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Grath Longfletch is my all-time favorite Redwall character. She’s an archer, an otter and has a great character. Therefore, the end of Pearls of Lutra always annoyed me; she expressed interest in going to Redwall Abbey. Whatever compelled her to stay with Inbar Trueflight at Ruddaring? Hopefully, a short story-like dive into her story should answer these questions.
Since this is largely based on and could be considered canon, I don't want to put the usual disclaimer.
Disclaimer: I do not own Grath or any circumstances from Pearls of Lutra.
Grath’s holt had never been completely raucous. While not exactly peaceful, they were more laidback, collectors of unusual things, not just weapons for an arsenal. Their day to day lives were peaceful, yet busy. Their celebrations, while happy, had never been as boisterous as the neighboring holts. It was a cheerful and homely place. The celebration after her coming-of-age contest was one of these quietly happy parties.
She was one of the youngest, having been born later, but she was still expected to do well. She had trained for weeks in advance, in strength, speed, various weaponry, and even intelligence (to be used in strategic situations as well as more scholarly ones). The following ceremony was where each otter would choose their own moniker to follow their first name, starting with the winners. The competition landed on a brisk spring day. She was faring fairly well until she fell behind during the weight-lifting section. More determined than upset, she had decided to fix things her own way. During the obstacle race, the next section, she had taken a, as far as she knew, legal shortcut. Due to several of the more dangerous, out of the way obstacles, as well as a few that probably actually weren’t part of it, she had nearly died. However, the rash action had been worth it. The slow, yet broad smile, spreading over her father’s face when she had emerged battered and filthy, but first, was something she knew she’d treasure forever. Her ma clasped her frail paws together, happy tears in her eyes, as the holt gathered around Grath, lifting her up and patting her on the back. It should have become a memory of pure joy, but was instead bittersweet. Ublaz Mad Eyes’ corsairs had come raiding that night.
During the first season after the attack, Grath had rested in memories. Some of before the raid, but most were of it, accosting her again and again with terrible nightmares. Close behind the memories came the feelings. Guilt, anger, regret and sadness had plagued her for the longest time; she knew they would never completely go away. If only the holt hadn’t been distracted by the ceremony. If only she had reached the holt’s arsenal sooner. Though just barely aware of her rescuers at first, she was grateful, but also resentful. Why hadn’t they saved the rest of her family and friends? Why had they saved her at all? When she heard the account of her rescue, her crawling through mud and barely surviving, she understood more, but she couldn’t shake a feeling of unworthiness. Suffering under the weighty feelings and questions, her fever and the indomitable nightmares, her first season of recovery had been dark.
Eventually, as she came back to reality, she realized that no good would come of dwelling on the incident. She needed to do something and a lot of actions required a lot of thought. While active, she had never been particularly talkative. Therefore, she was thankful when her hosts were similar, leaving her alone except for food, water and bandages. She thought, plotted, reasoned and strategized. The raiders had been corsairs, so they would be her target. She tried to remember more specific details of the accursed beasts, but, try as she might, the murky details slipped from her mind like water on glass. One fact, a name, did stick out in her mind: Ublaz Mad Eyes. Maybe it was the abnormality of it that had caused it to stay; nonetheless she was grateful for its presence. It narrowed down her search for revenge.
Because, try as she might, she knew the dark feelings would only lessen if she tried to atone for being alive while her family was dead. In her weak state, revenge at all seemed far-fetched, but she knew her moment would come. Still, certain things puzzled her that would aid her revenge if solved. Why had her holt been attacked? They had never been unnecessarily made war on otherbeasts. What could have caused the massacre? She pondered it for days, but finally pushed it into the back of her mind for a more fruitful thought process.
Revenge was nice and all, but would be pretty ineffective if she had no weapon. Despite her lack of battles, she knew enough about that sort of thing to fashion a longbow and arrows with the materials she had asked the male and female watervoles for. The work was soothing and helped her build up her gradually regained strength. During the waits required of the process, she started to do some of the exercises that she had trained with to win the contest. Slowly, with her plan forming, her strength returning and her weapon nearly done, she became confident. Corsairs worldwide better look out; Grath Longfletch would have her revenge!
