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Kyrin: Son of a Warrior


This is a fan fiction story by Th3Gh0stWr1ter. It is not considered canon, nor is it a policy or guideline.


Kyrin: Son of a Warrior

Author's Note

My first completed Redwall fanfiction. A sequel to Rakkety Tam, conceived many years ago when I was eleven, and completed 3/22/13.

I do not own Redwall. Brian Jacques does. RIP

...

In times of dark, in times of light

Paths will cross when the time is right

A warlord of the Ice and Snow;

A warrior born but not realized,

Till the day of reckoning makes him so

So fly, my child, seek out the one

The thief, the rogue, the disgraced son

Will return one day, and take up the sword

Protect the young, the weak, the old

And bring back peace forevermore.


Prologue

Springtime! Oh, how I love the smells and sounds which come with the new season! It's been a long, cold winter, but thanks to the hard work of everybeast in our Abbey, we've piled up enough food to last us through the months. Ahh, I can smell the zesty scent of Burlop's Ten Seasons Ale wafting through the air. He's our Cellarhog, and all the Dibbuns love him, especially for his strawberry cordial. What was I going to say? Oh yes! Spring! There's been a very joyous mood here at the Abbey recently. Abbot Cyrus (he became our new Abbot three seasons ago, after old Abbot Humble left us after a long, happy life) has hinted at a splendid feast to celebrate the arrival of the fresh new promising season! You should come see for yourself. The entire Abbey is absolutely abuzz with this news! Never have I seen so much…vitality coursing through Redwall! After all these quiet months it's great to hear the joyous chuckles of the elders and the pitter-patter of little Dibbuns' paws hitting the ground as they chase each other across the Abbey lawns. My father, Rakkety Tam MacBurl, has promised to oversee the feast and make sure everything goes as planned. He's also promised to make sure Uncle Doogy Plumm doesn't eat everything up first! I've never seen everybeast so happy! Despite the fact that we're all hard at work, trying to make the perfect feast, there's lots of laughter ringing through the air. What more could I ask for? Ever since my father defeated Gulo the Savage about fifteen seasons back, our Abbey has been at peace. With all the laughter and friendship in the air, there's nothing to be afraid of. Redwall Abbey is truly the perfect place. Well, I'm running out of ink, and my mother, Sister Armel, is calling me to go check on Kyrin (he's my little brother. Urrgh! Sometimes I just can't stand him! He's a rightful little terror…) Anyway, until next time!

-Melanda MacBurl,

Official Recorder of Redwall Abbey


Book One: The Outcast

Chapter 1

It was a frigid, clear, moonless night. All was silent, except for the nocturnal breezes soundly whistling amongst the evergreens as the stars subtly dotted the black sky. On a mountain ledge, overlooking the pine groves, two mice, bundled up in thick winter tunics and armed with a spear apiece, lay in wait, scanning the forest below.

“It’s cold out tonight, Brenno,” the smaller of the two mice said.

The burlier one chuckled dryly as he checked the single torch they’d lit. “Aye, but what’s new? It’s the Northlands, mate. Things pass by slowly in these parts.”

“What’s the point of havin’ us stand guard?” the younger one groused, “we could be back in our village, sleepin’ soundly, instead of facin’ this blisterin’ wind and all.”

Brenno ruffled his companion’s head fondly. “Well, that makes the two of us, eh? Here, Rej, you hunker down here and get some shuteye. I’ll wake you up in a little while, an’ we can switch.”

As Rej curled into a ball, snuggling into the warmth of his jacket, Brenno scrutinized the view under the mountain. It was almost pitch black, so the mouse used his ears to listen for any movement that may indicate the presence of vermin. Nothing. Brenno sighed. Things did pass by slowly in this place. Maybe he could get his tribe to move south. He made up his mind; he’d tell them first…thing…tomorrow…morning…

Brenno woke up with a start, blinking a few times. He immediately realized he had nodded off. How late was it? He looked at Rej, who was snoring loudly. Just let him sleep, Brenno thought. He turned his attention back to the groves of evergreens at the foot of the mountain. Still nothing. He wished he were back in his village. It wasn’t far; just a little walk up the mountain. And he’d be in his little wood hut, sleeping next to a fire with his mate and child…oh, well, it was only one night. The next night the tribe would pick two other villagers to stand guard and they would just switch off every single night…

The distance hoot of an owl made Brenno snap out of his trance. The sturdy mouse looked up, then refocused his attention to the trees below. He clutched his spear tighter.

A harsh cawing noise ripped through the air. Brenno was so startled he nearly fell off the ledge. He looked up and could hear the distant flapping and cawing of a flock of crows. Beads of sweat slithered down the mouse’s forehead. Then all was silent again.

Brenno stared down, once again, into the vast rows of majestic pines below the mountains.

Then, out of nowhere, a scythelike metal hook, attached to a chain, flew up from the depths below and buried itself deep into Brenno’s head.

Rej was awakened by his comrade’s grunt. He sat up, rubbing his eyes. “Brenno, mate, is it time for us to swi – ”

The young mouse was greeted by Brenno’s corpse lying on the ground in front of him, staring at him through a bloody gash where the eyes were just a second ago. Rej gave a startled yelp and stumbled backwards, falling flat on his behind. Quaking with fear, he peered over the ledge. Ermine! The snow-furred stoats were scaling the ledge with their bare paws! It was a vermin attack!

Extinguishing the torch as the first wave of hordebeasts climbed up successfully, Rej made a run for it, dropping his spear.

“Get the mouse! Don’t let ’im escape!” An arrow whizzed by, clipping Rej’s ear. Egged on by sheer terror, he put on an extra burst of speed, his paws thudding hard against the gravelly path leading up the side of the mountain to his village. The ermine weren’t far behind.

Rej came tearing into the rows of wooden shacks that constituted the little mountain village. “Get up, everybeast! Get up!”

There was a collective murmur as the tribe of mice awoke, rubbing groggy eyes and yawning. Their half-asleep state gave way to full awareness, however, when they saw the moving tips of spears, illuminated by the village torches, poking out over the ridge of the hill. A second later, the ermine were at the village, charging forward.

The tribemice barely had to time to string arrows to their crude bows. They fired off a haphazard volley at the rush of oncoming vermin. Two ermine fell wounded, sharpened wooden shafts buried in their legs. As the ermine made it close to the village they drew the yew longbows strapped to their backs, knelt down in a firing position, and fired off a disciplined salvo of arrows which slew three unfortunate mice immediately. The mice had the advantage of the cover provided by their rickety dwellings, but not for long. Soon, the ermine flooded the village. They snatched the torches which were hanging on every single house and started burning the homes of the mice, who had locked themselves and their families inside. Screams rang out in the night as some of the wretched creatures stumbled out of their houses, writhing and twisting from the agony of the flames licking up around their frail bodies.

At this moment the ermine squad split into two and ran in opposite directions, ending up forming a circle around the village. The handful of mice, hemmed in at the center clutched their rusty spears, accepting their fate as their terrified mates and children cowered on the ground. The ermine fired off another volley, transfixing six more mice, including a small infant, and then charged, bloodlust in their eyes.

It didn’t take long for the mice to die, though it could have been over sooner, for the vermin relished in the killing. The ragtag band of villagers struggling to survive was no match a horde of seasoned killers. At the front of the raiders was a stoat with mottled black and gray fur, carrying a straight sword with a serrated blade. Grabbing an unfortunate mouse trying to protect his child, the stoat stabbed him in the chest then dragged the jagged blade across his throat. Meanwhile, behind him, a brown-furred stoat carrying a double-headed battle axe took off the spearpoint and the head of a defender in one fell stroke, while a third soldier, the one with the hook who had slain Brenno, an ermine with a black patch of fur over one eye, dealt out a slow, painful death with his chained weapon. When it was finished, the entire village of around forty to fifty inhabitants lay slaughtered, some missing arms, legs, and heads; others with multiple slash and stab wounds on their bodies.

The killing was ended silently. There was no cheering; there was no need for it. The mottled stoat, obviously the squad leader, nodded at a grim job well done. “Well done, everybeast,” he announced. “General Orak will be pleased.”

Heads turned as a pure white ermine whose fur glinted in the firelight, resplendent in an elegant gray-blue tunic and a smoke-colored cloak, strode up the path to the village, flanked a short, portly ermine, obviously an officer, and a contingent of ermine soldiers. He stopped in front of the stoat who had led the charge. When he spoke, his voice was level; not crude, but by contrast very cultured, and showing little emotion. Orak the Assassin!

“Well done, Captain Deatheye. That was a very gallant charge. Our hordes our invincible thanks to shrewd commanders like you.”

The mottle-furred leader named Deatheye turned to five of his soldiers. “Search the village! Bring out any loot you find and any captives! Kill anybeast who resists!” He then turned back to his leader nodded in gratitude. “Thank you, my Lord,” he replied, his voice also level; but his troops could detect an undercurrent of resentment in their Captain’s voice. They were right.

“…Though you are wrong about your hordes being invincible, my Lord...” Deatheye gestured to a few soldiers sitting on the ground, nursing their wounds. “Four were wounded in tonight’s raid. That’s higher than the casualties of the last two raids put together.”

The warlord chuckled mirthlessly. “Surely you don’t think wars are won without bloodshed, do you, Deatheye? None of your soldiers died tonight.”

The hordebeasts held their breath as the stoat Captain approached Orak, his face inches from his superior’s.

“You may be my commander, but I will not have you send my soldiers charging straight into death. We are better fighters than this. We should not have to suffer casualties.”

No one ever talked to Orak the Assassin like that. Those who did met their gruesome end at a lightning-swift pace. Orak had served as a hordebeast under Gulo the Savage, slowly moving up the ranks with a combination of ruthless cunning and amazing swordsmanship. However, Gulo was never one to hand out promotions – he was much more inclined, in fact, to eat his soldiers alive, as Orak had witnessed on a number of occasions. The Assassin was there, watching, as the mad wolverine was slain at the little redstone abbey by a little squirrel they called Rakkety Tam. Ever since then, Gulo’s horde had disbanded, its remnants fleeing up north. Orak had made the trek up north with his comrades, where he had reorganized them under his own command, promising them an eventual life of “power and plenty,” as he had put it. Deatheye had been a comrade a rank lower than he under Gulo and was the first to join Orak’s new horde. Both stoats were well-spoken, ruthless fighters, and master tacticians, though of late Deatheye’s care for the well-being of his troops, many of which had served alongside him in past seasons under the Savage as equals, was getting on Orak’s nerves. For eight seasons they had slaughtered, plundered, and pillaged their way across the north, gathering recruits and enslaving innocents, and along the way, the two came to a head more and more often. Even though their dream of conquest seemed to be going well, the strained relationship between the two was being more and more evident daily.

Orak smiled. When he smiled, it was not a good sign. “My friend, just calm yourself. Nobeast died. The battle is won.”

Deatheye glared at the warlord as he shot back: “Just because raiding a village is easy doesn’t mean you can put my soldiers in harm’s way arbitrarily…my Lord.” He spat out the last two words.

The two sized each other up for a moment, and a few of the spectators surely believed a fight would erupt then and there. But Orak was not that type of vermin. He simply clamped a claw down on his Captain’s shoulder, drawing blood. “You’re such a hopeless idealist,” he replied, his voice still level.

“Shall I slay ‘im for ya, Chief?” the fat ermine Captain next to Orak asked.

Orak laughed as he pulled his claws out of Deatheye’s shoulder. “No, Kirsharr, let him cry about a mere four wounded. I have bigger ambitions.”

There was a scuffling sound and Orak calmly turned his head to the sight of ten mice, bound with rope, dragged along the ground and thrown down at his footpaws.

“Sir,” the brown stoat with the axe spoke. “We found these villagers hidin’ out in the chief’s hut. What do ye want us t’ do with them?”

“Was there any bounty, Valker?” Orak asked. The brown stoat who was called Valker shook his head. “They said they didn’t have any, sir. Ask my mucker Fishtooth here. He’ll tell ye how thick these mice kin be.”

Fishtooth, the stoat with the chain and hook, nodded. “Aye, Lord, they say they don’t got any treasure or nothin’.”

Orak looked at the captives. There were four little ones, frightened out of their wits, along with three mousewives, two elders, and a burly male, clearly the Chieftain of the tribe. He adopted a tone as if he were chastising a small child. “Oh, come now, you don’t have at least a few trinkets to spare for guests who show up at your door? Surely you…virtuous creatures…must know better, eh?”

The Chieftain was too scared to speak as the ermine’s cold, black eyes fell upon a gold necklace around his neck. Orak deftly removed the trinket in a swift motion and inspected it. “Hmm…on second thought, this will do.”

One of the elders looked at Orak, hatred glimmering in his eyes. “Beware, Orak the Assassin! Your name is feared and hated through this land, but one day you shall meet your end at the paw of the one you do not know and do not expect!”

Without warning, Orak whipped out his dagger and slashed the whiskers of the trembling creature. “Huh! Who are you, old one, to be spouting prophecies and bedtime stories to me, the master of the Northlands? I fought my way to the top! You think I can’t control my own destiny? Ha!”

The little ones whimpered with terror. One of the ermine soldiers called over to Orak: “So, uh, wot’ll we do with these mice, eh, Chief?”

Orak turned around slowly, the fires of the torched wooden houses reflecting in his savage eyes as he grinned that menacing grin. “Follow my example.” With that, he whipped out his long rapier and stabbed the Chieftain right through the heart. His troops followed their leader with their spears. In a second it was over and Orak the Assassin had destroyed yet another village.

“Well, my faithful soldiers,” the Assassin smiled, almost benevolently. “Let’s go back to camp!”

On the way back, Orak toyed with the gold necklace he had snagged from the tribe Chieftain earlier as he thought about his authority over the horde. Right now Deatheye seemed to be the biggest threat…he let his mind wander over to what the old mouse had told him: you shall meet your end at the paw of the one you do not know and do not expect!

The warlord laughed inwardly. What was there that he couldn’t expect? He was Orak the Assassin! He’d seen everything already! Since when was he ever surprised? The whole matter was like a joke to him…


Chapter 2

“C’mon, Friar Tobel…can I have just one?!!”

“No, you certainly cannot, young rip! Now get out of my kitchen before I tan your hide!”

Kyrin MacBurl stepped out of the Abbey kitchens, fully chastised. He couldn’t understand it: what was the crime in asking for one redcurrant pie, topped with meadowcream and garnished with cherries? Honestly, the upcoming Spring Feast could do with one less pie, couldn’t it? The feast was tonight – what was the point of making a pie now? It was only noon! You were supposed to eat them fresh!...Besides, Friar Tobel should be proud that somebeast was so eager to eat his food, right?

Reaching into his tunic, the young squirrel pulled out two scones, spread with blackberry preserve, which he had managed to lift from the kitchens before he got kicked out. It was a small victory, but a victory nonetheless.

As he ate, Kyrin looked around, a plan forming in his brain. He had to get that pie.

Then he saw the trolley.

Friar Tobel was a short, rotund vole with puffy cheeks who practically lived in the kitchens. Cooking was his life, and when he was not sleeping the enthusiastic creature was guaranteed to be hard at work, concocting all sorts of his own original creations. His strawberry cordial, flavored with mint and other herbs which he kept secret, was enormously popular amongst the Redwallers.

As Tobel bustled through his kitchen, savoring the smells that were emanating from the foods he and his helpers were preparing, he smiled proudly. The feast was going to be an enormous success. What could go wrong? There was the dandelion fizz being brewed, the leek-and-onion turnovers being baked. Kyrin was sailing through the kitchen on a food trolley – wait…

The door, which Tobel had bolted shut, was open, nearly knocked off its hinges, as Kyrin MacBurl came roaring into the kitchens, riding on a food trolley one of Tobel’s helpers had put out earlier. The little squirrel had somehow attached two ropes to the trolley so he could steer it. “Whoops! ’Scuse me. Comin’ through! Whoaaaaa!”

One of the kitchen helpers, clutching a pot of sunflower oil, dove out of the trolley’s way as Kyrin swerved to miss him at the same time. The pot smashed to the ground, spilling the slippery oil all over the place. As Kyrin’s trolley came in contact with the oil it started to pick up speed, and soon enough Kyrin found himself hanging on for dear life as he desperately navigated himself around tables, ovens, and terrified kitchen helpers.

Then, as he rounded a curve, Kyrin saw one of Friar Tobel’s redcurrant pies lying on the countertop. With one deft movement he grabbed the pie and tugged hard on the ropes, heading straight for the exit.

“Get the rascal!”

At Friar Tobel’s command, his dazed assistants launched themselves after the speeding trolley, but slipped on the patch of sunflower oil that had spilled. Kyrin laughed as he saw the bumbling helpers, slipping and sliding, fall into a disgraceful heap. All the while Tobel, red in the face, was jumping up and down in frustration, berating the kitchen crew for their incompetence.

Kyrin was back out in the Great Hall again. Success! He had gotten the pie! Serves Friar Tobel right for not handing it to him! In his excitement, the young squirrel forgot that the trolley was still moving. Bump! The cart slammed straight into the Hall’s main table, on which a few pretty ottermaids were delicately placing bowls, goblets, and the like. As the trolley ground to a sudden halt Kyrin flew forward, propelled by the momentum, skidding along the length of the long table on his belly, still holding the pie, and knocking all the dishes and utensils astray as he went. Finally, gravity brought the young squirrel to a complete stop on the table. Shaken but unhurt, Kyrin sat up to see a mob of kitchen helpers, with Friar Tobel at the front, dashing towards him, waving spoons and rolling pins and shouting all at the same time.

Time to go! Clutching the pie, Kyrin rolled himself off the table. “Apologies, miss, business as usual,” he grinned towards a shocked ottermaid, and, giving her a quick peck on the cheek, ran off, Tobel and company hot on his heels.

Foremole Shorul, or Rull, as he was affectionately known by all Redwallers, was strolling through the Great Hall along with his molecrew. As they walked, they sung out in thick, rustic molespeech:

“Wurkin’, a-wurkin’, we’m always be a-wurkin’,

For tonoight be’s toime to have a Feast, hurr!

Us proud molers sent to make sure everything be’s roight,

For tonoight be’s toime to have a Feast, hurr!”

Their singing was cut short at the sight of Kyrin tearing down the Hall. Friar Tobel was not too far behind. The chubby vole was shouting: “Foremole! Do something! Don’t let ‘im escape!”

Foremole and his crew immediately fanned out, ready to intercept the thieving little squirrel. “You’m bain’t be exscaping this toime, young maister, no zurr!” Foremole rumbled as Kyrin came towards them. Closer…closer…

Thinking fast, Kyrin jumped as only a squirrel could, leaping clean over the heads of the moles, whose short statures, quite frankly, were nothing to brag about. Friar Tobel and his kitchen helpers, however, did not have the luxury of springy heels, and were running too fast to stop themselves.

“Noice knowin’ you, zurrs!” Kyrin shouted back in perfect imitation of mole dialect as the two bickering parties struggled to untangle themselves from each other. He looked down and checked the pie. Good as new. Laughing uproariously, the young squirrel disappeared outside.

Abbot Cyrus was crossing the Abbey lawns, flanked by Rakkety Tam MacBurl along with Tam’s daughter Melanda and Wild Doogy Plumm, Tam’s best friend. Cyrus was a calm, aging hedgehog who, since he was rather awkward and timorous in his youth, believed firmly in acting very gracefully and assertively, as any good Abbot would do. He sniffed the air. “Ahh, springtime, it feels good, doesn’t it?”

Tam, now the Redwall Champion nodded quietly. “Aye, Father Abbot, it’s very nice.” Melanda, an athletic squirrelmaid of fourteen seasons, nudged the Abbot. “An’ you know what’s better?”

Cyrus smiled sagely at her. “I can’t say I do, Melanda. What?”

Melanda winked at him. “The fact we have a feast tonight!”

Abbot Cyrus chuckled as he observed: “It’s nice to see everybeast putting all this time and effort into preparations. I just know all their work will pay off tonight.”

Doogy’s stomach growled. “Och, an’ they’d better hurry et up! Ah’m beginning tae become rightfully famished!” he groused. Tam slapped his irrepressible comrade on the back. “Oh, the horror, Doogy! Don’t tell me you can’t wait till tonight!”

“Ah can’t wait till tonight! Ah need food in mah poor, underfed body!” Doogy wailed.

Tam thought for a moment, smiling. “Oh, well, in that case, would you like a mug of ale, then?”

Doogy grimaced. Just yesterday, Kyrin had found a lump of rock salt in the Kitchens and, crushing it up, spiked Doogy’s ale with a generous amount of the stuff. Doogy hadn’t noticed what was wrong with his drink until Kyrin had started cracking up. Then, for the next half hour or so, the crazy Highland squirrel was rinsing his mouth and throat out in the Abbey pond.

“Ach, no, mah friend. Ah’d much sooner starve, ye ken!” Doogy replied quickly.

Tam stretched his arms, savoring the warm spring air. “Good thing Kyrin’s not causin’ any trouble today…for once, haha!”

Abbot Cyrus wasn’t paying attention; he was stuck in his own thoughts. “Hmm…I wonder what’s taking Foremole and his crew so long…I just told them to go replace a few broken floor tiles in the Great Hall…”

The four were close to the door of the Great Hall when Kyrin burst out onto the lawn. Unable to stop himself, he collided head on with the Abbot. The pie flew into the air. As Melanda helped Cyrus up, Tam looked at Doogy. “I may’ve spoken too soon.”

“Aghh! Oh, my!” Abbot Cyrus exclaimed, dusting himself off. “Wha...Kyrin!”

Kyrin sat up, grinning a little sheepishly at the Father Abbot. “Er…sorry, Abbot Cyrus…in a little hurry, y’see…”

As Kyrin said this, the redcurrant pie he had stolen came down, landing square on the Abbot’s head, splattering red juice and pie crust all over him. Not good.

Tam and Melanda were busy getting pieces of the pie off of the sputtering Abbot’s face. Melanda was apologizing profusely. “Oh, we’re so sorry, Abbot Cyrus! I promise you it won’t happen again!...” She shot her younger brother a withering glare. Kyrin bit his lip. He was really in for it now.

Just then, Doogy peered into the Great Hall and saw the heap of kitchen helpers and moles, some still dizzy from the collision. He noticed the mess on the table and the ottermaids picking up all the utensils and shattered bowls and dishes. It didn’t take a genius to figure out the whole chain of events.

“Uhh, Tam…ye might want tae coom see this…”

Stepping past his son, Tam took one look inside. Kyrin knew what was on his father’s mind as he saw Tam’s shoulders go up and down as his father breathed an audible sigh.

Tam turned around. He didn’t yell. Nor did his face show any sign of emotion. He simply said: “Son, come with me.”

Kyrin looked up imploringly at Abbot Cyrus, Doogy Plumm, and his sister. He found no compassion etched on their stony faces as they glared at him. Turning his head, he looked back at Tam, trying an innocent smile. His father raised his eyebrows ever so slightly. Kyrin blew air out of his mouth. He had been caught.


Chapter 3

The door slammed shut. Kyrin sat in the Gatehouse. Brother Gordale, the Abbey Gatekeeper, had been gracious enough to let Tam use it. Actually, the kindly mouse had let Tam borrow it scores of times in the past seasons more or less for one reason only: to scold Kyrin. All Tam had to do now was show up, knock, gesture towards his son, and take control of the Gatehouse. It was almost…routine.

Father and son sat facing each other, a table between them. Daylight poured through the windows, making Kyrin want to leave all the more. However, a stern throat-clearing from Tam put the little squirrel in his place and made him pay full attention to his father.

“I’m not going t’ask you what you have t’say for yourself this time, Kyrin. Bottom line: What you did today was unacceptable.

Kyrin said nothing.

“At this point, I only have one question: why? Why do you have to do this all the time? As the son of a Warrior, you should know better.”

Kyrin felt bad for his father. “You’re goin’ t’have to apologize to him for me again, huh?” he asked, his ears drooped.

Tam shook his head. “I’ll get to that in a bit. But what I want to know is why you don’t wish to obey your own father and change your ways. You’re clearly athletic and tricky enough to outsmart everybeast I know. So, why don’t you use your talents for good, son? A squirrel of ten seasons like yourself should already be well on his way to becoming a Warrior. So why don’t you want to be a Warrior?”

“But dad!” Kyrin protested. “It’s no fun! Day in, day out, it’s ‘do this, do that.’ We’ve talked about this! I’d rather be left alone t’do what I want.”

Tam sighed, recounting his own childhood. “Y’know, I used t’say that. Only difference is I learned to obey. Why can’t you? Everybeast in th’Abbey thinks you’re a spoiled brat and a thief. Your mother and I always have t’cover for you, apologizin’ for all your pranks and misdeeds. You do realize that you dropping a pie on Abbot Cyrus’ head makes me look bad, not you.”

Kyrin paused. He honestly hadn’t thought of that, as clever as he was. He averted his father’s stare.

“Son, look at me.”

Kyrin grudgingly looked up as Tam leaned forward, looking straight into his son’s eyes as he spoke.

“Nobeast is born a Warrior, Kyrin. It is a long path which requires commitment and focus. It’s one thing to know how to take somebeast’s head off with a sword…”

Kyrin stifled a giggle.

“…But it’s also very important to understand th – son, stop playin’ with that quill, thank you – that being a Warrior requires you to have a sense of duty and loyalty to those you love and protect. The first lesson of a Warrior is to be good to others. It’s one thing t’know how to fight, but it makes all the difference for somebeast to learn how to care.

There was a short pause. Kyrin thought for a little bit, then replied, “Well, Melanda seems to be doin’ fine. Train her instead. Dad, I’m just not the type. You may as well give up on me.”

“No, son,” Tam shot back. “You know where you come up short. There is a Warrior in you somewhere. Search yourself. When you have a sense of duty, maybe you’ll understand.

There was another silence. Sighing heavily, Tam stood up. “Well, I’m not going to wait for you to think it through. But that doesn’t mean I’m going t’let you off easy, either.”

Kyrin slumped in his chair, dejected, as he saw his father getting ink and parchment off a shelf.

“You are t’write a full apology to Abbot Cyrus. After that, you will write apologies to Friar Tobel and Foremole Rull. I want at least three pages of well thought-out writing. If you write big, I will make you start over. Do I make m’self clear, Kyrin?”

Kyrin nodded.

“And don’t try anythin’ stupid. You are not to leave this Gatehouse unless I tell you to. I’ll be standin’ watch outside…” Sure you will, Kyrin thought. Tam had threatened him like that in the past, but Kyrin knew it was just a ploy.

“I’ll leave you t’your own devices now,” Tam said as he opened the door to leave. “Think deeply about what I said.”

“Dad…” Kyrin started.

Tam turned around.

“What about the Feast?”

Tam fixed his son with a stern stare. “What about the Feast?”

Kyrin sighed, leaning his head back and looking out the window as he got the message. Looks like somebeast was going to go hungry tonight.

The door slammed shut.

For a restless young squirrel, Kyrin had written quite a lot in the first half hour alone in the Gatehouse. He was just about to start on the second page of his first apology letter when he heard taunting voices outside the Gatehouse door.

“Heeheehee! Kyrin’s in trouble! Kyrin’s in trouble!”

“Oh, knock it off, Celany!” Kyrin shouted.

Celany, a spunky mousemaid just about Kyrin’s age shot back in a singsong voice: “Ha! I heard you’re missin’ the Feast! Your da’ was just talkin’ t’the Abbot!”

Kyrin winced as he heard these words. A gruff young mole voice joined in from the other side of the door.

“Hurr, they’m be a-makin’ lots of gudd food out thurr, Kyrin. Oi be smellin’ Deeper n’ Ever Pie, zoop, candied chesknutters…too bad ee bain’t goin’ t’be around t’scoff et at all!”

“Just shut it, Buwl!” Kyrin shouted. “Go an’ boil your fat head!”

There were triumphant giggles as Kyrin heard the receding pawsteps of his torturers. He heard Celany’s voice one last time:

“Maybe if you be a nice little squirrel me and Buwl’ll save you a pie crust, hahahaha!”

And then they were gone. Kyrin buried his face in his paws, utterly frustrated. Stupid Celany, stupid Buwl. Anyway, everybeast knows it’s “Buwl and I,” not “me and Buwl!”…oh, what does it matter? Nobeast liked the young squirrel. Seasons of roguish pranks and tricks had labeled Kyrin as, to quote his father, a spoiled brat in the eyes of fellow Redwallers. But why? Why this? Kyrin meant no harm. He cared for others, he really did! It was just…his nature that drove him to do this. Maybe his father was right…maybe he did need to gain a sense of duty…

Still sulking, Kyrin redoubled his efforts to finish the apology letters.

“Kyrin?”

“Oh, hi, dad,” Kyrin replied, looking up. For once, he had been so focused in his writing that he didn’t even notice Tam opening the door.

Tam nodded in approval as he looked over Kyrin’s letters. “First thing tomorrow morning, you’ll give these out. Now, d’you want something t’drink?”

Kyrin nodded gratefully.

“There’s some barley water out in the Great Hall. Can I trust you t’ get a drink an’ come right back an’ finish up those letters?”

Kyrin looked at his father. “Yes.”

Tam ruffled his son’s head. “Good squirrel. See? You can become a Warrior after all. Now, I’m going to be at the Abbey Pond, helpin’ Friar Tobel, Skipper, and Galwa get that large fish for supper tonight! Ha, everybeast in the Abbey has put down their work to cheer ’em on. Well, I have to go. Remember, son, search yourself.”

As Tam broke into a sprint across the Abbey lawns, Kyrin walked from the Gatehouse towards the Great Hall. Suddenly, a pebble flew at him from his right and hit the little squirrel in the shoulder. Kyrin looked over just in time to see Buwl’s velvety head duck down behind a patch of bushes. “I know you’re there, Buwl! You and Celany both!”

He was answered by a shower of very accurately-thrown pebbles. In a rage, Kyrin hurled a couple of the pebbles back, but since he was so angry, all of his shots went wide. Celany popped out from behind the bushes and blew an obnoxious raspberry at him. “Heeheehee! Warrior’s son! Can’t even throw straight!” Giggling, she and Buwl were off.

Kyrin’s face grew hot as his paws clenched. That was it. He was not going to take this. Stony-faced, he marched to the Abbey toolshed. It was unguarded. Kyrin threw the door open and selected an array of tools. Then, silently, he stole across the Abbey to the Great Hall, where he entered the Kitchens, which were also unguarded, snatching ground pepper, salt, and other items. There was work to be done.

Sister Armel was on the bank of the Abbey Pond, surrounded by a score of Dibbuns, as she shouted jubilantly: “Come on, Tobel! You can do this! Get that grayling!”

The Dibbuns cheered in kind.

“Get tha’ graylin’, Skip!”

“Hurr, ee show ‘im, Frurr Tob’!”

“Punch th’ daylights outta dat fish, Galwa!”

Friar Tobel sat in a precarious position in his tipping rowboat in the center of the pond, holding onto a flimsy fishing rod, which was being dragged under by a colossal grayling, onto which in turn Skipper and his trusted right-paw otter Galwa were hanging, clubbing it repeatedly with their fists. The grayling bucked and submerged itself again and again, shaking the boat up and down. Friar Tobel looked as if he was going to throw up.

Armel’s best friend, Brookflow the ottermaid, or Brooky, as she was called, also shouted out encouragement, but she did so much, much louder: “Whooo! C’mon, Uncle Skip! Kill that fish! Hahaha!”

Tam sidled up to Armel, slipping his paws around his mate’s waist. “Hey, how’re they doing?”

The pretty Infirmary Sister turned around briskly, her dark brown eyes glimmering with excitement. “Oh, Tam! What a surprise! Are you here to help them?”

Tam chuckled as he saw the spectacle in the pond. “Ha, looks like they could use some help.”

The Redwallers cheered as Tam waded into the water. “Be careful!” Armel shouted after him, as Tam reached the middle of the Pond and attacked the grayling, punching it straight in the eye. The grayling bucked with pain and lunged towards him, but the Warrior squirrel was ready. He caught the grayling by its jaws, struggling to hold them put as Skipper and Galwa continued bashing at its scaly body. Tam got a couple good blows in as well. At that moment Tobel’s line snapped, sending the surprised vole rolling backwards, out of the boat, into the water.

“Tam!” Skipper shouted, “I’ll get Tobel! You an’ Galwa lay it on ’im!”

As Skipper dived to save the sputtering chef, Tam forced the creature’s jaws shut as he drew his dirk which he always carried, stabbing at the fish’s tough, scaly armor as Galwa punched it in its other eye. Finally, the behemoth gave up and floated to the surface, exhausted.

“Quick, get it on land!” It took Tam, Skipper, and Galwa to successfully lift the giant out of the water. There, half a score of Redwallers helped in pulling the beast to shore. Friar Tobel heaved himself up on the bank, soaked from head to tail, where he cleared his throat and squeaked above the rest: “Friends, dinner is served!

An enormous cheer went up as the Redwallers rejoiced.

Later that evening, as the sun was going down, Tam had just finished checking on Kyrin when a feathery blur hit him head on, knocking him to the ground.

“Gahh!! Tergen! You old bird! How’re you doin’?”

The fearsome goshawk, still perched on Tam’s chest, threw back his head and laughed. “Kreehaaaaa! Good to see you, friend Tam!”

Tam struggled up, chuckling and nursing a sore chest at the same time. “It’s nice t’ see you too, mate. But I thought you were back at Salamandastron…”

The Warrior turned around to see three hares standing behind him. “Wha…Ferdimond de Mayne! Ha! You old longears! How’d you even get in?!!”

The powerful hare, clothed elegantly in a Long Patrol uniform, stepped forward to receive the embrace. “That’s Captain Ferdimond t’you, old lad! An’ you really need to learn how t’ lock those bally gates! We sauntered in like frogs in springtime, doncha know! How’s ol’ wotisname…Doogy…doin’, eh?”

“Doin’ great!” Tam grinned. “Why’re you so far from Salamandastron?”

Ferdimond shrugged his well-built shoulders. “Got news for your Abbot, I’m afraid. Is old Abbot Humble still around?”

“No,” Tam replied. “He’s passed on. Abbot Cyrus has taken his place.”

Ferdimond nodded. “Right then! Show us the way, smartlike! Eh, wot?”

As Tam led the four towards the main building, the two other hares, one old and one young, caught up with him.

“Thornberry Chambelieu McWarthorn,” the younger of the two said, clasping Tam’s paw enthusiastically. “You can call me Thorn, or Private Thorn, if y’ want! Always wanted to meet th’ Warrior of Redwall!”

The older hare, who had a thick mustache, showed up on Tam’s other side. “Colonel Buckshaw Binghamton Liberforth. Cousin of the late Crumshaw. You remember the old rascal, don’t you, old lad?”

“Kraaa! Brigadier Wotwot!” Tergen added.

Tam grinned. “Welcome, all, to Redwall Abbey!”

After introductions had been made, Abbot Cyrus, Tam, Armel, Doogy, Skipper, the hares, and Tergen, sat alone in the Abbot’s private study.

“Tell Lady Melesme I send my best regards,” Cyrus said graciously to the hares. “Now, what is the urgent news which you wish to tell me?”

Colonel Buckshaw leaned forward in his chair, setting down a crude map of the region. “Our scouts have been getting report of one Orak the Assassin in th’ north. Rumor has it he’s one of those rascals from Gulo the Savage’s horde. Anyway, he’s amassin’ a flippin’ army in hopes of conquering the entire Northlands!”

“So are you saying that Redwall may or may not be in danger?” Tam asked, exchanging a glance with Doogy and Armel.

Buckshaw shrugged. “Don’t know if he wants t’ go that far south, old lad, but for somebeast as bloodthirsty as he is, it’s bally well plausible, wot!”

“We’ve got soldiers stationed all over the northern Mossflower border. Badger Lady’s orders, y’see,” Thorn added.

“Oh, and you needn’t worry, Abbot,” Ferdimond said reassuringly, “we’ve already got a network of hares in Mossflower Wood, ready to fight at a moment’s notice. No vermin’s going to come south while we’re on duty, wot!”

Abbot Cyrus immediately respected the professionalism of the hares. “Thank you, all of you,” he said, bowing low. “Redwall will be forever in your debt. But for now, come down and take a seat with us at our Spring Feast!”

The hares were the first ones out the door, closely followed by Wild Doogy Plumm.

“Och, finally!”

“Splendid! I’m flippin’ famished!”

“You’re always famished but I know what you mean, wot wot!”

Everybeast laughed, but inwardly they all knew that the Long Patrol hares could be busy overstuffing themselves one moment and fighting to the death the next. They had all witnessed it.

The Great Hall was abuzz with laughter and conversation as Cyrus finally made his way in through the main entrance. On seeing their Abbot, everybeast fell silent and stood up.

Abbot Cyrus made his way to his seat in the center of the Abbey elders. He cleared his throat and announced in a loud voice:

“Friends! Old ones and young ones all! Thank you all very much for preparing this feast! I have seen your efforts and can wholeheartedly assure each and every one of you that every moment of your work will go into making tonight one of the most memorable nights of our lives! Now, a thank you to Friar Tobel and all his helpers for preparing this wonderful meal…”

“Where’s Kyrin?” Armel whispered to her mate as Cyrus went on. “Did he get in trouble again?” Tam nodded solemnly.

“...And I would like to welcome our guests from Salamandastron. Will they please stand!”

The hares stood and Tergen did a loop-de-loop in the air to rounds of jubilant applause.

After a while, Abbot Cyrus held up his paws for quiet. “Now, the grace!”

Everybeast bowed their heads as their Abbot recited:

“Grace to our home, Redwall,

May peace and plenty bless us all,

May we be safe day and night,

From hunger, sickness, war and strife,

And now as we begin the Feast,

Let us enjoy ourselves and eat!”

There was a sound “AMEN” as the celebrating Redwallers sat down and dug in. More than half the little ones who were old enough to walk, ran outside to participate in the Abbey Games. “Let the feasting begin!” Cyrus cheered.

Meanwhile, in the Gatehouse, Kyrin chuckled to himself as he put the final touches on his last apology letter and leaned back in his chair.

Let the screaming begin.


Chapter 4

“So, Tam, tell me,” Armel said, smiling. “What did Kyrin do this time?”

Tam shook his head as he took a bite out of a leek-and-onion turnover. “He stole a pie out of the Kitchens, caused a racket in the Great Hall tryin’ to escape, knocked the Abbot down by accident and ended up droppin’ the pie on his head.”

Armel nodded. “You apologized for him again, didn’t you?”

“Aye,” Tam replied, still chewing his food. “Armel, sometimes I don’t know what t’ do with him. He’s caused – ”

“Shh,” Armel silenced him softly, putting a finger to his mouth. “Don’t talk with your mouth full.” Tam stared into her gentle eyes for a moment, and then they laughed.

“He’ll be fine,” Armel reassured her mate. “Kyrin’s just growing up. Remember what you told me about your youth?”

Tam grinned at her as he took a sip of ale. “Oh, I see how it is. Now you’re usin’ my words against me.”

Suddenly Armel was looking at him funny. “Tam, what’s wrong with your teeth?”

“What? What is it?” Tam asked, perplexed.

“Your…your teeth…they’re stained black! Look!”

Tam looked at his reflection on the side of his ale mug. Sure enough, his teeth and gums were pitch black!

At the same moment, there were similar shouts as the grown-ups realized what had happened.

“Hoy! My teeth’s turned black!”

“Aye, mine too, mate! What’s happenin’?”

Melanda took a look inside her father’s mug. “Father,” she said, “your ale’s been mixed with ink!”

Tam called Brother Burlop, the Cellarhog, over. “Burlop! Which drinks did you bring up from the Cellars for today’s feast?”

The burly hedgehog scratched his spikes. “Hmm…well, h’I brought up the Ten Seasons Ale and some old October Ale – two barrels each, an’ I also brought up some dandelion an’ burdock cordial, some strawberry fizz…why? Wot seems t’ be th’ problem?”

Tam dropped his voice low. “Because somebeast put ink in the ale!”

At that moment some of the Dibbuns, who had been drinking out of a bowl of strawberry fizz, started crying.

“Waaaah! ‘S salty!”

“Boohoohoo! I can’t feel m’ mouf!”

“An’ th’ corjul be’s salted too!”

As Tam and Armel stared at a shocked Abbot Cyrus, who had evidently just figured out somebeast had put ink in his ale, Burlop hurried over to the crying Dibbuns. He stuck a finger in the bowl of strawberry fizz, tasted it, and made a face.

“Tam, h’all the sweet drinks ‘ave been salted!”

As the mounting chaos grew, Colonel Buckshaw’s voice could be heard among the clamor.

“Yowwch! Some blighter’s put a flippin’ stone in my tart!”

Other Redwallers, who had eaten Friar Tobel’s cranberry tarts, had obviously found out as well, as some were missing a couple teeth from biting down on something that hard.

Celany the mousemaid and her friend, Buwl the mole, were tackling a huge turnip n’ tater pie. However, when they bit into it, they made a surprising discovery.

“Mmm, Buwl, you were right! This pie’s good!”

“Hurr hurr, wait, wot be’s that crunchin’ noize?”

“What…there’s SAND in this pie?!!”

The two friends looked at each other for a second, horrified. Then they started gagging.

Abbot Cyrus, teeth stained with ink, ran around the Great Hall frantically, trying to restore order as the hanging festoons, suspended high above the tables as decorations, started coming lose and falling down. “Everybeast! Everybeast, please, let’s –”

Just then, every single bench in the room collapsed at the same time.

“Hmm,” Skipper observed as other creatures were nursing sore and bruised behinds, “the legs on these benches ‘ave been sawed off and reglued, mates!”

Just then it dawned on Tam. “Doogy!” He shouted, getting up. “Come with me outside!”

“What’s outside?”

“The Games! I think the Games ‘ave been pranked as well!”

From the Gatehouse, Kyrin could see everything that was happening on the Abbey Lawns. He chuckled to himself. This is going to be fun.

He watched a line of Dibbuns jump-roping, the long jump ropes being swung around and around by two burly otters each. Earlier that day, when he was let outside, Kyrin had soaked the ropes in water then poured ground pepper all over them. When the ropes dried, the pepper stuck – but could be removed if one shook the rope hard enough.

In a few seconds a fine brownish mist had formed around the jump-ropers. A few seconds after that, Kyrin could hear continuous sneezes.

Turning his head a little to the left, Kyrin saw a relay race, where a few younger Redwallers were trying to roll hoops faster than their competitors. Ha. Kyrin had bent all the hoops ever so slightly out of shape so that nobeast would notice, but when rolled, the hoops would not roll in a straight line. As the little ones ran, pushing the hoops along as they went, the hoops suddenly strayed off course. Kyrin watched as the little ones – and the hoops – started colliding with each other, falling down in a heap. Beautiful.

Tam and Doogy, their teeth blackened by ink, stepped outside as Sister Armel and Melanda joined them.

“Look, over there,” Doogy spoke, gesturing to a massive water fight taking place not too far away.

“What’s goin’ on?” Tam wondered. “Why are they screamin’?”

“Aaaah! Th’ water! ‘Tis green!”

“M’ fur’s all stained with plant dye!”

“Mine too! Except it’s blue!”

Tam looked at Armel and Melanda, stony-faced.

As the kites a few Redwallers were flying fell apart in midair, their lashings untied by somebeast, Tam broke into a brisk walk towards the Gatehouse.

Armel hurried after him, trying to calm him down. “Tam…”

But the Redwall Warrior, livid with rage, stalked onward, ignoring his mate’s pleas. Doogy and Melanda followed.

Quite logically, Abbot Cyrus canceled the Feast, lamenting it as one of the biggest upsets in all of Redwall’s history. The dejected Abbey dwellers began making their way upstairs to the Dormitories, hoping that the next day would be better. Nobeast said anything, but in their minds they all knew there could only be one creature in the Abbey who could conceive, set up, and carry out such a deed.

Kyrin leaned back in his chair as the sun began to set, feeling extremely triumphant. Today had definitely been one of the biggest victories of his life.

The door to the Gatehouse banged open as Tam, teeth stained with ink and face purple with fury, strode in, a nervous Doogy, Armel, and Melanda behind him. Kyrin, his footpaws on the table, grinned at his father.

“Hey, dad, how’s th’ feast comin’ along? I finished writin’ th – ”

Tam snatched up Kyrin’s apology letters and tore them up without a word. Chest heaving, he glared at his son, who stared back at him impassively.

Armel drew close to her mate. “Come, dear,” she whispered, herding Tam away. Before she went she gave Kyrin a pained look. And then everybeast was gone.

The door closed lightly as the light continued to fade. Kyrin was alone in the Gatehouse once more.

...

That night, Kyrin was tiptoeing up the stairs to his bed. Fear made him sneak up quietly; he wasn’t even sure if his father had allowed him to leave the Gatehouse at all.

The doors to the Dormitories were all closed as Kyrin stole silently past them. Everybeast was clearly asleep.

Well…almost everybeast.

“Tam, you’re being unreasonable…he’s only ten seasons old…”

Only ten seasons old?! He’s a disgrace, Armel…a shame to the MacBurl family name!”

“Tam, don’t say that! You’re forgetting your past!”

“My past doesn’t matter, Armel. Th’ thing is I have never pranked a feast before, have I? What he did is beyond reproach! Why, why did he turn out like this?”

“Well, what can we do?”

“I don’t know. I’ve resolved not t’ punish him. Just let him be. Let him grow to be a disgrace, an outcast! Why bother? Ha, tomorrow, he’ll have t’ face th’ whole Abbey, won’t he? That child…that child…is no son of mine!”

Kyrin had heard enough. Without a single word he stomped to his room and slammed the door as hard as he could. Flopping down on the bed, holding back hot tears, he pondered what his father had said.

That child is no son of mine.

It was one of those moments where a young creature reflects upon his past and evaluates himself.

They didn’t like him. They didn’t like him at all. What was he trying to achieve by making everybeast’s life miserable? He’d have to face them every day for the rest of his pitiful existence. His family gave up on him. They cast him out, denounced him in the lowliest of terms. He was truly alone. Truly alone in a world which he felt was working against him from every angle, twist, and turn. And now what? He’d sleep for a little while and then he’d wake up to the same world which didn’t want him.

As Mossflower Wood went to sleep, Kyrin MacBurl stayed wide awake, planning.


Chapter 5

Night had fallen over the cloudy gray Northern sky. In a secluded part of the forest, behind a natural hillock of stone, the fires of Orak the Assassin’s camp burned bright as the soldiers were eating dinner. Many of the ermine warlord’s soldiers, like their supreme commander, hailed from Gulo the Savage’s flesh-eating army. And now, these stoats seemed determined to carry on the tradition. They never took prisoners; their stomachs did.

Orak the Assassin picked the last bits of meat off the roasted woodpigeon his scavengers had shot down earlier that day. The ruthless ermine was in a particularly good mood that night. His recent conquests had made him feel important and in control. From under his cloak, Orak produced a rolled up parchment map of the Northlands. After his guards cleared the table away, he spread the map out under the light of a torch.

This is all mine. Orak smiled inwardly as he studied the vast expanse of land which he had taken. In the past season alone, Orak’s rapidly burgeoning army had taken control of the entire eastern region of the Northlands. Since there were very few large tribes of creatures living in these parts, it was easy for Orak’s army of two hundred ermine and stoats to plunder and murder the place clean.

There was a noise and Orak swiftly looked up. His two Captains, Deatheye and Kirsharr, entered his tent and saluted him.

“The troops are finished eating, my lord,” Deatheye reported.

Orak nodded, beckoning the two to join him at the table. “Come, my friends, look at this map and tell me what you see.” Deatheye and Kirsharr immediately understood that their chief was in a good mood and wanted a compliment or two.

The two Captains approached the table and Deatheye looked at the map, noting the charcoal marks on conquered areas. He nodded. “It’s an imposing territory, my lord. Soon all the Northlands will be yours.”

Kirsharr, who was not able to read maps or anything in general, studied the parchment anyway. “Aye, boss, it looks like yer’ve taken a great deal o’ land. Harharr, I kin still hear th’ screams o’ those dormice beggin’ fer yer mercy when we raided dere village.”

Orak nodded, complacent. “Hmm, yes…now tell me, do you believe I can…“invest” in some land south of here?

The portly Kirsharr chuckled, revealing a mouthful of snaggled teeth. “Harrharr, of course y’ can, m’lord. Nobeast’ll even think of stoppin’ yer.”

Deatheye cast the fat ermine a jaundiced glare, then spoke his opinion. “Hmm, I’d say yes, you could definitely extend south. But what about the western Northlands? If we don’t wipe out resistance there first – ”

Orak stopped smiling. “Resistance? What resistance?”

Deatheye nodded affirmatively. “Aye, my lord. I apologize for not telling you sooner, because I didn’t want to spoil your good mood. But now that you’re aware of this I thought you would like to know that there is a certain weasel named Zaragus, whose horde has taken control of the western regions and is expanding eastward.”

The ermine assassin stood up. “Tell me, Deatheye, what do you know about this…Zaragus?”

“They say he’s a corsair who set out searching for plunder, sir,” Deatheye said. “Nobeast knows where he comes from, but in recent seasons he’s landed in the Northlands, raised an army made up of local vermin, and is building himself a fortress in the west so he can rule the land like a king.”

Orak’s expression darkened. “And how do you know all this, my faithful Captain?”

Deatheye shrugged. “One of our foraging parties captured two rats who claimed to be working for him. We would’ve interrogated them more, but they tried to run, so we killed them.”

Orak’s face did not change. When he spoke, his voice was even. “Why wasn’t I notified of these events?”

Deatheye didn’t even flinch. “Because my soldiers are my business, my lord.”

It was the wrong answer. Orak moved like a blur. In a flash, he pinned Deatheye’s head to the table with one paw.

“Remember that I won’t tolerate any insubordination in my ranks,” Orak stated calmly, still holding down his Captain’s head. “You have soldiers because I give you soldiers. As a matter of fact, you’re alive right now only by my good graces.”

“Shall I slay ‘im fer you, Chief?” Kirsharr asked, once again.

Orak shook his head. “No, Captain Kirsharr, calm yourself.” Releasing Deatheye, the Assassin began pacing around his tent.

“This weasel, Zaragus, will undoubtedly wonder where his soldiers went. He’s a corsair, after all. I know his type. Crude beasts, all of them, always drinking and carousing with their crews. He’s going to demand to know what happened soon. So we’re going to take the fight to him. Knowing corsairs, Zaragus probably thinks he’s king of the world right now, so he’ll probably invite us to his fortress and show off his power.”

“Will there be fightin’, sir?” Kirsharr piped up.

Orak’s eyes flashed gleefully. “Oh, yes. There’ll be no Zaragus in these parts after I’m done with him and his crew.”

Kirsharr, always the more loyal of the two Captains, grinned sycophantically. “Hurr hurr hurr, Captain, you’se a smart one!”

Orak actually laughed out loud. “Ha! That’s what I want to hear right now! Kirsharr, when we invade Zaragus’ fortress, you’ll have the honor of leading the first charge.”

Kirsharr nodded eagerly, definition up to the task. “Thank ye, Chief! I’ll make ye proud.”

Deatheye scowled. Being the more intelligent and polished of the two, he couldn’t stand the idea of Kirsharr receiving favors before he did. “Oh, shut up, Kirsharr, you fat, bumbling oaf…”

Orak looked at Deatheye as if he had just noticed the stoat. “Oh, I’m sorry, is there a problem? You’re a good soldier and strategist. But maybe you should show a little bit more loyalty, eh?”

Deatheye could only stand there helplessly, seething with rage.

Orak smiled dryly. “You see, this is how I reward my more obedient Captains. But don’t worry. I still have work for you. You are to take five spies and trackers tomorrow morning and find Zaragus’ fortress. Scout ahead and report back to me the size of his army, weaknesses in his fortress, and anything else that would help us gain an advantage. Maybe spy work will teach you to respect your commanders more, hmm?”

The mottle-furred stoat looked at his smug commander, then at Kirsharr, who was grinning triumphantly. He detested spy work, deeming it the lowest possible form of warfare. But he had no choice. “Yes, my lord.”

“Good,” Orak smiled. “Now both of you, get out of my tent. I need to get some sleep. We start marching at dawn. Dismissed!”

As the two Captains left the tent, Kirsharr could be heard guffawing.

Kyrin could hear the crickets chirping in the distance as he lay in bed. He had been awake for hours, long after everybeast had went to sleep. His father’s banishment still ringing in his head, the son of the Redwall Champion got up and stared out the window. The moon was out, suspended in the cloudless sky like a lustrous pearl, illuminating the tiny sparkling stars around it. Gazing at the horizon, not wanting tomorrow to come, Kyrin began singing, making up the words as he went:

“Can I fly to the moon?

Or soar amongst the stars?

Is my only destiny to be

Trapped within these bars?

Am I just one little creature

Or am I something more?

Can there be another purpose

That I’m living for?”

The more Kyrin thought, the more he began to believe one thing: There was something else to live for, and it wasn’t in this Abbey. With a new sense of resolution he had never experienced before in his life Kyrin jumped out of bed and stole like a ghost across the Dormitory halls until he reached a storeroom at the end of the corridor. Gently opening the unlocked door, the young squirrel snuck inside, taking with him extra blankets, a few changes of clothes, and a large burlap sack. Then, after he had dropped these items off in his room, he snuck across the hall to Doogy’s room. Doogy, a heavy sleeper, didn’t notice the creak of his door being pushed open as Kyrin snuck in, stealing Doogy’s claymore. He was going to need a weapon.

Silently pushing the door to Doogy’s room shut, Kyrin left and ran back to his room, where he shut the door and blocked it with a chair. Opening the bag, Kyrin stuffed two blankets and the extra clothes into it. As for the other blankets, he tied them together, end to end, tying one end to the bedpost and throwing the other end out the window. Then, he strapped on Doogy’s claymore and a small stone knife, which he had made himself.

Suddenly, something caught his eye.

It was a small bronze necklace, carved into the semblance of a squirrel and attached to a thick black string. Tam had given this trinket to Kyrin when Kyrin was born. Sighing, Kyrin slipped the necklace around his neck…to remind him.

Taking one last look at the Abbey who had shunned him and cast him out, Kyrin held on to the bag with his teeth as he slipped out through the window, slowly working his way down.

And so, Kyrin MacBurl, son of the Highlander warrior Rakkety Tam, departed Redwall Abbey during a full moon one cold spring night.

It was raining the next morning as Tam and Armel sat slightly apart from one another the next morning at breakfast, not talking to other amidst the hustle and bustle of the other Redwallers in the Great Hall.

Ferdimond De Mayne sat down between them, breaking the frosty silence. “Well, your son certainly is a cheeky blighter. No offense to you two, of course, wot. Phwaw! My teeth are still hurtin’ from biting down on a tart with a bally stone loaded in it!”

Tam looked wearily at the hare. “Ferdimond, d’you think a troublemaker like him’ll ever change?”

Ferdimond chuckled as he selected a honeyed scone from a plate, then proceeded to take all of them. “Of course, mmf,” he said between bites. “Little lad is…scruff…a warrior born…gulp…you’d be silly t’think…scrunch…otherwise, if I may say so m’self! Scrrf…these scones are top hole, wot!”

Tam glanced at Armel as he continued. “But he’s caused so much trouble already…Ferdimond, you don’t know this, but he’s been causing mischief since – ”

Ferdimond turned to look at Tam, silencing the Warrior squirrel with a serious gaze. “I know you’re worried about your son, Tam, but underneath he’s a good creature. There’re lads just like him in the regiments back at Salamandastron, y’know. Wanting out, wanting more, wanting somebeast to understand. I heard what you said about Kyrin last night, and I thought about my wife Kersey and my son. He’s a bit cheeky for a leveret, but we don’t punish him, and at the same time we don’t spoil him either. We give him the attention that he wants, and we reel him in sometimes. Tam, have you ever considered that your son is still young?”

Tam stopped dead. He realized just then that he had not. He opened his mouth to speak. “I – ”

Ferdimond nodded. “Well, you have a chance to make it up to him.”

Tam smiled gratefully. “Thank you, Ferdimond.” Armel reached over and squeezed his paw from under the table.

Ferdimond De Mayne wiggled his ears modestly. “Oh, don’t mention it, old sport. I say! Are those apple turnovers spread with meadowcream? If you’ll excuse me, Sir and Madam…” with that, the hare was gone.

Tam looked at Armel. “Well,” he sighed, “Guess I have t’talk t – ”

“Oy! Which one of ye lily-livered grubwhompers took mah claymore?” Doogy’s voice rang out from at the foot of the stairs leading to the Great Hall. “Melanda an’ ah’ve been lookin’ all over fer et!”

Tam and Armel stood up, with Abbot Cyrus joining them. The three met Doogy and Melanda and hurried up to the Dormitories.

When they reached the Dormitory levels they found Sister Daynia, a petite old mouse, near the storeroom. “Somebeast was here last night, Father Abbot,” she reported. “And they’ve gone and taken all the blankets!”

Abbot Cyrus looked at the door to Kyrin’s room, which was still closed. Everybeast else had gone down to breakfast. “Here, Sister Daynia, let’s check young Kyrin’s room.”

They followed Sister Daynia, stopping in front of Kyrin’s room. “Kyrin!” Sister Daynia called, tapping on the door. “Kyrin MacBurl! Wake up!”

When there was no answer, the old Sister pushed at the door. “It’s been blocked from the other side by something, Father Abbot.”

Melanda stepped forward to help. “Here, Sister, let me try.” She successfully pushed the door open. There was a clatter on the other side as the chair blocking the door fell over. They were greeted by an empty room. A thunderclap sounded outside through the open window, out of which dangled a rope made from blankets…

Everybeast was silent, except for Melanda, who whispered: “Kyrin’s gone.”

Chapter 6

Deatheye and his trackers had set out before dawn. The mist draped over the evergreens like a natural veil as the gang of six picked up the trail of the rats they had captured yesterday. Deatheye’s paw toyed with the hilt of his sword. This was the worst. He felt utterly humiliated and disgraced. Working with spies was possibly one of the most downgrading, dishonorable things he could do. And now he had to lead a band of them to find an entire fortress based on the tracks of two rats. The stoat Captain was beginning to think Orak was putting him on a wild goose chase to be rid of him. Anger welled up inside his soul as the group skirted trees, jumped over streams, and climbed over rocks.

“Sir,” Browntail, one of the ermine trackers, spoke: “der tracks lead to a trail.”

Deatheye looked to where Browntail was pointing. Sure enough, a few feet ahead of them, the trees faded away to reveal a dusty road.

Moving out to the trail, Deatheye observed it. “Hmm, it’s been very well-traveled these few days. “Woodlanders?”

An ermine named Krilel stooped down to inspect the prints that marked up the trail. “Aye, woodlanders an’ rats, ferrets, you name it, Captain. Wonder why dey’re travelin’ together, though.”

Suddenly, a barbed arrow whizzed out from the grove on the other side of the path. Deatheye’s quick reflexes saved him; he ducked, hearing the gurgle of the tracker behind him getting shot through the throat.

