. "But .. but now we're slaves! All of us! What are we going to do?"

Celandine whined, "Yes Ballaw! What ever will we do? I can't be a slave, it'll ruin my beautiful tail!"

A sturdy male otter stepped forward. "You'll work, that's what you'll do. Just like that rest of us. Badrang spares nobeast. You work until you die. It's that simple."

Celandine stared at him in horror. "Die? I can't die! What would happen to my headfur?"

The otter looked at her with contempt. "Badrang doesn't care. And he doesn't like complainers. I suggest you work in silence."

Ballaw smiled at him. "Ignore Celandine young'un. My name is Ballaw, what's yours eh wot?"

The otter shook the hare's paw. "I'm Keyla mate."

He motioned to a ragged squirrel behind him. "An this is me matey Felldoh."

Ballaw introduced his troupe, as more slaves crept out from behind Keyla and Felldoh. After introductions had been made, Rowenoak spoke up.

"You all look as though you haven't eaten in months."

Felldoh spoke for the first time. "It feels like we haven't."

Rowanoak nodded. "Well with some effort, that might change. We Rosehip Players will not be held slaves for long."

Brome looked up. "You mean we'll escape?"

Rowanoak nodded. "That's exactly what I mean. And when we do, all these poor creatures are coming with us!"


Chapter 33 A Truth Revealed

Sally was dreaming. She was in a quiet, mist shrouded forest that she had never seen in the waking world.

Her paws made no noise as they sank into the soft grass that covered the ground.

All of a sudden, the mouse maid sensed she was not alone. She turned to see a regale mouse dressed in a red tunic behind her.

Sally spoke first. "Who .. who are you?"

The mouse's voice was a soft, spectral sound. "My name is Martin. I was once a king of Mossflower."

"Mossflower .." Sally echoed, recalling the name from Groddil's stories.

Martin nodded. "Mossflower. My land has remained in oppression ever since my death. But it will be delivered."

"Verdauga .. Verdauga Greeneyes conquered Mossflower." Sally stated, as she remembered what Groddil had taught her.

The mouse smiled at Sally. "Groddil has taught you well young one. Be ready, for your destiny lies in a place far from Noonvale."

He laid a paw on her shoulder. "Be strong. There are many changes ahead of you."

><><

"Sally! Sally! Wake up!"

Sally moaned as her sister's voice cut through her dreams and shattered them.

"Rose will you stop? This dream is interesting!"

Dancer's voice was added to Rose's. "Yea but this is more interesting. There's a bunch of vermin after us! Martin saw em coming."

Sally leapt to her paws. "Alright! I'm up!"

Rupert was standing nearby. "This is all my fault! You should never have helped me!"

"No we shouldn't of .." Martin began, but Rose kicked him.

"That's enough of that!"

"No it's not! He's a vermin .."

"Stop it now!" Luna neighed sharply.

Martin and Rose glared at each other for a minute, before Sally shoved between the two. "All right, all right, this isn't going to help any of us!"

Dancer agreed. "Yea, those vermin are getting closer! We've got a mountain to climb!"

><><

The travelers began their ascent slowly, far to slowly for Sally's liking. She looked back to see the dust cloud their pursuers were making. They were not terribly close, but Sally could tell they were moving fast.

The mountain was steep and rocky, and it hurt Sally's bare paws. She looked behind her, to see Luna straggling badly. The mouse maid hurried back to the horse.

"Luna hurry! You need to move faster!"

The horse shook her head. "I can't Sally, I'm sorry."

Sally blinked, dumbfounded. "Why?"

Luna looked reluctant. "Well .. the thing is .. I'm .. I'm blind."

"You're WHAT!?" Sally stared at her. "But .. but how is that even possible?"

The mouse maid shook her head. "No .. Luna .. you're not blind ok?"

Luna flicked one ear back. "Well I certainly can't see you, or anything else. I think that would make me blind."

Martin had come running back when he saw Sally and Luna were not moving. "What's wrong?"

Sally shook her head dumbly.

Luna sighed. "I simply told her the truth. I'm blind. I can't climb this mountain as fast as we need to."


Chapter 34 The Daskar Family Reunion

Badrang sat on Wildfire, in full battle armor, watching his brother ride a small black horse toward Marshank, followed by his horde.

The tyrant looked at Scalrag, who was mounted on the circus player's horse.

"I want you ta keep a wary eye on me dear brother Clogg. He's bound to be up to no good."

Scalrag nodded. "Of course Sire."

Badrang turned to Hisk, sitting on Redcloud. "Get inside and bring me three score able-bodied soldiers. Go!"

Hisk wheeled Redcloud around, kicking her into a gallop. "Yes my Lord."

><><

"Wull if it isn't me favorite brother Badrang!" Clogg drawled as he halted his mount in front of Wildfire.

Badrang sneered, "Cut out the fancy words Truman. What are ya here for?"

Clogg twirled his long, braided beard. "I'm here for one purpose. I serve the Mighty Lord Verdauga Greeneyes, and he wants your head. So I plan ta bring it to im."

Badrang smiled as Hisk led his troops out of Marshank. "And just how do you plan to that?"

Clogg snarled as he realized Badrang's horde were to many to conquer easily.

Badrang smiled. "How about you and I go into me fortress and have a little talk eh?"

Clogg sneered. "And why should I?"

His brother snapped his fingers. The next second, a score of archers were aiming straight at Clogg.

"That's why, my dear old messmate." Badrang explained.

><><

Raven slunk in the shadows near the main gate, watching all that went on. Her blue eyes flashed angrily as she saw Scalrag consorting with Badrang. She could just imagine what he was telling the tyrant.

All of a sudden, a strong paw grabbed her arm. "Now just what do you think you is doing?"

Raven tried to wrench her paw away, but Fleabane was as strong as he was stupid.

"Let me go you idiot! I'm trying to see if I can help Lord Badrang!"

Fleabane was not sure how to respond. "Wull now, didn't his mightiness order ya to stay away from da gates?"

Rotnose, Fleabane's ever present companion, came hurrying up. "Hoi that he did Fleabane! Don't listen to any of her lies, I heard im meself!"

Bluehide had come running, and Rotnose and Fleabane explained the situation to him. The weasel glared at Raven.

"His majesty'll wanta hear about this. Fleabane, go put er in the slave compound so she can't run off."

><><

As he followed Badrang into the fort, Clogg took Boggs aside. "Now look me old messmate, ya see that fox?"

Boggs looked to Scalrag, who was riding Nightshade proudly. "Yea, sure."

"Wull I wants you and Growch ta capture im, and git im outside dis here fort any way you can. I'm thinken Badrang plans ta use me as a hostage, and I need a hostage ta barter with. Dat fox there seems pretty important to me brother, so we'll take im."

><><

Raven yelped as Fleabane hurled her into the slave compound. She hit the ground hard, and a tiny scream of dismay escaped her as she skidded across the floor and hit the wall.

"Wull now let that be a lesson to you! Don't disobey Badrang again!" Fleabane ordered as he stalked off, slamming the door behind him.

Raven huddled down next to the wall. She could not see anything in the shadows, and she wasn't sure she wanted to.

A quiet, but dangerous voice growled, "So Raven, we meet again."

The next thing she knew, Rowanoak had her pinned against the wall. "Well vermin, what do you have to say for yourself?"

Raven just shook her head in terror as she stared into the badger furious eyes. Rowanoak snarled in anger, and was about to hurl Raven against the next wall, but the ermine yelped,

"No, wait! I can help you and your friends escape!"

><><

As Clogg's horde entered Marshank, Badrang surveyed them carefully, for soon they would be his.

Suddenly, his sharp eyes caught an all to familiar figure. The creature was hunched over, with a peg-leg and a hook-paw, but he was unmistakably a beast Badrang had thought was dead for seasons.

The tyrant motioned Hisk over. "Hisk, you see that ermine there?"

Hisk nodded.

Badrang smiled. "Get Bluehide and capture that one. Take him down to Gurrad, but make sure he does nothing until I arrive."

Hisk did not argue. "Yes Sire."

><><

Scalrag was in search of Raven, for he wanted to inform her of the new development. However, the black ermine was nowhere to be seen.

The fox slunk silently through the shadows of Marshank's wall, grumbling to himself. If that creature had played him false ...

The next second, there was an explosion of pain in his head, and Scalrag's vision went black.

><><

"A job well done, eh Growch?"

Boggs asked as he bound the unconscious Scalrag's paws and tied him into a large gunnysack.

Growch nodded, deep admiration in his voice. "Aye Boggs, a job very well done."

The two corsairs drug the sack up the west wall steps, watching carefully for a guard. They reached the outer wall, and Boggs handed their victim to Growch. The ferret pulled a grappling hook and rope from his belt, intending to hook it onto the stonework, but Growch grabbed his arm.

"Look mate! Their comin!"

Boggs looked up to see three of Badrang's guards patrolling near the end of the north wall. As of yet, they had not noticed the escapers. Still, they were enough to frighten Boggs.

"Growch! Wot we gonna do?"

Growch thought for a minute, before promptly throwing the sack over the wall, with Scalrag still inside.

"Yu idgit! wot you do that for?" Boggs exclaimed as Growch drug him down the wall stairs to avoid detection.

"Gettin rid of the evidence mate, dat's wot I did!"

><><

Badrang entered Gurrad's torture chambers to see Hisk holding the rope that bound the ermine's paws.

The tyrant shooed his captain away. "Go about your duties Hisk. Oh and make sure Clogg and his horde are properly .. accommodated until I can deal with them."

Hisk exited rapidly, only to happy to go. "Yes Sire. I'll see to it Sire."

Badrang nodded to Gurrad. "Take this creature's gag off."

The rat emotionlessly did so, and the old ermine gasped, "Let me go! I have had nothing to do with you!"

Badrang smiled slowly. "I'm afraid I must contradict that statement ... father."


Chapter 35 Up the Mountain

Luna looked down as Martin and Sally stared at her in disbelief.

"So .. I guess .. you're going to leave me?"

Both mice looked horrified, and Martin exclaimed, "NO! We would never do that!"

He paused. "But how are we going to get you up the mountain?"

Luna shrugged as Rupert came back. The stoat exclaimed, "How? We make her a bridle so someone can be her eyes!"

Sally clapped her paws together. "Of course! But what will we make it out of?"

Rose had hurried back to them. "I know!" She exclaimed.

"What?" Martin asked.

Rose pointed to the turquoise ribbon Dancer always wore around her neck. "Dancer's ribbon!"

Dancer backed away. "Not this! It's really special!"

She looked to Luna, and suddenly realized how selfish she was being. The gray horse slipped the ribbon off with a sigh.

"Alright."

Sally grabbed the ribbon and carefully put it in Luna's mouth. "Is that alright?"

"It's fine." Luna snorted. "We need to move! I may have already made us too late!"

Sally climbed onto Luna's back, keeping a tight grip on the makeshift reins. "I'll help Luna. Let's go!"

><><

It was a strange procession that made it's way up the mountain. Dancer first, ridden by Martin, Rose, and Rupert, and then Luna, with Sally carefully steering the horse around sharp rocks and the steep mountain side.

Sally rubbed Luna's neck. "You ok?"

Luna nodded. "Yea. and thanks for taking me with you, even if I am blind."

Sally pulled gently on one rein, steering Luna around a rock. "We wouldn't of left you, how could we? Especially after you saved Rose in the swamp."

The mouse maid paused. "Luna, how could you do that, if you were blind?"

Luna sighed. "I've always been blind. I have learned to feel the ground as I walk on it, so I could easily tell the unstable ground from the safe ground in the swamp. I can also hear and smell things much more acutely then the normal creature."

