Cover art by ForrestFighter
Through the coordinated efforts of the brave Abbeybeasts, the blazing rafters were soon extinguished. Dippertail announced the fact to the two young creatures on bucket duty, then flew off to inspect other areas of the roof for flames that might have been missed. Tings, the young mousemaiden, sat down with a sigh. "Thank goodness for that. I sure hope that's the last of it! If I have to lean out over that edge and fill a bucket again, I swear I'll faint dead away!"
Raggle the black squirrel joined her, holding his bushy tail over his head like a rain hat. "Aye, that'd be a long drop for sure, if the rope were to break. And to think we volunteered for this!"
Tings snorted bitterly. "Well, what else could we do? It was either come up here or stay in the cellars with Brother Willow and all those screaming babes! How Shermy puts up with it, I don't know."
Raggle's tail was becoming waterlogged and heavy; he was forced to let it drop. "I'd sooner be in a noisy cellar than up here right now. It'll take us two seasons to dry off after this lot!"
Abbess Saffron joined them, slumping in a most un-Abbess-like manner beside them. "Phew! Thank you for your hard work with the bucket brigade, you two; some of those fires took root so quickly we couldn't have put them out without your help."
Tings forced a smile. "Oh...er...thank you. All in the line of duty, I suppose."
The Abbess nodded her head. "You're quite right, young one. It is every Redwaller's duty to make sure our home and friends are free of danger; be it from vermin, weather, or any other issue."
Raggle felt a bit ashamed for complaining earlier. He looked away, trying to change the subject. "Seems the wind has finally died down. Maybe that means the storm's almost over, eh, Abbess marm?"
Saffron wiped rainwater from her eyes. "I certainly hope so! It'll take my fur ten seasons to dry out after this downpour!"
Tings quickly turned away, stifling a giggle at the look on Raggle's face.
Dippertail appeared suddenly out of the darkness, landing in a flurry of feathers to join the trio. Tings was nearly knocked off the roof with the force of the falcon's descent; she sloshed a half-full bucket over him. "Watch what you're doing, Dip! You nearly cannoned me right over the edge!"
The falcon ignored her, dancing agitatedly in front of the Abbess. "Kyeeeek! There be a injured beast at the gate!"
Abbess Saffron leapt up, staring off into the gloom. "Where?"
A flicker of lightning briefly lit up the tableau far below; Saffron spotted the dark smudge on the path below and began issuing orders. "Never mind, I see them. Tings, Raggle, you two are excused from bucket duty as of now. Go down to the cellars and get Grandmum Dawbil and her helpers at once! Dippertail, you stand by the poor beast until help arrives, understood?"
The falcon saluted, leaping off the roof and going into a steep dive. "Aye aye, Abbess! Hyeeeeeeeeeeeee!"
The mousemaid and the black squirrel also saluted. "We'll take care of it, don't worry!"
Slicing through their holding ropes with a knife she had borrowed from the kitches, the Abbess pushed them towards the trap door that led from the attics to the roof. "Go then, but be careful!"
Shermy had never seen anything like the beast on the path in all his born days. What manner of creature it was, he could not tell; it seemed to be almost entirely obscured by a tattered and flapping black cloak, which spread out in folds around it on the ground. What little of the actual creature was visible was plastered with mud until it was unrecognizable. He and Biddee had halted within ten paces of the intruder, unsure if they should draw any nearer.
The Dibbun stared at the unmoving mass. "What do it be, Shermee?"The leveret twitched his nose and ears (his way of showing nervousness). "You're guess is as jolly well good as mine, old scout. I wonder if it's still alive?"
From beneath the cloak came a mewling, whimpering sound; Biddee nodded. "It alive, Biddee heard it. What we do?"
The question was answered for them when Dippertail soared in for a squelchy landing in the path mud beside them. He spread his wings aggressively. "Yiiiiiieeeeeeeeek! What are you doing here? Young ones should not be out in weather like this!"
Shermy started to explain. "Well, sah, the little one escaped the cellars so I...."
Another moan from the injured beast interrupted them. Dippertail clacked his beak dismissively. "Yeek! Go inside, now, before you catch a chill; and tell the old mole we need her help!"
Gathering up the infant hedgehog in his arms, Shermy flew across the lawn, into the building, and down the stairs to the cellar. Sister Flim shook her head at the bedraggled, muddy pair, addressing the young hare. "I take it you had to go outside. How did that little one get the door open? Or did she use a window?"
Shermy did not feel like explaining; he waved a paw. "Never mind that. There's some poor beast on the ground outside, and it's badly wounded, by the look of it."
There was an immediate clamor of questions and speculations; Grandmum Dawbil held up a digging claw for silence. "Shoutin' won't get us'ns nowhere. Oi'll go tend to ee sichewation direkly. Yurr, Aggit, bring thoi molecrew."
Foremole Aggit, who was Grandmum Dawbil's nephew and the leader of the abbey's mole population, nodded his velvety head. "Roight, Marm. Jorty, you'm and thoi husband stay here wi' ee uthers. The rest of you'm moles follow Oi!"
The rescue party left the cellars in a rush; Shermy collapsed wearily to the floor. "Whew! If you lot don't mind, I'll not be going after any more bloomin' young ones at the moment. Wake me next season, wot!"
Foremole Aggit poked his snout back into the cellars. "Yurr, Shurmee, coom ee and show moi crew whurr the crittur bee. We'm dont much feel loike wunderin' ee entoire grounds in ee rainwet!"
Pulling a wry face, the young hare rose to accompany the molecrew.
Up on the roof, Tings and Raggle were having a hard time negotiating the wet and slippery tiles. Without the ropes about their waists, both young creatures had almost no confidence left. Raggle, being a squirrel, was slightly better off than his companion; after much struggles, he had finally made it over to the trapdoor to the attics. "Come on, Tings, hurry up!"
The mousemaiden was lying flat on her stomach, clinging desperately to the top edge of the roof, and sobbing piteously. "It's no good, I can't go on!"
Raggle, striving desperately to keep himself from panicking, scooted back over to her. "Here, take my paw; we'll go together!"
Tings shook her head firmly, wailing, "No, no! I can't...I can't do it. I'll fall!"
Raggle grabbed her sleeve, pulling her firmly along with him. She still refused to release her grip. The young squirrel fairly screamed at his mousemaid friend. "You've GOT to let go; come on!"
BLAM! A cloud-to-cloud lightning strike directly overhead caused a deafening reverberation of thunder. Tings screamed and let go her hold on the roof, involuntarialy jumping out into space. Raggle stared in dumb shock at the ripped habit sleeve, dangling uselessly from his paw; and the rapidly diminishing figure of Tings, plummeting towards the earth far below.
Dippertail had managed to coax the weary beast onto its feet; staggering almost drunkenly, it followed the waddling falcon towards the main abbey door. The bird had noticed the strange animal was carrying a large traveling sack on its back; relieving the burden to carry it himself, the falcon held a one-sided conversation with the beast, trying to keep its spirits up.
"Yeeee! You've come to a good place, friend. There are healers here; you'll be all right soon. There's no hurry, don't over-exert yourself. Hyeeeear, we'll have you a nice soft bed soon enough. Good food, too. Yieeak, don't worry, this bird will keep your bag safe."
A thunderclap, followed by a scream from above caused both falcon and visitor to look upwards. Dippertail spotted the falling mousemaid; dropping the sack, he spread his wings, preparing to launch into flight.
But the beast in the cloak reacted swifter.
With a sudden, powerful bound, it sprang through the air, catching Tings neatly in its paws. Performing a barrell roll in mid-air, it came crashing down to the muddy earth back first, with the young one on top of its stomach.
Shermy, Grandmum Dawbil, and the crew of Foremole Aggit emerged into the drenched lawns just in time to witness the rescue; joining Dippertail, they hurried over to where the two now-unconscious creatures lay. Shermy was the first to find his voice. " I say, that was awfully decent of the chap, wot! I wonder what poor rotter it was that fell off the roof."
Foremole prised the creature's paws from the limp form they held. "It bee liddle mizzy Tings!"
Shermy cried out in alarm as he recognized his friend. "Is she hurt? Oh, say she's not hurt!"
Aggit chuckled. "Nay, zurr, she'm a tough liddle mouseymaiden; she bees roight as rain."
The leveret looked around at the storm damage, which was more visible now that the rain was slowing to a drizzle. "Huh, don't bloomin' well see what's jolly well right about rain, old chap."
Grandmum Dawbil inspected Tings' rescuer. "Yurr, Aggit, this beast'n be bad hurt; goo ee and get oi a stretcherer!"
The Foremole repeated the order to several of his moles, who scurried back inside to do his bidding. Shermy turned to Dippertail. "I say, old thing, don't you think you'd better nip back up to the rooftop and let the others know Tings isn't hurt? Poor Raggle's probably in a fine tizzy right now."
Dippertail passed the bag to the young hare. "Yieeeer! You're right. Take this thing inside, will you?"
Without further ado, the falcon took to the skies, sailing back up to the rooftop. Shermy dragged the large sack across the grounds; it was very heavy. In fact, it was extremely heavy; almost too heavy for a mere travelers' pack. Overcome with curiosity, the young hare looked inside one of the many holes that pocked the sack.
Releasing it with a cry, he shouted over to the moles. "Miz Dawbil, I think you should see this!"