A motley assembly of seven rats, wearing blood red bandanas around their heads, and waving crooked cutlasses, charged forward out of the woods, shouting wildly.

Deatheye’s commander instinct rose up again. Composing himself in the face of danger, he shouted: “Form up! One firing rank! Shoot the bigger ones first and work your way down! FIRE AT WILL!”

The remaining four ermine crouched and nocked arrows to their recurve bows, which all spies and trackers carried for better mobility as opposed to the longbows carried by the regular troops. They unleashed a volley at the incoming mob. The arrows made a noise like angry hornets as they cut down three of the rats.

Now it was five against four. Deatheye’s troops, however, were better-equipped, well-fed, and far more disciplined than these bandit rats. As the first rat made contact, Deatheye slashed him across the eyes with the jagged edge of his sword, then cleaved his face in half with the other side of the blade. Another rat was impaled by Browntail’s spear. The third rat already lay dead, stabbed through the heart by his own cutlass. Deatheye turned his attention to the last rat, who was bleeding profusely from the legs as he was being set upon by Krilel and another tracker, who were brutally kicking him about the head.

Deatheye got between them. “Stop! Stop, you dimwits! We need him alive!”

Kneeling, the stoat Captain checked the rat’s pulse. “He’s bleeding out fast. We need to make this quick.” He looked at the rat, whose eyes were fast glazing over. “Tell me,” Deatheye spoke with calm urgency. “Who sent you?”

The rat raised a weak paw. “Z-Zaragus will n-not be stopped,” he rasped.

Deatheye continued. “Do you know where I can find him?”

“F-fortress on h-hill…west o-of here…down the p-path…you will die…slave o-on other side of p-path…t-th’ red b-banner c-conquers al – ” a death rattle began to issue from the creature’s throat, and in another few seconds he was dead, his soul traveling to the Dark Forest.

Deatheye stood up. “Bury the dead on the side of the road,” he ordered. “Take the dead tracker’s rations. More food for you tonight. I’ll find the slave on the other side of the road.”

“This place is crawlin’ wid rats!” Krilel exclaimed as he and the other ermine began lifting the bodies. “Aye, well git used t’ it,” Browntail groused. “We’re headin’ fast towards dere fort. Didn’t yer hear wot the rat said?”

Deatheye ignored them as he crossed the road. Crying could be heard from the other side. The stoat Captain peered behind a rock. There was an emaciated hedgehog, obviously a slave, his paws bound by a thick rope, who was sobbing despairingly. Sheathing his sword, Deatheye knelt beside him and spoke in a gentle voice: “It’s alright, friend, you can trust me.”

“Arr, who c’n h’I trust?” the hedgehog sobbed, as the story came tumbling involuntarily from his lips, “we were set ‘pon by those vermin by that weasel, Zaragus. ‘E ‘as my wife and my pore liddle ones under his grip…” as the hedgehog started blubbering incoherently, Deatheye offered him a canteen of water and two biscuits from his ration pack. “Here, eat something. You look awful.”

The wretched creature fell upon the food and drink voraciously as Deatheye sat patiently by, waiting for him to finish. When the woodlander had finished, Deatheye got right down to business:

“Tell me more about Zaragus.”

“My name’s Umbo. ‘Ad a mate an’ two young ‘uns. We lived in peace ‘til one day two seasons back, rats wearin’ red bandana’s attacked our home, captured my pore wife and babies, an’ shipped ‘em off to th’ fortress…”

“And what about you? Did you try to help them?” Deatheye inquired. He knew he had to play his cards right now.

“Oh, h’I tried, h’I tried,” the hedgehog sobbed, wringing his tied paws. “H’I escaped their fort an’ tried to git help, but they captured me an’…”

Deatheye nodded. “Tell me everything you know.”

For the next half hour or so, Deatheye learned all about Zaragus. He was a weasel corsair, just like rumors mentioned, who had landed in the Northlands with a big plan in mind. With a mixture of charm and brutality Zaragus had gathered together all the roaming vermin in the area, creating an army of five hundred, mostly rats. Now, Umbo said, the corsair was building a grand fort on top of a hill from which he could plan his conquest of the Northlands. Zaragus’ soldiers, marching under a blood-red banner, ruthlessly subdued and enslaved the local woodlanders, forcing a number of them to build the fortress while others were herded onto huge pieces of farmland to produce food for the troops.

Once Umbo was finished speaking, Deatheye dragged him up. “Thank you. You’re coming with us.”

“W-where h’am I goin’, sire?” Umbo stammered.

Deatheye ignored him as he dragged the hog with him over to his trackers. “Everybeast move further into the woods and rest for a while. Don’t make any sound. See this hedgehog? Watch him. Don’t let him escape, but keep him alive. I think Orak’s troops will be here in a little bit.”

It was midday when Deatheye heard the disciplined step of Orak’s army reverberating through the woods. “And what are you doing here, sitting around, Captain?” Orak asked, obviously annoyed that Deatheye wasn’t at the fortress yet.

Deatheye stood up. “We were attacked by Zaragus’ soldiers, my lord. But we managed to capture this hedgehog. This is Umbo. He was one of Zaragus’ slaves.” He then proceeded to tell Orak what Umbo told him.

Orak leaned in closer to the hedgehog. “What do you know about Zaragus?”

Umbo trembled under Orak’s icy glare. “E-everything, sir,” he squeaked.

Orak gave the hedgehog a rough shove. “Then if you want to see your family again, you will lead us to his fortress. Any tricks, and I’ll make sure you’ll curse the seasons during which you’ve lived while my soldiers rip you apart piece by piece. Do I make myself clear, woodlander?”

Umbo nodded vigorously, shuddering as two ermine knotted a rope around his neck.

“Move out!” Orak ordered.

Later, when the soldiers were marching down the road, Orak looked over at Deatheye, who was grinning triumphantly, having trumped his commander at his own game. “I thought I told you to find the fortress!”

Deatheye shrugged. “I found you an informant who knows the place inside out.” He returned Orak’s glare. “And I’m sure you don’t want your…best Captain to be absent when you’re leading the troops, correct, my lord?”

Orak’s paw momentarily tightened around the hilt of his rapier, but he composed himself. “Watch yourself, Deatheye,” he snarled. “There is more than one way to get killed in this horde!”

As to emphasize his point, the bushes on either side of the path rustled as a few blood-red bandanas were spotted moving rapidly back towards the fortress.

The trilling song of a lark woke Kyrin up. He was lying in the middle of Mossflower Wood, dwarfed by the looming oaks, sycamores, and beeches. How long had he been asleep, and how far had he run? The tall Abbey towers could not be seen. Good.

Rubbing his eyes, Kyrin realized his situation. First off, he was soaked with rainwater. It had been pouring that morning. The leaves glistened with water just as the sun shone in the air.

Gurgle. He was also hungry. Kyrin started to regret the fact that he forgot to bring any food. Oh well, guess I’ll have to make do. He got up and took off his tunic, wringing it dry. Putting his clothes back on, the squirrel started walking in no direction in particular, looking for something to eat.

About midday, Kyrin descended a mossy bank and reached a babbling brook – a tributary of the River Moss. He still hadn’t found anything to eat, so he took a drink from the clear waters. It tasted just as he expected freedom to taste like: fresh and clean.

Gurgle gurgle. He was beginning to get frustrated, however. Where was a woodlander when you needed him? He halfheartedly expected a joyous, plump dormouse or somebeast similar to pop out of the woods carrying woodland trifle topped with chestnuts. Well…at least he wished it would happen. THERE’S NO FOOD! AARGH!

Suddenly, Kyrin heard the sound of frying. The zesty smell of oatcakes being fried in sunflower oil on a flat rock…mmm!

It didn’t take long for the young squirrel to track down the smell further up the streambank. Soon he was standing, back turned to the bank, in front of a stone griddle on which lay two sizzling golden oatcakes. It smelled too good to waste. Seeing how nobeast was around, Kyrin reached over and grabbed an oatcake, bouncing the hot morsel around in his paws. Success! He was about to take a bite out of the thing when there was a sound behind him.

“Yaaaah!”

In an instant Kyrin found himself set upon by a grizzled old squirrel, wearing a bark mask painted with bright colors, and dyed in brown and green plant dyes.

“Get away from my oatcakes, rat! Barulo always wins! Heeeeeyaaahhh!!”

Kyrin had to defend himself from being pounded by the thick wooden stick the squirrel was carrying. “Whoa! Whoa! Hold on! I’m no rat! Ow! Stoppit!”

The old squirrel had Kyrin pinned to the ground and was just about to thrash his brains out. “Wha…? Ye mean t’ tell me yer not a rat?”

“Do I look like a rat to you? Gerroff!” an exasperated Kyrin snapped.

Quite sheepishly the elder got off, removing his mask. “Well,” he grumbled, revealing a mouthful of missing teeth, “don’t go scarin’ me like that! Young ‘uns these days…wot’s a little ‘un like you doin’ out here alone?”

“What’s a senile old squirrel like you doin’ livin’ inside th’ side of a stream bank?” Kyrin countered, deciding he need not be afraid of this strange creature.

“What? SENILE?!! Why, ye little…” the squirrel started towards Kyrin, who drew his claymore.

At this the old squirrel backed down. “Huh, if’n ye wanted food, ye could ‘ave just asked.”

Kyrin nodded sarcastically. “Good idea, old one! Next time you can assault me with a stick and an’ I’ll make sure t’ squeeze in a nice request when I’m gettin’ beaten to death!”

The old squirrel pushed aside a couple branches obscuring his lair. “My name’s Barulo, I’m a hermit. Come inside, I s’pose, an’ bring those oatcakes with ye.”

After introductions had been made (and stomachs filled), Kyrin told Barulo his story. The old squirrel seemed much friendlier now as he nodded.

“Ah, yer an outcast. Huh, I never really knew my own mother an’ father either.”

Kyrin wanted to ask why, but he decided it wouldn’t be polite.

“So where d’ye plan t’go anyway?” Barulo questioned.

“That’s th’ thing,” Kyrin replied. “I’m not really sure.”

Barulo hung his scary-looking mask up. Kyrin studied the cove. It was nice; everything had been masterfully carved into the sturdy earth. For example, there were shelf-like niches carved so that Barulo could put his clay cups somewhere. The floor, covered with a woven grass mat, felt soft and smelled very fragrant. Size-wise, the entire dwelling was no bigger than his room back at the Abbey, but it was certainly ample enough.

The old squirrel noticed Kyrin was looking around. “Ha, built this place m’self. Where do ye come from, anyhow?”

“Redwall Abbey. Have you heard of it?” Kyrin asked.

Barulo shook his head. “No sirree, and by wot ye’ve told me, I don’t think I want to!”

The two shared a laugh. Kyrin then asked curiously: “tell me, mister Barulo, why d’ you live in the side of a streambank and dye your fur brown and green and set upon travelers with sticks?”

“Shhh,” Barulo hissed. “Not so loud. Y’see, this place is filled with river rats. Th’ Bloodwater tribe, they’re called, I think. Anyhow, they travel these rivers. I settled here a long time ago, ‘cos I could get t’ the water whenever I wanted. But then those vermin types arrived and things ‘ave become dangerous. So that’s why I don’t take any chances wi’ anybeast.”

“So that explains the mask, the camouflage, and the stick?” Kyrin inquired. Barulo nodded. “I don’t know if’n ye want t’stay here young ‘un…ye’ve got a long life ahead of ye…”

Kyrin then realized he really didn’t have anyplace to go. Besides, he could afford learn a couple things about living out in the woods…

Barulo read his face immediately. The old one chuckled. “So, Kyrin, if’n ye want to stay here, ye’ve got to help me work. I’ll teach ye wot I need ye to do startin’ tomorrow, an’ you stay as long as ye wish. Howzat sound?”

Kyrin nodded gratefully as he smiled. “Sounds good!”


Chapter 7

Tam sat stony-faced on the Abbey ramparts, refusing all food and drink that was delivered to him. The warrior squirrel stared out into the sprawling forest which lay beyond the sandstone walls. As far as things were concerned, Kyrin could be anywhere by now.

The air outside was humid as the mid-morning sun hung high in the air, warming the Earth, its rays of light reflected by the early morning rain clinging to every surface. Sister Armel made her fourth trip up to the ramparts. Tam didn't turn as she neared him.

Armel touched his paw. "Come, Tam, you must eat."

No answer. "Tam, please," Armel tried, to no avail. The Warrior's face was set as he continued to stare blankly out into the horizon. Armel took a long look at her mate. While he remained expressionless on the outside she could sense a plethora of emotions in him: regret, anguish, bewilderment, self-reproach, fear.

Having received no response from Tam, the Infirmary Sister climbed down from the ramparts, meeting the three Salamandastron hares below.

"Good mornin', Miss," Thorn bowed, doing an elegant leg. "How's old grumpy MacBurl doin'?

Armel's face was a picture of worry. "Oh," she sighed, "he just won't eat anything anybeast puts in front of him. I don't know what I can do."

The hares looked at each other. "Hmm, worried sick about his son, I'd wager, wot," Colonel Buckshaw mused. The others nodded in agreement.

"Is there anything we can do?" Ferdimond offered.

Armel looked back at the solitary figure standing wearily on the ramparts. "Well, Tam won't talk to anybeast at all. He's in deep shock."

"Erm, beg pardon…just curious, madam," Buckshaw inquired. "Has the Abbot told anybeast about this incident yet?"

Armel shook her head. "Well, then," Buckshaw concluded, "keeping it under wraps, I see. Jolly old family business, wot! Well, you certainly wouldn't mind if we organized a little search n' rescue party to find the boy, eh?"

The other hares agreed.

"Certainly."

"Most definitely, wot!"

Armel clasped the grizzled Colonel's paw. "Thank you," she said gratefully, smiling through eyes shining with tears. Buckshaw, who was not given to that sort of affection, drew back red-faced, kicking dirt and muttering.

"So then, shall we start this bally hunt already?" Ferdimond asked.

"Yes, please, we hares need exercise, doncha know," Thorn added.

Buckshaw turned to face them, military-fashion. "Alright, lads," he ordered sternly. "Pack some rations and meet back here shortly! We should be gone for the whole day! Move out!"

Armel watched them leave. She looked back at Tam one more time. He was standing still as a post. The kindly Sister sighed and left.

Once the Abbey gates were securely closed behind them, the hares stood on the path attentively as Buckshaw outlined the plans for them.

"Right, lads, now we've got a flippin' dilemma on our paws here. That little blighter, Kyrin, is missin' and it rained all last night. So I hope your tracking skills are bally well sharp, because the blinkin' rainwater's washed away all scents an' pawprints by now, wot. So here's what we'll do: we'll split up an' search the woods around Redwall for any traces of the little rascal's escape. If anybeast finds something noticeable, just holler. We're facin' west outside the main gate, an' it's a long trek across Salamandastron. My best guess is that the boy would try to hide in the woods. That's what I would've bally well done anyway. So, I'll check the north side. You, Thorn, check the south side, and Ferdimond, you check the east side. See if there's anythin' we can – "

"Kreeehhaaaaa!" Tergen the goshawk landed in the middle of the search party. "Not going searching without Tergen! No!"

Thinking fast, Buckshaw replied: "Right then, Tergen, you fly above the woods and scout for any movement you see below. Just give us a hoot if y'see somethin', wot."

With an earsplitting screech, the powerful bird took to the skies as the Long Patrol hares split up, searching the ground below for any sign of the missing squirrel.

The search went on fruitlessly through the rest of the morning. About noon, however, Buckshaw gave a shout.

"Hoi! Come an' see wot I found, chaps! It looks like I've picked up the bally trail, wot!"

Ferdimond and Thorn hurried over to the woods near the North Wall, while Tergen swooped down, lighting on a low branch.

"Y'see here," Buckshaw pointed, indicating faded prints in the ground. "Fresh tracks. Y'can't doubt it now. Looks like the little bounder packed and ran north, wot."

"But it rained all flippin' mornin', how can you be sure those are squirrel tracks, sah?" Thorn inquired.

"Quite simple, Private. We're currently sittin' in some very dense woodland here. The leaves haven't quite sprouted completely but the branches sure provide flippin' shelter, wot."

Ferdimond crouched and inspected the tracks. "Colonel's right, Thorn. Those branches are as big as the bally cook's stomach and twice as wide! No rain can get through to th' ground! And look! Seems like somebeast was in such a hurry to leave that he ripped his tunic runnin' through these branches!" He held out a shred of cloth. Tergen eyed it, then squawked in confirmation. "Kraaaaaa! That Redwall cloth!"

Buckshaw looked at his comrades. "Well, looks like we've got ourselves a jolly trail now, lads. I think those prints lead further into the woods. We 'ave to stay on the trail like the warts on a toad's back. Hmm…warts on a toad's back...I like it. Oh well, 'tennnn-shun! Eyes forward! Move out!"

By late afternoon, the sun had dried up the rain and was now projecting its rays through the deep forest as it began to set.

"You think we should stop for a bite t'eat, Colonel? My insides are gurglin'."

"Oh, shut it, Thorn, you glutton. It's your flippin' fault you ate everything in your ration pack…not to mention my ration pack as well, wot."

The three hares had been following Kyrin's trail for hours now. Soon, they stopped at a section of the River Moss.

"Hmm," Buckshaw observed. "The tracks end here."

Ferdimond stared across to the other bank. "Impossible! How could a chap swim across this thing in the middle of the night?"

Thorn, who had been ravenously gulping down river water, now gestured off to a half-hidden cove to their left. "Look! On the left! Canoes!"

Sure enough, there were about a dozen hefty log canoes hidden under a constructed canopy of leaves and bark. Their oars, carved from hefty wood, lay nearby. It dawned on Buckshaw. "S'pose we take one of their canoes. Then we can row the thing across this place and find the tracks from there, wot?"

The other hares agreed. The air was silent as the three creatures approached the canoes.

Suddenly, an arrow zipped out from behind the cove and struck Ferdimond in the shoulder, protruding out his back. "Heads down, chaps!" Buckshaw shouted. "We're being attacked!"

As he said this, whoops and screeches could be heard ringing through the woods.

"Yeeeee! Bloodwater! Bloodwater! KILL!"

An army of thuggish-looking rats, their faces smeared with blue and green plant dyes, materialized out the woods, waving rusty spears and brandishing lit torches.

"Kill dem! Dey take-a our boats!" One of the rats shouted.

A shower of arrows zipped overhead. "Well, we're in a bit of a tick, wot?" Thorn shouted over the clamor. "Pinned down with our backs to the water like frogs in a pan! What d'you propose we do, Colonel?"

A veteran with seasons of experience under his belt, Buckshaw calmly assessed the situation. "There's no time t'escape across the water. We'll have t' fight our way out!" He drew his fine officer's saber. Thorn and Ferdimond, who did not bring any weapons, grabbed an oar apiece.

"Right, then! Let's give 'em blood an' vinegar, chaps!"

With that, the three hares charged gallantly forth, shouting out the time-honored battle cry of Salamandastron.

"Eulaaaaaaaliaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa!"

The barbaric rats, despite their ferocity, were taken aback by the sudden counterattack.

Colonel Buckshaw jumped right in front of a rat and slew him with a single slash as Thorn and Ferdimond skillfully wielded their oars, dealing out hard blows to the enemy.

"Ha! Did y'see that, Ferdimond?" Thorn laughed as he clubbed a rat in the face. "Right in the bally rotter's hooter! Haha! 'Tis a nice day t'die, eh, wot?"

But Ferdimond wasn't answering. His legs seemed weak and he was beginning to stagger around, his face a mask of pain. Despite this, however, he held on, viciously beating rats away from him with the shattered paddle.

Thorn moved over to Buckshaw, who was busy fighting two rats at once.

"Colonel, sah, somethin's wrong with Ferdimond. He looks like he just ate a bally slug."

Buckshaw made quick work of his two adversaries as he observed Ferdimond, who at this point was fighting hard to stand upright. "Hmm, rather, y'don't say. Right. Should we help him, Private?"

"Definitely, if I may say so myself, sah."

"Eulaaaaaaaaaaaliaaaaaaa!"

Buckshaw and Thorn slashed and beat their way through the rats swarming around the weakened Ferdimond. "I say, old chap, are you alright?" Buckshaw asked. But Ferdimond was beginning to shiver and twitch as he dropped his battered oar. Something was seriously wrong with him.

"We'd better get him back to the barracks, quick-like!" Buckshaw noted.

Thinking fast, Thorn laid a rat low with his oar, then picked up the fallen creature's torch and heaved it toward the riverbank – where the canoes were stored. Since the canoes were hidden by a patch of bark and dead leaves, it didn't take long before the rats' cove was on fire.

"Here! Have a taste of your own fire, you bounders!" Thorn called out as the rats frantically scattered to tend to the canoes.

"Yaahh! Put out dat fire!"

"Save der canoes!"

"Alright, we had better beat it out of here. Ferdimond isn't looking too jolly well, wot," Buckshaw ordered.

Carrying a now-unconscious Ferdimond, the three began rushing back to Redwall, racing against the setting sun.

Barulo had lit a fire inside his home. "T'ain't much," he muttered as he chopped up wild leeks, dandelions, and watercress into a pot of boiling water, "but it'll do. How're ye doin', sonny?"

It was night now, and the temperature had dropped significantly. Kyrin grinned as he moved closer to the fire. "Tired."

Barulo chuckled. "Aye, scavengin' isn't easy, eh? But lissen, young 'un, tomorrow, if'n the weather's nice, we'll go fishin'. 'Ow does that sound?"

Kyrin nodded eagerly as the old squirrel smiled. "Haharr, I'm just thinkin' about today when ye told me how ye stole'd a canoe to cross the River Moss." He waggled a stern paw under Kyrin's nose. "Very dangerous. Those canoes belong t' th' Bloodwater Tribe. This place is crawlin' wid those river rats. You were lucky, young rip. Terrible stories abound 'bout them attackin' innocent trav'lers an' whatnot. Bloodthirsty killers, that's wot they are."

Kyrin started with a shock. "Y'mean we're living amongst vermin?"

Barulo nodded. "Aye, but don't worry. Ha! As long as we keep this liddle abode hidden well. Reverse psychology, y'know. They think they're so great that they won't think about lookin' right under 'em." He tapped the side of his head. "I'm smart fer thinkin' the way I do, eh?"

Kyrin grinned as Barulo handed him a clay bowl full of steaming soup. "Here's to you, Barulo, a toast to th' genius squirrel, livin' under the noses of savage river rats."

Barulo held up his own bowl. "Ha! Ye young whippersnapper! Who toasts wid a bowl o' soup?"

The fire flickered as the two hunkered down to sleep on the grass-covered floor. Barulo had recovered the floor of the shelter with some new grass. Though it was damp and soft, the grass felt nothing like a Redwall bed, and for a moment Kyrin felt a twinge of sadness as he lay down, staring into the flames. What was his family thinking at the moment?

He blocked out the thought as he tossed and turned on the floor. "G'night, old one," he called over to Barulo, but the grizzled elder was already snoring like a hog.

Eventually, Kyrin got comfortable and lay down on his back. Tomorrow! Fishing! With that, he smiled and went to sleep.

"Ahoy! Who goes there?" Skipper shouted from up top the ramparts overlooking the main Abbey gate. It was a clear, starry night as the three hares finally made it back to Redwall. Dinner had already been finished and most of the creatures were heading up to bed.

"Open the door this instant, otter!" Buckshaw called up. "Can't y'see we have a casualty?"

In an instant the gates swung wide open as Buckshaw and Thorn carried a motionless Ferdimond inside.

In the Infirmary, Armel checked Ferdimond's pulse as other Infirmary workers tended to the hare's shoulder wound.

"Your friend was shot by a poisoned arrow, sirs. It's alright though; he'll live. I can't believe I'm saying this, but he was lucky the arrow went clean through his shoulder. Only the tip was poisoned. Had it not struck clean through, Mr. de Mayne wouldn't be here with us right now."

Buckshaw and Thorn looked at each other and breathed a sigh of relief.

Abbot Cyrus, who was in the room with Tam and Melanda, spoke up. "This Bloodwater Tribe you mentioned is very dangerous. We must make sure they don't come near our Abbey."

Buckshaw shrugged. "Highly unlikely, Abbot old thing. Today, young Thorn here threw a torch at their boats during the heat of the battle, and the rotters immediately went to save their canoes instead of pursuin' us. I don't think they'll leave familiar territory, wot."

Cyrus sighed. "Yes, well, we must still be prepared. I will notify the others. We must prepare a larger search party for Kyrin." At the mention of his son's name, Tam flinched noticeably. Melanda squeezed her father's paw.

"…But right now, Mr. de Mayne is in no condition to be on an expedition. We'll have to wait awhile as we amass enough volunteers. I will let everybeast know the seriousness of the situation tomorrow morning at breakfast. For now, however, we can only hope young Kyrin is still out there, somewhere, hanging on," the Abbot finished.

Tam had had enough. He got up, Melanda following him, and stalked out, slamming the door behind him.

There was a stony silence. Cyrus, being a expert at mediation and reconciliation, spoke simply. "Let's all go to bed."

As Armel and her assistants continued dressing and bandaging Ferdimond's wound, the others left, hoping tomorrow would be a better day.


Chapter 8

Meanwhile, the same night had fallen over the cold Northern sky. Orak's army pitched camp in secret far from the side of the path. Not far beyond the groves of evergreens lay a looming, half-complete stone fortress which stood upon a grassy hill. During a sunny day, the sunlight would illuminate Zaragus' signature red flag flying atop the hill, as the sound of enslaved woodlanders laboring away at the incomplete base echoed throughout the lands.

There was no firelight in Orak's camp – the Assassin had ordered all flames be extinguished so as to remain undetected in enemy territory – save one flame in the commander's tent. Sheltered from the elements, Orak, Deatheye, and Kirsharr sat around a small wooden table upon which lay a map and a candle. The three were hard at work, discussing the takeover of Zaragus' fortress.

"So, Deatheye," Orak inquired calmly, "your plan is to use Zaragus' own slaves to destroy him, am I correct?"

Deatheye nodded. "Aye, my lord. 'Twill save a large amount of my soldiers from dying."

Kirsharr's clenched paw struck the table with a resounding whack. "Arr, 'ave yew gone soft in der noggin, Deatheye? 'Ow will a bunch o' poorly-fed woodlanders rise up when dey can't even feed demselves, eh?"

Deatheye patted Kirsharr's paw condescendingly. "Elementary, my fat companion. I'm thinking we treat the slaves right – sneak food, blankets, and such to them, and make them believe that we're here to save them. Did you hear that hedgepig today…Umbo? He was ready to believe anything. He thinks we've come to help him and his family. What do you think the other slaves will see us as? They'll be grateful as long as we keep up this game."

Orak shook his head. "Deatheye, you don't even know how Zaragus keeps his slaves. What if he kept them in a locked, guarded cabin inside the fort? How will anybeast get food and help to them? Do not think you're so intelligent, Captain. There's a reason why Kirsharr here is leading the charge on the fort and not you."

Deatheye glared once more at a smirking Kirsharr. "So, my lord, you just plan to charge?" he asked, holding back his pent-up fury.

Orak casually flipped out a knife and slammed the point hard into the tabletop to show authority. "You see, my Captain, we're different creatures, you and I. You try to be this cultured beast who goes by so-called honorable warfare. And that is why you'll never get anywhere by yourself. Those who play nice never do. As for me, I prefer the more direct approach – tomorrow, I'm going to march my entire army to the fort and demand its immediate surrender. By the end of the day, Zaragus' head will be on a pike!"

Deatheye said nothing, but Orak knew that his Captain was thinking that this was not a good idea at all.

The ruthless Assassin sighed and turned to Kirsharr. "My loyal Captain, are the troops newly placed under your command ready to march by dawn?"

Kirsharr threw a smart salute despite his brutish appearance. "Aye aye, sir!"

Orak merely nodded. "Good. You two, I want my entire army up and about. That means you, Deatheye. Don't try anything stupid. I'll show that idiot corsair that there can only be one ruler of the Northlands! Get some sleep now. Tomorrow there will be blood! Dismissed!"

Deatheye angrily stalked out of the tent. Kirsharr saluted again and began to leave as well, but Orak stopped him.

"Kirsharr, hold on, my friend," his voice was surprisingly amiable.

The bumbling ermine turned his girth around. "Arr, wot is it, Chief?"

Orak drew close and dropped his voice to a whisper. "Kirsharr, thank you for being such a loyal Captain in my horde. You are far more trustworthy than Deatheye. Say, you think he's very high-and-mighty, don't you?"

"'Course I do, Chief. Why d'yer ask?" Kirsharr inquired, curious.

Orak paused, as if thinking pensively. "I've been thinking. Once we've conquered the Northlands I don't think Deatheye would be of any use to us anymore, eh, my friend?"

"Uh huh huh huh," Kirsharr chuckled, as he saw where this was going. "Yer wants me ter slip a blade 'twixt ol' Deatheye's ribs, don't yer, Chief?"

Orak clapped his Captain on the back. "That's the spirit! But only when I say so. Right now, you'll keep him alive because we need all the leadership we can get. But afterwards…" Orak drew back and slid a finger across his throat. "Kkkkkkkk!"

Kirsharr laughed heartily. "Arr, yer a sly 'un awright, Chief!"

Orak nodded modestly. "Not so loud, my Captain. Here, I'll tell you what. I'll place twenty more soldiers from my command to yours, because I trust you so much. Oh, and, I can't go to sleep knowing Deatheye's soldiers are guarding that hedgehog slave. Go to those guards and tell them that I've transferred them under your command."

Kirsharr practically drooled with gratitude. "Thank yer, Chief!" he nodded vigorously.

Orak seemed to breathe a sigh of relief. "No, thank you, Kirsharr. I don't know who I can trust anymore, so I have to say I'm honored to have you in my horde. Get some sleep now. You're leading the troops into battle tomorrow. Deatheye will follow you."

Kirsharr proudly puffed out his chest…or was it his belly? He threw another salute then left the tent. Orak slumped in his chair. He had to play his cards right. Maybe someday he would "replace" both the insubordinate Deatheye and the idiotic Kirsharr with more competent Captains. But for now, he couldn't afford to lose anybeast; not in this critical moment.

Deatheye had been eavesdropping outside the tent. Having heard everything, he slipped off, a plan forming in his brain. He had to get rid of Kirsharr before the bumbling slob got rid of him. Now it wasn't a fight to hold his rank and dignity as a horde Captain; now it was a fight for survival.

The next morning, the entire army of Orak the Assassin showed up in force at Zaragus' doorstep.

The weasel corsair's rats did nothing to halt the advance of the fearsome horde, strangely enough. What was even stranger was that the gates of the half-finished front wall were wide open.

To the surprise of an entire army, the only "resistance" at the gates of the fortress was a single hunchbacked rat, holding a white flag. At this, Orak's entire army stopped.

"'Is Mightiness would like to parley wid yer, sires," the rat spoke in a high voice.

Orak looked at Deatheye and Kirsharr, who shrugged. The ermine warlord stepped forward, preparing to enter the fortress. But the rat stopped him.

"No weap'ns, sire, 'is Mightiness' orders."

Reluctantly, Orak set down his jeweled rapier and his throwing knives. However, under his cloak he hid a single dagger. The rat didn't seem to notice.

"Right dis way then, sire." The rat herded Orak inside as more rats closed the gates to the remaining army.

For the first time since he was promoted, Kirsharr shifted uneasily. "Err, Deatheye, wot'll we do now?" he asked.

Deatheye shrugged. "You're Orak's pet, you tell me."

Thus, the entire army stared passively at the unfinished stone spires which towered above the trees, not knowing what to do.

Zaragus was an odd-looking weasel, to say the least; the sturdy, black-furred corsair boasted a shock of headfur, which he braided into thick locks upon which dangled golden rings. He wore a large, wide-brimmed hat which was adorned with a large feather from a hawk which he had slain. The weasel wore two thick leather corsair boots on his footpaws along with baggy trousers the color of red wine, an unbuttoned purple silk vest, and a pair of crossbelts across his bare chest which carried two wicked-looking scimitars. However, the strangest part was his eyes. Zaragus possessed a pair of big brown eyes which radiated a strange innocence and trust. At least, that's what his opponents thought until he slashed their throats out.

The old rat escorted Orak into a lavishly-furnished cabin – the only finished building aside from the slave quarters and the barracks in this fort. Zaragus was leaned back in an elegantly-carved chair, his hat pulled down over his eyes and his footpaws were up on the table in front of him. He was snoring, and on the table lay an empty cask of seaweed grog.

The rat timidly tapped on the open cabin door. "Err, Yer Mightiness, there's somebeast here t'see yer."

Zaragus sat up and pushed the hat out of his eyes, which lit up upon seeing Orak. "Ah! There y'are, my friend!" he said warmly, standing up with open arms.

Inwardly, Orak was taken aback by the unexpected rapport of the corsair, but from his experience, it was most likely just a ruse. However, the sly ermine decided to play along. He nodded and smiled. "You must be Zaragus. I've heard all about you."

"Harharr, of course. Everybeast 'as, but 'tis nothing." The corsair pulled up a chair. "Come an' sit, Orak the Assassin!"

Distrust flickering in their eyes, the two sat down in the sparsely-furnished room. Zaragus reached over and uncorked a fresh bottle of grog. He offered the bottle to Orak, who flatly refused.

Zaragus took a big swig of grog before he started. "Arr, seaweed grog. Can't git enough o' that. Anyway, why're ye here? 'Ave ye come t'parley wid me?"

Orak feigned surprise. "Parley? Why, of course not, my friend. I wouldn't dream of doing that ever!"

The corsair weasel's brown eyes shone gleefully as he played around with the cask of grog. "Come now, matey, ye must 'ave a reason t'be comin' to my quarters. Just tell me, I swears on me oath that I won't be offended."

"Well, if you put it that way…" Orak stood up resolutely. "I've come to demand the immediate surrender of you and your crew, weasel!"

Zaragus never even stood up to face Orak's challenge. Nor did he reach for the scimitars strapped to his back. The weasel seemed to be at a loss for words, then he laughed heartily. "Arr, yer a hard barg'ner, that's fer sure. Surrender? Wot about my beautiful fortress…and th' pore liddle slaves who don't got nowheres t'go?"

"Don't play games with me, Zaragus!" Orak snarled. "You know all too well only one of us can rule the Northlands!"

Zaragus nonchalantly inspected a paw. "I know that, an' it's goin' ter be me."

In a flash, Orak drew the dagger which he had concealed under his cloak and hurled it at Zaragus. He was too close to miss. However, the corsair's lightning-quick reflexes bade him upend the table with his footpaws. The knife thudded into the sturdy wood. A second later, Zaragus had leaped over the table and was pointing one of his scimitars at Orak's throat.

"Arr, landlubber, where's yer honor, eh? An' I thought that corsairs t'were the sneaky ones. Ha!"

The door behind Orak opened as three of Zaragus' rats blocked the exit, menacing the Assassin with spears.

Orak knew his gamble to kill Zaragus had failed. Now the best he could do was threaten his way out.

"I don't think you want to kill me, Zaragus," he warned. I have a battle-hungry army waiting outside, and your motley crew of rats and your half-built fort won't do anything to protect you against my soldiers."

Zaragus laughed out loud. "Harrharr, threat'nin' me now, eh? Well, you ain't worth my time, anyway." He looked at his rats. "Get this addlebrain back ter his troops so 'e kin go an' cry. But keep me 'is sword. 'Tis a nice sword!"

Seething at his shattered dignity, Orak was swiftly marched out of Zaragus' cabin. As he was paraded through the site, the ever-resourceful ermine examined the layout of the place. Lots of wretched slaves with no food to eat. All they want is freedom. Walls aren't too high. They can be scaled. Slave quarters in the middle of the place. Lots of grass and dry wood…fire would work nicely…

The rats escorted Orak to the door. The Assassin was shocked to find that Zaragus' force had somehow sneaked out and surrounded his entire army. Deatheye's face was ashen as Kirsharr was trembling with fear. The rest of the warlord's soldiers didn't look too great either.

"Ahoy there!" Orak looked up to see Zaragus perched upon a semi-finished battlement, holding the Assassin's rapier. "There's yer army fer ye. Ye can't outsmart me! Harrharr, but I'm feelin' nice an' dandy today, so I'm going ter let ye go along wid th' rest of yer troops. 'Ow's that sound, eh?"

Zaragus waved a paw and his army parted, making way for Orak's soldiers to retreat in disgrace. Orak bit his lip until blood showed. Zaragus had won…for now. "You made a mistake, weasel!" he shouted. "One day, I will be back! And I will kill you!" Scraping together whatever face he had left, Orak barked out orders. "Chest out! Eyes forward! About-face! March!"

Zaragus laughed heartily. "Hoho, that was well-played!" He turned to a rat holding a bow standing next to him. "Oy, Skel, yer see that straggler at th' end of the army? Snuff 'is life out for me, if'n yer please!"

The rat named Skel obliged and fired a well-aimed arrow at the retreating army of Orak the Assassin. He was rewarded with an ermine's scream.

It was dark again. Nobeast dared approach Orak's tent, lest they incur his wrath. Umbo the hedgehog had sat there all day, dreaming of home. Would he ever see his mate and children again? His guards were dozing off, having watched him all day. The ropes seemed loose. Maybe he could…

The hedgehog came alert as Deatheye approached the guards, carrying a haversack. The stoat Captain whispered something to the guards, who nodded and gratefully left.

Deatheye looked around suspiciously before he crouched down next to Umbo, swiftly cutting the slave's bonds with a knife.

Umbo was shocked. "Y-you're lettin' me go?"

"Silence, you fool! Do you want to draw the attention of the whole camp?" Deatheye hissed. "Here, I want to thank you for your help. Nobeast is listening to me, so you'll have to do. Take this haversack for your family. It's the least I could do."

Umbo opened the bag and started crying silent tears of joy as he saw what was inside. Somehow, Deatheye had managed to procure a number of biscuits, dried fruits, and a bottle of cherry cordial.

"Eat up," Deatheye smiled. "Not so fast, you glutton! You'll need to save some for your family and friends. Now, can you do something for me?"

Umbo nodded eagerly, tears still streaming down his face.

Deatheye leaned in. "When you bring the food back to the slaves, tell them it was from the army of Deatheye and that we are their friends and liberators. We will deliver them food daily and see to it that all the slaves under Zaragus' grip will be free soon."

Umbo, who was perhaps too trusting, nodded vigorously. Deatheye continued. "Good. And when you're done, come back and hide on the other side of the path for the next few days. I'll meet you there every day with food and supplies for you to deliver. Punishment awaits you back at the fortress if you return. Stay hidden, away from Zaragus and away from Orak. We'll start delivering food to those slaves. You all look like you could use some food."

Umbo practically hugged Deatheye's leg. "Oh, thank you, Mister D-"

Deatheye nodded impatiently. "You're welcome. Anyway, off with you while it's still dark. Now's the best time to deliver food to the slaves, I'm guessing. The guards should be asleep. And be careful!"

For a hedgehog his age, Umbo disappeared surprisingly fast into the night.

Deatheye smiled. His plan was falling together nicely. Leave it to Orak and Kirsharr to bumble around uselessly. After all, it's brains that win the day. He also put a rift between Orak and Kirsharr. After all, it was Kirsharr's guards who let Umbo escape. Right?

Chapter 9

Over the next few days, news about Orak’s troop movements from Long Patrol runners posted towards the northern border began filtering down through Colonel Buckshaw and Thorn to the abbeydwellers. This, coupled with Abbot Cyrus’ double announcement about a potential attack on Redwall and Kyrin’s disappearance, cast an air of gloom over the Abbey.

Many Redwallers didn’t know what to do or think. However, the Abbot set an example with his level-headedness which was taken up by the MacBurls, Doogy Plumm, Tergen the goshawk, and the hares. The Abbey walls and ramparts were inspected and fixed up by teams led by Foremole and Skipper. Night sentries were doubled, and the hares, with the help of Doogy and Skipper, began training a small group of defenders.

Sister Armel sat in the Infirmary with her best friend, Brooky the otter, as she rebandaged Ferdimond’s wound.

The Long Patrol Captain winced as Armel redressed the hole in his shoulder. “Ouch! Steady on, there, Sister, this is a near-fatal wound we’re talking here, wot.”

Brooky laughed uproariously. “Whoohahahahahoo! Stop complainin’, y’big baby! I’ve seen Dibbuns suffer worse wounds than you!”

Ferdimond’s ears shot up indignantly. “Big baby?!! Show some respect for a wounded warrior, m’gel! You lot are lucky I’m not the pushy type, wot! Otherwise I’d have ordered a great spiffin’ feast in my honor three days ago!”

This sent Brooky into another fit of giggles. Armel hid a smile as she tried to appear businesslike and formal. “All set, Mr. De Mayne, sir. You should be back in action by tomorrow! How does that feel?”

Ferdimond moved his bad arm and grunted in approval. “Jolly splendid, wot. Tell that friar chappie to start cookin’ some tuck. I expect a hero’s welcome, doncha know!”

Shaking with laughter, Armel and Brooky had to bite the sleeves of their habits to prevent the stream of mirth spilling out. It was never good to offend an indignant, hungry hare.

Just then, Tam walked in through the Infirmary door to encounter Armel and Brookflow, their faces buried in their sleeves, shaking with laughter. Still racked from the recent incidents, he walked by them somberly and nodded a silent thanks to Ferdimond.

“Thank you, Ferdimond, for looking for my son. I’ve deeply considered what you’ve told me, and now I deeply regret m – ”

Ferdimond waved a paw. “Oh, come on now, Tam, you rogue! Stop standin’ there apologizin’ like a frazzled frog! Your son definitely wouldn’t ‘ave liked that at all! Come on now, chin up, chest out, eyes forward! There! Now you don’t look so much like a hedgehog who’s lost all ‘is spines, eh, wot? Cheer up, laddie buck! Cryin’ won’t do you any good at all!”

For the first time in about a week, Tam chuckled. “Thank you, Captain. You’re right. Now, are you plannin’ another search anytime soon?”

Ferdimond made a show of pulling himself into a sitting position on his bed. “First thing tomorrow, old boy, at the crack o’ dawn. This time, we’re bringin’ Tergen, Doogy, Skipper, the whole lot! You’re welcome t’come, if you’re not sulkin’ around anymore, wot wot!”

Tam clasped the hare’s paw. “Thank you, Ferdimond. I’ll make sure everybeast is well-rested tonight. We’ll be up bright an’ early!”

Ferdimond winced and flopped down exaggeratingly. “Steady on there, you fiend! Don’t touch a wounded warrior like that! ‘Specially when he hasn’t had ‘is recuperation feast yet! Bad form, y’know!”

Tam, Armel, and Brooky dissolved in helpless laughter. It was a welcome respite from the dreary atmosphere at Redwall lately, for a change.

Kyrin and Barulo stood side-by-side, balancing on a reed boat floating on the surface of an inland pond. Each squirrel clutched a fishing spear in his paw, in lieu of a rod and reel. Barulo never used conventional fishing rods. Kyrin listened as Barulo explained to him the whole story.

“Now look ‘ere, young ‘un, there’s a pike in these waters, an’ he’s been eatin’ all th’ liddle fish in this pond fer as long as I can remember. I’ve seen ‘im with my own very two eyes. ‘E’s a big fish, that ’un. Feed us fer days, he would. Anyway, I figgered that a young whippersnapper like you c’n help me out a bit. Wot d’ye say to that, eh?”

Kyrin was never one to back down from a challenge. “Count me in, old one!”

Barulo turned his attention to the placid waters ahead of him. “Right. Now I know the pike lives on th’ other side o’ the pond. But it’s about midday right now, so I’m guessin’ he’s out lookin’ fer food again.”

Suddenly, Kyrin pointed in front of them, to their left, towards the reedy banks. “Look! Over there! That has t’be him!”

Sure enough, there was movement near the banks as the surface of the water bubbled.

Barulo put down his spear and picked up an oar, rowing the flimsy craft towards the disturbance. “Here, sonny, let’s git closer. Slowly, though. We don’t want ter anger ’im.”

As the raft neared the left side of the bank, Kyrin noticed that the ripples in the water were also moving towards them. The young squirrel clutched his spear tighter as he got Barulo’s attention. “He’s comin’ closer, old one. Be careful!”

Barulo picked up his spear. “Harharr, ye slimy monster, come ter me, eh?”

The two raised their spears up, ready to stab downwards as the shape got in range. However, a few feet from the raft, the bubbles suddenly stopped.

Kyrin grinned sheepishly. “Oops, sorry. False alarm. Heh heh.”

But Barulo was intently scanning the waters. “No, no. ‘E’s a tricky ‘un, this pike. In fact, ‘e could be right behi – ”

Just then, the pike lunged out of the water behind them.

Kyrin gasped in surprise, but Barulo, more out of surprise than reflex, turned around and caught the pike on the side of the jaw with his spearbutt. Kyrin only saw the speckled gray tail of the monster as it resubmerged with a loud splash.

“Great seasons!” the young squirrel exclaimed. “Was that – ”

“– The pike,” a grim-faced Barulo finished for him.

“It’s comin’ back!” Kyrin screamed, as suddenly, the pike jumped out of the water, this time from his right. He threw himself flat on the reed boat, jouncing the entire vessel as Barulo barely managed to swat away the fish and hold his balance at the same time.

“Oy! Watch it, ye scamp!” Barulo shouted as the boat shook violently. “Ye’ll flip us right into th’ drink!”

“I didn’t sign up for this!” Kyrin wailed, still pressing himself to the boat as the pike breached out at them yet again. He could see the fanatic eyes and the dagger-like teeth. This time, Barulo’s speartip caught the pike in its flank. The creature hit the water, trailing blood.

Kyrin removed his paws from his eyes. “Did you kill it, Barulo?” he inquired timidly.

Barulo shook his head. “On the contrary, young ‘un, this is just th’ start. Once that pike smells blood, even if it’s ‘is own, ‘e’ll come back with a vengeance. I’ve seen it.”

Kyrin bit his lip as he tried to sink lower on the barge. Suddenly, he felt a jolt. The pike had hit the boat from the bottom! The next thing Kyrin knew, both he and Barulo were treading water for their lives in the frigid pond.

Barulo sputtered and gasped. “Ackk! Arghh! I’m alright! Kyrin! Kyrin, young ‘un, where are ye?”

Kyrin couldn’t have answered, because the pike had him by his tunic and was fast dragging him underwater, deeper and deeper.

This is the end, Kyrin thought, as his senses started to blacken. It’s all over. I told my dad I wasn’t cut out for this work.

The darkness began to overtake him as Kyrin felt his limbs go numb from the cold. Goodbye, everybeast. Goodbye.

Kyrin.

What was that?

Kyrin, the voice rang out loud and clear in Kyrin’s head, despite the fact that he was quickly losing consciousness.

Who are you? Kyrin screamed back mentally.

Kyrin MacBurl, swim upwards and fight!

Suddenly, something unexplainable overtook Kyrin, and he began swimming upward with renewed strength. The pike seemed visibly surprised as it attempted to pull Kyrin down again. However, Kyrin kicked out with his back paw, getting the pike right in the eye. The killer fish reeled back and loosed its hold on Kyrin’s tunic. Seizing his chance, Kyrin forced his numbing limbs to propel him upwards through the murky depths to the surface. He stole a glance behind him. The pike was still coming! Its vicious teeth were drawing closer by the second. Then…

Kyrin saw something sinking through the depths. It appeared to be a branch. No, even better. It was a fishing spear! He met it going up as it came down into his paw.

The pike was getting closer!

Rolling over on his back, Kyrin gripped the weapon with both paws, aiming its tip at the oncoming pike. Sunlight flashed through the waters. He was close to the surface.

The pike opened its mouth wide to swallow Kyrin whole. At the same time, Kyrin let out a violent roar and stabbed downwards.

Barulo was still calling out Kyrin’s name as the young squirrel surfaced, gasping for air. To Kyrin’s left, the pike surfaced, belly up, a fishing spear jammed down its throat.

“I h-heard ye sc-c-cream someth-th-in’ down y-y-yonder,” Barulo noted to Kyrin as the two dragged the pike’s body out on the banks. Both were shivering uncontrollably from being thrown into the freezing pond. “W-wot happened? You were sc-sc-scared as a c-cricket in a th-thunderstorm on th’boat, ye w-were!”

Kyrin shook his head. “I c-c-can’t explain it. The p-pike was pullin’ me d-d-down an’ I heard this v-v-voice loud and c-clear in my head, an’ it k-k-kept s-sayin’, ‘Kyrin, swim upwards and fight!’ I d-don’t know who it w-w-was, but that’s what m-made me f-f-fight back.”

Barulo managed a smile through his chattering teeth. “W-w-well, whoever it w-was, y-ye s-s-saved our skins, y-young’un! L-let’s git t-t-this fish b-back ter th-the hut!”

That night, Barulo made a stew from the pike, mixed with a generous amount of watercress and dandelion shoots. The delicious meal was served with oatcakes and elderberry juice. The two spent a good amount of the night conversing and laughing as they ate.

“Harharr! I still can’t believe it! Ye speared ‘im right down the throat!”

“Aah, I was lucky, old one. I don’t know what came over me!”

“Well, keep it up! No more pikes’ll eat our fish! We kin go fishin’ tomorrow pike-free!”

“Sounds good! Thanks for this soup! Tastes great!”

“That’s ‘cos yer killed this fish yerself. Always tastes better when ye’ve catched it, that’s wot I always say!”

Their stomachs more than filled, young and old squirrel hunkered down by a warm, flickering fire. Barulo was snoring loudly, but Kyrin stayed awake, envisioning shapes in the flames burning in front of him. For some reason, he kept envisioning a warrior mouse with a sword. There must have been a mistake. He was no warrior. Maybe the elderberry juice he had drunk was beginning to ferment.

Kirsharr cringed as Orak flung a goblet of wine at him. The Assassin was in a foul temper.

“B-but it wasn’t my fault, Chief! D-der prisoner just escaped an’ – ”

Orak pinned the fat ermine down with a deft throw and pointed a rapier at his throat. “I entrust you with twenty more soldiers and this is how you repay me. Give me one good reason why I shouldn’t kill you.”

At this, Kirsharr only started blubbering incoherently. Orak let him with disgust. The warlord knew that in this critical time, he could not afford to kill any of his own Captains.

“Bring Kirsharr’s useless guards to me,” he told a soldier standing by, “and get this blubbering lump of lard out of my sight.”

Deatheye watched Kirsharr being dragged out of the tent by a few ermine troops, smiling. Kirsharr was taking the rap for everything. Now, it was time for part two of the plan. He stole off silently into the woods, still grinning inwardly, knowing that the bodies of two of Kirsharr’s soldiers would be hanging from the trees tomorrow morning, for everybeast to see.


Chapter 10

The sun sowed its first light through the dormitories. Tam awoke as soon as the first rays of dawn began creeping into his room. Next to him, Armel stirred.

“Mmf, Tam, is it morning already?”

“Aye,” Tam nodded. “I’m off with th’ search party t’ go and find our son. Don’t worry. I’ll bring ‘im back.” Great Seasons, he thought, as he stared into her deep brown eyes, she looks so beautiful.

“Mmm, I know you will,” Armel whispered seductively, wrapping her arms around his upper back and pulling him in. The worries which were quickly mounting in Tam’s mind vanished as his lips found hers.

“Be safe,” Armel gasped between kisses as they continued to embrace. Smiling, Tam stroked her cheek, then drew away from her, slipping on a thick woodland tunic and buckling on the time-honored Sword of Martin, which he always kept well-polished and well-maintained. Legend had it that it was forged from a piece of metal from a dying star which fell from the skies. Donning his red Highland cap, Tam started to head out.

“I’ve packed your food,” Armel called as her mate began leaving through the door. Tam turned to her and grinned the roguish grin which Kyrin had come to inherit. He tipped his hat to her comically, and then he was gone.

Doogy, the hares, Tergen, Skipper Traw, Galwa, and the entire ottercrew were all waiting for Tam as he entered the Great Hall.

“There he is, the auld grumpywhiskers!” Doogy teased good-naturedly as he ruffled his friend’s shoulders.

Tam nodded to everybeast. “Thank you, all, for your help. Ferdimond, how’s your shoulder doin’?”

“Spiffin’, old lad! Couldn’t have felt better, eh, wot!”

Grinning at the irrepressible hare, Tam outlined the plan as Friar Tobel handed out supplies and rations to everybeast. “Alright. Let’s move out quick. It’s best if we get back before dark. Follow the hares; they know the trail. Move fast and silent! We don’t want any attention from local vermin roamin’ around hereabouts! Tergen! You scout overhead for any sign of Kyrin or river rats! The rest of you, ready your weapons just in case! Let’s go!”

Melanda watched from her dormitory window as the search party departed through the north wall’s wicker gate. Be safe, father, she thought. The young Recorder couldn’t place it, but she suddenly felt a gripping feeling of hopelessness about her. Melanda sighed and drew away from the window.

Despite Tam’s best hopes, the going was neither fast nor silent. Though Buckshaw, Ferdimond, and Thorn still remembered the trail Kyrin had taken, the search party was not too mobile and blundered through the woods. The fact that nobeast had eaten breakfast only worsened the situation.

“We shouldn’t’ve taken so many otters with us,” Tam confided to Doogy in a low voice. “They’re holdin’ the whole group back!”

Doogy took a backwards glance at Skipper and his crew, who were trying with difficulty to push their way single file through the dense woodlands. “Are you alright back there?” he called.

“Oh, don’t mind us, mates. Ouch!” Skipper cried as a low-hanging branch poked him in the eye.

Doogy turned back to Tam and shook his head. “See what ah mean, mate? They’re only goin’ tae slow us down.”

Tam had not yet gotten over the departure of his son. He turned to Doogy, growling at him through gritted teeth: “I’m sick of yore whinin’ and grousin’, Doogy. Skipper’s bunch’re here t’ help us! If ye don’t like it ye can do an about-face and head right back. If not, then shut up and keep goin’!”

With that, Tam sullenly pushed on forward. However, in the back of his mind, he really wished the search party wasn’t traveling so slowly. “How’re we doin’?” he asked Buckshaw as the sound of rushing water came into hearing.

“Almost there, old lad,” Colonel Buckshaw replied, his paw straying to his sword. “This is where we were set upon by those villainous rats the last time around, wot. Keep yore eyes peeled, everybeast. They vanish in an’ out from these woods just like that.”

Tam pondered this for a moment as the group finally made it out of the groves of trees and branches. “You told me earlier that Kyrin crossed this river?” he asked, gesturing to the roaring expanse of water which lay just in front of them. The morning sun beat down hard on their heads.

“Aye,” Thorn nodded. “It’s one of the tributaries of the River Moss, if you could call it a tributary. Flippin’ thing’s huge, it is!”

Tam nodded. “Alright, everybeast!” he shouted. “We’ll have t’ find a way t’ get across this thing! Now, the hares have told me that the rats keep canoes on both sides of the river. Does anybeast see any canoes?”

One of the younger, more inexperienced otters was quick to respond. “Oy! Over there, behind that pile o’ rocks! Those rats covered ‘em up with leaves and grass! Tryin’ to hide ‘em, eh? Harharr, we’ve found ‘em, mates!”

As he bolted towards the rock pile he was instantly felled by a poisoned spear.

In an instant the entire bank was crawling with Bloodwater rats, their faces painted in fierce colors as they yelled and screamed out war cries.

“Get down!” Skipper shouted as another otter fell, transfixed by an arrow. “It’s an ambush! We’re surrounded!”

The slaves were awakened in the middle of the night by Umbo sneaking through the decrepit slave palisade.

“Papa!” Two pitiful-looking little hedgehogs, merely a few seasons old, ran to greet their father.

“Oy, Umbo!” one of the slaves, a worn-out mouse wearing nothing but a few rags, hissed. “’Ave you got the food?”

“Aye,” Umbo grunted as he pushed himself through a hole in the building wall, and pulling in a bag of food. Zaragus was quite negligent about the well-being of his slaves and generally granted them the worst food, clothing, and shelter, if any at all. Recently, the slaves had made a hole in the compound’s wall which they would cover up from the guards with some old canvas during the day. At night, however, Umbo would sneak back and forth through this hole undetected, bringing back vital food and supplies for the slaves.

“Let’s see wot they’ve sent us, eh?” Umbo asked, patting his children’s spikes and smiling as slaves hurriedly crowded around him in the flickering torch light. A gasp of joy arose from the circle as Umbo started pulling out the contents of the bag.

“Great Seasons! Would ye look at that! Fresh bread!”

“Preserved fruits! Those ermine ‘ave done it again!”

“Fresh spring water! The young ‘uns ‘ave never tasted this before!”

Amidst the rejoicing, which Umbo had to struggle to keep down, something began to change among the slaves. No more were they the cringing, servile creatures forced into a lifetime of hard labor under a weasel oppressor. Suddenly they were rebels, galvanized into fighting for a cause.

“We shouldn’t ‘ave t’live under these vermin scum!” one of the slaves hissed.

There were nods and “ayes” of unanimous agreement.

Umbo’s mate, Baylia, a portly hedgehog like her husband, moved to Umbo’s side. “I think that the least we c’n do for those nice ermine bringin’ us food is t’ rebel against Zaragus!”

Some of the slaves looked unsure of themselves. “…Er, are ye sure ye want to do this, marm?” one of them asked, “’cos ye remember wot happened t’ that slave who punched a guard…”

A shudder ran through the crowd. Zaragus was capable of some unspeakable atrocities.

Baylia nodded solemnly. “I know, but it would be even worse for us t’ not do anything while Deatheye’s army is workin’ hard to provide food for us. An’ look at Umbo! ‘E risks life and limb every time he goes out t’ get us good vittles an’ clothin’!”

Umbo sided with his wife. “Right! We have t’ fight back! Now, I was told that the ermine might come an’ free us soon…”

Some slaves nearly yelped with joy, so Umbo had to choose his next words carefully.

“…But they aren’t goin’ to get far if we don’t help them by startin’ something from the inside. ‘Tis the only way we can assure they succeed in savin’ us!” We have to fight!

There was a pause as the slaves started murmuring amongst themselves again. Then heads started to nod. A young squirrel, no more than five seasons old, stepped forward. “We’re wit’ ye, ‘Mbo!”

At this the motley assembly of slaves let out an enormous cheer.

Grol, the rat assigned to guard Zaragus’ slave quarters, pounded on the compound door. “Hoy! Keep it down! Ye scrummy lot don’t want me goin’ in dere wid my whip!”

“Yah, shurrup!” one of the slaves, an otter, replied. “Go an’ cry t’ yer mummy!”

Grol drew back from the slave quarters. Normally, the slaves never made this much noise at night. In recent days they looked much stronger and better-fed. And now they were talking back to the guards. Something was definitely not right. The ratguard leaned on his spear, waiting for the chilly night to pass.

Songs and merriment were emanating from the hidden abode by the stream.

“Ohhh, there once was a fish, a really big fish,

“Who wasn’t the brightest star in the sky,

“And lo! Day in, day out, ‘e’d say,

“‘Oh, how I wish I could fly!’

