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This story is dedicated to my parents: thanks so much for all the support you gave me!
To all of my siblings who gave me ideas and helped me with names: Rock on, I love you! :D
To a special friend of the familys, who helped me with names: I love Japanese! :D
And to Verminfate, my best mate, who has helped me with Redwall history and such: Thanks, you are a great friend!
Book one: To Touch the Rose unfearful...
You have heard of the brave mice of Redwall; The mice with courageous, pure, good-loving hearts, Who defended their Abbey with everything they had.
Martin * Mariel * Matthias * Mattimeo * Dandin * and others
But not all of the mice of Redwall
This is Black Rose’s story.
The sun was blotted out by the blackness. All consuming, the thick darkness enveloped all light, swirling, filling one’s senses. It went on, and on, and on.
And then he saw her.
Rayso’s eyes snapped open as he uttered a shriek of fear. He was sitting up in his bed, covered in cold sweat. He covered his face in his paws, panting heavily. He hadn’t had this dream for two months…why was it back? He sighed and shook his head. It must mean something… But what?
The maiden… he knew her… he just couldn’t put his paw on it! She always came after the darkness, and just as she pushed her hood away from her face, Rayso would wake up. But he saw her eyes…. Those dark, penetrating eyes, and they would meet his, and a look of almost recognition came into them…. And then he awoke…. It became more detailed every time; this was the first time he had seen her eyes… seen the recognition in them.
Rayso lay back down, cradling his head in his paws as he tried to recapture the sleep that had been snatched from him. He didn’t know that in another part of the Abbey, another creature lay awake… but not in fear.
Rose stared up at the ceiling, her dark eyes noticing every minute detail. Her chest moved up and down with her slow, even breathing. Why was sleep avoiding her? Her insomnia just got worse as each day passed. She closed her eyes, her dark lashes resting on her flushed cheeks. She quickly opened them. She couldn’t close her eyes with out seeing the warrior mouse, Martin, standing there in front of her. She had been named after Martins love, Laterose of Noonvale, who had been slain in battle. Maybe that’s why the warrior visited her; she reminded him of his lost love. Sleep was advancing slowly. Rose let her eyes droop, close, and didn’t care if the warrior did come to see her. He did. He pointed his huge sword at her, than toward the open door. “Go, Black Rose of the sea! You do not belong here with the peaceful creatures of Redwall. You have a desire to return to sea; to return to the loved one you left behind. Leave, Black Rose; go back to where you belong. Leave the shelter of these walls in three days. But now, sleep.”
The vision of Martin disappeared, and sleep overwhelmed Rose. The last thought she had was “How did he know?”
A cool breeze swept over the Darknight. The young sailor, a Searat, inhaled deeply. He let out the air with a sigh, but not one of contentment. It was one of longing. Aren stood in the stern of the ship, gazing out to the still, moonlit waters. “If only Rose were here!”
“Ah, come off it Aren! It’s been two years! She’s most definitely dead by now, the poor pretty liddle thing!”
Aren turned to glare at Flatnose, and irritating but, for the most part, friendly Searat. Flatnose had been as a brother to him, but, as he knew him so well, nothing secret could really be called a secret. Aren hadn’t noticed that he had spoken aloud his desire.
“Its just…she always liked these calm nights, with a breeze,…just like tonight,” he added faintly.
“Yeah, well, if we ‘ad ‘ad our way, she would still be ‘ere, not marooned on some island! ‘Tis all his fault!”
“Sssshhhhhhhh! He’ll hear you!”
“And what if’n he does? Its all the same to me! I woulda kept the gel, even if she was a gel. She was a good deck’and, and knew ‘er busyness quite well!”
“Aye, that she did.” The deep voice came from behind the barrel Flatnose was sitting on.
Both Searats turned with fear toward their captain, Andelo the Unknown. No beast knew what kind of creature he was; his face and body were always covered in a dark cloak. He was always softly spoken, unless giving orders, and that was what frightened his crew the most.
“Captain Andelo, sir! I- I was just remembering that gel-”
“Silence, rat!” the voice was calm, quiet, deep, but a hint of irritation in it.
The Unknown stepped toward the young Aren.
“Aye, she did know her business; but I couldn’t have you two love-sick scamps deserting me, now could I? And you, Aren, are one of me best deckhands! I couldn’t have you running off with a little mousemaid, now could I?”
Aren glared at the dark, empty place where only two specks of reflected light could be distinguished as eyes. “It was all his fault!” Aren thought bitterly toward his captain.
“Answer me!” still softly spoken.
“No, captain, sir.”
“Good lad.” The cloaked figure turned away from the two Searats without another word. Aren glared after him, a cold lump of hatred forming in his heart.
When Rose opened her eyes, her vision of the warrior flooded back to her. “Leave in three days.” That’s what he said. “Go back to the sea… where you belong…” She bit her lip. How could she go back? She had been marooned on an island after she had been discovered, and the only reason she was alive was because of the hares of the Long Patrol who had rescued her and brought her here to Redwall. Unless she was captured by Searats again, how would she ever get back on a corsair ship? She didn’t know of any sea ports where she could sign on as a deckhand; and she could do a pretty good imitation of a Searat. But there was only one ship she wanted to find: The Darknight. She sighed. By now Aren had probably forgotten her… besides, she was supposed to be dead! All because of that horrid captain- Andelo the Unknown. Rose narrowed her eyes. The one thing she wanted more than to find Aren was to kill Andelo the Unknown, to reveal him to everyone! He had left her to die, just because she was a maiden, and she would do the same to him, if she didn’t slay him on the spot!
Rose got out of her bed and quickly got dressed. The last thing she wanted was to get scolded by the father abbot about being late-again. She rolled her eyes. These silly abbey creatures! They only cared about rules, food and drink! She scoffed silently to herself. Well what did she care? She was leaving here for good- and good riddance! What she wouldn’t give to have a sea breeze on her face again! Here she was land locked, and she had to go up to the wall to feel any breeze!
She looked around her little room, and felt an odd pang of regret. She would miss this room, and the orchard, and some of the friends she had made here… But she would forget them soon enough when she was out on the open sea!
She braided her long black hair as she went down the steps toward Cavern Hole. On the steps she nearly bumped into Rayso.
“Oh! Sorry, Rose!”
“Uh, it’s ok… um…. What was your name again?”
“Rayso, you know, the one who started the berry war in the orchard yesterday?”
“Oohhh, now I remember… well, see you around!”
“Yeah, see you.”
Rayso followed the mousemaid with his eyes; she was an odd one, that Rose. No one even knew where she came from; she had just appeared at the gate and said she needed a place to stay. That had been two years ago. No one knew what had happened to her; when she came she was dressed in sea rat silks and looked like a corsair pirate herself. She was rough when she first came, but she had lost the roughness as time passed. Rayso sighed. And she was very beautiful. But she never noticed him… she didn’t even remember his name! Yes, she was an odd mouse, but a pretty one. Rayso continued on his way to breakfast.
There was no breeze this morning. The Darknight was stuck on a becalmed sea. Aren cursed under his breath. At this rate they would never reach Port Ianth, ‘the Violet port.’ Andelo the Unknown sat in his cabin, drinking his fane wine while his crew sat about roasting in the sweltering heat.
“Hells teeth!” a black stoat named Melas cursed aloud. “This is just great, aint it? Port Ianth be only 35 nautical miles away, but we won’t get there until this blasted calm ends!”
“Come off it, Melas! Griping about it aint gonna change nothin’!”
Melas turned to the big Searat, Stubtail, who had spoken.
“Who do ya think yer talking to, eh, matey?”
the stoat drew his curved sword out of its sheath. Stubtail took a step back, but drew his own weapon to stop the jeers and leering remarks from the other deckhands. The crew cheered and banged their foot paws on the wooden deck, and chanted
“Fight, fight, fight, fight!”
Melas grinned evilly at the surrounding sailors.
“All right, mates, if a fight ‘tis what yer wanting, lets have it! Come along, rat, make yer first move…unless yer a coward!”
A furious light came into Stubtail’s eyes.
“no one calls Stubtail a coward and lives to tell about it!”
So many fights start with these words; but then, who is normally victorious? Aye, the one with wit, not all brawn. For Stubtail may have been a great strong brute, but Melas was quick on his feet, and his brain was even quicker.
Stubtail advanced with a yell, sword held high, ready to come down on the stoat. Melas stood as if preparing to defend himself from the blow, but just as the Searat came upon him, he darted to his left, leaving Stubtail to bring his sword down on empty air. But, we give little credit to the Searat. Stubtail had, in fact, anticipated from the stoat a move like the one he had played. Stubtail did not bring his sword down on empty air, but swung it in the direction of the retreating stoat. This surprised Melas, who then decided that quick thinking and wit would not get him anywhere if he wanted to get rid of the rat.
The sound of clashing metal rang out, and the cheer and chant of “fight!” grew louder and more violent. The blows dealt were swift and skilled; but there can only be one winner. Both beasts were tiring, waiting for the other to make a wrong move. The crowd grew even louder, and then went deathly still. Both the rat and the stoat looked away from each other to see what was causing the silence, and both froze.
A dark, hooded beast was coming out of the captain’s cabin. Andelo walked slowly to where the crowd was making way to reveal the two opponents.
The calm, deep voice came out, and everybeast heard the words of The Unknown.
“What is he meaning of this?”
no beast spoke a word.
Andelo turned to the nearest beast to him, the unfortunate Aren.
“Aren, what is the cause of all this?”
All eyes turned to the flushed Aren. He thought of the possible answers. The heat was one. But before he could speak, Andelo addressed him again, as if he could read Aren’s mind.
“Who is the cause of all this?” Aren took a deep breath and pointed toward the black stoat. “Melas, sir.”
Andelo walked toward the stoat, who now stood completely alone; no beast knew what would happen, and none wanted to be near to find out.
Melas gulped and attempted to stand tall and straight. He failed to do so.
“Melas, I would like you to meet my pet,’ the Unknown said menacingly. “I call her Pussy… and I think she wants to see you!” Andelo snapped his fingers, and a mouse slave came to him carrying a sack.
Andelo reached into the sack, saying “Melas, meet….
The Cat-o-nine tails!”
Rose smiled as she skipped through the Great Hall. Tomorrow she was leaving; going back to the sea! She was surprised that she wasn’t fighting the decision Martin had made for her; she was at peace, happy. She let out a little laugh, and it echoed around the empty hall. Rose glanced around, to make sure no beast was around. Sure of her solitude, Rose twirled round, making the skirt of her red dress swirl around her. She laughed again, and began dancing about in the Great Hall, with only the creatures on the tapestry watching. She was not her self today; she normally didn’t give in to her girlish feelings, such as wanting to dance. But the happiness that bubbled up inside her, the happiness that came with the thought of returning to the sea, came out in her laughter, and dancing.
She didn’t know how to dance; well, not very well, at least. She knew some sailors jigs; the lads on the Darknight would make her dance, since she was the most nimble of the crew. Rose sighed at the memory. That was before she was discovered. Or, before she had given herself up. She was Black Ross to the others, a young mouse lad, who had been captured and living on this chip ever since. That was, until she met Aren. He had walked onto the ship, as cool and calm as a zephyr from the sea, and had caused Rose to steal more than one or two looks at him. Rose continued dancing around, letting the memories fill her mind.
Aren had always been different; surer of himself, not needing to show off his skill with the sword, or speaking when his advice was not wanted. Rose found herself fascinated by the handsome young Searat. Finally, one day, told Aren she was leaving, deserting, and never coming back. Aren had asked who he thought was Black Ross “why leave? This ship has been all you’ve ever known! You know your job better than most of the scumbags here on this ship!”
Ross had turned to him, a young lad of a mouse, captured when he was but ten seasons old. That, they said, had been six seasons ago, but it was really ten. Ross turned to him, a lad with a bandana round his head. Ross took off the bandana, letting fall down his shoulders long, dark ringlets. Rose had raised her eyes to meet Aren’s shocked gaze.
“I can’t stay, Aren. You see that now! You are the only beast I dare tell! Please, don’t give me away! Aye, I love this ship, the sea, all of it! But I can’t risk letting” she had hesitated. “I can’t let my…love...get in the way of my safety. I leave when we next reach port.”
Aren had just nodded dumbly while Rose tied up her hair under the bandana.
The next two months of the journey, Aren made a point to get to better know this strange mousemaid. When the voyage was almost over, the two were inseparable; love does that to you. But, love can make you forgetful; make you loose your caution. Aren had taken Rose’ paw in his, and stood very close to her…. They were discovered, and taken to the captain’s cabin.
Andelo listened to the spy’s report, and then ordered Rose to remove her bandana. All present were shocked at the beauty of the fierce little mousemaid. Rose stood there, defiantly staring at the dark, faceless hood. Andelo puzzled over this problem. He told them, as he was a gentleman, he would drop Rose off at the next port, providing her with a private cabin in the meantime. But once she was off the ship, he warned, she must never try to come back on, or try to join with another crew. Rose agreed. Then Aren said that he would be leaving with her. Rose gasped; Andelo the Unknown was strangely quiet. He finally just nodded, granting Aren his unspoken request. Later that night, all the crew wanted to see ‘Black Rose’ dance, and to have the chance to dance with her. This was the one time Rose really let her feminine side come out on the ship, and she danced with all the crew, but especially with Aren.
Rose closed her eyes, still dancing round the Great Hall, and could almost feel Aren’s arms around her, and she remembered thinking “this is how it is supposed to be!”
But, then, when land was just on the horizon, Andelo drugged Rose, who fell into a deep sleep. That night, with two rats accompanying him, he took the sleeping Rose, got into a row boat, and slipped her quietly off onto a small island, which some people said was haunted, and left her there, with only a short sword.
Rose had awakened in a strange place, with no other living creature there but herself. She had wept bitterly, the only time she could ever remember crying.
Rose opened her eyes, and stopped twirling. There, in the doorway, stood that mouse, whatshisname, Rayso. Rayso stood dumbly in the doorway, too surprised to move.
Rose quickly recovered and said, in an annoyed tone “how long have you been standing there?”
“Ummmmm… two minutes, maybe more,”
Rose took a deep breath to restrain the anger and shame she felt, and then rushed passed Rayso without a word.
Rayso shook his head in disbelief; Rose, dancing? He didn’t think it was possible! Rayso continued on his way to look up at the tapestry, and silently asked the Warrior mouse “She is a strange one, isn’t she?”
The crew of the Darknight finally caught sight of Port Ianth. They were all smiles, joking about what they would do when they got off ship, and what they would do with their share of the loot.
Aren sighed with relief. The men in good spirits were a welcome sight; a much better one than when they fought among themselves. Melas still had not appeared from below deck; he was now scared for life. No beast dared address him, for fear of arousing the stoat’s terrible temper.
Andelo, on the other hand, was in a fine mood, joking along with the deckhands and increasing their rum ration. But, although the crew laughed and thanked their captain heartily, everybeast was wary of Andelo the Unknown; his jocund ways were not his own, and they all knew it.
As they approached the port, a small rowboat came up to the Darknight. A weasel and two Searats were in it. The weasel, Actit, was the port master, and an old friend of Andelo’s. Andelo greeted Actit heartily, welcoming him aboard. But Actit was not in such a happy mood.
“Andelo, I’ve a come to tell ye that there be no room in left in the port…. I’ve never seen so many ships ‘ere at one time! Ye’ll ‘ave to wait until one of ‘em clears out; I believe the one leavin’ the soonest will be here three days more!”
Andelo raised his voice just a bit, and it was a little higher in pitch; not a very large difference, but his crew noticed it immediately. Why was Andelo so put out about it? They all knew their captain had more patience than any other beast of the crew; but now he was upset. No one knew why.
“Its only three days, Andelo! He’ll be off soon enough! No need to get yer whiskers in a knot!”
Andelo said nothing. His crew now knew that he was in a foul mood; his silence was a sure sign of it. He finally he just nodded, and then invited Actit into his cabin. But Actit was no fool; he knew Andelo far too well. He declined, and he and the tow rats returned to their boat.
“Three days, Andelo! That’ll be all!” Actit shouted to the hooded captain.
But Andelo had retreated back to his cabin, and the crew went back to their grumbling.
Rayso could hear his name being called, but he didn’t recognize the voice. He looked around, trying to see the speaker, but all he could see was blackness. “Who are you?” he cried out. Then, out of the darkness came a mouse in armor. “Martin?” “Rayso, the time has come for you to prove yourself. In the early hours of the morning, wake and go hide behind the gatehouse, and when she comes out, follow the mousemaid Rose, and no matter what happens, never leave her.” “But-but I,” Rayso protested, but the warrior mouse was gone.
Rayso woke up, and realized that it had been a dream…or was it? Father Abbot said that Martin would come to you in a vision… A vision! Rayso sat up. Martin wanted him to go with Rose? To where? He lay back down, confused, questioning, but over all, excited.
He closed his eyes, letting sleep come back to him. He didn’t know what was coming in his life, or how it would never, ever be the same again.
Rose opened her eyes with one thought in her mind: ‘today I am going to the sea!’
She got out of bed and groped in the dark under her bed, searching for something. The faint morning light came in through the window, letting Rose see what it was she found. It was a wooden box, roughly made, with strange carvings on the top and around the sides. She had received it from one of the hares that had brought her to Redwall. She ran her paw over the odd figures on the lid, mostly out of habit, not really thinking about it, with only the small thought ‘I still don’t know what these mean.’ She opened it. Inside were various articles from her past life; a Searat vest, altered to fit her small form, pants and boots. These she put on, smiling at there familiar feel. She actually fit into them after two years!
Also in the box was the short sword Andelo had left her with on the island. Her smile turned grim as she thought of the irony of killing Andelo with it.
She stuck it in her belt; she would get a better one once she reached the port… She sat back on the heels of her foot paws, thinking.
