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This is dedicated to Fainnen, Insane One, Rose, Zoso159, Blue, Laria, Sandingomm the Wildcat, Meeka (Your essay inspired this story), and everyone who continues to read and critique it. Thanks everybody!
Also, this is copywrited. If I find that anyone, and I repeat, anyone! has been saying it's theirs or something YOU WILL BE SUED!!!!!!
Also, this is not considered canon, nor is it a policy of guideline. It is a fan fiction story by Snowpaw the Wild.
If you have not read Martin the Warrior, Mossflower, and The Legend of Luke, I would suggest you read these first because this contains major spoilers and certain events will not make sense if you haven't read that.
Also, I am messin around with who died and things like that, so if you don't like that, turn back now!
Part 1: Martin the Warrior
I Love You, Martin.
It is during the battle of Marshank. Badrang is headed for the tunnel that Grumm dug under the back wall. He has shoved Grumm aside, knocking the mole unconscious, and Laterose of Noonvale is about to attack him in an effort to divert his attention from the mole.
Badrang watched as the mousemaid flew at him. He readied the sword he was carrying to slay her as she approached, carfully calculating his thrust. He was understandably surprised, then, when the weapon met flesh far sooner than he had expected. Hearing the mousemaid scream, "Martin!", he turned and saw that he had accidentally run another mouse through. Badrang recognized him. Aye, this was the mouse who had sworn to slay him. Martin, son of Luke the Warrior.
Martin staggered back a few paces, pulling the sword out of Badrang's grip. He fell to his knees and ripped the weapon that had once belonged to him out of his own torso. The mouse warrior stared in awe at it, and was still staring when Rose arrived at his side.
"Martin! Martin!" she gasped. She analyzed the injury with a practiced eye, but soon saw that it was far too bad for her to handle. "Brome, come quick!"
"No, Rose!" Martin grasped her arm. "It's no use. I am going to die." He pressed his father's sword into Rose's paw. "You are the warrior now. Protect those weaker than yourself and honor the warrior's code. Always use the sword to stand for good and right, never do a thing you would be ashamed of, and never let your heart rule your mind."
Rose did not want to be a warrior. She had always been a peaceful creature, and knew that her father would never allow her to keep the old weapon. But she also knew that Martin had to pass his vocation on and there was nobeast else. with these things in her heart, she gave Martin her answer. "I swear it, on my life!"
Martin attempted a weak smile, remembering himself give his father the same answer to the same charges. "Rose, there is something I must tell you. Ever since I first saw you, I loved you. But I also knew that you were not meant to be a simple creature. You always were fated to carry my father's blade. You are a warrior, and you always have been."
Rose dropped the weapon as if it was a poisonous snake. "But Martin, what about your oath to slay Badrang? You must live to fulfill it!"
"I shall fulfill it through you, Rose. Goodbye. I love you."
Rose leaned over and gave Martin a light kiss on his cheek as she laid him down on the ground. "I love you too, my dear, sweet Martin. Goodbye."
All this while, Badrang had been laughing maniacly up at the sky and mocking Martin. "Hahahahaha! Going to kill me, eh, mouse? Good luck, lying there with a sword through you! You took it back in a way you didn't want to! Hahahahahaha!"
He was so busy engaging in this foolery that he didn't notice Laterose of Noonvale leave Martin and pick up the fallen weapon. In fact, he didn't notice her at all until she was almost upon him. He could not miss her clear voice screaming one word with hate and anger. "Die!"
And die Badrang did, with the weapon he had just used to slay a good creature buried in his chest. The last words he heard were spoken by the mousemaid, but it was not Rose's voice that he heard.
"I told you I would kill you, vermin!"
Rose stood gripping the sword, her last physical link with the occupant of the grave in front of her. She had cried all her tears. the mousemaid made no move as her brother, Brome, approached.
"Rose, it's time to go home. Stand the sword up in the earth over the grave. Martin would like that."
Rose's voice was calm, as if she had just come to a decision. "No, Brome. I can't go back to Noonvale, not after what I've done. I will go south, as Martin would have had he lived and I died. Farewell, my brother."
Before she could be stopped, Rose dashed south. Brome was about to follow her, when he heard a voice inside his mind speaking to him. "Let her go, Brome. She must go where I cannot."
Brome sighed. "Farewell, Laterose the Warrior."
Part 2: Mossflower
Kill You, Cat
Tsarmina Greeneyes stared down her nose at the mousemaid. She was not struggling, but by the jumpy look the guards had she had tried several different methods of escape already. Verdauga Greeneyes sat up, as the female wildcat stifled a sigh. Wasn't the poison working yet?
"Make your report," demanded her father. "What have we here?"
A stoat guard saluted. "She was inside your territory, Lord. Trespassin', and carryin' weapons." He lay the ancient sword that Martin had given to Rose in front of the bed.
Verdauga studied Rose carefully before announcing, "You have broken two of my laws, trespassing and carrying weapons."
For the first time, The captive showed sings of anger. "If you don't want creatures to trespass, you should make it more known! How was I supposed to know? Let me go!"
Tsarmina was shocked. Such insolence could not be allowed! She grabbed the sword and shoved it against Rose's throat. "You, scum, will not speak like that to your Lord Verdauga Greeneyes, Master of the Thousand Eyes, Lord of Mossflower, Slayer of-"
This was where Rose stopped listening as Tsarmina launched into a tirade about the horrors in store for her. She was tempted to say something rude to the effect of, "Shut your gob, pussycat," but her good upbringing wouldn't let her.
Tsarmina's ranting was cut short when her father intervened. "Silence, daughter! what is your name, mouse?"
The mousemaid began to struggle for the first time. "I am Rose the Warrior! That sword is mine, and if it isn't returned to me, I'll-"
Here she was cut short by the other wildcat in the room, Gingivere Greeneyes. "There is no need to get upset, Rose. The weapon will be returned to you in due time." Turning to his father, he continued, "There was no way she could have known about the law, and therefore couldn't obey it. Under this light, it becomes unjust to punish her. I think she should be removed from the land and her weapon returned. She won't come back."
Verdauga nodded in acknowledgement. "You both have sensible arguments, so I will comprimise. Rose will be locked in our cells for a time, until she is calmed down and more in proportion. At such time as I see fit, she will be released and her weapon returned to her, if she will swear never to return."
Snap! Clang! Tsarmina was so angry that she slammed the sword into the wall and it snappedin two. She carelessly flung the hilt at a guard. "Tie this around her neck so she'll always remember the consequences of disrespect. She won't survive for long in the cells. Any last words, mouse?"
Rose's voice was as hard and flat as stone. "Yes. Someday I'm going to kill you, cat."
Rose gripped the hilt of her weapon, remembering Martin. She was drifting off to sleep when a cry rent the air.
"Lord Greeneyes is dead!"
Tsarmina herself was wailing, as if in unimaginable grief. "Somebeast has slain my father!"
As Rose watched the scene of Gingivere being locked up and Tsarmina pretending to be mercifull, she chuckled humorlessly to herself. I'll bet that lying coward killed him herself. Aye, she's got what's coming to her.
Not Coming Back
Rose paused. She considered just telling the plucky mousethief the truth, but how could Gonff understand all the joy and pain they had gone through? The answer was plain and Rose knew it. He couldn't. Several other things she could say passed through her mind, but they all sounded unlikely and silly. Then the story that Martin had told her about his life crossed her mind.
