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Book One: The Slow Rise
In the middle of a cool green glen, shaded from the soft sun by dozens of trees stood a tan otter, colored leaves underpaw. The ottermaid hefted the loaded sling in her paw. The weight was nice and comfortable as it should be to somebeast whose ancestors had done this millions of times before her. She raised it above her head and swung. Spinning it several times with a soft swishing noise, she gauged carefully. She released a strap and the stone flew. With a bam, it hit the tree to the left of her target. As she reloaded her swing, she considered the hit. While she hadn’t hit the target, it wasn’t bad for somebeast who claimed no familiarity with the weapon.
She was about to raise her sling and resume twirling when she heard a rustling in the bushes. Turning slowly, eyes and ears everywhere, she saw that the sound came from near her bow and quiver which she had dropped to practice slinging. The young otter felt her waist and found to her annoyance that she didn’t have her dagger either. She tchipped quietly; what should she do? While the noise could have been merely a bird, being armed was always best. She could sneak inconspicuously to her weapons until she could grab them and use them. Or she could just use the weapon she had in paw. Since she wasn’t accurate with the sling, she would have to use it loaded.
The rustling suddenly stopped. The light brown maid turned quickly, moving closer to the bushes. She saw a short, yet lanky shape; it could be a rat or a mouse or even a ferret, weasel or stoat. She edged closer when suddenly she was tackled by a flying strong form from the opposite direction. When she hit the ground, she immediately kicked it off with her strong hardened muscles. About to swing her sling at a vulnerable spot, she gasped when she realized who her attacker was.
The Abbess of Redwall Abbey sighed as she sank into a chair in the Great Hall. A young badger, known in the Abbey as a Dibbun, crawled into her lap. He had been found orphaned a few seasons ago and nobeast knew whence he had come as badgers were a fairly rare species in Mossflower.
“Wot’is it, Mudder Abbess?”
Abbess Fern smiled wearily at Maben as she hoisted him higher on her thin legs. “It’s probably nothing. You shouldn’t worry. It’s just that it was such a bad harvest and winter is early and I guess we have a lot of work cut out for us.” The young squirrel straightened up as she gently deposited the Dibbun on the floor. “Well, we have to save as much possible from the harvest.” She headed out the large doors to the orchard and Maben shivered in the consequential gust of cold wind. Then he turned around and headed for the dormitories to his sleeping companions.
Outside in the cold, the Abbess tugged her thick green habit closer to her. As she was adjusting the cord, she ran into a young hedgehog maid named Korla.
“Oops, sorry ma’am. H’I didn’t realize you were there.” She backed away towards the frosted fruit trees, precariously balancing a basket of damaged fruit on her hip.
“It’s alright, Korla. Is there a particular system or can I-”
She was cut off mid-sentence by the bell ringer, a hefty male otter, who ran up shouting, “Ma’am, there’s h’a big group out dere, of h’a bunch o’creatures. H’I can’t tell what they h’are!”
Abbess Fern struggled to remain calm; she had a lot on her paws already and didn’t need more trouble in these first seasons of her leadership. “So, it could be a band of vermin or just a bunch of hungry hares and other woodlanders.”
“Well, yes ma’am.” He let out a small chuckle of relief, “but ye better come see h’anyways. Ye might ‘ave sharper eyes den me.”
The prone figure of an otter lay nearby. A squirrel, the lanky figure seen in the bushes, emerged.
“Segalia! Wot d’you do t‘im?” The squirrelmaid hurried to his side. She didn’t see the otter, Lijel, cautiously open one eye and glance around before closing it again. Segalia moved her bow and quiver closer to her, inserted her dagger into its short scabbard before sliding it onto her belt. She then put another stone in her sling and started swinging.
“Don’t worry, h’Ampanna. E’s just fakin’ h’it. E’ll be h’alright soon ‘nough.”
“H’I told ‘im so.” The pale gray squirrel mumbled before turning to watch Segalia. “So, ‘ow’s the slingin’ practice goin’?”
“Not bad. H’I’m not great though.” She proved her words by accidentally letting go at the wrong time and sending the rock towards Lijel. “Oops!” She giggled. “’Ey! What’cha do that for!?” The dark brown otter jerked upright.
“See, ‘e’s fine.” Segalia whispered to Ampanna. To Lijel, she said, “H’it was h’an h’accident. Now kin ye get up or will we ‘ave t’carry ye?”
Groaning dramatically, he stood up and stretched. “Ye should’ve seen yer face, Segalia. Ye were so scared; h’it was hilarious.”
The tan otter in question rolled her eyes. “Sure, Lijel. Why’re ye guys ‘ere, h’anyway?”
“H’I wanted t’come see ye practice, see iffen Ah could ‘elp h’any. Yer mom wants ye t’come back t’th’olt ‘nd Lijel came h’along so we could h’ambush ye.” Having lived with the otter holt that Lijel and Segalia were a part of for most of her life, Ampanna was exemplary at the sling and spoke in the otter’s dialect.
“H’I’m practicin’ h’a weapon; didn’t ye think that might be dangerous?”
Knowing Segalia’s sometimes impetuous nature, the squirrel had to agree. “Possibly, but Ah did warn ‘im.”
Lijel groaned and made a comment, but both females ignored him.
“Let’s go then.” The ottermaid picked up all her stuff. “Race ye ‘ome!” She shot off and never one to pass up a challenge, Lijel was right behind her. Rolling her eyes at her friends, Ampanna started running back to the holt.
- Back in time*
A stoat shivered as cold wind laced with snow blew around him into his ragged tent that sat at the foothills of the Northern Mountains. Over the howling of the storm, he heard a faint call. Grumbling, he got to his footpaws and forced himself out of the tent, through snowdrifts, against the strong wind and into another. “T’ain ‘t right! H’I shouldn’t hafta move in the middle of da snowstorm. Wot does ‘e want now?”
In a well-furnished tent with plush pillows, chairs and even a fire, there sat Grovelum, warlord and fox, sometimes called the Malevolent. He controlled a band of mixed vermin, sea and land, and had a small family. His wife sat next to him, consulting when the stoat entered.
“Ah, Captain Dir. Come in. Sit down.”
Captain Dir found a pillow next to the fire and sat down. “So why’d you call me here, Grovelum?”
Grovelum ignored the informality and got right into it, speaking in a cultivated voice without the typical vermin dialect. “We need a kingdom. I have learned of many other vermin kings and queens who tried to take, the shore mountain, Salamandastron, or the abbey with red walls. They couldn’t and failed. But I have learned of another place: it is a grand inland lake, with an island. From there we could rule all of Mossflower. As far as I know, no one lives there, but some pikes that could help guard the lake. What do you think?”
The captain was a bit slow in taking this all in, “So, ye don’t want the Sa-,Sal-, moun’ain,” Grovelum shook his head, “or da Wadrell place. ‘Nd ye wanna lake?”
Grovelum sighed and Captain Dir stiffened. When Grovelum sighed, it meant that he was nearing the end of his long-lasting patience and might give in to more of his vermin traits. “No, Dir. There is a big island in the lake that I want to rule from. You would be second-in-command in all of Mossflower. My wife and I would be king and queen. But, if you can’t understand that you could easily be replaced with a more competent beast.” His voice became hard.
“No, Ah, uh, understand p-p-pperfectl-lly.” The stoat bowed low, shaking at the implied threat. Eager to prove his worth to the only beast who frightened him, he bent too low, singeing his headfur in the fire. Jerking upright, he nodded stiffly.
“Very well then. You are dismissed. We break camp in the morning.” The fox turned to his wife and said something that Dir couldn’t hear as he left the tent to rejoin the squalling winds. Grovelum’s wife, Oxos nodded and pointed in the direction of the corner. He went to the corner of the tent and picked up two baby foxes from where they were swaddled in a basket. There was one female and one male and both slumbered peacefully. Their father gently rocked them back and forth, murmuring to them while he went to sit next to his wife. Leaning over to admire her children, Oxos kissed his furry red cheek. The fox family sat lovingly together in the midst of the grandly roaring storm.
- Forward in time again*
Though she had started after her friends, Ampanna soon caught up by taking to the trees. Her innate talent enabled her to jump quickly from branch to branch, surpassing the otters. Soon they noticed and increased their own speed. Laughing and panting, the otters collapsed simultaneously on the ground while Ampanna used her tail to hang limply from a tree.
Once she had regained her breath, the squirrel reminded her friend of the purpose of her enterprise. "Seg, yer mother wants t’talk t’ye."
“Right,” the otter breathed heavily taking in the late autumn air. While the holt had heard cases of early winter, they were northwest enough to have avoided it. When Segalia lay for a few moments too long, the squirrelmaid decided to have some fun and started to throw acorns from the oak tree she was in at her friend.
“H’alright h’already.” She languidly got up using one paw to brush herself off, the other to fend off oncoming missiles. Finally escaping, she laughed and disappeared into her family hut.
Lijel stood as well and ran his paw through his headfur as he tried to decide what to do. Though Lijel enjoyed hanging out with the females who were fairly close friends to him, he was now in search of some male company. He surveyed the surrounding clearing where their holt was temporarily set up as he thought. Holt Weasprear was not a normal otter holt. They were nomadic and though they enjoyed the water as all otters do, they didn’t necessarily travel by it. Because of this, they used easily set up, but secure huts of branches stuffed with grass. Their travels made them a communal bunch and while they often supped at home, they just as often had community dinners feasting on extra-hot fish, vegetables and shrimp. This extensive travelling was in fact how Segalia’s parents, her mother a river otter and her father a sea one, had met.
After a few minutes, Segalia exited from the hut. "H’alright, see ye later."
Ampanna swung herself back and forth before flipping out of the tree to land on her footpaws. “Wot’d she want?”
“Jist to go collect h’a basket o’fish from the catchers h’at the river ‘fore supper. So wot should we do ‘fore then? We could play somethin’, maybe climb that tree.” The young otter, in between the seasons of carefreeness and responsibility, gestured at the tree that the squirrel had recently vacated.
"That tree? But h’it ‘as no branches for h’at least twice my ‘eight. ‘Ow d’ye ‘spect t’climb that?” Lijel, who was not a puny beast, exclaimed.
“H’I was jist h’up there.” Ampanna commented.
“Yeah, well yore h’a squirrel. ‘Sides ye jumped from several h’other trees.”
Laughing, Segalia presented a solution. “We use ye h’as h’a step: we stand h’on ye shoulders, then jump h’as ‘igh h’as we kin-”
“’Nd kill me h’in the process.” Lijel mumbled, rejecting it.
Ampanna tried to pacify her often argumentative friends by offering something else. "Swimmin’ sounds good."
The dark otter disagreed again. “H’I don’t wanna swim. H’I think Ah’m jist gonna go do somethin’ h’else.”
Segalia and Ampanna grinned at each other as they fell in step with him. “Do wot?”
"H’away from ye two." Only mostly joking, he took an experimental step back and they followed.
“Stop h’it!” He chased them and they ran, laughing.
Grovelum, now a king, had accomplished his plan and conquered the island. There had been some resistance from a small bird army and some farmer rats. This had caused the conquering to take a bit longer than anticipated, but he, unlike some warlords, was patient and had led his army to victory. The survivors had been thrown to the monstrous fish that lived in the lake or forced into his army. As he and his followers had settled into the island, his soldiers had set up farms from whence the army was fed. Most of the work around the castle was done by his soldiers to keep them from getting lazy; he didn’t own slaves because he had heard tales of other owners’ destruction. His wife had a system of maids that he let her deal with as she saw fit.
Contemplating his next move, he sat peacefully in his throne room. He had been ruling the island for several seasons now and it would soon be time to take over Redwall Abbey. First, he had to plan his first moves. His thoughts were interrupted as his ears pricked at the sound of pattering footpaws. Soon his daughter closely followed by his son appeared around the corner into the throne room.
“Hi, Dad!" shouted his thirteen-season old daughter, Selra, who was ducking and avoiding her twin, Riplar, who was flailing his wet arm at her. Riplar was about the same height as his sister and the same age. That was all that was similar. He was a black fox with green eyes. Selra was a mottled fox with patches of orange, gray and red; she had brilliant blue eyes.
"Selra, Riplar, what’s going on? Selra, why is he trying to hit you?" Grovelum asked them patiently.
Riplar answered for his sister, "She!" he pointed a quivering paw at his sister,” threw me in the lake and the Teeth of the Deep nearly ate me!" He tried to tackle his sister who evaded him.
"Why, Riplar, I'm surprised she caught you. How did she manage that?" He looked at his fighting kids with loving amusement in his eyes.
"She tricked me! She pushed me in after she tricked me into looking at a ‘sea monster’."
Selra was laughing so hard at the expense of her brother that she was nearly crying. She doubled over with laughter, enabling Riplar to tackle her, sending her crashing to the stone floor. Her laughter became breathless as the wind was knocked out of her. Somewhat enraged that she continued to laugh, Riplar started to pummel her as she defended herself weakly.
Grovelum was just rising out of his seat, when in gracefully floated Oxos. A descendant of the Marlfoxes, she was speckled with blue and gray; quite used to her children’s’ quarrels she soon separated the cubs. She sent them off with a light scolding and the kits soon scampered off to resume their play. Oxos strode up to her husband and smoothly sat in the slightly smaller and more delicate throne that complemented his own. The two rulers talked of the harvest, business, future plans and other assorted things. All in all, it was a peaceful lighthearted environment.
Abbess Fern looked out from the battlements to the "form". She frowned slightly in concentration and the bellringer, Wraltor, looked at her anxiously.
"Wot h’is h’it? Kin ye tell? H’I 'ope h’it’s not vermin. H’I’m no good h’at battlin’ vermin. Don’t want t’h’actually kill h’anybeast." He started rambling.
Fern's tail suddenly stood straight up. Wraltor looked nervously at her and she broke out in a laugh. "It’s nobeast bad, just the Guosim shrews. Let them in when they get here in a few minutes." She started scurrying down the steps. Wraltor raced after her, nearly setting the young squirrel off her footpaws.
As soon as she was within hearing distance of the green-clad scavengers, she started barking out orders. "Who's the fastest beast here?" A small squirrel shot up her paw at the same time that a young mole shot up his.
"Go tell Sister Paldra and the chefs to prepare a small feast. Guosim are coming!"
"Race ya!" The squirrelmaid shot off quickly followed by the mole who moved surprisingly fast. That taken care of, Fern cast an eye over the orchards. "That’s good for now. Bring the salvaged food into the kitchens and somebeast help Goodwife Burna arrange the Dibbuns into some presentable order."
Wraltor creaked the gates open and soon short, spiky furred creatures poured in. A very long-snouted shrew came up to the Abbess and saluted.
"’Ello! I am Log-a-log Lior. We Guosim came ‘ere to bring you this ‘ere beast," Some shrews shoved forward a brown tattooed beast. It was hard to tell what it was. He was so covered with scabbards, daggers and swords that you could scarcely see his tattered tunic underneath. On his back there was a bow and a quiver as well. There were spikes embedded in his tail. He was strong looking and the five shrews could barely hold him.
"Well, who are you?" Abbess Fern's voice quivered a bit as she spoke, but she stood strong against this potential foe.
"H’I h’an h’otter! But these 'ere beasts can't tell th’difference 'tween friend ‘nd foe ‘nd captured me." The otter growled at the shrews.
"Log-a-log Lior!" Fern reprimanded. "Why did you capture him and bring him here?"
"Look, could you tell 'e was an otter when you first laid eye on 'im?" He retorted.
"No, but that is no reason to capture him. Release him!" The shrews obeyed.
“’Sides, we brought ‘im ‘ere cause ‘e fought less when we mentioned the Abbey.”
Abbess Fern regarded the otter curiously and started questioning him.
"What is your name otter and how were you captured?"
"My name h’is Silverfalcon Pikehawk. H’I was h’on me ship, the Daggerhawk, when these 'ere beasts boarded me ship, claiming h’I was a vermin ‘nd h’overwhelmed me."
They continued talking as she led him gently into the Abbey. The shrews shrugged and milled around in hopes of the feast later in the evening.
Segalia jumped from the bank and did a flip, landing in the water. Bubbles swirled around tickling her and catching in her fur. As soon as her footpaws touched the floor of the river she leaped into the air, twisting, and landed hitting the water with her paw making a big splash. She did this a few times, enjoying the little rush that accompanied it before she finally stopped and surveyed her surroundings.
She was in a thin tributary to the River Moss, framed by tall trees. The holt had stopped here for just a bit of grub and rest. They had been traveling all morning and now the elders were deciding how to get across the short spout of water with the young'uns. The young'uns and the older kids had decided to take advantage of this time and had gone swimming.
As Segalia surveyed the confusing, yet fun scene she spotted a good climbing tree. An idea flashed through her mind and she swam smoothly to the shore, avoiding other otters. The tree was a flamboyant, a rare tree in these parts, but a blessing when found. Commonly good climbing trees, they spouted beautiful fiery red blossoms when in bloom. This time of year, it had beautiful green leaves.
Segalia pulled her dripping form out of the water onto the bank. After a little shake, she stole quietly to the tree and quickly clambered up it. She climbed up the main trunk for a while, then found a sturdy branch that stretched out over the river. Making sure that nobeast was directly underneath, she bounced, brought her legs to her chest and cannonballed into the cool water.
"Riverstorm!" This would serve as a warning in case anybeast accidentally swam near. Segalia plunged into the water creating a humongous splash; this result was one of the reasons that her chosen last name had been ‘Riverstorm’. She whooped with joy while Ampanna on the opposite side shook herself madly, dripping wet.
When Segalia wiped the water from her eyes and saw the soaking wet Ampanna, she burst out laughing. The sight of the normally fluffy squirrel being drenched was rather amusing and she just hoped that her normally kind and forgiving nature would extend to her. Though Ampanna was an excellent swimmer, her help had been demanded by the elders so she opted out of swimming.
"Sorry, Ampanna. H’I didn't mean to." Segalia tried to apologize, but collapsed in a burst of giggles. Some of the other otters were laughing too. After glaring at her friend while squeezing out her tunic, Ampanna finally relented and grinned. Her smirk was so strong that Segalia’s laughter petered out. She turned just in time to see Lijel before he grabbed her shoulders and plunged her underwater. Peering through the murky water, she retaliated by grabbing his legs and jerking him underwater. Other otters joined in once they were splashed; without meaning to, she had started a full-out water fight. The joyful splashing and dunking continued until the elders called them in. It was time to eat, then they were moving on.
Captain, now General, Dir sighed contentedly and took another swig of grog. The soldiers had been a happy lot these past few years with little work. The island was enough of a treasure of its own with plenty of hidden jewels to explore. But, an intuitive commander always anticipated the demands of their crew and he knew that soon the interminable rest would drag on them. He would set them to doing drills, keeping them fit, as well as going to Grovelum and asking his plans. Maybe he could also start finding information out on his own; no, it wasn’t a good idea to do too much without the approval of Grovelum. He would ask before he acted because the warlord’s permission was much more readily given than his forgiveness. The stoat smiled. Now that he had a plan he could act…perhaps after a few more minutes of lounging in the shade. He couldn’t let a perfectly good jar of grog go to waste, could he?
The strange otter had been given a hot supper, avoiding a potentially awkward supper with the Guosim, and a bed in the dormitories. Abbess Fern pondered what he had told her: he had been raised by a Juska tribe, a vermin group of dangerous tradition and skill. Though he had learned much, the time came for him to escape and he took it. Though he had a slight affinity towards vermin from his time as the Juska’s Taggerung, he had felt it his duty to inform the Abbey of a new development. One day during his travels, he had come across the abandoned Marlfox castle in the great Inland Lake. Only, it wasn’t abandoned anymore. It had been taken over by a substantially sized mixed army which was apparently led by a fox family.
Abbess Fern knew there was a distinct possibility that they could take over Redwall Abby if they chose to. There was little way of knowing what would happen, but she could at least prepare. Besides the fact that deliberately attacking was against the Redwall code, their attack capabilities were limited. Should they themselves be attacked, they would be lucky if they could muster up a good defense. Because winter had come early, their orchard harvest had yielded little. The frozen pond merely supplied water so there was little chance that they would hold up well under siege. Unless, that is, they had a lot stored up in the Cellar.
She leapt to her footpaws; she could go over supplies with Cellarkeeper Jagjo, maybe make a plan for rationing. Striding across the cool Cavern Hole, she started fabricating potential situations and deciding on solutions in her head; it was a trick that she had learned, not from her predecessor, but from the Abbey leader before that, Abbess Perrit. As her eyes adjusted to the dim light of the Cellar, she heard scurrying and whispering. A shadowy outline in front of a small dusty window revealed itself to be Maben, held up by some of his Dibbun friends and trying to sneak a sip of Dandelion Fizz. All thoughts of her mission vanished when she saw them.
"Dibbuns!" her voice rang out sharp and clear. The startled Dibbun tower wriggled and collapsed to the ground in a big heap. "What are you doing?”
"Sowwy, Mudder Abbess." They said, heads bowed, not willing to admit to their theft. Maben's shoulders started shaking.
Unsure whether it was melodramatics or she had actually been too harsh, Abbess Fern took a step forward.
The Dibbun tower had consisted of the molebabe and the squirrelmaid, as well as a baby hedgehog, all supporting the badger. The hedgehog had gotten stuck to the wooden barrel when they fell and she was stranded in the middle of the air. She had fallen on the back side of the barrel where the Abbess couldn't see her, but her friends could, causing great amusement in the group.
"Maben, are you crying?" The Abbess asked, attempting to sound more tender. The thought of their friend crying when he was in fact laughing, made the other Dibbuns laugh even harder. "Why, what are you all laughing at? And where's Katya? I have to ask her father a question."
Finally, the molebabe regained enough breath to explain to the irritated squirrel abbess. "Well marm, you stoitled us gurtly ‘nd Katya fell ‘nd she'm be stoick to the bawwel boi her spoikes."
"Oh." Fern’s anger dissipated some as she walked around the barrel and saw Katya. She was wriggling and wriggling, but her "spoikes" were firmly encased in the wooden slats. The Abbess leaned down and gently, being careful to avoid the troublesome spikes, pulled her out. The Dibbun sank wearily to the floor and straightened her blue dress.
"Thankee kind’y, Mudder Abbess."
That done, the Abbess turned her thoughts to the matter of the attempted theft. She stared at the ringleader, with crossed arms. “Maben, why were you stealing from the Cellars?"
"Well, we's was thiwsty, Mudder." He looked pleadingly up at her.
"You could have gone to the kitchens."
"Sista Paldwa chased us out."
"Why did she do that? Sister Paldra is a sensible head cook. She wouldn't chase you out for no reason."
"We...weren't doin' nuthin'." Maben stared at the floor, scuffing his footpaws.
She turned her gaze towards the squirrelmaid, the molebabe and Katya. The mole was closest to the badger and was about to open his mouth to confess, when Maben stamped angrily on his footpaw.
Feeling the pressure and a repayment for her freedom, Katya confessed. "We's was steawing pies from da windowsill. Den when we came for a dwink, she said no. So Maben said t’come ‘ere for a dwink. Pa was teachin' Korwa about bein' Cewwarhog, den dey weft so we came to get a dwink."
"Okay, Katya, you can go. So can you two" She motioned to the mole and squirrel, who hurried after Katya. Maben started to slink after them, but Abbess Fern stopped him. "You stay. I think I'll put you on report."
"But why, Mudder Abbess? H’I was just 'ungwy ‘nd tirsty ‘nd Sista Padwa was bein' mean! Dat's an unfair weason t’put me on weport!" He cried indignantly.
Abbess Fern was firm. An enemy might be coming, the supplies were low due to the winter and this impudent Dibbun thought he could get away with stealing. Grabbing him roughly by the scruff on his neck, she hauled him from the Cellar.
The youngest otters of the Weasprears, often known as young’uns, were getting tired of the long bumpy ride in the wagons that carried them, the weak, the old and the supplies. Bickering ensued:
"Don't touch me!"
"H’I di’n't! H’I was h'over 'ere!" The accused squealed indignantly.
"Then ‘o could h'it 'ave been?! Yore the cwosest one!"
"H’it was h’Ema! She touched ye wiv dat stick!"
The angry young'un who was nearly old enough to walk instead of ride, was sick of the other infants and turned on Ema. "Why'd ye 'it me!"
The simpering Ema fluttered her eyelashes innocently. "'It ye? Why would Ah want t’do dat?"
"Den," Danuk, the oldest, was nearly boiling now, "’o was h’it?!"
Ema shrugged. "H'I don't know, maybe h’it was Lijel."
Danuk shrank at the prospect. Lijel was a bigger boy. What would happen if he accused him? Besides, who cared about being touched with a stick. He lay back against some sacks and crossed his arms.
Lijel heard the whole argument and grinned. Spying Segalia, he ran up to her.
"Remember when we h’used t’fight like that?"
She turned to him, a questioning look on her face. "H’used to? What're ye talkin’ ‘bout? We still do. Ye're still the same annoyin’ kid ye were when ye were that h’age." She gestured vaguely at the wagon, pulled alternatingly by grownups and the older kids.
His face changed to incredulity and she grinned. "H’annoyin’? H’I'll show ye h’annoyin’!" He took a gourd from a pouch around his waist and sprayed water at her. Shouting, she ducked and charged him.
Oxos came into the room of the castle that was used for clothes: the making of, the washing of and the drying of. She sighed: half of the clothes that she had sent in this morning were not done. A stately dinner that night required that she wear a gown she had sent in earlier.
"Maids!" She yelled. It echoed through the dusty halls and soon a flurry of paws could be heard. The last one there would have to do the job and if they didn't do it well...they shuddered to think of it. Nails scraped against the stone and shoving commenced as the ragged maids forced their way to the clothes room.
They gathered themselves into a semblance of a line and curtseyed. A few others straggled in from their duties across the expansive castle. The queen counted carefully. Two were missing. More patting was heard and then a bird of prey flew past a vole, who consequently tripped and somersaulted to the vixen’s footpaws. The unfortunate vole, named Lavinia, crouched in a threadbare blue tunic at the pedicured footpaws. One of them started tapping up and down. Finally, Oxos spoke, making sure they were aware of her disapproval. “That was certainly a disorderly entrance. Should we try it again?”
They all shook their heads rapidly.
“No, your majesty.” They chorused.
She nodded. “I would say that,” she took a look at her claws, “that you, what’s your name? Oh yes, Lavender or something. As you were the last one to arrive, you are the lucky maid chosen to do this duty. You may go.” She gestured with her manicured paws at the other maids who gratefully bowed and scurried from the room, before she turned back to Lavinia.
“Next time you land on my footpaws and enter that ungracefully again, I’ll have you whipped forty times. Now,” the vole had started shaking all over; she bit her tongue hard to stop from crying out. “You have been called here to do the laundry which should have been done when it was taken this morning. Take extra care that you don’t rip the fabric or make it dirty with your filthy paws. I expect it to be dried and folded in my chambers in around thirty-two minutes. If not, I’ll give you a choice of punishment: Paycut or flogging?” All the maids were saving up as much money as they could to make their way in the world; their only realistic choice, however painful, was the flogging.
“Very well. See to it that you complete the task, otherwise...” She trailed off ominously and left Lavinia to the sizeable job of washing, drying and folding the humungous pile of laundry.
Abbess Fern had elected a Council that helped her run the Abbey and make decisions. It was especially helpful during these first unsure years of her leadership. She decided to kill two birds with one stone, so to speak, and discuss the war and Maben’s punishment. The head cook, Sister Paldra, Cellarhog Jagjo and several other abbey members made up the council. The role of Skipper was filled by whichever holt was visiting the Abbey at the time. Soon the Weasprears would be here and their skipper could help with war plans, in the dreadful possibility that they would be needed.
She went to the Great Hall dragging Maben behind her. She had sent messengers around the Abbey to collect the rest of the council, so they were already there to meet her. She sat Maben down next to the recorder, a female boxing hare named Howlia.
Howlia winked at the Dibbun, “Don’t move a bloomin’ inch and ye’ll get a bally candied chestnut later. Would ye like that?”
Maben smiled. “H’I greatwy wike candy chesknutters.”
“Well, if ye behave ye can get one, wot!”
Maben tried to sit up as straight and serious as he could. Howlia nodded approvingly and got ready to record the meeting.
Abbess Fern observed this and smiled. Like most young squirrels, she had a soft spot for Dibbuns. In this case, however, she had to remain the authoritative figure. She spoke in a voice that commanded the attention of all present. “We are gathered here today to discuss the punishment of a certain Dibbun,” she gave Maben a pointed look and he smiled innocently at her, “and a warning we heard from a passing otter. First on the schedule is his punishment. That way he won’t have to sit through the whole Council meeting.”
“Wot’d he do?” Howlia wanted to know as she scribbled down the Abbess’ words.
“He was pinching pies from my kitchen!” cried the understandably annoyed mouse chef.
“And I hear ‘e was stealing me drinks.” Jagjo glared suspiciously at the badger babe.
“’E be a good Dibbun. Do nut be too hard on ‘im, burr.” said Goodwife Burna, a mole who was the Infirmary keeper as well as the primary caretaker of the Dibbuns.
Abbess Fern put her paw up for silence. “I’m not quite sure you understand the seriousness of the situation. The winter came early. We have barely any supplies. Silverfalcon Pikehawk came to tell us that there is a big vermin army waiting to seize Redwall Abbey. If they laid siege on us, we could scarce defend ourselves, much less, survive the winter. This is no time to be stealing supplies.” She gave Maben, who was by now torn between cowering in his chair and sticking his nose in the air, a hard look.
“Marm, ‘ow was ‘e supposed to bally know that? We didn’t even know that. You should let ‘im off lightly.” Howlia pointed out.
“He shouldn’t be stealing in the first place.” Sister Paldra said.
“Well, yes ‘e should be punished for that, wot, but ‘e didn’t know there was a blooming shortage of supplies.” The recorder defended him.
“Then,” the Abbess said the word with force, effectively stopping the argument, “we are in accord that he should be punished for stealing, but no more than usual despite the circumstances. Any suggestions?”
Ideas rang out:
“Scrub all the pots and pans!”
“Clean the pond!” The suggester for this was quickly rebuked as the frozen state of the water source made it impossible.
“Sweep and mop the Great Hall!”
Maben had resigned himself to shrinking in his chair.
Howlia raised her paw quietly. “How ‘bout we give ‘im a bath and early bedtime tonight and tomorrer ‘e can help me in the Gatehouse, sorting records for the Library?”
There were grunts of agreement all around.
“Very well. Maben, you are dismissed for now.” The squirrel leader waited as the Dibbun scampered off, unsure of what to think about his punishment. “Now about the war and possible threat. This is what I know…”
A shimmering red dragonfly skimmed the River Moss, which was green from the reflection of nature. Gnarled oaks were framed by willowy birches, maples and acachias. Weeping willows spread long branches and shadowed the shrubbery, which was made up of nettles and wildflowers, standing side by side.
Segalia sat in a canoe, with her paddle on her lap, resting in a slower part of the river as she thought back to the recent occurrences:
She charged at Lijel and he flew backwards, startled, right into the wagon. Clapping a paw over her mouth in astonishment, she decided to make herself scarce. An ottermum started to make her way after her when a shout stopped her.
“We’re ‘ere! We’ve reached th’olt!”
Cheers rose all around. Finally the otters could revert to their natural habitat, the water. They had arrived at Skipper Rosethorn’s holt. She led the Aquafaura holt, a holt that typically stayed at a dock in the River Moss. Other holts could use their dock temporarily; the Weasprears kept their ships and boats alike at the dock, like the ship that Segalia had helped to make and was practically her own, the Silver Falcon. The Aquafaura otters started running out to greet them. Having arrived Segalia quickly scouted about for her dad.
“Pa? Kin we ride the river in the Silver Falcon’s canoes?”
"Shure thing, ‘oney. Ye know what to do.”
A sudden bump, made of bumping into the bank and a sudden thrust from Ampanna, jolted Segalia back to the present.
“Lookit what yore doin’, Seg!” Ampanna reminded from behind her. Segalia rolled her eyes and used her paddle to push off from the bank. Soon they were speeding along aided by the current and their paddles. At another jolt, Segalia turned. There were Lijel and one of his friends, Josham, in a canoe of their own.
“Wanna race?” asked Lijel, a broad grin on his face.
Segalia turned to Ampanna. “H’I don’t h’even know why they h’ask. They know they’ll lose.”
“So sure ‘bout that?” Josham asked threateningly.
“Bring h’it.” Ampanna responded. With a shout and a splash, the race was on.
Screams echoed around the slanting ramps of the castle as the whip slashed across Lavinia’s scarred and tender back. She bit her lip to try to stop from releasing another scream. The whip cracked and fell back on her back again. A whimper escaped the clenched mouth and resonated in the ears of Grovelum who was out in the grounds.
“Dir!” he called out, ignoring the pained vole’s cries.
The stoat commander strode majestically up, his black and purple cape flapping behind him. “Yes, yer majestae?”
“Put your soldiers through some maneuvers. I want to see how good they are.” The stoat started to leave, grinning toothily, glad that he had made his soldiers practice beforehand.
“Wait!” the king held up his paw. “Tell my…” He put his paw to his mouth in concentration, “my statistician to come to me.” He waved Dir away and was left to his thoughts of question and answer, back and forth.
