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Kyrin: Son of a Warrior Book 2

Kyrin: Son of a Warrior Book 2: The Quest

Chapter 16

They say that Orak the Assassin was not one to break his word. Once he promised something, he would keep that promise to the end of time. Five seasons later, Orak was living up to his word once again. His army of a thousand ermine, stoats, weasels and other assorted vermin smashed into Mossflower like a hailstorm through a flowerbed. The peaceful woodlanders had never seen anything like it. They fled in terror – or stayed behind to die – as the vermin army destroyed their homes and burned their fields.

Orak strode confidently in front of his soldiers, flanked on either side by Deatheye and Kirsharr. Mossflower was everything he had hoped it would be: plentiful, sprawling, and warm. It was now summer, and the sun shone like a blazing orb in the sky while the rivers flowed steadily and the leaves swished lazily in the cool breeze. For Orak and his one thousand troops, this provided the ideal environment for conquest; plenty of food, clement weather, and, of course, a path to Redwall.

Zephyr the hare stood on guard, watching the Mossflower border. The smell of gruel assailed his nostrils. Was there nothing else to eat in this entire forest? Five seasons ago, when the Badger Lady Melesme had heard about the threat in the Northlands, she had posted scattered garrisons of Long Patrol hares near the Mossflower-Northlands border to ensure that the vermin conquest did not extend south. Every half season, new hares would relieve the posts of the hares already present, and they would cycle for “as long as necessary.” Zephyr at least found some comfort in that summer had just started and it was about time to cycle soldiers.

Bored out of his restless skull, Zephyr leaned on his longbow, watching an exchange between two hares in his garrison, Sergeant Montisle and Private Bilkey.

“Hi there, Sarge! Wot are you writin’? Letter t’ the old mater back home?”

“Not in the slightest, old lad. The vermin threat is mountin’ out yonder, so I thought ‘twould be nice to drop off a nice little letter to the old Badger Lady about current events out here. Might get her into sending some help, wot.”

“How many soldiers are you askin’ for, sah?”

“Several hundred. By the looks of it, This Assassin thingummy, Org or whatever his mother named him, has a huge force of about a thousand.”

“A bloomin’ thousand?! I say, sah, isn’t that steep?”

“Indeed, that’s why I’m going to send for reinforcements. Now go get lunch, old lad, your ribs are practic’lly sayin’ hello through your uniform! I’ll call you back later when I’m finished writing this letter so you can go fetch the runners.”

Zephyr leaned back casually. Such was the attitude in the camp these days. Hares, of course, were never ruffled in the heat of battle, always laughing and joking their way throughout. However, by now the hares were growing tired of being sent out so far from home to guard against a threat that never came. They sharpened their weapons and kept a keen lookout on the horizon but no vermin ever showed up. Recently, the Guerrilla Union of Shrews in Mossflower, or Guosim for short, led by the fearless Log a Log Tarryk, came to “aid” the hares. Zephyr felt sorry for the Guosim. The renowned fighters of Mossflower were throwing themselves into a pointless mission with no end in sight. “Maybe you should come to our aid by cookin’ some actual tuck for us poor chaps, wot?” he had suggested to the shrews. The cook had heard this and had chucked a spoon at him.

And so the days passed. The hares milled around in their camp, writing letters, sharpening weapons, boxing, and conversing without knowing when and where the threat would show up.

However, on that fateful day, Zephyr thought he knew.

Five ferrets had appeared not too far from the hares’ campsite. They were foraging for food, not seeming to notice the well-concealed tents in the dense underbrush. Their blue uniforms made them stand out in the vast swath of green surrounding them.

Motioning for two of his comrades to cover his advance, Zephyr snuck from his post to go deal with the vermin. Like the rest of the hares stationed in Mossflower, Zephyr wore a green and brown uniform which made him blend in well with the woods. Lying prone on the ground, the hare inched his way toward the vermin and silently nocked an arrow to his bow. He sighted the nearest ferret, pulled back the bowstring, took aim, held his breath, and…

Thock! The arrow struck the ferret right between the eyes. As their comrade crumpled, the other ferrets fled.

Looking back at his fellow hares, Zephyr nodded. The other hares nodded back, confirming the kill. For Zephyr, it actually felt good killing a creature, because at least finally he would see some action.

The camp was alerted of the threat to its north. Most of the hares, aided by Guosim shrews, took position on the north end of the camp, ready to face any oncoming vermin attack. Arrows were nocked. Slings were loaded. Swords were drawn.

Then, in true strategic fashion, the attack came from every side except for the north.

Zephyr was walking back to the camp when suddenly, loud whoops and battle cries started emanating from nowhere. The hares and shrews were completely taken by surprise. A dozen of them were cut down by arrows before they could even turn around and see their foe.

Sergeant Montisle had just finished writing his message to Salamandastron. “Forward the buffs!” he shouted. “Send out the runners! Alert the oth – ” he gurgled as an arrow struck him in the throat.

Pandemonium reigned in the camp as Orak the Assassin made his smashing entrance. Rapier in one paw, and rawhide whip in the other, the seasoned warlord dealt out death to the panicking hares and Guosim shrews. The vermin were knocking over tables of food, tearing down tents with trapped soldiers still inside, and generally destroying all enemies and supplies. The fleeing garrison of defenders stumbled and bumped into one another in the fray, tripping over tree roots and dead bodies, whereupon the vermin finished them off.

“NO QUARTER!” Deatheye and Kirsharr roared out to their troops as more and more vermin piled into the camp. The noble hares and shrews, however, stood their ground and fought to the bitter end.

In the middle of the fray, Zephyr picked up a pair of daggers from a slain hare, stabbing an oncoming ermine in the chest. Behind him, a fox lifted a boulder high in the air, ready to crush the hare, when Log a Log Tarryk forever silenced the enemy soldier with a well-aimed slingstone to the temple.

“We need to find the letter!” Log a Log shouted to Zephyr as a few shrews came to cover them.

“What?!!” Zephyr shouted back. The sounds of battle were deafening.

“WE! NEED! TO! FIND! THE! MESSAGE! THAT! MONTISLE! DROPPED!” Log a Log screamed. “It’s our only chance! Find the message yore sarge was writin’ an’ get it to yore mountain, hare! An’ tell th’ Badger Lady if she doesn’t send troops fast Mossflower will fall! It’s that serious! Go! We’re right be’ind ye!”

“Got it!” Zephyr broke into a run, trying to locate Montisle’s body. Another ermine fell upon him, stabbing him in the footpaw, but the hare kept going. Long Patrol hares were known for their rapid speed and immense endurance. Slicing the paw off a weasel, Zephyr ran blindly, trying to find the Sergeant’s body. The worst situation would be that Montisle’s body was lost in the throngs of vermin overrunning the camp. Fearing this, Zephyr ran like a madbeast, shoving aside an oncoming stoat. Somebeast slashed him in the back, and a thrown spear grazed his ear. The world was a blur, however, as Zephyr ran for what seemed like an eternity. Then he saw Montisle’s body lying on the ground, the bloodstained message clutched in his paw.

Zephyr grabbed the letter as one of the shrews covering him fell, killed by Kirsharr’s war hammer. The hare looked up to see Kirsharr grinning maniacally at him. “I’m gonna smash ya, bunny rabbet!” the fat ermine snarled, spittle running down the corner of his mouth. Just then, another one of Log a Log’s shrews jumped on Kirsharr from behind, clinging to the shoulders of his much larger foe. “Go!” the shrew shouted as Kirsharr smashed his skull in. With cover from Log a Log and the Guosim, Zephyr fled the camp. He saw the runners sent out to dispatch messages, all slain in their tracks. He was the last hare standing in his garrison.

“Ye did well!” Log a Log Tarryk panted as they fled the carnage. “I know this area better, so me an’ my shrews’ll alert the other camps if they’re still alive! You get goin’ to Salamandastron!”

Zephyr clasped the shrew’s paw, tears in his eyes. “Good luck to all of us!” Then the hare was off, bound south, then west, for the Fire Mountain.

The battle ended all too well for the vermin. Orak only suffered forty dead and wounded in comparison to the entire garrison of a hundred and fifty hares slain, along with a third of Log a Log Tarryk’s Guosim shrews.

However, there was a new complainer in the army.

“How’re we goin’ take over Mossfl’w’r if’n ye keep losin’ troops, sire?” Kirsharr asked. Kirsharr? Complaining about dead soldiers and tactics was Deatheye’s job! Since when did Kirsharr argue? Since when did Kirsharr get a brain? Orak groaned inwardly. Ever since he had upped Kirsharr’s command to two hundred, Kirsharr had grown…insolent.

Orak had developed a way of dealing with insolence, which he was getting a much greater deal of now that his army included more than just his original band of loyal followers. So instead of putting up with complaints, which vermin were apt to do, Orak either ignored the whiners or dismissed them in a haughty, arrogant tone. However, he committed all the names and faces of these naysayers to memory, so he could “deal” with them later – in front of his entire army. And everybeast knew that the Assassin had an amazing memory.

Orak chose to ignore Kirsharr and ordered to soldiers to form up. However, Kirsharr kept going. Now that he commanded troops, the dim-witted Captain, his ego (and his stomach) heavily inflated by authority (and good food), felt that he actually had a right to tell Orak what to do.

“An’ wot’s the point of slaughterin’ those innocent woodlanders like we did wid those mice yesterday? We aren’t gettin’ much done if’n all we do is plunder and steal!”

“Kirsharr, just listen to yourself,” Orak shook his head contemptuously. One of these days…

As for Deatheye, the stoat chose not to take part in the pointless slaughter that took place so often during the Mossflower campaign. Though he took part in every real battle with much decisiveness and enthusiasm, Deatheye was neither willing to devote time nor troops to such atrocities. But by now, the killings were so commonplace that Deatheye stopped criticizing Orak for his ways, choosing simply to silently disobey his commander by not ordering his soldiers to plunder, burn, and kill during massacres. This put him at odds with the warlord, and the two mistrusted each other more and more daily.

Orak’s plan was quite simple: conquer an empire for his own luxurious living, then kill off any who were not loyal to him. Right now, Deatheye was on the list of creatures to kill off, and mentally, Orak was quickly scribbling down Kirsharr’s name to the list. Deatheye was intelligent; he knew when his life was in danger and understood just how far he could test Orak’s patience without incurring the wrath of his commander. Kirsharr, well, he was only Captain because Orak couldn’t trust anybeast else. But now the worthless slob was beginning to turn against the warlord who had treated him so well. Orak decided that Kirsharr would have to go, sooner or later.

The Assassin’s mind suddenly switched to the image of a mysterious mouse. Orak had never seen the mouse before. The mouse wasn’t too tall, but everything about him screamed strength, courage, and power. The mouse drew a beautiful sword and swung it straight at Orak. But the mouse’s face was morphing into that of…a squirrel?

Orak blinked. He had seen it so vividly, but he didn’t know what to make of it. So, as usual, he composed himself and went on with commanding his soldiers.


Chapter 17

When news of the invasion reached Redwall, the prospects looked grim. The Abbey was in no shape to do battle against a thousand vermin. Though food and water were abundant for the time being, most Abbeybeasts were peaceful creatures such as gardeners, cooks, beekeepers, and the like. Most had families with little ones. There was simply too much to lose.

Seated in his study on that fine evening, surrounded by Tam, Doogy, the hares, the otters, and a number of Brothers and Sisters, Abbot Cyrus gritted his teeth in frustration. “So it is true,” he sighed. “A vermin invasion looks imminent now.”

Ferdimond de Mayne nodded. “All we’ve been gettin’ in this Abbey the past few days are woodland refugees, wot.”

“What’s worse is that all the news of the invasion comes from these woodlanders,” Thorn added. “We haven’t heard a scrap of info from the chaps defending the border. Prob’ly all dead by now.”

“An’ we’re pitifully short on fighters in this Abbey, yore Abbotship, ye must understand,” Skipper pointed out.

“Thank you, Skipper,” the Abbot said. “Now, like the rest of you, I’m not about to freely hand our beloved home over to that ermine and his rabble…”

A number of “aye’s” greeted this statement. The Abbot cleared his throat and continued. “However, I’m afraid that if we don’t stop the advance in its tracks, that may very well be the end result.”

“Och, so yer sayin’ we need tae kill ‘em before they kill us?” Doogy asked.

“As much as I dislike such an idea,” Cyrus sighed, “I’m afraid we are left with no other choice. We are a peaceful order, but we live in a reality where not every creature is noble at heart, unfortunately.”

Colonel Buckshaw was enthralled at the Abbot’s plan. “I say, Abbot old thing, no offense to your age, of course, but your plan is jolly well spiffin’, wot wot! A pre-emptive strike! Guerrilla tactics and all that! Er, how many enemies did you say there were?”

“A thousand, sources say,” the Abbot replied quietly.

“A flippin’ thousand?!” Buckshaw exploded. “How the deuce are we goin’ to halt a bloomin’ invasion of a thousand blinkin’ vermin?!”

“Hurr, it’s as ye said, zurr, gooriller tarctics,” Foremole Rull replied in his quaint mole dialect.

“Plus, we’ve always got th’ help of th’ Guosim, Buckshaw. Surely you remember them,” Tam added.

The old Colonel stroked his whiskers reflectively. “Ahh, the shrews, of course. Alright, well, seein’ that that’s what we have t’ work with – ”

Despite his bombastic, sometimes flippant behavior, Colonel Buckshaw Binghamton Liberforth was a master tactician; he certainly wasn’t Colonel for nothing. The hare slapped a large sheet of parchment down on the table so audibly that it made everybeast in the room jump. He then produced a stick of charcoal and began sketching out a plan.

“Alright, chaps and chapesses, lissen up! We need all th’ warriors we can get. Tam, Doogy, us hares, Tergen, and Skipper will take fifty of the most able-bodied otters and we’ll travel to shrew territ’ry first. There, we’ll enlist the help of th’ Guosim. After that we’ll go north through improvised trails in the woods. The vermin are likely t’ go stormin’ down the main roads like toads at a wedding. We’ll catch up with whatever hares are still up in the north and launch a prolonged guerrilla war against th’ vermin and see if we can’t at least dwindle their numbers or drive ‘em in th’ wrong direction. By then they’ll be sufficiently weakened if they actually do make the trek to Redwall.

“As for you lot sittin’ pretty in th’ Abbey, you’re in this war now. The rest of Skipper’s otters will oversee the building of internal defenses. Walls need t’ be strengthened. Gates need t’ be double-barred. Stock up on slings, bows and arrows, and whatever you can use for weapons. Even cooking ladles and pitchforks can be lethal in th’ right paws, doncha know! Anyway, start postin’ more sentries; there needs t’ be an around-the-clock watch on those walls! Come up with escape routes an’ hidin’ places. I cannot stress this enough, so I’ll jolly well say it again. COME UP WITH ESCAPE ROUTES AND HIDIN’ PLACES an’ get the young and old away from the vermin threat immediat’ly if the Abbey gets overwhelmed. In the meantime, stock up on food and, as much as I hate sayin’ this, don’t hold feasts until we’re back. Always keep records on supplies an’ inventory. Friar Tobel, you’re in charge o’ the vittles! Sister Armel, get your Infirmary ready because it’s goin’ t’ be filled into next season! An’ the rest of ye, you’re in a war now for your homes, families, and values! Don’t let the vermin win!”

Finishing his speech, the hare took a breath and presented the parchment, now full of scribbles and writings of his schematics. “Now then,” he looked around, “is there anything for me to drink?”

Melanda was having another headache. She had gone to bed in the early afternoon to sleep it off, when she saw Martin the Warrior again in another vision. She hadn’t had a vision for a while now, but when she did, they were always the same thing: images of vermin running through Mossflower Wood accompanied by the image of Martin speaking her name over and over. The whole routine was driving her crazy, but no matter how many times she had went to her mother for medicine, there was nothing Sister Armel could do. And she had tried everything.

However, this time, Martin had something different to say.

Melanda….Melanda…

What is it this time, Martin? she shouted as the apparition of the gallant warrior came into view.

Kyrin…

Kyrin? She hadn’t heard the name for a long time. Hardly anybeast mentioned Tam’s son, because the memories of him were still too painful to discuss.

My brother? What… she opened her mouth to say more, but no words came out. It was as if somebeast had muted all the sound in the world.

Then Martin’s eyes shone, and he spoke in a strange monotone:

In times of dark, in times of light

Paths will cross when the time is right

A warlord of the Ice and Snow;

A warrior born but not realized,

Till the day of reckoning makes him so

So fly, my child, seek out the one

The thief, the rogue, the disgraced son

Will return one day, and take up the sword

Protect the young, the weak, the old

And bring back peace forevermore.


The warrior continued.


Cross the river of hope far gone,

Seek the midnight shining pond,

From there shall you travel light,

To the two scones, a warm and welcome sight,

Find the fruits in places strange,

Then you’ll know when you’re in range,

Walk until a very nimm cramp,

There you’ll find joy,, brave Warrior Tam,

Then run with wings back to Redwall,

If you wish to save us all.

