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I GIVE UP! I MEAN IT! I CAN'T TAKE IT ANY LONGER! I tried to fit the entire story on one page, but after waiting ten minutes to edit ONE WORD I have decided to put the rest on a new page. So yeah, enjoy, and i'll enjoy updating and editing more now...
NOTES!!! For notes and dedication go here. It's also the beginning of the story so read that before this.
The sound of metal against stone grated through the tent, making the guards outside shift nervously, wishing their shift was over. Life as Zartho’s guard was hazardous, especially when the Commander was in a bad mood.
The Commander sat inside, bare sword across his knees, bent over as he perfected the edge. Not too sharp, not too blunt, that was the key. Growling his satisfaction, he laid the blade aside and drew his skinning knife. He smiled slightly as he bent over it. If there was one thing he prided himself on, it was the edges on his blades. Nobeast else was allowed to touch them, anybeast who did died.
He straightened, holding up the knife and squinting at it. Picking up a length of rope lying beside his chair he held it at one end. There was a flash and a section of rope fell to the floor. Zartho examined the rope in his paw. It had barely quivered as the knifeblade passed through it. Smiling, he sheathed the knife.
As he sat back the tent flap opened and a cat entered nervously, standing stiffly at attention. “Commander!”
Zartho looked over contemptuously, picking up his sword as he did so. The cat gulped hard and Zartho grinned inwardly, he had worked hard to make everybeast fear him, it kept them obedient. Looking up, he raised an eyebrow, waiting for the cat to continue her report.
“Er…General Deatheye’s trackers are back, sir.” Said the cat nervously, she could feel Zartho’s dark mood in the air.
The Commander shoved the greatsword into the sheath at his hip, the steel ringing loudly as it slid in. “Well, send whoever’s reporting in.”
The cat bowed and backed out as he waved a paw at her. Words were exchanged and a thin, sly-looking ferret was pushed through the entrance. He stumbled, straightened, and looked around. Meeting Zartho’s eyes, he quickly looked down and away.
“What happened?” Zartho growled.
“W-We lost ‘is tracks!” The ferret whimpered. “They go right up th’ path, but then they jes’ disappear! We looked on both sides o’ the trail fer hours, but we couldn’t find even a pawmark!” Zartho’s face blackened as he stood up. The ferret stumbled backwards frantically making excuses. “T-The trackers were useless! They didn’t even try! They—”
Zartho cut him off. “Who led the tracking patrol?”
The ferret gulped, his knees shaking. “I-I did sir.”
Zartho nodded slowly. “Guards!” The ferret yelped as two guards, the cat an a fox, grabbed his arms. “Tie him up over there.” Zartho said, gesturing to a post in the middle of the tent. “I’ll deal with him later.”
The Commander stormed out of the tent amid the terrified screams and wails of the lead tracker. Deatheye would be a little put out at losing one of his best trackers, but he needed somebeast to take his frustration out on. Nothing had been going right since he attacked this abbey. His plans all had some flaw with them, and he couldn’t consult Shavant because the idjit vixen had gotten herself crushed by a falling tree during that storm.
He paused at the edge of the training field, watching as Rubah’s axe wove a web of blurring steel around him, swift as any sword. He grunted, at least the Juskaron knew how to teach the art of war. As he watched the hypnotic spectacle Shavant’s last vision came back to him.
Last night I was sitting in my tent and a vision appeared in my mind. She had said. In it you were standing at the gates of the abbey, the five armies engaged in battle around you. Above the gate a sea otter was wailing in despair and dropping to her knees. At your feet lay the warrior of Redwall, his blood running the length of your blade. Redwall was yours, nobeast could stop you!
Zartho gave a rare satisfied smile. Shavant had been a good seer, she didn’t get things wrong. He looked at Rubah again, his smile fading as he watched his son. That otter was a variable he couldn’t leave unaccounted for. Growling slightly, he strode forward across the field. Drawing his sword, he stopped the bluing axe with a ringing clang.
Rubah took a step away, planting his axehead on the ground between his feet. “What do you want?” He snapped angrily.
Zartho’s anger flared again. “Where is your friend?” He asked, pressing the edge of his sword to Rubah’s neck.
The younger fox pushed it away contemptuously. “I already told you, I. Don’t. Know! And he’s not my friend, a friend doesn’t order ya around all th’ time.” Even as Rubah said this, he felt a pang of shame. Did he really think that about Rorc?
Zartho gritted his teeth. Spinning on his heel, he stalked off. Rubah turned back to practice, but soon had to quit because of the chilling screams coming from Zartho’s tent.
Rorc grinned from where he sat in a dark corner of the Great Hall, watching the final preparations for the feast. It was good to see and experience everybeast’s anticipation of a feast again. He had been left almost alone, Skipper had told him that he would be watched, but the old otter was too busy to keep a sharp eye on him, although he did glare at Rorc every once in awhile.
A tray of food rolled past, followed by a wave of hungry Dibbuns who had to be repeatedly chased away until Deyna recruited Arbuc and Awavian to keep them busy outside. Not that that stopped some of them from sneaking back inside. Rorc chuckled softly as two young squirrels ducked under a table, tiny paws darting out to grab pawfuls of sweets.
Rorc soon noticed that, although most of the tables had filled up, the one in his nook remained empty. Nobeast felt comfortable coming near the cloaked “stranger”. Sighing, he got up and filched a variety of food from nearby tables, most notably a pot of hotroot soup. Nimbalo walked by soon after, raising an eyebrow at the sudden appearance of food, but continued on.
Soon the twin tolling of the bells announced the beginning of the feast and the doors flew open to admit a flood of abbeybeasts and other woodlanders. Rorc stiffened involuntarily as a group of Guosim walked past. His forced himself to relax and enjoy the chaos of seating the inhabitants of Redwall, along with the assorted otters, shrews, and squirrels.
Eventually the cacophony died down as everybeast was seated. There was a number of sharp snaps as elders struck the offending paws of young ones too eager to wait. Soon Abbess Mhera stood up.
“Friends, this feast was put together by our good Friar Broggle and his loyal kitchen crew, some of whom kept silent despite what somebeast did to them.” Here Mhera paused and looked pointedly at Skipper.
The otter threw up his paws, “Alright, I’m sorry!” Then his face lit up. “There is ‘otroot soup though!”
The hall erupted into gales of laughter and even Mhera chuckled a bit before continuing. “Anyway, this feast is in honor of you good friends who came to aid us, and specifically for Rowan, our Fwirl’s father.”
Applause broke out, over which Broggle shouted. “Enjoy!”
With a shout Skipper lunged for the soup-pot, beating off several of his crew before he could serve himself. Some of the older beasts paused to gaze at the variety of food in awe. Not for nothing was Redwall cooking considered to be the best. Soups of all colors were scattered throughout the hall, flanked by platters of hard bread to dunk. Softer bread lay sliced near jars of jams. The types ranged from strawberry to blackberry to hazelnut. Hazelnut! Thought Rorc after he tasted the nutty flavor, Who thought that one up?
Some of the remaining fruit of last fall’s harvest was out, russet apples and ripe pears being chief among them. Rorc smiled as he remembered that apple tree seasons ago where the Juskaron had found him.
After awhile Rorc decided to stop staring at the food and start eating it. Many of the other newcomers to Redwall decided the same thing, and soon everybeast had tucked into large platters of food. The silent cloaked figure dining along in the corner of the hall stood out more than if he had donned a flamboyant vest and danced a jig on the tabletop. Rorc ignored the stares, curious ones from the Redwallers, and downright deadly ones from the Guosim and ottercrews.
Rorc plowed his way through the two bowls of watershrimp and hotroot soup, three slices of nutbread, an apple turnover, and a slice of cherry pie, enjoying every crumb of it. He didn’t neglect to wash it down with the common Redwall drink, October Ale, nor did he forget the favorite drink of Dibbuns, Strawberry Fizz.
As the evening darkened, the feasting slowed as everybeast turned their attention to talking, their hunger well sated. Rorc was aware that Skipper passed by frequently, a passive warning that he was not to begin wandering about. Rorc didn’t mind, he wasn’t about to risk letting somebeast see his face just yet.
Soon the candles around the Great Hall were lit to fend off the encroaching shadows. Rorc shifted so a cluster of candles was directly above him. Their light deepened the shadows cast by his hood, while the new position gave him a much better view of that Hall. Skipper started walking by his table again when he stopped and laid a paw on the table.
“You better have yer story ready, mate.” He growled, “We’re gonna ask soon.”
Rorc didn’t move. “Sind the Dibbuns off first, my tale is not for their ears tonight.”
Skipper strode off muttering something about not being ordered around. Rorc leaned forward and sighted, it was true that his tale wasn’t for young ears, and it wouldn’t fall well on Guosim ears either. He’d have to watch his back around them.
It wasn’t long after the candles were lit that the Dibbuns were sent off to bed, much to their dismay. Rorc grinned at their shrill objections (or bass in the case of the moles) but despite their complaints they were herded off to the dormitories. Rorc sat back, his paw brushing across his knives, assuring himself they were where they belonged.
As Filorn returned from putting the dibbuns to bed, Abbess Mhera stood. “Although this feast has been dedicated to celebrating Rowan’s reunion with Fwirl and her family, we also have a guest. Some of you may have noticed him. Sir, if you would be so kind to tell us your story, now would be the time.”
Rorc slowly rose and walked towards the middle of the Great Hall, conscious of the involuntary tightening of paws, although most weapons had been laid aside.
Deyna rolled his shoulders as the quiet guest approached the center of the room, feeling the comfortable pressure of Martin’s Sword against his back. He didn’t trust this stranger who hid himself in a dark cloak. He had a certain gait that he’d seen before, but couldn’t place. The stranger stopped in the middle of the Hall.
“Could a square be cleared here?” The stranger asked.
Skipper glanced at Deyna and shrugged. Motioning to his crew to assist him he stood. There was a scrape of wood against stone as everybeast in the immediate vicinity rose and moved out.
“I wonder what he’s up to.” Mhera muttered to Deyna.
“Whatever it is, this night will be very interesting.” Nimbalo said from the other side.
“When the square was clear the figure turned to the head table. “Who am I?” Deyna got the feeling that the beast was grinning at him. There was a flash of movement and then a metallic blur appeared in the creature’s paw.
Most everybeast at the head table flinched and ducked at the stranger’s paw shot out and stuck the blur. The Great Hall erupted in a roar as the Guosim and otter crews shot toward the door to get their weapons.
“Stop!” Deyna roared, staring at the dagger in the table. Quivering with emotion, he reached forward and yanked it from the table in front of him. Staring at the painfully familiar blade he asked, voice trembling, “Where’d you get this?” He recognized the gait now; it was similar to a ferret from the Juskaron clan, the one that had been killed off. He had seen them once during his younger years as a Juska, and he remembered the tips that ferret gave him well, they were the best he had ever been given. “Tell me!” He shouted, glaring at the figure, the pain in his eyes evident as he feared the worst.
Rorc mentally steeled himself. He wanted Deyna to fight him. And the only way to get him to do that would be to wake that strain of vengeance for family in him.
“Oh.” He chuckled. “It was like taking it from a babe. Of course the babe is long gone, but it wasn’t too lingering.”
It worked perfectly. Deyna’s eyes closed momentarily as images of his tree-season old son slain flashed through his head. With a savage growl he leapt over the table.