“I don’t know of any ports here, other than the beach near Salamandastron,” she said, speaking softly to herself. But she didn’t fret over it; she just felt that, whatever she did, it would lead her to the Darknight, to Andelo…to Aren. She shook her head. No, not Aren. He might be dead, killed in a fight, of by Andelo, for all she knew! Her eyes narrowed. Andelo better not have killed Aren, or else she would torture him before she killed him! She smiled, and, you could say that it was a rather evil smile. “I will have something for you, Andelo….something special….” she grabbed an object from under the bed and fingered it. She had made this during her stay here at Redwall, and she was proud of it. It was a Cat-o-nine tails. She smiled again as she as she put it in her belt.
She was ready. She tied up her hair in a high pony tail, and grabbed a sack from off one of her pillows on her bed. In this she put her dress; ‘it may come in handy,’ she thought.
She slipped off down the stairs into the kitchen. She quickly grabbed enough food for about two weeks, and then went out to the grounds. She looked back, and felt a slight pang; she realized she would miss the Abbey, and its strange inhabitants…. But the feeling was soon gone as she turned and faced the gate. She was leaving this place for ever; she was going back to the sea!
She ran to the gate, the cat-o-nine tails bouncing on her hip. As she approached the gate, she threw around her shoulders a dark cloak. She smirked. Now she would be as unknown as Andelo! She quietly opened the gate, and let it fall shut behind her. Then she turned and faced the road, and came to a standstill. Which way did she go? No one had ever told her which way the sea was from Redwall! She closed her eyes, and then opened them. She went east, following her instinct.
She started through the woods, not running, but not walking, either. She wanted to get there as soon as possible, but didn’t want to wear herself out too soon.
She had been gong like this for about an hour, when she heard a noise from behind her she turned around, pulled the hood of her cloak over her face, drew her short sword, and stepped off the path, ready for anything. She blended in with the dark forest, and anybeast following her would have gone past her. But she didn’t want to loose her pursuer. She wanted him dead and out of the way.
As the creature came through the brush, Rose stepped out in front of it, barring its way. Crash! A mouse came through the bushes and halted. Rose raised her sword, then let her paw fall to her side. “Rayso?” Rayso looked at the cloaked figure before him, confused. But when Rose pushed back her hood, Rayso’s dream flooded back to him. He started back, and put his paw out, as if to protect himself. Rose came forward, dropping the sword.
“Rayso, its me, Rose! I’m not going to hurt you, but…” the annoyance came through in her tone, “but, what are you doing here?”
Rayso’s flash back faded, and he grinned cheekily up at Rose. “I see you remembered my name!” Rose put her paws on her hips and glared at Rayso.
“Eeeeh, what did I do to deserve such a glare?”
“What did you do? What do you think you did? You followed me, that’s what you did! Now go back, Rayso, now!”
Rayso folded his arms across his chest and leaned against a tree. “No.”
“Excuse me!?!” Rose was furious. “So help me, Rayso, I will rip you to shreds if you don’t go back right now!”
Rayso feigned a yawn. “Go ahead, rip away; see what I care!”
Now Rose was bewildered. She asked in an exasperated tone, “Rayso, what are you doing here?”
“Ummmmm….” He looked around. “I came here to pick berries-oh wait, there are none here! Why do you think I came, Rose?”
“To be a nuisance.”
“Oh thanks, Rose, that really makes me feel like part of the team.”
“Team? Whoa, I think you have this all wrong! In my book, there is an ‘I’ in team, and that means you’re not coming with me!”
Rayso looked at her with determination in his face.
“Yes, Rose, I am coming with you.”
“Says Martin the Warrior.”
Rose looked at him in astonishment. Rayso continued.
“That might not sound like much, you not being from these parts, but-”
“No, Rayso, I believe you; that is, I know what you’re talking about.”
“You do? How?”
“Because he came to see me, too. He was the one who told me to go back to the sea; to leave Redwall.”
The two mice stood there in awkward silence for a few minutes. Finally, Rose said “well, come on, we don’t have all day.”
The two mice continued on their journey.
“So, how did you become a corsair pirate?”
It was about noon, and the mice had stopped for lunch.
“Well… when I was young, my family and I lived here in Mossflower; I don’t remember where, though. I was ten when they took me.”
“Some pirates; I don’t know who they were. Probably just some slave traders. They took me and my younger brother, Rob. They thought we were both boys, because I had dressed up like one when I was playing with him. If they had known I was a girl…well, I don’t think I would be here.”
She was quiet for a moment, and then went on.
“We were taken to a place called Port Ianth, where we were sold to a captain called Andelo the Unknown.”
“Why ‘the unknown’?
“He wears a dark cloak, with a hood, and no beast -well, no beast I’ve ever heard of- knows what type of creature he is. Anyway, we were bought by Andelo, and made to work on his ship, the Darknight. I caught on to the sailing fairly quickly, but for Rob… He was a different story. The work they gave him as a cabin boy was almost too much for him. He had a hard time doing the simplest tasks; it just wasn’t what he was cut out to do. Life at sea was hard on him, he was so small. He finally tried Andelo’s patience to the breaking point; he was sold at the next port.”
“You miss him, don’t you?”
Rose bit her lip, and made a strange noise in her throat. Rayso looked at her curiously. “Don’t you?”
Rose sighed and looked away, not wanting to meet Rayso’s questioning gaze. She finally answered. “I did, for a while. But, now I don’t. It’s been eleven-odd seasons since I last saw him. I hope he isn’t as bad off as he was then, where ever he is.”
“What about your parents?”
She looked at him. “What about them?”
Rayso opened his mouth as if to speak, then closed it with a little sigh. “Never mind.”
“You mean, do I miss them? To be honest with you, I can barely remember what they were like.”
Rayso changed the subject. “Was it hard being on the ship?”
Rose laughed as she remembered. “Aye, it was hard! Not the work, though; that was easy for me. But it was keepin’ from being discovered that was hard. Living among a ship full of men was tough, I can assure you! But I made it, and no one ever suspected me!”
“Then why did you come to Redwall?”
Rose hesitated. “Lets just say….I let my feminine feelings get the better of me.”
“You fell in love.” He said this calmly, but with a hint of regret.
Rose choked on the apple she was eating, and looked at him, surprised and flustered.
“Uh- what makes you think that?”
Rayso grinned at her. “’feminine feelings’? Oh, I don’t know….”
Rose threw the apple core at his head. “Ouch!”
They had been traveling like this for a few days, and it was apparent that the seasons were changing. The canopy of leaves was thinning, and the breezes were cooling down. Autumn had come to Mossflower.
It was oddly quiet as the two mice walked through the forest; they both felt uneasy.
Rose had her paw on the hilt of her sword, and Rayso had his slingshot at the ready. Suddenly Rose motioned Rayso to stand still, as she drew her sword. At first Rayso couldn’t hear what it was Rose was listening to, but it grew louder; the sound of an approaching group. Just paw steps, not voices, so it wasn’t a vermin hoard.
Then it grew quiet again; no paw steps, no noise at all. Rose looked back at Rayso, confused.
Suddenly, out of the surrounding bushes, little creatures with throwing spears came and surrounded the mice. Rose and Rayso were both astonished, though Rose was surprised more at the creatures themselves. Then Rayso spoke out.
“Log a log Gurdela; it’s me, Rayso of Redwall!”
One of the little creatures came forward, calling away the other six who were guarding the mice. They quickly moved aside for their leader.
The female shrew leader came and approached Rayso.
“Well, if it isn’t Rayso, that liddle mouse babe who kep’d takin’ my spear!”
Rayso blushed. “Gurdela, that was seasons ago!”
The Guosim leader chuckled good-naturedly. “Aye, so ‘twas, but I don’t forget things easily. Now, what are you and your friend doing so far from Redwall?”
“Oh yes, Gurdela, this is my friend Rose; I am accompanying her on her journey to the sea.”
“To the sea, do you say?” Log a log Gurdela looked Rose over from tip to tail. “Is that where you from? You look like a pirate, dressed in those silks.”
Rose opened her mouth to speak but Rayso jumped in ahead of her, saying “she’s a bit shy, see, so she doesn’t talk much. Why don’t you introduce us to your company?”
“Oh, yes of course!”
The six other shrews were two female shrews, Sciss and Nucella, and four males, Nodul, Talari, Occlu, and Tereno.
“And now, what can the Guosim do for you?”
Rose stepped forward with a winning smile on her face. “Oh, would you do something for us?”
“The Guosim will do anything for their friends; that is, if you are our friend, miss Rose.”
Log a log looked at the mousemaid with her sharp eyes.
Rose sheathed her sword and bowed deeply. “I would be honored to be called your friend, Log a log Gurdela!”
The shrew smiled and shook Rose’s paw. “Then welcome, friends!”
Rayso spoke up. “Gurdela, we are trying to reach the sea, but the problem is, we don’t really know where it is, or if we do find it, where any ports are located; do you think you can help us?”
The shrew shook her head. “I canna lead you to the sea, or tell you an’thin’ ‘bout it; that is not the Guosim’s business. But I do know some beasts that can! We will take you to ‘em.”
Rose and Rayso looked at each other, shrugged, and followed the little band of shrews.
The group had been traveling through Mossflower, and had come to a darker part o the forest, where the river ran. The canopy of leaves grew thicker suddenly, as it this part of the wood defied autumn’s power, refusing to give up its leaves. The river also seemed to run swifter, darker, and colder.
Rose felt a shadow pass over her heart; one of fear. She had rarely felt fear, but now it overwhelmed her like a thick cloud. Rose stopped walking, making those behind her stop also. One of the female shrews, Sciss, made a coughing noise. Log a log, who was in the lead with Rayso, turned to look back at the rest of the party. Rayso looked back too.
“Is something the matter, Miss Rose?”
Rose was staring at the river, seemingly frozen in one place. “Rose?” Rayso’s voice snapped Rose out of her trance. She looked up, and the terror Rayso saw in her eyes frightened him.
“I can’t go.” It came out in a whisper. Rayso moved toward her, concerned.
“What is it, Rose?”
She looked back at the river, then at the dark forest ahead of her. “I can’t go on! I can’t go in there; I just can’t! I won’t, Rayso, I wont!”
Her voice had reached a high pitch, and she was almost hysterical. She was shuddering violently, rooted in one spot. Rayso looked helplessly at Gurdela, who had come up beside him. The shrew dug about in her pack, bringing out a small vile.
“Here, Miss Rose, drink some of this; it will help.”
Rose took the vile in a trembling paw, and took a sip of the liquid. Her shaking ceased, and some of the fear left her eyes. When she spoke, her voice was not as high pitched or hysterical, but the fear was still there.
“Please, Gurdela, isn’t there another way we can go?”
The shrew nodded. “Yes, but it will take us two days more to reach my friends, and that is valuable time lost.”
“That’s fine, really it is! I don’t mind!”
“But my shrews do; they aren’t patient, Miss Rose. Why you do not want to go this way?”
“I don’t know; I just have a horrible feeling about this place. There is something in there, I can feel it!”
Log a log spoke reassuringly. “There is nothing in there, I know. I have been this way many times ‘afore, and there is nothing to be afraid of.”
“Just trust her, Rose.” Rayso whispered.
Rose looked at him, and then took a deep breath. “All right.”
They continued on into the dark forest, with the fear still growing in Rose’s heart.
The tavern was busy with corsair pirates and freebooters, as it usually was. The tavern of Deaths Beach was a favorite haunt of these seafaring beasts; a place where they could eat, drink and be merry. Or, if you could call getting into a fight with almost every beast in sigh, merry. The tavern, called by most Bloody Sands, was filled with smoke, rum, and chaos. Andelo the Unknown sat in the corner, where he could watch every beast that came and went, his gloved paws holding a tankard of ale. Flatnose, Aren, and some of the other crew sat at a nearby table, playing cards.
“Send yer to Hellgates, Aren!” Flatnose cursed loudly. Aren laughed heartily.
“Hahar, that be thirty more coins you owes me- oh, and yer earring!”
“Oy, the earring wasn’t part o’ the bet!”
“Yeah, well now ‘tis!”
The other vermin laughed along with the young Searat, and even Andelo couldn’t resist a smile. The lad had finally forgotten the mousemaid; he was turning out to be a true Corsair. It pleased the captain.
The Darknight’s crew had been at the tavern every day for a few days now, making friends and enemies. Andelo had decided that, with winter coming upon them, they might as well stay in port until the spring. The men had agreed; they might be seadogs, but the land offered plenty amusement.
Flatnose nudged Aren and pointed over to the bar. “Whatdaya think o’ ‘er, eh, Aren?" Aren turned to glance at he blonde female rat. She winked at him, and then walked passed, serving another table.
Aren turned back, his face bright red. Flatnose laughed at him. “Why dontcha go say hello?”
Aren didn’t say anything. The others at the table laughed and jeered. “Go on, Aren, be a man!”
Aren rose, leaned over, and ripped the earring out of Flatnose’s ear. This he put on his own.
“Now I will.” He strode over to the barmaid.
Flatnose nursed his ear, glaring at Aren. “Young rip…”
Rayso looked about at the dark surrounding trees, on his guard. The forest was sending shivers down his spine, but he still couldn’t see why Rose was so terrified. He looked back at her; she had her paws clenched tight, her face pale. He eyes darted back and forth looking at the river, then at the woods, then back to the river. What was it she thought was there? He made his way to the back of the line where Rose was. She was trying walk with her eyes shut, but she kept tripping on rocks and roots.
She jolted and opened her eyes when she felt a paw take hers.
Rayso smiled at her. “You can keep your eyes closed; I won’t let you fall.”
Rose was too scared to protest. She gave him a relieved and grateful smile, and mouthed “thank you.”
Suddenly Rose stopped. “Do you hear that?”
Rayso listened. “Hear what?”
“You don’t hear it? That clicking noise…there it is again! Hear it?”
Rayso shook his head. “I don’t hear anything.”
Rose looked at him. "I guess I am just hearing things. Sorry.”
He squeezed her paw, which he was still holding. “It’s fine. Come on, Gurdela is getting impatient.” Rose squeezed back. “Okay.”
That night they stopped under a large oak that was next to the river bank. Rose ate nothing; she just pulled her knees up under her chin, and pulled her cloak tightly around her. She kept her eyes open, though, watching.
Gurdela was in an irritable mood. “Humph, what’s she ‘fraid of, eh? What’s the matter with her, Rayso?”
Rayso looked over at the mousemaid, a worried frown on his face.
“I really don’t know, Gurdela. She worries me, though.”
Gurdela scoffed. “huh, well, I know what I’m doin’! I wouldn’t bring my shrews where there was something bad!”
Rayso patted her paw. “I know, Log a log. But, some creatures have irrational fears; something here is triggering that in Rose. Don’t be too hard on her.”
Not long after this, the friends lay down around the fire to sleep. Rose stayed at her post, watching.
“I am not going to sleep; I have to stay up and watch.”
All was still, dark, and the only noise was that of the river rushing by. Rose was lulled to sleep by the steady rush and pulse of the water. Letting her eyes close, she didn’t hear the faint clicking noise that echoed round the forest.
Rose awakened with a jolt. Something had woken her; a noise… but what?
She looked at the sleeping figures around the dying fire. One larger bundle, Rayso, and six smaller ones. Six! She sprang up; the bundle that was next to the river was gone! She looked around, letting her eyes adjust to the dark. She could see nothing else, hear…then she heard the sound that had woken her: a strangled scream. She could also hear the clicking noise she had heard earlier. It was coming from the river.
Rose drew her sword, stepped toward the bank, and looked down. In whatever light there was, she could make out four large, oddly shaped things with many legs sticking out the sides. One of them was holding a squirming object- the shrew! Rose gasped. She knew what these creatures were! They were crabs!
Four huge crabs, all clicking their large front pinchers in the night; the clicking noise!
The largest had the unfortunate shrew in his claw, not yet snapping it in half. Rose forgot all her fear as she raised her sword in her right paw, grabbed her cat-o-nine tails with her left, swirling it madly as she rushed down the bank, yelling the first thing that came to her mind:
“Death to ye, SEEEAAAAAA SCUUUMMM!!!!!!”
The clicking stopped suddenly as the wild pirate maid rushed up to the leader, slicing off the claw that held the shrew maid, Nucella. The claw fell to the ground, freeing the shrew.
“Run! Go on, RUN!” Rose screamed at the stunned Nucella.
The shrew maid took off up the bank as Rose turned to the advancing crabs.
That when she saw how big they were. The three smaller crabs were twice as tall as her, but the leader was about four times bigger. Rose faced the first crab, one of the smaller ones. She jabbed with her sword, but it was deflected by the crabs’ tough shell. Rose whirled he cat-o-nine tails around her head, striking the crab in the eyes. It gurgled in pain, and then rushed back into the water. The other two looked at the mousemaid as she advanced upon them with a yell, slicing off some of their many legs, and one of their claws. They too retreated to the river.
She was left with the leader, who clicked his remaining claw at her viciously, pouncing on her. She dodged the claw, slashing madly with her sword. The crab watched her with beady, evil eyes. She twisted the whip round, trying to hit the leader in the eyes, like she had to the first one. The crab had anticipated this move; he grabbed the handle of the whip right above Rose’s paw and yanked it out of her grasp, occupying his claw with holding the whip. Rose was at a loss of what to do, and was thinking of her next move when the crab came down on her, trying to bite her with his vicious little claws that he used for tearing up his food. Rose ducked, letting the crab bite empty air. Rose was now underneath him, facing his giant claw. She looked up, and saw his massive jaws moving up and down. Then she noticed something; he had no shell underneath! She acted quickly, for the crab had realized that she was under him. He reached down, trying to grab her, just as she thrust up into his jaw with her sword. The blade went all the way through his head, out of the top. Just as his claw was closing around her, he went still. Rose yanked her sword out, and the crustation collapsed on top of her.
“Come on, Guosim, push!”