In a blinding flash of light, Martin vanished. Melanda woke with a start. She was sweating profusely, but her headache was gone. What did it all mean? The messages lingering in her head, Melanda quickly scribbled down the rhymes word for word. As she wrote, it all came to her. The “warrior born but not realized” – that was Kyrin! He was alive! And the second poem was a riddle on how to find him! Redwall would sure enjoy this!

Parchment in hand, Melanda dashed down the hall to tell the Abbot what she had seen.

The Redwallers, gathered in Cavern Hole, were not enjoying themselves at the moment. As soon as Abbot Cyrus told them Buckshaw’s plan, everybeast, from the Dibbuns to the elders, let out a concerted protest.

“Boohoohooooo! No m’re feasters?”

“Wot should we get ourselves in a tizzy over? An invasion that won’t happen?”

“Hurr, exarctly! They’m be talkin’ ‘bout et furr foive zeazons, but nought’s been ‘arp’nin’!”

“Waaaaaaah!”

“Right! What ‘e said!”

The wails were so loud that the Abbot actually backed off, covering his ears. “Oh, do something, somebeast!” he shouted desperately.

Tam, Doogy, and Ferdimond took over.

“Alright, you blitherin’ idiots!” Ferdimond bellowed. “EVERYBEAST, SHUT UP!”

Instantly, everybeast quieted down.

Doogy stepped forward. The Redwallers held their breath. They were about to be tongue-lashed like they wouldn’t believe.

“Och! Ye wee ninnies! ‘Tis small wonder why we’re not askin’ ye tae ‘elp us oot on yon quest! Look at ye sad bunch, all spineless! Cowards! Shallow eedjits, ev’ry last one of ye! ‘Ooh, look at me! Look at me! Ah’m sad that ah don’t have no feasts! Ah can’t fight, so ah’ll jes’ sit back an’ watch the braw warriors die while mah beloved Redwall’s gettin’ torn down by vermin!’ Get yer heads oot o’ th’ clouds, ye oafs! These are real vermin we’re dealin’ with, ye ken! They’re noo th’ kind which yer mammies use tae frighten ye off tae bed! NO! Far from et! They’ll kill every last one o’ ye if they git th’ chance! Now, ye either suck et up an’ go a week wi’ no fancy luxuries an’ actually work tae preserve th’ peace ye so ‘love’, or ye all can laze aroond an’ die! ‘Ow does that sound fer motivation, eh?”

Some Redwallers were starting to cast their eyes down on the ground in embarrassment. Ferdimond continued the rant:

“Right! You know wot they do in th’ barracks at ol’ Salamandastron? They’d court martial the lot of you for treason! Where’s your loyalty? Or did y’ lose it when y’ began takin’ this home for granted? WE ARE UNDER ATTACK, EVERBEAST! Stop your whingin’ and cringin’ and follow th’ Colonel’s plan! We hares were sent here five bloomin’ seasons ago precisely to help you ungrateful lot and this is what we get in return when the invasion is actually underway! You rotters! What would Martin say? ‘E’s rollin’ in his bally grave! No, he’s comin’ out o’ his grave so he can get his rotty paws around your stinkin’ necks, wot wot!”

By now, some of the Redwallers were trying to inch out of Cavern Hole in shame. However, Tam brought the world crashing down on them as he jumped on a table, the magnificent Sword of Martin drawn.

“HAWAAAAAAAAY BRAAAAAAAAWWW!!! Look at me! LOOK AT ME! Stop tryin’ t’ run away! Do ye know why Redwall survived countless attacks from vermin in th’ past? Well?! DO YE? It’s because the Redwallers of the time believed! They believed in their home! They believed in their Abbot! And they believed in each other an’ themselves! Together, they fought to keep this haven o’ peace, love, an’ understanding for the next generation! An’ shouldn’t we do th’ same! You spiteful bunch! We never saw what my son was to this Abbey! Now he’s dead! And only now do we care about him! What about this Abbey? Are we goin’ t’ sit around and not care until what we all loved and cherished is gone an’ we’re made slaves for th’ vermin? Think about wot would happen t’ yore world – or even the rest of Mossflower, ye selfish, spoiled lump’eads! Wot would yore children, or yore grandchildren say about ye seasons from now? Nothing, that’s what! They’ll all be dead or silenced under the reign of the vermin who WILL conquer the Abbey if we don’t do anything! That’s a promise! An’ this time, Martin hasn’t revealed t’ us any special warrior t’ fight off th’ threat like he did in past days! This makes everything even more urgent! Now wot do ye have t’ say for yourselves?”

The Redwallers were instantly transformed into creatures ready for battle. They raised their paws into the air and roared at the top of their lungs.

“REDWALL! REDWALL! REEEEEEEEEEEDWAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAALLLL!!!”

Tam sheathed his sword, got off the table, and nodded to the Abbot. “Ye may continue, Father Abbot.”

The sun was going down over northern Mossflower Wood, its shining beams of golden light becoming more focused and intense as it disappeared beyond the horizon. An evening breeze swept through the trees as the entire dusk sky lit up in a wonderful amber hue.

In the trees, a red blur zipped through the higher branches, severing rows of neatly-placed apples clean into halves, quarters, and even eights and collecting all the pieces before they hit the ground. The figure moved swiftly, somersaulting effortlessly between the formidable limbs of the oak, ash, and beech trees, his claymore glinting gold in the evening. In several smooth movements, the figure bounced back and forth between two trees, higher and higher until he reached the top of the tallest tree, an ancient sycamore. There was an apple placed on top of the tree. With expertise, the figure dealt a swift kick to the fruit, knocking it into the air, then leaped high, impaling the scarlet apple with his weapon and fell to earth, swinging from branch to branch to break his fall.

Kyrin MacBurl wiped the dust-infused sweat off his brow as he munched on the tasty apple still impaled on his claymore. He had collected the other apple slices using his tunic. Sitting under the refreshing shade of the sycamore, Kyrin leaned back against the trunk of the tree and ate. Another productive day! The sun was going down. Soon, he would finish the day taking a bath in the stream, where the rocks were like steps which the water ran off of, and go to bed after a refreshing meal of fresh fish garnished with local herbs and crisp water chestnuts which he had foraged.

Later, Kyrin looked at his reflection in the limpid stream as he was relaxing in the cathartic waters. If only Redwall could see him now! Over the course of five seasons, Kyrin Macburl had grown in mind, body, and spirit. The Warrior’s son, once regarded as a spoiled prankster, had become a handsome young squirrel of fifteen seasons, with a lithe, sinewy frame, a thick tail, and a pair of shining brown eyes inherited from his mother. Kyrin smiled. Everybeast was wrong about him being a lazy good-for-nothing. Determined to start anew, Kyrin had arrived in northern Mossflower, where he built himself a well-concealed dugout home near the stream, complete with a fireplace, an entrance made from wooden slats and completely cushioned with soft grass. There had been no vermin here, so Kyrin could live comfortably, without having to hide from anybeast. Every day, rain or shine, the squirrel would get up before dawn, where he would eat a breakfast consisting of apples and berries, then go practice his swordsmanship all the way to dusk with a quick lunch break where he would also pick fruits and catch fish for the evening. Kyrin learned to fuse his agile body, his quick mind, and his well-grounded technique into a unique sword style, practicing in trees. There was certainly no reason to learn sword skills in a place with no vermin, but the MacBurl blood ran in Kyrin’s veins, and he found that it was the only time his mind was at peace. Some days, though, Kyrin spent his time wandering the great forest or swimming in the river. He lived for adventure, sometimes not coming home for weeks at a time.

It felt good to be alive with nothing to lose. Every day was a new mission, a new objective, for him to complete. After cooking his dinner, Kyrin piled all his food onto a large wooden trencher and climbed a tree, sitting a bough, eating a tasty meal, watching the sun finally set as the cool evening breezes caressed his fur and the stars began to dot the vast sky. No regrets, no grudges, no looking back.

This was life at its fullest. He would not have it any other way.

Chapter 18

"Abbot Cyrus! Abbot Cyrus!" Melanda shouted, her paws flailing as she thundered down the corridor. She didn't care if she was tripping over her dress or if she wasn't acting the way a Recorder should. "Abbot Cyrus!"

Melanda tore into Cavern Hole just as the last of the Redwallers left. Only Tam, Armel, Doogy, and Ferdimond remained, discussing matters with the Abbot.

"I say, steady on, miss!" Ferdimond exclaimed as Melanda shoved past him roughly. "What's all the frenzy about, wot?"

"Calm down, Melanda," Cyrus spoke. "Ah, I see you have a roll of parchment in your paw. Did you find something important in the archives?"

"Even better," Melanda panted, out of breath. "Everybeast prepare yourselves. You won't believe what you're about to hear."

"Well, oot with it, lass!" Doogy demanded. "Stop with th' suspense!"

Melanda cleared her throat. "I just had another vision of Martin, and I think he's sent us a protector."

Tam was immediately interested. "A protector? Who – "

Melanda read the first poem to them. "Don't you see?" she asked, hardly able to contain her excitement, "'A warrior born but not realized, till the day of reckoning makes him so!' Now who could that be?"

Tam and Armel stared at each other in disbelief. Melanda kept pushing. "'The thief, the rogue, the disgraced son!' Father, don't you get it?" She grasped her father's arms. "Kyrin is alive!"

It took a while for the poem to sink into Tam's head. "Kyrin….Kyrin…" he stuttered.

The Champion of Redwall realized what Martin was trying to tell him now. "Our son is alive!" he shouted, hugging Sister Armel. They gazed at each other with tears of joy in their eyes. Melanda could no longer bear it. She burst out, totally ecstatic. "Yes! Yes, father! Your son! My brother! Kyrin is out there, and if you can find him and bring him back in time, Redwall will definitely be saved!"

Armel threw her paws around Tam's neck. "Promise me you'll find him!" she cried happily.

Tam nodded vigorously. "That's a promise! On my life I will!"

"Hold it!" Ferdimond pointed out. "Was Martin kind enough t' give you directions on how t' find Kyrin?"

Melanda read the second message. The Abbot scratched his spikes. "Hmm, well that makes no sense at the moment…"

But Tam wasn't listening. He grabbed his daughter by the waist and swung her around and around. "Thank you, Martin!" he cried.

Melanda giggled excitedly. "You might want to hold on to this," she said, handing her father the riddle.

Tam took the parchment and folded it up as if he were holding a sacred document. "We'll start the search first thing tomorrow morning!" he announced. "First we'll enlist th' help of th' shrews. Th' Guosim know th' waters like th' back of their paw. We'll find them and travel north from there." He turned to Armel. "Tell Friar Tobel to start distributing ration packs. We've got a proper mission on our paws, an' this time, we will bring Kyrin back!"

...

Orak the Assassin was enjoying Mossflower country very much. Camped out in the shade of a giant tarp, he happily cut himself a generous slice of strawberry cake, topped with honey, ground pistachios, and meadowcream. The cooks in his army were ordered to copy the foods made by the locals here, and this recipe was stolen after the army had massacred an entire tribe of voles. This was sure better than living off of scant berries and stale biscuits in the Northlands!

Wiping meadowcream off his whiskers with a white handkerchief, Orak thought about keeping a few Redwallers alive when he took over the Abbey. They would be his slaves, cooking his food for him…

The warm afternoon sun lit up the beautiful foliage. Orak smiled at the view as he savored his dessert. His troops were awaiting orders, but really, there was no rush at the moment. In a rare fit of kindness, Orak had let the army take the day off and enjoy what the land had to offer.

Deatheye and Kirsharr sat with their commander, and today, they enjoyed a good laugh together, sipping wine, joking around and telling tall tales. On this day, they genuinely enjoyed the luxury, because they knew soon they would be back killing enemies on the field. However, at the same time, they were having their first taste of what it would be like after they won the war, so they sat back, temporarily dropped the grudges, and chatted like long-lost relatives reunited.

The other soldiers were sitting around pots of delicious stew, which was made from potatoes, leeks, and two very plump woodpigeons they had shot down. Slurping stew, munching on bread, and singing bawdily, they were having the time of their life.

However, easy living made for loose tongues, and somebeast was bound to covertly watch for traces of dissent in the ranks. Deatheye had sent out two of his trackers, Browntail and Krilel, to spy on Kirsharr's soldiers, who seemed to be growing more loyal to Kirsharr than to Orak. Deatheye wasn't doing the warlord any favors; he had plans for his own advancement in mind.

Slurping stew out of greasy metal bowls, Browntail and Krilel stopped a short way from a group of Kirsharr's soldiers, and listened:

"Oy, mucker, 'tis der life, ain't it?"

"Ho, yes! Why can't we do this every day?"

"I'll tell ye why! 'Cos Orak's in command. He'd rather send us out t' die, he would! So he c'n enjoy all th' spoils o' war after we're all pushin' up daisies!"

"Right! Wot a selfish trickster!"

"Remember wot Cap'n Kirsharr promised us? Seems much better than wot Orak 'as planned!"

"Hoho! 'E wants to slit ol' Orak's gizzard!"

"Shh! Not so loud!"

"Well, that's not wot he said, innit?"

"Right, but he implied it."

"Implied? Wot in Hellgates does that mean? Stop usin' big words, showoff!"

"They aren't big words; they're common knowledge! An' if'n ye keep runnin' yore gob I'll brain ye wid this here pot o' stew!"

Browntail and Krilel had heard enough. They looked at each other and nodded, then left to rejoin their cohorts at an exciting game of shove acorn as stormy clouds began to gather on the horizon.

...

Kyrin was off on an adventure again. Claymore strapped to his back, the young squirrel strode confidently through the woods. Today he was far from home in a peaceful, unexplored part of the woods. The squirrel sniffed the evening air as he walked. It was going to rain. The air felt hot and humid and the telltale aroma of rain wafted through Mossflower.

There were rumored to be vermin lurking around the area. Kyrin personally had never had an encounter with Orak's soldiers before. In fact, for the past five seasons he hadn't seen a single soul save the occasional traveler. But as far as things went, Kyrin didn't care much about the vermin or the woodlanders. As long as he was alive, everything was alright. They could kill each other day and night and it still wouldn't bother him. Still, Kyrin decided to sleep somewhere safe, sword at the ready, should he be attacked in the middle of the night.

The first drops of rain started to hit just as the sky turned completely gray. First the trees started emitting a percussive pitter-patter, then Kyrin started feeling raindrops coming down rapidly on his head. BOOM! A loud clap of thunder shook the ground beneath him as the rain started coming down harder.

Kyrin had to find shelter fast while it was still light out. By now it was raining so hard that it was impossible to see farther than two pawlengths away. Bombarded by rainwater, Kyrin ran for the nearest shelter he could find: a crevice under a rocky overhang near the stream which he was following. The squirrel dashed to the low overhang and squeezed under it. The storm was growing more violent now. There was a flash of lightning and another loud clap of thunder, followed by the ominous sounds of whole trees being felled.

As Kyrin sat under the overhang, brushing dirt off his wet fur, he thought suddenly of Barulo again. Maybe it was the fact that he was taking shelter in a hideout by a stream. He vividly remembered the day the kindly old squirrel was killed by rats, and how he had exacted revenge by slaughtering the entire vermin camp. Kyrin winced as the screams of dying rats, male, female, young, and old, rang out in his head. It hurt terribly having to live with that horrible memory every day, and Kyrin would still get vivid nightmares about the incident from time to time.

Shuddering, Kyrin curled up and tried to get some sleep. Why was he still out here? By now, he held no grudge against Redwall Abbey or his family, especially his father. There was nothing for him to hate now except for himself for running away and causing his parents so much worry. Kyrin suddenly didn't feel like adventuring. Mossflower didn't feel too welcoming just now for some reason. He decided that the next day, he would head back to his house by the stream.

The rain pounded down mercilessly as Kyrin tried to get some sleep.

Chapter 19

The next day, early in the morning, the entire Abbey gathered at the main gate, waiting to send off the search party. The dew in the grass glinted in the morning sun like a million crystal shards scattered about the ground. It was a clear morning, perfect for questing.

Inside the Great Hall, the pudgy Friar Tobel handed ration packs to every member of the search party. "The food in there should last you around a week," he told them. "After that, you're on your own."

Thorn immediately bit into a scone which he had taken out of his ration pack. "Pwah!" he exclaimed after taking a bite. "These things are hard as flippin' rocks!"

Friar Tobel sniffed condescendingly. "They are hardtack scones, Mr. Thorn. My own invention. We don't want things burrowing into our food a few days down the road, do we?"

"You know what, I goin' t' save these bally things for when we meet the enemy," Thorn whispered to Ferdimond. "Goin' to knock a couple bally vermin out with these chaps, wot."

Doogy was still flipping through his pack. "Wot else did ye pack, Friar?"

"Dried fruits and nuts, canteens of water and cordial, turnovers, crumble, nothing too fancy," Tobel replied.