“So the silly old fish he fashioned ‘is wings

“From some tree sap an’ a feather,

“An’ he set a day t’ fly away,

“On a morn of sunny weather!

“All ‘is friends, they didn’t believe,

“They jeered an’ laughed an’ crooned

“But our liddle fish, he tossed ‘is ‘ead

“An’ flew beyond th’ moon!

“’E flew up far into the air

“An’ fell into my food dish!

“An’ I said: ‘O, I loves th’ taste of fish,

“‘I guess I got my wish!’”

Kyrin was clutching his sides with laughter. “Heeheehee! I love it, Barulo! Haha! Do you write these yourself?”

Barulo bowed low as he struck a closing chord on his curious, mandolin-shaped instrument. “Thank ye, thank ye, young ‘un. Yes, I write these m’self. Too bad it’s the only one I know. Want t’ hear it agin?” The two laughed.

“Well,” Barulo said, noting the dying fire, ‘tis been a fun night; lots o’ good food an’ entertainment. Better go t’ bed now. We got a big day ahead of us!”

Kyrin nodded as he lay down, pulling a straw blanket over him. “Aye, I wish I could do this forever! This is th’ life! Livin’ off the fat of the land an’ everything, you know?”

Barulo smiled. “Sure is, sonny. Ye know, Kyrin, I’ve never had any children o’ my own. Hah! Yer the closest thing I have to a son…well, grandson is more like it!”

Kyrin said nothing. That last sentence left thoughts in his head. Maybe I should go back, he thought. He loved Mossflower, but he was beginning to miss his family as well. Then again, he couldn’t stand the thought of facing anybeast if he did choose to return. What was there to do? Kyrin tried to get some sleep in the flickering firelight, but Barulo was snoring too loudly.


Chapter 11

Dusk was falling over Mossflower, and the setting sun lit the sky up in a bright red haze; the same color of the riverbank which Tam and his search party were camping out on. The day had taken a tragic turn. Ten of Skipper’s otters were slain and almost everybeast was wounded in some way. Rat casualties were much higher, numbering at thirty-six dead. After the last of the rats had been driven off, Tam decided to set up camp and bury the dead. Everybeast agreed. They were bloodied and exhausted.

As the last of the dead were buried, Tam sat down beside the river, dangling his paws in the water. He looked down at his bloodied tunic, torn in a dozen places from close combat fighting, and then he turned his gaze to the sky. “Martin,” he spoke, “what have I done? How could it have come to this? Why? W-why?...” It took Tam a second to realize there were tears running from his eyes. He shielded his face from the still-bright sky, silently scolding himself to not look directly into the sun.

Doogy sat down beside him. Both warriors were as silent as stone.

Galwa awoke in the middle of the night with a sudden urge to relieve himself. The search party was fast asleep, curled up on the side of the bank. The hares were snoring loudly, and Doogy was talking in his sleep. Tergen the goshawk was perched on a branch, his gleaming eyes closed. It was so peaceful in Mossflower wood at night, when one wasn’t getting attacked by roving bands of vermin. Yawning, the trusted assistant to Skipper got up and disappeared behind a tree for a second.

It was, of course, that very moment when the rats attacked again.

This time, the rats attacked from across the river. Galwa gasped as canoes packed tight with vermin brandishing torches and cutlasses materialized out of the night. Panicking, the otter ran back to camp. “Get up!” he screamed. “Everybeast, get up! We’re under attack!”

Tam and Colonel Buckshaw took joint command of the search party.

“Everybeast fall back t’ the woods and stay low! Load yore slings an’ bows!”

“Quick’s the word and sharp’s the action, wot! Watch your backs now, an’ we’ll give ‘em blood n’ vinegar! FIRE AT WILL!”

The first few rats who made it to the opposite shore were instantly knocked back into the shallow water by a series of well-aimed slingstones. Their disorganized nature put them at a disadvantage in the face of a more disciplined foe.

“Make it rain, mates!” Skipper shouted over the din as the Bloodwater rats now began advancing up the riverbank. The remaining defenders, heeding Skipper’s words, stepped up their salvo of slingstones and arrows, grinding the rats’ advance to a snail’s pace. Rats collapsed left and right, some with arrows lodged in their bodies, others clutching limbs and skulls shattered by rocks.

“Ha! Just as I ha’ thought,” Doogy grinned at Tam, bloodlust in his eyes. “A bunch o’ wee cowards, they are. Lookit ‘em, cringin’ scum!” He fired off another arrow, taking a rat right through the head. “Hawaaaaay the Braaaaaaaw! Coom an’ meet yore death, rats! Hawaaaay the Braaaaaaaaaaaaaaaw!”

Kyrin was walking through an empty world. There was no ground beneath him. Nor were there any trees. He was in the middle of nowhere.

“Hello!” he shouted. He heard nothing except for his echo ringing in the distance. Suddenly, his “hello” started to grow louder and reverberate in this strange environment he was in. Soon, the volume was unbearable and Kyrin had to cover his ears. Just then, his echo started to warp and garble, until it formed a totally new sentence:

“Son of a Warrior, look at me!”

Kyrin looked up, and sure enough, there was the strange mouse again, emitting a golden light that lit up the entire area.

And then Kyrin woke up.

The young squirrel looked around. It was still nighttime. He could hear the chirping of crickets and the wind rustling through the trees. Far away, he thought he could hear the sounds of battle, but Kyrin quickly decided that was part of his strange dream. Barulo was, as usual, snoring. A sudden urge to be alone took hold of Kyrin, and, very quietly, he slipped out of the hidden den and sat down on the streambank. The crescent moon’s silver light reflected off the water. Kyrin stared at his reflection as he pondered what Barulo had told him.

“You’re the closest thing I have to a son…well, grandson is more like it!”

This thought made Kyrin look down at his necklace – the little bronze squirrel that Tam had carved for him as he repeated what his father had told him. “Search yourself. When you have a sense of duty, maybe you’ll understand.”

Understand? Understand what? In frustration, Kyrin chucked a pebble into the water. Whatever it was, he didn’t understand.

After a little while drawing circles in the dirt, Kyrin decided that it was time to move on with his life. It pained him to leave the old squirrel alone, but Kyrin felt that maybe it was time to go home.

That’s what it is, he thought. I’ll tell Barulo tomorrow night after a day of fishing and gathering and I’ll leave the morning after.

It was getting cold outside, so Kyrin slunk back into the cove.

Tam swung the Sword of Martin, cleaving in half a rat who got too close. “Colonel!” he shouted. “We’re goin’ to be overrun!”

Buckshaw observed the waves of rats still coming across the river. “You’re right there, old lad, there’s only one thing we can do about this.”

Stepping forward and clubbing down a rat with his swordbutt, the Colonel threw back his head and roared: “C’mon, chaps! Into the mess! Let’s go! Chaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaarge!”

“Yore crazy, mate!” Skipper shouted after the Colonel, who charged into the mass of rats, slashing, biting, and kicking. The other defenders, galvanized into action, let out a tremendous warcry and attacked.

“Redwaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaall!”

Skipper slammed two rats into the ground with his double-ending otter spear as Doogy brained another rat with a deft punch. Tergen flew low, scratching the eyes out of any rat who got too close.

Ferdimond grinned at Thorn as he tripped a rat with his spear. “Well, this sure beats a day loungin’ around in the ol’ barracks, eh, wot?”

Thorn laughed as he smacked a rat hard in the face with a loaded sling. “Haha, you’re right! In fact, it’s almost better than scoffin’ down a meal, if I do say m’self! Eulaaaliaaaaaaaaaaaaa!”

At this point, Tam had located who he suspected was the chief. “Look, Doogy!” he shouted. “There’s their leader! If we take ‘im out, we might be able t’ break the rats’ advance!”

Doogy noticed the rat Tam was pointing at, a large creature bigger and more savage-looking than the rest. This snarling rat, painted black, white, and red, was fighting two otters with a massive dual-headed battle axe – and was winning. The Highland Warrior chuckled. “Och, ‘tis child’s play, Tam, auld mate. Watch an’ learn!”

Nobeast could sling a stone like Wild Doogy Plumm. Tam’s jaw dropped as the leather sling became a blur in Doogy’s paw. With a short flick of his wrist, Doogy sent a smooth pebble straight into the face of the Bloodwater chief. The monstrous water rat staggered backwards and fell, hitting his head on one of the beached canoes.

Immediately the attack broke as the rats surrounded their fallen leader, frantically paddling off into the night back across the River Moss.

Buckshaw snorted in contempt as he kicked one of the many corpses the rats had abandoned in their hasty retreat. “Tchah! Savages, no discipline whatsoever!”

Tam wiped some blood off of his sword. “Get some sleep, Buckshaw,” he said, patting the veteran on the shoulder. “We break camp again at dawn.”

Buckshaw turned indignantly. “I say, old lad, are you goin’ t’ leave me to bury all the bodies m’self, wot?”

There was no reply from anybeast. Buckshaw kept muttering to himself. “Real blighter, he is, wot wot! Leavin’ a chap like that out here while everybeast else goes to sleep. Aren’t I right, ol’ ratty? Oh, I forgot, you’re dead. Never mind. Carry on then.”

Kyrin opened his eyes to the trilling of a lark. Well, he thought, looking at Barulo, today’s the day.

Reaching over, Kyrin shook the sleeping squirrel. “Wake up, old one. It’s mornin’ already. C’mon, grab your fishin’ rod and let’s go.”

Barulo rolled up in a ball. “Ughh, my ole joints are killin’ me this morn. You’ll have to go widout me today, young ‘un. Go about the usual business, an’ bring back some fish, some wild chestnuts, an’ some watercress. Thank ye kindly.”

Kyrin nodded. “Alright.” He moved inland, following the stream to the pond.

It took Kyrin awhile to follow the secret path to the pond. Barulo had staked out this path long ago as a method of avoiding the rats lurking all over the place. The young squirrel stopped, leaning against a tree to catch his breath. The path was by no means easy; there were tons of twists and turns that one had to get by in order to safely get to the pond.

Suddenly, Kyrin heard noises, like somebeast was tramping through the forest. He peered out through the tall grass and thick branches which obscured the path. Then he saw them. Forty or so wounded Bloodwater rats were staggering through the brush. Kyrin’s eyes grew wide. The rats were everywhere, and there was no way he could get to the pond without being spotted. If there were some, then there was bound to be more. What was there to do? The young squirrel ducked down low and hid, waiting for the danger to pass.

Kyrin must have fallen asleep, for when he awoke, the rats were gone and it was almost noon. Shielding his eyes from the brightness, Kyrin made his way back towards the den. He needed to tell Barulo what he saw.

He was not prepared for the sight that greeted him when he got back.

The den had been demolished. Flames were still licking out from the entrance to the once-hidden abode. Barulo’s limp body lay by the stream, his blood splattered on the rocks. Near the old squirrel lay his wood staff and the painted mask he used to frighten off intruders.

In a state of shock, Kyrin hurried over to the pitiful bleeding form. Kneeling, he cradled the old one’s head in his lap and squeezed his eyes shut. Oh please don’t die please don’t die please don’t –

But it was clear that Barulo was gone. Kyrin fought to control himself through eyes full of vengeful tears. As he continued to stare at the horrible damage done, he saw the telltale pawprints in the soft mud. Rats never bothered to cover their tracks.

Then, the unexplainable happened. Kyrin stood up, stony-faced. Without a moment’s hesitation he dashed straight into the burning den, ignoring the searing heat, the collapsing dirt walls, and the suffocating smoke. Somehow, through the choking soot and dust, he found his claymore. Narrowly avoiding a chunk of collapsing earth, Kyrin leapt out of the burning home. Grim-faced and tight-jawed, he strapped the sword to his back and followed the tracks. He had vermin to deal with.

Grimik the rat was having a bad day. Only last season had he joined Zaragus’ horde in hopes of eking out a living in this frigid land. Grimik was a bully who satisfied his hunger for authority by picking on the slaves, whom Zaragus had ordered him to oversee. However, on this particular morning the slaves were hitting back.

The day had started out like any other day. By now, the front wall of Zaragus’ fortress was almost complete. All the slaves had to do was take the carefully carved stone bricks and stack them into place. If the slaves were docile in their usual way, the wall would be complete in no time.

If.

Today, the slaves were all lounging around on the job. Grimik couldn’t believe it. What was going on? All the slaves, young, old, tall, short…all of them were behaving as if he wasn’t there. Naturally, Grimik was ready to reassert his authority over this rebellious mob.

Angrily, the overseer stalked over to a pair of fully-grown otters, both females. They were sitting on a makeshift chair of stone bricks, and were chatting nonchalantly about their insignificant lives. To make things worse, they were laughing.

“Hoy! Youse two there!” Grimik called, approaching them. “Why aren’t ye on the job?”

The two otters barely eyed him before going on with their conversation.

“Are ye deaf?” Grimik shouted. “Wot’s the matter, got dust in yer lugs? When I say work, ye work!”

Of course, the two otters continued talking. However little amount of patience Grimik had was completely gone at this point.

“Oh, so ye wanna play rough, eh?” Grimik snarled at the pair as he unfurled his whip. “I’ll teach ye!”

The otters stood up and nodded to each other.

“Shall we?”

“Aye!”

A second later, Grimik was battling for his life as one otter lifted him off the ground by his throat and the other threw punches at his stomach. The rat couldn’t even scream, for his throat was caught in a death grip.

Two other guards noticed what was happening and began running towards the scuffle, cutlasses drawn. On one of the unfinished ramparts, a slave chucked a stone brick, hitting one of the guards straight in the head, knocking him out cold. His panicked comrade immediately fled to the nearest alarm bell and began ringing it.

“The slaves are risin’ up! Help! Help!”

About fifty rat soldiers answered the call. They barreled into the construction site. The slaves were waiting, from the ramparts, chucking stones, wood beams, and other building materials at their oppressors.

One of the rat captains managed to get his troops in order. “Bows ready!” he shouted. “Choose yer targets! Aim! F-”

Of course, Zaragus and his bodyguards showed up at that exact moment. The slaves, intimidated by the sight of their master, quickly dropped their weapons and froze to the spot.

“What in th’ blazes is goin’ on in here?” Zaragus roared, his coattails swishing as he strode through the battlefield. Seeing Grimik, nearly blacked out with pain, he grabbed the rat and hauled him to his footpaws. “What happened, eh? Tell me!”

Grimik’s story came tumbling out of his battered vocal cords. “Sire…we was…attacked…b-by der s-slaves…they refuse t-to work…an’ now…dey’re r-rebelling…against us!”

Letting go of Grimik, who promptly fell into a heap on the ground, Zaragus looked around. It was as if everybeast was awaiting his verdict.

The corsair turned towards the nearest captain. “I need ‘em alive. My fortress is almost complete. Take away their rations for three days and flog everybeast, fifty lashes each. I don’t care if it takes all day. We need some discipline around here! Step to it!”

There were no birds roosting in the trees around the fortress that day. They were all frightened away by the horrible, contorted screams of agony coming from the palisade of death.

Deatheye and his contingent of soldiers managed to deliver the last of their food to the slaves. They had been shocked by Umbo’s wretched appearance when they saw him. It was clear that he, and many others, had been whipped. Nevertheless, the group managed to deliver much-needed food and supplies to the slaves, who, they heard, were being starved for three days.

“When h’are ye comin’ t’ free us?” Umbo had asked.

“Soon,” Deatheye had replied.

“Awright,” Umbo had said. “We’ve torn a bunch o’ holes open in the fortress wall. Ye can come through ‘ere t’ free us. Thanks agin for th’ food.”

Satisfied that the slaves were still on their side, Deatheye and his soldiers snuck back to camp, where Orak the Assassin himself greeted them.

“Well now, my esteemed Captain,” Orak said, his voice deceptively friendly. “Have you finished feeding your valuable little slaves yet?”

Deatheye’s jaw dropped open. Orak chuckled, reading his Captain’s mind. “Well, of course I know. I had you followed the past couple nights. You know, when a Captain of mine goes absent every night it’s my responsibility to find out where he is.”

Deatheye gulped as he saw Orak’s paw straying near his sword handle. To his surprise (and relief) Orak patted him on the shoulder. “But you know what? You’ve done well. We’re launching another attack on Zaragus’ fortress at dawn, which you’d know if you weren’t out every single night. Anyway –” Orak said, gesturing toward a giant tree trunk, the front of which was covered a thick, rounded piece of forged metal, “we’re going to batter down Zaragus’ gates. No quarter will be shown. Isn’t this great?”

“What about the slaves?” Deatheye asked, impatient. Orak fixed him with a deadpan look, then started pacing. “You’ve really gone soft, have you? Who cares about the slaves? All we have to do is remove the threat of Zaragus and his soldiers. But now that you’ve mentioned the slaves, maybe they’ll help you because you’re nice to them. Deatheye, you’re responsible tomorrow for getting the slaves to let us into the fortress. Exhort them to bravery, arm them, do something that will make them destroy the fortress from the inside. After that –” Orak whipped out his sword, a replacement for the jeweled rapier which Zaragus had taken from him, “we’ll go in for the kill. Now get some sleep. We march at dawn.”

Deatheye was left fuming as Orak vanished into the night like a soft breeze. Once again, the warlord had capitalized on the efforts of his Captains.


Chapter 12

“How do we get across this river?”

That was the question that dogged the search party for an entire day. Last night’s battle resulted in the destruction of canoes used to sail the River Moss. Somebeast had suggested wading across, but Skipper had tested the water and found it too deep, too cold, and too rapid-flowing for a group loaded with weapons and supplies. If they were to cross without a boat, they would most surely drown, and nobeast was ready to throw away any food, for there was no telling how many days they would be stuck in this forest looking for Kyrin.

Galwa the otter inspected on of the damaged canoes. “She’s full of holes, mates,” he announced, after turning the boat over. “Rat’s ‘ave shot her with some fire arrows. The other boats are th’ same: shot up. They ain’t seaworthy ‘til we caulk ‘em up. Mayhaps there’s some pine resin lyin’ around, eh?”

“Galwa’s right,” Skipper announced. There’re lots of pine trees around these parts. Split into groups of five and bring back all the pine resin you can find so we can fix up these boats and get goin’ again. Watch yore backs for rats!”

Tam was in a bad mood. Doogy followed his friend into the woods. “Dinnae fret, Tam. We’ll bring yer wee son back as soon as the boats are fixed! Ye’ll see!”

“Another day on this side of th’ river,” Tam groused. “How Kyrin got across is a mystery t’ me.”

Ferdimond, who, along with the other two hares, was traveling with the squirrels, observed: “Well, it’s all quiet now. Rats ‘ave fallen back. Now c’mon. Let’s gather up this blinkin’ pine stuff and bring it back. The sooner the better.”

Thorn slammed his dagger into the trunk of a large tree, drawing out a decent amount of sap. “How do we get this stuff back to the others?” he asked, his paws coated with resin. “I’m goin’ t’ be stuck to this bloomin’ tree if you don’t come and help me, wot!”

The sight of the young private struggling with a pawful of sticky pine sap was enough to temporarily lift Tam’s gloomy spirits. He chuckled at the hare’s antics. “Best ye run back t’ Skipper and scrape th’ stuff off so they can use it for the boats, sappypaws!”

Thorn tore out of the woods. As soon as he was out of sight, Buckshaw remarked: “well, it’s a good thing I’ve brought these buckets, wot wot!”

True to his word, Orak roused the troops at dawn for the attack on the fortress. In the space of five minutes, his entire army was assembled, in perfect formation and in full uniform, ready for combat.

Orak, Deatheye, and Kirsharr convened in front of the troops. “The plan is very simple,” Orak announced. “I, along with Captain Kirsharr, will take the main body of infantry and rush the front wall. Meanwhile, when we begin to ram the gates, Captain Deatheye will lead his troops through the east wall. The slaves inside that compound have decided to help us. Once inside, Deatheye’s presence should exhort the slaves to bravery. Essentially, we will crush Zaragus from two sides. His fortress will be his own death trap. Show no mercy and take no prisoners. Move out!”

Like the rusty gears of an old machine, the entire horde began its trek towards what would soon become the site of an enormous slaughter.

“Split up here,” Deatheye ordered his forces a little while later. The terrain was beginning to slope upwards. Having used this route on his previous attempt on the fortress, Orak knew that this slope would soon lead to a grassy hill, the top of which Zaragus’ fort was built. As Orak and Kirsharr led their troops up the rocky slope, Deatheye took sixty soldiers and they headed towards the right with the intention to hit the fort from the east wall, where Umbo and his fellow slaves removed some of the bricks, leaving concealed holes through which creatures could enter.

Eventually, Orak and his soldiers moved into position. They lay low, under the cover of a patch of forest. In front of them, by about a hundred yards, lay Zaragus’ fortress. The walls were almost complete. Sentries scuttled about on morning duty, and the fort’s blood-red banners waved about, inviting all foes to come and face the powerful corsair.

A few minutes later, and Orak spotted Deatheye’s soldiers moving into position, also hiding in the woods.

“Torches ready,” Orak whispered to Kirsharr, who in turn nodded to the archers. The archers stuck the shafts of their burning torches into the soft earth.

Orak looked up again at the fortress. They hadn’t been noticed yet.

“Archers!” Orak commanded. Over a hundred ermine, all trained in using extremely powerful longbows, lit their arrows over the torches and nocked them.

“Shoot over the walls. Light the fort up! Take aim! FIRE!”

As Orak had remembered, Zaragus’ fort, still undergoing construction, was littered with wood and rope made from dried plant fibers, making the interior extremely flammable. The living quarters were constructed from wood as well. Now, as the arrows began flying overhead and striking the interior of the fort, Orak lay in wait, calculating the precise moment to mount the assault.

In a few minutes, smoke began rising from Zaragus’ fortress. Rats scrambled about, trying to find water to put out the fires which were growing fast. One unfortunate rat fell, transfixed by an arrow. Another arrow struck a barrel of tree resin lying on the wooden ramparts, creating a miniature fireball that claimed the lives of another two rats.

“Wot in Hellgates is goin’ on out here?!” Zaragus shouted as he stormed out of his cabin. A fire arrow thudded near his footpaw.

“Sire, we’re bein’ attacked!” a rat captain cried, running up to Zaragus. The weasel dealt him a heavy blow to the face. “Wot did ye think they were doing? Throwin’ us a party? Go and muster the troops and defend the front wall, ye dimwit! And step on it! An’ put out that fire while yer at it!”

As the rat hurried off to do his master’s bidding, Zaragus climbed onto the ramparts. The enemy could not be seen, but the next volley of arrows that flew through the air and struck down the defenders on either side of him could. Gritting his teeth in frustration, the corsair climbed down and went to get his swords.

Orak saw the smoke rising from the distant fort. The Assassin drew his rapier. “Charge!”

“ORAK! ORAK! KILL! KILL! KILL!”

With Orak in the lead, the main body of the horde charged out from their forest cover, battering ram and scaling ladders at the ready. Zaragus’ rats fired back at the incoming soldiers.

“Kill the ones carryin’ the ram!” Zaragus commanded. “Watch it! They’re goin’ to climb the walls…”

However, there was no stopping the ermine. When a ram-bearer fell, another one took his place.

BOOM! The ram struck the gates so hard that the entire wall shook. Zaragus nearly fell flat on his face. “Keep up the arrows!” he screamed. “Don’t let ‘em in!”

By now the ermine had laid their backs flat to the outside of the wall so archers had a harder time hitting them. Then, they began putting the ladders up. One ladder was thrown back by the rats and broken. Yet the ermine kept coming.

Their desperation taking over, the rats started chucking stray stones at the ermine. One fell from the ladder back down to the ground. However, the ermine were soon up on the ramparts. Valker the stoat was the first one to climb over the walls. One swing from his double-bladed battle axe knocked two rats off the ramparts. The rats were dead before they hit the ground. Right behind him, Fishtooth, the ermine with one eye, looped his chain around a rat’s throat before repeatedly plunging an iron hook into his heart.

As more rats poured over the walls, Orak’s troops succeeded in smashing the gates open. The rats trying to hold the gates shut were bowled back. Orak the Assassin had arrived! The warlord leapt over the heads of his soldiers and threw a pair of knives straight into a rat’s eyes. Another rat charged him with a spear, but Orak dodged, grabbed the spear, stomped it in two, and stabbed the vermin through the throat. “Onward!” he shouted, charging forward.

By now, the inside of the fort was ablaze. Three rats trying to put out the fire noticed Orak and his soldiers rushing straight at them. They tried to retreat, but Orak caught up to them. They were unarmed. So, to make things fair, Orak dropped his rapier and lunged at the closest one, killing him with a fatal bite to the throat. The other two rats pulled him off their slain comrade. But the Assassin kicked one rat in the groin and snapped his neck, then wrapped the other one up in his cape and dealt a death blow to the struggling creature’s right temple.

Other rats were trying to fight off the ermine, but to little avail. Kirsharr smashed a rat’s skull to pieces with his war hammer. Krilel stabbed a rat through the stomach with his spear then shoved the dying foe into a flaming pile of wood.

Orak the Assassin picked up his sword again and went off on his own. He had a score to settle with Zaragus.

Meanwhile, Umbo and the other slaves, still chained in the darkness of the compound, heard the sound of approaching pawsteps. Some slaves started whimpering, but Umbo was crying tears of joy. “’Tis Deatheye an’ his soldiers, mates! We’re free!”

Sure enough, Deatheye’s army had snuck through the holes the slaves made in the walls. The mottled stoat wiped blood of his serrated sword as he kicked the door in. “Good to see you all,” he nodded. Turning to his soldiers, he ordered: “Cut their chains!”

Soon the slaves were free of their manacles; symbols of Zaragus’ evil. Deatheye eyed them. They were starving and worn, but in their eyes they possessed vengeance and bloodlust. “Let’s kill some rats,” the Captain grinned. The slaves, from the oldest to the youngest, let out a mighty cheer, grabbed whatever they could use as a weapon, from pieces of wood to their iron chains, and followed Deatheye’s soldiers out.

Kyrin crashed through the forest, claymore in paw, regardless of any possible rats which may be lurking around. The young squirrel was so consumed by hate that he wasn’t even aware of the trails of tears on his face. In fact, Kyrin, intently following this trail, ran smack dab into a straggling Bloodwater rat with a wounded footpaw.

“Yahahaah! Time t’ die, squirrel!” the rat grinned insanely. Kyrin momentarily broke out of his trance as the rat swung his cutlass at him. Then, a couple things happened at once. Startled, Kyrin jumped backwards and fell flat on his back while the rat, whose wound made his balance unsteady, swung the sword too hard and fell forward, impaling himself on Kyrin’s sword. Kyrin couldn’t tell whether he or the rat was screaming. The rat’s body lay limply on the horrified squirrel. Kyrin found himself staring into the lifeless dark eyes of what, a second ago, was a living, breathing, creature. Now, its head was lolling to the side and blood was dripping out of its mouth onto Kyrin’s face.

A strangled sob escaped from Kyrin’s mouth as he pushed the bleeding corpse off of him. He had never killed a creature before. The young squirrel huddled up against a tree in a fetal position, his breath coming out in ragged gasps. Eventually, the squirrel calmed down, his initial horror at the brutal slaying drowned by his vengeance for the Bloodwater rats who murdered poor old Barulo. Composing himself, Kyrin picked up the rat’s bow and arrows and disappeared into the trees, an invisible warrior ready to finish a job.


Chapter 13

Dinnertime at Redwall Abbey was never a low-key affair. Even when a potential vermin invasion was in progress and the Champion of Redwall was risking life and limb to find his son, the Redwallers kept up their renowned tradition of absolutely filling every square inch of the table with mountains of mouth-watering food. Piled high on tonight’s table were loaves of fluffy barley rolls studded with almonds, deeper n’ ever pie, eye-watering shrimp and hotroot soup, greensap milk, dandelion and watercress soup, honeyed scones, and much, much more. The smells wafting from the Great Hall soon drew all the Abbeydwellers to the table, no matter what they were doing. Few in the entire history of Redwall were known to pass up dinner.

“Come on, Melanda,” Sister Armel gently coaxed, shaking her sleeping daughter. “Wake up, young lady. It’s dinnertime.”

Melanda rolled over on her bed. “Mmmf…lee’me ‘lone. ‘Ave a ‘eadache.”

“You have a headache? Are you alright, dear?” Armel asked, instinctively feeling Melanda’s forehead. “Your temperature feels normal to me.”

Melanda pulled the covers over her head. “Don’t care, still ‘urts,” she mumbled.

“Poor child,” Armel whispered, concerned. “Well, if you feel better, come down to dinner. I’ll save you a bowl of soup. Get some rest now, Melanda.” The gentle Infirmary keeper left, softly shutting the door behind her. Being an expert on illnesses, she wondered how anybeast could have a headache and not show any other signs of illness.

Meanwhile, as Melanda slept, the inside of her head began to pound harder and harder.

Melanda…Melanda…

Suddenly, she was standing in the middle of dark space.

Hello?! she called, looking for anybeast to answer.

In her delirium, Melanda looked up. Suddenly, she could see images of a burning Mossflower Wood, complete with wretched screams and shouts. The images switched to Kyrin perched on a tree branch. His face, distorted in vengeance, was illuminated by the firelight as he yelled and fired off arrow after arrow at an unknown foe.

Kyrin! Melanda shouted as she reached out to touch the image of her lost brother. But the image exploded soundlessly into hundreds of fragile crystal-like shards. They were replaced by the sights and smells of fresh blood, coupled with Kyrin’s sorrowful wailing. Melanda covered her ears. She could not stand to hear Kyrin in so much pain.

Is this a dream? A nightmare? Somebeast give me answers! she cried.

As if on cue, a shaft of white, blinding light was revealed as a part of the darkness swung open like the Abbey gates. Without thinking, Melanda stepped forward. Closer…closer…into the light…

She was greeted there by the golden figure of a mouse in full battle armor, wielding the great sword that was now in the paws of her father. She recognized the mouse from somewhere, even though she had never seen him before…not in this lifetime…

Martin! Melanda cried out, running towards him. She wanted to know what was going on, how she got here, and so much more, but suddenly, Martin’s eyes flashed red, though his kindly, strong facial expression remained. The long-gone Warrior smiled and pointed at Melanda. And then he was gone.

Kyrin is suffering, Melanda heard herself say.

At that exact moment, Melanda’s eyes opened. Her splitting headache was gone. The sun was setting, and its last rays peeked through the window of Melanda’s dormitory. Being the Abbey Recorder, Melanda immediately set to work, quill and parchment in hand, writing down everything that came to her in this strange, strange dream.

Splash! In the torchlight, Tam watched as Skipper and his otters plopped the canoes in the water.

“Right-o, mates! They all float again!” Skipper announced triumphantly. “Tam, yore boats are all shipshape! Ready t’ sail on yore orders, sir!”

“Finally!” Thorn exclaimed, his paws stuck together by pine sap. This drew another round of laughter from the search party.

Tam shook Skipper’s resin-covered paw. “Skipper Traw, I can’t thank ye or your otters enough for helping me.” He turned to the rest of the party. “Thank ye all, as a matter o’ fact, for stickin’ with me through thick an’ thin. I know I haven’t been myself lately an’ I apologize. But tomorrow – ” Tam drew his sword, “– tomorrow, after we get a good rest tonight, we’ll cross that river an’ bring my son home!”

His proposition was greeted by earth-shaking cheers. Everybeast went to bed happy that night, with great expectations for tomorrow.

In the Northlands, Orak’s soldiers were winning the fight. Most of the rats had retreated to the other side of the fortress, leaving their dead and wounded behind. The ones who stayed were easily overwhelmed.

Suddenly, Deatheye and his coalition of vermin and slaves broke out from the compound. They brought death straight to the Bloodwater rats, some striking out with the very chains that had bound their paws for seasons.

“’Tis death to ye!” Umbo shouted, grabbing a screaming rat and bludgeoning him to death with a wooden stave. A loud cheer rose from the army of slaves smashing into the remaining rats.

“FREEEEEDOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOM!!!”

Deatheye’s serrated sword blade flashed in the sunlight as he cleaved a rat in half. “Push towards the front gates!” he ordered his army. “We’ll meet up with the main force there!”

With a mighty roar his soldiers, their loyalty to their Captain unswerving, smashed right into a contingent of rats trying to hold back the ferocious onslaught. In the charge, rats fell left and right, hacked, stabbed, beaten, or trampled to death.

One of Zaragus’ rats ran forth, stabbing Deatheye in the leg. The Captain stumbled and fell, but Umbo’s wife Daynia was watching. Charging forward, she planted herself between the wounded stoat and his foe. Daynia was a big, burly hedgehog like her mate. She grabbed the rat’s spear and broke it like a twig. Then she proceeded to drive both halves of the spear into the rat’s chest.

Deatheye nodded a silent thanks to Daynia as the hogwife helped him up, the respect in him for the slaves…growing.

Meanwhile, Zaragus had retreated to where he thought everything was safe. The weasel had narrowly avoided being shot by a hail of fire arrows. Now he was on the run, looking for survivors in the fortress. It seemed that his rats were hiding too. Maybe if he found them he could mount a successful counterattack. After all, Zaragus had a very quick brain.

Two ermine saw Zaragus and charged him with their spears. The weasel fell backwards, dodging their attacks, then slashed out with his twin scimitars, cutting off four footpaws in one smooth movement.

“Zaragus!” The weasel whipped around to see who was calling his name. Orak the Assassin stood, sword in paw, ready to duel to the death. “I believe you have something of mine!” the warlord shouted.

Zaragus flashed another dangerous smile as he produced a jeweled rapier. “Oh, this? Harharr, well, me friend, ‘twill be fun guttin’ ye with yer own blade!”

Throwing his scimitars aside, Zaragus twirled the rapier deftly in his paw. “’Tis death t’ ye!”

With that, the two commanders lunged at each other.

Kyrin stole from tree to tree in the moonlight. It was his first time “tree-hopping” in earnest, as the trees in Redwall Abbey were puny compared to the magnificent sycamores, oaks, birches, and ash. Having discovered this vital squirrel ability, Kyrin was imbued with a sense of power. And now, as the flickering light of camp torches came into view, Kyrin stayed still in the branches, watching for movement.

He had found the Bloodwater camp. It was situated near a swamp. The combined smells of stagnant water and decaying plant matter stunk in Kyrin’s nostrils. Next to the swamp, in the middle of piles of dead branches and rotten tree trunks stood random clumps of rickety shacks that looked as if they were going to fall over any second. Campfires burned low, and it became obvious to Kyrin that everybeast down there was asleep. Kyrin could make out canoes identical to the one he had stolen to row across the River Moss the night he fled Redwall. Hatred flared up in Kyrin once again as he notched one arrow to his bow, being careful not to touch the tips, which were smeared with hemlock and nightshade. There were a series of guards strolling around in the camp. Kyrin had to silence them without bringing the whole tribe of rats down on his head.

There was a rat perched on top of a tree, spear in hand, as if he were some kind of scout or sentry. Kyrin held his breath as he drew the bowstring back, closing one eye to sight his target.

Zip! The poisoned arrow struck the rat in the throat, actually pinning the vermin to the tree. The rat died without a sound, the poison working instantly.

One of the rats on the ground stopped and Kyrin felt a chill run down his spine. Had they spotted him? Sweat as cold as frozen lake in winter ran down Kyrin’s brow. To his relief, the rat’s hadn’t noticed the assassination, and carried on walking around.

Too many rats! How could Kyrin kill one without alerting the others? Then, the young squirrel noticed a rat walking over to another rat, the two striking up a conversation. This meant their attention was taken off another rat standing towards the each of camp.

Zip! Kyrin killed the vermin with a single shot to the heart. He had no idea how he was suddenly such a crack shot at archery, having only seen and not actually having used a bow and arrow before. Maybe he was just angry, and his rage gave him determination and focus. He was going to kill the killers tonight.

The two rats who were chatting finished their little talk and one turned around to leave. Kyrin nocked a third arrow and fired it, killing the rat watching the other rat leave. The fourth arrow took out the rat who was walking away. All were silent kills. Nobeast had been disturbed.

The other guards were leaving the area. Kyrin silently climbed down the tree and made his way into the camp. He saw families huddled up on the dirt floors of their houses. Bits of half-eaten food lay around the place. The rats lived in deplorable conditions. But this did not change the young squirrel’s heart.

Then Kyrin saw the Chief, still painted in his fierce war colors, snoring uproariously in a suspended hammock in the middle of the camp, his enormous belly rising and falling like a lump of jelly. Around him were four snoozing ratguards.

Kyrin silently cursed his bad luck. There was no way he could risk murdering the Chief without waking the guards.

Then he saw a torch suspended from a shack to provide light.

Usually, one does not light an unattended fire in a forest, for sake of preventing obvious disaster. Kyrin did.

The fire spread quickly as Kyrin bolted out of the camp. Soon, muffled cries of distress could be heard coming from the blazing camp. The cries turned into screams. Kyrin hid behind a tree, smiling at a job well done. The rats deserved it, of course. Every single bit of it.

Screaming vermin came tearing out of the forest, some writhing from the unbearable agony of flames consuming their body.

“Water! Water!” they shrieked. “AAAAAAAAAAAAAHHH!!!”

“I’ll give you water, you filthy scum!” Kyrin screamed as he emerged from behind the tree. The young squirrel let fly arrows with consistent, deadly accuracy, killing unarmed, burning rats. A ratwife and her infant, both ablaze, stumbled out of the former camp, both wailing with pain. Without a drop of remorse, Kyrin shot the mother through the head. The mother dropped her already-dead baby and it rolled in front of Kyrin. The sight of a dead infant made Kyrin realize what he was doing. But by then, it was too late. In his anger, Kyrin had murdered an entire tribe of rats. He could see the body of their former Chieftain, charred and blackened, lying dead in the fray. Burned corpses lay everywhere. In his mind, Kyrin could see the mysterious mouse again. This time, the mouse was frowning and shaking his head.

The sun was almost up as an exhausted Kyrin made it back to Barulo’s former dwelling. With the remainder of his strength, a dry-eyed Kyrin buried Barulo deep inside the ruins of his own shelter, near the stream.

Kyrin knelt by the improvised grave. It was the best he could offer an innocent squirrel who, while eccentric and cantankerous, was actually kind-hearted and more of a father figure to him than anybeast could be. Not at all like Kyrin MacBurl, Kyrin the Outcast, Kyrin the Killer.

Kyrin removed the little brass squirrel that was hanging around his neck. His father had given it to him when he was just a baby. But now it meant nothing. Kyrin could never go back to Redwall.

The young squirrel began to sing as he stared at his reflection in the water.

“So turns the Earth, so passes time

“So comes a day to leave behind

“Our families and our own friends,

“For a new life beyond the bend,

“But something that we’ll always keep

“Are the memories that run so deep,

“So this is a new day for both you and I,

“Hello no more, but never goodbye.”

Having placed the pendant on Barulo’s grave and having properly sent off his friend to the Dark Forest, Kyrin buried his face in his paws and wept…and wept…and wept…

In a few hours, Kyrin MacBurl departed north with no intention to ever return to a place which crushed his hopes and destroyed his very soul.


Chapter 14

Crossing the river for Tam and company was easy. Or, at least, it seemed easy, considering how the search party was held up on the bank first by two ambushes and finally leaky boats. Tam was visibly happier than he had ever been in the past few days. Doogy winked at Tergen. “Heh, ‘tis good tae know that Tam’s up an’ runnin’ again.”

“Kraa!” the goshawk cackled. “He happy, I happy! We save little Kyrin, go home fast!”

“Put yore backs into it, mates!” Skipper called out to his otters as they rowed the canoes. “That’s it! Almost there…”

Tam was the first one to jump onto the bank. “C’mon, everybeast!” he called.

The party was quick to comply. By now, everybeast was getting sick of this forest.

A while later, the group was walking through Mossflower Wood, looking for any sign of Kyrin’s presence.

“Well,” Buckshaw huffed, “we have no tracks to follow. Where d’you think the little rascal would run to?”

Galwa pondered this for a moment. “You see that stream over there?” he asked the search party, pointing towards a small trail of water which flowed from the river, “everybeast needs water to survive. My guess is that Kyrin wouldn’t ‘ave strayed too far from that stream. ‘E’s probably livin’ somewhere here on the streambank.”

“…An’ probably watchin’ us and laughin’, too, wot,” Thorn mumbled. Ferdimond elbowed him and he was quiet.

“Well, let’s hope he has th’ sense t’do so,” Tam nodded. He shook Galwa’s paw. “Thank ye, mate. Yore a genius!”

Galwa chuckled modestly. “Only doin’ my job, mate.”

“Then it’s settled,” Tam announced. “We’ll follow this stream. Keep yore eyes peeled for any signs o’ life. Tergen, you fly ahead an’ report back t’ us if ye see anything. The rest of us, let’s go! An’ watch for vermin at all times!”

Tergen soared into the air and was gone in an instant. Tam and company kept a steady pace following the flowing water.

“’E couldn’t ‘ave gone far,” one of the otters offered. “If Kyrin crossed a river in th’ middle of the night, ‘e’d ‘ave been too exhausted to move any deeper into the woods.”

“Yes, well, Kyrin’s been missin’ for a while now, so that’s given him a lot of time to shift his little bottom somewhere else we don’t know,” Buckshaw countered.

Thorn nearly tripped over a tree root. “Probably shifted his little bottom t’ Hellgates already, the little blighter,” he muttered. Ferdimond had to elbow him again.

Suddenly, Doogy’s keen sense of smell took over. “Och, cannae ye smell summat?” he asked.

“I smell it too,” Tam replied, sniffing the air. “Wonder wot it is…”

Skipper was familiar with that smell. “Smells like something’s been torched. It’s old, probably been burned yesterday or th’ day before.”

“Who’d torch something in th’ middle of a forest? Are they crazy?” another otter piped up.

“Kreehaaaaa!” Tergen landed in front of them. “Tam!” he gasped, “notgood notgood! Burned shelter up ahead! I go! You follow!” The goshawk took off quite briskly. Tam and company ran after him, not knowing what to expect.

They came across the once hidden shelter which was burned down by the Bloodwater rats. Wordlessly, Skipper stepped forward and picked up something that caught his eye: it was Kyrin’s necklace.

“I’m sorry, mate,” the brawny otter said quietly, presenting Tam with the necklace.

Tam’s chest sank and his paws tightened into fists. He walked towards the burned compound. There were traces of charred fur lying around and…and…bits of bloody cloth, and…

The search party was totally unprepared for the heart-wrenching scream that tore from Tam’s throat.

“He’s not dead!” Tam kept shouting. “My son is not dead!” In a blind fit of rage, Tam ripped the Sword of Martin out from its scabbard and swung it around like a madbeast, slashing at charred branches and rocks.

“Tam! Tam!” Skipper ran towards his friend. “Stop! Yore out of yore mind, mate!”

Tam nearly sliced off Skipper’s head in his fury. “Why, Martin, WHY?!” he screamed, falling to his knees. He swung the sword wildly, shouting to nobeast in particular: “I’ll kill you! I’LL KILL YOU ALL!!!”

A seasoned boxer, Ferdimond sprung forth and dealt Tam a swift right hook to the face. The squirrel collapsed, unconscious. “I wish I didn’t have to do that, Tam,” Ferdimond said softly, wiping his eyes. He turned to the others wearily. “Let’s go home.”

Clang! Orak and Zaragus locked swords, glaring into each other’s eyes.

“You’ll regret the day you decided to mess with me!” Orak seethed as they broke apart. Zaragus did a fancy flourish, pointing at Orak the jeweled rapier which he had stolen from the Assassin. “I’ll regret it if’n I don’t make crabsmeat outta ye today!” the black weasel grinned, launching himself at Orak. Zaragus was an extremely adept swordsbeast, driving Orak across the battlefield.

Orak ducked Zaragus’ lunge, then struck back, nailing the weasel square in the chin with a well-timed uppercut. But the corsair simply spat out the blood and a broken tooth and attacked again, slashing Orak’s cape.

Again, they broke apart. Then Zaragus charged forward, attempting a number of stabs and slashes at his foe. Orak felt his reflexes being tested. A wild swing managed to skin his cheek. Orak clapped a paw to his face and felt the wet blood running down his snow-white fur. Zaragus smiled again. “Had enough yet?”

“NO!” Orak shouted as he slashed at Zaragus, following it up with a swift kick to the gut. The corsair had the wind momentarily knocked out of him as he flew back a few feet, landing on his back. Zaragus narrowly rolled out of the way as three of Orak’s throwing knives flew at him, thudding into the ground. Thinking fast, the corsair threw a pawful of sand into his attacker’s eyes and slashed at him with renewed ferocity. Orak somehow parried all of the weasel’s blows while rubbing the stinging pain out of his eyes. The last parry, however, broke his sword in half. Now, he was defenseless against the weasel.

“I plan ter spit ye on yer own blade, Orak!” Zaragus roared, hitting striking at the warlord. Orak fled up the ramparts with Zaragus chasing him. The ermine made it to the top first, with the corsair closely behind him. Orak picked up a bucket and chucked it at Zaragus, hitting the weasel in the head. Snarling, the weasel climbed up the ladder and swung his sword at Orak again. The Assassin dodged, ducked, and weaved.

“Think yer fast, eh?” Zaragus smiled again, blood trickling down his chin from his earlier wound, “well, try this!” With that, the weasel feinted, making Orak lose his balance, then stabbed forward. Orak caught the razor sharp blade in his paws, stopping it inches from his heart. Zaragus pinned him to the side of the ramparts and put all his weight into the sword. Orak pushed back with all his might. The blade was cutting into his paws and blood was dripping down his arms. He couldn’t last much longer…

And then, Orak let go of the sword and dodged. Zaragus’ weight threw him forward. His paws searing with pain, Orak jumped back then smashed Zaragus’ sword paw with a single strike to the arm, shattering Zaragus’ wrist. The corsair screamed in agony as Orak snatched the sword from his deadened paw and kicked him off the ramparts, back down into the fort. Zaragus hit the ground hard, landing a few feet away from his scimitars. The weasel staggered up in pain and broke into a stumbling run towards his weapons. But Orak was already moving. Leaping through the air, Orak landed behind Zaragus. Catching up to the weasel, Orak slashed the tendons on Zaragus’ footpaws. The screaming corsair fell to his knees, skidding to a halt in front of his swords. He attempted to throw a punch at the warlord with his good arm, but Orak caught the blow and twisted Zaragus into an armlock.

“Good night, Zaragus,” the corsair heard the cold-blooded Assassin whisper in his ear. Zaragus’ eyes grew wide, then clouded over as Orak ran him through between the shoulder blades, skewering the heart. The dying weasel stared dumbly at the blade protruding out from his chest. Mercilessly, Orak tore the blade out from his enemy. The body of Zaragus, corsair, pirate, and General, shuddered as blood spurted out from the open wound, then fell face down on the ground, never to rise again.

By now, most of the rats had surrendered. Anybeast who didn’t was slain by on the spot. The demoralized remnants of Zaragus’ army stood in a row, guarded by ermine, their weapons in a pile. The slaves were cheering and hugging each other.

Orak, Deatheye, and Kirsharr convened. “Well fought, my Captains,” the Assassin smiled. “How many have we lost?”

“Eighteen dead and twenty-six wounded, sir,” Deatheye replied.

Orak nodded, then addressed the slaves in a gentle tone. “I am Orak. Thank you today, for everything. You will be given your freedom for your cooperation in overthrowing this scourge.”

The slaves looked at each other, then started to cheer. Some were weeping with joy. Orak held up his paw for silence.

“We have supplies coming from outside the fortress. We will provide you with more food and whatever medicine, clothes, and blankets you may need. But for now – ” the Assassin gestured toward the compound, “I need you to sit tight in there while we discuss post-battle matters.”

At first the slaves were reluctant, but Umbo exhorted them into spirits again. “C’mon, everybeast!” he shouted. “These creatures saved our lives. Th’ least we c’n do is listen to ‘em. Now into th’ compound, everybeast!”

As soon as all the slaves had returned to the miserable-looking cabin Deatheye took Orak aside. “Supplies?” he hissed. “What supplies? I wasn’t aware that we had more soldiers coming our way!”

Completely ignoring his Captain, Orak nodded towards Deatheye’s soldiers. Immediately they surrounded the compound and boarded it up.

Deatheye was shocked. “What’s going on, sir? These slaves helped us win the day! We owe them so much!”

“Oh, relax,” Orak waved his paw at the protesting stoat. “You see, your soldiers are ultimately my soldiers, and you are ultimately under my command. As my subordinate, you are obligated to obey all my orders.” Orak gestured to Kirsharr, who handed him a flaming torch. Orak, in turn, put the torch in Deatheye’s paw. “And so, I order you to burn down the compound.”

Deatheye froze, speechless. He looked around. Nobeast had any trace of emotion in their eyes. Whether it was fear that made them fall into stony silence or true evil, Deatheye would never know. The Captain looked down at the flaming torch in his hand, and back at Orak.

“Is there a problem, Deatheye?” Orak asked, his paw straying near his rapier.

Helpless and furious, Deatheye turned to the compound. He could hear the confused voices of the slaves inside. There was nothing he could do. The stoat’s shoulders seemed to slump, and he threw the torch with all his might.

The torch hit the compound, bursting into flames. In an instant, Orak’s ermine fired a volley of fire arrows into the slave quarters. Soon the entire structure was alight. Screams of agony, pain, and hurt emanated from the heart of the fire as the trapped slaves realized the betrayal. Deatheye stood dry-eyed, watching the slaves die by his own paw.

Orak then proceeded to address his army. “Form up! Bring the prisoners. We’ll train them and have them fill my ranks. Otherwise, they will die.” He then addressed Deatheye in an ironically cheerful tone. “Come on then, killer. Let’s go.”

Deatheye gave the burning compound one last look, then followed up the rear out of the destroyed fortress.

Melanda MacBurl took a seat in Abbot Cyrus’ study. The kindly hedgehog sat opposite her and folded his paws together. “Now, Melanda,” Cyrus said gently, looking into the young Recorder’s eyes, “what may I help you with?”

Melanda told the Abbot everything in the visions that she saw earlier in the evening. “I had a headache which had been bothering me all afternoon, so I skipped dinner to sleep it off. Then, I must’ve had a dream of some sort. No…it was more like…a nightmare! Martin the Warrior, he…he showed up in my vision, and I saw Mossflower Wood burning, and blood everywhere! And Kyrin…oh, Kyrin! He was laughing like a madbeast, firing off arrows at nothing…at least not anything I could see. In my dream I reached out to touch the image of my brother, but the whole world exploded into little shards, and there he was! Martin! Martin the Warrior! But his eyes were glowing red, no, they flashed red once, rather…like a pair of fireflies. He pointed at me and vanished. When I woke up, my headache was gone!”

“Whew!” Cyrus chuckled. “That’s a lot happening in your dream there, eh? But, Melanda…” he leaned forward, “in all seriousness, I think Martin the Warrior has chosen you to deliver his message to us Redwallers. And I’m sure this isn’t the last we’ll hear from him, for better or for worse. A number of creatures have experienced visions from Martin in the past, such as the great Matthias the Warrior, or Sister Nasturtium during the time of Abbess Vale.” The Abbot sighed and put his paw on Melanda’s shoulder. “My faithful Recorder, you possess a gift more powerful than anybeast can comprehend. If you ever have more visions, tell me or another elder and record every bit of it. There is something bound to happen in the near future that will affect each and every one of us, and you are the key to knowing that something, be it good or evil. Hopefully one day, Martin will reveal what he has planned for us…through you, Melanda.”

Melanda curtsied respectfully towards the Abbot. “Thank you, Father Abbot. It’s late now, and I think we should all go to bed, mm? G’night!”

As Melanda ran off, Abbot Cyrus sighed. “Martin,” he wondered aloud, looking out to the star-studded night sky, “Martin protect us.”


Chapter 15

Melanda awoke the next day to the twin Abbey bells, dubbed Matthias and Methuselah, ringing out loud and clear. The bells were rarely used, except for emergencies and other urgent matters. The Abbey didn’t even have an official Bellringer. However, Melanda, like any other Abbeydweller, knew what to do upon hearing the bells. Donning a crisp white dress, she ran downstairs to the Abbey lawns outside the Great Hall.

The rest of the Redwallers were gathering outside on this cold spring morning. A wispy shadow of frost rested upon the grass.

Melanda joined her mother. “Good morning, mother. What’s going on?” she asked.

“Your father has returned,” Armel replied, dropping her voice low as Abbot Cyrus walked in front of everybeast.

“Wonderful!” Melanda exclaimed happily. “You mean to tell me they found him?”

Armel sighed, keeping her eyes on the main gate as the twin doors swung open. “Let’s hope, Melanda.”

Tam strode in wordlessly, followed by Doogy, the hares, Tergen, Skipper, Galwa, and the ottercrew. Melanda saw her father and the Abbot hold a brief conversation, though she couldn’t hear what either of them was saying. The entire search party proceeded to stand next to Armel and Melanda. Instantly, the Recorder knew that something was horribly wrong.

The Abbot cleared his throat and announced: “Friends, good Redwallers all, it is my sorrow to announce that Kyrin MacBurl is dead.”

Armel collapsed in Tam’s arms, weeping silently. The other Redwallers began talking amongst themselves, shocked. Melanda could do nothing but stand there and watch the Abbot as he went on with his speech.

“I am told that our Kyrin ran away from the Abbey and lived as a hermit for about a week,” Cyrus went on. “He built a shelter that was burned down in fire, trapping him inside. Kyrin was a bright, athletic young squirrel with an amazing sense of humor. He would get on somebeast’s nerves from time to time, but I know, and his family knows, that, at heart, he was good-natured, caring, and sensitive to others around him.”

The Redwallers, who had always looked upon Kyrin as a spoiled upstart, realized that since his departure, Redwall had fallen into an unexplained malaise. What the Abbot said was true. Kyrin was the life of Redwall, and nobeast could even notice it until he was gone. And now, Kyrin had died, taking the spirit with him.

“My condolences go out the MacBurl family. May Martin help them through this difficult time,” the Abbot continued. “A moment of silence please – ” in the silence, Melanda could hear sniffling. “Thank you,” Cyrus said solemnly. “Tomorrow night there will be a feast in celebration of the vibrant life which Kyrin lived. That is all. Let us start a new day. It is what Kyrin would have wanted.”

Melanda felt tears roll down her cheeks. Between keeping records and learning the art of warfare, she never really spent much time with her brother. And now he was gone forever. She looked over to Armel, who was being comforted by the ottercrew and the hares. Her father was nowhere to be seen.

Doogy approached the grieving squirrelmaid and placed his paws on her shoulders. “Your brother was-was a bonnie lad, he was.” Melanda could tell Doogy was fighting back tears.

The morning clouds parted to reveal the sun, but nobeast noticed.

Orak sipped peach cordial from a flagon while watching the sun rise over the land he called his. He had wiped out the potential threat presented by Zaragus, leaving no survivors, except for the corsair’s rats, who were now being whipped into shape to fight for their new master. Life was good. But maybe – just maybe – it could be better.

Lying back in his reclining chair, which he had set up outside of his tent, Orak remembered the time when, under the leadership of Gulo the Savage, he had participated in the attack on Redwall. Now there was a home. The creatures looked so well-fed and happy. Orak was determined not to make the mistake that Gulo had made. The wolverine had attacked the Abbey using suicidal charges with no tactics or master plans whatsoever. The little mice who inhabited the Abbey were peace-loving woodlanders with few trained warriors among them, but, if roused, they could put up a deadly fight to defend what they loved. Plus, they enjoyed the advantage of a large stone fortress which could outlast even the most persistent of sieges.

Listening to Kirsharr yell out orders to the rats, Orak sat back, plotting a takeover of the Abbey. If he could conquer the centerpoint of Mossflower, he could rule over not only the Northlands, but the entire continent! His name would be feared throughout the land, and he could live out the rest of his life in hedonistic luxury instead of spending day and night in a cold, sparse environment like the Northlands. But to conquer and hold such a large empire, Orak needed troops…and time…perhaps five seasons…

...

End of Book One.

Book Two: The Quest

Chapter 16

They say that Orak the Assassin was not one to break his word. Once he promised something, he would keep that promise to the end of time. Five seasons later, Orak was living up to his word once again. His army of a thousand ermine, stoats, weasels and other assorted vermin smashed into Mossflower like a hailstorm through a flowerbed. The peaceful woodlanders had never seen anything like it. They fled in terror – or stayed behind to die – as the vermin army destroyed their homes and burned their fields.

Orak strode confidently in front of his soldiers, flanked on either side by Deatheye and Kirsharr. Mossflower was everything he had hoped it would be: plentiful, sprawling, and warm. It was now summer, and the sun shone like a blazing orb in the sky while the rivers flowed steadily and the leaves swished lazily in the cool breeze. For Orak and his one thousand troops, this provided the ideal environment for conquest; plenty of food, clement weather, and, of course, a path to Redwall.

Zephyr the hare stood on guard, watching the Mossflower border. The smell of gruel assailed his nostrils. Was there nothing else to eat in this entire forest? Five seasons ago, when the Badger Lady Melesme had heard about the threat in the Northlands, she had posted scattered garrisons of Long Patrol hares near the Mossflower-Northlands border to ensure that the vermin conquest did not extend south. Every half season, new hares would relieve the posts of the hares already present, and they would cycle for “as long as necessary.” Zephyr at least found some comfort in that summer had just started and it was about time to cycle soldiers.

Bored out of his restless skull, Zephyr leaned on his longbow, watching an exchange between two hares in his garrison, Sergeant Montisle and Private Bilkey.

“Hi there, Sarge! Wot are you writin’? Letter t’ the old mater back home?”

“Not in the slightest, old lad. The vermin threat is mountin’ out yonder, so I thought ‘twould be nice to drop off a nice little letter to the old Badger Lady about current events out here. Might get her into sending some help, wot.”

“How many soldiers are you askin’ for, sah?”

“Several hundred. By the looks of it, This Assassin thingummy, Org or whatever his mother named him, has a huge force of about a thousand.”

“A bloomin’ thousand?! I say, sah, isn’t that steep?”

“Indeed, that’s why I’m going to send for reinforcements. Now go get lunch, old lad, your ribs are practic’lly sayin’ hello through your uniform! I’ll call you back later when I’m finished writing this letter so you can go fetch the runners.”

Zephyr leaned back casually. Such was the attitude in the camp these days. Hares, of course, were never ruffled in the heat of battle, always laughing and joking their way throughout. However, by now the hares were growing tired of being sent out so far from home to guard against a threat that never came. They sharpened their weapons and kept a keen lookout on the horizon but no vermin ever showed up. Recently, the Guerrilla Union of Shrews in Mossflower, or Guosim for short, led by the fearless Log a Log Tarryk, came to “aid” the hares. Zephyr felt sorry for the Guosim. The renowned fighters of Mossflower were throwing themselves into a pointless mission with no end in sight. “Maybe you should come to our aid by cookin’ some actual tuck for us poor chaps, wot?” he had suggested to the shrews. The cook had heard this and had chucked a spoon at him.

And so the days passed. The hares milled around in their camp, writing letters, sharpening weapons, boxing, and conversing without knowing when and where the threat would show up.

