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Warriors are seldom born, instead becoming the way they do through trial. As the strongest weapons are forged in the greatest fires, such is a true warrior forged with the greatest hardships and suffering, then tempered with experience. This is the story of such a warrior. This is the story of Jadrin Streamrunner.
My story begins in a small holt by the River Moss, a comfortable little cottage just north of the ruins of Saint Ninian’s church. The second of four kits, I was born in midsummer to Radlar and Brookflash Streamrunner. When I was old enough to understand, Mum told me that Skipjack, my elder brother by two seasons, had been just as excited as they were over my birth. I still remember her words:
“Jadrin, I thought your brother might get jealous because now he had to share me and your father with you, but when we told Skipjack ‘you have a younger sister;’ he jumped up, cheered, took the chair near our bed and asked ‘Could I please hold her’? Your father wrapped you up in your baby blanket and passed you to him. Skipjack couldn't take his eyes off you. The minute he cuddled you; you reached a tiny paw out of the blanket, reached up to him and gently patted his nose. He smiled at you and that did it. Your brother was putty in your paws from then on."
Mum was right. Skipjack and I were extremely close. Where one of us went, the other would go, too. My brother enjoyed carrying me around on his shoulders; he taught me how to use a sling and he started teaching me how to swim when I was little less than a season old.
Our parents had worried about me learning to swim at such a young age, thinking, “Shouldn’t Jadrin wait a couple more seasons before she learns? She doesn't know the currents yet.”
However, his reply was, “She could fall into the river, so she needs to learn how to swim. A kit’s never too young to learn.”
Though anxious, Mum and Dad knew my brother was being rational and consented to his plan under the condition that he stayed with me and made sure I was safe; a condition both of us readily agreed to. Nobeast knew of the cruel blows to come, blows that would introduce me and Skipjack to evil, shatter our family, and leave me under the effects of Bloodwrath; blows that would turn me into a warrior.
That first day with Skipjack was my first time in the water. Instantly I knew it was where I belonged. My parents only allowed a short amount of time, so it was not long before I had to leave. I rapidly became frustrated with waiting for my brother. I loved him dearly, but having to stay with him constantly when I was swimming got on my nerves. They don't trust me to do anything without holding my paw or looking over my shoulder?! I knew it was wrong, but three days later, while Skipjack was busy helping our father braid nets and while Mum was stitching a ripped tunic of mine, I sneaked away, quietly, to go play in the river. I was a Streamrunner, this was where I belonged.
Taking a running dive from the bank, I launched into the air with a cry of pure delight and tried to make the biggest splash I could on the way into the river. The water sloshed around me like a living beast. This was what I was born to do! I felt freer than I ever had before! I could handle myself. This was wonderful! Otters aren't called riverdogs for nothing, I thought happily.
I was so exhilarated and caught up in swimming that I didn’t feel the tug of the current as I was pulled away. When I realized that I was caught it was too late. I fought, but wasn’t strong enough. The current pulled me downriver; I weakly grasped a stone as my strength seeped away. I lost all sense as a great blackness descended upon me.
The first thing I saw when I opened my eyes was the face of an old hedgehog. He looked a jovial fellow with a face that seemed ready to crack into a smile. I took an instant liking to him. He helped me as I recovered from the incident. I had almost drowned, but lucky for me I had washed up on the riverbank near his home while unconscious. He had rescued me.
"You're a lucky young otter, missy."
"Y-Yes, sir. That was my f-f-first time out in the river b-by m-myself," I managed through chattering teeth, and grinned. "Mum and D-Dad were right. I sh-should have waited another season b-b-before going it alone."
"What's your name?" he asked as he draped a blanket around my shoulders.
"J-Jadrin. Jadrin S-Streamrunner. Th-thank you for r-rescuing me."
"No problem, Jadrin. Your dad saved me skin a few times, I'll gladly repay the debt." As he walked some distance away I couldn't help shivering in the cold. He saw my condition and walked up, passing me a mug. "This ought to help you, too."
I smiled, gratefully accepting the mug. "Thanks again." 'Mushroom and carrot broth,' I realized with another smile. I'd always loved the stuff. How did he know? As I drank the broth I felt my strength returning, and warmth seeping back into my body. 'What a nice old hedgehog,' I thought. 'Skipjack would probably like him. Maybe we could even persuade our parents to have him stay with us,' I thought some more while I finished the mug. Little did I know about how wrong I was...
