This is my newest fan fiction for Redwall, I'm calling it Senn of Redwall. Feel free to comment on anything and such, feedback is always very welcome
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Twixt woods and flatlands
Watch for the one who comes from the south
A hero to defend Mossflower
For the foes of Redwall will come marching forth
Book One: Travellers and Conquerors
Book One: Travellers and Conquerors
Seemingly limitless in celestial splendor, the moon hung like a globe of silver upon a starry night sky over the cool, crisp woodlands. A grasshopper chirped, flying off to another branch, having spotted the hungry bird stalking near him. A silvery cloud loomed overhead, adding peacefulness to the brilliance of that night. What a brilliant night it was.
All these glories, however, were hardly noticed. Rain, heavy rain, with scarce any lightning or thunder accompanying it, fell heavily on the dusty path running north to south, as well as the surrounding land. Oaks, sycamores, elms, pines, beeches and various other woodland trees swayed lightly, with small streamlets running at their bases.
Under this display, heading along a normally dusty and deserted path, marched the Horde of the Wolfteeth. An assortment of rats, ferrets, weasels, stoats and foxes, led by two giant wildcat brethren, made up the fearsome array. Leading them as absolute chieftain was the bigger of the two wildcats, Blackrobe Wolfteeth. Her fur was jet-black, a strange feature for a wildcat, unlike her brother whose fur was striped and dominantly brown.
The Horde of the Wolfteeth was feared throughout all the Southlands, capable of instilling fear in a beast just by its name. Champion murderers and scoundrels, they looted and raided wherever they could, living by what they could forage or steal. Recently, the wildcat chieftain had felt like heading up northwards, with the idea of spreading her conquering campaign.
Spears clanked slightly as paws plodded wearily along through the thin woodlands in the Southlands. A weasel stumbled over a large stone, growling as his bulk collided into a ferret treading on in front of him.
“Watch it!” the ferret hissed, eyeing the ranks ahead of him. Seeing no one bothering to look back or make any indication that they had heard the commotion, the ferret continued on the mud-soaked path. A crow cawed from a pine tree, and moved further down into the branches to avoid further contact with the unpleasant weather.
Puddles were in existence throughout the dusty road, which was nearly swallowed up by the woodlands to either side. As vermin marched onwards, in undefined ranks, a stone suddenly cracked against the neck of a tall, menacing looking fox.
“Attack! We’re under attack!” The fox ran ahead, no longer at the sloppy, slow pace he had been in before. Vermin, stoats, rats, ferrets, weasels and a scattering of foxes, started forming into small ranks, two-deep and twelve long. Commotion reigned, as officers and hordebeasts went dashing through the dust and mud, attempting to either locate the origin of the stone, or get well out of its range.
Another weasel came scurrying from north up the path, alerted by the screams of the vermin. Seeing the fox, Sharptail, rubbing at his neck, he went to his side. Scanning around, the weasel detected the stone, a small round one. He bent and picked it up, gazing back southwards, trying to detect where it had flung from.
Sharptail had brought out a savage, curved sabre, pointing it at the weasel captain. “What ya doin’, round ‘ere, Dumbclaw?” he asked, picking at a mud splashing on his weapon. Dumbclaw, spitting into the rough soil, pointed to the south, at a pile of rocks in the road. “Ahh, some stupid beast treaded on that der, caused a stone to shoot upwards.” Shifting his bulk, the weasel showed his battered teeth to the fox captain.
Sharptail sat down with a grunt and then sighed. “’Tis the bloody fifth time we’ve ‘ad a false alarm for an attack. If ya ask me, we’re plodding the wrong direction. Why the Chief decided on a north’ard course, strike me, I’ll never know.” Dumbclaw stood slouched, watching hordebeasts shift their weapons downwards and stumble away from ordered ranks, some pulling out crumbs and peels from their vests and jerkins.
“Huh, some army we’ve a-come. Starving, tattered, soaked horde of murderers, jumpin’ at a stone comin’ loose, disturbing the whole march.” Dumbclaw snorted and placed himself alongside Sharptail. A stoat wandered by, his scimitar broken just above the hilt. Sharptail hailed him. “’Ey, what ‘appended to yer sword der?”
The stoat looked around, and came closer to the two captains. “When da alarm was raised, I drew my scimitar, but another hordebeast crashed into me, runnin’ backwards. Huh, wish the broken half ‘ad just finished him der, but instead it felled to the leaves, leavin’ me a defenseless beast. What the bangin’ frogsteeth are we doin’ this far north, anyway?”
The stoat never uttered another word, a surprised look of terror on his face. He fell straight down into a heap, transfixed by a knife. The two captains leapt up and saluted as a shadow fell across them. The rain had stopped falling considerably, but their skin now felt colder than ever.
The origin of the shadow was none other than a giant, jet-black wildcat. Blackrobe Wolfteeth stood on a high piece of rock, surveying a motley assembly of hordebeasts, numbering a near third of her horde. “Anyone else care to question my orders?” A hush fell over the assembly, and without further ado the black creature hurled herself into the nearest group of vermin. Thrashing madly with her claws and biting with her razor-sharp teeth, the hordebeasts fell back, fleeing to get away from this mad terror.
The Chieftain retrieved her knife, which was half hilt, half blade. The blade curved from the sides of the hilt in a semi-circle, which ended in a sharp point at the top of the weapon. Anybeast who ever saw it used knew it was deadly. It was also the only weapon Blackrobe used; she thought it adequate in use with her claws and teeth.
Blackrobe laughed, almost humorously, with a tinge of malice. “When I say you march, you march. If I say you die, then you’ll die. Never doubt that.” Heads bobbed and many gulped, knowing she meant every word of it. The wildcat’s malice voice rang out, “I suggest you all get your gear together, you’ve camped long enough to eat somethin’. Bladge, go north and get the rest of my horde moving. Fiercetail, get this bunch moving on forced march, northwards!”
The wildcat chieftain sprang lightly forward, heading north along the path back to her vanguard, bullying vermin who had not heeded the order into tighter, more organized ranks. Things were getting good, she thought. Very good!
Fiercetail cracked down hard on the unconscious figure. The Horde of the Wolfteeth had captured the otter days ago, found trekking the Vast South Plains. Seeing him stir a little in the rough-hewn oak cage, the weasel captain trod off, signaling two stoats to pick up the otter. The stoats inserted two poles between the bars and lifted up the cage, placing the pointless spears up on their shoulders.
Fiercetail continued moving up the path, with ranks forming up ready to tread on. With the rain gone, the soldiers felt more up to marching. “March! We move northwards until nearing midnight on the Chief’s orders. You two, ‘old up that cage, the boss wants fun wid ‘im later.”
Senn Longbattler was a sea otter. Normally strong and braw, he lay crumpled in a cage twice his size. He had been wandering, through strange woodlands and dusty plains, far from home. Home. He knew nothing of the nature of it, he remembered only that he had been born someplace to the north, before ending up in the Southlands, trekking ceaselessly over terrain, avoiding vermin as much as possible.
He licked at the wet timbers of the cage as well as his soaking paws, trying to get a decent mouthful of water to drink. His legs and rudder bore several wounds, inflicted when he was captured days earlier. Straining his neck, he opened his eyes.
Around him, rain continued falling, even picking up again. His head still throbbed from his capture. Capture. He had never before been faced by such a proposition. He had been surrounded by a score of vermin, headed by a vicious-looking jet-black wildcat. Blackrobe Wolfteeth.
He had not heard of the monster before, but he knew now. Rain began pounding down on his head. Pulling it back into the shelter of the cage, the sea otter positioned himself out flat, with his limbs pressing against the sides of the cage. He could not break out he knew, but he was determined to hold on in his plight.
His mind drifted back into the past, remembering the seasons he spent wandering and travelling through the Southlands. Of living in his father’s holt, spending his youth near the sea. Of being ambushed and laid upon by twenty-one vermin. The scene was vivid in his memory. He had been trekking along, attempting to reach a woodland fringe in the distance before nightfall. The shrubbery and sparse trees around him had shaken from behind. Turning, he saw nothing. Turning back to the path ahead of him, he saw that he had wandered into a scouting party of vermin.
He guessed they were going back along their previously traversed trail, checking to see if anything was following them. Snarling, the wildcat held a strange knife, looking like a straw, with half cut off down the length. He rose one of several javelins he carried, taking stance in the dust. Several ferrets and rats were advancing slowly on him, when the wildcat shouted out: “Go in and grab ‘im!”
The group charged in, raising spears, swords and hatchets. He threw the javelin, catching a ferret in the footpaw. By then, two rats were on him. He swung out a javelin from his back, ducked, and came up swinging. The javelin caught an advancing ferret in the jaw, but then it was over. The wildcat had bounded forward, cracking him between the ears with a cudgel. He staggered, then felt his leg pricked. He threw himself backwards, pulling a rat downwards with him. More vermin had arrived, and he was slashed several times in fighting them. After smashing a stoat in the shin with a javelin-butt, he was down with a weighted net.
Gazing upwards, at the same time drifting out of consciousness, he saw the wildcat wave her knife. “Haha, a valiant fight, young one. But no one beats the hordebeasts of the Wolfteeth.” Promptly, she grabbed a few javelins he had still had slung to his back, and cracked them hard onto his back. Crack! Several javelins splintered, the last she broke with her claws.
Clinging to consciousness, he saw a couple weasels insert spent javelins into the nets he was entangled in. Roughly jerked by the ropes and rocks, he had flung his weight to one side of the mess, but only twisted his footpaw in the process. By then, consciousness was temporarily lost from him.
It was nightfall when he was awake again, in the same cage he now found himself. He was off from a large camp, including the fires which burned. He had attempted to count the vermin in assessing his position, but only several score were in his sight range. The rest he knew would be sitting around fires blazing in nearby places, which were successfully blocked from his limited view.
He had actually not even good sight due to the night itself, and the woodlands he was in did little to aid the problem. He was aching in many places, and his throat was parched from lack of water. He was determined, from that moment onwards, to survive, and later deal with this villain who called herself the Wolfteeth.
As the days pasted, and his conditions did little to improve, he grew more hungry. With only stale bread, he was in little position to try much that night. Resting his head on one of his forearms, he began to doze.
Much farther north, away from the brutal lands of the South, the same weather conditions dominated about the thick foliage of Mossflower Woods. Scattered rock crags and patches of dirt and grass were well soaked and watered by the downpour. Oaks, firs and beeches made up the majority of the trees in North Mossflower, near the River Moss.
A hare, not considerably old of a creature, stood out on the ramparts of a high wooden wall. He had been surveying the landscape from this high position, intent on being ready when the foragers returned. All night, with a firefly lantern tucked partially beneath his long brown cloak, he watched with little interest as rain pounded down on trees, plants, rocks and wood alike.
Stifling a yawn, the hare’s ears went up rigid, straining to catch a sound from the south. Rain came down more heavily than before, lightning and thunder were increasing in magnitude and frequency. With his vision and hearing so limited, the hare had no idea that several beasts had started to pound on the oaken door to the fort until a large chestnut slammed into the side of his face.
Caught off guard, the hare got himself quickly together and called down into the rainy night. “I say, is there chestnut tree down there hurlin’ nuts at me? I rather like chestnuts afterall, wot wot!” In response, another of the nuts flew up and hit him in one of his long ears. “Oh, ya walkin’ stomach, just get down and open up this door, will ya!” The hare called back down as he started to descend the rampart steps. “At y’service, marm. Juhenchin Bentonhings Kaminglain Baggscut will allow you passage tae the greatest construction this side ‘o the great river.”
Climbing down the remaining steps to the grass compound, the lanky hare bounded to the door, a large oaken contraption. Sliding off a considerable sized beam, the hare yanked one of the double doors open, revealing a couple squirrels and a hedgehog out in the night.
Stepping through the portal last, one of the squirrels spoke again to the hare. “Anythin’ ‘appen while we were out?” The hare fell in step with the squirrel, whose red fur was mostly hidden by her heavy coat. “Nothin’ much. Old Bluman nearly ruined a blueberry trifle, coated with meadowcream. Not really surprising though, is it?”
“Huh, knowin’ you, ya probably were the one ruinin’ it by eating it afore it could be served.” The squirrel’s rough and casual voice was sounded out by a loud boom of thunder and a bolt of lightning. The hare, having heard the remark, answered. “Humph, bit unfair of a chap, accsuin’ him of pinching blueberries and purloining extra meadowcream with thin oatcakes.” The hare walked alongside the three foragers into a small wicker-gate into the main build of Fort Thallsmergan.
Inside, several benches were aligned along the walls with a fireplace to one side, unlit. Passing through this room into the next, the hedgehog dropped his cloak off into a chair by the door. “Jasse, ‘ow many of those chestnuts you still got left after chuckin’ ‘em at that feedbag?” The squirrel who had been conversing with Juhenchin turned to the short stout hedgehog. “Plenty, friend. Though, I’d like to ask what became of that woodland trifle ya mentioned, hare.”
As Juhenchin bowed and exited the room to the kitchen, Jasse’s voice called after him. “Oh, and ya’d best gather the rest ‘o the crew from sleep. There’s something that needs to be reported, very urgently.”
Within half an hour, just over a score of sleepy woodlanders were gathered in the kitchen. Hedgehogs, mice like Bluman, squirrels and several moles were in attendance, watching intently as the three woodlanders ate their trifle and some oatcakes, washed down with mint tea. Jasse Twootack, an accomplished boxer, got right to the point. “The River Moss is floodin’ its bounds, near directly to the south. Looks like erosion ‘o sorts has caused the land depression that runs nearby to expand. If the river continues to fill, then that river’s gonna ‘ead south quick, right through Mossflower Woods.”
The assembly was stunned for a few moments, then questions poured forth.
“Where exactly is this floodin’ goin’ on at, Jasse?”
“Huh, did ya see this too, Mauthie?”
“Well, I for one can’t believe it.”
“Marm, don’t be so ‘ard down on Jasse now. She might be a bit strong to a chap at times, but she ain’t no liar. Not now or ever, I’d say, eh?”
The questions were cut short by the mousecook, Bluman. “Hold it! Silence! If Jasse and Mauthie, as well as Pinkal, saw the River afloodin’, then ya can be sure ‘tis is. Jasse, anything more you want to add?”
Jasse nodded to the mouse. “Thankee, Bluman. Now, the River isn’t exactly floodin’ yet, but ‘tis will if nothin’ is done. Now, I’d say the reason this began is cause ‘o a block in the path of the River Moss. Wherever that be, we really don’t have the ability to deal wid it. I say we head to the Abbey o’ Redwall, if Skipper of Otters is there, I’m willin’ to say he’d come up wid somethin’. Agreed?”
A chorus of “Ayes” rang out, with several conversations starting out as well amongst those gathered. Redwall Abbey was a majestic place, with soaring buttresses and a towering spire. Strong walls protected it against harm and inhabiting it was many woodlanders, all goodbeasts who would welcome anyone in trouble into their midst.
Pinkal the hedgehog spoke up. “Well, if we agoin’ to Redwall, ain’t we best do it quick?”
Some heads nodded, but rarely were Thallsmergan settlers known to do anything extra quickly. Juhenchin spoke up. “Aye, but tonight’s no good. The weather’d stop us long afore we got to Redwall. Best just sit tight ‘ere and journey in the mornin’ after a bite ‘o the old breakfast, wot?”
“Aye, that’s best what we be doing,” said Mauthie Browncloak, who had seen the danger of the flooding, “We should just hold out for the night here. Also, not all of us need to go. Thallsmergan needs to be guarded and kept going. I’d say only a small party is needed to head for Redwall. The very old and very young should simply stay here, and Bluman I’m sure would rather reside here in his kitchens at the moment. Jasse took a good look at the problem, so she’d best lead the quest. Right, marm?”
Jasse Twootack nodded to the young squirrel. “Well said, Mauthie. I’ll take Pinkal and Mauthie wid me, and I suppose you’d best come to, eh, Juhenchin?”
The hare flopped his ears through his small cap. “Aye, marm. Somebeast best be goin’ tae render assistance with some sense in ‘is ‘ead and all that, wot! Oh, Bluman, mind packin’ tae supplies for the journey? Er, food that is. Me ‘n Jasse can take care ‘o da gear and all.”
The storm continued into the late night. The moon rose high and the stars twinkled rarely through the thick display of clouds, dark and dangerous. Rain poured as was practically never seen before in parts of Mossflower. The River Moss rose steadily. Its banks were higher in its course westward. Nobeast as yet knew the cause, but a great burden lay across the river.
Early morning sun shone down through cloud tendrils. Birds sang and chirped, glad of the change of weather. With the night went the pounding rain, relentlessly it had thudded Mossflower for hours on end. Leaves, twigs and branches, some quite large, littered the woodlands. For all the damage inflicted from the storm though, it was still a beautiful day.
Clouds lingered, as did some showers, and the sky remained overcast. Under this array, Father Abbot Caliuago of Redwall Abbey was sitting in the orchard. Rising with the dawn as always, the leader of Redwall had decided on fresh air to start his day. Brushing some petals from his eyes, the short old mouse leaned back in his chair. Surveying the orchard, it was apparent that some cleaning would be needed.
Various types of fruits, nuts and vegetables were astray across the grass, plants were uprooted and leaves and twigs covered the grass. Redwallers were ingenuitive and capable beasts, the Abbot thought; it would soon be seen to. Leaning his head back slowly as not to lose his spectacles, Caliuago drifted off into a slight doze.
“Nice seeing you out here, Abbot.” Caliuago jerked upright, wakened by the statement made to him. In front of him stood Traggo Spearcalm, the old cellarhog of Redwall Abbey, now retired. Sitting himself down on an upturned wheelbarrow near the Abbot, the hedgehog addressed his old friend.
“I have to say though, if Sister Maihal saw you here like this, she’d have a mind to drag you up to that dratted infirmary of hers and treat you with one of those strange concoctions ‘o hers.” Traggo shook his head, amazed at what Sister Maihal could make up and consider being a brilliant success at curing creatures of one thing or another.
Caliuago shrugged. “She’s a good creature, Maihal, a bit stubborn though. Actually, I think I’ll head indoors to see what Friar Burrade made for breakfast.” Old Traggo Spearcalm rose from the wheelbarrow he had been occupying. “I’ll accompany you in, I smelled some of the breakfast when I came by into the orchard.” Getting up from his chair, the Abbot started in direction of the main Abbey building, with his friend walking in step.
“Ah, look at our home friend,” said Caliuago, “is it not wonderful in morning light?” Stopping, the two elders gazed around them, admiring what they could see of Redwall.
The main part of the Abbey was a large building, complete with dormitories, well stocked cellars, kitchens, bell tower, a grand library and attic spaces. A weathervane crowned the top of the Abbey. Flying buttresses and arches were built along the Abbey, which itself was made from sandstone, which was in turn quarried from an area well to the north.
In the day, Redwall was dark red in hue, ranging to dusty pink in the evening. Outside the Abbey building were placed orchards and gardens, growing and yielding different produce throughout the year. A pond was located to one corner of the grounds, where fish were heavily in abundance. Indeed, throughout the year Redwall Abbey was always a place of plenty, housing many good creatures, providing a home to all.
Also inside the grounds of the Abbey was the gatehouse, which was set beside the main wall gate. Set inside the towering and thick walls of the Abbey were three wicker-gates, once in each side. The ramparts were battlemented, and had withstood the test of time and siege. Always before had Redwall Abbey survived the attacks and ambitions of cruel-hearted and evil villains and tyrants, as well as their hordes.
Abbot Caliuago reached the Abbey building and slid inside. Within Great Hall, a large space normally used for feasts and other grand occasions, he glided across the floor towards the far end, where six steps led downwards into Cavern Hole. This was a smaller room than Great Hall, and was used much more on a day-to-day basis, its primary functions being meals and meetings.
On entering Cavern Hole, the Abbot made his way to one end, where his chair was set. Passing by excited dibbuns, young creatures, adults and elders, Caliuago stood in front of his chair at the head of a long table. A respectful silence fell as a few latecomers settled down in their seats. Caliuago then spoke to those gathered:
Gentle beasts, good ones all
I welcome you to meal this morn
Take part, enjoy it all
The ground has been bountiful this season
Seating himself down as Redwallers began discussing recent events and carrying on with good cheer, the Abbot filled up a mug with dandelion tea as he addressed Foremole Thigg. “I take it you’re well this morning my friend.”
The Foremole (a lofty position amongst moles) tugged his snout politely as he spoke to the Abbot. “Boi aye, zurr, I be feelin’ quite well this morn, thankee koindly fer ee concern.”
Good banter passed back and forth between cheerful Abbeydwellers as they shared in the fruits of their labor. Hot oatcakes with honey and brown sugar were served alongside fresh strawberries with meadowcream and almonds dipped in preserves and jams. To drink, hot mint tea was served with dandelion, with strawberry cordial available for drinking as well.
Meals in Redwall were always shared together amongst all beasts. Young and old, woodlanders of different backgrounds, all ate together in harmony and peace within Redwall Abbey.
After the meal was finished, Abbeybeasts dismissed to their choirs. Foremole Thigg and his crew went out to the lawns to survey the damage, and all Redwallers were informed to attend to cleaning up the grounds. Sister Maihal and Melandine were in charge of the dibbuns, who were surprisingly being both well-behaved and helpful.
Kraylin, a young ottermaiden, was assisting Cellarhog Buyyad Spearcalm to clear up a windblown garden bed. It was then that the Redwall beekeeper, a mouse by the name of Brother Hoffen, finished speedy calculations on a flower he had picked up, counting petals as he went. “Well, blast me, it’s officially spring tomorrow!”
Sister Truthley, a mouse who was picking up branches nearby, heard his comment. “Hmm, so it is. Why, we ought to have a feast I guess to bring in the new season.”
Abbot Caliuago threw a paw to his forehead. “Ah! How one’s mind manages to forget these things I’ll never know,” shaking his head, the Abbot continued speaking. “I’ll have to talk to Friar Burrade, he’ll be happy to supervise the food preparations.”
A young molemaid by the name of Firrum ran up to the Abbot. “Hurr zurr, are we agoin’ to ‘ave a roight auld feast then? An’ is entirterrment an’ pirfirming alloud?”
The Abbot smiled down at the young one. “Why, of course, we should have plenty of entirterrment and such. Actually, Brother Hoffen’s been itchin’ to do that new singing act of his, right Brother?”
Brother Hoffen, ankle deep in ruined flowers, stared at the Abbot. “Why did I fear somebeast would mention that?”
Sister Truthley laughed. “Hahha, don’t worry, Brother, I’d love to see it.”
The clearing effort continued into the early afternoon with lunch served in the orchard and tea supplied in Cavern Hole. By then the work was completed, with the Abbey grounds looking as good as ever before. Abbeybeasts congratulated each other as they continued with their usual daily choirs, enjoying Abbey life and all its great happiness.
Log-a-log, chieftain of the Guerilla Union of Shrews in Mossflower, stood surveying his flotilla of logboats. Battered during the night by the ferocious storm, the crafts were cracked, all broken severely in someplace, and not close to be considered seaworthy. Faced with such a dilemma, the Guosim chieftain set about thinking up a fix for the problem.
The Guosim were a nomadic group, ranging throughout all Mossflower on rivers and streams. Usually they traversed with their classical logboats, but presently such a thing was out of reason. Known for loving to argue and fight, and being very aggressive, the spiky-furred shrews sat or stood about the wreckage scene.
Dunjer, a young shrewbeast with a yellow bandana and kilt, ambled up to Log-a-log. “Sir, we’ve lost all five boats, nobeast hurt though. Also managed to salvage all the paddles.”
Log-a-log nodded, dismissing the shrew. With no logboats and most of their supplies ruined, the twoscore group of Guosim, all of whom wore bandanas and kilts with their rapiers and slings, were faced with a strange difficulty. Actually, with his scouts reporting last night that the small stream they were on was simply getting shallower and shallower with no explanation, Log-a-log felt that this new development was barely much of a setback except for the loss itself.
The Guosim afterall, he reasoned, would simply have had to port the logboats, requiring much time and effort, to the River Moss. Once there, they probably could have just paddled to one of their regular camps on its banks and enjoyed early spring there stationary. Regardless, the Guosim chieftain stepped into the center of the camp and spoke out:
“Guosim! Listen to me. Our logboats are destroyed, our supplies gone. Now we must get what we have with us together and head north. Cooks, prepare what you can and let’s break fast.”
The shrews in question began ordering firewood gathered and slate rocks found. With these, they could make small stone ovens and bake some shrewbread and prepare a mediocre meal for the march. Log-a-log walked a short distance away from the camp to a fallen beech near the dried up stream bed.
Resting his back, the chieftain turned his eyes on a particularly fat shrew sitting by one of the smashed up logboats. “Mincid! Move ye from that wreckage or I’ll move ya myself.” The shrew in question pulled himself up and, pointing at Log-a-log, began a narrative. His voice, somewhat hoarse, attracted the attention of most of the Guosim beasts.
“See, Guosim, this is what that old shrew has brought to us. Huh, camping on an insect-infected stream bank while we could’ve been on our way to our grounds. Yah, lost to us is our logboats for that matter, and proper victuals! ‘Tis a sign, better leadership is needed.”
Log-a-log jumped spryly up from his seat and advanced, rather quickly, on Mincid. “Ha, the only sign you understand is when a stream is not wet, it’s dry. Somehow, the rough weather’s caused the loss of a stream, very quickly for that matter. If you hadn’t realized, we aren’t exactly capable of getting logboats across dry land. That is, unless you’d like to attempt getting to the next stream with a load of wood on your back.”
The fat shrew backed off from Log-a-log, who had been speaking to him face-to-face. “Blah, we’re not getting very far now, that’s all I’m gonna say fer now.”
Log-a-log smiled grimly. “Well, Mincid the shrew is finally closin’ ‘is mouth. A notable change in your behavior. Don’t try to challenge my leadership, Mincid, it’ll get ya nowhere but the bottom of some swamp someday.” The older shrew left the disgraced backed up to a pine tree, returning to his seat in the beech. He would wait still awhile, but that noisy shrew would never leave the question of leadership behind.
The afternoon on the same day that feast preparations began at Redwall Abbey, four fast-paced travellers trod south down a path in the fastness of Mossflower Woods. Juhenchin Bentonhings Kaminglain Baggscut trekked on amiably, munching on several wild strawberries he had found growing along the path. Stepping over several roots, the hare jogged on to a clearing off a slight way from the path.
“Good place ‘ere for lunch, eh, wot?”
Jasse Twootack slung down a haversack and backpack from her shoulders. “Aye, ‘tis fine enough for the likes ‘o me. Pinkal, careful with that pack there, I put a bottle of damson cordial in it.”
Pinkal the hedgehog set the single pack he carried on his spiky back down gently, resting it against an oak. Seating himself down next to the elegant young squirrel Mauthie Browncloak, he spoke aloud his thoughts of the morning’s trek.
“I’d say we covered a third ‘o the distance to Redwall, if I remember correctly where it’s at. You reckon so, Mauthie?”
Mauthie Browncloak nodded. “I’d say tis still a good bit down this woodland path here, should reach it eventually.”
The Thallsmergan beasts dined shortly on comfrey and mint tea, scones and a portion of fruitcake. Having finished chewing the last of his food, Juhenchin brushed his whiskers with a paw. “I say, chaps, Bluman is rather a bit of a genius, wot? Not really exposed to many ingredients at hand in old Thallsmergan though, place’s a bit tight over the last few seasons.”
“Oh, gardens are plentiful enough at the Fort. Legends say that Redwall has enough food inside its outer walls to feed an army and then some.” Jasse commented, “Shows what goodbeasts are capable of accomplishin’ with a bit ‘o peace and ingenuity. Vermin just rob ’n’ steal, those Abbeybeasts share and help, and have plenty to do so with.”
Mauthie looked over at her friend. The boxing squirrel was tall and strong, her fur red and tail strong, a fighter born. Pinkal gazed around, monitoring the terrain in his sight. A dunebeast from the west born, the hedgehog was apt to both identifying and staying safe in his surroundings.
Around him, the sun penetrated into Mossflower, shining its light onto plants and undergrowth. A jackdaw winged its way through the woodlands in the distance, apparently on some strange deed. Grasshoppers chirped and flew, mingling with other insects in the early afternoon. Sighing, the hedgehog leaned back on his paws behind him.
The travellers packed up some minutes later, eager to be on their way to Redwall and the promises they would experience there. They marched on for a short time, sometimes at a fast gait and other times at a more leisurely pace. It was then that Juhenchin waggled his ears, which were positioned in two slots cut into his small black square cap. Straining his left, the mountain hare stopped short, causing Jasse Twootack to nearly plow into him.
Keeping her balance expertly, the squirrel stepped her left paw away, steading herself from an ungainly crash. Mauthie twirled her tail and looked questioningly to Juhenchin, who had been walking half a dozen paces ahead of her. The hare put a paw to his mouth, and slid stealthily to a nearby oak bordering the woodland path. Pinkal and Mauthie followed suit on the western side of the path behind a large ash; Jasse climbed into the branches of a birch near to her companions, with all the skill of an accomplished treewhifler.
Mauthie’s long trailing brown coat brushed against the bark of the smooth ash tree. She was still puzzled as to the hare’s strange behavior. Juhenchin winked at her; then turned up to look at Jasse, who was hardly discernable in the bushy birch. The squirrel climbed back down quickly and walked over in the overcast light of the afternoon to the hare.