Rorc grinned as he jumped forward to meet him, drawing his Salamandastron dagger as he did so. They met with a clash and a grunt. Deyna got his first glance under Rorc’s cowl.
“Juska.” He hissed, swiping the knife at Rorc.
The young otter stepped back just enough so the knife grazed his fur. “This is between you and me, Tagg.”
The otter’s eyes hardened at the mention of his old name. “Why did you come?” He spat, blocking Rorc’s strike with his blade.
“Well,” Said Rorc, jumping back and bouncing off a nearby table, rolling as he hit the ground, “I’ve been raised as the Taggerung so when I found that you were alive I had to come to defeat you for my title to be legitimate.”
So you killed my son, and now you’ve come to kill me?” asked Deyna, incredulous as he swept out a footpaw and knocked his opponent over. The creature simply went with the rotation however and rolled on his shoulder.
“I never said that.” Rorc retorted. “I have no wish to kill you, merely to defeat you.” Rorc leapt over Deyna’s rudder and shot his left paw forward, striking Deyna in the chest. Then he threw himself into a back pawspring, dodging out of reach. Darting forward again, he engaged the older otter once more.
Skipper blocked the door to the Great Hall as the otters and Shrews returned. “Stand by in cast the beast tries to hurt anybeast else or get away, but don’t attack him. This is a battle of honor and a personal matter, don’t interfere.”
The Guosim and ottercrews grumbled but agreed and spread out to cover all exits. The non-warrior types had long since cleared out of the hall, so the room was mostly empty.
Nimbalo sat back at the head table, sipping a mug of October Ale and cheering. “Go an’ get ‘im, Mate! Yore th’ best around! Don’t take that from ‘im, show ‘im what yer made of!”
Skipper walked around the whirling ball of flesh and steel. Grabbing Nimbalo by the shoulders, the old otter lifted the harvest mouse up and shook him. “What are you doing? Yer mate is in a life-and-death battle an’ yer cheering?”
Nimbalo held his head to stop his teeth from rattling. “Steady mate! It’s not deadly, haven’t you seen who he is?”
“Who he is?” Skipper echoed. He stared at the twin blurs, batching a better glance of the stranger as they disengaged a moment before clashing again. He drew a sharp gasp, starting forward.
Nimbalo quickly clamped a paw over Skipper’s mouth as the otter let out a cry of joy. “Not yet mate, don’t spoil th’ little troublemaker’s fun.”
Skipper nodded reluctantly and stepped back an Nimbalo let go of him. The grey-furred otter motioned Thorne over. “Tell everybeast to stand down, I recognize this beast, no harm’s gonna come to Deyna, we might actually have to protect our visitor.”
The otter looked slightly confused but left to relay the message. Skipper glanced for a moment at the three otterladies who had returned. Arbuc stood to the side of them with Awavian, checking his belt as he waited for the duel to end. The old otter was glad that Pearl and Filorn’s pain would soon be removed.
Rorc had allowed himself to slip slightly into his rage, it would be too tragic for this reunion to turn out badly with a mistimed slash. He jumped back and relaxed, hoping Deyna would take the opportunity for a throw.
The otter did.
Deyna watched his opponent stagger, holding the knife lodged in his chest. He relaxed as the foe dropped to his knees and gasped. He noticed Nimbalo and Skipper looking on in shocked horror, mouths gaping. They looked like they were sad that he had won. The cloaked figure fell forward and rolled, slamming his footpaws into the red stone floor, launching himself into a flying leap over Deyna. The otter barely had time for a surprised yelp before he felt a cold blade press against the back of his neck for a moment. Deyna wondered for a moment why he wasn’t dead, but quickly focused and spun around, reaching for Martin’s Sword. There was a whooshing sound, and before he could draw his blade he was drenched from above.
“So nice of you to keep that up Da.” Said the figure in front of him, throwing off his cloak to reveal a fit otter with Juska tattoos, reminding Deyna of himself. Almost exactly of himself, Deyna realized. The figure spun both daggers, neither one dirty in any way. “I think that counts as beating you.”
Deyna hardly noticed himself sprinting forward and wrapping his son in a tight embrace. He barely heard the screams of joy from his wife and mother and the shock of their collision with them.
Tears streamed from his eyes and voice trembling, Rorc choked out, “I-I’m home Dad.”
“Hey!” yelped a voice, Awavian’s, if Rorc remembered his voice correctly from before.
Rorc looked up from the sobbing, laughing, scolding mass of his family to see what had so startled the squirrel. Awavian was struggling to get up off the ground from where he lay, and a shrew was fitting an arrow to the string of the squirrel’s bow with trembling paws. The rest of the Guosim were either glaring daggers at him, weapons out, or arguing angrily amongst themselves in heated whispers, but this shrew had snapped. Rorc narrowed his eyes; something was familiar about this shrew.
Then it clicked. This was the shrew that had run from his and Rubah when they had been attacked by a Guosim patrol. This wouldn’t be a friendly meeting.
“Get down!” He shouted, pushing Pearl and Filorn to the ground. Deyna hesitated only a second before tackling Mhera to the ground. Rorc grabbed a wooden plate from a nearby table and whipped it at the shrew just as the arrow was released. The arrow connected with the edge of the plate, splitting it to the center before stopping.
Rorc was in motion before the plate had even touched the floor, covering the distance between him and the shrew like a bolt of furred lightning. Slamming his paw between the shrew’s neck and collarbone he sent the shrew out like a light.
This perceived hostile act was all the rest of the Guosim needed to send them over the edge. With a roar they surged toward him, despite the shouts on the part of the Skippers. Rorc glanced around, he couldn’t defend himself against so many without killing some, and that wouldn’t be the best idea.
Kicking one shrew away, he dodged around two rapiers and lunged, grabbing an important-looking shrew by the shoulder as he darted out of the crowd. Whipping a dagger out to rest against the shrew’s neck, he shouted, “Everybeast stop or this one dies!”
The ensuing silence was deafening.
“Now,” he continued in a deadly calm voice. “if you would all be so kind as to put your weapons down and step away, we can all be much more friendly.”
The shrews looked at each other, but kept their weapons. Rorc pressed the knife harder against his captor’s throat and a thin line of blood appeared. He doubted the shrew knew he was bleeding, these knives were razor-sharp. “Put. Them. Down!” he hissed.
As they reluctantly complied the shrew that had begun it all stumbled to the front. Rorc noticed for the first time that the shrew had dappled grey fur and a black right footpaw. His blue headband had been knocked askew and his eyes were wide with fear.
“Y-You killed them.” He stuttered. “You and that fox killed the whole patrol.”
Rorc’s face remained expressionless. “You attacked us.”
“You coulda just knocked us out and left.” The shrew said accusingly.
Rorc laughed. “It was ten to one; didn’t you have a big enough advantage then? Besides,” his voice grew bitter, “Have you ever “just knocked us out and left”? You talk of us knocking you out and continuing on our way, but what would’ve happened had we lost, huh? I don’t think I would be just taking a short nap!”
The shrew was obviously trying to grasp some reason for the otter to be there. “You’ve come to kill me haven’t you? You weren’t happy with killin’ all but one o’ the patrol, yew want to end my life as well! Well, guess what? YOU CAN’T HAVE IT! IT’S MINE! YOU—”
Arbuc snuck up behind the hysterical shrew and pressed a paw to his nose, catching the shrew as he collapsed a moment later. Wiping off whatever had been on his paw, he motioned Thorne over. “Thorne, would you help me get him to the infirmary? He needs to calm down.” The otter nodded and picked up the limp figure, carrying him out of the room.
“Now, I’m going to let go.” Warned Rorc, “but if anybeast rushes for their weapon he” Rorc indicated his captive, “will die.”
Rorc paused for a moment, then slipped away from the shrew, muttering, “You’d best get a bandage for that scratch of yours.”
The shrew turned around, “How did you know who to grab?”
Rorc grinned, “Lucky guess.” He stuck out his paw. “Name’s Rorc, what’s yours?”
The shrew stared at the paw, then at the tattoos on Rorc’s face. Closing his eyes and taking a deep breath he expelled the air with a whoosh. Grabbing the paw, he shook it. “Log-a-Log Radew.”
The repeated thuds grew monotonous to the guards outside the Commander’s tent, as well as put them on edge. Inside, the arm of Zartho’s chair was swiftly becoming pockmarked from the repeated gouging of his knife.
The tentflaps parted slowly as Halfear nervously poked his head in. “Commander?”
Zartho stopped what he was doing and glared at the rat. “What, General?”
Halfear entered nervously, glancing at the new bloodstains on the floor beneath the center post. Gulping, he looked back at the fox. “I’m sorry I had to tell you this…” he hesitated, glancing toward the entrance before continuing. “You son, Rubah, he…” Halfear took a deep breath. “I overheard him talking to Nightblade shortly before he left. He sent the otter to raise an army so he can overthrow you.” He finished in a rush.
Zartho froze, his mind frantically rushing to comprehend this statement and ponder the validity of it. Like many warlords, he was very aware of his precarious position and was slightly paranoid.
Cold fear gripped his heart, he had known all along. Sons never were content to step aside for their fathers. Hadn’t he killed his own father over who was to lead their section of the Army? However, his calculating him forced him to calm down; he didn’t want to act rashly.
“Are you sure of this?” Zartho asked, staring into his General’s eyes. He had known Halfear a long time and the rat wasn’t given to lies and manipulation. If it was Deatheye or Dagger, it would be different, but…
“T-That’s what I heard, Commander.”
Zartho continued to watch the rat carefully. “Is it possible, General, that these reinforcements are to join us?”
The rat bit his lip. “It is possible, Lord.” Halfear’s face brightened for a moment. “Commander?”
“You could have him give the Redwallers the terms one more time. That would show whether or not he would carry out your orders.”
Zartho nodded slowly, “Yes…” Shavant’s vision flashed through his mind and he shot bolt upright, eyes wide in realization. “Leave! I must think!”
Halfear started at his superior’s sudden movement and scurried out quickly. Zartho leaned over his map of Redwall grinning in triumph. With a sweep of his paw he cleared it off and looked over the abbey possessively.
“Yes, it is so simple…”
Halfear scurried through the camp nervously, slipping quietly into his tent, securing the flap shut and turning around. He shed the look of a nervous subordinate and looked at Deatheye, a gleam of triumph in his eyes.
“I believe he has taken the bait. Now all we need to do is feed his fear.”
Deatheye smirked, “Poor Commander’s about to lose his son. I wouldn’t want to be the beast on his bad side when that happens. He’ll have them begging to let them be roasted over a fire before he’s done with them.”
“So what was that all about?” Asked Deyna as the group sat near the pond, gazing at the stars.
“What, y’ mean the Guosim?” said Rorc. “Oh, them an’ the Juskaron are sworn enemies. Been that way forever, I don’t think anybeast remembers exactly how it started anymore. I mean, th’ Guosim kill any vermin they come across, but it’s really bad between th’ Juskaron an’ them. Sorta like a blood feud I guess, but it should end now that there’s only two of us left.”
The use of “us” unsettled Deyna momentarily, he hadn’t felt any comradeship with his clan but Rorc obviously did. “So what was your last fourteen seasons like?”
Rorc waggled a paw at him. “Uh uh. We’re gonna talk about you first. I have a brother an’ you haven’t even mentioned him yet. Surely he must be feeling left out.”
