<---Last Chapter --- Next Chapter --->


ScottyArtContestEntry by F.F

Cover art by ForrestFighter

We're on the one road, sharing the one load!
We're on the road to who-knows-where!
We're on the one road! It may be the wrong road,
But we're together, so who cares?
North, West, South, East -comrades all!
Ev'ry goodbeast answer to the call!
We're on the one road, swinging along,
Singin' a soldier's song!
Though we've argued ev'ry now and then,
Now's the time to make it up again!
Sure, aren't we all Goodbeasts anyhow?
Now's the time! Step together now!
We're on the......(etc.)
Mice an' Hedgehogs, every mother's son,
Hares, Moles, Squirrels - Cummon, ev'ryone!
Shrews an' otters, ­ every beast in line!
All march on, an' we'll do just fine!
We're on the......(etc.)
Night is darkest just before the dawn;
From the battle, Freedom is reborn!
Though we know not what we have in store,
We'll still fight and sing out once more,
We're on the one road, sharing the one load!
We're on the road to who-knows-where!
We're on the one road! It may be the wrong road,
But we're together, so who cares?
North, West, South, East -comrades all!
Ev'ry goodbeast answer to the call!
We're on the one road, swinging along,
Singin' a soldier's song!
North, West, South, East -comrades all!
Ev'ry goodbeast answer to the call!
We're on the one road, swinging along,
Singin' a soldier's song!
Singin' a Soooooooooooooldieeeeeeeeeeeeer's Sooooooooooooooooong!!!"

Raggle was forced to gasp for air, after holding the last loud note for such a long time. He shot a look of exhasperation at Billeo's back; the woodmouse was directing the singing by holding his bow up and waving it about, so the creatures behind him could see. "Whew, I thought he'd never let us stop. Classic or no classic, that bloomin' song goes on for ages!"

The army-cum-recruiting party of Guosim, Branchbounders, and Redwallers had steadily continued to wend its way northward over the last couple days . They had left the northernmost fringe of Mossflower behind some hours since, and were now making their way over the barren Northwestern Flatlands towards the coast. As Walldoh had predicted, there was a fair number of creatures who were more than willing to go to war against the Ranks; so far, they had added to their numbers a large family of moles with clubs, a small holt of otters with javelins, and numerous nomadic or solitary beasts like Thundro who wanted a share in the adventure. It was the otters who had suggested the singing; as the army was still looking for new recruits, Billeo had suggested the traditional but somewhat repetitive call-to-arms that had just been sung.

Shermy was still humming the lively air; he gave Raggle a push. "Oh, come off it, old scout; I thought it was rather fun, actually. Matter of fact, I've just composed me own verse, wot!"

"When we win wars, as we'll surely do,
We'll get medals; scads of ribbons, too!
An' the cook will fix us lots o' scoff,
Er.......Rumpity tumpitty, doodly-doo de

He looked at the other creatures, who had broken into sniggers. "I say, what rhymes with 'Scoff'?"

Before anybeast could answer, a sweet, melodic blast from Billeo's horn called the entire column to a halt. Ayeriss and Thundro were bringing up the rear; the former waggled a paw in her ringing ears. "Dratted thing. Well, what is it this time?"

Squirt was seated atop Thundro's haversack; he could see all the way to the front. The otterbabe pointed. "Dip'tail's comin' back, see?"

The falcon had been sent ahead to pick up Dankfur's trail, along with Sy Stoneclaw and a small band of Guosim shrews. He now returned alone, swooping low over the crowd and pulling up for a landing atop a nearby boulder. Walldoh hailed him. "What news might ye be bringin' us, bird?"

Dippertail, after a few day's proper feeding and Shermy's expert care to his wounds, had almost made a full recovery. He pointed in a northwesterly direction with his wing. "Heeekah, the trail has been found! It heads west, but then veers off sharply to the north. Kyeeeeeeeee, methinks they are running full speed ahead; the trail is such that even a blindbeast.....beg pardon, fox....could follow it."

Walldoh grinned. "Sure, an' t'is good news indeed. Lead the way!"

Dippertail took off again, flying more slowly and closer to the ground than was his wont. The rest of the band followed at a quick jog behind him; as Scaleflier had once said, keeping up with a falcon, even a slow-flying one, was no easy task.

The Northwstern Flatlands were "flat lands" in name only. The area was treeless, and almost entirely devoid of any plant growth save scrub grass, small shrubs, and the occasional flower; however, it was a rippling mass of hillocks and ditches, with several small streams running through it and black boulders of varying sizes dotting it thickly.