"My father was Luke the Warrior," Rose murmered. She looked at the floor, wondering if she was doing the right thing by lying. Martin wouldn't want me to tell. Martin wouldn't have told. "We lived on the North Shores, in caves. One day, my father left the shores in a corsair ship. He planned to avenge his wife's murder. I don't know if he ever succeeded, because I went south at the end of autumn. Then I bumped into some vermin around here, and here I am."
"What's that sword hilt you're wearing around your neck?"
Rose gripped the hilt, remembering Martin. "This was my father's. He passed it on to me just before he left. I suppose he knew he wasn't coming back."
Rose and Gonff charged into the disused bedchamber, hearing Tsarmina's enraged shouts behind them. "Ashleg! Fortunata! Kill those mice!" The two mice in question dived under the bed and lay quiet. Their three pursuers stumped into the room after them. As various other hiding places were discounted, Rose became increasingly more nervous. She turned toward Gonff. Is he serious about nothing? she thought in astonishment. He's taking a nap!
The warrioress decided to take matters into her own paws. Without warning, she clamped a paw over the thief's mouth and charged out of the room, dragging Gonff with her. As soon as they were in the passage, Gonff protested.
"I could have gotten us out of there and delayed them! Now they're right behind us!"
His companion did not argue. At one point she was sure she felt Tsarmina's breath, but the next moment they charged into a dining hall and she felt Gonff heave her up onto the table. Tsarmina leaped up just behind them and the mousethief kicked a plate of food up into her face.
Rose glanced back at the enraged wildcat, a tart planted squarely between her ears, just once before she was dragged out of the window.
Tsarmina ripped the tart off of her head and glared down at Gonff, who was perched in the branches of a yew tree and pulling faces at her. "Somebeast get my bow and arrows!" she shrieked. Several creatures took full advantage of the excuse to be in a different room.
Argulor swooped low and searched the branches of the tree. He did not see the mice, but Tsarmina caught his attention. He balefully screamed out a challenge at her as he sped toward the window. At that moment Ashleg arrived with his lady's bow and arrows. Seeing this development, the golden eagle swooped away.
Tsarmina took aim at Gonff, who for once in his life looked serious. But she was forced to duck behind the window as the area was pelted with slingstones and arrows. An instant after, the squirrels swung Gonff and Rose down from their perch in the tree.
Even as the soldiers marched out of the main gate of Kotir, fugitives and rescuers slipped away.
At Camp Willow, Rose stood in the pale dawn light, remembering. Tears were beading in her eyes as she thought, and she felt anything but the warrior all the creatures around her thought her to be. A paw on her shoulder brought her out of her reverie. She turned to see Skipper.
"What's on yer mind, matey?" the big otter asked.
Skipper grinned. "The pussycat may have a Gloomer, but we otters've got us a Stormfin."
"Stormfin? What's that?"
"I'll show you." Skipper made his way to the trough of water that flowed from the back of the caves to the river. He partially lifted the sluicegate and Rose peered curiously into the water. She immediately shrunk back.
"It's a pike!" she exclaimed.
"Aye, so it is, matey, and more than a match for that Gloomer thing. Start beatin' on that log over there...Warn anybeast in the water to get out."
The mousemaid did as she was bidden, watching the water. After a short interval, Skipper released the pike and it shot out of the trough, creating a minature bow wave.
Rose shivered. She hated big fish.
Rose wandered through the woodlands, gazing up at the tree foilage, down at the loam and grass, and to either side at the bushes, trees and overall beauty. She was so lost in the scene that she hardly noticed when Bella of Brockhall stole up behind her. The badger listned as the mousemaid sang quietly to herself. The words sounded a little like this:
"You will find me, a wanderer,
On the side of a hill,
When the summer is peaceful and high.
There where streamlets meander the valley is still
'Neath the blue of a calm coudless sky.
Look for me at dawn,
When the world is asleep,
'Til each dewdrop is kissed by the day.
There 'neath rowan and alder a vigil I'll keep
Every moment that you are away.
The old earth gently turns as the seasons change slowly:
All the flowers and leaves born to wane.
Hear my song o'er the lea like the wind soft and lowly.
Martin, come back to me again."
(Author's note: this song was taken from Martin the Warrior. I changed the first and last lines a little.)
Bella hated to interrupt Rose because the warrioress was obviously remembering something from her past, but the next moment the mousemaid turned around and smiled at Bella.
"The woods are beautiful, aren't they?"
"Aye, they are. I was wondering, have you ever heard of a place known as Salamandastron?"
"No, I haven't," Rose replied. "Where is it?"
"My father, Boar the Fighter, was once the ruler of Mossflower. I think that if he were here, Tsarmina wouldn't stand a chance. Yes, Boar the Fighter is the only hope for Mossflower Woods. I think that you are the beast to go to Salamandastron. Will you go?"
Rose's reply was prompt and disambigous. "I will, Bella." Then she paused and chuckled, "But I can't go alone."
"I'll go with ye, matey! That sounds like a real adventure." Gonff the Mousethief appeared from behind a tree.
Rose smiled. "I could use a good thief."
"Where're ee goin', Zurr Gonff?" asked Young Dinny as he popped from around another tree. "You bain't leavin' this ere moler behind."
Bella laughed. "I think you have a team, Rose. When will you leave?"
Rose, in her turn, laughed. "As soon as we find out which way to go!"
Gonff had not meant to hit Rose in the head with the secret drawer. But it had happened.
Rose had been searching under the desk for anything concerning Salamandastron, and Gonff had been on top of the desk searching the upper shelves. Frustrated, the mousethief had stomped down on the desk, just as Rose had sat up. The mousemaid's head and the drawer had collided with a solid thunk and a surprised squeal from Rose.
"Ow! that was uncalled for!"
"How was I supposed to know there was going to be a secret drawer there? I didn't mean it!" Gonff protested.
"Don't argue," Bella advised. "Let's see if it's something that will help us."
She lifted the papers that were inside the drawer out and read the title. "The Lith of Triman Too."
"What's a Lith of Triman Too?" asked Rose.
"I have absolutely no idea. Let's see if there are any other secret drawers in the desk," Bella answered.
The four friends searched the desk without success, and finally decided that there were no more secret drawers. Rose slumped down in the armchair and picked up The Lith of Triman Too. Eventually she dropped it, wailing, "This is all nonsense!"
Gonff picked it up and began to read out loud. "'Triman gedrof lith, yingas, Daberg gedrof lead ta Lastamdarasnon, cihw-'"
Bella was staring at him strangely. "Say that again," she requested.
"Lastamdarasnon," said Gonff.
Bella repeated the word several times, varying it a little. Finally, she cried, "Salamandastron!"
"What about Salamandastron?" asked Rose.
"It's an anagram," explained Bella, "for Salamandastron! Keep reading, Gonff."
"'Daberg gedrof lead ta Lastamdarasnon, cihw si othus ehros. Loudw nhcat, Nudre letab, nudre letab.'"
"Under table," commented Bella. "Let's look under the table."
They trooped through the many rooms of the ancient badger home, finally arriving at the table in the dining hall. Gonff crept under it and made a search of the floor and table. He found nothing.
"Are there any more tables in Brockhall?" asked Rose.
"There's the one in the kitchen," the badger answered.
