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ScottyArtContestEntry by F.F

Cover art by ForrestFighter

Oblivious to the enemy hidden beneath their prow, the crew of the Bowbolt made preperations to go ashore. Roan, Flipp, and Starburst, who were looked to as sort of the unofficial leaders of the expedition, stopped everybeast from leaping overboard at once. The shrew placed himself between the oncoming charge of beasts and the railing, paws upraised.

"Hold on there, everybody! We can't all go wanderin' willy-nilly about the isles, we'll waste time that way."

Roan agreed with him. "He's right, we'd better split forces and leave half to keep lookout from the ship. How many creatures are we?"

A hasty count was done among groups of certain species; Starburst tallied the results. "Lessee, as far as adults go, that's five mice, one mole, a dozen otters, a score of wildcats, six watervoles, ten hedgehogs, fourteen shrews, an' eleven squirrels...."

She noticed Vaccar looked a bit glum at being left out, so she added, with a sigh, "An' one fat, drunken weasel. That's exactly fourscore creatures, not counting the thirteen babes n' liddle 'uns."

Roan nodded his scraggly-furred head. "Perfect, this makes it easy. All the babes and twoscore of you stay on board ship; the rest of us will go ashore."

The scheme appealed to everybeast; within minutes, half the band had left the ship, small barrels and large foodsacks in tow. One of Rugg's searats, who had gone ashore and was spying from behind a large rock, nodded his ugly head in satisfaction. Unobtrusively, he backed into the sea again, and swam out to where his captain was awaiting his report.

The island Bowbolt was moored against had the least rocky terrain; the rest of them were a network of dunes, stony hillocks, tall conifers, and prickly scrub bushes, all of which had obviously survived a fire in bygone seasons. No island was further than about twenty paces from its neighbors; many of them, at low tide, were connected by narrow strips of sand, making travel easier, if a bit mazelike. Knowing that the majority of the wildcat villiage been located on the furthest island from where Bowbolt had moored, the band of travelers marched as quickly as possible to their destination, ignoring barked shins, stubbed toeclaws, and scraped paws as they toiled onwared.

It had been a long time since Roan and his fellow wildcats had been home; many of them wept openly at the terrible sight which greeted them. Every now and then a lonely dwelling would appear, broken to rubble and scorched beyond recognition by the fires Dankfur's crew had set. Occasionally, a pitiful skeleton would be seen; all that was left of a poor weakling wildcat who could not serve the Ranks' purposes, whatever they might be.

As they approached the main villiage, the ruins of dwellings became more frequent, and the sights became more gruesome and terrible. After the seventh such hut had been passed, a stocky ginger cat named Fuzztail could take it no longer. He turned to Roan, his green eyes filled with tears. "We can't just leave our families lying here like this; they need to be decently buried!"

Roan was about to shake his head, and say that speed was of the essence, until he realized that the nearest destroyed stone hut was the one in which Fuzztail and his family had once lived. He sighed. "Very well. Lilybud, you and your otters go back the way we came and gather up the remains of those poor beasts in those huts we passed. Urthswimmer, go to the villiage square over there and dig a large hole out; you shrews help him. The rest of us will get the beasts in the main town buildings. Yes, Dula?"

The shy young mouse had been pulling on Roan's tunic; he blushed to the eartips, mumbling. "Excuse me, sir, you mind if I penned a few words for your kinbeasts? I'm kind of...well, a poet of sorts."

Roan managed a little smile. "Of course, pen as many words as you wish; we can put them on the grave marker."

Within the hour, Urthswimmer and the shrews had prepared for the burial; gently and respectfully, the many fallen oldbeasts and weak ones were laid to rest. A couple of skilled squirrels had carved Dula's poem into a decent-sized slab of wood, which was half-buried and wedged between several stones to ensure it would stay in place as a monument to the fallen.

Thou wert taken before thy time,

In defending thy homeland, ye fell;

Though seasons shall pass, ye may rest with assurance

That thy kin shall remember thee well.

As the grave was covered over, Donnabel the volewife was called upon to play a soft melody on the stringed instrument she had brought from the ship. Lilybud, a beautiful young ottermaiden, sang the words to the ancient song, moving everybeast present to tears.

Goodbye, my friend; our ways part here today;

I weep tears of pain at your sweet memory.

Seems hard to bear that you have gone away,

And that you won't be coming back to me.

Many seasons we traveled lands together,

Many times we feasted, danced and sang;

But a foe has taken you away from me, now;

And I'm left here, in sorrow and in pain.

Yet I shall not weep forever, for I know, friend,

That nightly I shall see you in my dreams;

And when my life is done, we'll be together,

In the land of quiet fields and sunny streams.

So rest in peace my dear departed comerade;

I must leave you, though it causes me great pain;

I have the rest of my life to live out, now,

But don't you worry; we shall meet again!"