Why did he want Redwall, when he had this nice big fortress here? So that he could control all the land from different strategic points and that would be one of them. But all the warlords failed miserably when they tried. The statistician had valuable information for him that could lead to success. How was he going to start his campaign? By sending scouts out and making the soldiers battle ready. But so many warlords went insane when they tried. He had a calm head and would not do that.
As he was having this mental battle, his statistician, a small loyal female wolverine came up, her long red-orange tunic floating about her thin form. She held in her arms a big stack of papers, parchments, scrolls, books and various scribblings. As she waited patiently for King Grovelum to notice her, she organized her thoughts and her stack.
The fox turned to her. “So, my faithful Malrua, what do you have for me?”
She smiled, an evil glimmer in her eyes. “Ah think ye’ll like it. Ken we go someplace where dere’s a table?”
He nodded and turned on his footpaw, his dark blue cloak swirling about him. “As long as I can still see the maneuvers.”
She trotted after him, explaining some of the information in her light Highlander accent. “Ah’ve got a wee bit about Salamandastron, and a couple maps of the area. Ah’ve got lots of maps of th’rest of Mossflower and Ah think ye’ll like this.” She held up a piece of paper. "It's the account of the Marlfox, yer wife's ancesta's, when they attacked Redwall. They managed to get in. 'N dis one is about two hordes dat got in, Badredd an' Raga Bol. Dis will 'elp us get in. The scouts kin fill in da rest."
Now it was his turn to smile wickedly.
Segalia was glad to have finally arrived at the Abbey. Though she enjoyed travelling, a time of rest at the famed Abbey was welcome. Standing in the orchard, she gazed admiringly at the big reddish building, graced by trees and walls. She looked around and spotted an otter that she didn’t recognize. As she hadn’t been here in a few seasons, it was logical that she wouldn’t know everybeast. Not having anything else to do, she decided to introduce herself.
She walked over. “’I! H’I’m Segalia. ‘O’re ye?”
The male otter who looked to be bit older than her, was very tattooed and carried a lot of weapons. He turned towards her voice. “’I! H’I’m Silverfalcon.”
A sudden change came over Segalia’s face. “Wot’d ye say yer name was?”
Puzzled, he repeated himself slowly. “Silver. Falcon. Pike. Hawk.” Segalia was stunned. “Why?” he asked.
“Ye see, Ah ‘ave h’a ship named Silver Falcon h’as well.”
Now it was his jaw’s time to drop open. “Seriously?”
“Yeah, Ah called h’it that ‘cause Ah’ve always h’admired falcons. Ye know they’re so strong ‘nd fierce. H’I’ve h’also h’always liked the color silver. So h’I named h’it the Silver Falcon. Why were ye named that?”
“Well, me parents saw that Ah ‘ad these silver wings h’on the back o’me paws and that Ah was brown like h’a falcon.”
Segalia nodded, understanding.
Lijel bounded over, having finished putting his effects in the dormitories. “’O’s this?”
“Get this, ‘is name’s Silverfalcon!” Segalia exclaimed.
Lijel nodded, but was obviously less impressed at the coincidence than Segalia. “Cool. ‘Ey, ‘ow’d ye get h’all those tattoos?”
Silverfalcon was starting to feel embarrassed at the attention on his name and was therefore happy to explain his unique tattoos. “See, when h’I was younger, me ‘olt was slain ‘nd Ah was captured by the Juskasei t’be their Taggerung.”
Lijel’s eyes widened. “Cool! Like Deyna?”
“Yeah, ‘e’s one o’ me h’ancestors, by the way.”
“Sweet! H’I don’t know iffen Ah got h’any cool ancestors like that.”
“Ye never know. So, why’re ye two ‘ere?”
Segalia welcomed the chance to talk again. “Our ‘olt, the Weasprears, comes ‘ere every few seasons. ‘E’s Lijel, by the way.” Silverfalcon nodded thoughtfully when another otter walked up. To Segalia’s dismay, it was another male, not a female. Soon she might have to seek out the company of her still-unpacking squirrel. For the moment, she decided to be friendly. “Ahoy! Wot’s yer name?”
He tossed his longish headfur that hung over his eyes. “H’I’m Wraltor, bellringer o’the h’Abbey, h’at yer service.” He did a little bow, then asked, “’O’re ye?”
“H’I’m Segalia Riverstorm o’Holt Weasprear ‘nd this h’is Lijel.”
Lijel was smiling at the newcomer. His friends in the holt were limited, especially since Josham had disappeared once they had reached the Abbey. These could be fun otters to hang about.
Book Two: New Friends and Enemies
A proud chickadee fluffed his new colorful feathers and twittered and trilled a few bars. Suddenly he stopped and peered down at an unusual sight. A young female badger, not very big was walking fairly gracefully down the path through Mossflower Woods. Every once in a while she would stop and cut an herb with her knife and put it in her basket.
Carma, pronounced S-R-muh, as she was called, had lost her parents at a young age. They might not be dead, but she had no idea where they were. She had been raised by her aunt and uncle with her cousins. Some of her cousins were alright, but the others were brats. Her guardians had grown tired of her and decided to let her go off on her own into the world. She was fine with that.
Up ahead the peace and quiet was abruptly shattered, when she heard a thin reedy voice cry out, “No! Please, don’t hurt me! I have no money! Please leave us alone!”
Carma, curious though frightened, came cautiously towards the sound.
A harsh voice interrupted the cry, “Us? Oh ho ho, so dere’re more o’ ye?”
“Oh no,” the thin stammering voice corrected, “There’s just me alone in this poor hut by the river. All alone.”
Carma peeked through some leaves to the source of the voices. A small group of vermin were bothering a poor young female vole. She was crying, or so it seemed, into a pair of thin bony hands. A pine marten, who seemed to be the leader and the owner of the other voice, was poking her in her ribs with his sword.
“Come, come now.” He snarled through a toothy smile, “Ah know ye got someting of worth on ye.” Carma looked at herself. She only had a stiletto to defend herself with and it was dull from cutting plants. It was all she had though and she would make the most of it. She took a deep breath, yelled and charged.
“Yaarrrgh! Rooosehiiip!” She didn’t think about what she was yelling, but just charged, waving her dagger. Half of the vermin, having had an occasional clash with a badger, ran, tripping over themselves.
“Fools! You mangy smelly scoundrels! You slack-gutted, mop-pawed foolish nuisances! Get back ‘ere!” The pine marten yelled angrily. “Yer the scouts o’King Grovelum! You don’t run!”
Carma barely heard this and registered it for later. She did not feel like stabbing him in the back while he was turned, so instead she took the nearest ferret and in the way she knew best, held him with one paw and chopped off his head. She stood, as if in a dream, watching his head roll slowly down his body, which in turn slumped to the ground, spurting blood everywhere.
The pine marten turned back, and saw the wild badger standing in a daze. This would be a perfect time to kill him…or her? As his sword went for her head, a spear shot in front of his face, blocking the thrust. Who could that be? He glanced wildly around then his eyes landed on the pathetic vole. She didn’t look pathetic any more, wildly brandishing a spear…that was aimed… for his heart. He was so shocked he had not time to react before he died. The rest of the vermin saw and ran.
The clang of sword on spear had been enough to dull the raw edges of Carma’s shock. She stared blearily at the volewife. The vole threw away the spear.
“As you can see I took care of myself”
Insulted, but not surprised Carma replied, “Yes, I can tell by your shrieking and pleading earlier.” Her slightly incoherent words tripped over each other.
The vole ran her eyes over the young badger, noting the shock, age and weariness of long travel. Her heart softened. “Come, come. My name is Nottenc O’Chubbacutch. Come in.” She entered the den as if nothing had happened.
The badgermaid trudged after her, fighting shock and tiredness. She forgot to duck as she entered and nearly fell. Nottenc steadied her. “You better lie down.” She said, steering her over to a rock couch, covered in moss. “I’ll make ye some soup.” The vole bustled happily around the small den preparing the food.
Carma was hunched over, shivering, reliving the gruesome fall of the head from body. Nottenc finished the soup and picked up a bottle and put some of the soup in it.
Half unconscious, but still indignant Carma muttered, “I no need bottle.”
Nottenc chuckled. “No, but if you keep talking like that, you’ll sound like who it’s for.” After handing the badger a bowl, she went over to a hidden alcove and pulled out a bin. She reached down and pulled out a baby vole. It started whimpering. She gave it the bottle and bounced up and down, whistling a tune.
Carma’s ears perked up and she stopped trembling as much. She ate some more soup and cheered up some more. “M-m-my mom used to sing that to me. How does it go again?”
In a surprisingly deep, but sweet voice, she sang:
‘’As the sun falls’’ ‘’The darkness will rise’’ ‘’Hush little babe’’ ‘’Come, close your eyes’’
‘’Go off to sleep’’ ‘’Safe where you are’’ ‘’Rest for the morning’’ ‘’When you will go far’’
Carma had now recovered and she came over.
“So cute! What’s,” here she mumbled so that if she got the gender wrong, nobeast would know, “name? Where’s the dad?”
Nottenc laughed. “So many questions! I assume you feel better. Her dad was taken by the same vermin as who just attacked me.” She frowned unhappily. “But anyways, what’s your name?”
“Oh Carma, ma’am.”
“Okay then, Carma meet Mumzillia O’Chubbacutch. Mumzy meet Carma.”
“Can I hold her?” Carma asked tentatively.
“Of course, dearie!” She handed over the squirming babe to Carma.
As Carma rocked the volebabe back and forth she commented, “You know, yore one of the nicest voles I’ve ever met.”
“Well, did you ever notice that vole is an anagram of love? I know, it’s surprising. Voles have a naturally stubborn attitude and some resist the notion of being love as much as possible.”
Carma grunted in agreement, remembering some of the voles she’d met on her travels.
“My name is an anagram of content. So I try to act like ‘content love’, though sometimes my vole side takes the better of me.” Nottenc chuckled. “So why is someone as yourself wandering around the woods alone?” Carma related her tale to the sleeping Mumzy and her mom as night fell.
King Grovelum had surveyed, examined, pored over documents, analyzed details and finally decided with the aid of a small piece of paper he now had in his paw as he sat on his desk in a study off the throne room. The paper came from a document called the Warlord Guide, What and What NOT To Do For the Aspiring Conqueror. Malrua had somehow dug it up somewhere, but it had been dreadfully burned, so that all that was left was: Kill the Skipper, Log-a-log and all Squirrels, followed by the reasons.
He had decided that his soldiers, specifically his snipers, were in good enough condition to try an attack. His scouts had informed him that there were lots of squirrels, the Skipper and the Log-a-log, bizarre name as it was, currently at Redwall as well as a nasty volewife and badger out in the woods. Even if the attack failed, he would hopefully have picked off a decent amount of squirrels and possibly the Log-a-log or the Skipper. It was basically a win-win situation. Besides, while the snipers were doing that, some scouts could go check if the accounts were right in the instructions to get past the gates.
“Dir!” His voice echoed through the island. His general marched up.
“Prepare your soldiers, especially your sniping units.”
“Yes, artillery, you know slingers, spearbeasts, archers etc. The whole deal! Tell the cook to make supplies for, say, a week or so for the unit. We leave at dawn.” With that, he put away his papers, rose and went to inform his wife of the newest arrangements.
Dir stood there a few moments. Now that he understood, he could put his strategic mind to work. He mentally started picking the best “snipers”. Finally action. He went to the fairly spacious barracks for the archers first.
“Rongear, Niceun, and um, yes you, wot’s yore name ‘gain?”
The small wiry weasel he pointed at, stood and stretched. “Ungbar’s me name, shootin’s me game, and h’am I glad t’get back t’fightin’!”
“Yeah! Yay! Aye!” The other chosen agreed heartily while the ones not chosen grumbled jealously.
“’O ever said we was fightin’?” Dir barked. The clamor died down with puzzled looks. Dir stood with his paws on his hips, stern. Then he cackled and grinned toothily. “We leave fo’ Redwall at dawn! We’ll be shootin’ down sum Abbeybeasts!”
The shouts resumed with all force, along with slapping each other on the backs and high-fiving.
Dir smirked in agreement and went to the next building.
It was a few days later and Paldra hummed as she moseyed around the kitchen, completing different tasks and aiding her kitchen apprentices. Naraudo, pronounced N-uh-raw-doe, a handsome young reddish squirrel was busy cutting nuts for an almond pear flan.
She watched him critically for a few seconds then said, “They need to be cut a bit thinner. Otherwise you’re doing well. Do you think we should have lunch outside today?”
Naraudo looked up from his work, out the window to the yard considering. “Well, seems to be a pretty nice day. Not too much sun, but it doesn’t look like snow or rain, though it’ll probably be cold. D’you want me to help bring the tables out with me big muscles?” He winked while flexing his average-sized biceps.
She laughed and shooed him with her apron. “Ahh, sure go. Anything to get away with you.”
He smiled, quickly dropping his apron and knife, happy to be out of the hot kitchens. Enlisting aid from Jagjo and the skipper of the Weasprears, Joncho, pronounced J-on-ko, and a few of the otters and some squirrels, they set to work moving tables out to the grounds. They chattered back and forth happily between grunts.
Blissfully crouched in a tree out of sight from the grounds, Ungbar carefully chose an arrow to nock. The first target seemed to be the red squirrel, since he couldn’t quite remember the other targets. Now, if only he would get into his range.
Ampanna emerged from the orchards, closely followed by Segalia with baskets somewhat full of frost-bitten fruits. They conversed happily, despite the slightly dismal place from whence they had come.
Ungbar regarded this new squirrel with interest. She could probably do some harm if not killed and she seemed to be closer in range. He drew back his arrow.
Naraudo couldn’t seem to shake the feeling that they were being watched. Maybe it was something to do with new threat. He doubted the threat would come to anything; Abbess Fern was probably just being paranoid. He shook himself to try and clear his head, attempting to concentrate on the cheerful banter surrounding him.
The weasel archer took careful aim and fired. The goose feather-fletched arrow seemed to move in slow motion. Naraudo’s head whipped up and with a cry he dropped his end of the table and charged slowly towards Ampanna. Ampanna seem confused as to what was happening. Segalia heard a strange sound and looked up.
“Noooo!” The sound tore from her lips into the cold air. The arrow seemed to be getting closer all the time. Naraudo couldn’t let this pretty young squirrel get hurt so he leaped and braced himself.
Suddenly it was all over. Ampanna was safe, knocked out of the arrow’s path by this brave red squirrel. Naraudo, on the other paw, was bleeding from a shoulder wound. The squirrelmaid tried to regain her breath. Segalia, stunned as she was, rushed to her friend’s side. Checking that she was okay, she looked over at her friend’s rescuer.
“Thank you,” she said, then started as she realized he was wounded. “Somebeast run and get Goodwife Burna!”
As all this commotion was occurring, Ungbar was nocking another arrow. Though he hadn’t gotten his original goal, he had still shot a squirrel, and there were plenty more chances. He signaled to his companions who were crouched in nearby trees. They nodded and passed on the message: Attack at all force.
In a few seconds the grounds were bombarded with slingshots, javelins and arrows. Maids shrieked, males shouted, beasts ran and chaos reigned. Seeing as the tables probably wouldn’t be used for food anytime soon, several fast-thinking beasts turned them on their sides to work as shields. Thunks of blade into wood informed them that their ploy had worked. Ampanna shoved Naraudo out of the way of another arrow.
He smiled up at her. “Thanks”.
“No problem. ‘Sides, ye saved me.” Together they helped each other limp over to the red-tinged building, dodging screaming Abbeybeasts.
Carma’s eyes blinked open, shut then flickered open again. She examined her surroundings slowly, taking them all in. She seemed to be in a small earthen hut somewhere. Her forehead creased. Oh yes! Memories of the previous day suddenly flooded back in: fighting and meeting the vole. Where was Nottenc anyways?
She slowly sat up and stretched. She heard a noise and turned. There was Nottenc standing over an earthen oven stirring something. Carma rose and went over to her. The vole’s right ear twitched, but that was it.
“Good morning, ma’am.”
Nottenc grunted a greeting.
Carma thought that she may have offended her yesterday and started to apologize. “Sorry if I came off as rude yesterday. I’ve been traveling a lot so I’m not quite used to being around others. And I was in shock so I may have not said the kindest things.”
A smile broke the vole’s face. She patted the badger’s arm. “Well maybe, but it’s okay. I reckon I’m not the nicest beast either.”
Carma nodded pensively. “Then is something wrong?” She asked slowly.
Mrs. Chubbacutch waited a bit before responded. “Not necessarily. Wait while I finish getting this ready and I’ll tell you.” Carma agreed, though confused and went to make the bed that she’d slept in.
She smoothed out the light purple bedspread, tucking in the corners. Then she sat on it, wondering what the vole had to say. She was a lot less talkative then yesterday and seemed almost concerned.
The aforementioned creature plopped down beside her. “I have some, let’s just say advice for you. You have a long journey ahead of you.”
Carma raised an eyebrow, but stayed silent.
“You will come across a war where the sides seem uneven. You will cause either joy or destruction. You will bring peace or rule. You could become many things.” She paused for a second, then continued. “Don’t let your brother’s death affect you. “
Carma gasped. She hadn’t told Nottenc anything about her brother’s death yesterday. “How’d you-what the-how?” She stammered.
“Let’s just say I have a gift or friend that told me these things. Remember this well. It will help you. I hope you do well on your journey.” Her thin paw momentarily clasped the huge striped one, then let it go as she rose. “So do you have any plans? I’ll make you a pack of food if you need to leave. If not, you can stay here as long as you like.”
“I should probably get going.” She stood pondering everything.
“Okay.” The volewife scurried around packing. “We’d love to have you stay though. You could help me take care of Mumzy and it’d help you rest up. Because, as I said, you have a long journey ahead of you. And you were in shock yesterday.”
Carma laughed, a beautiful deep clear sound. “Fine. I’ll stay. But I’ll help cook and stuff. I don’t wanna be a hindrance.”
“Nonsense.” Nottenc grinned. “However, there is one thing that you could do for me.”
“You can eat all this food for me!” With that she tossed the half-packed bag of food over to the laughing Carma.
“Happily, ma’am, happily.”
Redwall Abbey was still recovering from the sudden attack. Ampanna was hospitalized so as a result Segalia hung out with Lijel and Wraltor. Sometimes Silverfalcon would be rounded up for their mischief, but most of the time he’d just wander around the Abbey or practice with his many weapons. Today, the boys had decided to steal some pies from the Kitchen windows.
“Steal? Shall Ah refresh yer memory, Lijel? We ‘ave h’an h’otter code ‘nd h’it says ‘do not steal’!”
Lijel shrugged as if to say ‘What of it?’
“H’it’s h’okay, Seg.” Wraltor said, smiling. “We do h’it h’all th’ time ‘nd h’it’s fine!”
Segalia was unconvinced. “H’isn’t Redwall h’in trouble right now? Ye know, th’attack, food shortages?”
“’Ow ‘bout we take the pies ‘nd deliver ‘em to the beasts h’in th’Infirmary? That way we’re sorta like Robin Hood.” Lijel suggested.
“O’s Robin ‘ood?” Wraltor asked, confused.
“’E was h’a fox ‘o stole from the rich ‘nd gave to the poor way back when.” Explained Segalia before frowning. “H’I don’t know ‘bout that idea.”
“C’mon, h’it’ll be fun!” Lijel insisted.
“Fine, h’as long h’as we’re careful.” The light of adventure gleamed in Segalia’s eyes.
They huddled together and thought out a simple plan, mischievous smiles on their faces. A few minutes later there were three grubby otters in the Infirmary presenting a hot blueberry pie to a smiling Ampanna.
The hairy tip of the ear flicked as a fly landed on it. The see-through crystal-like wings sped it around in a circle back to buzz around the head that accompanied the ear. A paw fluttered impatiently, but almost unconsciously at it. The fly took the hint soon enough and sped off. The owner of the head, ear and paw didn’t notice. She was too busy trying to listen in to the war council behind the thick door.
“I can’t hear anything!” Her brother stamped his paw on the ground impatiently.
Selra chewed her lip with one of her bottom protruding fangs. Only jumbled words were getting received by her ears. Still, she had to keep trying. For some strange reason that she herself didn’t quite understand, she had to know what was going on in the meeting.
He tchiiiped annoyed, then rejoined her at the door. A few words filtered through: Kill, all, destroy, plunder, aim well, woodlanders. This was accompanied with a few cheers. Riplar and Selra shared confused looks and pressed their ears back to the door. A few more words were exchanged and then the sounds of chairs scraping came to them. A quick worried look flashed between the fox cubs and they raced off, their calloused footpaws slapping on the stone floor.
A few minutes later found them reclining in a tree a bit away from the castle. Only a few falling leaves would reveal to a passerby that they were there. Riplar was completely relaxed, his eyes closed and his chest heaving slower. The little sunlight that filtered in through the thick foliage dappled on his face. Selra’s face however, wore a slightly confused and concerned look.
“Rip?” She asked after a few minutes.
“What’d you think about the war council?”
He shrugged, raining some tree dust down on his sister. “What is there to think about?”
Selra shrugged in turn. “I don’t know.” The thought was still unformed in her mind; it was just a feeling at the moment.
“Father is a war lord after all.”
“That is true, I suppose. Still, we weren’t really alive the last time he warred someone.”
“We were alive when we took over this island.”
“Yeah, but we were only two or so. We didn’t really notice that much. This however, is different. We will probably see a real war and killing.” She shuddered slightly.
Riplar sat up. “You really think we’ll get to see part of the war?”
“It’s not a thing to get excited about.”
“Well, in a way.” Now Riplar ported a confused look. It soon vanished and was replaced by an anticipatory look. “You think he’ll let us fight some?”
Selra’s eyes widened in excitement. “Now that would be cool. Maybe I could get a bow.” Still as she settled back in the tree she couldn’t deny the gnawing feeling in her gut.
Things had fallen into a simple rhythm: Rise, help Nottenc in the kitchen, watch Mumzy for a bit, go out for a while, return, do a workout that may consist of battling Nottenc then sleep. These events were often punctuated by eating and sometimes moments of boredom.
During one of these moments of boredom, Nottenc had noticed. “Honey? Don’t you have something to do?”
Carma heaved her beginning-to-broaden shoulders up and down. “Beats me. Do you want me to help you do something?” She moved to sit up, but the volewife placed a comforting, yet restraining paw on her shoulder.
“It’s okay. You know what? I have something for you. Wait right here.” With that she turned and moved surprisingly sprightly across the dwelling. She disappeared behind a cleft for a few moments and the badger heard rustling sounds. Nottenc soon appeared holding something in her thin paws and blowing dust off of it.
“There now. Here.” She handing the strange square-like thing to Carma who took it gingerly. Not wanting to appear rude, but not wanting to appear ignorant, she stared at it a few minutes longer.
Finally Nottenc broke the silence. “It’s a book, dear.”
That sparked a few links. She remembered seeing some similar things back where she’d used to live. She could read though her writing was sparse and her spelling worse. It hadn’t exactly been her strong point. She frowned slightly, not exactly thrilled with the gift.
“Come on. Take a little time to look through it. I think you’ll enjoy it. It’s about Badger Lady and Mother Cregga Rose Eyes.” Seeing Carma’s brown eyes light up at that, she continued. “It’s not like you have much else to do. Now go enjoy yourself.”
With a little prodding, she took the tome to a quiet place and started slowly devouring it. Reading proved much easier when you had something interesting to read. Carma’s new goal in life was to become like Cregga. She didn’t want to be blinded and she wasn’t quite sure if she’d rather be Badger Lady or Badger Mother, but this was enough for now.
Following this, she spent many hours wandering the woods working on the different skills necessary. On one such trip she came upon two unlikely characters.
His arm was nearly jerked out of his socket as Segalia turned and sped to the left. Maben next to him was practically lifted into the air by him and Korla. Another twist and they came closer to their quarry. He squeezed Segalia’s paw because the sweat was making his paws slippery. He put on a burst of speed and Korla’s paw brushed Wraltor’s back. They had done it.
“H’is that h’it?” Segalia asked, searching the vast Abbey lawns.
“I don’t know.” Korla gasped. “Who else…is playin’?”
Maben scrunched up his nose. “Katya was pwayin’ inside wiv de oders. Maybe she’ll come pway.”
Segalia’s eyebrow rose skeptically. “Didn’t ye h’already h’ask her iffen she wanted t’play?”
He shrugged. “Maybe she’ll wanna pway now.”
“H’I doubt it. H’iffen we’ve caught h’everybeast…” Her grip on his paw slackened.
A hesitating voice caught their attention. “Kin…kin Ah play?”
They turned to face Silverfalcon. He had placed some of his weapons in the room in which he was staying and still others on the grass beside the wall. He was left with vambraces and two daggers.
“You wanna play?” Korla asked doubtfully.
He shrugged. “H’I ‘aven’t played much since Ah was a kid. H’even then, the Juskasie weren’t big on playin’ iffen ye know wot Ah mean.”
“Well then, do you know the rules to Amoeba or Blob or Chain?” Segalia asked the new potential prey.
“Lessee, we,” She gestured to the others, “are h’it. When yore caught ye join paws with us ‘nd continue catchin’ beasts. Ye don’t ever split up ‘nd ye can’t catch somebeast if yore not holding paws. Get it?” She tightened her grip on his paw again.
He slowly bowed and raised his head. “H’I think so.”
She grinned maliciously. “Hold paws! Five, four, three…”
Silver started backing up, then turned and ran.
“Two, one! C’mon!” She ran after him, dodging a passerby. Lijel ran fast, keeping even with her, so his arm wouldn’t be wrenched out of socket again.
The passerby smiled and stepped back a bit as the last beast, Wraltor, raced past. She turned to Skipper Joncho. “Isn’t it so nice to see them playing so cheerfully?”
He nodded grimly. “H’as long h’as they don’t get killed.”
“Why,” the Abbess swatted at him playfully, “don’t say such things.” Her face grew a bit dour. “Still, I hope they don’t come back and attack us. I don’t know if we could stand another attack.”
“D’ye want me t’start whippin’ some h’Abbeybeasts h’into fightin’ shape?”
“I hate to, but…”
“H’it’s th’only way we’ll be shure t’live.”
“I hate it, but if it’s the only way, then go ahead. I’ll let you take care of the war plans. Consult me only when necessary.” Fern turned to leave, but he stopped her.
“Segalia’s gettin’ to be a great archer, Ampanna’s swell with the swing ‘n’ Lijel’s not bad with h’a sword.”
“What are you saying?”
He looked straight into her eyes. “H’I’m sayin’, Ah’ll ‘afta use the young’uns.”
She stared at the ground a long moment. She murmured something along the lines of them being so young, then pulled her head up, her eyes full of grief. “If it’s absolutely necessary, do it. Just please, try to keep them alive.”
“H’I’ll do wot Ah kin, miss; Ah’ll do wot Ah kin.”
Grovelum paced in the throne room, back and forth and back again. He was making many plans against Redwall Abbey and had executed several of them. The problem was they didn’t seem to be taking effect. They had wounded several Redwallers, effectively putting them out of action, that much was true. The problem, he figured, was that he wasn’t making a big and powerful enough impact on them. What would help would be a bigger army, more help. He sighed. He still wasn’t closer to solving this problem then he had been beforehand.
A tapping interrupted him. “Go away!” He called. Was peace and quiet too much to ask for? The tapping continued becoming louder. He raised his paw, clenched his fist and whirled around, his cape flapping dramatically. “Please! Leave me…”
His voice trailed off as his eyes examined the strange creature in front of him. It was a coyote, who carried himself with a royal manner, but his eyes declared otherwise. His eyes pronounced him crazy and mad with Bloodwrath. His cape had not recovered from his many fights and was tattered and blood-stained, the blue color hard to see. The tapping had come from his gold-topped cane, more evidence of his fighting state.
“Slashclaw! It’s so good to see you again!” With a few steps, Grovelum traversed the space between them and was greeting Slashclaw the Mad. They shook paws then pulled each other into a hug, thumping each other on the back.
“So, what have you been up to lately? I haven’t seen you forever!”
Slashclaw cackled. “Oh this and that you know. Goin’ here, fightin’ there.” He shrugged. “The usual. What’ve you been doing?”
“Slashclaw old matey, you came just in time. I have been working constantly for a while to take over the infamous Redwall Abbey. It’s not working. I need more beasts, I need a bigger impact, I need…I need help.”
“Well then, I’m your beast!” He cackled again, this time accompanied with a snort.
“I would be forever grateful if you did. Do we have arrangements for your stay?” He started towards the door, then turned back. “You are staying, I presume?”
“Yes, yes. Don’t worry about it; Rori’s taking care of it.”
“How’s Rori these days?”
“Loyal as ever. He’s getting good with an axe too. Now, about those war plans. What do you have so far?”
The two friends chatted and worked deviously hard, oblivious to the coming night.
With her newfound skills of reading and writing, Carma had started a journal. One entry went like this:
‘’It’s been two days and I can’t stop thinking about it. I don’t know if something’s wrong with me or not. It was just so mind-boggling. And he was just so…Let me start at the beginning.’’
‘’You know how I’ve been taking walks acting like Lady Cregga Rose Eyes? (*See Entry Cregga Rose Eyes is Awesome for further detail) Well, the other day, I was taking a walk and I heard some strange noises. I hid behind a tree to see what it was.’’
‘’First out came the strangest creature. It was like a fox, but grayer and almost scrawnier. He was ragged and looked quite mad. I got ready to attack him if needed.’’
‘’But then who should come along, but another badger! He looked to be around my age and he was indeed handsome. He was pretty buff too. I wanted to get to know him better. Imagine my shock when he went up to the weird creature and said “Master Slashclaw, how much farther is it?”’’
‘’Master? That strange thing was his master! Since then I’ve been in an absolute tumult of emotions. The more I saw of the young boar, the more I wanted to get to know him. But I was repulsed by his master. Maybe the master was good. He just looks too much like a vermin.’’
‘’They had a short banter and Slashclaw turned out to be insane like I thought. The badger went right along with it. He was just so loyal to that crazy thing. Maybe that means that the master was really good so that means that the badger was. Oh and I believe Slashclaw called him Rori.’’
‘’Rori, such a nice name. It almost seems familiar. I just don’t know what to do about this. Maybe I could find them again and ask him about himself. Two things are for certain, I don’t know what to do and I may be in love for the very first time.’’
‘’P.S. Nottenc helped me out with the vocabulary and spelling. Isn’t she so nice?’’ Carma rose from the table and looked out the window into the distance, as if by wishing hard enough she could see Rori again.
With a resounding crack, the two weapons crashed and came away. One swung back surprisingly quickly.
“Take that back!” The cry came from Segalia, whose eyes were covered with a rosy red, her weapon swinging crazily. If watched closely, you could tell there was a slight pattern to her strikes, but it was well-concealed.
If her opponent was thinking, he would be thanking anybeast, probably Mother Nature, that they weren’t using real swords. He was however, hard-pressed to think of anything besides defending himself. His stave was wobbling, weakly blocking most or some of the strikes. Naraudo was wishing that he really had muscles as buff as he always bragged. For that matter, he wished he hadn’t said anything in the first place.
“Now! Say sorry! Take h’it back!” The words were punctuated with hard blows to the stick and the squirrel’s body; trembling, the makeshift sword slipped from his sweaty paws. His breaths came in sobs and he collapsed to the ground.
“S-so-sor…” The word refused to come out. It wouldn’t matter if it had. Segalia continued to rain blows on him, then seeing that he was down, raised her stick for the killing blow. Paws grasped her, their owners having finally reached her, and she turned ferociously on them. She landed at least one blow before two beasts grabbed the sword and two others pinned her down. She struggled fiercely, her eyes a bright red.
“Lemme at ‘im!”
“Seg! Seg! Segalia Riverstorm!”
The words pervaded her mental red block. She shook herself and growled, “Wot?!”
“Segalia, h’it’s me, Ampanna. Stop. Calm down. H’it’s okay.”
Segalia’s sweaty body trembled then relaxed, her chest heaving. Ampanna and the Skipper tentatively released her shoulders. She jerked over to where Naraudo lay whimpering and punched him in the side. Her elbow was caught before she could continue. This time they forced to the ground on her stomach and Lijel, who had helped catch her sword, sat on her lower legs, Ampanna on her back and Skipper held her arms. Wraltor, who had also helped catch the sword, helped wherever needed.
They waited until struggling wore her out. They waited until they were sure that every trace of red was gone from her eyes. They waited until they decided it was safe to let her up. Then they freed her to sit in a protective circle around her. Segalia flopped over and breathed wearily. Then, with a slight trembling, she sat up. She crossed her legs and put her elbows on her knees, resting her head in her paws.
“Now,” Skipper Joncho’s voice was firm, “D’ye want t’ tell me wot that ‘twas all ‘bout?”
Ampanna raised a cautious paw.
“Wot h’is h’it?”
“Should we get Goodwife Burna t’look at Naraudo?”
“Yes, run ‘nd do that.” He waved her off, not turning his attention from the tan ottermaid.
“H’I…’e…’e started it.”
Her interrogator’s eyebrow rose. “Yore ‘ow h’old, Segalia, ‘nd that’s yer ‘scuse?”
“Lemme ‘splain.” The request was slightly muffled and her voice showed signs of exhaustion.