However, on that fateful day, Zephyr thought he knew.

Five ferrets had appeared not too far from the hares’ campsite. They were foraging for food, not seeming to notice the well-concealed tents in the dense underbrush. Their blue uniforms made them stand out in the vast swath of green surrounding them.

Motioning for two of his comrades to cover his advance, Zephyr snuck from his post to go deal with the vermin. Like the rest of the hares stationed in Mossflower, Zephyr wore a green and brown uniform which made him blend in well with the woods. Lying prone on the ground, the hare inched his way toward the vermin and silently nocked an arrow to his bow. He sighted the nearest ferret, pulled back the bowstring, took aim, held his breath, and…

Thock! The arrow struck the ferret right between the eyes. As their comrade crumpled, the other ferrets fled.

Looking back at his fellow hares, Zephyr nodded. The other hares nodded back, confirming the kill. For Zephyr, it actually felt good killing a creature, because at least finally he would see some action.

The camp was alerted of the threat to its north. Most of the hares, aided by Guosim shrews, took position on the north end of the camp, ready to face any oncoming vermin attack. Arrows were nocked. Slings were loaded. Swords were drawn.

Then, in true strategic fashion, the attack came from every side except for the north.

Zephyr was walking back to the camp when suddenly, loud whoops and battle cries started emanating from nowhere. The hares and shrews were completely taken by surprise. A dozen of them were cut down by arrows before they could even turn around and see their foe.

Sergeant Montisle had just finished writing his message to Salamandastron. “Forward the buffs!” he shouted. “Send out the runners! Alert the oth – ” he gurgled as an arrow struck him in the throat.

Pandemonium reigned in the camp as Orak the Assassin made his smashing entrance. Rapier in one paw, and rawhide whip in the other, the seasoned warlord dealt out death to the panicking hares and Guosim shrews. The vermin were knocking over tables of food, tearing down tents with trapped soldiers still inside, and generally destroying all enemies and supplies. The fleeing garrison of defenders stumbled and bumped into one another in the fray, tripping over tree roots and dead bodies, whereupon the vermin finished them off.

“NO QUARTER!” Deatheye and Kirsharr roared out to their troops as more and more vermin piled into the camp. The noble hares and shrews, however, stood their ground and fought to the bitter end.

In the middle of the fray, Zephyr picked up a pair of daggers from a slain hare, stabbing an oncoming ermine in the chest. Behind him, a fox lifted a boulder high in the air, ready to crush the hare, when Log a Log Tarryk forever silenced the enemy soldier with a well-aimed slingstone to the temple.

“We need to find the letter!” Log a Log shouted to Zephyr as a few shrews came to cover them.

“What?!!” Zephyr shouted back. The sounds of battle were deafening.

“WE! NEED! TO! FIND! THE! MESSAGE! THAT! MONTISLE! DROPPED!” Log a Log screamed. “It’s our only chance! Find the message yore sarge was writin’ an’ get it to yore mountain, hare! An’ tell th’ Badger Lady if she doesn’t send troops fast Mossflower will fall! It’s that serious! Go! We’re right be’ind ye!”

“Got it!” Zephyr broke into a run, trying to locate Montisle’s body. Another ermine fell upon him, stabbing him in the footpaw, but the hare kept going. Long Patrol hares were known for their rapid speed and immense endurance. Slicing the paw off a weasel, Zephyr ran blindly, trying to find the Sergeant’s body. The worst situation would be that Montisle’s body was lost in the throngs of vermin overrunning the camp. Fearing this, Zephyr ran like a madbeast, shoving aside an oncoming stoat. Somebeast slashed him in the back, and a thrown spear grazed his ear. The world was a blur, however, as Zephyr ran for what seemed like an eternity. Then he saw Montisle’s body lying on the ground, the bloodstained message clutched in his paw.

Zephyr grabbed the letter as one of the shrews covering him fell, killed by Kirsharr’s war hammer. The hare looked up to see Kirsharr grinning maniacally at him. “I’m gonna smash ya, bunny rabbet!” the fat ermine snarled, spittle running down the corner of his mouth. Just then, another one of Log a Log’s shrews jumped on Kirsharr from behind, clinging to the shoulders of his much larger foe. “Go!” the shrew shouted as Kirsharr smashed his skull in. With cover from Log a Log and the Guosim, Zephyr fled the camp. He saw the runners sent out to dispatch messages, all slain in their tracks. He was the last hare standing in his garrison.

“Ye did well!” Log a Log Tarryk panted as they fled the carnage. “I know this area better, so me an’ my shrews’ll alert the other camps if they’re still alive! You get goin’ to Salamandastron!”

Zephyr clasped the shrew’s paw, tears in his eyes. “Good luck to all of us!” Then the hare was off, bound south, then west, for the Fire Mountain.

The battle ended all too well for the vermin. Orak only suffered forty dead and wounded in comparison to the entire garrison of a hundred and fifty hares slain, along with a third of Log a Log Tarryk’s Guosim shrews.

However, there was a new complainer in the army.

“How’re we goin’ take over Mossfl’w’r if’n ye keep losin’ troops, sire?” Kirsharr asked. Kirsharr? Complaining about dead soldiers and tactics was Deatheye’s job! Since when did Kirsharr argue? Since when did Kirsharr get a brain? Orak groaned inwardly. Ever since he had upped Kirsharr’s command to two hundred, Kirsharr had grown…insolent.

Orak had developed a way of dealing with insolence, which he was getting a much greater deal of now that his army included more than just his original band of loyal followers. So instead of putting up with complaints, which vermin were apt to do, Orak either ignored the whiners or dismissed them in a haughty, arrogant tone. However, he committed all the names and faces of these naysayers to memory, so he could “deal” with them later – in front of his entire army. And everybeast knew that the Assassin had an amazing memory.

Orak chose to ignore Kirsharr and ordered to soldiers to form up. However, Kirsharr kept going. Now that he commanded troops, the dim-witted Captain, his ego (and his stomach) heavily inflated by authority (and good food), felt that he actually had a right to tell Orak what to do.

“An’ wot’s the point of slaughterin’ those innocent woodlanders like we did wid those mice yesterday? We aren’t gettin’ much done if’n all we do is plunder and steal!”

“Kirsharr, just listen to yourself,” Orak shook his head contemptuously. One of these days…

As for Deatheye, the stoat chose not to take part in the pointless slaughter that took place so often during the Mossflower campaign. Though he took part in every real battle with much decisiveness and enthusiasm, Deatheye was neither willing to devote time nor troops to such atrocities. But by now, the killings were so commonplace that Deatheye stopped criticizing Orak for his ways, choosing simply to silently disobey his commander by not ordering his soldiers to plunder, burn, and kill during massacres. This put him at odds with the warlord, and the two mistrusted each other more and more daily.

Orak’s plan was quite simple: conquer an empire for his own luxurious living, then kill off any who were not loyal to him. Right now, Deatheye was on the list of creatures to kill off, and mentally, Orak was quickly scribbling down Kirsharr’s name to the list. Deatheye was intelligent; he knew when his life was in danger and understood just how far he could test Orak’s patience without incurring the wrath of his commander. Kirsharr, well, he was only Captain because Orak couldn’t trust anybeast else. But now the worthless slob was beginning to turn against the warlord who had treated him so well. Orak decided that Kirsharr would have to go, sooner or later.

The Assassin’s mind suddenly switched to the image of a mysterious mouse. Orak had never seen the mouse before. The mouse wasn’t too tall, but everything about him screamed strength, courage, and power. The mouse drew a beautiful sword and swung it straight at Orak. But the mouse’s face was morphing into that of…a squirrel?

Orak blinked. He had seen it so vividly, but he didn’t know what to make of it. So, as usual, he composed himself and went on with commanding his soldiers.


Chapter 17

When news of the invasion reached Redwall, the prospects looked grim. The Abbey was in no shape to do battle against a thousand vermin. Though food and water were abundant for the time being, most Abbeybeasts were peaceful creatures such as gardeners, cooks, beekeepers, and the like. Most had families with little ones. There was simply too much to lose.

Seated in his study on that fine evening, surrounded by Tam, Doogy, the hares, the otters, and a number of Brothers and Sisters, Abbot Cyrus gritted his teeth in frustration. “So it is true,” he sighed. “A vermin invasion looks imminent now.”

Ferdimond de Mayne nodded. “All we’ve been gettin’ in this Abbey the past few days are woodland refugees, wot.”

“What’s worse is that all the news of the invasion comes from these woodlanders,” Thorn added. “We haven’t heard a scrap of info from the chaps defending the border. Prob’ly all dead by now.”

“An’ we’re pitifully short on fighters in this Abbey, yore Abbotship, ye must understand,” Skipper pointed out.

“Thank you, Skipper,” the Abbot said. “Now, like the rest of you, I’m not about to freely hand our beloved home over to that ermine and his rabble…”

A number of “aye’s” greeted this statement. The Abbot cleared his throat and continued. “However, I’m afraid that if we don’t stop the advance in its tracks, that may very well be the end result.”

“Och, so yer sayin’ we need tae kill ‘em before they kill us?” Doogy asked.

“As much as I dislike such an idea,” Cyrus sighed, “I’m afraid we are left with no other choice. We are a peaceful order, but we live in a reality where not every creature is noble at heart, unfortunately.”

Colonel Buckshaw was enthralled at the Abbot’s plan. “I say, Abbot old thing, no offense to your age, of course, but your plan is jolly well spiffin’, wot wot! A pre-emptive strike! Guerrilla tactics and all that! Er, how many enemies did you say there were?”

“A thousand, sources say,” the Abbot replied quietly.

“A flippin’ thousand?!” Buckshaw exploded. “How the deuce are we goin’ to halt a bloomin’ invasion of a thousand blinkin’ vermin?!”

“Hurr, it’s as ye said, zurr, gooriller tarctics,” Foremole Rull replied in his quaint mole dialect.

“Plus, we’ve always got th’ help of th’ Guosim, Buckshaw. Surely you remember them,” Tam added.

The old Colonel stroked his whiskers reflectively. “Ahh, the shrews, of course. Alright, well, seein’ that that’s what we have t’ work with – ”

Despite his bombastic, sometimes flippant behavior, Colonel Buckshaw Binghamton Liberforth was a master tactician; he certainly wasn’t Colonel for nothing. The hare slapped a large sheet of parchment down on the table so audibly that it made everybeast in the room jump. He then produced a stick of charcoal and began sketching out a plan.

“Alright, chaps and chapesses, lissen up! We need all th’ warriors we can get. Tam, Doogy, us hares, Tergen, and Skipper will take fifty of the most able-bodied otters and we’ll travel to shrew territ’ry first. There, we’ll enlist the help of th’ Guosim. After that we’ll go north through improvised trails in the woods. The vermin are likely t’ go stormin’ down the main roads like toads at a wedding. We’ll catch up with whatever hares are still up in the north and launch a prolonged guerrilla war against th’ vermin and see if we can’t at least dwindle their numbers or drive ‘em in th’ wrong direction. By then they’ll be sufficiently weakened if they actually do make the trek to Redwall.

“As for you lot sittin’ pretty in th’ Abbey, you’re in this war now. The rest of Skipper’s otters will oversee the building of internal defenses. Walls need t’ be strengthened. Gates need t’ be double-barred. Stock up on slings, bows and arrows, and whatever you can use for weapons. Even cooking ladles and pitchforks can be lethal in th’ right paws, doncha know! Anyway, start postin’ more sentries; there needs t’ be an around-the-clock watch on those walls! Come up with escape routes an’ hidin’ places. I cannot stress this enough, so I’ll jolly well say it again. COME UP WITH ESCAPE ROUTES AND HIDIN’ PLACES an’ get the young and old away from the vermin threat immediat’ly if the Abbey gets overwhelmed. In the meantime, stock up on food and, as much as I hate sayin’ this, don’t hold feasts until we’re back. Always keep records on supplies an’ inventory. Friar Tobel, you’re in charge o’ the vittles! Sister Armel, get your Infirmary ready because it’s goin’ t’ be filled into next season! An’ the rest of ye, you’re in a war now for your homes, families, and values! Don’t let the vermin win!”

Finishing his speech, the hare took a breath and presented the parchment, now full of scribbles and writings of his schematics. “Now then,” he looked around, “is there anything for me to drink?”

Melanda was having another headache. She had gone to bed in the early afternoon to sleep it off, when she saw Martin the Warrior again in another vision. She hadn’t had a vision for a while now, but when she did, they were always the same thing: images of vermin running through Mossflower Wood accompanied by the image of Martin speaking her name over and over. The whole routine was driving her crazy, but no matter how many times she had went to her mother for medicine, there was nothing Sister Armel could do. And she had tried everything.

However, this time, Martin had something different to say.

Melanda….Melanda…

What is it this time, Martin? she shouted as the apparition of the gallant warrior came into view.

Kyrin…

Kyrin? She hadn’t heard the name for a long time. Hardly anybeast mentioned Tam’s son, because the memories of him were still too painful to discuss.

My brother? What… she opened her mouth to say more, but no words came out. It was as if somebeast had muted all the sound in the world.

Then Martin’s eyes shone, and he spoke in a strange monotone:

In times of dark, in times of light

Paths will cross when the time is right

A warlord of the Ice and Snow;

A warrior born but not realized,

Till the day of reckoning makes him so

So fly, my child, seek out the one

The thief, the rogue, the disgraced son

Will return one day, and take up the sword

Protect the young, the weak, the old

And bring back peace forevermore.


The warrior continued.


Cross the river of hope far gone,

Seek the midnight shining pond,

From there shall you travel light,

To the two scones, a warm and welcome sight,

Find the fruits in places strange,

Then you’ll know when you’re in range,

Walk until a very nimm cramp,

There you’ll find joy,, brave Warrior Tam,

Then run with wings back to Redwall,

If you wish to save us all.

In a blinding flash of light, Martin vanished. Melanda woke with a start. She was sweating profusely, but her headache was gone. What did it all mean? The messages lingering in her head, Melanda quickly scribbled down the rhymes word for word. As she wrote, it all came to her. The “warrior born but not realized” – that was Kyrin! He was alive! And the second poem was a riddle on how to find him! Redwall would sure enjoy this!

Parchment in hand, Melanda dashed down the hall to tell the Abbot what she had seen.

The Redwallers, gathered in Cavern Hole, were not enjoying themselves at the moment. As soon as Abbot Cyrus told them Buckshaw’s plan, everybeast, from the Dibbuns to the elders, let out a concerted protest.

“Boohoohooooo! No m’re feasters?”

“Wot should we get ourselves in a tizzy over? An invasion that won’t happen?”

“Hurr, exarctly! They’m be talkin’ ‘bout et furr foive zeazons, but nought’s been ‘arp’nin’!”

“Waaaaaaah!”

“Right! What ‘e said!”

The wails were so loud that the Abbot actually backed off, covering his ears. “Oh, do something, somebeast!” he shouted desperately.

Tam, Doogy, and Ferdimond took over.

“Alright, you blitherin’ idiots!” Ferdimond bellowed. “EVERYBEAST, SHUT UP!”

Instantly, everybeast quieted down.

Doogy stepped forward. The Redwallers held their breath. They were about to be tongue-lashed like they wouldn’t believe.

“Och! Ye wee ninnies! ‘Tis small wonder why we’re not askin’ ye tae ‘elp us oot on yon quest! Look at ye sad bunch, all spineless! Cowards! Shallow eedjits, ev’ry last one of ye! ‘Ooh, look at me! Look at me! Ah’m sad that ah don’t have no feasts! Ah can’t fight, so ah’ll jes’ sit back an’ watch the braw warriors die while mah beloved Redwall’s gettin’ torn down by vermin!’ Get yer heads oot o’ th’ clouds, ye oafs! These are real vermin we’re dealin’ with, ye ken! They’re noo th’ kind which yer mammies use tae frighten ye off tae bed! NO! Far from et! They’ll kill every last one o’ ye if they git th’ chance! Now, ye either suck et up an’ go a week wi’ no fancy luxuries an’ actually work tae preserve th’ peace ye so ‘love’, or ye all can laze aroond an’ die! ‘Ow does that sound fer motivation, eh?”

Some Redwallers were starting to cast their eyes down on the ground in embarrassment. Ferdimond continued the rant:

“Right! You know wot they do in th’ barracks at ol’ Salamandastron? They’d court martial the lot of you for treason! Where’s your loyalty? Or did y’ lose it when y’ began takin’ this home for granted? WE ARE UNDER ATTACK, EVERYBEAST! Stop your whingin’ and cringin’ and follow th’ Colonel’s plan! We hares were sent here five bloomin’ seasons ago precisely to help you ungrateful lot and this is what we get in return when the invasion is actually underway! You rotters! What would Martin say? ‘E’s rollin’ in his bally grave! No, he’s comin’ out o’ his grave so he can get his rotty paws around your stinkin’ necks, wot wot!”

By now, some of the Redwallers were trying to inch out of Cavern Hole in shame. However, Tam brought the world crashing down on them as he jumped on a table, the magnificent Sword of Martin drawn.

“HAWAAAAAAAAY BRAAAAAAAAWWW!!! Look at me! LOOK AT ME! Stop tryin’ t’ run away! Do ye know why Redwall survived countless attacks from vermin in th’ past? Well?! DO YE? It’s because the Redwallers of the time believed! They believed in their home! They believed in their Abbot! And they believed in each other an’ themselves! Together, they fought to keep this haven o’ peace, love, an’ understanding for the next generation! An’ shouldn’t we do th’ same! You spiteful bunch! We never saw what my son was to this Abbey! Now he’s dead! And only now do we care about him! What about this Abbey? Are we goin’ t’ sit around and not care until what we all loved and cherished is gone an’ we’re made slaves for th’ vermin? Think about wot would happen t’ yore world – or even the rest of Mossflower, ye selfish, spoiled lump’eads! Wot would yore children, or yore grandchildren say about ye seasons from now? Nothing, that’s what! They’ll all be dead or silenced under the reign of the vermin who WILL conquer the Abbey if we don’t do anything! That’s a promise! An’ this time, Martin hasn’t revealed t’ us any special warrior t’ fight off th’ threat like he did in past days! This makes everything even more urgent! Now wot do ye have t’ say for yourselves?”

The Redwallers were instantly transformed into creatures ready for battle. They raised their paws into the air and roared at the top of their lungs.

“REDWALL! REDWALL! REEEEEEEEEEEDWAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAALLLL!!!”

Tam sheathed his sword, got off the table, and nodded to the Abbot. “Ye may continue, Father Abbot.”

The sun was going down over northern Mossflower Wood, its shining beams of golden light becoming more focused and intense as it disappeared beyond the horizon. An evening breeze swept through the trees as the entire dusk sky lit up in a wonderful amber hue.

In the trees, a red blur zipped through the higher branches, severing rows of neatly-placed apples clean into halves, quarters, and even eights and collecting all the pieces before they hit the ground. The figure moved swiftly, somersaulting effortlessly between the formidable limbs of the oak, ash, and beech trees, his claymore glinting gold in the evening. In several smooth movements, the figure bounced back and forth between two trees, higher and higher until he reached the top of the tallest tree, an ancient sycamore. There was an apple placed on top of the tree. With expertise, the figure dealt a swift kick to the fruit, knocking it into the air, then leaped high, impaling the scarlet apple with his weapon and fell to earth, swinging from branch to branch to break his fall.

Kyrin MacBurl wiped the dust-infused sweat off his brow as he munched on the tasty apple still impaled on his claymore. He had collected the other apple slices using his tunic. Sitting under the refreshing shade of the sycamore, Kyrin leaned back against the trunk of the tree and ate. Another productive day! The sun was going down. Soon, he would finish the day taking a bath in the stream, where the rocks were like steps which the water ran off of, and go to bed after a refreshing meal of fresh fish garnished with local herbs and crisp water chestnuts which he had foraged.

Later, Kyrin looked at his reflection in the limpid stream as he was relaxing in the cathartic waters. If only Redwall could see him now! Over the course of five seasons, Kyrin Macburl had grown in mind, body, and spirit. The Warrior’s son, once regarded as a spoiled prankster, had become a handsome young squirrel of fifteen seasons, with a lithe, sinewy frame, a thick tail, and a pair of shining brown eyes inherited from his mother. Kyrin smiled. Everybeast was wrong about him being a lazy good-for-nothing. Determined to start anew, Kyrin had arrived in northern Mossflower, where he built himself a well-concealed dugout home near the stream, complete with a fireplace, an entrance made from wooden slats and completely cushioned with soft grass. There had been no vermin here, so Kyrin could live comfortably, without having to hide from anybeast. Every day, rain or shine, the squirrel would get up before dawn, where he would eat a breakfast consisting of apples and berries, then go practice his swordsmanship all the way to dusk with a quick lunch break where he would also pick fruits and catch fish for the evening. Kyrin learned to fuse his agile body, his quick mind, and his well-grounded technique into a unique sword style, practicing in trees. There was certainly no reason to learn sword skills in a place with no vermin, but the MacBurl blood ran in Kyrin’s veins, and he found that it was the only time his mind was at peace. Some days, though, Kyrin spent his time wandering the great forest or swimming in the river. He lived for adventure, sometimes not coming home for weeks at a time.

It felt good to be alive with nothing to lose. Every day was a new mission, a new objective, for him to complete. After cooking his dinner, Kyrin piled all his food onto a large wooden trencher and climbed a tree, sitting a bough, eating a tasty meal, watching the sun finally set as the cool evening breezes caressed his fur and the stars began to dot the vast sky. No regrets, no grudges, no looking back.

This was life at its fullest. He would not have it any other way.

Chapter 18

"Abbot Cyrus! Abbot Cyrus!" Melanda shouted, her paws flailing as she thundered down the corridor. She didn't care if she was tripping over her dress or if she wasn't acting the way a Recorder should. "Abbot Cyrus!"

Melanda tore into Cavern Hole just as the last of the Redwallers left. Only Tam, Armel, Doogy, and Ferdimond remained, discussing matters with the Abbot.

"I say, steady on, miss!" Ferdimond exclaimed as Melanda shoved past him roughly. "What's all the frenzy about, wot?"

"Calm down, Melanda," Cyrus spoke. "Ah, I see you have a roll of parchment in your paw. Did you find something important in the archives?"

"Even better," Melanda panted, out of breath. "Everybeast prepare yourselves. You won't believe what you're about to hear."

"Well, oot with it, lass!" Doogy demanded. "Stop with th' suspense!"

Melanda cleared her throat. "I just had another vision of Martin, and I think he's sent us a protector."

Tam was immediately interested. "A protector? Who – "

Melanda read the first poem to them. "Don't you see?" she asked, hardly able to contain her excitement, "'A warrior born but not realized, till the day of reckoning makes him so!' Now who could that be?"

Tam and Armel stared at each other in disbelief. Melanda kept pushing. "'The thief, the rogue, the disgraced son!' Father, don't you get it?" She grasped her father's arms. "Kyrin is alive!"

It took a while for the poem to sink into Tam's head. "Kyrin….Kyrin…" he stuttered.

The Champion of Redwall realized what Martin was trying to tell him now. "Our son is alive!" he shouted, hugging Sister Armel. They gazed at each other with tears of joy in their eyes. Melanda could no longer bear it. She burst out, totally ecstatic. "Yes! Yes, father! Your son! My brother! Kyrin is out there, and if you can find him and bring him back in time, Redwall will definitely be saved!"

Armel threw her paws around Tam's neck. "Promise me you'll find him!" she cried happily.

Tam nodded vigorously. "That's a promise! On my life I will!"

"Hold it!" Ferdimond pointed out. "Was Martin kind enough t' give you directions on how t' find Kyrin?"

Melanda read the second message. The Abbot scratched his spikes. "Hmm, well that makes no sense at the moment…"

But Tam wasn't listening. He grabbed his daughter by the waist and swung her around and around. "Thank you, Martin!" he cried.

Melanda giggled excitedly. "You might want to hold on to this," she said, handing her father the riddle.

Tam took the parchment and folded it up as if he were holding a sacred document. "We'll start the search first thing tomorrow morning!" he announced. "First we'll enlist th' help of th' shrews. Th' Guosim know th' waters like th' back of their paw. We'll find them and travel north from there." He turned to Armel. "Tell Friar Tobel to start distributing ration packs. We've got a proper mission on our paws, an' this time, we will bring Kyrin back!"

...

Orak the Assassin was enjoying Mossflower country very much. Camped out in the shade of a giant tarp, he happily cut himself a generous slice of strawberry cake, topped with honey, ground pistachios, and meadowcream. The cooks in his army were ordered to copy the foods made by the locals here, and this recipe was stolen after the army had massacred an entire tribe of voles. This was sure better than living off of scant berries and stale biscuits in the Northlands!

Wiping meadowcream off his whiskers with a white handkerchief, Orak thought about keeping a few Redwallers alive when he took over the Abbey. They would be his slaves, cooking his food for him…

The warm afternoon sun lit up the beautiful foliage. Orak smiled at the view as he savored his dessert. His troops were awaiting orders, but really, there was no rush at the moment. In a rare fit of kindness, Orak had let the army take the day off and enjoy what the land had to offer.

Deatheye and Kirsharr sat with their commander, and today, they enjoyed a good laugh together, sipping wine, joking around and telling tall tales. On this day, they genuinely enjoyed the luxury, because they knew soon they would be back killing enemies on the field. However, at the same time, they were having their first taste of what it would be like after they won the war, so they sat back, temporarily dropped the grudges, and chatted like long-lost relatives reunited.

The other soldiers were sitting around pots of delicious stew, which was made from potatoes, leeks, and two very plump woodpigeons they had shot down. Slurping stew, munching on bread, and singing bawdily, they were having the time of their life.

However, easy living made for loose tongues, and somebeast was bound to covertly watch for traces of dissent in the ranks. Deatheye had sent out two of his trackers, Browntail and Krilel, to spy on Kirsharr's soldiers, who seemed to be growing more loyal to Kirsharr than to Orak. Deatheye wasn't doing the warlord any favors; he had plans for his own advancement in mind.

Slurping stew out of greasy metal bowls, Browntail and Krilel stopped a short way from a group of Kirsharr's soldiers, and listened:

"Oy, mucker, 'tis der life, ain't it?"

"Ho, yes! Why can't we do this every day?"

"I'll tell ye why! 'Cos Orak's in command. He'd rather send us out t' die, he would! So he c'n enjoy all th' spoils o' war after we're all pushin' up daisies!"

"Right! Wot a selfish trickster!"

"Remember wot Cap'n Kirsharr promised us? Seems much better than wot Orak 'as planned!"

"Hoho! 'E wants to slit ol' Orak's gizzard!"

"Shh! Not so loud!"

"Well, that's not wot he said, innit?"

"Right, but he implied it."

"Implied? Wot in Hellgates does that mean? Stop usin' big words, showoff!"

"They aren't big words; they're common knowledge! An' if'n ye keep runnin' yore gob I'll brain ye wid this here pot o' stew!"

Browntail and Krilel had heard enough. They looked at each other and nodded, then left to rejoin their cohorts at an exciting game of shove acorn as stormy clouds began to gather on the horizon.

...

Kyrin was off on an adventure again. Claymore strapped to his back, the young squirrel strode confidently through the woods. Today he was far from home in a peaceful, unexplored part of the woods. The squirrel sniffed the evening air as he walked. It was going to rain. The air felt hot and humid and the telltale aroma of rain wafted through Mossflower.

There were rumored to be vermin lurking around the area. Kyrin personally had never had an encounter with Orak's soldiers before. In fact, for the past five seasons he hadn't seen a single soul save the occasional traveler. But as far as things went, Kyrin didn't care much about the vermin or the woodlanders. As long as he was alive, everything was alright. They could kill each other day and night and it still wouldn't bother him. Still, Kyrin decided to sleep somewhere safe, sword at the ready, should he be attacked in the middle of the night.

The first drops of rain started to hit just as the sky turned completely gray. First the trees started emitting a percussive pitter-patter, then Kyrin started feeling raindrops coming down rapidly on his head. BOOM! A loud clap of thunder shook the ground beneath him as the rain started coming down harder.

Kyrin had to find shelter fast while it was still light out. By now it was raining so hard that it was impossible to see farther than two pawlengths away. Bombarded by rainwater, Kyrin ran for the nearest shelter he could find: a crevice under a rocky overhang near the stream which he was following. The squirrel dashed to the low overhang and squeezed under it. The storm was growing more violent now. There was a flash of lightning and another loud clap of thunder, followed by the ominous sounds of whole trees being felled.

As Kyrin sat under the overhang, brushing dirt off his wet fur, he thought suddenly of Barulo again. Maybe it was the fact that he was taking shelter in a hideout by a stream. He vividly remembered the day the kindly old squirrel was killed by rats, and how he had exacted revenge by slaughtering the entire vermin camp. Kyrin winced as the screams of dying rats, male, female, young, and old, rang out in his head. It hurt terribly having to live with that horrible memory every day, and Kyrin would still get vivid nightmares about the incident from time to time.

Shuddering, Kyrin curled up and tried to get some sleep. Why was he still out here? By now, he held no grudge against Redwall Abbey or his family, especially his father. There was nothing for him to hate now except for himself for running away and causing his parents so much worry. Kyrin suddenly didn't feel like adventuring. Mossflower didn't feel too welcoming just now for some reason. He decided that the next day, he would head back to his house by the stream.

The rain pounded down mercilessly as Kyrin tried to get some sleep.

Chapter 19

The next day, early in the morning, the entire Abbey gathered at the main gate, waiting to send off the search party. The dew in the grass glinted in the morning sun like a million crystal shards scattered about the ground. It was a clear morning, perfect for questing.

Inside the Great Hall, the pudgy Friar Tobel handed ration packs to every member of the search party. "The food in there should last you around a week," he told them. "After that, you're on your own."

Thorn immediately bit into a scone which he had taken out of his ration pack. "Pwah!" he exclaimed after taking a bite. "These things are hard as flippin' rocks!"

Friar Tobel sniffed condescendingly. "They are hardtack scones, Mr. Thorn. My own invention. We don't want things burrowing into our food a few days down the road, do we?"

"You know what, I goin' t' save these bally things for when we meet the enemy," Thorn whispered to Ferdimond. "Goin' to knock a couple bally vermin out with these chaps, wot."

Doogy was still flipping through his pack. "Wot else did ye pack, Friar?"

"Dried fruits and nuts, canteens of water and cordial, turnovers, crumble, nothing too fancy," Tobel replied.

Tam shook the Friar's paw. "Thank ye so much. We'll be sure t' eat wot we can get our teeth into."

Laughing and in good spirits, the search party exited the Great Hall, leaving an indignant Friar behind.

As Tam and company stepped out onto the dew-soaked lawns, the crowd of Redwallers let out a great cheer.

"Well, this is a surprise!" Tam chuckled. "What a sendin'-off!"

Abbot Cyrus, flanked by Sister Armel, Melanda, and Brooky, approached them as they came forward. "May Martin guide you on your quest," the Abbot smiled. "Oh, and one more thing: we need to keep some sort of communication between you and the Abbey. We can relay messages regarding the situation at the Abbey as well as the riddle, which Melanda, Brooky, and I will be working on. Is their somebeast who will volunteer as messenger?"

Tergen raised a wing. "I vol'nteer. First I go with MacBurl. Then when we find shrews, I fly back and tell Abbot. Tergen fly back n' forth. Deliv'r messag's! Kraaa!"

The Abbot nodded. "I imagined Tergen would be the first to volunteer. Here, Tam, take this." He handed a carved wooden flute to the Warrior. "This is a flute which was once owned by Gonff the Mousethief. Tergen has told me he will stay one day at Redwall each time. As soon as he's completed his stay, he will come back looking for you. Keep your ears peeled for his calls. When you hear his calls, play this flute. Careful – it's loud. Tergen will follow the sound of the flute and rejoin you on your journey."

Tam eyed the flute. It was made from cherrywood, shaped by the finest paws, with exquisite patterns of flames carved into it. This was, indeed, a beautiful instrument fit for a master. The squirrel looked back at the Cyrus. "I'm obliged, Father Abbot."

Armel kissed Tam on the cheek. "Be safe, dear," she whispered. Tam smiled. "I will. Don't worry. I'm a MacBurl."

"We'll be hard at work solving this riddle," Melanda added. Tam smiled and rubbed his daughter's head fondly. "I'm sure you will, Melanda."

Brooky was busy hugging her Skipper. "I'll miss you, Uncle. But you better be back soon, otherwise I'll eat all the shrimp n' hotroot soup before you get back! Woooohahahoooooooo!"

Skipper recoiled at his niece's earsplitting laugh. "That's…splendid news, Brooky," he managed, clapping a paw to his ear.

"Well, what are we waiting for?" the Abbot asked. "Open the gates! Let's give these heroes a proper sending-off!"

"REEEEDWAAAAAAAAAAAAAALLLL!" each and every Abbeybeast roared as Tam, Doogy, Skipper, Tergen, the hares, and the otters departed, the fate of the Abbey in their paws.

Kyrin woke up to bright, warm weather. It had stopped raining, and the whole woods smelled fresh and new. Water clung to almost everything in view, twinkling in the sunlight.

Yawning, the squirrel started to get up, only to feel something squelch underneath him. He looked down and groaned. Sometime during the night, water must have seeped into the space under the overhang, turning the entire ground into mud. Kyrin was soaked in water, with mud clinging to his tunic and fur. It felt extremely uncomfortable for him to even walk around. Nevertheless, Kyrin pressed on, heading for home.

It took a little while to reach his house, or, what was left of it. Sometime during the night a large oak tree had broken and fallen across his dugout, smashing right into it. Kyrin had come back for nothing. Now his home was destroyed and he had no place to go, and he was caked in water and mud. Thoroughly frustrated, Kyrin stalked off into the woods with no particular place to go. He was thinking hard on what he was going to do. By now, it was mid-morning, and the fact that it was getting hotter didn't help matters at all.

Then, to his right, he heard frantic shouting and rustling of the underbrush.

"Hey! Ow! Stoppit!"

"Harrharr! We got ya now, mouse!"

"Murderers! Get yore filthy paws off me!"

"Shut yer mouth or I'll slit yer gizzard!"

Staying low, Kyrin slowly made his way toward the scuffle. There he saw, in a clearing, a little mouse struggling with a rope tied around his wrists, with two armed ermine in blue uniforms pulling him along by the rope.

One of the ermine looked back at the writhing mouse. "Quit strugglin', mouse! Yer gonna die anyway!"

At that moment, Kyrin's warrior instincts took over. He had never fought a creature in regular combat, but he was about to, even though he had his reservations of killing.

Drawing his claymore, Kyrin charged out from his hiding spot. "Eeeeeeeyaaaaaahhh!"

The ermine jumped back in surprise as Kyrin sliced the rope in half. "Let me help you with that," he said to the mouse, cutting the creature's bonds.

The ermine had recovered from the initial shock by now and were advancing towards the pair. Kyrin assessed the two vermin. They were taller than he was, and one carried a spear while one carried a wicked-looking machete. Both were well-trained and well-fed, but were also after blood, so any discipline they had was probably lost.

"Well, well, well, 'tis our lucky day, mate!"

"Aye! Two dead woodlanders! Orak will be pleased!"

Orak? Kyrin wondered. Just then, one of the ermine swung his machete at him. Kyrin blocked the blow with his sword, then pushed the ermine back. He handed his stone dagger to the mouse. "It isn't much, but it's better than nothing! Watch out! Here they come again!"

The ermine charged. Kyrin dodged the weapon of the spearbeast, then caught the shaft and broke it in two with his sword, following it up with a swift kick his foe's chin. Meanwhile, the mouse lunged out at the ermine with the machete, driving him back with sheer ferocity.

As his enemy tried to rise, Kyrin straddled the ermine and placed him in an armlock, slowly increasing the pressure on the creature's limbs. "'Ad enough?" he asked through gritted teeth. But the ermine suddenly rolled over, forcing Kyrin to momentarily lose his grip. Freeing his arms from Kyrin's grasp, the ermine punched him in the stomach, knocking the wind out of him, then struck him brutally across the face with the broken spearhaft. Kyrin cried out in pain and fell to the ground. The ermine came at him again. Kyrin slashed him in the leg, temporarily stalling him, and got up. The left side of his face felt like it was on fire. The ermine attacked him again with renewed anger, mercilessly beating away at him with half a weapon. Kyrin blocked blow after blow, wondering how much longer he could take this.

Meanwhile, the mouse had slashed the wrists on his adversary, who was now slowly bleeding to death. With this advantage, the little mouse jumped on the ermine, pinning him to the ground and slashed out his throat, jugular and all, with a single cut from Kyrin's stone knife. He looked up from his kill and saw Kyrin faring badly against the spearbeast. Repaying the favor, the mouse picked up the dead ermine's machete and threw it straight into the back of the other ermine. The vermin gurgled and blood came running out of his mouth as he fell upon Kyrin, face first. Kyrin was instantly reminded of the time he slew that Bloodwater rat by accident and the rat fell upon him, bleeding. This was a repeat of that incident. Unwittingly, Kyrin fell back and started screaming for a full minute straight.

The mouse hurried over to the screaming squirrel and pulled the dead ermine off him. Then he turned to Kyrin. "Hey! Shuddup! Stop screamin'! Yore bustin' me eardrums! Snap outta it!" He dealt Kyrin a slap across the face. Kyrin shook his head of the frightening vision and looked up at the mouse.

The mouse grinned. "Heh. Who's savin' who? Am I savin' you or are you savin' me? That was some fight you put up. Boy, I've never seen anybeast last that long against ermine. Rotten bullies, they are. Th' scum o' the earth! Wot's yore name, mate?"

The mouse's garrulous nature did nothing to cheer Kyrin up. As his adrenaline left him, Kyrin was drained of energy from the fight with the ermine and the horrible memory that followed. To add to that, he was also still depressed from losing his home.

"I said wot's yore name, mate? C'mon then, are ya deaf or summat?" the mouse asked again. Kyrin had to keep his eyes fixed on the strange creature, who never seemed to stand still. In fact, the mouse was dancing around him in circles! He was a head shorter than Kyrin, with short, beige-colored fur, but was well-built, with sinewy, stocky limbs. From his looks, the mouse was also about Kyrin's age, maybe a bit younger. He wore a wide-brimmed straw hat and an open-chested green tunic. "Anyway," the mouse chattered. "Since yore kinda lousy with introductions, allow me to introduce m'self. Name's Firulan. Firulan the Quick. Ya wanna know why they call me Firulan the Quick? Well, it's 'cos me name's Firulan, an' I'm quick. Ha! Clever, eh? For example, one moment I'm here. The second moment I'm there. And then I'm here then here then here then – "

"Firulan, calm down! Ca – SHUT UP!" Kyrin shouted, covering his ears. The mouse stopped. "Thanks for saving my life, mate," Kyrin finished, exasperated. "My name's Kyrin MacBurl. Can I have my knife back?"

Kyrin wished he hadn't spoken, because his last question brought out a new stream of words from Firulan's mouth. "Sure thing, mate," Firulan replied, handing Kyrin his knife back. "Y'know, you've got some good weapons on ye. Why does everybeast have a nice blade they c'n show off an' I don't?! I mean, look at this big knife thing I just picked off this dead vermin! Never seen anything like it! It's mine now!" Firulan tucked the machete into his belt. "Anyway, about yore weapons. You should learn t' at least use 'em, instead of sittin' around bawlin' yore eyes out when some deadbeast falls on you…"

Kyrin winced. Quietly, he got up and turned to leave. But Firulan wouldn't take the hint.

"Why're you followin' me?" Kyrin asked, casting the little mouse a weary look.

"Well, it's wot friends do, innit?" Firulan asked, smiling winningly.

"Go away, I'm not your friend," Kyrin muttered, walking on, staring at the ground.

"Where're ya gonna go, then?" Firulan asked, keeping a steady pace with his unwilling "friend."

"Nowhere," Kyrin mumbled.

Firulan sighed. "Figures. Got no place t' go, eh? Hermit in the woods, y'are, ya know that? Well, why're ye still walkin' around like that for? Come t' my place! Stay as long as ya like!"

"No thanks," Kyrin replied, not in the mood at all.

"Alright, suit yoreself, mate," Firulan replied nonchalantly. He made as if to walk off, then turned around again. "'Ave ya changed yore mind yet? Do you wanna stay over now?"

Kyrin glanced at Firulan again. The mouse was staring at him intently with genuine hope in his twinkling gray eyes. Kyrin smiled. "You're not gonna let up, are you?"

"Well, no!" Firulan said. "You saved my life. Or, at least, I think ye saved my life. So I owe you…I think. Anyway, it's totally fine if ya stay over."

Kyrin chuckled. "I'll stay if your mum an' dad are alright with it."

Firulan grimaced and his jaw tightened. "Got no mums or dads. We lived 'appily for seasons in this part of Mossflower in a little small tribe o' mice. Then, about a week ago, Orak the Assassin attacked, plunderin', murderin', slayin'. I was the only who made it out alive." The mouse wiped his eyes. Kyrin immediately felt sorry for him. "Anyway," Firulan continued, "I built meself a shack near a swamp where the vermin can't find it. Every day I dream about killin' the one who murdered my parents! I remember him well. 'Twas a horde captain. Mottled fur, toothed sword. Didn't seem t' want t' harm us at first when he kicked our door down, but me ol' da' attacked 'im with a chair. Must've got him mad, 'cos th' next thing I knew, both mum an' dad were dead!" Firulan's paws tightened into fists. "I c'n see me dad, lyin' on the floor with no head, an' me mother stabbed t' death protectin' 'is dead body!"

"I'm so sorry," Kyrin offered. Firulan smiled a little bit. Kyrin had to ask: "who's Orak the Assassin?

Firulan's jaw dropped. "Ye mean ya haven't heard?" Kyrin shook his head. "Mate, Orak the Assassin is the worst thing to 'ave ever walked these lands," Firulan informed him. "They say 'e came from the Northlands. Doesn't matter, I think 'e comes straight from hell! Anyway, 'e's supposed to be a remnant of Gulo the Savage's horde…"

Kyrin knew who Gulo the Savage was, but he kept his mouth shut and let Firulan go on.

"…An' he gathered up the remaining troops from the horde; all stoats and ermine, and killed 'is way down to Mossflower, which 'e invaded this summer with a new horde with all sorts o' vermin numberin' a thousand. Orak's a frightening sight. His fur is white like snow and his eyes're dark an' brooding. 'E speaks gently and never seems t' get mad, even when he's killin' and slayin'. He's smart an' he knows the score, and 'e's got all sorts of hidden weapons on him. He's also got two captains. I've been spyin' on them recently. I know where they've set up camp. "One's like him, well-spoken, smart. 'E's the stoat who killed me folks. The other one's a fat ermine, all brawn, no brain. But it's Orak who makes all the decisions." Firulan grasped Kyrin's paw. "We 'ave t' stop him! 'E's killed over a hundred innocent woodlanders, and th' hares an' Guosim shrews here are no match for 'im!"

So that's who Orak is, Kyrin thought. He turned to Firulan. "How're we goin' t' stop one thousand vermin?"

Firulan shook his head, frustrated. "I don't know, mate. I don't know. Anyway, ya hungry?"

Kyrin nodded as he just realized he didn't have any breakfast that morning.

"Well, come on then," Firulan smiled. "I'll show you where me house is."

Kyrin followed the young mouse through the now-quiet forest, a bit happier now that he made a new friend.

The sun was at its highest point as Tam and company reached a stream. "I think we've walked long enough," Tam nodded towards his companions. "Let's stop for lunch. We'll be goin' again in a little bit."

"Finally!" the three hares shouted at once. Skipper chuckled at Tam. "Don't encourage those gluttons, mate."

"Any luck on that riddle, Galwa?" Tam asked. Galwa, Skipper's strong right paw, offered a few suggestions. "Well, one thing's for sure, mate. "The 'river of hope far gone' must be the River Moss, 'cos we were stuck on th' bank for days an' when we finally crossed we presumed Kyrin was dead. Makes sense, right?"

Tam nodded. "Makes perfect sense, Galwa. Thank you. So we have the first clue. We 'ave t' cross that river at the same place we crossed it five seasons back. Anything else?"

"Well," Galwa replied hesitantly, "there's something here 'bout a pond, but 'midnight shining pond?' Don't know wot that is. And I don't know wot in th' world 'a very nimm cramp' is."

Thorn winked at Ferdimond, who was tackling a leek and onion turnover. "Guess Martin had a bally dry sense of humor, wot? Wantin' us t' get nimm cramps and all that."

"Well," Tam replied, somewhat crestfallen, "that's good enough for now. Hopefully we'll decode more o' this riddle as we – "

"Logalogalogalogaloooog!"

Everybeast raised their heads to see an army of spiky-furred shrews in short tunics and colored headbands, armed with rapiers, splashing across the stream. Their leader, Log a Log Tarryk, stepped forward, offering a paw, which Tam heartily shook."

"Rakkety Tam MacBurl!" Tarryk exclaimed. "Pleased t' meet ye! I've heard all about the Warrior of Redwall! I'm Log a Log Tarryk, an' we're th' Guerilla Union of Shrews in Mossflower, Guosim for short. Wot can we do for ye?"

"First you could cook us some proper food, wot!" Thorn piped up, waving a hardtack biscuit. This time, both Ferdimond and Buckshaw elbowed him.

Tam chuckled. "Never mind th' hares. We're on a double quest, y' see. My son Kyrin ran off five seasons ago. We just found out he's still alive an' we're headin' north t' find 'im. Plus, there's an army o' vermin led by Orak the Assassin. Ye must've heard of 'im…"

"Heard of him?" Log a Log exclaimed, "he ambushed my entire force! We're up there with th' Long Patrol guardin' the border an' he comes in from behind an' kills us all! We're no match for him. Between him and his Captains his army is the best-led army of vermin I've ever heard of! His soldiers are driven, battle-hardened, and bloodthirsty. Th' Long Patrol regiments have either fled or have been wiped out! Ye wonder why we're so far down south? Well, it's because we were fleein' his army for days! He's got a thousand troops at his disposal, ready to kill at the drop of a paw! We're no match for him! We've fought so hard!"

"Wait, you mean the chaps at the border have been killed?" Colonel Buckshaw asked. "Did word get back to headquarters?"

"By the looks of it, yes. But we managed to get a hare out of there," Log a Log confirmed. "Zephyr, his name was. Anyway, 'e should be on his way to Salamandastron with a message for Lady Melesme to deploy an army to assist us. When the army shows up I don't know, mate."

"Great Seasons," Buckshaw shook his head. "What're we dealin' with?"

"Wotever it is," Tarryk replied, "ye've got the wholehearted support of th' Guosim. Ain't that right, mates?"

The entire shrew army raised their rapiers into the air as they shouted: "GUOSIM!"

Tam nodded gratefully. "Then it's settled. Why don't ye stop for a bit of lunch? We'll be movin' out in a little while. We're tryin' t' head north to the River Moss."

Log a Log Tarryk laughed. "Hoho, then ye've come t' the right shrew, Tam! We're waterbeasts and we can get ye there by boat! After lunch I'll show ye to th' logboats we keep. Sound good?"

"Sounds good!" Tam smiled.

As the two camps introduced themselves, Tergen flew back towards Redwall to inform the Abbot that Tam had found the Guosim.

Tam looked up at the sky. The day was looking up.

"I know 'tisn't much, but it was th' best I could do," Firulan apologized as he and Kyrin reached his home on the swamp. The home was a little mud hut thatched with dead branches and plants. There was a single window and a "door" made from long strips of grass hanging from the lintel. "Make yoreself at home, mate," Firulan nodded. "I'll go find some food. You fish often?"

Kyrin nodded. "I'll come with you. I've been livin' off of fish an' fruit for the last five seasons."

Firulan smiled. "I've got a couple rods in the corner. Do me a favor an' grab 'em for me, willya? Tonight, you can tell me a bit about yoreself."

Night fell over Mossflower as Kyrin and Firulan sat around the fire pit in the middle of the hut. Firulan had prepared the trout they had caught that day by breading it with cornflour and frying it in sunflower oil. The aroma blended in with the smell of forest and the chirping crickets, creating the aura of a perfect summer night.

"My own da' taught me how t' cook this," Firulan said. "If only he were still alive, huh?"

Kyrin offered a smile.

"Wot does yore father do?" Firulan asked, flipping the fish over on the pan.

Kyrin sighed. "It's a long story. I come from Redwall Abbey. My father's name is Rakkety Tam MacBurl, and he was th' one who killed Gulo the Savage around twenty seasons ago. I've also got a mother and a sister. My mother's the Infirmary head where they take care of th' sick, while my sister keeps official historical records for the Abbey. My father always wanted me to follow in his pawsteps t' become a Warrior, but I didn't. I've never like th' discipline that went into it. I was a troublemaker back then. Everybeast hated me at Redwall. They thought I was a spoiled good-for-nothing. After I pranked a feast, my father basically disowned me, so I fled the Abbey in shame five seasons back. Funny though, I've been training myself t' become a Warrior though. It's pretty peaceful out here."

Firulan laughed. "Funny how things turn out, mate," he grinned. "Anyway, why are ya so afraid of killing?"

Kyrin tensed up. "I don't wanna talk about it," he muttered sourly.

"Suit yoreself, mate," Firulan shrugged. "Oh hey, fish is ready!" He pushed a steaming wooden trencher of fish toward Kyrin. "Eat up!"

The fish tasted amazing, far more delicious than anything Kyrin had ever made for himself. Firulan was a superb cook. "Your father taught you well," Kyrin smiled.

"Thanks, mate," Firulan grinned. "Though personally I think I'm a better cook than he was, just sayin'."

Kyrin smirked. "Arrogant," he muttered.

Firulan drew back in mock surprise. "Bushy," he retorted, noting Kyrin's large tail.

"Short."

"…Tall."

"Crazy."

"Not crazy."

"Thank you?" Kyrin replied. The two burst out laughing as they lay down on the floor to sleep.

"One question," Firulan began. Kyrin turned to him, signaling for him to ask away. "Do ya hate yore parents?"

"…No," Kyrin replied. "I mean, it's been a long time. I don't even know why I'm out here anymore. Maybe it's because I'm afraid t' go back. I don't have any grudges against 'em or anything."

"Good," Firulan said, laying back. "You shouldn't. A parent is the best thing somebeast our age could have. You were lucky, mate. As for yore parents, they prob'ly think yore dead. Prob'ly cryin' their old eyes out right now."

"Do you…think I should go back to Redwall?" Kyrin asked, feeling guilty.

Firulan snorted. "Of course! I've never been there, but my family's heard of it. In fact, we were goin' t' head off there when th' vermin attacked. How is it? Is it everything they say it is?"

Kyrin stared at the ceiling, listening to the crackling of the dying fire. "Come t' think of it," he answered, "it's real nice. Food, shelter, friends…you've got to see it t' believe it."

"Oh," Firulan nodded. "Well, whenever yore ready, mate…" he turned over and was asleep in a second.

Kyrin listened to his friend's soft snoring. Firulan was right. His parents were probably still grieving over his loss. How come he had never given that any thought? He was young back then, and his father was angry when he had disowned Kyrin. Maybe it wasn't too late to make amends. He curled up near the fire and closed his eyes, waiting for sleep to hit.

Chapter 20

At Redwall, the peaceful Abbeydwellers were gearing up for war. The walls were being fortified as were the gates. Trees were cut down, their trunks and branches carved into staves, bows, and arrows.

Armel and her friend, Brookflow the otter, niece of Skipper, were making records of the food Redwall had thus far stockpiled. “…And that should be the last of the flour,” Armel said, making a mark on a checklist with her quill pen. “Friar Tobel, would you please tell Brother Burlop to check the cellars?”

“Woohahawhoooooo!” Brooky chortled. “Those vermin’ll be outside starvin’ themselves to death while we’re in here feastin’ every single night!”

Armel chuckled at her irrepressible friend. “Haha, yes, let’s hope so. Now, let’s check th –”

“Kreeeehaaaaaa!” Tergen swooped in through an open window. “Sissarmel! B’ookf’ow! Come wit’ me!” The goshawk broke into an awkward flight through the cramped kitchens. Armel and Brooky followed, not sure what news Tergen had in store for them.

A moment later, they were with Abbot Cyrus and Melanda in the Abbot’s study. Abbot Cyrus breathed a sigh of relief. “Well, it’s good to know that Tam and his friends are on their way – and in good company too. Thank you, Tergen, you must be exhausted.”

The goshawk shook his plumy head. “Kraaaa! Tergen never tired! No ye worry ‘bout me!”

Melanda smiled as she ruffled the fierce war bird’s feathers. “Always the dutiful Warrior, aren’t you, Tergen? How much of the riddle have they figured out?”

Tergen shrugged his wings. “I’ll take that as they haven’t started yet,” the Abbot said, putting on his spectacles and unfurling the parchment with the riddle on it. “We should see how much we can get from this.”

Sister Armel leaned forward to study the poem. “Well,” she guessed, “Tam told me they crossed the Mossflower River and presumed Kyrin had died. That must be the ‘river of hope far gone’! Am I right?”

The Abbot peered closely at the parchment. “The River Moss! You most certainly are indeed, Sister! That’s the only thing that would make sense to Tam, right? I have an idea; let’s all put ourselves in Tam’s position for a second: what would make sense to him?”

Melanda blew air from the side of her mouth. “I’m not sure, Father Abbot,” she groaned. “This whole thing is referencing Mossflower Wood. My father knows the place better than we do. Maybe it makes sense to him, but it makes no sense to us.”

“Already found river of far hope gone,” Tergen pointed out. “Kraaaa.”

Melanda sighed. “Thanks, Tergen.”

“Well, no harm in tryin’ first!” Brooky piped up, trying to imitate harespeech. “Quick’s the word and sharp’s the action, wot wot! Woohahahaha! Howzat?”

Abbot Cyrus laughed. “I like your spirit, Brookflow. Let’s figure out what we can.” …

“Well, my ma wanted me to be a frog,

“And ol’ dad wanted a flea.

“But then I stamped my paw and said:

“‘A shrew I’d rather be!’

“There’s rovin’, singin’, fightin’, sailin’

“Through rivers, lakes, an’ seas.

“Hidy ho a whale deed um

“A shrew I’d rather be!”

“Hmm, this song sounds familiar,” Tam mused as the search party made their way through the dense Mossflower Woods with the shrews singing uproariously in the back. “Where have I heard it before?”

Log a Log Tarryk, who was walking alongside the Warrior, laughed. “Haha, mate, it only sounds familiar t’ ye ‘cos they’ve been singin’ the same song for th’ past fifteen minutes or so. “They just finished the forty-sixth verse. Only fifty-four more to go!”

“Great Seasons, do ye make them memorize all these songs?!” Tam joked.

Log a Log Tarryk chuckled. “No, ye ol’ bushtail. They remember it themselves. It helps ‘em march in time.”

“Well, it’s not helpin’ me figure out this riddle,” Tam groused, staring at the parchment. “What’s the ‘midnight shining pond’?”

“A pond,” Tarryk replied, almost ironically. “Wot did ye think it was?”

It took a moment for the realization to hit Tam. The Champion laughed self-effacingly. “I honestly thought of everything but that. Thank you, Log a Log.”

The shrew Chieftain patted his comrade on the back. “Martin isn’t all about complex riddles, ye know.”

Tam looked back at the riddle. “Alright then. Goin’ with yore logic, I guess after we cross the river, we should find a pond by midnight, because th’ riddle implies that th’ moon is goin’ to be shining on it. ‘Midnight shining pond’, right? How’s that for figuring something out?”

Log a Log smiled brighter than the dusk sky. “Yore gettin’ better at it. Oh, look. Th’ river’s in view. Ready th’ logboats!”

Orak the Assassin was having nightmares.

Twice in one night, the fearless warlord had been shaken to the core by visions. It was that mouse, always appearing in front of him, then morphing into a squirrel. Not a squirrel who looked like an experienced warrior, but a young squirrel. Orak was surprised. What did this all mean? Here was a mouse with eyes that drilled him to the very soul, but when the mouse was replaced by the squirrel, the eyes remained the same! Whatever it was, Orak woke with a start, sweating profusely.

The warlord sat up on the edge of his bed. The crickets were chirping outside his tent. For once in his life, Orak was actually…afraid. He had drank the last bottle of damson wine, his throat was parched, and he was afraid to go out and get a drink of water, for fear that the mouse might attack him.

For some reason, Orak suddenly remembered one of his many attacks on a village. An old mouse had said something that somehow unnerved him.

You shall meet your end at the paw of the one you do not know and do not expect!

Could the squirrel in his dreams be his demise? In a fit of rage, Orak kicked over the small table sitting next to him. “Have you gone soft?” he reprimanded himself, “scared of prophecies and dreams which never happen anyway!” He couldn’t believe this. Maybe it was all that partying earlier on. Orak had always seen destiny as something that he could forge. And, so far, it had proved be true. He never consulted any oracles or seers. But this…this was something that was beginning to gnaw away at his confidence.

The tent flap opened and Orak jumped.

“Are ye alright, my lord?” Krilel the ermine asked as he made his way into the tent. “I was up an’ I heard noises from yer tent, so I…”

“Shhh,” a disturbed Orak grabbed the tracker. “Not so loud. He might hear.”

“So you know about Kirsharr, my lord?” Krilel asked, perplexed.

The sudden change of topic snapped Orak out of his daze. “N-no, what about Kirsharr?”

Krilel knew he was playing a dangerous game. “Well, I was gettin’ a drink o’ water in th’ middle o’ night, an’ I walked past Cap’n Kirsharr’s tent, an’…an’ he was sayin’ somethin’ to a few o’ his soldiers!”

Orak’s grip on Krilel’s uniform tightened. “Tell me what he said!” he hissed impatiently. “Tell me everything!”

“Y-yes, M’lord! Well, er…’e was pacin’ around ‘is tent all fussy-like – I saw ‘cos he lit a candle inside ‘is tent – and ‘e was promisin’ his soldiers a better life under his command. An’ he made a gesture like this as ‘e mentioned yore name – ” the ermine dragged a finger across his own throat.

Orak nodded. “Thank you, Krilel, you’ve done well. I will have Kirsharr promptly killed – but there is a problem…oh, drat, his soldiers are more loyal to him than they are to me. Well, I can change that, no problem at all. And you – ” he turned toward Krilel again. “You’re one of Deatheye’s, aren’t you? I’ve seen you with him before…”

Krilel nodded rapidly and gulped. “Y-yes, sire, but Cap’n Deatheye hasn’t mentioned murderin’ you or anybeast! C-Cap’n Kirsharr, now ‘e’s th’ bad ‘un! A very bad ‘un indeed!”

“Shut up, you blithering oaf!” Orak snarled. “Do you really think I’m going to kill you? You’re doing your leader and your comrades a good deed, Krilel, and I think you should be rewarded.” Orak presented the ermine with one of the beautiful daggers he kept hidden inside his cape. Krilel gazed at it. It had a gilded hilt with an emerald pommel stone, and the blade was sleek, needlelike, and elegant.