She flicked an ear backward. "By the way, how close are those vermin?"

Sally looked behind them. Their pursuers were gaining rapidly, they were already beginning to scale the mountain side.

Sally nodded. "They're gaining! Can you go a little faster?"

Luna increased her pace and caught up to Dancer. "Martin, they're gaining on us fast!"

Rose looked up, gasping with shock. "Look!"

Her friends did, and they realized the same thing she had. Dancer broke the silence. "This is the two headed slope from the riddle!"

Sally stared at the strange mountain top, which separated into two peaks, forming a valley between them.

Martin looked back at their rapidly gaining pursuers. "There's only about ten of them! If we make it to that valley, we may be able to hold them off!"

><><

Both horses picked up the pace, but so did the vermin. By now they had nearly reached the summit. Dancer scrambled from the steep mountain trail onto the flat ground at the front of the valley. Luna followed her, a little slower. Rupert dismounted and pulled the crossbow he wore from were it was mounted on his back. The stoat drew it back and loaded an arrow, running to the edge of the precipice.

Martin followed him, his fist clenched around the hilt of Sally's dagger.

Sally drew her broadsword and joined them, as Rose uncertainly loaded her sister's bow.

Martin stared at the approaching vermin, before looking at Rupert. "You think you can hit em from here?"

The stoat aimed his weapon, firing with deadly accuracy. This resulted in the first vermin, a rat, falling transfixed.

"Yes."

As Rupert struggled to reload his bow, Rose pulled hers back. She missed the vermin entirely. Sally handed her sister a knife and took back her bow.

"Let me try Rose."

The mouse maid drew her bow back, aiming just as Groddil had taught her. His voice rang in her mind.

"Breath in as you draw back, breath out as you fire. Wait until your arrow hits it's target to drop your bow arm."

Sally exhaled, releasing her bowstring. She held the bow up until she was rewarded by a strangled scream as her arrow found it's mark.

She whipped out another arrow, as Rupert fired once again. This time Sally's arrow did not fly so well, it missed the vermin she aimed it at, but managed to hit another. By this time, the attackers had reached the summit, and there was no more time for shooting. Sally threw her bow down, drawing her sword as the first vermin crested the ridge top. She trust out viciously before he had time to raise his weapon, and he fell instantly.

Martin found himself faced with two enemies at once, and he readied himself. The next second, Dancer had trampled one to death, and Martin proceeded to finish the other off.

Rupert was fighting a evil looking fox, and Martin was battling a weasel, when Rose screamed. Sally wheeled around to see a rat advance on her sister. Rose stumbled and fell, as the rat raised his cutlass.

Sally felt a burning rage sweep over her, and her vision went red. All she could see was that rat, and all she could think was,

He will not hurt my sister!

The mouse maid leapt toward her sister's attacker with strength she hadn't known she possessed. She brought a swift cut at his torso, and he fell without a sound.

As soon as the rat was dead, Sally's vision swam, and the red color vanished. The mouse maid gasped as she leaned on her sword. Only one thought rang in her mind.

What just happened?


Chapter 36 The Word of a Liar

Rowanoak dropped Raven, and the ermine hit the ground with a thump. "And how can you help us vermin?"

Raven reached into her satchel, pulling out a piece of parchment. "Because I have this."

Ballaw stepped from the shadows. "What is it?"

Raven gulped. "It's the layout of fort Marshank. I found the original on Badrang's desk one day and copied it. It'll tell you all the possible ways of getting out of here!"

Rowanoak snatched the parchment from Raven. "I could just kill you anyway, and I ought to after what you did to us!"

Raven whimpered, "No .. Please! I'm sorry! I wish there had been some other way!"

Ballaw looked baffled. "Did I just hear the rotter say she was sorry?"

Fire flashed in Raven's eyes. "You did! And if I didn't need to avenge a wrong, I would beg you to kill me! I only ask you spare my life so I may kill Badrang, and have revenge for my family's blood!"

She buried her face in her paws. "For my husband, my daughter, my son. They were goodbeasts, all of em, even if I ain't no more. Spare me for them, so they may rest in peace once their murderer is dead!"

Rowanoak and Ballaw stared at each other, shocked that a vermin could have so much feeling for their kin.

Rowanoak's voice was gruff as she replied, "We will spare you, provided you help us, and if you are telling the truth, we have the same purpose. But!"

The badger warned sharply, "If you play us false again, you will regret it."

><><

Father and son stared at each other menacingly as Badrang snarled.

"You were master of the oceans Vilu! The mighty lord of the sea! Second only to Verdauga, you ruled near half the world! What are you doing here, and crippled on top of it?"

Vilu Daskar glared at his son. "My ship was destroyed by a mighty warrior, Luke by name. And I'll tell you, even if he's dead now, he's got brats to carry on his line. Listen close son. I am almost positive the mouse that sunk my ship and gave me these wounds, was the son of King Martin. If Verdauga knew the Luke line still existed, we'd all be no better then fish bait!"

Badrang scoffed at his father. "Do you think this matters to me? I serve Verdauga no longer."

Vilu sneered. "You weak fool! Don't you realize the prophesy clearly states, that if the Lukes come to power once again, our entire empire crumbles?"

For one second, Badrang stood frozen, as if he realized this new threat for what it truly was. But the next moment, he was back to his normal self.

"Gurrad!"

The emotionless rat bowed. "Yes my Lord?"

Badrang smiled at his father. "Make sure my daddy here has the proper accommodations."

The tyrant chuckled. "You must meet my dear pet, Vilu. After all, you must get to know him if you are to be in my family again."

"Take him to Deepfin!" Badrang ordered.

Gurrad obeyed, emotionlessly as ever.

><><

"So it looks like the only way out of here, is either the main gate, or the inlet beneath the torture chambers." Rowanoak observed.

Keyla shook his head. "You don't want to go that way!"

Ballaw looked at him oddly. "Why ever not me lad?"

Felldoh spoke for his friend. "Gurrad lives down there. Gurrad is Badrang's torturer, and you'll never get passed him! And even if you did ..."

The squirrel paused, hesitant.

Tullgrew, a young otter maid, continued for Felldoh. "They say Badrang keeps a terrible beast down there, the Deepfin. Nobeast knows what manner of creature it is, but I'm guessing it's some kind of large fish. Also, there is a sluicegate to keep the creature and it's victims from leaving Fort Marshank."

"Could the gate be opened?" Ballaw asked.

Tullgrew shrugged.

Rowanoak nodded. "It looks as though we can not leave that way. But it seems like there is no other way out."

Raven raised a timid paw. "If I may?"

Rowanoak glared at her, but Keyla nodded.

"Go ahead."

The ermine pointed to the map of Marshank. "If you look here, it shows exactly how deep the foundation goes. If we calculated it, we might be able to dig our way out!"


Chapter 37 Homeward Bound

Sally helped Rose up as Martin and Rupert finished the last two vermin off. Luna came over to the sisters, sighing,

"Thank you Sally. And here."

She returned the ribbon. "I'm sure Dancer wants this back."

Sally took it, asking, "Will you need it anymore?"

Luna smiled shakily. "Not unless we have to climb a mountain that fast again. Please don't treat me like I'm different, now you know the truth. Treat me like you did before you found out. I'll be fine, and it will make me feel more useful."

Sally patted Luna's shoulder. "I won't pity or look down on you for the fact you are blind. Believe me, I know what that's like. Now, we need to move."

Martin walked back to them, limping slightly. Rose started forward, concerned.

"Are you ok?"

The warrior mouse winced as he sat down, revealing a gash that ran down his right leg. "Not really."

Rose grabbed the knife Sally had given her earlier, cutting some fabric from the hem of her skirt. She proceeded to bind up the injury, remarking,

"I hope this works, cause it's all I've got right now. I don't even have any herbs .."

Luna broke in with her usual good sense. "Well we can't do a thing about that now. The best thing to do, would be to get through that valley and down the mountain."

She nudged Martin to his paws. "Can you get on me? It may be easier for you then if you tried to mount Dancer."

The mouse winced as he scrambled onto the horses back. Rose looked at Luna. "Can I ride you too? Dancer doesn't like to carry three."

Dancer laughed. "Don't use me as an excuse just because you like Martin!"

Rose glared at the horse. "That has nothing to do with it!"

Luna rolled her eyes. "Oh stop it you two. Yes Rose, you can ride me."

The mouse maid climbed on, and Luna started forward. "Well come on! We haven't got all day!"

><><

The journey through the valley was uneventful, and they reached it's end as the sun began it's descent in the western sky. Sally ran to the edge of the mountain trail, looking down to the landscape far bellow.

"Look! Oh look!"

Her friends came running, and as soon as she saw what had got her sister's attention, Rose gave a little scream of joy.

"Oh it's Evenglade! And Noonvale! I can see Noonvale!"

"Aye." Dancer agreed. "We should reach home round midday tomorrow."

Suddenly Sally thought of something. "Rose! What's the next thing on that riddle?"

Rose obligingly pulled out the ratted parchment, reading,


"Even when you reach you goal,

Your path will not end.

For reaching peace may take it's toll,

And you'll start over again."


"Huh." Sally sighed. "It sounds like a warning."

Martin looked confused. "But if what Rose says about your home is true, what would we need to be wary of? There could be no evil in such a peaceful place."

Sally rolled her eyes as she remounted Dancer. "You might be surprised."

Martin turned to Rose. "What's she mean by that?"

The mouse maid sighed. "My sister has a lifelong enemy in Noonvale, whom she has hated since she was very young. I must admit he's not the nicest mouse, but I think Sally reacts too fiercely when he is nasty. She's even fought him before."

Martin shook his head. "I'm sorry, but Sally is the strangest maid I've ever met."

Rose smiled as he helped her onto Luna. "You are not the only one who thinks that."


Chapter 38 Homecoming

Urran Voh sat on his front step, staring down the road that led into Noonvale. He shook his head. Sundew had been gone too long. Why had she not come home long before this?

The mouse put his head in his paws. What was he going to do about his wild, adventurous daughter? She was around sixteen seasons now, and was far to old to be running about. She really needed to settle down ..

He looked up. Of course! That was it!

><><

Sally sat on Dancer, trying to block out Martin and Rose's irritating chatter. The two were riding Luna, who patiently plodded along behind Dancer. Sally shook her head. Rose was making their home sound so perfect!

Sally buried her nose in Dancer's glossy black mane. Her home was far from perfect, and she did not greatly relish their return. Urran Voh would instantly forgive Rose, the favorite. However, his dealings with Sally would be much harsher.

The mouse maid sighed. When she was younger, she had dreamed that someday, maybe, her father would love her for what she was, instead of trying to change her. Now she understood, that was not to be. Urran cared only about how his family looked in the eyes of others. He would never love her when she would not conform to his rules.

><><

As they passed Evenglade, Rose became more and more elated with the prospect of getting home. However, Sally said nothing, her black eyes a little stormy.

Martin looked at her oddly as she took her cloak off and wrapped her sword in it. The mouse maid held up a paw.

"We are very near Noonvale. I must do something, and you go on ahead. I will meet you at my father's house."

She nodded to Rose as she dismounted. "Take them to father, and tell him not to worry about me. I'll be home soon."

Rose nodded silently, not asking what her sister wished to do. As Sally slipped into the undergrowth, Martin asked,

"What's up with her?"

Rose shrugged.

Dancer whickered, "When Sally gets like that, it's best not to ask questions."

><><

Urran Voh and Lightingflash were sitting outside the cottage, and neither were in a very good mood.

Lightingflash stamped a hoof, shaking his flaxen mane. "We have been friends for many a long season. But I do not approve of this decision."

