Cover art by ForrestFighter
Skipper Windryder was markedly tough and brawny, and had a reputation for stoutheartedness; however, he was none too happy about being so high off the ground in such bad weather, as perilously leaping slippery roof tiles to beat at flames and sparks was not his strong point. A score or so of other creatures, mostly squirrels and other otters, scurried around with him, trying desperately to stop the lightning-induced blazes before they got out of hand, whilst avoiding being struck themselves. Every single one of them was tied to a roof column, and each other, by huge lengths of rope, sturdily knotted by the skillfull otter cheiftain. This was to ensure that, should anybeast lose their footing, they would not plummet all the way down to the abbey grounds, hidden from sight in the wet darkness below.
The one exeption to this rule was Dippertail, the abbey's resident falcon. He fluttered about the rooftoops, yelling instructions and acting as a sort of lifeguard to the less experienced climbers. Being a bird with unusually sharp eyes, he also had the ability to tell, from watching the clouds, when lightning was about to strike. This proved to be an invaluable aid to the fire-fighters, struggling in the dangerous heights. He zipped by the otter cheiftain, screeching the alarm.
"Hyeeeeeeeeeee! Ryder, strike coming!"
Skipper saluted the bird, bellowing the order. "Aye, aye, Dip. Take cover, mates!!!!"
The whole rooftop shook and the world lit up bright white as a bright bolt connected with the giant Abbey weathervane, high overhead. Dippertail circled the structure, then landed beside Skipper, fluffing his drenched feathers in a futile attempt to dry them out. "Yeeeeeeeark! It only hit metal; no damage was done."
"Ahoy, Skip, Abbess overboard!" one of the otters shouted, some distance off.
Windryder spoted the small figure swinging from a rope about her waist some distance below and groaned. "Dip, get her up again, quick!"
The falcon took off again, but there was no need; the sprightly, middle-aged squirrel who was Abbess of Redwall Abbey was an excellent climber. Within moments, she had shinned her way back up the rope and onto the roof tiles. Skipper gently berated her, rasing his voice to be heard over the storm. "Beggin' yore pardon, marm, but you really ought not to be up here! Why don't you let us handle this?"
Saffron shook her head resolutely. She was small for a squirrel, with beautiful golden-red fur and fierce, dark eyes; these bored into the otter cheiftain as she spoke. "Please, Skipper, don't worry about me. I know you mean well, but my leaving is not an option. I said every able-bodied Redwaller who knows how to climb should be up here helping preserve our home and that includes myself. Quick, help me put out that rafter!"
One particularly large blast had made a hole in the roof and had lit some of the girders inside; the flames had not been noticed, however, until they were already starting a fine blaze. Saffron had dropped her wet sack when she fell; she whipped the cowl off her habit and began beating the rafter with it. Skipper joined her, shouting across the expanse of roof. "Tings, Raggle, get us a bucket, sharpish!"
The mouse and the black squirrel were both very young and very frightened; almost too young and frightened to be of much good on the roof. They were stoutly fastened to a shorter rope, right by a gargoyle water chute; from it, they filled an assortment of buckets and passed them along to the more experienced firefighters. Raggle tossed a full bucket to Dippertail, who caught the handle neatly as he swooped by. "One bucket, comin' up! Tings, fill another, just in case!"
To be continued.......