Deyna started, “How did you…?”
Rorc chuckled, “We met earlier today when I came in to set things up, didn’t we, Arbuc?”
The younger otter started, “What? I don’t remember.”
Rorc winked, “I introduced myself as Rubah.” Arbuc groaned as he realized that he had been griping about the attention missing brothers got to his brother. Rorc chuckled and patted him on the back. “Don’t worry; it was nice to know they still thought of me.”
Deyna cocked an eyebrow at the exchange, then shrugged. “Was I correct when I though only two beasts survived the Juska battle last season?”
Rorc grinned, “Yep, me an’ Rubah. Got some o’ my first scars in that battle.” He gestured to a thin white line that ran down his left arm, ending just above the elbow.
“After the battle we went west and kicked some searats off their ship and ended up at Salamandastron.”
Nimbalo moaned comically. “We were so close mate! If we had gone to Salamandastron instead of back to Redwall to fix Skipper’s footpaw we woulda caught up to them!”
“Who’s Rubah?” Asked Awavian, who had been leaning on his crutches a short distance away from the family of otters. “From what I’ve heard I’d have though he’d be here with you.”
Rorc’s ears flattened as much as an otter’s ears could as he looked away at the ground. “He…er…stayed with a vixen we met.”
There was an awkward silence after that. Everybeast knew he was holding something back, but he wasn’t about to tell.
“So…” said Arbuc to break the silence. “What’s the worst situation you’ve been in?”
Rorc grinned, happy to be off that subject. “Oh, that would be a run-in I had with another Juska patrol when I was out runnin’ by meself. Twoscore to one isn’t bad odds at all though. A few ran, an’ I didn’t bother chasin’ them. If anything’ it’d keep ‘em from attackin’ th’ clan.” He laughed, “Not that they’d do much.”
Awavian stared at the otter. “How do you cope against that many?”
Rorc shrugged, “It’s not that hard really. Everything sorta slows down and becomes really sharp, although the first few times it happened my sight got really bad, but now I know about everything around me that could cause problems. Sometimes I get a splitting headache later though.”
Arbuc looked at Rorc thoughtfully. “Hmm…” he got up. “I’m off; I’ll see you all tomorrow.”
Rorc looked after him. What’s on his mind? He wondered.
“Now,” said Deyna, laying a paw on his son’s shoulder. Rorc’s dagger was halfway out of his belt before he realized whose paw it was. Then he calmed himself and let go of his weapon. He hadn’t had a paw besides Rubah’s on him for so long that any other paw felt strange. Deyna continued, “Tell us more about your life, as much as you can remember.”
The Abbey was still quiet this early in the morning. Aside from the few sentries stationed on the walltops, staring at the darkened forest, everybeast was asleep. Inside, the halls were dark and silent, the only noise coming from the dormitories in the form of snores.
A dark figure padded silently down the hallway, listening to the soft snuffles and snores coming through the doors lining the corridor. Finishing his patrol of the halls, he padded down to the kitchens. Rorc paused slightly as he walked passed a lone lit torch in a bracket on the wall. The flames danced in his blue-grey eyes as he studied the flickering flame. Never in one place for long, uncatchable, fire moved how he tried to fight.
Opening the kitchen doors, Rorc quickly slipped in. Darting around the room, he quickly grabbed some food for the day. “Hmm…an apple…oh, and some cheese…ooh, this bread is nice…” he muttered as he slipped the food into his cloak, which he had fashioned into a sack for the food.
He chuckled as he stepped out of the main doors of the abbey. He had left a note on the door of his bedroom telling his family that he’d be back, but he was sure he’d get a talking to when he returned anyways. It was strangely comforting to have somebeast to scold him for disappearing. It wasn’t like he hadn’t been scolded for disappearing before, Rubah did that all the time, but he did it because he had wanted to come along, not that he was worried about Rorc.
Rorc’s eyes lit up as he saw a guard posted over his exit route, the east wallgate. He could leave without letting him know, but it was so much more fun making them look startled. He silently made his way up the wallsteps and across the walltop, coming up next to the sentry.
“It’s a quiet morning.” He said softly, chuckling as the otter started and jumped away.
“Gah, don’t do that, Rorc! I’m jumpy as it is.” The otter said, wiping a paw across his brow. He stuck a paw out. “Name’s Kavan, by th’ way.”
Rorc shook the proffered paw. “Nice t’ meetcha, mate.” Looking over Kavan’s shoulder, he nodded. “Who’s he?”
Kavan turned to look behind himself. Glancing around, he didn’t see anybeast closer than the next sentry down at the corner of the wall. He turned back around. “Who? Y’ mean…huh?”
The otter stood staring at the empty air in front of him for a moment, then shivered. “Weird Juska, gives me th’ creeps.” Giving a cursory glance around the clearing between the wall and the edge of Mossflower, Kavan shrugged and turned towards the abbey grounds to look there.
Rorc held a paw to his mouth to keep from laughing as he held onto the battlements with the other. Looking beneath his footpaws, he gulped slightly. The ground was really far away. This would be the farthest he’d ever dropped; the abbey walls were higher than some of the trees. Taking a deep shuddering breath to calm his nerves, he let go.
Grunting as his hit the ground a few seconds later, Rorc tucked and rolled, wincing at his stinging paws. After taking a moment to collect himself, he slipped across to the woodlands swift as a fleeing shadow. Turning south, he jogged off as the first rays of sunlight hit the rose-colored stone of the abbey. He and Rubah had some things to talk about.
Rubah sat alone at the small table in his quarters, spooning a stew made of who-knows-what into his mouth. Some things tasted absolutely awful, while other parts weren’t so bad. Some movement at the front of the tent caught his attention. His tent faced east, and the rays of the rising sun pinned the shadow of somebeast to the entrance to his tent. Rubah’s paws brushed the knife in his belt as the tent flap began to move.
“Lord?” asked a ferret timidly as he pushed his head in.
The fox glared at him. “Yes?”
The rat entered nervously, stepping with the tip of his tail just inside the tent. “I have two messages for my Lord. The first is from the Commander. ‘E says to make sure that yer armor is polished an’ shiny ‘cause yer gonna go give th’ Redwallers th’ terms this afternoon. Th’ other is from Nightblade. ‘E says ‘e wants to see ya out in th’ woodlands.”
Rubah nodded curtly. “Dismissed.” As the rat darted out he turned around and grabbed his axe. Swinging it over his shoulder he wondered what breakthrough Zartho had to finally start moving.
Reyna met him outside the tent. “Where’re you going?” she asked coyly.
“Goin’ to see Nightblade.” Rubah replied. Now was not the time to get wrapped up in the vixen’s affections, plenty of time for that later.
“Let me guess.” Said Reyna with a small scowl on her muzzle. “He called you didn’t he?” She shook her head. “I told you that he ordered you around didn’t I?”
The happiness that Rubah felt at the prospect of seeing Rorc again vanished at those words. What a way to ruin his mood. “I’m going because I choose to, Reyna.” He said harshly.
Reyna shrunk back, hurt filling her eyes. “I was just trying to help.”
“I know what’s going on now Reyna. Don’t worry, I won’t let him order my around anymore.”
Reyna watched him until he disappeared behind a tent. She yanked her dagger out of her sash in frustration and threw it across the clearing, driving it into a slender beech on the other side. That otter had too tight a grip over Rubah! If he kept coming back she’d never be able to control him how she wanted to. Storming over to the beech she ripped the dagger out and marched into Rubah’s tent to await his return.
Rubah slid quietly through the woods. Knowing Rorc, this wouldn’t be an I’ll-meet-you-under-this-tree kind of meeting. The woodlands were quiet; he had passed the outer sentries awhile ago. The wind rustled the new leaves of the tree, whispering softly. A twig cracked off to his left and Rubah instinctively turned toward it. Realizing his mistake, he spun around, only to he hit by a mass of brown fur. Rubah fell backwards, his attacker staying on him as they rolled a couple of times. When the world stopped spinning, Rubah found himself on his back; his arms pinned to his sides and Rorc’s paws on his shoulders.
“Rubah!” said Rorc, a huge smile on his muzzle. “I can’t believe how much I missed you!”
Rubah shook his head, a grin creeping over his muzzle in spite of himself. “Rorc, it’s only been twelve hours.”
“Yeah, tell me the last time I didn’t see you for twelve hours.”
Rubah’s ears folded back as he though. “Umm…uh…I see your point.”
Rorc sprang off Rubah and helped the fox up. “I have a lot to tell you, but first I need to warn you.”
Rubah looked at him, “What?”
Rorc looked him straight in the eyes. “Watch Reyna carefully. She didn’t bat an eyelid when you were fighting what’s-his-name, Smoke’s second, but she said she did afterwards. I also heard Halfear and Deatheye talk about how she only wants you for the power she’ll gain. Now,” He held up a paw as Rubah filled his lungs. “I’m not saying that she doesn’t love you or anything like that, but keep an eye on her alright? Trust yourself before her.”
Rubah opened his mouth to protest, but stopped. If Rorc was right it wouldn’t be the first time a vixen had flirted with him to try to gain standing in the clan or to spite their mates. He sighed and nodded, “Right.”
Rorc looked at the ground apologetically. “Sorry if I was a little blunt.” He looked up mischievously. “But guess what!”
The fox cocked an eyebrow. “What?”
Rorc rolled his eyes, grinning. “That’s not a guess.”
Rubah though a moment, then shrugged. “You ran across some Guosim?”
The otter paused for a moment. “Aye, I did, but that’s not what I’m talking about.”
Rubah took a deep breath. “Would you stop teasing me already?”
Rorc chuckled as his brother’s impatience. “I…”
“You…?” Rubah echoed.
Rorc just stood staring at Rubah and grinning like an idiot. Rubah stood waiting for a moment, the growled and tackled his friend, pinning him to the ground. Rorc continued grinning at Rubah until he felt Rubah’s fingers dig into his sides. The otter’s smile faded and was replaced with a look of shocked apprehension.
Rubah wiggled his fingers, chuckling as his friend thrashed under him. It always amazed Rubah how his friend could be so tough and yet simply melt into jelly when he was tickled.
“Stop! Stop!” Rorc shouted, “I’ll tell you! I’ll…Stop!”
Rubah stopped tickling the otter, but kept him pinned, fingers resting lightly against his sides. “Well?”
Rorc grinned, “I found my family.”
Rubah’s eyes bulged. “What? I mean wh-how? What did you do, walk in while they were eating dinner?”
Rorc laughed, “Something like that.” His tone turned serious, “Is Zartho planning any attacks soon?”
Rubah nodded, “I think so. I’m supposed to go offer the “Terms and Conditions” again. Once they refuse, it wouldn’t be long before he attacks.” Rubah said as he got up, pulling Rorc up as well. “Why do you ask?”
Rorc grimaced. “Because my family lives at the place he’s attacking.”
“Oh.” The silence lengthened as they began to walk through the woodlands. “So what’s yore family like?”
The otter thought for a moment. “Well…Dad’s somewhat like a pacifist, until family is concerned. And that includes anybeast else in danger.” Rorc shook his head. “When I fought him yesterday I had to resort to trickery to get at ‘im.”
Rubah raised an eyebrow. “You fought your father yesterday? Why?”
