Journey of Warriors: Sequel to Segalia Riverstorm’s Voyage
This is a sequel to Segalia Riverstorm's Voyage, so I would advise you to read that one first. Enjoy!
The setting sun burnished the rich green landscape with a dull gold. Warmth became reticent and soon smoke curled in the treetops as fires heated hearths. One particular hut was just finishing supper when the young daughter piped up.
“Papa! Kin ye tell us the stowy ‘bout ‘ow ye ‘n Mama fell in wuv?”
The beast in question smiled as he cleared off the hardwood table. “Wouldn’t you find the story of the exciting quest to far lands, to find secrets and confront war ladies more interesting?”
She pouted and crossed her arms. “Same ting.”
Her mother chuckled from where she was washing the few earthenware dishes. “Maybe you should wait until the reunion in a few days so the others can hear it too.”
“Ah’m ‘ere!” piped up the cheerful voice of an unrelated child spending the night.
“Dear,” the lone male looked questioningly over at his wife.
“We’ll take turns and make it last for several nights.” She dried her paws on her apron as she came over.
“Making sure to stop in the climatic spots!”
Squealing happily, his daughter avoided his tickling fingers, while her friend asked the former’s mother, “Wot’s cwimatick?”
“Very important and exciting.” Her explanation was drowned out as the father scooped his daughter up and over his shoulder.
He plopped her breathless onto a chair at his wife's bidding and she began. “This story starts at Redwall Abbey…”
Book 1: CommencementEdit
Redwall Abbey cast a large shadow over its grounds in the afternoon sun. Basking in its warmth were a group of Dibbuns, the young beasts at Redwall. The oldest, technically a graduate from Dibbunhood, was the badger, Maben. He was enthralling his audience with a tale of the past events of winter and spring, officially known as the Warring Winter ended by the Spring Skirmishes. Maben liked to call it “the battle where everything froze and I was the commander and so we won.”
“No, you din’t!” Mumzy, a fairly new resident volemaid protested. “My mum beat d’evil foxlord.”
“She did?” A wide-eyed small bunny turned incredulously to her friend.
“Yeah, ‘n she ‘venged me dad ‘n won da war.” Smiling proudly, she added, “Oh, ‘n Carma helped.”
The mention of the female badger pacified Maben only slightly. “Yeah, but…I’m tellin’ this story!”
“Well, get it right!”
“Dibbuns, dibbuns,” the slight crunch of grass alerted the arguing pair and their audience to the arrival of Ampanna, a young squirrelmaid of the otter holt Weasprears who had fought in the war.
“’Panna!” The young creatures jumped up to crowd around her, blades of grass falling from their dirty habits.
“Sure, h’ignore me.” Segalia Riverstorm grinned from behind her mobbed friend
The gray squirrel tried to distract them as she ruffled their fur, then, giving up, let them drag her to the ground among pleas to tell the story better than Maben.
“So, what’s happening over here?”
“The usual mob.” The otter chuckled to the newly arrived Selra. “H’I bet she’ll be glad t’leave.” She looked over. “Where’s Rip?”
The daughter of aforementioned fox warlord shrugged. Being a “vermin” meant that she and her twin had been largely distrusted when they had first arrived. A testament to her aid in the final battle was the fact that, though still close, they didn’t feel the need to stick together constantly. “We’re leaving in a few days, right?”
“Yeah, Ah’m ‘cited, h’aren’t ye?”
The hesitant look reminded the tan otter that it was more than an adventure for her friend, rather, a long-awaited and dread homecoming. Luckily, the potentially awkward silence following the thoughtless question was broken by the arrival of Rori.
He wasted no time on salutations. “Segalia, come quickly!”
“What now?” She groaned, though her speed belied her anxiety.
The boar panted, obviously having just jogged his formidable form over. “It’s…Lijel.”
Though this explained a lot, she still requested that he extrapolate. “We were looking for stuff in the Attic when he got bored and decided to climb on the roof. He was doing fine when he got stuck and asked for help.”
Segalia snorted, having trouble imagining her fairly independent friend actually requesting help. “’E h’asked fer ‘elp?”
“Not exactly, of course, but it’s obvious he needs it.”
“’N from me, because?”
“You’re his friend so you can talk him down,” at her dubious look, he added, “and you’re one of the best climbers here.”
She shrugged, not arguing with the compliment; it was merely one of the perks of growing up with a squirrel best friend, who herself was a good swimmer.
Selra, having followed, pointed upward. “Is that him?”
It was worse than she had anticipated. He had obviously slipped on the tile now broken on the ground and fallen, only to be caught by his leg on one of several small chimneys littering the broad roof.
Sighing, she shouted up, “H’I’m comin’!”
She received a non-committal grunt and rolled her eyes before following Rori up to the attic room. Looking out the window, she wrinkled her muzzle and asked for boost, being shorter than her male counterpart. In a few minutes, she was scampering happily across the roof. Upon arriving at her fallen friend, she grinned at his upside-down figure and asked, “So, wot seems t’be the problem?”
Lijel glared at her shortly before settling on a nonchalant expression with his arms crossed behind his head. “Nothin’ much. ‘Ow ‘bout ye?”
She examined his position. “Well, Ah don’t see h’a problem. Kin’t ye just use yer supposed abs ‘n pull yerself h’up?”
“Me tunic’s stuck.”
Putting her paws on her hips, she retorted, “Oh, ‘n Ah h’assume yer h’arms’re stuck behind yer ‘ead ‘n so kin’t be used t’unsnag h’it?”
He nodded. “Yup.”
Rolling her eyes, again, she tried to retrace his steps. “So ye walked this way ‘n-Daish!” Obviously stepping in the same weak spot as he had, she slid headfirst on her back towards the edge of the roof while Lijel leisurely unfolded his arms and hooked her sturdy belt.
“’N slipped ‘n fell.” Segalia finished as her quickly beating heart slowed.
He watched amusedly as she leaned forward, her arms falling a rudder-length short of the chimney. “So, ‘ow’re ye goin’ t’get h’up, Miss H’Expert?”
Ignoring his dissent, she grabbed his leg and maneuvered herself to where she could grab the chimney and swing her lower half back around to stand. “That’s ‘ow. Now, grab me paw, ‘n Ah’ll pull ye h’up.”
“’Ow secure h’is yer grip?”
“Fine, just take me paw.”
“Ah kin’t reach it; untie yer belt.”
Sighing, she undid it and swung it out. After laughing for a second at the way her tunic hung baggily nearly to her knees, he grabbed it and stood.
“Now,” she secured her belt, “d’you need me t’old yer paw or kin ye get h’across the roof by yerself?”
“Yore the one ‘o h’obviously needs h’a paw t’keep from fallin’. H’I’ll race ye.”
Segalia hesitated, glancing at the skittish tiles that had brought both of them down.
With her courage on the line, she couldn’t say no. “Go!”
Hobbling slightly, they sped back off the roof.
On the ground below, Riplar commented casually. “I bet one of them’s going to get hurt.”
“Yeah,” Rori agreed, “probably Lijel.”
“Nah, did you see the fall Seg just made? She will.”
Carma shook her head at their callousness and started for the building. “I’ll go get my herb bag.”
“Wait,” Selra stopped her, “let’s see what happens.”
A groan from behind them alerted them to the third member of the original trio from the holt. “What’re they doin’ now?”
“Racing.” Riplar said.
“On the roof.” His sister finished.
“H’o’ course.” Ampanna sighed.
They stood there watching the tentatively speedy process before Selra commented, “I suppose we should tell them that we closed the window.”
Rori’s paw met his forehead with a thunk. “I’d forgotten about that.”
“So, are you going to change that?” Carma asked when neither moved, eyes fixated above.
“Fine,” both she and Ampanna huffed simultaneously before setting off together.
Above them, Segalia scooted off the roof while Lijel swung over dramatically. He crashed into the closed window while she smirked and Rori held a paw meaningfully towards Riplar.
“Did you even bet anything?” Selra asked and they both shrugged.
“At least a toe-jam won’t impede our trip.” The fox kits nodded in agreement though both of their eyes shot elsewhere.
Rori was ignorant of the awkwardness, but changed the subject to be more acceptable. “Speaking of which, we should probably visit Naraudo in the kitchens to arrange food.”
Selra grinned, “Too bad Ampanna isn’t here.”
“She visits her boyfriend plenty.” Riplar rolled his eyes.
Again, Rori ignored them, now focused on his task as he headed to the large doors. “It’s going to take a long time, maybe even a season, so he obviously can’t provide us that much. It’ll just have to be a starter amount and we’ll pick up more on the way.”
Scurrying after him, the twins looked at each other, rolled their eyes then grinned. Maybe this trip would turn out okay after all.
- Many weeks previous*
The future Warlady and Conqueror of Salamandastron, Holt Weasprear, Redwall Abbey and Mossflower, Slayer of Otters and Queen of Two Thousand Warriors, Omi, had little to show for her claimed title. Currently, she paced drenched, bloody and dirty on the floor of a cave. She often stopped and glanced irritably at a dark corner.
“Stoopid beast.” Kicking a mucky rock, she plopped to the ground almost despairingly. In an attempt to stay focused she made a list of current events. “So, me da’s dead. Very well, Ah’ll kill th’dog ‘o did it. Me mentor,” she sneered over her shoulder, “’s’lyin’ near dead ‘n Ah don’t reckon Ah know ‘ow to save ‘im.” Brushing a scraggly scrap of fur out of her eyes, she winced. “’N Ah’m not too well off meself, ‘specially ‘thout vittles.” She sighed. “’Ow’m Ah s’posed to ‘courage ‘n army to side with me iffen’m this badly off?”
A gentle voice drifted to her from the front of the cave. “I’ll tell you, lassie.”
The stoat looked up from where she had dropped her head. “Wot?” Before the voice could answer, Omi stood, her voice strong though her legs trembled with exhaustion. “Who're you?”
The cloaked and imposing creature clouding the cave door laughed lightly. “It's not about who I am, but about who you can be.”
“Why should I trust you?”
“Why, why shouldn't you? I have tricks and knowledge that could be of great use to you.”
Unwillingly, Omi found herself trusting the lilting voice. “Like?”
Though the creature's face was hidden, she detected a slight glimmer, indicating a smile. “For starters, I could heal your friend.”
“Well, because I have skills-”
“No, why d'you want t'help me at all? What d'you want from me?”
The laugh came again. “Such a smart girl. We can make use of it. And as for me? You're probably right to distrust me, but I mean you no harm. You want revenge; so do I.”
“It is of no concern, lass.”
Her fist tightened around one end of her numchuck. “No, I b'lieve it is. Iffen you want to work with me, I have to know.”
The creature had slowly moved closer throughout the conversation and now circled Omi who fought to keep the hairs on the back of her neck from standing up. “Tsk tsk, dearie. That's one thing we'll need to fix. I suppose your da's at fault for your dreadful speech, raising you the way he did.”