Tam shook the Friar's paw. "Thank ye so much. We'll be sure t' eat wot we can get our teeth into."

Laughing and in good spirits, the search party exited the Great Hall, leaving an indignant Friar behind.

As Tam and company stepped out onto the dew-soaked lawns, the crowd of Redwallers let out a great cheer.

"Well, this is a surprise!" Tam chuckled. "What a sendin'-off!"

Abbot Cyrus, flanked by Sister Armel, Melanda, and Brooky, approached them as they came forward. "May Martin guide you on your quest," the Abbot smiled. "Oh, and one more thing: we need to keep some sort of communication between you and the Abbey. We can relay messages regarding the situation at the Abbey as well as the riddle, which Melanda, Brooky, and I will be working on. Is their somebeast who will volunteer as messenger?"

Tergen raised a wing. "I vol'nteer. First I go with MacBurl. Then when we find shrews, I fly back and tell Abbot. Tergen fly back n' forth. Deliv'r messag's! Kraaa!"

The Abbot nodded. "I imagined Tergen would be the first to volunteer. Here, Tam, take this." He handed a carved wooden flute to the Warrior. "This is a flute which was once owned by Gonff the Mousethief. Tergen has told me he will stay one day at Redwall each time. As soon as he's completed his stay, he will come back looking for you. Keep your ears peeled for his calls. When you hear his calls, play this flute. Careful – it's loud. Tergen will follow the sound of the flute and rejoin you on your journey."

Tam eyed the flute. It was made from cherrywood, shaped by the finest paws, with exquisite patterns of flames carved into it. This was, indeed, a beautiful instrument fit for a master. The squirrel looked back at the Cyrus. "I'm obliged, Father Abbot."

Armel kissed Tam on the cheek. "Be safe, dear," she whispered. Tam smiled. "I will. Don't worry. I'm a MacBurl."

"We'll be hard at work solving this riddle," Melanda added. Tam smiled and rubbed his daughter's head fondly. "I'm sure you will, Melanda."

Brooky was busy hugging her Skipper. "I'll miss you, Uncle. But you better be back soon, otherwise I'll eat all the shrimp n' hotroot soup before you get back! Woooohahahoooooooo!"

Skipper recoiled at his niece's earsplitting laugh. "That's…splendid news, Brooky," he managed, clapping a paw to his ear.

"Well, what are we waiting for?" the Abbot asked. "Open the gates! Let's give these heroes a proper sending-off!"

"REEEEDWAAAAAAAAAAAAAALLLL!" each and every Abbeybeast roared as Tam, Doogy, Skipper, Tergen, the hares, and the otters departed, the fate of the Abbey in their paws.

Kyrin woke up to bright, warm weather. It had stopped raining, and the whole woods smelled fresh and new. Water clung to almost everything in view, twinkling in the sunlight.

Yawning, the squirrel started to get up, only to feel something squelch underneath him. He looked down and groaned. Sometime during the night, water must have seeped into the space under the overhang, turning the entire ground into mud. Kyrin was soaked in water, with mud clinging to his tunic and fur. It felt extremely uncomfortable for him to even walk around. Nevertheless, Kyrin pressed on, heading for home.

It took a little while to reach his house, or, what was left of it. Sometime during the night a large oak tree had broken and fallen across his dugout, smashing right into it. Kyrin had come back for nothing. Now his home was destroyed and he had no place to go, and he was caked in water and mud. Thoroughly frustrated, Kyrin stalked off into the woods with no particular place to go. He was thinking hard on what he was going to do. By now, it was mid-morning, and the fact that it was getting hotter didn't help matters at all.

Then, to his right, he heard frantic shouting and rustling of the underbrush.

"Hey! Ow! Stoppit!"

"Harrharr! We got ya now, mouse!"

"Murderers! Get yore filthy paws off me!"

"Shut yer mouth or I'll slit yer gizzard!"

Staying low, Kyrin slowly made his way toward the scuffle. There he saw, in a clearing, a little mouse struggling with a rope tied around his wrists, with two armed ermine in blue uniforms pulling him along by the rope.

One of the ermine looked back at the writhing mouse. "Quit strugglin', mouse! Yer gonna die anyway!"

At that moment, Kyrin's warrior instincts took over. He had never fought a creature in regular combat, but he was about to, even though he had his reservations of killing.

Drawing his claymore, Kyrin charged out from his hiding spot. "Eeeeeeeyaaaaaahhh!"

The ermine jumped back in surprise as Kyrin sliced the rope in half. "Let me help you with that," he said to the mouse, cutting the creature's bonds.

The ermine had recovered from the initial shock by now and were advancing towards the pair. Kyrin assessed the two vermin. They were taller than he was, and one carried a spear while one carried a wicked-looking machete. Both were well-trained and well-fed, but were also after blood, so any discipline they had was probably lost.

"Well, well, well, 'tis our lucky day, mate!"

"Aye! Two dead woodlanders! Orak will be pleased!"

Orak? Kyrin wondered. Just then, one of the ermine swung his machete at him. Kyrin blocked the blow with his sword, then pushed the ermine back. He handed his stone dagger to the mouse. "It isn't much, but it's better than nothing! Watch out! Here they come again!"

The ermine charged. Kyrin dodged the weapon of the spearbeast, then caught the shaft and broke it in two with his sword, following it up with a swift kick his foe's chin. Meanwhile, the mouse lunged out at the ermine with the machete, driving him back with sheer ferocity.

As his enemy tried to rise, Kyrin straddled the ermine and placed him in an armlock, slowly increasing the pressure on the creature's limbs. "'Ad enough?" he asked through gritted teeth. But the ermine suddenly rolled over, forcing Kyrin to momentarily lose his grip. Freeing his arms from Kyrin's grasp, the ermine punched him in the stomach, knocking the wind out of him, then struck him brutally across the face with the broken spearhaft. Kyrin cried out in pain and fell to the ground. The ermine came at him again. Kyrin slashed him in the leg, temporarily stalling him, and got up. The left side of his face felt like it was on fire. The ermine attacked him again with renewed anger, mercilessly beating away at him with half a weapon. Kyrin blocked blow after blow, wondering how much longer he could take this.

Meanwhile, the mouse had slashed the wrists on his adversary, who was now slowly bleeding to death. With this advantage, the little mouse jumped on the ermine, pinning him to the ground and slashed out his throat, jugular and all, with a single cut from Kyrin's stone knife. He looked up from his kill and saw Kyrin faring badly against the spearbeast. Repaying the favor, the mouse picked up the dead ermine's machete and threw it straight into the back of the other ermine. The vermin gurgled and blood came running out of his mouth as he fell upon Kyrin, face first. Kyrin was instantly reminded of the time he slew that Bloodwater rat by accident and the rat fell upon him, bleeding. This was a repeat of that incident. Unwittingly, Kyrin fell back and started screaming for a full minute straight.

The mouse hurried over to the screaming squirrel and pulled the dead ermine off him. Then he turned to Kyrin. "Hey! Shuddup! Stop screamin'! Yore bustin' me eardrums! Snap outta it!" He dealt Kyrin a slap across the face. Kyrin shook his head of the frightening vision and looked up at the mouse.

The mouse grinned. "Heh. Who's savin' who? Am I savin' you or are you savin' me? That was some fight you put up. Boy, I've never seen anybeast last that long against ermine. Rotten bullies, they are. Th' scum o' the earth! Wot's yore name, mate?"

The mouse's garrulous nature did nothing to cheer Kyrin up. As his adrenaline left him, Kyrin was drained of energy from the fight with the ermine and the horrible memory that followed. To add to that, he was also still depressed from losing his home.

"I said wot's yore name, mate? C'mon then, are ya deaf or summat?" the mouse asked again. Kyrin had to keep his eyes fixed on the strange creature, who never seemed to stand still. In fact, the mouse was dancing around him in circles! He was a head shorter than Kyrin, with short, beige-colored fur, but was well-built, with sinewy, stocky limbs. From his looks, the mouse was also about Kyrin's age, maybe a bit younger. He wore a wide-brimmed straw hat and an open-chested green tunic. "Anyway," the mouse chattered. "Since yore kinda lousy with introductions, allow me to introduce m'self. Name's Firulan. Firulan the Quick. Ya wanna know why they call me Firulan the Quick? Well, it's 'cos me name's Firulan, an' I'm quick. Ha! Clever, eh? For example, one moment I'm here. The second moment I'm there. And then I'm here then here then here then – "

"Firulan, calm down! Ca – SHUT UP!" Kyrin shouted, covering his ears. The mouse stopped. "Thanks for saving my life, mate," Kyrin finished, exasperated. "My name's Kyrin MacBurl. Can I have my knife back?"

Kyrin wished he hadn't spoken, because his last question brought out a new stream of words from Firulan's mouth. "Sure thing, mate," Firulan replied, handing Kyrin his knife back. "Y'know, you've got some good weapons on ye. Why does everybeast have a nice blade they c'n show off an' I don't?! I mean, look at this big knife thing I just picked off this dead vermin! Never seen anything like it! It's mine now!" Firulan tucked the machete into his belt. "Anyway, about yore weapons. You should learn t' at least use 'em, instead of sittin' around bawlin' yore eyes out when some deadbeast falls on you…"

Kyrin winced. Quietly, he got up and turned to leave. But Firulan wouldn't take the hint.

"Why're you followin' me?" Kyrin asked, casting the little mouse a weary look.

"Well, it's wot friends do, innit?" Firulan asked, smiling winningly.

"Go away, I'm not your friend," Kyrin muttered, walking on, staring at the ground.

"Where're ya gonna go, then?" Firulan asked, keeping a steady pace with his unwilling "friend."

"Nowhere," Kyrin mumbled.

Firulan sighed. "Figures. Got no place t' go, eh? Hermit in the woods, y'are, ya know that? Well, why're ye still walkin' around like that for? Come t' my place! Stay as long as ya like!"

"No thanks," Kyrin replied, not in the mood at all.

"Alright, suit yoreself, mate," Firulan replied nonchalantly. He made as if to walk off, then turned around again. "'Ave ya changed yore mind yet? Do you wanna stay over now?"

Kyrin glanced at Firulan again. The mouse was staring at him intently with genuine hope in his twinkling gray eyes. Kyrin smiled. "You're not gonna let up, are you?"

"Well, no!" Firulan said. "You saved my life. Or, at least, I think ye saved my life. So I owe you…I think. Anyway, it's totally fine if ya stay over."

Kyrin chuckled. "I'll stay if your mum an' dad are alright with it."

Firulan grimaced and his jaw tightened. "Got no mums or dads. We lived 'appily for seasons in this part of Mossflower in a little small tribe o' mice. Then, about a week ago, Orak the Assassin attacked, plunderin', murderin', slayin'. I was the only who made it out alive." The mouse wiped his eyes. Kyrin immediately felt sorry for him. "Anyway," Firulan continued, "I built meself a shack near a swamp where the vermin can't find it. Every day I dream about killin' the one who murdered my parents! I remember him well. 'Twas a horde captain. Mottled fur, toothed sword. Didn't seem t' want t' harm us at first when he kicked our door down, but me ol' da' attacked 'im with a chair. Must've got him mad, 'cos th' next thing I knew, both mum an' dad were dead!" Firulan's paws tightened into fists. "I c'n see me dad, lyin' on the floor with no head, an' me mother stabbed t' death protectin' 'is dead body!"

"I'm so sorry," Kyrin offered. Firulan smiled a little bit. Kyrin had to ask: "who's Orak the Assassin?

Firulan's jaw dropped. "Ye mean ya haven't heard?" Kyrin shook his head. "Mate, Orak the Assassin is the worst thing to 'ave ever walked these lands," Firulan informed him. "They say 'e came from the Northlands. Doesn't matter, I think 'e comes straight from hell! Anyway, 'e's supposed to be a remnant of Gulo the Savage's horde…"

Kyrin knew who Gulo the Savage was, but he kept his mouth shut and let Firulan go on.

"…An' he gathered up the remaining troops from the horde; all stoats and ermine, and killed 'is way down to Mossflower, which 'e invaded this summer with a new horde with all sorts o' vermin numberin' a thousand. Orak's a frightening sight. His fur is white like snow and his eyes're dark an' brooding. 'E speaks gently and never seems t' get mad, even when he's killin' and slayin'. He's smart an' he knows the score, and 'e's got all sorts of hidden weapons on him. He's also got two captains. I've been spyin' on them recently. I know where they've set up camp. "One's like him, well-spoken, smart. 'E's the stoat who killed me folks. The other one's a fat ermine, all brawn, no brain. But it's Orak who makes all the decisions." Firulan grasped Kyrin's paw. "We 'ave t' stop him! 'E's killed over a hundred innocent woodlanders, and th' hares an' Guosim shrews here are no match for 'im!"

So that's who Orak is, Kyrin thought. He turned to Firulan. "How're we goin' t' stop one thousand vermin?"

Firulan shook his head, frustrated. "I don't know, mate. I don't know. Anyway, ya hungry?"

Kyrin nodded as he just realized he didn't have any breakfast that morning.

"Well, come on then," Firulan smiled. "I'll show you where me house is."

Kyrin followed the young mouse through the now-quiet forest, a bit happier now that he made a new friend.

The sun was at its highest point as Tam and company reached a stream. "I think we've walked long enough," Tam nodded towards his companions. "Let's stop for lunch. We'll be goin' again in a little bit."

"Finally!" the three hares shouted at once. Skipper chuckled at Tam. "Don't encourage those gluttons, mate."

"Any luck on that riddle, Galwa?" Tam asked. Galwa, Skipper's strong right paw, offered a few suggestions. "Well, one thing's for sure, mate. "The 'river of hope far gone' must be the River Moss, 'cos we were stuck on th' bank for days an' when we finally crossed we presumed Kyrin was dead. Makes sense, right?"

Tam nodded. "Makes perfect sense, Galwa. Thank you. So we have the first clue. We 'ave t' cross that river at the same place we crossed it five seasons back. Anything else?"

"Well," Galwa replied hesitantly, "there's something here 'bout a pond, but 'midnight shining pond?' Don't know wot that is. And I don't know wot in th' world 'a very nimm cramp' is."

Thorn winked at Ferdimond, who was tackling a leek and onion turnover. "Guess Martin had a bally dry sense of humor, wot? Wantin' us t' get nimm cramps and all that."

"Well," Tam replied, somewhat crestfallen, "that's good enough for now. Hopefully we'll decode more o' this riddle as we – "

"Logalogalogalogaloooog!"

Everybeast raised their heads to see an army of spiky-furred shrews in short tunics and colored headbands, armed with rapiers, splashing across the stream. Their leader, Log a Log Tarryk, stepped forward, offering a paw, which Tam heartily shook."

"Rakkety Tam MacBurl!" Tarryk exclaimed. "Pleased t' meet ye! I've heard all about the Warrior of Redwall! I'm Log a Log Tarryk, an' we're th' Guerilla Union of Shrews in Mossflower, Guosim for short. Wot can we do for ye?"

"First you could cook us some proper food, wot!" Thorn piped up, waving a hardtack biscuit. This time, both Ferdimond and Buckshaw elbowed him.

Tam chuckled. "Never mind th' hares. We're on a double quest, y' see. My son Kyrin ran off five seasons ago. We just found out he's still alive an' we're headin' north t' find 'im. Plus, there's an army o' vermin led by Orak the Assassin. Ye must've heard of 'im…"

"Heard of him?" Log a Log exclaimed, "he ambushed my entire force! We're up there with th' Long Patrol guardin' the border an' he comes in from behind an' kills us all! We're no match for him. Between him and his Captains his army is the best-led army of vermin I've ever heard of! His soldiers are driven, battle-hardened, and bloodthirsty. Th' Long Patrol regiments have either fled or have been wiped out! Ye wonder why we're so far down south? Well, it's because we were fleein' his army for days! He's got a thousand troops at his disposal, ready to kill at the drop of a paw! We're no match for him! We've fought so hard!"

"Wait, you mean the chaps at the border have been killed?" Colonel Buckshaw asked. "Did word get back to headquarters?"

"By the looks of it, yes. But we managed to get a hare out of there," Log a Log confirmed. "Zephyr, his name was. Anyway, 'e should be on his way to Salamandastron with a message for Lady Melesme to deploy an army to assist us. When the army shows up I don't know, mate."

"Great Seasons," Buckshaw shook his head. "What're we dealin' with?"

"Wotever it is," Tarryk replied, "ye've got the wholehearted support of th' Guosim. Ain't that right, mates?"

The entire shrew army raised their rapiers into the air as they shouted: "GUOSIM!"

Tam nodded gratefully. "Then it's settled. Why don't ye stop for a bit of lunch? We'll be movin' out in a little while. We're tryin' t' head north to the River Moss."

Log a Log Tarryk laughed. "Hoho, then ye've come t' the right shrew, Tam! We're waterbeasts and we can get ye there by boat! After lunch I'll show ye to th' logboats we keep. Sound good?"