Visiting the destruction of the once-proud, but still pleasant, Holt Lutra had brought several things home for her. The first and most painful was simply that she truly was the sole survivor. She had known the excursion would be rough, on her newly healed body and her psychosis, but actually seeing the slightly rotted, mangled carcasses of her family and friends was not something she ever wanted to wish on another beast. Memories overwhelmed her as did sadness. She had learned to walk right about over there, where one her friends, whom she considered an older brother, now rested forever headless. Her first stint with the bow and arrow had been near the wall where, horribly ironic, her mother was fallen, skewered with an arrow. Viewing the carnage and reliving the horrible night in her mind made her want to scream and lose her last meal at the same time. Instead, she decided to respect their memories by doing neither, nor crying as it wasn’t the time; kneeling by corpses, she closed their eyes and said a silent prayer over each otter she could find. Done, she stood silent for a moment; she knew the watervoles were waiting for her outside, having followed her, but she didn’t know if she was ready to leave and face them yet. Besides closing their eyes and performing last rites, she decided to close up the cavern.
“Goodbye.” Her cracked voice, unused for months and straining to hold back tears, rang hollow in the cave. “H’I loved you h’all ‘n’ will revenge ye. Just ye wait ‘n’ see. So, see ye on th’other side o’the Dark Forest gates Ah guess.” She gave the cave a last look, steeled herself then left to her task.
Sealing the cave definitely took longer than she had anticipated. She had to backtrack once or twice because of a mislaid stone or branch and got herself filthy throughout the process. But she relished the monotony of the work, the simple calculations it required and the chance to use her muscles again. The mud felt nice in her paws as she mixed it with the reeds and grass providing a simple therapeutic action on which to focus her thoughts. She largely ignored her silent audience; they had helped her so much already and she couldn’t ask them for help again. Besides, this was her personal tribute. After a lot of heavy-lifting, stretching and mixing, she finally finished near dawn.
A sense of finality, pride and loss boiled in her stomach as she looked at the cave, wiping a muddy paw across her forehead. With a sigh, she turned and dove soundlessly into the stream. Being in her element again was a much better reunion than her earlier one. She let the mud and plants fall off her as she twisted around, ignoring the twinge of cold water rushing over her scars. She now had a great multitude of scars where the skin under her fur had once been smooth. A part of her was glad that none were disfiguring, but she largely ignored it; there would be no future with males or anybeast who might admire her looks at least until her revenge was completed. This thought of revenge reminded her of the morning in the cave; in the water, her duty done, she felt that now would be befitting. She cried for the first, and hopefully last, time. Tears silently streamed down her face as she watched the sunrise that offered a new beginning.
The ocean seemed to be the place to find corsairs so that’s where she would head after bidding farewell to her hosts. As she picked her up weapon, she mentally calculated her meager belongings and realized something strange. The Tears of all Oceans which she had been accustomed to seeing on the mantelpiece in her holt, had not been there when she boarded it up. It didn’t surprise her that they might have been stolen; they were beautiful. However, she sensed a deeper meaning to the theft and it disconcerted her. Little did she know the great journey they had been on, almost rivaling the one she was about to embark on.
When she finally reached the shore, she was glad to find the crop of rocks that enabled her to see in all directions. The sound of waves reassured her and though she was still vigilant, she let the sound wash over her, cleansing her almost as much as her earlier bath. Eventually she realized that since she had time, she would have to make a decision. Though she had a plan, she hadn’t figured out how she would interact with other beasts. Corsairs were easy: kill on sight. But most beasts wouldn’t be like her hosts, silent and not asking questions. Though she was often quiet, two seasons of silence made her longing for more interaction. Since killing seabeasts would be her main goal, there was no need to hide it. When meeting new beasts, she could tell them her story before any questions were asked and then move on.
Satisfied with her decision, her eyes suddenly narrowed. The suspicious shape on the horizon that she had been watching had revealed itself. She grinned; it was a sail. Whether they were vermin or not, a boat was a good sign. A while later, when the boat was in clear view she shot her first arrow. The strong pull was familiar, but two seasons of sedentary recuperation had had their toll. While she had always been one of the best archers in her holt, even excellence required constant practice. The thunk of the arrow into the hull was ominous; her first shot at revenge had failed.
Her paws fluttered as she notched her second arrow, but her view was straight. A head peeked over the boat, her resolve hardened and she sent an arrow into the rag-covered rat. The fleshy grunt as it penetrated his torso was soft, satisfying and thirst-quenching all at once. She prepped another arrow as a tune popped into her head along with fitting words.