Rorc grinned. “Oh, I didn’t tell you how I found my family, did I? Well, the best place to start is right after I left the camp…”
The pair wandered the woodlands at random, Rorc talking animatedly about Redwall and his family. Rubah occasionally commented on something, but for the most part he walked silently, drinking in Rorc’s description.
“Wow.” Said Rubah. “Sounds like someplace ya can live.”
Rorc half-smiled. “Naw, I’d rather be out wanderin’ around with you after this business is finished.”
Rubah looked at him sharply. “After looking for them all this time, you’d leave?”
The otter shrugged. “Living in one place isn’t for me, mate. An’ now that I’ve really gotten a taste with searchin’ for me family an’ all, I don’t think I’d want to live in one place.”
They were so absorbed in their conversation that as they walked into a clearing they failed to notice a hare that walked in from the other side in garishly colorful clothes. So they both jumped and dove in opposite directions when a murmur of their conversation was broken by shouting.
“Eulalia, chaps! There’s some blinkin’ vermin over here!”
Rubah began to reach for his axe but Rorc waved him down. “I call ‘im, Rubah. I want t’ ‘ave some fun with ‘im.” Drawing his daggers, he reversed them so the blades ran along his forearms. Turning to his opponent, he grinned.
It was obvious that the hare wasn’t used to the sword he was wielding, accented by the way he was waving it around. The bells on his hat and ears jangled as he bounced from footpaw to footpaw. “Come and get me, bounders! Vermin! Vermin bounders! Nobeast can stop a hare bound for scoff an’ glory!”
Rorc chuckled, then charged. The hare planted his footpaw wide and drew the sword back for a big swing, but as he swung, Rorc dropped and slid between his legs on the dew-slicked grass.
The hare yelled and jumped to the side, turning and swinging the sword at an imaginary follow-up attack. Rorc grinned as he advanced again. The hare allowed him to get within a swordlength before attacking again. Rorc ducked under the first swipe, then launched himself into a barrel roll over the lower backhand sweep. Landing, he deflected a downward swipe with the dagger in his left paw then rolled around to the hare’s back. As the hare spun around he launched into a frontflip over the hare, twisting and landing facing his opponent. Rolling backwards to put some space between him and his opponent, Rorc paused as two more hares bounded through the trees, shouting Eulalias before grinding to a stop at the sight of Rorc and Rubah.
The elder leaned on his spear and crossed his footpaws in a relaxed fashion before speaking. “I say, carry on, jes’ don’t kill th’ chap, old lad.”
The younger hare piped up from where he leaned against a gnarled oak. ‘Who y’ callin’ old lad, sah? The flippin’ chappie’s younger than yerself!”
“Rorc…” Rubah said.
“I know.” Rorc replied before he moved, disarming the hare, sheathing his daggers, and shaking the hare’s paw all in one smooth motion. “Hello, Boorab.” He said, smirking at the hare’s shocked expression. “Nice t’ see yew again after all these seasons.”
When Rorc first started speaking, Boorab was vainly trying to pull his paw away, but as Rorc continued speaking Boorab’s yanks became feebler and half-hearted tugs.
“Rorc?” he asked, amazed. As the otter nodded he continued. “Of course I flippin’ knew it the whole bally time, that’s why I went easy on you.”
Rubah snickered in the background, “Suuuure.” Looking past at the two hares that had ceased lounging and were now approaching, he grinned. “Hello Lynum, Sergeant.”
Sergeant Briggo shook his head. “Humph! I should’ve known you bounders would be here.”
Rorc grinned, “What canwe say? Either trouble attracts us or we attract trouble.”
Boorab looked over Rorc’s shoulder at Rubah. “I say, the fox chappie looks a bloomin’ lot like that Zartho character.”
Rubah winsced slightly at the statement but quickly glossed it over with a question. “Ah assume yew didn’t come by yerselves, so where’s everybeast else?”
Lynum gestured back over his shoulder. “‘Bout five minute’s walk east.”
Rorc glanced at Rubah mischievously and the fox groaned. “Why can’t we ever just walk into a camp like normal beasts?”
Rorc broke into a jog in the direction Lynum had indicated. “You know that’s no fun.” He called over his shoulder.
Rubah sighed. “See ya soon.” He muttered to the three hares before taking off after his brother.
“So.” Said Rubah as they jogged through the woodlands. “What are you thinking of?”
“I was thinking that if you came along we could practice our aerial pincer on Russano. That is,” he amended, “If you don’t mind.”
Rubah rolled his shoulders, heavily muscled from hours of axe practice. “I think I’m good.”
Whipps stood easily at his entry post, eyes roaming slowly over the woodlands before him. He didn’t expect to see anybeast except for the Sergeant, who had gone off after that Redwall hare. He snorted, that hare had absolutely no discipline. When he got an idea in that head of his all other orders went out the window. The sooner they got to Redwall and got him off their paws the better. Lord Russano said that they should be reaching Redwall—
Whipps’ thoughts were scattered as two beast shot from the woodlands, one drawing a dagger and slashing at him as they passed. Whipps yelled and jumped back, but he wasn’t fast enough. The belt holding his pants up severed, they fell down and tangled in his footpaws, causing him to trip. Landing hard on the ground, he shook off his disorientation and sucked in a deep breath.
Rorc chuckled as the alarm was raised behind them. This made it all the more fun. Hares began pouring from various areas as the shouts grew louder. Springboarding off a nearby beech tree he grabbed an overhanging branch and swung over a group of hares. Rubah contented himself with a less flashy diving roll over their heads. He may not be as agile as his brother, but he could make due with what he had.
Rubah spotted Lord Russano storming towards the commotion, his weapon of choice in paw. He never could understand why a beast of Russano’s size would use a stick of wood that was more like a scepter in his paw, but each to his own he supposed.
Rorc must’ve seen the badger lord as well because he dropped back behind Rubah. The fox took a deep breath before resuming panting; they had to time this perfectly. Rubah saw recognition glint in the badger lord’s eyes and he stopped and waved Snowstripe, who had been running along at his side, away. Taking a ready stance, the big badger twirled his staff.
A few paces away from Russano, Rubah suddenly spun around stopped, his footpaws sliding over the ground. Putting his paws low, he grabbed Rorc’s footpaw as the otter ran into him. Throwing the otter into the air with all the strength in his back and arms he felt the increased resistance as Rorc added his own jump to his upward momentum. Grunting, Rubah fell back into a roll, whipping out his axe with practiced ease as his footpaws found ground again.
Rorc completed most of his flip early so as he flew over the Lord’s head he had a clear view. Flipping one of his daggers around, he threw it, burying it in the ground between Russano’s footpaws. That done, he turned his attention to landing.
Rubah growled as he spun in his crouch, flipping his axe sideways at the last second so the flat side of the axehead crashed into Russano’s legs, taking them out from under the badger.
Rorc grunted as he landed, then threw himself into a forward roll as Russano began to fall. Almost at the same moment the badger hit the ground Rorc’s remaining dagger was across his throat.
“We win Lord Russano, you just died three different ways. You got a dagger in the top of your head, an axe through your legs and then in your chest, or an axe through your legs and then my dagger across your throat.”
Russano grabbed him, chuckling as he rubbed between Rorc’s ears. “Nice to see you again too, Rorc. Same to you Rubah.” Gently rolling the otter away from himself, he got up. “So Rorc, did you find anything interesting around here?”
Rorc shook a dagger at him. “You knew that I was from Redwall the entire time, didn’t you?”
Russano grinned, “I knew you’d get here eventually, and there was no pressing need for you to know.” He looked at Rubah pointedly. “I also know something else.” Kneeling down, he whispered into Rubah’s ear. “Mutual love may be blind, Rubah, but lust is blinder, especially to manipulation and ulterior motives.”
Rubah bit his tongue at this as Russano stood up. “So Rorc.” He said normally, “How is Redwall?”
Rorc shrugged, “All the Skippers and Log-a-Logs have arrived, along with a group of squirrels lid by Fwirl’s father.” Russano looked slightly surprised, but didn’t say anything; most likely he made a mental note to congratulate Fwirl when he saw her. Rorc continued, “Zartho hasn’t made any moves, but” he glanced at Rubah, “I think he’ll attack soon.”
Russano caught the glance. “What are you gonna do when he attacks Rubah?”
Rubah stood up, “I don’t know, okay? It’s not that easy to a decision!” He angrily slung his axe over his shoulder and stalked off. At the edge of the camp he paused and looked back, conscious of Rorc’s grey-blue eyes on him. Groaning, he walked off into the woodlands. Why me? Why does this have to be my decision?
Rorc watched his brother stalk off with a look of pained sadness in his eyes. Russano put a comforting paw on his shoulder. “What are you going to do if he decides to go with his father?”
Rorc wasn’t surprised Russano knew the connection; the Badger Lord just seemed to know things. “I hope that doesn’t happen, but if it does I can only hope that I’ll be able to knock him out until the end of the battle.” He sighed. “It won’t be easy.”
Rubah sighed as he walked through the camp towards his tent. He had known that his dilemma was bothering him, but he hadn’t realized just how much. He had snapped at a Badger Lord, and more than that, it had been Russano, somebeast that had shown him nothing but kindness.
The fox pushed aside the flap covering the entrance to his tent and stepped inside. Reyna sprang up from where she reclined on his cot and ran to him. “You’re back!” she said, “I missed you.”
Rubah chuckled, “Rorc said the same thing.” Reyna’s eyes flashed, but Rubah wasn’t quite sure what the emotion had been. Frustration? Anger? Annoyance?
She shook her head, “Of course he would say that, he’s trying to manipulate you.”
Manipulate. The word immediately triggered memories of what both Rorc and Russano had said. Sure, they could be saying that just to manipulate him, but the opposite was also true. So it really came down to one thing.
Who did he want to believe?
“What were you thinking?”
Rorc glanced hopefully at Russano, who just stood back and grinned as Rorc was lectured by his mother. Pearl was in full swing and Rorc was beginning to rethink his position that having somebeast to worry about him was a good thing. Glancing over towards Snowstripe his hopes for rescue were crushed there as well. The badger’s blindingly white stripes had gained a faint rosy hue as he fought to hold in his laughter.
Pearl continued berating her son. “The woodlands are crawling with vermin and you just go gallivanting off without a care in the world!” Spinning to Russano she smiled, “Thank you for bringing him back Lord Russano, I was going to have Deyna send out a search party, but you got here first thankfully.” She turned back to Rorc. “Why in the world would you think that just leaving me a note would make putting yourself in danger fine?”
“Hon.” Deyna broke in. “He has been living in the woodlands for fourteen seasons.”
Pearl glared at her husband, then pointed at Rorc. “Don’t you dare leave these walls again, Rorc!”
“I’ll make sure he won’t, ma’am.” Said Snowstripe suddenly. “C’mon Rorc, you can help me be more than a lumbering boulder with this sword of mine.”
Rorc chuckled as he eyed the massive spiked weapon strapped across the young badger’s back. “I hope you don’t want me to show you any tricks with that thing.”
Arbuc and Awavian stood on the edge of a rather large crowed as they watched the young Badger Lord and otter go at it. They had been sparring for the last half hour, earning them slack-jawed stares from the crowd. Fur and clothes were soaked and lay flat against their bodies, muscles rippling as they moved. Their sweat-slicked figures emphasized their difference in build. Snowstripe clearly had the upper paw in pure brawn, his rippling muscles showing through as he swung his massive sword.