She whirled to face the creature. “My da raised me jist fine!”
For a beast of such ample stature, the creature moved surprisingly fast. “I'm sure he did. But, here are the facts. You need help. Though you have that,” the disdain was evident in the creature's tone regarding the wounded beast in the back of the cave, “you need more. He can't do anything right now and his brain's so addled that who knows if he'll be any help at all.”
“True though that may be, you still 'aven't 'nswered my question.”
Sighing dramatically, the creature responded, “Fine. My revenge is more than just one beast, it is against all of Redwall Abbey.”
Curious despite herself, Omi asked, “Why?”
“It is of no concern. Our aims are the same and we have skills to help each other. It would be stupid not to team up together.” With calculating eyes, the creature added the last push. “You wouldn't want your “da” to be ashamed of your “yellow-belliedness”, would we?”
The stoatmaid's jaw clamped up. “Very well, but I have con'itions. First, I'm in charge. Then 'im.” Now it was Omi's turn to circle the creature, though her victim seemed to be taking it much better. “Second, know that I'm not 'fraid t'kill you to get what I want.”
“I expected no less. But you look tired. Wouldn't you like to relax, let me heal your wounds?”
“I'm fine. Now-”
The soothing voice filled the cave. “I'm sure it's important. We'll cover it later. You need your strength, don't you?”
“Of course you do.” Omi slowly fell to the floor as the creature removed a needle from where it had been quickly injected in the stoat's neck. “Sleep well, lass, we have a lot to do tomorrow.” The laugh that followed was more cackle than the easy one earlier. “But until then, I have both of you in my little paws. Soon I will avenge myself using the skills of my ancestor.” The creature flung back the hood to reveal a spiky head and knelt by the male in the back of the cave.
“Don't 'arm 'er.” Though his body was weak, the threat implied in his voice was very much real.
“And why would I want to do that, sweetie? I still need her, both of you.”
His untrusting glare fogged over as the creature jerked out another needle from his arm. Removing supplies from a heavy bag, the creature stopped and allowed a smile. This was good, this was very good, indeed.
The birds serenaded each other in the trees, their songs prompting no response from the lone figure on the rosy battlements. He stared silently, not over the misty green of Mossflower as most beasts did, but at the quietly bustling grounds below. He didn’t acknowledge the approach of the Abbess, but she sensed that he was very much aware of her presence.
Skipper Joncho had retreated in on himself following the final battle. Though a battle-hardened warrior, the death of his friend, the squirrel abbess, Fern, seemed to have saddened him beyond repair. This morning, however, Abbess Paldra wondered if his somber mood could be attributed to the imminent departure of the warriors he had trained, several of whom he had known since they were Dibbun-age.
“How much longer will you be staying with us at the Abbey, sir?” Her gentle voice barely broke above the breeze.
“’M not h’a sir.” His gaze never wavered, though his voice cracked, probably from disuse.
“Very well, Skip.”
Sighing, he decided to avoid skirting her question. “H’I was thinkin’ ‘bout stayin’ on t’’elp, but now Ah think h’it’d be best iffen we leave h’as soon h’as possible.”
The breeze ruffled her off-white fur, disguising a tremor. “As we recover from the devastating attacks these last few seasons, it might be helpful for some extra leadership.” She placed her paw on his. “Will you stay? For a bit longer?”
Still not looking at her, the scarred otter removed her paw from under hers. The mouse leader bit her lip, a nervous tic she had developed under her new burdens. He looked down and when he finally spoke, it was gruff. She had to lean in to decipher all of the one word
“Thank you, Skipper.” Paldra wanted to hug him with relieved thanks, but knew it wouldn’t be appreciated.
Instead, she looked down to the lawn. The scene provided a cheerful contrast to their more somber mood. Two badgers stood discussing some papers while a fox and otter retrieved weapons from the Gatehouse. The respective males of their species were aiding a red squirrel carry haversacks of food; accost seemed to describe their actions better, however, when viewed more closely. There looked to be one beast missing from the traveling group.
“Sayin’ bye t’the Dibbuns.” Short though his responses were, at least he was replying.
Before she had become a cook, the mouse, too, had helped take care of the Abbey’s young. Her previous profession brought to mind, she inquired, in hopes of maintaining their small talk, “Do you suppose I might get to help in the Kitchens with Naraudo away?”
He shrugged and finally she gave up, figuring she could be of more use down below. As she trotted down the stairs, she asked, “So, are you all set for departure down here?”
“Just ‘bout, ma’am.” Segalia dumped a pile of weapons in the dewy grass.
“We just need to double-check Carma’s list.” Selra held up a long piece of parchment and rolled her eyes.
“Well, it’s good to be-” her tentatively responsible reply was cut off as her successor yelped.
“For the last time, Lijel, stop or I’ll-”
“You’ll what?” Riplar took the opportunity to snag a scone and Naraudo growled with rage.
It was no secret throughout the Abbey that while Segalia was fine with her friend’s new relationship with the cook, she never let him know, keeping him constantly on edge. Such a chance now presented itself as she sauntered over. “Ye know, ‘Raudi, we might ‘ave t’keep ye ‘ere iffen ye kin’t control yer temper ‘n keep shoutin’ like that.”
He seethed. “Don’t call me that.”
“Ye mean, Ampanna doesn’t ‘ave a pet name fer ye?”
“My full name is just fine, thank you, and who are you to talk about tempers?”
The mischievous otter knew exactly what he was talking about: the incident, several months previous, where she had beat him up, simultaneously discovering her Bloodwrath. “H’as Ah recall, Ah was perfectly h’in the right.” She paused, placing her finger on her lips in mock-thought. “Wot’s yer weapon, h’again?”
His argument that females preferred long-distance weapons to avoid battle had been refuted, not only by the fierce females he now accompanied, including the one he now dated, but because his favorite weapon had proven to be the slingshot. He closed his eyes, trying to stay calm while thinking of a retort.
The abbess was wondering if she should step in, but Ampanna’s arrival saved him from exploding. “Seg, ‘re ye h’antagonizin’ ‘im, h’again?”
She smiled innocently as the rest of the group chuckled quietly. “’Course not. Now, h’are we good t’go?”
Riplar looked over his twin’s should at the list. “Food, clothes, weapons, maps, fire-starter, blankets, hotroot,” he stopped and looked over at Lijel. “Hotroot? A necessity? Really?”
Carma waved him on, ignoring the desecration of her list. “It’s an otter thing.”
He skimmed the rest of the list. “I think that’s about good.”
“I guess this is about it.” Rori clapped his large paws together. “Let’s go!”
“I’ll say a prayer for safety first.” Though there was some grumbling, the young warriors gathered around the Abbess.
A few minutes later, the large recently-repaired gates swung open and the tromped through. Abbess Paldra waved, though few turned to respond, wondering at the last minute if they should have insisted on a chaperon. Here was a group of very different beasts setting out on a potentially treacherous journey for different reasons: going home, discovering ancestry, adventure and for friends. She could only hope that this journey of warriors ended well. Her spoken concern fell on deaf ears; the elusive Skipper had, once again, disappeared.
The beginning of their trip did not bode well for the remainder. Trouble hit after they had been out of the gates no longer than fifteen minutes. Rori and Carma had been leading the group as they had the maps while the squirrel couple chatted behind them. Lijel and Riplar had offered to guard the back and Segalia and Selra walked in front of them. Slowly, Rori came to a halt.
“I told you to turn right at the crooked tree!” Carma gesticulated wildly.
Rori jabbed his large paw at the map. “Here it says to keep going until you hit the ford]].”
“We’re nowhere close to the ford.”
“And how do you know so much? You’ve never been out here!”
Her burly arms were crossed and her usually passive face crinkled into a snarl. “I have too; I had to go back and forth here many times to get herbs for Nottenc.”
Now Rori hesitated, knowing he was close to a touchy subject. His pause gave the others, who had grown silent, a chance to step in. “Are we lost?”
“No, Selra, just going the wrong way.”
Rori pressed a fist to the middle of his forehead in an attempt to keep his temper.
“Shouldn’t ye guys know where we’re goin’?” Segalia turned to the fox twins.
“Yeah,” Lijel agreed, “ye jist came this way.”
Selra stared at them skeptically. “That was two seasons ago.”
“And it was all snowy then, so it all looks different.”
As the two otters’ faces fell, Ampanna stepped in between the still-glaring badgers. “So, uh, what ‘xactly ‘re we tryin’ to find?”
“The ford.” Carma stated while Rori scowled at the parchment in his paws.
The gray squirrel’s face lightened. “Oh, well, we know where that is.” She looked behind her at Segalia for back-up. “Don’t we?”
“Hm? Oh yeah, the ford’s h’easy t’ find.”
As the badgermaid grumbled something about speaking up earlier, Rori looked up expectantly. “Well, which way?”
Segalia sprang forward. “H’it’s,” she paused and looked around them. “Lemme see…iffen back there’s th’Abbey ‘n-”
“This is h’easy, Seg. We’re h’obviously ‘sposed t’go that way.” Lijel pointed to the group’s general left.
She made to speak, saw where he was pointing, and glared at him. “H’I knew that.”
“H’o’ course ye did.” Turning to Riplar, he remarked, “Good thing she h’isn’t leadin’ us h’all the way. We’d be lost ‘fore we got to the River Moss.”
His last word was cut off as a maddening Segalia came up behind him and pushed him through the nearby bushes.
Though shocked, the whole group started laughing, dissipating the tense mood brought on by the earlier argument. Segalia and Lijel fighting was much more natural than the badger friends’ quarrel. The accompanying splash from the otter’s stumble broke through their joviality.
“What in the-”
As a whole, they rushed through the brambles to find Lijel lazily floating on his back in the river. “H’I was gettin’ ‘ot.”
They rolled their eyes good-naturedly as Segalia offered, “H’I found it?”
“Sure ye did, Seg.” Ampanna elbowed her lightly in the ribs when the tan otter suddenly found herself surrounded by water.
She burst from it, spraying the whole group with little droplets of sparkling water. “’O was that? H’I’m gonna kill ye!”
Turning to the obvious culprit, she caught Lijel trade a wink with somebeast on the bank. As she splashed towards him, he raised his paws. “Now, now, Seg. We h’all need t’go through-” Though his logic was sound, his methods were uncalled for, or at least the ottermaid thought so as she caught him in a choke, pulling him into the water.
“So,” Carma turned to Rori, “do we just go through and straight or turn?”
He turned from where he had been shielding the precious parchment with his body. “I think we’re supposed to turn right. See what you think.”
As the navigators reconciled, Naraudo stepped down into the river and offered his paw to his girlfriend. Selra rolled her eyes, but Ampanna smiled, blushing, and accepted it. He helped her down and then, as a joke, splashed her. Her whole body stiffened and she sharply released his paw to wipe the water out of her face.
