Cover art by ForrestFighter
By the time the darkness of night had fallen on Mossflower Woods, the rain had completely stopped; the clouds still lingered overhead, rumbling quietly with distant thunder. Water continued to drip from the saturated leaves of the trees, creating a monotonous, musical plinking noise as the droplets splashed into the countless puddles on the ground. It was a gloomy place to be at midnight, the woodlands after a rainstorm; however, there were few creatures about to remark upon this fact, as most of the wooddwellers were safely abed.
There was one creature, at least, who was awake to observe the unnerving darkness. Jettcoil, the mighty blacksnake, was not in the best of moods as he half-slithered, half-swam his way through the deluged woodlands. Though he had been raised on board a ship, and was an excellent swimmer, the enormous reptile was not very fond of water and was becoming increasingly annoyed as his search turned up nothing but more puddles and mud holes to fight through. His annoyance, however, was focused on the cats and not on his master Dankfur, whose cruel treatment had almost hypnotized the serpent into believing he could not disobey the marten.
His mate, the even larger blacksnake Whiptail, met up with him as he transversed a fallen log. Dropping the woodpigeon carcass she carried in her mouth, she flicked her tongue lazily. "Ssssssssssso, my husssssband, how goessss your sssssssearch?"
Jettcoil flailed the end of his body angrily, snapping several low bush branches. "It isssssss no good. The trailssssss, they are all falsssssse! No ssssssign or sssssscent at all in these accursssssed woodsssssss, none!" He collapsed limpy, panting with the exertion.
Whiptail nosed the woodpigeon across the log. "Eat, I have already delivered the mate and eggsssss of this one to the masssster. He sssssssent me to assssssissssst you." As her mate devoured his grisly meal, Whiptail flicked her blue-black tounge out again, smelling the damp woodland air. Her shining yellow eyes lit up with an evil gleam. "Miccccccce, I sssssmell many miccccce and sssssquirrels!"
Jettcoil mumbled grumpily around a full mouth, "Mmmmmffff, the entire woodsssss sssssstink of thossssse hereaboutssssss. We ssssshould sssseek catsssssss, not rodent sssssscum!"
Whiptail sniffed the air again. "Yessssss, but consssssider, the catsssss were injured lassssst we sssscented them. Perhapssssss they have sssssought sssshelter with the wood-dwellerssssss."
Swallowing the rest of the woodpigeon whole, Jettcoil pondered her words for a moment. "It isssss a thought, that." He descended from the log, beckoning to his mate with his head. "Come! Let ussss ssssee where the ssscent will lead, if for no other reasssson than to ssssssatisfy our curiosssssssity. Mayhapsssss we will find the trail of the catsssss, asssss well."
Furze Pinspikes and his wife, Teezl, had been the Abbey Gatekeepers longer than anybeast cared to recall. They also had the largest family in Redwall Abbey; thirteen little ones total, with one more on the way. Though the Dibbun-aged members of the brood slept inside the dormitories, the majority of the Pinspikes family spent their evenings in the gatehouse, a small but comfy dwelling that jutted from the inside of the wall next to the main doors of the Abbey. It was a tight squeeze, but the hogfamily did not seem to mind; in fact, the youngest ones dreamed of the day when they would be cosidered mature enough to be promoted to join their parents and older siblings on guard duty.
The system the Pinspikes family had worked out was simple; every night, a different one of them kept watch on the walltops over the gate, while the others slept in the many armchairs, hammocks, and couches in the gatehouse. There had not been a threat of vermin invasion for many seasons now, but, as the Pinspikeses figured, there was no point in taking chances. This night, watch duty had fallen to the eldest Pinspikes daughter, a burly hog by the name of Ayeriss. Every Pinspikes took his or her duty very seriously; especially so tonight, with one of the gates hanging shattered and useless by just one hinge. Gripping a stout window pole, Ayeriss stared grimly at the bleak path beneath her, watching for signs of foes; gruffly muttering dire threats to potential invaders under her breath, as was her wont.
"Cummon, yew robbers, jus' yew try an' get in here, I dares yeh. Ho boy, would I like t'see yeh try. I'd give yew sech a drummin' wi' me stave ye'd weep 'til autumn come, by 'eck I would. Then I'd yell 'til the Abbey shook so's Skipper'd cummout an' beat yeh s'more. Cummon, show your lousy faces, I dares yeh...."