They all hurried to the kitchen. Crawling under, Gonff discovered a bit of tree bark stuck to the bottom of the table. Upon removing it, he discovered a piece of paper. He passed it to Bella. "Is this it?"
Bella's eyes shone. "Yes, this is the map to Salamandastron!"
Rose sat beneath the desk with the riddle map, reading it for the fifteenth time.
Flee from the sun, until it reaches its high.
Then follow the sun on its path through the sky.
Cross the plateau on level with the ground:
Cross where land humps into small mounds.
Don't f(the rest of the line was lost.)
Unless your journey is to end and your death to be full of pain.
Trust not the toad, warty and damp.
If you survive, 'cross the gold slab tramp.
Beware of those who swooop and scream;
Beware of hard-shell, red or green.
Until you reach your heart's desire,
Salamandastron, mountain of fire.
It made no sense to the mousemaid. Gradually, her head fell down onto her chest and she fell into a deep sleep.
The beautiful mousemaid felt a sense of foreboding. She felt she should not go to the battle with her loved one in the morning. Unable to sleep, she rose from her bed and exited the house. She sat down on the shores of a pool, watching the moonlight reflect on the water. The figure of another mouse drew close to hers in the pool. She looked up.
"Martin, I don't think that I should go with you. It might put both our lives in danger."
The other mouse laughed. "It's just a feeling, Rose. It will pass. You should go and rest."
"But Martin, my feelings have almost always been right. I had a feeling that Brome was in danger the day after he left. You were with him, you know what kind of danger he was in!"
"Perhaps you're right, but we'll just be careful, okay? If we're careful we won't get hurt."
Rose nodded and returned to her bedchamber reluctantly. But Martin stayed by the pool for a long time, staring at the moon making its way across the subterranean sky. Was Rose right?
Bella and Gonff didn't notice that Rose was asleep 'til she started to thrash about and cry out in anguish. Gonff leaped toward her.
"There's still some blade on that hilt! She might cut herself!"
Bella dashed over and grabbed Rose, restraining her. The mousemaid continued to struggle. Bella began singing softly to relax her. It didn't work. The mousemaid continued to struggle and thrash. On a sudden inspiration, Bella began to quietly sing,
"You will find me, a wanderer,
On the side of a hill,
When the summer is peaceful and high.
There where streamlets meander the valley is still
'Neath the blue of a calm coudless sky.
Look for me at dawn,
When the world is asleep,
'Til each dewdrop is kissed by the day.
There 'neath rowan and alder a vigil I'll keep
Every moment that you are away.
The old earth gently turns as the seasons change slowly:
All the flowers and leaves born to wane.
Hear my song o'er the lea like the wind soft and lowly.
Martin, come back to me again."
Rose instantly calmed down. She relaxed and laid her head down on Bella's shoulder. "Hmm, Martin," she mumbled. "Hmm, what's that? West? Of course..."
Gonff grinned. "Well, our warrior has solved part of the riddle in her sleep. If we're to flee from the sun 'til it reaches its high, we would go west. To follow it from there would still mean to go west, because it goes up in the east and down in the west."
Bella agreed, "Yes, but I think Rose just had a nightmare. I'll put her in a bed and we'll let her calm down. I wonder who Martin is."
Actually, It's Martin
Rose, Gonff, and Dinny have left Mossflower and are on the plains. It is now almost noon, and they have been walking since dawn.
Rose was obviously depressed from her dream the previous night, but she was making very light of the situation, tactfully avoiding any conversation on the matter. Skipping along, she hummed a tune as if she hadn't a care in the world. Gonff glanced behind them.
"I can still see Mossflower. I see your grandfather, Dinny. He's waving his stick, shouting for you to give him that pie you stole."
"Hurr, et was prob'ly you what stoled the poi, zurr mousythief."
Rose smiled and teased Gonff a little. "And can you see Columbine?"
Gonff turned red but played along. "Yes, she's waving her handkerchief and shouting a warning."
"What's she shouting?"
"She's shouting, 'Get a move on, Gonff! We ain't got all season, and those vermin are running at you at top speed!'"
"They're what?" Rose exclaimed.
"They see us," murmered Gonff, becoming serious. "We'd better get running."
"Alright. We have to heed the warning words from your Columbine. She's too pretty to be wrong."
"Stop teasing me, Rose. I'm sure there's somebeast out there who feels that way about you. Or maybe you feel that way about them. It wouldn't be funny to you if I was constantly teasing you about Marlin or whatever his name would be."
Without thinking, Rose replied to Gonff. "Actually, it's Martin, not Marlin." Gonff stopped short. Rose turned an unearthly shade of pink and put both paws over her mouth. "I-I-I mean..."
"We know what you meant, don't we Dinny? You meant we'd better get a move on before those vermin catch up with us."
"Right. That's what I meant," Rose agreed lamely.
As they began to run again, Rose berated herself mercilessly. If you keep on going like this, they'll find out the whole story. It's too painful and embarrasing!
The three continued to run west, until they were running into the sunset, their silouettes framed by a magnificent drapery of rich and beautiful colors.
I Don't Want to Talk About It!
It was nighttime. The three friends had made good progress and were now relaxing in a small cave that Dinny had dug in the side of the farthest of a large cluster of hills. Gonff entertained them with a song.
O I am Gonff the Mousethief,
The prince of them all!
My friend is Rose the Warrior,
A brave and kindly soul!
There’s also Young Dinny,
A good and helpful mole!
And we’re all here so happily
Within this nice deep hole!
The Mousethief’s audience applauded as Gonff took a bow. Rose laughed teasingly. “Have you got any songs about Columbine?”
Gonff turned pink and admitted that he had, but was not about to sing them. They joked for a short while afterwards, the main subject being Gonff and Columbine. Rose was about to fall asleep, reasoning aloud that they should make an early start in the morning, when Gonff crossed his paws in front of his chest and cleared his throat in a businesslike manner.
“So, are you going to tell us who Martin is, Rose?”
“No,” said Rose coolly and rolled over.
“Oh, come on! Don’t you miss him? Is he waiting for you with a wedding ring?” Gonff moved around her so he was in front of her again. “Why are you down here instead of with your sweetheart?”
Rose got up and turned around again.
Gonff tried one more approach. “What would he think of you trying to forget him like this?”
To both her companions’ surprise, Rose’s lower lip began to tremble. Then she stifled a sob. The warrioress turned and dashed out of the cave into the night.
It was shortly before sunrise the next morning. Gonff and Dinny had searched all night for Rose, but hadn’t found her. They feared for their friend, but decided that she needed some alone time. Gonff’s comment had apparently triggered some painful memory. The two friends returned to their cave, hoping that Rose would eventually as well.
Rose hadn’t stopped running since the night before. She had come to a river but had been too busy running to care and had simply tried to splash across it. With the painful thought that she might be forgetting Martin uppermost in her mind, she was like a hunted animal, her only thought being to get as far away as possible from living creatures so they wouldn’t see her cry.
Rose never made the far side of the river: it was too deep and her footpaws were dragged off the riverbed. She didn’t care. Maybe if she died she would see Martin again. For some time she just floated down the river and cried, until the chill of it became too much and she fell unconscious.
Rose was lying on a soft, cool bed. A mouse in armor appeared, and walked slowly toward her. She still didn’t care. Tears wet the bed below her, which was already very wet, and she sobbed brokenly. The mouse in armor arrived at her side and knelt next to her.