Joncho’s blunt nod, felt more than seen, was all she needed. “Y’see, we came h’out ‘ere to start weapons trainin’ like y’told us to. Ye h’assigned us partners for h’a mock swordfight.” She sighed heavily. “H’I got Naraudo. H’it started off nicely ‘nough, bit o’sparrin’, some dartin’ h’at sides, y’know, the usual. While we were fightin’, we were talkin’. ‘E asked me wot me primary weapon was. H’I said, o’ course, ‘Bow and arrows.’ ‘E laughed ‘nd said that o’ course Ah would do that. That females often did archery ‘cause h’it was safer because ye didn’t ‘ave t’be in the battle. That they were sissies ‘nd o’ course Ah wouldn’t take h’a more manly weapon like ‘im.”
They completely ignored the moles who came and carried Naraudo to the infirmary. Ampanna looked after them, back at her friend then back at the red squirrel. Feeling a sense of duty to the squirrel and that her friend was well taken care of, she scampered after Naraudo.
Segalia raised her head for the first time. “Y’know wot me temper’s like. H’it jist snapped. ‘E was provokin’ me ‘nd ‘e deserved h’it.” Her tone changed from pleading to defensive. She shook and dropped her head. “Still, Ah don’t know why Ah beat ‘im up h’as viciously h’as Ah did. Generally h’it’s jist one blow ‘nd Ah feel pretty justified. ‘E just was talkin’ ‘n my temper started flarin’ up, so Ah started fightin’ harder. When he finished, Ah was seein’ red, literally. H’it’s like Ah couldn’t stop myself.” She sounded more perplexed then scared, but Lijel, who had hung around her long enough, heard the tremor that escaped into her voice.
She opened her mouth as if she was going to continue, but then closed her jaw and continued examining the ground. Skipper Joncho took a deep breath and the boys simply gazed at their friend.
“Segalia,” the Skipper started then paused to rub his forehead, “H’I’ve known ye since ye were a wee little thing. H’always runnin’ ‘round wild, doin’ crazy darin’ stuff.” She poked a curious eye at him, not quite understanding what baby stories had to do with anything. “H’I guess, Ah always ‘spected this would ‘appen. Yore ma ‘as too. Didn’t want ye to, so Ah told ‘er Ah’d watch out for ye.”
They all gazed at him, wondering where his rambling was headed. He sighed then continued steering doggedly, albeit crookedly, to his point. “Y’see we ‘ad our suspicions, that h’obviously came true, that ye were a Bloodwrather.”
They merely gaped at him, mouths open, eyes staring. Segalia’s mouth moved, trying to form words, but gave up.
Lijel was the first to break the silence by slapping his thigh. “Well, that ‘splains h’a lot. Yer temper, h’always so h’angry ‘nd violent: yore h’a Bloodwrathy h’otter!” Usually he would have receive a mild blow for this, but his target was obviously exhausted.
Wraltor smiled, but his forehead was creased. “H’I thought that only ‘flicted badgers. ‘N’ last Ah checked, Seg’s h’an h’otter.”
Joncho chuckled. “True, true. ‘Owever, it ‘as been known to ‘fect otherbeasts like our Seg here.” He turned to her. “So, ‘ow do you feel ‘bout h’all this?”
“Shocked, surprised, a little happy, a bit relieved, some confused, then part of me totally ‘spected h’it.”
He laughed again and hit her on the back. “That’s t’be ‘spected. These things don’t come easy. Why, Ah ‘member when yer h’aunt found out she was one.” The blue eyes, now clear of all red besides blood channels, snapped over to him.
“Not yer h’aunt with th’olt. No, yer h’aunt wot’s ‘er face. Y’know, the one ‘o’s always h’off travelin’ t’some distant place or h’another.”
Segalia nodded in agreement with Lijel. “H’I wish she was ‘ere. Maybe she could ‘elp me with h’ it.”
“Or ye could go to Salama-wot’sit ‘n’ see iffen the Badger Lord ‘as Bloodwrath and kin ‘elp ye.” Wraltor’s suggestion brought a smile to her face which hadn’t been seen since the start of the discussion.
“H’it’s okay, Seg. Being a warrior and Skipper meself, Ah’ve got a bit of ‘sperience in that h’area. Plus, Ah’m sure there ‘re books ‘bout h’it. We’ll be fine. We’ll work on h’it durin’ our lessons.” Skipper Joncho rose to his footpaws.
So did Wraltor and Lijel, who offered to help Segalia up. She stared at it, intending to disregard as she normally did when anybeast offered, but her exhaustion got the better of her. Calloused paw met calloused paw, as they had when they played Amoeba, and biceps contracted. Lijel stumbled momentarily as Segalia put on more strength than he had originally planned on, but he hefted and soon they were both standing.
“Come, that’s ‘nough for the day.” The Skipper’s proclamation made them shout with glee. “We should see ‘ow your wounded ‘ponent’s doin’.” This was not, but they trooped merrily into the formidable redstone building nonetheless.
Riplar yawned as the shining blade flashed closer and closer with each swing. The growing muscles bulged and contracted. The blade went towards his throat, stopping just a hair’s-breadth away.
The word was accompanied with applause from a nearby tree where two footpaws swung back and forth. Riplar reached down and pushed Rori’s axeblade away.
“Yeah, that was cool.” The twins were watching Rori practice his weapon with the hope, that their father had eagerly informed them of, of starting to be able to learn their own weapon in a few weeks.
Selra dropped from the tree, a small dust cloud rising around her. “So, are you nearly done?”
“Why? What’s up?”
The foxmaid darted her eyes about, not meeting his. “Oh, nothing. I just wanted to ask you something.”
Rori arched his black eyebrow. “Shoot.”
“Um, does it ever, like, annoy you when Slashclaw, I mean Sir Slashclaw, I don’t know, hurts beasts?”
The hazel eyes taking in the fidgeting girl hardened. Rori turned away.
Riplar groaned. “She’s been going on about this for a while now. Ignore her.” He didn’t want to admit how deeply the topic resonated with him.
Rori shook his massive head. “No, no, it’s alright. That’s just a touchy subject.”
Now it was their turn to raise their eyebrows. The badger sighed. “Okay, let’s look at this for a second. Or just look at me for that matter. I am a,”
He waited for their answers. “Badger?” Their reply was simultaneous.
“Yes. That means I’m a typical,” He made quotation marks with his thick fingers, “’woodlander’, right? But Slashclaw doesn’t think that. He knows that once I killed another woodlander so he assumes I’m good with it especially since I kill ‘vermin’.” He made quotation marks again.
The twins stared at him, not quite knowing where he was going.
Rori continued, “Slashclaw also believes that I’m a valuable loyal servant. If he believed I was of no use to him, in his state he may dispose of me. But in my position sometimes I can try and alter the poor fate of some woodlander.”
Selra’s question caught him off guard. “I guess.”
“I mean, being around typical or atypical vermin a lot would mean that you weren’t prejudiced against all of us like most woodlanders, right?”
“Well, yeah.” He cocked his head to the side in assent and confusion.
“I think, for example, what she’s trying to ask is that if we were in an unfair position, you would try to save us?”
“Or other vermin.”
The questions that were hard to answer were almost harder to contemplate. Rori experienced a lot of prejudice from woodlanders for being a woodlander under ‘control’ of a ‘vermin’. He had never really considered that the prejudice went many ways. ‘Woodlanders’ of course didn’t like him at first because they thought him a traitor. ‘Vermin’ didn’t know if they could trust him then congratulated Slashclaw for ‘taming’ him. But now the foxes presented him with the simple fact that many ‘woodlanders’ were prejudiced against all ‘vermin’ assuming they were here to hurt them and therefore decided to hurt them first.
This was too much to think about. Rori flopped onto the ground.
“I think so. I mean, yeah, for you two definitely, for others, I don’t know.”
Selra’s eyes hardened in a way which they would become accustomed to seeing. “Of course.”
Riplar shook off the complicated thinking and leaped onto his friend. With many sounds and cries, the two wrestled on the ground and a smile eventually came to Selra’s face. The conversation had gone a bit off the course that she had wanted it to follow, but she had learned some things that she could sort out later.
She leaped into the fray and pulled the badger’s ear.
“Hey, not fair! Two against one!”
“You’re a badger!”
“Ah!” The playful cries brought a smile to Oxos’s face as she worked on ‘business’ with her husband and Slashclaw the Mad.
A cry split the air. Carma’s mind snapped back to the present from its extensive wanderings. Extensive wanderings that had involved complicated stuff that she was starting to think she should stop thinking about. She put this into effect by examining the source of the cry.
Her brown eyes instantly shot to where she had last seen the water vole child. Nope, the now tottering Mumzy had teetered away from there. Ah, there she was. The cries, which had stopped for a hiccupping second, crescendoed. Her care keeper rushed over to find the cause of her cries so that she could stop them.
The water vole looked over with wide eyes full of pain and tears, some which had already cascaded down. “Ahma!”
The toddler’s name for her made her smile, but only shortly as Mumzy started crying again.
“Mumzy, what’s wrong?” Her big, rough paws enfolded the shaking babe. In answer, a small paw was held up. At first Carma still did not see what the problem was and was about to ask again, when the light caught on some small shafts sticking out of the miniature appendage. Her mind whirled between several possibilities.
“Mumzy, calm down. What were you doing when this happened?”
The non-afflicted paw pointed quaveringly at a nearby bush. This confirmed Carma’s suspicions. “Okay, I’m gonna need you to hold still. Can you do that for me?”
She kept her voice calm and controlled so as not to scare the girl and slowly pulled out her stiletto. Mumzy sniffled and nodded. The badgermaid gripped the small chubby paw gently, but firmly. She then carefully scraped the blade of the knife across the paw until the stinging nettle barbs were all gone. Mumzy’s sobs and sniffs quieted until she was almost silent.
Carma slowly stood. “D’you wanna go home now?”
Mumzy sniffed and nodded.
“Okay.” Her babysitter gently took her uninjured paw to start walking back to the bankside home.
Carma looked at the slightly bleary soft eyes and softened immediately. “Sure.”
The vole was all glee now as she scrambled up on the badger’s broad back. Carma smiled, hefted the light weight once and took off for the abode through the darkening woods. Giggles filled the air setting a light mood to the night. The dark added a nice touch to everything, especially the colorful leaves that covered the ground yet still graced the trees. It was indeed a beautiful night.
Normally, this beauty would not have been missed by Nottenc. The volewife was many things, one of which included a lover of beauty and nature. Tonight however, her mind was distracted from the late fall display of splendor. So, when the young females returned, she was not in the mood for amusement.
Carma and Mumzy rolled about on the grass still breathless from the long jog. Mumzy leaped onto Carma’s stomach who responded with an “Oof!” They continued to laugh tiredly as their energy waned. Nottenc had been busily working about the house and now came out hearing the noise. A small smile brushed across her tired features. Carma noticed just how old and tired her friend looked so she came over to her.
“Nottenc?” The volewife had insisted on a first-name basis against Carma’s deferential background which in the end worked against her.
“Hm?” Accompanied by a slight ascent of her head, this was the only acknowledgement Carma’s inquiry got.
She pushed on and got straight to the point. “What is it?”
The sigh that escaped the thin lips was care-worn and heavy. “I saw some vermin today.”
“We see a few fairly often. Why is this unusual?” She kept an even tone trying not to probe.
Nottenc finally looked over at her. “It wasn’t a few. It was an attack force. I’m worried, Carma. I want to protect Mumzy.” They both glanced over the small female who had curled up in the grass and fallen asleep. “I’ve been thinking, maybe we should head to Redwall Abbey.”
“You haven’t just been thinking about it.” Nottenc didn’t object. “You’ve been doing something about it. But it sounds like a good idea. What do you need help with?”
The volewife realized just how much the badgermaid had matured since she had gotten to know her. Another smile flickered across her mouth.
“Not much. I was nearly done when you came.”
Carma nodded. “We should probably travel at night so that we can be a bit safer against potential attacks.”
Nottenc nodded in return then turned to finish packing up the necessary essentials. A striped paw stopped her.
“Rest with her.” Carma jerked her thumb towards Mumzy. “I’ll finish up.”
This time the smile was broader, truer. “Thank you, Carma. You’ve truly grown up.”
The badger’s grown up facade was broken with the blush that spread across her wide cheeks. She hurried the tired lady over to her daughter and entered the humble dwelling to pack. Feeling slightly overwhelmed by memories, she did the job quickly.
Soon she emerged and the packs were dealt out. Mumzy rested in a pack on Carma’s back, her head gently thumping against the black and white expanse. Nottenc took a last melancholy look at her boarded up home then faced the direction of their prospective shelter. Carma gave her a compassionate glance and they headed off with the darkness spreading, the sun long set.
The partially full moon cast a soft glow over Redwall Abbey, shrouding it in a warm light-spun blanket. The typical night creatures were out and about making their noises.
Wraltor smiled contentedly. He was sprawled over the battlements, his arm over the cold stone. This was one of his favorite places to sit, well, lounge. He could look over the woods or his beloved Abbey whichever way he looked. It was very peaceful and great for thinking things through. And since this was a more secluded area of the wall, he was generally alone.
But it didn’t seem like it was going to be that way tonight. A shadow seemed to be making its way towards him. The bell-ringer unconsciously pressed himself closer to the red stone and shivered at the contact. The cold, which he was suddenly very conscious of, seemed to seep through his fur. Wraltor had a strange habit of taking off his tunic at random throughout the day as he found it more comfortable. Of course, he had shorts on underneath, but all of a sudden he felt very self-conscious. Maybe it was because he ate too much dessert at supper. Ah, but that fruit crumble with whipped meadowcream had been too good to resist.
Wraltor brought his mind back with a start. The simple joy of letting his thoughts ramble over anything and everything was one of the reasons he enjoyed sitting here, but he needed to be on alert. Who knew? It could even be an invading enemy, what with the enemy abroad in Mossflower. Suddenly, he found himself searching for a potential weapon. He glanced back at the shadow and laughed at the absurdity of it all. He was worried about an invader when he was on a relatively safe spot on the wall. And now he recognized the shadow. The tuft of fur there, the gait, yep, there was no doubt about it.
Wraltor breathed and let himself relax from the wall’s cold grip. Then he straightened up, hoping, this time, that his friend would recognize him. When this didn’t seem to be working, he decided to call to him. Surreptitiously of course; he wouldn’t want the whole of Redwall to hear him.
The dark brown head stayed bowed. Hm, what was up with him? Was he purposely ignoring him? Nah, he wouldn’t do that to him. A peacemaker at heart, Wraltor refused to think the worst about any friends; therefore he stood up to catch his new friend’s attention.
For a moment he thought he saw a reaction then realized it was nothing. Something was obviously wrong. Wraltor took a few steps towards Lijel, hesitated, then thumped him on the back. The result was instantaneous.
A paw snapped out and caught Wraltor on the side of his head. The other paw floated next to it, ready to follow with a hard blow if needed. Lijel’s head was lifted, eyes darting everywhere, the light glinting eerily off of them. Not good. Wraltor back slowly away with his paws peaceably in the air. The whole right side of his head was starting to pound painfully. The first sharp shock of the hit had started to dull, but still, this was some powerful stuff.
The glinting eyes fully landed on him and came to a stop. They widened, though with what Wraltor was a bit too hard-pressed to tell. The pain was still fading and he blinked his eyes rapidly. The fists had uncurled and were raised in a matter that seemed to be imitating his all the way down to the walking backwards. Then the paws were over the face and the dark brown head was bowed again. Wraltor widened his eyes, shook his head a bit and tried to reason out what was happening.
“Dude, wot’s up?” That seemed to be the only comprehensible thing to emerge, but it worked.
Lijel looked up then ran his paw through some fur on his head. He didn’t look at Wraltor, but instead out over the woods. Wraltor looked out too.
“Pretty night.” It was a pathetic attempt at a conversation starter and he almost felt like facepalming himself.
Lijel mumbled something.
“Oh, h’it’s okay. H’it was an h’accident.” He shrugged. “Seriously though, wot’s up? Ye were so concentrated.” He wrinkled his nose as if thinking was strange and deep thinking abnormal.
Lijel leaned on the battlements and laughed dryly. Wraltor decided to simply wait it out and leaned his own elbows against the battlements. He was very surprised when the dry laughter did not peter out, but instead became fuller and louder. He peeked around the large parapet and saw his friend shaking, bent over, with mirth.
“Um, Lijel?” His muted enquiry didn’t seem to have any effect on his friend. Wraltor was about to ask again when the strange laughter abruptly stopped. If he hadn’t known better, he would have thought that Lijel had consumed a bit too much October Ale or one of the other more alcoholic beverages at suppertime. As it was…
“Do y‘need t’see Goodwife Burma? Maybe ye got Bloodwrath like Seg. That’d be funny, h’ironic too, ‘specially seein’ h’as we jist found h’out ‘bout her ‘nd yore h’always fighting.”
The dark otter shifted to one arm only and turned to Wraltor, truly meeting his eyes for the first time that night. They did not reveal much, but they were enough to stop the babbling. Suddenly he realized that any apparent momentary joviality had subtly disappeared. He was beginning to feel that the few tussles they had had truly did not mean he knew this mysterious otter.
“H’it’s not that. H’or h’anything like that. H’opposite actually.” A small dry chuckle flew out of Lijel’s lips. The bellringer intuitively knew that this wasn’t going to escalade and this time he was right. The dark eyes glanced at him, but this time Wraltor felt like they were probing his very soul. For some reason, he didn’t feel very intimidated so he waited for the result of the probing.
Lijel looked away and Wraltor knew that the test was over. He simply had no idea whether or not he had failed and flunked or passed. When Lijel finally decided to speak in clear sentences, he felt that he had passed. They resumed their previous positions against the wall as the words came.
“So, Ah was thinkin’ ‘bout a few things ‘n’ decided t’come up ‘ere for some peace ‘n’ quiet. ‘N’ Ah found ye. But ye startled me ‘n’ Ah reacted violently. Which is a main reason that Ah was thinkin’ so ‘ard?”
A short silence fell and since Wraltor was at a loss for what to do, he simply waited. Sighing, Lijel continued.
“H’I suppose it may be useful to h‘inform somebeast wot’s up.” This seemed to be directed at himself rather than Wraltor so he, again, stayed silent.
“H’it’s the war. Y’know ‘ow as kids ye always play war games? ‘Ave you realized jist ‘ow wrong that is? H’I never enjoyed the games much as a kid. Now h’as we’re faced with a real war, Ah just can’t do it.”
A few cricket chirps filled the air dimming the slight white noise of the Redwallers’ distant chatter.
“O’ course though, Ah could nevah say sumthin’ like that. Me, one of the bigger boys, the leader, scared o’war? Yeah right. H’I couldn’t quite say h’it ‘ere either. Ah just don’t know what t’do.”
This prompted a response from Wraltor. “Why? Why do ye um, not like war? H’is it ‘cause ye don’t wanna ‘urt somebeast?”
Lijel stared at the dark red stone under his elbows. “H’in a way.” Wraltor had to strain to hear it and when he comprehended it, he wished for an elaboration. Because that was how he felt. It wasn’t necessarily because he was a wimp or too soft-hearted. It was because he didn’t want to hurt somebeast, much less kill them. He had a terribly guilty conscience. And he didn’t want to find out how bad his guilt would be if he killed somebeast.
“Well yeah, Ah don’t wanna ‘urt anybeast. The thing is, seems like Ah’ve got a tendency to ‘urt otherbeasts. H’I wave me paw and somebeast gets a bloody nose. Like just now for h’instance, y’startled me and Ah whacked ye in the side o’the ‘ead and ‘urt ye. H’It makes me feel…guilty.”
Lijel looked over at Wraltor and saw the compassion and empathy he needed to continue. “’Specially when h’everybeast blames ye which means ye ‘ave to react t’keep your reputation. H’even if ye don’t know iffen ye want t’keep that reputation. Besides, Ah mean, they’ve ‘ardly dun anything t’us. Course there was the shooting, but still, when did we suddenly get thrust into war?”
“When th’Abbess went paranoid. When they started settin’ up a stronghold. When they ‘tacked us.” Wraltor leaned against the side of the parapet closer to his troubled friend. It was getting annoying having to leaning around each time he wanted to look at his friend. Of course, males weren’t big on the whole “look into eyes while speaking” thing, but it was refreshing every now and then.
“Y’see, the Abbey h’is so steeped in peace, but they’re really geared for war. H’at the slightest thing, they’ll leap up with their weapons and charge. H’it almost makes me wonder iffen h’it’s not really a secret war-startin’ army.”
The short chuckle was realer this time and Wraltor joined in. “’Tis a strange thing though. H’I’ve lived ‘ere all my life, but h’it still surprises me. H’I like the peace aspect, just sometimes it seems so fake.”
Lijel nodded then turned sharply to his confidant. “You feel it too?”
“The fakeness o’the peace?”
“No, the unwillingness to kill or hurt. H’I mean, peace is a relative concept ‘n’ most undoubtedly, a temporary one due to the nature of beasts. But still, ye feel it too?”
Wraltor nodded, pondering Lijel’s uncharacteristic seriousness and deep meditation. He shivered at a gust of wind forcing him against the cold stone. The dark otter smiled a big smile which changed into a more familiar smirk.
“So, do tell, Wraltor, why d’ye wander ‘round th’Abbey bare-chested? Tryin’ t’impress the ladies with your barely muscular pecs?” A fist hit the aforementioned pectorals, not bone-breakingly hard, but painful enough to show that Lijel hadn’t lost any masculine tendencies to friendly violence.
Wraltor rolled his eyes while trying to catch his breath. “’Abit. ‘Sides, Ah’ve seen you checkin’ yourself out when you go swimmin’.”
“H’I do not check meself out…” The indignant look switched to a wink. “Though, Ah don’t mind iffen the ladies do.”
The cocky brag lifted their spirits and soon they were pummeling away at each other, bragging and just being boys. The moon smiled down at them, happy as if she knew it wouldn’t last.
Sneaking around the Inland Lake castle was quite a bit harder than she had previously anticipated. Selra was used to getting her way and being allowed all over simply because she was the princess. She snapped back into the shadows at the sound of yet another passing guard. Finally the guard reached the corner and turned. The interval between the guard on this corridor and the next was short, but if she rushed…the princess skidded into the next shadow just in time. She breathed in deeply while trying to maintain silence when a paw slammed over her mouth and she was dragged backwards.
Selra sighed. The characters in the few books that the tutors had managed to get her to read never mentioned how much this actually hurt. She ran her tongue over her mouth, checking for injuries, while she stretched her paw over her captor’s arm. Her finger slipped over a furless line. Just as she had suspected.
“Rori, lemme go!” The request was muffled by the badger’s paw, but the guard still froze in mid-step. They froze, Rori’s arm just short of her muzzle and her head close enough to hear his rapidly beating heart. Hearing no other noise, the weasel continued on his way. After a second, Selra whirled around.
“Seriously?” Her tone, though whispered, made it clear to Rori that she was irate. “You knew I was coming and I’m one of the only foxes here. What’s up?”
Despite the lack of light, she still could tell that he rolled his eyes. “C’mon, we’re wasting time.”
She rolled her eyes this time and shouldered past him. It wasn’t that far to the kitchen where they would pick up food then meet Riplar in the courtyard. Soon they arrived. Rori’s paw stopped her yet again before she entered. Before she could tirade soundlessly, he motioned to the vent by his head. It helped circulate air, but also allowed a limited view of the kitchen. Selra growled quietly in the back of her throat at being stopped by him then peered through on her tiptoes. An otter was busy stirring a pot of something with one paw while he looked at a recipe in the other. He blinked a few times then reached for the cupboard.
The fox leaned against the wall. “Do these guys never sleep?” She hissed irritated at nobeast in particular.
“Not when they have to be ready for breakfast at 6:30 and a feast for lunch.”
In Selra’s already annoyed tired state, this didn’t help. “Argh, whatever. What now, genius?” But the badger was already headed in. When she made to go after him, he motioned her back. She made a face behind his back at his bossiness then turned to look through the vent.
“Excuse me?” Rori’s low voice rumbled through the darkness. Nothing happened. He repeated himself a bit louder. The otter jumped and turned, though the princess noted the quick instinctive motion to keep from spilling the pot.
“What do ye need, Master Rori?” He inclined his head.
“I’m sorry to bother you, but Slashclaw is in need of a midnight snack. Perhaps you have something that would suffice?” His eloquence surprised her, but she soon caught the meaning of his darting eyes. Rori occupied the otterchef while she darted into the pantry.
“What’re some o’ ‘is fav’rite foods, Master?”
“He has a preference for sweet stuff. Oh, and the master is not necessary. I’m only a servant like you.”
“But ‘e treats ye with such ‘igh respect!”
“It may seem that way, but trust me,” Rori bent conspiratorially as the otter’s searching paw wavered, “I’m getting the short end of the rope, literally.”
For the first time, Selra wondered how he had gotten that scar on his forearm. She had assumed it had been in a fight, but…what if Slashclaw had done it? She knew that he wasn’t necessarily maternal to the badger, but it had never occurred to her that he would whip his servant/bodyguard. She grabbed another potato and stuffed it into the canvas sack as she continued to listen.
“’Sides, I won’t tell anybeast what you say.”
“H’and do ye get orful pay ‘n’ long ‘ours, s’well?” The otter’s voice had dropped a bit as well, but his paw had continued searching the shelf.
The brown eyes flickered over to her and Selra wouldn’t have even noticed if she hadn’t turned that way to go after a stray bun. “All that.” He paused. “It’s awful isn’t it? And it’s lifelong!”
Her blood froze, not just at all the new realizations about their servants’ poor lifestyles but at the fact that Rori was doing this on purpose. She tchiiiped silently.
“Well, not necessarily, but seein’ as it’s th’only way to take care o’ my family h’it does make it h’a never ending job. Especially since y’often die in the process.” The otter laughed mirthlessly.
She wasn’t sure what the badger was trying to do, but it was getting annoying. She grabbed a few canteens, not completely sure of the contents. She took a hunk of cheese, sniffed and shrugged. Finally the otter seemed to come up with something for Slashclaw. Selra hoped it was good because they were going to eat it for the coyote.
“’Ere, it’s caramelized ‘oney h’over ‘ard sweet bread. ‘E better ‘njoy h’it, those take lotsa work.” He wrapped it efficiently in brown paper and handed it to Rori. “Thanks for talkin’ too, would ye mind coming down some other time? H’It might be nice t’talk without fear o’ whippin’.”
Rori smiled sadly as he took the sweet. “It might be hard to get away. Thank you.”
The otter nodded knowingly then turned back to his pot. “H’is there anythin’ else Ah kin ‘elp ye with? H’I mean, Ah’d rather not do stuff for them in the middle o’ the night, iffen ye know what Ah mean, but Ah don’t mind ‘elping ye.”
“I think that’s all.” He waved vigorously in her general direction. Selra stuck her tongue out at him, knowing he couldn’t see it, then took a last look around the pantry. That should be good. She slipped out and away. The badger followed and she gave him the cold shoulder. He didn’t seem to mind and his smile seemed a bit…knowing? Evil? She scowled and hurried her pawsteps. Soon they were at an intersection flooded with moonlight. The inhabitant of the palace glanced both ways then raced left, down some steps then turned a corner and waited for Rori. He arrived soon after and they continued to the courtyard.
Riplar didn’t seem to be there, but a noise was coming from the corner. Selra made a face and headed impulsively to the corner to see what her brother had done this time. Rori stopped her once again as a soldier entered. Soon others came in, falling into ranks.
Selra broke her self-imposed silence to whisper curiously, “What’s happening? I didn’t know the army was going anywhere.”
“Slashclaw and Gro-your dad put together a new plan. I didn’t know they were leaving so soon though.”
The dim light enabled her to see his eyes narrow.
She interrupted whatever ensuing thought process was happening. “We’ll have to get Riplar and find another way out then.”
He nodded in agreement and she smiled derisively now that she was the one bossing him around, in a way. She turned back to the gathering soldiers. Now they were flooding in and she even saw a few slaves. She stared puzzled at them then realized that Rori had disappeared. She tchiiiped and ducked after him. They were in the gate room she realized after her eyes readjusted to the dark after the bright moonlight. She peered out the window to see her brother dart out an opposite building then skitter to a stop and rapidly change directions once he saw the soldiers. He managed to get into a shadow, but his quick turnabout messed with the gravel and some of it hit a ferret’s legs. What had Riplar done?
The ferret turned around and spat at the rat behind him. “Worra ye thinkin’? Don’t kick rocks at me!”
The rat spat back. “Ye aren’t even worthy ‘nough to touch the rocks; wot makes ye think Ah’d kick ‘em at ye?”
“Ye wanna fight? Jist cross the line!” He drew a line in the dirt with the toe of his scuffed boot.
“Oh yeah.” The rat strode over, drawing her weapon. The ferret’s weapon was already permanently attached to his paw and he didn’t wait until both footpaws were over the line to attack. Soon a fight was raging as more soldiers were brought in and the leaders started noticing.
“C’mon!” Riplar’s voice was suddenly right next to her and she turned on him in a mix of emotions.
“It’s the perfect distraction, now let’s go.” He grabbed her arm and pulled as she realized the truth of his statement. Obviously, night times weren’t her strongest time. She kept up with the males as they made their way to the wall.
“Did you get ropes or are you planning on jumping?” Selra crossed her arms.
Rori looked over the battlements. “Jumping,” and with that he swung himself over and was gone. All they could do was gape then rushed over simultaneously. The foxmaid quickly figured it out. There was a tree not too far from the wall which he had obviously landed in before dropping to the sand where the beach started. She turned to explain this to her brother, but he pushed her towards the wall indicating that she go. She rolled her eyes and complied. It was surprisingly fun and easy and she found some of her ire dissipate. She landed gently, brushed off some sand and rushed to the water.
This part of the plan she knew and it didn’t seem like it had had to be changed yet. Selra stowed the bag of food under a bench in the rowboat and started pushing it out. Riplar joined her and Rori came, after loosening the mooring rope. Soon the boat was in the lake’s frigid water and they were in the boat.
It worked out so that the fox twins shared a bench and each had an oar while Rori took a pair by himself. With the first hit of an oar in the water they all winced and stared at each other. They had forgotten to muffle the oars. How could they go this far only to fail now?
“Just row.” Riplar gritted and they did. It was a bit tricky at first but soon they found a rhythm.
“Selra! Paddle harder!”
“I’m already paddling hard enough!”
“We need to turn! Quickly!”
Grunting, she strained and eventually they made it to the other side. Rori hopped out and beached the boat while Selra and Riplar rounded up the supplies. They were heading for the cover of the trees when Riplar stopped and turned.
“Rori, come with us.”
“He can’t, Rip, what about the boat?”
“With the army moving out there’ll be plenty of other boats anyway. You should come!”
The beast in question looked hesitantly at them.
“I got lots of weapons!” Riplar enticed.
“What about Slashclaw?”
Selra’s tone was cold. “You said yourself that it wasn’t an easy life. You got whipped and had long hours and little pay. That shouldn’t be too hard to leave.”
Her brother gave her a weird look as Rori blushed. “Well…”
“If he wants to stay, fine.” Selra spun and continued trudging up to where the forest met the beach. Riplar gave Rori one last look and followed. Selra felt safer in the darkness of the trees and ignored the knowledge that she would feel safer with a big badger accompanying them. Soon they heard a splash of water.
Riplar sighed. He was about to speak when he was cut off by oncoming pawsteps. They rotated as one to see the striped mound catching up with them. They smiled and he smiled back. Then they all set off to face the world together, however it might turn out.
After winter had come early and ruined the harvests, it had receded a bit leaving balmy weather with a few chilly winds. Mossflower inhabitants raced to enjoy the reprise of early autumn. A few overly optimistic farmers even started planting again. Most others were more cautious…or realistic. Whichever it was, it was more appropriate since after a few weeks or so, winter set in fiercely. Beasts were driven into their homes for days at a time and all plants withered and died in record time. Needless to say, this was not ideal weather for traveling as Carma was quickly finding out.
Another wind blew and Carma staggered, but did not bend to it. Having a large body mass helped her. She had definitely grown in the time that she had stayed with Nottenc in more ways than one. Sighing, she wondered how the volewife was doing. She had grown quite attached to her, like a second mother, and she regretted leaving her. But the pull to the west had been stronger and she knew that Nottenc and Mumzy would be safe at Redwall. By her calculations, they must have arrived there just before winter had returned. And now onto the west she went, following an inane pull which she secretly knew was tempered by the suspicion that that was where Rori was.
Rori…her mind was quite confused when it came to him. She couldn’t love him having just seen him, yet there had been that strange feeling. And then there was the creature with him. Oh well, she would, hopefully, eventually figure this all out. She heard a growl and groaned. She had obviously not thought this out well: She had barely more than the clothes on her back, which were thin and the wind went through. Therefore she had no way to defend herself and no food. Well, she did have her dirk, but it needed to be sharpened.
She glanced around the area. She was in a snow-covered field bordered by some frosted trees. Around the trees lay a few fallen branches. Aha! That should work. She looked around once more then dashed over there, stopping once for the wind. Squatting down proved a bit difficult without toppling over into the snow, but she managed and chose a tree limb. She dusted off some of the snow with her bare paw then swung it at a tree. It splintered and flew everywhere. Barely avoiding a piece of tree, she tried another one. This one withstood several blasts before she decided it was adequate.