As the last clear note rose to the blue noontide sky, Roan wiped a paw roughly across his eyes; then he stood up straight with a sigh, addressing the company. "That was beautifully done, miss; I believe we've done decently by our kin now. Like the song says, we've got our own lives, and, more importantly, our friends and families to take care of now, so we'd best get a move on and gather up as many edibles as we can. There's a freswater spring over there, to fill the water kegs from, and there should be still some supplies in the huts that weren't damanged. There's a few edible plants growing about, too."

Still sniffling, the band of beasts spread out to do his bidding. Roan noticed that Fuzztail was not present; this surprised him, as the burial service had been his idea in the first place. Roan wandered away from the foragers, searching for signs of his friend.

Because of his fluffy, dragging namesake, and the size of his pawpads, the stocky ginger wildcat was not hard to track across the sandy island soil. Roan found him waist deep in the sea, staring towards the mainland in bewilderment. The older wildcat clapped a hand to Fuzztail's shoulder. "Come on, mate, we've got work to do. Your family is laid to rest, now. What are you looking over there for?"

Fuzztail seemed to come back to the present; he turned to face Roan, his expression one of both excitement and bewilderment. "My sons, Roan, my sons!"

Roan did not understand; Fuzztail went on. "I found my wife and grandparents, but my sons weren't there. You remember my late brother's daugher, the one we raised? Well, she wasn't there either. I found their tracks in the hut; they hadn't been washed off by rain or tide, and they led to the secret passageway I dug when I was young and adventurous."

Now Fuzztail was practically bouncing up and down with joy. "So I followed the tracks into the tunnel, and they led all the way to the end, in that big dune there. Don't you see, Roan? This beach is where those vermin had moored the ship! My sons and my neice must have escaped in it!"

Roan's memory of the attack, like all the other wildcats, was extremely fuzzy, due to the poisonous knockout herbs the Ranks had used. He vaguely remembered the vermin having a ship, though it had drifted off to the mainland and they had had to sail to the shore in rafts to catch up to it. It hadn't occured to the wildcat, until now, that one of his own species might have deliberately sailed off in it. Of course, this was only a theory, and an unlikely one at that; Roan was about to mention the fact to Fuzztail, but thought better of it; he shrugged his shoulders. "Good for them if they did; I hope they found somewhere nice to live, far away from all this vermin mess. Come on, let's get our supplies so we can get to the River Moss. We'll come back here afterwards and build our homes again..."

Fuzztail shook his head. "I won't be coming back. As soon as we've put a good distance between us and that Shadelair I'm going to look for my two sons and my niece. No..." He held up a paw, forstalling any argument. "Don't try to stop me. They're the only family I have now and I'm going to find them no matter what it takes."

"Then let me come with you." Roan insisted. "I have no family at all, and two sets of eyes are better than one."

Fuzztail shook paws with him. "Fair enough. We'll tell the others when we reach Mossflower Woods."

Wading back to shore, the two cats joined the foragers.

Evening shadows were starting to fall, the setting sun like a large red cherry slowly sinking into a keg of wine, it's red rays like dissolving juice scattering across the surface of the waters . At first, everybeast on board the Bowbolt had been nonchalant about the task of guarding; as more time passed, and the foragers did not return, the escaped prisoners began to be seriously worried, staring out towards the north until their eyes hurt. Vaccar the weasel was the most nervous, moaning aloud his thoughts.

"Where have those lubbers got to? We're just a sitting target here if the Black Shade shows up!"

Starburst waved her rudder. "We ain't spotted any sign of foebeasts for miles; for all we know, they might not even know we're gone yet. So stop moanin' an' keep lookin'!"

Vaccar was not to be appeased. "But the longer we sit here the closer them Ranks beasts are gonna get to us if they are comin'! An' it's gettin' dark! What if they come during the night? We'll all be killed!"

Several babes set up a wail of terror; Flipp held his hands to his ears, snarling at the weasel. "Will you shut your yap? Look what ye've done, frightening the babes like that. If'n ye can't say anythin' encouraging, keep your trap closed!"

Vaccar was suitably chastened. He shuffled back a few paces, whining pleadingly. "But, I don't wanna jus' sit here stewin' in my own fear; that drives a body mad! I gotta do somethin'!"

One of the little ones, a shrewbabe, offered his opinion. "Den singasong an dance f'us, varmint!"

His mother shushed him. "Ye don't want to hear any nasty, bloody vermin song, darlin'."

Flipp thought for a moment. "Wait just a second. That might not be a bad idea. Hoi, Vaccar, ye know any fun dancin' jigs fit for a babes ears? Might lighten the mood."

The weasel didn't like the idea of performing, but one look at the shrew with the curved sword told him he had no choice. "S'pose I could sing the ballad of No-Job Jones, if I must."