The shrews pushed away the dead crab to reveal Rose, huddled up in the crabs’ lifeless claw, he blade in paw. She looked up and smiled at them. “I knew you would come.”
Rayso hacked away at the claw with his dagger to free her. “Are you alright?”
“I’m fine! How is Nucella?”
The little shrew maiden spoke up. “I am fine, thanks to ye, Miss Rose!”
Gurdela held up a paw. “Three cheers for Miss Rose!”
Rose blushed at all the attention. “It really wasn’t anything…oh, my whip!”
She searched around on the shore, but had no success in finding her cat-o-nine tail. She felt a paw on her shoulder and turned to face Rayso. “Looking for this?”
He handed her the whip. She took it gratefully. “Thank you.”
Then she turned to Log a log. “Now can we go the other way?”
The Guosim leader nodded. “Aye, we will. After nearly loosing one of my people, I would go any other way, no matter how far!”
Rose nodded her thanks, and then collapsed down on the sandy beach in exhaustion. Rayso picked her up, despite her struggles.
“Post guards for the rest of the night, Gurdela. This Warrior is going to get some well deserved sleep!”
Rose stopped protesting, letting her fatigue wash over her. The last thing she remembered was thinking how right it felt to be in Rayso’s strong arms.
Aren groaned and opened his eyes. He blinked and shut them again to block out the afternoon sunlight, which seemed brighter to his dark accustomed eyes.
He was on the gang plank of the Darknight.
He cursed himself; why had he drunk so much last night? His head throbbed. “Well, today is going to be a doozy!” he thought bitterly.
That barmaid…what was her name? he couldn’t even remember. She had intoxicated him with her pretty blue eyes, and given him one too many drinks. Suteki. That was her name; she said it meant pretty. Who knows what he told her after that! “Darlin’, yore eyes are bluer ‘n a calm mornin’ at sea!” That’s really all he could remember saying. She had sent him ‘home’ to the Darknight in the wee hours of the morning. And now, here he was, lying intoxicated on the gangplank, rubbing his swollen ear.
“Now yew knows ‘ow mine feels dontcha?” said a gruff voice from above him.
“Sherap, Flatsnot! Get me some water, will ya-AAAHHHHHH!!!!”
The freezing sea water dowsed the Searat, and he sat up, rubbing his eyes.
“Oy, come back ‘ere and face me like a rat!”
“Lookit the liddle mousie, crying after having a baff! Hahahaharr!!!”
Aren jumped up, grabbing for his sword hilt; but it wasn’t there! He felt around his middle, and found himself shirtless, weaponless and penniless. He had a little pansy stuck behind his ear, as a mockery from the barmaid. The earring he had taken from Flatnose was gone, too, replaced with a feminine one.
“YAAARRRRGGGG!!!!! Why, that liddle maid is gonna pay, ooh, she is gonna pay!!”
The other deckhands laughed at Aren, who’s flash of anger disappeared, replaced with shame. His head fell, but then he held it high. He walked up the gangplank, staggering a little, and went down below to get some peace and quiet.
Rose opened her eyes, and was greeted with a cheerful “G’mornin’!” from Rayso.
She pushed her hair out of her face, and turned to the other mouse, muttering sleepily “good morning… is it a good one?”
He smiled down at her. “Mmmm hhhmmmm, ‘cause today we are leaving this cursed place!”
“Oh, yes!” she yawned. “Do we have enough provisions? It’ll be about 8 more days, so Log a log says.”
Rayso nodded. “Aye, we have enough,” he grinned. “And we have fresh crab meat!”
Rose bit her lip, and her face went pale. She scrambled to get up off her make shift bed and down to the river, where she retched and heaved.
When she came back Rayso was trying to hide his smile. She hit him on the arm. “You did that on purpose!”
He tried to look innocent “who, me?”
She glared at him. “Where are the Guosim?”
“Getting food; you know, berries and such.”
“I thought you said we had enough.”
“I did; but Gurdela insisted on trying to find more…if they can, in this place.”
Rose nodded in agreement and shivered. “The sooner we get outta here the better!”
She sat down and started combing through her knotted hair as best she could with her paws. Rayso sat down next to her, handing her some food. She looked at it and winced. “No thank you,” she whispered. Rayso couldn’t resist a grin.
“Its not funny, Rayso!”
“I didn’t say it was!” he was still smiling.
“Humph!” she folded her arms across her chest and tried to look vexed. That lasted about two minutes, and then she broke out laughing.
“You should have seen the look on your face that night when the Guosim pushed that monster away; you looked as pale as death!”
Rayso smoothed back the fur between his ears. “You’re gonna give me gray fur if you keep battling giants like that on your own!”
She smiled. “Well, you’re just gonna have to get used to it, because I have at least one more giant to face. Andelo is going to fall hard, I assure you!”
Her face was grim with determination.
“He is going to pay! He touched this Rose; and now he’s gonna feel the prick of my thorns!”
Book two: ...Is to meet the Thorns
The waves around the ship were tall and dark. They washed over the Darknight as if it were a paper boat. Andelo clung to the mast, the fear inside him as wild as the storm. He attempted to hold on to the mast and his cutlass as he tried to keep himself steady.
The visitor swung a short sword close to Andelo’s nose, all the while whirling a cat-o-nine tails above its head. Andelo screamed out; the visitor changed from a cloaked figure to a mouse in armor, carrying a huge sword.
It changed again, this time into Aren, who was yelling “Its all your fault!”
Then it changed yet again, back to the cloaked figure. But this time, it pulled the hood back.
“You have touched this Rose, Andelo; now feel my prick!” the sword came down. “NO!”
Andelo the Unknown sat up straight in his chair, pulling himself up from the previous position of resting his head on the desk in front of him. His scream echoed around the cabin. No beast heard it, though; the doors and windows were bolted tight, and it was the dead of night. No beast other than Andelo was awake on the Darknight. He growled darkly under his breath, pulling back on his hood, which had fallen back at his violent upstart. He ran his gloved paws over his face, remembering his dream.
“You have touched this Rose; now feel my prick!”
Andelo cursed aloud. The maiden was dead; he had poisoned her and dropped her body off on that island. Now he wished he had just slain her in her sleep. The little fear that she might be alive grew. On the slight chance that the drug failed, he had left her with a sword. If she had survived the poison, she would have no enemies to fight, and nothing she could kill and eat. The island was merely a sand spit. She would either have died of starvation, or taken her own life. He let a smile crack his dark, hidden features. That was the only reason he had given her the sword; with nothing there to harm or be harmed by, the maid would probably have taken her own life, rather than starve. She was tough that way. “Why suffer, when you can just get it over with?” she had once asked a merchant captain she was about to slay. He could either become an oarslave, or be killed on the spot. That had been her motto; she would’ve stuck to it.
Andelo pounded his fisted paw down on the desk. Curse Black Rose! Curse the thought of her! She was dead; so why had she haunted his dreams for the past week? He poured a large glass of wine, taking it in one swig. It steadied his nerves, and he started to chuckle slightly. Why was he afraid of a dead mousemaid? Why was he afraid of any mousemaid? He didn’t believe in ghosts, so why was he worried?
But that mouse in armor… was he real, or just a weird spirit that came to haunt him? Well, no matter. If they were just spirits, what did he have to worry about? He poured himself another glass, drinking this one a little slower. But that deckhand… Aren. He was in the dream too, and he was real enough. “It’s all your fault…” what was that supposed to mean?
Andelo shook his head. Why was he so worried? It was just a dream, nothing real. Aren was too caught up with life off ship to think about Andelo…. The captain’s wine sloshed out of the glass as his head drooped back down on the desk.
Rose lifted her nose to the wind. “Aaahhh…. Do you smell that?”
Rayso looked at her quizzically. “Smell what?”
“The sea! I can smell it... Sense it…that wonderful salty smell…smell it?”
He grinned. “Aye; smells like crabs!”
She snarled and bit at him in a menacing way. “Gggrrrrrr… if you say that again, I will personally turn you into crab bait!”
They had been following the stream for many days now, and were obviously nearing the sea. All around them rock formations carved by water and time rose up high above their heads in intricate patterns. As they neared a bend in the river, they saw a cave situated lower in the rock, near the river bed.
“Ahoy, Kawauso! It is I, log a log Gurdela!”
A young male sea otter came out of the cave; he grinned broadly.
“Aye, so ‘tis you! Me old whiskers were a tellin’ me a friend was comin’!”
Gurdela scoffed. “Old whiskers, indeed! Why, Kawauso, it wasn’t so long ago that you was a little ‘un! You were the worst little scamp I’ve ever known!”
Rayso leaned over and whispered in Rose’s ear “I see I’m not the only one!”
Kawauso looked around log a log toward the two mice. “Who are your friends, log a log?”
“This is Rayso, an old friend from Redwall abbey, and his friend Rose; miss Rose here is trying to reach a sea port, to go back out to sea, but I know nothing about such things, so we came to you!”
Kawauso came forward and shook Rayso’s paw, then Roses. “ah, tryin’ to go back, eh? You look like you would know a thing or two about sailing!” he winked at her, and she couldn’t help smiling at the charming otter.
“Oh, really, you are such a flirt, Kawauso!”
A pretty ottermaid came up to the group and pushed him aside.
“Please, take no notice of my brother; he is just the strong worker here. I am the brains.”
“Look who’s blowin’ their own horn, Nama!”
Rose started to giggle at the brother-sister argument, and they both stopped. “Oh, look at us squabbling instead of paying attention to our guests!” Nama punched her brother in the arm lightly and jerked her head over toward Rayso. Kawauso nodded and threw his paw about Rayso’s shoulders, dwarfing the mouse. They went off, talking as if they had known each other for many seasons.
Nama smiled at Rose and took her paw. “Come tell me everything about yourself; I can tell you have an interesting story. Come along, Gousim! I just made a jumble pot of soup, as I call it, but there is enough for everybeast!”
The Gousim leader shook her head. “We must be getting back; we got our friends here safely, with… not too many accidents,” she winked at Rose. “I would be lovin’ to stay, Nama dear, but we must be getting’ on our way.” Nama nodded a bit disappointedly. “I understand, Gurdela. Well, thank you for bringing Miss Rose here; I have been lonely these past few days!”
“Oh, log a log, thank you for every thing you have done! I don’t know how to repay you!”
“No need to, miss. And if ever you need help, just give a shout.”
Rose nodded, and the Gousim slipped off.
The cheerful ottermaid then led Rose into her tidy cave. It was comfortable, enough space for her and her brother there were nooks carved into the rock that held various articles of the otters. A little stove was situated in the back of the cave, on which a pot full of soup. A bunk-bed was on the right of the entrance, with storage underneath. A table and chairs were to the left; a very welcoming home.
Nama led Rose over to the table and sat down across from the mousemaid. “Now, Rose, please tell me ‘bout yourself; I can tell that there’s an interestin’ story b’hind ye. I’m always up for a good story!”
Rose found her self pouring out her heart to Nama, who listened as if she had known Rose forever. At the end of her tale, Rose knew she had found a true friend.
When Kawauso and Rayso returned, Nama looked at her brother with determination. “Kawauso, we must ‘elp miss Rose; she is one who has sworn to kill Andelo the Unknown.”
“Kawauso and me, we was both young when our parents took us out to sea; they were sea otters through ‘n’ through. Raised on the sea we were, aye, and I wouldn’t of ‘ad it any other way! See, mum was an excellent sailsbeast; she could make any vessel do what she wanted, be it calm or wild water. Dad too was one o’ the best I’ve ever known. He’s the one who taught us e’ry thing we know, aint that right, Kawauso?”
“Aye, yore right there, sis. Mine parents was the best creatures yew ever knew; you woulda liked them Rayso. Dad al’ays ‘ad a joke ready, good ‘uns, too, that could make barnacles laugh themselves off rocks! Mum was really quiet, but she was always smilin’.”
The otter siblings were both quiet. Nama blinked back tears as her brother spoke. “They were both slain by Andelo the Unknown. Our little schooner, Wishin’ Star, a beautiful little craft, pride of our parents ‘earts, was the only thing Andelo left in one piece; well, other than us. We was down in the hold when the pirates attacked. While Andelo’s big ship Darknight was pullin’ our Wishin’ Star, we slipped off the ship during the night. We figured we would let the sea do what it would to us, stead of hangin’ about with Andelo. We were washed up on the shore, foll’ered this ‘ere stream, found this cave-and ‘ere we are!”
Nama reached across and took Rose’s paw. “That’s why we hate him to the very scum on his boots! And why we are with you in anything you do against him.”
“Why have you done nothing before now?”
“Andelo is not usually in our neighborhood, see, so we was plannin’ on over takin’ his ship out at sea; we have been building a ship for that very purpose. But-”
Suddenly they heard a bubbling sound. “My soup!”
Nama rushed over to the pot that had nearly bubbled over.
Kawauso looked at their guests. “I can tell you more over some grub!”
The two otters and two mice had a lively dinner, during which Kawauso informed Rose of her surroundings.
“We do our tradin’ and such down at a port by the name of Ianth-” he was cut off by Rose.
“Ianth? I know that port! It’s the same that I was sold at long ago!” she looked at Kawauso and reddened. “Sorry. Please continue.”
He gave her a good natured smile and did as she said.
“Winter’s comin’, so you know the corsair ships will be comin’ in to spend it out ‘ere in port. Some don’t stay and keep on plunderin’ through the winter, but most, like Andelo, stay in at port till the spring.”
Rayso looked out of the cave at the late autumn evening. “But it’s not winter yet.”
“ah, but see, a friend of mine told me that the Darknight has been in t’ port for a week or so! Old Unknown didn’t want to risk going out again and getting caught in winter’s first storm!”
Rose went back in her mind to when she worked on the Darknight; she remembered Andelo always staying in port for the winter. She couldn’t remember a time when they had stayed in Port Ianth, which was odd. How many ports where there, anyway? She remembered staying in the same port season after season at one point … she didn’t recall why…. Andelo must have had his reasons… suddenly she sat up straighter. “Andelo is here, at Port Ianth? So close?”
Kawauso nodded. “We were thinking of chasing him down after winter, when our ship is finished. But he is here, now. And he is going to be sorry he is.”
“well, I am in with anything you say, Kawauso!” Rayso said.
Rose looked at him silently, and studied him. He seemed so changed; he was almost a different mouse entirely.
Rayso caught her gaze and smiled. “Somebeast needs to keep an eye on her!”
Rose wrinkled her nose at him, but said nothing. The feeling of having friends who cared for her was new, and it filled her with joy. She turned back to the otters.
“Andelo will pay, you can be sure of that; Andelo will pay.” She spoke these last three words each with deliberation.
The Mira Mara was huge. The name, meaning “look at the sea” seemed unfit for such a craft; it should have been “look at me”.
“Been building her for almost as long as I can remember. Ever since we were taken with the desire to take out our vengeance on Andelo. My best friend, Natan, ‘as ‘elped me build her, though I has my suspicions is was just to be near this ‘un.” He nudged his sister and winked at the two mice that he had brought to the construction site of the almost complete ship.
Nama turned red and sputtered. “Tis not true, Kawauso, and you know it!”
“Then why’s your face all red?”
“Urrgh! Why you!”
Nama chased her brother up the gangplank of the Mira Mara and all about the ship. They both nearly ran into another young sea otter. He was strong and tall, and had a kind face and honest greed eyes. He looked on with amusement at the two before him.
“What did he do this time, Nama?”
The ottermaid opened her mouth and then closed it with a snap. She turned away, saying airily “that is none of your business!”
She walked over to Rose and Rayso and took Rose’s paw. “Let me show you around below.” Rayso joined the two otters who were talking together. Rose was amazed at how massive the ship was. Everything was so organized you would have thought the otters were preparing for war; they had stacked the ship with enough to keep a large crew going for a season!
Rose looked at Nama. “It’s beautiful, but do we need to use her?”
The ottermaid shook her head sadly “now we don’t. We never dreamed Andelo would come ‘ere to port Ianth! He never ‘as before in all the many seasons we’ve been ‘ere. We thought we’d start off to sea with ‘er to find Andelo and wreak havoc on ‘im and ‘is crew. We have so many friends here and even out to sea who have decided to join with us against Andelo. But now that he’s ‘ere…looks like Mira Mara is stuck ‘ere. Not that she’s finished, though. Come late spring she might be. Ya see, we’ve been building her for such a long time, but most of the time we was findin’ the materials for her. The otter ya saw up there, Natan,” she looked down un-consciously “he’s the forbeast. He and Kawauso drew out the plans for ‘er, and have been in charge of her construction.”
She sat herself on a barrel beside where the mousemaid had sat. “What’s troublin’ you, Rose?”
Rose looked at her friend with a confused smile. “I’ve dreamed of taking out my vengeance on Andelo for so long, now that I’m here, and it’s staring me in the face, I don’t know what to do!”
“Should we kill him in his sleep?”
Rose had to laugh at that. “Not a chance! He sleeps in his cabin with enough locks and bolts to keep a jail secure!”
“Then kill him in an open space, like a tavern; he certainly has enough enemies that no beast would care.”
“Hhhmmmm… a duel?”
“Sounds good to me!”
“Is there a tavern in the port town?”
“Aye, there’s the Tavern of Deaths Beach, or, Bloody sands, as everybeast refers to it.”
“I need to get more information on Andelo; who are his friends, who are his foes, and who thinks he is his friend or foe. One can be helpful, the other dangerous.”
“How would you do that?”
Rose smiled at the otter maid. “Who knows just about everything and anything there is to know about the corsairs that pass through the tavern?”
“The Tavern keeper.”
“correct. If we spend enough time there, I’m sure I could learn all I want.”
“what would you do, go ask that old Searat if he know any of Andelo’s friends? Andelo the Unknown is a name whispered; everybeast is jumpy about his being here. Pereg won’t be happy about some mousemaid waltzing in and asking him about Andelo, no ma’am!”