Many minutes later found her in control of her own vessel, remembering fond fishing trips with her holt. Though not in the best shape from years of ill-use, it was easy enough to figure out ropes and sails. Soon enough, she was out in the open sea. The smell of salt and brine flying her face as her fur ruffled wildly as well as the success of her recent endeavor; she had never felt more alive. The darks clouds in the distance did nothing to quench her excitement and she relished the first drops of rain. The coming storm merely exemplified the beauty of the falling sun and Grath was glad to be alive.
As the rain wore on into the night, her joy did not die, but she soon realized that she needed to dock for the night. Having only the faintest idea of her whereabouts, she steered for shore. Her mother’s words of a wise navigator filled her ears as she let a sail out here and secured objects elsewhere. Dark objects loomed ahead, their wet surfaces illuminated by the moon and her strong paws gripped the wheel. She was happy to land safely, but was not looking forward to a wet, cold night guarding her boat. And so the sound of the shrews was very welcome. The company was welcome as was their yummy food. The shrews did remind her of her size; her best friend at the holt had been shorter than her and constantly teased her. And yet, the reminder of her friend was nice. The shrews didn’t dwell too long on her morbid history, instead entertaining her with their history and a song. The Guosim would be good allies to have as well as nice companions on a long journey. She momentarily entertained the thought then shook it away. No, this was her fight and her quest alone; there was no need to endanger innocent beasts who had no part in it. Grath dismissed the thought and repaid their song with her “magic” trick. It was a trick she and one of her mates back home-she couldn’t use that terminology anymore, she realized somberly-from the holt had used to amuse the younger kits.
As she listened to the shrews falling asleep around her, she realized memories of the holt were coming more and more. Some she shared, others she kept to herself. Yet, the reminders didn’t make her sad. There was a lingering depression to them, of course, that would probably never leave, but they were more fond facts. Being the last of Holt Lutra was a part of her now and she was starting to accept it. With this happier thought, she fell into a restful sleep.
It was several days later that Grath finally got the chance to meet up with corsairs again. The shrews had done her a great favor of patching up her longboat, though she wasn’t quite sure how they managed to do much work if she was stronger than six together. She hadn’t been lying when she had said that she would never forget them; it must have been a sharp seabreeze that hit her eyes when she left for she still refused to cry. Now that her longboat was fit after years of corsair abuse and the thunderstorm, she was ready to take on more searats.
She had been wondering whether or not to take on the ship when a battle had started to break out. Suddenly a beast had been thrown overboard without the aid of a weapon, so she decided to investigate. When she was close enough to see that it was indeed a goodbeast (she might’ve drowned her otherwise), she had to make a decision. As the ship was crashing down on her, she needed to make it quick. The volemaid looked up at her and she pictured her never seeing her family again or any of her friends; their hearts connected through their eyes, though the vole didn’t realize, she was too scared. There was no real choice: Grath grabbed Viola and struck out for shore as soon as the longboat capsized.
Part of her enjoyed the powerful strokes that brought her to shore while the other concentrated on the fact that her rescued victim was struggling. It only made her go faster. Swimming against the sea was different than swimming against a strong river current; it was less predictable with bigger waves. She had never quite considered the difference between her and her sea counterparts. Now it was clear and she was glad that she had the height and strength that she did.
Soon, she bounded, breathing deep, out of the water and onto the beach. A hare and mouse greeted her. The former immediately took the bankvole and started taking care of her, while Grath introduced herself to the warrior-looking mouse.
“Hi! H’is this ‘un part o’ yer party?”
Soon, they had found a useful crop of rocks to hide in. Something the hare said, needing a ship or something of the sort, made her remember her own boat. She needed to get it and rushed back into the cold water. She could use it with the others if was still seaworthy; maybe they could team up. As with the shrews, she dismissed this thought and continued swimming towards her boat.
The damage was bad. She had just had it repaired and it was already damaged again. Luckily, her weapons had survived the crash. Sighing with relief and annoyance, she tugged the boat back to shore. The hare and mouse, whose names she had yet to learn, helped her, but they couldn’t help her fix it. Then she heard a sound that gave her hope.