Suddenly the black and white fur on the back of her neck stood up and she whirled, surprisingly gracefully, around. Her footpaws crunched rather silently into the snow while she tracked the noise that had startled her. She paused to listen not hearing anything, much less the sound, when she was pulled violently backwards. Her balance was off enough that whatever had pulled her back fell down too. The uneven ground forced the two bodies to roll around while half-wrestling. Her opponent was bigger than her and until recently, this wouldn’t have been too unusual. But since she had grown more, she was towering over beasts more and more. Who could this be then?
Carma struggled in the brawny arms and managed to get rid of the paw over mouth. She thrashed and, managing to hit something tender, smiled. Finally, the slant and their energies gave out and they collapsed side by side, limbs tangled. She had hit her head hard through the snow and her vision swirled. A paw grabbed the front of her tunic and jerked her upwards, a fist at the ready. Everything swung around painfully and she gasped. Then gasped again.
The paw’s owner, startled at the knowledge that Carma was a badger and she knew that familiar name, dropped her and her head resounded against the frozen ground again. Needless to say, this was not how she had imagined her first encounter with him, which she had shamefully done quite a lot. If it was him…still there was no time to consider any of that as blackness spun overwhelmingly in her vision and she knew no more.
Methusaleh’s and Matthias’ clear tones rang out over the Abbey’s frosted grounds. The snow outside the red walls muffled the sound, containing it. Some Abbeydwellers, therefore, weren’t even sure if the noise had reached their ears. They wandered around in the Great Hall and some out in the Grounds. Milling about, the murmur rose until it nearly blocked out the continuing rings. Finally, beasts with answers came to calm beasts down and settle things out. The crowds were assembled with reassuring words into the Great Hall where Abbess Fern gracefully ascended a table. To fully gain the mass’s attention, she had to resort to banging two pots together.
“Thank you.” She said when silence was gained. “My first words to you are ‘Don’t worry’. Or at least, those are what they would optimally be were it not for the well-organized horde heading for our Abbey’s gates as we speak.”
Chaos broke out again and took several minutes of hammering on the pots for quiet to be restored. In all frankness, the Abbess was not surprised at the response and, while wondering if that was the right thing to say, coolly tried to calm them down. One faint-hearted haremaiden, Recorder Howlia’s sister, could not be pacified and had to be dragged to the Infirmary for a shot of relaxing tea.
“In a few minutes, we will initiate the rehearsed plan of action. Remember: Dibbuns and old ones to Dormitories. Healers stand by in the Infirmary. Warriors, gather weapons and take the walls. Any questions, come talk to me. This is not a drill, I repeat, this is not a drill.” The squirrel surveyed them for a minute. “I think that’s about it. You are dismissed. Go!”
Fern leapt off her makeshift platform and went to her chambers to get ready. Skipper Joncho followed her. “Yes, Skipper?”
“Y’said iffen h’anybeast ‘as questions t’come talk t’ye.”
“What is it?” She opened her door and went to her closet.
“Well, Ah be wantin’ t’know h’all th’details. ‘Ow many beasts h’are we up h’against? ‘Ow well equipped h’are they? Wot kind o’battle does it look like?” When she turned to look at him, he shrugged sheepishly. “H’it’s just wot Ah be needin’ t’know iffen ye want this battle well executed.” He glanced at her. “’Twill it be a battle?”
She paused in fastening her belt around her chain mail. “They’ve already attacked us, so most likely, that is what it will come to. But,” she stuck the end of the belt back through a loop, “as always, we will start by trying to find out what’s happening and see if we can negotiate. Though I highly doubt it, seeing as they’re vermin.” Finishing with her belt, she checked herself over and grabbed her weapon. “How do I look?”
The skipper looked at her. Her armor was simple, seeing as there wasn’t much to go around, but it complemented her fur nicely while protecting all the vital areas. Her belt held a simple bag for her bolts and her polished wenge crossbow stood ready in her hand. Altogether, while ready for battle, the young maid managed to bring a simple flair to the outfit.
“Really?” She looked stunned and looked herself over again. “Oh well,” She straightened up and smiled at him, her momentary girlishness forgotten. “Let’s go. I’ll brief you on what I can on the way. I assume you’re ready?”
It was rhetorical, but he answered nonetheless. “H’as always, ma’am, h’as always.”
“Haven’t I told you to drop the ma’am?” She grinned uncharacteristically back at him as they advanced towards the main door.
He smiled back, a rare sight lighting up his rugged features. “You might’ve, you might’n’ve. Ah kin’t keep track.” They carried on the slight banter to keep down their pre-battle jitters as they headed out to face Grovelum’s army.
They were pleased to find that, when properly motivated, Redwallers could quickly turn pandemonium into order. The Dibbuns and chaperones had been corralled, the healers set up and the warriors had grabbed their weapons and were now assimilating on the walltops. The leader pair had another short conference before continuing.
“Brief them on what you can. The army should be here soon and you can make your own assessments. I think we should keep it to the walls.”
“But, wiv all due respect, we should start on th’walls but those ‘o kin should den move out. The wall shooters kin cover ‘em ‘n’ we’ll ‘ave a double advantage.”
“While they have the advantage of more training and number.” The dry response was met with a look and she relented. “Okay, we have done a lot of training. But still, with all these counter-advantages, the battle might be close to equal which means long with lots of deaths. We want to avoid that.”
He nodded then patted her shoulder. “For such a young h’abbess, y’sure know wot yore doin’.”
A blush tinged her cheeks though it could be equally attributed to the cold air, another counter-advantage. Then they parted ways to address various parties.
Gathered near the wallsteps was another bunch of beasts bantering before battle.
“D’you think ye could really kill somebeast?” Queried by Segalia, this was a question they had asked each other many times before, but this was the first time it felt more serious.
Wraltor, though, still believing in keeping their spirits up, answered in his normal fashion. “Wouldn’t ‘afta. H’I’d jist look h’all cool ‘n’ it’d frighten ‘em all h’off.”
She rolled her eyes with a bare smile and turned to Lijel. “What ‘bout you?” She prompted.
He froze. “H’I donno. ‘Pends on the situation.” This too was his normal answer and was typically followed by playful possibilities of various circumstances.
“’Ow ‘bout this?” the sardonic reply became more so as she continued. “Yer second home, which is peaceful by nature,” Wraltor rolled his eyes behind her back and Lijel snickered which did not help his case, “is attacked ‘thout warning by a bunch o’ vermin. Many ‘tacked ‘clude yore ‘loved ones’. Could ye?!”
“Seg…” he protested.
“Answer me! Could you?”
“Whoa, whoa, Seg! Why’s this such h’a big deal all o’ sudden?” Wraltor came between them seeing a barely noticeable twinge in Lijel’s eyes.
She advanced on him now. “Why? Because we’re ‘bout t’go int’battle. We could die! Especially if yore not prepared t’kill in return!” She put her tannish paw in the middle of the bark over her tunic. “H’I should be fine because Ah’ll just go all Bloodwrathy ‘n’ kill ev’rybeast!” Her face mixed irritation and pride for a bit as she continued to rant. “But what ‘bout you guys? Ye’ve practiced sure! But iffen ye kin’t kill…”
If it was possible for dark-furred otters to go pale, then that’s what they were. As it was, they were peaked though they attempted to hide it by making various expressions including annoyance.
Wraltor returned to his cool persona side. “So,” he flipped his fur around his eyes and looked at her sideways, “iffen Ah’m ‘earing this correctly, yore concerned fer us.”
The warriormaid’s ire turned to flabbergastedness and embarrassment. “What? No! H’o’ course not! Well, maybe a bit, but yore my friends! H’It’s only logical!”
She didn’t turn to face the newcomer. “Fear for friends before a fight. Which,” now she looked at the gray female, “’cludes you h’even though Ah ‘ardly see y’anymore.” Smiling wanly, she made to turn away when Ampanna’s paw stopped her.
“H’I’m sorry, Segalia, Ah really am. H’it’s jist, Ah got caught up in all the changes ‘n’ ye were always ‘angin’ out with them.” She gestured vaguely behind them to the two boys who were looking a bit out of their element.
Segalia looked surprised. “But ye know them. Wraltor, maybe not so much, but y’could’ve gotten to know ‘im!”
“Yeah,” she sighed,” but ‘specially when Ah got hurt, ye visited, but h’it always felt like Ah was ‘truding into yore group.”
This time the ottermaid looked ashamed. “H’I’m sorry! H’I never wanted t’exclude ye!”
A wide smile crossed Ampanna’s face. “S’okay, jist so long as it doesn’t ‘appen ‘gain.” She crushed her into a hug which was returned just as tightly a second later. “H’I missed you.”
They broke apart and Segalia’s visage turned impish. “What ‘bout you, kin ye kill somebeast?”
Ampanna opened her mouth to respond, but Lijel interrupted with a reproach. “Don’t start that h’again.”
She turned and smiled angelically at him, her blue eyes twinkling against his wary ones. “What?” He rolled his eyes and smiled while the others started to laugh away their pre-battle jitters.
A bird flew into a tree, balancing precariously on the branch. He caught his balance and checked the position of the sun to see if it was time for his daily song. Seeing as it wasn’t, he stuck his beak in his wing to see if he could dislodge anything unwelcome. Suddenly, a snap of a branch caused his head to freeze mid-swoop. He slowly turned his dull-feathered head and came face to face with a weasel. His beady eyes stared, shocked for a second before he squawked and flapped frantically away.
The weasel, Ungbar, notched an arrow and was aiming when he was cuffed on the head. Only by extreme control did he not release the arrow. He growled in his throat and turned to face General Dir. The stoat was glaring at him.
“First, y’were ‘bout t’waste an arrer. Second, ye ‘nounced our presence. Y’want that burd to betray us t’th’Abbey?”
“Shouldn’t Ah shoot ‘im down then?”
Dir scowled and stepped forward to look through a break in the trees. At the same time he lifted a paw, signaling the rest of the army to come to a halt. A crunch or two was heard as beasts stumbled into each other at the suddenness of the stop. The general’s frown deepened and a nearby rat noticed.
Suddenly he was flying through the air from the force of the backhand he had just received. He hit a tree and a crack was heard. The army was shocked into silence at the sudden violence which was exactly what the stoat had wanted. Dir waited a moment then turned around to face all of them.
“We’re ‘bout t’reach Redwall. Iffen ye want th’misshin to go well, and y’not get killed, den Ah suggest y’shuddup like Ah ordered. Ah ‘ope yer ready. Questions?”
Nobeast moved. They just continued to stare at Dir and his unfortunate victim,
“Questions?” His voice had risen as much as it could without alerting others to their presence and the vermin understood the implications immediately. They came to attention, saluted and shouted, at the same volume as Dir’s, “No, sir!”
He smiled, a tad maliciously, then did an about face and signaled forward march. The army complied. A scarred, tough looking rat, met the eyes of a superior. A blink of the eyes and slight nod of the head was all she needed. When she reached the prostrate body, she checked it for signs of life with all the efficiency of vermin. She nudged it, not gently, made noise, not so much as to alert the others, and finally placed her paws all over in search of a pulse, all while cursing, teasing and pleading. Closing her eyes, he roughened paws slowly slid into her lap. The ratmaid murmured the words of the death dirge, then stood, brushing fallen leaves and snow from her lower body. Some of the debris fell on the body of her friend. His nose twitched. Her head turned sharply and then drooped as she turned away and set off in the direction of the army. His eyes blinked rapidly after her, unable to summon up the power necessary to call her, doomed to die alone.
Dir halted the army at the edge of the woods bordering the Abbey and cursed. Maybe it was the bird or maybe some other careless incident had caused this. Whatever it was, Redwall was prepared. The walls were bustling with well-armed guards. The stoat made a quick decision then marched straight out onto the path. While shocked, the army was trained to follow their leader’s orders and filed after him. As more and more vermin spilled out of Mossflower Wood, the hubbub on the battlements and the grounds rose. Dir grinned inwardly; his plan seemed to be working.
A streamdog managed to calm them down enough for a squirrel to speak. “Good day. Pray tell, what is your business here?”
Dir was surprised at the civility and tried to formulate his own response. “My good lady, my, aren’t you looking dirty today?” A few of the vermin wolf-whistled, but the woodlanders looked appalled. The stoat was genuinely surprised; it was considered quite a compliment to be told that in the vermin community as it meant you were not useless with a flirty touch.
“Let’s dispense with the pleasantries, shall we?” Her voice had grown cold and the stoat sighed. That was the last time he tried to be nice to a woodlander; besides, he had been sent to kill her.
“Now, I ask you again, why are you here?”
“T’take yer Abbey weder by forceful means or peaceful ones.” That was their purpose in all its basicness.
“Why?” This question was harder.
“So that wid multiple bases, King Grovelum, may he kill many souls, can rule all o’ Mossflower.”
“Then he is extra greedy and cannot be satisfied with merely one fortress and lots of land and beasts?”
It was hard to tell whether the statement was supposed to be a statement or a question but the general tried to answer nonetheless. “No, he has the power to rule more and wishes t’do so. ‘N’ he is a good leader and knows dat iffen we don’t fight for a while, it’s bad.” He shrugged as if trying to convey the rest of the sentence.
“So vermin really do have inborn instincts to kill?”
He figured her mind was probably on the troublesome ferret, Veil or something, that had stayed with them a few years ago. “We ‘ave to.”
“I’ve ‘ad enough o’dis.” Ungbar started pulling back his bowstring and pre-nocked arrow.
“No! Dat will only give truth to der statement!”
“Who cares?” The weasel ignored his companion and aimed for a collection of streamdogs and a treejumper on the walltops. He aimed for a tall one and let go while the general and abbess continued their conversation. Another otter, almost as tall, stepped unknowingly into the path of the arrow. The archer shrugged; one woodlander dead was as good as another.
The abbess broke off in the middle of her sentence when the goose-fletched arrow secured itself in the otter’s neck. His companion didn’t realize what was happening and when stumbled upon, pushed back, knocking him off the wall towards the vermin. Everybeast, especially the woodlanders, looked stunned.
“And while we negotiate you simply kill defenseless creatures?!” The stoat general wanted to note to the squirrel that the otter wasn’t defenseless as he had been holding a spear, but the continuing tirade stopped him.
“Reeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeddddddddddwaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaalllllllllllllllllllllllllllll!” She shouted, once she regained her breath from her rant against injustice, raising her black crossbow over her head and the battle commenced. Shooters automatically started shooting at the others and the group of the fallen’s companions pushed to get out to him. The well-known chaos of battle had started and Dir smiled, drawing his weapon. Finally, down to business.
Book Three: Zenith: No Loose Ends
Grovelum sat composed at his desk in the study adjacent to his throne room and looked around. After he made sure no one was watching and the doors were closed, he picked the book he was studying and threw it across the room. Normally, the fox king was not prone to acts of any great emotion and certainly not anger. At the moment, however, he felt justified. The book, that was supposed to be guiding him, didn’t seem to be helping him anymore. Slashclaw seemed to waver too much on the line between craftiness and insanity. And on top of the war, his children had disappeared in the middle of the night for what reason he knew not!
He sighed heavily and crossed the room to pick up the tattered manuscript. Slashclaw, while confused, was still convinced of Rori’s faithfulness and since he had disappeared too, he was sure they weren’t abandoning them. No, the coyote had said, they must be somehow helping the war effort. Yet something about their recent behavior bugged him and he wasn’t sure if his friend was correct. His wife was despondent, though not visibly, and had urged him to select at least a few soldiers to go search for them. But with the way the war was going, the king wasn’t sure if he could spare them.
He retraced his steps, his boots lightly clicking, and he allowed himself the rare pleasure of slumping in his chair. Putting his bright orange paws to his face, he muffled a groan. How could he be a good king if he couldn’t even control his children? How would he control all of Mossflower? How would he even finish this war? At just the right time, his self-confidence stepped in. It chided and cajoled, reminding him of his great feats and the happiness of most everybody around him. It told him to take one step at a time and that would have to be finishing the war. Everything else did not matter; he had to put aside his personal feelings and the feelings of those around him.
Standing up, he straightened his royal robes and strode to the door. “Guard!”
The guard standing outside the door opened it and asked, “Yes?”
“Has General Dir arrived yet?”
“Inform me the second he arrives.”
“Yes, your majesty.”
“And send Mister Slashclaw in, I wish to speak to him.”
“Yes, your highness.”
Grovelum hesitated then asked one more thing of the guard. “And tell the cook to send a special treat up to my wife.”
The guard smiled; it wasn’t necessarily a cruel or laughing smile. “Yes, my king.”
The king nodded sharply and clapped his paws. “Now, chop chop! Go on!”
Gently closing the door, the guard went to do as he had been bid. The king paced as he thought. Once Dir got back, he would know how the battle had gone which would tell him many things about how the war would go in general. He stared out of the window as he passed, then stopped. The world seemed to have turned white overnight and it was beautiful. Almost as beautiful as the sight of blood on it would be. He stared at the surrounding lake, barely seeing the shore on the other side. Suddenly a thought hit him.
He turned and quickly went to the door. Just as he was about to call to have it opened, it opened. The guard was back.
“Your majesty.” He saluted and bowed simultaneously. “The general has returned.”
“Why did you burst in without knocking?”
“I figured you would want to know immediately, your highness.”
“Yes, but knock next time. Did you do all else that I ordered of you?”
“Yes, my king.”
“Well then, I have another thing.” The guard waited patiently, slowly catching his breath from his rushed errands. “Do you know if the lake is completely frozen?”
The questioned hesitated. “I could have somebeast find out, but I’m fairly certain it nearly is.”
A broad, slightly wicked smile spread over the king’s face. “Yes, have someone find out and send the general up here.” He turned back to his desk and his last words to the guard carried back over his shoulder as he walked. “We have many things to discuss.”
Wraltor lay sprawled on the ground, breathing hard and bleeding profusely. There was no hope for him, the arrow having lodged itself in several vital places in the neck. He knew it and so did the otter bending over him.
"Why?" Lijel asked, struggling hard, his face contorting against tears.
"H’I don't reckon Ah know," said the dying otter, "but lemme tell ye som'in'. H’I only knew ye for a short time, but you were the best matey anybeast could h'ever 'ave. H’A fun brother and an awesome friend all rolled in ta one." He took another deep breath then shuddered and lay still.
Lijel stood up. The tears that had succeeded in coming streamed down and matted the brown fur. He turned to face Segalia, who had stood watching, silently crying, as all this had taken place, "H’I wasn't so sure about fightin’ and the war and iffen we should, but now, Ah know. They will die!"
Shouting this cry of vengeance to everybeast, he bowed his head and the sobs burst forth. Segalia came and awkwardly put an arm around the sobbing otter. "And if needed, Ah'll 'elp ye do it."
His copious sobs racked his whole body. Hesitating slightly, she pulled him into a hug. She ran her paw down his back murmuring soothing words, his fur clumping between her fingers. He sank to his knees pulling her down. She knelt, still comforting him. His cries started to quiet down some. This was followed by an awkward silence and Segalia released her arms.
Lijel hesitated then spoke. “Thanks, Segalia.” His voice nearly caught, but he seemed a bit better. She simply nodded; nothing else needed to be said or done. They sat in the dirt outside of the Abbey where they had dashed as soon as the battle had started. Protecting the body, they had waited anxiously for him to regain consciousness. The battle had been short, but damaging, other dead bodies littering the ground around them as well. Ampanna had had to go help despite her want to stay. The otters both looked over at their friend.
“We should give ‘im a proper otter’s burial.”
“’E deserves that and more.”
“Yes, but Ah’m ‘fraid nothing kin be done ‘til the end of the war.” Seeing his crushed look, she continued. “And then, we’ll give him the best sendoff ever.”
Lijel nodded. He bent and put his arms under the limp body lifting it up. He closed the glazed unseeing eyes and staggering a bit, started moving towards the River Moss. Segalia rushed over to take some of the weight, but he shook his head grimly. She stood respectfully as he passed then walked slowly after him. When they finally reached the river’s edge—after a harrowing near-drop of the body—they arranged it appropriately. Then they quickly dug a hole and buried Wraltor next to the river, home to otters and close to his other home: Redwall Abbey.
They stood. Lijel, drawing his sword went to stand by Wraltor’s grave. He saluted with the sword. “Eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeaaaaaaaaaayyyyyyeeeeeeeeeeee! Euuuuuuuuuulllllaaaaaaliiiiiiiiiiiiaaaaaaaa! Reeeeeeeeeeedwaaaaaaaaallllll! Hooooooolt Weeeeaaspreaaaaaaaaaarrrrrrrrrrr!” He shouted and stabbed the ground next to the body. He kneeled, driving it into the earth. Then he stood, gave the pommel one last pat and walked away.
The only sound filling the cold air was a brisk striking of stone and sword and a few accompanying annoyed grunts. Riplar readjusted his cloak about himself where he knelt in the snow trying to light the small pile of twigs he had compiled. He had heard that striking metal against rocks worked to create a fire, but he was unsure of all the mechanics. Whatever he was doing didn’t seem to be it. He sighed and swung his sword at the small rock in his paw again. He missed and muffled a mild curse as he grabbed his paw.
Soon the sound of bickering filled the air. His sister and friend must be back from gathering more wood from the fire. The cold hadn’t done much to improve any of their moods especially with the absence of a warm fire. The fox breathed out a cloud of air and began attempting at sparks again as his companions entered the clearing.
“I just don’t understand why you tracked it in the first place!”
“First of all, ‘it’ is a she and I was making sure it wasn’t an enemy. Protecting you, your highness.” The title was soaked in sarcasm and Selra bridled.
“Well, why did you have to drag her all the way back to the camp?”
The badger shifted uncomfortably under the weight slung over his shoulder and her accusation. “She’s not a bad guy and if she could die if she was knocked out in the snow for too long.”
Selra moved around their campsite and deposited an armload of wood ranging from small sticks to big limbs. “And how do you know she’s not a bad guy?”
“She’s a badger and-”
“And what? How does her being a badger mean anything? It could mean she’s even more likely to go into Bloodwrath and attack Rip and I when she wakes up.”
“Why would she do that?” He gently dumped the body of a medium-sized female badger on his bedspread from the previous night.
She threw up her paws. “I don’t know. Maybe she has a personal vendetta against foxes because they killed her family or something. Woodlanders have a tendency to attack ‘vermin’ on sight. Either way, there’s no way to know if she can be trusted.”
“She knew my name!”
Selra looked genuinely startled at this. “What?”
Rori sat wearily on a log. “She knew my name. I don’t know how or why but…”
“Okay, okay.” Riplar’s curiosity had been sufficiently piqued and he felt it his duty to join the conversation and perhaps dissuade another argument. “What in the world are you talking about? Who is she? What happened?”
His sister opened her muzzle to speak and then thought better of it and motioned for the badger to explain.
He shrugged. “I was going out in the woods, looking for firewood, and I heard someone tramping through the snow. So I decided to investigate. I couldn’t tell whether they were friend or foe so I tackled her…them. We wrestled for a while and I was about to knock her out just to be safe when she said my name. It was weird. I have no idea how she even knew, but she sounded so surprised.”
Shaking his head bewildered, he stared at the as-yet nameless badger.
“What then?” Selra prompted, anxious to hear the full story.
“I’m not sure. She said my name and I suddenly realized that one, I was fighting another badger, two, I was fighting a girl and three, somehow she knew me! I just dropped her and she must have hit something that knocked her unconscious. So I decided to bring her back here so she wouldn’t freeze.”
“Though that doesn’t seem to be working,” She remarked slightly caustically as she glanced at the cold pile of tinder.
“Hey, it’s hard. I’m working on it, okay?”
“Real hard too.”
Riplar noticed that his paws had gone idle as he had listened to the story and shot back, “Well, it’s not like you’re helping much!”
“I got wood!”
Anything else he was going to say was cut off as Rori stopped them. “Stop it, both of you! We need to stick together through this…” he struggled in search of a word and Riplar stepped in.
“Mindless, stupid escapade.”
“I’m sorry! Okay? I’m sorry. I’m sorry I dragged you guys away from a place of war so we could try to figure stuff out. I’m sorry we did this in the middle of winter. I’m sorry that I’m so confused and cold and wet that I’m not in the best of moods, but let me remind you: we’re all confused, cold and wet and you both agreed to come with me. Like he said, we’re all in this together so don’t go blaming me!” Selra’s heartfelt defense of an apology became more defensive as her companions gave her weird looks. She dropped her head down, eyes landing on the badger. If somehow conditions worked out that she stayed with them, it might be nice to have another girl in the group. She felt a warm paw on her shoulder and her head jerked up.
It was her brother, looking slightly bashful. “I’m sorry too. Let’s try and start over, okay?” He stuck his other paw out for her to shake and relieved, she gripped it and shook.
The grunt from the badger assured her that they were all once more in peaceful agreement.
“So, now what?” Perhaps it was because of her warlord heritage, but she felt more at ease while arguing or fighting though it got tiresome. She wasn’t sure what the next step was.
“Take stock, I guess.”
“We have a fire that won’t start and some cold food. I think I got enough so we should be good for now, but it wouldn’t hurt to get more.”
“What are we going to do about her?”
“Do you have any specific ideas?” The protective undertone in Rori’s voice made him raise his paws peaceably.
“I didn’t mean throw her out in the cold.” He winced slightly at the irony and continued, “I just meant are we going to try to wake her up or wait? Are we going to feed her? Ask her questions? What?”
He shrugged. “I guess we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it. Just let her rest for now.”
Riplar nodded back and they sat in an awkward silence until he knelt back down to continue working on the fire. Selra came over and started making a bigger fire pit.
“Sorry, some of the wood might be wet, snow and all.”
“Yeah,” he forcefully tapped the cutlass against the rock again. The continued tapping seemed to have an effect on the unconscious badger.
All three stopped what they were doing and glanced over. “What should we do?”
“Relax, Rori. Just keep tapping, Riplar and maybe she’ll wake up soon.”
“That’s a bit mean.”
“No meaner than jumping on someone’s bed or shining light in their eyes to wake them up.”
Riplar smiled innocently at his sister and she rolled her eyes.
As she went back to what she was doing, he examined his sword thoughtfully and said, “True. And it’s much better than bribing the kids of a visiting frog warlord to jump on their bed with you, especially after they had gone for a morning’s swim.”
“Hey, I only did that to you once. And it was only one kid.”
“It was still mean. And there was that time when it was what, below freezing?, and you stole my blankets.”
Selra was unable to work up any sympathy on this charge and burst out laughing instead. “And then you were running around the castle practically naked. It was hilarious!”
He glared at her and Rori as he joined in chuckling. They all turned as they heard another groan. The body moved and her eyes blinked. After a moment of nothing, they rushed over to surround her, searching for signs of consciousness.
She moved some more and it gave Rori the sense to remind them to all step back. “We’ll probably freak her out otherwise.”
They went back to their tasks, Rori’s which consisted of whittling down sticks for the fire and glancing anxiously over at his guest. Finally, she made to sit up and Rori was there to try to push her down.
She fought him. “What happened?”
“You hit your head hard. You should rest.”
“Yes, you seem real intent on letting me rest with your constant tapping and chatter.”
Great, Selra thought, another grump to add to the group.
Riplar had the presence of mind to gather some snow in a rag for her to use on the bump on her head.
When it started to feel better, she sat up and looked around. Before her eyes had cleared all her sleepiness, she was apologizing for her curtness. “Sorry about that. Where am I?”
“Somewhere in the middle of Mossflower Woods.” Selra answered her.
Her eyes widened as she saw that the reply came from a fox and Selra stared determinedly back.
She forced a smile. “I think I might know you, Rori, but I haven’t met you two. I’m Carma, who are you?”
Riplar started forward, but Selra cut in front with her paw outstretched. “Princess Selra, daughter of High King and Conqueror Grovelum the Malevolent, lord of the Inland Lake and Mossflower Woods. Nice to meet you, Carma.”
The title she had exaggerated and normally she disdained all use of it, but she was trying to see how their visitor would react. Would she treat her with honor because she was royalty or attack because she was the daughter of a warlord?
Carma smiled, more genuinely this time, and gripped her proffered paw. “Nice to meet you, your majesty.”
Pleasantly surprised, she shook the large paw and stepped back to give way to her brother. Looking ill at ease, he stepped past and said, “Riplar, her brother.” “Good to meet you too, your highness.” It was fairly evident that Carma’s mind was whirling trying to connect pieces together, but she would remain kind until facts told her otherwise.
“You can drop the titles.” Selra smiled genuinely back, more at ease. “So what are you doing in this neck of the woods?”
Before the female badger could answer, Rori burst into the conversation. “Yeah and how do you know my name? How do you know anything about me?”
“Uh, maybe we can talk somewhere private?”
“Anything you have to say can be said now.”
Selra’s paranoia flared up slightly, but she struggled to think the best.
“It’s just hard to explain. I saw you, in the woods a while back. With your master. And I think I might’ve recognized you from somewhere.”
“You were spying on me?”
“No,” She said firmly, “I was wandering through the woods and hid when I heard you guys. Then I watched to see what was happening.”
He started to say something several times then stopped. As the silence got awkward, Riplar stepped in. “So do you want to stay with us for a while? At least until your head heals or something? We could probably use another paw around here.”
Carma glanced at Rori then nodded. “Yeah, I’d be happy to. What can I do to help?”
“Well, if your head’s alright for the moment, my doofus of a brother,” Selra aimed a slight kick at Riplar, “could use some help starting a fire before we all freeze.”
Riplar mumbled under his breath as Carma grinned cheerily. “Sure thing, just give me a second to get my tools from my sack.”
He looked down at the rock and sword in his paws then hid them behind his back as she got out proper flint. “Let’s see what I can do.”
Soon they were chatting away as old friends and even Rori joined in; the warmth of new friends helping to warm them as the fire started.
“We need to make plans for a decisive last battle. So far the battles have been somewhat damaging on both sides, but the losses were not great. We must put all our energies into this so we can win and be done with it.”
“And if you don’t win?” Slashclaw’s surprisingly sane question interrupted Grovelum.
The fox sighed. “Well, I suppose we would then cut our losses and move onto Salamandastron. It would be easier to capture the fire mountain with Redwall under our control, but the new machine should help.”
Tapping his cane, the coyote came up behind him. “Maybe it would be better if we did so now.”
He turned sharply about. “What do you mean?”
“Bad things happen to warlords who attack Redwall Abbey.”
“Are you saying that the children left because of the curse of attacking Redwall?”
“That’s ridiculous.” Sighing, he continued. “But that does have something to do with why I’m not patiently waiting it out.”
“Haha, I thought so.”
The king ignored the accusing, albeit wild, stare with accompanying snorts and continued as if to himself, “Of course with the early onset of winter they might not be that well off and we could starve them out.” He stared into space, considering it, then shook himself. “As much as I’d love to own Redwall, I need to stop this war so that I can concentrate my efforts on finding the children.” He trailed his paw over the Warlord’s Guide on his desk as he passed, then sat stiffly in his chair.
“Maybe after they’re found? They can’t have gone far.”
Grovelum shook his head sadly at his optimistic friend and beckoned his trusted mute guard over. “Please ask Queen Oxos to come to me. I am in need of some…encouragement.”
The guard nodded and left as Slashclaw tapped his cane irritably. Finally, he burst, “Look, have I questioned the way you handle your troops? Everybeast around you? The way you choose not to rule by power and controlled violence over them? I may not approve, but I haven’t said anything.”
“Not that I don’t condone loyalty between a few beasts, obviously with me and Rori.”
He giggled and snorted, but before he could say more the fox coolly interjected, “And that obviously didn’t serve you too well.”
The wild eyes turned hard as he asked, “What’s that supposed to mean?”
“Simply that you should practice as you preach and have bonds of true loyalty. Besides, some methods work better for some beasts than others,”
“All I was going to say was that maybe if you ruled them a little differently, they would win more battles for you.”
“Are you implying that if I gave my armies insults and wounds they’d be more likely to fighter harder than if I treated them well?”
He gestured wildly, but calmly simultaneously as he said, “Sure.”
“When it’s much more likely that they would desert me?”
“Are you saying that you don’t approve of the way your wife handles her maids?”
“I’m fine with it, but I just think she might lose more maids than she’ll gain.”
“Would you rather I didn’t let them ‘retire’?” The fighting friends turned to see the queen come in.
“No, I wouldn’t-” He was cut off as they both turned on him: “You’re too soft-” “If you would just-” “No pain, no gain-” “Your justness and patience and my innate cruelty and exacting of justice always balanced each other out-” “Rori’s loyal, but are your armies?” “This isn’t working anymore-” “You’re not manly enough-” “Only things I ever loved, taken from me-”
The insults flew fast and furious and his head spun trying to keep up. How could they be saying this? How much of it was true? Was he that incompetent?
Something tapped his shoulder and he whirled around, scattering papers everywhere. He met the deep eyes of his wife and swallowed hard. But they weren’t full of anger and accusation as they had been a minute before.
Confused and trying to regain his composure, he said weakly, “Yes?”
“Are you okay, sweetheart?”
Questions filling his head, he stared at her mutely.
“You need to rest. Come on.” She pulled at his arm and he got up, turning to spot Slashclaw.
“Where were we?”
“I believe we were discussing the children.”
“Ah, well, let’s meet later to work on battle plans.”
“Aye,” the coyote’s eyes gleamed and he added, “Make sure not to conk out next time.”