“Sire, I really can’t accept this – ” Krilel began, but Orak silenced him with a wave of his paw. “No, really, Krilel, it’s yours, and as long as you keep reporting on Kirsharr’s movements to me, it will stay yours. But if you try to double-cross me – ” Orak dragged a finger across his neck in the same way Krilel had done.

Krilel gulped and nodded. “Yes, my lord!” Bowing somewhat excessively, he left in a hurry. Orak smiled slightly and went back to bed. His smile faded though, as he drew another dagger out from his cape. “You’d better watch out,” he spoke, to nobeast in particular. “Those who look at Orak the Assassin the wrong way – ” he licked the blade savagely, “ – will never open their eyes again!”

Kyrin woke up to a bright summer dawn. He looked around, at first not remembering where he was. Then it all came back to him. He was in Firulan’s hut. The ground was warmed by the sunlight which poured through the windows.

Sitting up and rubbing his eyes, Kyrin looked around. The interior of the dwelling still smelled like fried trout. The fire had long gone out in the fire pit, and all that was left was a pile of ashes, along with several charred sticks and branches.

Then Kyrin felt something slide down his back that made him jump. Frantically, he reached down his tunic and pulled something out. To his relief, it was only a piece of parchment with some poorly-scrawled writing on it.

Your probly wundering how I stuck this down your bak while you wer sleping. Went to get days food, be bak by nite fall. Firulan

Kyrin smiled. Firulan was already taking all the responsibility for him. A mouse which he had only befriended yesterday was literally bringing him food. Not wanting to take advantage of Firulan’s hospitality, Kyrin decided to surprise his new friend. What he was going to surprise Firulan with was the question though…

Stretching his limbs, Kyrin got up and strode out of the hut, thinking about what would be a proper gift to give Firulan. Soon, he found himself strolling through the dew-covered forest. The never-ending carpet of dead leaves crunched under his footpaws as Kyrin walked. But soon, the young squirrel found himself walking up a slow but sure incline. His adventurer spirit getting the best of him, Kyin decided to travel the new trail he had just discovered, not knowing where it would lead him. Besides, he had a whole day to figure out what to get Firulan as a present.

The trail eventually led to a dead end. Kyrin stopped as the trail simply stopped in an empty cul-de-sac surrounded by tall trees and sloped terrain.

“Oh, well, that’s great,” Kyrin grumbled. “Walkin’ miles an’ miles, just to hit a dead end.” Shaking his head, the squirrel turned to go, but the trees looked so tempting to climb, their trunks looming into the air like enormous flagpoles. Not wanting to go home without seeing at least something, Kyrin climbed up the tallest fir tree he could find, working his way to the top.

Perching on the tip of the tree, Kyrin looked out to the horizon. The sun shone in the air like a dazzling medallion. Seagulls shrieked as they flew over the cloud-swathed blue sky. Kyrin savored a slight breeze which rippled through his fur. To the north, the fog lifted, and the distant snow-capped peaks could be seen. Everything else was a field of bright green foliage.

“Wow,” Kyrin breathed, amazed at the beauty of the place he called home. Just then, he slipped. Kyrin gasped and instinctively clung onto a branch for support.

Then, of course, the branch started to crack.

“Wow,” Kyrin repeated, this time sarcastically. “That’s just gr-EEEAAAAAAAAAAT!” The branch broke and he plunged earthwards, screaming.

Snap! Crunch! Swish! The young squirrel’s free fall was broken by at least two dozen branches, which at least cushioned the otherwise-heavy blow he received when he struck the ground, tumbling wildly down the hill.

Whump! Kyrin rolled down to the food of the hill. Luckily, he hadn’t broken anything, but his whole body was in searing pain.

“Oww,” he groaned as he got up, his back cracking audibly as he rose. “Wha-where am I?”

Kyrin looked around. The bottom of the hill was covered in a fine carpet of soft soil and moss. There were tall trees everywhere, save a few stumps here and there. Somebeast must have chopped down these trees for firewood, he thought. Again, the curious adventurer in him got the best of him, and so Kyrin started following the stumps, which seemed to form a scattered trail of their own.

Eventually, he came upon a small brick cabin, dried ash-colored clay covering its sides like plaster. The quaint little house was complete with chimneys and actual carved shutters on the windows. The roof was thatched with straw and a pile of firewood lay to the side. Behind the cabin was a wooden shack, with the smell of smoked fish emanating from it.

What a find! Kyrin thought. With total disregard for property ownership, he entered the cabin through a window. It was dry and cozy inside, with a flat dirt floor which was somehow spotless at the same time. There was a small table and two chairs, a rudimentary oven in the corner, a bunk bed, and a homemade cabinet stuffed with herbs and leaves which Kyrin assumed were medicines.

There’s nothing to steal, Kyrin thought. Wait…did I just think that? He turned to leave…and then he noticed a large blueberry pie sitting on the table left to cool. Its crust was puffed up and golden brown and it looked too good to let be. His old habits coming back to him, Kyrin snatched the pie and climbed out the window, his heart starting to race.

The smokehouse was next. Running on rising adrenaline levels, Kyrin kicked the door in even though the door didn’t have a lock on it.

Inside the smokehouse, Kyrin’s mouth started watering at the sight of slabs of dried herring, cod, grayling, and trout hanging from the ceiling by flax string. Without thinking twice, he used his stone knife to cut down two pieces of fish, when he heard a feminine voice calling.

“Hello? Gry? Is that you?”

Somebeast was moving toward the smokehouse! Kyrin’s blood ran cold. Tying the strings to his wrists so he wouldn’t drop the fish, Kyrin slipped out the rear entrance of the smokehouse and, with a few leaps, was off into the trees, no looking back.

Kyrin made it back to Firulan’s hut in half the time it took for him to get to the mysterious house. Plopping down on the floor, he took a moment to catch his breath, then lay down and laughed aloud. What an adventure! To celebrate his victory, Kyrin bit into the first fish. It tasted phenomenal, perfectly smoked and seasoned with a mixture of unknown herbs. He wolfed down both pieces of fish in two bites. Kyrin placed the blueberry pie to the side, waiting for Firulan to return. He’ll love this, the young squirrel thought.

“I love this!” Firulan exclaimed through a mouthful of blueberries. “Th-this is prob’ly better than my cookin’! Mate, yore a genius an’ no doubt about it!”

Kyrin chuckled with feigned modesty. “Uhh, yeah…haha, it was really nothing…” The guilt of stealing food was starting to get to him.

Firulan helped himself to another slice. “Mmf! Grunch! How’d ye do it? There’s gotta be a secret, right?”

Kyrin felt a momentary chill rush through him. “Uh, yes,” he replied as smoothly as he could. “But it wouldn’t be a secret if I told you, eh?”

Firulan slapped his knee and laughed aloud. “Ha! Yore a cool one, mate, an’ no mistake!”

“Uh, yeah, hahaha,” Kyrin chuckled, laughing along with his friend. “An’ don’t you forget it.”

“Well, ‘twas a pleasant surprise,” Firulan grinned. His teeth were stained with berry juice. “See if’n ye can whip me up another one of yer fancy dishes tomorrow. I’m lookin’ forward to it.”

“Right,” Kyrin replied halfheartedly, rinsing his mouth out with a cup of water. “Don’t you worry. I’ll cook something else…”

As they lay down to sleep that night, Kyrin began to feel an obligation to Firulan. Having made a promise, he now had to go back to the same place tomorrow and steal more food. How was he going to keep his word like this? How long would it be like this?


Chapter 21

“You know wot I don’t get?” Tam asked nobeast in particular as the party marched through the woods. “The fact that we saw blood, bits of squirrel fur an’ a burnt shelter an’ everything, but it turns out that Kyrin didn’t die.”

Doogy shrugged. “Maybe th’ lad’ll tell ye what happened when we find ‘im.”

“Whatever the situation, ye owe yore son an apology, mate,” Skipper pointed out.

The sun had gone down by this point. The last of its rays, though, was enough to maintain visibility. “We better hurry, mates,” Log a Log said. “We have t’ find the pond afore it gets dark, otherwise, we’ll ‘ave t’ wait another whole day.

Thorn sniffed the air. “Do any of you chaps smell water?” he asked.

“Well, we just crossed a river…” Galwa began, but Skipper cut them off. “’E’s right, mates. I smell it too. There! Further inland!”

“Wonderful!” Colonel Buckshaw exclaimed. “We can set up camp an’ break out the tuck! Double time it, lads! Come on!”

Dinner was a simple affair: freshly-baked shrewcakes, stew made from dried roots and tubers, and some of Friar Tobel’s hardtack scones. The search party was camped at the edge of the pond.

“So we wait ‘til midnight?” Skipper asked, sitting down next to Tam, who was sitting away from the campfire, staring at the pond.

“Aye,” Tam nodded. “Th’ moon should be up by then.”

Skipper winced as he attempted a bite out of a hardtack scone. Shaking his head, he dunked it in his stew, hoping to soften it. “Ready t’ see yore son again, mate?”

Tam nodded, still staring at the pristine waters.

“Five seasons,” Skipper muttered. “Five seasons.”

“Skipper…” Tam asked hesitantly, “do ye think Kyrin’ll…hate me?”

The burly otter clapped the Border Warrior so hard on the back he nearly fell into the pond. “Haharr, don’t ye worry, Tam. Kyrin’s grown up, too. He won’t hold any grudge against ye. Trust me. I have a niece, remember? Now, I’m goin’ back t’ the fire. Yore welcome t’ come along. They’re singin’ songs. Mmf! These scones aren’t so bad once ye’ve softened ‘em up a bit!”

Tam smiled inwardly as he continued staring at the pond.

“…An’ if yore wand’rin’ ‘round the woods tonight,

“Stuck out in the rain,

“We’ll sit ye down around th’ fire and warm ye up again,

“There’s food and drink aplenty,

“What’s better’s that it’s free,

“Take all th’ food ye wish to take, just don’t take any from me!”

The songs and laughter emanating from around the campfire filled the air. Tam sat there, his mind and heart racing, waiting for midnight.

A while later, Tam woke Doogy, Skipper, Log a Log, and the hares, and they moved to the edge of the pond. The moon rose to the sky like a shining orb of purity, scattering its silver rays of light along the water. In this moment, the pond did indeed look as if it were shining.

“Remember this sight, chaps,” Ferdimond said, “it’s not every night you get t’ see a full moon like this, wot.”

Log a Log was much more practical about everything. “Alright, great. Ye woke us up t’ see a light show, Tam. Now how’s that goin’ t’ lead us closer t’ Kyrin?”

At that moment everybeast realized that they had been focusing so hard on finding the pond and waiting for midnight that they didn’t figure out where it would lead them from there. Tam immediately looked back to the riddle, then back up at the pond, then back at the riddle.

“Hmm…well…it says: ‘From there you shall travel light / To the two scones, a warm and welcome sight.’ Well, I don’t know about the two scones, but I think I know wot Martin meant by ‘traveling light.’”

“What?” the others chorused at once.

Tam smiled and indicated a ray of moonlight that reflected off the pond’s surface. Sure enough, the beam of light illuminated a small trail on the other side of the pond. “See?” Tam asked. “It’s a pun. When Martin wants us t’ travel light, ‘e wants us t’ travel by the light of the midnight shining pond, right? We have t’ go that way! Across the pond! ”

Log a Log breathed a sigh of relief. “Well that’s good yore complicated brain just kicked in. For once, it saved us a lot o’ trouble. Thanks, Tam.”

Tam beamed as bright as the moon. “I’m proud of myself.”

“Rally the troops,” Colonel Buckshaw ordered, “let’s find those flippin’ scones sharplike, wot? I’m still hungry!”

Orak the Assassin awoke the next morning, red-eyed and cranky. The strange mouse-squirrel Warrior…ghost…thing…was tormenting him relentlessly. But even in his troubled state the warlord was still very aware of Kirsharr’s disloyalty. His rapid brain immediately fired up another plan. Rousing the troops, Orak summoned them in full rank and file in the middle of the camp. Within a few minutes the entire army of vermin stood in neat ranks, the ermine and stoats in the front, and the rats, weasels, ferrets, and foxes in the back, grouped by species. Uneasiness lingered in the air. Every soldier, regardless of rank, saw the roots of madness in his master’s eyes. Nobeast dared make a sound.

Orak waited until everybeast was settled, then pointed randomly. “You there, in the back, and you over there, and you! Get up here!” he barked.

As the three rats he picked ran up to serve the warlord’s bidding, Orak nodded to a minor officer behind him to give them stacks of crisp, new uniforms.

“You have all served me well,” Orak announced in an even voice, as the rats scurried to distribute new uniforms.

“Thank you, Sir,” the army chorused.

“You’re very welcome,” Orak replied dryly. “Now, as a reward for your service – and because we will be moving out tomorrow – all of you will be outfitted with new uniforms and new weapons.” At this, the Assassin nodded to another minor officer, who unveiled a tent full of weapons picked off from defeated Long Patrol hares.

“There you have it,” Orak announced. “One weapon apiece – hold on – I didn’t say you could come up and grab them. We’ll form lines after this. Anybeast who does not wish to trade in his rusty old sword or spear is free to keep his weapon.”

Many of the soldiers were already trying on their new uniforms. One audacious fox in the back spoke up:

“My uniform’s too small!”

Orak shifted his body to see who had spoken: “Ah, a complaint. Come up here! Yes, you! Up here! Don’t be shy!”

Everybeast stopped what they were doing to see the fox confront the ermine. This soldier was a head taller than Orak. The way he swaggered through the ranks made everybeast aware that something bad was going to happen. Orak watched and made a mental note that this fox was coming from Kirsharr’s ranks.

“Now what was the problem again?” Orak asked.

The fox was a foot away from Orak. “This thing’s a head smaller than me!” he growled.

“I’m sorry,” Orak replied, adopting an apologetic tone, “what would you like me to do for you, sir?”

Nobeast had ever heard Orak the Assassin address anybeast, especially one of his own troops, as his superior.

The fox reared himself to his full height. “Make my uniform larger, Orak! I want it to fit!” None of the soldiers had ever heard anybeast address the warlord by his full name and live.

Orak kept his voice deceptively calm. “I see, sir. Do you have any other grievances?”

The fox hesitated but quickly recovered. “That’s it,” he growled. “Make sure they step to it.” With that, he impudently dumped the new uniform into Orak’s paw.

Orak bowed his head and mused for a second. “You want it to fit. Got it.” In one move, the warlord whipped out his sword and slashed in a horizontal motion, level to the fox’s throat. From behind, it looked as if nothing had happened. But then the fox’s head slid off his shoulders like butter.

“Now it fits, you worthless cretin. Get this useless thing out of my sight,” Orak said, his tone of voice significantly darker now.

The entire army seemed to shift uncomfortably as the bloody corpse was moved out of sight.

“Now,” Orak spoke, casually wiping the blood off his sword with a rag, “many of you probably think that I’ve gone soft on you. I’ve let you relax for the past few days so you could rest up for the attack on Redwall Abbey. If anybeast takes this for weakness and wishes to challenge my authority, please come up here now. No? If anybeast wants to leave, please, by all means, leave right now. You won’t survive, and I’ll tell you why. Though they look like simple farmers, these woodlanders want to kill you. When you’re out there alone, starving to death while deciding which fruit is safe to eat and which one is not, they will take your life with a slingstone to the head or a pitchfork to the back. And don’t even think about going to Redwall Abbey for food and shelter. They’ll slay you on the spot. Think they’re a peaceful place? Think again. Their compassionate ways don’t apply to you. But, if you stay with me, we can change that. We can destroy that place of hypocrisy and build a place for ourselves! Never again will we be running around, stealing and plundering to get by! We will rule Mossflower! They’ll bring food to us! They’ll call us masters! They’ll never question our word again! Now who’s with me?!”

The cheer that followed shook the earth and reassured Orak that his troops were indeed still with him. However, the ermine did not stay around to savor his victory: he had disappeared into his tent, leaving Deatheye to take over the proceedings.

He had seen the mysterious mouse standing resolute in the back ranks, the eyes drilling deep into his dark conscience like broken diamond shards.

Making good of his promise to Firulan, Kyrin returned to the mysterious house as soon as Firulan was gone. It took him no trouble retracing his steps and finding it again. And soon he was standing in front of the house again. This time, somebeast had slipped an iron padlock over the door to the smokehouse, as well as over the door of the cabin. The shutters on the windows were closed – barred from the inside.

This, of course, didn’t bother Kyrin at all. In another fit of adrenaline, Kyrin smashed a window right in and entered the cabin. Seeing as how there was no fresh food put out for him, Kyrin peered into the oven. Sure enough, there was another pie in there. This time, it was a blackberry pie with sugar sprinkled on top. Kyrin tried to grab it but had to pull his paws back in pain, because the pie was still too hot. Pulling the tablecloth off the table, Kyrin wrapped the pie up and bolted out the window.

Just when he was about to leave, though, Kyrin heard the crackling of dead leaves and voices coming through the woods. Probably the owners of the house, he thought. The agile young squirrel scampered up the roof of the house, lay low in the straw thatching, and watched.

He saw two figures in the shadows. One was tall and one was short. They were conversing casually.

“Hopefully boardin’ up those windows did some good.”

“Let’s hope so, Gry. I don’t want our little thief coming back.”

Kyrin suddenly felt his knife slip out of his belt. It fell off his hip, bounced on the roof, and landed on the ground beside the cabin. The young squirrel cursed himself for his bad luck. He heard the figures speak again.

“Did ye just see somethin’ drop from the roof?”

“I saw it too. Come on, Gry, let’s see what’s going on.”

Kyrin decided that the tall one was the male named “Gry”. And the short one was, well, the female. Before they spotted him, Kyrin jumped down from the roof shot off into the woods.

The two figures neared the house.

“Great Seasons! ‘E’s done it again!”

“What do you mean, Gry?”

“Look! The liddle rogue’s smashed a hole in th’ window!”

“What was the thief after?”

“Prob’ly food again. I’ll get the door open so we can check.”

“Wait, what’s this?”

“Hmm…looks like a stone dagger or summat. ‘E must’ve dropped it during th’ theft. Looks like we ‘ave a clue now.”

“The thief will probably be back for it.”

“The dagger?”

“Gry, thieves don’t carry that many weapons with them. A dagger is pretty valuable to a thief.”

“Wot are ye tryin’ t’ say?”

“Listen, Gry…I have a plan…”

Chapter 22

The ermine named Krilel walked through the camp, keeping his head down and attracting no attention. Around him, soldiers were trying on uniforms and sharpening weapons. Krilel could sense bloodlust in the air. However, he chose to ignore it in lieu of his “assignment” from Orak: spy on Kirsharr.

Kirsharr’s tent flap was wide open. The fat ermine Captain was half-sitting, half-recling in his chair, swigging damson wine and gnawing on day-old woodpigeon. Two of his soldiers, both ermine, sat and watched their Captain like jackals. As soon as Krilel saw Kirsharr push a goblet of wine to each soldier, he knew the Captain was going to discuss important matters with them. So, he pretended to inspect his spear while standing a safe distance from the tent, listening in on the conversation. With Kirsharr, especially a half-drunk Kirsharr, secrecy was not top priority.

“Awright, I need ye two t’ keep this a secret.”

“Yes, sir!”

“Orak’s leadin’ us the wrong way.”

“Yes ‘e is, sir!”

“An’ yore goin’ t’ do somethin’ about it!”

“Right!”

“Tonight, yer goin’ t’ kill ‘im in his sleep! Then I’ll lead, an’ we’ll do things my way!”

“Yes, sir!”

“Tonight, you’ll kill ‘is guards in their sleep. Then ye sneak in, take ‘im out, an’ report t’ me, got it?”

“Sir, yes, sir!”

“Take this wine an’ these daggers. All are poisoned. Get th’ guards ter ‘ave a drink an’ go in an’ finish Orak off! Now get outta here!”

“Yes, sir!”

Krilel shook his head and smiled inwardly. Now he had something to report.

So did the goshawk flying above the camp.

Of course, Orak found Krilel before Krilel found him.

“Alright, so what did Kirsharr say?” Orak asked, somewhat fidgety. Krilel noticed that the warlord looked a little unkempt, as if he had just woken up. There was definitely a crazed look in the Assassin’s eyes…

“He’s goin’ t’ kill ye in yer sleep, sire. He’s sendin’ somebeast tonight.”

Orak nodded. “Thank you. Now get out.”

Even Orak was never this terse. Not wanting the face the wrath of his leader, who he was convinced was going crazy, Krilel left immediately.

“I’m going to kill you, squirrel,” Orak seethed through gritted teeth. “And I won’t rest until I do! That’s a promise!”

“There he is!” Brooky shouted, pointing upwards. She and Armel were sitting atop the battlements, eating a late lunch of watercress soup and fresh acorn bread.

“Kraaaa!” Tergen landed safely, perched atop a stone mortar. “Situation goodgood! Vermin no move out yet!”

Armel looked at Brooky. “What a relief that is! Thank you Tergen!”

“Let’s tell the Abbot,” Brooky suggested. “He’s been pesterin’ me all morning about Tergen. I’m afraid he’ll shed his spikes if we keep it from him any longer! Hahahaha!”

Abbot Cyrus was only partially relieved. “Thank you for the news, Tergen,” he thanked the bird, who was busy wolfing down giant bowl of candied chestnuts. “Now the question is: when are they going to move out?”

“Tergen doesn’ know,” Armel shook her head.

“That’s true,” the Abbot mused. “he can’t predict everything he sees.”

“So, what about the riddle, Melanda?” Armel asked.

“Ugh, this is brain-boggling!” Melanda exclaimed, staring at the parchment. “I’m assuming that the ‘two scones’ are some sort of natural feature in Mossflower, so I can’t help father too much there. But as for the ‘very nimm cramp’, I’ve checked all the records and searched all possible obscure references in our Abbey’s history. Still nothing! I look terrible, don’t I, mother? I’ve been up all last night trying to figure this thing out!”

“Poor thing,” Armel said sympathetically, rubbing her daughter’s head. “Maybe it’s another natural feature of Mossflower?”

“I don’t think so,” Melanda replied, making a show of getting up. “But whatever it is, I’m going to get some sleep. Don’t wake me up.” With that, she left the Abbot’s study, not bothering to close the door behind her.

The others crowded around the poem. It was thoroughly marked up with notes, annotations, and speculations about what a ‘very nimm cramp’ could be.

“Well, whatever it is,” Abbot Cyrus sighed, “it’s where Tam will ‘find joy’, according to this riddle. If that means Kyrin is in this ‘very nimm cramp’, whatever that may be, then there’s a start, right?”

The others didn’t answer as they continued to study the riddle.

“Alright, well, it’s been a day, and I still don’t know wot a ‘very nimm cramp' is, mate. Sorry.”

Tam blew air out of the side of his mouth. “I know, Skipper. It’s the only thing we need t’ figure out. Well, that and the ‘two scones.’”

“Speakin’ of scones, I’m flippin’ famished,” Ferdimond announced, to nobeast in particular, as the search party trekked along the hidden trail marked by the light of the “midnight shining pond.”

“Oh, come on, Ferdimond,” Buckshaw sniffed, “you just ate the rest of the food in your ration pack.”

“And mine,” Thorn added.

“He’s got a point, mates,” Log a Log Tarryk, who had overheard, announced. “We’re gettin’ low on rations. I hate t’ say this, but if we don’t do something quick, we may be livin’ off roots an’ berries for the next few days…an’ it’s gettin’ dark, too.”

“So, ye need help?”

The entire search party turned at the sound of the unfamiliar voice. In the fading light, they saw a burly, friendly-looking vole, his amiable features illuminated by the torch he was carrying.

“Are ye lost?” the vole asked. “Not many beasts travel here often.”

“Ye might say so, yes,” Galwa said.

The vole nodded. “So yore lost. Well, my name’s Flint. Pikejaw Flint. Come with me.” He turned to go, leading the way with his torch. Tam looked at the others and shrugged. They followed the vole off the trail and into the woods.

Pikejaw Flint turned out to be Chief of a good-sized tribe of bankvoles who lived in grass huts in the woods, near a hidden tributary of the River Moss. Introductions were made, and soon the search party was having dinner with rest of the tribe, next to a large campfire.

“So tell us, Tam, wot brings ye from Redwall Abbey in the first place.”

Tam told him the whole story from start to finish. Pikejaw nodded. “So, I gather ye haven’t met Orak the Assassin yet?”

“Not face-to-face, no,” Tam replied.

‘E’s an evil ‘un, Pikejaw’s wife, Petunia, replied. “We had t’ hide our tribe even more after he showed up.”

“That’s right,” Pikejaw added. “Orak kills wotever he sees. The little ‘uns can’t even go out t’ play no more, for fear of gettin’ murdered. He’s an ermine, an’ they say he’s a remnant of Gulo the Savage’s horde, if’n ye know who that is…”

Tam nodded. “I know who yore talkin’ about, mate. I killed Gulo the Savage. Too bad some of his ermine escaped.”

“It’s not yore fault,” Pikejaw replied. “It’s nobeast’s fault. I’m hopin’ we can stop him before he gets too close.”

“Maybe ye could join us on our braw quest tae fight some vermin!” Doogy suggested.

Tam shot him a stern look. “We’re findin’ Kyrin first.”

“Well, no hurt in havin’ a couple voles tae see us along,” Doogy shrugged. He turned to Pikejaw, “That is, of course, if ye wish to provide us with some o’ yer fighters.”

Pikejaw smiled magnanimously. “I’ll see wot I can do.”

“Thank you, Pikejaw,” Tam smiled, nodding. “Oh, an’ there’s one more thing…are ye familiar with th’ ‘two scones, a warm and welcome sight’?”

Pikejaw and Petunia looked at each other and back at Tam. “Of course,” Pikejaw chuckled. “Ye wanna keep goin’ on th’ path until ye reach a crevice ‘twixt two large, flat rocks that look like scones. We know ‘cos we’ve been there all th’ time.”

“Wot about ‘a very nimm cramp?’” Skipper added.

“Sorry, mate,” Pikejaw replied, “Not too sure ‘bout that one. I c’n tell ye it’s prob’ly not a landmark of any sort. Look, Tam, we’ll pack ye some food for tomorrow. Meanwhile, eat up an’ have fun!”

The night went on with much carousing, singing, and merrymaking. Tam smiled up at the stars. “Thank you, Martin,” he said softly, as the sounds of joy and hope rang out around him.

Lazzil the ermine shivered in his new uniform as dusk began to fall. The spring night breezes made him shiver. He was eager for the next day. Finally, some action! It was still cold though, especially when he had to stand guard all night in front of Orak’s tent…

A voice behind him made him jump. “Getting some rest, tonight?”

Lazzil whirled around to face Orak the Assassin, wrapped in his cape, standing in front of him. “Oh no, yer highness. I’m awake! Er, er…”

The Assassin’s eyes flashed with sweetness masking insanity.

“Come now, Lazzil, you must be cold. Don’t lie.”

The Warlord had never spoken personally to his guards before, let alone address them by name. Lazzil relaxed. “Well, er…I could do wid a warm fire or summat.”

“I know,” Orak said soothingly. “I’m making my rounds to inspect supplies one last time tonight. You’ve been a dutiful guard. Come inside and help yourself to anything; my wine, my food, my bed. It’s all yours for tonight. Thank you, Lazzil, for protecting me.”

Lazzil puffed out his chest and saluted. “Thank ye, sir!”

Orak nodded and disappeared, bundled up in his shroudlike cape.

Lazzil cautiously entered the tent. It was pitch black inside but smelled strongly of wine and scented flowers – a clear step up from the putrid scents coming from the tents of the soldiers. In the darkness, Lazzil uncorked a bottle of damson wine and drank deeply, feeling the heat of the drink down his throat all the way into his stomach. Exhausted and cold, he went over to Orak’s bed. It was a very comfortable bed, and Lazzil lay down on it, pulling the covers over his head for warmth. Just before he closed his eyes he glimpsed the carving of a mouse on the wooden table, with a knife stuck into it…

This did not bother Lazzil, and soon the ermine went to sleep.

He never woke up.

Orak watched quietly from behind a tree, hidden from view as two ermine leave the tent, clutching bloody daggers.

“Haharr, can ye believe it? No guards tonight! We didn’t even have t’ use th’ poisoned wine!”

“Hoho, Captain Kirsharr’s goin’ ter love this! Everything went better ‘n expected, eh, mate?”

In the darkness, Orak smiled venomously. “Oh, yes,” he said to himself. “Everything went better than expected.”


Chapter 23

His heart pounded in his chest as hard as his footpaws pounded the coarse gravel that gave way to volcanic sand.

His lungs pumped like pistons, so hard as though they would burst.

His eyes searched the starry sky as if to question whether this was all just a dream.

He collapsed in the sand, not far from the volcano.

The next thing he knew, shadows of figures were crowded around him in concern.

“Who’s that?”

“I recognize th’ chap! Zephyr, old lad, are you alright, wot?”

“Alright? He looks as if ‘e’s been runnin’ for a flippin’ week!”

“What’s this? He’s brought something!”

“It’s a message! Read th’ bloomin’ thing already!”

“Situation looks dire in Mossflower, eh, wot? Five hundred blinkin’ hares needed sharplike! We should take this to the ol’ Badger Lady.”

“Right! You two, take Zephyr to the Infirmary. I’ll go tell Lady Melesme about this at once!”

Orak the Assassin cursed silently to himself as he stood over the corpses of his two would-be killers, wiping his daggers clean of their blood. It had not been a silent kill. Both of them had screamed. The Warlord’s brain was scheming fast as a contingent of Kirsharr’s soldiers on night patrol came running, their weapons drawn.

“Look, mates! It’s th’ Chief!”

“Are ye alright, Chief? We ‘eard screams…”

In any other situation Orak would have told them straight up that Kirsharr had plotted to murder him and he hit back. However, he didn’t know how loyal to him these soldiers actually were, given Kirsharr’s mutinous tendencies. On the bright side, these soldiers seemed uninformed of the assassination. Kirsharr had probably wanted the murder kept relatively secret.

Of course, the clever Warlord made do with the situation at hand. “I’m alright, friends. You’re Kirsharr’s troops, aren’t you? I just witnessed these two get slain by two more of Kirsharr’s. I think Kirsharr thought these two were questioning his word. He’s a dangerous fool. I don’t know why I made him Captain in the first place. Just watch your backs when you go to sleep tonight, mates. You might be next.”

The patrol shifted uncomfortably. Orak continued:

“Don’t follow him. He’ll lead you to your deaths. Remember who your true leader is. If you get too caught up in his ideas, you may end up like these two poor creatures right here.”

The vermin nodded vigorously. “Sir, yes, sir!” they saluted, standing to attention.

Orak nodded. “We need to get the word out to the rest of your mates. They’re probably in danger. Remember: stick with me, and you’ll be rewarded.”

The patrol nodded their heads witlessly. “I’ll leave you at that,” Orak smiled. “Good night.” With that, he was gone. It had been too easy.

The waning moon illuminated the woodlands as Kyrin approached the cabin. Everything was silent, except for the crickets, whose chirps pierced the midnight sky.

Beads of sweat ran down Kyrin’s forehead and his heart pounded against his ribcage like a captured wretch. Coming back here at night – especially when the inhabitants probably knew he was coming – was different. The night was unpredictable, treacherous, and fear-invoking; it was hard to believe that it only lasted as long as day.

Kyrin zipped up to the cabin, placing his back against the cabin wall. He heard no noises coming from inside of the house. It was quiet…too quiet. Kyrin shivered. He didn’t like this at all.

Then, the young squirrel saw the dagger lying not too far in front of him, amongst the dead leaves. Moving swiftly, he grabbed it and began to run.

Just then, a black blur hit him from behind, knocking him into the ground. Kyrin didn’t know who was attacking him as he was being smothered to the ground, but whoever it was, his assailant was bigger and stronger than he. The knife rolled out of his reach.

Kyrin felt the breath being squeezed out of him. He was flat on his stomach, being pinned by some creature. More by reflex than premeditated action, his paw shot up, hitting his attacker in the eyes. The creature grunted and rolled off Kyrin, who promptly followed up with a punch to the jaw and a kick to the stomach.

Kyrin staggered up and scrambled awkwardly for his knife, but just as he got his paw on it, the shadowy figure stomped on his paw. Kyrin cried in pain as he narrowly dodged a kick from his opponent.

As the enemy tried to kick the dagger away, Kyrin grabbed his footpaw and pulled him down. Grunting, they rolled around in the darkness, each trying to gain the upper paw. The creature’s rudder-like tail whipped out and caught the side of Kyrin’s face. His blood rising to a boil, Kyrin pressed down on the figure’s throat and started punching him ruthlessly in the face. Gradually, he felt his adversary’s struggling writhing cease. His paw was wet with blood; whether it was his or his foe’s, he couldn’t tell.

Finally, Kyrin got off his prostrate attacker. The young squirrel was breathing hard and his entire body felt as if it had been subject to a gang beating. Wiping his bloodied paws of on the ground, he went over to his dagger and picked it up…

…And promptly blacked out.

Chapter 24

Dawn’s daylight slowly filtered through the forests of Mossflower like sunlight through a sieve. The entire Flint voletribe gathered to see Tam off. The Warrior’s search party, augmented by thirty able-bodied vole fighters, geared up and ready to go to battle.

Tam shook Pikejaw Flint’s paw. “I’ll never forget the help ye gave us, friend. Thank ye so much!”

Pikejaw laughed and gave Tam a rough hug. “Arrr, be off wi’ ye. Good luck on th’ way. Mayhaps we’ll come t’ live at Redwall someday.”

Tam smiled. “Our gates will always be open to ye! Farewell!”

With that, the search party moved out once again.

They reached the “two scones” in under an hour.

“Well, would ye lookit that!” Doogy exclaimed, awestruck. Towering ahead of them, on either side of the path, were two enormous natural stone formations that resembled round scones.

Everybeast stood there, silent for a moment, admiring the monoliths.

Of course, the hares broke the silence.

“We haven’t had breakfast yet, wot!”

“I say! Bad form! Army marches on its stomach, doncha know!”

“C’mon! Break out the tuck an’ let’s eat!”

Tam laughed. He was in high spirits. “Help yoreselves, everybeast. Ye deserve it. Now, let’s see if we can figure out the last part of this riddle…”

Melanda rushed into the Abbot’s study bright and early the next morning, her heart pounding. Last night, Martin had come to her in a dream again and had told her “Seek the words within the words.”

She threw the door open in her excitement and nearly collided with the mousemaid Celany and her friend, Buwl the mole, who were busy setting the little conference table in the Abbot’s study with hot rosemary tea, cranberry scones, greensap milk, and oatmeal.

“Hurr, watch whurr you’m be goin’, mizzy,” Buwl rumbled, smiling. “You’m be farster ‘n a ‘unnybee ‘n a stormsh’wer.”

“Sorry,” Melanda breathed, brushing imaginary dust off her dress in an attempt to look dignified.

“What’s the rush, anyway?” Celany asked inquisitively, arranging the scones in a neat pyramid.

“This,” Melanda grinned, holding up the riddle. “We’ve been hard at work trying to find out where Kyrin is and this riddle tells us how to find him.”

“Let me see,” Celany said. Melanda showed her and Buwl the riddle.

“Martin the Warrior came to me in a dream last night and told me to ‘seek the words within the words’,” Melanda said, barely containing her excitement. “I think I know what ‘a very nimm cramp’ means.”

After receiving blank looks from Celany and Buwl, Melanda took the riddle and plunked it down on the table. “Here – the line that says ‘a very nimm cramp.’ Martin tells us to ‘seek the words within the words.’ All we need to do is unscramble it! Gahh! How could we have been so stupid all along?”

Celany smiled. “I love unscrambling words. We used to do that all the time in Dibbun school during breaks, right, Buwl?”

Buwl nodded his velvety head. “Hurr hurr hurr, she’m roight, miz Merlander. Moi friend Celerny here wurr th’ charmpion of et, too.”

Melanda smiled at the pretty mousemaid. “Well, Celany, perhaps you could lend us your talents?”

“I’d be more than happy to, miz Recorder,” Celany giggled. “Now, let’s see. ‘A very nimm cramp.’ Hmm…not many words that have the letter ‘V’ in them. Maybe we should start there.”

The three of them crowded around the heavily-annotated riddle. Melanda found them some ink and quills and Celany wrote down the letters:

                  A  V  E  R  Y  N  I  M  M  C  R  A  M  P

Soon they were calling out ideas and writing them down on the parchment.

“Hmm…‘Vile’?”

“No, there’s no ‘L’ in there. Keep looking.”

“…‘Vramm’?”

“That’s not a word.”

“Just throwing out suggestions.”

“Ugh, what has the letter ‘V’ in it?”

“Vermin?” Celany suggested.

“How uplifting,” Melanda commented.

“Roight, but et works,” Buwl pointed out.

“And it would make sense,” Celany added.

Melanda bit her lip. “I know. I just hope my father doesn’t run into vermin out there, if that’s what the riddle says he’ll walk into.”

They crossed out the letters that formed the word ‘Vermin’, leaving them with:

                            A  Y  M  C  R  A  M  P

“Well, that solved a lot!” Celany laughed. “What else?”

“Ray?” Melanda suggested.

“Vermin ray? Ray vermin? I can’t put that together in any way that would make it make sense.”

“You’re right. It has to make sense.”

“Hmm…”

“Think of places, Celany. What would my father’s search party ‘walk into’? I guess a place would be the most logical way to start.”

“Ram? No, wait…”

“Cram?”

“Camp! Vermin camp!” Celany shouted.

“Well, this message has taken a dark turn,” Melanda muttered, writing the word “camp” down next to the word “vermin”.

“So that leaves us with…” Celany said, looking back at the parchment.

                                   A  Y  M  R

“Army,” Melanda immediately figured it out. “Vermin army camp. Wonderful. My father’s walking into a ‘vermin army camp.’”

Just then, the door opened and Abbot Cyrus, flanked by Armel, Brooky, and Tergen, strode in.

“Ahh, what a wonderful rest,” the Abbot exclaimed. “Oh, you’re already here, Melanda, I see. Thank you, all three of you, for bringing us breakfast. A hungry mind doesn’t work well on a hungry stomach.”

“We figured out ‘a very nimm cramp’,” Melanda announced, somewhat gloomily. “Martin told me to rearrange the words, Father Abbot, and I did, and it forms the phrase ‘vermin army camp’.”

It was silent inside the Abbot’s study.

“I don’t know whether I should be jumping for joy that we figured out the rest of the riddle or running around in circles, terrified, knowing the implications of this finding,” the Recorder added.

At this the Abbot picked up the parchment and started pacing back and forth. “So if Tam is still in Mossflower somewhere and the riddle dictates that he’ll walk into a vermin army camp where he’ll ‘find joy’ – which I assume is Kyrin. So that probably means Orak the Assassin is very close to Redwall and Tam is probably walking into an ambush right now as we speak!”

“Righto,” Brooky commented off to the side.

The Abbot jumped into action. “Tergen! Fly north and warn Tam! Armel! Brooky! Melanda! All of you! Come with me! We’ll ring the bells for everybeast to assemble on the Lawns! I have to warn them!”

Kyrin woke up on some floor with a mind-bending headache. His body still hurt all over from last night’s struggle. What happened? All he remembered was defeating his attacker then picking up his knife, when somebeast hit him in the back of the head…

Reaching up with his right paw, Kyrin touched the back of his head gingerly and winced as the pain shot through his nerves. Somebeast had indeed knocked him out.

The young squirrel sat up slowly, being careful not to put too much pressure on his injuries. He recognized it as the very cabin he had stolen food from two days in a row. And now he could hear voices outside, possibly discussing his fate. Kyrin shook his head as he silently reprimanded himself for letting his thievish ways get the better of him. Now he was a captive held by two woodlanders. It could have been worse; it could have been vermin. Maybe he could use his dagger to…

Kyrin quickly checked his belt. His dagger was gone! Great. And what was that terrible smell? Kyrin isolated the scent as steam coming from a pot of something – he presumed herbs – boiling in a pot on top of the clay stove on the other side of the room.

Sidling over to the stove, Kyrin lifted the lid and was immediately hit in the face by a cloud of putrid-smelling steam. It was so bad it nearly made his stomach turn inside out. Shaking his head, Kyrin moved back over to the other end of the room (well, the entire cabin) and sat back down in his original spot. At least they were kind enough to provide him with a woven mat. Kyrin felt like a prisoner getting a last meal before his execution.

The door opened and Kyrin turned to see who it was. In walked the most beautiful squirrel he had ever seen.

She was about his age, fifteen seasons old, with a slender figure and a fine-looking tail. Her well-brushed fur was a little lighter than Kyrin’s – a soft reddish-brown with sandy-colored fur around her eyes and underneath her chin and throat – and she possessed a pair of beautiful hazel eyes that shone in the sunlight that poured through the dusty cabin’s open windows. She wore a long, wine-purple dress over a dark pink skirt, and there was a shining green amulet set into her clothing at the neck. Her headfur was long and elegant, like wisps of wind made visible. All Kyrin could do was sit and stare…

…And, of course, she walked over to the other side of the room first to check on whatever she was cooking.

“Hmm, needs a bit more time,” she mused, lifting the lid and smelling (!) the contents inside. She turned towards Kyrin and their eyes met. “Oh, you’re awake,” she said, sizing him up, unimpressed. Her voice would be much more pleasant to listen to if she actually liked me, Kyrin thought. At least her foul demeanor snapped him out of his trance.

“Well, you sure put up a fight last night,” she laughed sarcastically as she turned away to stir the contents in the pot again. “You nearly killed Gry, you know. Nearly ruined our plans.”

“Who?” Kyrin asked. Great Seasons, he thought, she’s annoying!

She continued to stir as she replied: “Gry. You know, the big otter you fought last night. You beat him up pretty bad.”

So that’s who Gry is… Kyrin thought. “Is it my fault he attacked me? And why do you live alone with an otter in the first place?”

“That’s none of your business,” she snapped curtly.

“Great Seasons,” Kyrin muttered, “What would the children look like?”

She evidently heard him. “Hey, let’s not get obnoxious,” she said, glaring at him as she took the pot of the stove and set it on the table.

“Look, missy, who’s bein’ obnoxious here? You or me?” Kyrin shot back, deciding he didn’t like this maiden at all, no matter how beautiful she was.

She rolled her eyes as she poured the steaming contents of the pot, which was some kind of soup, into a wooden bowl. “I don’t know why I’m even doing this for you.”

“And yet you’re doing…this…for me, without questioning a thing,” Kyrin replied, smiling when she turned a shade of scarlet, slightly miffed at losing this battle of words.

“For a captive, you’ve got some nerve. That’s all I can say.”

“Hey, you’re makin’ life difficult for me. I’m just risin’ to the occasion.”

“It’s hard to believe a thief like you would rise to anything.”

“How would you know I’m a thief? We just met.”

“Maybe it’s because you robbed my house two days in a row.”

“Look, lady, there’s a lot you don’t know about me…”

“Who cares? After all, we just met.

“Well, you know what?...” But she had a point there. Kyrin slumped back down sullenly, knowing she had won. Well, that turned around pretty fast, he thought.

The squirrelmaid smiled sweetly, which made Kyrin’s blood boil. “Here,” she said, approaching him with the bowl of vile-smelling soup, “Drink this and you’ll feel better.”

“Why are you doing this for me?” Kyrin asked, perplexed.

“I’m a healer. It’s what I do,” she explained simply, going back over to wipe the table.

The concoction was still too hot to drink. Kyrin put it to the side for the moment so he could talk to his captor some more.

“So what exactly happened last night?”

“Well, Gry and I knew that you’d come back for your knife, so we hid on the roof and waited for you to show up and when you did, Gry attacked you. But you fought back and knocked out a few of his teeth. Oh, that, and you also gave him a black eye. Right now, he’s outside with a bung mallet in his paw, wanting to teach you a lesson or two.”

Kyrin shivered involuntarily at the thought of having to fight that otter again. “Did you knock me out?” he ventured.

She nodded. “Considering how you nearly escaped from Gry, I’m surprised it took me nothing to knock you out with a full-sized log of firewood.”

Kyrin was eyeing the dagger on the squirrelmaid’s leather belt. Of course, she noticed again. “By the way, that dagger’s mine. Maidens can carry weapons, too, in case you didn’t know.”

“Where’s my dagger, then?!”

“Oh, I threw it away.”

“WHAT?!!”

“Hey! Drink the medicine before it gets cold!”

Grudgingly, Kyrin lifted the bowl of soup to his lips and nearly wretched at the stench. She was watching him like a hawk, waiting for him to take the first sip. He sorely wished he had his claymore with him right now. But it was still at Firulan’s house where he had left it. Eyeing her hatefully, the squirrel downed the contents of the bowl in one gulp, trying not to show his disgust.

She laughed dryly. “You can drop the act, thief. I know you’re suffering through it right now.”

Somewhat obediently, Kyrin let himself choke and gag for little while. The squirrelmaid giggled, which would’ve sounded nice had she not been giggling at him. “Well,” she said, moving towards the door, “I’m going to talk with Gry and we’ll discuss what to do with you. Good luck.”

“Yeah, thanks, I guess,” Kyrin muttered. “My name’s Kyrin. Nice knowing you.”

The squirrelmaid turned and actually looked at him this time when she spoke. “Mena.”

The door slammed shut, leaving Kyrin alone in the cabin.

Mena…Mena…Mena Mena Mena…

Kyrin shook his head. He didn’t want to stick around and see what a vengeful otter with a bung mallet had in store for him. Without looking back, the young squirrel got up somewhat difficultly and climbed out the rear window. In his haste to escape, though, he knocked over the table, which fell to the ground with a crash.

His blood pumping, Kyrin climbed out the window and into the trees. His day was off to a great start indeed…


Chapter 25

Gry and Mena heard the sound of a table being knocked over from inside the house.

"Wot was that?" Gry exclaimed, gripping his mallet tight.

The squirrelmaid called Mena shook her head. "Probably our thief escaping."

Gry threw the door open. "Aye, yore right, Mena. 'E's gone through that window! Look! Th' table's also knocked over!"

"Oh, great. Come on, Gry, let's go catch him!"

Kyrin was sitting on the bough of a tall oak tree when Mena and Gry came around the house.

"Kyrin! Get down from there!" Mena called.

"No way, missy!" Kyrin shouted back down. "You've gotta catch me first!"

Mena looked indecisive. Suddenly it hit Kyrin: Mena didn't know how to climb trees. Well! What were the chances of that?

"Do you know how to climb trees?" Kyrin called down to the squirrelmaid.

"I do, thank you very much!" Mena shouted back. Her face was as red as a beet.

"Well, let's see you do it," Kyrin taunted.

Mena stalked over to the foot of the tree Kyrin was in. She closed her eyes and clenched her paws, then jumped and grabbed the tree.

"Congratulations," Kyrin said, clapping his paws. "You've latched onto a tree. Now climb up."

"Shut up! I'm working on it!" Mena shouted, scrambling on the tree trunk. She let out a surprised squeak as she slipped and landed back on the ground.

"Try again," Kyrin called. "And this time, see if you can get more than a foot off the ground."

The determined squirrelmaid bit her lip and latched on to the tree once more. Kyrin could tell by the way she was straining that she was having a hard time.

"You're makin' it difficult for yourself," Kyrin called as she nearly slipped again. "Stop thinking so hard an' relax. Let th' tree do the work for you."

With a good amount of difficulty, Mena made it up to the bough on which Kyrin was sitting. Seeing that her captive was in range, Mena grabbed at his tunic with a free paw. But Kyrin nimbly leaped over to a bough on an adjacent tree.

"Nice try, ol' lass. Better luck next time, wot!" Kyrin called cheerfully, imitating harespeech.

Ignoring the jibe, Mena hauled herself up onto the bough Kyrin was sitting on a moment ago. Kyrin smiled and shook his head. "Having trouble?" he called.

Mena was fuming at this point. "Just wait until I get my paws on you…"

"You're tryin' too hard," Kyrin said. "See the branch I'm standin' on? Did you know you can jump right to it from where you are right now?"

"How do I do that?!" Mena cried, exasperated

"Just let go of yourself," Kyrin answered. "Just let go of everything. Trust me. I won't hurt you, I promise."

Though Mena was in a predicament, something told her to trust the young thief. Closing her eyes, she jumped, feeling herself sail freely through the air. Sure enough, she landed on the branch Kyrin was standing on.

When she opened her eyes, Kyrin smiled at her and jumped to another branch. " Congratulations. How do you feel?"

Hiding a smile, Mena lunged at him. But Kyrin jumped yet again to another branch. "Good, you're learning fast," Kyrin complimented her, jumping away as she jumped after him.

After a bit of "practicing" – jumping around from tree to tree, Kyrin grinned mischievously. "Now, let's speed things up a bit, shall we?" With that, he bounded off into the woods, jumping from branch to branch.

"Gry, follow him!" Mena shouted.

"Right!"

Kyrin looked behind him and was surprised to see that Mena was actually gaining on him, slowly but surely. Setting his overconfidence aside, the young squirrel bounded through the treetops, Mena trailing close behind.

Mena found treehopping to be very easy. Having found her natural rhythm, she bounced freely through the trees, The trees whizzed by like an endless green blur. It felt nice being a squirrel.

Then, her dress snagged on a branch and she plummeted earthwards. It was a rather high drop.

Kyrin saw the squirrelmaid fall. Thinking fast, he turned around and bounded towards her falling form and leaped into the air, catching her. The only problem was landing the jump. With the extra weight of a creature in his arms, Kyrin couldn't plan and execute a good landing in time. He glanced off a branch, slammed into a tree trunk, and fell earthwards.

Of course, they landed straight in the camp of Orak the Assassin.

The Warlord's soldiers were geared up and lined up in neat ranks, ready to move out. The last thing they were expecting this fine dawn morning were two squirrels dropping out of the trees and landing in a heap in front of them.

"Kyrin?" Mena whispered desperately, shaking the still form lying beside her. "Kyrin, wake up, please…"

"Oy, wot's this? A couple o' lovebirds crashin' through th' trees?" a rat piped up as the vermin moved towards them, weapons at the ready. Upon hearing this, Mena quickly retracted her paws from Kyrin's body, as if she had just touched something disgusting.

"Sorry ter ruin yer 'unnymoon, eh?" an ermine snarled.

Just then, battle cries rang out from either side of the camp.

"Riverpawwwwww!"

"Yaaaaahhhhhhhhh!"

Gry and Firulan crashed through the underbrush, their weapons raised above their head, stopping dead when they realized who they were up against. The vermin just stared. An awkward pause followed. Nobeast moved.

"Wh-where am I?" Kyrin groaned as he woke, the stars fading in his head.

"Take a look around. Nice job, dimwit," Mena hissed.

"Give me your dagger and get behind me," Kyrin whispered aside to her.

"Not a chance!" Mena shot back. In a flash, she zipped forward, knocking down an ermine with eye-blurring speed. The rest of the vermin sprung into action.

"Kyrin!" Firulan called above the mounting noises of battle. As Kyrin turned, his friend tossed him his claymore. Now that he had a weapon, Kyrin got up and charged. "Stay close!" he shouted. "Don't let them get between us!"

Together, the squirrel, the mouse, and the otter constituted a fierce fighting unit. With their backs to each other, Kyrin punched a ferret in the face, Firulan sliced off a fox's paw, and Gry smashed a stoat's skull in with his oak mallet.

Mena, however, was an entirely different entity altogether. She elbowed a weasel grabbing at her arm and swept the footpaws out from under an oncoming fox.

"Fine mornin', isn't it?" Firulan called cheerily as he stabbed a rat through the head.

"What're you doin' here?" Kyrin shouted as he clotheslined a passing ermine with his forearm.

"I could ask ye th' same thing," Firulan replied. "But let's get ourselves outta here first, huh?"

Gry noticed Mena getting overpowered by hordes of vermin. "I'm goin' t' help Mena. Good luck, mates," he said. Roaring, the otter bowled a path towards the squirrelmaid, thus breaking with Kyrin and Firulan, who were subsequently overpowered and pinned down.

The vermin had just succeeded in surrounding Gry and Mena when Orak the Assassin, resplendent in full uniform, strode out, flanked by Deatheye and Kirsharr.

"What in Hellgates is going on here?!" the livid Assassin roared. He was answered by the groans of ten or so vermin lying on the ground.

Grabbing the nearest officer by the throat, the Assassin questioned him angrily. "Lieutenant, what is this?" he snarled, foam trickling on the corners of his mouth. "Why aren't my soldiers ready?!"

The soldier gestured weakly toward Kyrin, Firulan, Mena, and Gry being tied up and forced into a kneeling position by Orak's soldiers. "They lit'r'ly fell into our camp, Sire. We weren't expecting them at all, on me life we weren't!"

Dropping the lieutenant, Orak strode over to the four woodlanders, calmly drawing his rapier.

"Are you going to execute them here, my lord?" Deatheye asked off to the side.

At the sound of Deatheye's voice, Firulan looked up and recognized his parents' killer. "YOU!" he screamed, struggling in his bonds. "MURDERER! SCUM! I'LL KILL Y – " he was cut short by an ermine knocking him out cold with a spearbutt.

Orak turned towards Deatheye, cocking his head as if to say "do you know him?" Deatheye shrugged and shook his head.

The Warlord turned back to his captives. "I won't have you ruining my plans," he growled, brandishing his rapier, "so I'll make this qu – "

In his right mind, Orak the Assassin could, should, and would have killed the four of them on the spot. But when he saw Kyrin, the face of the mysterious mouse flashed inside his mind and morphed into that of Kyrin. That face…the mouse…that…squirrel?

You shall meet your end at the paw of the one you do not know and do not expect you shall meet your end at the paw of the one you do not know and do not expect you shall meet your end at the paw of the one you do not know and do not expect you shall meet…

A scream tore itself from Orak's throat as he stumbled backwards and fell. "Get…get away!" Orak screamed at nothing in particular, scrambling backwards as his soldiers rushed forward. "Get him away from me!"

"Should we tie him up?" Deatheye asked.

"Tie them up! Yes! I'll make their deaths nice and slow!" Orak shouted, grinning a half-crazed grin. His soldiers just looked at each other, perplexed.

Kyrin breathed a sigh of relief as the four of them were hauled off.

Tergen the goshawk understood the importance of his mission. He had to find Tam and warn him about the vermin camp up ahead, as well as help them plot a way to infiltrate the place and find Kyrin. Soaring through the blue sky, above the dew-kissed trees, the bird covered amazing ground in a few hours. Traveling solo was certainly much quicker than traveling with an entire army! As sharp as Tergen's eyes were, however, he was unable to see the search party. So, he did the only other thing he could.

On the ground, the entire search party heard the shrill cries of a goshawk ripping through the air.

"That must be Tergen," Tam announced excitedly. Reaching into his haversack, he took out the cherrywood flute that Abbot Cyrus had presented to him before he left. "Let's see if this works," he said, as he positioned the exquisite instrument and blew into it.

A smooth, warm, even sound echoed through the air mournfully. It was answered with more cries from Tergen.

"Well, keep goin', mate! Yore doin' well!" Skipper urged.

Tam kept playing. The sound of the flute seemed to envelope the entire landscape.

"Look out!" Doogy shouted.

"Duck n' cover, lads!" Ferdimond shouted.

Wham! Tergen slammed into the Warrior, sending him sprawling.

"Haha! Tergen! It's nice t' see ye back, friend!" Tam laughed.

"Wot news do ye bring from the Abbey?" Galwa asked. "Is everybeast alright?"

"Goodgood!" Tergen replied in his strange accent. "Tam, we go quiet from here on now! Melanda unscramble last part of riddle! Say 'vermin army camp!"

Doogy looked back at the riddle. "Och, nae good. It's prob'ly th' Assassin's camp, Tam." he said.

Tam realized what was happening immediately. "Well, if Martin dictates that we're walkin' into a vermin army camp, then we better keep our heads low. Stay down. Tergen, is th' camp far up ahead?"

Tergen shrugged. "Don't know. Tergen go look!" With that, the goshawk shot off like an arrow into the sky. He was back in a moment. "Kraaaa! Notgood! Vermin out there!"

Tam crouched down so he was eye level with the goshawk. "Did ye see Kyrin?" he pressed.

Tergen shook his feathered head.

"Then we have to hurry," Tam said. "Tergen, lead the way!"

They followed Tergen to the camp, taking cover behind a row of rocks.

"Would ye lookit that," Doogy exclaimed. "'Tis a whole army out there! Et's Orak's camp an' no mistake at that!"

Tam nodded. "Alright," he whispered, "Everybeast gather 'round. First things first, we're goin' t' get Kyrin out of there. Doogy, the hares, an' I will lead a group that'll get Kyrin out of there. The rest of ye, find Orak the Assassin an' see if we can't cut off the head of th' serpent. Once we've got Kyrin out of there, we'll join up with ye and try t' find Orak. Are we clear?"

"Sounds capital," Buckshaw answered. "I'd also suggest showerin' those blighters with arrows first and get them with a pincer movement. Wot d' ye say?"

Tam nodded. "Alright. Skipper, Log a Log, circle 'round an' see if you can locate Orak. You attack first an' draw their attention so we can find Kyrin, alright?"

"Got it, mate," Skipper said. "Code word for the start of the charge is "Redwall."

Tam clasped paws with the leaders. "Good luck to all!"

...


Chapter 26

The day turned out to be warmer than usual, and soon the mid-morning sun was shining bright over Mossflower. It was a nice day out, and even in his predicament Kyrin couldn't help but smart off to one of the ermine guarding him.

"'Scuse me, sir, but if you're goin' to tie me up, could you at least tie me up that way instead? The sun's in my eyes."

"Oho, is it now? Well, ye'll have my spear in yer eyes if'n yer don't shurrup!"

"Thank you for answering my question, sir."

Gry, Mena, Kyrin, and Firulan were tied up left to right, in that order, to thick wooden logs planted deep in the ground. They watched Deatheye and Kirsharr barking out orders to their subordinates. The guards were called over by Kirsharr, leaving the captives alone.

"Well, 'twas a good run, mates," Gry sighed. "At least we get t' die in the sun."

Firulan, who had recovered from being knocked unconscious, looked over at Kyrin. "Where were ya? I was lookin' for ya all mornin'. And who's th' maid? Did ya finally find somebeast who fancies ya? Good job! She's a real looker, mate!"

Kyrin bit his lip. "It's a really long story."

"No, I don't 'fancy' him, thank you very much," Mena cut in. "Your friend here has been stealing food from me and Gry for the past two days. Last night, he showed up again, so we taught him a little lesson or two."

"You forgot th' part where I escaped," Kyrin added dryly.

"Wait…so ye didn't cook all that food yoreself?" Firulan asked, perplexed.

"No," Kyrin muttered, staring at the ground.

"Mouse, your friend is the epitome of stupidity," Mena said sarcastically.

"Says the squirrel who can't climb trees," Kyrin snarled. She was really beginning to get on his nerves.

"At least I'm not using my abilities to get everybeast held hostage in a vermin camp."

"Firulan," Kyrin sighed, "this is Mena. Mena, Firulan. Firulan, Mena."