Rose batted her eyelashes and gave a sweet smile. “You don’t think I could be convincing?”
Nama laughed “not if you didn’t work for that grumpy old pirate!”
“That’s what I’ll do! I’ll become a barmaid!”
“You?” Nama gave Rose and incredulous look.
Rose laughed “you don’t think I could? I can be a good actress when I need to be!”
“It’s not a bad idea….but what if you meet Aren?”
Rose sighed. “He won’t remember me. I have to keep reminding myself I’ve come for Andelo, not Aren. He’s something of the past, and its best I leave him there.”
Nama opened her mouth as if to speak, but just then a voice from the stairs called down “you tow down here?”
“Yes, Kawauso! How did Rayso like Mira Mara?”
The three friends came down and joined the maids. “I like it; it’s huge!” Rayso said. Rose had to laugh at his amazement. He sat down next to her. “What’s so funny?”
“Oh, you are! This is the first time you’ve seen a real ship, isn’t it?”
“Other than the row boats back at the Abbey.”
Rose could hear the lonely, homesick sound in his tone as he said ‘abbey’. Her heart ached for him; she never should’ve let him come with her!
Kawauso broke through her thoughts. “And how do you like my Mira, miss Rose?”
“Oh, I love her, Kawauso! It’s a shame we won’t get to use her!”
“Ah, the ol’ ‘prepare to be boarded’, eh?” asked Natan with a grin. Rose smiled back; he was very likable. “Sadly, no. I don’t think she’ll ever get the chance to be boarded by Andelo’s crew. Which might be for the best,” she added, thinking of the havoc they had done to the ships they had boarded in the past.
“That’s what we built her for!” Kawauso said proudly. “To take down the Darknight and ‘er captain!”
Rose told the two otters and Rayso what she and Nama had discussed. “A barmaid?” Rayso wrinkled his nose in distaste.
Rose stood and placed a paw on his shoulder, the other held as if there were a tray on it.
“What’s yer pleasure, mate?” that made Rayso laugh. “I would like it if you didn’t go to the tavern.”
“why ever not? I’m a big enough girl to take myself!”
Rayso shook his head. “Fine, have it your way; but what am I supposed to do while you serve those good-for-nothing’s their rum?”
“You can work for the tavern keeper, too, Rayso! I’m sure he would like a strong beast like yerself to chop wood for ‘im!” Natan slapped him on the back. Rayso made a face as Rose agreed with Natan. “Aye, then we’ll both be workin’ and stayin’ out o’ trouble!”
“You sound like a pirate already, Rose!”
She smiled at the other mouse. “That’s what I am!”
Nama began talking before Rayso could answer. “No, you’re not! You’re gonna be a barmaid, and I’ll ‘elp ye!”
Kawauso looked at his sister with astonishment. “You? ‘Elp ‘er become a barmaid? What’s gotten into you, Nama?”
Nama shrugged “femininity, I guess. Oh, Kawauso, what if you an’ yore friends get jobs in the port town and start gatherin’ recruits, we can all take out the Darknight’s crew!”
Natan laughed “What are we doing, Nama, startin’ an army?”
She frowned at him, and Rose laughed. “We’ll see when we get there, Nama. It will only be for a little while, just to learn what I can.”
“And after that?” Kawauso asked.
“Then we go on from there!”
“Ugh. I hate this dress.”
Rose was in the back of the cave with Nama, who was helping her with getting the dress on.
“Why? Its beautiful!” and it was. The skirt was long, red, and it had a black sash about the waist. The long sleeves had a flare at the end, giving them extra length. The dark red color made Rose’s dark eyes flash and her black hair seem darker. Nama motioned with her paw to turn around. “Rose, you look lovely!”
The mousemaid blushed self-consciously. She touched her hair, which Nama had curled into little tight ringlets.
“I’m not used to being dressed up like this.”
“Well, you’ll just have to get used to it, because it’s the way you’ll be dressin’ for as long as you work there. Now-”
“Are you ladies ready? We need to go now if we want to reach town before nightfall!”
“Coming, Kawauso! You’d think the end was here, the way he rushes around!”
Rose shouldered her pack, took a step forward, and tripped. The dress was supposed to be long, but it was a hindrance to those not used to wearing it. “How am I supposed to fight if I have to hold my skirt in one paw to keep from tripping?” she gave and exasperated wail.
Nama looked at her pityingly. “Well, you won’t be fighting any time soon! But here, let me tie up your skirt a bit to make the journey easier for you. I see I have much to teach you before we get there; you have been among men far to long!”
They both walked out of the cave, Rose trying to walk as well as she could. It became easier as she got used to it.
“Well, well, well, is this ‘ere pretty maid our own Rose? Come now; tell us what ye’ve done with her!”
Rose laughed at Natan’s jesting “well, if that’s a compliment, I thank you, Natan!”
Rayso just stood there, one eyebrow raised, with Kawauso holding his jaw shut. Rose laughed again. Rayso had rarely heard her laugh so many times so close together; it was a pretty sound.
“Well, what do you think?” she twirled about. Kawauso looked at Rayso and answered for both of them. “You look wonderful, Miss Rose.”
Rayso just nodded his head. In his mind, ‘wonderful’ was too small a word.
She laughed again. “Well, come on, let’s get going!”
She took her short sword and cat-o-nine tails and stuck them in her sash. She was beautiful, but a deadly beauty. They set out.
Along the way, Nama taught Rose those little feminine things that most girls know, but as Nama had said, Rose had spent most of her life among men, trying to be like them. She had a lot to learn.
When they finally reached the shore, Rose and Rayso gasped. Rayso gasped at the large expanse of water that stretched out in front of him, seemingly endless. He had never seen so much water in one place, and he was awestruck.
Rose gasped almost in pain; every memory she had came flooding back as violently as a tidal wave. When she was first brought to port Ianth, when she first laid paw on a ship, her first storm, her first calm, the first time she saw Aren… they all hit her hard. She ran to the blue-green water and caught up her skirt and ran into the surf. She laughed and frolicked like a Dibbun who was spending a day on the shore. It tore Rayso’s heart watching her; she truly did belong here, near or on the sea, and no beast could deny the love she had for it. It was as plain as the sun that was near its retirement for the day; the sky turned brilliant shades of orange, red and pink, silhouetting the mousemaid who stood in the ankle deep water, the wind playing with her hair. Rose had returned to the sea.
Aren glanced around at the busy tavern. The blonde barmaid had disappeared, and the old tavern keeper kept grumbling about it. Pereg was a grumbler most times, but it seemed to have gotten worse with Suteki’s departure. He glared darkly at Aren every time he passed the young sea rat’s table; but he was really just mad because he had more work to do.
Aren sighed. He had no more money to spend, as it had all been stolen, and he had not yet received his payment from Andelo. He smiled as he thought of how large the amount would be; the merchants had been doing well, and the freebooters did well also. But now he was dependent on his shipmates for a drink or meal on the town. No more card games for him!
He stole a glance at his captain. Andelo seemed in a more foul mood that usual. Aren couldn’t be sure, but it seemed to him that he saw Andelo’s eyes focused on him in a stare…of hate. Aren didn’t understand; maybe he was just imagining the hate he saw there. He couldn’t see why Andelo would have any hate toward him; what had he done? The only conversation he had had with Andelo in the last fortnight was one sided, consisting of Andelo laughing at the young sea rat about his escapade with the barmaid Suteki. As if Aren hadn’t felt bad enough about it; he should be the one staring with hate at Andelo. But he didn’t hate his captain…except in a dark corner deep in his heart where the hurt and anger that was caused by Andelo’s “disposal” of Rose still festered. But Aren had almost forgotten her. There certainly wasn’t any way he could get her back.
He didn’t notice a small party that had entered in the back of the tavern. Neither did Andelo.
“Sure, I can always use more ‘elp ‘round ‘ere; one o’ my gals just got up an’ left about a week ago. Some daughter she is…or was. Any way, you three lads seem strong and able. Some apartments in the back are in need of repair, and I can always use more wood now that winter is comin’ in. you two gels I can use as barmaids; been needing one since Suteki left me.”
The two maids nodded their heads eagerly.
“can any of ye carry a tune?”
Nama shook her head, but Rose nodded “I can, a little bit.”
Pereg looked her over from head to tail.
“you seem pretty enough; can keep the audiences eyes on ye, even if yer voice isn’t t’ good.”
Rose made a face, and not one of being hurt; it was one almost of anger. Pereg noticed, and asked “why dontcha sing som’in for me now? Ye know “freebooters way”?”
Rose nodded and sung a few bars obligingly. Pereg nodded and grinned, rubbing his paws together. “Good, good! This is busyness! Yore all hired!”
It seemed to Rose that Nama turned a bit pale and had a questioning look in her eyes, as if asking herself “was this the right thing to do?” but these soon passed and she smiled and flushed with excitement.
Pereg gave the maids over into the paws of his wife, Talia, as he took the other three out to where they would be working.
Talia was an old rat who at one time had probably been quiet pretty. She was kind, which came as a surprise to Nama. Talia looked them both over, and nodded at Rose.
“Yew seems to know what yer doin’. You got a pretty face, and I can tell you got the stuff that’ll let the lads know you yew might be nice, but yer no push over. That’s good. You, my dear, though, have a bit to do. I’ll have to get you a new dress…don’t think I need to do much with your ‘air, though. You seem like one ‘o’s not afeared to flirt, but you won’t get into trouble. ‘Ere, ‘ang on a minute while I get ya a dress; Miss Rosie, you go on out and ask m’ daughter, Myria, to show you what to do. She’s the tall, red ‘eaded gel with the green eyes.”
Nama looked at Rose with raised eyebrows and mouthed “Rosie?” Rose bit back a smile and nodded at the rat wife.
She found Myria easily enough; she was very tall, and her hair was flame red, so it wasn’t hard to spot her in the chaotic tavern. Rose made her way through the crowd, ignoring the whistles that she heard coming after her. When she reached Myria, she introduced herself and told her what she was there for. Myria was good natured, and Rose liked her immediately.
“You’re gonna replace my no good sister? Thank the sky that brings the rain! I’ve been up to me ears in work! Here, come with me and I’ll give you a tray to take to some tables, then I’ll help you take some orders.”
She winked and led Rose to the back where the bar was a ferret with one blue eye and one brown, named Viverr. He gave her a tray and Myria pointed over to the table they were to be served to. “Just be yourself” and she gave her an encouraging wink. “wait;” she pulled back most of Rose’s dark hair and put it in a slightly messy bun, with some ringlet’s left on the side of her face. “There” Myria said, obviously pleased with the affect.
Rose took the tray, breathed deeply, and made her way across the crowded room.
The two weasels and the stoat that were playing cards looked up as she approached. She had been thinking of what to say the whole time she had made her way over, and she put a smile on as she came up to the table. “Sorry ‘bout that, gents! ‘Ere ya are!”
The trio muttered their thanks and continued with their game. Rose had to laugh at her efforts, but at least she hadn’t made a complete fool of herself!
The rest of the evening went smoothly, and Nama only had one accident in dropping a tray. At the end of it all, Nama was exhausted and pleased with herself, and Rose was almost begging for more. They met with Kawauso, Natan and Rayso at the small guest lodge Pereg had aloud them to stay in. it was just three rooms, two sleeping quarters and a small kitchen with a table. All five went directly to bed without much conversation; the men where tired after building a tearing down the other guest houses. The girls stayed up a little in their room talking, but soon silence fell on everybeast.
It had been two days since Rose and Nama had first come to Bloody Sands; they were already accustomed to the various tasks given them, and slowly Rose, or Rosie as she was now being called, learned some information about the Darknight’s captain and crew. She had not yet seen any beast she remembered, which was probably a good thing; she didn’t want to be recognized.
She had heard that Andelo seemed nervous about something, though no beast knew what. This made her curious; what could Andelo possibly be nervous about? He had always seemed so calm and sure of everything when she had worked for him. “What’s eating him?” she wondered.
Today Myria seemed agitated; the vermin that filled Bloody sands were strangely upset. Fights broke out left and right, and twice Rose was threatened because of a miss order (which wasn’t true).
Myria was at a loss. “Rosie, darlin’, do you think ye can sing ‘em somethin’? That might calm ‘em down a bit.”
Rose agreed, and found herself pulled into a back room by the ratmaid. It was the back stage room; a little place that had an assortment of instruments a closet full of costumes, and a small vanity table. Myria gave Rose a new red dress, shorter, with many black frills and ruffles, and short sleeves. She powdered Rose’s face chalk white, with startlingly red cheeks and lips, and dark eye makeup. She tied back her hair with the usual curls left in the front, but this time she stuck a bright red feather in her hair. Rose looked at herself in the mirror with horror; she didn’t even recognize herself!
“Oh, Rosie, darlin’ you look stunnin’!”
“Stunning” wasn’t exactly the word Rose was thinking if. She sighed. Well, at least if any of the Darknight’s crew was there they wouldn’t know who she was!
“Do ya know what to sing?”
Rose thought for a second, and then nodded. Myria asked the piano player if he knew the song; he did.
Rose stood behind the curtain and for the first time felt stage fright. She almost thought of saying the tried- and-true lines, “I can’t go on!” but just then the piano intro started, and the curtain parted. The tavern went strangely quiet, and Rose started to sing:
Dearest friends, dear gentlemen
Listen to my song
Life down here's been hard for you
Life has made you strong
Let me lift the mood
With my attitude
The time is right
Tonight's the night
Boys, what you're hopin' for will come true
Let me be good to you
You tough guys
You're feelin' all alone
You rough guys
The best o' you sailors and bums
All o' my chums
As she sang, Rose slowly walked forward, trying not to trip while walking in the high heels Myria had made her wear. Her voice was strong, ans she never missed a beat or note. She didn’t notice a trio of rats walk into Bloody sands just then; if she had, she might have made a mistake.
So dream on
And drink your beer
Your baby's here
You won't be misunderstood
Let me be good to you
I'll take off all my blues
There's nothin' I won't do
Just for you
So dream on
And drink your beer
Your baby's here
Hey boys, I'm talkin' to you
Your baby's gonna come through
Let me be good to you!
The audience broke out in uproarious applause as Rose ended with a little twirl. She was amazed at the response. She stood on stage waving her paw and blowing kisses. She walked backward and just before the curtain fell in front of her, she thought she saw a rat that looked very familiar. After the curtain dropped, she stood there and blinked in the darkness of the little room. She was grabbed from behind all of a sudden.
“Oh, Rosie, you were grand! Papa is going to be thrilled! Listen to them; cheerin’ and asking for an encore!”
Rose shook her head at Myria “oh no! They can come back tomorrow and see me; I’m through for today!”
“Well, now they’re all gonna be thirsty, so come on! Ye can wear the dress; ya look better in this one!”
Rose shrugged and followed Myria out. She was again greeted with cheers, and she had to laugh. Serving later that day was great fun; a group of vermin invited her to play cards. “Give ‘er a break! She just kept yew in busyness!” they told Pereg. She won the game.
The trio of rats that had come in consisted of a short, older fat rat, a tall, huge, muscular one, and a young, tall, thin one. These were none other than Flatnose, Stubtail, and Aren coming in for a night on the town. Stubtail whistled loudly when he was a maid singing up on the stage; she seemed to be a small rat, or just a very tall mouse. Flatnose hardly noticed her; he wanted a drink. Aren just stared at the maid; she seemed familiar, but….no, he didn’t know her…but the thought he had heard her voice before….
They all cheered loudly with the rest when she finished her song. Aren kept watching her; he could’ve sworn he had seen her somewhere…He looked on as she played a game of cards with some freebooters, and, judging by the sound of her laugh (which was pretty to hear), she must have won. When the game was over she got up from the table, laughing and thanking the vermin. “Thank ‘e, gents, been a pleasure!” The maid started walking in Aren’s direction, and he signaled for her to come over.
Rose looked at the rat that wanted her service and felt her heart jump into her throat. It was Aren. She paused and made it look like she was checking up on another table; really she was catching her breath, trying to steady her racing heart. Aren was here! She could tell he didn’t recognize her, which she was glad of. She got her wits about her and walked over to his table with a smile.
“Well, now what can I do for you three?” she asked sweetly.
Stubtail patted an empty chair beside him “you can come sit yoreself down ‘ere, missy!”
Rose gave a giggle and did so.
“And what do they call you?” Flatnose asked her.
“Ah, Rosie, that’s what, pops.” She said, teasing Flatnose about his age; he was one of the older one in the crew. She laughed with Stubtail and Aren.
Aren could see under all the makeup she was wearing she was really quite beautiful naturally. He scooted his chair nearer hers. “Can I get you a drink, Rosie?”
Rose tried hard not to look at him with distaste; did he flirt like this with every pretty maid? She knew he had just gotten robbed by Suteki; that story had been told numerous times. She looked at him teasingly. “Aren’t you Aren? I do believe you are penniless as of a week ago; Suteki packs a hard punch, eh?” Flatnose and Stubtail laughed mockingly along with her as Aren turned red.
“’ere, Aren, go buy ‘er somethin’.” Flatnose handed him a coin. Aren looked as if he was going to refuse, but he took the coin and strolled over to the bar. Rose followed him with her eyes. Had he already forgotten her so? She felt like slapping herself ‘of course he has, you nit-wit! You’re supposed to be dead!’ but she still sighed inwardly.
After he came back with her drink, the small group started playing cards. As they played, the gents asked her questions like ‘where did you learn how to sing?’ and such things. Rosie answered carefully- it had been Flatnose who had taught her most of the songs she knew.
She won again. Luck seemed to be in her back pocket.
Some music floated toward them on the smoke-filled air, and Stubtail asked if she wanted to dance. She agreed. It had been ages, it seemed, since she had last danced with him; he was one of the better dancers on the Darknight. The music was fast and giddy; Rose danced and flitted about like a butterfly. Aren then came up and asked her for a dance. Rose nodded in acceptance but regretted it immediately-the music had turned slow. She felt a tremble move through her as he placed a paw about her waist. She prayed that the paw he held in his wasn’t sweaty. She placed her paw around his shoulder; they danced. Rose couldn’t keep her eyes on his face; so many memories flooded back to her when she looked into his eyes. She kept her own eyes down and let herself get lost in the music.