It was behind a large specimen of such a boulder, rising like a miniature monotlith from the valley, that the first gruesome discovery of the day was made. The older Krozfoxx who had died from exhaustion was slumped against it, his face and body contorted grotesquely as if he had died in the grip of some plague or malady. Seeing several creatures grimace and shrink back, Dippertail, who had spotted him long since, reassured them. "Kyeeeeeer, ye won't catch anything from him. His heart failed him, I should guess."

Log-a-Log Yik kicked the huddled mass of patched fur, rolling it over. "Aye, an' he must've been running like fury. Lookit the terrible state of 'is paws; an' 'is nose was bleedin', too, if'n 'is clothes speak true. 'E died of runnin', sure enough."

Shermy examined the body, and confirmed Yik's diagnosis. "Right first time, wot! Y'know, I wonder what he was fleein' from; he jolly well must have been goin' like the clappers for hours, t'get himself into this state."

Murmurs of speculation broke out; Billeo, Walldoh, and Yik were forced to shout to restore order. "Silence in the ranks there; enough time for discussion when we hear the scout's report. Foward march!"

Originally, the column of warriors had been marching eight-abreast; however, Dippertail's directions had now led them to a particularly narrow and muddy ravine filled with briars, and the band was forced to disorganize itself as little groups of creatures fended their own way through it. Sy hailed the struggling creatures from a hilltop, just as they emerged out the other end, about an hour or so later. "Up here, friends; up here!"

Wet, sticky, and pulling out embedded thorns, the now unhappy army of goodbeasts trudged wearily up the steep slope. The hilltop posessed a large, round depression, as if some primeval beast had scooped part of it off with a spoon. The now-obvious trail of pawtracks and serpent marks led into it, where it was quite plain a camp had been pitched some little time earlier.

As the shrew trackers cast about for more clues, Sy pointed about with one of her big scimitars, identifying the signs they had already uncovered to the rest of the band. "Scraps of fruit, fish, and vegetables; bloody pawtracks; campfire scars; bits of leaf bandages and a couple small bones - probably off Krozfoxx body ornaments. Also this...."

She held up what looked like a large blanket, badly stained, with several rips in it and quite a lot of food scraps adhering to it. Tings, having helped many times in her life in the Redwall Kitchens, identified it immediately. "How on earth did they get ahold of an old tablecloth out here?"

The wildcat's voice was calm, but concerned. "I don't know, but that's not what really worries me. Look here, and here....." She jabbed a claw at the biggest stains. "These aren't wine or ale."

The stains remarked upon were an ominous rusty color. Raggle drew back a pace; he was not looking well. "Blood?"

Sy nodded grimly. "I'm afraid so. It could be that somebeast tried to staunch bleeding footpaws with it, though I have to say that seems unlikely. There's just too much there. "

A short, worried silence fell; everybeast knew this probably meant something bad, but nobeast felt like saying it aloud. Squirt, not fully grasping the situation because he had been looking elsewhere, tugged on Thundro's ear to get his attention. He had intended to whisper, but babes are not always good judges of volume; almost everybeast heard his question quite clearly.

"Mista T'undro, where da ol' blinded fosker go?"

Sure enough, the ancient Krozfoxx magician was nowhere in sight; somehow, in the hasty, disorganized scramble to get out of the muddy ditch and onto the hillside, the old one had been temporarily forgotten.

Once this fact had been confirmed, Billeo gave a sigh of exhasperation. "Well, that tears it. What do we do; go back an' look for the old feller, or leave 'im?"

Immediately, a dispute broke out, as opinions were rather sharply divided on this issue. Some (mostly Guosim and Otters) considered all vermin no great loss; however, others (mostly Redwallers and Moles) felt that kindness should be shown to all peaceable beasts, whatever the species.

"Ain't like he's one of ours."

"Oh, leave 'im t'rot; why should we care?"

"I say, that's rather harsh, wot!"

"Sure, an' what'd he ever do to ye?"

"I say we go on; he's only a fox after all."

"An' Oi say shutt ee mouf, if ee b'aint got nuthin' noice t'say!"

"Why are we even wastin' time here when we should be..?"

"We gotta find da funny ol' fosker, dat's why, silly!"

"Shuddup, liddle pipsqueak! Why they ever brung ye along..."

"Hoi, otter, ye'd best pick on somebeast yer own size! Cummon, step close an' say that agin, I dare ye!"

Blam! Clang! Blam! Clang!

"Stoppit! Stop this right now!"

A lull fell as most of the creatures, startled by the noise, ceased arguing and looked at Sy Stoneclaw.

The wildcat put down the shield she had been banging on a nearby boulder. Her tail flicked angrily as she pointed an accusing claw at the assembly. "I'm ashamed of you all, I really am. We're supposed to be the goodbeasts, remember?" She gestured nortward. "The enemy is out there; that's who we should be opposing. And, as Log-a-Log said, we're wasting time bickering here. Now cease this stupidity immediately!"

As per usual, nobeast dared oppose the big, scarred hulk of a cat with the two outsized scimitars; especially not when she was in a mood like this. Hasty apologies were muttered as the tribe leaders got their creatures back in line; Sy relaxed her rigid pose, allowing a small smile. "Thank you. Dippertail, you and Shermy go look for Zaikee. The rest of you wait here with me; if they aren't back within the hour, we'll start to march again. Dippertail can track us easily."

It was a sound plan; a few of the more irritable beasts grumbled a bit, but no one had any real objection. As the hare and falcon descended into the ravine again, Sy took Walldoh and Yik aside. "My apologies for usurping your authority there, friends; I got so upset I forgot my place. I hope you'll forgive me."

The Dormouse shrugged. "Sure, an' somebeast had t'stop it afore a proper barney broke out."

Log-a-Log agreed, nodding towards the still-sulking army. "Aye, better yew than me trying t'quiet that lot at once. Don't worry missy, we ain't complainin'."

Dippertail flew ahead of Shermy, scanning the ditch with his powerful eyes. The young hare cupped his intact paw to his mouth. "I say, Zaikee old thing! Give us a shout, wot; we can't find ye in this bloomin mess!"

No response came; Dippertail flew back, perching on a thick briar stem. "Heeeeeekah, methinks he's long gone. Even I cannot trace him, and that's saying something."

Shermy felt terrible; as the only fully-trained healer, he had considered the oldbeast his responsibility. He snapped irriatably at his companion. "Well, we can't jolly well leave him to perish in this foul place, can we? Poor old thing, he's never done anything t'deserve a death like...."


The eerie shriek was undoubtedly Zaikee's; moreover, it sounded very close by. Shermy took off at a sprint towards the noise. "This way!"

Dippertail waddled behind him, muttering in disbelief. "Kyyyaar, t'is not possible, I saw no signs over there!"

Zaikee continued to scream; something must have frightened him badly. Shermy looked back but continued to run, waving his hook over his shoulder. "Hurry up, old thing, we yipe!!!

With a yelp, he disappeared from view, crunching through a briar bush and sliding down a hitherto-concealed muddy tunnel. The thick profusion of broken brambles about the hole had kept even Dippertail from noticing it, for there were many other broken briars from the army's march through the morass earlier.

Shermy came to rest with a bump on a suprisingly solid floor of earth and stone. It was almost pitch black; when the hare could get his bearings, he realized it was a large one-room dwelling of some sort. He could only just barely make out the shape of Zaikee, who had ceased to scream but was backed up against the far wall, muttering and chanting ominous-sounding nonsense syllables to himself.

Dippertail poked his head into the opening, calling down. "Yieeer, did ye find him?"

Shermy, groping along the wall towards the fox, felt his paws come into contact with a torch. "Aye, he's here; must have fallen in, wot! Just a tick while I light this..."

Producing a tinderbox from his traveling pack, the hare set flame to the torch, sliding it through his hook and holding it up. "Now let's see what....OH!" here he stopped, inhaling sharply.

Dippertail's voice again echoed in the gloom. "Kyeee, what is it, are ye hurt?"

Shermy didn't answer. When he did, it was a low, sickly moan of horror. "Oh, corks....."

Unable to contain his curiosity, Dippertail squeezed his bulk through the hole, slithering in an ungainly jumble of feathers to the bottom. Immediately, he too leapt back with a gasp, apalled by the horiffic sight that met his eyes.

The blood-red sunset cast long, black shadows from the hilltops and boulders. Clustered at the edge of the ditch, the army of beasts conversed in hushed tones. Tings leaned over and whispered into Raggle's ear.

"What happened, anybeast know?"

Raggle was honing Martin's sword on a rock; he gestured towards the ditch with it. "It looks like they found another deadbeast t'me."

Tings nodded. "That must be it. I suppose it must have been pretty horrid, to warrant all of us coming back here."

Raggle pointed over his shoulder, where an ashen-faced Shermy was sitting, staring blankly at the sunset. "Well, whatever it was, we'll soon know. I doubt we'll want to; I mean, Shermy's a healer, so he's seen the worst in that last battle already, but it seems to have even upset him badly."

Tings spotted an unusually subdued Dippertail sitting nearby; she hailed him. "Dippertail, what's going on down...."

"Shhh, look!" Raggle stopped her.

Sy had emerged from the hole, carrying a small bundle wrapped in the stained tablecloth. Her expression was blank and ashen, just like Shermy's, as tears rolled unchecked from her good eye. As she slowly paced out into the open, the rest of the army ceased talking and waited expectantly. Walldoh, Yik, Wardah, and Billeo followed behind her; behind them came Granfer Drumm (the leader of the moles), and Skipper Nelumbo (the leader of the otters). Seeing Squirt standing among the assembled beasts, Nelumbo shouted up to them. "Hoi! Somebeast git that liddle 'un out of here!"

Dippertail obliged, offering Squirt a ride on his broad feathered back while he flew off on a new patrol. When they were out of sight, Nelumbo addressed the army at large.

"I suppose ye lot want t'know what's going on. Well, what ol' Zaikee found down there don't bear thinkin' about, but it happened just the same. That there hole was a dwellin' place of bankvoles; at least, it was before the vermin' came through. The place 'ad been ransacked an' looted, an' some of the poor voles wound up as snake or marten food. Ye shrews know what that means; Yik sez ye've seen th' results afore. All the rest of ye need t'know is that, what liddle was left of 'em, we're going t'give a decent burial to in the dry ground. But that ain't the worst part." His voice shook with sudden emotion. "There were two liddle 'uns, one of 'em not even a season old. They must've been too small t'bother feedin' t'the snake, because...because...." The big otter could not bring himself to continue; he shook with stifled sobs.

Ayeriss Pinspikes let out a heart-rending wail. "No! Oh no! Say it ain't true, I beg ye!"

Log-a-Log Yik was made of sterner stuff, though even he seemed to be badly shaken. He went straight to the point, in his usual gruff manner. "Aye, they're dead, both of 'em. Tied up an' used for arrer practice by th' scum. One's got three shafts still in 'im."

A wave of horror and revulsion swept through the army of goodbeasts at the unspeakable cruelty. Many were too shocked to react; others wept openly, and more than a few looked as though they might very soon be sick.

Sy's voice was a low, shaking growl. It was difficult at first to tell if she was talking to the assembly, or to herself. " Kittens, dozens of them, lie dead on the shores of my home; a young hogmaiden, barely of toddling age, lies buried in Redwall's cemetery. Their deaths are inexcusable, but at least they were killed in conquest, or under orders. But this....." She took a deep, shuddering breath before continuing, her words coming faster and louder. "This is an atrocity for which there is no curse or censure strong enough, in any language known to us. Two young lives, one barely even begun, snuffed out to amuse some foodscout's bloodthirsty whim. They were killed for fun. D'ye hear me? FUN!"

She was snarling now; that loud, terrifying, shrieking snarl that is characteristic of the feline species. " Now ye know exactly why they must be stopped; now ye know why the Black Shade and his followers must be wiped from these lands! This is what they do; these atrocities are what they live and breathe and exist for! I swear, if I ever get my paws on the demon that did this, I'll take him and....and I'll......"

She broke down then. Collapsing to her knees, she commenced sobbing her heart out, hugging the little bundle close to her as she rocked back and forth. There was not a single eye in the assembly that was dry; nobeast had ever seen Sy prostrated with grief before.

Yik took charge of the situation; he gestured to a few of his shrews. "Dribble, Ringo, bury that bundle decentlike somewhere out of sight. Granfer Drumm, will ye lend 'em a paw?"

The mole leader scrubbed his eyes with his digging claw. "Surpently, Zurr. Follow Oi, gennelbeasts."

The old mole relieved Sy of her burden and trundled off towards the dry end of the ditch, the two shrews in his wake. Yik pointed to the others. "Group leaders, get everybeast back in line. When Drumm gets back, we march until dawn straight north. No songs or talkin', an' no more recruitin', neither until we gets t'the coast. We ain't wastin' any more time."

Walldoh looked as if he were going to say something in objection; however, after judging the current mood of the creatures about, he decided it would be better to wait until later. As if to emphasize the point, Ayeriss spoke up, her eyes shining red with weeping and rage. "Aye, lets be off afore those murderers git away from us!"

The column was fully formed by the time the burial party came back; they set off without another word, marching silently but relentlessly northward.

Billeo had declined the position of line leader to Sy this time; he and Raggle (who felt a bit ill himself) were supporting an ill and fainting Tings between them at the back of the group. Walldoh and Shermy also hung back, the former because his injured paw was bothering him, and the latter guiding Zaikee - now with a rope halter about his neck - across the more treacherous bits of rocky ground.

After a while, Billeo whispered something to his Chieftain. "Er, Boss, don't you think we should tell them about the Great Marshlands up ahead?"

Walldoh deliberately trod on the woodmouse's tail to shut him up. " It'll keep. There's no use startin' any arguments as t'route at present; we've a ways t'be goin' yet."

Shermy had only caught the last few words of the remark; he muttered, "Hope we bally well get there before some other evilbeast causes havoc!"

Enzi Grexx and his followers were, at that moment, planning to do exactly that. Having been shown the hole in the blackberry thicket by Twotail, the wolf had sent Sisserah down it to investigate, and then called his ranks to assemble near the thicket.

After several hours of waiting, the adder came back out of the caverns. She curled at the Black Shade's paws in a submissive manner. "I bring newssssssss, Massssssssster."

The wolf leaned in eagerly; Sisserah drew back from his fearsome masked face nervously. "Well?"

The adder gestured with her head towards the hole. "It issssss asssss you thought, Masssssssster. The sssssssearat had no sssssssensssse of direction; it needn't have taken three daysssssss at all. I tracked the sssssssssshortesssssst route by following the ssssscent of batbeassssssts; there musssst be a few living in the cavessssss. It will take ussss ssssssserpents about an hour to reach the main cavernssssssss, probably."

Enzi Grexx smiled slowly, showing his great fangs. "Perfect. You know what to do; take your squadron and attack. We'll be waiting up here."

Sisserah bowed her head. "Yessssss, masssssster." To the other serpents, she beckoned with her tail. "Come!"

As the legion of scaly bodies proceeded in single file down the cavern in pursuit of their leader, the wolf addressed the rest of his army, who were by now very curious as to what was going on.

"Listen well, scum! Until this point, my master plan has been known only to four beasts; myself, Dankfur, and his two sons. I am only sharing it with you now to simplify things, in view of the precarious circumstances that have arisen. Not because you need to know, mind; it is your job to obey unto death and not ask questions."

"We did capture those farmbeasts as slaves to work our food fields, and also to try to convert some strongbeasts of their numbers to our side, as I commanded. However, that was not the main purpose I had in mind. Put simply, the Ranks are going to expand their territory into some of the more pleasant southern lands, where the food is plentiful. I have heard many warnings, as have you, of the great strongholds in the south, such as Redwall Abbey and Salamandastron."

Immediate gasps and murmurs broke out at the mention of the feared names; the wolf was forced to shout to be heard. "Stop, shut up! I did not say you could speak; nor did I say we are going to attack those strongholds....yet! What we are going to do, after we have the captives back, is march for the wooded area I believe is called Mossflower. There are various tribes there that need subduing; our adders and serpents can take care of that. We will then march upon whichever stronghold is nearest (I do not know which; we can torture it out of some captive). We can then use our captives as part of an ultimatum; flee while you still have lives, or watch these die, youngest first. I do not mean this as idle threats, either; we will quite literally start slaying captives immediately if they do not surrender. These southern beasts are all offensively loyal and chivalrous; they'll do anything to save a fellow creature, even if it's actually rather stupid. And besides, like I said, we have the advantage of owning a horde of poisonous serpents."

He paused for a moment while this sank in. It was a feasable plan; actually, the first feasable plan to conquer the southlands any of them had ever heard. A few began grinning evilly at the thought of the slaughter; Enzi Grexx, realizing this as a sign that they had caught on, continued. "Now that we have that sorted, back to the business at hand. Gatlak, take one-third of the Ranks back to the waterfall. Zalbu, take another third and scour the area between here and the waterfall for the ceiling hole the rat mentioned. It will probably be a concealed one so look carefully. The rest, remain here with me. When Sisserah goes to capture our slaves back, some will probably try to flee; if they do manage to get out we need to be ready to intercept them. In the unlikely event any bats come flying out, kill them; it'd be a nuisance having a cloud of panicked wingmice flapping around our heads."

Gatlak and Zalbu saluted. "Aye, Cap'n! Company, form ranks! Foward March!"

They went their seperate ways; the wolf and his crew settled down by the blackberry thicket to wait. Moonclaw, the big troll-like ferret, prodded the earth with her spear moodily. "I hates waitin'; t'is shoopid. Ain't we got somethin' t' do?"

She quailed when the adderfang spear pushed beneath her throat. "Perhaps you'd like to wait here for the rest of your life. It can be arranged, you know!"

Moonclaw took the hint, stumping off sulkily. The rest were suprised she had gotten off so easily; however, they held their peace. The Black Shade began polishing the points of his beloved weapon, muttering under his breath to it. "Don't worry, my lovely, you'll get a chance at her later. Don't want to ruin morale right now, do we?"

<---Last Chapter --- Next Chapter --->