At that moment, the moon broke free of the clouds; as if rejoicing in its freedom, it shone a bright beam of light on the scene below, illuminating it in rich blues and purples. Ayeriss caught her breath; something large was moving in the deep, weed-filled ditch that ran parallell to the wall some distance off. She gripped her pole even tighter, swallowing hard. Putting on a brave swagger, she called gruffly into the night. "Who goes there? If yeh be friends, cummon out, I won't harm ye. Woe be it to ye if yore foes, though. Cummon, quit sneakin' in that muddy hole and walk on the path like a beast witha grain o' sense!"
The enormous, ugly black head of Jettcoil arose from the ditch; Ayeriss blanched, suddenly turned speechless with fright, as the serpent unhurriedly wound his way onto the path. Coil after seemingly endless coil, the gigantic reptile emerged into full view in the patch of moonlight. Rearing nearly a third of his long body off the ground, until he stood nearly twice the height of a grown badger, Jettcoil hissed savagely at the sentry hog. "Where are the catsssss? We have followed their ssssscent to thisssss redssssstone housssssse; tell usssssss!"
Ayeriss could no more answer the hideous apparition than fly to the moon; with a groan, she swooned backwards onto the parapet stairs, bouncing all the way down to the grounds, where she lay, out cold.
Whiptail, still concealed in the ditch, bit her mate savagely on the tail. "Fool! You have frightened the ssssssspikedog, you sssssshould not have left the ditch! Now the wood-dwellersssss know of our presenssssssssse!”
Jettcoil knew his haste had been untimely; he slid back into the mud with an angry hiss. “Never mind, it isssss too late now; we musssst report back to masssster that we have found the catsssss at lasssssst!”
Shermy, Raggle and Tings had decided not to sleep in the dormitories, wishing to keep Siyuzin Stoneclaw company, and to be on hand should she need anything. Grandmum Dawbil had agreed, reasoning that there were plenty of empty beds in the sickbay at present. Rivereye, the younger kitten, had been taken to the Dibbuns’ dormitory; his older brother Speedwell, however, had refused to go, and had accompanied the trio of young ones to his cousin’s room. Though it was well after midnight, and they were all weary, none of the four could seem to get to sleep after the day’s excitement. Accordingly, they sat awake, conversing in hushed tones so as not to awaken the resting giant wildcat; or Grandmum Dawbil, snoring in the chair beside her.
Yawning, Shermy addressed the younger cat. “I say, Speedwell old thing, why don’t you tell us a bedtime story, wot? Help us to get some shuteye, doncha know.”
The cat Dibbun shook his head. “Not know bedtime stories. Sy tell alla bedtime stories.”
Raggle shook his head. “Shame on you, asking the babe to do all the work. You tell the story, Shermy.”
The leveret drooped his ears comically. “That’s a bit of a tall order, sir; I’m more a singer than a storyteller, y’know.”
Raggle lobbed a pillow at his friend. “So sing us a lullabye then, puddenhead!”
The young hare threw the pillow back halfheartedly: Raggle easily ducked it. “Shan’t! I asked for the blinkin’ entertainment first, old chap.”
Speedwell giggled as Tings intercepted Raggle’s return throw. “Oh, stop it, you sillies. Here, I’ll sing the song.
She launched into an old Abbey lullabye, being careful not to raise her voice.
“When sunset tinges woodlands gold,
Find me there, my friend.
We’ll walk along the path together
As the day doth end.
We’ll follow trails the moonbeams mark,
O come with me, my friend,
We’ll follow streams turned liquid silver,
As the day doth end.
For I, the sprite of Slumber deep,
Will keep you safe, my friend,
As we transverse the realm of Dreamland,
As the day doth end.
And when the sun shall rise again,
Our ways will part, my friend;
But you shall meet me every evening,
As the day doth end.
Then, once again, we’ll roam together,
Just you and I, my friend,
By paths of gold and streams of silver
As the the day doth end.”
The haunting, gentle melody had its effect; even Tings drifted off to sleep as the song ended. As Shermy slept, he was visited once again by Martin the Warrior. Seeing the heroic figure appear in his dream, the young hare smiled. “Hello again, wot.”
Martin smiled as well, a gentle, fatherly smile. “The Abbey is a place of peace, but in the days to come you must be brave, for strong warriors will be needed. Tell your friends this.”
Shermy was suprised. “Certainly I will, but might I ask why, old chap?”
But the vision of Martin had already faded; as Tings had described in the lullabye, Shermy found himself walking pleasantly through the peaceful forest of dreams, beside a silver river.