The red head nodded, filling with relief. “Sorry, just a bit of stress.” He let his wife take his paw and lead him away.
“I heard you needed encouragement.”
He shrugged. “I’m just conflicted over a few things.”
“I can help you, you know, I am the daughter and wife of warlords and am quite capable.”
Smiling at her as they went down the hall, he bent down and kissed her. “Yes, you are quite capable.”
She blushed and her lips curled up. “As are you; your machine is quite brilliant actually.”
Husband and wife smiled at each other, the world once more at peace as plans were made for the final battle.
He hated crying. He really did; he felt that it was a shameful unmanly thing to do. And after all he had been through, he certainly had to be a man. Still, she had cried too and he was worth crying over. Nevertheless he vowed never to cry again. At least over this.
And yet, every morning, Lijel used to wake up and go look for Wraltor so that they could go terrorize the kitchens together or fight or some other such thing. Now, he would wake up in the dormitories, head out and start looking for his friend when it would hit him with such a painful ache that he nearly felt like crying all over again. The routine had repeated this morning and he had crawled off to the library to bury himself in some book. It wasn’t working and he forced himself to reread the last sentence.
“H’I ‘ear h’it ‘elps iffen you read the book right-side h’up.”
Startled, the otter looked up to see Segalia. She had a tinge of sadness about her, but he could tell she was trying to be nonchalant, bring things back the way they were. He glanced back at the tome he was reading and flipped it around. The words unblurred and he was annoyed that he had been so distracted that he hadn’t noticed.
“So, Ah was wonderin’.”
He sighed. “Yes?”
“They’re ‘avin’ a war council down in the Cavern ‘ole and Ah don’t think we’re h’invited, but Ah wanted to see iffen you would sneak in wid me.”
He felt a flare of excitement at the idea, but it quickly died as he realized his espionage partner was no longer available. He grumbled.
“C’mon, Lijel. H’it’ll be fun.” When he didn’t answer, she sighed heavily and flopped into the comfy chair next to his. “Well, do you ‘ave any better h’ideas?”
“D’you ‘ave nothing else t’do or somethin’?”
“Well, Ampanna’s still asleep so Ah decided to look ‘round and Ah ‘eard ‘bout the meeting.”
“You could read a book.”
She glanced at the rows of books around them. “H’I’ve already read most o’them. C’mon, Ah’m tryin’ to get you h’out of yer depression!”
“H’I killed somebeast, Seg! ‘N mah best friend died! Ye don’t get h’over that quickly!” She stared at him and was about to respond when they heard a violent shush from the librarian.
Quietly, she offered, “H’I ‘ave nightmares.”
When he barely grunted, she continued. “H’I know, h’it’s ‘ard. But ‘as long as ye keep ‘em in yer memory ‘n’ git past the pain each day, h’it’ll become easier. Ye just ‘ave to keep livin’.”
Since he seemed to be listening to her, she added with a small smile, “Besides iffen we go to th’war council, we kin find more ‘bout yer revenge.”
He closed his book. “H’if Ah don’t come wid you, yore gonna bug me all day, aren’t ye?”
She grinned. “Yep.”
Pretending to sigh reluctantly, despite the light growing in his eyes, he stood. “Race ya.”
They dashed away to the cries of the librarian. “No running in the library! Put the book back where you found it! Such disgrace to a haven of peace and learning.”
Their cares seemed to blow away from them as they skidded around corners, racing, letting their limbs stretch, and feeling powerful and carefree. For the slightest split second, Segalia considered letting Lijel win so he would feel better. Even as her stubbornness rebelled, she glanced over at him and knew that a fair race would be the best thing. Laughing, she sped up. Her rudder accidentally hit him as she passed him and he sped up too with a little cry.
They took stairs two at a time, evenly matched. Slipping on all manners of things underpaw, they dodged beasts in the Great Hall as more and more Redwallers awakened. Shouting excuses between laughs, they made it through to a clearer passageway. This was the final sprint and their bursts of laughter came fewer as they concentrated. Their bodies started informing them of the wear their activities were having. Suddenly, Segalia’s arms snapped out and she skidded to a stop. Her paws caught Lijel’s arm and the doorway respectively.
“Oh. But Ah got farther so Ah won.” He goaded her.
“No, Ah reached the doorway first. Meanin’ Ah won.”
“Sh! We need t’be quiet.”
They switched modes from bantering to stealth. Stifling their heavy breaths, they peeked in the doorway to spy the council meeting at the opposite end of the room. The hiding spots were few and far between. Luckily, most of the council members were facing away from them. They moved quickly and silently to hide behind a pair of pillars. Lijel peeked his head out and saw Silverfalcon Pikehawk sitting at one end of the table, boredly sharpening a knife.
“Why does ‘e git t’be ‘ere and not us? ‘E’s scarcely h’older than us!” He hissed at Segalia.
“Slightly more ‘xperienced.”
She shrugged. She did agree with her companion to an extent. They deserved to be at the table too.
They dashed over to the entrance from the wine cellar. The words from the meeting were starting to become clearer, but being just a bit closer would help. She peered around the corner. No close hiding spots.
He leaned awkwardly over her so he could look. “Hm. That corner looks dark ‘nough.”
She followed his paw with her eyes. “H’is h’it big ‘nough fer both of us?”
“H’I donno. Yer pale fur’ll prob’ly stan’ out.”
She punched his shoulder. Or tried to anyway. Because he was leaning over her, the closest thing she could punch was his sternum. So she did. The loud resulting thunk seemed echo around their small cavity and into the Cavern Hole. Lijel jerked back inside.
“Did they see ye?”
“What’d Ah ‘it anyway?” She looked at her paw strangely.
He paused in answering as they both heard the sound of chatter stopping and a chair scraping back from the table.
With what seemed like a barricade of noise, the two managed to clumsily get down the ramp, through the short corridor and into the Cellar where Katya was mixing a brew.
“Hi, you two.”
“Uh, ‘ey, Katya. Kin you be quiet?”
“What? Oh, d’you guys wanna try some o’my new Frozen Fruit Fizzle?”
“Just don’t say h’anything.” Segalia burst out as Lijel dragged her away behind some barrels, their hearts pounding. The Cellarhog apprentice watched them, then shrugged and got out a miniature ladle from her apron. She dipped it into the big bowl and sipped delicately. She swirled it around her mouth, swallowed, made a quizzical face then rushed over to a shelf of spices and fruit, nearly tripping over a stool.
Silverfalcon and Howlia entered the room. They looked back and forth and then approached the hogmaid. “Ye ‘aven’t seen h’anybeast cum past ‘ere ‘ave ye?”
“Hm? Oh, I didn’t notice youse were there! Cum try me new brew, Frozen Fruit Fizzle.” Grabbing a few bottles off the shelf, she came over to the two warriors.
“No, h’it’s okay.”
“C’mon, we kin try a drop, wot wot!” The hare dragged the reticent otter over. Beaming, Katya grabbed two mugs off a hook and after adding a drop or pinch from a few of the bottles, she dipped the mugs in and handed them, brimming, over.
“Oh, ‘n’ Ah ‘aven’t seen Lijel and Segalia iffen that’s ‘o yer looking fer.”
“Lijel and Seg? Why-”
“No, we don’t know ‘o we’re lookin’ for. Just some bally peeper lookin’ in on our meeting.” The boxing hare looked suspiciously at the hedgehog. “Do you know anything? Like that it was them?”
“Me?” She giggled nervously. “No, o’course not.”
“Then why’d you mention ‘em?”
“Hm? Oh, those two are always gettin’ into mischief. H’it’s so cute!”
Behind the barrels, the otters in question bridled. “Cute? ‘Ow in the world h’is that cute?”
“’N’ we’re not always gettin’ into mischief, either.”
Luckily their hissed remarks went unheard as Katya encouraged the two to drink of her new drink. The retired Taggerung took a deep gulp and froze halfway in swallowing. His face showed half-horror, half-confused disgust.
“Silver? Is something wrong?”
He slowly swallowed and grinned weakly. “No, course not. By the way, wot’s h’in this?” He coughed.
“Oh, lots of stuff. Mainly frozen possibly slightly fermented fruit from th’orchard wid a touch o’allspice, fizzly water, sugar, nutmeg-”
“Nutmeg? ‘Ow much did you put in?”
“Wot’s the big deal? Mine tasted excellent, wot wot. Kin I ‘ave some more?”
“Sure thing! H’I don’t know though, not too much. Why?”
“Cause Ah got a big gob o’ it.”
“Oh, I must’ve jist added h’it ‘n’ not mixed it ‘nough. H’I’m sorry.”
He nodded weakly and turned to Howlia. “C’mon. Iffen she ‘asn’t seen anything,” his red eyes took the Cellar in once more, “then we need t’get back to the meeting.” Handing his cup back, he turned and left.
“Kin I ‘ave the rest of this? H’it’s jolly good stuff. H’I’ll return the cup when Ah’m done.”
With that, she too left and the otters relaxed. Segalia felt something brushing her shoulder and looked up.
“What ‘bout it?”
“Kin ye move it?”
Blushing, the ottermaid scrambled for a proper reason. “Uh, never mind. Let’s go.” She stood and brushed herself off as the dark otter looked at her and then his arm resting over where she was, leaning on a barrel of October Ale. He shrugged and followed suit as the two of them left the dark corner. “Thanks, Katya. That was a close ‘un.”
“Yeah. D’you wanna try some o’my drink ‘fore you go?”
They glanced at each other. “Sure, why not?”
Taking swigs of the sweet fizzy drink, the two chatted with Katya before resuming their mission. Segalia glanced at Lijel. One thing was for sure, there was never a shortage of excitement around there!
“So, what are we doing again?”
“We split up to look for supplies, scout the land etc.”
“Ah and why’d we split up?”
“What do mean? We split up so we could cover more ground.”
“Yes, but…” Carma trailed off, hoping Rori, her present companion, would get her gist.
“Oh. You mean why you are with me rather than one of them.”
“Not that I have anything against you.” She hastened to add.
“No, no I can understand your feelings. Well, I think it boils down to this: As brother and sister, they’re fairly close and though they like you, they’re still wary of you. Therefore, they figure since I’m a badger-”
“I’d be nicer to you?”
“Actually I was going to say I could hold my own against you, but that works too.”
Carma stared suspiciously at male she was trying to figure out as they crunched through Mossflower Woods. “Are you challenging me?”
He looked her over thoughtfully. “Maybe. What’s your primary weapon?”
To his faint surprise, she shrugged. “I don’t know. What about you?”
“Axe,” came his prompt reply.
The formidable looking badger pair continued amiably through the forest until Carma asked, “So how did it happen?”
“What happen?” He asked glancing over himself to see what she could mean. “This scar?”
“No. How did the whole hanging out with fox cubs of a warlord and calling a crazy fox-like creature master happen?”
There was a moment of silence and the impetuous female was afraid she’d said something wrong.
Finally, Rori said “Maybe that’s why they still don’t completely trust you.”
Carma sputtered, unable to form a complete, offended, confused thought.
“If you don’t trust them, why should they trust you?” He mused as if to himself.
She finally found her voice. “I was just asking! It’s not something you see every day.”
“Fine. I suppose it isn’t.”
She rolled her eyes in a way that dictated “No, it isn’t, thanks for finally getting my point”. He ignored her and started swimming through his memory to find a starting place. “Master Slashclaw,” he made a point of using the title, “is good friends with their father King Grovelum.”
“But how did he become your master?”
“Do you want my whole life story?” He asked in a somewhat exasperated tone.
She thought for a second, tilting her head to the side, then nodded. “Sure, if it’ll clear things up.”
He stared somewhat bemused at her for a minute then shaking his head lightly, started his tale. “I was born on a windy night in the middle of the Spring of Happenings.”
“Why was it called that?”
“Because lots of stuff happened in it. And if you want to hear all that happened, you should please refrain from further interruptions.”
She nodded, trying to regain the maturity that Nottenc had praised her for not too long before.
“Since it was spring, a lot of the happenings were obviously births. There were a lot of births that year, which was good since the community had been thinned out a bit by a hard winter. My birth was one of the happenings, but what followed a few days afterward was more important.” He stared into the distance for a second, lost in vague memories, and Carma gently poked him.
“Hm? Oh, well after that we were attacked. Still recuperating after the winter, the community didn’t fare well.” He looked so despondent that Carma had to say something. And something had been bugging her for the last few minutes.
“But the community survived. They were badly wounded, but they built from the ashes a fine place.”
“Why would you say that?
“Because…I think I know this community you’re talking about.”
“It just sounds so familiar. It might be the community I used to live in.”
“Do I know you?”
The bizarre double-entendre made Carma laugh. “I don’t know. Actually…” Her happiness subsided and she looked away.
He regarded her curiously then asked, “Might I ask why you’re asking me all this?”
“Yes, you may.”
He sighed at her avoidance of the question and asked straight-out, “Why do you wanna know?”
“I’m just trying to figure a few things out.”
“Like?” Rori prodded.
“A prophecy, our histories, your history, stuff like that.”
“In my experience, prophecies are never nothing.”
“And what has your experience with prophecies been?”
He waved the attempted change of subject away. “Extensive enough. Maybe I can help you figure it out.”
She conceded. “Just something about an uneven war, where I could be the deciding factor and not letting my brother’s death affect me.”
“Well, there’s a war going on. That could be the war mentioned.”
“Yeah, so what’s the whole war about? I don’t know much.”
“Well, first tell me what you can about your brother’s death.”
She frowned. “It’s not something I like to think about.”
“I know,” he put a gentle paw on her shoulder, “but to figure this out, you need to.”
Glancing down at the paw on her shoulder, she sighed. “He was wounded, possibly in the skirmish that you mentioned, and the wound became infected. We asked for help from the Redwall Abbey healers, but for some reason, they couldn’t help. Then we asked for help from a fox healer. He seemed to be getting better when he suddenly disappeared. All we found was a trail of blood.”
He softly squeezed her broad shoulder with his still-broader paw and she smiled sadly at him. “And so we assumed he died. If only the Redwallers had helped us! He wasn’t even that old when the fight happened, just a few seasons. It was just strange.”
“Yeah, that sounds strange.” Not wanting to linger on painful subjects, Rori addressed the war. “The war is between Redwall Abbey and a fox warlord king. So maybe the prophecy meant that you might be unwilling to help Redwall after your brother’s death.”
“Probably. And-” she glanced up at him then looked away, almost blushing.
“Me?” He looked genuinely startled and stopped in his tracks, letting his paw slip from her shoulder. “I know you mentioned my history, but how do I work into this?”
“Rori, it’s hard to explain.”
“Well, I’ve got time.”
“Do we? Selra and Riplar said to meet back soon-”
“We still have an hour or so.”
Carma looked about for a way out of the awkward conversation that was bound to follow and, failing to find one, sat down heavily against a nearby tree.
“It’s several things I guess.”
He knelt in front of her, waiting.
“It would really help me explain this if I knew more about your history.”
“Like how Slashclaw became your master.”
“Fine, I’m not sure how, but he basically kidnapped me at a young age and raised me.” When she looked appalled, he added, “He really wasn’t that bad of a guardian. He treated me almost like his own son and never really hurt me.”
Still unconvinced about this, she switched subjects and asked, “So how did you figure out about all your history?”
He shrugged one shoulder. “Slashclaw let me go back to the community. I found it almost completely abandoned except for a crazy old badger. Of course I’m used to crazy beasts so I just asked her a few questions and she told me. I had no reason to stay so I went back to Slashclaw.”
“Captured at a young age…” She mused. “Do you have any scars?”
“Yeah,” he traced the scar on his arm, “you don’t think I could be your brother, do you?” It was a very interesting thought.
“I don’t know.” She took a deep breath. “But there’s something about you. You seem vaguely familiar and I think the prophecy might have something to do with you besides my brother’s death.”
“Just that because I’m…intrigued by you and interested to find out more, I might be willing to ally with you and therefore Slashclaw and Grovelum against Redwall.”
“You’d really do all that just because you’re interested in me?”
Her cheeks changed colors underneath her fur. “Not interested in you, just to find out more.”
He gave her a dubious look and she refused to meet his eyes.
After an awkward silence, Carma stood. “But it might help if, while we continue scavenging, you tell me more about the war so I don’t make any rash decisions.”
He nodded and the two continued on the way, talking more than scavenging. That night, at the fire, the two fox cubs closely observed them. The two badgers looked thoughtful and would look at the other when they thought nobeast was looking. What had happened on their walk? And how would affect everybeast else?
Beautiful. That was one adjective, but it could scarcely begin to describe all of the extraordinary abilities she possessed. Big described her height and broadness. Awe-inspiring definitely worked; he was awestruck every time he looked at her. Her smooth dark golden possessed such strength.
General Dir stood at parade rest as he gazed at the destructive demon in front of him. Truly, she had been formed by the best, only the best for her. The strongest wood, teak, had been combined with the supple flexibility of yew to create the machine in front of the stoat.
The forest of wood that had been carefully cultivated over the years along with the farms had proved perfect for her creation. The trees in Mossflower Wood would certainly have been adequate, but the half-day trip across the Inland Sea took too long to continuously ferry soldiers across for the construction. Plus, the risk of detection had been too great for them to chance it. With the lake frozen over however, she could be constructed secretly, quickly and with more skill before being wheeled over and set to her task.
Looking up, a white puff of air plumed from the general’s muzzle. She stood at least twice as tall as him if not thrice and he was no puny beast. It had taken a while, but the soldiers of Grovelum’s army had finally finished it. Her, she was too gorgeous to be considered anything, but female. General Dir couldn’t wait to see her in action. He took a few steps forward and caressed her arm. A pale sack at the end that was to be used for holding the boulders was all that remained of Ungbar. Sometimes sacrifices had to be made and that weasel had been far too impulsively independent.
He took one more long look at his precious then turned. The sooner he reported her completion to the king, the sooner the army could move out. After a few days, maybe a week, they would arrive at the Abbey and destroy it. He pressed a paw to his amputated fingers and grinned maliciously; he would have his revenge.
Maben was bored. With the war going on, the Dibbuns had been barricaded in the dormitories by the grownups. They had soon worn out the many games piled around the room as well as their imaginations. Now, unable to even jump on the beds after their latest scolding, they just lazed about, bored.
The badger babe sighed as he peered out the window. Even if there wasn’t the constant threat of attack, they wouldn’t have been allowed to play outside due to the snowfall. Also, if they had been in normal times, Maben and his companions would soon be moved up to the older dormitories, having grown out of Dibbunhood. The fact that this was ignored, only served to intensify the restless rebellion roiling within him.
“Hm, dat’s intwestin’.” Having nothing else to do, the self-appointed leader turned to the mole whose nose was buried in a book. Though oft-scorned for his scholarly nature, the information he provided was sometimes useful.
“Wot is it?”
“Dis, come wukk.”
Sighing again, he slid off the window seat and crawled onto the bed next to the mole. “Where?”
He followed the digging claw to a picture of Dibbuns. They appeared to be singing. “D’you want’us t’sing?”
“No.” He said in a somewhat condescending tone. “Thurr be DAB.”
“Dibbuns Argyiuns’ Bedtoime.”
“Wot’d dey do?”
Turning back a page, he read aloud, “Dey cap’ured ee Kitchen ‘n’ got oit o’bedtoime.”
“Cool.” The badger looked up at the ceiling and stroked his chin thoughtfully as he’d seen some elders do.
“Maben? Wotcha doin’?” Across the room, the squirrel turned from kicking her footpaws on the wall.
“Hush, me be thinkin’.” The Dibbuns in the room all turned to look at him and he puffed out his chest while keeping up his charade. He knew he had to think up a scheme quickly before he lost their interest. The funny spiky beasts were long gone so they couldn’t be bothered. After the trouble he got in after messing with the food last time, the Kitchens and Cellar were probably off limits as well. The Great Hall would probably full of beasts as would the Infirmary. That pretty much left the upper regions of the Abbey.
A broad smile spread over the child’s face and the other young beasts waited with bated breath. “H’I know wot we be gonna do.”
Knowing his inspiration, the molebabe couldn’t help, but warn, “Dey gots in gurt trubul! Abbot’s Report!”
Maben waved him off. “H’it’s not dat bad. First, we gotta sneak out. Den, follow me.”
Trusting their leader and willing to do almost anything to get out of the dormitories, the rest of the Dibbuns obliged. The mole groaned from his bed after them, worry etched on his face. Eventually though, curiosity overcame fear and he padded after them.
A mouse peeked his head out of the door, after looking through the eyehole, and glanced about. “Aw cwear!”
Tip-toeing dramatically, the re-formed DAB crept out of their imprisonment one by one. Maben grinned as he shut the door behind him. There would be mischief tonight!
He scurried off down the hall and the eager Dibbuns followed him. Peering around the corner, he frowned. “Dere be somebeast dere.”
Katya, the hogmaid, came beside him. “H’I’ll take care’it.”
Without waiting for an answer, she trotted down the hall to Goodwife Burna. “Goodwife Burna?”
The molewife turned obediently around. “Yesh? Woi’re ye oit o’the room?”
“H’I need ‘elp.”
The caring devotion deeply ingrained in the infirmary keeper came out. “Wot be ee problem?”
Positioning herself opposite the rest of her group, Katya held her arm. “H’I was pwayin’ in the domitowy ‘n’ Ah fell on me arm. H’it feels weird.”
Burna took the allegedly injured arm in her digging claws. Katya jerked her head to indicate to the rest of the Dibbuns that they should go past while she kept her occupied. Maben waved the others on and they complied.
“Does ee ‘urt thurr?” They heard the mole ask as they filed by. The hedgehog kept up the charade as the Dibbuns hurried past. Soon nearly all of them were in the clear. All of a sudden, a mousebabe’s footpaws slipped on the tile floor. He fell noisily then froze along with the others, conscious of the terrible thing he had just done. Goodwife Burna’s ears slowly perked up and she started to turn her head.
“No! Mama Burna!” Katya cried, knowing how much the mole liked the moniker.
“Burr aye?” The soft caring eyes turned back to the “invalid” and she felt a small pang of guilt for tricking her like this.
“H’it’s startin’ t’urt a lot. Kin we go t’th’infirmary?”
“H’it’d be moi deloight. Cum ‘long.” The mousebabe scrabbled across the rest of the way on all fours and the last Dibbuns raced past. As the two respective groups turned the corners, Katya motioned to Maben that she’d meet up with them later. He nodded and she was out of sight.
The badger breathed out and thumped his head on the wall behind him.
“Dat was close.” A Dibbun murmured and the others agreed.
“Don’t mess up ‘gain.” Maben sternly told the mouse who meekly nodded. “Let’s wait ‘nother secon’ just in case.”
Nodding, the group waited in mostly silence. Soon after, Maben nodded. “Let’s move.” They had made it down two more short halls when they heard something that made their blood freeze.
“’Uys! ‘Aid’up!” It was Mumzy, the new Dibbun who was much too young to be a part of any of their games, but determined to be, nonetheless.
“Oh no,” groaned the squirrelmaid.
“Run,” Maben commanded as her toddling pawsteps came closer and they took off. They careened around another corner only to run right into Sister Paldra. “What are you doing out of the dormitories?”
“Maben, what is the meaning of this?”
“H’it’s our Abbey too. We kin go where we wike.”
The gentle mouse rolled her eyes. “We’re just trying to keep you guys safe. Now, go back.”
“Sister, wook! Dere’s something out the window!”
“I’m not going to fall for that, Maben.”
“But dere’s actually something dere!”
“Weawwy!” Another Dibbun chimed in.
Her eyes quickly flicked over and back. “No, there’s-wait a second.” She stepped over to the window and looked down. “Oh my. I need to go tell the Council.” She scurried off and yelled back, “Don’t get into mischief!”
The Dibbuns gave scarcely another thought to what was outside. “C’mon, ‘urry up!” DAB rushed off and up, mischief aplenty.
“It’s cold out here.”
“I hear that’s what happens in the middle of winter.”
“It’s not the middle of winter; it’s nearly spring.”
Shivering, the black fox laughed. “You keep telling yourself that, Sel.”
She whirled on him, snow spinning up from her footpaws. “Don’t call me that!”
Enjoying the chance to tease his sister, Riplar grinned at her. Puzzled, Carma asked from the other side of the campsite, “Why not?”
The princess deflated and kicked at the snow. “I don’t like nicknames; besides it means salt in some other language.”
“What d’you know? Selra paid attention to her tutors.”
The next kick was aimed at her brother and managed to sweep his footpaws out from under him. He landed silently and shuddered. “It is cold out here, painfully so.”
“See?” Selra made her point and went back to warming herself up.
“Can’t we make a fire, Carma?”
Though she looked pityingly at the skinny foxes, she had to stay firm. “No. We don’t have any wood, we’re nearly out of firestarter and it would give away our position.” She looked at Riplar who was brushing wet snow off his clothes. “We really ought to get you guys to shelter though.”
Selra moved to a log, huddled up and grabbed her footpaws in her paws to warm them. “How long does that bumbling oaf take?”
Carma felt inclined to rise to her friend’s defense, but she knew that it was mainly the cold speaking. “I don’t know. Hopefully he’ll be back soon.”
Her words spoke truth as less than a minute later, Rori lumbered into the campsite. He stamped over to the pile of sticks then stopped as he realized they weren’t lit. He sighed and seated himself on a log next to Carma. Luckily her awkward glance went unnoticed as he was accosted by questions.
“So, did you find anything?”
“Like shelter? Or fire?”
“Warmth of any sort?”
He chuckled a bit. “Yes, actually, I did.” Now it was his turn to glance awkwardly at Carma before sighing.
“Enough with the awkward looks already!” Selra burst, ignoring the extra dishing out of awkward looks all around. “Seriously, that’s all you do nowadays! Awkward look, look away, stare, look away every single day!” She threw her paws in the air and Riplar laughed at her drama.
“Anyway, as I was saying before I was so rudely interrupted,” Selra crossed her arms and muttered something along the lines of being cold, “I did find something. Or someplace.” It took a great will not to glance at Carma again since this place did seem to involve her.
“Well?” This time it was Riplar’s turn to be impatient as he was freezing too.
No reason to procrastinate, Rori reasoned. “Redwall Abbey is a few miles that way.” He pointed off to the side.
“Redwall Abbey? Isn’t that the place Dad’s attacking?”
“Yeah, something like that.”
And the place inexorably involved the fox cubs, he’d forgotten. Carma bit her lip at his side. Well, since it was going to be awkward for nearly everybeast involved, maybe they shouldn’t.
“I’m sure I can find somewhere else if needed.”
Selra hesitated then shook her head. “No, it’s close and I’m sure it has adequate shelter. They needn’t know who we are.”
Riplar looked at his shaking sister. “We need to get to shelter soon; we’re not prepared for this weather.”
Still unsure, Rori glanced at Carma. She nodded mutely and Selra rolled her eyes at the exchange.
“Alright then. Let’s go.” They eagerly grabbed their sacks and waited at the edge of the clearing.
“Uh, guys? It’s that way?”
“Right.” Riplar said as he and his sister changed directions.
They trekked along and while the exercise warmed the siblings, the snow and cold continued to surround them canceling out the warmth. Carma was grateful for her mass but hoped for their sake that they would get to the Abbey soon.
And soon they did. Despite the deep wet powdery snow and the distance, soon the red walls and building rose above the trees. Carma wanted to stop and gawk in amazement, but she was tugged relentlessly on. Only when they were at the edge of the Woods did they stop.
Catching a glimpse of armed woodlanders guarding the walls, Selra stated, “Suddenly I’m starting to think this isn’t such a great idea.”
Riplar was inclined to agree with her, but, “What other choice do we have? Freeze to death?”
He started walking out, but was pulled back. “You can’t just go walking out there. They’ll shoot you!”
“No, they won’t.”
Selra stared at Carma. “And why wouldn’t they? We’re the apprentices of the beasts attacking them.”
“Besides the fact they’ve never seen your father and might not know he’s a fox, those guys aren’t about to shoot anybeast. They’re asleep.”
Looking over, they found what she said to be true.
“Okay then.” The party set out across the snow to the front gate. They were trying to figure out what exactly they might say to whoever who greeted them, each beast dealing with their own feelings of uncertainty. All of a sudden, Selra sunk beneath the snow. Or partly under anyway; she moved her arms enough as she fell that her head stayed above until her footpaws landed on something. It was a good thing she was not counting on her companions to save her for they had all frozen in astonishment when she had sunk.
She floundered a bit. “Little help please?”
This startled them enough into grasping her arms and dragging her forcefully out of the snow-filled ditch. She huddled in the snow, panting and shivering, her clothes wet. It was about this time that a bunch of noise started to come from the Abbey.
“Are you okay?”
“Let’s get to the gate.”
“Watch your step!”
The freezing party of four stumbled over to the front gate as Redwallers filled up the battlements to the sound of ringing bells.
A mouse accompanying a squirrel pointed at them. “There, Fern, I mean Abbess Fern, there’s the beasts I told you about.”
The young-looking Abbess studied them with critical eyes. “I see. Where’s Joncho?”
A buff scarred otter came up to her from her other side. “Here ma’am. What seems to be the problem?”
Thinking they had been ignored long enough, Riplar called up, “The problem is that we are without shelter, snow-soaked and freezing. We request rooming for a night so that we can recover before moving on.”
The interruption of a request momentarily stunned the Redwallers into silence. Soon the murmurings began. Feeling more than hearing the suspicions and accusations, Selra frowned. In the best of times she did not react well to such bias. But when she was freezing, her cold, frozen tunic sticking to her, her skin raw from falling and the wind whipping painfully at her from all side, she could in no way be counted on to be polite. “What’s their problem?” She muttered.
Seeing the warning signs, Riplar cautioned her, “We surprised them. Just let them talk it over.”
Folding her arms, she waited.
Finally, after another short discussion atop the battlements, the squirrel spoke. “As, uh, happy as we would be to offer assistance, we’re under a bit of duress ourselves. Are you sure there’s no other place you can stay?”
“Why would we be asking somebeast who is likely to kill us on first sight otherwise?” This was, of course, Selra who had tried to formulate it as nicely as possible. Despite this, Riplar still bit his lip as the woodlanders looked taken aback. Two otters and a squirrel regarded them with interest from the far side of the wall despite their armed state.
Eventually the leader-looking pair seemed to take her answer as a simple yes and move on. “Are you armed?”
“What do you think? There’s a war-” Selra was cut off by an elbow to the ribs.
“As my sister was trying to say, we thought it safer to.”
The Abbess looked none too happy about this and her eyes drifted over the as-yet silent badgers while she thought. “We might have a place for one of you badgers if you choose to help us in our plight. I’m sure you’re aware of the war?”
“Didn’t I just say so?” Selra hissed irritably at the others.
“And she does realize that we’re smaller in stature so we’d fit easier, right?” Riplar said then added, “No offense to you two of course.”
“None taken,” Carma assured him.
Rori addressed the Abbey dwellers. “Yes, we’ve heard of the war between you and King Grovelum. My friends are becoming excellent fighters too and I’m sure they’d aid your cause just as much as we would.”
The battle between wanting new fighters and not wanting “vermin” was plain on the Abbess’ face. She stepped back to confer with the otter and mouse.
“I should’ve known that they wouldn’t let us in.” Selra muttered.
“You never know, they still might.” Carma encouraged, but the foxmaid simply snorted.
“What are we going to do if they don’t let us in?” Riplar asked Rori.
“Ask for more supplies and then be on our way I suppose.”
“Why?” Selra burst out angrily. It was aimed at her friends, but echoed up to the wall. “Just because I’m a stinkin’ fox who may or may not be related to a warlord doesn’t mean there’s any reason to deny my basic needs!”
“You must understand what a precarious situation we’re in.” The cool voice of the Abbes cut through her tirade and while she flinched, she continued to stare stubbornly up. “In the middle of a war, mistrust is natural especially if they are related in any way to the attacker.”
Though the validity of the point did not escape Selra, one point seemed a bit unfair. “You didn’t suspect Carma and Rori despite the fact they’re traveling with us.”
“Well, the relation thing-”
“Oh that’s right. He’s a woodlander.” At this point, Riplar had given up on keeping his sister quiet for several reasons: he didn’t think it would work, he thought she might effective and last, but certainly not least, he agreed with her. “Well then, I’ll have you know, he’s just as affiliated with ‘vermin’ as we are. He’s the-” Rori’s paw caught her mouth, pulling her back and muffling the rest of her statement.
“Why does it matter?” Carma asked him. “Aren’t you all removed from them?”
Rori shrugged, not releasing the foxmaid who was surprisingly not fighting very hard.
Riplar glanced at his draining sister. “If you won’t let us stay, can we at least get some food and other supplies before we go?”
“We’re in the middle of a war-”
“Which you mentioned,” Rori muttered.
“And not that well to do ourselves.” The mouse hurriedly whispered in the feathered ear of the Abbess who quickly rectified her statement. “We shall certainly be fine through the winter, but it would be a mite difficult to stretch it over supplies for four more beasts.”
Selra’s suspicious eyes smoldered over Rori’s relaxed, but not removed paw.
“Just a blanket? A fire-starter? A change of clothes? A bowl of hot soup? My sister got covered in snow,” Selra’s teeth were chattering audibly by now, “and she could use a little recovery.”