The song was known to all seagoing beasts, both good and bad; it was an old classic. Flipp nodded to show that Vaccar could go ahead; reluctantly at first, but gaining confidence as he went, the weasel broke out into the first verse, doing a hopskip little dance as he did so. The otherbeasts broke out clapping to the rhythm and singing the well-known chorus, the youngest of them dancing along with the weasel as he sang out. For a vermin, he had a strong tenor voice.

Oooooohhhh, I know a ship with the laziest crew

That ever did sail on the seas,

Her bowsprit is busted, her riggin' is knotted,

Her boards are all mossy, like trees.

Her sails were of purple, an' green, blue, and red,

Her deckrails were made out of bones,

An' since all 'er crew were so dreadfully slack,

They called her the ol' No-Job Jones!

I'll faaaaaaace....

Battles 'n Shipwrecks n' Thunder n' Lightnin'

An' cold winter snow winds that moan,

But, oh, lackaday, jus' keep me away

From that 'orrible ship No-Job Jones!

The Cap's so lazy 'e slumps in his bed,

All day from the dawn til' the night;

Some days he won't even get up for a meal,

For 'is jaws are too tired to bite;

An' the mates always snoring, the tiller forgotten,

The ship driftin' off who-knows-where;

An' the lookout won't look, and the cooky won't cook;

Ain't none of 'em got any care!"

I'll faaaaaaace....

Battles 'n Shipwrecks n' Thunder n' Lightnin'

An' cold winter snow winds that moan,

But, oh, lackaday, jus' keep me away

From that 'orrible ship No-Job Jones!

One day the ol' ship ran afoul of another,

A pirate rig called Jamboree,

'Er cap'n was shoutin' "How dare you ol' ragbags

To ram me, the king of the sea?"

An' 'e sent all his crew to board the ol' Jones,

To teach 'em a lesson that day;

They charged at the lazy ol' bums of a crew,

Preparing their foebeasts to slay.

I'll faaaaaaace....

Battles 'n Shipwrecks n' Thunder n' Lightnin'

An' cold winter snow winds that moan,

But, oh, lackaday, jus' keep me away

From that 'orrible ship No-Job Jones!

Well, the Jamboree's Crew never stood any chance;

Five tripped on the moss-covered boards,

An' a dozen got tangled in that snarled-up riggin',

Suspended high off o' the floor,

Eight of 'em slipped off the old broken bowsprit;

The rest stubbed their paws on the bones;

An' they all fled away; to this day, they all say,

Keep away from the ol' No-Job Jones!

I'll faaaaaaace....

Battles 'n Shipwrecks n' Thunder n' Lightnin'

An' cold winter snow winds that moan,

But, oh, lackaday, jus' keep me away

From that 'orrible ship No-Job Jones!

From that 'orrible, terrible, awful, unbearable,

Nasty ol' ship No-Job Jones!

By popular demand, Vaccar was compelled to sing the last verse and chorus over quite a few times before the little ones had danced themselves to exhaustion. Worn out himself, he too flopped to the deck, out to the world, snoring uproariously.

Rugg Tornpaw and Volebabe Guffle

Rugg boards the Bowbolt (art by Jump)

It was at this moment, when the last rays of the setting sun began to dissapear, that Rugg Tornpaw made his move. Little ones shrieked in terror as he and his six rats leapt out of the darkness to land among them, grabbing several of them up in their paws. The peg-legged rat captain poised his cutlass at the neck of baby Guffle the vole, snarling. "Don't any of ye make a move towards me, or dis one an' 'is liddle pals die! All of you, overboard, now; we'll throw dis lot over when ye do. MOVE!"

The goodbeasts stood defiant, though there was definite worry in their eyes. Rugg knew he was severely outnumbered and pressed for time; he had to get them off his ship as soon as possible before the rest of the band returned. "Come on, you lot, move NOW!" None of them did. Rugg bared his snaggled fangs, raising his cutlass. "Ye have til the count of three; after that, this volebabe's fishbait. WUN!....TWO...."

That was as far as he got; a stone slammed into his nose, stunning him. Whirling slings made from strips torn from their ragged clothes, the forage party boarded the ship, roaring in anger. Rugg's six rats had nowhere to go; they fled the slings only to meet a headlong charge of the beasts on board the ship, waving staves of wood. It was over in an instant; dull splashes sounded as the six crewrats bodies were thrown overboard. Roan grabbed Guffle and passed him to his mother Donnabel, them went over to Rugg. The former captain's braided beard was stained by his bleeding nose; he held up a paw pleadingly. "Spare me, Spare me! I'll go far away, matey, ye've got me solemn oath!"

Roan was past listening; Rugg whimpered as the wildcat raised his unsheathed claws, preparing for a downward swipe; suddenly, a shout from Flipp, who had ascended to the crows nest again, alerted him.