“Rose, you must not waste your time weeping for me. I was meant to die, and you were meant to live. If you are always mourning, then you will not be living at all. I miss you as much as you miss me, but we cannot change what has happened. You must live life! Your friends are in danger. You must return to them and help them!”
“No!” Rose sobbed. “I never want to see them again!”
“Very well then,” said Martin coolly, “Cry because your life isn’t perfect while Gonff and Dinny are executed. Make Columbine feel the way you do. It’s all the same to me. After all, it’s not my life.”
He began to fade away. Rose reached out for him, but it was too late. “Martin… I’m sorry! Don’t go!”
But he was gone. Rose collapsed and began to sob again.
“She’s not dead, give her more medicine, medicine.”
Rose sat up, rubbing her head. A strange mouse was standing over her, holding a container. “Drink, drink,” he said.
“No thank you, I’m fine.” Rose looked around. She was in a cave. Several more of the strange mice were walking around and doing various things. Why do I keep thinking they’re strange? Rose wondered. Then it hit her. They all had wings! She was so startled by this that she gasped.
“What is wrong, wrong?” echoed the bat.
“You aren’t mice!” exclaimed the mousemaid.
“No, we are bats, bats. What is your name?”
“Rose the Warrior. And yours?”
“I am Rockhanger, Rockhanger.”
Then something else hit Rose. Gonff and Dinny were in trouble! She had to help them! “Thank you,” she told the bat, “but I must be going. My friends are in danger!”
“There is no way out, way out.”
“But there must be! I got in, didn’t I?”
“You cannot get out unless you are a better climber than you are a flyer, a flyer.”
“I can’t fly!” exclaimed Rose, surprised.
“You demonstrated great grace and beauty when you came over the waterfall, waterfall.”
“Surely the river must come out somewhere?”
“We do not follow the river, the river. It is dangerous.”
“I have to get to my friends!” Rose was frantic.
Another bat approached. It was far bigger than the others were, and commanded a large amount of respect. “I am Lord Cayvear. If your mind is made up, then we cannot stop you, stop you. But be warned, you probably will not come out alive, alive.”
“I will,” Rose declared.
The big bat nodded. “I believe you will. Go with the goodwill of all bats, all bats, Rose the Warrior.”
A score of vermin headed across the plain in a westerly direction. They were all feeling mutinous, and the creature who was leading them, a rat named Goregob, knew that he would soon have to make some decisions that those under him favored. Not that it was up to him.
He listened as the troop muttered and whined to each other. “Huh. Why’re we all the way over ‘ere ‘cause o’ some shoopid deserters is what I wanna know. If Cap’n doesn’t stop sendin’ us on dumb trips a hundred miles off, I’s gonna desert too.”
“Know watcha mean, mate. I wanna go do some easy work on one o’ those villages in de south. Why does we gotta do what that that blowed up rat says?”
“’Cos ‘e’ll hunt us down an’ rip us to bits if’n we don’t,” snapped Goregob. “Now cut the gab and start marchin’.”
The vermin reluctantly did so. It was midday when they arrived at the edge of a large group of hills. Goregob was about to march straight up the side of one, when his footpaw went straight down into the ground. He heard a faint exclamation, and then somethin bit down on his paw. He squealed and kicked. There was a rough grunt and a loud exclamation. The ground beneath his other footpaw crumbled and he fell into a sort of cave. A mole, obviously stunned, sat on the floor gripping his bleeding mouth while a mouse had just drawn a small dagger and was lunging at him with it. Goregob dodged and grabbed the mole, dragging him out of a concealed opening in one of the walls. His troop were staring at him dumbly.
“Shut yore gobs and git over ‘ere ‘afore this mole comes around and ‘is friend comes out after ‘im!”
The vermin dumbly obeyed. Dinny had no chance of escape. Gonff’s voice echoed out of the cave.
“I’m not a fool. You’re a fool if you think I’m just going to charge out like that.”
Goregob laughed. “If you don’t come out in ten seconds this mole’s gonna resemble a pincushion most!”
There was a short silence. Then Gonff appeared. “I guess yore not so much of a fool.”
“Leggo a the knife!” shouted Goregob.
Gonff let go of it all right. It flew through the air and landed cleanly between Goregob’s footpaws.
“Yore not a fool either, mouse. Cummeer.”
The mousethief reluctantly came. He was an excellent thief, escaper, fighter, and other things, but he was not a good surrenderer. As soon as he was within reach the vermin grabbed him and he was bound tightly, back-to-back with Dinny. Gonff normally could have escaped, but at least three vermin were always watching them, with spears at the ready. The two captives were forced to walk with their backs bound together, which was extremely hard, to say the least.
The vermin marched for a long time until they came to a river. The particular part they came to had a ferry across it, but the ferry was on the other side.
“Fumpry!” Goregob ordered. “Git over there and drag that there log back!”
Fumpry, a stoat, obeyed grumbling. But just as he arrived on the other side, two things happened at once.
The first was that a snake and a newt appeared from behind the log. The snake immediately latched onto Fupmry’s paw, and widespread panic ensued from the realization that the snake had adder markings.
The second was that a small, bad-tempered shrew appeared from the growth on the bank and dashed at the three vermin with a club. But just before he clobbered them, he tripped and went headlong into the stoat! The ‘adder’ flew into the river and began to float down it, his adder markings coming off. The shrew expertly flicked the newt in after him and turned to face Fumpry. But as he did, the stoat landed a stunning blow to his head!
“Oh lackaday, they varmints bee’s a goin’ around and whackin’ guddbeasts loik billyoh!” lamented Dinny.
“Shaddup,” snapped the guard.
In no time at all Fumpry had dragged the log and the shrew across the river. The shrew was bound up with the other two friends and the entire group crossed the river. Gonff and Dinny gave as much trouble as they could, struggling and kicking, but to no avail. That night there were four guards posted.
The guards weren’t very efficient, and sat around the fire drinking. It was then that the shrew woke. His temper just then did nothing to make the guards any happier. He snapped rudely at them and they snapped rudely back until a regular insult contest was in order.
“Floppy-ears, yore the stupidest guards I ever clapped eyes on!”
“Lard-barrel yoreself, Snappy-gob!”
Gonff sighed. “Shut up! I’m tryin’ to sleep!”
The shrew turned his abusive manner on the mousethief. “Oh are you? Well I’m sorry to disturb yore rest, oh great prince.”
Gonff didn’t respond until the guards were no longer paying attention. Then he spoke in a quiet whisper. “Mind your manners if you want to see the back of this lot tomorrow night, matey. What’s your name?”
The shrew calmed down somewhat. “My name’s Log-a-log Big Club. What’s yours?”
“I’m Gonff, the Prince of Mousethieves, and this is Young Dinny, the best tunneler in Mossflower,” Gonff told him. “Don’t worry, we’ll be out of here ‘afore this time tommorrow."
Gonff carefully explained his plan to Dinny and Log-a-log. The mole and the shrew nodded: it would take careful teamwork to fulfill.
Rose stood on the edge of the underground river, farther down away from the waterfall. The kindly bats had provided her with food and water, but light and a method of travel were not an option. She would have to cope with the darkness and swim.