He left to go gather some more herbs. I set the empty mug aside and lay down to rest, but was woken again. The hedgehog seemed urgent. “Jadrin! Go hide, quickly, get away from here, now!” I obeyed and bolted through a rear window, hiding in the bushes nearby. Shuddering in the night air, I heard crashing and steel, followed by a scream. Despite my fear, I crawled forward and looked.
My next sight would haunt me forever: A huge creature out of nightmare held the head of the poor hedgehog! I stifled a scream of terror only by biting clean through my lower lip. I felt sick as I watched the creature open its mouth and take a bite out of the carcass! I barely managed to keep the contents of my stomach down but managed, knowing that any sound I made would betray my position to this monster. “Nobeast stands to Rygar!” the creature roared to the skies. Rygar. At that moment I swore I would find the beast by that name and slay them. I swore it on the bones of that poor old hedgehog who had been so kind to me. After the creature left, I made a grave for what was left of my rescuer. Once I laid the last stone in place and covered the stones with dirt and wildflowers I stood up and roared my oath to the sky. “I, Jadrin Streamrunner, vow on the grave of my friend that I will slay Rygar! You hear me, cannibal? I will slay you someday!”
As I grew older I began to realise it was unlikely that I could avenge my rescuer's murder without help, so I asked my dad to teach me how to sling well. We took lessons in slinging, and soon I became a master. Then, a season after I was rescued, Mum had two more kits, Ayren and Cadron. They were both little scamps, running around all over the place. Skipjack taught them how to swim, and soon after, I instructed them in the art of slinging. Father made them little slings, perfect for those rascals. One day, our father introduced us all to a mate of his, a large otter who said he was Skipper of Redwall Abbey. We wanted to go there, and we were about to leave, when disaster struck.
"Honey, I'm a bit low on dock leaf. Will you go gather it?" my mother called. "Sure!" I replied. I departed, carrying nothing but my sling and some food. "I'll be back soon. Love you!"
Little did I know what would happen while I was away. . .
"Mom, when's Jadrin gonna return home?" said Skipjack.
"Soon now, dear, just be patient." My elder brother and our younger siblings hopped up and down, awaiting my return with anticipation. Once I got back we could play, run around, and everything would be all right. Suddenly his father staggered in. Something seemed to be wrong. "Dad, what's the matter?!"
Skipjack sobbed with horror as his father's body fell prostrate across him, lifeless, an arrow imbedded in his back. His mother let out a cry of mingled grief and terror. Then wild vermin war cries rang through the air! Mere seconds later, crowds of them poured out of the brush nearby, destroying the holt. The young otter saw ermine charging toward his mother and tried frantically to help her, but something hit him in the back of the head and everything went black. . . .
His mother screamed again and sprinted through the back entrance, carrying her two youngest kits. Brookflash Streamrunner managed to outrun her foes, but they were coming, and quickly. Her primary thought was to see to the safety of her kits. "Ayren, Cadron, go hide in the water and use reeds to breathe! Hurry!" They obeyed, both scared witless.
Just after they ran a contemptuous voice sounded behind the ottermum. "If you tell me where those little otters went, I'll let you live, scum." Brookflash turned slowly to see a wolverine with a drawn bow and a nocked arrow aimed at her heart. A thought raced through her mind: Jadrin, I won't see you in this life again. I don't know where you are, daughter, but know this: your father and I love you, your brothers and sister; we always have and we always will. Take care of each other. I'll see you soon, Radlar. Brookflash's face was completely devoid of fear as she answered, "I do not fear my own death, but you will pay if you harm one single hair on Skipjack's head." The wolverine smiled. "Then die!" The force of the shot blasted the poor ottermum back against the wall of the holt, knocking her off her paws.
As Skipjack fought his way back to consciousness, he tried to lift his arms, but found he could not. They were in chains, as was his whole body. The otter swiveled his head and found himself looking at a huge mob of vermin, which was parting slowly to let somebeast through. Seeing that creature froze him in place from pure terror.
A large female wolverine was approaching, armed with a heavy yew bow. He blinked, and blinked again, hoping it was just a mirage, but she was still there. Rygar the Ruthless, scourge of the north! She came to a standstill in front of him, and a hefty fox shoved him in the back. Skipjack instantly knelt and bowed his head before her, scared witless. The wolverine grinned broadly and said, "Hmmm, maybe this otter can be useful, seeing as he knows respect already. What is your name?"
The otter was shaking from fear and his teeth were chattering, but he managed to squeak out, "S-S-Skipjack. My n-n-name is Skipjack."