Urran crossed his arms. "It's for her own good! I can't think of any other way to fix her!"

The palomino horse looked at his old friend with a mixture of anger and sorrow in his eyes. "Has it occurred to you, that Sundew may not need 'fixed'? Maybe you should learn to love her the way she is, instead of discarding her because she is not what you wanted her to be."

The mouse glared defiantly at Flash. "I'm trying to solve the problem."

Flash shook his head sadly. "Are you sure you did not create it?"

The mouse and horse might have exchanged more heated words if the clopping of hooves on cobblestone had not caused them to look up.

Ghostdancer was walking across the town square, followed by a small white mare. three creatures accompanied them, a weasel-like animal, a golden furred mouse, and Rose.

Rose slipped off the white horse and ran to her father. Urran was immensely relived to see his dear daughter alive and well, but he tried to appear stern.

"Where have you been? Where's Sundew?" He looked at the travelers in surprise. "And where on earth is my cart?!"

Rose hugged her father. "It's a long, long story. Sall .. Sundew is on her way, she just needed to do .. something. As for the cart .. well .."

Urran shook his head. "You must tell me later. First, who are your companions?"

Rose smiled. "The white horse is called Luna. The stoat is Rupert, and the mouse is Martin. They're all good friends."

Urran Voh nodded, although he eyed Martin and Rupert with distaste. "Well take them to your mother dear, and she'll get them fixed up. I'll have a little talk with Sundew when she gets home."

><><

Sally knocked on the door of Groddil's den. It took a few minutes, but the silver fox opened the door slowly. As soon as he saw who it was, he smiled.

"Sally lass! Where've you been?"

Sally shook her head. "It's a long story Groddil. A long, long story."

Groddil motioned for her to come in. "Well then, you must tell me child."

It took a while to tell the tale. Groddil listened intently, smiling when she described how well she had shot on the mountain, but instantly frowning when she told him of the strange fury and power she had experienced when the rat had attacked Rose.

Sally looked worried as she saw the frown in Groddil's eyes. "Did I do something wrong?"

Groddil jerked his head up, quickly stating, "No! No not at all. You did well to protect your sister, and I'm glad nothing happened to you. I also would like to meet this Martin you speak of. He sounds like a worthy warrior."

Sally sat her sword and bow on a table. "He is, although he is somewhat hasty and judgmental, especially of creature's considered vermin. I must go now, but I'll come back as soon as I can."

As the mouse slipped away into the woods, Groddil sighed.

"I knew she had it all along. Should I have told her?"


Chapter 39 Fire Unleashed

Complaint Department of Noonvale

The complaint department of Noonvale

Sally slipped into Noonvale quietly. Dusk had fallen, and she could see a warm glow coming from Council Lodge. The streets and house seemed deserted, so she imagined Urran Voh was throwing some kind of party to celebrate their return.

Sally half-considered going to bed to avoid dressing up and dancing, but the thought of her father's fury made her discard this thought.

She slipped into her house and up to her room. A dress was already laid out on her bed, and Sally pulled it on, uncomfortable with it's cumbersomeness after her loose traveling dress. She stared into the mirror, brushing her messy gold headfur until it stayed flat. She looked down at her footpaws and sighed. Shoes. She had better have shoes.

Sally shoved the cover on her bed out of the way and began rummaging carelessly under it. Upon finding the shoes she wanted, the mouse maid flopped onto her bed to pull them on. As she struggled to get the tight shoes on her footpaws, she happened to notice a small corner of parchment protruding from under her pillow.

Sally pulled it out, and surveyed it carefully, trying to understand the messy handwriting and terrible spelling that could belong to only one mouse. Brome.


Deer Salle.

Wont to hav fun lik yu.

Went with the big bajr and frens.

Don't tell mum or fathr.

Will see yu win I am famus.

Luv, Brome.


Sally slammed her footpaw on the floor, forcing the uncooperative shoe to comply with her wishes. She leapt up, stuffed the note into the folds of her skirt, donned her cape, and stuck one throwing knife in the back of her belt.

What in the world was Brome up to now?

><><

As Sally left the house, she was stopped by a familiar voice.

"Sally is that you?"

The mouse maid stared into the growing dusk for a minute, before smiling,

"Gruven!"

The mouse's eyes twinkled. "Late as ever eh?"

Sally nodded. "Indeed. But Gruven, what .. where is Brome? I need to discus something with him."

Gruven shook his head. "Brome disappeared shortly after you did. Your parents haven't the slightest idea where he went, and your father hasn't been in the best mood."

Sally was silent for a few seconds, before she nodded. "I'll bet he hasn't. Show me where he is though, because I might have something to help him find Brome."

Gruven shrugged. "Urran Voh's in Council Lodge making announcements."

Sally contemplated this. "Ok. Look, you go in without me. I'll go round the back and try to mingle with the crowd. I'll meet you later."

><><

Sally snuck through the back door of Council Lodge, in hopes of avoiding detection. The back room was deserted as she had expected. All the townsfolk would be in the huge front room feasting and dancing, not in the little back room, which was used by creatures getting ready to preform on the stage.

One door led strait onto the stage, and Sally did not want to use that one. She slipped through a little side door, and found herself in the shadow the stage cast. The mouse maid could hear her father's voice announcing,

"It is with great happiness I tell you this, even though the creature it concerns is not present at the moment .."

Sally rolled her eyes and tried to mingle with crowd, but as soon as she stepped into the light, Urran Voh's voice rang out,

"Why there she is! Sundew, come up here!"

Sally groaned inwardly as she headed back toward the stage, where her father stood with a younger mouse. Sally recognized him instantly.

Her most hated enemy, Roderick.

The mouse maid hid a snarl as she climbed the steps to the stage. Whatever Roderick was doing here, Sally did not know, but whatever it was, she wished the arrogant fool was elsewhere.

Sally stopped beside her father, desperately wishing he would make whatever announcement it was so she could leave. She really wasn't listening to what her father was saying.

Urran continued. "As I was saying, it gives me great pleasure to announce the engagement of my daughter, and Roderick!"

Sally stared at Roderick, completely horrified. The mouse was smiling, but Sally could see the smirk in his eyes, and she knew he hadn't changed one bit. He was just as arrogant and bullying as before she left.

Urran looked pleased with himself, and Roderick took a step toward Sally. The mouse maid had the look of a cornered animal, and if her would-be suitor had any sense, he would have left her alone.

But Roderick had never had any sense.

Sally gritted her teeth as Roderick came toward her. Her vision was growing red, just like the time on the mountain. Even though she hated Roderick, Sally did not wish to kill him. Her paw itched to grab the dagger hidden in her belt, but she refrained from drawing it, an action that would only make things worse. Overwhelming fear and fury washed over her, and Sally fought to keep her dangerous emotions from surfacing.

She might have managed it, but Roderick grabbed her paw.

It was too much.

Sally's vision went completely red, and the only thing she could see was Roderick. The only thing she could think was,

I will not marry such a mouse!

><><

Roderick gasped as Sally threw him away from herself with amazing force. The wind was knocked from his lungs as he slammed into the wall, and Sally instinctively whipped a knife from her belt to finish her enemy off.

However the next second the wild red light in her eyes dissipated, and she stared at the destruction she had wrought with horror.

The mouse maid stood frozen for a second, before she wheeled around and ran for the main entrance of Council Lodge. Even though the building was full, it's occupants managed to fearfully make a path for Urran Voh's fleeing daughter.


Chapter 40 Sibling Rivalry

Badrang smiled as Hisk and Bluehide threw his brother before him.

The tyrant laughed, "So Clogg me ol' messmate, somehow or other, you managed to kill Scalrag. My creatures found him outside my fort, in a sack."

Clogg glared at his brother, but said nothing.

Badrang continued. "Little did you know, you did me a favor. That fox was far to shifty for my liking."

The tyrant waved a dismissive paw to Hisk and Bluehide. "Take this idiot away and put him in the dungeons until I have time to deal with him. Outfit his corsairs with my livery, and bring his ship into my cove."

Badrang sneered at his brother. "Everything that was once his, is now mine."

As Clogg was dragged away, Badrang smiled, whispering, "And I'm one step closer to Verdauga's throne."

><><

Brome sighed as he and Celandine dragged a bag of dirt out of the escape tunnel Buckler was digging. The mole had made good progress, and Ballaw said they were nearing Fort Marshank's foundation.

Brome seriously disliked working with Celandine, who was a terrible complainer. She made him wonder if he'd been as much of a brat as her before his adventures.

However even Celandine fell to working harder then ever before with the prospect of escape in sight. The squirrel carefully spread the excess dirt in the shadows of the slave compound as Brome hurried back down the hidden tunnel to get another bag.

Juniper, a young mouse who was a slave of Badrang's, handed Brome another dirt-filled sack, smiling,

"We've reached the foundation. Buckler says we may be able to escape tonight!"

Brome took the bag, almost sighing with relief. Maybe the two previous days of hard work would finally pay off!

><><

Clogg snarled, sitting in a cell in Badrang's dungeon. His brother's haughty words made Clogg's blood boil.

"Everything that was once his, is now mine."

The ermine corsair had found a sharp rock on the floor of his cell, and had diligently been severing is bonds with it.

As Gurrad approached the cell with Clogg's ration, the ermine cut through the ropes binding his paws. However he left them where they were, waiting patently until Gurrad had unlocked the door and stepped into the cell.

While Gurrad was a fierce fighter, Clogg surprised him. The rat never had a chance to draw his knife. There was a weak scuffle before the corsair slew his smaller opponent.

Clogg bound Gurrad's dead body and left him in the cell. The corsair then donned the rat's long cape, which was to large for a rat, but just right for an ermine.

Clogg smiled as he stuck Gurrad's knife in his belt.

"Everything the was once mine is now Badrang's eh? Soon twill be the other way around."

><><

Badrang was sleeping peacefully in his longhouse, although his slumber was not deep. He sensed the creature's presence in his room before he actually came awake. The tyrant slowly opened his eyes, to see a hooded figure standing over him with a drawn knife.

Badrang reacted instantly, rolling out of bed and bowling his assailant over. The tyrant seized his sword as his would-be murderer stood .. and the hood fell from his head.

"Clogg you scum!" Badrang snarled as his brother dropped the knife and drew a stolen cutlass.

"We'll see who is master 'ere me darlin' brother!" Clogg challenged.

Ermine faced ermine as the two contenders raised their weapons, leaping viscously into the fray.

The fight to the death had begun!


Chapter 41 A Friend's Gift

Sally ran. Ran from her father, ran from what she had done. She ran to the one place that might have some answers.

She pounded on the door of Groddil's burrow, sobbing,

"Groddil! Oh Groddil!"

The door opened to reveal the silver fox, clad in his night clothes and holding a lantern. "Sally! child, whatever is the matter?"

Sally shook her head, panting. Groddil motioned her inside as he lit a candle. "Come in lass. Sit down and get your breath back."

When had finally could breath again, Sally gasped out her story. With every word she spoke, Groddil looked angrier. Sally sniffed,

"Are you mad at me?"

Groddil shook his head vehemently. "Nae lass at that father of yours. How old are ye?"

Sally's voice was disgusted. "Sixteen seasons, but not like that would matter."

She looked down. "But Groddil ... even if what he did was wrong, I shouldn't have gone crazy like that. I almost killed Roderick! It was like I had no control of myself .. Groddil .. what happened?"

The silver fox stroked his pewter gray beard, remarking, "You have Bloodwrath."

Sally looked confused. "Bloodwrath?"

Groddil nodded. "Aye, Bloodwrath. It makes a normally clear-thinking beast have fits of very dangerous and powerful fury. When in Bloodwrath, the afflicted creature's vision turns red, and the are capable of great feats of strength and power."