The small orange and gray paw pushed away the large striped one. “My friends-s-s could use the aid-d as well.” As much as she could really use something warm right then, like Rori’s body heat, she didn’t want to be treated as an invalid. And she would feel bad if she got food and her friends didn’t.
The abbess bit her lip and seemed for a second like a kind lady who wanted to, but couldn’t help. “Well, I’m not sure…”
Riplar snapped. If his friends hadn’t felt strongly themselves, it would have been amusing as he wasn’t given to angry outbursts like his sister. “If you can’t put aside your stupid prejudices just to see and help a group of beasts in need, then we’ll leave! We’re hungry, cold and wet, but we can make do on our own. And if you ever need our help, like in a war, we might just treat you like you treated us.” With that, he turned and marched away.
Her heart warming to her brother, Selra followed as did Rori. “We could use-” came the feeble call which was soon interrupted by the badger’s blazing eyes.
“If you think, for even a second, that I would help you after you turned away me, my friends, my family, then you are dead wrong.” He turned to Carma. “Coming?” He saw the look in her eyes and nodded. “Choose well.”
Carma was torn. This was the ultimate decision that her prophecy led up to, she was certain. But really, was the choice so hard? There was Rori and the fox siblings, her friends, not super close, but pretty good. But there had been a time when they had been more pro-Redwall which had warmed her to the Abbey. Then again, they had treated them so unfairly. But they were in a harsh, early winter as well as a war. She could tell they weren’t really prepared for it and had a feeling she and her friends could make a difference. But what about poor Selra? From her medical knowledge, she knew that the fox could get hypothermia and/or pneumonia within the hour. Mostly decided, Carma had just started turning away when she caught a glance of Redwall’s newest residents.
“’I Ahma!” Mumzy waving on her mom’s shoulders barely peeked over the battlements.
The feeling in her chest could only be her heart ripping in two, hoping the body would follow. Maybe she could bargain with the Abbey leaders. She would have to be quick; the crowd was dispersing, the excitement over.
“Abbess! Can I speak to you please?”
Despite the distance, the badgermaid could see the conflicting thoughts rushing through the leader’s head. She flashed a sudden smile while grabbing the burly otter. “Certainly.”
“Away from the crowd, if you would.” The Redwallers groaned, but the squirrel soon complied.
Carma shivered while she waited, looking back to see her friends moving further away. She would need to hurry.
A creak and a crunch informed her that the leaders had made their way down to and through the gate. “I’m Abbess Fern and this is Skipper Joncho.”
“I’m Carma.” Her paw extended automatically and the Abbess accepted it after a second.
“So, what did you wish to talk to me about?”
“I was hoping we could come to a compromise.” She watched the cautious squirrel for a second before launching into her idea. “You are in need of fighters. While I’m sure you have plenty of warriors in your Abbey, you could use a few more. The fact that Riplar and Selra are foxes merely makes them greater assets: they might give you a valuable other point of view. With our help, you could change the course of the war.”
“And what do you want out of all this?”
“We just need food, shelter, nothing much.”
“What about you?”
The question caught her a bit off guard. “Well the same, really.”
Abbess Fern looked a lot sharper than she had earlier. “No, I’m pretty sure there’s something else. You seemed a bit distant during the exchange earlier and didn’t follow your friends. What is it?”
“I have friends in the Abbey and am trying to fulfill a prophecy as well as get help for my friends.” Carma wondered if she should have shared that much.
“Friends in the Abbey? A prophecy? What kind of prophecy?”
“It’s nothing; there’s no way you can know anything about it if you don’t try and come to an agreement with me.”
“How do we know you’re not up to something?” This was the otter, Joncho speaking.
Carma smirked though her heart was beating nervously. “You don’t, you’re just going to have to trust me.”
Instead of making them more suspicious, it seemed to make the Skipper more at ease. He nodded and put a paw on the Abbess’s shoulder. She glanced back at him and their eyes seemed to have a conversation.
Her eyes were unreadable when she turned back to the badgermaid. “Call back your friends.” As an extra precaution against hope, she added, “We’ll talk.”
A commotion seemed to be happening on the walltop and within the Abbey grounds. Words such as ‘Dibbuns’ and ‘dab’ rang out among the hubbub. As the squirrel hurried to deal with it, she shouted back again, “We’ll talk.”
Uncertain, Carma took a few steps back as she looked the Abbey then turn and ran for her friends. A talk was a step in the right direction.
“You’re very quiet.” King Grovelum remarked to his wife.
She sighed. “I’m not even sure why myself.” Oxos grabbed the chainmail off the nearby table. “Arms up.”
He complied. “Are you worried?”
“Perhaps in part,” she admitted as she pulled the tunic over his orange pointy ears. “The battle plans seem fine, but Redwall is often so unpredictable.”
“We have lots of information about them.” He straightened the chainmail.
“True, thanks to Malrua and your scouts.” Reaching around his waist, she secured the sturdy leather belt.
“So, what is it?”
She stalled as she attached his ornate breastplate. “You’re a competent warrior…”
“I’m just worried about losing you!” She burst out uncharacteristically. “Normally, I would keep my cool, but the children disappearing have unbalanced me. If you die, I’ll have no one left.”
Eyes now understanding and soft, Grovelum reached over and pulled his wife into a hug. She returned the favor despite the awkward armor in between them. Too soon, she pulled away.
“I guess I just wish I could join you.” She smiled, her fangs glinting ferally.
“That’s the brave foxmaiden I know!” He chuckled then subdued. “But, that’s why you’re staying here. I need a strong force here for back-up.”
“Yes, yes.” Though her grin hadn’t dimmed, Oxos was now business-like again. “We need to finish suiting you up.”
Several minutes later found a tall imposing fully armored figure marching out to his army. The queen had quickly finished dressing him, given him his usual kiss goodbye and sent him off to battle. He conferred shortly with his general then faced his troops, a commanding façade in place.
“Soldiers! Today we march again on Redwall Abbey! Yes, again. We have marched before to no decisive end. But this time, this time, we shall win! With the use of the machine,” he waved to the side to the admiring sounds of hordebeasts as the beautiful monstrosity was rolled out, “we will breach the walls of the till-now undefeatable Redwall Abbey! And we will be on our way to controlling all of Mossflower Woods!”
He knew he would need to give another rousing speech before the actual battle, but for now, “Move out!”
The motley mix cheered and headed to the boats. While in some areas the ice was still thick enough to hold the heavy machine, enough of it had melted for a thin line of boats to pass through. A few buff beasts pushed the machine to the shore as Grovelum got majestically into his boat. His red cape flapped in the slight breeze as the small boat was pushed off. Finally all the crafts were in the cold water for the long journey to the battlefield.
There was a splash beside the lead boat and a few drops landed on the warlord. He stiffened, but did nothing until it happened again. He turned and gave a stern look to the two rowers, a weasel and a ferret. They quailed, but tried to maintain an innocent look. Just as he was turning back, a spray of water hit him in the face.
He sighed and the already shrinking mustelids started sweating in the cold weather. “What was that?”
The weasel started blubbering excuses until the ferret hit him in the arm. “Ah believe sir, yer majesty, that ‘twas a flyin’ fish.”
The fox king raised an eyebrow and the unfortunate soul hastily continued. “Well y’see, ‘tis spring.”
Clearly spelling out ‘And?’ the eyebrow rose further.
“Uh, that means matin’ season. Part o’ thur ritual ‘volves jumpin’ ‘round like they’re doin’ now.”
“I see. Continue.” The eyebrow lowered as he nodded. Blinking against a sudden flash and splash of another flying fish, he motioned them on.
Intensely relieved, the lanky beasts started firmly rowing towards the final battle at Redwall Abbey.
The siege had been going on for a couple of days now and the commander could already see its effect. The drained water supply was replenished by the little melting snow falling from the roof and the remaining food was stale and not very fulfilling. Pots and other containers were filled with refuse to be dumped out of the windows later. If the shortage problems weren’t enough, the shouts and banging outside of the room assured him that their stronghold would soon fall.
His eyes swept the room. Maybe they could defend themselves against their attackers when their defenses fell. There was a fairly large supply of weapons in there. Though unskilled, his minions could probably attempt to wield them. That is, if their adrenaline hadn’t completely drained.
The commander spotted a helmet across the room and decided to adopt it as a mode of inspiration for his troops. Right as he finished trundling across the room, an otter shot past him and grabbed the helmet.
“Hey!” he cried as the poor majestic headgear was overturned and squatted upon. A tinkling sound could soon be heard as the waterdweller sighed in relief before looking guiltily at Maben.
The badger glared and grumbled at the desecrater of the helmet before turning to face the disarray. Discontent was starting to spread through the Dibbuns as the thrill of disobedience wore off. He needed to do something which didn’t include surrendering; he definitely didn’t want to put himself into the paws of the disciplinarians. He examined the Attic for inspiration.
Though refurbished seasons before, it had fallen to disuse except as a storage space. DAB had spent much of the first day examining all the newfound treasures. This was truly the ‘treasure’ that many attackers had sought after. There was some armor, an arsenal of weapons, stacks of papers and scrolls that had yet to be sorted into the Library and little baubles thrown out to be treasured only by Dibbuns.
Maben’s thoughts were soon interrupted by a louder crash outside the fortified door. “Guard de door!” he called out.
While a few looked up from their various entertainments, most ignored him. He stamped his pudgy footpaw impatiently and tried again. Finally, the others realized the urgency of the situation and swarmed the entrance. In their haste, they neglected to barricade the secondary door to the Attic.
The small huddled bodies strained against the racking blows. A small vole was thrown to the side by the force of the blast. As she was regaining her footpaws, she saw the crash on the opposite end of the long room that signified the entry of the ‘elders’.
“We’re doomed!” she moaned before shouting, “Guys! Dey’re here.”
“No, we’re still hodin’ dem.” The squirrelbabe retorted.
“Wook!” Several eyes followed the paw to the advancing adults.
Chaos erupted. This enabled the rest of the adults, including Abbess Fern, to enter through the previously blocked door, sending the remaining Dibbuns flying. Now it was this leader’s turn to take in the contents of the Attic while the rebels were arrested. With a gasp, she put aside her anger at DAB and strode over to the pile of armor. Kneeling, she examined the markings on a shield.
“Uh, he’s training the young’uns, Mother.” The head chef replied from where she gingerly clutched a struggling Katya.
The Abbess’s previous anger came back into focus, flaring up as she growled under her breath. “Well, go get him!” Her moodswings, while annoying, were unpredictable and somebeasts thought it helped her with her role. Others weren’t so sure.
The mousebabe’s older sister rushed for the door to head down to the chilly grounds. After sitting there a moment longer, Fern stood. She examined her crowd of helpers to see who had free paws. Her eyes fell on Howlia who was concentrating on holding the young badger.
“Take Maben to the gatehouse. The rest of you take your Dibbuns back to the dormitories to await further punishment.” Several babes quailed under her glare.
“Yes, sir!” The hare saluted before correcting herself, “Ah mean ma’am. Course I don’t think yer a bloomin’ sir, course not.”
“Just go, Howlia.” The Abbess stopped her rambling.
“Course, ma’am.” She dragged the wrestling Maben away as the other beasts holding Dibbuns left in the opposite direction.
Fern left a few beasts there to clean up DAB’s mess before heading after the Recorder and her prey to the gatehouse. On the way, she ran into the Skipper.
“Good day, mum. You called?”
“Yes, Joncho. I have a few things to discuss with you.”
The squirrel, who had been walking fast down the stairs, suddenly stopped. The otter had to perform a few acrobatics to keep from running into her. She ignored them. “They found the-” she glanced around furtively to make sure nobeast was listening then pulled Joncho down to her level. “They found the armor of Martin the Warrior!”
“Yes, I mean I want to be angry with them for creating such a mess and a hassle and such a time as this, and I am to be sure, but at the same time I think it’s a really good thing to have found the armor.”
“Well, Ah mean a few more pieces o’h’armor are h’always good, but…”
“Oh really, Joncho,” she snapped, “I thought you were brighter than that.”
Offended, the skipper stammered for a reply. He was cut off by the Abbess as she marched away and he quickly leaped after her. “The armor as a protective device is very good and all, but it represents great morale strength. Especially with the final battle coming up.”
“’Ow d’you know ‘twill be the final battle?”
She stopped suddenly again and he clutched the last of the railing to keep from running her over. “Well, we have to plan for the final battle to have a better chance. But, I think Martin might have visited me in my dreams to warn me.” She shook her head. “I can’t be sure though.”
“Well, good ol’ Martin.”
“Yes, anyway, remember when you were in Abbey school?” Fern had continued walking and rolling his eyes, Joncho quickly caught up.
“No, actually, Ah was in the ‘olt.”
“Right, right. In previous times of need, you’re aware that Martin has shown up to Abbeybeasts to help the Abbey or other creatures.”
The scarred skipper nodded to show that he was.
“Well, sometimes, he appeared to the attackers.”
“Why would ‘e do dat?”
“To scare them off mostly. I was thinking,” she stopped again and this time Joncho did collide with her. They skidded for a second on the tile floor before he caught them both on a corner. She nodded to him in thanks, straightened her habit and continued talking as if she’d never been interrupted. “That we could do the same thing Cornflower Fieldmouse did in the time after the Late Rose Summer Wars when facing Ironbeak. She donned Martin’s armor, acted like his ghost and scared the crows.”
“Indeed. Now, if we were to do that, we’d have to find someone close to his stature to fit the armor.” She looked up at him as they continued to the gatehouse. “You’re much too big and I think I might be a bit on the small side. We wouldn’t want to take away from our limited warriors nor would we want to put an inexperienced beast on the front lines.”
“Then ‘tis just ‘nother bit o’the battle plans t’be worked h’out. We could ‘old h’auditions ‘n’ then train the chosen beast.”
“Marvelous!” The Abbess clapped her paws in glee like a little Dibbun. “I knew I could count on you!”
The Skipper smiled at the positive swing in her mood, recompensing him for the earlier insult. “Now, wot’re ye goin’ t’do with Maben?”
Her eyes darkened momentarily then lightened as she waved him off. “I can deal with him. You need to get back to your warriors. Make sure they’re not killing one another!”
His laugh was a bit disparaging as they parted ways at the doors into the cool air. “H’I’ll do wot Ah kin, ma’am.” He winced as a clang of weaponry reached his tattered ears. “H’it’s just ‘ard to know.”
In truth, it would seem that the skipper did have reason to worry. He had, after all, left seven unpredictable creatures from different circumstances who were each on their way to becoming formidable warriors, together, to train. Preferably in a friendly manner without killing each other. After the foursome of badgers and foxes had been quizzed for the war effort, it had been decided that they would join the weapons’ practice. Some Abbeydwellers had wanted to watch purely for entertainment sakes, but they had been sent away. After a few words of caution and instruction, Joncho had been about to step back himself when he had been summoned by the Abbess.
The motley group of armed beasts eyed each other warily. Arguably the most volatile of the group, many had been surprised when Selra and Segalia quickly bonded. Each had seen no particular reason to distrust the other especially if they had to work together in weapons’ training. They were so similar that, in a way, it made sense. The otherbeasts were just standing on the outskirts, the badgers conversing quietly while Lijel, Riplar and Ampanna just stared at each other.
“Uh, we have an uneven number.” Riplar offered.
“Yeah, normally we would ‘ave Wraltor, but…” Lijel trailed off and Segalia glanced up from where she and the foxmaid were comparing arrows.
Something about the stiff tone made Riplar look awkwardly away with an Oh,” but Rori wondered. “Why can’t he come?”
There was a pause and the ottermaid wondered if she would have to step in when the otter simply responded, “’E died.”
Fighting the next uncomfortable, yet inevitable silence, Ampanna spoke up. “H’I could go get Naraudo t’even us h’out.” It also meant an equal number of each species as well as an equal number of males and females.
“Isn’t ‘e still injured?” Segalia asked casually.
“What, from when you attacked him?”
Instead of being hurt like she could have, she just laughed lightly. “Ah, ‘e totally deserved that. But ‘e was hurt ‘fore that and Ah’m not sure if ‘e got hurt in the last battle.”
“H’I don’t think ‘e was well ‘nough t’attend the battle.” The gray squirrel smiled ruefully. “O’ h’all the ways t’find h’out ye ‘ave Bloodwrath…”
“You have Bloodwrath?” Selra turned innocently to Segalia as they all froze up, feeling as if they had just revealed an important secret.
“Yes, gotta problem with that?” Segalia half-joked with a stubborn glint in her eye.
“I don’t know, maybe I should find another fighting partner.” It took them a moment before they realized she was teasing and the tension broke.
Riplar pounded a black fist into his paw. “I could take her if you’re scared.”
“I’ll be fine; are you sure you’re not too scared to take him on?” She gestured to Lijel who was at least a head taller than him. The otter grinned and flexed as Riplar rolled his green eyes.
“I’ve dealt with you guys all winter through your hissy fits; I’m sure I can handle him.”
“Hissy fits?” Carma raised an eyebrow.
Riplar stared knowingly at her, obviously not about to say anything.
“Why’d you guys go wanderin’ ‘bout h’anyway?” Ampanna queried innocently.
The original trio glanced at each other and shrugged while Carma simply stated that she hadn’t started out with them.
“Ah yes, Mumzy.”
“You know Mumzy?” the badgermaid pinned a confused look on Ampanna.
“H’I ‘elped her ‘nd her mum h’out when they came ‘ere.” She shrugged.
Bored, Selra nocked an arrow and aimed across the yard at a target. “That’s not ’ow ye do it.”
Surprised, she looked over to find the wrong otter correcting her. “And I suppose you would know how to do it better,”
“Lijel,” Segalia supplied.
“Lijel?” she finished.
He snorted reminding Rori eerily of Slashclaw. “’Course, Ah’ve seen Seg do it ‘nough.”
“Do tell.” Segalia quipped and offered him her longbow.
Suddenly shy with twelve eyes now on him, he put his paws up. “H’I think Ah’ll stick to sparrin’ with Ripkar ‘ere.”
“Riplar,” half of them corrected.
“Scared, Lij?” Segalia baited.
“No,” he growled ripping the weapons from her paws, “’nd don’t call me that.”
“She’s kinda calling you a whole legion of soldiers. Might be taken as a compliment.” Selra remarked calmly.
“Or she could be regarding you as her superior in the whole “Yes, my liege” way.” By this time both otters were blushing as Carma made her intellectual remark. Or at least Segalia was blushing while Lijel looked insufferably proud.
Mildly insulted and not knowing who to hurt first, Segalia muttered, “H’I think Ah might like me weapons back now.”
Riplar was starting to get a vibe similar to when his sister was about to do something crazy. “Uh, I suggest you don’t give them back.”
“And ‘ow ‘zactly are ye plannin’ t’keep them from me?” The ottermaid’s grin was positively savage and a few of the surrounding beasts might have stumbled back though they’d never admit to it.
“Fight.” Lijel and Riplar said as they glanced at each other and Rori chimed in.
“Males against females?” Selra suggested.
“You guys are four, though.” Riplar pointed out.
Ampanna looked at the large Rori. “You ’ave a badger.”
“Uh, so do we.” Carma raised a furry eyebrow at the squirrel who apologized.
“We have Segalia.” Selra said and now it was the aforementioned’s turn to raise an eyebrow.
“So, am Ah an h’asset or a ‘andicap?”
Diplomatic for once, the fox merely commented, “They have your weapons.”
The wild smirk returned. “Think that’ll stop me? Think again.”
Leaving them no more time for excuses, Segalia tackled Lijel. He barely had enough time to toss the quiver and bow to Rori before he went down. Quick as a flash, she was up and stumbling, crushing stray paws. As she looked calculatingly at the large boar, she saw a blurred flash of gray as Ampanna dived at his legs. When he calmly resisted, she countered by executing a perfect takedown causing him to crash down. Carma was vaguely reminded of Nottenc’s tip during a practice lesson: No matter how small you are, if you do it right, you will take down your opponent, no matter how large. Of course, at that point, she had hit her growth spurt so it hadn’t really mattered. The otherbeasts were no less impressed at the slim squirrel easily pinning down the huge badger.
“Where d’you learn t’do that?” Lijel asked, confused.
In the mount position, struggling to grab the weapons, she answered, “Brothers.”
The two otters looked at each other knowingly. As Ampanna’s father had died soon after her birth and her mother devastated, she had had no more birth siblings. However, living among the Weasprears meant that there were plenty of young’uns running around who Ampanna sometimes took care of.
After a few moments of engaged viewing, the two males leapt into the fray soon followed by the rest of the females. Starting to worry about the intactness of her weapons, Segalia pulled the nearest beast, Riplar, off the pile. She was turning back to grab Lijel when she felt the tip of a stick hit her back. Though the blow was not hard, she immediately whirled, fists ready. Riplar stood, makeshift sword ready, an inappropriate match for her balled-up paws. Not seeing any other swords in the near vicinity, she grabbed for his. He jerked it away, but her claws caught in the wood. A small tug-of-war ensued which ended with several hard pokes in the torso and the weapon flying through the air. Energy running through her, the ottermaid immediately sped after. The fox started then saw that the tug-of-war had moved them closer to the mini arsenal lying on the grass.
When Segalia turned triumphantly with the blade, he met it with his own. Though surprised, she wasn’t nearly as disappointed as he had hoped. Instead, she laughed gleefully. It sent shivers down his spine that he ignored while stabbing. She parried and the clang soon caught the attention of the tussling dogpile. A few beasts separated from the grappling match to grab weapons of their own.
“Does ‘e know what ‘e’s getting’ h’into?” Lijel asked to nobeast in particular.
“Long as he doesn’t insult her, he should be fine.” Selra commented with the knowledge she had gained from the previous conversation and he snorted in agreement.
Within a few minutes the green and brown grass was full of pairs or trios using all types of fighting techniques. A light clapping a few minutes later separated the sweating warriors. They turned to see a relieved-looking Skipper Joncho.
“H’I’m right pleased t’see you not killin’ h’each h’other.”
Carma raised a paw. “What did the Abbess want?”
“Just Dibbun stuff.” Suddenly, he remembered Fern’s idea and looked at them with new eyes. “H’actually, there’s a plan ye might be h’able t’elp me with. You’ve gotten some good work done so Ah think dat’s good fer now.”
As they trooped across the yard and put their assorted weapons away, Segalia reclaimed hers from Rori. She inspected them carefully then sighed happily. If her weapons were in good shape, then she figured she could take whatever came at her. As it indeed would in a few days.
The sheer size of Redwall Abbey enabled King and Warlord Grovelum to see it long before its occupants saw him and his army. When the rose-tinged tips peeked over the treetops, he waved the army to a halt. The Abbey had four walls and while he had enough soldiers to split them into four groups, he only had three main commanders including himself. He had brought Malrua, his tactician, but he doubted she could successfully lead an army. Momentarily contemplating a short battle for power among his soldiers to choose the fourth, he waved General Dir over.
“Dir, you know how to man the machine, correct?”
There was a strange glint in the stoat’s eyes as he acknowledged this.
“Very well then, take one-third of the soldiers and the machine to the southern corner,” he noticed Dir’s confusion at the directions and pointed, “the nearest corner, and wait for my signal.”
The general saluted and went off to obey his lord’s commands who then summoned Slashclaw. “Slashclaw, would you rather take the western or northern wall?”
“Will the western wall be wet?”
“The Western Sea is a fair distance away. You should be fine.” Confused, the fox still managed to keep his composure.
The coyote stared at him then burst out laughing and hit the other on the back, ignoring the hard armor. “You’re no fun. I was making an alliterative pun!”
“Ah, how…droll. Which wall do you want to take?”
“The west, I guess.” His eyes twinkled at his second rhyme in two lines, but the warlord waved him away.
“Take a half of the remaining soldiers over there then. I’ll take the rest to the main gate on the northern wall.”
Slashclaw nodded, giggled at the thought of battle, then went to pick out soldiers. Grovelum shook his head wearily at his old friend then considered his next plan of action. Considering it was the final battle, it did seem a bit late to talk things over with the Abbey leader. However, it was his first time to visit the place and while it made him want it more than ever, he also thought it might be good to introduce Redwall to their new leader. He had already tried the ambush attack and the conversation, the latter which, in hindsight, probably should have preceded the rest. It was too late to change things; he merely had to decide now how to start this battle.
Suddenly, it was decided for him. He heard a cry of “Look, a rat at 4 o’clock!” Whirling around, his cape flapping epically, he spotted the offender and slew him with a quick toss of a poisoned shuriken. As ammunition spattered down on them from the redstone walls, his brain whirled quickly. If his calculations were correct, the other sections of the army might have reached their places or been close when the alarm was called.
“Atten-hut!” He called and his soldiers snapped into position.
“Archers, return fire.” As they got into rows of kneeling, loading and shooting archers, he commanded, “Swordsbeasts, guard the gate.”
His motley, yet organized army moved to do as he said. He continued to man this well-oiled killing machine while his mind whirled nonstop. Why had that voice sounded familiar? If he didn’t know better, he would have sworn that it had been his daughter’s voice. But of course he knew better; why would his children disappear only to join his current foe and next conquest? It would be illogical and not at all helpful if they chose to divulge war plans. In the worst-case scenario, he could remind himself that they had left before he had decided to build the machine. No, he decided. The only possible occurrence must be that a spirit of the Abbey was playing with his mind as he tried to conquer it. It would not work; he would not be dissuaded or defeated.
King and Warlord Grovelum would conquer Redwall Abbey in this final battle.
A bit before the battle began, the group of young warriors stood on the walltop. Segalia and Lijel were arguing yet again.
“Lijel, you need h’a weapon. Need Ah remind ye that ye left yer h’old sword at Wraltor’s grave?”
The otter was nonchalant about the apparent situation. “So? There’s been battles since then; what’d Ah use then?”
“Actually,” Ampanna chimed in, “h’after Wraltor died, we ‘mediately started plannin’ for the final battle.”
“Well, then Ah’ll jist borrow some other beast’s sword.”
“We’re short ‘nough on weapons as ‘tis.” Segalia’s rough paw was on her hip.
“Thanks fer bringin’ yer own, by the way.” Carma waved the squirrel off.
Lijel ignored the side conversation as he threw his paws in the air. “H’I’ll jist use the sword Ah used th’other day then.”
“Ye can’t use a wooden trainin’ sword in battle.”
“Unless it was bamboo in which case it would be stronger than a lot of the coarser metal weapons.”
The arguing otters stared at the mottled foxmaid who looked innocently at them.
“Right…well ‘less somebeast travelled to Sampetra recently, Ah don’t believe we ‘ave any.”
Selra shrugged at Segalia, but if she had anything to say, it was cut off by another suggestion of Lijel’s. “H’I’ll go down like Ah was plannin’ to, then take one h’off a filthy vermin.” He noticed weird looks from the newest additions to their group and hastily added, “No ‘fense meant o’course.”
“Of course not.” Riplar nodded amiably though Selra’s eyebrow remained quirked.
“’N’ ‘ow d’you plan t’do that without a weapon?”
“’Gainst an h’armed beast? Yeah, right.”
“What d’you ‘spect me t’do then, Seg? Seriously?”
She shrugged. “H’I don’t know. H’I was jist pointin’ it h’out so ye could decide.”
Lijel growled animalistically in annoyance and his object of irritation fought the urge to giggle.
Rori spoke up. “Isn’t there a famous sword here you can use or something?”
“’Ow d’you know ‘bout that?” the gray squirrel asked.
“It’s pretty famous,” Selra remarked, “or should I say infamous?”
“Could ‘e use h’it? H’isn’t h’it only fer beasts that Martin the Warrior ‘ppoints ‘imself?”
“Actually, the Taggerung later known as Deyna used it because he needed to. Martin didn’t appear in a dream to him or anything.” The group collectively stared at Naraudo, including Lijel whose head was still in his paws.
“Where’d you come from?” The tan ottermaid’s feelings, while not antagonistic, weren’t completely amicable.
“I was just coming over to see Ampanna.”
She fiddled with the hilt of one of her daggers. “Yeah, we’re plannin’ t’fight in the battle together. H’I meant t’tell you.”
“Well, Ah’ll be up ‘ere. There’s no reason for me to fight down there with you, yet, so why not with ‘im?”
Naraudo’s broad smile could only be described as relieved with a bit of cockiness.
“So, iffen Ah needed to-” Lijel started.
“Which ye do.” Segalia butted in and he glared at her.
“Then Ah could use the sword? That just feels wrong.”
“Well, if you really felt like it, you could go ask Martin at the tapestry.”
“Uh, Ah don’t know ‘bout that.”
“Yer call, matey.” The red squirrel imitated the otters’ speech before turning to chat with his friend.
“’Ey, Ampanna. When’re ye supposed t’go get dressed?” Segalia interrupted their conversation.
“She is dressed, Seg.” Carma pointed out.
Riplar answered. “I think she means in Martin’s armor.”
“Yeah, weren’t you chosen?” Carma rejoined.
“H’I’m not sure ‘ow H’I’m close in stature to ‘im.” She admitted.
“Well,” Rori reasoned, “he was a mouse, right? And though large for his species, they’re still pretty small.”
“H’I guess. H’anyway, Skipper Joncho told me ‘e’d call me when h’it was time. Waitin’ fer the element o’ surprise or something.”
Lijel raised his head. “Maybe Ah’ll ask the skipper. Or th’Abbess.”
“Sure, jist be quick. H’I think Ah spotted something.” As Lijel rushed off, Segalia corrected herself. “H’I’m pretty sure h’it was jist a bird though.”
Selra, who had stayed out of most of the conversation, suddenly stiffened. “Actually, I think they’re here.” Louder, she shouted. “Look, a rat at 4 o’clock!”
The majority of Redwall Abbey turned wildly, some in opposite directions, and the battle started. Segalia notched a red-fletched arrow and was about to fire when the rat fell down, dead. She chose instead to fire at a light flash amongst the greenery and was rewarded with a cry and thunk. Selra was about to follow suit, her own arrow nocked, when something made her shudder and turn away.
“Selra, are you okay?” Her concerned brother crouched next to her and she looked up at him with wide blue eyes.
“Rip, what in the world are we doing?”
“Fighting, of course.”
“Against our father, because we thought what he was doing was bad when in return we’ll kill just as many. Of beasts we actually know!”
“Oh,” Riplar looked conflicted for a moment then sighed. Selra was annoying, irrational and even right sometimes, but she was still his sister and needed to keep cool to do well. “Look, there’s nothing we can do about it now.” He held up a paw to stop the protests he knew were coming. “Therefore, we will stay loyal to the side we’ve chosen.”
“But what if we come across one of our good friends?”
He shivered, half due to the sharp stone that had just flown past his arm and partly because of the implications of her words. “Fine, just defend yourself against whoever attacks you.”
The foxmaid nodded resolutely, took a deep breath then stood up to rejoin the battle. As she looked at the masses of familiar beasts fighting under the trees, she faltered.
A blade flashed in front of her face. “H’I think that an arrow or rock headin’ towards ye counts as somebeast h’attacking ye.”
“Wow,” Selra glanced down at the chopped-in-half arrow at her footpaws. “Thanks…wait, you heard that?”
Lijel grinned cheekily at her. “Yep!”
Not knowing what else to say, she adjusted her grip on her weapons. Then she noticed his weapon. “You got the sword?”
His look turned worshipful. “Yeah, th’Abbess let me ‘ave h’it fer the battle. H’it’s h’awesome.” After a few tricks with the well-balanced sword, he glanced back out at the woods. “H’I think Ah should rejoin the battle down below. REDWALL!”
She winced at the call in her ear. “Good luck!”
He winked at her in a manner, though she didn’t know, that was reminiscent of Wraltor. She looked after him for a few seconds until a sharp crack in the paw reminded her of where she was. “Ow!”
“Pay attention, Selra. There’s no time to gaze after males in a battle.”
Rolling her eyes, she hit her brother lightly in the shoulder then turned to Segalia, who, a few paces away from her, was firing deadly shafts into the mob below. “Uh, Seg…alia?” Did she know her well enough to call her by her nickname?
“Aren’t we supposed to bring ammunition that lands whole on our side to our sharpshooters?”
“Yeah,” she looked up, “h’is h’it an arrer? Cause ye kin give h’it t’me iffen h’it is.”
Selra bent to scoop up the pebble. “No, it’s a rock.”
The ottermaid directed her across the walltop to a motley crew of slingers. As the foxmaid made her way through the walltop warriors, she admired the skill of the ‘country bumpkins’ as well as their large sense of community. Maybe, just maybe, this would be worth defending.
The battle raged on. It largely consisted of ammunition shooting back and forth across the ditch though a few groups of beasts ventured out to make a temporary stand against the vermin. When night fell, leading to more deaths on their own sides than each other, most beasts slunk off to snatch a few hours of sleep. While small fires lit the vermin camps further than an arrow’s-shot away, small groups of artillery continued barraging each other. Though the Infirmary was filling up, the casualty rate remained low. The next day, King Grovelum commanded General Dir to start using the machine.
Ampanna clutched the redstone battlement as a shudder shook the wall. Her paws tightened as another jerk pulled her back.
The gray squirrel tried to turn her head to respond, but was pushed back. “There’s not much Ah kin do ‘bout it when big rocks are exploding next t’me!”
Segalia growled and pulled sharply on the leather bindings of the breastplate. “Yeah, well Ah kin’t do much t’help ye iffen ye keep jerkin’ ‘bout like that.”