Nodding to the west, Jasse spoke in normal tones to the hiding creatures. ‘I couldn’t see a thing, but I could hear some crashing in the woods. Somebeast, probably more than one, is headed this way. Doesn’t sound to intent on bein’ quiet either. Any ideas, well-hearing hare?”
Juhenchin felt down the sides of his tunic. “Indeed, my treewhifling friend. I say we head ‘round a tad to tae think foliage in front of us. Once there, we can wait for the beast coming and ambush ‘em. Jolly good plan, wot?”
Jasse nodded curtly. Pinkal and Mauthie slid silently off to the north ten paces with Juhenchin. Once there, they pushed off the path into the low-hanging branches and thick undergrowth. Going forward, dodging and ducking, the three companions continued for a score of short paces. They then veered back south, settling down in a cozy hole at the base of a large old oak. Jasse was not far away, having gone the opposite direction.
As they waited, the noise increased, sounding like paws crunching through the leaves. Well more than one beast, the woodlanders reached to put their paws on anything they could use as a weapon. Juhenchin nodded to each of them, signaling to jump into the open and assault the approaching beasts.
Mauthie listened as falling footpaws hit the ground right on the other side of the oak she was behind. She watched as Juhenchin leapt into the opening, yelling as he did.
Jasse sprang from her position. Hurtling into the fray, she laid to her right with a large branch stripped mostly of bark. Mauthie leaped around the opposite side of the tree Juhenchin had, Pinkal on her heels. In the sparse-treed area she leapt into, she was surprised at the sight that greeted her. Juhenchin was kicking wildly, heedless of all about him. His lanky footpaws thudded into one of the small beasts and missed another one coming around on the other side of him.
Pinkal called out. “Watch out, Ju!”
Jasse, seeing the beasts they had rammed into, shouted out. “No! Stop, they’re friends!”
Around the attackers was a group of small, spiky-furred shrews. All wore multi-colored headbands and kilts. All were also armed with sheathed rapiers in their belts, stone pouches and slings accompanying them. Juhenchin, seeing his mistake, apologized to the single beast he had winded in the stomach.
“Sorry there, chap. H’onest mistake and all that, wot! Not ‘urt much, are ya?”
The shrew smiled ruefully at the irrepressible hare. “Fine matey, thanks for yer concern.” He proceeded to readjust his belt and headband, which had been knocked loose when he flew backwards through the air, thanks to the zealous hare.
Mauthie Browncloak stepped further into the scene. Dropping the rock she had grabbed hold of, she walked over to Jasse Twootack. Pinkal simply stood where he was. One of the shrews, head taller than most of the others, addressed the hare, curiosity present in his voice.
“I’m Log-a-log of the Guosim. Where do ya get off attacking Guosim beasts, hare?” His voice was somewhat gruff, his paw on the hilt of his rapier. Juhenchin was slightly abashed and answered as best as his reasons were. ‘Well, ya see old thing, we were travellin’ along when I heard some commotion over this way. Deciding tae check it out, we left the path and made our way into ambush position.”
A fat shrew stalked up, not doing a very good job of hiding a scowl on his face. “Ambush? Where ya getting off attackin’ beasts outnumbering ya ten to one?” He never got any further speaking. Log-a-log had rapped him smartly between the ears and shoved him roughly off from the woodlanders. Seemingly undecided about accepting them before, the fat shrew’s statement made the chieftain make up his mind.
“Shuttyer face, Mincid. You don’t interrupt me when I’m addressing strangers to the Guosim, and ya don’t go insulting honest woodlanders. Now, my friends, what brings you to these parts ‘o Mossflower?”
His voice grew more cheery, and the Guosim chieftain gazed over the four former assailants. Jasse Twootack spoke for them. “We’re heading to Redwall Abbey. Actually, we’re a bit uncertain on where it is, only that it lies somewhere along the east side ‘o this path. We’re from Fort Thallsmergan, located north from the crook in the River Moss.”
Log-a-log nodded. Suddenly, he turned around and spoke to his tribe. “Guosim, don’t stand around here making our friends feel uncomfortable. Shift yer packs and get yerselves organized, we march for Redwall Abbey!”
Mauthie Browncloak was swept up with the Guosim and Log-a-log. “You’re goin’ to Redwall Abbey, sir?” The shrew chieftain turned his attention to the squirrel. “Aye, we can’t just allow you beasts to travel alone and unguarded for days for an unknown destination. If we want to call ourselves Guosim, we must defend and protect those in harm’s way. No arguing, missie, we’re going with you!”
Jasse Twootack shrugged her shoulders. ‘Very well, Log-a-log. If you will, we will gladly accept your company to Redwall.”
The Guosim chieftain fell in step with Juhenchin. “Aye, I ‘aven’t been to Redwall for seasons now. Ih, my stomach is greatly craving Redwall vittles. My, I can recall everything I had last time I was there. Such skill in food exists there, indeed.”
Jasse winked at the shrew. “Aye, matey, I know!”
Bladge, a rat captain in the Horde of the Wolfteeth, was in one of his infamous foul-tempers. With his long spear raised aggressively in front of him, he made his way through the camp that was set up. A northern rat in origin, the fancy-dressing, rough captain had a peculiar feature about him. His fur, like his tunic, was black. He considered it his defining nature as a superior hordebeast. It also made him look more savage.
He stopped suddenly, beside a puddle of mud and composed himself. He had been busy, and angry at his duties he had to perform in these hard times for the horde. Now, suddenly yanked off in the most crucial time, he was furious. But he could not express anything of his anger, not now.
Entering past a couple foxes holding guard duty, he entered into the tent of the wildcat warlord he served. Inside, Blackrobe Wolfteeth sat drinking out of a silver cup. Her equally black fur shined, her teeth glistened, and in front of her, point stabbed into the table she sat at, was her vicious knife. Bladge addressed his leader. “Great Blackrobe, what do you require of my services?” His ears stood rigid, his fangs curved in some sort of evil grin below green twinkling eyes.
The wildcat set down her cup onto the table before her and gripped the chair she sat in. “Stand at ease, Bladge. I take it the horde is doing well?”
The rat captain fidgeted momentarily with a brass button on his tunic before answering. “Er, well, the hordebeasts are complainin’ we’re low on food. And also that their tents are torn and too thin.” He left off scratching his head. Blackrobe nodded, without a tinge of intolerance or rage on her features. “Hmm. I guess we’ll have to do something about that.” She mumbled.
“Yer Majesty?” Bladge asked, and he also realized for the first time that several other creatures were in the room. Dumbclaw and Fiercetail stood near the entrance with a stoat captain named Crushsnout. Behind and to the right stood the tall fox captain Sharptail, grimly holding a sabre at his side.
Blackrobe sighed impatiently. “Take out some hordebeasts, I don’t care who. Just get a couple score out to comb the woodlands and bring back food. Birds, eggs, fish, roots, whatever; just make sure you get some food.” The wildcat’s voice deepened, as did her menace. Bladge bowed slightly at the neck and waist and departed, noting the sky as still being overcast.
Blackrobe, rising from her chair, walked over to where three of her captains stood. “Fiercetail, take Fangback the weasel and Blueney the rat; check on my prisoner. Make sure the otter gets a portion of water, nothing else. Go.” Used to her orders being obeyed immediately, the warlord turned her back on the departing weasel captain and spoke to Sharptail, whose features were impassive. “I understand there was a false warning of attack last night. Care to explain it, fox?”
Sharptail’s mouse dropped open, just a fraction, for a moment. He composed himself quickly, and cursed silently that the unfortunate event had been brought to Blackrobe’s attention. Sharptail missed, however, the edge of malice in his commander’s voice. He straightened up and answered. “Well, yer majesty. I was walkin’ along last night, when a pebble…er, a small stone, cracked into the back of my neck. I assumed dat we were unner attack by enemy beasts.”
“You assumed.” The wildcat repeated, still restraining her anger. “I suppose you also assumed that you’d best forget the incident and not report it to me?”
“Yer majesty?” asked the bewildered fox. It was the wrong thing to say. Whirling, the wildcat caught him roughly by the neck and knocked the sabre from his grasp. “Don’t “yer majesty?” me, you oaf! I intend to know everything, everything, that goes on in my horde. Never forget that, fox! Report anything that happens. Nothing will slip past my knowledge.”
Letting the sobbing fox go, Blackrobe walked across the two other captains in her presence. ‘You two, drag that dithering idiot out of my chambers! After that, see to setting up the camp afore evening. If anybeast complains about their tents, lash them mercilessly.”
Seeing Blackrobe had finished issuing orders, the two captains, none too gently, dragged the fox out of the large tent and flopped him into some mud outside. Having completed their first task, the two captains went about their camp duties.
Senn lay in his cage, curled up with his tail nearly in his face. He was hungry, and thirsty, but knew he would receive little. He was not in sadness though, his eyes burned in the growing twilight with an intensity. Intensity and determination to survive and escape, and to fight back against his captors, no matter what it cost. His fur was still slightly wet from the night’s storm, which had been at least a relief to his blistered throat.
Staring up at the first stars, his mind wandered off to sleep, dreaming about many things. He dreamed about his father’s holt, his travels, but most of all freedom. Freedom. The word tasted sweet, despite his suffering, to his mouth. Uttering the word once more, he drifted off to the relieving state of unconsciousness.
When Senn opened his eyes, the sight of the rising sun in the west greeted his eyes. Rolling his head around, he stared at the top of his prison. A dozen beams ran across, pegs nailed in between them and the beams which made up the bottom. It was then that something caught his eye, and caused his heart to leap. A spear, the tip beaten off, was still inserted between the bars of the cage. Looking out in all directions, he saw hordebeasts still asleep. Some were snoring uproariously, while others had managed to scurry out of their beddings and lay out in the open. Along one side of the clearing where the camp was set up, several tents ran alongside the tree fringe.
He quickly did an estimate, and decided that only thirty or so beasts were camped in seeing range of him. Gently picking up the spear with both paws, the otter brought it fully outside the cage, and then moved it around in front of him, facing his captors and a couple low-burned campfires. ‘’Snap’’
At the subdued reproach of a twig breaking, the otter froze. Turning his head around as best he could manage, he gazed up into the tree closest to him. In one of the top branches, a female squirrel sat watching him, a sling firmly in one hand. Surprised at her appearance, the otter raised his head up higher, nearly losing sight of her. Lowering it, he tilted his head towards the vermin camp.
The squirrel studied him for a moment more, and then nodded. She landed with a dull thud on the ground not ten paces from the wooden structure that had been his residence since a week earlier. The squirrel moved speedily through the tall flowing grass. She spoke firmly in his ear. “I am Ivy Rowancrown, streamwalloper. Stay still and I’ll get you out of yore fix.” With that said, the squirrel withdrew a bottle from her flowing cloak and crouched down to go to work on a peg.
The sea otter relaxed. Amazed at the skill of his rescuer Ivy Rowancrown, he maneuvered himself to watch. Rubbing a small amount of glue onto the top pieces of two separate pegs, she lopped her sling one of them. ‘’Whurr, crack!’’
The peg promptly broke outwards. Listening intently, the sea otter perceived no movement of the nearby vermin. The guard of this sector, a fat weasel, was slumped back against a tree, his spear falling from his grasp. Proceeding to the second peg, the red squirrel gave it the same treatment. Making less noise than last time, the peg snapped off at the top. Senn then noticed one of the top beams had caved inwards above the ruined pegs. Understanding his rescuer’s plan, the otter pushed the beam back into its original position.
Ivy Rowancrown crept over to the other side of the cage, the sun now shining slightly higher in the western sky. Hurriedly rubbing the substance over two other pegs, she got out her sling and pointed to the beam Senn had hold of. It was then that something went amiss. A rat, sleeping much too close to one of the fires, kicked out his footpaw into the embers, stirring up new flames. Jumping up, the rodent gave a scream of agony.
Ivy’s ling whirled like lightning. A pebble shot out not a second later, colliding with the unfortunate rat’s skull. He fell back, never to rise again. His scream, however, had awakened some other hordemembers. Spotting the strange squirrel behind the captive’s prison cage spurred them to their weapons.
Senn acted on instinct. Shoving his weakened rudderlike tail and footpaws into the beam, it jerked outwards and snapped. Leaping up in new made hole, the otter gave a shout, remembering it from his holt’s shore.
Crushsnout, awakened from his sleep, grabbed his spear and dashed out from his tent. Behind him, five ferrets and two rats stumbled out. Taking in the scene, the stoat captain pointed at the otter. ‘Get him! Stop the otter, he’s escapin’!”
All around, a score of hordebeasts started running towards the two at the woodland fringe. Senn Longbattler stood along Ivy Rowancrown, armed with the spear shaft from his former prison. The squirrel twirled her sling. “Ah, me plan seems to have gone astray. Any ideas, otter?”
“Run.” The sea otter half suggested, half ordered the statement, but his new found companion heeded it as he did. Dashing through the woodlands, which rose higher from the camp, the pair made away from the pursuers. Senn began slowing down, only partially due to his weak state. Something within him was rising. Could he simply dash away from his enemies now he was free? Others being subjected was inevitable. Stopping completely, the otter felt more strength in his body then for a long time. Freedom was largely responsible.
Ivy was still dashing ahead, unaware that the otter had stopped. Suddenly she stopped. Realizing the otter was not with her, she began charging back to the camp Senn was watching as various vermin made their way towards him. He spotted at least six forerunners, closing fast. Holding the spear shaft of stout oak wood above his head, he hailed his approaching enemies.
A ferret halted momentarily at the call, but then continued to close-in. Snarling, the beast through his spear at the escapee. Knocking the projectile away harmlessly with his own weapon, Senn hurtled at the ferret recklessly, waving his pole wildly. Seeing the otter, looking much more active and defiant than ever, the ferret turned and fled. Senn was about to give chase, when Ivy Rowancrown dropped right into his path.
The squirrel shouted. “’Tis a brave deed to assault yore enemies, young beast. ‘Owever, I would recommend forfeiting the idea at the moment.”
The otter nearly snorted, but caught sight of at least a dozen more hordebeasts calling threats and brandishing weapons, leaping over undergrowth in their attempt to get to the two disturbances. His veins were still pumping blood rapidly, and the otter was gripping the shaft in his hands like it was the only thing he had ever known.
The mysterious squirrel shot off a stone from her sling. She was rewarded by the sound of a foebeast yelling and a thrashing thud. Then, shifting her weight, she plowed into the beast she had just rescued. Senn was shocked by the impact, and crashed backwards into a large old stump. At that moment he felt the sense of his friend’s words sink in, and his legs tottered. The old wounds were burning a fresh, disturbed by the recent events. His eyes also seemed to clear a little and he looked at the squirrel, which he instantly recognized as a true warrior.
An arrow thudded into the stump near to where Ivy stood. She grabbed the otter hurriedly by his right paw and began stomping over plants as she followed a seemingly invisible trail. Senn could hear Crushsnout the stoat shout out from behind. “Get at ‘em, ye cowards!”
At that moment, Senn felt himself being pulled upwards. Throwing his paw around a low branch, the otter watched Ivy scamper up the tree to a practically unseen canvas. Smiling faintly, the traveler otter began climbing past branches and foliage. Upon reaching the shelter, he saw that it was little more than a piece of thick cloth thrown over several high branches with a wooden beamed floor. Sitting down on a small log, the squirrel warrior inspected the scene below.
Two rats, under the guidance of Sharptail, were searching through bushes and around tree trunks. The two rats conversed.
“Huh, the Chief’ll have our ‘ides if we don’t find dat otter and the giant badger.”
“What giant badger? That was a squirrel that rescued ‘im. Can’t ya tell the difference between a stripedog and a treewalloper?”
“Well, Ragchin said ‘e saw it was a stripedog dat broke the otter loose. Aye, ‘an she hadda piece ‘o a tree in one paw and shot a giant rock from it into ‘ol Regda’s skull.”
“Blah, that old little rat probably saw a piece ‘o a dead fish tryin’ to eat a tent last night too.”
“Why woulda he saw a piece ‘o a fish eatin’ a tent for?”
Sharptail had heard enough. Running back, he slapped the hapless rats across their faces. “Shushit! Get yerselves searchin’ fer that streamdog! I ain’t bearin’ no blame for ‘is escape, either. Strike me howwa a prisoner managed to escape anyhow. Guards sleepin’ no doubt.” The fox growled slightly and went on through the woods.
The rat who had started the conversation, whose ear was still recovering from the slap, spoke again. “Why did ‘e say ‘ I ain’t lappin’ a tree either’ and ‘Strike through a dinner steak too?’”
“Oh shuttup!” answered the other rat.
Ivy and Senn stayed in the humble platform for near an hour, and then went down when the coast was clear. With his tail and legs bandaged, the otter felt much more like travelling. Both nibbled lightly on hardtack biscuits coated in honey. Walking on in silence, the two beasts continued their journey. Little did either know how long it would in the end last.
Sharptail staggered into camp ahead of a force of twoscore hordebeasts. Hungry, paw-sore and, demoralized, the beasts sat about the camp, eating and drinking greedily. Dumbclaw, who had stayed behind through the early and late morning, mocked the furious fox. “Oh, did those two little mean beasts ‘urt ya much, fox?”
Sharptail snarled. “I’ll ‘ave ye know we combed that there forest fer hours. I reckon you ‘aven’t been at much ‘ere?”
Dumbclaw swung up his cutlass and caught it deafly. “Oh, we’ve eaten a bite ‘o breakfast, not much through. Huh, think that Bladge and ‘is crew would have gotten back by now. He must be ‘avin a rough time, bein’ out foraging for a day now.”
Blueney the rat spat out a moldy bite of bread. “Rah, what happened to our better supplies. Don’t ya remember threaten dose voles down a week or so ago? We took off with quite a few good victuals then. I ate a whole bowl of fruit and cordial.”
“Don’t go talkin’ ‘bout food, Blueney.” Dumbclaw emphasized with his cutlass. “Der’s barely enuff left in stock for a single meal, not even for just a third ‘o the troops.”
Sharptail leaned back against a sycamore trunk, whose base was savagely cut up by the hordebeasts in some sort of game. Picking at one of his fangs, the fox felt his throat. Where Blackrobe had grabbed him the night earlier, he was sporting a purple-colored sore.
‘It ain’t right, forcin’ us beasts to march around lookin’ for plunder ‘n’ conquest. Deadteeth! What good’ll dat do any ‘o us anyway?”
Dumbclaw waved his cutlass absentmindedly. “If the Chief caught ya talkin’ like that she’d have ye dragged off and made an example off, fox.”
Sharptail trundled off angrily. Spotting a few hordebeast talking in hushed voice near a small fire, he stalked over.
One of the party, a rat, looked up and signaled the group to silence. Sharptail sat himself down next to two ferrets, apparently brothers. He waved his paw. “What’s da talk about, fellas?”
The rat, who was called Slithtooth, spoke out for them. “We’re tired ‘o these woods. We want to ‘head back to the deeper Southlands. We ‘ad good pickin’s and livelihood der. Not to mention food, blight dise situation.”
Sharptail, whose ears were always wide and alert, replied calmly. “Well, matey, don’t worry. I got a plan to get us all back to that life. But first thing is we gotta get Blackrobe outta the way. She’ll be the death of us, marchin’ us all on some sort ‘o ambition.”
The group, who numbered five, were astounded. They exchanged puzzled and shocked glances, never having heard a captain in the Horde of the Wolfteeth speak like this. Another rat there, Ragchin, leaned in closer. “Ya mean yore gonna get us all back south, cap’n?” The rat’s tiny body was nearly half that of some other rats in the horde, but his voice didn’t portray it.
Sharptail nodded, looking sympathetic. His face was scarred across from eartip to neck, however, making this a difficult task for him. “Aye, matey. Ya remember bein’ a searat, do ya?”
Ragchin nodded. “Aye, cap’n. I was a fine seabeast once, for da ship was wrecked and I ‘eaded inland. Big mistake as o’ now.” Slithtooth and the others nodded.
Sharptail sensed the conversation was ripe. “Well then, me fellas, we’re gonna get dis horde back south, unner my command!”
The six hordebeasts clasped paws around the fire.
Blackrobe Wolfteeth sat in her tent, awaiting the arrival of Bladge the rat captain. Still fuming from the loss of her prisoner, the wildcat warlord slumped back against the side of the tent. She had ordered the guards from last night all flogged. Nothing was going to stop her in pursuit of her goal. She would rush up northwards, destroy and pillage what was in her way, and conquer the land about her.
A commotion broke out in the camp outside. She smiled silently. That would be Bladge, bringing in food for her troops. With that, much of the whining and complaining would be finished. Standing up, she fastened a purple cloak about her shoulders and stepped out from the tent flaps. Bladge stood not far away. About him was near twoscore hordebeasts, most taking care of some sort of minor injury. In their hands and packs was a sparse selection of edible roots, berries and a dead jackdaw.
She controlled her rising anger and strode to the skulking rat captain. She questioned him, straight to the point. “I see you brought back victuals, Bladge. But tell me, did you forget what those properly are?”
Bladge stared to his left at a broken arrowhead in the dirt. “Er, we tried to find food, yore majesty. The foragers got together some, but we had to head up quick, to get back to the new camp afore you moved on.”
Blackrobe frowned. “Get back? You’re just going to drop those bundles of what you call food and get back out into the woods, captain! I will not accept these worthless items. How could you fail at even getting a few decent victuals, eh, Bladge? Now march yore party back into those woods smart like.” The wildcat watched as the dejected Bladge and his troop pulled back out in the woods, leaving behind the meager gatherings of the day.
Afternoon was approaching, and the warlord was quite displeased at the failure of the foraging operation. But now she had other things to do. She had vowed to herself to hunt down her captive and bring him back, dead or alive. Having this motive, she intended to find him quickly. Thinking the otter would just move as far as possible from her, she assumed he would go east, to the sea. She smiled. If he would go east, then east she would have him followed.
Stomping lightly back towards her tent, she stopped outside and motioned a guard over. “Send for my captains. Have Crushsnout and Sharptail attend to the things Bladge brought back, assist them with some other beasts.”
The guard saluted smartly and hurried off, relieved to be out of the wildcat’s presence. She returned to her tent to prepare for the arrival of her lieutenants. Amongst her captains no clear order of command reigned. Bladge would naturally take charge of the others if necessary. She didn’t object to this, thinking the rat capable of the duty. She sighed. She’d have to remember to appoint some new leadership for her horde.
A rap came on the tent flap. Reaching for a large decorate pole-arm, the wildcat cracked it down a small iron plate near the foot of her cot. Fiercetail, Dumbclaw and the weasel Fangback stepped through into her quarters. Of the three weasels, Dumbclaw spoke. “Yer majesty, Fangback ‘ere as some information fer ya.”
The weasel stepped up past the captains and addressed the wildcat chieftain. “Yore brother Askcor was spotted coming down from the north, ‘e’s returning with ‘is gang ‘o beasts.”
“Very well, dismissed.” Replied Blackrobe, focusing her burning rage on a small insect scurrying across the table behind her. The weasel, slightly unsure of himself, slipped out backwards of the tent and disappeared from view. Blackrobe turned her attention now on the two captains in front of her. Once more Dumbclaw spoke. “Anythin’ ya need, yer majesty?”
“Call me ‘yer majesty’ once more and you’ll lose your captaincy, Dumbclaw. Now, I intend on moving this horde out once Askcor gets back ‘ere. Get everything ready for this evening. I’m moving on a pace up this path before then.”
Fiercetail, running a footpaw along the dust floor, felt a question leap to his throat. Almost without thinking, he asked it. “Where exactly we goin’?
Blackrobe smiled curtly at the weasel captain. “Ah, finally a beast asks. I think I’ll be paying a visit to old Hutra the Fox. What do you think of that?”
Fiercetail gulped. Dumbclaw just grinned wickedly; now well over the threat of losing his captaincy.
Askcor was a free roaming wildcat. Brother of Blackrobe Wolfteeth, he was neither hordemember nor commander. Living with the Horde of the Wolfteeth was still a pleasurably experience for him, and he used the authority he naturally commanded in dealing with its ranks. As of now, he was out farther north with a small group of followers, of which he always kept with him or close by.
This was his way. He’d keep out with his gang except during crucial occurrences, such as when his sister would act upon a sacking or conquering campaign. During this particular hot afternoon, the striped wildcat was in a lenient mood. Resting his back against the single thing in the plain of grass they found themselves in, an old large stump, he sighed relaxingly.
One rat there, called Cruleney, watched the wildcat. He was an excellent specimen of a wildcat. Striped fur, dominantly brown in hue, coated across his body, his ears were sharp, and he stood higher than any in the whole horde. That is, except Blackrobe, who was also more vicious, less cautious, and much more unpredictable. Slinging his scimitar away, the rat seated himself on another side of the stump, observing the countryside.
A half dozen more vermin milled about, most loosely holding weaponry and whacking at stalks and grass. One stoat, significantly disfigured on his upper body, stood frowning at the mountains to the north.
Stony precipices jutted out, and small streams could be identified wending their way to the mountains’ bases. The closest, covered in pines and other vegetation, was not far beyond the tree fringe of the grassland they were aboding. Askcor nodded to it. “We’ll go up there for a bit, then head back to my sister and the rest ‘o the ‘orde. I don’t mind staying out a bit before rejoining her on her schemes. Eh, Budjek?”
The rat in question turned his attention to the wildcat. “Er, yes, right boss.” Cruleney stopped biting into a spidery plant with his scimitar. “We’re going to the mountain, what for?”
‘Eggs and potential food. Hehe, I imagine that old Blacky’s got herself in a tight spot with that. We might even bring back a bit to impart to her.” Askcor responded.
Budjek nudged the disfigured stoat Tugleg. “Why’d we not all out foragin’ fer food to bring back? Our comrades are probably starvin’.”
“They’re all get somethin’ when the Wolfteeth gits ‘em dis far.” Responded Tugleg curtly, never one for extended conversation.
Within an hour the gang had moved to the forest, and was proceeding to the mountain’s base. Askcor, leading the procession out of the woods arrived at a large rectangular clearing, suddenly felt pricked. Turning his head upwards, he saw a bird, large and fierce, was just above him in the trees. He acted quickly.
Jumping straight up, the immense wildcat got the bird in a lock. Crashing down to earth again, the bird strung him squarely in the forehead. Growling, the wildcat tried to dig his claws into the bird’s neck. The bird, however, had somehow gotten itself free from his hold. Flapping awkwardly to a branch, he shook his feathers.
“Blaggard! Shoot that bird with arrers and stones, quickly!” Several vermin unwound their slings and strung their bows, trying to get off a shot. The bird had fled though and was away up the mountain. Snarling, the wildcat turned to his subordinates. His previous good mood gone, the wildcat lunged onto a ferret and sent him shrieking into a nearby birch tree. “Hah! You idiots couldn’t ‘it a target at two paces! Up that mountain after that bird! I’ll have him dead as a stone before the day’s gone.”
However, events were far from permitting this threat. Several high-pitched shrieks shed the air. From above, five shapes were descending fast on the group. Before any of the groundbeasts could act, the diving birds hit them like lightning in a storm. Tugleg reached for his bow again, intent on hitting one of the skybeasts. Before he had an arrow on the string, one of the brown and white birds had flown off another of the hordebeasts and was on him. Screaming in terror of the sudden attack, Tugleg tried to scramble off into the woodlands. The bird did not let go though and had bitten through his bowstring.
Cruleney, seeing his mate in trouble, attempted to assail the bird with a stone. Askcor shoved him aside into the dirt, grabbing the sling from his paws. Twirling it madly, the wildcat pelted one of the birds on its leg. Its fierce gaze centered on the wildcat. No fear shown, the creature left chasing an escaping rat and raced right at its assailant.
Askcor, not wanting to repeat his previous encounter with one of the warrior birds, raced back several paces. The bird suddenly soared upwards. The other four, all unharmed in their battling, immediately followed suit. Charging on foot after them, Askcor began placing a pebble into his purloined sling. “Cowards! Stupid birds, come back ‘ere and fight me!” he called after them, their shrieks of success answered him as they flew away.
Slightly humiliated in his failure to scavenge the mountain and his gang’s unfortunate encounter with their flying enemies, Askcor stumbled back at the back of his gang. Tugleg had survived, but with a bad wound to the base of his neck. Cruleney was battered and had complained shortly of a bruised and broken chest, but the wildcat had silenced him with a scowl. Back at the old stump, the gang, now numbering three less at just five, slouched dejectedly on the rotting thing.
Budjek moaned piteously. “Ah, three of our mates slain by dose cruel things, makes ya think they were like monsters.”
Askcor snorted and continued walking off across the grassed plain. “If you lot had taken care of the first bird like I ordered we wouldn’t be in this situation. Now move yerselves, we head back to my bossy sister!” The gang groaned once more, louder than before due to the added bad news.
Senn Longbattler and Ivy Rowancrown had walked from morning to late afternoon that same day Askcor was under attack by hawks. They had both drank their fills at several streams they crossed. His body feeling much more restored from the cool water, the otter felt a burden starting to fall from his shoulders. He was not under the hold a tyrannical warlord and her legions anymore; he was free.
Senn turned up his gaze from the ground when the squirrel warrior called back to him. “We’ll reach my dwelling place by evening tide. It’s not far from that distant beech. See?”
