Cover art by ForrestFighter
Brother Willow had fallen prey to a consuming restlessness, and could not stay asleep; after about three hours of tossing, turning, and fitful dozing, he gave up the attempt and climbed out of bed to pore over ancient tomes and scrolls in attempt to calm his nerves. Normally a matter-of-fact, incurious beast, the elderly shrew could not explain why certain words of the rhyme entrusted to the young hare Shermy had refused to leave his mind and had robbed him of his slumber. The first and formost was the ominous warning; "Tragedy will strike this Abbey!" Though Willow had made many gloomy predictions of the three wildcats bringing trouble, he by no means wished to actually see any harm befall his beloved home, or his fellow creatures. It was a sensation hitherto unknown to the shrew, that of NOT wanting to be right; the conflicting emotions were enough to reduce even the most hardened know-it-all to a state of nervous tension.
To keep his mind from dwelling upon the first problem, Willow focused on the second, which involved the two proper names mentioned; Ublaz Mad Eyes and Daskar's Glory. The scholar had known the first name as that of a pine marten emperor of corsairs, who had a poisonous water serpent as a pet; he had held a Redwall Abbot hostage hundreds of seasons past, but had been slain by his own serpent when he trodden upon it whilst fighting the warrior who had come to free the Abbot. The second name, Daskar's Glory, was also familiar to the Librarian; however, though it pained the old shrew to admit it, he could not recall specifically where he had seen it before. A fine thing, this; a Redwall Scholar forgetting his lessons! Consoling himself with the thought that the lack of sleep was probably the reason for his memory loss, Willow continued to look through his volumes, becoming more and more worried and upset with himself as the night wore on into the wee hours of the morning.
There was a muffled thud from the direction of the Dibbun's dormitory; Willow waved it aside, concluding one of the Abbeybabes must have fallen out of bed. Suddenly, he saw it, the word Daskar! It was in the table of contents of a tome so ancient it was falling to pieces; carefully, Willow turned to the chapter indicated and began a frantic search through it for what a "Daskar's Glory" could possibly be. So aborbed was he in what he was reading that he completely failed to notice when the Library door swung quietly open and Sy Stoneclaw came in; when she padded up and tapped him on the shoulder, he gave a shriek most unbecoming a shrew of his age, flinging a sheaf of loose pages into the air to flutter like streamers to the floor all around. He held a paw to his heart, glaring venemously at the intruder. "What is the meaning of this? Don't you cats know better than to frighten an oldbeast to death?"
Sy held a paw to her lips. "Shhhhh, brother, don't wake the Dibbuns. The Abbess sent me to come get you, and tell you to meet us in the Great Hall to continue our council of war. She also said to bring any books or scrolls you thought useful."
Angrily, Willow stooped to gather his papers; still limping slightly, Sy did the same. The shrew was too worn out to try to drive the wildcat from his sanctuary; he shook a page under her nose, murmurming. "Don't you dare touch those, you might get them all out of order. If you want to make yourself useful, carry that tome I was reading downstairs. Be careful with it, half the pages are loose."
The wildcat took one look at the book and decided that to carry it down the stairs without it completely falling apart would be impossible; pulling a blanket from Willow's little bed in the far corner of the room, she wrapped the precious volume in it to ensure she would not lose anything. Willow hastily organized his stack of pages, and made for the door, with Sy following behind. For about thirty paces, they proceeded in absolute silence, both occupied by their own thoughts. Then, Willow was startled again as the Wilcat addressed him, her voice abnormally devoid of cheerfulness. "Just so you know, I have no more desire to see tragedy befall this place than you do, Brother. In fact, I offered to leave and draw the enemy away, but your Abbess refused to let me do so."
Willow had fumbled two or three of his pages; he bent to retrieve them, still in stoic silence. Sy continued. "I won't be here to offend you too much longer, though; it's rather obvious that 'One-eye' in Shermy's rhyme last night meant me, so I'll be leaving to free my kin from the Ranks of the Shadow as soon as this business with Dankfur is over. Would it be too much to ask that we be friends for that short time, or would you prefer I avoid contact with you? I won't be offended, just let me know whichever you prefer."
Willow was completely bewildered; this was the first time anybeast had carried the war against his snobbery and prejudices into his own camp like this. To be 'friends' with a vermin went against every grain in the old shrew's body; to say outright, "No, I don't ever want to see, speak, or deal with you again, and the sooner you leave the better" would be....would be...well, Willow wasn't sure what the problem was there. It was the truth, he supposed; since she had arrived, he had been as hostile as he could be to her, hoping to put her in her place. But, now that it came down to it, something was holding him back from letting his feelings rip, and getting rid of the problem once as for all.