The mousemaid stood in silence with Rockhanger and Lord Cayvear. She was reluctant to say her final goodbyes to her newfound friends, but she knew that she could not stay much longer.
“Goodbye, Lord Cayvear. Goodbye, Rockhanger. Thank you for all that you’ve done for me.”
“It was a pleasure, a pleasure. I hope that we will meet again someday, someday,” Lord Cayvear told her. Rockhanger said nothing.
Rose reluctantly turned and moved into the swift-flowing water.
Gonff watched the ground for a likely place. There it was. He softly nudged Dinny, who in turn nudged Log-a-log. The mousethief was an amazing mimic and he played his part well. To the vermin around him it appeared as if he tripped and fell, dragging the mole and the shrew with him.
“Hey!” snapped Log-a-log. “I don’t care if you trip yourself, but leave me on my feet! I got better things to do than lay on the ground with the likes of you!”
“Yah, I’d rather be tied to a sick toad than you, wobblechops!” Gonff retorted.
Goregob dashed up. “What’s this all about?”
Log-a-log whined, “That stupid mouse keeps trippin’ me up! Gerrim offa me!”
“You’re the one who seems to think you’re king of everything!”
“At least I’m not fat!”
“Being fat is better than running around with a big cob o’ wood that you’re named for!”
“Alright!” hollered Goregob. “I don’t want dos pris’ners killin’ each other. Get ‘em separated an’ make ‘em march!”
The three prisoners were separated and their forepaws bound in front of them. As he was led away, Gonff winked broadly at Log-a-log and Dinny. The plan was working!
The vermin were getting rather annoyed at Gonff, who was constantly tripping up and falling. None of the stupid vermin knew that every time he fell, Gonff was stuffing certain herbs and grasses into his shirt.
That night they stopped a few hours’ journey away from the mountains. The prisoners were tied together again and the six guards who were assigned to them sat down near the fire and began to eat and drink. The three bound creatures were a fair distance away.
“This complicates things,” whispered Gonff. “But I have an idea. Start edging away from the fire as if we’re trying to escape.”
The three friends did so. It was not long before the guards spotted them. They were hauled back and the guards went back to the fire.
“Now do it again,” hissed the mousethief.
They did it again. They were dragged back again. And again. Each time they were returned, it was closer to the fire so that the guards could keep a closer eye on them. Finally they were close enough for Gonff to begin his work. The daring mouse waited until the guards weren’t paying attention, then slipped a strange plant which had been crushed up fairly recently into the drink. The guard turned around and picked up the flagon, pouring it out for his mates. In a few minutes they were all snoring.
“Now the hard part comes,” Gonff told his companions. “Start edging very quietly over to that rat – the one with the dagger.” The three captives quietly did so and Gonff soon had the dagger. In a trice they were all free.
“Which way do we go now?” asked Log-a-log.
“Hurr, back east were we coomed from. Oi doan’t want a run-in with ee varmints again, burr aye.”
“No,” the mouse corrected Dinny. “They’ll be expecting that. What direction won’t they expect us to go in?”
The shrew scratched his snout. “North?”
“West. That’s the way they’re going, so it would stand to reason we wouldn’t go that way. If we’re reasonable, we’ll get caught. I’m a prince of escapers, you know.”
“Usns better be a-goin’ then, zurr Gonff!”
Dinny’s mole logic was sensible so they followed his advice and ran west. They had only traveled a few yards when they heard a voice.
“Hey! The pris’ners are gone!”
Gonff gritted his teeth. “That took too long!”
“Shush! They may not know where we are yet. Let’s keep running.”
So they ran. But Gonff had only taken a few paces more when he hit his footpaw on a rock and fell down. He tried to leap back up, but as his weight descended onto his injured limb he fell again with a cry of pain. Looking down, he saw that his footpaw was twisted into an unnatural position. Then he realized that his entire leg was covered in a dark sticky substance. He groaned aloud as he realized that it was his own blood. Dinny and Log-a-log ran back to help him, but the vermin from the camp had already heard his cry and were almost upon him.
“No!” shouted Gonff. “Don’t get yourselves caught again! Find Rose and get to Salamandastron! I can take care of myself!” He was silenced by a stunning blow to his head.
The mole and the shrew paused and glanced at each other. As Gonff was dragged away and the vermin charged at them, they reluctantly turned and ran.
When one got to know Log-a-log, he was a rather nice creature, as Dinny soon learned. Of course, it may have been the fact that they were running for their lives and that tends to make friends, but the mole and shrew got along very well together. The vermin were only half an hour chasing them when they gave up and returned to the camp. The two friends wondered about this, but decided that it didn’t matter much. Dinny told Log-a-log the reason for the journey he and Gonff were undertaking, and Log-a-log said what little there was to be said about himself.
“I was leader of a tribe of shrews once, the Guosim. Stands for Guerilla Union of Shrews in Mossflower. But one day the village was raided by searats. Typical, ugly rats from the sea. That was some of ‘em we just escaped from. Anyway, we were all dragged back to their ship and chained to oars as slaves. It was ‘orrible, havin’ to row most o’ the time and bein’ beaten if’n we didn’t. One night I slipped my chains and made my way ashore. I wandered around for a while and then found myself near here, back by the river. I made myself a nice little home and lived there pretty well. The Great South Stream I called it. I’ll go with you though, if it’s okay. I’d like to get back to Mossflower and see if the old village is still there.”
“Hurr, et bee’s roight by Oi. Usns shudd get to Saladannascon furst tho,” Dinny consented. The two friends chatted about this and that for some time as they walked west. Then Dinny exclaimed, “Quiet, zurr! Oi ‘ears summthin’!”
“I don’t hear anything,” objected the shrew.
“Prob’ly ‘cause ee doan’t ‘ave diggen’ claws what tell ee what’s goin’ on unnerground.”
Log-a-log looked at his companion strangely for a moment, then asked, “So what do you hear?”
“Thurr bee’s a streamer unnerground, an’ summbeast’s a-swimmen’ in et! Coom on!”
The shrew followed Dinny a short ways, the mole running ahead in the direction of a small boulder. Suddenly, just as he reached the boulder, the mole disappeared. Log-a-log ran up to the spot where the mole had been a second before and found a hole in the ground. Without a second thought he leapt in too.
He found himself in a scene of total chaos. He landed in chest deep water, but had little time to contemplate this fact as the noises of a scuffle were just to his left. Before the shrew could do anything about it, he heard Dinny’s voice.
“Loglog! Get a lioght, zur… blubblub!”
Log-a-log grabbed tinder and flint and felt about frantically. There he had it! A tree root! Tearing a strip from his shirt he wrapped it around the end of the root and lit it on fire. Just before it caught, he heard a splash and Dinny’s voice again.
This was followed by shout and another splash. But just then the cavern was flooded with light. Log-a-log saw a strange scene. A mousemaid stood there, holding Dinny underwater and belaboring him with her free paw. The strange thing was that Dinny was not fighting back. When the light hit her, the mousemaid released the mole and staggered back to the wall. Dinny shot out of the water in a cascading fountain and shouted, “Miz Roser! ‘Tis Oi, Dinny!”
The mousemaid was so surprised that she opened her eyes and then proceeded to shut them again quickly. “Dinny! I’m so sorry! Oh my goodness, are you okay?”