Segalia and Lijel had stopped their water wrestling to watch. “Oh, snap.”
“She’s mad now.”
“That’s not gonna be good.”
True to their words, when she opened her eyes, they were blazing rage. Though he didn’t step back, Naraudo was visibly shaken. “I’m sorry, Ampanna, that-”
He stopped as, to their astonishment, she began to laugh. Her laugh only increased at his astonishment when she leaned down and splashed the liquid back. Soon the two were engaged in a full-out water war filled with shrieks and giggles.
The siblings were just about to jump in and join when a boom of “Hey!” cut them short. The dripping creatures in the water glanced over as well to Rori. “As much fun as this is, we really need to get going. We want to reach our destinations before winter, since we know how much fun traveling in winter is, so we can’t stop to play just outside of Redwall.”
Remembering the cold journey the winter previous, Selra and Riplar agreed and crossed the river to wait on the other side. They were joined by the others one by one with Naraudo, genuinely this time, helping Ampanna up. Lijel shook himself wildly to dry off and Riplar pushed him.
“Hey, watch where you’re doing that.”
The others wrung out their tunics though Lijel gave an extra spray in Riplar’s direction. Damp and grateful for the bright sun, they rearranged themselves and headed off again.
“You just ate breakfast, Lijel.”
“Oh, jist give ‘im something to h’eat, Naraudo, ‘fore ‘e grumbles us t’death.”
“Like you can talk, Seg?”
“Good point. Kin Ah ‘ave somethin’ t’eat too?”
They chuckled as Naraudo pulled out some pastries. Maybe this trip would turn out well after all.
“Are you sure we’re supposed to go this way?”
Omi had saved the crazy coyote on the verge of death to help her. Mainly because he had seemed in accord with her wish to avenge her father. But now, she was starting to doubt her resolve. It was starting to look like she had underestimated his insanity.
“Slashclaw?” She had given up on titles many minutes before, her exasperation eroding any civility she might have had.
“Hm?” he asked from his position on the ground, crouched by a series of scrambled tracks. He leaned forward, sniffed a pawprint, wriggled his muzzle and licked it.
An hour ago, this behavior would have shocked even a vermin like her, who was very much accustomed to wallowing in filth. Now, she doubted anything would faze her, her sureness of his insanity having no bounds. “Slashclaw,” she repeated, “jist get up! Yore not gonna get anyt’ing from that mess, ‘specially not if ye put it in yer mouth.”
He chewed the sludge contemplatively. “Wait a second, m’dear. Ah think I’m getting something.”
Sighing, she slumped back on the stump, though she continued to protest. “Missus Walthers will be back soon. She won’t ‘preciate ye doin’ that.”
The blood-red eyes took on a slightly darker tint, as they tended to do when their new patron was mentioned. Soon enough, though, they had brightened, and he spat out the dirt. “Ah do believe an otter has been this way. There was a distinct streamy taste that is often associated with the water beasts. I also believe there might’ve been a cook. Some flour and spices on their footpaws.” He stood and wiped off his paws. “How ‘bout that?”
Though the stoatmaid did admire all the information he had gleaned from the dirt, she didn’t show it. “And how does this ‘elp us?”
“Last I checked, our quarry is an otter.”
Her mind whirled, revenge tainting her thoughts as her mind went into battle-mode. “So, were they goin’ to or from th’Abbey?”
He chuckled. “Ah’m glad you think so much of my skills, but I’m not sure.”
“She must’ve been goin’ to th’Abbey.” She ignored him, caught up in her ramblings. “If it was her. Either way, she was close! We must proceed with all haste.”
She strode off, scuffling the already mussed tracks and Slashclaw stared amused after her.
“Honey, that’s the wrong way.”
Instantaneously, both creatures spun to look at the hooded Malital Walthers.
“Where did you come from?” The coyote’s tone was hard, little emotion being expressed.
“Come on, sweetie, why would I give away all my secrets?” The hedgehog lifted a paw to his chin and he flinched away.
Omi ignored the tension as she hurried back over. “Ye know where ‘tis?”
“You know where it is, you should say. And yes, I do.”
“Then why haven’t you led us there yet?”
“Because I have a plan.” Though still cheery, her homey voice now had an underlying threat. “We wouldn’t want to attack the famed Redwall Abbey without one, now would we?”
The stoat didn’t seem to register the threat as she barged ahead. “We’ve been waitin’ fer weeks! We’re all healed good now, so why didn’t ye tell us?”
“Healed well, darling, well.”
She rolled her eyes, but took some time choosing her next words. Before she could, her other mentor spoke. “The lass has a point. We’re supposed to be a team, so why weren’t we informed?”
“You weren’t ready yet. But now, I suppose you are.”
“Tell me where th’Abbey,” at a look from Malital, she corrected herself, “the Abbey, is and we’ll attack it now. Simple.”
Slashclaw shrugged, fully in agreement.
“Why do you suppose you didn’t succeed last time? Simply because you just rushed in like you’re suggesting now. No, my plan starts with the simple gathering of information, undercover, spirits in the night.”
The coyote’s eyes narrowed as he considered while Omi’s widened. “Y’mean, we’re gonna spy?”
“Going to, and yes. We will.”
Though he still didn’t trust Malital, or Missus Walthers as she liked to be called, her plan seemed to be sound so far. “All right, when do we start?”
The crafty eyes wrinkled under her evil smile. “Right away, if you’re ready.”
Neither had quite come to terms to the hedgehog being their leader, but both were eager to go forward. “Yes!”
“Always ready,” after a second, he added sardonically, “ma’am.”
“Well then, let’s get started.”
Old habits die hard. This was especially true for Paldra, now Abbess. Every morning she would wake up and start thinking about what meals she would make during the day and whether she should ask the Abbess about feast plans. Then she would remember: she was the Abbess. No matter that it had been nearly a season since she had taken the role; it still took time to process.
It helped that the Abbey was calming down from the war. She knew there was no way she would have been able to control the Abbeymembers the way her predecessor had. For goodness’ sake, she had barely been able to subdue the food fights in the kitchen when she had been head cook! She laid the back of her paw on her forehead, sighed and sat up. This was no time to be lying in bed thinking self-condemning thoughts. After all, if she wasn’t capable for the job, Fern wouldn’t have nominated her, right?
Tying the white cord about her green-clad waist, the young mouse headed down to the Kitchens. Even if she was no longer the head, no other beasts would be up at this time to visit with. After all, it was important to know the beasts you were leading. She paused by a window near the infirmary and smiled, remembering a harrowing moment two seasons before when Selra, Carma, Riplar and Rori had shown up. Her eyes narrowed; she was starting to think she might need to get glasses soon. If she wasn’t mistaken, there was, yet again, a group of creatures waiting at the gates.
Scurrying off, she wondered if it would be prudent to grab another beast to go with her. Maybe if she saw someone on the way, but otherwise there was no need. After all, she was a fairly competent beast, right? Nevertheless, she was grateful to find Sister Howlia, the Abbey’s resident boxing hare recorder, walking across the grass when she exited through the double doors.
“Cheerio, Paldra! H’I mean, Mother Abbess.” The twinkle in her eye belied her seriousness.
“Good morning, ‘’Sister’’ Howlia. What are you doing up and about so early?”
While pretending to be offended at the use of her title, the hare replied, “I could ask the same o’ you. Actually, I was up early anyway, couldn’t blinkin’ sleep, so I decided to do some drills to keep in shape, don’cha know? Then, I heard somethin’ at the gates ‘n’ was just comin’ t’inform you. I also heard something that’a’way,” she gestured to the southeastern corner of the Abbey, “but it’s probably nothing.”
The two chatted amiably on the way to the front gates, reminding Paldra of how she had unintentionally neglected some of her friends since she had become Abbess. The thought was pushed to the back of her mind once they arrived at the large gates. Sparking something in her list of things to-do, she turned to her companion.
“Have you thought of a replacement ga-”
Her question was cut off by a sharp rap on the door followed by a soft voice asking, “Sorry to interrupt, but might we gain entrance?”
Howlia cheerfully reached for the heavy bar locking the door, but Paldra held up a paw to stop her. “And who might you be?”
“Just a poor old hogwife and an orphan who are suffering from the effects of the war.”
Paldra had been trained even from Dibbunhood that Redwall was all about helping those in need, which these two obviously were, qualifying under at least five principles of the Redwall Charter. But something in her recoiled when her paw made to drop its objection. Perhaps it was fear left over from the war or maybe even the too-sweet sound of the voice that seemed to harbor malevolence.
Whatever it was, she kept her paw firmly restraining the recorder from giving them entrance. “What do you require from us? And, as a precaution, do you carry any weapons on you?”
Howlia laughed, slipping from her grip. “You’re so bloomin’ paranoid, Pald. ‘Sides,” she dropped her voice to a not-so quiet whisper, “If there’s any trouble, I can take them.”
Before she could form a proper protest, the hare had the gates creaking open. For a second, she thought she saw a flash of steel, but it was merely a cheap-looking brooch pinning a thin shawl around the hogwife’s shoulders. Paldra forced herself to relax; she was being way too uptight about the obviously innocent and bedraggled pair.
“Welcome to Redwall Abbey,” she inclined her head warmly. “I’m Sis- Mother Abbess Paldra.”
“Delighted to meet you, ma’am,” Stolid though the hogwife was, her curtsy was surprisingly graceful.
After a sharp, yet surreptitious elbow, her companion, whose species was hard to discern, jerked her roving eyes back to the Abbess and mumbled, “Pleased t’meetcha.” A second elbow merely produced a glare.
“Follow me.” The mouse turned and walked briskly back to the Abbey while Howlia, having nothing better to do, shepherded their visitors from behind.
During the short tour on the way to the dormitories, she tried to find out as much as she could about them without being overly nosy. What she uncovered was definitely interesting: the hogwife, whose name was given as Missus Dubya, had healing capabilities and would be able to provide for their stay with her services. The orphan, Olivia, had revealed herself to be an otter when she had asked about the whereabouts of other otters residing at the Abbey; when Howlia had thoughtlessly commented on how she looked different than most otters she knew, Olivia had stammered, saved when the hogwife had smoothly stepped in with the comment that she was a sea otter.
Intrigued, but with fears pacified, Paldra left them with Goodwife Burna at the Infirmary for a simple checkover. Howlia followed and the two chatted cheerfully.
“So, what’s on the agenda for today?”
“General Abbess work, I suppose. As the recorder, do you know of anything in particular I should look into?”
“For Abbessin’ stuff? You need to look into startin’ up a new year of school for the little chaps, especially the new ones, Maben and the like.”
“Right. Who taught last year?”
Howlia paused before replying, “Brother Goma. He died in the war.”
“Oh.” Paldra was silent, reeling with the knowledge that she had forgotten the death of one of her own Abbeybrothers. "Well then, who do you think would be a suitable replacement?”