It was the Guosim. They came hurtling downstream and she was very happy to see them, as they were her. It seemed as if they knew her new companions and introductions were made all around. It was a fairly formidable group they had assembled and it made her heart glad to see all of them. With their help, her boat could be fixed, plans could be made, and her revenge could continue. The fire warmed her damp fur and illuminated her toothy grin.
Looking back, Grath always had mixed feelings about the moment. In threatening the searat, she had continued her holt’s revenge and maintained some justice. At the same time, she refuted logic and true warrior principles while nearly antagonizing her new mates. It went against the very morals her father had trained into her. Was she that heartless?
Later that night found her shooting arrow after arrow into a tree on the shoreline. She was so intent on the rhythmic thumps that Martin’s arrival startled her into pointing an arrow at his throat.
“It’s just me.” He raised his paws peaceably.
She grudgingly moved her bow to release the projectile at her hole-ridden target. It sunk in an inch off dead center.
Martin whistled appreciatively. “Nice shot.”
“Not good ‘nough.” She growled determinedly.
He stared at her strangely. “Look, about earlier…”
“H’I’m sorry, Ah lost my cool. H’it won’t ‘appen ‘gain.”
“I know.” He paused. “Actually, I was going to say that I understand.”
She whipped around to stare at him, her loosed arrow landing out the fire’s ring of light.
He answered her unspoken question. “My brother. Few people know he even existed.”
Interested, she bade him continue as she nocked another arrow.
“Soon after his birth, our family went on a picnic. Vermin attacked.” He chuckled morosely. “My father was like a magnet for them. He fought back of course- I tried to help- but it was no use. My brother was slain by a stray blow. My mother was devastated. My resolve to be a warrior was hardened.”
She understood. She really did. Something about the tale, though, didn’t seem to reach the extreme devastation of hers. Her face stayed passive as she stretched over her shoulder, fingers brushing the fletching.
Martin seemed to have an intuitive knack for reading other beasts. “It’s not as bad, I know. I did have a powerful urge to beat up any vermin I saw for a while after that.”
She bit her lip, stifling her own urge, still present, to slay the searat by the fire.
“You know the robber foxes that Log-a-log mentioned?” When she nodded slowly, he added. “It was them.”
Something clicked for Grath. “Ye weren’t just ‘elpin’ the woodlanders. H’it was a personal quest fer vengeance.”
The mouse shrugged sadly. “I did say that I would do the same if I was in your place, earlier, didn’t I?”
Though she had recognized him as a warrior earlier, now she felt a strong bond of understanding with him. “Thanks, Martin.”
He smiled. “Now, do you want to come back to the fire or practice a bit more?”
Only having a few arrows left, she responded. “H’I’ll come back once Ah h’empty me quiver.”
Around the campfire a few minutes later, they made plans for the unsuccessful rescue of the Redwallers’ Abbot Durral. After the failure, she admired her new companions’ resolve, especially Martin’s and defiance of Viola. With the addition of a seafaring vessel and two Guosim shrews, this voyage would be interesting, to say the least.
As a strong warrior, Grath had been as much an aid to their voyage as they were to hers. Still, sometimes with several other warriors around, especially Martin, she didn’t feel as needed. Luckily, most of the time there was no time for her to mope about this, especially as she wasn’t especially inclined to moping. With such interesting beasts to get to know as well as trying to get them across the sea with obstacles such as ice floes and searats in their path.
However, her previous knowledge of seabeats, especially sealfolk came in handy upon the encounter with Hawm’s clan. Though she wished that her knowledge of their speech was more extensive, it seemed to do the trick; that and the seals’ happy nature. Soon they were being led off, to where she did not know. Due to past experiences with the seals, she trusted them, though and away they pulled, through the cold, dark night.
The next morning brought more surprises with seabeasts. Though the seals had left them apparently at the mercy of the impenetrable mountain, they did lead them to a show. The humongous majestic whales awed them. If she wanted to be philosophical, she could say that it gave her a better perspective about her place in the universe. The Redwallers’ comments about the creatures being bigger than their Abbey made her wonder even more about their home. It sounded fairly large and peaceful. How she wanted to go there, just to experience all the things they talked about: tons of glorious food, (hopefully better than Clecky’s cooking), friendly peaceful beasts and a fairly safe, though not mundane existence.