“Oi bee’s fine now miz Roser. Jus’ doan’t jump on Oi loik that. This ‘ere bee’s zurr Loglog. Loglog, this ‘ere bee’s miz Roser.”
The two giggled at Dinny’s pronunciation of their names as they greeted each other.
Rose turned to Dinny. “Where’s Gonff?”
Dinny looked uncomfortable. “Zurr Gonff bee’s… umm…”
Log-a-log cut in. “He’s in trouble. We’ll explain as we go along, but we need to go to Salamandastron first.”
“Why?” asked Rose.
“Because that’s what Gonff said.”
“Alright, let’s go.”
The three went off down the tunnel. Sometimes there was nothing but the water, sometimes there was a little bit of shore, sometimes the ceiling came so low that they had to hold their breath and dive. It seemed to them that the current was getting stronger, and Dinny and Log-a-log’s legs were soon numb. Rose’s already were. It was only an hour or so later when the light went out, leaving them in total darkness. Rose listened carefully to what Dinny and Log-a-log had to say about what had happened to them.
“You’re sure they were searats?” she asked after they were finished.
“Yes,” replied Log-a-log. “Why?”
“I was just wondering.”
The Bread is Different
Pain. That was all that Gonff was aware of. His footpaw hurt, his head hurt, and his paws, bound tightly behind his back, hurt. In fact, he hurt so bad that he wished he had not woken up. He was lying on a rock. He groaned as he tried to shift off of it, attracting the attention of the nearby vermin.
“Hey, look, Gorey, the pris’ner’s wakin’ up!”
“Good! Now we cin ‘ave some fun with ‘im.”
“I woke up with an ‘eadache! I wanna give ‘im one!”
“You already did. It’s my turn.”
“Shaddup! I’ll say what’s goin’ on ‘ere!”
The vermin grumbled into silence as their leader approached. “Ta begin with, there’re five creatures approachin’ us. Two of them are the deserters we’re after. I dunno who the others are, but they’s cin jus’ come with us. You, an’ you, guard the mouse. If he ain’t alive when I gets back, somebeast else is gonna die too. The rest of ye lazy, slop-barreling lot come with me.”
Gonff wondered if this could be his chance to escape, with only two vermin guarding him, but then realized that with his footpaw in that condition he would not get far at all. Instead he decided to play it light and bait the vermin.
“Oh I say, matey… yes, you, fatty… mind givin’ me a drink? I’m very thirsty.”
The vermin in question, a rat whose name was actually Fatty, had been one of those who Gonff had drugged. Knowing this, the mousethief had known that no water would be forthcoming, but found it very interesting when the other vermin began to make jibes.
“Hey, Fatty, da mousey knows yer name!”
Fatty turned to Gonff, trying to ignore his companion. “Keep yore gob shut, mouse, afore I cuts yore tongue out!”
Gonff shook his head. “Tut tut, such manners. I was only saying…”
“I knows what you were sayin’. I’s gonna roast you in yer own juice if’n you doesn’t shut up!”
“You’d be surprised at the number of creatures would love to do that to me. And none of them have offered to share!”
Fatty turned away. “It’s been a long time since I’ve tasted mouse, Fumpry,” he suggested.
“Huh, don’t think I wouldn’t like it, but Gorey’ll rip us up if’n we kills ‘im.”
Gonff chimed in, “And roast you? I do hope so, I’m partial to a bit of roast stoat…”
Fumpry sighed. “Put a gag on ‘im, will yer, Fatty?”
Fatty giggled. “I think he’s entertaining. How der ya feel about roast weasel, mouse?”
“Oh, I’d prefer rat anyday.”
Fatty tore a strip off his shirt and gagged the mousethief with it, but it did not stop him. “Brech! Ih dif if wuh rah tafe rik I dunt wannit! Yuhg! Difgraffurree unapatiffin’!”
Fumpry glanced quizzically at Gonff. “What’d he say, mate?”
Fatty shrugged. “Somethin’ about bread bein’ different I think. I dunno.”
Goregob returned some time later with five other vermin. Two of them were presumably the deserters, as they were bound and being menaced by other vermin. Gonff recognized the other three, however, as Blacktooth, Splitnose, and Scratch, the three vermin who had been sent after the three adventurers. They recognized Gonff right off and began making faces at him which Gonff returned as best he could. Goregob watched them with something akin to amusement on his ugly face.
“Old friends, are we? I love happy reunions. Yah, git away from ‘im.”
Scratch turned to Goregob. “We’ll be goin’ about our own bizness, thank yer, an’ we ain’t goin’ with you!”
The rat grinned. “I suppose you aren’t. Dunno ‘bout yer two mateys, but they’s cin take care o’ theyselves, right?” With that he ran the weasel through. He carelessly wiped his blade clean on the dead Scratch’s fur while turning to Blacktooth and Splitnose. “Are yer gonna stay with ‘im or are yer gonna come with us?”
The ferret and the stoat were too terrified to speak. They nodded frantically.
Goregob sheathed his sword. “Good. Now let’s git goin’! Yew’ve laid around long enough, yew lazy, swab-sided excuses fer vermin! We’re movin!”
Gonff was heaved to his paws, but it was almost impossible for him to walk with his injured paw, which the vermin had made no move to clean or fix. Not that the mousethief wanted them messing around with his paw. He was half dragged, half carried along, in great pain but refusing to show it. As often as possible he teased the vermin and called them names, but it became harder and harder for him to focus until finally the dark, warm embrace of unconsciousness found him.
Rose splashed along through the strong current. The three friends had been silent for some time now, being unable to think of anything to say. Their minds were all on the same subject. Gonff. Was the mousethief safe? Would he survive? Were the vermin so cruel as to kill him for trying to escape? Or maybe he was safe now, just to suffer a worse fate when they arrived at their destination. Rose tried to think about something else, but no other thoughts would come. This was all her fault, she thought. If she had not run off so rashly then all of them would have been far away by the time the vermin got anywhere near the area. She found herself humming an old familiar tune. She had forgotten how singing had used to comfort her when she was in trouble or sad. She kept her voice low, not really wanting Log-a-log or Dinny to hear her. For a long time, they sloshed along in the dark.
Then it happened.
Rose felt something slither by her legs and paused, holding perfectly still. Log-a-log and Dinny had the same sensation, and, stopping, turned blindly toward each other.
“Did you feel that?” hissed Log-a-log.
“Quiet! It may be able to hear us! Hold still and maybe it will go away.” As an afterthought, Rose added, “I’m glad I can’t see it.”
“Hurr, Oi wish Oi cuddn’t see et! Et’s ‘orrible!”
“Then don’t tell us what it is, Dinny. Just hold still.”
The three travelers did so, hoping against hope that the unknown something did not know they were there. They stayed that way for such a long time that Rose and Log-a-log were beginning to think they had imagined it. But just as the mousemaid relaxed, it touched her leg again, then bowled her over into the water. She vaguely heard similar splashes as the same happened to the mole and the shrew. Expecting to instantly be attacked, she whirled around in the direction that she believed the unknown terror to be in, gripping her sword-hilt. But no attack came. Instead, she felt the current dragging her along, faster, faster. Realization hit her like a thunderbolt. She was caught in a strong current that they had unknowingly avoided. And it was getting stronger!
She heard shouts of dismay as the two other creatures went flying along with her. Then suddenly, they shot out into the sunlight. The river was going so fast that they didn’t realize it for some time, but by the time they did they had all shot down into a sidestream and come to a stop at a bunch of rushes.