They discussed a few possibilities before she brought up the need for other replacements that she had tried to bring up earlier. “Have you thought of a potential replacement gatekeeper yet? Or bellringer? For that matter, what about a replacement Abbey Warrior? We haven’t had an official one since…why, since Laird Bosie.”
“I wonder how they’re doing on their quest.” Paldra mused.
“Marvelously surely. Superb warriors most, if not all, of them and it’s bound to be loads of fun. I almost wish I had gotten to go!”
“Well, I’m glad I have you here. Imagine what I’d do without you in the case of encroaching vermin!”
Howlia laughed with her. “I’m sure you’d be fine. You’d just hit them on the head with a frying pan and be on your way.”
The two continued running through the list of important business matters, unaware that they had unwittingly let in a very real threat to their tentative peace, without a frying pan at paw to stop it.
Several days later, the group had stopped for a rest and meal. While the summer sun had been fairly mild up until then, it had chosen that particular day to shine its brightest. Their fur was drenched from their sweat and the squirrels' tails dragged limply. The foxes, who did not sweat, panted heavily, ignoring any decorum their rank might have given them. Unfortunately, they had left the River Moss behind after some zigzagging to maintain their heading. Though Rori assured them that since they had rested at the abandoned farm previously owned by Gingivere Greeneyes the night before, they would soon reach a tributary at which they would change directions, the general exhaustion of the party convinced them to call a stop.
Lijel collapsed on the ground as soon as the words were out of the badger's mouth. “Ugh, Ah wish h'it was cooler.”
Selra shivered in reminder of the traveling circumstances the winter before. “Trust me, it could be worse.”
“I think I'd rather be cold than hot.” Naraudo commented, slouching in the meager shade of a tree.
Ampanna agreed. “H'after h'all, snow h'is really fun t'play in.”
Segalia had to disagree. “Yore jist sayin' that 'cause yer 'ot right now. H'I think 'ot's better.”
As a debate threatened to erupt, Riplar glanced over to see if the badgers had any opinions to add. He found them curiously upset as they stared at a map, not even having taken the chance to be seated.
When his sister saw him getting up to go inquire as to their dilemma, she called over, “Hey, Rip! Can you get me a pastry from the food sack?”
He waved her away. “Get it yourself.”
“It’s too hot!” she pleaded, flopping back dramatically.
Lijel pounced on her confession. “Aha! So ye do think h’it’s ‘ot!”
“It’s still better hot than cold!”
“No snowball fights in the heat.” Naraudo pointed out.
“’N iffen yore cold, ye kin jist put more clothes on.”
“But then we miss the pleasure,” Segalia remarked sarcastically in response to Ampanna, “o’ h’all the guys sheddin’ their clothes ‘cause they’re too ‘ot.”
Lijel, halfway through pulling his tunic off, stopped as a memory flashed over his face. Riplar wondered at this, but decided more important matters were at paw as he interrupted the badgers’ conference. “What’s up? Are we going the wrong way? Did you hear something?”
Though they seemed startled at his sudden existence, they sighed in what he perceived to be an overly-dramatic fashion and looked at each other. He arched an eyebrow, though its darkness left it invisible amongst his black fur.
“We might as well tell them eventually.” Carma remarked.
“Better now than never, I guess.” Rori murmured in return.
Carma seemed reluctant to say whatever news they had to share and Riplar’s paw drifted to his sword. Not because he wished to threaten it out of her, but because if it was that horrible, perhaps he should be prepared.
“We’re leaving.” Right…he wasn’t expecting that.
“’N swimmin’ ‘n goin’ h’outside without bein’ ‘fraid o’freezin’-”
“Shush, Seg. What did you say?” Selra peered anxiously over at them from the debate.
“’N sunshine h’actually doin’ somethin’ ‘n warmth ‘n climbin’ trees-”
This time the others joined her in silencing the adamant otter. “Shut it, Seg. The badgers’re leaving!”
“’N early mornings ‘n-what?” She finally heeded their pleas as their point hit her.
Riplar continued to stand, forehead clenched, mouth slightly open, struggling to find something to say.
Ampanna gracefully got to her footpaws without using her paws. “Rori, Carma, what’s all this ‘bout leavin’?”
“Yeah, you weren’t supposed to leave until after we got hom-to the palace.”
Rori sighed again. “Well, we weren’t going to, but-”
“You promised.” Several emotions broiled under Selra’s tone and Riplar knew that he should be doing something, but his mouth wouldn’t form coherent words.
“I don’t know if we promised per say,” Carma tried to say pacifyingly.
“So you were just going to leave? Just like that? Sneak away in the middle of the night?” Maybe it was the pressure on his chest that was keeping him from speaking.
“Look, it’s not that simple!” The others looked worriedly at each other at Rori’s outburst, but Selra just advanced.
“Of course it is! You never wanted to come in the first place!” Riplar felt he was the only one that knew she was referencing to their first journey, way back when they left the island.
“It’s not that or you or anything like that! It’s the stupid map!” His paws fell heavily to his side after his wild gesticulating while the group continued to stare. Riplar thought he saw Segalia stifling an absurd urge to giggle that he did not understand.
Lijel leaned over, biting back a grin, as he whispered not-so quietly into her ear, “Why does that sound like h’a really bad break-up line?”
Her attempt at hiding her chuckles failed as she burst out laughing. She quickly clapped her paws over her mouth, but her shaking shoulders betrayed her continued mirth. Lijel smirked, but soon switched to a somber face when he caught the others staring incredulously at them. This only made the ottermaid laugh harder.
Ampanna seemed to be hiding her amusement as well, though considerably better, when she asked, “The map?”
Rori nodded slowly with his eyes closed as he tried to regain control over the situation. Carma gently took the parchment from his paws. “Look at this.” Riplar moved enough that he wouldn’t be blocking the others’ view as she presented the map. “Here is Redwall, here’s where we are-”
“We’ve only travelled that far?” Naraudo asked, surprised.
Carma ignored him as she continued. “Here’s the Marlfox Island and here’s where we need to head.” The two spots really were in opposite directions from where they were.
Though Selra’s temper had diminished, it still left an edge in her voice. “And you only now figured this out?”
“We were trying to stay with you as long as possible. We really didn’t want to leave you this soon.” Riplar saw a sort of understanding pass between Rori and Selra, a sort of apology, and Selra smiled slightly.
Carma rolled up the map in a business-like manner. “We’ll probably have to leave after lunch since you should be turning south here.”
“Wait,” Ampanna spoke up, “don’t ye ‘ave th’only map? ‘Ow’re we s’posed t’ind our way?”
His brain, mouth and lungs finally connected. “We’ve done it before. We’ll find our way.”
Lijel looked up from the dissipating laughing fit he had been sharing with Segalia. “Ye said that ye didn’t ‘member where we were ‘cause last time ye were ‘ere, h’it was snowy.”
He looked at his sister and shrugged. “We’ll manage.”
She nodded in return, meaning more than the others could tell.
“H’I guess we should h’eat lunch now?” Segalia sounded sheepish.
Murmuring agreement, they huddled in the thin shade provided by the midday sun. Ampanna and Naraudo manned the food packs, passing out bruised apples and crumbling pastries.
Carma chewed contemplatively on a crunchy core. “What was so funny, anyway?”
Lijel and Segalia glanced at each other, smiles dancing at the corners of their stuffed muzzles. She must not have heard the whispering.
Riplar spoke up. “It’s just because we all know that Rori really doesn’t want to continue with us because he’s scared of my mom.”
“However did you guess?” Rori drawled sarcastically while the others stared up in surprise. After a second, the otters guffawed, morsels of food shooting out of their mouths.
“Ew, that wasn’t necessary, Seg! H’it wasn’t h’even that funny.” Ampanna scowled in disgust as she wiped slimy crumbs off her tunic. She shot a glare at Naraudo who had continued laughing, quickly shutting him up.
Slowly, the banter increased to its usually tempo as the friends enjoyed their last meal together. Lijel dusted the last bits of pastry from his paws before drying his sticky mouth on his sleeve. He stuck his tongue out at Ampanna when she rolled her eyes at him. “So, what’s the plan now? ‘Ang out fer h’a bit more h’or get movin’?”
Segalia stared at him, eyes narrowed, as she finished up herself.
“Sometimes Ah don’t think ye ‘ave a lot o’ tact.”
Lijel ignored Ampanna’s comment. “Yeah, like ye ‘ave h’anythin’ t’say h’on that subject with all yer laughin’ h’earlier.”
Her pointed look reminded him that he had laughed as well, adding, in fact, to her hysteria. He kicked at a nearby knobby root. “H’I still don’t see wot’s so h’untactful ‘bout that.”
Before Carma could question his albeit correct grammar or any of the others could answer his original question, there came a rustling from the bushes. Instinct from the recent battles made them all reach for the weapons as they sat up intently.
A ragged nose stuck out followed by its owner. Beady eyes spotted an extra pastry and widened in greed. “See,” the rat called back to as-yet unseen companions, “Ah told ye Ah smelled fo-” He cut himself off when he spotted the eight young warriors.
He looked alarmed for a second when he spotted their weapons, but his face relaxed when he figured out that the average age was a mere fifteen seasons old. “C’mon out, yoo guys. We’ve got comp’ny.”
Fed and rested, the friends stretched lazily as they prepared their weapons. Ampanna and Naraudo, the closest to the bushes, started swinging their loaded slings viciously at the vermin advancing through the shrubbery. Unsure whether their enemy was stragglers of Grovelum’s army or merely a roaming band of vermin, their unfriendly intent was assured when the lead rat aimed a violent slash of his dagger at Ampanna. Segalia quickly shot him after Ampanna gave him a solid blow that would have turned into a black eye. She glanced down and scowled at the gash in her tunic that didn’t seem to have reached her torso then attacked again. The vermin attempted to surround them making those on the other side of the tree busy soon as well.
As Riplar stood at an angle with Rori, facing off with a pair of burly weasels, the fox asked, “So, about that leaving thing…”
Rori laughed. “Don’t worry, we won’t leave until these are taken care of.”
Riplar smiled bloodily as he skewered one of the weasels that had just hurt his mouth. Injuries could be taken care of later. He knew the bonds of friendship wouldn’t be injured any time soon.
The best word to describe the morning was idyllic. The sun had just finished rising, leaving behind traces of glorious color, but it was not bearing down with heavy heat. Lazily, the inhabitants of Mossflower arose to embrace the summer day with relaxed hubbub and merriment.
Omi was not enjoying it. True, she and Missus Walthers had made it into the Abbey, but to no avail. She was still working on differentiating the different species of woodlanders, much less identify the river/sea dog that had taken her father’s life. Also, she felt her façade slipping every moment she struggled with polite conversation. She could tell the Skipper already suspected her and her failed attempts at imitating the cheery Abbey-dwellers didn’t help. It wasn’t her fault that they were so stinking happy-go-lucky and happy the whole day.