It came as a shock for the old shrew to suddenly realize that the problem was, he wasn't as sure of his own emotions as he thought he had been. The objections otherbeasts had made to his theories of Sy being a villian came back; he tried to argue against them, as he had always done. After all, Wildcats were vermin, weren't they? And had he not a right to hate this one, after she had dared to invade his library, make him look a fool in front of his students, disrupt the order of everyday Abbey life? Yet, she had been an imperturbably gentle and friendly beast, and risked her life to save a mousemaid and bring her two little cousins to the Abbey; that was indisputable. On and on through the old shrews mind, the battle raged; between his own pride, arrogance, hatred, and the true facts that he as a scholar so dearly loved.
Sy noticed by Willow's expression, which betrayed the extreme mental tension he was going through, that he was not going to respond to her question any time soon. She sighed. "You don't have to answer right away; until you do, I'll stay out of your way as much as is possible. Deal?"
Automatically, Willow took her outstretched paw and shook it. They continued the rest of the way to the Great Hall in silence, the wildcat with her own saddened thoughts, and the shrew with his maddeningly conflicting ones.
The Great Hall was lit by torches, lighting up the skillfully done tapestry of Martin the Warrior; there, however, all semblance of beauty ended. Due to the possiblility of late night summer drizzles rusting the tools, Skipper and Formole had told their crews to move them, and all the gathered wood, into the Great Hall, where the new gate would be contructed. Into this wreckage, Friar Dimp had ventured, rather gingerly, to bring an early breakfast to the very early risers gathered there; a large cauldron of honeyed oatmeal on a trestle sent thick wafts of steam about the room, further adding to the impression of destruction and mess.
Seated upon a segment of tree trunk in the center of the room, Shermy greeted the newcomers with a cheery grin. "What ho, chaps! Got anything useful from the jolly old book mausoleum?"
Pushing blueprints, wood shavings, and other scraps of carpentry work aside, Sy and Willow laid the pieces of the tattered volume to the floor. Willow, temporarily restored to his normal self, shot a glare at the young hare. "As a matter of fact, we have; in fact, I believe I have solved two of the mysteries of the rhyme, regarding the proper names mentioned. The first, as all scholars should know..."
The group assembled consisted of everybeast who had been present the night before, with the exception of Skipper and Dippertail, who were on wall duty. Walloh Branchbounder smiled affably at the old shrew, interrupting him. "Sure, an' if ye mean ould Ublaz Mad Eyes, we've talked o'er that already. 'Tis a fact young Tings has a goodly ould head on 'her pretty young shoulders, so she does; remembers her schoolin' quite well. But that's neither here nor there with our quest, so it seems."
Robbed of his moment, the much-stressed Willow was about to say something rather nasty; however, one glance at the steely glint in the powerful golden-furred dormouse's eyes caused him to think better of it. Satisfying himself with a snort, the shrew opened his mouth to continue; this time, it was Abbess Saffron who interrupted. "Please make it short and simple brother. If there is to be a battle soon, we won't have much time to discuss these things."
Sulkily, Willow agreed. "Very well. Daskar's Glory refers, as far as I can deduce, to what was once the largest ship to sail the seas, the Gorleech. Her captain was one Vilu Daskar, a slave master who was immensely proud of his vessel; hence, Daskar's Glory. The ship was wrecked, however, in the midst of some tall islands far to the north. I think it safe to assume that the wreckage is being used as the vermin's new lair. There are no directions to it here save that it is somewhere to the far northwest, so finding it will be no easy matter."
Saffron nodded. "Thank you, Brother Willow. Now, for the rest of the rhyme. Read the last half again for us, Sister Flim."
The recorder obliged, pulling out the parchment from her ever-present satchel of writing goods and declaiming aloud,
"Remember also, those in terror,
Chained away in Daskar's Glory,
Those I name must free these poor ones;
He who tells a wand'ring story,
Oldest daughter of the Guards,
One-Eye, Two Eyes faking One,
Mouse who should not be alive,
And Son of the Mad Boxer's son.
Finally, the one who slays
A threat'ning horror with my blade
Must bring it with him when he goes
On this quest which must be made.
Nothing can be done tonight;
Rest your eyes, my Abbey friends.
But be alert at dawn tomorrow,
That is when the fight begins!
Formole Aggit tapped a digging claw on the dining table. "Burr, Oi appose we'm knows who wun-oi bees, an' Mouseymaiden who shuddent bee aloive."
Tings nodded. "That's Sy and me for sure, though I've never done much long-distance traveling or fighting so I don't know why Martin picked me."