“Well that is one way to get somewhere,” commented Log-a-log. “But where?”
“It would appear that we are in the middle of a swamp. I would rather have come out someplace else, but here’s better than it was in that tunnel. Let’s get out of the water at any rate.”
“Gudd oidea, Oi’ll do et!” agreed Dinny.
“What’s wrong, afraid to get a little wet?” Log-a-log grinned. He was floating on his back in the water, happily paddling around.
A mischievous thought entered Rose’s mind. “Look out, there’s that thing that knocked us over!”
The shrew nearly jumped out of his skin. “Where?”
“In the water!”
Log-a-log was out of the water and onto dry land in less time than it takes to say just kidding. “Where is it?”
Rose was nearly doubled over with laughter. Between chuckles she explained, “I didn’t really see it. I was just trying to get you out of the water.”
Log-a-log was lost for words. Dinny turned away, shivering. “Doan’t ee mention that creature again, miz Roser. Et was ‘orrible.”
The other two refrained from asking further about it. Not that they wanted to know. “Um, let’s get going,” suggested Log-a-log. Neither of his companions answered. They simply turned and went to the west in silence.
Rose was in the lead, feeling the ground to make sure it was firm enough to bear their weight. As a result, she was the first to fall into the trap. As she was passing between two monolithic tree stumps, a net disentangled itself from the mud on the ground and flew up into the air, holding her suspended between the stumps. She would have laughed at the conversation her captors were having if the situation had been less dire.
“Kroikk! Dampwatchfool, you wait til allthree are innet. Grukk!”
“Shreekk! Yousay gonow, Igo!”
“Grukk! Youfool, Dampwatch. Kroikk! I fixnow.”
An enormous toad carrying a trident waddled out of the mist. It stopped directly beneath Rose and jabbed the trident upwards, poking her lightly in the side.
“Groikk! You comenow, or thismouse die! Krukk!”
Rose decided on quick thinking. She couldn’t let her friends be caught. She let out a sharp, angry, eagle screech. The toads panicked and scattered. The mousemaid wasted no time, grabbing the sword hilt that she wore around her neck and trying to cut through the tough strands of the net. Suddenly, they gave way and she fell onto the ground. One of the toads must have seen her because six of them came rushing at her. Running in the opposite direction, she emitted another eagle screech.
So the chase began. Rose was at a disadvantage from the first, because she was a tired stranger and the toads were in their own land, fresh from a long rest. Sometimes the mousemaid would have to retrace her steps a little, bringing her ever closer to the ferocious horde of toads that seemed to grow by the thousands every second. Suddenly, she tripped, landing face first in a slimy pool of quicksand. She lifted her face, her mind panicking. She couldn’t breathe, she couldn’t tell whether her face was above the surface of the ooze of not, and she could do nothing about the net that entangled her, pulling her to a place that she knew nothing of. She only knew that she probably did not want to go there.
Martin, Son of Luke the Warrior (also entitled: What Have I Done?)
Gonff opened his eyes and immediately wished he hadn't. His leg hurt, his paws hurt, and his head hurt. In fact, about the only part of him that didn't hurt was his nose. After all this had gone through his head, the next thought was that it was rather pointless to know that the only part of him that didn't hurt was his nose. But he took some comfort in the fact that there was a part of him that didn't hurt.
He lay still for a while, until he had gotten somewhat used to the pain. Then he rolled over, noting that he was not bound for some reason. It was dark. Not just nighttime dark, but the sort of dark that one finds in a place that has never had light. His lack of sight sharpened his other senses, so (after he had tuned out the snores of vermin all around him) he quickly heard the sound of running water somewhere close by. As quietly as possible, he began inching towards the water. He soon reached it, and discovered that it was a small underground stream. The mousethief drank deeply, then he dipped his injured footpaw into the water. It was soothing, though the water was cold. He continued to soak his paw until it was numb. Then he reached down with both forepaws and analyzed the injury. The young mouse soon discovered that nothing was broken, but his paw had been severely dislocated. He allowed the frozen water to numb his paw for a while more, before he gritted his teeth and reached down again. Gripping the dislocated paw in both other paws, he gave a mighty yank. There was a sickening noise, like bones grinding together. Gonff groaned in pain as the bones found their proper place again. He forced himself to leave the paw in the water so that it would be numb again. Leaning over, he took another drink, only to spit it out again when he tasted blood in the water. He made a face as he unhappily realized that his leg was bleeding again. He pulled it out of the water and tore a strip off of his shirt, binding it tight to stop the bleeding. It also served to prevent the bones from getting out of place again. The mousethief took another long drink, and then moved away from the water and considered a plan of escape.
If he jumped into the water, would he be washed out of the other side of the mountain? Gonff did not know, and there was the risk that the river just went down, down, down to who knows where. He didn't know the way out of the cave that he was in, and would not be likely to without a light. But making a light would attract the unwanted attention of the vermin. In the end, he decided to wait until the vermin emerged from the cave. He wondered where Log-a-log and Dinny were, and if they had found Rose. He didn't have the answer to either question, so he lay down and fell asleep.
In his dreams, a mouse approached him. He didn't look a lot older than Gonff, though his face had the look of an experienced warrior. He had obviously seen a few fights in his time, if the scars all over his body were anything to judge by. He looked at Gonff with eyes that, while they were kind and merry, held a good deal of pain. His voice was strong when he spoke, and the mousethief felt invigorated.
"Gonff, you wish to know if your friends are safe. They are as safe as possible at the moment. I know that you will see Rose again. When you do, please take care of her for me. But do not worry about them now. You are in more danger than they. You must always do what is right. It will not always be easy, but you must still do it. The fate of all Mossflower lies in your paws."
The mouse began to turn and walk away, but Gonff called out, "Wait!" The mouse stopped and turned back. Gonff felt silly as he asked, "Who are you?"
The other mouse smiled. "My name is Martin, son of Luke the Warrior."
"You're the Martin Rose keeps mentioning?"
"I am. We were once good friends."
"But not any more? Why not?"
Martin's voice was laden with grief. "We are. But I can't be with her any more. I... died." Gonff's eyes widened in surprise and horror.
The mouse awoke. It was still dark, and he could still hear the snores of vermin around him. But this did not matter to him. He only had one thought: That's the Martin Rose keeps dreaming about? He's dead? What have I done?
Splash! Rose hit the bottom of the Screamhole with a painful thud. Something moved in the mud beneath her, and she leapt up and backed away, grabbing at the hilt of her sword. The movement quickened and then ceased altogether. She continued to back away slowly, fearing whatever it was almost more than she had feared the unknown something in the river. She backed away one more step, and then she slipped and fell backwards into the mud. Great coils began writhing, and then she saw the form of a giant eel outlined, as it reared its ugly head out of the slime at the bottom of the pit. She stifled a scream as the head loomed closer and huge, deadly eyes full of malicious intent looked into hers. The creature leaned forward with cruel slowness, though it was obvious it could move much faster.
With a shout, she scrambled to the side and then away as fast as she could. There was a noise of hot pusuit. She found a vine hanging down the side, and grabbed hold of it. The mousemaid hauled herself up, paw over paw, as fast as she could. There was a roar behind her that stood all her hairs on end, then a loose splash. She reached the top of the vine, and found that it led into a shallow cave in the cliff wall. Looking down, Rose beheld the giant eel. It pushed itself up the side of the hole and then sank back down, making baleful noises of anger. Then it spoke.
