Cover art by ForrestFighter
As the sun finished setting over the western woods, like a ball of molten ruby descending into a pit of jagged emeralds, the last feeble pink-hued rays shed their soft light upon the funeral procession wending its sombre way through Redwall Abbey's fast-darkening grounds. Each body, duly shrouded, had already been consigned to a grave and buried by Foremole's crew some time earlier; now, the long procession of creatures moved on a zig-zag path from grave to grave, to pay their last respects to their brave comerades fallen in battle. Alyssum the ottermaid, too overcome with emotion at her brother Barbatus' death to attend, had stationed herself in the belltower; the Abbey's twin bells, Matthaias and Methuselah, tolled out a slow cadence for the march of saddened beasts in the cemetery far below.
Saffron, Grandmum Dawbil, and Friar Dimp headed the procession, all in their finest clothes; each of them bore a special lantern made of stained glass hung on a gilded pole. The Abbey Brothers and Sisters, all in their best black dress habits, came next, followed by the white-robed remaining members of the Pinspikes family; all these carried candlesticks in silver holders. Behind them came the otter and mole crews, armed to the teeth with the best-looking ceremonial weapons available; Shermy, Raggle, Walldoh and Tings marched with them, similarly armed. Towards the back of the procession came the Dibbuns, bathed, green-smocked, and burdened with oversized bouquets of flowers; finally, bringing up the rear and bearing the standard of Redwall (a red "R" on a green background) upon a large pole, came Siyuzin Stoneclaw. Sy had requested to be towards the back of the procession to keep an eye on the little ones, and to avoid distressing the Pinspikes family further; thus, Saffron had conferred this special honor upon her.
At each gravesite they paused for a moment of silence. Then, a short prayer was sung by somebeast the Abbess had already delegated for that task, and anybeast who had anything to say was allowed to say it. When the procession continued, creatures left flowers, small weapons, candles, colored pebbles, and other mementos upon the mounds as they filed by them. Now, the group was proceeding to the last grave, that of Kwinsee Pinspikes; afterwards, they were to head to the the orchard, where a basic sandwich and soup dinner had already been laid out by Friar Dimp. The Dibbuns, stuck in the back of the line, had managed to keep quiet and out of trouble so far; however, their growling tummies and youthful impatience were beginning to cause some dissent among the ranks.
"Why we stay so long a' bruvva Willa's spot? I t'ot we nevva leave!"
Squirt, being the eldest Dibbun there, shot a glare at Leeam Volebabe, who had made the remark. "A course we stay long; Formole plant a likkle tree dere!"
Shay Branchbounder chimed in. "It not nice to say t'ing like dat at a foonr'l, silly!"
Baby Pringill took Leeam's side. "But why we havta plant a tree? It take sooooo long. We nevva plant one f'anyone else!"
Shay promptly whacked her across the nose with her bouquet of flowers. "Husha, you too loud; we get in big trubble!"
Spluttering flower petals, Pringill set up a wail. "YaghSpflutsh! Why you do dat for?! Wahaaa, I not do nuffink!"
This time it was Speedwell who reacted, covering Pringill's mouth with his oversize fuzzy paw. "SHHHHHHHHH, you wanna get us all baffed an' sent t'bed?"
Pringill chomped down hard with her powerful buck teeth, drawing blood. Speedwell drew back with a yelp of pain; Squirt, who had seen the altercation, decided enough was enough. "Ooooo, you hurt a guest! You in big trubble now; I tell Muvva h'Abbess!"
Pringill was in no mood to discuss the matter; she flung her bouquet at Squirt with all the vehemence she could muster, striking him hard in the stomach. The otter retaliated by charging full on at her, roaring in anger; Sy leapt between them just before they came to blows. "Stop this right now, do you hear me? There is no fighting friends inside the Abbey walls."
Both babes began shouting at once. "But he gonna tattle-tale on me...she bite Speedwell...he hurt me...you fuss too much...I do not, we jus' take too long at..."
"Quiet!" The tone of the wildcat's voice was not angry, but it was just firm enough to let them know she meant buisiness. "All of you, get your flowers and get back in line; don't ever let me catch you behaving this way again. I know you are better creatures than this; you know this is no way to show respect at a funeral. Now, I won't tell the Abbess that you were fighting, but if any of you start a second fight I will personally see to it that you are put on pot-cleaning duty in the kitchens for the next three days. Is that clear?"
Leeam Volebabe raised a timid paw. "But why we stay so long at Bruvva Willa's...."
"Ssshhhhhhhh, don' start dat again!" The entire crowd of Dibbuns hissed at him.
Sy was forced to smile. "No, it's all right, you're entitled to know. We stayed at Brother Willow's grave so Foremole could plant a baby weeping willow there. We did that to show everybeast that we forgave Brother Willow and were proud of him for his actions in battle; the tree will grow and grow and always remind us of that through the seasons. Do you understand now?"
A silent group of Dibbuns nodded furiously; Sy smiled again. "Good. We'd best get back in line, before they notice we're not there."