Maybe, just maybe, after her revenge was fulfilled, she could go and live there. Find out for herself if the Redwall Abbey was all that it was cracked up to be. Such a life seemed completely out of reach, not because she was unlikely to obtain her vengeance, but because it seemed different than anything she had ever known. Even her somewhat peaceful holt differed in several ways, not the least of which was that the Abbey had not fallen to many attacks. Her holt had.
But, before she could explore any of the possibilities that Redwall suggested, she would have to tackle this next challenge. One more stop on her way to fulfillment. She examined the mountain again. As she mentioned to Viola, they might as well get going. No use delaying. Who knew what this next stop would hold? A secret pirate hold? A stop for supplies? Whatever it was, she was eager to tackle it. Grath, following her own advice, picked up a piece of driftwood and started paddling.
Besides Grath’s joy to be surrounded by the first otters she had seen in seasons, she felt safe and inexorably jealous. Holt Rudderwake would probably never know the curse of war, never have their family and friends, all the beasts they’d ever known, ripped away from them in a single greedy act of violence. It was too much to take in at once.
And then there was him. From his first appearance, when he had walked up assuredly, there had been something about him. It was more than the acknowledgement of a fellow warrior when they shared your weaponry. There was something else, another connection that she had felt when their eyes first met that she couldn’t explain. She decided not to think about it, especially when Martin and Wallyum had shared that knowing smile when Inbar had carried her weapons.
Of course, it wasn’t like she could totally get him out of her head. She saw no reason to, especially since he was kindly showing her around. Besides, they had lots to talk about when they went to shoot after supper.
Her holt was brought up and she felt like at some point, she could tell him all that had happened. But for now, just the bare minimum was required. She didn't want to frighten him away. He didn’t ask any questions, merely listened. When she was done, she turned back around with a barrage of questions for him about Ruddaring. What was the holt’s history? How did they sustain themselves? If they were peaceful, why did they train with weapons? Laughing, he did his best to answer all of them. A group of otters looking for peace and ship-wrecked here years before and never left. There had already been a variety of fruit trees on the inside; they just had to be cultivated. When she brought up seafood, he explained the obvious: since the entry to Ruddaring was through a channel from the ocean, it brought with it a lot of fish and shrimp. Sometimes they went on trips expressly for that purpose, which was the main reason they trained in weapons. There was one the next morning even, and she was welcome to come along.
At that she had laughed appreciatively. She hadn’t gone fishing in quite a while, it was true. And while it did sound fun, their group needed to get moving. Though one part of her would have been glad to stay at least a little longer to explore Ruddaring, another part would not be satiated until all searats within her reach and power were dead. After explaining this, he tentatively asked about their trip. They talked back and forth, laughed and shot until her fingers ached and felt like they were about to fall off, but her heart was so light, it felt like it would fly away.
The next morning, Wallyum and Martin talked with Hawm about their journey; it might be more accurate to say that Wallyum talked to Hawm, most of which Grath understood, and then talked to Martin. To be honest, she was having trouble concentrating even on the English part of the conversation. She was eager to get on with their journey, but part of her mind was on the bow and quiver that lay next to her. She had taken Inbar’s because she could tell that at least part of him wanted to accompany them. But what if she had miscalculated? Assumed too much?
Needless to say, she was greatly relieved when her new friend posed the question to his father. Seated next to each other, listening to Viola’s tales about Redwall Abbey, and working on their bows a few minutes later, Grath let herself smile. They had their direction and she had a new friend. She had no doubt in her mind; she could do this. This trip would be successful.
The battle that followed stuck out in her memory far longer after other events of their journey had faded. The importance of the battle was not to be underestimated: not only had she revenged her holt, but it had been her first true battle. Sometimes, Grath looked back and wished that she had been able to do more, kill more corsairs, end Mad Eyes. Other times, she was grateful that her paws were not permanently stained with blood, that Martin had avenged her holt after all. Several parts of the battle could not be forgotten, no matter how bloody or painful.
Their arrival at the island was easier than she had expected. Grath felt a stirring in her blood, urging her forward to kill those responsible for her holt’s murder. However, when they finally arrived, while the stirring remained, she found herself content to scout the island with Inbar and Viola. It seemed as if now that her revenge was assured, she was satisfied to wait it out, knowing that her time would come. Of course, spending the time in the company of a friendly and spirited volemaid as well as an increasingly charming and interesting otter didn’t hurt.