Rygar smiled and said, "Skipjack, that's a good name. Tell you what; I'll let you live and keep you as my personal slave." Spinning in place, she barked orders to the fox and a nearby wolf while drawing two bloodstained claws across the bow. "You, chain him up for the night, and you, tell the troops we're marching southwest."
Skipjack was taken away, his eyes widening with shock as he noticed similar markings, lots of them, all carved in varied shades of red on the wolverine's bow. He was wondering what it meant when he suddenly realised they stood for how many creatures she'd killed, each mark cut by her claw and stained in the victim's own blood! The young otter shuddered. Who knew how long he would survive, captured by such a ruthless beast?
I followed the monster's tracks, but by the time I got there, they were long gone. I noticed multiple vermin tracks, all heading southwest. I was about to leave when I saw an otter's tracks along with them. There were rough marks next to them, as if the otter had been dragging something along. Suddenly I realized. Our holt! I put all my energy into running as hard as I could toward my home. I had no plans about what I would do once I got there, all I knew now was that I had to get home!
When I got to my holt, my lungs felt like they were about to burst. But I didn't care. I was horrified when I came upon my devastated home. And in the midst of the wreckage lay my father. . . .! "Dad!" Racing to his side, I checked desperately for any signs of life, hoping he was alive. But it was in vain. I felt a leaden blob in my throat, and tears poured unchecked down my cheeks. Then I fell on the ground screaming. "Mother! Skipjack! Cadron! Ayren! Please, answer me!"
I lay curled into a ball on the ground, sobbing. Now there was nothing left for me but one thing. Revenge!
The sun spread over the sky in a wash of orange, lavender and crimson. Ayren and Cadron lay on the streambank, both sound asleep. Then Cadron woke and stretched. "Momma, can I have my- Ah! Ayren! Wake up, we need to go back home! Wake up!" Ayren woke up, and the twins ran home. As they drew closer they saw a shaking figure in front of the ruined holt. They ran up, and saw me prostrate on the ground, sobbing. I was surprised as two pairs of little paws were flung around my neck; my younger siblings were chattering simultaneously at me, crying and clinging to me like they'd never let go. "Jadrin! You's alive! A monsta, a monsta killed Mum and Dad!"
I took them both in a huge, relieved hug of my own and looked at them, amazed. "You're alive! Where's Skipjack?!" Ayren shook with fear and answered, "The monsta took him!" I gasped. "But where is Mom, then?" They sniffed, and then took me to the back door. There, I saw Mum's corpse, transfixed by a giant arrow!
I cried out in horror, and began to pry it out. After the shaft was out I took her body, put her next to our father, then arranged them in a sleeping position.
"You're not goin' after him, are you, Jadrin? The monsta will eat you!"
My paws curled up into fists and I practically yelled, "I will do whatever it takes to rescue Skipjack! I will not let that monster kill him and eat him! I WILL NOT!"
Their reply was what I least expected. "Then let us cum wiv ya, Jadrin!" "Ya, we gonna help ya!"
While I hurriedly packed three small haversacks and a larger one with food from our underground stores, Ayren ran to grab two slings and pebble pouches from her and Cadron's room and Cadron grabbed three steel knives, three blankets, a bag of flint and two herbalist kits, both of which were fully stocked. I knelt at our father's side, gently squeezed his stiffened paw and removed his weapons from his belt. "Dad, I know you never minded me usin' your sling in the past. I need it now. We're gonna get our brother back." My voice broke. "We love you and Mum and we'll never forget you."
The three of us gave our parents both a final kiss before setting to work, struggling to ignore the crushing grief for now. There'd be time enough to grieve once our brother was safe with us again.
I reached to Mum's neck, untying the tough vine cord holding a seashell locket. Inside the locket was a portrait a friend of ours had done of our family. Anybeast looking at the portrait would see a scene frozen in time: Our friend had painted all of us smiling, posed together on a log in front of the holt. Skipjack had Ayren in his lap; I had Cadron in mine. Mum and Dad were standing behind us, their paws on our shoulders.
I knotted the cord securely around my neck and tucked my father's pebble pouch and sling, now mine, into my belt. Grabbing a large quilt that had been laid over a sofa, I took a second to spread it out over our parents' bodies. The larger herbalist kit went in my pack, the smaller went in Ayren's.
As we started out the door, Ayren froze, grabbing my paw and Cadron's. I took my little brother's other paw. "We make dis vow now: We're not returnin' to dis holt wiffout Skipjack!" Ayren called, her eyes hard and her little voice ringing with determination. "Right!" Cadron and I echoed, just as determined.
Our rescue mission had begun!