"Never before has any prey essscaped me. Nor will they thisss time."
Rose shivered. She did not wish to look down any more, so she looked up. It was little better. The edges of the pit were crowded with toads, jeering, laughing, and generally being primitive and toadlike. She screeched like an eagle, then laughed grimly to herself as the toads scattered. The eel's head again came up the side of the hole.
"You fight harder than mossst. It isss an unusssual thing to be resssisssted. From whence do you come?"
"East," gasped Rose, but she was far from trusting. She felt like you or I would feel if a complete stranger offered us candy. "Who- who are you?" she ventured.
"I am called Sssnakefisssh. The toadsss trapped me down here becaussse I ate their folk freely. I cannot get out because the wallsss are too ssslippery. I fail every time."
"I am called Laterose." Rose really did not want to tell the creature this, but she felt it was only manners. An idea sprang into her mind seemingly unbidden. "Could we work together? If we could both get out of here, we would both acheive our goals."
Snakefish seemed to consider it for a moment, then he replied, "If we could both get out, yesss. But it mussst be sssoon."
Rose nodded, knowing that her very existence depended on her ability to get out of there.
"Ssso," said Snakefish after a while, "the toadsss ssseemed very angry at you. Why was that?"
Rose thought back. "I called their king a slimy, wartless piece of gulls' meat."
The giant eel had no response to that, but the mousemaid could hear his dry chuckling floating up to her.
It must have been an hour later, when she looked up in surprise, having heard a voice. Log-a-log and Dinny stood at the edge of the pit. Rose could have shouted for joy, but she didn't becuase she knew it was too dangerous. "Log-a-log! Dinny!" she called quietly.
Snakefish looked up. "Are thessse your friendsss?" he asked.
"Yes," replied the mousemaid. She proceeded to explain the idea she'd had to her two friends. They accepted it, although they didn't like the looks of the giant eel. Neither did Rose. Soon, the pair let a net down, probably the very one that Rose had been dragged to the pit in. Rose reached for it, but, while it was at a good level, it was too far away. She was about to ask Log-a-log and Dinny if they could move it, when there was a shout up above and then the sounds of fighting. There was a grunt as Log-a-log fell into the hole, and Rose could hear the sounds of combat nearing the edge. She heaved up the vine that she had climbed up to her hole with and threw it across to the net. It caught in the meshes, and Rose called to Log-a-log,
"Can you reach the end of it?"
"No!" shouted Log-a-log, who was leaping up towards it frantically.
"Get out of the way, little one!" exclaimed Snakefish. The shrew complied and the eel reached up and clamped the net in his mouth. This pulled the entire contraption down to a somewhat lower level. Log-a-log grabbed hold of the vine and held it firm, catching on to Rose's plan. Rose climbed out onto the vine and along it until she reached her goal, the net. She climbed out of the pit and attacked the toads that were attacking Dinny with a vengeance. Snakefish hauled himself up and over the edge, sending the toads scattering with terror, pursuing and feasting on them. Finally, Log-a-log hauled himself out. Dinny and Rose helped him, and the three grabbed at a nearby toad.
"Which way is west?" Log-a-log hollered at it. The toad didn't understand what he meant. Rose tried.
"Where is the seashore?" The toad still didn't understand, so Rose tried a different approach.
"If you survive, 'cross the gold slab tramp.
Beware of those who swooop and scream;
Beware of hard-shell, red or green."
The toad nodded furiously, then started to hop off into the mists. "Comenow. Wego."
The three friends trekked after the toad, leaving Snakefish to his grisly meal.
Permission to Enter
It was only a few hours later that the toad led Rose and her two friends to the edge of the swamp. He hurried back before any words could be said to him, and the travellers turned their attention to the land they had to traverse. It definitely fit the description of a gold slab, at least from a distance. It was anything like that close at paw. The sand was piled up into dunes, shifting, sliding messes that sent you flying if you put a paw wrong. The three travellers soon attempted to avoid climbing the dunes, but sometimes it could not be avoided. All three scarcely avoided turned ankles several times. Log-a-log provided them with staffs, which helped, but it was not easy going.
As they walked, Dinny and Log-a-log explained to Rose where they had dissapeared to. They had frozen when she had been threatened, but when they heard her eagle screech and saw that she was in somewhat less danger they ran, having thought it was a real eagle. Eventually they had calmed down and decided to go help her, but it had taken time to find the Screamhole.
Midafternoon found the travellers at the tideline. They searched for food near a small rockpool, though to unexperienced eyes there was nothing worth eating there. It was fortunate that they had Log-a-log, who had some experience on beaches, otherwise neither Rose nor Dinny would have made it in the hostile climate. The shrew showed them some useful tactics, such as finding limpets (nasty, slimy snail things that were eaten raw) and fishing. They caught only one small fish, though, so their main diet was limpets.
"It's hot here," observed the mousemaid, "and nothing's to be found here to eat that isn't salty. Plus, these -" she paused, examining a piece of limpet with a disgusted air - "these things are so hard to chew it's like eating India rubber. We're getting nothing done just sitting here, so we might as well move on."
The other two had no objection to this, so up they got and on they went. They sucked flat pebbles to ward of the thirst, but the thirst still came. Trying to ignore it, Dinny peered ahead to where Salamandastron lay.
"Thurr be et, an' 'ere be us'ns, furr, furr away."
"Don't let the distances fool you," commented Log-a-log. "I'll wager we'll be there by noon tomorrow, providin' the weather holds."
"What if the weather doesn't hold?" asked Rose.
"Depends on the weather," was the reply. "If there's rain, we're in luck. Fresh water, y'see. If there's wind, though, well..." He didn't finish the sentence, but the mole and the mouse both caught his drift. Wind would be bad.
They trudged on without speaking until almost nightfall. As he was about to suggest stopping for the night, Log-a-log looked up and caught sight of the mountain. Even he had been taken in by the deceptive distances.
"Good news," he announced. "We can sleep in tomorrow and still reach Salamandastron at noon."
Rose and Dinny looked up and noticed what the shrew had; they had covered much more distance than they had thought they could at first. They all agreed to bed down where they were, since there was no better place that they could see.
Dinny was the first to rise the nest morning. It was still dark as he roused his companions, but it was rather late; the mountains to their right blocked out the early morning light. However, the travellers could see the light out on the ocean, turning the watery expanse into a flat of gold. They elected to start early before the sun made the sands hot.
It was only an hour or so later when they stood before the mountain fortress. Each of the travellers stood there, afraid of what awaited them inside. Log-a-log had entertained them with enough searat legends about ghost monsters and invisible beasts that they found themselves unsure about what was true and what was myth.
Rose saw that her companions were not about to do anything. She herself was unsure about what to do, but she could hardly keep herself from doing what she did do. She stepped forward towards the tall, imposing rock wall in front of her and shouted, "I do not know who or what dwells within this mountain, nor do I know how you greet strangers, but though we are armed, we come in peace, not to wage war, but to request aid! I request enterance!"
Immediately, there was no response, but after only a moment, a loud, bomming voice called in reply, "Welcome to Salamandastron, Laterose the Warrior. You and your companions have permission to enter!"