There was a slight scramble as the Dibbuns gathered up their flowers and hurried to catch up with the funeral procession, which had stopped at Kwinsee's grave. The prayer had already been sung, and the Abbess was making a short speech, to the effect of how Kwinsee had lived up to her Pinspikes heritage by trying to warn the Abbey when it was in great peril. Sy caught up just as Saffron concluded. "....even though her life was tragically cut short, Kwinsee Pinspikes did not live in vain. Her family and friends will remember her courage for many, many seasons to come." She looked about the assembly. "If anybeast has anything to add, now is the time. Yes, Sister Teezl?"
The Pinspikes matriarch passed her newborn twins to her husband and stepped foward, fidgeting with her robe cord. "Well, I know there's wun of us here wot thinks t'iz 'er fault my Kwinsee got killed, an' I wanner let 'er know we don't 'old a thing against 'er, and that t'wasn't 'er fault a'tall." The rest of the family murmured in agreement; Teezl addressed the wildcat. "Yew don' have t'hide back there, miz Sy; we forgives yeh. In fact, we decided t'name our new liddle 'uns Feliks an' Shingul, after yore ancestors wot ye told the Abbey School about. That all right with you?"
There were more murmurs of agreement; Sy nodded gratefully from the back of the line, not wishing to have to shout over the heads of the other creatures. Saffron smiled upon the Pinspikes family. "Thank you, Sister Teezl. Has anyone else anything to say?"
There was a slight pause; then, Biddee Pinkspikes stepped out of the Dibbun ranks and came foward, waving a small pebble. "S'cuse me, muvva h'Abbess; I find a seed, an' plant it here so Kwinsee get a baby tree like Bruvva Willa, maybe."
Several other Dibbuns hissed urgently at her. "Burr, coom back hurr!"
"Dat notta seed, t'is a rock!"
"You gonna get laffed at; dat not grow!"
Sy cleared her throat rather noisily; immediate silence fell among the babes. Saffron, noticing the defiant look on Biddee's face, decided it would be best to humor her now and explain the truth to her later. "Go right ahead, little one, if that's what you want to do."
Friar Dimp chimed in. "Aye, you never know; it might just become a tree after all." Catching several exhasperated glares from the assembled crowd, he shrugged. "Well, it might!"
Solemnly, Biddee planted the pebble by the head of the grave; Foremole lent her the watering can he had brought with him to plant Brother Willow's tree, so she could properly finish the task. As no other beast seemed inclined to speak, Saffron adressed the company again. "Thank you all for showing your respects today. Dinner has been laid out in the orchard for us; however, not all of us will be attending. Lady Stoneclaw and her party have already eaten, and are leaving now to rescue our Abbey Falcon, and free the rest of Lady Stoneclaw's family from the clutches of the Ranks of the Shadow. I believe I speak for everybeast here when I say that we hope and pray for your safe return to us, and that good fortune should follow you wherever you tread."
Ayeriss shed her robe to reveal the traveling clothes she wore under it. "Aye, I don't doubt yore right, but we're wastin' time yammerin' here. Let's go!"
She set off towards the main gate, where the provision packs had been left; the others followed, though at a much slower pace, as they were swamped by well-wishing Abbeybeasts. Suddenly, it seemed everybeast was talking at once, as if breaking free of the solemnity of the funeral with a rush.
"Well, so long, mate; but don't you dare come back without my matey Dip!"
"Burr, doan't ee young'un's goo disobeyin' miz Sy; She'm travelled more than you'm, ho aye."
"Be safe, my son, please!"
"I can't promise that, Ma; we're going off to war, you know. I'll try my best, though."
"Belay, you ain't leavin' without a lucky pebble, are ye? Here, take mine."
"Now, you watch yourself out there, dearie. Don't talk to strangers!"
"Be careful with that knife, miz Tings, I just had Bumbill sharpen it yesterday!"
"Wahaaaaaa, don' wan' mista Shermee to gooooooooooooooo!!!!!"
"What's all this? Dry your eyes, little one, I'll bring back a trinket for you, wot!"
"Daddee, I go too! I go too!"
"Sure, an' I think not. Better stay here this time, darlin'."
"Great seasons, look at THAT!"
Friar Dimp had not joined the group until then; it was he who had spoken. The other creatures turned to look where he was pointing; where Biddee had buried her "seed", a tiny green plant was sprouting upwards. The Abbeybeasts crowded around, mystified.
"How in the world....plants don't grow that fast!"
"But, it wurr a rock; hurr aye, it wurr!"
"It's a miracle, that's what it is!"
"Yay, I gotta baby tree! I gotta baby treeeee!"
Saffron shot a sidelong look at her brother; she had not fallen for the trick. "And I suppose you wouldn't happen to know anything about this, would you?"
Hiding his soil-stained paws behind his back, the mischevious Friar looked the picture of innocence. "What, me? I didn't see anything."