"Don't make friends with him, Firulan," Mena warned. "He's not trustworthy."

"Hey, lady," Firulan shot back, "Kyrin's a good friend whether he c'n cook or not!"

"Thanks, mate," Kyrin smiled as Mena just rolled her eyes.

"Oh, Kyrin? Gry still has a score to settle with you."

Kyrin looked over at the otter, who was glaring back fiercely. "You look good with that black eye," Kyrin offered, trying to diffuse the situation.

"If we live, yore dead," growled Gry.

"You attacked me first, just remember that," Kyrin replied coolly. Turning over to Firulan, he asked, "So which one killed your parents?"

"See that gray stoat over there with th' weird fur an' the strange-lookin' sword? That's him. 'E's a Captain in th' horde. I swear, I'm gonna murder 'im once we get out o' this mess."

"That is, if we get out of this mess," Kyrin glumly corrected him.

Mena probably would have made another caustic remark about Kyrin then and there had she not been so focused on cutting her bonds loose with a stone knife.

Kyrin looked over. "Hey, what's that?"

"It's your knife, silly."

"I thought you threw it away!"

Mena smiled. "I lied."

"YOU HAVE A KNIFE OF YOUR OWN, YOU GREEDY LITTLE – "

"Shh! They'll hear you!" scolded Mena, as she cut the last of her bonds. "We'll have to be quick about this," she said, as she freed Gry, then Firulan.

"Oh, sure. Free me last," Kyrin groused as Mena began cutting his through the ropes that bound him. "Hurry up! Are you intentionally doin' it slowly?"

"Hey, you want to do it yourself? That's fine by me," Mena replied. "There. That's the last one. You're free, unfortunately."

Kyrin glared at her as he snatched the knife from her paws.

"Where're our weapons?" Gry asked, looking around.

"Over there. I see 'em," Firulan pointed. "They just left 'em there."

"Forget the weapons!" Kyrin hissed. "Let's get outta here first!"

At that point, the vermin saw them and began advancing towards the group. "Hey! They're escapin'! Get 'em!"

Suddenly, a hail of arrows and slingstones cut down the vermin who were coming at them. Instinctively, Gry threw himself flat. "Wot's happenin'?!" he shouted.

Surprised, Kyrin looked and saw Skipper Traw and Log a Log Tarryk leading a contingent of otters and shrews, charging into the camp. The vermin army took position, firing a barrage of arrows at the oncoming foe. But there was no stopping the enemy, who smashed into the vermin ranks, slashing, stabbing, and hacking.

Firulan turned to Kyrin. "Are those th' Redwallers ye told me about?"

Kyrin nodded, dumbstruck. "Aye. Don't know what they're doing here though. But while they're distracted, get your weapons and let's go help 'em out!"

With that, the unlikely team ran forward and picked up their weapons. Kyrin picked up a thin-bladed sword lying abandoned on the field. "Here, catch," he said, tossing the sword to Mena. "You'll need this."

"I'm findin' that gray stoat an' killin' him!" Firulan growled, his eyes shining with vengeance.

"We're comin' with you," Kyrin told him. Firulan nodded and rushed off, Kyrin and company following close behind.

"I don't see 'Kyrin!" Galwa cried as the otters and the shrews battled their way into the camp. "Where is he?!"

Galwa peered among the swarming masses of vermin. "Wait…I think I see 'im. Great Seasons! Wot's he doin'? He's…he's fightin’ vermin with a mouse an' a squirrelmaid!"

"There's an otter over there, too!" Log a Log cried. "'E's not one of yore crew, is he, Skip?"

Skipper shook his head. "Never seen 'im before. I know me crew well. C'mon! Let's cut a path toward them!"

As they fought their way towards Kyrin, Skipper threw back his head and roared at the top of his lungs.

"REEEEEEEEEEEEEEEDWAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAALLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLL!"

His battle cry was answered by cries from the other side of the camp.

"EEEEULAAAAALIAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!"

"HAWAAAAAAY THE BRAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAWWWWW!"

Kyrin immediately recognized the battle cries and understood why the Redwallers had come in the first place. "They're here! We're saved! Father! Faaaaaaaatherrrrr!"

...

Tam stabbed a surprised ermine through the chest with the Sword of Martin. "Remember yore mission!" he shouted. "We're here t' find Kyrin!"

"Watch yerself!" Doogy called, as he parried a fox's broadsword. "We're fightin' hundreds of 'em!"

Orak stepped out of his tent, having recovered from the nightmarish visions plaguing him. He saw the logs and the severed ropes. "Find them!" he roared to whoever was standing nearby. "Find them and kill them! Especially that squirrel! I want him dead!"

The vole warriors, lead by Tam, Doogy, and the hares, charged forward, meeting the vermin head on.

"Do ye see him anywhere?!" Tam shouted to Buckshaw as he parried a ferret's spear.

"Can't find 'im anywhere among this blinkin' mess, old lad," the Colonel replied as he knocked out a stoat with a swift right hook to the jaw.

Tam stabbed a rat through the heart, pushing away his adversary's dead body. "Well, I can see Skipper an' Log a Log! C'mon! Let's fight our way to them! We'll be stronger once our forces are reunited!"

With that, they surged forward, driven to save Kyrin before the vermin found him.

...

Deatheye's soldiers were holding off quite well against the charge led by Skipper and Log a Log. The soldiers had formed what was essentially a multi-layered wall to protect from the ferocious onslaught of shrews and otters.

Deatheye surveyed the scene from behind his soldiers. "Kill them all! Take no prisoners!" he shouted. "We're in for it now! Fight your hardest!"

Led by Firulan, Kyrin and company broke through the stoat Captain's ranks. Firulan attacked Deatheye directly. "'S'death t' ye, vermin!" the mouse cried, launching himself at the stoat. In his haste, however, Firulan had no control over his attack, and he merely wounded Deatheye in the shoulder. The more experienced stoat immediately kicked Firulan in the face, laying him low.

Galwa saw it all. "There they are!" he shouted to Skipper as he took down an ermine soldier with his double-ended otter javelin. "I'll see if I can help 'em! That mouse looks pretty hurt!"

Before anybeast could stop Galwa, the otter, who was Skipper's strong right paw, smashed through Deatheye's defenses. He easily reached Kyrin. "Yore father's here, Kyrin! He's on th' other side of th' camp! Follow me!"

With that, Galwa lifted up the unconscious Firulan and started to run at full speed. "Come with me!"

Unfortunately, Deatheye saw the entire spectacle as well. As Galwa, Kyrin, Mena, and Gry ran towards the other side of the camp. The stoat picked up the otter javelin Galwa had dropped while carrying Firulan to safety. Using his good arm, the stoat hurled the weapon, intending to hit Kyrin.

Kyrin watched as Galwa's own javelin buried itself deep into his back. The otter stumbled and dropped down onto one knee, struggling to keep himself upright.

"Are you alright?" Kyrin asked frantically, running to the bleeding Galwa.

The otter looked up at Kyrin, smiling in his agony. "Look's like 'e got me, awright. Save yoreselves."

"No…no! You're goin' to be alright!..." Kyrin said frantically. "Gry, take Firulan an' Mena an' get outta here!"

"Right!" Gry nodded as he slung the unconscious Firulan on his back. "C'mon, Mena."

Kyrin turned back to Galwa. "Just hold on. I'll get you o – "

But the brave otter was already dead. Without a second thought, Kyrin bolted after Gry and Mena.

Orak and Kirsharr ran smack dab into each other on the battlefield.

"What are you doing?" Orak growled. "Where are your troops?"

"Circlin' around th' enemy, sire," Kirsharr replied. "We're gonna surround 'em! They'll all be dead!"

Orak's eyes narrowed. "They better be, for your sake."

...

Tam cut down an ermine with his sword. "I can't do this much longer! Where's Kyrin?!" he shouted.

"I don't know, but ye better find 'im fast!" Skipper cried. "Looks like the vermin're surroundin' the camp!"

Sure enough, the vermin were quickly circling around the campsite, weapons at the ready.

Gritting his teeth, Tam killed another foe. How long could he last?

Just then, Gry and Mena burst out of the crowd towards the Redwall Warrior. Tam's eyes widened. Trailing them was…was…

"KYYYYYYYYYYRIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIINNNNNN!"

"FATHER! FAAAAATHERRRRRRRR!"

Father and son embraced in the midst of battle. "Father, I'm sorry," Kyrin sobbed, as he squeezed his father tight.

"I thought I'd never see ye again," Tam cried, letting tears of joy run down his cheeks. He took his son's face in his paws. "Look at ye," he smiled, "all grown up."

Kyrin did nothing but smile, smile, and smile through his tears.

Doogy's urgent calling brought Tam back to the present. "Hoy! Better watch oot! They're startin' tae suroond us!"

"We better get out o' here," Tam said. "Forget findin' Orak. We'll all be killed if we stay any longer. RETREEEEEEEEAAAAAATTTT!"

...

Skipper heard the call to retreat as Deatheye's remaining soldiers scattered under the brutal onslaught of otters and shrews. "C'mon, mates!" he cried as he brained a weasel with his fist, "Let's join up with Tam an' his friends! Kyrin's been found! We can live t' fight another day! Let's go!"

A spine-tingling cheer rose from the otters and the shrews as they charged forward, steamrolling any who dared oppose them.

...

Valker and Fishtooth, the stoat duo under Orak the Assassin, were not having a good day. They had both been ready and eager to attack Redwall Abbey; they never imagined, in their wildest dreams, that a bunch of peaceful woodlanders would bring the fight to them so ferociously, let alone at all.

Using his battle axe, Valker killed a shrew who was running by. "It doesn't look good, eh, mucker?"

Fishtooth nodded. "Aye. Yore right there. Better do wot we can, though."

They watched the hopeless battle dwindle as the Redwallers retreated. Though it looked as though Orak the Assassin had won the day, nearly a hundred of his soldiers had been killed.

Just then, Fishtooth spotted Mena cutting down an ermine who had gotten too close. "Watch this," he grinned to Valker as he began spinning his chained scythe around and around.

As the Redwallers began fighting their way out, Kyrin saw Fishtooth throw the blade. "Mena, watch out!" he yelled. The squirrelmaid turned to see Kyrin jump in front of her. A jagged piece of metal seemed to grow out of the upper right portion of Kyrin's back. The next thing she knew, Mena heard Kyrin roaring as loud as he could as he pulled the chain in, one end lodged in his shoulder, and the other end still being clutched by a panicking Fishtooth.

"REEEEEEEEEEDWAAAAAAAAALLLLLL!"

Fishtooth let out a sigh and his eyes turned upward as Kyrin pulled his body into what seemed like an embrace. The stoat collapsed, dead from a stab through the heart.

A number of visions exploded in Kyrin's mind. Killing…I killed somebeast today…death…blood…oh no…so much blood…oh no what have I done what have I done what have I done…

"Kyrin!" Mena cried. The shock of what just happened froze the squirrelmaid to the spot. Kyrin looked over at her with this haunting, pained gaze in his eyes. Not physical pain…but something else much deeper…Then he fell, face down, bleeding.

Tam and Skipper ran over to the young squirrel's still form, aghast. Skipper turned Kyrin over and put an ear to his chest.

"'E's still alive, but he's fadin' fast! Let's get outta here!"

Tam carried the limp form of his son and ran, Skipper and Mena following close behind. Having done their work, the Redwallers retreated. Kirsharr's plan to surround the camp failed miserably. His soldiers were stretched out too far to be effective and were quickly dispersed by the fleeing Redwallers.

...

Orak was not in a good mood, to say the very least. As his bruised forces were organized back into their ranks, the Warlord took a deep breath and composed himself to the best of his ability. He had escaped from the battle relatively unscathed, the visions of the mysterious mouse – and squirrel – haunting him.

"Alright, pack your things," he said, barely keeping his voice level. "We're tracking those Redwallers down NOW!"

Deatheye knew it was best to keep his mouth shut, but Kirsharr didn't. "Don't ye think it's time we gave up this mission? I mean, look at th' troops! A tiny lot o' woodlanders beat us! How'll we do against an entire ab – "

Orak turned on him, livid. "You! You…you…worthless cretin! You let them escape!" The Assassin drew his rapier.

"Please, sire," Kirsharr begged, realizing too late that he had made a mistake, "I was only…"

The rapier flashed in the sun and Kirsharr's lifeless body slumped to the ground.

"Browntail, Krilel," Orak said calmly, as if nothing had happened.

"Sir!"

"Pick up the tracks of the Redwallers and chase after them. I want to know every move they make. Understand?"

"Yes, my lord!"

Orak wiped the blood off his sword and sheathed it. His eyes narrowed like slits.

"Move out!"

...

Chapter 27

Pikejaw Flint, Chief of the Flint voletribe, watched from the open window of his large reed hut as Tam and company staggered in, tired and covered in blood. The vole Chieftain, flanked by a few of his Warriors, rushed out to greet them.

“Arr, well, if it isn’t th’ brave Warrior Rakkety Tam MacBurl himself. Now there’s a familiar face that cou – ”

“Sorry, Chief,” Thorn cut him off cheekily. “We’ve urgent business t’ attend to. Do you voles have a hospital ‘round here or summat?”

Pikejaw Flint saw the scores of wounded beasts, and Kyrin being gently lain down by Tam and Doogy. “Of course, of course. My mistake,” he nodded. Turning, he reared his head back and shouted: “Get th’ stretchers! We’ve got wounded! C’mon! Step to it!”

About a score of voles ran up to the party, holding stretchers consisting of woven netting between oaken frames. With great expertise they lifted the wounded onto the stretchers and hurried off. Tam followed Pikejaw as they walked briskly to the Infirmary.

“Thank ye, Pikejaw,” Tam said gratefully. “I really don’t know how t’ repay ye.”

“Well, I’m just glad ye made it back in one piece!” Pikejaw chuckled. “An’ ye brought back my vole Warriors! That’s all I need! Oh, an’ congratulations on findin’ Kyrin!”

“He’s not lookin’ too good,” Tam grimaced. “An’ we lost a lot of brave fighters today.” He looked over at Skipper, who was sitting on a tree stump, stony-faced, obviously traumatized as Log a Log told him what had happened to Galwa.

“Lost his wingbeast, eh?” Pikejaw asked quietly. “Well, ‘tis war, Tam. Ye can never come out o’ it in one piece, ye know.”

Tam sighed. “Right, an’ Orak the Assassin is still on th’ move. We couldn’t find him during the battle, so he’s probably still alive. He’s prob’ly chasin’ us right now.”

“Aye,” Pikejaw nodded understandingly. “It’s hard bein’ on the run. But lissen, mate. Why don’t you an’ yore army stay here for th’ night? It’s very well hidden an’ we can provide ye with more food, supplies, an’ wotever ye might need.”

“We’d be honored,” Tam said, as Pikejaw pushed aside a leaf that acted as a shroud for a hospital tent, “But we have t’ leave tomorrow. If Orak doesn’t find us he’ll leave t’ find Redwall. Sorry we can’t stay, Pikejaw, but we can’t forget our mission.”

“Understood,” the vole Chieftain said. Turning to the stretcher-bearers, he ordered: “Put th’ young squirrel down here – an’ gentle now! Lissen, Tam, I gotta attend t’ other tents. I’ll be back, though.” With that, the burly vole left.

Tam sat on a log stump, watching as several voles, obviously medics, attend to his unconscious form. The Warrior closed his eyes, listening to the screams from wounded shrews and soldiers as arrowheads and broken sword shards were extracted from their bodies. He just hoped his son was alright; it would be shattering to lose Kyrin for five seasons, then be reunited with him at last, only to witness him getting brutally slain in battle.

His musings were interrupted as Mena, Gry, and a now-conscious Firulan entered the tent. Firulan winked cheekily at the Border Warrior. “Always a pleasure t’ meet ye.”

“Who are you?” Tam asked.

“Kyrin’s best friend,” Firulan said. “We met when he an’ I…”

While Firulan was telling Tam what had happened during the past week, Mena was fussing over the methods of the vole healers as they got the last bits of metal fragments from Kyrin’s wound.

“What are you doing? You’re not feeding that to him, are you?”

“Y-yes…”

“Well, pound those herbs finer! You’ll give him indigestion like that! And you! You call that a poultice?”

“’Scuse me, miss, but if ye’d kindly move out o’ th’ way…”

“Why would you use a poultice on a wound like that anyway?! Don’t you know mud is infectious? He’ll lose an arm like that! You, you, and you! Get me that pot of boiling water! Set some aside to cool! Staunch that bleeding! Make sure your paws are clean first! Make a tourniquet if you have to! Do you keep agrimonia? Yes? Well, step to it!”

Gry apologized to the chastened workers as they rushed back and forth to do Mena’s bidding. “Ye’ll have t’ fergive her. She gets awfully worked up when she’s around herbs an’ such.”

Firulan, who had finally finished telling Tam about his adventures, sidled over to Mena, who was busy checking Kyrin’s pulse.

“How’s my best friend doin’?” he asked, worried.

“He’ll live,” Mena replied, a little breathless. She turned to yell at a vole. “What are you doing?! One bowl of herbs! Not two!”

Firulan watched as Mena washed her hands in some rose water as she wrapped a clean white cloth around Kyrin’s shoulder wound. “Could you not look over my shoulder like that?” she snapped at Firulan, “It’s distracting me.”

“Kyrin’s really lucky t’ have ya, just sayin’,” Firulan said.

“Look,” Mena replied, “I’m a healer, and your friend’s condition is stable, but if we don’t help him – HEY! What’s that supposed to mean?!”

Firulan shifted, feigning innocence. “Oh, I dunno. Just sayin’ that it’s really...nice...of ya t’ suddenly care for him so much.”

Mena felt her cheeks redden as she turned away. “It’s my job,” she replied quickly, checking the cloth. “Good,” she muttered to herself, “The bleeding’s beginning to stop. Hand me another cloth over there, will you, Firulan?”

Firulan grinned cheekily as he handed her another cloth. “Sure thing, Missus MacBurl.”

Mena applied the second cloth resolutely and turned around, smiling sweetly at Firulan.

“We’re having a feast tonight,” she smiled. “I can already smell the herbs.”

“Ha, typical you,” Firulan chuckled sardonically. “You should see me eat.”

“Did you know?” she asked softly, leaning in closer, “that there are thousands of plants with medicinal values?”

“Yes,” Firulan replied, perplexed at the sudden change of topic. “Why?”

The beautiful squirrelmaid laughed quietly as she leaned in even closer. “Well, did you know, that about two hundred or so of these plants can be used to put creatures asleep forever. My father used to tell me about corsairs. If they didn’t like their Captains, then, heh, well, they’d slip one or two of these herbs into the food they’d cook for a feast…”

“Gotcha, miss,” Firulan replied, standing straight up and heading for the exit. “I needed t’ go an’ talk t’ Log a Log anyway.” He exited the tent hurriedly, nearing colliding with a medic who was just entering with a tower of bandage rolls.

“Alright. Bye,” Mena waved. “See you at the feast.”

Kyrin was walking through the foggy woods. The trunks of bare trees stood in the haze like ghosts. Where was he? How did he get here?

Then, a figure, stepping through the woods. Kyrin didn’t know what to do. Should he ask for help? Run, maybe? He couldn’t do either. He was rooted to the spot.

The figure drew closer. It was the mysterious mouse again. He touched Kyrin’s bad shoulder and spoke.

Son of a Warrior, awake!

Kyrin’s eyes opened suddenly. It was a nice, warm night, typical of Mossflower’s summer weather. He could hear crickets chirping in the distance. The crackle of fires that illuminated the starry night filled the air. He could smell warm broth and hear faint cheers, laughter, and merriment coming from elsewhere in the camp.

Surrounding him were a circle of familiar faces. His father, Doogy, the hares, Firulan, Gry, and Mena were all crowded around him. The young squirrel felt his shoulder. It was neatly bandaged and it didn’t hurt at all.

“Is…is it nighttime already?” Kyrin asked, rubbing his eyes. “Where am I? How long have I been out?”

“Not very long, son,” Tam said, ruffling his son’s headfur. “Yore in a vole camp. I’m just glad yore alive.”

Kyrin smiled. “You came all this way for me?”

Tam nodded. “Oh, an’ here’s yore necklace. I believe ye dropped it a while back.”

Kyrin took the little brass squirrel he had dropped five seasons ago. He bit his lip to keep the memories from welling up in him. Barulo…Barulo…Barulo…

“Thank you, father,” he smiled. “Are you hungry?”

Tam could sense the change in his son. “Yes, Kyrin, let’s go eat.”

“Yes, let’s. You won’t believe everything that’s happened in five seasons.”

“I do believe everything, Kyrin. Yore friend Firulan told me.”

“Ow,” Kyrin winced as he got off his cot. His wound still stung a little. “Who did this?” he asked, gesturing at his shoulder. “He definitely did a great job tyin’ these bandages.”

“I did,” Mena said, raising a paw. “You’re welcome.”

Kyrin saw she still had a bad attitude. “Thank you, Mena!” he shouted exaggeratingly.

Mena laughed dryly and she turned to go. “No need to shout, thief.”

“Are we really gonna start this again?” Kyrin called after her as everybeast began exiting the tent. He didn’t see the smirk that passed between the elders.

Mena flipped her headfur airily. “Just because I helped you out doesn’t mean we’re friends.”

“Who said I wanted t’ be your friend?”

“Nobeast. But just in case you were wondering…”

“Oh, I see! It’s a cover-up!”

“A cover-up for what?”

“Admit it,” Kyrin sneered, trailing her close behind. “You’re repressed.”

“I am not!” Mena shouted back, livid with rage. Suddenly, she slipped in a wet patch on the ground and fell down face first. Everybeast, even the elders, stood by, holding in their laughter.

Mena pulled herself up. Her face and her clothes were caked in mud. “You tripped me!” she shrieked, pointing accusingly at Kyrin.

Kyrin turned to the others with a perplexed expression on his face, then turned back to Mena. “How did I trip you?! You slipped!”

“You…you…ooooohhh!” Mena seethed. With her head held high, she stomped off.

There was silence. Then Kyrin turned around. “Did you just see that?!” he asked, incredulous. “And t’ think I saved her life today!”

Tam chuckled. “She’ll get over it with time. C’mon, everybeast. Food’s this way.”

Voles were not famous for holding big banquets. Instead, they were rather discreet about doing so. A large fire was built in the center, surrounded by tables and benches over which hung burlap tarps in case of rain. Beasts were crowded around trenchers of things such as stuffed chestnuts, watercress soup, fresh apple pies, leek and onion turnovers, and hot bread stuffed with hazelnuts. It was a great night, with high spirits and good cheer abound. Everybeast seemed to forget for a second that Orak the Assassin was lurking out there.

Kyrin sat beside his father and Doogy. “Nice night, huh?”

“Oh, ‘tis a braw night,” Doogy said, sipping from his bowl of soup. “Ah’m just glad we got a well-deserved break after days of marchin’!”

Tergen and the hares were an endless source of entertainment for the little voles, who crowded around them as they scoffed food like there was no tomorrow.

“Mmmff! Scrunch! I say, this pie tastes quite spiffin’, wot!”

“Certainly! Absolutely top hole!”

“Here, mista Ferdy, try sum o’ this cranb’ry tart. Mum made it all by herself.”

“Of course, m’ dear! Hey! Tergen, come back with my food, you rascally old bird!...”

“Heeheeheeheehee!”

Kyrin chuckled. “Old war comrades, father?”

“Aye,” Tam replied. “Showed up five seasons ago.”

“Strange thing, that,” Doogy added, “Ye don’t seem tae remember ‘em, Kyrin.”

“That’s ‘cos I did something bad an’ father locked me up in the Gatehouse,” Kyrin grinned.

Tam laughed. “Oh, hahahaha, right. Ye stole a pie, caused a mess in th’ Great Hall, an’ dropped a pie on Abbot Cyrus’ head.”

“Is he still around?”

“Oh ho ho, yes. We’re all doing well. Yore mother, Melanda, everybeast.”

“That’s good!”

“Wot have you been doin’?”

“Training to be a Warrior. Y’know, swordplay, that kind of thing.”

“Och! That’s mah claymore, ye wee scamp! Ye took et all those seasons ago!”

“Oh, right. Thanks, Doogy!”

“Just let ‘im keep it, mate. He’s probably used to that sword now anyway. Besides, we made ye a new one right after, right?”

“Eh, ah suppose…”

Kyrin saw Firulan and Gry sitting on the far end of the fire with Skipper. The mouse seemed to be getting along quite well with the otters. The young squirrel turned to Tam. “Excuse me, father.”

Tam nodded and smiled, and Kyrin went over and joined the group.

“Glad t’ see yore alright, mate,” Skipper laughed, slapping Kyrin on the back so hard he nearly fell over.

“I’m sorry about Galwa,” Kyrin said. “We owe our life to him. Me, Firulan, Gry, and Mena. All of us. I’ve never known him personally, but he was a great otter.”

Skipper smiled gratefully. “Heh, he hated sentiment an’ all that. He’d want us t’ enjoy ourselves tonight, not worry about him! But thanks, mate, it means a lot.”

Kyrin sat down next to Firulan. “I see you’re making friends with Gry?”

“Wot? Oh, right! ‘E’s a nice ‘un, Kyrin. You should get t’ know ‘im,” Firulan said cheerfully.

Kyrin looked over Firulan’s shoulder to Gry. “How’s it goin’, mate? No bad blood?”

Gry’s face was dead serious for a second. “You just watch yoreself.” They stared at each other for a second, then both burst out laughing. “It’s alright, mate,” Gry said good-naturedly. “I’d have given me a black eye if’n I was in yore position, too. It’s Mena ye gotta watch out for. She’s mad at ye, Kyrin. I know ye didn’t trip her. I saw it. Wonder wot’s up…”

“Shh…everybeast pay attention,” Firulan whispered urgently. “Come on, then, huddle in closer…ye smell that?”

“What?” Kyrin asked.

“That’s the smell of looooooooove,” Firulan teased.

Kyrin gave his best friend a shove. “Go get me a stick of bread so I can beat you with it.”

Firulan laughed out loud as he got up. “Alright. You stay right here. We’ll have a bread fight.”

Skipper shook his head at Kyrin and grinned. “’E’s a feisty ‘un, that mouse.”

The young squirrel looked over at Firulan, who was striking ridiculous overmasculine poses, making volemaids collapse with laughter. “He’s crazy, he’s off the wall, an’ he’s totally out of control. And that’s why he’s the best friend I ever had.”

Skipper shoved his bowl of watercress soup over to Kyrin. “Ye want this? I don’t like it. Not spicy at all! Can ye believe it? They live near water an’ they don’t even have watershrimp in here! Wot I would give for a bowl o’ shrimp an’ hotroot soup right now?”

“Puts a twinkle in yore eye, an’ all that,” Gry half-recited off to the side.

Skipper heard him and laughed loudly. “Hahaharr, yore right there, Gry! I’d rather me a stuffed chestnut. Would ye like one?”

“Eh, no, thanks, mate. I’m full.”

“Alright, well I’ll be back.”

Kyrin was suddenly dragged back as somebeast placed him in a chokehold with a long stick of bread.

“Ohhh! A-sassin-na-nated!” Firulan whooped. “Told ye we were gonna have a bread fight! Here’s yore stick o’ bread, mate. The dancin’s about t’ begin. Do ye dance?”

Kyrin shook his head. “Not tonight.”

They sat in good spirits, watching as young voles gyrated, tumbled, and swung around the fire to the fast-paced music. Kyrin watched Mena as she expertly twirled in the paws of a buff vole.

“I never knew she knew how t’ have fun,” Firulan commented. “She threatened t’ kill me today. Geesh.”

Kyrin shrugged. “But she’s a good dancer.” He watched intently, not taking his eyes off her once as she deftly spun round and round. Her silky headfur and her bushy tail were like a blur in the firelight. She was laughing and having a good time…

Firulan spoke Kyrin’s thoughts. “Pity she won’t talk t’ ya, though,” he remarked offhandedly.

Kyrin didn’t reply. He just smiled.

Eventually, the fire died down. Pikejaw Flint gathered everybeast in a circle. “Alright, everybeast,” he said solemnly, “Tonight’s been fun. Tomorrow, our friends leave bright an’ early. Anybeast who wants t’ go with them is welcome. An’ now, a moment of silence for our fallen friends and family…thank ye. Good night t’ all. Have a good rest, an’ I’ll see ye in th’ morn.”

That night, the moon hung in the air like a glowing crescent sliver. Kyrin slept on the dirt floor of the hut, staring at the stars, the sounds of laughter and music still in his head. It was hard to sleep on a serene night with Doogy, three hares, an entire ottercrew, and your best friend snoring several feet away.

Turning over to the sleeping form next to him, Kyrin whispered: “Mena. Hey, Mena…”

No answer. She was turned away from him. “…Good night,” Kyrin finished, turning back over onto his back, watching the ceiling, waiting for sleep to hit.

A few feet away, Mena’s hazel eyes stayed open. She was unable to sleep, too.

Orak’s soldiers sullenly stalked through a hidden path in the woods at night. The Assassin looked at his trackers. “Are you sure this is where they went?”

Krilel the ermine nodded. “Aye, my lord. I c’n smell th’ fresh tracks.”

“Good, because – ”

Suddenly an ermine screamed as he tripped and fell off the precarious path into a gully…and started sinking.

“Quicksand!”

Instinctively, the entire army panicked. Orak chose this time to act. While the others were scrambling away from the ledge, Orak quickly drew a dagger and stabbed Krilel through the heart.

The tracker’s eyes grew wide with shock as Orak drew him close. “You had a good run, Krilel. Thank you for telling me about Kirsharr. You’re a good spy. Too good, in fact. But you know too much now. Good night, Krilel.” Slipping his paw behind the tracker’s waist, Orak took back the fancy emerald dagger which he had presented Krilel. Pushing the dying ermine away from him, Orak retreated with the rest, the faint moonlight illuminating the insanity lurking beneath his features.

“Stay on the path!” he snarled. “We’re finding these woodlanders tonight!”

...

Chapter 28

Kyrin was woken up in the middle of the night to the sound of pawsteps. Could it be that mysterious mouse again? No, he told himself; he was wide awake this time. The fires were burning low over the camp – soon they would be out. But the pawsteps seemed to be getting nearer…and what was worse, it wasn’t the sound of a single creature, but a horde of creatures approaching.

Troubled, Kyrin woke Firulan up. Through a number of paw gestures and head nods they determined there was something wrong. Sneaking out of the hut without waking anybeast, the pair ducked through the rows of buildings, hiding in the shadows.

“There,” Kyrin whispered, pointing to a cluster of vermin, illuminated by the faint firelight.

“Should we alert the others?” Firulan asked, keeping his voice down.

“Aye, we should.”

They ran to Pikejaw’s cabin and told him the situation. The vole Chieftain chuckled. “Haha, we’ve dealt with this before. Are ye lads ‘ave good aim?”

Kyrin and Firulan nodded. “Good,” Pikejaw said, handing them each a leather sling, “Come with me.” The great Chieftain roused five other vole Warriors and motioned to them to follow. He motioned two other groups of five to go separate ways.

Together, they flanked the vermin army via a hidden side path that was obscured by bushes. Soon, the torch fires from the camp were out of sight. Pikejaw crouched low. “Lissen up, you two,” he whispered, “Those vermin are surrounded by pools of quicksand. We’re behind their army now, so if we hit them a few times, a couple of ‘em will get drowned, they’ll panic, an’ then they’ll have no choice but t’ retreat. Ye trust me; I’ve done this many times.”

They watched the vermin intently, then Pikejaw passed around the slingstones. Everybeast loaded the round, weighted projectiles into their weapons.

“Ready? On my signal. Then fire at will.”

They started twirling their slings round and round, when, as Kyrin thought they could twirl no faster, Pikejaw did a perfect, albeit earsplitting, impression of a cricket chirp.

Everybeast slung their stones. Kyrin watched as a couple vermin screamed and fell into the quicksand. Elsewhere, the pitter-patter of stones were being hurled. Kyrin immediately understood it was a multi-pronged ambush. Soon, the vermin retreated, leaving their unfortunate comrades to drown in the muck.

Pikejaw dropped low again. “Good job, mates. Too bad they found our general location. Looks like we’ll have t’ move th’ entire tribe tomorrow…”

“I wouldn’t worry about it,” Firulan said grimly. “They’re not after ya. They’re after him.” He looked over at Kyrin. “Remember? In th’ camp? When Orak saw ye? He was scared, mate, an’ not just scared like any normal beast. I mean he was frightened as if some prophecy had just come true or summat.”

Kyrin thought about it for a second, and the realization that he may be part of something more important seemed to galvanize him into action.

“Firulan’s right. Pikejaw, are there any secret paths out of here that lead back to the normal paths?”

“Aye, there are.”

“We’ll leave at dawn tomorrow by one of those secret paths. You’ll be safe.”

“How do ye know?”

“Trust me on this.”

Pikejaw breathed sharply. “Alright, I trust ye.” He turned to his voles. “Put out the fires. The rest of ye, good job tonight an’ thank ye. Now get some rest.”

As everybeast crept back to the camp, Kyrin tossed away the slingstones that had been given to him. He had not fired a single shot.

Nobeast ate the next morning. Under Tam’s orders from what Pikejaw had told him, everybeast part of the expedition was to assemble and then leave via one of the many secret paths connecting the camp to the main path. Pikejaw himself guided them out. “Good luck, friends,” he told the expedition as it moved out onto the main road. “We’ll meet again someday, an’ if’n ye ever need something, you know where t’ come lookin’.”

Tam shook the vole’s paw. “I can’t thank ye enough, Pikejaw.”

The Chieftain smiled so broadly that his eyes disappeared in his pudgy face. “Don’t worry about it. Just do me a favor an’ look after yore son. He’ll do great things one day.”

“I’m obliged,” Tam nodded.

As they left, Doogy looked over at Mena. “So, lassie, ye wanna sing ‘em a farewell?”

Mena turned around and sang. She had the voice of a mellifluous flute that was as delicate as the crystalline edges of a snowflake.

“Goodbye, farewell,

“We’ll see you one day,

“Where the earth meets the sky,

“Where the children play.

“Goodbye, farewell,

“But never forever,

“When time sets its course

“We’ll see you again.”

And so, the expedition set out, not knowing what the world had in store for them.

Unbeknownst to them, they were being watched.

“We’ll rest here,” Tam said at about midday, when the group had marched to a small clearing. A babbling stream ran through two knolls of fine, green grass. The shining sun was visible behind the surrounding trees. The air smelled like lilacs.

“It’s about bloody time!” Thorn shouted. “I’m starvin’, wot!”

Lunch was simple; everybeast ate very little, for they knew that they would be marching again soon. Besides, food needed to be conserved.

Kyrin sat with the expedition leaders, joined by Firulan and Gry. Together, they chatted and laughed and had a good time. Soon, though, his eyes wandered off to Mena, who was sitting by herself, apart from the rest of the group, eating her food.

Should he go talk to her? It wasn’t good to keep all this bad blood between them, especially when they were fighting for their lives against vermin. He decided that he’d had to do it sometime, so why not just get over with it now?

So the young squirrel strode over to where the squirrelmaid was.

“Hey,” Kyrin said, sitting down next to her on the grass.

“Hey,” Mena replied, focusing on her food.

Kyrin sighed, as if he were getting a huge burden off his chest. “Look, Mena, about yesterday…I never tripped you into that mud puddle. But if you still think I did, I guess I’ll take the blame. I’m sorry.”

For the first time, Mena smiled at him in earnest. “It’s alright,” she grinned. Kyrin was immediately struck by the observation that she had this roguish charm to her when she smiled, as if a bit of her adventurous spirit was brought forth.

“It is?” Kyrin asked, not expecting that as an answer.

“Mhmm,” Mena nodded. “I know you never tripped me. I was just…never mind.” She looked down, playing with her headfur.

There was an awkward silence. Kyrin decided to bring up a new topic. “So, I overheard that you were plannin’ to come t’ Redwall with us?”

Mena nodded. “Gry, too.”

Kyrin moved closer. She pretended not to notice. “What of your house?”

“Oh, that old thing,” Mena chuckled. “Don’t worry about it. We certainly don’t.”

“Why’s that?”

Mena stared at the ground for a few seconds. “I-I don’t tell everybeast this,” she said, suddenly very serious, “but it’ll help you make sense of everything.” She looked up at him. “Can I trust you to keep a secret?”

Kyrin stared into her wonderful hazel eyes. “Of course.”

Mena looked back down at the ground again and sighed. “Where to begin? Alright, well, I come from the southern part of the Northlands. I was born there and lived there all my life with my mother and father. We had our little farm to ourselves, and we lived in a loose-knit community with other Northlanders, so we’d have our connections and do trade with one another sometimes.”

Kyrin nodded understandingly as she went on.

“My parents were an unlikely pair,” Mena laughed, “My father was a healer, and…and I was really close to him. He was born without the use of his legs, so he’d spend day in, day out, learning the secrets of herbs. He’d make these medicines for me when I got sick. Other families in the area simply knew him as The Healer. He could cure any disease – colds, rheumatism, fever – you name it. He taught me everything I know…and he gave me this,” she indicated the small jewel set to the neck of her dress. “A mouse gave it to him after my father cured his son of pneumonia.”

Kyrin was intrigued. “…And your mother?”

Mena closed her eyes. “My mother was a natural-born Warrior. I mean, she had to be. She had a crippled husband and a young daughter to look after. For three seasons in a row she would work in the fields all by herself from sunrise to sunset. When I was old enough, she brought me along to help her. She always stayed loyal to the family, no matter how hard things got. Once, she even defeated a gang of trespassing foxes all by herself. Even though she was extremely tough and scared a lot of creatures with her size, she was also extremely compassionate and gentle when she had to be.”

“What happened?” Kyrin asked, afraid he already knew the answer.

Mena sighed and stared downwards again. “About three seasons ago, Orak the Assassin attacked. Our home was burned. My mother and father told me to run south and never look back. I never saw them again. So, I wandered for about a season, living off roots and berries and such. About half a season later, I met Gry, who actually lived near me when I still lived in the Northlands. And that was the first time I actually healed anybeast with herbs. He had nearly escaped death, too, except he was in worse shape than I was. So we decided to stick together. Gry came from a family of builders, so, with his help, we built a cabin together and tried to forget what had happened…”

“I’m…sorry about your family,” Kyrin offered. It was really the most he could do.

Mena looked up at him and smiled. “Thanks, Kyrin.”

There was another awkward pause, then Mena spoke. “You know, it’s funny. You’re actually the first squirrel I’ve seen in three seasons.”

“I’m honored,” Kyrin grinned, and she laughed.

“So you’re coming back to Redwall with us?”

“Yes. Oh, your father was just telling us about it. It seems wonderful. I look forward to living there.”

“Hmm…yeah.”

“The food there sounds great.”

“‘Great’ is an understatement, actually.”

“What’s it like living there?”

Kyrin looked up, as if he were fishing for an answer. “It’s the best anybeast could ask for, really.”

“We should eat. We’ll probably be moving again soon.”

“Aye, you’re right.”

They dined on a simple meal of bread, hazelnuts, and dandelion cordial together.

Mena smiled and closed her eyes, letting the wind caress her neck. “I love being out here,” she told Kyrin. “It feels so…peaceful.”

Kyrin washed down a mouthful of bread with a swig of cordial. “It definitely is. Summer in Mossflower Country is a great time for sure.”

Mena looked at him. “Do you feel a certain…sense of freedom when you’re out here? You know, you get that soaring feeling in you?”

Kyrin nodded. “Aye. Especially when I’m jumping through trees and everything. Nothing can stop me then.”

The squirrelmaid smiled again and sat back, relaxing. “I wish summer would last longer. I mean, I know it’s just started, but…oh, it’s just my favorite season.”

“Mine, too,” Kyrin said. She smiled at him and returned to gazing off at nothing in particular.

“So are we friends?” Kyrin asked, somewhat hesistantly.

“That sounds good,” she replied. There was another pause in the conversation. Then Mena turned to Kyrin. “So I don’t understand…what brought you out here in the first place?”

The smile on Kyrin’s face faded. Just then, Firulan came up to them. “Sorry t’ interrupt yore bondin’ time, mates, but we’re movin’ out now.”

Kyrin and Mena smiled at each other, then got up to go.

Unbeknownst to them, they were still being watched.

Deatheye did not like the situation he was in. “Alright, listen, troops,” he said, calling a meeting with fifty of his most loyal soldiers when the army stopped for a break. “Gather round. Does anybeast notice how strangely Orak’s been behaving recently?”

There were nods of agreement all around.

“Aye, an’ he’s forcin’ us t’ march day an’ night. This is th’ first time we’ve stopped since midnight!”

“I’m tellin’ ye, ‘e’s not right in th’ head.”

“Exactly,” Deatheye whispered. “I don’t know about you, but I’m not placing my life in the paws of somebeast like him. He’s definitely looking for something…or somebeast. It’s probably that little squirrel. Did you see Orak when he saw that little squirrel? Something tells me that the squirrel is the cause of his madness. I’m not sure, but what I am sure about is that we’re never going to get to Redwall like this. Look at the army. They haven’t slept at all. They’re in terrible shape and yet he’s still forcing them to march. If you stick with me, we’ll set our own pace and we’ll track them down in no time, instead of being forced to march without rest and search for woodlanders where they aren’t. If we move fast, maybe we can even beat them to Redwall. How does that sound?”

The other soldiers nodded. “Cap’n,” one of them asked, “wot if Orak notices?”

Deatheye looked over at Orak, who was pacing restlessly back and forth while the rest of his soldiers were dozing off. “He won’t,” the stoat reassured the hesitant soldier. “And even if he does, he won’t bother to give chase. Now are you all with me or not?”

The other soldiers looked at each other and nodded. They were about as tired of this treatment as Deatheye was.

“Alright,” Deatheye said, outlining their plan, “We get out of here and we’ll track them down, and then we’ll get ahead of them first so you can get some rest. Then, we’ll ambush them and see if we can kill them all. We’ll have the element of surprise and they’ll be crushed. Now move out!”

Chapter 29

Late afternoons in Mossflower Wood were renowned for their beauty. The sun turned the sky a fiery red as it dipped down behind the treeline. Larks made their final trills as they flew off into the horizon.

Tam watched the sky turn dark. “We should find a place t’ make camp soon,” he announced.

“Over there!” Log a Log pointed. “We can set up camp over in that grove next t’ those rocks.”

“Might not be enough space,” Gry observed.

Suddenly, a barbed arrow flew from the trees in front of them, transfixing a shrew right in the throat. Immediately the forest ahead of the Redwallers came alive with vermin, camouflaged in leaves and shrubbery, whooping loudly and firing volley after volley at the expedition.

“It’s an ambush!” somebeast roared. “Get down!”

Kyrin instinctively threw himself flat, watching as the arrows cut down two voles.

“We’re surrounded!” Skipper cried, knocking down a stoat who got too close.

“Looks like we’ll have t’ fight our way out, mates!” Tam shouted. “Watch yoreselves an’ don’t get separated! HAWAY THE BRAAAAAAAWW!”

With that, they charged at the oncoming enemy.

Deatheye decapitated a shrew who came too close as he searched for Kyrin. “Keep up the assault!” he shouted, as the expedition began to flee the site of battle. He then saw the squirrel, charging through the fray.

“I got you now,” the stoat Captain grinned. Running forward, he spilled the innards of an otter with his serrated sword then reached forward.

Kyrin felt a paw momentarily grab roughly at his tail. Then, suddenly, Firulan bolted past him and brained the mottle-furred stoat who had grabbed it.

Deatheye felt his back hit the ground as Firulan hit him in the face. The mouse was ferocious in his onslaught, continuously pummeling his adversary with his bare paws.

“Yore dead, stoat!” he heard Firulan shout. But Deatheye wasn’t Captain for nothing. Thinking fast, he snatched a pawful of earth and shoved it in Firulan’s face. As the mouse reached for his own face, Deatheye pushed him off and ran. The woodlanders were now quickly thundering through the ambush he had set. He had failed to kill Kyrin.

They all ran…screaming…blood…so much blood…they’re falling…in rows…red…running…running red…the voices…growing in number…breaking…lying dead…dead…dead…who am I?...what do I do?...what can I do?...where is the exit?...

“Aaaah!” Kyrin woke with a start. He had seen everything, from the killing of Barulo and the deaths of the Bloodwater rats to the recent events of the ambush earlier in the day. He sat up, shivering.

It was a cold night, and the moon hung in the air like a faraway specter watching him. Kyrin looked around. Everybeast was fast asleep around the flickering campfire, which was starting to die out. Kyrin moved closer to the flame so he could warm his paws of it. The heat of the firelight, coupled with the soothing sounds of night, helped him relax a little bit.

Kyrin moved over to a large tree, leaning his back up against the trunk, staring at the starry sky. A wave of sorrow washed over him, and the next thing he knew, he was crying silently. He buried his face in his paws and let the tears of regret flow freely down his face. He cried for the things he had done. He cried for the lives he had taken. He cried for the days wasted and the opportunities missed. It felt cold…cold…cold…

“Kyrin?”

A soft voice snapped him back to reality. Wiping his face with his arm, Kyrin looked around, trying hard to stifle the sobs still racking his body. Turning to his right, he saw Mena materialize out of the shadows.

“Still can’t sleep?”

“Aye.”

“Me neither. How’s your shoulder?”

“Better, thanks. Still kinda hurts, though.”

“What’s wrong? Have you been crying?”

Kyrin hesitated.

Mena gazed at him. “You have, haven’t you?”

“I had a nightmare,” Kyrin said, leaning back against the tree. “It’s nothing. Don’t worry about it.”

“About what?” Mena sat down beside him.

Kyrin breathed a ragged sigh. “Alright, well, you know how earlier today you asked how I came to live in Mossflower even though I’m from Redwall?”

Mena nodded encouragingly. “Go on…”

“It’s a long story. I was born the son of Rakkety Tam MacBurl, the Warrior of Redwall. But I was nothing like him. You were right about everything, Mena. I was a thief, a good-for-nothing. Everybeast hated me so much, yet because I was a Warrior’s son, they had such…such high expectations for me. I knew who I had to be – and even I wanted to be that creature…but I just couldn’t be that creature. Eventually, I ran away to Mossflower Wood and I lived with this old squirrel for a time. His name was Barulo, an’ I lived with him for a few days before he was killed by water rats, and then…”

Kyrin’s voice cracked, but he managed to regain composure and continue. “…An’ then I…killed all the water rats…every last one of them…” he watched as Mena’s eyes grew wide. “I regret doing what I did to this day. The guilt was, and still is, too much. So I went north after that and tried to start over. That’s where I met Firulan, you, and Gry. I wanted to escape it all…the killing and the death and…but I-I couldn’t. I even practiced swordplay for five seasons! I-I couldn’t even put the sword down!”

Kyrin paused, squeezing his eyes shut. “And then…when I…when I killed that vermin who wanted to kill you, it destroyed me. I can’t do anything…I just don’t know…” Kyrin pounded the ground in frustration. “…Who am I?” he asked himself out loud. “I’m frightened. I’m frightened.” He didn’t dare look at Mena. She was silent, anyway…

“I’m really glad you told me that,” Mena said softly, placing a gentle paw on Kyrin’s shoulder. “I like that you didn’t paint yourself as the victim. Instead, you took responsibility for your actions. That’s good!”

Kyrin looked at her as she continued. “I know it’s painful for you, Kyrin. I hate violence. I just want everybeast to put their weapons and stop the fighting! But we just can’t in this world. As long as there’s somebeast out there to threaten the well-being of other creatures, another has to stand up for the old, the weak, the sick! You are that one, Kyrin. I was wrong about everything. You’re not a thief at all. You’ve shown that you have courage, compassion, loyalty…” at this, Mena cast her eyes down. “…I never told you this, but…when you took that blade for me yesterday…it…it was the bravest thing I’ve ever seen in my life. Thank you.”

Kyrin let out a cathartic sigh. He didn’t have to say anything to let Mena see how much her words had affected him. He just sat and watched the stars, smiling.

“I hope I helped,” Mena added shyly. “I’m not used to speaking so much.”

“It did,” Kyrin replied. “Thanks.”

“I’m glad,” Mena said, moving closer and snuggling up against his shoulder. Kyrin was momentarily taken aback by her audacity, but it felt nice, so he relaxed.

“I just wish the whole world would just freeze,” Mena said. “Everybeast would stop what they were doing, and we’d have no sorrow, no war…”

They sat together for a while, her head on his shoulder. A thousand new thoughts ran through Kyrin’s head.

It was kind of strange, given the amount of time they had known each other. But Kyrin felt he had to ask. Eventually he would, anyway, so why wait? He did still have his doubts, though…

“Mena, when we get back to Redwall, and when this is all over, I was thinking maybe we could – ”

But Mena was already sleeping peacefully on Kyrin’s shoulder. Kyrin smiled. It didn’t hurt to wait a little longer. It would be worth it. He looked over at Doogy Plumm, who was sleeping close by, buried under four blankets, snoring uproariously. Kyrin grinned and carefully slid a footpaw over to Doogy’s slumbering form, expertly snatching the top blanket off and grabbing it. He draped the blanket over Mena’s body, watching as the corners of her mouth creased into a small smile. Soon, Kyrin was asleep too. The pain was gone.

Chapter 30

The next day, the expedition was on the move again. This time, though, Tam had realized that the way they were traveling was completely different from the way they came. Luckily for him, Log a Log Tarryk knew the rivers and tributaries of Mossflower Wood like the back of his paw.

“Should be smooth sailing from here,” the shrew Chieftain said, sketching a diagram in the ground with his rapier as the group stopped for lunch. “The River Moss has a tributary that runs south. It’ll lead us back t’ Redwall if we just stay on it.”

Tam smiled at Doogy. “Ye hear that? We’re goin’ home! Thanks, Log a Log.”

“An’ we can make it home afore th’ vermin find us,” Skipper added. “Then we can be at Redwall and help defend it should they show up.”

“So, traveling by boat it is, then?” Log a Log confirmed. Everybeast nodded. “Alright. I’ll go get the boats. Come on, shrews. We Guosim hide canoes in the strangest places, y’ know.”

They unpacked their lunch and ate. Kyrin came over and sat by his father.

“Guess wot, son?”

“What?”

“We’re goin’ home! Log a Log found a tributary of th’ River Moss that’ll lead us straight back to the Abbey!”

“Well, you know, shrews are helpful creatures,” Kyrin agreed. They sat in silence, nibbling on day-old bread and stuffed chestnuts.

“Father?”

“Yes?”

“Remember the time when you told me that being a Warrior required a sense of duty in order to protect the ones I love?”

Tam nodded. “Yes…”

“An’ you said when I had a sense of duty I’d understand?” Kyrin continued. “I understand now.”

Tam looked at his son and cocked his head, grinning. “Wot are ye tryin’ t’ tell me, Kyrin?”

Kyrin laughed and looked off into the distance, where Mena and Firulan were sitting, eating and joking around. Firulan was up to his normal comic antics and Mena was laughing so hard she was nearly choking on her food.

Tam smiled. “You’ve grown, Kyrin.” He ruffled his son’s ears fondly. “When we get back to Redwall, one day yore duty’ll be to protect all Redwallers.”

It was about an hour later when Log a Log and his shrews returned with the boats. “It’s a real pain carryin’ these around,” he grunted, “but these are th’ fastest craft in Mossflower an’ they’ll get us home quick.”

Firulan looked at the sweating shrews who were hauling the last of the canoes into view. “Fastest craft in Mossflower, hmm?” he mused. “Aye, it really shows.”

Log a Log grinned his biggest grin. “This way, mates. I’ll show ye the river.”

Orak the Assassin had not slept for an entire night. By now, he was running completely on fear and adrenaline. His soldiers were terrified of him and rushed to do his every bidding, no matter how outrageous or unpredictable the order.

His soldiers marched through the land, hauling boats they had stolen from the Flint voletribe. Pikejaw Flint had cleverly hid his entire village in underground tunnels the voles had dug in case of emergencies. Orak’s soldiers had subsequently plundered the village of all its belongings but luckily, nobeast was hurt. His trackers, led by Browntail, had picked up the trail left by the expedition again, and, moving on the double, Orak’s army was soon hearing the sound of running water.

“There’s the river,” Orak pointed. “Form up! Bring the boats! As we planned! Thirty to a boat! Let’s go!”

As the soldiers brought up the vessels, Deatheye’s soldiers came into view. The stoat saluted. “Just scouting ahead, my lord. They seem to be sailing down that river.”

“I see that, you idiot!” Orak snarled. “Now get a boat! We’re chasing them!”

The vermin had spotted Tam and the others climbing into the shrew logboats, ready to depart. Whooping and shouting, they started making their way over the grassy hill, running down towards their enemy and firing off arrows.

Skipper ducked as an arrow flew over his head. “They’ve spotted us, mates! Quickly! Get th’ boats in the water!”

“Hunt them down!” Orak roared. “I want them dead!”

The woodlanders got the last boat in the water, which carried Kyrin, Firulan, and ten Guosim shrews.

“Go! Let’s go!” Tam cried. The shrews, being the expert rowers that they were, propelled the canoes away from the banks, toward Redwall Abbey.

The vermin made it down to the banks and pushed and shoved each other to get into the boats. They had less expertise at rowing than the shrews did, but what they lacked in technique they made up for in sheer numbers.

“C’mon!” Tam shouted. “They’re in th’ water! Paddle faster!”

A couple voles turned around in their boats and aimed their bows high so as to not hit their allies behind them. They fired off a volley that knocked two or three vermin into the water, but a thousand ermine could not be stopped that easily.

An ermine got close to Kyrin’s canoe and actually grabbed it. He was rewarded with a quick smack to the face by the paddle Kyrin was holding. Kyrin looked up and saw Orak in the back, raving and foaming at the mouth.

“We’re never going to lose them!” he shouted above the sounds of war.

“What?!” a shrew shouted back, cupping his ear.

“I said we’re never going to lose them!!” Kyrin screamed. “We’ll have t’ do something about this!”

“Do ye have any plans?” Firulan shouted, “’Cos that would be great right now!”

Kyrin nodded. “Alright! Let me just think…” he noticed that they were nearing a fork in the stream. Log a Log seemed to be shouting and pointing to the left side. Kyrin looked over to the right side. The entrance was covered in dead branches. A thick, dead tree, rotting and chewed out by maggots, stood on the right bank.

“This is the plan!” Kyrin shouted to Firulan and the shrews in his canoe, “We’re goin’ t’ get on the right side an’ push that tree down and block off th’ river so the others can escape back to Redwall safely!”

“Are you sure about this?!!” a shrew shouted.

“It’s the only way!” Kyrin shouted back. Tam, who was in the boat ahead of his son, turned around, a look of shocked realization on his face.

“No, no…Kyrin, ye got t’ come home with us!”

“Father, just let me go. I know what I’m doing!”

“Kyrin, I didn’t come all the way out here just for this!”

“We won’t make it otherwise!”

“What if it doesn’t work? You’ll be separated from the rest of th’ group!”

“You’ll be safe, father! Redwall needs a Warrior! They’re after me, not you!”

“I WILL NOT LOSE YOU AGAIN!”

“JUST TRUST ME ON THIS! IT’S THE ONLY WAY!”

Tam stared at Kyrin for a second, then nodded. “Alright. Be safe, Kyrin.”

“See you back at Redwall,” Kyrin replied. Turning to the shrews, he roared: “Hard to starboard!”

The shrews looked at him for a second as if he were crazy, but they turned with all their might, and the logboat immediately turned at the last second. Now, Kyrin’s canoe was separated from the rest of the group by the strip of sharp rocks in between.

“C’mon! Firulan! You, you, an’ you! Come with me! Out of the boat!” Together, Kyrin, Firulan, and three other shrews climbed out of the canoe on to the bank. “They’re gettin’ closer!” Kyrin shouted. “Alright! Push the tree down so it lands across the two pathways! We’re blockin’ them off!”

They pushed as hard as they could. The tree just groaned.

“They’re comin’!” Firulan yelled, alarmed as the vermin got closer.

“Push harder!” Kyrin screamed. Grunting with exertion, they pushed with all their might.

CRRAAAAACCKKK! The trunk snapped and fell across the width of the river, just as Kyrin had planned. The tree fell in the water with a huge splash, smashing two vermin boats and crushing an unfortunate rat. Several other vermin vessels were going too fast and slammed into the tree trunk, capsizing and flipping their occupants into the water. It was complete and utter chaos.

Orak watched in frustration as Tam’s contingent fled. “Somebeast kill them!” he shouted. “I’ll take care of the little one!”

Deatheye and his soldiers hauled themselves up on the left bank, struggling to lift their canoes over the fallen tree trunk. Meanwhile, Orak took four other boats and directed them right.

Kyrin and his companions jumped into the canoe. “Let’s get back over to the others!” a shrew shouted.

“No time!” Kyrin shouted back. “We’re gettin’ chased by too many vermin! Our only hope now is to sail down these waters and hope for the best!”

The tree trunk did not do a good job blocking off the right side, unfortunately, and Orak’s soldiers easily ducked and sailed under it.

Kyrin turned back to his comrades. “PAAAAAADDDDDDLEEEE!” he shouted, digging his oar into the water as they shot forward at full speed.

Orak was gaining on his quarry! Drawing his sword, he grinned insanely. “Come to me, squirrel!” he laughed. “You’re dead now!”

Kyrin looked back and could see the dementia in Orak’s eyes. He drew his sword. They were probably going to fight then and there. The young Warrior prepared himself physically and mentally for the worst…

Just then, Firulan saw what was ahead of them. “WATERFAAAAALLL!” he screamed in alarm. Both Kyrin and Orak turned to look. In front of them, roaring and crashing, was what seemed like the edge of the world.

“What’ll we do?!” Firulan cried, desperate.

Kyrin looked at the waterfall, then at the vermin, then back at the waterfall. “We’ll have t’ make the drop! Hang on tight!” he shouted.

The world paused as they went over the edge.

Orak couldn’t stop his boat in time. “No! You fools! Stop the – ”

And down they fell, woodlander and vermin, into the misty depths below.

...

End of Book Two.

Book Three: The Warrior

Chapter 31

The water was cold and black, and seemed to ensnare Kyrin like a thousand invisible tendrils of darkness, pulling him down. He was sinking; he couldn’t breathe and could barely see what was going on around him. He could hear, however, and his world was drowned out by the sounds of wretched creatures floundering in the murky depths.

An ermine splashed into the water a few feet in front of the young Warrior. They locked eyes for a second in the fading light, then, suddenly, part of a canoe smashed through the depths, striking the ermine on the head and taking him down to a watery grave.

Instinctively, Kyrin was galvanized into action. He swam for safety, wherever it was. But the water and the cold made him sluggish and weak. Soon, the young squirrel closed his eyes.

He stood a snow-covered field this time. He wore nothing but a summer tunic, but even with the snow coming down and obscuring the sight in front of him, he did not feel the slightest bit cold.

Kyrin stared off into the distance. He could see the gray silhouette of a tree a few feet away. Next to it was a large rock. A little more to the right was…a mouse?