"Sounds good!" Tam smiled.

As the two camps introduced themselves, Tergen flew back towards Redwall to inform the Abbot that Tam had found the Guosim.

Tam looked up at the sky. The day was looking up.

"I know 'tisn't much, but it was th' best I could do," Firulan apologized as he and Kyrin reached his home on the swamp. The home was a little mud hut thatched with dead branches and plants. There was a single window and a "door" made from long strips of grass hanging from the lintel. "Make yoreself at home, mate," Firulan nodded. "I'll go find some food. You fish often?"

Kyrin nodded. "I'll come with you. I've been livin' off of fish an' fruit for the last five seasons."

Firulan smiled. "I've got a couple rods in the corner. Do me a favor an' grab 'em for me, willya? Tonight, you can tell me a bit about yoreself."

Night fell over Mossflower as Kyrin and Firulan sat around the fire pit in the middle of the hut. Firulan had prepared the trout they had caught that day by breading it with cornflour and frying it in sunflower oil. The aroma blended in with the smell of forest and the chirping crickets, creating the aura of a perfect summer night.

"My own da' taught me how t' cook this," Firulan said. "If only he were still alive, huh?"

Kyrin offered a smile.

"Wot does yore father do?" Firulan asked, flipping the fish over on the pan.

Kyrin sighed. "It's a long story. I come from Redwall Abbey. My father's name is Rakkety Tam MacBurl, and he was th' one who killed Gulo the Savage around twenty seasons ago. I've also got a mother and a sister. My mother's the Infirmary head where they take care of th' sick, while my sister keeps official historical records for the Abbey. My father always wanted me to follow in his pawsteps t' become a Warrior, but I didn't. I've never like th' discipline that went into it. I was a troublemaker back then. Everybeast hated me at Redwall. They thought I was a spoiled good-for-nothing. After I pranked a feast, my father basically disowned me, so I fled the Abbey in shame five seasons back. Funny though, I've been training myself t' become a Warrior though. It's pretty peaceful out here."

Firulan laughed. "Funny how things turn out, mate," he grinned. "Anyway, why are ya so afraid of killing?"

Kyrin tensed up. "I don't wanna talk about it," he muttered sourly.

"Suit yoreself, mate," Firulan shrugged. "Oh hey, fish is ready!" He pushed a steaming wooden trencher of fish toward Kyrin. "Eat up!"

The fish tasted amazing, far more delicious than anything Kyrin had ever made for himself. Firulan was a superb cook. "Your father taught you well," Kyrin smiled.

"Thanks, mate," Firulan grinned. "Though personally I think I'm a better cook than he was, just sayin'."

Kyrin smirked. "Arrogant," he muttered.

Firulan drew back in mock surprise. "Bushy," he retorted, noting Kyrin's large tail.

"Short."

"…Tall."

"Crazy."

"Not crazy."

"Thank you?" Kyrin replied. The two burst out laughing as they lay down on the floor to sleep.

"One question," Firulan began. Kyrin turned to him, signaling for him to ask away. "Do ya hate yore parents?"

"…No," Kyrin replied. "I mean, it's been a long time. I don't even know why I'm out here anymore. Maybe it's because I'm afraid t' go back. I don't have any grudges against 'em or anything."

"Good," Firulan said, laying back. "You shouldn't. A parent is the best thing somebeast our age could have. You were lucky, mate. As for yore parents, they prob'ly think yore dead. Prob'ly cryin' their old eyes out right now."

"Do you…think I should go back to Redwall?" Kyrin asked, feeling guilty.

Firulan snorted. "Of course! I've never been there, but my family's heard of it. In fact, we were goin' t' head off there when th' vermin attacked. How is it? Is it everything they say it is?"

Kyrin stared at the ceiling, listening to the crackling of the dying fire. "Come t' think of it," he answered, "it's real nice. Food, shelter, friends…you've got to see it t' believe it."

"Oh," Firulan nodded. "Well, whenever yore ready, mate…" he turned over and was asleep in a second.

Kyrin listened to his friend's soft snoring. Firulan was right. His parents were probably still grieving over his loss. How come he had never given that any thought? He was young back then, and his father was angry when he had disowned Kyrin. Maybe it wasn't too late to make amends. He curled up near the fire and closed his eyes, waiting for sleep to hit.

Chapter 20

At Redwall, the peaceful Abbeydwellers were gearing up for war. The walls were being fortified as were the gates. Trees were cut down, their trunks and branches carved into staves, bows, and arrows.

Armel and her friend, Brookflow the otter, niece of Skipper, were making records of the food Redwall had thus far stockpiled. “…And that should be the last of the flour,” Armel said, making a mark on a checklist with her quill pen. “Friar Tobel, would you please tell Brother Burlop to check the cellars?”

“Woohahawhoooooo!” Brooky chortled. “Those vermin’ll be outside starvin’ themselves to death while we’re in here feastin’ every single night!”

Armel chuckled at her irrepressible friend. “Haha, yes, let’s hope so. Now, let’s check th –”

“Kreeeehaaaaaa!” Tergen swooped in through an open window. “Sissarmel! B’ookf’ow! Come wit’ me!” The goshawk broke into an awkward flight through the cramped kitchens. Armel and Brooky followed, not sure what news Tergen had in store for them.

A moment later, they were with Abbot Cyrus and Melanda in the Abbot’s study. Abbot Cyrus breathed a sigh of relief. “Well, it’s good to know that Tam and his friends are on their way – and in good company too. Thank you, Tergen, you must be exhausted.”

The goshawk shook his plumy head. “Kraaaa! Tergen never tired! No ye worry ‘bout me!”

Melanda smiled as she ruffled the fierce war bird’s feathers. “Always the dutiful Warrior, aren’t you, Tergen? How much of the riddle have they figured out?”

Tergen shrugged his wings. “I’ll take that as they haven’t started yet,” the Abbot said, putting on his spectacles and unfurling the parchment with the riddle on it. “We should see how much we can get from this.”

Sister Armel leaned forward to study the poem. “Well,” she guessed, “Tam told me they crossed the Mossflower River and presumed Kyrin had died. That must be the ‘river of hope far gone’! Am I right?”

The Abbot peered closely at the parchment. “The River Moss! You most certainly are indeed, Sister! That’s the only thing that would make sense to Tam, right? I have an idea; let’s all put ourselves in Tam’s position for a second: what would make sense to him?”

Melanda blew air from the side of her mouth. “I’m not sure, Father Abbot,” she groaned. “This whole thing is referencing Mossflower Wood. My father knows the place better than we do. Maybe it makes sense to him, but it makes no sense to us.”

“Already found river of far hope gone,” Tergen pointed out. “Kraaaa.”

Melanda sighed. “Thanks, Tergen.”

“Well, no harm in tryin’ first!” Brooky piped up, trying to imitate harespeech. “Quick’s the word and sharp’s the action, wot wot! Woohahahaha! Howzat?”

Abbot Cyrus laughed. “I like your spirit, Brookflow. Let’s figure out what we can.” …

“Well, my ma wanted me to be a frog,

“And ol’ dad wanted a flea.

“But then I stamped my paw and said:

“‘A shrew I’d rather be!'

“There’s rovin’, singin’, fightin’, sailin’

“Through rivers, lakes, an’ seas.”

“Hidy ho a whale deed um

“A shrew I’d rather be!”

“Hmm, this song sounds familiar,” Tam mused as the search party made their way through the dense Mossflower Woods with the shrews singing uproariously in the back. “Where have I heard it before?”

Log a Log Tarryk, who was walking alongside the Warrior, laughed. “Haha, mate, it only sounds familiar t’ ye ‘cos they’ve been singin’ the same song for th’ past fifteen minutes or so. “They just finished the forty-sixth verse. Only fifty-four more to go!”

“Great Seasons, do ye make them memorize all these songs?!” Tam joked.

Log a Log Tarryk chuckled. “No, ye ol’ bushtail. They remember it themselves. It helps ‘em march in time.”

“Well, it’s not helpin’ me figure out this riddle,” Tam groused, staring at the parchment. “What’s the ‘midnight shining pond’?”

“A pond,” Tarryk replied, almost ironically. “Wot did ye think it was?”

It took a moment for the realization to hit Tam. The Champion laughed self-effacingly. “I honestly thought of everything but that. Thank you, Log a Log.”

The shrew Chieftain patted his comrade on the back. “Martin isn’t all about complex riddles, ye know.”

Tam looked back at the riddle. “Alright then. Goin’ with yore logic, I guess after we cross the river, we should find a pond by midnight, because th’ riddle implies that th’ moon is goin’ to be shining on it. ‘Midnight shining pond’, right? How’s that for figuring something out?”

Log a Log smiled brighter than the dusk sky. “Yore gettin’ better at it. Oh, look. Th’ river’s in view. Ready th’ logboats!”

Orak the Assassin was having nightmares.

Twice in one night, the fearless warlord had been shaken to the core by visions. It was that mouse, always appearing in front of him, then morphing into a squirrel. Not a squirrel who looked like an experienced warrior, but a young squirrel. Orak was surprised. What did this all mean? Here was a mouse with eyes that drilled him to the very soul, but when the mouse was replaced by the squirrel, the eyes remained the same! Whatever it was, Orak woke with a start, sweating profusely.

The warlord sat up on the edge of his bed. The crickets were chirping outside his tent. For once in his life, Orak was actually…afraid. He had drank the last bottle of damson wine, his throat was parched, and he was afraid to go out and get a drink of water, for fear that the mouse might attack him.

For some reason, Orak suddenly remembered one of his many attacks on a village. An old mouse had said something that somehow unnerved him.

You shall meet your end at the paw of the one you do not know and do not expect!

Could the squirrel in his dreams be his demise? In a fit of rage, Orak kicked over the small table sitting next to him. “Have you gone soft?” he reprimanded himself, “scared of prophecies and dreams which never happen anyway!” He couldn’t believe this. Maybe it was all that partying earlier on. Orak had always seen destiny as something that he could forge. And, so far, it had proved be true. He never consulted any oracles or seers. But this…this was something that was beginning to gnaw away at his confidence.

The tent flap opened and Orak jumped.

“Are ye alright, my lord?” Krilel the ermine asked as he made his way into the tent. “I was up an’ I heard noises from yer tent, so I…”

“Shhh,” a disturbed Orak grabbed the tracker. “Not so loud. He might hear.”

“So you know about Kirsharr, my lord?” Krilel asked, perplexed.

The sudden change of topic snapped Orak out of his daze. “N-no, what about Kirsharr?”

Krilel knew he was playing a dangerous game. “Well, I was gettin’ a drink o’ water in th’ middle o’ night, an’ I walked past Cap’n Kirsharr’s tent, an’…an’ he was sayin’ somethin’ to a few o’ his soldiers!”

Orak’s grip on Krilel’s uniform tightened. “Tell me what he said!” he hissed impatiently. “Tell me everything!”

“Y-yes, M’lord! Well, er…’e was pacin’ around ‘is tent all fussy-like – I saw ‘cos he lit a candle inside ‘is tent – and ‘e was promisin’ his soldiers a better life under his command. An’ he made a gesture like this as ‘e mentioned yore name – ” the ermine dragged a finger across his own throat.

Orak nodded. “Thank you, Krilel, you’ve done well. I will have Kirsharr promptly killed – but there is a problem…oh, drat, his soldiers are more loyal to him than they are to me. Well, I can change that, no problem at all. And you – ” he turned toward Krilel again. “You’re one of Deatheye’s, aren’t you? I’ve seen you with him before…”

Krilel nodded rapidly and gulped. “Y-yes, sire, but Cap’n Deatheye hasn’t mentioned murderin’ you or anybeast! C-Cap’n Kirsharr, now ‘e’s th’ bad ‘un! A very bad ‘un indeed!”

“Shut up, you blithering oaf!” Orak snarled. “Do you really think I’m going to kill you? You’re doing your leader and your comrades a good deed, Krilel, and I think you should be rewarded.” Orak presented the ermine with one of the beautiful daggers he kept hidden inside his cape. Krilel gazed at it. It had a gilded hilt with an emerald pommel stone, and the blade was sleek, needlelike, and elegant.

“Sire, I really can’t accept this – ” Krilel began, but Orak silenced him with a wave of his paw. “No, really, Krilel, it’s yours, and as long as you keep reporting on Kirsharr’s movements to me, it will stay yours. But if you try to double-cross me – ” Orak dragged a finger across his neck in the same way Krilel had done.

Krilel gulped and nodded. “Yes, my lord!” Bowing somewhat excessively, he left in a hurry. Orak smiled slightly and went back to bed. His smile faded though, as he drew another dagger out from his cape. “You’d better watch out,” he spoke, to nobeast in particular. “Those who look at Orak the Assassin the wrong way – ” he licked the blade savagely, “ – will never open their eyes again!”

Kyrin woke up to a bright summer dawn. He looked around, at first not remembering where he was. Then it all came back to him. He was in Firulan’s hut. The ground was warmed by the sunlight which poured through the windows.

Sitting up and rubbing his eyes, Kyrin looked around. The interior of the dwelling still smelled like fried trout. The fire had long gone out in the fire pit, and all that was left was a pile of ashes, along with several charred sticks and branches.

Then Kyrin felt something slide down his back that made him jump. Frantically, he reached down his tunic and pulled something out. To his relief, it was only a piece of parchment with some poorly-scrawled writing on it.

Your probly wundering how I stuck this down your bak while you wer sleping. Went to get days food, be bak by nite fall. Firulan

Kyrin smiled. Firulan was already taking all the responsibility for him. A mouse which he had only befriended yesterday was literally bringing him food. Not wanting to take advantage of Firulan’s hospitality, Kyrin decided to surprise his new friend. What he was going to surprise Firulan with was the question though…

Stretching his limbs, Kyrin got up and strode out of the hut, thinking about what would be a proper gift to give Firulan. Soon, he found himself strolling through the dew-covered forest. The never-ending carpet of dead leaves crunched under his footpaws as Kyrin walked. But soon, the young squirrel found himself walking up a slow but sure incline. His adventurer spirit getting the best of him, Kyin decided to travel the new trail he had just discovered, not knowing where it would lead him. Besides, he had a whole day to figure out what to get Firulan as a present.

The trail eventually led to a dead end. Kyrin stopped as the trail simply stopped in an empty cul-de-sac surrounded by tall trees and sloped terrain.

“Oh, well, that’s great,” Kyrin grumbled. “Walkin’ miles an’ miles, just to hit a dead end.” Shaking his head, the squirrel turned to go, but the trees looked so tempting to climb, their trunks looming into the air like enormous flagpoles. Not wanting to go home without seeing at least something, Kyrin climbed up the tallest fir tree he could find, working his way to the top.

Perching on the tip of the tree, Kyrin looked out to the horizon. The sun shone in the air like a dazzling medallion. Seagulls shrieked as they flew over the cloud-swathed blue sky. Kyrin savored a slight breeze which rippled through his fur. To the north, the fog lifted, and the distant snow-capped peaks could be seen. Everything else was a field of bright green foliage.

“Wow,” Kyrin breathed, amazed at the beauty of the place he called home. Just then, he slipped. Kyrin gasped and instinctively clung onto a branch for support.

Then, of course, the branch started to crack.

“Wow,” Kyrin repeated, this time sarcastically. “That’s just gr-EEEAAAAAAAAAAT!” The branch broke and he plunged earthwards, screaming.

Snap! Crunch! Swish! The young squirrel’s free fall was broken by at least two dozen branches, which at least cushioned the otherwise-heavy blow he received when he struck the ground, tumbling wildly down the hill.

Whump! Kyrin rolled down to the food of the hill. Luckily, he hadn’t broken anything, but his whole body was in searing pain.

“Oww,” he groaned as he got up, his back cracking audibly as he rose. “Wha-where am I?”

Kyrin looked around. The bottom of the hill was covered in a fine carpet of soft soil and moss. There were tall trees everywhere, save a few stumps here and there. Somebeast must have chopped down these trees for firewood, he thought. Again, the curious adventurer in him got the best of him, and so Kyrin started following the stumps, which seemed to form a scattered trail of their own.

Eventually, he came upon a small brick cabin, dried ash-colored clay covering its sides like plaster. The quaint little house was complete with chimneys and actual carved shutters on the windows. The roof was thatched with straw and a pile of firewood lay to the side. Behind the cabin was a wooden shack, with the smell of smoked fish emanating from it.

What a find! Kyrin thought. With total disregard for property ownership, he entered the cabin through a window. It was dry and cozy inside, with a flat dirt floor which was somehow spotless at the same time. There was a small table and two chairs, a rudimentary oven in the corner, a bunk bed, and a homemade cabinet stuffed with herbs and leaves which Kyrin assumed were medicines.

There’s nothing to steal, Kyrin thought. Wait…did I just think that? He turned to leave…and then he noticed a large blueberry pie sitting on the table left to cool. Its crust was puffed up and golden brown and it looked too good to let be. His old habits coming back to him, Kyrin snatched the pie and climbed out the window, his heart starting to race.