However, if she had been the slightest bit concerned that her lust for revenge would dissipate, it came clear that it was still very present when it came to the impudent searat. Though Clecky joked with the searat after her treat, it took her a while to relax. Inbar looked at her inquiringly when she growled at her stew. Seeing that she wasn’t ready to talk about it yet, he merely placed a large paw comfortingly on her shoulder before turning back to his meal. Grath could only stare after him, her spoon dripping.
After supper, while the others slept, she finally got the chance to talk to him. She couldn’t ask him about the gesture, even if she could have found the words, because he was commenting on her bout of rage earlier.
It took her less than a second to realize that she trusted him enough to not only tell him her full story, but to also open herself up to him and sing it. That she did, hating it when her voice broke because she felt she wasn’t accurately representing her pain, her holt or herself to him.
She was grateful when he responded appropriately, but did not have the patience to listen to his hesitance for violence. She had been like that and she had lost all she knew and loved. If he didn’t want to lose his holt, too, then he needed to start learning that aiming “at a livin’ thing” was sometimes necessary.
The next morning she was chilly to him, but he showed interest in the plans for the day and the battle. He was also just so friendly and lively that she couldn’t help but give in and chat back. Even the disappearance of the searat to the ship didn’t rattle her as much as it could have. And when she heard her part in the plan, she couldn’t help but smile viciously.
A few hours later found Grath loping across the sand to the highest point on the island. She thought back to her departure from the others, the feeling of Inbar’s paw clasped in hers still tingling. She had realized something when she had advised him to “show no quarter”: the thought of him dying distressed her more than the thought of Martin or any of the others dying. Maybe it was because she knew that Martin could handle himself, but part of her feared it was something more. Either way, at least while she was on the other end of the island, he needed that advice.
Once she had reached her position, she stopped thinking about her advice and followed it instead. It was satisfying beyond words to itch the stirring by pouring shaft by burning shaft into the enemy’s ranks and buildings. She made every arrow count making sure that either a building or beast got hit. If she was lucky, both were. Unable to savor every individual hit, she still enjoyed the somewhat sick feeling of power she got watching her arrows sink into searats’ hearts, seeing pain contort monitors’ already grotesque features, viewing the burst of destructive flame as structures lit up. Her revenge was sweet. But not yet complete.
By the time Grath got back to the others, she had worked up a bit of a sweat and the adrenaline sung heartily in her veins. She needed to move, shoot, kill, repeat. However, she found that closed-in battle was different than the sniping that she was used to. She, who had loved archery her whole life, found herself wishing for the first time that had a sword that she could use.
She didn’t have time to contemplate the benefits o short-ranged weapons for much longer. As soon as Martin and Clecky fought their way back for the Abbot, the only thing between the monitors and the rescue was her and Inbar’s bows. This was his chance to prove himself. If he couldn’t fight beside her, even knowing why she fought, she would try to understand, but she didn’t know if she could stand to be around him. That was a train of thought she didn’t want to consider so instead she started firing, eyes clouding over as her battle cry rang out.
Even as the Bloodwrath threatened to consume her, even as her fingers automatically nocked and fired arrow after green-fletched arrow, she was aware of movement beside her, of a loud baritone joining her cry, of red-tipped arrows following her own home. In that moment, not only was she proud, happy, relieved and intensely vengeful at once, but she could also almost feel them become one. As she sighted down an arrow she could hear her ma’s voice in her head, “He’s a keeper.”
“Yes,” she thought as she glanced over at Inbar while shooting a monitor in the eye, “he just might be.”
With that, she let the Bloodwrath take over, killing dozens of lizards as her revenge felt more and more complete.
Once they had fought off more monitors and in between meeting up with Clecky and Martin, Grath turned to Inbar and their eyes met. After confessing their fears of the ugly lizards and after protecting each other’s’ backs, she felt like their bond was indescribably stronger. He had truly proven himself by fighting hard and making his name a reality as his red-fletched arrows flew accurately to meet their marks. He was a good otter and a good friend.
He seemed to sense the shift in their relationship dynamic as well. “So, Grath,” he asked casually as he examined his bow for wear and tear, “wot d’you plan t’do h’after we’re done ‘ere?”
“Done with th’battle? H’I don’t know, matey.” She kept an arrow on her bowstring, stroking its feathers. “H’I aim t’see the world, startin’ with Redwall Abbey. H’after that, ‘o knows? Maybe settle down someplace nice. What ‘bout ye?”