Aren had been observing her every move for the past hour or so; now, as he held her, it hit him like a flash: this was his own Rose, his Black Rose.
“Rose,” he whispered. Her head jerked up. “What?” she breathed.
“It is you? Oh, darling, please tell me it’s you!”
“I…I… oh, Aren!”
He pulled her closer to him. “Oh, no, Aren, not now! Not here!”
“Why ever not?”
“Because I’m supposed to be dead, remember?”
“Oh, but you’re not!”
“Sssshhhh!” she glanced around; Stubtail and Flatnose were involved in a heated discussion, so they weren’t paying attention to Aren and her.
“Meet me out by the back wood shed in,” she glanced at the clock- it was eight. “In two hours. I might be able to slip away then.”
Aren nodded, and let go of her reluctantly. She gave him a smile and hurried off to the back. As she reached the bar she was grabbed by Nama. “Oh Rose, is that him? Is that Aren?”
Rose found herself shaking. “Yes, yes it really is him; I can hardly believe it!”
“Does he know it’s you?”
“Yes, though how he recognized me with all this stuff on my face, I don’t know!” she looked at herself in the mirror. “Ugh, help me wash this stuff off, please!”
She and Nama both worked on her face until she was no longer looking like a doll. She looked even prettier with out it. The next two hours seemed to drag by for both Rose and Aren. He just sat at his table and stayed lost in thought, following Rose with his eyes as she served other tables. She tried hard to pay attention to the costumers, but she found it hard to when she felt Aren’s stare directed on her; she had already asked two costumers to repeat their orders.
Finally, ten o’clock came. Rose almost was pushed out the door by Nama. “I can handle it myself,” the otter had said with a wink. As Rose ran toward the shed, the bright red feather fell out and her hair came out of its bun. It streamed behind her like a falling shadow in the moonlight.
When she reached the shed, Aren was there waiting for her. She reached him, breathless, with messy hair and flushed cheeks; prettier than any amount of primping and makeup could make her.
Aren clasped her paws in his. The first thing out of his mouth was “how did you do it?”
Rose laughed softly “how did I do what, get away from doing dishes? I have friends.”
“no, I mean, how did you get off that island that he,” he said the word as if it were poison, “that he left you on?”
Rose pulled him down to sit on a pile of wood, and told him her story.
“I came back with one intention; kill Andelo. But now, I’m not so sure.”
“Why do I need to kill him for separating me from you when I’ve found you again!”
“That’s not why you wanted to kill him; you wanted to avenge yourself, because he left you there to die.”
Rose pulled out the short sword that she had tied to her leg under her skirt. “I thought how ironic it would be if I killed him with the weapon he left me to kill myself with. I don’t think it’s such a bad idea.”
“Nothing you come up with is a bad idea,” he whispered, putting his face near hers. She whispered back “I love you.” He kissed her softly.
They spent the next few hours sharing what had happened to themselves after their separation, remembering the times they had shared when their love started; they felt the love burn in their hearts, just as strong and hot as before. Absence, even supposed death, hadn’t smothered it. Rose let herself get lost in the love that she felt pour from Aren through they way he looked at her, spoke to her, kissed her. He had given her his heart, put it into her paws, and she swore not to loose it.
Those hours flew by, as if blown away by the gentle sea breeze. Aren had to return to his ship, lest he be locked off (as could have very well happened; it was a new rule). He took his time kissing Rose goodbye, and she didn’t rush him. When he finally dragged himself away, Rose was left in a confused, dazed, and happy state of mind. She walked through the small port town down to the water’s edge. She took off the high heels and walked through the cold sea water. She let her mind roam as she wandered down the beach, the moon lit her way, and the wind and waves whispered to her, as if they knew of her troubled thoughts, and were trying to sooth them. What was she doing? This whole becoming a bar maid business was pointless; she had done it to buy time, to stall. She wasn’t any closer to Andelo now than she had been; she didn’t have a plan, no idea of what she would do if she met the sea captain. She had come with the burning desire to kill Andelo, a fire that burned her heart; that first kiss from Aren had put it out. She splashed violently at the swirling sea water, taking her frustration out on it. She looked out on the moonlit waters, utterly lost as to what she was to do next. Should she just run off with Aren, and pursue a life at sea with him? Or one on land? Neither of them was meant to stay on land too long; the sea had claimed their hearts. But what about Kawauso and Nama and…and Rayso. She shut her eyes tight and sighed. What was she to do about Rayso? She still didn’t understand why he had come with her; he had said that Martin told him to…but why? If she left with Aren, Rayso would be left without any where to turn. Well, had had the otters, and the Guosim, but…she felt personally responsible for him. He had to go back to Redwall, he just had to! The Guosim would take him. Perhaps she would go with them, but….no. she clenched her paws tight. She couldn’t just leave Andelo alive, untouched, and free from the punishment he deserved. He had wanted her dead, and she wouldn’t have it. He had to be dealt with soon.
She turned out to the sea, looking out to where the corsair ships were anchored. She didn’t know which was the Darknight, but what did it matter; her poisoned thoughts were directed toward its captain. She screamed out into the quiet night.
“Do you hear me, Andelo? No beast threatens Black Rose! You haven’t felt my prick, yet!”
She gasped as she felt a paw cover her mouth and another wrap around her waist. She heard a cruel chuckle close to her ear. “Yore prick, hhmm, dearie? Well, how bout yew get his prick- or, how bout his sting? His paws are itchin’ to use his ol’ kitty cat, now.”
Rose acted quickly; she raised a footpaw and kicked back into the other creature’s gut. She heard his grunt of pain as he loosened his hold. She turned violently on him, whipping out her short sword from under her skirt with a lightening quick motion. This she thrust forward as she drew out her own cat-o-nine tails, which had been cleverly concealed in her dress. This she whipped out in front of her, and was rewarded with a scream of pain; it had hit the beast in the face. She lunged forward, cracking the whip, and tripped her attacker. She succeeded in pushing him down, placing one knee on his chest as she looked down into his now bloody face. It was the bar tender, Viverr. She thrust her dagger dangerously close to his throat. He hadn’t known she was armed; it had cost him.
He spat blood at her, getting another blow, this time on his chest. She spoke through gritted teeth.
“Well, well, looks like you messed with the wrong gal, Viverr. What, did Andelo pay you to look out for me?” She pressed the sword closer as he remained silent. “Answer me, ferret!”
He gulped and squirmed, trying to free his paws from where they were pinned down under her legs. He received yet another blow, this time low on his legs. Rose was now very dangerous.
“If you value your pathetic life, scum, I suggest you spill your guts now, or I’ll spill them for you!” He just glared at her, testing her. She raised her sword tip to his nose. “How do you fancy getting sliced open from nose tip to tail? Then I’ll leave you here for the gulls, though I wager they’d get sick, eating a heap of rot like yourself. Now answer me before I carry out these threats; you working for Andelo?”
He finally spoke, but not what she wanted to hear.
“If yore so smart, figure it out, mousie!”
He ended with a scream as Rose cut his nose and sliced down, splitting both lips and his chin. She pushed her knee down harder on his chest, making his breathing difficult. She put her face near his. “Had enough? You didn’t believe me, did you? Come on, give it up!”
“Alright, alright! Yes, Andelo paid me to watch out for a tall mouse maid!”
She pressed harder. “And?”
He glared at her. “And if I saw her, bring her to him. But he didn’t tell me you’d be so tough. Didn’t expect you to be armed, neither, yew frilly little-”
He didn’t get to finish his sentence; Rose had finished, ended it for him with a quick thrust of her blade. Dead beasts tell no tales, Viverr included.
Andelo cursed as the dart missed its mark; his aim had been off tonight. He heard a commotion out on deck, but he didn’t care. “Shut up!” he roared, just for the sake of yelling at something; not that they could hear him. The brawl went on, but he didn’t get up to stop it. His mind was focused on other things. He hadn’t heard from the bar keeper yet, and he was glad. Rose wasn’t here…yet. He threw another dart at the board with frustration, and hit it dead center. Why he thought Rose would be here at Port Ianth was pure foolishness. Why he even thought she was still alive, he didn’t know. What he did know was that his dreams were getting worse, and more frequent. He took a swig of wine, knowing all it would do was increase his confusion and bring back his dreams. But he didn’t care; when he was this far gone, he didn’t care about anything….other than Rose. He had paid Viverr to keep an eye out for her, and if he saw her, to follow her, track her, and take her down.
“Bring her to me….alive.” he had said, caressing his cat-o-nine tails with a gloved paw. He now flexed his paw, studying the worn leather of the glove. He glared fiercely at the weasel that stood un-easily in the corner, awaiting his captains’ orders. “Ondero!”
The weasel stood straight. “Aye, captain?”
Andelo motioned to him. “Stand there.”
The weasel paused, but the glare he received compelled him to move. He stood in front of Andelo’s desk. Andelo fingered the few remaining darts as he spoke to Ondero. His words were slightly slurred. “See these ‘ere darts, Ondero? Well, when I gets that little mouse, I’m going to stand ‘er right there; yes, right there, right where you stand. Though,” he sniggered evilly. “Though, then she’ll be tied to a chair…that little….”
His words dwindled as he picked up a dart and studied it as if it had a message in a strange language written on it. He raised it to show Ondero. “I’m gonna stick these all over her….like this-”
With a deft movement he flicked the dart toward Ondero. It hit the weasel in the shoulder. He flinched, but didn’t make a sound. Andelo raised another. “And like this-”
It hit low on the weasels leg. This abuse went on for six more throws. When all the darts were gone, Andelo rose up, and swayed slightly. He tottered as he walked toward Ondero. “And then,” he whispered savagely. “My little kitty is going to have some fun. Want me to demonstrate?” the weasels wide eyes grew wider as he shook his head slowly.
Andelo stood for a while looking at the weasel, as if debating with himself. He finally spoke. “I didn’t think so; now go.” He turned away, and Ondero began plucking out the darts. Without turning, Andelo said “take ‘em out after you leave.” The weasel limped painfully out of the cabin, leaving his captain’s drunken laughter behind.
Rose stared down at the dead ferret, and then at her blood stained paws. Andelo was expecting her’’. She felt dizzy, and almost fell over. She fell to her knees on the sand, not caring as the waves lapped around her, taking away the crimson stain from her paws and weapons. She almost wished it would take her, too. Andelo was waiting for her? But how? She hung her head, her hair trailing in the water. He thought she would be here….the questions stayed the same-why and how? Had somebeast told him she still lived? It was impossible! No beast knew who she was other than Aren and the dead ferret. She felt so utterly lost; all she wanted to do was close her eyes and forget everything. She sighed as she wearily pushed herself up on her footpaws and slid her weapons into her sash; why hide them now? Who knew if any other creature lurked in the town, waiting. She set off running toward the town, leaving the ferret to the hands of the sea.
“Rose! Where have you been?”
It was early morning and Rose was sitting on her bed, watching the sun rise through the window. She turned to look at Nama. “Where am I going, is more like it.”
“What?” Nama climbed out of her own bed and sat down next to Rose. “What are you talking about?”
Rose recounted the events of the night to her friend. Nama gasped. “How does he know you’re here?”
Rose looked at the otter with worry in her eyes. “I don’t know, Nama! I really don’t know.”
Nama suddenly jumped off the bed and ran out of the room. Rose looked after her, puzzled. She soon returned with Kawauso, Natan, and Rayso. Nama had Rose again tell of her escapade. Rose did, and the otters clenched their jaws, and Rayso’s fell open.
“What am I to do, Kawauso?”
“Simple,” the otter said grimly. “Attack the Darknight.”
“Are you mad?” Rose said, astounded. “Come, Kawauso, you don’t think that’s the best plan, do you?”
“Why not, Rose? Andelo plainly knows more than we thought; he knew you were coming, and he wants you dead. His threats are real. What do you think he’ll do when he finds out Viverr is dead? Find some other spy?”
“What reasons has he to assume I’m not dead? He knows he left me on that island to die; and I found something else out, too. Aren told me Andelo poisoned me, and thought he left my body on the island. He gave me the sword on the slight chance the poison didn’t work.”
“Who’s Aren?” Rayso whispered to Nama, but she didn’t answer; she just averted her eyes from his, hiding her pity.
Rose pulled her knees up to her chest, holding them to her tightly. “He knows I’m still alive, somehow, and he wants me….I guess I can’t just surprise him.” she sighed. “I guess your idea isn’t so bad…”
“Rose!” Rayso’s tone made Rose look up, startled. “Have all of you lost your minds? We’re going to go against a ship full of pirates ourselves?”
Everybeast’s eyes were on Rayso, and he suddenly stopped, turned red, and looked down at the floor. They then looked at Kawauso.
“No, Rayso, we won’t be going against them alone. We have friends who have pledged their help with us against Andelo.”
“Do you have any idea what you’re going against, though? The Darknight is by far the fastest of any of those ships out there, and the largest,” Rose warned. “No ship could out-sail us. And if we ever were boarded, the Darknight’s crew are ruthless killers. Also, she has more than twenty guns, and at least six score of pirates on board.”
“We have that number of friends, too.”
Rose blinked in surprise. “Really?”
Natan answered. “Really. We even have friends out at sea; Queen Jescara, the Sea-turtle ruler.”
“But Andelo has friends there, too.” Rose said. “King A’ama, the king crab. Often they helped us.”
Natan nodded. “Aye, Jescara has warred against A’ama often. And I recently learned that he was angered over the death of one of his warriors. It seems he was killed by a “wild mousemaid”.”
Rose’s eyes widened. “Oh,” was all she could say.
Kawauso spoke. “Our friends of Mossflower woods have offered to help, also. Prince Edok, the prince of the flying squirrels, has offered himself and his warriors. And of course the Guosim; and very many otters, most of whom are my family and friends. We have near six score…closer to five, but it doesn’t matter. We can easily take them."
Rose was still doubtful. “I don’t know…they are killers through ‘n’ through; can your friends really help?”
Natan raised a paw. “You have my word; Edok and his warrior are not to be taken lightly. Also, you haven’t met Lacey. She’s a great fighter; ‘top notch’ as she would say. She’s worth ten creatures in a battle; she’s a hare.”
Nama spoke up. “Don’t forget Jet, the Osprey! His real name is Jetsam, but everybeast calls him Jet. He hates all vermin; well, he hates them, but he’s not above eating them.”
Rose put up her paws. “Wait, wait! What are we going to do, get them all together and attack the Darknight? I’m sure the port master would like that.”
“At this point, I don’t care what anybeast thinks; we’re gonna attack Andelo, and soon.”
“We’ll have to quit our jobs at Bloody Sands,” Nama pointed out.
“Oh…Pereg won’t be too happy about that.”
“We’ll tell him its urgent business or something like that.” Rose said. The others nodded.
"Well, lets write a note, soon, and then set off for our cave.” Kawauso said.
Rose gave a slight smile. “Let’s write two…”
Andelo was roaring at his crew about something; Aren was glad he was below deck. His joy was short lived, for the weasel Ondero came running down. “Captain wants all hands on deck; roll call or somethin’. Though he’s been pretty up-tight the last few days…. Somethin’ about a mousemaid….”
Aren didn’t say anything, though he was stirred inside. He sighed; so much for that happy thought.
When all the crew was lined up on deck, the hooded figure of Andelo the Unknown walked among them, as a general would inspect his troops. He stopped at the end of the line, turned around, and started walking back. He opened his mouth as if to speak, when an arrow suddenly whizzed by and buried itself into the center mast, in between the ears of a rat. The parchment that was attached fluttered on the reverberating arrow. Andelo hurried forward, and pulled the arrow out. He clenched his teeth, and if anybeast could’ve seen his face, they would’ve seen it turn chalk white as he read the paper. He crumpled it and threw it down, and slowly walked into his cabin. Nobeast heard him mutter in a deadly voice “you made the wrong move, mouse; nobeast threatens Andelo the Unknown!”
Ondero picked up the paper, and read it aloud.
“What happened, Andelo, couldn’t see me yourself? Really, I would think you could come up with something more original then the bar tender. Pity he couldn’t hold his tongue. Then again, would you if I threatened to cut it out if you didn’t fess up? And now he’s dead; just like you’re gonna be. And don’t worry; I’m real. I’m very real. I’m as alive as you never wished me to be. Scared? You should be. You touched me, Andelo, and now you’re gonna feel my prick.”
It was signed “with love, Black Rose.”
Aren grinned and stifled a laugh. That was his Rose.
Rose collapsed into a chair in Nama and Kawauso’s cave. She started laughing suddenly; Rayso looked at her. “Are you alright, Rose?”
She started laughing harder. “I can’t believe we’re doing this! I never thought, never dreamed…”
She faded off as Kawauso and Nama walked in. “Rose, our friends are waiting to meet you.”
Rose and Rayso got up and walked out of the cave with the two otters. Rose gasped when she saw all of the otters, shrews, and squirrels there were.
Kawauso came up to her, a squirrel next to him.
“Rose, this is Prince Edok, ruler of the Flying squirrels.”
The squirrel nodded to Rose. He had light brown fur, and blue green eyes that sparkled. He had a nice smile, one that made you want to smile back. His squirrels numbered near fifty.
Rose shook his paw. “Thank you for helping us.”
“It’s about time that captain got what he deserves.” The squirrel was ready for battle; it showed plainly in his eyes.
The Guosim were there, all of them this time, hopping about as if they were Dibbuns waiting impatiently for a treat. Many otters were there, too. And Natan introduced some of them as his parents and siblings.
One creature that stood out from the rest was a hare. She was stocky, with long brown hair which looked like she hadn’t combed it before she put it up into a ponytail. She came up to Rose and saluted. “Lacey Lyndwopple, at you’re service!”