Senn looked to where she was pointing. Up ahead, the trees appeared to grow sparser and a beech stood framed by sunlight, standing on a grassy hill. Beyond it, the forest continued. Despite his physical state, the sea otter couldn’t help feeling curious about this mysterious squirrel.
Soon they both arrived at the beech tree. “We should hurry on, young one. No doubt that vermin horde will be in pursuit. They usually don’t give up on their prey easily.” Continuing at the breakneck pace, the two soon reached the far woodland fringe. Plowing into the shrubbery, they trod over the dirt floor without a backward glance.
Ivy Rowancrown’s dwelling was a cross between a comfortable woodland home and a high-terraced drey (the name often given to the abodes of squirrels in a tribe). Situated over and in the branches of two oaks and extending over to a tall fir, the platform was closed in with three wooden makeshift walls and a high, fairly solid canvas roof. On the platform itself were barely definable rooms, mostly just flowing from one type of wooden planks to the next.
In one such room, built of an oaken floor and curving holey walls, a stone oven was being heated by the squirrel. “Not much by chance, but it works for most Southlanders in these parts as the best kind of home you can get. I live by myself normally, besides when various vole, mice or hedgehog families and tribes stop by for a visit or refuge.”
Senn was impressed with the structure. With seemingly no artificial support, the whole encloser just hung in the trees, very securely for that matter. Seating himself at a low-sitting table in the same room as the oven, the otter looked down out the window beside him. The top branches of the oaks were actually lower than most of the trees around the area, which probably added to secrecy, he decided.
Within an hour the two travellers were both seated, dipping spoons into a mixture of oatmeal and brown sugar, drizzled over with honey and mint leaves. “You’re a stout young otter.” Remarked the squirrel. Senn looked up from his bowl to Ivy. “What do you mean?” he asked questioningly.
“You survived a good while in the clutches of barbaric vermin.” Said the squirrel, her eyes growing cold. “Aye, and then put up a relentless fight. Right after you escaped you looked like you could have put away a few vermin. Aye, your eyes were hard and set, your injuries and weakness forgotten. Aye, you were fighting beast then, Senn. Don’t doubt that.”
Senn Longbattler nodded slowly. “Might I ask who you are, marm? And also, thankee for rescuing me, twas a barve deed.”
Ivy shook her head. “Please don’t call me marm, makes me feel like an old stuck-up fence waiting to attack someone. No, Senn, I only did what all good creatures would have in my place. I saw a friend in need, and I acted on that. I only hope that you’ll remain free from that terrerous wildcat from now on. And as for who I am, I am just a travelling warrior, I settled here a few seasons back as a base of operations.”
Senn smiled as he finished his meal. “I suppose so. I could never leave, under any circumstances, a creature under the paw of a bad beast, especially one such as Blackrobe Wolfteeth.” His voice grew hard at the villainous name. “She’s a bad ‘un, evil as darkness and full ‘o evil schemes. She’s also been heading up north a past couple weeks, from what I gathered from the guards. What’d ya suppose she’s up to, Ivy?”
The warrior squirrel shrugged. “’Nothing good, that’s for sure. Nothing types as her does ever is, Senn. That’s something I’ve learned in my seasons, ‘tis a hard one too.”
Senn Longbattler contemplated the events of the day. He had gone from prisoner to freebeast. As hard as the move had been from the vermin camp to here had been, he felt stronger for it. Being able to be back on his legs again had filled the otter with a sense of happiness.
“You’re a traveller, Senn. All travellers have stories; would you tell me yours?”
Senn stared at the flames still burning in the rock oven. “I was born in the holt of my father.” He said, “It wasn’t a large holt. The coast and woodlands of the North East Sea were plentiful enough. But that’s also what drew corsairs and sea rogues into those lands as well. We were well concealed in our caves, inhabited by otters for countless seasons.
“Peace reigned over the holt mostly, though raiding war-bands would dispel that myth that was always the case ‘o the matter. My father was a good commander though. He had the blood of his fathers in his blood, being a descendent of the mighty Stugg, who had been a great warrior and leader on those coasts long ago. However, my father was also old when I was born. I remember his face well enough I guess, but he died, peacefully as he deserved, while I was still a very young beast.
“Not long after, the warriors of our holt set out on a journey to gather supplies. The caves we held abode in weren’t located very close to food sources and the lot, they’re benefit was concealment, the defining line between life and death on those shores. When the warriors were gone a few days, corsairs attacked. They began pouring out of their ships, in the hundreds, near the location of our holt. I was too young to properly remember it, but my aunt did. She took me from me cradle that evenin’, and fled off into the sea. She swam off with me on her back. She said that she guessed all the otters of the holt made off alright. From her vision as she fled away, she saw most well away by then. She went down the coast to a stream and from there to a river.
“She travelled south with me until I was grown enough to walk myself. By then, we travelled across a wide birth of territory. I became familiar with the Southlands, my only known home, during my young seasons. A couple seasons back my aunt, Elangao, died. I buried her at the base of a large four-topped oak. She often said she liked it whenever we passed it by, sayin’ it made her feel like everythin’ had hope in it. I figured she’d like it there, at peace with her favorite landmark. Anyway, after that I’ve been wanderin’ by myself, a traveller by name.”
Ivy listened intently through the narrative. “Sorry, mate, I didn’t…”
“No, it is fine.” Said the otter, “My past is finished. The day Blackrobe captured me was the day I gained a new purpose. I will fight and end her tyranny, even if it takes me to the end of my seasons.”
Ivy saw the look in his eyes and gathered up the bowls. “I’ll put these away soon. After that I’ll show you around the place and tell you where everythin’ is.”
Ivy went about the washing and putting away of the bowls. Placing them in a rough cupboard, she turned back to the rest of her dwelling. Senn stood leaning against the wall of the dwelling, gazing out into the forestry, lost in thought.
Later Senn was retiring to sleep. Located off from the main platform of the dwelling by a wall of oaken wood was his room for the night. He lay in the small bed for time uncounted, pouring over the last week. He had gone from wanderer to prisoner to freedom again. Now he was left with one intention; to find his enemy, Blackrobe Wolfteeth and stop her cruel horde.
The sea otter drifted into sleep, images leaping up before his mind. First of his holt, his father and aunt’s faces, the forgotten figure of his mother. The ambush on the Vast South Plains came to his mind next; images of his imprisonment confronted his tired mind. Ivy Rowancrown’s face, her sling twirling rapidly; and the wildcat warlord Blackrobe Wolfteeth. Then another creature came up from mists that had enveloped him. The appearance of the approaching figure gave him a feeling of both safety and dread. Dread of an unknown fate. The creature, now defined as a mouse, continued coming towards him.
He raised a magnificent blade, a great sword with duel blood-channels and made of fiery steel complete with a red pommelstone set in the leather-bound hilt. The mouse then spoke, a great steady ringing voice, his calm features and reassuring subtle smile comforting the otter before him. “Do not fret the morning, young one. You may be the victim of cruel fortunes, but now you are not. Follow your warrior friend, she is right in saying the intentions of the wildcat Blackrobe Wolfteeth are ill. You must stop her from her conquest, warrior, she cannot succeed.”
With the words of this fellow warrior drilled into his mind, the otter fell into a dreamless sleep, awaiting the first tinges of daylight.
Preparations were in full swing at Redwall Abbey for a Nameday Feast. Squirrel Friar Burrade was supervising all activity in the kitchens concerning food, with the assistance of Cellarhog Buyyad Spearcalm in beverages. Foremole Thigg and his crew had begun construction of a humongous Deeper’n’ever’n’turnip’n’tater’n’beetroot pie, a traditional favorite amongst moles. Father Abbot Caliuago questioned Friar Burrade on the mixing of a giant spring salad.
“Yes, continue to put in onions, much more. And don’t have all those carrots crusted on the side of the bowl like that. It’s comin’ along nicely, Abbot.”
“Thank you, Friar.” Said Caliuago, pleased that the chief of Redwall fare was showing interest in his creation. Kraylin the ottermaid stood at the entrance to the kitchens from Cavern Hole, observing the bustle of activity. “Hurr hurr, ‘ow are ee doin’, young mizz?” asked a mole in their quaint dialect, smiling up at the tall otter.
Kraylin smiled back and responded. “Oh, just fine, sir mole. Who are things back at the table?” The mole shifted his footpaws across the floor and answered. “Uz moles ‘ave the deeper’n’ever pie near coimpleted, thankee for askin’.”
“Oh, Kraylin, could you accompany Buyyad down to the cellars to retrieve several firkins and kilderkins of blackberry wine and strawberry cordial?” asked Friar Burrade, who promptly turned around to a dormouse who was preparing a blackberry crumble for the ovens. “Don’t squash the sides! Make sure that the integrity stays firm.”
Kraylin waited for the cellarhog to arrive at the kitchen door and then walked out with him into Cavern Hole, on course for his cellars. The burly hedgehog shook his headspikes. “That friar’s gettin’ more obsessed with ‘is food every moment, missie. Don’t be doubtin’ that.”
Kraylin walked down the steps into the torch-illuminated cellars of Redwall, a vast area of many rooms used for storing the renowned beverages of the Abbey. Cellarhog Buyyad was immensely proud of his realm, where he stayed during the night and through much of the day. Various barrels, kilderkins, firkins and casks lined the walls and were propped up on shelves and turned on their sides in small compartments led to by a door.
Buyyad Spearcalm led her through the first room they came to, and continued on into another room, much larger than the first. “I store firkins o’ blackberry wine over there next to the October Ale; I’ll get the kilderkins o’ strawberry cordial over from over ‘ere.”
The ottermaid was tall but strong also, and lifted two of the full firkins in each paw. From behind here, the deep voice of a mole bombed out. “Hurr hurr, mizz Kraylin, ee need ‘elp with ‘ee firkins?”
Buyyad smiled. “Ah, Retger, a nice offer. Guath, Drulker, will ya each get a kilderkin over ‘ere?”
The two moles came over to the cellarhog’s aide and transferred the kilderkins from the storing shelf to their stout paws. “The Friar sent uz to ‘elp out wid the burrels he ‘anted.” explained Retger, who had pulled down a firkin onto his shoulder.
The five beasts traversed back up the cellar stairs back into Cavern Hole and to the kitchens. Burrade turned to them. “Put yore loads in the back room over there; by the barrel of October ale already there.”
Guath the mole turned smiling to the squirrel cook. “Hurr, ee samplin’ the stock ‘o ale this soon in the season, zurr Friar?”
Burrade’s eyes narrowed. “Just get the additional needed drinks ready for this evening. I’ve enough to do without you makin’ statements like that in my kitchens, young Guath.”
The kitchens continued operating through the morning, with trifles, pasties, puddings, cakes, pies and casserole dishes baking and cooking continuously. Busy abbeydwellers were eager to bring success to the evening’s festivities and fare. Sister Fevel and Brother Hoffen were leading a group of volunteers gathering up pieces of sporting equipment from locations within the Abbey build. Foremole and his crew had rigged up a short wooden stage near the pond for performances, which would be courtesy of those who decided to add their name to the list of participants.
Three dibbuns (the name given to abbeybabes) were sitting by the Abbey pool, speculating on the outcome of the contest. The molemaid Firrum voiced her opinion. “Me reckons ‘ol Hovven’ll get ‘ee prize awarded by ‘ee Habbot, ‘ee’s a gudd singer.”
The otter Triggun was in a different mind. “Ha, me thinks Sister Fevel’s gonna get the prize, through me wonders what that even is.” The other mole there, Druather, just watched the two argue back and forth. Retger the mole called out to them. “Oi believe gudd Sister Mai’al’s loiken for ‘ee lot.”
Triggun began dashing in the direction of the Abbey, followed after by his two cohorts. Retger shook his velvety head and shrugged, turning back to his work. “Oi surrpintly ‘ope that ‘ee young ‘n’s headin’ to the Abbey’s a gudd thing.”
The late afternoon sun was waning over Redwall Abbey, turning its red sandstone walls and blocks to a dusty pink, the top foliage of Mossflower was swaying lightly in the breeze. The forest floor, mostly calm with tranquil sighs, was in a state of golden glory. Inside the Abbey on the lawns, a great number of tables were set up in the orchard. A great supply of food had been transferred from the pantries, shelves, ladders and counters by trolley out into the grounds. Several large and long tables were positioned near the seating arranged for feasting.
On these tables was laid a splendid selection of the best Redwall had to offer. Cheeses; yellow, white, creamy, coated in seeds, made with nuts were served in great wedges and design patterns on top of fresh fruits and vegetables. Salads of fifteen different types; fennel, spinach, lettuce, dandelion, beetroot and many more, served with tomatoes; diced, whole, sliced and squashed; nuts of different sizes and varieties; a giant bowl of Abbot’s Spring Salad with carrots, onions, peppers, and seemingly countless choices of ingredients mixed in, and also in practically limitless proportions for all abbeybeasts to enjoy was also prepared. Loaves, ranging from nutbread to butter-baked, soft moist alebread and a selection of brown cobs and teabread, also many types of spicebreads and flourbread. Scones were in abundant, baked fresh from the Abbey kitchens. Jellies and preserves spanned from redcurrants and blackcurrants to strawberry and peach, blueberry to cherry. Creams available were mixed, beat, swirled with seasonings and spices, soft, hard, fresh and sweet. Tarts and trifles were arranged by color and went from dark red raspberry to light blue honey-creamed dishes. Pasties of leek, carrot, onion and numerous other vegetables were on the left, with cakes; fruitcakes, spicecakes, a great tall damson cake with meadowcream the size of a table itself baked specially by Friar Burrade and many more on the right. A giant dish full of the mole favorite Deeper’n’ever’n’turnip’n’tater’n’beetroot pie sat next to them.
Muffins, sauces, candied chestnuts and a series of pies; wildgrape to honey-baked and eleven as well after that. Drinks were served in firkins and kilderkins as well as in giant serving bowls and glasses and mugs and cups and tankards. Available were strawberry cordial, sweet bubbly raspberry cordial, rose-petal cowslip, mint and comfrey tea, mint leaves themselves for anything, and woodland brewed coffee. October ale and blackberry wine were on tap, located under a table.
All were as delicious as being described. And with these being served, Abbot Caliuago began the grace for the feast.
“Dear creatures, young and old
We gather in this orchard under peace
Brought together by grace and goodness
I bid you all a good evening
Drink and eat, be merry tonight
Our harvest has been good
And let our peace last.”
A chorus of rang out in response, and many heads shook. The feasting began in full.
Father Abbot Caliuago took his seat next to old Traggo Spearcalm and Foremole Thigg. His Abbot’s chair, in use for generations, was comfortable and not too fancy; just to his liking. Redwallers laughed and conversed, happily gathered together at the beginning of spring. Caliuago selected a slice of hazelnut and sesame white cheese and a pile of good fresh blackberries and strawberries to start with. As had been remarked earlier in Redwall Abbey’s history, the rule was to start with what you liked and finished when you wanted to.
Foremole Thigg was enjoying a helping of his and his molecrew’s creation. “Hurr hurr, moi crew and ee did a gudd job at this, would ee agree, Father Habbot?”
Caliuago took a forkful from the mixture and tasted it. “Excellent! Very good, my faithful mole friend, you’ve outdone yourselves.”
The Foremole shuffled his paws under the table and his digging claws waggled, a sure sign of embarrassment in moles. “’Ere, thankee koindly, zurr.”
Druather, far down at the other end of the table, was attempting to get through the huge pasty heaped on his plate. Firrum, watching her mole companion’s efforts, commented on the affair. “Hurr hurr, Druather, you’m almost got a quarter goned naow.”
Druather stopped eating a moment and tugged his snout t politely to Firrum. “Oi’ll get it all foinished afore ‘ee night’s afinsihed, mizz Firrum.”
Traggo Spearcalm offered a serving of spring salad to the Abbot. “You should try some ‘o yore creation, Abbot, it’s quite good.”
The Abbot accepted the offer gratefully. “Thank you, Traggo, I was meaning to make my way to it soon.” Triggun, the otter dibbun, appeared at the Abbot’s feet and addressed him with a large strawberry. “Care for a strawbee, Abbot? I found it near the cheeses, looks t’be the biggest there.”
The Abbot smiled at the otter as he accepted the strawberry, which was considerably big. “I’ll accept it very happily, young Triggun. Are you enjoying the feast?”
Triggun nodded. “Aye, Abbot, very much.”
The feasting and banter continued, rising up to the top of the Abbey, until the late evening. Buyyad Spearcalm, having finished another tankard of his October ale, was moving onto a helping of leek pasty when Sister Truthley called across the table to him. “Do you know when the competition over by the pond is to begin?”
Buyyad turned his gaze up to the sky. “I’d reckon in about an hour, after all the feastin’ stops. You performin’ this season, Sister?”
Truthley shook her head. “Nay, I’m not putting anything on this feast, maybe at a later time. Why do you suppose’ll win the competition? I’ve heard the Abbot’s going to present them with a sort of prize.”
Brother Hoffen, who was seated two places from Buyyad, called to the Sister. “Reckon it’ll be that special meadowcream trifle Burrade made earlier when I passed by the kitchens. They’ll be fierce competing over who gets that, I’m sure.”
“A meadowcream trifle,” repeated Sister Fevel, possibly the oldest creature in Redwall and a very frail mouse. “It’s been ages since Burrade’s made one ‘o those, I remember it from a few seasons ago.”
The sun was still up when the Redwallers were gathered around in chairs and sitting on the grass near the pond. On stage, Brother Hoffen was reciting a verse he had composed for the occasion:
“Friends, I have written a verse about spring to sing tonight. Ahem, ahah.” The brother cleared his throat and began in his flowing, captivating voice.
“Spring is here, my friends
Spring is here, sing out to the larks
Under sun, and under stars
The harvest is in, peace is here
Indeed, this is no mere incident
Much is ours, so let us sing
Let us celebrate, so bring your voice”
Applause greeted the Redwall brother as he took his seat amongst several other elders. Abbot Caliuago arose and stood in front of the gathering, right in front of the stage. “Thank you, Hoffen, for your lovely performance. Now, I believe Sister Fevel and Sister Maihal have assembled our dibbuns for a performance.”
Sister Maihal nodded and took her position on the left of the stage, followed by Fevel. The dibbuns, dressed in clean smocks, filed up into two rows on the stage, tallest in the back and the shorter ones sitting in front. Sister Fevel began moving her paws around and the dibbuns sang lustily forth:
“Oh, welcome to the pond, good beasts
Tral al la, la la la
This is our song, us dibbuns here
Tral al la, la la la
Oh, listen to us now, as we relate this tale to you
Tral al la, la la la
Once, a young hedgehog named Spike was skating
He fell and bruised the ice, and fell into the cold
There, an otter rescued him
The otter, a young too, then fell down a hole.
A mole, young as well, soon dug him out
The mole, on top a tall pedestal
Was brought down by a squirrel, young was he too
All creatures have good talents, all others have other good talents
So help each other out, so you can be full and all live together
Tral al la, la la la
I might not be a mole, a squirrel, a hedgehog, or otter, but I’m a me!
Tral al la, la la la”
Applause once again rung out and the dibbuns took their seats with Sister Fevel and Maihal. It was then a loud knock, several even, hit the Abbey gate. Alarmed, Traggo Spearcalm jumped up and signaled around. ‘Hoffen, Abbot, Buyyad, and you two hedgehog nephews ‘o mine, follow me, we’re investigating that racket. The rest ‘o you, best get back around to the orchard.”
The procession of six abbeybeasts headed by Traggo and Hoffen armed with spades, moved quickly across the Abbey lawns to the oak gate of Redwall. Another loud Thonk! sounded out. Pressing their ears to the timbers, the creatures listened as voices sounded out.
“Perhaps we should not ‘ave knocked by slingin’ stones on their door like I suggested, wot? It’s their door afterall, doncha know.”
“If we ‘ad knocked they might notta heard us, ya great feedbag.”
“Ah, he might ‘ave a point there, ya know, perhaps we should not ‘ave rung with a stone. If they heard it, they could’ve just gone away.”
Abbot Caliuago, recognizing the beasts as friends, pulled away from the timbers and shouted. “Haha, they’re friends! Grab hold of that beam, Traggo, heave!”
Traggo, bewildered at the Abbot’s certainty, rushed to help him lift the beam on the opposite side of the door. The beam came up and the two beasts propped it up against the side of the gatehouse. Buyyad and his cousins pulled the double doors inwards, revealing a troupe of shrews, at their front two squirrels, a hare, a hedgehog and another powerful-looking shrew. “Ye chaps wouldn’t happen to ‘ave any of that air-scenting grub left, wot wot?” asked the hare, his hands resting inside his weather-stained trench coat.
Abbot Caliuago smiled at the irrepressible hare. “Indeed we do, my good hare. Log-a-log, it’s good to see you again. My seasons, how long as it been?”
The powerful shrew chieftain smiled. “Maybe a little too long, my friend. Are you able to take in forty-five beasts into yore Abbey?”
Buyyad answered. “Redwall’s always willing to take in anybeast, Log-a-log, bring yore shrews in.”
A matter of minutes later, and the Guosim shrews and Thallsmergan beasts were seated into a late supper at the feasting tables, along with others who felt weary travellers should never eat alone; or at least said so. Between mouthfuls of bread, salad, trifle and cheese, the replenished Log-a-log of the Guosim related his tale to his old friend, Abbot Caliuago.
“We’ve been around ‘ere and there the past seasons. I meant to come ‘ere last winter, one afore the most recent. Couldn’t manage it though, due to the amounts of snow that fell. Anyway, we Guosim were paddling on a branch stream ‘o the River Moss, nor’hwest of ‘ere. One night, it suddenly started getting’ lower, and afore morning it was dry to the bottom and we camped around its banks. Next morning, we ran, or should I say they ran into us, into those four beasts, says they’re from a place called Fort Thallsmergan across the River Moss. Abbot, they’ve got a very serious issue to bring to your attention. I fear more so as you learn more, it’ll only grow worse. But I barely am aware of it myself, I’ll let them tell you.”
Juhenchin had piled his plate higher than it was from the ground to the tabletop, stacking it with puddings, pasties, salads, cheese wedges, damson-meadowcream cake and celery sticks. He had made a friend of the mousemaiden Melandine, whom he was in conversation with. “I say, m’gel, ye always get scoff like this in this Abbey?”
Melandine was utterly astounded at the amount the hare could manage to eat. “Well, breakfast, lunch, tea and dinner are served regularly each day, but food and drink are always available for those who need it during other times. Actaully, you did find us after we had finished feasting, so we have out a large amount of food.”
“Large amount? My, you’ve got an absoflippin’lutely huge display of scoff, vittles, grub and food out on tables and everywhere else! Humph, if a chap knew such was at Redwall, why’d they ever want to leave I’d like to know!” The hare proceeded to stuff a mouthful of spring salad, heavily laden with carrots and onions, into his mouth.
The dibbuns, highly impressed with the hare’s eating skills, pressed more dishes into his reach and encouraged him to partake. The hare needed no second bidding, more than willing to try anything the abbeybabes suggested to him.
“’Ere, zurr hare, troi this leek pasty with gravy!”
“Would ye care for some more strawberry cordial, sir?”
“Would I? Pour away, me laddiebuck. A chap can’t go thirsty, ya know!”
Melandine, leaving the gluttonous hare to the dibbuns, made her way over to Abbot Caliuago. “My, that hare can certainly put away a bite of food, Abbot. Are you alright, you look sort of distant.”
“What? Oh, right, Melandine. No, I’m feeling alright, it’s just I’ve been told that the Thallsmergan beasts, Juhenchin whatever his complicated long name is, Jasse and the others have some concerning information for us at Redwall. No clue what it is yet, I think I’ll let them eat for now. Goodness, those dibbuns look like they’re trying to smother that poor hare in food. I think I’ll join Traggo and Hoffen off over at the pond, they’re helping Foremole Thigg and his crew with folding up the chairs and stage.”
Caliuago removed himself from his seat at the table and walked off in the direction of the Abbey pond. It had certainly been an entertaining night.
Later in the evening, all Redwallers who wanted to hear the news of the Thallsmergan settlers gathered in Cavern Hole. The dibbuns were off in bed, and many kitchen assistants had important duties to attend to. Jasse Twootack addressed the creatures before her. “Guosim, Redwallers; I have important tidings to relate to ye. Two nights ago, the River Moss began sinking.”
A hubbub broke out suddenly amongst those in Cavern Hole. “Silence!” roared Abbot Caliuago. “Do not disrupt our guest while she is speaking. Please, continue.”
The squirrel nodded briefly to the Abbot and continued relaying her message. “To the southeast of Thallsmergan, I was out with Mauthie and Pinkal ‘ere collecting supplies. It began pouring rain, as I’m sure most ‘o ya already know quite well. We ‘ad to make our way back ‘round the ford, which the path outside yore Abbey leads to. While passing it, we realized that it was much lower than usual, made crossing quite simple actually. Anyway, we set out the next morn to warn you beasts. If the River Moss is flowing much lower than normalin the west, it means something’s wrong east’ard. Log-a-log, you know of anything that could ‘elp us right now?”
Log-a-log stroked his rapier hilt and spoke from his standing position near to Jasse, “Likely as not, the river’s been blocked up or somethin’, we noticed more an’ one stream’s dry or emptin’ from its source on our way ‘ere. I suggest we try to find out where ‘tis at, shore enough that’ll help us all out.”
Guosim and Redwallers nodded heads and chorused with agreement. Juhenchin began speaking next. “Okay, chaps ‘n chapesses, there’s also another consideration. Yore Abbey ‘ere, mighty spiffin’ place I must add and all, is in a slight land depression. Not much, but still downland from the ‘ol river north of ‘ere. Near After I was informed, ya see, by my friends, I set out quiet like that night to check on something. A good point to the southeast of Thallsmergan is in a bit of a fix due to the recent news. Mauthie?”
The young squirrel felt privileged to be called upon in the vast assembly and addressed them. “Well, there’s a place along the bed of the River Moss, not far from the ford. There the earth and rocks have fallen away from the river. This has caused a very thin wall in that area on the south side of the river. I’d say it would be close to breaking, especially in the downpour two nights ago. I might collapse, allowing untold quantities of water to flood into Mossflower.”
Most were speechless, some were staring out into the Abbey grounds, others were starting to figure out when to embark to stop this catastrophe from occurring.
“Listen, friends!” Log-a-log said in the stunned silence, “I will take out a half of my Guosim, maybe more, into Mossflower tomorrow, we will journey northeast to this potential flooding point. While there, we’ll attempt to locate the block as well. With yore permission, Abbot?”
Abbot Caliuago paused and then nodded. “I would be very relieved and comforted, Log-a-log, thank you for your offer.”
Buyyad stepped up from the corner of the room. “Might I accompany them, Abbot? I think I could render some assistance in dealing with the problems.”
“Yes, very fine, thank you, Buyyad.” answered Caliuago.
“I’ll act as guide, Abbot.” Said Jasse Twootack, “I’d also recommend another name: Juhenchin. He could always act as a scout and reporter, better than other anybeast I can think of.”
Eyes and heads turned to the hare, who was standing cross-pawed with his usual brown trench coat draped about his shoulders. He shrugged. “Very well, I’ll go and work at the cause, wot. Done all in the line of duty.”
The meeting adjourned. Redwallers began to head back out through Great Hall into the lawns to collect leftover food, belongings and tables and chairs. Guosim shrews assisted, and the supplies were soon being brought back inside. Sister Fevel exclaimed midway through the process. “Oh, Father Abbot, I believe a winner was never proclaimed at the contest. Who won?”
Murmurs of agreement commenced and Redwallers crowded around the Abbot and Burrade. “Well,” said Caliuago, “I suppose I’ll have to choose one. Burrade, mind getting your grand trifle out here?”
Friar Burrade departed to the kitchens. He was soon coming back into Great Hall with a trolley in tow, a dormouse kitchen assistant helping him with the load. “I present a five layer trifle, made with hazelnuts, a garnish of mint, heavy meadowcream and honey, with seven varieties of oats forming the rest.”
The trifle was indeed quite large. It dominated the trolley, set in a large glass bowl. Abbot Caliuago then nominated the winner. “I present this grand trifle, courtesy of Friar Burrade, our wonderful cook…”
“Amazing fellow! Top hole accomplishment this evenin’!” Juhenchin was heard to of shouted out.
“to the dibbuns, for their wonderfully sung tale.” Finished Abbot Caliuago, gazing sternly at the hare. Sister Maihal stepped forward and announced. “I guess it’s a bit late for eating it, and besides the young ones are in bed, so I suggest it be held off for tomorrow.”
Juhenchin’s ears drooped. “I say, chaps, I wouldn’t be here then. Can’t we slice into the jolly ‘ol trifle tonight?”
Jasse and Log-a-log patted his slouched shoulders. “Eh, I’ll make sure ya get a fine ‘ol serving when we get back, hare.” Said Jasse, comforting the hare.
The night continued on, and the creatures of Redwall and the visitors thereof finished the cleanup of the evening and dispersed upstairs to the dormitories. The Guosim and Thallsmergan travelers were put up down a hall over Great Hall, near the stairs to the second-level dormitories. Abbot Caliuago was one of the few creatures still awake that night, as he walked through Great Hall on his way to his room. Stopping halfway across the stone floor he traversed, the Abbot gazed up at a tapestry.