Just thinking about it made her insides broil. She dissipated it slightly by letting slip a strong oath. After having said it, she realized it would not fit her image as a demure orphan and turned to make sure nobeast had heard her. A small mouse, who had apparently been involved in DAB, whatever that was, the season previous, was staring at her with round eyes.
She searched her mind for an appropriate excuse. “Uh, Ah said ‘goody tell’.” When he continued to stare at her mutely, she added, “As in, Ah’ll give yer a goody not to tell. Now shoo!” After looking disdainfully at the ragged flower thrown his way, he stalked imperiously away.
Sagging against the wall, she sighed. She then proceeded to jump out of her fur a second later when a gravelly voice in her ear complimented her with just a hint of sarcasm, “Nice going.”
Pretending that she hadn’t been startled, she hissed, “Slashclaw! Finally!”
“Any developments?” At her growl, he chuckled. “By your earlier cursing, I’m guessing it’s not good.”
Omi kicked the flower bush next to her and winced when she hit a pointy branch. “Nah, it’s all so confusin’. Ah don’t know ‘ho she is ‘nd it’s so difficult to live with these beasts.”
His voice became guarded. “And Missus Walthers?”
She shrugged irritably before realizing that the mousebabe had returned and was staring at her along with a few more Dibbuns. Trying to smile pacifyingly, she was shocked when they started giggling and running towards her.
A small bunny piped up. “’E said yousa said funny word!”
As she realized word of her slight had spread, she accidentally let slip another curse.
“Dam?” asked a volebabe.
“Yes,” her mind whirled, “dam h’as in a beaver dam. Ye know wot beavers are, yes?”
For a second, Omi thought she was off the hook. Then the volebabe piped up again. “Why you talkin’ ‘bout beibers?”
Resisting the very strong urge to curse again or hurt something, the stoat floundered for an excuse. A voice spoke up in her ear again and she managed not to jump. “Tell them that you thought it would be fun fer them t’make one in the pond.”
“Huh? Oh,” she turned back to the Dibbuns, “Ah jist thought it would be fun t’make a dam in the pond.”
Their reaction was instantaneous. They swarmed her, jumping up and down, pleading for her to come make one with her. This would not do. She needed to report to Slashclaw and plan the next step in their infiltration. She could not be dragged away to make beaver dams. “Ah can’t. Ah got somethin’ else t’do.”
“You’re talkin’ t’a wall.” The badger pointed out. Brat.
Before she could come up with a reasonable excuse, a hedgehogmaid crossed her arms. “We ain’t leavin’ ‘til ye promise t’come ‘elp us when you’re done.”
Eager to be rid of them, she agreed. When they finally ran shouting to the Pond, she groaned. “Ah’m doomed.”
The chuckle from the other side of the wall through the previously-discovered crack informed her that the coyote was very amused by her predicament. “Oh, shut it. Ah need ‘elp. Missus Walthers is dabblin’ in th’Infirmary and suckin’ up to the Abbess. But we need t’make a move on ‘n Ah don’t know ‘ow.”
“If Ah could be in ‘n see the situation fer myself…”
She sighed, cutting him off. “Ye know why we can’t do that. Missus Walthers says-”
“That one of my species is more difficult to disguise than you. Ah know.” He growled and she thought she could hear the slight thump of his fist hitting the wall. “Ah still don’t like this.”
“H’it’ll be over soon. We jist need to keep workin’.” She rested her head on the sun-warmed red stone.
She listened, amused, as he started listing off their plan. “First, trust in crazy revenge-driven lady to help us get into Redwall. Check. H’enter said establishment ‘n trick ‘em into trustin’ us. Check.” He paused. “Right?”
“Well, Ah think the Skipper might suspect me.” Hurrying to assure him that their plans were still on track, she added, “But ‘sides that we’re good. Ah think.”
After a contemplative pause, he resumed his counting. “That means the next step of the plan is either to take over Redwall as Malital wants, though Ah don’t see that ‘appenin’ any time soon. Or, we get th’information needed ‘n get on with it.”
“’Ow should Ah kill ‘er?”
He snorted. “’Ow do ye normally kill beasts?”
“With me numchucks o’ course. But that’s not…personal ‘nough fer this.”
“For yer father’s killer.” He finished her unsaid sentiment. “A dagger t’the heart usually works pretty well.”
“D’ye ‘ave ‘un Ah could borrow?”
“We can deal with that when the time comes. Now,” she heard the fabric of his tunic scratch against the wall as he stood up, “if ye don’t have more news to report, Ah think ye should go play with yer young friends before either of us get caught.”
She groaned. “Ye sure ye can’t stay a little longer? Ah don’t wanna play with them.”
“It’ll be good fer ye. Remember,” his voice lost some of its previous levity, “report back t’me in a few days at the normal time or sooner if ye have news. And keep an eye on Malital. She might have a double-timin’ scheme, so be careful.”
“Ye too.” Omi stood from the wall and stretched, looking for all the world like a peaceful Abbeydweller rising from a short morning snooze against the wall. Glancing surreptitiously over at the pond, she noticed that the Dibbuns were indeed building a dam and none were looking her way. Now was her chance. She tried to walk innocently away, whistling a tune, but the only song that came to mind was a vermin song that she was not sure would be appropriate.
Before she reached the nearest tree for cover, a childish shout reached her ears. “Quick! She’s gettin’ ‘way!”
She quickened her pace, but underestimated the speed of persistent Dibbuns. As she was carted off to the Pond, she could have sworn that she heard Slashclaw’s trademark laugh floating on the breeze.
“H'I don't trust 'em.”
Mother Paldra started at the sudden opinion from the beast she had not heard from in weeks. “Excuse me?”
“Ye h'asked me to 'elp ye lead. So, Ah'm 'elpin'.” Skipper Joncho stood from the doorway of her office, a room off of the library that had been converted to an abbot's office by Abbot Glisam. He entered, his paw playing absently with the pommel of the knife in his belt.
Trying to organize her papers and thoughts, Paldra looked up at him. “Who don't you trust?”
His answer came out more as a growl. “That conniving 'edgehog 'nd 'er little henchbeast.”
“Whyever not? She's been a great help in the infirmary.”
He pulled out a chair on the other side of her desk and slumped into it. “H'as a leader, ye need t'learn t'trust yer h'instincts 'n Ah got a bad feelin' 'bout these two. 'Sides, Ah know h'otters 'n that 'h'Olivia' doesn't look like h'any h'otter Ah've ever seen.”
“Missus Dubya did mention that she was a sea otter.”
He snorted. “H'I've seen plenty o'sea h'otters h'in my time, 'cludin' Seg's pa. That ain't no sea h'otter.”
Taken aback, Paldra stared back at her desk. “Can't Dubya be trusted? Just this morning, she stopped me to tell me that she had received a message from a mouse that looked an awful like the one on the Tapestry.”
She could tell he still didn't trust their visitors, but he sat up anyway. “What did she say h’it said?”
“I wrote it down somewhere.” She rummaged amongst the documents on her desk before she produced a scrap of parchment with hastily scribbled lines on it. “Aha!” She cleared her throat as she squinted in an attempt to decipher the almost illegible handwriting.
“To the South
You must go
To longears, yes,
The mountain, no
“From thence take heart
Or its opposite
To survive this plight
Your allies, you must edit
“Attitudes of those you’re with
Will go from noon to midnight
Watch your tongue and watch your back
Be sure you know who you fight"
She let the paper drift back down to the table. “I’ve been puzzling over it all morning and I’m still not sure what to make of it. Some of it seems straight forward, like knowing who you fight, but the rest is all a mess to me.” Looking up at the contemplative Skipper, she asked, “What do you think?”
“H’I don’t trust Dubya, like Ah said, but that sounds like the word o’ Martin. The first question is ‘o h’is it fer?”
“You don’t think it’s for us?”
The fiddling with his knife increased as he struggled to explain his thinking. “See, h’often throughout our ‘istory, ‘e’s used different beasts to relay ‘is messages ‘nd most o’ the time the messenger’s h’involved h’in the quest. But is the message for Dubya h’or h’us ‘n Dubya h’or ‘nother group o’ beasts fer h’a quest?”
Paldra started to catch on as her own brow furrowed with thought. “Do you think it could be for the group already on a quest?”
“H’it could be. ‘N iffen h’it is, ‘ow’re we s’posed to get h’it to them?” His fingers danced on the hilt vigorously. “The message doesn’t sound good.”
“Indeed.” The abbess leaned back in an unlady-like pose before quickly returning to an upright position. “Dubya!”
“That could work.” The skipper leaned back in his own chair and did not hurry to rectify his lack of propriety.”
With a few over-exaggerated head motions at Joncho, Paldra stood. “Is there something I can help you with?”
“I’m afraid so, Mother Abbess.” Dubya herself entered the doorway while Joncho hastily stood to offer her his chair. It looked gentlemanly, but he wanted to be prepared for a potential fight, especially as he had been caught off-guard already.
“Why, what is it?”
The picture of sorrowful resignation, the hedgehog slid gracefully into the proffered chair. “It’s Olivia.”
“Is she okay?
The skipper’s fingers became notably tense as both Abbey leaders waited for the reluctant answer. “I have reason to believe that she is not to be trusted.”
Though his expression remained schooled, Paldra detected a hint of smugness in Joncho’s eyes. She shot him a look while attempting to remain dignified. “What is your evidence?”
Missus Dubya looked hurt. “You cannot take me at my word? I had hoped that we had become friends, Mother Abbess.”
The abbess hastened to assure her friend of her good intent. “Why, of course we are! It’s just standard procedure at the Abbey to create a thorough case against somebeast before we take action.”
Smiling benevolently, she sat down from her half-up position. “Naturally. Forgive my hasty words. As for the case against her,” she shook her head, “it is many things. I believe she is not who she at first appeared to be.”
“Why, the skipper was just saying that!” She ignored Joncho’s vigorous shaking of head from behind the hedgehog. “He doesn’t believe she’s a true sea otter.”
Dubya spared a look for the warrior behind her. “Good point. But it’s other things as well, mere misdemeanors that make look simple at the time, but when added up create quite a frightening picture.”
“Oh my. Could you perhaps write me a list of these faults in character so that I can examine them with the Abbey Council?”
“But, of course. Were the two of you busy discussing something?”
Again, the skipper shook his head and again, the abbess seemed to ignore him. “Actually, we were discussing the information you-” Suddenly she stopped and smiled. “Well, never mind that.” Joncho let out a barely audible sigh of relief. “It’s just something else that will have to be discussed at the next Abbey Council.” She looked to the parchment chart of days and seasons. “I plan to have the next meeting in a couple of days. Is it possible that you could compile a list for me by tomorrow?”
“Absolutely.” Dubya stood and started to leave before turning back. “Just out of curiosity, how does one get in on these Abbey Councils?”