The silver fox looked down. "I've only known one other to have it .. Brocktree, the badger lord of Salamandastron."

Sally looked down. "What can I do about it? Is there a cure for it?"

Groddil shook his head. "It's a hard thing to control, Aye, a hard thing indeed. And yet you must control it, or it will control you. Not many creatures posses it, but you undoubtedly do."

Sally looked worried. "Did I develop it because of things I did?"

The silver fox looked appalled. "Don't go blamin yourself lass. Bloodwrath is something you're born with."

Sally was baffled. "But I didn't have it before my adventures."

Groddil shook his head. "Nae ye did. I always suspected it of ye, with that warrior spirit ye have."

"But it's ten times worse then that! I flung Roderick against the wall like he was made of feathers! And Groddil .. if I truly was born with it, then why .. why didn't it manifest itself sooner?"

Groddil ran his claws through his beard. "Aye lass, Why? That's a good question. Most creatures that have it, show it when they are very young. Like this Martin you speak of. From what you've told me, I'm almost certain he posses it. Maybe you didn't show itself earlier because of what you father tried to force you to be, I don't know. Whatever the case, you were born with Bloodwrath. It's not your fault."

Sally looked relieved for a second, before she thought of something.

"Now what? I can't go back to Noonvale!"

Groddil shook his head. "Nae ye can't. But I think you know where ye must go."

Sally nodded. "Aye. Marshank. Even though I've never seen the place, I feel as though I must go there, and free the slaves, even if I've never met them."

Groddil smiled. "Ye are a worthy warrior lass. But come with me. I've made something for ye."

Sally followed her mentor into his work shop, where he had a small forge. The fox picked something off a bench, and handed it to her.

"This is yours now lass. Wield it well."

Sally touched the bow reverently, running her paw down the flawless oak limbs, and fingering the well waxed string. She stared at the deadly twin knife blades fastened to the ends. These were a signature of Groddil's, Sally had never seen them on any bow that he had not made. They were removable, sharpened sheaths that fit on either end of the bow, made so they would not touch the string. If all the arrows had been shot but the fight was not over, the bow could be used as a weapon in and of itself.

Groddil smiled at Sally's look of amazement as he handed her a filled quiver of indigo-fletched arrows.

"I knew you'd like them. But come and see what else I've made you."

Sally gently set the quiver and bow down, following Groddil to a cloth covered bench near his anvil.

"I have worked many long nights to make these, but they were well worth the effort. They are yours Sally, and I know you will use them very well."

The fox whipped the cloth away to reveal a set of eight beautiful throwing knives, each one a work of art. Sally picked one up, feeling it's perfect balance. Groddil looked pleased.

"These are the accumulation of all my skills put together. I do believe they are the best I've ever done."

Sally smiled. "Oh Groddil they're so beautiful! What would I ever do without you?"

The happy look vanished from Groddil's face. "Look, Sally lass, there may be a day when ye have to do with out me."

Sally shook her head. "Groddil don't be silly! You'll always be here. You're not that old!"

The fox looked down. "I'm not as young as ye think. But that's not what I'm talking about. Listen child, if one day I just vanish, don't try to find me."

Sally hugged her mentor. "You're talking nonsense Groddil. You won't just vanish, no one just vanishes. And if something should happen to you, there is nothing you can say to keep me from helping you."


Chapter 42 Assassins and Escapers

Broadsword and cutlass clashed as the two brothers brought their weapons at each other. Badrang skillfully tripped his brother, but Clogg managed to cut the tyrant's right wrist. Badrang winced, throwing his sword and catching it with his left paw.

"Nice try Cloggo, but I fight with both paws!"

Clogg snarled, putting his brother in speedy retreat with a powerful combination. However Badrang countered with a slice that was to fast for Clogg to counter. The corsair captain ducked, and the momentum of Badrangs cut carried his sword far past Clogg.

The tyrant's sword cut through one of the supports of a large shelf mounted on the wall, and it immediately fell .. on Clogg's head.

Badrang stood panting, his wrist bleeding profusely, but he had once again, got the better end of the deal. Clogg lay completely still, the broken shelf and the things it once held on his head and the ground around him.

Hisk chose this moment to run in. "My Lord is everything all right? I heard the noise and thought .."

His words were cut short as Badrang slapped him full in the face.

"You idiot! I could have been murdered in my bed, and what would you and your half-witted soldiers do? Come in time to bury me six feet under the grass!"

Hisk cowered in fear as his Lord caressed his bleeding paw, indicating Clogg's body.

"Get this thing out of here, and bring me my seer! Now!"

><><

Hisk hurried out of the longhouse, holding his smarting jaw. He signaled Rotnose and Fleabane over, growling,

"Go in there and get rid of Badrang's brother!"

Fleabane just looked at him in stupid bewilderment. "Wot we supposed to do with im?"

Hisk kicked Fleabane's tail. "I don't know! Chuck him in the sea for all I care! Just get him out!"

As Fleabane and Rotnose hurried off, Hisk turned to Bluehide. "Well don't just stand there! Get Raven!"

Bluehide saluted. "But Raven is in the slave compound sir!"

Hisk smoldered, not even bothering to ask why Raven would be in the slave compound. He ground his teeth, trying to keep from flaying Bluehide.

"I don't care where she is, just get her, and get her now!"

><><

Bluehide, Stumptooth, and a fox from Clogg's horde called Crosstooth, kicked open the door of the slave compound.

"Get out here seer, Lord Badrang wants ye!"

No one answered. Crosstooth pushed passed his two companions and into the compound, exclaiming,

"You keep slaves in here?"

Stumptooth aimed a kick at the fox. "Of course stupid, wot else would we keep in here?"

Crosstooth snapped at the weasel. "Well there ain't anybeast in here."

Stumptooth and Bluehide shoved past the fox, to see an ominously empty slave compound.

The two ferrets stared at each other in total fear, thinking the same thing.

Who will tell Lord Badrang?


Chapter 43 Who will Heed the Cry?

Sally came awake slowly, to the sound of birdsong. She yawned, blinking, to find herself laying on a blanket in Groddils living room. She sighed as the events of the previous night returned, turning the beautiful morning gray.

Sally stood with a rustle of fabric, sighing as she looked down at her cumbersome dress. There was no way she could fight in this stupid thing!

A sudden inspiration came to her, and she grabbed one of her new throwing knives. The mouse carefully cut the long, full skirt from the bodice, and stepped out of it. Sally sighed with relief as she ridded herself of the enveloping fabric. The white dress she wore underneath fell to the floor, and it was much cooler and less constricting.

Groddil came out of his room, dressed in battle armor and holding a belt.

"Here lass, sorry I don't have armor for ye, but this'll hold your weapons."

Sally pulled the belt on, freezing as there was a knock at the door.

Groddil motioned that she stay inside, and slowly opened the door.

There was an exclamation of shock, and Groddil toppled into the house with Martin on top of him. The fox leapt up, drawing his cutlass in self-defense, but Sally yelled,

"Stop it both of you!"

Martin stared at her. "Sally ... but .. how .."

Sally snapped. "This happens to be my mentor Martin. I'd advise you not to attack him, he can certainly take care of himself. He taught me all I know."

Martin still stared at Groddil with bewilderment, as Rose stepped through the door. The mouse maid ran to her sister exclaiming,

"Sally! Oh I was worried! And father is furious!"

Sally shrugged. "I assumed he wouldn't be in the best humor."

Rose shook her head. "He wouldn't help Martin get an army at all! And .. and he's mad at me .."

This interested Sally a bit. "He's mad at you?"

Rose nodded. "Yes well I did something .. and it wasn't the best idea .. but .."

She shook her head. "But oh Sally .. Why did you throw Roderick against the wall? It made everything ten time worse."

Sally crossed her arms. "I wasn't going to stand there and do nothing when he betrothed me to such an idiot!"

Gruven came in the house. "I agree. What Urran Voh did was uncalled for, and Sally should not have to marry Roderick."

Sally managed a half smile for her childhood friend as Ghostdancer and her adopted father Lightingflash came to the doorway.

The mouse maid looked confused. "Now wait a minute! Why are all you guys here?"

Rose put her paws on her hips as Luna and Rupert appeared at the door.

"We are all going to Marshank, and I thought you'd want to come too! Dancer told us you were probably with your mentor and took us here .."

Rose stole a glance at Groddil. "However she failed to mention he was a fox. So that is why Martin attacked him."

Groddil stepped in. "If you young'uns are headed for Marshank, I think you'll be needing an army."

Martin looked down. "Yes .. well .. we'll just have to do without them."

Groddil clapped Martin on the back. "Brave words warrior, very brave."

His eyes twinkled as he chuckled,

"But a bit impractical. However, I think I might be able to help you get an army."

Martin stared at the fox. "You?"

Groddil laughed. "Aye warrior, me. I've lived around these parts many seasons, and I know someone who might help you. However, I think you all had best come with me, for this creature hates vermin with the deepest hate. I'll have a better chance with you to help me."

><><

Sally walked along in silence, following Groddil with the rest of her friends. Gruven fell in step with her.

"Hey .. Sally .. I hope you know I had no idea Urran was going to do that."

Sally did not meet his gaze. "I'm not blaming you Gruven."

He looked down. "I wish I could have done something .."

Sally laid a paw on his arm. "There was nothing you could have done. This was an argument between me and my father, and it was long overdue."

Gruven shrugged. "Well .. now what will you do?"

Sally shook her head. "I just don't know. I can't go back, for my father may force me to marry Roderick. I refuse to do that .. so .."

She left her sentence unfinished. Gruven opened his mouth to say something, but never did. Groddil spoke.

"Now listen. The creature I am taking you to is an owl. She knows many things, but be careful, she's rather hotheaded. I haven't had anything to do with her for quite a few seasons, so I'm probably not the one to speak to her."

Martin took a deep breath. "Then I will."

Groddil nodded, pointing to a majestic old oak. "Last I knew, she lived there. Her name is Boldred."

Martin left the others and headed toward the tree. Rose started forward, but Groddil held up a paw.

"Don't. This is Martin's request, so let him make it."


Chapter 44 The Tyrant Must Die

Erwin Daskar

Erwin

Brome sat next to Kayla. The young mouse had become very close to the friendly otter, and his friends, Tullgrew and Felldoh.

The escaped slaves had set up a hidden camp in the forest a considerable distance from Marshank. Raven insisted on staying with them, much to Rowanoak's distain. It was only thanks to Ballaw she did not run the black ermine off.

Brome was not sure what to think of Raven. She hardly said a word, and grief was ever-present in her eyes, but she stood unbowed, as if she had something to accomplish.

At this very moment, the creature Brome was reflecting on approached them. She looked down, indicating Kayla.

"Please .. I would like to speak to the young otter."

Kayla shrugged. "Go ahead."

Raven sat down. "What do you plan to do now? I do not dare ask Rowenoak."

Kayla shook his head. "I don't know Raven .. I really don't."

Raven shook her head. "Now that we are out of Marshank, please do not call me that anymore. It is not my true name .."

She held up her right paw, which to Brome's surprise, was growing out white.

"Just like this paw is not truly black. Both were to fool Badrang."

Tullgrew blinked. "What's your real name?"

The creature they had known as Raven for near five seasons revealed what she had hidden from the tyrant and everyone else.

"My real name is Erwin. Erwin .."

She stopped abruptly, as if she had planned on saying more but decided not to.

"Just Erwin."

Kayla looked interested. "Well .. what do you plan to do now?"