In all directions, vermin fled from the central figure. There stood a mouse, leaning calmly on his sword. His features were ahrp and set, his eyes were steadfast and kind. This was Martin the Warrior, the great Champion of Redwall, who had helped free Mossflower and build Redwall Abbey many seasons ago. Above the tapestry, the sword he wielded hung. The blade had been forged of steel from a fallen star, the hilt was leather-bound and in its base was set the single decoration of the whole device. A red pommelstone, radiating the dying light from the two torches which still illuminated Great Hall.
Many times when Redwall was in trouble, the spirit of this warrior mouse would come to somebeast who would rise up to vanquish the foebeast. Now, Caliuago spoke to the woven image of Martin, as many before him in past seasons had done.
“I ask you, Martin, please keep our, your, Abbey safe from harm. Guide our friends as they embark to stop a disaster from wrecking ruin here.” The Abbot turned away slowly and made his way up the stairs which led to the dormitories. Was it the flickering light, or had Martin actually smiled at him?
In the unforeseen events of the night, three small forms had ventured out through the main gate of Redwall. The beam had not been replaced earlier, so the work of slipping out into the night was easy. The moon was full, and provided plenty of light in the cool woodlands.
Triggun the otter was the leader of the trio. “Heeheehee, those ‘ol elders won’t be findin’ us uns out here.”
Druather responded in his gruff voice to his cohort. “Hurr, no, they’m be loicked up in ‘ee Abbey fer ‘ee noight. I suppose we be free naow, Firrum?”
The molemaid tugged her snout. “Surrpintly, Druather. We dibbuns not be goin’ to bed inna Abbey no more.”
Triggun led his two mole friends deeper into Mossflower, plunging off the path around the southwest corner of the Abbey.
Captain Bladge was once again returning to the main horde. His twoscore creatures were three less. What was that to him? He had plundered a field and robbed a family of voles. A supply of beans, various vegetables, and also several dead birds they had slain with slings, had been purloined. The missing foragers had been killed in a swamp while going after woodpigeons, a couple fat ones had been obtained beforehand though.
Now, the black rat was within a few hours march of the new camp. Apparently, the horde had moved on from its last location, off east. No trackers were needed to find the traces of Blackrobe’s progress, it was obvious. Darkness would close in soon, but he intended to reach the horde before then. He reasoned they would have set up for the night not too far ahead on the path. Putting on a faster pace, he drilled the dejected soldiers onwards
At the Wolfteeth camp, Dumbclaw was waiting for signs of Bladge returning. The supplies were totally used up now, and the sparse woodlands, which had become the sole background of the path traveled by the horde, yielded little on the march. The weasel had never been any farther north than they were now, though he guessed most of the horde hadn’t either. Most had been involved somehow in the Great Wars to the far south.
He grunted a sigh. The two ferrets, Bogard and Shima, had been constantly following his movements that day. They were a troublesome pair, always reporting to Slithtooth on any of his doings. These, like most of the hordemembers’, was little bordering on nothing. At least Bladge’s crew could collect food, he thought.
He heard the whoosh of a bush as the ferret partners slipped off back to the main camp. Quite benighted, Dumbclaw really had no clue what was going on. Grunting once more, he obediently kept his eyes on the trees, watching for the foragers’ return.
Bladge made his parade, in splendid fashion, into Blackrobe’s camp. The victuals he had procured were held in sacks and arms by the front ranks of his crew. Dumbclaw broke off from where he standing atop a rock which jutted from the earth. He joined Bladge as he made his way past fires, tents and soldiers just laying around or playing crude games with sticks and pebbles.
Blackrobe stood with her back to her quarters. Bladge had done well, she thought. Strolling up, the rat saluted with his spear, which served as a standard as well. “Brought the troops in, majesty. Loaded up wid vittles too, plenty fer the horde.”
“Good, Bladge. I must inform you of my plans.” The wildcat, looking quite tolerant, ducked into her tent. Bladge, who knew nothing of the otter’s escape and the march to Hutra the Fox’s lands, trudged towards the tent hanging uncertainly. Dumbclaw, still acting as his shadow, followed suit. The rat, however, stepped awkwardly on a stone, nearly toppling backwards. The weasel, not looking up, crashed into him. Suppressed laughter and giggles greeted this display from the nearby fires. Bladge gave a sneering look in their direction, and the noise ceased.
Inside the brown tent, a burning brazier provided heat and light. Crushsnout and Fiercetail were sitting at a desk in the compartment, sipping nettle beer. Dumbclaw and Bladge stood at attention at the entrance to the tent, stiff and rigid. The warlord seemed calm, but her temper and mood could change at a second’s notice.
Blackrobe began speaking to her captains. “I am moving my horde to meet that of Hutra the Fox’s at the northern end of the Vast South Plains, I have need of his services. Once I have them, I will send ranks to the east, I must find the escaped otter. Bladge, Dumbclaw, stop standing like your heads are going to fall off, they’re not about to, even though I must question it sometimes. Now, there’s also another thing to plan out. I believe Sharptail has been acting a bit too big recently, he must be fixed up. Wouldn’t you say the ferret Bogard and his mate have been paying too much attention to you, Dumbclaw?”
The weasel had relaxed some, and answered swiftly. “Indeed, yer majesty. They’ve been actin’ like two old sneakers watchin’ me all today, and reportin’ to Slithtooth the rat about it all.”
Crushsnout and Bladge were the only Southlanders amongst the captains in the horde; the others had been corsairs, along with roughly half of the horde. Bladge, still taking in all that had occurred since his immediate departure a day ago, asked what question came to his mind. “So, what’re ya goin’ to do ‘bout it, yer majesty?”
Blackrobe smiled faintly. “I’m going to wait. Yes, wait and catch Sharptail’s conspirators in one swoop, knock them all out at once. A good plan, would you say?”
The four captains nodded. “Aye, best plan I’ve ever ‘eard, majesty!” said Fiercetail, still drinking nettle beer.
“Good,” said Blackrobe. “Because you all need to play a part in this. Are you all capable of following my orders and doing everything necessary to keep my horde under the true and only control there ever was, myself the Wolfteeth?”
The horde captains all responded as one.
“Aye, we’re wid ya!”
“Say the word and we’re there!”
“Always, yer majesty!”
“I’d follow ya to the depths of a volcano and back, Chief!”
Blackrobe held up one of her claws. “Good, my loyal acting captains. Now, drink to my conquest. Tomorrow, we move northeast to more bountiful lands, and then north to the land of plenty!”
Blackrobe and her lieutenants filled their mugs up and drank to the toast. With her horde behind her, the warlord would be the greatest conqueror ever to walk above ground.
Pale sunlight came streaming down from a cloudy morning sky. The sparse trees and yew bushes dotting the terrain about the camp of the Horde of the Wolfteeth were bathed in light. Blackrobe, charting things down in her bivouac headquarters, was keen for the meeting with the fox warlord, Hutra. She had sent Crushsnout ahead with a few troops earlier, and was expecting them back. Downing an orange-trimmed purple cape, the wildcat stepped out from the flaps.
Two guards, which she always stationed outside her yurt, lay either against the rough canvas or on the ground. Snorting in disgust, she proceeded out to where waking hordebeasts were making breakfast with the supplies Bladge had brought in. The dozen or so tents available each housed from five to six. Striding over to a particularly big stoat, she commented on the helm he was polishing. “That helmet looks quite ready for use; what’s your name, stoat?”
The big fellow saluted. “Goulder, yer majesty.”
“Hmm, I’ll remember that name.”
Blackrobe made her way next to the fire of Bogard, his mate Shima, and the ugly-looking tiny rat Ragchin. “Woodpigeon leg, eh? Try not to burn it, Bogard. Shame to waste good food.”
As the wildcat passed by, Bogard turned to his two companions. “There’s something I don’t like about how she had my name.”
Later that day, the Horde of the Wolfteeth passed out of the sparse woodlands into a vast plain. The Vast South Plains spread before them, as far as the eye could see both south and west, ending in a high ridge to the north. “We make for below that rise in the distance, to the northwest.” Shouted out Blackrobe aloud to the ranks that could hear her.
Goulder was trudging along next to the weasel Fangback. Late afternoon was arriving, and the horde had stopped a couple times so far. His legs sore, the large stoat commented to the weasel beside him. “Huh, wish we could break, I’m tired ‘o walkin’.
Fangback shrugged. “We just do as the Chief says, that’s that.”
An hour later, and the ridge was off to the right as the horde traversed more ground to the west, a banner flying from over a high hill. The horde halted, many still coming up. “Organize the troops.” Blackrobe spoke to Bladge, who passed the order back through the ranks. “Get yerselves into nine columns, a score in each, three deep.” He roared.
This was the most common array Blackrobe used, showing all her soldiers at once, in only three rows, spreading across a long margin of territory. The hill in front of the horde suddenly became alive, with scores and scores of rats, stoats, weasels and ferrets. Standards and banners flew amongst them, decorated pure orange with a simple tree trunk, no foliage or branches, displayed upon it. Thus did the hordes of Blackrobe Wolfteeth and Hutra the Fox first meet.
The opposing force continued to pour over the hill top to station themselves at its base, roughly a hundred paces from the place occupied by the Horde of the Wolfteeth. Ten score, twenty score and then thirty score they came. At their middle was the single fox in all the ranks. This was Hutra himself, who would no other title but that of his race.
To this show, the Wolfteeth hordemembers shouted out their warcry: “Blackrobe! Wolfteeth! Wolfteeth! Wolfteeth! Kill! Kill! Kill!” they pounded down their shields, spears or other long weapons into the earth, creating a loud din along with their cries of conquest.
Blackrobe emerged forth, her savage knife held lightly in her right paw, ready and drawn for blood. She raised her voice and shouted to the host confronting her own. “Would Hutra the Fox meet me here in this field?”
A shuffling of ranks occurred. From the vast host a creature emerged. Nearly short for a fox, and clad in brown and gold garments, Hutra stalked forward and faced the wildcat five paces away. “Wolfteeth, is it? I’ve heard of your accomplishments in the Southlands. And why are you here? Come to steal and raid my fires again, cat?” His voice grew more full of hatred and contempt as he spoke, and he finished by gripping the long wooden club he held in both paws.
Blackrobe raised her knife higher and answered the fox. “No, I’ve had enough of your fires and banners, fox. I’ve come for something else. Perhaps you’d like to demonstrate your prowess with your bludgeon?”
“Against what?” asked the fox, curiosity showing in his voice.
“My knife, per say.” Said the wildcat, “I challenge you, at this spot to a duel of death, winner takes all.”
A silence fell from both sides, such an event as this only one had known was coming: Blackrobe Wolfteeth. Hutra stepped closer. “I’ll smash your skull down, cat. Tomorrow at dawn?”
Blackrobe knew he was planning something, but she showed total intensity and quickness. “Aye, fox, and I’ll show you what my knife can do.”
The two warlords backed off from the middle of the field, returning to their hordes, awaiting the dawn of the next day.
That night, Blackrobe had moved her horde back a good way from the base of the ridge and the high hill. Choosing a place near some yew thickets and a few firs, camp was made. The warlord herself was in her headquarters with three of her captains. Bladge, Dumbclaw and Crushsnout were seated around the same table Blackrobe was, munching on scones and strawberries purloined the day before. Blackrobe turned to Crushsnout the stoat.
“Have you made sure the way is clear?”
Crushsnout nodded vigorously. “Aye, yer majesty.”
“What way is clear?” asked Dumbclaw.
Blackrobe leaned back, her claws digging into the wooden chair she sat in. “I’ve arranged for a spy path. There’s a blind spot in Hutra’s scouts, yes, he has scouts monitoring around his camp, where a stealthy beast could sneak in. Fiercetail is bringing the creature I requested in, I believe that’s them.”
The tent flaps bruised inwards as a creature knocked, and two hordebeasts entered. First, the weasel captain Fiercetail stepped in, following him was a stoat by the name of Plaggard. “I’ve brought the stoat you wanted, majesty.”
“Good, now get into camp and arrange the sentries. Before you do that, make sure to dish out rations. But before you do that, send out a couple hordemembers to locate a nearby stream, we’re getting too low on water.”
Fiercetail saluted with his cutlass and departed to go about his duties.
Plaggard came forward to the table. “What is my assignment, Chief?”
Blackrobe questioned the stoat. “Are you excited about your assignment, Plaggard?”
“Yes, yer majesty.”
“Good, I like that.” Blackrobe bit off a hunk of scone. “Now, I need you to go around to the east side of the ridge. Once there, make your way along the north side until you reach a large stone overhang. Slip inside that and come out at the western base of the thing, then head down the slope of the high hill into the camp of Hutra the Fox. Once you’re there, I need you to gather information. That fox is planning something for tomorrow’s duel, I need it found and exploited. Can you do this before sunrise?”
The stoat paused a moment, then nodded. ‘Aye, Plaggard can accomplish that fer ya.”
Blackrobe allowed herself a grim smile of satisfaction. “Then head out, you will be aptly rewarded later.”
The stoat saluted and left in a hurry. Dumbclaw was not impressed. “So you’re going to cheat, Chief?”
The warlord shook her head slowly. “No, I’m going to let Hutra cheat. Then I’ll come in and turn it in my favor. I’ll await Plaggard’s arrival during the night, the rest of you are dismissed.”
Hutra the Fox’s camp was beneath the steep incline of the high hill, to the west of the ridge. Sandy tents were owned by all, and fires burned outside each. Hutra’s tent itself was no larger than the rest, but he did not share it with anybeast. In front of his fire, which was used by a score of creatures besides himself at the moment, he sat eating a light meal of dried fruits. It provided a place for a large part of the horde to simply gather and stay at.
He had detailed three of his creatures, two rats and a ferret, to report to him. The three were seated near him, awaiting his orders.
“Tell me, are you capable of living up to your reputation as great archers?”
One of the rats, named Slingback, answered. “Gefter here is the best fer the job, sire. He can ‘it a bird in a rainstorm as easy as look at it. We two, me ‘n Baoreg, are his mates ‘n assistants in his art. We accompany ‘im everywhere.”
“Very well,” said Hutra slowly. “So, tell me Gefter, could you hit a large black wildcat from atop a ridge?”
The rat in question smiled. “Aye, sire, I could do that!”
“Good, here’s what I want you and your mates to do. Climb up that ridge yonder, it’s all covered over in tall grass, rocks and big bushes. Up towards the top, a good spot’s between a couple of yew thickets. If you could climb in there, you’d have a good shoot at my opponent in the morning, in case things get a bit bad. Will you do so?”
Gefter exchanged glances with Baoreg and Slingback. He turned back to Hutra. “Aye, I could do that! We’ll go tonight and get ready, eh sire?”
Hutra nodded. “Do that, and I’ll see you’re justly rewarded.”
Other ears that night heard the words between the four beasts, and a stoat slinked back off from the blazing fire ahead of the three beasts.
Senn awoke early the next morning, on the day as the feast at Redwall began. Leaping out of bed into the main room of Ivy’s dwelling, he greeted the morning from a window. The dawn was cool, a lingering bit of mist clouded the forest floor. Ivy Rowancrown was already seated, eating strawberries and drinking pale cider. “I suppose we’ll have to move on today.”
Senn joined the squirrel warrior at table. “No doubt, Blackrobe will be searching for me, as clear as daylight.”
The squirrel’s eyes narrowed. “That’s what I was thinking about.” She said slowly. “She wouldn’t really have any idea which way you went after you escaped. I suppose though, she would be searching east, she’d reason you would have went that way, I’d wager.”
Senn nodded. “Aye, I’d guess you’re right, Ivy. What do you think then, where should we go?”
“Well,” began Ivy, “If I could pick a single place to go, I’d choose Redwall Abbey. ‘O Course, that legendary place is north, and I don’t know where ‘tis at really.”
Senn stopped eating. “Why not though? I’ve heard ‘o Redwall from stories, folks say it’s quite a magnificent place of happiness and plenty. ‘Sides, north means Blackrobe also, and I have a score to settle with her.”
Ivy left off examining a strawberry. “Hmm, I guess so. Why not? We’ll go to Redwall Abbey, then. After we’re finished eating and I’ve packed a few things, ‘o course.”
Senn seemed to be trying to remember something. “It’s strange, I seem to have forgotten something. It’s like…I’m attempting to recall something from a dream or other.” Ivy was filling her beaker with the pale cider. “P’haps ‘tis just a fancying thought, or maybe not. Dreams can be big things, and full ‘o important messages.”
Senn later passed up the idea of remembering it, and assisted Ivy with readying haversacks and satchels. Awhile later, four packs lay at the floor’s hole, by which reaching the forest below was achieved. The two warriors trudged off early, making the most of the day. Senn could not help with feel awed by the things around him. Wind, trees, dew, flowers and water; all were so magnificent, and so peaceful. Journeying onwards, the two travelers covered a large distance before lunch, where they stopped and dined on blackberries and oatcakes.
The rest of the day was spent blissfully and contentedly, always heading due north, the direction undoubtedly traversed by Blackrobe and her horde. At nightfall, Senn and Ivy camped at a fallen birch, leaning against a strangled fir. There, in the shelter of a makeshift lean-to, they fell into slumber; a deep dreamless sleep was upon them.
In Mossflower Woods, others were travelling at that time. It was late morning, and Firrum the molemaid was awakening from a fitful night of sleep. Triggun commented to her. “’Bout time you woke up, sleepyfur. Breakfast was served an hour ago.” Scones for breakfast at Redwall and a canteen of fresh water had been purloined by the dibbuns the night before, while kitchen workers were busy clearing up. Triggun passed the last of three scones to Firrum, who gratefully bit into it.
“Hurr hurr, tastes moighty fresh.” Firrum stated between mouthfuls.
Druather, who was scattering leaves used in bed making the previous night, came up to the eating molemaid and pacing otter. “Ere, what be ‘ee doin’, Troiggun?”
The otter explained to the mole in a single word. “Thinkin’”
“’Bout what?” asked Firrum, halfway through her scone.
“Where we are, and ‘ow to get someplace nice.”
“Place loikes moighty nice to moi loiking.” Druather commented, sipping some more of the water.
Triggun threw himself down next to his cohorts. “I wish I was at the Abbey now. Without any grown-ups, we be right inna pickle.”
Firrum nodded. “Oi agree, zurr otter. ‘Ow we get ‘ome again, though?
Druather began to grow drowsy. “Oi only ‘opes we can ever get back there again, oi’ll do anythin’ Father Habbot ever asks froim naow on, even Fevel and Mai’al as well.”
Triggun nodded consent. “Very well, mates, but I forgot which way the Abbey is.”
The trio sat in despair, having lost their way with only a canteen left from their beloved Abbey.
On the flatlands west of Mossflower Woods, four shapes made their way at a light gait due south. One, taller than the rest, was parading with a sabre stuck through his belt. Bending to survey a mark upon the ground, he harrumphed. “Corks! No blinkin’ trace ‘o anybeast, why’d Lord Lightstripe send us out ‘ere, again, Cournweal? No disrespect intended, doncha know.”
Another hare in the group, with grey whiskers and moustache, responded without breaking pace. “Tah scout, Corporal. Badgers have funny dreams ‘n visions on h’occasion, they should not be treated lightly. Accordin’ to his orders tae me this morn, we’re out lookin’ for trouble, more as not.”
“Bit strange for his majesty to give such vague info, though, right Colonel?” the other hare had moved back up with the others.
“Indeed, ‘tis is. H’actually, Lightstripe said ‘e didn’t know himself, just needed us to go out and look about for anythin’ out of the ordinary. Asked me if I’d do it for ‘im, ‘stamp me whiskers, course I would’, I said. So, we’re here jolly well out in the dry flatlands.”
A young hare there, a galloper, got in on the conversation. “I say, old bean, is there any ‘o the cowslip cordial ‘ol Cooky packed still left?”
The remaining hare there, by the name of Araya Membuis, shook her head in mock despair. “Huh, you’d lick up the whole sea if it wasn’t so salty, my young hare. And if the mountain cook caught ya callin’ ‘im ‘Cooky’, e’d have ya served up the next day as “Stidden Kirussie salad ‘n fish chops. Haha, Stidden fish chops, not bad soundin’, wot?”
Colonel Cournweal DeTrumpidorn Widespasher was a lenient and jolly creature by nature, and took the galloper’s question simply. “Bit left, best savin’ it for afters later on. Out ya go, young Stidden DeMioor, gallopin’ down south, then east. Ready, on ya mark, go!”
The youthful hare sped off south, a dust trail in his wake. Colonel Cournweal shook his head. “My, that ‘un keeps gettin’ speedier by the day. ‘E’ll be outrunnin’ the whole Long Patrol soon enough, mark my words.”
The three Long Patrollers continued on at their pace southeast. Not sure as to their duty and fate, they kept on in pursuit of finding justice, and to help all who needed on their way.
Dawn sprung up from the western horizon. The Vast South Plains was turned a golden yellow, its shrubbery bathed in the early morning light. Hutra the Fox, however, was heedlessly of the sun’s arrival. He stood at the crest of the high hill, noting the place where three of his creatures where in wait, concealed well by rocks and curtains of vines.
The fox, muscular but somewhat short, was a skilled fighter. His bludgeon, a long wooden affair, had been re-stapled the previous night with studs of sharp iron impressed into the hard oak. Starting rather thin at its hold, the club ended being twice the length. Feeling fairly confident with the trio of assassins at the ready, the fox warlord awaited the duel.
The Horde of the Wolfteeth was aligned in its classical formation, except for the three figures out in front of it by twenty yards. Blackrobe, arrayed in her usual dress, stood with Goulder the stoat and Bladge. The latter held his ever-present spear, clad in a black robe with gold furnishings. Licking his sickle blade, Goulder turned to the wildcat.
“When is that fox an’ ‘is ‘orde gonna show, Chief?”
Blackrobe pawed her knife, thrust through her belt. “The stupid fox’ll come our when he’s ready. Just be ready to act when I give the signal.”
Pounding began, adumbrating the approach of the opposing horde. Over the top of the hill came the thirty score troops, at their head a contingent of five creatures. One was clearly Hutra himself, garbed as he had been the previous evening. Alongside his left were the other four, all hefty weasels.
Halfway down the hill slope was as far as most of the vermin got, only Hutra and his vanguard moved onwards. Covering the remaining distance to where Blackrobe stood solo, having left her attendants twenty paces from her horde, the strange company reached the wildcat. Blackrobe was frowning. Who were these four weasels supposed to be? She shook off the question as she saw they were unarmed, only clad in pale sandy garments.
Hutra waved the four back twenty paces, the approximate distance Blackrobe had left Goulder and Bladge. “I’ll give you some fighting room, cat. I take it you brought your killing knife?”
The wildcat’s eagerness for battle grew. “That I did, fox. The traditional rules of horde challenging and warlord dueling are confirmed, our hordes wait for the victor at our backs.”
Hutra parted his chapped lips, in some sort of grin. “Oh, if those old rules are important; I doubt you really care too much, but fine enough.” He crooked his head to one side, then without further ado, charged the wildcat.
The duel had begun.
Blackrobe waited for the fox to nearly reach her, then promptly slid calmly to the right. Hutra continued past, but shielded his left flank by tossing his bludgeon to his other paw. Blackrobe drew her knife, circling the much shorter fox warlord. Hutra began twirling his bludgeon, expecting the attack to come any moment. Blackrobe, however, was content to wait as long as possible. Baring her teeth, she stood still.
Hutra raised his bludgeon in front of him; then Blackrobe rushed. Growling, the jet black wildcat swung her knife in an arc, aiming for the fox’s neck. Hutra threw his bludgeon up, catching the cruel object in its side, close to his claws. Twisting the club around, he aimed for a quick blow to the back of Blackrobe’s neck, but swished it instead through thin air. The wildcat had come around him, circling back to his now exposed back. She thrust one of her forelegs into the fox’s back, sending him sprawling into the dust.
Narrowly missing a collision into his own weapon, Hutra brought it around to face the wildcat, still lying on his back. Blackrobe dashed forward a few paces, then jumped over to her right and swung her claws towards her opponent’s face. Hutra screeched in pain, the sharp nails having torn across his vision. Bringing himself back up, he tried to examine his face with his left paw, still holding onto his bludgeon; the knife dug deep into its woody flesh.
Blackrobe, still waiting for the right moment, began once more circling her enemy. The moment arrived. Hutra struggled towards her, fury in his eyes. Hurling herself across the short distance, Blackrobe lashed out with both her claws. Hutra battered away with his bludgeon. The knife came loose, planting itself point first in the ground. Blackrobe recoiled, her arms aching and stinging from the vicious assault, spurred on by the fight for survival. Hutra kicked the knife away, sending it speeding along in the dust.
With satisfaction, he saw his enemy was heaving and hugging her paws to her. He was beating his monstrous foe, he thought. He trotted forward at a slight gait, intending to crack down his club on the wildcat. Blackrobe, however, spun around at the last second. She came around his unsuspecting left flank, knocking his feet from under him with her body. Hutra hit the ground hard, crashing his body against nettles and rocks. Spinning herself around, Blackrobe gaited over to her knife, gripping it heavily in her paw.
Hutra was slow to rise; his body was in pain. Straightening himself up, he saw the wildcat coming at him at a trot. The ridge was too his back and he felt leaves on the breeze hit his back.
Gefter the rat archer was drawing his bow. Slingback handed him an arrow, which he received. Placing it in position, the rat drew back. “Me reckons it’s time to kill the wildcat. I’ll make great lords outa us all fer this.” Slingback and Baoreg smiled, their moment of triumph was upon them.
Hutra prepared to deflect the coming blow. He saw his foe leap at him, making as if to plunge the knife into his chest. He brought the bludgeon up with bow paws from the left. Blackrobe was caught, just a little, off guard. The force exerted by the bludgeon on her knife blade was surprising much. It was then that she made a lightning move.
She threw out her left claw, gripped the fox by the scruff of his neck and twisted him around, bludgeon and all. Trapping him against her own fur, she held him tight. It was then that she used her knife for its true specialty; throwing. With all her might, she hurled the unique weapon up and in a great arc, sweeping down towards the ridge, much closer now than when the fight first began.
Gefter let loose the deadly flint-tipped arrow. He sighted it, but it was the last thing he ever saw. He felt suddenly sick, and gazed down stupidly at his chest. A knife, buried up to its hilt, was protruding from it. He fell backwards, his mates still trying to see the outcome of the missile’s flight.
Hutra had become genuinely terrified. He was powerless against the frighteningly strong hold of his foe. He suddenly stopped squirming. His mouth fell open, and his legs failed him. He saw the arrow cutting through the air, plunging right at the spot he and his captor occupied. There was no questioning look in his eyes when he no longer saw it. He knew its location, deep in his muscular neck, his body having been turned roughly by Blackrobe to take the missile. It was all over in a split second.
Blackrobe let the corpse fall from her body. Taking in her victory over the stunned hordes, she waited a good while before shouting out to the stoat Goulder. “Go and find those other two in the rocks of the ridge, take your assigned command and slay them, I have no room for assassins in my horde.”
Goulder the stoat hurried off in front of a half score of hordebeasts towards the ridge at a fast gait. Blackrobe signaled her whole horde to move off across the plain to the hill. Spurred on by the captains, of whom Bladge had then rejoined, the horde moved forward. The horde that had been under Hutra shifted in her pawprints, not sure what to do with her leader slain.
Blackrobe soon was solving it for them. “Rats, ferrets, stoats, and weasels! You’re old leader is slain; there is nothing in these plains now. Accept these terms: join my horde and march under my standard. Those of you who accept willingly will be honored as choosing the proper choice; those of you who try to refuse will die slow and painfully. Will you serve under me and advance your lives in plunder and conquest?”
An unsteady silence lasted over the leaderless rabble, then a ferret in the front ranks cried out. The rest of the horde followed, taking up the shout: “Blackrobe for Chieftain and Warlord! Conquest ‘n Plunder fer all!”
Bladge and Fiercetail led the Horde of the Wolfteeth in a warcry. “Blackrobe! Wolfteeth! Wolfteeth! Wolfteeth! Kill! Kill! Kill!”
The hill slopes and top soon rang also with the cry, Goulder and his contingent returning to take it up as well. Blackrobe tread across to the four weasels who had accompanied Hutra to the field. “And who do you serve?” she asked, scorn and malice in her deep voice.
“We serve who is strongest on earth,” said the heftiest of the four. “And right now, we say that is you, Blackrobe Wolfteeth of the Southlands.”
The answer was satisfactory, and the wildcat strode off, glad to have at least four new hordemembers who could hold their way in both battle and in camp.
The morning spread on, and the new hordemembers were run through chants and titles, and also the rules of the Horde of the Wolfteeth. After several hours, Blackrobe had instated several new horde captains, formerly of a similar rank under the fires of Hutra. After a few hours, the horde was on the march, over the ridge and back to the path. They would head northwards, Blackrobe decided, bound back for just what she had promised the newly acquired hordemembers: plunder and conquest.
Senn and Ivy had made heavy progress the next day after camping at the fallen beech. Heading north through woodlands, they found a sign of Blackrobe’s progress, an abandoned spear and cutlass. Senn said nothing about this find, only that they should of course continue northwards to their destination, Redwall Abbey.