She bowed. Rose smiled warmly “er, and I’m Rose.”
The hare winked at her. “Now, now, no need t’ introduce yourself, wot! I suppose the whole blinkin’ wood knows who you are! Just smile and act as if ya know what you’re doin’, that’s the ticket!”
Rose burst out laughing. “You know, that’s what I find myself doing most of the time, anyway!”
Lacey grinned. “I knew I would like you, old gel!”
Rose looked around at all the creatures who so willingly were helping her and the otter siblings. Her eyes filled with tears, which surprised her. She felt an arm surround her shoulders. She couldn’t look Rayso in the eye.
“We’re all here for you Rose,” he whispered. “You’re not loosing me, either. I won’t leave you, even if you wanted me to.”
She shook her head. “I don’t want you to go. I thought I did, but I now,” she smiled through her tears. “You’re my best friend.”
She missed the look of disappointment that flashed across his face. He let her go as she turned to Kawauso. “What now?”
The carrack was one of the largest on the sea; Andelo had stolen it from a merchant seasons ago, not without loosing many of his own men. That was when he became known all over the high seas as Andelo the Unknown. The Darknight was his power, his security. He now stood on the deck, laughing; at himself and at Rose. Why was he so scared of a little mousemaid? What was the worst thing she could do to him and his Darknight? She didn’t have near as much fire power as he; twenty three cannons in all. She couldn’t even have an army! Even if she had any friends, there was no way she had enough to take down his crew. She probably didn’t have any friends, any way…..his eyes narrowed. Where was that rat, Aren? He turned, his good mood completely gone. He stalked around the ship, his sharp eyes searching for Aren. When he found him, he was asleep in his hammock. Andelo tipped him out. Aren sprawled on the floor for a moment, and then was up on his feet, dagger drawn. His expression changed when he saw it was his captain. He sheathed the dagger and offered a smile “need somethin’, Captain?”
Andelo’s voice was dangerously quiet. “Aye; your word.”
“My word, sir?”
“Who are you true to?”
“Why, you captain!”
“Is that so? And what do you think about this Black Rose business?”
Aren scoffed. “Her? I think that poison you gave her messed with her head! Nobeast in their right mind would go up against you and your crew!”
“Really?” his voice was daring, questioning. Aren was as serious as his captain.
“Really. As true as you are my captain, and that everything I do, I do it with you. And that goes for fighting a silly, delusional maid. And, if she really tries something stupid, it had better not keep me from going to see Myria at the tavern!”
The captain and the sailor stared hard at each other, neither breaking the gaze for a while. Then Andelo turned away without another word; he was satisfied.
Aren bit back a smile. Good thing he was such a good liar.
“They finished her!”
Rose looked up from the arrow she was making, raising an eyebrow at Kawauso. “Finished who?”
Kawauso was panting with excitement. “The Mira Mara! She’s finished, come on!” Rose scrambled to her feet to follow him, Kawauso yelling at her to hurry up. He was almost running and Rose had to sprint to catch up with the otter. She reached the construction site out of breath. “It’s done?” she was astounded. “You’re kidding me!”
Kawauso had a paw on his head, and said in an almost bewildered tone “I’m not! I can hardly believe it either!”
It was the second day they had been back to the otter’s residence. Preparations for their attack had already started when Kawauso had gone to check on his ship. Now, she was complete; Kawauso’s friends along with some of the squirrels had done it for him. “We thought you might need ‘er, so ‘ere she is!” was what they told him.
The carrack was beautiful; Rose could imagine what it looked like with the sails unfurled on the three masts. She just shook her head in amazement.
Kawauso grabbed her by the shoulders. “Rose, we can take her to fight against Andelo! The Darknight will find competition against Mira Mara!”
Rose laughed. “But the Darknight is anchored in port, remember?”
Kawauso’s face fell. “Oh…huh, I’d forgotten that. Oh well, maybe after Andelo’s out of the way I can go spank some other pirates, eh?”
Rose smiled and nodded, hiding her sudden confusion. She left Kawauso to gape at his ship and went looking for a place to think. She kept walking, and walking, not caring how far she went, until she found a place she decided to stop at. It was where the river divided the rocky hills from the woods. Here she sat, listening to the rushing, soothing sound of the river. She pulled her knees up and rested her chin on them, lost in thought. All of her friends here seemed so full of hate and resentment toward pirates; had they forgotten that she, too, was one? Well, had been one, but still; she wasn’t any different from those out at sea. Or was she? Kawauso said pirates were evil; were they? Did that make her evil? What was evilness, anyway? Robbing? Killing? Yes, she had done those, but did that make her evil? Sure, it didn’t make her seem like a nice creature, but….was she a nice creature? Nama and Kawauso seemed to think so. And Rayso.
But she could still remember the way she felt when she spoke to the Abbot back at Redwall, or when she walked into a room. She felt like everybeast was staring at her, and when her back was turned, that they whispered about her. About what? Was she so different from them? She looked at her paws; she had two, just like everybeast. She looked at her hair, which she twirled around her paw; everybeast had hair. She suddenly felt a wave of sadness sweep over her. Everybeast had felt sad, or scared or angry or happy before, so she wasn’t so different. Then why did they judge her so? She didn’t judge them for their lack of knowledge or care for the sea; why judge her because she loved the sea? But did she love the sea? Did she love the sea, but not love being a pirate, and just did it to be on the water?
So many questions filled her mind, one bouncing to another, that she soon became overwhelmed with it all. She cupped her paw and let her chin rest in it, closing her eyes. She was close to sleep when she heard an odd noise. She opened her eyes and suddenly leapt to her feet, drawing her sword.
“It’s all right, little one! I mean you no harm. In fact, I am here to help.”
This sentence ended with a shrill whistle. Rose gaped up at the huge bird. He had a white underside, and dark top-side, with a white “crown” on his head. He had black streaks over his eyes, though only one was visible. He had an eye-patch over one eye, which made him seem even more terrifying to Rose. She still had her sword drawn; why should she trust this bird?
“How do I know you are here to help?”
“Cheerah! Because I am Jetsam the Osprey, and I have offered my help to a certain Black Rose against the pirate captain Andelo the Unknown. Cheerah!”
“Oh, you’re Jetsam?” she let her paw down a little. “Where is this Black Rose you speak of?”
He glared down at her with is one large golden eye. “I am no fool, cheeraaahp! You are she.”
She decided to trust him, though she was still slightly shaken by his awesome size. “Yes, I am she. And I thank you for your help, Jetsam.”
“Cheeraah! Call me Jet; everybeast does. Though, to vermin I am known as Jet the Terror!”
Rose looked up at him. “I can see why.”
“Rose? Oh there you are! I see Jet found you. Have you met, then?”
“Yes, Nama, we have, though not exactly in a calm manner.”
Nama came up and poked the large bird in the chest.
“Jet, you are such a scare! I thought you wanted to help Rose, not scare her out of her wits!”
Jet looked offended. “On the contrary; she didn’t seem frightened at all, but threatened me with that dagger of hers.”
Rose noticed that she still held her sword in her paw; she sheathed it. “Better?”
The osprey nodded his streaked head.
Nama nestled her face in his chest plumage. “He’s really a dear when you get to know him. Jet, can you give us a ride back to the construction grounds? Kawauso will be wondering where I am.”
The sea eagle looked slightly embarrassed, slightly pleased at the otter’s attention. He looked down into her up-turned face; she looked like a Dibbun begging for a piggy back ride. He cocked her head at him. “Cheeraahp? A ride? Whatever put that silly idea into your head? I’m not a ship or cart to be ridden on! The idea!”
Nama pouted slightly. “Please?”
Jet sighed. “Alright, get up. Cheerah! Don’t get any ideas, though; this won’t be happening again anytime soon.”
Nama clapped and grabbed Rose’s paw. “Come on!”
They both climbed up the sea eagle’s outstretched wing and onto his back. Rose restrained herself from bouncing on his soft feathers. Nama showed her how to hold on with both paws to the feathers just below his neck. “But don’t pull; it hurts him.”
“Ready back there?” he called.
“Ready!” they cried.
The osprey took off across the river with awkward flaps, but then steadied himself and soared up gracefully. He gave one of his shrill cries. Rose gasped at the rush of wind she felt on her face; the air grew colder as they climbed higher into the sky. The feeling was unlike anything Rose had ever felt before. “Exhilarating” wasn’t quite large enough, nor was “spectacular.” She couldn’t think of any word, really. Maybe “breath-taking”; that’s certainly how she felt. The view was amazing; to one side, the forest; the other, plains and hills; and straight ahead, the sea. That glittering, never ending expanse that held Rose’s heart, her life. Seeing it from so high up was thrilling for her; it was even more beautiful from up there. She blinked back the tears that were forming in her eyes, caused by the wind that whipped so violently around her. She glanced at Nama; the otter met her gaze and smiled, unable to say anything. Rose burst out laughing suddenly; all the joy and excitement that had formed in her heart exploded, coming out in her laughter. Nama joined her, their happiness shared.
They reached the construction site in to time; Rose got off the sea eagles back reluctantly. He cocked his head at her, looking at her with his good eye. “How did you like it, Black Rose?”
She smiled. “I don’t know how I will ever be content to be a mouse again, after it! It was wonderful, thank you, Jet.”
The osprey nodded and made a clicking noise in his throat, to show he was pleased.
Rayso came up to them, not even caring as he walked by the osprey. “So you’ve met Jet, I see. Did you know he’ll be our spy? He can watch the Darknight better than any of us could, and come here quickly if needed.”
“I didn’t know until you told me now; I think it’s perfect for him!” she smiled at the large bird.
“This is boring.”
Rose poured cold water down Rayso’s back and he squealed. “Bored now?”
He hopped about the deck of the Mira Mara, trying to shake off the water that now soaked the back of his shirt. “Yes, but now I’m cold. If I get sick and die from being out in this weather, I hope you feel sorry.”
She laughed at him. “You’re not gonna die! Though it is rather cold.”
“’Rather cold’? It’s freezing!”
Rose blew a snowflake off her nose; they had been falling sporadically. “Oh stop whining- you’re not going to die!”
He came over to her and sat down with his back pressed against hers, and she jumped. “Get away from me!”
He grinned. “Na ah! I’m sticking with you, whether you like it or not!”
She squealed with laughter as he tried to grab her. She ran down the gangplank and down the beach, away from the Mira Mara, Rayso on her heels. He finally got her after she tripped on a piece of driftwood. He held her tight, ignoring her pleas for release. “Rayso-oof! - Let me-ugh! - go! Oh come on, please?”
“nope.” He grinned; not that she could see. She became a bit annoyed. “All right, that’s enough! Let me go or I swear I will hurt you!”
“Mm hhmm, try it.”
She sighed. “You asked for it.” She pushed herself backward, against his chest, as hard as she could. He lost his balance and toppled over. He fell hard on the sand, but he hadn’t let go of Rose; she landed on top of him. He made an odd noise as the all the air was knocked out of him. He released Rose, who straightened herself and sat on his chest, smiling sweetly down into his face. “I told you.”
He didn’t answer; he was having a hard time getting air back into his lungs. Rose’s smile turned to a frown of worry. “Are you ok?”
He shook his head and mouthed “no.” she got up off of him quickly. “Oh, Rayso, I’m sorry! I’m so sorry! Come on, breath!”
He started laughing; well, it was supposed to be laughter, though it sounded more like coughing. Rose looked scared, and somehow that made him feel better. His laughter started to sound more like it was supposed to. Rose’s look of fear turned to relief, then annoyance. She slapped him on the chest. “Don’t scare me like that!”
“Were you scared?”
“You looked like you were about to die; you don’t think I would be worried?”
She stood up and pushed him lightly with her foot paw. “Come on, get up. We have to get back; they’ll be looking for us.”
He groaned “back to boredom?”
She rolled her eyes and laughed. “Alright, we won’t put you on watch again; I only hope Kawauso doesn’t get mad at us for leaving his ship unattended.”
“Well, I don’t mind so much if Jet is there; he tells interesting stories. And I like being with you.”
The message that was hidden in is tone was lost on Rose, who had already started back. “Well then, let’s go find Jet!”
“Jet, how did you loose your eye?”
Rayso had waited all day for an opportunity to ask that question, and it finally came when he was again put on watch for the night. Rose still didn’t know why Kawauso insisted on having a few beasts on watch Mira Mara, but she supposed it was just his almost parental love that he had for his ship. And she was glad to do something for him in return for all the help he had given her. It was now night and they few beasts who were on watch were huddled around a fire, wrapped tightly in their cloaks. Rose shivered slightly as she repeated Rayso’s question.
“Yes, how did you loose it?”
The osprey looked at his audience; the two mice and a squirrelmaid, Nettie. He puffed up his chest feathers with pride, and cocked his head, his one golden eye twinkling in the firelight.
“Cheerah! Battle, that’s how!”
“You mean, like war?” Nettie asked, her dark eyes flashing with excitement; she was a true fighter.
“Aye, you could call it that; a territorial war, it was.”
“Against who?” Rose inquired.
The osprey’s eye hardened and his neck feathers bristled. “Lumdrie, the Great Eagle.”
He went silent, and nobeast dared speak.
Finally he spoke again.
“but it was not just a territorial war; that was only part of it. Lumdrie, the Great Golden Eagle that came here from the north, came and attempted to take what was mine. He took not my territory, but my heart.” The great Sea Eagle’s golden eye seemed magnified a moment by the tear that formed, then blurred. “The golden eagle killed my mate. He killed her over a fish she had caught; they fought, but though she was a strong fighter, he was the most powerful. Then he went after me, but I fled. I admit it; I flew out to the open sea, not caring, wishing my wings would drop off with exhaustion and let me fall into the sea to drown, so that I could once again see my mate at the gate of Dark Forest.”
The three woodlanders sat in shocked silence; tears filled their eyes. Nettie knew what it was like to love somebeast, and she couldn’t imagine loosing that beast ever. She wept silently, letting quiet tears fall. So did the two mice.
The osprey glared at them fiercely, not letting their tears lead to his own. He looked down at their faces, glittering in the firelight.
“Cheerah! But I didn’t; my sorrow was overcome with my anger and hatred for Lumdrie. I came back, to find him in my nest-our nest- ruling as if it were his own. This was insult to injury, salt in the wound. I attacked with a fury I never thought could possess me.”
He paused dramatically, and Nettie finally spoke. “Well? What about the battle?”
“The battle,” he replied, “is one of the likes of which I never hope to fight again. I went at him like a devil, my broken heart urging me on. Such a fight! I can still feel his talons digging into my back, feel them tearing at my eye. I can smell the blood again; see it pouring from my wounds and his. I can see it fill my vision, but maybe that was what they call Bloodwrath. I still don’t know how I won; he was bigger than I, more experienced in battle. But I tore, bit, ripped and slashed, and felt I would till my last breath. And I did win; I avenged my mate. My talon’s dug into his chest, and I ripped out his heart. His own talons were locked around me, but when mine pierced his heart, I felt them tighten more; but his eyes looked at me in surprise, then glazed over. Down he fell, but he took me with him. We fell into the sea, and I tore with my beak at his talons that still dug into me. I fought wildly as the water tried to choke me. How I got myself free is hazy to me still; but I did. And here I am.”
The three guards blinked; Rayso had a horrible feeling in his stomach, and Rose and Nettie had a fierce look in their eyes. Rose knew what it was like to hate somebeast so intently, and shared that fire of the desire of vengeance. Nettie was eager to help this cause, and her heart pounded at the thought of battle. She tossed her long dark hair and smiled at Rose. “Your own chance will come, Rose, don’t you worry. And I won’t let Andelo take you down.”
“Me either,” Rayso added, but he still had a worried look on his face, which was slightly hidden in shadow, so nobeast saw his expression.
Jet’s great wings came about Rose. “This is what I say, too. I know what it is like hate and and to desire vengeance, so I have offered my help.”
Rose smiled up gratefully, then looked at her other two friends. “Thank you, all of you. I hope Andelo’s scared. He certainly would be if he knew what fighters were here; those that will fight to the end.”
Nettie cheered and Jet gave a “Cheerah!” but Rayso said nothing.
Rose and Rayso stood on the deck of the Mira Mara waving goodbye to Jet, who flew off in the direction of Port Ianth. Then they turned to the army of friends. Rose suddenly felt shy, as she had to make a rallying speech to all the creatures that gathered on the shore of the river, looking up the gangplank at her. She felt hot, and her tongue was like lead in her mouth. She turned when she felt a paw squeeze her own; Rayso stood by her, with an encouraging smile. She squeezed back, returned the smile, and took a deep breath as she again turned to face the crowd.
“I am still so amazed at all of your devotion and eagerness to help me, knowing the dark strength you I face. But you have chosen to face it with me, knowing you might not come back. Most of you don’t know me, yet you still desire to help me. Never will you know how much that means to me. But now I ask you; search yourselves. Do you really want to do this? Do you have doubts inside you, which you haven’t let yourself listen to? If so, you are not alone. I, too have had those feelings inside me. But I push them aside, because I know that what I go out to do tomorrow is the right thing. But I realized that this fight is more than I thought; its more than just me wanting to take out my revenge on Andelo the Unknown, more than me dealing with my hatred. This is so much more than that. This is for Justice. Justice for those who he has killed, for those he’s hurt, for those who blindly serve him until he kills them on a whim. Justice for all of those creatures who love the sea as I do, but are threatened by the Unknown.” The crowd cheered.
“Now tell me, what is it we want?” she asked.
“Justice!” they roared.
“What is it we want?” she yelled, raising her short sword.
“Justice!” the sound was like the roar of the sea.
“Do we want freedom from the tyranny of this captain?”
“What do we want?”
“Freedom is what we want, Justice is what we will get, and Death is what Andelo shall receive!”
“Freedom, Justice, and Death to Andelo!”
This cry ran out again and again, and everybeast raised their weapon. Squirrels held up their slings and bows and arrows; otters held up their javelins and spears; the shrews raised their rapiers high; Lacey the hare raised her strong paws.
Above them on the ship Rayso held up his dagger, and Rose her own sword, with her whip whirling around her head.
“Freedom, Justice, and Death to Andelo!”
On the ship Darknight something of the same nature was going on. Andelo stood on the quarter deck, and grasped the wheel in his gloved paws. His hooded eyes glared fiercely at his crew; then he spoke.
“I’ve heard the laughter and scorn in your voices, seen it in your eyes, every jack-rat of you! you think it’s funny that I am so bent on destroying a mousemaid, as destroy her I will. But let me tell you; this maid is a threat to all of us, all of you true pirates and freebooters. Not that one maid can do anything to corsairs like us; but one can raise up many against us. Have little doubt that Black Rose,” he spat the name out detestably, “has done such already. The creatures that fear and detest us will come to fear us all the more; but nobeast shall detest you as you run a blade through them. Words are powerful,” here he brandished his sword. “But the sword is more so! Can we let little upstart mice defy corsairs like us?”
“No!” the crew became outraged; their captains mood rubbing off on them.
“so are we going to sit here twiddling our paws, or are we going to go teach that rabble a lesson? Are we going to fight like the vermin we are?”
“fight, fight!” Aren raised his voice among with them, but his heart was not in it.
Andelo raised his paws, and was again about to speak, when a rock thudded down at his boots; a piece of paper was tied to it. He looked up, and saw an osprey flying up toward the cliffs that surrounded the port. Andelo snarled at the retreating sea eagle, as Ondero stooped to pick up the rock. He untied the paper, and it was snatched away from his paws.
I hope you’ve taken care of that scummy ship of yours; ‘cause I’ve got one, and you can bet against all those behind Hellgates that it can out-sail yours. Head out to the south to where the river meets the sea, if you dare. This will be a true battle at sea. And I am going to send you to the bottom of it along with your Darknight.
~ Black Rose
Andelo chuckled mirthlessly; a sound that made his crew shiver and shift their paws. He read it aloud. “’A true battle at sea’, she says. Ha! No ship can face the brutality of the Darknight’s cannons! No ship can out-sail Darknight! This maid is crazier than I thought! But,” a twisted smile, gleaming with evil intention spread across his hidden features. “But, I’m always up for a good chase and a fight.”
The crew roared, and Aren was filled with nagging doubts. What was Rose thinking? He threw up a breathed prayer that insane luck would favor her. Then he cheered as loud as the others, wary of Andelo’s masked eyes watching; ever watching.
Rose found herself chewing her lips and hopping on one foot, then the other. She looked up at the sails, which hung lifelessly limp; there was naught a breath of wind what so ever. She breathed a fervent prayer: “please, wind, blow! Westward wind, where are you? Fill my sails…please, please blow!”
No beast else was very happy either, and all beseeched the wind madly. The shrews sheathed then unsheathed their rapiers, pacing the deck. The otters tested their javelins absent mindedly, concern written on their faces. Prince Edok stood gazing down at the river, his green-blue eyes as calm as the breezes were, though who knew what battle raged inside. Nettie paced the deck furiously, muttering to herself, appearing angry, though really very anxious; the other squirrels seemed prone to the same attitude. Kawauso and Natan were the only ones who were really calm. “The wind will come, never fear.” Their words didn’t assure anybeast, but they still didn’t fret. Rose leaned against the mast, still gazing up. The calm skies didn’t reflect what was going on inside her. All those doubts she had had came flooding back to her, more powerful than before. She closed her eyes; what was she doing?
“You’re throwing away your life, that’s what you’re doing!” a voice inside her chided.
“I’m not throwing it away,” she silently replied. “I am fighting for Kawauso and Nama, for Aren, and justice for so many lives; this isn’t about just me anymore.”
She felt this with such a passion that the doubting voice ceased to speak.
She barely noticed the way her hair moved about her face…moved by a breeze! He eyes opened as she gave a cry at the same time as some of the others. “The wind, the wind!”
Squirrels scrambled up to unfurl those sails which were still tied; shrews scurried to their places, along with the otters. Rose was at the head of them all, her past experience on a ship not forgotten. She gave out orders to a willing crew. Rayso seemed to be the only beast who knew nothing of sailing: but, as Lacey had conveniently slipped down to the galley, to “make up a mess of something or other, wot!” Rayso soon joined her, as he just got in the way of everybeast else.
The wind picked up, making the sails billow out; with a groan, the Mira Mara started to move down stream. A cheer arose from her crew. They were heading for the open sea!
“Stir your stumps, you boiled turnip heads! Here comes the wind! Up on your paws!”
It was another one of those times when Andelo raised his voice, and it was terrifying. His crew moved about feverishly, not wanting to displease the captain.
“Ondero, hoist the anchor!”
“Aye, Cap’n!” the anchor chain rattled and groaned as the weasel and some rats, including Stubtail, heaved up the anchor grunting with their effort.
Aren was glad he had been put up in the crows nest; you didn’t really have to do anything, just keep your eyes out for anything out on the open waters that spread out around them. The Darknight left port smoothly, and sped off into deeper waters, like an arrow from a bow. Aren looked down at his captain’s cloaked figure pacing the deck, barking out orders. He again, for the hundredth time, wondered what type of creature his captain was. Never had he seen a tail, always was it hidden. He had a strong suspicion that Andelo was not a rat. Aren also didn’t understand how it was he had come to want to serve this captain. “The Unknown” had such an odd power to it, this name alone suggested power, but when you really thought about it, you wondered how it was; what was so awe inspiring about the unknown? Was it the same type of fear that a child has of a dark room, the uncertainty of what lies in wait?
His clear eyes gazed out about him absentmindedly; where was Rose?
He still didn’t know what he would do when the time came to attack Rose’s ship. He hoped it was a good enough ship to withstand the Darknight’s fury. Would he be the first to board Rose’s craft? If so, he could then fight on her side. He again looked down at the Unknown, then called down “Oi, Captain!”
The hooded face turned up, but all Aren could see was a dark void; not even the two little lights that were eyes were discernable. Aren resisted a shudder. “What’s the plan when we meet with the mouse?”
“What would you do?”
Aren didn’t tell him what he really was going to do, but quickly responded with “board ‘em, kill and get their ship with whatever else she’s carrying.”
Andelo nodded “why not? You think like me. But remember,” his voice had a deadly edge to it, “the Black Rose is mine.”
“Oh no she isn’t!” Aren thought inwardly, but just nodded and said “she’s yours.” Andelo walked on, and Aren again prayed that Rose was well prepared for the storm that Andelo brought. "Where are you, Rose?” He thought. “What are you doing and thinking right now?”
Rose was laughing- at Rayso. She knew she shouldn’t, but she couldn’t help it. He was positively green, clutching his stomach, eyes screwed tight shut, crouched in the stern. He slowly opened one eye to see Rose shaking with her silent mirth. He closed his eyes again and groaned. “Please go away, Rose!”
“Why aren’t you down below in a bunk?”
He gasped out his words. “Too stuffy; rocked like anything down there. It’s worse then up here.”
Rose felt sorry for him, and ashamed for laughing at him. “I’m sorry for laughin’, Ray. Come on, lets see it Nettie has anything to help you.”
Rayso tried to rise, but crumpled in a heap on the deck again. “I can’t.”
“I’ll loose my stomach all over you if I do.”
She sat down next to him. “You sure?”
“Alright, let me go find Nettie.”
She patted his paw comfortingly as she rose to find the squirrel.
When they came back, Nettie looked apologetic.
“I’m sorry, Rayso, but there’s nothing I can give you to calm your stomach.”
“What? Then what am I supposed to do?”
The shrew Tereno walked by just the, and called out cheerfully “nothing. You chuck it all out t’ the sea for a few days, then you’ll be alright, mate!”
Rayso groaned and sprawled out on his back on the deck. “I’m going to die. Oy, Tereno, why don’t you chuck me overboard; do me a favor.”
Nettie and Rose started laughing, “Come on, lets get him down below; he needs just to sleep.” The Squirrel said to Rose.
Half carrying, half dragging Rayso, the two maids got him bellow deck to the sleeping quarters and managed to get him into one of the bunks. He hadn’t once opened his eyes. They tip-pawed up the stairs, leaving him to a fitful sleep.
The two friends stood in the bow, their hair blown about wildly by the spray-filled breeze. Nettie looked at the mousemaid and said
“Well, here we are Black Rose, on our way to find your Aren and rid the seas of Andelo the Unknown. Did you ever think it would turn out this way?”
A smile played about Rose’s lips as she answered “Never. I’ve been the outcast most of the time I spent in the woodlands. But now I have all of you, who are so willing to help me.”
Nettie took Rose’s paw. “We are always willing to help a creature fight evil. Nobeast should have to face the darkness alone. My- I mean, uh… Edok wouldn’t give up a fight for anything.” Nettie seemed flustered, and her cheeks reddened. “And we can’t say no, either. We follow him through thick and thin. And that’s how we’ll be with you too; you’re stuck with us.”
Rose laughed “and I wouldn’t have it any other way!”
Natan looked up from the knot he was tying. Nama was making her way over to him. he gave her a large smile. “And wot can I do for you, Nama?”
She returned the smile. “Kawauso wants you to call up Jescara.”
“He says it’s best to be ready. Although,” she grinned childishly at him. “I helped persuade him.”
Natan laughed. “I see; he never could say no to you.” he gave her a roughish wink. “Neither can I.”
He turned away before she could speak, walking into the cabin. He returned with large twin conch shells in his paws. “Let’s wake up the lazy tails on board, as well as those on the bottom of the sea!”
She grinned and took one of the shells. These were actually horns made from the shells, beautiful to look at, and smooth to the touch. The simultaneously raised them to their lips and blew; a deep, warm, rich sound they made, but very loud. Everybeast on deck jumped at the noise.
The two otters blew until they ran out of breath, then blew again and again. The nose from the twin horns soon filled the air, almost like an extra presence. Rose came forward with Rayso to the rail and peered out at the water. It was teeming and boiling, as if alive. It seemed as if a large sea creature was coming up next to the Mira Mara. All the creatures on deck waited breathlessly, awaiting what would come next. Suddenly, little patches of rock seemed to float up to the surface. But no! These “rocks” had legs and heads. The sea turtles of the deep had come, led by their queen, Jescara.
The sea turtle queen was ancient, but still beautiful. Her shell was a dazzling mix of greens, blues, and purples, which all seemed to blend together and be one color, but then was not. Silver swirls and intricate designs flowed over the iridescent shell. Jescara had many battle scars running along the shell, but they did not mar its beauty, but oddly added to it. A plain silver band graced her head. She swam over to the ship, and it seemed to Rose that she smiled; but otherwise, her face seemed almost expressionless. Rose was surprised when Natan began making strange clicking noises. Jescara answered in the same kind of clicks and grunts.
Natan turned to Kawauso. “She’s pleased she can help us, but knows that we are not the only ones who have allies here at sea.” He turned to Rose. “A’ama is angered, and has heard of your fight against Andelo. You killed his best warrior, and A’ama will join forces with the Captain of the Darknight. And Jescara wants to meet the maid who took on four of A’ama’s fighter’s alone.”
Rose stepped forward and stood next to Natan, and they both leaned over the rail. Natan again spoke to Jescara in her own tongue. She replied, and turned her rough head toward Rose. Strangely, Rose felt uncomfortable under the stare of the sea-queen’s large purple-blue eyes. The eyes were the only thing in the turtle’s face that displayed any emotion; now, they seemed to shine with approval. Jescara again turned to Natan, and said something which was translated.
“She says she can see that you are a warrior born, and true of heart. She says if anybeast deserves to defeat Andelo, it would be you.”
Rose flushed, but met Jescara’s gaze. She said nothing. Natan did not need to translate for them; the look they shared spoke volumes.
Suddenly Rayso’s voice could be heard. “There they are!”
“Ship sighted off the port bow, Cap’n!”
Aren’s head jerked up. Ondero was now in the crows nest, and had issued the cry. Aren whirled around; sure enough, there in the distance, was a ship. Andelo came out of his cabin, forcing himself to walk slowly and with composure, though he wanted to run like some of the deck hands were doing. He was surprised at the size of the ship, which, though still far away, was clearly visible to his sharp eyes. Aren was by him, suddenly, holding out a telescope. Andelo grabbed it and peered through it. He let out an evil chuckle. “No guns. Silly maid! She knew we had guns! Well, now she’s just going to remember the hard way!”
Aren kept his face void of the fear that gripped him. Had Rose been so foolish? No guns? His gut was filled with the feeling of despair. He took the telescope from his captain’s outstretched paw. He couldn’t make out the one figure he was looking for, but he did see two things; that there were many creatures on the ship, enough to easily take on all of the sailors on the Darknight. The other was something that puzzled him. “Captain, what’s all around the ship in the water?” He handed the spy glass back to Andelo. The captain gritted his teeth, then laughed. “Those are Queen Jescara’s sea turtles. Looks like the maid does have friends. But I too, have allies in the sea!”
Stubtail was called over, and held a whispered conversation with Andelo. Then the rat went into the cabin, and returned with a piece of wood that was shaped like a claw, and was able to clap together. Stubtail then jumped suddenly off the ship! Aren was surprised; he had never seen how to call the crabs of A’ama. Some other deckhands who were as puzzled as Aren looked down after the Searat. A muted clicking noise came up to their ears. The rat bobbed up occasionally to breath, but then would go back under. Suddenly he came up again, and began yelling “throw me a rope! Throw me a rope!”
The deckhands ran about franticly for the rope, driven by the terror they heard in Stubtail’s voice. The rat came up, sputtering and shaking with fear. Then a clicking noise, not unlike the one Stubtail had been making, reached the crew’s ears, but obviously louder, made by many claws clicking rapidly. They soon broke the surface, teeming about and making the water seem alive. Then one large, powerful looking crab came up to the ship, where Andelo stood.
“A’ama, you’ve come,” the captain said in his chilling, quiet voice.
“Aye…that I have.” The King Crab replied in a slow, rasping tone. “I have…a score to settle….with Jescara and…that mousemaid.”
Andelo leaned forward, his eyes like little orbs of fire. “That mousemaid is mine.” His tone suggested –threatened- that it would be wise not to argue. A’ama clicked his massive claw moodily, but said nothing.
It all was quiet save for an occasional snap of a claw from a crab or a cough from a deckhand.
The suddenly Andelo leapt up onto the quarter deck and, grasping the wheel, shouted “Let’s go get that mousemaid!” He was answered with a roar of approval from the crew.
“They’re coming this way!” Rayso shouted out.
Rose hadn’t known what she would feel when she finally sighted the Darknight; would it be fear? Of course not. Rage coursed through her veins; Andelo was near, oh so near, after almost three seasons.
“Turn her to starboard!” she heard Kawauso yell. She turned to look at him, catching something in his voice. She walked across to him until she stood in front of him. He looked her in the eyes; they were dark and flashing.
“I know Andelo killed your parents, Kawauso; but you leave him to me.”
He merely nodded; the tone in her voice made him dare not argue. “Give ‘im one for me.”
“I’ll give him more than one; I promise you that.”
Andelo’s evil chuckle rang in Aren’s ears as the two ships neared. “Ondero!” Andelo called to the weasel. “Get the cannons ready.”
Aren bit his tongue to keep from crying out; he couldn’t let Andelo know that he was a traitor, but he couldn’t let him blow up Rose, either!
“Er, captain,” he heard a familiar voice address the captain. He turned to see Flatnose.
“Don’t you think it be a bit foolish to blow up such a fine ship as that? Seems we could scare the maid, ya know, hit pretty close, but not damage the ship. What you think?”
Andelo considered for a moment. “I think you’re right, Flatnose. Good thinking.” He patted the Searat on the back. Aren breathed a sigh of relief. Thank you, Flatnose!
The cannons were readied, and aimed at the Mira Mara. They never hit the ship, but came dangerously close to it. And the other ship continued to advance. Aren had a hard time containing his apparent concern; and it wasn’t that he was concerned for his crew. He felt his captain’s presence before he felt his gloved paw clamp down on his shoulder.
“How foolish you must feel, knowing you once loved such a little delusional maid. To think she’s trying to send me to the bottom!
“I don’t love her less; I hate you more,” Aren thought, but said aloud “aye; don’t remind me, Cap’n.”
The paw clenched a little tighter, but Aren did not wince. The voice that had been almost friendly now was harsh with hate. “Fool! Do you think I fell for your little game? You-”
“Where are you, Andelo?” a voice called out. The cannons had ceased to fire, and the Mira Mara had come to the Darknight, but the corsair crew hadn’t dared interrupt Andelo’s ‘conversation’ with Aren. Now the mousemaid’s voice rang out, loud and clear, over the quickly lessening amount of water that separated the two ships. Andelo’s paw tightened again, but Aren could tell the captain had forgotten him; tightening his paw was a reaction of fear. Andelo released the rat and strode over to the port side of the boat; there was Black Rose, dressed in her old silks that he had last seen her in, her hair wild and waving in the wind. She was more terrifying than any ghost. Andelo remembered plainly the night he had dumped what he had assumed was her lifeless body on the island; she looked very much like she did then, only…alive.
His hidden features were filled with nasty pleasure. “I am here, my Dark Flower; I never thought I would see you again.”
“You mean you never wanted to.” She replied icily.
Aren saw her and gasped, along with many other members of the crew. She was obviously livid with rage and suppressed hate, though her voice was so cold. Her face was flushed and her eyes sparked fire; she was beautiful.
Her friends were hidden away out of sight, but Edok and his captain of archers, Nettie, were ready with their bows along with the other squirrels.