Erwin's blue eyes searched his. "That depends on what you do. I have sworn an oath to slay my ... well .. the tyrant, and I must do it, for the sake of my poor murdered family."

Felldoh had remained silent all this time, but now he broke in. "I agree. Badrang killed my mother and dear father Barkjon. He can not be allowed to live. The tyrant must die!"

><><

Martin approached the oak warily, for Groddil had described the creature whose help he sought as hotheaded. Before he could say a word, there was a flurry of wings, and a large female owl alighted in front of him.

She cocked her head, staring from Martin to his companions, and back to Martin. The owl ruffled her feathers, asking,

"What's going on here?"

Martin bowed respectfully. "Boldred, my name is Martin the warrior, and I've come to seek your help."

The owl scrutinized the mouse, before nodding. "I know. I was told of your coming, and your purpose."

Martin stared at her. "You were told I would come?"

Boldred nodded, her gaze resting momentarily on Sally and Rose, before returning to Martin. "Aye young'un, you have much to learn."

The flurry of wings, smaller this time, broke the silence.

"Did they come mother? Is this them?" an excited little voice chirped as a young owl came to rest beside Boldred.

Boldred shushed the owlet. "Emalet, how many times have I told you not to interrupt your elders? But yes dearest, these are the warriors of my vision."

Rose turned to Sally. "Vision?"

Sally shrugged as a male owl flew from the tree to join Boldred and Emalet.

"Are they the ones?"

Boldred nodded. "They are Horty, and I am bound to go with them."

Horty took a step forward. "Then I'm going with you."

Boldred motioned to their daughter. "Dear, what about Emalet?"

Emalet took this moment to declare, "I'm coming too!"

Her father shook his head. "Oh no you're not. You and I are staying home."

He nodded solemnly to Boldred, who copied the gesture before turning to her new charges.

"Follow me. I know a beast who hates Badrang more then anything in the world, and he will be more then happy to help you."


Chapter 45 To the Place of War!

Martin had fallen in step with Rose, and the two were talking quietly together. Sally walked alone, watching them. She could tell something was up with those two, and it irritated her not to know exactly what. Still, she really didn't see any need to interfere. She cared about her sister's safety, but Sally knew Martin would protect Rose with his life. So she stayed out of it, and fell in step with her oldest and dearest friend, Ghostdancer.

"You ok?"

The gray horse smiled shakily. "Yea. Just a little worried about actually fighting .. You know .. for real. Not just practicing with Groddil."

Sally patted her friend's glossy neck. "I'm worried too. But this is the right thing to do. No creature should have to be a slave."

The mouse managed a smile. "We'll practice before we go into battle, and we'll fight as one beast. I promise."

Boldred interrupted further conversation by pointing to a small village nestled in some willows near the banks of a fast-flowing river.

"Here it is. Holt Willowglen. It's Skipper's name is Starwort, and as you will soon see, he has great reason to loath Badrang."

As they approached Holt Willowglen, two otters came running toward them, a male and a female. Before they could ask questions, Boldred called out,

"Ahoy there friends! We seek audience with Skipper Starwort!"

The two otters paused, then nodded. The female bolted toward the holt, and the male fell in step with Boldred.

"Why do you wish to see our Skipper?"

Boldred dipped her head. "Our request is for him, and him alone."

Sally sidled up to Martin and Rose. "So, I guess this is it then."

Martin nodded. "I guess so."

A sturdy male otter came towards them, waving the first one away.

"Go about your duties Fisher. I will see to our guests."

><><

A few minutes later, Sally, Martin, Groddil, Rose, and Boldred were sitting in Starwort's house, with he and his wife Marigold.

Martin made his request, honestly describing the army and defenses of Marshank. When he had finished, Starwort left the table and walked to the window. His voice was soft.

"Many seasons ago, me a Marigold had a young son. The child was stolen by Badrang afore he was three seasons old. Ever since then, I've dreamt of revenge, and now .."

He turned around. "Now it might be possible."

Martin was staring at Starwort intently, and he suddenly whispered,

"Keyla?"

Starwort was instantly alert. "What?"

"You look like a dear friend of mine, an otter so like yourself you could have been .."

Starwort finished the sentence. "Could have been father and son?"

Martin nodded. "Aye."

The brawny otter grabbed Martin's paw tightly. "Tell me .. What is his name? I must know!"

Martin smiled, remembering his brave friend. "Keyla. His name is Keyla."

Starwort looked to Marigold, who nodded, eyes full. The otter Skipper released Martin's paw.

"My son's name was Keylar. But we sometimes called him Keyla."

Starwort pointed out the window. "See that ship? That is the Waterlily, the fastest ship in Holt Willowglen. Me and my otters will take you to Marshank, and on that boat, we might get there in a days time."

The otter stared at Martin. "I must know if my son still lives."

><><

Sally sat on the deck of the Waterlily, watching the sun sink. The Holt Willowglen otters numbered around thirty, and she and her friends numbered ten. Martin said there were around forty and five slaves in Badrang's fort, but they would not all be in fighting condition.

She winced, thinking of the warrior mouse's estimation of how large Badrang's army was. Fifty and a hundred. Sally shook her head. How could they do this?

The mouse maid leaned over the Waterlily's side, staring at the rapidly moving Broadstream, and the moon's reflection on it's dark surface. The night breezes played with Sally's short golden headfur, whipping around her and through the cattails on the rivers banks. The many willow trees growing beside the Broadstream rustled softly in the soft zephyrs, and a mist shrouded the river and it's banks.

The atmosphere was one of great peace, and it made Sally want to run among the willows, instead of being on the Waterlily. She stood, deciding to go to the prow, to see more of the enchanting landscape.

As she neared the front of the ship, she heard low voices. Now curiosity bade her see who was conversing alone and in secret. She stole a careful glance around, before creeping closer to the voices, using the shadows as cover like Groddil had taught her.

The mouse maid was confused at first when she caught sight of the speakers, for it was her sister and Martin. The two mice stood looking over the Waterlily's railing, talking softly. Sally thought to join them, but something held her back. She sighed, turning away and slinking off as silently as she had come.

Sally and Rose had been very close until recent days, but now they were falling apart. Rose spent all her time with Martin, and it irritated Sally.

She didn't really care if her sister fell in love with the warrior mouse, but she missed the close friendship they had shared before his interference.

Sally shook her head. She should have seen this day coming, when Rose went after a mouse and left her behind. At least her sister had chose Martin instead of an idiot like Roderick.

"Sally?"

The mouse maid looked up to see her old friend, Gruven.

"Oh hi."

He sat down opposite her. "Well here we are, finally getting the adventure we always wanted."

"Yea." Sally agreed quietly. "I guess we are."

She looked down. "It's not what I thought it would be."

Gruven did not argue this. "No, it's not. But who knows, maybe it'll be better then what we imagined."

Sally made a face. "It does not look promising so far."

Gruven looked down. "No, not so far. Look, Sally .. we've been friends a long time .. and I just thought .. when we go back to Noonvale .. well .."

Sally raised an eyebrow. "What?"

Her friend shrugged. "Well the thing is .. You can't go back .. unless .."

Sally crossed her arms. "Unless what?"

Gruven sighed. "Unless you get married."

Sally stared at him. He continued hurriedly,

"If you're already married, you can't marry Roderick, right?"

Sally shook her head, a little stupefied. "No .. I suppose not."

She suddenly realized what Gruven was trying to say. "Wait a minute! You don't mean to say I should marry you?"

Gruven shrugged, "Well surely I'm better then Roderick."

Sally shook her head. "A thousand times better, yes. But I don't want to get married at all. I want to be free, at least until I'm older. I mean, I'm only sixteen!"

Gruven laughed. "Well I didn't expect you to like the idea, but just think on it. Until the day you have to do something that drastic, We'll still be friends .. right?"

Sally nodded. "Of course! We've been friends a long time, and I don't plan on changing that now, even if some of your ideas can be .. well .."

"Unrealistic?" Gruven asked.

Sally nodded. "Quite."


Chapter 46 Fear of the Unknown

Badrang paced in his longhouse, his injured paw in a makeshift bandage.

As much as he loathed admit he needed Raven, he realized he did.

She was his only real healer, and more then that, she was his seer. His link with the future. Ever since he had sent his father to his death, the old ermine's words had echoed around in his head, tormenting him.

"You weak fool! Don't you know that if the Lukes come to power again, our entire empire crumbles?"

The tyrant growled in frustration. He had heard the legend and prophesy of the valiant mice kings who fought like demons when aroused while in Mossflower, and it still plagued him.

Although small creatures, a mouse of the Luke line would fight harder then a hundred rats, and they were driven by the wild fury called Bloodwrath. They were sworn to protect Mossflower, but would take war to any creature who dared oppress goodbeasts.

They served one far greater then they, it was said, but Badrang refused to even think of that Lord's name. However the last part of the legend danced in the tyrant's mind, taunting him, tormenting him, making him fear.

The tale stated, that a mouse of the Luke line, was always golden furred.

Badrang knew exactly which mouse had possessed that strange coloration.

The Slave. The Slave that had whipped him, the Slave he had sentenced to death.

The Slave that had escaped.

><><

The morning sun shone bright over the Broadstream, and the Waterlily. Sally stood looking out over the prow, when she sensed somebeast behind her.

It was Starwort. The Skipper of Holt Willowglen pointed to the flat, sandy banks of the river, remarking,

"We are here."

It did not take long to disembark, for they had taken with them only what they would need for battle.

The sun had not even reached it zenith before Sally was riding Dancer through the woods with her companions. She felt a twinge of discontent as she noticed Rose riding Luna with Martin, and she wished her sister would ride with her like when they were younger.

However Sally shrugged the thought away, and instead struck up a conversation with her best friend, Dancer.

They had been on the move for an hour or so, before Starwort called a halt. Sally saw him motion to the otter he called Fisher, who returned his gesture before leaping into the woodlands. There was a brief struggle in the undergrowth, before Fisher reappeared, holding a young mouse by the ear.

"Here's your spy Skipper."

Rose, Sally, Dancer, and Gruven spontaneously gasped,

"BROME?!"

Brome struggled free of Fisher yelling happily, "Rose! Sally!"

Sally was nearer, so her brother struggled onto Dancers back an hugged her first. Sally hugged her brother back, before shaking him playfully.

"Where'd you go you little nuisance? I was worried about you!"

Brome grinned cheekily and Sally passed him off to Rose, who had Luna come near Dancer. The young mouse struggled as his sister kissed his head fur.

"Awww Rose! Lemme go! I'm too old to be kissed!"

Rose disagreed. "No you're not, and I was so worried about you!"

Brome climbed behind Martin to avoid his sister. Even though he had never seen the warrior mouse, it did not deter him from using Martin as a shield.

"Don't let her get me! Please!"

Rose reached around Martin and captured her brother, tickling him as she did so.

Brome collapsed into giggles, gasping,

"No, no .. don't! I don't like tickles!"

It was at this moment a young squirrel came bounding out of the underbrush. When he saw Martin a wide grin spread across his face.

"Martin matey! You're alive!"

Martin returned the greeting. "Felldoh! But how .. how did you get free?"

Felldoh laughed. "You'll soon see. Come on, follow me. We're all free now!"

><><

Felldoh led them to the slave's encampment, where Martin was reunited with Tullgrew and Juniper.

After a few minutes, Martin finally got a word in edgewise. "You guys, where's Keyla?"

Juniper grinned. "He got out too! He's over there, helping Ballaw with firewood."

Starwort had come up next to Martin. "Where is he?"

Martin caught sight of his old friend, who was carrying a stack of wood to the campfire. The mouse pointed.

"There."

He proceeded to shout, "Keyla! Hey Keyla it's me! I'm back!"