Shermy descended from the log and clapped a paw about her shoulder. "Well, I'm certainly going along, that's plain, wot! Don't you worry, Tings me gel, we two inexperieced ones will look after one another, doncha know."
Sy glanced at the rhyme parchment. "I don't see where it says you must go, friend."
Shermy smiled. "Son of the Mad Boxer's son, old thing, that says Yours Truly all blinkin' over it. My grandmother was Mad Maudie Mugsberry Thropple, known for knockin' a serpent out in one punch, and defeating scads of enemies single-pawed. So, there you have it; Shermwood Whippabonce Thropple-Ffoliot the Second is goin' on this quest, wot!"
Ayeriss Pinspikes, called to attend the council due to her encounter with the giant serpents before, pointed at another row. "Aye, an' yeh ain't leavin' me behind. Looky here, 'Older dotter of t'guards'."
Walldoh nodded sageley. "Sure, an' meself will go with ye, provided ye don't mind the 'one who tells a wun'drin story' lendin' a paw."
There were murmurs of agreement from those who remembered how long Walldoh's report of the night before had taken, though Shermy muttered under his breath that Brother Willow might fit the long-winded category better. Sister Flim ticked off rows with a charcoal stick. "Well, that's all but two of the creatures listed. I wonder who..."
She was was cut short by a series of bloodcurdling shrieks, shouts, and screeches, followed by a panicked voice raised in a piercing yell. "Redwaaaaaaallll! Redwaaaaaaaalllll! Vermin inside the Abbeyyyyyyyyy!!!!"
Like a flash, the council of war party leapt upright, charging for the door, some of them grabbing weapons from the mounds of tools lying about in passing. "Redwaaaaaaalllll! We're coming! Redwaaaaaaaaaaaaaaallllllll!!!!!!!!!"
Some time before, Yirta had flown through the mist to a tree near the wall of the Abbey. Concealed in the fog-shrouded branches, he watched the sentries on the wall of the Abbey, trying to select which one to kidnap. The otters were out of the question; so were the hedgehogs. Most of the squirrels seemed hefty creatures too, especially the big female who straddled the battlements at the easternmost wall corner, javelin poised. About halfway down the wall nearest him, there was a molemaid of dainty figure, but she was between two of the otters and it would be quite a chore getting to her unseen.
Then, the raven's eyes lit up wickedly; he had spotted the harvest mouse. The little fellow was obviously exhausted; he lolled halfway out over the battlements, only just barely balanced by the long rake he was wielding. There were no otherbeasts patrolling near him at the moment; it would be the work of an instant to swoop up from beneath him, concealed by the fog, and pull him away. Stifling a caw of victory, the raven took off, soaring just out of sight towards the wall.
Brother Gus was indeed fast asleep; he had volunteered for sentry work out of a sense of duty, but many years of soft living in the Abbey had not strengthened his endurance. He nodded foward, snoring gently.
With a whoosh, the Raven snatched his prey in cruel talons, ramming his head into the battlement to knock him unconscious further. He had just started to take off again when the shriek reached his ears, and the thunderbolt struck.
Because of the overhead cloud layer, which was pierced by the Abbey weathervane, Dippertail was forced to circle the roof lower than he would have liked, meaning parts of the wall would be out of his sight at times. He had just come around the corner when he saw the big, ugly raven attack Brother Gus. With a shriek of rage, the falcon swooped into an angled dive, aiming straight at the intruder.
Had Yirta not happened to start taking off at that moment, Dippertail's long talons would have been embedded in his head; as it was, the falcon slammed into the jet-feathered chest of the raven, forcing him to release his grip and allow Brother Gus to fall harmlessly to the parapet. Yirta was a fierce fighter; without a second thought he leapt upon Dippertail, using his bulk to force the smaller falcon off the battlements and into the air. He leapt out after him, his own talons outstretched, screeching his challenging warcry. "Rrraaaaaayyyaaaaaaaaarrrrrrkkkk!"
Shreiking his own rapid-fire "Kakakakakeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!!!", Dippertail turned to face his enemy. Sentries on the walltops watched in awe as, with a clash, the two birds met, wheeling and spiraling upward through the sky in a frenzied fight to the death.
Acrobatically turning head-down in mid-swoop, the falcon again embedded his talons in the feathers of Yirta's chest, drawing blood as his cruel grip pierced the raven's hide. Yirta stabbed with blurring speed at his enemy, his thick, chisel bill scoring several wounds across the falcon's back. Dippertail gave a savage jerk of his talons, ripping them free and pulling out many of the raven's feathers; he then proceeded to sink his sharply curved beak into the side of the neck of the raven.