A relatively peaceful silence fell over them before Ampanna asked, “Where d’you s’pose,” she inhaled sharply at another jerk on the armor, “they’re gettin’ all the rocks?”
“Maybe the nearby quarrywhere they got the rocks for this place? ‘Sides, h’it’s not all rocks.”
A large branch careened over the wall and exploded right next to them, proving the tan otter’s point. The two friends coughed as leaves and dust rained down on them.
“See?” Segalia croaked.
“Maybe iffen we were down in the grounds like Ah suggested, we’d get ‘it less.”
“We’ll be fine. H’up ‘ere, we ‘ave a good view o’the battle.”
Ampanna muttered something under her breath.
“Wot was that, Ampanna?”
“H’I said, ye jist wanted t’be up ‘ere ‘cause ye were too lazy t’go down there.”
Segalia put a paw on her chest, mock-offended. “H’I’m ‘urt.”
Ampanna smiled innocently over her shoulder. The ottermaid retaliated by dumping the helmet on her head.
“Ow!” Grumbling accompanied the adjusting of the helmet and soon the pretty face marred by a snarl appeared.
She was patted not-so-gently on the head by the angelic looking Segalia. The former took a fake swing at her and while the latter jumped out of the way, the squirrel was not so lucky. Unaccustomed to the heavy armor, she nearly toppled over, swaying heavily. Just as Segalia was about to step over to help, the fuzzy tail shot out, catching her neatly in the face. The tail’s owner stood neatly and made sure her friend had not fallen off the wall before grinning.
“Ampanna,” Segalia said as she finally straightened up, “Ah do believe we ‘ave a problem.”
“’N’ that is?”
“Yer tail is h’entirely out o’place. H’even dormice don’t ‘ave tails nearly ‘as fluffy h’as yers ‘n Martin certainly didn’t.”
She frowned. “Maybe we kin gel h’it down t’be skinnier.”
“No time fer that.” Her wildly mischievous grin was spreading across her face and it worried her potential victim.
“So, wot d’you suggest?”
“We keep h’it out o’sight by tuckin’ it h’into yer belt.”
“But Ah need mah tail!”
Ampanna put her paws on her hips. “H’I don’t know ‘bout ye, but a tail’s an h’important part h’of a squirrel’s anatomy.”
Segalia was about to order the squirrel to comply when she suddenly had to stifle her laughter.
Instead of answering, she simply pointed behind the squirrel to where a piping voice could be clearly heard. “Tail’s ‘por’ant part ‘o squiggle ‘namoty.”
It was Maben and his main trio of followers, paws on their hips, imitating Ampanna. When she crossed her arms and tapped her footpaw, looking remarkably like the Abbess, they did so too.
“Dibbuns, wot’re ye doin’ up ‘ere?”
Maben continued to copy her actions, but Katya spoke up. “Wesa tired o’ cleanin’ dishes ‘n’ bein’ in timeout.”
“Yeah, so we’s ‘cided t’come ‘elp in th’war.” Maben pretended to thrust a spear in the air. “Die, dirty vermin!”
Ampanna gasped, “Such naughty language! Where’d ye ‘ear h’it?”
“Ye should h’address ‘er as Sister ‘Owlia.”
Segalia had to chuckle at the boisterous hare being considered a demure sister of the Abbey and the squirrel glared at her.
“Wotever,” Maben said flippantly. “She was also sayin’ stuff like ‘Back ye blitherin’ bloody buffoons!’”
The gray paw was quickly covering the striped muzzle. “H’okay, that’s enough. We’re goin’ t’march ye straight back t’the dormitories or the gatehouse, wherever ye came from ‘n’ yore goin’ t’stay there.”
Segalia, still finding the affair amusing, spoke up. “But, Ampanna, we need t’finish dressin’ ye in th’armor.”
Torn, Ampanna looked back and forth between the struggling Maben, his tittering friends and her grinning comrade. Her dilemma was solved when Korla came up. “H’I’ll take them, Ampanna.”
“Oh, thank ye kindly, Korla.” The hedgehog maid, with promises of Strawberry Fizz, steered the struggling Dibbuns away.
Ampanna wiped her paw on the red wall next to her. “The little cad bit me!”
“Careful, Ampanna, we wouldn’t want t’teach them new ‘naughty language’, now would we?” The tan otter grinned.
“Yeah, ‘n’ a lot of ‘elp ye were. Remind me, why’m Ah friends with ye ‘gain?”
As Segalia turned her friend around to work on the tail issue, she pretended to think. “Because o’me witty nature?”
“Hm, Ah don’t think that was h’it.”
“Perhaps yore jist so h’in awe o’me that ye kin’t stay h’away?”
Ampanna giggled, regaining her good humor. “H’I’m pretty certain that wasn’t it.”
“My h’ability t’stay alive h’in a fight?” This suggestion seemed sardonic and the squirrel sensed something was wrong.
“Wot is h’it?” The question was full of forced joviality and Ampanna sighed.
“H’it does surprise me that ye seem upset ‘bout the Bloodwrath.”
The otter shrugged and tied a knot in the string securing the gray tail to her back. “Who says Ah h’am?”
She persisted. “H’are ye scared ye might ‘urt somebeast?”
“Not really, no.”
“Well then, wot is h’it?”
“H’I’m not really disappointed. H’it’s kinda cool, ye know? H’it’s jist Ah got this power-”
“With great power, comes great responsibility.” Ampanna nodded sagely.
Segalia ignored her. “’N’ ‘ow much of h’it h’is actually me? Without it, would Ah be a weakling? H’even with h’it, Ah couldn’t save Wraltor.”
“That wasn’t yer fault, Seg.”
“H’I know, Ah know. Maybe Ah jist need t’learn more ‘bout it.” She still seemed a bit somber.
“Listen t’me.” The squirrel turned around to face her friend and resisted when the otter tried to turn her back. “H’even iffen ye didn’t ‘ave Bloodwrath, Ah’m sure ye’d be a great warrior. Why? Because ye’d train t’become one. No matter wot, ye’d be a great friend and beast.”
Segalia’s smile was small, but sincere before turning impish. “H’I thought ye couldn’t remember why ye were me mate?”
“Oh, shush. Now, are ye nearly done?”
The ottermaid looked over her friend, fixed a few things then nodded. “H’at ye service, Martin the Warrior.”
“Do Ah really look like ‘im?”
“When yore covered in nothing but ‘is armor, yeah.” Lijel bounded up from behind them.
“’Ey Lijel, shouldn’t ye be fightin’?”
“Skipper Joncho told me t’come check ‘n’ see iffen ye were ready. Seg is supposed t’go figure h’out a problem in th’archer division.”
“Right-o.” Segalia mock-saluted then turned to the armored Ampanna. “See ye later?”
“Ye too. Good luck!” She skipped down the wall steps to quickly reach the other side.
“Shall we?” The otter turned to the squirrel.
“Yes-” A shuddering boom had them both flailing their paws for balance. Ampanna squinted out of the helmet. “H’I ‘ope that’s not causin’ too much damage.”
Cheerfully, the tall Lijel replied, “Nothing the moles kin’t fix!” As he started loping off, she stopped him.
“Wait, Ah need some ‘elp.”
“H’I’ll jist put me paw on yer shoulder. That way, Ah kin tell where Ah’m goin’ ‘n’ not fall ‘cause o’me armor.”
As he grudgingly let her rest her paw on his wide shoulder, his eyes glinted. Somehow, she could tell. “Don’t ye dare lead me h’into h’a tree h’or somethin’ or go someplace else.”
“H’I’m serious, Lijel. H’I ‘ave Martin’s sword t’back me up.”
“H’actually Ah ‘ave ‘is sword.”
The warning tone of her, “Lijel…” made him throw up his paws in surrender to lead her safely to the Skipper. Segalia watched her friends fight across the yard with a warm smile. Then she turned to help teach a few of the newer archers how to fix a broken arrow so it would fly mostly straight and how to make a makeshift arrow in a pinch. Archery had fascinated her since she was a young otter kit and training all those seasons in it, had made her something of an expert. It wasn’t until the more recent seasons that she branched out into attempts at swordplay and slings. She was busy demonstrating to a middle-aged mouse how to semi-permanently fix damaged fletching, when a cry flooded across the large expanse of the building and surrounding greenery.
“A-Martin’s been captured!”
Martin? For a moment her mind spun as she tried to figure out if she knew any Martins in the Abbey before it hit her. Of course, Ampanna, dressed as Martin the Warrior. Though she would be used to intimidate beasts, she would also be a clear target. Even as this realization hit her, she was on her footpaws, scrabbling for balance as she grabbed her weapons. As she raced across the wall to the side which she knew Ampanna had been on, her paws were automatically nocking an arrow. Her calloused fingers subconsciously stroked the red feathers as her blue eyes searched for the culprit.
There. It was that stoat general who had lead most of the battles. Part of her brain wondered about the position of the supposed King Grovelum, but most of it was riveted on the beast he held in his arms. Ampanna’s helmet had been somewhat dislodged, but her species was still properly hidden. The rest of the armor seemed fairly intact except where the stoat, what was his name?, pressed a sharp object to her neck. Segalia had a conjecture that Ampanna had been unused to the armor and that had led to her capture. She was a pretty good fighter in close combat, after all. She took all this in as quickly as possible while she angled the arrow to strike Dir, that was his name, in the head.
Her friend’s captor laughed evilly. “That’s wot y’think riverdog.” He pushed the weapon harder and even from the great distance of the walltop, Segalia could see the involuntary shudder. The woodlanders along the wall started lowering their weapons. There wasn’t anything they could do without hurting Ampanna. Other fights ranging about the grassy area between the Abbey and the Woods were in standstills or momentarily paused to watch the outcome of the now central attraction. A few took advantage of the distraction, but threatening to kill their captives had no effect on the stoat.
“That’s th’idea.” General Dir quipped at the Redwallers’ and their allies’ apparent surrender; he laughed again.
Skipper Joncho was having a quick conferring with Abbess Fern. Should they negotiate? Should they sacrifice? Could Martin help them? Segalia ignored them.
Her Bloodwrath was threatening to flare up and she was happy to let it. She would take them all on to save her friend. The logic was flawed as Dir would probably slay his captive as soon as she started moving, but impending Bloodwrath has a tendency to do that to beasts. Ampanna caught her eye and gave a nod of assent. Confused, the ottermaid stared back. Was she encouraging a rampage? Ampanna mouthed a word and gave her an encouraging look.
Segalia started at the risky plan then nodded, biting her lip. If worst came to worse-she didn’t want to think about it. Pulling back the arrow on her bow, she aimed carefully and let it fly. Dir looked alarmed, his grip tightening threateningly, then at ease. The arrow was going up, obviously misaimed. The mouse in shining armor that floated in his mind reassured him of this as well as the fact that there was no need to slay the armored beast in his arms for the action of another. There was no way it would-.
His thought was cut off as the arrow skewered him through. Blood boiled up in his throat and he concentrated on coughing. His grip went limp and Ampanna removed herself as soon as she could. She sent a grin to Segalia who returned it before interrupting General Dir’s last moments.
“Oh, and you? It’s only half riverdog. The other part’s seadog.” Her feral grin returned and seeing the confrontation over, battles resumed all over. Segalia decided that now would be a good time to join their forces on the ground. Who knew? The tide might be turning in their favor.
The absence of the monotonous booming of the machine was what first made Slashclaw suspicious. He bade his soldiers be quiet where they were already surreptitiously trying to break into the wallgate using techniques discussed in the Warlord’s Guide.
They largely ignored him, choosing to follow the fact that he was crazy and probably not serious. Over the clang of weapons to his left, the coyote thought he heard a strange lull to the right.
“I’m gonna check that out. You!” He pointed a paw at a random ferret. “What’s yer name?”
The ferret saluted smartly. “Bluddnose, sir.”
“Right. Keep command over this rabble, Nosebleed, while I go check somethin’ out.”
He left to the south, not heeding Bluddnose’s complaints that he was named for having a good sniffer, not an injury. After a few minutes of hobbling across the grass, narrowly avoiding duels, he saw Dir’s daughter and personal sergeant. It was no surprise that her name didn’t stick in his craw either; his mind was obviously unstable, but it wasn’t like he ever made an effort to remember names either.
“Sar’nt Omi, sah!” She nodded when asked.
“Where’s yer pa?”
“Dead, sah, ‘n’ Ah aim t’kill th’un ‘o did it.”
“Very well. D’you know how to operate it?” He gestured wildly, but she correctly deduced his intention.
“Course Ah do. ‘M nearly good-”
He cut off her explanation. “Good, good. I want you tah shoot me over.”
The stoatmaid stared incredulously at him. “You kin’t be serious, sah.”
“Hm?” He clambered into the sling that used to be Ungbar. “Make sure tah get me over the wall.”
“Yore crazy!” Omi tried to figure out if she was defying a direct order.
“’Deed Ah am. Why d’you think they call me the Mad, eh?” He winked at her.
Realizing that she was fighting a losing battle, she went to prep the machine. “’M not respons’ble fer any inj’ies though.”
“Only if Ah hit the wall.”
With a sigh, she triggered the arm. “Good luck, den.”
His only reply was a wild cackle as he flew through the air. The spring sun had given the battle some heat, but now he felt the full brunt of the chilly air. Despite this, the flight was joyfully breathless. Maybe because he was lighter than the average boulder, he flew high above the wall and far into the Abbey.
His fall was not gentle. As he started his descent, he tumbled head over heels into the orchard branches knocking off the sweet-smelling buds. Bruised and scratched, he groaned, first in pain, then in relief, as he attempted a dive into the Abbey pond. The resulting splash threw reeds, fish and cold water on the banks as well as Silverfalcon Pikehawk.
The otter had just been coming down from an artillery crew to check out a reported noise at the western wallgate. Instead, he got a muzzleful of pond. He flicked gunk out of his eyes as Slashclaw stood unsteadily. The coyote tsked at his soggy cape then turned as a Kunai split a nearby cattail in two.
“That was a warnin’. Next time, Ah won’t be so generous.” He drew his longswords.
The recent projectile examined this new foe. He hadn’t exactly had a plan going over, so fighting this heavily weaponed, burly creature with perpetually red eyes seemed his cup of tea. He drew his own sword from within his cane.
“How ‘bout Ah get out of this water, you put down yer,” he gestured with his cane at Silver’s torso, “arsenal, an’ we fight like civilized beasts.”
He chuckled roughly. “H’I don’t think so.”
The coyote stretched casually, trying to take advantage of the wind and sun so that his clothes and fur would dry. He pouted, “An unfair fight really doesn’t seem like you woodlanders’ style.”
Silverfalcon shook his head, his red eyes pinned on every movement of the scraggly beast. “H’I’ve known too many deceitful beasts. ‘Sides, Ah’m not yer typical woodlander.”
“Ah kin see that.” His eyes roved over the many tattoos. “Juskasei?”
“Y-yes. Ye know o’them?” The otter tried not to express his surprise.
“Yeah, yeah. ‘Fact, me first mate was from there.” His facial expression turned dreamy. “Lovely girl, ‘til she tried to kill me in my sleep. That’s how Ah got this,” he bared his chest; Silverfalcon instinctively blocked his eyes, then lowered his arm to see the scrawny, scarred chest marred by an X.
Annoyed by the deterring dialogue, he spat. “Cut t’the chase. What’re ye here fer?”
“Just helping me old mate, Grovelum out.”
“Well, isn’t that all sweet ‘n’ dandy?” The sarcasm was mostly lost on Slashclaw who made to reply before the former Taggerung hissed angrily. “Ye need t’get out o’ this Abbey now. Yer choice is whether it be intact or whole.”
“Determined critter, aren’t you?” He sighed. “Fine, let’s have at it.”
During the conversation, the coyote had been steadily moving towards Silverfalcon and the bank. Now he was in range for a fight…or tricks. He swung a footpaw upward, kicking mud and water at the otter’s eyes. Luckily, the latter had been anticipating such trickery and was able to avoid contact with the blinding substance. He stabbed his sword forward which Slashclaw blocked with his cane. He usually discarded the walking device during fights, but it might prove useful against a dual-wielder.
As their weapons crashed again, both warriors felt the Bloodwrath tingling at the edge of the senses. Slashclaw greedily let it overwhelm as his hits became more erratic, but powerful. Silverfalcon, on the other paw, thought it best to keep his wits about him for as long as possible when fighting this crazy creature. So he held it at bay, for the time being, using his skills to defend himself.
As it was the only battle within Redwall’s walls, it ranged all over. From the Pond, they wove back through the Orchards and even around the humming beehives. They went in circles, first one being pushed back, then the other. Their swords, and cane, crossed with intense ferocity and soon they started bringing other skills in. The otter was obviously the more able of the two and he started using this to his advantage. He somersaulted off trees and used buildings as leverage for jumps. The old coyote, in turn, used his insanity and raging Bloodwrath to his advantage. Not as afraid of getting hurt, he would charge continuously only to back away suddenly in hopes of catching his opponent off balance.
Their tricks worked to an extent, but not as much as they wished. Both had fought battles against beasts bigger, and stronger than them, but won due to their skills and Bloodwrath. Now, they found a beast with similar qualifications and the bar was raised. Silverfalcon was about to start using his other weapons alongside his swords, when he felt something catch his ankle. He whirled away, only to step on a thorn, stumble backwards and crash against the wall. Slashclaw, who had been attacking the head of the otter with his sword and whapping at the legs with his cane, was stunned. Both of them paused where they were, shocked that a beast who had shown such dexterity of movements earlier in the battle was brought down by the simple combination of root, thorn and wall. The coyote seemed torn between helping his opponent up or pressing his advantage. The clouding of red in the already red eyes answered his question. But, before he could lean down and stab the otter through the heart, he felt his own legs jerk out from under him as Silverfalcon kicked out and leaped into the air.
Slashclaw rolled madly, ignoring the stinging scratches from thorns and rocks. Just as he was about to stand to face the charging otter, he tumbled over a hill. Down he went, following the path of many runaway barrels, back into the Pond. He quickly stood, stumbled, got a faceful of water then finally got his bearings.
Though he held his sword out crookedly, he tried to joke. “Well, seems as if it’s neither of ours day.” He wrinkled his nose at the grammar. “Neither of us’? Either way, why don’t we call it a tie and I come back later for a rematch?”
He got no answer from Silverfalcon who had heard him, but was still marching determinedly down. Their audience was hushed, transfixed. A large part of their audience consisted of Dibbuns peeking out of their time-outs. The rest were various beasts on the walltops who had heard the clashing of weapons that was too close to be across the Abbey and so had turned to look. Riplar had seen the battle start and rushed to tell his friends.
“Guys! There’s a pair of fighting Bloodwrathers. Come watch!”
Segalia had responded, “But Ah’m not fightin’ anybeast.”
“Oh, Seg, yore not the only beast wid Bloodwrath.”
Carma and Rori had turned to each other and chuckled. “We’re the badgers here and yet it’s the otters and such who have Bloodwrath.”
“’Tis a strange world indeed.”
Most beasts watched for a bit then, remembering their duty, went back to fighting. Down at the pond, Slashclaw had a dilemma: fight or flight. He couldn’t quite remember the last time he had chosen the latter option, but it was looking sweeter all the time. He took a deep breath. As long as he didn’t trip and fall down another hill, he still had his Bloodwrath and skills. He jumped out of the pond and raced up the least steep part of the hill to face Silverfalcon. And so, the battle resumed, the Bloodwrath replenishing their weary bodies, but not stopping the blood from running down from their battlewounds.
Again they went over the grounds, this time Slashclaw craftily steering them towards the western wallgate. In the grips of Bloodwrath, Silverfalcon ignored their direction, merely whipping out weapons with continued force. They parried and stabbed, they fenced and jabbed. It was fascinating to watch, the brutal dance of death. Bleeding, cut and bruised, the otter finally pinned his foe against a wall.
Slashclaw struggled, then relaxed, grinning.
“Why’re ye smilin’?”
“’Cause,” he gasped, “Ah know somethin’ you don’t.”
“Wot would that be?”
Still smiling, the coyote just shook his head. The otter pressed the blades of his vambrace into the ragged tunic.
“Tell me h’or Ah’ll split yer gut open.”
“Ah’m old, why should it matter to me?”
Silverfalcon was just about to follow through with his threat when a crack met his ears. He turned to spy a triumphant Bluddnose leading a band of vermin into the Abbey. The otter cracked the coyote over the head before turning, eyes glowing red, to face this newest threat. Though there were more of them, they should be easier opponents than the crafty coyote. He growled, threw a few throwing implements to bring some down, then leapt into the motley crew, metal flashing.
Meanwhile, Slashclaw the Mad, half-hobbled, half-crawled, over to and out the gate. “Another time then, otter!”
The only reply he received from the valiant defender of Redwall was a battlecry. He grinned, then went to report to Grovelum. Vermin were in the Abbey.
Abbess Fern leaned heavily on Paldra and Joncho as they tried to help her to the infirmary. She knew as well as anybeast that she had to keep talking to keep moving for her best chances of staying alive. Her eyelids weighed heavily and her vision was foggy. Still she tried to stay the leader she had been.
“Joncho, I’ll be okay. You need to go back to the battle. How are we doing out there anyway?”
He hesitated, not sure whether to reassure her that everything would be alright or tell her the truth.
“Truth please.” She gasped.
He couldn’t deny a potential dying wish and so answered, “H’I’m really not shure. We were h’ahead, but vermin jist broke through the wallgate; Ah fear many more lives will be lost.”
Looking down, he hated to see his friend suffer so as she closed her eyes tightly against another wave of pain. How could he get her to the infirmary quicker?
“Where d’you ‘urt the worst?”
“Huh?” She groaned.
“Where d’you ‘urt the most?”
She gestured vaguely down at her torso where the sword of the ferret had caught her. The jagged blade had made a mess out of her chainmail and the second blow had broken her crossbow, which had been quite dangerous so far. Scrambling for another weapon, she had grabbed a stave only for her opponent to catch her through her chainmail and rip her torso badly open. Before the pain had set in, she had managed to kick him over the wall and then collapsed. Now her blood was all over the Abbey and Paldra was trying to fervently staunch the flow of her blood and entrails.
The Skipper made a quick decision. “Paldra, gimme da bandages. Fern, ‘old ‘em to your injury.” When they hesitated, he shouted. “Now!”
Paldra pushed the scraps of bloodied fabric into the squirrel’s paws as she tried to remove her arm from her shoulder. Joncho swung her up into his arms and the chef adjusted the injured’s arm so as to make the best use of the bandages. As soon as they were set, the otter’s training as a warrior and athlete kicked in. He ran, muscles pumping, sinews straining as his limbs stretched to cover the long distance of the Great Hall. He ducked through other rooms as the Abbess’s head lolled against his chest. She was fading fast and his arms tightened and legs quickened. Reaching the stairs to the infirmary after what seemed like forever, he took the steps two, three at a time. He burst into the hall of the infirmary and saw that the door was closed.
Taking no time to try to open it, he turned his body and slammed into the door. Surprisingly enough, the thick wooden door did not hold because it hadn’t been properly secured. He burst into the infirmary and whirled around wildly.
“Burna! Where are ye?”
He saw beds occupied by other wounded beasts and had an undefinable urge to toss one clear for his Abbess. He had no time to waste; what was the next step towards saving his friend?
He heard a groan from his arms. “’Old on, Fern. We’re nearly there.”
“You know why I was named Fern?”
“Ye kin save that story for h’another time.”
“No, I should tell you.”
She spoke anyway, as if it was the most important thing at the moment. And if it kept her alive, it would be. “Ferns are usually a grayish-green, but I’m not that color, so it wasn’t that. I was born at the beginning of autumn. When I was put into my parents’ arms, they were surprised that I was soft, even after just having been born. I was born in the middle of the woods with the help of a midwife and the soft ferns around my mother reminded her of my fur and convinced her to name me it. My father agreed and that’s why my name is Fern.” She took a deep shuddering breath.
Worried, Joncho encouraged her to keep talking as he spotted Goodwife Burna. “Burna, over ‘ere. Fern, wot ‘bout yer siblin’s? D’you ‘ave h’any?”
“You know that, silly.” She whispered as the mole bustled around not quick enough for the skipper.
“Come on! Well, do dey ‘ave names like Daffodil ‘cause yore mudder was lyin’ on h’a pile o’ weeds?”
She laughed weakly. “No, they, they.” Her eyes started to glaze over and her voice faltered.
“No! Stay wid me ‘ere! Yore siblin’s! Wot’s der names?” He shook her weak body desperately as the infirmary keeper gathered some supplies.
“I-I don’t know, it doesn’t matter.” She mumbled.
“Yes h’it does! You ‘ave h’an older broder, wot’s ‘is name?”
“Something like Salmon…” He had to lean close to hear her words as she drifted in a fog, going closer and closer to the painless oblivion and further from painful reality.
“Yes, yes, Scallop. Now yer mudder, wot’s ‘er name?”
“F-F-Furff?” Burna changed out the bandages on the squirrel’s torso though the Abbess wouldn’t let go of the dirty rags that Joncho had commissioned her to hold.
“Yes, dat’s h’it! Furff the brave squirrel ‘ho fought off da evil Doomwytes.”
“Yeah, she did.” Suddenly her eyes were wide, staring intently at the otter. “Like I did, fighting off Grovelum’s horde, right?”
“Yes, Fern, like ye did, just like yer mudder, maybe h’even better.”
Satisfied, her eyes drifted closed again.
“No, no! Com’on, Fern!”
When he got just a whimper in response, he looked wild-eyed at Burna for an answer.
“She’s lost a gurt amaount o’bludd. ‘Er internal organs don’t ee look good, eder.”
Seeing an emotion that could almost be fear in his eyes, she continued. “But don’t ee worry, zurr. ‘Er blackin’ out could be for ze better so she’s nought in pain. And Oi’ll see wot Oi kin do t’fix ‘er up all noice.”
Breathing heavily, he relinquished his hold on the squirrel as the mole hurried about.
Paldra rushed in, having finally caught up with the athletic otter. “Where is she? How is she?”
“Barely conscious. Lots o’ blood missin’.”
The otter stared vacantly out the window and Paldra took his paw gingerly in hers. He glanced down, startled, at the slim mouse.
“There’s a war going on out there; they need your help.”
“No buts. The Abbess would want you to go win this war, not skip out on her account.”
He nodded and a fire kindled in his eyes. “H’I’ll fight ‘arder fer ‘er, kill h’all the vermin that did this t’er, murder dem.” Suddenly he glanced back down at the cook. “But wot if vermin come through ‘ere?”
“First of all, I’m sure you’ll make sure that none can get past. Second, I have this,” she held up a frying pan, “to fend them off with. She’ll be fine.”
“You shure ‘bout dat?”
“No, I’m not. But you as a warrior should understand this best of all: In a war, some beasts fall, and we have to get back up and keep fighting all the harder because of it. Fight for her.” She repeated a few of his words back to him for emphasis.
He closed his eyes and nodded. Then opening his eyes, he bent and picked up Fern’s frail paw and kissed it. “H’I’ll be back.” He promised then ran off.
Paldra stared sadly after him then went to Burna. “What can I do to help?”
“’Ow good are ee at sewin’?”
“Sew op sum bandages ‘n’ mix sum ‘ealin’ ‘erbs.”
“Right on it.” The two busied themselves helping out with the wounded, trying to ignore the scourge on their doorstep.
A groan from the Abbess as she reemerged into consciousness brought the mouse dashing over.
“He left to go fight.”
“I’m right here.”
“If-if I die,”
“You’re going to be fine; don’t talk like that.” Her business-like reassurance cracked in the middle.
“If I do,” She continued determinedly, “I want you to be Abbess.”
“Me?” She nearly dropped the concoction she was creating. “But, why me?”
“You run your kitchen eff- well, and,” she winced through a bout a pain, “you’re a kind beast.”
“Please do this for me.”
“Yes, honey, I will.”
“Thanks.” The squirrel’s pretty features relaxed. Paldra turned away, hoping she was just going into a healing coma when she was called back.
“Tell Joncho,” Fern’s voice was significantly weaker.
“Tell him what?”
“Tell him-” her voice trailed away as she slipped back into unconsciousness.
The mouse stared at her leader and her friend, all sorts of thoughts weighing heavily on her shoulders, then went back to mixing potions. Thoughts could be dealt with later; now was a time for healing action.
“Riiiplaaaaaar!” The cry ricocheted around the battlefield. The fox in question turned, off-kilter enough that the spear that was headed right for him, hit his opponent instead. He raised a thumbs-up of thanks to his sister, who was just turning around to see if her warning had been heeded. She smiled in relief, then continued fighting.
As the black fox looked around to spot friend or foe, he heard Lijel comment to Rori, “H’as sweet as ‘tis that the twins kin sense when th’other h’is in danger ‘nd warn them, the constant yellin’ ‘cross the battlefield h’is gettin’ annoying.”
Rori snorted. “Dude, this is a battle. Shouting is inevitable.”
“That’s right,” Carma chimed in, “you’ve been in more battles than the rest of us, haven’t you?”
Riplar, seeing no current threat, decided to join the conversation. “Lots of battles is part of the job quota for Slashclaw the Mad’s assistant.”
“H’I would s’pose so,” Lijel nodded knowledgeably.
Carma looked to be on the verge of asking a question when Riplar felt his heart drop into his now-churning stomach. “Seeellllraaaaaaa!” He spun around, ignoring his wincing companions. A protective urge surged through him; where was his sister, was she alright? He spotted a mottled flash of orange across the trampled, bloody grass. Watching intently, he saw his sister drop and roll into the legs of a fox, one of the only ones in the army besides the royal family, who was charging right at her. Arms flailing, momentum stopped, the fox struggled to stay upright. Selra moved in, tackled him to the ground and caught his arm-bearing limb.
His heart and fist unclenched, the former rising from the pit of his gut and he turned back to his friends. They glared at him in an almost understanding way.
“Like Ah said, sweet, but really ‘nnoying.”
“Wouldn’t you do the same if you felt Segalia was in trouble?” The question was voiced by Riplar, but he saw it reflected on the badgers’ faces.
“Uh, Ah don’t know. H’I’d prob’ly jist tackle the guy.”
“And if the attacker was way across the field like this?”
Lijel waved the questions off. “Seg kin take care of ’erself. Carma, didn’t ye come h’over ‘ere t’tell us somethin’?”
Riplar looked up, curious.
“Right, well since they started firing that machine, the vermin infiltrated the Abbey and Abbess Fern got wounded, things haven’t been going great. So, Skipper what’s-his-face,”
“Joncho,” Lijel interjected.
“Yes, he’s taking care of the infiltrators and he wants us to go take out the throwing device.”
“From what I’ve seen, it looks like a catapult.” Rori commented.
The sharper-eyed fox corrected him. “True, but it has the sling of a trebuchet.”
“’Ow would ye know?”
They both shrugged. “Part of our education involved studying old wars, weapons and classics.”
“Lucky,” the otter stared at them with unbridled jealousy.
Carma cleared her throat, giving them all a pointed look when they looked over.
“Right,” Rori hefted his battleaxe and the quartet set off around the Abbey.
Selra glanced over at them from her portion of the field, wondering where they were all setting off for. She had felt safer knowing that her brother could alarm her to potential threats; perhaps the skill would continue over a further distance. The ground was covered with several bodies, too many, but most had already been looted, their weapons stolen. She never used any particular weapon for paw-to-paw combat and her last one had broken in an opponent’s body. Maybe she would be avoided if recognized; at least until she got a weapon. Raking her eyes across the greenery, they suddenly froze.
That beast scouting around behind that bush was definitely someone she knew. What should she do? Maybe if she just turned the other way, she could avoid a confrontation altogether. A stone coming from a dormouse slinger up on the wall answered her question. A burst of energy compelled her to run and tackle Malrua from behind, pushing her out of the deadly path.
Jumping up immediately, she extended a paw to help the stunted wolverine up. Dazedly, the tactician stared up at her. She had gone scouting because all the spies that she had sent out for information for further battle plans had not returned. Now she found herself face-to-face with somebeast she hadn’t seen in months, her old student.
“Hey, Sifu Malrua, what’re you doing here?”
“Scoutin’ out information for yair father.” Grasping the offered paw, she rose gracefully to her footpaws. “Where ‘ave ye bin?”
Selra awkwardly tried to extricate herself from her old tutor’s embrace. “Oh, you know. Just wandering about. I need to go; will you be alright?”
The wolverine got a crafty look in her eye. “Wanderin’ ‘bout, ‘ey? What’d ye know ‘bout this ‘ere residence?”
Not wanting to say no to her old friend or give away her new ones, she hesitated. “Not really much besides what you taught me.” She chuckled awkwardly, “It’s big.”
There was a shift in her peripheral vision as beasts switched around on the walltop. Ampanna saw her new friend trying to get away from a shifty looking beast and decided to take action. Using her preferred weapon, the sling, she picked up a nearby pinecone and started twirling it above her head. She let it fly and replaced it with a harder stone.
Selra glanced up and ducked, jerking Malrua down with her. “Uh, thanks Ampanna, but it’s okay!”
The gray squirrel nodded suspiciously. The wolverine regarded her in much the same fashion.
“Ye kin her?”
“Hm? I, uh, think I heard somebeast shouting her name earlier.”
“Yair ‘idin’ somethin’.”