In the new commotion, Sy and the others had managed to slip away through the main Abbey gates. As Ayeriss already had a considerable head start, they were forced to break into a trot to catch up with her before she completely disappeared into Mossflower. Shermy was the first to reach her, dashing past the hogmaid and planting himself in the middle of the path directly in front of her. "Hold hard there, miss! You don't want to get lost, y'know; deucedly hard to find one's way back when one loses oneself, wot!"
Ayeriss glared fiercely, trying to get around him. "Well, I ain't about to jus' stand there while they gets away, th' murderin' scum!"
The rest had caught up by this time. Walldoh took charge of the situation; the dormouse was out of breath, and rather angry. "Faith, missy, if'n ye want t'get yourself killed, by all means keep runnin' off like that. Ye can't charge in alone against a full army o' vermin, no indeed ye can't. From now on, you take orders from meself an' miss Stoneclaw; is that understood, me darlin'?"
Ayeriss nodded, biting her lip to try to stop the frustrated tears falling from her eyes. Sy took pity on her, carfully putting a paw about the hogmaid's shoulders. "I lost my grandparents and many of my friends to the Ranks; I understand why you want to protect other creatures from the same fate. So long as we all respect one another and work together, we should succeed. Here, dry your eyes."
The hogmaid accepted the proffered handkerchief, scrubbing vigorously at her face. Allowing Ayeriss a moment to compose herself, Sy addressed Tings. "Now, let's have a look at those directions."
As the mousemaid pulled a scroll from her haversack, Raggle looked strangely at her. "I thought Brother Willow said there weren't any directions."
"There weren't, in the chapter he was reading." Tings unrolled the parchment, where she had copied down the route. "Sy and I read through the rest of the book, though, and found this "Ballad of Trimp the Rover", about some traveler who'd gone to the Shadelair long ago. Listen to this.
"From Redwall Abbey's stony walls,
Through Mossflow'r woodland's leafy halls,
The Rover went a-rovin'.
Down the river broad and cold,
To the sea, so I've been told,
The Rover went a-rovin'.
Past sandhills filled with ghostly wails,
Beneath the sky's blue canvas sails,
A ship was northward hovin';
To the cliffs an' tow'ring stones,
Where lie the unskilled sailor's bones,
The Rover went a-rovin'.
Find the broad path, lose your life;
T'is the narrow the ship took,
T'will prove to not be frought with strife;
As long as sharply do you look.
At last, the ship reached rocky shore,
Put in the anchor, sailed no more;
These words to you I've spoken;
To find the half-ship, Daskar's Glory,
And to hear it's tragic story,
The Rover went a-rovin'."
Raggle nodded. "Seems clear enough; follow the River Moss to the sea, then sail along the coast northward until you reach the cliffs and towering stones, whatever they may be. We'll need a ship, though; any ideas where to get one?"
Walldoh had regained his good humour. "Sure, an' why not cross that bridge when we find it. Right now, let's make for Branchbounder territory an' tell me goodwife Wardah where we're off to; we can restock supplies there, so we can. Faith, I just remembered, I should tell me family what your Abbess said about sending some carpenters as soon as your main gate's up; t'was what I was sent to Redwall to ask in the first place, so it was."
Raggle piped up again. "Well that's in the direction of the River Moss, anyhow. I suppose..."
Anything else he would have said was cut short by Shermy. "Hush a moment, old chap, thought I heard something."
The six travelers waited in silence, listening hard; however, they knew that Shermy, being a hare, could probably hear things much farther away than they could. After a while, Ayeriss interrupted. "Well? What is it?"
Shermy lowered his voice. "Sounded like somebeast in trouble, over to the west a short way. Heard yelping noises and vermin laughing, y'see."
Slowly, the group left the path and began creeping softly westward; after a short while, the muted sounds of somebeast antagonizing another reached them. Walldoh covered his nose with a grimace. "Phew! Sure, an' t'is vermin, all right; no mistaking that 'orrible smell."
Sy pointed to a tall tree. "Raggle, climb up there and see if you can spot what's making the noise. There's a full moon, the view should be clear enough."
Strapping Martin's Sword to his back, the young black squirrel obliged, leaping up into the foliage. He was back down even quicker than he had gone up, a look of urgency stamped on his face. "We've got to do something quick, they're going to kill him!"
Sy grabbed his tail to stop him dashing off. "Wait a minute, slow down. Who's being killed, who's doing the killing, and where are they?"
Raggle pulled himself free. "That funny blind fox, the senile one - he's caught in a briar tangle back near where we were woodcutting a few days ago, and there's three skinny ol' stoats torturin' him t'death with spears, the cowards!"
The wildcat's teeth suddenly showed; her ears went back flat in anger. "Does one of them have her claws dyed red?" Upon seeing Raggle nodd the affirmative, she took immediate charge, padding quickly but silently westward. "Let me handle this; I've met this robber band before. The rest of you, follow behind me quietly; don't charge until I say so."
Without so much as a footfall to betray their prescence, the others sped towards the oak grove in her wake, grim determination on their faces.