That day passed and went, and the next morning found them awakening from under the packed canvas, breakfasting on the last of their fruit, dried or fresh. A floury mix was made up by Ivy, who was a mediorce cook, This was used to roll up the fruit and was then boiled. After such a meal, the two travellers were trotting along a rocky rim, out from a large mountain. To their left flank the mountain rose up, covered in trees and undergrowth, eventually curving off to a steep bluff.
Senn commented drily to his companion. “I think we’re at the Southland Mountains; I’ve never seen them very close, I never travelled this way myself. Ivy?”
The squirrel warrior nodded, placing a spear she had made between two craggy rocks. “Aye, they’re them alright. This is the first o’ them, they range up out ‘o the Southlands, up to more northern places. A path lies a good bit east ‘o us, which’ll eventually come out into those.”
Senn, who had resupplied himself with a dozen or so javelins tied in a bundle on his back, suddenly realized how high the rim they were walking was from the ground. “These stones seem to ‘ave been placed ‘ere, don’t ya think, Ivy?”
The squirrel had realized it herself, and was gazing around at the structure. “Aye, it’s a block no doubt built by somebeast to keep others out ‘o their lands. Not very high, only twice my own height, and now its running lower.”
The crumbly wall began decreasing in height, and the two travellers found themselves soon simply walking on the normal stone-covered ground that made up the base of the mountain. "I think there’s somethin’ in that bush o’er there, Senn.” Ivy said, having stopped beside him. Senn, on seeing the bush Ivy pointed to, noticed what she meant. “Aye mate, it looks like a bunch ‘o rags are stuffed under it.”
At that moment a great beating of wind occurred above them, and something crashed down through the upper branches of a clump of nearby oaks and firs. “Krarr! Trespassers are ye, yon treewalloper and streamdog?”
Knocked over by the gust of turbulent air, Senn landed upon his back. In front of him was the largest bird he had ever seen, a goshawk of mid-seasons. Awed temporarily by the spectacle, the otter simply stayed put.
“Krarrrr! Bad beasts do not ever answer us, they just murder and pillage. Thee will die if thou attempts mischief at the mountain of the Warhawks.” The giant bird spread out its magnificent wings, its downward curved beak ready for action. Ivy had unwound her sling from her tunic and was selecting a stone for its pouch.
“We’re not bad beasts or vermin, yon crazy bird. Any reason you’re terrorizing creatures who mean no harm?”
The goshawk folded his wings and brought his head back from striking position. “’Pologies, treewalloper. I was unaware of thine nature, I only supposed thee was a vermin beast, intending harm to us by stealing our food. Krarr! I am Grager Bordigaze, I patrol this plot of land, under the direction of his lordship Whiteclaw Trunheimer of the Warhawks. Come, I will take thee to his court, high above in the upmost regions of thy high home.”
Senn, bewildered by the both the goshawks’ speech and manner, began climbing up the mountainside after the bird. Ivy, a natural and skilled climber, quickly followed suit. Assisting the otter around a clump of jutting stone, the squirrel addressed the large bird. “Tell me, Grager, are there many of your kind on this mountain?”
“Krarrr! Fifty and one hundred and a score or so more dwell here besides thyself, good squirrel; warriors all.”
“Seeing your might, I wouldn’t be surprised ‘o the force that that many of your kind could muster.” Senn said, using a javelin to get around a tough obstacle.
“It’s the heart ‘o a beast that defines them as a warrior, Senn, not their ability to fight or be powerful. Though I don’t doubt the heart of Grager, he seems a beast full ‘o courage and honor.”
That morning the three moved steadily up the mountain, Grager and Ivy easily moving over rocky outcrops, while Senn found he was a little better suited to water then to climbing. Nevertheless, he made it over the first part of the mountain, and was standing next to Ivy and Grager when he asked the goshawk a question. “Tell me Grager Bordigaze, ‘ow are we supposed to get up that steep slope? It’s mostly rock, until you get up a bit, then it seems to flatten up a good bit.”
“Krarr!” the goshawk spread his wings out, puffing out his chest. “Thy shalt arrange for another of thy kin to assist thee, Senn streamwalloper. Krarrr!”
The goshawk launched into a flight, winging his way up the mountain. Ivy and Senn waited for a few minutes, taking in the view.
Trees, countless as sand, covered the slop down the southern part of the mountain. The flat floor of the woodlands below was visible, as well as a golden line in the distance, which was recognizable as the Vast South Plains. The sky was blue, clouds drifting lazily by.
Soon Grager the goshawk was back, landing neatly by the two travelers Beside him was another goshawk, younger in seasons and bearing blue marks on his wings, different from the brown of Grager Bordigaze’s. “Krarrr! Thou hast returned, Senn Longbattler and Ivy Rowancrown of the flat Southlands. Here is Fiercefir Trhunder, the son of thy lord, Whiteclaw Trunheimer. He would transport thee up the mountain, Ivy Rowancrown, permitting.”
The squirrel nodded shortly and the younger goshawk swept up her arms in his talons, flying away up the bluff. Senn soon followed, Grager holding him firmly by the arms in his own talons. On top of the bluff, the young otter saw a number of other goshawks, all of different ages, were present. All shared the same massive wingspan and sharp beak and talons of Grager and Fiercefir.
Following behind the two goshawks, Senn felt honored. Truly full of respect and authority, these goshawk warriors were true creatures worthy of revering. Not far from their landing place, a grove of tall trees rested. In the branches there, Senn noticed goshawks nesting and also holding guard. One particularly large goshawk, a head taller than any other and wearing a small golden device around his neck, strode out from the monstrous-sized trees to the place Ivy and Senn stood.
The otter and squirrel bowed. “Krar! These two beasts, called Senn the Longbattler and Ivy Rowancrown, have come into thy fiefdom, lord Whiteclaw Trunheimer.” Spoke Grager, bending his neck to the great bird.
Whiteclaw Trunheimer was dominantly white, his wings a blue haze, as well as his back and tailfeathers. His talons clenched the ground, creating indents. Spreading out his wings so quickly to send out a pulse of turbulent air, the warhawk lord spoke to the travelers. “Krar! Good beasts, Ivy Rowancrown and Senn Longbattler, welcome thee to thy fiefdom! Thy warhawks shalt service thee what thee requires. Would thee care for any such service?”
Humbled at the sight of the great bird, Senn bowed his head once more and answered boldly. “Great Whiteclaw Trunheimer, me and my mate are travelling north, to Redwall Abbey. Perhaps you’ve heard ‘o it?”
The goshawk nodded his head solemnly. “Aye, thou knowest of the Abbey of Redwall, ‘tis a great haven. Krar! Thee are a braw beast, Senn Longbattler. Pray tell, why thou dost head to this Abbey?”
Senn spoke again, rubbing his hands together. “We go to the Abbey ‘o Redwall because we believe it is the best place for us to be, I am likely pursued by the horde of Blackrobe Wolfteeth, a great wildcat warlord.”
In the silence that followed, Senn wondered what had happened, but Grager stepped forward from his position and informed him “Thee are a great beast, indeed, Senn Longbattler. A wildcat, big and striped in true fashion, came to this mountain some days ago. He was with seven other beasts, three of these did thee see earlier, in yon bush. Krar! Thou was fetched with four others by a patroller to the scene. We slew three, left the other four wounded and staggering. Called thee all cowards, but thou left to check thine families and kin, and patrol thine mountain for more such rabble.”
Senn shook his head and replied. “That was not Blackrobe, friend, that was only her brother, Askcor and his small gang. Her horde is nine score strong, when I left it. Likely though, she’ll be ‘ere soon enough, followin’ in the tracks ‘o her brother.”
Fiercefir came forward and spoke to the otter. “A horde, at least three times the size of the one thou hast described, has been seen at the southern base of the mountain. Actually, they will only be there soon. Thy fears we must act quickly.”
Senn pounded his fists together. “I’ve a score to settle with that cat, Fiercefir. Where are they?”
“Krarr! No, Senn Longbattler, this is thy mountain, and thy will protect it thineself. Thy cannot been having guests in thy fiefdom slain in combat, warhawks always protect these summits. Krar! Grager, gather the warriors from yon trees. Thy will accompany ye out to foebeasts. Worry not, Senn, all will get back safe enough from that horde.”
Grager and Whiteclaw took flight together to the trees. Ivy came forward and placed her paw on the otter’s shoulder. “Come, we’ll go with Fiercefir and a small guard to a point further north, from there we can monitor their progress.”
Blackrobe had moved her newly enlarged force north that day until noon. She had decided to give up on her brother returning, and push on ahead to the mountain that was looming up ahead. With luck, she might intercept him on his way back. The four large weasels, whom she had been informed had been something of an ambassador force used by Hutra, where standardly a quiet bunch. Realizing only the heftiest of them ever spoke, she had submitted to questioning him.
She had never seen the four apart, and at that they only either stood, marched, or ate. Jaorez, the name of the heaviest, she had commissioned with his cohorts to an enterprise to the east. Promoting Goulder the stoat, she put half a score of hordebeasts under him, plus the four stranger weasels. The squirrel remained a mystery, but no matter, she would track down and find the otter regardless; and when he was brought back, he would die slow and painfully, she affirmed.
These troops she had sent off at mid-morning. At present, the horde was trudging along close to a mountain, beyond which rose innumerable heights, streecthing away to the north. Blackrobe was at the back of her horde, when Crushsnout came running through the disordered ranks towards her. Sighing wearily, the wildcat made her way to the stoat. “Let me guess, you’re here to report an incident. Not surprising, what’s gone wrong?”
Crushsnout saluted shortly and made his report, in relatively few words. “We’re unner attack, Chief!”
Blackrobe stopped herself from whacking the stoat captain. “I could have simply guessed that, stoat! Now, tell me where it’s at and from what.”
Crushsnout breathed a breath of air. “Up ahead, further ‘round this mountain root. Big hawk beasts are screechin’ an’ divin’ at the ‘orde, movin’ too fast fer our ranks to retaliate. They skip a bit afore they fly, then batter the air wid their wings!”
Blackrobe shoved the stoat from her path and bounded forward. She would stop these attacks, and slay the birds who caused her this grief.
Bladge was standing near an ash tree, witnessing the savage goshawks plunge into the horde, batter with their wings in a half-land, rip at hordemembers, then wing away with more turbulent wind, and vanish back up the mountain slope. The rat captain was trying to muster some troops for an assault at the point of the hawks’ launching, but the soldiers were scattering away through the trees or attempting to get a shoot at the birds, failing utterly due to their speed, war vigor, and quick effective killing.
One rat had been about to give fly to a stone in his sling at one of the assailants, when another swooped around and caught him by the ears, hurling him along on the ground and into a bluff face. Awaiting his commander’s arrival, the horde captain stayed put.
Blueney and Fangback had taken refuge in a depression between a few rocks. Tries to leave the shelter and venture back to where the rest of the horde was taking shelter in semi-peace had ended in the slaying of six others who had made to dash out and reach their goal. Blueney remarked to the weasel as a goshawk soared by and using beak and claws dispersed a contingent of hordemembers with bows and arrows. “Well, matey, I’d say we’d best just wait ‘ere fer the attacks to settle; that or the birds to be vanquished by Blackrobe.”
“Huh,” responded Fangback. “Not even that cat could do much against this lot. By the fang, where’d they come from anyway?”
Blueney watched as several scores of hordebeasts arrived from over a hill to the south. At their head, Blackrobe was roaring with battlefever, her knife at the ready.
Whiteclaw and over sixty goshawks, spread well apart and coming from three directions, plunged straight at the new arrivals. Blackrobe cursed at her misfortune, the mountain from which the enemy came practically enveloping them in most directions at this point in the terrain. Regardless, she would lead her troops to the victory.
“Ready ‘n fire!” screamed out Dumbclaw to the archers and slingers, as well to those with throwing projectiles. At once, spears, arrows, stones and knives started flying out from the force. A score of the hawks left off the attack, narrowly dodging the flying objects. The rest, however, reached the division unscathed.
Hordemembers fled eastwards, the only way of travel left open to them. Blackrobe stayed put, and jumped up at a passing bird. Her deadly claws and knife did their work, and the beast lay sprawled out before her, still breathing and trying to crawl away. As she was going to finish him off, the wildcat realized she was standing alone on an empty field. The goshawks who had aborted off came back in, ready for battle.
Deserting her will for battle, the warlord began running at a small gait. The assailants left off, and she reached a clump of ash trees in safety. Cursing, she watched as her foes bombarded her warring servants.
Askcor had spent the past days with his gang simply waiting for her sister. Giving up the idea of going south looking for her, he moved his followers north, around the deadly mountain, to a patch of berries he had found. Tugleg was the only one among them not a rat, and was also the only one with lasting injuries. A series of contusions and scars ran from his back to neck, and a gash in his side left him looking more askew than ever.
Hearing the sound of combat to the southwest, the wildcat ruled in favor of getting his remaining gangmembers together and investigate. Within a few minutes of exhausting travel, the five reached a shallow valley. Tugleg, standardly the spokesbeast and expert tracker amongst them, recognized the cry of a goshawk.
“D’ya reckon that’s what attacked us earlier?” asked Askcor, hearing the screech once more.
Tugleg nodded grimly. “Aye, I’ve heard it ‘o fore when I sailed a river, never seen one ‘o them, powerful beasts them be.”
“Well, the horde’s under attack by them, so we’d best get back to Blackrobe.”
It was the last order the four ever heard uttered. A crashing occurred in the foliage above them, and a mighty goshawk was on the rat Cruleney. Budjek, being the closest and first to realize the incident, jumped to slay the bird. “Argh! Die featherback!”
The goshawk leapt up, sending him backwards. Soon he felt a weight shoot over him, and looked to see Tugleg looking heavily fatigued, the body of Cruleney lying crumpled on top of him.
Budjek sped off away from the mountain, dirt slipping threw his feet. Only a short way along and Askcor grabbed him roughly by his jerkin. “Where ya goin’, rat? We get back to the ‘orde, come on scum, ya idjit!”
Budjek had not seen Askcor this way before, looking both barbaric with his teeth bared and his speech sounding altogether different than usual. Soon the two were off, Askcor subconsciously still dragging the rat along. Leaping back to the valley they had left, Budjek ripped himself loose and ran along with the dangerous wildcat. Behind him, he faintly heard a short scream of terror, evidently from his fellow gangrat. After that, he began falling behind the wildcat, already panting for breath from the earlier run.
Askcor turned, frustrated at the slower rat. Turning, he saw Budjek tripping over a root, a goshawk flying in and headbutting him in the chest. Budjek had raised a knife against it, but the bird jumped over him and twirled around to peck at his forehead. A second later, Budjek was dead, killed by the warrior bird, genuine confusion still imprinted solely on his features.
Askcor turned away and continued bounding away south, utterly in rage at the unfortunateness of the whole day, but consoling himself on the loss of his followers. He would get more, he thought. His mind began to clear, the barbarism wearing off from his face.
Slytooth the fox and his band of eight scavengers was camped among a grove of peaches. Murderers and villains all, they had been brought together by the leadership of Slytooth. They had come from the coast, searching in land for fresh pickings and an easier life than the tough, fruitless job of scavenging the shoreline.
A weasel in the band, by the name of Bluntclaw, was trying to remove his dagger from the trunk of one of the trees. Tricked by the ferret Redjaw into throwing the weapon afar into such a mess, he was now struggling to pull it out. “’Agh, Glummy, get over ‘ere!”
The rat Glummaye remained seated at the base of another tree. “Huh, get it out yerself, smarty.”
Bluntclaw resented the pun to his idiotic mistake, and showed so by hurling a piece of bark bad-temperedly at the rat. “Huh, some mate ya turned out to be.”
The bark sailed well out of Glummaye’s reach. “Seems yore aim’s gone down.” Sniggered Redjaw, toying with his rusty saber’s hilt. The sun was blazing in the late afternoon heat, spring having arrived the day before. Slytooth, seated between two tree roots, soon grew weary of the pathetic conflict. “I think we’re all gettin’ too soft.” He muttered.
Bluntclaw had finally ripped his weapon from the trunk, barely succeeding in not toppling head over paws in the aftermath. Staggering, he placed his dagger inside his belt. Around the clump of trees, the band were either snoozing or doing very little. Slytooth was sharpening his axeblade, a rat called Moggslouse was doing the same to a small stick.
“Alright, up on yore feet.” Slytooth had risen and placed his short axe into a loop of his belt. Vermin groaned, and Bluntclaw showed open disgust. “Why we gotta move?”
The axe was out in a moment, and the shaft cracked Bluntclaw along the jawline. “’Cause I side we’re movin’, weasel!” Slytooth was about to lay about the groaning weasel when Badgunt the weasel called out. “Ay Chief, there’s a path up ahead.”
Slytooth dropped down his axe and moved over to where the weasel had entered the tree clump. “Ya mean the Mossflower pathway, Badgunt? Good, we’ll go up to the river that runs through an’ stay by the banks a’hile.”
Glummaye and Moggslouse had kicked into awaking two rats, named Sharpear and Dripear. Both former searats, they wore gold earrings each and many tattoos showed on their arms and legs. Sharpear, much taller than the short rat who had once served as lookout aboard a vessel, complained about a lost dream. “Blah, I was ‘avin a good time, dreamin’ ‘bout peach cakes ‘n arrerroot corjul, served inna bowl.”
Slytooth sighed irritatebly. “Huh, ‘ave ya gone soft in the head more ‘n the rest ‘o us? Arrerroot corjul, indeed.”
The two rats, as well as a stoat named Slimtooth, joined the throng near the fox leader. “Lissen, we’re goin’ to that river up to the nor’h. We could live the life ‘o great captains. Through dose woods in dat diriction makes good ‘o enuff sense.”
Redjaw and Slimtooth followed by the rear of the band, the rest led by Slytooth spread out through the trees in the general northward direction. Slimtooth smiled at Redjaw, who nodded mischievously. Selecting a large nettle in the undergrowth, the stoat tied it to a small rock with a bit of stray jerkin string. He flung it expertly in the path of Moggslouse the rat, who was lost in surveying the woodlands about him.
“Ahh! Ow, I’ve been stung!” the frantic rat hopped about, banging into the trunk of a small birch tree. Redjaw’s dark body and red-painted teeth shook with delight for a few seconds; then he contained himself and walked on. Glummaye rushed over to the stricken rat, watching as he flung himself about on the forest floor. “Where ya been hit, mate?”
Moggslouse brought himself up and examined his footpaw. “Musta stepped onna wasp or somethin’, quite a big ‘un too.”
“Ah, get movin’ ya slow lot.” Redjaw told him as he passed by.
Mossflower drifted by as the vermin band moved northwards. A butterfly flew out of the way of their weapons, landing on the stem of a dandelion, its petals catching the light of the sun near perfectly. Calm grass and plants grew in abundance beneath the bows of the trees that grew in western Mossflower, near to the northern borders. A tranquil peace held further into that morning.
Farther north and east, on the banks of the River Moss, water flowed less and less to the west. The ford where the path that many now rested their hopes and ambitions on crossed was dry, utterly dry in the steaming sun. It was still not yet known by any, but the fate of many rested in the steep barrier of a bank of the River Moss, known to exist by those of Thallsmergan. Something bigger, however, was in place closer than that. The burden of the River Moss lay still, while near flooding was in operation to its east.
Triggun had elected himself as leader of the lost trio by leading them through the foliage of Mossflower. Striding in front of the two moles, he periodically scratched a mark into trees and earth alike. Druather looked up at the late morning sun. “Hurr hurr, zurr otter, we b’ lost, alroight.”
The dibbuns’ first morning in Mossflower had been passed in simply walking. Well beyond caring about punishment and consequences, the three babes only cared to get back to Redwall. Firrum dusted the sleeve of her smock off. “Hurr, oi’m toired ‘o walkin’ ‘round woods.” She there down between several roots of a knotty oak.
Triggun carried on several paces and scratched a piece of bark off a sapling using his stick. “Come on, we gotta get back to Redwall. Hurm, elders’ll chop offa our tails and send us to bed with no supper though.”
Druather pointed out the double markings on the sapling. “Hurr, there be two moirkin’s on that tree, Troigun.”
The otter examined the issue. “I fink then we’re goin’ in circles, Druather.”
Firrum suddenly jumped up and scurried over to her cohorts. “Shoish, ya noisy beasts. There be somethin’ ‘eaded dis way.”
The three waited, listening. Leaves blew over their footpaws as the noise became louder and clearer. A party of beasts, singing, were making for their position. Druather, being a very sensible beast, decided to run to avoid contact with the approaching creatures.
“Best get o’way, run!”
Triggun fled as well, in the opposite direction to that of his mole friend.
“Come on, Firrum, get o’er ‘ere!”
Terrified, Firrum began bounding in another direction. Squealing with fright, she was hurled upwards by an unresistable force, recognizable as strong arms. Triggun dashed forward, waving his stick wildly. “Put miss Firrum down, ya big villain!”
He raised his stick to assault the creature’s footpaws, when he looked to realize who the creature was.
“Belay that, matey. I’m just an otter out for a swim. Careful now with that big stick ‘o yours, young Trig, you’ll slay me wid it.”
The friendly face of Skipper of Otters smiled down at the young otter. “What’re ya doin’ out so far from the Abbey, Triggun? Shouldn’t ya be back defendin’ it from foebeasts?”
Druather now stood beside his friend, his lack of similar speed having deprived him of formerly presenting himself. Skipper had hoisted Firrum onto his left shoulder, as he shouted back to his crew. “Looks like a few ‘o the abbeybabes came out for some adventure, likely Caliuago and ‘is council are lookin’ for ‘em. Better get ‘em back with us.”
Triggun had himself installed on Skipper’s other shoulder, conversing with the otter chieftain. “You be back from your time at the sea, Skip?”
Skipper nodded. “Aye, matey. Me an’ my crew had a swell time with other otter crews, we came back a bit early this season,”
Triggun tried to get his paws around the shaft of Skipper’s javelin. “Will I be able to come wid you and your crew soon, Skip?”
The Skipper smiled over at the young otter. “Hahar, matey, you’ve still got a bit ‘o growin’ too do afore that, but you’re be wallopin’ me out ‘o the river by then by the rate you’re growin’.”
Triggun snuggled in by the javelin across his back and the otter’s shoulder. “Harhar, me’s been keepin’ Druather an’ Firrum safe, Skip. Make sure they get back to the Abbey alright.”
Skipper nodded, looking straight ahead. “Aye, me an’ my crew’ll do that. You’ve done fine, matey, just let us get you all back to the Abbey.”
But Triggun wasn’t listening; he had fallen off to sleep.
Evening was wearing on in the camp of Blackrobe Wolfteeth. Vermin traversed through large brown and small sandy tents, fires blazed of a few branches and larger ones burned trees toppled for fuel. Sharptail seated himself near the fire of Ragchin, who was one of the majority now tented. The ferrets Shima and Bogard sat around lazily on either side of the fire, while Slithtooth occupied a log turned on its side. Sharptail opened discussion. “Sad bit ‘o a day fer the ‘orde, mates.”
“What’s Blackrobe supposed t’be doin’ with ‘ol Hutra’s ‘orde?” Ragchin asked, his partially rasping voice showing more than usual. Bogard’s black and white fur quivered. “An’ what are we tryin’ t’do? What’s so bad about goin’ nor’h, it looks fine ‘round these parts.”
“Listen, Bogard,” Sharptail’s firm voice left him in no doubt he had said the wrong thing. “We’re goin’ nort’h to our deaths. Plunder ‘n conquest, my saberblade! We’re the ones who’ll do all the fightin’ and killin’, then ‘ol Blackrobe’ll get the plunder. We won’t be livin’ tho life ‘o kings, we’re just soldiers to her.”
Shima looked around, her green eyes showing caution. “Then why don’t we all just make a run an’ go south fer? No reason to stay ‘round ‘ere if we’re just gonna die.”
Bogard silenced his mate with a wave of his paw. “Don’t go talkin’ foolish, Shima. She’d just ‘ave us brought back an’ made example outta, just like the last two some days ago.”
Ragchin was still unsatisfied with no answer to his question. “But why’d she go and kill Hutra fer? What’s she want with ‘is ‘orde?”
“More troops.” Said Sharptail. “Now listen, don’t go blabberin’ off Bogard and don’t make an obtrusive sign, Shima. Blackrobe intends to find that escaped riverdog an’ kill ‘im, Goulder’s off on that case with that weird-lookin’ weasel. Somethin’s in on Blackrobe’s mind, makin’ her want the whole north fer herself. We’d best just keep quiet ‘bout this, we’re solid an’ in this together.”
The other four felt unsatisfied, but agreed halfheartedly. Sharptail got up and walked away, feeling the time for him to act in command was soon. The horde must be his, he thought. He smiled, a plan forming in his mind.
With the goshawk mountain visible in the distance, Blackrobe had her camp made on the side of the path. Threescore of her horde was dead, slain by the goshawks. One. One causality, inflicted by her personally, was suffered on their assailants. She could not afford to lose such numbers, she thought, she needed to keep her horde about her for her march northwards. The wildcat stalked around her tent, now enlarged with two other tents. They were fixed to the side, giving the standardly square apartment a cross-like shape.
Pouring herself a glass of desert cider, the warlord began looking over maps. Most of them were of the Southlands. A few went further north, some showing a great mountain along the Western Sea, rearing up as an extinct volcano. Blackrobe sat back in her chair, now heavily beaten up from her claws. Gulping down the cider, the wildcat swept off into the evening.
Hordebeasts wandered about, most seated around their fires eating the supplies they had cooked. Askcor had provided her with the desperately needed food, but still more was properly needed. Her brother, of course, was now without a gang. He had been almost utterly silent since the goshawk attack, she still wondered what had suddenly altered his behavior. No matter, he could still fight she guessed, and a striped wildcat was almost as powerful as her, and more so than any other fighter in her horde.
She spotted Sharptail moving off from Ragchin’s fire. Her eyes shone maliciously, she spotted the rat and two ferrets leaving as well. So that was his further group, Ragchin and Slithtooth. Neither interested the warlord, being little of fighters or even talkers. She flung her knife down off from her footpaw by an inch. She would have to kill the fox, she realized, and his pathetic conspirators would all go too. She would be ready if they eventually tried anything. She never would have thought it would come as soon as it did.
Redwall Abbey was tinted a rosy pink in the rising sun, the bell tower casting a great shadow over the eastern lawns. Birds chirped and cawed from about the walls and into Mossflower, where nocturnal insects were making their way back to their lairs. On the battlemented walltop, Abbot Caliuago looked out over his Abbey. With the immediate threat of flooding over the last several days, he felt little up to eating.
Haven taken his breakfast of strawberry pancakes, fresh scones spread with meadowcream and hazelnuts, with his mint tea up to his high post, the Abbot looked up to the bell tower and the attics, the flying buttresses and terraces spanning over the ancient home. Goodbeasts had always lived at Redwall in many past generations, now was the time for the present to abide there in peace. Peace disturbed by trouble.
Caliuago was suddenly hailed from below. “Ahoy, matey, what be you doin’ about up here this fine morn?”
Coming up the wallsteps was Skipper of Otters, his mighty breakfast laid out on a tray, a portion of hotroot pepper, a very spicy ingredient favored by otters, over all of it. Caliuago sighed and looked to the north. “Do you suppose Log-a-log, Jasse, Buyyad and the rest have reached the River Moss yet, Skipper?”
Skipper saw the distant look in the Abbot’s eyes. “Belay now, Abbot, they’re all be fine. They’re no doubt reach it this noon, through I still think I should’ve been here to go with them.”
“Oh, you were in good time, Skipper. The escaped dibbuns were rescued nearly before anyone at Redwall ever realized they were gone. Poor things, Sister Maihal had them all sent to bed. Besides, we need a perimeter guard to watch for happenings at the River Moss. Can your crew handle it, Skipper?”
“Give me your hand an’ I’ll give you me heart, Abbot. ‘Course my crew’ll do it, start this morning after breakfast.” Knowing the otter chieftain would eat on the walltop, Caliuago began hiking down the steps which led to the lawns. “Oh, thank you, Skipper. What would Redwall ever do with our otter allies?”
Friar Burrade was known to be a jolly squirrel, though his tail looked almost like a fox’s. Dodging a laden trolley with his ample waist, he observed the mixing of pancake batter. “Make sure you don’t crush out all the strawberry chunks, just don’t go leavin’ pink color in there. No pancake comin’ from my kitchen’ll ‘ave an off color on it.”
The dormouse put down his whisk and took the bowl over to the stovetop. Burrade rushed off over to where a kitchen assistant, an eccentric mole named Kaci, was removing scones from the ovens. “Are you sure they’re done?”
“Hurr hurr, moire done than not, Friar.”
“Very good, take them over to Sister Myrtilus, she’s taking care of the scone loading.”
Activity in the kitchens of Redwall continued, food being produced for the waking Redwallers. Honey and syrup was supplied to the tables, courtesy of Brother Hoffen. Dibbuns ate supervised by the infirmary workers and Sister Fevel, while most other beasts spread out over Cavern Hole, eating with friends and making new ones of Pinkal and the remaining eleven Guosim, who would be assisting the otter crew with monitoring the woodlands.
Young Pinkal was in excellent form, singing out to young and old alike.