Rorc, on the other paw, was much leaner, relying on speed and agility to avoid the other male. Arbuc was amazed at his brother’s stamina. Rorc’s style of fighting frequently launched him into flips over the sword at heights that would be head level for him. But despite all the leaps, twists, and dives he was completing, the otter’s breath was coming only slightly harder than normal.
“Amazing.” Breathed Awavian as Rorc dodged a salvo of swift jabs and slashes from Snowstripe, all the while laughing at the frustrated glare the badger was giving him.
“And that confirms what I thought.” Arbuc murmured.
Awavian tore his eyes away from the sparring duo to look at his friend. “What’s that?”
The otter looked down. “I was going through the infirmary records a few months ago and I ran across an interesting account. Rorc’s description of how he fought jogged my memory of it so I went and dug it up again. Anyway, the report told of a crossbreed otter named Keyla. He had the condition Rorc described, and the document want into more detail.” Arbuc raised his eyes and fixed them on Rorc as he continued speaking. “They’re called Ragers. The condition is present in several sea otter lines, but it mostly stays under the surface. In battle, those exhibiting the condition are faster and more precise and accurate than any other beast. They can grab arrows out of the air and dodge multiple attacks. But when taken over by the condition they become cold, ruthless killers.”
Awavian glanced at the laughing otter as he rolled between Snowstripe’s legs. He raised an eyebrow. “Really.”
Arbuc nodded. “Yes.” He paused for a moment, then continued. “It also says that controlling the power puts extreme mental strain on the user, and many have become…er…broken…from trying to control it too often. It also puts strain on the body, it wasn’t built to attain the speeds it does under Raging.”
“Last thing that I found interesting though is that a crossbreed otter Rager seems to have an even more advanced version of Raging, as well as it seems not to cause as much strain on the mind. The document said nothing about the strain on the body, so I don’t know anything about that, but it should be interesting to see how Rorc handles it.”
Awavian laughed. “A little clinical, don’t you think? He is your brother.”
Arbuc gave a sheepish smile, “Right, sorry, I got caught up in the idea.”
“There’s a fox coming up the path!” came a shout from the walltop.
Rorc paused in his sparring to say one word, “Rubah.” Then he rushed off, the tip of Snowstripe’s sword whistling through empty air inches behind his neck.
Rubah finished polishing the last part of his armor, the platemail shoulder pieces that Russano had fixed to the shoulders. The badger had looked at the chainmail when they were at Salamandastron and had determined that it was of surprisingly good make, maybe taken off one of the Long Patrol in bygone seasons. He had fixed a few broken links and changed it slightly so it fit better on the fox and pronounced it good. As a little extra he added platemail shoulders so he could take blows there and not be as sore the next day.
He sighed and pushed the memories away. They only reminded him of how he had acted around the Badger Lord earlier. Rubah sighed again as he donned the mail, he could only hope that Rorc and Lord Russano wouldn’t hate him. He was mostly worried what his brother would think of him, or it Rorc even thought of him as a brother anymore.
Leaving his tent, Rubah checked that his axe was over his shoulder before walking across to his father’s tent. Giving the guards a nod he pushed the flap aside and walked in. Zartho and Dagger paused in their conversation as he walked in, both leaning over a table littered with tiny markers. Rubah glanced at the bloodstains around the center post.
“You wanted me, Father?”
Zartho nodded, “Yes, I did. I decided to have you give those woodlanders one last chance to surrender before we attack.” The Commander walked from behind the table and slowly circled Rubah, surveying him. “You certainly polish well.” He commented.
Rubah resisted the urge to roll his eyes at his father’s continued low expectations of him. “I grew up around weapons, Father. I know how to polish armor.”
Zartho ignored him and continued. “Yes, well done.” Grabbing a roll of parchment off the table he handed it to Rubah. “This is our terms of surrender. Either they surrender or they all die tomorrow. You can tell them that.”
Rubah took the parchment and looked over the contents, raising an eyebrow at a couple of the latter ones. Shoving it through his belt he nodded, “Easy enough.”
Zartho turned back to the table. “You get a move on. It’s getting late and I need their answer soon so I can get everybeast moving on time.”
Rubah looked at his father’s back for a moment before turning and leaving.
Zartho waited for a moment, then spoke quietly. “Remember, stay out of sight. I don’t want him to know that he’s being followed.”
Rubah couldn’t help but feel slightly intimidated as he stared at the gigantic building placed just off the path. Sentries stood on the walltops between the battlements, no doubt they had seen him already.
Pausing, he checked his armor self-consciously before turning off the path and moving a short distance toward the gate. Glancing at those assembles on the walltop looking over the edge at him he stopped.
Looking up again, Rubah winced inwardly as his eyes connected with Rorc’s. The otter was perched on the edge of the wall on the top of a battlement, paw gripping the edge. Behind him stood a group of otters, his family, Rubah realized. Forcing himself to hold the otter’s gaze, Rubah tried to read the otter’s emotions. The otter’s face portrayed something of a sad hopefulness, perhaps hoping that the fox had come to join him, but knowing that he hadn’t. Something else was in his eyes though. It took a minute for Rubah to recognize it, having now bothered to dig this deep for quite awhile. But soon it came to him. Love. Not the passionate kind that he had seen between Russano and Rosalaun but rather the burning love that left no doubt in Rubah’s mind that if the choice came between Rorc’s life and his own, Rorc would sacrifice himself without a second thought. Rubah felt ashamed. After what he’d done and what he was doing he didn’t deserve anything close to the brotherly love that was shining through those eyes.
Rubah took a deep breath and began what he had set out to do. “This is your last chance to surrender! Either surrender today or you will all die tomorrow! Again, the terms are…”
The name was spoken softly, but it carried in the silence that had accompanied the pause in the fox’s words. Rubah fell silent a moment before replying. “Nightblade.”
He heard the otter’s soft chuckle. “Have they started calling me that?”
“Yes.” Rubah said, “Now, the terms.”
“Rubah, we aren’t going to surrender. You can tell Zartho that if he attacks he’ll be destroyed.”
Rubah turned away, his course set. “So be it, Rorc, so be it.”
Zartho sat back as Dagger finished his report. “Hmm…we’ll have to keep an eye on him but I think he’s safe.
Rorc held up his paws. “I know it’s not the first strategy that comes to mind, but its one that will allow us to end them.”
Skipper sputtered. “But…outside the walls?”
Rorc nodded. “Think about it. If we fight outside the walls we can station squirrels in the trees. Other archers can stand on the walltops and use that advantage. Fighting just outside the walls allows them to cover us on the ground outside. Also, fighting outside means that those of us who only do paw-to-paw stuff can actually do something.”
He glanced at Russano. “I think the Long Patrol actually trains for large-scale combat, so they might fight better outside in the open anyways. Besides, if we are overwhelmed…” Rorc waved his arms for silence over the roar that followed his words. Finally they quieted. “if they overwhelm us, the non-fighters are safe in Koitr and Foremole can close the tunnel so nobeast can even tell it was there. Those outside could disappear and harry Zartho’s horde until we could take Redwall back.”
Skipper sat back. “Fine, you’ve made your point, but I want to see more strategy.”
Heads nodded, then set to work.
All of Redwall was up early the next morning, and a veritable buzz emanated from the abbey as everybeast prepared. The dibbuns were quickly sent down to Kotir and the moles checked their workings, making sure that the runnel to Kotir could be quickly sealed.
The squirrels left early with their bows to set up around the fringes of the woodlands. Much to Awavian’s dismay, he was still too injured to fire from the trees, but he absolutely refused to go to Kotir with the other sick and injured. Arbuc finally relented on the condition that he stayed on the walltop, which the squirrel grudgingly agreed to.
Breakfast was a subdued affair among the woodlanders, the knowledge that this may be the last time they break bread with their friends hanging heavy over their heads. Only among the Long Patrol did the mood remain jovial, but even they knew that they were just covering up their true feelings. As one archer said, “Save th’ blinkin’ tears for when y’ don’t need to see clearly, wot?”
The only beast that truly seemed to be looking forward to the day was Rorc, but nobeast had known him long enough to decide if the excitement was genuine or a cover-up.
“Ok everybeast, let’s get out there!” said Rorc, nearly bouncing with excitement. “If I know Zartho he’ll be here early, he’s eager to clear us out, but we’re gonna clear him out!”
There was a chorus of cheers from the Long Patrol, and some apprehensive clapping from the woodlanders. Deyna stared at his son from across the room, wondering how he could be looking forward the bloodbath that no doubt waited for them outside the walls. Pearl chuckled from beside him.
“He sounds just like my father did when a corsair ship decided to chase us. Same bouncing confidence, except Arflow would swing his cutlass around while delivering his speech.”
“Well,” chuckled Deyna, “I suppose he could be stabbing those daggers at everybeast.”
Rorc took Arbuc aside as he began to leave Cavern Hole. “Keep sentries patrolling the other walls. Once he sees that we’re all outside the front he should stay there, he doesn’t want us scattering into the woodlands, but I might be wrong and let’s not be caught off guard.” Rorc hesitated for a moment, then pulled the younger otter into a hug. “It’s nice to know my little brother.” He whispered into Arbuc’s ear. “Either they go down today or I do, so take care of ‘em if it turns out thousand-to-one odds are my match, ‘kay?”
The younger otter nodded, slightly shocked by his brother’s statement. Rorc held him at arm’s length, then raised his left paw and touched his left ear. “Tomorrow’ll look better above th’ ground, kay?”
Arbuc chuckled, “Where’d you get that one?”
Rorc grinned, “Juskaron phrase that we used to wish each other luck when the odds weren’t in our favor.”
Arbuc raised an eyebrow, “And when the odds were in your favor?”
Rorc turned and began walking away, calling over his shoulder. “Don’t die or I’ll kill you myself.”
Rorc stood on the path, centered on the west wall behind him. Deyna stood on his left, the sword of Martin strapped across his back, the blood-red pommelstone gleaming in the sunlight. The duo were framed by the two Badger Lords, Snowstripe on Rorc’s right.
Rorc glanced up at the young badger as he shifted. Up. Rorc chuckled unexpectedly, it wasn’t often he had to crane his neck to look somebeast in the eyes.
Snowstripe looked down at him and caressed the pommel of his sword which had had stood point-down in the ground between his footpaws. “Your father wields the sword with the oldest pommel in the world, but this may very well be the oldest full sword in existence. Boar the Fighter made it shortly after he arrived at Salamandastron and wielded it throughout his life. His hares recovered it along with his body after he died fighting his nemesis, Ripfang.
Russano chuckled, “Yes, after he heard my story of Lord Brocktree he wanted to wield a sword that that Lord, but that sword is gone so he wouldn’t stop bugging me until I fixed up Boar’s sword for his use. Of course, he couldn’t use it for ten or twelve seasons, but that didn’t stop him from trying. Once he finally picked it up, he wouldn’t put it down. Now he wields it with precision that might rival even the old Badger Lords.”
Snowstripe blushed, “I’m not that good.”
Rorc elbowed him—or rather tried to, it didn’t really work through the armor he was wearing—in the hip, which was as high as he could reach. “You’d better be that good, you’re a big target.”
Snowstripe looked down at himself, sheathed in badger platemail, not a tuft of fur showing. Once the battle started he’d pull down his visor and only the best or archers could possibly fit an arrow through the narrow slits, and then only with a little luck. “Isn’t this stuff supposed to help?”