He stared distractedly up the stairwell. “Prob’ly jist ‘ead back to Ruddaring. Listen, Grath,” he suddenly turned back to her, face intense. “’Ow d’you feel ‘bout Ruddaring?”
She sputtered, startled by the question. “H’it’s nice, Ah guess.”
“H’alright then. Wot would ye think ‘bout livin’ there?”
Grath could only stare at her friend. What did he mean? He couldn’t be implying…
“H’I mean, Ah’m not exactly askin’ ye t’be me mate, since we ‘aven’t known each other fer that long, but Ah’d like t’think it could be in the cards fer us someday,” He had been muttering up until then, avoiding her eyes, but at his last statement, he looked at her, full of bravado, but with fear just as present as that that had wracked his body minutes before.
“So, h’are ye sayin’ ye want t’court me?”
His trepidation vanished momentarily. “Yes! That’s it exactly. H’o’ course, ye see ‘ow that would be ‘ard iffen ye were traipsin’ everywhere ‘n’ visitin’ Redwall ‘n ye did seem t’like Ruddaring ‘n so…”
She let him ramble for a second. Living at Ruddaring, that oasis of peace and happy community, safe from harm. Courting Inbar, hanging around him often, getting to know each other better before they eventually married and became mates. Starting over, having a new life, new friends and family after the closing of her old one.
She wasn’t sure how it would all work out, but she was eager to start.
“Inbar.” He continued to ramble about how his parents were really nice and there were some otters who she would just have to meet. “Inbar!” Silencing, he dared look back at her. “Yes.” She smiled as a grin spread over his face. “H’I’d be glad to.”
They had no more time to do anything more than smile at each other for suddenly the monitors and an assortment of sea vermin were back. Side by side, they fired into the encroaching masses. Her heart sung with her bowstring, but her mind couldn’t process the storm of emotions, so she pushed them aside. Now was time for business.
However, in all the commotion, Grath hadn’t gotten the chance to find this pine marten, the one who had ordered the slaughter of her holt for a few measly trinkets. When Martin rushed back up the stairs shouting that Ublaz was dead, it stopped her dead in her tracks. She knew she had done her duty by shooting down the monitors on the stairs and protecting her mates, but if only she could have killed him. If only she had gotten the chance to stare the greedy murderer in the face as she shot an arrow straight through his black heart. If only she had capped off her revenge with his death. She knew that in all likelihood she had taken care of the exact beasts that had been responsible for the brutal loss of her holt, but there would have been something intrinsically satisfying about killing off Ublaz Mad Eyes.
Still, she had no more time to contemplate it before finding herself running frantically as she protected the frail Abbot of Redwall and his carrier as well as her other companions. The next few minutes were hectic and Grath was unaware just how many vermin fell to her borrowed javelin as they made for the ships. The only important thing was getting them all alive to the ships, particularly this weak mouse that she barely knew, yet already respected, especially since the others held him in such respect. Sand suddenly crunched under her footpaws and, as she dispatched another seavermin, she realized it was nearly over.
With a few athletic bounds and instinctive movements, they were in the ‘’Waveworm’’ and headed out to join Welko and Viola. Grath stayed at the stern, staring at the burning wreckage on the island as the adrenaline slowly left her body. She jumped when a large paw tapped her shoulder.
She turned. “Oh, h’it’s ye.”
“Yep.” Inbar leaned against the railing and followed her gaze. “’Ow d’ye feel?”
He shrugged. “H’all o’ this.”
“H’I’m not sure.” She shook her head. “Mostly satisfied. Like Ah kin finely feel okay ‘bout me ‘olt’s passin’. ‘Ow’re ye ‘oldin’ up?”
“The whole fightin’ was a bit o’ a shock, but Ah'm excited.” She was on the verge of asking him what he could possibly be excited about when she caught the gleam in his eye. He was talking about them. Was she ready for any of this? The end of this short, brutal chapter in her life for something startlingly different? Would Holt Rudderwake even accept her?
His smile reassured her. For some reason she did not know, he was willing to stay by her side and go through all this uncertainty with her. She smiled back. Grath had no idea what could possibly lay ahead, but the prospect was looking quite thrilling. Having laid her holt to rest and blessed them with revenge, could she possibly think of herself now? She hesitantly inched her paw closer to Inbar’s and he covered it with his own. They stayed up the rest of the night talking. Her new life was nearly here and she was ready for it.