The smokehouse was next. Running on rising adrenaline levels, Kyrin kicked the door in even though the door didn’t have a lock on it.

Inside the smokehouse, Kyrin’s mouth started watering at the sight of slabs of dried herring, cod, grayling, and trout hanging from the ceiling by flax string. Without thinking twice, he used his stone knife to cut down two pieces of fish, when he heard a feminine voice calling.

“Hello? Gry? Is that you?”

Somebeast was moving toward the smokehouse! Kyrin’s blood ran cold. Tying the strings to his wrists so he wouldn’t drop the fish, Kyrin slipped out the rear entrance of the smokehouse and, with a few leaps, was off into the trees, no looking back.

Kyrin made it back to Firulan’s hut in half the time it took for him to get to the mysterious house. Plopping down on the floor, he took a moment to catch his breath, then lay down and laughed aloud. What an adventure! To celebrate his victory, Kyrin bit into the first fish. It tasted phenomenal, perfectly smoked and seasoned with a mixture of unknown herbs. He wolfed down both pieces of fish in two bites. Kyrin placed the blueberry pie to the side, waiting for Firulan to return. He’ll love this, the young squirrel thought.

“I love this!” Firulan exclaimed through a mouthful of blueberries. “Th-this is prob’ly better than my cookin’! Mate, yore a genius an’ no doubt about it!”

Kyrin chuckled with feigned modesty. “Uhh, yeah…haha, it was really nothing…” The guilt of stealing food was starting to get to him.

Firulan helped himself to another slice. “Mmf! Grunch! How’d ye do it? There’s gotta be a secret, right?”

Kyrin felt a momentary chill rush through him. “Uh, yes,” he replied as smoothly as he could. “But it wouldn’t be a secret if I told you, eh?”

Firulan slapped his knee and laughed aloud. “Ha! Yore a cool one, mate, an’ no mistake!”

“Uh, yeah, hahaha,” Kyrin chuckled, laughing along with his friend. “An’ don’t you forget it.”

“Well, ‘twas a pleasant surprise,” Firulan grinned. His teeth were stained with berry juice. “See if’n ye can whip me up another one of yer fancy dishes tomorrow. I’m lookin’ forward to it.”

“Right,” Kyrin replied halfheartedly, rinsing his mouth out with a cup of water. “Don’t you worry. I’ll cook something else…”

As they lay down to sleep that night, Kyrin began to feel an obligation to Firulan. Having made a promise, he now had to go back to the same place tomorrow and steal more food. How was he going to keep his word like this? How long would it be like this?


Chapter 21

“You know wot I don’t get?” Tam asked nobeast in particular as the party marched through the woods. “The fact that we saw blood, bits of squirrel fur an’ a burnt shelter an’ everything, but it turns out that Kyrin didn’t die.”

Doogy shrugged. “Maybe th’ lad’ll tell ye what happened when we find ‘im.”

“Whatever the situation, ye owe yore son an apology, mate,” Skipper pointed out.

The sun had gone down by this point. The last of its rays, though, was enough to maintain visibility. “We better hurry, mates,” Log a Log said. “We have t’ find the pond afore it gets dark, otherwise, we’ll ‘ave t’ wait another whole day.

Thorn sniffed the air. “Do any of you chaps smell water?” he asked.

“Well, we just crossed a river…” Galwa began, but Skipper cut them off. “’E’s right, mates. I smell it too. There! Further inland!”

“Wonderful!” Colonel Buckshaw exclaimed. “We can set up camp an’ break out the tuck! Double time it, lads! Come on!”

Dinner was a simple affair: freshly-baked shrewcakes, stew made from dried roots and tubers, and some of Friar Tobel’s hardtack scones. The search party was camped at the edge of the pond.

“So we wait ‘til midnight?” Skipper asked, sitting down next to Tam, who was sitting away from the campfire, staring at the pond.

“Aye,” Tam nodded. “Th’ moon should be up by then.”

Skipper winced as he attempted a bite out of a hardtack scone. Shaking his head, he dunked it in his stew, hoping to soften it. “Ready t’ see yore son again, mate?”

Tam nodded, still staring at the pristine waters.

“Five seasons,” Skipper muttered. “Five seasons.”

“Skipper…” Tam asked hesitantly, “do ye think Kyrin’ll…hate me?”

The burly otter clapped the Border Warrior so hard on the back he nearly fell into the pond. “Haharr, don’t ye worry, Tam. Kyrin’s grown up, too. He won’t hold any grudge against ye. Trust me. I have a niece, remember? Now, I’m goin’ back t’ the fire. Yore welcome t’ come along. They’re singin’ songs. Mmf! These scones aren’t so bad once ye’ve softened ‘em up a bit!”

Tam smiled inwardly as he continued staring at the pond.

“…An’ if yore wand’rin’ ‘round the woods tonight,

“Stuck out in the rain,

“We’ll sit ye down around th’ fire and warm ye up again,

“There’s food and drink aplenty,

“What’s better’s that it’s free,

“Take all th’ food ye wish to take, just don’t take any from me!”

The songs and laughter emanating from around the campfire filled the air. Tam sat there, his mind and heart racing, waiting for midnight.

A while later, Tam woke Doogy, Skipper, Log a Log, and the hares, and they moved to the edge of the pond. The moon rose to the sky like a shining orb of purity, scattering its silver rays of light along the water. In this moment, the pond did indeed look as if it were shining.

“Remember this sight, chaps,” Ferdimond said, “it’s not every night you get t’ see a full moon like this, wot.”

Log a Log was much more practical about everything. “Alright, great. Ye woke us up t’ see a light show, Tam. Now how’s that goin’ t’ lead us closer t’ Kyrin?”

At that moment everybeast realized that they had been focusing so hard on finding the pond and waiting for midnight that they didn’t figure out where it would lead them from there. Tam immediately looked back to the riddle, then back up at the pond, then back at the riddle.

“Hmm…well…it says: ‘From there you shall travel light / To the two scones, a warm and welcome sight.’ Well, I don’t know about the two scones, but I think I know wot Martin meant by ‘traveling light.’”

“What?” the others chorused at once.

Tam smiled and indicated a ray of moonlight that reflected off the pond’s surface. Sure enough, the beam of light illuminated a small trail on the other side of the pond. “See?” Tam asked. “It’s a pun. When Martin wants us t’ travel light, ‘e wants us t’ travel by the light of the midnight shining pond, right? We have t’ go that way! Across the pond! ”

Log a Log breathed a sigh of relief. “Well that’s good yore complicated brain just kicked in. For once, it saved us a lot o’ trouble. Thanks, Tam.”

Tam beamed as bright as the moon. “I’m proud of myself.”

“Rally the troops,” Colonel Buckshaw ordered, “let’s find those flippin’ scones sharplike, wot? I’m still hungry!”

Orak the Assassin awoke the next morning, red-eyed and cranky. The strange mouse-squirrel Warrior…ghost…thing…was tormenting him relentlessly. But even in his troubled state the warlord was still very aware of Kirsharr’s disloyalty. His rapid brain immediately fired up another plan. Rousing the troops, Orak summoned them in full rank and file in the middle of the camp. Within a few minutes the entire army of vermin stood in neat ranks, the ermine and stoats in the front, and the rats, weasels, ferrets, and foxes in the back, grouped by species. Uneasiness lingered in the air. Every soldier, regardless of rank, saw the roots of madness in his master’s eyes. Nobeast dared make a sound.

Orak waited until everybeast was settled, then pointed randomly. “You there, in the back, and you over there, and you! Get up here!” he barked.

As the three rats he picked ran up to serve the warlord’s bidding, Orak nodded to a minor officer behind him to give them stacks of crisp, new uniforms.

“You have all served me well,” Orak announced in an even voice, as the rats scurried to distribute new uniforms.

“Thank you, Sir,” the army chorused.

“You’re very welcome,” Orak replied dryly. “Now, as a reward for your service – and because we will be moving out tomorrow – all of you will be outfitted with new uniforms and new weapons.” At this, the Assassin nodded to another minor officer, who unveiled a tent full of weapons picked off from defeated Long Patrol hares.

“There you have it,” Orak announced. “One weapon apiece – hold on – I didn’t say you could come up and grab them. We’ll form lines after this. Anybeast who does not wish to trade in his rusty old sword or spear is free to keep his weapon.”

Many of the soldiers were already trying on their new uniforms. One audacious fox in the back spoke up:

“My uniform’s too small!”

Orak shifted his body to see who had spoken: “Ah, a complaint. Come up here! Yes, you! Up here! Don’t be shy!”

Everybeast stopped what they were doing to see the fox confront the ermine. This soldier was a head taller than Orak. The way he swaggered through the ranks made everybeast aware that something bad was going to happen. Orak watched and made a mental note that this fox was coming from Kirsharr’s ranks.

“Now what was the problem again?” Orak asked.

The fox was a foot away from Orak. “This thing’s a head smaller than me!” he growled.

“I’m sorry,” Orak replied, adopting an apologetic tone, “what would you like me to do for you, sir?”

Nobeast had ever heard Orak the Assassin address anybeast, especially one of his own troops, as his superior.

The fox reared himself to his full height. “Make my uniform larger, Orak! I want it to fit!” None of the soldiers had ever heard anybeast address the warlord by his full name and live.

Orak kept his voice deceptively calm. “I see, sir. Do you have any other grievances?”

The fox hesitated but quickly recovered. “That’s it,” he growled. “Make sure they step to it.” With that, he impudently dumped the new uniform into Orak’s paw.

Orak bowed his head and mused for a second. “You want it to fit. Got it.” In one move, the warlord whipped out his sword and slashed in a horizontal motion, level to the fox’s throat. From behind, it looked as if nothing had happened. But then the fox’s head slid off his shoulders like butter.

“Now it fits, you worthless cretin. Get this useless thing out of my sight,” Orak said, his tone of voice significantly darker now.

The entire army seemed to shift uncomfortably as the bloody corpse was moved out of sight.

“Now,” Orak spoke, casually wiping the blood off his sword with a rag, “many of you probably think that I’ve gone soft on you. I’ve let you relax for the past few days so you could rest up for the attack on Redwall Abbey. If anybeast takes this for weakness and wishes to challenge my authority, please come up here now. No? If anybeast wants to leave, please, by all means, leave right now. You won’t survive, and I’ll tell you why. Though they look like simple farmers, these woodlanders want to kill you. When you’re out there alone, starving to death while deciding which fruit is safe to eat and which one is not, they will take your life with a slingstone to the head or a pitchfork to the back. And don’t even think about going to Redwall Abbey for food and shelter. They’ll slay you on the spot. Think they’re a peaceful place? Think again. Their compassionate ways don’t apply to you. But, if you stay with me, we can change that. We can destroy that place of hypocrisy and build a place for ourselves! Never again will we be running around, stealing and plundering to get by! We will rule Mossflower! They’ll bring food to us! They’ll call us masters! They’ll never question our word again! Now who’s with me?!”

The cheer that followed shook the earth and reassured Orak that his troops were indeed still with him. However, the ermine did not stay around to savor his victory: he had disappeared into his tent, leaving Deatheye to take over the proceedings.

He had seen the mysterious mouse standing resolute in the back ranks, the eyes drilling deep into his dark conscience like broken diamond shards.

Making good of his promise to Firulan, Kyrin returned to the mysterious house as soon as Firulan was gone. It took him no trouble retracing his steps and finding it again. And soon he was standing in front of the house again. This time, somebeast had slipped an iron padlock over the door to the smokehouse, as well as over the door of the cabin. The shutters on the windows were closed – barred from the inside.

This, of course, didn’t bother Kyrin at all. In another fit of adrenaline, Kyrin smashed a window right in and entered the cabin. Seeing as how there was no fresh food put out for him, Kyrin peered into the oven. Sure enough, there was another pie in there. This time, it was a blackberry pie with sugar sprinkled on top. Kyrin tried to grab it but had to pull his paws back in pain, because the pie was still too hot. Pulling the tablecloth off the table, Kyrin wrapped the pie up and bolted out the window.

Just when he was about to leave, though, Kyrin heard the crackling of dead leaves and voices coming through the woods. Probably the owners of the house, he thought. The agile young squirrel scampered up the roof of the house, lay low in the straw thatching, and watched.

He saw two figures in the shadows. One was tall and one was short. They were conversing casually.

“Hopefully boardin’ up those windows did some good.”

“Let’s hope so, Gry. I don’t want our little thief coming back.”

Kyrin suddenly felt his knife slip out of his belt. It fell off his hip, bounced on the roof, and landed on the ground beside the cabin. The young squirrel cursed himself for his bad luck. He heard the figures speak again.

“Did ye just see somethin’ drop from the roof?”

“I saw it too. Come on, Gry, let’s see what’s going on.”

Kyrin decided that the tall one was the male named “Gry”. And the short one was, well, the female. Before they spotted him, Kyrin jumped down from the roof shot off into the woods.

The two figures neared the house.

“Great Seasons! ‘E’s done it again!”

“What do you mean, Gry?”

“Look! The liddle rogue’s smashed a hole in th’ window!”

“What was the thief after?”

“Prob’ly food again. I’ll get the door open so we can check.”

“Wait, what’s this?”

“Hmm…looks like a stone dagger or summat. ‘E must’ve dropped it during th’ theft. Looks like we ‘ave a clue now.”

“The thief will probably be back for it.”

“The dagger?”

“Gry, thieves don’t carry that many weapons with them. A dagger is pretty valuable to a thief.”

“Wot are ye tryin’ t’ say?”

“Listen, Gry…I have a plan…”

Chapter 22

The ermine named Krilel walked through the camp, keeping his head down and attracting no attention. Around him, soldiers were trying on uniforms and sharpening weapons. Krilel could sense bloodlust in the air. However, he chose to ignore it in lieu of his “assignment” from Orak: spy on Kirsharr.

Kirsharr’s tent flap was wide open. The fat ermine Captain was half-sitting, half-recling in his chair, swigging damson wine and gnawing on day-old woodpigeon. Two of his soldiers, both ermine, sat and watched their Captain like jackals. As soon as Krilel saw Kirsharr push a goblet of wine to each soldier, he knew the Captain was going to discuss important matters with them. So, he pretended to inspect his spear while standing a safe distance from the tent, listening in on the conversation. With Kirsharr, especially a half-drunk Kirsharr, secrecy was not top priority.

“Awright, I need ye two t’ keep this a secret.”

“Yes, sir!”

“Orak’s leadin’ us the wrong way.”

“Yes ‘e is, sir!”

“An’ yore goin’ t’ do somethin’ about it!”

“Right!”

“Tonight, yer goin’ t’ kill ‘im in his sleep! Then I’ll lead, an’ we’ll do things my way!”

“Yes, sir!”

“Tonight, you’ll kill ‘is guards in their sleep. Then ye sneak in, take ‘im out, an’ report t’ me, got it?”

“Sir, yes, sir!”

“Take this wine an’ these daggers. All are poisoned. Get th’ guards ter ‘ave a drink an’ go in an’ finish Orak off! Now get outta here!”

“Yes, sir!”

Krilel shook his head and smiled inwardly. Now he had something to report.

So did the goshawk flying above the camp.

Of course, Orak found Krilel before Krilel found him.

“Alright, so what did Kirsharr say?” Orak asked, somewhat fidgety. Krilel noticed that the warlord looked a little unkempt, as if he had just woken up. There was definitely a crazed look in the Assassin’s eyes…

“He’s goin’ t’ kill ye in yer sleep, sire. He’s sendin’ somebeast tonight.”

Orak nodded. “Thank you. Now get out.”

Even Orak was never this terse. Not wanting the face the wrath of his leader, who he was convinced was going crazy, Krilel left immediately.

“I’m going to kill you, squirrel,” Orak seethed through gritted teeth. “And I won’t rest until I do! That’s a promise!”

“There he is!” Brooky shouted, pointing upwards. She and Armel were sitting atop the battlements, eating a late lunch of watercress soup and fresh acorn bread.

“Kraaaa!” Tergen landed safely, perched atop a stone mortar. “Situation goodgood! Vermin no move out yet!”

Armel looked at Brooky. “What a relief that is! Thank you Tergen!”

“Let’s tell the Abbot,” Brooky suggested. “He’s been pesterin’ me all morning about Tergen. I’m afraid he’ll shed his spikes if we keep it from him any longer! Hahahaha!”

Abbot Cyrus was only partially relieved. “Thank you for the news, Tergen,” he thanked the bird, who was busy wolfing down giant bowl of candied chestnuts. “Now the question is: when are they going to move out?”

“Tergen doesn’ know,” Armel shook her head.

“That’s true,” the Abbot mused. “he can’t predict everything he sees.”

“So, what about the riddle, Melanda?” Armel asked.