“You apply and we consider your application. Why? Are you interested?”
The hedgehog laughed lightly. “I don’t think so. Politics bore me. I’m merely interested to find out more about this place. It seems very…quaint. Good day, Mother Abbess.”
“Quaint?” But she was already gone done the hallway. Paldra shook herself and turned back to Joncho. “See? You were right about Olivia, but Dubya is to be trusted.”
“H’I would be h’on me guard iffen Ah were ye. Ye trust too h’easily.”
“Nonsense. I’m merely adhering to Redwall Abbey principles. Now, unless there was anything else, I need to get back to my work.”
The otter looked like he wanted to say something, but decided against it, saying instead, “H’I’d just prefer iffen we could ‘ave that meetin’ sooner rather than later.”
“I’ll see what I can do,” she said firmly in an authoritative tone. “Good day.”
As he nodded and left, Paldra could not help but feel a slight chill at the threat that seemed to be implied everywhere she looked. Perusing weekly reports from Abbeymembers did not help dispel the cloud of doom threatening to break over her head and all she had sworn to protect.
Today we left our companions to head north. It was a sad parting. Lijel tried to cheer us up by saying, “Don’t worry. Iffen we don’t die by h’an accident or by bein’ murdered ‘n iffen we somehow all find each h’other ‘gain, we’ll see h’each other soon!”
Needless to say, this did little to raise our spirits, though most of us cracked a smile. I find it kind of funny, but also kind of sad: I’ve known most of these beasts for just about two seasons and already I feel closer to them than any of my family back “home”. I guess that just goes to show why I have to do this. I need to help out my friend and find out if I have any real family, any actual connections with him.
Diary, I’ll tell you a secret. Sometimes, I don’t know if I want to find out if we’re related. Would that make things awkward? Better? I’ve seen Selra and Riplar’s relationship and though they do fight a lot, you can tell they really love each other. I pity any beast that would try to separate them.
Anyway, from here, Rori and I have to figure out where to go. He knows of the general idea of his ancestry, as I do mine, and we just have to see if they match up. I’m hoping that we don’t end up having to visit my old family. Not that they were particularly mean, but they weren’t really nice, either.
I’m also starting to wonder about the other beasts who I feel are true family to me, Mumzy and Nottenc. Perhaps we can devise a message system between us to update each other on our whereabouts and important information. I wonder-
“What’s that?” Rori’s sudden presence on the log next to her, startled Carma from her musings.
Blocking her face at the sudden flare of the fire he had just stoked, she asked, “What?”
“The book that you’re writing in. I was just wondering what it was.”
“Oh. This is my-” Suddenly ‘diary’ seemed far too girly a word. “Journal.” She shrugged. “Nottenc thought it was a good idea so I’ve been using it for a few seasons.”
“Can I see it?” Nothing incriminating immediately popped into her thoughts so she handed the small worn, bound book over.
The flames crackled amiably as they sat together in comfortable silence, Rori occasionally flipping to the previous page. Carma noted that if they had been with the larger group such a thing as silence would not exist. There was always some conversation or action going on involving all of them or even just a few in the background. For a second, the badgermaid missed it. The easy communal living of their trip thus far was definitely something she’d miss, but traveling with two would be much easier. She should savor every chance of silence she got.
She lounged comfortably, kicking out her legs, as she went over a to-do list in her head. A surprised noise from her right made her look up. “What is it?”
“Nothing. Your entries are…interesting, to say the least. I’m just amazed at how far back it goes. Look, here’s one about right after you met us.” He straightened in his seat and cleared his throat to assume a falsetto, to her amusement, before starting to read. “Dear Diary, Today I joined up with Rori and his companions, foxes, a brother and a sister. They’re royalty, too! They seem to be an improvement on his “master”, anyway.” Carma’s embarrassed laughter faltered as she watched his face for any signs of discomfort. When none appeared, she relaxed before suddenly remembering an earlier entry that was definitely incriminating. “I hope they’re happy to have me. I’m just glad-”
“That’s enough.” She cut him off, laughing awkwardly. “Can I have it back now? I haven’t finished today’s entry-”
Laughing and ignorant to her dismay, Rori lifted the book from her reach and continued reading on a different page. “No, this is just getting good! Listen to this one,” he skimmed down the page before finding a line that apparently amused him. “See entry Cregga Rose Eyes is Awesome for more detail.” He looked down at her contorted face. “I didn’t know you were a Cregga fan.”
Suddenly, he became aware of how distraught she was getting. “Whoa, Carma, are you okay? I didn’t mean to make fun of you. I thought…” he trailed off. “Sorry. Honest.”
She tried to play it cool, but continued to reach for her diary. “That’s alright.”
Sighing, he glanced at the entry for one last skim. “It’s a shame too. This one’s even about me.” He was just closing it when his whole body visibly stiffened. Carma took the opportunity to snatch her possession away. Throwing it into her sack and not in the mood to finish her entry, she turned to the food sack.
She tried to keep her voice steady as she calmed her emotions. “Now that the fire’s going, what do you want to eat?” When no reply came, she looked back over her shoulder. “Rori?”
Jerking his head out of his paws, he blinked at her twice. “Yes? I mean, anything sounds good.” At her look, he added, “Or just get me a cheese and mushroom pastry.” His forehead dropped back into his fingers.
Carma busied herself getting supper together, even letting out a chuckle. “Segalia probably would get on to me for catering to female stereotypes. You can cook tomorrow, though, so she’ll be fine.” Getting no response again, she glanced back. Rori was now gazing aimlessly off into space. “Can you even cook?”
“Yeah, sure.” He sighed. “Actually, I have no idea what you said; I was distracted. Can you repeat that?” He turned his whole body towards her and gazed at her intently.
“I was just asking you if you can cook.” She frowned at him. “Was my diary so deep that it got you so distracted?”
His laugh was shaky. “Real deep.” Regaining the falsetto, he quoted, “Nottenc helped me with spelling and grammar. Isn’t she nice?”
Throwing a twig at him in retaliation, Carma knelt to inspect the pastries wrapped in foil near the fire. “I think these are about ready. Wanna eat?”
“Yep! I’m as hungry as a hare!” Rubbing his stomach exaggeratedly, he licked his lips. Using the ends of her belt, she dropped the pastry into his proffered paw. He immediately dropped it into the dirt. “Yowch! That’s hot!”
“It was just in the fire, of course it was hot.” Carma cracked hers open and blew on it. “Do you want to say a blessing or should I?”
Gingerly picking his meal up with two claws, Rori gestured for her to go ahead.
“Thank you, Mother Nature for this food and help us to have a good trip. Amen.” She started nibbling at the end of her piece.
The boar gawked at her. “That was the quickest prayer I’ve ever heard.”
She laughed. “Nottenc was in the mindset that if you’ve got nothing else to say, you might as well eat.”
“Sounds logical.” Finally prying his meal apart, he bit in and stopped.
Carma was careful to swallow before she spoke. “What’s wrong?”
“Either these are really old or you cooked them wrong.” His swallow did not look pleasant, but he gave her an overly broad smile before staring dubiously back at the not-so tasty-looking pastry.
Her look was calculating as she watched him go for another bite, chewing dramatically in an attempt to make her laugh. She shook her head. “You saw it, didn’t you?”
“Saw what?” His eyebrows were too high, his tone, too innocent.
“Oh no, you did!” Carma tossed her food to the ground, obviously not hungry anymore. “It was stupid, okay? I was immature, younger, hadn’t been around a lot of badgers my age and just wrote without thinking. It’s not like it was true and at this point, there’s no point in doing or saying anything before we find out something. So just,” she held her paws up as she breathed in after her rant, then dropped them, “don’t.”
She wouldn’t look at him, but instead poked with her toe at the dropped pastry, her cheeks flaming. She couldn’t imagine what he was thinking, what he was feeling. She didn’t even know what was going on in her mind.
Finally, Rori broke the silence. “It could be worse, you know.” Her shocked look that bordered on offended made him backtrack. “No, no, no. I’m not saying that I’m the best guy to…” he paused, “think you’re in love with. I’m just-” He sighed, looking, for some reason, embarrassed.
“You’re probably going to laugh at this, but,” he sighed again, struggling for words to say. “Many seasons ago, when I was young, Mas- Slashclaw and I were visiting some warlord friend of his. Among his ranks, I think she was the cousin once removed of one of the generals, but I’m not sure, there was this young weasel.”
“A weasel?” Perking up slightly, the badgermaid was now facing her friend, expression skeptical.
“Just let me continue. Anyway, most soldiers, even if they’re around my age, don’t generally take to me at first. But she, she just let me be. And I appreciated that.” A shy half-smirk crept over his face. “It helped that she was pretty, but also one of the strongest and toughest warriors in the army.” His exhale bordered on lovesick and suddenly, Carma felt woefully inadequate next to his description of this vermin that she didn’t even know, with no idea why.
“We only stayed with them a few weeks, but I fancied myself in love with her. I mean,” he straightened up, “I got over her soon enough, but every once in a while, I wonder what happened to her.” He cleared his throat. “As I was saying, it could be worse.”
She stared at him curiously. “I realize that you grew up around them, but how could you like a vermin?”
“I was young, okay? And seriously, you know Rip and Selra. You can’t really be prejudiced against all vermin, can you?”
Conceding his point, she still laughed. “I still think it’s funny.”
He turned on her. “Any secrets you’d care to impart?”
Searching wildly for inspiration, her gaze caught on her forgotten food. “Well, apparently, I’m a terrible cook.”
“That I will have to agree with.” Rori made a face and this time, with the awkwardness out of the air, it was genuine and Carma could laugh. “I never answered your earlier question, though. I can, in fact cook. Slashclaw was definitely not a cook,” he shuddered and she had to wonder just what the coyote had tried to feed him, “so I learned to fix meals for both of us. How ‘bout this: I handle cooking for the rest of the trip and you…you do something else of importance.”
“I can make the fire. Luckily, we have no dishes or sweeping to worry about.” He looked around their skimpy campsite and had to agree. “Also, I can’t do anything fancy, but I’m not too bad at sewing. If our clothes start getting really torn up,”
“Which they will soon enough.”
“Then I can fix them.” They smiled at each other.
“Sounds like a deal.” Kicking the disastrous meal to the side, Rori offered her his paw and they shook on it. “I’ll start right away.”
“And I,” she leaned over her bag again, “will try to finish my journal entry. Hopefully, there are no more distractions.” She gave him a reprimanding look, but her eyes sparkled teasingly and he laughed.
Setting cheerfully about their self-assigned tasks, the two badgers chatted as the fire swept up the previous discomfort and sent it spiraling into the dark, blue sky.
Omi was not happy. Actually, this was an understatement. Omi was bordering on furious, while Missus Walthers stayed insufferably calm. She sat composedly at her perch on the window in the dormitory while the stoatmaid raged.
“’Ow dare ye? Ah’ve gone along with all yer stooped plans ‘n this is ‘ow ye repay me? Ah’m a warrior h’in me own right; ye kin’t treat me like this!” Her crazed anger turned steely as she faced the hedgehog. “Do not forget that Ah’m the leader o’ this ‘spedition ‘n ye will do h’as Ah say.”
Pushing the dagger that had suddenly appeared away, Malital stood up. “Be that as it may, who got us into the Abbey? Who has charmed her way into the Abbess’s good graces? Who got you and your questionable friend up on your footpaws again? And who,” her passive determination twisted into a conniving smile, “recently set plans in motion to send the Abbey into chaos and allow us a getaway all under the guise of instructions from their beloved founder?”
Despite her boiling mistrust and growing dislike, Omi wasn’t ready to let her ally in on her feelings. Also, she couldn’t help it, but her interest had been peaked. “Pray tell,” she imitated the hedgehog’s prim manner of speech, “what grand plan h’is that?”
Missus Walthers merely pulled out a copy of the poem from her belt and handed it to her.
The stoat squinted at the words. “To the s-south, ye moost go, to l-lonjeers, yes-”
“Oh, give that to me.” Taking the paper, she quickly recited the lines.
Despite her lack of education, Omi was not stupid. She saw the poem’s potential, but she did not appreciate its fallibility. “’Ow’d ye get ‘er to believe that load o’ rubbish?”
“It wasn’t too hard. Abbeydwellers believe anything if you want them to.” Omi looked up from the poem which she had snatched back to examine just in time to catch a seething malice cross the healer’s eyes. She let it slide, saving the information for later use.
“’N they really believe that that dead mouse or whatever wrote it?”
“That’s because he did, honey.” Startled, the stoatmaid scrutinized her conspirator. Sighing, but looking secretly pleased, Malital shared the tale. “I was in the Infirmary, studying a recent case and testing out different potions.” At Omi’s skeptical look, she sniffed, “Healing is a useful art for life, death and our current situation. As I was saying, I was up late in the infirmary when I started to hear some mumbling noises. This young mouse, recently fell off the belltower during tryouts or something, was tossing and turning. I was about to administer a sleeping potion when he suddenly froze. Then he started saying that poem. Luckily, I had quill and paper nearby so I could quickly get it down. When he woke up a few hours later, I asked him if I had dreamed, but he couldn’t remember anything.
“So, I took a look around the library, under pretense of looking for healing potions of course, and I found out that he shares all the symptoms of a classic recipient of a message from Martin: mystifying poem, foreboding situation and no memory of it the next day.”
The stoatmaid was pensive. “Won’t ‘e ‘member it ‘ventually?”
“Eventually, yes. That’s why we have to get moving. I have him drugged up on painkillers for the moment, but they can’t last forever.” Her demeanor turned serious and commanding. “That’s why you must leave as soon as possible. I’ve planted the suspicion and I can concoct a reasonable lie once you’ve gone.”
She was just opening her mouth to argue when they heard a timid knock on the door.
They both whirled to see a young hedgehog, close in age to Omi, peek his head in. “Sorry to interrupt, but my sister needs a change of clothes. “He made his way to a trunk at the end of a small bed and stopped when he saw Missus Walthers. “Missus Dubya! I think they need you in the infirmary as soon as possible. There’s been a bit of an accident.” Grabbing a light green habit, he sped away.
While he had stopped their conversation, Omi had taken the chance to take another look at the poem. One line in particular stood out to her: watch your tongue and watch your back. She schooled her expression. “Why must Ah leave ‘gain?”
The hedgehog sighed. “Firstly, they were getting suspicious before I said anything so it would have needed to happen sooner or later. Also, we need more eyes on the outside. After all, we do have reason to believe your quarry is already gone and getting further away everyday.”
At this, Omi completely lost the composure she had strived to build. “She what?! Yer tellin’ me that Ah’ve been waitin’ ‘round ‘ere, babyin’ the stupid infants ‘n dealin’ with these sickenin’ woodlanders fer nothin’? She h’isn’t even ‘ere?” She scurried about, gathering up her meager belongings. “Where is she then? Why’re you just standin’ there? We gotta go!”
Missus Walthers stopped her frantic scurrying. “You have to go. I must stay here so they don’t suspect anything.”
“Slashclaw’s stayin’ ‘ere.” It was not a question.
“I assumed he would go with you.”
“Ye don’t think Ah’m capable ‘nough ‘lone?”
Soothingly, the hedgehog patted her shoulder. “Of course you are, sweetie. But I’m told she’s traveling with seven others including two badgers. I don’t think even Slashclaw could take down all of them alone.”
“Probably that traitor,” the stoat mumbled to herself before looking back at Malital. “’Ow,” she paused, Martin’s advice in mind, and chose her subject carefully, “will we keep in contact to ‘form h’each other o’ plans?”
The hedgehog looked momentarily startled at the stoat’s forward thinking. “Good point. I believe there are some birds hereabouts who could be persuaded to help us and carry messages back and forth.”
Omi still felt a dozen of objections cropping up, but none made it to her tongue. Her whole mindset was now on predator, ready to target her prey. She made a quick decision, “Slashclaw stays ‘ere. Ah’ll either get allies on the way, or use ‘ssassin techniques.”
“Very well. Fortune be with you.” The hedgehog inclined her head, given the appearance of respect. “If there is nothing else?”
“That will be all.” Her curtness was somewhat lost when she buried her muzzle in a bag as she went through her belongings. She scarcely noticed Malital leaving as her brain whirred. She was one step closer!
Abbess Paldra had had scarcely enough time to thank the other Council members for being there and announce the agenda of the meeting before the room erupted into an uproar.
“H’a message from Martin? Wouldn’t that ‘ave been more ‘elpful iffen h’it ‘ad arrived sooner?” Korla, the Cellarmaster, asked.
“Iffen it’s really from Martin, that is. How can we make sure of that, wot?” Howlia tapped the parchment with the end of her quill before frantically examining both for damage.
An otter, one of the cooks temporarily taking over as head while Naraudo was gone, spoke up. “Why ‘as h’it come now? We’re h’in peace, h’aren’t we?”
“’Ow’d ye cum ‘bout dis message, Mudder?” Sister Burna, infirmary keeper addressed the Abbess.
“Silence!” Once the Abbeymembers had quieted, the mouse waved a paw to the Recorder. “Now, can we hear the message before we ask questions?” When they all assented, she asked Howlia to read it.
“Absoballyflippinglutely, marm!” Clearing her throat, the hare shook the paper out with a flair and dramatically read the poem.
“To the South
You must go
To longears, yes,
“Oo, longears! That's me!”
“Continue please, Howlia.”
"The mountain, no
"From thence take heart
Or its opposite
To survive this plight
Your allies, you must edit’’
“Attitudes of those you’re with
Will go from noon to midnight
Watch your tongue and watch your back
Be sure you know who you fight"
Before anybeast could spew their opinions, the Abbess quickly spoke. “As several beasts have mentioned, the first thing to do is make sure of its authenticity. Any suggestions as to how?”
Howlia spoke up. “I can collaborate with the librarian to go through records and check it against other poems.”
“Very good. That said, we will now approach it as if it is real. Any thoughts?”
The otter cook timidly raised her hand. “H'it says longears 'nd that's 'ares, right? Maybe they're s'posed to go to Salamandastron.”
The other cook, a young hedgehog whose younger sister had recently been in the infirmary, frowned. “It says, 'the mountain, no'. Hares, yes, but the beast this is addressed to is not supposed to go to Salamandastron.”
Sister Burna tapped a digging claw on the parchment. “Who be h'it 'dressed to, Mudder?”
Folding her paws, the mouse rested her chin thoughtfully on them. “That's another question we must answer. I'm not entirely sure of the reliability of my source,”
Across the table, Skipper Joncho snorted derisively.
With a slight glare in his direction, she continued, “and the source of the dream was not mentioned, though I assume it was her. Perhaps, however, the poem gives clues as to its recipient?”
Howlia looked skeptical as she gave the poem another look, but Korla spoke up. “Could it be fer Redwall in general? Not sayin' t'send a particular beast t'the 'ares, jist somebeast at all 'nd to be careful while doin' it?”
“Iffen that's true,” the skipper slammed the front legs of his chair back on the ground as he leaned forward, causing half of the Council members to jump, “then we should start h'assemblin' a team h'as soon h'as possible. This seems urgent 'nd we've h'already h'ignored it fer too long.”
Howlia nodded. “You could take several otters from your holt. I'd be willin' to go too, wot!”
“What about Naraudo and the rest of them?” The hedgehog cook asked. “Aren't they already out there?”
Korla dismissed the idea. “Don't they already 'ave a quest? 'N 'ow would we get a message to them, h'anyway?”
“Actually,” the Abbess leaned forward, “that could work.”
At the same time, the skipper pointed triumphantly at the cook and nodded. “Yes, 'n this is 'ow we could do it.”
The mouse turned and let the otter have the floor. “We choose h'a group o' beasts 'ho h'are fast 'n capable. Then they 'ead south, like the poem says, h'in the direction o' the travelers. Iffen they kin't find 'em or they kin't stray from their quest, then the group will go h'on to the 'ares. Iffen they do find 'em, then they will pass h'on the message 'nd return t'the h'Abbey.”
Warming to the idea, Abbess Paldra spoke up. “That sounds sensible. We could even pack extra supplies for the travelers. However, I was informed earlier that Olivia is moving on from the Abbey. Could we not just send the message with her?”
Silence fell over the assembly. Howlia looked hesitantly at the others, “Well...”
“Iffen she's leavin' 'cause she's not trusted, 'ow kin we trust 'er to deliver the messsage?”
Paldra stared at the skipper's impassive face before conceding. “Very well. I trust you can manage putting a team together? It was your idea after all.”
At the otter's nod, she rose from her chair. “Unless, you have other concerns to discuss, that will be all. You are dismissed.”
As the Council members mingled and left, they could be heard analyzing the rest of the poem more deeply. "What could he mean by, 'from noon to midnight'? Are beasts only going to be mad after lunch?"
While the hedgehog cook's companion answered with her own assessment, the otter cook asked Skipper Joncho, “Why do we need t'find the 'ares again?”
“H'I guess we'll find out, won't we?” Smiling, he sent her on her way before turning back to the Abbess. “Iffen ye h'agree, we'll leave by daybreak.”
“So soon? But you don't even have a team together yet.”
He shrugged. “H'I already 'ave several willin' 'n capable beasts in mind. Besides, time h'is o' the essence.”
“Very well. Check back with me when you have a team arranged. I'll head down to the Kitchens to get some supplies together.” As she was leaving, a thought struck her and she turned back. “Hopefully it won't take too long, but do be back by the Nameday of Autumn, will you? With all this traveling and poem fuss, I think we might worry some of the Abbeymembers. A good feast will help morale, especially if you are back after a successful trip.”