The mouse steadily got closer. Kyrin reached behind him to draw his sword, but something told him that the mysterious figure was a friend. So he relaxed and just stood there, waiting for the mouse to materialize out of the blizzard.

The mouse stepped forward, carrying a folded-up green habit in his paws. As he neared, Kyrin noticed the strength that seemed to radiate from the figure. The squirrel instantly felt a connection to this stranger.

The mouse said nothing as he stopped in front of Kyrin. He just stretched out both paws and offered the habit to the young Warrior. Kyrin reached out and accepted the garment. It was the same type of habit worn by Redwallers. As he unfolded the habit, a sword fell out into the snow. It was a beautiful weapon, with a gleaming blade that reflected the blinding white of the snow, and a large, red cut stone set into the pommel. Kyrin picked it up, weighing it in his paws. It felt perfect. He slipped the habit on. It felt warm and cozy. Kyrin looked at the strange mouse, who simply smiled.

“Thank you…Martin,” Kyrin said gratefully.

Suddenly the mouse slapped him across the face.

“Ow!” Kyrin cried as he came to. “What was that for?!!”

“Oh, good, yore awake,” he heard Firulan say. “Ye started mumblin’ in yore sleep an’ all. By the way, my name’s Firulan, not Martin. Get it right, hmm?”

Massaging a sore cheek, Kyrin looked around. It was dusk, and very little sunlight remained. Surrounding him were Firulan and the ten Guosim shrews that had went down the waterfall with him.

“Ungghhh…where am I?” Kyrin asked. He could hear the waterfall not far away.

“We’re hidin’ out, so keep yore voice down,” Firulan answered. “Orak’s soldiers are on th’ other bank. You must’ve blacked out. I saved ya…once again. That’s two ye owe me now.”

Kyrin became fully awake and alert at that statement. “Where’re the others? We’re separated!” he exclaimed, scrambling upright.

“It would seem so, yes,” Firulan replied analytically.

Kyrin breathed in and out a few times. “Alright, well…how do we get back up the waterfall from here?”

One of the shrews spoke up. “’S a long ways away, mate. I know these parts, an’ I’m tellin’ ye now we can’t just climb up the waterfall again. It’s way too high of a drop an’ way too steep. Waterfall’s part of a huge cliff face, but if we move inland, we can eventually go around th’ cliff, move uphill, an’ get back to Redwall. Streams aren’t the only way to go, ye know.”

Kyrin took this into consideration. “How long would this take?”

“If we travel fast, about two to three days before we’re on th’ right track again.”

Kyrin nodded. “I understand. That’s not too good, but it’s the best chance we’ve got.”

“Hoy, Kyrin,” Firulan hissed as he peered over the bushes to the opposite bank across the river, “Ye might want t’ come an’ see this.”

Kyrin and the shrews joined the mouse, observing burning campfires that dotted the night.

“Prob’ly Orak’s soldiers,” Firulan muttered. “We should move inland.”

“Great idea,” Kyrin replied. “We’ll move inland and we’ll travel by night and sleep during the day. That way it’ll be harder for Orak t’ ambush us in the darkness. You there, what’s your name, mate?”

The shrew that had spoke earlier replied: “Roco.”

“Roco, do you know the way back to Redwall from here?”

“Yes. But we have t’ watch out.”

“Alright,” Kyrin said, patting Roco’s shoulder. “Let’s move inland like Firulan said an’ get some sleep.”

Nobeast wanted to go near Orak the Assassin’s tent, but soldiers had peeked in more than once already. The ermine was hunched in the far corner of his spacious abode in a tight fetal position, mentally writhing in agony.

He was running. Always running. Behind him was that mouse of death…chasing him like an eternal specter…he felt trapped…what could he do?

Growling in frustration, Orak slashed madly at a pillow with his dagger, watching the down fly all over the place. When he was finished venting his emotions, he sat on the side of his bed, his head in his cold, clammy paws. Somebeast had replaced his wet clothes with new ones. Despite this, he still felt the effect of being pulled down into the murky depths…

He had taken five boats of soldiers with him, including his own. He had lost three. He had less than fifty soldiers with him now, and it was all because of this squirrel. Was all this really worth the effort? It had to be, he decided. He could not let this prophecy come true! He was Orak the Assassin! He mastered his destiny! What he said, went!

Slamming his paw into the soft mattress, Orak decided there was no time to waste.

Nobeast said a word as their leader, unkempt and exhausted, emerged from the tent.

“Move out!”

Skipper Traw sat by the campfire he had built with the help of Gry and a couple of his otters, eating a chunk of shrewbread and (finally) a bowl of shrimp n’ hotroot soup. He laughed as he remembered how they had narrowly escaped the majority of Orak’s forces earlier that day. His smile faded though, when he thought about Kyrin and Firulan, who, along with ten other shrews, had sacrificed themselves to buy the others more time. To make things worse, the vermin had certainly overcome that obstacle and were now on the prowl for them.

“No sign of Kyrin?” Skipper asked Tam, who came and sat down next to him with a flagon of ale in his paw.

“What makes ye think I was lookin’ for Kyrin?” Tam asked, chuckling.

“Wot were ye doin’?” Skipper asked as he put another branch into the campfire, watching the embers float up into the night sky, dancing as they went.

“Just gettin’ food. Why? Ye think I was waitin’ for him t’ show up?”

“Aye…”

Tam smiled. “Kyrin’s out there an’ he’s doin’ fine. Trust me.”

“How do ye know?”

“I just do,” Tam replied. “He’ll be fine. What I am worried about is him makin’ it back before Orak’s army does.”

“Aye, mate, yore right. I have no idea how prepared Redwall is for a vermin attack at th’ moment.”

“Or he would make it there with the entire vermin army on ‘is heels. I don’t know if I could stomach th’ thought.”

Mena sat down next to them, nodding and smiling shyly. Tam smiled back graciously.

“Thank you for savin’ my son. I thought I’d lose him.”

Mena stared at her plate of food, saying nothing.

“Wot’s the matter, miss?” Skipper asked, “Ye look worried.”

Mena sighed. “I just hope Kyrin and Firulan are alright.”

Skipper looked at Tam for a moment. Tam put a paw on Mena’s shoulder. “Don’t worry. Kyrin will be alright. Something, or somebeast, tells me he’s still alive. Firulan as well.”

Mena looked up. “Did you see what happened to them? They went down a waterfall with vermin chasing them. Are you sure he’s alive? Oh, if only there was a way to know…”

“Mena,” Tam spoke simply and effectively. The squirrelmaid stopped rambling and looked at the experienced Warrior in the eye. “Kyrin is very lucky to have ye as a friend, an’ I know he won’t just die for th’ ones he cares about. I’ve seen you two, an’ I’ve seen Kyrin with Firulan as well. They stick together no matter what. When things are like that, ye can guarantee they’ll survive.”

Though Tam’s words had no solid evidence to back up his assumptions, Mena felt better. “Thank you, sir,” she smiled, sighing.

“Please, call me Tam,” the Border Warrior said, standing up. “Alright, everybeast! We’re leavin’ bright an’ early tomorrow morning! As soon as the last of ye is done eating, put out that fire an’ get some rest! Tonight, the hares stand guard! Keep quiet an’ good night!”

Mena walked over to her improvised tent, made from a flap of spare boat canvas the shrews carried with them, hung on a rope tied between two trees and staked by its four corners to the ground. Gry was already asleep in it, snoring loudly.

Mena laid down on the soft ground, wrapping herself up in a blanket and placing her head down on a pillow, closing her eyes.

Mena…Hey, Mena…good night.

Chapter 32

Mena woke to a paw grabbing her roughly about the shoulders. Instinctively, she began to struggle when a familiar voice calmed her down.

“Steady on there, miss! No need t’ get yourself all in a tizzy, wot!”

Rubbing sleep from her eyes, Mena sat up as Ferdimond de Mayne, who had woken her up, roused Gry as well.

“Hmm? Wh- what’s going on?” the squirrelmaid asked.

Buckshaw’s voice was grave. “Keep your voice down. We’ve spotted enemy scouts in th’ vicinity.” He motioned for Thorn to keep his head down.

Mena immediately became alert. “Vermin?” she whispered, bewildered. “Who – ”

“Can’t be Orak; he went down that waterfall, wot,” Buckshaw replied. “It must be another ‘un – a Captain or something like that.”

The sounds of vermin drew closer. Soon, Mena could see the glow of torches in the nocturnal fog. “Great Seasons,” she gasped. “Rouse the others, Gry!”

Buckshaw held up a paw. “No need t’ do so. Just stay with us hares an’ do wot we say. If we engage them here and now in formal battle they’ll know we’re here. Now take cover! They’re gettin’ closer!”

Mena did as she was told. As the soldiers drew nearer she looked over to the hares. “Have you got any slings or bows?”

“Aye,” Thorn grimaced, “but we’re all out of ammo. Perfect timing, eh, wot?”

“We’ve been in such a hurry to get back t’ Redwall that we forgot to conserve our supplies. Blew the last of the ammo in th’ last few engagements, wot,” Buckshaw added.

“W-well, maybe the others will have some extra ammunition! I’ll go check!” Mena said, beginning to get up.

“No time for that, I’m afraid,” Buckshaw said grimly. “They’re too close. We’ll have t’ make do. Ferdimond, d’ you have the haversack with you?”

“This?” Ferdimond asked, holding up a dirty Redwall burlap bag. “This is wot we were eatin’ on duty tonight, wot,” the hare said, surprised.

Thorn massaged his jaw. “Hard as flippin’ rocks, too.”

“Hand it over, Captain,” Buckshaw ordered. “Thank you.” He turned the bag over and out fell a few of Friar Tobel’s hardtack scones, which had been packed many, many weeks ago.

Buckshaw picked one up, rolling around in his paw. “Thorn’s right. They’re so hard they’re inedible at this point. But – ” he said this with a twinkle in his eye – “they’d be proper for bashing in a few skulls, wot wot!”

“Surely you can’t be serious,” Mena said incredulously.

“Lady, it’s war. Anything goes,” Ferdimond smiled dryly, taking the scone from Buckshaw and loading it into his sling. He winked at the squirrelmaid. “Keep your head down, miss. You’re goin’ t’ like this, I assure you.”

The silhouettes of vermin soldiers, illuminated by the torches they were carrying, came into view.

Gry looked at Mena. “He’s really serious about usin’ that as a weapon, eh? Who would’ve thought? Slingscones. Ha, that’s a good ‘un. Slingscones. Get it?”

Mena never took her gaze off the approaching enemy. “Let’s just hope it works.”

Ferdimond picked out his enemy and began to whirl his sling. The weapon made an ominous swishing sound in the night, becoming a blur in the dim firelight until Mena thought it could go no faster. Then Ferdimond released the projectile. A second later, they all heard an audible thump as the scone whacked a stoat straight in the head. The stoat crumpled in a heap.

“Got ‘em. I think that was their leader,” Ferdimond grinned.

Buckshaw watched as the entire patrol dissolved into confusion. “Most likely was. Well done, old lad. The rest of you, keep your heads down and your mouths shut. We don’t want t’ give them anything to shoot at!”

“How’d ye know that was their leader?” Gry asked. “That was incredible!”

Ferdimond shrugged. “I guessed. Hah, imagine if I got the wrong vermin! We’d be bally well finished, eh, wot!”

Mena breathed a sigh of relief as the vermin retreated back into the haze, carrying their unconscious leader with them. “Well, let’s just hope they don’t come back again.”

“Right,” Buckshaw added. “Tomorrow, we need to resupply on provisions and ammo. But for now, get some rest. Not you, Thorn! You stay an’ stand watch with the rest of us jolly old hares.”

“I can’t see anythin’ through this fog,” Firulan groused as he, Kyrin, and the shrews made their way through the night.

Kyrin ignored him and focused on what was ahead. “Be careful now, everybeast. Watch your step. It’s goin’ t’ be hard t’ see through this haze. Roco, can we get a bearing?”

Roco, the trusty shrew navigator, chuckled. “Haha, we’ve still got a long ways t’ go ‘fore we get to Redwall. Just go straight an’ don’t worry about it.”

Kyrin turned and looked behind him to make sure everybeast was keeping up. “How’re you doing back there?” he asked the last shrew.

“Tired. I can barely keep my eyes open.”

“I’m sorry,” apologized Kyrin sincerely, “about everything. I got us into this mess, an’ I promise t’ get us out. But we need to outrun Orak before he and his forces reach Redwall Abbey, and the night’ll provide us with the most cover.”

“Oh, stow it, mate. Can’t ye see we’re with ya?” Firulan grinned. The other shrews voiced their agreement.

“Aye.”

“Wot he says.”

“Lead on.”

Kyrin smiled graciously. “Thanks, mates. Really. I don’t know what I’d – wait. Stop.”

Everybeast stalled in their tracks. “Wot is it?” asked Firulan, a little apprehensively.

“Shh! Do you hear that?” Kyrin asked, holding up a paw.

Everybeast cocked an ear for any suspicious sounds wafting through the misty night. Then a shrew spoke up:

“Aye, I hear it, too.”

“It’s distant,” another shrew observed.

“Could it be gettin’ closer?,” a third shrew asked.

“Sounds like…marchin’,” Firulan added grimly. “I c’n make out th’ sound. It’s a large army, an’ it’s prob’ly headed toward us.”

Kyrin nodded briskly. “Alright. Keep your heads down and move quickly. Don’t make any noise. Do you hear me? Not a sound. Looks like the vermin’re thinkin’ the same way we are. Well, they seem far away for the time being. Let’s keep going. I’m starting t’ think this fog is a good thing.”

Together, they moved through the darkness. Once or twice somebeast tripped and had to be helped up.

“They’re still followin’ us. I can hear ‘em!” Firulan growled. “I just wanna grab a vermin an’ twist ‘is head off!”

“You’ll get your chance,” said Kyrin reassuringly. But every step he took felt heavy, and every time he looked back, he thought he saw the fearsome silhouette of Orak the Assassin lurking in the shadows. Yes, you’ll get your chance, he thought, if we even make it out of here alive.

Deatheye woke up in a bleary, dizzy state. His vision was still fuzzy and the right side of his head was throbbing. He felt dried blood cling to his fur.

“Captain!” his soldiers had noticed that he had come to, and they gathered around him, all speaking at once.

“Are ye alright, sire?”

“Glad ye made it out alive!”

“Who knew a scone could be used as a weapon?”

So that’s what hit me, Deatheye thought. “I’m alright, everybeast,” he spoke. “Thank you for your concern. Now you and I are all very certain those were the woodlanders who we ran into back there. But here’s the plan: we’re not going to deal with them at the moment. We need to focus on getting to Redwall. So, my plan is that we move out and ignore them. Any objections?”

Nobeast spoke out against Deatheye’s decision.

“No? Good. Then get some rest. We’ll be up in a little while.”

Browntail the stoat shivered in the night as he led trackers through the night mist. It was bad enough having to navigate through low-visibility conditions during the dead of night when you were half-dead from hunger and exhaustion, and it was a totally different situation, in the worst way possible, when standing a few feet behind you, following you with his army, was your deranged leader.

He hated admitting to it, but the tracker stoat was being pushed to the breaking point at this moment, and he was sure that the others were, too.

Of course, though, Orak wouldn’t have any of it, so on they marched. Browntail’s mind wandered off to his days when he was just a bandit in the Northlands, roaming through the land, living as he pleased. It was a hard life, but at least he was his own master. Now, things had changed.

“It’s this way, my lord,” he said courteously, gesturing in the direction Kyrin and the others had went.

My lord. It was such a presumptuous thing. He hated all formal titles by now. Why should he also have to be the one, staring at the ground with his muzzle three inches into the dirt, checking for scents and pawprints?

He didn’t dare look at back at Orak. The warlord had not spoken in about two hours, and Browntail hated to be the first to test the Chief’s mood.

Sulking, the stoat continued tracking. He was under control, with no place to go. The only hope he had now was a haven of peace and plenty at the conquered Redwall Abbey. At least it would compensate for the nightmare he was currently going through.

Just paint yourself an image. Paint yourself a lie.

The horde sloshed through a large puddle of dirty water. Even through the dim torchlight, Browntail could quickly catch a glance of himself, his commander, and the rest of his horde. They were all unrecognizable.

Chapter 33

Despite the fact that the two sides were neck-to-neck in a critical race to Redwall Abbey, five days passed by quickly and uneventfully. Neither the expedition nor Deatheye’s army saw each other at all during this period of time.

It was starting to worry Tam. He was expecting a few encounters with the enemy. Yet not even a skirmish had happened. The rest of the party, however, was in high spirits. There had been an increasing amount of joking and merriment among the expedition. Nobeast was really taking orders very seriously. They were just excited about getting home after all this time.

The Border Warrior’s mind immediately floated over to Redwall. What if the vermin were already there, beating down the gates? Was his family safe? Silently, Tam cursed himself for letting his guard down. Yet there was nothing he could do to rally his soldiers. Nothing could convince them that they were still in the heat of battle.

He had not noticed that Wild Doogy Plumm and Ferdimond De Mayne had dropped behind to talk to him.

“Och, ah know that face,” Doogy grinned slyly, nudging his best friend’s ribs while taking a sip of shrewbeer, “Wot’s botherin’ ye noo, brave Warrior Tam, eh?”

Tam’s shoulders sunk at the sight of Doogy and Ferdimond taking life so easy. “Oh, come on, not ye too…?”

“Wot?” Doogy asked, perplexed, glancing at his beer mug. “Don’t tell me ye’ve lost yore sense o’ festivities, Tam!”

Tam didn’t know how to word his rebuttal for an entire army who didn’t think they were in any danger. “I haven’t, but…don’t ye think this isn’t th’ best time t’ relax? We’re not at Redwall yet.”

Ferdimond glanced up, as if expecting the enemy army to drop out from the sky. “Well, no sight of anybeast lately. They’re prob’ly killin’ each other over the last of their flippin’ supplies, wot. Typical vermin. I know ‘em better.”

Tam was at a loss for words as the expedition trudged on. There was no arguing with warm Mossflower weather and a sunny day.

Gry was the first to hear the pawsteps. “Do ye hear that?” he asked Skipper.

Skipper, whose mind was obviously on other things, didn’t answer. Gry tapped him on the shoulder, asking the question again.

“Oh, w-wot?” Skipper asked, whirling around suddenly.

“Do ye hear that?” Gry asked. “Sounds like somebeast marchin’.”

Skipper cocked an ear. “Aye, I hear that, too. They aren’t vermin, though. I don’t hear the clangin’ of weapons or the arguin’ and bickerin’. Probably friendly soldiers.”

“Maybe Kyrin’s come back?” Gry wondered aloud.

Just then, Log a Log spotted them. “Hoi! Pikejaw Flint! Good t’ see ye alive an’ well! Come on an’ join us!”

Tam watched as the entire voletribe materialized out of the thickets. There was much back-slapping and laughter going around as everybeast stopped marching to greet old friends.

Pikejaw walked up to Tam. “Is this a bad time?” he asked, grinning.

“Aye,” Tam replied. “We’ve – ”

“Wot Tam means tae say,” Doogy cut in rudely, shooting his friend a glare, “is that we’re all really happy tae have ye here an’ that we’d love tae share our food an’ drink with ye!”

Tam sighed, defeated. “Alright, well, keep marchin’. We’ve still got a while to go before we’re at Redwall.”

Meanwhile, Mena was having a little trouble with Tergen.

“Excuse me, but could you not stand on my shoulders like that? It’s bothering me.”

“Sorrysorry, Mena. Tergen tired. Tergen goin’ go t’ sleep now. Hush.”

Mena shook her head as she lifted the goshawk off her shoulders.

“Kraaa! Tergen no like to be handled!”

“Listen, Tergen,” Mena said, dropping her voice low, “You can get all the rest you want, but for now, I need you to find out where the vermin army is. After that, you come back and report to me. Then you can get all the sleep you want. Got it?”

Tergen cocked his head so his fearsome eye was facing the squirrelmaid.

Mena rolled her eyes. “Alright, here: if you do what I tell you, I’ll make you a potion that will have you sleeping like a stone tonight. I know you’re tired, but the rewards are greater if you just make this little run. What do you say?”

Tergen nodded complacently, then shot off into the sky like a feathery thunderbolt.

Mena was joined by Doogy. “Wot was that all aboot, lass?” Doogy asked, still sipping shrewbeer from a mug.

The squirrelmaid flipped her headfur behind her shoulders. “Somebeast has to take charge,” she replied, disgusted, as she moved up towards the front of the army.

Kyrin woke up just as the sun was beginning to go down. The air was a little cooler now, and the setting sun illuminated Mossflower Wood in shades of gold and green. Rubbing his eyes, the young Warrior looked around. The others were getting up as well.

Kyrin nudged a sleeping Firulan with his foot. “Hey, wake up.”

“Mmf…five more – yooch!” the mouse was startled awake by Kyrin sticking him in the behind with his sword. He sat up, rubbing where Kyrin had poked him and muttering. “Some friend you are, stabbin’ a young fella in his…”

“No sign of Orak,” Kyrin mused. “Well, that’s good. Roco!”

“Aye!”

“Do you recognize this place?”

“Aye! We’re close t’ home!”

“How close?”

“About one or two days!”

Kyrin let that sink in for a while. Then, he climbed up the tallest tree he could find.

Firulan and the shrews gathered around the base of the tree, wondering aloud what he was doing.

Kyrin hung from the tip of the tree with one paw, his footpaws resting on a branch as he used his other paw to shield his eyes from the burning evening sun.

And then he saw it, looming high above the treeline in the distance, enhanced by a backdrop of orange dusk sky. It was the weather vane of Redwall Abbey, perched atop the highest spire.

Kyrin smiled as he climbed down from the tree.

Firulan and the shrews surrounded him. “Well, wot did ye see?” a shrew asked.

Kyrin grinned a wide, genuine grin.

“Home!”

Now it was night, and Orak’s army was just about to fall apart. Very grudgingly, the soldiers had acquiesced when Orak ordered them to move out once again. Every bit of morale was crumbling like old ruins in a sandstorm.

Tonight they noticed Orak was walking very slowly. He was not wounded anytime recently, and his walk did not reflect that of a convalescent but that of a brooding, psychotic being, balancing on the fine line of insanity. Nobeast wanted to deal with him, let alone be near him.

Browntail the spy pushed past the weary troops and snarled branches, catching up with Orak. “Um, sire…” he whispered. No answer.

“I don’t want to be th’ bearer of bad news, but while ye was sleepin’, a bunch of yore soldiers up an’ left.”

“How many?” Orak rasped. His voice sounded like dry stone grating against metal.

“About a hundred, my lord.”

Orak’s shoulder’s tensed as if he were lifting something heavy. “Hmm…they left, didn’t they?” he said, almost soothingly. Browntail knew this was a bad sign, and backed up.

“They left, did they? Huh, well, leave me to die, will they? Leave me to die in the paws of my tormentor! They betrayed me. Who’s next?”

He whirled around. “Who is going to betray me, huh?!!” everybeast stopped and cast their eyes down as Orak’s voice rose to a never-before-heard screech.

“Do you want to kill me?!” he shrieked. “Me, Orak the Assassin! Conquerer of the Northlands! Master of my own destiny! And you dare cross me! Huh?! Do it and you’re dead! You hear me? Dead! I’ll kill you like I’ll kill that squirrel! Are you listening, squirrel? I’ll murder you! I’ll – ”

The Assassin drew his sword and slashed wildly in front of his stunned soldiers. This went on for a full minute until he collapsed, exhausted.

Nobeast wanted to move. They had seen the Assassin’s eyes. Each and every soldier stood dumbly, rooted to the spot, unsure of what to do, and afraid.

“Sir,” Browntail whispered, gingerly approaching the unpredictable leader, “I’ve spotted enemy tracks leadin’ just east of our position.”

Orak looked up, the corners of his mouth pulling up into a crooked grin. Without a word he dashed east, his dumbfounded army trying to keep up.

“Has anybeast seen Tergen?” Tam asked. “I haven’t seen him anywhere today.”

“We didn’t leave ‘im be’ind, did we?” an otter asked.

“Maybe ye would’ve noticed if ye weren’t partyin’ an’ drinkin’, eh?” Tam shot back. “It’s dark right now. Hopefully ‘e can see the light from our campfire an’ find his way back.”

“Kraa!”

“Perfect timing. Tergen, where were ye? We were getting’ worried…”

“Tam! Brave Warrior! Situation notgood! Enemy ahead of us!”

“Ye mean the vermin’re beating us t’ Redwall?”

“Aye! May be big trouble for us ahead! Kreeehaaaa!”

The camp fell silent. Apparently everybeast had heard what Tergen had to say.

Tam’s face turned hard as stone in the firelight. “Did ye hear that?” he asked. When nobeast spoke up, Tam continued: “I’ve been watchin’ our army these past few days. We’ve let our guard down. Just because nobeast attacked us in five days doesn’t mean they’ve forgotten about us. Now they’ve moved ahead of us. Is this wot ye want? Is this wot Redwall wants?”

Nobeast dared answer; they were too ashamed. Tam shook his head and sighed. “Alright, well, no use standin’ here yellin’ over things that’ve already happened. Put out that fire now. That’s an order! Get some sleep. Tomorrow, we’re movin’ out on the double, got it?”

“Yes sir!” Everybeast in the camp shouted jubilantly.

“Good,” Tam nodded, somewhat satisfied. “If ye want t’ apologize, now’s not th’ time t’ do it. Save it for when we get back.”

Mena was grinding herbs in a wooden bowl with Tergen watching over her shoulder as Tam walked by.

“Mena, stop wot yore doin’ an’ go t’ sleep,” Tam ordered.

“Sorry, sir,” Mena apologized. “Today I asked Tergen to go scout ahead, since everybeast was relaxing. And I promised to make him medicine that would help him sleep.”

Tam’s eyes widened. “It was you?” he asked, surprised.

Mena nodded. “I hope I helped,” she smiled.

Tam smiled back. “Ye did. Thank ye for showin’ everybeast we aren’t out of this yet. We’re lucky to have a resourceful maiden like yoreself on our side.”

Mena’s blush was obscured as the last fire was put out. “Carry on,” Tam said. “I’m goin’ to bed.”

“Be careful. Don’t trip,” Mena called after him. “Good night. There we go, Tergen. All done. This should help y – oh…you’re already asleep. Hmm…figures. Well, good night! Tomorrow’s a big day.”

Chapter 34

Kyrin and his forces had just started moving when they heard the thunderous pounding of the paws of several hundred vermin behind them.

“KILL THEM!” Orak roared as the vermin charged blindly through the trees and branches. A couple of the vermin pitched torches at the small quarry. Luckily, nothing – and nobeast – was set on fire, though the fire did make obvious the position of Kyrin and his forces.

A shrew shrieked and fell, transfixed by an arrow. Instinctively, Kyrin hurried to the wounded creature.

“Leave me, mate. I’m not goin’ t’ make it!”

“No!” Kyrin shouted. “It’s just your footpaw. Let me – ”

Kyrin stumbled back as another arrow hit the prostrate shrew in the head.

“They’re travelin’ at night?!” Firulan screamed as they began to run.

Kyrin realized his gamble had failed; the vermin were traveling by night, too! “Run! Run!” he shouted, as they broke into a disorganized retreat.

Another shrew fell, hit in the back by a spear.

“There! That way!” Kyrin shouted over the noise, gesturing wildly toward a cluster of leaves. “Let’s get there before we get cut off!”

Orak, foaming at the mouth, had other plans for his fleeing enemy, however.

“Burn them alive!”

In a flash, fire arrows began raining down around the survivors. A few arrows buried themselves deep into the trunks of trees, their flames smothered. Other arrows, however, shot too high and skimmed the canopy above, setting fire to the leaves. It was a windy night, and the fire soon spread. Within a few minutes it looked as if Mossflower were composed of giant flaming torches stuck in the ground.

Kyrin stumbled and nearly tripped. The flames were quickly licking up around him. He could feel the cold sweat run through his fur, despite the rising heat. A quick look behind him confirmed that Roco and two other shrews were still following him. Firulan and the others were nowhere to be seen. On the flip side, neither were the vermin, though their shouts could be heard over the crackle of flames eating through the undergrowth.

Another arrow whizzed through the air, snuffing out Roco’s life instantly. The other two shrews, not knowing that their comrade was dead, stopped to help him and quickly disappeared among the swarms of vermin.

Kyrin felt a chill run down his spine as the sight of Orak the Assassin, eyes glowing with the flames of vengeance, crashed through the night, embers licking up around him.

A snapping sound above Kyrin caught his attention, and the young Warrior barely avoided being crushed by a heavy flaming tree limb that smashed to earth. Smothering off a few embers which were threatening to ignite his tail, Kyrin continued running blindly, not knowing who was still alive and who wasn’t. He turned around to check, and all he saw were vermin chasing him at top speed. His footpaws threatening to give way from the shock of pounding the ground repeatedly, Kyrin forced himself onward.

“Kyrin! Kyrin!” a familiar voice sounded to his left. Turning, Kyrin saw Firulan fleeing from flames which were creeping down the tree trunks around him. Without a second thought the squirrel charged after his friend, sword drawn. He body-slammed a stoat who was grabbing at Firulan’s tunic, knocking the vermin down, and he kicked a ferret out of the way. “Where are the others?” Kyrin screamed.

“I don’t know!” shouted. “With some luck we’ll be able t’ find ‘em! C’mon! Let’s go!”

Together, the two of them ran wildly, zig-zagging between trees. Another salvo of flaming arrows landed in the trees right above them. Kyrin and Firulan threw themselves flat on instinct as a hail of embers rained down on them.

“Did you see anybeast still alive?” Kyrin gasped as they staggered up.

“I think most of th’ shrews escaped,” Firulan panted, “but – AAAAAAHHH!” his words were cut short as a large branch fell on him.

“Firulan!” screamed Kyrin in horror. He frantically tried to extricate his bleeding friend from the tree branch. Twice he had to retract his paws from the wood because it was still smoldering.

Looking around in a state of panic, Kyrin saw that the flames were beginning to encircle him. The vermin were also less than fifty feet away.

Sweating from heat and fear, Kyrin placed his paws on the tree limb again, ignoring the heat shooting through his palms. With all his might, he pushed it off Firulan. Carrying his friend on his back, Kyrin ran like he never ran before. A wall of flame stood in front of him, fire licking up like an embrace from Hellgates. Looking one last time behind him at the vermin charging like mad through the fray, Kyrin sucked in his breath and jumped through the fire with his friend on his back. The heat seared his flesh and burnt off chunks of his fur, but he just kept going. The smoke in the air made it hard to breathe and his adrenaline was beginning to wear off, making the pain all the more a reality for him.

Still being chased, Kyrin used the smoke as cover and took a sudden right, jumping off a mossy bank and sloshing across a stream, nearly spraining his ankle in the process. Having made it across the stream, he climbed up a tree and hid among the leaves, waiting for the noise to die down.

When he was sure nobeast was there Kyrin moved inland and laid Firulan down, putting an ear to the mouse’s chest to check for a heartbeat. Luckily, Firulan was still alive.

After taking a dip in the stream to cleanse his wounds and soothe his burns, Kyrin moved inland, curled up next to Firulan’s body, and blacked out once again.

The next morning, Tam’s expedition, having not forgotten the Redwall Champion’s stinging words from the night before, was up and moving before daybreak. Everybeast was in high spirits, but they knew to also keep their guard up in case of a vermin attack.

“Sleep well?” Gry asked Mena as Tam’s forces, augmented by Pikejaw Flint’s tribe, hustled along.

“Yes. Thank you, Gry. You?” Mena asked.

“Slept like a hare in a hammock.”

Mena laughed lightly. “You might want to take that back. I think I saw Colonel Buckshaw’s ears twitch for a second there.”

Gry chuckled. “I’m just happy today. Just like everybeast else.”

“I’ve noticed,” replied Mena. “Could it be that we’re almost home?”

“Most likely, aye. It’s been six days.”

“It’s funny…I feel like we’re in the middle of nowhere.”

“Well, we are walkin’ on land.”

“You know what I don’t get?”

“Wot?”

“That we’ve traveled on the river for the past few days and the vermin are still beating us?”

“Well, to be fair, th’ stream got shallow in a few places an’ it’s hard t’ coordinate movement. An’ now, we’ve got these voles comin’ along an’ we don’t have enough boats to fit them, so looks like we’re travelin’ by land for th’ rest of th’ trip.”

“Well, I just hope we’re almost home.”

“Ideally, Kyrin’ll be waitin’, right?”

“Oh, stop it, Gry.”

“Haha, I’m sorry, Mena. I couldn’t help it.”

“He’s just a friend, and I’d be absolutely heartless to say I didn’t care about his well-being. He fell off a waterfall, in case you’ve forgotten, Gry Riverpaw.”

“Aye.”

“‘Aye?’ Wh-what’s that supposed to mean?”

“Nothin’. Just agreein’ with ye.”

Mena shook her head. “If you’ll excuse me for a bit,” she huffed airily, “I have an urgent matter I need to attend.”

Gry shook his head and smiled. His smile changed to puzzlement as he saw Mena scramble up a tree in true squirrel fashion. The squirrelmaid lingered up in the top boughs for a second, and then she scrambled down twice as fast.

“Wot is it?” Gry asked, perplexed, as an ecstatic Mena dashed past him.

“Sir!” Mena called after Tam, catching up to him.

“Hi, Mena. Wot is it? Wot happened?” Tam asked quickly.

“Does Redwall Abbey happen to be tall?” Mena asked.

“Aye, it is, miss,” said Tam, not knowing why she was suddenly asking these questions.

“And does it have a weathervane on top?” Mena asked, sounded a little excited now.

“Why, yes it does,” Tam replied, starting to get the drift.

“I saw it!” Mena nearly shrieked. “Dead ahead! A few hours and we’ll be there!”

Something seemed to come over Tam. In an instant, the Warrior leapt upon a rock and cried: “Everybeast! Redwall Abbey has been sighted! We’re near home!”

An earthshaking roar of victory rose from the ragged army. For some, they were returning home at long last. For others, it was new start altogether.

While Tam’s expedition was cutting through the woods, Deatheye’s soldiers had taken control of a key path which led south to the Abbey. This did little to raise the spirits of his starving, exhausted troops. Beset by mounting problems, soldiers were beginning to desert. It got so bad at one point that several soldiers just put down their weapons, took off their uniforms, and walked off into the woods, never to return.

The stoat general, too, was verging on physical collapse. For the past three days, having exhausted all their remaining food and water, Deatheye’s soldiers had to fend for themselves in this unfamiliar land, foraging for roots and berries (a few soldiers fell ill or even died by eating the wrong ones) and hunting for small game fowl. A few soldiers had started to quarrel with the Captain, and even though, for a vermin, Deatheye had a saintly amount of patience, he was very tempted, at times, to let his serrated sword do the talking.

The stoat was all out of ideas on how to calm his troops, who were on the brink of all-out mutiny. Something needed to happen soon that could boost their morale for just a little longer. The problem was, Deatheye didn’t know what to do.

It was about mid-morning, though, when a miracle turned everything around.

One of Deatheye’s more loyal scouts, eager to know the progress of his Captain’s journey, climbed a tall tree (with a lot of difficulty, of course) and saw the red sandstone towers looming large over the treeline.

In an instant, Deatheye transformed this occasion into a means of boosting morale for his decrepit army. And it worked; there was no cheering involved, but by the looks on many of their faces, Deatheye’s soldiers appeared to be giving their leader one more chance. Deatheye smiled inwardly. Victory was in his grasp!

Chapter 35

Melanda MacBurl woke up late that fine morning in Redwall Abbey. A splitting headache the previous night confined her to bed. However, when she woke up, she felt much better. Plus, she received another message from Martin the Warrior: today was the day!

“Father Abbot!” she cried, as she hastily got dressed and sped to Abbot Cyrus’ study. “Father Abbot!”

The aging hedgehog smiled. “Easy there, young one. I was beginning to worry about you. You missed breakfast, you know.”

“Sorry,” Melanda panted, quietly shutting the door. “I had a headache.”

“A…Martin the Warrior sort of headache?” inquired the intrigued Abbot, leaning forth in his cozy chair.

“Yes,” Melanda nodded vigorously. “He came to me in a dream again last night. Then he smiled and put a paw on my shoulder and said ‘today is the day.’”

“Smiled and told you today is the day,” Abbot Cyrus mused. “This can only mean good news. Come, sit, my child. Your mother brought up a kettle of rosemary tea and hot blackberry scones just a little while ago. Help yourself.”

“Ah, she knows me so well!” Melanda smiled, sitting down in a chair opposite the Abbot. As the Recorder ate breakfast, Cyrus continued: “We’ll keep a lookout on the walls. It must be Tam bringing Kyrin home. After you finish eating, we’ll get your mother and call an assembly.”

By this time, Redwall had been completely fortified. The walls had been strengthened, the wooden ramparts dismantled and rebuilt. Most of the able-bodied Redwallers had been trained to use slings, bows and arrows, and crude spears, which were nothing more than sharpened wooden staves. A patrol system had been devised, with guards posted on every rampart imaginable. Every four turns of the hourglass meant they would switch off. That way, the walls would be constantly guarded. A network of underground escape routes, constructed from ancient subterranean passageways, was devised by Foremole Rull and his molecrew, in case of emergency.

The ringing of the Matthias and Methuselah Bells called everybeast to the Abbey Lawns. Abbot Cyrus emerged from the Great Hall, dressed in a freshly-pressed green habit, flanked by Melanda, Friar Tobel, Foremole Rull, and the Brothers and Sisters of Redwall.

At the sight of the Abbey leaders, the Redwallers quieted down immediately, anxiously waiting for news.

“Friends,” Abbot Cyrus announced loud and clear, grinning widely as he spoke: “Rakkety Tam MacBurl’s search party is coming home today!”

A wild cheer rose from the Redwallers.

“Hahaha! It’s been too long!”

“Hurr, this be’s th’ best news Oi’ve ever hurd ‘n moi loife!”

“Hooray! Redwall is saved!”

“Keep a look out on the walls!” Abbot Cyrus shouted over the revelers. “Friar Tobel! Bring lunch up to the ramparts!”

It was about high noon when Sister Armel peered over the North Wall ramparts for the thousandth time.

“Mother, eat your soup,” Melanda chided her. “It’ll go cold. Don’t worry. Father’ll come back. I’m sure of it.”

“Oh, don’t you go telling your mother what to do, young lady,” Armel laughed. “And I’m sure Tam will be back soon. I just wish he’d hurry up, though.” She took a drink from her soup bowl. “It’s a nice day out, isn’t it?”

Suddenly Melanda’s ears perked. “Listen, mother,” she pointed out toward the vast woods to the north. “Do you hear that?”

“Hear what?”

“Singing!”

Armel cocked an ear to listen. Sure enough, she heard something. It was very faint and distant, but it was growing louder.

"Home! Home! We’re finally coming home!

"To food, to drink, to family, and everything you desire!

"Home! Home! We’re finally coming home!

"To a comfy bed, to rest your head

"And a warm and cozy fire!"

Then, out of the dense woods stepped Tam, Doogy, the hares, an entire crew of otters, Log a Log and his shrews, and the Flint voletribe. The Redwallers whooped and cheered.

“Father! Father!” Melanda shouted, scrambling down the ramparts. “Open the gates!” she cried. “Open the gates!”

With a loud moan, the gates of Redwall Abbey opened, revealing Tam and his battered but triumphant army.

Armel and Melanda ran out to greet the Redwall Champion. “Oh, I’ve missed you so much!” Armel cried, throwing her arms around Tam’s neck. Tam lifted his mate into the air and spun her around. “We’re home!” he proclaimed triumphantly. Everybeast cheered.

“Father!” Melanda cried, jumping into Tam’s arms after he had put Armel down. “I’m so glad you’re home!”

There was a lot of paw-shaking, back-slapping, and hugging going on – and a lot of new acquaintances being made.

“Hello, Miss,” Melanda said to a squirrelmaid. “I don’t believe we’ve met before. What’s your name?”

“Mena.”

“Really? My name’s Melanda. I archive records here at Redwall.”

Pikejaw Flint and the rest of his tribe were wandering around, staring at the colossal Abbey in awe.

“It’s paradise!”

“Lookit this! Our new home!”

“No wonder why this place is so famous!”

Tam felt a surprisingly strong paw clamp down on his shoulder. He turned to face a smiling Abbot Cyrus.

“Rakkety Tam MacBurl. It’s good to have you back.”

“Thank ye, Father Abbot. It’s good t’ be back.”

“Where’s Kyrin?”

Everybeast fell silent, having realized that they had yet to see Kyrin.

“…We got…separated on the way,” Tam replied, bowing his head.

“How?” gasped Armel as she grabbed Tam’s arm and looked into his eyes.

Tam told them story of how Kyrin had went down a waterfall trying to ward off pursuing vermin, and how there were still vermin lurking about in Mossflower Wood.

“…But something tells me he’ll be alright,” Tam concluded. “’E’s much different now. Kyrin’s grown.”

Abbot Cyrus peered sternly over the top of his spectacles. “I trust you, Tam. And I believe in Kyrin as well. We’ll hold a vigil on the North Wall. All I can say is that I hope Kyrin doesn’t come running back with an army of vermin on his tail.”

With that the Redwallers stared out to the north, silent as night, waiting.

Kyrin woke up to the sound of a babbling stream. He was where he had passed out last night. Firulan was next to him, not moving. Scared, Kyrin checked Firulan’s pulse. Luckily, the mouse was still alive. Kyrin gave Firulan a shake. Thankfully, Firulan woke up.

“Wha – wh – where am I?”

Kyrin gave him a hug. “I thought you were a goner, mate.”

“Wot’re ya talkin’ ‘bout?” asked Firulan. “I don’t remember anythin’.”

“You nearly got killed by a falling tree branch last night,” Kyrin replied. “I’ll explain later. Did any of the Guosim make it out alive?”

“Aye!”

As if on cue, the five remaining Guosim materialized from the trees above.

“Aah!” Kyrin jumped. “I wasn’t expectin’ you guys! What – how did you make it out?!”

“We ran an’ followed ye like any smart shrew would do,” said one of the shrews.

Kyrin smiled, but his smile faded as he looked up at the sun, which was burning high in the sky.

“Great Seasons. How long were we out?”

“Well, it’s about noon right now,” a shrew replied.

“We didn’t wanna wake ye,” added another.

Kyrin sat down, dejected. “Great,” he groused, “Orak the Assassin is probably at Redwall right now beating down the gates.”

“Well, fortunately we didn’t stray too far from the course,” a shrew piped up. “I climbed the tree this morn an’ I saw that Redwall is pretty close by.”

“Well, what are we waiting for?” Kyrin asked frantically. “Let’s go before the entire Abbey falls under vermin control!”

“Did we lose Roco?” a shrew asked.

“Aye,” Kyrin said, nodding sadly. “I was there when he was killed. Five shrews have been killed, including him.”

There was an impromptu moment of silence held for the slain warriors. Then, they crossed back over the stream.

“Lookit,” Firulan pointed, bending down to inspect well-tramped earth. “Th’ vermin passed ‘ere last night.”

This brightened up Kyrin’s spirits a little. “Ha, they’re goin’ the wrong way!”

The others managed to laugh for the first time in a while.

“Really? Stupid vermin!”

“That’s hilarious!”

Kyrin nodded. “Alright. So, while Orak’s supposedly lost, let’s get back to Redwall before his soldiers find out they’re goin’ th’ wrong way! Come on!”

With that, the depleted contingent broke into a sprint in the right direction.

Abbot Cyrus turned the hourglass in his study again. “This is the fourth time I’ve turned it,” he complained. “I do hope Kyrin is alright.”

Tam, who had followed Cyrus into his study to assist the Abbot if need be, looked out the window, watching the shadows of the Abbey interior grow longer as the sun slowly disappeared behind the walls. He sighed as he noted everybeast still vigilantly waiting for Kyrin’s return.

“It’s just nice to know that everybeast cares enough t’ wait this out,” he said.

“Yes, my friend,” the Abbot replied, somewhat ruefully. “Too bad we didn’t see who he really was. It wasn’t anybeast’s fault, really, though, nobeast could – ”

“THEY’RE HOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOMMMME!”

The cry of a sentry jolted the two to attention.

“C’mon, Father Abbot!” Tam exclaimed, opening the door and letting the Abbot hurry through. “Let’s see wot everybeast out there is shoutin’ about!”

The gates opened and Kyrin, Firulan, and five shrews stumbled in, beaten and bruised, but very alive.

“REEEEEEDDDDWAAAAAALLLLLLLLLLLLLL!” Kyrin roared. The entire ramparts came alive with shouts and whoops of joy.

“Kyrin! Kyrin!” Before he knew it, Kyrin was swept up by his mother and sister, who squeezed him tight.

“Kyrin! Look at how you’ve grown! Oh, you’ve scared us so much!” sobbed Armel, tears running down her face. “I thought we’d never see you again!”

“Promise us you’ll never run away like that again! Promise!” added a tearful Melanda.

They parted the embrace. “Don’t worry,” Kyrin smiled as all the Abbeydwellers climbed down the ramparts to surround him. “I’m here to stay. Ah, Father Abbot. How are you? I’m home.”

“Yes, home you are indeed, young rip!” the Abbot laughed as Tam ran over to his son and lifted him high into the air.

“C’mon! Don’t I get a nice welcome ceremony?” Firulan protested loudly. But any grievances he had were drowned out as the Redwallers let out three cheers in unison.

“Hurrah! Hurrah! Hurrah!”

There were murmurs of amazement as Tam put Kyrin down.

“My, how he’s grown!”

“What a fine young squirrel he turned out to be!”

“Just ‘ope ‘e doesn’t prank us again! Hahaha!”

A squirrelmaid ran up to Kyrin and punched him hard on the shoulder.

“Ow!” Kyrin exclaimed. “What was that for?”

Mena’s attempt at pulling a stern, angry face failed completely as she broke out into a huge smile and threw her arms around Kyrin. Kyrin pulled her in close, enjoying the moment.

“You need a bath,” he whispered in her ear.

She drew back abruptly, one paw behind her neck in embarrassment. “Oh, er, do I? Uh, haha, sorry,” Mena chuckled awkwardly, turning bright red.

“I think we all do,” Kyrin added, trying to defuse some of the awkwardness. He didn’t see the smirk that passed between some of the elders.

“Who did you and your father bring home, Kyrin?” asked Abbot Cyrus.

“Father Abbot,” Kyrin announced, stepping back and bowing respectfully, “This is my friend, Firulan. The squirrelmaid there is my friend Mena. The otter over there is named Gry. These are some of Log a Log’s Guosim shrews. We couldn’t have made it back without them. My father brought with him a tribe of voles led by Chief Pikejaw Flint who helped us along the way.”

“Welcome, one and all!” the Father Abbot said. “As long as you come with love in your heart, the gates of Redwall will be forever open to you!”

Everybeast surrounded Kyrin at once.

“Wot happened these five seasons, Kyrin? Ye’ve changed so much!”

“Burr, ye’ve gotten bigger, ye ‘arve.”

“Kyrin, would you please tell us what happ – ”

“He’ll tell you at the feast,” Abbot Cyrus cut in, winking at Kyrin.

Gasps of happiness were heard amongst the crowd, especially amongst the Dibbuns.

“The feast, Father Abbot?” Melanda asked. “Why, we haven’t prepared, have we?”

Abbot Cyrus smiled slyly. “Don’t be so sure.”

Just then, the doors to the Great Hall swung open. The Redwallers marveled aloud at the savory smells that wafted through the air.

Friar Tobel stood in the doorway, Hat on head, ladle in paw. “Dinner is served!” he announced.

Tergen did a loop-de-loop in midair and the twin Redwall bells tolled out joyfully as Kyrin (and Firulan) were hoisted on the shoulders of cheering Redwallers as they were brought inside.

After five long seasons, the son of the Warrior had returned.

Chapter 36

Kyrin could not stop looking around as he entered the Great Hall. Five seasons away from home seemed to be an eternity, but he seemed to remember everything about the place down to the last stone in the wall. Over to his left, the ornate tapestry of Martin the Warrior, woven by skillful paws countless seasons ago, caught the young Warrior’s eye. Martin seemed to stare straight back at Kyrin as he and a crowd of Redwallers walked past. The Warrior mouse, silent but strong, was just like the one which appeared so often in his visions. And for the first time, Kyrin thought he noticed a roguish glint in the Founder’s eye which he immediately identified with.

Firulan broke into his thoughts. “Is this where ya grew up?” he whispered, marveling at the sheer size of the room. “’S incredible!”

“Aye, but wait ‘til you see the rest of it!” Kyrin whispered back.

“Kyrin, do you remember this place?” Abbot Cyrus asked from behind them.

“Yes, Father Abbot,” Kyrin replied, still looking taking it all in, “I do. I remember the day I stole a pie from Friar Tobel’s kitchens and his entire crew had to chase me through this very hall.”

Everybeast chuckled. “And what happened then, hmm?” the Abbot inquired, fishing for an answer.

Kyrin turned around and grinned widely. “I bumped into you and th’ pie splattered all over your head.”

The crowd dissolved in helpless mirth. “Kyrin MacBurl, everybeast!” Firulan announced, gesturing enthusiastically toward his friend.

After the laughter died down, Abbot Cyrus added: “It’s good to be home, isn’t it?”

“Yes, it is, Father Abbot.” chuckled Kyrin.

“We’ll show you yore old bed later. Prob’ly too small for ye by now, th’ fat liddle rogue y’ are.” Tam teased his son.

“I’d actually like that, father,” replied Kyrin. “I’m so tired, I’m probably goin’ t’ fall asleep while I’m eating tonight.”

“Tell us, Kyrin,” Abbot Cyrus said, speaking up for everybeast, “what did you see out there?”

Kyrin told his enthralled audience everything that had happened during his five seasons in the woods. While he told the story he looked around, and he could tell that everybeast was marveling not at his tales, but the complete and utter transformation he had undergone.

“…And that concludes my story,” Kyrin finished definitively to an enormous round of applause.

Friar Tobel cleared his throat. “Ahem, well, yes, Kyrin. Thank you for that wonderful story. It really keeps us occupied while the food cools down, hmm?” The fat vole smiled and winked at the young Warrior.

“Well spoken, Friar Tobel,” Kyrin grinned. “Army marches on its stomach, doncha know,” he added, doing a perfect imitation of harespeech. Everybeast laughed.

Ferdimond De Mayne’s face turned bright red and his ears stood up stock still. “I say, we don’t sound like that!” he huffed indignantly. He turned to Thorn. “…Do we?”

The Private patted his belly. “I suppose we do, old lad.”

“Wait!” Abbot Cyrus interrupted, holding up a paw. “I think that before any of us even touch the food, young Kyrin MacBurl here should have the honor of taking the first sip of Brother Burlop’s Homecoming Honeydew Cider! What do you say?”

There was a unanimous shout of agreement among the Redwallers.

The kindly hedgehog turned to Kyrin and smiled. “Well, Kyrin,” he said, beckoning for the youngster to sit on a cushioned wooden chair as the Redwallers crowded around the table, “Redwall has spoken. Take the first drink.”

“Thank you, Father Abbot,” Kyrin smiled graciously.

Brother Burlop, Keeper of the Cellars, flounced over behind Kyrin, holding a mug filled to the brim with a frothy liquid. “Here ye go, young ‘un!” he grinned. “Welcome home!”

Kyrin held up the cup to toast everybeast. “Thanks one and all. It’s good to be back.”

With that, he took a long sip from the mug. Before he even swallowed, though, Kyrin could hear titters and suppressed laughter amongst his fellow Redwallers.

Kyrin put down the mug, curious. “What?” he asked. As he opened his mouth, the entire Great Hall dissolved in helpless laughter.

“Heeheehee, better check your teeth!” Melanda giggled hysterically.

“Five seasons! One would think ye’d learned some hygiene out there!” Skipper added.

Kyrin looked at his reflection on the side of his ale mug and bared his teeth. “Oh, come on…” he grinned, looking up. His teeth had been stained black with ink!

Abbot Cyrus winked roguishly at Kyrin. “What goes around comes around, eh?”

The Redwallers fell on the floor, laughing so hard that tears popped from their eyes.

After everybeast had settled down and found a seat, Abbot Cyrus stood up and spoke.

“I do not know exactly what happened while our brave warriors were out there searching for Kyrin, and I do not know all the details of Kyrin’s life during the past five seasons. However, what I do know is this: everybeast has put forth a great deal of time and effort for the well-being of our Abbey and its inhabitants. We’ve lost a good number of close friends, whom we will always keep dear in our hearts, and we’ve made many new friends along the way. Now, Kyrin and Tam have told me that the vermin are leaderless, scattered, and disoriented. With this in mind, I feel that tonight is a safe night to have a feast and celebrate all of our efforts over these past five seasons up to today. So first, I ask for a moment of silence for those on the expedition who gave their lives so Kyrin could be home safe and sound…thank you. Secondly, we need to get food for the guards. Skipper, take a few volunteers with you to distribute food to those still vigilantly guarding our Abbey. Don’t forget to thank them for doing such a fine job. Thirdly, it’s a nice night and the moon is out. You are all permitted to go eat outside. Just don’t wander away from the Abbey – this applies especially to Dibbuns. Now, for the most important part of the evening: let’s eat!”

Instantly the Great Hall came alive with the sounds of hustle and bustle as the Redwallers dug in to their food and Friar Tobel’s kitchen assistants hurried around, putting plates and pots of food on the table.

Kyrin sat down with his family for a while, and they talked for a little while.

“So, Kyrin, do you remember what Redwall Abbey looks like?” smiled Sister Armel.

“It looks exactly the same as I left it, Mother.” Kyrin replied happily, swallowing a chunk of oatbread.

“Aye, but ye should’ve seen the improvements we’ve made since ye left,” Tam pointed out. “For example, did ye notice how th’ gates were reinforced with iron? Me an’ Skipper, we did that ourselves.”

“Waiting for Orak, huh?” Kyrin asked.

“Aye, but with yore return, all of Redwall’s finest Warriors are home, so we’ll be ready,” Tam replied.

Kyrin pulled a face. “Oh, come on, Father. I don’t know if I can be called a Warrior yet…”

Tam looked his son in the eye. “You have that spirit, Kyrin. It’s in everything ye do an’ say. Ye got rid of yore old habits of thievery and trickery, survived alone in the woods for five whole seasons, then put yoreself on the line for our sake when we were bein’ chased by vermin on th’ river, an’ got yoreself home even after yore boat went down a waterfall. A lesser beast couldn’t’ve done you did, son.”

Kyrin would have smiled at his proud father, had it not been for Melanda squeezing his shoulders.

“You’ve gotten so big!” Melanda exclaimed. “Look at how broad your shoulders are! Finally got around to that swordplay, huh?”

“Aye,” said Kyrin. “For about five seasons nonstop. Though it’s Doogy’s sword. I stole it all those seasons ago.”

“Och, jes’ let ‘im keep th’ auld thing,” Doogy said dismissively a few seats down the table. “Ah got me a better sword.”

Melanda clasped her brother’s paw. “You have to tell me more about what went on! By Martin! This will make a great addition to the chronicles…”

“Melanda, let Kyrin be,” Tam broke in. “Kyrin, would ye like t’ go look around?” the Warrior smiled and winked.

“Thank you, Father, I will,” Kyrin nodded. “I’ll talk to you all later.” With that, he got up, bringing his plate with him.

A couple Redwallers greeted him and patted him on the back as he went by.

“Talk about a triumphant return!”

“Burr, zurr Kyrin, et’s gudd t’ arve ye back!”

“Thank you,” Kyrin smiled graciously. Looking down the length of one of the tables he could see his friends sitting not too far away.

Grinning, Kyrin walked over to Firulan and tapped the mouse on the back. His friend turned around, his face and whiskers covered in meadowcream.

“Mmf! Kyrin! I dunno why ya left Redwall! How could ye forsake such good food?!”

“Firulan, you rogue. Who’re you sittin’ with?”

A pretty mousemaid, accompanied by a sturdy mole, waved from across the table.

“Hello, Kyrin,” the mousemaid smiled sweetly. “Remember me?”

Kyrin grinned. “Celany! I knew it was you. I could tell because Buwl was next to you. You two are inseparable, I swear.”

Buwl, Celany’s mole friend, chuckled deeply. “Hurr hurr hurr, zurr Kyrin. We’m missed ye.”

“You mean you missed making my life miserable all these seasons,” Kyrin smiled.

“That, too,” Celany replied with a grin. “I’m sorry. We were young and we didn’t know better. Could you forgive us?”

Kyrin pretended to think. “Hmm…name a price.”

Celany smiled and turned her attention back to Firulan. “Oh, Firulan, could you be so kind as to get me another bowl of that shrimp n’ hotroot soup? I can’t seem to reach it…”

Kyrin was surprised anybeast other than an otter would dare try something so fiery. “Found a future mate?” he asked Firulan, jabbing his friend playfully in the side.

Firulan winked. “Possibly. But don’t ruin me in front o’ her, mate. I gotta look good.”

Kyrin squeezed himself in so he was sitting next to his best friend. “So, have you decided to stay?”

Firulan fixed the squirrel with a deadpan stare. “Yore jokin’, right?”

“I take that as a yes?”

“Of course!” exclaimed Firulan. “This is me ‘ome now!”

“That’s…horrible news,” Kyrin replied, rolling his eyes. Everybeast chuckled. Kyrin looked over at Gry, who was sitting with Skipper’s crew, eating and joking around.

“Skipper’s taken a liking to Gry,” Kyrin noticed. “With some luck Gry will stay at Redwall and work for Skipper.”

“That’ll be great,” Firulan added, swallowing a mouthful of food. “All our friends’ll be here.”

Kyrin suddenly felt somebeast tap him lightly on his shoulder. He turned around to face Mena. Her fur was slightly damp, but she looked renewed and refreshed.

“Oh, hi there,” Kyrin smiled, suddenly feeling a little self-conscious, “I didn’t see you earlier.”

“I hope I smell better now,” Mena said, a bit sarcastically. “I took a bath upstairs.”

“I was joking,” Kyrin replied. “You smell wonderful.”

Mena smiled at him and wrinkled her nose. “You smell pretty bad. Come on. Let’s go outside.”

“Did you eat at all?” Kyrin asked. “Y-you must be hungry…”

“Oh, I’ll get something on the way out,” replied Mena. “Don’t worry about me.” She smiled at Kyrin again. “Let’s get some fresh air, shall we?”

“Sure,” Kyrin said, unaware that he was mumbling. He got up somewhat awkwardly. “Let’s go.”

It was still warm outside, and the sun was beginning to set, diminishing the golden luster of the leaves and grass. Dibbuns ran around on the Abbey Lawns, giggling and playing tag, while their parents sat nearby, sipping tea and chatting. Log a Log Tarryk’s shrews were out near the walls, drinking frothy ale and making small talk with the guards.

“Where do you want to go?” asked Kyrin after a few seconds of looking around.

Mena shrugged, coyly looking away. “I don’t know this place. You’re the one who lives here.”