“Once when I was young
I came across a very strange site, very strange I’ll say
It came upon a very short day
Ooolaaa leeee ooolaaa leeeeee
Old Ferod the mole was a fine plump fellow
Had a great big pipe attached to his bellow
A forger, he was, a forger he is
So one day he said, “Oh, bring me that cup, mizz.”
His miss came over, and handed him the cup
The cup he dropped, breaking it against the floor
Ooolaaa leeee ooolaaa leeeeee
So then he rushed out the door
To his neighbor, an old hedgehog
This hedgehog, fancying knowing everything,
Told him, “Get off me lawn, or I’ll lay you I will.”
So old Ferod left that hedgehog and went to a brook
“Oh, oi’ve lost me cup ‘n I daon’t know why”
He said, and planted on his hand a hook
Ooolaaa leeee ooolaaa leeeeee
The moral is clear, my good dear
As I say this, hear me now
Keep yerself calm, and calm’ll be those to you
Ooolaaa leeee ooolaaa leeeeeeeeee”
Applause followed the song, and many questions were asked.
“’Ey, Pinkal, are you sure you got it all?”
“I suppose not, sir, I only learned the first bit, never got around to the rest.”
“Do you sing often?” asked a pretty hogmaid.
“Er, I try to on some occasions, not very often.”
“Well, I’d say you’ve got a wunnderful singin’ voice.”
“Um, thankee, I guess.”
Traggo Spearcalm remarked to Abbot Caliuago. “Reckon the young fellow’s gotten enuff praise yet to sink his fork?”
The Abbot smiled at the insane quantites of syrup poured on his pancakes. “Oh, I’m sure that young mousebabe doesn’t mean much harm by giving him some syrup. He’s stopped now, anyway.”
After the meal, Sister Maihal and Melandine herded the dibbuns up and marched them outside to the lawns. Foremole Thigg and Sister Truthley watched as the company passed out through Great Hall.
“Hurr hurr, Sister Mai’al and mizz Melan’ine got their hands full oi aspect.”
Truthley shook her solid head and remarked back to the mole. “Oh, they’re both capable beasts, Melandine’s looking more like her old mother every day, afore she died.”
Hoffen was hurrying to their side at that moment. “Ah, Foremole Thigg, Abbot’s having a council held in the gatehouse, best come afore he begins without us. Oh, Truthley, mind nipping to the kitchens and telling Friar Burrade we need lunch served for us? Make it for five, no, six counting Brother Hivan.”
Truthley began walking back through Great Hall. “Be there shortly, brother. See you both later when tea’s served.”
Foremole Thigg and Brother Hoffen walked out through the doors of Great Hall and out across to the gatehouse. They passed the playing dibbuns, reaching the gatehouse not long after. At the door into the structure, Abbot Caliuago and Skipper stood watching the dibbuns.
“Always good to see young ones safe and happy, Skipper. Three dibbuns getting out like that when we where meeting never occurred to me.” The Abbot watched as young Firrum kicked a small ball onto the headspikes of a young hogbabe; who decided the whole thing was immensely funny and began chortling as he ran.
Skipper turned his gaze to the dibbuns. “Aye, they’re a quick and smart bunch, through young Triggun was there actin’ as guard the whole time. He’ll be a great warrior some day, Abbot, just wait.”
Hoffen walked up and stood besides Caliuago. “Brought Foremole, Abbot, we ready to begin?”
The four creatures stepped over the threshold into the small cozy room of the gatehouse. Brother Hivan, the recorder of Redwall Abbey and Assistant Librarian, sat at a desk with quill and parchment. Kraylin was standing by a large comfy armchair, which she signaled Hoffen to. “Care for a seat, Brother Hoffen?”
The beekeeper moved over to the chair and sat down, sighing as the others positioned themselves around the room. Abbot Caliuago took a seat by Hivan, across and sideways from the table, next to the door. Skipper stood on the other side of the door, Foremole Thigg planting his stout self next to Kraylin.
Skipper opened the meeting. “Friends, we’re met to discuss our plans ‘o action. I’ve been informed since my arrival about two days ago on the matter, and no doubt our friends Log-a-log and the Guosim, with Jasse, Mauthie an’ the hare Juhenchin, with Redwall’s Buyyad, have reached the ford by now, from which they’re plunge into the woodlands and make their way over the where the breakin’ wall is, as well as the supposed block, both to the east. On the Abbot’s request, I’ll be takin’ out my crew, Kraylin here included, to patrol up and about on any news that may come. However, the idea of this block is amazing. The River Moss is no small stream, if somethin’s blockin’ its flow, it’ll be unimaginably large. Any suggestions as ‘o what us at Redwall can do to aide those who’ve gone to check the thing out?”
A silence fell, in which Hivan’s quill was audible as it scratched away at the paper he was writing down the proceedings on. Foremole broke the silence. “Oi reckons that ‘are’ll be back t’report soon enuff, then ‘ee’ll all knoe the state ‘o things.”
Abbot Caliuago nodded. “Thank you, Foremole, your good solid mole sense is very welcome. In the meantime, I don’t really think there is much we can do. However, I think we should keep wary, as well as forbid any to leave Redwall’s safety, unless on mine or Skipper here’s authorization. Agreed?”
Those present all nodded or spoke agreement, when an idea occurred to Kraylin. “What about Ouvon Oakclaw?”
Glances were cast at the ottermaid. Foremole scratched his velvety head. “Oi daon’t knoe an’ Ouvon Oakclaw’s mizzie, ‘o be that?”
Skipper answered the mole’s question. “Ouvon’s an old friend ‘o Redwall’s. He’s an owl, showed up at the Abbey some seasons ago for no apparent reason. Been keepin’ about this part ‘o Mossflower for awhile now, I reckon Kraylin’s got a grand ‘ol idea. Permission to go and recruit Ouvon Oakclaw for some reconnaissance?”
Abbot Caliuago nodded. “Do so, Skipper. If he’s willing, he’ll be a great help to both Redwall and Mossflower’s safety, and I’ll also see he gets some candied nuts in return, he always liked those if I’m not mistaken, right Hivan?”
The recorder fieldvole stared hard at the Abbot. “Like’s the wrong word, Abbot, that birdbag’s obsessed with candied nuts of any kind.”
The door to the gatehouse swung open, and Friar Burrade’s face and strange tail showed around the door. “Lunch is served as requested. Leek ‘n onion turnovers, with peach flans as well. Couple flagons ‘o pale cider and some October Ale, scones alongside the fresh blackberries. Brought some hotroot pepper for you, Skipper, stuff ‘s all up by head.”
The trolley was born in with assistance from the otter chieftain.
“How’s the council going?” asked Friar Burrade.
Abbot Caliuago sampled a blackberry. “Oh, we’re pretty much through. You know, it’s a shame that this gatehouse isn’t occupied by any save Traggo when he’s a mind to keep a closer eye on the gate.”
Brother Hivan put down his writing quill. “He only uses the armchair since h too up gatekeeping, though he still keeps the cellars with ‘is son.”
“Hurr hurr, ‘em both are gurt cellar’ogs if any ever were, poirfect ‘tober ale is this.” Foremole poured himself a beaker of the foamy ale and tasted its flavor.
Caliuago served himself and Kraylin some of the leek and onion turnover. “Good Burrade, you put in some of your special spices into this, tastes wonderful.”
The squirrel cook used a fork to taste the turnover. “Hmm, not bad at all in the portioning. Have to remember that.” The friar seated himself next to the other six, having delivered purposely an additional plate and beaker. “Too crowded in Cavern Hole today, figgered I’d take my lunch out here with you all.”
The food proved a great success and tribute to Redwall cuisine, and the meeting broke up with a few final words from those gathered. Skipper and Kraylin staying behind and sending for the otter crew and Guosim, accompanied by Pinkal and any other few volunteers that would come.
Abbot Caliuago found himself suddenly tired after supper was finished and evening was getting on. Climbing the dormitory stairs to the second level, he retired into his chamber for sleep. At first he found it difficult to rest, his mind buzzing with activity from the events of the past few days. Eventually, he fell into a restful daze, from which he slipped into sleep.
At first, it appeared as if he was still in his chamber, then Caliuago realized he was actually downstairs in Great Hall. He found himself walking steadily across the stone floor to one end. The tapestry of Martin the Warrior hung twenty paces before him, the warrior mouse’s features illuminated by celestial light and the candlesticks nearby. Martin stepped out from the fabric, little to the Abbot’s surprise. He felt comforted with the warrior approaching him, a slight gentle smile over his gleaming features. “Martin, why am I here?” Caliuago asked, not quite sure what he felt was going on.
The warrior mouse turned his full attention on the older mouse in front of him, his sword held in both hands at his side.
“Times are troubled, my dear Caliuago. Stay strong with those under you. Things are abroad to give fear, but Redwall must stand and defend those good of heart. ‘Tis was I who freed Mossflower before under those principles, and now they must be upheld, as you are doing.”
The older mouse saw Martin and Great Hall drift from his eyes, and the voice of the warrior sprang forth from some unseen direction.
“Where I have hung my sword a warrior must come
Brave of heart, stout of courage, and driven on justice
Look for this one, my sword shall he yield.”
The vision faded, leaving Caliuago in a dreamless sleep until morning.
Earlier that day, Log-a-log and his Guosim, with Buyyad and the Thallsmergan travellers, reached the river ford, which crossed the north path from Redwall.
“I say, chaps, path looks a bit drier than is flippin’ usual, wot?”
Jasse look at the puddled riverbed and dry ford, awestruck at the scene. “I believe we might be a bit late in arriving.”
Log-a-log took charge of the situation. “Quick march west, Guosim! Dunjer, have those with packs exchange them over to others. All fall in rank! Jasse, where is the river wall? How far to the east? We’ll just have the skip the block to get to it, the forest is a swamp up ahead on the riverbank anyway, and we can’t get through that. March, Guosim!”
Jasse caught up with the shrew chieftain. “We’ll get there by afternoon, Log-a-log, best hurry in case things have got much worse since we passed by. Huh, likely it’ll be about to pour into Mossflower at any second.”
Juhenchin was skipping ahead of most of the Guosim shrews, while Buyyad and Mauthie marched alongside the back rank of twenty. The hare tied to put up a conversation with a shrew named Deffo. “I say, chap, does old Log-a-thing ever slow down when he sees somethin’ wrong?”
The shrew brushed off the attempt at conversing. “He gets what needs done, done as fast as he can. Our lives an’ homes are in desperate danger, Guosim don’t slow down!”
The group of twenty-odd marchers continued on towards noontide and beyond, hoping against all hope to reach the bank wall before it was too late.
Sun beat down on the grassy flatlands west of Mossflower Woods. Hills, rises and depressions dotted the landscape, tall grass, scattered trees and shrubbery, and ponds here and there decorated it in a lavish contrast of dusty brown and flowing greenery. Treading along between dandelions and other flowers, Colonel Cournweal DeTrumpidorn Widespasher guided his troop towards the east. Corporal Miengius was sampling the aroma and flavor of a handful of blackberries when Araya Membuis hailed him from his left. “I say, is that a hunkin’ hill in the distance?”
Miengius Fhrunkslerry turned his gaze from his berries to the long dark line on the horizon. “I’d say ‘tis the brink ‘o Mossflower Woods showin’ up. Doncha think, Colonel?”
Cournweal brushed his whiskers and moustache. “Indeed I’d say so, Corporal. Best head up a tad, I’ve a feelin’ ‘tis Mossflower where Lightstripe might ‘o been sendin’ us. No use gallopin’, young Kirussie, we’ll all be reachin’ new territory as one in case ‘o trouble or friendly meeting.”
The mountain hares thudded lightly along, feeling jovial at the sight of a landscape change. Over the past three days the troop had bounded along to a mountain range, crossed, and moved on east still without much course change. With their supplies low and mission priority not, they intended to reach the plentiful woodlands soon. The sun continued to bear down throughout the rest of the afternoon on the four sprinting figures. It was near eveningtide when Colonel Cournweal decided to stop.
The hares, their fur between white and brown, unpacked scones, fresh water canteens, Hitherland soda bread and dried fruit, substituted in with the wild blackberries they had found that day on the plains. Corporal Miengius was munching heavily on a scone spread thick with honey, blackberries crowning the top.
“D’ya suppose we’re going to spend an awful long time out from Salamandastron?” Stidden asked the Colonel.
“Never been so long away from the mountain, young DeMioor Kirussie?” replied Colonel Cournweal, tossing a chunk of the soda bread to his mouth.
“Well, galloping only took me away in all directions, never so far, sah. I was askin’ for proper preparation, sah.”
Corporal Miengius finished devouring a wedge of the bread, washing it down with fresh water from his canteen. “D’ya reckon you’ll get back to the old mountain, young Stidden?” he asked.
“Aye, sah, no doubt in me mind about that.”
“Good, then just know you’ll get back. H’assignments from his lordship can take awhile longer than this.”
After the meal, the four set out again, making for the distant tree fringe. Out in front, Corporal Miengius called back to the other Patrollers. “Reach yon tree fringe on the morrow, best camp someplace for the night.”
Colonel Cournweal nodded and veered off to his left, Araya Membuis dragging her footpaw followed with Stidden.
“Hurt yore footpaw bad, Araya?” Cournweal’s face showed concern for the female hare.
“Fine, sah, just need to rest it some place. Think I stepped on a nasty thorn ‘o sorts.”
Colonel Cournweal selected a hidden cove between two lofty hills for the night. He reasoned good shelter would account for the lack of proper surveillance. “Nothin’ much to see.” He said, turning back into the cove. Araya Membuis sat with her footpaw up on a log of wood, wrapped around the middle with a bandage of cloth.
“’Twill be fine for tomorrow, sah.” She said to the colonel.
“Just rest it tonight, miss, we best all do so.”
The night wore on, darkness descending as the small fire smoldered down into ashes and smoke. Clouds drifted by over the flatlands, no reason to ever change their path in the airy expansions above.
Southland heat could spring up momentarily and disappear at the same speed. This was proved very well the day of the goshawk attack. Senn and Ivy had accompanied Fiercefir to a rocky outcrop on the southeastern spur on the Warhawk mountain. The young goshawk had much better eyes than either of the travelers, so he related what he could see. “Krarr! Warhawks are winning; they’ve driven off the enemy. Archers and such have no use; goshawks are better flyers than they. Krar! That cat tried to lead a force around the mountain, no use, Senn and Ivy. Thy father has driven thee’s foes off. Come, thou shalt go to the Warhawk citadel and spend time there in rejoicing for the victory.”
Ivy and Senn gazed down at the ground below from their location, but saw little. Following behind the noble goshawk, the young otter watched as he saw soaring shapes descend beyond the summit that overlooked them. Several hours later, the three arrived back at the citadel, where goshawk warriors were gathered in victorious celebration.
Whiteclaw Trunheimer was conversing with Grager Bordigaze. “Krarrr! Young Senn Longbattler of the Southlands, Blackrobe Wolfteeth has been thrown from thou realm. Stay would thee, amongst warhawks this day?”
The goshawk chieftain’s eyes stared out at the otter and squirrel. Senn spoke. “We would be honored to stay; I can always catch up to that cat and her horde, though the numbers still baffle me.”
Fiercefir guided the two off to the grove. Senn gazed around in wonder at the huge trees, obviously a great use to the warhawks. Several goshawks, large and ferocious-looking, landed down in front of the three. One, recognizable as Grager Bordigaze, stepped forward to the dwarfed otter. “Will thee once more allow thy to transport ye up to a higher region, Senn?”
The otter nodded. “Aye, for old times’ sake I guess. Tell me, where are we going?”
“Whiteclaw is hosting a feast in his fir this night, you and Ivy are to be honored guests. Krarrr!” The goshawk flew forward and grabbed Senn as he was blown backwards. His arms firmly grasped in Grager’s talons, Senn surveyed the many trees as they flew through the grove. Many goshawks where in attendance at the biggest, a monstrous fir, obviously that of Whiteclaw Trunheimer.
Landing amongst the great birds on a platform of large boards, Senn felt at first a bit uneasy. Then one of them came forward and greeted him. “Krarr! Welcome, riverdog, to the fir of his lordship Whiteclaw Trunheimer; and the namesake of Fiercefir Trhunder.”
Senn shook the wing outstretched to him, his paw dwarfed in the magnificent feathery. Ivy soon landed gracefully beside him, another of the goshawks doing an awkward landing at the end of the platform. At the opposite end, a few old goshawks were presiding over a display of food. Fresh water mountain fish was in abundance, as well as a rough cake made of vegetables and custard called kadace.
Surprisingly good, Senn managed several helpings of the cake and a portion of the crisp fish. “Don’t think I’ve ever had such good fish. What do you think of it, Ivy?”
The squirrel warrior answered absentmindedly. “Aye, wonderful grub indeed.”
The afternoon wore on. Constantly fascinated by the doings of the goshawks, Senn found himself near considering staying the night.
“Might as well,” said Ivy. “Blackrobe’ll have her camp at the mountain’s base in our desired direction. Best to let her pass on the morrow.”
Later in the evening, Senn was flown down the last time by Grager Bordigaze. “Fare thee well, Senn. Follow in thou heart’s desire, trust in the warrior spirit within ye. I bid thee good night, both of ye. Sleep well in the bracken hut, I shall meet thee in the morn.”
The goshawk launched immediately into the air, winging his way off from the grove, bound for his patrolling. Senn and Ivy, who had simply climbed down the fir, walked off to where a bed of ferns and bushed had been collected for their rest. Settling in, the otter gazed up at the stars through the leafy foliage above. Something once more came close to surfacing in his mind, as if he was still trying to remember a dream he had had.
His memory faded back to the morning he had first awoken in Ivy Rowancrown’s dwelling. Nothing came, and with that thought, he drifted into the realm of sleep.
The next morning found Senn and Ivy standing out at the front of the tree grove. With all the goshawk warriors’ farewells and salutes made, the two walked back along to the bluff they had been flown over the day before. Fiercefir and Grager Bordigaze traveled with them until, as they had said it, “ye have reached the farthest of thine’s territory”. As they approached the bluff, Senn spoke to Grager and Fiercefir. “I feel as refreshed as the wind on this mountain, friends. My time here as taught me many things, and I feel now as a warrior with great friends.”
Grager Bordigaze shook his headfeathers. “I am not big on long farewells, Senn. Bare thee well in all thou travels. I hope to one day fine thee under better circumstances then the ones we find thyselves at in these times. Will ye accept this gift, Ivy?”
The goshawk dropped into the squirrel’s waiting paw a sling, crafted of strong linen and lined with golden and red fabric along the edges. The pouch was black, with a golden seal of a goshawk with his wings outspread stamped on it. The squirrel warrior thanked the goshawk, placing a small stone into the hold. Twirling it, she sent it bouncing off a tree far below. “’Tis is a wonderful weapon, friend. ‘Twill use it well and wisely.”
Ivy bade farewell to the goshawk, and Senn shook once more with his paw enveloped in the feathery wing. “Farewell, Grager.”
Fiercefir addressed the two as Grager started back up the gravel slope. “I wish thee both luck on yore journey, friend Senn and Ivy; let your javelin and sling strike true against those thou must wreck justice on.”
Senn and Ivy bowed to the goshawk. “May your tribe be well in the followin’ season, my friend.” Ivy told him, and the young goshawk bowed and moved off behind Grager Bordigaze, both bound for their mountain.
An hour past the meeting on the bluff face, the two travelers were once again journeying north, noticing the tracks and signs left behind by the Horde of the Wolfteeth. Reaching a clearing in the thickening woodlands, the two travelers broke for breakfast. Dining on supplies provided by the warrior goshawks, they discussed their next move.
“Seemingly, there’s something of a swamp ahead. We can probably skirt it and continue towards the Abbey of Redwall from its northern side.”
Senn replied between mouthfuls of oatbread. “Fine enough, Ivy, but I need to confront Blackrobe at some point. Whatever lies north ‘o here is in danger from her horde.”
Ivy nodded sagely. “’Course, but we should wait for an ideal time to do so.”
Senn scratched a sharper edge on one of his javelins using a stone in the underbrush. “Aye, an’ then Blackrobe will know she never vanquished me. Ivy, have you ever encountered a warrior mouse in yore travels afore?”
The squirrel was slightly bewildered by the question, but answered as best she could. “Never ‘ave I encountered one, but I suppose one could be about. Why?”
Senn remained motionless. “I remember my dream, for dream it was I was tryin’ to remember. In it, an armored mouse appeared to me, a great sword in his hands. ‘Twas like no blade I’ve ever seen, shinin’ like lightnin’ and burnin’ with a passion in the hands ‘o that beast. He told me that Blackrobe was goin’ north with evil ambitions ‘o conquest. He told me to stay by you, Ivy, said you were tied in my destiny I guess.”
The squirrel warrior put aside the remnants of her lunch and stood up. “No use wastin’ time tryin’ to figger out that destiny, Senn. Destiny is somethin’ one makes for him or herself, we’d best be goin’ to claim ours.”
The swamp proved to be larger than either had ever thought; deadly so. At one point, Senn was nearly sucked down into a pit, and only got out due to a branch that was hanging nearby. Still plowing onward, the two travelers surveyed their surroundings.
Sycamores and alders were the main background, amongst a labyrinth of deep pits and swampy grass and plants. Insects buzzed around their heads, mosquitos trying to gain a meal at their legs and footpaws. Most of the trees existed in clumps, in between being the murky water which alerted the presence of quagmire.
An hour or so spread by, and the grim scenery didn’t change. Light was being more and more choked, and a faint mist hovered over the grass and dark waters. Stumbling over a piece of shale, Senn found himself nearly colliding into the trunk of a knotty alder. “Argh! This dratted plot ‘o woodlands never ends. Shame there wasn’t a way around, I’m getting hungry for a glimpse ‘o the sun.”
Ivy smiled back unperceivably at the otter. “Aye, mate, I could use some of that myself. Up ahead I think I see some, ‘tis might be a rock face though way up ahead.”
The two travelers had pushed on hard and left behind to the southwest the Southland mountains, which crowned the Vast South Plains further to the northwest of the Warhawk mountain. Contemplating the rock face up ahead, Senn suddenly felt his footpaws starting to sink.
“Hurry up on these floatin’ blocks ‘o wood, Senn!” Ivy’s voice came to the otter as his ankles were lost to sight. Springing one and then the other out, he flung himself headlong to the trunk Ivy was pointing. Many such strange pieces of debris were drifting around the pool of quagmire, half-submerged and slimy. Clinging desperately to the partially petrified wood, the otter looked around to see they were both surrounded by the murky depths all around. Gritting his teeth, Senn found himself confronted by the warty face of a toad.
Clunking the thing under its bulging chin with a javelinbutt, he sprang upright onto the busted tree trunk. Ivy was twirling her powerful sling acquired from Fiercefir Trhunder, a stone planted firmly in place, ready for launching. A croaking began to the side of the swamp Senn was facing, warts and flabby legs visible in both the ugly water and mossy bankside. A particularly large toad was approaching laid out on a palatine, born by several smaller toads.
Confronted in such an odd situation by this motley bunch of amphibians, all armed with small three-pronged tridents, Ivy was thoroughly bewildered. She was scrutinizing the numbers when she heard a faint croak behind her. Bolting from another of the floating objects, some sort of tree stump, a toad nearly crashed down onto her face. Ducking down, she slung the loaded sling up into the creature’s gut, catapulting it into the watery depths.
Senn was trying to paddle the trunk out with his rudder, but it proved immobile. Javelins wielded in both paws, the young otter spun the double-ended fire-sharpened projectiles ready for a charge. Multitudes of the small warty things were gathered on several different banks, their croaking and strange speech audible through the thin mist.
“Krrgloik! Nottallow strangers innaour swampylands.”
“Grrgoik! Killall strangers that comeohere, prepare todie.”
Croaks and gurgles came now in front of the two travelers, now standing upon the same tree trunk, prepared to do battle and flight. The fat toad plumped himself bodily from his bed and hopped surprisingly quickly over to the edge of the quagmire. “Krrploik! Takeeall flatfur and brushtail to bigtop rock.”
Senn gritted his teeth. “Looks like they intend to charge, Ivy. Got any plans on what to do?”
The squirrel warrior took a javelin from the otter’s back and held it loosely in her spare paw. She remained silent.
Before Senn had time to look over at the squirrel, the green enemies were flopping in and over the water to their position. The warrior otter repulsed back five with his duel weapons, Ivy laying several out flat with sizeable rocks. The numbers started to show though. Ivy had the sling knocked out from her paw by a panic-stricken toad. Dealing it a quick thrust with her javelin, she turned to further assailants. Pressed onwards by their huge chieftain, the disgusting figures were hurtling madly onto the small island.
Senn took a stab to his right leg, opening up an older wound from long ago. Overwhelmed by numbers and the desperate situation, Senn went into a fit of near berserkery.
Thonk! Crack! Plonk! Bong! Javelins swept madly in circles and spun around in frenzy as if possessed by a spirit of their own. Toads were flung wide, tridents dropped deep into the quagmire. Senn plowed another toad hard in the gut as he came hopping at him. As the thing went flying backwards, three others were taken out of the equation by its flight. As the young otter turned about, he caught a glimpse of his warrior friend. Ivy had been born down by the countless toads, now smothered over by the warty villains.
Rushing back, knocking enemies out from his feet, Senn reached his fellow traveler. He sent down lightning blows on the assailants, those not hit fled out into the bog. As Ivy regained her feet, she spoke to her companion. “’Tis no good, five spring up for every one defeated, looks like we’ll have to retreat out.”
Senn flattened a leaping toad. “Love too, Ivy, but I see no way of escape, they’ve got us circled in while we were fightin’.”
Picking back up her sling, Ivy felt light-headed. She stared out into the mists. “Senn…”
“I know,” said the otter. His head began to sway as he noticed the mist was growing thicker to their flank. Toads had ceased their racket around the swamp and were only discernible amongst those who were on the closest bank; that held by the palatine and toad chieftain. Before either could mention an escape, the travelers fell over on the trunk; knocked out by the atrocious gas released by the toads.
Consciousness was slow returning to Senn. His head ached, and he could feel his neck tied by a noose. Flickering open his eyes, he could see he was tied up to a small tree, dangling from over a steep slope. Below him and at his feet was a small and thin ledge, all that separated him from falling down into the small trees at the base of the cliff face. Turning his head to his right, he could Ivy treated in a similar manner. Twisting to either side proved useless, so the otter tried levering himself upwards by placing his footpaws into the dirt and rock that formed the cliff.
Pushing himself in this way, Senn turned his head around and managed a quick glimpse at the site just above his eyes. On top of the cliff, toads leaped about the same scenery that stretched out beneath his feet. A large jab at his neck caused the otter to fall back to the ledge. The alder he and Ivy were fashioned to shook as a toad called down to the prisoner. “Grrgoik! Trythat again an’ I killyeboth.”
The amphibian poked out with his trident several times, emphasizing the point. Ivy was now awake, and she had no problem using her voice.
“Ah, shuttup ya big fat webbed buffoon, ‘ow are we supposed to live tied down here.”
The toad croaked loudly and sprang off lightly. After a few minutes, a bowl filled with porridge shot down to land at the feet of both the travelers. “Eatall, ‘urryup bushtail.”
Ivy lifted up the bowl with her footpaws, but instead of eating it, flung it headlong over the cliff top and into the face of the speaker. “Eat some ‘o that disgustin’ slob yoreself, wartface!”
More toads gathered around the cliff top, followed by the great toad on foot. “Krrygloik! Prisoners ofmine don’t speak, bushtail. Gaddabub silences them forever if theydo.”
“Well, ‘urry up with it! I’d hate for me to be a nuisance for ya to feed, Fattybub or whatever yore name was.”
A silence fell over the mass of assembled toads excepting the odd croak. Gaddabub spoke once again. “Quietnow, bushtail. Yougetta finished eating an’ silenced soon enough now.”
As the toad backed off, Ivy shouted off one last parting remark. “Huh, well I ‘ope ya get yoreself finished off soon enough on yore own food, warttongue!”
A mad croaking and gurgling began on the cliff top, followed by all the toads scattering away. Senn called over to Ivy. “I suppose ‘ol Gaddabub must ‘ave a bit ‘o pride for ‘is tongue, matey, he doesn’t appear happy.”
Gaddabub was now back on the cliff top, dancing wildly and lashing out with his trident at any toad who came to close. A series of loud croaks and gurgles followed, then he backed off. Senn guessed he was going back to his palatine, when he felt his noose jerked. Ivy was hauled up gradually, a net tied about her body that the toads had casted. As Senn lost sight of her, his own vision was clouded. Weights tied in with the net brought on feelings of sharp tugs as well as old memories.
As he pasted from above the ledge to the cliff top, the young otter first saw the clear meaning of what their fate would be. A great collection of wood was being set afire by toads with flint and rock. As he was thrown back to back with Ivy, he saw the first sparks catch.
Ivy let her head fall to the side and back a little. “Sorry, mate, didn’t mean to get us into this mess.”
Senn shrugged. “Would’ve ‘appened soon enough, Ivy, might as well happen now. I would have made those same comments if my tongue had been working back there better than it was.”
The otter had been stripped of his javelins, leaving him weaponless. He glimpsed Ivy’s sling dangling from her rock pouch, but knew it did them no real good. Helplessly born down by the weights about him and those of his friend’s net, he began feeling useless himself. The dream and the warrior mouse who had spoken to him drifted into his mind, the call to end the tyranny of Blackrobe Wolfteeth with them. He suddenly felt his energy within him redouble, his muscles regenerating from his exposure to the rancid smokes inflicted on him by the toads.
