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Cover art by ForrestFighter
Part Two: The Tragedy
Scaleflier was a racer, a smallish, dull green snake with a thin body and tapered head. It was said that no reptile within a thousand leagues of the Northern Shores could outdo him for sheer, untiring speed; it was also said that no creature in the world could follow a trail as easily as he. Unlike some of the Ranks of the Shadow, Scaleflier had heard of Redwall Abbey, and it had struck the clever reptile that the obvious place for anybeast fleeing from vermin to seek would be that legendary building; as he had followed the nearly imperceptible signs onward, he soon became assured beyond a doubt that this was indeed the case. By avoiding the confused meanderings and wanderings of the wildcats and the crew that hunted them, and heading straight for the Abbey, Scaleflier had already covered more than a quarter of the distance, even though it had only been one day and night since he set out from the Shadelair. He had crossed the pike stream unharmed when it was dark, and the big fish were resting; now, with the sun beginning to rise, he was already approaching the hills that preceded Mossflower Woods to the north.
Resting on a sunwarmed rock, the small snake took the moment to turn his mind from the task at hand to more bitter, personal thoughts. Being much more intelligent than the average serpent, Scaleflier had been the only resident of the coastside cave to not be fooled by Enzi Grexx's apparent triumph in battle with the chief of adders many long seasons ago; he had deduced, quite correctly, that the only way the wolf had survived the encounter was if he had treacherously attacked the monster from behind, slaying him before he had a chance to defend himself. Unfortunately, the other snakes were of a much more superstitious nature, and were mostly larger, bulkier, and more poisonous than the racer; none would really listen to his assessment of the situation, and the few that even took the time to hear it would probably slay him for speaking dissent about the Black Shade, whom they almost idolized. True, he had helped them to become more feared than ever before, and made sure their needs were provided as well as he could, but the fact still remained that the Black Shade was a mountebank, a lying imposter; and Scaleflier highly resented the fact that he was forced to follow him.
The serpent coiled and uncoiled himself, stretching in the rising sunlight; he shot a glare of sheer hatred at a fluttering, dark shape in the pale sky above him. Imposter though he was, the Black Shade was no fool; in order to ensure that Scaleflier would obey his commands, Enzi Grexx had commanded Yirta, his loyal raven Captain, to follow the serpent on his quest. Yirta was not a very bright creature, but he was totally ruthless; also, he was certainly large and strong enough to seriously injure Scaleflier if he thought he was disobeying. Furthermore, when not having to accomodate his speed to the furred members of the Ranks that often followed him, Captain Yirta was a formidably fast flier, and could easily keep pace with his reptilian subordinate.Seeing the serpent had halted, Yirta swooped down to a low tree branch, nibbling some berries off an undergrowth bush. "Haaaaark! Rest is good, but we must not tarry long. The Black Shade will not be pleased at unnecessesary delays."
Scaleflier stuck his tounge out insolently at the raven. "It isssss a full sssssunrise and sssssunssset ssssince we left the Ssssshadelair. Do not pretend you do not need sssssssssleep assss much asssss I do."
Yirta was indeed beginning to feel fatigued, but he tried not to show it. "Rrrrak! I will not sleep with you about, I am not a fool. Small snakes are just as bad as a strangling noose."
The snake nodded pensively, as if the thought had only just struck him. "Yessssss, I could ssssssneak up on you no matter where you perched, and ssssssmell you out wherever you fly to resssssssst." Suddenly aggressive, he reared as much of his body as he could off the ground, pointing his snout warningly at the raven. "Beware of me, winged one; I am a dangeroussssss enemy indeed!"
For an answer, Yirta dropped like a stone from his perch, cruelly embedding his talons in Scaleflier's head and striking his body several times with his rock-hard beak. "Krrrrraaaaah! How dare you threaten a Captain of the Ranks? Insolent reptile, no one talks to Yirta like that!"
"Sssssssssss, mercccccccy, sssssspare me!" The wretched, writhing Scaleflier was forced to cry out as the raven pressed home his attack.
Administering a few more pecks to drive his point home, Yirta released his squirming victim, fluttering back up to the high peak of a fir tree and closing his eyes complacently. "Rrrrraaaak, remember which of us is the strongest, my creeping comrade!"
Scaleflier could feel the blood trickling down the side of his face from where the raven's claws had raked; curling miserably under a bush, he muttered darkly to himself. "You may be the sssssstrongessssst, but we sssshall ssssoon sssssee who isss sssssmartesssst, my feathered foe."
Confirming Grandmum Dawbil's expectations, Ayeriss Pinspikes did not come round until near midnight; when she did, she was in such an incoherent, panicked state that the old mole had felt compelled to administer a strong sedative and send the hogmaid back to sleep again, hoping that when she awakened a second time she would be able to communicate clearly what it was that had so badly frightened her.