“Without knowin' 'ho or where the 'ares are, h'it's 'ard t'say, but Ah'll see what Ah kin do.”
Scurrying down the short incline from the Cavern Hole to the closer Cellar, an image of Martin as seen on the Tapestry popped into the Abbess' head. “Oh, Martin,” she whispered, “I hope we deciphered your meaning appropriately and the trip goes well. I don't think I could bear a disaster so soon into my leadership.”
Skipper Joncho, on the other hand, was in an almost cheerful mood. They were finally tackling the poem, at least half of the suspicious pair was gone and he got to leave on a quest. What could wrong? Certainly nothing he couldn't handle.
With a crash, a body fell from the tree, raining leaves and debris down on the bystanders. “Lijel!” Segalia jumped up from the ground.
Lijel popped his head out of the upper foliage. “That was Rip.”
“No, it wasn't!” The fox protested from another side of the tree.
“'E kin barely climb the tree by 'imself, Lijel.” After she heard another protest, she added, “No 'ffense.”
“Sure, none taken. I love having my skills critiqued.”
Rolling her blue eyes, the ottermaid prepared to resume climbing the tree. “H'I'm speaking relatively, Riplar.” She caught her breath as she hung from the branch. “Do ye want t'take the blame fer pushin' me h'out o' the tree? ‘Cause Ah kin do the same t'ye iffen ye do.”
“I'm good.” The fox assented. Selra gave Segalia a boost up to the high branch before reaching her arms up to follow.
“H'it's crowded up there, Selra. Maybe ye should wait down 'ere.”
The fox in question frowned, but made to sit back down. “I still don’t see why the squirrels are the ones staying down here.”
Ampanna shrugged, obviously unperturbed by the usurpation of her species-dictated role. "They were h'itchin' t'do somethin' 'n' h'it's a bad idea t'get in their way when they got their mind set on somethin'. 'Sides, there're h'already too many beasts up there."
The tree shook as if to prove her point. Naraudo agreed, having always preferred the ground to the skies.
Another argument broke out among the foliage and as the others waited for a report, Ampanna turned to Selra. "H'I know ye don't want t'talk 'bout it, but we need t'know what t'expect when we reach the castle."
"Yeah," Naraudo added, "what's got you so scared? If it's that bad, we need to be aware of it in advance."
Hugging her knees, despite the warmth of the day, Selra sighed. "It's...it's my mom."
"Your mom?" The red squirrel burst out laughing; his girlfriend hit his arm, chiding him for the inappropriateness of the sound, but not before he added, "What? Is she a master assassin or something?"
The hard glint in Selra's eyes was enough to fully silent him. "When Riplar and Rori were talking about her the other day, they were only partly joking. If she had wanted to, my mom could have been one of the best in the business. For goodness' sakes, she's a Marlfox."
"Did she teach you any of it?"
The fox made sure that he was genuinely interested before she answered with a shrug. "Some. It took a while for us to convince them to let us learn weaponry, since they didn't think we'd be facing any active threats, but before we got too far..." she trailed off before shrugging again.
"You left." Ampanna finished for her. When she was still silent, the squirrel queried, "H'I've always wondered. Why did you guys leave h'in the first place? Weren't ye practically a princess? 'N what 'bout yer family?"
Her eyes were hard again. "Rip's the only family I need."
Before the two slightly stunned squirrels could speak, Selra relented. "There's you guys, of course, as well. Actually, that's part of the problem."
"Yore 'fraid yer mom..."
"Won't love you anymore because you left and then fought against your dad." Naraudo finished, looking surprisingly understanding. When both females looked at him in astonishment, he shrugged. "I've had family issues, too. Not as drastic, of course, but, you get the point."
"Yeah, that's really the issue. I mean, it's not like there's a giant mysterious sea monster in the lake you guys should be worried about." Selra stood up and dusted off her tunic. "At least not anymore. We think." She grinned at their suddenly concerned looks and headed back to the base of the tree.
A rare peaceable conversation between the two otters drifted down to her:
“’Member climbin’ trees back ‘ome on the bank o’ the River Moss? Sometimes Ah miss the h’old days.”
“Yeah, ‘n’ ‘ho knows what’ll ‘appen now. H’aren’t ye bein’ requested t’ be the Warrior o’ Redwall?”
A rustle of leaves informed the eavesdropper that Lijel had shrugged. She hesitated, wondering whether it would be ruder to wait or interrupt.
“Well, wot with all the turmoil h’after the war, nothin’ was really settled. ‘N ‘ho h’even knows iffen Martin wants me t’take ‘is place?” He sighed. “H’I guess we’ll just ‘ave to wait ‘n see.”
“Would ye want t’do h’it?”
“H’I mean, h’it could be fun.”
Segalia agreed, almost wistfully. “Yeah, fightin’ h’off vermin, goin’ h’on quests, bein’ a ‘ero.”
“Course, Ah already do h’all that.” A thud informed Selra that Lijel had been elbowed for his comment. “Fine, most o’ h’it.” After a short pause, that allowed small chuckles, he added, “We’ll see.”
The fox took advantage of this seeming end to the conversation by shouting up, “Ahoy! Do you see anything?”
Her brother answered her query, while more rustling informed her that the otters had been forced to reposition themselves first. “Mostly clear, but I think I see something at 10 o’clock.”
Confusion was evident on the ground as well as in the tree as beasts spun in every which direction. Sensing the misunderstanding following his directions, Riplar sighed and clarified, “Thataways, towards that pine tree.”
As they resituated themselves, the other lookouts backed up his claim, albeit dubiously.
“Yeah, Ah think Ah somebeast. Looks like they’re from th’Abbey!”
“That’s just a bush.”
“No, h’it’s—Fine, what ‘bout that?”
“That’s h’a shadow.”
“Check yer eyes, Lijel. H’I’m right this time. H’I’m thinkin’ h’a ‘are?”
Those on the ground who weren’t privy to the view perked up.
“Sister Howlia?” Naraudo offered.
“Maybe even those dreaded Low Patron hares.”
The squirrels stared at Selra. “The who?”
“You know,” she gestured impatiently, “the warriors from the mountain, Salama-something.”
“Oh,” it dawned on them who she meant, “ye mean the Long Patrol.”
“Same difference.” She grumbled.
Before this could be debated, more information was shouted down from the tree. “I think I see more beasts!”
“’Re ye sure? H’it’s ‘ard t’see—Lijel, stop pushin’!”
“Then share the branch! H’I think there might be some more beasts way behind the runner.”
Ampanna called up, asking, “What’re they doin’? ‘Re they settin’ up camp h’or followin’?”
“That’s funny,” was the only response they got.
“What?” Naraudo asked. “What happened?”
Lijel answered. “They disappeared. Probably jist campin’ fer the night or somethin’.”
Segalia cut off their discussion when she cried, “Look! There’s another beast! Catchin’ up on the ‘are too.”
This news was ignored by the fact that the hare had come close enough for them to see that it was, in fact, Sister Howlia. “Howlia!”
“What’re ye doin’ ‘ere?”
The tree shook as they called out to the Recorder; in response she waved something above her head.
“What is that?”
“H’I don’t know. What’s she sayin’?”
“H’I kin’t tell,” Lijel replied before shouting back, “What’s that?”
This time the muffled cry was almost decipherable.
“A modem from mountain?” Riplar suggested before wondering, “What’s a modem?”
His sister on the ground tried too. “Loam from a tartan?”
“Oh!” Ampanna’s tail shot up, a sure sign she was excited. “It must be a poem from Martin!”
The others agreed and Segalia yelled a reply back. “H’a poem? What on?”
They tried to decipher her replies.
“Something ‘bout ‘ares?” Lijel offered.
“That’s a big help; that could mean anything!”
“Shush, Naraudo. What about the other part, something about a mouth?”
Selra’s speculation was cut off by gasps from the tree.
“What is it? What happened?”
There was rustling before Segalia’s footpaw appeared on the bottommost branch. “Ampanna, toss me my bow 'n quiver!”
The squirrel did as she was bid while Riplar relayed the action. “The beast that Segalia spotted earlier, it, it attacked her!”
“From behind too, the nasty coward.” Lijel hissed. The boisterous hare had made herself a friend to most of the group and they railed against this injustice.
“Seg, kin ye shoot that far?”
The otter struggled to nock an arrow amongst the foliage. “Let’s ‘ope so.”
“Can you do it without hitting Sister Howlia?” Riplar worried.
Selra turned to the squirrels. “Should we try to go help?”
Naraudo just shrugged helplessly.
“Stay calm,” Ampanna encouraged. “Jist do what ye did at the final battle when ye saved me.”
Breathing deep, Segalia stood from her position on the branch, pulling back the arrow before stumbling. Lijel steadied her before she could fall too far.
“Thanks.” Her voice shook and her face turned red.
“Just save ‘Owlia.”
Firming her shoulders, she pulled back the arrow again, this time with Lijel’s paws firmly holding her in place. Sighting carefully down the wood to her target, she adjusted it for the trajectory and let it fly. They all held their breath while Segalia nocked another arrow, just in case.
Those on the ground looked up ineffectively when groans came from the treetop.
“’Owlia’s attacker saw th’arrer—”
Segalia continued for Lijel, “’N pulled away puttin’ ‘er h’in h’it’s path.”
“Luckily, she saw it too, so neither was hurt.” Riplar concluded.
“Should Ah try ‘gain?”
Lijel stilled her arm. “Maybe we should jist wait t’see what ‘appens.”
Selra fidgeted on the ground as she waited for another report. Ampanna’s paw brushed Naraudo’s and he subconsciously grasped it. They all started when the tree erupted with sound.
After a few seconds of chaos, Riplar calmed down enough to inform the bystanders of the action. “Sister Howlia fell down. I think she was knocked out, but…”
“What about her attacker?”
“'E…” Lijel paused before muttering, “That’s weird.”
Selra barely restrained her urge to stamp her footpaw. “What?”
“Th'attacker disappeared. 'E or she's gone.”
Those on the ground took a second to understand Segalia’s statement and when they did, they reached for their weapons. “We have to go! At least see if we can help Sister Howlia!”
A few seconds later, Riplar hopped down, followed by Segalia, this time of her own accord. She reached back up for her weapons that Lijel handed down to her. He hesitated.
“C’mon, Lijel. What’re ye waitin’ fer?”
Sighing, he followed. “H’I was goin’ t’see iffen Ah could see h’anything else, but Ah don’t think it’d be that ‘elpful.”
The group had barely made it twenty feet into the brush before they heard a twig crack nearby. Immediately, they all formed a circle, backs in the middle, eyes out front, scanning the area.
Suddenly, Selra gasped. “You!” Before any of them could move or truly process what was going on, Howlia’s assailant attacked.