The sun had barely started to stretch its illuminating beams over the horizon when a young otter kit scurried down the Ruddaring dock. He toddled over to the edge of the worn wood and squatted, memorized by the rippling water. A fish leapt out of the water in a shimmering arc and, giggling, he reached out a pudgy paw to touch it.
“No!” The sharp cry rent the still morning air. A young ottermaid, a few seasons older than the kit raced over to him, snagging the back of his pants seconds before he toppled over. “Phew,” she wiped pretend sweat off her forehead as she sat him carefully next to her on the dock. “Bad Lutra. No runnin’ off when Ma tells ye not to.”
He pouted at her. “Ah kin do wot Ah want.”
She rolled her eyes exaggeratedly. “Not today. Today we—Lutra!”
As she spoke, the kit had rolled back into the water. The splash from his fall hit the edge of her tunic. “Lutra! Grab me paw!”
Hearing footsteps behind her, the ottermaid jumped up. “Ma! Lutra didn’t listen to me ‘n’ now he’s gonna drown!”
Smiling, the tall, strong otter patted her daughter’s head with one paw while she cradled a bundle with the other. “Sweetie, ‘e’s an otter. ‘E kin swim.”
True to her words, Lutra floundered for a few seconds, but then started swimming with surer strokes. “Wook’it me, Mama!”
She crouched down to watch her son. “Good job, Lutra. Now get out o’ the water. Remember wot Ma said?” He shook his head. “Don’t go runnin’ away from Lily. Now, take me paw.”
“Grath! H’I’ll get ‘im. H’or no, Ah’ll take Shad.” The dark-furred otter, encumbered by sacks, rushed to his wife’s side.
Grath laughed. “H’I’m fine, Inbar. But ye kin take Shad iffen ye ‘ave space fer ‘im h’amongst all that stuff.”
“H’o’ course Ah do.” As he situated a lumpy sack in his arm, another satchel fell off his shoulder. “Gimme a second.”
Smiling at her husband’s antics, Grath turned and deposited her bundle in her daughter’s arms. Then she scooped up the wet, but impish Lutra from the water. “Naughty boy,” she scolded before giving him a peck on the head. “Ew,” she mockingly grimaced as Lily giggled, “yore all wet!” She turned to Inbar, “’Oney, h’is there h’a cloth in one h’o’ those bags fer this little rascal?” Lutra squirmed and giggled in her paws.
“Probably, but h’it’s at the bottom h’o’ that’un. H’or maybe that’un.”
Seeing her husband’s harried state, Grath smiled and put her son on the dock, keeping his paw in hers. “H’it’s okay. ‘E’ll dry off. Now, h’are we h’all ready t’go?”
“Yes, mama!” Lily and Lutra leapt up and down, with Lily barely remembering to cradle her brother’s head.
Grath picked up the fallen satchel. “Head to the ship then.”
As the children scrambled off, Inbar couldn’t help adding, “Be careful!”
She nudged her husband. “H’is everythin’ all right?”
Inbar shot a look back at Holt Rudderwake. “Yes, Ah’m jist a bit concerned. ‘Ow long will we be gone ‘n’ where will we go ‘n’ ‘ow will we keep ourselves supplied ‘n’ not let slip where we come from ‘n’—”
“Inbar,” she cut him off, “iffen we don’t go know, ‘o knows when we’ll get the chance. Now, we kin start by headin’ off fer Redwall Abbey. We ‘ave enough supplies fer at least a season ‘n’ we’ll make sure the kids don’t say h’anythin’.” When he still looked concerned, she bumped him with her elbow. “Relax, h’it’ll be great for the kids ‘n fer us.”
“Us?” He started to look more convinced, more mischievous.
She shrugged innocently. “Maybe we kin get all the kids swimmin’ ‘n…”
“H’I’d like that.” Inbar bent down to kiss his wife.
“Ma! Pa! Let’s go!” Lily shrieked from the small ship that would be their home for the next few seasons.
He groaned. “When kin we throw them overboard?”
Grath grinned. “Not jist yet.” She kissed him quickly before jogging off. “Race ya to the ship!”
Smiling ruefully, Inbar picked up a bag that had fallen and hurried after his wife. Here came their next great adventure.