“Ugh, this is brain-boggling!” Melanda exclaimed, staring at the parchment. “I’m assuming that the ‘two scones’ are some sort of natural feature in Mossflower, so I can’t help father too much there. But as for the ‘very nimm cramp’, I’ve checked all the records and searched all possible obscure references in our Abbey’s history. Still nothing! I look terrible, don’t I, mother? I’ve been up all last night trying to figure this thing out!”

“Poor thing,” Armel said sympathetically, rubbing her daughter’s head. “Maybe it’s another natural feature of Mossflower?”

“I don’t think so,” Melanda replied, making a show of getting up. “But whatever it is, I’m going to get some sleep. Don’t wake me up.” With that, she left the Abbot’s study, not bothering to close the door behind her.

The others crowded around the poem. It was thoroughly marked up with notes, annotations, and speculations about what a ‘very nimm cramp’ could be.

“Well, whatever it is,” Abbot Cyrus sighed, “it’s where Tam will ‘find joy’, according to this riddle. If that means Kyrin is in this ‘very nimm cramp’, whatever that may be, then there’s a start, right?”

The others didn’t answer as they continued to study the riddle.

“Alright, well, it’s been a day, and I still don’t know wot a ‘very nimm cramp' is, mate. Sorry.”

Tam blew air out of the side of his mouth. “I know, Skipper. It’s the only thing we need t’ figure out. Well, that and the ‘two scones.’”

“Speakin’ of scones, I’m flippin’ famished,” Ferdimond announced, to nobeast in particular, as the search party trekked along the hidden trail marked by the light of the “midnight shining pond.”

“Oh, come on, Ferdimond,” Buckshaw sniffed, “you just ate the rest of the food in your ration pack.”

“And mine,” Thorn added.

“He’s got a point, mates,” Log a Log Tarryk, who had overheard, announced. “We’re gettin’ low on rations. I hate t’ say this, but if we don’t do something quick, we may be livin’ off roots an’ berries for the next few days…an’ it’s gettin’ dark, too.”

“So, ye need help?”

The entire search party turned at the sound of the unfamiliar voice. In the fading light, they saw a burly, friendly-looking vole, his amiable features illuminated by the torch he was carrying.

“Are ye lost?” the vole asked. “Not many beasts travel here often.”

“Ye might say so, yes,” Galwa said.

The vole nodded. “So yore lost. Well, my name’s Flint. Pikejaw Flint. Come with me.” He turned to go, leading the way with his torch. Tam looked at the others and shrugged. They followed the vole off the trail and into the woods.

Pikejaw Flint turned out to be Chief of a good-sized tribe of bankvoles who lived in grass huts in the woods, near a hidden tributary of the River Moss. Introductions were made, and soon the search party was having dinner with rest of the tribe, next to a large campfire.

“So tell us, Tam, wot brings ye from Redwall Abbey in the first place.”

Tam told him the whole story from start to finish. Pikejaw nodded. “So, I gather ye haven’t met Orak the Assassin yet?”

“Not face-to-face, no,” Tam replied.

‘E’s an evil ‘un, Pikejaw’s wife, Petunia, replied. “We had t’ hide our tribe even more after he showed up.”

“That’s right,” Pikejaw added. “Orak kills wotever he sees. The little ‘uns can’t even go out t’ play no more, for fear of gettin’ murdered. He’s an ermine, an’ they say he’s a remnant of Gulo the Savage’s horde, if’n ye know who that is…”

Tam nodded. “I know who yore talkin’ about, mate. I killed Gulo the Savage. Too bad some of his ermine escaped.”

“It’s not yore fault,” Pikejaw replied. “It’s nobeast’s fault. I’m hopin’ we can stop him before he gets too close.”

“Maybe ye could join us on our braw quest tae fight some vermin!” Doogy suggested.

Tam shot him a stern look. “We’re findin’ Kyrin first.”

“Well, no hurt in havin’ a couple voles tae see us along,” Doogy shrugged. He turned to Pikejaw, “That is, of course, if ye wish to provide us with some o’ yer fighters.”

Pikejaw smiled magnanimously. “I’ll see wot I can do.”

“Thank you, Pikejaw,” Tam smiled, nodding. “Oh, an’ there’s one more thing…are ye familiar with th’ ‘two scones, a warm and welcome sight’?”

Pikejaw and Petunia looked at each other and back at Tam. “Of course,” Pikejaw chuckled. “Ye wanna keep goin’ on th’ path until ye reach a crevice ‘twixt two large, flat rocks that look like scones. We know ‘cos we’ve been there all th’ time.”

“Wot about ‘a very nimm cramp?’” Skipper added.

“Sorry, mate,” Pikejaw replied, “Not too sure ‘bout that one. I c’n tell ye it’s prob’ly not a landmark of any sort. Look, Tam, we’ll pack ye some food for tomorrow. Meanwhile, eat up an’ have fun!”

The night went on with much carousing, singing, and merrymaking. Tam smiled up at the stars. “Thank you, Martin,” he said softly, as the sounds of joy and hope rang out around him.

Lazzil the ermine shivered in his new uniform as dusk began to fall. The spring night breezes made him shiver. He was eager for the next day. Finally, some action! It was still cold though, especially when he had to stand guard all night in front of Orak’s tent…

A voice behind him made him jump. “Getting some rest, tonight?”

Lazzil whirled around to face Orak the Assassin, wrapped in his cape, standing in front of him. “Oh no, yer highness. I’m awake! Er, er…”

The Assassin’s eyes flashed with sweetness masking insanity.

“Come now, Lazzil, you must be cold. Don’t lie.”

The Warlord had never spoken personally to his guards before, let alone address them by name. Lazzil relaxed. “Well, er…I could do wid a warm fire or summat.”

“I know,” Orak said soothingly. “I’m making my rounds to inspect supplies one last time tonight. You’ve been a dutiful guard. Come inside and help yourself to anything; my wine, my food, my bed. It’s all yours for tonight. Thank you, Lazzil, for protecting me.”

Lazzil puffed out his chest and saluted. “Thank ye, sir!”

Orak nodded and disappeared, bundled up in his shroudlike cape.

Lazzil cautiously entered the tent. It was pitch black inside but smelled strongly of wine and scented flowers – a clear step up from the putrid scents coming from the tents of the soldiers. In the darkness, Lazzil uncorked a bottle of damson wine and drank deeply, feeling the heat of the drink down his throat all the way into his stomach. Exhausted and cold, he went over to Orak’s bed. It was a very comfortable bed, and Lazzil lay down on it, pulling the covers over his head for warmth. Just before he closed his eyes he glimpsed the carving of a mouse on the wooden table, with a knife stuck into it…

This did not bother Lazzil, and soon the ermine went to sleep.

He never woke up.

Orak watched quietly from behind a tree, hidden from view as two ermine leave the tent, clutching bloody daggers.

“Haharr, can ye believe it? No guards tonight! We didn’t even have t’ use th’ poisoned wine!”

“Hoho, Captain Kirsharr’s goin’ ter love this! Everything went better ‘n expected, eh, mate?”

In the darkness, Orak smiled venomously. “Oh, yes,” he said to himself. “Everything went better than expected.”


Chapter 23

His heart pounded in his chest as hard as his footpaws pounded the coarse gravel that gave way to volcanic sand.

His lungs pumped like pistons, so hard as though they would burst.

His eyes searched the starry sky as if to question whether this was all just a dream.

He collapsed in the sand, not far from the volcano.

The next thing he knew, shadows of figures were crowded around him in concern.

“Who’s that?”

“I recognize th’ chap! Zephyr, old lad, are you alright, wot?”

“Alright? He looks as if ‘e’s been runnin’ for a flippin’ week!”

“What’s this? He’s brought something!”

“It’s a message! Read th’ bloomin’ thing already!”

“Situation looks dire in Mossflower, eh, wot? Five hundred blinkin’ hares needed sharplike! We should take this to the ol’ Badger Lady.”

“Right! You two, take Zephyr to the Infirmary. I’ll go tell Lady Melesme about this at once!”

Orak the Assassin cursed silently to himself as he stood over the corpses of his two would-be killers, wiping his daggers clean of their blood. It had not been a silent kill. Both of them had screamed. The Warlord’s brain was scheming fast as a contingent of Kirsharr’s soldiers on night patrol came running, their weapons drawn.

“Look, mates! It’s th’ Chief!”

“Are ye alright, Chief? We ‘eard screams…”

In any other situation Orak would have told them straight up that Kirsharr had plotted to murder him and he hit back. However, he didn’t know how loyal to him these soldiers actually were, given Kirsharr’s mutinous tendencies. On the bright side, these soldiers seemed uninformed of the assassination. Kirsharr had probably wanted the murder kept relatively secret.

Of course, the clever Warlord made do with the situation at hand. “I’m alright, friends. You’re Kirsharr’s troops, aren’t you? I just witnessed these two get slain by two more of Kirsharr’s. I think Kirsharr thought these two were questioning his word. He’s a dangerous fool. I don’t know why I made him Captain in the first place. Just watch your backs when you go to sleep tonight, mates. You might be next.”

The patrol shifted uncomfortably. Orak continued:

“Don’t follow him. He’ll lead you to your deaths. Remember who your true leader is. If you get too caught up in his ideas, you may end up like these two poor creatures right here.”

The vermin nodded vigorously. “Sir, yes, sir!” they saluted, standing to attention.

Orak nodded. “We need to get the word out to the rest of your mates. They’re probably in danger. Remember: stick with me, and you’ll be rewarded.”

The patrol nodded their heads witlessly. “I’ll leave you at that,” Orak smiled. “Good night.” With that, he was gone. It had been too easy.

The waning moon illuminated the woodlands as Kyrin approached the cabin. Everything was silent, except for the crickets, whose chirps pierced the midnight sky.

Beads of sweat ran down Kyrin’s forehead and his heart pounded against his ribcage like a captured wretch. Coming back here at night – especially when the inhabitants probably knew he was coming – was different. The night was unpredictable, treacherous, and fear-invoking; it was hard to believe that it only lasted as long as day.

Kyrin zipped up to the cabin, placing his back against the cabin wall. He heard no noises coming from inside of the house. It was quiet…too quiet. Kyrin shivered. He didn’t like this at all.

Then, the young squirrel saw the dagger lying not too far in front of him, amongst the dead leaves. Moving swiftly, he grabbed it and began to run.

Just then, a black blur hit him from behind, knocking him into the ground. Kyrin didn’t know who was attacking him as he was being smothered to the ground, but whoever it was, his assailant was bigger and stronger than he. The knife rolled out of his reach.

Kyrin felt the breath being squeezed out of him. He was flat on his stomach, being pinned by some creature. More by reflex than premeditated action, his paw shot up, hitting his attacker in the eyes. The creature grunted and rolled off Kyrin, who promptly followed up with a punch to the jaw and a kick to the stomach.

Kyrin staggered up and scrambled awkwardly for his knife, but just as he got his paw on it, the shadowy figure stomped on his paw. Kyrin cried in pain as he narrowly dodged a kick from his opponent.

As the enemy tried to kick the dagger away, Kyrin grabbed his footpaw and pulled him down. Grunting, they rolled around in the darkness, each trying to gain the upper paw. The creature’s rudder-like tail whipped out and caught the side of Kyrin’s face. His blood rising to a boil, Kyrin pressed down on the figure’s throat and started punching him ruthlessly in the face. Gradually, he felt his adversary’s struggling writhing cease. His paw was wet with blood; whether it was his or his foe’s, he couldn’t tell.

Finally, Kyrin got off his prostrate attacker. The young squirrel was breathing hard and his entire body felt as if it had been subject to a gang beating. Wiping his bloodied paws of on the ground, he went over to his dagger and picked it up…

…And promptly blacked out.

Chapter 24

Dawn’s daylight slowly filtered through the forests of Mossflower like sunlight through a sieve. The entire Flint voletribe gathered to see Tam off. The Warrior’s search party, augmented by thirty able-bodied vole fighters, geared up and ready to go to battle.

Tam shook Pikejaw Flint’s paw. “I’ll never forget the help ye gave us, friend. Thank ye so much!”

Pikejaw laughed and gave Tam a rough hug. “Arrr, be off wi’ ye. Good luck on th’ way. Mayhaps we’ll come t’ live at Redwall someday.”

Tam smiled. “Our gates will always be open to ye! Farewell!”

With that, the search party moved out once again.

They reached the “two scones” in under an hour.

“Well, would ye lookit that!” Doogy exclaimed, awestruck. Towering ahead of them, on either side of the path, were two enormous natural stone formations that resembled round scones.

Everybeast stood there, silent for a moment, admiring the monoliths.

Of course, the hares broke the silence.

“We haven’t had breakfast yet, wot!”

“I say! Bad form! Army marches on its stomach, doncha know!”

“C’mon! Break out the tuck an’ let’s eat!”

Tam laughed. He was in high spirits. “Help yoreselves, everybeast. Ye deserve it. Now, let’s see if we can figure out the last part of this riddle…”

Melanda rushed into the Abbot’s study bright and early the next morning, her heart pounding. Last night, Martin had come to her in a dream again and had told her “Seek the words within the words.”

She threw the door open in her excitement and nearly collided with the mousemaid Celany and her friend, Buwl the mole, who were busy setting the little conference table in the Abbot’s study with hot rosemary tea, cranberry scones, greensap milk, and oatmeal.

“Hurr, watch whurr you’m be goin’, mizzy,” Buwl rumbled, smiling. “You’m be farster ‘n a ‘unnybee ‘n a stormsh’wer.”

“Sorry,” Melanda breathed, brushing imaginary dust off her dress in an attempt to look dignified.

“What’s the rush, anyway?” Celany asked inquisitively, arranging the scones in a neat pyramid.

“This,” Melanda grinned, holding up the riddle. “We’ve been hard at work trying to find out where Kyrin is and this riddle tells us how to find him.”

“Let me see,” Celany said. Melanda showed her and Buwl the riddle.

“Martin the Warrior came to me in a dream last night and told me to ‘seek the words within the words’,” Melanda said, barely containing her excitement. “I think I know what ‘a very nimm cramp’ means.”

After receiving blank looks from Celany and Buwl, Melanda took the riddle and plunked it down on the table. “Here – the line that says ‘a very nimm cramp.’ Martin tells us to ‘seek the words within the words.’ All we need to do is unscramble it! Gahh! How could we have been so stupid all along?”

Celany smiled. “I love unscrambling words. We used to do that all the time in Dibbun school during breaks, right, Buwl?”

Buwl nodded his velvety head. “Hurr hurr hurr, she’m roight, miz Merlander. Moi friend Celerny here wurr th’ charmpion of et, too.”

Melanda smiled at the pretty mousemaid. “Well, Celany, perhaps you could lend us your talents?”

“I’d be more than happy to, miz Recorder,” Celany giggled. “Now, let’s see. ‘A very nimm cramp.’ Hmm…not many words that have the letter ‘V’ in them. Maybe we should start there.”

The three of them crowded around the heavily-annotated riddle. Melanda found them some ink and quills and Celany wrote down the letters:

                  A  V  E  R  Y  N  I  M  M  C  R  A  M  P

Soon they were calling out ideas and writing them down on the parchment.

“Hmm…‘Vile’?”

“No, there’s no ‘L’ in there. Keep looking.”

“…‘Vramm’?”

“That’s not a word.”

“Just throwing out suggestions.”

“Ugh, what has the letter ‘V’ in it?”

“Vermin?” Celany suggested.

“How uplifting,” Melanda commented.

“Roight, but et works,” Buwl pointed out.

“And it would make sense,” Celany added.

Melanda bit her lip. “I know. I just hope my father doesn’t run into vermin out there, if that’s what the riddle says he’ll walk into.”

They crossed out the letters that formed the word ‘Vermin’, leaving them with:

                            A  Y  M  C  R  A  M  P

“Well, that solved a lot!” Celany laughed. “What else?”

“Ray?” Melanda suggested.

“Vermin ray? Ray vermin? I can’t put that together in any way that would make it make sense.”

“You’re right. It has to make sense.”

“Hmm…”

“Think of places, Celany. What would my father’s search party ‘walk into’? I guess a place would be the most logical way to start.”

“Ram? No, wait…”

“Cram?”

“Camp! Vermin camp!” Celany shouted.

“Well, this message has taken a dark turn,” Melanda muttered, writing the word “camp” down next to the word “vermin”.

“So that leaves us with…” Celany said, looking back at the parchment.

                                   A  Y  M  R

“Army,” Melanda immediately figured it out. “Vermin army camp. Wonderful. My father’s walking into a ‘vermin army camp.’”

Just then, the door opened and Abbot Cyrus, flanked by Armel, Brooky, and Tergen, strode in.

“Ahh, what a wonderful rest,” the Abbot exclaimed. “Oh, you’re already here, Melanda, I see. Thank you, all three of you, for bringing us breakfast. A hungry mind doesn’t work well on a hungry stomach.”

“We figured out ‘a very nimm cramp’,” Melanda announced, somewhat gloomily. “Martin told me to rearrange the words, Father Abbot, and I did, and it forms the phrase ‘vermin army camp’.”