"The Stormdog! The Ranks are after us!"

Roan ran to the edge of the ship; the light was failing, but the green and white Stormdog was unmistakable, bearing down on them from the north with terrible speed. The wildcat could make out the shadow of another ship, probably the brown-sailed Wormrigg, behind it; he shouted to his crew; "Man the oars! Starburst, get the tiller!"

Dula timidly raised a paw. "But we've only got half the food an' water on board...."

Roan shouted into his face. "We don't have time for that! Everybeast, to the oars! Vaccar, wake up, you row too! Hurry, everyone! MOVE!"

With everybeast fueled by the frenzy of abject terror, the Bowbolt shot away from the Gingiverian Tribe Isles, off into the fading night. Starburst dragged Rugg by his ear to an oar, tying his paw to it with a rope before grasping an oar herself. "Paddle, matey, paddle, or we're all dead, yoreself included!"

Back in Mossflower Woods, what was left of Dankfur's crew of martens and Krozfoxx sat well away from Redwall Abbey, nursing their wounds. Jettcoil was still in a state of shock from his mate's death; grief is an emotion unfamiliar to serpents, so the blacksnake did not know why it was that he suddenly felt so alone, so incomplete, without Whiptail there. Scaleflier, the smaller serpent, was hiding out of sight of the camp, and made a note of this. A fiendish plan had entered the stunted racer's mind, one that would both rid him of several enemies and cost the Black Shade dearly; he knew he just had to wait for the opportunity, and keep his eyes open for other useful information.

Nursing a torn footpad, Dankfur vented his spleen on the band. "Idiots! Cowards! You let a bunch of oldbeasts and youngbeasts hold you up!"

None of them dared respond; he continued angrily. "We're still going to get that Abbey, one way or another. If any of you even think of deserting I'll have Jettcoil stop you for good. We've got honor to avenge here, if you beasts understand that concept."

Akalle Bladewhip seemed strangely subdued this afternoon; she agreed with him. "Aye, the Skullbeast is right, mates. We're can't take this lying down."

Dankfur breathed an inward sigh of relief that at least one beast was seeing his reason. What he did not realize, in his exhausted, angry state, was that Akalle had her own reasons for sticking around; namely, the secret slaying of Ringgob, and possibly Dankfur too, if she had the chance. Scaleflier had, however, figured this out to some extent; he catalogued it away in his mind as another possibly useful fact. "Knowledge issssss power!" He hissed complacently to himself, curling back up in his hiding place.

Uja and Ringgob were the only martens besides Dankfur to survive the attack on the Redwallers; the latter was out with the fox Kaiah Greenhide, searching for vittles. The big, tattooed marten was inclined to show disdain for his primitive, tailless companion at first; however, it soon became clear that Kaiah new more about woodland eatables than the former seabeast did. "Disee mushroom, veree good to eat."

"Are ye shore t'ain't pizen, mate?"

For an answer, Kaiah tore off a piece and wolfed it down. "Happee now, skulleebeast?"

Ringgob nodded, trying to keep his temper down. "Aye, yer point's made. Gather up them things. I heard somthin' move back there, I'm gunna see if'n tiz meat!"

The two parted company, Ringgob creeping through the undergrowth like the skilled assasin he was.

Dippertail was in trouble. The falcon had injured his wing when he pounced on and slew Yirta, and had tried to walk back to the Abbey. However, he had not gone two paces before he managed to step into a sinkhole, and was now stuck tight like a cork in a bottle. Flapping and kicking desperately, he had tried to free himself all that day and the next, until his strength had given out, and he had collapsed, panting, his tail and rump still firmly jammed in the hole.

He saw Ringgob approaching, but could not do a thing about it; the marten grinned and slacked off his arrow when he recognized the falcon sitting on the ground before him. "Well, looky here; hey, fox! Cummere an' give me a hand, we gotta prisoner!"

The marten picked up a rock; Dippertail sank into unconsciousness as the missile struck him in the head.

Back at camp, Dankfur was delighted with the turn of events, though he tried not to show it. Prodding the sleeping falcon, who was trussed up, gagged, and slung between two poles, he addressed the company. "Jettcoil, track us the speediest path back to the Shadelair. I left the Redwallers a message that we have one of their own; the cat will follow us, I'm sure, though she'll probably have other warriors with her. If we get a good head start, we can meet up with the other ranks and have a full army to face them. Let's go!"

With a still somewhat muddle-headed Jettcoil in the lead, the vermin set off at a fast trot. Scaleflier followed behind at his own pace, knowing he could easily catch up. Behind them, on a tree near the edge of the woodlands, Dankfur's sabre had carved the terrible message.

We have one of your youngbeasts; a falcon. Do not try to follow us or he dies!

An open invitation for virtuous goodbeasts, as the crafty marten captain knew only too well.

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