His head was clear, and he gripped at one of the stones in Ivy’s pouch and let out the warcry of the North East Sea.
The toads stopped their flint maneuvers, all activity in the bogland ceased at the mighty call, as if the captors expected a vicious attack to come any moment. A harsh gurgle came from Gaddabub, and the toads continued scratching rock to flint. The toad chief jumped down from his throne bed and hopped awkwardly over to the captives. Poking them with his trident, he signaled several toads over. The palatine bearers were about to start shoving the captives towards the fire when help arrived.
“Hummmm! Gaddabub, you’re not supposed to be doing that!”
Toads croaked, gurgled and altogether began fleeing the scene. A great tarny owl, his luminous eyes glowing green, landed amidst the commotion. Gaddabub was leaping like a leaf in flight away, dropped tridents pricking his webbed feet as he went. The owl flew up again, coming to land on several toads. He bent his neck, and came up with one of the amphibians in his mouth. Swallowing the thing whole, he selected another one of the trapped warty things.
Wailing piteously, the trapped creatures were struggling to get away from their fate. The tarny owl finished his meal and went for the last two at once. Senn and Ivy had averted their gaze, not wanting to see the gruesome spectacle. When the owl started approaching them, Senn had the stone ready to throw. The bird bent his neck forward, back again and lashed forward, his beak severing through Ivy’s nets. Leaping up, the squirrel assisted Senn getting out of his tangle.
Once out of the mess of strands and weights, the otter looked up at their benefactor. Tall and stately, the multicolored owl gazed down at the two figures, curiosity in his features. “Are you intending to smash that stone at me, young otter? I don’t like being attacked by those I risk life and wing for, y’know.”
Senn set down the stone. “Sorry, matey, just in case. Thanks for the rescue, mate.”
Ivy was rearranging the straps on her sling. “Pray tell me, who are you?”
The owl only shifted his eyes as he addressed the squirrel. “I am the Krado Stard of these lands. I heard your shout from my home not far from here, figured old Gaddabub the toad was up to no good again. Stupid toad can’t get away from eating other beasts, ghastly thing t’do.”
Ivy shrugged as she answered. ”Well, we thank you for yore help, Krado Stard. Forgive my foolish question, but might I ask why you live so alone with no other decent creatures around?”
“No question is foolish if y’learn something from it, y’know. I live alone because I want to live alone.”
Feeling the conversation was getting nowhere, Ivy decided to introduce a new topic to it. “Would ye happen to know of a way down from this plateau? I’m Ivy Rowancrown, this is Senn Longbattler; we’re heading north.”
Krado Stard put a wing to his head feathers. “Know a way down? ‘Course I do, come with me to my home this afternoon, and I can point you on your way from there. Will you head with me?”
“I thought ya said you don’t like to have company.” Senn pointed it.
“I do not dislike company, I simply do not want permanent association with it. Ahumph, would you be my guests?”
Ivy spoke for them both. “Aye, we’ll go.”
After a short trek through the woodlands, the three reached a large hollow oak. A door was affixed to the base of the trunk, which lead to an open room containing various pieces of furniture. Senn felt strangely secure inside the cozy place, though he had not quite forgotten the incident between frogs and Krado Stard. Assured that the owl was not going to turn against him and his companion, he sat down on a small stool.
A short time later, Ivy and him were dining on raisin bagels with cream, with a flagon of dandelion and burdock cordial. “Wonder where old Krado’s got himself off to.” Remarked Senn.
“Probably out gathering or other, he left awhile ago now.” Ivy took another bite of her food.
Senn drank some more of the cordial and then spoke again. “What’d ya suppose Redwall will be like, Ivy?”
The brown squirrel warrior laid out her sling on the woven rug which decorated the floor. She laid back her head on a small cushion, yawning. “Oh, they say it’s ‘o the most wonderful place imaginable. Food like none other is made and served there, enough for an army or two to eat for seasons. Great building, made ‘o red sandstone, lived in by mice, hedgehogs, squirrels, moles and the like as that, all trustable and good. Why do you ask?”
The otter leaned back against the stool. “No real reason, I’m just wondering about a few things.”
He laid back, images and thoughts of Redwall, the warrior mouse, his foe, and the journey ahead spinning around his mind in an aura of the present and future.
Three days after starting for the River Moss, Slytooth and his gang where finally approaching their destination. Stung by wasps due to an unfortunate run in, Moggslouse and Sharpear were covered from footpaw to eartip in bankmud. Looking like some sort of primeval creatures from the past, the two stumbled along with the rest of the band. Slimtooth the stoat generally acted as spokesbeast for the gang when addressing Slytooth, as he did now.
“’Ey, boss, can’t we take a rest soon enuff? The river’s comin’ up now in sight.”
Slytooth’s tone left them in little doubt. “We get to that river now, den ya can rest. Now git movin’ yer stumps or I’ll move ‘em fer ya.”
The other eight vermin continued onward through the woodlands. They had skirted a swamp and then went northwards through its fringes, coming now up through a large clump of oak trees, sunlight lazily drifting onto the forest floor. Birds had fled before the band, getting out of the range of Slimtooth and Glummaye’s bow and sling. Sharpear began to feel a tingling throughout his plastered body. “’Ey, I feel pretty bad, Drip matey.”
“Then ya shouldn’t ‘ave gone walkin’ into a nest ‘o wasps.” Dripear said.
Sharpear was nonplussed. “Well, couldn’t ya hand me some ‘o dat canteen?”
“Why, ya gonna get rid ‘o yer new makeover?” snickered Redjaw.
“Don’t git on Dripear, reddy, ya ain’t stung all over.” Moggslouse countered.
Slytooth was beginning to feel his gang was going into a fight, but kept up the pace he was making to get them forward. Bluntclaw suddenly stumbled over a hanging vine in the grass. Redjaw, his evil fangs still in a humorless smile, crashed head first into an alder trunk, hit from behind by the hapless weasel. Drawing his sabre, thoroughly rusted as it was, he turned on him. “What ya tryin’ ta do, halfpaws?”
Badgunt drew a long savage, curved scimitar in defense of his fellow weasel and approached the ferret. “Huh, think yer so strong, do ya? A pike took his claws off, ya know that. Nearly bit yer block off to, wish it ‘ad.”
Redjaw was somewhat wiry and not as tall nor big as the large weasel, but knew he was more cunning. “Make a comment like dat again, an’ I’ll carve up yer guts fer my lunch.”
Badgunt countered insolently. “Huh, yer stupid long red fangs couldn’t git ‘round a small loaf.”
The ferret leapt forward and slashed at his opponent’s scimitar paw. Dropping his weapon to save his right paw, Badgunt tried to scurry away. Moggslouse, not hearing too well because of bankmud in his ears, walked right into the path of the furious ferret. Redjaw crashed into him. Bowled over into Bluntclaw, who was surveying the fight, the small rat landed with a thud on the leafy ground. Badgunt was now fighting for his life against Redjaw and Slimtooth, who had joined in the brawl. All three lashed, struck, and battered away at each other in the soft forest floor, leaves flying everywhere. Slytooth had run back from his forward progress, and cracked down on the three gangmembers with his axe shaft.
“Idjits! Git up, ya lot, dat river’s right up ahead an’s mighty ‘igh.” Slytooth’s words broke the brawlers and bystanders alike from the feud. Redjaw jumped up, shoving Bluntclaw aside. “Why we even at dis river? Wat goods a river to us?”
Slytooth adopted an expression of mock sympathy. “Oh, do ya not know, Redjaw? A river means loot ‘n plunder, country bumpkins live on its banks no doubt, an’ plenty ‘o birds’ll be about.”
Redjaw spit into the dirt. “Come on, Slimmy, let’s nag ourselves a big ‘ol fat woodpigeon, or maybe a little bankvole’ll do.”
Striding along with the fox leader, the eight gangmembers made it to the banks of the River Moss in peace. The water was indeed high, soaring about clumps of trees on the north side away from them, water piling up even worse further to the west. Dripear shook his head at the sight. “Wunner what caused dis to ‘appen.”
Slytooth shrugged and bounded off to the east. “Heehhee, I dunno, but I’m going to find out. Arrghhh!”
The horrifying scream heard from their leader galvanized the band vermin into action, running around the overgrown hedges that he had ran past to be lost from view. There, Slytooth lay sprawled over on his stomach, his axe severed at the head and laying forgotten by the waters’ side. The sight that lay beyond the dead fox overtook Badgunt with total panic, and he hurled himself backwards. The crash of their comrade spurred the others on, running with all their might from the monster they were confronted with. Fear pushed them on deep into the woodlands, never looking back until they had reached relative safety from the horrifying sight at the bank.
Back at the River Moss, things remained tranquil, only disturbed by the occasional springing of a new fall of water from the river…and the mangled corpse of Slytooth being set upon by his killer.
Corporal Miengius Cornwhallis Fhrunkslerry awoke from a late sleep, his throat bordering parched. Rolling over from his mat, he sat up. Araya Membuis was presiding over a fire, a pan containing toasted potato and flourcake with cheese melted on top. Stidden DeMioor Kirussie was still snoring gently alongside a tree stump. “Good t’see ya awake this morn, Corporal, wot!”
Miengius returned the compliment to the younger hare. “Indeed, miss Araya. Would brekkers be ready in ten minutes?”
The hare tested the cakes and nodded. “’Bout that, sir. Goin’ out for yore exercises?”
The hare nodded, his battered face and rough carved features sparkling in the morning sun. “Precisely. Quick’s the word an’ sharp’s the action, wot!” The tall hare leaped away up one of the sheltering hills, reaching the top and going over in a few moments. Miengius was surveying the closeby tree line when he spotted something he didn’t like. Moving figures, stalking and overall bad-looking where barely visible, along with some shorter and more crouched ones. Dashing back down the hill faster than he had come up, he slid into the bivouac. Colonel Cournweal was awakened in a split second by the hare’s outburst.
“Figures on the tree fringe, chaps! Looks like trouble if I ever saw it, sah.”
Cournweal was used to being ready at a second’s notice, and had already began packing up his gear and shoving it away to a bush. Grabbing up his lance, he questioned the corporal. “Numbers and supposed cruelty?”
Miengius nodded. “Aye, sah, looks like about maybe seven ‘o the villains, pushing along maybe a few mice ‘o sorts.”
The Colonel nodded briefly to the galloper and Araya. “Pack up the food, quick like! Young Kirussie, dose that fire ‘n get yore weapon at hand. Pack up yore gear, get ‘em stowed on the double! We have a rescue mission to go about. Lissen now, here’s the plan…”
Posgan and his family were nomad dormice, living off whatever they came across, holding residence at various intervals at their many hideouts and homes. Recently, he and his wife with their two children had simply stayed in one of their homes, built behind some hanging shrubs in the side of a hill. One day, while out picking pears, he had been set upon by a savage band of water rats, who had proceeded to plunder his home and enslave his family. Taking them along with them, the rats had them go about all their chores, such as food gathering and preparations. Whenever something wasn’t done to their satisfaction, if food wasn’t good enough to their taste, Posgan found himself being threatened with personal loss. Never being able to escape with the two young ones, he and his wife had been forced to carry on with their miserable life. Now he and his family were at spearpoint, crouching down at the base of a large spreading oak.
“Now tell me, where’s yer little one got to?” asked the unofficial leader of the group, smiling wickedly. One of his sons had gone missing, of which Posgan and his wife Arralau had been totally unaware of while fixing breakfast, boiled roots and eatable flowers. Speaking as best as he could, Posgan answered the rat.
“I don’t know, you ruffian!”
Arralau put a paw on her husband’s shoulder; he shrugged it off.
The leader of the rats drew a long dagger. “Now, before I get angry, friend, tell me what you’ve done with the little mouse.”
Posgan replied, shrugging. “I already told you, I have no idea.”
The daggerholder advanced further towards the dormouse. “Then perhaps if I take away yer other one, ya’ll answer me!”
A spear stopped the rat dead in his tracks, quivering right before his footpaw. Bewilderment over his face, the water rat tried to lift the projectile out of the ground. He failed. “’Ose slingin’ spears at me?”
“Eulaliaaaa!!! ‘S death on the wind!”
The warcry of Salamandastron split the air, Colonel Cournweal charging in at the head of his troop. Flattening two rats, he cracked another in the ribcage with his lancebutt. Corporal Miengius flung in from the other side of the clearing, landing the fattest of the evil bunch low with his footpaws. Before the leader could do anything, Stidden had his dirk at his throat. “Wouldn’t recommend trying anything, vermin.” His dangerous tone left the rat in no doubt.
One of the rats still standing whimpered. “We weren’t hurtin’ no best, kinds sirs, an’ marm. We’re poor beasts in ‘ard times, makin’ our way from these woods.”
The other two rats standing nodded vigorously, their spears forgotten on the ground. The rest of the former slavers lay about, huddling from the four hares. Araya Membuis addressed the colonel. “What’da ya reckon we do with this lot? Suppose they’re tellin’ the truth, sah?”
Colonel Cournweal shook his head, his monocle catching the sun. “I think not, they’re probably all liars. There’s nothin’ I dislike more’n a liar.”
The leading rat found his voice again. “We’re not liars, just fallen on ‘ard times, let us go!”
The rest of the cowering water rats all nodded, their fear-stricken eyes pleading. Corporal Miengius gathered up all the spears and daggers lying about the clearing and made his way to Posgan and his family. “I suppose you kind dormice would want to know another of your jolly type’s away in those bushes?”
Arraula jumped up and dashed past the rats, not resisting stepping on two of the floored rodent’s paws as she passed. Snatching up the little one in her arms, she walked calmly back to her husband, now having regained his feet next to the hare. “What do you intend on doing with these disgraces?” asked the dormouse.
Colonel Cournweal’s whiskers twitched. “Tch, only thing for robbers and liars like these mugs is there own way, death.”
A great moaning arose from the seven rats, all pleading for mercy.
“No, no, please don’t kill us, kind sir!”
“We’ll leave, let us go!
“Anything sir, let us live!”
Corporal Miengius rose a paw. “Tcah, stop this whining or I’ll finish it right now.”
The cries fell away after a few seconds, when Stidden spoke up. “You’re not really going to kill them, are you sah?”
The Colonel shrugged. “Vermin are always vermin, they’ll live to harm other harmless creatures someday, young Kirussie.”
The vermin were starting up their cacophony when Araya shouted. “Stop your moaning, ya rats, we’ll not kill you. Right, Colonel?”
Cournweal stabbed his lancepoint harder into the ground. “Very well, Araya. Dig the mud out o’ yore ears, vermin. On these young hares here requests, yore miserable lives are spared. I personally would have you all executed on the spot. Now, care to release that excuse for a leader from yore dirk, young Kirussie?”
Stidden withdrew his dirk and placed it unsheathed in his belt, shoving the rat forward to the others. Removing a length of cord from her satchel, Araya set about tying the water rats up. Looping it around one of each of their legs, she made them into a rather ridicoulous looking circle. With the leftover cord, she looped it back into the first rat’s other leg, completely destroying much chance of escape.
“Now,” said Cournweal. “Get yoreselves up and start running west, fast as y’can. I’ll be counting to ten before pursuit begins. One, two, three, four, five…”
The rats stumbled awkwardly in a panic out of the clearing and through the rest of the woods out into the flatlands. Miengius then introduced himself to the dormice family. “Morning, chaps. I am Corporal Miengius Cornwhallis Fhrunkslerry, h’excellent tracker ‘n boxer, renowned Fur ‘n Foot Fighters Border Patrol galloper. This here is Colonel Cournweal DeTrumpidorn Widespasher, h’officer in the Long Patrol. There is the pretty Araya Membuis, one ‘o the best fencers on the Western Coast and beside her is Stidden DeMioor Kirussie, galloper ‘n scout.”
Posgan nodded to each. “I’m Posgan, this is my family.”
Arralau rescued the conversation. “My name is Arralau, thank you all for rescuing us, I don’t know what we would have done in the clutches of those foul rats, evil villains!”
Cournweal nodded briefly. “’Tis why we freed you, marm. Our duty as Long Patrollers is as such. How long since they captured you?”
Arralau stared south. “Near a season ago before the outbreak of winter, crashed into our home. What could we have done? Poor children haven’t ‘ad a proper life since then.”
The dormouse who had gone missing crawled from his mother’s grasp and installed himself near her feet in a tiny land depression. Posgan gathered him up, walking east. “Guess we should head to our spring home now.”
Arralau whirled on her husband. “Huh, an’ leave these hares to go on there way with not a decent meal in sight?”
Corporal Miengius scractched his footpaw along the dirt. “Well now, marm, we have some supplies with us along the lines of good ol’ mountain tucker.”
“Nonsense! Come along, I’ll fix you all a good large lunch. I think crisp salad, good hearty bread an’ a bit ‘o soup with woodland trifle would work well, don’t you?”
Corporal Miengius figured out Arralau didn’t take no’s very well. “Aye, marm, we’ll come with you, after we’ve gone an’ fetched our extra gear. Er, did you say woodland trifle? Been awhile since I tasted one o’ those jolly things, wot?”
The favored spring home of Posgan and Arralau was a cozy place, sheltered on the banks of an empty streambed. Inside, around a table and benches, Arralau was serving her family and the hares with the food she had spoken of, in the main and only room of the dwelling. Fresh bread, spring salad and a wonder soup were served to all, followed by a large bowl of trifle, laden with woodland cream and almonds. Supplemented by the uneaten breakfast of the Long Patrol hares, the meal proved a great success. Spooning his way neatly through a portion of the trifle for afters, Stidden remarked to the bossy mousewife.
“I say, you’re quite a fair cook, wot wot.”
Arralau dusted her apron strings. “Thank you, young hare. Least I could do for you after saving me and my family from those vermin. Horrible times were upon us, right dear?”
Posgan merely nodded and continued looking forward from his seat. Araya had finished eating, and placed a comforting paw about the dormouse. “Those vermin won’t be hurting you or your young ones anymore, marm. Likely they’re still running fast as they can. Bhahahahaha! Could ya see ‘em, pulling each other about and colliding into obstacles? Granted, most ‘o those obstacles were themselves.”
Soon the whole gathering was in tears of laughter at the prospect.
“Haha! I say, old lad, steady, heeheehee, in the ranks, haha, we need to stay together!”
“Heheehhee! An’ that old leader, hahha, did you see his face when you pushed ‘im, Stid? Hehhee, looked like his mother just fed him rotten custard.”
“Fancy tryin’ to lead now, with his legs tied up.”
The company soon cleaned up the remains, which was precious little, and put away napkins and plates and utensils. Seated out on the deck, minus the two mousebabes who were busy in slumber, the hares and dormice surveyed the landscape. Mossflower was striking the land with all its grace and brilliance. Sunlight blended in with the greenery, creating an aura of dazzling splendor in front of the gazers’ eyes. Trees spread out, seemingly endless, underbrush brown and green. What wonders were there to be seen!
Near dry to the paw touch, the streambed was a bafflement to Arralau. “I suppose it’s one ‘o those things when stuff just goes dry an’ stops flowing proper. Shouldn’t be too much of a problem, I suppose.” Posgan said nothing.
The afternoon and evening after the death of Slytooth the fox was spent by his gang heading south, dashing headlong through woodlands and clearings in an effort to reach as far away as possible from the sight they had encountered there. Badgunt breathed deeply as he threw himself down over a log by the side of the path. Bluntclaw and Slimtooth soon stumbled in next to him and collapsed without a word on the soft grass.
Slimtooth rolled over moaning. “Oh, the soft grass ‘ere, I never want to git up.” “’Specially if it meant facin’ that monster agin.” Bluntclaw’s speech grew frightened. “I never seen a bird that big afore.”
Badgunt laid about the weasel with his flat of his scimitar blade. “Don’t go mentionin’ that thing! It was a monster!”
Redjaw’s footpaw was bleeding. “Ah, who cares about what ‘appened up dere? We can just forgit ‘bout it in dese parts.”
His knees flat on the ground, Sharpear was dripping from a run in with a deep puddle. “Heheehhee! I reckons I fit yer name better’n ye now.” He nudged Dripear.
Dripear stared over at the taller rat, his leering smile looking oddly unnatural. “Huh, just git away from me, matey.” The shorter stouter rat moved away, his former earrings lost in the scramble. Badgunt dragged himself up from the log. “Cummon, let’s git goin’ south.” He kicked Slimtooth slightly, stirring the stoat from his exhausted doze.
Redjaw spat into the dirt. “Huh, who made ya chief?”
Badgunt simply swept out his scimitar and flung it down. Whump!
The severed head of the ferret fell to the ground ahead of his body. Stunned, the remaining gangmembers saw Badgunt wheel around to face them.
“Lissen, I’m chief now Slytooth’s gone. Anybeast who wants to question or challenge dat can come up now!”
Satisfied at the fearful expressions on his newly made subordinates, Badgunt pointed to Moggslouse and Slimtooth. “Dig a grave fer dat thing, den we go south.”
The rat and stoat in question hurried to obey, still startled thoroughly at the cruel murder of their comrade and new leadership. Sharpear was presently giggling to himself when Badgunt turned viciously to Dripear. “What’s da matter wid ‘im?”
Dripear shrugged. “Never did he act like that on the vessels we served on.” His voice was laden with subdued malice for the weasel. Badgunt shrugged away the issue. “Just git ‘im ready fer marchin’ soon. Goes fer ya two as well.”
Glummaye and Bluntclaw sat about licking minor injuries and scavenging in the immediate vicinity for food. They exchanged periodic glances of uncertainty and unease at the swift and decisive action taken by their fellow gangmember. Taking back with them the meager berries they had collected, they glanced up at the thickening clouds. “I ‘ope it dain’t begin rainin’ agin as it did some days ago.” Said Glummaye softly.
Badgunt claimed a good portion of the berries for himself, the other six gangmembers splitting the rest amongst each other. The weasel chief ate separately from the rest, besides Sharpear, who was still acting somewhat out from his usual quiet self. Moggslouse nudged Glummaye. “Think he’ll be goin’ south fer awhile?”
Bluntclaw spat out a small fruit leaf. “Ya heard ‘im, we’re goin’ south to suit ‘is own plans.”
The night came on, Badgunt choosing a place somewhat southeast from the original location. He himself settled into a berth at the base of a great oak. The rest of the gang slept in their own chosen spots around the section of woodlands, all where Badgunt could see them. It was Moggslouse and Glummaye who concerned him, sitting against a fallen trunk whispering quietly for some time. Eventually they both fell into what appeared slumber, easing the weasel’s comfort for his own repose. Placing his head back, he fell into a light doze, then into the deep folds of sleep.
Earlier that day in the afternoon, the contingent of Guosim and company went by the swamp which the gang of late Slytooth had traversed through. Still going east around the buzzing boglands, the hurrying troop was making fast progress from the ford. Reckoning to make the bruised riverwall in less than an hour, Jasse urged the group onwards. Clouds were gathering, and rain was the last thing the situation called for.
Juhenchin and Deffo ran side by side, helping each other along in case either got tangled in the passing woodlands. Just passing the adult threshold, Deffo was a serious shrew of Guosim conditions and codes. Skirting around a small bush, Jasse joined alongside Mauthie. “Reckon we’ll see it soon, Mauthie?”
The young squirrel nodded solemnly. “Aye, probably coming up in sight now, just as ya said.”
Log-a-log led the assembly, all the shrews specifically chosen for the mission by hand, half his force, the strongest and fleetest of paw, plus Mincid who he felt inclined not to leave behind troubling the Redwallers. Buyyad struggled nobly on beside the shrew chieftain when they group fell off from the river. The land dipped downwards, leaving the river from view and set off by a grassy hillock. Feeling strangely unsecure in this setting Log-a-log led the assembly off a little from the wall and out to survey it from a distance. Thirty paces away, the twenty-five beasts gazed at the sight.
Not fifty paces from where the wall began, it practically stopped. Continuing some ten shrewlengths off from the gap, it ended near abruptly back into the normal terrain. Log-a-log crouched down, and issued orders to his acting lieutenant Dunjer. “Bring ‘alf the Guosim around to the top ‘o that thing, have them study it and report back. In the meantime, I’ll meet with the Thallsmergan travelers and figure out our plan ‘o action. Be quick about it now, we ‘aven’t got forever on our side.”
Dunjer saluted with his rapier and started signaling those he would take. Log-a-log called to Juhenchin. “You’ll not be needed to run back to Redwall t’report on anythin’ we do, ‘tis to dark looking for my liking. Best we get busy damming that thing.”
Jasse agreed. “Aye, Log-a-log, but we need a proper plan. Putting up stone and shale against that thing doesn’t sound too good to me. Any ideas?”
Juhenchin spoke his mind. “Well chaps, since it appears we’re in a bit of a tight spot, I’ve come up with a great wheeze. We’ll get some wood, then scaffold the face, and smartly place the things against it starting from out to end. We’ll just need wood.”
“Aye, an’ I suppose you think it’ll just start falling from the sky an’ hit us?”
Log-a-log jumped over on the speaker and curtly bounced his ears. “Don’t be talking now unless you have anything useful t’say. We need a good plan, Juhenchin, not one that’ll just require that much work an’ little real advantage.”
“Why don’t we just go and fix the blockage? Stands to good reason that’ll ‘ave to be fixed for the River ever to flow agin.”
Log-a-log nodded to the burly hedgehog. “Aye, matey, that’s why I’ll be taking my half of the Guosim with Juhenchin an’ Mauthie.”
Mincid sneered at the shrew chieftain. “Oh, and I take it little wet-behind-the-ears Dunjer will be left in acting command?”
Log-a-log didn’t even turn around. “Dunjer is reliable an’ trustworthy, Mincid. Something that wouldn’t hurt you to practice.”
The fat shrew pawed his rapier hilt. “Blah, me taking lessins form a young brat! Comes the day I’ll not be ‘ere. Stupid things anyway, ‘o needs ‘em?”
Log-a-log drew his rapier and spun around. “Alright, let’s have it right now then, Mincid. You insult the virtues that define us from evil cruel-hearted vermin, now you will define yoreself as either a Guosim or a foe.”
Mincid barred his teeth, contempt in his voice. “The Guosim are corrupted under you, riverdancer! We should be out for ourselves, not wasting our time with these lot.”
Before Mincid or anyone else could deflect the slash, Log-a-log’s rapier flung out and severed the rapier from Mincid’s belt.
“Never afore ‘ave I or another Log-a-log done such a thing as to relieve a Guosim shrew of his rapier, but I do so now.”
Mincid fled, his nerve having deserted him. His clubby feet thudding awkwardly on the ground in his panic to get away from the assembly and back into the thicker woodlands, he had left the rapier where his feet had been. Log-a-log turned away.
He strode silently back to where Juhenchin, Dunjer, Jasse and Buyyad stood, when he spoke. “Ah, that shrew’s been trouble for awhile, not on account of any of you. Us Guosim will stand faithfully by our friends and allies of Redwall and all honest woodlanders, right to the end of this whole thing.”
Five paws met between the circle, clasping in mutual alliance as well as anticipation of what would soon come.
As the evening progressed, eleven Guosim and Jasse and Buyyad began piling up stones, wood and earth near the bruised riverwall, all running from woodlands to bank and back again in a scramble. Dunjer tried to better organize it. “Lissen Guosim and Jasse, we need to go about this better.” He stood on one of the gathered logs as he continued addressing the Guosim, who had turned their attention to the young shrew. “Me ‘n five others’ll stay here and start getting this stuff onto the wall, though that’ll take a long time with Log-a-log gone. The rest of you can continue, but keep up a steady chain instead of this madness.”
To his surprise, the Guosim acted on his orders. The young shrew jumped deftly down and began helping the five closest with the stacking. With night arriving and the job barely begun, doubts arose higher than ever.
It was nearing morning when Senn was awakened suddenly from his sleep. Not long after finishing their meal, Ivy and Senn had settled down for the night in the home of Krado Stard. Sitting up straight, the young otter saw that the owl had re-entered his dwelling, dragging in his beak two sacks. “Humph, been out at various intervals during the night foraging, can’t let you two depart this day with nothing, y’know!”
The tarny owl plumped down the large sacks in a corner of the room of the hollow tree trunk, near a crude furniture piece used as a perch for the owl. Senn nodded thanks to the owl, half lying back on his mat. “Thankee, friend, how can we repay you for all yore services to us?”
Krado ruffled his head feathers. “Krado Stard is not to be repayed. I take care of myself, all creatures assaulted by Gaddabub are friends, all with him are enemies deserving death and destruction.”
Senn shrugged. “I would still leave with you this: Take this knife, it is from the North East Sea. Do ye not document foreign objects?”
The owl nodded. “Don’t get much around to it, contemplated taking it up once. Very well, I shall accept your knife.”
The young otter warrior held forth the small weapon, its main purpose for carving up various materials. The owl hopped forward a few paces and took the small knife in his talons, and preceded out to the single other adjourning room. Returning swiftly, he undid the strings of both sacks he had filled. “I suppose these will do you well on your journey, Senn?”
The otter shook his squirrel companion gently on the shoulder. “Wake up, lazybones, sun’s coming up.”
