Kyrin: Son of a Warrior
Hey guys! My first FF on the Redwall Wiki! Go easy haha I came up with this book years ago in 5th grade. Anyway, if you want, tell me what you think! Feedback is always welcome! And check out my Fanfiction and FictionPress accounts under the same name! This is my take on the sequel to Rakkety Tam.
A/N I do not own Redwall. Brian Jacques does. RIP
This book is split into three parts:
Book 1 – The Outcast
Book 2 – The Quest
Book 3 – The Warrior
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.
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!
Official Recorder of Redwall Abbey
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…
“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.
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?”
“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.
“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.
“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.
“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!”
“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.
“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.
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.”
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.
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!”
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.
"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.
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."
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
“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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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 1
Okay! What do you guys think of this short chapter? Feel free to leave feedback! Hope you enjoyed! I am starting a new blog post for Book 2, which should be up shortly! Cheers! ~The Ghost Writer