Sy Stoneclaw, the wildcat, was making such a rapid recovery that she could now hobble quite easily around the sickbay with the aid of the long crutch Skipper's ottercrew had made for her; she had also shed her dirty ragged tunic and donned an ornate badger's robe, which Dippertail had found in a closet somewhere in an obscure part of the dormitories. Having never before been in such a huge building; or around many other creatures besides wildcats, seabirds, and marauding vermin; or even in the company of a healer, for that matter; the curious wildcat wandered ceaselessly around the room, totally captivated. Ever since shortly before dawn she had been up, exploring here, peeking there, sniffing this, touching that, opening cupboards, asking questions, and generally making a thorough nuisance of herself. Finally, Grandmum Dawbil had taken enough; she threw her digging claws up in exasperation, addressing Shermy. "If ee doan't get ee gurt catbeast to set'n daown, oi moight just chain ee both oop so' oi c'd have ee bit o' peace!"
Too absorbed with curiousty to have heard the remark, Sy apprached Shermy with a jar of candied chestnuts. "These smell nice, what do they cure?"
The young hare, ever hungry, grabbed a pawful and shoved it into his mouth, spraying bits of shell as he spoke. "Mmmff, s'good. No medicinal value here, old chum, just treats for the little ones, wot! Been wonderin' where that jar got to, though."
Dawbil swiped the jar from Sy's paw, shaking a claw under Shermy's crumb-festooned whiskers. "Oi hid et from ee a-purpose, gurt feedbag hurrbeast! Goo ee an' take that'n with ee afore oi goes mad wi' dustrackashun!"
Taking the hint, Shermy led Sy to the door. "Let's go, wot. Poor miz Dawbil's worried sick over that Pinspikes gel; she's not really angry at us, y'know. Come on, I'll show you around the jolly old Abbey, if you feel up to it."
Sy responded with a grin and a very accurate mimiking of Shermy's mode of speech. "I say, that's a spiffin' idea, old chap, though perhaps we should get a spot of brekkers first, wot?"
The young hare was momentarily taken aback; recovering his composure, he laughed. "Took the words right out of my mouth, by the fur! I suppose you've taken to being a hare now, eh, miss?"
The wildcat relapsed into her normal voice. "Not really, just fun with imitations. Speedwell says I'm pretty good at it."
Taking Sy's free paw, Shermy helped her descend a short flight of stairs to the dormitory floor. "I wouldn't argue with him there, that sounded just like me then. Let's here you do Grandmum Dawbil, go on!"
The wildcat thought for a moment, then rumbled hesitantly, "Oi a-dunno if oi c'n be a moler better'n a catbeast'n; et be a vurry hard voice, bo urr."
Foremole Aggit had emerged from his dormitory just as Sy made the remark; chuckling, he fell in step with the duo, joking good naturedly. "Hurr hurr hurr, oi argree wi' ee, missus; if oi a-sounded loik that oi'd take t'bein' a catbeast moiself, hurr hurr!"
Friar Dimp, fully recovered from the shock of his discovery, was once more the absolute ruler of Redwall's kitchens. Donning his spotless white apron and oven mitt, he issued instructions to the busy beasts in his domain.
"Kavvin, Ruddtipp, see to the bread, make sure it doesn't burn!"
The twin brothers, eldest of the Pinspikes brood, plied their wooden bread paddles skillfully, lifting the nut-filled loaves from the ovens onto waiting trolleys to be carted to the breakfast table. Dimp turned his attention to the otter in charge of one of the carts. "Now, you remember what I said about running with the trolley, Squirt."
The otter Dibbun grinned cheekily. "S'far's I know, you said t'not to."
Dimp wagged a paw severly at him before continuing his rounds. "And I mean that, you young scamp! Go on with you now; slowly! Veera, find where the damson preserve's got to, it's been misplaced. Sister Sedgebrush, could you lend her a paw with that? Thank you, that's better.
"Oh, goodness me, would you just look at this mess! Spread the honey on those loaves, Raggle, don't sling it on! Brother Marc, get a mop, would you?
"Yes, Speedwell, I'll teach you how to make toasted apples in a minute; go ahead and gather some russets from that barrel there and I'll come as soon as I can. Oh, and see if you can get Sister Tracy to refill that honeypot while you're at it, there's a good little fellow.
"Honestly, Eethian, if I've told you once I've told you a thousand times, use potholders when you're making the mint tea. Grandmum Dawbil has enough on her paws without having to tend to your burnt ones. Oh, great seasons...Ronny, please stop Leeam volebabe from climbing up the fruit shelves before he falls and injures himself!"
Abandoning the cauldron of porridge she was stirring, the Abbess bounded agily onto a counter and retrieved the miscreant, who promptly set up a wail. "But I on'y wanna get bilbees f'the cake!"
Saffron looked at the infant vole strangely. "What cake? We don't eat cake for breakfast!"Harrbuckll Pinspikes and another Dibbun (a mole) looked up from a huge mixing bowl they had been playing with; both were so covered in batter as to be unrecognizable. Huffy the molebabe waved a wooden spoon at the Abbess, scattering blobs of batter everywhere. "Hurr, ee gurt silly, acourse we'm eat'n cake."
Harrbuckll nodded her dripping head. "That right, Muvva H'abbess. We be makin' pannycakes wi' bilbees onna top."