Screaming in pain, Yirta beat his foe's head savagely with his big wings, forcing him to let go; however, Dippertail merely slammed headlong into the wounded midriff of the raven, bulling him into an awkward head-over-tailfeathers flutter. Before Yirta had a chance to right himself, the falcon was upon him again, this time trying to get his talons into Yirta's neck as they plummeted earthwards. The raven's huge black beak snapped shut upon Dippertail's foot; his smaller but sharp claws raked the underbelly of the falcon as he clawed his way free. This time, it was Dippertail who was hit headlong as Yirta, crazed with the rage that affects male birds in battle, flung himself upon the falcon with such force as to hopefully completely wind him.
Dippertail was made of tough stuff; seemingly unaffected by the wounds he had recieved, he rebounded from the raven's headlong slam, talons and beak moving like lightning to rip feather after feather off, and open wound after wound upon the raven. In a panic, Yirta struck out blindly with his beak, furrowing a long scar between Dippertail's eyes. With a cry of pain, the falcon took off, vanishing upward into the clouds.
Puffing out his chest, Yirta shreiked out a challenge. "Rrraakaaah, none beats Yirta in battle! None!"
He never knew what hit him; Dippertail dropped from an astonishing height, diving nearly vertically downward with tremendous force upon the raven. The falcon did not release his talons from Yirta's head until he had finished his pounce and pinned the raven to the floor of Mossflower Woods, but there was no need; the sheer force of the impact had broken Yirta's neck and slain him long before they hit the ground.
From his vantage point up a tall elm, Scaleflier allowed himself a smirk of satisfaction. "Good Riddancccccce, Ffffeatherbag! Ressssst in Peaccccceeee!"
As soon as Dippertail had struck Yirta, and the sentries had all looked up to watch the fight between the two birds, Dankfur had given the signal to his troops. "Let's go!"
The mist, though still thick, had thinned out enough by this point to allow the dark arch of the Abbey Gateway to show; aiming straight towards it, the band charged silently into the grounds.
Gronk looked about as they entered the famed structure; seeing nobeast about, he giggled nervously. "Heh, we're in, cap'n! What's the plan?"
Dankfur gave his first mate a swift kick, hissing. "Quiet, fool, this is no laughing matter. We've got to get in the main building and capture the little wildcats. The big one should surrender easily enough once we do."
The last of the Krozfoxx filed in, followed by Jettcoil and Whiptail. The male snake slithered up to his commander. "There issss no beasssst following ussssss, Masssssster. What are your orderssssss?"
Danfur repeated what he had told Gronk, adding, "Absolute silence is critical. Relay this to everybeast."
Once it was clear the whispered message had gotten through, Dankfur signalled his troops again. "Right, foward march!"
They had not gotten ten paces when all hope of secrecy was shattered. Akalle Bladewhip, still seething with desire for vengeance against the marten who had ruined her paw, trailed at the back of the group, swinging her rapier irritably at any nearby plants, muttering to herself. "Stupid marten, I hopes all your lot get killed by Redwallers. I am never going to serve some crazy Black Shade wolfdog, not for all the rewards in the world!"
She sliced the top clean off a low bush; without warning, the air was rent with fresh screams, not coming from the two fighting birds overhead. About half a dozen little white-gowned creatures, yelling in terror, scattered from their hiding place under the bush, three of them heading straight towards the Abbey building and screaming "Redwaaaaalllllll!!!!!" at the top of their lungs.
Dankfur did not know what had happened, save that his plans were about to be wrecked. He slapped his first mate and his two serpents with the flat of his saber. "Stop them, stop them! Kill them if you have to!"
Gronk pounded after the nearest spectral little figure, swinging his swordblade; Kwinsee Pinspikes crumpled in a pathetic heap upon the grass. Harrbuckll and Biddee skidded to a halt, staring dumbly at the slain form of their sister; seeing them more clearly now, Gronk laughed wickedly. "'Tis only a buncha liddle spike'ogs, Cap'n! I'll gettem!" He advanced upon the trembling duo, who stared up at him, petrified with fright.
The main door of the Abbey burst open; saw blades and hatchets flashed as the Council of War party came barreling out onto the grounds, led by Ayeriss Pinspikes, who gave a sound like a mortally wounded beast and made straight for the marten. One look at the expression on the big female hedgehog's face told Gronk that he had just made a huge mistake; he turned to face her, sword blade waving, hoping to ward her off. Ayeriss was unarmed, but she charged straight at him, punching the blade of the saber so hard it flew from Gronk's grasp. Losing his nerve completely, the marten fled into the mist, with the sister of the hogmaid he had just slain hard on his heels.