An idea popped into Kyrin’s head. “Let’s go to the pond. It’s nice and quiet over there.”

“Hmm…I like nice and quiet,” Mena smiled.

They reached the side of the pond and sat down. Mena savored a warm breeze for a second, then turned to Kyrin. “So this is where you come from.”

“You like it?” Kyrin asked.

“It’s a beautiful place,” Mena said wistfully. She drew her legs up and wrapped her arms around them, staring off into the distance and sighing. “I wish I could stay.”

“What?”

“Well…nobeast really said I could stay...”

“Of course you can! Redwall’s doors are open to all! We’d never turn away an honest woodlander!”

“That doesn’t tell me anything.”

“What d’you mean?”

Mena looked directly at Kyrin. “Well…would you like me to stay?”

“Why wouldn’t I?” Kyrin asked, perplexed.

“Just asking,” Mena replied. “Thanks, though.” She drew away shyly, fiddling with her headfur.

Kyrin shrugged and turned his attention to the limpid body of water in front of him.

“What’s on your mind?” Mena asked softly.

“Nothing,” Kyrin replied, picking up a stone and skipping it, watching it bounce along the surface of the pond. Plop. Plop. Plop.

Mena didn’t seem entirely convinced. “It must feel wonderful coming back to your old home,” she hinted, looking around and enjoying the view.

“Aye,” Kyrin agreed. “It is. This is a wonderful place.”

“I can’t remember the last time I enjoyed a summer like this,” Mena smiled wistfully. “So this is what home feels like. Aahh, it’s been too long.”

“That makes two of us,” replied Kyrin, turning towards her and smiling, too.

“Tell me…what do Redwallers normally do during summer days like this?”

“From what I remember, there’s a lot of farmwork t’ be done because we got t’stock up on food for the winter. The able-bodied Redwallers usually tend to th’ crops, but not too often…er, I guess they need to play, just like everybeast else.”

“Hmm…go on…”

“The elders usually lounge around in the sun, talking about old memories and things like that. The Dibbuns are always running around until they get caked in dirt and grass, and every evening before dinner bathtime turns into a soapy war between them and their parents. The entire Abbey can hear the anguished cries of innocent children as they enter the baths of no return.”

Mena threw up her paws in mock horror. “Haha! Oh no…”

“Aye, but that’s it, really. Not much. Just a lot of playing around. Summer’s a time to relax. Oh, did I mention we get the odd visitor every now an’ then? Sometimes we pick apples...”

Further descriptions were cut off by Mena laughing. “What?” Kyrin asked, turning red.

“You’re an awful storyteller, Kyrin,” Mena giggled. She was glad that he was opening up, though.

“I’m sorry. I’m not used to telling stories,” Kyrin said apologetically. “My mother used to tell me stories when I was young. She was the best at telling them, probably because she works in the Infirmary and has t’entertain Dibbuns all th’ time. ‘S a pity that I can’t tell stories as nearly as good as she can.”

Kyrin found himself staring into Mena’s large hazel eyes. “Here’s your chance to make up for your awful storytelling skills. How do you feel about coming back?”

“I wish I never left. But I guess there has t’be some sort of sacrifice. Mossflower shaped me, an’ I’ll never forget my time out there. But coming back here made me realize that Redwall shaped me too. I mean, I live for adventure and everything…but I have to have a home to come home to…that, for me, is one of the best parts of the adventure. I don’t know if you feel the same.”

“I know what you mean. I’ve always wanted to settle down…”

“But you’re such a-a…free spirit, if you don’t mind me sayin’ so.”

“No, it’s fine. I guess I am, just like you. It’s just…I mean, since I lost my parents, I guess I’ve always felt like a lone leaf blowing through this world, even though I put my past behind me…”

Kyrin nodded sympathetically. “It’s funny though. As much as I want to have a permanent place I can call home, I can’t stay home though. I’ll definitely go questing soon enough. Probably my father’s spirit.”

Mena smiled. “Take me with you.”

“What about Firulan? And Gry?”

“Yes. The four of us can go questing together.”

She looks so beautiful, with the sun setting behind her…thought Kyrin.

They must have talked for hours, because as dusk settled, the stars were made visible, dotting the mysterious dark blue sky by the thousands. Soon, dusk gave way to darkness. And the two friends found themselves sitting under a silent, glimmering canopy.

The two were starting to draw star patterns in the night when Melanda showed up.

“There you are. I’ve been looking all over for you. Come on in! We’re holding a dance. Bring your friend…er…er…”

“Mena,” Mena introduced herself, curtsying politely. “Are you two related?”

“Melanda MacBurl, Recorder of Redwall. I’m Kyrin’s older sister. Do you dance?”

“She’s a beautiful dancer,” Kyrin said as the three began heading in.

Mena blushed furiously. “Do you realize how late it is? The last of the grown-ups have gone inside!”

“You’ll have to forgive my brother,” Melanda whispered to Mena. “Between us, he’s always trying to impress the maidens.” Mena laughed out loud at this. She turned toward Kyrin and smiled. Kyrin, of course, smiled back.

Everybeast clapped when Kyrin, Mena, and Melanda entered the Great Hall. The tables had been pushed off to the side to make room for everybeast to dance.

“Hoy!” Skipper waved. “Come an’ join us!” He was sitting on a table with a peculiar instrument called an ottercordion. Other otters, including Gry, holding a variety of instruments, sat with their Chieftain, singing and playing along.

Melanda winked. “Let me just leave you two alone.”

When she was gone, Kyrin looked over at Mena. “May I have this dance?”

“You certainly may,” smiled the squirrelmaid. Kyrin took her paw and they joined the ranks of revelers.

The ottercrew was in the middle of a slow ballad as couples of Redwallers waltzed on the floor. Brooky, Skipper’s niece, was singing. Normally known for her bombastic, loud behavior, she possessed a surprisingly sweet voice well-suited for soft songs like this one.

“Oh, the flowers were made to fade away,

“And the seasons were destined to change,

“The towering trees, red, yellow, green,

“Stoop in the wind and the rain.

“The tide takes a turn in the moonlight,

“Night always turns back to day.

“But as far as things go, our love is the same,

“The one thing that always remains.”

For Kyrin, it felt amazing to be holding Mena in his arms as they danced together in the candlelit evening. He looked at her. Her eyes seemed to be glazed over in wistful tranquility. He pulled her in a bit closer and she smiled.

“You dance really well, Kyrin,” Mena said quietly. “I had no idea…”

“Thanks. As do you. Remember that night at the vole feast? You were dancing by yourself?”

“Yes. That felt good. Why didn’t you dance?”

“Well, you were a little angry at me for supposedly pushin’ you into a mud puddle, which I didn’t do, thank you very much.”

“Oh, I know. It’s just…”

They were interrupted by a female mousebabe. “Mista Keewin,” she said, looking up and holding up and stretching out her paws. “’Wanna dance wiv you!”

Kyrin laughed. “Alright, then. Hold on tight!” He gently seized the Dibbun by her tiny waist and lifted her in the air, spinning once in a circle. “There! Thank you for the wonderful dance!”

The mousebabe tottered off giggling. Kyrin turned back to Mena, putting his arms on her waist again. “Anyway…you were saying?”

Mena blushed again and cast her eyes down at the sensation. “…It’s…it’s just…you do weird things sometimes when you want to…be friends with somebeast. I don’t know. I’m a bit strange like that.” She put her arms back on his shoulders, still averting her eyes from his gaze as she brushed headfur out of her eyes.

“Psst, Kyrin!” Kyrin turned to see Firulan holding onto a very blissful Celany. “Are ye goin’ ta fall asleep? This music’s borin’ me t’ death!”

“Should be over in a bit,” replied Kyrin. As if on cue, the last verse was sung and the song faded out to rounds of applause.

“Thank ye kindly,” Skipper could be heard saying. “Now, we’re goin’ t’ do one last tune for ye tonight. Ye’ve been a wonderful bunch. Let’s dance!”

The thrumming chords to the breakneck “High Water Romp” could be heard. Skipper came in with his gruff but ringing baritone, singing the verses, as everybeast began lively dance routines, swinging and twirling to the extremely fast tune.

“Ho, ol’ Marko was an otter,

“Just an otter, not another,

“Left ‘is holt when ‘e was three

“A-questin’ for life’s meaning!


“A-way-oh-a-widdlin’-dum!

“Yore tails’ll twirl an’ yore paws’ll stomp!

“A-way-oh-a-widdlin’-dum!

“When yore doin’ th’ High Water Romp!”


“Now ‘e searched very far an’ wide,

“But ‘e never found th’ meaning of life,

“Lo! Did ‘e cry an’ sob an’ moan,

“’Til th’ world filled up with water!”


“A-way-oh-a-widdlin’-dum!

“Yore tails’ll twirl an’ yore paws’ll stomp!

“A-way-oh-a-widdlin’-dum!

“When yore doin’ th’ High Water Romp!”


“At th’ end o’ the day, he came on home,

“As sad as he could be

“But he smelt his fam’ly’s skilly n’ duff,

“Said, ‘’tis th’ life fer me!’”


“A-way-oh-a-widdlin’-dum!

“Yore tails’ll twirl an’ yore paws’ll stomp!

“A-way-oh-a-widdlin’-dum!

“When yore doin’ th’ High Water Romp!”

“Thank ye! Thank ye all!” Skipper roared as the song came to a close amidst thunderous whoops and cheers. The Abbot made a closing speech, bidding everybeast a goodnight and assigning guards to their respective duties. Everybeast, especially Kyrin, went to bed happy.

It was well past midnight, judging by the moon’s position, when the final sounds merriment died down from inside Redwall Abbey. Deatheye and the scattered remains of his army camped out in the forests near the abbey walls, well hidden in the dark of the night. Everybeast, including Deatheye, was hungry for blood. Not necessarily out of the prospect of food and riches aplenty. No, those days of romantic glory were long gone. Now, Deatheye and his ragtag “horde” were waiting for Orak to show up so they could finally get it over with after all these seasons. The future looked uncertain. What was to be done after the Abbey was conquered? A thousand questions lay heavily in the stoat Captain’s mind, but he did his best to block them out.

Finally, after what seemed like hours, Orak and his beaten gang of assorted vermin materialized out of the woods. Deatheye stood up tiredly and saluted. Orak nodded. “Good to see you, my Captain,” he said, surprisingly sane-sounding. “How many soldiers have we left?”

A quick head count put the army at around four hundred – less than half the size of Orak’s original horde. The Assassin clenched his teeth hard until his jaw hurt. He had spent so many soldiers trying to get here that there was no way in Hellgates he was going to give up now. This was his finest hour, and he was ready to get rid of his nightmares and live up to his former glory once and for all.

“Four hundred soldiers. Well, we can still win this!”

“My lord, surely you don’t want to break down the gates and attack them, do you?” Deatheye hissed, worried.

The Assassin turned his gaze at him, and Deatheye noticed that despite the calm look on Orak’s face, there was a maniacal, sinister drive that shone through his icy eyes, like a fire threatening to burst forth.

“I have a plan,” Orak announced. “This…this is what we are going to do…”

Chapter 37

Clouds had overtaken the starry sky by the time the Redwallers retired to bed. By then, it was well after midnight. Temperatures dropped, and soon the guards – the only Abbeybeasts still awake – were left shivering on the ramparts. Normally, cold weather was invigorating, but the guards were used to standing in all sorts of conditions by now. Soon, most of them were starting to drift off at their posts. Some lay down against the battlement walls, snoring soundly, while others snoozed while leaning on their spears.

However, most were still awake to witness a volley of fire arrows soaring in a graceful upward arc over the front wall. The first arrows landed on the lawn, igniting in small blazes.

Orak heard a crescendo of distress rising from the ramparts. He smiled wickedly. “Deploy the longbows! Come on! Step to it!”

What remained of Orak’s army was confused by their Chieftain’s orders. Weren’t they supposed to conquer the Abbey? Why were they destroying it now? Had five seasons come to nothing? However, everybeast knew better than to question the Assassin in the heat of battle. A second volley of arrows flew over the walls.

The guards inside saw a few arrows strike against the side of the Abbey and fail to ignite. One unfortunate guard, who was attempting to run inside to warn the others, was struck down by a stray shot as he crossed the lawn. A few arrows struck the roof of the Abbey and ignited. Soon, smoke began to rise from inside of the Abbey.

“Put out that fire! Get ladders so we can reach the roof!” somebeast shouted, as guards ran towards the Abbey pond with buckets of water.

Kyrin was having issues adjusting back to sleeping in his old bed after five seasons of sleeping on the forest ground. The exhilarating day he had only added to his insomnia. The young Warrior stopped tossing and turning for a minute. He thought he could hear raindrops hitting against the roof. At first he thought that the distressed cries were from guards running for shelter against the rain, but as he heard the shouts of “Fire! Fire!” Kyrin grew wary. Sticking his head out the window, Kyrin could see a faint orange glow from across the building. A guard running across the lawn under him looked up and saw Kyrin staring out the open window. “You there! Wake the others! We’re bein’ attacked!” the guard shouted.

Quick as could be, Kyrin jumped out of bed and tore out of his room, running down the dark halls, pounding on doors, yelling at the top of his lungs: “Wake up! Wake up! We’re under attack!”

From the other side of the Abbey, Deatheye could hear the mounting yells and cries of the guards. He motioned silently toward a couple torchbearers to approach the East Gate and burn it down. In a moment, the job was done, and the East Gate, constructed from wicker, igniting in a burning mass of fire and smoke.

A few guards ran over to the ramparts overlooking the East Wall, slings at the ready. However, Deatheye had anticipated this. His soldiers, well sheltered in the fringes of woodland which surrounded Redwall, fired their longbows, forcing the defenders to take cover as the vermin waited for the gate to burn down.

Abbot Cyrus, roused from his slumbers, quickly took charge. He entered the Dormitories, his face betraying no fear or emotion.

“So it has come to this, friends. I need all able beasts to assist our defenders on the ramparts. Form fire patrols and get ladders and buckets of water and put out those fires! Foremole! Take all those who can’t fight and hide in the secret tunnels as we planned!

“Zurr, th’ tunnels be’s across th’ Arbbey…”

“Do what I say! Don’t lose a single one, and do not let a single enemy get inside!”

Outside, a faint cracking noise could be heard over the sounds of battle.

Deatheye’s soldiers watched from their cover as the East Gate burned down.

Gritting his teeth, Deatheye whipped out his serrated sword. “Attack!”

His soldiers charged toward the East Wall, leaping over the smoldering ruins of the East Gate.

“They’re inside!” a Redwall guard shouted before he was cut down by a saber. The defenders stationed on the ramparts turned around to face overwhelming numbers of vermin.

Deatheye ripped out a guard’s insides with the jagged edge of his sword. “Kill everybeast who offers resistance!” he ordered. “Leave the civilians alone!”

By now the fire on the rooftops was growing. Inside the Dormitory wing, Colonel Buckshaw quickly took charge.

“Right. We need somebeast t’ put out that fire on the roof! There’re fire patrols coming up as we speak but we need somebeast need to climb up onto the roof to help them out!”

Melanda raised her paw. “I’ll take Mena with me and help!” Mena nodded.

“Very well, be off with you then!” Colonel Buckshaw ordered. As Melanda smashed a hole in the window and the pair climbed out and up towards the roof, the veteran hare turned to the others.

“The rest of the able-bodied chaps an’ chapesses able t’ fight, come down with me! We’ll meet the vermin head-on an’ give ‘em blood n’ vinegar, wot! While we’re at it, get everybeast who can’t fight to safety!”

The Abbot volunteered. “I told Foremole to guide the old and the young out of the Abbey. I’ll go help. It is my duty above others’ to make sure that the inhabitants of Redwall are safe and sound.”

Buckshaw nodded, then vigorously drew his saber. “C’mon then! Let’s go give those vermin a bally welcome they won’t soon forget! Eulaliaaaaa!”

At the same time, Orak raised his paw.

“Attack!”

As Deatheye’s troops had done with the East Gate, Orak’s soldier’s charged forward in a barrage of arrows and slingstones, setting fire to the Main Gate. The rusty iron locks on the other side gave way under intense heat and quickly crumbled. As if to welcome Redwall’s would-be conquerors, the massive doors creaked open.

Orak saw everything with his insane eyes. Redwall was finally his! The Assassin tilted his head back and roared at the top of his lungs.

“Chaaaaaaarrrrge!”

Kyrin and company followed Colonel Buckshaw down into the Great Hall, followed by otters and Guosim shrews. The candles in the hall had not been lit – the only source of light which could be faintly seen through the room’s stained-glass windows was being provided by the fire which was eating up the Abbey roof.

The sound of shattering glass diverted everybeast’s attention. Buckshaw threw himself flat and shouted for everybeast to do the same. One shrew, who was not quick enough, gurgled as a stray vermin arrow crashed through one of the ornate windows and buried itself in his throat. Another random hail of arrows followed, crashing through the windows and partially illuminating the room.

“Well, at least we have some light t’ fight the bloody battle in,” Ferdimond muttered. “What a bunch of miserable shots they are, wot.”

“I can hear ‘em comin’ closer,” Skipper muttered. “Prob’ly goin’ to try an’ break through th’ Great Hall.”

They lay in wait for the vermin, facing the entrance to the hall. Suddenly the doors seemed to be rimmed with fire.

“Well, this is it, mates,” Tam gritted his teeth. “We’re the last line of defense ‘tween Redwall an’ – ”

SMASH! The small, determined force of Redwallers found themselves staring at the battered but equally-determined forces of Orak the Assassin, who had wanted to infiltrate the Abbey under the assumption that armed resistance would be waiting for them inside the Great Hall.

Both sides dithered for a second, then Buckshaw and Orak screamed at the same time.

“CHARGE!”

Roaring maniacally, the two sides threw themselves at each other ferociously.

Melanda and Mena made it to the fire that was burning a hole in the roof.

“Careful,” Mena warned. “Don’t get too close. You’ll be burned or the roof beneath you will give way.”

Melanda wiped perspiration from her brow as she watched a mole climbing up a ladder with a bucket of water in one paw.

“Yurr, ‘ere, marm, you’m tak’n this bukkit an’ douse yon fire!”

Melanda accepted the bucket and threw the water over the flame. “Much appreciated, but we’ll need more!”

At that moment, Mena saw a ferret sneaking up the ladder, a knife held between his teeth.

Melanda whirled at the sound of the ferret’s scream as Mena knocked him off the ladder with a well-aimed kick to the face. The Recorder smiled. “I’m glad I have you up here with me.”

Orak’s troops were enjoying the early advantage. As the two sides clashed together, he had deployed his spearbeasts in the front rank. The Redwallers ran straight into a mass of spears. Several otters fell, mortally wounded. Ferdimond de Mayne winced as a spear grazed his shoulder. With one swing from his sword he felled the beast who had wounded him. “Rotter!” he shouted, clutching his wound. “How’re you doin’, chaps?”

“Not too bonny well, mate,” Doogy grimaced as he struggled with an ermine pikebeast, “how many troops did Orak bring in here? Wot is this? A bloody convention?”

By now, Orak was pressing his soldiers to basically smother the enemy. They drove the hard-pressed defenders across the room. Kyrin could see, even in the failing light, that the deranged warlord was looking for him. While he was distracted, however, he was knocked down by a stoat with brown fur and a battle axe.

“Ye wanna kill my mucker Fishtooth, eh?” Valker growled as he gave Kyrin a savage kick to the stomach. “Well this is fer him!” he raised the axe high above his head, ready to strike. But Tam was looking out for his son. Bounding over, he swung the Sword of Martin and decapitated Valker in one lethal stroke.

Kyrin nodded a curt thanks to his father as Tam helped him up. Together, the two struck out at the enemy with their swords and were rewarded by a few cries as vermin were cut down.

Meanwhile, Deatheye’s soldiers, lead by Deatheye himself, entered the Great Hall, carrying torches. The firelight from their torches immediately illuminated the chaotic scene in the room – which also made killing a lot easier.

An otter squinted at the light and was quickly run through by a stoat’s scimitar. “There are too many!” Gry shouted, as he smashed a weasel’s skull in with his bung mallet.

“Hmm…ye think?” Firulan retorted as he sliced off an ermine’s swordpaw with his battle blade. “Good t’ know ye have a clear mind fer numbers right afore we meet our deaths, huh?”

The Redwallers were being pushed further and further to the back end of the Great Hall. Tam slashed a rat to death with the Sword of Martin. “We ‘ave to push back! Redwall’ll fall if we don’t!”

By now about a quarter of the Redwall contingent, all shrews and otters (as they made up the majority of the force) had been slain. However, the thought of seeing harm done to their loved ones – and Mossflower in general – was too much to bear. Running an ermine clean through the heart, Buckshaw threw back his head and roared:

“Eulalia, chaps! Give ‘em blood ‘n vinegar! Euuuuulaaaaaaaliiiiiiiiiaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa!”

With that, the Redwallers charged.

Melanda and Mena had finished putting out the fire on the Abbey roof. Wiping her brow, Melanda panted: “I suppose that’s a job well-done.”

Mena nodded tiredly. “Yes, as long as the roof doesn’t collapse we should be fine.”

Suddenly Melanda’s ears perked up. “Wait…what’s…”

The two of them scampered off the roof and ran across the now-abandoned ramparts, ignoring the Redwall guards still on the Abbey Lawns, fighting vermin.

The sight that greeted them as they stared over the front battlements brought tears to Melanda’s eyes. She shook Mena with joy. “Do you see that? Do you see that, Mena? Look! We’re saved! Reeeedwaaaaaaaallll!”

Sure enough, two hundred Long Patrol hares, sent straight from Salamandastron, had arrived, as per request, at the nick of time. Their battle cries could be heard for miles in the night.

“Eeeeeuuuuuuuuuuuuuulaaaaaaaliiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa!”

The vermin scampered this way and that as the disciplined forces poured straight through the Abbey’s open doors, all weapons at the ready. They worked quickly and efficiently. No exceptions. No prisoners. No mercy.

Melanda drew her claymore. “Luckily I still have this after all these seasons,” she grinned, as she tossed Mena a fallen vermin’s blade. “Come on, Mena, let’s go help!”

The two gripped paws and jumped off the walls onto the Lawns and into the heat of battle.

Buckshaw, though aging, heard the shouts outside the Great Hall ringing over the cacophony of battle as clear as a bell. “Well!” he grinned, blood trickling down his cheek, “It’s good t’ know the ol’ Badger Lady came to her senses, eh? C’mon, chaps! One final push! We’re almost there!”

With that, the contingent, though battered and bruised, surged forth one last time over the mounting piles of corpses and pushed the vermin into the incoming Long Patrol hares. Orak the Assassin spun this way and that and his mind did likewise. His entire horde was now sandwiched between two groups of very determined fighters.

Just then, the Assassin locked eyes with the young squirrel who had haunted his dreams for so long. Kyrin glared at what he made out to be the leader and lunged, claymore in paw.

Clang! The pair crossed blades wordlessly, hatred simmering in their eyes. Then they broke apart. Kyrin crouched into a fighting stance. Orak staggered back and nearly tripped over a dead shrew. Kyrin pressed his advantage and attacked, driving the unprepared warlord back.

Orak the Assassin couldn’t believe it. He was losing to this little squirrel! The nightmares started to plague him again. Suddenly, he lashed out in frustration and struck Kyrin hard in the chin with an uppercut. But at the same time, Kyrin’s sword swung out wildly and caught the wrathful vermin leader in the cheek, nicking it and drawing blood. Orak stumbled and ran off wildly, with several vermin following him.

Kyrin stood there, breathing heavily for a moment, his head ringing violently from the blow he just received.

“Kyrin, watch out!” an ermine behind Kyrin gurgled and fell. Kyrin whirled to see Firulan standing there, sword at the ready.

“Good t’ see somebeast watching my back, mate!” Kyrin smiled.

“Make that two!” Gry added, popping up alongside Firulan.

“Four!” Melanda and Mena showed up behind Kyrin. “We put out the fire,” Mena explained, pushing her now-scraggly headfur away from her eyes. “We thought you could use some help.”

“Help is always appreciated,” Kyrin replied gratefully. “Now that we’re here, we might as well find Orak. I think I saw him run th’ – ”

Suddenly Firulan ran off. Kyrin began to chase after him. “Firulan, wait!...” But he stopped when he saw what the mouse was doing.

“Leave him,” Kyrin ordered to Gry, Melanda, and Mena. “This is his battle.”

Deatheye had killed a shrew and an otter with one stroke of his sword. He had wounded Thorn in three places and was about to kill him when a voice behind got his attention.

“Vermin!”

The mottle-furred stoat turned around to see Firulan the Quick sprinting straight at him. As Thorn escaped, Deatheye felt Firulan slam into him with the strength of a howling gale.

“Think ya can kill my parents an’ get away with it? Think again!” Firulan roared, as he bashed wildly with his sword. Deatheye blocked every blow, but though he was the more experienced fighter, he felt his paw go numb under the relentless onslaught of this little mouse. A sudden fear gripped him – something he had not recently felt until now, when he was actually losing to an opponent.

“Guards!” Deatheye rasped. “Anybeast! Help me!”

Two ermine heard his cries and jumped on Firulan, slashing his arm to the bone in the heat of the fight. Firulan closed his eyes and let out a blood-curdling scream. When he opened his eyes they were a ruby red.

“For my father!”

Firulan flipped the sword around in his paw and stabbed backwards. One of the ermine gurgled and fell dead.

“For my mother!”

Firulan whirled around in a graceful half-circle, slashing the throat of his other attacker. Chest heaving, he turned back to glare at Deatheye, the blood-red mist still present in his eyes.

“For Mossflower!”

One swing from Firulan’s short blade sent the serrated sword flying out of Deatheye’s paw. Firulan kicked the stoat Captain down. Deatheye, now desperate, took to his heels, but Firulan was watching.

“For Redwall!”

The whole world stopped and Deatheye saw himself staring at the sky, which was now starting to gyrate out of control. He looked down and saw Firulan’s sword protruding out of his heart. The stoat Captain, known for his chivalry and honor on the battlefield, had been killed for the one time he broke his code.

Firulan calmly walked over to Deatheye’s body, the red mist now fading from his eyes. He tugged the blade out and severed Deatheye’s head with it. Holding up the head, he screamed over the dying sounds of battle.

“REDWAAAAAALLLLLLLL!”

It was during this lull that everybeast heard the cries of a desperate mousewife.

“No! Not my child!”

The Redwallers watched at Orak and his vermin forced a small contingent of Redwallers across the battlefield, almost parading them in front of the shocked survivors.

“They found the tunnel,” Tam whispered.

Laughing and jeering, the vermin cruelly cut down a Dibbun and when an elder tried to stop them, they threw him to the ground and beat him to a pulp with their spearbutts.

Foremole Rull and Buwl tried to stop them. “Nay, daon’t harm th’ innocents!” But Orak personally killed them both with his rapier. The Redwall defenders and the exhausted vermin stood side by side, staring at Orak’s madness.

Three ermine were attacking Abbot Cyrus, who was curled up in his one method of defense: a ball of spikes. “Yowch! Can’t get near him!” an ermine, who had pricked a finger on the Abbot, spat.

Orak chuckled unpleasantly. “Well, see, you’re doing it wrong. Here, hand me your spear. I’ll show you how you handle a stubborn spikepig. Like this!” With that, he brought the length of the spear down on Abbot Cyrus’ back. The Abbot promptly unfurled. “Please!” he gasped. “Kill me! Just stop killing the innocent inhabitants! They did nothing t – ”

Orak dragged him up. “Shut up!” he snarled. Holding the captured Abbot in front of the survivors in front of everybeast as his ermine formed a defensive phalanx around him, he announced: “Give my troops and I safe passage out of your home at once!”

A Long Patrol hare aimed an arrow at Orak. “Put him down an’ we’ll jolly well consider it, wot!”

Orak grinned evilly. He whipped his sword up to Cyrus’ throat. The Redwallers and Long Patrol hares flinched. The Assassin laughed. “I think when I have your leader literally in my grasp I should be the one calling the terms of surrender, or – ” his eyes narrowed: “ – the indemnities you are to soon pay me.”

“What do you want, vermin?” Tam asked firmly and contemptuously.

“Give me the little squirrel that haunts my dreams.” Orak spat.

The Redwallers shifted in confusion.

Melanda looked worriedly at her brother, who was now staring straight ahead of him, at the murderer standing not twenty feet away.

Orak hauled the Abbot close roughly when nobeast owned up. “Well?” he screamed, “Do as I say, or he dies!”

Kyrin stepped forward, his voice ringing loud and clear. “Orak the Assassin! I have a score to settle with you!”

Orak turned his attention to the young squirrel and dropped the bloodied Abbot, who was quickly taken into custody by his soldiers. “Well, now,” he said, almost happily, “That wasn’t so difficult, was it? Finally, we meet face to face. I’ve always wondered why you’ve been in my nightmares but mark my words, you won’t be soon enough.”

“Name your challenge,” Kyrin replied, not batting an eye.

Orak inspected his paw nonchalantly. “Oh, you know, nothing out of the ordinary…” then his eyes hardened as he stared back at Kyrin. “Tomorrow, at noon, I will be waiting for you on this lawn and we shall duel to the death. Nobeast is to interfere. This is just between you and me. If you win, my troops shall disperse. If you lose…well, you know what happens. Oh, and one more thing: if anybeast tries to free your beloved Abbot beforehand, he’ll die, and this entire Abbey will fall. Believe me. I can win a war even in this situation. I’ve done so many a time in the past.”

“Brave words, coming from somebeast who’s lost ‘is army,” Log a Log Tarryk retorted.

“Oh really?” Orak challenged. “Well, then, you’ll be pleased to know that my troops have found where your Abbeydwelling friends have escaped. They’re surrounding them now.

From outside the wall, vermin could be heard whooping and cheering over the cries of distressed Dibbuns.

Tam gritted his teeth. “That slimy…” but Doogy held him back.

Kyrin stabbed his swordpoint into the ground. “Then it’s done. You may camp outside the Abbey walls, but you may not come inside or harm a hair on anybeast’s head until noon. If that happens, you’ll face the wrath of a thousand seasons, Orak!”

Orak turned elaborately and grinned. “I’m glad we’ve had this conversation. See you tomorrow then. He and his troops, now numbering only about a hundred, headed for the charred Main Gate. “Oh, and don’t be late,” he said, looking directly at Kyrin. Then he was gone into the night, bringing the Abbot with him. Kyrin watched him go, eyes burning with hate.

Chapter 38

Don’t be late.

Then the front gates, or what was left of them, slammed shut.

Kyrin stood, chest heaving, as he glared forward at where Orak the Assassin was standing a moment ago. Everybeast was silent, save Celany the mousemaid, who was cradling Buwl’s head in her paws and weeping bitterly.

The other Redwallers were already beginning to clean the corpses off the battlefield. Orak had about four hundred vermin under his command when he attacked Redwall. He had lost over three hundred soldiers in this attack, including Deatheye, his ablest Captain. The Redwallers had lost over a hundred otters, shrews, and Long Patrol hares. However, having captured the Abbot and rounded up several hundred defenseless Redwallers outside the Abbey, Orak definitely had a chance to turn the tide. It wasn’t over yet.

“Bury the fallen near the East Wall.” Kyrin could hear a sob coming from Tam’s voice as his father issued the order. “Burn the bodies of the vermin an’ let the wind take care of ‘em.”

Firulan joined Kyrin, muttering under his breath: “Yech, I ain’t touchin’ dead vermin corpses. No, sir.” He stood next to his stolid friend. “Wot was that all about? Orak wantin’ t’ fight ye an’ everythin’? And why – why did ya pick t’ duel with ‘im, eh? You gone mad or summat?”

“I don’t know,” Kyrin replied, unflinching. “It just has to be this way.”

Firulan scoffed. “Oh, come on. Lissen t’ yerself, mate. Don’t ya see it’s a trap? No offense, Kyrin, but yore da’ fights better ‘n you, an’ if Orak actually wanted a challenge for control of this Abbey, ‘e’d’ve picked yore father for a fair fight. ‘E’s goin’ t’ kill you off there an’ then an’ after ‘e’s done that ‘e’ll take over the Abbey.”

“But he was looking specifically for me, Firulan,” said Kyrin. “It’s like he knew me vaguely or something. He’s definitely not taking the easy way out by choosing to fight me. There has to be a deeper reason.”

“Well, 'ow d’you know?” Firulan challenged.

Kyrin thought of the mysterious mouse that had appeared to him numerous times in his dreams, and said nothing.

“Well, wotever it is,” Firulan groused, “You be careful out there tomorrow, eh? We’ll kill ye if you die.”

Kyrin smiled dryly, even though he didn’t feel like smiling at all. “Thanks, mate.”

It took hours to bury the dead and to collect enough debris to build the crematory fires for the slain vermin. The only consolation for Kyrin was that his mother, who had been in the Infirmary treating the wounded the whole time, was not out there right now under the blade of some vermin. Yet there were a few hundred innocent Redwallers who were, and in a little while, their life would be at stake.

The remaining fighters bowed their heads in front of the unmarked graves as Tam recited an epitaph:

“To our fallen comrades, we salute you,

“For you have made the ultimate sacrifice,

“In the name of our homes, our lives, and our freedom.

“We will forever remember your name and honor your spirit.

“And in the face of danger, we, the brave, the perilous,

“Shall never forget, and will see you on the other side.”

The impromptu speech was followed by a moment of silence. Then Colonel Buckshaw, wounded in the footpaw, limped in front of the group, wiped his eyes on his bloodied sleeve, and announced very somberly:

“Friends, today we have lost a number of brave souls, some taken from us too soon, and some who were never meant to be taken at all. The fate of hundreds of others lies at stake. Whatever the outcome tomorrow, each and every one of us will fight to the bitter end to protect what we cherish the most. If Redwall falls, so will Mossflower Country. Let us never forget those who have died tonight, and more importantly, let us never behave in a way that would make their sacrifice in vain.”

The sun was beginning to peak out from beyond the horizon. The old Colonel’s ears drooped and he continued tiredly: “You Redwallers should sleep. That’s an order. You’ll need the rest. As for the Long Patrol hares, you must stay awake and guard the Abbey in case of a treacherous vermin attack. Defend this place as if it were your home. Dismissed.”

As quietly as a solemn funeral procession, the crowd on the Lawns dispersed at dawn’s first light.

Kyrin woke up to the sun hanging high in the sky. Shafts of light filtered through the closed window by his bedside. Was it noon already? It didn’t feel like noon. He sat on the edge of his bed, head in paws, preparing himself mentally. Everything came down to this moment. Today, the entire fate of Redwall Abbey and all its inhabitants rested in his young paws.

He stood up and opened the window, squinting at the light that washed over the room. It was a clear, warm day outside, and not a single cloud hung in the sky. Birds could be heard chirping in the distance, and for a moment, it reminded Kyrin of waking up to a bright summer day in Mossflower to the sounds of the river flowing in the distance...

The door behind him made a noise, and Kyrin turned to see Mena entering slowly, a tray of food in her paws. She was wearing a clean white dress and Kyrin swore he could detect the smell of flowers in her fur.

“I brought you breakfast,” Mena started, somewhat shyly. “Am I disturbing you?”

“Not at all,” Kyrin replied, smiling a bit. He moved a small table from his bedside to in front of him. “Put the food here, we’ll share it.”

Mena seemed to relax a little as she shut the door behind her and made her way over to her friend, setting the tray down in front of him. She sat down on the bed next to Kyrin. Their eyes met for a second, and she quickly turned her gaze to the ground.

“What time is it?” Kyrin asked. “It can’t be noon yet, can it?”

Mena shook her head. “Don’t worry. It’s mid-morning. We have time.”

“Is everybeast up?”

“Yes, they’re getting breakfast in the Kitchens,” said Mena. “They’re still cleaning up the Great Hall from last night’s battle.”

Wordlessly, they dined on blackberry scones and chrysanthemum tea. Kyrin’s mind was racing. “Nice dress,” Kyrin said, looking over at her. “It looks beautiful. And you smell nice. What’s the occasion?”

Mena seemed to force a smile. “Oh, you know, just seeing you off to battle and everything.”

“Whose dress is that?” Kyrin asked, trying to make conversation.

“Your mother gave it to me as a reward, I guess, for helping put out the fire on the roof. She made a couple for your sister a few seasons back, but apparently she never got around to wearing all of them. It’s supposed to be for special occasions,” replied Mena, a bit breathlessly.

“Let me just say I can’t imagine my sister wearing that,” Kyrin joked.

Mena laughed and punched Kyrin’s arm playfully. “Oh, don’t be so mean, Kyrin.”

“I gave you a compliment!” Kyrin protested in mock surprise and the pair laughed. “But anyway, you look amazing.”

Mena blushed. “Thanks.” But her smile faded. She sighed and looked away.

“What’s wrong?” Kyrin asked, almost automatically. He knew exactly what was wrong.

Mena pushed some headfur out of her eyes. “I…I guess I’m just a little scared.”

“Scared for what? For me?”

No answer.

“Mena, look at me.”

“Yes.”

“Honestly, I’m a little scared, too,” replied Kyrin. “There’s a lot to lose, isn’t it?”

“I just…I just don’t want anything to happen to you,” Mena replied, looking down at her paws. “I mean, even if Redwall Abbey falls, I don’t want you to…even if the vermin enslave us I’ll accept it if it means you won’t be k – ”

Kyrin reached out and grabbed her wrist firmly. Mena looked up at him, emotions darting through her eyes.

“Mena, I won’t let anything happen to Redwall, and I won’t let anything happen to you.”

“You can’t promise that.”

“No, but I can come close.”

“Show me.”

They leaned in and kissed. He slipped an arm around her waist, and she wrapped her arms around his neck, pulling him in tight. They remained like so for a few seconds, and finally broke apart, smiling.

“Come on,” Kyrin grinned. “It’s almost noon.” He helped Mena up and the two of them walked paw-in-paw down to the Great Hall.

Tam was waiting, the Sword of Martin in his paws, as Kyrin and Mena came down together.

“Congratulations, son,” Tam said, presenting Kyrin with the sword. “Yore ready. This is yore weapon now.”

Kyrin accepted the legendary weapon hesitantly. “No, father, really, I couldn’t…this sword is too great for me to wield.”

Tam smiled. “A sword is just a sword, Kyrin. It’s a weapon with no other purpose than to kill other creatures. Its greatness depends on th’ one who wields it. And you…you have proven that you are more than ready t’ accept it. Go ahead, try it.”

Kyrin slowly removed the mighty blade from its scabbard. He swung it around in his paw, watching as light reflected off the fabled sword. “It’s a bit heavy…” he remarked. “…But it’s more than I could ever ask for. Thank you, father.”

Tam put his arms on Kyrin’s shoulders. “Remember, son: you carry all of Redwall in ye when ye use that sword. No matter wot happens, I’ll always be very proud of you, Kyrin.”

Kyrin smiled and turned towards everybeast who was watching. He raised the sword up and roared with all his might:

“REEEEEDWAAAAAAAAALLLLLLLLLL!”

At that moment, the sun hit its highest point in the sky. Outside, the Main Gate could be heard opening.

Tam patted his son on the shoulder. “Go. We’ll be watching.”

Chapter 39

Orak the Assassin was feeling very confident as the sun reached its highest point in the blue sky. Finally the nightmares which had plagued him were going to be gone forever. A little squirrel was not what he expected to be the cause of his problems, but nevertheless, nobeast was going to stand between Orak and his final victory.

The troubled warlord strode in gracefully ahead of his troops, heading the group, with his tattered cape gently rising and falling in the light breeze. His soldiers formed a large ring on the lawn, weapons drawn, ready to push Kyrin back into Orak’s waiting blade – or blades, depending on how many he had brought with him that day.

Orak inhaled deeply, savoring the warm air. The captured Redwallers, including the Abbot, had all been chained together and were under tight watch. Now, all he had to do was kill one little squirrel. Then, he would be living off the fat of the land, forcing the Redwallers into slavery. Forget the Northlands; this was his new home.

Tam and Kyrin both squinted from the light as the doors of the Great Hall opened. “Now remember,” Tam told his son, “Know yore strengths an’ weaknesses an’ find out his. Use yore strengths an’ his weaknesses to yore advantage. Be careful but not afraid, an’ remember: there’s no such thing as fightin’ dirty. In fact, that vermin probably will. Stay light on yore paws. Always move swiftly an’ economically. Control yore swings an’ think ahead. We won’t be able t’help ye, so stay positive, keep a clear head, and remember wot I told ye.”

Kyrin grinned dryly. “Yes, father. You forgot ‘try your best’ and ‘have fun’.”

Tam smiled. “And don’t die.” He stopped when he saw the ring of vermin on the Lawns. “They prob’ly won’t me in, so I’ll let ye go now. Good luck. We’ll be out here in a little bit.”

They embraced, possibly for the last time, as Kyrin stepped fearlessly toward the vermin. The ring parted, revealing Orak the Assassin standing in the center.

“Take my cape,” Orak ordered. Swiftly his guards removed his cloak for him, revealing the Assassin’s lithe, sinewy, treacherous form. “Greetings,” he nodded as Kyrin stepped into the circle. “I’ve been waiting for this.”

Kyrin heard the circle close behind him. There was definitely no turning back now. He drew the Sword of Martin out from its leather scabbard, which he cast aside.

Orak drew his rapier and handed his scabbard to an ermine soldier, all the while keeping his keen eyes locked on his adversary. The two circled each other, each sizing his foe up, looking for an opportunity to strike.

The remaining Redwallers climbed onto the battlements to watch the duel unfold within their walls. Firulan was extremely jittery. “Great Seasons,” he hissed, “Will somebeast just attack an’ get it over with?” Mena silenced him with a stern stare.

Kyrin and Orak circled each other some more. Then, for a split second, Orak looked down to adjust his footing. Kyrin took this chance to attack, swinging his sword hard at Orak.

Clang! They clashed and Kyrin jumped back, his attack parried.

“Go, Kyrin!” Firulan whooped. Doogy tweaked his ear. “Och, ye impudent scamp. Can ye noo see ‘e’s fightin’ a duel here?”

Kyrin struck again, attacking first the warlord’s footpaws, and then his head. Orak parried both blows with a mere flick of his wrist. Not to be deterred, Kyrin attacked a third time, this time swinging the Sword of Martin in a downward arc. Orak jumped back and Kyrin felt his entire body jolt as the heavy sword cut into the soft turf. Orak slashed once at his face and Kyrin moved back, pulling the sword out of the ground and momentarily losing his balance. Orak pressed his advantage, flicking his wrist neatly a few times, putting the pressure on his adversary. Kyrin cried out in pain as the flat of the ermine’s rapier whacked him sharply on the paw.

“What’s a beautiful sword like that doing in the paws of novice like you?” Orak taunted, pointing his blade at the squirrel. Kyrin gritted his teeth as he felt beads of sweat beginning to form on his brow. The sword felt awkward and cumbersome and for a moment he dearly wished he still had his old claymore with him. But now it was fight or die, so Kyrin struck again in a rage, swinging the sword hard. Orak nimbly sidestepped, and as the force of the young squirrel’s swing made him twist his body and momentarily reveal to Orak his unprotected back, the ermine brutally slammed the butt of his sword square on Kyrin’s spine, then followed it up with a brutal kick to the chin.

Kyrin stumbled back, tasting blood. Orak’s onslaught probably knocked a tooth loose, but there was no time to think, because now the Assassin dealt him a flurry of blows which Kyrin had to quickly parry or dodge, forcing him across the green and to the edge of the ring. When Kyrin got there, a fox slammed him back into the fight with a firm blow of his spearhaft. Orak moved aside as Kyrin came flying forward, slashing the squirrel with his rapier as Kyrin shot past him.

Kyrin gasped as a sharp pain exploded in his chest. He looked down and saw that the front of his tunic had been ripped open and a little blood was staining it. He looked up as Orak dealt him a swift punch in the face, knocking him down. Kyrin rolled to the side at the last minute as the Assassin’s rapier came down, avoiding the blade by mere inches. He was barely able to jump up and reposition himself.

Orak grinned ruthlessly as he attacked yet again. This time, Kyrin managed to parry two of his stabs and return with a couple wild slashes. Sensing that his opponent was beginning to tire, Orak unleashed a barrage of attacks, determined to wear Kyrin down.

Kyrin’s paws were beginning to severely ache from blocking so many of Orak’s blows. Clang! Clang! Clang! Every strike made him feel weaker and weaker. Suddenly, Orak feinted successfully, compelling Kyrin to bring his sword up to block accordingly. Slash! Kyrin gasped as the rapier blade cut his right leg to the bone. He dropped to one knee, injured, but was able to move out of the way at the last minute, so that a deadly swing from Orak’s sword merely left a gash on the left side of his face. Kyrin saw his crimson blood shower the grass near him. He struck back, managing to punch Orak hard in the gut with his sword paw.

On the ramparts, the Redwallers were silent. Mena looked away. Tam was biting his lip in anticipation.

Orak sucked in air to regain the wind that had been knocked out of him. Growling, he attacked as Kyrin managed to stand up. The Assassin struck hard, making Kyrin stumble as he parried Orak’s thrust. As Kyrin stumbled, putting pressure on his injured leg, Orak swung hard and knocked the Sword of Martin straight out of Kyrin’s paw. Kyrin collapsed and the sword landed a few feet away.

“Get up,” Orak challenged, breathing heavily. He was beginning to enjoy this.

Kyrin opened his eyes despite the searing pain all over his body and turned his attention immediately to the Sword. Orak noticed this straight away, and the two broke into a run to retrieve Kyrin’s weapon first.

However, experience was on Orak’s side. As Kyrin sprinted clumsily forward, the sly ermine stopped in his tracks. From the battlements, Mena gasped in horror as she saw the Assassin draw a long, thin throwing knife from his belt. “Kyrin, watch out!” she screamed.

Had Kyrin picked up his sword a second later, he would have been dead. However, he was already turning around to face Orak when the blade hit him in the left shoulder, protruding out the front.

Kyrin turned around, fury in his tear-stained eyes. Ignoring the pain, he ripped the wicked-looking stiletto out of his shoulder despite the amount of blood it drew forth. Armed now with two blades, he charged straight at his foe, yelling as loud as he could.

“Redwaaaaaaaaaaaaaallllllllllll!”

Orak was totally unprepared for Kyrin’s fury. Kyrin swung the Sword of Martin relentlessly as Orak was forced to block every blow. One especially hard slash snapped the ermine’s fine steel rapier in two at the middle. Kyrin followed this up with an elbow to the right side of Orak’s face. Then, he plunged the dagger into Orak’s right shoulder and tore the blade to the left, rendering Orak’s right arm useless. The Assassin roared in pain as a bloody mist – his blood – sprayed into the air. Yet he managed to punch Kyrin back so he could pick up his broken sword with his good paw.

Spitting out blood, Kyrin braced himself as the maddened warlord threw himself upon him. The two fell to the ground with Orak trying to drive the broken sword into his enemy’s heart. The only thing that was stopping him from doing so was the fact that Kyrin was desperately grabbing onto his left wrist and preventing him from bringing the blade down. Out of sheer pressure, Kyrin smacked Orak in the face with the palm of his spare paw, and the Assassin rolled off of him. As Kyrin tried to get up, however, he found that his bushy tail was trapped under Orak’s body. Taking quick advantage of this, Orak grabbed Kyrin’s belt and dragged him down again, attempting to stab him a second time. This time, Kyrin grabbed the blade with his bare paws, stopping it within inches of his heart. He could feel Orak putting all his strength on the blade, and he pushed back with all his might, ignoring the blood that was running down his arms.

“You…will…never…haunt…my…visions…ever…again…squirrel!” Orak growled venomously through gritted teeth. Kyrin knew there was no way, between pain and exhaustion, that he was going to be able to resist much longer. In one swift move, he pushed Orak’s blade to the side and punched him hard in the ermine’s nose. Then he seized, with both paws, Orak’s gaping wound he had caused earlier, ripping it even wider. Orak screamed in agony and rolled away, clutching his massive injury, the blood staining his blue uniform. This allowed Kyrin to stagger up and grab the Sword of Martin, which lay in the grass nearby.

As Orak was down, Kyrin grabbed the sword with both paws and turned back around to face his wounded adversary. The Assassin looked up to see a roaring squirrel swing the fabled blade straight at him.

Nobeast but Kyrin saw Orak’s left paw, holding the broken sword, come up at the same time.

The next moment, Orak the Assassin collapsed to the ground, a gaping wound in his chest. Everybeast gasped. The ermine conqueror was dead!

“Kyrin!” The Redwallers climbed down from the ramparts and pushed through the circle of distraught vermin. Meanwhile, the Long Patrol hares, who were lying in wait in the Great Hall, marched out in immaculate rows, surrounding the vermin. “Drop your weapons this instant, you foul creatures!” the hare commander ordered. “Do as you’re told, wot! Or you’ll learn the hard way!”

Totally demoralized with the death of their leader, the vermin obeyed.

Colonel Buckshaw took over. With the Long Patrol behind him, he escorted them out of the Abbey. “Show me where you keep the captives,” he ordered the nearest vermin. The trembling creature did as he was bid, and soon the Long Patrol and the depleted horde were standing near a large tree at the edge of the woods, to which all the Redwallers were bound to in a straight line by a slave chain that held them by their ankles.

“Cut them loose!” Buckshaw hissed.

The vermin did as they were bid, and the Redwallers, some weeping tears of relief, were escorted back to the Abbey.

“Thank you, Buckshaw,” Abbot Cyrus said, bowing gracefully as he joined the hares.

“Oh, don’t thank me, Abbot old thing,” chuckled the old Colonel. “Our little hero Kyrin is the reason Redwall stands free today.”

The Abbot scratched his spikes. “Hmm…true. Now, what of this rabble?”

Buckshaw sized the vermin up. They were the image of utter defeat: starved, poorly dressed, and exhausted.

“I won’t bandy words with you,” the Colonel spat as he addressed the shabby mob. “You have until I count to three to make yourselves scarce, understood?”

When nobeast spoke up, the Colonel raised his voice. “Understood?!”

“Yes, sir,” the vermin mumbled.

“Tchah! What do they feed you from where you come from? Anyway, like I said, you have until three to vanish forever, wot! Any vermin who chooses to stay will be slain instantly. Run! Run anywhere you wish, but come sundown, not a single vermin must remain in Mossflower. Understood?...I SAID – ”

“Yes, sir!”

“Good. That settles that. We’ll have runners following you to make sure you don’t try anything stupid. Not that you brainless rabble can think of anything smart, anyway. Now shut up and form ranks! Not bad! One!...Two!...Three!”

The Long Patrol let out a loud cry: “Eeeeuuuuulaaaaaaliiiiaaaaaaaaaaaa!”

Scared out of their wits, the remnants of Orak’s once-great horde scattered this way and that, the Long Patrol hard on their heels. Buckshaw grinned at the Abbot. “Job well done, if I do say so myself.”

Meanwhile, inside the Abbey, Mena ran up to Kyrin and threw her arms around him. “Oh, Kyrin! You did it! Thank you! I was so worried…”

“I kept my promise, didn’t I?” Kyrin rasped weakly. Then he shuddered and fell to his knees. Mena drew back in horror. “Oh, no…Sister Armel! Come help! Kyrin’s dying!”

Sister Armel ran forward and caught her son as he collapsed in her arms. “Don’t worry, Kyrin. Mother’s here for you. Mother’s here…”

“We won,” Kyrin smiled as he closed his eyes. “We won.”

...

Chapter 40

“He’s coming around! Sister Armel, come quick! Kyrin’s waking up!”

Kyrin opened his eyes. He was lying on a soft mattress in the Infirmary. Daylight poured through the open windows in generous amounts. Familiar faces surrounded him: Tam, Armel, Melanda, Doogy, Firulan, Skipper, Brooky, and Gry, plus the Abbot and a few other Brothers and Sisters.

“How’s our little hero doing?” Abbot Cyrus smiled.

Kyrin tried to sit up, but a sharp pain in his middle made him wince. “Stay down,” Armel said, patting her son’s head. “You were stabbed in the abdomen by that vermin. Luckily one of your ribs deflected the attack somewhat.”

Kyrin nodded. “I know, mother. I saw.” He hesitated for a moment. “…How long have I been out?”

“About seven days. You were wounded in so many places.”

Kyrin blew air out of his mouth. His whole body felt numb and unmovable. “I really saved Redwall, didn’t I?”

Tam nodded. “Ye did, son. Everybeast has you t’ thank. Ye made it into Redwall’s history books – an’ at such a young age, too.”

“We’re all very proud of ye,” Skipper added.

“Where’re the hares? And Log a Log?” Kyrin asked.

“They left soon after the battle ended,” Melanda replied.

“But we'll always be in touch,” the Abbot added. “Redwall does not forget its friends.”

“Thank you, everybeast,” Kyrin smiled. “Redwall wouldn’t have been saved if you didn’t bring me back.”

“It’s still yore character that’s the most important,” Tam said. “Never forget that. Had you not changed, whether or not we brought ye back wouldn’t’ve made much of a difference.”

Meanwhile, a commotion was heard outside of the Infirmary.

Armel groaned. “Oh, no. All of Redwall must be waiting at the door, waiting to pay you a compliment, Kyrin. What’ll I tell them?”

Abbot Cyrus had an idea. “Well, it’s lunchtime anyway. Let’s escort everybeast down to lunch.”

Armel nodded. “Good idea. Kyrin, don’t move around too much and do try to get some sleep, hmm?”

“Yes, mother,” Kyrin replied.

“Oh, one more thing,” Armel added, “Colonel Buckshaw wrote you a letter when you were unconscious. He told me to give it to you when you came to. It’s under your pillow if you want it. We’re going now. Come on, everybeast.”

As everybeast left, Firulan grinned at his best friend. “So, ‘ow does it feel t’ defeat an army an’ save Redwall from certain doom?”

Kyrin smiled dryly. “You’re welcome. This is your home now, isn’t it?”

“We’re all, stayin’, mate,” Firulan laughed. “An’ there’s nothin’ you can do about it.”

Kyrin pulled a face. “Don’t you have somewhere t’ be? Lunch, for example?”

Firulan bolted out the room. “Oh, right! Almost forgot! Silly me! Talk t’ ya later then!”

After the door closed, Kyrin reached under the pillow, and, sure enough, pulled out a roll of slightly squished parchment. Unfurling the message, he read the loopy script.

Kyrin: You’re probably going to be out for the next few days, but look on the bright side, you’ve earned yourself some war wounds! Consider yourself well on the trail to becoming a veteran! Anyway, in all seriousness, you’ve got a good thing going. Keep it up, and always be true to yourself. Never in my years (and I’m sure my comrades shall all agree), have I ever seen anybeast your age with such integrity or fire as you. You have youth on your side and a long life to live. Live it well. Salamandastron will always welcome you, so come and visit us. Make sure you present us with the medal attached below. Remember, never forget who you are, your sense of duty, and who you love (by the way, that squirrelmaid? Thank her. She helped tend to a lot of your wounds.) I hereby salute you, but Ferdimond, Thorn, Tergen, and I, will always remember serving alongside you and your company. It was an honor. Maybe one day we’ll meet again. But until then, I bid you farewell and good luck. –Buckshaw

Kyrin saw the medal that Buckshaw had mentioned as he unfurled the bottom of the paper. He examined it in the light, rolling it around between his fingers. It was a bronze medal with a hare’s head emblazoned on it. Smiling, Kyrin put it on his bedside table along with the letter and lay back, savoring the sunlight. Redwall was finally at peace.

There was a knock on the door.

“Come in,” Kyrin called. The door creaked open and Mena entered, holding a bowl of soup. “I’m so happy you’re all right,” she smiled, sitting on the edge of Kyrin’s bed. “I brought you lunch. How are you feeling?”

“I’m better,” replied Kyrin, accepting the soup that Mena handed him.

“Careful,” she warned. “It’s hot.”

Kyrin clumsily slurped it down, accidentally letting some of the soup drip down his chin. Mena giggled. “Should I have brought you a spoon?”

“Probably,” Kyrin chuckled. “Soup isn’t bad, though.” He looked up to see Mena holding back a laugh. “What’s so – oh, no…don’t tell me you – ”

Mena burst out laughing. “Sister Armel insists that you go to sleep, so she sent me up here with this bowl of herbal soup. It’s a special concoction that’ll make you fall asleep in no time. So, are you feeling drowsy yet?”

Kyrin bit his lip in mock rage, trying not to laugh as Mena leaned forward, gazing at him with her beautiful hazel eyes. But sleep was quickly overtaking him. He yawned. “We’ll settle this later, missy. But right now I need some rest.” With that, he plopped down on the pillows and closed his eyes.

Mena laughed softly and kissed him on the cheek. “You’re on,” she whispered, resting her head on his chest. In a little while, they were both asleep, peaceful expressions on their faces.

Epilogue

Taken from the writings of Melanda MacBurl, Recorder of Redwall Abbey:

Well, the days are starting to get shorter and my paw is starting to tire as the Summer of the Warrior’s Return comes to a close. But I’m happy to report that all is well at Redwall Abbey! In fact, I’ve never seen so much life here in all my life! Everybeast has something to do – whether it’s document everyday life (like me!), prepare for tonight’s great feast, or repair the Abbey from the damage done from the battle. Skipper Traw and Gry are overseeing the repairs to the gates – they will be rebuilt thicker and more durable than ever before, though I don’t think there will be any chance that vermin will attack again, especially because news has filtered down to Redwall that the woodlanders in the Northlands have overthrown the remnants of Orak’s army still stationed up there. Anyway, Skipper has definitely struck up a genuine friendship with Gry, and it seems that Gry will become his new right paw, replacing Galwa (seasons rest his soul). The moles (led by a new Foremole, Grumby) are reinforcing the walls and ramparts, which is going beautifully. Right now, the weather is still warm, so I can enjoy a nice walk through the Abbey Gardens and savor a nice breeze – I might just do that before dinner tonight. I wish we still had the Guosim and the Long Patrol here tonight to dine with us – they are good company and very loyal friends to have. Hopefully I’ll see them again sometime soon. However, we DO have an entire tribe of voles under Pikejaw Flint who have moved in! The Abbot has welcomed them with open arms and everybeast seems to be enjoying the voles’ good nature and friendly personalities. Do you want to hear some great news? Well, my father has named Kyrin the next Champion of Redwall! Who would’ve thought it, especially considering what he was five seasons ago! How things change! I’d like to congratulate him, but he’s probably out there somewhere taking a walk with Mena…again. He’s very lucky to have her; she’s furthering her knowledge of healing under my mother’s tutelage, and one day she might just be the one running the Infirmary! Ah, young love! Kyrin’s best friend, Firulan, has struck up a nice relationship with Celany the mousemaid. It’s good to see this general air of friendship and understanding restored in Redwall. Now that we’re at peace, everything seems so much easier. Whew! I’ve written so much, I think I’m going to take a walk. If you ever want to come by, feel free. Redwall is open to everybeast. All you need is an open heart and open arms.

-Melanda MacBurl, Recorder of Redwall Abbey.

THE END.

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