It was silent inside the Abbot’s study.

“I don’t know whether I should be jumping for joy that we figured out the rest of the riddle or running around in circles, terrified, knowing the implications of this finding,” the Recorder added.

At this the Abbot picked up the parchment and started pacing back and forth. “So if Tam is still in Mossflower somewhere and the riddle dictates that he’ll walk into a vermin army camp where he’ll ‘find joy’ – which I assume is Kyrin. So that probably means Orak the Assassin is very close to Redwall and Tam is probably walking into an ambush right now as we speak!”

“Righto,” Brooky commented off to the side.

The Abbot jumped into action. “Tergen! Fly north and warn Tam! Armel! Brooky! Melanda! All of you! Come with me! We’ll ring the bells for everybeast to assemble on the Lawns! I have to warn them!”

Kyrin woke up on some floor with a mind-bending headache. His body still hurt all over from last night’s struggle. What happened? All he remembered was defeating his attacker then picking up his knife, when somebeast hit him in the back of the head…

Reaching up with his right paw, Kyrin touched the back of his head gingerly and winced as the pain shot through his nerves. Somebeast had indeed knocked him out.

The young squirrel sat up slowly, being careful not to put too much pressure on his injuries. He recognized it as the very cabin he had stolen food from two days in a row. And now he could hear voices outside, possibly discussing his fate. Kyrin shook his head as he silently reprimanded himself for letting his thievish ways get the better of him. Now he was a captive held by two woodlanders. It could have been worse; it could have been vermin. Maybe he could use his dagger to…

Kyrin quickly checked his belt. His dagger was gone! Great. And what was that terrible smell? Kyrin isolated the scent as steam coming from a pot of something – he presumed herbs – boiling in a pot on top of the clay stove on the other side of the room.

Sidling over to the stove, Kyrin lifted the lid and was immediately hit in the face by a cloud of putrid-smelling steam. It was so bad it nearly made his stomach turn inside out. Shaking his head, Kyrin moved back over to the other end of the room (well, the entire cabin) and sat back down in his original spot. At least they were kind enough to provide him with a woven mat. Kyrin felt like a prisoner getting a last meal before his execution.

The door opened and Kyrin turned to see who it was. In walked the most beautiful squirrel he had ever seen.

She was about his age, fifteen seasons old, with a slender figure and a fine-looking tail. Her well-brushed fur was a little lighter than Kyrin’s – a soft reddish-brown with sandy-colored fur around her eyes and underneath her chin and throat – and she possessed a pair of beautiful hazel eyes that shone in the sunlight that poured through the dusty cabin’s open windows. She wore a long, wine-purple dress over a dark pink skirt, and there was a shining green amulet set into her clothing at the neck. Her headfur was long and elegant, like wisps of wind made visible. All Kyrin could do was sit and stare…

…And, of course, she walked over to the other side of the room first to check on whatever she was cooking.

“Hmm, needs a bit more time,” she mused, lifting the lid and smelling (!) the contents inside. She turned towards Kyrin and their eyes met. “Oh, you’re awake,” she said, sizing him up, unimpressed. Her voice would be much more pleasant to listen to if she actually liked me, Kyrin thought. At least her foul demeanor snapped him out of his trance.

“Well, you sure put up a fight last night,” she laughed sarcastically as she turned away to stir the contents in the pot again. “You nearly killed Gry, you know. Nearly ruined our plans.”

“Who?” Kyrin asked. Great Seasons, he thought, she’s annoying!

She continued to stir as she replied: “Gry. You know, the big otter you fought last night. You beat him up pretty bad.”

So that’s who Gry is… Kyrin thought. “Is it my fault he attacked me? And why do you live alone with an otter in the first place?”

“That’s none of your business,” she snapped curtly.

“Great Seasons,” Kyrin muttered, “What would the children look like?”

She evidently heard him. “Hey, let’s not get obnoxious,” she said, glaring at him as she took the pot of the stove and set it on the table.

“Look, missy, who’s bein’ obnoxious here? You or me?” Kyrin shot back, deciding he didn’t like this maiden at all, no matter how beautiful she was.

She rolled her eyes as she poured the steaming contents of the pot, which was some kind of soup, into a wooden bowl. “I don’t know why I’m even doing this for you.”

“And yet you’re doing…this…for me, without questioning a thing,” Kyrin replied, smiling when she turned a shade of scarlet, slightly miffed at losing this battle of words.

“For a captive, you’ve got some nerve. That’s all I can say.”

“Hey, you’re makin’ life difficult for me. I’m just risin’ to the occasion.”

“It’s hard to believe a thief like you would rise to anything.”

“How would you know I’m a thief? We just met.”

“Maybe it’s because you robbed my house two days in a row.”

“Look, lady, there’s a lot you don’t know about me…”

“Who cares? After all, we just met.

“Well, you know what?...” But she had a point there. Kyrin slumped back down sullenly, knowing she had won. Well, that turned around pretty fast, he thought.

The squirrelmaid smiled sweetly, which made Kyrin’s blood boil. “Here,” she said, approaching him with the bowl of vile-smelling soup, “Drink this and you’ll feel better.”

“Why are you doing this for me?” Kyrin asked, perplexed.

“I’m a healer. It’s what I do,” she explained simply, going back over to wipe the table.

The concoction was still too hot to drink. Kyrin put it to the side for the moment so he could talk to his captor some more.

“So what exactly happened last night?”

“Well, Gry and I knew that you’d come back for your knife, so we hid on the roof and waited for you to show up and when you did, Gry attacked you. But you fought back and knocked out a few of his teeth. Oh, that, and you also gave him a black eye. Right now, he’s outside with a bung mallet in his paw, wanting to teach you a lesson or two.”

Kyrin shivered involuntarily at the thought of having to fight that otter again. “Did you knock me out?” he ventured.

She nodded. “Considering how you nearly escaped from Gry, I’m surprised it took me nothing to knock you out with a full-sized log of firewood.”

Kyrin was eyeing the dagger on the squirrelmaid’s leather belt. Of course, she noticed again. “By the way, that dagger’s mine. Maidens can carry weapons, too, in case you didn’t know.”

“Where’s my dagger, then?!”

“Oh, I threw it away.”

“WHAT?!!”

“Hey! Drink the medicine before it gets cold!”

Grudgingly, Kyrin lifted the bowl of soup to his lips and nearly wretched at the stench. She was watching him like a hawk, waiting for him to take the first sip. He sorely wished he had his claymore with him right now. But it was still at Firulan’s house where he had left it. Eyeing her hatefully, the squirrel downed the contents of the bowl in one gulp, trying not to show his disgust.

She laughed dryly. “You can drop the act, thief. I know you’re suffering through it right now.”

Somewhat obediently, Kyrin let himself choke and gag for little while. The squirrelmaid giggled, which would’ve sounded nice had she not been giggling at him. “Well,” she said, moving towards the door, “I’m going to talk with Gry and we’ll discuss what to do with you. Good luck.”

“Yeah, thanks, I guess,” Kyrin muttered. “My name’s Kyrin. Nice knowing you.”

The squirrelmaid turned and actually looked at him this time when she spoke. “Mena.”

The door slammed shut, leaving Kyrin alone in the cabin.

Mena…Mena…Mena Mena Mena…

Kyrin shook his head. He didn’t want to stick around and see what a vengeful otter with a bung mallet had in store for him. Without looking back, the young squirrel got up somewhat difficultly and climbed out the rear window. In his haste to escape, though, he knocked over the table, which fell to the ground with a crash.

His blood pumping, Kyrin climbed out the window and into the trees. His day was off to a great start indeed…


Chapter 25

Gry and Mena heard the sound of a table being knocked over from inside the house.

"Wot was that?" Gry exclaimed, gripping his mallet tight.

The squirrelmaid called Mena shook her head. "Probably our thief escaping."

Gry threw the door open. "Aye, yore right, Mena. 'E's gone through that window! Look! Th' table's also knocked over!"

"Oh, great. Come on, Gry, let's go catch him!"

Kyrin was sitting on the bough of a tall oak tree when Mena and Gry came around the house.

"Kyrin! Get down from there!" Mena called.

"No way, missy!" Kyrin shouted back down. "You've gotta catch me first!"

Mena looked indecisive. Suddenly it hit Kyrin: Mena didn't know how to climb trees. Well! What were the chances of that?

"Do you know how to climb trees?" Kyrin called down to the squirrelmaid.

"I do, thank you very much!" Mena shouted back. Her face was as red as a beet.

"Well, let's see you do it," Kyrin taunted.

Mena stalked over to the foot of the tree Kyrin was in. She closed her eyes and clenched her paws, then jumped and grabbed the tree.

"Congratulations," Kyrin said, clapping his paws. "You've latched onto a tree. Now climb up."

"Shut up! I'm working on it!" Mena shouted, scrambling on the tree trunk. She let out a surprised squeak as she slipped and landed back on the ground.

"Try again," Kyrin called. "And this time, see if you can get more than a foot off the ground."

The determined squirrelmaid bit her lip and latched on to the tree once more. Kyrin could tell by the way she was straining that she was having a hard time.

"You're makin' it difficult for yourself," Kyrin called as she nearly slipped again. "Stop thinking so hard an' relax. Let th' tree do the work for you."

With a good amount of difficulty, Mena made it up to the bough on which Kyrin was sitting. Seeing that her captive was in range, Mena grabbed at his tunic with a free paw. But Kyrin nimbly leaped over to a bough on an adjacent tree.

"Nice try, ol' lass. Better luck next time, wot!" Kyrin called cheerfully, imitating harespeech.

Ignoring the jibe, Mena hauled herself up onto the bough Kyrin was sitting on a moment ago. Kyrin smiled and shook his head. "Having trouble?" he called.

Mena was fuming at this point. "Just wait until I get my paws on you…"

"You're tryin' too hard," Kyrin said. "See the branch I'm standin' on? Did you know you can jump right to it from where you are right now?"

"How do I do that?!" Mena cried, exasperated

"Just let go of yourself," Kyrin answered. "Just let go of everything. Trust me. I won't hurt you, I promise."

Though Mena was in a predicament, something told her to trust the young thief. Closing her eyes, she jumped, feeling herself sail freely through the air. Sure enough, she landed on the branch Kyrin was standing on.

When she opened her eyes, Kyrin smiled at her and jumped to another branch. " Congratulations. How do you feel?"

Hiding a smile, Mena lunged at him. But Kyrin jumped yet again to another branch. "Good, you're learning fast," Kyrin complimented her, jumping away as she jumped after him.

After a bit of "practicing" – jumping around from tree to tree, Kyrin grinned mischievously. "Now, let's speed things up a bit, shall we?" With that, he bounded off into the woods, jumping from branch to branch.

"Gry, follow him!" Mena shouted.

"Right!"

Kyrin looked behind him and was surprised to see that Mena was actually gaining on him, slowly but surely. Setting his overconfidence aside, the young squirrel bounded through the treetops, Mena trailing close behind.

Mena found treehopping to be very easy. Having found her natural rhythm, she bounced freely through the trees, The trees whizzed by like an endless green blur. It felt nice being a squirrel.

Then, her dress snagged on a branch and she plummeted earthwards. It was a rather high drop.

Kyrin saw the squirrelmaid fall. Thinking fast, he turned around and bounded towards her falling form and leaped into the air, catching her. The only problem was landing the jump. With the extra weight of a creature in his arms, Kyrin couldn't plan and execute a good landing in time. He glanced off a branch, slammed into a tree trunk, and fell earthwards.

Of course, they landed straight in the camp of Orak the Assassin.

The Warlord's soldiers were geared up and lined up in neat ranks, ready to move out. The last thing they were expecting this fine dawn morning were two squirrels dropping out of the trees and landing in a heap in front of them.

"Kyrin?" Mena whispered desperately, shaking the still form lying beside her. "Kyrin, wake up, please…"

"Oy, wot's this? A couple o' lovebirds crashin' through th' trees?" a rat piped up as the vermin moved towards them, weapons at the ready. Upon hearing this, Mena quickly retracted her paws from Kyrin's body, as if she had just touched something disgusting.

"Sorry ter ruin yer 'unnymoon, eh?" an ermine snarled.

Just then, battle cries rang out from either side of the camp.

"Riverpawwwwww!"

"Yaaaaahhhhhhhhh!"

Gry and Firulan crashed through the underbrush, their weapons raised above their head, stopping dead when they realized who they were up against. The vermin just stared. An awkward pause followed. Nobeast moved.

"Wh-where am I?" Kyrin groaned as he woke, the stars fading in his head.

"Take a look around. Nice job, dimwit," Mena hissed.

"Give me your dagger and get behind me," Kyrin whispered aside to her.

"Not a chance!" Mena shot back. In a flash, she zipped forward, knocking down an ermine with eye-blurring speed. The rest of the vermin sprung into action.

"Kyrin!" Firulan called above the mounting noises of battle. As Kyrin turned, his friend tossed him his claymore. Now that he had a weapon, Kyrin got up and charged. "Stay close!" he shouted. "Don't let them get between us!"

Together, the squirrel, the mouse, and the otter constituted a fierce fighting unit. With their backs to each other, Kyrin punched a ferret in the face, Firulan sliced off a fox's paw, and Gry smashed a stoat's skull in with his oak mallet.

Mena, however, was an entirely different entity altogether. She elbowed a weasel grabbing at her arm and swept the footpaws out from under an oncoming fox.

"Fine mornin', isn't it?" Firulan called cheerily as he stabbed a rat through the head.

"What're you doin' here?" Kyrin shouted as he clotheslined a passing ermine with his forearm.

"I could ask ye th' same thing," Firulan replied. "But let's get ourselves outta here first, huh?"

Gry noticed Mena getting overpowered by hordes of vermin. "I'm goin' t' help Mena. Good luck, mates," he said. Roaring, the otter bowled a path towards the squirrelmaid, thus breaking with Kyrin and Firulan, who were subsequently overpowered and pinned down.

The vermin had just succeeded in surrounding Gry and Mena when Orak the Assassin, resplendent in full uniform, strode out, flanked by Deatheye and Kirsharr.

"What in Hellgates is going on here?!" the livid Assassin roared. He was answered by the groans of ten or so vermin lying on the ground.

Grabbing the nearest officer by the throat, the Assassin questioned him angrily. "Lieutenant, what is this?" he snarled, foam trickling on the corners of his mouth. "Why aren't my soldiers ready?!"

The soldier gestured weakly toward Kyrin, Firulan, Mena, and Gry being tied up and forced into a kneeling position by Orak's soldiers. "They lit'r'ly fell into our camp, Sire. We weren't expecting them at all, on me life we weren't!"

Dropping the lieutenant, Orak strode over to the four woodlanders, calmly drawing his rapier.

"Are you going to execute them here, my lord?" Deatheye asked off to the side.

At the sound of Deatheye's voice, Firulan looked up and recognized his parents' killer. "YOU!" he screamed, struggling in his bonds. "MURDERER! SCUM! I'LL KILL Y – " he was cut short by an ermine knocking him out cold with a spearbutt.

Orak turned towards Deatheye, cocking his head as if to say "do you know him?" Deatheye shrugged and shook his head.

The Warlord turned back to his captives. "I won't have you ruining my plans," he growled, brandishing his rapier, "so I'll make this qu – "

In his right mind, Orak the Assassin could, should, and would have killed the four of them on the spot. But when he saw Kyrin, the face of the mysterious mouse flashed inside his mind and morphed into that of Kyrin. That face…the mouse…that…squirrel?

You shall meet your end at the paw of the one you do not know and do not expect you shall meet your end at the paw of the one you do not know and do not expect you shall meet your end at the paw of the one you do not know and do not expect you shall meet…

A scream tore itself from Orak's throat as he stumbled backwards and fell. "Get…get away!" Orak screamed at nothing in particular, scrambling backwards as his soldiers rushed forward. "Get him away from me!"

"Should we tie him up?" Deatheye asked.

"Tie them up! Yes! I'll make their deaths nice and slow!" Orak shouted, grinning a half-crazed grin. His soldiers just looked at each other, perplexed.

Kyrin breathed a sigh of relief as the four of them were hauled off.

Tergen the goshawk understood the importance of his mission. He had to find Tam and warn him about the vermin camp up ahead, as well as help them plot a way to infiltrate the place and find Kyrin. Soaring through the blue sky, above the dew-kissed trees, the bird covered amazing ground in a few hours. Traveling solo was certainly much quicker than traveling with an entire army! As sharp as Tergen's eyes were, however, he was unable to see the search party. So, he did the only other thing he could.

On the ground, the entire search party heard the shrill cries of a goshawk ripping through the air.

"That must be Tergen," Tam announced excitedly. Reaching into his haversack, he took out the cherrywood flute that Abbot Cyrus had presented to him before he left. "Let's see if this works," he said, as he positioned the exquisite instrument and blew into it.