Ivy flopped over gracefully and deftly got to her feet. She accompanied the otter over to where Krado Stard stood, staring intently at the filled satchels. Senn and Ivy both picked up a sack, examining the contents inside. Fresh and perishable fruit was in slight abundance, many nuts of all sorts with more storable vegetables made up a large bulk, the rest composed of eatable roots. “Perfectly; yes, they will be very welcomed, our packs being stolen from the toads under Gaddabub severely diminished our supplies an’ all that.”
Senn smiled for the first time since he left the goshawk mountain. The repeat of capture by the toads from his taking by Blackrobe had awoken his battle blood, firing him up to contempt for his failure to keep himself free. He found himself viewing it differently now, somehow he noticed this to be brought on by the constant attitude of Ivy. Feeling both respect and admiration, coupled with friendship and friendly love, for the warrior squirrel, the young otter was glad of her presence on his northward journey. Someday, they would both reach Redwall Abbey, or Blackrobe Wolfteeth. A fear was beginning to climb in his mind, but he presently suppressed it.
Krado Stard remained motionless. “I will show you off this plateau by noon if we move now.” The owl watched the expressions of the two travelers.
Ivy nodded gratefully, showing a rare smile. “Much appreciated, sir Krado Stard. An’ then what will ye do?”
The tarny owl finally shifted his posture, balancing newly on his legs. “I will come back to my home, and live here for my days, Ivy. Now, shall we depart after you both have broke fast?”
Senn picked up a large strawberry. “Aye, matey, that we will!”
The two travelers, with the seldom accompaniance of the owl on nuts, did full justice to the vittles. Afterall, they certainly couldn’t carry all that food on a march. The owl’s home was oddly comfortable, if lonely and somewhat forbidding. Acquiring a couple flagons from the owl, stored in a cupboard of his, the travelers readied themselves for the transport of drinking water.
Soon, the owl was guiding the two fascinated travelers to the northeast. Senn spoke aloud across to his companion. “Ya know, Ivy mate, this is a bit of a shortcut then the route we were taking.”
“Oh, well, then looks like ol’ Gaddabub turned out to be a bit ‘o a help to us then.” Ivy somersaulted over a pile of pine nettles, landing expertly on one paw and then back on her feet. Senn continually was gazing around him, the luscious scenery and forest backdrop creating imaginative tales in his mind. The trio stopped at on point at a small spring, to drink and the fill their flagons for the journey ahead. Journey, that which could land them one at that destination of desire, and one of the most amazing adventurous exploits possible.
Krado Stard was a rare speaker, and conversed little over the leisurely walk to where he said the plateau would fold gradually back to the level of the most northward reaches of the Southlands. As noontide approached, so did the end of the plateau. Cliffs became sparser, and soon disappeared, the way traversed by the three going steadily downhill. Senn had gathered up several stout branches and was crafting them into javelins using a knife he still possessed. The toads had thoroughly failed to check their captives at all beyond the most obviously seen things, and as such the two travelers maintained the majority of their personal belongings.
“I wouldn’t actually be able to fully finish them until I get a fire, that’ll both help the process along and provide a sharpener.” As Senn spoke, Krado Stard slowly stopped and turned slowly to face the otter and squirrel. His orb eyes still unmoving, the tarny owl bowed his beak. “I will now return to my home, I’d say you’d both best be well aware of the dangers that await you.”
The travelers shook paw to wing with the owl, and soon gave their goodbyes. The owl flew straight up, then twirled waving with his hovering wings to the travelers. Soaring back southwest, Krado Stard was lost to the eyes of the two companions and warriors, left near the beginning fringes of a new forest. To the south and southeast, dusty plains stretched out until tree lines and hills were visible, the last of the Southlands. Turning his gaze to the new trees, Senn spoke to Ivy. “Well, matey, we’ve finished the first lap of our journey, now comes the next one.” Both reflected on their memories, from the day of their meeting to their many travels, recalling the friends they had made and left behind, and slowly plunged off northward in search of their hope to reach, Redwall Abbey.
Senn and Ivy each carried one of the packs Krado Stard had filled with food, their weight bearing on the verge of being ridiculous. Swallowing a mouthful of the fresh cool springwater, Senn voiced his thoughts to Ivy. “Do y’think we should break for lunch soon? That is to say, I’d rather not ‘ave to carry this load about for much longer.”
Ivy sighed. “As soon as a good place comes in view, I’m in full agreement.”
Pines, oaks, elms and sycamores and other trees grew as saplings and full fledged trees around the travelers, flowers, plants and bushes patching over the grass and dirt of the forest floor. Birds chirped and chorused, insects darting about madly. The sounds of spring were arrived, bringing with them a sense of prosperity to the tranquil woodlands.
Senn centered his thoughts objectively, to reach a suitable and reasonable spot for resting, and to note any peculiariarites amongst their surroundings. He darted his eyes back and forth, taking in all about him, both in sight and sound and touch. Trained as a survivor in such environments, he knew more than enough to last in much less plentiful circumstances than what they found themselves in.
The Southlands were generally wooded, with the exception of the Vast South Plains, which extended over to the region that Senn recalled being referred to as Southsward. It was said that many thousands of seasons before many great warriors that came from the north had rallied the denizens and squirrel royalty and defeated the fox who called himself Urgan Nagru, the conqueror of the land.
It was with such a magnificent tale in his mind that Senn heard the first traces of singing. At first it was indistinct and distant, but as the two travelers moved onward through the trees, it became more distinct. It was not a harsh voice nor cruel sounding, but seemed more cheerful and carefree. They both checked their progress and slowed, approaching through a clump of leafy bushes. After six yards, the words of the song could be heard.
“Oh, if I were a great giant general
I would be quite happy!
Good apple pie and lemon cordial
Oh, how happy I would be with just those!
So I sing, an’ ‘ope, but know nought if I shall,
Acquire, indeed, such fineries
Lo lalala tralee!
Senn stepped up and out from the bushes with Ivy by his side, approaching the merry singer from behind a great fir. In a hammock, there sat an average sized hedgehog, his spikes poking through. In his hands was an instrument, strings spread from one side to the other. He plucked the thing skillfully, listening to its tune with delight on his simple features. The travelers stood in respectful silence, watching the hog play a germane tune. “Hahha! Come on forward, me friends!”
The otter and squirrel trod across to the hedgehog. “Might I ask the name of yore device, mate?”
The jovial hedgehog smiled. “’Tis a hogderea, an invenshun ‘o mine.”
Ivy came up to the hedgehog. “Might I try playing it myself, dear sir?”
The hedgehog shrugged and gave the instrument to the squirrel. “Be my guess, but I don’t ‘ave a clue ‘ow ya’ll manage it.”
Ivy took the instrument, and after studying it for a few seconds, began on a lively tune, tapping her footpaw to the music. Senn was amazed and humored, the hedgehog shocked at the squirrel’s skill and ability. After a minute or so, Ivy stopped the vibrating strings abruptly. Senn and the hedgehog applauded. “How might ya ‘ave learned the art ‘o hogderea playin’?”
Ivy handed the formidable wooden object back to its owner. “I learned from a family ‘o hogs who visited me once, several carried such an instrument. Would ye be familiar with the name Degret?”
The hedgehog showed recognition at the name. “Aye, that was my grandsire’s name, you would ‘ave met ‘is first son’s sons an’ daughters, in-laws mixed in an’ their young uns. Ya see, several ‘o my cousins an’ such ‘ave learned my instrument ‘ere in there short visiting stops from the nor’hwest, rovin’ hogs they be.”
The hedgehog sat himself up. “Actually, I’m a bit of solitary beast, lives by meself in me home, not far from ‘ere, only a speck away. Behind that great oak, see. Oh, an’ I am Demsell if y’please.”
The hedgehog extracted himself and stood up. Ivy spoke then. “Well, I am Ivy Rowancrown from the Southlands, this young otter here is Senn Longbattler.”
Demsell nodded and headed off north. “Got a large pot ‘o my reeds ‘n carrots goin’ on me stove, made quite a good deal today for no reason, looks like I decided right to do so.”
Senn fell in step next to Demsell. “Reeds ‘n carrots, matey? Sounds different.”
Demsell winked cheerily at him. “Just wait ‘til ya taste it, it’ll surprise ya.”
Senn had no doubt it would, in one form or another. Striding with the fellow over to a square doorway cut into the side of a nearby hill with no door and covered by hanging vines, he found himself in a tunnel. This took several seconds to clear, then he was in a well illuminated room furnished with fine ware and a fireplace and stove. On the latter sat an iron pot and kettle, beginning to steam. The hedgehog pulled down three cups from a cupboard, and then gathered up a few bowls. Ivy soon joined the two at an oaken table.
Reeds ‘n carrots stew turned out to be a rather delicious delicacy, made with chopped carrots, celery, spring baby lettuce and a blend of spices. Hot tea of comfrey and peppermint proved out a suitable drink for the meal. More than grateful for a hot meal, the two travelers complimented and thanked the hedgehog for the meal. After all three were full, Demsell once more played his hogderea, after which Senn sharpened his collection of javelins over the fireplace.
“It’ll make them more formidable as weapons, the flames sharpen them for better penetration.” Said the young otter when asked by the hedgehog. Demsell shook his head. “Ah, I know nothing of war or combat, but widout warriors like you, Senn, peaceful folks like me would be in dire trouble against evil.”
Demsell and Ivy both played the hogderea in turn, the squirrel warrior learning more on the nature of the instrument and proper technique. Senn turned down any requests to render his voice in song. “Nay, my voice sounds like a whistling kettle trapped under a rock by a honking goose. No, I’ll leave the singing to you two.”
Ivy sung a short ballad, much to the appreciation of both spectators, while Demsell performed both a ditty and other songs he would compose on the spot. His voice was fair, and sounded out in the decorated, yet humble room he called home. Senn had never enjoyed himself nor felt happier since his capture, laughing and cheering at the antics of the characters in the songs. Feeling refreshed, Senn laid back his head, his thoughts drifting to his archenemy. Giving more to the present and fleeting times of happiness, the otter held the coming tide back and let the peace and joy of the moment come over him. Times would come soon when such good times would cease, and the spirit of perseverance and justice would need to be practiced out in full.
Blackrobe Wolfteeth had simply marched her horde north with little rest the whole next day after the goshawk attack. Little happened, and her mood lightened the following day. After marching through the morning, her troops on a light breakfast, the Horde of the Wolfteeth came on a colony of dormice. Ruthlessly killing and beating them all to death, the horde settled down for a lunch not far from the scene, beneficed by the slain mice.
Blackrobe bit into a thick pasty, gulping down a flagon of elderberry wine. She wore her common gray and brown clothing, nothing especially fancy for her position as horde chief, besides the colored cloaks she donned herself in. It was power and conquest, coupled with a reputation of fear and recognition, which she ambitioned for herself, not wastefully finery that would only slow her down. She had achieved the latter of the two.
Blueney the rat stealthily positioned himself sitting behind and to the left of the wildcat, facing the opposite direction. Blackrobe had seated herself atop a small knoll on one side of the camp, which was unobservable from the other side. She spoke to the horderat as she finished the hearty pasty. “So, rat, Blueney was it? How goes your operation?”
Blueney fiddled with his finger and gulped before speaking back. “Boshim, er, Bogard and Shima are with Ragchin, talked ‘o runnin’ away from camp, desertion.”
Blackrobe smiled faintly. “Aye, rat, and what else?”
Blueney gulped once more. “Bogard said they’d best stay with the ‘orde, ‘elp Sharptail with overthrowin’ ya, yer majesty.”
Blueney waited in anxious silence as he waited for the wildcat to respond. Eventually, Blackrobe relaxed some and waved the rat away. “Good, you accomplished your task, now get back to the horde before anybeast notes you gone.”
Blueney slid silently away, feeling relived away from the wildcat chieftain, and also perplexed at her carefree treatment of the matter he had reported. Shrugging it away, he stalked back into camp from a different angle, right to her previously given orders.
Slithtooth greeted him as he marched back into the camping ground. “Been after a stray mouse, Blueney? Heheehee, they runned like mad when we charged ‘em, never ‘ad so much fun afore.”
Blueney laughed nervously and left the taller rat with his glee. Fiercetail sat nearby on a fallen oak tree. “’Ay, where ya been too, rat? Not supposed to be sneakin’ off ‘round ‘ere.”
Blueney fidgeted with his jerkin and stuttered. “I was out scoutin’, chief wants to move out soon.”
The tall weasel captain snorted slightly and took a new position on the trunk. “Huh, well don’t be goin’ about yer scoutin’ like so, chief’ll lay you out if’n ya go givin’ away the ‘orde’s presence too soon.”
Blueney walked awkwardly off, his legs feeling alien to him. He would have to talk to Blackrobe about having himself recognized as an official spy amongst the captains of the horde. He shoved a thin-looking rat off out a root he was occupying, establishing himself in his place.
Blackrobe took a liking to moving out quickly, and ordered the marching captains to take up the traditional columns and head the horde north. Dumbclaw took the first threescore and moved along close behind the warlord. The march carried on exhaustingly to the late afternoon, when camp had to be made due to sightings of potential quicksand. Blackrobe detailed a contingent of trackers out into the woodlands to search and find the patches. Plaggard she realized would be skilled at this job, and sent him out with her spy Blueney as leaders.
Dumbclaw oversaw the early construction of her pavilion while she was about the horde. On her approach, he saluted pathetically with his cutlass, now battered to falling apart, and dismissed the tentmakers. “Yer tent is ready, majesty.”
Blackrobe ignored the comment and continued coming up to her tent. “Tell me, Dumbclaw,” she asked when he was right next to her. “What would a grass snake do against a vicious adder?”
The stout weasel lowered his sword and scratched his head. “Leave?” he answered miserably.
Blackrobe smiled, and began a sudden and hearty laugh. ‘Good point, weasel. Get yourself a good tent tonight, march’ll be hard in the morning.”
Dumbclaw was confused by the strange display by his leader, but staggered off feeling uneasy. Something told him that something in her question pertained to his paranoia relating to Sharptail and his conspiracy and their watch of him, but as he couldn’t figure it out, he left the question be.
Sharptail was setting his moves with Ragchin. “Argh, are ya sure ‘bout this?”
The wiry rat nodded. “I watched the meeting, that Blueney’s a-spyin’ fer Blackrobe. What we do ‘bout ‘im?”
Sharptail bared his fangs. “Just git yerself away from me the next couple days, then we’ll act. Now get out of ‘ere afore yer seen.”
Ragchin departed from the fire swiftly, noting Blackrobe had gone into her tent atop a hillock overlooking the place. Sharptail thought it was comparable to their camp at the Southlands, when he had mistakenly signaled an attack. He bit off the cork of a flagon of dandelion and burdock cordial, sipping the beverage as he poured through his desperate plans.
On that same day, morning mist was driven away by the arrival of sun over Redwall Abbey. The new day brought with it new adventures and fun, as always at the ancient Abbey. Orchard, pond, and lawns lay bathed in sunlight, their glory as tribute to the fruits of Redwallers past and present. It was an honorable position to rule over as Abbot the creatures of Redwall Abbey, and Caliuago had always given all he had to live up to his title to the greatest ability. It was not with his best, but with his uttermost devotion, that he kept the Abbey in a state of both peace and operation.
Awakening from his sleep, Caliuago realized he had never removed his spectacles the night before. Shaking his head, he smiled good-naturedly and slipped the glasses over his ears and rested them before his eyes in their proper place. A knock sounded on the door to his room, and he pulled the barely cracked door open completely. Friar Burrade stood in front of him, an apron about his waist.
“Morning, Abbot; ‘tis a fine day outside.”
Caliuago held up a paw. “Yes, indeed, and I take it you would require some assistance today in your kitchen domains this morning?”
Burrade blinked in surprise. “Well, yes, but I didn’t want to be imposing.”
Caliuago answered the friar. ‘Not at all, my dear friend, I’ll be down shortly. Give me some time, I need to get a few things done here first.”
Friar Burrade departed and the Abbot was soon down in the kitchens with him. A few kitchen assistants were at work on various jobs, some preparing tarts for the morning meal, arguing over the ingredients as they went.
“Stop, don’t put those strawberries in there, there’s enough already.”
“Nonsense, me muther always said that you need two portions of fruit in tarts.”
“Huh? Who taught your mother to cook, a scorched bagel?”
“Hurr hurr zurr, oi builieve ee wuz roight ‘bout that, accordin’ too the rescipee.”
“You’re supposed to cook on instinct, not by a recipe!”
“Well, I’d love to your mother try that sometime.”
“Hey! I heard that, y’know!”
Friar Burrade shook his head exhaustedly. “If’n I ‘ad known this would ‘appen, I would ‘ave served soft white bread an’ jam this morn, an’ skipped this racket.”
Abbot Caliuago was appalled at the idea. “Friar, your tarts are a great delight, especially to the young. I personally always favored them.”
‘Did you? Well, I’ll ‘ave to make sure I just continue making them from the ingredients onward to baking, or this lot’ll just ruin them.”
The tarts were served without severe incident, though some abbeydwellers reported a tinge of heat in theirs, a couple kitchen assistants quickly passing over the idea of an unfortunate hotroot pepper spill in the mix. Skipper, who was in for breakfast, remarked to Foremole Thigg.
“Hmm, I personally like the taste of hotroot, might really liven up these tarts.”
Foremole shook his head, frowning at his plate. “Hurm, zurr h’otter, ee’d eat a boiwl ‘o ‘otroot pepper on purty much anyt’ing.”
After the meal, Abbot Caliuago met with Skipper of Otters, who informed him of the operations about the walltops and in Mossflower Woods concerning the information upkeep.
“No news from Log-a-log an’ company up at the River Moss, Kraylin an’ several ‘o my crew are out to Ouvon Oakclaw today, they should be back soon enough. Anywho, I got Pinkal and a couple Guosim stationed at the walltops, the rest of the Guosim an my crew, with a couple of excused Redwallers, are patrollin’ around the woodlands, some I’ve sent even up the path a little ways to survey anything unusual from the northeast.”
Caliuago sighed at the matter. “D’ya suppose Log-a-log an’ Jasse can manage to patch up the riverwall? Mauthie reported it small, but I was thinking last evening. Could it be possible it has somehow enlarged, covering a larger area?”
Skipper started out walking with the Abbot from the Abbey doors. “Aye, the same thought occurred to me as well, Abbot. With yore permission, I might take up the rest ‘o my crew to assist at the riverwall, and nobeast like an otter could function at whatever’s blockin’ the River Moss.”
Caliuago nodded firmly. “Agreed, Skipper, take out your crew once Kraylin’s back, as well as anybeast you decide on. I leave Redwall’s defense organization in your hands.”
Skipper walked with the Abbot over to the orchards. “Aye, I’ll go about readying things for my departure, with luck an’ speed we’ll reach the riverwall by tomorrow evenin’. See you, Father Abbot.”
Caliuago watched the otter chieftain go, hoping for any good news on the situation would come.
Sister Fevel and Maihal were out picking in the orchard with the dibbuns, who thought it great fun to go about such an important business. Traggo Spearcalm and Kaci, who he had recruited as temporary cellarmole from the kitchens, were walking past the orchard when a basket near knocked the old hedgehog in the head. Young Triggun trotted out and retrieved it. “Sorry, sir Traggo, we’m dibbuns be tryin’ to gather berries.”
Kaci shook his head and remarked in mole dialect. “Hurm, is that wat they’m bee doin’, oi thought it moight be toime fer a skurrmish ‘o burry flingin’.”
Young Melandine scooped up a young squirrel entangled by several roots. Fevel was trying to distribute small baskets and bins to the dibbuns who were lined up, but constantly she found herself confronted by those making a second appearance. Maihal attempted fixing the problem by observing the dibbuns, but she found herself dealing with a powerhouse of trouble. After relocating several dibbuns and finding baskets stacked neatly behind Fevel and not with her, she was trying to speak reason to them.
“Now, you’ll never be able to pick anything unless you keep the basket Fevel gives you, now back in line, all of you.”
Druather simply took off with a chant. “Dab! Dab! Dab!”
The congregation of dibbuns took up the chant, getting louder by the second. Melandine looked to Maihal for explanation. The bankvole infirmary keeper shook her head and spoke to the mousemaid above the din. “It’s short for Dibbuns Against Bedtime, young Druather, Firrum an’ Zade there are to blame, they always start the whole commotion.”
Soon the dibbuns were running wildly in all directions in the orchard, except where the three helpers were or wanted them to go. Zade the tiny squirrelbabe hid amongst the baskets and bins, and prevented Melandine from getting them anywhere, as the ones she put back would simply go elsewhere again. After twenty minutes of the chaos, the dibbuns all abandoned the orchard one at a time, leaving the sisters behind. Zade organized them and began marching them across the lawns, close to the Abbey and towards the door to Great Hall.
Zade began leading several dibbuns in a song, composed by him as infamous leader of all Dab members.
“Ho ho, I’m a dibbun
Dibbun Against Bedtime!
Come an’ catcher me
Imma good dibbun
We raid the stores
Break the doors
The orc’ard we ruins
Baths we de’pise
Bedtime we must demi’e
Fer we’s Dab
Dibbuns Against Bedtime!”
Zade and Firrum plowed giggling ahead of the rest along the curve of a buttress, right into the waiting arms of Skipper of Otters. “Belay there mateys, ‘ow ye going to grow big an’ strong like me with no bedtime?”
Skipper had never heard of Dab before, and had caught the last third line better than the rest. Zade was struggling to get loose, but Firrum relaxed and let the otter chieftain bear her away to the orchard. After an approaching closedown by elders some time later, the rebellious dibbuns dispersed from the Redwall elders and went as one up to the infirmary.
Later, Abbot Caliuago was making his way over to Sister Maihal and Sister Fevel, who were sharing an early afternoon rest at the pond. Standing beside the two folding chairs they sat in, the Abbot spoke to them in moderate tones. “Surprised seeing you both here; I wanted to tell you both that Friar Burrade will be serving a full palate for tea today, with lunch not being served.”
Sister Maihal shook her head. “Huh, I’ll be relieved when I get my infirmary back. Do you know, those dibbuns really made a mess ‘o the place.”
“How did the whole thing end? I understand Skipper and Traggo got the door down eventually.”
Sister Maihal nodded, saddened by the tale. “Apparently they locked the main door. The candied chestnuts were raided thoroughly, and a few of my medications were destroyed, some things were smashed about. Oh, it’ll take all season to order the place back together, they totally tore the place apart. Do you know, they even threw my cooking pot of seaweed nettle broth out the sickbay window?”
Abbot Caliuago tried hard to swallow down the laughs coming to his throat and control his voice. “Oh, I haven’t the faintest idea why they would throw out your broth, Sister.” The old mouse sped through the last few words, and Maihal stared strangely at him.
‘Ach, I’ll be in shortly with Fevel, then I’ll brave seeing my infirmary.”
Afternoon tea was served as always at Redwall, extended to extra warm scones, fresh-baked biscuits and a pot of watershrimp ‘n hotroot soup prepared extra spicy for the otters under Skipper, as well as any other who wanted it. Skipper himself ate three bowls.
The dibbuns, newly bathed by courtesy of Melandine and Sister Truthley, trotted in last of all, and seated themselves under strict observance. Abbot Caliuago took his place at the head of one of the tables. “Friends, today we take part of tea and a late lunch, due to having the racket of upstairs and other runaway dibbuns to deal with. Because of this, I have no choice but to put several of the young ones on Abbot’s Report.”
The dibbuns instantly quieted down, startled by the announcement. Zade exchanged wary glances with all present. The Abbot continued. “These troublesome ones will be summoned to appear before me later this evening. Now, Redwallers, I give you the lightning-prepared and wonderful fare under Friar Burrade.”
Applause and cheers came forth, especially from young Pinkal. “Oh, get on with it, we’re starvin’!”
More cheers came, and the Abbot held up his hands. “Then I give you all afternoon tea, enjoy it.”
Friendly banter and discussion flowed forth as Redwallers, old and young, took to eating the food before them aptly called wonderful and praiseworthy.
On the previous day, night was falling over Log-a-log, who was heading a company of eleven along the River Moss. They all hurried on, the river at their feet, as they moved closer to the block which had driven them from their homes to avert the greatest disaster ever to threaten Mossflower, a flood which would wash away all in its path.
Badgunt’s tired band of former corsairs all awoke from nightmares, brought on by their encounter at the River block. Deciding on a night march, the new weasel leader forced them onward to the south through woodlands, intent on claiming a piece of stolen prosperity for himself.
Colonel Cournweal and his troop were observing the sunlit still and calm Mossflower canopy about them, going forward with every step to bring justice and honor to all and sunder, devoted to the hidden cause on which they had been sent from the gates of Salamandastron.
At Redwall, creatures of all ages continued on in their peaceful surroundings, all comforted by the strong walls about them, living still in the long peace which reigned in Mossflower. Disturbed by the threat to the north, none knew yet of those who came from the south: a young otter, tried by his experiences into a warrior of the stoutest heart, embarking on a Journey northwards…and a viciously cruel and evil wildcat, delighting in the murder of harmless creatures, bound for conquest northwards.
Senn and Ivy were taking a small meal with Demsell the hedgehog in his humble dwelling. Provided with the supplies of the two travelers, Demsell made an earth pasty from roots and used it as a spread for a dish of sweetened fruits, topped with crunchy nuts. Fresh water was a good complemented to it, and the dish was heartily enjoyed.
“Think I’ll call it Sweetberry ‘n Nutty Rootspread. What d’ya think?”
Senn nodded full agreement. “Sounds great to me, mate. Ivy?”
The squirrel swallowed a mouthful of the dish. “Good name for such a great dish, friend.”
Demsell delighted at the compliments, and drank a bit of water. “Well, I suppose ya both need to be headin’ on soon, off t’yore destination. I wish ye both luck, make sure ya take proper care ‘o yoreselves.”
Senn and Ivy departed happily from the hedgehog, who walked a good way with them before coming to a knotty log. “Well, my friends, I leave ye both here.”
A strong breeze blew through the woodlands, and Senn turned to the hedgehog. “Thankee once more for all yore help, mate.”
Demsell let the wind whip across his features. “Ah, just make sure ya both come to no ‘arm.”
The two travelers moved northwards once more, turning back near fifty paces away to wave a last time to the hedgehog, who stood off now across a shallow land depression. Senn turned back to the woodlands before him, and walked onward in silence with Ivy. It was eveningtide before long, and the scenery went through little change to the basic observation. Closer glimpses showed many varying and unique patterns in trees, hanging moss and everything in nature.
To describe Mossflower in all its natural splendor would be hard on impossible; a land of such awe and beauty. Senn recalled the words of his aunt Elangao; “All land can be prosperous and beautiful to any, but it is just land, it can be corrupted if evil is unchecked.”
With these words in his mind, Senn wondered off behind his fellow warrior and friend, rejoicing in the pleasuring experience of travelling, the leafy bows of Mossflower hanging low about them.
The Horde of the Wolfteeth remained in its camp from late afternoon to evening, no news gained from the scouts under Plaggard and Blueney. Hordebeasts cooked what they had, which was little, and ate quickly. Many played using leafs, twigs and sticks in various games, others throwing knives for practice and competition. General laziness was the main function around the large camp, newcomers and those who had served under the warlord for long seasons mingling information and general comradeship.
Sometime later Blackrobe sat in her pavilion drinking a concoction of grog. Eager for news on the hunt for the escaped otter, she was waiting for Bladge to make a report that night. Putting aside her savage knife, she contemplated just how confusing horde life had gotten, dealing with so much more mutiny and disloyalty then ever. Smiling to herself, she also contemplated just how she would deal with each branch of it. She put aside her flagon of the foul tasting liquid and placed her knife back into her belt unsheathed as always.
A thump on the heavy tent flaps signaled the rat captain’s arrival. Bladge swept in grinning maliciously, the heavy wooden shaft of his spear held close to his face. Blackrobe sat away from him, facing one of the extended walls of her tent. Bladge cleared his throat and spoke. “Yer majesty, the trackers report heavy spread ‘o sinking ground, looks like it’ll be hard to cross.”
The rat’s voice was low, and coupled with the low light of the tent in a blend of both mysterious and objective atmosphere. Blackrobe waited in silence as the rat continued. “Several tents burned down inna fight between several parties, each with fires. They were mad about rations.”
Bladge expected a sign of anger and intolerance from the wildcat and was surprised to see the warlord just remain in her position. He waited a few seconds, and spoke the last of his report still grasping the spear shaft. “Also, no news of Goulder an’ his troops from the east, he still hunts fer the riverdog.”
Bladge had not known what to expect from the wildcat on his last announcement, but she showed expression. Anger filled her gaze, as well as towering rage she could not express, as she shifted it on him, turning in her chair. “Stupid fool! Bungling fools do bungling jobs! Get him back with a few runners, I will hunt for the riverdog later once I have conquered a place to start my empire.”
The malicious voice of the wildcat caused Bladge to tighten up. As she finished her tirade, he suddenly felt her gaze boring into him. Sensing she was done with the meeting, Bladge bowed and walked backwards out, never leaving the crouching position. As he turned to walk away, he could hear a voice growling from within. ‘Defy me, do you, riverdog! You will die, yes die, oh so slowly when I catch you! None can defy me for long, none ever have, I am the Wolfteeth!”
A loud and bloodcurling growl issued from within, and Bladge felt himself running to get away; Blackrobe was on the hunt for vengeance.