The otter dropped his load and came running.

"Martin matey .. but how? I thought you were long dead!"

Martin laughed, "It's a long story, and I'll explain later. But first, you need to meet someone. This is Starwort, Skipper of Holt Willowglen."

"Holt Willowglen .." Keyla stammered, looking to Starwort. Both otters stood frozen for a second, before Keyla whispered,

"Father?"

Starwort clasped his son in a fierce hug, laughing and crying at once.

"Oh Keylar! I thought for sure you were dead .. but look at you! You were hardly three seasons the last time I saw you!"

Marigold had come running, and she too was reunited with Keyla. Sally looked away from the otters to talk to Brome.

"So Brome, are you famous yet?"

Her bother's face was blank. "What?"

"Your letter." Sally reminded him.

"You said you would see me again when you were famous. So are you?"

Brome got a noble look about him. "Oh yes! I'm quite famous. You know I .."

A lanky hare had walked up, and took this moment to laugh,

"Oh yes me gel, your brother here is the most valiant hero I've seen in a long time dontcha know. Why if it wasn't for his nobility, me and my troop would have had to wash our dirty dishes wot?"

Brome seemed to shrink, but the hare clapped him on the back.

"There is no shame in honest word me lad. And mayhap you've learned a lesson eh wot?"

Brome nodded vigorously. "Oh I have, I have! There's no place like home."

Sally got a disgusted look on her face. "I would beg to differ that statement."

Brome's smile disappeared. "Why?"

Rose had come over to them, and she broke in, "I could give you a long explanation, or I could sum it up in three simple words."

Brome gulped. "What are they."

Rose glared a bit irately at him. "Dad is mad."

Brome quivered. "Is he mad at .. me?"

Rose sighed. "He's mad at all of us this time."

Brome stared at his sister. "Noooo what could you have done? Dad doesn't get mad at you!"

Rose twiddled with her paws. "Well .. this time .. he is. I asked him for an army .. "

Both Brome and Sally winced. Rose continued, "And well .. I .." She looked at Martin, who was conversing with Keyla and Felldoh.

Sally stared at her sister. "Rose ... you didn't .. kiss Martin .. did you?"

Rose looked down. "I love him."

Sally rolled her eyes. "I know that, but didn't you have more sense? In front of father?"

Rose said nothing. Sally sighed, placing a paw on her sister's shoulder. "It's ok, I'm not mad at you. But I pity you when you have to face father."

Brome stared at Sally. "Well what'd you do?"

Rose answered. "She threw Roderick against the wall because father tried to make her marry him."

Brome looked hopeful. "You killed him right Sally? Did you?"

Sally shook her head. "No, and that would have made things much worse, so I'm glad I didn't."

Brome looked down. "So I ran away, Sally almost killed someone, and Rose kissed somebody father didn't like."

The young mouse gulped. "We are in trouble."


Chapter 47 Game of War

Sally stood with Martin, Groddil, Rowenoak, Ballaw, Keyla, Felldoh, Starwort, Luna, Boldred, and Erwin as they gazed over her blueprint of Fort Marshank.

"Looking at this, I see we have a few options on how to enter Marshank." Martin stated.

Boldred pointed to the wall top. "I can get over this easily, but can you managed it?"

Starwort nodded. "Aye, it can be done. I say use grappling hooks."

"But what does that avail us?" Luna broke in.

Everybeast looked at her. She continued,

"From what I understand, Badrang combined his brother Clogg's forces with his own. That roughly makes his army number around fifty and two hundred. We have a scant hundred creatures with the addition of the Rambling Rosehip players. There are a few horses in Badrang's fort, but they will have to be set free before they can help us. We need to be able to kill off over half our enemies before they realize what's going on and take arms against us. Our entire plan must rest on complete and effective surprise."

Martin patted the horse's shoulder. "Thank goodness we have you Luna, you're the smartest beast I've ever met. What do you purpose we do?"

Luna turned to Ballaw and Rowenoak. "You say you dug a tunnel, and it was never found?"

Rowanoak nodded. "To my knowledge, yes."

Luna turned her sightless eyes to the blueprint, snorting in disgust. "If only I could see this thing!"

Sally had remained silent all this time, but now she broke in with the question that had been plaguing her since she had first seen the layout of Marshank. She laid her paw on a small inlet beneath the fort.

"What is this?"

Erwin laid her paw on the object in question, explaining,

"This leads directly into Badrang's torture chambers. It is a work of nature, formed by the sea waves. Marshank is built on a small cliff, and this spilt runs down it's middle. At high tide, the sea fills this crevice. At low tide, it is exposed."

A sudden inspiration hit Sally. "Of course! Part of our forces comes in through this inlet, kills the guards, and allows Starwort's crew to climb over the wall with grappling hooks!"

"That won't be as easy as it sounds." Keyla exclaimed. "Not only does a sluicegate cover the inlet's mouth, there is something down there."

"Like what?" Sally asked.

Martin looked grim. "It is said Badrang keeps some kind of large fish down there. That's where you go if you make him angry. If he doesn't feed you to the gulls, he feeds you to the Deepfin."

Felldoh looked away. Sally drummed her fingers on the table. "That does pose a difficulty."

Groddil spoke for the first time. "What about the tunnel? If it has not been discovered and has not collapsed, then you could use that as an attack route."

"Those are a lot of variables, and the tunnel is quite small. While we could send a group of elite fighters through it, our main force could not come in that way eh wot?" Ballaw stated.

Luna broke in. "Hear is my plan. We must send a small force through the tunnel. They will kill the guards and open the main gates. Another, slightly larger force will attempt to come through the inlet. If that fails, they must rejoin our main force and come through the front gate. Once our first group has cleared one wall, Starwort and his crew will use grappling hooks to scale it. After that, everything depends on how well we can fight. And that's if everything goes like clockwork."

Groddil stood, and Sally asked, "Where are you going?"

The fox smiled. "To get in some practice, and train any who wish to learn. Like Luna says, a lot of this depends on how well we fight."

><><

Sally and Dancer practiced what Groddil had previously taught them, and did quite well. After an hour or so of hard work, Sally left to find Groddil, so he could approve of their skills. However, she could not find her mentor.

Ballaw and Rowanoak were teaching a group of slaves with slings and javelins, Martin and Kayla sparred under the direction of Starwort, and Rupert was trying to teach Rose to shoot, but Groddil was not in sight.

Sally walked up to Brome, asking, "Have you seen Groddil lately?"

He shook his head. "I haven't seen him in a good hour Sally, why?"

Sally looked around again, unsettled. It was not like her mentor to start a thing and not finish it. Why would he leave if he had been training creatures for battle?

At first Sally thought Groddil would turn up if she looked harder, but he did not. By this time, she was distraught. If she lost Groddil, what did she have left? He was like a father to her! He was the one she consulted before making decisions! How could she possibly live without him? And more importantly, where was he?

As the day slipped by, Sally became more and more nervous, unable to think of anything but her missing mentor. Finally, Rowanoak came over to her.

"Look, Sally, I know Groddil means a lot to you, but we need you in this battle. And I hate to say this, but it's quite possible he might have turned traitor. Or just run off."

Sally glared at the badger, fire in her eyes. "How could you say that about Groddil? He's loyal, and is no coward. He means everything to me!"

She whirled around and stormed off into the nearby forest, wanting to be alone with her thoughts.

She collapsed on a flat rock once she'd put a little distance between herself and the camp. Sally sighed, staring sadly into the surrounding woodland.

"Oh Groddil. Where are you?"

A soft voice echoed from the forest behind her, soft yes, but strong and commanding.

"Sally."

The mouse maid hardly dared turn around.

"Groddil?"

"I am not Groddil, young warrior, but the one he serves."

Sally turned slowly, to shocked to even gasp. There stood a creature from Groddil's stories, a creature Sally had wanted to believe in, but did not dare hope existed. She could hear her mentor's voice in her ear, as real as if he was still speaking.

"The Kings of Mossflower, Sally, they served a mighty Lord, far greater then they. This Lord was perfect, he never did wrong, and he guided all who trusted and believed in him. However the kings of Mossflower began to fall away from their Lord, so he permitted them and their land to fall into evil paws for a season. However this Lord is as merciful as he is just, and he will not leave Mossflower in oppression forever."

Sally could remember her reply perfectly.

"Then he is real?"

Groddil had smiled at her, answering,

"Aye, He's real Sally, as real as I am. He is the defender of light, he is the father of light. And he is the one I will serve forever."

Groddil had always referred to the one he served as The Great One, and Sally had slowly grown to think of this creature as nothing more then the rest of Groddil's tales, an echo from the past. Yet now he stood before her, as real as the grass beneath her feet.

Sally fell to her knees before him, stunned with a strange mixture of awe and terror. Groddil had never described The Great One to her. Even if he had, she would not have been prepared for the noble creature she saw now.

He was a type of large cat, but he stood on four legs as a horse would. He was every inch as big as Dancer, if not larger, and he wore a crown and neckband of gold set with azure stones. However the most striking thing about him was the light that seemed to radiate from beneath his coat. It spilled from him, causing he and the ground he sat on to glow.

Sally could whisper one thing, and one thing alone.

"My Lord."

He spoke again, in the same soft voice he had at first.

"Sally, your mentor can be with you no longer, at least not for a time."

She wanted to sob out, "Why?" but she was too afraid to ask. However, The Great One seemed to read her thoughts.

"You must learn to trust in me, it is integral to your safety, and those around you."

Sally couldn't imagine anyone not trusting this amazing creature, but he did not stop speaking.

"Also, there is much he needs to learn as well."

Sally dared voice her question. "Lord, will see him again? Ever?"

The mighty creature laid down, to be more at Sally's eye level. "Someday warrior, someday."

The mouse maid swallowed her tears. "When?"

The Great One shook his head. "What would it avail you to know that? Focus on the task I have for you now, not the future."

Sally nodded slowly, understanding what he meant.

"I must fight this battle?"

The Great One smiled. "Yes dear one, but not alone. If you put your trust in me, I will always be with you. No matter where you go."

Sally nodded. "I will trust you."

The Great One laid his muzzle on Sally's forehead. "Then you are my follower, and my daughter."

Sally looked at him in amazement. "Your .. daughter?"

He smiled. "Yes child. I am a father to all who follow me."

Sally gulped, wishing she could ask something, but not daring to.

"What is it my daughter?" The Great One asked, as though he could read her thoughts.

"My Lord .. What is your name?"

The Great One stood, but Sally did not.

"I have many names my child, but my foremost title is Ignasa."

He looked at Sally with his brilliant, almost glowing blue eyes.

"Be wary daughter. For every ocean there is a desert, for every mountain, a valley, for every day, a night. For every ultimate good, there is an ultimate evil."

Sally stared at Lord Ignasa in confusion, but he did not explain his words.

There was a flash of bright light, and he was gone. But his voice echoed softly,

"I will be with you."

><><

Sally stumbled into camp, totally stunned by her experience. Rose met her.

"Sally, where were you? I was worried! We still can't find Groddil .. Is everything alright?"

Sally took a deep breath, nodding. "I .. I'm fine .. just fine."

Rose stared at her oddly. "Martin's been acting just like you! What happened?"

"Martin's been acting like me ...?" Sally began before she saw the warrior mouse.

The two stared at each other, speaking at the same time.

"You saw him too?"

"Saw who too?" Rose asked.

Martin took Rose's paw, leading her away while he explained. Sally sat down tiredly, trying to understand all Lord Ignasa had told her.

Keyla came up to her.

"Sally, it's time to get ready."