A smooth, warm, even sound echoed through the air mournfully. It was answered with more cries from Tergen.

"Well, keep goin', mate! Yore doin' well!" Skipper urged.

Tam kept playing. The sound of the flute seemed to envelope the entire landscape.

"Look out!" Doogy shouted.

"Duck n' cover, lads!" Ferdimond shouted.

Wham! Tergen slammed into the Warrior, sending him sprawling.

"Haha! Tergen! It's nice t' see ye back, friend!" Tam laughed.

"Wot news do ye bring from the Abbey?" Galwa asked. "Is everybeast alright?"

"Goodgood!" Tergen replied in his strange accent. "Tam, we go quiet from here on now! Melanda unscramble last part of riddle! Say 'vermin army camp!"

Doogy looked back at the riddle. "Och, nae good. It's prob'ly th' Assassin's camp, Tam." he said.

Tam realized what was happening immediately. "Well, if Martin dictates that we're walkin' into a vermin army camp, then we better keep our heads low. Stay down. Tergen, is th' camp far up ahead?"

Tergen shrugged. "Don't know. Tergen go look!" With that, the goshawk shot off like an arrow into the sky. He was back in a moment. "Kraaaa! Notgood! Vermin out there!"

Tam crouched down so he was eye level with the goshawk. "Did ye see Kyrin?" he pressed.

Tergen shook his feathered head.

"Then we have to hurry," Tam said. "Tergen, lead the way!"

They followed Tergen to the camp, taking cover behind a row of rocks.

"Would ye lookit that," Doogy exclaimed. "'Tis a whole army out there! Et's Orak's camp an' no mistake at that!"

Tam nodded. "Alright," he whispered, "Everybeast gather 'round. First things first, we're goin' t' get Kyrin out of there. Doogy, the hares, an' I will lead a group that'll get Kyrin out of there. The rest of ye, find Orak the Assassin an' see if we can't cut off the head of th' serpent. Once we've got Kyrin out of there, we'll join up with ye and try t' find Orak. Are we clear?"

"Sounds capital," Buckshaw answered. "I'd also suggest showerin' those blighters with arrows first and get them with a pincer movement. Wot d' ye say?"

Tam nodded. "Alright. Skipper, Log a Log, circle 'round an' see if you can locate Orak. You attack first an' draw their attention so we can find Kyrin, alright?"

"Got it, mate," Skipper said. "Code word for the start of the charge is "Redwall."

Tam clasped paws with the leaders. "Good luck to all!"


Chapter 26

The day turned out to be warmer than usual, and soon the mid-morning sun was shining bright over Mossflower. It was a nice day out, and even in his predicament Kyrin couldn't help but smart off to one of the ermine guarding him.

"'Scuse me, sir, but if you're goin' to tie me up, could you at least tie me up that way instead? The sun's in my eyes."

"Oho, is it now? Well, ye'll have my spear in yer eyes if'n yer don't shurrup!"

"Thank you for answering my question, sir."

Gry, Mena, Kyrin, and Firulan were tied up left to right, in that order, to thick wooden logs planted deep in the ground. They watched Deatheye and Kirsharr barking out orders to their subordinates. The guards were called over by Kirsharr, leaving the captives alone.

"Well, 'twas a good run, mates," Gry sighed. "At least we get t' die in the sun."

Firulan, who had recovered from being knocked unconscious, looked over at Kyrin. "Where were ya? I was lookin' for ya all mornin'. And who's th' maid? Did ya finally find somebeast who fancies ya? Good job! She's a real looker, mate!"

Kyrin bit his lip. "It's a really long story."

"No, I don't 'fancy' him, thank you very much," Mena cut in. "Your friend here has been stealing food from me and Gry for the past two days. Last night, he showed up again, so we taught him a little lesson or two."

"You forgot th' part where I escaped," Kyrin added dryly.

"Wait…so ye didn't cook all that food yoreself?" Firulan asked, perplexed.

"No," Kyrin muttered, staring at the ground.

"Mouse, your friend is the epitome of stupidity," Mena said sarcastically.

"Says the squirrel who can't climb trees," Kyrin snarled. She was really beginning to get on his nerves.

"At least I'm not using my abilities to get everybeast held hostage in a vermin camp."

"Firulan," Kyrin sighed, "this is Mena. Mena, Firulan. Firulan, Mena."

"Don't make friends with him, Firulan," Mena warned. "He's not trustworthy."

"Hey, lady," Firulan shot back, "Kyrin's a good friend whether he c'n cook or not!"

"Thanks, mate," Kyrin smiled as Mena just rolled her eyes.

"Oh, Kyrin? Gry still has a score to settle with you."

Kyrin looked over at the otter, who was glaring back fiercely. "You look good with that black eye," Kyrin offered, trying to diffuse the situation.

"If we live, yore dead," growled Gry.

"You attacked me first, just remember that," Kyrin replied coolly. Turning over to Firulan, he asked, "So which one killed your parents?"

"See that gray stoat over there with th' weird fur an' the strange-lookin' sword? That's him. 'E's a Captain in th' horde. I swear, I'm gonna murder 'im once we get out o' this mess."

"That is, if we get out of this mess," Kyrin glumly corrected him.

Mena probably would have made another caustic remark about Kyrin then and there had she not been so focused on cutting her bonds loose with a stone knife.

Kyrin looked over. "Hey, what's that?"

"It's your knife, silly."

"I thought you threw it away!"

Mena smiled. "I lied."

"YOU HAVE A KNIFE OF YOUR OWN, YOU GREEDY LITTLE – "

"Shh! They'll hear you!" scolded Mena, as she cut the last of her bonds. "We'll have to be quick about this," she said, as she freed Gry, then Firulan.

"Oh, sure. Free me last," Kyrin groused as Mena began cutting his through the ropes that bound him. "Hurry up! Are you intentionally doin' it slowly?"

"Hey, you want to do it yourself? That's fine by me," Mena replied. "There. That's the last one. You're free, unfortunately."

Kyrin glared at her as he snatched the knife from her paws.

"Where're our weapons?" Gry asked, looking around.

"Over there. I see 'em," Firulan pointed. "They just left 'em there."

"Forget the weapons!" Kyrin hissed. "Let's get outta here first!"

At that point, the vermin saw them and began advancing towards the group. "Hey! They're escapin'! Get 'em!"

Suddenly, a hail of arrows and slingstones cut down the vermin who were coming at them. Instinctively, Gry threw himself flat. "Wot's happenin'?!" he shouted.

Surprised, Kyrin looked and saw Skipper Traw and Log a Log Tarryk leading a contingent of otters and shrews, charging into the camp. The vermin army took position, firing a barrage of arrows at the oncoming foe. But there was no stopping the enemy, who smashed into the vermin ranks, slashing, stabbing, and hacking.

Firulan turned to Kyrin. "Are those th' Redwallers ye told me about?"

Kyrin nodded, dumbstruck. "Aye. Don't know what they're doing here though. But while they're distracted, get your weapons and let's go help 'em out!"

With that, the unlikely team ran forward and picked up their weapons. Kyrin picked up a thin-bladed sword lying abandoned on the field. "Here, catch," he said, tossing the sword to Mena. "You'll need this."

"I'm findin' that gray stoat an' killin' him!" Firulan growled, his eyes shining with vengeance.

"We're comin' with you," Kyrin told him. Firulan nodded and rushed off, Kyrin and company following close behind.

"I don't see 'Kyrin!" Galwa cried as the otters and the shrews battled their way into the camp. "Where is he?!"

Galwa peered among the swarming masses of vermin. "Wait…I think I see 'im. Great Seasons! Wot's he doin'? He's…he's fightin' vermin with a mouse an' a squirrelmaid!"

"There's an otter over there, too!" Log a Log cried. "'E's not one of yore crew, is he, Skip?"

Skipper shook his head. "Never seen 'im before. I know me crew well. C'mon! Let's cut a path toward them!"

As they fought their way towards Kyrin, Skipper threw back his head and roared at the top of his lungs.

"REEEEEEEEEEEEEEEDWAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAALLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLL!"

His battle cry was answered by cries from the other side of the camp.

"EEEEULAAAAALIAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!"

"HAWAAAAAAY THE BRAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAWWWWW!"

Kyrin immediately recognized the battle cries and understood why the Redwallers had come in the first place. "They're here! We're saved! Father! Faaaaaaaatherrrrr!"

...

Tam stabbed a surprised ermine through the chest with the Sword of Martin. "Remember yore mission!" he shouted. "We're here t' find Kyrin!"

"Watch yerself!" Doogy called, as he parried a fox's broadsword. "We're fightin' hundreds of 'em!"

Orak stepped out of his tent, having recovered from the nightmarish visions plaguing him. He saw the logs and the severed ropes. "Find them!" he roared to whoever was standing nearby. "Find them and kill them! Especially that squirrel! I want him dead!"

The vole warriors, lead by Tam, Doogy, and the hares, charged forward, meeting the vermin head on.

"Do ye see him anywhere?!" Tam shouted to Buckshaw as he parried a ferret's spear.

"Can't find 'im anywhere among this blinkin' mess, old lad," the Colonel replied as he knocked out a stoat with a swift right hook to the jaw.

Tam stabbed a rat through the heart, pushing away his adversary's dead body. "Well, I can see Skipper an' Log a Log! C'mon! Let's fight our way to them! We'll be stronger once our forces are reunited!"

With that, they surged forward, driven to save Kyrin before the vermin found him.

...

Deatheye's soldiers were holding off quite well against the charge led by Skipper and Log a Log. The soldiers had formed what was essentially a multi-layered wall to protect from the ferocious onslaught of shrews and otters.

Deatheye surveyed the scene from behind his soldiers. "Kill them all! Take no prisoners!" he shouted. "We're in for it now! Fight your hardest!"

Led by Firulan, Kyrin and company broke through the stoat Captain's ranks. Firulan attacked Deatheye directly. "'S'death t' ye, vermin!" the mouse cried, launching himself at the stoat. In his haste, however, Firulan had no control over his attack, and he merely wounded Deatheye in the shoulder. The more experienced stoat immediately kicked Firulan in the face, laying him low.

Galwa saw it all. "There they are!" he shouted to Skipper as he took down an ermine soldier with his double-ended otter javelin. "I'll see if I can help 'em! That mouse looks pretty hurt!"

Before anybeast could stop Galwa, the otter, who was Skipper's strong right paw, smashed through Deatheye's defenses. He easily reached Kyrin. "Yore father's here, Kyrin! He's on th' other side of th' camp! Follow me!"

With that, Galwa lifted up the unconscious Firulan and started to run at full speed. "Come with me!"

Unfortunately, Deatheye saw the entire spectacle as well. As Galwa, Kyrin, Mena, and Gry ran towards the other side of the camp. The stoat picked up the otter javelin Galwa had dropped while carrying Firulan to safety. Using his good arm, the stoat hurled the weapon, intending to hit Kyrin.

Kyrin watched as Galwa's own javelin buried itself deep into his back. The otter stumbled and dropped down onto one knee, struggling to keep himself upright.

"Are you alright?" Kyrin asked frantically, running to the bleeding Galwa.

The otter looked up at Kyrin, smiling in his agony. "Look's like 'e got me, awright. Save yoreselves."

"No…no! You're goin' to be alright!..." Kyrin said frantically. "Gry, take Firulan an' Mena an' get outta here!"

"Right!" Gry nodded as he slung the unconscious Firulan on his back. "C'mon, Mena."

Kyrin turned back to Galwa. "Just hold on. I'll get you o – "

But the brave otter was already dead. Without a second thought, Kyrin bolted after Gry and Mena.

Orak and Kirsharr ran smack dab into each other on the battlefield.

"What are you doing?" Orak growled. "Where are your troops?"

"Circlin' around th' enemy, sire," Kirsharr replied. "We're gonna surround 'em! They'll all be dead!"

Orak's eyes narrowed. "They better be, for your sake."

...

Tam cut down an ermine with his sword. "I can't do this much longer! Where's Kyrin?!" he shouted.

"I don't know, but ye better find 'im fast!" Skipper cried. "Looks like the vermin're surroundin' the camp!"

Sure enough, the vermin were quickly circling around the campsite, weapons at the ready.

Gritting his teeth, Tam killed another foe. How long could he last?

Just then, Gry and Mena burst out of the crowd towards the Redwall Warrior. Tam's eyes widened. Trailing them was…was…

"KYYYYYYYYYYRIIIIIIIIIIIIIIII IIIIIIIINNNNNN!"

"FATHER! FAAAAATHERRRRRRRR!"

Father and son embraced in the midst of battle. "Father, I'm sorry," Kyrin sobbed, as he squeezed his father tight.

"I thought I'd never see ye again," Tam cried, letting tears of joy run down his cheeks. He took his son's face in his paws. "Look at ye," he smiled, "all grown up."

Kyrin did nothing but smile, smile, and smile through his tears.

Doogy's urgent calling brought Tam back to the present. "Hoy! Better watch oot! They're startin' tae suroond us!"

"We better get out o' here," Tam said. "Forget findin' Orak. We'll all be killed if we stay any longer. RETREEEEEEEEAAAAAATTTT!"

...

Skipper heard the call to retreat as Deatheye's remaining soldiers scattered under the brutal onslaught of otters and shrews. "C'mon, mates!" he cried as he brained a weasel with his fist, "Let's join up with Tam an' his friends! Kyrin's been found! We can live t' fight another day! Let's go!"

A spine-tingling cheer rose from the otters and the shrews as they charged forward, steamrolling any who dared oppose them.

...

Valker and Fishtooth, the stoat duo under Orak the Assassin, were not having a good day. They had both been ready and eager to attack Redwall Abbey; they never imagined, in their wildest dreams, that a bunch of peaceful woodlanders would bring the fight to them so ferociously, let alone at all.

Using his battle axe, Valker killed a shrew who was running by. "It doesn't look good, eh, mucker?"

Fishtooth nodded. "Aye. Yore right there. Better do wot we can, though."

They watched the hopeless battle dwindle as the Redwallers retreated. Though it looked as though Orak the Assassin had won the day, nearly a hundred of his soldiers had been killed.

Just then, Fishtooth spotted Mena cutting down an ermine who had gotten too close. "Watch this," he grinned to Valker as he began spinning his chained scythe around and around.

As the Redwallers began fighting their way out, Kyrin saw Fishtooth throw the blade. "Mena, watch out!" he yelled. The squirrelmaid turned to see Kyrin jump in front of her. A jagged piece of metal seemed to grow out of the upper right portion of Kyrin's back. The next thing she knew, Mena heard Kyrin roaring as loud as he could as he pulled the chain in, one end lodged in his shoulder, and the other end still being clutched by a panicking Fishtooth.

"REEEEEEEEEEDWAAAAAAAAALLLLLL!"

Fishtooth let out a sigh and his eyes turned upward as Kyrin pulled his body into what seemed like an embrace. The stoat collapsed, dead from a stab through the heart.

A number of visions exploded in Kyrin's mind. Killing…I killed somebeast today…death…blood…oh no…so much blood…oh no what have I done what have I done what have I done…

"Kyrin!" Mena cried. The shock of what just happened froze the squirrelmaid to the spot. Kyrin looked over at her with this haunting, pained gaze in his eyes. Not physical pain…but something else much deeper…Then he fell, face down, bleeding.

Tam and Skipper ran over to the young squirrel's still form, aghast. Skipper turned Kyrin over and put an ear to his chest.

"'E's still alive, but he's fadin' fast! Let's get outta here!"

Tam carried the limp form of his son and ran, Skipper and Mena following close behind. Having done their work, the Redwallers retreated. Kirsharr's plan to surround the camp failed miserably. His soldiers were stretched out too far to be effective and were quickly dispersed by the fleeing Redwallers.

...

Orak was not in a good mood, to say the very least. As his bruised forces were organized back into their ranks, the Warlord took a deep breath and composed himself to the best of his ability. He had escaped from the battle relatively unscathed, the visions of the mysterious mouse – and squirrel – haunting him.

"Alright, pack your things," he said, barely keeping his voice level. "We're tracking those Redwallers down NOW!"

Deatheye knew it was best to keep his mouth shut, but Kirsharr didn't. "Don't ye think it's time we gave up this mission? I mean, look at th' troops! A tiny lot o' woodlanders beat us! How'll we do against an entire ab – "

Orak turned on him, livid. "You! You…you…worthless cretin! You let them escape!" The Assassin drew his rapier.

"Please, sire," Kirsharr begged, realizing too late that he had made a mistake, "I was only…"

The rapier flashed in the sun and Kirsharr's lifeless body slumped to the ground.

"Browntail, Krilel," Orak said calmly, as if nothing had happened.

"Sir!"

"Pick up the tracks of the Redwallers and chase after them. I want to know every move they make. Understand?"

"Yes, my lord!"

Orak wiped the blood off his sword and sheathed it. His eyes narrowed like slits.

"Move out!"

...

NEXT: The chase begins! Thanks for reading! ~The Ghost Writer

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