Rorc shrugged. “For some it does.” The otter was dressed in his usual green shorts, having refused the chainmail that Pearl had thrust at him, then finally accepted it, only to hand it off to a squirrel. Little did the otter know that that one shirt of mail had passed through nearly the entire group of unarmored beasts before a squirrel finally put it on.
Deyna had accepted a shirt of chain mail but had refused anything else, saying it would be strange enough to fight wearing a shirt of metal, he didn’t need any more.
Pearl stood next to Awavian on the walltop, each of them wielding a sling and a bow, respectively. Awavian had spent the morning sorting through his stockpile of arrows, placing the straight ones to the side for when the battle became more confused. As he looked down each one he imagined it driving into some part of Zartho, most often his footpaw.
Resah was down the wall a ways, imagining much the same thing as she checked her bow and stockpile of arrows obsessively.
Abbess Mhera walked among the woodlanders, encouraging, calming, and strengthening them with her words. She had flatly refused to go below and had threatened the Abbess’s wrath on anybeast who tried to take her down there by force.
Thorne and Skipper were both out in the ground troops somewhere, wielding javelins and slings and gunning for Zartho’s blood.
Deyna smiled grimly, that made four beasts with a personal vendetta against the fox. Unless the fox led from the rear there wasn’t much chance of him leaving this battle alive. Anybeast with half a chance would take a shot at him.
A squirrel shot from the north path, followed shortly by another from the south. Both had the same report, the five armies were converging on the western plains, from where they would march on Redwall. The battle would begin in less than ten minutes.
Deyna sighed as he drew Martin’s Sword, the gleaming blade flashing in the sunlight, a symbol of all the abbey had lived through.
He really hated killing.
Rubah stood next to his father as he watched the two halves of the horde combine. If any army had deserved the term “horde” it was this one. He was surprised the land had supported them for as long as it had.
He assumed that the amount of fighting beasts inside Redwall could not exceed twenty-five score, which made the odds a healthy five to one, even with the addition of the Long Patrol.
He hadn’t told anybeast about the arrival of the Long Patrol, he didn’t want to betray his brother any more than necessary.
“Rubah.” Said Zartho from next to him.
The older fox half-drew his greatsword and examined it before slamming it home. “I want you to lead the initial charge.”
Rubah nodded, coolly accepting the job. “Anything special ah do?”
The Commander nodded. “You walk fifteen paces out before stopping. Wait five seconds, then charge.”
Rubah nodded, “Easy enough.”
“Good.” Zartho grunted, “Let’s get a move on!” He shouted to the horde and like an acidic ooze they began their advance on the abbey, intent on destroying all it stood for.
The tension in the air was almost tangible as the Redwallers and their allies watched their enemy march closer. A hundred paces from the path they halted, just out of bow range. A venturesome arrow flew from the top of the wall and buried itself twenty paces away from the front lines.
The Redwallers watched in silence as the horde split into its five sections, the General of each standing five paces in front of everybeast else. From the center army of rats a lone fox stepped forward. Rorc recognized him at once.
“Hold fire.” He said to Russano, and the badger lifted a paw. The hares on the walltop relayed the command to the rest of the archers. They reluctantly lowered their bows and watched with unbridled hostility.
Rubah took fifteen paces out and stopped, staring at the tiny force arrayed against the horde, then he looked back at the sea of creatures behind him. Turning back, he stared again at the Redwallers. So outnumbered, yet bravely defending those they loved. From the legends he had picked up from the native vermin that had lived around here they were certainly a stubborn lot.
“What are y’ waitin’ for?” Zartho called from behind him.
“I’m lettin’ ‘em stew for a bit.” Rubah yelled back.
“You! If he turns on me, shoot him.” Zartho said to an archer near him. The rat glanced at Rubah, then nodded.
Rubah’s ears flicked back as he heard the exchange. He had the feeling that Zartho would never fully trust him.
The fox sighed as he reached back and pulled the axe from his shoulder. Unclipping the carrying strap from the shaft, he wrapped it around his waist and fastened it there. His entire body screamed at him to do the opposite of what he was doing, but it was really the only viable choice.
He raised his axe above his head and listened to the clatter as both sides readied their weapons. Bringing it down to point at Redwall, he lifted his voice to shout whose words that they all had been dreading, hoping, and above all, waiting to hear.
With a roar the horde surged forward, Rubah at the head. The ground fairly shook as the thousands of paws thundered over the last stretch of the plains.
Rorc shook his head as Russano began to shout. “Stay to this side of the ditch, we have the advantage if we keep them filtering across the ditch. That was they can’t use their numbers to just push us back!”
Rorc sprinted forward, leaping the ditch and just barely clearing the other side. He could vaguely hear Deyna and Russano yelling at him to come back, but he paid them no mind.
Rubah smiled as he saw Rorc clear the ditch and rush towards them. Knowing full well what would happen when Rorc collided with the horde, he slowed up and allowed the horde to surge around him.
Rorc felt the familiar calm settle over him as his mind began noticing the little things, how a rat was holding his sword, his expression, how he was running, and gauging where would be the best place to hit the line. He saw Rubah melt back into the horde and grinned, all the better. Drawing his daggers, he sprinted the last few paces faster than before. Leaping over a swordswipe made by a rat he landed on the rat’s shoulders and drove his right-paw dagger into the stunned rat before using him as a springboard. He was there and gone before the rat realized he was dead.
Rubah saw Rorc hit the front line and launched himself into the air. Smiling grimly, he spun, felling a half-dozen rats.
Flying above the heads of the horde, Rorc saw Rubah spin and take out a ring of rats. A grin split his muzzle as he flipped and landed back-to-back with Rubah.
“Thanks for the landing pad, mate.”
Rubah grunted, “I’d think that you’d be too deep to tell jokes by now.”
Rorc’s voice was definatly strained as he struggled to keep talking. “Almost, I can just barely keep myself here.”
Rubah grunted as he blocked a swordstroke and then took off the rat’s head. “Well, shut it and go deep, we need as much as you can give us.”
Rorc’s last sentence was strained. “Will do, tomorrow’ll look better above th’ ground, ‘kay?”
Rubah’s next swipe buried itself in a rat’s chest. “You be there to see it.”
The fox felt the pressure of the otter’s back leave his for a second before returning. He knew from experience that two, maybe three opponents would be on the ground. When he wasn’t deep it might be one dead, two tops, but once be went in that number quickly went up. Soon he would be far enough gone that he’d just charge off so he wouldn’t have to worry about spinning too far and slicing Rubah. But for now it was a routine of a second back-to-back, a second off killing.
Deyna was one of the first to engage the vermin as they crossed the ditch. His seasons of training with Martin’s sword paid off as he cut through their ranks. Nobeast made him pause, Martin’s sword shearing through most of the ill-made weapons of the horde.
Off to the side he saw Snowstripe wielding his sword in long sweeps. The badger had started with tight jabs and cuts, focusing on one at a time, but he quickly realized that most of them were ill-trained and so he reverted to just slicing through them in wide cuts.
Awavian could see Rorc and the fox that had ordered the charge fighting side-by-side and assumed that he was Rorc’s friend. Spying a rat sneaking up on the fox’s blind side, he quickly nocked one of his arrows and sent it off.
Rubah flinched as an arrow hissed by his ear, and was startled as a scream burst from his blind side. Glancing over, he saw a rat fall to the ground with an arrow through the eye. Looking toward the abbey he saw a squirrel in a kilt wave at him from the walltop. Shaking his head at the crazy distance, he couldn’t help but wonder why the abbey attracted such crazy talent. Another arrow hissed by his ear and another scream sounded from behind him. He took the squirrel’s wild gestures as an order to get back to fighting and turned in time to block and swordstroke just before an arrow took the rat between the eyes. A shout from Rorc warned him that the otter was off.
“Ee aye eeh!”
Then the otter left, bouncing from beast to beast, dodging all attempts to impale him. Five beasts were dead in quick succession, one through the eye, two with their throats cut, an armored rat through the armpit, and another bleeding out from a cut vein on the inside of his thigh that Rorc had given him when the otter had rolled through his legs before launching himself into the air.
“Awavian, where’s Resah?”
Awavian sent one more ferret to the dark forest before ducking down behind the battlements. Glancing to where the otter had been, he saw the bow leaning against the wall and no arrows in sight. “I think she ran out of arrows.” He glanced at Mhera. “Oh…” The squirrel quickly sprang up and looked over the wall. Searching through the beasts on the ground it didn’t take long to locate the otter’s furious onslaught. “I’ll try to keep her alive.” He groaned as he swiftly began picking off the vermin approaching her blind spots.
Deyna groaned as he disemboweled yet another fox. The armies had long ago merged into one, and it felt as if he had been fighting for days. A quick glance at the sun assured him that it had been only hours, but that didn’t make him feel any better. The ditch in front of him was packed solid with bodies; the vermin could just walk across the top instead of climbing down now.
Rorc was still alive; he knew this from the sight of the young otter flying over the top of the horde’s heads every once in awhile. He looked alright, but he was some distance away.
Suddenly he caught a glimpse of a fox across the ditch. Despite having only seen him once, there was no mistaking that fox, or his sword. Without a second thought he threw away Russano’s advice and charged across the ditch.
I have blisters on top of my blisters. Awavian thought vaguely as he picked off yet another hordebeast attacking Resah, this one a fox. He was on what was possibly his tenth bundle of arrows. His paw was tired, his arm was cramping, but still he pushed himself. If it wasn’t for him, Resah would’ve been dead in ten minutes. As it was they were on their fifth hour. If anybeast deserved to see Zartho die, it was her.
Zartho glanced around as he neared the ditch, surprised. He had known that the Redwallers would put up a fight, but this way more than he had expected. The Long Patrol was an unwelcome addition, especially with the two badger lords, but his horde still should be able to beat down these woodlanders.
Suddenly an otter burst from the ditch and sped toward him, blood streaming from his sword as he struck down beasts right and left as he made a beeline for the Commander.
Zartho grinned as he stopped and spun his sword; Shavant’s vision was close to becoming reality.
Mhera stood near the northeast corner of the walltop, staring in horrified sadness at the carnage outside the walls. Two out of every five woodlander had died, but with the help of the Long Patrol the horde had taken much higher casualties.
The iron tang of spilled blood was thick in the air, the stench causing many of the more gentle-hearted beasts to turn away to heave and retch, but they quickly returned to the battle. The clash of weapons rang out as it had for the last five hours. That and the screams of the wounded and dying melded into a continuous roar that echoed through the Abbess’s mind.
Looking over the battlefield she picked out her family and close friends. It didn’t take much besides looking out onto the plains to find her oldest nephew. Rorc’s daggers were very nearly weaving a web of steel around him as he took on the assault from all sides. She was amazed at how much damage the one otter had done. He and the fox had very nearly taken a quarter of the kills.
Remembering the fox she found him as well. It took a little longer to pick him out of the mass of other vermin, but she supposed he would be the only one with a battleaxe fighting a swarm of ferrets and rats.
Glancing to where she had last seen Resah, she was slightly surprised to find that she had not moved very far from her original position. Vermin bodies were piled high around her as she dueled a black-furred fox. As Mhera watched, three beasts who were sneaking up behind Resah were taken out in quick succession by arrows.