At that moment, Sy, Shermy, and Aggit entered the kitchen; their arrival caused little sensation, as the creatures preparing the breakfast were too busy to look up at the door. Speedwell, the ginger tabby kitten, was the exception; allowing a double pawful of apples to crash to the floor, he rushed over to hug his cousin. "You better, you better!"
Unable to bend down because of the crutch, Sy gently ruffled the young ones ears. "I told you it wouldn't take long; I'll be completely better before the week's out, probably."
"Just like yours truly said all along, wot!" Shermy grinned, helping himself to an apple.
Foremole slipped on a patch of batter the Dibbuns had left on the floor; he grabbed a countertop to steady himself, glaring at the bespattered molebabe. "Burr, what bees a-goin' on in yurr, Huffy?"
Before the Dibbun could answer, Saffron interrupted, addressing the wildcat. "Welcome to Redwall Abbey, friend; I certainly hope you are enjoying your stay here. I am Abbess Saffron; Teezl told me all about you when she brought her babes down to the gatehouse. You seem to be a rare and fine creature, indeed, Miss Stoneclaw."
Sy shook paws with the Abbess, and with the volebabe she was carrying. "Thank you, Abbess, but please, call me Sy; no need to be formal on my account. Goodness, little one, your paw is bleeding!"
Leeam opened his clenched paw to reveal a squashed bilberry. "No t'aint, I makin' bilbee juice to put onna cake!"
Noticing the wildcat's bewildered expression, Saffron explained. "He means pancakes."
Huffy flung more batter about as he gestured with his spoon at the cat. "That's roight, we'm made ee pannycakers an' now we'm a-putten bilbees onna top."
Sy stiffled a titter, looking at the three serious-faced Dibbuns and the mess they had created. "That certainly sounds tasty, but don't you think you'd better cook the pancakes before you put the berries on?"
Harrbuckll, Leeam, and Huffy looked the picture of dismay; the Hogmaid clapped a hand to her brow, making a sticky splodge. "Mercy me, we nevva t'oughta that."
The wildcat had a soft spot for young ones; shaking and nearly purple from trying not to burst out laughing, she took pity on the trio. "Why don't we see if there's any way a young healer and a poor, lost traveler could help three skilled cooks like yourself? Here, let me have the mixing bowl. Say, does anyone have a chair I can borrow?"
A curious Raggle had been edging closer during the whole conversation; he dashed off, returning in a flash with a tall kitchen stool. "How's this?"
Sy accepted it, positioning herself in front of a freshly warmed stovetop with a few empty iron pans atop it. Allowing the three Dibbuns to climb into her lap, she dipped a claw in the batter, tasting it. "Mmmmmm, you certainly knew what ingredients to use; though maybe we should add a bit more almond flour and some cider, to increase the mixture before we start cooking. Shermy?"
The hare sprinted across towards the flour barrels. "Righty-ho, friend! I say, Bumbill old thing, could you nip down to the cellars and have your wife bring us a firkin of apple cider?"
The jolly mole tossed a jar-sized barrel to Shermy. "We'm a'ready brought quoite a lot o' ee cider oop, yurr ee go."
Being unprepared for the throw, Shermy missed the catch entirely. The firkin crashed to the floorstones and burst, sending sweet cider trickling and oozing across the floor. Sister Tracy and Brother Marc slipped on the wet patch and cannoned into one another; Brother Marc's mop and Sister Tracy's honeypot hit the floor the same time the two mice did. Trying to avoid sliding on the cider or sticking to the honey, Shermy bent to help the pair up. "Beg pardon, sir, and madam; confounded mole doesn't give a chap enough warning when he chucks stuff about, wot!"
Alerted from across the room by the crash, Brother Willow had left the special pot of herbal tea he was brewing for himself and sped over, his face a mask of wrath. "What in thunder is going on here...whoo-hhooo-oops!"
The mop handle had landed at an angle, supported against the burst firkin; tripping over it, Brother Willow went head over heels, landing on Shermy's bent back and sending both himself and the hare crashing to the floor amid the debris. The old shrew leapt up, pointing first at the messy Dibbuns and their culinary efforts, then at the three other creatures floundering in shards of wood, pottery, and the rapidly spreading sticky mess of cider and honey. "Friar Dimp, just take a look at this, will you! Total disruption, it's a disgrace!"
If Brother Willow had been expecting the Friar to be upset over the mess, he was sadly mistaken. Dimp, though a bit of a tyrant in his kitchens, had a bit of a mischevious streak in him; some creatures maintained that he had never fully grown out of his Dibbun seasons. Helping the fallen beasts up, the Friar bent and scooped a pawful of honey from the otherwise spotless kitchen floor, sticking it in his mouth. "Mmmmm, this certainly tastes good with cider mixed in." He scooped another glob, winking as he held it under the Librarian's nose. "Try a bit, Brother?"
Flabbergasted, Willow was about to make a wrathful reply when a shrill whistle recalled him to his teapot; he hurried off, unknowingly leaving one of his sandals behind, still stuck in the honey.