Rose went on in her frigid tone. “Is there anything you want to say, Andelo, before I dispose of you? And…” she paused, and offered a small and almost mischievous smile, “Before I render you known.”
Andelo didn’t respond right away, and she went on. “Did you think you could hide under your hood forever?” she laughed, though it wasn’t a pleasant one. “Come on, what do you say?”
“I say…. Board the ship, and fight, men!”
The crew of the Darknight sprang to life with a yell, drawing their cutlasses and grabbing ropes and planks to go over on. But they were suddenly ducking for cover as Edok and Nettie gave the order, and their archers sprang up from their hiding places and let loose their arrows.
“Archers!” Andelo yelled, and his stepped forward, though not all were quick enough; they fell with arrows in their chests.
“Board ‘em, or I’ll have yer hides for rugs!” Andelo roared.
Rats and various other vermin swarmed over on the planks that had been set up between the ships, and others swung over on ropes, Aren among them. He landed beside Rose and bowed. “I believe we’ve met.”
She flashed a smile at him. “Aye, and our acquaintance wont last long if you just stand there!”
All beasts were in combat in one place or another, even in the water. Jescara and her warriors were going at it with A’ama and his. Oftentimes, if a rat was thrown of the ship, a turtle would grab him and keep him under, until he ceased to move. But if a crab got hold of a woodlander, worse was his fate.
Rose and Aren fought side by side, Aren relishing the looks of his former companions. When he faces Flatnose suddenly, he could not find it in him to kill the Searat. Flatnose held up his paws, and looked at Rose. “I all’ays liked ye, Rose; will ye let me help ya?”
Rose looked at the rat that had raised her. “Of course!”
The trio got some doubting looks from the crew of the Mira Mara, but nobeast said anything about it.
Squirrels were up in the rigging, taunting Searats to come get them. But as soon as the rat was near, the squirrel would spread apart her paws and glide down, supported by the skin underneath their arms. Then an archer would pick off the rat above in the rigging.
Andelo stood on the Darknight, pacing and yelling orders. Rose caught the sound of his voice and turned toward the Darknight. “You just gonna give orders, or come get me yourself?” she taunted. Andelo felt his blood boil.
Shrew’s darted about everywhere, stabbing and jabbing with their rapiers; Lacey was in the thick of the fight, holding conversation with her opponents.
“Tch, tch, ugly fellow, aren’t you? I’m sure your mother wept a few tears of joy when you left home, wot!”
“Oh come on, try again, ya almost got me! Whoops, missed again! Ha-ha, you cad!”
Her large hind legs kicked out, dealing heavy, and often deadly, blows.
The otter’s slings were kept busy, and javelins flew. But the Searats were hard fighters, and kept going, killing as many, it seemed, as they lost. Swords clashed and the impact of metal rang out. Rayso surprised himself by fighting so viciously, and not feeling weak at the sight of blood that poured from his dead victims. His vision of Martin came back to him: the time has come for you to prove yourself. Was he, then?
A dark streak flashed through the sky and picked up random Searats that it chanced upon. Jet was an awesome sight to behold, pulling the shrieking vermin up into the sky and then, after treating them in the fashion the thought proper, dropped them into the sea. He skillfully avoided any arrows or projectiles that came his way, unstoppable.
Nettie climbed up the rigging; some of the stupider rats would still follow her up. She laughed to herself, enjoying the enemies’ foolishness. Stubtail climbed up after her, knife clenched between his teeth. This squirrelmaiden seemed to be the ringleader, and he had seen many vermin get shot down. Well, he was going to play her at her own game.
Nettie couldn’t keep her giggles contained, as she watched Stubtail struggling up. “Come on, you great fat oaf! I bet you grandma could climb faster than you!”
Stubtail’s face was hidden from her view; she couldn’t see the wicked smile that played about his face. He neared her, and as she prepared to jump off the yardarm, Stubtail put on an extra burst of speed. Nettie was startled, and jumped a bit to fast, and in the wrong direction. In a lightening quick motion, Stubtail’s knife was in his paw, and he struck out at Nettie. The knife slashed through the skin that enabled her to glide; she screamed as she plummeted down-toward the water.
Edok heard her scream, and saw her fall. He hurried to where she fell, sending a dart from his blowgun at the descending Stubtail. The rat felt a slight pinch in his hind leg, but thought nothing of it. Edok reached the rail, and was horrified at what he saw.
Nettie hit the water with a splash, arousing the notice of A’ama, the King Crab. The crustation gave an evil chuckle as he swam toward the squirrelmaiden.
Nettie’s paw was numb, and she was loosing blood quickly. She desperately hoped a sea turtle would come help her keep above the water…oh, there was one now…but no!
She screamed; it was a huge crab!
She looked up to see Edok. “Edok!” he heard the terror in her voice. He grabbed a rope and swung down toward her, while A’ama drew nearer. The huge crab saw Edok coming, and moved faster; but unsuccessfully. Nettie was scooped out of the water, held onto tightly by Edok. The rope swung over the Darknight, then back again. Nettie clenched her eyes shut, afraid of hitting the side of the Mira Mara, or landing back in the water. But Edok landed on the deck, both safe.
Rose looked around; where was Andelo? She saw him still on the Darknight, now with almost nobeast else on the ship with him.
“Ha! Hiding like a coward, are we, Andelo? Hoping one of your thugs would get me, save you the trouble?”
Andelo grinned mirthlessly, more in baring his teeth at Rose. “You are more trouble than you’re worth, my Dark Flower. But, indeed, I am waiting for you to come to me, and make the first move. Ladies first, you know, and I am always a gentleman.”
“Aye, that’s right! A gentleman kills two innocent otter’s jus’ so’s he could get their ship!”
Kawauso’s angry voice could be heard, and he stepped forward, glaring at Andelo.
Andelo glared back; his otter seemed familiar, but…no, he had killed him along with his mate. But this one did look like him…
He forgot about the otter when he caught sight of Aren standing beside Rose; his hatred for both burned hotter than before.
“Alright then,” he said suddenly. “Here I am!”
He surprised them all by jumping aboard the Mira Mara. Rose and Aren both had their swords drawn, and Andelo whipped his out.
“My fight’s not with you right now, Aren,” he said fiercely. “It’s just me and my Dark Flower, now.”
Rose glared at him with intense loathing, as she traded her short sword for a cutlass taken from a fallen rat. She smirked at Andelo. “Come on, I’m ready. And as you know, I was taught by some of the best.”
“We’ll see,” replied the Unknown as he lunged toward Rose.
The captain and the maid clashed, dealing insanely skillful blows, and deflecting quickly and effortlessly. All other activity ceased as everybeast watched their friend and their captain. Rayso held his breath as he watched Rose weave about with Andelo in a Dance of Death. For a dance it seemed to be; they moved about as if their steps were rehearsed, and their actions were so graceful they seemed not to be blows that were meant to kill. Rose, felling quite brazen, engaged Andelo in conversation as they twirled about in their ‘dance’.
“what have you been doing since you dropped me off on that island so long ago?”
Underneath his hood, Andelo smirked
“Same as usual; attacking, plundering, and killing as I please. And I’ve had dreams about you, my Dark Flower.”
Rise returned the smirk. “Hm, well I’ve heard I have that affect on creatures. Don’t tell me you’ve missed me?”
“Ha!” Andelo’s sharp laugh rang out along with the blow he dealt, which met Rose’s sword.
Aren watched grimly; how long could Rose hold out against the Unknown? Her banter continued.
“Well, you needn’t worry about dreaming of me or anybeast else; you’ll just wish you could, when I send you to Hellgates!”
“Oh no, my Dark Flower; I will be the one to send you to Hellgates.”
“I do with you wouldn’t call me your Dark Flower.” She said, almost pouting. “I am no beasts…but one creature’s.” Andelo’s masked eyes narrowed as he looked away from Rose to glance at Aren. Aren and Rose both sensed who he was looking at; Rose dealt him a blow, trying to take his mind off of Aren. But though she tried to distract him, Andelo slowly made his way toward Aren. Aren warily moved with him, keeping distance between them. Now this dance involved three; but three is a crowd.
Andelo’s back was turned toward Aren now. He focused on Rose, and she willingly gave him her attention. She dealt blow after blow, but he did not return them. Instead he blocked and parried, slowly moving backward. To Rose it seemed he was tiring, and she doubled her efforts. Aren was caught up in the feeling of excitement; Rose would be victorious!
Suddenly Andelo whipped around, throwing his arm out-toward Aren. Neither Rose nor Aren expected this; Rose screamed. Andelo’s sword slashed down from Aren’s right shoulder to his left hip. He let out a cry as he fell. “No!” Rose was at his side; he looked at her through slowly dimming eyes. “No no, please Aren!”
“So you both shall die!” Andelo cried triumphantly, pulling a small blade from his cloak. Rose turned just as he jabbed it into he left side. If she had not turned, the blade would’ve stuck true deep inside her; but she did turn. The dagger but an ugly gash into her side and stomach, and she screamed out in pain. Rayso had watched all this happen, and as Andelo flung himself at Rose, something snapped inside the mouse. He gave a yell as he rushed upon Andelo. But the captain was too quick. He turned on the advancing Rayso, and dealt him the same blow that he had to Aren. Rayso tottered back, but did not fall. “I’ll finish you off,” Andelo gritted out.
“No you won’t.” Said a calm voice from behind him. He turned around to face Rose. “This is our fight, not theirs. Killing him, killing Aren isn’t getting rid of me. You can get rid of the things I hold dear, but you can’t get rid of me that easily. I won’t give up, just because you kill the things I live for; because then I’ll just live to kill you.”
“Then lets end this,” he said through gritted teeth.
“Lets,” Rose said, then lunged, catching Andelo by surprise as she whipped out her cat-o-nine tails. It was like when she fought the crabs; she lashed out at Andelo's hooded face with the whip. Andelo let out a growl and blocked his face with his sword. Rose set to work with the cutlass then, but kept the whip ready at her side. Twice more she found the opportunity to use it; the third time, she struck so that the hood of Andelo the Unknown was knocked off.
Everybeast gasped; there before them was a small, almost delicate, fox.
His fur was jet black and his eyes glowed amber. Nobeast moved; the hood and cloak had been designed to make the wearer seem bigger, and the boots he wore were raised. He blinked at the sudden glare of sunlight in his un-hooded eyes. Rose started to laugh. “A fox! A small little fox has been the terror of the sea’s all these seasons? What a game you played, being the unknown. Well, you are known now!”
The fox bared his teeth at her. “My disguise was wasn’t what kept me ruler over the sea! I fought my way there!” He leapt on her with a yowl, his fury and shame almost blinding him. But Rose was again ready. The whip lashed once, twice-Crack! Crack! The fox stumbled back with a screech, holding a paw to his eyes. Rose took the chance; she lunged and wrapped the whip around Andelo’s boots, and pulled. The fox fell backward, crashing onto the deck. Rose was on top of him in a flash. Out came her short sword. She placed a booted foot-paw on his heaving chest and pointed the blade at the fox. “Remember this, Andelo? ‘Tis the same blade you left me with on that island; you intended me to take my life with it.” She leaned closer, her tangled black hair hanging down in front of her, in her face. “But I will take yours with it, instead.”
“Clever,” he rasped out, then reached out and pulled down viciously on Rose’s hair. Rose gasped as she toppled forward, and another, different kind of gasp escaped Andelo. He had gambled desperately, and lost. The short sword buried itself into his heart, by his own doing. “Rose!” many voices yelled as they looked at the two forms lying there. Then slowly the mousemaid rose, and looked at the still body of Andelo, the devious fox, captain of the Darknight. She turned away from him to the crowd that had watched it all. A cheer died on their lips as a shuddering sob came out of Rose. She looked at the lifeless body of Aren, then at Rayso. But…Rayso still lived! His slashed chest moved, barely visible; but he was alive. Rose rushed to him and gently pulled him into her arms.
“I’m so sorry, Rayso,” she whispered. His eyes fluttered open; “Rose?”
“yes, yes its me” she said, choking on her tears.
“I- I never told you before- I didn’t really know till just now…when he stabbed you…I knew. Rose, I love you.”
Rose closed her eyes as her tears continued to slip down. Of course! Why hadn’t she seen it before?
He had sacrificed everything he had had at the Abbey to come with her; the time in the woods when she was hysterical came back to her. Rayso had been by her side the whole time. All the times they had shared came back; and something broke inside her. Why had she been so blind? Not only to the love he had for her, but the love that she had ignored that came from deep inside of her. She had held onto Aren, thinking that was the way it was to be, all the while ignoring something more true. Rayso had been there for her when Aren had not. That was what love was.
“I know,” she whispered “I know.”
She kissed him softly, and he kissed her back, hard, using what strength he had left. Then he fell back weakly, giving a sigh of contentment. “Remember me?”
“Always, oh, always!” she cried, bowing her head down over his, her tears washing his blood-stained face.
Rayso died in her arms as the sun set, and as the snow started to fall along with her tears.
The crew of the Darknight was forced to jump into the water and either swim back to Ianth, or get caught by one of the turtles, who had fought off the crabs. Flatnose was the only one who Rose allowed to stay.
Andelo’s body was placed in the cabin of the Darknight, along with Stubtail, who Edok’s poison dart had finished. Then, hurriedly, Kawauso made a line of gunpowder into the powder room, then set the end alight. He rushed to the upper deck and jumped off the ship and swam toward the quickly departing Mira Mara. He made it safely, and after a few minutes, the Darknight exploded in a flash and crack as the powder room ignited. Andelo and his ship then sunk down, never to disturb anybeast again.
Rose watched this fiery display with emotion-void eyes. The emotional and physical pain she felt made her feel almost numb; nobeast said anything to her. At one point Nama wrapped her arms around the mousemaid, and Rose burst into tears. Nama just held her, weeping with her friend. Nama and Nettie stayed with Rose for the rest of the trip, until they reached Mossflower again.
Rose would just sit in the bow, cross-legged, a blanket around her, for most of these days. She silently allowed Nettie to dress her wound; but she felt no pain- or did she?
“I think the blade was poisoned,” Nettie whispered one day to Nama. “She isn’t getting any better.”
About three days before they would reach Mossflower, Rose went down and stayed in her bunk. She had feverish memories through-out these days….
“Rayso-oof! - let me-ugh!-go! Oh come on, please?” “Na-ah! I’m sticking with you whether you like it or not!”
“Rayso,” she whispered. “What I would give to have you hold onto me again!”
“Eeh, what did I do to deserve such a glare?” “What did you do? You followed me, that’s what you did! Go back Rayso; now!” “No.”
Rose laughed softly. “You were so stubborn….”
She jolted and opened her eyes when she felt a paw take hers; Rayso smiled at her. “You can keep your eyes closed; I won’t let you fall.”
Rose sobbed “but I let you fall!”
Those days went on and on, and she replayed every moment in her mind, just as real as when they happened. And never could they happen again.
Rose stood on land again, watching though almost unseeing eyes as Flatnose, Kawauso and Natan dug a grave for Aren. Her tears were gone, and her heart empty of emotion. She watched as Aren was lowered down into the ground, not too far from the sea he had loved. Nama stood looking at Rose, wondering how she could be so strong; no tears did she cry over Aren. They had all been spent on Rayso, but Nama didn’t know that. The earth was replaced over Aren, and Rose turned away.
All of her friends had either gone back to their homes, heavy hearted, or were readying a stretcher a little ways away from Aren’s grave. The Guosim shrews were going to take Rayso back to Redwall, where Rose knew he would have wished to be buried. She declined their offer to go with them; she would not be able to re-travel the way she had gone with Rayso when he was still alive.
Nobeast said much as they prepared to leave. Nama turned to rose. “You and Flatnose are welcome to stay with Kawauso and me, Rose.”
Rose nodded. “Thank you, Nama. I really don’t know where I would go. I can’t go back to Redwall; I think-” she didn’t finish her sentence. Nama only gave her paw a squeeze and left.
Rose watched the party of shrews depart into the forest, with what might have been the rest of her life. But it wasn’t to be…. She turned away.
Kawauso, Nama and Natan headed back to their cave; Flatnose lingered behind. “Coming, Rose?”
Rose blew a snowflake off her nose. “No; I’m staying here.”
“Tell Kawauso and Nama and Natan I said thank you for everything,” she said, as she lay down on the fresh grave. Flatnose was about to say something, but decided against it.
“Farewell, Black Rose.”
Rose curled up on the cold ground, and a solitary tear slid down her cheek. She cried out quietly “Martin, is this how you felt when your Rose died? This emptiness inside you?”
She lay in the falling snow, waiting for an answer. She vaguely thought how her wound didn’t hurt anymore. Her eyes slowly closed as a quiet voice said “yes; I know your pain. But it won’t last long. I am here with my own Rose, and soon, you shall meet her, and me, and you shall see Rayso again.”
The snow quietly fell, covering Rose in a blanket as she slipped into a sleep that never ends.
From the diary of Nama, sister of Kawauso, wife of Natan.
It has been five seasons since I last saw my friend Rose; five seasons since the battle out at sea.
Though we miss our friends, life has gone on as it should. I married Natan a season after Rose died; I knew she was happy for me that day. My bouquet was one of dark red roses, and I thought of her often.
Nettie and Edok were wed soon after, and they are so happy; they love each other so much.
As I write this, I am in the garden of Redwall Abbey; my husband, brother, the squirrel couple and I came to see the place where Rayso is buried. I think he would have liked it; there is a rose bush right next to him.
I think so often of my friends; though they are gone, they are still a part of me. I will never forget when I became a barmaid with Rose, and the way she performed at the tavern, or any of the good times we shared. But the one image I shall remember till the day I die is when she saw the sea for the first time since she came to Redwall; how the joy lit up her face as she rushed to the water’s edge; how she frolicked in the surf with the wind playing with her wild, beautiful hair. I know that, though I believe she would have come back to Redwall with Rayso, she would always, deep inside her, belong to the sea.
Farewell, Black Rose.