Looking over to where the arrows had originated from she winced as she saw the condition of Awavian’s right paw. The bowstring was painted red with blood from his fingers and the wall in front of him was splattered with the droplets that flew from his bowstring each time he released.
Returning her gaze to Resah’s vicinity she realized that at least two thirds of them had been killed by arrows. The squirrel had surprised them all with his skill with a bow, but his explanation was that he had used a bow back when he lived in the borderlands.
A nearby cry of pain broke through her thoughts and the Abbess hurried along the wall to tend to a mouse that had just taken an arrow through the shoulder.
Rubah was growing tired, but then again, so were his opponents. The fox suddenly reversed the direction his axe was going and buried it in yet another hordebeast. He had long ago stopped counting the beasts he had killed, the last number he remembered was two hundred fifty-four.
He dropped onto his back as a cat bullrushed him. Kicking the cat over his head, he finished his backwards roll and spun, cleaving the cat’s head from his shoulders.
Deyna leapt back, the tip of Zartho’s sword skittering down the front of his chainmail. The wickedly sharp tip of the greatsword sliced through the iron rings of the armor, turning the shirt into a vest.
Shoving Martin’s sword into the ground, he shrugged the chainmail off and tossed it aside. It would hinder more than help him now. This fox was an expert with his greatsword and Deyna had never felt so close to being played with before.
Growling, he pulled the sword out of the ground and began to advance again, a backhand swing cutting the throat of a pale-furred stoat that had gotten too close. Zartho swung his sword and the crash rang loud in their ears as it skated off Martin’s sword.
Deyna barely had time for a short slash before he had to bring the sword down to defend his legs against the seeking blade. The otter was amazed at the speed Zartho handled the heavy sword. The fox was the most skillful opponent he had ever faced, except for Rorc and he wasn’t sure if either his son or Zartho had shown their true capabilities yet. He vaguely noticed that the horde was giving them a wide berth and largely ignoring the two.
Beams of sunlight flashed as the two battled, their blades weaving webs of steel around their bodies. At times they would close in on each other, bodies inches away, only to spin away again.
Unlike many battles, they didn’t fall into any set rhythm, constantly changing tactics to try to catch the other off guard. There was no sense of fair play as dirt was tossed in each other’s faces and beasts were tugged between them. Suddenly Deyna stumbled back as Zartho kicked him. The fox spun his sword, eyes narrowing.
“This has been fun, but I have an abbey to conquer, so you have to die.”
Zartho charged and met Deyna in a series of blindingly fast attacks. Just a few seconds in, Deyna realized he was horribly outmatched. He tried to put his years of training to use but Zartho’s attacks seemed to be coming from all directions.
Martin’s sword rang like a bell as if flew into the air, the clear ringing breaking into staccato notes as it clattered to the ground behind Zartho. The roar of the battle faded completely from Deyna’s ears as he stared in shock from the sword to Zartho and back again.
The fox grinned widely, “Surprised? My seer saw this.”
Then he swung.
Rorc dove between two foxes and stabbed one with his left-paw dagger and ran the other through with a sword he had picked up awhile back. He tried not to throw his knives in large battles because they were so hard to find again, and this battle was beyond large, beyond huge in fact. So he used other beast’s weapons as projectiles.
Leaving the sword in the still-staggering fox he grabbed the fox’s spear and threw it, pinning two vermin through their necks and cutting open the throat of another during flight. Yanking the sword out of the still-collapsing body he threw it, the blade spinning twice before sinking into a weasel’s chest.
As the weasel fell Rorc caught sight of a sword spinning above the horde, giving a clear, ringing tone. And it wasn’t just any sword; it was Martin’s sword.
In his Raging state it was hard to concentrate on anything except his adversary’s arteries, but even now he knew that whoever had been holding that sword had just been disarmed. Then he realized something…
His father was supposed to be holding that sword.
Rorc launched himself in that direction, using a nearby hordebeast as a vaulting block. As he rose above the crowd his mind took it all in. His father standing, stunned, Zartho gloating. He hit the ground just in time to see Zartho swing at his father. The otter tried to leap back, but he was too slow. Instead of being cut in half, his chest was ripped open, right down to the white bone.
Rorc heard his mother scream as his father fell, crimson liquid gushing from his chest. Zartho stood above him, laughing triumphantly as he raised his sword, point down over Deyna’s chest, for the killing blow.
“Look!” He shouted to his horde, “With his death the heart of Redwall is gone!”
Rorc knew he had a choice. He could either kill Zartho and the falling sword would kill Deyna, or he could save his father and hope to kill Zartho. Deyna wasn’t likely to survive that gash in his chest…
Zartho thrust down…only to have a blur of brown and green knock his sword to the side. The fox yelped as his forearm was torn open by a knife as the beast passed. Whirling towards this new attacker—the otter was as good as dead anyways—he confronted the attacker.
His eyes lit up with anticipation. “Nightblade! I was wondering how long you would fight these weakling,” He gestured to his horde, who were looking on, battle forgotten, “before coming to find me.”
Rorc struggled to control himself. “You are going to die.” He managed to spit out, the cold calculation fading from his eyes for a moment.
Zartho laughed, “That’s what he said.” He waved his sword vaguely at the rapidly dying otter. “Guess Taggerungs aren’t invincible.”
“Nope.” Said Rorc. “I found that out when I beat him two days ago.”
“Well.” Said Zartho, “Then this will be all the more fun.”
They both charged at the same moment, Zartho stabbing at Rorc as he got close. Rorc crossed his knives and pushed the sword up as it was trapped where they crossed. Sliding the crossed blades down to the hilt of the sword, he swiftly kicked Zartho in the gut before darting out of reach.
Zartho swung his sword and Rorc dropped under it, lashing out at the fox’s legs before rolling away.
Rorc could see the ground under his father becoming soggy with all the blood that was being added from the otter. Sighing, he completely let himself go, releasing all control over his impulses.
It was a weird, third-person feel that washed over Rorc as his body seemed to act by itself, certainly acting without conscious thought. He darted forward into Zartho’s backswing and leaped, placing a footpaw on the flat of Zartho’s blade as it passed and kicked off. Leaping over his head, Rorc twisted his upper body downward viciously, slamming his daggers into the base of Zartho’s skull. His momentum caused him to continue turning and land on his feet, arms bent backwards over his shoulders, still gripping the daggers in Zartho’s skull. Continuing his momentum, he leaned forward, pulling the fox onto his back before flipping forward, slamming the fox on his stomach as he landed on his back.
Rorc tried to gain control of himself, but failed as he shot up, ripping the daggers from Zartho and darting off into the stunned horde, unable to stop himself.
Zartho lay on the ground, gasping as he felt his life ebb away. A tattered and bloodied otter staggered up to him, leaning on her sword and glaring at him with eyes full of hate and vengeful glee.
“H-How?” Zartho gasped, coughing up blood. “S-Shavant said…nobeast c-could…stop me.”
Resah leaned over him. “Maybe she got excited, ever though that she added that part, filth?”
Zartho’s eyes opened wide with shock. Shavant had been excited, and the statement was not the kind she usually made when relaying her visions. He let out a scream as his footpaw erupted in an explosion of pain.
Resah glanced at the arrow in the fox’s footpaw. Grinning maliciously, she turned back to him. “That is from my good friend Awavian as payback for what you did to his footpaw.”
Swinging the sword above her head, she screamed out, “And this is for Pike!”
Zartho felt a line of burning fire stretch across his chest before his mind went dark.
Arbuc was racing down the wallsteps the moment he saw what his mother was screaming about. Tearing the gate open, he raced past the two startled otters that stood guarding the door. Stumbling in his haste and panic he rushed through the battle, miraculously avoiding all the slashing blades and flailing limbs. Slipping on the blood-soaked ground, he fell hard. Rolling, he scrambled to his feet and sprinted on. Arbuc skidded to a stop as a fox fell in his path, and gaping hole in his stomach.
Arbuc stared at the dead fox in horror, purpose forgotten. A paw clamped onto his shoulder, causing the otter to yelp and try to twist away. The paw just clamped down tighter and held him steady.
“Settle down, matey. What’re ya doin’ out ‘ere?”
Arbuc sighed a little and relaxed as he realized that it was Thorne behind him. He hadn’t noticed the otter, but then he hadn’t noticed much in his rush. Arbuc suddenly stiffened as he remembered the reason for his rush. Biting back and exclamation the young otter took off, Thorne hard on his heels. Ducking and waving he soon made it to the ditch that lined the path and began stumbling across it. Slipping on the shifting limbs beneath his footpaws, he fell to one knee, unknowingly ducking a thrown knife. A slingstone from Thorne quickly dispatched the vermin as Arbuc scrambled up and carried on.
Finally he caught sight of Deyna, lying in a pool of his own blood. Zartho lay a few feet away, Resah slowly slumping down beside the dead Commander, her vengeance satisfied. Arbuc ran to his father and fell to his knees a Deyna’s side, frantically going through the pouches on his belt, telling his father to hang on, that he could make him better.
Thorne glanced around for any threats, but the vermin near them had seen Zartho’s body and were trying to escape as quickly as possible. If the whole horde acted like this, soon all the vermin would be gone. Knowing that he could do nothing to help Deyna or Arbuc, Thorne walked over to Resah. The otterlady looked as if she had fought past Hellgates itself as she lay there, her breathing ragged. The dress she was wearing was in tatters; through Thorne suspected that she had torn off the bottom half herself. Her hide was lacerated so much that strips of skin hung loose around her body. Deep cuts were sprinkled across her entire body, and she was missing both her right ear and her left forepaw.
Cracking her eyes open at him as he kneeled next to her, she grinned crookedly, the muscles on the right side of her face not responding due to a deep cut there. “We got ‘im, Thorne. Me, Rorc, and Awavian each got a piece of ‘im. I got t’ kill ‘im though. Least I could do for…Pike?”
Resah’s eyes lit up as she stared at the empty space next to Thorne. Somehow the otter knew that Resah was being greeted by her love at the gates of the dark forest. He backed off slightly as her paw came up and gently stroked the air in front of her, caressing Pike’s unseen face. Her paw stilled as her thumb continued rubbing. “He’s dead now, hun. I killed him.”
Her head turned slightly as she gazed at a new spot. “Skipper? You’re here too?” She paused as she listened to the unheard voices. Then she smiled softly. “I’ll tell him, Skip.” Her gaze shifted back to Thorne. “Skipper says that he’s sorry he wasn’t able to formally transfer the title of Skipper to you, but he wants you to be Skipper.” She shifted her gaze back to the unseen duo. “That sounds wonderful, hun. Our own house next to a steam…rapids just upstream and a small waterfall just above them…I can’t wait to see it.” Slowly, her paw fell to her side as she closed her eyes, the whisper of her last breath escaping her lips.
Thorne bent his head in sorrow, tears threatening to cloud his vision. This war had taken three of the most prominent figures in his life. First it had taken Pike, who had been like his brother and now it had taken Resah and Skipper, who had been like his father and sister. His mind returned to Deyna, at least he could try to keep one of the creatures he looked up to alive. Hurrying over to where the Redwall champion lay, he knelt beside him as Arbuc tied the last bandage.
“We need to take him to Rukky.” He said to Arbuc.
The young otter nodded, “Aye, I was goin’ to suggest that. The bandages and salve will keep him from bleeding to death on the way there.”