Selra decided it was high time to extract herself from the awkward situation. “Of course not, Sifu; why would I do that?” She widened her eyes in the way that had gotten her out of many an assignment. Before Malrua could question her further, she gave her a quick hug. “I really have to go, but call me if you need anything!”
With that, she dashed off to find another part of the battle where she could be useful. It seemed as if her list of beasts that she wanted to protect was growing longer and more complicated. She turned her thoughts to another subject: where was her father? Maybe it was simply good luck that she hadn’t run into him, yet. She decided not to test her luck and instead return to the Abbey to make sure that all the invading soldiers had gone.
On the other side of the Abbey, Omi had taken charge of the machine under orders from King Grovelum. She was using it to great effect, having it wheeled here and there, constantly bombarding the old redstone walls. Hairline cracks from age had been exploited, growing to encase more and more of the stones. Though a few days earlier, Lijel had been right in his prediction that the moles could fix it, the damage now exceeded even the moles’ skills. New stones would be needed, even if the current ones didn’t crumble away to nothing before the battle ended.
“We should try to surround it.” Rori observed.
“Since h’it’d be futile t’go back all th’way ‘round, Carma kin distract while we sneak ‘round.”
“This is the middle of the battle, no time for arguing.” Rori waved her off.
“Fine,” Carma growled, her mind already whirling, “get going.”
“Wait,” Riplar stopped them, “Omi might recognize us,” he pointed from him to Rori, “which means she would be less suspicious.”
Lijel was eager to take down the device. “Make h’up yer minds h’already, we need t’go.”
Taking command of the idea, Rori waved them away and gripped his axe neutrally to put in his backstrap. He strode over. “Hey, do I know you?”
“’Ave me numchucks met yer skull?” She glanced up. “Oh, ‘ts’you. Don’t ye work fer th’crazy c’yote ‘o just went over th’wall?”
“Yeah, the crazy coyote…wait, he just did what?”
Omi took her eyes from the machine and fixed them on him. “’E asked me t’throw ‘im over.” She shrugged. “Ah couldn’t stop ‘im.”
That explained the earlier fight and consequent invasion. He forced a chuckle. “That sounds like Master Slashclaw.”
The conversation dwindled, but Rori knew he had to keep it going. “Uh…”
“Hey, kin ye git that big rock? Ah need sum ‘elp, but th’others all died.”
He looked at the aforementioned rock and shrugged. He could probably lift it alone, but earlier battles had made him tired. Either way, it was a perfect opportunity to stall. Walking over, he flexed and stretched; being Slashclaw’s assistant had given him a flair for the dramatic. The rock was rough under his calloused paws and barely budged as he pretended to heave with all his strength.
Omi looked disappointed and a little suspicious. “Ah thought ye were a badger. ‘Rn’t ye s’posed t’be strong?”
Rori panted convincingly. “Yeah, well battling all day for several days makes a beast tired.”
Her gaze softened. “Slashclaw works ye ‘ard, don’t ‘e?”
“Uh yes, yes, he does.”
“But Ah ‘aven’t seen ye ‘round with ‘im.” Her eyes narrowed.
“Haha, well there’s different mission I go on for him, so…” He put his concentration back into his acting.
“Like wot?” The question was casual, but he knew she was trying to get him to break, see if he was lying. He couldn’t hold out the play-acting or the conversation for much longer. Peeking carefully over the rock, he saw that his friends were nearly in position.
He grunted. “Scouting, bashing beasts, reporting to, uh, his highness, stuff like that.”
She didn’t look convinced, but she let it slide. “’Re ye nearly done?”
It was time. With a great show of muscle and sound, he lifted the stone from the ground. He staggered calculatingly, the rock swinging in his arms. Pretending to straighten out, he nodded, not at Omi, but at Carma behind her. The big fist came up and the stoat went crashing down right as she reached for her weapon.
“She was onto me,” he gasped, “we need to hurry.”
“I thought the gasping was for show.” Riplar came up.
Rori glared at the fox. “This thing isn’t that light, though.” That said, he easily tossed it to land squarely on the wooden device. The wood bent, splintering a bit, but didn’t break. The badger pulled his axe from his back. “Let’s demolish it.”
As Lijel stepped around to join in, the half-conscious Omi seized his ankle. “You! Tell yer girlfriend Ah’m gonna kill ‘er.”
He kicked violently and she fell silent. Swinging Martin’s sword above his head, he asked, “Wot was that ‘bout?”
“Uh, the girlfriend thing or the death threat?”
The blade bit into the wood and he waved Riplar’s question away. “She must’ve seen Seg ‘n’ Ah ‘fore th’battle ‘n’ h’assumed.”
Carma lowered a discarded weapon, confused. “What were you doing that would make her think you were a couple?”
He stared at her, eyes neutral. “Talking. Wot did she ‘ave ‘gainst ‘er though?”
Riplar swung his sword and looked over at the fallen stoat. “Oh, Segalia killed her father. She must want revenge.”
The otter raised his chin in acknowledgement as they continued to hack at the machine. As it changed from a destructive device to a pile of firewood under their blows, Carma asked what they were going to do with Omi.
“She did threaten to kill Segalia; maybe we should just do away with her.”
Riplar reluctantly agreed. “A shame to kill an unconscious beast, but…”
“Doesn’t matter,” they looked over at Lijel, “she’s gone.”
Indeed, while they had been destroying the machine, she had escaped. They all looked at each other.
“Mission accomplished, so…”
“Let’s warn Seg.”
They quickly moved away, contemplating this newest development, not heeding the sharp eyes following them. The demise of the machine wouldn’t be pleasant news to report, but maybe the king would be interested in a traitor badger and fox.
The battle had proceeded for a week and already low supplies were dwindling further. The Guosim had left earlier in the season to give their supplies a better chance and to gather allies, but they weren’t yet back. The destruction of the machine had helped tremendously, but the wall threatened to crumble continuously and the Abbess’ condition was not stable. Something needed to be done.
Hesitantly, Skipper Joncho approached Segalia. “’Ey, Seg. H’I know we’ve been workin’ on h’it, but ‘ow good ‘re ye h’at controllin’ yer Bloodwrath?”
She blinked wearily as she pushed the measly breakfast gruel into her mouth. “Not great, why?”
“’Cause the way things h’are, we might need ye t’go h’into a rage ‘n’ take out h’a bunch o’ beasts.”
Her eyes revealed no emotion at the idea, merely exhaustion. “Forcin’ meself h’into h’it might be more difficult than preventin’ h’it.”
He put his paws out desperately. “Jist think o’ h’all the beasts ye love, gettin’ killed ‘n’ tortured. Try t’git clear o’goodbeasts first, then let it rip.”
She sighed. “H’I guess Ah’ll need a sword then.”
New hope lit up the burly otter’s eyes as he grinned. “Very well, Ah’m sure we kin find ‘un.”
Segalia took another bite then pushed aside her bowl. She might as well get to her task as soon as possible. “Let’s go.”
In the middle of battle, sometimes it’s necessary to distract oneself from the destruction around you by telling stories. Back to back with Rori, Carma decided to try this.
“Did you know that the first time I killed a beast, I went into shock?”
He looked back at her as she effortlessly grabbed a stoat’s neck, jerked him into her dirk blade and threw him away to land on a rat.
“Well, you seem to have gotten over that.” He searched the surrounding motley of fighters, spotting Selra and Ampanna back to back, the former using assorted weapons while Ampanna used her loaded sling. A bit behind them, he spotted Riplar and Lijel guarding each other. In the distance, he spotted a skirmish flinging grass and dirt into the air; it could only be Segalia, overcome with mental images, in the grip of the Bloodwrath.
“Yeah, well Nottenc helped me. When necessary, you must do whatever you can to protect what you love.”
“Sounds like a smart lady this Nottenc.” Rori grunted as he blocked a brawny pine marten’s cutlass, then cut off the owner’s head.
“She is, she taught me a lot. In fact, I think that’s her over there!” She peered through the darting weapons at her small friend who was facing off with a weasel twice her size. Nottenc blocked her opponent’s weapon with her stave then dealt her a hearty blow to the stomach. When the weasel doubled over, the vole bopped her unconscious. Carma chuckled, then returned to her own fight.
Nottenc twirled her stave idly as she gazed around the battle grounds, nodding approvingly at Carma’s fighting figure. Then her sharp eyes fell on a partially armored tall imposing fox. He could be no other than Grovelum the Malevolent who had murdered her husband. Her eyes narrowed and then she was scurrying quickly, darting in between fights to face the warlord. Clutching her weapon, she made sure that the simple mechanism could be easily triggered.
“Grovelum!” She let her slightly shrill voice carry over the turmoil.
Deep in discussion with Slashclaw about their next move, including how to take care of the crazy otter, it took a second try for him to hear her. Still talking, he turned his head to face the voice.
Struggling to keep her emotions in check, the volewife stated, “You killed my mate.”
He shrugged. “I kill a lot of beasts, part of the business.”
She shook her head. “No longer. Today, I will kill you.”
Turning back to Slashclaw, he sighed. “Looks like I have a little threat to deal with. Hold the conversation until I get back, will you?”
Slashclaw snorted and agreed.
Now he turned his full attention to Nottenc who had made her way over the opening space. He pulled his broadsword out from under his cape; it was still dripping blood from a hedgehog he had killed not too long before. Though he looked casual, his footpaws had already assumed a fighting stance. Deciding that there was no need for further wait, the volewife charged.
Grovelum easily blocked the strike, but was surprised when it kept coming as a metal blade forced itself out of the end. Bending backwards, he jerked his sword towards the small body. Being significantly smaller than her opponent, Nottenc knew that she had to take any advantages that she could, including a slightly longer weapon. She brought her spear-staff back, twirled it then stabbed. Before he could counter, she was already jabbing elsewhere, depending on speed to help her win. The hardy wood of her weapon countered his blocks and soon he decided to press the offensive.
He swung hard, but not too wide so that he could quickly return. She ducked and rolled to try to take out his legs. He stepped back, but she continued hitting them with her staff to trip him. Starting to get annoyed with the fight that was taking longer than it should have, he swung downwards. While she rolled again to the side, she left behind part of her now blood-stained tail.
She winced, then charged. This time, they were both on the defense and offense simultaneously, charging, blocking, stabbing and parrying. Fast and furious came the blows and the awkward dance continued. Sweat dabbled their fur and their muscles started to ache. Bruises and stinging, bleeding cuts dotted their limbs. Soon though, weaker flesh had to fall to the stronger, taller beast. Nottenc’s blocks became slower, her attack, nonexistent. Pushed back, she fought until she tripped over a deadbeast. Her flailing spear caught the ground, nearly saving her, until the fox kicked it out and she tumbled to the ground. The fall was too hard for her to use the momentum to swing herself, not that she had any energy left to do so. She panted quietly, her glare steadily burning into Grovelum’s face. He roughly pushed the corpse that had led to her doom away.
“Now, you can join your mate.” He raised his sword, several beasts in the battlefield started to turn and charge, and Nottenc saw her opportunity. As his sword came down within inches of cleaving her in two, she stabbed upward with her metal-tipped staff. The blade slipped within a chink of his armor and as she turned, the metal twisted and his weapon sunk into the ground. A chunk of her sweaty fur drifted slowly to the ground as she slowly got to her footpaws, keeping a careful eye on Grovelum.
He lifted his sword, but a swift kick made him tumble over backwards. His body rose and thumped back down once, the sound ominously echoing around the battlefield. The straggling vermin saw their leader fall, the enemy get energy for a last charge and decided to escape with their lives. The seemingly tireless badgers glanced at each other and roared before following to make sure the vermin all left.
Segalia remained alone in a small portion of the field, stabbing and cutting mid-air, her eyes glowing red. Ampanna decided to stop her.
“Seg! Segalia! The battle’s h’over! We won!”
She advanced slowly, wary of the flashing blade. Repeating her statements made the ottermaid look unfocused in her direction. She put her paws up in surrender, hoping to convey her message. The sword came up, then down to her side as the Bloodwrath left Segalia’s system.
“H’over?” She looked like she was emerging from a long dream.
“Yes, the battle’s h’over, the war’s h’over ‘nd we won!” Ampanna hurriedly caught her friend, making sure she was stable.
“Wot ‘bout Grovelum?”
“H’over there,” Ampanna pointed, “Nottenc got ‘im.”
“Yore okay?” The pinkish blue eyes searched her friend for injuries.
“Yes, Ah’m fine.”
Segalia sighed with relief. “S’jist, t’get me h’into Bloodwrath, Joncho made me think o’all me mates ‘n loved ‘uns dead ‘n tortured.” She shuddered. “H’it wasn’t nice.”
Ampanna smiled weakly. “Well, h’it worked. Ye took h’out a lot o’vermin. Rori ‘n Carma ‘re makin’ sure the rest flee.”
Carma returned then, coming from the forest to wearily examine the carnage-filled plain in front of the Abbey. Survivors started to rejoice with each other while the holed-up Redwallers started to emerge. Mumzillia raced over to her mother who, upon retrieving her spear, had crumpled to the ground close to her conquest. They hugged each other tight and Carma went to join them before deciding to admire the scene from afar.
Looking up, Nottenc waved her over. Her daughter looked up and her whole face lit up when she saw the badgermaid. Mumzy had been expanding her vocabulary and now her newly-mastered sibilant S replaced the soft C at the beginning of Carma’s name. “Sahma!”
Carma trundled over and scooped both O’Chubbacutch’s into her arms.
Segalia smiled, the full realization of the circumstances coming to her and was about to reveal it to Ampanna, when she turned to find her friend gone. The squirrel had decided to give her a minute and in turn find other friends. Segalia saw her excitedly greeting Naraudo before leaning up and shyly giving him a kiss on the cheek. The otter rolled her eyes before looking worriedly about for more of her friends.
Her gaze fell upon Lijel, standing tall, Martin’s sword dangling at his side. Happy that he was alive, happy to be alive, happy that the battle and war were over, she ran to him. He spotted her and a tired smile graced his lips. He opened his arms and, with a burst of energy, she entered them. Stumbling backwards, he laughed and soon she did too, their happiness filling the air. Similar happenings occurred all around and in the Abbey as they celebrated the end of the carnage in their favor.
Still in Lijel’s happy embrace, Segalia drew her attention over to a small scene playing out in front of the Abbey. Two beasts, one black, one mixed orange and grey, looking pitifully small, huddled about the figure of their once majestic father.
“Daddy!” Selra cried and her brother echoed as she flopped down beside him.
“Selra? Riplar? I thought I heard you earlier.” His eyes washed over both of them before falling closed.
“No, Dad, you can’t die! We can fix this.” Selra panicked.
Grovelum chuckled wheezily, then coughed. “No, Arrow,” he said using his nickname for her that came from a dark pointed patch on her forehead, “that crazy vole meant to kill me.” He groaned silently for a second. “She sure knew what she was doing.”
“Why did you have to conquer Redwall, Dad? You knew the legend,” Riplar had tears straggling down his muzzle.
“It’s in my blood, kit. I wanted to change the world, so why not conquer it?” Smiling through their tears, they finished the last part with him. It wasn’t the first time he’d said it.
“What were you doing here, anyway?” His voice was becoming weaker, but it still held the rich tones they knew and loved.
Selra wanted to apologize, but suddenly knew she couldn’t. She had learned much and met many interesting beasts. Why, it could even be called an adventure.
Riplar looked at her knowingly. “We just wanted to change the world our own way, Dad.”
His twin told the truth, “I, we, love you, Daddy.”
The proud head nodded peacefully. “I love you, too. Take care of your mom for me, alright?”
They glanced at each other, not having considered the future. “Of course we will.”
His face pinched, but he was determined not to show pain to his children. Selra misunderstood his intent. “Don’t worry, we’ll make you proud. Somehow.”
“You already have, Selra, Riplar, you already have.” He stroked their cheeks with his big paws when he said their names, then his paws fell ungracefully to the ground. His labored breathing slowed and his eyes drifted close, the cunning light dimming.
“No,” Selra whispered, realizing what was happening. She felt a fresh wave of tears overwhelm her. His peaceful face blurred in her vision. “No, no. Come back!” Her head fell down, her ears low as sorrow clouded all her senses.
Riplar’s mouth contorted, his fang penetrating his lip, as he too, fought back sobs. “Selra, we have to go.” She protested and he fought the urge to scream out all his feelings. He came around the still body to kneel next to her; he put an arm around her and she buried her face in his chest. As the two twins mourned their fallen father, the first rain of spring started to fall lightly on their heads.
The already excited Redwallers and woodlanders alike, cheered even more. If rain was here, they could start planting in hopes of a better harvest. More hugging and dancing commenced as the thirsty ground drank up the bloody rain.
“That’s ironic.” Segalia commented.
Lijel looked down at her, then followed her gaze to the mourning fox cubs surrounded by drenched, happy celebrators. “’Deed it is.”
The sun rose with the full intention of blasting its warmth all over Mossflower. After the early and long winter as well as the slow spring, the residents of Redwall Abbey were perfectly happy with the heat. Soon, a few beasts might seek the refuge of shade or the pond, but first they intended to enjoy themselves to the fullest. There had not been enough enjoyment in the recent seasons, even after the war had end.
After the first stage recuperation had completed, the recorder- and historian-types had started to write the events down. The name for the war was much contested; the Abbess eventually solved the dispute by saying that the name would be announced on the Nameday of summer. Now, the long-awaited day had finally dawned.
The cooks and eager volunteers had been up since the sun had brushed their eyelids. Now they bustled about mixing together masterpieces from the finally overflowing supplies. Soon delicious smells wafted from the kitchens awakening the rest of the sleepers. As the hours passed, they aided with the arrangements and were now scurrying about the green grass laying the final preparations for the feast.
Segalia Riverstorm was one of these beasts, but she was far too excited at the prospect of an actual feast to be of much help. Aided by Carma, she carried a heavy table to rest under the fruit trees which were laden with un-ripened bulbs. Segalia dropped the table to the ground and turned a cartwheel as soon as they had reached the designated spot.
The badger groaned cheerfully and set her end of the table down. “You remind me of a hare.”
The otter grinned cheekily upside-down from the middle of a round-off. “Because Ah’m a dangerous ‘n perilous warrior?”
“That too,” Carma chuckled, “but mainly because of your insatiable desire for food.”
She turned slightly at a rumbling laugh from behind her. “’Insatiable’, have you been reading again?”
“It’s a perfectly good word; whatever are you talking about?”
Rori’s eyes twinkled at her a bit longer and she threw up her paws in mock surrender. “The library here is amazing, of course I have been!”
“Found any interesting information for our trip?”
“Twip? Wot twip?” The voice came so suddenly that Rori jumped; Carma giggled.
“Yeah, what trip?” Ampanna came up behind them, surrounded by a swarm of Dibbuns.
Reaching down to ruffle Maben’s head, Carma responded, “Oh, nothing. Just a trip we’re going on to discover our roots.”
“Sounds fun.” Somewhat distracted, the squirrel put her paws on her hips. “Now, where’re th’others?”
“Dibbuns or otherwise?” Segalia zigzagged over, dizzy from her many acrobatic twists.
“Wesa not Dibbuns.”
“Yes, you are.” When the young Maben made to protest again, Rori stopped him. “Just until the ceremony this afternoon.”
“’N then we’ll be waryers ‘n in the big dormit’ries like you, right?”
“H’I’m so lookin’ forward t’that too.” Lijel grimaced as he joined them, then smiled cheerfully when the Dibbuns looked at him suspiciously.
Ampanna distracted them. “Where are the twins?”
“Still servin’ time.” This statement provoked mixed reactions: some chuckled while others rolled their eyes.
Some beasts thought the punishment was unfair, the administration racist. Selra had been of those protesting bitterly while Riplar had found some humor in it. The incident invoking this had been simple: early morning, after the final battle, the healthier occupants had decided to bring breakfast in bed to the resting fighters. Selra, still on edge from the battle and unused to such treatment, had thrown a pitcher of hot tea in one of the sterner brother’s face. As he stood flabbergasted, his habit drenched with tea leaves sticking to him and a fragrant scent drifting off, Riplar had tackled him. Awakened by his sister’s shouts of ‘Poison?!’, he had stumbled out of bed until he barreled into the brother. Needless to say, most of the Abbey had consequently been aroused and the offenders were brought before the council.
Seeing it as a misunderstanding, most of them were willing to let them slide. This lasted until they found out that the twins, in fact, did not know how to wash dishes. Viewing it as a teaching experience as well as a warning, the twins had been brought in once a week to do chores and to do dishes for feasts such as the one this day. This would be their last day of work.
“H’I still say h’it’s ridiculous.” Ampanna shook her head.
“H’it’ll be good fer them.” Segalia laughed it off before sniffing the air eagerly. “The food’s comin’!”
It was true. Now that the last chairs and tables had been set up, a long line of kitchen workers was parading out the door, their dishes held high. Steam drifted their way. They smelled salty, buttery goodness, as well as more vinergary salads alongside sweet-smelling breads. The desserts would come out later in the feast. A variety of delectable smelling dishes were paraded past their noses. Against their volition, soon they were all salivating eagerly.
“C’mon!” Lijel cried and they all grabbed chairs as the food was set down. They were joined by a grumpy Selra and tired Riplar, but soon the savory and sweet smells lifted their spirits. Riplar was inching his paw to a casserole right as Segalia reached for a plate of bakes; Ampanna rapped them both smartly with a nearby spoon.
“Th’Abbess ‘as t’say grace first.”
Segalia glared at her, rubbing her paw as her stomach growled. “Yore h’a lot more bossy now that ye ‘elp out with the Dibbuns.”
The gray squirrel put her nose up in mock snootiness and the others grinned, partly because of her attitude, but also because the Abbess was getting ready to speak.
The slim figure ascended the table to make sure everybeast knew her intention. They quieted down immediately or were hushed shortly after by nearby hungry beasts. “Greetings. Before we eat, I wish to say a few words so I’m afraid your hungry stomachs will have to wait a bit longer.” Good-natured groans accompanied the statement.
She surveyed them all a minute then said, “I’m proud of you guys. The way you pulled together before and after the war, dealt uncomplaining with all the troubles. There are times that things were dire and could’ve gone downhill fast, but Martin was with us. Restoration hasn’t been easy either. We’re just lucky that the wall crumbled after we had gotten rid of the vermin.”
The crowd laughed appreciatively at this; in all the joyful ruckus after the final battle, somebeast, a young’un of the Weasprears, had touched the damaged wall only to have it shatter under her small weight. The moles had quickly carted in new stones as a few of the warriors had banished the snakes in the quarry, but it still had taken several weeks.
“The funeral was truly a grand affair, though.” Subdued, the crowd murmured agreement. The demolished machine had been used to create stretchers and funeral pyres. The service memorialized warriors who had died in earlier battles, like Wraltor, and beasts whose bodies had been too severely destroyed, as well as Abbess Fern. She had been wounded in the final battle, but hadn’t died until nearly a week afterwards. The Abbeydwellers, especially Joncho and Paldra, had been alternately hopeful and despondent. In the earlier battles of the war, more than a score of beasts had been wounded, but only a dozen had died. In the final battle, at least three and a half scores of beasts were severely wounded and killed. The infirmary had been full for a month, even expanding into the dormitories.
The funeral, while despondent, had been cheerful as they celebrated the fallen’s lives. They also celebrated the births of a litter of mice and an otter kit. Spring had burst into full bloom the day before, sending little maids skipping across the fields culling beauty for the graves. Beasts were silent, lost in memories of their lost ones.
“Their lives shall not be lost as we grow and prosper in their memory. The vermin are routed, their leaders killed and though trouble may rise again, we will be ready. We are Redwall!” A roaring cry of REEEEEEEEEEEEDDWWAAAAAALLLLLL! followed her speech and once it had settled down, she said grace:
Mother Nature, thank you now,
For this food we pick and plow
And at the end of this battle
We thank you for our gift to prattle
There were a few appreciative titters, but the only noise for several minutes after was requests for various foods to be passed as they loaded their plates. As approving murmurs broke out, chatter resumed. The newly-appointed chef, Naraudo, looked relieved. Not only was he happy that the food was good, as he sat by Ampanna, he was glad not to be overwhelmed with compliments. Though Segalia had accepted the squirrels’ tentative relationship, the red squirrel was still afraid that if he got cocky or reverted back to some of his worse habits, the otter would beat him up. She hadn’t bothered to contradict him or to dissuade his fears.
“What’s that?” Selra asked through a Squirrelbake, pointing at a golden dish covered with tomatoes.
“It’s a type of hogbake Jagjo helped make.”
“H’I guess ‘e doesn’t ‘ave as much t’do now that ‘is daughter’s Cellarkeeper, ‘stead o’ ‘im.”
Lijel stuffed salad in his mouth. “She’s been that fer h’a while, Seg, ‘member?”
She nodded as Riplar turned to Rori. “What dish did you make?”
The proud dabbler in the culinary arts pointed to a platter of pointed shaved sticks through marinated chunks of cheese and veggies.
“They’re surprisingly good,” Ampanna praised and Naraudo gave her a hurt look. “That’s delicious too,” she amended, pointing at another dish of his and he smiled, placing an arm around her shoulders.
“Ugh, Ah think Ah’m gonna be sick.” Segalia turned away from the light romance to Lijel.
“Oh, ‘ave you decided wot yore goin’ t’do ‘bout that weasel’s-”
“Stoat,” Selra immediately corrected him.
“Not really; do Ah need to?”
Riplar frowned. “Omi, Dir’s daughter, the general you slew, can be pretty determined. Dir himself wasn’t the sharpest spear in the shed, if you know what I mean, but he was a pretty good commander. You never know.”
“Shame she escaped.” Carma muttered and agreeing, they turned their thoughts to their food as well as other subjects.
“’Ey, wot ‘appened to the Bloodwrather ‘o fought Silver?” Lijel asked, accidentally flinging noodles when he gestured.
“Silver continued travelin’, but Ah don’t know ‘bout ‘im. Yer master, right?” Segalia received a weird look from the other otter, but she ignored him, waiting for Rori’s answer.
The badger was silent before saying, “Most of the army died, so I imagine he was the same.” Despite his answer, he did know what happened to Slashclaw. While routing the vermin, he had come upon the coyote, hit by a stray projectile and on the verge of death. Rori had felt a surprising amount of loss, but his ex-master had been cheerful. The strange thing was that when he had returned to bury the body, assuming the crazy coyote had finally succumbed to his injuries, the body had been gone. No trace of him remained but a few trails of blood. Rori puzzled over it, but had decided to keep the information to himself.
“Right…” Ampanna said. Sensing an awkward subject, she decided to change it. “H’I wonder wot would’ve ‘appened iffen the Guosim ‘ad h’arrived earlier.”
The others laughed. The shrews had arrived an hour or two after the final battle had ended, with a few allies they had found in the woods. To say that they were disappointed to miss the war would be an understatement. Being as argumentative as they were, a huge debate had started about whether they should follow the retreating stragglers and fight them to the death. Eventually, Skipper Joncho had intervened, telling them that while there were sure to be more vermin, they needn’t kill the survivors right now; he also invited them to stay for the feast. The shrews had been a source of entertainment, yet great help while they waited for Nameday.
“Maybe they could’ve helped take down Grovelum.” Carma tried to insert some false cheer into the statement, but they all sensed the underlying sadness. Nottenc had been in bed for weeks with her injuries after the showdown, Carma and Mumzy constantly at her side. When she had finally recovered, it was discovered that she was essentially crippled for life.
“Hey,” Rori said quietly to her, “if you need to postpone our trip indefinitely while you take care of Nottenc, it’s fine with me.”
She sent him a small smile. “I actually talked to her a bit about it while she was in bed and she’s encouraged me to pursue it. I don’t think she’d let me stay; besides, I really do want to go.”
“Not you too.” Selra rolled her eyes in disgust.
Their denial came fast and furious: “We’re not dating.”
“No, this is totally platonic.”
“We might even be related.”
“So, that would be gross.”
“Whatever,” she smirked, “I hear denial is just a way to cover up your true feelings.”
They stared at her. “Really? You’re going there?”
Ampanna laughed. “Iffen that was true, Seg ‘n Lijel would’ve been datin’ a long time h’ago.”
The two in question blushed, started protesting vehemently then quieted down as they realized they might prove Selra’s statement true.
Continuing as if there was no interruption, the squirrel said, “Why, back h’in th’olt, they were h’always bein’ teased.”
Lijel abruptly changed the subject. “Speakin’ o’ th’olt, ‘ow long h’are we stayin’ ‘ere?”
“H’a few weeks, maybe a season, Ah don’t know. Why?” Segalia swallowed a spoonful of a soup that Howlia had made from an ancient hare recipe.
He scratched the back of his neck. “Well, Ah’ve kinda been h’offered the post o’ h’Abbey warrior.”
Hot soup splashed on the squirrel couple across the table as the tan otter sputtered. “Don’t ye need, Ah don’t know, Martin’s permission fer that?”
“H’I guess h’it’s a similar deal h’as the sword.” He shrugged. “’Sides, Ah thought Ah might’ve seen ‘im h’in one o’my dreams.”
“What did he say or do?” Riplar asked.
“Stood there, Ah guess.” He randomly grabbed an object of food and bit into it before spraying it, mostly into his plate. “Ew, wot h’it this?”
Carma’s eyes grew. “That is a Stuffed Springtide Mushroom. They’re delicious.” She grabbed one and crammed it in her own mouth, mmming in enjoyment.
“H’agree t’disagree then,” Lijel said while attempting to wash down the taste with some October Ale.
Segalia poked at a piece of sweetbread on her plate.
“Here,” Selra tossed a lightly closed pot of honey over to her which she only caught by reflex. “It tastes really good on it.”
With a fork, she twirled some of the golden goodness onto the yellow buttery bread. “Not bad. ‘Ave ye tried the Deeper ‘n ‘Ever Turnip ‘n Tater ‘n Beetroot Pie, the moles’ favorite?”
Selra’s mouth twisted. “A bit, it wasn’t great.”
Naraudo chuckled. “Don’t say that around a mole. Personally, I’m not offended because Foremole helped make that.”
“That’s good.” She looked around surreptitiously to make sure the mole in question wasn’t near.
The sun dropped down in the sky as their silverware started to slow, though their mouths continued to move fast. Finally Naraudo rose to address everybeast there. “I hope you all enjoyed the food.” His audience cheered in the affirmative. “This might be a bad time to ask, but…who’s ready for dessert?”
Groans were drowned out by the enthusiastic cheering of the sweet-tooths, Dibbuns and bigger stomached-beasts. The cooks scurried to retrieve their desserts after they had been warmed up or cooled down to the required temperature. Sweet smells started spilling out of the Abbey as a second parade came. Pies filled to their buttery brim with berries accompanied by scones loaded with jam and cream followed a rare delicacy of fudge made from cocoa beans. There were cakes and pies, trifles and flambés. Beasts started to loosen their belts in anticipation of more food.
“So, they’re goin’ h’on a trip,” Ampanna pointed at the badgers.
Segalia continued her sentence as she reached for a glazed dessert to put down on the table. “We four h’are stayin’ h’at th’Abbey ‘til later notice.”
“What ‘bout ye?” Lijel completed the question directed at the fox cubs.
The twins looked at each other. “Well, we’re going to go back home.”
“See our mother, maybe work out a system to give the maids better pay and treatment.”
“Don’t worry, the bloodthirsty widow of a warlord won’t come charging at your door.”
The others glanced worriedly at each other then away. There had been discussion about what they would do if Oxos promised retribution like Selra had soberly suggested.
Riplar sighed. “We’ll see.”
“’Ey, maybe we could h’all go together!” Ampanna enthusiastically proposed as she cut herself a piece of blueberry crisp topped with whipped cream.
“Uh, how would that work?” Rori poked at a bowl that had sweet frozen cream in it.
“Like Segalia said, h’us four’re stayin’ ‘ere fer h’a while.” She gestured at Naraudo and the otters. “But, we ‘ave no pressin’ h’obligations, so we could join ye. Ye,” She looked over at the badgers, “might be goin’ h’in a similar direction, so we could h’all travel t’gether ‘til we reach the castle.”
Carma nodded thoughtfully. “We might even be able to prove to your mother that we mean no harm.”
“That sounds kinda fun.” Segalia agreed with a sidelong look at Lijel and the foxes.
Riplar slowly nodded. “It’ll take some time to get ready and we could send a message to Mom first.”
“So, we’re all in accord?” Ampanna looked at the other badger and squirrel who nodded their heads. Looking across the table, she questioned the other fox.
A smile began to spread widely across Selra’s mottled muzzle and at the first the others weren’t sure if it was because of the fudge she was eating or the idea. “You know what, I think that’s a simply marvelous idea. I just…” she stopped speaking for a second because she was smiling so much, then laughed. “I never would have imagined that my best friends would be otters, squirrels and badgers.”
The sun started to set, sending orange-red rays over the redstone walls, coloring the orchard. The motley group of eight friends laughed and smiled, revelling in their newly-stated friendships. Redwall, restored and flourishing back after the horrible destruction, seemed to glow in the beautiful colors reflected by the clouds. Relaxing from the war and work, they enjoyed the food and had idle chatter. As the eightsome planned their journey, Selra was heard to say:
“By the way, this cocoa fudge is really good. You guys should try it.”
Lijel replied. “Nah, h’it’ll never catch h’on.”
The End…for now