Chapter 48 Into Marshank

Sally, Martin, Rose, five of Starwort's otters, Erwin, Ballaw, and Felldoh found themselves assigned to coming through the inlet.

Martin was the appointed leader of their contingent, so Sally walked near the back of the group with Erwin.

They took shelter in the inlet, beneath Marshank. They could see the large metal sluicegate that covered the entrance to Badrang's torcher chambers, so Martin and Ballaw examined it to see if it could be opened. The rest of the group sat down and waited.

Sally stared out of the inlet, to see the moon rising. She could imagine what the others were doing at this moment.

Brome would be crawling through the tunnel with Gruven, Rupert, Keyla, Tullgrew, Juniper, and many of the other slaves, while Boldred, Starwort, and the rest of Holt Willowglen would be waiting at the foot of the west wall with grappling hooks. Rowanoak, Luna, Dancer, Lightingflash, and the rest of the Rambling Rosehip Players would be waiting outside the main gate, ready to charge in when it was opened.

Sally released a tiny sigh, thinking silently,

"Help us Great One, help us."

She felt Erwin stiffen beside her, and looked up at the black ermine.

"What is it Erwin?"

The older creature sighed. "I'm afraid. What if I can not kill Badrang?"

Sally cocked her head. "Why must you kill him?"

The ermine looked down. "To avenge my murdered kin."

Ballaw walked back to the group. "There's a chance we might be able to lift the gate, if we all work as one."

They all obligingly did so, but failed to move the gate an inch.

Martin leaned against the wall with a sigh. "It's no good. I think it's set into rock!"

He jumped back as there was a grating sound, and the gate seemed to sink strait down into solid rock.

Felldoh carefully observed the place the gate had been, remarking,

"Clever, very clever. The gate must have been suspended with some mechanism, and Martin set it off by leaning on the trigger. The mechanism released, allowing the gate to sink into a rock niche that had been dug for it."

Martin stepped across the sunken gate, and into the gloom of a cavern formed when the inlet's sides met the stone foundation of Marshank.

Rose's voice sounded small in the echoing darkness. "What could be in there?"

Martin took her paw. "I don't know, but we'll get through it, together."

As they progressed into the strange netherworld created by a natural occurrence and the base of an evil fortress, the ground began to grow damp.

Martin called a halt when the water had reached their knees and was growing steadily higher.

"Seeing what we know of the creature called Deepfin, I'd say we'd best not go farther. Erwin, can you make a torch?"

The black ermine pulled a tinderbox from her cloak, lighting the torch Ballaw held forth. The warm glow penetrated the darkness only slightly, but it was enough to reveal a rock ledge running along one wall.

"We need to go along that!" Martin exclaimed.

With the warrior mouse in the lead, and Rose close behind him, they slowly made their way along the thin ledge in single file. Sally hugged the wall as her footpaw set a loose rock tumbling into the now deep water. There was an ominous splash as the bits of shale hit the water, visible for a fleeting moment as they sank down, down, down into what seemed to be a bottomless pool.

Erwin's quite voice rang in the complete silence so loudly she might as well have shouted. "This must be a deep crevice in the inlet's floor. When the sea comes in, some of the water becomes trapped in it."

Felldoh whispered, "Not just the sea Erwin, look!"

Sally stared where he pointed, not really wanting to see what had caught the squirrel's interest.

It appeared to be nothing more then a ripple at first, but ripples are always caused by something. Rose whimpered softly as the fish-like creature sped toward them, and Martin drew the old sword Starwort had given him. Sally followed suit with her own weapon. She readied herself for her second real battle .. but that battle never came.

Erwin grabbed a loose piece of shale from the ledge they stood on, hurling it with all the strength she could muster. It disappeared into the surrounding darkness, splashing loudly into the water a good distance away. The creature in the water paused, whirling around and charging toward where the rock had sunk.

Erwin shoved her companions forward. "Move! Hurry! Before it comes back!"

><><

Brome crawled back through the tunnel with Keyla's group. If anybeast had told him he would have to use this cramped route again after escaping, he would have said they were crazy. And yet here he was.

It took a while of dirty, musty crawling to put them back in the slave compound, but they did it. As soon as they entered it, Keyla turned to Buckler.

"Can you dig out under the door? This thing's still locked."

Buckler rubbed his snout with a digging claw. "Oh oi can zurr. Twill be easier then eatin puddin."

The mole proceeded to prove his point by burrowing under the door, and opening it in less then two minutes.

"There ya are zurr Keyla."

Keyla shook the mole's paw. "Thanks Buckler, that's just what we needed. All right, half our force with me, half with Tullgrew. Let's take out all the guards. The watch has just been changed, so once these guards are dead, we'll have a good hour or so to get our job done. But remember, this is to be totally silent. No prisoners, no mercy. Kill them all, and don't give them a chance to yell. Move out!"

Brome clenched his loaded sling tightly in one paw, and his wooden javelin in the other. He followed Keyla silently, as did Gruven, Rupert, a middle-aged hedgehog called Hillgorse, and a few other former slaves. They hid in the shadow of the west wall, listening to the tired pawsteps of a vermin guard on the wooden platform high above them. Keyla motioned that his troops split in half, one group going up on one side of the wall, and the others on the opposite side.

Brome obediently followed Rupert and a few others up one side of the west wall, while Keyla and his troops went up the other. They met in the middle, successfully slaying the guards, although Brome, being in the back, never had to raise a weapon.

They proceeded to the south wall, killing the half-asleep guards with hardly a struggle. By this time Tullgrew and her creatures had secured the north and east wall. The two groups met at the corner of the south wall, and Keyla sent Juniper and Rupert to give the all clear to Starwort.

He turned to Brome and Gruven. "Alright, you two free the horses. We'll kill the remaining guards, and meet you at the gate."

><><

Gruven and Brome crept to the stables, nothing more then divided stalls set into the south wall, for which the parapet formed a roof. Brome sidled up to the first stall, whispering,

"Anyone in?"

A young stallion's noble head appeared above the wall. He started at the sight of the two mice and tried to stretch his muzzle toward them, but the chain connecting his halter to the wall pulled taunt with a quiet rattle.

Another horses head appeared in the adjoining stall, a black mare with a white stripe running down her face.

Brome climbed up on the first horses stall, and he shied away slightly, before asking,

"Who are you? What are you doing?"

Brome shrugged. "We're setting you free. You must be Martin's friend, Wildfire. He's told me about you."

Wildfire held still as Brome undid his halter. "You know Martin? My friend still lives?"

Brome chuckled as the halter slid from Wildfire's head, hitting the ground with a soft thump. "Lives? Why he's practically leading this whole attack!"

"Attack?"

Wildfire asked a Brome moved to free the black mare.

Brome undid her halter, and she tossed her head as her restraints fell to the ground.

"Aye, attack." Brome explained. "We're overthrowing Badrang."

Gruven had freed the other two horses, a red roan stallion and a blood bay pinto mare. Wildfire smiled.

"I knew my friend would save us sometime!"

He indicated the stately pinto mare. "This is my mother, Redcloud."

He nodded to the short black mare and the red roan stallion, "That's Midnightshadow, and Flyingsparks. They were Clogg's horses."

Gruven came back, leading a black pony. Brome took her halter, patting her nose. "This is Rowanoak's horses, Nightshade. She doesn't talk."

Wildfire rolled his eyes. "We noticed that. Where to?"

Gruven pointed to the main gate. "There. We need to open it."

><><

Badrang's sleep had not been very restful since Clogg had tried to assassinate him. He knew his brother was still alive, and in Marshank, but he wasn't worried. Clogg had never been the same after that shelf had fallen on his head. He was mad as a loon.

The tyrant rolled over in his bed, still half asleep. He did not awaken fully, but fell back into a fitful, dream filled sleep.

><><

Sally hurried along the ledge as fast as possible, sighing with relief as she and her companions reached the door leading into the torcher chamber.

Martin pushed on it carefully, and it swung in with a creaking sound. The warrior mouse whispered quietly,

"Be carful. Gurrad lives down here, and trust me, he's wicked."

The group slunk into the dungeons keeping a wary eye out for the recluse of a rat that lived in them. But he was not to be found. They halted near the door leading into the courtyard.

Martin sighed. "Well for some reason or other, Gurrad seems to be absent, and I cannot say I'm sorry. Come on, we need to meet the others at the gate!"


Chapter 49 War of Lords

It did not take long to meet the rest of the army at the main gate, which was now wide open. There were a few hushed, but joyful reunions and introductions before Martin interrupted,

"We need to move. Me, Erwin, Starwort .."

His words were cut off by an insane cackle behind him.

"Oi there shipmate! Yous gonna go after Badrang?"

It was Clogg, and he was obviously neither right in the head, nor sober.

Martin drew his sword, but the crazy ermine laughed gruffly,

"Oi don't geet in such a 'urry der mate, I's not gonna sound de alarm. I can't wait for Badrang ta git what's a comin to im."

The crazy creature stared at Martin for a minute, before recognition flashed in his eyes.

"Why youm must be da ol' ghost o that mouse king me daddy helped Verdauga kill! Not to many gold mice around, jist the ol' king an da one me daddy had as a slave. Whut was 'is name .. Luke! Aye dat was 'is name, an called 'imself a warrior. Musta been, if he could best my ol' daddy. Vilu ullways said 'e hope dat'un went ta 'Ellgates. Wull never mind mate, I don't care who gits Badrang, as long as he gits got. I ullways liked dead beasts anyhow."

Martin stood stunned, while Clogg turned to Erwin, cackling,

"Wull if it rains it pours! Speaken of 'Ellgates an beast wot spossed ta be dead! Wull I hopes ya gits Badrang good! Git im for me, git 'im for you, and that cute little girl a yours Badrang sold ta Verdauga!"

Erwin stared at the crazy ermine, gasping softly,

"What?"

Clogg slapped his thigh as if the whole thing was a massive joke.

"You didn't know? Why I thought dead beasts knew everythin!"

Erwin did not reply to this. "My daughter is dead."

Clogg laughed.

"Dead? Why not da last time I saw 'er! She's looken right well, aye, an servin grog too! An if you ask me dat dare's a fine combination!"

Erwin snarled, knocking Clogg backwards with a hard blow to the muzzle. The mad corsair flew head over heels and collapsed in a senseless heap.

Erwin stood frozen for one second, before a cry of fury exploded from her, the cry of a mother wolf robbed of her cubs.

She leapt toward the longhouse, the sound of her cry still echoing through Marshank.

><><

Badrang was dreaming, and part of him knew it. He was standing atop Marshank's walls, watching his slaves toil. Suddenly his eye caught sight of the young gold mouse that had escaped! He was about to order that the mouse be captured, but he realized he was no longer on the wall, but standing face to face with the slave.

The mouse's fur was no longer dirty or bloodstained, but shining like pure gold, and a sword was in his paw. Badrang tried to draw his sword to defend himself, only to realize it was the weapon in the mouse's paws.

Badrang sat up with a start. He slid out of bed, seizing his sword from where it rested against the wall.

The sword was still his.

The golden mouse was probably dead.

It was all a stupid dream, just the fabrications of his tired mind.

He was about to lay back down, when an unearthly shriek rang out. The tyrant's fur stood on end and he clenched the hilt of his sword in a viselike grip, staring wildly for the source of the noise.

><><

"Erwin stop!"

Rowanoak yelled, but the black ermine was beyond hearing.

Martin stared after her, still half-stupefied by Clogg's revelation. However, as soon as he realized where Erwin was headed, he bolted forward, but was dragged backwards by Rowanoak.

"Martin! This is not according to our plan! The vermin know we are here, and our forces are not adept to take them in a full-fledged battle! This attack revolved around surprise, and we've lost it. The gate is open! We can escape now, and try again later! This is going to turn into a disaster!"

Martin tried to shake the badger off, a wild light in his eyes. "I will avenge my father!"

Rowanoak tightened her grip. "You will get us all killed!"

Martin jerked away, breaking the badger's grip on his shoulder and pelting for Badrang's longhouse, yelling,

"CHARGE!"

"No!"

Rowanoak's voice was lost in the thunder of horses hooves as the army followed him, as they had been ordered.

><><

Dancer stared at Sally as the army streamed around them.

"What is he doing? He's crazy!"

Sally pulled her bow off her back, loading an arrow.

"I know."

Her horse shook her head. "We can't fight an army this size, not in the open!"

Sally sighed as she let the arrow fly. "We can try. After all, it's not like we can go back now."

Dancer nodded, leaping into her perfectly smooth trot, and swiftly transitioning into an all out run. Sally and her horse fought as one beast, for Groddil had taught them well.

As she fought, killing horde beasts left and right, her mentors words rang in Sally's mind.

"War is a necessary evil Sally. It is not glorious at all, as it is portrayed in ballads and stories, but terrible and horrific. I hope you never have to dirty your paws in battle."

She recalled her confused reply.

"But why teach me the art of war if you do not wish me to do battle? Do you think I am not brave enough?"

Groddil had smiled sadly, answering,

"Lass, ye are brave enough to fight a hundred battles, but I would not wish any have to go to war. Child, the reason I teach you these skills, is so if you should have to fight, you shall have the means to match your courage. For as I say, war is a necessary evil."

Sally had not understood him then.

Now she was beginning to.

But her knowledge of war was just dawning.

She had much more to learn.

><><

Martin bolted toward Badrang's longhouse, the blood raising in his eyes.

His father, the father he had hardly known, the father he had always dreamed of seeing again, was dead. And killed by Vilu Daskar, the father of Martin's most hated enemy, Badrang. Now, Erwin was after Badrang's blood ...

The warrior mouse snarled. On their side or not, no ermine would take his revenge away!

><><

Badrang tried to sneak away from his longhouse, only to be knocked flat by a charging creature. His sword flew out of his grasp, landing just inches from his fingertips.

A knife pressed against his throat, and a furious voice whispered,

"Where is my daughter?"

The tyrant stared at the speaker. "Raven?"

Even though he somehow knew, that was not her name.

She raised her free paw, and Badrang barley held in his gasp. The paw was white. He could say only one thing.

"You .. Erwin .."

Erwin showed her teeth. "That's right Badrang, Erwin Daskar. Your sister."

Her gaze grew murderous.

"Your sister. The one whose family you killed. The one you killed. True, your knife did not slay me, but it might as well of. I died that day!"

Badrang shook his head in terror as his sister snarled,

"Now what did you do with my daughter?!"

The tyrant gasped out, "Dead .."

Erwin pressed the knife harder against his neck. "Liar! Tonight for once, I want the truth. Where is Estella?"

Badrang could not swallow against the knife blade, but he rasped out,

"Sold .. To Verdauga .. She's in Mossflower .."

Erwin whipped the knife from Badrang's throat, raising it to kill. "Then you will pay for her slavery and my other kin's deaths!"

><><

Martin saw Erwin raise the knife, and something in him snapped. This was his revenge!

He knocked the black ermine away from his former master, causing her to reel away and crumple into a heap.

Martin pointed to his family's old sword, snarling,

"Get up Badrang, and use that to try and best me!"

The tyrant scrabbled backwards, seizing the sword and leaping to his paws.

The two Lords faced one another, pure hatred on their faces.

The long awaited fight to the death had come!

><><

Sally looked toward Martin and Badrang, mesmerized by the mastery in their flashing swords.

But she let herself be distracted one minute too long. Dancer reared suddenly to avoid a spear thrust, and Sally was not ready for the unexpected movement.

The mouse maid flew from her saddle with a cry of dismay. Thankfully her fall was cushioned by a dead vermin, but it still knocked the wind from her. As she was trying to regain her breath, a rat leapt at her with a snarl.

There was a whump, and the rat collapsed to reveal Gruven standing behind him with a loaded sling. Sally struggled to her feet, gasping,

"Thanks!"

Gruven nodded, whirling his sling and hitting an attacking stoat. "You're welcome."

><><

Steel clashed upon steel as Badrang and Martin dueled. Badrang was more the master, but Martin was sly and quick .. and driven by Bloodwrath.

The fighting madness had not completely taken over him yet, for he could still think. However he was teetering on the edge of Bloodwrath, and it was giving him extra strength.

The two competitors circled each other, advancing and retreating in turn. Former slave and former master where locked in deadly combat, when Badrang brought a powerful, two-pawed cut at the warrior mouse. Martin blocked it successfully, but his sword shattered, unable to block the superior blade it fought against.

The force of the blow sent Martin reeling against the wall of the slave compound. Badrang laughed as he advanced on the dazed mouse.

"Ha little warrior, got you now!"

His words transformed into a shriek of pain as Rose leapt into the fray, stabbing her dagger through the tyrant's footpaw.

Badrang grabbed Rose by the neck, intending to strangle her, but she kicked out fiercely, catching him in the jaw. Almost instinctively, he threw her away from himself. Rose slammed into the stockade wall, and crumpled to the ground, motionless.

Without another thought to the creature he had wounded, Badrang wrenched the dagger from his footpaw. He reached for his sword ... but he never touched it. His sister's voice rang from behind him.

"Turn and face the ghost of your past Badrang! It's dangerous to turn your back on the destruction you have wrought!"

><><

Sally's vision went red as Badrang threw Rose against the wall. She let loose the cry of a wounded creature, and madly threw herself toward the ermine.

If Martin's Bloodwrath had not controlled him before, it did now. He leapt up and charged toward the tyrant's fallen sword .. his sword, bent on the ermine's destruction.

Badrang's time was up, and he knew it. He turned to flee, and Erwin threw the dagger. However, the same second the knife found it's mark, Badrang ran full force onto his own sword, held in Martin's paws.

The red light faded in the warrior mouse's eyes as he withdrew his sword. Badrang fell to his knees, gasping for breath. He glared up at Martin, rasping,

"This .. is not .. over .. mouse! .. You have .. not .. won! I .. serve a .. Lord .. far greater .. then .. I .. and he .. will send .. you .. to .. Hellgates!"

Badrang collapsed on his face, going limp for the last time.

So died the tyrant of the east coasts.


Chapter 50 One Little Rose

When she saw Badrang fall, Sally felt the Bloodwrath drain away. She staggered forward, leaning on her sword, totally exhausted. She looked down .. and froze in horror.

Gruven lay motionless at her footpaws, obviously dead. Sally shook her head, whispering,

"No .. what have I done?"

She fell to the ground, stunned with grief and remorse, murmuring,

"Groddil was right, Bloodwrath is a curse. Through it, I have killed my own friend."

The warrior maid couldn't hold back her tears. She tried, but they came anyway.

"Oh Gruven .. I'm sorry! This is all my fault!"

><><

Martin stared at Badrang's still form, almost unable to believe his old master was dead. He gazed out over Marshank's courtyard, which was slowly being lit by the gray light of dawn. As soon as they realized their master was dead, Badrang's troops either surrendered or fled.

Martin's gaze came to rest on Rose, who still lay where she had fallen. The mouse tried to take a step forward, but he collapsed in exhaustion caused by his fit of Bloodwrath.

Darkness claimed him as it's own as he whispered,

"Rose .."

><><

Sally did not move. She couldn't.

"Sally?"

It was Ghostdancer. The horse's eyes were full as she whispered,

"It's Flash. He's hurt badly, and he wants you."

Sally shook her head. "I can't leave Gruven!"

Dancer nudged her friend to her paws. "You can come back. But Flash needs you now, before it's too late."

Sally dumbly followed Dancer to where her father's old horse lay, two arrows in his side. The mouse maid threw herself on Flash's neck with a sob.

"Flash .. Why? I didn't want this .."

The pain in the old horse's eyes softened as he murmured,

"Child, there comes a time when every creature must die, and I never suspected I would live through this battle."

He took a deep breath, wheezing, "I must tell you something .. before I go .."

Sally choked on her tears, whispering, "Flash .. it's ok. We'll get you help .. I promise .."

The horse acted like he had not heard.


"The hawk who has forgot to fly,

And star of shining gold,

Must find the owner of a leaf,

And little flower bold."


Flash fought for breath as he murmured, "You must go south .. to find your past .. northern lands hold nothing but sorrow for you. Be .. brave child .. and trust .. the .. healing .. fire!"

The horse's head fell back as he went limp, never to move again.

><><

Sally stared at Lightingflash in sorrow. Everyone that had ever meant anything to her was being torn away. First Gruven, then Flash ..

"Sally."

It was Rowanoak, and her voice was grim.

"It's your sister."

Sally started up, remembering what had sent her into Bloodwrath. The sight of Badrang throwing Rose against the wall was seared into her mind.

"Rose .."

Rowanoak put a paw one the mouse's shoulder. "I'm sorry Sally, but .. she's gone. We're going to take her home .. do you want to come?"

Sally's emotions crashed over her in a relentless wave of hopelessness. Her friends were dead. She could never go home.

The mouse maid shook her head. "Noonvale is no longer my home, and I can never return."

She drew her sword, staring down it's gleaming blade. She had to do something to honor Gruven, the mouse that had been her friend since childhood. It would be cruel not to!

Her voice was hard as ice as she whispered grimly,

"I swear upon this sword, and my honor as a warrior, I shall never love again."

Sally's gaze fell upon the strange insignia in her sword's hilt, and a sudden inspiration hit her. Her voice was like a final knell as she stated,

"And my name is no longer Sally, nor Sundew Voh, but Sayna. Sayna the Warrior."


Epilog

The remainder of what had been Martin's army cleared the battlefield and left Marshank, never to return. Erwin went south to Mossflower, desperate to know if her daughter still lived. Brome left with The Rambling Rosehip Players, but true to her word, the self-named Sayna did not.

She stayed at Polleekin's home, while Martin slowly recovered from his wounds and exhaustion. Ghostdancer, Wildfire, and Rupert stayed with them, but the others left for Noonvale, and a life of peace.

In the time it took for Martin's wounds to heal, Sayna changed, leaving her former self with her former name. She grew hard and untouchable, slowly building a layer of bitter, near impenetrable ice about herself.

Martin too, hid what was left of his shattered life beneath a suit of untouchable armor. The part of him that had been kind and fun vanished, leaving behind a embittered shell of a once valiant creature.

Yes, the two mice were in trouble. Deep, deep trouble. They were thoroughly destroying themselves and the future they had yet to discover, and as time progressed, they would look back at their self-pity and pride with remorse.

For some damage cannot be undone ...


The world did gaze,

In deep amaze,

At these valiant men, but few.

Who bore the fight,

So that freedom's light,

Might shine through the foggy dew.


Back through the glen,

I'd rove again,

And my heart did beat sore.

For I parted then,

With valiant men,

Whom I never shall see more.


-from 'The Foggy Dew', an ancient Irish ballad.


Final Note

Oh My Gosh! I am finally done with The Warrior's Beginning! (Although I am not entirely satisfied with it, so if you catch any loose ends, tell me, and I will try and fix them)

Please give your criticism, I want to hear your likes and dislikes! They help me build a better story :D

If this mildly interested you in any way, please read the next book, Four Warroirs Cometh! (I really take off in that one, and there are many shocking and clever twists, so stay tuned!)

Sayna High Queen of Mossflower 01:13, October 22, 2014 (UTC)

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