Thorne slipped his arms under Deyna, years of training and playing with the ottercrew coming into use as he lifted the big otter. Starting off at a fast, but smooth, pace, he signaled to some of the ottercrew to make a stretcher to carry the otter on the go. Thorne looked down at the otter in his arms.
“Rukky, you had better still be alive.”
Rubah looked around for Rorc, his axe slung over his shoulder. Catching sight of the otter pursuing the fleeing vermin out on the plains, he took off in a sprint, whispering a soft thank you when a group turned to fight, slowing down the otter’s headlong rush.
The fox arrived just as the last ferret was dispatched by Rorc. Rubah unsheathed his knife and threw it at Rorc, picking up a shield as he did so, ducking behind it. The otter snagged the dagger out of the air, turning in a circle and whipping it back in the direction it came from. Rubah felt the shield shudder as the dagger sank into the thick wood. Dropping the shield he shrugged off his axe, tossing that aside as well. Standing unarmed, he spread his empty paws wide. Tilting his head up slightly, he stood still, fully venerable, as the otter charged him. He was gambling that Rorc would recognize him as a small threat, calming down enough for him to get a grip on himself.
He stared into the otter’s eyes as Rorc slid to a stop in front of him. The hard, cold chips of his eyes held the fox’s for a moment, then melted back to their normal playful warmth as he stepped forward, enveloping the fox in a firm embrace.
“You don’t know how happy I am t’ see that ya made it, mate.”
Rubah chuckled. “If it’s anythin’ like ‘ow I’m feelin’, then yeah, ah do.”
“You worried ‘bout Reyna at all?” Rorc asked. Rubah grinned as he thought back to that confrontation.
Rubah ducked to the side as the thin saber hissed through the air. Reyna twirled it before leaping forward in a stab.
“You know.” She hissed, “I never did like you and your soft streak. You were just my tool that I used to elevate my position and authority.”
Rubah leapt back from another of her slashes. “Yeah, I figured that out, with some help.”
Out of the corner of his eye he noticed a weasel drawing back on his bow carefully. Glancing along the archer’s line of sight, he saw Rorc engaged with the General they called Dagger. Thinking quickly, he leapt forward, rotating back midair to plant both his footpaws into Reyna’s chest. She stumbled back as the weasel released his arrow the shaft making a sickening thud as it impacted with the side of her head, driving itself halfway through her brain. He grabbed her saber and threw it, impaling the weasel on the blade. Turning back to Reyna, he addressed her dead body.
“I guess I was just in to your body anyway. I’m not making that mistake again. Fall for the mind, not the body. I suppose I should thank you for the lesson though.”
Rubah smiled at Rorc. “Nope. But I learned a few things.”
Rorc grinned, “I’ll bet.” The otter’s face fell. “Dad…” Suddenly he grabbed Rubah’s arm. “C’mon, I gotta see f my dad’s alright!”
Not finding Deyna where he had fallen, they rushed to the gates, Rorc knocking aside a few beasts that tried to stop Rubah. Seizing his mother by the shoulders, he shouted at her. “Where’s Dad?”
An otter spoke up behind him. “Arbuc and Thorne are taking him to Rukky’s, northeast of here on the river.”
Rorc glanced at her, gratitude shining in his eyes before turning to Rubah. “Stay ‘ere and wait for me before you decide to do anything, please?”
Rubah took one look at the otter’s pleading eyes and nodded his consent. Rorc turned back to his mother and, gesturing to Rubah, he said. “Mom, this is my brother Rubah. I’ve entrusted my life to him on more than one occasion, so treat him how you would treat me. I’m gonna catch up with Dad.” Finishing, he shot out the gate, sliding along the ground as he turned and ran north along the path.
Rubah chuckled as he eyed the bloody pawprints Rorc had left on his mother’s shoulders. “It looks like he took a bath in blood. He’s covered in more of it than when we fought the Juskabor.” He held a paw out. “Name’s Rubah, as Rorc said. You must be th’ mighty Nightblades’s mother.”
Pearl took the paw. “Nightblade?”
Rubah chuckled, “Zartho’s horde dubbed him that after we terrified a few sentries by pretending to be ghosts and were found out. It fits him.”
Pearl smiled, “Rorc Nightblade…yes, I suppose it does. I bet you have some tales of him to tell.”
Rubah smiled, shifting his axe across his back. “Aye, ah can tell you some. A few I’ll keep silent on, he can tell those if he wants.”
A large paw clamped on his shoulder and a deep voice rumbled behind him. “So you decided what was more important?”
Rubah turned and gazed into those deep brown eyes of the Bader Lord. “Yeah, I did.”
The ranks of the otter escort closed as a figure came charging up the path behind them. Readying their javelins, they prepared to fend off the figure if it was hostile. Rorc didn’t bother to introduce himself, electing instead to bounce off a few trees to get the height needed to leap over their heads. Racing up beside Arbuc he asked, “Is he gonna be alright?”
Arbuc hesitated. “If S…Rukky is home, there’s a good chance he’ll survive.” Rorc glanced at Deyna, then up the path. Arbuc caught the look and he grabbed Rorc’s wrist. “No, you can’t carry him, it will crack the salve and he’ll bleed all over again.
His older brother sighed and started twiddling his daggers. It was going to be a long walk.
The entourage paused in a clearing as Thorne began to shout something about soup. Rorc started wondering what in the world they were doing, but Arbuc stepped forward and gestured for him to pick Deyna up. “No time for that, come on!”
The ottercrew looked puzzled as they followed Arbuc down the bank of the river and through a maze of rocks.
As they came around yet another boulder, Arbuc sighed in relief. “Good, he’s home.”
“He?” Rorc said.
“Later.” Arbuc muttered. Tugging aside a bush, he revealed the hidden entrance to a cave. Entering, he shouted, “Streambeck, we need your help! Deyna, gash across his chest from right shoulder to point L4 on his torso, down to bone, high blood loss, he’s unconscious.”
“What was that about?” muttered Thorne.
An otter in his prime appeared from down the tunnel. “This way, hurry! Time for explanations later.”
“We should be seeing Rukky.” Muttered Thorne.
“Rukky’s dead.” Said Streambeck bluntly. “She died the night she completed training me, amazing she held on for as long as she did anyways.” That quieted the rest of the ottercrew.
Streambeck glanced at Rorc. “You must be the rogue I didn’t find. Found your two friends, what happened to you?”
“Juskaron found me when I was gathering apples for us.” Rorc said shortly.
Streambeck nodded, then stopped outside a close door. “Ony myself, Deyna, Arbuc, and, er, you” he nodded to Rorc, “go past this point. And as soon as we have Deyna situated, you leave.” He said, nodding to Rorc again.
Hours later, Streambeck and Arbuc exited the room. “Well, he should make it now, as long as he doesn’t get an infection.”
Thorne looked the unremarkable otter over. “Who are you anyways?”
Streambeck chuckled, “You could say that I’m the new Rukky.”
Thorne looked at Arbuc in amazement. “So all those times we joked about you being trained by Rukky, you actually had?”
Arbuc nodded, “Pretty much, yeah.”
Streambeck turned to Rorc. “Do you want those taken off?”
“These?” Said Rorc, touching his tattoos.
Streambeck nodded, “I can y’ know.”
Rorc thought for a moment. “No, they’re a part of who I am. You may not understand this, but growing up with the Juskaron was a lot like growing up anywhere besides Redwall. And with just me an’ Rubah left, it’ll help me remember them.”
Streambeck nodded and didn’t bring it up again.
The sun rose on the fifth day since the battle, and the laughing of Dibbuns could once again be heard in the orchard. Rubah was playing tag with the dibbuns, his axe out of sight for the first time in months. Rubah had removed his chainmail and was wearing his black combat clothes, which was really just a pair of loose-fitting black pants and a couple of leather straps crossing his torso for weapons when he was armed.
Rorc chuckled from his position a short distance away as the dibbuns ganged up on the fox and tackled him. Walking over, the otter grinned down at the fox pinned under the combined weight of the abbey’s entire population of little ones. “Having fun?”
Rubah grinned back. “It’s more fun when they don’t pull knives on you.”
Arbuc walked up behind them. “Are you gonna stay for awhile then?”
Rorc looked at Rubah. “We’ll stay for awhile at least. Can’t promise anything.”
Extract form the Abbey records:
The summer season is almost up on us and my, what a season it has been! The infirmary is still packed, two weeks after we defeated Zartho. The vermin bodies were gathered together and burned before the dibbuns came up from Kotir, but the stench remained for most of the first week. Deyna doesn’t do much besides rest in the sun so far, but that’s following orders. Rorc still looked grimy from the battle even though it had been five days ago by the time he returned. He looked much better after Rubah hauled him over and threw him in the abbey pond. Those two act like twins, and they drive Pearl nuts!
Mostly life at Redwall runs smoothly now, the bodies of our comrades have been laid to rest, but the grieving continues, though slightly eased by now. The story of Resah’s death as told by Thorne, our new Skipper, has touched many a heart.
Awavian has made a full recovery, and although he can now take to the trees again, he still enjoys swimming in the abbey pond! Many of the squirrels that came to help us against Zartho commented on his strange behavior, but he continues on regardless, much to the delight of his otter friends.
I must make a point to remember to make sure not to lay a paw on Rorc unexpectedly. His life of danger makes him jumpy in large crowds, as was shown when he freaked out when Arbuc laid a paw on his shoulder while he was talking to me. I’ve never seen a beast move so fast. One moment he was talking to me and the next he was holding Arbuc to the wall, a dagger against his brother’s throat. As soon as he realized who is was he backed away apologizing, but we are all more careful around him now.
Recently he and Rubah have taken to walking in the woodlands for extended periods of time. Yesterday they were gone the entire day. I fear that one day they well leave and not come back for a few seasons, but if they decide to do that, nobeast can stop them.
Sister Rosabel, Recorder of Redwall Abbey
Ok, first, thanks to SM who gave me the nudge to start this. Also, my thanks to Major for being my Beta through this story that’s taken me over a year. Thanks to Neil as well for Betaing when Major was off somewhere, as well as giving second opinions.
So I’ve seen my writing get A LOT better since the first few chapters. But hey, it was my first real story try in over seven years. If I would write it again, I would change a few things though. First, I would try to lengthen the first book. Compared to the others, it’s rather short, and not much really happens. Also, the setup of the Five Armies would change. I have five Generals, but Sawtooth the Wildcat General never really made an appearance. Only Halfear, Deatheye, and Dagger really made an appearance. I mean, really, I can’t even remember the other General’s name…oh yeah, it’s Smoke. Huh, he never did anything to live up to his name anyways. Nimbalo and Boorab didn’t get a whole lot of lines, but I couldn’t figure out what to have them do besides for some comic relief every once in awhile.
Now, for some interesting behind-the-scenes info. Many of the scenes and Characters I never had in my outline. In fact, any scene with Arbuc, Awavian, Pike (after book 1), Thorne, Reyna, Resah, Zorr (and Rorc’s flashbacks while his eyesight was gone), the way he got his eyesight back, anything with the Guosim or otter tribes, all that was added. Skipper wasn’t planned to die, but he was getting old and he wanted to go out with a bang instead of die in his bed. The water bucket that Rorc used in his fight with Deyna wasn’t planned either. Originally I just had him defeat Deyna normally, but that wasn’t fun.
Thanks all for reading and commenting, and I hope to see you all for the next part: