Cover art by ForrestFighter
Back at Redwall Abbey, a delicious and much-anticipated supper had been laid out in Cavern Hole. Friar Dimp and the Kitchen staff were obviously trying to make up for the missed luncheon and afternoon tea; from end to end the tables were lined with a bewildering variety of delicacies. There were apple, pear, and cherry flans, all topped with honey and meadowcream; fresh scones, piping hot from the oven, with every conceivable type of jam or preserve alongside; at least a dozen puddings, all of different sizes and consistencies; roasted chestnuts, with melted cheese for dipping; three kinds of soup (spring vegetable, watershrimp-and-hotroot, and wild onion); an enormous Deeper'n'Ever Turnip'n'Tater'n'Beetroot Pie for the moles; and, as Tings had predicted, some of Friar Dimp's secret-recipe mushroom pasties, which had been a Redwall dinner staple ever since the tubby squirrel had accepted the position as head cook. Thoughtfully, Jorty Cellarmole had warmed some mint tea and apple cider to serve alongside the meal; several creatures were still sniffling and sneezing a bit after the ordeal on the rooftops. It was a feast fit to tempt even the most picky of eaters; however, none of the creatures sitting around had started eating yet, as they were politely waiting for the last empty places at table to be filled. Unfortunately, the ones missing were the Dibbuns, who were in the process of being bathed by Sister Flim and the Abbess; depending upon how rowdy a mood the abbeybabes were in, this task could quite easily last over an hour.
Shermy wiped a paw across his mouth hurriedly, hoping his friends hadn't noticed him drooling; he, like most hares, was possessed of a mighty appetite. "I say, that giant hazelnut pudd looks scrumptious, wot!"
Raggle nodded. "Aye, and I'd wager you could eat the entire thing yoreself, given the chance."
Shermy did not argue the point. "There's a wager you'd most definitely win, old chap. I'm flippin' famished!"
Tings stifled a giggle, whispering in the hare's ear. "You're not the only one. Look at Skipper; he can't keep his paws and rudder still, he's so impatient." She stole a glance at the doorway. "I wonder how much longer we've got to wait?"
This question was answered by a shrill squealing noise as the room was suddenly invaded by a horde of freshly bathed and clean-smocked Dibbuns, every last one of them screaming in delight at the long-awaited sight of food. Brother Willow covered his ears, raising his voice to a shout to be heard over the din. "Why doesn't someone control those little nuisances? This is worse than being in the cellars!"
Foremole Aggit muttered under his breath. "Burr, as oi rekkeleck, you'm made more noise than ee likkle 'uns doawn thurr."
Abbess Saffron and Sister Flim entered the room. The Sister was gently ushering a wide-eyed, bewildered kitten in front of her; the Abbess had a much younger one cradled fast-asleep in her paws. As if by magic, all noise ceased, as every head turned to look upon the newcomers. Many Redwallers, especially the young ones, had never seen so much as a picture of a wildcat before. There was an awkward silence for a few moments; Brother Willow, as per usual, broke it.
"I suppose the bigbeast in the infirmary is a cat, too?" Upon seeing a few otherbeasts nod the affirmative, Willow huffed irritably. Well, this is certainly a fine state of affairs. Somebeast could have told me our 'guests' were vermin!"
Immediate cries of reproach rang out from the other beasts in the room. Sister Flim was frankly mortified; she covered her charge's ears. "Brother Willow! How dare you say a thing like that to a babe!"
Willow did not seem to think he had said anything wrong; he attempted to justify his remark. "Wildcats have always been classified as enemies, our historical records state that quite clearly." He adressed the company about him. "Those who've been to Abbey School should recall the dreaded names- Ungatt Trunn, who attempted to conquer the southern shores long before the Abbey was built; Verdauga Greeneyes, who ruled and oppressed Mossflower for many seasons; Tsarmina Greeneyes, his daughter, who nearly slew Martin the Warrior; Riggu Felis, whom the famed otterqueen Tiria Wildlough sailed away from the Abbey to battle. I stand by what I've said; babes they may be, but they're vermin, all right - just like the big 'un upstairs!"
Further cries of recrimination broke out. Tings and Shermy had to restrain Raggle from leaping across the table and attacking Brother Willow with his claws; the young squirrel was almost chattering with rage. "Liar! Sy nearly got killed saving Tings' life, and you call her a vermin!"
Shermy agreed with him. "I say, that is a bit strong, Willow, old chap. You don't even know the creature, and you've already judged her, wot!"
Dippertail contributed his opinion; he had been to Abbey School when he was a chick. "Yieeeer, what about Gingivere Greeneyes, Tsarmina's Brother? He and his wife Sandingomm were friends of the Abbey, as I recall."
Brother Willow looked as if he had been waiting for somebeast to say this; he wagged a claw, smiling condescendingly at the falcon. "Ah, but they were unusual beasts, and the only of their kind, I should say. Besides, their line died out with Squire Julian Gingivere, in the time of Matthias the warrior."
Fresh arguments arose, filling the room with ill-humoured clamor. Abbess Saffron had taken quite enough; passing the infant kitten to Sister Flim, she leapt nimbly upon the largest dining table, holding up both paws for silence and addressing the astonished company sternly. "Please, friends! This is no way for decent creatures to behave; especially not at mealtimes!" A hush fell over the room; Saffron addressed Brother Willow. "I cannot force you to change your opinion, friend, but, as Shermy said, it is not just or fair to judge a creature - ANY creature - before giving them a chance. Please bear his advice in mind in the future. "
Brother Willow would never admit that any creature, especially a youngbeast, could be right where he was wrong. He shrugged sulkily. "As you wish, Abbess."
"Thank you, Brother." Saffron turned to the rest of her creatures. "As for the rest of you, I wish this discussion to be closed at once. We are here to welcome our two new Dibbuns and to have a good time, not to argue amongst ourselves or cause bad feeling." She descended from the table, all eyes watching her in guilty silence. Accepting the slumbering babe back from Sister Flim, she settled herself into a chair. There was a pause, then the Abbess grinned, gesturing to Friar Dimp and his assistants. "Well, what are you waiting for, friends? Serve the soup! I'm practically starving!"
There was an outburst of laughter from the creatures present, then the meal progressed full-swing. Friar Dimp winked cheerily at the Abbess as he ladled her a serving of her favorite wild onion broth. "Well done, Ronny; that cleared the matter up nicely, I think."
Saffron smiled. Dimp was her brother, and five seasons her senior; he always referred to her by the pet name Ronny. "It would certainly seem so. Oh dear, all the Dibbuns are trying to feed Speedwell at once. Silly little things, I suppose they mean well."
Dimp chuckled. "He certainly doesn't seem too put out, does he?"
Speedwell, a ginger tabby kitten, was vigorously attacking a serving of hazelnut pudding, whilst appraising with his eyes the various dishes pressed upon him by the eager abbeybabes.
"Yurr, troi summ veggibul zoop, it bees vurry tasty!"
"Biddee favorite be scones an' blackerbee jam, you try it!"
"Eat up alla dat puddin, make y'grow big n' strong."
"Unka Dimp allus make 'shroomy pasty, it yummy delisheeus!"
Skipper noticed that the other kitten, Rivereye, had awakened and was trying to get at the food. He fished a watershrimp from his bowl of soup, passing it to the babe. "Eat hearty, liddle matey, there's plenny where that came from."
The kitten, an albino with blue eyes, practically inhaled the morsel. Skipper chuckled, passing him another shrimp. "Nothin' wrong with that 'uns appetite, that's fer sure. I think he'll settle right in here, won't ye, matey? Yeowch! Eat the shrimp, not me paw!"
Laughter echoed round Cavern Hole yet again. Only Brother Willow remained silent, sulkily and resentfully glaring at the two young cats recieving such a warm welcome from his fellow Abbeybeasts.